Friday, July 29, 2011

Genesis 10

One of the bigger challenges I have in preaching is text selection. Many good preachers will tell you the way to solve that is by simply preaching a series that goes through books of the Bible. That’s one of the ways that I try to copy good preachers so that I might be mistaken for one.

The good results from preaching through a block of Scripture include, at the least, these things: 1. This helps the congregation and the pastor develop a clear understanding of what is in the Bible, a solid Biblical theology. We find ourselves looking consistently at the text; 2. This keeps the pastor from jumping about, pouncing on whatever he wants to preach; 3. The pastor can preach the hard issues without singling someone out: if this week’s text is naturally the next block in the book, then I’m not singling you out: I’m just preaching what’s right there.

An additional benefit is this: not spending huge amounts of every sermon to cover background matters. The setting, style, and authorship of Biblical passages are important. However, it’s not something that 10-15 minutes of every sermon should be spent on. So, rather than belaboring the point that Moses or Paul or whomever wrote this text, you can hit that hard once and occasionally. The preacher also has to get past his own pet topics, and this is good.

There are minor problems, sometimes. Occasionally, it gets monotonous to stay in the same book for a long time. Right now it’s this: I’m preaching through Genesis. Which is a great book. The foundations of all critical theology are found in Genesis: sin, redemption, God at work in the world after the seventh day (as in: yes, He rested, but no, He didn’t retire). That God both judges sin and graciously delivers from judgment. It’s all there. Even the concept of eventual redemption of all the earth and permanent vanquishing of sin is there.

So, preaching through Genesis is a good thing.  This week, though, we’re at Genesis 10. Go ahead, go read it…

This chapter is the opening for the entire field of ethnology, but it’s not very heavy on theology. Essentially, what you have here is where the descendants of the survivors of the Flood ended up. It’s chronologically compacted---this could have taken place over several centuries, you just don’t know. About the only real reference to God in the whole chapter is about Nimrod being “a mighty hunter before the Lord” in Genesis 10:9.

What do you do with that? Some interpreters take Nimrod as being an evil fellow, one who sets up rebellion against God. He gets blamed in some literature as the mastermind of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). Except that there’s no definite Biblical evidence of that. He’s considered the ancestor of the Assyrians, but that’s about it for definite relations. So, how can he be an example of who we ought not be? Just some issues there.

Meanwhile, some of my fellow young-earth creationists try to make more of Genesis 10:25 than I think is there. The days of Peleg, when the earth (ground, land) is divided aren’t going to match up with the break up of the Pangaea super-continent. That event is too far past to connect into the Genesis genealogies. You’re better off to see the existing continental structure as the result of flood run-off, but I digress.

So, in all, this week’s question is: what to preach? All of Scripture is valuable and useful. The goal, the effort is to find what is actually there. It would be terribly easy to add what I want here and preach about something that I want to preach about. However, doing that isn’t preaching. It’s speaking---maybe motivational speaking. Maybe even good speaking.

Yet preaching is something entirely different. Typically, one seeks a speaker that has accomplished what they speak on: success, wealth, overcoming, and so forth. They talk from their perspective, from their expertise. I spend a decent chunk of my learning effort reading and listening to speakers (Scott McKain and Michael Hyatt come to mind first, they’re both quite good) because there’s help there.

A preacher, though, and the sermon do not come solely from expertise and experience. They are not found in seeking someone who has attained and will share how they got there. A sermon comes from someone just as fragile and frail as the person hearing it. The sermon originates in the Word of God. The preacher’s experience and ‘expertise’ (read that as: time spent in focused study) come under the text and cannot supplant what’s actually there.

So, to preach I have to take what is there and present it. Present in a manner that makes sense, is consistent with the text, and doesn’t bore you so badly you can’t stand it. So, back to Genesis 10---and hopefully by next Monday, there will be a sermon podcast to listen to that shows success!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Debt-limit revisited

Dear Congress and the President:

The deadline for that whole debt-limit thing? That’s this coming Tuesday. Are you going to get around to do anything? Or do you plan to sink the whole thing?

You might want to take some form of action. Because historically speaking, a lot of bad stuff happens when an entire country’s economy tanks irrecoverably. And when the bad stuff happens in the country to the people, the people tend to think towards visiting unhappiness upon the government.

The vast majority of us are not quite as stupid as you think, and we know that both parties are being equally troublesome. So your elephant pins or donkey t-shirts aren’t going to convince us that you are not at fault.

Most likely it will be in the polls that we will deal with you and replace you with other folks. But we’ve all been reading a lot of the Founding Fathers lately, and very few of them traveled to talk to Members of Parliament or waited for a new king. They became men of action. These days, there’s plenty of women of action as well.

So quit watching movie clips or berating news reporters. Deal with the immediate crisis and then take long-term, effective action. Close the loopholes that allow companies to ship jobs overseas and book profits overseas so they don’t pay taxes.

