Tag Archives: Bible

Quick Review: The Blue Parakeet

As I continue on with my summer vacation reading, I’m getting a chance to hit some books I’ve wanted to read for a while, but haven’t had much margin to read.  One of these was Scot McKnight’s The Blue Parakeet – Rethinking How You Read the Bible.

One of the great surprises of my seminary experience several years ago was how much I loved reading and studying content related to Hermeneutics as well as the doctrine of Revelation (not the book, but of how God reveals Himself).  Going in I thought The Blue Parakeet was another “Intro to Hermeneutics” book with a more narrative focus (which I was quite motivated enough to read).

However, it’s more than that.  It’s a book that provides a conceptual as well as practical framework for how to read the Scriptures, particularly those texts that most suffer from poor or bad interpretive approaches.

I think McKnight does an excellent job illustrating the narrative nature of Scripture with its contextual DNA all the way through.  I think it’s very helpful as it relates to figuring out an approach or a game plan to read the Bible and navigating the harder to interpret passages.  In particular, I really appreciated his emphasis of the role of the covenant community of Israel as the context for much of God’s revelation and unveiling of His story.  Our contemporary gospel presentations tend to skip that part, yet that is where so much of the narrative is deepened and grounded.

A quarter of the book if not more is a “case study” if you will of how to interpret hard passages in light of the larger Story of God and in light of the context of specific books in Scripture.  He chooses the issue of women in ministry (& ministry leadership).  I think it’s an excellent case study to illustrate both the process of anchoring biblical interpretation in the larger Story of God and honoring the contexts that birthed the texts in question.  It’s also an excellent case study given how controversial the topic tends to be in many evangelical circles, but the case study illustrates a strong case to re-examine what things we are letting influence our interpretations.

I highly recommend it.  It provides great tools for thinking about how to read and interpret Scripture. It provides a solid conceptual framework.  And it provides some very practical direction for tackling traditional land mines in Scripture.   I know many of my friends would have their counter-arguments ready at points, but I think McKnight’s framework and approach would hold up just fine.

Also check out my posts on a couple other McKnight books, “Junia is Not Alone” and “King Jesus Gospel” – both of which are excellent.

Epic Resilient E-Book

This past week was the national staff conference for my ministry (Epic) which I had the privilege to direct with an awesome design team and the help of many. As part of the conference I helped put together an e-book from many of the different great writings from Epic staff this past year.

I hope you enjoy it if you ever get the chance to check it out. It’s starts with a series that we ran on the Epic Resource site called, “Nine Elements of a Servant Leadership Reproduction Culture” with an additional intro and conclusion to it.  Part Two is my friend and teammate Adrian Pei’s new article called “A New Kind of Charge: Reframing Contextualization and Mission.” Part Three is a collection of 23 blogs from Epic staff from 2011-2012. Then finally, there’s an article I wrote after coaching many of our staff last summer in an Introduction to Hermeneutics course on the connections between Hermeneutics and doing cross-cultural ministry.  It’s called “A Three Cultures Approach to Engaging Scripture and Cross-Cultural Ministry.”

Both mine and Adrian’s articles are drafts so feel free to pass on any thoughts.  All in all – 101 pages of resources from about 17 authors (all Epic staff and interns) in total.

The mobi version works if you have a kindle or a kindle app on some other device.  If you can’t upload it manually to your device, you should have a kindle assigned email that allows you to send it to your kindle app.  I included an epub as that’s a common format for many other ereading devices.

Right click and save as…..

Epic Resilient E-book Kindle Version (mobi)

Epic Resilient E-book    .epub format

And for the non e-reader folks….here the pdf version…




Advent and the Anxious Leaders

To follow my advent related post this last week called “Advent and the Most Pernicious Program of All”, I wanted to post another advent related reflection.  Much is made about Jesus coming as a baby, but less focus is given to what environment Jesus was born into as it relates to the political and religious climate.  This was originally titled “Herod & Jerusalem” and posted three years ago on Dec. 19th, 2007.


Over the past year I’ve spent a lot of time studying the book of Matthew. I’ve been motivated by the clear contrasts between Jesus and the variety of leaders that Matthew intentionally holds up to his example. Given this being the season of advent, I’ve been reading the early chapters again and a couple verses that have been giving me a lot of food for thought all year are back in my mind. They are Matthew 2:1-4:

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.“ When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.

