Monday, August 10, 2009


Hi: I've been away from my blog for a few weeks . . . it happens. : )

I've been thinking a lot about what it means to be a Christ follower. I had a great conversation with a young person (anyone younger than yourself is a "young person") the other day. This young friend is not yet a Christ follower. One of the biggest obstacles is fear that the "crazies" have it right and that the violent, lunatic fringe of "so called" Jesus followers or, and perhaps this is worse, the lifeless insipid banal "so called" Jesus followers are the real deal.

I suggested, as someone once told me, that religion does not create fanatics . . . but it does attract them. Any cause or movement has its people on the edge. Consider the environmental movement, or the animal rights folks (both excellent causes) but do those who perpetuate violence speak for the whole? I doubt it and the same is true for Christ followers -- those of us who are seeking an authentic relationship with our creator through Jesus Christ tend to be pretty balanced and rational people.

The passionless and the misplaced (guided?) impassioned have never been the mark of Christ's followers. Jesus is seen in the Gospels as a compassionate, passionate, principled person. He challenges injustice, he confronts hypocrisy, and his offering on the cross is correctly referred to as "His Passion" . . . but he is not Ned Flanders, nor is he Caspar Milquetoast and he is certainly not using violence to win his point. On fire . . . with grace.

Jesus calls us to live lives that matter in ways that make a difference, as servants of all.

It is quite the challenge.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Free but not cheap

I am rereading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's excellent "The Cost of Discipleship". I began this reread on my journey to Halifax, Nova Scotia for my Uncle's funeral. A little light reading on the plane and before bed time. This great book is a study of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Bonhoeffer begins his book with a detailed discussion of grace. He wrote this in Germany in 1936-7 in the days leading up to the second World War. His primary concern was for the renewal of the church. He believed that the church had settled for a "cheap grace". That is an understanding of grace that was essentially "all about me". A grace that "got me saved" but never engaged my will or my transformation. "Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves." (Page 44 touchstone edition). He argues that the church fell into a double standard where a "maximum obedience," what was expected of monks, martyrs, and other "saints," and a "minimum obedience", what was expected of the rank and file church member, was killing the churches witness and effectiveness. (And, I might add, continues to do so!).

Grace becomes costly (rather than cheap) when it not only brings us to forgiveness but also brings us into obedient alignment with the way that Jesus Christ taught. Who Jesus is is more important than what he says. However, obedience to what he says is the key component to living a life in grace.

I am finding echos of Bonhoeffer's writing in some modern writers like Erwin McManus (see Unstoppable Force or The Barbarian Way) and Rob Bell (Jesus came to Save Christians).

The key component of "Costly Grace" is reorientation of our values and priorities from "what do I get out of it (consumer meism driven religion)" to concern for the poor, the oppressed, the disadvantaged, etc. If we accept this understanding the only logical conclusion is that our American consumer driven religion is the antithesis of biblical Christianity. Lord have mercy and help me change my heart, my priorities, my values, my focus . . .

I will keep reading. . .

Dr. BJ

Monday, June 8, 2009

Acts 8

Acts 8 shows the early Christian movement moving out from Jerusalem. Did everyone notice what got the Church moving from complacency? Persecution. God uses our discomfort to get us moving to where he wants us. With the great successes of Pentecost and the terrific fellowship of the Jerusalem the early church could easily have fallen into a nice little bless me party. Peter Wagner calls this "koininitis" a condition where the church gets so enamored with being together it forgets its mission. The death of Stephen and Saul's work to drag believers off to prison serves to move the church away from Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria (remember Acts 1:8). The first non Jewish convert (Samaritans) the first not Semitic convert (the Ethiopian) are in this chapter all of it because the church was scattered away from their home base. What will it take the 21st Century church to leave its complacency and move back out into mission?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Wondering About Hope

The Syracuse Newspaper runs a column in the Saturday edition about what people believe. The past few weeks the articles have been written by people who were "areligious"; my read would be that they were more agnostic than atheistic but that is just my perspective. The essence of the two presentations is that this is all that there is so make the most of it. On the surface that sounds great -- live for today, make every moment count, etc.
I find myself wondering, however, why bother. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that if this is all there is we are most to be pitied ("If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all peple most to be pitied." 2 Corinthians 15:19). Life becomes a pathetic, accidental and somewhat pointless existence. The question "what am I here for?" has no context and therefore not even a sniff of an answer. I believe we are hard wired to seek meaning and purpose. Victor Frankl's book "Man's Search for Meaning" found that survivors could see a future beyond their current circumstances. This "potential future" gave them hope and that hope helped them survive.
I'm not arguing for a dogmatic control focused "religion" (I can't imagine anything more antithetical to the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth). I am suggesting that a look to an eternal future is one way that people find hope. This hope not only allows them to survive life's difficulties it also gives them the courage to attempt taking on the structures, powers and inertia of human society that often grinds people to dust. I have read that during the days of the black plague the areas of Europe that were more "Christianized" had a lower death rate. The Christians saw a better future and were not afraid to risk. Because of this they took care of their dead (instead of leaving them in the streets). This extra care saved many lives.
"All these died in faith without having recieved the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. (Hebrews 11:13)"
What gives you hope?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Crisis de jure

