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Messiahs, "Success," and the Way of Jesus: A Palm Sunday Sermon

Text: Matthew 21.1-11

Success is the most important thing in life, and failure is to be avoided at all cost.

That’s the message I hear when I listen closely to the world around me. Success is celebrated; failure is mocked. Success means: you matter; failure means: you don’t.

I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, five minutes from Harvard and ten or fifteen minutes from MIT. For a lot of people, just getting here is a success in itself. For others, getting here is only part of the journey to success. Not everyone completes their journey; some journeys end here. Here is where success and failure often hang in the balance.

How do You define “success”?

If you’re smart, what does “success” look like for you?
If you’re attractive, outgoing, what does “success” look like for you?
If you come from a wealthy family, what does “success” look like for you?
If you come from a poor family, what does “success” look for you?
If you’re spiritual, devout, what does “success” look like for you?
Whatever your background or current situation, ask yourself: What does “success” look like for me?

When I became a Christian at close to 17 years old, I discovered theology and fell in love. I read every theology book on I could get my hands on. I devoured them, because I wanted to know everything about God, the Bible, Christianity. Before I’d even left for Bible college, I made a goal for myself. I wanted to have a PhD in theology by 33. (It rhymes, so it’s gotta be God’s will, right?!)

I’ll be 32 next week, and I’m still working on a Masters degree with no plans to apply to PhD programs anytime soon! So, I could look at that and see failure—if that’s how I measure success. But another thing I have to ask myself is: Is that God’s definition of “success”, or mine?

What is God’s definition of “success” for you?

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ECC Perspectives on Salvation: Shalom, Justification, and Breathing Kingdom Air

For Covenanters, any study of salvation must begin with the Scriptures. We ask, “What does the Bible say?” (which is a version of the Covenant axiom “Where is it written?” that discourages proof-texting). This means that regardless of tradition, informed and skillful interpretation of Scripture will be the final arbiter of our soteriology. Covenanters also engage with the best scholarly thinking available to us, both past and present. Therefore, Covenanters gladly stand within the Reformation tradition of ‘justification by grace through faith,’ while also making space for contemporary perspectives on justification. We want to be Reformed, and always reforming! The Covenant’s perspective on salvation is colored not only by its historical roots in the Reformation, but also in the Pietist renewal movement which sought to further reform Protestantism and also to recover the living faith of the Early Church. So in the Covenant’s own history there is precedent for an on-going process of reformation toward greater and greater spiritual renewal.

The Scriptural Story: Salvation as Shalom-establishing

Beginning with Scripture, we find that salvation is rescue. In this sense, it implies the overcoming of danger, a conflict, or an enemy. But it is also the state of being free, whole, and safe from harm. For humanity, this state can only be achieved when we are joined with our Creator. Therefore, salvation is both being saved from something and saved to Someone. Scripture’s witness to salvation is displayed in the progressively-unfolding story of God’s action in the world in relationship to God’s creation, and to humanity in particular. The story which Scripture tells again and again is: 1) God forms a people; 2) God provides that people with a home; 3) God gives that people a purpose and/or mission. Then danger, conflict, an enemy emerge and threaten the people, the home, and the purpose God has created. In love, God rescues God’s people by repeating the process: forming again, providing again, purposing again. In a very real sense, biblical salvation is New Creation!

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"Son of God" Movie: Part Brilliant, Part Failure

If you're not aware, the new "Son of God" movie opening in theaters on Friday is directly from the miniseries called "The Bible" which debuted on the History Channel back in March of last year. I watched the entire miniseries and was a vocal critic of many of the producers' choices—especially regarding ethnicity and racial stereotypes.

But their New Testament episodes weren't nearly as terrible as their Old Testament episodes. In fact, there was quite a bit worthy of celebration. So, here I'd like to re-post both the: 1) Brilliant Aspects as well as the; 2) Missed Opportunities

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Take the Bible More Seriously Than Ken Ham: Interpretation Matters

Since I'm a member of the Christian blogosphere (albeit begrudgingly), this is my nearly obligatory two cents on the Ham v. Nye debate. However, I'm not going to rehearse the debate in any real detail nor attempt to persuade you of my view on the relationship between faith and science. If you care what my view is, suffice to say you can count me among the BioLogos tribe. And I would encourage you to read their take on the debate. You can also read my review of John Walton's book The Lost World of Genesis One to find out more.

In this brief note, I only want to make a simple point: 'Taking the Bible seriously' (as Fundamentalist Christians are prone to call their pseudo-scientific literalism) isn't and doesn't. In other words, the imposing of an anachronistic interpretative grid upon the text of Scripture is incompatible with the claim to take the Bible "seriously." The only way to take the Bible "seriously" is to the take the Bible on the Bible's terms, not our own.

Every person who reads the Bible, interprets the Bible.

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Election and Grace: The Arrival of King Jesus, Part 5 of 10

We've reached the half-way point in this 10-part series on St. Paul's first letter to the church of the Thessalonians. From here on out, each part will be topical, and we'll be covering themes that appear throughout the letter.

This week we're covering "election and grace". The reason why this subject is important is because some interpretors and commentators have viewed the entire letter through the lens of their doctrine surrounding God's saving election and grace. It is also important because there are at least two key verses which have to do with election and predestination which must be interpreted. So, how should be understand them?

In the attached document, two perspectives from the Reformed tradition are outlined: that of John Calvin and his followers, as well as that of Jacob Arminius and his followers. Then an alternative way of conceptualizing election and grace is outlined.

