Christ and Culture

Pride & Dignity

We could talk about how every person’s selfish and self-destructive attitudes, actions, and affections disqualify us from deserving anything from God. Pride is a problem because it assumes I deserve something God based on something I have accomplished in myself, and due to sin I can never accomplish the level of goodness that God requires.

This is true, as far as it goes.

But here’s the thing: life with God has never been about human beings deserving something from God because they ever fulfilled some ideal of being quote “good enough.”

How could God, who creates and sustains the universe with a word, ever owe a created thing anything?

The truth is God doesn’t love people because they are owed it. He loves people because that’s just who he is. That’s what he does. He loves.

And this is the life of the universe.

We owe other people the appropriate honor, dignity, and concern not because of they’ve done anything to deserve it, but because regardless of what they’ve done, they are precious in God’s sight. We do deserve to be humbled sometimes because we forget that if we are lovely, it’s only because we are finally coming around to living the light of the truth that God loves us, just because he made us.

If we are in trouble as human beings, it because we reject and refuse that love in a thousand sinful, selfish, and destructive ways. We think we can live on our own apart from God’s love.

Humans have done this since the Garden of Eden!

We’ve all participated in the rejection of God’s love at some level, and this is the fundamental human problem. In this way we can see how pride is very much at the root of many sins, if not all sin. We all need to be accepted, to be loved, to be in fellowship; that’s the root desire that gets twisted into pride.

When by the grace of God we embrace humility as the Way of Christ, we realize we already have what we desire in him.

It’s been there the whole time.

Jesus invites all through the waters of baptism to his table, to his feast, to his banquet, to find true spiritual nourishment in the true bread and true drink of his own cleansing body and blood offered for the sins of the world.

We can come humbly to Christ, confessing and receiving him as Lord of our lives, instead of ourselves and find we are lifted up together as participants is Christ’s resurrection, received as friends of God, adopted as brothers and sisters of Jesus, and made co-heirs with Christ in his eternal Kingdom.

On the Narrow Door

Someone comes to Jesus and asks,

“Lord, will those who are saved be few?” (Luke 13:23, ESV)

Jesus doesn’t answer the question, though, at least not directly. He says, ““Strive to enter through the narrow door” (Luke 13:24a, ESV)

What a side step! I think we immediately see two things in this first part of his response: First, the question was the wrong one. If it was the right one, I think Jesus would have answered it. So we can assume from this Christ doesn’t want us worrying about the number of people that are going to be saved into the Kingdom. Even though it wasn’t asked, Jesus cares enough to answer the right question, though, which is will I be saved?

Now, in the immediate context here, the salvation in view is probably specifically referring to the looming judgement that Israel will bring on themselves if they reject Jesus as Messiah and his way of life as essential.

Nevertheless, we would be foolish to think this warning doesn’t apply to every generation and every person!

Jesus wants us be thinking about our selves, our attention, our efforts to enter the Kingdom now, for the sake of eternity.

Now, salvation is always God work in us from beginning to end, but this doesn’t mean he turns us into robots. The same St. Paul that talks about grace through faith in Ephesians also wrote to the Philippians: “… my beloved… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12–13, ESV)

Remember, grace is opposed to earning, not effort. It’s been said we don’t work for grace, we strive from grace. The availability of salvation, and the power to persevere in it are always given to us, no strings attached. But Jesus will never force us to follow him. Those that want to follow Jesus have to make that decision, and actually follow. This takes real mental and physical effort. This is what Jesus is talking about when he says we are to strive to enter the Kingdom.

But what about the narrow door? Jesus talks about earthly treasure that can’t follow us into heaven in Luke 12. In Hebrews 12, the author encourages the church to lay aside the weight of sin. The door is narrow because there are things that we just can’t bring with us into the Kingdom. We’re going to have to let some things go in order to fit. We certainly can’t bring the physical stuff we accumulate for ourselves. We can’t bring our selfish and self-destructive attitudes, actions, and affections. We can’t bring anything, in other words, that does not look like Christ.

I believe the door is as narrow as the Cross where Jesus died.

