Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Book: Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture

Today’s Book is brought to you by Kregel Publishing’s Academic & Ministry Division. They sent me a coffee cup once, but I’m not drinking out of it while I do this review to make sure there is no bias in the process. As is frequent: free book in exchange for writing an unbiased review.

When I first start writing book reviews, I treated them like we were graded on the Customer Service Survey at Chick-fil-A: anything less than 5-stars was a failure. Since then, I have shifted my grading scale: 3-stars means the book accomplished what it set out to do, but was not spectacular, 4-stars stands out a little, and 5-stars is an outstanding work. 3-star meets the need, 4-star exceeds the need, and 5-star meets all relevant needs and most relevant wants.

So, now, a 5-star book coming across my desk is rare. It has to be a book that either greatly exceeds all other books I know on the matter or one that finally addresses a need. And it has to be a real need. Someday I will write my Theology of Robotics book, but I doubt that will meet any real need, except for some Data somewhere.

Devote Yourself/Public Reading/Scripture: The Transforming Power of the Well-Spoken WordToday, though, one is on my desk that addresses what I have felt as a need in many churches and Christian lives. That book is Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture by Jeffrey D. Arthurs. Dr. Arthurs is Professor of Preaching and Communication at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, where I would have gone to school if I could have stomached living in Massachusetts. (Well, if I could have afforded the medical insurance, actually.)

In Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture, Arthurs presents his case that the Bible needs to attain a more central role in our corporate gatherings as churches. By this, he does not mean we are neglecting Biblical Theology or even a commitment to know the Bible. His point is this: we do not spend enough of our effort in the simple practice of presenting the plain Word of God.

The typical Evangelical church service, which is his (and my) primary experience, devotes very little time to reading the Bible aloud. Arthurs presents that part of our problem is that when we do read the Word, we do not read it well. Devote Yourself first addresses the “why” question, and then delves into guidelines for “how” the Word can be read, and read well.

I like this book. Arthurs presents very basic oral interpretation guidelines on reading Scripture in public. Devote Yourself does not push the far envelope on being dramatic, though a few basic reader’s theatre type ideas are presented at the end. The overall thrust is this: learn to read aloud and learn to read aloud well.

The included DVD shows demonstration of technique and provides almost all one needs to have an oral interpretation class focused on Scripture. This moves the book from “I read it, and I think I get it,” to “Ah! I read it, I see it, and I can do it.”

In all, this is a practical little book that I hope finds its way into more hands. If we will begin to read Scripture well, then people will respond as I was told when I suggested we should start a sermon series by taking a Sunday and just reading through all of one short Biblical book: “That will be too boring.” Scripture should never be presented in a boring manner: either in explanation or in reading.

I highly recommend this one. It’s good for preachers. It would be great for middle/high school students who need to get started in Public Speaking practice. Get a copy.

Free book in exchange for the review. No, I don’t get a cut if you buy 1 for every pastor, homeschooler, and speaker you know. But you should do it anyway.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Down with the Ship, Up with the Courage: Acts 27

Apologies for last week. Sometimes you master the calendar; sometimes the calendar masters you. And then the Alexandrian/Koine Greek comes along and kicks you while you’re down.

Paul has been back-and-forth with the Roman authorities on the eastern fringe of the Empire. He appealed to Caesar, which our understanding of Roman History gives us as Nero Claudius Caesar, last of the Julian-Claudian Roman Emperors—yep, his family finalized the transition from Republic to Empire, and then he ended their dominance of that country. Nero is not exactly remembered as being a very good judge for anyone, but Paul knew certainly being turned loose, without any protection, in Judea would be a disaster for him.

So, off to Rome he goes. This chapter of Acts, Acts 27, is mostly the travel record of Paul moving from Caesarea on his way to Rome. A good commentary or Bible Atlas/History book will help you fill in details about the ship, its passageway, and where the various cities and islands mentioned in this chapter are. Those tools are really helpful in study.

I want to point you to one verse in the midst of this chapter that I think is worth noting. Take a look at Acts 27:25. Paul is telling the soldiers, the crew, the passengers, and his fellow prisoners that they have nothing to fear in the storm. Only the ship will be lost, but God is going to keep them all alive. He then tells them to do one thing:

Keep up your courage.

The Evangelistic Baptists in the crowd may now, collectively, cover their ears and throw a fit. Why? Because there are a group of us that would think Paul’s appropriate response to the situation would be to line out a Gospel invitation and hand out response cards. After all, we never know about tomorrow, do we?

Except in this case, Paul does know. He actually knows about the next couple of weeks, as the rest of the chapter gives us, there were at least fourteen nights to deal with in this storm-drenched saga. And no lives are lost at all.

Instead of pushing for a storm-promise response, Paul focuses on the need of the moment. The men involved in the situation (and possibly ladies, hard to be certain) need to focus on their survival. They need to trust that something or someone will carry them through.

In this case, they need to trust God. In the midst of the chaos, though, is no time for the likely superstitious Mediterranean sailors to add to their pantheon of gods. Paul chooses the right course in keeping them in the moment. His course reflects the importance of the Gospel message.

First, it reflects faith: Paul has been told by God that everyone will make it to a “certain island.” He shows his own faith in God’s words by not hedging and pushing some to think they may not make it. We do not get that type of message these days and so have to behave slightly differently, but how often do we act like we have no faith that God will provide the right opportunity?

Very often we Christians attempt to argue people into the Kingdom because we lack the faith that God can and will persuade them himself. If we witness with faith, it will include trusting that if we present the whole Gospel, the love and the truth, God can handle persuading people of the reality of the Gospel. Rare is the case where “I lost an argument with a hot-headed angry Christian” is the summary of a person’s testimony.

Second, Paul’s course of action reflects worship. Worship requires recognizing the greatness of God and the holiness of God. A corollary part of worship is not encouraging people into false worship. Paul could have pushed everyone on the ship to say a quick prayer in Jesus’ name for safety. Instead, he holds that back.

