The Chair and the Desk, 10/19/15

From the chair:

As Jesus went, the people pressed around him. 43 And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone. 44 She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased. 45 And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!” 46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me.” 47 And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. 48 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

-Luke 8:42b-48

I can’t really imagine being this woman: In pain, embarrassed, excluded, overlooked. She must have feared the glares and barks she had to endure to sneak up to Jesus. Her heart must have stopped when the commotion did. What could have gone through her mind when she looked up to see Jesus–and now everyone–looking right at her? Yet, she was healed. This woman who no one else would acknowledge, Jesus calls her daughter. This woman who no one else would touch, Jesus praises the faith she showed by touching him; he says, “your faith has made you well.” Had she made a fool of herself? Jesus didn’t want her to think so: “Go in peace.” She did go in peace, and this woman no one wanted has become an example of the faith we all want to find.


From the desk:

“While watching the “JESUS” film in the forest region of Guinea, West Africa, audiences are reported to have understood Jesus as a successful traditional priest or marabout. From their cultural context it is obvious to them that Jesus keeps his fetishes, from which he draws his powers, in the bag he carries with him (Wiher 1997:70).”

-Opening line from Johannes Merz’ “Translation and the Visual Predicament of the Jesus Film in West Africa,” Missiology 38.2, April 1, 2010: 111-126

I haven’t gotten to read through this article yet (I filed it away as a great lead for a paper I’m hoping to write later this semester), but the opening sentence captured my imagination more than anything I’ve read today. I don’t think this story means that we should deride The Jesus Film or despair of translating the gospel, but it does mean that we need Guinean brothers and sisters to reach Guineans. They have knowledge necessary for the advance of the gospel that no one else in the world can offer–something that could perhaps be said for you and your country or even you and your neighborhood, workplace, or family.


“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, 10/16/15

From the chair:

I smile every time I read this text, because the story astounds me, and because it will always be my favorite sermon I got to preach at Crossroads Bible Church. I don’t know if it was a good sermon, but it’s such a good word. I’ll just paste it here and let it speak for itself:

36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” 

41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.'”

-Luke 7


From the desk conference:

“We know about the marriage supper of the Lamb, so we see an opportunity for our churches to be more like that.”

This morning, at the Evangelical Homiletics Society annual meeting, Dr. Al Mohler said this about immigration, and I thought this was a beautiful statement. What should we make of immigration? For one thing, we know about the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19), so we should see immigration as an opportunity for our churches to be more like that, to look more today like they will someday: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all (Eph. 4).


“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, 10/15/15

From the chair:

18 The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John, 19 calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 20 And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ ” 21 In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. 22 And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. 23 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

-Luke 7:18-23

Luke writes up this story in an interesting way. The question is asked twice, in the same words, in quick succession: “Is Jesus the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” “Is Jesus the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” When the messengers ask, Luke doesn’t immediately tell us what Jesus says. Instead, he describes what Jesus did, and Jesus tells them to tell what they have seen and heard.

I often don’t trust Jesus enough. I try to boil down his life to what I find most important or smooth out some of the things that I find difficult. However, that betrays my lack of trust in those who hear—and my lack of trust in Jesus himself. People need a chance to encounter Jesus himself: what he did, what he said, and the claim that makes on their lives.


From the desk:

“There has been one particularly interesting result of the modern and direct (in contrast to the Gospels more nearly indirect) identification of the mission or intention with the personal character of Jesus as love, an identification that has resulted in the elevation of love over every other personal virtue in him as the single excellence of his character. The result has been a simplistic overdrawing, frequently pressing all too close upon the mysteriousness of the figure of Jesus who, after all, does not, in the portraiture of the Gospels, come provided with a single clue to unlock his character, not even with a clear-cut predominance of love deportment.”

-Hans Frei, The Identity of Jesus Christ, 2013 ePub ed., p.210

This quote from this book may have been why I found the Luke quote, above, so pressing.

Love was really important to Jesus. He said so (the two greatest commandments) and the NT goes on to rightly say so (God is love). However, we will miss so much of Jesus if we try to simply define him as “love embodied.” Jesus is…Jesus. Unlike a Greek myth, he’s not a character invented to represent a character trait. Jesus is Jesus, and though he can’t be simplified he can be known.


“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, 10/14/15

From the chair:

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” 

-Colossians 3:12

I’ve been talking too much in class lately. Yesterday morning, there was a lot I wanted to say, but others were talking and the conversation kept departing from what I was thinking about. I listened, but I also thought about this verse: compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. When I dominate conversations, it’s often because I lack all five of these things, and that lack also causes me to do more harm (and neglect more good) beyond these discussions.

Because I am chosen, sanctified, and beloved, I can focus my compassion on others, act in kindness, think humbly, speak meekly, and wait patiently. Slow, contemplative, prayerful reading and recitations of this short divine sentence are helping me to do so.


From the desk:

“The church is not calling you to be the pastor; they are calling you to become the pastor.” 

-Gardner Taylor, quoted by Dr. LaRue in PR 2100

I don’t know whether this statement is meant to be humbling or soothing, but for me it’s both. Congregations don’t (or shouldn’t) call seminary grads expecting them to be “finished products.” We’re still figuring it out and we always will be, but that doesn’t in any way cancel out the responsibility of what we are to be constantly becoming: followers, students, parables of that Great Shepherd of the Sheep.


“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, 10/13/15

From the chair:

“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

-Luke 6:32

As I’ve thought about this verse throughout the morning, many implications have arisen: Are we generous with our money? When people come over, am I generous with food? Am I generous with praise, with disclosing myself in relationships, with volunteering? The most convicting implication has to do with my time. Will I always give people the time they scheduled or that I think they deserve or that I think social etiquette requires? What would it look like to give good time, pressed down, shaken together, running over to whoever wants it? That’s the kind of time I want measured back to me, with other people and with our God.


From the desk:

“..no matter what the logic of the Christian faith, actual belief in the resurrection is a matter of faith and not of arguments from possibility or evidence. Why some believe and others do not is impossible for the Christian to explain. Like many a pilgrim, Christians may find themselves strangely on both sides at the same time. All they can do then is to recall that the logic of their faith makes it rationally impossible for them not to believe.” 

-Hans Frei, The Identity of Jesus Christ, 2013 ePub ed., p.187

In graduate school, I’ve come to believe that it is at least no less rational to believe in God, revelation, the incarnation, the resurrection, and the Spirit than to disbelieve the whole lot. In fact, for me, my mind cannot not believe. That’s not to say that I think those who do not believe aren’t thinking well; it’s just that the more I read, think, and pray, the more sure I am that I am following a crucified and raised Lord.


“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, 10/12/15

From the chair:

27 After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him“Follow me.” 28 And leaving everything, he rose and followed him. 29 And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

-Luke 5:27-32

This weekend, as I read this passage, I was reminded that all theologians have blind spots–except Jesus Christ. I’ve been reading theologians who are zeroed in on my blind spots, especially the ways I overlook the marginalized. Yet, in this story, the Nicodemus story, the Zacchaeus story, we’re reminded that Jesus also has mercy for the privileged who will follow him. “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” All theologians have blind spots, except Jesus Christ.


From the desk:

“They are history-like precisely because like history-writing and the traditional novel and unlike myths and allegories they literally mean what they say.”

-Hans Frei, The Identity of Jesus Christ, 2013 ePub ed., p.49

This may come as a surprise to non-seminarians, but what Frei says here is relatively rare in seminary world: The Gospels mean what they say. The writers may at time make literary decisions–e.g., they do not have the same commitments to numbers as the census bureau (“5,000 men” probably isn’t saying it wasn’t 5,003 men); in that way they are different from history written in the 21st century–but the accounts are still “history-like” in that they “literally mean what they say.” For example, Luke is not using some kind of code language when he says, “two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.'” He’s making a bold declaration about who Jesus was and is.


“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, 10/9/15

From the chair and the desk:

28 So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” 29 And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. 30 Then this thing became a sin, for the people went as far as Dan to be before one. 31 He also made temples on high places and appointed priests from among all the people, who were not of the Levites. 32 And Jeroboam appointed a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month like the feast that was in Judah, and he offered sacrifices on the altar. So he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he made. And he placed in Bethel the priests of the high places that he had made. 

-1 Kings 12:28-32

“Biblical thinking is liberated thought, i.e., thinking that is not entrapped by social categories of the dominant culture.”

-James Cone, God of the Oppressed, 1975 ed., p.97

I’ve been thinking about this all morning: “Behold your gods.” At first I couldn’t believe Jeroboam’s audacity and the citizens’ credulity–how could they accept that these two golden calves, fresh out of the furnace, should get the credit for YHWH leading them out of Egypt? Then I remembered that this is an age-old story: Aaron and the actual Exodus generation did the same audacious thing. And then I remember that this is an age-old story, and it happens in my life too.

A number of things flashed through my mind:  If my netflix history says anything, it’s that I’ve repeatedly bought into the new TV show that we’ve all been waiting for, the entertainment industry saying, “Behold your gods!” I’ve really bought into football, which is often team owners and advertisers, at the expense of poor men’s bodies, saying, “Behold your gods!” I open my phone and scroll through Facebook, every 6th or 7th little box an advertisement for a game that would happily rule my life: “Behold your gods!”

It’s not that I want to be a downer. All of these things–film, sports, games–could be created as art. But they’re usually just commodities that fight for our attention and our worship to make the rich richer, leaving the lost more lost. Leaving me more distracted and empty. All of would benefit from asking who in our lives is saying “Behold your gods,” and which of those voices we’re inexplicably listening to.