I am frequently bewildered by the ferocity and energy of the 24 hour news cycle. When News stations had a half hour an evening they tended to stick to "hard news" and were usually covering stuff that mattered -- we might debate how they covered it but generally it was information that was recognized as important. There were newspapers that tried to tell the news in written form so you could read it at your leisure. Nobody screamed at us.
Now everything has to be a catastrophe, a crisis, an Armageddon. This is not to say that the economic situation, ABMs 100th day, or swine flu is not important. It is to say that when the news channels have an enormous financial stake in keeping us watching there is a tendency to present things as more critical and more important than they actually are. All the air time devoted to the Octo-mom would be a prime example of this. I don't need television to have a game of "spot the loony", I can play that game on my own in my own time just by wandering around town for a while.
I think we could create a real crisis . . . stop watching the TV news channels and see what happens. Between the declining revenue streams and declining advertising dollars we might see some of the hysteria for what it is . . .
I choose NOT to be afraid. Whenever there is a visitation of God in the Bible (generally an angel) the first words of the angel are "do not be afraid". When Jesus appears to the disciples on the first Easter evening he says "do not be afraid." I am convinced that the opposite of faith is not doubt (doubt is good, healthy and keeps us seeking); the opposite of faith is fear.
Turn off the news, look around you, trust, pray and above all else . . . do not be afraid.
dr. bj

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Random Thoughts on a Thursday

I find it great that the Christian movement chose to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus over a 50 day span instead of just a single event. The resurrection is the very core of the faith -- it deserves all the attention, discussion, celebration we can give it.
. . . In Central New York the arrival of Spring is a wonderful thing. Bulb flowers in full bloom (and more coming) grass is greening, trees are budding . . . and the lure of the golf course courses through my veins . . .
I am often amazed at the kindness of friends and frequently blessed by the grace of strangers . . .
There is something about sunshine and lifts my heart . . . I wonder about Revelation 21 that says that there will be no sun or moon in the New Heaven and New Earth -- instead, it says, that God will be the light . . . I wonder what "God Light" feels like (is that the light that was created in Genesis before there was a Sun?)
Its the middle of April and the Detroit Tigers have not been eliminated from the playoffs!
Paid my taxes yesterday (ouch) but am grateful for what it provides (usually).

I am thinking a lot about what we don't see around us. I suspect that many of us get so locked into our routines that a normal day is somewhat akin to sleep walking. Get up, clean up, eat, go to work, stop, eat, go back to work, stop, go home, eat, relax in the evening . . . We don't see the beauty (or the pain) all around us. I want to live life awake! On the days I am awake I am walking about in a state of constant amazement!
Dr. Bj

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Day of Unspeakable Hope

I occasionally allow myself (nay, force myself) to watch one of the 24 hour news channels. According to the latest: we are all going to die of starvation because of the economy, NO, wait, we are all going to die of earthquakes, no, wait, we are all going to die from a tornado, no, wait, it will be a nuclear missile from North Korea (a terrorist, a former Soviet republic . . .). No wait global warming, an alien invasion, tainted peanut butter, the octomom will kill us all . . . no wait. . .

And then come the solutions. Put your trust in this political party the other guys are idiots. No, sorry, wrong group, put your trust in this political party we were wrong about who the idiots were. No, oops, wrong again, put your trust in this man -- he'll see us through. Put your trust in the TV religion sellers; this self help craze; that new product. Or, just say to Hell with it all and drink our beer, or booze, take this drug . . . or . . .

To the fear mongers I have this to say: we are all going to die. The mortality ratio of the Human Race is still 1:1. Whether it is by missile, tornado, cancer, or I get hit by a bus tomorrow, the end is still the same. This physical life will end. The question is not whether or not I might die or how. The important question is have I actually lived when it came. Did I find the reason for my being? Did I live a life worth living.

To the solution people I would add: the trouble with human solutions is that they have humans running them. We are all flawed broken creatures. I can love my fellow humans, I can learn to trust many of them . . . none of them can be the source of my hope and certainly not some political program.

So what do I do. I need hope. Someone once said you can survive three weeks without food, three days without water, three minutes without air . . . but none of us will live three seconds without hope. Hope is what gets us up and gets us moving. Hope helps us to keep trying!

Which brings us to the odd center of Christianity. I have long suspected that in order to be true it has to be a little odd, so this doesn't bother me. The odd center of Christianity is the journey from the brutal execution of an itinerant Rabbi named Jesus of Nazareth to whispered and then shouted rumors that he has come back to life. Could it be possible that someone has defeated death? Could it be possible that the deaths I have experienced could be resurrected? Could it be possible (hope against hope) that what he said about himself and his life was actually true and that following him and serving others is where life's true meaning will be found?

When I get to Easter (every year it seems) something happens in my heart. The despair of the world around me -- seeking life in the transient things of of money, sex and power -- falls away and I realize that there IS someone in the universe worth being the focus of my life. When I get to Easter and the church is shouting its core creed (Christ is Risen! Indeed!) My heart tells me . . .and so am I. Risen, filled with hope and ready to begin again to live the life to which I am called.

Have a blessed Easter, everyone.
Dr. B J

Friday, April 10, 2009

God's (Good) Friday

Now comes the worst (and best) of the Christian story. Jesus, son of God, sent into the world to offer his life as an offering for the Sin of the world willingly goes to the cross to die. There are many things about Mel Gibson's "Passion" that were over done and there is something unhealthily disturbing about the brutality of his presentation. However, at a critical moment in the film he does get something right. When the time of the crucifixion arrives, Jesus lays himself down on the cross. Whether it is historically accurate or not does not matter. It IS theologically accurate. No one takes Jesus life. Jesus is not a martyr, tragically killed at the prime of life. Jesus willingly lays down his life for ours.
I remember it being explained this way when I was a young Christian. A man is brought to a Village Justice for an excessive speeding ticket. He and the Justice are life long and very good friends. At the trial the entire courtroom watches to see what the Justice will do to help the plight of his friend. People watch in amazement when the Justice levies the highest possible fine and penalty on his friend. Then the Justice stands, takes off his robe, walks to the Bailiff and pays the fine. That is Good Friday. Every human faces the stiffest penalty possible -- this penalty is the consequence of God's amazing love. God takes off his Robe (see Philippians 2), and, in the person of God's only begotten son, Jesus of Nazareth, takes our place at the execution -- pays our penalty.
God's Friday is the day redemption becomes the norm and becomes possible for any and all of us. All we need to do is embrace for ourselves what God has done for the whole world.
Amazing Love, indeed.
Dr. BJ

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Holy Thursday

Today is Holy Thursday, sometimes called "Maundy Thursday" after the Latin word for mandate -- Jesus mandated communion when he said "do this in remembrance of me." Personally, I don't like the Maundy language and prefer to stick with the older "Holy Thursday". On this day, in the first Holy Week, Jesus gathered with his closest friends for the traditional "Seder Meal" in an upper room in Jerusalem. It is deeply significant that Jesus would choose this meal -- an ordered symbolic retelling/reliving of Israel's deliverance from slavery in Egypt -- to create and, in some ways, recreate a way to retell, relive and remember his life, death and resurrection. Far beyond the sense of "mandate" is this sense of anemnesis (reliving) Jesus act of self giving, self surrender, self emptying that accomplishes the reconnection of a self centered wandering world back to God.

