Friday, July 29, 2011

Coming to Grips with God

Alexander Louis Leloir

During the night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two servant wives, and his eleven sons and crossed the Jabbok River with them. After taking them to the other side, he sent over all his possessions.

This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”

But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

“What is your name?” the man asked.

He replied, “Jacob.”

“Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.”

“Please tell me your name,” Jacob said.

“Why do you want to know my name?” the man replied. Then he blessed Jacob there.

Jacob named the place Peniel (which means “face of God”), for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.” The sun was rising as Jacob left Peniel, and he was limping because of the injury to his hip.
(Genesis 31:22-31; New Living Translation)


  • Jacob was left alone in the wilderness - things happen in our wilderness moments.
  • God won the wrestling match by knocking Jacob's hip out. Does God cheat?
  • "Jacob" means "Grabber". His entire life was grabbing. He was returning to his brother whose inheritance and blessing he had grabbed. How important was it to him to be freed of the name Jacob by God?
  • "Israel" means "Striven with Man and God, and prevailed". God blessed someone who fought with Him! Do we cheapen God's love by saying that it must be unquestioning?
  • What signs do we show the world that God touched us?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Old Guard Alternative

Michelangelo's St. Paul

"I'm telling the truth about Christ - if I weren't, the Spirit working through my conscience would let me know. It would be so much easier to just lie and avoid all the sorrow and heart-ache. It would be so easy to just let myself be cut off from Christ for the sake of those I came from. They are the guardians of the faith; to them by birthright belongs the inheritance as first-borns, the glorification in God, the covenants, the Law, the worship, and the heritage. It was from that root that the Messiah sprang forth. Amen"

In this paraphrase of Romans 9:1-5, Paul shares with his readers that he recognizes that the new path he has chosen may not appear attractive or "safe" to his fellow Jews who have what they believe is a sure thing, and he acknowledges that his difficulties in effectively ministering to them has caused him pain.  How do you convince someone that they are chosen out of love rather than specialness - that others are also chosen in grace while you worked your butt off? What do you say to the workers first hired, or the son who stayed home? Yet the first workers got no less than promised and no less than was given to the latecomers, and the stay-at-home son didn't lose his inheritance because his brother was given a homecoming party.

Is Paul saying that there is more than one way?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Psalm 17

Gerrit van Honthorst

Hear me, LORD, my plea is just;
   listen to my cry.
Hear my prayer -
   it does not rise from deceitful lips.
Let my vindication come from you;
   may your eyes see what is right.
Though you probe my heart,
   though you examine me at night and test me,
you will find that I have planned no evil;
   my mouth has not transgressed.
Though people tried to bribe me,
   I have kept myself from the ways of the violent
   through what your lips have commanded.
My steps have held to your paths;
   my feet have not stumbled.
I call on you, my God, for you will answer me;
   turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.
Show me the wonders of your great love,
   you who save by your right hand
   those who take refuge in you from their foes.
As for me, I will be vindicated and will see your face;
   when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.
(Verses 1-7 & 15)

In these verses from this week's Revised Common lectionary, David sounds like he is bragging about his righteousness, rather than bragging on God as Paul would later say. But verses 8 to 14 were not included. How much does the tenor of this Psalm change by the inclusion of these middle verses?

Keep me as the apple of your eye;
   hide me in the shadow of your wings
from the wicked who are out to destroy me,
   from my mortal enemies who surround me.
They close up their callous hearts,
   and their mouths speak with arrogance.
They have tracked me down, they now surround me,
   with eyes alert, to throw me to the ground.
They are like a lion hungry for prey,
   like a fierce lion crouching in cover.
Rise up, LORD, confront them, bring them down;
   with your sword rescue me from the wicked.
By your hand save me from such people, LORD,
   from those of this world whose reward is in this life.
May what you have stored up for the wicked fill their bellies;
   may their children gorge themselves on it,
   and may there be leftovers for their little ones.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Communion with the Multitude

When Jesus heard that his cousin John had been murdered by the government, he grabbed a boat and sailed off to be alone. The crowd too had heard of John's death and followed Jesus along the shoreline. He saw the children, and the old and the sick struggle to keep up with him for fear that they would lose him. He felt great love for them and came to shore to heal and nurture them. Did their need help heal his sorrow?