Maybe it’s simplified Sunday School education that has stuck with me, but Herod is frequently portrayed as an insecure, power hungry leader who is conspiring to preserve his reign by eliminating all threats to power. All that he most definitely was. However, what has been in my mind most of the year when thinking about the incarnation of Jesus are those words, “…and all Jerusalem with him.”

It would seem that to attribute the threat of Herod against Jesus to one man’s insatiable drive for power and glory would be to minimize the far reaching impact of what it would mean for Israel if the Messiah, the promised deliverer and King, were to come. But what does it mean that all of Jerusalem was troubled with Herod? Could it mean that there was a wide spread fear among the establishment of anything messing up their delicate rule in the shadow of Rome? Were people’s fears different? Were the chief priests or scribes afraid of the same thing as Herod or other political leaders?

I had never really locked on to the implications of these verses in my understanding of the climate that Jesus was born into, but I think it reflects the general tone of 1st century Judaism into which Jesus entered and eventually challenged. Israel, especially the establishment, was already in a state of great fear and anxiety before Jesus every even preached his first sermon or performed his first miracle. The leaders of the day were already afraid of a rival leader who would stir up the peoples’ loyalties, putting their own leadership to the test. It should not be a surprise that Jesus is met with the hostility that he was. The writing was on the wall before he was even born. Those in power valued the status quo so much in their hopes of keeping things under control and manageable that they feared the arrival of a leader who could offer so much more.

I still don’t know all of what it meant that “all Jerusalem” was troubled at the news of the arrival of the Messiah along with Herod. But I do know that at a fundamental level they feared change and allowed Herod to lead out of his own fear and insecurity. I think it is reasonable to conclude that behind every madman and power driven leader, there’s a pretty insecure, anxious, and dysfunctional system that allows that to be the case. Herod wasn’t the only one threatened by change, all of Jerusalem’s leadership was just as threatened.

Do those words “and all Jerusalem with him” add to or change your view of the Christmas story? It adds to and enriches my own understanding, though it perhaps raises more questions for me than provides answers. It also can raise a lot of interesting thoughts related to the mindset of the people that Jesus was encountering over the course of his life and ministry as well.

Feel free to add any of your own additional insights into this passage. I’m curious what ideas this may stir in others.

Advent and the Most Pernicious Program of All

Here’s the third post in my Advent and Star Trek series where we actually get to the advent part! This was originally posted on December, 3, 2011

So have you ever thought of Star Trek’s “Borg” and Advent in the same thought and discussion?  Probably not.  But here it goes.  Of course context helps as this is part three of a three part mini-blog series entitled “collective fusion” so you can get part one here (Collective Fusion: Resistance is Not Futile) and part two here (Self: The Most Pernicious Program of All). This won’t have the same meaning or coherence without that backdrop 🙂

In part two, I mentioned the quote from the Stark Trek episode I stumbled upon while hanging out late night with my infant daughter.  In response to a crisis about whether to return a lost Borg to its collective with its memory or erase it, the captain says, “Perhaps that’s the most pernicious program of all – the knowledge of self being spread throughout the collective in that brief moment might alter them forever.”

As I’ve been thinking about the incarnation of Christ now that it’s the beginning of Advent, I see some connections with the role Jesus played when he, to use The Message’s version of John 1, “moved into the neighborhood.”

Even a person without faith should marvel at the life of Christ – particularly as it relates to his ability from the age of 12 and during the course of his public ministry to live out of His true self and His true identity and conversely his capacity to not let others define him or co-opt him.

Jesus entered into a volatile political climate with a lot of intensity and anxiety about religion and the law as well as in local politics.  Much of what does not get discussed frequently about Jesus is just how many forces there were that consistently sought to hijack who Jesus was and what He was about for their own purposes.  The Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Romans, and even the disciples and the masses all directed hopes and expectations at times towards him in an effort to get Him to conform to their agenda and paradigm of religion and spirituality.

Jesus never conformed or compromised.  For clarity – he was uncompromising as it relates to his identity and his values and vision of what God intended for people to live out and experience as opposed to being uncompromising related to doctrinal debates.

Jesus’ presence as a real human in real human community and social/political/economic life altered the entire system into which he was born.  Jesus didn’t alter, compromise, or surrender his identity or self for the many anxious folk around him.   And as a result, lives were transformed and the world was changed forever.

