Why Keep it a Secret – Healing the Leper

Every Sunday I meet with a group of high school seniors to study the Bible.  It seems pretty simple on the surface but the purpose of our time together is to explore Jesus’ ministry and to determine how His ministry is relevant for a young adult preparing to go off to college.

We have all seen the memes and movies about college professors slapping down their Christian students.  There is a popular misconception that most college campuses are hostile towards their Christian students.  While I do not believe this to be the case, I do think it is my responsibility to prepare our students with the ability to articulate their faith to those who may not hold the same values or beliefs in addition to being able to articulate their faith beyond Sunday School stories and illustrated Bibles.

One of the toughest tasks for me is to anticipate the questions students will ask.  The “why” questions can jump all over the place and for the most part I can anticipate them pretty well.  But then there are the times when “I really don’t know, I’ll have to get back to you on that one” is the only answer I have.  And that answer, “I don’t know”, is in my opinion more responsible than making something up that is total BS.

Over the coming months I am going to post up our “why” questions that I’m unsure of and try to find an answer for everyone.


Mark 1.40-45 is a healing story focusing around a socially outcast character: the leper.  Lepers during this time were ritually impure and thus not welcome in Jewish society.  They lived on the margins and were often on the outskirts of town.  According to Leviticus 13 & 14 there are two major stipulations surrounding lepers:

  1. their impurity was contagious, and
  2. only a priest could cleanse them.

As we worked through this scene last Sunday, someone asked as we were almost out the door (I almost made it!) why did Jesus tell the man to keep his healing a secret?  Why did Jesus tell the man not to tell anyone but instead tell the priest that Jesus had made the man clean?

It’s a great question.  We often hear that we need to shout our faith from the mountain tops.  Our faith is like a light that we should not keep hidden under a bushel (see Matthew 5.16).    So why then is Jesus telling this man to keep his mouth shut?  Why keep it a secret?

To answer this question we must first understand the context in which Jesus was working.  Jesus was not teaching in churches or performing healings among faithful believers.  He was more often than not working with those on the margins of Jewish society which means that he would have been working in direct “competition” (similar to how some churches today see working with one another) with the Jewish priestly class.  Jewish priests during this time oversaw and ensured that the community followed the purity codes as laid out in Leviticus 13 & 14.  The priests were responsible for ensuring people were ritually clean before entering the Temple.

leperJesus’ act of cleansing in this story is a direct challenge to not only priestly authority but also to the community hierarchy established by the Temple.  Jesus cleansing this man is telling the former leper, the priests, along with the entire community that no longer would those who were being kept outside the community remain on the outside.

In verse 44 Jesus says, “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”  Rather than confronting those who were keeping this man on the fringes of society by being a witness against him the man goes public.

So there’s my response.  Jesus wanted the healed man to confront those who had kept him on the margins of society.  A warning shot that God was doing some serious work and that this work was going to turn the entire hierarchy of the world on its head.

Now I have another question for you all, what then can we take from this?  Do we proclaim to the world when the marginalized are “healed” or do we confront those who kept them on the margins?

Kim Davis, Ashley Madison – Where Do We Go Now?

kim davis

Over the past few weeks the internet has been all a buzz with leaked Ashley Madison usernames and credit card numbers from thousands of unfaithful husbands and wives, and the news that bigotry and intolerance the name of Jesus is alive and well in the Bible-belt.  It has indeed been a busy week on the internet.

madison pastorIt has been speculated that 400 pastors would be forced to at the very least consider resigning in the weeks after their emails and/or credit cards were found to be associated with user profiles on a website used to facilitate extramarital affairs.  This scandal (for lack of a better term) gained even more ground when it was discovered that Josh Duggar, moral compass for the Family Research Council, and Christian vlogger Sam Radar were publicly outed as being among those who had been receiving services from Ashley Madison.

Fast forward to this week when the internet blew up once again as circuit court clerk and born again Christian Kim Davis took up the mantle of “Biblical Marriage” in an effort to deny same-sex couples the right to be married. This legal battle had been put to bed by the Supreme Court in June and while churches can choose who is and who is not allowed to be married by it’s clergy, the role of court clerk does receive that same discretion.

So there it is.  Again in a matter of weeks, 2 examples of Christians standing up for Jesus against what appears to be just another step in the liberal downfall of America.  Again, in the national media, examples that Christians who preach that they are the moral compass of family values have crashed and burned, and Christians who think that same-sex marriage will be the downfall of society all the while seeing no problem with a third or fourth marriage are representing ALL Christians in a national light.

For better or worse this is the face of Christianity in America.  And in all honesty it makes me tired, depressed, and exhausted.  I serve a church where I am told weekly that people would love to see more “young people” in the church.  Often my response is “me too” or “let’s brainstorm how we can make this happen”.  But more and more as I am seeing these news stories in my social media feeds I am realizing more and more that the churches well-known PR problem is bigger than we thought.

