Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Genesis 1-25 Recap Part II

No, you didn't miss Part I. That will come later, hopefully Friday.

However, today I'm glancing backwards at the latter half, so it seems appropriate to call it Part II. I never said I was a great writer, after all…

This past Sunday night I finished preaching the first half of 50 sermons in Genesis. I'm going chapter-by-chapter, and though the first thought was to go straight through Bible, finishing sometime 13 years from now in Revelation, I'm going to take a break. I'll be more topical for a few weeks, then we'll go to Luke. After Luke, I'll finish Genesis, then back to the New Testament, then back to the Old Testament. The goal is still that, by the end of 13 years or so, I will have preached once on every chapter in the Bible. More than once on a few, but once on every one of them.

Having just done Genesis 1 through Genesis 25, I've spent a good deal of time on Abraham. Not enough to be a great Abrahamic scholar, but enough to be the Almyra area expert. He occupies the latter half of this section of the Bible. He gets chapters 12 through 25, which covers more than the thousands of years of human history that precede him.

Here's a few basics on Abraham:

  • 1. He's the first person in the narrative that we have a very definite location for. We can place Babel in Shinar, but not exactly where. Abraham is definitely in a city that we know where was: Ur of the Chaldees.
  • 2. He's the first person in the narrative that we can place a pretty good date on. Within about a 100 years, at the least, that is. While I respect the efforts of Archbishop Ussher and look forward to reading his complete works in the year to come, I am somewhat concerned that we cannot quite ascribe precise dates to the first 11 chapters of Genesis. These things are true: they happened. They happened at definite points in history. But when? Abraham, though, has a pretty good date range: 1900-1800 BC. (that's pretty good for a 4,000 year old target.
  • 3. He is considered by Judaism, Islam, and Christianity to be the originator of monotheism. Even secular philosophy pegs him with that idea, though the identification is often that he invented it. He's important to all 3 of the major monotheistic religions, to the cults that have bizarred off of them, and so to all of world history. The vast majority of people on this planet are theists of some sort, and most of the monotheists will recognize Abraham as important.

Those are facts on Abraham. There's more in the text, and then even more in the Talmud and Jewish traditions. Islamic and Baha'i traditions provide other stories of Abraham (or Ibrahim), and Christian tradition tends to lean most heavily on Judaism for Abraham (and most Old Testament people).

Here's my thoughts on Abraham: We tend to focus on the great moments in Abraham's life. Whether moments of great faith or moments of great failure, he's always larger than life. There's no sense of the general life of the man.

This is also true when you start digging into the legends. He's teaching his father the falsehood of idolatry. He's here, there, and everywhere.

Yet we need to remember that while Scripture is adequate, it's not comprehensive. Abraham has a lot of life that's unmentioned. He's got thoughts that aren't recorded. I wonder about those. I wonder if he had days of self-doubt, or times that the silence of God was overwhelming to him.

If there were times that he thought "Great nation? Right, I can't even keep up with all my sheep!" "Great name? My shepherds are laughing at me behind my back. Some name! I'll never be anything!"

Maybe he didn't. Maybe he was the great hero that we've always made him out to be. Yet I think he was as human as you or I. He had mediocre days, ordinary days---and the reason his life turns out significant is not because he had a few great days, not because he survived a few great calamities.

It's because he hung on in between. In the days between the great calling and birth, between circumcision and sacrifice, between speaking with God Almighty as a friend and fleeing Abimelech's territory, in the days when he got up, fed sheep, looked for water, and ate a little bread with honey. On the monthly chats with Sarah that there was no baby coming, on the weekly attempts to steer Lot to the right path….

He stuck with it. He fought the monotony and was where he should be. Let us be the same. Let me be the same.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

OBU Blogabout: The Finale

In finishing a month of celebrating 125 years of Ouachita Baptist University, they've asked for blog posts about What does Ouachita mean today or how has it helped you get to where you are today?

That's a tough one. If you've read the prior posts in the OBU BlogAbout, both mine and others, you'll get a glimpse of how many of us have gotten where we are thanks to our alma mater. What else can be said?

I've spoken of Ouachita as home, of professors that remain an inspiration, and of friends made and lost along the way. OBU has contributed to the fabric of both our state and our nation, to the heritage and culture, and to the religious tides in Baptist life.

Has my OBU degree opened doors for me? I think so---but I can't guarantee that it opened doors that a UA degree wouldn't have. Have I worked my Ouachita Alumni network? Not too much, but maybe a little. I haven't been called on by our famous political alums, like Mike Huckabee or Mark Darr, for any great purposes. The great religious leaders that sprouted from OBU don't call me for sermon tips. (or with sermon tips, though I could use some Smile)

I was a student at OBU when maintenance, in their infinite quest to fill the hours, built the lovely decorative wall around the main part of campus. It's not one that could be used to keep anyone out or in. I'm not sure what the purpose was for it, other than a hard point to mow against. Yet we had a lot of conversations around campus in those days about "life beyond the wall" and how we lived in a bubble on-campus.

As if the real world couldn't touch us and we weren't actually dealing with it. As if there was no connection between where we were and what we would be. As if it wouldn't echo back in the days to come.

But it does. The academics are there for future access, the relationships are part of life, but the time spent. Ouachita may wall out certain things, but there wasn't spoon-feeding when I was there. We learned to find for ourselves what we needed. It was a time that fed my faith while challenging my faith. The nearest moment to it was the satisfaction of a Boy Scout experience that required a lot of effort to cook a single egg. That was about the best egg I've ever eaten: more for the work than the flavor! Yet OBU was more than physical nourishment and challenge. Really, the stairs up to the 3rd floor of Conger Hall were more difficult than PE courses.

I grew, I learned to fight hard for truth that had been hard won. I learned when the OBU-ABSC relationship was a little rocky that even friends have disagreements and that right was more important than history.

