Category Archives: stuff about the Bible

Reflecting on the Wilderness

Reflection on Exodus 33:12-23 (October 22, 2017)

I was invited to share a reflection with a Spanish-speaking congregation.  This was my reflection, which was translated and shared with those who attended.

When Moses was praying to the Lord on behalf of his people, there was a separation between people and God.  The people expected Moses to intercede for them.  They had received a promise from God of the Promised Land, and were traveling through the wilderness trusting that promise.  But a promise is not the same as a relationship, and at the end of Moses’ prayer we see that as God passed through the community, it was like they looked up just in time to see God’s back pass by.  The relationship—the face to face conversation—was Moses’ responsibility.

But God invites them into relationship—even in the middle of the desert, and even though they don’t always respond to that invitation.  They were no longer in Egypt, but they were also not yet in the Promised Land.  And yet—even in the wilderness—they are not lost to God.  “I know you by name, and you have found favor in my sight,” we hear in Moses’ prayer.  “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Moses heard and could repeat these messages from God because he entered into God’s presence in prayer on behalf of his people.

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Redemptive Violence and 24

A few weeks ago I listened to a Robcast about the “lie of redemptive violence.”  In this podcast, Rob Bell explains how this idea of redemptive violence–that violence in retaliation for wrong-doing can be justified–is deep in our society…and even in our theology.  But it’s really a myth, and he goes on to talk about how the “Jesus narrative” provides a powerful alternative to this myth of redemptive violence.

So I had this podcast in my mind and was pondering this concept of redemptive violence, when I had a brief window in my regular schedule of television shows and was looking for something to watch.  So (don’t judge me) I settled on the final season of the show 24.  In this final season, counter-terrorism expert Jack Bauer is called on once again to save the U.S. from the threat of a terrorist attack.  Jack Bauer spends the next 24 hours trying to neutralize the threat in order to preserve peace.  And, of course, in quality mediocre television drama fashion, lots of people are tortured and killed in the race against time.  And at the last minute, the president of the United States has to decide what lines can or cannot be crossed for the sake of a signed document called a ‘peace treaty’.  To the show’s credit, it does not tie all the pieces together nicely at the end, and the whole thing ends with a bit of a question about who exactly ‘won’ after all that fighting and revenge.

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Love Has Come: a New Year’s Sermon

Sermon: January 1, 2017 (1st Sunday of Christmas)

“Love Has Come”

Matthew 2:13-23

A friend of mine is a missionary in South Sudan, living and working in a refugee camp. She homeschools her 3 boys while her husband does leadership training and discipleship in the community.  And she loves it.  Bethany shares through facebook and her blog the many ways she experiences the richness of life and love in the desert of South Sudan, amongst people whose language and culture she doesn’t always understand.  She wouldn’t trade her life for anything, as far as I can tell, and genuinely feels like she is where God has called her to be.  As you may know, South Sudan is a country that has been plagued by civil war for the last decade, probably more.  For as long as I can remember, there has been tension and violence in Sudan.  Bethany reported on facebook this week that they spent the days around Christmas literally lying on the floor in their house to avoid getting caught in the crossfire between warring militia.  On Dec. 27 all the missionaries in South Sudan were evacuated.  Bethany and Eli describe more about their Christmas weekend in this blog post.

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Put down the book and get into the story

I was setting up my nativity characters for chapel this week, and was reminded about a preschool chapel last year that became the central illustration in a sermon I preached on Dec. 20, 2015.  The sermon was in the context of a ‘Traveler’s Christmas,’ a Christmas Eve service for those who would be travelling over Christmas.  I found the manuscript to that sermon and realized I needed to hear it again this year.

Text: Luke 2:1-20

Last week in preschool chapel here at Grace, the kids were helping me tell the Christmas story.  I had a few sets of characters scattered around up front, and together we organized them to look something like a nativity scene.  And because I know that epiphany doesn’t come until after Christmas, the kings were a distance away from the rest of the animals and characters.  Someone noticed this and said, “the kings don’t have a star to follow!”  Without missing a beat, the kid sitting next to me holding the picture Bible put it down and jumped up, saying, “I can be a star…like this!” and he spread his arms and legs out while we sang “Go, tell it on the mountain.”


I tell you that story tonight because it was a moment full of joy and life that I just can’t get out of my head.  But also, the more I think about it, the more I think that kid got it right.  For many of us, this story we read in Luke 2 is really familiar, and every year we arrange the various pieces of our nativity sets to illustrate the story…and then we stand back and admire it from a distance.  In fact, I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we keep the whole message of Christmas at a distance.  We distract ourselves with questions about the historical accuracy, the literary details, the cultural specifics.  Maybe we honor the traditions of those around us.  Maybe we even find meaning in these traditions for ourselves.  But, for the most part, we keep this God who breaks into the world at a distance.

