Category Archives: Theology and Ethics

Blessed are the Peacemakers

I’ve been trying to keep up with the news of the escalating tensions between North Korea and the United States, but I don’t have much insight to offer or advice to give. I am reminded of all times I have watched controversies escalate to an extreme that neither side wanted in local churches I served. In those instances, both sides spoke and acted rashly and hastily. I pray that won’t happen here, the stakes are just too high.

Still, God is at work in the world and hope is not lost. All that most of us can do concerning this particular crisis is to pray, but that is enough. I am praying, and I invite you to join me. Jesus said, “blessed are the peacemakers.” May we pray (and thus work) for peace (not only with and in North Korea, but for God’s all encompassing peace in the larger world) and may we pray and work for that same peace in the little corner of it that we inhabit and exert influence over.

Arrogance Posing as Humility

I’m re-reading When Spiritual But Not Religious is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church in preparation for the Breakfast Club this coming Saturday. In the chapter on prayer, Lillian Daniel talks about the need not only to pray for the high minded things that we would be happy share with other people but also to pray for the little things that are unique to us, the prayers that we suppress because we feel that they are unworthy.

That kind of thinking, that reluctance to ask God for what we really want, is arrogance posing as humility. It seems humble to not ask God for our own desires, and to put other larger matters first. But doing that seems to imply we have power in all this. As if by asking God to cure diabetes before asking for a raise, we might actually affect God’s priorities. Do we honestly think that if no one asked for anything trivial, and everyone got focused on world peace, God would finally see that we had reached some quota and say, “Right, now that four billion and one people have asked for it, I will make it happen. But don’t anybody ask for a cottage by a lake right now, or I’ll get distracted.” [1]

There is a fail-safe system built into prayer. Prayer is not the monkey’s paw. [2] God’s not going to do something that not in our best interest just because we were stupid enough to ask for it. Lillian continues:

Sorry, but I just don’t think our prayer requests have that kind of power. So why pray then? Prayer is about connecting with God, about having a relationship with our divine creator. God desires that with us, and because God loves us so much, God actually cares about our trivial wants, our big dreams, and our petty grievances. This is humbling news indeed. We can come to God with anything, and God will work with it. [3]

So ask away. Take whatever you have to God in prayer and let God work with it and on you.

[1] Lillian Daniel, When “Spiritual but Not Religious” Is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church (Grand Central Pub, 2013), 39-40.

[2] “The Monkey’s Paw,” Wikipedia, July 22, 2017, accessed July 27, 2017,

[3] Lillian Daniel, 40.

In What We Do and Who We Are

In his book of Lenten devotionals, N. T. Wright offers the following prayer:

Sovereign Lord, help us to meet the scorn of unbelievers with the evidence, in what we do and who we are, that you are indeed alive. — N. T. Wright [1]

Perhaps it’s a product of my occupation, but I haven’t met all that many scornful unbelievers. Instead, I’m more likely to encounter what we might call “discouraged, doubt plagued, believers.” Either way, Christians and churches who demonstrate their faith by “what we do and who we are” are the best argument for the risen Christ.

[1] N. T. Wright, Lent for Everyone: Mathew, Year A: A Daily Devotional (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 147.

Genesis and Evolution

I’ve long been planning to preach on the intersection of faith and science this Sunday, but I don’t plan to preach on the two accounts of creation found in Genesis 1.1-2:4 and 2:4-25. For that reason, I want to share a few points with you here:

  • Genesis tells not one but two creation stories (Genesis 1.1-2:4a and 2:4b-25).
  • Taken literally as if they were scientific accounts these two stories are in conflict.
  • Taken non-literally (as intended) they mutually reinforce the understanding of a benevolent God who created all things, a good creation, and humanity’s special place in it.
  • Therefore, while they are true and they convey profound truths about God and humanity, these accounts should not be taken literally.
  • Therefore the hypothesis/theory of evolution and the creation accounts in Genesis are not necessarily in conflict.

