Monday, February 25, 2013


As for me, it matters very little how I might be evaluated by you or by any human authority. I don't even trust my own judgment on this point. New Living Translation (©2007)
The most productive writing I've had is when I've been semi-anonymous.  It's not like a guarded secret, its just an intentional disregard.  I've tried to move my writing to a blog with my name, but that hasn't worked.  I don't write in order to have my writing affect my name (or my name affect my writing).  I write because I like ideas enough to spend some time with them.  I don't necessarily dislike myself, I'm just not interested in myself in the same way.

I taught last night, explaining why we were trying to break forms of gathering in order to deal more honestly with ideas.  But the forms held sway.  Then, when we ended, people opened up and talked for over an hour about everything meaningful the 'gathering' tried to foster.  So weird.

When I left, and when I woke, I wanted to leave religious meeting patterns.  Not for the first time, but more clearly than in a long time.  It is not that I'm against them, really.  I just don't seem to fit them very well.  Wish I understood this better.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Crossing the road...

long term transitioning
Why did the critter cross the road?  Well, we know what the answer should be.  But sometimes transitioning becomes more permanent than we intend.
In 2007 Karla and I started transitioning from overseeing the work we had originally come to Asia to do.  It was in good hands and we were ready to move on.  We released the work and began to transition.  We should be done soon.
In 2008 our first child left the nest and adventured off to the USA for college.  The rest of us packed up and moved to England for a fresh start.  We lived in a colleague's house for months, waiting approval to move into our own townhouse.  By Christmas we were unpacking, and discussing our next transition.  I had been asked to return to Asia to oversee some work and eventually I agreed it was the right thing for us to do.
By the summer of 2009 we were saying goodbye in England and starting up again in Asia.  We had one year until we transitioned our second child, and then one more year to transition our youngest.  During that time, we finished our assignment and Karla and I transitioned ourselves to a transitional condo in Houston.  It was time to start focusing on transition. (!?!)
For a year we tried to keep up with speaking opportunities and to take care of loose ends.  By spring it became increasingly clear that the paint crew had come and we were fixtures of transition on the road of life.  We talked with our leadership about postponing a fresh overseas transition and instead began a local transition.
So, this morning I'm unpacking in a nice townhouse in a trendy part of Houston. I don't know how long we will be here, and I'm not even sure how to think about it.  Like the charming yellow striped road kill I seem to have made transition relatively permanent.  Even this blog is in permanent transition.
I like writing here because I really do feel as if I'm talking to myself.  When I get an occasional comment, it is a surprise.  That's all good, because it helps me to be a bit more honest and less self-aware.  But... I am in transition.
I have a new site that is part of my intentional teaching ministry.  Actually there are two of them:  and

The first one is where I have a place for my 5 columns ideas.  It is in transition.  I will continue to work with to eventually have a robust and accessible explanation of the diagram for integrating a Christian worldview and our experiences.  The one with my name is currently something I am using to interact with feedback on a preaching series on the Sermon on the Mount.  Combined, the worldview diagram and a tree diagram of the Sermon on the Mount make up about 90% of my Christian focus.  I use the 2 diagrams for devotions, catechism, counseling, evangelism, discipleship, theodicy, etc.  But they aren't finished yet; they are still in transition.

permanent impermanence

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Grove - a Christian Community Idea Thing...

I've got a hint of a vision of a possibility.  There's this place where I am living that is being revitalized.  The church complex was given over to a bigger church. Now buildings are being renovated with a view to serving an eclectic community which is also in transition.  Local old homes are being renovated to be current and stylish while retaining their historic charm.  Running and bike paths are important, as are community events.  The church complex is ripe for integrating into this renewal.  I hope to be a part of that.
Night Textures by V. Vaughan
The place is called Timbergrove.  I'm thinking of calling our Christian community center "The Grove".  The Psalm 1 view of righteousness, that is like a tree, fruitful, fresh and fulfilling, is key.  The facilities would be used to serve various groups, starting with a Thai church that is already lined up.  An English group could start by September, having a midweek teaching on CrownHeartWorld and then on the Sermon on the Mount (using the Tree diagram).
From there we finish outfitting the old gym to be open for basketball.  Maybe we do a gazebo area and have outdoor worship among the trees from time to time.  Add some classes, on fun things, practical things... whatever we can.  The goal would be to have an active place of healthiness and encouragement, a place where people are encouraged to grow in righteousness that is described as trees, not telephone poles, with vibrant diversity that is unified on Jesus the wise.  This could be pleasant.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Jesus was not a super-hero.

