Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Put Down That Tablet! Exodus 35

Moses assembles the people of Israel at Sinai one last time before they set out into the wilderness, headed for the Promised Land. He gives them a reminder of some portions of the commands of God and emphasizes the construction of the Tabernacle (Exodus 35 link).

He also gives the one Biblical mention of tablet-type mobile devices in Exodus 35:3, where the command is given not to use your Kindle Fire on the Sabbath Day.

Some of you just groaned. Some of you skipped the one-liner, and others just missed it. I’ll address you all in turn, but first let us address the person who thought this might be the hidden meaning of that command. After all, we are so easily distracted from our worship and commitment by all of the digital noise around us, why would we not take this text in this manner?

The quite simple answer is: because it is not about digital devices. In total, the command to focus the day on Yahweh, Covenant God of Israel and all of Creation, and if your device subtracts from your focus, then you should set it aside. We cannot, though, bend the text to meet the impulses of the moment. If the text does not say it truly, then that is not the meaning of the text.

In this case, the text is clear that the people were not be kindling fire in their dwellings. That is, the work of building a fire was not to be done. I do not doubt that in the winter, a roaring blaze was in place before the Sabbath began and was large enough to provide the evening’s heat.

We must always be cautious not to add our own needed meanings into the text. That is not the path of the Christian who is seeking to hear from the Master. Rather, the path is to see what is there and understand how it applies. Consider the fire command here: what is the point? The point is that even our most basic life functions should take a seat behind focusing on the Lord God Almighty.

Which may mean you should not touch your Kindle Fire or your iPad on certain days to focus on worship in life, thought, and deed. Yet you cannot make that the Word of God—it is rather how you apply the Word of God.

If you missed the joke, sorry. You’re either new here, or you could cut my 30 minute sermons by 5 minutes and be completely happy. Usually there’s a slightly goofy one-liner in every sermon and every blog post that I do. It’s just part of how I deliver material. It’s ok, though, that you don’t get it. There’s lots of things I don’t get, too. Like Seinfeld. Or Big Bang Theory. That’s just me, though.

If you skipped it, shame on you. I worked on that for at least 3 minutes. It’s ok to skip a few jokes and laughs, but don’t spend your life skipping the funny parts. For example, I totally crashed a plumbing project Saturday. It was a huge mess, with water and buckets and the stuff of nightmares. Now that it’s over, it’s funny. Don’t miss the laughs.

And a special note to all of you who think that we should always be serious: yikes. There is certainly a time to be serious and to not let it go, but eventually, if you cannot laugh at something, especially yourself, you will go crazy. Laughter, people, is a sign of hope. One thing I hear from people that have been in various and diverse parts of this world is that the most hopeless people are the ones who never smile, never laugh. One of the first things that comes along with knowing the Gospel is a good smile. It’s that hope, that perspective that this gets better.

So lighten up. You don’t have to laugh at everything, you don’t even have to laugh at what I laugh at. You do not need to laugh at other people unless they start—you can laugh at any reference of me and plumbing, ok? I think there were things Jesus laughed about. I do not think He laughed at people, but He laughed. I think He laughed because He knew someday, someone would find a platypus and that would just rock their world.

Those of you who groaned and moved on: you’re used to me. Yet be aware, sometimes, there’s truth buried in humor, like a dog pill in a hot dog bit. It’s helpful to see it.

All that, and we haven’t considered much of the text. It’s a good chapter, especially when you hit the amount that the people brought freely for the construction of the Tabernacle. Well worth your time and effort, to see that people who have been delivered from much love with all they have, and hold back nothing.

Today’s Nerd Note: Something of general consideration: when the Israelites left Egypt, they plundered the Egyptians for all kinds of nice stuff. Then, as they have encountered a few enemies already, they have plundered more stuff.

When stuff starts to come in, society starts shifting its focus to stuff. Take a look at the classic film “The Gods Must Be Crazy” and consider the Coke Bottle in that movie. True, that was an exaggerated look, but that might drive home the point. Stuff shifts focus from people onto itself.

As the people have been encamped around the Mountain of God, do you think that they have, perhaps, begun to ponder the stuff of their neighbors? To wonder “Why didn’t I think to ask my neighbor for his flat screen, too?” or “I can’t believe it. She took the Kitchen Sink!” As this develops, jealousy sets in. Trouble sets in.

Yet now, as the gifts pour in from all who have a mind and the ability, that plunder moves from the people to the treasury of God.  Why would that matter? For this reason: the people begin to re-equalize in terms of wealth. They are in a crisis, after all, and it is not time to be enriching oneself. It is a time to be together. There will be fortunes made once they are in the land.

Yet for now, as they give, they reduce the temptation to have their lives be about the stuff. That’s a good reduction.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

This does not end well: Mark 13

While I have the utmost of sympathy for those who have been, in times past, let down by the doom and gloom predictions of the end of the world, it is time to admit the truth. This world does not end well. Whether you want to contemplate the end of human history or the destruction of the Earth, whether you think Jesus comes back and takes some of His or if you think He waits until all of His are set, things are going to get ugly someday.

How do we know that? Take a look at todays’ passage, Mark 13 (link [oh, and please, if you click through, disregard the poor choice of words on the NLT section heading.]) In this passage, Jesus speaks to His disciples about the things to come before He comes to finalize justice on this earth.

The occasion that sparks the discussion is when one of the disciples points out the beautiful stonework and construction standards at the Temple. This disciple, unnamed in the Synoptic Gospels, was highlighting the work the people of Israel had done to honor God. It has a bit, also, of a redneck feel to it for me: I think of how I feel at fancy churches and big buildings, like the State Capitol, and how I am sometimes awestruck at the beautiful buildings and the amazing stone work.

Then, though, I think of changing the lights in those chandeliers and I get over my awe pretty quickly. I do think that whatever disciple it was who said this was likely one who had come from a more rural and distant setting, away from Jerusalem. He would have been one to be around the Temple only at major events, when the place was crowded. Now, he’s here in a lull time, up close and astounded.