That evening, his students finally caught up. They took one look around, and saw what needed to be done: "Master, these people have had an exhausting day on the road, and there is no where for them to get food here. They won't listen to us. Send them to the villages around the lake so they can get something to eat."

Their Teacher said: "They're fine here. Feed them."

"Master, we have nothing left but five loaves of bread and two leftover fish!"

"Get them."

He motioned for the crowd to sit down there in the soft grass. He took the loaves and fish, looked up, blessed and broke the bread, and gave the bread and fish to his disciples to serve. When they cleaned up afterwards, his twelve students were surprised that there was enough left over after the hungry had feasted to fill twelve baskets to the rim! Their scarce supply had abundantly fed 5,000 men and thousands more women and children?

I wonder if their hearts in that moment were like the bread?

(Retelling of Matthew 14:13-21)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Tillich Quote for Today

"Certainly there is no freedom where there is self-complacency about the truth of one's own beliefs. There is no freedom where there is ignorant and fanatical rejection of foreign ideas and ways of life. There is not freedom but demonic bondage where one's own truth is called the ultimate truth. For this is an attempt to be like God, an attempt which is made in the name of God."

Paul Tillich, 1955 in The New Being

Friday, July 22, 2011

Another story.

"God's kingdom is like a pine nut that a farmer plants. It is quite small as seeds go, but in the course of years it grows into a huge pine tree, and eagles build nests in it."

Another story.

"God's kingdom is like yeast that a woman works into the dough for dozens of loaves of barley bread—and waits while the dough rises."

"God's kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field for years and then accidentally found by a trespasser. The finder is ecstatic—what a find!—and proceeds to sell everything he owns to raise money and buy that field."

"Or, God's kingdom is like a jewel merchant on the hunt for excellent pearls. Finding one that is flawless, he immediately sells everything and buys it."

"Or, God's kingdom is like a fishnet cast into the sea, catching all kinds of fish. When it is full, it is hauled onto the beach. The good fish are picked out and put in a tub; those unfit to eat are thrown away. That's how it will be when the curtain comes down on history. The angels will come and cull the bad fish and throw them in the garbage. There will be a lot of desperate complaining, but it won't do any good."

Jesus asked, "Are you starting to get a handle on all this?"
They answered, "Yes."
He said, "Then you see how every student well-trained in God's kingdom is like the owner of a general store who can put his hands on anything you need, old or new, exactly when you need it."

(Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52; The Message)

Were the disciples lying to try to make Jesus happy? The first two parables talk about grace and abundance. The second two talk about a treasure beyond measure. The last separates the good from the bad. Did they see a commonality in these parables that eludes me? Are the first four all about patience, trust and faith; that all good things are worth waiting for? The first four all required works; is he saying that it takes both faith and works? And then there is the good fish and bad fish; what's with that? Is this a reminder of the separating of the sheep and the goats? So they claimed they understood. Only then does Jesus tell them that the theme of the pop-quiz was "preparation". It's the thief in the night story again - they won't know when so they are to live like there's no tomorrow. They're not how-to stories then, they're why-not-now stories!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Can Hell Separate Us From God?

Old Man in Sorrow by Vincent van Gogh

Blessed are the weak, for the weak allow the Spirit to work in them and help them. God is "Other" to us - we don't have a clue how to talk with Him. Yet the Spirit speaks our pain for us with sighs too deep for words. Our minds and emotions lie open before God because His Spirit is our spirit, so the Spirit can stand in our stead in glory. All things work towards God's ends as He wills, regardless of our efforts we share in the glory.

God knew Adam and Eve before He even created them: made them to conform to His image; made them to conform to the image of the Son; made them predestined to be both His firstborn heirs and the ancestors of His large family. Humanity's destiny is to be called, and through that call to be God-justified and brought into a true relationship with the Father, and through that relationship to share fully in His glory.

