Looking for All the Wrong things in the Bible

“Oh!  You’re just missing the point!”  The revelation dawned on me after about an hour of intense discussion on everything from evolution to abortion to the meaning of the book of Revelation. “You are asking questions of the scripture that it was not meant to answer.”

I cannot tell you how often we (ok, mostly me, but I’ll include everyone here to make myself feel better) focus on things in the Bible that are far from the main point of scripture.  Let me explain using a little something known to those of us over 18 as a phone book (for the younger, read this wikipedia page before you continue).

The point of a phone book is to help you find someone’s phone number, but that’s not all you can do with it.  You can compare the percentage of different ethnicities names, you could count the number of bars as opposed to the number of libraries, you could even count the number of churches to the number of schools.  All of that could tell you something about the area covered by that phone book, but that data has a high potential to give you unreliable answers.  What about the unlisted numbers?  What about places that closed or people that moved?  The reality is that if you go to the phone book and ask it questions it wasn’t designed to answer, you will likely get wrong answers. 

Every text is the same way.  If you go to a car manual looking for a way to cure an infection or if you look at a science textbook for evidence of God, you may find something, but it is VERY likely that it will be wrong.  It’s the same with the Bible.

All of this leads us to an incredibly important question: What is the purpose of the scriptures?  In a sentence, the purpose of the scriptures is to form you spiritually (see 2 Timothy 3:16).  That means that whenever you open it and ask a question that is not aimed at spiritual formation you have to realize that you will get some weird answers.  

It also means that no matter what, the deepest truth of every passage in the Bible is a spiritual one.  The point of every story is spiritual.  Let me show you what I mean…

The point of the story of Noah has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not there are enough water molecules to cover the earth.  It is a story about the consequences of sin, God’s desire for obedience, and the fact that even the obedient mess up.

The point of Jonah has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not there is a type of sea life that has a digestive system that will not break down a human body.  It is about running away from God and that when we repent, God will forgive… also that Jonah is a whiner.

Is it ok to believe that there are enough water molecules to cover the earth or there is a fish that doesn’t have acid reflux?  Yes.  But focusing on that, rejecting the scriptures based upon that, or not uniting with a fellow Christian over that is completely missing the point of the Bible.

So, repeat after me, “I do hereby solemnly swear to focus on the profound spiritual truth in the Bible and learn to love the people who disagree with me on the other stuff.”  Amen.  I may have to repeat that again before I go to bed.

For the Comments:  What story's spiritual truth has formed you most? 

>>> Read More: Please Don't Take the Whole Bible Literally

Forbidden Stories about Jesus You Have to Read

“Did you know that when Jesus was a kid, he made birds out of clay and brought them to life?”

I remember asking something just like that in college to a minister I knew. The answer was simple, he said, "You mean the Gospels that aren't in the Bible? T hose Gospels are not true and you should spend your time on something productive.” Of course, I immediately ran back to the dorm to read every word.  What about these words were so so scandalous? Why did this pastor feel threatened? Why was the church trying to suppress these stories about Jesus?

As it turns out, these accounts of Jesus’ life are as interesting and engaging as they are unreliable.  Somewhere  between their taboo-ness and their sensational and/or philosophical content is something which makes them fascinating to many people.  These stories of Jesus teach us about who we are, who God has called us to be, and how we should live in the world.  They have the power to teach us but not in the way we may expect when we first sit down with a copy.

First off, these works make the history of how the Bible was formed sexy and fascinating in a way that nothing else does.  There is nothing else that makes people beg me to tell them the history and theology around the formation of the Bible like these Gospels that aren’t in the Bible. 

Many assume that Dan Brown is right when he says that Constantine made the call. When there is a document called the Muratorian fragment that dates from the 200s and has almost every book of the new Testament listed.  That is just one of the pieces of  the early consensus that formed around which books were considered scripture, and knowing that history not only engenders confidence in the Bible, but it shows the curious the importance of Church history in their everyday relationship with Jesus.

Though the history is interesting, the power of these texts resides in the origins of these stories of Jesus that weren’t included in the Bible. When Jesus ascended and then sent the Holy Spirit, the disciples fanned out taking the gospel to the ends of the earth.  Those stories were passed on from person to person and sometimes lost or forgotten.  In the regions where specific disciples went, later stories would arise and were attributed the disciples who first brought the story of Jesus to that region.  Everyone came with what they remembered of Jesus and shared it with whoever would listen.  Was it all correct? Did it all come down perfectly? No.  That’s why we will randomly find these crazy stories about Jesus’ life.

