Information is One Part of This

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cgj-square-logoTwo weeks ago, I had the kick-a$$ opportunity to chat with Rob Bell.  Thanks to Jason’s inability to work the internet and Morgan’s Lenovo laptop from 1984, the internet gods smiled upon me and I was able to interview Rob for the latest episode of Crackers and Grape Juice.  Rob is one of those guys who can command a room with a 2 hour lecture, leaving those in the audience wanting more, and willing to sit for the remainder of the day.

There is only so much information I can consume at one time.  What seems like forever ago, when I started my studies at Wesley Theological Seminary I felt like I was drinking from a fire hose.  My first semester I purchased the 20+ books required for me 3 courses and dove in.  After one week I knew I was in trouble. Having grown up in the church, I knew the stories.  I knew about Noah and his boat, Daniel and the lions, Jesus and his 12 buddies, and about Saul becoming Paul.  What I didn’t know was just how on the surface I knew these stories.

For the first 2 years of seminary I was on information overload.  I was learning new things everyday.  Every evening when I sat down to do my studying my mind was being blow.  Diving deeper into the stories of Israel reshaped the way I was reading the Gospels.  Then having a new understanding of the Gospels changed the way I read the Epistles.  And so on, and so on.  Everyday was a new opportunity to have my mind blown by the writings of the church fathers, feminist and liberation theologians, and believe it or not the scripture text itself.

This is where I stayed for 3 years.  I was focused academically and that led be to being overly focused on reading what Karl Barth, Jurgen Moltmann, John Wesley, and James Cone had to say about the Bible.  This negatively impacted my ministry.  I was a newly minted Youth Pastor and church intern who could rapidly recite information from the classroom but struggled to connect what I had learned with the real world.  I could limp through lessons with great videos I found on YouTube or The Work of the People.  I was faking it in hopes that I could make it.

I’ll let you in on a secret: a teenage girl could careless about Karl Barth’s opinion when her parents are in the middle of a nasty divorce.  Teenage boys don’t care about liberation theology when they just found out their friend has cancer.  Everything I learned in the temple of academia was great for passing my classes and preparing myself for life after school but I was not connecting what I learned with reality.

“The whole world is a a temple, and you begin to see the divine all over the place.” – Rob Bell

I was not witnessing to my own transformation.  I had not figured out how to connect what I was learning with the inner-transformation God was doing in me.  As a result of that, I was not witnessing to the transformation God was doing in the lives of the students I was charged with pastoring to.

I was caught up in  the tradition of learning and not paying attention to the tradition of pastors caring for their community.

In order to care for the community you are called to care for you must be connected to it, active in the life of it, and continually seeking where God is at work in it.

The thing I love most about my job is now helping students & families see where the divine is active in their lives.  Commentaries are great but they are looking at scripture and the narrative of God’s people through the lense of someone else’s life.

As Rob said, sometimes we get off “in the weeds”.  We are allowing ourselves to get caught up in the spiritual lives of other people all the while ignoring the divine around us everyday.

While my days of drinking for a fire hose academically are gone I am today trying to drink up the divine’s work in the world I live in.  Growing by reading books pastors and theologians shouldn’t be reading or by listening to the voices who are normally not welcome in the church.


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my son the theologian

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Photo Credit: The Greenwich Sentinel
Photo Credit: The Greenwich Sentinel

I spent the better part of yesterday morning chatting with Fleming Rutledge for an upcoming episode of the fastest growing UMC flavored podcast around, Crackers & Grape Juice.  The original plan was to talk with Fleming about Karl Barth but we ultimately decided to talk about scripture (partly because Jason would have been over stimulated talking about Barth and talking with Fleming at the same time).  Fleming’s latest work, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ, is something I’ve been slowly working through for the past few months.  Reading a bit digesting it, and then reading some more.

Our conversation about scripture today took an unexpected turn when in some strange way my three-year old son’s preschool Sunday school lesson became a relevant part of the almost two-hour long discussion.

noahs-ark-ideas-for-sunday-schoolLast Sunday Mrs. Kelly taught Camden’s class about Noah’s Ark.  We all love the story of Noah’s Ark.  It has drama, suspense, horror, and love all wrapped up into a Sunday school sized story.  Camden came home from church last week with a new piece of art for the refrigerator.  The ark, a dove, and a rainbow are precisely pasted onto a drawing of water which Camden obviously created without any need of help from his Sunday school teachers.  When I asked him what he learned he was quick to tell me that God put the animals on the ark.  When I asked him who else was on the ark he responded with a decisive “God!”