Quit spending money upon money for programs that do nothing or only benefit a few. Honor our promises: the debt, Social Security and Medicare. Defend our nation: strong, reasonable defense spending and border security. Promote the economy: in any area that can exist with regulation, cut it out. The states can regulate based on what people are more willing to pay for in that state.

Then, if you have to raise taxes on everyone, do it. You can start with my income bracket: those of us that pay next to nothing or even get refunds without paying. Try eliminating that. You could try the flat-tax ideas or even just simplified, graduated: first $50k, no tax; $50k-250k, 10%; everything above: 20%. Just a thought.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sermons from July 24

Here are the links and info for this Sunday's Sermons. There's more text for the evening message. Someday, I'll consistently write the same amount per sermon. Not any time soon, but someday I'll take a class and learn how to preach Smile

Morning sermon link is here for Genesis 8

Evening sermon link is here for Genesis 9

A Biblical Response to Evil: Genesis 9:5-7

A few quick observations:

1. The "eating of meat" announcement: God decrees that man can eat any animal, as long as he drains the blood. At this point, there is no distinction between clean and unclean animals. Those distinctions come only later with the Law

2. The "vineyard" incident: Noah's drunkenness is a sin: losing control causes disobedience and is, in fact disobedience. However, the sinfulness of Noah does not excuse Ham and leads to the cursing of Canaan. ~~Side note: there is no Biblical or historical warrant to identify Canaan as the ancestor of any modern ethnic group. This section was used to justify slavery in the American South and that was just plain wrong.~~

4. Sin does not justify sin....

This leads to the key point in this chapter: Genesis 9:5-7 and the prohibition of the shedding of man's blood. Why is this key?

Let's consider where Noah, Mrs. Noah, Ham, Shem, and Japheth and their wives are and what they've been through: the Flood. An event that leads to its own terms of history: antediluvian (meaning before the Deluge or Flood)---Cataclysm, and so forth. The Flood is an event that even secular science acknowledges has a basis in fact.

And these 8 people know why it happened: God ended the lives of sinners in judgment for their sin. Can you picture the discussions around the campfire? the conversational commitment to set up a world where this never happens again: better that one man die than the whole bunch, right? Let's execute those who cross the line.

Yet God immediately limits that. He highlights to Noah and family that God will require an account for the blood of men. It is not for man to vow his own revenge or to take his own proactive steps to prevent sin.

God will address it.

Now, this verse does allow for the execution of murderers, but note this: it is not given as a command: Thou shalt execute the murderer. It's given as a warning: if you take life, you will lose life. This is not an instruction to be copied.

God is limiting the actions of people to destroy the sin they see in others. There is to be a very limited use of the shedding of blood rather than a free-for-all of execution.

What hath this Genesis to do with Almyra? These points:

1. In the broader world: violence is not now, nor has it ever been, the answer to gaining followers of Christ and worshipers of the One True God. Not only overt violence but coercion is wrong. Our only weapon in the world is the Word of God, to speak the truth of the love of the Savior.

2. In our own lives: vengeance is not ours. It belongs to God. (Romans 12:19) This includes our carrying anger and murdering in our hearts (Matthew 5:21-22). When we have been wronged it is for us to leave vengeance in the hand of God. Not to fail to hold accountable----but not to exceed reasonable justice.

3. In our own actions: we will see people sin. We will see people who are taking actions that we know bring God's judgment. And we can tell that some of those actions will result in God's judgment not only on them but on the greater population. It is not for us to resort to violence to stop them. End of discussion. We may speak, preach, persuade----but it is not for us to attempt violence to prevent judgment.

This is an entirely different matter than using violence to prevent violence or immediate, evident harm---this past week, had you been in California or in Norway at either of the shootings, to take arms and stop a violent man is different and other Scripture supports the idea.

However, to see sin and think the answer is to resort to violence is to invite judgment on ourselves. The ultimate violence due to sin was the Cross, where the violence owed all of us was visited upon Christ Jesus.

God establishes this idea as a command----then He gives a hope to sit behind it:

3. The "rainbow" promise: Not to fully destroy humanity again. While the qualification "through a flood" seems relevant, the further understanding here is that all humanity will not suffer judgment again: the redeemed will not. However, the redeemed need not fear the actions of fallen humanity bringing their world to an end, for God has promised that no matter how sinful, never will the flood come again.

It remains for us that we ought not take the urge to revenge ourselves or to spread the Kingdom of God by force. The driving force of the kingdom is not you or I anyway. The driving force was given by a hammer on 3 nails at Golgotha. The driving force was the Love that Christ showed, that God displayed for us. When we accept that love and spread it, share it, proclaim the truth of it, we are in a better situation.

Monday, July 25, 2011

BookMonday: True North

I owe a myriad of apologetic statements to the Heims and to Kregel. In this modern day, there's not much of an excuse for missing a deadline, but I did. This review should have been done last week. I'm quite sorry for that. No one to blame but me, but I think I'll take it out on the cat.