That is where the power resides. You see, these gospels teach us something far beyond their actual content.  Every Christian doesn’t have to be a brilliant theologian.  We don’t have to have everything right.  We don’t even need to know the whole story before we share the Gospel with our friends and family.  We share what we know.  As incomplete and incorrect as it may be, we share what we know of Jesus and let the Holy Spirit use our words to woo those around us closer to him.  And, that is powerful.

Now it is time for you to go read some of these gospels that aren’t in the Bible (There's a summary of their content and several quotes in my book), and let them cause you to figure out where they diverge and converge with scripture, letting their clarion call spread wide in your heart, filling you with the confidence to share the story you know.  After all, there’s no way you could be as wrong as the story where Jesus smites a kid for making fun of him!  Go tell what you know. 

via UMR

>>>Read More: The Forbidden Gospels (Not in the Bible)

Temptation Never Looked so Good

lips chocolate.jpg

We need to fast forward to the part we need: virgin birth, weird guy at temple, did teen Jesus just sass his parents, dunked by cousin, bird, voice of God, hungry for 40 days.  Then, the devil shows up and tempts Jesus.

Hang on did it just say…that’s right… Jesus was TEMPTED.  Let that sink in.  If Jesus was tempted, then that means that temptation itself is not bad.  

In fact, I think it could be quite the opposite, but not if we insist on feeling guilty for being tempted.  Why do we feel guilty?  I feel guilty about temptation because I think it means I am weaker than I should be spiritually, but (unlike the dowager countess) I am wrong.

You see, Jesus 40 days of fasting was an indication to the people in Jesus’ time that he was at the height of spiritual strength. If Jesus, at his strongest point is tempted, then that means that temptation has nothing to do with whether or not we are spiritually strong or weak.

It means that being tempted does not mean you’re bad.  Being tempted does not mean you’re spiritually weak.  In short, being tempted is nothing the feel guilty about.

Why not?  Jesus didn’t wallow in guilt because he was being tempted after 40 days of fasting.  Rather, when he was tempted, his response was to quote scripture.  For him, it was an opportunity to lean into his relationship with God.  Jesus used the lure of temptation to motivate him to get closer to God.

If we will let go of our self-imposed guilt and respond by drawing close to God or opening the scriptures to hear God’s voice, temptation can be a gift.  Temptation can cause us to grow closer to God.  

I don't know if your temptation is chocolate, gossip or something else, but this week let go of the guilt and draw closer to God.

The Little Sin that Became Mainstream

guy laptop.jpg

I am very concerned about American culture.  There is a sinful cancer spreading throughout every nook and cranny and it is showing no sign of stopping.  Though fifty years ago this sin was clearly a sin and everyone knew that. Little by little, bit by bit we have allowed our culture to wander away from God’s plan for humanity.

Now, it is everywhere.  It seems to be present in almost every television show I watch even creeping into some of the “Christian” shows.  But what troubles me the most is our church leaders.  We now have a crop of pastors who blatantly disregard the principles of scripture and violate its commands IN PUBLIC.  They act as if they are not ashamed.

All of that is to say that I am concerned.  I am concerned that there is no turning back.  I am concerned that the church has forgotten its first love.  I am concerned that my children are growing up in a world where this way of life (that is CLEARLY a sin) is never even given a second thought!

I know the sin you are all thinking of: Gluttony.  And while I agree that this is a pervasive sin that is affecting our culture, it is not given the same pride of place.  It is not treated as “normal.”  There are many self-help books that are geared toward getting your weight under control, but that would never happen with this sin.  

Not only that, the sin that is concerning me is not only far more accepted than gluttony, it has rock solid scriptural support.  In fact, its foundation is written into the Genesis story as part of the foundation of the entire creation.  

I am, of course, talking about Sabbath (and the lack thereof).  From the very beginning, we are told to find our identity and worth apart from work.  We are commanded to recognize that we ultimately serve God, submit to his authority and find our worth in him.  

The profound truth of sabbath is that we are not machines.  Our value is not in how much we can produce, how many souls we can save, or how many dollars we can make.  Our value comes from the image of God within us, and nowhere else.

