Some time ago I came across this post which relays a marvelous quote from John Wesley. I repost the quote in full:

John Wesley writing to John Trembath (August 17, 1760):

What has exceedingly hurt you in time past, nay, and I fear, to this day, is lack of reading. I scarce ever knew a preacher who read so little. And perhaps, by neglecting it, you have lost the taste for it. Hence your talent in preaching does not increase. It is just the same as it was seven years ago. It is lively, but not deep; there is little variety; there is no compass of thought. Reading only can supply this, with meditation and daily prayer. You wrong yourself greatly by omitting this. You can never be a deep preacher without it, any more than a thorough Christian. Oh begin! Fix some part of every day for private exercise. You may acquire the taste which you have not; what is tedious at first will afterward be pleasant. Whether you like it or not, read and pray daily. It is for your life; there is no other way; else you will be a trifler all your days, and a pretty, superficial preacher. Do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow. Do not starve yourself any longer. Take up your cross and be a Christian altogether. Then will all the children of God rejoice (not grieve) over you…

I’d love to see some stats on what and how often modern preachers read on a weekly basis, for most sermons today seem very much like ol’ Trembath’s: “lively, but not deep; there is little variety; there is no compass of thought.”


Ransoming the Holidays

Easter Bunny at Christmas cartoon 1Hark the herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled”

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel

“Hark the Herald Angels Sing” is as much an Easter carol as it is a Christmas carol. Indeed, there would be no Christmas without Easter. Jesus’ humble birth, however miraculous, would have been a forgotten historical anomaly had he not been raised in victory. Wesley’s famous hymn calls to mind Gregory of Nyssa’s infamous fishhook analogy:

[A]s has been said before, it was not in the nature of the opposing power to come in contact with the undiluted presence of God, and to undergo His unclouded manifestation, therefore, in order to secure that the ransom in our behalf might be easily accepted by him who required it, the Deity was hidden under the veil of our nature, that so, as with ravenous fish, the hook of the Deity might be gulped down along with the bait of flesh, and thus, life being introduced into the house of death, and light shining in darkness, that which is diametrically opposed to light and life might vanish; for it is not in the nature of darkness to remain when light is present, or of death to exist when life is active. (Gregory of Nyssa, Dogmatic Treatises, Etc. XXIV)

This colorful imagery is echoed by Martin Luther:

[H]e suffered, died, and descended into hell that he might overcome them all. Now since it was such a one who did all this, and death and hell could not swallow him up, these were necessarily swallowed up by him in a mighty duel; for his righteousness is greater than the sins of all men, his life stronger than death, his salvation more invincible than hell. (Martin Luther, On Christian Liberty)

In an ultimate act of poetic justice, God deceivers the Deceiver, devours the Devourer; the roaring Lion gets eaten by the bleating Lamb. The Resurrection therefore fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy that the Lord will “swallow up death forever” (Is 25:8), which serves as the basis of our own hope of resurrection—that “death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor 15:4) and that  “what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Cor 5:4).

Evangelicals tend not to observe continuity between Christian holidays. The very concept of a liturgical year is foreign to most nondenominational churches, probably due to excessive paranoia of revering lifeless religious traditions (only to replace them with lifeless traditions of their own). It may also be due to the fact that for a liturgical year to be meaningfully implemented, a decent amount of thought and reflection is required (which, coincidentally, have also been replaced by various forms of passive entertainment).

The Tithing Conspiracy

tithingThe authors of this website (from which I’ve culled the picture below), “are convinced that many Christians suffer materially, physically and spiritually because they have been misappropriating that which belongs to God.” By “misappropriating that which belongs to God,” they mean, of course, not tithing. The quote evinces several pagan status quo Christian beliefs that suck the life blood out of the cross. I’ve dealt elsewhere with the question of whether one’s material or physical sufferings can be attributed to divine punishment for sin. But for not tithing!?—that adds a new twist! Continue reading

The Case of Ananias and Sapphira

One might wonder about how to understand the case of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-10) in light of the main point of my earlier post, which was that misfortune should not be interpreted as divine punishment for sin. Because the passage does not say God punished Ananias and Sapphira for their sin, a careful look at the passage—while bearing in mind other truths taught in scripture—will have to be given to see whether that interpretation is justified. I will consider three interpretations of the passage (the interpretations are not meant to be exhaustive, nor incompatible with each other in every respect).
Continue reading

The Golden Calf has become a Fattened Cow: III

In the previous post, I note that the idea that “our Father’s house” is a localized place with walls and a ceiling is decisively shattered by Jesus on the cross. With the ushering in of the new covenant was a new concept of just where our Father’s dwells. Stephen defends this new covenant concept before the Jewish Sanhedrin. Although our ancestors “provided a dwelling place for the God of Jacob,” Stephen says, it is now the case that “the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands.” Those who fail to realize this Stephen calls “stiff-necked people” whose “hearts and ears are still uncircumcised” and who “resist the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:44-51). Paul echoes Stephen’s dying words when he says “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands” (Acts 17:24).

goldencalfPaul reinforces the concept in his pastoral efforts at Corinth with a rhetorical question,
as if the Corinthian believers had forgotten the obvious: “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” Paul concludes, “For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:19-20).