It was there, at the cross, that Christ was glorified, that his rule of love was made manifest, and where path from death to life was made straight for us. Jesus, in his perfect humanity and divinity, was able to make a way for all of us still caught up in all forms of evil and death. He went ahead of all humanity, blazing a trail with the light of his love, his forgiveness, and his victory over sin. He did something that would be impossible for any of us on our own: he came out the other side of the death—Resurrected, never to die again. Not only does he continue to shine that light for us to see the way, but he sends his Spirit of grace to empower us with his very life, so that we too can follow him through the narrow way of the cross, endure death and share in the Resurrection.

So we can and must strive by grace and in faith for the Cross of Christ, to cling to it, and not just the idea of it.

It is not enough to simply know about Jesus. To enjoy his presence from time to time, on our own terms. We can’t assume that we will enter the Kingdom now or ever, just because we participate in Holy Eucharist sometimes and listen to Bible teachers on YouTube, if our efforts do not continue to direct us toward Jesus in our overall way of life.

It is not enough to simply acknowledge in our minds that his way is The Way, without putting for the effort to truly walk in it in the present. The warning here is unavoidable: there will be consequences for not walking through the door while it is open, and there will be a time where some will want to walk through it, but will have simply waited to long. There are some people that will respond to Christ at the last minute, and truly follow him—while others will have been around Jesus for awhile, and never take a real step toward him.

“And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”” (Luke 13:29–30, ESV)

Those that come immediately into the Kingdom, even if they are last to hear about it, will nevertheless find the Bread of Heaven which will keep them to eternal life. Those that delay in following Christ, even if they’ve known of him for a long while, will live to regret it.

To enter the narrow door to the Kingdom of God now and forever, we must strive to participate in the cross-shaped life of Christ, today. Not tomorrow, when we wrongly think we’ll be more prepared. The door might be shut then.

But today.

Photo by Max Zed on Unsplash

A Faith That Sings

Reflections on Mary’s Song (Luke 1:46–55)

Our Christian faith is a faith that sings.

The people of God have always sung about our God and his goodness to us. We live in a cultural context—and sometimes even a church context—where we are forgetting how to sing.

On a very practical level, singing isn’t something many people get together to do anymore. Maybe, maybe around Christmas. Even in the church I notice some people choosing not to sing and let the worship leader do it for them. Of course, I think this is a sad mistake.

When we sing, something changes in our minds and hearts. And something changes even further when we sing words that are married to the truth of who God is and who we are. Grace can take root in those moments in special ways.

Mary, as she always does when we take her on her own terms, helps us to worship God by pointing us to Jesus. Through her song, the Magnificat, she helps us to understand true worship. Many worship songs have come and gone over the centuries, hers has stood fast—what is it about the Mary’s song that makes it the kind of worship song that will last into eternity?

There’s a lot, but let me draw out just three things for our time together today.

First, it’s a song that places God at the center. This is how it begins: “My soul magnifies the Lord.” My soul makes God bigger to me and to those around me. Notice this is God-centered, but it doesn’t neglect the impact on the individual.

But also notice—and here’s the second thing—that the emphasis, when it comes to the individual, is on humility. “He has looked on the humble estate of his servant.” There is an honest acknowledgment from Mary that she is poor and oppressed. She and her people need God to act, not just in quote “spiritual” ways, but in ways that affect the concrete reality of their existence, in ways that prove that God keeps his promises, even when we human beings do not. This is why his mercy is needed.

This is the third observation: The joy comes as Mary recognizes that the mercy of God has always been for those that fear him, that is, those who understand that God’s purifying love is what must direct their lives in order for them to flourish. And the ultimate expression of God’s purifying love, the kind of love that lifts up the lowly but puts the proud in their place, is being born in Mary’s body.

Jesus, though he never sinned, bears the ultimate consequence of humanity’s selfish and self-destructive attitudes, actions, affections in his body as he dies on a cross. Yet, in his mercy he forgives every sin, even the sin of killing God, and so death begins to come undone and he is raised from death to Resurrection life in the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s the life that he gives freely and without reservation to all that will take it. It’s a life that makes a concrete difference for everyone who receives it—how could anyone stay the same after encountering and receiving in themselves the very life of God?