What more is there to say? God the Father loves and supports His children no matter what. Who would dare oppose Him? He gave up His Son to us, so why is it so hard to think that He wouldn't do anything for us? Who else dares to bring charges against God's children? It is God's Spirit that lies within us; He alone has the right! Who else dares to condemn us? Only Christ Jesus: he whom we killed; he whom God raised; he who sits beside His Father; he who is one with the Spirit in the Father and the Spirit in us. We judge with self-serving damnation, but our true judge is also our advocate who has and will give everything that we may come into glory.

Is there anything in the universe that can deprive us of such selfless love? Hard economic times? Stress, worry and fear of the future? Bigotry, hatred, prejudice, exclusion and harassment? Scarcity and hunger? Vulnerability, danger, crime or war? It is written that His children are killed every day because they love Him; that we are but lambs brought to slaughter. But that is wrong! It's not about our love for Him, but His love for us. It is we who are far more than mere victors, because he loves us. For I Paul am convinced that neither death nor life, neither heavenly host nor worldly powers, neither present nor future threats, neither heaven nor hell, can separate us from God's love shown to us by the Son and revealed to us by the Spirit.


(Retelling of Romans 8:26-39)

Monday, July 18, 2011

14 Years

This is the way I heard it around the fires at night.

Laban was a horrible stockman and really needed to grow his flock to increase his power and status. He found out that Jacob who was staying with him was a master breeder. So Laban makes his offer: "You're family! I wouldn't take advantage of you; name your wages."

Jacob's mission had been to get a wife, but Laban had just two daughters. The older one was Leah and her little sister was Rachel. Both were upright women who were properly covered from head to toe. He could tell that Leah had beautiful doe-like eyes, but it was Rachel's graceful movements and beautiful manner which captured him. So he told Laban that he would work seven years for him as the dowry. Laban did not say "yes", but rather said that he would rather give her to Jacob than to any other man. So Jacob worked hard for seven years.

The time flew by because he was so in love. Finally, when he had finished off paying the dowry, he went to Laban and asked to be given "his wife". Laban called the clans together and gave them a huge wedding feast. That night, he led his daughter to Jacob's darkened tent and they consummated the marriage. In the morning, Jacob turned back the tent flap to let in the new day's light and found hat it was Leah in his bed! He stormed off to confront his new father-in-law, "What have you done to me? I served you faithfully for seven years for Rachel; why have you tricked me?"

Calmly, Laban spoke to Jacob, "I don't know how it is on the frontier, but here in the homeland the younger daughters may not be wed before the firstborn. Finish your week of honeymoon with Leah to save her reputation;  if you promise now to increase my flocks for another seven years and I'll give you Rachel as a sister-wife for Leah at the end of the week." And Jacob stayed.

After we heard the tale, we always fought about what the moral might be. Some legalistically-minded folk felt that the story warned us to chose our words wisely when negotiating. Some wag would always shout out that you should always unwrap your present before you decided to keep it. I never said anything, but I always thought that it was a warning that you couldn't trust anyone - specially family!

(Adapted from Genesis 29:15-28)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Weeds in the Kingdom

He presented them with another story:

"The Kingdom of Heaven-on-Earth is like a farmer who sows good seed in his field during the day, but at night an enemy comes along and plants thistle and burdock before disappearing. When the crop grew, the weeds grew as well. The farmhands came to the farmer wondered where all the weeds came from, did the farmer accidently plant the wrong seeds? There were too many seeds for it to be natural thought the farmer. There were so many weeds that he feared to pull the weeds because their roots would bring up the crop with them. He told his laborers to wait until harvest time, when the roots no longer mattered; when the bad could be destroyed without damaging the good. the weeds would be taken to the dump and incinerated in its furnace, so their seeds could not invade another field."

He slipped into a house and left the crowd behind him. His disciples gathered around him for the typical post-sermon debriefing. They wanted to make sure they understood this story, specially in relation to an earlier seed and soil story, so they asked him to explain it.

