Friday, May 31, 2013

Book: Exploring James

Today’s Review is presented by Kregel Academic. No influence is demanded or granted, only a book for a review.
Exploring the Epistle of James is a volume in the John Phillips Commentary Series. For clarity’s sake, it is written by John Phillips. Dr. Phillips was long a part of the Moody Network, helping teach others the Word of God. The entire series is available from Kregel.
James is written as a section-by-section commentary. There is an outline that breaks down the whole book, and then each segment is given individual attention through the remaining 200 pages. These comments focus more on the practical implications of the passage than the linguistic or cultural markers behind them, but the historical issues are not left out entirely.
Overall, James does not lean too heavily on digging back into the Greek language. Instead, the primary focus is drawing on the New King James translation that is used throughout the work. Phillips makes his commentary accessible in this manner, as anyone can use it.
Further, the outline of the book is straightforward. This runs counter to some attempts to make James more complicated, and instead develops linear thoughts from the text. This also becomes an easy borrow for teaching and preaching.
While the practical outlining of James makes Exploring James helpful, there are some shortcomings that drive the reader to need an additional James resource. First, there is very little discussion of the background issues of James. It is assumed that James was the brother of Jesus and the first author of a New Testament document. Further, the introduction makes several assertions which, while they are possible, are not certain. The serious student is advised to consult an additional resource to consider whether or not Phillips has filled in the blanks properly.
My largest concern is with the heavy assumption that Phillips makes in Exploring James regarding the legalism of James himself. While it is certainly plausible, it is not necessitated by the text and should at the least be treated in discussion rather than assumed.
One other question regarding Exploring James is the inclusion of an essay at the end as an appendix. The essay addresses some issues with Martin Luther, the Reformer. While Luther will long be connected to the Epistle of James due to his dislike for it, the essay does not address Luther’s opinion on James. Rather, it treats Luther and Zwingli’s clash over the nature of the Lord’s Supper. This is fascinating—but wholly unnecessary. It’s inclusion has no real bearing on the remainder of the text.
In all, I have only a few volumes on James on my shelf, but this will remain there as a helpful resource.

Free book from Kregel in exchange for the Review.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Everybody has work: Numbers 4

There is nothing worse for a society than an entire group of people with nothing to do. While that assertion can likely be argued by sociologists to be true or false, I think it is verifiable as an historical reality. Either the desire to do nothing corrupts a society into slavery and oppression, or the idle put their effort into devising ways to control society.

Even in microcosm, we see this to be true. Take a school and look at who becomes the troubled students: it is the ones who have nothing to do. Either because they are not expected to do more or whose learning styles do not match with the way things are presented, leading to them not be able to work within the system. Or it is the intelligent who get done and have nothing to do…

Or within a church: those who have nothing to do, no service to participate in, no freedom to do what they are best at—these folks either drift away or sit and get bored. This is why the organized worship services of many churches are not effective—idleness leads to boredom.

We come, then, to Numbers 4. Within Numbers 4 appear to be the mundane duties assigned to individual families within the Levites, giving their roles. Some were to carry this, some were to carry that. Others cover this material while another gathers that one.

In short, everyone has something to do. There is neither the exclusion of a family as too insignificant, nor the exaltation of a group as too important to do anything. Everyone needed something to do, and everyone had something to do.

What do we do with this?

First, we do not allow ourselves to think so highly of ourselves that we think we do not need to do anything. No one is too important to take out the trash or mow the lawn. Some may not have the ability, others the opportunity, but no one is above the work. Whatever you may good at, whatever your gifts and abilities may be, there are times that certain things just need done. Do it.

Second, we need to consider paying attention to the breakdown of tasks. It is possible, at times, to break down a major task, like moving the Tabernacle, into small units. By doing so, everyone can be involved. This keeps people connected to each other and focused on the task. This impacts especially strongly in churches: find ways for the work to be available to all. Part of our problem as Southern Baptists is that one group has this work, another that, but there is no unity of purpose.

Third, we need to be clear on expectations. The Gershonites had no doubts about their job. What about you? Do you know what you should do? Do you, if you lead, make it clear what you need others to do? Make it clear: this is what we need to do.

Clarity of need, clarity of purpose. These things help us know what we are doing. Division of labor? That’s as critical: this keeps us unified in doing.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Review: Abraham from @Logos

Today’s Review is actually for a curriculum produced by Logos Bible Software. I use Logos, and I like it, but the product family as a whole gets pricey. Which is why, though I recommend it as a resource for scholarship, I don’t suggest everyone needs it. But if you can afford it, it’s a great tool. They provided a free download of the complete curriculum in exchange for the review.

Many of us who grew up in church take the stories of the Bible for granted. We were born to Noah’s Ark storybooks and heard about Abraham from both the Egermeier’s Story Bible and the Beers’ Bible Story books. Then there were picture Bibles and children’s Bibles and….

You get the point. What we often miss is that our faith as Christians is not just a hereditary faith. It is a missionary faith. Which means that we bring people in who have not grown up knowing such things, and it is unfair to leave them at that disadvantage. Many times, we also miss this: teaching a child about Abraham, for example, leaves an impression but does always echo into adulthood like we might hope.

In all, it is good to go back and be reminded of the character and story of the Patriarchs, those early fathers of the Hebrew people. Alongside learning their stories, though, it is helpful to try and learn their land, their culture, and their world. It is a great benefit to grab hold Scripture as Truth while adding supplemental knowledge to help the Word come clearer to us.

Into that need slides, rather nicely, Logos’ curriculum on Abraham, titled Abraham: Following God’s Promise (link is to the main curriculum on Logos’ website). We have here an 8-session study in the life of Abraham. Logos has this bundled with videos for group introduction and with a leader’s guide for group discussion.

Let’s take the videos first. These are short, which is good. The goal here is not to learn from the video teacher but to facilitate discussion. The videos will also work as simple promotional spots to encourage attendance and participation in the study group. They are not overly flashy, which strengthens their usefulness.

Then the leader’s guide. A good leader’s guide makes it possible for nearly anyone to be able to lead the study by, at the least, providing references to look up and connect. The small group resources section of this guide does just that. It also provides the slides for Powerpoint or Keynote, as well as Logos’ system Proclaim. (No, there are no filmstrips/audio cassettes available. Sorry.)