Kim Davis, Josh Duggar, Sam Radar and the 400 Ashley Madison pastors maybe well meaning disciples of Jesus Christ.  They may have done great work in the name of Christ in the past.  The problem is that when their bad PR makes it on the evening news, a middle schooler’s Facebook feed, or into my inbox all that good work goes down the drain.

I am frustrated and exhausted explaining to people that illusive millennials that churches seem unable to attract are not interested in a church where scandal and bigotry are the national headline.  And while you maybe shaking your finger at me right now saying, “marriage is between 1 man and 1 woman” you’re entitled to that but remember that for the overwhelming majority of young people you are trying to bring to your church that assertion is not their belief.

If you think all of this negative national attention does not effect you or your local church, I’d love to hear how you plan on engaging a demographic that sees the issue of same-sex marriage and unfaithful moral crusaders as a deal  breaker when even considering returning to the church.


Late Night Thoughts

Maybe it is because there has been a lot of change in my life over the past few months or maybe it is because I am drinking too much church coffee, but for the past few weeks I have not been able to fall asleep.  I find my mind begin to race with all the things that still need to be done from the day.  Things like returning emails to people from church or that pile of crap on my desk that I have been avoiding.

In an effort to clear my mind and hopefully get some sleep I think it is time to work through some of these thoughts.  Not all of them are worth the effort (like the dishes still in the sink or the yard that is a few days past needing to be mowed) and those are not the things I am thinking about at 10, 11, 0r 12 o’clock.

Around this time of the year families are making their last minute school year preparations.  Students are purchasing new notebooks, shoes, clothes, and backpacks.  Parents are eagerly awaiting the return of some normalcy to their daily routines.  This is a stressful time of the year.  And for the church similar things are occurring.  Sunday school curriculum are being prepared, events and trips are being planned, and a new year in the life of the church (but it isn’t really the Church New Year) is about the be underway.

All of these preparations lead to concerns that maybe we are not quite ready.  Do our kids have the right school supplies?  Were those $250- shoes too much for our family budget?  Do the church staff really know what they are doing?

This last question leads to emails and coffee time discussions.

“Does the new youth guy really know what our kids need?”

“We really need more “young” people in our church.”

“I wish those kids would stop running around!”

“You want me to lead Sunday School? I don’t think I can do that.  You see I’ve been in my Sunday School class for quite some time now and couldn’t possibly consider leaving now.”

“Ugh, we got out of worship late again! Why can’t that preacher keep the service to 1 hour?! He is always over by 5 minutes”

These conversations are what I’ve been thinking about lately.  And I do not think that its because I of my lack of equipping for youth ministry.  I know what I lack and where, and I pray that the Holy Spirit does some work in those areas for me.

What I worried about is that more often that not, it seems that churches want to have a congregation FULL of teenagers and young adults but do not want to make room for them.  For example, we want to a have a vibrant and full children and youth Sunday School program but the majority of youth and children’s pastors are scrambling this week to fill vacancies for groups that will begin meeting in 2 weeks.  And is it really a bad thing to encourage children to have fun going to church?  Aside from the beach, church is Camden’s favorite place to go.  We encourage him to have fun there.  Which again, makes me scratch my head as to why you wouldn’t want children enjoying church.

What I am worried about is when it comes to a worship service going late, is that really such a bad thing? And when we complain about this openly and loudly what are we saying to those around us (possibly visitors and teenagers)? Are we saying that we love church only when it fits into our schedule? Or that we could only imagine devoting exactly 1 hour a week (unless we get out early because that’s even better than getting out on time) to worshiping God?  How does that then translate into what a teenager is hearing?
These are the questions and conversations that are keeping me up at night.  And I know that some of this is me over analyzing small potatoes and making small things into big things.  But at the very least, I need to figure these things out so I can get some rest.

Removing the Gospel From Our Preaching

I subscribe to many blogs but read few.  Sometimes when an post title catches my eye or doesn’t get burried in my email inbox I’ll take a read.  There are two blogs I read regularly: Jason’s Tamed Cynic blog and Tony Jones’ Theoblogy.  These two gentlemen have been very influential in my theological development.  I take their theologian and book recommendations seriously.  

Yesterday Tony posted about a college chaplain, Dr. Randy Beckum, at MidAmerica Nazarene University, who was demoted because of something he said during his weekly chapel sermon.  If demotion due to something while preaching was the overwhelming church norm, Jason would be in BIG trouble.  The gist of the sermon was that there is a serious problem between America’s fixation of guns and war, and our inability to identify heros.  I am not suggesting that our military members are not heros, because they are.  They stand up for those who are oppressed around the world, and for me, that is a heroic act.  But somehow we (a nation) have become obsessed with war and guns.  This obsession has slowly made its way into the church too.  And this obsession runs dangerously close to be in direct conflict with the proclaimation made by Christians that Jesus is Lord over everything.

