Thursday, May 31, 2012

Now is not the time to build something: Mark 9

Mark continues to write long and diverse chapters. Here, in Mark 9 (link), we go from the Mount of Transfiguration all the way through casting out a demon, on to having child-like faith and finishing on gouging out your eye to not go to hell. At the very least, there’s a dozen sermons in this chapter. I will not attempt to preach them all right here.

Not that I wouldn’t like to. Let’s take a look just one part:

The Mount of Transfiguration. This is, by my estimate, the number one moment of “weird” in the earthly ministry of Jesus. The healings are great, the teaching is awesome, and the nature-controlling moments just reinforce the divinity of Christ. The Resurrection is the biggest event in history and the Virgin Birth of Jesus is close alongside.

Yet then there’s this story. Peter, James, and John go up on an undisclosed mountain with Jesus. Suddenly, Jesus and his garments become radiant and “exceedingly white” (Mark 9:3, note that “no launderer on earth” could do that). Also, Elijah and Moses show up to talk with Jesus.

That we look back and see the symbolism of Jesus talking with Moses the Lawgiver and Elijah the Prophet as valuable does not truly diminish the oddity of this story. I have yet to find a single point in a Protestant Evangelical Theology that hangs solely on the Transfiguration. This despite the presence of the event in all three Synoptic Gospels.

It’s just an odd story. We don’t know much about what to do with it. The biggest point of theology here is the voice from heaven, what we would assume is the voice of God Himself. In this case, God is attesting again what was said at the Baptism of Jesus: “This is My beloved Son.” That’s not a bad reminder.

Where I find the help in this passage is in the action of Peter. In this chapter, Peter proves that he was not the first Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, but rather the founder of the First Baptist Church. When faced with an amazing, once-in-eternity spiritual event, Peter wants to…

Build something. Actually, three somethings. He’d like to build three tabernacles, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. Now, we Baptists are big fans of building stuff and this sounds just like us. There’s a moment here to be learned from, there is something amazing happens.

And Peter’s concern is to find a way to put a roof over it and hold it tight. His motives here are unknown, except Mark notes Peter’s fear. He could have wanted to note a great moment and be reminded of it for years to come. He may have thought that Jesus, Moses, and Elijah were going to be there a while and would need a place to sleep. He might have wanted to be rewarded for his building.

I think it’s safe to give Peter the benefit of the doubt and admit that I would not have known what to do either. I would have fallen into an action bias at that point as well. In case I’m making up terms, I’ll explain action bias: it is a tendency to say “let’s do something, even if it’s wrong.” It is a bias to act without thinking.

By the way, the opposite is ‘inaction bias’ which is the assumption that nothing should ever be done. That’s bad as well.

There is a time, though, to stop and learn. A time to realize that nothing that your hands can put forward will be memorial enough for the moment. A time to learn at the feet of the Master: for Peter, James, and John, they likely would have grown up with great respect for Moses and Elijah, but here is Jesus being highlighted as greater than even these two.

That’s a big deal. Don’t miss the big deal moments of life because you’re too busy trying to blog them or take pictures or make memorials. Sometimes, it is better to live the moment and let your mind do the remembering later.

Today’s Nerd Note: I’m trying to get my word count for these posts back down, it’s been creeping way up. So, the Nerd Note is more of a question:

Do you read both the Transfiguration story and the demon-casting story that follows immediately after it together? You should. This is what met Jesus coming down the mountain. Keep them together in your mind. While there are separable lessons in each, there are lessons paired here as well.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Some things cannot be bought: Exodus 30

Exodus 30 (link) carries us further into the discussion of how to build a mobile sanctuary for the worship of the Almighty God of the Universe. This was not something that had been needed before. In the age of the patriarchs, that time before Jacob and his sons went to Egypt, there were not very many people gathered in one place to worship God. So, a family-size altar was more than adequate.

Now, though, one needs a nation-size altar. That gets to be a whole different ballgame. There is certainly something instructive in that thought about how worship method may need to adjust when you go from family gatherings to gathering with more than one family. That's another discussion, though. It will come back to a somewhat more personalized answer. The answer should still be scripturally-bounded, but the variance between people, cultures, and family sizes are remarkable. I will not attempt to solve that here.

Instead, let's look at two other portions of this chapter. The first is something repeated twice, at the end of the descriptions of how the incense for the altar and the anointing oil were to be made. These are described in detail, all of the recipe is given.

Then this command is made: anyone who makes either the oil or the incense for their own use is to be cut off from their people. These items were to be used only in worship at the Tabernacle. It was not something to be done at home or as part of your own Torah study group. It was only to be used for what God specified it for—no matter what good intentions an individual may have had in the process.

The other portion that jumps off the page for me in this chapter is Exodus 30:15. This is the summary verse after the command that each person of Israel was to give a half-shekel every time a census was taken. Notwithstanding how good it sounds to only pay a tax every ten years in America, the command about payment here is more valuable for us.

God commanded that every person pays the half-shekel. The poor pay it; the rich pay it; everyone pays it and everyone pays the same. What does that tell us?

It tells us that they are paying for something that cannot be bought. If it could be bought, then the price would vary according to ability or need, but it does not. Instead, the half-shekel here is a token acknowledgement of the dependence of the people on God for their redemption and deliverance.

In short, it was something that could not be bought. In the same way, the holiness and the worship that the oil and the incense were for could not be bought and taken home personally. They could only be provided at the place of meeting with God.

This is a lesson we would do well to remember. There is no way that we can personally pay for or obtain holiness and righteousness before God. Neither can we make it for ourselves by mixing the right components of devotion or action.

Instead we must realize that only God's grace can provide those things for us. In turn, our response can be either to accept that grace and respond by offering our lives and our obedience or by rejecting it.

What will you do?

Today's Nerd Note: The Nerd Side is taking a break. Be back tomorrow.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

May 27 Sermon Wrap-up

Morning Audio Link (alternate link)

Evening Audio Link (alternate link)

Morning Outline:

There's a link here to the text of a sermon preached in 1770 about righteous rulers and the responsibility of God's people to work to make sure that's the kind of rulers they have.

2 Samuel 23:1-7

Rev. Samuel Cooke May 30, 1770

Web note:

2 Samuel 23:1-7

I. David's Last Words--

     A. Not exactly last, but one of his main closing statements (Psalm 72 is possibly another)

     B. He speaks here more as a prophet or preacher than as a king

II. What do we gather?

     A. As citizens of the United States of America

          1. We have the blessing, thanks to the sacrifices of many others before us, of choosing our own leaders

          2. That on its own is worth celebrating and remembering: we do not have to live with someone of ungodly character simply inheriting the power over our lives that the government holds

          3. In turn, we need to apply this somewhat backwards. While David is speaking of the character that the king should aspire to, we should consider this as a test of the character that one pass to receive our support

          4. Our focus must be on our covenant with God: we must demonstrate that we will trust Him to provide and protect if we do that which is righteous

     B. As a church

          1. Faithfulness secures our legacy

          2. More than our own faithfulness, but the faithfulness of God to honor His own word

     C. As individual people

          1. Strive first to place our hearts on the rock

          2. Pass this on to our house, our lineage

          3. Build a generation that will follow God no matter what

               a. In faith

               b. In practical matters

Evening Outline:

Acts 2

Birthday of the Church

I. Prayer

II. Fellowship

III. Unity

IV. Evangelism

V. Ridicule

VI. Scripture

VII. Victory

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Halfway out of the darkness: Mark 8

When reading through the whole Bible, there are places where just a few short verses really pack a lot of meaning. When you get to Mark 8 (link) those verses are Mark 8:22-26, and they summarize the entire chapter.

In these verses, Jesus is brought a blind man. One of the quirks of this passage is that the "they" brought a blind man to Jesus. We get no clear answer in trying to answer who "they" is referring to. The closest nominative would be the disciples in the paragraphs before, but that seems unlikely. Instead, my guess it that we're talking about the townspeople of Bethsaida.

On track, what we see here is the only story I can remember in the Bible where there is a half-way healing. Jesus first spits on the man's eyes (possibly puts saliva rather than a rude spit) and lays hands on him. He then asks the man if he sees anything.

The man sees, but he sees men unclearly, as if they are trees walking about. Likely, this clues us in that he was not born blind, but had lost his sight. This would not surprising: there are several diseases that can result in lost sight if untreated. Whatever else is inherent here, this much is certain: the man has not been completely healed. He's not blind, but you would not hand him the reins of the chariot, either.

Now, zoom back out to the whole chapter. What is happening in this whole chapter? First, we have the feeding of the 4,000. Once again, people follow Jesus without food. Once again, the disciples question how they are all going to eat. Once again, Jesus feeds the whole lot. The disciples still don't get it, the Pharisees and Sadducees don't get it, and Jesus has to explain it all again.

These folks see, but they fail to see clearly.

After the blind man, we have Mark's explanation of Peter's recognition of Jesus as the Messiah. Well, that and Peter's attempt to tell Jesus that He does not need to be crucified. These two need to go together: some Bible translations put a heading between Peter's confession and Jesus predicting the Cross and the Resurrection. These two go hand-in-hand: Peter makes a smart statement and a not-so-smart statement in them, and they are as much about showing the disciples' issues as they about Jesus.

Again, we see this: the disciples see. They see that Jesus is the Messiah but do not see that He has come to suffer for their sins and rise again. It seems that blurry vision runs through more than just the blind man. It runs through this whole chapter.

