how deep is God’s love? a look at Ephesians 3

the cure for disunity is grace — a look at Ephesians, chapter 2

Flames, Floods, Fatalities, Fears

Flames, Floods, Fatalities, Fears

  • Flames. As of this morning (September 1, 2021) 300 square miles torched near Lake Tahoe on the California-Nevada border. Family members choking on smoke, imprisoned in their house. Loved ones of a dear friend in harm’s way.
  • Floods. Ida, a category 4 hurricane with winds of 165 mph, and its remnants, flooding areas from New Orleans to New England. 
  • Fatalities. Climbing daily, now 219 million sickened, and 4.5 million human beings dead, from COVID-19. Delta variant racing across the southern United States. C.1.1 variant mutating with lightening speed. Hospitals at capacity; ICUs full.
  • Fears. Fear of persecution, fear of government, fear of immigrants, fear of Moslems and Jews, fear of young Black men, fear of change – fear, driving heretical toxic theology. 


  • Flames. The rampant wildfires around the world are all exacerbated by global warming, which is causing extreme droughts in some areas and excess precipitation in others. 
  • Floods. Ida jumped rapidly from a Cat-2 to a Cat-4 because the Gulf waters are hotter than ever.
  • Fatalities. We have amazingly safe and effective vaccines that protect us from the worst symptoms of COVID-19, but a huge portion of the population refuses to get them, and an even larger portion won’t wear masks or practice social distancing. 
  • Fears. A theology of fear is behind the Capitol insurrection, soaring gun sales, a resurgence of white nationalism, xenophobic reaction to refuges, and militant opposition to civil rights for minorities.


Flames, Floods, Fatalities, Fears – all exacerbated by human choices. Flames and floods dramatically intensified by man-made, greed-driven global warming. COVID fatalities in North America almost entirely preventable by vaccinations, masks, and social distancing. Fears based on false theology that threatens democracy at its core.

Flames and Floods. The first ministry God gave to humans was to care for creation, to be stewards, not exploiters. There was a time when we didn’t know any better, but we do now. The use of fossil fuels is burning up the planet. Followers of Jesus should be at the forefront of environmentalism. 

Fatalities. Vaccines are a gift from God. Wearing a mask and practicing social distancing is loving our neighbors. Loving our neighbors is loving God. Wearing a mask is not a violation of personal rights, nor is it persecution, nor is it child abuse. 

Fears. The opposite of fear is love. Perfect love casts out fear. Christians and Christianity are not under attack; Christians are not being persecuted in America. White “Christian” Nationalism 1.0 affiliated itself unabashedly with the Republican Party. White “Christian” Nationalism 2.0 says it loves America, hates the government, is convinced it is bipartisan (in spite of referring to Democrats as “demon-crats”), embraces conspiracies, rejects science, believes bizarre neo-Pentecostal “prophesies,” sees no incongruity with simultaneously flying American, Confederate, and Christian flags, and claims to have faith while stockpiling weapons. There is nothing Christian about White “Christian” Nationalism. It is unbiblical, heretical, toxic, extremely dangerous, and growing rapidly.

Come out of her, my people, and follow Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Live by the Sermon on the Mount.

What Should Church Look Like?

Most North American churches are built on the attractional model. They do things that they hope will attract people to their buildings. They build beautiful buildings, develop pleasing campuses, present professional high-quality music, pour money into state-of-the-art audio-visual systems, acquire expert programing for kids from infancy through High School, and hire dynamic preaching teams to focus on felt needs. And, it works. If you build it, they will come. 

Or, at least it did work, pre-pandemic for people over 45.

After a year and a half of on-line worship services, only about 25% of parishioners are returning to church buildings. Perhaps that will increase if COVID-19 ever stops mutating because the vast majority of people get fully vaccinated. It will likely never go back to previous levels, however.

In my view, that’s a good thing. The attractional model was never biblical to begin with. We, the community of faith, are the church, not a building. We’re supposed to go, not try to get others to come. The community of faith did quite well without any church buildings (basilicas) for three centuries. Simple home fellowships with bivocational leaders are much closer to the ideal. I cannot even imagine how much money churches spend on buildings, programs, and staff – money that could be spent on alleviating poverty and injustice, healing the sick, and strengthening the weak, which is what the gospel is supposed to be all about. 

But, if all we’re doing is enjoying greater convenience, we’re missing the boat. Church isn’t about attracting people, entertaining people, or “getting people saved.” It’s about loving and serving others. To gather, virtually or in a home, in a small group to worship and learn should then empower us to heal, help, and herald God’s Kingdom.