Most who worship their sanctuaries do so because they think they are holy places. Both the spirit and letter of the New Testament testifies that our very bodies are holy places with which we are able to worship and honor God at all times, in all places, in all situations. Why would we prefer to limit such worship to one place? Are we scared of what it may look like to live a genuine Christian life of love and sacrifice? Why are we so insistent upon rebuilding walls that Jesus died to destroy?

Fattened cows are an insult to the spotless lamb.

The Golden Calf has become a Fattened Cow: II

In the previous post, I point out that status quo Christianity has fashioned a shiny idol out of the church building, in particular the “sanctuary”. Continuing on…

Have you ever been one who reads through the Gospels wondering something like, “I know Jesus was loving, but damn, He sure seems pissed off about anything that is associated with the Temple and Sabbath.” If so, you’re a very observational reader – and you’re right. So why is he so pissed? The Temple and the Sabbath were signposts that pointed towards something greater to come – Jesus, God himself in the flesh. To go on obsessing over the Temple and Sabbath would be like marveling at your bride’s wedding dress, refusing to take it off, back in the hotel on your wedding night. There comes a time to cast off that which hinders and celebrate what has come.

Consider what Jesus himself said of the Sabbath, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Similarly, are our church buildings built for us, or are we at their mercy? Indeed, the very concept of “a church building” is foreign to the New Testament, which identifies the people themselves as the Church. As Christians, we are no longer confined to a localized place of worship. Jesus rebukes the woman at the well for thinking in such terms. “The kind of worshippers that the Father seeks,” Jesus says, are those that “worship God in spirit and in truth” because “God is spirit” (i.e., everywhere present) (John 4:19-24).

Jesus’ crucifixion marks the decisive end to thinking there is some fixed, consecrated place of holy ground on which to worship. The veil of the Temple was torn. This is why it is illegitimate to appeal to Jesus’ cleansing the temple to support the thought that “the Father’s house,” i.e., the church building or church sanctuary, is a “holier” place than, say, my bathroom. This episode occurs prior to Jesus’ ushering in of the new covenant; when worship in (and of) the temple was still the norm. But that norm was about to be supplanted in just a few short days. Jesus foreshadows this by declaring, to Jews’ indignation, “destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” Jesus was going to radically change their idea of what the Father’s house was. Moreover, it also doesn’t hurt to point out that what sent Jesus into a fury was the immoral nature of the practices going on in the temple. He drove out those who turned his Father’s house into “a den for robbers.” By thinking of the Father’s house as a localized building, we repeat their sin by robbing ourselves of appreciating God’s awesome invitation to dwell exclusively within us instead.

The Golden Calf has become a Fattened Cow: I

Everyone shuffles in to find their seat – some are excited and eager, others dragged along by peers. For some this may even be their first time at the show. The chatting and energy reach a sudden halt as the lights dim and the previews come on, informing you of other attractions and sources of entertainment. Finally, the previews end and you’ve arrived at the Feature Presentation. After some laughter, maybe even a few tears, the audience clears out of their seats and to the exits. Some speak of how they’ve seen that one before, and it remains just as good; others complain that they did not get their money’s worth.

Have I just described your last trip to the theaters, or your last visit to church? I’m not sure, but at least one can enjoy a Coke and some popcorn at the movies. Do that at most churches and people may look at you as if you’ve pissed in the baptistery.

people-are-the-churchThe Church began as a community of believers who had to sacrifice everything to meet the needs of the others. Churches now often consist of empty buildings that sacrifice the needs of believers for the selfish ignorance of the masses. When did we lose our boldness to call out such blatant sin? I suppose believers of all cultures and eras have a rich history of idol worship. The wandering nation that left Egypt had the golden calf. Many kings of both the northern and southern kingdoms had their Asherah poles and high places. Those in Paul’s day had to contend with the Roman pantheon. And we have our “sanctuaries,” among a billion other things.

Like most idol worship, the intentions seem well enough. Believers want to set aside a distinct place for God, a place where they can feel as though they are closer, more intimate – a place of reverence. And like most idol worship, in spite of the good intentions, it demonstrates a true case of missing the point – and the point is that we often build idols of things God has already given us. We spend countless dollars, hours, and tears building a place to meet our innermost needs of “worship” when in reality we need not look any further than the mirror. “What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?” Paul asks. “For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people'” (2 Cor 6:16). It seems as though we were too burdened with the responsibility of bearing the Spirit that we are far more content to hand over such power to an inanimate building. Maybe, it’s not that we reject the promises of God; perhaps we’ve never taken the time to actually shut up and listen to them.

If you’re not sure if your sanctuary is presently being worshipped, consider if you’ve heard anything like this:

Weddings are good, but we cannot allow you to eat in the sanctuary. There’s an unquestioned rule about not making messes in the sanctuary. Do not question the rule.


Sometimes our kids use the back of the sanctuary for games. Somehow they’ve gotten the idea that it could be a fun place. I saw them sometimes play, chase each other, throw things in the back of the sanctuary. I frown upon it as this is a holy place to worship God.

I hope these actual quotations bring you indescribable grief. Such nonsense led Jesus to the cross. Stay turned for parts II and III.