A Few of My Favorite Bible Excerpts

Midlife Crisis Crossover pulpit

This 2008 file photo taken at Historic Jamestowne, Virginia, captures a very rare moment of the author in a pulpit.

Easter week continues on MCC! Let it not be said (today) that the mention of “faith” in the blog subtitle is total false advertising.

Confession time: when I launched MCC eleven months ago, I didn’t expect that aspect of my life to receive such short shrift here compared to the other parts of my life. Truth is, writing about my faith is challenging because the majority of examples set before me from other writers, family, and friends (in writing or in simple conversation) are either memorized Bible verses, Christian song lyrics, or common quotes that sound so much like real verses that everyone assumes they are and keeps passing them around. For the purpose of self-expression, I have a hard time settling for that.

Years before my life took a conscious turn toward a new spiritual direction, I was once an English major who had one critical writing lesson drummed repeatedly into my head : “Put it in your own words.” While the Bible contains a wealth of advice more useful to me than Bartlett’s Quotations or Twitter, I’m not sure what I’m accomplishing — either for the Kingdom or for myself — if all my writing and speaking consists of recycling the exact phrases and paragraphs of everyone who came before me. Becoming a living, walking re-blogger holds no appeal to me. I’m hardly the most original guy in the world, but I’d at least like to try to form my own sentences into useful structures. Problem is, all the best wisdom and aphorisms are taken, leaving me to cobble together what I can from my own odd experiences and pale talents in hopes that it doesn’t reek of copy/paste plagiarism. More often than not, my frustrated approach is if I can’t say something different, I don’t say anything at all.

I don’t recommend that mindset to anyone else. I’ll concede that’s me being stubborn. Arguably, I’ve set the bar too high for myself. We’ll see how my thoughts on the subject progress as I age and hopefully keep growing. Until then, here I am, doing the best I can with what I have. That usually means I end up focusing on my other specializations here, those that predate my faith, originated in my childhood, and are sometimes at odds with it. Thus is the conflict that fuels some of the fight scenes in the Midlife Crisis Crossover.

Nonetheless: still Easter week, then. In observance of the holiday, as an attempt to bring counterbalance to the site, and for anyone who ever thought about asking, enclosed below for general sharing purposes are a few portions of God’s Word that have stood out to me over the past ten years for various reasons:

* Matthew 11:28 — “‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.'” Despite my memory for numbers, trivia, and comic book history, I’m terrible at memorizing verses or lines. This is reason #1 why I would be a terrible actor. A passable SNL host, maybe, if the cue cards were large enough. I once attended an adult Sunday school class that challenged us to memorize a different verse every week, but I had trouble getting those to stick. This particular passage was the first I ever memorized of my own volition. (I actually memorized the slightly differing version from the ESV: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” It was on a verse-a-day desk calendar I keep at work, birthplace of many a burden.)

* Titus 3:9-11 — “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.” The apostle Paul’s advice: don’t waste your time on trolls and snarky debaters. Great practical advice that’s saved me a lot of time and energy in futile online arenas.

* Romans 8:28 — “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This one keeps coming at me in sermons, the occasional study, and in online discussions when Christians are either reassuring each other or surveying their Friends about favorite verses. In short, it’s one of the popular ones. It encourages us to look forward to the very, very end of the race, despite whatever horrid travails obscure our view of the finish line from the present moment. Sort of an extended, more eloquent version of “This, too, shall pass” for believers.

* 2 Corinthians 11 — The entire chapter is Paul responding to wild accusations from false teachers by establishing his credentials as a worst-case-scenario sinner who turned away from evil and found redemption anyway. As a humble man who hates bragging about himself, Paul feels like an idiot here and has the overall attitude of “I can’t believe you’re making me do this.” Paul role-models for us how extinguishing haters sometimes requires extra hassle.

* Matthew 8:5-13 — My favorite scene of them all, no contest: the time a Roman centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant from afar:

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”

Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”

The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.

The moment is superbly captured in the old TV miniseries Jesus of Nazareth, in which Ernest Borgnine cameos as the Centurion and, in my mind, walks away with the entire film. The scene is deceptively short, but hardly simple. The centurion asks for Jesus’ intervention. Jesus makes it so. The centurion rests assured that it is so. End scene.

I’m sure it sounds stupid to some. The centurion doesn’t demand proof. He doesn’t insist they embark on a long day’s journey for the sake of presence or eye contact. He doesn’t interrogate Jesus about his methods or ask for referrals from other clients. He simple knows that the miracle he’s humbly requesting can be performed from afar, provided that it be within God’s will. His straightforward confidence and trust in Jesus are a great illustration of another verse:

* Hebrews 11:1 — “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Whether our conditions are ideal or not, that’s the serene, worry-free, ultimate level of faith we should be striving to attain. If only I were better at talking about it outside my own head.

* John 20 — If some upstart animation studio brazenly decided to remake It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown, this is the chapter that Linus would recite to an empty auditorium and end with, “That’s what Easter is all about, Charlie Brown.” I’d be remiss if I didn’t reference the main event to end all main events somewhere in a sincere Easter discussion.

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