Text of the Day for 12-14-16


Incarnation. It’s on my mind because Christmas is coming. I’ve got a few texts for reflection kicking around in my brain today:

Genesis 1:27:

God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them

Genesis 2:7:

…the Lord God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into his nostrils. The human came to life.

Song of Songs 1:16-17

Look at you—so beautiful, my love! Yes, delightful! Yes, our bed is lush and green! The ceilings of our chambers are cedars; our rafters, cypresses.

Luke 1:34-35

 Then Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I haven’t had sexual relations with a man?” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God’s Son.”

Incarnation is one of the most important—and least appreciated—aspects of the Christmas story. The word “incarnation” shares the same root as “carnal.” It literally means “flesh.” The scandal of the incarnation is that God loves flesh and material existence so much that God put on our flesh in order to save and heal us and our broken world.

There is no single Christian attitude toward the body. The theology of the body has covered a wide spectrum of beliefs and metaphors. But it’s safe to say that Christian theology has often spiritualized the body. Many Christians have talked about salvation in terms of a soul becoming free of the body instead of talking about a resurrected or transformed body.

But part of being made in the image of God is being rendered in material and temporal clay. In humanity, God chooses to “get God’s hands dirty.” God has carnal joy in squishing the fertile mud through God’s own fingers. God shares God’s own breath with us in an intimate kiss of life. In the creation of humans in relationship to each other—socially, sexually, politically, religiously—God also shows that we are interdependent, like the rest of God’s material creation. There are no tides without the pull of the moon and no rain without the heat of the sun.  In the Song of Songs verse, humans rejoice in their love for each other and see themselves as part of God’s natural world.

We have several theological choices when it comes to talking about the Virgin Birth and what the story means for Christian theology. Some see it as a sex-negative reinforcement of patriarchal theology. Some see it as a feminist declaration of independence and God’s solidarity with the oppressed. Some see it as a radical reframing of “fruitfulness.” Some see it only as a demonstration of God’s power (“Look! God can do magic!”).

I think the incarnation and the Virgin Birth gives us an opportunity to reflect critically on our theology of the body and how it affects the way we live. How does it affect the way we think about justice for the poor? About hunger? About sexuality? About the material conditions of people’s lives? About the baby born in a manger? When we spiritualize the message, we miss out on God’s concern for the material conditions of human existence.

If the incarnation is just a story about the miracle of birth, it is sweet and inspiring, but not redemptive. I believe it is a story about God’s embrace of the whole complex human being, full of contradictions: pain, pleasure, hope, loneliness, sin, grace, and vision. The body matters, and we cannot tell our faith story in such a way that we ignore real bodies.

Here are some quotes for further reflection:

Ta-Nehisi Coates: “The soul is part of the body. The mind is part of the body. When folks do physical violence to black people, to black bodies in this country, the soul as we construe it is damaged, too – the mind is damaged, too.”

George MacDonald: “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

Karl Barth: “Born of the Virgin Mary means a human origin for God. Jesus Christ is not only truly God, he is human like every one of us. He is human without limitation. He is not only similar to us, he is like us.”

Twice a week (usually Tuesday and Thursday) I do a short reflection on a Bible verse from a devotional and social justice perspective. You can sign up to get a prompt via SMS here: 
Text Of The Day

Text of the Day for 12-8-16


Today’s text is from Exodus 23:1

Don’t spread false rumors. Don’t plot with evil people to act as a lying witness.

“Fake news” is in the news a lot right now. Its power has changed our culture. I took the above photo in line at the grocery store last week, and I realized that these tabloids are now exemplary for what passes for “news” for about half of the population.

Lots of people see this through a cynical lens. “You can’t trust anyone,” they say. “There’s no such thing as truth—only spin.”

But this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the word “truth.” It evades responsibility for our own critical reading and thinking, because it’s simply “too hard.” And while I’m skeptical of our ability to completely grasp truth or discern God’s perspective on reality, what we can affirm is this:

Some claims are lies. And some claims are more true than others.

