If someone were to ask you, “Are you interested in having a revived soul, wisdom to open your mind, a heart that rejoices, and spiritual clarity for your eyes?” what would you say?You’d probably jump at the chance to have a little more of that!

Well, unless it was in the form of a red pill from a street vendor.
But what if I told you these are all the natural fruits that grow out of engaging the scriptures? Which – if you’re prone to believe it – is exactly what the Bible says.
It’s definitely my desire to root HMC and my overall ministry in a love for the Bible!  Here are several previous posts about the Bible’s importance at HMC.
Given several inquiries of late, I wanted to share some suggestions for good Bible translations today. First off, there are a TON of great translations out today, and more coming all the time. You really can’t go wrong with any translation that you like or that looks and feels good to you. I hesitate to recommend the King James because it’s ancient sounding and lacks modern research, but beyond that, go for it.

At HMC we read from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) publicly, and I use it for study. This is GREAT for study but WEAK on poetry and imagination. It’s designed that way, to stay really close to the original but not really make your heart go pitter patter.

I love the New Living Translation (NLT); I used it exclusively when I was a youth minister, memorizing a ton of passages in NLT, and so I still find myself going back there regularly.
My top recommendation? The Voice.
It’s very current, and it is GREAT on the poetry/imagination/story front; it sounds amazing, and they have it outlined like a story script. So if Jesus is talking to Mary, they visually separate each of their speeches as “lines” in a play. It is also GREAT for study, with the best of today’s scholarship available. They ran the rough-draft scholarly translation through a whole line-up of artists (poets, musicians, filmmakers, authors, poets, visual artists, etc…) to come up with a no-longer-dorky-yet-faithful-to-the-original translation. I’m using this a ton these days in my own devotional reading and for fun. It just feels different and fresh, which, let’s be honest, is never a bad thing when you are reading stories from 3,000 years ago! Check it outhere.
Hope this helps! Remember, “The word of God, you see, is alive and moving” (Hebrews 4:12, The Voice).
Pastor Marty

 Reading the Bible Jesus Taught this morning talks about the “glory of the Lord” and how it can be revealed. It struck me as i was praying this text how deeply I want this to be true. I want God’s glory to be revealed. I want people (all people) to experience wholeness and healing. I want people to hear that they are loved by God and to believe it. I want all this “for the glory of the Lord.” Or, as Psalm 23 says, “For his names sake.”

Yesterday, I had coffee with a fellow Faithwalker and we both shared our stories, how truncated our image and conception of God has been for various reasons. And how, when healing comes, our worlds are totally transformed by a larger more complete and absolutely stunning image of God. A God who is so much more than dreamed possible! 

This is the God whose glory I want revealed: fully, for everyone.

So, what does our text say it will take? Isaiah 40:3-5 (a text used in reference to Jesus and John) points to a just society where those on the bottom and fringes are lifted high and cared for. The uneven places in our world will be made level. 

The glory of God is revealed (ie, people see God’s genuine goodness) when the world looks and functions how God intends for it to look and function! 

When we who claim his name work for this image of the world made right, when we work towards the justice and kingdom of God: God is glorified.

The familiar song “they shall know we are Christians by our love” should then be modified to say, “They shall know God is God by our love.” “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give the Glory” (Psalm 115, or 116, or 118)

May it be so in your life today.

Justice, Biblically defined, is so much more than people “getting what they deserve.” Oh goodness no. It’s God’s intent for creation; it has to do with right relationships (which is why “righteousness” is a great synonym) between self, God, neighbor, enemy, and the world. Justice, Righteousness, Peace and (in the NT) The Kingdom of God area all connected. It’d be fair to say that Biblical Justice is tied to and connected with the concept of The Common Good.