So, let us return to the blind man. He spends more time with Jesus. Really, just a few more moments. Yet those moments are all it takes. Those moments and one more touch, and the man can see everything clearly. The ISV uses the modifier of "even at a distance" showing that the man had truly gotten a very good healing of the eyes in this case.

What shall we do with this?

I would point you to our own times. There are many people who see, but see dimly, the words of Christ and the Word of God. They can quote portions of Scripture, but they have difficulty seeing the whole of what is happening.

In all honesty, most of us live somewhere in that, though some see more clearly than others. What we all need is to spend that extra few moments with Jesus and let Him touch us through His Word and the Spirit of God to get that much more clarity about what is really happening around us.

This is the only real solution to what is going on around us today. Whether it is within the church or with how the church relates to whatever culture we sit in the middle of, we need to draw near to Christ. Let Him help us to see rather than continue to be led about, running into trees and away from men.

Let's get more than half-way out of the darkness. Let us stay with Him until we see it all clearly, even the distance of eternity.

Today's Nerd Note: The miracle of healing the blind man here is one of only two that Mark records but no one else does. The other is the healing of the deaf man in Mark 7:31-35. Both of these miracles used the touch of Jesus and not just His word. This goes to the depiction in Mark of Jesus as a man of action.

Additionally in Mark 8 we see that the miracles of feeding the 5,000 and feeding the 4,000 are two separate events. Jesus refers back to both as He tries to get through to His disciples. This gives us one other key point: if Mark gives us an accurate record of the words of Jesus, then Jesus believed that 5,000 were fed from five loaves and 4,000 from seven loaves.

For those who would "demystify" the text and remove the miracles, holding only to the teachings, you are kind of stuck here. The Teacher Himself claims these two miracles to be true and uses them to illustrate His point. That means we either accept His teaching about Himself, that He could do such things, or we doubt His teaching. Alternately, you could claim Mark is inaccurate, but when you do that you need to answer this one: How do you know anything about Jesus if the Gospels are not accurate? The "this does not sound like Jesus" will not work: how do you know what He sounds like? Only through His Word. We either know Him from His word, or we don't know Him. He really did not leave us any other way.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Political Thoughts for May 25

So, I should be doing an entry in the completely through the Bible series, but I'm not. Instead, I'd like to make a few random observations about life, especially politics, for now.

#1: Except for those of you in runoff elections, get your signs and put them away. You can put them back up in October. September if you're going to be nice.

#2: All of this discussion of allowing "gay marriage" and I haven't told you directly what I think. I think that Biblical morality would call living that lifestyle sin. In the same way that about a zillion other things that we already allow in America are also a sin. What should we do about it?

My opinion is this: we should get the government completely out of the marriage business. Completely. Marriage has been around for a long, long time—there do not seem to be historical records of a time when there was not a family/social institution called "marriage." It has been defined by religion, by culture, and by government. We are reaching a point where the government definition and the religious definition of practically every major religion are at odds with one another.

So, here is the solution I would propose: do away with laws governing marriage. Create a legal category using the term "domestic partnership" or whatever you like, and make it a legally-binding, legally-defined contract between two people on whatever grounds and basis the state determines it should be done on. Leave the definition of "marriage" to individual religions or not-religions. Take me as a minister out of the business of signing off on a legal agreement and leave me only addressing the spiritual/religious nature.

Leave in place laws regarding having to be an adult to enter in to either agreement. We don't need any nonsense of spiritually marrying minors and then forcing them into that life as adults. But require that any of the legal benefits, including joint tax filing, come from the civil contract and not the religious one. Grandfather in all of us old married people but make that change. As such, every one has equal rights under the law and every religion remains free to hold its own teachings.

#3: For my fellow Christians who think that this will make it impossible to teach our children to follow a Bible-centered course of morality: Really? Seeing same-sex couples will make it harder than our kids seeing celebrities that are only married for 72 days? Or the serial divorces and remarriages that we have been allowing in our churches for decades? We are either going to teach our children that following God will make them be/look/act different than the society around them or we won't.

And that can be done without teaching them to disdain the people around them. Of all the things the Romans persecuted Christians for, nowhere have I seen anything that says the Romans felt like the Christians "hated" them. The Christians were kind, gracious, loving, but just lived differently. It appears more likely that this led to the people wondering why the government hated the Christians.

#4: Still on the marriage issue, a shocking statement I hear in the debate is that married couples get something like 1500 more benefits from the government than single people.

Folks, a government that can give 1500 benefits to one class of people is a government that gives way, way too many benefits. Seriously. That's not just bad, that's truly hideous. Why? Because that means the married people are plundering the single people pretty ferociously. It also means that the government has 1500 ways to manipulate the behavior of people, at least, because those benefits can be taken or removed.

The benefits of marriage, from a government perspective, should be limited to allowing two people to share the resources of a household and reduce paperwork. For example, joint tax filing is a legitimate benefit, especially in a home with one primary wage-earner.

#5: Sports trivia of the week: we waste too much time and money on sports. Oh, wait, that's not trivia, is it?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Put your clothes on! Exodus 29

Crashing ahead through the whole Bible, we come to Exodus 29 (link). This is a description of the process of consecrating Aaron and his sons as priests. There is an extended process of sacrifice followed by step-by-step instructions of how to dress Aaron and sons as priests.

As you read through this passage, first of all, try not to be grossed-out by the details of animal sacrifice. This is not a passage to read just before a meal with its descriptions of blood here and fat there and entrails over there. We should find it instructive that the details are important enough to be commanded. If you wanted, you could say this applies that in some portions of life God has given commands down to the minute detail and those are to be followed.

Realize this, though: those areas are fewer and farther between than many of us claim.

The next thing to note is that atonement had to be made for the priests even though they were chosen by God to be the priests. That calling did not exclude them from sin or its consequences. In fact, additional sacrifices are made just for the priests because they need to make atonement for their sin so that they can make atonement for the sins of others. In the whole scope of the Bible, only three people make it into the world without sin, and only One stays that way. Adam and Eve start off pure but wreck that bus, while Jesus Himself is able to stay pure before God.

This whole ceremony showed Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the others that being priests did not exclude them from sin. They should have been reminded by this moment that their access to God was not due to an inherent amazingness on their part, but rather was granted by the grace of God.

Additionally, I see something else important here. This ceremony should have scared off any wannabes from the priesthood. As an ordained Southern Baptist pastor, I can remember my ordination ceremony and this much I know, that no one put any kind of blood on my clothes. Nor did I have to wash with water in the midst of the church.

Really, I had to answer for my theological opinions and explain my desire to be ordained. Then I listened to a couple of sermons, listened to the whispered advice and prayers of assembled ministers, and that was that. It was not that hard to do. I’ve seen other people ordained even more easily and for lesser reasons, like tax deductions or so they can perform a friend’s wedding.

Then, somewhere down the road, this easy path to the pulpit opens the door to people saying and doing really, really embarrassing things and all ministers of the Gospel having to answer for their foolishness. Perhaps we should have a more difficult challenge ahead of us to be ministers. Maybe if we had to watch a few animal sacrifices or have some blood put on us, there would be a few less nutcases in the pulpit.

Here is the hinge, though: no longer are these animal sacrifices necessary. It is the Cross of Christ where the blood was spilt to pay for all of our sins. Even the sins of preachers, though these be multiplied in many, many ways. As such, there are no further sacrifices to be offered.

Instead, we should face the future with this idea in mind: no one should stand to the ministry that does not grasp how much it took for God to forgive his sin. No one who does not weep that it would have taken all of that suffering just to forgive him should take the role. Not ever. When we grasp that, we begin to be ready to speak to others on behalf of God.

Further for all of us is the truth that all of the sacrifices are done, and all of God’s people bear the responsibility and privilege of being priests for each other and the world at-large. This should come to our minds as we dress, as we worship, and as we walk throughout life. We are not free to do as we please, for our role is important, too important for us to trade for anything else.

Today’s Nerd Note: There is some value in noting that the commands of God to bring food establish that the food brought is to be shared with the priest. Many ancient religions claimed that the food was for the god, and then priests ate it later without telling anyone. Here, though, it is made clear that the food not consumed by the fire is for the priests to eat.

That openness should translate to modern church ministry in this way: most ministers are supported by the financial gifts given to the church they serve. The people bringing those gifts should know how much of the gifts their ministers “eat". Not your personal grocery budget, but the total that is headed to you in salary. It should not be a secret from those who give it. For the record, the church I serve sees each month the amount that I am paid and vote every year on that amount. No portion is hidden in any weird categories, either.

Also of note here is the command for continual sacrifices. It was the end of the sacrifices in A.D. 70 that marked the fall of Jerusalem more than the actual conquest of it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Book: The Truth About Grace

One of the joys of the internet is that anybody can write a book review. One of the dangers of the internet is that anybody can write a book review. No matter how unqualified the reviewer may be in comparison to the writer---and today is no exception to that issue. After all, John MacArthur has spent more time preaching through the New Testament than I’ve been alive.

Nevertheless, the book was put out there for review, so I’m going to take a look at MacArthur’s The Truth About Grace.

First note: this book is part of a series of short books published by Thomas Nelson Publishers. Currently, there are three titles in the series. These are The Truth About: Grace; Forgiveness; and The Lordship of Christ. Each one is taken from previously published material of other books. That actually makes sense: the diversity of MacArthur’s prior books gives snippets about these subjects. Now, those are compressed into small volumes.