Life beyond the wall hasn't been that much different. The bills are bigger, but the paychecks are a little bigger to pay them. The friends are fewer but deeper. The challenge remains the same:

Take the faith, take the knowledge, take the study and do something with it.

Don't think about the assignment. Write it. Don't consider serving. Put on a t-shirt and get your hands dirty. Don't think about speaking. Get up and say it. Savor the moments that make the life, because it's fleeting.

All this was a part of OBU, but it's a part of every day life now.

What does Ouachita mean today? How am I where I am because of OBU?

Because God works through nouns: people, places, and things are in His hands to accomplish His purposes. Ouachita is that noun for much of what I've learned that I go back to when I'm weak, tired and worn.

It's a good place. I wouldn't trade my years with OBU for anything. Not even a complete elimination of student loan debt Smile

Doug

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Saturday Sports Rant: Saves

This week, Mariano Rivera broke the Major League Baseball record for saves in a career. Now, you might wonder just what in the world a save is in baseball. Thinking about this record, I wonder about it as well.

Now, this isn't just about my distaste for the New York Yankees. While my loathing of the Bronx Bombers would be legendary if more people knew about it and it lasted longer, this is about a stat that hovers around 50% meaningless in baseball reality.

Let's look at the definition of a "save" (MLB rules on the web, section 10.19): a pitcher that did not start but finishes a game, pitches at least 1/3 of an inning (gets 1 out), and enters under one of these conditions:

  1. A lead of 3 or fewer runs
  2. The tying run is on base, at bat, or on deck
  3. He pitches at least 3 innings.

So, a pitcher can come into a game after another pitcher has pitched the first eight innings, the offense has provided him a 3-run lead, and as long as he doesn't screw it up and throw a few home run balls, he gets a save.

Really. It's a stat that is awarded as often for just not blowing what your team is on the verge of accomplishing as it is for anything else. Yet now most baseball teams have a specialist in getting saves: he's called a closer.

Here's what happens: the team selects one of their relief pitchers to be the closer. He then almost exclusively pitches in situations that will result in him adding a save to his statistics. If the team is losing, he doesn't pitch. If the team is winning by too much, he doesn't pitch.

Now, I understand the need for someone who can come in calm-headed and straighten out a tense situation. That's valid. However, when you look at baseball history, there's barely a mention of "closer" until the late 70s, and not much until the late 80s. Then, the talk picks up in the 90s through now. Once upon a time in baseball land, pitchers pitched the whole game (they batted too, you American League wimps!) unless something happened to make them leave.

These days, a pitcher goes 6 or 7 innings and then he's done. Give it to the closer. Or to the poor guy that goes in when things are considered beyond fixing.

Where did all this insanity come from? Some, like baseball historians, will link it to Goose Gossage and others. I am not a baseball historian. I blame it on Charlie Sheen.

Why, you ask?

Ever see Major League? The movie, with Sheen, Berenger, and a host of other people….Corbin Bernsen, I think was in it as well. It's a movie that predates Florida baseball teams. The owner of the Cleveland Indians was trying to make the team so bad that no one came, so she could move it to Florida.

Anyway, Sheen plays a good-looking, edgy, pitcher. He's got the looks, the bad-boy attitude, and no baseball stamina. A few innings a night is all he's got. So he becomes the closer. It glamorized the role, and now every team's got to have a closer. That whole "come on the field to rock music" that happens with a lot of closers? Started with Sheen in the movie. Not with baseball necessity.

So, what do I think about this?

Time to dial back the madness. Only award saves that are truly earned: pitcher comes in with the winning run at the plate or on base and it doesn't score. Add that more than 50% of the outs must be by strikeout.  Why?

Not because I dislike Charlie Sheen. Hot Shots remains one of the greatest lousy movies on the face of the earth. Navy Seals was ridiculous enough to keep the world confused about whether SEALS were even real for a few more years. He's been great at being the pretty-boy pain in the neck for years.

What I dislike is how baseball has allowed a low-grade movie to change the face of the game. The stats are padded, the reality of the games as a team effort is downplayed. You read the closing line of a game and you see: winning pitcher, home runs, and save. What about the teamwork that made it happen?

What about the 2B/SS combo that turned 4 double-plays to make it possible? The bunts, the sacrifice fly balls? It's not about the guy on the mound, it's about the nine on the field.

That's my sports rant for the day. Congrats to Rivera for setting a record for a stat that hasn't mattered for the majority of the history of the game. Now, you want to talk about his postseason ERA? That's impressive….

Friday, September 23, 2011

Genesis 23

Ever wonder what you can learn from Abraham buying a grave?

Me too, though there were a few thoughts Sunday night. This is, to me, one of those passages of Scripture that's there more for the historical record than for any specific application.

Which is worth considering for a few moments. Do you understand that sometimes, life is just, well, what it is? There are ordinary, day-to-day life events that we all go through. When you read the Bible, you see people going through extraordinary moments in their life.

Consider this: Eric Metaxas' biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is 608 pages. Eberhard Bethge's biography of the same life is over 1000 pages. Yet Pastor Bonhoeffer does not live past middle age, and even so the combined force of these 1600 pages still leaves questions unanswered, events deemed minor left out.

Abraham lives more than 100 years longer than that Dietrich Bonhoeffer. His life is no less integral, in fact it's more important, yet Genesis records his story in 13 chapters. That means that most of the life of Abraham is deemed unnecessary for us to know.

How does that come into life for you or me?

Simple: every day isn't noteworthy. It's really not. You will have some days that you get up, eat breakfast, go to work, come home, hug your family, eat dinner, and go to bed. Note that I'm not saying this isn't a blessing or the grace of God for you: it is certainly that.

It's just not earth shattering. It's the day-to-day of life, and it feels dull sometimes. We tune in to TV programs that highlight grand moments, that skip past the mundane. Really---you never saw someone sweeping on the Enterprise, did you? No.

You don't see reality, even in reality TV. A biopic will condense a life into 2 hours---you don't get the whole life.

