Along with You, the Whole Way

Matthew 9:18-26 was the NT reading for Common Prayer this morning. It is a parallel passage of one of my favorite parts of Mark, (Mark 5:21-43). Matthew’s version is shorter and has some differences from Mark’s account.

In Matthew’s account, Jarius (Mark 5:22), a synagogue ruler’s daughter is already dead (v.18) while she is alive, but sick in Mark’s account, (“My little daughter is dying… put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” – v.23). She will die before Jesus gets there, but Jesus is with Jarius before she dies, after she dies, and then after Jesus raises her from the dead in the end.

As Jesus is going to Jarius’ house, a woman with internal bleeding meets him, in both Matthew and Mark’s account. In Mark’s account, however, we get to hear the woman’s thoughts, the discussion between Jesus and his disciples about “who touched him,” the woman’s admission, and the woman’s re-intergration into the community. Matthew’s version is shorter; it doesn’t have the discussion between Jesus and the disciples, nor the woman’s admission. Jesus simply sees the woman and and sends her away whole.

Matthew’s content shows Jesus jumping in and fixing issues that were full-grown. Mark seems to portray these occasions as developing and Jesus walking alongside in the midst of them, not just a solution in the story.

Both of these ideas that Matthew and Mark portray are important; God is able to help us in times of hardship and God is with us in the midst of them.

May each of us discover God’s nearness in whatever situation with inhabit today.

Take Your Mat and Go Home

Matthew 9:1-8 was the NT reading from my common prayer today and I spent some meaningful time in the story. It is one of my favorite in the Gospels, its parallel is in Mark 2, as well.

Jesus arrives “home” (which is Capernaum, according to Mark 2:1) where he is encounters a paralyzed man, carried by some friends. Jesus heals the paralyzed man in the name of “your sins are forgiven.” (v.2)

Some of the “scorekeepers” do not like Jesus’ assumption that he could forgive sins and so, after a short interchange between them, Jesus turns back to the paralyzed man and tells him to “take up his mat and go home.” (v.6)

The man was healed, he went home, and the crowd marveled at the event.

Theological issues and categories abound in this passage. Leaving those to the side for a bit, I focused upon this command of Jesus to “go home.”

It was common for individuals with aliments to have to leave their homes in Jesus’ culture. We see it in other parts of the Gospels, there was a profound obsession with the idea of sins and impairments being linked together in a mysterious whole. That perhaps sickness or infirmity were material consequences of sin. Communities have always been about finding ways to remove people they think are problems, right?

In many cases, Jews were asked to leave the community when sick and, only after the priest inspected and approved their “recovery” could they re-enter the community, to return home. The aliment’s absence was “cure” and the re-entry to community was “healing.” Perhaps this is why Jesus is so obsessed with the woman with the issue of bleeding in Mark 5 identifying herself and calling her “daughter.” Not only was her issue “cured” but her status with her community is “healed.”

The apparent link that Jesus makes between sins and healing in this passage set off such a radical display of God’s power. Jesus is not a priest and this healing was in the countryside, not in Jerusalem. No wonder the religious leaders were angry and the crowds amazed. Jesus was breaking out holiness in the frontier and that was good news.

The idea of “home” is vital for us as much as it was for the paralyzed man. Home is a place of identity, hope, and community. All of us need a home. Home is a theme for conversion in John’s Gospel. One of the elements of conversion that Scot McKnight mentions is the “socialization of salvation” finding our place among the people of God.

That is my prayer for all of us. That our trust in the faithfulness of Jesus resembles home, that Christianity doesn’t become neither a new bag full of anxieties, nor a way to prove that we are more excellent than others. Because, that sure doesn’t feel like home, to me.

Mad Religion

“Christianity is the only mad religion; which is perhaps, the explanation for its survival – it deconstructs itself and survives by deconstructing itself.” -Jacques Derrida

“We have to change the method of the way we share Jesus’ story without changing its message.” – numerous hip ministers

By the way, the method and the message binary is not as clean as we might imagine, right?

3-minute Retreats

Last week, Todd Hunter shared some time with folks from Tabor College here in Wichita. I found his content to be helpful.

One of the things that resonated with me is how he said that we have trained ourselves and other Christians to practice Christianity “in the margins.” Christians will normally do a morning devotion/prayer practice early in the day or something late at night before sleeping. In between, then, appears to be normal life, and usually (if we were honest) distinct from direct Christian practice.

The goal, then, is to not allow our practicing of our faith to invade the middle, to not have times of connecting with God sanctioned off into the margins.