What has astounded him, though, is temporary. No matter how impressive it looks, no structure built by human hands will hold up. Even the secular efforts of the History Channel show us this: take a look at their Life After People series sometime. You’ll see how the simple ravages of time will ultimately destroy everything mankind has built.

Except what Jesus goes on to teach in this chapter is even more bleak. The works of humanity will not have the opportunity to fall to the ravages of time, for the ravages will not have time. Instead, nations will war against nations and kingdom against kingdom, earthquakes and famines. And those things are just the beginning. It goes downhill from there.

It will be so bad that you should not stop to get your coat or pack a few things. You will not want to grab your evac pack or your Bear Grylls Limited Edition Super-Duper Survival Combo Gear. Pregnant women and those nursing will have terrible times, and winter will make it worse! (Note to modern folks: consider that this was a no-formula-because-it-does-not-exist time. Why is it bad for nursing mothers? Because that’s any woman with a child under two. Hard for her, hard for the child.)

Alongside these events will be the shift in humanity from any form of compassionate society into an every man for himself! mindset. Parents will turn on children, friends and brothers on each other, and the whole world will hate the people who follow Jesus. That’s what He says, not what I say. When we start feeling like the world is turning against us as believers, we might consider that this is actually a good thing.

This area of life is a major debate topic in the current day. There are those who view life from a godless perspective, who feel that someday mankind might extinct itself. Those who think man will go on until the Sun expands, and will hopefully move onwards before that happens. Then there are those who look to the text of Scripture and see that God will come in a very different way than He is always present now and address the issue of a world corrupted by sin.

When that happens, it will not be good for a time. This world does not end well: the stones of the Temple? Torn apart by Romans to get the gold that melted between the rocks when they destroyed it by fire. A fire and destruction, for the record, that their commander attempted to prevent but the typically very disciplined Roman Army did not follow orders. Nothing stops the Word of God from being fulfilled.

The world at large will also be purified via fire and other means that feel destructive. The human-driven chaos will give way to divine work of wrath and cleansing.

The question for us is not really whether or not it will come. It is not even relevant when it will come. What is relevant is this question: when it comes, when He comes, how will you see Jesus? Will you see Him as the fulfillment of all you have hoped for or the fulfillment of all you have feared?

Either you will face the wrath of men or the wrath of God. One is as temporary as the Temple. The other is less so.

Today’s Nerd Note: This is heavily nerdy. The fact that the disciple who comments on the stones is unnamed just drives my curiosity crazy. And with the much larger issues roaming through the rest of the chapter, the identity of that disciple is not a heavy topic of discussion.

The story is present in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but none of them give an identification for the Architectural Disciple. Was it one of the Twelve? A different disciple? Was this Mattathias?

There is a theory that it’s Judas but he is not named because he turned out as the traitor, and there’s no real negative commentary here, so there’s no value in naming him. That’s just one theory, and it’s not heavily supported. It’s an argument from silence, and those are always sketchy.

What’s an argument from silence? It is where you look at what is said and try to infer what happened. In this case, since the disciple is unnamed, you try and guess why he’s unnamed, and argue (reason) from why you think someone would not be named.

It’s dangerous to argue from silence. When there is no evidence, there is no clear argument, so do not build too much on silent foundation. It may not be there when you need it the most.

Monday, June 25, 2012

June 24 Sermon Wrap-up

I noticed last night that my computer’s left speaker does not work. How did I learn this fact? I tried to listen to the podcast and I could hear the flute music, but could not hear the sermon. Now, I know that the flute is the highlight, but that was just not right. So, I figured out the problem. I have adjusted the settings on the sound editing software and hopefully it will now work no matter what audio setup you have.

I was glad to find the problem was my computer. Here I was listening back and could not find a sermon that you could actually hear, and then thinking “People have been clicking the LIKE BUTTON on Facebook for the podcasts. Do they like that they can’t hear me?” It’s just my computer, though.

Without further intro:

AM Sermon: Luke 6:27-36 Audio Here (Alternate)

No outline for the morning sermon. Besides, there would not have been a point marked for “Have a power line fall across Jimmy’s truck in the parking lot” on the outline anyway.

PM Sermon: 2 Timothy 3:16-17 Audio Here (Alternate)

Note: Much of the general idea of this series is drawn from J. Scott Duvall's Experiencing God's Story of Life and Hope. I would recommend you grab a copy.

We're going to take the next however long it takes and revisit a few things that I think are important. These fall under the idea that anything worth knowing is worth remembering and repeating.

In that vein, we need to start at the beginning. Not Genesis 1, but rather like building a house where you start with the foundation, we need to start with our foundation.

In this case, it's the foundation of the Word of God. I'd like you to look at 2 Timothy 3:16-17

We need to examine what is said here:

Point #1: All Scripture: Even Obadiah. Even those Old Testament parts that are long and seemingly very drawn out.

     Paul was primarily speaking of the Old Testament, though by the time he writes 2 Timothy, some of his letters, Peter's letters, and likely one of the Gospels (Mark, perhaps Matthew) were beginning to be known. We see in the Old Testament that under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, men spoke better than they realized, and Paul does the same here and speaks of the New Testament as well

Point #2: Inspired by God: these are not man's best ideas. Some things are even contrary to what man thinks best, especially these days. Yet acceptance/rejection of these words are not about accepting or rejecting men, but about God. This does not include what men say about these words!

Point #3: Profitable! What is a profit? A return on your investment? A profit is what you get from planting a pound of rice seed and hoping to get 127 pounds of rice from it. You have to start with something, match it with effort, and then you see the profit.

Point #3a: Teaching, reproof, correction, training in righteousness: These are really the profits that result. Want to know "God's will" for your life? Want to see what you should do? If you are not starting in Scripture, you are starting in the wrong place. These 4 form a bit of a chiastic structure--Teaching and training in righteousness are positives about what we should do, the middle two are about what we should not do.