That is a critical note: these are small volumes. The whole series is, even though I’m just reviewing one. If you pay the cover price of $12.99, you might feel cheated. However, checking an online price or two shows the price somewhere less than half of that for either print or e-book, which makes much more sense.

To the content of The Truth About Grace: the claimed intention of this book is to make accessible Biblical teaching about the matter named in the title. This leaves the reader expecting a clearly-worded, easy-to-grasp explanation of the subject matter. In the case of “Grace,” MacArthur has hit that goal.

He does so by explaining his terms well, and then explaining the terms he used for definition if necessary. The reader is not left with “oh, grace means unmerited favor” but instead is given what “unmerited favor” means in view of Scripture. MacArthur does so without being condescending.

One area that will stir up a few will be MacArthur’s explanations of sovereign grace. If you swim in American Evangelical Christian seas for your theology, you are not going to be surprised that MacArthur connects his understanding of grace with the term Calvinism as well as connecting it with the Bible. He shows no fear of presenting that view of grace as not too be preferred but to be held as the only correct one. That may stir a few folks, but that is his view and he presents it well in the material selected here.

The greatest potential for this book, though, is blunted slightly by the lack of discussion questions or any form of study guide. This would make an excellent 5-7 week discussion starter for a small group or one-on-one Bible study, and I know that value added by the teacher developing their own questions would be good. However, a few starting points would make a nice addition to this text.

In all, I would recommend this for use in discussion groups or for individual learning. It will fit that bill nicely.

Note: free book from Thomas Nelson in exchange for the review. No demand was made that the review be positive. Of course, I picked a book I thought I would like.

You can eat that! Mark 7

One of the big questions surrounding Christianity is how we understand the Old Testament. Throughout the Old Testament, there are various rules for life in the ancient nation of Israel. Those rules range from taxation to morality to dietary laws. In fact, one of the biggest criticisms of Christianity comes from an expectation that Christians would like to impose all of those laws on modern society.

And worse still is the danger we do to ourselves when preachers attempt to foist those laws on modern society, as happens far too often. Better explanations and views can be cited regarding morality and the Bible without going to suggesting we start executing people based on Old Testament laws.

How do we really reconcile the differences we see in the Old Testament and the New Testament? After all, one core belief of most Christians is that the whole of the Bible is God’s Word, so there is some value, right? And how do we know that we are not picking and choosing only the parts we like as if we’re scoping out the local buffet restaurant? You know, a little bit of the General Tso’s Chicken, an egg roll, but no Moo Goo Gai Pan?

As a Christian, I start on this from the New Testament and work backwards. And one of the better places to start is in Mark 7 (link). Why Mark 7?

Within this chapter, Jesus teaches the Pharisees and the scribes some important truths about how they handled God’s commandments. These two groups were convinced of the importance of following every last commandment, but they had become somewhat myopic on several issues. It is quite likely that they intended the best as is often the case, but the intention and the performance were quite different.

Within this chapter, Jesus addresses a few areas where the religious leaders had gotten wrong in the implementation of following God’s Word. He starts off in response to the criticism that His disciples were not washing their hands enough. On the one hand, there is some merit to washing up before dinner, this much is certain. On the other side, though, missing that every now and then is not likely to be fatal. It is certainly not as fatal to one’s relationship with God as the Pharisees make it.

So, Jesus reaches back to something He had said through Isaiah years before:

This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men. (That’s in Isaiah 29)

He then highlights the tradition His critics held that a person could declare their intention to give their excess income to the Temple or to other godly things. This declaration, called “Corban,” then was used as an out to avoid caring for their parents or other family members in times of need. What it really did was kept the finances in a person’s own control.

And it really violated the intention of the commandment to honor one’s parents. It would be like refusing to provide for your aging parents by selling an unnecessary piece of land by claiming you were going to use it for charity. In the meantime, you use it for golf, but maybe someday you will use it for charity or give it to a church.

Jesus clearly condemns this. He then goes further: the Old Testament dietary laws are among the most famous of the Old Testament rules (though the commands regarding sexuality get a lot of play these days, too). Yet he abrogates those rules in Mark 7:14-15. Here He points out plainly that uncleanness has to do with the inside of a person, a person’s heart, attitudes, behaviors. Whether or not one eats bacon is not a sign of holiness. Whether one gives in to theft, murder, adultery, slander, foolishness---that shows whether or not one is a righteous person.

The heart of the matter is the heart—is the heart of a person, their deepest will and desires, focused on the things of God? Not the things that please them the most but on the character of the Creator?

When we look back into the Old Testament Law, this place is a good start. We look at the Law as the tool used to show where the heart of humanity drifts to apart from God.

Now, why, specifically, are some foods ok back then and some not? That discussion could take ages, and will. It’s probably a combination of creating a society that functioned differently than the surrounding cultures, health issues, and some additional practical reasons.

The chapter ends with a pair of healings. One has bothered me for a while, because Jesus seems a bit rude to the Syrophoenician woman. That’s another spot that needs a long explain, whether it was a test of faith for her or a point to the apostles, or what. I know this, that Jesus would not have gone to Tyre and expected not to run into the occasional Syrophoenician. It was their city.

Perhaps what happens here is that Jesus echoes what the apostles were thinking: look, lady, once He’s done with the important people, He can deal with you.

Except He does not wait until the “important” people are done. One of the glories of the life and ministry of Jesus that reflects the reality of God is this: all people are important. Now, when Mitt Romney or Barack Obama say “all people are important” you know they’re full of it. They really mean that all the people who give to their campaigns, all the people that will help them win swing states are important.

(For the record, Arkansas, neither one of them really give a hoot about this state. The first President that had some care for Arkansas was Clinton, and he’ll probably be the last. Our 6 electoral votes just are not enough to help or hinder them. And it would be worse if we throw in with the notion of using a nation-wide popular vote for President. New York City alone would cancel out every vote in this state.)

Yet with God it is the truth: there are no insignificant lives to God. Since Jesus is God, no one is insignificant to Him, either. Not this “foreign” woman, not you—after all, unless you’re of Jewish ethnic descent, you’re a foreigner, too.

Today’s Nerd Note: If you looked up Isaiah 29, you might have noticed that there is a difference in what I quoted above (and what Jesus quotes in Mark 7) and what your Bible has in Isaiah.

The reason for that is this: most of the Old Testament citations in the New Testament are drawn from the Septuagint, the translation into Greek of the Scriptures made by Jewish rabbis in about the 2nd Century BC. The translation choices they made are sometimes different from the ones made by modern English translators of the Old Testament.

When a word is translated from one language to another, it almost never lines up perfectly in the dictionaries for those languages. Think of a word like “run” in English. Is your refrigerator running? You had better go catch it…

To take run into another language, you might have to use different words depending on what you think the meaning is in that instance. So, translating from Hebrew to Greek is different than translating Hebrew to English. Add in the 2200 year difference in time, and there’s a lot of variances that come into play.

I have yet to see a variance that truly disrupts the meaning of a text. The closest is the height of Goliath, but we’ll get there.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

You're wearing that? Exodus 28

Fashion is one of our culture's biggest events. We have fashion magazines, fashion shows, exult over fashion models, and make appearance the biggest determinant of who should be great in our society. We have shows about what to wear, what not to wear, and how to wear it right.

There are even a few people who have created websites about what a pastor ought to wear. Personally, I find that to be one of the greatest wastes of time, money, and effort I've ever heard of. Then again, though, I wear off-the-rack suits and the same ties year-in, year-out and jeans or khakis from the Sam's Club table during the week. Maybe I'm just a slob.

After all, one might argue that since Exodus 28 (link) is the list of God's directions regarding the garments and accessories for the High Priest of Israel, then modern pastors probably should have a dress code, right?

Let's take the High Priest first and then we'll get back to my ilk of modern American pastors, shall we?

The clothing worn by the High Priest in the performance of his duties would have been quite spectacular. Naturally, we have no photographs of it (I think they all disappeared when Abe Lincoln's Facebook crashed). The only film depiction I can think of is from Raiders of the Lost Ark, but that guy was a Nazi so I doubt he was looked anything like Aaron would have. Plus, bad stuff happened to him when he opened the ark—but I digress.

The garments God prescribes are, first of all, to be "holy." It is instructive to consider what that means. Something that is "holy" is set apart for a specific use by a specific person (or entity). In this case, the clothing was holy: specifically to be used by only the High Priest and only during his duties in worship. This was not something he was to wear to the mall—only to the Tabernacle.

The garments prescribed are, second, symbolic. The ephod with stones, one for each of the tribes of Israel, was there to keep the priest ever mindful that he was not there on his own behalf alone, but for the sake of his entire nation. The turban that he wore was inscribed as "Holy to Yahweh" (remember, that is the name of God He uses in the Old Testament. Specific, holy, and personal). That's not about the turban as much as it is about the wearer. Just like a fan wearing a hat for his team, so the turban was a reminder to the priest about himself, from head to toe.

The garments were also not his. They belonged to "the High Priest." Which meant that the next high priest, and the next one, and the next one, would use them. The clothes did not belong to him but were a given covering for him to do his work.

All of this for the one man who was approved to stand before God on behalf of the people of Israel. No one else could do that, no one else had either the right or the responsibility.

So the man needed to dress for the work. The dress reminded him of the nature of what he was doing: standing before the Holy and Righteous God on behalf of sinful people, of which he was one. He was clothed in white not by his actions but by God's commands.