Jesus was not a super-hero.  Jesus was a man.  Jesus was also Emmanuel, God with us.  Jesus is the god-man.   Philippians 2 describes how he did not cling to his divinity, but limited himself in humanity.  He then grew and learned and had real choices.  Jesus was more like us in every way except sin.  His way of dealing with life is totally human.  It is not 'other' than ours.  It is the way things should be.

For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.  (Hebrews 2:10)
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,  (Hebrews 2:14)
Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
(Hebrews 2:17-18)
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
(Hebrews 4:15)
Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.
(Hebrews 5:8)
Growing in obedience to God as King is painful in a world of rebellion.  The current of this world flows toward compromise.  Jesus faced real temptations, and it really was hard for him.  Yet he did what he was called to do.  He therefore is able to be merciful to us, because he has first hand experience.  He is our merciful high priest.  We are safe from condemnation.  Jesus paid for our imperfection, our immaturity, or disobedience, our compromise, our rationalizing, or foolishness, or sin.  He said it was perfected; finished; telos'ed.  We are not trying to perform for acceptance.  We are accepted.  

What is it that we are doing, then, when we take the message of the sermon on the mount, with it's central point of being 'perfected'?  Why is it so important to grow up?

Growing up to exhibit more of the character of the God who created you to flourish is really good; it is blessed.  God is holy, wise, just, compassionate, merciful and every meaningful moral virtue imaginable.  Growing up, being perfected, is being better and better at giving and receiving love appropriately.  It is being better at dealing with justice and mercy.  It is blessed.  It is right.

Jesus' Sermon Notes on the Blessed Life

Jesus' baptism was his pledge of allegiance to the kingdom of Heaven (God ruling).  After Jesus went public with his commitment to the kingdom, he was thrust into battle.
Wandering for 40 days in the wilderness, a mini-Exodus, Jesus had the tempter offer him physical, relational and spiritual help.  The only thing Jesus needed to do was to get his needs on his own, without reference to the Father.  Jesus would not.  Then the tempter fled and God provided care; in due season.
Jesus then goes to minister to others.  Matthew chapter 4 has Jesus healing, freeing from demonic craziness and teaching truth.  He then gets where people can hear him and repeats a word 8 times, linking it to what John the baptist, and he himself, had been preaching as good news: God in charge; the kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are the poor in spirit - For theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
  Blessed are those who mourn - for they shall be comforted.
    Blessed are the meek - for they shall inherit the earth
     Blessed are those who crave righteousness - for they shall be satisfied.
 Be ye "telos" like your Father; Don't do things to be seen by people
     Blessed are the merciful - for they shall receive mercy
    Blessed are the pure in heart - for they shall see God.
   Blessed are the peacemakers - for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are the persecuted for righteousness - For theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

This is an X pattern, a chiasm.  It is a way of helping link things together so you can remember them better.
Here is the pattern:

A1 key point
the main point is this 
A2 key point

The first and last key points are Blessed - Theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.  Who?  The poor in spirit and the persecuted for righteousness.  Both are counter-intuitive.  Poor and persecuted sounds bad, not blessed. It is a good way to get our attention.  It is also a good way for us to see what is key.  Blessedness of life is linked to God in charge, the kingdom of Heaven.

The central point is the main point.  It is where everything else is funneling inward.  The blessedness of God in charge comes down to being "perfect/telos" like our heavenly father, not by doing things to impress others.

Be ye perfect is the main point.  It is a problem translation.  τέλειοι is translated perfect.  Robertson's Word Pictures says:
Mat 5:48  
Perfect (teleioi). The word comes from telos, end, goal, limit. Here it is the goal set before us, the absolute standard of our Heavenly Father. The word is used also for relative perfection as of adults compared with children.
Older forms of English used the word perfection differently than how we tend to think of things. Like Robertson notes, it is mature.  An adult is a perfected child.  A dog is a perfected puppy.  A tree is a perfected acorn.  It means to complete.  It is the word that Jesus cries out upon his death: "it is finished".