Additionally, sermon outlines are provided, but I’ve never been good about preaching other people’s outlines. I would use the slides, though, and probably use the provided outlines as a guide for rewrite. There is nothing I see here that makes the material unusable, it’s just my personal preference against using another person’s sermon outline straight up.

Finally, the material. Each weekly session is structured in these parts: Setting the Stage; A Closer Look; Throughout the Bible; Beyond the Bible; Application; Further Reading. These provide:

  • Setting the Stage: Background information on context and genre.
  • A Closer Look: This is just the specifics of the passage itself. This includes some dips into Hebrew to explain finer points of the events.
  • Throughout the Bible: Gives a look at where the ideas from the focal section are shown in other parts of Scripture, including the theological idea from all of the text.
  • Beyond the Bible: Addresses references to this passage in non-Biblical but useful sources, such as Early Church Fathers or Jewish sources. These are valuable additions to the discussion.
  • Application: This is the how-to section, and is that challenging mix of generic and specific that should draw out thoughts without closing off too many possibilities.
  • Further Reading: Bibliography. I was surprised these were not Logos-linked.

Each section has a few questions with a place to type in answers, and these questions make good springboards for group discussion.

Is this curriculum good for you and your church to consider? Absolutely. It is text-centered and seeks to put a clear foundation on the life of Abraham. Those parts of his life that are filled-in via non-Scriptural sources are clearly delineated and allow for easy separation.

Further, the leader’s guide was easy to follow and I found the overall material worthwhile. The advantage of Logos-linking for Scripture references, words, and maps is obvious—one only needs to right-click and search for anything in the material that needs further explanation.

Some improvement could be found in accessing the slides if you do not have Proclaim. It was not too hard, and certainly not worth paying for Proclaim, but still a bit difficult. The only other drawback is the all-digital format. It’s helpful that the Logos website makes PDF and Word formats available, but I live in a semi-not-tech world out here, and if I told church members we’d be doing a digital book Bible study, I’d lose half the participants. So, I’d be using the old inkjet and making my own books, which end up not looking as good.

It’s not a real large problem, but it’s one for me.

I recommend this resource—I expect that the rest of the Patriarchs series up to the same quality and would gladly use it as well.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Sermon Wrap-Up from May 26

A couple of notes from Sunday:

1. No evening service. I knew we had several on the road due to Memorial Day weekend. I also knew we had some farmers who needed the down time, so we took the night off. Our purpose as a body is more than just structured services.

2. Your friendly neighborhood pastor-blogger forgot to clear space on the SD Card, so there’s an abrupt end on the sermon. Don’t tell me it’s better that way, alright?

Sermon Text was 2 Samuel 2, looking at David’s response to the people of Jabesh Gilead and the honor they paid Saul. This, in turn, builds into Memorial Day as an idea: Saul was not perfect, but he was used by God to accomplish several things. The first of which was the delivery of Jabesh from the hands of the marauder Nahash.

David commends the people for their honoring the memory of the one who was critical in their defense. He then challenges the people to move forward in obedience to God and do greater things.

Audio Link is here

Partial Video:

Natural Behavior: Romans 7

The most frequent excuse for our behavior is this: “It’s just natural!” Whether it is in the refrain of “Kids will be kids” or “I just couldn’t help myself,” typically we find our desire to cover up by blaming others just comes, well, naturally. The response is often that we should exercise more self-control, but Paul’s argument in Romans 7 is that self-control is useless, unless the self has changed.

Take a read through the passage. Sin is the owner and driver of human nature. Behavior that is ‘natural’ is not automatically good, and can in fact be quite bad. This can apply across the spectrum of human behavior—just because you like it and it comes naturally does not mean you should do it.

After all, I’ve yet to meet a gluten-allergic person who actually hated bread. Just ones for whom the ingredients were toxic but who had a love for it. Same with many other problem-raising behaviors: most of the time, it feels good. It’s the after-effect that kills us.

The difficult is that in the spiritual realm, it is not enough to reject the doing of sin by living according to the Law of God. Unlike learning to abstain from gluten or avoiding peanuts, or always carrying your Epi-Pen in case something slips past, we start off with the toxic effects. The Law only serves to demonstrate just how many ways we have this problem.

Seeing the Law as the source of the problem is like blaming cardiologists for congenital heart defects: it’s just the messenger, not the cause. Rather, we are born with the problem. It will, eventually, kill us. Some of us may exacerbate the difficulty by piling on issues, but it will get us all in the end.

The solution is not to act naturally. The solution is to change natures. This is where we are in Romans 7:4. Our old natures are not just to be controlled. Instead, they are to be put to death with Christ.

Then, by the settled work of Jesus at the Cross, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are made alive to live based on what is His nature, not ours. We still struggle with falling into our habits, falling back into what was once natural.

We can see that when we learn new things—consider handwriting. Consider my handwriting. It’s awful. Why? Because I learned to write with a broken arm, and have only lately begun to try and retrain myself. I still handwrite with my elbow locked at 90 degrees. I look foolish, and it’s quite inconvenient.

It just became natural when I started writing that way. I don’t have to do that anymore, but I still often do. Why? Muscle memory, old habits, call it what you will…

But it’s not necessary. I have to change the nature of my writing. It is a process which I am working on, when I think about it. (Aside: I’m using a Journible to go through Psalms, and I’m seeing positive improvement. Hoping to be legible by Psalm 119.)

Likewise is the life of the Christian. We are not locked into the cast of sin any longer, and are free to move in obedience to God. Instead, though, we often fall back and obey the old hardened self. It’s not necessary, and quite the opposite of what God has created us to be.

You see, that’s the problem for us: what is natural prior to being made new in Christ is the dead opposite of what God created us to be. We are naturally bent toward self, but are made to be bent toward God. And self-control is not the answer. Christ control, through the Spirit and the Word, is.

Today’s Nerd Note: There’s an old legend regarding a Roman punishment that connects to Romans 7:24. Allegedly, the Romans would chain criminals to corpses in some form of “body of death” punishment.