Immediately I corrected him.  

“Camden, Noah was on the ark.  Noah and his family.”

Camden ignored me as usual and went off to play with his trains and harass the dog.

13906681_790140771277_1501319628571365486_nCamden knows the story of Noah.  For a few months Allison and I read the story of Noah to him from his Noah storybook or his “Bible book” every night.  He knows God told Noah to build an ark.  He knows God sent the animals.  And he knows that rainbows are promises of God’s love.

But his answer of God being on the boat, instead of Noah rubbed me the wrong way.  I couldn’t let it go.

Sunday night I pressed him on it, asking him again who was on the boat.

“God and the animals daddy!”

Monday afternoon he had the same response on the way home from school.

By Tuesday morning I had given up.  Maybe it was the lack of sleep or the impending staff meeting I was prepping for, but either way I had moved on.  Then Fleming had to chime in on the situation.

Yesterday afternoon we were talking about preaching styles, techniques, and the interpretation of scripture.  We were supposed to be focused on scripture but we are intentional on C&GJ about letting the guest drive the conversation.  Fleming argued that without God as the subject of the story,  we will ignore the fact that God is the person setting things into motion.  Take for example the story of Moses.  Without God in the story, Moses is talking to a burning bush, which in many circles makes him mad and not the person who leads Israel to freedom.

Fleming was pointing to what Camden had already told me three times, and that is without God in scripture we run the risk of reducing sacred texts down to just a “humdinger of a story.”  God is the agent transforming what could just be a great bedtime story into a scared text about God delivering on a promise made to Noah, Abraham, Israel, and you and me.

In all of these stories God is calling us towards the divine.  Whether it is through Moses, Joshua, Samuel, Paul, or even Christ himself God is speaking and working through their stories.

I was asking leading questions when I asked Camden about his Sunday school lesson.  I was not interested (at the time) with how God spoke to him, directly and through his teachers, about the flood story.  There was an answer I was looking for and when Camden did not deliver I pushed back thinking he would cave.  Fleming warned that, particularly with children, we must guard ourselves to not over direct the (child’s) response, the exact opposite of what I was doing..

So according to Fleming, Camden has a future as a theologian.  My only hope is that he continues to think theologically without the baggage I bring to scripture when I read it.


Be on the lookout for this episode of Crackers & Grape Juice.  In the coming weeks we have a lineup that you won’t want to miss, Rob Bell, Jerry Herships, and Steve Austin just to name a few.  In the meantime, head over to  or Spreaker and subscribe so you never miss an episode.

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Under Attack by Ideas – Part 1 With Rob Bell

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cgj-square-logoTwo weeks ago, I had the kick-a$$ opportunity to chat with Rob Bell.  Thanks to Jason’s inability to work the internet and Morgan’s Lenovo laptop from 1984, the internet gods smiled upon me and I was able to interview Rob for the latest episode of Crackers and Grape Juice.  Rob is one of those guys who can command a room with a 2 hour lecture, leaving those in the audience wanting more, and willing to sit for the remainder of the day.

After hearing Rob speak in Dallas, Texas at the Progressive Youth Ministry Conference and now listening to The Robcast weekly, I have come to wonder where/how Rob knows so much about the topics he is speaking on or writing about.  So when I had the chance to ask him I was shocked at his response.

Rob Bell
Rob Bell at the 2016 Progressive Youth Ministry Conference

Rob told me that he does not have a specific theologian or author that he references.  While that was not a complete and total shock, I was taken back when he followed up by explaining how he utilizes events in his life (like a broken cuboid bone from 2009) and then as he is reading a random book on medicine or architecture connects the (almost) long-lost life event to it.

What?!?!  I can barely remember what happened to me yesterday.  

One thing I love about my job as a youth pastor is that I get to help students and their families see where God is at work in their lives.  And the beauty of what Rob said is incredibly important for me to remember: it may not always be clear but the God is always at work.  Whether it is in the midst of what might seem like a family tragedy or even in an egg white soaked cloth being laid on an injured foot (you’ll have to listen to the interview to understand), God is at work, leading, healing, and teaching.

The great thing about the work of theology is that it is not limited to study of thousand year old, dead theologians.  Theology happens everyday we decide to roll out of bed, put our feet on the floor, and take on whatever is placed in front of us.  Each day is a new opportunity to see the divine at work in the big and small pieces of our lives.  And the best part of it all, what I see as the ultimate invitation, we are invited to participate.  We are welcomed by our Creator to be fully participating partners.

