Paul… the Radical Countercultural?

Neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female: we are “all one in Christ Jesus”

Paul Mosaic at Chora Church in Istanbul

People today don’t give Paul (or Jesus or the Bible) enough credit for “forward thinking”. We like to think that modern man has pulled himself (and herself) up by the bootstraps, a notion that emerges from our modern view of ourselves, of beings that have made ourselves after a long, doggedly determined climb out of the primordial slime.

Paul is often called patriarchal and even misogynist. He is blamed for the “backward thinking” that prevails in some areas of the church. Bronze age ideas and norms, they say, enslave the church in primitive thinking that quashes the rights of more sophisticated modern people.

There are dozens of examples in Scripture that this isn’t true. When we read the Scripture through a modern lens and don’t understand or appreciate the context of the time when it was written, we fail to appreciate the radical nature of Scripture.

I have written on these things many times in the past, but my attention is drawn to one example today. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote:

“[I]n Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
“I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 3:26-4:7)

Let’s unpack this a bit, and I think you will see what I am talking about. First, we need to consider the context of the time in which this letter was written. Then we need to look closely at what Paul is saying.

Continue reading “Paul… the Radical Countercultural?”

Herod, Mikvehs and the Religion Disconnect

Religion is often disconnected from the spiritual reality of the existence of God and who God is as revealed in Scripture.

Ruins of King Herod’s fortified palace Machaeros, Jordan, Middle East.

A recent article on the discovery in 2016 of the mikveh uncovered at the site of King Herod’s palace at Machaerus on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea in modern Jordan got me thinking about a theme I have been contemplating for some time.[1] That theme is the disconnection between religious ritual and spiritual reality.

21st Century people might call that “disconnect” hypocrisy in the process of dismissing all religions and spiritual truth. That modern tendency to discount all religion in that way, and especially Christianity, reflects a lack of understanding that bothers me when I hear it. The recent discovery reminds why I feel this way.

Digging into the history of King Herod, the palace at Machaerus and the mikveh that was recently discovered there sheds some light on the subject and reminds me that there is much more than meets the modern eye. And, in some fundamental ways, nothing has really changed from then to now, and yet everything has changed at the same time.

Before we get into the meat of the matter, I should explain that a mikveh is a small pool or bath used in ritual purification. Thus, the discovery of a mikveh in King Herod’s palace indicates that the royal inhabitants engaged in the Hebrew purification ritual that was instructed in the Old Testament (the Torah).[2]

Of course, the instructions in the Torah were traditionally understood as religious in nature, though the ritual cleansing in mivka’ot (plural of mikveh) might be seen through the lens of modern science as good hygiene. The purification rite that were instructed would have inhibited the spread of contagious diseases and infection. But for them, with no understanding of modern hygiene, health and medicine, these practices were purely religious in nature.

With that in mind, what then is the significance of the discovery? How does it shed light on the disconnect between religious practice and spiritual reality? What is the nuance that modern people often miss in discounting everything they lump together as “religion”?

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The Work of Godly Grief Within Us

How we measure up in relation to the barometer of Scripture and what we do with it.


“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10) (ESV)

When I read this, I immediately ask myself, “How do I measure up to this standard?” Have I exhibited a godly grief that produces repentance that leads to salvation? I think that’s the natural inclination.

I search myself, my past and present experiences, my behavior and my orientation toward God, and I measure myself on the scale that is presented, not just in this passage, but in any passage. Scripture is not just a prescription; it’s a barometer.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) (ESV)

I felt that active and sharp character of the Bible when I first read it in college, and it is not any less active or sharp in its affect on me today. If I am conscious of the “interaction” of the Scripture in relation to the thoughts and intents of my heart, it provides a third person view, in effect, into my self in relation to God.

Still, I am tempted to think, “How can I measure up?” Regarding the verse above, I am tempted to consider how I can generate a godly grief that produces repentance that leads to salvation. My mindset is, “How can I do that?” or “What does it take to accomplish that?”

As I dive deeper into the verse, though, I begin to see something else. That something else gets to the heart of my relationship with God. It is the heart of the Gospel.

Continue reading “The Work of Godly Grief Within Us”

For the Shame of the Gospel

We have gotten away from the pure and simple message of the cross, that Jesus came to die for sinners and give them salvation.


We live in interesting times. We have taken for granted for a long time in the United States that we are a Christian nation. Christians are fighting through political means and social media to convince this country of those origins and to hold on to them. This is a fight that began in my memory back in the 80’s, and maybe even before that.