There’s precious little to substantiate the idea, and much to mitigate against it. That the concept is even considered reflect poorly on many of us preachers and teachers: there is no reason to repeat or recycle things that are probably not true. Be cautious, and teach with truth.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Memorial Day 2013

Memorial Day is a day that we cannot overlook, but one that needs to stay in context. I think about my wedding anniversary when I think of special days. It is true that every December 19, I make an extra effort to recognize the patience and longsuffering of my wife, but I do not live the other 364 days as if I am not married.

Same with Memorial Day: we take a day to pause and remember the sacrifices of those who died to secure our freedom in the United States. We should not, however, act like these men and women did not sacrifice for the rest of our days as well. Please remember to stop and consider the lives given for your freedom today, and then live cognizant of the fact that our simple lives in this country were bought at a price.

I think of two images that haunt me especially during Memorial Day. The first is the picture of Arlington National Cemetery (and other National Cemeteries I’ve seen). The rows and rows of headstones, marking the loss of life in the name of freedom. The cost of war is never truly counted in dollars or materiel. It’s counted in those names.

The other comes from the end of episode 3 of the HBO series Band of Brothers. I can’t find a clear YouTube link to embed it, but as the men of the 101st Airborne are getting ready to ship out from England after D-Day to rebase into France. One of the unit’s NCOs goes to pick up his laundry, and the lady that has been doing laundry for the men of the unit asks him to help her with a few others…and the camera pans out to show the stacks of uniforms, each representing men who had died in the previous 30 days.

Mix that with the reality that the ladies in the laundry are likely alone in the countryside, either as widows or simply waiting to see if they will be.

It haunts me in my safety, in my security.

It is s terrible price to pay, and we must never forget it. To those of you who know Memorial Day because it reminds you of the sacrifice you have given in your sons and daughters, husbands and wives, we know this is hard. We do not know how hard, and we do not know how to say it. We are grateful in ways we can never express.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Book: Magnificent Malevolence

Today’s book is Magnificent Malevolence. I was provided a copy through the publishers in exchange for the review. No money changed hands, and Derek Wilson, author, did not send any cookies to bribe me. This had no effect on my opinion of the book.

Many years ago, C.S. Lewis did himself and the rest of the Christian literary world the great helpful disservice of writing a little book called The Screwtape Letters. This volume attempted to presented the ways in which Christians and Christianity were afflicted by the demonic enemies of God, and caused Lewis difficulties with people wanting a second volume, and caused many others difficulties with trying to match his work.

Fortunately, Derek Wilson’s Magnificent Malevolence does not attempt to hide from its debt to Jack and the infernal correspondence of Screwtape. Wilson acknowledges the connection on the front cover and again in the Introduction chapter of the book itself.

The literary format is quite simple. Wilson presents Magnificent Malevolence as the recovery of a first-source manuscript by the demon involved, in this case a diabolical fiend named Crumblewit. This leads to part of the fun of the book: the names assigned to the demons are quite quirky and entertaining. Blagender, Squimblebag, and Snagwort are some of those names. Good stuff.

The unifying plotline of Magnificent Malevolence is not any particular scheme of the “Lower Command” as much as it is the narrative of the work of Crumblewit. In this, rather than relating to specific temptations and phases of life for an individual, the work rather broadens out to address various occasions across recent church history. Various Christian happenings, from Charismatic movements to music style explosions are addressed, as well as the foundations of radio, TV, and the Internet.

It is here, though, that Magnificent Malevolence has its moments of stumbling. Wilson delves into some territory here where there were, and are, divisions among Christians over the right way to address issues such as worship style, environment, and even church organization processes. However, to read Crumblewit’s take, any division was from the efforts of Hell and anyone who questioned questionable ideas were being the tools of Hell. That is, for me, a touch too far.

Wilson does not tarry too long on any one issue, though, so if your views on the environment or political-economic systems differ from his, there remains much within Magnificent Malevolence to benefit you. Overall, this work stands well as a work of fiction to challenge the Christian to think.

In all, a good read for higher middle-school and up. Remember that this is a work of the author’s imagination, but it is a well-rounded work, and worth your time to read.

Again: free book in exchange for the review. The only demand is the due date, not the content.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Ransomed! Numbers 3

It is the book of Numbers. It is, at times, laborious.

Yet at the same moment, we can see within this where God’s word and God’s work are glorious as well. Numbers 3 begins with the wordy details of the Levites and their duties. They are to serve the priests, beginning with Aaron, and accomplish the basic grunt-work of the operation of the Tabernacle. Including the setting-up and taking-down of the whole thing.

Since Numbers is particularly interested in the census of Israel, the other references to the Levites in this chapter focuses on taking the count of their number. This includes recording the names of the family leaders, and is subject to some of the same discussions regarding the size of the numbers as the census of the fighting men. I do find the separation of the Levites from the fighting men curious, especially in historical context. I think this comes from an assumption that God would provide safety for Israel, because the Levites would be free to serve the worship center without fear of attack.

Of course, the Old Testament demonstrates that the people of Israel did not uphold the obedience to the covenant, and the end result was that God honored the promise to bring judgment. This judgment stemmed from the people not listening to God, not honoring the obligations they had. If you do not listen to the Word of God, no size army will be enough to hold back His judgment. Fidelity to the covenant is the bedrock of security.

I want us to look at something a tad further down, though. There is another reason for the population counts in these opening chapters of Numbers. The people of Israel are counting up to validate the redemption of the firstborn of the land. If you look back at Exodus 22:29-30, you find that the firstborn sons of all Israel were to be set apart to God.

Instead, though, God takes the Levites as a whole tribe as substitutes for the firstborn of every tribe. The count, then, is taken to make sure it comes out even. And it does….not. The people are slightly more numerous than the Levites. There are 273 too many people. This means that 273 firstborn remain to be redeemed.

And redeemed they are, for 5 shekels apiece. One thing that I am curious about is this: did they average that out across all the firstborn, or did Moses pick 273 who had to pay? The text gives no answer, and it probably does not really matter, but I am curious.

If you look at the cost of redemption, though, per person it is this: the same as the cost of freeing a slave at the time. The other typical option for a slave becoming free was to provide someone to be a slave in their place.

These are the two options given here. A life for a life, or an appropriate price for that life. These are the costs of deliverance from slavery. For Israel, it was slavery to Egypt.