The gospel is “Good News,” and in order for it to be good it must have some claim on the truth. It offers a counter-narrative to the dominant one(s). The Good News gives us reason to resist the powers that be, to affirm the existence of truth in a world that tells us such resistance or affirmation is futile.

For us, truth is not merely about a set of facts we agree or disagree on. It’s about a relationship with the Ground of Being, an orientation to the Source. The Truth, the Way, and the Life calls us away from cynicism to pursue certain objective goods. “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and God’s righteousness.”

Good News is always the enemy of fake news. And fake news is always the enemy of the Good News.

Each Tuesday and Thursday I do a short reflection on a Bible verse from a devotional and social justice perspective. You can sign up to get a prompt via SMS here: 
Text Of The Day

Text of the Day for 12-6-16


By Todd Huffman from Phoenix, AZ (A wise man is astonished by everything.) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Today’s text is from Proverbs 26:9:

Like a thorny bush in the hand of a drunk,
so is a proverb in the mouth of fools.

This is one of my favorite Bible verses of all. You can’t quote it without acknowledging the possibility that you are, in fact, a fool quoting the Bible.

This is ancient wisdom literature critiquing itself. This verse says that context is important. Any idiot can quote wise sayings or spout scripture. Wisdom is not the ability to pull verses out of the air, but the understanding that there are fitting words for fitting times. (You can watch my video about Proverbs and context here).

It also acknowledges the danger that someone confident of their own wisdom poses to themselves and others. This is part of the reason the term “Dunning-Kruger effect” has come into popular parlance. It refers to a situation in which someone doesn’t know that they do not know something. To put it bluntly, they’re too stupid to understand that they are stupid.

Wisdom is about knowing where we are not yet wise, knowledgable, or talented. Fools are supremely confident in their own knowledge. Wise persons know their knowledge and wisdom are unfinished.

Hence the state of the world.

Too often, not only Proverbs but the whole Bible has been used to promote ignorance and to harm others by those who are not wise, knowledgable, or talented. “Like a thorny bush in the hand of a drunk.” Bad theology harms its users and those around. Some folks are too inebriated to understand the damage they do to themselves and others.

(Some know or suspect the damage they cause—and do it anyway.)

Memorize this verse. But deploy it wisely 😉

Each Tuesday and Thursday I do a short reflection on a Bible verse from a devotional and social justice perspective. You can sign up to get a prompt via SMS here: 
Text Of The Day

Text of the Day for World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day. So I’ve chosen for today’s text Luke 7:36-50:

One of the Pharisees invited Jesus to eat with him. After he entered the Pharisee’s home, he took his place at the table. Meanwhile, a woman from the city, a sinner, discovered that Jesus was dining in the Pharisee’s house. She brought perfumed oil in a vase made of alabaster. Standing behind him at his feet and crying, she began to wet his feet with her tears. She wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and poured the oil on them. When the Pharisee who had invited Jesus saw what was happening, he said to himself, If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. He would know that she is a sinner.

Jesus replied, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”

“Teacher, speak,” he said.

“A certain lender had two debtors. One owed enough money to pay five hundred people for a day’s work. The other owed enough money for fifty. When they couldn’t pay, the lender forgave the debts of them both. Which of them will love him more?”

Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the largest debt canceled.”

Jesus said, “You have judged correctly.”

Jesus turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? When I entered your home, you didn’t give me water for my feet, but she wet my feet with tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but she hasn’t stopped kissing my feet since I came in. You didn’t anoint my head with oil, but she has poured perfumed oil on my feet. This is why I tell you that her many sins have been forgiven; so she has shown great love. The one who is forgiven little loves little.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

The other table guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this person that even forgives sins?”

Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

Too many Christians believe in a pernicious Theology of Deserving. It talks about karma instead of grace. It says we get whatever we’ve got coming to us. Those who are rich, healthy, and privileged are that way because they are faithful, and God has blessed them. Those who are poor, sick, and oppressed are that way because they are sinners.