Last year I wrote a post for Jason’s blog while he was vacationing and if you missed it you can read it here.  I want us (the American Church) to realize that our loyalties lay with God over anything and everything.

photo credit: ATL Malcontent

photo credit: ATL Malcontent

Our American-Christian identity has begun to focus more on the American part, to the point that the American-Christian identity has little in common with the Jesus that put the Christ in Christian.  All too often the gun rights fight is equated as a God given right to bear arms, and while owning guns for sport or self-defense in my opinion is not a bad thing (especially after watching The Walking Dead), I find it hard to imagine Jesus packing an AR15 or Glock 9mm as he entered into Jerusalem on the back of a colt. After all, remember that it was that parade into Jerusalem where Jesus called out the political and religious establishment to the point that the nationalism he was challenging killed him.

What I find really interesting from Tony’s post is the school at which Dr. Beckum serves. MidAmerica Nazarene University’s mission and vision statements are as follows:
“A transformative university that nurtures Christlike community, pursues academic excellence, and cultivates a passion to serve.” And, “to impact the world for Jesus Christ through servant leaders recognized for their excellence, integrity, and spiritual vitality.”
Based on MidAmerica’s mission and vision statements, one would assume that the University would align itself with Christ’s leadership and be willing to put creed before country, which is what ALL Christian’s do when they take their bapstimal vows.  Instead here is how MidAmerican’s mission and vision statemens should read:
america-jesus-4“A transformative university that nurtures Christlike community, pursues academic excellence, and cultivates a passion to serve.” And, “to impact the world for Jesus Christ through servant leaders recognized for their excellence, integrity, and spiritual vitality unless it irritates, pisses off, or twists the panties of generous alumni donors.”
This is an issue that will continue to plague (American) chuches and Christian universities as along as we continue to combine the cross and the flag.  Patriotism is a wonderful thing.  I am blessed to live in a country where I have the freedom to write this post without fear of men in black suits breaking down my door and taking me away.  But, I am worried if we are getting close to the point where lyrics like, “Lift high the cross” will be replaced with “Lift high the flag”.

Emergence Christianity in a Post Modern World


As I prepare to finish my time at Wesley Theological Seminary I am exploring the ECM’s role within the larger Church.  Last week I looked at what defining characteristics could be applied to the ECM and over the coming weeks I am going to give a brief timeline of the beginnings of the ECM, and examine the ECM in practice.  My findings are but a small sketch of the overall ECM in the United States.  These findings should not be considered final because the ECM is still in it’s infancy when considered within the history of Christianity.  This week I want to examine how the ECM is influenced by a post-modern view of the world.

A Post-Modern View

The ‘post-modern’ view of the world is one that, according to John Caputo, pays attention to all narratives and acknowledges that all narratives matter. It is in these narratives that an organization or community finds it’s direction. This view of the world, allows for many views of the world, as many views as their are people. Knowledge and not authority is power, and the desire to objectify our reality is abandoned. It is through this view that Emergence Church has taken shape.
Stanley Grenz lists “contours of the post-modern Gospel”. The first is, ‘post-individualistic’. The community is the priority. God exists within the community, and the church no long exists within the community and has not become the community. Second, the soul and body are united, as well as mind and matter. People within the community are a unified whole, rather than a collection of individuals. Finally, the accumulation of knowledge is not the ultimate goal for the community. The purpose of life is attainment of wisdom, specifically ‘biblical wisdom’. Doctrines show a community how to live life but ultimately the goal is not to simply create ‘just doctrines’.

Flat Is Flat

So then, what is the result of ‘post-modern’ Christianity? How does this world-view change or affect the mission of the ECM? A major, if not the most significant effects on the ECM of the ‘post-modern’ view is the flat nature of church leadership structures. Flat meaning the community itself leads and makes decisions rather than the top-down method that is favored by many institutionalized churches. This is where the ‘priesthood of all believers’, one of the hallmarks of Luther’s theses that has yet to be embraced by many institutionalized protestant traditions.
A flat structure of leadership and organization results in a cultural shift from what the modern era has presented. This shift gives us a bottom-up, or grassroots, way in which ideas are cultivated and presented. The result is a cultural shift within organizations. The dissemination of information and ideas shifts. Within this style of leadership pastors and other community leaders must push back against their own insecurities and begin to listen. They must listen the members of the community and those outside of their community, so that all parties involved will be able to learn and grow with one another. When the time is appropriate a leader may use the skills they have when, and only when, it is their turn to do so.