For us, it is slavery to sin. (John 8:34)

The bad news is that only one not enslaved to sin can substitute for a slave to sin.

The even worse news is that slavery to sin is hereditary, so no one is going to have a chance to be that substitute.

The only good news in this situation is a connected string of realities. The first is that God has no shadow of sin within Him, and so is not enslaved. And He is the one who came to be our substitute, to provide for our redemption.

That is a very good thing.

Added into the good is this: while the Levites were one-to-one, and the excess Israelites needed cash, this is not the case for us. Because the infinite God is the one who is the substitute, there can be no over application of Him. He is enough.

We, like Israel, were slaves. There was nothing we could do about it, but there was something God could do. And He did.

 

Today’s Nerd Note: There is possibly something to the idea of Levites given to Aaron, to free the priesthood up for its proper functions and the New Testament giving of deacons to the Church so the Apostles could focus on teaching and prayer. Take a look at Acts 6 and consider those possibilities.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

I Earned This! Romans 6

Carrying on through the whole Bible, it’s back to the New Testament and Romans 6. Paul continues to expound on the glory of salvation and the grace of God in this chapter. Romans 5 ended with the idea that grace increases to match the amount of sin present. Romans 6, then, starts with a very clear statement:

Do not sin just to experience grace.

That really should not have to be said, but it did then and it does now. True, we live in the freedom of the Spirit and are not obligated to the Law, but there is a difference in living freely under the Holy Spirit and living like God has no standards whatsoever. The Word guides us in living, and Believers in Christ cannot live in violation of God’s holiness without the Spirit moving in their lives to convict and change them.

And we certainly do not sin just to see what it is to be forgiven. Doing so shows a poor understanding of sin: sin affects far more than just your personal situation. It impacts across your entire circle of influence, and that cannot be taken lightly.

This is not the focus of Romans 6, though, merely the opening statement. There’s something to be learned from Paul here in terms of rhetorical methods and teaching styles:

Be aware of the likely misunderstandings of what you say and take time to correct them.

Diverting into modern blogdom, especially, we need to see how Paul does this. He does not wait until the end of his letter and then say, “Keep in mind, I didn’t mean (reference to misinterpretation).” He does not wait for the Second Epistle to the Romans to fix the misunderstandings. Neither does he say that people should no better than to think he would ever mean such a thing—he simply sees the pitfall and corrects. Immediately.

Do the same thing in your writing, teaching, and preaching.

Paul, though, is not writing to provide an example of rhetorical styles. We can learn that, but he’s got bigger fish to fry. His focus throughout this chapter is on what we people manage to earn with our efforts.

His point is right at the end of the chapter where he highlights that the wages of sin are death. (Or that the wages of sin is death, depending on your translation.)

Wages. What are wages? Quite frankly, we all know what wages are. Wages are what we earn for doing things. Sin earns death. It is not that we as people are naturally good and only a few people are so bad as to deserve death.

It is that we all, when we sin, earn death. We deserve it. Humanity, even when we see people come together and care for one another at crisis times, consistently earns death through our actions.

This runs counter to the common cultural critique that many preachers are always condemning people and being judgmental. Actually, we’re not. We are expressing that all of us are in the same boat, and that’s a boat that is not just going down, but going down fast.

Paul spends Romans 6, though, not on how bad the situation is. Instead, his focus is on the solution. His focus is where ours ought to be:

The gift of God.

Grace. Mercy. New life. Freedom from sin.

This is who Christ has made His followers: alive in Him, never to be mastered by death again. This is Paul’s focus, and so it should be ours: not what we were, rather

Focused on the One who has made us what we are and what we will be.

The call of the Christian is just that: to acknowledge that everyone of us were pulled from the same death, brought to the same life, and all by the same Savior. Since this is true, we go forward and seek Him and those He brings across our path to share the same message with: life, grace, and hope.

Let this be our push: most people already feel dead and hopeless. Proclaim the new life bought by the death of Jesus to them, and let Him work in their lives. It will be worth it.

Live your Christian life as if you were alive in Christ, not still dead, or at least mostly dead, in your sins. You are not waiting for full potency: get to it!

Today’s Nerd Note: Consider the all-encompassing nature of Romans 6:10. The death that He died, He died to sin once for all.

That “for all” is nicely vague in the Greek, and I think that’s actually what is intended. Was the death “for all” the redeemed? Certainly. Was the death “for all” the power of sin to end? Absolutely. Was His death “for all” time, without needing repetition? Without a doubt.

One thing to be wary of in Biblical translation and interpretation is this: At times, Biblical writers were vague or ambiguous on purpose. They wanted to economize on words and say as much as possible in as few words as possible. After all, it was a time of hand-written, hand-copied, and orally delivered messages. You wanted that.

So do not make something finite on only one side of a meaning, even if it does seem to add clarity. It’s just not always the right decision.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Product: Journible for Acts

I hesitate to call this a “Book” Review, because there’s not a lot of book to it. So I went with “Product.” Officially, the title of this product is Acts: Journible the 17:18 Series but that’s a clunky label when you have to retype it a lot. So, Journible for Acts is what you get. This product was provided through Cross-Focused Reviews in exchange for the review.

The printing press. It was a glorious invention. It remains the helpful concept underlying such things as copiers and inkjet printers. Thanks to the press, we have the ability to have multitudes of books and acres of other printed material. We can read, read, read, and read until our eyes go bad and our brains get overfull. We can read, read silently, and then find that we do not retain what we have put in our minds.

These days, there are suggestions that we should reconsider using the printer for everything. Items that need remembering are more often remembered when written down. My grocery list serves as a prime example: the one I keep on my Droid? If I don’t see it, I don’t remember a blasted thing on it. I can, however, recreate a list I wrote out a month ago. We remember what we write better than what we try to brain alone or what we put in the digital banks of our lives.

This long intro comes around to the product I want to point you to today: it’s called a Journible. I’m thinking that should pronounce like a cross between journal and Bible, but I’m just happy to be doing this via type and not audio. Specifically, I have the one for Acts from the New Testament, but the format is available for several other Scripture texts—some as stand-alones, and some in groups. (Oh, and Psalms takes 2.)

