welcome. why "weak on sanctification"?

this accusation is often made about lutheran christians. because we focus so strongly on god's justifying grace in christ, and our continual need, as "sinner-saints," to receive god's gifts of grace through word and sacrament, people say we are "weak on sanctification." i prefer to say we are strong on jesus, whose sanctifying work in our lives is the fruit of the gospel all along our lifelong journey. i would much rather focus on what he has done than on anything i might do.

the weekly discussion

each week I set forth a topic to promote discourse about some aspect of Christianity, the church, or the spiritual life. i would love to hear your perspective and thoughts on each week's subject. these discussions are usually posted on mondays, so if you missed this week's post and would like to catch up on the conversation, just scroll down and join us.

September 28, 2009

the weekly discussion—sept 27

those of you who keep up with religion news know that the ELCA (evangelical lutheran church of america) recently had their 2009 annual churchwide assembly and made some controversial decisions. let me summarize a few of those decisions before opening up a discussion.
  • the ELCA adopted full communion with the united methodist church. controversial to many lutherans, but overshadowed in most coverage by the other decisions made at the cwa.
  • the ELCA adopted the social statement, “human sexuality—gift and trust.” although this social statement deals with many different aspects of human relationships and sexuality, the most controversial part speaks about homosexuality. here is an excerpt from the executive summary of the resolution:
It is only within the last decades that this church has begun to understand in new ways the need of same-gender oriented individuals to seek relationships of lifelong companionship and commitment as well as public accountability and legal support for those commitments. This has led to differing understandings about the place of such relationships within the Christian community. Disagreements exist in this church and in the larger Christian community about whether marriage is also the appropriate term to use to describe similar benefits, protection, and support for same-gender couples entering into lifelong, monogamous relationships.

Although at this time this church lacks consensus on this matter, it encourages all people to live out their faith in the local and global community of the baptized with profound respect for the conscience-bound belief of the neighbor. This church calls for mutual respect and for guidance that seeks the good of all. As we live together with disagreement, the people in this church will continue to accompany one another in study, prayer, discernment, pastoral care, and mutual respect.
the church recognized four different views of this matter within the denomination, and the practical effect is that local churches may deal with this issue as they see fit.
  • the ELCA adopted ministry resolutions allowing the church to recognize homosexual relationships and for the denomination to have homosexuals serve in ministry. Here is an explanation from the ELCA website:
The assembly adopted four resolutions that commit the ELCA to bear one another’s burdens and respect bound consciences in these matters; to allow congregations that choose to do so to find ways to recognize and support lifelong, monogamous, same gender relationships and hold them publicly accountable; and to find a way for people in such relationships to serve as rostered leaders in the ELCA. The fourth resolution points toward a specific way to allow rostering while respecting bound consciences.
needless to say, these decisions have raised an uproar. one group of conservative lutherans met in indianapolis last weekend and laid the groundwork for separating from the denomination and realigning lutheranism in america. one of the largest lutheran churches in the u.s. voted this past weekend to leave and join a more conservative lutheran group. even the united methodist church, with whom the ELCA just joined in full communion, has said they will not welcome any homosexual pastors as they share in ministry together.

on the other hand, i spoke with my pastor sunday and he said we most definitely will not be leaving the ELCA. in his view, the decision is a social policy statement and does not go to the heart of the gospel or affect our doctrine of salvation in christ. furthermore, our church did not participate in the entire process of studying the social statement, we have a rather distant relationship with the larger denomination, and the decision has little or no effect on our life and ministry as a local congregation.

in fact, one of the redeeming characteristics of the ELCA decision is that it clearly recognized the differences of opinion that exist in our churches regarding homosexuality and how to deal with it. and it called people on all sides to respect the "bound consciences" of others as we go into the future together.

gail and i have been members of an ELCA congregation for about a year now. we love our local church, its worship and emphasis. it is a very different experience for us, having been in mostly non-denominational evangelical churches for 30+ years. the evangelical churches of which we were part were more compatible with our beliefs in some areas of doctrine, moral convictions, and worldwide mission emphasis. this includes our understanding that the bible does not set forth homosexual behavior as congruent with god's design for creation. however, as i wrote last year on my other blog, we also saw significant weaknesses and failures in the evangelical church in worship, pastoral theology, missional living among our neighbors, culture war emphases, and many other areas.