Now we come to the present day, and the first thing that matters is that if we Christians are right, then there are no more High Priests of God, because Jesus is the last and greatest High Priest. Given that, while we are commanded that we are to pray for one another, none of us stand between God and man exclusively like the Priests of Israel did. Jesus leveled that for us all.

So what should we wear, then, if we are not priests? Why bother with this chapter at all?

I would submit to you that the three ideas here should inform us in all of our outerwear, not just our "service wear." Neither are these just for preachers, but for all people. Working backwards, here they are:

1. We are clothed with a righteousness not our own. The righteousness of Christ is what clothes us rather than our own. It is a gift from God rather than something we make for ourselves or buy for ourselves.

2. We ought to be reminded in our dress that we are not just in life for ourselves, but are here for each other. That includes not being overly flashy (by any sense of the term) or other ways that can harm another. Yes, this does include considering the sourcing of what you wear—all the implications thereof. We should also not dress like we are all that matters. Other people matter, too.

3. We ought to dress such that we remember we are "holy" to the Lord God. In some ways, never mind what other people may think, focus on what God has said about your garments. Really—go to the text of Scripture and see if you are good with what's there and then consider point 2. Ultimately, our whole actions ought to reflect that we are holy to the Lord.

Today's Nerd Note: Long have I seen it circulated that the bells on the fringe were accompanied by a lovely rope around either the waist or the ankle of the High Priest. The idea being that the other priests would have gathered outside the Holy of Holies and listened for the bells. If the bells stopped for too long, then the concern was that God had found the High Priest lacking and struck him dead. They would then pull him out.

There's a few problems with that theory. The first is the biggest: if the Old Testament is intact as it was written, there is no textual basis for this idea. That's the biggest problem of asserting it was the standard practice—it is not prescribed at any point in Scripture.

The second problem is theological/practical. The High Priest was going into the Holy Place to make atonement for all the people. If he drops dead, then based on the total witness of the Law, those who pull him out and all the stuff he touches, including the room in which he died become unclean for a certain period of time.

Therefore, if the concern was that God would strike him dead, the concern was that God would take an action that would prevent the people of Israel as a whole from obeying the Law. That just does not seem like it fits with the idea.

Rather, we see that the ability of one man to stand before God on behalf of others is an act of grace. Whether it is the grace of accepting the High Priest even though every one that came before God was faulty in some manner or the greater grace of sending One to stand before God for all eternity for us.

Monday, May 21, 2012

May 20 Sermon Wrap-up

Here's the wrap-up on yesterday's services at FBC Almyra. I regret not taping J.E. Hughes' message in the morning, but I didn't get his permission beforehand and did not want to make him uncomfortable.

Morning Sermon Audio (alternate link)

Evening Sermon Audio (alternate link)

We took a few minutes this morning as parent-child dedication. Here is the run-down on what that means:


I. This does not do anything related to the eternal state of children

II. This is about parents stating their intentions in the raising of their children

III. In some ways, it echoes other public declarations like marriage or baptism: it is both a statement and a plea for help

IV. As this not an explicit Biblical command, it is entirely voluntary and is something we do for those who want it--

V. We as a church will stand behind those who strive to follow and honor Christ in their parenting

VI. Parents, if you wish to commit to this, then you do so of your own free will

VII. Committing to this must be reflected in your actions after today

Here was the commitment we challenged the parents to make:

1. Pursue our personal discipleship as followers of Jesus Christ as Lord;

2. Maintain our marriage relationship as a testimony of the faithfulness of Christ to love and forgive His church;

3. Demonstrate honor in our relationships with our parents and family members;

4. Diligently teach our children the Word of God;

5. Be active vessels of God's Grace to protect our children while they are in our care;

6. Pray daily for our children to grow in wisdom;

7. Joyfully sacrifice our desires to ensure our children's true needs are met;

We commit as a church to pray for and provide gracious support and wisdom to these parents. We further commit to be a place of assistance and accountability for them as they raise their children to follow Christ.

Morning Service Outline:

Luke 6:12-16

Disciples, Traitors, and Deniers

I. In reference back to the Great Commission, that we are to make disciples: Matthew 28:19-20

II. What is a disciple? ->One who follows closely, learns, and becomes very much like the one they are following

III. Jesus selects twelve to focus on, though others are with Him throughout the time

IV. What about us?

     1. The first call on our lives is to be a disciple of Christ

     2. The first response to that is worship of Him in Spirit and in Truth

     3. The second call is to love our neighbors as ourselves

     4. The response to that is to strive to help our neighbors become disciples of Christ--

               There is no love found in neglecting the eternal needs of those around you

               There is no love found in ignoring sin

     5. This ought to be heartbeat of our:

          Personal Lives

          Family Lives

          Church Life

          BUT NOT: what we expect from the world around us. The world at large is fractured and discipled by many things and is woefully incompetent to teach others to follow Jesus. We should not expect that--we are His instruments to accomplish that.



Evening Service Outline:

Luke 6:12-18

What became of the apostles?

We actually do not really know---and that's important. It's not about following them, it is about following Jesus. The Apostles are done. It's our turn.

Likewise, we have a legacy handed down to us, but if we do not do, then we will be the end.

The Twelve Apostles:

Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,

  10   Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,

  11   Cretans and Arabs

Simon Peter: Fisherman, denier, leader. Executed at Rome, tradition holds on an upside-down cross. One of the "Inner Circle" (ROMANS)

Andrew: Originally a disciple of John the Baptist, brother of Simon Peter. Executed at Patras in Achaia, (or perhaps in Scythia) on an X-shaped cross (traditional). Left John the Baptist---asked Jesus "where dwellest thou?" in John 1:38-40 and brought Peter to Jesus (SCYTHIANS) (GREEK)

James Zebedee: First of the Apostles to die for his faith--executed by Herod Agrippa I in about 44 AD via sword. One of the earliest followers of Christ and one of the "Inner Circle." Rumor that he went to Spain is likely a bit too much  (JEWS)

John Zebedee: Only Apostle given in tradition to die of natural causes. Appears to be the youngest of the disciples, is always mentioned in concert with James in the Synoptics. Led the congregation at Ephesus, was exiled to Patmos, and died an old man. Wrote John, 1-3 John, and Revelation (most likely). Rumor has him plunged into boiling oil but surviving.

Philip: Brought Nathaniel to Jesus. Potentially was a Greek proselyte and was apparently acquainted with the costs of feeding lots of people. Legends send him to France or Russia.

Bartholomew/Nathaniel: John's lists of Apostles gives no Bartholomew but has a Nathaniel. Bartholomew is a patronymic--means "Son of Tholomew (prob Thalmai)." He was the one with the snippy "can anything good come from Nazareth" quip in John 1:45-47. Later sources give him as of noble birth, the only Apostle with it. Tradition sends him to India and beheaded by King Astriagis (maybe.)

Matthew: collected taxes near the Sea of Galilee--would have also included responsibility/right to tax fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. Fill that in with your imagination for a moment. Not heard from Scripturally after Pentecost--legends go to both Parthia and Ethiopia, but that's two different directions

Thomas: called Didymus, meaning "the twin." Probably missionary to India post-Pentecost, the church in southern India counts him as their founder

James of Alphaeus: Goes into history with the second least-distinctive name of the New Testament, right behind "Mary." Possibly identified with "James the Less" but possibly not. Could have been Matthew's brother--both are listed as sons of Alphaeus

Simon the Zealot: part of the movement to remove the Romans from Israel--probably born in Cana (related to the wedding, perhaps?). On to: Egypt, Africa or Great Britain

Judas of James: Also known as "Judas (Not Iscariot)" or the man who wished his parents had called him Bob. Probably also known as Thaddeus. Probably killed in Mesopotamia (Babylon) or Persia.

Judas Iscariot: Always mentioned last in the lists of the Apostles. Evidence for the writing of the Gospels after the whole story is known: Judas is clearly identified as the traitor, something that would not have been known.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

It is not always easy: Mark 6

One of the difficulties of going through the whole Bible chapter by chapter is that some chapters are just too big. Mark 6 (link) is just such a chapter. We have the diversity of events that range from Jesus teaching at Nazareth to the feeding of the 5,000, to walking on the water, and then back to more teaching and healing.

There's a lot here. You should read it more than twice. I would draw your attention to the juxtaposition of the stories of Mark 6:7-13 and Mark 6:14-29. These two stories about one time in which Jesus sent out the Twelve to preach and the execution of John the Baptist are put together.

We would tend to think they ought not go together. After all, one is a story of great triumph and the other is the sad tale of a preacher killed for his stand on righteousness. If Jesus is looking to recruit disciples, then only one story should be included here: the story of triumph! The news that not only Jesus but His disciples can heal, drive out demons, and preach would surely attract a good many folks to the cause.

That's worth doing, right? We want to do whatever it takes to draw in new disciples, so we should emphasize the positive possibilities of life as a Christian. Any downside should get mentioned later, if at all. After all, only John the Baptist has been executed at this point in the narrative, so there's no cause for alarming other disciples until we see if the pattern of life will really continue.

Except in the inspiration of the text, Jesus does not do that. He places these two situations right beside each other, even though the text itself is clear that the execution of John had happened some time before. There are good things and bad things that happen in the life of following Christ, and we do not do anyone any favors by hiding those.

What happens? The life of discipleship is a life of obedience to Christ. It is not simply about the power that comes through the Holy Spirit. In fact, life is barely about that—the primary work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian is the ability to live that obedience.