First, the concept: the Journible is a hardcover journal. Easy enough. Lined pages, ribbon marker to hold your spot. The binding on the Acts volume has held up well, and it is also minimalist in its labeling: the spine just says “Acts” with a small “17:18” at the bottom. The left-side pages have writing prompt questions, while the right-sides are numbered for the user to write out the text of the connected Scripture passage.

That’s right, the idea here is that you will read through a passage of Scripture, journal out a few thoughts on it, and then hand-copy the text that you read onto the right-side pages of the Journible. When you are done, you will have written out your own copy of that section of Scripture. It should help with memory, and it forces the user to really notice every word.

Next, the Acts volume specifically. This one runs 328 pages, and the writing prompts are mostly helpful to get the reader to consider what is going on in the text. The questions vary from “how deep is a fathom?” to pry at technical details to “summarize the Gospel as presented in this section” to pry some serious thoughts. I found the varied questions helpful, as was the extra space around them. One could easily answer the questions and still have plenty of room for personal thoughts.

I only had an issue with one question, but that was more personal than anything—in discussing Paul’s journeys, there’s a prompt to show Paul’s travels on a map. The idea is that the user will draw in the map. Which, for me, is a “yeah, right” kind of moment. I just went on and used the space for other thoughts, because the space was still nice and lined.

In all, I liked what I saw in the Acts Journible. Ann and I will probably take a stab at working through one of these when we finished our current devotional material. Basically, if you want to take a steady read through a Biblical section, this is a great tool to have on hand for it.

Product provided in exchange for review.

Stand together: Numbers 2

A quick note: as I write this, the death toll from a tornado outbreak in Oklahoma stands at over 50 (most sources) and that number includes too many children. Honestly, it includes too many killed in one place at one time. Two observations: 1) Christian people, pray that God would bring comfort and ease suffering; 2) Any of you who are so callous as to politicize this in either direction earn the contempt of any decent human being in doing so. This is neither the time to talk budgets (thought that is legitimate later), guns, global climate change, or any other attempt to take people’s tragedies and have your view benefit from it. If all you can say is to re-prognosticate on your personal politics, then stick a sock in it or turn off your computer/tablet/phone and go away. Human beings care for one another, so either join humanity or crawl back into your hole. This includes you, even if you agree with me on 98% of everything else.

Numbers 2. On the surface, it’s a lovely expression of the camp location arrangements and the strategic planning for the defense of the mobile people of Israel. Each tribe is allotted a specific location for their camping, with the Tabernacle in the center of the camp.

There is a theological idea here, that God is at the center of the camp. If this were the retinue of a king or an army on the march, then the most important person would be in the center: the king or the commander. With the people of Israel, they are both: the King’s traveling company and the Army of the Lord. So, His Tabernacle goes in the middle. This is more than just logical, it is standard behavior.

Seeing that God is King and Commander of Israel, as He is King and Commander of Believers, is seeing truth. But there is more to see here…

God is at the center of the camp. No tribe is particularly closer to the Tabernacle than any other, except for the Levites whose job is to serve at the Tabernacle. There was no sense in which one tribe could earn, through valor or devotion, a closer place to God. Neither could a tribe forfeit, through cowardice or apathy, their place of proximity to God.

Seeing that God is accessible to all of His people, based on His assignment and not their merit, is seeing the truth as it remains today. God’s people come before Him because of His grace, not their worth. But there is more to see here…

God is at the center of the camp, and I think ESV’s translation in Numbers 2:2 is likely the best here, “They shall camp facing the tent of meeting on every side.” The tribes do not encamp as prepared for war, facing out and ready for the battle. Rather, they encamp as prepared for worship, facing inward toward God. It is certainly likely that wise leaders stationed guards looking out, but the focus of the community was on worship, not the surrounding issues.

See that God is the focus, not the battles, not the challenges, not the surrounding environment, is seeing truth that is critical today. God’s people should be more focused on Him than anything or anyone else. All else will fall in line. But there is one more thing I want to point you to…

God is at the center of the camp of the nation, but the camps of the tribes center around the family units. The ideal of Scripture is that loving families work together to sustain those within the family, support those within the community, and share with those in need. It all starts, though, with a family that is able to live life together, serving God and learning holistically what it is to follow Him.

This is something that we have lost in too many ways in the modern American world. Not that it went perfectly in Israel, either, but we have trouble with this. We have families that fail their members, and then communities that do not fill those gaps. We have families that draw the line of help at their door, and stay self-involved, and that is also not a good behavior.

The reality is that, as God’s people, the righteous stand together. First, they stand with those of their family that will stand with them. Second, it grows from their into their local community of faith. Then, on to those who are near and ultimately to those who are far who stand for what God desires: righteousness, true justice and real mercy, true care and proper responsibility.

Note, but not a nerd one: There are ample examples of failure on this, and reasons why people need to separate from biological families and failed spiritual families. This post is not meant to advocate that one should ignore sin or submit to abuse for the sake of family. Far from it: find those who will support righteousness and justice.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Sermon Wrap-Up for May 19

Here are the sermons for yesterday:

Morning Audio Link is here

Video:

Outline:

James 2:14-26 May 19 AM

Intention: Faith must be put into action

F: Freed through Faith: this stands alone, only faith empowered by the Holy Spirit can save us and free us from sin and death

A: Acting in Faith: If there are no actions, how do we know there is faith? 

----->Note that shaking demons are useless

I: Informed by the Word: Abraham

T: Trusting in God

H: Healed from past failures: Rahab

Therefore: act! Tell that person about Jesus! Act! Find a job that does not violate your Biblical standards! Act! Do the right thing: follow publicly, live fully for Christ; repent; restore your relationships...

Stop "having faith it will work out" and put work guided by the Word into play.