"I am the farmer.
My field is the world.
The good seed are the children of the Kingdom.
The weeds are not.
The enemy is the devil.
The harvest is the end of this earthly age.
The harvesters are the heavenly host.

When this age comes to an end, the human weeds and all the weedy causes of sin will be gathered up by angels; the Kingdom will be purified by fire. There will be weeping at the dump, and junkyard dogs will gnash their teeth as they fight for scraps. The righteous will remain in the Kingdom - with all weediness gone, they will shine like the sun.

Let everyone with ears use them!"

(Retelling of Matthew 13:24-30 and 36-43)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Runaway Soul

Psalm 139

LORD, you have examined me.
   You know me. 
You know when I sit down
and when I stand up.
   Even from far away,
   you comprehend my plans. 
You study my traveling and resting.
   You are thoroughly familiar
   with all my ways.
There isn’t a word on my tongue, LORD,
   that you don’t
   already know completely.
You surround me—front and back.
   You put your hand on me.
That kind of knowledge
is too much for me;
   it’s so high above me
   that I can’t fathom it.
Where could I go to get away
from your spirit?
   Where could I go to escape
   your presence?
If I went up to heaven,
you would be there.
   If I went down to the grave,
   you would be there too!
If I could fly on the wings of dawn,
   stopping to rest only
   on the far side of the ocean—
    even there your hand would guide me;
      even there your strong hand
      would hold me tight!
 If I said, “The darkness will definitely hide me;
      the light will become night around me,”
 even then the darkness
   isn’t too dark for you!
      Nighttime would shine bright as day
      because darkness is the same
      as light to you!
You are the one who created
my innermost parts;
   you knit me together
   while I was still in my mother’s womb.
I give thanks to you
that I was marvelously set apart.
   Your works are wonderful—
   I know that very well.
My bones weren’t hidden from you
   when I was being put together
   in a secret place,
   when I was being woven together
   in the deep parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my embryo,
   and on your scroll every day was written what was being formed for me,
   before any one of them
   had yet happened. 
God, your plans are incomprehensible
to me!
   Their total number is countless!
If I tried to count them—
they outnumber grains of sand!
   If I came to the very end—
   I’d still be with you.
If only, God, you would kill the wicked!
   If only murderers
   would get away from me—
 the people who talk about you,
   but only for wicked schemes;
      the people who are your enemies,
      who use your name as if
      it were of no significance.
Don’t I hate everyone who hates you?
   Don’t I despise those who attack you?
Yes, I hate them—
through and through!
   They’ve become my enemies too.
Examine me, God! Look at my heart!
   Put me to the test!
   Know my anxious thoughts!
Look to see if there is any idolatrous way in me,
   then lead me on the eternal path!
(Common English Bible)

A lot of us think that we decide in life via our actions whether we will spend eternity in heaven or in hell. Once lost to God, we are irredeemable beyond the grave. We make an omnipotent God impotent.

Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away.
So he said to his mother, “I am running away.”
“If you run away,” said his mother, “I will run after you.
For you are my little bunny.”

“If you run after me,” said the little bunny,
“I will become a fish in a trout stream 

and I will swim away from you.”

“If you become a fish in a trout stream,” said his mother,
“I will become a fisherman and I will fish for you.”

“If you become a fisherman,” said the little bunny,
“I will become a rock on the mountain, high above you.”

“If you become a rock on the mountain high above me,”
said his mother, “I will become a mountain climber,
and I will climb to where you are.”

“If you become a mountain climber,”
said the little bunny,
“I will be a crocus in a hidden garden.”

“If you become a crocus in a hidden garden,”
said his mother, “I will be a gardener. And I will find you.”

“If you are a gardener and find me,”
said the little bunny, “I will be a bird
and fly away from you.”

“If you become a bird and fly away from me,”
said his mother, “I will be a tree that you come home to.”

“If you become a tree,” said the little bunny,
“I will become a little sailboat,
and I will sail away from you.”

“If you become a sailboat and sail away from me,”
said his mother, “I will become the wind
and blow you where I want you to go.”

