Sacrifice

The book of Leviticus is riddled with details about sacrifice.  This makes it mostly untenable for the average, modern reader. It is so difficult for us to understand, let alone justify what kind of deity would require sacrifice of one living thing in place of another.

But I think we are looking at it all wrong.  Those details are not about how to offer a sacrifice of flesh, or grain, or wine.  They are about how to draw near to God.  Maybe if we would change our perspective, we would not only appreciate the minutiae but also see more significance in the offering Messiah makes on our behalf.

I think it is unhealthy to spend so much mental effort engaged with death–an animal’s or ours–and what happens after and not enough time spent fixated on the life afforded us by the spilling of blood.  And if you’ve forgotten and need a mundane explanation, go find a soldier and ask her what she fights for.  Go ask the sailor why he risks his life for people he has never met.

Maybe that perspective is an unsettling metaphor.  And maybe it is inappropriate.  Or maybe it is exactly what you need to think about today.

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Count to Fifty

This past weekend, we started the count from Passover to Pentecost:  50 days of counting the omer according to Leviticus 23.  It seems like an unusual command, but it is remarkable how challenging it can be just to count to 50, advancing one number each day. It is as if God is saying, “Here, I’ll give you an easy one.” Ironically, I tend to think it gets harder as we get more and more distracted by technology and the fast pace of modern life. This year, however, technology is on my side.

As it turns out, if you are counting the omer, there’s an app for that.

Cacophony of Silence

Have you ever been annoyed by endless rambling of a colleague at work, or the hammers and bangs of construction outside your office window, or the nonstop rabble and screams and laughter of children playing in another room?  Imagine if you could no longer hear those sounds.  It all seems like noise, and maybe some of it is.  But if you stop and listen for a moment, perhaps you will be able to hear the sounds of life happening all around you.

I often find myself missing the cacophony of my children when all I can hear is the deafening silence of their absence.

Flexible/Inflexible

Yesterday, while driving in the car, I noticed some large trees being tossed about in the wind.  I thought this was enlightening.  Consider how remarkably sturdy and unyielding a century-old oak tree looks–immovable and inflexible.  But given the right conditions that tree bends and flexes in the wind. It must, because that is how it survives.  A tree that does not bend will break.

What conditions will bend you?  What situations will break you?

A New Approach

A book I have been reading has challenged me to begin writing more–more content, more frequently, more engaging, more connecting.  More, more, more.  Writing on this blog has been arduous for me, probably because I do not exercise my writing muscles near enough. So I am going to try for greater flexibility (with my subject matter), greater commitment (to writing anything), and greater leniency (of my own perfectionism).  I realize this means that some of my writing may suffer, but not every post has been a gem so far anyways.

Every post will be a gift. But not every gift will be wanted, appreciated, or enjoyed.  And I am okay with that.  Not every gift will be for every reader, but I hope that you will be patient and kind while I stretch my proverbial legs, knowing there will probably be some early injuries along the way.  We stumble, and we get up.  That’s life.

Considering the Gospel: Simple or Simplistic?

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There is a difference.  One way conveys the truth within which are hidden volumes of mystery and complexity.  The other way, though perhaps effective in communicating an essential component of truth, fails to relate the vastness and the beauty of the promises God made to Abraham almost 4000 years ago.

We live in a sound bite culture, especially where modern technology and the pace of life has caused people to become constantly distracted and virtually unable to sit still. Who has time for a slow cooker when there is a microwave available? Now, in this microwave society riddled by 300 television stations, instant online gaming, DVR’s and MP3 players, it seems that any explanation lasting more than 30 seconds is considered ad infinitum and complicated. It is this brooding impatience that I believe has most negatively impacted the presentation of the gospel, to its detriment.

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Messiah crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Messiah the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:21-24 ESV)

We have taken the words of the gospel-writers or the epistles of Paul, distilled and truncated them, and delivered them in true bumper-sticker fashion believing that our audience is no different than their audience, that our world is no different than their world, and that the Word of God is impervious to manipulation, misuse, and abuse! And we have been wrong on every count.

And if you require proof, then consider the massive flow of professing Christians out of the church.  They are leaving in droves because they were sold a bill of goods that cannot be delivered.  They heard a gospel message that has been robbed of the potency and richness of the promise to Abraham and so excised of its depth and power.  They heard countless sermons admonishing love and [sometimes] obedience without the Biblical foundation or practical direction that Paul’s audience had. They were told that the gospel begins and ends with the cross rather than understanding that the crucifixion is only a single chapter in a much larger story that is still being written.

Considering this more practically, while saying “Jesus died for our sins” may be semantically accurate, it fails to convey the fullness of what he achieved through his life and his resurrection.  When presented as the crux of the gospel, this statement is both simplistic and short-sighted. I am not suggesting that it is irrelevant.  On the contrary, I am saying that such a simplistic presentation fails to capture the significance of what was actually accomplished on the cross and even more so greatly diminishes its relevance in the larger pattern of exile and redemption portrayed within the Biblical account.

The gospel is not a statement.  It is a story.  And we all, Jew and Gentile alike, have the opportunity to be a part of that story.

Considering the Gospel: What’s in your [theology] wallet?

shutterstock_55958683-horse-and-cartI have spent some time recently thinking deeply about theology–not just the formation of theology but also its value in an evolving system of belief. Consider first that theology is not salvific in and of itself. And theology succeeds belief as a function of describing and explaining a belief system. If faith is a horse and faithfulness is the cart, then theology is the explanation of the integral relationship of the two and the physics that explains why the horse must proceed the cart for the relationship to work.

I think of theology as descriptive rather than prescriptive, though it might serve both functions in some respects.  This then begs the question: is theology necessary for anything beyond an intellectual exercise? What is the value of being able to effectively articulate theological concepts beyond the obvious goal of describing a system of belief? Theology is not the gospel.

Or is it?

But treat the Messiah as holy, as Lord in your hearts; while remaining always ready to give a reasoned answer to anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you — yet with humility and fear. (1 Peter 3:15, CJB)

When we read the Bible, we sometimes ask ourselves theological questions such as what did Peter believe about such and such or what did Jesus mean when he said such and such or how did the assembly of believers in Corinth understand Paul’s letters. Those are relevant questions pertaining to context, and we should always consider the context of Scripture.  Failure to do so is a guaranty of misunderstanding and misrepresentation. And those questions all relate to how we understand the words of the Bible and the gospel it records. Understanding the theology of the Biblical characters shapes our own belief systems, as it should.

But wait, there’s more!

I have often heard it said, especially in protestant evangelical circles, that I don’t believe in religion. I believe in relationship with God–a cute phrase that is actually self-contradictory at best and totally misleading at worst. By definition, any belief system that incorporates belief in a deity and a definable mode of worship of that deity should be understood as a religion. What is usually meant by the statement is rather, I don’t believe in a liturgical system of worship. I subscribe to a less rigid, free-style, do-what-feels-right form of religion that allows me to define my own practice based on my own interpretations. (Ironically, these individuals typically still fellowship in a church congregation with its own set of mores and dogmatic ideals thus conforming to a predetermined set of allegedly non-conformist values and practices.)

So why should I work to define my theology?

Because doing so forces me to admit both what I believe and why I believe it. And sometimes that is not easy to do.  If I cannot articulate these fundamentals of my own belief system to myself in a thoughtful and constructive way, then I will not be able to effectively communicate them to others. Thankfully, no man is an island.  And the path of the God-follower was not meant to be walked alone. We are meant to work the difficult truths out with others who share our beliefs.

Theology is a full-contact team sport. (Figuratively. Not literally.)