Are you a pilgrim or a tourist? (Hebrews 11:8-16) #sermon #podcast

camino de santiago 1 cropGrowing up in the church, I would often hear the phrase, “We’re just pilgrims passing through,” usually in response to someone’s passion for changing the world. It means that since this is not our “true home” (heaven is), we shouldn’t worry about what happens to our world other than keeping our family safe. Hebrews 11 talks about the Israelite patriarchs who “confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth” (v. 13), not because they considered earthly life irrelevant compared to “heaven,” but because they “desired a better country” (v. 16). Those who see our lives on Earth as a brief visit are tourists; those who are seeking a kingdom of God that requires more than one lifetime to build are pilgrims. Which are you? Continue reading

The context of “going on to perfection” (Hebrews 6:1-3)

I came across the Biblical context of the Wesleyan doctrine of Christian perfection in yesterday’s Daily Office reading. It’s Hebrews 6:1-2: “Therefore let us go on toward perfection, leaving behind the basic teachings about Christ and not laying again the foundation: repentance from works of death and faith toward God, instruction about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.”

Continue reading

God’s grace in 4 stick figure drawings

We had the first session of our new member class today. During the first class, we do introductions and give a primer on Methodist theology. We had the fortunate problem of having too many people in the class so our introductions took up all but 15 minutes. I didn’t want us to leave having only done introductions, so I tried to explain in 15 minutes and 4 stick figure drawings the three kinds of grace we talk about in Methodism: prevenient, sanctifying, and justification, along with the Christian perfection that God’s grace draws us toward. The way I’ve illustrated it is a bit individualistic (which of course I would have criticized if someone else had done it ;-)). I’m interested in hearing your feedback and suggestions for improvement. Continue reading

What I taught the confirmands: the sea of wrath and island of mercy

For the past two years at our church’s confirmation retreat, I’ve shared a message based on Ephesians 4:14-16 that summarizes the way that I understand Christ to save us from sin by incorporating us into His body. I have often described my dissatisfaction with the popular evangelical account of salvation in which sin is understood solely as an offense against God’s honor which is “paid back” by Jesus’ blood on the cross. The problem with this predominant account is that it allows little recognition of the cross’s role in addressing the spiritual imprisonment sin creates as a powerful social force. In any case, the way I explained to our church’s confirmands the problem that Jesus’ cross resolves was by using the metaphor of a sea of wrath that we can only escape through an island of mercy created by Christ. Continue reading

What I wish Miroslav Volf had answered in A Public Faith

I had been waiting all summer for the release date of Miroslav Volf’s latest book, A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good. Amidst the political debate in our country about the debt ceiling, whether the Bush tax cuts should be extended, whether or not the EPA should even be allowed to exist, etc, I wanted to hear how a prominent Christian theologian understood our responsibility as Christians to the common good. To me, that phrase “common good” has a very specific meaning. It has to do with the material well-being of our neighbors and the world around us considered independently of our efforts to draw people into the body of Christ. Continue reading

Learning to Love God’s Judgment

[This is a repost of an article I wrote for Ministry Matters on the two sides of God’s judgment and the way that Christ’s atonement converts us into loving God’s judgment.]

Many have misinterpreted this year’s battle between Rob Bell and the neo-Reformed bloggers who have dogged him for the claims that Bell makes in his book Love Wins. It’s actually not a debate about whether or not hell exists; there’s a deeper question whose answer shapes how we understand the nature of hell and what we are saved from by the cross: Why does God judge us? Continue reading

Turning from Vanity: Monster-Psalm Meditation #5

Psalm 119:33-40
Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes,
and I will observe it to the end.
Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
and observe it with my whole heart.
Lead me in the path of your commandments,
for I delight in it. Continue reading