Point #4: Adequate and equipped: feel out of your depth in life? Running into things you just cannot handle? Here is the starting point: time in the Word helps us be adequate and equipped.

For what? Every good work. Good work is what we do because God has saved us and we want to walk in obedience to Him and in a manner that glorifies God. It is not possible to walk in willful ignorance of the Word of God and still glorify Him with our lives.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Let's go over this again, shall we? Exodus 34

Before departing Mt. Sinai, there is a little bit more business to attend to for the Israelites. When Moses came down from the mountain to confront the people about the golden calf, he smashed the two tablets that God had inscribed with the covenant. This causes two problems. The first is symbolic: broken covenant leads to broken tablets, and there needs to be a replacement covenant. The second is practical: even if the covenant is restored, you have no records/information about it!

So, before the people leave, they have to pick up a new copy of the covenant. Just like if you accidentally spill coffee on your house closing paperwork and have to make new copies, so the Israelites need a new copy of the guidance for their relationship with God.

This is provided at the hand of the Lord God and Moses, as Moses carves out two new tablets and God re-inscribes the details of the covenant. This includes reminding the people of what the covenant involved and acknowledgment by the people of their responsibility for the problem. This is met with a renewed promise of the presence of God, including Him demonstrating that presence to Moses.

One critical command is found in Exodus 34:12-16. The Israelites are here commanded to drive out all of the current inhabitants of the land. They are specifically told not to make a covenant with the people to let them remain and to destroy all of the worship centers that are left behind.

Why does this matter?

The explanation given is this: even if all the people are gone, even the presence of old worship centers will be a distraction to the people. Consider that. We spend a great deal of our time in these passages debating the ethics of the totality of war that is fought, but notice the phrasing here: the people were to be “driven out.” While that does not remove all the questions, it changes the scope: initially the goal was only to take the land.

However, the focus of the Old Testament is not on the Canaanites or the Perizzites or any other nation. The focus is on Israel. Well, actually the focus is on God Himself, but on the human side the focus point is Israel. It is on what Israel should do in going forward once the land is theirs.

From those commands we should take our lessons. Why those commands? Because we are commanded to live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18) and our goal is to live among the world and persuade them through word and deed to trust and obey Christ as Lord and Savior.

How we manage to live out and speak out those words and deeds is what we need to learn. The key here from the Israelites is not to blend religions. That is important for us. It is not that we should ever strive to force others to change religious beliefs, but rather that we should not attempt to make Christianity any form of “Christianity+whatever.” Any attempt to tweak Scriptural truth by blending other religious into makes it neither Christian nor the other.

We need to be very cautious about letting the fragments of other religious views move our views away from the truth of God’s Word. Our guard needs to be strong against these risks. Guard, though, is not the same as ignorance. Anytime someone wants to substitute ignorance for discernment, danger is at hand and must be addressed.

The rest of the chapter, Exodus 34 (link), addresses another result of the covenant. The first was that the people would isolate their beliefs and only take religious instruction from the revelation of God. The second is that time with God would make them different. That’s the summation of the description of Moses and the “shining face” he brought back from meeting with God.

Realize this: if your time with God does not make you different in a way that is noticed, even among God’s people, then are you doing what you should? Notice, though, that Moses is unaware of his situation. He does not go out to demand respect for his righteous, shining face. Rather, Aaron has to tell him. If your righteousness needs you to point it out, then it’s no good.

Today’s Nerd Note: Exodus 34:26 contains one of the three times the Israelites are prohibited from “boiling a young goat in its mother’s milk.” Now, this is a strange sounding command. In fact, Durham’s commentary on Exodus admits that it is difficult to explain why God would make this command. I would not take issue that God offered the command, but the reasoning is unknown.

The best guess is that the local religions practiced this type of action to encourage fertility or as part of a mystical religious rite. However, there has not been any clear evidence that it was practiced. Some think it was, as it is seen in some other fertility cult practices.

What this does become is one source of Jewish Kosher laws. These regulations are structured, partially, to avoid the risk that a cooked meat is ever in contact with the milk of its mother. Or any potential mother.

We should be cautious, though, not to over-mock the development of those rules. We tend to do similar things: finding one line in one verse and hanging a great many importances on it. We do believe that all of Scripture is perfectly inspired by God, but we must be careful to put the main emphasis where the author does.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Questions, Questions: Mark 12

It's political campaign season here in America, and we're going to see something repeated over and over and over again: the loaded question. It's a political maneuver that is older than our country, but one both candidates and media have learned to play to a nearly perfect note in these days. One of the joking examples of the loaded question is the old “When did you stop beating your wife?” question. You cannot provide a short answer to that question: if you say you haven't stopped, are you admitting you still do it? If you give a date, are you admitting you used to?

Or there's the question my old chemistry teacher used to ask: “Do you walk to school or carry your lunch?” The two halves are non-related, creating a false dichotomy. What if you walk to school while carrying your lunch? Historically, we see the question-framing continue. At the outset of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther was brought before the imperial powers in his home nation, but rather than being allowed to speak freely, he was told only to answer a couple of questions with yes and no. That shuts down discussion, doesn't it?

When we look back into the Gospels, we see the Pharisees and Sadducees were good questioners. Throughout the life of Christ, these two groups, along side the scribes and lawyers, asked Jesus a multitude of questions. Many times their efforts were attempts to trap Him into saying something that would embarrass Him or shut down His ministry. This effort did not stop, even in this closing week of His life.

Mark 12 (link) contains several of these questions. First, there is the question of paying taxes to Caesar. Then, there's a question from the Sadducees about the resurrection of the dead. You get the classic question of “What is the greatest commandment?”

