Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Genesis 17 Part II

I want to revisit a part of Genesis 17 that I didn't focus too hard on during the sermon. This chapter of Genesis establishes the Abrahamic Covenant symbol of circumcision. It's not exactly a comfortable topic and in the more reserved culture, you just don't dwell on that topic.

Here in the internet, though, there's a little more openness. Not complete insanity. Just a little more freedom. However, if you're uncomfortable reading about circumcision and considering this, please just go on to your next blog. It won't hurt you.

As someone who has read the Bible a good bit, I've long been aware of circumcision. I understood it to be the sign of the covenant with Abraham, and learned a couple of basic things that we Gentiles think were God's purpose behind instituting it. These things are:

1. Circumcision was an immensely personal mark of belonging to the community of God. This is not a process that one is unaware of: you can tell it was done even if you don't remember it happening.

2. Circumcision was a permanent change. There were some issues in the Hellenistic period some 1500 years after Abraham, but even those weren't true "undoings." It was more of a cover-up. This action marked the member of the covenant community as a lifetime participant.

3. Circumcision was a parental directive. After you get past Abraham, parents choose to circumcise their sons. Except for the opening chapters in Joshua. This should have been seen as the beginning of parental commitment to raise children to serve the One True God.

On behalf of my Presbyterian reader (s)? I'll leave out the discussion, for now, of whether baptism is analogous to circumcision for the New Covenant. Let's focus on the Old Testament for now, shall we?

What struck me this time through Genesis 17 was this: Abraham is 99 years old at this point. The Almighty One tells Abraham two things in this passage: he'll have a child, soon. And to circumcise himself and all the males in the household.

We know from further chapters that Abraham is 100 when Isaac is born. So in the span of about a year, Abraham circumcises himself, Sarah conceives, and they have a baby.

Let's think about the obedience and faith factor here: just think, for a minute. Picture the idea of circumcision in your mind. Now, if you're not recognizing the risk to future generations, look up "circumcision" again. Yet Abraham obeys anyway.

What about us?

Based on the great preponderance of New Testament writings on the subject, we're not required to circumcise or be circumcised. So how does this help us understand?

What do we think about those acts of obedience and faith that come very close to home?

What about those that make us think the promise of God is endangered?

In all, I think there's a vivid portrait here of personal, painful obedience to God that we would do well to remember. It's not always easy. I know that I cannot always see how it helps.

But it's not my job to do that. Grand strategy is neither my strong suit nor my responsibility. Obedience is my responsibility. The results?

Those belong to Him who actually knows what's going on and what to do about it.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

BookTuesday: Bonhoeffer

Today for BookTuesday, I’m reviewing Eric Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich Bonheoffer. The short title of the book is Bonhoeffer. Here’s a peek at the cover:

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

As you can see, the long title of the book is Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. This title is an attempt to summarize the book in five words. And that’s not a bad attempt. The book released in hardcover last year, which my wife graciously gave me for Father’s Day. It’s been available on Kindle since then, and is coming out in trade paperback today. (Trade paperbacks are the ones that are 5x8 or so, not the small ones on checkout racks.) Officially, I think I’m reviewing the “e-version” for Booksneeze today, because that’s what they provided for me to read. I read this in hardback first, which I paid for—this review wouldn’t be any different if I were just reviewing the one I bought.

On to the book: It’s hard to review a biography without treading into dangerous ground and reviewing the subject’s life. How can I comment on Bonhoeffer without commenting on Bonhoeffer himself? To clear this hurdle, let me tell you first of my deep admiration for the man himself. I whole-heartedly agree with a statement from Eric Metaxas in a chapel address at Beeson Divinity School: of Christians in history, this was one who definitely took his faith, the Christian faith, seriously.

Metaxas came to this biography after writing a biography of William Wilberforce. While the Wilberforce biography became the underpinnings of the movie Amazing Grace, I don’t expect to see a Bonhoeffer movie. Not that I wouldn’t welcome one. However, I think it’s important to note that Metaxas did come to this writing with an admiration for his subject. Just as someone coming to write a critical biography of someone they dislike cannot fully mask their prejudice, so admiration will come through.

This book, though, is not an excessive hagiography. Metaxas shows the better sides of Bonhoeffer, certainly, but there do not appear to be any invented stories to make him sound better than he was. Here is a man, after all, who fought against Hitler, fought to save Jews and others from the Holocaust, and gave his life for his beliefs. He doesn’t need help to sound good.

The book opens with the image of post-World War II Germany as two people listen to BBC Radio. Metaxas then introduces these two as Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s parents who are listening to the memorial service for their son. This tragic beginning casts a long shadow through the whole work. The reader cannot encounter the young prankster of the early chapters without thinking ahead to his imminent death.

The work here produces a tension that keeps the reader engaged. Some portions of the biography do drag a bit, but life gets that way sometimes. As such, I haven’t read a thorough biography that didn’t drag at points. The difficulty in writing biography is providing enough detail but not too much. There are times that Metaxas provides a bit too much, especially in the early years of Bonhoeffer’s life.

However, the focus of the book is not the early years of Bonhoeffer but his involvement in the church struggle in Germany and his later work against Hitler. The details given flesh out the picture I have seen in other sources, though I am admittedly not an expert on the life of Bonhoeffer. The details expand when there is more story to tell, and the final hours of Bonhoeffer’s life take quite a bit of print to cover.

A few words are necessary to address some of the criticism and questions about Metaxas's work in this book. The major criticism I have seen is that Metaxas has tried to remake Bonhoeffer into a modern American Evangelical. While I may have missed it by being a modern American Evangelical, I didn't see that.

What I saw was this: Metaxas tried to highlight the ways in which Bonhoeffer's theology and legacy were similar to what modern American Evangelicals should be. I think that too many of us on the farther-right side have tended to ignore or downplay Bonhoeffer because he was Lutheran and because of the high emphasis placed on a few of his statements. This would include his famous comment about "religionless Christianity." Metaxas took some pains to show how that statement and idea is neither the sum total of Bonhoeffer's life and thought nor is it a fully-developed view.

There are some questions regarding accuracy, including whether Metaxas spelled certain German words properly. I defer to experts in German on those subjects. If there are errors, then they should be corrected and a revised edition issued that addresses them. However, if the errors represent differing views on transliterating German words into English, that's hardly a major fault to find.

In all, I found the criticism of Metaxas' view of Bonhoeffer to come back to this: who defines the legacy of a man who didn't live long enough to fill out all of his thoughts? How should that legacy be determined?

Metaxas has focused on the writings, sermons, and actions of Bonhoeffer as they were. He has especially drawn from the completed theological writings, perhaps at the expense of the incomplete thoughts expressed in some of the prison writings of Bonhoeffer. Others, including those who study Bonhoeffer more in-depth than Metaxas, seem to define his legacy by including the trajectory of his thought. The question at hand is one of "what would Bonhoeffer have concluded in May 1945? in 1950?" The focus shifts to discerning what clues to the thoughts of Bonhoeffer can be found in his letters, his prison writings, his last thoughts.

As a whole, this book struck a strong chord with me. I was pleased to learn more of the life of one who actually did, in the words of Metaxas, take the Christian faith so seriously. I liked this book, but I also see it has limitations. There are more comprehensive biographies, like Eberhard Bethge's, that can provide better details. Most of Bonhoeffer's writings are published, so that one can study his theology directly. For an entry-level look, for an inspiring look, I don't think you can beat Metaxas' work.