“9  Go on up to a high mountain, 
O Zion, herald of good news;
lift up your voice with strength, 
O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
lift it up, fear not; 
say to the cities of Judah, 
“Behold your God!”

-Isaiah 40:9

**I’ve quoted Cone twice now without representing the main argument of his book, which isn’t fair (in 2015 terms, it’s very similar to a Christian argument for #blacklivesmatter as opposed to #alllivesmatter). I’m still thinking about his whole, compelling book and what it means for what I think and do, and I’m worried I will set you up to reject sound-bites “from the desk,” out of context. I recommend giving the whole book a thoughtful read and 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, 10/8/15

From the chair:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

-Philippians 2:3

This is one of those verses I’ve heard my whole life, but need to hear today. “Do nothing from selfish ambition.” I’m in a field that encourages selfish ambition, but really, what field doesn’t? Scholarship doesn’t have to be a life of selfish ambition. It doesn’t have to come down to being published, getting a comfortable job, building a nice paragraph about oneself to have read at conferences and printed on the back of books. Thinking, reading, and writing can be acts of love for the Church, if we set out to change our hearts through prayer and the Word.


From the desk:

“Liberation preaching should and does ‘tell it like it is.’ This means that the harsh reality of truth must be told as we seek to deal with the condition of black men in our communities. It is not an easy task, but it is a task that must be done if we are to reclaim our youth and rebuild our communities.”

-James Harris, Preaching Liberation, p.89

Harris says this in a chapter about preaching for African American men as an African American man–even though I come from a different background, I hear in it a crucial call for all preachers: Let’s be clear. Let’s be clear. It’s good to know and to say that we are often wrong. It’s good to listen to others and to be open to new ideas. Yet, unclear thinking, unclear speaking, unclear preaching doesn’t really help anyone. If we take the risk of “telling it like it is,” we may sometimes be corrected, but it will drive us to understand the truth as best as we can, and when we “tell it like it is,” we can actually converse and learn together.


“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, 10/7/15

From the chair:

3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.

-Philippians 1:3-5

This Sunday, in Church, we heard about the “blessed alliances” that God uses to do his work in the world. I was quite moved as I thought about the allies, the friends, the partners that God has provided for me–now around the world–to participate in what he is doing. There is no tie that can keep us better than partnership in the gospel, and nothing better to be held together for.


From the desk:

“…we need to recognize that the term ‘sacrifice’ has taken on a set of meanings in popular culture as a whole that may or may not be helpful for Christian reflection. Preachers need to make clear, for example, that Jesus’ death is more than an act of heroism. Moving as it is to read stories of those who have risked or given their lives in order to save others from fire or disaster, we are dealing with something more than this when we make Christian sense of Jesus’ death.”

-Sally Brown, Cross Talk, p.113

I first read Dr. Brown’s Cross Talk before driving down to PTS last spring, trying to familiarize myself with my professors. Reading it again this fall, I really appreciate the ways that she tries to keep our attention on the cross, attending to the concerns about “divine child abuse,” etc., while not allowing us to discard Jesus’ death or what the Scriptures say about it. This is a great example of where we need to think about our language: Was Jesus’ death one of many examples of “the ultimate sacrifice”? I believe not. I believe there is something distinct about the one true human offering himself to God and God offering himself to humanity.


“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, 10/6/15

From the chair:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.

-Ephesians 6:10-18

Last years, someone helped me realize (I don’t remember who, but I’m fairly sure I didn’t realize this myself) that the fruit of the Spirit is an invaluable passage. Sure, we talked about it in Sunday School, but as a four-year-old I didn’t realize that I’d be a quarter-century into my life and still wonder (alone, and with others), what is this all about? What is this for? How do I live? Last year I realized that there’s really no better answer than “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control.”

This morning, “the armor of God” had a similar impact on me. So many people demand so many things of us, but this is a divine and invaluable list: Put on truth, righteousness, the readiness of the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the Spirit and Word of God. I can’t define the ideal pastor, scholar, or person, but I have no doubt that any investment in fostering these things is well-spent.


From the desk:

“More often than not, it is a theologian’s personal history, in a particular sociopolitical setting, that serves as the most important factor in shaping the methodology and content of his or her theological perspective. Thus theologians ought to be a little more honest, and let the reader know something about those nonintellectual factors that are so important for the opinions they advance.”

-James Cone, God of the Oppressed, 1975 ed., p.vi

This is something I appreciated right off the bat in James Cone’s book. I’m still thinking through his overall project, but I admire the way he incorporates his own life and community without letting it completely control his conclusions–we need more theologians to engage hymnody, poems, folk stories, and anecdotes the way he does.


“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.