Sunday, July 30, 2017

Commentary, I Kings 3:5-12

My commentary for I Kings 3:5-12 can be found at A Plain Account (linked here), this morning!  Click through and also take the time to read the commentaries for the other lectionary readings, written by various talented and theologically trained authors!  This resource is so valuable!


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Undercover Jesus

Matthew 12:15-21, “Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. He warned them not to tell others about him. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope” (NIV).

I’m always baffled by the passages of Scripture in which Jesus instructs people not to tell others about him.  It runs counter-cultural to our often prevalent assumption that in order for people to come to salvation, we must talk… and talk… and talk…  So why does Jesus give this odd direction?

The prophecy, itself, strikes me as cryptic when we arrive at these words, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out…” (v.20).  At first glance, this appears redundant.  We have just read about healing (on multiple accounts), so it is tempting to skim over this part, chalking it up to a prophecy already fulfilled and checking it off the list.    

However, I am left with a haunting question.  What is it about the withdrawal and secrecy that fulfills the prophecy of healing others?

Jesus is the kind of risk-taker who weighs the options carefully and chooses others first, knowing that there are some circumstances that require him to be covert in order to bring the most redemption.  Even though it really is about Jesus, it appears that he sometimes lives as if it is not in order to love people in ways the religious elite will not allow. 

These bruised reeds… these smoldering wicks… They are the ones who seem damaged beyond repair.  They are the ones who have already been written off by the vast majority of humanity.  These are no insignificant injuries.  They require space for recovery.  Sometimes love is quiet. 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Convoluted Hierarchies

Exodus 9:14, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (NIV).

The account of the parting of the Red Sea is one of the best known narratives found in Scripture.  We start by telling it in our Sunday Schools.  I sometimes struggle to understand how it is that stories such as this one become childhood favorites.  It ranks right up there with Noah’s ark which, in reality, is more about death and destruction than adorable zoo animals.  And here again we find the Lord in the middle of the water, saving some and drowning others.  I can’t actually take the whole passage where I would like it to go.  It’s so much bigger than flannel graph (OK, OK, I realize that no one actually uses flannel graph anymore).  But in the midst of the Israelites’ panic, when they are longing for slavery because it suddenly seems safer than freedom, verse 14 stands out in isolation and causes me to think deeply about what our part might be in the redemption of the world.

Interestingly, Moses reassures the Israelites that God has this thing under control, but it doesn’t actually seem like control is the operative word (or action), moving forward.  I think we often use this kind of language to comfort others or to halt the widespread terror.  Realistically, it works.  However, I am less and less confident that it is faithful to the witness of Scripture, history, experience, or reason.  Of course, there is truth in Moses’ statement.  The Lord will, indeed, fight for the Israelites, but I’m not convinced the Lord chooses to fight unilaterally… alone. 

In fact, Moses himself plays a pretty important role in this crossing!  The Lord tells Moses what he can do to save his people and then tells him to get moving!  The Lord persuades and employs the wind and the water.  Creation cooperates.

I fear that our words, like the words of Moses, can actually be an impediment to others in working together, creatively and redemptively with God, in the world.  There are certainly times to be still, but perhaps we must also consider how God might desire to use us, to work with us instead of for us.  Do we imagine ourselves as part of a convoluted hierarchy in which we tell God what to do and God must do it while we participate as mere spectators in the unfolding history of the world?  I guess that’s something worth considering…


Friday, July 21, 2017

It’s Better to Know

Sometimes I think we’re all just a little bit too unaware. 

In reading about the Israelites, today, these words speak directly into some of the social and political contexts that are most prevalent in our current culture:

Ezekiel 39:26-29, “They will forget their shame and all the unfaithfulness they showed toward me when they lived in safety in their land with no one to make them afraid. When I have brought them back from the nations and have gathered them from the countries of their enemies, I will be proved holy through them in the sight of many nations. Then they will know that I am the Lord their God, for though I sent them into exile among the nations, I will gather them to their own land, not leaving any behind. I will no longer hide my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit on the people of Israel, declares the Sovereign Lord” (NIV).

This passage comes at the end of the Lord’s words regarding exile, and it’s worthwhile to read more for additional context, but these verses are sufficient for the purposes of this post. 

I was struck by the irony that the Israelites were most unfaithful in the midst of ‘safety.’   Interestingly, I think we are much the same.  It’s easy to give lip service to our desire to be the hands and feet of God in the world, but it is much more difficult to actually be them.  As an example, in recent days I have heard several people speak about how, as the white, American Church, we have prayed for years (even decades, maybe longer) for open doors to reach out to others from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds.  However, we had a very specific plan in mind that would allow us to enter into their world, blowing in and out with our truth in such a way that they would convert and begin to look just like us.  It’s appalling if you think about it long enough (or at all).  Interestingly, we seem averse to those same people groups setting foot on our turf.  We insist that God must answer our prayers in our way, in our time, or we will not be faithful to love the people we thought we wanted to.  We are unfaithful when we are ‘safe.’