We as Christians in America need to consider this: Paul urges the people on the ship to virtuous necessary action: have courage and do your jobs well. He does not ask that they carve a quick “God Bless the Ship” into the mizzenmast or quickly print a Psalm on the topsails. We should be as concerned about whether or not someone who campaigns with “God bless America” on their lips actually knows thing one about God as we are with the person who refuses to bring God into their campaigning at all. Likewise with any celebrity or other person, including ourselves. Our problems are not skipping “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Our problems began with the people of God not acting like it and get worse when we Christians expect lost people to act more like Jesus than we do.

There are certain virtuous necessary actions that we can and should call all those around us to do. However, artificial prayer is not one of those.

Finally, Paul’s course of action resounds with grace. He does not shout gleefully that he can drown and go to heaven, therefore the rest of the ship can just sink for all he cares. He knows that God has repeatedly told him he will go to Rome—so there is no doubt he will survive. Yet his concern is not for himself alone, but for the whole of the ship. A bloomin’ lot of lost people, pagans, and a few Romans that likely were involved in threatening to whip him back a year or two ago.

What is our concern? Oh, well, if things go real bad, there will be a Rapture and I’ll skip the ugly parts? Oh, well, let the North Korean nuclear weapons hit the West Coast, the Iranians hit the East Coast, and we’ll live happy in the middle? While I do not wish to debate either of those options (I think one more likely than the other), is our attitude in either Christ-like?

Now, there is appropriate wisdom in preparation. There is appropriate comfort in hope of the life to come. However, we ought not celebrate the death of the lost.

In all, while the ships are going down around us, keep your courage up. In due time, God will use you to draw others to Himself.

And that’s the point, really, isn’t it?

Nerd Note: It’s interesting to see the term Euro-quilo translated as “Northeaster” in the English text. This word is a hybrid word of Greek and Latin, with the Greek for East Wind and the Latin for North Wind (and the Aramaic loan word for “wide'”) jammed together. There seems to be little evidence, except for one location in Africa, that this word was commonly used in the written language of the day.

Yet it was apparently known among sailors. I take this as evidence of Luke’s presence in the situation. Had he been writing from a distance, he would have used more commonly known words for strong winds and storms. Instead, he used what the sailors called it. Why? Because that’s what imprinted somewhere between throwing the cargo overboard and falling to pieces on the rocks. This is a Euro-quilo. And I don’t ever want to see one again.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Sermon Wrap-Up February 24

Good morning! Here are the sermons from yesterday at Almyra First Baptist:

Morning Audio is here

Evening Audio is here

Morning Outline and Video:

The Giver and the Gifts: James 1:16-18

Central Theme: God's Gracious Gifts

I. Do not be deceived--there is plenty to camp out on here: being Christian does not mean being an idiot

     A. By being deceived in world issues

     B. By being deceived in spiritual matters

          1. Not everyone who thinks they have had a God-driven encounter really has

          2. discernment is critical: and that is not just knowing right from wrong, but right from almost right--and WHY!

II. God is the giver of good gifts

     A. Every good thing

     B. Every perfect gift

     C. All minor things: life, breath, food,

III. Immutability of God

     A. No changes: always reliable

     B. No shifting: always in the right direction

IV. The greatest Gift

     A.  God's exercise of His will to bring forth...believers

     B. He accomplishes this through His Word, the Word of Truth...Jesus

     C. That we may be first in redemption, leading to the redemption of all creation

V. Apply as needed

     A. Be brought forth--submit to God

     B. Know the Word of Truth

     C. Learn to discern

Evening Video and Outline

Following Daily: Mark 8:34-38

Central Point: Following Christ is a challenging gift

I. Separate the Crowd from the Disciples

     A. Lots of people like some of what Jesus had to say

     B. Very few actually like all of what Jesus had to say

          Politics: Would Jesus really be in favor of what you think He would? Or the other side?

          Religion: Our need to be right on unclear things and our willingness to compromise on clear ones.

II. This is Life and Death

     A. If Jesus deemed life not worth more than obedience

     B. Then why do we?

     C. Seeking even our own survival is counterproductive

     D. We should seek obedience

     E. Everything else follows from that

III. Shame is part of the game

     A. Our world will shame us

     B. If we are not living in such a way as to draw criticism from the ungodly

     C. Then what are we doing?

IV. We cannot give anything for our souls

     A. But Jesus Did

     B. worship

     C. Surrender

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Book: Good Mood, Bad Mood

As frequently is the case around here, this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for the review. Cross Focused Media is the gracious partner for this one.

In the opening scenes of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Spock is on his home planet of Vulcan. He is being tested on his knowledge and logic, like any good Vulcan will excel in. He freezes up when the computer asks him a simple question:

“How do you feel?”

Failing to understand the question, Spock asks his mother about it. She reminds him of his half-human heritage, and he realizes that he must interact with humans to understand emotions, including his own. Otherwise, he will never grasp that portion of himself: the human side that feels.

For good or for ill, we are not Vulcan. And part of the human experience is emotion. Sometimes good, sometimes not-so-good, and sometimes downright awful. Into this experience comes Dr. Charles D. Hodges’ book Good Mood, Bad Mood. It looks like this:

Good Mood Bad Mood by Charles D. Hodges M.D.

Good Mood, Bad Mood started out as a book about Bipolar Disorder, but then grew to address both depression and the various forms of bipolar disorder. It is generic medical advice, so the first question is whether or not the author is capable of dispensing that advice. Charles D. Hodges is a physician and licensed family therapist. He has been practicing medicine for nearly four decades. While he is not a psychiatrist/psychologist, I consider his background an excellent starting point for examining the medical issues in the book.

Now, as to content: Good Mood, Bad Mood is a Christian-worldview centered look at two of the most commonly declared mental health issues in America today. I say “declared” instead of diagnosed, because while I know many people with actual medical diagnoses of either depression or bi-polar, I know at least twice as many who declare they have those issues, because “I have the same symptoms.” Even without talking to a doctor about it.

Hodges presents Good Mood, Bad Mood not only to address those who “declare” themselves afflicted but those whose doctors have diagnosed the problem as well. His goal is to speak to some of the general causes of emotional difficulty that are often mis-labeled as depression. And then, when anti-depressants don’t work, they are relabeled as bi-polar disorder and then the medications really don’t work!