In Romans 1:17 Paul says that the Justice of God is revealed by nothing other than the gospel of Jesus Christ! It’s that beautiful, cosmic, and exceptional in nature.
This cosmic picture is what Paul had in mind when in Romans 6 he twice calls us “slaves of Justice.” He says we’ve been freed from sin so that we can commit our whole selves to this vision of Justice (6:18,19). Of course Paul’s no rogue on this one. He’s doing nothing but connecting his own thoughts to Jesus, who decades before invites all followers to “seek first the Kingdom of God and God’s Justice (Matthew 6:33).”
Paul does the same. He tells us numerous times (6:13,19) to “present our members” to the cause of Justice. Members, likely meaning gifts, skills, tools, resources: all that we are and have.
He not only call us slaves of this Vision of God’s Common Good Justice, he tells us that when we were sinners, this vision of Justice is precisely what we WEREN’T pursuing. “When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to Justice.” This too is chip off the old block, following Jesus who even more starkly calls us on our inward-gazing ways when he says, “Unless your justice exceeds the Scribes and the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20).”
Of course, as we know, the Pharisees were doing anything but being concerned about the Common Good. In particular, they were concerned about personal piety, worship, tithing, and looking religious. They had neglected the weightier matters of “justice and mercy and faith (Matthew 23:23).”
The church of the west has not tied itself to Justice but to Individualism. We’re not concerned about what’s best for all, we’re concerned about what’s best for me. Shame on me!
Paul’s statement means something else though as well, no one’s going to do this if Christ’s followers don’t. God’s Preferred Common God will never materialize without the followers of Christ becoming slaves of Justice. Never.
Which of course begs the question, Why aren’t we doing this? Why aren’t Christians known for pursuing the Common Good instead of the bottom line? Why don’t most churches, including most Mennonite Churches, expend their best energies loving their neighbors and actively working for justice, peace, and righteousness? Why are so many churches in the Houston area hitching their wagon to the Religious Right’s agenda of personal piety and national defense to the exclusion of issues of Justice such as poverty, racism, wealth, education, American imperialism in Central American and the Middle East, human rights, and unrestrained militarism?
And why are we so locked in to individual responses to social problems? Seems clear that the Bible’s individual response to brokenness is charity. But it’s overwhelming and foundational response to the greatest needs in our world is Justice: A Social solution to our social problems.
My next post will explore these questions more. I’ll tell a great story that has unfolded over the last 40 years to help frame what it might mean to become “slaves of Justice.”
But in the meantime, give yourself again to Jesus and his beautiful new vision of the World as it can be: Justice.
This is how I do devotions.

When you pick up a Bible what exactly are you holding? The Bible is several things. It’s a library filled with stories. A collection of events from dozens of authors in numerous contexts spread out over more than a thousand years. There’s absolutely nothing like it in human history, and in this regard it’s fascinating. This is how many of us have been taught to see the Bible, as a “What?” question. What is the Bible? It’s a bunch of really great stories!

This is how I viewed the Bible when I went off to college, a precocious Bible trivia nerd enrolled as a Bible major at age 18. It’s also precisely why I did NOT know that the same David who killed Goliath as a little kid grew up to be King David. Because no one had ever told me the story of David; only stories about David.

That’s embarrassing to admit, but true. Which leads me to a second, more important, answer to the question What is the Bible? It is ONE story: the story of God’s Mission in our world. These 66 books (39 from the time of the Hebrews, 27 from the era of the early church), this enormous cast of characters, these numerous concepts in dialogue with each other tell us GOD’S STORY.

And when we answer the question that way, everything changes. The “what?” question drifts into the background (along with the “how?” question) to be supplanted by a much more meaningful – if not odd sounding – question, Why the Bible?

The Bible is precisely because it reveals to us God’s story, clarifying who and how God is, and what God is up to in our world. The Bible is because it invites us to see ourselves as characters in that story. Ordinary you and normal I are as much a part of the story as Abraham, Esther, Nebuchadrezzar or Mary. This summer we’ll look at God’s Story in 5 Acts. Our place in God’s story is in Act 5, a context which calls for a specific way of being that differs from the other 4 Acts in God’s story. Join us for Worship this Sunday as we Enter God’s Story, celebrating that this is where we are.

In my last blog post for the Chronicle – Your thoughts on Israel-Palestine? – I asked you to share not what you believe, but why you believe what you believe. Your answers are as diverse as anticipated, ranging from scripture to history to politics to personal experience. For those who answered, Scripture played a heavy roll. But you most certainly did NOT use the same texts or core arguments. Indeed, what I said in the blog is clearly true of us, “There are, if its not obvious, different ways of looking at the past and the future of Israel and Palestine…Well meaning and committed Christians differ radically on what our faith suggests we should do.” Responders based their reasons in at least 5 very different Biblical principles:

  1. God’s ancient promises to “The Chosen People” are clear, literal, and final.
  2. God’s future promises regarding the End Times (particularly Armageddon) condemn non-Jewish nations and exalt Israel.
  3. The Ethics of Jesus life and teachings call into question the use of force and imbalance of power between these two people groups, and demand a response of nonviolent love.
  4. Justice as equal and right treatment of all peoples. Justice demands fairness, equitable distribution, and the righting of social wrongs (such as power imbalance).
  5. The Bible calls us to a new people-hood irrespective of national borders, centered on Christ. The point is not to “choose sides” but to seek total reconciliation.

