This morning I preached a sermon at Grace on Matthew 12 called Sacred Cows. Jesus and his disciples were walking through a grainfield on the Sabbath, and because they were hungry, his disciples picked some heads of grain and ate them. The Pharisees, who enforced strict Sabbath-keeping laws, were incensed by their irreverence for the Sabbath, which had become the theological symbol of Moses’ law and the litmus test for Jewish faithfulness. The Sabbath had become a sacred cow for the Pharisees, and Jesus and his disciples were, in a sense, kicking the cow. He responded to their outcry with a bold claim: The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. 

We all have sacred cows, the things that have become primary identity markers, or litmus tests of faithfulness. It could be any number of things, including politics, our family, an ideology, or even the Bible. But when Jesus declared himself Lord of the Sabbath, he made the powerful statement that he is greater than all of our sacred cows. He is the Lord of all of our sacred identity markers and theological litmus tests. When any of these things come into conflict with him – as they did through the hunger of his disciples in that grainfield – we must choose him. We cannot serve two masters; we cannot serve both God and Sabbath.

If you’ve been holding onto something the way the Pharisees held onto the Sabbath, it’s time to let go. You’re crushing it under the weight of your expectations and demands. What the Pharisees should have done, and what we need to do, is to remind ourselves of this truth and live in it daily: Jesus is greater than. Because when you get that right, Jesus can do to the Bible, and to your family, and to your politics what he did to the Sabbath – he can redeem it from a dead list of dos and don’ts and transform it into something that breathes life into your spirit, sustains your soul, and brings healing and freedom to your whole being.

 

Benefit of the Doubt by Greg BoydWhat is faith? What does it mean to have great faith? What does faith look like in our relationship with God? What is the nature of our relationship with God? These are the questions that drive Greg Boyd’s book Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty. Part theology, part philosophy, part auto-biography, Boyd takes the reader on a journey of exploring the nature of biblical faith, contrasting it with the certainty-seeking faith he sees in many believers today.

Boyd argues that the problem with faith today is that it is most often expressed as an intellectual, or psychological, certitude. Using the metaphor of the “Strength Tester” carnival game, Boyd writes that the goal for many Christians today is “to hit a faith mallet as hard as you can in order to send the faith puck up the faith pole to get as close to the certainty bell as you possibly can.” (26) Faith has become the removal of, or the resistance to, doubt. The greatness of our faith is directly related to how certain we are about various beliefs; and God, of course, will reward our great faith by answering our prayers and showering us with blessing. Our relationship with God, then, is entirely dependent upon how certain we are in our minds that various things are true.

In chapter 2, Boyd gives eight compelling reasons why this approach to faith is misguided and unbiblical. While each of his objections to certainty-seeking faith give cause for reflection, I found the third objection quite compelling: “It replaces biblical faith with magic.” Some would immediately object to this statement, but I think there is deep truth in this statement. What, after all, is magic? Boyd defines it this way: “Magic is generally understood to involve people engaging in special behaviors that empower them to gain favor with, or to otherwise influence, the spiritual realm in order to get it to work to their advantage.” (38) Certainty-seeking faith aims to make God act on our behalf (through healing, perhaps). It is a means to an end. “One of the many differences between ‘magic’ and biblical faith is that magic is about engaging in behaviors that ultimately benefit the practitioner, while biblical faith is about cultivating a covenantal relationship with God that is built on mutual trust.” (39)

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The Theology of the Book of Revelation by Richard BauckhamThere are many different interpretive models for the book of Revelation. Some approach it as though it were a code to be deciphered, matching ancient images with present figures in an attempt to unlock the secrets of the last days. Others see it as a uniquely Christian history with little or nothing to say to believers today. As we seek to understand this fascinating and oftentimes befuddling book, perhaps we should interpret it in basically the same way we interpret every other book of the Bible. That is to say, maybe the key to unlocking Revelation’s secrets is to simply ask, “What did this mean to the people to whom it was originally written?”