“If you become the wind and blow me,” said the little bunny,
“I will join a circus and fly away on a flying trapeze.”

“If you go flying on a flying trapeze,” said his mother,
“I will be a tightrope walker,
and I will walk across the air to you.”

“If you become a tightrope walker and walk across the air,”
said the bunny, “I will become a little boy
and run into a house.”

“If you become a little boy and run into a house,”
said the mother bunny, “I will become your mother
and catch you in my arms and hug you.”

“Shucks,” said the bunny, “I might just as well
stay where I am and be your little bunny.”

And so he did.
“Have a carrot,” said the mother bunny
(Runaway Bunny; Margaret Wise Brown)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sacred Space

The Dream of Jacob, by He Qi

Jacob left Beersheba and went to Haran. He came to a certain place and camped for the night since the sun had set. He took one of the stones there, set it under his head and lay down to sleep. And he dreamed: A stairway was set on the ground and it reached all the way to the sky; angels of God were going up and going down on it.

Then God was right before him, saying, "I am God, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. I'm giving the ground on which you are sleeping to you and to your descendants. Your descendants will be as the dust of the Earth; they'll stretch from west to east and from north to south. All the families of the Earth will bless themselves in you and your descendants. Yes. I'll stay with you, I'll protect you wherever you go, and I'll bring you back to this very ground. I'll stick with you until I've done everything I promised you."

Jacob woke up from his sleep. He said, "God is in this place—truly. And I didn't even know it!" He was terrified. He whispered in awe, "Incredible. Wonderful. Holy. This is God's House. This is the Gate of Heaven."

Jacob was up first thing in the morning. He took the stone he had used for his pillow and stood it up as a memorial pillar and poured oil over it. He christened the place Bethel(God's House). The name of the town had been Luz until then.
(Genesis 28:10-19a; The Message)

Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.
I can feel God's mighty power and God's grace.
I can hear the brush of angel's wings,
I see glory on each face.
Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.

In the midst of His children
The Lord said He would be.
It doesn't take very many
It can be just two or three.
And I feel that same sweet spirit
That I felt oft times before.
Surely I can say
I've been with My Lord.
I can feel God's mighty power and God's grace.
I can hear the brush of angel's wings,
I see glory on each face.
Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.

There's a holy hush around us,
As God's glory fills this place.
I've touched the hem of God's garment,
I can almost see God's face.
And my heart is over flowing
With the fullness of God's joy.
And I know, without a doubt,
That I've been with the Lord.

Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.
I can feel God's mighty power and God's grace.
I can hear the brush of angel's wings,
I see glory on each face.
Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place
(Surely the Presence of the Lord; Lanny Wolfe)

Surely God was here, and I didn't even notice!

It is good to emphasize the "surely", and wise to note the "I didn't notice", but how often do we forget the "here"? We become enamored with sacred spaces, but limit them to churches, disaster scenes, cemeteries, and magnificent scenery. We wear shoes on hallowed ground every second of the day - sacred space is where we are when we are in communion with God.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Pregnant Pause

So don't you see that we don't owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There's nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God's Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It's adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike "What's next, Papa?" God's Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what's coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we're certainly going to go through the good times with him!

That's why I don't think there's any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what's coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.

All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it's not only around us; it's within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We're also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don't see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.

(Romans 8:12-15; The Message)

  • Do we live in a DIY world?
  • Mowing, peonies, grave-blankets - how do we tend the graves in our lives?
  • Do we have a Mommy/Daddy God or a strict school Principal with a paddle hanging on his wall?
  • We don't know who we really are until the Spirit touches our spirits. What then about all of those who have not yet been touched?
  • How does the phrase: " The created world itself can hardly wait for what's coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead." compare with the popularized cult understanding of left-behind end-times?
  • Are we separate from creation?
  • How are we each pregnant? How is the Church?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Blessed Be Those Who Are Full of Manure

The desperate crowds were pressing in on him, so Jesus got into a boat and pushed off from the shore so more people could see him. he told them many stories that would lie fallow in their minds until later. One of these stories was about a grain farmer.

