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Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives. (Paul the Apostle, Letter to the Galatians, 4:19, NLT)

This line from Paul has stayed with me for two days. It comes from a section of the Galatian letter when Paul has shifted from teaching to recounting his personal relationship with the Galatians and the love he has for them. The metaphors here are especially insightful.

Paul isn’t in labor pains for the Galatians to come to faith as new believers. That’s already a reality. No, Paul is in “labor” as the Galatians are struggling in their journey toward Christ being “fully formed” in their lives. In other words, Paul is watching the struggle of real disciples, in the growth process, and his heart is the heart of a mother in labor and a father who longs to see a healthy child.

The Galatians aren’t the Corinthians, but they are in a mess. Flatterers have taken them down the road of a false Gospel. What was a solid church plant is at real risk, but Paul is not just concerned about doctrinal correctness. He is concerned over what will be the result of moving away from Jesus and the work of the Spirit, instead encouraging a dependence on flesh and the works righteousness of the old covenant. He sees dark results ahead if the Galatians lose this battle. Continue Reading »

I can’t speak for anyone else, just for me.

When I became a Christian in 1974, I was immediately taught to define myself three ways.

First, did I believe that I was a sinner and that Jesus died for my sins so I could go to heaven?

Second, was I doing the the things my church taught me to do: attend worship, pray, read the Bible, tithe, “witness”, come to Sunday School, be a good Baptist?

Third, was I not doing the things my church taught me were sinful: drink, dance, use drugs, watch R-rated movies, listen to rock music, have sex outside of marriage, use profanity, work on Sundays, marry a Catholic?

That was the menu. Simple. Comprehensive. Understandable. Continue Reading »

rbr4Step into the study, pour yourself a cup of coffee, get comfortable and let’s enjoy the Gospel of Mark.

Our passage today is Mark 2:-12 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . .” He said to the paralytic, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (NIV) Continue Reading »

Twelve Words of Jesus That Would Change Everything….If We Believed Them, by Dan Edelen

This may not be Dan’s take, but for me, this is a unique way to approach the “Law/Gospel” Issue. These are Jesus’ Kingdom ethics. It’s his amplification of the law, and his picture of what it means to follow him as King.

What’s needed? The cross. The Good News that for all of us who fall short of all of these all the time, there is a place of forgiveness, and a way to live for Jesus even if we can’t follow him perfectly or even consistently.

rbr4Step into the study, pour yourself a cup of coffee, get comfortable and let’s enjoy the Gospel of Mark.

Our passage today is Mark 1:29-45 29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them. That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was. Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else–to the nearby villages–so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured. Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere. (NIV) Continue Reading »

jesushalfThe past year and a half has been the most personally tumultuous time I’ve ever experienced as a Christian believer. At one time or another in this past year, I have re-evaluated every area of my Christianity, often with many tears, prayers and hours of reading. Much of this has been in response to the questions raised by my recent encounters with Roman Catholicism.

I entitled this adventure “Jesus Shaped Spirituality.” It’s a catchy and provocative label, but I’m not sure I could have come to your church and given a talk on what I meant by the phrase.

Today, I’m at a different place on that journey. I’ve now come to the place that Jesus shaped spirituality has some feel, form and substance for me. I have some confidence and comfort in expressing what I’ve discovered, reaffirmed and began to express to others.

I want to be clear that I am not trying to “return to primitive Christianity” or “reinvent the church.” What I am doing is developing a tool, a grid or filter, to interpret Christianity wherever I encounter it, by asking basic questions about Jesus. If I am going to be faulted, it will be for this: I am determined to be satisfied with nothing short of a Jesus-shaped Christianity, as best I can understand what that means.

This isn’t a staking a claim for a new denomination, but simply an expression of the shape of discovering, knowing and following Jesus as the one who reveals both the Father and the shape of human experience.

What does Jesus-shaped spirituality look like? Continue Reading »

rbr4Step into the study, pour yourself a cup of coffee, get comfortable and let’s enjoy the Gospel of Mark.

Our passage today is Mark 1:21-28 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!” “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching–and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.” News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

In this passage we see Jesus in two roles that are essential to understanding him: teacher and exorcist. Certainly most Christians are comfortable with the image of Jesus as a teacher and this image influences a great deal of our conception of Christianity. Picturing Jesus as an exorcist, however, raises problems for many modern, western minds. Exorcism is associated with a primitive and pre-scientific world-view, particularly in the area of mental and physical illnesses. It is interesting to note that those Christians who embrace this aspect of the Gospel presentation of Jesus are rapidly growing all over the world, while those churches that have accommodated the modern worldview and exorcised the demonic from Christianity are dwindling in influence and numbers. Continue Reading »