frankly, i don't consider myself a part of "american evangelicalism" anymore. i am what michael spencer calls a "post-evangelical". i long for the wisdom of good theology and the lessons of history and tradition to inform my faith. i'm no longer into the next christian fad and i have moved out of the christian ghetto. i love luther as well as lutheran theology and worship, consider myself a reformation, confessional christian, and feel connected to the catholic (universal, historical) church in ways that i never have before.

however... in the mainline churches of today (heirs of the social gospel, higher-critical thinking, and liberal theology), one must come to grips with an entirely different perspective on theological, social, political, and moral issues. the bible is sometimes understood and treated differently. it's a "big tent" approach that forces me to consider many challenging concepts and relationships.

so, i guess i don't really have one question today. can we just have a conversation about all this? i'd like to get feedback from people in mainline churches, evangelical churches, folks who don't go to church at all, etc., about how you would view the situation in the ELCA if you were in our shoes.

don't be shy. let it out. keep it civil, but don't be afraid to express strong opinions strongly.

today's van gogh
path in the woods, 1887

his story—bible study blog up and running

my bible study blog is now up and running. the first two posts give an overview of the bible's structure and story, and a lesson on reading the torah.

hope you'll read along and bring your questions and comments with you.

today's van gogh
still life with bible, 1885

September 26, 2009

the lord's day—sept 27, 2009

17th sunday after pentecost

today's lectionary readings
Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
Psalm 19:7-14
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

today's bach cantatas
bwv 161, "come, sweet hour of death"
bwv 95, "christ is my life"
bwv 8, "dearest god, when will i die?"
bwv 27, "who knows how near my end is to me?"

today's van gogh
the church at auvers, 1890

today's good news

in their book, adventures in missing the point, brian maclaren and tony campolo tell a story called the parable of the race. here's my version of this tale...

there was once a land of incredible boredom and drudgery, and one day an announcement came that there was going to be a race that would cure all that. the promise was that anyone who participated in the race would grow strong and never be unhappy again. many of course, were skeptical, so they just showed up to see what would happen. others came dressed and ready to run.

the runners lined up and the gun went off. then curious things began to happen. one runner took two or three steps and then fell on his knees, crying out, "i've crossed the starting line! this is the happiest day of my life!" he even sang a song of praise thanking god for his grace in letting him take the first step. another racer started running around to the other participants, hugging them and giving them high fives, shouting, "we're in the race! we're in the race! isn't it wonderful, we're in the race!" some of the runners stepped off the track and gathered in a circle to pray, thanking god that they had been considered worthy of being in the race, and praying with deep concern for those who had doubted that the race was real. at one point, one of them took out the race manual that had been written to help the runners, read a portion of it, and they all expressed their agreement with the rules of the race before returning to prayer. the various runners did lots of silly things like this. none of them actually ran the race!

spectators in the stands watched these goings on with bemusement. some muttered their disapproval. some laughed. some decided this whole race thing was a bunch of bunk and went home.

in last week's passage from mark, we watched as jesus' disciples missed the point for a second time when he repeated his announcement that he was going to die on the cross. in fact, they not only missed the point, it scared them silly and they decided it would be best if they just didn't talk about it anymore. instead, they decided to talk about things that interested them, like who was going to get the best seat at the table when jesus set up his kingdom. they completely missed the point.

in today's passage, their adventures in missing the point continue. here we see them concerned about another group who is using jesus' name to cast out evil powers and help people. now you might think that would be something they could support, but instead the disciples get all parochial about it. "hey jesus, they're not in our club. they don't know the secret password, they can't give the secret handshake. tell 'em to stop doing good in your name!" again, missed the point.

so, once more, jesus confronts them in their cluelessness. "you're missing the point!" he tells them. "those folks may seem funny to you, but they at least grasp that my mission is about getting out there and overcoming evil. they are not against us. even if they were just passing out cups of cold water in my name, they would be showing that they get it more than you do!

"you guys just don't realize how important my mission and this journey to the cross is, do you? it's so important that you need to be willing to cut off a hand or a foot to be part of it. you should be willing to pluck out an eye if it will help you see its significance more clearly! you're supposed to be the salt that penetrates the world with my good news and grace. get salty again! stop missing the point and let's start running this race together."

from one clueless disciple who regularly misses the point—thank you, jesus. now, where did i put those running shoes?

