Thursday, August 29, 2013

Aliens again? Numbers 15

Yep.

Aliens show up again in Numbers 15. And what we discover is that the Law of God applies to the aliens just like it applies to everyone else: Numbers 15:29-30 reminds us of this reality. As Olly Perkins once said, “The law’s the law, and we all got to face up to it sometime.” (Reference this excellent film)

Now, we have already looked at the involvement of aliens in worship in Israel, when the issue came up in Leviticus. I will summarize here: the Law applied to all in the land, and all were eligible to sacrifice for atonement for sin. Further, there were defined steps to move from alien to participant in the covenant.

Numbers 15 restates some of these laws, but especially makes clear that there was to be no different law for aliens, sojourners, and sons of Israel. The Law was to be the Law, applied evenly and equally to all.

Why does this matter to us, now?

First, it should matter in our personal lives. Everyone we encounter, whether stranger, alien, or familiar face should be treated with the same dignity and respect that anyone receives. Do we also need to venture into just how that means we as Christians ought to be treating people? While there are practical implications of language, we should never treat someone differently based solely on whether they are “one of us” or not.

Second, it should matter in our churches. Our goal as churches is to spread the Gospel. While I appreciate the use of strategy in planning church outreach, this cannot exclude connecting with anyone we come in contact with and sharing the love of Christ.

Further, we should not structure our churches such that newcomers are unable to become a part of the fellowship just for coming in after we got here. The clique that many fellowships are is a detriment to fellowship-building. No, new member Bob does not know what the traditional Labor Day cookout is. Please include him and tell him.

Finally, it matters to our nation. We are made up of people who have been here, or their families have, for generations mixed with people who woke up here for the first time today. It is patently unfair to structure our laws in any such way that any portion of that spectrum is advantaged over another. There are benefits to citizenship—drop-in, drop-out voters aren’t a good idea; but in terms of fairness before the law, that should remain standard.

To accomplish this, a few things would be necessary. One is to find a way to minimize the legalities of life. Why? Because it takes a lifetime to figure what’s legal!! That’s hardly fair to anyone, but it certainly puts newcomers at a bigger disadvantage. Further, do we structure our cultural life such that others are welcome to participate or not?

Now, alongside this is the realization that we have to know what our base-level culture actually is, but that’s another discussion.

Here is the question at the root of it all: Do we actually live as a nation, a church, a person that welcomes people in for the glory of God?

I know how I would answer that.

Today’s Nerd Note: Note the execution for Sabbath-breaking in the tailing portion of the chapter. The key relevance is this: most of the Law has been expressed in a “When you enter the Promised Land” context. From this, we can assume that there were a few loopholes of grace in the initial travel time from Egypt.

Those loopholes are gone now. The people are to live with all the responsibilities of the Land. Without the blessings of it.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

August 28 2013

Proverbs 28:8 should be seen as a shot across the bow of our entire economic system. C.S. Lewis noted this in Mere Christianity as well (I think, it may have been a different writing): why do we base our system on something that Scripture fully rejects? Profiteering on interest and usury? Even in this modern era, we might do well to note that the three major monotheistic religions of the world all speak against usury in their sacred writings. Hinduism and Buddhism are so diverse, I’m not really sure what their opinion is…but clearly, the God of Scripture, the One True God, is against it.

 

Is it any wonder our system is collapsing?

 

Proverbs 28:18 reflects that trouble will come on all, but the righteous will find deliverance. The crooked, the wicked? It will all fall apart for that person.

 

Proverbs 28:28 tells us something we should see: people react to the character of the leaders of a nation. Wicked leaders lead to people locking down, hiding out. Righteous people take refuge and hunker back when the wicked are in power. Then, when the wicked pass out of power, the righteous come out of the woodwork. Further, more people align with the righteous for their own sake.

 

This brings a question: What should we do? Hide out or come forth and challenge the wicked?

Book: God in my Everything

First, let me share this book trailer for God in My Everything:

Now, on to the book:

God in My Everything by Ken Shigematsu claims to present a possibility for deeper spirituality even in the busyness of life. It is endorsed by a good number of folks, and echoes the clear screaming many modern people are doing for a clear view of God among the chaos of everyday life.

Shigematu’s overall point in God in My Everything is that the chaos is often of our making, and so to clearly view God, perhaps we should start by clearing the chaos. He works autobiographically through his experience visiting a monastery and working in a major corporation. It’s worth reading, because he does not tread the “look at what I gave up” path and instead highlights the similarities in his ministry vocations throughout the years.

The difficulty with books like God in My Everything is that, too often, the author’s substitute for how you have been living is to live as he says. You need only substitute my exact practices, many seem to say, and all will be well. This is an error that Shigematu diligently avoids. His focus on challenging the reader to think is the true value in this work: Have you considered how you address the Sabbath? rather than a “Thou shalt not fish upon Sunday” viewpoint.

God in My Everything challenges the reader to develop their own personal rule, informed by Scripture and contemplation, regarding each spiritual discipline in the text. Rather than prescribe for each of us, Shigematsu clearly suggests ideas that can be built into a unique pattern for the reader’s life.

There are, naturally, cautions about taking this book and jumping off the mystical deep-end. Christians are anchored by the objective truth of the Word of God and not the fuzzy-feelings inside. However, God in My Everything is well-anchored in that same place.

I really enjoyed this book—more than I expected to. I’m willing to recommend this one. Alongside a solid Bible study, this will make a good group discussion for life.

I did receive a copy of this book for free from Cross Focused Reviews.

Restraint

Clarity abounds when fewer words are used. So, if you wish to be clear, show some restraint instead of showing off your verbosity. Gather a vocabulary capable of expressing yourself, and be succinct.

After all, most of the time you’re not being paid by the word. Your goal is clarity, and it can be done with brevity.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

August 27 2013: Proverbs 27

General wisdom throughout the whole chapter, reflecting various applications in life.

 

Proverbs 27:8 reminds us that we have a place that we belong, and would do well to stay close to it. This is not completely against moving, but think about the societal degradation that comes from a no-roots culture. Don’t know one? Turn on your TV, American, and you’ll see one. It’s us. A person far from home is vulnerable and must become self-sufficient.

 

This verse also evoked an image in my mind of the Ugly Duckling Fable. You have a swan that is out of the nest and learns the wrong thing: she learned duck things. She thought she was a duck—and she was a swan! Those who are too far out learn the wrong things.

 

Proverbs 27:18 reminds us to be faithful in our work. There’s more depth there, regarding watching over the business entrusted to you by a boss or superior. That’s worth remembering, work well and honor will come.

Book Recommendation: God’s Wisdom in Proverbs

I have two things to post today. I’ll get to Proverbs 28 in another post.

 

Right now, I want to point you to a book. It’s called God’s Wisdom in Proverbs and it looks like this:

 

This is not a verse-by-verse commentary on Proverbs, but rather a look at selected passages to help explain the book length concepts for Proverbs. Phillips examines a wide range of Proverbs, takes down some misconceptions, and applies good hermeneutics to the task.

 

It is from reading God’s Wisdom in Proverbs that I first heard the explanation of Proverbs as “living skillfully in fear of God” (I think that’s the quote, my copy is currently loaned out). That has become my functional definition for this blog as well.

 

If you want to study Proverbs as a cohesive book rather than a hodge-podge of nifty statements, start with a good, literal translation. (Or Hebrew, if you’re Randy Cox.) Then, add in God’s Wisdom in Proverbs. You will not regret it.

 

(The pic links to the publisher’s website, Amazon also carries this one.)