In my opinion, we have moved past those Christian origins. Perhaps, the minute we had to start fighting to preserve that legacy we had already lost the fight. I am not sure we will ever go back, short of a revival orchestrated by the Holy Spirit.

Current attitudes in popular culture and among the intellectual elite in the US view the Christian heritage negatively, to the extent that people admit we have a Christian heritage. People view Christians as privileged, wielding power and oppressors. This is the cultural Marxist dialectic that has been playing out since at least the 70’s and maybe before that. We are losing the cultural war.

The positive connotation that went with the word, Christian, in our past has been replaced with a negative. This has largely happened in my lifetime.

Christians have not always deserved the positive connotation that unquestioningly followed the reference, Christian, in the past. Neither do Christians deserve the negative assumption that is evident today. While people may have previously distinguished the errors and failures as departures from the actual message of Christianity, that “nuance” (not that it is very nuanced) is largely lost today. Moderns increasingly equate Christians with those errors and failures. The exceptions have swallowed the rule.

We (Christians) need to be mindful in this realization that we can be guilty of the same failure to recognize the distinctions and nuances in “others” as well. Most Muslims, for instance, are not terrorists. Most feminists, gays, transgender people and others who do not see the world as we do are just trying to find meaning and purpose, healing from their pain and happiness in life. They aren’t the enemy. They are people Jesus died for.

But, I digress.

Christians are the most oppressed religious group in the world today, but you wouldn’t know it in the United States. It isn’t the kind of news that gets published (often) or that anyone wants to hear. It doesn’t fit the current narrative on Christianity that has developed in the west.

It may be that people don’t want to hear it because Christians have had it pretty easy. Christians in the US are viewed as the reigning social oligarchy. The consensus that has building for some time is that Christianity needs to be toppled from it privileged position.

Indeed, Christianity has enjoyed a long and enduring influence in the west, and especially in the US, unlike most other areas of the world, but Christians are now on the defensive as the “others” renounce allegiance and demand recompense. It seems to defy common understanding in the United States to consider Christians an oppressed group.

That privilege doesn’t exist in most other parts of the world where, ironically, Christianity is now growing fastest. While the Church in the US is losing ground rapidly to “the nones”, Christianity is growing fastest and gaining ground most in countries in which the environment is harshest and most hostile to the message of Jesus.

Maybe this is a reflection of the difference between the Gospel of Jesus and the institution of the Church – the difference between the simple message of the Gospel and the burdensome structure of religion. Just as “others” no longer understand the difference between the Gospel message and the errors and failures of the Church, equating and conflating the two, the Church in the US has largely lost its way, no longer shining like a bright light on the hill Jesus intended.

The vestiges of Christian power and influence are evident everywhere, but it is a blighted and obsolescent infrastructure that is crumbling and washing away. The cultural momentum that is gaining steam threatens to displace it altogether from its place of position in the social commonwealth. The current oligarchs in that marketplace of ideas threaten to oust the Christian voice and banish it from the public square.

As I survey the voices I hear, what I see that is being opposed is the voice of Christian power and influence. It isn’t so much the Gospel, but all the infrastructure that has been built up around it, that people are opposing. People don’t (very often) object to the simple message of the Gospel, They don’t even know or appreciate what it is! The message of the Gospel is effectively hidden behind the more public scaffolding of the Church.

Continue reading “For the Shame of the Gospel”

A Life Transformed


I stumbled on the video a few years ago that was posted in March of 2015 by Maz, a woman who was raised in a radical, abusive home. She had just become a Christian, against her families’ wishes, and she feared for her life. Though she filmed the video alone, she spoke in hushed tones. The weight of her plight was evident in her demeanor, yet she was willing to face the consequences for her commitment to Christ. You can watch it for yourself below.

The video was hauntingly beautiful in its testament to the life changing reality of an encounter with God in Christ. Her own father sought to have her beheaded. The emotion of the moment was raw and real. She was leaving a testament to her love for God, knowing that her life might not end well.

I wondered about her and prayed for her years after she posted the video. She posted another video about a year later, and she was still doing well. She had matured some in her faith, but the darkness of her past and the threat that hung in the air seemed still present.

I searched a few times for a follow up video after that, wondering what became of her. Did she survive? Was she ok? Was her faith as vibrant after time had passed as the day she posted that first video?

Today, I don’t have to wonder anymore. I had subscribed to her channel. Today as I was going through my YouTube subscriptions her video that she did in March of 2019 was there on my computer. I watched it, and what a gloriously different demeanor she has now! She radiates the love of Christ.

