sojourner, hearer, & follower of Jesus

Category: Bible in 90 (Page 1 of 9)

Bible in 90 II – Genesis

I can see my kids sitting on the floor asking me questions about what they observe in their world. Questions about the blue sky, why ants bite, how birds fly, and why people don’t always get along. I gather them and say “Once upon a time . . .”

I am always taken by the amazing primal story of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Its liturgical rhythms are stunning, its detailed account both exciting and painful to hear. This is obviously a story of a people curious to know about how their experience of the world connected to their understanding of divine life.

So the grandmothers and grandfathers passed on the stories told to them, stories of identity and belonging. These stories were passed down from generation to generation and gave meaning to life experienced as it tried to explain their uniqueness in the world.

I wonder what I would say to my children about the world if I, like the ancient Hebrews, did not have a written narrative? How would I answer their questions of identity and belonging? Would I begin with chaos? Would God’s “wind” be part of the story? How did we get here? What does God have to do with us? Would I just explain the nice and good things of life or would I try to explain the struggles also? Would I tell stories of perfect ancestors who always did things right, or would I use them as examples of what not to do?

I am thankful that I have these stories and I am also thankful that they serve as a starting point for conversations about the world, humanity, and God. Each time I approach the narrative I am in awe of how much these stories still speak to the human condition and to our need for divine grace.

I’ll keep on reading, wondering, and telling . . .

The Bible in 90 II

As many of you know last January I began a bible in 90 adventure. It was a transformative time as I engaged the great narrative of our faith. After I finished I tried to start over reading the bible in 180 but life happened, a move came, and transition interrupted the plan.

Tomorrow (September 1) is time to begin again and again remind myself of the great story (this time I’ll be reading from the Common English Bible). Is a perfect time to begin, kids are in school, boxes are unpacked, and we feel at home here in Baton Rouge. I don’t begin alone, this time my partners are not going to be on the blogosphere (although there might be a post or two about what I learn ;-)) instead I am joined by friends and colleagues the Rev. Katie McKay Simpson and the Rev. Drew Sutton.

We are going to read together, pray for one another and share what God is telling us along the way. We are going to be thinking and discerning together about our vocation, about the church, and about our discipleship. We are going to let the great narrative help us see what God is up to in our neighborhoods and our communities of faith. Is going to be a wonderful journey.

So stay tuned, there is no telling what the Spirit will say along the way . . .

Bible in 90 – Day 90: New Heaven & New Earth

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne say, ‘Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ Then the one seated on the throne said, ‘Look! I’m making all things new.’

Revelation 21:1-5 (CEB)

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

This journey began with God’s spirit moving in the midst of chaos. Out of that chaos, disorder, and darkness God created. Soon the beautiful creation of God became broken due to our turning away. Since then God has been after the created order, after humanity, to restore us and all the created order to God’s original intention.

The beginning of the story becomes the end. Out of the brokenness of sin and death comes a new creation. This is no disembodied life. It is heaven come down, God come down, new earth, new body, renewed creation!

Many times along this journey I have been tempted to stop. Life has happened, plans have changed, surprises have come along the way. I am thankful that I did not stop. For at each turn of the journey this old story became my story and the story of God’s people.

Reading the bible always reminds me that it is a living story. We are Adam and Eve, we are Abraham and Sarah, we are Deborah and Gideon, we are Ruth and Boaz, we are Mary and Joseph, we are Paul and Phoebe. You get my drift, this ancient story is our story.

So now in Christ we have been empowered to be agents of restoration for all of creation. We were the ones that messed it up, we chose to turn away. Now we can choose to accept God’s grace and begin to live again in proper relationship with God and the created order.

New life can indeed begin today! This is not just a vision for some end time event. This is no vision of some kind of higher place. This is a vision of a God who comes down, just like God did in Jesus, and makes all things new again, reminding us, all of us, that we were God’s own beloved creation from the very beginning.

I am thankful for this biblical vision.  I am thankful that I went on this journey. I am thankful that the Spirit was with me along the way. I pray that I can live into the vision of those who collected these stories, I join them in their cry, Come, Lord Jesus!