In the Dark: John 3

In the dark is where secrets are kept. In the dark is where confusion reigns. In the dark is where our pasts lie buried. In the dark is where our future sits shrouded.

In the dark is where we hold conversations we are afraid of starting. In the dark is where we hold conversations we are afraid of finishing. In the dark is where we hold conversations that we are afraid of in the light.

In the dark is where we speak to those we are afraid will reject us. In the dark is where we speak to those we think about rejecting. In the dark is where we speak to those we will be rejected for speaking to.

In the dark is where we do not understand. In the dark is where we are challenged to grow. In the dark is where our own wits will not save us. In the dark is where our fame fails us. In the dark is where our obscurity is insignificant.

In the dark is where we are born from. In the dark is where we often live. In the dark is where Nicodemus came to Jesus. In the dark is where his spirit was. In the dark is where his mind was.

In the dark, he was told to be born again. In the dark is where we are told the same. In the dark, we live in judgment. In the dark, we are in need of redemption. In the dark, even the good is only stumbled upon.

In the dark, we ask questions that are silly in the light. In the dark, we expect that we are the only ones. In the dark is where the rest of the world does not matter. In the dark is where we try to climb where we cannot go.

In the dark, we think judgment is cruel. In the dark, we think judgment is for others. In the dark, we practice evil deeds. In the dark, we do not love. In the dark, we do not love others. In the dark, we do not know God.

In the dark, we seek out rituals. In the dark, we seek out fame. In the dark, we long to hear our names. In the dark, we fear being replaced. In the dark, we expect that it is all about us. In the dark, we ask for news of our renown.

In the dark, we despair of failed hopes. In the dark, we feel evidence without certainty. In the dark, we can only cry out for the light. In the dark, we cannot provide light for ourselves.

In the dark there are endings. In the dark, there is judgment. In the dark, perishing.

In the dark there shines a Light. In the dark Jesus has spoken. In the dark there is something greater. In the dark, there is some One greater. In the dark there is hope.

In the dark, the Light has come.

In the Light, there is the Cross. In the Light, the empty tomb. In the light, the Word of God.

In the Light, He must and shall increase.

So be it.

Nerd Notes on John 3

I wanted to let the post stand on its own.
Nerd Note 1: There are no quotation marks in Greek, though there are discourse markers that indicate probable points of quotation. This is one reason I’ve stopped being a fan of red-letter Bibles. They make absolute something that is not absolute in the text. We do not, for certain, know if Jesus said John 3:16 or if that is John’s commentary on what Jesus said and did.
Note this: given the belief that all Scripture is God-breathed, it’s not that critical. If Jesus said it directly, great. If John wrote it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, then God said it through John. It should bear the same weight for us.
Nerd Note 2: John 3:24 gives us a clear reason to see the Gospel as written in hindsight. Even if John had kept notes and then compiled them, we see him reflecting on timelines and events.
Nerd Note 3: Much is made of “you must be born again.” It is possible to render that phrase as “you must be born from above.” Either way, it’s about the spiritual birth that brings one to life in Christ.
Nerd Note 4: One can neglect the birth metaphor and one can overplay the birth metaphor. I do not think one should expect it takes 9 months to go from first hearing of Jesus to being saved. I do not think we can neglect that it takes outside force to labor and bring us into life in Christ. The cooperation of man’s will and God’s sovereign decree is not ours to fully parse, but I do think we cannot over-credit God’s work in salvation.
Nerd Note 5: Much is made of the use of κοσμος for world in John 3:16, as it is the most expansive term for world and has practically no limit. I have not seen any major work on John’s usage of the term κοσμος (world/universe) as the realm in opposition to the Kingdom of Light. That is probably connected to the tendency not to take the words out of Jesus’ mouth and put them from John’s pen, but I think there’s something there.
Nerd Note 6: Judgment? Guess what: those without Christ are judged. End of story. Judgment is the natural state of the world. It is only the coming of Christ as Redeemer that offsets the impending judgment.
Nerd Note 7: (couldn’t end on 6, could we?) The closing of this chapter focuses again on John as witness, not as anything greater. It is worth noting that John himself embraces that role. We should learn from this to allow people to fade into obscurity if that is part of their service to Jesus.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Book: Timothy, A Little Fish with a Big Purpose

Timothy: A Little Fish with a Big Purpose by Brad Riley and illustrated by Krystahl Goodale, is published by Vox Dei. It is a children’s book of a mere 28 pages, and my copy is a paperback. It’s a children’s story about a fish, a coin, and miracle.

Timothy is a great little story. You have a cute little fish who is swimming back and forth between his mom and his grandma. He ends up being the little fish in Matthew 17, who has the tax money for Peter and Jesus. The overall point: being faithful in small obedience leads to being used for amazing things.

Taking the story apart even further, there is also the underlying message that we do not always know how God uses our obedience. There could be a side item about catch-and-release fishing, but I doubt this is within the authorial intent.

Riley’s use of Timothy’s heritage of Lois and Eunice for the fish family in the story is a nice added touch. While I would love to see a fish with a good father as well, I understand why Riley’s Timothy is in this situation. So, I do not feel this is a shortcoming for the work.

The illustrations are wonderful and cheerful. The people do not look like White Americans, which is necessary. (I recommend Downhere’s song “The Real Jesus” with its great line: Jesus isn’t white.) They bring the story alive, and kept the attention of the kids not only here at home (age range: 7-12) but at church (3-12).

If I had to pick a shortfall here, it would be that there is no caution to be careful what you pick up in the street these days. Had little Timothy lived in Lake Maumelle after the Pegasus Pipeline failure, he would have poisoned himself picking up stuff. However, that is certainly not enough to downgrade this one.

I loved it. My kids loved it. If you are using the Bible to help frame your children’s view of the world, I think you’ll find it a great addition to the shelf.

I did receive a free copy of this book. I did agree to review this book in exchange for that free copy. I do not typically do children’s books and was pleasantly surprised by this one.

August 26, 2013: Doug

Proverbs 26:8 Ever seen a person awarded what they did not deserve? It happens, and sometimes it’s done to try and urge that individual to live up to the honor. This hardly ever works. Guess what? Solomon warned against such nonsense—it is as useful to tie a stone into a sling as it is to honor a fool.

 

So, when you honor someone and then that honor comes back to bite you? You did it. You placed them on that pedestal, empowered them in that manner, and then it backfired. This raises the question: what were you thinking? We do this all the time: we put people who are questionable at best on a pedestal. Then we are stunned at their flame-outs. Folks, think. And don’t be a fool. (More evidence? See “Celebrities, nearly any”)

 

Proverbs 26:18 needs Proverbs 26:19 to complete the thought. The overall thrust here is important: your hoax? Not funny. Property destruction, injury, and death follow that nonsense. So stop it. Seriously, it’s not in good fun if it harms another, and you don’t get to decide that. The target does.

 

Proverbs 26:28 is a great summation. Your deceptions? The ones you call “for their sake”? Those show your hatred for someone. Your flattery, just to get along? It brings ruin. If you are not honest, you are destructive. This is reality. This is life—deal with that.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sermon Wrap-up for August 25

Morning Sermon:

Click here for audio

:

Outline: August 25 AM Acts 6 55

A Good Preacher Can't Fix Everything

1. Good preachers are available by the dozen

2. Problems still arise

3. Ideas can come from those who cannot implement them

4. Work together to solve problems

5. Be bathed in prayer so that it is not necessary to have extended prayer over issues---stop praying over your problems and pray over your life!!

