Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What are you worth? Leviticus 27

We come to the end of Leviticus. It’s taken a long time, both because there are some dragging parts and because I’ve been a bit slack in writing about it. However, here we are. Leviticus ends with this verse:

These are the commandments which the Lord (Yahweh) commanded Moses for the sons of Israel at Mount Sinai. (NASB with clarification added)

That’s the summary of the whole book: God’s commands. This last chapter can be a bit troubling, though, as we look at how it applies. Take a look at the easy part first, though:

The closing verses, 30-33, are the easiest to grab hold of: when it came time to set apart the tithe of the land, there was to be no picking and choosing of what was tithed. For example, when going through the herd to tithe, every tenth sheep was to be given as holy to Yahweh. This is the one case in the Law of the Old Testament where bad, diseased, or good animals are all acceptable: the giving of tithes. Likewise, you get the idea that the grains and fruits offered in the tithe were simply to be one-tenth, perhaps decided as every tenth basket.

Most of us are completely okay with this: we don’t have to guarantee the good of the gift, and might manage to have the prize sheep ninth in line instead of tenth. Then we could keep it! If you want the symbolism on that, I would lean towards suggesting that there are times that we give out of obedience and trust God to make good with what we give, be it good or bad.

It is truly the front end of the chapter that causes some of us to have some difficulties in understanding. Throughout the opening 8 verses, the Law establishes valuations for people. And if this does not offend our modern sensibilities enough, men are valued more than women, middle aged more than senior adults, and so forth.

If we are not careful, we will take the wrong message here and either become oppressors of people or feel trodden-down when no one has actually tread upon us. This is not about the value of an individual to society. Let’s go over that again: while a quick read through this seems to say the opposite, this is not about the value of an individual to society.

You have to put this into its context: pre-monarchal Israel, starting while still in the Wilderness before taking the Promised Land. There are thirteen tribes of people working and living together with, ideally, God alone as their King. Through the course of the Exodus, God selects one tribe, the Levites, to serve as His priests. (Exodus 32)

This differentiated the Israelites from many of the other nations around them: for an Israelite, one was either born eligible to be a priest or one was not. That did not stop, however, the people from doing things such as making vows about giving their life over to God in certain circumstances.

You know the type of promise: “God, if you just get me out of the this one…..I’ll serve you forever.” Maybe you have made that promise, maybe you have not…but people did and do.

What happens, then, when a person is unable to fulfill that obligation? What can a man give in place of his life?

Leviticus 27 gives us that answer: if that man is between 20 and 60, he can give fifty shekels. The various other amounts are applied to women, other age groups, and especially children—which would fall under the heading of “what the parents have to pay for vowing” since a 3-month old tends not to make vows.

These are the payments to allow you to cover for that vow you made without falsifying your words. Whether the vow was made in a heated moment or an excited one, whether it was that the Levites would not let you help or you realized that you just could not do it, then this payment allowed you to walk away with your honor intact.

Now, as to the differences in valuation? Well, most of the resources I have on hand indicate that in the non-monetary economy of the time, most typical workers would have done well to put back a shekel a month. The usual situation was a strong level of subsistence farming, but that was life. It was an agrarian society and people did not keep much cash laying about. By nature of the economy, though, a man would have had more access to monetary equivalents than a woman would have.

So the expectation is higher. If you read this as “men were worth more” you miss the point: the point is “God’s grace provided in an unequal society.”

Which is, overall, a good thing.

When we make promises and vows, we ought to keep them. If we cannot, we fall on God’s grace, but we need to see there is a cost. And that cost should keep us mindful not to make rash vows again.

Today’s Nerd Note: Leviticus 27:29 gives us an interesting situation. It speaks to people under the ban or devoted to destruction and states that there is no redemption for them.

What causes that? Well, obviously the people of Jericho and many of the cities of Canaan were in that situation: no amount of payoff was to be taken to spare their lives. An Israelite would find himself in that situation by deliberate covenant defiance. Oh, and oathbreaking would have gotten him there as well.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Sermon Wrap-Up April 29

There are no outlines to post for these, but here are the sermons from Sunday, April 28:

Morning Audio

Morning Video:

Evening Audio

Evening Video:

Monday, April 22, 2013

Sermon Wrap-up for April 21

(Someday, I’m going to miss correcting the title and this will go out as the SErmon Warp-up like I type it every single week.)

Morning Sermon:

Audio Link

Video:

Outline:

April 21 AM Psalm 3: It's getting bad out

Purpose: Uplift through faith; challenge to rest in faith; invite to participate in the faith

I. Background for David:

     A. On the throne

     B. Absalom's Revolt (2 Samuel 16)

The Psalm in Three Parts:

I. The Problems:

     A. Many Enemies

     B. Mocking of the Faith

     C. Practical Outworkings:

          1. Personal: family, employment, life/health

          2. National: security, leadership, morality (Absalom w/concubines)

Then a moment to think about how bad it is and how much worse it can get

II. The Prayers:

     A. A declaration of trust: A shield about me

     B. A declaration of hope: The lifter of my head

     C. A declaration of faith: God answered--

Then, a moment to think about how faith helps

III. The Peace:

     A. Not ignorance of the odds: note v. 6

     B. Not ignorance of the needs: note v. 5--we need sleep, rest, and it is possible

     C. Awareness of God's judgment

     D. Awareness of God's salvation

The response:

1. Come to the faith

2. Trust in the Lord for rest

3. Celebrate God's provision

Evening Sermon:

Audio Link

Video:

Introduction


If you look in this direction, you see that your pastor has brought more of his books to church this morning. These are not books I am suggesting that you read. In fact, these are books that I have for one basic purpose, and that is to learn about false religions. You see, there are many, many religious groups in the world. There almost always have been: with the notable exceptions of immediately post-Creation in the Garden and immediately post-Deluge with Noah, it would appear that multiple religions have existed practically anywhere there are multiple people.

