November 8, 2014

New Podcast: Generous God, Generous People @StMarkMobile #UMC



There are many words to describe God. One of those words is “generous”. And what an excellent word to describe the big-hearted and overflowing extravagance of God’s grace. We can be exceedingly grateful that God relates to us with a generous grace. But if God treats us with such generous grace, shouldn’t our lives be conduits of that grace to others? Shouldn’t we embody that kind of godly generosity? Doesn’t God desire that his people be generous as he is generous? Because he is generous? And as we grow in godly generosity, aren’t we then growing in grace? And if generosity is about grace, isn’t it also about joy? What if growing in generosity produces joy? And not just any joy. Deep joy. 

If you receive this post through email, click here for the podcast.

November 6, 2014

Keep Up the Good Work: Criminal Mercy in South Florida

The governing authorities are the servants of God to uphold what is good and right. But sometimes the servants get wrong. Bad wrong. Crazy bad wrong. When that happens the servants need to be reminded who they serve and what their role is. Such is the case in Ft. Lauderdale where three people have been arrested for feeding homeless people. Yes, you read that correctly. Apparently, one of the arresting officers instructed the culprit to "drop that plate right now." Yes, drop the plate and move away slowly...with your hands up! You have the right to remain silent.

How many passages of scripture flood to mind after the reading of this headline:
"I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink...just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it unto me. And these will go away into eternal punishment." -Jesus, Matthew 25:42,45-46
"In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak." -Paul, Acts 20:35
"When you give a banquet, invite the poor." -Jesus, Luke 14:13
"They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which is actually what I was eager to do." -Paul, Galatians 2:10
"Has God not chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom...But you have dishonored the poor." -James 2:6
"If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your own community...do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be." -Deuteronomy 15:7-8
I could go on. There are many, many others, not to mention the texts that curse those who oppress the poor. That's right, curse. The imperative to care for the poor is a chorus that rings throughout scripture. It cannot be missed by anyone reading with their eyes open. What is astounding is that this sort of tomfoolery must actually be named for what it is. Any clear-minded person should see the savagery in criminalizing ministries of mercy with the impoverished. Talk about having it backwards. 

In this case, Mr. Abbot and the pastors who have been arrested are the ones who have it right. And they should take comfort in the promise of Jesus, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:10). Well done, fellas, keep up the good work.

Photo credit: Associated Press

November 5, 2014

A Prayer for Those Who Govern

The government in the U.S. is in the midst of a significant transformation after yesterday's election. And it's a good time for the people of God to remember their responsibility to hold those who govern in prayer regardless of policy or party affiliation. So, I offer this prayer, which is a slightly revised version of one I said to open the Mobile City Council meeting last week, the light editing intended to extend it beyond the local level to all levels of government. 
Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose kingdom is everlasting, whose power infinite, and who rules over all that is. You have established the governing authorities to uphold what is good and right and true. Have mercy upon this this land, and so rule in the hearts of your servants who govern it, that they, knowing whose ministers they are, may above all things seek your honor and glory. Look upon them with favor and replenish them with grace by your Holy Spirit, that they may be always motivated to do your will and walk in your way. Fill them with wisdom and courage; grant them wholeness and holiness. And grant that we, the people of this land, remembering whose authority they bear, may faithfully and obediently honor them. Grant that all under their authority grow in your grace and holy love, and attain everlasting life, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who reigns over heaven and earth. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 
Those familiar with the common prayer tradition should be able to do the source critical work quite easily, even if it is said with a Wesleyan accent.

October 24, 2014

New Podcast: Fully Focused on the Finish #ChristianPerfection #UMC


When I read the letters of Paul, I often wonder whether he was a fan of athletic games - foot racing, at least. On several occasions Paul draws on the language of the races to illumine the nature of the Christian life. For instance, "Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it" (1 Cor 9:24). Similarly in Philippians 3 Paul describes the Christian life in terms of straining forward towards the goal to win the prize. It's hard not to imagine an Olympic runner putting all of his energy into crossing the finish line to win the gold. For Paul, the gospel worthy life is fully focused on the finish, and that means knowing what the finish line is, namely resurrection union with Christ, and it means leaving the past in the past - all of it. On top of that, Paul's racing imagery helps us get a better sense of what we mean when we talk about Christian perfection. Take a listen to find out what Paul means when he counts himself among the "perfect" in Philippians 3:15. If you receive this post as an email, click here to listen on the podcast page. Previous sermons can be found here

October 9, 2014

New Podcast: Christlike in Real Life @StMarkMobile #UMC



How would you like to be part of a group of people who were always concerned with your best interests? A group of people who were consistently and genuinely looking out for your well-being? They would be loyal to you. They would encourage you. They would build you up. That would be great. But you're probably thinking: what a longshot. Because, after all, we meet people all the time who are in it for themselves - only looking out for Number One. Wouldn't it be nice to be a part of group that was different, a group committed to other-oriented love? Longshot...right? Well, I believe that this kind of community life is a real possibility. And I believe it because that is the vision of community that Paul holds before the Philippian Christians in his letter to them. He tells them to regard one another with the mind of Christ looking not to their own interests but to the interests of others. It turns out that Paul thought the Philippians could actually live into this vision. And he commended Timothy and Epaphroditus as men who embodied this vision of what it looks like to be Christlike in real life. Check out this week's podcast for more on embodying the mind of Christ consistently...comprehensively...entirely.