True North is a book by two professional counselors. Well, technically Gary Heim is a licensed psychologist and Lisa Heim is the professional counselor, but they're both mental health professionals. They are also both Christians. Sometimes, this is a hard thing to navigate. How does it work in True North?

True North: Choosing God in the Frustrations of Life

It works well, to be honest. I've just finished a graduate-level Biblical Counseling class, so I've been reading a lot of counseling resources. What the Heims have put forward in this book is a fundamental, ground-level type of work. They are striving to explain the basics of why people act, think, and feel the way we do sometimes.

The writing style is easily understood. The two authors take turns writing chapters and providing examples (properly anonymized) from their work in the field. Some of their examples are from their own lives, and a few come from knowable historical and Biblical situations. These examples are clear enough to illustrate, but not so detailed as to cause the reader to feel voyeuristic. Neither are they given in the tone of "You don't really have a problem, this guy does" examples. Instead, these examples help put flesh on the problems, even if they can't always put flesh on the solutions.

The opening two chapters provide some basic background, helping address the oft-repeated and completely wrong notion that Christians will not struggle with emotional or mental problems and then setting out the idea that we can choose whether we will fall apart with these issues. It is from the second chapter that the title is taken as the authors challenge the reader to consider whether he will choose to go north towards the Biblical God or south towards the gods of this world.

The remaining chapters, the nuts and bolts of the book, all start with the letter "G." That's going to annoy a few readers who aren't big fans of alliteration. It does not take away from the quality and content of the book, but it doesn't particularly add to it either.

Overall, the book is well-grounded in Scripture. The chapter on "Growing it" does a good job addressing meditation from a Christian perspective. The authors present that the goal is to focus on Scripture and understanding it, rather than the "empty-your-brain" style of meditation. This is a good thing.

In all, I highly recommend this book. It is valuable to the average reader to set up a clear understanding of themselves, it would be a useful adult group study, and a good hand-out tool for the pastoral counselor.

Here is a link to their own summary of the book. I hope you'll see from the summary how useful the book will be and go ahead and purchase it! Here is the link to their website.

Free book provided by Kregel Publishers in exchange for the review.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

BookSpecial: The Book that Made Your World

Today I’m posting an extra book review for the week. Partly because I’m waaaaaaaayyyyyy behind on book reviews. Today I’m looking at Vishal Mangalwadi’s The Book that Made Your World:

The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization

(available from Thomas Nelson Publishers, who sent me an e-copy through BookSneeze, their blog review program.)

The Book that Made Your World is an interesting take from a non-Western perspective of the impact of the Bible in English not only upon the Western World but also on other parts of the developing world. This book looks at the development of various inventions, technologies and moral codes across the sweep of world history. This weep identifies ways in which a biblical worldview and a Bible-based Christianity led to the development of the modern world in ways that would not have happened had the world been dominated by other religious viewpoints.

The author, who is a social activist and worker in the nation of India, strives to show the contrast in development between Christian areas and non-Christian areas in their failure to develop people’s potential.  To highlight an example, the author speaks of the printing press. All of the components, even movable type, that made up the printing press pre-dated Gutenberg. The press enabled the Protestant Reformation, and the Reformation in turn led to the rise of literacy and learning throughout the Western World. Mangalwadi’s theme is that Christianity made that rise possible, as Islam, Buddhism, and other religions and non-religions never bothered with the idea. In turn, the positive impact of literacy has spread throughout many cultures. The author places the credit for that firmly on the shoulders of followers of Christ.

He also highlights the individuals that brought education to India. The contrast is drawn between the education methods of the East India Company and the missionaries (like William Carey). The companies sought to educate the local population to serve business interests and no more, while the missionaries sought to educate for the purpose of liberty. Certainly, Mangalwadi acknowledges, the missionaries hoped to bring Indians to Christianity, but they sought better things for the whole country at the same time. 

In total, Mangalwadi’s effort is to contrast the current push to label religion, especially Christianity, as the source of nothing but trouble. His work stands in contrast to ideas like God is Not Great or even Things Fall Apart. He points out the positive effects of Christian people and the Christian faith.

While he does acknowledge that some evil was done in the name of Christianity, he certainly picks more positive from the faith than he picks bad. The picture he paints is one of overall positive effort, with occasional steps backwards. I think his portrayal is accurate, though some will dismiss it as self-serving.

His opening contrasts between Christianity and nihilism, Buddhism, and Hinduism were thought-provoking. The general theme is how the West is abandoning the faith that made us great in the first place. I would almost subtitle this book “How Liberalism is Biting the Hand that Fed It” for how the work highlights that the foundation of individual rights, mass education, and free speech are centered in a Biblical ideal----the same Bible that is attacked and maligned in much of the Western World.