The one consistent feature in these questions is the wisdom of the answers. The responses from Jesus show us important ideas about dealing with critics with loaded questions:

  1. Do not let the opening throw you off: take a look at Mark 12:13-17. The question is political and it starts with an attempt to flatter Jesus. They pay lip-service to how independent minded He is, and then hit Him with a question that will either upset the people or upset the government. Jesus, though, does not let the flattery sink in. Why? Likely because He trusts in His identity rather than people's statements about Him. That's not a bad thought for all of us to consider, but that's not the point today. The point is this: do not allow the flattering or attacking opening of a critical question to keep you from sorting through the truth of it.
  2. Do know your questioners: Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees. What do you know about them? The Scribes knew the Word of God well, the Pharisees sought to follow it to a fault of perfection, and the Sadducees were the upper-class who were mainly worried with holding on to their own place of power. The Pharisees were less involved politically, the Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection, and the scribes tended to know more than they acted on. So, Jesus responds to them directly on point. Not the point they want to make, but the point they need to hear.
  3. Do not miss the opportunity to communicate truth: Jesus could have softballed each of the questions He faced. Or He could have given short answers: “Pay your taxes.” “No one's wife.” “The commandment that makes you obey all the other commandments.” Instead, He presents not just the answer but the reasoning, not just a momentary relief of curiosity but a full explanation.
  4. Do address the real issue: Is the issue taxes or the heart of ownership? Is it about a hypothetical wife or the denial of truth? Is it about theoretical righteousness or doing something in obedience? Answer the real question. Now, if you are not the infallible God of the Universe, you would do well to make sure you actually do understand the real question. Sometimes it really is the question the person is asking.

In all, we can learn not just from what Jesus did but how He did it.

Today's Nerd Note: The end of this chapter features the story of a widow who put two lepta into the offering at the Temple and Jesus' commendation that she gave more than the rich because she gave all she had, while the rich gave only a portion of what they had.

This passage has been used by some to advocate that you should, for example, write a check for the balance in your checking account to a church or ministry and then trust God to make it back up. Now, it may be that you should do that from time-to-time, but that is not what this passage commands. Or commends. Rather, let us consider a couple of realities:

#1: The Temple, at the time, was the central place of the work of God on earth. More than that, it was the symbolic center of God's presence. If you are a Christian, you ought to go to church, but that's not because it's the center of God's presence but because it's a center point for meeting and drawing near to God's people. Churches and ministries, while they ought to be good, are not the same as the Temple.

#2: The widow lived in a society where there should have been certain care for her even without money. She gave in trust that God, through His people at the time, would provide for her ongoing needs. We should cautiously consider this alongside the other Scriptural commands of stewardship and recognize that sometimes God provides for tomorrow by funding given yesterday.

#3: The story is as much, if not more, about the rich who acted a big game about their “sacrifice” that was not a sacrifice than it is about the widow whose true sacrifice was uncelebrated. Think about this: the millionaire who gives the church a fraction of his money gets the gym named after him, but the kid who gives his paper route money so that there is a facility to assist in reaching his fellow kids gets no recognition. We do the same thing, don't we?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Put your behind in your past: Exodus 33

Back in the dark ages, when animated films were made by drawing picture after picture (well, cel after cel) and those were all strung together to make the movie, there was a great film called The Lion King. Now, much of the film is fully steeped in traditional, animistic religion. And there’s the idea that Darth Vader became the king of a pride of lions, only to be replaced by a Die Hard villain who has to be taken out by Ferris Bueller, but that’s another discussion.

However, in the midst of the film, there are a couple of good scenes about the idea of a person’s past. Ok, a lion’s past, but it’s an animal allegory. The story centers on a young lion who is running from his past, and how he deals with both the wrong things and perceived wrong things in that past.

The first is the wisdom of the warthog, Pumbaa, who initially tells the young lion, Leo (no, Simba) that he must “put your behind in your past.” He is corrected by the meerkat, Max Bialystock (no, Timon) that the proper phrase is “to put your past behind you.” Now, these two goofballs then give Simba the bad advice of just completely running away from the past. This is corrected by Benson (no, wait, Rafiki), the mandrill, who points out the need to learn from the past and move on with the lessons gathered there.

This combination of advice is also what we find in Exodus 33 (link). Keeping in mind that this is a blog post and not a full treatment of all of the theological ramifications of the chapter, I want to reflect on just this in the overall plotline of the narrative: for Israel, it is time to move on.

They are currently at the foot of Mount Sinai. They have had the greatest moments of direct revelation from God in those times, though they haven’t heard the half of it yet. They have seen their God, YHWH, descend on the mountain and heard His voice. It has been marvelous.

They have also failed miserably where they are. They have had the Golden Calf. They have the drunken orgy around said calf. Arrival to this place was marked with complaining and whining. In all, it’s been a mixed-bag to get here and be here.

So we find God giving the command to prepare to leave. He is dismissing the people from the mountain and sending them on to the Promised Land. This is a point, though, where Moses says “WAIT!”

Why? Because God is telling him to take the people and go. Moses, though, knows that they cannot go without God. Well, unless they want to meet utter and complete failure, they cannot go without God. He intercedes, he prays, and God states that He will indeed go with the people.

What does this have to do with us? Here it is: there are times that we must move forward from those moments in our past. There are good moments and bad moments, but we cannot always stay in the same place, whether that’s physical or symbolic. We have to move forward.

The one thing we cannot do, though, is go without God. No matter what transpires, do not attempt to move forward without the presence of God. How do you make sure of that presence?

#1: If you have never sinned, then you’re in good shape. Don’t leave His side.

#2: If you are human, then you have sinned. You need the mercy and grace of God. Guess what? So do I—there is no one who is mentally competent and an exception to this statement.

Yet the Lord God is gracious and merciful. This is one of the dividing issues between Christians and people that are not Christians. Most not-Christians see us as focusing on sin and calling people bad and evil, while most within the faith see this differently: our main view is about how gracious and merciful God is to us, even though we are all sinners. He shows that grace in Jesus dying for the sins of mankind on the Cross, and the offer of grace and forgiveness to humanity.

Whatever your past is, there is grace enough that God will go with you as you move forward with Him.

Likewise, though, however triumphant your past has been, there is a time to move forward and stay in a place where you are totally dependent on Him to make it through.