Holy Thursday is filled with other images as well. There is the foot washing, religiously practiced in some Christian traditions but generally only practiced this night. Jesus demonstrates for us servant leadership in this act of grace. There is the culmination of Judas' betrayal when he arrives in the Garden of Gethsemane with temple guards and, what on surface could only be called, a lynch mob. There is the profound prediction and later the painful fulfillment of Peter's three fold denial (restored and forgiven with a three fold I love you in John 21 after the resurrection). I can hear the rooster's crow. . .

Holy Thursday -- gathered with friends, reexperiencing the love and grace of God, remembering, Jesus.

Dr. BJ

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Middle of Holy Week

We are half way between the unbridled joy of Hosanna on Palm Sunday and the spine chilling "crucify him" of Good Friday morning. Wednesday of this week is known in many circles as "Spy Wednesday" the day Judas went to the Chief Priests and took 30 pieces of silver to sell out his Lord. Spy Wednesday because the Gospel says "from that moment he (Judas) began to look for an opportunity to betray him."
I often wonder what my "Jesus selling price is."? How much have I been willing to sell my faith, my integrity, my relationship with my savior? I know that I sell him for instant gratification; I sell him for my own personal comfort and convenience; I sell him for political expedience; I sell him for personal gain. When we look at Judas the popular thing to do is to wag our heads and speak with outrage asking "how could his friend do that to him." But, I suspect, it is all cover. Any of us, committed Christ followers and non believers alike, have done the same thing to people we love countless times over. What is my betrayal price? The scary part is, when I am being honest with myself, I know that I have one.
Holy Week, to be redemptive, has to take us into the depths of our brokenness. Out of the depths of our brokenness we can finally see the amazing, unspeakable, unfathomable act of sacrifice and love of Jesus on the cross. St. Paul said in Romans 5 "Love is this, while we were still sinners (betrayers) Christ died for us. That proves God's love toward us."
Yes, it proves God's love toward us . . . but that level of love over my betraying heart is painful, indeed, before it is healing.
Dr. BJ

Sunday, April 5, 2009

A Holy Week

Palm Sunday through Easter marks the central story and events of the Christian Faith. The events of the week are often observed and celebrated in real time. It was a Sunday that Jesus rode the donkey into Jerusalem and was hailed as the "King Come in Peace" by crowds shouting "Hosanna (save us!)" and waving the defacto national flag of Israel, the palm branch. It was three days later, on Wednesday that Judas went to the chief priests in Jerusalem and betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. It was the next day, Thursday, that Jesus gathered his community together and, in the midst of the ceremonial traditional first meal of Passover, the Seder, Jesus washed the disciples feet (demonstrating servant/leadership); Jesus took bread and cup and transformed the traditinonal Seder meanings into his body and blood; and, Jesus spoke his long farewell to his followers (See John 13-17).
Late that night Jesus is arrested. Over night he is abused, tried and dragged off to the home of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.
Friday, Jesus is tried before Pilate, he is condemned to crucifixion. After he is beaten he is nailed to a tree, around noon, he hangs there for three hours before he surrenders his spirit and dies. Late Friday his followers, with the help of a rich friend, take his body, wrap it in linen cloths and spices and place it in a newly cut tomb.
Saturday everyone rests, according to the commandment.
Early on Sunday -- Jesus is raised (but more on that later).

As I journey through this Holy Week, I want to see thing in real time as I walk with Jesus through his last week and final offering of his life for the sin (my sin) of the world.
Dr. Bj

Thursday, April 2, 2009

John 14

Jesus is giving last instructions to his followers. He tells them to be fearless (14:1); he tells them to trust in him (14:6); he tells them they will never be abandoned or alone (14:16-18); he tells us to live in peace (14:27).

Sections of this chapter are often read at Funerals. Curiously, it contains language that was part of the 1st century betrothal ceremony. The groom to be would arrive at the house and would offer a cup of wine to the intended. If she took the cup and drank she was accepting his proposal. He would then say "I am going to prepare a place for you. I will come again and take you to myself so that where I am there you will be also." He would then leave, build a home for the two of them after the completion of the home they would be married and begin life together. It is Jesus promise to his followers that his departure is temporary that he has gone only long enough to prepare a place for us -- he will come back and take us to be with him forever.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

John 12 and 13

John 12 and 13
And so begins Holy Week according to John. Chapter 12 has the anointing of Jesus at Bethany and the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the day we call Palm Sunday. I love the exasperated comment by the Pharisees in 12:19 "You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!" They can see at a glance that their problem with Jesus is much larger than they imagined.
John 13 begins the Last Supper discourse. This runs through to the end of Chapter 17. Notice the events of chapter 13 -- Jesus teaches servant leadership by washing the feet of the disciples. He predicts his betrayal and calls out Judas Iscariot as the one who will do the betraying. The Author of the gospel gives us a wonderful statement in 13:30 that not only describes the time of day but the state of Judas soul. "So, after receiving the piece of brad, he immediately went out. AND IT WAS NIGHT!"

