borderlesschurchOver the past week twenty-one children, students, and adults from our church travelled to Ensenada, Mexico to spend the week with one of our sister churches, Ensenada Peniel Church of the Nazarene. (As a quick aside, the network of relationships between local churches is one of the strengths of a denomination. Upon our arrival at Ensenada Peniel we discovered that Point Loma Nazarene University along with other local Nazarene churches in the Ensenada area had completed the building of a new sanctuary. It’s neat to be part of a church denomination that pools its resources together for the kingdom. Ironically, this post is about unity and I’m talking about denominational relationships. A conversation for another day.)

While trips like these are filled with many reflections one in particular stood out to me:

God didn’t create the world with borders. The were created by kingdoms of this world.

On the Tuesday evening when we arrived in Ensenada I was informed that I would be preaching at the Friday evening worship service our two churches planned to have together to conclude our trip. After contemplating a few different topics and texts to preach on I landed on Ephesians 4:1-16. The emphasis of the text is found in Paul’s repeated use of the word “one” in verses 3-6.  Paul writes “…make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all.”  



These are to be distinct characteristics of the Church.

Our world loves division. But what is true of our world is not to be true of the Church.

Our world is divided. We are divided by nations, cultures, ethnicities, races, genders, languages, and socioeconomic classes. In parts of our world strengthening, maintaining, and honoring these divisions are of great value.

The Church and the kingdom of God are to be united. This is no better stated than in Paul’s letter to the Galatians (3:28), “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

This is not to say that within the Church and the kingdom of God people are not different.  We most certainly are. Any other conclusion is idealistic silliness and does violence to the beauty found in the diversity of creation. It is to say though, that the indiscriminate nature of the gospel forms communities that are united amidst their differences. In the world our differences fragment and splinter. In the kingdom of God our differences are celebrated and shared. For the world our differences create borders. For the kingdom our differences remain borderless.

And it’s when the church seeks and maintains unity amidst those differences that the church will be made mature and the kingdom of God will be built.

wildernessThe Lenten season is observed during the six weeks leading up to Easter.  On the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, I attended a service at the Santa Barbara Mission.  During the service the priest reminded those in attendance that the season of Lent is observed through fasting, prayer, repentance, and acts of charity.  As I sat in the service that afternoon the priest stated that the season of Lent expresses one of the basic desires of every human heart: the desire for purity.

The season of Lent is rooted in the biblical narrative of the Israelites in the book of Exodus and Numbers.  The basic arc of that story could be told in four words: slavery, wandering, Promise Land.  The Israelites had been freed from slavery in Egypt so that they might enter the Promise Land.  We quickly learn, however, that you could take the people out of Egypt but you couldn’t take  Egypt out of the people.  And God needed to get ‘Egypt’ (i.e., all of the patterns of behavior and consequences of being slaves to a kingdom of this world) out of the people before they could enter the Promise Land.  Hence the “wandering phase” rests between slavery and the Promise Land.  It’s this wandering phase of the story that Lent draws much of its tradition.

The wandering lasted 40 years. Lent lasts 40 days. There was no food during the wandering (except food provided by God). Lent is observed by fasting. Wandering was intended to get ‘Egypt’ out of the people. Lent places an emphasis on repentance.

If we look at a few texts from the book of Numbers we can see how this played out.

Numbers 11:4-6
Then the foreign rabble who were traveling with the Israelites began to crave the good things of Egypt. And the people of Israel also began to complain. “Oh, for some meat!” they exclaimed. “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!”

Numbers 13:1-2a, 21, 23
The Lord now said to Moses, “Send out men to explore the land of Canaan (the Promise Land), the land I am giving to the Israelites…21 So they went up and explored the land from the wilderness…23 When they came to the valley of Eshcol, they cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes so large that it took two of them to carry it on a pole between them! They also brought back samples of the pomegranates and figs.