I recommend that you buy, read, and read again Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Sermon Recap from August 28: Genesis 17 and Genesis 18

Morning Audio Link

Evening Audio Link

Morning Genesis 17

Outline used: 

I. Personal Obedience:

     A. Not just generic ethics

     B. Not done by others

     C. Must be done by us

II. Painful separation

     A. We cannot expect everything to go well.

     B. We cannot expect to hold on to everything

III. Patient God

     A. He has waited for us

     B. He has watched while we wander

     C. his patience will end someday

 

Evening: Genesis 18

I. The Sins of Sodom

A. Not overly detailed

B. Their sin? Anger, rebellion, offense against marriage, God’s Word

II. The Sins of America

A. Read a newspaper

B. Our sin? Anger, rebellion, offense against God’s Word

III. The Culprit?

A. Is it the sinner? The sinner bears their own guilt

B. Is it the Judge? All He does is perfect

C. Is it Godly? Let’s take a look at that:

1. Where are Abraham and Sarah prior to the doom of Sodom?

2. They are in their tents. Sarah is actually laughing at God’s Word.

3. Not “funny” laughing. Derisively laughing. Mocking.

4. Is it possible that the world, and especially our country, are in the mess that we are in not because of the heathen---

But because we who claim to be God’s people spend more time mocking God’s Word than we do obeying the Word, learning the Word, and spreading the Word?

God would have spared Sodom for the presence of 10 righteous men. What percentage of the population do you think that was? It was mostly likely not more than 5%! Probably less.

We Christians, especially us Baptist-types, like to warn and worry that America’s growing lack of Biblical morality will result in God’s judgment. After all, did not Sodom receive judgment?

Yet should we not be the 10 men of the city? If Southern Baptists alone were honoring the Word of God, 5% of the US population would be. Are we?

When we laugh at God’s word that all races are equal, when we laugh at commands for our marriages and standards for our votes and actions….

When we laugh at looking after widows and orphans in their distress….

When we laugh at what God has said about our work, our integrity…

When we laugh at what God has told our religious leaders to be like, and we laugh and allow them to be otherwise…

When we sit in our homes, our pews, and our cars mocking the Word of God….

Whose fault is it that judgment comes? The wicked or the righteous for not being there?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

New music from @downhere

Today I have something a little different for a review. Once before, I’ve given my opinion on a CD, back in 2009 I recommended a Christmas CD to you: How Many Kings by the band Downhere. Well, it’s time for another CD review. Why?

Because Downhere has a new album out. That’s why. The new album is titled On the Altar of Love and it releases today. I pre-ordered a CD, and then was asked to do the review and had the opportunity to listen online to the whole thing. What can I say about this album? (click the link to go to Downhere’s Website so you can buy it!)

First of all, let’s talk about music style. Downhere is a four-man band, with guitar, bass, drums, and keyboard. However, they also have skills with trumpets, spoons, banjos, and more…not counting the studio musicians that come in and play a bit more. One bright spot to me about Downhere in general is that a live drummer as part of the band helps with the creative process. Drum tracks just aren't as fun.

Second, let's talk lyrics. At the end of this review, I've embedded the video to "Let Me Rediscover You." This song captures the strength of songwriting on this album. It does more than rhyme or have catchy lyrics. Rather, Marc, Jason, Glenn, and Jeremy have captured the simple complexity of the Gospel and set it to music that "Of all the mysteries still, the greatest to me is that You're faithful when I fall."  It's the timeless truth of God's unending, unswerving grace alongside His holiness and majesty.

Further on lyrics are the words to "Thank You for the Heartbreak" asking "How can a love be a love without a cost?" These themes are developed and strong throughout the album. The lyrics have clear Scriptural connections and striking imagery. I'd reproduce it all here, but you need to hear it instead.

Then there is album flow to consider. In the age of iTunes and MP3 players, some artists have reached a point that they don't really build an album but instead bundle a group of singles for sale. This isn't an album to buy track-by-track. The ebbs and flows of the album together play well, though dividing them into your mix will work as well.

Finally, how does it all come together? The music shows remarkable talent, the writing shows depth, and the album is one that I would extend a rare privilege: I would give up preaching this Sunday morning to allow Downhere to sing these songs instead. It is lyrically focused on the Glory of God. The music and the words together drives the listener to think beyond the normal music.

In summary, when people complain about "fluff" music in Christian music; when people complain about "unfocused" or "shallow" music in Christian music; when someone says Christian music isn't "good artistry," it shows me they need to listen to On the Altar of Love. The album challenges on a personal level and a community level.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Genesis 16 Revisited

Sunday night's sermon came from Genesis 16. There's the link, if you want the outline and the audio. The sermon really ended up sounding like two different sermons kind of shoe-horned together. There's a reason for that---and it's not that I'm a bad preacher. I mean, that might be true, but that's not why that happened.

Genesis 16 has a couple of different storylines to address. Typically, the focus goes on Abram and Sarai's decision to "help God out" by having Abram father a child with Hagar, Sarai's handmaid. There's plenty of reason to look at this, and that's where the sermon outline went. ultimately, keep in mind that the morals and practices of the day and culture we live in do not define what is right.

God defines what is right. Contemporary culture has been wrong before, but God never has. Go with the One with the perfect record.

I want to, instead, take a minute to look at Sarai and Hagar's relationship. Actually, I don't want to look at that. Why?

Because it reminds me of me too much. This story highlights what happens when we sin. Often we think that sin is just about us and our relationship with God. We've kind of over-bought David's line in Psalm 51:4 that he sinned against God and God alone. It is true that sin is about violating God's holiness and that sin is really between the sinner and God.

Except that's like saying the shotgun blast is only between and the duck I was shooting at. In the end, yes, but there's other pellets that scattered and can hurt others. In this case, the pattern was fired at God's plan and promise and the sin was failure to trust that obeying God's standards would be enough.

But Hagar got caught with a few stray pellets. Now, it's easy to point out that Hagar got a little haughty, and to then say that Abram and Sarai were justified to get harsh and drive her from home after she had been given to Abram "as his wife" (read Genesis 15:3. That's what the text says.)

We need to see this clearly so that we can learn how to apply this into our own lives: when we sin, even when it's not a "bad sin" but rather our typical "good sins" of helping God by doing some of His work for Him, other people get hurt. It's hard to call them "innocent' people since we're all sinners, but in these cases they are often at least innocent to our choice.

Or we've maneuvered them to think they have no choice. Any way we slice it, it's really our responsibility that these folks have the problems we've created.

So, what are we going to do about it?

1. Learn to see when we're making mistakes. Fix them---including not compounding those errors by adding new ones.

2. Find, as best we can, the people we've put into bad places by our choices. Explain our own repentance and offer a pure, clean apology. Not a "sorry, but…." apology. A real one.

3. Strive to be proactive. If we would learn to trust the Lord God and His ways, we'd hurt fewer people on the front end.

4. Focus. God's people should have a singular focus to look at Him, but our peripheral vision should always note the people around us. Besides---God is with those people, either in them as His or working in conviction to draw them to Himself. How can you focus on God and not see people?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Genesis 15 Revisited

Sunday Morning’s sermon was from Genesis 15. You can find outline and audio link here for that.

Today, let’s look back at Genesis 15. The Abram/Abraham narratives of Genesis carry three repetitions of the covenant promise. It’s stated in 12, restated in 15, and restated again in 17.

The purpose of stating the covenant in 12 is obvious: without the introduction of the covenant, why tell Abraham’s story?

Genesis 17 restates the covenant in light of Abram and Sarai’s attempt to shortcut the plan of God in Genesis 16. It’s a reminder.

Where does Genesis 15 come from?