Our response:

1. If all your prayer life consists of is praying over problems, then let it grow--began each day with prayer

2. If you are sitting on the fence while there are God-honoring solutions to your problems because you are waiting for a "sign" then stop it and get to work

3. Be part of the solution: don't insist someone else solve it.

Evening Sermon:

Click Here for the Audio

 

Outline:

August 25 PM Acts 7

A Good Deacon is a Dead Deacon

1. Stephen: Deacon

2. Stephen: Witness

3. Stephen: Dead to this World

4. Let us all follow in his footsteps.

Any questions? Arguments? Pleas for letting the deacons live?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Three Years In

Right about three years ago, Ann and I moved here to Almyra, Arkansas, for me to serve the church here as pastor. We were a little uncertain about moving here into the middle of rice country. After all, there are three main crops in Arkansas County: rice, ducks, and mosquitoes. The rice is planted, the ducks eat the leftovers from it, and the mosquitoes thrive on the population!

We have, though, come to enjoy the distance we live from city lights and we have adapted to the distance we live from the grocery store. I like that I see the sun rise and set at the horizon, not behind buildings. I enjoy being able to see lots of stars.

In the time I’ve been here, I’ve been privileged to go back to school, work on projects I like, and make some amazing friends both in Almyra and around the state. This group of folks are wonderful friends and support to us.

What is weird for me is this: if you average out my lifetime, I average no more than 18-20 months in any given space. Going back to birth. Really. I live surrounded by people whose life story runs “Grandma came to that house, right there, and she never left the farm. Ever.” (Seriously, there’s at least two people I know with that story. She never left the farm).

That type of stability is not truly in my family history. (Allowing for the reality that both Grandmas of mine have gone into eternity.) There’s a great deal of mobility in our heritage, for both Ann and me.

So we live with this tension. At times, we want to load up everything and move just for the change. At other times, we like where we are. And we need some change.

What do we do?

Well, this week, we did some of what we do in my office. I took everything but the desks out. Seriously:

DSC_0069

Those are some of my empty bookshelves. I cleaned out, cleared off, and threw away stuff. I stacked all the books in the sanctuary—it took 9 pews!

Then, Ann and I worked together to put it all back:

DSC_0070

 

That’s right. I moved out of my office. Then I moved right back in. I like it here. Someone asked me recently what our future plans might be, and I told them that we didn’t have any. Our goal is remain where we are for as long as the Lord Jesus provides the opportunity.

Now, that does not change my campaign to be the next Commissioner of Baseball. I do expect that effort to take a while, and I may be able to shift to bi-vocationally pastoring the church. I’d only be gone during baseball season, after all.

All of this to say, I appreciate the patience and tolerance of my Almyra Baptist family. There are many other options to you for our pastor, but you keep me. Thank you.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

You Asked for It: Numbers 14

When we last left our beloved Israelites, they were hearing a committee report that was less than positive regarding the invasion of the Promised Land. Ten of the twelve spies return the recommendation that the people return to the wilderness and not attempt the conquest.

The people agree. They determine to return to Egypt, rejecting the leadership of Moses, Joshua, and Caleb and planning to appoint a new leader. This is ultimately a rejection of God’s leadership of the people. Their declaration is this: we will go back. Or we will die in the desert. But we will not go into the Land.

There then occurs an interchange where God expresses to Moses that He would destroy all the people and raise up a complete nation out of Moses. I think one could safely extend that into a nation raised out of Moses, Joshua, Caleb, and their families, but this is not explicit in the text.

Instead, however, God assigns the judgment that so often seems to happen: He allows the people to have what they want. He tells them to go on, wander in the wilderness, and die there. Here we find, in essence, one of the sources of C.S. Lewis’ classic statement of the two kinds of people in the world: those who say to God, "Thy Will Be Done,” and those to whom God says “Fine then, have it your way.”

Moses informs the people of this judgment, and the people have a change of heart. They decide that maybe God’s way was better, after all. So, they finish the chapter going up to invade the Promised Land. And they lose. This is one of two defeats of Israel recorded in the entire Exodus-Conquest narrative that runs through FIVE books of Scripture, from Exodus through Joshua. What is the cause of both?

Disobedience.

They then back up and head back to the desert. It is going to be a long generation, while all those who have rejected God’s leadership fall by the wayside.

What can we learn here? It is not simply about conquests, is it?

It is about these three things:

1. Choosing to obey and trust God at the outset is always better. ‘Nuff said.

2. God is still a God of grace and forgiveness, and will graciously allow for repentance.

3. Judgment often takes the form of facing our own choices to their finality. At its heart, this is what occurs with rebellion: we reject God’s authority as King over our lives, and so lose the protection that comes from being His people. This holds true whether we see it manifest in drug abuse or other patterns of sin. Eventually, this destroys the person who did it.

4. There is also something to be noted here about the permanence of consequences. As bad as we hate to admit it, there are simply times that the damage cannot be undone. The people should have gone in, and been established in the land. Canaan should have been conquered in a sweep from south to north, the Twelve Tribes should have all settled on the west side of the Jordan River.

Instead, there was another generation of wickedness in the land. Children who should have been born to peace had to fight in the wars of conquest. The tribes end up divided, leading to the troubles in 1 Samuel 11 (Note, especially, the Septuagint addition to the beginning of that, found in the footnote here in the NIV.)

The nation suffers long-term consequences because obedience was abandoned by one generation. And there was no going back: not even the very next day. There was one moment to do it right, and that moment was lost.

What is that moment for your life? What is that moment for your church? What is that moment for our nation? We have seen so many moments lost in our nation, from Dred Scott to Plessy v. Ferguson; from one election to the next; from any one of many moments where the following generations have had to suffer the consequences.

Consider the church God has placed you in: what are you kicking down to the next generation to fix? Minor poor teaching? Small compromises? They do not get better. It takes time to heal wounds, and it would be far better not to make them!

Your own life: walk with God now. There may be lingering consequences of the past, but do not pile them up.

Today’s Nerd Note: I’m not seeing much nerdy to address here. There is something to be considered by looking at a good atlas and contemplating the differences of approach to the Promised Land between here and Deuteronomy, but I don’t really have a comment other than just that: it’s interesting.

Also, note that the people do not take the Ark with them at the end of the chapter. It shows that the Levitical leadership had accepted the command of Moses not to go up and try the invasion. Also, it symbolizes the attempt to go without God. Not that the Ark is a weapon, note 1 Samuel 4, 5, and 6 on that.

Putting this whole incident into history, the Israelites possibly would have been established before the Philistines really try to move ashore in the coming years. How much better would life have been with that?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Book: Judges for You

Today’s Book is brought to you by Cross-Focused Reviews and The Good Book Company. Which brings to mind a question: I wonder if anyone’s ever started “The Bad Book Company?” seems like a bad call. Anyway.

Judges. This segment of Old Testament history is sandwiched between the success of Joshua and the romance of Ruth, and it’s not exactly the happiest book of the Bible. In all honesty, even Job gets a happy ending when God restored his wealth and family.Other than Lamentations, I cannot really place a book that comes out as grim as Judges.

The end-result being that many Christians avoid too much time in Judges, except in seeking a few hero stories like Gideon and Samson without delving too deeply into the milieu. Since Christians are hesitant to dig in here, it is unsurprising that many others are hesitant to dig in. On to that plane comes Timothy Keller’s Judges for You. This is published by The Good Book Company, and is available in hardback and ebook.

Judges For You

Judges for You is a study in the book of Judges looking at contemporary application. It is certainly expressed from a Christian perspective: this is more of a work to strengthen devotion than to contemplate academics.The goal here is application and inspiration.