This is why Mary burst into song.

So, of course, the songs we sing matter. Are they God centered? Are they humble? Do they exalt God’s concrete action in the world in Jesus Christ? These are important questions. But the questions go deeper: Am I in my whole life, singing a song that would resonate with Mary’s? In other words, Am I God centered? Am I honest with myself about my concrete need for God? And am I trusting God to meet those needs for me in his Son, Jesus?

The Good News of the Magnificat is that God is God which means I don’t have to be. You and I can acknowledge our need, and live a life that marked by joyful thanks for God’s provision in Christ.

That’s a song worth singing a thousand different ways—and worth teaching the world to sing too—with our lips, and our lives, and from our hearts.

Photo: Icon written by Dennis Maloney

Today the Church celebrates James the Elder, Apostle.

O gracious God, your servant and apostle James was first among the Twelve to suffer martyrdom for the Name of Jesus Christ: Pour out upon the leaders of your Church that spirit of self-denying service, by which they may have true authority among your people; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Art: Calling of Saint James and Saint John, James Tissot 1886-1894

Calling of Saint James and Saint John, James Tissot

Today at St. George’s Anglican Church Pastor Shane reminded us that pride is the source of judgmentalism, and that ultimately, no one has any cause to compare themselves to others.

All pride in ourselves is ultimatley misplaced, because we all miss the mark when it comes to what’s most important: eternal life now and forever.

God pours out his mercy on all, and that’s all that matters.

Hope for the renewal of all things in and because of Jesus is what keeps me going when I consider and experience the suffering of the world. I’ve also found light in the ways that ultimate renewal manifests in the present–in true worship, in acts of kindness between strangers, in the refusal to receive the injustices of the world as the status quo.

Christians, prayer for the world is an essential aspect of our vocation

Christian brothers and sisters, Prayer for the world is an essential aspect of our vocation.

We must stand firm in prayer always, and especially in this terrible moment for our human family that is unfolding in Ukraine.

Let us pray:

Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace; to whom be dominion and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Almighty God, from whom all thoughts of truth and peace proceed: Kindle, we pray, in the hearts of all people the true love of peace, and guide with your pure and peaceable wisdom those who take counsel for the nations of the earth; that in tranquility your kingdom may go forward, till the earth is filled with the knowledge of your love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

O God, the Creator of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you in Jesus Christ; in whose Name we pray. Amen.

Prayers from BCP2019 p. 654-655

You are God's Delight

It’s the Third Day of Christmas. We remember St. John the Theologian.

He wrote:

“…the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, ESV)

This is an indispensable part of the Good News: God delights in humanity! Why else would he become one?

God doesn’t become something he doesn’t love.

And—get this—God delights in you!

We are told in the Scriptures that—by the Spirit—the Word of God dwells in all who will receive him, which is our guarantee of eternal life.

God doesn’t dwell where he doesn’t want to be.

“Shed upon your Church, O Lord, the brightness of your light; that we, being illumined by the teaching of your apostle and evangelist John, may so walk in the light of your truth, that at length we may attain to the fullness of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

Promise & presence. Light & life. This is Christmas.


The Kingdom of Christ is fundamentally spiritual, but not merely spiritual

What makes a good king different from a bad king is the kind of power used and the way that power is used.

The thing that destines every king to fail is the unavoidable—and for every worldly king at some point *irresistible*—temptation to use their power to benefit themselves at the expense of others.

Devotional writer Jane Williams says,

“…what Jesus is offering as a description of his own kingship is truth—reality, you might say. Revelation calls it ‘the Alpha and Omega, who was and is and is to come’. If the actual reality of the world, from its creation to its end, is like Jesus, then this strange human obsession with power is an aberration. It has no ability to create, to redeem or to sanctify. Jesus’s challenge to Pilate’s kind of power is too slow and subtle for many of us, who long to use the weapons of worldly power to force victory for God. But if Jesus is the truth, then any other way is falsehood, and will fail. Reality, as it was and is and is to come, is shaped by a different kingship.”