With the betrayer out of the room Jesus teaches the central command of his ministry. In fact it is the only place where Jesus uses the words "a commandment I give". John 13:34-35 is a passage I committed to memory early in my christian walk. "I give you a new commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." The mark of all Christ followers is a radical commitment to community.

The chapter ends with Jesus foretelling Peter's denial . . . before the cock crows -- before dawn -- you will deny me three times.

Dr. BJ

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Need to Clean it out!

It is early Sunday morning. I spent the night last night at my Father's house because the sewers at my home in Liverpool have decided to stop working. This has been an on going problem with Onondaga County and the Village of Liverpool giving me the usual song and dance and finally telling me its my problem -- this at 9:00 on a Saturday night. Needless to say I spent the evening and last night frustrated and a little steamed.

This morning finds me reflecting on sewers and their functionality and necessity. It occurs to me that our homes need some way to remove waste from our environs. This keeps the home healthy and happy (and, frankly, smelling better). In the old days you could just dig a hole and later cover it up and nature would take care of things. I'm guessing digging a latrine in my back yard will not meet with universal approval from my neighbors (or my friends in the Village of Liverpool). So, I need that sewer, to take the "stuff" away from my home.

With all of the frustration of the day and night I am feeling like there is plenty of "stuff" in the emotional system of my life. What system do I have to clean out my emotional and spiritual drains? The good news is that through the gift of confession and prayer and holy conversation with friends on a Sunday I will be able to get my heart right (BEFORE worship) and I will be able to stand in church today free of that "stuff" that would otherwise poison my life. Isaiah 53:4 -- "Surely he has born our infirmities and carried our diseases. . ." Jesus takes the 'stuff' of our lives and takes it away.

Have a great Sunday!

Dr. BJ

Saturday, March 28, 2009

I'm Back

Have you ever noticed how the urgent pushes out the critical? Have you ever noticed how easy it is to get so trapped in the details of living that you forget to live? Have you ever noticed how easy it is to completely forget promises and commitments because "there is just so much to do!"? That has been my story for the past month or so -- needless to say the things that really matter to me -- writing, teaching, etc. -- I have neglected.
So, I am officially (an unofficially) back. Here are some random thoughts to get it going:

I've been reading the Bible (New Testament) one chapter a day on week days. This is a pretty slow way to read and I have been amazed at the details in the stories that I had not noticed before. That Jesus guy really stands out at that pace. To be honest: I suspect he stands out at ANY pace.

I've been thinking a lot about the state of the United Methodist Church -- hope for the future, that kind of thing. If it is true that you only value what you measure (Jesus said: where your treasure is there you heart will be). Then it would stand to reason that what the Institutional church would choose to measure is its life blood (that is money). Do denominational structures around the country publish anything other than percentage of promised dollars actually given? If we are supposed to be making Disciples, something Jesus seems to be emphasizing, would it make sense to publish how many new Christians (professions of faith) how many baptisms (Adult and children) and how many new leaders and ministries are emerging? Yeah, me too. . .

I've been thinking about the state of our country. I am getting fed up with the Armageddon approach of the news Media and our politicians. Things are never as bad as they are presented. Things are never as dire as the 24 hour news cycle predicts. Things are never as, golly this has never happened before, as the anchors want us to believe. I realize the big trick here is to keep us watching so we will watch the advertising so we will buy more stuff we don't need (and on and on and on). In that name of being informed we cram our heads with stuff that doesn't matter. Time to turn it off. So long as we are watching glued to our TVs (Internet sites, papers, radios . . .) we are slaves. Time of unplug for a season, time to disengage, time to speak the plain truth to one another without all of the junk.

I've been thinking about the state of my soul. I am giving up on religion (again). I want to be a 100% follower of Jesus Christ -- regardless of the cost.

Clear your mind, break the bonds, be free,

Dr. bj

Friday, February 20, 2009

1 Corinthians 5

This is a sticky one to discuss. In the case of the man living with his father's wife (note it is not his mother but his father's wife), Paul says that we apply a different standard to those who are in the church than we do to those who are outside the church. If we are required to not associate with immoral people we would have no one to associate with (including ourselves) and would never have the opportunity to present the Gospel to non Christians. (Jesus says to live in the world but to not be "of" the world -- that is worldly). It is not appropriate to apply or to expect Christian ethical behavioral standards to people who do not profess to be Christians.

However, he goes on to say, we must apply these higher expectations to ourselves and to those who profess to be Christians. We usually apply this standard to the question of leadership. Although the worshipping community called the church is open and available to any and all who seek to come, leadership in the church is necessarily reserved for those who are professing and practicing followers of Jesus. I am reminded that on any given Sunday my gathered congregation includes committed followers of Jesus, loosely committed followers of Jesus, and many who are uncommitted.

I worry when I read research that indicates that, for the most part, the behavior of people inside the church is not all that different from the behavior of people outside the church. And then I remember this passage in Paul and am reminded that it was not so different in the early years. But that historical understanding is no excuse. We have to set a higher standard for ourselves and we have to strive to live up to them. And, when we fail, we get up and keep trying.
Dr. BJ

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

1 Corinthians 2

1 Corinthians 2:2 "I resolved to not know anything except Jesus Christ and him crucified!" I find this both difficult and extraordinary advice. All too often, Christians think they have to know all the answers to all the questions. In my experience there are a lot of questions that have no available answers. I have found that there are a lot of questions that are an end in themselves (the question is the point). If we resolved only to know what we absolutely know -- Jesus is the Son of God, sent from God to offer his life on the Cross, be raised from the dead and ascend to heaven. Through the choice of becoming a follower of Jesus we receive the gift of salvation and eternal life -- we would not find ourselves in a lot of needless arguments over words, phrases and processes. Something to work on. . .
Now, having said that. Paul was an exceptionally well educated man who, as his letters clearly show, utilizes his learning and knowledge in his preaching and in his Apostolic work. So, don't think Paul is pretending to be some back woods preacher who claims to know nothing but the book. Paul quotes pagan philosophers and is well schooled in the use of rhetoric. He is profoundly acquainted with the Bible and is keenly aware of the political realities of his time. What matters is Jesus. What matters is how can we help more people come to know him!

