Faithful (Ruth)

Ruth

Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” – Ruth 1:16

It happens often enough, I’m sitting with a bride planning a wedding and we’re talking about which scripture she’d like read during the service. “Ruth 1:16” she says. “Well” I respond “contextually Ruth 1:16 is about a daughter-in-law pledging her unfailing faithfulness to her mother-in-law…not her husband.” I usually then offer that if she’d like to use this text then when could have her groom sit down for a bit and her mother-in-law stand next to her for this part. That usually ends the discussion right there.

I don’t know what it is about the concept of love that makes us always think romance. Just about every “love” movie you see is about the concept of romantic love. This is foolish, love is a far greater concept than just the idea of romance. Now don’t get me wrong…romantic love is important and I’m not trying to minimize it…it’s just not the only form of love there is. The greeks had concepts for many different types of love. In particular they had agape or love of God; philia or love of one another…we get the name Philadelphia from this, the city of brotherly love; and there’s eros or romantic love. We focus an inordinate amount of our attention on romantic love. “I’ve gotta find love,” “I want to fall in love,” “I need you to love me” (Ok, now I’m getting into songs).

Now sure enough there are plenty of Biblical examples of romantic love…Ruth and Boaz for example. But the Bible is chock full of examples of brotherly love or, love of one another. David and Jonathan; Paul and Timothy; and of course Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi. We need to lift up, to nurture, and to demonstrate this idea of loving one another.

It seems that our world is intent on tearing itself apart at times. It doesn’t take long to see example after example of people taking their sticks and beating each other up with them. I’m reading this book called Jesus: A Theography right now by Len Sweet and Frank Viola. They were just talking about how Christians can be guilty of beating one another up and others. They used the cross as an illustration. The cross has two bars, a vertical one and a horizontal one. The vertical bar can represent our relationship with God…lots of folks focus all their attention on being in right relationship with God. In turn they can have a tendency to take that vertical bar and beat up those who don’t agree with them. Vice versa, the horizontal bar represents our relationship with others. Some focus a lot of their attention on being in right relationship with one another and can, in turn, take that bar and beat up those who don’t agree with them. The point, the authors make is that we are called to keep both bars, the vertical and the horizontal; the whole cross. We can’t have one without the other. When you keep both then you find yourself carrying the whole cross…and when you do that then you have an awfully hard time beating people over the head. Jesus did call us to take up our cross and follow him.

We are called by God to love one another, and 1st John’s words ring true…we love because he first loved us. We are able to love one another because of God’s love for us. The love of one another that flows out of God’s love for us might be called faithfulness. It’s a love that says “through thick and thin I will be with you.” It’s a love that says “I will forgive you when you’re wrong and pick you up when you’re down.” It’s a love that says “I will always think kindly over you and wish only the best for you.” It’s a love that is demonstrated throughout the story of Ruth and Naomi; they were faithful to one another in the worst of times. In our world today, as Christians, our call is to learn from Ruth and Naomi and to be to one another faithful.

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Jesus: A Theography (chapter 3 exert)

In commenting on the harmony of Creation:

“God loves trees, and God loves green. The first things that the Lord put in the garden were trees, which makes one wonder if God’s favorite color isn’t green. This garden planet called Earth is the garden galaxy called the Milky Way is miraculously conceived so that the waste product of trees (oxygen) is the life-breath of humans, and the waste product of humans (carbon dioxide) is the life-breath of trees. Deforestation is a form of lung removal (pneumonectonmy).”

Sweet & Viola, Jesus: A Theography pg. 44

Jesus: A Theography (Chapter 3)

Chapter 3 continues with the creation accounts just as chapter 2 did before. This time however far more attention is given to the Genesis 2 account of the creation of the Garden and Adam and Eve. Sweet and Viola do a fantastic job of sketching out a sense of life in the Garden. They do a great job focusing on the intermixing of vocation and vacation as something of an original intent for creation…and especially for humanity.

Something that I really appreciate is that they give a great sense of what was intended for creation and what was lost in the fall. It seems to me that if we are going to talk seriously about who Jesus is and what it is that he means then we must take seriously why we need him. In the fall we lost something, we lost that original intent to be people called to the tasks of conceiving and conservation. Or to put it another way…to be fruitful and multiply and to work and till the garden.

I found especially helpful their discussion of what was lost in the fall. I’ve often taught that creation was a place, as originally intended by God, of profound harmony. In the fall that harmony was lost and in its place was chaos. In a similar vein Sweet and Viola talk about the four things that we lost or wound up broken: 1) relationship between ourselves and God, 2) relationship between ourselves and creation, 3) relationship between one another, and 4) relationship with even ourselves.