I would highly recommend this book. I have an e-book, but will likely acquire a print copy to add to required reading for my children when they reach high school.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Genesis 6 Part 2 and Genesis 7

Ok, a day or so ago I spilled a lot of type over Genesis 6. Sorry to have been so long-winded, but I wanted to give you the best synopsis I could for the subject. Moving on, let’s hit just a couple more points:

Genesis 6 speaks to the design and materials of the ark. For us detail-oriented people, there’s not much here. No “Engineering an Empire” episode for Noah with this---the assumption is a rectangular prism, because no information suggests a curve, but how do you know? We actually don’t even know the size of the cubit at this point in history---there’s solid evidence for an 18-inch one and a 22.5-inch cubit. So….the Ark was big. Probably big enough to stockpile animals and food. The size isn’t the problem with accepting an historical view of this story. Logistics may bug you, keeping the lions from eating the last gazelles might be a problem, and starting with only a few rabbits and keeping it only a few could trouble you, but….boat size isn’t one.

A further comment in Genesis 6:3 states that man’s days shall be 120 years. I do not think this should be taken as a permanent cap on human longevity. I’d take it as a countdown to judgment. Peter (2 Peter 2:5) records Noah as a “preacher of righteousness” and I wonder (not guarantee) if the first part of this 120 years was given to trying to stem the tide of human sin. The ark, permanent judgment, is the end, not the beginning, of this process.

Genesis 6 and 7 are sometimes contrasted, and some authors attempt to divide this story into two separate flood stories that have been blended. I think it’s a detail/emphasis matter and that there’s no real reason to make those divisions.

One can also see that Noah, Moses, and whoever else was involved in passing this story into the text had no idea what Western audiences would want to know in the 21st Century. Honestly, there’s no details about life on the ark, no talk of voting Ham off the boat, no drama with 4 couples living in confined space. There’s nothing! No story about life on the Ark.

And the explanations of that are all supposition. Some count the Ark-riders too busy to have a life, others put them as “sleeping through it” all…which I think is a stretch. We have to satisfy ourselves with silence here. You can imagine a great many things, but none of them will be guaranteed to be exactly right. All that will be right is this: they were on the boat.

Genesis 7 gives the final height of the water. 15 cubits above the highest mountains. That seems pretty high---it’s not impossible. Another potential explanation that should go with this is this: there is no accurate or adequate model for what covering the whole planet with water would do. Typically any effort done in that direction seems skewed toward either proving possible or impossible, not showing effects. The mountains then might not be there now. After all, you can pull a levee in a field, but is it there after being a foot underwater? For 150 days? Not likely. Mountains move when water hits them.

Beyond this, there are a decent pile of resources to speak to the Ark and the possibilities. We’ll hit on some of those in the next week as we look at where the Ark lands and what happens next.



Thursday, July 21, 2011

The NFL Lockout and the Debt Ceiling

Note: I’m trying to get back to a post a day, but to get there, I’m writing a little ahead. While I’m only 24 hours ahead on this post, it’s possible that both of these issues will be resolved by the time you read this post. I still think I’m right in what I say.

We’re now into the second half of the month of July. Here in Arkansas, it’s hot. Not “I need a glass of water” hot, more like “look, the asphalt is melting” hot. (Ever wonder why we still have so many dirt/gravel roads? Asphalt melts in Southern Heat!) Around here, the heat is made worse by the humidity. This isn’t the most pressure in the country right now, though.

That’s reserved for two separate sets of negotiating rooms. One belongs to the National Football League and the other belongs to the US Congress. Back in March, the NFL and the NFL Players Association parted ways and the team owners decided that without a deal they liked, no football work would be done.

Meanwhile, decades of increasing stupidity by the Trunks and Burros in Washington has caused our country’s debt to increase faster than mine at a combo gun and book sale. There’s a lot to this whole debt-limit thing, but essentially: the government actually does not take in enough money to cover all expenses. At this point, we’ve spent approximately $14 trillion more than we’ve taken in. Now, this has taken some time to get done…but it’s where we are. The last 10 years have been particularly hard on the debt. The interest payments alone are getting pretty hard to make. And there’s a law that prohibits the debt from rising any higher than it is now.

So, what’s going on with these two things?

Simple. Grown men (and a few women) are acting like spoiled children. The NFL owners want to keep more of the money that comes in, the NFL players want to get paid more of the money, the stadium workers are unpaid, and the fans will keep footing the bill. Congress has voted to spend money that doesn’t exist and keeps voting to do that. Of course, now each side wants to blame the other. And who is going to pay for it? Taxpayers---who else?

What do I have to say about both of these?

Grow up. Every last one of you.

To the NFL: how about using that $9 billion dollars to repay every municipality you’ve ripped off to pay for new stadiums then find a way to cut the cost for normal people to attend. How about paying more than minimum wage to the parking lot attendants? There’s a source for these billions you all are throwing around and those people are living with a minimal unemployment rate of 9%. You are part of the entertainment/diversion function of society that helps people cope with some of their tragedies. Get over yourselves and get back to work. And you owners? Can’t you live with a slightly slimmer profit margin? Really? You can’t?