Monday, February 16, 2009

1 Corinthians 1

The Corinthian church was located in southern Greece. Corinth was a very prosperous commercial center for the Roman empire. Corinth was known for its excesses and debauchery, kind of a "what happens in Corinth stays in Corinth" kind of mentality. The Romans had a word that meant "to corinthianize" which meant to take something decent and pure and totally debauch it. It was not exactly a nice place. Most of Paul's letters to the Corinthian church are written to address specific issues within the congregation -- behaviors, attitudes, excesses, spiritual issues, bad theology, etc.
Three things to notice in 1 Corinthians chapter 1:
1. Notice in 1:2 that the letter is to the Corinthians "and all others" -- Paul wrote it to a specific church in a specific place and time but the teaching is intended to be universal.
2. 1:10-17 -- the church has struggled with factions. There is a party spirit within the congregation (not a let's party -- but political party spirit). They a divided around who brought them to faith -- Paul, Apollos, Cephas (Peter) and the Christ party. These factions are pulling the church apart.
3. 1:22-23 -- preaching the crucifixion of Jesus Christ has some awkward responses from the general public. The Jews consider the crucifixion a "stumbling block" the OT says "cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree" and so the Jewish listeners cannot reconcile the message of grace with someone who has been cursed. The Greeks consider the preaching of the cross to be foolishness. In Greco-Roman culture, crucifixion was the worse kind of execution and was not spoken of in polite society. For a preacher of faith to stand up and INTENTIONALLY speak of some one's crucifixion would have been consider is the poorest of taste (a foolish thing to do).
Dr. BJ

Thursday, February 12, 2009

finishing up Romans

Finishing up Romans:
Romans 12 -- Paul reminds us that the Church is not an organization but an organism. We are all members (various parts and pieces) of the Body of Christ. Apart from the body (and apart from Jesus)we can do nothing. Together we can do great things!
Romans 13 -- be good citizens.
Romans 14 -- Practical advice on living the Christian life. The key element of this chapter is Paul reminding us that we are responsible for the influence we have on others -- our lives are living examples of Christ.
Romans 15 -- Paul finally gives the reason for writing this systematic letter of introduction: He plans to visit Rome on his way to Spain. Paul feels called to preach where no one has every preached before and feels called to go to Spain. He is going to stop in Rome, gather support and go on. We do not know if Paul ever made it to Spain. Tradition makes it unlikely. When Paul took the offering for the poor to Jerusalem from the Churches in Macedonia and Greece, he was arrested for being the center of a Riot. To save his life, and his honor, he appeals to Rome and is eventually sent there for trial. The Book of Acts has Paul preaching under house arrest in Rome. Tradition tells us that Paul was martyred in Rome -- if that is the case then he never made it to Spain.
Romans 16 -- Paul sends greetings to everyone in the church in Rome that he knows. It is in interesting list. 16:7 Andonicus and Junia are listed as "prominent among the Apostles" which essentially means they are listed as Apostles. Junia is the Latin form of the Hebrew name Johanna. It is speculated in some circles that this is the same Johanna who was a witness to the resurrection in the gospel. It is curious to have a woman listed with the apostles in this manner. Note also verse 22 "Tertius" is the actually writer of this letter -- Paul was dictating and Tertius is his secretary.
I am looking forward to 1 Corinthians and some more regular postings.
Dr. BJ

Friday, January 23, 2009

Romans 1

We begin our second book of the year with Paul's letter to the Romans. This letter is, in my opinion, the most important document in the New Testament (outside of the Gospel, of course). All of the rest of the New Testament letters were written to address specific issues or written about specific pastoral matters. Romans is essentially a letter of introduction from St. Paul to the Church at Rome. It is the only Letter Paul wrote to a church of which he was not the founder. Paul writes this letter to introduce himself and to explain what he believes is the essence of the Gospel.
Because of this unique situation, Romans is the only systematic treatment of the Christian Faith in the New Testament. The letter begins by explaining that all of humanity (Jews and Gentiles alike) have sinned and fallen short of God's glory. He goes on to show how the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us forgiveness of sins and "peace with God." He proceeds to show how life in this new understanding is completely different from any life we may have had before. After explaining what he understands to be God's plan for his original chosen people, Paul concludes with some pastoral advice and encouragement.
Romans 1 is the beginning of Paul's explanation that even if we have never heard the Gospel we are dying in our separation from God. The presence and nature of God is clearly revealed all around us but we make choices that serve as evidence that we do not know God nor do we know his nature.
Dr. BJ

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mark 15

Today we have Mark's account of the crucifixion of Jesus. He is brought before Pilate, political expedience encourages Pilate to give in to the wishes of the crowd and he releases Barabbas and sends Jesus off to be crucified. Crucifixion was horrible, so painful that the Romans invented a word "excruciating" (Pain as from the cross)to describe it. Jesus is crucified with two others outside the city gate on the main road. Crucifixion was intended to be shameful, public and a deterrent to further insurrection.
Jesus cries out "My God, My God why have you forsaken me!" Many scholars have explained why he says this: One suggests that with the sin of the world piled on him, feels the experience of separation from his heavenly Father. Another sees this as the last cry of his humanity. Personally, I think Jesus is drawing on the Psalms -- in this case Psalm 22 -- for comfort and support in this gruesome moment. "My God . . ." would have been the title in Hebrew of Psalm 22 -- it would be a good idea to take a look at what he is calling to mind by quoting the first line of Psalm 22.
Jesus dies. Joseph of Arimathea arranges to bury the body. Jesus is wrapped in a linen shroud and placed in an unused, new tomb. And everyone goes home to rest on the Sabbath . . . and, unbeknown to them, to wait for Sunday.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Mark 13 and 14