In this, I find Keller’s presentation in Judges for You very helpful. He brings out usable points in the various segments of Judges. He also does not shy away from some of the questionable aspects of the stories. What about the morality of Jael’s hammer? How about the conquest in general? There’s an appendix that looks just at the moral implications of this action.

Feature-wise, this book is rich for its 220 pages. There is a glossary at the end to address unknown or lesser-known terms. There are maps and charts to provide a clearer understanding of the patterns in Judges.

There are a few drawbacks within the hardcover bindings of Judges for You. The first is the brevity, though this is good and bad. Clarity comes from brevity, but this requires Keller to not expound on several items. It certainly feels like more could be said regarding Gideon and Samson, for example, but time does not permit. The second is a personal quibble in terms of English translation of the Hebrew, and that is the decision to continue to use the small-caps Lord to render the Hebrew Tetragrammaton for the Divine Name of God. The glossary informs the reader of the actual meaning here, but fronting that meaning would have been preferable. The idea of the Divine Name of God and where it is and is not used are too valuable to be only in the back matter of a book.

This, however, is a minor quibble on my part. In all, to open Judges past an academic study on my part, Judges for You really helped open my eyes to some of the clearer applications of the Biblical writings. Keller’s presuppositions come through even as he presents both sides of an issue—like discussing gender issues in the church.

I gladly recommend Judges for You to those wanting to dig into this portion of the Old Testament.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for the review.

August 21 2013: Proverbs 21

Do you know what it means if I post on Proverbs 2 days in a row? That it’s going to be a week before I post again.

Proverbs 21: the NASB subtitles the chapter “On Life and Conduct” which is, well, the whole book of Proverbs. Thank you for trying, though.

 

Proverbs 21:8 speaks of the way of the guilty and the conduct of the pure. I see here an important reminder that the ways and means which we use to accomplish our goals are important. If you get where you’re going but get there badly, you have not walked with wisdom.

 

Proverbs 21:18 gave me some pause. As a Christian, I hold firmly that the Righteous Jesus gave Himself as a ransom for wicked me (Mark 10:45). However, that is not contrary to this passage. Instead, this is perhaps reflective of the justice that runs throughout time: eventually, it is the wicked who are destroyed and the righteous who continue. Especially in a kingdom seeking to live based on God’s Wisdom.

 

Proverbs 21:28 is a bit of a mess in translation. Apparently, some take the second person mentioned as one listening to the liar in the first part, and thus doom him. Others shift to the contrast view and find the difference in success. I am going to punt and say that the point here is to be honest and avoid bearing false witness.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

August 20 2013: Proverbs 20

I’ve said before, I think, that this is an intermittent project. I’d love another writer or two to flesh out the Proverbs blog, but I don’t have time to recruit. If you want to do it, drop me an email or leave a comment with your qualifications. Like if you are a Christian and have read Proverbs seriously. And we’ll talk.

Proverbs 20 is a continuation of the general wisdom section of the book. Overall, we see a recurrent theme: wisdom, skillful living in fear of YHWH, applies to all aspects of life.

 

Proverbs 20:8 speaks to the role of kings in life. They are there to sift evil out of the kingdom. The purpose of earthly government is to deal with justice issues. Now, modern-day folks like to add a lot to the term “justice:” to some, not having as good of medical insurance as the next guy is injustice. That’s not what we are dealing with here: here it is about the definite wrongs perpetrated by others.

 

If a king is not striving to secure justice for the people, if a government is about its own self-preservation and not about the people, that government is doomed. Either time will destroy it or the people will. The people should: when justice and right are neglected, the longer that wound exists, the more it festers and the worse it gets for everyone.

 

Proverbs 20:18 speaks to the need for securing advice on major issues. The king, though he should share in the risk and hardship of war, is not the only source of military expertise. He should consult with those who understand war perhaps better (or differently) than he does before he goes to war. This includes, to my mind, not only conversations with advisers but the study of the art. Any king or government official who has not read at least one Eastern and one Western classic text on war should never get his nation involved in one.

 

Sun-Tzu is free on Kindle. So are part of Carl von Clausewitz’ writings. Get them. Read them. Understand and grow. And then spread out: read others that critique these writings. Find wisdom in a multitude of counselors.

 

Proverbs 20:28 shows how the king keeps the throne. He does so through loyal people and through those who will tell him the truth. For far too long, we have seen people afraid to tell the governing authorities around us the truth—I would hazard it has been since someone advised President George H.W. Bush not to take out Hussein that an American President has truly been told the truth in such a way that he listened.

 

The result? A sincere lack of righteousness, a dearth of loyalty. And a thin hold on the continuation of the nation, much less any individual’s throne.

Clean this mess up! John 2

One of the difficulties with John’s Gospel is that John has a lot to say. His pre-Passion Week chapters usually contain at least two important and distinct events, and those events are also loaded with meaning.

John 2 continues this pattern. There are two important events recorded in this chapter. These do not appear to be dependent on each other, except that Jesus is involved in both. Both are, however, problematic in their own way and perhaps as important for the symbolism as they are for the actual event.

The first is the turning of water into wine at the wedding in Cana. Working backwards, John 2:11 is the key verse on this event. John identifies the transformation of water into wine as the beginning of the signs Jesus used to identify Himself, specifically as “manifesting His glory.” Now, I think the historicity of the event is necessary for the sign to have any meaning, but the meaning is large here.

Why? You have a celebration that people think is good enough. You have an inadequacy of human ability to sustain that celebration. You have the picture of ceremonial religion, which is being observed. And none of it is enough. Yet at the action of Jesus, everything is made better, and better than human eyes would have expected. The coming of the Christ is more than just a fulfillment of the ceremonial, the Advent of the Messiah is beyond all that could be planned and imagined. (More at Nerd Note 1)

The second key event is the cleansing of the Temple. John describes this event at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) all describe a clean out of the Temple at the end of Jesus’ ministry. For the Synoptics, this is the catalytic event that brings the Crucifixion into the Passover week when the opponents of Jesus had been planning to wait.

John records this at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. So, did He clean the Temple twice or once? I think twice (see Nerd Note 2). In this, Jesus attacked the commercialization of worship. He attacked the oppression of the poor in worship. He also took a whip to the spiritual superiority of Jerusalem over anywhere else. There were so many things wrong with what was happening, that there was no way to fix this politely.

Jesus cleans it up, and cleans it up quickly.

There are some situations within churches that call for a similar treatment. Not necessarily the drive someone out with a whip aspect, but the quick, no time for discussion, no break for politeness action. Examples would be those who abuse children, ministers that take advantage of their congregation’s trust, and those who teach falsehoods: all of these should be removed, without hesitation, from any position that allows them to continue to perpetrate harm.

Woe be unto us if we do not clean up messes like these immediately when they arise in our churches. Jesus did not wait until the end of His ministry to drive the trouble from the Temple, He tackled it immediately. He just had to do it again—and we likely will have to do the same.

  • Nerd Note 1: How to word this? There is debate, especially in modern American circles, over whether or not  the “wine” made by Jesus contained alcohol. This is based on the view that drinking alcohol is sinful and Jesus would not have enabled sin. While the second half of that statement should not be in doubt, the first portion is not so certain. It is certainly sinful to drink to intoxication. I would hold it certainly unwise to drink at all: there are many other ways to spend your money and get your calories.

However, much of our discomfort with alcohol consumption has as much to do with American tendency toward excess as it does with the actual beverage. In Israelite culture of the time, drunkenness was seen as wicked and foolish, but a small amount of alcohol due to natural fermentation was almost unavoidable. That typically the wine was mixed with water is also known, so there is no need to see Jesus as enabling drunkenness.

