Category Archives: Bible Teaching

Theories of the Atonement, or Why Jesus Died on the Cross: 1 John 2:1-2

Come Dance With God

In the beginning

God, who is Trinity, eternally exists as family, relationship, community, love. The dance of Trinitarian love, undulating gently, continuously, and altruistically between Abba, Beloved Son, and Paraclete – each concerned only with blessing the Other – each without a selfish thought – has no beginning and will have no end. 

So abundant is this perfect love that it spills over, runs over, like an overflowing cup, like a floodtide uncontained, cascading grace; it cannot help but create: Quarks and quasars, pebbles and galaxies, amoeba and elephant, snowflake and mountain, diaspore and sunflower, kangaroo-rat and human – everything affecting everything – all intertwined – all connected in the intricate web of life, and therefore, fragile, dependent on the stewarding care of beings with freewill.  

But all is not well.

Principalities and powers, spiritually wicked beings, rule the Empires. Empires always oppress, exploit, kill, and destroy with their economic inequality, wars, pollution, national exceptionalism, racism, and disregard for the indigenous. 

A nation built on stolen land by slave labor, and maintained by violence, war, corruption, and manipulation, while bowing to Mammon, Mars, and Aphrodite, and making excuses for leaders without a shred of spiritual fruit, cannot legitimately be called “the land of the free,” much less, a Christian nation. My friend Rich Villodas tweeted: “The biggest obstacle to Christian witness in the US is not secularism, but a Christianity unashamedly shaped by the flag, the gun, and the dollar.”

Nevertheless, the gentle dance of creative grace goes on.

God, whose love necessitates vulnerability, even to Calvary, forgives in the face of hatred, turns cheek in the face of violence, serves in the face of power, gives in response to greed, and loves into the abyss of sin – all diametrically opposite of Empire. 

A divine exchange is offered: life for death; forgiveness for regret; welcome for rejection; healing for brokenness; love for hatred.

God did not sit down at a drafting table and design a stagnant universe with His slide-rule and protractor. Vibrant, fluid, moving, flowing, surprising, joyous, beautiful, on-going creation courses from the overflow of the Trinitarian love-dance. 

Ethereal music of the spheres invites us – yes, us – broken us – weak us – you and me – to join the divine dance, to create with God. Whether we create a garden or a smile on the lips of a homeless beggar, regardless of whether our divinely inspired creativity produces a symphony or a cupcake, when we join the Dance of Love, God is very pleased. 

Our God, a Consuming Fire

Reflecting on Daniel chapter 3 and Romans 12:1: When I offer myself fully, placing spirit, soul, body – all that I am — as a living sacrifice, the divine consuming fire falls. Only the cords and chains that held me captive burn up, and the fire which is God, warms, soothes, and enlightens my whole being like a Yule blaze during a blizzard. I feel only His love and care, and I emerge, not smelling of smoke, but instead permeated with the most beautiful fragrance of God.

A Thought About Love

As I sit reading a bit of SørenKierkegaard, little girls are happily playing next door. If there is anything sweeter than the laughter and squeals of tiny persons sliding down a slip-n-slide on a summer’s day, I can’t think of what it might be. 

From whence comes the delight of a child? Surely, from love. 

But, from whence comes love? Love has but one source – love comes from the God who is in essence love. 

By “love,” I mean agápe, not the narcissism some label love, and not even the éros, philía, or storgē that, although genuine, are subordinate. The physical expression of love, the pleasure of beauty (éros) can be good, even if corrupted by marking departments. Family love (storgē) connects spouses, parents, children and siblings and is the backbone of civilization. Deep abiding friendships (philía) result in self-sacrificial acts of courage. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. 

At some level, all real love comes from God, but here I speak of agápe, which is only found fully and completely and perfectly in one place. Its source is the trinitarian God who by very nature isagápe. Its perfect manifestation is Jesus. Jesus’ life, teachings, actions, miracles, and, supremely, enemy-forgiving love on the cross, showed the world that which it had not known previously – agápe. Agápe is perfect, divine, cruciform, unending, eternal, unconditional, self-sacrificing, enemy-forgiving, all-inclusive, nonviolent altruism. 

No parent, no matter how supportive and altruistic, can impart love in a child. No person can impart or create love in any other person. That the child’s heart filled with love is a reflection of the Imago Dei.