I think that one of the side benefits of the Lord God including Genesis 23 is just this: we see that even the Patriarch Abraham handling business. Boring business.

And we take heart, because we have boring business to attend to. We have the ordinary of life to live through.

That's where our legacy lies. Why?

That's where we see great things, in the sum of the boring things. After all, negotiating for a cave doesn't sound like much, but it's the end of a lifetime of marital commitment. It's the end of a family connection to walk with Christ together. It has to remind Abraham, somewhat, that he's not got too much longer.

Yet we see the life that's left behind. One small step in obedience. One day, followed by another day.

Don't fret that you're plodding. Find the right direction, and plod away. You may take years to grasp what, when you look back, you think should have taken minutes. You can't recover it, and you can't change it. Take it from here and go forward.

Because that's what our heroes of the faith did as well: they were faithful in the little things that bear almost no mention, and when the great moments came, they were ready. Your great moment is coming: have you been faithful in the unknown enough to be prepared for it?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

BookTuesday: The Faith of Leap

BookTuesday is the weekly book review feature here on the blog that will, next week, return to Tuesdays.

Since I’ve started blogging, I’ve been the happy recipient of many books for review. While I’m no Tim Challies and don’t guarantee a best seller with a positive review, it’s been very nice to get to voice my opinion on various works. However, sometimes I get a book by committing to write a review and then I dread the writing.

This is one of those times. On the surface, the idea of The Faith of Leap seems like a good one. Too many people who are believers in Jesus Christ in the Western World live very safe lives in their faith. We do not take risks, we do not attempt things beyond our grasp, and we just settle for the basic things that come our way.

Frost and Hirsch want to push readers as people of faith to take risks. To live dangerously rather than to make the same safe decisions we’ve always made. The end-goal is one well worth the having, and if I had a book that would help church members see the Biblical case for charging forward in faith, I’d use it for a teaching series.

Unfortunately, The Faith of Leap isn’t that book. The intent is there, the idea is there, but the weaknesses are just too great for a recommendation. There are three major issues I had with this book:

1. Invented words. This is not just a complaint for this book, for it applies to many of the modern books on religion. We’ve substituted the 17th Century parlance of the King James for invented words that mix Latin, Greek, and English into a hodge-podge that means nothing. Present in this book are words such as “communitas” and “liminality.” The intent of the authors is to delve behind the words that have become clichéd in modern American Christianity, like “community,” but instead the reader is left flipping back for the definition.

Moreover, the invented words system makes it difficult to interact with the work. One of the claims made early in the book is that there are no major works about the concepts in the book. Well, no, if you search English-language writings for the last 400 years, there’s no real mention of communitas. There are a good many about community, brotherhood, relationships, bonds, and so forth---but the authors are right, there’s no “communitas” books. By formulating words, the authors elevate themselves beyond normal readers as great ones. This is counter to the idea of community, and I think it’s counter to “communitas” as well.

2. Quotations and characters. I’m a huge fan of Tolkien and Lewis and the adventure found in their stories. If we could all live as intensely as fictional characters from their works, we’d be in great shape. Who wouldn’t want to be Aragorn or Frodo or Samwise? Arwen or Eowyn? Great stuff.

The authors seem to quote from fictional works, however, nearly as much as they draw from Scripture. If we were looking at an interaction with literature and media, that would be fine. However, the standard for the Christian is God’s Word. Even running 50-50 between sacred and non-sacred text falls short.

Additionally, I fail to see the reason to illustrate with fiction at all. The history of the Christian faith is replete with biographies of those who have risked in obedience to Christ. With John Hus, Jim Elliott, Gladys Aylward, and Lottie Moon, who needs Frodo or Eowyn? We will not live in the days of elves, but we will live in the days of tyranny and religious warfare: from the real lives could come illustration beyond adequate.

3. Orthodoxy. Within the opening chapters, the authors speak of the theological movement called open theism. This is the idea that there are things that God does not know, that God is growing, changing, and sometimes is caught by surprise. This is left standing rather than blunted or denied. The authors present that God takes risks with humanity, pursues actions without knowing the result.

That just doesn’t cut it. Without going Systematic Theology on you or getting Medieval Scholastic on the authors, one of the prime characteristics of God is immutability: God does not change. You want to build a theology of risk? Build it on the foundation that God can sustain you, because He knows what you’re up against, not that God will be just as surprised as you are when it works.

This is where this book breaks down utterly for me: the overall reading left me with the feeling that the church should become spiritual adrenaline junkies. To fly from one extreme experience to another, living extraordinary lives without a shade of boredom.

Except real spiritual life has boring moments, real life carries mundane days, and our faith in Christ can be strengthened through that. We can see that God is ever present, even when we feel nothing.

In all, I can’t bring myself to recommend this book. If you want to build a theology of risk, start with Jim Elliott, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, or Lottie Moon. Find the adventures of real people living real risks to obey. Let that grow you in Christ. Let it grow you in following a God who takes no risks with you, but holds you closely in His hand.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Genesis 22 Extended

Sunday morning's sermon came from the story of the near-sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22. If you want the audio, it's here to hear. Here's a few additional thoughts:

1. Ritual child-sacrifice was not uncommon in the Ancient Near East. It's really not uncommon in ancient cultures around the world. No matter how common of a practice it was, it's still evil. Going all the way back to the Flood: don't take the life of another. The only exception granted there is for the guilty-in-no-uncertain-terms murderer who is to be put to death for the crime. Majority opinion does not equal right behavior before God. Most of the Canaanites around Abraham would have normally practiced some form of ritual sacrifice, and the record shows that human sacrifice, while not everyday, it wouldn't have been foreign to them.

What have we to do with this? Something to keep in mind is that the God of the Bible is not like most gods of human religion. Without getting too crazy into the history of religion, most religions start with someone seeking meaning in life. They are meditating, searching, whatever---but Biblical religion starts with Abraham who is apparently minding his own business and God speaks to Him. Likewise with Noah. Nobody's really sure what happens with Enoch at all…The point here is that our practices of worship ought to be different from the world around us. They ought to reflect differently on both us and our God, because we are serving God as He requires, not as we desire. That's important. Very important.