There is a further theory that the “wine” was actually fresh, good grape juice, the taste of which is better than wine. (I agree with that, subjectively.) This was so unknown that everyone was astounded and pleased by the taste. This is a possible view. I am inclined to hold, though, that the weight of history is for some alcohol content in the wine, though nowhere near the level of intoxicant—especially if one drank in ‘normal’ amounts. This does not abrogate the foolishness of alcohol consumption for the Christian indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). We have nothing in John indicating the disciples or Jesus drank the wine—or that they did not. We do have ample other Scripture to support staying sober.

  • Nerd Note 2: There is an argument that John’s Gospel is a spiritual biography of Jesus and that John rearranged events to make a point rather than to be historically precise. This would be acceptable in the era in which he wrote. Lending credence to this on the Cleansing of the Temple is the fact that John does not record one in the extensive time he allocates to the Passion Week.

I do not see a need to do this, though. First, the Temple complex is a massive operation. There are many ways in which old habits would have returned, especially if that Jesus fellow with His whip is gone. Second, there are no other definite moments where John moves an event in that manner. The idea that John played fast-and-loose with the chronology really hinges on this event. Third, it fits. We see the Temple come into play early in the life of Jesus in Luke, Matthew, and Mark. Why not John?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sermon Wrap-Up for August 18

Good morning!

Here are the links for Sunday, August 18, at Almyra Baptist Church:

Morning Audio is linked here

Morning Video is here:

Evening Audio is here

Evening Video is here:

Morning Outline:

August 18 AM

Text: Ruth 2:8-23
Date: August 18 AM
Location: Almyra FBC

How much is an ephah? About a tenth of a cor, silly. (Actually, about 5 gallons, roughly.)

About $2.70 worth of barley
Application Action: Spend $2.70 doing something for someone who can never repay you.

What can we do with 2.70? How long can we live? What could you buy?

Not a gallon of milk. Or gas.

Not even a cheeseburger meal from McDonald's.

This morning, we're going to look at 2.70 and see that even a small amount matters.

Now, to get into that, we need to take a look at our text this morning, Ruth 2:8-23 and start from that point.


Let's consider the story...

work through Ruth and her diligence


Address God at the back of the story  (Consider citing C.S. Lewis: "He seems to be at the back of all the stories, from the Horse and His Boy)


Address Naomi's enthusiasm for working in Boaz's field


Sideways glance: Is it better to begin romance on character or appearance?



Actions: $2.70 for Bibles, food for the hungry, children's school supplies; medicine; 

Consider this: The power of God is enough whatever you have...Ruth had $2.70 and look at what she became. What will happen with yours?

Evening Outline:

August 18 PM

Text: James 5:19-20

Date: August 18 PM

Location: Almyra FBC

Central Idea: Responding to Grace

Theological Idea: Humility of Helpers

Discuss laws--good, bad, excessive

Redemptive Relationships:

1. Certainty of wandering---not really if but when!

2. Necessity of graceful restoration

3. Death...or life

4. Gratitude for correction

5. Humility in the action

Friday, August 16, 2013

Random Friday Thoughts

I should really write a more cohesive post today, but here are just a few random thoughts:

1. I wish I had taken a few classes in culinary arts. While I know I am doing something I love, I also would love to know more about cooking from a creative and world-cuisine level. Not Iron Chef-level, mind you, as I have no appetite for trout ice cream. Still, something more than just open-a-can cooking.

2. I think it is in bad taste to mock any President of the United States as a rodeo clown. Even ones that make a mockery of the dignity of the office themselves. They don’t need any help—and guess what? It’s been done to most Presidents in the last three decades. And I don’t think it should be illegal. It’s just not something I like.

3. I find it remarkable the number of people who want to justify their own preferred universal policies and laws by citing one specific case or specific individual who has a rare situation. Guess what? You cannot structure a society based on general rules that fit every specific situation. That’s when legitimate exceptions should be made to general rules.

4. So far, the mandate for employers to provide insurance is delayed. The mandate to cap out-of-pocket costs for consumers is delayed. What’s not delayed? The requirement on me as an individual to purchase coverage including coverage that I do not need—the ability to put my family into an insured group that will not have certain expenses and therefore reduces the cost to me. How is that helping affordability?

5. People who make a big campaign for a public office then after one term head for the “next level” make me regret supporting them for the office they got. All you wanted was a stepping stone, and you really weren’t out to serve the public. You beat out another person who might have been interested in serving that district, state, ward, whatever for some time.

6. I maintain that every politician should be required, by law, to live in whatever zone they represented the same length of time they were in office. They should also be prohibited from being lobbyists or government employees at the time. And that should just be the cost of their time in power. So, Mike Huckabee and Bill Clinton: move back. You owe Arkansas a few years of living with the results of your time in office.

7. I also maintain that political salaries should be pegged to military salaries and all Administration (not necessarily the career folks, just the political appointees) and Congressional benefits operated out of the same system as the VA. There are no political appointees worth more than a field military leader and no staffer worth more than a good NCO. I would think many aren’t even worth that. And Congressman Bob needs a shingles shot? Put him in line behind the veterans that are waiting 3 months for theirs.

8. Hollywood is out of ideas and lives now on destroying all of the good ones they once had.

9. We Baptists would do well to pay attention to the world around us and stop trying to use laws to make non-Christians as good of Christians as we are. Instead, let’s us try to be as good of Christians as the Bible calls us to be. Then see what happens.

10. I’m not sure why it’s a good idea to wake up a person to give them medication to help them sleep or to treat a condition caused by being over-stimulated by the world around them.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Spies Like Us: Numbers 13

That’s right, one of the greatest espionage thrillers of the 1980s has its basis in the Bible. The classic Dan Akroyd/Chevy Chase film Spies Like Us was indeed inspired by Numbers 13. After, no one qualifies as spies like us better than the dozen men of Numbers 13.

Here’s the story to this point: the people of Israel have come out of bondage in Egypt. They have received the Law of God at Mount Sinai. They are now at the point of entering life in obedience and dependence on God in the Promised Land. Life that comes with a glorious mixture of freedom and responsibility, worship and work. Before they go into that life, they are told to take a look at what it will take to finalize the acquisition.

So, at God’s command a dozen spies are sent out. One is sent from each tribe, except for the Levites. No representative is sent from the Levites—instead we see here the twelve landed tribes sending spies. I do not know that any real meaning should attributed to this, but I find it interesting. It could simply be practical: the Twelve Tribes that will receive land send out spies, perhaps to pick out their land. It could also be spiritually significant: the Levites are going with the Tabernacle, wherever it goes.

These spies go. They explore. They return six weeks later.

And they have given up. Ten of them have seen too much bad to think moving forward is going to be any good. Two of them have seen too much good to think moving forward is going to be bad—but even they recognize the cost. All through the exploratory group, tension about the future resounds.

Then it spreads. The populace of Israel only knows what they have heard, and they have heard that the land is going to be a challenge. Giants. Walled cities. Pain, heartbreak…and work to do. Even the wealth of fruit reflects that there will be some major vine dressing to do when the land is theirs.

Two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, see the future as connected to the past. God has been good so far, so let us go forward with Him. Ten of the spies see the future in the past: we were pressed to hard labor in Egypt, but we could go back and not have to fight our way in. (Also, depending on when you place the Exodus in history, it’s possible there was a dynastic change in Egypt and the Israelites expected a decent welcome. Maybe.)

Both sides are responding to the unknown. Both want to trust in what they have seen before. It is that Joshua and Caleb are willing to trust that the God of the Wilderness, the God of the Mountain, and the God of the Red Sea will also be the God of the Land. The others? They are not so sure.

For those, a stable servitude is better than an uncertain freedom.