Crowdsourcing is a way in which ECM leadership can gain information and information can be received. As much as we like to think, we are not experts on all matters that we must be involved in. Members within ECM communities utilize the wisdom of crowds in the ‘post-modern’ worldview. This is where open source information along with seeking out experts within the community can be to the advantage of leadership as well as the community. The knowledge or education a pastor has is not a trump card. The pastor, in this model, is not the ‘smartest’ person in the room. Google, YouTube, and internet has given free and instant access to anything and everything that has ever been taught or studied. Everyone within the community has access to this information and is encouraged to use it.
Social-Media-IconsSocial media has been a power player in the movement towards the crowd sourcing of information. Social media has resulted in an increasingly connected world. A world that is as connected as we are today allows for the spread of information to happen almost fast than the news or data can be created. An example of this occurred in Virginia during the earthquakes that struck the central region of the commonwealth. The news of the earthquake travelled north to the Washington, D.C metropolitan region quicker than the earthquake could travel in the same direction.

Brief Post-Modern Critique

A problem that arises in this ‘post-modern’ view is that because of our over connectedness and the theories surrounding crowdsourcing, it can be difficult for Christians to wrestle with the fact that we know more about our surroundings and the world in which we live, but that even with all of this information we will never know everything there is to know about God. In the ‘post-modern’ view of the world, Christians are called to be lifelong learners. As lifelong learners, we acknowledge that we do not know everything and we continually seek information and to learn more. Phyllis Tickle says that Christianity is not a math problem, with a right or wrong answer. Christians in this view then ground their beliefs in Jesus’ character and nature, then move to apply what they have learned in a more broad sense knowing that every subject or question will not be answered or addressed.

Breaking the Chains and Pains of Fear

There are only a few things that put me into a complete fear induced panic.  One of those, the one thing that has the potential to make me jump on a table or push little kids to ground for a quick getaway like a crazed woman trying to get on a ride at Disney World, or even pass out stone cold right where I stand, one of those things that scare me the most are snakes.  Blame it on the hundreds of times I watched Indiana Jones movies as a kid, where at least once in all three movies (we do not count the fourth because it was terrible) Dr. Jones is paralyzed by his fear of snakes.  Or maybe it was because when I was attending and working at Boy Scout camps we were told from day 1: “stay away and beware of poisonous copperhead snakes because you would DIE if you were bit.”  Oh great!  Not only do I have to worry about snakes in general, know I ALSO have the possibility of becoming ill. Great!


Snakes have the ability to send  me into a state of panic induced fear that little else can.  Just ask my wife, she can tell you that if a snake is even on TV I either need to look away or perhaps even leave the room.

Fear has away of locking us down, chaining us up and preventing us from doing much of anything.  Fear of the unknown, fear of what is known, and fear of what we know is coming all have the ability to reduce our focus to little more than that thing, that 1 thing we want to avoid the most.  Like my fear of snakes.  When I see one, whether in person or on the screen, that snake all I can think about.  That snake, that disgusting-no leg-crawling on the ground-no good-worthless THING, is the only image that runs through my mind!

This morning’s scripture reading is a story of sickness, fear, and healing.  These storylines are played about by three groups of people: sickness, played by the naked and homeless man living in a graveyard; fear, played by the people in the community who kept the sick man chained up and under guard; and finally healing, seen through not only the divine power of Jesus but also through His compassion and mercy.  What I want us to do this morning is to explore how these three characters fit into our own lives and our own experience with sickness and fear.

To quote the great American theologian Dennis Perry, “are you ready?”

Sickness Chaining Us Up

I do not know about you but when I get sick, even with the smallest cold all I can do is think about the fact that I am sick.  Setting alarms on my phone to remind me when I need to take more Dayquil or reminding Allison everytime she asks me to do something that I can’t because I am sick, I usually allow myself to come up with excuse after excuse as to why I can’t do something.  Or with an injury, the same thing can apply.

When I was in college I dislocated my kneecap.  I was going to show you a picture of it, a picture that one of my fraternity brothers took, but because most of you don’t want to lose your breakfast I won’t.  I was playing basketball and a freak knee to knee collision sent my kneecap one way, and the rest of my leg in another.  Once I arrived at the hospital and the doctor put the pieces of my leg back where they belonged the pain went from the feeling of having my leg caught in a bear trap down to a mild irritation.  They immobilized my leg and told me I would need to see a specialist to rehab it.

After going home to see a specialist and beginning my regimen of physical therapy three times a week, I was making excellent progress.  There, in what seemed like a double-wide trailer physical therapist and nail salon I would squat, walk, and bend without alongside hip replacement and carpal tunnel patients, and eventually I began to regain most of the muscle mass I had lost.  Eventually I was able to all of the squatting, walking, and bending without any pain.  These were ALL good signs, and good prognosis for a full recovery.

But at the time, if you had asked my how I was doing, you know just in passing or asking how my day was, all I could focus on was what I couldn’t do because of my knee.  The only thing I couldn’t do was play basketball yet, and it wasn’t basketball season anymore at point, so it did not matter.  My point is, that my injury consumed my life.  At a time where I should have been focused on my school work or maybe planning a summer internship all I could focus on was my knee.

