Liberty & Covetousness…

51UQgsywFkL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_.jpg“In a moment of eternity, while the taste of redemption was still fresh to the former slaves, the people of Israel were given the Ten Words, the Ten Commandments. In the beginning and end the Decalogue deals with the liberty of man. The first word – I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage – reminds him that his outer liberty was given to him by God, and the tenth Word – Thou shalt not covet! – reminds him that he himself must achieve his inner liberty.”

and further along….

“We know that passion cannot be vanquished by decree. The tenth injunction would, therefore, be practically futile, were it not for the ‘commandment’ regarding the Sabbath day to which about a third of the Decalogue is devoted, and which is an epitome of all other commandments. We must seek to find a relation between the two ‘commandments’ Do not covet anything that belonging to thy neighbour; I have given thee something that belongs to Me. What is that something? A day.”

~ Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel – The Sabbath

Life giving conversations….

The last week has offered me the opportunity to have some very life giving conversations with special people. Each one has been a learning experience and a discovery of what God is doing in me lately. I contrast these conversations against the feeling of this image that I made last weekend while on a photo shoot. As this image speaks to the coldness and isolation of winter, the conversations I’ve had have nudged me toward the warm hope of spring and renewal in my life….and I think that’s a good thing.

Conversation #1:

A good friend met me for lunch and within three sentences we dove into a candid discussion about theology and integrating faith with life. I’ve looked forward to chatting with my PHD friend for some time as I respect his wisdom and knowledge. I threw out a theological statement I’ve been chewing on for a while:

“To claim the salvific benefits of the gospel without living into the social and political implications of God becoming King in Jesus is to, in fact, never have known him.” 

This launched us into a dialogue about left and right agendas and the shortfalls with each of them as that is how such a statement tends to polarize the discussion. Does it have to be a social gospel, or conservative one largely uninvolved in the social ills of our day outside the political efforts of legislation? This encouraged us to consider appropriate demonstration of the Kingdom consistent with the story of God in history and not just political engagement bound by a certain process or context stripped of the story of Israel.

My angst in all of this comes from the incessantly private nature of Christian faith and the incredible silence on social issues of systemic injustice. This came to a head for me recently in light of the silence and lack of engagement by much of the church with the Occupy Wall Street movement. I wasn’t sold on any notion of complete agreement with the OWS movement, but at least some commentary and consideration about the validity of the movement’s general protest against the disproportion of wealth and oligarchy that runs the West. My friend (Scott is his name) had some wise encouragement about a missional/incarnational posture that would in once sense protect from the polarizing liberal/conservative lines and offer a third way to live into the gospel that opens the door to transformation from within the believing community as well as without. What is it? It’s quite simple. Solidarity in the margins that goes beyond telling good news and embraces kingdom enactment and prophetic critique as a mode of being in the civil sphere. A posture of receptivity to the Spirit and a relinquishment of control seem like the appropriate prerequisite here within the context of discipleship.

This post is getting too long….conversation #2 will be another entry.


“But it’s one thing to say that the Church at large is involved in the Missio Dei; it’s another to use the term “Missional” as a kind of advanced concept of Church, or as a thing you have to do to qualify for Church.”

Maggie Dawn helps our understanding of this oft misused/misunderstood term. From back in 2007

Hope & Despair: theology with kids…

As a parent, I’m am always looking to simplify the theology us adults tend to complicate to satisfy our addiction to knowledge. It’s a good practice and not as easy as it sounds. Albert Einsten once said that “if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” The challenge in doing this with the gospel is not reducing it to something it is not. I sure hope I’m not :-)

My 5 yr old son is a firecracker of a kid with an endless supply of energy that I long to possess. He is also very smart and asks questions that make me carefully think before I open my mouth to answer. One way I have worked with him to understand the saving work of Jesus is through the categories of hope and despair. The equation works like this:

Despair is the result of our human condition…we have an urge to be selfish and do harm at times. “This doesn’t mean we are bad” I tell him, “we are part of God’s good creation and he loves us very much. We just hurt people sometimes by putting ourselves first and as a result, we cause despair.” This he understands….that he has the potential, like we all do, to cause despair. “When people have despair”, I tell him, “they have no hope.”