Love sees all things. We are told that love is blind. Nonsense. No one sees more clearly than the stoic parent of an alcoholic. Blind love is selfish love. Blind love sees the other as one to be acted upon, a project more than a person. The other exists only that we might change, fix, or have the satisfaction of loving. Blind love enables. It leaves the addict to die while feeling the self-righteousness of chosen martyrdom. True love sees with crystal clarity. It seeks what is truly best for the other. It is never codependent. 

Love bears all things. Kierkegaard points out that just as the person of strong robust physical health can eat and digest a wide variety of foods, so the person inundated with God’s love is able to “stomach” the idiosyncrasies and irritations of the other. The one inundated with God’s love knows at the core of her soul that she is the beloved of God and nothing can take that away. Her own love is not dependent on the other. She sees the hidden love, the Imago Dei, in the other and hardly notices the peculiarities. 

Love hopes all things. Believing that love is there in the heart of the other, regardless of how rebellious, callous, or unthankful the other may be, is what causes us to look with joyous anticipation for that time when the prodigal will return. It is the father’s love. It knows that Omnia Vincit Amoris not sentimental claptrap. 

Love endures all things. Indeed, it is able to endure whatever comes with the imperfect beloved in a fallen world because it knows that under the imperfections, transgressions, and damage that cloud it from sight, love, God’s love, is there. That is why love never fails. 

The 4 Relationships that Lead to a Joy Filled Life: 1 John chapter 1

Jesus said “I will build My church” Pastors and Priests

David Dog

The Lord Jesus is my Shepherd. (Psalm 23)

The Lord Jesus Christ is the Good and Beautiful Shepherd. (see John 10)

His sheep follow him. 

As I was following Him around 45 years ago, He called me to be a pastor-teacher, to feed His sheep. 

Like Peter’s, my love is far from perfect. (see John 21)

Do you love (ἀγάπη agápē) me?

Lord, I love (φιλία philía) you.[1]

Feed my lambs.

Tend my sheep.


The final time: Do you love (φιλία philía) me? 

If that’s all you can muster, I’ll work with it:

Feed my sheep.

Follow me.

Honestly, my heart is too often like a dried, shriveled, cracked, stiff, worthless old wineskin, incapable of holding any wine. I love God. I love Jesus. I love people, especially those who are broken and hurting, but my heart is incapable of loving unconditionally. 

Nevertheless, just as Jesus healed the man with the withered hand in the synagogue (see Mark 3), telling him to stretch it out, so, I pray He will touch my withered heart and stretch and heal and transform it into a supple bladder that He can safely fill continuously with the new wine of His Spirit. 

The only reason I can think of as to why God would want me to feed His sheep is because He chooses the weak and foolish things, the people that are big zeroes, to confound those wise in their own eyes.[2]

So, in spite of myself, I am a shepherd.

No, Jesus is the shepherd.

I’m more like a sheepdog.

We once had an Old McDonald type farm in Colorado with horses, chickens, dogs, cats, goats, sheep, a duck, and great-horned owls. Coyotes threatened the sheep. Sheep are defenseless – they can’t run fast to get away, and they have no ability to fight back. So, we were advised to get a sheep dog.

That’s when David Dog entered our family – a huge, white Great Pyrenees who thought he was one of the family. I’m told that if you take a Great Pyrenees puppy and put it with the ewes and lambs, it will nurse from a ewe and grow up thinking she or he is a sheep, but with a strong canine instinct to protect the flock. Now, we didn’t do that. My wife and daughter loved on David Dog and all he wanted was to live in the house. But the other way theoretically works.

I sometimes think of myself as a David Dog. We apprentices only have one Master. We sheep only have one Shepherd. We disciples only have one Lord. We created beings only have one God. We all have different roles in the flock/family/kingdom of God. No role is more important than any other. There’s no hierarchy, no clergy-laity division. The way up is down. The greatest is the servant of all, the one who washes feet.

But God has called me to be a pastor-teacher. Not a CEO. Not a fund-raiser. Not chief of marketing. My calling, my assignment from God, is to spiritually protect the people of God, pray for the people of God, and teach the people of God, pointing them continuously to the Shepherd, leading them past myself into His loving arms.