I think the first verse is a good clue. Genesis 15:1 states that “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying…”

“These things” refers to the battle with King Chedarlaomer (if I write an Old Testament book, he’ll be King Cheesy) and Abram’s subsequent defeat of that king. It also refers to the snub Abram gives the king of Sodom.

So, at the outset of Genesis 15, Abram has alienated the earthly kings around him. The higher king (King Cheesy) and the lower ones around Sodom. He’s got no earthly friends left outside of his household. Lot’s basically abandoned him, Abram had left Ur and Haran, and the Egyptians don’t want him back.

What does God do at this point?

He sends Abram the Word of the Lord. He doesn’t give him a new promise. He doesn’t show him signs and wonders. He reminds Abram of what has already been promised. Then, the Lord develops some visual reminders for Abram.

I think that’s important. If I were camping out in Genesis on Sundays, this would have likely gotten its own complete sermon about what we need when we’re scared.

What we need:

Isn’t more material possessions or wealth: Abram did not receive from God one square foot of ground in Canaan to reassure him. He didn’t have Melchizedek show up and return a portion of the tithe.

Isn’t an acceleration of the plan: whether by our hand or for God to change it for us. God is at work in the world around us and His providence holds together things on this earth. We need not jump ahead.

Isn’t a trip back to the beginning. While this is true if working for Vizzini, that when the job goes wrong, you go back to the beginning, it’s not true of the walk of faith. We do, sometimes, need comfort that comes from home and familiarity. But it’s not the solution: we don’t retreat from where God has placed us. When I have tired days as a pastor, husband, father, the solution is not to move back in with Mom and Dad and go back to high school.

What we need:

Is a reminder of the prior faithfulness: Genesis 15:7, God reminds Abram of how Abram got this far. A reminder in our lives of God’s prior faithfulness is immeasurably valuable.

Sometimes, we can’t see that, though, so God’s faithfulness is commended to our minds by:

1. Others who saw it in our lives. My wife is great for this in my life. There are others, but she’s pretty constant at it.

2. Stories of God’s faithfulness to others. Every third book you read should be a biography of a follower of Christ. Really. Comment if you need a list to get you started.

Is a reminder of God’s present presence: This is the God “I am.” Whether in the NT or the OT, God is eternally in the present. Many of us remember what God has done and hope for heaven, what He will do---

But we forget He’s here, right now. Remember “lo, I am with you always”? (Matthew 28:19-20). God reminds Abram that “I am a shield to you” in verse 1. God is with Abram, even if no man is.

Is a reminder our futures are in God’s designs: Your reward shall be….You will… and so forth. Abram is pointed forward. To walk forward in obedience and faith.

Where does all this come together for us?

In your Bible. In the Word of God, revealed through inspired writing, and bound conveniently together for you to read. God’s past actions? All the way to darkness and void and forward to the Word going forth, though Paul is chained---and then some: Revelation is the history of the end of the world. It’s just already written.

In the Word of God: God’s present presence: Christ in you, the hope of glory (it’s about Him being glorified). Immanuel, God with us. I am….the way, truth, life; the resurrection; the bread of life; the living water. You get the point: throughout Scripture we see people that understood the presence of God and we are reminded by His own words that He is present.

In the Word of God: God’s designs for your future: to be used by Him to reach the nations (Acts 1:8), to be a vessel for His glory. To be transformed by the renewing of your minds. To serve Him in loving repentance.

It’s all right there.

Just as His Word returned to strengthen Abram, so His Word is there for us.

And fortunately, we don’t need visions or dreams to know His Word. If you’ve got the Internet, you’ve got it. You’ve probably got one or two kicking around the house.

So read it. And pray for those without it, some by ignorance of their need and others by where they live and the language they speak. Do something about those: pray, live, give, and go. Let your life point people to the Word.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

BookTuesday: Route 66

Today's book comes, again, from Kregel Publications. It's another free book in exchange for the review. Now that I've told you that, let's get to business.

The book is titled Route 66 and it's by Krish Kandiah. Below is a link on Amazon, and the title above is hyperlinked to Kregel's page. Going to Kregel will get you more information on the author, an excerpt of the book, and a chance to buy it. Going to Amazon will get you the chance to buy it from Amazon, which is something I no longer profit from, but I still link there anyway.

Route 66: A Crash Course in Navigating Life with the Bible

This book is written as a guide book for understanding the Bible. It's broken down into eight chapters, with each chapter broken down into five sections.

Essentially, this is designed for a group study with daily reading and weekly discussion. It's not a bad format. The sections are not too long, and the questions dig in---not too deep, but not overly shallow.

The content breaks down like this: Route 66 is intended as a guide to understanding the Bible through various literary genres. Kandiah views the Bible as containing basically eight (what luck, same number of chapters!) literary genres. These are the different types of writing that you find: narrative, law, wisdom literature, letters, prophecy, and so forth.

The book attempts to categorize each book of the Bible into the genres that Kandiah identifies. He then provides suggestions of how to understand and extract the intent from the various types of literature.

In all, this is an easily readable attempt at teaching basic Biblical understanding. If you are starting up a small-group study, it's a good start.

The drawback here is for anyone who would make this good start their final stop in understanding the Bible. Kandiah's example of Route 66, the highway is a helpful metaphor here: the old highway varied in width and road type all along the way. Likewise, there are few Biblical books that fall cleanly into only one literary type or another. Those that do, like Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, or the Psalms, contain a large amount of diversity within their genre anyway.

Books like Genesis or Exodus are a mixture of genre, as are the Books of the Kings. Even "prophets" often contain narrative. Kandiah acknowledges this, but the flow of the book is a little forced on the issue. I'd say it's partially because of trying to work through the 66 books of Scripture in their canonical order. That's not all bad, it just serves as a limiting factor.

A study group or individual starting with Route 66 would do well to move from there to How to Read the Bible for All It's Worth by Fee and Stuart to look at how the genres intermingle and some stronger work on extracting the meaning present in the text.

I wouldn't put a "stop sign" for traveling Route 66, but there's places this one can't get you---after all, there's more to see than just the road from Chicago to LA. After you've made that trip, make another one.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

August 21 PM: Genesis 16

Audio Link Here

Genesis 16: No shortcuts!

I. Impatience leads to bad decisions

     A. Sometimes those bad decisions are made because society encourages them

     B. Sometimes we do what we want no matter what society thinks

     C. There are no shortcuts to developing patience

II. Immorality leads to dire consequences

     A. We get what we want

     B. Then we don't want it anymore

     C. We then respond by compounding sin

     D. There are no shortcuts past God's standards and ways

III. Impiety leads to foolish behavior

     A. We do things that are blatantly wrong

     B. We can hurt others in doing so

     C. We cannot undo the promise and grace of God

August 21 AM: Genesis 15

Audio Link Here

Genesis 15: Are you a Star?

Read out loud: 15:5-8

I. The Covenant

a. God’s promise to Abram stated

b. God’s promise to Abram confirmed

II. The Confirmation

a. The vision at night

b. The prophecy of things to come:

i. Egyptian bondage

ii. Sins of the Canaanites

III. The Continuation:

a. We are descendants innumerable: the counting of stars has frustrated mankind for all times

b. We are descendants diverse: stars are varied, so are we. Some are big, small, near, far…

c. We are descendants to guide: for centuries, mankind has been guided by the stars. You can tell when it is, where you are, and find a path from the stars.