 

Evening Audio Link is here

Video is here:

May 19 PM: The Holy Spirit John 14:16-17

Identity: Third Person of the Trinity

               A. Excursus: why we use "person"

               B. Reminder: who are the other Two?

Relevance

               A. Not the Creator

               B. Not the Redeemer

               C. Yet the Sustainer

Work

               A. Conviction unto salvation

               B. Conviction unto repentance

               C. Empowerment unto obedience

               D. Empowerment unto prayer/relationship

Results

               A. Salvation

               B. Sanctification: abandonment of sin

               C. Sanctification: growth as a disciple

 

Personal note: Pray for Ann and I to have wisdom about vehicles. We’ve got one van in the shop and the car needed a brace of tires this morning as well. We’d rather fix the van, but probably need a new one. However, budget issues must be considered, so we need the Lord’s wisdom on this one.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A certain reign: Romans 5

We continue into the book of Romans. I will again confess to you that a good commentary or two will help you as you dig through this text and will certainly be more exhaustive than my own offering here. That being said, here’s a look at Romans 5: it’s about the reign of death.

Well, and the end of that reign.

Romans 5 is a prime example of why, even though verse-by-verse and word-by-word study is helpful, you cannot only study the Bible in small blocks. Instead, we see here why it is necessary to take the sweep of Scripture together in order to understand the smaller units.

Paul’s points in Romans 5 are these:

  1. Death came through Adam
  2. Death kept reigning even with the Law from Moses
  3. Life comes through grace
  4. Grace came through Jesus.

Now, without knowing Adam and Moses, how well do we grasp the first two of Paul’s points? Not very well. The latter two points are the positive ones, and they are well worth knowing—but the importance is somewhat diminished if we do not understand the deficit we start with.

This is critical to understanding of Paul’s line of thought: there is no “neutral ground” in the concepts of Scripture. One is either dead or alive, righteous or wicked, eternally secure or eternally lost. This is before we started shading things into “mostly dead” and “slightly alive” or other such halfway-positions. Our modern viewpoint puts slides where hard jumps ought to be: certain things are absolute. Life and death are one of those.

Life and death are the picture used by Paul to illustrate the spiritual reality of humanity in Romans 5. While we are not physically dead, we as a species are spiritually dead from the get-go. That death keeps us from God, because in Him is life, and death and decay are not found in His presence.

A note is due here regarding exceptions to the rule: there are none. That does not mean that God, in His mercy and righteousness and justice, treats those incapable of spiritual action, like infants or those whose mental conditions prevent it, in a fully appropriate, grace-filled and loving manner. I think the ability to do this and satisfy the laws of righteousness and justice is made possible by the willing sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, but exactly how one would “chart” it I will not speculate.

Death came in through the first created man: Adam. Good old Adam. He has left such a heritage that we even deny his existence these days. Through his and Eve’s willful decision to violate God’s one command, “Don’t eat that!” they brought sin into the world. Death followed sin, because the wages of sin are death (Romans 6:23). Physical death is the side effect of the spiritual death that sin brings. Why? Because humanity was created in the image of God, who is spirit (John 4) and so people are spirit in a body. And losing the spiritual vitality of that initial creation wrecks the body as well.

Death came in then, and stuck around. Even in the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12. Even in the Exodus and all of the Law and Tabernacle and everything surrounding the Exodus, death reigned: people still died, most without a knowledge of God at all.

Because neither the liberty to simply follow human conscience nor the constraints of a multitude of religious, civil, and moral laws can undo the damage of sin. It’s just not enough. The original bent that was brought in by Adam can not be straightened out by law or freedom.

It takes the hammer of grace to beat it out. The hammer of grace, that drove the nails into Jesus at the Cross, is the only hope for any of us. Not because it enables us to live, on our own, up to the holiness of God but because Christ died in our place.

The reason that it took such drastic action is that we are not spiritually “snoozing” or even “comatose” without grace. We are dead. Separated from the love of God and the created purpose of our lives. Since we were dead, we could not help ourselves, and so someone had to save us.

That someone is Jesus. His saving work was not just for His people, the Jews, but for all people, which is great news. His saving work was not for righteous or godly people—it was for ungodly people. Which we all are at the outset.

This grace is a glorious thing. The deeper trouble we were in, the longer dead or the more decayed, the more grace there is to counteract that. The more grace there is to rescue us.

It all comes through one person: Jesus. Strangely enough, we see an effort to act like He never really was, either. For many decades we have seen growing denials of Adam and his bringing of sin into the world, and that is joined to the growing denials of Jesus and His bringing of life into the world.

Yet there was a certain reign: death reigned in all humanity.

Until the reign of the King of Kings.

We deny Him at our own peril and to our own great loss.

Today’s Nerd Note: There are some efforts to make a symbolic interpretation or a non-literal-Adam interpretation compatible with Genesis 1-3. However, any such interpretative moves must remain compatible with the theology expressed here in Romans, for God does not contradict Himself. So, if God through Paul says Adam brought sin and death, then God through Moses would not say that Adam was not real. Or vice-versa.

This comes back to the original point: we interpret Scripture together. Genesis needs Romans, Romans needs Genesis. To study one and neglect the other is to neglect it all.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Sermon Wrap-Up for May 12

There’s not much to wrap-up. We did not have evening services to allow more time for some family celebrations of Mother’s Day, and I gave extemporaneous a shot for the morning. So, here’s the audio and video:

Audio Link is here.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Count Me Out! Numbers 1

We finished Leviticus. This was no small feat, and I appreciate all of you who hung with the extended time that took. On a personal note, I am finishing up the three most intense school terms I think I have had or will have (at least until the next academic level) and so will hopefully be more brain-able to write on a regular basis.

We come now to Numbers. A great deal of time could be spent on authorship for Numbers, just as it could for all the other books of the Pentateuch. I think there is evidence to consider regarding whether or not Moses is truly the sole author of these books, but that evidence is not strong enough to cast aside that traditional view. Given that the New Testament upholds in Luke, John, Acts, Romans, and more the general idea of Moses as the ‘author’ of the Law, then I think we can hold it as the right view. I do not think this precludes later editing. I recent wrote some articles for the Arkansas Baptist News. A very wonderful editor (actually, an assistant editor, I know Tim didn’t do it) helped it make sense. Yet does she get credit? No, it went in the paper with my name on it. So, some later edits, like updated place names, are not incompatible with Mosaic authorship for the Pentateuch.

With Moses in mind, taking notes as he goes about leading the people from Egypt to the Promised Land, what have we in Numbers?

Other than, of course, one of the more maligned books of the Old Testament. After all, it’s just a bunch of ‘begats’ in the KJV and that doesn’t make good reading. All those names you can’t pronounce, all those statistics. It’s a bore.