In his book The Theology of the Book of Revelation, Richard Bauckham takes this basic exegetical approach, and manages to make sense of, and draw compelling meaning from, John’s Apocalypse. Bauckham starts where most Christian exegetes start with any other biblical book by asking, “What sort of book is this?” The answer, he discerns, is that “Revelation seems to be an apocalyptic prophecy in the form of a circular letter to seven churches in the Roman province of Asia.” (2)

John’s work is a prophetic apocalypse in that it communicates a disclosure of a transcendent perspective on this world. It is prophetic in the way it addresses a concrete historical situation – that of Christians in the Roman province of Asia towards the end of the first century AD – and brings to its readers a prophetic word of God, enabling them to discern the divine purpose in their situation and respond to their situation in a way appropriate to this purpose.
In other words, the book of Revelation is John’s attempt to speak into the lives of real Christians in a real place by giving them a heavenly perspective on their temporal challenges. “Life looks overwhelming from your perspective,” he says, in essence, “but I want to show you your life and your circumstances from God’s perspective.” Revelation is, at heart, a pastoral work. It is a call to abandon the idols of the Roman Empire and the futility of its warmongering ways, and to instead worship the true God and lay hold of the victory of the “lamb who was slain.”

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This past Sunday I preached a message I called Skeptics Sunday at Grace Church. Using the doubt of Thomas as my lead-in, I addressed a couple of the issues raised by skeptics of Christianity. Obviously, there wasn’t enough time in one message to address all of their claims, so I had to limit myself to these two: The presence of evil contradicts the existence of God, and Science has disproven religion.

In addressing the first claim, I walked our congregation through the very basics of Alvin Plantinga’s argument from God, Freedom, and Evil. In that book, he demonstrated that it is possible for an omnipotent, omniscient, good being to allow the presence of some evil for the purposes of either preventing a more serious evil or allowing a greater good, thereby revealing an internal contradiction within the old problem of evil.


Jesus has left his wounds in our hands.

In addressing the second claim, I stated that it’s not possible for science to disprove God’s existence because science deals with the material and natural, whereas God is spirit and supernatural. God lies beyond the purview of science. But the real issue, as I see it, is that we Christians have, in general, made the science/faith issue about creation and evolution, and we are trying to win an argument. For a people whose king willingly lost his life on a Roman cross, trying to win arguments is a grave mistake. Jesus won a lot of arguments, but nobody he bested ever entered the kingdom. In fact, they all sought to kill him.

Our task is not to win but to woo. Jesus told Thomas, “You have seen and so have believed; blessed are those who have never seen but still believe.” People today will never see the risen Lord the way Thomas did, but they will see us. Jesus has left his wounds in our hands. Let us be sure to bear them faithfully.

momentmakerCarlos Whittaker’s life is full of hilarious, awkward, and powerful moments. Whether it’s a bird feasting on his children’s just-released flock of pet butterflies, buying a round of drinks for a returning troop of soldiers, or humiliating a girl by being too romantic, Carlos Whittaker lives his life in the moment. He is a man who was born with an innate ability to seize every moment and draw every last drop of life out of it, and in his new book Moment Maker, he wants to show you how you can live this way, too.

Whittaker identifies three types of moments in life: created moments, received moments, and rescued moments. Created moments are those special events in life that we make for others – birthday parties and romantic dates, for examples. Received moments are those times in life when things just happen, almost out of the blue. Rescued moments are what happen when your plans go awry and you’re faced with the choice to double down on the moment or just cash out. The common element of the three types of moments are that they push us beyond the boundaries of our self-centeredness and into the lives and hearts of others.

Being a moment maker is about living for others on purpose. It’s about pursuing the happiness and well-being of those around you, whether they are family, friends, or strangers. Moment makers imagine possibilities in life that the rest of us don’t see. They open their eyes to those around them, living according to the schedule of love rather than their daily calendars.

With often-funny and always-engaging stories, Whittaker invites the reader to wake up to the possibilities of a life full of created, received, and rescued moments. This book is particularly challenging for introverts like myself who would much rather enjoy the comfort of a quiet room and a good book than take the risk of moment making for the sake of others. Not all of us will be able to live life the way Carlos lives his, but we can all stand to be more invested, and more interested, in the happiness and well-being of others.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 

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