IV. The Conclusion:

a. Are you a star by accepting the salvation that is promised to the nations through Abram?

b. Are you a star by living in the fullness of joy from the promises?

c. Are you a star that is lighting the way for others to find their way?

d. Are you a star that shows the times: the last days, the end days?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Genesis 14 Part II Melchizedek

Sorry I didn't get this up immediately. Someday I'm quick. Other days, not so much.
I want to look for a minute at Melchizedek. Not literally. There's not any pictures or representative artwork that shows us what he looked like. You're best guess is to picture a Middle-Eastern man. Probably shorter than average these days, but about right for those days.
Instead, let's look at what happens here. First, remember the historical situation. Abram has fought and delivered Lot as well as others taken captive because of the rebellion of the King of Sodom against Chedarlaomer. He has now brought back the people and the goods, and he's met by the King of Sodom and the King of Salem.
Abram rebuffs the King of Sodom and accepts bread and wine from the King of Salem. The King of Salem? Melchizedek is his name. He's recorded as a "priest of God Most High."
And he's one of the Bible's semi-enduring mysteries. The book of Hebrews points back to him as an example of Christ in Hebrews 7. Some take that passage as identifying Melchizedek as a theophany, that he is a pre-incarnate appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ, akin to the "Commander of the Army of the Lord" in Joshua 6.
Some, primarily Jewish, sources identify Melchizedek as Shem, the ancestor of the Semite lines and son of Noah. If the chronologies and genealogies are to be taken literally, then Shem is still alive at this point in history.
Then there's a third possibility. Here it is: Melchizedek is just a guy. He's the ordinary king of the city of Salem, but he also happens to be a worshiper of the One True God, God Most High. Exactly how this is the case is hard to trace, but it's possible. If this is the case, then the author of Hebrews simply uses Melchizedek as an example, since he's a recognized king and priest but has no clear genealogy.
I only recently encountered the Shem theory, so I'm more familiar with the first and third possibilities. I like the third, personally. Why? Because the other times that are clear theophanies in Scripture, times when God shows up looking human, the humans are terrified. There's none of that here.
Rather, I think the presence of Melchizedek is better understood as he stands in contrast with the King of Sodom, Bera. (His name is given in 14:2, but he's referred to by title the rest of the time.) Look at how Abram reacts to both of them. From Melchizedek, Abram receives food and gives gifts. From Bera? Abram refuses a share of the treasure, refuses even a shoelace (well, sandal thong) and is really rather blunt with Bera.
The message? No matter the situation, don't get mixed up with Sodom. Don't take from or give to those who oppose God. Bear in mind the contrasting kings here: Melchizedek and Bera. One acknowledged as serving the Most High. The other, silence regarding his beliefs.
The further message? This mainly rehashes a recent sermon, but here it is: the people Abram has just delivered have seen the strength of God Most High. They've met a king and priest that serve this same God. This is a picture of grace and opportunity: Lot and the others are here, looking at the Bera who couldn't protect them and Abram who delivered them. They see Abram stiff-arm Bera and fellowship with Melchizedek.
Some of them, I'd like to hope, went home with Melchizedek. Perhaps that was part of what Melchizedek did with the tithe he received: helped establish the new converts to the worship of God Most High. Perhaps not--but the people there had a choice.
Unfortunately, many (or perhaps all) took the new lease on life, their newly recovered freedom, and went right back to Sodom. That's what we're going to see a lot of: people take freedom to do whatever and do, well, whatever...
All there is for us to do is be faithful and put the choice there. Abram meets Bera and Melchizedek and refuses to put the people directly into Bera's custody. He also doesn't demand the people become his. He leaves the scene, right there: the people, the kings, and a choice to make.
How about you? Do you have a choice to make?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Genesis 14 Part 1: The Tithe

If you'd like to set off a nice, grumpy argument in the midst of a group of preachers, teachers, and mostly learned Christians, start a discussion of tithing. You'll get some remarkable responses that range from "A Christian that does not give 10% is robbing God" to "Anyone that thinks a Christian has to give anything is a grace-denying legalist."

Why is there such diversity of opinion on this issue? For starters, and for a whole 'nother blog post, sometimes we're smarter than we need to be and spend too much effort overthinking things. However, that's not going to fit on this blog today.

Instead, let's look at the overall idea of the tithe. First, this is the fundamental definition: a "tithe" is 10% of something. It can be 10% of anything. The generic definition does not specify the recipient of the tithe. It's a principle of giving that's found inside and outside of the Bible. J.R.R. Tolkien references a "tithe of strength" in The Lord of the Rings, and other ancient treaties show that he didn't invent the idea. Kings would demand from their vassals military strength, occasionally in units of 10%.

There are a variety of religions that operate under the principle of giving of produce, cattle, or wealth in a tithe. It's typically seen, both in Scripture and out, as a tithe on increase or a tithe on firstfruits. The former is typical of animals, the latter of produce. Most ancient texts speaking of a tithe predate monetary economies, so there is actually little ancient observation of a monetary tithe.

For the Christian, this debate also strikes into the question of how much of the Old Testament doe we obey as Gentiles adopted through Christ? We certainly should all agree there are Old Testament commands that bind us: grace entitles you not to murder or steal at leisure. Other parts we know are fulfilled by and in Christ at the cross: you need not kill an animal for your sins, as Jesus was your perfect, atoning, substitute sacrifice. After all, He subs not for the sheep but for you.

There's pretty clear guidance that the dietary laws are not binding, that not marrying an ethnic Israelite is ok, and the Feasts and Fasts aren't part of our religious observance.

So we come to the tithe. If your first thought and objection to tithing is that it is only part of the Old Testament Law, you'd only be partly right. The OT Law does command the tithe. In fact, there are a couple of instances of commanded tithe, such that there were 2 annual tithes and 1 triennial tithe. So, 2 years you're up to 20% and one year 30%. When Samuel warns the people about a king, he points out that the king will likely want a tithe, too, in taxes. So it's possible monarchal Israel paid 30% some years and 40% others.

Then, the prophets, especially Malachi, highlight that a failure to tithe was causing a withholding of God's blessing on the people. Malachi 3 is the most-oft cited passage on tithing. From Malachi, we jump to the New Testament. The only explicit tithe reference is when the Lord Jesus condemns the Pharisees for tithing on their spices (probably grown in little window gardens) but oppressing the poor. He states that they were right on the tithe and wrong on the oppression, that they should have done both.

That's it. The New Testament references giving for a special offering to the needy of Jerusalem, but nothing about a continual, systematic giving system.

So, some state the tithe belongs to the law. Except we come, now, to Abram and Genesis 14. Here, Abram has been successful as he battled the forces of Chedarlaomer for the lives of Lot and the other captives. He meets Melchizedek, recorded as a "priest of God Most High" and identified in Hebrews as a type of Christ.

And Abram gives a tithe to Melchizedek as a thank offering, a freewill gift of what he has. What does he have? A combination of recovered plunder and whatever else he got in defeating Chedarlaomer. This passage puts a free gift of a tithe preceding the Law.

Nothing required Abram to make this gift. Scripture doesn't tell us why he chose that amount. There's nothing there, so arguing that he was commanded argues from silence. Arguing he did it for fun is from silence.

So, you see the source of the argument? You can't point to a Biblical verse that mandates that one absolutely must tithe. You can build a case for it---and a case against it.

So, what's my case?

Abram/Abraham is not only the father of the faith, the initial recipient of the promise, and the friend of God. He's also a good example to follow.

I see Abram responding to his success by giving, freely, a gift to God's priest of a tithe. That's 10% of what he had, given as a response to God's grace. He gives it to Melchizedek and worships God there. How does Melchizedek use it? Who knows? He doesn't build a temple or synagogue or church, he doesn't do---well, we don't know.