Yet, every show on television fights against this ideal showing people working seven days a week, skipping vacation, and burning the midnight oil.  Primetime is filled with shows that reinforce the lie that we are our jobs and nothing more.  If a Law and Order or Suits shows something besides someone working, it is to help give us a stronger connection with the work-a-holic character.  

I mean, this is one of the ten commandments!  THE TEN COMMANDMENTS!  This is not some boutique sin mentioned as an aside in an instruction manual for priests.  This is central to our faith. This is central to our identity, and it’s time to stop. 

Its time to stop acting like its not a big deal.  It’s time to stop ignoring it in our Sunday School classes. It’s time to stop making excuses and start practicing Sabbath.

The “how” is another article entirely, but suffice it to say that it’s not about which day or what you do, but taking the day.  You need to work towards taking 24 consecutive hours to not be productive in your job, to rest, to listen to God and do whatever it is that restores you.  

My bet is many may see this post as ridiculous and overreaction, and that is my point.  We have fallen too far from faithfulness in this central practice of holiness.  We must return.  We must move forward, and take back the practice and identity.  Right now.

Question for the comments:  what is a sabbath practice you have experienced that worked?

Your Faith Questions Answered


We all have that one question about God, the Bible, or Christianity.  You know the one. It has either stumped you or challenged you for a while, but you are not quite sure where to ask it, or who will give you a serious, thoughtful answer. So, you wait.

Over the past several years, I have gotten the reputation as the minister who enjoys difficult questions and spiritual conundrums (and it's true!).  In fact, many of my own questions were what inspired my book Taboo: The Questions You Aren't Supposed to Ask.  This has translated into me being stopped by friends, church members, and complete strangers in coffee shops and bookstores with a question they have been dying to ask.  

From the bit of parchment discovered a while ago that was claimed to indicate that Jesus was married to more classic questions about why bad things happen, I get the privilege of answering these questions just about anywhere and everywhere.  

Which brings me to this post and that question you have always wondered.  This question has sat for too long in the back of your mind waiting to be asked. Maybe there hasn't been the right time or the right person, or maybe, like many people, you were taught the bad theology that to ask such questions was to be unfaithful.  

It's time to let go of whatever has held you back and ask your question.  I am going to take the questions submitted here and use them as topics for posts in the future on this and other sites.  If you would like me to email you the link to the response when it is posted, you can include your email (though it is not required...you are welcome to remain anonymous).

I encourage you to share this post with your friends and family as well.  Offer them the opportunity to ask their questions about faith and have them answered with the legitimacy they deserve rather than being dismissed.  I look forward to your questions!

3 Questions to Un-Boring the Bible

Reading Bible1.jpg

Confusing. Hard to read. Boring. Those are some of the reasons that people give (or think) as for why they do not read the Bible, and it is really true sometimes! It can be difficult and down right obtuse (though not as obtuse as using “obtuse” when you mean “hard to understand”!).

I find that sticking with a passage for a moment after I read it by asking a couple of questions is a huge help. Here are three of my go-to questions:

1. How would I say this in my own words?

This may be the thing I do most often. As simple as it sounds, there is something powerfully revelatory about restating the Biblical text you just finished reading from your own memory. Not only does it help me retain it throughout the day, but I end up having to clarify the meaning when I think “I would never use the term “revelatory”… what is a normal word for what is meant there?”

2. How is this similar to a moment in my life?

I am always trying to challenge myself to try and experience the scripture as if I were there. I want to try and read between the lines and understand the emotions that may not be said but shown. This question is a HUGE help in that area. If I can make a connection to a similar moment or story in my own life, it is like someone cleaned a bunch of mud off the window through which I was seeing the Bible. All of a sudden I can feel what the characters are feeling and understand their responses and actions much better!

3. Is this a good or bad thing?  

Though it can feel uncomfortable at first, figuring out whether or not you agree with what is said or done can be a huge breakthrough. I find that sometimes when I am having a hard time reading a passage, it is not because of the passage itself. The reason for my frustration is because I don’t agree and am trying to force myself to agree because it’s the Bible.

Not every action in the Bible (even by the good guys) is meant to be emulated, nor is every premise meant to be applied in the 2000s.  So, decide where you think this is a good or bad thing.  Then, ask why.  Where is the rub?  Finally, if you are bothered by your disagreement, call someone you respect and talk about it.  You’ll probably both grow closer to God because of it.