As Jill Carroll asks in her excellent blog this week called My Bible Your Bible, “Are they reading the same Bible?”

She points out contradictions within the Bible, complicating quick easy answers to problems as complex as this. We see what she means (“that the Bible is not a completely harmonious text”) in the answers provided by my great readers. All of which are valid arguments, rooted in the text we claim to share, and tethered to a tradition much deeper than the individuals who posted them.

So what do you do when the Bible contradicts itself? Is Carroll right, we have no choice but to “highlight those [texts] we agree with, beat our enemies over the head with them, and claim that God is exclusively on our side”? Perhaps. But another option, rather than throwing the Bible out altogether as she seems to suggest (Bible is “highly problematic” and of little use in political discussions.), is to have a conversation on the validity of how we read our Bibles. Is one way of reading (what is called “hermeneutics”) better and/or more faithful than another?

This question raises a host of other questions, especially for a guy like me who sees peace as central to my faith, placing me on the fringes of Christendom. In one way or another, each option above has answered these questions from Bible professor Marion Bontrager, Hesston College:

  • What is the relationship between the two Christian testaments? Is there both unity and disunity between them, with Jesus and the New Testament superseding the Old Testament? Or are they “flat,” with God having two wills at the same time, one for personal and one for corporate ethics (and therefore no contradictions like Carroll outlines)?
  • Is Jesus the norm for Christian social ethics or is his life largely irrelevant because he came for a “higher” purpose?
  • How did the early church do their social ethics? Do Jesus and Paul agree? Were the church’s and Paul’s ethics from Jesus; or did they borrow from reason and society given they didn’t see Jesus teaching social ethics at all?

As much as I appreciated Carroll fleshing out Biblical contradictions, I’m not sure I agree that the Bible is “highly problematic” and of little use in political discussions. Let’s take only the first question above and see what clarity comes. Jesus clearly claims in his most well known sermon that he came to “fulfill” the law; then uses the formula “You have heard that it was said…But I say…” six times to reveal what that means. Clearly, Jesus sets himself above the Hebrew Scriptures. Paul seemingly does likewise, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.” Jesus towards Emmaus, and the sermons of Acts teach Jesus is the key to history and scripture.

There’s no space to address further questions, but with just one answer I’ve found a path illuminated through the murky contradictions that are the Word of God. The Bible itself seems to answer Carroll’s conundrum for us by pointing to an interpretive key: Jesus. If this is so, the scales of Christian decision should be weighted more by what Jesus said and did than by ancient or future prophecy, some of which is obscure anyway.

Jesus, who doesn’t rid us of the law, but fulfills God’s passion for justice, right relationship, and peace has recruited me to a life of breaking down the barriers of hate and injustice, which are present on both sides. The use of violence is clearly evident throughout this conflict, but the abuse of power rests largely with Israel. Jesus should never be used (as one of my commenters did) to implicate Jews with Jesus death; nor however should anyone be free to commit atrocity because they are “chosen.” Racism, hatred, violence and genocide should be confronted from any and all directions. Of the options my readers supplied, I find my home in #’s 3,4,5. Why? Because I believe they most authentically (and Biblically) address the contradictions of scripture in a way helpful to the cause at hand: Israel-Palestine. But also because, in choosing to base my ethics on Jesus, I won’t be beating my enemies anytime soon.

Also posted at Marty’s The Peace Pastor blog at: where you can follow the discussion.

As a teenager, my mother always sent me out into the world saying, “Remember who you are.” She intuitively knew that memories define us and play an important role in our behavior and future decisions.

We see this in young children, where developing a memory allows children to define selves in relation to others and the world around them. When encountering a new experience, categorizing based upon past experience relieves stress and allows for comprehension of new information. Likewise, the loss of memory in aging adults removes our ability to define ourselves in meaningful ways. A recent episode of Grey’s Anatomy revealed the pain and dislocation of non-memory when a character taped a post-it to her husband saying, “This is Robert. Robert is your husband.” Remembering who we are helps us act in accord with our values and self image.