Come in me, come in strangers along the way, come in the creation that you have given us, come in the community of faith, come in spilled waters, come in poured wine and broken bread, come and make new!


There are so many that I would like to thank for being faithful companions along this journey.

I’m especially thankful to my readers, especially those that subscribe to this blog. I’m sure that at some point in this journey you were ready to stop receiving daily e-mails. Thank you for subscribing and thank you for reading.

I want to thank many of my clergy colleagues who cheered me on during this journey, my brother Josh Hale, colleague and sister Katie McKay-Simpson and her husband Taylor, Matt Rawle, and Taylor Burton Edwards.

A special thanks to Todd Rossnagel whose beautiful pictures adorned most of my blog post during this series. I was amazed at how perfect his pictures were to the post for the day.

Last but not least I want to thank my life partner and spouse Shannon Huertas who cheered me on, gave me the time, and read many of the post before publishing. She continues to inspire me to become the best person I can be!

Some have asked me, What now? Well Shannon and I have committed to reading through the bible together, this time in 180 days. I won’t be blogging about it (maybe sometimes) but we will be sharing what the Spirit is telling us over coffee every day.

Bible in 90 – Day 89: On Translations

Translation is difficult work. The translator is really and interpreter of both the original language and the receiving language. Because of this interpretation the translator must know both the definition of the word but also how a particular culture uses the word in speech, sentences, and phrases. This is the reason why there is no “perfect” translation and all contain a subjective level where decisions about punctuation, work choice, and structure had to be made.

When I embarked in this Bible in 90 adventure I knew that I wanted to do it in a different translation than the one I was accustomed to using. I wanted to be “surprised” and “stirred” to see the biblical story in a new way. I chose these two translations because I was not very familiar with them, the TANAKH had been assigned in seminary and I could not really remember how it read, and the Common English Bible was a brand new translation.

I can say after 90 days with them that they accomplished what I wanted them to! Reading the bible in through them pushed me, prodded me, and helped me see so many things, little nuances of the text, that I had never paid attention to before. Take, for example Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd;
I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me to water in places of repose;
He renews my life;
He guides me in right paths
as befits His name.

Though I walk through a valley of deepest darkeness,
I fear no harm, for you are with me;
Your rod and Your staff — they comfort me.

You spread a table for me in full view of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my drink is abundant.
Only goodness and steadfast love shall pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
for many long years.

Psalm 23 (TANAKH)

Now take a familiar reading from the Gospel according to Matthew:

‘When you pray, don’t pour out a flood of empty words, as the Gentiles do. They think that by saying many words they’ll be heard. You shouldn’t be like them, because your Father knows what you need before you ask. Pray like this:
Our Father who is in heaven,
uphold the holiness of your name.
Bring in your kingdom
so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven.
Give us the bread we need for today.
Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you,
just as we also forgive those who have wronged us.
And don’t lead us into temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one.

Matthew 6:7-13 (CEB)

These are just a few examples of extremely formative and key parts of scripture that I was able to see “anew” because I chose to read them in a different translation. There are too many to name but I will have to admit that many of the passages that I chose to write on during this Bible in 90 Adventure came from parts of scripture that had a different read because of the translations I chose.

Today none of us need to have all of these translations in our homes. At the touch of a button we can find most translations online. One of my favorite sites is Bible Gateway (for most English translations, including the CEB, and many foreign languages) and Oremus Bible Browser for the NRSV, RSV, and KJV.

Don’t wait another minute . . . find a bible, take up, and read!

Bible in 90 – Day 88: Spirit of Prophesy

Then I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said, ‘Don’t do that! I’m a servant just like you and your brothers and sisters who hold firmly to the witness of Jesus. Worship God! The witness of Jesus is the spirit of prophesy!’