As you think about this holiday season – think about some of those moments in which Jesus was being tempted to surrender himself (His very self!) to others to eliminate their anxiety and fear.  How about when Peter rebukes Jesus when Jesus decides it’s time to go to Jerusalem?  How about when Jesus is being questioned by Pontius Pilate?  How about even when Jesus is 12 and is questioned by his parents when they left Jerusalem without him?  How about when Jesus he is a target of political and religious scheming in many of the debates between the Pharisees and Sadducees?  How about when the demands of the poor and the sick never cease to come to him?  Or when he is being tortured and killed?

Jesus never conformed or forfeited his own self and identity.  And he ultimately was killed as a result.  But that was the plan wasn’t it?  To reveal in flesh the image of God and the will and heart of God?  He no doubt knew what was coming and the price that comes with such a revolution.  Yet he had the character and integrity of self to forge through the anxiety and the pain that stood between Him and fulfilling His calling.Never before or since has such a self transformed people’s lives and the world in which He lived.  It was the perfect execution of “the most pernicious program of all” and the power at work then is the same power at work today.

So this Advent season, you may not think of the Borg naturally, but at least think of Jesus as the one who’s presence and power can move into any “neighborhood” (family, community, workplace…) and change it forever.  But for any of us to see that happen, we first and foremost need that presence and power to change us – shaping and conforming us into the type of “self” that can engage in transformational and redemptive ways with those around us without getting co-opted for the sake of alleviating others’ anxiety, insecurity, or fear.

Where do you hope to embody that same power and presence that comes from God this Christmas season?

And with that I can say I’ll probably go another 700 posts before hitting anything Star Trek related again 🙂

Brief Review – Scripture as Communication

Finished recently Scripture as Communication:  Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics.  This was a book written by one of my professors at Bethel Seminary during my long stretch going there part-time between 2004 and 2011.  Jeannine Brown was my Introduction to Hermeneutics as well as one of my Greek profs.  I found her to be a great teacher and an awesome woman.

The book is really good. I had waiting much of the last year to read it because I wanted to read it while at the same time as I was serving as a TA/Coach in the Intro to Hermeneutics course that I’ve been working in the last couple of weeks.

It’s different a bit from most Bible Study Method or Intro to Hermeneutic books in that half of it is dedicated to the theory of Hermeneutics – what shapes meaning and how does one ascertain meaning in written communication shaped many generations ago.  There’s not much out there that seeks to provide an intro to Hermeneutic Theory while there’s plenty that seeks to provide practical help for understanding the Bible.  This book tackles that two as the second half is dedicated to the more practical elements of studying Scripture.

But aside from the strong theory content, there are several chapters dedicated to contextualization and really the practical side of contextualization as well as the ethics of contextualization – which involves discovering original meaning of a text in a different context and discovering and applying that meaning in a different context and era and situation.  I really thought some of this content was fantastic.

Not everyone is into studying the theoretical side, but I find it incredibly valuable and engaging – and dare I say it, exciting! The exciting thing about sound and thick theories is that they bring such great possibilities in understanding and application.  And they help provide good correctives against poor assumptions and approaches.

If you have time and want to explore the issues related to discovering original meaning in the Bible as well as in how to make appropriate parallels and application in contemporary settings, this would be a great book for that purpose.

Seeing What You Want. Not Seeing What You Don’t Know.

I’ve been in the process of Teaching/Coaching in an Introduction to Hermeneutics class for my ministry.  It’s been fun and I’ve been thinking tons about meaning.

But here’s a great quote from one of my former professors Jeannine Brown in her book called Scripture as Communication,

“As one writer has put it,  readers of Scripture are to be self-suspicious. We should not suppose  that we always “get it right” in our interpretations. In fact, we should expect to be confronted regularly by new, and not always comfortable,   truth as we read. As one of my colleagues notes, we need to be ready to hear the iconoclastic messages of the Bible.” (Kindle Verson, Loc 1448-51)

There’s two ways we undermine the process of getting at meaning when reading the Bible (or reading some other things maybe do). First is the baggage of our own culture that we unconsciously project onto something else.  We should always know we bring our own culture into reading the Bible.  Some of us sometimes forget we have a culture, but we all have one and we’re all affected by it when we’re trying to understand and know. Second, we can screw up our understanding and knowing by projecting onto the Bible or other things what we want it to mean.