Hope is what God gives us. “Jesus came to give us hope and tell us that God is king and by His love, he has destroyed despair. God is healing everyone and gives us His hope by living in us. Because God lives in us, we can destroy despair when we love people. We work together with God to bring hope”

These categories are helpful and offer our family the opportunity to ask questions of how we have destroyed despair and brought hope in our day. it makes for some interesting conversations….

My sons

One idea I have for the resurrected Toward Hope blog is to use this as a place to write general letters to my children about life. From time to time, I will address them with thoughts they can perhaps read one day and know me better as a result.

These are my sons. My boys are a handful of work and blessing all in the same bundle. They bring me much joy and lead me to the end of myself in good ways. They have led me to conversion points in my life more than any sermon has and when I need forgiveness, they pour it over me like soothing ointment on a wound. My sons are a gift from God that are here to receive their own life and be a constant blessing to everyone they share life with. It’s truly my privilege to care for them in these formative years. I often look for God in their eyes and encounter Him there while in full rapture of wonder and delight.

As a photographer my desire is to reflect the best in people and tell their stories. As a hack theologian, I long to find the link to life on earth as it is in heaven. The camera helps me do that.


Toward Hope is back


It’s been some time, years, actually, since I have blogged and as a result of a need to write again, I am kick starting the Toward Hope blog. I purchased the domain name and am geared up on the wordpress platform. My goal this time around is to use this blog as a place to reflect theologically on life. I am convinced that the hope of Jesus appears in all situations and circumstances and if I can capture a glimmer of it here, it’s bound to serve as a place of learning and hopefully transformation.

My first thoughts revolve around how challenging it was for me to read NT Wright’s Simply Jesus this last week. It was not hard in respects to being a purely academic book, it’s actually quite accessible. The challenge for me is in light of how Wright illuminated the agenda and purpose of Jesus’ ministry. You’d think it’s pretty clear, but actually, there is more confusion about who Jesus was and why he did what he did than any other person in history. He positions Jesus’ ministry as primarily being focused on proclaiming in powerful speech-action that God is becoming King. In Him and through Him. What bothered me was when I started thinking about the implications this has on me and all who profess to follow.

Jesus came to instigate God’s Kingdom and offers in his life the visible manifestation of its economy as expressed in the sermon on the mount. The implications run thick not only through the conventional ideas about personal transformation and growth, but in how we understand and treat our neighbours (I mean it in a global sense) and how the church aligns itself as an agent of truth and reconciliation in public life.

on to my next book….Subverting Global Myths by Vinoth Ramachandra

Lamenting Death in the OT

Our church is making its way through a long series on the story of scripture. We are after the meta-narrative and desire to see people embedded into the scriptures in a way that will drastically form identity and purpose. It is a good journey.

Over the last couple of weeks we have been in the book of Judges. Today we looked at the story of Samson. As is typical of such a passage, the sovereignty of God theme was broached in regard to how God manages to fulfill his will, even in the least optimal set of circumstances; like Samson’s disobedience. Also a focus was the fact that, during this time, Israel made no attempt to repent for her wickedness while under the thumb of the Philistines. She was somewhat comfortable, satiated, and made due under the Philistine rule. Perhaps a sign of how forgetful they were of God’s plans and desires for them as a people.

While listening to the sermon, I could not help but think about the incredible loss of life recorded. What about the one thousand men Samson struck down with a donkey’s jawbone? They were surely fathers, brothers, and sons whose lives were deeply mourned. I got to thinking if it was really God’s will to see all these people die. As you know, there are many other references to wartime death in the Old Testament that are problematic, to say the least. My fear is that often these passages can be read in a triumphalist way with little regard for how God feels about the casualties caused by the circumstances of the fall lived out. We tend to write “them” of as pagan (or secular) and minimize life as we do so. But how does God feel?

Perhaps these scriptures can serve as an invitation for us to allow God to implant his heart into ours. What if we looked at these scriptures from the perspective of the father? What if we felt these scriptures with the father’s heart? Might we see a God who even agonizes over the death of the Pagan priest as His true love painfully allows the circumstances of his sin-bound creation to unfold? It is hard to make sense of it, but my gut is telling me that we would be served well to consider this from His perspective. It might just ease the conflict of such passages and do away with much of the sacred and secular dichotomy that pits us against modern day enemies (read culture) that are evil and need to be defeated.