Jesus lives as King over a kingdom that is certainly powerful, but he draws on a power not from this fallen world.

Jesus rules and reigns and fights battles in this world through the power of self-giving love and truth, which can only come from God himself.

His Kingdom is fundamentally spiritual in that it is conceived, birthed, and animated by the Spirit of Love who is God the Holy Spirit, but it is not merely spiritual because this Spirit takes up residence in his subjects, his followers, for the sake of the world.

7 encouragements for the deconstructing

“Deconstruction” is the topic du jour in the Christian social media space right now. It’s the recognition that many former “evangelicals” America–especially younger ones, and in large numbers–are rapidly rejecting parts of their evangelical faith and culture.

As someone who has had my own unique deconstruction journey (and in many ways continue that journey to this day) I want to say to those currently in the process:

1) I see you, and you are not alone, as disorienting, scary, painful, and disturbing as the process can be

2) I know you are probably in this for good reasons. We all have certain beliefs and values that need to be deconstructed and some that need to be outright rejected

3) To the extent you are deconstructing beliefs and values that do not align with the Jesus presented in the Gospel and witnessed to by the church catholic, you are on the right track

4) There is room within the Christian family for those who doubt, question, and explore

5) You are loved by Jesus. He is secure enough to welcome your questions, and close enough bear your uncertainty, and kind enough meet you where you are in this moment

6) No matter how much you feel like you are falling apart, there is hope and a path for “reconstruction” and most of all Resurrection because (see #5)

7) I’ll say it again, you are not alone.

A present friend

Watched the Disney version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe last night with the kids. Haven’t seen it since it released in theaters. Haven’t read the book since just before that.

It’s far from perfect and the vfx are dated, but I still found it moving.

There’s no doubt for me–after this latest revisit to Narnia–that Lewis set the stage for me to be an Anglican, to recieve a patristic understanding of the atonement, to find echoes of Christ in all the great myths, to understand the Gospel as world-changing and beautiful and mysterious and tangible.

I think what was so moving for me this time around was a sense of gratitude for this childhood mentor that I never met and died before I was born, and still yet seems be a present friend.

We can have courage to confess our sins, because God in Christ in Christ gives us assurance of forgiveness.

Nationalism, Christianity, encouragement -- and regret

It’s encouraging to see there are gestures in America toward a renewed humility in the so-called “prophetic” movement.

This idolotrous, nationalist strain of the charismatic world is essentially the same thing as what we see corrupting evangelicalism.

Both claim divine revelation in their effort to legitimize a “power-and-profit by whatever means necessary” mentality.

For charismatics, it’s a supposedly direct “word” asserted with unjustified confidence and unfounded authority; for evangelicals it’s a conveniently malleable set of “biblical principles.”

Both are false teachings with soul-poisoning consequences, because both are divorced from Jesus as the Supreme Revelation of God in the Gospels.

Both demand a very different kind of life than our Lord taught us to live, namely a life enslaved to fear instead of liberated, quiet confidence.

One of my profound regrets as a pastor and just as a Christian brother is not clearly and boldly doing constant ground work to address these destructive trends much earlier in the communities I am a part of.

I knew they were problems “out there”; I simply (and naively) didn’t imagine they would take root (or had already become embedded) among people I know and love.

I pray for grace and wisdom, true prophetic insight and evangelical zeal to follow the Spirit of the Lord and witness faithfully to the fullness of God in Christ, given for the world.

Thankfully, my country is not my church

As those of us in the U.S. prepare for 4th of July festivities, I want to recognize the main things I am grateful for as an American: Unprecedented freedom of religion, broad cultural support–at least in principle–for transcendent human rights, and some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world.

At the same time I recognize my country has often fallen tragically–even horrifically–short of its ideals, and in fact was founded on and remains committed to certain concepts, assumptions, and practices that are fundamentally incompatible with my faith.

It is important for me to rember that no matter how influenced the United States has been or will be by Christianity, my country is not my savior, my hope, or my church, and could never be.

I am thankful to be a “resident alien” in the USA. And I pray for grace to be a good citizen and serve my fellow Americans so they will know the goodness of God in Christ.

