Showing posts from 2014

Eight myths about Mary, the mother of Jesus

Of all the characters in the Bible, there might be none more consistently misunderstood and misrepresented than Mary, the mother of Jesus. At Sanctuary, we have been preaching a series of messages focused on Mary and her tumultuous journey (you can listen here). Through my research, I have developed a picture of Mary that differs significantly from those we commonly see on Hallmark cards, movies, and tv shows. Therefore, I present eight myths about Mary and their corresponding truths.

1. Myth: Mary looked like this:

For an image of what Mary more likely looked like, read to the bottom of this post.

2. Myth: She was in her mid-20s when she gave birth to Jesus.

Truth: Most young women in that day married in their early to mid teens. Scholars believe Mary was probably about 14 years old when Gabriel visited her, which would likely make her 15 on the first Christmas. (Incidentally, if you have a daughter, how would you respond if she came home pregnant at 14?)

3. Myth: Mary and Joseph were…

To love or to be efficient -- that's the question

Gerald May writes,
A medical school professor I remember told his students that he found it more worthwhile to love his surgical instruments than to love his patients. "As soon as you start feeling your patients' pain," he said, "you start losing your skill." He was only trying to help. That story comes from the first chapter of May's book, The Awakened Heart. May has two main things to say in the chapter. First, human beings are created for love. May observes that people the world over hunger for love. He writes,

If you pause and look quietly inside, you may be able to sense something of your desire for love right now in this moment. Sometimes it is wonderful to touch this deep longing; it can seem expansive and joyful. At other times it can be painful, lonely, and even a little frightening. Whether it feels good or bad, its power and depth are awesome. (p. 2) Second, we tend to make other things more important than love. May talks about how, as a young p…

The myth of privatized faith (or why "don't judge me" is wrong-headed)

One of the most well-entrenched myths of the last 300 years is that one's religious faith is a private matter. In the modern period, Western culture challenged the church to prove on scientific grounds that the claims of the Bible are true. Attempts were made, but by and large the church retreated to the only safe place it had: the interior of the human individual. Faith was seen as a private matter -- something that happens only between the individual and God. Consequently, no one else can judge the authenticity of one's faith.

In today's postmodern culture, the individual still reigns supreme. In fact, Western individualism is more radical than it has ever been. Each individual is free to choose his or her own brand of faith, and "haters" are rebuffed with postmodernism's trump card: "Don't judge me."

Is faith a private matter? Or is faith something so public that supposing it is private is outright ludicrous? In fact, is one's faith so pu…

The Year of Praying Continually -- four things I have learned through eight months

In the beginning of 2014, I announced at Sanctuary and to my friends elsewhere that I was embarking on a journey to find a life of continual prayer. I had read extensively about prayer for 15 years and I was already praying pretty frequently. Still, I was frustrated, and I felt I needed to do something decisive. There's nothing like telling everyone you know that you are committing yourself to something. Vanity can be a great motivator.

Even with my vanity at stake, focus on prayer has ebbed and flowed over this year. But the other day someone asked me how the Year of Continual Prayer is going, and as I reflected on things, I was greatly encouraged. Eight months into the Year of Continual Prayer, I have learned four things.

First, I have to be patient with myself. Praying continually involves one’s whole being – attitude, attention, emotions, etc. One cannot simply flip a switch and be a different person. One has to learn slowly over time to live a different way. So it has been wi…

The price Americans pay for working more than anyone

I am just coming back from taking time off from preaching and writing in parts of July and August. Ah, the wonders of vacation! People the world over take vacations. But we Americans push harder and vacation less than ever. Here’s the beginning of May 1 ABC News story by Dean Schabner:

Schabner writes,
Americans work more than anyone in the industrialized world.  More than the English, more than the French, way more than the Germans or Norwegians. Even, recently, more than the Japanese.  And Americans take less vacation, work longer days, and retire later too. Americans work harder and vacation less than we did decades ago. And it appears that the segment of the working population that is getting hit the hardest is white-collar workers whose hours aren’t tracked with a time clock.
Schabner writes, “Author Juliet Schor, who wrote the best-selling book The Overworked American in 1992, concluded that in 1990 Americans worked an average of nearly one month more per year than in 1970.” A …

Eagles, otters, and being open to see what our Father wants to show us

My son Nathaniel and I stood on a rock outcropping overlooking a small lake in the Sierras, watching in awe as a bald eagle glided over the water no more than a hundred yards from us. All was quiet. This lake was our home for our five-day backpacking trip, and we were thankful to have it all to ourselves.

It was the golden light of evening, and we had just finished dinner. Moments before, I had been bent over our cooking rock, organizing our dishes to wash. Nathaniel had turned around to look at the lake. He suddenly exclaimed, "Dad! A bald eagle!" I wheeled around and breathed, "Oh my gosh. You're right." There's no mistaking a bald eagle for any other bird. Its size, grace, and coloring (sharp contrast between brown body and white head and tail) are unique. It is a truly regal bird.

We watched the eagle soar around the lake for a minute or so and then fly off out of sight to our right.
As I stood looking across the lake, I silently prayed, "Thank yo…

If you had to boil the whole spiritual life down to one issue, it would be the will... (Luminous Friday)

Through the Fridays of July, I plan to write about surrender. It’s the topic of chapter 6 in Luminous, but it means a lot more than that to me. I would say that perhaps the biggest lesson I have learned in the last three decades of seriously following Jesus as an adult is this: surrender of the will is at the core of one’s faith. Everything boils down to what we do with our will.
I start chapter 6 of Luminous with a reference to a brief conversation I had with my son Nathaniel when he was five years old. It happened one morning before school. To save space, the exact transcript of the conversation didn’t make it into the book, but here it is.
Me: Nathaniel, you need to brush your teeth.
Nathaniel: I don't want to.
Me: You need to.
Nathaniel: I'm not going to. You're not the boss of everyone.
Me (maintaining a serious look but trying not to burst out laughing): I'm the boss of some people, and you're one of them.
Nathaniel: You're not the boss of me. The presi…

This is your brain on prayer

You might remember anti-drug commercials that aired in the 1980s with the tagline, "This is your brain on drugs."

The same could be said for your brain on worry, lust, anger, gossip, greed, or hurry.

It should come as no surprise that whatever you do consistently shapes your brain. How about prayer? In an article in Leadership Journal, pastor John Ortberg reports, Researcher Andrew Newberg has shown the brain-altering power of such practices as prayer by looking at changes in the brain-state of nuns engaged in the practice for over 15 years as well as Pentecostals praying in tongues. It turns out that intense practice of prayer means their brains are much more impacted by their prayer than inexperienced or casual pray-ers. To find out who the true prayer-warriors in your church are, you could hook everybody up to electrodes, but it might be a little embarrassing. If your brain on drugs is like an egg being cracked and fried, what would your brain on consistent prayer be like…

Preparing beforehand -- the forgotten step in loving one another (Luminous Friday)

How prepared are you to engage people this hour in the presence and power of Jesus?
The last two Thursday nights I have had the honor of gathering with a group of men and women, reading aloud part of Luminous, and discussing the material with them. Last night we focused on the last half of chapter 5, Being Present with One Another. Our discussion zeroed in on what it means to come into social interactions spiritually prepared rather than just showing up. One group member said, “I’m a teacher, and it is important for me to come to class prepared. I wonder why we don’t pay the same kind of attention to being prepared before we spend time with people in everyday life.”

There are three ways to prepare yourself before entering social situations.
1. Set your will. “Before you interact, you decide that when you get into social situations, you will act only for the flourishing of others… Want nothing but shalom for other people…” (Luminous, 96-97). This is best done by saying a short prayer j…