"A farmer went out into the field to plant seeds. As he went, some of the seeds fell from his bag to lie on the beaten path, where birds quickly found and ate them. Some of the seeds he spread fell onto rocky ground; the seeds sprouted quickly, but could not take deep root in the poor soil - they soon dried up and died when the hot sun hit them and the rain did not fall. Some of the seeds fell in among weeds, the soil was fine but the weeds outgrew the seedlings and they were choked out. But some of the seeds fell on rich fertile soil; they thrived and produced much grain. Let anyone who is not deaf listen!"

It was obvious that they did not get it. This soil had much potential, but was not yet fertile enough for this Word. He decided to explain the story to help it take root.

"Hear this story. When the Word falls on hardened ears, it will just lie there for the evil one to take away. When it falls on rockiness, it sprouts with great joy, but can not be sustained during hard times. When the Word falls into a weed patch, it can not compete with the promise for easy sunlight and fast growth. But some is sown in organic, manure-rich topsoil; that soil is those who both hear the Word and understand it. The Word is obeyed and together the soil and the Word are fruitful."
(Retelling of Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Love Wins? So What's the Big Deal?

I finally read Rob Bell's "controversial" book. As he says, there is nothing new in it - but he reminds us in an engaging manner that God doesn't want us to go to hell, and God always gets what He wants! 

"And so, beginning with the early church, there is a long tradition of Christians who believe that God will ultimately restore everything and everybody..."

Over time, we've re-adopted this idea that we are damned or saved by what we do and are; that St. Pete is guarding the pearly gates to keep out the riff-raff; that once we are assigned a seat on the eternal jet-liner there are no upgrades! While I was reading this, I was preparing for a sermon that I'm giving next week. One of the readings from the Revised Common Lectionary is the Runaway Rabbit Psalm (139):

"Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend   to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there." (verses 7 and 8)

Why do we put a term limit on God's grace and mercy? Why do we try to geld an omnipotent God into an impotent idol that we can manage?

A concept that I had not thought about before is the possibility that "heaven and hell are within each other, intertwined, interwoven, bumping up against each other." Pastor Bell uses the parable of the Prodigal Son and Father to suggest that our view of heaven and hell as universal polarities may be too simplistic; both brothers are in the same place. "It's not an image of separation, but one of integration." The younger brother is given a party in grace. The older brother too is at the party, but refuses to celebrate: "Hell is being at the party. That's what makes it so hellish."

Rob Bell's cadence from his Nooma videos shines through in his writing. The book is joyous, spunky, and fast paced. Its eight short chapters makes it good for daily devotional reading. And most of all, in the end God wins!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Breath of Life

William Blake

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

(Genesis 2:7; King James Version)

So now there isn’t any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.  God has done what was impossible for the Law, since it was weak because of selfishness. God condemned sin in the body by sending his own Son to deal with sin in the same body as humans, who are controlled by sin.  He did this so that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us. Now the way we live is based on the Spirit, not based on selfishness.  People whose lives are based on selfishness think about selfish things, but people whose lives are based on the Spirit think about things that are related to the Spirit.  The attitude that comes from selfishness leads to death, but the attitude that comes from the Spirit leads to life and peace.  So the attitude that comes from selfishness is hostile to God. It doesn’t submit to God’s Law, because it can’t.  People who are self-centered aren’t able to please God. 
But you aren’t self-centered. Instead you are in the Spirit, if in fact God’s Spirit lives in you. If anyone doesn’t have the Spirit of Christ, they don’t belong to him.  If Christ is in you, the Spirit is your life because of God’s righteousness, but the body is dead because of sin.  If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your human bodies also, through his Spirit that lives in you. 
(Romans 8:1-11; Common English Bible)


  • Note that it says we are free of "the law of sin and death", not the laws. Does this mean that we are not free from sin and that we are not free from eternal death, but rather are free from the automatic relationship of the two?
  • Compare these two stories of the Spirit of life. Are we born and reborn because we inhale, or because we have been breathed into?
  • Is it selfish to follow the Law for the purpose of seeking salvation? If so, why should one follow the Law?
  • How much of what we do is dictated by where our thoughts are?
  • 8:9 implies that you can't be both flesh and spirit, but 8:10 implies you can; what do you think?