We don’t always need to have the latest N.T. Wright book on the resurrection or the newest commentary on Leviticus.  As much as those things make me happy and excited about the work of theology for now I am going to take a page from Rob’s play book and begin to really pay attention to where God is acting in the little things in my life (hopefully it won’t be an egg white soaked cloth, but who knows what will happen).

So let me ask you, where do you find inspiration or guidance for your work?  Maybe you’re a pastor who is writing sermons each week and have a go-to theologian or author you seek guidance from.  Maybe you are an architect and look back to the work of a mentor for inspiration.  Or you could be a musician inspired by the Baroque period and use that to transform the music you write.  We all find inspiration and guidance from a variety of spaces, places, people, and groups.


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Click the images below and subscribe to the Crackers & Grape Juice Podcast. We promise to provide you with theological conversations without stained glass language. For the love of all that is holy: Give us a review there in the iTunes store or on Spreaker. It’ll make it more likely more strangers and pilgrims will happen upon our meager podcast.

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Believe It Or Not, I’ve Learned Something!

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Since March I’ve been part of a podcast project.  My former pastor turned friend Jason Micheli approached me about participating in a theological conversations without using stained glass language I was excited.  You see, I’m not a “stained glass language” kind of guy.  And then on top of that you add Morgan Guyton to the mix, a guy whose writing challenges the way we participate in the world, I knew this was going to be an exciting project.

Six months into this I’ve (and I think we’ve) learned a few things.

1. Quality Matters

The first episode we recorded, in hindsight, was a train-wreck.  I was finishing my thesis and coming close to wrapping up year one at a new church.  Naturally, Jason wanted to talk about the transition I had experienced as well as my thesis work.  We had a great conversation.  Content wise, I think it was one of the best conversations we’ve had.  But then the audio quality sucked.  The crappy 2008 laptop I was using could handle the high-octane software we were running which resulted in poor audio quality.  We decided to post it anyways, thinking no one was going to listen anyways.

We quickly found out that quality is more important than content at times.  This translates into everyday ministry for me.  We can have the best theological points, create object lessons, and awesome games BUT if the presentation is half-assed to together, it might be for nothing.  And this means that we cannot settle for good enough in student ministry.

2. Preparation is Key

There are a few topics I can talk about at length without much prep: student ministry, missional theology, and beer.  Outside of those, I need to prep.  I have learned that no matter how comfortable with the topic or familiar with the guest I need to do some prep work.  Read over related blog posts, actually read the author’s books, and do all of this more than 5 minutes before it is time to record.

For student ministry then, this reminds me that we need be planning & preparing for ministry events more than 2 hours before hand.  It drives me nuts (and is down right lazy) when student pastors wait to the last minute to prep for youth group, worship, and mission trips.  People notice when you don’t prep, and they will call you out for it.

3. Don’t Be Surprised When You’re Surprised

During the first recording with Fleming Rutledge I wasn’t sold on her as a regular.  I knew Jason had an unhealthy  obsession with her work but I wasn’t sure what this woman would add to the conversation, especially one where we were trying to not use stained-glass language.

We should not be surprised when we are surprised by God’s people.  Knowing the Holy Spirit is working through those we encounter should prepare us for how others will change our points of view and then challenge us to make sure we are pushing ourselves to work harder and harder.  Fleming is now that person for me.  Her commentary on the quality of preaching out there rocked the way  I view my role when I stand in the pulpit.  While I don’t preach often, I do teach A LOT.  This means that my teaching now is an opportunity to not only educate about the love of God but it is also an opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus Christ in ways some may not be expecting.

So yes, I do spend a lot of time recording, editing, listening, and then editing again.  But in the process of doing this I am growing.  I spend more time reading and studying now.  I spend more time reflecting on what it means to be a part of the Body of Christ.  But the best part of this podcast project is waiting to see where and how God will challenge me next, who God will introduce me to next, and how God will use me as we work to build the Kingdom.


Click the images below and subscribe to the Crackers & Grape Juice Podcast. We promise to provide you with theological conversations without stained glass language. For the love of all that is holy: Give us a review there in the iTunes store or on Spreaker. It’ll make it more likely more strangers and pilgrims will happen upon our meager podcast.

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Disarming the Pulpit

gun in bible

I think it is time we begin a discussion about disarming the pulpit.