The primary takeaway in Good Mood, Bad Mood that I found was that emotional health issues that seem to persist need to be addressed with a team effort. The sufferer’s doctor, pastor, and self must work together to address the issue, as it could be based in true medical issues, spiritual issues, or self-will issues.

Most ministers would find Good Mood, Bad Mood a critical primer for their emotional help toolbox. It will help express ways in which the minister can assist those who are dealing with basic emotional health trouble. Christian believers that are struggling with depression and bi-polar will also benefit from the guidance for examining the spiritual aspects of their frustrations.

Unless, of course, you’re a Vulcan. Then you only need this to understand those illogical humans in the crew.

Free book in exchange for review.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Leaders of the People: Leviticus 22

There’s not really a better time to put this out there, so I’ll connect it all with Leviticus 22. First, remember what Leviticus is about: if a holy God is going to dwell among unrighteous people, then certain issues need to be dealt with. Sin must be avoided as much as possible and atoned for when it cannot be avoided. Otherwise, the overwhelming holiness of God will destroy the people.

Throughout these explanations, the Law has referred to a group of people who are supposed to aide the people with their obedience. These people are responsible for offering sacrifices, teaching the people, and verifying infectious diseases. They are the priests.

When we get into Leviticus 22, we see some important information about the qualifications of those priests. It was clear then that a priest must live a life focused on holiness, even at the cost of being a part of some of the normal life and behavior of the people of Israel. It was also clear that, at times, priests fell short and needed to offer the same sacrifices as anyone else.

Given that we do not live in Old Testament Theocratic Israel, how does this apply to us?

Put simply, we ought to apply this to our religious leaders. Not that we should be overly particular about what funerals they attend or whether or not they eat shrimp. Instead, our focus should be on the principle at stake in the chapter in Leviticus: do our religious leaders reflect the holiness of God?

First contemplation: is that leader in a relationship with God in the first place? This ought to be a given, but somehow we miss this one at times. There should be evidence and testimony that an individual actually has faith in God before we account them as a religious leader. You think we don’t? Take a look at how often churches borrow from business or entertainment without considering the difference. How many modern churches have undertaken new projects based on the latest movie? How many churches have reorganized their administrative issues based on the latest business advice?

Religious leadership can gather wisdom from outside the spiritual realm, but must ultimately find its guidance from a relationship with God.

Second contemplation: is that leader striving to live righteously in their relationship? There is almost no end to the stories these days of people taking the pulpits and teaching lecterns of Christianity and spreading lies. Now, at the moment the lies of false teaching are not exactly in view—a growing disciple should be catching some of these based on their own knowledge and growth. These are the lies of self-aggrandizement which have no place in religious leadership. These are the times when people lie to make themselves seem like more than they are.

Whether it’s a lie of background or behavior, it is wrong. And should be the end of someone’s pulpit career. At the very least, until there is a public statement of repentance that matches the publicity of the lies. That is, simply, mandatory.

The third contemplation: does the person who claims leadership use it for their sake or for the glory of God? As an auxiliary question, do they seek their benefit or that of the people they serve? The priests of Leviticus were entitled to certain benefits, but those were to enable them to focus on service. Not to enable a life of luxury or superiority.

Now, the further issue in this case is not only those who ought not be religious leaders, but those who enable them. Working through restorative efforts for one who is repentant is not the same as enabling. However, the problem arises when one allows, or worse, encourages a known charlatan into a position of influence.

That is just plain wrong. If we want to see the judgment of God on the churches in our life, then we should continue feeding a steady stream of liars, cheats, and deceivers into the pulpits and lecterns around us. Those who are lesser leaders should guard zealously the charge we have, as well as the influences over our own leadership.

And the body as a whole must guard itself. There are fakers and crooks out there, and we must, together, refuse to give them an audience. Refuse to buy the books, the movies, the podcasts…whatever it takes to cut it out. Ultimately, we are responsible for this and the negative impact it has on our efforts to show forth the Kingdom of God.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Sermon Wrap-Up for February 17

Morning Audio Link is here

Evening Audio Link is here

Morning Outline & Video

James 1:9-15

Introduction:

I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,

Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown

And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,

The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed;

And on the pedestal these words appear:

‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,

The lone and level sands stretch far away:

(remember Ozymandias=Ramses II)

Percy Bysshe Shelley

I. The Situation

     A. Some are poor

     B. Some are wealthy

     C. All are frail

II. All will fade away

     A. Through the passage of time

     B. Through the impact of trial

III. Trials will come

     A. What do we have to lose when they come?

          1. The poor man

          2. The rich man

     B. Where do trials come from?

          1. Some from God

          2. Some from Satan

          3. Some from a sin-soaked world

IV. Responses to trials:

     A. Getting carried away

          1. Giving into our own desires

          2. Being destroyed

               This can be from anger, lust, gluttony, fear

     B. Standing Firm:

          1. Holding to the Lord God--seeking His wisdom!

          2. Perseverance---receiving the crown of victory

V. Actions:

     A. Salvation

     B. Service

     C. Study

     D. Sufficiency

Evening Outline and Video:

John 1

Major Emphasis: The Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ

I. His work in the Creation of all things

II. Fully and completely God

III. God in Flesh: The Dwelling Place of God in the fragile tent of human flesh

IV. Why?
A. To face death

B. To demonstrate obedience

C. To show humanity what God is truly like

V. So what?

A. Stop rejecting the love of God

B. Live like Jesus: understand the needs around you

C. Be present

D. Do not attempt to mail the faith in to others, but gather with

Friday, February 15, 2013

Book: Renee of France

Today’s Book Review sponsored by Cross-Focused Media, who provided an e-copy of this book for review.

Renee of France by Simonetta Carr is in the series “Bitesize Biographies,” a group of, you guessed it, short biographies on various individuals across Christian history. They are published by Evangelical Press, so one can assume each will feature individuals more in line with Evangelical theology than any other.

Renee of France is one of those. Her story is one I was not familiar with before reading this book. It was fascinating to learn of her life and her interactions with both the Catholic authorities during the 16th century and the Reformation leaders in the same time frame. Here is a fascinating woman: questioning kings, corresponding with theologians, and even challenging the words of Popes.