So how should we understand Jesus' central point?  Grow up and be everything you were created to be, a created being in the image of God your father.  What does that look like?  It means loving God first, such that you are motivated by how He perceives you, rather than by worrying about how others perceive you.  It means that God is the life source coming up through your roots which grow you into the Psalm 1 tree that is fruitful, fresh and fulfilled.  By having God in charge, you fully come to life.  But this is against the grain of this world, and doing so is not easy, but still, it is the blessed life.


Beatitudes as Jesus’ Outline for the Sermon

Beatitudes as Jesus’ Outline for the Sermon

I noticed some things about how the sermon on the mount starts:
Matthew 5:3-10
1)       Blessed/ μακαριοι are they is repeated 8 times followed with theirs is
2)       Blessed/ μακαριοι are you  in verse 11 marks a change
3)       The first of the 8 blessed are they ends with for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
4)       The last of the 8 blessed are they ends with for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
5)       The first four of the 8 “blessed are they” are matched with negative images
a.        Poor in spirit
b.       Mourn
c.        Meek
d.       Hunger and thirst for righteousness
6)       The last four of the 8 “blessed are they” are matched with positive images
a.        Merciful
b.       Pure in heart
c.        Peacemakers
d.       Righteous (so much so that they are persecuted for it)
7)       The first 4 “blessed” are a set
8)       The second 4 ‘blessed’ are a set
9)       The blessed of verse 11 begins an explanation of how being persecuted for righteousness is blessed
10)   Conclusion= the beatitudes of 5:3-10 are the outline for Jesus’ sermon.  Each beatitude gets explained, beginning with the last one first.

The reason this matters is that it can help explain what to look for.  What I end up with is the following outline:

Your life can be blessed in ways which may surprise you. 
Persecuted for Righteousness, peacemakers, pure in heart, merciful; these are descriptions of someone growing in how to follow God’s lead.
Poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hunger and thirsting for righteousness; these are descriptions of the disciplines followed to grow in how to follow God’s lead.

These two sets actually pair up.

Poor in spirit describes the discipline of wise treasuring, even if it means you will be persecuted for righteousness.  Still, yours will be the rule of God (Kingdom of Heaven).
Mourning is fasting as a way of breaking habits, particularly of conflict, and instead learning how to be a peacemaker.  You will be comforted as you begin to look like your Heavenly Father.
Meek is how we pray to God for our needs in this world, and in doing so we learn to grow beyond mixed motives to pure motives.
Hunger and thirsting for righteousness is giving for others, being merciful like your Father.

The rest of the sermon deals with 3 basic objections: physical concerns, relational concerns, spiritual concerns.  These correspond to the 3 temptations of Jesus in Matthew 4.  It is all one package of thought.  The BIG idea is that the temptation to trust the creation instead of the creator for pressing needs can be resisted.  The better option, the blessed option, is to grow up into the habits of thinking and acting from reliance on God as King.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Plunging allegiance to the Kingdom of Heaven

Why was Jesus baptized?  I'll preach on this tomorrow at Houston's Northwest, from Matthew 3.  The preaching outline has the following blanks:

God as ______ is good news.
The religious _______ manipulate things instead of being ______ & ________.
Baptism clarifies _________.

The first point is how we should think: God is in charge.
The second point is how we should not think: our view of God is in charge.
The third point is an example of point 1 trumping point 2.

First, REPENT, the Kingdom of Heaven is coming!  This is the good news.  God as king is good news.
Wait, I thought 1 Corinthians 15 was the good news?!  Death, burial, resurrection.  Well, yes, but read the whole chapter.  The point of the death burial resurrection is that it is the pivotal part of the story through which God's rule is comprehensively victorious over sin and death.  The whole idea develops to a sequential subordination of powers under Christ, and then Christ under God and then the mysterious uber-shalom:
When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. 1Cor15:28
The Good News is God ruling over us in justice and mercy and grace and peace.  This is how things ought to be, it is right.  Since the rebellion at the beginning, we have been alienated and fearful.  God hates evil, and we have been identified with evil.  The call to repent, is a call to 're-think'.  That is literally what the word means.  Yes, it does provoke a change of direction, the same way that realizing you just missed the turn for the party.  You do a U-turn because you repent, rethink, where the right way is contra the way you were going.  ANYTHING other than the Creator ruling over us is wrong.  But we do it, because God seems far off and our appetites are close and our options to cope are convenient.