At this time I want to offer my first over arching criticism and my first over arching praise of this book. As to criticism…Jesus: A Theography is billed as being a serious book but aimed at a more popular audience. I really appreciate this. I’ve been aware for some time now about a lack of serious books written on a popular level for the average person in the pew. It seems that so much of what is out there is of poor quality. While I appreciate their effort in this regard I’m not sure, at least at this point, if they have accomplished their goal of writing for the average pew sitter. (And I might be missing their goal here and if so I apologize) I like to think of myself as being sensitive to what the average pew sitter will read…and please understand me I’m not trying to sell them short or talk down to them…but I think this is a bit above that level. (though if I’m wrong please let me know) This isn’t a book for specialists either. You don’t have to be a scholar or a pastor to get this one. I’d say that it’s somewhere between the specialist level and the popular level.

And to close now with a praise…if you are a preacher or a bible teacher you really must get this book! It will simply make your imagination explode…with almost every page I come up with new sermon ideas or Bible studies…or at the very least with an illustration or a new connection I had simply never considered. So…bottom line, if you preach or teach in the church then this book needs to be on your shelf…no, check that, in your hand. Read it and re-read it…you owe it to your calling and to those you are called to shepherd.

Jesus: A Theography (Chapter 2 exert)

There’s just so much that I want to share with you about this chapter…but I think the authors would be understandably upset if I just shared their whole book with you. This bit I found to be especially thought provoking!

“Just as Eve was inside Adam [metaphorically] before she appeared, the church was ‘in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world’ before she appeared. Just as God put Adam into a deep sleep, Jesus was put into the deepest sleep of all – death. Just as God opened Adam’s side to bring forth Eve, the side of our Lord was opened on the cross. Out of it flowed water and blood – the outstanding marks of birth.”

“The pierced side of Jesus is the womb from which the bride of Christ was born. The water that poured out of him reminds us of the living waters that poured forth from the rock when Moses struck it in the presence of Israel. Paul told us ‘that the Rock was Christ.'”

Leonard Sweet & Frank Viola Jesus: A Theography pgs. 32-33

Jesus a Theography (Chapter 2)

This book is quickly becoming a feast that nourishes my imagination in ways other books simply have not done. As I noted earlier, chapter one discussed what Jesus was up to pre-creation. In chapter two the feast continues! This time we meet Jesus in Creation, specifically in the Genesis 1 account of creation.

I was always aware of the presence of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in Genesis 1. The Father is there of course, the pre incarnate Word, Jesus is there…his voice booming out over creation, calling things into being from nothing. And the Spirit is there hovering over the waters. In fact, one of the most frequently asked Bible questions I get as a pastor has to do with Genesis 1:26 Let us make mankind in our image. What’s this “our image” business people always ask. I usually tell them that there’s three ways to look at it: 1) God is speaking of himself and the heavenly host here. 2) God is speaking in what’s called the royal we…think about royalty here speaking of themselves in plural terms. 3) This is the Trinity. Now personally I’ve always liked the third answer, the Trinity. Of course you lose your union card for saying that around a lot of biblical types these days…but then again, I’ve never really cared about that kind of stuff anyway.

Well, Sweet and Viola have even more to say about Jesus in Genesis chapter 1. I had no idea that the days of creation could be read as showing us the whole story of Jesus. Wow! They start with a fascinating discussion of how John chapter 1 and Genesis chapter 1 parallel one another. How did I never see that before? In the beginning God says “Let there be light” and John’s gospel proclaims “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.” Oh, there’s plenty more than that…but I’m not doing your homework here…you’ll have to read for yourself, I’m just here to wet your appetite. Oh, and not only do the days in Genesis 1 tells us about Jesus, they also reveal to us what the Christian life looks like!

As a personal aside, I really like what Sweet and Viola are doing here. The early church fathers saw Jesus all over the Old Testament. Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and so many of the early reformers saw Jesus all over the Old Testament. Even the writers of the New Testament saw Jesus all over the Old Testament. Have you ever seen how many Old Testament quotes and references are made in the New Testament? Just for fun, one day look at the book of Revelation and see how many Old Testament references and quotes you can find talking about Jesus…I’ll bet you’ll still be counting when Jesus returns! So, considering all of this, why don’t we see Jesus more in the Old Testament these days? Why do we think it’s so bad to read the Old Testament and say “oh, I see Jesus there!” Besides, didn’t Jesus himself do this when he told the disciples all about himself using the Old Testament as they walked to Emmaus? He did indeed!