In some ways that obedience is an outward obedience: go here, do this, preach that. That obedience is to treat this person with grace or to show that person love, as this is the command of God that we do so.

Other ways show up that the obedience is internal. It is common to think of the self-sacrificial ideas that are trumpeted in modern American Christianity: the person who moved from the 4,000 square foot home to the 2,000 square foot home to give more money, the missionary, the school teacher—all of these do show a level of self-sacrifice. There is more, though, at stake, and it is this more that truly demands the aid of the Spirit of God.

One key point of understanding the Bible and the Christian faith is realizing that everything from the end of Genesis 3 through Revelation 20 reflects a world that is marred and wrecked by sin. The very nature of mankind is harmed by sin—we are born with tendencies to sinful behavior. Each one of us carries this issue, though it may come to the surface differently for one than for another.

The Spirit of God is what gives us the ability to push those tendencies toward more godly usage. We see example after example in life and in the Bible of people who would not do so: David with his many wives; Samson with his issues; the Israelites; even Peter, Barnabas, and others show how many ways sin rises up and pulls people away from living in obedience to God.

A huge portion of the life of a disciple is learning to let the Spirit of God rebuild our hearts and minds to not seek those sins any longer. That is a substantial part of what being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1-2) is all about.

The warning of Mark 6 is this: some will live life to satisfy the nature all humanity is born with. Herod was one of these—his desire was for his brother's wife, and he took her. John called out that this was sin. It was not the only thing John called sin, for though we lack a large record of his preaching, he also called out religious pretense and social injustice in his days at the Jordan.

He hit on one big nerve, though, and it put him in prison first and cost him his life later. That's the path that discipleship may take: those who follow human nature will rise up against those who strive to follow the Spirit of God. As Christians, either be ready to deal with it or be ready to deal with it, because it has been this way for two millennia. It does not change until The Millennium.

Today's Nerd Note: The Feeding of the 5000 is recorded in Mark 6:33-44, and also in the other 3 Gospels. It's a rare event in that: most of John outside of the Passion Week differs radically from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, in terms of narrative flow.

One should consider how important that makes this moment. I think John's recollection that the people intended after this to make Jesus king by force is why it is important: He could have ruled that way rather than taking the road to the Cross. The world would have allowed that, approved that, followed that. Instead He met the greater need: not merely a good life now but eternal life through His sacrifice.

Also, consider this: believing that God is the author of Scripture means that we do not count one set of the words as more important than any others. In other words: how the narrative is arranged is as much a work of God as the specific words of Jesus spoken and recorded. It is reasonable to examine those types of factors to seek clear meaning in the text.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Don't forget to turn on the lights: Exodus 27

Exodus continues with the instructions for the building of the Tabernacle and its related accoutrements in Exodus 27 (link). It's a bit dry, unless you are in the mood to construct an altar and need directions on how to do so.

One of the keys that is present here is that God leaves no detail out as He gives instructions for construction. Not only do we see a specific instruction on how the altar was to be made, but we also see that God commands buckets, basins, firepans, shovels, and all the other utensils necessary for the operation of an altar. The details are not lost on Him.

Additionally, one might note that this is a further evidence for the antiquity of this passage: why would a people living in the Greco-Roman world construct this type of passage? They would not need instructions to remember firepans—they would be used to having those. Moreover, in the time after exposure to all the great constructions of Babylon and Persia, it is unlikely that Israel would have constructed an altar merely of bronze.

Of application relevance within this passage, there are a pair of things that I think are worth noting today:

1. This is repetitious throughout these passages, but the idea here is mobility. Note the rings on the side of the altar that are for staves (Exodus 27:7) or its hollowness (Exodus 27:8) that would have made carrying this thing around easier.

We can make too much or too little out the idea of mobility. Some of us have moved a lot over our years. I find it easy to look at these passages and justify keeping a stockpile of boxes and storing U-Haul coupons. After all, the Tabernacle had tote rings on everything, did it not?

Yet the point here is not to be always ready to move. The point is that following God's directions results in being equipped to walk in obedience to what God commands. In this case, His commands equipped the Israelites with a mobile worship center so that they could obey Him, but it would also be acceptable for usage in a settled location.

Keep in mind, after all, that at least two centuries pass between the Exodus and Solomon's Temple. I'd say nearer to five centuries—well, 480 (1 Kings 6:1) years. For that time, the Israelites that remained faithful used what they had, the Tabernacle, to worship God. And it was good, because it was worship offered in faith.

So, willingness to go is crucial, but willingness to stay is too. Why? Because it was never about staying or going in the first place. It was about realizing that wherever you were, God was present. It was about obeying Him no matter what.

2. The second thing of note is the clear oil at the end of the passage. One of the commentaries I read to rev my brain up for this post pointed out that it was not uncommon to leave one lamp burning in a home until the last person had gone to bed in a home. Since the people had lights in their home and the Tabernacle was the symbolic home of God, it would be rude for Him not to have light, wouldn't it?

Not that He actually needs it, but there is a purpose in this. Note what the text says: the light is to stay burning all night long. Why?

Because God never goes to bed and goes to sleep. NEVER. It was symbolic for the people to realize that God was always watching over them, always aware.

I think there is the added benefit to show that the service of God was not to be undertaken in the dark. Now, I'm not speaking of persecuted believers and their need to preserve their lives by meeting at night and in seclusion.

I'm speaking of the need to avoid "secret" proceedings and hidden behaviors in the ministry of the Word. That is not to say that we broadcast everything—what people share with me about their lives stays between them and me. Rather, the habit of hiding decision making or plans or other actions from the rest of the congregation. In the Tabernacle, there was always light—Aaron and his sons could not go slinking around in the dark and their actions not be known.

We need to be the same way—especially my fellow pastor-teacher-shepherds. We work in the light, not the darkness, and should not be hiding things.

Today's nerd note: I have to be honest with you, it was a little challenging to find a nerd note for today. I have a couple of brief semi-nerdy observations for you:

1. The directions are given in cubits. Many modern Bible translations will either footnote a modern measure or use the modern measure in the text (like the New Living Translation at the link.) I find one thing difficult with that: we are not assured of the actual size of a cubit. Really. Most of us that study the Bible are comfortable with the idea that an average cubit was 18-inches. It's considered the length of the forearm and was typically 2 spans. You could travel 2000 cubits on a Sabbath.

Except if your forearm was longer, you could go farther. It's a relative measure rather than a standard measure. What seems typical is that one workman, probably the boss (Bezalel in this case,) would have been the forearm used for the project. This makes all of the measurements standard to each other and the project built in proper proportion. The cubit is known to range from 16.5 to 20.5 inches, and could have ranged further. So, there's a range here of size possibilities.

Typically, a translation will use the 18-inch standard, but that could be off by 2.5 inches. That gets to be a big deal the more cubits you've got. Or when you're looking at cubic size of something, like an Ark.

2. The use of clearly beaten olive oil would have helped reduce the smokiness of the Tabernacle. The clearer, the purer, and therefore the fewer byproducts of keeping the lights burning. Plus, being a smoke-free environment would have lowered the health care costs of priests and Levites. It's a win-win.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

When Pigs Fly! Mark 5

Or, perhaps, when pigs angrily stampede after being possessed by demons—but that’s a pretty long title. Either way, that’s the opening story of Mark 5 (link), our next stop going through the whole Bible.

Mark 4 had ended with Jesus calming a storm on the Sea of Galilee as He and the disciples are headed across that body of water. The storm had the disciples convinced they would perish, yet Jesus had no concern over the issue. Jesus knew that He had not come to earth to drown nor had He called the Twelve for them to drown this early in the story.

After getting over the storm, they come to the region of the Gerasenes. There is some difficulty giving a clear identity to the location: the various textual variants and parallels use “Gerasenes,” “Gadarenes,” and “Gergesenes” interchangeably. Gadara is a bit far from the edge of the Sea of Galilee to be the feet-dry moment that Mark indicates. Instead, it’s likely best identified with the village known in Arabic as Kersa. This name lines up well with the Greek for Gerasa and has the appropriate topography and features. The village would have been part of the Decapolis region, even if not a major city within it.

Upon their arrival in the area, Jesus and His disciples do not go straight into the populated area but instead go into the cemetery. Now, that’s not typically my first stop in a new town, but I have been known to put it on the list. Jesus and the disciples go straight there, though, and encounter a man.

A man who has been driven from society to live in the tombs because of his demonic oppression. In their encounter, Jesus drives the demons from the man, allows the demons to take over a herd of pigs, and the pigs rush headlong to their destruction—likely taking the demons with them. At the very least, this removed the demonic threat from the area.

The most noteworthy aspect of this miracle?

It happens outside of Israel. I have seen a few try to extend the area into Israel or try to explain that this was a region mostly inhabited by Jews. It is true that there were Jews in the Decapolis region, but this is not Jewish land. It’s Gentile space. It is the world outside—those not considered a part of the covenant of God.

Yet we see the hand of God strong and mighty present there. We see that Jesus is not inhibited either by the exertion of calming the storm nor by distance from home. We see that geography is no barrier to the work of the Almighty.

Apparently, after giving the man permission to spread the news of what God had done, Jesus goes back to Israel. Mark appears not to record anything else happening except that the people ask Jesus to leave. Really?

In doing so, they express a sentiment that too many of us hold: they have put an economic value on a human life and on the presence of Jesus in their life. It’s somewhere around 2,000 pigs. Now, I do not know precisely how much we’re talking in terms of sisterii here, but that’s not right.