John's message is to leave the promised land and start over.  Come back to the wilderness, and then plunge into the water and start fresh.  Show your rethinking about God and your trust in him.

The religious left and right, Sadducees and Pharisees, come out as well.  Why are they there?  Quality control?  The Sadducees are the elite, compromisers with worldly powers, the sophisticated.  The Pharisees are the proudly conservative revisionists, calling people back to the right way of living, even if they are constantly creating new memories of how things used to be and how we are to show we are conserving the good old ways.  John is having none of it.

The religious wrong manipulate things instead of being humble and teachable.  Jesus will go on to spend much of his ministry trying to undo the undue confidence of the religious people.  They KNOW how things should be and are constantly less than pleased with Jesus.  But they don't know as much as they they claim.  I used to know more than I do, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now.

God as King is not the same thing as my view of God as King.  I love my wife Karla even more than my idea of my wife Karla.  If I think she likes mint chocolate ice cream and she corrects me, I'm not going to argue with her and tell her she is wrong.  "I KNOW you like this, you always have."  Rather, I'm going to try and be humble and teachable, and ask "what would you like?". That's being humble and teachable.

Humility is a virtue.  It is not just a virtue for weak people.  Humility is not needing to demand.  It is an aspect of love and being aware that I am one spiritual being among others, and that I need to allow space for others.  Jesus was humble, and not in a fake way.  His virtue of being humble is one of his most astonishing calls to righteousness:
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  Matthew11:29
It is also the main point of the harshest preaching of Jesus, not aimed at the obvious sinners, those who are clearly enjoying themselves despite the self-destructiveness of their ways.  Rebuking the religious wrong fiercely, Jesus declares:
For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Matthew23:12
God is the one who gives us our place, it is not something we grab or force.  We make every effort to enter into His rest, and where that leads is up to Him.  We religious people sometimes try too hard to help God be God.  The prophets have always had to work hard against the rationalizations of the religiously accomplished.  In doing so, often it us we who are religious leaders who get taught the hard way.  Habakuk, Jonah, Peter where all taught lessons about politics and race and the right and wrong way to live.  They were humiliating lessons, but they are ways that make it clear: Our theology is not God, God is God.  Don't be shocked when God subverts your Sunday school lesson, or even the sermon you're preaching!  John gives us an example.

After railing on the religious leaders for being dead trees, lifeless waste to God's purposes, Jesus shows up to be baptized.  John, as delicately as a camel hair clothed prophet can, tells Jesus that it seems Jesus should baptize John.  John can't sort out the connection between sinners repenting in baptism and Jesus getting baptized.  Most of us can't.  We come up with some interesting theories.

The most popular answer as to why Jesus was baptized was so he could be an example to us.  But we don't shout that.  We mumble that.  It kinda makes sense,  but not really.  Does that mean he is faking it?  Or is this some way of him 'identifying' with us, as if  he were a sinner like us?  After all, didn't shakespeare say "To err is human, to forgive is divine"?

Uhh, no.  Alexander Pope said that, and he was technically wrong.  Adam was human prior to sin, and Jesus was human without sin.  Sin is not an essential component of being human.  Sin is being sub-human.  That's the problem, something is not right with us.  We are all off.  But we want to be right; right with God, right with ourselves, right with others.  How?  We repent of turning away from God and turn to God.  Here is the key: rebels have to take off their rebel colors before they can put on their royalist colors.

The main aspect of baptism is not what you are turning from.  I can quit smoking and drinking and quoting crude movies and cussing out bad drivers and eating carbs and all the other pernicious sins that come to mind and still not be loyal to God.  The repentance is from wrong thinking (whatever varieties you may have).  That is diverse.  What is unifying is what you are repenting toward.  You are saying not that, but this.  I want God in charge of my life.  If you have had other loyalties you must renounce them in order to fully commit to God as your definitive loyalty.  When I committed to my wife, I renounced all others.  The point is not those I am not devoted to, the point is the one I am devoted to.  Jesus had no other love than God.  Unlike us, he never fell for any variety of turning to the creation instead of the Creator.  Like us, he was baptized into the Kingdom of Heaven, the rule of God, publicly declaring his allegiance.  The difference is we had to take off rebel colors; he never wore them.