For the Comments:  What questions do you use?

>>>Read More: Looking for All the Wrong Things in the Bible

How David Really Beat Goliath (Malcolm Gladwell)

My bet is that this publisher’s description will make you run to Amazon and buy David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell:

Three thousand years ago on a battlefield in ancient Palestine, a shepherd boy felled a mighty warrior with nothing more than a stone and a sling, and ever since then the names of David and Goliath have stood for battles between underdogs and giants. David's victory was improbable and miraculous. He shouldn't have won. 

Or should he have? 

In David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell challenges how we think about obstacles and disadvantages, offering a new interpretation of what it means to be discriminated against, or cope with a disability, or lose a parent, or attend a mediocre school, or suffer from any number of other apparent setbacks.

Here’s the skinny on what’s in the Book: Brilliance.  Hang on, this is supposed to be an unbiased summary.  Let me start over.

In this soon to be sermon-plagiarized book, Gladwell takes the Epic tale of David and Goliath and uses it as an entry point into a re-imagining  of our bias against disadvantage and obstacle.

He delves into the psychology behind the reason that those who are in the middle and bottom-third of Harvard’s Economics School publish about the same, on average, as students at that level at far less prestigious schools.  

He looks at the reason behind the fact that a disproportionate percentage of top performing CEOs and innovators have dyslexia.  He even tackles the problems created by California’s three-strike law.

He does all of this by exploring the story of people involved in each of these unique and perplexing situations.  Those stories are divided into three parts that represent the three main concepts he is putting forward: The advantages of disadvantages (and the reverse), desirable disability, and limits of power.

The advantages of disadvantages explores the question of why we are so surprised when the underdog wins.  It happens all the time.  David beating Goliath is one of many similar stories we all can tell.  It turns out that being smaller, having less money, or being less skilled is not necessarily a disadvantage. Often those things end up giving the apparently weak an advantage over the strong.

In part two, “Desirable Difficulties”, Gladwell makes the argument that the skills people develop to compensate for significant difficulties (like dyslexia) often end up being powerful tools that enable them to accomplish more than the average person who did not have to overcome that difficulty.  While no one who had overcome whatever it was would ever desire someone else to have their difficulty, having it is what allowed them to be who they are, and in that sense is desirable.

The final part explores the limits of power.  By that Gladwell means that there is a point at which any system of power begins to see dramatically diminishing returns to the point of working  against the powerful.  At some point more power becomes a disadvantage.  

He comes to the conclusion that the powerful are never as powerful as they seem nor the weak as weak.  And, in many situations the surprising advantages of those who are initially seen as weak ensure their ultimate success.

I am sure you can tell where I fall on the sentiment scale in regards to this book.  Malcolm Gladwell is an incredible author that consistently turns out interesting works that both intrigue and surprise by tying together interesting research from disparate fields into a cohesive argument.  

But the brilliance of this work is setting this entire story within the Biblical narrative even starting each part with Bible verses.  In fact, you may never read an exegesis of the David and Goliath story as good as the one in the first chapter, which alone is worth the price of the book.  

However the insight into the human psyche and systems of success make this a must read for everyone, especially Christians.


From Brave Reviews


Please Don't Take the Whole Bible Literally

Whatever you do, do not take everything the Bible says as literal truth and/or direction. Don't get me wrong, the Bible is a beautiful, complex, brilliantly-composed collection of profound scripture. It is the very breath of God (2 Tim 3:16). It holds the keys to living a full, meaningful life, but that is not what you will get if you read every word as if it should be literally applied to your life.

Let me explain.  There are clearly passages in the Bible that make no sense if taken literally like this vivid example from Revelation:  

"But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth." (Rev. 12:16)

Dragons?  Really?  No.  Of course not.  It is talking about something deeper, it is using symbol and metaphor.  The author obviously didn't intend for us to take it literally. But, what about the passages that WERE intended to be taken literally, but don't seem to work now?  Leviticus is full of them:  

“‘Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.‘Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.’” (Lv 19:27-28)

Likewise, Deuteronomy has some excellent advice on parenting teens:  

"If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, 19 his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death." (Dt 28:18-21a)

Those were definitely meant to be taken literally by the author but would devastate the Schick company and land just about every american parent of a teen in prison. 