But my allegiance–and the foundational focus of my energy and attention–can only ever be to Christ alone and his people in every nation.

Love & Deconstruction

Like many my age and younger, I went through a fairly severe period of deconstructing my faith, trying to make sense of what we read in the teachings of Jesus in light of my day-to-day experiences in places claiming to be expressions of his church.

Let me tell you my deconstruction was catalyzed by both intellectual and relational challenges, but neither slam-dunk arguments nor platitudes initiated a reconstruction.

Instead, it was faith working in love through a few of God’s people.

Instead of simply throwing their hands up in despair, they encouraged (not guilted) me not to give up (I wanted to), faithfully walking with me, even as I grumbled and protested.

Instead of deconstructing my deconstruction, they treated me like family.

Instead of arguing with my reasons for despair, they actively showed me a reason to hope by their example.

Instead of picking apart my faulty doctrine, they simply, patiently, gently witnessed to the character of God in Christ.

Instead of asking me to get it together, they invited and included me in the liturgical and social life of the church.

Room was given for doubt, for questions, for frustration, for grief, for healing, for exploration.

The main thing was that I always knew I was loved–and that love was from God–but it was made visible and tangible by his people.

When the glory of God has left the Temple

One time, I was visiting a mainstream, large, influential American Evangelical church for a mid-week special service.

They had invited a denominational leader to come and speak.

He said in his talk–which I will not dignify by calling it a sermon–that he believed in capital punishment. With a gleam in his eye and a delighted smile, he said if it was up to him, he would “line them up and fry ‘em three-at-a-time!”

This was met with laughter, applause, and even cheers.

Then a worship song.

I knew then that the church and its leadership in America are so sick, and so twisted in on ourselves, that we have lost sight of the heart of Jesus.

The gods we worship are preference and privilege, comfort, cliques, and convenience, along with the evil spirits of nationalism and military might.

Much of the church as we see it is a shell of a thing, an empty form, having long rejected the lordship of Christ and actively quenched the Spirit.

It’s easy to see:

where tears of compassion have been replaced with condescension and anger,

where tender-hearted pleading has been supplanted by top-down dictates,

where kind, patient conversation has been subverted by orders to speak only what is allowed by a select few,

where the word “justice” is met with suspicion,

where the the poor know they will be blamed for their plight,

where the segregation of language and culture are maintained,

where the appeal to fear is made so much more than the declaration of hope,

and ESPECIALLY where’s there’s little interest in speaking about Jesus, learning about Jesus, and walking with Jesus in every day life,

and ESPECIALLY where the radical, non-violent, forgiving way of the Cross is dismissed as “not practical” and “unrealistic,”

…the glory of God has left the Temple.

But I believe our God pours fresh water into dry riverbeds.

There is a Rock that quenches the thirst of those in the wilderness.

There is a holy habitation that will not be demolished, before which the gates of hell must dissolve.

Photo by Derek Thomson on Unsplash

Early morning, an Easter poem


The Resurrection of God-come-to-as-us-one-of-us–


can only be

the Declaration: no one else has to die– not one– to right the world, humanity is healed, true Light will always scatter the darkness,

the Proclamation: self-preservation is wholly unnecessary because the Holy One never saw corruption, entrusting instead of defending,

the Announcement: there is no King but Christ, making many nations one multi-lingual people of Redemption, answering to no State but Love, in Word, Spirit, Divinity,

the Hope: humanity destined for divination, Creation-cosmos, restored at last!

Angels sing with Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve,

–as we weep from relief, falling into the eternal rest of mercy and grace–

Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God!

To know you and to be known by you is to find you All in All,

forever and without end.


Photo by Jordan Wozniak

In my experience, it seems the default position of many Christians towards their siblings in Christ is one of distrust.

Often, there are good reasons for this.

Other times, it’s really about a lack of faith in the power and provision of God in Christ–by the Spirit–to see us through relational risk and disagreement.

Either way, God calls his people toward a kind of Spirit-powered love that results in well-founded mutual confidence over and against underlying, anxious suspicion.