A Poem about & a Prayer for our True Identity — A look at Ephesians 1

a 30,000 ft. view of Ephesians

The Fruit of the Spirit (there’s only one, not nine) A study in Galatians

One in Christ: Gender roles in Rome, society, & the Bible (a study in Galatians)

Freedom and Unfreedom

One key to spiritual transformation is to learn on a day to day, minute by minute basis, to be aware of what St. Ignatius called consolations and desolations. Every thought and every feeling are leading us either towards greater or lesser inner freedom. Each inner movement is enriching us or not. Normally, we don’t notice, but with God’s help, we are graced with insight. We become aware of the disordered affections that pull us towards unfreedom, and of the gifts that draw us closer to God’s heart.

A crucial key is to observe the desolations, the unfreedom, the non-enriching thoughts, feelings, and behaviors nonjudgmentally. No blame. No condemnation. No beating ourselves up. No “shoulds.” 

Disordered affections are emotional habits that weigh us down. They are what the author of Hebrews is talking about in 12:1-2:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Negative emotional habits are things like always blaming others, or always blaming ourselves when things go wrong. The habit of judging is probably the most disordered of affections. Disordered affections may also include focusing on things of little or no spiritual value. A great deal of what’s on television, for example. 

Anything that makes us less free spiritually, or doesn’t enrich our spirits and draw us closer to Jesus, is weighing us down, stunting our spiritual growth. Things like:

  • Worry 
  • Fear 
  • Judgmentalism
  • Frustration
  • Anger 
  • Discontentment
  • Stinginess
  • Disunity 
  • Violence 
  • Selfishness
  • Complaining
  • Bitterness
  • Self-concern
  • Discouragement
  • Suspicion 

On the other hand, consolations, inner movements that help get us unstuck spiritually so we can grow to be more like Jesus include things such as:

  • Divine Order
  • Love
  • Shalom
  • Affirmation
  • Serenity 
  • Patience
  • Contentment
  • Generosity
  • Unity
  • Nonviolent resistance of evil
  • Altruism 
  • Appreciation
  • Forgiveness
  • Compassion
  • Hope
  • Trust

In the Genesis creation stories, God brings order, beauty, and freedom out of chaos. The satan is always trying to pull creation back into disorder and unfreedom.

I’m slowly learning to recognize and celebrate the consolations. I’m slowly learning to nonjudgmentally observe the desolations and release them in prayer.

I’m Learning

Reckon the old man dead.

I am crucified with Christ.

Counted to be righteous.

Beauty for ashes.

New creations in Christ.

Ever since I came to faith, I’ve heard these quotes and sayings. I love them. I believe them. 

But, how? How is it that I am crucified with Christ or declared righteous? Sometimes it seems like magical thinking, like make believe, a game of pretend. 

If I were crucified with Christ, I’d be like Jesus, wouldn’t I? I’d be consistently loving my enemies, caring for creation, serving the poor, hospitable to the immigrant and refugee, embracing sinners, welcoming the least, caring for the poor, homeless, marginalized, disenfranchised, the mentally ill, the addicted, the sick, the lonely and the lost. I’d be the nonviolent servant of all. If I were crucified with Christ, I’d be standing up against racism, injustice, consumerism, despotism, patriarchy, conspiracy theories, violence, poverty, and militarism. I’d be living by the Sermon on the Mount. 

I look at my life and I don’t feel much different than most people around me. Surveys and statistics consistently bear out the fact that church-going, Bible-believing, born-again Christians in general act no differently than others.

Is the gospel only about “going to heaven when you die,” and not about bringing God’s love to the world? 

“They’ll know you are my followers by your love,” said Jesus. 

The problem, at least for me, is that I’ve long been a part of a tradition that emphasizes Bible knowledge at the expense of transformation.

I’m grateful for the Bible knowledge. The more we know the Bible, the better. When I belatedly went to seminary, I discovered I knew the scriptures better than some of the professors. The problem was that those professors were more Christ-like than me. Knowledge without transformation puffs up. 

As he looked around Denmark in the 19th century, Kierkegaard saw clearly that the whole nation claimed to be Christian, yet virtually no one acted like Jesus. Gen-Z and Millennials look around 21st century North America and see the same thing. That’s why they’ve nearly universally abandoned evangelicalism.  

I looked at myself and didn’t like what I saw. I was angry, racist, homophobic, Islamophobic, supportive of policies that hurt those Jesus called “the least of these my sisters and brothers,” and full of judgmentalism.

The intensive training that goes into becoming a legitimate pastor, counselor, chaplain, life coach, and spiritual director is helping teach me to listen, observe, accept, and be teachable. I’m learning humility. I’m learning I don’t know it all. I’m learning that some of what I know and believe needs to be challenged. I’m learning to be ok with nuance and mystery.

Most of all, I’m learning to love.

%d bloggers like this: