February 26, 2012

Mercy and Sacrifice/Our Boundaries Within/The Pain of Love

10 And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:10-13, English Standard Version

I've been reading Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality,  by Richard Beck of Abilene Christian University, and he uses verse 13 as a theme throughout the book to demonstrate the conscious (and more often, subconscious) boundaries we have in our minds, and what we do with them. As Beck is an experimental psychologist, and not a theologian, this book addresses issues in the Church from a standpoint of attitudes and actions in missionality, and not as doctrine or dogma.

Using verse 13 of Matthew 9, Beck makes the case that the deeper psychological meaning of "sacrifice" here is not so much about offering sacrifice at the temple as it is about how the Pharisees, and we as Church members today, can sacrifice people to be excluded from the Church due to their status as "sinners" or "unclean." Without an in-depth recap of Beck's argument, I think we can extend his ideas from the Church level to the level of our personal attitudes and relationships.

February 22, 2012


Forty days and nights of rain for Noah.

Forty days on top of Mount Sinai for Moses.

Forty years of wandering for the Hebrews.

Forty days and nights of walking to Mount Horeb for Elijah.

Forty days to repent for Nineveh.

Forty days in the wilderness of fasting and temptation for Jesus.

Forty hours in the tomb to bring defeat for death.

Forty days of prayer, reflection, and repentance for us.

I've never before been a part of a Christian tradition that observes Liturgical days concerning Jesus. I've always known about the recurrence of the theme of "Forty" throughout the Bible, but I'd never given much thought to the symbolism of the motif until now.

February 21, 2012

My Journey to Christ's Heart (And My Own)

My earliest memories of Church are from a small Church of Christ in rural NorthEast Texas. When I would spend time at my Grandparents house, my dear Grandmother would take me each Sunday morning to services and Sunday school. When I was very young, I mostly remember the loud, old-time Gospel preaching, and not having an understanding of what The Lord's Supper really was (my cousin and I thought it was mean that they were having a snack in the middle of church service, but wouldn't let us have any! We figured out what it was about after a couple of years, though.) I really had no exposure to any other denominations, and even though I saw their buildings, I had no understanding of doctrinal differences until I was in high school.

February 16, 2012

Interface: Commonality/Community

Ever since I started studying the Bible in earnest almost twenty years ago, I've been interested in the Greek and Hebrew words used in the early texts. In an English translation, the words are chosen by the translators to best communicate either the idea indicated in the whole sentence, or to be closer to a word for word meaning translation. In either case, I've always liked to look at key words in the original languages to look for deeper meaning and understanding of what the writers were saying, and what God is saying to me.

Last night, during a class discussion with our co-pastor, Mindy, koinonia  (κοινωνία) came alive for me. While it is used in many contexts in the New Testament, the overarching meaning is, "communion by intimate participation." It speaks of not only the remembrance of Christ in the Lord's Supper, but also the relationship of the people in the church.

Think about that second part a bit. When I look at myself, I can't honestly tell you that my church attendance is characterized by "intimate participation."

I can tell you that my thoughts and reflections during the Lord's Supper are intimate and intense. And while I fully believe that the call to remember Him at His table is the highest part of any church service, it's not the whole picture.

Intimate participation. It's a heavy thought.

February 15, 2012

Working On Relationships With People

Yesterday, I wrote about working on our relationship with God in terms of how we treat people, and today, I'm going to make the logic completely circular, so to speak.

I'm an introvert, an extreme one. While I love having one on one conversations on subjects that are important to me, I have a very hard time with small talk and surface-level social conversations in group settings. What makes it worse is that some days my "give-a-flip" mechanism isn't working properly. It takes all the effort I have in me to simply smile and give a kind word to a stranger. But, at the same time, I know I can't live a fulfilling life, or the life God would have me live, if I stay in that mode.

To get out of that, I have to do some of the spiritual activities things that Beck wrote of in his blog post that can be misused as a substitute for simply being a decent person. I have to spend time in prayer and meditation, writing to clarify my thoughts, attending church services, and studying and internalizing His Word. Without those things, I have a difficult time keeping His will for how I relate to you in the front of my mind.

February 14, 2012

Working On Our Relationship With God

I read a great blog post by Richard Beck, professor and department chair of Psychology at Abilene Christian University. Even though it was written in 2009, "The Bait and Switch of Contemporary Christianity"  is still as relevant today as it was three years ago, and well worth your time to read. In it, Beck writes, "The trouble with contemporary Christianity is that a massive bait and switch is going on. "Christianity" has essentially become a mechanism for allowing millions of people to replace being a decent human being with something else, an endorsed "spiritual" substitute...The point is that one can fill a life full of spiritual activities without ever, actually, trying to become a more decent human being."