This is equally true of nations and communities. What we choose to remember defines our identity and directs our future. U.S. history, our history, is the history of freedom, we’re told. In pursuit of that goal, we the people have continued to broaden freedom to more and more people groups, often through war. Picture the Mall on Washington and the story it tells through symbol. Flowing down from the Capital (symbol of democracy) is the monument to Washington, telling the story of courageous freedoms fought for and won against a non-democratic oppressor.  The Lincoln memorial stands as a testament to war’s ability to bring freedom and unity when we persevere. The WWII memorial is one of the most stunning examples of how symbols communicate power, a true testament to something many refer as the “Good War.”

These and several other stories are the key memory bricks we’ve used to erect our national image. The story is clear: we are a nation of heroes bent on freedom at any cost. And so today, in our next step as valiant warrior, we’re spreading ‘peace and freedom’ in the Arab world. In erecting this image, it becomes inconvenient to remember aspects of our story that don’t further this metanarrative: bad bricks, if you will. Absent from Washington’s Mall are two of the most definitive and core stories of our nation: the 300 years of chattel slavery, and the genocide of the First Nations people. Why? Is it because bad bricks disrupt our self image and derail our inevitable march towards ‘freedom’?

Selective memory may be beneficial in stroking our ego, but it’s not helpful in producing wise, relevant decisions regarding our future. Paul Freire says in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, “Human existence cannot be silent, nor can it be nourished by false words, but only by true words, with which men transform the world. To exist, humanly, is to name the world, to change it (pg 88).” True words allow for growth and change. Selective memory severely limits our ability to learn from history, to grow as a nation, and to be defined in ways appropriate to this context in these times.

Today, we selectively forget the true cost of the wars we’re fighting. Civilian casualties in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan (etc…) are counted in the tens and hundreds of thousands. Drone attacks in Pakistan, notorious for killing civilians, have increased since Osama bin Laden’s death rather than disappeared. Our economy (and national, state, and city budgets) continues to flounder without drawing connection to the trillions spent on war.

But remembering the fullness of who we are is both Biblical, and practical. The Hebrew Scripture (what Christians call “The Old Testament”) erects a national mall in stark contrast to our own: including bad bricks almost to the exclusion of anything good (Psalm 95 is a nice ode to bad bricks). Jesus (Luke 24:13-35) and Stephen (Acts 7) both preach early post-resurrection stories inviting listeners to build their house of faith using both good and bad memory bricks. Christians celebrate this “complete memory” each and every time we break the bread and pour the cup of communion. From the perspective of faith, it seems imperative to resist forces which limit or bury memory, else our whitewashed “pure” self-image will blind us to the consequences of our choices. Both the good and the bad memory bricks are, apparently, essential in erecting a just and peaceful world.

This weekend we’re invited to erect a holistic house using both our good and bad memory bricks. Discovery Green is hosting a memorial to all lives lost in the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Event information says:

Memorial to Military and Civilian Losses in Iraq and Afghanistan Wars May 28th – 30th. The memorial consists of a labeled US and Texas flag for each of the almost 600 Texans killed in both conflicts and prayer flags and photos to denote the many tens of thousands of Afghan and Iraqi civilian losses. 

Is it possible that the greatness of our nation tomorrow depends on the fullness of our memory today? Perhaps.

Remember who you are!

Also posted at Marty’sHouston Chronicle  The Peace Pastor blog at Follow Marty on Twitter.

Every year we pull out the Cadbury, peanut butter, painted and plastic eggs to celebrate what ultimately is the gruesome R-rated story of the public torture and execution of a human being. Why do we coat Jesus’ story in chocolate and bunnies? I’m not sure why you do, but at our house my son isn’t old enough to understand death, let alone talk about torture and murder. I suppose candy and Easter baskets allow inclusion of kids in the ironic highlight of the Christian year.

Siphoning attention to the Easter bunny is not the only way we escape Jesus during Holy Week. We adults are much more sophisticated. We elude Jesus humanity via the warm glow of theology itself.  Here’s what I mean. Orthodox Christianity says that Jesus is 100% human and 100% divine, yet our telling of Easter neglects the human aspects of holy week and jumps to a theological interpretation (God is love, Jesus had to die, substitutionary atonement, etc..) without looking at the human historical realities that the Gospels themselves focus on. If Jesus humanity is fact, why skip so readily from the cradle to the grave?