Believe it or not, the pulpit has a lot of power.  Not only are sermons preached from their but often times, we pay more attention to what is said from the pulpit (announcements, mission moments, etc.) than we would if they were said from the floor or lectern.  For example, I could announce this Sunday in the bulletin that our youth will be giving free car washes after church (not really happening, this is just an example) and I’d be lucky if a few people saw it.  But if the Senior Pastor read the announcement from the bulletin while standing in the pulpit, everyone in worship would know that our youth will be giving free car washes after church (again, not really happening, this is just an example).

gun in bibleI don’t think we should remove this kind of power from the pulpit.  Having a place in the community where everyone (for the most part) is focused on the proclamation of the word of God is wonderful thing.  The disarming I am talking about is removing the desire to conceal (or open) carry firearms while leading worship or participating in a worship service.  I became more convinced of this after a pastor put out a call to arms in a social media rant over the legalization of same-sex marriage and Facebook conversation in a youth ministry group I am a part of.  Here is the original post:

Anyone on here have any experience dealing with concealed carry as a youth leader?

I have full support from our pastor and elders about me carrying my off duty handgun (I work full time as a peace officer and run our youth dept as a volunteer). I just started volunteering again after a 3 year break and now carry.

My problem: I am totally comfortable carrying but on youth nights or trips hanging out with students running around playing sports or whatever I find myself always worrying about it. Will someone see it will it fall out (I know it won’t but I worry lol). I don’t want to cause any distractions with it being accidentally seen but I also feel very passionately about having it and being prepared.

I have contemplated leaving it locked up in my car safe but then I am uncomfortable not having it close. I have thought about getting a safe to keep it put away but reachable in my office at the church but I don’t know. Let me know your thoughts and thanks guys.

Aside from this individuals only concern not being one of a theological nature, what troubled me most was that of the 20ish responses, only looked to Gospels and Christ’s ministry for guidance.  Here are my 2 favorite responses:

Ditch the concealed firearm and set up a sniper in the sound booth. It’s a win-win solution!

And,

If you aren’t sure about how your kids might feel about it, you should just hold a class at the church. Make it a series on a Sunday morning. Call it “Sniper Jesus” or something. Get creative. They could all get licensed to carry too! Help them understand why you NEED to have the gun with you at all times. You could use a passage like 1 Peter 3:15: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to shoot anyone who gives you reason too. But do this with gentleness and respect.” I think that’s what it says…

Anyways, Let them know that it’s your 2nd amendment right to own guns whether it makes them uncomfortable or not. Explain to them that accidents with guns NEVER HAPPEN with people who are properly trained and there is not legit reason for them to worry about getting shot in the face while playing hungry, hungry hippos lol. Besides Christians carrying weapons is part of our history.

The early church always carried weapons with them to worship. They never knew if their persecutors might turn up and feed them to the lions or turn them into candles so they were always prepared to fight back and take a life if there was a reason to.
If they still aren’t convinced just tell them it’s what Jesus wants. As an American, you’re sure of it.

jesus-got-a-gun_3pn00nI think part of the problem is guns are not specifically referenced in the Gospels or in the Epistles, I am sure the writers were thinking about our 2nd amendment right to bear arms but needed to cut something in the final editing.

So I found a few lines of scripture and I want you to imagine the word “sword” is replaced by “concealed hand gun” or just plain ol’ gun.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also. – Matthew 5.38-39

“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” – Matthew 10.28

“Then Jesus said to him,“Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?”” – Matthew 26.52-54

“He said to them, “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. ” – Luke 22.36

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” ” – Romans 12.19

“For it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.” – Romans 13.4

I know this won’t end the debate but I think it’s a good starting point that many are ignoring.  Our T.V.’s tell us daily that they (evil/darkness) are coming for us.  We hear of priests being killed during mass and we become afraid of what we cannot control.  But, part of being a disciple of Jesus Christ is knowing that we are not in control.  When we give our lives to Christ, we give ourselves to the work of God and it is in my opinion that the work of God does not include responding violence with violence.

faith4“The church occupies the space he has made so that the world may see what a people look like who are not determined by the destructive fantasy that we can secure our lives through violence.” ― Stanley Hauerwas, Without Apology: Sermons for Christ’s Church

 

I Just Don’t Understand

Crackers Profile

It’s been one hell of a week. I am preparing to leave on a middle school mission trip, it’s VBS week here at the church, and yet again our news and social media feeds are filled with sadness, death, division, and hate.  It’s been one hell of a week.

From tweets praising the death of “thugs” or police officers, to social media blasts arguing about whose life matters more than the other, it has been a dark week in our country.