Revelation 19:10 (CEB)

"Early Christians Worshipping" by William Hole

In his book Introduction to Liturgical Theology, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, speaks of worship as:

[T]he life of the Church, the public act which eternally actualizes the nature of the Church as the body of Christ, an act moreover, that is not partial, having reference only to one function of the Church (her ‘corporate prayer’) or expressing only one of her aspects, but which embraces, expresses, inspires and defines the whole Church, her whole essential nature, her whole life. (p. 14)

Worship is the act of identity. The proclamation of the word and the gathering around table, become the constant reminder that we are a baptized people for the life of the world. In this constant granting of identity we receive new eyes to see, the retelling of the story God’s story reminds us of our need for God and the availability of restoration through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Time and time again we are reminded that “once [we] weren’t a people, but now [we] are God’s people.” (1 Peter 2:10, CEB)

Now that we are a people we see the need, the brokenness, the strife, the necessity of God’s kingdom. Here is where the witness of Jesus becomes the “spirit of prophesy” in allowing us to see the necessity of God’s kingdom we are then able to become agents for the renewal of all of creation in the name of Jesus the Christ.

I wonder if we are being defined in these ways in our worship? Is our worship of almighty God faithfully witnessing to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection? Is the result of our worship are a sent forth body, an empowered people, ready and able to announce that the kingdom of God is here?

It is my prayer that our life of worship re-claims its centrality as the public expression of our identity as the body of Christ. In order for this transformation to take place – and in doing so re-claiming Eucharistic worship as the subversive activity of the kingdom- we must stop superficial calls to meet perceived needs,  accommodation to consumerist demands, and a worship that demands nothing.

Bible in 90 – Day 87: If you can hear . . .

If you can hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

Revelation 3:6 (CEB)

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

Sometimes I imagine the Spirit calling out like the Verizon man, “Can you hear me, can you hear me now?”

There is much to say, much to call us to, remind us about, and teach us. In order for all of this ministry to take place we must listen to what the Spirit is saying. Listening turns out to be very difficult work.

The Spirit’s voice can easily be drown out by our “noise.” We are busy people, we have plans, schedules, and projects. When we gather as a church we have a collection of plans, schedules, and projects. We also have collective ideas about mission, ministry, and program. I wonder what God’s Spirit would want to tell us about those?

In the book of Revelation we have a Spirit who has detailed opinions about the state of the churches being named. The messenger has some good things to say, “pats on the back,” you might call them, then there are the “growing edges.” Apparently there was much activity going on in these churches but the activity left much to be desired. Their busyness did not necessarily amount to faithfulness, their success, did not amount to fruitfulness.

So we must listen. Stop the talking, planning, whining, and strategizing and listen. Apparently we as a body must also change our hearts and lives and we too must be made attentive to what God is up to in the world. If we listen the Spirit is ready to tell us, comfort us, empower us, and show us the way. Can we hear . . .?

Bible in 90 – Day 85: Don’t Stop

Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing.

Hebrews 10:25

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

I sometimes wonder where we got the idea that attending the gathering of God’s people on the Lord’s Day (Sunday worship) was optional for Christians?

It is clear that the meeting is pivotal to our identity as God’s people. We gather to worship God, to hear the story of faith, to lift up the needs of the world, and to partake of spiritual food. We gather because we are the people called to gather for the life of the world.

The gathering is not optional because in baptism we were grafted into Christ and became a part of God’s own community. Becoming Christian means that we become many, no longer do we walk alone, we are now part of one body.

Our gathering should not be dependent on our “feelings.” Sometimes we don’t feel like going to work, but we do, like going to the grocery store, but we do, or like getting up in the morning, but we do. We do things because we recognize their importance in spite of our “feelings” about them. The discipline of attending the meeting is also about discipline, about our willingness to set aside a time in our lives each week to recognize the Lord of our lives.

As baptized people we need each other. We make covenant to live life together, to lift up each other, and to help each other grow in the way of Jesus. We together, empowered by the Spirit, become God’s people in the world. May our gathering propel us into living out our identity as God’s own in the world.

Bible in 90 – Day 84: Reviving God’s Gift

Because of this, I’m reminding you to revive God’s gift that is in you through the laying on of my hands.