We live in nation that is open to multiple religions. This has its benefits and its drawbacks, although we ought to fight to allow all people the freedom we desire. It does lead to the question, though, of how we know that we are right and all others are wrong. How do we know whether or not our choice of God is the right one? This is important—for if we are wrong, we are truly wasting our time and effort. Let us take a look at a time in Israel when the same question arose, and turn to 1 Kings 18 to look at this story from the life of Elijah.

Outline

I. The Setup:

A. Where are we now?

1. Mt. Carmel

2. Northern Kingdom (Israel)

B. Who is involved?

1. Ahab & Jezebel

2. Obadiah (likely not the writing Obadiah)

3. Prophets of Baal

4. Elijah

5. People of Israel

C. When is this?

      1. During the ministries of Elijah and the reign of Ahab

      2. Three years, at least, into that time

      3. Probably around 860 BC

II. The Question:

  1. Who is God?
  2. Is there more than one?
  3. Is one right and another wrong?
  4. How do we know?

III. The Evidence:

A. A test

1. Does this not contradict Matthew 4:7 (and Deuteronomy 6:16)?

2. Not if it is commanded by God:

            a. Gideon

            b. Elisha/Joash

            c. Isaiah/Ahaz

            d. Thomas

B. Can the local god, Baal, bring fire?

C. Can the God of Israel, Yahweh, bring fire?

D. The results: Yahweh, alone, can bring fire.

IV. The Responses:

  1. Confession: Yahweh alone is God
  2. Cleansing: Elimination of the prophets of Baal
  3. Continuation: Return to life, for the rain is coming
  4. Consecration: A time for prayer

V. The Present Day:

A. Stop dancing between the two choices

B. Commit to discard the false teachings of the culture

      1. False idols

      2. False moralities

      3. False gods

C. Come, for the first time, to the One True God

Conclusion

We see the evidence in this narrative that Yahweh is God alone, that there was only one true God in Israel. We see that He alone is the God to be worshiped, and that the false gods presented by our culture should be abandoned as we focus on Him. How do we do so?

First, we do so by surrendering control of our lives. We may need to come and accept the sacrifice paid for our sins in Jesus or simply come and ask for prayer that God would pull you back to Him. We surrender our problems and our successes and trust Him.

Second, we do so by standing firm against the idolatry of the world. Now, we must allow others the freedom we want and cannot compel others to be Christians. However, we must start within our own homes and force out the idolatry that many times we let slip in uncontested. We strive to push back against the world that would have us embrace an ethic that serves desires and self over serving God and others.

Finally, we do so by striving to express the truth of God’s rule over the world to others. We do so in a manner that allows His truth to shine through and the Holy Spirit to work. To our neighbors, our co-workers, our families, friends, and enemies…all of the above, we must be the example of Christ and the mouth of the Lord God. Join me as we do that.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Book: John Newton

Today’s Book Review is brought to you by Cross-Focused Media.

Bitesize Biographies is a series from EP Books. The goal is to provide a quickly readable introduction to the life of an individual, sort of as an appetizer to digging in to deeper studies on the individual. I have previously looked at Renee of France in this series.

Today, we look at John Newton. Newton’s story is vaguely familiar to many of you, especially after the recent film Amazing Grace. Newton started life as a sailor, became a slave trader, and then became a committed Christian who wrote such songs as Amazing Grace. He further went on to play a supporting role to William Wilberforce who helped end the slave trade in the British Empire.

It light of that, there have been a good many biographies of Newton in recent years. The question ahead of us is, does John Crotts’ Bitesize Biography of John Newton stand out as worth grabbing? What makes this John Newton worth grabbing?

First, there is the length: John Newton weighs in at 137 pages. It’s a week’s worth of reading if you read a chapter a day, and that knocks out the introduction to Newton’s life. That is a benefit. Many times, a hefty biography is intimidating. This one, not intimidating.

Second, as far as I can tell by comparison, there is accuracy: this should be assumed, but Crotts appears to have the facts right. That is necessary.

Third, there is an innocence-friendly presentation here. By that, I mean this: it is clear that Newton was a sinner in need of a savior, but the horrors of the slave trade are not fully detailed here. This improves the usefulness of the text for introducing a younger audience, perhaps right around pre-teen, to Newton’s life. Eventually, one should read material that shows just how bad the slave trade was, but this allows one to learn about Newton without delving too deep into those horrors.