And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding. (Jeremiah 3:15)

Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the LORD[3].(Jeremiah 23:28)[4]

Peter (Larry), do you love Me, even imperfectly? 

Feed My sheep. 

[1]Greek has four words translated “love” in English. The two used in John 21 are (ἀγάπη agápē), which means perfect, divine, unconditional, cruciform, self-sacrificing, enemy-forgiving love, and  (φιλία philía), which means deep friendship, brotherly or sisterly love.

[2]I Corinthians 1:27-29

[3]“LORD” here is YHWH

[4]Quotations are from the ESV Text Edition® (2016).The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®) copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®) is adapted from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. All rights reserved.

Church Organization

Christian faith communities utilize various polities. They vary and overlap, but fall basically into categories thus:

  1. Episcopal. The word means “overseer” or “bishop.” Anglican, Orthodox, Catholic, Episcopalian and other mostly liturgical denominations give final authority to bishops who oversee regions in which pastors/priests have authority in local congregations. 
  2. Presbyterian. The word means “elder.” A group of (hopefully) wise, spiritually mature people oversee the mission of the church. Most evangelical, Pentecostal, nondenominational, and Presbyterian churches operate this way.
  3. Megachurches (which are a dying breed) adopted acorporate modelin which the pastor is the CEO and a board of directors (too often successful business men appointed by the pastor) keeps an eye on things.
  4. Congregational. Baptist, Brethren, Mennonite, Churches of Christ, Anabaptist, and Neo-Anabaptist churches all hold that the entire membership, theoretically living in unity, love and harmony, discerns the will of God as they meet collectively. Final authority rests with the congregation, rather than with any denominational overseer. Each congregation is autonomous. Congregations can, if they so choose, enter covenant relationships with other congregations, thus resulting in associations, districts, regions, and so on. Regions or districts can, if they so choose, enter into covenantal relationships with others districts or regions. Thus, national and international denominations. Historically, those covenants are taken very seriously. 

Any system can work provided it is directed by humble, intelligent, kind, loving people who only desire to serve others.

Every system breaks down when selfish, greedy, ambitious, controlling people run it. 

No system can claim exclusive biblical authority – one can find Bible verses to support any and all of them. 

Before the wedding and homogenization of church and state/empire in the post-Constantine era, churches were not corporations or legal entities; they did not own property, and there was no such thing as a church building. Followers of Jesus met in homes, lived in a shared economy, holding all things in common, studied the Bible, worshipped, ate together, partook of Holy Communion/Eucharist, and collectively met the needs of the poor in their cities. No one owned anything because everyone owned everything. There was, therefore, no poverty, want, or economic worry. There were similar fraternal organizations in the Roman Empire, but no others focused on helping the sick, poor, incarcerated, mentally ill, and disabled. Christians invented the first hospitals, orphanages, and care facilities. 

Organically, a natural leadership arose consisting of apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers. (By the way, both women and men served in all these capacities.) There was no clergy-lay division. Everyone was equally valuable and loved. All were encouraged to share whatever gifts they had with others, whether it was song, or a scripture lesson, or chicken soup. 

Apostles, prophets and evangelists were generally itinerate – they traveled from city to city, congregation to congregation sharing their gifts. Apostles were originally eyewitnesses to the resurrection. They were sent forth into virgin soil to proclaim the gospel, plant new churches, appoint elders, and serve as spiritual mothers and fathers. In the first 300 years of church history, they covered the entire Roman Empire and all the nations across the Silk Road to China and Japan.

Prophets also traveled from place to place forth-telling specific messages from the Holy Spirit. They were honored everywhere they went, but quickly dismissed if they ever asked for money or a meal.

Itinerate evangelists preached the good news to pagans everywhere, persuading them from scripture to accept Jesus as Lord and be baptized into a local community. There was no such thing as “accept Jesus as your savior, then look for a church you like.” If you came to faith, for example, in Ephesus, you became part of the community of believers in Ephesus who were living life together in a communal or semi-communal way.

Elders and deacons, who were chosen by the congregation and appointed by the spiritual leaders, oversaw the local congregations on a day-by-day basis. Elders were responsible for the spiritual wellbeing of the group; deacons were charged with making sure everyone’s material needs were being met.