Mark 13 This chapter contains the "little apocalypse" in Mark. Apocalyptic literature is a unique style of writing that comes out of communities that are suffering deep persecution. We see it in portions of Daniel, Ezekiel and, of course, the book of Revelation is the most complete example in the Bible. Apocalyptic writing was a common style of this era.Apocalyptic writing features imagery and symbols to convey hope to a suffering people. In Mark 13 the waring is two fold. First, Jesus is giving a warning regarding the impending destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (this was done by Titus of Rome in AD 70). He is also writing of the "Day of the Lord" what we would call the Second Coming. The key to the passage is "do not be deceived!". Jesus says "many will come in my name saying 'I am he' . . ." he says "people will say here the messiah or there is the messiah . . . do not believe them." When Jesus returns it will not be a mystery. Our responsibility is to stay alert, to keep watch, to pray and do the work we are called to do.

Mark 14
This is Holy Week. The anointing in Bethany. The Last Supper. Judas betrayal. Arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. Trial by the Sanhedrin. Peter's denial. Mark 14 ends late Thursday or early Friday of Holy Week. Mark 15 tells of the crucifixion and death of Jesus. Mark 14 is all about the preliminaries

Friday, January 16, 2009

Mark 12

The thinly veiled threat to the religious leadership is couched in the parable of the tenants. The owner (God) has sent prophet after prophet and the people did not listen. They will listen to my Son . . . judgement is coming.
The mark of "kingship" was that you minted your own money with your own face on it. The money actually belonged to the king (he made it and as king everything belongs to him as it bears his image and likeness. Thus, give to Caesar what is Caesar's. Jesus leaves hanging the obvious conclusion -- According to Genesis 1 who or what is made in God's image and likeness . . .
The testing continues -- the goofy Sadducee's question (they don't believe in the resurrection that is why they are "sad you see"). I love the seven brothers for one bride story just for its sheer creativity.The great commandment: old or new testament it is the same. Love God love your neighbor.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Mark 11

Jesus triumphant entry in Jerusalem -- did you notice that Jesus set up this journey ahead of time? He has arranged for the appropriate animal to be made available to him when he needs it.
Jesus cleanses the temple. He is angry about a number of things but the merchants carring their goods through the temple court yards is especially upsetting -- rather than walking around to another Gate these merchants are simple taking a short cut through the temple area (apparently commerce is more important to them than the Temple).
The cursing of the fig tree is one of the odder stories in the Gospel.
The questioning by the scribes and religious leaders is beginning to focus on Jesus authority . . .

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Mark 10

A couple of thoughts:
1. The teaching on divorce. Remember, we cannot take one passage in isolation of others. The Bible gives legitimate grounds for divorce -- Adultery and Abandonment. The casual divorce of the first century (or any century) is the focus of Jesus teaching here.
2. Let the children come to me . . . I just like the thought of that.
3. What must I do to inherit Eternal Life. I cannot help but find my self singing Gary Weeks' "Mr. Nazareth Man". Remember it was widely believed that God favored the righteous with material prosperity and large families. Therefore, the Disciples are asking if Jesus is saying those who have been clearly blessed by God are not going to make it into the Kingdom of Heaven what hope do the rest of us have? This is where the Disciples are hung up. Remember Tevya in Fiddler on the Roof -- the high point of his "If I were a rich man" song is that he would be able to finally have the time to study the Torah and delve into the mysteries. With people this is impossible -- with God nothing is impossible. GOOD NEWS -- there is hope for all of us.
4. Healing of Bartimeaus in Jericho. Bartimeaus is so marginalized by his society that he doesn't even have a name. He is simply Son of Timeaus (that is what Bartimeaus means). Can you imagine being so devalued and, dare I say it, unloved, that you don't even have a name but are known only as "so and so's kid". Jesus treats him with respect by asking "what do you want me to do for you?" Jesus does NOT assume, but allows Bartimeaus the right and the dignity to say it himself. Pretty cool stuff! That is the level of grace that makes we want to love Jesus even more!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Mark 9

I am always caught by the "Disciples inability to heal the boy with the unclean spirit" Jesus says "these come out only through prayer". I think that is a call to always be trying to move deeper in this faith. There are some battles that cannot be won except through disciplined spiritual practice. If we are to survive illness we need physical strength, if we are going to survive spiritual struggles we need to build spiritual strength.I always think of Mohommad Ali "I'm the Greatest!" when I come to the next passage in Mark 9 -- who is the greatest. Jesus teaches the principle of "Servant Leadership" here. As leaders we are to exercise due authority and do what leaders are supposed to do but we do this not for our sake but for the Kingdom and we do this not for our glory but for God's and we do this not for our power and control but to build authentic Christian community. Radical Discipleship does not permit distractions from keeping us from the goal of the "upward call of God in Christ Jesus".


Monday, January 12, 2009

Mark 8

The warning to "beware of the yeast of the Pharisees" is a warning from Jesus to not get so caught up in the trappings of religious behavior that we miss out on the relationship with God that Jesus came to restore.
Who do people say the son of man (Jesus) is? I find it interesting that this is still a core question today. In Jesus time they thought he was some old prophet (or even John the Baptist come back to life); or that he was possibly the advance man for the messiah (see Malachi 4). Even today people question who this Jesus person really is. C.S. Lewis (and others) claim that there are only four options: Jesus is either a legend, a liar, a lunatic or LORD. Some, incredibly, claim that Jesus never really existed and that the Gospels are stuff of legend or another ancient myth. The difficulty here is that there is more than enough evidence to prove Jesus existence. Others say Jesus was just a good teacher (another in a line of those come to show us a better way). But this good teacher put himself on par with God (even claiming to be Son of God -- which makes him as much God as God is). I'm pretty sure if I claimed to be God people would no longer consider me a "good teacher". (They would , quite rightly, have me locked away). Jesus is either the Son of God or he is a liar and not worth consideration. Jesus is a lunatic -- see above. Either he is the Son of God or he is nuts! Or, finally, Jesus is Lord. That is, he is who he claimed to be and deserves our allegiance and devotion. Interesting choices.
We conclude this chapter with some teaching on the Way of the Cross. This is the life Christians are called to live. We are called to deny ourselves (the key to self fulfillment is self denial and service for others). If we try to save or preserve this life we will lose it but if we give it away (lose it) for the sake of Jesus we will gain true life, indeed. The message to our generation is needed here: what does it profit any of us to gain the whole world and lose our Soul? There are a lot of soulless wanderers in my world. Let the material junk go and follow Jesus.
Dr. BJ

Friday, January 9, 2009

Mark 7

Overcoming traditional ways of doing things is often the hardest barrier to break. It is easy for us to get settled in the how we do things and easily lose sight of the why we do things. The ceremonial washing has nothing to do with hygene but with ceremonial cleansing -- washing the uncleanness of the world off of myself. Jesus message that it is not what you eat that defiles you has been interpreted by Christians (and the author of Mark) as negating the diatary restrictions of the Old Testament. It is not what you eat that defiles you it is what comes out of your inner most self that defiles you. Who are we in our inner selves? I believe we become what we fill our lives with and, under pressure, who we really are is revealed.Jesus heals the Syro-Phoencian woman's daughter (after she convinces him that she too can have faith) and we find another of our aramaic words and phrases "Ephphatha" at the end of the chapter. "be openened!""He has done all things well" probably is an allusion to the belief that when Messiah comes there were be certain signs and miracles -- the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, blind see, deaf hear, the poor have good news preached to them. For these folks Jesus is fulfilling all of those expecations.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Mark 6

Jesus, whose fame has now spread throughout the country, goes home Nazareth and is not well received. Mark tells us that Jesus did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief. We also get to meet Jesus brothers. Two of them, James and Jude, became significant leaders in the Christian movement in and around Jerusalem.
The wild story of the beheading of John the Baptist doesn't need too much comment. The dancer is usually identified as Salome' -- but we don't get this name from the Bible but from 1st century historian Josephus.
The feeding of the 5000 is the only miracle of Jesus that is recorded in all four gospels. It seems likely that that various centers of the young Christian faith remember this passage because of its connection to Holy Communion. It would also be a very difficult event to forget . . .
Dr. BJ

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Mark 5

The encounter with the man possessed by "legion" is one of the wilder incidents of the gospel. A Legion in the Roman Army was 1000 soldiers. Can a person be possessed with 1000 demons or, as an agent of the father of lies, is the demon exaggerating the truth? We can notice that this event happens in a non Jewish area of the upper Galilee (otherwise there would NOT be a pig farm). I am intrigued by why the demons wanted to "go into the pigs" but Jesus lets them, the pigs go mad and all run down the hill and jump into the Sea of Galilee and drown. This mass porcine suicide, needless to say, creates quite a stir in the local community a crowd gathers and invites Jesus to be elsewhere. The man, who had been possessed, wants to join Jesus entourage. But Jesus tells him to go home and tell everyone what had been done to him. Isn't that always the first command to a new believer? Go home and tell everyone what has been done to you!
I am convinced that many of Jesus most significant miracles are "miracles of interruption" he does a lot of amazing things while he is on his way to doing something else. Jairus, a local synagogue leader, has asked Jesus to come to his home and heal his 12 year old daughter. Jesus agrees and they are on their way. Jesus fame at this point has spread so widely that everywhere he goes he draws a crowd. The crowd is not politely sitting on the sidelines, there is jostling and reaching and trying to touch -- its a mob scene. In the middle of this a woman with a long standing bleeding problem has convinced herself that if she can just touch his cloths she will be healed. The other gospels make note that she "touches the fringe of his robe". It was believed, among some of the religious Jews of Jesus time, that the fringe of the garment of the Messiah would have healing powers. She touches Jesus and is healed.
Here is where it always makes me giggle -- remember the Apostles in Mark are mostly comic relief (they never get it). Jesus stops in the middle of this mob scene and asks "who touched me". The disciples respond with appropriate exasperation: are your kidding? You see the crowd pushing everywhere and ask who touched me? The woman comes forward and is further blessed. At this point Jairus is informed that his daughter is dead, but Jesus goes and restores her to life. The Aramaic phrase "talitha koum" "little girl arise" is one of several Aramaic phrases preserved in the gospel (ephratha, maranatha, eli eli lamma sabathani). Many scholars believe that these phrases where preserved in their original form because the early church believed they carried extra power.

Dr. BJ

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Mark 4

Mark 4 is a collection of parables from domestic and farming situations. The parable of the sower is a healthy reminder that as disciples of Jesus all we can do is plant seeds -- to broadcast what we know and have experienced. Not all of those seeds will ever make it to the soil (some fall on the path) not all seeds will survive long (some fall on rocky soil and never put down roots) not all seeds will stay true to the faith (some fall among thorns and get choked off by the cares of this world) but some will fall on good soil and will reproduce. As Disciples of Jesus we have to remember to spread the word in every and all opportunities with the hope that some will take root -- remember others water, others fertilize but God gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3). We are not responsible for whether the seed grows or not. The law of averages would suggest that MORE planting in this kind of system will in fact produce more fruit in the long run.

Don't hide your light under a bushel -- if you are follower of Jesus be upfront about it. It is critical that the Christ followers are shining as bright as they can: through what they say (see above about seed planting) through what they do (you life may well be the only Bible some people ever read) and through who they are (integrity cannot be faked!).