Fourth, there is a good weighting of the biography past the writing of Amazing Grace. True, that is one of the highlights of Newton’s life, but there is much more, and Crotts brings it to us in this book.

Fifth, there’s a decent “further study” bibliography. This helps alleviate the necessary weakness of a short biography—there is much more to say, but it cannot be said in this span. Recommendations are presented so that the curious reader can move on.

I enjoyed reading this John Newton and encourage others to take a look here.

Disclosure: Free book in exchange for the review.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Wrong People, Right God: Romans 3

One thing that is over-abundant in our society is people who can point out ways in which people fail to live up to what they claim God holds as a standard. Whether you take hate groups masquerading as churches, destructive predators masquerading as pastors, or the cowards who enable the above groups, all around us are people who create a massive public relations problem for God.

We see this in history: there are a good many moments when we as Christians have not upheld the best of what the Bible teaches. There were many centuries of using the power of the state to enforce religious conformity. That should have been, should always be, a matter of individual conscience and not law. I would prefer that everyone worship the same God as I do, in the same way that I do. I think that I am right in how I understand the Bible and why I do what I do.

However, you should only be in danger of a rousing debate over coffee and pie with me for that. I believe eternity hangs in the balance of what one believes, and so it is far too important for the government to get involved with. I would far rather peacefully yet passionately tell you what I believe and trust the Almighty God of Creation to convince you. Let the police slow you down so you do not kill my children on the highway, but keep them out of the religious world.

We see it in events like the overall entrenchment of anti-Semitism as the wrong-headed response to the Crucifixion; the power politics of the Borgia Popes; witch trials and other persecutions of ‘different’ people. We see it looking back at the overall idea of religious warfare, from internecine doctrinal battles that turned to war to the Crusades the to the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries.

It crops up in modern times when people misdirect God’s Word to allow pastors to behave shamefully without accountability. When religious organizations hide illegal actions behind supposed religious exemptions, it’s there. We see it when money drives the church to use people for money, rather than seeing people drive the church to use money for people.

The laundry list of sins across two millennia of the followers of Jesus on earth gets ugly. One can draw the right conclusions from this, or the wrong ones. Here is the reality, as we see it Romans 3:

1. Paul points out that God is true, even if every man is a liar. This includes himself. It includes the Pope, your pastor, Billy Graham, or me. God’s righteousness and truth are what we call independent in theological circles. Nothing about God depends on man, no matter what man does. Can we reflect poorly on God? Without a doubt.

But God is right, even when no person is left being right with God.

2. Paul then refutes the idea that unrighteousness does not matter, since God is always right and just. Be cautious not fall into what theologians call antinomianism which is typically understood as the idea that you can do whatever you want and it’s okay. After all, if you sin, then God shows grace which brings Him glory, and that’s good, right?

God is right, and His people should strive to be right based on His revealed standards in the Word.

3. Finally, we come to this point: is there anything mankind can do to save themselves? Is there any hope?

We find that the answer is no. The Law of God is very clear about what is sinful, and those sins are too easy for us to fall into. After all, sin is typically easy or fun, and often easy fun, else we would never do it. People fall into sins of the heart, the mind, and the body—and because of these sins need saving. Saving from themselves, saving from the wrath of God, saving from the realities of the moral laws of existence.

That saving is not found in any work that we can do. It is not found in law-following nor even in fancy lawyering out from under law-breaking. It is found in one place:

Faith in Christ is the solution to our sin.

There are fancy words in this passage, like propitiation, which reflect the action taken by God to remove the inability of mankind to have a relationship with Him. Do not be taken aback by these, and read them, look them up, google it, Bible Dictionary it, email someone—whatever you need to grasp the concept.

Because the concept is important:

Christ alone is the solution to our sin.

This is one of the glories of the truth of Christianity: while we believe that there will be Christians somewhere living until the end of time when Christ returns, even if the visible church is stamped out, the Church will return because the Truth cannot die out. Even if all professing Christians turn apostate, Truth does not change.

That truth?

Faith in Christ, faith alone, is the solution to sin, the opening of the way to heaven, and obedience follows this as naturally as exhale follows inhale.

No matter what any person living or dead does. No matter the behavior of the enemies of the Cross, even if they wear the uniform of the Savior simply to disgrace Him.

Today’s Nerd Note: While Paul is stressing here the importance of salvation by faith, do not miss the whole of Romans 3 and the idea that behavior follows salvation. Sinful behavior reveals the need for salvation and righteous behavior reveals the presence of salvation, but without faith the latter is pointless.

Do not mistake Paul to be saying that there is no need to live righteously. Do not mistake me to be saying that there is no objective right and wrong and that much behavior that exists is wrong. Do grasp this: Paul lived in a pluralistic, paganized culture that celebrated many things that were sinful; we live in a pluralistic, paganized culture that celebrates many things that are sinful. The focus must be on proclaiming the Gospel that changes hearts more than on changing behavior. Changed hearts change behavior.

Some behaviors should be curtailed by outward power because of their impact on others: we ban child marriages for a reason; we institute driving regulations for a reason: that people live to make their own choices; that people not die at the hand of reckless others. If life is at stake, the law is necessary.