Sickness and injury have the ability to paralyze us to the point that we are no longer focused on anything else.  Now I don’t want you to think I am without compassion for those who are facing illness, because that’s not what I am saying.  I am speaking to those of us who are recovering from injury and illness today.  Your injury or illness does not define you.  You are not chained to it.

In our scripture reading from Luke’s gospel today we see that this man’s illness had consumed every part of his life.  He was an outcast to the community, living naked and homeless among the dead, it was as if he was already dead he just did not realize it.  When we allow injury and illness to place doubt and fear into our lives we can become can get to the point where all we know is defeat, placing ourselves in our own naked graveyard.


Fear of the unknown or even the known has the ability to place chains on us.  Chains that prevent us from responding to situations like we usually would.   We are no longer able to function as we once did, or we are no longer able to treat others in a way that we usually would.

Throughout high school and college I worked as a lifeguard.  It was a great job where most of the time we were paid to lather up in sunscreen and work on our tans.  One summer I worked at a Cub Scout camp in Haymarket, some of you might have been there with your sons.  On the first or second day of camp we would do something called a swim test.  Scouts and leaders were all required to jump into the pool and swim 1 of 3 tests to determine what aquatic activities they could participate in based on their swimming ability.  The last thing we wanted was for a leader who had not seen a gym or body of water in 20 years to be in the deep end relying on his 4th and 5th grade scouts to pull him in.

The scouts, specifically the 4th graders, would respond in 1 of 3 ways to these tests.  There were the kids who were obviously destined to be olympic swimmers who jumped in a finished without problem.  There were those, and these were my favorite, who had no idea how to swim but didn’t let that stop them.  They would jump into the deep end, sink to the bottom, and look up at you with a “now what do I do expression.”  Then there were the scouts who didn’t know how to swim, told you the didn’t know how to swim, and as a result had no desire to be near the water let alone get into it.

I always felt bad for these kids.  The August humidity in Virginia is murderous so being in the pool would be like jumping into an oasis via water slide.  But these kids also had gotten to the point that their fears chained them to the sidelines.  And remember, these are just kids.  These were kids would would crawl through a dark mud hole or chase after a snake without a second thought.  And more often than not, the adult leaders would exasperate the problem by either a) by telling the kid he probably wouldn’t like the pool anyway, b) ignoring the kid, or my favorite c) belittling the kid there on the pool deck.

The fear induced by others is something that can seem like an insurmountable mountain.  But what happens when the fear of the unknown begins to spread like a disease through a group of people?

We see that in verse 29, “he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles”.  The possessed man was shown no compassion by the people of the community.  They refused to aid the man in a way, shape, or form.  He was chained up and when he wasn’t he was running through the wild.  His sickness had taken him to a point where we was unable to care for himself and rather than showing mercy and compassion, the people of his community acted out of fear for the unknown.

Imagine, banished from your community because they community is afraid of you, not because you have done anything wrong but because you are sick.  It is not a surprise then that the man’s illness was able to take over his body and consume him.

We have seen this on the news throughout the last couple of decades in Africa.  People who contract HIV are often shunned from their communities, which lead to them not being able to receive the medical and spiritual care they need.

We allow the fear of another’s illness to consume us when all we can talk about with them is their illness.  They know they are sick, they are living it out everyday, and for one reason or another it is all we can talk to them about.  We know they are a husband or wife, son or daughter, an engineer or doctor, Caps or Nats fan, but all we can see in them is their illness and that is all we can focus on.


HEALING OF THE GERASENE DEMONIACJesus’ compassion and mercy in this story are out front and centered; much like the rest of His ministry.  Jesus has no problem walking right up to those who had been cast aside by their community or even their loved ones.  He did not let fear keep him from those who needed healing and he did not let their illness define who they were as children of God.

We see this morning that Jesus has entered into an area outside of Galilee.  The same story appears in Mark’s gospel and he refers to this as Jesus crossing to the otherside.  The other side was Gentile territory where most Jews would not be caught dead going to, let alone interacting with those people.  Whenever we read that Jesus is going to the “other side” in the Gospels we should be aware that something is about to happen, something that for a Jewish reader or a Jew during this time would be outside the norm, something big.

Jesus’ treatment of this sick man is an example for all of us.  He not only heals the man but he tells him to go home.  He tells the man that he is no longer sick, no longer will he live as an outcast, and no longer will his illness define who he is. The man is to return to his previously life.  This man becomes one of the first evangelists, going and proclaiming all that Jesus had done for him.

When we do not allow our illness to define who we are as children of God, we magnifying God’s power and diminishing to power sickness might have on us.  We are able then to live our lives as the blessed, loved, and cherished children of the Most High.