I’ve used this cool resource, lately, Sacred Space, that allows a person to go on “3-minute Retreats” (or longer, for those who want to take more time). Sacred Space will lead one through a time of meditation, reading, and prayer to help one stay centered and focused upon Jesus.

Check it out if you want help in between the margins.

33 of my Favorite Birthday Salutations

I turned 33 today, so I thought I’d share my 33 favorite messages from FB, Twitter, and text messaging. Birthday salutations mean a lot to people so I thought that I’d say thanks to 33 of my favorites. If you didn’t make the cut this year, see ya next August 25.


Pictures add a bit of style points to the birthday salutation.

Al Schoonover, Barb Lenz, and Mom put these up:image image image





























The first post on FB came from Ukraine, Pastor Ignatenko Vadim, – “Happy birthday, and God’s blessings to you, Joe!”

Ukrainians have a way of sharing awesome birthday wishes, check out this one from my friend Valentina from Kiev – “I want to wish to you AWESOME productive and successful year, full of challenges (good ones), smiles, adventures, trips, family, love, great friends.”

Ryan Wallace sent me one last night. It was great because he used Hebrew, “mazoltoph.” It sure beats his usual, “Have a good one,” without the words Happy Birthday. Way to evolve, R Dub.

There have been apologetic ones. Rick Bartlett saw me at the Chiropractor before he knew it was my birthday and said, later, “Can’t believe I didn’t say Happy Birthday when I saw you this AM. Sorry and hope you have a great day!” He appears to be giving me a book to smooth it over.

Jenny Bradley, always with the flair of theology and humor, said, “I can’t think what birthday is in Greek. But have a happy one.”

A couple of folks used my given nickname in their salutation. BJJ coach extraordinaire Jake Fox said, “Happy Birthday Rev!” while Andy Williamson used an oldie but always a goodie, “Happy Birthday big BABY!” Long story…

My cousin Jessica Martin put two “Happys” in her salutation. We can always use a few more “happys,” right?

Mr. Mike Strong was, and is always, pragmatic, “Joe, it’s your birthday! Happy Birthday!!!”

Dr. Steve Marsh went late-90’s, chat style, using all lowercase in his message.

My new friend Chef O, on the other hand, used all uppercase letters.

Two of the funniest dudes I know, Kyle W. Croak and Terry Johnson, had the same message, “Happy Birthday, man.”

Megan Wohler took the extra time to say happy birthday to “Dr. Joe Skillen.” A little respect goes a long way… Brad Glanville said that at church yesterday, too.

Christy Bosma and Dabria VanGieson posted on FB at the same time with the exact same message, “Happy Birthday Joe! Have a great day!” Dabria added another “!” at the end of her message, though. Advantage: Dabria.

Tim Gibson, who is older than me, called me “OLD man.” I think that how my body feels today would suggest that he has a point.

My friend Aaron Coleman killed two birds with one stone, thanking me for a couple of audio sermons that I sent him as he wished me happy birthday. I ain’t mad at him. Andrew Young did the same thing, asking if the Starbucks that I go to would allow him to advertise for his studio. Hey everyone, go to Andrew Young with Potentials Music for voice and piano lessons!

A lot of folks said, “have a great day!” Kristy Jackson, on the other hand, used “fabulous” in her greeting. Great is… great. Fabulous, however, seemed have a bit more pop in it today, for some reason.

Hank Blase is an attorney and he said that I should take time to do something fun on my day. I’m sure that he could find a way to say it is illegal to do otherwise.

In that light, Debby Rogers said that I should party like a rock star, meaning, “have a great time with your family and friends while counting your blessings more than naming your sorrows.” Well played, Debby.

The cool thing about FB posting one’s birthday is that it allows me to feel connected to others that I haven’t heard from in a bit. Thanks for connecting DeWayne Sykes, Amanda Carrillo, ¬†Bradley Haddock, and Alan Williams. The list could go on and on with this one.

These were birthday salutations that I received before 10am today. I know that a pile of them will come in the rest of the day, too. I am so blessed. This is not counting the impromptu singing at church yesterday or the fantastic time at my friends Steve and Lori Cloud’s home last night. I get to celebrate with my family next weekend… two weekends worth of birthday stuff. Amazing.


My 3 favorite salutations, though, were art projects from my kids, Avery and Ezra, and a sweet card from my wife, Ginger. I got to take Avery to school today and, before she burst into the classroom, she gave me a big hug and kiss and wished me happy birthday. Her teacher saw her do this and raved about how sweet Avery is.

That’s right, Ginger and I have great kids, an awesome family, great friends, and a full life.

St. Irenaeus once said, “The glory of God is the human, fully alive.” Birthdays allow us to capture a piece of what that type of life looks like. So, for all of the kindness that everyone has shown to me, I pray that it would return to you all.


