Acts 7:1-16

Stephen’s Speech to the Council1

Then the high priest asked him, “Are these things so?” And Stephen replied:

“Brothers and fathers, listen to me. The God of glory appeared to our ancestor Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Leave your country and your relatives and go to the land that I will show you.’ Then he left the country of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. After his father died, God had him move from there to this country in which you are now living. He did not give him any of it as a heritage, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as his possession and to his descendants after him, even though he had no child. And God spoke in these terms, that his descendants would be resident aliens in a country belonging to others, who would enslave them and mistreat them during four hundred years. ‘But I will judge the nation that they serve,’ said God, ‘and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.’ Then he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs.”

“The patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him, and rescued him from all his afflictions, and enabled him to win favor and to show wisdom when he stood before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who appointed him ruler over Egypt and over all his household. Now there came a famine throughout Egypt and Canaan, and great suffering, and our ancestors could find no food. But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our ancestors there on their first visit. On the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph’s family became known to Pharaoh. Then Joseph sent and invited his father Jacob and all his relatives to come to him, seventy-five in all; so Jacob went down to Egypt. He himself died there as well as our ancestors, and their bodies were brought back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.”

What’s in a name?

Very few people can boast that their name is carried across the millennia. How many people can you name from 1000 years ago? 2000 years ago? 3000 years ago? The further back we go the fewer names we can recollect. Just because someone’s history is written does not necessarily mean it is well known, and just because a person’s history is well known does not mean that it is praised.

Abraham, a name which continues to be given to boys 4000 years later, maybe one of the oldest people whose name and story continues to be told and praised today. His legacy is so strong that we even know his failures and still continue to celebrate his name. In one of the first post-Easter sermons delivered by the disciples of Jesus, Stephen invokes the name of Abraham to set the foundation for his explanation of why the people of Israel needed a Savior and why Jesus of Nazareth was the one for whom they had been waiting. He could’ve started anywhere. He could’ve started with King David. He would have been just fine beginning with Moses, the giver of the law. The people to whom he was speaking were interpreters of the law and would have been very comfortable discussing Moses. But Stephen reached back into his memory and began with Abraham, a man who’s greatest claim to fame was not conquering any nation, nor giving any great teaching. In fact we have no record of anything he taught. Abraham is known for one thing and one thing only: his faithful obedience to God.

Out of the billions and billions of people who have lived and died faithfully following God, Abraham is the only one who is known and praised for that. For him that was enough. And today Jews and Christians all over the world claim his name and his legacy. If you follow his story in Genesis you will see that his greatest faithfulness, his willingness to sacrifice Isaac, his miracle child, did not happen until after he was blessed by God. Likewise most of his unfaithfulness occurred before he receive that blessing. The one faithful act that he did before the birth of Isaac was in response to God’s invitation – that Abraham would leave his family and homeland and follow God into the wilderness to seek out a new country. His life does not exemplify a good person being rewarded by God. Instead it demonstrates a lifetime of call and response, giving and receiving, initiation by God and (sometimes) faithful obedience by Abraham.

I believe the reason Abraham’s faithfulness to God changed was precisely because he became a father, and especially because he became a father when he was 100 years old. Being that old gives you no time to mess around in no time for mistakes. Isaac was set to inherit everything that Abraham had and all that God had promised him: a nation, a people, and the name that would carry on for the rest the time. Unlike parents with multiple children, Abraham had no choice but to get it right the first time. I bet that made him realize his legacy was influenced not just by his financial investments, business choices, lands bought, and houses built. His legacy was in who he was sleeping his son to be in the few years – remember he was 100 years old when Isaac was born – that he had to spend with him. Every. Single. Moment. Counted. 4000 years later, we are still reading about those moments.

What is your Legacy?

What are you doing to make sure it is both memorable and worth remembering?

  1. (Gen 12:1–50:26)

The Art and Science of God – Uncommon Sense


The Art and Science of God

Uncommon Sense

Luke 14:7-14

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

One of the greatest gifts Jesus gives us is his practical teaching and example of the illogical and mysterious values of God. What I mean is that Jesus personifies (and perhaps humanitizes) Who God is, and does so in such an exemplary way that we are invited and instructed how to personify God in our own lives as well. However, the kind of example He sets is not necessarily one that is either easy to understand or follow. Not only can it be physically and emotionally challenging, it is sometimes counter-intuitive and hard to wrap our minds around.

Kingdom hospitality is an easy example of how the logic of God does not always line up with our culture’s version of “common sense”. Common sense from a capitalist standpoint tells us to focus the bulk of our hospitality on those whom we can expect a better return. Wine and dine those who have money to buy from you, not those too poor to afford your products and services. That first step to recognizing the truth about our common sense is that it is based upon our politics and economics, not our relationship with God.