Last Sunday, just a few days after the deaths of Alton Sterling, Philandro Castile, Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Lorne Ahren, and Michael Smith I joined in prayer with 2 newly minted sixth graders.  I had the Sunday school lesson prepped before I knew which students would be joining me.  When the newly minted sixth graders walked in I thought, “well crap!”  In my mind I was not sure if these pre-middle school teenage stench sixth graders would understand what had happened in the days leading up to this class.
A few weeks ago, right around the middle of June, I had the opportunity to talk with Fleming Rutledge again.  Fleming has quickly become a regular on the podcast and I think most listeners prefer to listen to her over me (even though I have a sexy radio voice).  Our conversation was centered around the tragic and senseless shooting that occurred in June at a nightclub in Orlando.  What I discovered while editing that episode was that I could remove the word Orlando and switch it with Dallas and the episode wouldn’t miss a beat.

I hope you’ll take sometime to listen to Fleming’s thoughts.

Walking away from the conversation I had with Fleming and then praying with students who at times are deemed too immature to understand, I am lost.  During the “oh crap” prayer time I had with those middle school boys it dawned on me that they got it.  Even from position of privilege as middle-class-white-suburbanites, they got it.

These boys understood that racial tensions in the United States are at an all-time high.

These boys understood that violence against African Americans at the hands of the police is a shameful disgrace that our country has been ignoring for too long.

These boys understood that their role as disciples of Christ thrusts them into the mix of the chaos and burning that our country is experiencing.

These boys understood that as disciples of Christ they cannot remain silent.

If these boys get it why then is it that others, mostly adults, do not get it?

If these boys get it why is it that some don’t see a problem with African American men being killed by police?

If these boys get it why is that some in the church don’t see death, any death, as a time for prayer and mourning?

I just don’t understand.  If these boys got it, why can’t we?  Why can’t I see it?  Why have I been silent for too long?

I hope this conversation I had with Fleming & Jason helps you process the events of the last week.  I do not have an answer but I know we need to start talking about it, and the very least learn something from my middle school boys.


Click the image below and subscribe to the Crackers & Grape Juice Podcast. We promise to provide you with theological conversations without stained glass language.For the love of all that is holy: Give us a review there in the iTunes store. It’ll make it more likely more strangers and pilgrims will happen upon our meager podcast.

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Justified by Faith? Whose Faith?

Justified_2010_Intertitle_80641

Like many who were preaching from the lectionary over the weekend, I had the opportunity to use Galatians 2.15-21 as my sermon text on Sunday.  This is the text which stirred up the pistis christou debate.  This Sunday was also graduate recognition Sunday which is why you will see so many graduation references in the sermon.  I hope you’ll listen along or just read the text.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on what it means to be justified by faith (faith in Christ or the faithfulness of Christ?)


Many of us who are graduating this year have had the opportunity (or misfortune depending on how you look at it) to debate topics within our fields of study.  Whether is was debating the merits of Paul’s idea that we are saved by faith alone versus James’ statement that faith without works is dead, debating the merits of an estate tax during an economics class, or even challenging one another on the merits of common core curriculums, debating is something we all have done during our time in school.  Those who are graduating from high school have probably had the opportunity to debate a wider array of topics that in some cases they were passionate about and in others maybe could have cared less.

Debating is not something that is new to the church.  During my time at Wesley Theological Seminary I experienced more than my fair share of classroom debates.  During some of those debates I was engaged, dropping theological bombs on my opponents to the point that they were unable to recover, and in others I was completely disengaged, like a high school senior during the last few weeks of their high school career.

In our scripture reading this morning Paul is responding to a debate.  There was a lot of confusion in the early church about who was in and who wasn’t.  It was obvious to Jewish Christians that they were in. They  would simply acknowledge Christ’s messiahship, then follow his teachings, all the while continuing to follow Jewish law.  The problem then lies with those pesky Gentile Christians.

Gentiles were those who did not identify as Jews, and as the first disciples began to gather the question of  “how do those who are not Jews follow Christ?” became an issue.  Earlier in Paul’s letter, chapter two verse 3, we see Titus, a Gentile, not feeling compelled to be circumcised.  Circumcision was literally an identifying mark of being a Jewish male.  The issue at hand was not a moral issue.  Circumcision was not a way of earning salvation by good deeds.  Instead it was an identification issue.

Paul had gone over this topic before (Romans 3.1-8).  As we read this chapter, and even parts of the entire letter, we can sense Paul’s level of frustration is rising.  Paul was trying to articulate that the barriers between Jews and Gentiles, because of Christ’s life, should be broken down.  As we read these letters we notice that as quickly as the Paul was tearing down the barriers, the church of the first century was building them back up.