Faith like a grain of mustard seed. The mustard seed was the smallest of the plant able seeds in the Middle East and, along the Galilee where it never frosts, mustard continues to grow from season to season. In their situation the mustard plant grows large enough for birds to build nests and make their homes. Point: it does not take a lot of faith to do great things for God it just takes faith.

It all ends with a wild story of Jesus and the 12 (and how many others?) on an overnight cruise across the Galilee only to get caught in a mighty storm. Jesus, as the Son of God, has no fear and is calmly sleeping. The Disciples are in full panic mode. They wake Jesus up and instead of being concerned for them he is angry that they had to wake him up. He calms the sea and stops the wind and there is a sudden calm. The disciples are (and this is typical of Mark) amazed and dumbfounded as to how Jesus could do this. The recurring theme here is that the Apostolic circle does not understand the TRUTH about Jesus until after the Resurrection.

Dr. BJ

Monday, January 5, 2009

Mark 3

Jesus is in worship on the Sabbath and is confronted with a man who needs healing. The man has a withered hand, this is not life threatening nor, it could be argued, was it so critical that it could not wait until the next day. The teachers of the Law were very clear in their understanding of the commandment to not do ANY work on the Sabbath. In order to help the people from breaking the commandment the teachers had developed detailed definitions of what constituted work. Jesus problem with the teachers is that by their definition if you are healer then healing constituted work for you and therefore was forbidden on the sabbath. Jesus response, elsewhere, that "sabbath was made for humans not humans for the sabbath" is his way of saying that the overlay of religious rules over a basic commandment is more destructive than freeing and misses the purpose of the commandment.
Mark 3 contains one of the most difficult passages in the Gospel: "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit". The scribes had been saying that Jesus was doing what he was doing (healing, casting out demons, etc.) because he (Jesus) had an evil spirit -- that he was in league with the devil. Calling good evil (in this case calling the Holy Spirit an Evil Spirit or unclean spirit -- aka demon) is negating the possibility of ever leaving evil and returning to good. This would deny the possibility of redemption because this confusion would keep people from turning to the one source of salvation. This particular act could not be done accidentally or casually but would constitute a complete rejection of the plan and person God sent to redeem the world. In short, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit would be to refuse the salvation God has provided for us through Jesus -- you cannot be forgiven unless you choose to accept forgiveness.
The end of Mark 3 gives us reference to Jesus Mother and his brothers. Jesus brothers are listed by name in Matthew 13:55-56. James (author of the Epistle of James) is called "the Lord's half brother" as is Jude (the author of Jude). Jesus family plays a significant role in the early days of Christianity in and around Jerusalem.
Dr. BJ

Friday, January 2, 2009

Mark Chapter 2

I love the story of the four men and thier paralyzed friend. This is the subject of this Sunday's message at Christ Community. What profound faith they had to make a hole in someone's roof so that their friend could be brought to Jesus. We know that spiritual ills has a physical impact on us and that physical woes can have a spiritual impact on our lives -- as can emotional or relationship difficulties. Does it surprise us that Jesus says to the man on the pallet your sins are forgiven? The forgivness of sins and the healing of a body must have an impact on one another. What say you?Mark 2:15 gives us the Levi(Matthew) party. When Levi is called to follow Jesus he does so and his next step is to invite all of his tax collecting sinner friends to a gathering at his house to meet Jesus. As an evangelism strategy this is a great idea. When was the last time any of us invited all of our pre Christian friends to a gathering . . .?You don't sew new patches on old cloth nor do you put new wine in old wine skins -- critical teaching. When God is doing something new he will create a new form to do it. This is why each new outpouring of the Holy Spirit has new music, new worship forms and new structures. These "new wine skins" make growth space for the new thing the Spirit is doing.Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath -- that is he is Lord over religious practices -- he frees us from the constraints of religion so that we can live lives of faith!

Dr. BJ

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Beginning a New Year in the Bible

About 75 members of the Christ Community congregation and I are going to be reading the New Testament one chapter a day in 2009. We are beginning in Mark. I will be publishing quick observations and questions to ponder from day to day (weekdays only) on this blog and on another discussion center that the participants have been invited to join.

January 1- Mark 1: Notice John the Baptist's clothing -- he is dressed like the prophet Elijah. Mark's first readers would have known this immediately. John is the "Elijah who is to come". The last Old Testament prophet, Malachi, tells us that Elijah must first come and then the Messiah. Notice the "Trinitarian affirmation" in Mark 1:11.

Jesus first invitation is his last invitation: come and follow me. Why do we make it more complicated than that? We get hung up on getting people to accept Jesus or to make some other choice when the only invitation Jesus seems to offer is "Come and follow me!" Sometimes there are preconditions (sell all you have) sometimes there is a consequence (and I will make you fish for people) but the bottom line has not changed -- come and follow me.

Jesus teaches with authority. What might that mean? Why do the "evil spirits" know that Jesus is the Son of God before any of the humans figure it out?

Did you notice Jesus taking time alone -- after his baptism to wrestle with the devil; before beginning his public ministry -- and many more times as we move forward.

Jesus healing the leper. Lepers were considered not only medical outcasts -- they were "Unclean" -- but they were also required to leave normal society and live by themselves or in "leper colonies". The Greek word here for leprosy could mean any of a number of skin diseases -- including skin cancer and extreme cases of psoriasis. Jesus touches the man (something that was NOT done because to touch something unclean made you unclean -- unclean does not refer to dirty but to one's status before God. Unclean people were not allowed into the place of worship. Jesus touching the man was an extraordinary act of mercy and grace. In Leviticus are found the ritual laws that explain why Jesus sends the man to the priest. The priest declares whether a person has leprosy or not. Only the priest can declare if the leprosy has left and the man is now clean. If our former leper wants to return to his family and village only the priest can make that happen.

How do we "reincorporate" people who have made themselves unclean and outcast from our community?

Dr. BJ