To the Congress: you approved the budgets that have created the debt mess. In essence, you’ve approved raising the debt limit because you voted to spend it. This is ridiculous behavior by you and by the current and past Presidents that have kept this up. The alternative that you must take is to cut where you can and raise revenue to cover the rest. If you don’t like that, then find more cuts. Get it done. You are living in the perks, but it’s time to live in the responsibility. The next budget should be balanced and all of them afterwards should be. Do it. When the people throw a fit about the cuts, tell them the option is higher taxes, and not just on the rich but on everyone. Like the 50% of Americans that pay no taxes to the Federal Government.

To the corporate sponsors of both the NFL and the Politicians (yes, we know you’re bought and paid for by special interests): Spend your money elsewhere. Really. I’d shop at Home Depot if they’d run ads that stated “Instead of spending millions to be the Official Home Improvement Store of the NFL, we decided to fund a real kindergarten.” Those billions could solve some real problems.

Likewise for all those political donations. Word has it that millions are already in the bank for the upcoming Presidential election. How about schools or groups that provide job training for the people who have lost theirs? Instead of dumping thousands on a Senator or a President, put it into feeding the homeless or starting a business. It might do amazing things.

To taxpayers and fans (us): Can we stop falling for this? Please? As soon as the lockout is over, we’ll be lining up to buy merchandise, tickets, NFL Sunday Ticket on DirecTV or whatever. We’ll vote for the same politicians that put us in this bind because they fought for our region’s kickbacks or because they spout the rhetoric we like. Hold them accountable: in a reasonable, civil manner—bury them under real letters and then under votes for someone else! Oppose them in primaries, elections, and speak up.

Let’s quit being dumb. We are responsible for this because we’ve allowed it to go on. It’s time to stop it!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Genesis 6 Wrap-up Part 1

I wanted to get back in the habit of looking back at the chapters from Sunday's sermons and trying to address any unpreached situations here on the blog. So, let's take a look back at Genesis 6, shall we?

Genesis 6:1-2 cause some people no end of grief in sorting out the details here. Why? Because of the phrase "sons of God" in it. There are three major views of who the "sons of God" referenced in this passage are, so let's take a look at these "sons." A word about the discussion first: the Hebrew phrase that is translated sons of God is literally sons of God (or gods: monotheistic Israel used a plural of majesty for God: He is referred to in plural terms).

The difficulty stems from this: Christian theology guides us to understand that there is one "Son of God," namely the Lord Jesus Christ, and many "sons of God," all those adopted by His gracious election (John 1:12). So, to understand this we turn to other uses of the phrase bene 'elohim in Hebrew (that's "sons of God/gods"). This phrase shows up in Job and in Psalms where the context strongly suggests angels as the answer: the "sons of God" are angelic, supernatural beings in these other passages.

When you're trying to understand Scripture the first place to turn is this one, after all. We should try to see if other places in Scripture shed light on the passages that seem darkened. So, angels is the answer, right?

Not so fast. First, the Lord Jesus says that in the resurrection, we will be like the angels and not be given in marriage or marry (Luke 20:33-36). Second, there are other areas where similar phrases occur, such as "sons of YHWH (God's covenant name in the Old Testament)" and it refers to people. Deuteronomy 14:1 is one of the places. It's not uncommon in Scripture to see bene used to depict ancestry, but it sometimes shows similarity instead.

So, the first theory is that the bene 'elohim are angels. The second is that the bene 'elohim summarizes the descendants of Seth compared to the descendants of Cain. While the implication of Genesis 4 is that Cain moved away, the likelihood is that there wasn't a huge distance between where Cain's progeny and Seth's progeny are living at this point. The view that Genesis 4 records the ungodly line of Cain and Genesis 5 records the godly line of Seth is reasonably held, and so Genesis 6:1-2 is held as a summary statement announcing the intermarriage of the godly men of Seth's line with the beautiful, but ungodly, women of Cain's line.

This shows not only a future for depravity but the present state of it. The godly are marrying only based on appearance and are taking wives, whomever they choose. The phrasing here indicates a breakdown of monogamy and a breakdown of respect between men and women. This is not good.

So, the second theory makes the bene 'elohim godly descendants of Seth. The third is based more on translating 'elohim as gods rather than God. It was not uncommon in the Ancient Near East (Israel and surrounding lands, such as Egypt, Babylon, Assyria; east of Greece, west of Persia) to refer to "kings" as "gods." They ruled with power and authority. This theory places the answer as kings or princes of the ruling class marrying women, possibly multiple women, from the lower classes and wrecking the social order.

The third answer, to me, comes across a little to class-structure society centered. There remains no Biblical evidence that anyone was a king or prince at the time and no evidence that such kings would have been prohibited from marrying "common" women. Moreover, there is not much (I can't find any) Biblical evidence of elohim as earthly kings. It's not uncommon, as I said, in other sources, but it's not in the Bible. To me, that's a pretty big strike against this view.

The additional support for the first view comes from rabbinic sources and Jewish non-Scriptural writings that predate Christ. That's a pretty good witness to what later scholars of the Torah took Moses to mean. Whether they were right is the question at hand. These same scholars are generally responsible for the Septuagint (LXX, the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek), so the LXX translation echoes that sentiment.