I’m not a huge fan of fear, but maybe we need to be afraid—not of others but of ourselves.  I should be clear: I don’t think our well-being is actually threatened by ‘the other.’  I think our fear is misplaced.  Maybe we need to recognize that we are not the gold standard of truth or culture or religion or anything.  We are the problem.  No one wants to hear that, even if it’s true.  But sometimes it doesn’t matter whether or not we want something.

So here are a few more words we might pray:   

Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (NIV).

It’s better to know where our own culpability lies.  It’s better to be real, even if it hurts.  This is how we let go for the sake of others. Let me be the first to confess my offensive ways.  Change begins here.


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Cultivating Soil

Matthew 13:18-23, “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy.  But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.  The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.  But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

The vast majority of people do not remember what their pastors preach from week to week, but if something is going to find its way into our long term memory; it will probably be a story.  The parables of Jesus tend to be well known anecdotes.

Although the parable of the sower is one I have read and/or heard many times, something fresh came to mind as I studied it this week.  We often talk about the different kinds of soil… the different kinds of people… and at the end of the day we encourage others to ‘just’ plant seeds, because it is not our job to make them grow.  That’s actually biblically sound (see I Cor. 3:6).  But the thing that stood out to me, this time around, is that we could likely make an enormous difference in the lives of hearers if we would only take the time to cultivate the soil.  Who’s to say we can’t affect change for the outcome if we will help people to understand… to grow deep… to eradicate the weeds?

I am not a gardener, although I wish I was.  My grandparents were great at growing things.  I cannot begin to recount how many childhood hours I spent snapping beans with my Mammaw and Paw in their urban backyard (probably ½ or which was a garden) or picking strawberries with my Nana.  These people put a ton of time into cultivating the ground, planting the seeds, caring for the crops as they grew, and then harvesting.

My own (adult) gardening experience was short lived and looked something like this: 
I didn’t have the right tools; I bought several packages of seeds of different varieties off a Walmart shelf; about fifteen minutes into trying to prepare an absurdly small patch of earth, I dug a few holes and threw the seeds in and left them in hopes that beautiful vegetables might appear.  It was something like the path, the rocky ground, and the thorns and weeds all wrapped up in one messy package!  Miraculously, I produced two or three zucchinis, a couple of baby carrots (we didn’t eat those), and four pumpkins (which was exactly how many I needed, because I only had four kids at the time).  I haven’t planted anything since.

I will probably never be a gardener (of crops… of flowers…), but I think we all have a responsibility to not only sow seed in humanity but to tend to it in such a way that our people have the best possible chance to grow.

Later today I will post a podcast about discipleship and confirmation, related to this passage of Scripture.  I hope you’ll tune in!

Saturday, July 15, 2017


John 12:44-46, “Then Jesus cried out, ‘Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness” (NIV).

This Scripture should be incredibly convicting to followers of Jesus, everywhere.

I might be a nerd (go ahead and replace “might be a” with “am,” if you need to), but the daily office inspired me to look for a simple explanation of how mirrors work, and I found exactly what I was looking for in the article, “How Mirrors Work.” (go figure)

Here are some thoughts:

“In order to understand mirrors, we first must understand light. The law of reflection says that when a ray of light hits a surface, it bounces in a certain way…”[i]  Somewhere else I read that the angle of reflection is predictable—equal to the angle at which the light originally hits.  I find this remarkable considering our propensity to ‘reflect’ Christ inadequately.  If we really want the people who are looking at us to see Jesus; we have to push back against distortion, and I think the only way to do that is to transform… redeem… restore the surface off of which he is reflected.

Overall, “light itself is invisible until it bounces off something and hits our eyes.”[ii]  When it bounces; the light scatters, and we interpret what is seen.  But mirrors don’t work like this, because they are smooth, which means the incoming image is not disturbed.

And also…   It’s common knowledge that a mirror image is ‘backwards,’ but as it turns out, this is not a switch from left to right but from front to back.  So, “your mirror image is a light-print of you, not a reflection of you from the mirror's perspective.”[iii]  Strangely, if we want to push through this metaphor, this would mean that our reflection is not, in fact, what we see but what Jesus sees, looking at us from behind.  I’m pretty concerned that this might mean we are able to block others from seeing Jesus, entirely, if we won’t get out of the way.


[i] Flinn, Gallagher. “How Mirrors Work.” How Stuff Works. Accessed July 15, 2017.
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] Ibid.