First among equals was the pastor-teacher, whose primary responsibility was to teach scripture (her or his teaching was considered of higher value than any prophecy) with the goal of spiritually equipping the believers to do the work of the ministry. The work of the ministry was sharing the good news with everyone and serving those who were marginalized, persecuted or disenfranchised. 

Everything in the early church was decided by consensus, although naturally some people’s opinions were considered more deeply than others because they came from wise and mature people of integrity. 

The group would meet, spend time fasting and praying, worshipping, confessing, seeking reconciliation, and taking Communion, then discuss an issue, giving everyone a say-so until a consensus was reached. There was no coercion, no control, no lording over anybody.

Can we get back to that? 

Doubt, Grief, Fear

The resurrection narrative in John chapter 20 gives us a picture of our common humanity.

Mary of Magdala is filled with grief, sorrow, heartbreak, mourning and angst. 

The disciples are filled with fear. Huddled behind locked doors, they dread the anticipation that they are next in line for torture and death. They are terrified. 

Thomas, notoriously, is filled with doubt, skepticism. 

I cannot fault any of them. I know the crushing, seemingly unending, heartache of bereavement. Crippling fear and anxiety have plagued me most of my life. At times, I have doubted everything – God, my own existence – everything. 

To one degree or another, fear, doubt, and sorrow are common to all of us.

However, for a human to live in perpetual grief, unrelenting fear, or continuous existential agnosticism, is emotional torture. A broken spirit, who can bear? 

Then comes Jesus.

He speaks her name: “Mary!” Inside her, hope leaps to life. Mourning and grief dissolve. Joy floods her heart; she clings tightly to Him as if to say, “You’ll never get away from me again!”

He greets His apprentices. “Shalom!” Perfect, altruistic, divine, self-sacrificial, enemy-forgiving, unconditional, agapé cruciform love fills the room. He breathes into them. Perfect love casts our fear. 

He welcomes Thomas: “Touch me.”  Faith saturates his soul. On his face, he confesses the deity of Christ. Doubt is not the opposite of faith – it is a healthy sign of a thinking mind. Refusal to believe in spite of evidence is the opposite of faith. Once Thomas had evidence, he confessed Jesus and Lord and God. 

He speaks; He breathes; He touches. 

He imparts faith, hope, and love to loved ones in doubt, grief and fear. 

Faith, hope, love – three unending, abiding, eternal things.

The grace of faith dispels doubt.

The grace of hope dispels grief.

The grace of love dispels fear.

Rocks and Flint

Psalm 114 invites us into a world of poetic metaphor with mountains skipping, seas fleeing, and an animated earth trembling before YHWH who, according to verse 8, turns the rock into a pool of water and the flint into a fresh spring.

Rocks and flint. Rocks are used as metaphors for various things in scripture. Perhaps here we might see a rock as a representation of a common instrument of death. Cain murdered his brother with a rock; condemned people were stoned to death; armies launched huge rocks from catapults.  Flint, a form of quartz fashioned historically into knives, arrowheads and spears, likewise may speak of death, war, killing. 

Missiles and Uzis have largely replaced catapults and arrows. Hatred and death, anger and fear, prejudice and nationalism, spew forth from tweets and pulpits. Words become rocks and flint.

Pools and fresh pristine springs of water speak to me of life, health, refreshment. Pure unpolluted water, free of contaminants, is essential for all carbon-based life. It is the stuff of which we are made. Symbolically, pure water reminds me of baptismal cleansing, of new life in Christ, of our deepest psychological needs being satiated, and of the quenching of our universal spiritual thirst for meaning and purpose. The words of God are life. 

The same Messiah, who at His coming will forge every spear into a pruning hook, is now transforming the instruments of hatred, war, and death into oases of renewal, life, community, refreshment, joy, peace, love, forgiveness and grace. He is doing so through a ragtag fellowship of shalom-loving, shalom-embracing, shalom-spreading people.

Psalm 114 (ESV)

When Israel went out from Egypt,
    the house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
Judah became his sanctuary,
    Israel his dominion.

The sea looked and fled;
    Jordan turned back.
The mountains skipped like rams,
    the hills like lambs.

What ails you, O sea, that you flee?
    O Jordan, that you turn back?
O mountains, that you skip like rams?
    O hills, like lambs?

Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,
    at the presence of the God of Jacob,
who turns the rock into a pool of water,
    the flint into a spring of water.

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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