What divided Jews and Gentiles of the first century?  Works of the law, specifically living a life organized by the religious laws of handed down by God.  The law was something handed down from God to Israel as a way to not only separate Israel from the nations surrounding her but also to order  the religious lives of the Jewish people.  The law was not so much about “getting in” but rather was about knowing who was in.  The law is something we see extensively throughout the book of Leviticus, over 70 times actually.

Here’s a few semi-obvious ones:

  • Failing to include salt in offerings to God (Leviticus 2:13)
  • Failing to testify against any wrongdoing you’ve witnessed (Leviticus 5:1)
  • Touching an unclean animal (Leviticus 5:2)
  • Carelessly making an oath (Leviticus 5:4)

Here are a few that you might not of thought of:

  • Letting your hair become unkempt (Leviticus 10:6)
  • Tearing your clothes (Leviticus 10:6)
  • Eating – or touching the carcass of – any seafood without fins or scales (Leviticus 11:10-12),
  • Eating any animal which walks on all four and has paws (good news for cats) (Leviticus 11:27)
  • Going to the temple (church) within 33 days after giving birth to a boy (Leviticus 12:4)
  • Going to the temple (church) within 66 days after giving birth to a girl (Leviticus 12:5)
  • Spreading slander (Leviticus 19:16)
  • Trimming your beard or cutting your hair at the sides (Leviticus 19:27)

This was Jewish law.  So the debate remained, should Gentile Christians be forced to follow the same laws prescribed for Jews, or the same laws Jewish Christians were observing.

Editorial Cartoon by Gary Varvel, Indianapolis Star

We are almost fully into what is my favorite time of the quadrennial presidential election cycle.  Debate season is almost here!  As someone who studied politics in college, worked on a Senate campaign, and even organized a Senate debate, this time in the political cycle is my favorite.  

Debates are an opportunity to lay out exactly what we believe about a particular subject and then outline in a polite manner why our position is the strongest.  While debates on the national stages of FoxNews, CNN, and NBC do not always appear to have candidates who are interested in actually engaging in a polite debate, they are more like a real life version of the 140 character Tweets candidates send out, debating is a great way for us to determine which beliefs, ideologies, and other strongly held opinions are the strongest.

We live in a world today where debates have the ability to go from fun, light-hearted engagements to cage-match like fights where the only way to claim victory is to beat your opponent into oblivion.  Debates are where we once listened to one another, hoping to frame responses around our opponents words and not 140 character social media blasts.

If the early church was a place where leaders were not sure who was “in” or who had to change certain aspects of their life before being recognized by God, is it any surprise then that the church has been debating doctrinal statements for centuries?  Is it any surprise then that the church is still debating today?

One of the Church’s first apologists debated the destiny of those who had yet to be evangelized.  Justin Martyr argued that God is drawing people into the Divine’s presence even if they had yet to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ.  That same debate has recently re-sparked as celebrity pastors try to articulate to the church today who’s in and who’s out?

Equal standing within the church between men and women is something that our denomination did not address until just 60 years ago, and some would say we still have work to do.  This debate was going strong in the 16 and 1700s as Margaret Fell Fox was bankrolling the Quaker movement all the while not having full standing in the community.

The balance between poverty and consumerism is something that the Orthodox church wrestled with in 398 AD as John Chrysostom became the Bishop of Constantinople.  He said, “So many poor stand around the Church; and though the Church has so many children, and so wealthy, she is unable to give relief to even one poor person…one voids his excrement even into silver, another has not so much as bread! What madness!”  Even today, determining how to balance our own comfort with the needs of the most vulnerable people in our community is a topic the church is wrestles with daily.  Who to help?  How much help is “enough”? Those questions fall onto of our own desire to purchase new cars, homes, and spend more at Starbucks in one week than many in the world make in one month.

Finding balance in the midst of debate is something the church has been wrestling with for millenniums.

I do not think we have adequate time this morning to address the debates I just outline but Paul does address the issue of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Paul lays out what has happened and then what that meant for the Jewish Christians and Gentiles, along with us.

Verses 19 and 20: “ I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  In other words, it is Christ’s faithfulness that redefined what it meant to be the people of God.  It is not our faithfulness to God but instead God’s own faithfulness to us that rewrote the book, literally, and figuratively.

No longer are we bound to works of the law to be justified or made right before God.