Let me give another example. In our culture of copyrights land lawsuits, if you were able to create a water purification system using basic household objects, would you hold a public forum teaching your neighbors and community how to do it themselves or with you patent it in attempt to make money off of your idea? Which does your common sense promote? The good of the community for the good of your pocketbook? Most of us would probably try to do both. We might see it as a wasted opportunity if we did not try to make money and we might feel guilty if we did not at least try to make an attempt to better the lives of those around us.

Common sense is a tool designed to lead us to success (however we understand and define success). It is also a very logical tool. Common sense, like much of our scientific tools, is based upon success we can see. I think, like much of science, it is actually a little more biased toward sense of vision than any of our other senses. It leads us to make choices that look successful not just sound successful, or smell successful, and in many cases it leads us away from choices that “feel” successful. When we make choices because “it felt like the right thing to do at the time”, our common sense often warns us otherwise.

This is why Jesus baffles us so much. Jesus does not take the middle road. He does not tell us to go and invite anyone and everyone to our parties. He tells us to leave our rich neighbors alone, and throw parties specifically for those who cannot, let alone will not repay us. That makes common sense sick to its stomach.

Ambition tells us to succeed we must climb higher. A modest Version of common sense would tell us to be patient and strategic in how we climb to gain the most success without alienating those allies around us. As usual Jesus takes a completely different approach. He tells us, if you want to succeed do not climb higher… climb lower. Take a demotion. Now our common sense is screaming.

Is there no logic to God’s ethics? Indeed there is, but it is not based in capitalism, and even more jarring, it is not based in what we can see. John’s ethics are based upon an invisible truth: that God Himself created the world, holds the world together, and that we can not find success in life that is not A gift from Him. With that kind of logic it makes sense that helping our poor neighbors pleases God and we can expect to be successful and happy simply because God is pleased with us. Our common sense lives in a place of doubt and skepticism, existing to watch our back, doubting that we will be happy or successful merely by pleasing God, and coming up with back up plans just in case God does not exist at all. After all, our common sense has not seen Him lately.

What we need is not just more common sense. We need a little more faith in God. Not just faith in general or faith in ourselves… but faith in God. Perhaps this is why the author of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote:

Hebrews 11:6

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

How does your common sense help you draw closer to God?

How does your common sense conflict with your faith at times?

7 Godly Sins? – Wrath of God


7 Godly Sins? – the Wrath of God

If God destroys people for not obeying Him is it Wrath?

Psalm 118:14-24

The Lord is my strength and my might;

he has become my salvation.

There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous:

“The right hand of the Lord does valiantly;

the right hand of the Lord is exalted;

the right hand of the Lord does valiantly.”

I shall not die, but I shall live,

and recount the deeds of the Lord.

The Lord has punished me severely,

but he did not give me over to death.

Open to me the gates of righteousness,

that I may enter through them

and give thanks to the Lord.

This is the gate of the Lord;

the righteous shall enter through it.

I thank you that you have answered me

and have become my salvation.

The stone that the builders rejected

has become the chief cornerstone.

This is the Lord’s doing;

it is marvelous in our eyes.

This is the day that the Lord has made;

let us rejoice and be glad in it.

I stumbled across this image1 this evening and intend to spend this week, looking at scripture and our common human experience regarding these so-named “Godly Sins”. I am not an apologist and typically feel that God does not need me to defend His good name… He does just fine Himself. However, these thoughts resonated with me, and several of them I have thought myself before. As Ecclesiastes reminds us, “…there is nothing new under the sun.”

The first sin, is God’s wrath, which is particularly relevant this Easter season as we proclaim that God’s wrath was poured out upon Jesus. I won’t spend time spouting subjective opinions about the difference between the word wrath and anger. Does God get upset? Yes. Maybe all the time. It happens in both the Old and New Testament. God is not a round Buddhist monk in the sky pondering His navel. He cares for the world and everyone in it as the most loving parent cares for her children, and you better believe there is anger when those children are being killed every day – particularly when they are being killed simply because they love God or because they are unable to defend themselves. The quickest way to get your ticket punched in a bad way is to go after orphans and widows.

Even God’s own chosen people were punished for their misdeeds. Many of them (most all of them I believe) had opportunity to repent, and often some of the harshest punishments occurred when God’s own miraculous provision and deliverance was met with ingratitude or worse – the desire to take advantage of others. Let me give you a modern example. I have heard personal testimony about ministries that go overseas to help young women get out of the sex trafficking industry and help give them skills to make a living without selling their bodies. In more than one occasion, some of these women – who now experience the freedom and provision provided by God from the abuse they suffered as a child, go back and buy a young boy or girl and begin renting them out as a sex slave for money – thus making extra profit while remaining clear themselves.