Consider what areas this really divides into that matter in your activism and political/legal wrangling where you are. Here in America, there are certain implications. What are they were you are? What are they here?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Walking in His Way: Leviticus 26

I am hesitant to post this for today. In light of the bombing in Boston yesterday, I expect that anyone reading this may misinterpret it in a couple of ways. The first way is that I am trying to capitalize on human suffering, which I certainly am not. One thing I have found as a series-type preacher is that current events weave their way into the story and cannot always be run away from. So, I will go ahead and engage the passage and the situation.

The second misinterpretation will develop as we go through this. I hope you see it, and do not jump onto that train. It goes only in circles.

Leviticus 26 is our passage for today. This is, in a way, the closing argument of the Levitical Law. There is one chapter left in the book, and it reads more like an appendix of details. This one summarizes why the Law matters and the consequences for violating that Law.

The consequences are dire: defeat by enemies; climate change; crop failures; wild beasts that kill cattle and children; destruction to the point of cannibalism; fear; terror; conquest; deportation; refugees for life….

It’s a bad list. Horrible things will happen to the people of Israel for neglecting God’s Law.

Why?

Because He is their God. He brought them out of Egypt. He provided their land, their food, all that they need. Having done so, He also established the laws of the land regarding morality, business dealings, and worship—and if you think those three things can be separated without damaging all of them, you’ve missed the point of Leviticus.

Now we come down to today. Every disaster that we face, be it an attack by our enemies or a natural disaster, someone wants to step up and explain why it happened. And generally that starts with the declaration that this happened because of specific sins committed by people.

Planet getting too hot? (Or too hot so that we have weird winters and bigger hurricanes and snow storms and such?) The sins of the industrialized nations, visited upon us all.

Storms here or there? God is striking down evil people. Or, conversely, proof that there is no God because random disasters happen.

Violent attacks by evil people? God removing the protection of America because of sin. Or, again, proof that there is no God since evil people do evil things. Or our own sins revisited upon us as a nation because of how we treated people: maybe this was religious terrorism on behalf of oppressed people, since we backed the other side. Maybe this is the fruit of years of sexual repression or racial oppression or….

And it goes on.

Too many people wanting to pick up the prophet’s mantle and tell us exactly how the modern events fit with what they have been saying for years. Or fits how they plan to make a living or why we should vote for them or back their laws or….

The real issue, though, is that we live in a world filled with people, and some of those people are willing to do all sorts of evil. They may not even have a reason for it: often, evil is done simply because evil is in the heart. There may be claims of purpose, but really they are a smokescreen.

What do we do, then, when these things happen? I will speak to this question the only way I know how: as a Christian minister. If that means you do not think it will be helpful, I am truly sorry. Here it is:

1. Pray. What should go without saying should not go unremembered. God alone can heal hearts. There are hurting families and hurting people and unless you’re a trauma nurse, surgeon, or other medical person in Boston (for the current one), you cannot really fix that. So pray.

2. Hug your kids. Your spouse. Someone that needs it. At current count, three people will never get home from a marathon. Every day many more step out of this life. Why not alleviate the loneliness as best you can?

3. Listen more. There will be lots of shouting in the coming days, as there always is. Shouting for various new laws. Shouting against alleged perpetrators, then against probably perpetrators. Your voice yelling may not help with anything, really. Listen more to the people around you.

4. Find something else to talk about. No, it does not mean you are forgetting, but the odd thing about any disaster is that life keeps going on. Oil pipeline rupture? Does not stop everyone’s life. Bombings? Fires? Hurricanes? It is an odd reality, but if we all stop for everything, we will never start again. Dwelling on it does not help you or those in the midst of it. We may all be in solidarity, but this will always be different for the people who walk that street every day than it will be for me.

5. Find something else to talk about. Why twice? Because there is something else here: eventually, the children in your life will lose their naïveté and realize that the world is a terribly scary place with evil people. Do they have to know that now? Does your four-year-old need to fear the crowd at her T-ball game? Let children be children. (This includes you: supposedly family-friendly radio. Got it?)

6. This is practical and seems counter to the above, but seriously: consider your situations. Where are the threat areas for your life? One news commentator said something that struck me as dumb about Boston: “Nobody thought of this.” Really? Nobody thought that a crowd of people in an age of terrorism could be targeted? People shoot up elementary schools. Evil is real. Think. Be aware of your surroundings. Don’t lock down and be agoraphobic, but think.

7. Skip forwarding that conspiracy or political post. Until you see the government trying to link this to you in guilt by association, let it go. (Yes, I know CNN already leaned that way, but let’s give it a few days before we go nutty about that.) Until there is proof that this was stage 3 of someone’s plan, let it rest.

8. Resist the urge to over-interpret. I am not saying that there is no sin in America or that God does not judge anyone anymore. I am saying this: Biblically speaking, almost all of the instances of nation-wide judgment are Old Testament or in the true midst of the End Times. And if you go jumping into that water, you risk some major problems, because if you’re wrong, you are toast.

One cannot assume to know exactly why these things occur, and we only embarrass ourselves when we make those proclamations. Was this because of God’s judgment on our nation? Or was it because evil people are free to do evil, even though no one likes that? I would posit the latter.