In World War II Mussolini lead Italy to join the Axis powers in fascist aggression.  The Allies fought against the Axis powers.  Due to the holocaust and other factors, it was about as clear a version of good vs. evil as human wars get.  The Italians fought as the bad guys.  They were rebellious against good.  The interesting thing was that Italy was given a chance to repent.  They renounced their allegiance to the Axis powers, and pledged loyalty to the Allies, and were then granted the privilege of fighting for right instead of wrong.

The call to repentance is the call to renounce the ways you have been part of the historically sweeping problem of the Axis of evil.  But, that is not the main point.  The point is not what you are against, but what you are for.  To reject the Axis powers is not the same as affirming the Allied powers.  Your call is to affirm what is right, and in order to do that, you need to clearly renounce allegiance to what is wrong.  That is what baptism is.

My grandfather had lung cancer.  He was a tough old guy.  After a terribly painful procedure, he insisted on being at church on Sunday.  The pastor was concerned that Woody thought somehow that being at church would give him good standing with God or something.  We can be like that.  Thinking our baptism ritual, or church attendance, or the Lord's supper, gains us credits with God.  But my grandfather reassured the pastor.  "Oh no, I'm not trying to earn points with God.  I'm here because I want it be clear who's side I'm on."

This issue is loyalty.  Our baptism is our public declaration of loyalty to God and his Kingdom.  The Lord's supper is our corporate celebration of the grace of God which makes us worthy to be wearing royal colors, to be included in the family of God, to be guided towards wise and right living over and against foolish and destructive living.  God in charge is good news, baptism and the Lord's supper are good expressions of that goodness.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

N.T. Wright and new labels for the 5 columns

Creation - Fall - Redemption - Transformation - Completion
Those were some of the earliest headings for my diagram of trying to tell the broad story of life revealed in the Bible.   While studying for a sermon on the baptism of Jesus, I came across something from Tom Wright that offers new headings:

Jesus’s own baptism and his carefully planned Last Supper both point back to the original exodus (the coming-through-the-water moment), point behind that to the original creation itself, and finally point on to Jesus s death and resurrection as the new defining reality, the moment of new covenant, new creation. And to achieve that renewal it was necessary to go, not just through the water and out the other side, but through a deeper flood altogether. All the multiple layers of meaning that were already present in baptism were now to be recentered on the event of Jesus’s death and resurrection. Through the water into God’s new world...  The point is that the story which baptism tells is God’s own story, from creation and covenant to new covenant and new creation, with Jesus in the middle of it and the Spirit brooding over it. In baptism, you are brought into that story... Through the water to become part of God’s purpose for the world.
Creation  >  Covenant  -  JESUS  -  New Covenant  <  New Creation

A significant launching point for this project for me has been the missionary message to pagan idolatry, particularly Acts 17 on Mars Hill.  The primary issue to be framed is CREATION VS CREATOR.  In animistic settings it is explicit.  Don't worship a thing you create, even if it is inhabited by a spirit, which is also created.  In materialistic post-spiritual communities it is more implicit.  It comes off as labored to explain the idolatry of living to your own appetites (though it is just as true an expression of idolatry as worshipping a decorated rock).  
The issue that has bugged me is the lack of attention given to the massive story of Israel.  I can draw it out in column 2, but it takes some doing.  The diagram shows human hearts upside down, pressed down under an upside down world.  Arrows point up, representing our souls gasping for life.  The created desire to worship our God gets intercepted by the oppressively present fallen creation.  Ruled by the 'powers and principalities' we have a million and one forms of idolatry, but it is all to 'ha satan' the adversary of the One True God.
What is implicit in column 2 is that the Creator is not without a witness.  In creation, yes, but particularly in the covenant people of Israel.  The arrow descending from column 2 to column 3 represents the incarnation of Jesus (John 1, Philippians 2, etc).  BUT, the arrow is amplified by Hebrews 1:
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son