2. I firmly believe that the Bible contains all we need to know, though here's a place that I find the Bible does not have all I want to know. I want to know—does Abraham object at all in this situation? He just seems to very willingly take his son up on Moriah and sharpens his knife. If that's the test of faith, one thing I recognize is that I'm toast. As best I can, I would not put my kids in danger much less willingly sacrifice them.

So what about it? We don't get to know. We do get to know the point: whatever Abraham may have said, this story isn't about him anyway. It's about God. It's about the fact that Abraham is told not to put the knife into his son. The story is the foreshadowing of the one time that a Father willfully sacrificed His Son. It happens in the same neighborhood, just about 2 millennia later. At the Cross, when the Lord Jesus took all of our sin and died for us, taking the punishment we deserved.

3. On the less applicable side, let's talk history for a moment. Tradition holds that the mountains of Moriah are in the same general area as Jerusalem. Further tradition places the Temple Mount as the specific peak that the events of Genesis 22 took place on. In truth, there's not clear Scripture to answer this specifically.

I think it might be a shade different. There's another hill in the Jerusalem area that is more significant in the life and faith of Christians than the Temple Mount is. That's the hill called Mount Calvary, or Golgotha, or the Place of the Skull: where the sinless Son of God offered Himself, where God provided Himself the sacrifice (Genesis 22:8).

Reading through Genesis 22 is quite the challenge. There are points of application throughout for all of us. Read it, consider it…what would you do?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

OBU Blog-About: Student Life

In the continuing celebration of 125 years of Ouachita Baptist University, we've got a month-long batch of blog posts going up here, there, and everywhere. It's part of the OBU Blogabout, and you can find all the links at this link.

This week's task: write about memories of involvement with Student Life or Campus Organizations. OBU really has some good campus groups: there's ministry groups, social clubs (fraternities and sororities), and specialty folks (like business majors or music majors). I hope you'll check out the link above to the links out there, because there's bound to be some great memories.

I, however, did not really belong to any campus life groups. Didn't pledge a social club (fraternity), wasn't heavily involved in campus BSU/BCM activities, and I really didn't get into much else. That was a choice that was more blundered into than willfully selected, but it was what it was.

So, what am I going to do to fill a blog post?

Tell you about the 2 minutes of playing time I got in intramural basketball for The Flaming Tongues? Not a chance. I'm more fit now than I was then….and that's not good. Tell you about all the reason why I was too awesome for any one social club (fraternity)? Nah---you either already know that or wouldn't believe it.

Actually, as I type this, I can think of one small organization I did belong to. Well, for a time, at least, I belonged. It was a group that existed to discuss, endorse, and recruit people to a specific theological viewpoint. Rather than dig up that whole point and turn this from a good memory to a battle over diphthongs, burnt heretics, and historical theology, I'll try to word this without isolating the issue or group.

We were, really, a small group. Mostly religion majors, though guys like me who kept floating into and out of the religion department (now the Pruet School of Christian Studies, and if had had a cool name then, I would have gone to class more often!) were involved as well. The first time we met as a group, Dr. Buckelew let us use his office for a short meeting.

Then we moved elsewhere, so that he could work and we could have space. Being religion guys, we gathered in the religion department some of the time, and I don't really remember where else we met.

My involvement didn't really last long, maybe a little over a semester. We were really little more than college students who thought they knew everything and that we needed to meet, solidify our arguments, and go show the world why they were wrong. Our points would be irresistible if people had the sense to listen. Really, we were arrogant windbags.

The pivotal moment with this group was when it dawned on me that the professors that allowed us to use their rooms for meetings disagreed with us. They were gracious and calm while we were agitated and angry.

At this point, I don't know if there's a vestige of the group left on campus. For the purposes intended by the students who had started it, I hope there's not. But for the maturity that came from learning better how to handle disagreement that I caught from wiser heads, I hope there's still a few folks around to learn and listen.

After all, that's what college student life is about: an accelerated course in how to handle real life. It's a good thing, and it's a good thing at OBU.

Monday, September 19, 2011

September 18 Sermons

Morning Link Here

Evening Link Here

Morning Text: Genesis 22

Outline:

I. It is the right of God to demand all that we have:

     A. The right is His by virtue of Creation

     B. The right is His by demand due to our sin

     C. The right is His by nature of His promise

     D. All that we have is rightfully His

II. That which is His:

     A. We must not profane

          1. By using for unholy actions

          2. By giving to another

     B. We must not keep

          1. For ourselves

          2. For our glory

     C. We must not hoard

          1. Though it is God's gift to us

          2. Though the world advises that we are

     D. We are sinners by nature

          1. We are incapable of handling the blessings of God

          2. We are incapable of giving enough

III. But for the Ram

     A. God alone can determine an acceptable sacrifice 22:2

     B. God alone can provide the acceptable sacrifice 22:8, 12-14

     C. God alone can supply our future need 22:20-24

 

Evening Text is Genesis 23. Written outline is way too scattered to be of use here. The essence of the idea: In his lifetime, all Abraham gets of the Promised Land is this: a gravesite. Don't put your hope on what you see, but trust the promise of the Lord God.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Severability

This is going to sound a bit like a rant and may really need to be edited, but you're going to get the full-force of what I have to say. Even if that includes a few errors in spelling and grammar.

The big word you see as the post title is a term from contract law. It also appears in general legislation. From a legal perspective, as far as I understand (though you might check with Howell Scott) what this word means is this: some agreements and laws are setup that if part A is deemed bad, part B still applies.

An example would be when Congress passes a Frankenstein law, one that has merged unrelated issues, they add a "severability" clause. That way, just because the extra paycheck for Congress gets ruled unconstitutional, the extra taxes can still stay. Or a contract will have a clause that is deemed illegal, but the rest of the contract stays in force. You could make the future interest payments on a mortgage illegal, but the severability means you still owe the principal.