Whatever it is that is behind you, you have to realize that life is about going forward, not looking back.

Today’s Nerd Note: One of the greater mysteries of the Old Testament, especially, is situations like Exodus 33:17. In this area, what the text presents is the idea that Moses persuaded God to change His mind and go with Israel.

For some, that is just fine. However, it bothers many folks. First of all, if God is eternal and unchanging, why would He change His mind? Second, if God always does what is right, would that mean He intended to do something wrong and then corrected that when Moses pointed it out? Finally, does God actually know what is happening into the future or is He making it up as He goes?

Here is what I will tell you: God is always right, and that always is the biggest always you can imagine, squared. His plan has never changed, as you can see in Revelation where it refers to the Lamb being slain before the foundation of the world. That tells us that even before Adam and Eve sinned, God knew and planned the substitutionary atonement of Christ for our sins.

The presentation of facts here show the way things appeared from Moses’ perspective. That is part of the difference between being human and being divine. We can only act based on what we see, and we have to operate within our own concepts of time and causality.

That does not mean that God functions under the same constraints. Instead, He knows and acts without requirement of time. Rather, His actions are based in His own being and righteousness.

What that means for us is that we act as best we can, and trust God to do what He will do. We pray and preach and witness and grow and then we see what happens from there. It may just astound us.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sermon Wrap-Up for June 17

Well, this past weekend I saw a somewhat crazy computer breakdown and collapse. My personal laptop is now running Ubuntu as an operating system, because the Windows Recovery Partition on it was corrupt and the PC was out of warranty. So, no fixing it without a huge charge, and I was going to lose all my data anyway. So, I put Linux on it and restored documents from a backup. I would spot a big endorsement to using an external hard drive right now—my Seagate FreeAgent Go saved me a trip to the Funny Farm.

Here are the links from Sunday’s Sermon. We just had service in the morning to allow folks time to celebrate their fathers, celebrate being fathers, or go home and celebrate a nap. Here you go:

Audio Link (alternate)

Come back to Luke 6:21-26

Raise these questions:

1. Are you striving to be filled with the things of this world?

     What costs are you paying for those things?

     What costs are your families paying for these things?

2. Are you doing the things you do to be praised by those around you?

3. Not only that, but what do we praise in the people around us?

     Either by direct action?

     Or by indirect action?

Whether as father, mother, or just a person following Christ, we need to consider these things:

1. Stop and consider the source of your values. Seriously.

     Did you get them from your parents?

     Did you get them from close friends?

     Did you get them from school? Movies? Books?

     Did you then compare those values to the values that are given in the Word of God?

2. Understand this: the world will have differing values from the Word of God until we reach the Millennial Kingdom of Christ. That is a fact: lost people are not merely confused, they are dead in their sins and dead has different priorities from alive.

3. We have hit this point for several sermons in a row, but it is critical to understanding how to live for Christ in the current age: we can seek the approval of Christ or the approval of mankind. One is obedience and the other is not.

4. Even as we go to spread the Gospel, the key issue is to spread the Word in a manner that is faithful and true to the Word, not in a manner geared toward pleasing the world but instead in a manner that shows faithfulness to Christ.

     Alongside this point: nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to be well-liked by the world. We are told to be unified and loving to one another, and to show forth the fruit of the Spirit, which the world cannot make against the law, but this is different-> our lives are about pleasing Christ. Let the world see Jesus.

5. Do not be disheartened by the world's rejection

     This is one of the reasons we are put together as the body of Christ: what the world sinfully rejects, the church as the body of Christ should strengthen and embrace. When the world runs you down, we as a body should be here to encourage and strengthen.

     That is one of our main goals and purposes as the body of Christ: to be strengtheners of one another that we may all walk in obedience to Christ.

6. The world will eventually reject everything it now embraces: keep in mind that the "world" here is not the planet but the people. People that are going to go from one thing to the next until they realize their hunger is for their Creator. Some will never realize that, some will remain chained to the sinful nature inherited from Adam and Eve. 

Yet we must share the good news, that for those who will come, there is forgiveness and grace.

For you, if you will ask God for it, there is forgiveness and grace. it starts at the Cross and comes to now: what will you do?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Clean this mess up! Mark 11

Mark 11 (link) moves us from the general life and ministry of Jesus and into the last week of His life. We open up with the Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday and start progressing through the events that lead to the arrest, trial, and the Cross.

What do we get in this week? Much of the focus for this chapter tends to fall on the first section, called the Triumphal Entry. This is where Jesus enters Jerusalem to the acclaim of many, riding on a donkey, and they wave palm branches. He then goes out to Bethany, from which He is essentially commuting for the week.

The real center of this chapter is not the Triumphal Entry, though. It's the narrative descriptions of Jesus exercising His authority in all matters. Let's take a look at those:

First: well, there's the "Go get a donkey" in the opening story. The simple statement to bystanders of "The Lord has need of it" takes care of any accusations of Grand Theft Beast of Burden, and on they go. Consider how you would feel if someone showed up, started to crank your new car and just said "The Lord has need of it" before driving away. You'd call the police, wouldn't you? (And, likely, the men with the nice jacket and the padded cell for the guy.)

However, that simple spoken phrase expresses Jesus' authority, and the donkey is freely allowed to Him.

The next day, as Jesus is leaving Bethany, He takes a look at a fig tree and finds no figs. The tree is green and leafy, but there is nothing edible present. Jesus then performs the only recorded destruction in the Gospels: the tree is cursed. That evening, the disciples notice on the way back to Bethany that the tree has withered. At the word of Jesus, a fully green tree turns to withering firewood. We'll spend some more time on this in the nerd note.

The big moment of this section comes when Jesus drives the moneychangers and merchants from the Temple. This is the image of Jesus that many people want to overlook. Certainly there is much appreciation for His condemnation of those who turn worship into a business, but we get very, very uncomfortable with Angry Jesus in this passage.

