The Chair and the Desk, 10/30/15

From the chair:

“If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, we also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful–
for her cannot deny himself.” 

-2 Timothy 2:11-13

This passage was in my Bible reading plan this morning, and it reminded me: God follows through on his offer, follows through on his reward, follows through on his warning, follows through on his mercy. Let us follow the God who follows through.


From the desk:

“Who is the man who to know himself first wishes to disregard the fact that he belongs to God, that he exists because he stands in relation to the work of God, that he lives for the glory, under the lordship and in the service of God? Who is the man who thinks he can disregard all this? Real man cannot disregard it. Only a phantom man thinks that of himself he can know himself.”

-Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III/2, T&T Clark study ed., p.75


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

The Chair and the Desk, 10/29/15

From the chair:

“I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.”

-Paul to Timothy, 2 Timothy 1:12


From the desk:

“Healer claims that Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism hold ‘that there is a transcendent reality; that he is immanent in human hearts; that he is supreme beauty, truth, righteousness, goodness; that he is love, mercy, compassion; that the way to him is repentance, self-denial, prayer; that the way is love of one’s neighbor, even of one’s enemies; that the way is love of God, union within or dissolution into him.’ Heller is a learned man, and he makes a plausible case that if one wants to find similarities int he world’s major religions, and if one looks at them through Christian eyes, then this is a defensible list of the elements they have in common. It seems certain, however, that an adherent of an Eastern religion embarked on a similar task would format a very different list that would make Christianity sound rather like Taoism or Buddhism, for example, rather than vice versa.” 

-George Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine, 1984 ed., p.41

I think most Christian efforts to collapse all religions into Christianity are kind-hearted; people say that everyone really has the same (i.e., Christian) definition of good and that most people are following it because they want it to go well for others. However, such efforts often depend on a very shallow reading of other faiths (that can be surprisingly disrespectful). They may also depend on a fairly surface-level reading of the claims of the Christian Bible. I agree with Lindbeck–it’s better to understand faiths, including our own, with a primary interest in understanding, not conflating.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

The Chair and the Desk, 10/28/15

From the chair:

16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” ’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” 

22 And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.” 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?

-Luke 12:16-23

As someone wired to saved, this is hard criticism to receive. Yet, the warning comes with an assurance: “Consider the ravens…God feeds them.” Why am I anxious? Very few of us may own barns, but this parable seems first and foremost about money and possessions, storing up the things that will give us the long and comfortable life we want to secure.

This morning, I heard a story on NPR about hoarding photos. The guest was trying to help listeners “de-clutter” their photos, and the host was talking about how she feels compelled to take photos of everything, because life is going by too fast. I identity with that feeling–life is going by so fast–but I don’t know if recording our lives will solve that. For whom are we recording everything? I worry that our anxiety about the speed of life, the need to capture it all, collect it all, freeze it all in time, will only grow and grow until we learn to rest in the face of him who is the resurrection and the life.


From the desk:

“In his essence, his innermost being, his heart, [a person] is only what he is gladly.”

-Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III/2, p.267 (emphasis added)

Barth says a lot in the paragraphs leading up this line that make it especially rich, but I suspect that its profundity does not rely on the preceding arguments. This is one of those quotes worth reading a couple times to jump start a minute of quiet self-reflection.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

The Chair and the Desk, 10/27/15

From the chair:

“For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”

-Romans 8:6

Last night, I was intent on ordering Annie’s chai without caffeine that I accidentally ordered myself a full bore cappuccino. Four hours later, laying in bed, very awake, I thought to myself: Whoops.

I would often resort to a novel or a detective story in this situation. In fact, I had both sitting on my nightstand. However, about half the time, that leaves me more awake and more stressed that I’m more awake, which makes me, of course, more stressed (and more awake). This could be a while, I thought. What would I be glad I did, even if this is…a WHILE.

A few years ago, while serving at Crossroads Bible Church, one of my coworkers encouraged me to memorize Romans 8, and it was a very beneficial undertaking. However, as I lay there last night, I couldn’t get through the second verse. So, I flipped on my Kindle, opened up the ESV, and tried to see how hard it would be to re-memorize.

I’m not sure how hard it will be to re-memorize this chapter, but it was one single verse that really stood out to me as I was falling asleep; it ran through my mind again as I got up and got ready this morning: “to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Oh, how badly I want peace. Why do I set my mind, for so much of the day, on everything other than the Spirit who brings it?


From the desk:

“As I look back upon my course, I seem to myself as one who, ascending the dark staircase of a church tower and trying to steady himself reached for the banister, but got hold of the bell rope instead. To his horror, he had then to listen to what the great bell had sounded over him and not over him alone.”