But blessing does not come to us because we are faithful, but because God is faithful. Remember Jesus’ most famous sermon? “Blessed are the poor… those who mourn… those who make peace… those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…” None of these did anything to earn God’s blessing.

In the same sermon, Jesus says God makes the sun rise and the rain fall on the just and the unjust, the wicked and the good.

Job’s friends certainly believed in a Theology of Deserving, and they told Job he must have sinned for such terrible things to happen for him. God rebuked them for their lack of understanding.

I grew up as the AIDS epidemic blew up in the 80’s. I heard—and believed—a lot of the most hateful and misinformed rhetoric around the transmission of HIV. Some of this came from the church.

In the mid-90’s, I remember walking in to the church I served as an assistant youth pastor. I said to the youth director, “I just heard on the radio that researchers may only be a decade away from a vaccine for HIV.” She replied, “Oh, no! Then nothing will keep these kids from having sex.”

I just stared. I didn’t know how to respond.

Since they often presumed that people acquired the disease through some kind of immoral sexuality, some churches became barriers to God instead of bearers of God. Like Simon, they presumed that some people were not worthy of Christ’s attention. They found justification for their oppression of LGBTQ persons.

But there were also churches who acted like Christ. Places like GLIDE Memorial UMC saw AIDS as another opportunity to show Christ’s unconditional love. One church I attended, Trinity UMC in Huntsville, was one of the first organizations in the city to develop an AIDS outreach in the 1990’s. And in their ministries they often found Christ was already alive and active among those who the church had neglected.

I’ve certainly changed my mind a lot about theology, sexuality, ethics, and public health since I was a teenager. I am grateful that God has forgiven my sins of being unloving and ungracious.

Let us firmly rebuke the Theology of Deserving with the Theology of Serving. We are not blessed because we are faithful, but because God is faithful. Those who are poor, those who mourn, those who are sick, and those who are oppressed are those who will be vindicated by God. This is the Good News we share.

Text of the Day 11-29-16

Today’s text is from Psalm 51:6:

And yes, you want truth in the most hidden places;
you teach me wisdom in the most secret space. (CEB)

I think this verse is about integrity. God wants us solid to the core. Truth is not just about the public appearance or validation of truth, but an inner correspondence between our being and the world.

Truth is a slippery concept in our society. Some people say there is none, that everything is spin, and the only thing that matters is how many people you can convince at any given time. I think this is one of the reasons, as Harry Frankfurt says, we are surrounded by bullshit. He says the difference between a lie and BS is that a lie is a knowing distortion of the truth; but BS doesn’t care what the truth is at all.

Let us be people of integrity. We may not always be able to tell truth from lies in the public world, and the are those who profit by spreading BS and humbug. But we follow The Way, The Truth, and The Life, who will direct our steps.

So, that’s the devotional part. Let me add a few academic notes about the Bible and translation, especially about this particular verse:

This is one of those verses that can be translated several ways. I learned it in Sunday school as a kid this way: “You desire truth in the inward being.” (That’s from the New Revised Standard Version). I liked “inward being,” because it sounds philosophical and mystical.

But you can translate it more concretely. Yet another translation, the New International Version, uses a different choice for “inward being” — womb.  Womb actually makes more sense, especially when you put it in context:

Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Another contemporary translation, the NET Bible, uses the word integrity, which I like. But these translators take it in a sexist direction: “You desire integrity in the inner man; you want me to possess wisdom.”

The word “man” is nowhere in the text. This translation was made in 1995, well after translators should have known better. Why not use “person?”

How did we get from womb to a place where women are entirely erased? Does God not desire integrity from women, too? It’s ironic to me that the translation of this verse, which is about inner integrity, illustrates the lack of integrity created by sexism.

Our privilege, our blindness to the ways we are shaped by sexism, racism, and other isms, puts holes in our integrity, in the correspondence between inward truth and the social reality with which we all live. God wants truth in our inward beings, in our deepest selves, because shalom (peace with justice) has to pervade our spiritual lives as well as our social lives.