I know that we cannot say definitively one way or the other, but we know this: Modern America is not Old Testament Israel. Our need for God has certainly never been less than theirs, but His covenant is with people here, not with the government of this nation. And looking at that, we would be wiser to see an opportunity to demonstrate the love of God and proclaim His faithfulness in tough times than to grab hold and proclaim His judgment.

There is a time for that, but it is not now.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Book: A Cast of Stones by Patrick Carr

I have another book to point you to, and you can also see a review of this over at Ann Hibbard’s Blog. It’s a book that was provided by BethanyHouse Publishers in exchange for this review. Well, they didn’t ask for this exact review, but you know what I mean.

A Cast of Stones by Patrick W. Carr is a fantasy fiction novel that opens The Staff and the Sword Trilogy. Carr is a first-time novelist, which explains why you haven’t heard of him before this year. Unless you follow Christian Fiction, where he won a contest for A Cast of Stones a few years ago that is likely behind its recent publication.

Overall, A Cast of Stones introduces us to the Kingdom of Illustra. This kingdom is somewhat medieval in its general setting and is a place where, if not magic, at least some supernatural is considered a normal part of life. There are other kingdoms on the map outside of Illustra, but they are not primarily involved in A Cast of Stones.

The action begins in a remote village of Illustra and through the course of A Cast of Stones, moves through other cities and towns until the climax occurs in the capital city. Across the miles, the reader might be forgiven for not grasping all of the geography, for one thing that would benefit the reader would be a map of the kingdom. However, the description of the setting is well-done and leaves the reader feeling like they have at least seen a good film of Illustra, even if they cannot quite say they’ve been there.

Characters include two young men on seemingly different tracks in life, a priest or two, and a few more heroic types. Further, A Cast of Stones introduces us to a religious leader called a “reader” who holds certain responsibilities in the Kingdom. Rather than rip that from the middle area of the book, I will simply acknowledge that it does take a bit to figure it all out, but the mystery of understanding who does what, and who has what power, is part of the fun of A Cast of Stones.

The plotline is fairly straightforward in A Cast of Stones. There are lies, betrayals, secrets, and battles in advancing the story. Certainly some of these are predictable, but overall there is enough not-quite-obvious to keep the reader interested. Further, it serves well in introducing the reader to this new world. After all, if you both do not know what is happening and the universe in which it occurs, it’s harder to finish. The resolution is adequate to a book known to be part 1 of a trilogy: most of the simple loose ends are tied up while the bigger story obviously must continue.

In sorting out the plot, I found myself a little tripped up on the organization of the church in Illustra. A Cast of Stones features a unified church that has a hierarchal structure, and for a free/independent church tradition person such as myself, that took some sorting out. I will likely draw myself an org chart to go with my map to help me remember how it all works for the rest of the trilogy.

I found myself liking A Cast of Stones. Frequently, as a reviewer I find myself having to finish books, but this one took no extra push to finish. Carr has created a world that I am curious to see more of—more about Illustra, more about the neighboring kingdoms, and more of the stories Errol and the other characters introduced in A Cast of Stones.

If you need a good fiction series to get lost in, A Cast of Stones is a nice place to be lost. The sequel is due out this summer, and then we’ll have to wait until next February to get the resolution, but if that’s the worst thing about this series, it’s a good series.

note: I did receive a copy of A Cast of Stones in exchange for this review.

Sermon Wrap-Up from April 14

Here are the Sermon Links from April 14:

Morning Audio Link

Morning Video Embed:

Morning Outline:

April 14 Lord's Supper: Joshua 5:10-12

I. Before the Battle

II. After the Consecration

III. Before the Commands

IV. After the Provision

V. Before the Settling-In

Where are you?

1. There are battles ahead of us:

     A. Against sin within us

     B. With temptations outside of us

     C. For the souls of humanity--to present the Gospel clearly to all

2. Have you stood publicly for Christ?

     A. Do you think Baptism is harder than circumcision?

     B. When is a convenient time? RIGHT NOW.

3. Wondering what God is commanding you to do?

     A. The Word is the starting point

     B. Do what is clear: be in the Word, honor the Lord, remember His sacrifice

4. Has God provided?

     A. We remember more than manna

     B. We remember the blood

5. Are you ready to live in obedience in the God's grace?

     A. Then we move forward by remembering

     B. Then we commit and do

Evening Audio Link

Evening Video Embed:

Evening Outline:

April 14 PM: Salvation Summarized: Ephesians 2:8-10

I. Grace: undeserved goodwill

II. Faith: reliability

III. Not Ours

     A. Works

     B. Faith--saved by the reliability of God

IV. Saved?

     A. From what?

     B. From who?

V. Created to do!

     1. God has prepared opportunities for good works

     2. We would walk in them:

          A. Walk--not occasionally sprint into

          B. Walk--not have to hunt for

VI. His workmanship

     1. Not that He is ours--we do not have to make Jesus into anything

     2. He makes us into what we ought to be

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Book: Angelguard by Ian Acheson

I’m going to start this book review with a disclaimer. Here it is: novels are for entertainment and thought-provocation. Bibles are for theology. Why the disclaimer? Because books like Angelguard are good reads and can provoke a few deep thoughts, but the answer to the theology questions raised need to come from the text of Scripture itself. I do not expect a novel to have a theology perfectly in line with mine, especially on sub-matters like angels and demons. So, don’t go all regulative principle on novels or elevate them above Holy Writ. Take it for what it is: reading material.