We cannot put an economic value on the life of a person or on the presence of God in our lives. When we do either, we start crossing into a place that will destroy us as people.

Consider trying to attach a cash value to a person in general: once you have done that, you put yourself in a place to choose stuff over a person. If you’re offered 2,000 pigs then will you dispose of that person? Would you commit that murder? Or ostracize that person for your wealth? What price you would walk away from a relationship shows what you count people as worth to you. That price should not be attainable. Your fellow humans are worth more than 2,000 pigs. A lot more.

Then there is the costs we decide are too much to pay in obeying God. That’s a frequent topic of sermon and blog alike: how much are you willing to sacrifice? Yet that’s not a fair question. It’s like asking me how much of the material in my closet you should give to me at your yard sale. It’s all mine in the first place: there is nothing you have that does not exist due to the grace and creation of God. It may be marred and warped by sin, but He made it.

Rather, we should focus on the grace that allows us to draw near in the first place. It is not what we would pay to have God with us. It is what Jesus paid that we might be near to God that is the focus of our lives.

Length holds me back from looking at the woman healed by touching Christ and the raising of Jairus’ daughter. Summarizing these two, consider this: both of these women were of value to Jesus. Not because of what they could do for Him: the woman is destitute due to medical bills, the girl is too young. They were valuable because they were His people. If people only have value for what they can do for you, you are not acting like Christ. For some additional thoughts, check Carl Trueman here.

Today’s Nerd Note: As if the location info above was not nerdy enough, there’s a few other things here. First, you might have noticed that Jesus asks the name of the demon, and the reply is “Legion, for we are many.” Now, a Roman Legion had anywhere from 4,000 to 6,000 warriors plus auxiliaries and support staff. However, the term could also mean “lots of chaos” because that’s what the opponent of Roman Legions felt—much like “company” is a technical term in the US Army as well as being a business term and referring to just a group of folks.

It is not necessary to think that there were 6,000 demons in this guy. Instead, there were several and they were the source of his chaos. Neither do the 2000+ swine give us a number.

Also, the “what is your name?” is not instructive for dealing with the demonic. Keep in mind that while we have power through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we are not, nor will we ever be, Jesus. We might be striving to be like Him, but Him we are not. So, just because He dealt directly with a demon does not mean that we ought to.

Our focus goes to God alone. Our focus is on Christ Jesus Himself and we seek Him. After all, whatever size mob of demons this man was afflicted with, in the end they fall to one, and only one, Jesus. Shouldn’t that cheer us all? Had you asked any Caesar, any proconsul, if one man could defeat a legion, they would tell you “When pigs fly!”

And so it was.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Curtains, I tell you, Curtains! Exodus 26

I continue through the whole Bible, and that leaves us in a place that is somewhat hard to be, though not any harder than Numbers will be at points. I click open my Logos Bible Software and see that I owe you an explanation of Exodus 26 (link). Which is about---


Well, and a veil, a screen, and some boards and sockets that essentially exist to hold up the curtains. This is where the reader of Exodus is treated to the directions on how to build the Tabernacle. It is within these verses that a couple of themes show forth that bear repeating:

1.) In no portion of Scripture do we see worship presented as being strictly defined by how the worshipper wants to do it. While the Tabernacle was constructed from free-will offerings of the people, the form and layout was still commanded by God regarding how the Tabernacle was to be built.

The Israelites were free to worship God, but not free to worship God as they desired. They were free to worship as He commanded. This is important to bring forward appropriately into the time we live in. As believers in Jesus, we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God and through the Holy Spirit, we understand His Word and are free to follow what He has said there. We are also free to follow the guidance of the Spirit in the areas where the Word itself is silent.

Yet we cannot confuse that with being free to worship in manners contrary to the commands of God. John 4 gives us one of the critical commands: true worship is in Spirit and in truth. Spirit comes from being those who are His and truth is about worship being centered on Him and His Word. Anything that exalts other things or people or downplays Jesus to focus on others is contrary to this.

Connected, though, is that freedom: there are dimensions given but no commands on the exact shade or how the fabric was to lay—those were within the Spirit-led sense of the maker. We are currently more in danger of neglecting the guidelines of worship God has given us than we are of being too constricted by add-ons, but that is not always going to be the case. We people have trouble not bouncing off the extreme edges.

2.) This is a general principle of Biblical interpretation that we all need to remember: sometimes, Scripture carries an accurate record of what happened, a recounting of events. Those events show us how the people of Israel worshipped or how the early church raised funds or what happened in a specific battle. The theme of that passage is seeing how God worked in history at that time.

And that's it. There is no hidden meaning, no secret knowledge to be gained, no key to change your life from knowing how many curtains there were or how long they were to be.

We need to be wary of the danger of supplying an over-mystified meaning into the text that the text never had. One principle that I think is valuable is that the text does not have a meaning that it never had. That is, if this was written for 14th century B.C. Israel, the meaning for them is instructive for the meaning for us.

We may look back and see how the overall structure was a shadow of what was to come in Jesus, but we do not need to look back and see the goat hair curtains as symbolic of the clothes of John the Baptist or any other oddity. Scripture is not really that complex, with the possible exception being prophecy related to the end of the world.

Even that is simpler than we account it: you cannot do anything about the end of the world except trust God to handle it. So, whether we see a pre-tribulation rapture, a post-tribulation rapture, or a pre-wrath/mid-tribulation rapture, what differences does that make? Either your trust is in God or it isn't. If all true believers persevere to the end, then you pre-trib folks will not fall away if it takes an extra 7 years—and any post-trib folks will be happy to leave early!

Back on track: be careful not to fish for meaning. We can see Jesus in the scope and sweep of Old Testament narrative, and truly every jot and tittle of the Hebrew text resounds with His glory. Yet that glory can come in a people willing to follow the plans that have a lopsided curtain count of 11. You do not have to make each curtain symbolic of a three-year block of the life of Christ.

Take the Word for what is there. There is more than enough if we would focus on the One who left it there for us.

Today's Nerd Note: I see one other theme here in the last 15 chapters of Exodus. It relates to authorship. One of the key questions of the last two centuries of Biblical studies has been the authorship and date of the whole Pentateuch, including a major effort to show that Genesis-Deuteronomy were constructed much later in the history of Israel than traditionally thought.

The idea presented is that these books were written by a people group with an identity as Israel to provide them some background on their identity. Those scholars will propose that some of it may be more the stuff of legend, like throwing quarters over the Potomac, rather than the stuff of history.

The details of Tabernacle construction, though, poke a logical hole in this theory for me. While some will have an explanation, it seems to me that a people living in an age of foundation-locked temples would hardly have bothered to create the elaborate descriptions of a tent to worship God.

An aspect of the argument for a more recent, more fabricated view of Exodus has the priests of Israel writing it to push the people to the God of their worship instead of the other gods of the area. Except all of those gods demanded big, fancy temples. How would concocting a God in a tent be persuasive?

Further, the long-range development of the history of Israel seems to leave them without the tent that was the Tabernacle. If you are going to concoct a story, why not use something you had around? Likewise for much of the holy furniture discussed.

In all, it supports an Exodus story that is at the least sourced deep in the antiquity of the Jewish people.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Take Root! Mark 4

Living in a pluralistic society, one of the interesting things to learn is what other people think of Jesus. For me, I cannot escape the conclusion that the testimony of history and Scripture shows Him to be nothing less than God Incarnate. Over the course of time, I would hope to show why I think that to be true—and why it is that truth is truth, regardless of individual acceptance.

However, not everyone thinks this way—and it' is fascinating to see how they react to Him. There are many who will respect at least portions of the Biblical narrative and the teaching of Jesus. They respect His use of parables and the methods and manner of how He taught and lived.

It seems odd that one can hold to part of what He taught while rejecting other parts of His teaching, but Mark 4 (link) shows that Jesus Himself expected this to be the case. We see in this parable that He speaks of those who hear His words and the four differing reactions to those words.

There are those who reject outright whatever the Word of God says. These people come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and some even come in Christian-looking T-shirts or stand behind pulpits and preach on Sundays. Others come in forms that a church-going person might readily identify, but it is the ones within our midst that are the danger. These are the wolves that should raise our concern, the ones within the fold. The ones outside? Keep your distance isn’t such a hard thing to do, there, is it?

This is certainly its own special challenge in the modern American world. Our national heritage is certainly more Bible-focused and Christ-acknowledging than our future is, even with all of the sinful behavior that happened under those banners. It is important, after all, to recognize that most abolitionists fought slavery on grounds of Biblical truth—it was not just those who sought to justify that evil that used the Bible. How do those who wish to follow the Word of God as their guide live among those who have no similar desire? Those who have decided to ignore the Word?

We should recognize that it is not the job of those who have never accepted the seed of the Word to bear fruit in keeping with that seed. Take a look back at this parable: The Sower sows the seed and the seed on good soil bears fruit. The seed on the road? Bears nothing. If there is no future adherence to the teaching and life of Christ, it is not the fault of the seedless. It is the fault of the unfruitful.

How so? We have allowed a few of the seedless into places of respect in the Christian community, but we also lean too close into allowing the other soil types to be our example and our leaders.

Take, for instance, the seed that falls into rocky soil. It springs up quickly but has no root. Yet what does it look like to begin with? It appears to be a glorious early riser. It has all the hallmarks of a good crop. The leaf sprouts, the plant grows. It has the inputs: sun and water and nutrients. Yet is there a crop?