This is how they are spies like us.

We fear, it seems, to live in the freedom God has given us. We fear it spiritually, relationally, nationally.

Nationally, we know that freedom can be messy. It can also be hard work, and freedom empowers others. The challenge is that others then are not always willing to use their freedom in moral and ethical ways. So we decide that bondage to laws and bureaucracy is our solution. Is that really the only option?

Relationally, we know that allowing people in our lives to live in freedom can be challenging. People may abuse our trust, wreck our plans, or just generally be pains in the posterior. Yet what is our option? To pigeonhole every relationship away from meaningfulness? To control the behavior of others to suit our needs? Is that really how you want to live?

Spiritually, we know that forgiveness in Christ is effective and complete. There is no condemnation, and only through the love of God driven by the indwelling Holy Spirit do we choose that which is good and right. Through this we are free. Free to do, free to grow and to become. Fear begets legalism, for we build laws to protect ourselves from failing our freedom. Then, we extend that legalism to benefit others and suddenly, rather than walking free in Christ, we live, together, bound with chains of our own making. Is this what Jesus died for? Or are we substituting for His purpose?

Freedom is work. Freedom is messy. Freedom is a gift from God. Will we embrace it?

Or will we show just how truly these were spies like us?

Today’s Nerd Note: Special Problem in Numbers 13: The Nephilim. This term shows up once before the Flood (Genesis 6) and here afterwards. The Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament from 200 BC) does not help us much by rendering Nephilim as “giants.”

The general idea from Genesis is that the Nephilim are a race of warriors and big, bad dudes. We would expect them eliminated by the Flood. Then they show up in Numbers.

We have a few options here. Some are worth mentioning only to discard. Such is the idea that the Nephilim survived the Flood—unless one can demonstrate that one of Noah’s sons’ wives was of that line, which is doubtful—the Nephilim are among the dead from the Flood. It was a universal flood.

Another view is that the Israelites called the larger warriors Nephilim because of the legends from antediluvian times. This would be akin to labeling an opposing force a Legion, because it reminds one of the organization and discipline of the Roman Army. That’s a possibility.

I would look at a third view, though I can find no real substantial support for it. Linguistically, Nephilim is related to the Hebrew for “fallen ones.” While many people build a spiritual dynamic here that has fallen angels and people breeding, I think there’s another possibility. It relates to the above view, but is not a labeling based on size. It’s based on morality.

We, to this day, refer to some people as barbarians. Especially in looking at the treatment of people in warfare, like civilians or prisoners, we see certain behaviors as being wrong, even for victorious groups. You are not supposed to, for example, shoot prisoners or rape and pillage the countryside and its inhabitants. Whether in reality when it has happened or in fiction, those are behaviors that show us that an enemy is not honorable but is instead, barbarian.

I think Nephilim is that type of term. It is not the size that truly intimidates the Israelites, it is the behavior. In 40 days, they have seen both good and bad in the land, and they have, perchance, observed just how the Amalekites, Jebusites, Amorites, and What-Not-Ites behave. It is not simply the fear of the size differential that disturbs the Israelites. It is the imagining of what will happen facing an enemy that has no moral restraint.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Beginning Revisited: John 1

We finished Romans, which means we need to do two things. The first is to recommend that you re-read Romans and grab yourself a good commentary or study tool for the book. I have not finished all of C. Marvin Pate’s Teach-the-Text Commentary on Romans, but I have no qualms about commending it to you as a study help. I’ll be digging into that whole series later.

The second item is to determine where to go next. I had leapt from Mark to Romans, and now need to go somewhere else. I should have kept the New Testament side of Through the Whole Bible in canonical order, but I didn’t. So, we did a Gospel, now a Pauline Epistle, and we’re going back to a Gospel. We’re going to process John. Actually, I think I’m going to do the Johannine corpus, so we’ll move through John, 1,2,3 John, and Revelation. That’s right. If Revelation doesn’t happen before too much longer, you’ll have to endure a blog on it.

If you were to pull up the trailer for the upcoming movie Thor: The Dark World, you would hear Anthony Hopkins state that

“Some believe that before the world, there was nothing. They’re wrong. There was darkness.”

He goes on from there to follow into a theology that’s a mix of Marvel Comics and Semi-Norse Mythology, so I don’t commend the whole thing for theology. Just for fun. I love a good superhero film.

He is partially right, though. If you look at Scripture, there was a time when God created the Heavens and the Earth (Genesis 1:1-2) and calls light into existence. Then, He separates light from darkness. Darkness shows up quickly in the beginning. I would, however, hazard that darkness is different in this situation than Odin is referencing. I would suggest that the darkness of Genesis 1 is representative of the universe in which God is present, but not actively creating.

Why?

Because we revisit the In the Beginning of Genesis 1 when we come to John 1. The words echo: In the Beginning…

Yet we also see a contrast between Genesis and John. In Genesis, In the Beginning, God does something. In John, In the Beginning, the Word simply is. The Word is there, when In the Beginning occurs. The Word is already God when In the Beginning occurs.

The Gospel of John, then, is not truly about origins. In the same way, Genesis is not about origins, either, because the origin of God is not addressed in either. These reflections on In the Beginning are about who God is and what God does—Genesis addressing the latter and John the former.

John, like Genesis, moves quickly to addressing darkness. Genesis gives us the creation of light and the separation of the two. John gives us something more: that the light of Genesis 1 is not an original thought but an echo of something, Someone, greater.

The light is in John 1:4-5. The Light is in Him, the life of mankind. The Light is so great that separating the Light from the darkness is an action of protection for the darkness—not a need for the Light. Not a need for the One, who is the Light that shines in the darkness without the dark even understanding, much less overcoming, Him.

This is the Light. God separates the Light from the darkness because if He didn’t, the Light would utterly destroy the darkness and all that goes with it—which means those men who love the darkness more than the light. Those are the same men from whom God draws, through the Light, to Himself.

How does He do that?

By the greatest verse in John: John 1:14, that the Word put on flesh and dwelt among us. Remembering to see John as he was: a man steeped in the Old Testament, we see that the Word puts on flesh and tabernacles among us, just as God dwelt in the Tabernacle in Exodus.

John opens his explanation of the life of Jesus by showing just how evident Jesus is within the Old Testament. He does so while showing just how clear the philosophical ideas of the Gentile world demonstrate Jesus with his discussions of light, darkness, and the logic of the world, which is referred to in the choice of the word “logos” for Word.

He then goes on to declare how much greater Jesus is because Jesus came down to be among people, to bring humanity back to Him. That is the message of John: how this was shown.

Today’s Nerd Note: John also addresses any identity issues for John the Baptist. First, by identifying John the Baptist he separates the authorship of this Gospel from that John.

Second, he makes clear that John the Baptist was, from the beginning, a supporting character. John had been executed by the Romans, just like Jesus, but it happened first. Was Jesus simply trying to follow John the Baptist? No, John the Gospel-writer posits. Jesus was always more important.

Third, the probably better label for John the Baptist is John, the one who immerses. Just a little pro-credo-baptist observation.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Book: The Hero’s Lot by Patrick W. Carr

Back in April, I pointed you to a new book series by a math teacher named Patrick W. Carr. That book was called A Cast of Stones, and the series is The Staff and the Sword. I enjoyed that entry into the world of Illustra and could not wait to go back.

Then I made the unfortunate mistake of agreeing to review, in a timely manner, the next book. The Hero’s Lot continues the saga of Errol and the Kingdom of Illustra and takes the reader into his backstory while moving toward the future of the kingdom that finds itself in need of a king.