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Divided Womb

Genesis 25:19-34

Rebekah could not have children. Did her husband Isaac blame her? Did he consider her a failure as a woman? In a patriarchical world, what were women for if not for creating and expanding the tribe? The Lord had made a covenant with Abraham and his descendents, so Isaac went to Him to get Him to fulfill it. And the once barren became fruitful.

But as she moved into her second trimester, she knew something was wrong. The wise women could tell that she was bearing twins, but their movements inside her small frame felt like they were ripping her apart from the inside; like alien parasites trying to eat their way out of her. She wished to die. So she went alone to ask the Lord why it hurt so.

The Lord answered her tearful plea: "There lies within you the seed of two mighty peoples. Their rivalry shall fragment the tribe. One shall be stronger. The firstborn shall serve the second."

We do not hear that she shared this painful message with her husband. I can't imagine bearing such dire news alone! Your twins will hate each other and destroy your people! What can a mother do? It would be like learning that your fetus had a birth defect, and not being able to share the pain and fear with anyone. How much of this isolation and sense of pending doom shaped the events to follow?

As they were born, Esau came first red, screaming, lusty and hairy; a vigorous healthy newborn - the one who got most of the nourishment in the womb. His brother Jacob tenaciously held onto Esau with a death grip - he would not be left behind, he would grasp life and take it into his own hands.

Esau grew to be a man's man. A hunter and a farmer. But little Jacob was effeminate, and hung around the tents helping the women with their chores. Esau's virility reflected well upon his father, so Isaac understood and loved him best. Rebekah loved Jacob - the one Esau was always picking on, the quiet thoughtful one that she could share her hopes and dreams with.

One day, Esau came in from a hard day of laboring in the field to provide food for the tribe. Jacob was again with the women, cooking a red stew that smelled divine to the famished Esau. "Give me some stew" he said, speaking to his brother as he would a slave or a woman. Jacob teased him: "I'll give it to you, in exchange for your rights as the first-born!" How Esau must have laughed at such a ludicrous idea; was he playing along in a game when he relied: "Sure, why not? What good is it to me if I die right here and now from hunger?" Life seems like such a game at times, it is easy to goof around and make silly choices - only later realizing that we've thereby lost our birthrights.

Friday, July 1, 2011

We Do Do Do What We Oughtn't, Oughtn't, Oughtn't

Nick Natoli

I don’t know what I’m doing, because I don’t do what I want to do. Instead, I do the thing that I hate. But if I’m doing the thing that I don’t want to do, I’m agreeing that the Law is right. But now I’m not the one doing it anymore. Instead, it’s sin that lives in me. I know that good doesn’t live in me - that is, in my body. The desire to do good is inside of me, but I can’t do it. I don’t do the good that I want to do, but I do the evil that I don’t want to do. But if I do the very thing that I don’t want to do, then I’m not the one doing it anymore. Instead, it is sin that lives in me that is doing it. 

So I find that, as a rule, when I want to do what is good, evil is right there with me. I gladly agree with the Law on the inside, but I see a different law at work in my body. It wages a war against the law of my mind and takes me prisoner with the law of sin that is in my body. I’m a miserable human being. Who will deliver me from this dead corpse? Thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then I’m a slave to God’s Law in my mind, but I’m a slave to sin’s law in my body.


If you are trying to stop smoking, does telling yourself over and over again to not smoke help?

If you tell a child not to do something, does that make it less or more likely that they will do it?

As exiles awaiting return home, we are naturally torn between the needs and desires of the created flesh and the call of the creating spirit. So if it is natural, why do we beat ourselves (and others) up over our human weaknesses and think that neither God nor man can love or forgive us? Why do we embrace legalism over love and mercy?

This is the reading for July 3rd, the day before our Independence Day here in the US. According to this reading, what is independence?