From this I extract and understand this as the principle: As a grace-filled response to God's provision of life, I freely give at least a tithe of what I have to the work of the Kingdom of God. Yes, there's some logic leaps in that, but that's how I see it. Typically, that gift goes to what I understand to be the center of Kingdom work in my life: the local church. Occasionally, I see cause for it to go elsewhere: missions organizations, food programs, and so forth.

I find this makes the most sense to me of the narrative. Is a tithe required? No. But it is exampled, both before the law and in the law. The silence of the New Testament regarding tithing could be as much because everyone already did it as it could be that no one did it (that's why you don't argue from silence).

The New Testament reality is recognizing God as the owner of all that I have and am. Giving 10% of what is His to the work of the Kingdom is actually a pretty easy part of that task. Spending the 90% that I keep appropriately, well, that's another matter…

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

BookTuesday: Across the Wide River

Today’s book is Across the Wide River by Stephanie Reed. It’s published by Kregel Publications, who provided a free copy of the book in exchange for the review.
Across the Wide River
This book is an historical fiction title, aimed at the teenage years. It’s based on a real family in the 1800s that worked toward the abolition of slavery by guiding slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad. The family was (and is) real, though this book isn’t a chronicle of their actual work. Rather, it’s a novel inspired by them and by studying the real memoirs they left behind.
The plot line of the book is simple: Lowry Rankin is growing up with a father who is an abolitionist minister. As Lowry grows, his involvement with his father’s work grows, but eventually a boy becomes a man and has to begin making his own decisions. The work portrays a glimpse into the emotional wrestling that went into those decisions, as well as the personal sacrifices involved.
Admittedly, there is little intensive action in this book. However, Reed doesn’t claim to have written an action book. It’s a work to detail the horrors of slavery, even “good” slavery, and the willingness of some to look away for the sake of their own wealth. She has put together a book to challenge the reader to think about whether you would look away or delve into the sacrifice necessary.
While this book was published back in 2004, I find that it remains a timely read. The world constantly brings new challenges, but the choices that children and teenagers will have to make now and into adulthood reflect Lowry’s dilemmas: how much will I have to sacrifice? Am I willing to do this? What if I never know if it did any good?
This book leaves me with these questions, and will hopefully challenge others the same way.
Doug

The author, Stephanie Reed, was kind enough to stop by and leave the comment below. I thought I'd highlight the link she left for sample chapters of this book and its sequel: http://bit.ly/rdRKvp

 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sunday August 14 Sermons

Morning Audio Link
Evening Audio Link
Morning Outline:
Genesis 14: When it's time to fight
Read aloud: Genesis 14:17-24
I. Historical Situation:
1. Lot lives near Sodom
2. Abram does not (see chapter 13)
3. While life is going on, there's political mischief afoot:
A. Kings that had been allied
B. Some decide to rebel against Chedorlaomer (Ked-er-la-o-mer) (Or Cheddarlamer :)
C. Kings don't take rebellion lightly. Chedorlaomer comes after the king of Sodom and other rebels and wins.
D. The end-result? He takes hostages and plunder.
E. Including Lot.
II. Family back in focus:
1. It's important to see that world events affect people
A. distract to famine, riots, whatever:
B. The death of one a tragedy, the death of millions, a statistic (Stalin)
2. The political mischief is happening around Abram and Lot
3. Lot has been taken as one of the captives
III. When does Abram fight?
1. He has not fought:
A. To conquer the land
B. To enrich himself
C. To interfere or participate with this rebellion
2. He fights when:
A. Family is threatened
B. There are lives to be saved.
IV. How does Abram fight?
1. With those loyal to him
2. He does not gather the remnants of other armies to fight with him
3. He fights until Lot and the captives are freed, and no more
4. He declines to keep the wealth
5. He provides for his help
V. When do we fight?
1. Our struggle is not a physical battle, but a spiritual one (Ephesians 6:12)
2. We fight to deliver the souls of men from captivity
3. Our fight is not to bring that freedom but to proclaim it---Christ has fought and provided the freedom
4. We fight, though we face kings or great ones, even though we are not. We fight to serve our King
VI. How do we handle the fight?
1. With all that we have
A. Abram leads out all of his "trained men"-> they are ready knowledgeable to fight, though not always fighting
B. With his whole household
2. Until success, not devastation: Abram quits when he has freed the captives
VII. What will be the result?
1. Temptation for us:
A. To claim credit
B. To demand reward
C. To establish our own kingdom (meh. There's something here related to Abram ensuring his allies get their share)
2. Opportunity:
A. To show gratitude
B. To be means of grace----though it may be discarded or disdained.
C. To worship God truly.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A quick, political note for Gov. Perry

Gov. Perry,

I thought the whole “call-to-prayer” thing last weekend was a good idea. It was nice to see a political figure admit his faith and take major public action on it.

But now, not even a week later, it looks like blatant political grandstanding. It appears that you have used evangelical Christians for political purposes. And most of us are really tired of that. True, since we’re mostly pro-life, pro-freedom, and pro-religion, if you’re the other major candidate, we’ll still likely vote for you in November. Except using us makes us lukewarm.

It makes us likely to vote for you but not talk a lot about you. It makes us unlikely to give money (well, I wouldn’t give any to any candidate), less likely to put signs in our yards, and not very likely to do much else.

You see, as a pastor, I’m very cautious how I blend politics with what I do. I do not mention candidate names from the pulpit. I don’t even mention party names from the pulpit. I clearly preach pro-life, pro-freedom as I see it in Scripture. I encourage people to examine the character and faith of candidates and vote based on those things.

And I nearly said something to my congregation about you by name in the past few weeks to praise what you were doing in Texas. I’m now glad I didn’t. I half-suspected you would announce for President, so I stayed back. If I hadn’t, your actions would have caused me to violate my own code of ethics related to political activism in church.

I name politician names on my blog or in personal conversation, but I don’t from the pulpit. Consider carefully what you’ve done this week. You might need to quickly mend fences, because it looks to me like you just called for revival for the purpose of getting yourself elected.

But you’re not the answer, Governor Perry. A commitment to live for Christ and an effort to turn our nation as a whole to love God and obey Him as we see in Scripture is. Don’t forget that.

Or I’ll find a third-party guy to vote for again.

Doug

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

BookTuesday: Courageous

Today’s book?

Courageous by Randy Alcorn, based on the screenplay by Alex Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick. Here’s the cover and Amazon.com link:

Courageous: A Novel

To clarify (or unclarify): this is the novelization of the screenplay for the upcoming movie from Sherwood Pictures (Sherwood Baptist Church) that has the same name, Courageous. As such, it has a few automatic drawbacks. The author of the book, Randy Alcorn, is constrained to the vision and ideas of the screenplay. That’s not all bad, but it’s also not all good.

Within those constraints, however, here's a quick rundown on the book form only. I haven't seen the movie, though I likely will. In the interest of preserving suspense, I'm going to try very hard and dodge any form of spoiler in this review. Hopefully it doesn't come out too generic!

The book opens strongly, with one of the main characters returning to Albany, Georgia to work with the Dougherty County Sheriff's Department. He's immediately thrust into action to deal with a carjacking….his own!

The story then shifts to provide basic character establishment. Working through these opening chapters, I was pleased with Alcorn's treatment of the material. The interweaving of the personal lives of characters with their professional lives paced well. In talking with real law enforcement personal, it does seem that many law enforcement people have two families: the family at home and the family with badges. Alcorn depicts well the love that, though not always expressed well, exists in the main characters for both of their families.