2 Timothy 1:6

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

I am thankful that “laying of hands” became the sign-act for the Christian community to pass on the Holy Spirit to a new generation of leaders. It expresses blessing, care, nurture, and passing on the faith. I am also reminded of this special gift each time that I confirm people in the faith and lay my hands on them, calling the Spirit upon them for the work of discipleship.

Today I spent the afternoon on day one of our Discerner’s Academy. This weekend is an opportunity for people to explore a call to ministry in Christ’s church. Each time I am amazed at those who come, searching for God’s voice, ready to hear and act on it.

One of the common threads is my constant reminder to those discerning that the call of discipleship requires constant discernment. God is calling us each day to live the way of Jesus and to live in this way requires a discerning Spirit.

Those that gather here truly “revive the gift that is in me.” Their stories, struggles, and excitement remind me of my calling long ago. Their energy, passion, and imagination freshen up my own and reminds me to be open to new dreams, new possibilities, and new ways to lead God’s people into God’s kingdom making mission.

All of God’s people through their baptism have been set aside to be about God’s mission in the world. Let us all reclaim the gift that is in us! And let those of us set aside for the work of leading faith communities always remember the heavy hands upon us that granted us a “double portion” of God’s Spirit for the work of leading God’s people.

Bible in 90 – Day 83: Paid Discipleship

He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God. God’s goal is for us to become mature adults — to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ.

Ephesians 4:11-13 (CEB)

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

I knew since I was a teenager that I wanted to be a pastor. I remember the thrill and excitement I felt the first time I read scripture in worship at age 12, I also remember my for the bible, the church, and people. There were many along the way that encouraged me and called gifts out of me that I did not think I had. After college and seminary, I could not wait to be a pastor, to lead God’s people into their being about God’s kingdom in their community.

It did not take long to figure out that God’s people were a little spoiled. People did not seem open to hear about being led into God’s kingdom. I was there, I was getting paid, “we are glad you want to be about those things, that’s why we have you here,” many would say. When I took part in a community organizing project around immigration issues someone pulled me aside to remind me that they paid my salary and that I was there “for them.”

It has been almost 6 years since these rude awakenings to the realities of the pastoral office. There have also been many amazing moments of leading into God’s kingdom and becoming Christ’s presence of healing love at important times. But I am constantly aware that for many of those members of my community I seem to be their cop-out for being about their own discipleship.

The reading reminded me of something I know and try to practice. I have been given gifts for pastoral ministry and teaching so that I can help the body in their kingdom living. So that I can help all become “mature adults.”

As a father of three I know that many times it would  be so much easier to do things for my kids. It would be quicker and the task would get accomplished as I wanted to. If I do that though the kids will not learn, will not become response-abled people, and I would not have accomplished the most important task of parenting.

In the same way I must resist the temptation of being the “paid disciple” for the people I serve. I must instead walk alongside constantly reminding the community of its story, and calling the community to its task as God’s people. This takes more time, more investment, and many times more heartache but in the end that’s what God has called me to.

Bible in 90 – Day 82: New Creation

So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!

2 Corinthians 5:17 (CEB)

"Crescent" ©2010 Todd Rossnagel

It is easy for Christians to become self centered. Many times the gospel we proclaim is about “our” salvation, we speak of “our” relationship with God, and “our” finding Jesus. Those that might overhear us could quickly make the assumption that this Jesus thing is only about me, myself, and I. That God has no other interest but the individual.

The scriptures provide a helpful corrective. In Christ we become part of a larger narrative, a larger plan, a liberation of the I. We become a “part” of a larger whole that seeks to renew all of the created order back to God!

This aspect of our salvation is made clear by the Common English Bible (CEB) translators. I am thankful for their work in this passage.

The New Revised Standard Version renders this passage like this:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

The King James Version:

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

The New International Version:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

Our being in Christ unites us to the cosmic event of salvation. We become part of God’s renewing of creation, past, present, and future. Now my prayer is that we can claim salvation in this way, instead of falling into our self-centered tendencies that make salvation about us, about our going to heaven, or about our being in the in and most others in the out.

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