Gospel, part 4

I started a blog series on Monday on the theological term “gospel.” If you’ve missed any or if you want to start at the beginning, you can go here, here, and here.

Tradition and Revelation

In the NT, Paul uses “gospel” as a proclamation about Jesus being Israel’s crucified and risen Messiah and the world’s one Lord. It was a message, much like the one from Roman culture (see post #1)

There is a peculiar tension when looking at the way Paul describes the anticipation of the gospel as we compare his letters.

For instance, Paul is certain that the gospel was anticipated from Israel’s Scriptures:

“By this gospel you are saved… For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Cor 15:2-5- Note: Paul’s use of “according to the Scriptures” is interesting… but we’ll discuss that another time)

In this crucial passage, Paul conveys a gospel that is tradition, something anticipated and “passed on.”

However, it is interesting to take note of another place where Paul speaks of how the gospel came to him:

“I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:11-12)

This confession from Paul is striking. It is worth noting that the verses that follow show Paul’s dedication to Judaism and the “traditions” of his fathers and that what ultimately formed Paul was an experience from something outside of the tradition. Instead of the gospel being a “tradition,” here it is a “revelation” an unveiling of something once hidden.

NT scholar James Dunn finds this to be a striking observation, a tension in the theology of Paul.

Therefore, the gospel (at least theologically) is always new and old, at the same time. Lesslie Newbigin once said that there is no generic gospel to proclaim, that gospelling is shaped by tradition and context.

What might be good news in the Donetsk region of Ukraine could be different than what would be good news in Deerborn, MI. Sure, Jesus is at the center of what would be good news in those areas but how the gospelling takes place would be different.

If the Apostle Paul were able to witness Billy Graham’s ministry he would say that what Graham was up to was both good and different.

If Jesus has asked us to go to the nations (think “people groups,” not “nation states”) we can imagine that gospelling in different contexts will take creativity and wisdom, that the witness of the gospel has the opportunity to be born again in each new age.

So, let’s ask our gospel another set of questions:

“Are you shaped both by tradition and innovation? Am I allowing others who do not share my context to have the space to gospel in their own settings without my bias opinions?”

Gospel, part 3

Earlier this week, I started a series on “gospel” as I prepare notes for a talk on Sunday evening. I thought that doing a short blog post for each idea in order to help me to prepare was a swell idea. If you would like to join along, you can start here and here.


It is my suggestion that the gospel that we claim to share, believe, etc. needs to be “whole.” Typical renderings of the gospel include a problem that God fixes. The problem that gospelers normally point to is the Fall of Humanity from Genesis 3. Adam and Eve disobeyed God and the curse of sin shattered God’s good world “all the way down,” touching every aspect of human life.

Scot McKnight, and other theologians, suggest that the text in Genesis 3 reveals four fractures in the human condition:

Between Human and God

Between Human and Human

Between Human and Self

Between Human and Creation

So, if the problem is the fracturing of God’s good world in four, foundational places of human life, we should expect the solution directly addresses and reconciles these fractures. A whole gospel would place all four of these issues at the center of importance. An incomplete gospel would address some but not all of the fractures.

This may seem menial or disinteresting to some, but I find it to be a vibrant theological and pastoral conversation. For instance, if our gospel sharing helps to mend the Human and God relationship, but neglects the Human and Human relationship, it would be awkward, right? This seems to be of central importance for one of John’s letters to a church; one cannot claim to love God and not his/her brother. Sure, we might find it inconceivable that someone would love God and not their neighbor but common experience shows that we’ve had a tough time separating church and hate.

This lack of wholeness is revealed in the way that people read the Gospel books of the NT. Some tend to read them as long introductions until Jesus finally dies for individual sins of sinners. To them, the things that Jesus did before his suffering, death, and resurrection are not directly involved in “the gospel,” they function merely as preparation of it.

Others read the gospels the other way, that Jesus did so much for individuals who were oppressed by Empire and it was such a shame that Rome finally caught up with him in the end. Imagine what would have happened for human progress if Jesus could have lived a bit longer. This “gospel,” then, is something that reaches out to the Human and Human, Human and Self categories without addressing (directly) the fracture between human and God.

The gospel, then, is “hyper-relational,” as McKnight puts it. It speaks to this amazing idea that Paul wrote to the Colossians, “For God was pleased to have his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things…” (Colossians 1:19-20)

All sounds like a whole lot more than just me and my sins and more than just a recycling campaign.

So, ask your gospel a couple of questions:

“Are you whole? Do you give an anticipation and hope that God is making all things new and mending the four cosmic fractures deep within all of human life?”


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