"Messiah Jesus of Nazareth is the Elect One, the One whom the Father loves. As we “come to him” through repentance and faith, we are added to his spiritual body, the ekklesia, the ‘called out ones,’ and we too become God’s elect. In Jesus, we are being built up into a temple in which God dwells by God’s Spirit."

There are several dialogue questions you can ask yourself or discuss with others. Download the attached document to learn more.

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The Hope of the Thessalonians: The Arrival of King Jesus, Part 4 of 10

In this 10-week study of First Thessalonians, we've reached week 4. In part 2 and part 3 we looked at the first two components of the letter's "table of contents". Paul (roughly) divides the letter into 3 sections based on the three couplets of praise he gives the Thessalonians: Their "work of faith," their "labor of love," and their "steadfastness of hope." This week, we're looking at the third couplet.

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The Love of the Thessalonians: The Arrival of King Jesus, Part 3 of 10

Last week, in part 2 of this 10-week study of First Thessalonians I'm calling "The Arrival of King Jesus," we looked at the first couplet from chapter 1, verse 3, the Thessalonians "work of faith." This week, we're looking at the second, their "labor of love."

Love Requires Labor

The first thing that sticks out is the way Paul's characterization of love contrasts so cleanly with the way love is often depicted in 21st century Western culture. Rather than a "feeling" that comes over a person without warning and over which the person has no control (e.g. "falling in love" etc.), Paul's description of the Thessalonian's love is one of painful toil, or labor. The Thessalonians have had to put effort into their love; it hasn't been a romantic walk in the park. The kind of laborous love Paul describes manifests as self-control. Here's an excerpt from this week's study guide:

Instead of “lust like the heathen who do not know God,” by which people take advantage of one another, the Thessalonians have been “taught by God” a new way of love. This love is a holy love that is controls one’s body. (4.4) It is like the protective armor the Roman soldiers wear, only it protects believers from spiritual warfare. (5.7) And this self-control also entails leading a quiet life, “minding one’s own business,” as a missional witness to those outside the body of Christ. This self-control comes from the Holy Spirit whom God has given the Thessalonians. (4.8) A few years earlier (perhaps), Paul penned similar words to the churches of Galatia saying,

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” — Gal. 5.22-24

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The Faith of the Thessalonians: The Arrival of King Jesus, Part 2 of 10

In week two of my ten-week study of First Thessalonians I'm calling "The Arrival of King Jesus," we're looking at "The Faith of the Thessalonians." Click here for last week's lesson.

It's commonly believed that chapter 1, verse 3, is a kind of "table of contents" for the whole letter. It sets out a three-fold order that roughly characterizes the letter's structure. The verse reads:

“remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The three couplets form an outline for Paul:

  • Work (acts, deeds, enterprise, etc.) of Faith (conviction of the truth, belief): 
    1.4—3.5 (transition pericope: 3.6-10)
  • Labor (intense, painful toil) of Love (good will, benevolence):
  • Steadfastness (endurance, patience, etc.) of Hope (joyful and confident expectation):
    4.13—5.11 (verses 13—24 are the “peace” verses)

In this week's lesson, I cover the relationship between "faith" and "works," Paul's view of these things, as well as other apostolic teaching. Then I cover the content of the Thessalonians' faith, which Paul describes, and ask: "What socio-political implications would this faith have?"

See the attached PDF to follow along in the study. Next week, I'll cover The Love of the Thessalonians.

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The Arrival of King Jesus: A Study of Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians

In the Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom) in Istanbul, the mosaic pictured above can be found depicting Christ seated on the throne of the cosmos with the Byzantine emperor Theodosius I worshipping him. Mary, Jesus's mother, and an angelic figure are on Christ's left and right. 1

Starting this week, I am leading a ten-week study of First Thessalonians that I'm calling "The Arrival of King Jesus". While the above mosaic is not from first century Macedonia, what it captures that I find relevant to Paul's letter is the reality that for the early Christians their faith in Messiah Jesus had very clear political ramifications vis-a-vis the empire.

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The Big Story of the Bible: Theologians Could Learn a Thing or Two from This Children's Bible

This is not a review, though one is likely to come later. Instead, I only wish to offer a few priliminary observations about this Bible for children, the Jesus Storybook Bible, that I just began reading to my own children at bedtimes. 

From my preliminary observations, I am overjoyed by the quality of this children's Bible and excited to experience it with my children. In fact, I think this Bible will not only benefit children, but also adults. This book even has a thing or two to teach theologians!

1. Brown People!

The illustrations in this Bible are beautiful! I love the whimsical, yet deliberate style. But most of all I love the deliberate choice of the author and illustrator to make the main characters brown-skinned. In stark contrast to "The Bible" miniseries which aired on the History Channel, the Jesus Storybook Bible does not depict people of ancient Hebrew decent as European/white. Instead, the award-winning illustrator, Jago, was sure to give the biblical characters a darker, more historically accurate, complextion than many (if not most) Western children's Bibles. Nowhere is this more important than in the ethnicity of Jesus Himself. For far too long, children in the West have been deceived by depictions of Jesus as white.

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Welcome to

T. C. and Tyson Moore

Theological Graffiti is the offical blog of T. C. Moore @tc_moore ...a Jesus-disciple, husband, father, urban church planter @NewCityCovenant, designer @NewCityPro, teacher, student, and friend. Discussion is welcome, so long as it is conducted in a spirit of charity. First and foremost, this blog is for self-expression—then community. More About.Me

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