When we approach our fears, instead of considering the circumstances that have placed that fear into us (our fear of snakes or water) consider that the same divine breath that raised Jesus from the dead is the same divine breath that breathed life into you.  Do not let fear keep you from jumping into that pool of water that you have been avoiding or won’t go near (disclaimer: seriously if you can’t swim don’t jump into the deep end, start with some swimming lessons).

When we act out of mercy, love, and compassion we are saying that fear, illness, defeat, and doubt have no place in this world.  If we act with mercy, love, and compassion we are fulfilling our call as disciples of Christ to live a life that Christ has modeled for us.  Christ searched out for those who were isolated or kept on the fringes, even to the point that he descends into Hell to recover those who had been lost.  Let us do likewise.  Let us live without the fear that comes with the unknown, caring for those in need without chaining them or isolating them because of their condition, and let us love with compassionate mercy that outshines the darkest of days.


#fortydaysofJoel reactions

JoelOsteeCharacatureWell it did not take long and the internet did not disappoint.  Yesterday I posted about my plan for Lent to instead of fast from something for 40 days, to add something to my daily routine.  I am spending 40 days with Joel Osteen.  Yes you read that right.  I am spending 40 days with the “prosperity theologian” (a title give by a UMC clergy member via Facebook) himself.  Many people often see names like Joel Osteen, Mark Driscoll, or Jimmy Swaggart and immediately shut down.  They refuse to listen or even engage these people’s thoughts or words.  But the fact of the matter is, these types of preachers have a wide audience that we (leaders in the church) need to be aware of and engage.

Even if we disagree with what these people are saying we have to know what they are actually saying so that we can respond.  Name calling does nothing more than create a shouting match or closes off any opportunity for dialogue.  There is not one theologian who has a 100% accurate theology.  There were 12 men who walked along Christ and even they were confused by some of the teachings, decisions, and miracles they witnessed with their own eyes.

Now, does this make me a heretic?  Will the Church powers at-be hunt me down, hold a trial, and burn me at the stake?  Probably not.  What I hope will come from this exercise is what I stated yesterday, I want to learn “something from someone I have written off as wrong or off his rocker”.  To say that I cannot learn from someone else, even if I ardently disagree with them is in my opinion off the rocker.

If your theological perspective is so weak that you cannot at least listen to another theological perspective that you may not agree with then there are other problems at hand that should be addressed.  As I wrote in a Facebook response yesterday:

“I am not flying to Houston to see the man, inviting him over for dinner, or asking him if we can co-write a book together. I just want to listen. Maybe next week I will hear something that tells me he is the devil with perfect hair as some have claimed. But I won’t know unless I listen. And if I don’t at least listen, then how can I properly respond to something when it is really off the rocker? I am not a Joel Osteen fan. I don’t own one of his books or plan to buy one anytime soon (maybe he’ll send me a copy if he reads this) but I do not see how the devil will enter into me, take control, or how my own theological will be weakened by simply listening.”

All I want to do during Lent is listen.  Listen for how God can speak through someone I do not agree with, see eye-to-eye with, or maybe in the future even stand to be in the same room with.  Is that really a bad idea?

#FortyDaysOfJoel – Week 1

Throughout the season of Lent there are no shortage of blog posts about someone giving something up for the 40 day period.  According to Christianity Today 1 in 5 Americans will give something up for Lent.

Here is their top ten category list for 2015:

  1. Food
  2. School work
  3. Technology
  4. Habits
  5. Smoking/Drugs/Alcohol
  6. Relationship
  7. Irony
  8. Sex
  9. Health/Hygiene
  10. Religion

There are 2 items from this list that make me scratch my head.  The first being religion, because obviously fasting during Lent is a Christian practice, which thus makes it a religious practice.  And the second one, I’ll let you guess on that one.

In the food category, your top category for 2015, here are your top given up foods:

  1. Hot Cheetos
  2. Popcorn
  3. Doritos
  4. Potato Chips
  5. Cheetos

The top foods given up were all snack foods, which is disappointing for me because I love snack foods (specifically Doritos and Cheetos).  Here is what Christianity Today had to say when it comes to food:

“Among all Lent fasters—including those not on Twitter—food is still the most popular thing to sacrifice. Ninety-six percent of fasting Protestants and 89 percent of fasting Catholics are giving up some food item. The overall breakdown includes chocolate (30%), meat (28%), soda (26%) and alcohol (24%).”

In the past I have fasted during Lent.  I was pretty successful when I gave up all forms of social media.  That was actually pretty nice, I was able to replace the time reading, studying, and spending more time with my family.  Meatless for forty days wasn’t too bad, especially with Chipotle across the street from my office.  The hardest part was being at home and visiting family, specifically my family because I come from a long-line of carnivores.

joel-osteens-reality-showThis year for Lent I did not give up anything.  I am still drinking too much coffee, brewing and drink homebrewed beer, and eating meat.  Obviously I am still using social media because 95% of you reading this clicked to the site via Facebook.  No, this year nothing is off the table.  Instead of removing I am adding.  Specifically I am making time everyday for someone very special.  Someone who holds a special place in my heart (okay that might be a stretch).  I am calling it ‘Forty Days With Joel’.  Everyday thanks to the power of the internet, satellite radio, and those his pearl whites I will be spending some time with the preacher everyone loves to hate.