On to the book: Angelguard by Ian Acheson (name links to author’s webpage) is a foray into the Christian fiction subgenre of supernatural fiction. That means that the author is portraying not only human actions but suggesting spiritual forces at work behind those actions and portraying those as well. It is a subgenre that I have not read much in lately, but do remember reading some of the groundbreaking modern novels in it, ones which most reviews compare Angelguard to. I am inclined to do the same, but cannot honestly tell you if it’s because Acheson is similar to those authors or if that’s just the only frame of reference I have.

The plot line is fairly straightforward in Angelguard. There are bad guys who are up to bad things, and we see that behind these bad guys are the spiritual forces of evil. There are good guys who will be thwarting the evil plan, and to aid in their efforts are the spiritual forces of God.

Part of what makes Angelguard work is seeing the interplay between the two differing groups. As far as I can tell in my reading, the spiritual forces are not actually visible in the physical realm, though there are interactions. Further, it is clear that the demonic side is striving to push the humans under their influence to follow a plan, while the angelic side is protecting the the humans under their “guard” so that the humans can fulfill what God has for them.

I liked that. While it would appear that in Angelguard’s universe the spiritual can provide some influence on the actual behaviors of humanity, the people are still clearly responsible for their own actions. No one is on a puppet-string here. Do things occur beyond explanation? Certainly—but no one is dragged, kicking and screaming, into compliance with evil or obedience to good. Instead, the character of the characters is allowed to show through.

Angelguard’s plot is not particularly groundbreaking, but I think suspense plots at this point are more often about doing it better than concocting something completely unexpected. In truth, the last “completely unexpected” I read came more as a “well, that was out of left field, just beyond the foul pole” than a good plot. Acheson presents the classic world-in-danger, time-critical disaster plot with the added looks at the spiritual realm. It works well together. Naturally, parts of it stretch the imagination, but I want my fiction to have a happy ending. Life has enough times the bad guys win…let the good guys have the books.

Alongside the plotline, Angelguard does well in developing the characters. The opening chaos generates emotional needs for many of the characters, and seeing how and if those needs are fulfilled in relationships throughout the book moves the character development along. Again, is it as messy as real life? Not quite, but neither has Acheson presented us with cut-and-paste characters without problems. The most evil are clearly bad, but the good are not so good the reader never doubts them.

On the spiritual side, Angelguard presents angels and demons that have personalities. They also have long-running vendettas. What I found an interesting deviation from typical angel books is the apparent ability of angels and demons to kill each other. That’s frequently not a factor, because for the most part the Bible is not clear that any angelic beings are mortal. However, it works well with this book, and it is not clear from Scripture that this is impossible, so why not work it for the plot?

In all, Angelguard was surprisingly easy to get drawn in by. I did not have to force myself to finish it, and do consider it a worthwhile book for my time. Although I must admit to not liking the staring eyes on the cover art, but nothing’s perfect, is it?

Please Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for the review. I actually did like it—they do not require positive reviews. Just honest ones.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Who goes first? Romans 2

Carrying on into Romans, we find both comfort and consternation, peace and problems, doom and delight. The chapter is the transition between Paul explaining in Romans 1 why the Gentiles are in need of a savior and headed to the next chapter where he explains why the Jews need a savior. Romans 2 gives us some helpful ideas to work with as we look at the need for salvation and the way to be saved.

1. Salvation is not about human judgment. This one has probably been an issue since the first apostolic sermon: Christians proclaim that some people are going to Hell. It is not, however, that Christians are deciding who is going and who is not going. The Word of God says plainly that every person violates God’s Law and, on top of that, knows it (or at least ought to know it). Romans 2 points out that no person has the right to judge another, because all are sinners. Someone proclaiming the Gospel is not judging any more than those legal notices in the paper are foreclosing on mortgages: the facts at hand are being stated. Want to avoid the foreclosure in the paper? Don’t call the Daily Planet. You have to call the bank.

Want to avoid eternal judgment? Don’t fuss that you were told it’s coming. Go to the One who can bring salvation.

2. Salvation is not about human judgment. Guess what? No matter how anyone else feels about you, they cannot keep you from God. Likewise, no matter how anyone else feels about you, they cannot force you to God. Nor do you have the power to keep away those you dislike. This is not about how you judge. Your likes and dislikes do not empower eternity. Neither does your approval: you may find someone moral and upright, but you cannot get them into eternity.

3. Salvation is not about human judgment. You may judge one people better or worse than another, but God’s blessing and God’s judgment will pass through all people. Some will be saved from all the earth, others will be judged. Being an American is no guarantor of salvation, being an American is no guarantor of judgment. It falls, as Romans 2:16, through Christ Jesus.