No longer is there a checklist of things we need to do to earn the favor and love of our Creator.

Through Christ’s own faithfulness we can experience the grace and love of God, even in those moments when we are not necessarily living up to the example laid before us by Christ.

Works of the law cannot justify us any longer because God has chosen to redefine what it means to be a people of God through the faithfulness of the Messiah, Christ Jesus.

In any good debate questions of “why?” are addressed and Paul does so here.

First, because Christ came for all people, his faithfulness as the Messiah is not limited to Israel.  Christ’s faithfulness extended beyond the Temple.  It is now irrelevant if you are Jewish or Gentile, Christ came for all and his faithfulness redefined what it means to be God’s children.

Second, the purpose of the law was to reveal sin, both to the individual committing the act as well as the community around them.  Because Christ dealt with our sin upon the cross, works of the law will never be able to justify us before God.

Through our baptism, we die to our own selves and are reborn into a new identity defined by Christ Jesus himself.  His faithfulness to the point of the cross has ended the division between Jews and Gentiles.  His faithfulness ended the division between “us” and “ them”.  Christ’s act of self-giving love has changed everything.  Through all of this, our status as members of God’s family is defined by someone who love faithfully even in the midst of our sin.

Christ calls us to understand doctrine and law through the lens of love and grace.  Whenever we begin to debate in our local church or in the larger arena of national and international denominations, at the forefront of our conversations and disagreements must be the love and grace God offered to all us through Christ Jesus.  In Abraham God established a family and what mattered was who belongs to it.  Christ’s faithfulness even to death ensured that all would be included in this family, eliminating the debate of in and out , and replacing it was a statement of love and grace.

I’m a Terrible at This Blogging Thing

Bad Blogging

I have done a pretty crap-tastic job of the past few weeks of keeping up with this blogging thing.  Back in February leading up to and during the Progressive Youth Ministry Conference and NEXT Church Conference I posted regularly what I thought was good stuff.  But over the past few months maybe due to a toddler, thesis, or shear laziness I have dropped the ball.

It’s not because I don’t have anything to say.  Don’t believe me?  Just ask Allison.

Crackers ProfileToday marks the 10th episode of Crackers & Grape Juice.  Editing the ramblings of Jason, Morgan, and myself has proved to be more difficult than I could have ever imagined.  It takes a lot of work to make the three of us sound intelligent for 10 minutes let alone 30-60.

I’ve noticed over the last 10 episode, 11 if you include the pilot, my confidence to speak up has grown as well as my self-assured confidence.  I’m not quite sure if the later is a good thing.  I’ll let you know how it plays out (especially at home).

On Wednesday at our middle school youth group we talked about what it really means to live out our faith in the social media area.  We decided that what most people think of social media as isn’t really social media.  Check out the definitions my students came up with:

Social = an interaction between people

Media = a means of communication

Social Media = communication between people

What my students taught me Wednesday evening is that the conversations we are having via Facebook & Twitter aren’t really communication.  We are shouting at each other in 140 characters about the hot topic issues of the day (Donald Trump’s hair, Gorillas, Bearnie’s lack of hair, and the latest Kardashian nude selfie) and missing out of the real issues we are facing (global instability, refugee crisis, decline in the local church, and much more).

I am more convinced today more than ever that we need a new conversation.  A conversation where we talk about the things that matter and LISTEN to one another.  I don’t mean listen so that we can fire back with a quick response or jab, but actually listen.  Imagine how different our disagreements would be if we really listened to one another.  Imagine how our view of those guys would change if we understood where those guys were coming from.

We cannot have a one-sided conversation anymore.  The one-sided nature of our public discourse is what has led us to a lot of the conflict we experience on Facebook and Twitter, at the water-cooler, or even in our homes.  It’s time we actually talk to one another.

I want to invite you to be part of real social media.  Let’s start some real communication between real people.

Use the Speakpike, Got a Comment?, the icon at the bottom-right of the screen to leave me a message about something you’re passionate about.  I want you to be a guest on Crackers & Grape Juice, where we will talk about it, have a real conversation and I can guarantee that more people will hear that conversation than will hear a sermon in the average United Methodist Church this coming Sunday (I’m being serious, we have the analytics to prove it).

In the meantime, enjoy episode 10 of Crackers and Grape Juice.  This is part 2 of our conversation with Fleming Ruthledge.  We cover God’s wrath, apocalyptic theology, and even how great I look with my headphones on.