September 24, 2009

coming soon...

i have begun working on a new site where i will post bible studies. it will be called, "his story," and i hope to announce the address and first posts in the next week or so.

it is my intention that these will be serious, though brief, studies of the entire bible. posts will include "big picture" studies of larger portions of the bible as well as closer looks at individual passages and chapters.

as always, i will welcome your involvement and responses to these studies. i realize that there are many resources out there, but perhaps you will find a friend here to guide and interact with you as you walk through the pages of god's book.

it's my prayer that our lives will be shaped by his story as we take this journey together.

today's van gogh
still life with bible, 1885

September 22, 2009

you must read...

the article i'm recommending for you to read today represents "weak on sanctification 101". if you want to know what the title of this blog means, or go deeper into the meaning of simul iustus et peccator, here is a great place to begin.

michael spencer, aka "the internet monk," is a favorite blogger of mine, and every once in awhile, i go beyond the current posts, dive in to some of his archives, and find words that are even more remarkably profound and helpful. tonight i found his piece called, "when i am weak: why we must embrace our brokenness and never be good christians," in which michael lays out the lies we tell ourselves and others about sanctification. here's a sampling:

It's remarkable, considering the tone of so many Christian sermons and messages, that any church has honest people show up at all. I can't imagine that any religion in the history of humanity has made as many clearly false claims and promises as evangelical Christians in their quest to say that Jesus makes us better people right now. With their constant promises of joy, power, contentment, healing, prosperity, purpose, better relationships, successful parenting and freedom from every kind of oppression and affliction, I wonder why more Christians aren't either being sued by the rest of humanity for lying or hauled off to a psych ward to be examined for serious delusions.

Evangelicals love a testimony of how screwed up I USED to be. They aren't interested in how screwed up I am NOW. But the fact is, that we are screwed up. Then. Now. All the time in between and, it's a safe bet to assume, the rest of the time we're alive. But we will pay $400 to go hear a "Bible teacher" tell us how we are only a few verses, prayers and cds away from being a lot better. And we will set quietly, or applaud loudly, when the story is retold. I'm really better now. I'm a good Christian. I'm not a mess anymore. I'm different from other people.

What a crock. Please. Call this off. It's making me sick. I mean that. It's affecting me. I'm seeing, in my life and the lives of others, a commitment to lying about our condition that is absolutely pathological. Evangelicals call Bill Clinton a big-time liar about sex? Come on. How many nodding "good Christians" have so much garbage sitting in the middle of their lives that the odor makes it impossible to breathe without gagging. How many of us are addicted to food, porn and shopping? How many of us are depressed, angry, unforgiving and just plain mean? How many of us are a walking, talking course on basic hypocrisy, because we just can't look at ourselves in the mirror and admit what we a collection of brokenness we've become WHILE we called ourselves "good Christians" who want to "witness" to others. Gack. I'm choking just writing this.

You people with your Bibles. Look something up for me? Isn't almost everyone in that book screwed up? I mean, don't the screwed up people- like Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Hosea- outnumber the "good Christians" by about ten to one? And isn't it true that the more we get to look at a Biblical character close up, the more likely it will be that we'll see a whole nasty collection of things that Christians say they no longer have to deal with because, praise God! I'm fixed? Not just a few temper tantrums or ordinary lies, but stuff like violence. Sex addictions. Abuse. Racism. Depression. It's all there, yet we still flop our Bibles open on the pulpit and talk about "Ten Ways To Have Joy That Never Goes Away!" Where is the laugh track?

What was that I heard? "Well....we're getting better. That's sanctification. I've been delivered!" I suppose some of us are getting better. For instance, my psycho scary temper is better than it used to be. Of course, the reason my temper is better, is that in the process of cleaning up the mess I've made of my family with my temper, I've discovered about twenty other major character flaws that were growing, unchecked, in my personality. I've inventoried the havoc I've caused in this short life of mine, and it turns out "temper problem" is way too simple to describe the mess that is me. Sanctification? Yes, I no longer have the arrogant ignorance to believe that I'm always right about everything, and I'm too embarrassed by the general sucktitude of my life to mount an angry fit every time something doesn't go my way. Getting better? Quite true. I'm getting better at knowing what a wretched wreck I really amount to, and it's shut me up and sat me down.

folks, i have been convinced for a long time now that we simply claim too much for "christianity" and know far too little of the actual good news. god displays his mercy in and through broken clay pots, not fine porcelain vases.