That's not even mentioning the whole books that confuse even the most brilliant scholar as to how to interpret.  Take, for example, this insight from Ecclesiastes:

"A feast is made for laughter, wine makes life merry, and money is the answer for everything. " (Ecc 10:19)

What makes that verse even harder is that the whole book of Ecclesiastes is like that.  It claims to be insight from a sagely king, but puts forth very strange advice... What do you do with that?   

The first step is letting go of the guilt you may feel when you realize you cannot take a passage as literal.  After that, there are some simple questions: 

  1. Did the author intend it to be taken literally?  If so, it may be an indication that you are to follow their wishes as long as you think through question 2.
  2. Are you the intended audience? Some of those are: Jews, Believers in Jesus, religious leaders, and the whole world.  If you were not the intended audience, then it is likely that you will have to take the words somewhat figuratively to allow them to speak into your life.
  3.  Is it part of a diet and purity code?  If you are not Jewish, then these laws should not be taken literally, but still can offer insight into your life if you spend time thinking of how they can speak to your situation in more broad ways.
  4. Is it universally true, or has it changed with culture?  Some things were not aimed at you, but are true no matter where you go or who you are for example, “You shall not murder” Ex 20:13.  Other things have changed over time with culture like the way we understand slavery.
  5.  Has it changed as a result of clearer discernment or a drfit from God?  This is subjective and must be discerned in community with other believers who have different perspectives from you, but it is how you answer the literal/figurative question when things change over time in relation to culture.

In a very un-me style, I made a little decision tree to help bring these questions into a visual form.  If you would like to check it out, you can click here to see the pdf.  If you'd like to see a teaching on this, it is live right now on the "Questioning God" series page .




My Favorite Bible Background Sites


“Where does he find this stuff?”  It’s the question asked over and over again by people wanting to find the interesting tidbits that make for spell-binding teaching.  The unfortunate answer is often that a lot of boring research will yield one or two gems.

However, there are a few repositories for these gems online.  Here are three of my favorites:

Follow The Rabbi — Teaching by Ray Vander Laan on the Jewishness of Jesus that was a source of much of Rob Bell’s early teaching on the subject.  The site is not totally clear or easy to use, but it’s worth the extra time digging. For the largest portion of the stash scroll down to read, click on browse more guides, and then click on articles.

Biblical Archaeology Society — This is a fascinating site full of exactly what its name implies.  Pictures, ebooks, articles, you name it.  I will often log on to BAS and just search the name of a city or person mentioned in the text I am teaching to see what sort of archaeology there is to inform the text.

Wikipedia/Media — In Study after study, the accuracy of wikipedia has been verified as surpassing Encyclopedia Britannica.  However, I find it most helpful in finding links to articles on other sites.  But the real gem is wikiMEDIA.  It is full of great images, classic artwork, and some audio and video.  The best part is that it is all free to use.

Go forth and rock some Bible background!

From: YouthWorker Movement

Study the Bible in Three Questions

Studying the Bible can be intimidating. Not only is it by far the largest book most people pick up, but it was originally communicated to people who lived between 2,000 and 7,000 years ago (give or take a grand). Though I love to use outside resources, devotions, and study guides, it's nice to have a simple tool to help you plunge into its depths wherever you are. These three questions are a great guide for exactly that type of study.

1. What is this talking about? This question seeks a very simple answer. What is the LITERAL meaning of what you just read. This is important because if we are not careful, we have the tendency to skip over words, phrases or concepts that are confusing. Nailing down what the text is literally (not metaphorically... that's later) talking about helps force you to clarify those elements. For example, Proverbs 20:10 talks about the practice of cheating people in the marketplace by using a weight on a scale that says one pound one but is not to give people less of an item (like grain) than they paid for.  It talks about a lot more too, but that is its basic, literal meaning.

2. What is this REALLY talking about? This question goes the next step from the literal meaning to explore what the passage is implying or suggesting through metaphor or other comparisons. In this case, Proverbs 20:10 is clearly talking about being honest and fair in your dealings with everyone.

3. What does this say about me? Now we personalize the study by asking what it is that God might be saying to me. This is the moment that we try and see ourself in the Bible. We are part of its story and should seek to read it as if it is about us. Proverbs 20:10 might be talking about how I am fair with some people and unfair with others, or it might be confirming to me that the inequality I experience is, in fact, wrong.