How would you judge such a person? Oh, perhaps you do not judge, you might think. Would you befriend such a person? Would you do business with them? If they were working in the school system, would you let your children attend that school. Or would you instead judge them guilty and disconnect any relationship with them whatsoever?

God is the source of all life. When He disconnects from someone and stops actively blessing them, life ends and the consequences for sin (death) rushes in. I would argue, that every second someone, who is actively others, remains alive is another second that God’s mercy has tempered His judgment with punishment accorded them to lead them out of that destructive life and into a life that blesses others instead of tearing them apart. By my own standards, I think God lets some people live too long. But here is why…

God does not look upon only Christians, of Jews, or Muslims, or “good” people as His children. He loves every one of us. So, this is not like a parent whose kids are getting hurt by the neighbors or strangers passing through. God sees the mess of our world as his own children, like Cain and Abel killing each other in their own wrath and judgment. How it must break His heart to see us! Even in that case, where Cain rightly deserved death according to the “eye for an eye” rule of the great early lawmakers, God did not kill him but merely punished him by preventing him from enjoying that blessing of family he so easily rejected by killing his own brother.

Likewise, the psalmist above recounts not just God’s blessing but the punishment they faced as well and the way it helped lead them to a better path. They were grateful for it. If you don’t think God punishes us before we die and face the consequences of Hell, you are either living an over-privileged life or you are not in touch with reality. God’s wrath, as per the Bible, has far less to do with dying and going to hell and far more with the consequences of sin in our daily life here on earth. Without it, we are left with a God who could simply care less about us.

I think the crucifixion is a little oversimplified when we look at it as nothing more than Jesus taking God’s wrath for us. God was merciful in the Old Testament long before Jesus was born. For me at least, that crucifixion is a better example of our wrath poured out against God, slaughtering His only Son because we were not getting what we wanted from Him. Jesus gives His own take on it here:

Luke 20:9-192

The Parable of the Wicked Tenants

He began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, and leased it to tenants, and went to another country for a long time. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants in order that they might give him his share of the produce of the vineyard; but the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Next he sent another slave; that one also they beat and insulted and sent away empty-handed. And he sent still a third; this one also they wounded and threw out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ But when the tenants saw him, they discussed it among themselves and said, ‘This is the heir; let us kill him so that the inheritance may be ours.’ So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Heaven forbid!” But he looked at them and said, “What then does this text mean:

‘The stone that the builders rejected

has become the cornerstone’?

Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” When the scribes and chief priests realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to lay hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people.

When have you experienced God’s wrath?

How has it changed you?

  1. [Indeed+dog_027882_4149050]: http://static.fjcdn.com/pictures/Indeed+dog_027882_4149050.jpg
  2. (Mt 21:33–46; Mk 12:1–12)

Wearing God’s Commandments


Wearing God’s commandments

Deuteronomy 11:18–28 (NRSV)

18 You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 20 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, 21 so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the LORD swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.

22 If you will diligently observe this entire commandment that I am commanding you, loving the LORD your God, walking in all his ways, and holding fast to him, 23 then the LORD will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and mightier than yourselves. 24 Every place on which you set foot shall be yours; your territory shall extend from the wilderness to the Lebanon and from the River, the river Euphrates, to the Western Sea. 25 No one will be able to stand against you; the LORD your God will put the fear and dread of you on all the land on which you set foot, as he promised you.

26 See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: 27 the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today; 28 and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn from the way that I am commanding you today, to follow other gods that you have not known.

I had a friend several years ago who refused to wear a cross. He was a believer and follower of Jesus and now works as a missionary overseas, but he was convinced at the time that if you had to wear something to show you were a Christian, you probably were not living a Christian life the way you ought to. While it may seem a little odd to think about having the Ten Commandments hanging on your forehead and written on your hands, think about how many places we put crosses or other symbols of our faith. Our clothes, our jewelry, our cars… we even erect huge signs on the side of the road with messages about our faith. We may have gone a bit further than the Old Testament Law asked of the Jew.

I think Christians do that more, partially because we have a less complicated message. Jesus told us that the Old Testament Law could be summed up in only two commandments: Loving God, and Loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Most of us, bypass the whole commandment thing altogether and just use a cross with an entirely different message. That message, if not articulated well, can often sound like: “Join us or go to hell.”

The other way it can be misused is simply as a symbol of love. Honestly, between the two choices, I would rather make the mistake on the side of love rather than partisan spirituality. It is still not what Jesus taught though.

Both sets of commands (Old Testament and New Testament) begin with faithfulness and love toward God. Love of others is an important and integral part of following Jesus, but if you have to trade your relationship with God in order to love others, it probably is not real love.