The story, as a whole, was reasonably predictable. There are bad guys. There are good guys. There's a bad guy that realizes he should be a good guy, and a good guy that turns out to be a bad guy. There's chases, fights, life and death. It's a police story, and it plays out much the same as ordinary life: sometimes it's good, sometimes it's not.

However, this isn't written just to entertain. It's written to drive home a point. That point starts when a couple of the characters start to take their faith seriously: first at home, and then on the job. Alcorn does not play this for subtly or nuance, but comes straight to the point. It's a point worth coming straight to, as well.

The main story line moves at a good pace working towards the conclusion, which is good, because it is, as I said, predictable. Alcorn does not waste pages just to get you to the same point you knew was coming. This helps the book be a good read.

Within the main story, there are a couple of side lines introduced, including one that is abundantly clear about the power of prayer. Another is about teen love, another about bringing in new deputies to the sheriff's department.

In a bit of the small-town feel that this book reflects, one that it shares with the movie-making team, characters show up from both Facing the Giants and Fireproof. I didn't recognize anyone from the film Flywheel, but Sherwood and the Kendrick brothers apparently wanted to reuse a few familiar names. It wasn't bad to do, although it's not quite as well-played as the Pizza Planet truck or Ratzenberger's voice in Pixar films.

Finally, the book presents a well-harmonized racial picture among the main characters. I've been in small Southern towns all my life, and I've rarely seen the type of smooth relationships between races that appears in this book. I think part of that is the effort of presenting the "ideal" in a film and book intended to challenge men to be the ideal. What pleased me with this was that Alcorn did not fall into the trap of making one ethnic group always right and the others always wrong, though it was clear that the know-it-all, have-it-all folks had more to learn than some of the poorer folks.

A brief content warning: this books deals with some serious situations. It's not a fluff read, and should not have been. That being said, not all situations resolve happily. There's enough realism here to balance the idealism. Just be prepared. I'm certain the film will contain similar elements, so don't just blindly think this won't have tension.

I highly recommend this book.

Doug

Note: free book from the publisher in exchange for the review.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Borrowed from another blog

There’s a whole line of etiquette related to borrowing from other blogs. It then gets even more complicated when it’s from a guest post on another blog. This came from Justin Taylor’s blog where a guy name Dane Ortlund posted it who got it from another person, credited as Z. Here’s the link, then there’s the embedded video. It’s worth the 5 minutes to watch.

 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sunday Sermon Recap

Morning Audio Link Here

Evening Audio Link Here

 

Morning Outline:

Genesis 12:1-13:4

First: The contrast between the Babel-builders and God's promise: Babel was built on the premise of: staying together, making a great name, and reaching heaven; Abram is called to leave and trust God to do the other things...

Second: continued obedience: remain where you are supposed to be

Third: make the right decision in crisis

Fourth: maintain your integrity: if the intent is to deceive, it's a lie: Abram is not doing right by lying in Egypt. 

Beginning with obedience:

Abram is commanded to leave his country, his relatives, even his father's household. Put that in your own terms: How do you respond to being pushed away from what you know? This is where Abram is.

Based on what does he obey this calling? Is he given anything "up-front"? No.

He receives a promise of what will come: none of these are delivered in 25 years! Think about this: 25 years before the son is born. It takes the death of his wife for him to own any property.

What guarantees do we seek before we get started? What guarantees do you want? Rain? No rain? The guarantee of a good harvest, a roof over your head, family stability? It's not there..

 

Evening: Genesis 13:5-13:18

The conflict arises between Abram and Lot.

What about this?

I. It's about stuff. Really, it's all about material possessions.

II. That's silly, of course, to divide a family over stuff.

III. Really, all of the stuff should have been Abram's: the whole of the promise was to Abram, not Lot.

IV. Finally: take a look at verse 7: this conflict isn't happening in a vacuum. The pagans are there. God's people are in the midst of the lost.  It's no time to fight about stuff.

V. The solution: let Lot go. Allow him to choose his own way and focus on walking God's path.

Our ideas?

I. Should we really stress about the acquisition of stuff? In our lives, in our churches? We spend a great deal of effort on stuff then that stuff becomes a bone of contention.

II. Is that really a good thing to divide our family over?

III. All the material possessions we own belong to God. Why are we fighting our brothers over it? Can God not restore to us whatever we need or deserve?

IV. More important than our stuff: the world is watching. Churches and Christians fight over stuff and demolish our credibility to spread the Gospel.

V. Let the stuff go. Better to show a testimony of trust and faith in God than a testimony of "mine!"

Friday, August 5, 2011

Good Eats, the Space Shuttle, and Me

Sorry for the later post today. I was working on it last night and other things demanded my attention.

I haven't had cable for a couple of years now, but last I did, I became a fan of the Food Network. In fact, what got me watching Food was two shows, really: Iron Chef America and Good Eats. Now, spare me the eye-roll at the unrealistic nature of Iron Chef. It's probably more real than its critics think but less real than it appears. Anyway, it's TV: entertaining and fun. Star Trek is fake, too, and I still like it. Plus, Michael Symon will always have a special place in my heart as a chef since he used halloumi in one episode.

However, Good Eats was the main hook. We started watching that show when we caught a snippet one night of a disheveled looking fellow in a bathrobe muttering about breakfast. This fellow went on to look a little less disheveled and cooked pancakes. We tried the recipe, it was good, and we became Alton Brown fans. In fact, though I had loved to cook before this, watching Brown and his show convinced me that I could cook and cook well, and challenged me to expand in kitchen skills.

A part of me even hoped that, someday, I might manage to become credible enough to take over Good Eats when the inimitable Mr. Brown decided to retire. Maybe I could host Good Eats: Generation 2 or something like that. After all, my jokes are as good as his!

Alas, this past spring it was announced that Good Eats is over. There are three one-hour specials this year, but the show is now headed to permanent re-run status. I'll be scouring the Internet for DVDs or Blu-Rays of it, that's for certain. My dream, though, of cooking with Alton Brown had to come to an end.

Meanwhile, we're all aware of the end of the Space Shuttle program in NASA. I could bemoan the death of the US Space Program in general, but I hold out hope that we'll realize the benefits and re-up our commitment to science and exploration. The whole conspiracy I perceive in that deserves its own post, so comment if you want to read that one.

It's just that, when I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut. Wanted to be one so bad that I actually considered joining the Navy, as more Naval Aviators went on to be astronauts than Air Force pilots did. I still remember the depression I felt January 28, 1986. I remember attending Grissom Elementary before then. I remember vividly (perhaps my clearest memory from all of elementary school) the day the Louisiana Teacher-in-Space participant spoke at our school. She had a heat-shield tile. She had a real NASA Astronaut jacket and she let me wear it! All day! (She almost forgot it when she left.)

I wanted to go up in a Space Shuttle. I imagined that the movie Space Camp could actually happen. I went to Space Camp. It didn't. My group did design the best Space Station, though. To this day, though I love Almyra (except the mosquitoes), my dream pastorate is still First Baptist Church, Lunar Rock (or Chaplain on the International Space Station).

Yet with the end of the Space Shuttle program, that dream, already mostly dead since I went to seminary instead of engineering school, is now completely dead. There's no miracle to bring that one back.

Both of these dreams have gone for me. In a way, it's kind of sad. These were ideas, both simple, like a cooking show, and complex, like space, that inspired me to be better at something. The reality? I will likely never cook well enough to get a show. I won't even get Bobby Flay to challenge me on Throwdown (partly because I can't see opening a restaurant). I was never quite disciplined enough to make the astronaut corps.