In this chapter they also discuss Genesis chapter 2 a bit as well (I’ll post some of that in a bit as an exert) but they’ll be hitting that in more detail in the next chapter of their book. Happy reading!

Jesus: A Theography (Chapter 1 exert)

I’m still chewing on these incredible paragraphs from Jesus: A Theography. There’s some great food for thought here:

“Jesus Christ had finished all things before He created all things. This is perhaps one of the most glorious things Jesus Christ accomplished before creation, but it may be the least reflected upon. Imagine a builder standing in front of an empty lot, saying, ‘What a beautiful house I have constructed.’ But there is nothing there. Only the Lord can say that His plans in the Son were finished in eternity before they came to pass in history. He completed the masterpiece before He ever painted it.”

“How can this be? It is because time exists in Christ. Paul told us that in Christ, ‘all things hold together.’ That includes creation itself, which includes time. C.S. Lewis drew a brilliant illustration to describe this reality. He said to imagine a straight line on a piece of paper. The line is time. The paper is God Himself. Time is in God just as the line is in the paper. Consequently, He is at the beginning and the end at the same time. As one theologian put it, ‘God is immediately and simultaneously aware of all events. Whether they be in what we call ‘past,’ ‘present,’ or ‘future,’ they are all in God’s ‘present.'”

“This throws fresh light on the declarations in Revelation that Jesus Christ is the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega, and the First and the Last. It’s not that Christ was first the Alpha and then later the Omega. It’s that Christ is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, at the same moment. How? Because the line of time exists within Him.”

– From Jesus: A Theography by Leonard Sweet & Frank Viola pages 9-10

Jesus: A Theography (Chapter 1)

It’s incredible how a book can come to you at just the right time. Just the other week I was teaching a Bible Study class on the topic of creation. The question came up about what God was doing prior to creation. I responded that that was a difficult question to answer because we’re not given much to go on and that generally we just concerned ourselves with what happened following Genesis 1:1. About all we have to say prior to that is that nothing at all existed but God. God existed, he wasn’t created and he always existed. He then began to create ex nihilo “out of nothing.”

Well then I get this book Jesus: A Theography. The whole aim of this book is to tell the story of Jesus. But, the authors don’t start in Bethlehem. They don’t even start in Nazareth at the annunciation. They start before creation…they start in the time when there was nothing at all but there was God. I must admit that chapter one is some pretty heavy stuff; the pay off is that your mind will almost certainly be blown on just about every page! What they work through is some pretty meaty Trinitarian Theology. Prior to creation God existed, God the Father existed, God the Son existed, and God the Spirit existed. (Note: the Son existed in his pre-incarnate self) The Bible speaks of this in both testaments…usually you find it referenced in verses that talk about God existing before the foundation of the world.

So, what was God doing before the foundation of the world? Well the authors have a great deal more to say but at the core the Father and the Son and the Spirit loved one another. In theology we call this kenosis. It is the pouring out of himself in love from one member of the Trinity into the others. This is the very nature of God. And, I might editorialize, this is the very stuff of creation and a topic that Christians would do well to internalize and practice with regard to ourselves and our Christ centered lives together.

There’s so much in this chapter; it’s a feast! If you’re thinking about reading this book it is well worth it from what I’ve seen so far. I’m on to chapter 2. If you want to discuss this chapter or find out more just post a comment and we’ll have a conversation.

New Book!

book im reading Jesus

Those of you who know me know that I really like books. Ok, that’s a bit of an understatement…I’m obsessed with books. I love to read. So I was really excited when a good friend and one of the pastors I respect most deeply gave me this new book Jesus a Theography. This book is essentially a biography, or theography, of Jesus. A theography is a theological biography or a biography of God…specifically in this case of the second person of the Trinity, Jesus. The book is aimed at helping people better understand and articulate the story told to us in the Bible. This has been one of my big things lately. We run into the problem of focusing too narrowly on the Bible. We only look at one verse or one story and end up missing the bigger picture. But wait a second…isn’t that what we do in word for the way…only look at one verse? Well yes, yes it is. We do only look at one verse. But I think for those of you who have been reading you’ll notice that I tend to use that one verse as an entry point into the larger story of the Bible. That one verse is the window through which we view the larger narrative of the Bible…it is the on ramp from which we enter the interstate system of Scripture (did that last one work? I don’t think it did.). Anyway, I’m really excited about this new book and I’m planning to start reading it tonight. Read along with me if you like and I’ll post some of my thoughts. Happy reading!

Here’s where you can get this book: http://www.christianbook.com/jesus-a-theography-leonard-sweet/9780849947025/pd/947025