I think it's time we draw the principle of severability into American Christian life. (Note: there is a decent gap between pure Biblical Christianity and Christianity as expressed in American culture. We'll deal with that another day.) It's time for us to assert the need (and the right) to sever certain things in theology.

For example:

One of the big debates in Baptist life right now is connected to the theology of salvation. The issue is over how much of a free-will mankind has in their salvation and how much is God's sovereign election. The catch-phrases are "Calvinism" and "Arminianism."

Calvinism strongly stresses God's sovereign election while not denying man's responsibility to respond. Arminianism strongly stresses man's freedom to respond while acknowledging God's omnipotence (All-powerfulness). The terms come from two theologians from about 5 centuries ago, Calvin and Arminius.

When this argument comes up, usually someone that is strongly against Calvinism will jump from the issue to the parts of Calvin's theology that are no good. (Like burning heretics, merging church and state, for Baptists, infant Baptism.) Calvinists will highlight the tendency in Arminius to ignore eternal security and leanings toward legalism. (Or antinomianism, depending…)

There are more modern examples: there have been good advocates of homeschooling, discipleship, and church renewal. Some of them have then said other really dumb things: there's one who wrote a book showing support for slavery in the American South, several who are way too far in the "fathers are the heads of households" direction (guess what? I'm ok with my wife being responsible for some stuff all on her own. I think it's Biblical as well.)

Then there are those who have evolved their beliefs over time. At one point, a professor at New Orleans Seminary was a staunch proponent of Biblical Inerrancy (the belief that the Bible contains no errors). Now, he leans towards open theism (the belief that sometimes God doesn't know stuff). You've got some of the various doofuses (doofi? is that the proper plural for doofus?) with TV shows and TV networks. They have moments they are right. Then they have extended epochs of dumb.

It's time to acknowledge that there's some severability here:

Time to separate that just because someone's been right once doesn't guarantee they're right now.

Time to separate that just because one idea was good does not mean the next one is.

Time to separate that just because an individual has a TV show he's not a true spokesperson.

However, we can't expect those who attack Christianity to allow this if we don't do it. If we Christians continue to be circle-the-wagons fanboys for our celebrities, we will always be subject to these problems.

We have to be more discerning. We have to continue to re-evaluate and return to Scripture for our answers. We cannot keep giving a free pass to the people we like and hope that they always get it right.

We also need to be willing to give credit where it's due: the idea may be good even if the source is bad. Grab and use the good. Hold on to the good, discard the bad.

And when you're evaluating people: don't assume one blog post makes them an expert. Or that liking one blog post or reading one book is a lifetime endorsement. I like Tolkien's writings: that doesn't make me a Catholic. I like JC Ryle. I'm not Anglican. There's some Presbyterians I like, but I pastor a congregational church and don't intend to change it.

In all, weigh it, consider it---but be willing to sever the bad and discard it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

BookTuesday: Tolkien

Continuing September's BookTuesday on Thursday, today we're taking a look at another biography in Thomas Nelson Publisher's Christian Encounters Series: J.R.R. Tolkien. Here's the cover with Amazon link:

J.R.R. Tolkien (Christian Encounters Series)

The Christian Encounters Series is a collection of short introductory biographies covering people of literary and historic importance. Other books highlight George Washington Carver, Winston Churchill, and John Bunyan. These books are available in paperback and e-book. My copy of Tolkien is an e-book. While that seems paradoxical, since Tolkien's writing often pushed against technology, it's what I've got. Better an e-book than no book at all!

However, the text should be the same whether you want to hold Mark Horne's work in your hands or on your Kindle. And this is a short review, not a debate on the merits or demerits of digital books.

Horne is not a famous author, and I'm not sure if this series is assigned out by an editor or if Horne wanted to write about Tolkien. This book is his view on the life of Tolkien. It's a life that I knew precious little about prior to reading, as his biography in my mind has been "part of The Inklings and author of The Lord of the Rings and related material."

This book attempts to flesh out those parts of the life of Tolkien while introducing the reader to more of his life. The author, wisely, starts with Tolkien's birth, childhood, and education. These happenings are handled quickly and without too much mundane detail. If the reader is not at least mildly familiar with English geography, this lack of detail will cause the occasional head-scratch of bewilderment. It does little good to know that the Tolkien family moved from Sarehole to Rednal if one can't quite place either locale. Perhaps I'm a little picky about this: I'm reading 2 other books that would be well-served by including a map!

Horne takes a moment to highlight the statistics of creative people who have lost a parent in his work, and I feared this would lead to a dry spell in the work. Fortunately, he does not present all of this information in one place, but breaks it up between the death of Tolkien's father and his mother's death. So, one sees tragedy and then statistics, but these statistics reinforce the point: these tragedies shaped Tolkien as tragedy has often shaped creative minds.

Tracing the childhood and adolescence of Tolkien, Horne shows how many of the ideas that came to be Middle-Earth were born. Tolkien experienced life in the country and the city, and clearly preferred the country. Moreover, he was able to see first-hand the ugly effects of industrialization and modern warfare in World War One.

The book covers Tolkien's romance with Edith Bratt, who appears to have been the only love of Tolkien's life (outside of writing). The work shares the struggles the two went through to get to the altar.

While the life details are present in this work, there is very little information regarding Tolkien's personal religious beliefs. He is shown as a Catholic, but as one whose church attendance was spotty at best. There is not a great deal of information regarding the impact of Tolkien's faith on his writing or his life.

This is a weakness of this book, but is common in a couple of the other Christian Encounters Series books. The individual being profiled is not famed for his faith or his theology, but rather for the other aspects of life. This book shows a Tolkien who was immensely private about his life in general, and that includes his faith. I am more pleased with the author not inventing information about his subject than I am saddened by the lack of details.

In all, I found this a good introduction to JRR Tolkien's life. There are likely some that better evaluate his literary career, but this is a nice overview.