October 7, 2014

Here's my favorite moment in Narnia. What's yours?

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis are full of remarkable passages. In fact, there are so many amazing moments that it can be difficult to narrow it down to a single favorite. But if I had to choose today, I would go with a scene near the end of The Magician's Nephew. The scene comes just after Aslan has sung Narnia into existence and after the boy Digory has managed to allow the evil Queen Jadis into the newly created world. As Digory is preparing for a task that will protect Narnia from the wicked Queen, he gathers the courage to ask Aslan to cure his deathly ill mother. Here's the passage as Lewis tells it:
"But please, please - won't you - can't you give me something that will cure Mother?" Up till then he had been looking at the Lion's great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion's eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory's own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his mother than he was himself. 
"My son, my son," said Aslan. "I know. Grief is great. Only you and I in this land know that yet. Let us be good to one another." 
I reserve the right to change my mind later, but for now that's my favorite moment in Narnia. What's yours?

September 30, 2014

New Podcast: Saved All the Way @StMarkMobile #UMC #WesleyanAccent


One reason I love Philippians is the constant attention Paul gives to applying the gospel to all of life. He really wants to see the light of the grace of God shine into every crack and crevice of the human heart. He wants to see us work out the grace that God has worked in us. One way he does this is by holding up the example of Jesus, the one who did not exploit his divine status but instead emptied himself to become a servant, and a human servant at that! For Paul, the attitude of Jesus demonstrated in his other-oriented self-emptying is the same attitude that should consistently and comprehensively be demonstrated in the lives of believers. We Wesleyan Christians sometimes happily insist that "all can be saved to the uttermost," and this certainly reflects Paul's understanding of salvation all the way through Philippians. To update the language a bit, we might also say that Paul believes we can be saved all the way. Click play above to discover how it happens.

September 23, 2014

New Podcast: Life Worth Living @StMarkMobile #UMC

The apostle Paul said a lot of remarkable (and often surprising!) things. One thing that I find particularly remarkable is the fact that even in the midst of great suffering he was still able to find joy. This shows up with clarity early in his letter to the Philippians. Paul reports not only that he is in prison for Christ but also that some rival preachers are working to increase his suffering. Wow! Talk about tough times. And yet he still declares that he will rejoice and continue to rejoice. Apparently, Paul's circumstances didn't degrade his joy. He still found meaning and purpose in the gospel of Christ during great persecution. What was his secret? Simply this: Paul understood that the gospel worthy life is life worth living. And he wrote to the Philippians because they needed to hear that very message in the midst of their own suffering. Check out this week's podcast for more about how the gospel makes life worth living even when circumstances present challenges.

September 22, 2014

Connecting the Pauline Dots: Not Whether but What Sort of Imputation? #PFG

The following is from David I. Starling and seems to me remarkably clear and thoroughly Pauline:
At this point in the discussion, the topic of imputation arises - not only because it is a notorious point of contention between old perspective and new perspective but also (and more importantly) because of the language and imagery implied by words such as "righteous," "justified," and "condemned." In Rom 3:24, for example, the justification that is accomplished through the work of Christ is conferred on its recipients "by his grace as a gift" (δωρεὰν τῇ αὑτοῦ χάριτι) - language that anticipates the discussion in the following chapter, in which the justification of the ungodly is described as a metaphorical transaction in which righteousness is "reckoned as a gift" (λογίζεται κατὰ χάριν; Rom 4:4, 6, 12; cf. 5:16-15) and sin, conversely, is "not reckon[ed]" against the sinner (Rom 4:8; cf. 2 Cor 5:19).
Imputation, then (or "reckoning"), of one sort or another, is not an un-Pauline intrusion into the doctrine of justification; it is part of the conceptual array that the texts themselves bequeath to us as a framework within which to articulate our understanding of the righteous status of those on whom God's justifying verdict has been pronounced. If we are to follow Paul's lead in constructing our doctrinal formulations, the question is not whether we will have a doctrine of imputation but merely what sort of doctrine of imputation we will construct - which metaphorical credits or debits we will speak of as being imputed to whom - and how much work we will ask it to do within our doctrinal system. If Paul is happy to speak of God as "reckon[ing] righteousness," "as a gift," to "ungodly" people whose record of conduct could hardly warrant this verdict; if Paul speaks of this gift of righteousness as having been made possible by the faithful obedience of Christ, culminating in his atoning death; and if the forensic and covenantal background against which Paul makes these assertions is one in which "righteousness" is language not only for the status created by a judge's verdict but also for the record of conduct with which this sort of verdict ought normally to correspond, then surely, one might argue, we are only connecting Pauline dots, not drawing a whole new picture, if we speak in terms of God's imputing our sins to Christ and Christ's righteousness to us.
From "Covenants and Courtrooms, Imputation and Imitation: Righteousness and Justification in Paul and the Faithfulness of God," Journal for the Study of Paul and his Letters 4:1 (2014): 37-48, here 43-44. This issue of JSPL was devoted to reviewing N.T. Wright's recent and substantial Paul and the Faithfulness of God

September 12, 2014

Does the Doctrine of the Trinity Matter? @OfficialSeedbed #7MinuteSeminary

I'm grateful to the team at Seedbed for the opportunity to contribute to the Seven Minute Seminary series of short videos. Here's one on the biblical, theological, and pastoral importance of the Trinity.