-Karl Barth, Die christliche Dogmatik im Entwurf: Die Lehre vom Worte Gottes (1927), ix

The fact that this quote is new to me probably betrays the fact that I’m new to Karl Barth. Nonetheless, Dr. Hunsinger shared this quote in class today, and I’m glad she did, because it was a good reminder for me that Barth himself would probably be troubled by the great amount of energy sometimes spent trying to defend the inerrancy of Karl Barth. Soli Deo gloria!

For the citation, I’m depending on a blog comment from SPU professor Steve Perisho, here.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

The Chair and the Desk, 10/26/15

From the chair:

29 When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. 31 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. 

-Luke 11:29-32

This is one of those stories that reminds me that Jesus and the Bible are not always easy to understand. For one thing, Jesus talks about the Sign of Jonah in Matthew 12:38-42, and as Matthew recounts the story, his focus is totally different than in Luke’s account. As Jesus emphasizes in Matthew, “just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Yet, here in Luke, there’s no mention of “three days.” Did Luke expect his readers to also read Matthew and “get” the “Sign of Jonah” based on that? That doesn’t make sense to me.

What does make sense to me–and what does seem clear in both accounts–is that Jesus is the Sign of Jonah. He is like Jonah and more than Jonah. The longer I’ve reflected on this today, the less Matthew and Luke seem in conflict here. In Matthew, Jesus talks about his death and resurrection as part of being the Sign of Jonah. In Luke, Jesus talks about his life and preaching as part of being the Sign of Jonah. The life, preaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus are the life, preaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus; he himself is what holds all these together. He is the Sign of Jonah, because he has come into the world with a powerful message in the form of a single human voice; he has come with victory that looks like death; he has come with life that one must believe without seeing. Jesus didn’t come in the way we were looking for him, but he has come, someone greater has come, and if we believe he is genuine, we either repent or be condemned.


From the desk:

“instead of our making use of Scripture at every stage, it is Scripture itself which uses us—the usus scripture in which scripture is not object but subject, and the hearer and reader is not subject but object.”

-Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I/2, 738.

In this quote, Barth seems to be getting at something I’ve heard others communicate in an English turn of phrase: “Rather than trying to master the Bible, let the Bible master you.” In seminary, it’s often tempting to try to “use” God’s Word–to sound smart, to finish a paper, to justify ourselves, to get a job. I think Barth’s right when he argues that the real question is not how we use God’s Word, but how God’s Word is using us.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

The Chair and the Desk, 10/23/15

From the chair:

“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”

-1 Timothy 1:5

When I moved away from Crossroads Bible Church to attend Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, one of my students inadvertently wished me “good luck at cemetery.” Thankfully, as far as I’m aware, GCTS wasn’t a “faith cemetery” for my friends and colleagues; despite engaging critical scholarship and thinking philosophically about faith, most of us walked away more sure of what we believe–or at least that we believe.

That being said, learning can sometimes create faith crises; we find that the world is different than we thought it was, and that causes us to question if God exists and what he could be like. In the midst of all that, I found this verse particularly helpful. Two years ago, as I started the MDiv program, I regularly stopped to consider these four phrases, and they kept me grounded in vital truth: no matter what I learn about God, Scripture, faith, or ministry, “the aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”


From the desk:

A View From the Library

“Why be a poet, Hölderlin asked, in these non-lyrical times? Why, we might ask of H. Richard Niebuhr, be a theologian in our utterly untheological times? I think he would have made short shrift of that question. He would have asserted, I believe, that our responsibility to affirm the glory of the Lord, and his glory alone, has not been altered one whit, and that this remains our duty in propitious or unpropitious times.”

-Hans Frei, “H. Richard Niebuhr on History, Church, and Nation” in Theology and Narrative, eds. George Hunsinger and William C. Placher, Oxford: Oxford, 1993, p.231

I was reminded of this truth by two things this afternoon: the view and the quote, both above. Soli Deo gloria.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

The Chair and the Desk, 10/22/15

From the chair:

“Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.”

-2 Thessalonians 3:1-5

Earlier this week, I was talking with a friend about how hard it can be to keep moving for school or work or whatever else seems necessary in the service of God. We often don’t feel like making new friends, and we’re always sad to leave old friends miles and miles away. This morning, this verse reminded me that in this, we are not alone. We are not alone because the Church has been going through this for 2,000 years. We are not alone because we can pray for and bless one another, even from far away. We are not alone because the Lord is faithful–he will honor his own word; he will establish us; he will guard us against the evil one; he will direct our hearts to the love of God and the steadfastness of Christ.


From the desk:

The following quotes are a bit complex, but I think they suggest a profound truth about the way we should hear and preach sermons. An introductory remark will probably be more helpful than a follow-up comment: Charles Campbell is arguing that preaching should not centrally about individuals getting their questions answered and needs met by God; rather, through preaching, God is creating the collective people–the Church–he wants to create.

