Thursday, November 29, 2007

Just when you thought...

Maybe it is because I am reading Karl Barth again...
Maybe it is because it is the Christmas season...
Maybe it is because Jesus is getting my attention...

but I am remembering what it means to be 'Christocentric' in my understanding of God and the world. Christocentric meaning Christ-centered, meaning Christ is the beginning and the end (and everything in between) for knowing God and the knowing my role in the world that God created and rules.

I was asked today by a small group leader for a recommendation for a study on the life and teachings of the apostle Paul. I was reading through Galatians and I landed on v. 3:13 - Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree."

I remembered the background on this verse and God revealed a new insight to me that I had never considered. The background is Deuteronomy 21:23 and the assertion in the law of Israel that "anyone hung on a tree is under God's curse."

Saul (before Paul) lived his whole life with this assumption in mind. This assumption was apart from the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Apart from Christ, his worldview was shaped by the assumption that anyone who was hung on a tree was under God's curse. The idea of God's anointed one (Messiah) fitting that description was a scandal!

BUT, just when he thought that he had God's ways all figured out, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ changed this specific assumption upside down and then turned Saul's world upside down based on God's revelation of himself in Jesus Christ.

Apart from Christ (and his turning this curse upside down), Saul would have had no reason to question his understanding of God. Saul could have kept his interpretation of Deuteronomy 21:23 but he changed his view of God in light (revelation) of the person and work of Jesus Christ.

This meditation challenges me to consider the conceptions of God that I have that stand apart from Jesus Christ and need to be reworked in light of Christ.

What "just when you thought..." assumptions do I have that need to be changed (repent = change of the mind)?

In his discussion of the doctrine of election, Barth reminded me to avoid relying on human experience or abstract conceptions as my starting point for knowing God when he says on p. 35 of II/2

It is only natural that in spite of all the accompanying good intentions and moments of truth, such statements and decisions are endangered by their doubtful and possibly erroneous starting-point. It is only natural that they can themselves become a danger, perhaps inevitably so. We must at this point recall the basic rule of all Church dogmatics: that no single item of Christian doctrine is legitimately grounded, or rightly developed or expounded, unless it can of itself be understood and explained as a part of the responsibility laid upon the hearing and teaching Church towards the self-revelation of God attested in Holy Scripture."

I'm looking forward to some more "just when you thought..." moments.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Upside Down

Everything is upside down from a few months ago. I lived on the East Coast a few months ago, now I live on the West Coast. I cheered for a team that I thought was heading to the playoffs (the Mets) a few months ago, now I still do not know how they failed to make it. I was an "everyday" person in the church without any expectations a few months ago, now I feel the need to be "on" all the time.

One other area is upside down - my reading life. In seminary, I found myself tired after a long day of theological reading and I drifted toward "practical" books in the evening - leadership, small group ministry, world movements, culture. Now, I swim in real life situations all day as a small groups pastor and I drift toward deep theological reading in the evening.

In the past few days, I returned to a theologian who challenged me during my time at Princeton - Karl Barth. I do not agree with all of Barth's theological starting points but I definitely agree with how he starts (and stays) with Jesus Christ in all of his theological reflections. I am reminded over and over (over and over and over) of God's fulfilled promises in Christ through reading Barth.

I am verbose and I oftentimes use more words than necessary to explain a concept or my feelings. Barth definitely fits that description and I actually enjoy reading his long long long descriptions and insights.

One of my closest friends at seminary challenged me to do an independent study on Barth in order for us to learn how to read him and be able to return to him in future chapters of life. I am in a new chapter of life and I feel like I am still able to read and understand Barth.

Everything is upside down but that is not such a bad thing...

Sunday, November 25, 2007


Sometimes I put on the shuffle option on my ipod and the songs just fall into place.

That happened tonight...

I went for a short drive to return some items the grocery store and library. I hit the shuffle option and then 4-5 songs hit me right where I was - November 24th, 2007 at 4:45 PM...

That time will never come again.

Life is moving fast and I need reminders of just how much I overlook God's grace that comes in more ways than I perceive.

Today, 4-5 songs that basically said, "Jeff, relax and enjoy life a little" brought me back to a state of joy and gratitude.

Shuffle away and see what happens...

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Deep as a Puddle?