The question we are left with is , "What did Jesus want us to be, good church attendees or good human beings?" Look at the responses Christ gave to Peter after asking, "Do you love Me?" Each of the answers was to take care of His sheep. While we certainly aren't all followers of Christ, does not being a Christian make anyone not be one of His sheep? We know that Christ was trying to teach us a lesson there, but sometimes it seems as if we Christians only have part of the lesson learned.

I don't believe for one bit that Christ intended for this command to be something that we do to prove our love to Him (or our fellow Christians), but rather, a deep lesson in how to love him, how to transform our hearts to be more like His. And I believe that He intended for this to be a deeply personal lesson and spiritual activity.

February 13, 2012

Wasted On The Way

After all the enjoyment I had singing at church a week ago with my friends Lindy, Christian, and April, I realized how much I had missed listening to Crosby, Stills, and Nash. After buying a couple of favorite albums of theirs, I found myself listening over and over to their song "Wasted on the Way."

The lyrics of the last chorus are what stuck with me most throughout the week, "So much love to make up everywhere you turn, Love we have wasted on the way."

You're either a fortunate person, or a very young one, if those lyrics don't resonate somewhere within you.

But sitting around, dredging up the old regrets, doesn't do anything to change the present and the future.

Love is still there to grasp, everywhere I turn. I just have to see it, and not let the chance go to waste. The big secret that some of us have to learn, is that love cannot be grasped unless it is given.

This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. And not waste any chances to love.

February 9, 2012

Vulnerability v. False Sensitivity in the Healing Process

After a night of tossing and turning in bed over some discussion of healing and vulnerability last night, some things are becoming clearer to me after a few cups of coffee this morning.

There is a big difference between being hurt and being offended.

And there is a big difference between being offended by something and being disgusted by something.

If I say something in anger that is designed to hit someone at a weak spot, then that is purely my meanness, and the fault lies solely with me. If I'm simply stating my experience and my belief, and it somehow offends someone, then the fault is not with me, but rather with the listener.

If someone says or does something that offends me, it is solely my responsibility, because we each choose the things that offend us. Perhaps it is not a conscious decision, but it is our own choice. If something someone says or does disgusts me, it is because that has touched the deepest parts of my heart and soul.

God's law is written on our hearts, and there are many things that should rightly disgust us.

What does any of that have to do with healing?

February 6, 2012

Healing Along the Trail of Tears

It would be so much easier for me to simply ask for healing and then just receive it, with no effort at all required on my part. It's so tempting to want to think of God's healing as little more than getting a shot from the doctor. The catch is that the healing that both God and doctors offer come with instructions to be followed. That means I have to do something, like lose weight and exercise or let go of my spiritual poisons and help people that truly need help. That's a tall order in the days of pressing a button to change the channel on the TV, or just clicking on a link to go to another website.

But the really important things in life usually aren't about instant gratification.

In some odd bit of prescience, I titled the image above "Healing" when I had originally taken it.

February 2, 2012


Late at night, on a road out in the rural areas far from big cities, someone spins the dial on the AM radio looking for a station to tune into. I've done it myself many times. Some of the channels are empty, some may have a distant signal that will come in clear enough to understand easily. Much of the time, you'll hear two or more stations from afar, struggling to gain the radio's full attention.

As the stations fade in and out, you can sometimes hear a weaker signal that remains steady underneath the static and noise. With some careful attention, you can manage to listen to that station while ignoring the louder ones that waver and shift.

Listening for the still, small voice of God's guidance can be like that sometimes. For me, it can be like that much of the time. Worries, resentments, and desires all compete to drown out that one quiet voice. It takes patience, practice and attention to consistently listen for it.

February 1, 2012


It's a very foggy morning around SouthEast Texas today. A fairly common occurrence during this season, when the ground and Gulf waters have been cooled by Winter, and warm humid air moves off of the Gulf of Mexico. Most of the time, the fog will lift by mid-morning, but sometimes, it stays foggy for days.

It's hard to drive; the visibility is low, and the roads are slick. Cars slide around, and hit each other or go off of the road completely. It's hazardous until the warmth of the sun lifts the fog and dries the road.

It's similar to what can happen in our lives and hearts at times. Events and things cause the view to become hazy, but we think we can guide ourselves safely, because we've managed OK so many times before.