Numbers 20:1-5
In the first month of the year,the whole community of Israel arrived in the wilderness of Zin and camped at Kadesh. While they were there, Miriam died and was buried. There was no water for the people to drink at that place, so they rebelled against Moses and Aaron. The people blamed Moses and said, “If only we had died in the Lord’s presence with our brothers! Why have you brought the congregation of the Lord’s people into this wilderness to die, along with all our livestock? Why did you make us leave Egypt and bring us here to this terrible place? This land has no grain, no figs, no grapes, no pomegranates, and no water to drink!”

Notice a few things about these texts.  First, the initial experience of the wilderness resulted in complaining and a craving for the things of Egypt (cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic, see Num. 1:4-6).  Second, the Israelites discover the food of the Promise Land (grapes, pomegranates, and figs, see Num. 13:23). Third, continued experience of the wilderness resulted in complaining and a craving for the things of the Promise Land (Num. 20:5). The heart of the Israelites no longer yearned for the land of Egypt where pharaoh ruled but instead for the land of God where God ruled.

What might we glean from this?

  1. We all need to journey through the wilderness.  In fact, I believe the priest was right on Ash Wednesday. Being made pure, having our hearts aligned with the heart of God, is a deep longing of every heart.  This is accomplished in the wilderness.
  2. Transformation comes slower than we often like. In Numbers 20 the people are still griping and complaining, but their desires have changed. So it is with us today. Change of our hearts comes incrementally and over time.  We must be patient with one another and ourselves as we make the long journey of the wilderness, the long journey of transformation where we are preparing to receive the promises of God.

the_bibleI just started reading NT Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God.  While making my way through chapter 3 it has become apparent that I have a loose grasp, at best, on the history of New Testament studies from the 19th and 20th centuries.

What I have gathered is that there have been two primary ways of reading and understanding Jesus of Nazareth.  The first way is to assume there is little to nothing we can know about him historically.  We must, therefore, read about him with a ‘thoroughgoing scepticism.’  The second alternative is to read Jesus with a ‘thoroughgoing eschatology.’  Wright goes on to describe each of these positions while offering his critiques.

One of the concerns he highlights about proponents in either camp is how their preconceived ideas about Jesus shape their readings of texts about Jesus.  We might say that at times they have put the cart before the horse.

This reminds me that each of us, biblical scholar or first time reader, picks up the Bible with views, beliefs, and attitudes that color how we read it.  What’s more, is that we may be unaware of what we bring to the table when we read the Bible.  What’s even more, is that we can’t read the Bible independent of those views, beliefs, and attitudes that will influence our reading and study of it.  This demands that we approach scripture with an awareness of what we’re already bringing to the table.

Here are a few questions that help me maintain that awareness when I read scripture.

Which views and beliefs of mine are affirmed by my reading of the Bible?  Which are challenged?
Am I looking for the Bible to agree with me or am I looking to be informed by it?
How might I understand this passage different if I were a child or senior adult, a poor person, of a different ethnicity or social class, etc.?


Well…do you?

“Do you believe that the God of Jesus loves you beyond worthiness and unworthiness, beyond fidelity and infidelity, that he loves you in the morning sun and the evening rain, that he loves you when your intellect denies it, your emotions refuse it, and your whole being rejects it?  Do you believe that God loves without condition or reservation and loves you this moment as you are and not as you should be?”

-Brennan Manning (fellow ragamuffin)

Biblically Illiterate

Yesterday a fellow track coach and I were discussing the biblical illiteracy of young people in our contemporary culture.  This is an issue that I have read some about.  The church has created terms like “unchurched generation” and “a post-Christian society” to describing this emerging trend in American culture.  After the discussion I asked a handful of students some basic questions about the Bible to see just how biblically illiterate they are.

Me: “Can you name the gospels?”
Them: “Proverbs?
Me: “No.”
Them: “Isaiah?”
Me: “No.”

Are you shocked?

I sure was.

Is this okay in the church?  When are kids supposed to learn the Christian stories?  Is biblical illiteracy a consequence of topical teaching/preaching?  Are parents missing something at home?  Do parents know the stories?

I’m left with more questions than answers.