4. Salvation is not about human judgment. You judge one sin worse than another, but all sin separates people from God. Perhaps there are degrees of punishment in eternity, certainly there are degrees of consequence in this life—just as jabbing yourself in the leg with a scalpel is different than jabbing your eye. However, all sin separates us from God. Beyond knowing that reality, why bother sorting it out? As Dr. Einstein points out to Jonathan Brewster in the theological classic Arsenic and Old Lace, one guy ends up just as dead as the other—why stress about how quickly they died? A tad more focus on the big picture, that every individual person needs Christ for salvation, and a tad less on whether it’s because of sex, drugs, rock n’ roll, or financial corruption would benefit the church of the Living God.

5. Salvation is not about human judgment. It is about divine grace and provision. About the kindness of God, intended to bring us to repentance. That’s the point. His kindness. His grace. Our repentance. There is nothing about God that needs to change, but all the ways in which we have turned from Him that we need to turn back.

So let’s turn our eyes from trying to judge. We will still be accused of being “judgmental” but that will likely never change. Herod didn’t care for John the Baptist’s judgmental attitude, either. Truth is what it is—declare it and go forward. And rather than stress about what order judgment or grace comes, because it is clear that Paul states that both came to the Jew first, recognize that Jesus coming first is all that matters.

Today’s Nerd Note: I am not going to take a firm eschatological viewpoint here, but the end of Romans 2 has a phrase or two that bears on the end-times. Or at least are thought to do so. Some hold that Paul’s references being a Jew is inward in Romans 2:28-29 mean that the end-times bear no distinction, that followers of Jesus are now who any end-times prophecies about “Jews” refer to.

I do not think that case can be made simply from this passage. Paul’s reference is clearly about the current issues of Law-following and salvation, not about end-times situations. If one wants to argue that the Church now fulfills all that Israel once did, then I think that has to come elsewhere. I think that Scripture holds up that the Church has a role and that Israel has a role, but that only through Jesus does salvation come.

That said, I don’t find a clear system I like for the end-of-the-world. Other than calmly knowing that no matter how bad it gets, eventually Jesus puts a stop to it all and His kingdom is forever. Do we need anything else?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Take a Year Off! Leviticus 25

At this present moment, according to my employee statement, I have exactly enough money saved in my retirement account to go four months without working. After that, I’ve got nothing. It’s all gone in less than half a year. So, you can imagine, I’m not particularly convinced that I could take off every seventh year for the rest of my life.

However, when you take a look in Leviticus 25, that is precisely the command of God for the people of Israel. They are to work for six years, then let the fields, cattle, and vines have a year off. Alongside this, of course, there would be a substantial amount of rest for the people, their servants, and those unfortunate to have been slaves in Israel at the time.

The people were not even to go out and glean what grew wild that year—it was to sit, be food for the cattle and wild animals. That was it: no agricultural work was to be done. (Now, keep in mind, the original economic pattern for Israel was agriculture-focused. Everybody farmed or supported farming. If someone was a support-worker, like a blacksmith, they would still be off this year: no implements to sharpen or tools to make. Generally speaking, though, there was not quite the specialization of economy in that culture. Yet.)

This was a command from God to be obeyed. What would they do with the year off? Well, Deuteronomy 31 informs us that the Sabbath years were when the whole Law was to be read to the people during the Feast of Booths (note: not the same as the Bones TV Marathon). It was intended to be a time of rest and reflection, of faith and fulfillment.

Then, every Sabbath of Sabbaths, the next year was the Year of Jubilee. What happened then? At the blast of a trumpet on the Day of Atonement, slaves were set free, debts were cancelled (the two were very related), and land reverted to its clan ownership. It was a “reset” button for the economy.

And that was a good thing.

Why?

1. Because slavery is bad, and this prevented a permanent development of slave-based economics in Israel. Slavery develops for power and convenience, but this kept slave-holding from entrenching in Israel. Imagine for a moment what would have been different in America if the US Constitution had established a system like this. 20 years prior to the Civil War, all the slaves would have been freed, and at that point, maybe some sense would have kicked in and slavery would have just been ended. Without a war.

2. Because debts accrue, oftentimes with a small bad decision, and become something monstrous. By 50 years, it’s time to release children and grandchildren from the cumulative effect of heritage mistakes.

2a. Because debts accrue and lenders become able to live without working, and the moral value of work is not to be denied. Too often the moral/ethical collapse of families and societies can be traced to too many people not having to work. Run the history, but you’ll see it in Rome, Athens, Sparta, and others.

3. Because the land was truly Yahweh’s, not Israel’s, and He told them what to do with it. The Year of Jubilee was a reminder that God’s grace was to all and not just to those whose parents had done well. This was not to negate the need for work—but it allowed for restoration if things went wrong. It also allowed for that most important of doctrinal concepts: grace. A new start.

The rest of the chapter addresses how to run the economy in light of the Jubilee years. Sell the land based on crop years remaining, treat slaves as temporary slaves, and plan to set them free—and don’t let anyone, even foreigners dwelling in the land, overlook that law.

Why?

Because it’s God’s land, and God’s people, and there is to be no nonsense about mistreating either.

How does this apply today?

We might do well to remember that it’s God’s land, God’s people by right of Creation, and some are also God’s people by right of redemption, and there is to be no nonsense about mistreating or misusing any of the above. Except, of course, we cannot seem to come to an agreement that this is actually true.