read michael's article. clink the link above, read it carefully, and think upon these things.

and may god forgive our triumphalism and pride.

today's van gogh
the novel reader, 1888

September 21, 2009

the weekly discussion—sept 20

each week I will set forth a topic to promote discussion about some aspect of Christianity, the church, or the spiritual life. please join the conversation!

this week's discussion:

"do we need another 'cool' church?"

two postcards came in the mail the other day, advertising the "grand opening" of a new church in town. on the front of one was the word "religion," and it was crossed out, and on the other was a picture of a guy in jeans and sneakers along with the words, "these are my church clothes." the church has a cool, spiritual name—"the journey church," and here is the list of what they say they offer:
  • casual, relaxed atmosphere
  • a community of authentic, caring people
  • great live music (singing is optional)
  • practical, meaningful teaching from the bible
  • a safe, FUN environment for kids
  • church that lasts an hour or less
  • free [local establishment] coffee & doughnuts
along with their contact information, they make this claim about our town: "franklin will never be the same!"

now, i have several questions about this, and i would love to get your feedback. my questions are:
  • do we really need another church like this? in our town of franklin alone, there are at least 9-10 similar small church start-ups or groups, most of which have this same vibe—cool, casual, non-religious christianity. why another?
  • is this list of offerings really what people are looking for in a church and in their faith? and even if they like some of these characteristics, do these things truly represent what a church should be offering? what kind of christianity is being presented here?
  • what does this advertisement say about what the leaders of this church think of the established, more "traditional" churches in town? isn't their self-description a pretty explicit condemnation of the traditional church? where's the christian love and belief in the "catholic" faith with an approach like that?
  • doesn't the very method of marketing imply a "competition" model of church growth that pits them against the other ministries in the area? and isn't their style and aggressive advertising more likely to draw unhappy church people looking for something fresh rather than non-churched people?
  • is it really possible that people won't see through the hype here? "franklin will never be the same!"—really? "authentic, caring people"—really? (have you ever been in a church?). faith without religion—really? isn't this all a bit triumphalistic? can they truly deliver?
come on, folks, have at it. i'm very interested in what you have to say.

today's van gogh
the sower, 1888

September 20, 2009

a week away...

thanks to tom and joyce pickard, and their ministry of providing "christian pastor retreat" cabins, so that those in ministry can have some "sabbath" rest at a reasonable cost, gail and i traveled to northern tennessee last week to enjoy several days of relaxation and hiking. We had quite a bit of rain, which cut our activities down a little, but we were still able to enjoy many of the wonderful sights in the Tennessee and nearby Kentucky hills. the trip was extra special for gail and i, since it was our first "empty nest" trip together.

if you would like to see some of our pictures from the trip, you can see them at our tenn trip 2009 shutterfly share site. enjoy!

today's van gogh

at the foot of the mountains, 1889

view from sunset overlook
big south fork national river and rec area

the lord's day—sept 20, 2009

16th sunday after pentecost

today's lectionary readings
jeremiah 11:18-20
psalm 54
james 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a
mark 9:30-37

today's bach cantatas
bwv 138, "why are you troubled, my heart?"
bwv 99, "what god does, that is done well"
bwv 51, "rejoice unto god in all lands!"
bwv 100, "what god does, that is done well" (III)

today's van gogh
the church at auvers, 1890

today's good news

the darkness can be scary.

recently gail and i had the wonderful opportunity of going to a cabin in the woods of northern tennessee. a couple with a heart for people in vocational ministry offer the gift of a week away for a small donation and the promise that you'll clean up after yourselves. so we went. it was amazingly quiet in those woods at night, and dark. one night, in the wee hours, we heard a loud sound like a knock or something hitting the cabin. it startled us awake. lying there in the quiet, we listened to the sound of our own breath and peered across the dark room and waited. nothing. still nothing. then, bang! something hit again. being the courageous guy i am, i pulled the covers up a little higher and decided to wait some more.

all kinds of thoughts, crazy thoughts, went through my head. i quickly retraced every horror movie i had ever seen. had i broken any of the moral rules that make it certain you're gonna get whacked before the credits roll? my chest tightened and it was harder to breathe. did we lock the door? i looked around for a baseball bat or something that i could grab to stun an intruder.

the quiet continued and as we lay in the dark, gail fell back asleep, and mr. courageous finally got up the nerve to get out of bed and take a look around. i never did see anything, nor did the sound ever reappear. probably just a large acorn falling from a tree on the roof, or some other creak that naturally occurs as the cabin settles during the cool night hours.