Click the image below and subscribe to the Crackers & Grape Juice Podcast. We promise to provide you with theological conversations without stained glass language. In the queue we have interviews with N.T Wright, Scot McKnight, Astro-Physicist Paul Wallace,  and even a live event at the VA Conference of the United Methodist Church’s Annual Conference.

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Preaching Against the Powers with Fleming Rutledge

Photo Credit: The Greenwich Sentinel
Photo Credit: The Greenwich Sentinel

My wife has been giving me a hard time since the onset of Crackers & Grape Juice.  “You are a bunch of *cough* almost-semi-middle aged *cough* white guys taking to old white men.”   First, my apologies to Todd Littleton, Tony Jones, and Brian Zahnd, I do not think you’re old.  Second, we hear you Allison and it’s time to rectify the situation.


515pkTRb55L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Fleming Rutledge is a preacher and teacher known throughout the US. Her latest book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ, has challenged me so much (academically & theologically) that I am embarrassed to say that I am barely out of the introduction and into the meat of the book.  I was pleasantly surprised to find out that she is a native of my new home in the Tidewater region of southeastern Virginia.

If you read much of Jason’s blog during Lent then you know the level of obsessive crush he has on Fleming.  I warned her from the beginning to guard her home address.

In all seriousness, being able to connect with people I know from their published and online work is the best part of this podcast so far.  It’s not very common that we can reach out to those we are learning from to clarify or dig deeper on a topic.

We began the conversation with inclusion, specifically as it relates to our (Jason & I) United Methodist contexts.  Everyone knows the big-to-do that the General Conference was, and how divisive the topic of human sexuality and LGBTI inclusion has been in the UMC.

Fleming takes inclusion to task by explaining how our obsession with inclusion has more to do about patting ourselves on the back rather than welcoming in the other person.  

While you might not agree with that spin on it, she makes a damn good argument for how talk of inclusion has lately focused more on us rather than welcoming them.

Be on the lookout for part 2 of the conversation where she takes on N.T. Wright’s opposition to apocalyptic thought.  It should hit iTunes next Tuesday! And I promise, I’ve begun editing the conversation we had with N.T. Wright and those will be hitting iTunes in the beginning of June.


Click the image below and subscribe to the Crackers & Grape Juice Podcast. We promise to provide you with theological conversations without stained glass language. In the queue we have interviews with Fleming Rutledge, N.T Wright, Scot McKnight and even a live event at the VA Conference of the United Methodist Church’s Annual Conference.

Itunes

Jason Has a Man-Crush – Prophetic Preachers?

Crackers Profile

imageA few weeks ago I had the misfortune opportunity to be the third-wheel during the latest episode of Crackers & Grape Juice.  Jason & I interviewed pastor, podcaster & blogger Todd Littleton.  Todd is the pastor of Snow Hill Baptist Church in Tuttle, Oklahoma.

Five years ago I sat down on a Tuesday evening in a lecture hall full of a summer’s worth of stale air to begin my seminary career.  Dr. Valerie Bridgeman completely threw me off my game (if I even had any at the time) when she walked in the room with her sweet dog Solomon.  One of the things I learned from Dr. Bridgeman that challenged/moved me the most was that pastors have a responsibility to act also as prophets.  In addition to the preaching, pot-luck blessings, and hosptial visits, pastors as Dr. Bridgeman explained it are called to be prophetic.

On his podcast, Patheological, Todd infuses the roll of the pastor with actual theology.  That’s right, pastors in addition to preaching, pot-luck blessings, and hosptial visits are called to be theologians also.  Maybe not a theologian in the academic sense but more of a practical theologian.

Jason and Todd bantered back and forth about it for a few minutes about it and came to the conclusion that in their contexts, maybe that isn’t the best roll for a pastor.  But I still look back to what Dr. Bridgeman taught us – being a pastor is more than preaching, pot-luck blessings and hospital visits.  Being a pastor comes with the responsibility of speaking out both in affirmation of what the community is doing but also in a prophetic voice when the community begins to move against their calling.

This is what I love about the Crackers & Grape Juice podcast. I appreciate the differing views and how we are able to have discussions about things we disagree on and STILL be unified by Christ Jesus.  Maybe not all pastors are called to be prophetic but I would add that (at least in my experience) not all pastors are called to be preachers either.


Click the image below and subscribe to the Crackers & Grape Juice Podcast. We promise to provide you with theological conversations without stained glass language. In the queue we have interviews with Fleming Rutledge, N.T Wright, and even a live event at the VA Conference of the United Methodist Church’s Annual Conference.

Itunes