No. The sun rises, the dry days hit, the storm blows—and the truth is laid forth. There is no root. Where there is no root, there is no real fruit. So we see Christian leaders that buckle to the first temptations or that entrench when challenged—we see anger and bitterness rather than Christlikeness.

We allow those to teach and influence us that are among the thorns: they have not weeded their own plots and gardens and are eventually dragged down by the prior issues that had troubled them. Be it the pursuit of material gain or political power, be it a proclivity towards one sensual sin or another, those weeds and thorns were not rooted out and those rise up to choke out the great potential.

Instead, we must learn to patiently await the rooted crop to rise. This is the crop that bears fruit and that fruit is what demonstrates the power of God. That fruit is what shows the grounded basis of the people who have received the Word. These should be our example.

And this should be us: those who take in the Word and who apply it throughout our lives. Not just in some areas and not woodenly, but wisely: the religious and civil festivals of the people of Israel are not commanded nor commended to us today; there are laws governing slavery not because it was right but because it was there—and honest examination of the whole culture of the world at the time shows that these laws were groundbreaking in requiring humane treatment of those most religions and cultures treated as worse than garbage.

Rather, we apply the Word properly: self-control guided by the Spirit of God. Love shown in truth. Kindness and gentleness coupled with a passion for righteousness in our own lives.

This is what we ought to be focused on and how we ought to seek those who would lead us as Christians, those who we allow to speak for us. And if the world sees us they will see one of two things: either that they want that seed to take root in their lives or that they would rather burn the field to the ground. Either way, our life counts for this, the glory of God.

Today’s Nerd Note: Mark is action-oriented, but this chapter is one where he focuses on the teaching of Jesus. It is also not a “parable of the Kingdom” describe either heaven or the earthly following of Christ. Rather, it is a focus on what the hearers of Jesus must become, an explanation of why some follow and some do not.

Mark’s detachment from the action to reflect the teaching is valuable for us to consider. This parable is important enough for him to do so.

Friday, May 11, 2012

May 11: Book Recommends and Random Thoughts

I cleaned and semi-organized my office this week and have a final to get ready for, so I just do not have a fully developed Completely Through the Bible post for today. Sorry about that, really, but these things happen. I do have some various things to bring up this week:

1. Book Recommendation: I've finished reading A Geography of Time: On Tempo, Culture, and The Pace of Life by Robert Levine. While I'm sure that people with access to social psychology research or with different experiences in the same cultures he mentions will find some faults, overall it was a good read. It is certainly from a secular science perspective: he rates one culture's sense of time as being "just their thing" as being like another culture's honor killings as being "just their thing."

That is a peek behind the curtain of how life works if your only ethical base is local culture rather than a transcendent morality. However, the benefits of considering how geography and culture impact the sense of time makes the book worth your time if you ever intend to be away from where you've always lived.

2. There was much ado this week about the drop in unemployment. One part of the media focused on the drop in unemployment percentage while another part focused on the drop in people looking for work. If the same number of people were looking for work now that were looking three years ago, unemployment would be above 11%.

It's possible this is a good thing, that so many have left the workforce. Maybe some families have found they can reduce wage earners, live simpler, have better relationships, and be fine. Maybe the economy has improved for others where they do not need the added income. It's also possible that this bodes ill for nation, because we are going to have some serious issues ever getting back on track.

3. Book Recommendation #2: This is one of those business/leadership books that are frequent to the market. It's called Standout and it's by Marcus Buckingham. One of the benefits of this book is that each purchase gives you an access code to take an online assessment to see where you fit in the "strengths measure" that the book discusses.

Essentially the point of the book is this: find what you are good at and strive to improve that, rather than burning out trying to do what you are bad at. There is acknowledgement that we're not all perfectly free to do that at work, but you can work towards it. He also recognizes that this is about skills/talents not about moral attributes. If you are weak in the honesty department, you still have to work to correct that.

Think of a baseball analogy: if a pitcher is a great fastball/slider pitcher but a lousy curveball pitcher, what should he throw most of the time? What about to a great hitter? He should throw his best pitches, the fastball and the slider. If he has time, work on the curveball, the changeup or sinkerball, but focus on improving those pitches that he is already good with.

However, if he balks every time there is a runner on second, he has to fix that first. That weakness cannot be ignored, but the lack of a sinkerball can be.

If you're curious about this, you might as well buy the book—the test costs as much as the book if you just buy it. According to this system, I'm an Equalizer/Pioneer. The Pioneer part does seem odd and I'll be exploring that.

4. I was going to say something about politics, but I just can't. I need to finish digging a moat and stockpiling survival supplies.

5. Out of curiosity: if someone (or some business) does something crazy, evil, or just stupid to get attention because the individual or the business is just empty and useless, why enable them by making it a news headline? If you give an alcoholic a keg of beer, you're doing a wrong thing. If you give someone who needs to find their self-esteem somewhere other than national news coverage more national news coverage, are you not doing the same thing?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

God needs bread? Exodus 25

Exodus turns to a construction manual for a few chapters, starting here in Exodus 25 (link). This is not a bad thing to look at as we go through the whole Bible in these posts. One thing we need to understand, overall from these passages, is this truth: God is not to be worshiped as we see best fit. We are to worship as God commands and directs.

Taking a quick divergence into politics, that's actually the essence of freedom of religion: that any person is free to worship God (or gods, or not at all) according to what they believe that God (or gods) command. If it were merely about worshiping how we want then freedom of religion should be subordinate to the will of the people and the winds of the times. Yet if it is about freedom to have no human interference in obeying one's God, then the right of human interference is much more restricted. This is what we had in America, yet we are sliding backwards into the lesser freedom. Those who want to define religious freedom in that manner want to be the ones who tell you how to worship. Do not let them. Even if they are Baptists who agree with me 99% of the time.

Back on track: the first event in this section is a freely given offering by the people of Israel to fund the construction of the Tabernacle and the various components. This was to be taken from those "whose heart moves" and not taken from those who had no interest. In fact, most of the religious offerings of the Old Testament fell under two categories: freewill like this or atonement/sacrificial offerings. The tithe system was more about the operation of the national existence than it was about worship.

One would be right to ask, though, about whose heart could not move them in those times? Here they sit at the foot of the Mountain of God, they're eating manna and passed through the Red Sea. How can they refuse a porpoise skin or two for the construction of a central place of worship? Yet it remains that the offering is for those moved, not for those forced.

Then we see directions for construction. However, those directions do not start with the biggest piece, the Tabernacle itself but rather the most important piece: the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant was the centerpiece in recognizing God's presence in the midst of the people and later contained certain reminders of God's faithfulness and work among the Israelites. Especially important was the "mercy seat" where the blood of annual atonement sacrifice was placed.

Then there is the Table of the Showbread, or the Bread of the Presence. This bread symbolized the presence of God as being real among Israel, and it was eaten by the priests after its allotted time on the Table. Herein lies a key difference between Israelite religion and the religion of many of their neighbors: the Israelites were told upfront that the priests were eating the bread, while many of their neighbors were told that the "gods" were eating the bread, when the priests were just sneaking in to eat it.

Then there is a lampstand to provide light.

Common among all of these items was this: portability. After explaining the cherubim to be placed on the Ark, the sockets for poles for portage are described. The Table has the same feature, and the lampstand is just a portable lamp—you can carry that without a problem.

Why? Because God did not need the bread that was placed before Him, neither in the "bread" of an offering of currency nor the literal bread placed on the table. What He did intend was that His people would learn a crucial fact: this is no regional deity they are covenanting with. This is the God of the whole universe. Sometimes, obeying this God will require not a bolted-down worship center but a mobile people who go in obedience to Him.

This is not what God needs, but what God calls us to do. It is what we, as people created in the image of God, need.

Today's Nerd Note: I almost want the nerd note to be about the location of the Ark of the Covenant, but that is such a wide open discussion that I think it better to let you chase that rabbit on your own. Personally, I like Ethiopia as the resting place of the Ark if it's not in a secret government warehouse from when Indiana Jones found it.

Rather, let's get extra nerdy. It would be easy to try and parallel how the Ark of Noah saved people then and how the Ark of the Covenant was part of salvation for the Israelites, because they're both "arks", right? Except the Hebrew word is different. The word from Noah's Ark is only used again of the basket that Moses is placed in, while the Ark of the Covenant is the same as the word for "chest" as in a storage chest. The word can also mean "coffin" and is the term used for the coffin that Joseph's bones are placed in in Genesis 50:26.

So you cannot properly connect the two, as they are not called the same name. Exactly why they are both translated "Ark" is not a question I can solve. I can move it back to the 3rd century BC, as the Septuagint, the Greek Translation of the Hebrew Scriptures done by Jewish rabbis, used the same Greek word both places. Jerome followed the same practice—it is debated whether or not he knew the Hebrew well enough or was guided by the Greek. Tradition weighs heavily that he knew the Hebrew. Nonetheless, that became the basis of the more well-known text in the Latin Vulgate and English versions followed suit.

Additionally on the Nerd Note: The porpoise skins? Where did they come from? My guess: the Red Sea. Think about the possibility: you're walking between the walls of water and can reach in and snatch one or two of those critters! Alternately, the Israelites would have been able to trade with coastal fishermen at various points and obtain the skins. I like the snatching better, it just sounds more awesome.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Abraham Lincoln Quoted by Jesus! Mark 3

Mark records a curious event in his third chapter (link). If you look at Mark 3:25, you'll see that Jesus quotes the sixteenth President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. After all, one of the highlights of the Lincoln years is his famous speech regarding slavery in the United States where he used the phrase that "a house divided against itself cannot stand."