Sometimes, I feel like I am a deep person. At other times, I feel like I just float through life. I do know that after my 3 year seminary experience, I have the potential to go deep on a variety of fronts.

Years ago, I sat down with a friend at Dunkin Donuts in Leesburg, Virginia and we talked about the purpose of the church. We witnessed how our church operated with a "come and see" approach with the goal of getting as many people into the building as possible on a Sunday morning. The working assumption was that a person would move from "trying out" a worship service to possibly investigating Christianity to possibly becoming a Christian and then over years and years of classes and sermons would then become a "strong" Christian who would serve in the church (and maybe outside the walls of the church).

We embodied discontent that night at Dunkin Donuts.

That friend introduced me to a few books that challenged my understanding of the church and one year later I found myself at Princeton seminary asking the same questions. I found some answers in my studies of missional theology. The church does not exist merely for itself, the church is called together by Jesus Christ and sent to engage the world with the gospel and to invite others into God's "sphere of rule." Being a Christian, means being a witness to Christ in all aspects of life all the time. I am convinced more than ever that the gospel is shared not merely by words (logical propositions that require intellectual agreement) but by deeds done in Christ's Spirit's power AND explanatory words. Christ is at work through his people.

I learned these patterns. I can envision how they can play out in the local church.

BUT, I still embody discontent right now (and there are no Dunkin Donuts out here near Seattle).


because I heard a description of the church a few days ago that was a deep as a puddle...

Puddles are not deep...

I already was tempted to give up on the local church and I am just getting started. Don't worry, I am not even close to giving up. In fact, I am more motivated than ever to seek the Lord's face for direction on how I can be faithful with my responsibilities as a small groups pastor so that I can enable my local church to engage our Internet-driven culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

If the guy who was with me at Dunkin Donuts (the donut) is reading this, then hear a word of thanks for some great discussions that still ring out in my soul today.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


I remembered tonight why I need to run (and run often!). My last jog was probably 2 weeks ago. The past 1 1/2 weeks included preparing/preaching a sermon, teaching the final two classes on studying scripture, fighting a persistent cough/head cold and a zillion other responsibilities (felt that way).

The first thing to go in times of stress is exercise. I remembered tonight that I should carve out space for exercise as soon as those stressful times comes. I ran for a short 2-3 mile run and now I feel like a new person.

I do not think about anything when I run. I simply run. My brain is empty. I believe that my brain rests during times of exercise. My mind is always on the "go" and I need those times.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


Every so often, I come across a song that simply captures what my soul is singing in that exact moment. I heard the song "Somewhere Only We Know" by Keane multiple times on the radio a few years ago but I never purchased the song. I heard the song again a few days ago and then looked it up.

Today, I took a walk near the Cedar River in my new town of Maple Valley, WA. In many ways, I was built for this town because there are 309483409834089 trails. I needed to step away from the details of church ministry and simply pray and be still before the Lord. I took a walk and I heard this song in the back of my mind, especially as I stood on a bridge and observed the clear water rush over the rocks below.

Here are the lyrics to the song... This is me. Period.

Keane - Somewhere Only We Know

I walked across an empty land,
I knew the pathway like the back of my hand.
I felt the earth beneath my feet,
Sat by the river and it made me complete.
Oh, simple thing, where have you gone?
I'm getting old and I need something to rely on.
So tell me when you're gonna let me in,
I'm getting tired and I need somewhere to begin.

I came across a fallen tree,
I felt the branches; are they looking at me?
Is this the place we used to love?
Is this the place that I've been dreaming of?

Oh, simple thing, where have you gone?
I'm getting old and I need something to rely on.
So tell me when you're gonna let me in,
I'm getting tired and I need somewhere to begin.
SO if you have a minute why don't we go,
Talk about it somewhere only we know?
This could be the end of everything.
So why don't we go, somewhere only we know,
Somewhere only we know.

Oh, simple thing, where have you gone?
I'm getting old and I need something to rely on.
So, tell me when you gonna let me in,
I'm getting tired and I need somewhere to begin.
SO if you have a minute why don't we go,
Talk about it somewhere only we know?
This could be the end of everything.
So why don't we go, so why don't we go,

Hmmm yeahh,

This could be the end of everything.
So why don't we go, somewhere only we know,
Somewhere only we know
Somewhere only we know.