That is it. Though it is simple, answering those questions can take as much time as someone has, and when you begin to process long pieces of scripture or figurative bits, it can turn into an epic adventure all its own.

The Avengers and The Body of Christ

This discussion/lesson guide originally appeared on the

Youthworker Movement


Yet another blockbuster movie has been able to get your students to skip the youth fundraiser and spend their $15 on a ticket.  Of course the main reason you were upset about it was because you were stuck at the church doing yet another fundraiser instead of being where everyone else wanted to be this weekend: The Avengers.  I won't spend a lot of time making this into a review.  So, I will review the move in one made-up word: Incredibleawesometacular. Now that my bias is clear, here's a list of questions to get students thinking and talking about the movie: Fun Creative Exercise: Ask students in the group to think about themselves and decide what some of their strengths and weaknesses are.  Then tell them you want them to exaggerate those strengths and weakness and come up with their own super-hero persona.  Name, Logo, whatever they can think of but the most important part is their main 1-3 super powers and their main weakness.  Take a moment to allow them to share with the group.


  1. What was your favorite part of the movie?
  2. What was the funniest line in the movie?
  3. Where did you see God or Christianity reflected in the movie?

The Super-hero theme:

  1. What is it about super heroes that makes people get excited?
  2. What need does that point to inside us as humans?
  3. What about villains?  What is it about them being so incredibly evil that makes these movies so good?

This group of super-heroes/villian:

  1. Every super hero has a strength and weakness.  What are they for each of the avengers?
  2. How do their strengths and weaknesses support each other?  Where do you see that happen in the movie?
  3. Think about their personalities.  Do you think their personalities help each of them or hurt them?
  4. How do their different personalities compliment each other?  Where do you see that happen in the movie?
  5. What do you think motivated Loki to attack earth?

Avengers Scripture:

  1. Read Romans 12:3-8
  2. How can the difference in strengths and weaknesses in The Avengers help us understand this scripture?
  3. If the body of christ were a super-hero group, what do you think Paul would say is the key to it being effective?
  4. What is one thing you can do over the next week to be more supportive of/connected to the Body of Christ?

Pig of God?

I was reading in an incredibly interesting book called Christian Worship Worldwide (by Charles E. Farhadian) about an interesting choice by the group who translated the Bible for the people of New Guinea.  The problem they encountered is that the people had absolutely no contact with lambs.  It was not just that they weren't very familiar, but that they had virtually no knowledge of the creature.

So, they were faced with a choice when translating the Bible.  Make the text totally inaccessible by making up a word for lamb and having to teach about what the animal was before anyone could understand the text or find an equivalent in their culture.  They chose the latter.

The only reason that it was problematic was that the animal closest to the lamb in their culture was the pig.  In their culture there are two grades of pigs raised:  those for consumption and those for sacrifice.  The ones raised for sacrifice have to be unblemished and raised in a special way.  When those pigs are sacrificed, their blood is understood to provide reconciliation with individuals, the east and the spirit world.

Like I said, it is as close as an animal can come to the significance of the lamb for the Jews and early Christians.   Yet, the pig is the opposite of that symbol for the Jews.  It is an interesting problem; however, they made the call and translated lambs as pigs.  In their translation of the Bible, John 1:29 reads "Behold the pig of God that takes away the sins of the world."

As hard as it is for American eyes to conceive, it is as close an accurate translation to communicate the Gospel to the people of New Guinea as there could be.  Wow.  Hard.

So, my question for you to consider is this: where is the line?  What pieces of your faith are open for translation and contextualization?  How far is too far when trying to reach people with the Gospel of Jesus?

Baptism of Jesus (Jewish/Cultural Background)

This is the first of several videos that will explore background information related to the readings for the New Testament Experience series that the Newsong service at my church is doing.  This is about Jesus Baptism found in Matthew 3.  So much information it was hard to decide!  Please email me questions: cumcyouthpastor@gmail.com

This is also the first new post on the updated unpretending blog... see below!
(From: Unpretending)

Mary, the Garden, and a New Eden-View

I am preaching (or preached depending on when you read this) this Easter Sunday (7am!) on John 20. One thing that I did not (or will not) have enough time to talk about is this interesting bit of the story.
First things first, John is not a haphazard author. He is very intentional about how and where he uses words and details. That being said, there are two interesting qualities about the resurrection narrative that we will miss if we aren’t careful. When talking about the tomb where Jesus is buried John says, “At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid.” (John 19:41) When Mary is in the tomb chatting it up with the angels, she turns and “thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’" (John 20:15b).