Which is to our shame and disaster. Consider this simple promise in Leviticus 25:18-22 that God will provide more than enough if His Law is followed. Not that bad times do not hit, but the bad does not hold on if we cling to Him. I commend that line of thinking to you.

Today’s Nerd Note: I lack the resources at hand to properly cite for you the history of agriculture and the introduction of leaving fields fallow and how that leads into crop rotation, which is necessary for longevity in location-attached farming. The basic idea is this: a farmer is wise to not always plant all the land. The nutrients leach out of the soil into the crops (no real fertilizers, remember?) and the soil is less productive. Letting a portion go unplanted allows it to rest, then plowing whatever grew back into it helps provide nutrients. That the Sabbath and Jubilee Years allowed domestic and wild animals to roam through normal agriculture lands to munch also helped (manure, anyone?) replenish the soil.

Now, there is evidence of various forms of using fallow fields in the Roman Empire and other evidences from Asia, but what’s in the middle of these? Israel, a culture that pre-dated the countries I can find mentioned. Eventually, fallow-fielding leads to crop rotation, where one plants rice this year and soybeans next year to replenish and use different fertilizers, but still there are times when the land just needs to rest.

Interesting, though, how Israel might just have been ahead of their time in agriculture development. Well, had they obeyed, that is.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Sermon Wrap-Up for April 7

I have two weeks of sermons for you. I need to do some video/audio editing on last night’s, so that’s not here but will be added later if I can get it smoothed out.

March 31 Early Morning Service:

Audio Link
Video Embed

 

Outline:

Luke 24:12

What are you waiting for? RUN!

I. Abandonment for Jesus

II. Public demonstration of abandonment for Jesus

III. Private growth of devotion and understanding

March 31 Morning Service

Audio Link

Video:

The freeze frame looks like a fish story: “It was THIS BIG!”

Outline:

Luke 24:1-11

A Blessed Nonsense

I. Remember His Words

     A. In the dark times

     B. In the confusing times

II. Do not seek life in the dead

     A. Dead world

     B. Dead traditions

     C. Dead pursuits

III. Pass it on

     A. To those you know

     B. To those who need to know

IV. Be prepared to be called....crazy.

April 7 AM

Audio Link

Video:

 

Why are we here?

I. Gathered together

II. Choosing who to honor

III. Missing the point

1. Politics

2. Economics

3. Social

4. Emotional

IV. Fulfilling Love's Great Commandment

1. The Royal Law

2. Encourage

3. Proclaim Truth

4. Call to Salvation

5. Proclaim Righteousness

Friday, April 5, 2013

Resource Review: The Singing Grammarian

Yikes. What a title: The Singing Grammarian. Here’s a quick look at the “cover art” even though this is a digital product: Singing Grammarian 18 Video Bundle   [Video Download] -     <br />        By: H. Daniel Zacharias<br />    <br />

 

This is produced by Kregel’s Academic and Ministry publishing group, and they provided me with a copy in exchange for the review. They did not insist that I say nice things, just that I say things. So: Things.

Good things:

1. Cost: this product is available through Christian Book Distributors (the picture is linked) and at the time of this review costs less than $20. For that, you get 19 videos that run through the grammar concepts for first year Greek. That is an excellent value.

2. Concepts: the concepts are titled rather than keyed to a specific grammar textbook. This is helpful: when you’re on Subjunctive, just take the track for it. This will work with you whether you’re learning Nouns first or Verbs first. It can even work if you’re going old school and doing 8-declension methods.

3. Correct: this should be stated: the Greek is right, based on the textbooks available to check it.

4. Coupled: video is coupled with audio, so there is a full-on learning experience. You may not understand the language after this, but you will be able to do the endings/paradigms. (Of course, you may have to sing through them constantly, but that’s a small price to pay.)

5. Complete: except vocabulary, I do not see anything missing here.

Medium things:

1. Availability: it appears to only be available from CBD or direct from Kregel. That’s not bad, just a minor annoyance because I would have to go out-of-the-way to buy it. I would, if I knew about it—but it’s still a trifle not positive.

2. Acoustics: it’s not meant to be a rock-and-roll album, and so the music production isn’t the best. The focus is lyrical, though, so you’ll cope, too. After all, getting lost in the rockin’ guitar riff during the second declension genitive, and you’ll miss a lot!

Bad things:

1. Restrictions: well, it’s a video product. You can only watch it on devices that play back MP4 video files. That’s not much of a bad, but you would be advised to double-check your system.

2. Resources: again, it’s a video. Total space needed is a little over 1.6 GB, so make sure you have the resources to store The Singing Grammarian. A nice dedicated thumb drive is perfect here: take it with you if you need to.

I hate to over-shill a free product, but this is one of those times when something is just plain useful. If you want to learn New Testament Greek, you will want to find the ways that help you memorize the crucial building blocks of the language, and you should try The Singing Grammarian to help you out. Here’s a sample video:

Again, I was given access to the videos by Kregel Academic & Ministry in exchange for the review.

Services Recapped for September 13

Good evening! Here are the services from Sunday, September 13: 9 AM Service: 11 AM Service: Evening Service: And the Morning Reflections are...