I have been critical of the Joel’s preaching in the past, as have many others.  He is frequently the butt of many jokes given by my good friend and mentor Jason.  The biggest criticism against Joel is his uncanny ability to preach the Prosperity Gospel to no end.  Pray hard enough, love God enough, and God will reward you with blessings (usually monetary) beyond your wildest dreams.

Because of these reasons I had written his preaching and theology off as useless and without merit.

This is where the addition during Lent comes in.  I am going to be listening to Joel in the car and have subscribed to his daily email devotions with the hopes of learning something from someone I have written off as wrong or off his rocker.  Yesterday marked the completion of week 1 and I have to say it went well.  There were a few times where I scratched my head but for the overall week it was not as bad as I thought it would be.  And there lies the reason I am doing this.  I went into this endeavor with the idea that it was going to suck.  There was no way this was going to be good.  And that just hasn’t been the case.  Is Joel’s style of preaching something I enjoy? No.  Am I ‘all in’ on this Prosperity Gospel?  Nope.  BUT I am listening.

photo credit: Taylor Hill/Getty Images

photo credit: Taylor Hill/Getty Images

Today Joel was talking about opening your hands and reaching towards God, a God who loves you, cares for you, and has predestined you to blessings.  Admittedly once I heard the word ‘predestined’ my BS alarm went up and I began to shut down.  While sitting in rush-hour traffic on I-95 I felt myself reaching towards my radio preset for bluegrass county.  Just as my finger touched the button I took a deep breath and listened.

While many could interpret the predestined (it hurts just to type it) blessings Mr. Perfect Tie Knot was talking about as bags of money falling from heaven, maybe the predestined blessings were the love of God as shown through the life and ministry of Jesus.  Maybe if I remove my preconceived ideas of what Joel is going to say I will be able to listen, hear, and interpret.  After all the is precisely what I do on Sunday’s at church.  I do not take everything Jason, Hedy, and Dennis say at face value.  And I would hope that when I preach those who have not fallen asleep do not take everything I say without at least thinking about it and being willing to push back.

My hope over the next few weeks is to begin to listen to and learn from those who I have written off.  Whether that is someone in my office or a TV preacher with beautifully sculpted hair, they have something to offer me that I can learn from, and who knows I might just steal that quote for an upcoming sermon.

 Be sure to follow me on Twitter (@teerhardy) and #fortydaysofjoel for daily updates and posts!

An Attempt at Midrash

Yesterday I posted about the Jewish practice of Midrash.  If you missed it head on over and check it out.  I thought it would be fun to share one my own attempts in the Midrash arena.  Enjoy!

Bible Text – Genesis 6.9-13

These are the descendants of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God. And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth.  And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth.

Midrash Text – Genesis Rabbah 30,9

In his age. Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Nehemiah: Rabbi Yehudah said, “In his age he was a righteous man, but if he lived in the age of Moses or in the age of Samuel, he would not have been [considered] righteous.  In a market filled with the blind, they call the one-eyed person ‘Bright eyes.’  A parable: A person had a wine cellar.  He opened one barrel and found it had turned to vinegar; a second – also [vinegar]; a third – and found it sour.  He said to them ‘Is there anything better here?’  They said to him, ‘No.’  So too, [Noah] in his age was a righteous man.  But if he were in the age of Moses, or of Samuell, he would not have been [considered] righteous.”

Rabbi Nehemiah said, “If in his own age he was righteous, how much more so would he have been [righteous] in the age of Moses or Samuel.  A parable: A vial of balsam with a tightly sealed cap is placed among graves; yet, its fragrance still disseminates.  If it were away from the graves, how much more so [would its fragrance disseminate].  A parable: A virgin is surrounded in a market by whores; yet she does not get a bad reputation.  If she were in a market of good women, how much more so [would her reputation be positive].  So too: In his own age he [Noah] was a righteous man; if he had been in the age of Moses or of Samuel, how much more so [would he have been considered righteous].”


Noah - Russell CroweThere has been an influx of biblically based movies in 2014: “God’s Not Dead”, “Noah”, “Son of God”, and “Heaven is For Real”.  These movies are attracting the faithful to crowded theaters that smell of overpriced tickets and stale popcorn.  These movies tug at our heartstrings with stories that many of us can remember hearing our parents tell us about or we remember making cute crafts after hearing the story in Sunday School.  One of these movies, “Noah”, tells the story of my favorite Sunday School hero.  A man who saved his family and all of the animals (except the poor unicorns) from God’s wrathful vengeance against a sinful world.