So sometimes we see what we want to see.  Other times we don’t see what we can’t see.  Either way – we’re often not seeing what we’re supposed to see or what there is to see.

Love C.S. Lewis’s quote in Reflections on the Psalms,

“Almost anything can be read into any book  if you are determined enough.”

We should always seek for humility and honesty about ourselves when we dive into the Scriptures (and also when we dive into other cultures too).

How do you stay humble and honest in this way?


Those Who Make Them Become Like Them

One of my unique interests is observing the impact on organizations and systems upon personal and leadership formation.  That’s a lot of fancy words for saying I pay a lot of attention to and I think a lot about what kind of impact the environments or cultures people are in have on those individual and community senses of identity and meaning among other things.

I’ve been studying the whole book of the Psalms over the past three months and there’s a brief excerpt that caught my attention in Psalm 115 related to idolatry.  I’ll pull out a section, but the Psalmist is contrasting the one true God of Israel with the false gods of the surrounding peoples. He compares the true hope that the Israelites have in the their God to the false hope that the surrounding idol worshiping people have to fabricate for themselves.  Here’s vs. 4-8 speaking of the idols of the surrounding nations hostile to Israel.

4 Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
5They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
6They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
7They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.
8 Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them.

If you’ve been in leadership for any period of time, you’ve had to have entered into a discussion about structures and systems and the relationship between form and function.  If not, maybe you know the phrase “sacred cow” as it speaks to the phenomena of things or structures or processes that were established that now have taken on a life of their own to the point where there is great difficulty allowing for any change to take place.  In fact, this is so common it’s probably impossible for you not to have encountered it.

But check out Psalm 115: 8 and let it sit with you a bit:   “Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.”

As people who long for safety, security, comfort, and control – we just can’t seem to help but default to trying to create a working order that allows for us to try to feel like we somehow have a handle on our lives.  In ancient times, while idols were crafted into images of creatures and other things they were connected to and were symbols of things that are not so far off of what we put our hope and trust in today:  financial provision, sexual fulfillment, national security, military dominance, and many other things.   The Psalmist observes the phenomena that what we put our hope in and what we try to control, in ways that reject God’s centrality in our lives, those very creations made in our own image end up turning the tables and begin shaping us in their image. It’s a very deep thought and observation.

While all of this might be more sermon type content thus far, have you ever thought about how organizations and the structures therein function like idols at times?

People lean on tradition and resist change when it is needed.  Tradition, instead of being something that was a progressive working out of mission and values over time, it becomes something like a living entity that holds power over people and many find themselves ending up being defined by the past.

Methodologies and strategies that are once upon a time quite successful for a particular context and time end up almost taking on a larger life force than ever and end up overshadowing driving values and fundamental affirmations that reflect human reality and changing cultures.

Positions and structures that are established to serve the mission and vision end up fueling and shaping people who cannot resist the trappings of being defined by status, position, and power.

There’s idol making going on everywhere, but most of the time we’re immune to it because it’s so normal to our lives and our world.  But organizational idolatry can be quite insidious as it can overtake you as the author of your own values that you choose to live your life out of. You start doing things and making decisions according to “the way things are done” with little self reflection as to what greater truths those decisions are anchored in.

It is true – we shape our organizations and any system we enter.  But they shape us too.  If those systems have a strong dependence on mechanisms for control, conformity, and efficiency – then in the absence of great character, resolve, and involvement in alternative communities you will slowly (or quickly) lose the battle over self and you will be increasingly shaped in your organization’s image.

This is no less true for churches and ministries as it is secular companies.  We can be serving God and proclaiming from the mountaintops the beauty of His intentions for creation and humankind, all the while we go about our business trusting the hierarchies and structures and strategies and tools that “get things done.” If we fail to live in ways keeping with core values and a larger story, we doom ourselves to live shallow and desperate lives that are at the mercy of the faceless power that is at work in the culture and structures of our organizational life.

So are we left to be depressed by the reality that there are active forces seeking to shape us into cogs in a wheel or excel sheets or line items in a budget or high production machines?

By no means!  The tone of the Psalm above in whole is incredibly hopeful. While the pagan nations are left to fabricate hope, all the while being shaped and formed by the images they have created by their own hands and imaginations – Israel is connected to a true hope and a true power that anchors people in a bigger story and reality.  They can stay anchored in larger truths, larger stories, and deeper and more authentic ways of doing life because they are a part of the true story (as opposed to a fabricated one) and they are connected to the author of that story.