There are other scholars that come down on the inter-mingling of Seth and Cain's lines side of the debate. These focus on a few other ancient witnesses, including Jewish Rabbis.

It's really about who is intermarrying with whom here. Personally, I like the simplest solution: there is no Scripture that indicates that angelic beings have the ability to procreate with humanity. None whatsoever. The Lord Jesus spoke of angels as not being married and could be understood to mean basically non-sexual.

So, I take what I've called the second view: this intermarriage is between the godly and the ungodly. The effect is that the hearts of all turn against God.

That makes it a little tougher for me to explain the Nephilim and all that about giants. Those explanations run a lot simpler if you're dealing with supernatural beings. However, the passage itself says the Nephilim are on the earth in those days and afterwards. That seems to show that post-flood there's some Nephilim that show up. So, what happened? Did they survive? Or are Nephilim simply heroic people whose lives pass into legend bigger than they are? I'd go with that.

A final note then I'll close, since I've doubled my target word count. Genesis 6:4 introduces and dismisses Greco-Roman mythology---probably much of Egyptian mythology as well. Here the author accounts for all of those great legends of the past: they were mighty men, and now they're gone. But all those bedtime stories? They fit here. Somewhere between Adam and the Flood. Could those stories have basis in fact? Genesis hints here that they do---but that this history is irrelevant because Noah alone finds favor in the eyes of the Lord. The rest of those heroes? Not so much.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

BookTuesday: Love Written in Stone


I have to admit, this book’s been sitting on my shelf for a while, and I just haven’t gotten around to reading it. I requested it from Bethany House in the their blogger program, but then just couldn’t interest myself in it. Probably because we’re not looking at light and fluffy reading here.

Love Written in Stone: Finding God's Grace in the Boundaries He Sets

Dr. Philip Carlson is both a pastor and medical doctor. His writing in Love Written in Stone is an attempt to take a look at what he faces in both forms of his work and compare where we as people are and what we would be if we obeyed God’s commands.

A portion of his effort here seems to be dedicated to helping the reader understand why God commands what He commands in Scripture. The viewpoint is provided that many of these commands are not built out of emptiness or religious duty but are rather a reflection of God’s efforts to drive us to do what is best for us.

With that in mind, Carlson walks through some basics of what is contained in Scripture concerning ideas like rest, commitment, and marriage. The effort is to show that keeping God’s commands is not a legalistic idea, but rather a way to achieve a better life.

In general, his writing is easy to follow. It’s obvious, at least to me, that he learned his presentation style more in seminary than in medical school. He writes like the pastor he is, with bullet points and illustrations. Most of his illustrations are either acquaintances or personal experiences.

This book was not extremely engaging as a read, but it was worth it for the subject matter. I’d recommend it more for a group study then for individual reading.

I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for the review.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sermon from July 17

Well, there was a little glitch with recording the morning sermon. Apparently, someone (me) failed to check the batteries in the digital voice recorder. Guess what?

You can’t podcast without a file. So, there’s no audio of the AM Service. For that I apologize, but there’s not much else I can do.

The summary of that is this: there is one salvation now, just as there was one salvation in the time of Noah: for him, the Ark; for us, the Cross of Christ. Fortunately for us the Cross is limitless in salvation. All who will come to the Cross and to Christ will be saved. The Ark was only so big (although it was, in honesty, huge) and could only save a limited number. Now, a limited number will be saved by the Blood of Christ, but that limitation is not one of power or ability, but one of choice and election.

So, saddle up, get on the boat, and grab a friend or two!

And now, evening sermon:

Genesis 7 Audio link

Without over-allegorizing or turning this sermon into mush that’s not based on the Word of God, I did try to help us see the parallel between the life of believers and the life of Noah. One of those considerations was the image of water as chaos from which God brings life and protection. There is some bad theology out there that teaches we won’t have problems if we are followers of Christ. That’s just nonsense. Noah was counted as “righteous” but his whole world was destroyed: chaos and trouble comes to all of us. The question is whether we will try to tread water long enough or if we’ll take salvation: the boat. And once we’re on the boat we need to consider this: there’s always work to be done. What are we doing? Are we rescuing people? Are we helping shovel out the bottom of the ark? There’s stuff to do, and all of us have work. Sometimes we do things we’re not fond of because they have to be done.

Anyway, that’s the wrap on this past Sunday.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Prayer meeting

Last Friday I had the honor and pleasure of being asked to speak to a local workplace’s prayer meeting. There’s really only one thing that's more encouraging to a preacher/speaker than being asked to speak somewhere for the first time, and that’s being asked to come back and do it again! Hopefully, after they’ve run through all the other preachers in town, they’ll have me again :)

I thought I’d share here what we talked about in terms of prayer. Here it is:

L: Language: we often think we have to use a specialized language for prayer, but it’s really not the case. As 1 Samuel 16:7 reminds us, God looks at the heart. While I think we should speak respectfully to the Almighty God of the Universe, there’s also no reason to fancy-up our speech. He understands us.