This is a story that I would have heard without needing to write this review. Renee of France is a victim of the Great Man method of history study: we learn certain few men who influenced the time, but many of the smaller stories are not well-known. In truth, that is a shame and I am glad to see biographies coming out that help work to balance that equation.

On to the writing: I have read various biographies, geared toward the general Christian market. Renee of France is not the strongest interest-holding one I have read. My fascination and willingness to read through was based more on my own ignorance of her life than on the writing style grabbing my attention. The years seemed to drag at points, but I suppose that life feels that way at times anyway.

In all, for a Bitesize Biography, the information amount was good—certainly one would like more info, but that would run against the intent of the series. Renee of France does not fly by in terms of reading speed, but neither is it a drudge. More middle-of-the road.

Will we add this to future homeschool curriculum? Likely it will hit the digital shelf for junior high/middle school. The events and subject matter are a little too heavy for elementary.

Renee of France works as an introduction to what was, I am certain, a challenging life.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

You’re a Looney! Acts 26

Paul remains on trial. It is fascinating that we think of Paul as a great missionary and church planter, but he spends almost as much time in the New Testament as a criminal defendant as he does anything else. You cannot quite claim to be copying Paul if you’re not spending as much time in prison as you are preaching.

Paul comes to his trial before Festus and Agrippa and presents his own testimony and his experience. This is not unlike his prior defenses: he explains how he is no threat to any legitimate Roman (or any other) government on this earth. He then goes on to express the Gospel.

He then gets the two responses that I think we can expect as Christians in this world:

1. The Festus Response: Festus looks at Paul and states that his “great learning is driving you mad.” (Acts 26:24) This is a response we should all expect. First of all, we should, as Christian people, have great learning. Ignorance does not glorify God, except, perhaps ignorance of experiencing evil. We should honor God with our minds by being learned.

This includes what the reputation of Christian institutions of higher learning should be. They should be a place of grace for behavior and growth, but a place of strong standards of education. A school or educational system that cannot produce real results is not appropriate. Claiming it’s “Christian” is no substitute.

Meanwhile, though, the other issue at hand is Festus’ response. He assumes Christian belief to be evidence of insanity on Paul’s part. If we are not occasionally called crazy, we are not encountering enough people in our Christian walk.

And we should respond by standing firm on the Gospel, not worry about justifying ourselves. Some people will always think we are loons.

2. The Agrippa Response: Agrippa is drawn to the Gospel. He just does not fully accept the idea. One can conjecture all day long what might have pulled Agrippa over the line into the Faith, but we know this, as best we can: there’s no evidence Agrippa ever became a Believer in Christ.

He does suggest that he could be persuaded to become a Christian. Yet he walks out, persuaded of Paul’s innocence, and walks away. Paul accomplished the first of his goals, but not the greater one.

Paul remains in custody, and will be sent off to Rome for his appeal to be heard. Agrippa goes back to ruling his kingdom, and life goes on.

The issue at hand is this: Paul remains faithful to witness, but with no results. What do we gather? That we should be the same: faithful. Even when there’s no visible result for it.

So, what do we do in response to this?

1. Recognize that we will never see 100% measurable effectiveness in Christian life. It’s just not going to happen.

2. Admit that we will not only be rejected, but we will also be mocked. This is unavoidable if we are faithful. We can either soften to hide it or we can just accept it and move forward.

Today’s Nerd Note: There is some question regarding Agrippa’s response: Is he asking a question or making a statement?

His sentence can be translated: “In a short time, you will persuade me to become a Christian” or “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

The simpler translation is the declarative sentence, but there are some reasons to use the question. The first is that Agrippa was, apparently, never persuaded to become a Christian. The second is that it appears unlikely that Agrippa would admit a religious leaning in a public forum. That would be odd for a king who had to watch his words a lot.

February 2013: Proverbs 13

Proverbs 13:11 is worth a look today. We read here that Wealth obtained by fraud dwindles, but the one who gathers by labor increases it.

 

Let’s take a few translation issues to start with:

1. “Wealth” means just that: material prosperity. Nothing inherently odd or any hidden meanings on this word.

 

2. “Obtained by fraud” is a little troublesome from a translation perspective. The word “obtained” is added for clarity in English. To be picky, the underlying Hebrew here is just “by fraud,” so you’ve got “Wealth by fraud.” See how “obtained” helps in the English?

 

3. “Fraud” is an interesting word, however. It is the word that is translated “vanity” or “meaningless” in Ecclesiastes. The other senses of this word include the idea of passing or fleeting, like a vapor. Some translators take this as “hasty” or “quickly” because of this. They give something akin to “hasty wealth” or even “get-rich quick schemes.”

 

4. The phrase “by labor” could also be taken as “by hand” but the overall idea remains the same: we’re talking about gradual increase by effort rather than an instant income.

 

The contrast in the verse is, essentially, between wealth that is earned through continual effort and wealth gathered in some other manner intended to minimize the effort.

 

The Proverb highlights that  there is no substitute for what is attained through sustained effort. You can gather an instant result, but it will not last.

 

The extended wisdom here? Your diet pill? Your lottery ticket? Your overnight education?

 

Skip it. Shave 500 calories a day and exercise, 6 days a week. Increase your education or skills and enhance your career options—oh, and show up for work, too! Take the time to read, learn, grow.

 

Because that which you acquire by sustained effort lasts.

 

A further thought: it also shows us what we think is important: would you spend sustained effort on something that is truly useless? Not likely.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Quasimodo Need Not Apply: Leviticus 21

I have really struggled with this chapter of Leviticus. Leviticus 21 provides the regulations regarding the priesthood in Israel, and there are some logical aspects in these rules. Then there are some that just boggle my mind.

First, let’s look at the logical ones. The chapter opens with regulations on the behavior of priests. Who they can marry, who they can defile themselves for, and how they can shave. Take the middle one first: being in the presence of death brought ceremonial uncleanness. The priests were to only be present for immediate family, not for just anyone who died. This likely was not meant to address being in the place of someone who just suddenly dropped dead.