The Importance of Shared Relationships

From Rachel Held Evans:

One of the most destructive mistakes we Christians make is to prioritize shared beliefs over shared relationship, which is deeply ironic considering we worship a God who would rather die than lose relationship with us. — Rachel Held Evans 1

The above quote reminds me of Abilene First United Methodist Church, where I’ve witnessed deep, profound relationships across diverse sets of beliefs. We are not unified by a set of identical beliefs, we’re unified by our love for God and each other.

1 “My Parents,” Rachel Held Evans, accessed April 19, 2017,

Forgiveness As a Great Strength

In light of our proximity to Easter Sunday, it seems appropriate to share the following:

Resurrection and forgiveness belong together. Both are the direct result of the victory won on the cross, because the victory won on the cross was won by dealing with sin and hence with death. Resurrection is the result of death’s defeat; forgiveness, the result of sin’s defeat. Those who learn to forgive discover that they are not only offering healing to others. They are receiving it in themselves. Resurrection is happening inside them. The wrong done to them is not permitted to twist their lives out of shape. Forgiveness isn’t weakness. It was and is a great strength. — N. T. Wright 1

“Forgiveness isn’t weakness. It was and is a great strength.” May God grant you the grace and the courage to be strong.

1 N. T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2016), 386.

An Earth-Shattering Understanding of “Faith” and “Belief”

Disclaimer: The post below is theologically and biblically wonkish. I don’t know if anyone else is interested or not, but I am, so I’m writing it. If you’re not interested, feel free to skip this entry.

I’m currently reading a mildly Earth-shattering book called Salvation by Faith Alone by Matthew W. Bates. He’s addressing an issue that has long troubled me: what is the best way to understand and translate the Greek word pistis into English. The two most popular words for translating pistis are faith and belief, but they never were exactly interchangeable with the Greek term and their meaning has shifted over the centuries and a lot of nuance and detail has been lost. 1 Bates summarizes much of my learning on this issue in one sentence:

the word pistis (and related terms) has a much broader range of meaning. This range includes ideas that aren’t usually associated in our contemporary culture with belief or faith, such as reliability, confidence, assurance, fidelity, faithfulness, commitment, and pledged loyalty. 2

As a result, the words faith and belief don’t entirely fit the context of the biblical writings in which we find the term pistis. They fit sometimes, but not always and their use with contemporary understandings of their meaning introduces unnecessary incongruity and tension between different parts of the Bible. (E.g. the Gospels and Paul’s letters) So how should we speak of pistis?

With regard to eternal salvation, rather than speaking of belief, trust, or faith in Jesus, we should speak instead of fidelity to Jesus as cosmic Lord or allegiance to Jesus the king. This, of course, is not to say that the best way to translate every occurrence of pistis (and related terms) is always or even usually “allegiance.” Rather it is to say that allegiance is the best macro-term available to us that can describe what God requires from us for eternal salvation. It is the best term because it avoids unhelpful English-language associations that have become attached to “faith” and “belief,” as well as limitations in the “trust” idea, and at the same time it captures what is most vital for salvation— mental assent, sworn fidelity, and embodied loyalty. But we do not need to avoid the words “faith” and “belief” entirely. 3

Before you burn me at the stake for heresy, reread that last sentence. I’m not seeking to get rid of faith and belief, but I do think they need to be folded into and seen as components of allegiance. There is more to pistis than faith and belief, but certainly not less.

All of this comes only five pages into the book. I’ve been exploring this issue for a long time, but have only been able to find snippets in various books and short articles up to now. I’m excited about an entire book devoted to the subject and the depth of biblical exegesis that Bates is providing. There’s probably more to come, I’ll keep you posted.

1 We’ve tried to regain some of this nuance by using the terms “I commit myself,” “I set my heart upon,” and “I place my trust in the Holy Spirit” in The Apostles’ Creed.