we dread the darkness and sounds we don't understand, and fears that arise as we face an uncertain situation, especially in the middle of the night. today's gospel reading portrays the disciples in this kind of setting. for a second time, jesus tells them about his upcoming death. however on this occasion, rather than speak up and possibly face jesus' rebuke as peter had, they decide to just lie there and pull the covers up a little tighter. the text says, "they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him."

apparently, with the morning light their courage returned, for mark indicates that they put their night fears behind them and began talking about brighter subjects. together they dreamed about the glory they anticipated upon their soon arrival in jerusalem (no matter what jesus was saying). the question of the day was: "which one of us do you think will get the best position of power and prestige in jesus' new administration?" why talk about gloomy, frightening things like suffering and crosses and dying? let's think happy thoughts! let's talk about the great things in store for us with jesus!

of course, the lord heard it all. so, when they came to a house in their hometown, he sat them down and said, "ok. what were you talking about?" did your mom ever ask you that question? do you remember the fear you felt then? that "hands in the cookie jar" feeling of being caught with no excuse or escape possible? they couldn't even find the words to 'fess up. look at them there—staring down at the ground, kicking at the dirt, tips of their ears red, lips sealed tight.

in the business, we call this a "teachable moment." this time, jesus doesn't rebuke them. doesn't say, "get behind me, satan." just says, "guys, you must realize what this cross-thing means for you. if i'm going to be the kind of savior god promised, it means humbling myself to do whatever it takes to save people. it means dying. it means the cross. it means taking the servant role. so, if you want to be identified with me, that's what you will have to do too. nobody gets a good seat if he doesn't wash feet first."

as they shuffled uncomfortably at this gentle rebuke, jesus decided they needed some encouragement to go along with their medicine. so he asked a child to come over to them. he embraced the child, and said, "you see this little one? nobody in our society thinks she's worth very much. she has no power, no influence, no standing. people either ignore her or make sure she stays in her place. she's like the 'servant' i was just talking to you about, a nobody in the eyes of the world.

"but i want you to know something. if you will take this 'servant' thing seriously, and go out into the world with my cross-shaped spirit characterizing you, it will be hard, but you will have a great reward—those your lives touch, those who welcome you even though you are like a servant or a little child, will be part of my kingdom forever, for in welcoming you they will welcome me."

and that is how jesus turned on a night-light to help his disciples face the darkest of nights.

September 17, 2009

blog friend in the flesh

on our week away, gail and i had the privilege of meeting and sharing a meal with michael and denise spencer. michael, also known as "the internet monk," is one of the blogosphere's most read christian bloggers. denise also has a fine blog of her own, at denisedayspencer.

we had a nice dinner together and learned more about them, their family, and their ministry at oneida baptist institute in southeastern Kentucky, as well as discussing various issues addressed on the imonk blog and getting an update on michael's first book, which is in the final stages of revision.

above all, i wanted to thank michael for providing a safe place to discuss my thoughts and work through several theological issues with fellow pilgrims, especially after the transitions in ministry i have experienced in recent years.

i hope you will check out the imonk blog and denise's blog, listen to the internetmonk podcast (available at the blog and at itunes), and look for michael's book later this year. their writings have my highest recommendation, and i'm happy to say that they are just as delightful in person as they are in their internet presentations.

denise & michael spencer with gail & me
september, 2009

today's van gogh

congregation leaving the reformed church at nuenen, c.1885

September 16, 2009

a friend and partner goes to heaven

prabhakaran george, director of india youth for christ, a man of deep faith, love for his family, and concern for the salvation of his people, died on sunday, september 13, in bangalore, india.

below, you will find a tribute to prabha, written by jenny collins from taylor university, who partnered with iyfc for the past fifteen years in mission projects. our family has participated in these and other projects with prabha as well, and we consider him to be god's channel for some of our most formative experiences in christ and the missio dei.
I am deeply saddened at the loss of Prabha George and very sorry that I am unable to attend his funeral and memorial service. Prabha was a remarkable example of humility and godly leadership. I met Prabha in January 1995 when he hosted a Taylor University Lighthouse mission team I led. I was deeply impacted by Prabha’s unwavering faith, sincere prayer life, contagious joy, absolute dependence on God, kindness, gentleness, and amazing wisdom. He was especially patient and gracious with our group of loud and uninformed Americans. Today I am involved in directing an international mission program for university students largely due to things God taught me through Prabha and my experiences of working alongside him, his family, and the India YFC staff.