In an age when feel good stories of what we might consider to be righteous people are scattered throughout the evening news, we can become desensitized to the good works being done around us.  Our 24/7 news cycle gives us story after story of people who are doing good in the midst of difficult situations [terrorist attacks, natural disasters, criminal activities] and yet for many of those people the accolades they receive do not mirror the rest of their lives.  They are sinful people, just like the rest of us, and if [or when] they fall from their graceful pedestals the public has placed them on, many people are shocked at the change of heart the righteous person had.  The good deeds they did or were doing are wiped away.  But this has not always been the case throughout our tradition of storytelling.

If we are active in faith communities where good works are being done [feeding the poor, providing housing for the homeless, caring for the widows and orphans] the righteous among our community begin to blend in with one another.  It can be hard for us to see the standout members of the community, and if the standout members of the community fall from their own perceived graceful pedestals, then the community does not notice the fall either.  Pious acts by righteous people often go unnoticed by those around them, and unless the person is of notability their downfalls can be hard to miss too.

The story of Noah is a perfect example of the righteous falling, and because he was surrounded by other righteous people it often goes unnoticed.  Most of us can recite from memory how God spoke to Noah, gave him instructions to build an ark, and saved Noah’s family, and after forty days of rain sent a rainbow as a sign of a new covenant.  It is a picture perfect story until you read a little further.  Genesis chapter 9:

Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard. He drank some of the wine and became drunk, and he lay uncovered in his tent.

lego noah drunk

OOPS!  I guess my Sunday School teacher forgot that part of the story.  If you think this is the only Old Testament hero to not have a clean record, Moses killed a man and David stole another man’s wife.  If Old Testament examples are not enough, look to the Gospels and letters of Paul.  Jesus’ own disciples [along with His family tree] were comprised of people who were less than stellar members of society and Paul was the gruesomest persecutor of Christians!  God calls all of us, when our righteousness is not clearly visible to those who surround us and when our own shortcomings make us think that we are unworthy of the task placed before us.

Katz and Schwartz use the example of Oskar Schindler, a man who helped to save over one thousand Jews from certain death at the hands of the Nazi’s.  Katz and Schwartz note that we do not know Schindler’s motivations but only that he lived during a time of great evil, just like Noah.  And just like Noah, Schindler responded with action that saved many.

It may not be clear that your righteousness is enough or it may be plain as day that your shortcomings are more than enough to prevent you from being an agent of God.  The story from Genesis 6 and Genesis Rabbah 30,9 makes it clear though that God intends to use regardless of how others, or even ourselves, view our righteousness.

(some of) What Christians Need to Know About Midrash

midrashIn the second semester of my seminary career I took a course on Emergence Christianity led my now Jedi Master, Mike Stavlund.  During this course Mike introduced me to the Jewish practice of Midrash.  It is hard to believe I went through an entire year of Hebrew Bible without diving into these commentaries.  A year after Mike’s introduction I took a course at Virginia Theological Seminary led by Rabbi Elianna Yolkut throughout my time with Rabbi Yolkut I came to realize that a) Midrash should not be limited to use exclusively by Hebrew students and b) most Christians have no idea what they are missing.  So I am brushing off my Tanakh and moleskin notes to share with you (some of) what Christians need to know about Midrash.

Rabbinic Midrash was created and smoothed over centuries of rabbinic commentary.  Midrash flows from the ambiguity of the Hebrew Bible, and was written as well as accepted by the communities where the texts were written.  Rabbinic Midrash were not codified by a publisher and bounded into a commentary series.  These writings were produced and edited over time, by the rabbis who authored them and by the communities who used them.

The Hebrew Bible was a cornerstone in Judaism throughout the Temple Era but when the temple was destroyed rabbis needed to assert their rabbinic authority as well as create maintain order within the community.  When Judaism moved away from a fundamentalism, the opportunities for scriptural interpretation and application were limitless.  Midrash seeks to examine what is missing from the Hebrew Bible as well as provide rabbis who were moving from a sacrificial-temple religion to a religion that was scripturally based.  Midrash began as one generations interpretations were handed down to the next, eventually gaining authority that was established by the wearing smooth of the writing by “time and tradition” (Kugel).  The purpose of Midrash is to make sense of where Hebrew Bible might contradict itself or makes no sense.  According to James Kugel, “midrash is anything but literal – it is often wildly imaginative.” (Kugel)

For the Christian reader who has never read a Midrash (or Christian commentary for that matter) there are three things the reader must be aware of.  First, what is redundant or shocking in the text?  What sticks out like a sore thumb when reading both the cited scripture as well as the Midrash.  Second, what is it about God’s character that is being questioned or explained in the text?  Are the rabbis questioning God or affirming God’s actions?  Finally, the reader should determine what is actually happening in the text.  If the Midrash is about Isaac and Abraham, is the text focusing on Abraham’s actions or Isaac’s role in the story?