What is the obscure detail we hear? Garden, garden, gardener. John is trying to point toward something. He is trying to paint the resurrection as something far beyond that moment. He is painting it as the birthing of something sown at the very beginning of The Story. It appears that he is announcing a return of the gardener… a return to (of) the garden.

How can that be? Wasn’t the Garden of Eden perfect? If it was, and this is about returning to the garden, then something messed up because we all know that our world is far from perfect. I think there are two possible solutions (both of which could be simultaneously true).

First is the way many would instinctively deal with this. We would say that John was talking about the fixing or returning to a spiritual state that had been broken since the fall of man and can now be mended through Jesus. In other words, Jesus’ death and resurrection allows us to have true forgiveness and a relationship with God the Father.

Another way to understand it has its roots in the Hebrew language. Our understanding of the garden flows from a Greek dualistic view of the world (light and dark, good and evil, perfect and imperfect, etc.). This was not the way the Jewish people viewed the world. Without chasing that rabbit trail, we can recognize that they have a fundamentally different view of some things than we do. Perfection is one of them.

The Hebrew language does not have a word for “perfect.” In fact, the word we generally translate as perfect (tam/tamam) means complete/whole, and is relational meaning suitable/mature. In other words, it is not a static state.

In the Greek understanding the Garden of Eden must exist in a relatively static state of perfection because any change would mean one of the two states was not perfect. However, if we look at it through Hebrew eyes, we see that the Garden was suitable, mature. It was complete in the sense that someone who has completed puberty is a finished with their physical maturing and ready (physically) to create offspring or in the sense that the turkey has completed cooking because the little plastic thingy popped out. The Garden in this understanding is no longer perfect in the Greek way of thinking, but good. (I think it uses that term somewhere in the story)

That changes things. When Jesus rises from the dead, it doesn’t instantly bring guilt and condemnation in a new level because now we can be perfect (again?). Rather, it brings hope that we do not have to continue in a downward spiral. We do not have to fade into the darkness as the stone rolls over the cave. No! We can break out into glorious light as Jesus brings us once again to a place where we can mature spiritually. Where we are no longer stuck in some infinite spiritual adolescence (yikes!), but can get past the voice changes and tripping and get to the real life of being a follower of God the Father.
Like I said, two options. Both can be true. Or either. You must listen to Him, and I trust that the Holy Spirit is powerful enough to reveal the truth to your soul. As for me, I’m always discovering His truth and my own error.

The Seven Last Words of Jesus

The tenebrae service on good Friday is the only service in the church year that is supposed to be a service of mourning. The rest of the year we celebrate the risen Christ, but in this service, on this day, we mourn the death of God. This is the reading for that service. A warning, it is powerful. Take time to imagine each scripture. Easter will come, but for now, mourn.

Luke 23:33-34 -- When they came to the place called "The Skull," they nailed Jesus to the cross there, and the two criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Jesus said, "Forgive them, Father! They know not what they do."

Luke 23:39-43 -- One of the criminals hanging there threw insults at him: "Aren't you the messiah? Save yourself and us!" The other one, however, rebuked him, saying: "Don't you fear God? Here we are all under the same sentence. Ours, however, is only right, for we are getting what we deserve for what we did; but he has done no wrong." And he said to Jesus, "Remember me, Jesus, when you come as King!" Jesus said to him, "I tell you this: Today you will be in Paradise with me."

John 19:25-27 -- Standing close to Jesus' cross were his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. Jesus saw his mother and the disciple he loved standing there; so he said to his mother, "Woman, here is your son." Then he said to the disciple, "Here is your mother." And from that time the disciple took her to live in his home.

Mark 15: 33-34 -- And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Elo-i, elo-i, lama sabach-thani?" which means, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

John 19:28 -- After this jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the scripture0, "I thirst."

John 19:29-30 -- A bowl was there, full of cheap wine mixed with vinegar, so a sponge was soaked in it, put on hyssop and lifted up to his lips. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, "It is finished."

Luke 23:46 -- Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!" And having said this he breathed his last.

Christ has died.