Note: free book in exchange for the review. Check out BookSneeze with Thomas Nelson Publishers for further details.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Genesis 20 Continued

This past Sunday, the morning sermon was on Genesis 20. You can download it or stream it here. I won't claim that this is the best sermon you'll ever hear, but it's the best I've ever preached on Genesis 20. Of course, in 15 years of being "in the ministry" there's passage you repeat, and passages that you've only preached once…

I wanted to draw out a couple of additional thoughts from this passage that I didn't preach. Here you go:

1. Take a look at Genesis 20:10. This is Abimelech's response to Abraham after Abimelech finds out the truth that Sarah is not just Abraham's sister, she's also his wife. Abimelech wants to know just where in the world Abraham had been that people were that evil. Abimelech is aghast that Abraham thinks the Gerarites are that wicked.

In short: Abraham rightly estimated the lack of worship of the One True God. He overestimated the outflow of that depravity, and believed the worst possible things about Abimelech without actually knowing him. Abraham then took drastic measures for his own protection. (Leave aside that his drastic measures put his wife at risk and didn't really protect anybody.)

How often we Christians do this today. It is very easy to look around us and see the people that hold no fear of God in their eyes (Genesis 20:11) and then assume the worst about them. Every unreached people group becomes cannibals, every government official becomes an oppressor, every critic a heretic, and every unbeliever an agent of the enemy. We then shift to a defensive posture: nothing that will be done by these will be good.

Now, there is appropriate caution to be exercised. I do not suggest that Abraham should have been best friends with Abimelech or joined him at the temple for a sacrifice or two. However, Abraham fell into sin partially because he assumed the worst about his fellow man.

We need to be cautious about this. Even though sin infects all humanity, all humanity is still created in the image of God. That image is often marred and frequently hidden, but it's still there. Without evidence, we should be striving to see that image.

When we work to see that image, we take a proactive effort to nurture with the truth of God that image. In some, that won't matter one bit. They will continue to grow in their depravity and behave in wickedness unto destruction. Others, though, we may see the best thing happen: repentance, faith, and God's glorious salvation.

It depends on the way we go in among the heathen. Do we go to find fault or to glorify God?

Thought #2: At the very least, though, Abraham didn't try to blame this off on Sarah. When we make decisions as leaders, as Abraham was the leader of his family, we cannot blame off the results.

Leadership is not just giving instructions and directions. It's taking the responsibility for those instructions. If you made the decision, take the rap. I do not know of a situation where a leader was harmed by sharing credit and taking blame. It's really the better plan.

Doug

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

OBU BlogAbout: Professors and Staff

 

In the continuing celebration of 125 years of Ouachita Baptist University, we've got a month-long batch of blog posts going up here, there, and everywhere. It's part of the OBU Blogabout, and you can find all the links at this link.

This week, the goal is to post about our favorite professor, instructor, or staff member. I don't doubt that there will be a few posts about how hard it is to choose or how wonderful everyone was at Ouachita. There will be posts about great rescues or deep inspirations or lifelong friendships.

What will this post be?

I consider an extended gripy-blog about faculty members I didn't like or a statement or two about how I didn't really know staff members and such because I stayed holed up in my room most of the time. But you're not here to read about bad things, are you? After all, if you can't say something nice, you should say nothing at all, right? Right.

So, of whom shall I speak? I was a Religion major, back before the "School of Christian Studies" became a "school." That means there's Drs. Steeger, Hays, Duvall, Carter, Vang, Stagg, and Eubanks to discuss. They were all good, and well worth the time to know and write about. There are still days I doubt my need for seminary for having gone through the gauntlet that was the Department of Religion and Philosophy.

I minored in Speech, and Dr. Phillips remains one of my favorite people on campus, while I still feel a gap from the passing of Dr. Buckelew. The Speech Department was the best experience of my time at OBU, without a doubt. Everyone ought to take speech and argumentation.

But my favorite faculty member?

Dr. Andy Westmoreland, President of Ouachita Baptist University in 1999.

Why?

He signed my diploma. Well, technically he did. I'm sure it was some form of auto-pen, but if it's good enough for the President of the United States to sign a law or two, it's good enough for me.

Dr. Westmoreland signing my diploma was an act of grace. I graduate from OBU after picking up a few extra hours to balance my GPA. I was immature beyond my years, and really deserved to be sent back for another round. All the knowledge and wisdom from the general education work, the major, the minor, and I was still a self-absorbed problem.

Yet that piece of paper, now framed and on my wall, put the reputation of a good place in my hands. When I finally got it, I was headed out of state to a city with no OBU Alumni. (As opposed to now, where I see about 10 alumni on a regular basis.) The only impression of Ouachita that Dalton, Georgia, was going to have was, well, Ann Hibbard and me. Which meant a good show for the women's dorms and a bad rap for the men.

Looking back at the wonderful people and the great experience that is Ouachita, my favorite person is the one who pushed me out carrying the Ouachita name. I had no choice but to grow up a little more and move forward towards who God was calling me to be.

Of course, Dr. Westmoreland up and left for Samford. Alabama's gain was truly Arkansas's loss. No beef with Dr. Horne, but he wasn't there when I was. I started with Dr. Elrod (Grass or mud?) but finished with Dr. Westmoreland.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sermons September 11

AM Audio

PM Audio

Genesis 20: Living Among the Heathen

I. Integrity

a. Truth—real truth

i. In business

ii. In personal relationships

b. Not shades of truth

II. Just Because God protects does NOT mean He approves

a. Do not mistake opportunity for command

b. Seek the Word for your guidance

III. We are here to bless not to add to the curse

Friday, September 9, 2011

Friday Digest

It's Friday morning, and last night two things happened.

Thing 1 (with apologies to Theodore Giesel and his magical, annoying cat): President Obama made a speech to a joint session of Congress about jobs.

Thing 2: The 2011 NFL season started with the Saints playing the Packers.