I: Inability: I have encountered many people in ministry years that worried that they weren’t praying right. Guess what? We generally aren’t praying right. However, it doesn’t matter. Romans 8:26-27 points out that when we are unable to pray, God still comprehends. If we expect prayer to be a formula, we’re missing a major point: prayer is about communicating with God. He works in accordance with His will, His grace, and His goodness. There is no “magic” to prayer that guarantees anything and we would do well to trust that our praying efforts, though imperfect, are received with grace.

P: Persistence: we cannot give up. There are parables, such as Luke 11:5-9, that remind us of the need to never give up in prayer. We need to realize that part of what happens when we pray is that we commit ourselves to being used by God in obedience.

S: Service: 1 Peter 3:7 speaks to the idea that husbands cannot expect their prayers to be heard if they are treating their wives badly. That in itself is the source of plenty of contemplation. The point I want to draw from it is this: if we are not living lives that reflect a desire to serve others in Christian love, then praying for them isn’t much good either. Let our lives match our prayers.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

No time like the present

It’s been a bit of a strange summer around here. I’ve been in and out, dealing with various tasks and just the general stuff of life. The end result is that I’ve gotten behind on a lot of tasks that I want to do, just because the need to do has been a little strong.

Then there’s been a general struggle to just focus and get stuff done. There’s a part of me that thrives a little too much on being busy and I’m actually more able to focus when there is limited time. When school let out for the summer, a huge block of my time became free….and then my own self-discipline broke down.

Which is really what it comes down to, isn’t it? Most of what troubles us starts with us. There are notable exceptions to that, but that’s really where I sit right now. I’ve got several issues spinning at once, and they come down to a lack of personal discipline.

I want to note something crucial, though, that’s often left out of self-discipline discussions. This is not about control. The reality is that much of what goes on in the world around us is completely out of our control. I cannot control the weather, the behavior of others, or the US Government (honestly, it seems like 537 complete idiots up there). What I have the ability to do is discipline myself. This starts with the following things:

1. I must discipline my thoughts. I am, frequently, easily distracted. It has actually taken me over four hours to write this blog post, because I’m attempting to do three other things. That’s not good. My mind keeps jumping to other tasks. If I cannot discipline my thoughts to stay focused, I won’t get things accomplished.

2. I must discipline my body. By this I do not mean any form of self-abuse or harmful actions. This is what I mean: the human body works better when properly fed, properly exercised, and properly rested. If I train my body to respond to these things, I do better. When I sleep and get up and different times every day, when I do nothing physically, then I do worse. Consistency makes an amazing differences. And yes, deviations happen. Recovery, though, is a good thing.

3. I must discipline my desires. Honestly, I want stuff. A quick tour through my wish list would probably disturb you. I want success, I want fame and fortune….and on and on and on. What I have to learn is to pick what I truly desire and cast aside the rest. One of the authors I greatly appreciate is Andy Andrews, and his statement was to “discipline for what you want, not what you don’t want” (or something like that, I don’t exactly remember). The point was this: figure out what you want and do what is necessary to achieve. Don’t do what won’t get you there.

So, this is where I am right now. I have certain goals, and I am spending a little effort to reinforce those goals.

There are “being” goals: being a good husband, a good father (definitions to come some other day).

There are “doing” goals: doing my work as a pastor well, doing my writing well.

There are “finishing” goals: finish my formal education, lose 50 pounds, finish a few other projects.


So, where to from here? Well, to be honest, I’m headed to a birthday party for a four-year-old. However, the coming weeks will bring more effort to be focused on what I’m supposed to be doing. Hopefully that means a bit more activity here. It also means striving to keep up: the past 4 days of high-intensity exercise turned into a habit; the half-pound a day of weight loss; working on early to bed and early to rise---healthy and wise will hopefully follow.


See y’all later…


Monday, July 4, 2011

Lives, fortunes, and sacred honor

It's July 4th, 2011. 235 years ago, after arguing about the details for a few days, a group of wealthy criminals agreed to sign a piece of paper. They agreed to no longer obey in anyway the rightful king and government over their land. They went from refusing to pay a few of their taxes to armed rioting to outright revolt.

This group of wealthy criminals, though, aren't really remembered as that. They are remembered rather as a segment of the Founding Fathers of our nation. This was no ordinary document, either. It was the Declaration of Independence. The Second Continental Congress met, defying the order of King George III of England, and determined that it was not enough to argue over taxes. It was time to be free.

The Declaration of Independence lists many of the wrongs that the people of America felt that His Majesty had inflicted upon them. Nationally, we've also paid (and somewhat continue to pay for) the things that were taken out: that the King permitted and encouraged slavery is the most notable of those. The Congress stood by these words and shifted an insurrection into a Revolution.

Other, greater minds will gladly explain how the principles of "natural rights" in Enlightenment Philosophy developed from a Biblical concept of the image of God in mankind. They can explain how the Declaration of Independence is taken from a Christian viewpoint even though many of its signers and drafters were not explicitly Christian. I'll leave that to them.