But those dreams challenged me to get better. They challenged me to grow. For that I'm thankful, and will continue to strengthen myself in those areas. My challenge from this?

1. Learn to grow from the things around me. It's important.

2. Don't let the death of a perceived end-goal be the death of effort.

3. Strive to be the challenge someone else wants to be. Whether it's to cook better, study harder, preach better, or just in life: be an open example that's available for others to follow.

Doug

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Don’t be a Nimrod!

Genesis 10:8–12 (NASB95) :

8 Now Cush became the father of Nimrod; he became a mighty one on the earth. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord.” 10 The beginning of his kingdom was Babel and Erech and Accad and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. 11 From that land he went forth into Assyria, and built Nineveh and Rehoboth-Ir and Calah, 12 and Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city.

 

A few observations here about Nimrod:

1. He was, apparently, good at certain things. Certain extra-Biblical sources put him in charge of the Tower of Babel, and the text itself gives you the idea that he was quite the city organizer.

Not only that, he’s quite the hunter. The name of Nimrod is one of the first names to become “proverbial:” people use him as an example for succeeding generations. His hunting is legendary.

2. As with all legends, Nimrod’s fame exceeds his evidence. Taking Mosaic authorship for granted, Genesis is the closest writing to Nimrod’s time, and it’s at least 1000 years later than Nimrod’s life. Everything else about him comes even later.

So, Nimrod gets credit for a great many things. First of all, as mentioned, he gets credit for at least originating the Tower and City of Babel. Some scholars accredit him as fully building these cities and even structuring the fundamentals of empire in those areas.

One or two sources even give Nimrod credit for helping hunt out and destroy the remaining great beasts that threaten mankind. They go on to tie Nimrod to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Now, I’m a young-earth creationist and think that dinosaurs are a bit of a problem---there’s some reasonable answers, but I’m not super clear on them. However, picturing Nimrod hunting a T-Rex is more than I can pull up.

3. There’s even more read into Nimrod’s motivations. He’s blamed for atheism, polytheism, idolatry, and other bad philosophical/theological stuff. He’s just generally considered bad.

Now, I’m not going to try and rehabilitate Nimrod’s reputation. I have two reputations to be concerned with: the reputation of the Lord Jesus Christ and my own. The goal? Not destroy the former one because the latter is inadequate.

Instead, I want to consider Nimrod’s life and my own. Nimrod left behind a reputation as one who accomplished things, but no record of his faith, commitment, or life as a worshiper. Nothing except cities built and hunting effectiveness.

If he were an American, we’d praise him as a manly-man: strong, perhaps ruthless, prosperous and outdoorsy.We’d ask him to speak at our church men’s events, perhaps. After all, he’s a Bible character!

But what did he really leave behind?

A legacy of ambiguity. Earthly results that haven’t lasted---or is Ninevah’s economy really rocking these days? Oh, it’s not really there anymore, is it?

All of the great legacy we think we may leave on this earth, all of the good that we do, the bad that we do, the things we build, the wild animals we hunt down and kill, guess what?

It amounts to nothing. History remembers even the great ones vaguely and imperfectly. What was most important to Nimrod? Maybe he made cave paintings or developed risotto. Maybe he long-jumped 32 feet. We don’t know, do we?

So, what do we do? Despair? Give up?

No. We focus on what’s in front of us. We do what we know needs to be done right. Be faithful in the little things, attempt the great things, and do it all to please God and not man. Why? Because God will remember. Man won’t. God is eternal and limitless, but man? We’re not. We’ll forget. Our grandchildren’s grandchildren won’t remember our names or what we did. But our children will know now that we spent time stressing about our legacy that we could have spent reading to them.

Learn this lesson from Nimrod: let your legacy be small but unambiguous. Strive to be clear about who you are: a follower of Christ in all things. Even if you’re never a mighty hunter or a founder of great cities and empires…whatever you do,

Don’t be a Nimrod.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Evening Sermon from July 31

I posted the morning sermon on Monday. Here's the evening sermon outline:

Morning Audio Link Here

Evening Audio Link Here

Tower of Babel: The Dangers of Self-Exaltation

Genesis 11:4 (NASB95)

4 They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”

The goal of our life is God-exaltation, not self-exaltation.

Let's look back right quick:

Genesis 9:7 (NASB95)

7 “As for you, be fruitful and multiply;

Populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it.”

Mankind was supposed to filling the earth, spreading out---being obedient to that command.

Instead, here's what happens: the group settles. Together. And decided to build a city to stay together, to build a tower in the midst of the city.

As they build the city and the tower, the goal is stated in 3 things:

1. build for ourselves

2. Make a name for ourselves

3. Avoid scattering.

Now, the city is for all to live together, but

Why a tower?

What had God used for judgment?

A FLOOD.


Big water. So, why build the tower?

It's an effort to evade any future judgment. It directly counters two important things:

1. God's responsibility and right to judge sin.

2. God's promise of grace that He will not flood the world again.

To build this, requires ignoring the positive command of God to go forth, fill, and multiply.

The building of the tower took time. I think the text supports that this was an effort that spanned generations. This was a long-spanning effort to evade the consequences of sin.

And it was started with the full knowledge that's what it was for.

So, how does God respond?

He does not destroy the people.

He does not even destroy the tower or the city.

He confounds their language. They cannot live together. Cannot work together.

And so, they scatter. There is no name for them: we guess that Nimrod was involved, but there is no real evidence who started the building.

Now, what do we take from this?

1. Don't build towers in Babylon, right?

Well, yes----but did any of us plan that?

Try it again:

1. God has given us a diverse set of commands. Some to do, some not to do. These aren't options.

2. We should honor those commands: live lives of holiness; encourage one another daily; worship Him; don't chase idols; don't dishonor the name of Christ.

3. We should not plan how we will avoid God's judgment for intentional sin. We should instead avoid the intentional sin. And that should be a no-brainer.

4. We should see that, even after failure, God provides the ability to obey: the people had no choice to scatter.

5. Echoes of this passage are found in Acts: the undoing of language confusion; the scattering forced by persecution.

6. Seeking our own fame ends in disaster: what are you doing that only builds your reputation, security, and greatness? Should you be doing those things?

7. Seek His fame...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

BookTuesday: It Couldn’t Just Happen

 

For BookTuesday today, I’ve got a review of Lawrence Richards’ It Couldn’t Just Happen. This is actually a reprint/update of a book originally released in 1987 by Word Publishing. Today it’s released by Thomas Nelson Publishing under the Tommy Nelson Imprint.

It Couldn't Just Happen: Knowing the Truth About God's Awesome Creation

This book is targeted for children to address questions about science and evolution. The title itself should be a clue about the author’s viewpoint and what conclusions are going to be offered in the book.

Which is not a bad thing. After all, the target audience is not biology or chemistry researchers but it is aimed at a younger audience. The apparent goal is to show the reader why a creationist viewpoint is correct not only from the Biblical perspective but also from a scientific perspective.

To accomplish this, Richards presents 16 chapters focused on basic science issues related to studying the origins of the earth, life, and humanity. He dedicates the last 4 chapters of the book to explaining his view of the Bible and commending the Bible as the starting point for knowledge and study.

Each chapter is well-worded for pre-teen to teen readers. It’s also well-worded for adults who have been away from studying science for a few years and don’t remember much! For the review, I had the e-book version, which features grayscale pictures, but the print edition is full-color. Either way, occasional pictures break up the text and provide a little more detail to the sections.