Speedlinking December 8


Stuff on Pope Benedict

Biography and Theology – Moltmann’s confession about the subjective importance of theology

TSK points us to some worthwhile online study tools

Bearing the Cross in the Global Economy – this article analyzes a report about slave labour in China that makes Christian Crosses for the West. via Jake

Christians and the Golden Compass

The wounding of the soul by God…a paper from Len

NT Wright on Justification & New Perspective on Paul

Here is a great resource for you. NT Wright gave a talk at Asbury Theological Seminary recently that summarizes his perspectives on Justification and Paul. You can listen to the podcast here and a full transcript of the conversation is located here

In this talk, Wright outlines his biblical theology against some of the evangelical assumptions about the gospel. It is worth the time to engage with a scholar of Wright’s stature.

Here is a link to the NT Wright Page that has plenty of written work and audio files for download

[HT: Jake Bouma]

A Disturbance in the Ecclesial Force?

Perusing my RSS feeds over the last few days, I have been made aware of the next iteration of ecclesial grenade launching happening in theological camps. There have been some public remarks made about the emerging church that many feel lack the tact and love characteristic of the Christian way.

For those new to the discussion, one side seems to cling to modernist assumptions and question anyone who question the frameworks of ecclesiology and missional engagement that have been held since the reformation. Traditionally this side is known as the ‘reformation’ camp, a group that relies heavily on the work of the original reformers such as Martin Luther and most notably John Calvin. Let me say that in their time the reformers responded to the leading of God and this led to necessary renewal in the church. Today, still, the spirit of the reformation is a good one as the church always needs to be evaluating and identifying her own compromises. What is dangerous is when we think we have everything theological neatly sorted in a box. Some criticize the reformation camp for their tendencies to be closed to conversation with those who do not see things their way.

On the other side of the coin are those in the emerging missional camp. This is a group that seeks to take the postmodern context seriously and (from within the postmodern framework) deconstructs and questions assumptions of ecclesiology and faith formed in modernity; a world now largely in the past. For the most part, the emerging crowd are children of evangelicalism that feel the linear answers to questions of God and life are no longer sufficient in our messy world. The emerging crowd questions epistemological assumptions (the way of knowing) and would suggest that rather than (or perhaps in addition to) knowing truth in abstract propositions, truth is learned through relationship and encounter. They do not seek to do away with absolute truth, but seek a more incarnational paradigm for discovery of truth. Some are critical of the emerging crowd because they are more open to dialogue about hot topic issues that have no room for discussion in the other camp. This has led to some doctrinal concern and the caricaturing of emerging churches with a liberal, unorthodox brush.

For most reading, you know the extent of the latest stir in the blog world regarding these two sides. I am not mentioning anyone in light of reading this insightful post by Paul Mayers. I encourage those enmeshed in the conversation to consider the wise words in Paul’s post and begin thinking the best of each other.

Perhaps face to face conversation in relationship is the best way to bridge differences, rather than public critique. Steve Taylor is on to something [HT:Bill]

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Thoughts on Suffering &Thankfulness

Is it only the things we desire out of life that we ought to be thankful for? Or, can we be thankful for the times things don’t go our way? I think the latter should be the right perspective. Being thankful for difficult times, whether suffering to an unbearable point, or hardships of a lesser degree, is not morbid. It is rather an acknowledgement of life in its full humanness and this opens us to the lessons we can learn, regardless the circumstances.

I find that in the most difficult times the easiest thing to say is "Where is God?" or, "How could God let this happen?". This makes it difficult for us to be open to the Spirit’s shaping of our character through the incarnation. For in the incarnation, it is God who has come near, and is very near, whether we can sense Him or not. Perhaps we do not sense God in times of suffering because we were wrongly taught to only "feel His closeness" when things go our way? May it never be so. Being happy and on a spiritual high is not our only point of reference of God’s closeness. To do so is a denial of the incarnation. In fact, the most valuable lessons we can learn, the greatest growth our God invites us to, is through hardship. Our God is a God who suffers, identifies with us in our suffering, and blesses us in our discomfort with His presence.

For this I am thankful….

May you be blessed in your discomfort and trials with the realization that God is near and inviting you to deeper trust and relationship with Him.

My Peace I Leave With You…

Inhabitatio Dei has invited a some thoughtful people to write on Christian Pacifism. Please have a look at their perspectives on the subject.