This is meant to help prevent any of the priests spending all their time at funerals or hauling body parts around and instituting creepy behavior. Or even instituting an inappropriate level of ancestor veneration. Both were to be avoided. The other two are more about public demonstration of righteousness, to the point of being a little bit over-the-top just to create the stand-out effect. They are a little odd, certainly, but not too bad.

It’s the second half of the chapter that bugs me. Throughout this section, there is a list that is best described as disqualifying disabilities. As someone who was turned down from doing what I wanted to do in life due to a disqualifying disability, I am not a fan of the idea to start with. That someone simply looks at a piece of paper and says “No, you can’t do this” based solely on a medical report bothers me. Especially when the condition is not self-caused.

Honestly, if you cut off your own arm with a chainsaw when you were drunk, then being disqualified from two-armed jobs is really your own fault. If you were born with only one arm, though, and told you couldn’t be a bank teller for lacking one, that would be wrong, would it not?

Yet that is what this section essentially provides for: certain people are not allowed to serve as priests, simply because of physical deformities, including those not their own fault. This also includes anyone who has eczema at the time, or a broken arm, but those will heal and are not permanent.

The hunchback, though? Or the, ahem, crushed testicles? (Leviticus 21:21 ?)

This sounds unfair. It is, seemingly, unfair. God is supposed to be merciful and loving, but God is threatened by the approach of Quasimodo? That does not follow. However, if we look at the Law in general, we find a couple of general principles that run under Old Testament Law. Old Testament law, typically, either:

Is for the benefit of those who live under the Law. or,

Is for the benefit of those outside of the Law that they may know the One True God of Israel.

Really, that sums it up. Either loving Yahweh your God with everything, which averts judgment, or loving your neighbor, which spreads the knowledge of the Yahweh, your God.

So to what benefit is the prohibition on Quasimodo in the Holy of Holies? It is hard to find one, but I would present this to you: the prohibition is against certain duties, but Leviticus 21:22-23 show that the injured or deformed are still to be counted among the priests. They are still to be fed by the people, and they may still teach of the ways of God.

What they cannot do is be left to handle the religious duties while the more physically robust go out and supplement their incomes doing other things, like ramping up the field production. The handsome men must stay connected to the sanctuary area as well, and cannot abandon their responsibilities. I think there is something here related to that idea: it is not so much about God being intimidated by dwarves as it is about people pushing dwarves to the margin of society and ignoring them. It would we all to easy to leave the “unfit” at the sanctuary and head off, form another sanctuary, and split the religion in twain.

That would be unacceptable.

That is the best I can do with this portion. It makes me uncomfortable, but I see very little to clarify this any better. We know from the whole counsel of God that He is merciful and loving. We also know that He is healer and there is unexplained suffering in this world.

And we know that He Himself bore our sins and our shame, that we never need bear it ourselves again. That is where we go: when we need wisdom, to the One who gives it, and to the One does right, no matter what we think.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Sermon Recap: February 10

Here’s the sermon recap from February 10:

The AM sermon is here. We had a guest preacher, so I do not have his outline to post, and I don’t think my notes are quite organized enough to post.

The message was from John 9:1-11. I enjoyed the opportunity to listen instead of do.

The evening sermon? I captured it on video and audio. It’s rambling. Really rambling. Also, I was interrupted by a cat.

I will thus use one of my “Not going to post it excuses” on my sermon for that night. Take a look at Romans 8:1-4 and consider how God has set us free from death through Jesus. That’s a good thing.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Arkansas Law Change: The Church Protection Act

I am the pastor of a small church in Arkansas. I am not a lawyer, so check with a legal professional before you make any adjustments based on what you see in this blog post. And, just for the record, if you make major legal decisions based on blog posts, you really, really should not.

This past week a bill passed both houses of the Arkansas Legislature, and at the time of this writing, it sits on Governor Beebe’s desk to sign into law. Given the large majorities it carried in the Chambers, even if Governor Beebe changes his mind and vetoes the bill, it will become the law in Arkansas.

That law is Senate Bill 71, dubbed the Church Protection Act. There are a couple of facets to address about this law. I’ll take the easy one first: the bill “declares an emergency” so that the law goes into effect as soon as it is signed. I think it could have gone into effect with a 30-day delay or on a set date like most state laws. The haste attached is going to make for wrong interpretations being put into play  and is unnecessary and unhelpful.

The rest of the bill is what is really at stake. Here in Arkansas we have a law that allows an individual to take a safety course, submit to an FBI background check that includes fingerprinting, and then be allowed to carry a concealed handgun. The training focuses on safety and decision-making, though it is not on a par with professional law enforcement training. The license is good for 5 years.

The unevenness of the FBI Background Check system is one that needs addressed in general: apparently, the FBI does not have all the information in their system that we would expect. Certain states do not report issues like violent mental illness diagnosis into the system. That’s a problem—and should be fixed. The submission of fingerprints helps prevent crime and uncaught criminals from getting a license: your fingerprints will be in the system now—so they’ll catch you if you have left fingerprints or do leave fingerprints.

The law, as it was, barred a license holder from carrying certain places: state government offices, hospitals, bars, sporting events, schools (yep, it’s illegal to have a gun at school), and houses of worship. There has been some discussion regarding changing the law as it regards houses of worship (which, in Arkansas, are mainly churches but is the more religiously-neutral term). Why? Well, most houses of worship do not have security services but do have a lot of people. That differentiates a church from say, a Razorback game: the Hogs have security. Most churches/synagogues/temples/mosques do not.

The change in the law that has passed is this: a house of worship may now “determine who may carry a concealed handgun into the church or other place of worship.”

The media is reporting this as a “Guns in church” law. So is the NRA. Both are over-extending the meaning. This law does not mean that anyone with a valid Concealed Handgun License can carry their concealed handgun into any church.

Churches remain, legally, no concealed firearms allowed locations. That is the law and it is not changing to a wide-open “bring your Glock to Church” system.

Instead, each house of worship may determine if they will allow someone with a valid license to carry on their grounds. It would appear that this decision may take three forms:

1. Leave the absolute prohibition in place. Most will likely do this: no action by the house of worship means that it is still illegal to carry your handgun there. The church would then, if someone carries into the church, be free to call law enforcement for help in the matter.