“God in Jesus Christ is not simply the predicate of individual human experience or needs, but is an active subject building up a people to embody and witness to Jesus’ presence in and for the world…

…For example, American culture would describe the welcoming of a new member into the church through baptism as the addition of an individual to a voluntary institution, which is a collection of individuals. In contrast to this description, the preacher’s task is to redescribed the practice of baptism as an episode in the ongoing story of God’s active gathering and building up of an eschatological people who carry forward Jesus’ story in and for the world…

…Rather than asking how texts connect with predetermined individual needs or how they connect with ‘general human experience’ or how they are relevant to American society, preachers should quite consciously ask what the Spirit is saying to the church through the church’s Scripture.”

-Charles Campbell, Preaching Jesus, 1997 ed., pp.227, 229, 230


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

The Chair and the Desk, 10/21/15

From the chair:

28 Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. 30 And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” 36 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.

-Luke 9:28-36

“Bilbo Baggins! Do not take me for some conjuror of cheap tricks! I am not here to rob you…I am trying to help you.” There are certainly differences between Jesus’ transfiguration in Luke and Gandalf’s transfiguration in The Fellowship of the Ring. Nevertheless, I remember the shiver that went through me as the hobbit hole darkened and the grey man grew before me in the AMC Loews 8 Factoria, at 12 years old–there was more to this character than met the eye; his power, understanding, and beneficence, revealed in this one, early moment, became a central source of hope for the next 8 hours of film. Tolkien said that the Lord of the Rings is not an allegory (characters and events aren’t meant to match another set of characters and events), but I don’t know that he could have written this scene without having read the Gospel accounts.

More importantly, whether Middle Earth can point us down this road or not, the transfiguration does give the three apostles (and now all disciples) a glimpse of Jesus’ power, understanding, and beneficence. There is certainly more to this man, Jesus, than meets the eye. He seems to see beyond our past and future horizons. Yet, he’s patient with Peter’s most ridiculous plan. Though the scene invokes fear, it also invites us to trust this Son of the unseen, thundering God.


From the desk:

“There is a deep theological danger in measuring preaching by its capacity to generate religious experience. Theologian Hendrikus Berkhof has reminded us that, in the Old Testament, one of the reasons why Israel was continually abandoning Yahweh for Baal was that Baal was always more available, more visible, providing blessings that were more predictable. Once could always count on Baal for a religious experience, but not so Yahweh. Yahweh tended, on many occasions, to have a hidden face, to be absent in those times when the people yearned for a more readily available God. In sum, God does not always move us when we desire to be moved, and everything that moves us deeply is not God.” 

-Thomas Long, The Witness of Preaching, 1989 ed., 40-41

One could read this and feel that we’re left with a bleak picture of God, but I read it and find it a bit of a relief–in my life, this is a realistic picture of God! In my preaching, this is a realistic picture of God! There’s a reason the fruit of the Spirit includes patience, faithfulness, and self-control. Some of the things we’re called to do take more than one afternoon. Some of the things we’re called to become (see: fruit of the Spirit, above) take more than one year. Some would ask us–and sometimes we would ask ourselves–where is your God? It’s hard to say where God is, but we can believe this: Who God is has not changed, nor have his promises.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

The Chair and the Desk, 10/20/15

From the chair:

“God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

-Psalm 46:1-3

I naturally worry. As child, I worried about being drafted into the army; I worried about getting beheaded during 7 years of tribulation (thanks a lot, Jerry B. Jenkins). That has all settled a bit, but even last night I tossed and turned because I couldn’t settle on the least-stressful way to get into NYC tonight.

What we see in Psalm 46:1-3 is a classic worst-case scenario, a real Dennis Quaid, “Day After Tomorrow” sort of situation. When the mountains crumble into the heart of the sea, it sure seems like all bets would be off. Yet, even if that happened today, the people of God would not need to fear, and we need not fear the things going on at work, in our home, with our health, with our bills, in our nation, in our world.

God is our refuge. God is our strength. God is our very present help. Therefore, we will not fear.


From the desk:

“In the black church, however, the deductive, three-point sermon simply did not have the same disastrous effects it apparently had in some white congregations. This idea of a boring preacher or an overly authoritarian preacher thundering broadsides to a disconnected, discontented audience is not what the three-point sermon wrought in the best of black preaching. Not then, not now. The three-point sermon in the black church is clothed in imagination, humor, playful engagement, running narrative, picturesque speech, and audible participation on the part of the congregation. Thus, it is not the three-point sermon that is out; instead it is the boring three-point sermon that must go. Should blacks be exposed to other forms of peaching? Of course! But must we throw the three-point baby out with the bath in order to achieve this? I think not.”

-Cleophus LaRue, I Believe I’ll Testify, p.24

This is one of the quotes from fall that alerted me to the fact that it’d be great to study with Dr. LaRue. It’s also an attitude that I’ve enjoyed so far this fall: No particular interest in rejecting whole schools of thought just to reject whole schools of thought, but a deep desire for us all to grow in our preaching of the Word of God, for the sake of the Church.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.