See and listen for yourself her story in the first video. Her original story is amazing and compelling. She had trouble putting her encounter in words, but the love of Christ she experienced was overwhelming. She knew little about Christianity, but she knew the risen Lord.



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Are You A Friend of Sinners?


“Telling people about Jesus is easier than living like him, but the latter will lead us to the cross. When we befriend those outside of the Church walls, we have to actually live out this whole Christian thing, not just talk about it.”[1]

I have often thought that Christians seem to become abrasive in “sharing the Gospel” out of motivation not to be ashamed of the Gospel. We don’t want God to be ashamed of us by being ashamed to share the Gospel, but that motivation, alone, isn’t what sharing the Gospel is all about.

We don’t earn our way to heaven by sharing the Gospel. Salvation is a gift.[2] We can’t earn salvation by sharing the Gospel.

Rather, sharing the Gospel should be the natural extension of who we are, born again as children of God, flowing out of the new life that is budding and growing within us.[3] Sharing the Gospel should be an extension of our lives as we walk with God – not simply something we say.

God is love.[4] Therefore, as children of God, having the lifeblood of God coursing through us, sharing the Gospel should be an expression of that love that He has for us and others.

Too often, it seems, that the stands we take for God evidence something other than love. It comes across as fighting to maintain political and cultural power and position. Or it seems like notching our belts in the category of “I am not ashamed”. Or, like the Pharisees that Jesus always confronted, it resembles self-righteousness.

To be sure, none of us, myself included, are immune from these vestiges of the flesh that live on and die hard within us. So, we need to be uncompromising and unrelenting – like Israelites were instructed as they entered the promised land to drive out the inhabitants – to expose and root out the sin that still lives within us.

Our example, of course, is Jesus, who demonstrated in his life the very nature of God in human form.[5] Jesus got the greatest push back from religious people, but he was a “friend of sinners”, as the great hymn acknowledges.[6] That phrase, friend of sinners, comes from an accusation leveled at Jesus by the religious leaders.

I wonder what influence Christians might have if we were more often called friends of sinners, rather than not ashamed of the Gospel?

Continue reading “Are You A Friend of Sinners?”

The Importance of Relationship, Trust and Commonality

The Gospel isn’t primarily a what, but a Who – Jesus, who transforms people who follow him.


This morning I have listened to a podcast and read an article on the same theme: Christians who desire not to be defined by the things they are against. I didn’t go searching for themed material today, these things came together organically as I went about my daily habits of listening to a podcast first thing in the morning and reading throughout the day.

Early this morning, I listened to Justin Brierley interview Christian evangelist, Kevin Palau, and Sam Adams, the gay mayor of Portland, OR, on their unlikely friendship.  Later in the morning, as I was waiting on hold on the phone (for along time I might add), I read an article in Relevant Magazine: Don’t Be Defined By What You’re Against. I will add that the verse of the day on the Bible app is Psalm 90:12 (“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”)

While these three sources of material may not seem like thematic material, I assure you they are. Beginning with the interview, the evangelist, Palau, explained the motivation for engaging with the City of Portland in civic service. Palau recognized that Christians were known in the community primarily as people who were opposed to certain things, and not anything positive – let alone as followers of Jesus.

Palau also recognized that Christians were distrusted by the community, and so he set out to regain the community trust. The first thing Palau and his church did was to respond to the needs of a local public school that was failing. Not only did they show up; the showed up in such force that people took notice. What was supposed to be a day of work turned into an ongoing labor of love.

Palau and his church were so successful in making a positive impact that they inspired churches around the community to adopt schools, and the schools, in turn, embraced the church involvement. The involvement caught the attention of the mayor of Portland and his chief assistant, Sam Adams, who would later become mayor himself.

Palau and Adams are an unlikely pair to become friends, but that is what they are today. Adams is the first openly gay mayor of Portland. Palau is an evangelical evangelist. Adams confirms Palau’s concerns by agreeing that he previously only knew evangelicals for what they stood against, but now, he says, there are more things they agree on than disagree on.

Adams recognizes that they have some fundamental disagreements on key issues for both of them, but those areas of disagreement are no longer the defining characteristic. They now join hands on addressing areas in which they agree and have formed a long-term friendship as a result.

Palau has built a bridge without compromising his faith. As a result, Adams and the community no longer view evangelicals only for what they stand against; they also see what evangelicals stand for.  The community now knows that the Gospel means more than calling out sin. It means meeting peoples’ needs, loving people and offering hope. The Gospel isn’t primarily a what, but a Who – Jesus, who transforms people who follow him.

Continue reading “The Importance of Relationship, Trust and Commonality”