Now, I'm writing this Thursday night after the speech and during the game, so I don't have ratings data, but I think it's a safe guess that more people are watching the game than watched the speech.

I watched the speech, and I'm watching the game right now. First, let's have a little fun. Figure out whether each statement applies to the Speech or NFL game.

1. Somewhere, there's a former participant that thinks he could do it better, but won't get the chance. There's also one or two that have done much worse.

2. There's been plenty of applause, but you're not sure which side the clapping is for in the end.

3. Finger-pointing and aggression are on obvious display.

4. Every moment, there's a commentator praising and one criticizing the same thing done by the same person.

5. Wide-angle camera shots show people who aren't really paying attention.

Guess what?

They could all apply to either one. Whether it's a former candidate that thinks he'd be a better President or Brett Favre, #1 applies either way.

When I become President, I intend to circulate a "no-clapping" rule to all sides for my speeches before Congress. You could tell the R—side clapped to things he didn't want clapped for, and the D—side clapped for all of his things. It's all meaningless. Meanwhile, folks are 3 beers in in Green Bay. Were they clapping because Kid Rock sang or because he quit singing? Who knows?

In all, I set up those five statements. They can be parsed, reparsed, and deparsed into whatever meaning you want them to have. That's the stuff of politics and sports-casting: say what people want to hear, do what they expect. You get the cheers, the votes, the ticket sales and the corporate sponsorships. There it is again---that statement applies both to sports and politics—both parties.

Now, obviously there's a hint of criticism here for the political universe of the United States. That is actually not my main point, at least not today.

I want to remind those of you readers that are Christian believers of this fact:

We are not to speak like politicians, we are not to play the crowd like sports teams. Letting our "yes be yes and our no, no" (Matthew 5:37) should be understood as applying to more than just those two statements. This is a command from the Lord Jesus that our words be filled with integrity.

Not with hidden motives or with double-speak. Not with words that can be backed out of or redefined or adjusted with the flow.

We should speak plainly, clearly, and directly in all matters possible.

So, as we fuss a little about politics and keep one eye on the scoreboard, let's remember what we are supposed to be: people of integrity, because He was, is, and ever more will be the One whose words are always true and never questionable. And we're supposed to be like Him.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

BookTuesday: The Scroll

Note: yes, it’s Thursday. All through September, book reviews will come on Thursday. But, I’ve been titling my reviews “BookTuesday” for a while now, and want to remain consistent. Ok?

Today’s book is from Waterbrook Press, a part of Multnomah Publishers. They provided a free advance copy in exchange for the review.

I almost did not finish The Scroll, my book for today. To be honest, with all of the 2012 hysteria, bundled with the War on Terror and a hefty dash of natural disasters, I wasn’t very excited as the book begin to turn toward an “end-of-the-world” ending. There’s just enough of that in fiction, especially in the Christian Fiction genre. (Seriously, it’s either romantic, Amish, or Apocalyptic. Those three choices are about all I see these days.)

However, I didn’t give up on the book. Why not?

First of all, the writing team had me curious. I’ve seen a couple of novels written by Biblical scholars. I’ve seen a few written by scholars and authors, and the addition of a professional fiction author really does help. So, this work being a cooperative effort drew my attention.

Second, the writers created characters that I became genuinely interested in. Admittedly, these characters were somewhat clichéd, but sometimes clichés are based in recurrent real things. I know several workaholics who have sabotaged their social lives, people who have lost everything including their faith, and people who have nothing left but their faith.

Jeffrey and Gansky assembled a group of expected characters. They’re all insiders within archaeology and are working a dig in Israel. The setting itself makes for intensity: where else is high-profile tension automatic? Had the main character, David Chambers, pursued his idea of investigating the Olmecs of Central America, it would have taken a dozen chapters to explain why the place was dangerous. At the name of “Israel” or “Palestine” instant tension flows. This serves as a great backdrop for the book.

The book begins a little slowly, but works up the pace nicely. Initially, the plot looks like it will be a simple dig for old stuff and have romantic tension book. The plot twists towards the apocalyptic, but then it rebalances nicely. I was pleased to find that the goal here was neither to prevent or accelerate the end of the world.

In fact, the world doesn’t end. With the exception of a rapid scene at the climax, the focus stays on earthly means and measures without unnecessary deus ex machina moments.

The Scroll isn’t perfect fiction. There are stock characters, expected plot twists, and action scenes that end as expected. There are some questionable moments in both theology and archaeology. The bad guys are all connected to either secularism or Islam while the good guys are all Christians or Jews. That’s not the way life really is, but this is a book. There are plotlines that seem to be opened up, but then go nowhere.

And the end of the epilogue is either the setup for another book or closure to one of the lingering questions in the book. The cynic in me says we’ll have to see how this book sells to know that answer.

In all, this isn’t a bad read and it’s not going to take too long. Spend a few evenings with The Scroll  you’ll have some good entertainment.

I almost forgot---here’s the cover and the links:

The Scroll: A Novel

Summary: worth the few hours it will take to read. It likely won’t change your life, but it’s a moderate tension political thriller wrapped in Biblical Archaeology.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

OBU BlogAbout: Favorite Memories

This year Ouachita Baptist University celebrates its 125th anniversary. September 6, 1886 was the opening of a little college that has since played a big role in the lives of many young people.

This year, as we celebrate this milestone for Ouachita, they’ve encouraged us to blog each Tuesday in September on various subjects. To start off, the alumni office has challenged us to think on our favorite Ouachita memory.

Favorite Ouachita memory? How do you nail it down? For many of us, one memory includes “I met my spouse at Ouachita.” I met my wife there. Two of the deacons in the church I serve met their wives there. I know dozens of people who came to Arkadelphia single and left either with a spouse or a definite date to have one.

And I would hate for anyone to think that meeting Ann Hibbard wasn’t the best thing that has happened to me, short of salvation by the Grace of God, ever. In any context or situation—whether OBU memory or favorite truth about Jacksonville High, that I didn’t marry anyone from there.