He does not walk up and calmly suggest the moneychangers leave or recommend alternate places to practice business. Neither is He gentle in speech: the accusation that the Temple has been turned to a den of thieves is calling the merchants thieves. Don't pretend that this is not a personal, direct, attack on them. If I called your house a "den of thieves" you would feel insulted.

Of course, if your house was filled with stuff that you took from others under the threat of force or by deception, you would feel insulted but the statement would be true. In this case, that's the fact as well: these men are effectively stealing, as they are deceiving and coercing funds from innocent worship participants.

Yet He is simply exercising His authority at this point. The Temple was intended to be the center-point of the worship of God on earth at the time, and yet it had become the center of man-driven organization. There were business decisions intruding into spiritual behaviors and it was all being allowed by those who should have been guarding righteousness.

So Jesus overturns their tables and drives out those who are distracting and wrongly profiting from worship. He then also refuses to answer the chief priests and scribes who questioned Him about it.

My fellow believers, we need to understand something about the Lord Jesus Christ that this passage should make quite clear: that "Lord" that we tend to address Jesus with? That's not there just to add a word. That is about His authority, His rule over His people.

It is a compassionate rule, but compassion sometimes requires strong action. We must be cautious, especially anyone who stands as a leader of those who worship Christ. He expects that you will allow Him to exercise authority, not you. He expects that you will not stand between the hearts drawn to Him and the One who is drawing them.

It is a warning worth considering for individual churches and for religious structures as a whole. For my fellow Southern Baptists, it's something to consider as many of our "great lights" will meet in New Orleans. Are we letting business come between us and serving Christ? Do we allow our debates and debacles to build obstacles between people and the God who saves them?

Woe be unto us if we do. Not just on an earthly level or even a denominational survival level, but on the level of damaging our relationship with Jesus.

Today's Nerd Note: Back to the fig tree: some people, like Bertrand Russell, found so much fault in this incident that they discard either the story or Jesus. Russell, generally, discarded Jesus. After all, if God Incarnate was so temperamental as to curse and destroy a tree for not having fruit out of season, what kind of God are we dealing with?

First issue: Interestingly, to discard Jesus (and theism, generally) over this story is somewhat contradictory. Here is a man, claiming to be God, that can kill a tree in a day with a sentence. There is power there, at the very least. While you may question the use of the power, there is another question: if it was not right, would it have happened? In this, we have an event that shows Jesus' divine nature, whether we like it or not.

Second issue: Fig trees, true, do not have mature figs until August-October. However, prior to sprouting leaves, the immature buds that will become figs sprout on the trees. By March-April, these buds are edible immature figs, called paqqim. It appears, based on my reading, that these should be in place before the leaves grow. Finding a tree in full leaf with nothing edible means it's a tree that will produce no fruit that year. It has nothing immature but edible, and will have nothing. So the curse is deserved.

Third issue: There is a measure of symbolism. The tree story bookends the cleansing of the Temple. The Temple is like the tree. It has full leaves, but what fruit does it have? At the time, none, for it is filled with robbers and thieves. The literal event echoes the point.

Finally: everything God does is good. Not because He meets the human standard of good, but because the human standard of good should be "anything that is what God would do, based on what God has done and has said." If God does it, it's good. If Jesus cursed a tree and it died, that action was good. When we read Scripture, what God does is good, whether or not we like it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Don’t Have A Cow! Exodus 32

As a quick reminder, for the past several chapters, Moses has been atop Mount Sinai. Joshua has been about halfway up the mountain, waiting on him. The rest of Israel?

They’re at the foot of the mountain, camped out and waiting. Moses is gone for a week. They wait. Two weeks. They wait. Three weeks, and still waiting. Four weeks, and the waiting goes on. Then we come to Exodus 32 (link).

Finally, after about forty days, the people decide that perhaps Moses isn’t coming back. They are at the foot of a mountain, remember, that God has descended on in fire and thunder and cloud. After these forty days, the suspicion rises that whatever is going on up there, it’s not survivable.

So the people come to Aaron and tell him to make a god for them to worship and to be the center of their community. Aaron then tells the people to bring him some gold, and he fashions it into a calf. One question that has long troubled me about this passage is this: Why does Aaron know, so readily, how to fashion an idol? That begs for an answer, but I don’t have one.

After they start partying around the calf, God informs Moses that he had better get down the mountain and straighten them out, because God is ready to destroy them. They have, after all, bailed on the covenant commitment they made a mere 40 days before. Moses pleads with God for mercy, God grants it, and then Moses goes down to try and fix the problem.

The end result? People are killed in judgment, the original two tablets of the law are smashed, and the golden calf is ground up and added to drinking water. God threatens to send the people on without Him, and Moses pleads that God not do so.

Now, since none of us are headed from Egypt, up through the wilderness, and moving into Canaan (I assume), we need to dig through this and find the principles that apply to our lives. This is what you do in striving to understand Scripture. When you work through narrative passages, look at what is present. Examine the actions that are taken, examine the actions that are not taken.

Take the time to see if certain actions are given with a positive view or a negative view. If you want an example of how to look into that, find the same news story on CNN, MSNBC, and FoxNews. It will be obvious in how it’s phrased whether the same facts are viewed positively or negatively. I’d recommend reading four or five major sources on the next unemployment report. It’s a hoot at times.

So, when we come to this passage, what do we see?

We see people who have been waiting for forty days, and who get restless. Their restlessness leads to a loss of focus, which leads to idolatry, which brings judgment. Even in the judgment, there is a longer-term response of grace and restoration.

How does this apply to us?

First: there are a great many times in our lives that the extraordinary is distant from us. We have a day-to-day life that is, more often than not, routine. Even as followers of Christ, every day is not stunning and adventurous. While we see more day by day how deep the grace and the love of God is, and this should grow our astonishment at Him, most days remain on the border of mundane.

Normal days, though, should not lead us into temptation. The people of Israel are the example of what not to do in the situation. There was enough to do in honoring the covenant they had made a mere forty days before. They were supposed to spend their time learning to live with one another and in relationship with God.