Whether by a chocolate or a theology covered Jesus, skipping the narrative account derails an important opportunity to form faith. The narrative is filled with demonstrations, courage, tears, injustice, back-stabbing, class contempt, militarism, and mob spirit. How did Jesus fight the noise and remain self-differentiated enough to stay faithful to God? What would the man Jesus have had to believe in order to endure the journey to the cross? My love for God grows exponentially more when thinking about what Jesus believed to live the life he lived during Holy Week, than it does to ask what I’m supposed to believe about Jesus. Here are my three opening thoughts on what Jesus believed, and what I’m committing myself to again this Holy Week.

Something has gone terribly wrong.
At the height of Jesus popularity, in the midst of raging throngs of supporters, Jesus stops to weep over Jerusalem. His lament? That we don’t know what makes peace. His harshest criticism is never for the outsider, or the nonbeliever. Instead, he saves his strictest action for folks just like me. Indeed, Ched Myers in his fabulous book Binding the Strong Man suggests that all the events of Holy Week are an unfolding indictment against the religious leadership of Jesus day. Demonstrating against the temple, parables directed at the leaders, acknowledgement that their unjust practices negatively affect the poor, promises that the corrupt temple system will be “thrown into the sea” all reveal Jesus sadness over a world gone wrong. His friends betray him, his friends try to protect him with violence, his friends utterly abandon him. But ultimately, nothing unmasks the terribleness of our world like Jesus ruthless execution before the watching world. Something has gone terribly wrong indeed!

But had Jesus only believed this, he would have been jaded, bitter, and angry. He wasn’t. He also believed…  

The Kingdom of God is the real solution to the world’s greatest needs.
Rooted in the prayers of a mother who taught him God “has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly” Jesus washed his disciples feet, revealing true service and mutuality to be more transformative than absolute power. Rooted in an ancient tradition of swords beaten into plowshares and lambs lying with wolves, Jesus rejects the viable choice of violence when his accusers prowl, and instead embraces nonviolence: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Rooted in his experience as a refugee, and as a poor homeless man, Jesus rejects the individualization of faith and embraces God’s love as being for the whole world, not just believers like him, then proves it by forgiving his executioners and embracing his fellow death row inmates. Rooted in direct experience of the love of God for himself, Jesus commits to nonviolence is the greatest demonstration of the sovereignty of God the world has ever seen. Jesus’ actions in Holy Week show me he’s interested in more than just saving souls. He truly, genuinely believes at the core of his being that God’s plan for the world (his “Kingdom”) is the best way to live.

But Jesus didn’t wait for God’s magic wand, armeggedon, or the rapture to bring such an epiphany. No, Jesus also believed…

God invites us to be part of the solution.
Holy Week kicks off on Palm Sunday with a mass demonstration against the competing imperial gospel, worthy of civil rights March fame. Courageous, risky, committed action on Jesus part finds him riding a weak donkey into Jerusalem declaring himself (again) king and Lord. Scholars call this ride the “Anti-triumphal Entry,” a parody, a comedy of what is happening on the other side of town where imperial forces descend on Jerusalem to protect it during Passover. ‘There is a new sheriff in town!’ Jesus seems to be saying. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me… The kingdom of God is among you!… My yoke is easy and my burden is light…Pick up your cross and follow me.” Love, acceptance, justice, kindness, humility, nonviolence, mutuality: these are the marks of participation with God in bringing Kingdom to earth.

Astonishingly, we’re told by a reputable source that we are to “have the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” We are to work, because God is at work in us! Helen Keller says it this way, “I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; I will not refuse to do something I can do.” This was precisely the attitude in 1960 Houston, when 14 black students from TSU sat down at an all white lunch counter at Weingarten’s supermarket. While they were not served on that auspicious day in early March due to religiously accepted racism, Houston’s civil rights movement kicked off and quietly, non-violently led to the unraveling of Jim Crow in our fair city.

Chocolate Covered Jesus
Now don’t get me wrong, I love chocolate and I’m a sucker for theology. But I have a hunch, if more of us believed what Jesus believed, Houston would be a lot closer to heaven than it is today. “No” to injustice, “Yes” to God, and “Sign me up.”

What do you think? What do you believe this Holy Week? What do you think Jesus believed in the inaugural Holy Week? Whatever you believe, I hope your faith is formed to be more and more like Jesus, our Lord and Savior!

Also published at where Marty writes as “The Peace Pastor.”

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