Prabha has been one of Taylor University’s most faithful international partners for 15 years. He hosted 11 Taylor mission teams and several other Taylor graduates who visited for longer terms. He helped create and lead powerful three-week learning and ministry experiences for more than 190 Taylor students and faculty/staff leaders. Many of them have shared with me in the past four days how greatly their life was impacted by Prabha’s leadership and example. We have seen Prabha’s ministry and the work of India YFC first-hand and have met many whose lives have been transformed by God through it. We at Taylor are part of that spiritual fruit and we are very grateful.

Prabha was honored as a Distinguished Friend of the University at Taylor’s Homecoming Celebration in October 2007; he visited campus often and shared in chapel services and classes numerous times. Many students who were not able to visit India were also greatly touched by Prabha’s teaching and sharing on Taylor’s campus. I can think of several young people who are in full-time missions work because of Prabha’s influence. Prabha has left a God-honoring, gospel-centered legacy at Taylor and he will be greatly missed by many.

Personally, my husband J.D. and I have considered our friendship with Prabha and his wonderful family one of God’s greatest blessings in our lives. As an educator, I value learning. Today our hearts are heavy because we have lost a great friend and mentor who taught us many things about missions, cultures, following the Lord, servant leadership and friendship. We are thankful to God for the opportunity to know Prabha and experience his passion for Christ and the ministry of the gospel. As hard as it is to accept right now, Psalm 116:15 reminds us that “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” and Prabha is definitely one of the Lord’s saints.

To Nilo, Andy and Dipti, Joanna, and all of the YFC family, we pray that in time your memories of Prabha will bring joy that will ease the sadness you are feeling now. May the Lord’s comfort, hope and peace surround and sustain you. May the ministry of YFC continue to be blessed and flourish. May we all strive to honor Christ as Prabha did, so that like him, we may be welcomed into our Father’s presence as
good and faithful servants.
i "amen" jenny's words and join her in her prayers.

today, the world should weep, for a great man in christ is gone from our midst.

Prabha and Nilo George
Son Andy, Dtr in law Dipti, Dtr Joanna

September 11, 2009

the lord's day—sept 13, 2009

15th sunday after pentecost

today's lectionary readings
isaiah 50:4-9a
psalm 116:1-9
james 3:1-12
mark 8:27-38

today's bach cantatas
bwv 25, "there is nothing healthy in my body"
bwv 78, "jesus, by whom my soul"
bwv 17, "who gives thanks praises me"

today's van gogh
the church at auvers, 1890

today's good news

measure twice, cut once. righty-tighty, lefty-loosey. handy people have a thousand sayings to remind themselves how to do things right.

i am fairly incompetent when it comes to handyman work. i just don't have the patience. rather than reading the directions or taking the time to adequately analyze the situation, i tend to dive right in. this usually results in a dozen trips to the hardware store, words escaping my lips that cause paint to peel, my family and the dog running for cover when they see me with steam coming out of my ears, and a whole lot of repenting after the job finally gets done.

when jesus said, "i am the way, the truth, and the life," we sometimes skip right over the first claim and jump to the other two. we focus on the truth he told us about his father, and the eternal life that awaits his friends. to grasp the truth and receive the life, however, we must take the way. today's good news from mark tells us something counter-intuitive: the way is to die.

how many times, in the middle of a home repair or practical project have i said, "this just is not right! i don't see how it can work that way! who designed this thing anyway?" (insert your own visuals—red face, clenched fists, large man about to explode...) now picture peter in today's story—same frustrated exclamations. same incredulous look on his face. same inability to grasp how this thing is supposed to work.

i'm afraid a good number of us have settled into an agreeable amnesia about how shocking jesus' words really are. we think this christianity thing is all about a comfortable, productive life for our families and us. all victory and well-being and unceasing joy.

it's not. jesus told us plainly that it's about the cross. it's about dying. it's about forsaking this world. the sayings we remember to help us do it right are about dying to sin and rising to walk in new life, about being last and not first, about being everybody else's servant, about giving up all we own, about god's power being displayed in our weaknesses and suffering.

i'm not very good at that either, how about you?

but then again, that's why jesus bore his cross for you and me.