It is not so much about simply trusting people more per se, but rather a deeper entrusting of ourselves and our Christian family to Christ, so that confidence is built on the demonstrated desire for one another to have–above all–greater communion with Christ, in the non-violent, non-coercive, truthful-yet-graceful way of Christ.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

A sermon after January 6

Here’s last Sunday’s sermon for those that might be interested, in which I attempt to consider the recent terrorist attack on the Capitol building in light the of day’s Scriptures, and particular in light of how our baptism joins every Christian to the vocation of Christ.

The opening remarks were not recorded, but here’s the relevant section from my manuscript:

I think we have all felt acute distress in the past week, and understandably so. Not only has the pandemic continued to cause all kinds of death, destruction and suffering in our city and state, but we witnessed what has been described by experts as a violent, terrorist attack on our nation’s Capitol building by a politically and religiously motivated mob.

This is a time that calls for clarity and directness from Christian leaders and from the Church. So I have tried to choose all of my words for this message with special care and precision. I have sought counsel and prayer. I do not intend or wish to offend in any way. However, I do want speak truthfully and candidly. I watched in horror—live—as the mob grew more and more restless, ultimately overrunning the police and breaking in the building to disturb the legitimate democratic process. And I was so dismayed to see several images of those in the crowd carrying banners that said “Jesus Saves,” along with the so-called “Christian flag,” crosses, and many other Christian symbols and sayings. The crowd held banners proclaiming “Jesus is my Savior. Trump is my President.” To be clear, the increasingly close association of the Christian faith with American nationalism and partisan extremes is precisely why it is important for us to address this specific event as a church family…

Here’s a link to the complete manuscript.

A Culture of Unhealthy Silence

I reject the notion that the solution to any communal tension is to pretend it doesn’t exist by not talking about it.

As a pastor I have been explicitly discouraged on occasion from speaking about certain topics in the church because the topic itself–not simply the way or time in which in which it was approached–was considered inherently divisive.

Yet topics in themselves do not have the power to divide. Only our reactions and responses to them do.

And by not speaking about difficult topics openly and keeping each other accountable to loving, respectful dialog, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to actually resolve tensions in a healthy way.

We have already surrendered to the demonic spirit of division.

By fostering a culture of unhealthy silence, we sponsor a culture of suspicion that necessarily leads to fear, relational rejection, and pain.

Worst of all, we are behaving as if our mutual faith in Christ and love for Christ in one another is not truly enough to be the ground and glue of our relationships.

Either we can trust Christ and his Spirit with our whole selves and community (including disagreements and tensions) or we can’t.

I believe Christ is trustworthy.

The distinguishing mark of the Church

I wholeheartedly believe the church is meant to credibly model and offer a different way of life than what the rest of the world experiences.

In particular, the distinguishing mark of the church is radical love for one another, for the sake of Christ.

As long as Sundays remain mostly segregated…

As long as women are discouraged from exercising their spiritual gifts and demeaned when they do…

As long as children sense they are a burden in the worship service…

As long as singles don’t find a sense of real, every-day family in the household of faith…

As long as keeping the peace is more important than peacemaking in our communities…

As long as certain topics are “off limits” for fear of offense in our gatherings…

As long as we demand and are satisfied with worldly ways of leading congregations…

As long as we act as if our obligations to one another are met via an occasional check in the offering and pleasantries in the parking lot…

As long as convenience and preference are the determining factors for level of involvement and degree of commitment…

As long as we allow American partisan differences to sow demonic division instead of inspire biblical discussion…

…we are missing our vocation of radical love for one another!

Why Christians are always talking about the blood of Jesus

This week we were listening to Spotify in our home and the song “Sunday Bloody Sunday” by U2 came on. My son Jensen wanted to know if it was about Jesus ? It was a reasonable question, because Christianity talks a lot about blood. And it’s weird, let’s be honest. We talk about being “washed in the blood” and we sing songs with words like “there’s power in the blood,” and my personal favorite: “there is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Emmanuel’s veins.” It’s a little gross.

Have you ever wondered what’s up with the whole “blood of Jesus” thing?

Hebrews chapter 9 helps us to understand why there’s always been so much talk about blood, and why after generations of bloodshed of humans and animals Jesus’s blood is finally enough.