We pick up not too long after the conclusion of A Cast of Stones as the survivors of those events are nursing their wounds and plotting their next move. From the beginning, A Hero’s Lot reveals that there are subplots and more intrigue afoot than the reader might have found in the first entry of the series. Not only do the bad guys have secrets, but the good guys have secrets. And there are still a few people that you don’t know which group they fall into!

The plot is complex but not convoluted. The overall plot, that is. The basic plotline is simple: our hero is commanded to into enemy territory and destroy the bad guy who got away last book. It is all the other events that make the plot complex.

That complexity is a great thing. This is not a fluffy little young adult novel. It is a full-bore action and intrigue novel, and one that is fitting for readers that can track such plots. I will continue to think a hand-drawn map would help, though. I need to get my daughter to draw one.

We further see the splintering in the religious hierarchy that has troubled the kingdom in this book. Also, the tone is overall a lot darker and heavier. It is, however, a second book in a trilogy. What do you expect? Even Back to the Future II was heavier than the others. If you made a trilogy of Care Bears Meet My Little Pony, the second film would have a heavy feel.

In all, if you like the idea of a semi-medieval setting where spiritual beings, political intrigue, and religious structures intersect, you should snag both the first book and this one, The Hero’s Lot, and read them both.

Oh, you’re wondering about the “unfortunate” comment? It’s unfortunate that I chose to do this in a timely manner. I read The Hero’s Lot, and now have to wait until February for the conclusion. And that’s just not good. Our hero is in danger…and we’ll be having Christmas dinner not knowing what he does.

Free book received from the publisher in exchange for the review.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Sermon Wrap-Up for August 11

Morning Sermon:

Audio Link

Video Embed:

Evening Sermon Audio Link

Evening Video:

 

Morning Sermon Outline:

Central Idea: Prayer and Praise are the Rhythms of Life
Theological Idea: The Power of God shown in prayer and praise

Word for the Sermon: PRAISE

Introduction:

P: Pray

R: Rejoice

A: Ask

I:Integrity //Elijah

S: Sins

E: Experience

Application Action: Make a commitment to seek opportunities to praise no matter what.

Friday, August 9, 2013

August 9 2013

Here we are, back to the text of Proverbs. I hope you’ve kept reading even though we haven’t looked at the last couple of chapters in the blog.

 

The focus in chapter 9 is the invitation of Wisdom. I think there is some value here in realizing that wisdom is a choice—no one will force you gather wisdom. You can go through life foolish and suffer the consequences. So you can choose.

 

Focal verses:

 

Proverbs 9:8 reflects a truth that all you need is a blog comment stream to prove as absolutely true. Some people cannot be corrected, no matter what the situation. And in turn, they vent all the frustration back at you for correcting them. Others will take in correction and see how it applies.

 

Proverbs 9:18 gives the outcome of rejecting wisdom’s invitation. That outcome is death.

 

It’s hard for many of us in pluralistic societies to accept the truth as presented in Proverbs. We are not fond of the idea that there are really only two choices: wisdom with life or folly with death.

 

This is, however, the reality of the world. Just as most choices are truly about dichotomy, so is the pattern of life. We choose: up or down, right or left, wisdom or folly.

 

The outcome is clear, pending what we choose to embrace.

Book: One Year to Better Preaching

When I first started preaching, I was a terrible preacher. Then, with practice, training, and no shortage of ego, I became a great preacher. After this, I went to seminary, took preaching courses and went from great to lousy and back again. In the time since then, I have come to edge of something worse than lousy: complacent. I am the preacher that I am. Perhaps I can improve my pastoring, my Bible knowledge, even my evangelistic methods, but I’ll never be a better preacher than I am today.

clip_image001 Daniel Overdorf’s book, One Year to Better Preaching: 52 Exercises to Hone Your Skills, has been the perfect kick-in-the-pants for me to move past that attitude. This book highlights how almost any preacher can, spread across a year, improve the sermons that he presents.

This is not a book for a seminary or college preaching course—Saving Eutychus or Preaching God’s Word are more suited for the classroom. I would, personally, recommend both of these for a semester-long course. Yet we preaching pastors are not in that classroom these days.

Instead, we have to fit skill-building alongside skill-using. Added to that, we already have our habits of sermon preparation and methods of study. While you can teach an old dog a few new tricks, it is harder to teach a stubborn preacher new ones.

One Year to Better Preaching: 52 Exercises to Hone Your Skills does not attempt to teach all new tricks, though. Instead, Overdorf presents us with simple weekly tasks that will help us pastors improve the level of our preaching. He does not guarantee we will attain to John Chrysostom or Adrian Rogers, but each simple step will help put the edge back on our preaching razor.

These exercises range from forming a prayer group to listening to storytellers to learn their craft. (I recommend Jim Weiss at Greathall Productions, personally, for that.) Additionally, Overdorf provides some suggestions for pastors keeping their devotional life fresh, which we all should recognize as critical for preaching.

Many of Overdorf’s suggestions are things that, when I stop and think about it, I know I should do as a preacher. One Year to Better Preaching: 52 Exercises to Hone Your Skills does not really plow any new ground, nor does it present a new way of preaching that most of us have never considered.

Instead, this is akin to Vince Lombardi’s legendary speech that he allegedly gave the Packers every year: “This, gentleman, is a football.” Overdorf points us back to the sermon and says, effectively, here is a football.

He is encouraging: at no point does he act like he is speaking to slackers or bad preachers. Instead, he points to the idea that we should constantly strive to improve, no matter how good we are at the outset.

My biggest concern for One Year to Better Preaching: 52 Exercises to Hone Your Skills? If you’re a preacher, you need this book and you need to read and use it. If you know a preacher, he needs this book. But I don’t know if I would ever want to receive this as a gift. I might take it the wrong way. And certainly don’t have it anonymously mailed to your pastor’s house or leave it on his pulpit. That would be really, really bad.

So, give him a gift certificate and pray for the best!

Note: I received One Year to Better Preaching: 52 Exercises to Hone Your Skills from Kregel Ministry in exchange for this review.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Who’s in Charge Here? Numbers 12

Many apologies for giving you double-Romans and skipping Numbers. Well, as many as are appropriate.

The leadership crisis. It hits many organizations, and never hits at a good time. Either things begin to go well and someone else wants a piece of it, or things go so poorly that replacements begin to offer themselves.

At times, this crisis is not only expected but necessary. Not every leader has achieved his position in a God-honoring manner. Not every leader has used her position in a God-honoring manner. These types of crises require a different action plan: no matter the success level, abusive or unethical leaders must cede their leadership role and accept any other relevant consequences for their actions. That should be non-negotiable in any organization of honor and doubly so for any organization of Christians. I find it beyond reprehensible that this even needs said.

However, this is not the case in Numbers 12. Here we have a case where jealousy leads to a near-rebellion against the God-anointed leader of the people. It does not arise from the people at-large, but comes from the most painful place: Moses’ own family. His brother and sister rise up and complain against him.

This gives us a great opportunity to consider how to handle both types of leadership crisis, since many of us will encounter both across the years. Let us look at some steps to be considered:

Step 1: Understand where your leadership comes from. This applies to the leader: why are you leading? How do you know? Moses is certain that God has spoken to him at the Burning Bush (Exodus 3) and so he knows that he is doing what he’s supposed to do. Miriam and Aaron knew this—yet they rebelled against him anyway.

Are you certain that what you are doing as a leader comes from God? If and only if it is based on clear Scripture can you be absolutely certain. So is that its base?

Are you following a leader whose history you do not know? It is necessary that we do not follow people with no backstory. When we do that, we risk following those who do not have righteous motives and habits. Someone does not have to have been pure all their life. If so, no one could lead. However, patterns matter.