Richards’ work on the science side is presented well. He has provided examples that support the creationist view, including taking several scientific studies that were once used as evidence of evolution and showing how they support creation instead. This book is not one of original research, but rather a compiling of scientific work from varied disciplines.

He addresses the question of the age of the earth, and presents both Biblical and scientific issues with both old-earth and young-earth theories. Wisely, he does not take a hard stance for one view or the other. This should allow for anyone who holds a creationist view to find this book a helpful resource.

The weakness I see in this book is the age. Science seems to move much faster than the publishing world, and some of the examples found in It Couldn’t Just Happen will be outdated soon. For example, Richards puts a focus on the lack of transitional forms in the fossil record but does not address the recent developed theory of “punctuated equilibrium” that is one answer to the missing forms. If the goal of the book is to orient students toward creation and equip them to understand evolution, this information would be helpful. Leaving some of the more recent developments undiscussed will leave students confounded and confused at times.

A further example comes in the discussion of horses, where Richards highlights the errors in evolutionary theory about the horse. His example is good and shows the tendency of confirmation bias in science, but as an evidence of creation, it’s easily dismissed. How? An opponent of creationism can highlight that prior mistakes by evolution proponents show the fluid nature of science and the willingness of evolutionists to learn and grow. And creationism never changes, does it?

These weaknesses are best addressed by not using this one book as your sole source for science information. It is a good introduction or supplement to the issues at hand in the study of origins and science, but it’s not quite strong enough to be the only text a student reads. Still, well recommended and well worth buying. I’d buy the printed, though---there’s a few places to write in answers and deal with questions. I don’t want anyone scribbling on my Kindle.

 

Doug

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Monday, August 1, 2011

Morning Sermon from July 31

Morning Audio Link Here

Evening Audio Link Here

I linked both audio files here, but I'm only putting the morning outline. I'll post the evening outline later, but this one was a little long!

Morning outline:

What needs to happen here is this: Read this passage, then think backwards through it.

What do I mean?

Let's look at this text: Genesis 10 is related to the study of ethnography or the study of nations.

And all the nations trace back to one place here. While it is fascinating to study who went where, and what group had what land and who became the father of what nation---really, that's a rabbit we could hunt for days and days.

Further, when you come to this chapter and see that there are 8 people involved in the genetic heritage of mankind and then see news and science reports that report they have traced human DNA back to a small group of individuals, well, here's a thought: there were 8 different genetic patterns on the ark that led into these groups. It's as likely a Biblical confirmation as it is anything else.

But more important than our DNA or ethnic heritage is this: we need to look, as I said, backwards through this passage.

We need to see that the inhabitants of the earth, every race at the end of this: 16,719 people groups, totaling nearly 7 billion people. 6500 languages...

Yet we are all, ultimately:

One Family. There are, definitely, parts of the family that we carry more similarities to. There are parts that we may like better than others. We may not all ever get along---but we are, as people on this earth One Family, One Race. We may have visible differences, and we may identify ourselves as White, Black, Hispanic, Chinese, Korean, Irish, Italian, Greek, African, Nigerian----while those differences are important to us, while they make up a part of who we are, we're all still descendants of the one family.

As part of the One Family, we share something. More than sharing body shape or hair, more than biology, we share One Problem: we are inheritors of sin. Whatever tribe, tongue, or culture you encounter in this world, there are none that lack sin or failure. Everywhere you go, people suffer the effects of sin: destroyed bodies, weak relationships, mis-aimed religion.

In all of these things, we are the same: all men (and women) die. Sin has given us that shortfall. We cannot escape it. In any society, you find people that have fractured relationships. Parents, children, friends, co-workers, bosses, spouses....

And wherever you turn, you see people with misplaced, blunted religion. Whether it is those who live by retribution or think that continued human death pleases God, those who think there is no God, or those who would please God by traditions or buy his favor with money....our religion is corrupted before God.

Sin surrounds us, it is inside of us, and when we get people together its effects are multiplied, not divided. We try all sorts of things to get rid of it: good things, like good works: caring for the poor, being nice, going to church. Sometimes we try things that aren't as good: alcohol or drugs, violence, satisfying the lusts of the flesh, selfishness.

None of these work. It's a widespread attempt to address the symptoms of sin, but sin is our One Problem. Our One family has One Problem.

That's more than fortunate. It's a blessing. For One Problem has, quite simply, One solution. The solution is not found in treating the symptoms by being good or being bad, by buying God's favor or man's happiness.

Our One Problem's One Solution is this: the One Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. The One Son of the One True God  is the only solution. Only one. That may sound harsh to your ears. After all, who are we to say our God is right and anyone else's is wrong?

We only echo His own words: "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me." John 14:6

Consider the other option: we are left with no way to know what will clear the one problem of all mankind. Is it Islam, Confucius, Buddha? Is it science or art? Math or language? Should we learn Hindi to know the Vedas or Hebrew to know the Talmud? We are limited beings and cannot cover all the bases. Yet ultimately, each solution, each suggestion excludes the others. One cannot be both Muslim and Christian, atheist and God-worshiper. You cannot worship God as all-powerful but also think your horoscope actually means anything.

The is One solution to the whole thing. We believe, as Christians, that the Bible, the Word of God to man, shows us that the Word of God made man, the Lord Jesus Christ, offered Himself as the One Saviour for all mankind. The solution we seek is the one that came to us: Christ in the flesh, dying for our sins and rising from the grave to live forevermore.

We live in runoff of history since that event. When He was on the earth, He left behind his followers with One Mission: make disciples of all nations.

That is our goal. We are to make disciples. The first step?

Make disciples of ourselves: are you spending time in God's Word? Reading, learning, growing? Do you seek out Bible teaching to help you grow and become more effective as a disciple of the Lord? That is your responsibility for yourself: if you can, grow.

Make disciples of our families: parents, are you discipling your children? Are you teaching them how God works, who God is, what God has done and is doing in and for you? Husbands, are you encouraging your wives to grow in Christ? Wives, likewise?

Make disciples in our church: we are not here just to entertain, just to fill blocks or to satisfy traditions. We are here to make disciples and to grow as disciples. That is the purpose of your Sunday School class, of the worship service, of all that we do: growing as disciples of Christ.

That is the One Mission. It sounds a little overwhelming, doesn't it? Well, it is. It would be overwhelming if was just us, the members of FBC Almyra. But it's not.

You see, the One Mission was given to One Church. There remain, and likely ever will remain differences and divisions among that One Church, but we are involved in the mission together with our fellow believers. We work together, closer to some than to others, to make disciples of all the nations. We work together for the Glory of God.

As such, our goal is be unified with all the redeemed of all the ages as best we can: not that we discard our personalities or our distinctives, but that we don't fight over things that, in light of our one mission just don't matter that much. We focus on what we can do, celebrating what we have done, and always seeking to do more...to fulfill the one mission of the Church.

Why do we do this?

Because this is our family, the family of humanity. Because the problem has one solution, the One Saviour.

If we do so, we will see our one reward: being faithful to Him who was faithful to us, even when we didn't deserve.

How do we get there?

I would challenge you to find one task for this week.

1. Surrender to Christ.

2. Spend at least 5 minutes each day in the Word and in prayer that you will be a growing disciple of Christ.

3. Find one person to encourage to follow Christ: a lost person, a struggling believer, a faithful person.

4. Then take on one more thing: pray for God's wisdom about what more you, and we, can do.

Worship Services Recap for July 12

Here is what you’ll find: there is an audio player with the sermon audios built-in to it, just click to find the one you want. You’ll also f...