It helps us understand why, as an acquaintance of mine–Fr. Kenneth Tanner—often says, “the cross means no other person ever has to die again to make the world right.”

The centrality of blood goes all the way back to the Old Testament; where blood sacrifice was a ritual requirement to deal with sin as a community.

Hebrews 9:22:

“Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Hebrews 9:22, ESV)

Ever since sin entered the world, blood sacrifice has been required. And although it’s disturbing, it should be. That’s part of the point. In the Old Testament animal sacrifices were meant to highlight the deep brokenness of the world, our bodies, and our souls as a result of our sin.

The covenant sign between God and his people was circumcision, itself quite a bloody act. The point was to communicate under no uncertain terms that sin results in the draining of life, the dulling of our spiritual senses, and the marring of the image of God that we all bear in our bodies and souls as human beings.

In the Old Testament, we read about the Day of Atonement, when the high priest would make a blood sacrifice to symbolically cleanse and set apart the altar. He would sprinkle blood of a slain bull on it as a sign of repentance. Then he would place his hand on the head of living goat to symbolically transfer the sins of the people onto the animal, and then send it out into the wilderness to die.

I believe this was picture of sin as a disease. Without purification it infects everyone that comes close to it, rotting away at the very core of our being. It must be taken out and removed. When it runs its natural course, it results in death.

Now, certainly there was real forgiveness offered and received as the Israelites acknowledged and repented from their sin, and blood sacrifices certainly pointed to the evil of sin and its natural consequence of death, but they could not heal a broken soul. Animal blood sacrifices were never enough. There was always another sacrifice to make. Day after day, year after year.

As the author of Hebrews said, the Old Covenant sacrificial system was always just a copy, a shadow version of a spiritual reality, and a much better sacrifice than animals would be needed to affect the spiritual brokenness of the world. It’s a sacrifice that only God in-the-flesh, Jesus Christ, could make.

As one commentator says,

the high-priestly work of Christ has gone both higher and deeper than the blood shed and sprinkled under the old covenant. It has gone higher because his work carried him in definitive fashion into the true sanctuary, the Holy Place in heaven, in gaining our eternal redemption. It has gone deeper because it penetrates to the very core of our being, to the cleansing of our conscience in order that we may serve the living God.

“If the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkled ashes of cows made spiritually contaminated people holy and clean, how much more will the blood of Jesus wash our consciences clean from dead works in order to serve the living God? He offered himself to God through the eternal Spirit as a sacrifice without any flaw.” (Hebrews 9:13–14, CEB)

Just like the sacrifices on the Day of Atonement, Jesus’ self-sacrifice on the Cross both cleanses and removes sin.

But because he was and is perfect, his blood is able to purify us not just on the outside as sign, but on the inside effectually—in our hearts—which works its way out into our actions. So we are delivered from sinful actions that lead only to destruction—”dead works”—and we are given a way to life.

He took all our sin on himself, the way the priest would symbolically transfer sins to the scapegoat. He removed our sin and took it into the wilderness of death itself, running sin into the ground and conquering it by his Resurrection.

So you see, there’s no need to keep sacrificing animals. There’s no need to keep sketches and shadows, when the hope to which they pointed in faith has come to fruition in Jesus Christ. Jesus meant it when he said, “it is finished. ”

The work of atonement, that is, making things right between us and God, is done. The offering Jesus made of himself has been made, accepted, and vindicated. Sin has been defeated. Forgiveness has been accomplished, and it all happened two thousand years ago. This can’t be overstated. The work is done. Christ did it. We just have to receive it as the pure gift that it is.

We can never think of what we do here at the altar (when we celebrate Holy Eucharist) as a repetition of Christ’s sacrifice.

t’s a sacrifice, to be sure, but a sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise as we celebrate Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice, remembering it, relying on it, receiving it, even participating in it in a mysterious way…but never repeating it.