I want to look at two lines from the Declaration of Independence. The first and the last lines, to be precise.

We tend to think that "When in the course of human events…." is the first line of the Declaration. It's really not.

The first line is: The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America," (at least according to my copy. That's probably just how it was printed, but still.)

Get that? Unanimous. United. Without division, with full agreement. These men came to agreement about the things they knew were wrong and had to be dealt with. When we face crises, how often do we do this? We agree there are problems, but so often put our effort into fighting over the parts we do not agree with. This nation was founded with the idea that we must fight together for what matters the most. They boiled that down to: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. (No guarantee you'll catch it, though.)

The other line that still draws my mind in the Declaration of Independence is this one:

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Beneath that, the signatures came, starting with John Hancock and including 55 others, of those who made that commitment.

Think about this for a minute: the most precious thing a man had in those times was his honor. Men would die for honor, would kill for honor, and would count a fortune worthless if obtained without it. This was the greatest offer they could make. All of their character, all of their stuff, and the breath in their bodies was offered for liberty.

It has become far too fashionable to highlight the blind spots of these men, to denote their faults and failings. Yet even the freedom to do that was bought by their efforts---history shows us that tyrants are invariably opposed to criticism.

What we can, and should, see in our Founding Fathers is this: a grand start and a good example. If more of us would find the important things in life and pledge ourselves to each other that we would accomplish those tasks though it costs us all, what would look differently?

Let us find ourselves defending liberty at the cost of all those things, both now and forevermore. Without it, we will not be able to do greater things.


Friday, July 1, 2011

Genesis 4 Part 2

Genesis 4 works through the lineage of Cain after reporting his exile. Here’s a couple of thoughts about this lineage:

1. The most tragic statement is Genesis 4:16 where we find “Then Cain went out from the presence of the Lord.” How sad is that expression? Here we are, one generation from Eden and losing fellowship with God even further. First, the loss of the Garden of Eden, and now Cain has to move on, farther away.

Notice this: the world in which Cain lives knows no prejudice, no religious quarrels, none of the things that many people would have us believe cause our problems. You do not have to look far for those who would have us imagine peace and harmony by simply growing past our prejudices and religious views. Cain, on his own, proves that point wrong. He lived near the evidence of God, he was raised to know God, he had all necessary advantages.

And still he sins. Sin is not a problem stemming from lack of education or resources, from prejudices or presuppositions. It’s the condition of mankind’s heart. We are bent toward sin. Otherwise we could solve our own problems, which we just cannot do. Democracy, republic, commune, communism, monarchy, oligarchy, anarchy---no human government has helped mankind become better. We have become smarter, perhaps, and able to do more---we can now fight wars that kill millions rather than just thousands. We can cure diseases that have killed millions and raise enough food to feed the world, but we cannot distribute those medicines and foodstuffs without violence. Why?

Sin. Plain, simple sin. The Amish struggle with it despite eschewing technology; Silicon Valley fills with it though on the cutting edge. Baptists have it though preaching against it, Presbyterians have got it, and so do Muslims, Jews, Mormons, and Catholics, though they all preach against Baptists!

Cain saw Abel as the source of his sin, but sin was within him. He fled, becoming a vagrant and a wanderer but he could never escape the sin. His lineage, living in the city he started, followed in his footsteps: Jabal becomes a nomad and wanders as well. Lamech introduces polygamy and states his willingness to avenge himself. It’s more important to note in Genesis 4:23 that Lamech is declaring that he will do for himself what God said that God would do for Cain.

He’s declaring his independence. He’s declaring his own sufficiency. He needs two wives to multiply faster and grow his line.

2. A side note, but with a number to highlight it: not everything done in the lineage of Cain is sinful. For example:

Jabal’s nomadic lifestyle is not inherently sinful. If he is moving to avoid responsibility, that’s sinful, but the text does not give that meaning.

Jubal’s music is not apparently sinful: he simply is the first musician. Throughout Scripture we see music used for both good and bad purposes.

Likewise, Tubal-Cain’s forging of bronze and iron: that can be good and bad. It is the use of instruments that is evil or good. note: there are some things that are so blatantly only useful for evil that labeling them “evil” instruments is a valid simplification.

3. Finally, the text returns to Adam and Eve. We see the birth of Seth. Genesis 5:3 tells us that this son is in the “image and likeness” of his father, echoing the creation of Adam in the “image of God.” Seth stays with Adam and Eve and raises the line discussed in chapter 5.

The most relevant point from Genesis 4:25-26 is where the text records that “Then men (or they) began to call upon the name of the Lord.” The worship of God is now seen as an identifying mark. Cain’s line does not seem to participate at all, yet there is a haunting foreshadowing here:

Neither will all of Seth’s line.

Sermon Recap for July 14 2024

 Good morning! After being at Praiseworks Arkansas last week, I'm back.  Here is yesterday's sermon, where I am proud of myself for ...