Actually, it’s not a bore. True, the genealogies are a hill to climb for reading. They are also helpful for practicing your Bible-name pronunciation. Just work through them, slowly. Use a newer Bible translation, and sound the word out as you were taught in school. Don’t be intimidated: the problem is more in your mind than with the word. It won’t be long and you’ll wish your favorite ballplayers were named  Ammishaddai and Pedahzur.

There are two major things I want to highlight in Numbers 1. The first is something to tuck away for future reference: take note of the sizes of the tribes and the whole community at the beginning of the book. There will be comings and goings and issues arriving in the narrative that should greatly reduce the population. However, the final count is within five percent of the original count. That’s pretty good retention.

The other matter that is worth your attention is this number: zero. None. Nada. Zilch.

You get the point. This is how many Levites were counted by Moses in the census. Not a single one. This matters because of the job of the Levites in ancient Israel. The Levites were responsible for caring for the worship materials of the nation and for teaching God’s Word to the people.

Yet they go uncounted. There could have been a lot of them. There could have been a few of them. The numbers are just not present. Why should we care? After all, we need not a Tabernacle nor an Ark of the Covenant in these years since the Cross. I think we can take some ideas here without overblowing the symbolism. Here are a few thoughts:

1. The Levites were to do the work of God no matter their numbers. While a census of fighting men shows who you should, and shouldn’t, tangle with, the work of teaching and sharing about the grace of God must be done, even if you find yourself short-staffed and overmatched.

2. The Levites were to do the work of God and He was able to bring it to fruition. A reliance on themselves would be counterproductive: the point was that God worked through them and in them.

3. The Levites were a precursor to, well, us. Christians are a “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5) and bear a similar responsibility to this world that the Levites bore to the nation of Israel. They were to teach the Word and show the way to worship. They were to be examples of passion for God and righteousness lived-out.

This is us. We are to be, as the Levites, the unnumbered multitude that sets out to do the work of spreading the Word of God. This will not always go smoothly, and sometimes we will feel scattered out. The Levites were, too, as we see in Numbers: they do not receive a “territory” but instead get cities scattered throughout the Land. Additionally, they get the six cities for murderous criminals and accidental killers to flee into as well.

If we as Christian people would focus our efforts on worshiping fully, living out our faith, teaching the Word of God, and being a place of redemption and justice, we might find our time better spent than when we are haggling about census-taking. If the Levites could do it, so can we.

Today’s Nerd Note: There are issues to consider dealing with the large numbers in the book of Numbers. If these numbers are to be taken as literally as we would take a population count today, then the size of the people of Israel gets pretty unwieldy. Additionally, given the city sizes in the land of Canaan, there should have been no fear for Israel compared to each individual city: they would have massively outnumbered each separate foe.

Our options are:

1. Toss the numbers in Numbers. This is not an acceptable decision to me, as there is no textual ground to cut holes in the scroll and leave out what was recorded.

2. Allegorize the numbers in Numbers. Or treat them in some other non-literal fashion, that these numbers represent something, not that they represent the true count of Israelites. I’m not a fan of this idea. While it is possible, it certainly appears that the intent is to provide an accurate, if rounded, count of Israelite warriors.

3. Take the numbers in Numbers literally. In other words, treat 10,000 like it means….10,000. This is the simplest solution and should be the default position for any section of Scripture that we find hard to accept. We accept it unless proper study of the material gives another textually-derived and compatible idea. While the logistics of the huge Israelite migration would be hard, it is not impossible and there is no over-compelling reason to abandon this view.

4. Take the numbers in Numbers literally….but watch the words. The Hebrew of Scripture uses letters for numbers (not uncommon in those days) and then adds words to make things like “42 thousands.” It is possible that “thousands” could be taken as a military term, like “legion” or “battalion” or “platoon.” Why would that matter? Well, 42 thousands, for example, is then possibly not 42,000. It could be 42 platoons. Which becomes a flexible number, because even today’s military units use differing sizes for those unit types.

I see the logic in this fourth view, and it is textually-derived. If the overall view of the Hebrew terms is found to support that concept, I would be glad to see Bibles use this form for translation.

Until then, I’m hesitant to stake a decision between view 3 and view 4. In an academic setting, I would lean towards 4 but would not make it a point of preaching. What about you?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Sermon Wrap-Up for May 5, 2013

Ever have a day where you get to the end and think, I was supposed to do something?

Yeah, me too. I was supposed to post this.

Morning Sermon:

Audio link is here

Video Embed:

Outline:

You Broke the Whole Thing: James 2:8-13 May 5 AM

One Problem, One Solution

Consider Sins (use Galatians 5, Revelations 22 for lists)

Galatians 5:19–21

19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality,

20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions,

21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Revelation 22:15

15 Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.

Sin has costs:

1. Emotional

2. Societal

3. Spiritual

4. Physical

5. Eternal

There is but one solution

It is not: to act like there are no sins anymore

It is not: to sort out the lesser sins and ignore them

It is not: to criminalize some sin while embracing other sin

It is not: to shame sinners into self-destruction

It is:

The Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

The surrender of our destroyed lives

The presence of the Holy Spirit

The imputation of righteousness

The freedom of our will to follow

The whole thing is broken: all the Law, all of life, 

Evening Sermon:

Audio link is here

Video Embed:

Outline:

Assurance: Romans 8:15-16 May 5 PM

1. Baptists are known for "once saved, always saved"

2. What does this mean?

     A. Saved by God

     B. Maintained by God

     C. Sustained by God

3. Hold to the assurance of salvation:

     A. For eternity

     B. Out of love

     C. Not out of obligation (Remarkable love of God, that honors obligation without acting only out of obligation)

     D. God does nothing that He does not desire to do: His love for you, His salvation is because of His choice of you.

     E. Therefore, rest in the stability of that love:

          I. You cannot earn it

          II. You cannot lose it

          III. You cannot improve on it

          IV. You cannot do enough to deserve it

          V. You can only live in light of it

Thursday, May 2, 2013

It is as it was: Romans 4

Carrying on through the whole Bible, we come to Romans 4. Go ahead, take the time to read it. You can use this handy-dandy link to pull it up on the screen, and then just close that tab to come back here.