It is ironic that the translation of this verse provides such a window into how social lies can corrupt our deepest selves.

I’ll say it again: let us be people of integrity.

Each Tuesday and Thursday I do a short reflection on a Bible verse from a devotional and social justice perspective. You can sign up to get a prompt via SMS here: 
Text Of The Day

Text of the Day for 11-24-2016

Each Tuesday and Thursday I do a short reflection on a Bible verse from a devotional and social justice perspective. You can sign up to get a prompt via SMS here: 
Text Of The Day

Today’s text is 1 Timothy 6:7-10:

for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 

But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

Tomorrow is Black Friday, when lots of retailers do most of their business of the year. We are told that it is almost a moral duty to go out and consume for the good of our economy. As much as we preachers complain about the materialism of Christmas, we haven’t done much to curtail the tradition! We have not demonstrated being content with the basics: food, clothing, shelter, water, and love. And so we’ve given ground to the real religion of our culture: the marketplace.

I’m going to encourage you to boycott Black Friday. Or, if you spend, spend in such a way that brings more justice into the world. Patronize local or minority-owned businesses. Give recycled or upcycled gifts. Choose to seek eternal values, rather than ones doomed to obsolescence.

Our culture tells us what success looks like: more, bigger, shinier, newer. But we take out of the world exactly what we brought into it: nothing. If we are to leave behind something other than trash, stuff that “moth and rust can consume” (Matthew 6:19-20), we have to build it ourselves out of the only resource that matters: people. We invest in people. We build relationships. The gifts of God are all around us as creative, loving, talented human beings.

Of course, gift-giving and sharing resources can be part of building relationships and communities. But this holiday season, let’s think about how we can be generous stewards not only of our money, but of all the resources around us. What kinds of gifts can we give to our community that will outlast us?

Text Of The Day 11-22-16

Each Tuesday and Thursday I do a short reflection on a Bible verse from a devotional and social justice perspective. You can sign up to get a prompt via SMS here: 
Text Of The Day

Today’s text is from Mark 4:3-9:

“Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

There are many ways to read the parables. We often read this one individualistically, and listen for the way it describes our lives: Are we too shallow to produce fruit? Too distracted? Have we had the seed snatched away by forces beyond our control?

These kinds of readings tend to make us feel critical and inadequate. I don’t that is the intent.

As a church planter, I often read this parable as a description of the nascent church movement. There are environments hostile or beneficial for growing communities of faith.

But the action of the parable doesn’t really focus on the seed or the soil. It focuses on the planter, who wildly flings seed around, letting it bounce off of sidewalks and land in bushes. The planter wants to give the whole world a chance to produce fruit, and is not stingy with the seed. We might view it as a waste. The planter does not. The ultimate result is a harvest.

I think the same thing is true of social justice movements that is true of the gospel (and from my perspective, they are very closely related). We know two things: the planter flings the seed, and there will be a harvest. The condition of our own soil and our communities—sure, that’s our business. But ultimately, God gets what God wants. The arc of history still bends toward justice, and the Body of Christ grows the kingdom stealthily, like yeast in bread, or seeds scattered across vacant lots.

Text of the Day 11-18-2016

Each Tuesday and Thursday I do a short reflection on a Bible verse from a devotional and social justice perspective. You can sign up to get a prompt via SMS here: 
Text Of The Day

Today’s text is Genesis 2:1-4. This version is from The Message:

Heaven and Earth were finished,
    down to the last detail.

By the seventh day
        God had finished his work.
    On the seventh day
        he rested from all his work.
    God blessed the seventh day.
        He made it a Holy Day
    Because on that day he rested from his work,
        all the creating God had done.

This is the story of how it all started,
    of Heaven and Earth when they were created.

Christians often fail to appreciate the social significance of the sabbath. When they read about Jesus defying the Pharisees and healing on the sabbath, they often think, “Those mean ol’ Pharisees!”