2. Decide, through however the church decides, to allow any valid license holder to carry on the premises. This decision will have to be communicated somehow—because if you do not know if a house of worship has done this, you are likely breaking the law carrying your handgun onto their property. DO NOT ASSUME  you have permission. Some churches may do this.

3. Decide to specify which valid license holders may carry. A church could designate that deacons or a security team or only church members with valid licenses may carry on the church grounds. Anyone else would be prohibited, automatically, based on the law.

This last option will likely be the most common Baptist decision, but it’s hard to say. There are some additional risks here: if you approve Deacon A but not Deacon B, Deacon B may be upset by this—why did you not approve him? Why only men on the security team? What about the WMU? (The longest running Baptist pastor fear is an armed WMU, honestly.)

Moreover, there are liability issues to talk over with legal people: are you responsible, as a church, if you designate Deacon A to carry a gun and he uses it wrongly or chooses not to use it in a situation?

Be clear about this, because the law is not: You should not carry your handgun to church this Sunday just because you hear “The Guns in Church Law PASSED!” You are likely committing a firearm crime by doing so. Which can cause you issues. At the very least, you can lose your license if not your firearms.

What do we do?

1. Prayerfully make a decision. There is a place for praying and trusting, a space for praying and posting a guard. Just ask Nehemiah.

2. Seek some wisdom and expert advice. Not just blog posts.

3. Consider everyone’s safety. Especially if you do choose to carry and are allowed to do so: a threat in a hallway is markedly different than a threat in a large, crowded room like the sanctuary.

In all, as this law shakes out, it is helpful. It allows churches the same freedom businesses have and stops treating religious centers like they impair judgment like bars or state government offices. Many Arkansas houses of worship are like mine: rural and very detached from law enforcement. We have to consider what the risks are and prepare for them ourselves—Little Rock has police available, but many small towns might not.

But this is not the opening of the Wild West. If your church does not want firearms on the property, no one is forcing that on you. If your church does, no one is stopping you.

Either way, be cautious in how you speak to the issue: I have seen some hot-headed responses that make some churches sound like not only are guns unwelcome, but any gun owner would not be; others sound like only ‘real men’ carry, which is also untrue. Remember the goal of the church is the Gospel, not any single political issue. If you can’t preach the Gospel to armed or unarmed people, you might need to rethink your views.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Slipping on Appeal: Acts 25

Paul is on trial. He has been kept in prison, or at least detention, for over two years because he will not bribe the Roman Governor. His passion for truth and righteous behavior exceeds his passion for personal freedom—though doubtless given the opportunity for both, he would have taken them.

Now, Paul is standing trial again for the same things he didn’t do the first time. Think on that reality next time you are answering the same old worn-out attacks on the Faith: if you’re American, you are walking freedom between defenses. Paul has spent the time between Acts 24 and Acts 25 in prison. Simply for the convenience of corrupt governing authorities. That is surely far worse than spending two years fighting stupid IRS paperwork for a year.

(not that I am endorsing just laying down and surrendering to the IRS—just don’t make persecution out of inconvenience.)

As he goes through his trial, he presents why he is on trial. Clearly, he states, his trial is about his adherence to the Gospel. He makes some decisions here that are practical:

1. He refuses to offer the customary bribes. That shows his integrity: when we are faced with a corrupt system, going into the corruption is rarely a good idea. Now, the cross-cultural experts will claim there is a difference in bribes, kickbacks, and a little baksheesh, and there likely is. Here is the dividing line, to me, for a believer in Christ: if you attain justice due to wealth and your fellow believers do not have wealth, and therefore no justice, you should not participate.

2. He refuses to participate in silly shenanigans. The Jewish leaders want him shipped back to Jerusalem to stand trial. Paul recognizes that they will either ambush him on the way or overrun him on the location. After all, did we not meet Paul at a prior case of the Sanhedrin ignoring the Roman rule that they could not execute someone? Paul wisely keeps himself in the hands of a more secular authority. It costs him freedom to roam, but maintains his life and his ability to proclaim the Gospel. After all, it’s his defense: they want me dead because I believe Jesus is the Son of God, crucified, died, risen, and ascended!

3. He refuses to surrender his rights completely. Paul, as a Roman Citizen, has the right to appeal to Caesar. So he does. This keeps him in chains for some time longer, but that was his choice. The plan to dispose of this troublemaker Paul is tied up by his appeal at this point: had Festus and Agrippa set him free, the angry Pharisees would have had their shot at him.

Instead, they slip on his appeal. Paul goes to Rome and proclaims the Gospel. Paul writes letters to encourage churches and church leaders. Paul preaches on Malta. It goes on and on.

Why?

Because Paul kept his head and held his ground.

He held his integrity.

He held his defense.

He held his rights.

We need to do the same. Use all that we have for the sake of the Gospel: our integrity, our rights, our lives for Christ.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Book: Parenting on Your Knees

Today’s Book Review is brought to you by Cross Focused Media. They provided the book reviewed in exchange for this review.

Want to know more about the author? Click here for an interview or go to her website at http://www.vickitiede.com

Look! A Christian Parenting Book! Quick, everyone turn to Proverbs 22:6! Here we go….

Wait, Vicki Tiede’s new book Parenting on Your Knees (Pix-n-Pens, 2013) does not come close to using the oft-misapplied Proverb about child-rearing. (I recommend the appendix in God’s Wisdom in Proverbs on this verse. I recommend the whole book, too.) Instead, she has looked throughout Scripture to find other verses that relate to parenting, most of which are not quite so overly clich├ęd.

Parenting Preschool FRONT Cover

Now, let’s take a quick look through Parenting on Your Knees. The subtitle is Prayers and Practical Guidance for the Preschool Years. You’re looking at 160 pages of content in softcover binding and an additional 1o pages of recommended resources for both you and your children. After all, children’s books help kids more than grown-up books do.

This book, though, is not for kids. It is for grown-ups. Parenting on Your Knees is more mom-oriented than dad-oriented, though this is likely because the author is a mom. She certainly does not downplay the importance of dad-she writes what she knows, she writes out of her experience as a mom.