Continue reading Put down the book and get into the story


The 2nd sermon: “Remember who you are”

In pondering the sermon for this Sunday, I discovered that I actually had two sermons.  This is the one that won’t get preached.

Text: Matthew 5:13-16

In the movie Lion King, Simba is born into greatness.  A descendant of the king, he is told from a young age that he will one day rule over the pride land.  He doesn’t do anything to deserve this honor.  It’s just who he is.  It’s his identity—not because of who HE is, but because of who his father is.  And Simba is raised to be confident and comfortable in this calling.  He can sing and dance with his friends, saying, “I just can’t wait to be king,” because his calling is clear to him.

But then he starts listening to other voices.  After a serious accident, Simba listens to his uncle who tells him he has failed at life and must run away.  And Simba does.  He runs away and loses sight of who he was born to be…he loses sight of his calling.

Continue reading The 2nd sermon: “Remember who you are”

The Boat…

My congregation is doing a 6-week sermon/study series based on the book by John Ortberg, If you Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat.  I’ve been familiar with this book for quite some time, but I don’t think I’ve read it.  The book is based on the story of Peter walking on water, and the basic premise is that to really experience the fullness of what it means to follow the call of Jesus, we need to step beyond the safety and security of what they know and walk directly into the storm.

So this first week we were invited to ponder what boat we are in that maybe Jesus is calling us out of.  Ortberg says, “Your boat is whatever represents safety and security to you apart from God himself.  Your boat is whatever you are tempted to put your trust in, especially when life gets a little stormy.  Your boat is whatever keeps you so comfortable that you don’t want to give it up even if it’s keeping you from joining Jesus on the waves.  Your boat is whatever pulls you away from the high adventure of extreme discipleship” (p. 17).

As I was pondering this for myself, I began to wonder…what if the church (structured religious institution) is my boat?  What if I’m missing out on something bigger because all I can see is what I’m doing now…which is good and important and genuinely matters.  But is there somewhere beyond this to which I am being called? Continue reading The Boat…

Broad places and delight

He brought me out into a broad place;  he delivered me, because he delighted in me.  (Psalm 18:19)

I read this verse recently, and it reminded me of a conversation we had during staff meeting regarding the upcoming Gospel text for Sunday.  This Sunday’s Gospel text is the story of Jesus’ baptism, where God says to Jesus, “with you I am well-pleased.”  At staff meeting we were asked to reflect on what words God would say (or did say) to us in our baptism.  With a little bit of a joking spirit, we threw around phrases like, “there’s still hope for you,” or “you are a work in progress.” Continue reading Broad places and delight

This confusing of the languages…

I was in the States for 8th grade, and near the end of the year was getting ready to go on a summer mission trip to Mexico with a friend’s youth group.  One day as we were getting ready for P.E. and reflecting on the orientation meeting we’d been to the night before where we began learning basic Spanish phrases.  Our conversation went like this:

her: “Why do we have to learn Spanish?  Why doesn’t everyone just speak the same language?”
Me: “it’s because we messed up at the Tower of Babel.”
Her: “…the tower of what-now?”
Continue reading This confusing of the languages…

Bethlehem in the Midst of Bedlam–an Advent reflection

         For my personal Advent devotions this year I’m reading through a resource called Finding Bethlehem in the Midst of Bedlam.  Seems like an apt description for the season.  Everything’s just a tad more chaotic.  Kids in chapel today were a bit more wiggly.  Friends at lunch were lamenting busy calendars that were keeping them from recreation with their families.  Staff in the office were trying to stay non-anxious as parents came to pick up kids from preschool while construction crews tore up the sidewalks and visitors came for a mid-day organ concert.  Even at Starbucks this afternoon, the line was longer and the baristas frenzied.

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Two extremes of self-interest

“This passion empties one of self.  One does not “self-empty” by focusing upon oneself.  One is emptied of self to the degree one is overcome by the needs, pain, hopes and desires of others.  When concern for others takes one utterly beyond self-interest, beyond obsession with achievements and self-obsessing guilt over failures, beyond self, then one receives of the comfort of an Easter “yes” so overwhelming, unconditional, undeniable, and absolute that it is experienced as unfailing and forever–a yes more potent and enduring than any imaginable no” (Reflection on Phil. 2:1-13 by William Greenway in Daily Feast Devotional)

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