The extraordinary times will come often enough: these people crossed the Red Sea and will see other great things. We need to understand the same is true of us. We will see extraordinary things from time to time, just not all the time.

Second, we need to learn from Aaron’s example. He is, again, a negative example. Very rarely does a whole community, whether a nation or a church, go quietly into sin without asking a few people what their opinion is. Take a look at the coming political season: every candidate will tout religious people to back their opinions. Every one. Obama will have his, Romney will have his--

The question is how many who are Christians will have the courage to either in public or in private actually address issues from a true, honest Bible-based perspective.

Third, we need to learn from Moses’ example. There is always a reason to plead for God’s grace for those around us, no matter how far away they are running.

We also should learn from the example of destroying the golden calf.  Do not keep stuff around that has been entrapping you to sin!

Today’s Nerd Note: This passage also gives us the origin of the Levites as the priests/teachers of the Israelites. They were the first to be willing to stand, even forcefully, for the truth. Is that what we think of when we think of religious leaders today? Or do we think of quiet little people who would never rise up to destroy the enemies of righteousness?

Historically, it was often religious leaders who led the way. Sometimes wrongly, but sometimes rightly: a good many sermons encouraged the way to Lexington and Concord. A good many of those even lamented slavery and had they been heeded, the Civil War would have been avoided. Christian preachers in Germany warned of the Nazis. Christians have been fighting human trafficking, African warlords, and drug problems for decades and centuries before they make the news and draw celebrities.

Christian leaders have often been wrong, but they have also often been right. Rise up for what is right.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Stop looking for the loopholes: Mark 10

One thing that keeps me in a consistent state of awe regarding the Bible is how clearly God's standards and ways are expressed in Scripture. This happens partly because I think there is an entire industry that exists to find ways to make the clear less-than-clear while also using the less-than-clear to build personal kingdoms. Some of that, though, is another sermon for another day.

Rather, let's dig back into Mark and take a look at Mark 10 (link). Here are few of the stories in this chapter:

First, you have a few of the Pharisees trying to get Jesus to settle one of their disputes. The Pharisees, to their credit, wanted to get the Law of God exactly perfect so they could obey it. The Pharisees, to their discredit, seemed to believe that they were better than anyone else for this effort and that God liked them better, too. One of the Pharisaic debates at the time was over divorce.

Back in the Old Testament, when Moses gathered from God the laws to govern Israel, divorce had been permitted. The law, though, was vague and only stated that a man was to write a certificate of divorce for his wife and send her away. It did not address the idea of causes or reasons for divorce. So, two basic views arose: one was that the law was permissive, that as long as you wrote the certificate, you could have a divorce. The other was restrictive: there had to be a reason, something based in the portions of the law that related to finding your newly-married bride was not what she should have been, to get a divorce. These two groups were the main lines of thought about divorce at the time.

Since this was a big deal, much like divorce and marriage are now, the Pharisees were assured that if Jesus sided with one side or the other, He would be angering a large contingent of the people. Should He side with the "wide-open" group, those who had struggled to make their marriage work or who thought this was a wicked, loose moral position would pounce on Him. So, too, would the groups of women who were disadvantaged in that society because of capricious divorce. Yet if He takes the stronger position, many would find Him being excessively legalistic and attack Him for that. After all, is this man not speaking much of grace? Plus, that puts Him adding to the words of Moses, which would have been more fuel for their fire.

Except Jesus does not truly side with either side. Instead, His response is this: the reason you guys want the divorce answer? It's because your hearts are hard and sinful. My Creation was this: a man and a woman marry, starting a new relationship of unity, and it lasts for their entire life.

He turns the whole problem on its head and points out that the Pharisees were, really, looking at the wrong issue. They wanted to know how to get out of a marriage. The real question, the real problem, was this: they were not paying attention to how to get into a marriage in the first place.

They were not supposed to go in while looking for the exit doors, but rather go in looking to glorify and honor God by holding true to their commitments. Instead, they were looking in marriage only for what would benefit them—whether they wanted to bail out for any cause or only if they found something "inappropriate" about their wives.

Marriage in the Scriptural ideal is one man, one woman, married to each other for life. This is what we should be striving toward in Christian community, teaching the next generation to seek this. To make this their commitment when they come down the aisle.

Does that make anything else unforgivable? Heavens no. Yet one area that we have got to mature in the American Church is this: we have to learn to acknowledge sin as being sin while knowing that grace abounds. We have to be mature enough to admit when even our own lives have gone down a sinful path without trying to excuse it or make it "off-limits" and something that cannot be spoken of.

One certain way to keep a cycle of failing marriages is this: never speak of the importance of marrying to honor God in the first place, and never speak of divorce as bad. That way, no one feels guilty for what has happened, but no one grows up enough to make sure it does not happen again.

Today's Nerd Note: More of an EMPHASIS point: Marriage is intended as a lifetime commitment between two people with a sinful nature. It may be a redeemed sinful nature, and ought to be. Christians ought only marry those who share their faith.

There are things that happen, though, that wreck this covenantal relationship, and man does render asunder what God has joined together. Further, there are people who seem one way and turn out differently, and that difference is violent and dangerous. The totality of the ethics of the situation are more than I will address here: you should seek spiritual counsel from those whom you trust. I will say this: life is too precious. Each human on this earth is made in the image of God, and no portion of obeying God regarding marriage should put your life at risk against your will. (I know some missionary couples who jointly risk their lives, and this is obedience.)

However, if one spouse is threatening bodily harm against the other, the right course of action is to find a safe place and remain, as best you can, in a place of safety. I believe that God can change the vilest offender, but God can do so through your prayers from another state. No amount of my belief that the marriage covenant is intended for a lifetime should be taken to mean that one spouse has the right to threaten (or take) the life of their spouse to get out. Nor that it is the responsibility of a spouse to "take it" for the sake of the marriage. Get safe. Get God-honoring counsel and pray for healing and restoration, but do it from a place of safety.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Sermon Wrap Up from June 10

Morning Audio Link Here (Alternate)

Evening Audio Link Here (Alternate)

Morning Outline:

June 10 AM Luke 6:22-23

Blessed by God when...