One thing that she has certainly experienced is that moms of preschoolers do not have hours of free time to read long book chapters. Each of the chapters here is short and on-point. That is a strength: Mom can snag a quick chapter when she has 3 to 7 minutes through her day. Which may happen once, hopefully.

The illustrations for each chapter are not made-up nor are they based in popular culture. Instead, they are from the real life of the author or those who shared their stories with her. This makes Parenting on Your Knees a book that connects: I can see having to tackle a child who is headed full-speed toward the parking lot. In fact, I think I can remember doing so. These real-life situations support the overall practical application of the book.

If I had to find a fault with Parenting on Your Knees it would be this: from the title, I expected more focus on the prayer aspect of parenting. The subtitle makes clearer that one will find both practical and prayer guidance between the covers, and both are certainly there, but the title might suggest this as a prayer book with a little practicality in it. Instead, it is a practical book with prayer suggestions to go along with each practical principle.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that! I just see a minor mismatch between content and title, but that does not devalue the content. I would suggest this as a great addition to the Christian parent’s toolbox. Put it on your “standard baby shower” gift list alongside link-a-doos and cabinet latches and get it in the hands of expectant families. Those that take the time to read it will be thankful you did.

Note: Parenting on Your Knees was provided by Cross Focused Media in exchange for this review.

The Bible: Inigo’s Conundrum Leviticus 20

We have been fighting through Leviticus for quite some time now, and the end is a few weeks away. I want to take a minor break from picking and choosing various laws and attempting to explain them and apply them in a New Covenant context. As we look in Leviticus 20 (link) today, I want to point you to an important reality of Bible interpretation.

Take a look at the last verse of the chapter, Leviticus 20:27. The commandment here regards putting to death mediums and spiritists. Without getting into the overall question of whether or not one should put to death anyone over religious beliefs in this day, which we’ll hit at the end of the post, look at the first group to be put to death in Ancient Israel: Mediums.

Mediums. Not smalls, not larges, but mediums. Right? Oh, wait, not mediums. Mediums.

We have to be cautious when we look at words in Scripture and be certain that these words mean what we think they mean. If the word is medium how do we know if we are talking about size or spirituality?

Context.

A good dictionary helps, but context is the key. In no sense do we see the Bible ever condemning anyone based on size. One might, perhaps, see that Eglon in Judges 3 had a problem due to size, but his evil brought his condemnation. His size provided the opportunity.

Instead, we know from studying the whole of Scripture that the command here relates to those who attempt to be intermediaries between the dead and the living. That is a behavior not permissible in the Kingdom of God—shirt sizes are not on the list.

This is, certainly, one of the sillier examples. This supports what we need to be careful about, though, as we read the text of Scripture: be certain that the word means what you think it means. This is true whether your are super-Bible-Woman and are working off the Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic words or if you’re like me and just reading the English translations.

Be aware of the shifts of meanings in words. Be aware of cultural contexts and theological words. Be aware of the progressive nature of God’s revelation and the varied ways by which God worked across the centuries through to the time of Christ.

One reality to recognize in this manner is the shift in the concept of the Kingdom of God. For the Old Testament, the Kingdom is understood by most as the nation of Israel—theocratic, ruled through judges, prophets, and kings by Yahweh Himself as the ruler. In this view of the Kingdom, it is fully appropriate to execute traitors and defeat enemies in battle. The execute the offender for this, stone the offender for that, and cut off the offender for the other fits well in that concept.

Yet under the fulfillment of the Kingdom, the ultimate Prophet, Priest, and King in Jesus, we see a shift in the understanding. No longer do we see people put to death for their beliefs: instead, we seek to draw all people to Christ, that they may die to themselves and yet live through Him. Galatians 2:20 speaks well to this: we all die for our sins: some are crucified with Christ and He lives within us; others die in their sins and carry that weight into eternity.

So, the shift is apparent, and those who miss it do great harm to the cause of the Kingdom in these days. Rather than expand the awareness of the King who lives forevermore, they act like God is weak. Which Leviticus 20:1-5 makes clear for us: if we do not bring the discipline of God, He will do it.

This is a promise that we can rest in these days: God will judge sin. The Cross, though, stands between mankind and judgment. God alone has the right and ability to determine who will leave their judgment there and who will carry it forward. That is not for us to determine. Our place is to take the Cross and proclaim Him who died for us.

Today’s Nerd Note: I really think we cannot get past the concept of “Do not be like the nations before you” that echoes throughout the Law. I know that the New Testament Believer lives by the Spirit, but there is something to the idea that we are supposed to live according to the holiness of God and that this should be different from the world around us. Either the world that has gone before us or the world that rejects the Gospel around us now.

It is high time that we realize that when the world insists on acting contrary to God’s law, that this increases our opportunities to testify to His greatness and His holiness. Not for us to throw increasing fits or bigger pity parties, but to show forth what it means to live in the community of faith. This is the example of history in many cases and the testimony of Scripture: the people of God, living like the people of God, results in people wanting to know God.

If we want the world to see Jesus, then He has to look like Himself.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Sermon Wrap-Up February 3

Morning Audio Here
Evening Audio Here
Morning Outline: James 1:5-8
Wisdom is Found by Seeking God

Opening illustration: Tsunami Debris
I. We all still lack wisdom
II. Trust the character of God
     A. Do not doubt He will give
     B. Do not doubt what He gives is good
Elton Trueblood: Faith is not belief without proof but trust without reservations.