The author of Hebrews wrote,

“He didn’t enter [heaven] to offer himself over and over again, like the high priest enters the earthly holy place every year with blood that isn’t his. If that were so, then Jesus would have to suffer many times since the foundation of the world. Instead, he has now appeared once at the end of the ages to get rid of sin by sacrificing himself. People are destined to die once and then face judgment. In the same way, Christ was also offered once to take on himself the sins of many people. He will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:25–28, CEB)

So, we know that God’s work in our lives isn’t done yet.

We’re all being sanctified, made more like Jesus every day by the Spirit. We all have some more battles to let God fight for us. We are still waiting for our ultimate salvation. But the war has been won. The disease that was killing us, the madness that was driving us toward self-destruction, the rift that was separating us from life, all that has been dealt with…and that’s Good News.

We can never work hard enough to achieve forgiveness, to try to outweigh the bad things we’ve done by offering the good things. Jesus has already done the best thing and given the greatest gift by offering himself. By cleansing us with his blood. Removing our sins from us forever.

Brothers and sisters, you can rest from trying to make forgiveness happen. The objective reality is that’s already happened! The Good News is that you didn’t do it and you can’t undo it. It is finished.

Until Monday of last week we had a cement wall by the office at the church.

It was slowly pushing a supporting post into the ground, and no matter what it was going to pierce some underground plumbing we recently repaired there. It was only a matter of time until that pipe met certain doom! I’ve known for months now that I had to remove that wall to relieve the pressure, but I haven’t been able to do it. I haven’t had the resources of time or tools to make it happen. But you know what? A young man came to me this week needing some community service hours and offered to help. I gratefully accepted that offer, and the next day I came to our campus to find the wall demolished. The work had been done for me!

Sure there’s still some clean up and restoration to do, which we will partner with our new friend to get done. But the threat to the structural integrity of our plumbing system is gone permanently. And I didn’t have do anything at all except receive it. You don’t have to do anything at all to be forgiven. Just receive it. You can do that right here, right now.

Brothers and sisters, this is what we rest in.

This is what we celebrate every Sunday. This is what we witness to and give thanks for as a community of faith: No animal, no human, ever has to die again to make the world right.

Blood sacrifice is a thing of the past. Jesus’ death put an end to death. Jesus’ blood, perfectly innocent and divinely powerful, was enough, is enough, will always be enough to cure, to cleanse, to bring life to me, you, and the whole world.

Mentor Like Jesus, Change the World

In Mentor Like Jesus, entrepreneur and investor Regi Campbell has set out to encourage a generation of men to invest in others. This is both a theological/philosophical argument for the merits of a mentoring approach to helping to people follow Jesus, and a practical look at how to do that with intentionality and precision. Campbell writes,

Mentoring isn’t about coming to know something; that would be education. Mentoring isn’t about learning to do something; that would be training. Mentoring is about showing someone how to be something. (emphasis mine).

This little book gives excellent suggestions for how to accomplish this (the main point: show people Jesus), along with tons of great practical advice (mentor a group, have a defined period of time, require mentorees to mentor others, etc).

The tone of the book is conversational, and it’s a quick read at only 152 pages.

The inclusion of the mentoree perspective from one Campbell’s mentorship “graduates” Richard Chancy is a great touch. Chancy gives a window into what a great mentoring experience should be like for the person being mentored.

I didn’t need to be convinced of the value of the mentoring model for discipleship; I’ve long thought that it makes sense considering the examples of Jesus and the Apostles (especially Paul, who seemed to have mentored a few young men). What I have been struggling with is a model for doing this in the local church, where mentoring is rarely considered a top priority initiative. Mentor Like Jesus has given me this, by reminding me that everyone can be be a mentor, and it starts with me.

If I had to level one criticism at Mentor Like Jesus it would be that Campbell is so focused on men, yet Jesus also seemed to have mentored women (Luke 10:39). What are implications of this for men and women’s mentoring ministries in the church? What are the practical considerations women might need to consider as they form their own mentoring groups?

One other possible weakness in the book is the emphasis on men in certain stage of life (married with an established career), when high-school and college-age guys need mentors too.

Despite Campbell’s silence on these issues, I wholeheartedly recommend Mentor Like Jesus to every Christian as an inspiring and useful primer to developing intentional mentoring relationships…just like Jesus did.