Which theologian are you???

I’m Jurgen Moltmann…I guess I’d better start reading more of his stuff. [via Bill Kinnon]

You scored as Jürgen Moltmann, The problem of evil is central to your thought, and only a crucified God can show that God is not indifferent to human suffering. Christian discipleship means identifying with suffering but also anticipating the new creation of all things that God will bring about.

Which theologian are you?

created with

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Questions to Guide Theological and Ecclesiological Perspective

The Challenge Of Jesus _ Rediscovering Who Jesus Was  and  IsI have just begun NT Wright’s book, The Challenge of Jesus, for a paper I am writing. At the end of his first chapter, in which he outlines the importance of studying the historical Jesus, he offers five questions that can guide us toward an appropriate understanding of Jesus to inform our theologies and ecclesiologies.

1. Where does Jesus belong within the Jewish world of his day?

2. What, in particular, was his preaching of the Kingdom all about? What was he aiming to do?

3. Why did Jesus die? In particular, what was his own intention in going to Jerusalem that last fateful time?

4. Why did the early church begin, and why did it take the shape it did? Specifically, of course, what happened at Easter?

5. How does this all relate to the Christian task and vision today? How, in other words, does this historical and also deeply theological approach put fire into our hearts and power into our hands as we go about shaping the world?

These are big and important questions. Wright suggests that if we do not commit to applying ourselves to further study of Jesus, all sorts of misunderstandings creep into our faith and get wrapped up in our traditions.

Anyone care to take a stab at one of them? I know they are big, but perhaps we can address them succinctly.

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Blessed Are Those Who Mourn…

The topic of mourning is one that is often deliberately avoided. This is perhaps a result of the incessant messaging in our culture that we ought to avoid death and live for the now. This creates not least a perspective that everything is all right. Even within the communities of the faithful it is difficult to avoid being formed by this mentality and the result is often churches that that express one side of the human experience. Embracing the reality of life requires that we consider the fullness of the human experience, of which mourning is a vital component. 

Below are some reflections borrowed from HERE

BLESSED are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Matthew 5:4

"BLESSED are those who mourn" is, paradoxically, a more necessary message than "Rejoice in the Lord always," because there can be no true rejoicing until we have stopped running away from mourning.
Simon Tugwell, The Beatitudes

[W]E WILL NEVER experience the angel of comfort until we can enter into the mourning. … The admission of what is deepest within us can be done only with an angel of comfort. This angel comes to us in the appearance of a total stranger or an absolute friend.
Michael H. Crosby, Spirituality of the Beatitudes

[MOURNING] cannot be limited exclusively to expressing sorrow for one’s sin … or grief surrounding death. … Rather, "those who mourn" has the more comprehensive sense of Isaiah 61:2-3, an inclusive grief that refers to the disenfranchised, contrite, and bereaved. It is an expression of the intense sense of loss, helplessness, and despair.
Robert A. Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount

THE DISCIPLES bear the suffering laid on them only by the power of him who bears all suffering on the Cross. As bearers of suffering, they stand in communion with the crucified. They stand as strangers in the power of him who was so alien to the world that it crucified him. This is their comfort, or rather, he is their comfort, their comforter. … This alien community is comforted by the Cross.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship

IN THIS BEATITUDE, Jesus praises … those who can enter into solidarity with the pain of the world and not try to extract themselves from it.
Richard Rohr with John Bookser Feister, Jesus’ Plan for a New World

HE CALLS BLESSED even those who mourn. Their sorrow is of a special kind. He did not designate them simply as sad but as intensely grieving. Therefore, he did not say "they that sorrow" but "they that mourn."
John Chrysostom, "Homily 15.3"

IT IS NOT ENOUGH for us … within the arena of the world’s pain merely to know of a God who sympathizes. It is not even enough to know of a God who heals. We need to know of and be connected with a God who experiences with us, for us, each grief, each wound. We need to be bonded with a God who has had nails in the hands and a spear in the heart!
Flora Slosson Wuellner, Weavings

EVERY SUFFERING can be blessed because it hollows out a place in us for God and his comfort, which is infinite joy.
Peter Kreeft, Back to Virtue

IT IS impossible for one to live without tears who considers things exactly as they are.
Gregory of Nyssa, De Beatitudine