Knowing the author of the story doesn’t guarantee that you will fall to the temptation of the idols called pragmatism, hierarchy, control, and production – but there is always a way out when we repent and seek to once again anchor our ways in the true story that transcends any organizational mission or culture.

One of the great challenges of spiritual (not just servant) leadership is to anchor people in the larger story and continue to point out the false promises that come with allowing structures to inform values and not the other way around.

Where do you recognize the forces of culture or organizational life shaping your identity, person, and values?  How do you stay value driven when structures routinely threaten to take over?


Quick Review – God’s Big Picture

This is a short book, but I found it super valuable.  I read this to prepare for being basically a TA in an introductory hermeneutic course for the staff in my organization.  It’s about 150 pages and reads pretty fast.

It traces the whole of the Biblical narrative from Creation to Revelation as it relates to what God was doing at different points in redemptive history.

With the #1 strengthfinder theme of context, I’m always down with stuff that provides help for people to move back and forth between details and the bigger picture.  This book really does it well and would be a great introduction to folks who maybe have never been walked through how do all the seasons of the Bible fit together.  What is God doing from beginning to end?

This would be a great tool for new believers, for anyone looking for tools to more effectively study the Bible or maybe even those who just want to learn about what the Bible is all about from a big picture standpoint – whether believer or just someone intellectually curious.

It’s a good resource to be aware of.  I enjoyed it and will continue to utilize it to keep some of my study efforts anchored in their broader context.


Deserts and Sirens

Last week I was in the desert, Palm Springs to be exact, for a few days for a final break with my whole side of the family.  I love going out there, not because I particularly like being in the sun or because I’m all about swimming pools, but because of the desert scenery.  Those couple days there were partially responsible for my recent blog redesign.I took an Old Testament Survey class a long time ago, maybe 2001, in which the prof – Dr. Mark Futato from RTS did a lot of teaching on the topography and geography of Israel.  He used Southern California as an example of a comparative region where there is a coast, then a range of foothills, then a valley, then mountains and wilderness pretty much.  That has stuck with me and I can help but reflect on what life and travel would have been like in those ancient times.  I imagine what the Palm Springs area would look like without buildings, power lines, imported trees, and other things and it brings me closer to what the elements are that those figures in Scripture had to battle at times.I’m also reading Cadillac Desert, a long historical novel covering the exploration of the Western U.S. along with the consumption and eradication of its water resources over the last couple hundred years or so.  It’s fascinating reading about the Spanish explorers perception of what they encountered in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada and Eastern California.  Basically they felt like it was good for nothing, a total wasteland, and they returned home in shame because they were supposed to find valuable metals and perhaps even the mythical city of Gold Cibola.  The desert conquered those folks and prevented them some of the groundbreaking discoveries that led to the rapid population of the west.I’ve had the same thought the last couple times when I’ve been in the Palm Springs area.  I might have posted them before.  But it goes like this.  If I was an Israelite having to spend years traveling in Wilderness like that – without some satisfying food from time to time, without consistent water, and most of all without air conditioning, then I think I’d want to go back to Egypt too.  When reading the account of the Exodus, it’s far too easy to judge them as if they were like spoiled toddlers or spiritual morons when there is no context for the day to day grind that the experience probably was.  When I get windows into the actual conditions they were dealing with (hot, sweaty, hungry, tired, aching, afraid, insecure) – I become humbled quickly.   I might not have been one to have an orgy around a golden calf (I would hope not!), but I know I would have been tempted by the security and simplicity Egypt offered, oppressive though it was.Our lives are very different from those Israelites in that comforts and luxuries abound, making the day to day grind as easy as it’s ever been.  Yet our faith journey is no different.  It still requires immense faith and hope to follow the voice of God and not give into the temptations of Egypt – and they are EVERYWHERE.  We still must choose to go through the desert and persevere in faith when an easier and perhaps safer life is calling to us with a siren’s allure.  Comforts, Luxuries, and promises of Safety all play games with our heads and our capacity to perceive the spiritual can fade…and fade quickly.I’ll do a follow up post to this soon, but as you think about the role of the elements in temptation – what thoughts come to your mind?  Do you relate more to the Israelites or have insights into WHY they were tempted to sin and grumble and desire material security?