Paul has finished his introductory matter for his letter to the Romans. It has been a longer introduction than his other letters, partly because Paul has not yet been to the church in Rome. He has a general idea what is going on there, as the church is made up of people like the church anywhere—which means certain things are automatically true. We see those in Romans 1-3: the church is made up of redeemed sinners living in the midst of sinners.

Practical point 1: This bears making plain: churches are made up of redeemed sinners living in the midst of sinners. Therefore, there is no perfect church out there. Every gathering will have practical, doctrinal, missional, or other flaws in how they do what they do. Get over yourself and take part.

Now that Paul has established the overall need for grace in the first three chapters, he comes back to illustrate the point. His audience recognizes the Jewish heritage of Christianity which makes his first point logical: Abraham.

Abraham is honored as the patriarch of the Jewish faith as well as the origin point for the Jewish people. (Yes, there’s a difference: one can convert to Judaism, but that does not make one ethnically Jewish. Likewise, one can be a half-Jewish individual because of parentage.) Abraham is also hailed as one of the originators of monotheism in general. This attribution is debated, and those who recognize Genesis as accurate realize that it was God’s idea not Abraham’s, but still, the point holds.

Practical Point 2: If you want to make an argument, start from common ground. For some arguments and people, you may have to start with the idea that water is wet, but try to find a place of agreement and work forward.

Vocabulary Point: ARGUMENT: discourse intended to persuade or a reason given in proof or rebuttal. NOT always an angry moment.

Paul highlights the history of Abraham and draws from Genesis 15 where the text records that “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Economics is the next digression for Paul, as he points out that what one works for is not “credited to him” but is owed to him. In the Roman economic system, something “credited” in this fashion was a favor bestowed undeserved.

The idea, then, is that Abraham acted by believing, but that this itself was not enough to be counted as righteous. Instead, the righteousness of Abraham is shown as a credited favor from the one in whom Abraham placed his faith. The quote from the Psalms (Psalm 32:1-2) bears out that God is the credit-grantor in this case.

Expounding on the heritage of Abraham, Paul highlights that this event is prior to the circumcision of Abraham, and even predates the birth of Isaac his heir. The promise to Abraham is fulfilled not simply by his fathering of Isaac but instead in his faith. Ultimately, the promise is found, according to Paul, in the coming of Jesus who was handed over for trespasses and raised up for our justification.

Practical Point 3: Doing what God commands does not earn us anything. God’s favor credits His people with righteousness, and so we work in response to Him. This is critical to our understanding of Christianity as life and religion: the favor of God is granted by grace alone and our actions follow that. Otherwise, we collapse toward self-serving behavior.

Today’s Nerd Note: One issue we have in Bible Translation is that there is no good English word for the Greek word “pisteuw” which is the verbal cognate of “pistis” that we translate as faith. The best we can do is to put this as “believe” but that leads to missing a few of the connections. Further, we have varying degrees of believing in things in modern America, and there really are not those nuances in Greek. To believe/have faith in/”pisteuw” is to fully trust.

So is there a better way to communicate this?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Book: Charts on the Life, Letters, and Theology of Paul

Today’s book is brought to you by Kregel Academic and Ministry Resources. They provided this book in exchange for the review. Which was a blessing, because it saved me $20 on a book I intended to buy in the first place.

We live nearly 2000 years after the composition, compilation, and canonization of the letters of the Apostle Paul. His writings comprise the bulk of the New Testament and his expression and thought intents are so deeply imprinted in the life of the Western Church and its traditions that he has almost eclipsed the dozen Apostles of the beginning of Acts.

Of course, this makes him the frequent target of study and scholarship. In consideration of this, there is almost a better case to be made for “no more Paul books!” than there is for “More Paul books!”

Into this comes Lars Kierspel’s Charts on the Life, Letters, and Theology of Paul, published by Kregel Academic in their Kregel Charts of the bible series. I have the Hebrews volume in the same series, and have just about worn it out doing a series on Hebrews.

Kierspel has taken the task of summarizing the major scholarly work that already surrounds the Pauline corpus and presenting the major views that exist. He does so by presenting charts in four categories: background, Paul’s life and ministry, Paul’s letters, and Paul’s theological concepts. This is followed with actual written descriptors to go alongside each of the 111 charts. These explanations help extend the context of the chart to clarify sources and terms.

Charts on the Life, Letters, and Theology of Paul presents a rounded picture of Pauline scholarship, including a brief summary of the ‘new perspectives on Paul’ that is, by necessity, too short but worth consideration. Kierspel provides multiple viewpoints on such issues as actual authorship of Pauline writings and dating of the various letters. In a few cases, this leaves the reader to seek final guidance elsewhere to help determine which view is accurate, however this work is a summary of views and so satisfies in that regard.

I was surprised to see no mention of theories of Pauline authorship for Hebrews, but as I don’t think he wrote Hebrews either, that’s no fault. I think being surrounded by traditional Baptists, that view has not gone away and so I am used to seeing it.

Charts is finished with a 31 page shopping list for the serious student of Paul. Oh, wait, that’s a 31 page bibliography. It is thoroughly fleshed out with resources from the highly technical to the popularly accessible, and includes both books and journal articles. If I could make one change to this book overall, I would organize the bibliography by focus and reference type, helping separate the summaries from the technical articles on single Greek words.

Greek does factor in Kierspel’s presentation, but most of it is placed alongside English glosses, allowing an English-only use of all but a few of the charts in the text. Admittedly, the charts on hapax legomena are less useful if you are not doing Greek, but the major looks at theology are useful in either language.

Charts on the Life, Letters, and Theology of Paul will not replace a good commentary on specific letters, nor will it replace a comprehensive reconstructive biography of Paul, but this is a great tool to put on the shelf for seeing snippets of all the information in one place. Get one. Or two, and pass one on…

Yes, I am enthusiastic about this book. No, it is not just because I was given a book in exchange for the review. In fact, the only requirement was that I put the review up, not that the review be favorable. But it’s still a worthwhile investment for your New Testament studies.

Service Recap for September 27

Good evening! Here are the service replay links for Sunday, September 27th for those who are interested! Sunday Morning Videos: Sunday night...