This speech was given in 1858 when he accepted the nomination to run against Stephen A. Douglas for Senate, but is still remembered as the defining speech regarding slaveholding in the United States. I recall being taught in school how brilliant and groundbreaking the speech was, how Lincoln had used such wise words to convey his thought.

Yet the idea was not original to Lincoln. Rather, it was embedded in Lincoln from his time reading the Bible. Now, I have read varying reports about Lincoln's personal religious beliefs: some place him as a nearly completely committed Christian while others have him somewhere on the outside edge. I'm not going to even attempt to comment on that.

What I want to highlight is this: Lincoln was educated in a time where most of the culture around him was soaked in the Bible. He was, the people around him were, the world was driven with a Biblical knowledge. Even those who chose to push back that they did not believe in various parts of Scripture (as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson both have left evidence of) still respected the idea of a culturally central source of morality. Lincoln knew the crowd would hear his "house divided" reference and connect his speech with Jesus. He most likely counted on it.

Moreover, there should be no doubt how he expected the division to be resolved. The crowd he stood before that day was a new political party formed with the goal of eliminating slavery and they would never have accepted continued slavery for the sake of unity. Only a united country with no slaves would be acceptable for the Republican Party.

Lincoln was connecting the fight against slavery and for the unity of the country with the wisdom and teaching of Jesus. His crowd would have understood it and that would have strengthened his position. Even his opponents would not have been able to argue against that viewpoint.

Today, though, where are we? Mention the Bible as your source of anything and non-believers shut down—they have no use for the Bible as anything. Mention the Bible as your source for anything and half of the believers get confused—they have not learned the Word well for themselves. In short, we are functionally illiterate of the Bible as a whole.

Some people might exult at this but underneath it is this problem: we have not replaced that national knowledge base with anything else. Some now find their morality in other religions, some find it themselves, and others still hold to the Bible. There is no national narrative or other unifying cultural force anymore. Now, admittedly, even settling on one would not solve everything. After all, while Republicans were seeing in the Bible reasons to eliminate slavery, Democrats were find in the Bible reasons to keep it.

The end-result? We are now the house divided. And whether you want to take your wisdom from Lincoln or from his source, Jesus, we cannot stand this way either. We may need to dial back to the bare minimum of unifying statements and work harder to live and let live—yet even that statement will be hard to parse. After all, the pro-abortion crowd would say to let "women alone" about abortion, while the pro-life crowd would say to let "children live" about ending it. All women should be free to not get pregnant—and all people should be free to live, no matter how small or weak they are.

In the end, we cannot maintain the house as it sits. It is divided because it lacks a foundation—the one that it was built on has been removed, more by neglect of those who know it than by anyone else. What do we do now? That is the question.

Today's nerd note: I know this was a departure from the typical through the whole Bible post, but I go where the thoughts take me. Let's look at one key part of Mark 3, though:

Jesus speaks of blaspheming the Holy Spirit as an eternal sin, stating that this cannot be forgiven. Yet we in evangelical Christianity hold that nothing is beyond the power of the blood of Christ, nothing cannot be forgiven by the grace of God. How does that belief not contradict this verse.

The simplest answer, and the best, is that it does not because of the finer detail of how one receives the forgiveness that Jesus' atoning death on the Cross brought. His death did not atone universally and unilaterally, rather it was the particular redemption of those who accept His grace. While the atonement does bring a certain effect to all of Creation, the specific forgiveness of all sin is only to those who are His, known by Him in the time before He even said "Let there be light!"

Blaspheming the Holy Spirit? That would be seen in denying that God is speaking when the Holy Spirit does His primary work in the life of the unbeliever: moves the spirit of a person to see God for who God is, to accept grace, mercy, and love from God. Denying that throughout life is unforgivable because that is how God draws His people to salvation and forgiveness.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Close Enough for You? Exodus 24

We return to the Hebrew people, gathered around the Mountain of God, as they are being taught the basics of participation in the covenant of God. The pattern here continues to follow the typical covenant ceremonies that were common to the peoples of the Ancient Near East. These covenant ceremonies would be somewhat analogous to a modern state dinner given to celebrate a treaty of friendship or unity between a great king and a lesser king. One of the key differences here, though, is that this is no agreement between earthly kingdoms.

This is a covenant initiated by God to run between God and mankind, starting with the people of Israel. Among archaeology and such works as Ancient Near Eastern Texts Related to the Old Testament (yes, I have this book) you can discover non-Biblical examples of these events and discussions. Our example, though, comes from Exodus 24 (link). Let's take this through and see what happens:

First is the invitation of grace. Modern Americans generally live in such an egalitarian culture that we do not grasp these points of Scripture, but most of history has seen people live with boundaries about who can approach whom. For example, one does not simply stroll up to the Queen of England without showing due deference for her status and position. The greater the social and power distance between individuals, the further the physical distance has traditionally been kept.

Therefore, to be brought near to a ruler of substantially higher stature was an action of great grace. Well, grace or judgment: one could typically expect that if you were brought near the ruler of a people, it was either to be blessed or punished. It was not, though, for the lesser to force their way into the presence. Rather, the ruler held absolute right to invite those he wished.

Nor was it for an invitee to refuse to come. It was considered an honor to be named as worthy enough to enter—no refusal could dare be given! Even if one felt too low to accept, it was not that one's feelings that counted, but the declaration of the king. Now, amplify the distance and the power by multiplying it by 10 to the power of infinity, and that's what is happening here between the seventy elders of Israel, Nadab, Abihu, Moses, Aaron, and Joshua. It is an invitation of grace.

Second, though, we see that even that grace required a cost. As we see elsewhere in the Scriptures (Hebrews 9:22), the shedding of blood is required to atone for sin. As Christians, we look backward to the Cross to see the shed blood of Jesus as that atonement, but the Israelites looked forward to God accepting animal sacrifices through His grace. That is one of  the next actions in this narrative: the sacrifice of animals to atone for sin.

The action in between the gracious invitation and the atonement is one of high importance. In the span of two verses, scarcely over 25 words in Hebrew, we see Moses recounting the words of God and the laws of God, writing them down, and the people committing to do "All the words which Yahweh has spoken!"

That's a big step. It's the acceptance of the covenant by the people of Israel, their effectual surrender to live life based on the covenant rather than by any prior plans. This is the moment that the rest of the Old Testament hinges around: without this point, God has no cause to send the prophets or even deliver the land into the hands of Israel. He has done all the work to bring Israel this far, and He puts the Word before them. Their surrender to His will is what comes next, and that is what happens. As such, they become His people. That's the deal.

Then, the seventy elders plus a few others go up on the mountain and eat a meal. This was part of the traditional covenant ceremony. While they are there, they see God. Seriously: Exodus 24:10. They see the God of Israel, yet the information that comes back about that meeting is twofold: first, the pavement under His feet. Really, of all that might have been visible, they barely see beyond whatever it is that God shows Himself as standing on. And it's a pavement that looks like a sapphire that is clear as the sky. Second, they come back marveling that God did not strike them dead.

After dinner, Moses and Joshua go up the mountain, the elders stay about halfway up the mountain and are told to wait there for Moses to come back. Moses disappears into the cloud, and there the people, the elders, and the story waits--

As to us, where are we? God calls us closer to Him, to hear His words, to follow His covenant. If we are not near enough that we marvel at His holiness and His grace, that we may come near and yet live, then we are not quite close enough.

Today's Nerd Note: Let us return to the treaty format and traditions that we see here. This is an example of the assumptions of a student or researcher bringing what is called 'confirmation bias' to a subject. We all have a tendency to come to an issue with presuppositions and then try to find support for those in our study.

This can be ok if the evidence is clearly in our favor. It is even acceptable if the evidence is clearly against your presupposition: you must then decide if you will follow the appropriate action and change your view or stay dogmatic against the evidence.

That bias, though, causes trouble when the evidence is ambiguous. There are several theories of the composition of Exodus and the remaining books of the Pentateuch. The prevalent theory for around 2700 years held Moses as the author, though a few minor adjustments may have been made by later scribes/editors. The last few centuries have seen an explosion of theories regarding sources and authors.

The covenant ceremony passages become a factor in those source/authorship discussions. Those who move authorship away from an eyewitness like Moses typically move the writing several centuries, if not a full millennium, after the events are claimed to have occurred. Some scholars will cite the similarity of the covenant ceremonies to other cultures of the mid-1400s B.C. as evidence that writers just copied those ceremonies and substituted God for king in them.

However, the other possibility is this: the ceremonies bear that similarity because they were done just that way. In the same way that one might pattern a ceremony like a wedding or house closing, God used a template that was known to the Israelites to express the events. They look like similar ceremonies because that is the intention.

Which is it? Well, that's where the bias comes in: I am personally biased toward a Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch and so I see the ceremonies as authentic. I see very little reason why a group of scribes creating the Pentateuch during the era of Persia or Alexander the Great would research ancient (even to them) covenant ceremonies to fake it.

Those who start from the other direction see the scribes acting like some tired college students: cut and paste it from the web. That could be right, but I don't see it.

Sermon from May 19 2024

 Good morning! Yesterday we talked about Simon Magus. Didn't actually hit on the sin of simony, because we don't really see it that ...