2 Matthew W. Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 3.

3 Ibid., 5.

Take the High Road

In response to my blog post titled “Of AHS and Church”, I received a letter from a parent with children who attend Bishop Miege High School:

“I was at the games in Salina.  I was in the Bishop Miege section surrounded by Abilene fans.  I was yelled at by adults who felt it necessary to use the “f” bomb to tell me to shut up for cheering for my team.  The online debate about classification is fine to have, but to the extent that it has made it open season on Bishop Miege fans, students and players has gotten out of hand.
At Sub-state in Bonner Springs my daughter was walking to our car in her cheer uniform when a pickup full of fans from another school came speeding toward her all yelling obscenities at her as they pulled up beside her.  I was about 30 feet behind her and was in fear for her safety.”
I hope it goes without saying that such behavior is contrary to everything Jesus taught. Jesus calls us to love our neighbors and Bishop Miege students and parents are our neighbors.

Of AHS and Church

The good news tonight is that the Abilene High School band remains undefeated (and, I might add, unrivaled.) The bad news is that the boy’s basketball team lost to Bishop Miege High School in Shawnee Mission, Kansas. A school I had never heard of before tonight. Based on news articles found as the result of a quick internet search; I feel that the boys lost not so much to another high school team, but to the athletic equivalent of a small religious university. If there is anything wrong with that, any shame in it, it’s not on the Abilene side of things.

Dwight D. Eisenhower famously said, “The proudest thing I can claim is that I am from Abilene.” Pride is not a Christian virtue, but I must confess that I am proud to be from Abilene (however temporarily) tonight. Specifically, I am proud of Abilene High School. This school regularly obtains excellence, not because the administration and faculty can pick and choose who attends, not because they can just throw out anyone who becomes a problem (in biblical terminology they can’t separate the wheat from the tares), but because they take in whoever walks in the door and work hard to bring out the best in them. The church should be the same way, not picking and choosing who attends (and certainly not throwing any “tares” out) but instead welcoming whoever shows up and seeking to help the Holy Spirit coax the God-given best out of them.

Voice of the Day: Political, But Not Partisan

Aaron Niequist posted a picture on Instagram of a small frame church with the following words: “If the church is not political, it’s irrelevant to the world that God so loves. But if the church is partisan, it becomes a tool of the empire.”

“If the church is not political, it’s irrelevant to the world that God so loves. But if the church is partisan, it becomes a tool of the empire.”

He then had the following statement which gets at what I tried to say in a sermon a while back:

Many have been pushing to keep politics completely separate from faith right now. I understand the discomfort and huge dangers, but here’s why I respectfully disagree:

Being political means we are engaged in how our society is organized. If we want to love our neighbor, we will naturally get involved in building the systems that lead to flourishing, and fighting to change the unjust systems that target the poor, weak, and marginalized. We can’t pretend to love our neighbor while we ignore the realities that hurt them.

But the moment we tip into wholesale support for one party against the other, we take our eyes off our neighbor and join the system as an apologist for only half the story. Neither party is fully aligned with God’s Kingdom, and we need to find a way to engage the full reality of society without selling out to one side.

Friends, this is incredibly difficult…and I’ll be the first to say that I don’t do it perfectly. The temptation to flight or fight is so strong. But let’s not give up! May God be gracious as we stumble forward—three steps forward and two steps back—into humble and meaningful engagement with the world that God so loves.

Amen. I know that it sometimes seems to some of us that one party or the other has gone so far off the deep end that we can safely pitch our tent with the other one, but that’s never really the case. Our absolute loyalty is to be reserved for God and God alone.


Anti-Semitism in 2017

It’s 2017, I can’t believe that anti-Semitism in the United States is still a thing. (Of course, I’m white, male, heterosexual, and Protestant, so I lead a pretty sheltered life.) More than 100 tombstones in a Jewish Cemetery were toppled yesterday (Monday, February 20, 2017). This is wrong, and we should be ashamed that such a thing (and countless others like it) could happen in our country. I am firmly convinced that although God has grafted the church onto Israel (Romans 11), God has not forgotten nor forsaken the Jewish people. To quote Romans 11.1-2a (CEB): “So I ask you, has God rejected his people? Absolutely not! I’m an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God hasn’t rejected his people, whom he knew in advance.” Moving from general human decency into specifically Christian ethics, if God has not rejected them, then we dare not reject them either.