There’s just a couple of problems with using “I met Ann at OBU” as my favorite memory. 1. It seems trite and predictable. I do enough predictable around here, why do it now? 2. I can’t actually tell you when I met her at OBU. I know that sounds odd, but it’s true. I know I met her when I was dating someone else, so I foolishly didn’t store the memory.

So it’s not fair to claim the “meeting spouse moment” as my favorite OBU memory. Because I can’t remember it. And she had graduated and it was summer break when we decided to get married. So, that’s an Arkadelphia memory, like Fendley’s Jewelry or a Wal-mart that closed at 10pm (spoiled students with a SuperCenter!).

What is my favorite memory?

My favorite OBU memory actually doesn’t come from student times. There were lots of great moments and there are plenty of regrets of missed opportunities for those days, but nothing commends itself as “favorite” from then.

To give you some context, I’m not really a person that answers “Where are you from?” well. I grew up an Air Force kid, and my freshman year at OBU my family moved from Arkansas to Georgia (and now they live in Louisiana). Home has always been wherever I’ve eaten the most dinners in the past month, and that’s not been bad.

After OBU, Ann and I moved a few times, trying to make it from this job to that one, following dreams and hopes. Like a good number of folks, we couldn’t wait to get out of Arkansas. Then, once we did, there was something missing.

2008 saw us living in Arkansas for the first time in 8 years. We had left a young married couple, and came back a young family of five. It felt good to be back in a state that we could shout “Woo!” in the midst of crowded places and not be lunatics.

That September, I had the opportunity to go the Pastor’s Conference at OBU. Officially, the Chesley and Elizabeth Pruet School of Christian Studies Pastor’s Conference would be the title, though I attended the “Department of Religion and Philosophy” when I was a student.

Walking on campus is the first real memory I have going somewhere and feeling like I was home. Not simply because of people---I’m always glad to see family and go where they are. But because where I was is a place that I feel like I’ll always belong.

Being back on campus that time 3 years ago is my favorite OBU memory. Professors remembered me, we had good conversations and good times.

But what I remember most, and best, about Ouachita is that it’s one place that I always feel like I belong. From the time we visited when my older sister was checking out colleges through the last time, and looking ahead to this year’s PSCS Pastor’s Conference and Homecoming.

The campus has changed. My old dorm was reduced to rubble, but I got a brick from it! Walt’s is gone, the bridge is gone, and Mitchell Auditorium is gone. Maddox and Anthony aren’t the new dorms anymore. I’ve gone from pitying the poor guys who stayed at OBU to work to envying them (including residence directors!)

My favorite OBU memory is just that: it’s the one place that always draws a memory of home.

But don’t worry, Mom. It’s not my memory of home-cookin’. That’s always going to be you :)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sermon for September 4th

I worked off a pretty small outline, and it was a short message. Then, for Sunday night, we had a fellowship dinner. It's been a year since Ann and I came to Almyra, and we want to say thank you to our church family. It's been a good year, and we look forward to more!

Morning Audio Link

Genesis 19:27-29

I. Grace of God: Lot is saved by God's grace, and it relates to God's promise to Abraham

II. Longsuffering in prayer---Connect back to Abraham's pleading in Genesis 18

III. The long arm of the Lord---Isaiah 59:1, Numbers 11:23

 

There's not audio (yet) for the evening. However, we looked at Psalm 130. If you'd like to see what got me to have us look at Psalm 130, go to this link at Beeson Divinity School. You'll need to click "Play Audio" under the video-link, and then click the play button. It's worth the 24 minutes.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

If only I had known.

How many times do we start sentences that way? "If only I had known…."

It's a phrase of a regret, a phrase that excuses us because of our lack of omniscience.

There are certainly valid times for these if only statements. There are plenty of things in life out of our control: other drivers, foreign countries, and water quality in Almyra, Arkansas.

This isn't about those things. While I am fan of a few self-help, inspirational writers, I do not buy into the idea that we can control our entire life. You can't. Sometimes, stuff happens to us that is completely beyond our control. We do have control over our reaction, but not over everything. That's another post.

I'm thinking about the actions we have control over. The other morning, as I was loosening up for my morning workout, I thought about the increased energy I've lately since I've been working out five or six days a week. I thought about how much better I feel having lost 15 pounds so far. The looser fit of my clothes, the ability to run short distances. The lack of knee pain, the increased cardiovascular strength---all of these benefits.

And my first thought was?

"If only I had known I would feel this good, I would have been exercising for the last 10 years!"

Except I did know. I knew the benefits of exercising and eating right, of drinking more water than Coke. How did I know?

1. Expert testimony: I have not seen a doctor in the last 10 years that hasn't told me to drop a few pounds. They've told me to eat a less, exercise a little more, and drink more water. I have had an abundance of expert testimony about the benefits. I've just ignored it.

2. Non-expert testimony: the personal experiences of others! I have friends that have testified to the benefits of exercise and proper diet. They've lost weight, loved life more, and had more energy. They have all told me how much better I would feel with a regular regimen. Yet I didn't listen.

3. Personal observation: I've seen it in the lives of others. Whether in seeing what a trip to boot camp has done for a friend or two or just seeing how people improve their life. But did I copy that? Nope.

4. Personal experience: I've flirted with the exercise idea. I've even dated it, perhaps, but I've never made a commitment to healthier living. I've always wanted to keep seeing double bacon cheeseburgers on the side. I could go for a week or two, but I couldn't make it stick.

5. External demands: there are tasks I've wanted to tackle in life, but have weighed too much or been too out of condition to do them. I've lost out on opportunities because of lack of exercise. I chose to let those things go.

So, I've been without a real excuse. Here are five reasons I did know…

But I chose. I made the decision to take easy way, to not choose what I knew would be better.

What about other decisions in life? To take the job, to get the training, to marry the girl….where do we know better but still choose the worse?

Take action. Make the choice now. Don't blame ignorance when you know better.

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...