I. Men think otherwise

     A. Hate

     B. Ostracize

     C. Insult

     D. Scorn your name

II. If it is done: for the sake of Jesus!

     A. Not for our political leanings

     B. Not for our Economic prowess

     C. But for our commitment to Jesus

     D. And for our standing for His truth

III. Rejoice!

     A. The prophets were treated the same way

     B. God will reward you for your faithfulness

Evening Outline:

No Outline. Psalm 58

Friday, June 8, 2012

Book: Son of the Underground

Today's Blog Post is driven by the deadline on Kregel's Blog Tour Program, which also provided the free copy of the book for this review. There is no demand that the review turn out any specific way, only that it turn out within a specified time frame.

Next Sunday, June 17, is Father's Day here in America. Many people will celebrate the positive impact that fathers have on their children. Others will challenge fathers to step up and be more positive in the lives of their children. Alongside that, we will lament fathers who are not active in the lives of their children.

Yet we would do well to consider the story found in today's book, Son of the Underground. This is the short autobiography of Isaac Liu. Isaac's father is Brother Yun, a Chinese pastor whose story is told in the book The Heavenly Man. No, I have not read that book.

The story begins with the fact that Liu's father was absent at his birth. In fact, he did not meet his father face-to-face until he was four. Many of us who live in comfort here would condemn a man for fathering a child knowing that would happen, but we do not live where they did.

This book tells the story of Isaac Liu's growing up not simply with one father, who was often imprisoned and tortured for disagreeing with the state, but growing up with the collaborative influence of the underground church in China.

It is an easy, linguistically, book to read. The chapters are short and definitely bear the marks of someone who is not a native English speaker. After all, we are more inclined to run-on sentences than we ought to be. However, the book is well-presented.

The material is challenging. For anyone who thinks that ideas do not have consequences and one form of government is as good as any other, they should examine this text. If a society is measured by how it treats individuals, then many questions are raised here that deserve an answer. The most uncomfortable for me is this: what benefits do I receive from doing as much business in China as I do? After all, 50% of what I own was made there.

This book would be accessible for teens and up, and should be considered by any believer in that age bracket. It is going on the reading list for our homeschooled children and will likely be part of the illustration for my Father's Day sermon this year.


Note: yes, I got the book for free in exchange for writing a review. However, if you want ad copy, go to Kregel. This opinion is entirely my own.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Nothing is that important: Exodus 31

The last ten chapters of the book of Exodus have focused on instructions about how to build the Tabernacle and its associated materials. Yet there has been something missing throughout the instructions.

You have to have someone to put it all together. It is not very different from the kitchen: I have stacks and stacks of cookbooks, but I cannot cook like the authors of those books. For example, I’ve got all 3 of Alton Brown’s Good Eats Cookbooks, but you’d rather have him cook then me.

Well, with the instructions of the Tabernacle, it takes the right person to put the directions into reality. It is, though, not Moses. It’s not Joshua or Aaron or any of the priests. It’s a guy named Bezalel and another one named Oholiab. These are some great names, aren’t they?

These men, though, are specified by God as the ones to handle the craftsmanship of the Tabernacle and furnishings. Different views float around about whether or not these two had training or whether or not it was a completely supernatural anointing. I find it likely that it was a combination of both: a supernatural gifting that was reinforced through training and practice.

So, we have the Tabernacle directions. We have the Tabernacle builder. We have the necessity of the Tabernacle, as the centralized point of meeting with God in the community.

Yet immediately after all of this is summarized we have a restatement of the laws of the Sabbath. A reminder to take one day of the week and commit the time of that day solely to the Lord God.

Even in the midst of the most important things we can think of, it is never more important than following the commands of God. Whatever justification we may make for it, moving in violation of God’s expressed commands is not what we should be doing.

What most of us forget is that nearly every relationship has rules and guidelines about it. Even the best of relationships has those. Whether it is the relationship between husband and wife, parents and children, or just casual friendships, you have understood guidelines for it. The closer the relationship, the more important those guidelines to it.

Think about it: while you may be bothered when your work acquaintance violates your trust, you would feel quite different about your best friend or your spouse doing the same thing. You can imagine letting the one friendship slide, but the other would be devastating to either let go or rebuild.

Those guidelines, rules, whatever you’d like to call them are part of the glue that holds your relationship in place. They help you know what you can and cannot do, what you should or should not do, and what you can expect from the other person.

Now, when we talk about having a relationship with God, why would we expect it to be different? There is this instant revulsion to the idea that a relationship with God comes with no rules or expectations, that this one relationship is completely unlike any other relationship you have.

It is different, but not because it lacks the covenantal nature of other relationships, but because one side of the relationship never fails on His part. That God upholds His part perfectly does not mean that we do not have expectations on our part and we need to not forget that.

What’s the point?

This is the simple point: no accomplishment should be made at the expense of your most important relationships. Even if it is something that you are doing for the person. If it pushes beyond what is right for your interactions with each other, then it’s not worth doing.

Likewise, do not mistake doing stuff for God with living in covenantal relationship with Him. The former may be good, but the latter is indispensible.

Today’s Nerd Note: There are only a few specific guidelines on “Sabbath-keeping” in the Old Testament. Those statements, though, are pretty exhaustive: they use words like “any” “all” or “nothing.” Now, I do not think we should just lie about in bed all day one day a week, but I do think there is a reason that God commanded a day without any extraneous activity except for worship. If we let everything else roam on its own, we will overlook taking the time. Be cautious. Whatever you take on every day may crowd out that which is more important.

Historical Thinking for June 18 2024

 So, one of the things that has me struggling with blogging for the last, oh, 3 or 4 years is that I am supposed to be writing a dissertatio...