III. Grow through application
     A. Do with what you know
     B. Grow in what you know
Closing Applications:
1. Read for wisdom: Proverbs; 
2: listen for wisdom: the wise; 
3: pay attention;
4: be practical; 
5: write it down


Questions for Listening
1: Should we all be wise?
2: Where does wisdom come from?
3: Is wisdom easy to get?
4: Do doubts keep us from receiving anything from God?
5: Is God stingy?
6: Is God picky about who gets what He gives?
7: Does God get angry when we ask for what we do not have?
Morning Video Embed:
Evening Outline: Matthew 4:1-11
February 3 PM Matthew 4:1-11 Spiritual Warfare
Introduction: Recognize the enemy
I. Led by the Spirit---walking in obedience will put us into trouble spots
II. Tempted by the Devil---or by some lesser evil minion of his
III. Response: The WORD of God!
IV. Remember your Armor: Ephesians 6:10-17
Ephesians 6:10–17 (NASB95)
The Armor of God
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.
11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.
12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.
14 Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,
15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
V. Have the Word
VI. Understand the Word 
VII. Use it.
Evening Video Embed:

Proverbs 4: February 2013

In my younger years, I watched a movie called The Matrix. In the course of that film, two of the protagonists find themselves in need of various skills. Due to the universe they live in, gaining those skills is as easy as someone else punching in a computer code. Martial arts, fighting, weapons, even helicopter piloting are gained in the blink of an eye, and all just in the nick of time.

 

While I would not desire to live in the rest of that world, that is one part of the science-fantasy reality that I would not mind to gather. After all, who wouldn’t like to instantly know how to fix a car or do brain surgery in a pinch?

 

Proverbs 4:1, however, points us to the reality in which we live. Proverbs is addressed as from father to son, and here we see the father admonish his son of this: hear the instructions, be attentive to gain insight.

 

In other words: do not wait to gain wisdom until you need it.

 

Look for the help that is available now, gain the understanding now, rather than wait until it is too late.

 

That is the challenge this morning: get wisdom and do not forget! Proverbs 4:5

Friday, February 1, 2013

Cheap Christian Preachers! Acts 24

Today, let’s put a little compare and contrast together, shall we?

Let’s take the Apostle Paul and the semi-anonymous embarrassment to Christian ministry currently in the news here for writing on a receipt that since God gets 10%, the server was getting nothing. Now, a quick note: if you have not noticed, there are times when someone wants to make a point and will fake an event to get attention. That may be what happened here. Or the individual may be a self-proclaimed “pastor” of a not real church. We’ll take this one at face value for starters.

Now, back to going completely through the Bible: Acts 24 (link). Paul, still on trial. Honestly, from this point forward Acts is a mash-up between the Gospel Channel, CourTV, and Extreme Shipwrecks. Paul is on trial here, on trial there, and shipwrecked over yonder—and in the middle of it, he’s preaching the truth of Jesus Christ. Right now, he’s on trial in Caesarea Maritima (most likely that one. There’s lots of Caesareas back in the day.) His case has shifted over to the Roman Judicial System, which fortunately gives Paul certain rights.

Meanwhile, in 21st Century America, apparently a large group of people went out to eat, resulting in the automatic charge of an 18% service fee. (Admittedly, I don’t know if those fees are charged and then auto-paid as gratuity to servers or if the restaurant is skimming some of that. Nor do I like them—somewhat out of jealousy that no such thing went on when I was in tipped-service and somewhat out of aggravation in that, since myself, my wife, my sister, and many other friends have all worked as servers, non-snarly servers always get above that level from me.)

Moving forward, though, apparently the individual who got the receipt felt it better to put on it that “God gets 10%” and then to zero-out the service charge. The cheapskate then preceded to sign the receipt and include “Pastor” on the signature line.

I have a couple of problems with this without getting back to the text. First of all: I have one credit card that includes “Rev” on it, but I don’t even sign that one with the “Rev” title. I sign my name. If you have a relationship with me based on my profession and therefore choose to call me “Pastor Doug” or “Brother Doug” then that’s fine. If I ever finish all the school I intend, then in the academic world I would be “Dr. Hibbard.” The truth is, though, that if you want to call me by name, then do so. The only time I ever would insist on any title would be that academic one: if I get the Ph.D. and you are one of my students, you will have to call me Dr. in class.

But to walk around with “Pastor” on your sleeve? Really? When you demand the respect you think you deserve, you show you do not deserve it. Outside of structured discipline systems, like the military, you do not go around insisting on people being in awe of you. Inside a system like the military (or police, fire departments, etc…) the ranks and ratings are part of the necessary culture. A pastor, though, is a pastor and if you have to sign your credit card slips with it, you are thinking more highly of yourself than you ought. Then we could talk at length about whether or not 10% is either “going to God” or is even a New Covenant mandate. That’s another post.

Let us return to Caesarea, and then back to (wherever the above happened. I thought I saw Philadelphia, but I’m not sure). Paul is kept in prison, and Felix the Governor sends for him from time to time. Why?

Felix wants to see if Paul will slide him a bribe to get out. Paul never does so. How Luke knows this was Felix’s motivation is uncertain, but Luke was likely with the group that was taking care of Paul in those days, so he may have heard the gossip from the working folks in the system. Or he just knew that was how Roman justice worked: a little extra grease moved the wheels of justice a little faster.

Paul never pays that bribe. He holds to his integrity and will not besmirch the character and reputation of himself, his fellow believers, or his Savior Jesus Christ for an easier time in jail. He stays in prison rather than pay a bribe not to keep the money but to keep his integrity.

Contra our modern day image in ministry, thanks to cheapskates and charlatans that consider their work for God to be an opportunity for personal enrichment. The consideration that we would be enriched should never cross our minds. Yes, there is legitimacy in making sure we’ve got a can of spam and some loaf bread to not starve if possible, but the nonsense of pursuing personal enrichment has to stop.

The plain testimony of one of the first leaders in ministry among the pagan world shows us what our attitude should be: I will allow myself to be imprisoned rather than bring reproach upon the Name above All Names. I will stay in prison, even though I am having to pay for my food (true, often in Roman times), though I could get out rather than behave in an unrighteous manner.

Christian people: we have got to do better than this. We have got to demand better than this from our leaders. The world seeks to discredit the Church of the Living God enough, we cannot sit by and leave people in leadership roles that do nothing but help.

Today’s Nerd Note: There is a lot of good stuff in Acts 24. Read it. Look at Paul’s use of proper etiquette in his defense. Look at his submission to the system. No resorting to trite memes or simple tweet-bashes. He is clear, comes back to the Gospel, and takes the lumps that come from it.

Far better than suing those who opposed him for being too mean.

Peace in a time of Pandemic

This is not one of those hyper-spiritual posts, where I claim that because of Jesus I have peace even in the midst of the COVID pandemic. Tr...