But it’s likely the Pharisees’ thinking was not far from your own doctor’s. If you come in for treatment for a non-life-threatening condition on Saturday, they will tell you to come back when their office is open on Monday!

For a population of people who told the story of escaping from slavery in Egypt, who were forced to live a second-class citizens in Babylon, the sabbath was non-negotiable. It was an emphatic statement that life is more than work, and that every creature is entitled to the dignity of a day of simply being who they are. Their life cannot be co-opted as labor for someone else. Farm animals, even the land, deserve a day of rest to simply be who they are before God.

In this sense, sabbath is about liberation. It is opposed to everything that enslaves and oppresses—including, Jesus reveals, the sabbath itself.

It was a theological statement; not merely a labor law. Here in Genesis, it is written in the fabric of creation. Even the omnipotent God takes a rest, so don’t let anyone steal yours. Make sure that others—especially the financially poor—have what they need to rest. Don’t let the tyranny of the urgent, corporate overlords, or politicians take away your right to sabbath. If and when they do assault your right to a day off, recognize that the destroyers of rest and liberation are held accountable by God.

Text of the Day 11-10-16

Each Tuesday and Thursday I do a short reflection on a Bible verse from a devotional and social justice perspective. You can sign up to get a prompt via SMS here: 
Text Of The Day

I have several texts for you today, depending on what you need.
Here’s one if you need hope and encouragement from Romans 5:3-5:

We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

But sometimes you just need to lament. This is from Psalm 44:

You’ve made us a joke to all our neighbors;
    we’re mocked and ridiculed by everyone around us.
You’ve made us a bad joke to the nations,
    something to be laughed at by all peoples.
All day long my disgrace confronts me,
    and shame covers my face
because of the voices of those
    who make fun of me and bad-mouth me,
        because of the enemy who is out for revenge.

Sometimes you need rage. This is from Psalm 94:

Rise up, judge of the earth!
    Pay back the arrogant exactly what they deserve!
How long will the wicked—oh, Lord!—
    how long will the wicked win?

Often in religious circles, there’s a good deal of smarm and tone policing. Preachers and others who mean well tell you how you should feel about something. Let me share this with you: there is no should when it comes to how you feel. You feel how you feel.

I don’t see a lot of tone policing in the Bible, except from Job’s friends, and they were kinda jerks.

What I do see among biblical authors is a wide range of responses to a wide range of human experiences: exile, loss, homecoming, romantic love, death, injustice, birth, awe, and resurrection. Whatever you need from the Bible today, I encourage you to delve into it and read. It encompasses both human words about God and God’s Word to humans, and it expresses the full breadth and complexity of our lives.

Text of the Day 11-8-16

Each Tuesday and Thursday I do a short reflection on a Bible verse from a devotional and social justice perspective. You can sign up to get a prompt via SMS here: 
Text Of The Day

Today’s text is from Proverbs 13:12:

Hope delayed makes the heart sick;
    longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

Of course, I can’t read this Proverb without thinking of Langston Hughes’ poem Harlem:

What happens to a dream deferred?
      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?
      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Hope, it turns out, is one of the qualities followers look for in a leader, according to Gallup’s research in Strengths for Leadership. This affirms research by psychologist Martin Seligman, whose concept of learned helplessness has informed decades of study. According to Seligman, the amount of hope language in their speech is the best predictor (90%) of whether a candidate will be elected president.
Hope is what motivates people to work for change.
That’s why, even though the author of Proverbs had no idea what “hope deferred” would mean to African-American people 3000 years later, the words resonate so strongly. Your hope and your dream of the future is what binds you in a web of mutual self-interest with your community. But hope deferred or constantly disappointed makes us cynical and heart-sick.
A church that lives out its mission embodies a community of hope. They share a dream and want to share their hope with others. Jesus said “blessed are y’all who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for you will be satisfied.” We encourage each other because our longing for justice is a happy hope.