The first message of the cross is that God so loved the world. The second part, which stands as our first example in response to God, is that Jesus so loved God that He came to earth willingly and went to the cross willingly. Jesus died in obedience to the will of the Father and Jesus died for love of us because the Father loved us. Philosophically, this gets really messy because Jesus is God and part of the Trinity, and because God is not subject to time the same way we are… but bear with me for just a moment. The human part of Jesus loved us because God asked Him to love us, and since Jesus loved God, the Father, Jesus wanted to love the things (and people) that the Father loved. It is here that we can truly see that loving others begins as a fulfillment of faithfully loving God.

But it doesn’t end there. I believe that love for one another may begin out of obligation, but as time passes, we find other unique reasons to love people. Jesus did not go through life telling people He only put up with them because God told Him to. No, He found unique reasons to love those around Him… and so should we.

The cross can still stand as our symbol of faith, one bar reminding us to look up and love God and the other reminding us to look alongside us and love our neighbors. It is God’s mercy that allows us to enter in to this relationship and His daily grace that helps us do it… and maybe we too need that daily reminder of who we are called to be hanging off our forehead, before our eyes, and written on our own hands.

Where do you see reminders of God’s call on your life today?

Questions for a New Year


I am convinced that we generally have more choices than we are aware of but often fewer than we wish. Last year was a strange year, and for some it was downright awful. Bouncing emotionally between killings between the police and rioters, to the Cubs winning the world series, to political upsets in the elections… There have been protests that ended in celebrations and protests that ended in tears. I saw an article that said for the first time Heroin killed more people than guns last year. It has been a crazy year for our nation – the kind of a year leaves my head and heart just spinning.

Rather than start the year off in a frenzy, I want to slow things down just a bit. Even if the world charges madly around me, I can at least find a way to settle myself. Do you remember what Jesus did in the storms? He slept. His faith in His Father was so secure that when others around Him thought they would all die, He was able to take a nap (Mark 4:35-41). When Jesus awoke, He calmed the storm with a two commands, “Silence” and “Be still”, and then He turned to His disciples with two questions.

“Why are you so afraid?” He asked. “Do you still have no faith?”

Jesus knew that storms happen on the inside as well as the outside. While the sky may have been clear, things were still cloudy in the hearts and minds of the disciples. He also knew that the storms on the inside are not settled by commands, but by questions. Why is this? I think it may be because God created us with the freedom to choose whether to follow Him or not, because He wanted us to work with Him in caring for our world (See Genesis 1-3). God doesn’t want to have to command us to follow Him. Instead He asks us and lets us decide for ourselves.

So let us begin this new year by dealing with the storms of 2016. Let us answer for ourselves the questions Jesus poses to us. Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith? Remember, Jesus is right there in the boat with you. Once God’s questions calm us down, we are able to ask our own questions and see more clearly the choices we have ahead of us. It allows us to act with purpose rather than simply react to the chaos or bullying around us. I don’t want to be pushed into doing something I will regret. I want every action I make to be someething I can look back upon and say, “I did my best.” I want my deeds to be inspired by love and generosity, not fear and defensiveness. I want to live by faith, not by fright.

All Hallows Eve


I found my last bed

in the place of the first

lesser my heartbeat

greater my thirst

only my pain can realize

        the silent fear

        that lingers here

among a dozen wetted eyes

and hearts doubled over

to see yellow skin

my last fleshly covering

a sad soul within

whose mate in tears resides beside

        my rock and love

        my precious dove

in whom I hope my fate abides

yet she refers me

toward other things

with halos of light

and feathery wings

but I cannot see the light from here

        with eyes gone grey

        fading away

and filled with cold and bitter tears

for fear and regret

all these chains that I’ve earned

in those toiling days

whose dreams I burned

with tunnel vision and selfish pride

        my fate I chose

        the thorny rose

whose beauty at last has bled me dry

leaving naught but a shell

that cannot receive

a blessing that’s blocked

by anger and grief

but I may have one final gift

        my heart to give

        to one who lives

long after this soul passes through the rift

may he love her with care

for better, for worse

and learn from my death

lest he fall to the curse

that still lingers here within the air

        with brutal eyes

        on new love lies

and fixes them with unmerciful stare

so my final act

will not be a cry

for mercy or peace

I simply will die

an example to a foolish world

        to which I belong

        a son of its song

        its promises lies

        when everyone dies

but lives like their lives cannot be unfurled

so breathe like it matters

live without regret

and love while you live

and never forget.

Ode for the Stranger


Holy fire come light my bones

with words that wound

and strong sound

and lowings lifted like cattle-moans.


Open skies decry the rain

that settles in

soft as sin

to burst and bud in flowering pain.


Past the churning sightless brook

lies that fell down

nested town

like a blighted nameless crook.


In tattered rags my lover lies

a sight made sore

my eyes pour

and something flickering in me dies.


No craven shadow will I hold

nor pantomime

tainted time

with brazen bonnets clutching cold.


Grow strange this night averse and cool

that now at last

new found past

leads this faithful following fool.