Step 2: Understand the problem. What is the nature of the complaint?

In this specific case, Aaron and Miriam are complaining that Moses is married to a Cushite (see Nerd Note). When you get to the next verse, you see that the real problem Miriam and Aaron have is jealousy over Moses’ primacy in the group. They want recognition that they are also people who God has spoken through.

One key to understanding leadership crises is pealing back to the real issue at hand. Usually, there are hurt feelings underneath whatever the actual statements are. If you are facing a crisis in leadership, whether as a leader or follower, try to understand what is actually at hand. It’s not about your spouse.

Step 3: Recognize the true parts. Is there any basis to the complaint?

Aaron and Miriam are correct that God has spoken through them. In this case, there are some grounds for them to raise questions. It is from this basis, though, that the solution also comes: take it to God for the solution.

Step 4: Take it to God. Seek answers from the source. In seeking leadership among Christian organizations, the decision rests with God. What do we see that God has said?

Ultimately: the leadership of Christian organizations should never be seen as resting solely on any one person. There are people that help, but the Word of God as illuminated by the Holy Spirit is in charge. That is the authority in the church and among believers. There are points where we cannot resolve differences of understanding and we must allow for that reality.

Leadership crises happen. We must consider how to handle those moments before they happen.

Today’s Nerd Note: The Cushites were a people from modern-day Ethiopia and Eritrea. This complaint is about Moses marrying someone not of the “right race and ethnicity.” Miriam and Aaron are fussing that Moses married outside the family. There are some questions how the Cushite wife meshes with Zipporah, the Midianite Moses married during his exile from Egypt.

Some commentators suggest polygamy, which would not have been unheard of. Others suggest that Zipporah and the Midianites are ethnically connected to the Cushites. Another view is that Zipporah had died and Moses had remarried from among the ‘mixed multitude’ in Exodus 12. A final view sees Cushite as an ethnic insult lobbed against those with darker skin. It’s hard to pick, though I like the second view that draws a connection between Midianites and Cushites, but there is nothing to guarantee that view.

I think the final view reads our Western racism problems back onto those days and we have to be careful with that.

Any way in which you slice this, you have to deal with this: judging people based solely on their skin, national origin, or ethnic heritage has no place in the God-honoring life.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Book: The NIV Leadership Bible

Today’s book is the The NIV Leadership Bible, published by Zondervan Publishers and provided by Booksneeze.

I will admit to having to get over a bit of an automatic defense against the NIV Leadership Bible. While I have a fondness for fact-assisting study Bibles, like the Archaeological Study Bible or even my NASB Study Bible, when I start seeing specific application Bibles, I get nervous. There are too many things that can go wrong—including readers not separating the study notes from the text of Scripture itself. Further, I often think that publishers take snippets from other books or material that’s not enough for a book and then pair it into a “Study Bible” just to turn a buck.

The NIV Leadership Bible comes right along the edge of that final concern. Most of the leadership insights are not original to the work, but are edited from other works on leadership. Further, in some places the insights are shoehorned into Bible passages that are not a good fit. It is as if the goal was to keep the insights spread evenly throughout the text, even if that meant only loosely being connected to Obadiah.

That being said, I did find the NIV Leadership Bible better than I expected. Most of the leadership lessons are well-executed and placing them alongside Biblical text makes it easier for the reader to take in both the lesson and the passage. This is an improvement over putting the information out in a booklet, as the lessons could stand alone well enough for one to skip the text.

I think the process of working through these lessons will benefit anyone wanting to grow in their leadership skills. Further, the lessons do point back toward serving and drawing others to God rather than self-centered leadership.

The one issue I have with my NIV Leadership Bible is that the cover just does not feel well attached to the bulk of the Bible. The cover feels like it will stay intact for a long time, and the pages of the Bible are well connected to each other, but the glue that holds those two components together is already starting to tear in places.

I would express a desire that the leadership content be available with a different Bible translation than the 2011 NIV, but that will likely not happen since this is a Zondervan product. There have been some legitimate questions regarding the NIV, though many are well-answered, and some people prefer a different translation philosophy than the one used.

In all, while I do not think this should be your only Bible, I would rather see a leader, or even a maturing teen, spend 52 weeks working through the leadership lessons packaged around this Bible than any other basic leadership development book. I won’t quite say it’s “highly recommended” but is a decent investment in personal growth.

One further note about the NIV Leadership Bible: I would not expect this Bible to be a good “give it to an unbeliever and they’ll follow the leadership lessons and then get right with God.” While I do believe that such things are possible, the leadership lessons are clearly aimed at those who already recognize the Bible as their moral/ethical foundation.

Note: NIV Leadership Bible was received from Booksneeze in exchange for the review.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Given a Shout-Out! Romans 16

We finish Romans today with a look at Romans 16. Any look at these verses will be incomplete, because there are at least 25 names plus a few households greeted. Without addressing all of these, we will miss something. However, there are a few notable names to consider:

1. Romans 16:1: Phoebe. She is a “servant” of the church at Cenchrea. Or perhaps a “deacon” of that church, depending on whether or not Paul envisions that label as a title. It’s hard to see why Phoebe would be highlighted if she did not hold a church leadership role, so there is precious little reason to deny her the same title that is given to others. Further, this is the second mention of Cenchrea in Scripture: it’s a port city near Corinth and where Paul cut his hair in relation to a vow (Acts 18:18).

The main thing I see is this: Phoebe is first on his mind at this point. Perhaps she is headed to Rome, which seems likely. She has helped and supported the work of Paul and the expansion of the Gospel. I would love to see more, but I don’t have anything else on her in my resources.

2. Romans 16:3 brings up Prisca and Aquilla, also known as Priscilla and Aquilla. These two show up in Acts 18, 1 Corinthians 16, and 2 Timothy 4. I like them as a couple team in ministry. One cannot divide the work of the pair, and I think that’s great.

3. Acts 16:7 gives us Junia, labeled in some texts as Junias. This is a Greek word that if you slice it one way, you get a man’s name, and another way gives you a woman’s name. I agree with the Early Church Fathers that this a woman, likely named Junia. There is debate what relationship Andronicus and Junia have—they could be siblings or spouses. We don’t know.

We do see them both held up as “outstanding among the apostles.” That can be taken two ways: as “outstanding apostles” or as “considered outstanding by the apostles.” I’m inclined to read “The Twelve minus Judas plus Paul” where the word “Apostles” shows up, so I think these are two have done much and are considered outstanding among those twelve specific leaders. That is not to take anything from their work—and I could be wrong, because I know there are places where “apostles” equals “those who go out to spread the Gospel” in the New Testament.

4. Romans 16:21 gives us Timothy. I find it interesting that most of the time, Timothy is a co-author with Paul, but here is simply present and sending his greeting.

5. Romans 16:22 brings up Tertius, Paul’s amanuensis for the letter. This is helpful in understanding the context and structure of letter-writing.

6. Romans 16:23 brings up a “Gaius,” which is like saying “Bob!” in modern English. There is also Erastus, who was an official in the city of Corinth—thus guiding us to know where Paul wrote Romans from. Quartus? We know nothing there.

7. Finally, though, is the commendation: to Him who is able to establish you…be the glory forever. It’s a beautiful benediction, likely written in Paul’s own hand after Tertius finished his work.

Here we find what matters the most:

The Gospel as the Revelation of God’s mystery, manifested in Christ. The Gospel, seen in the Scriptures. The Gospel, made known to all people, leading to repentance and obedience.

The Gospel, to the glory of God through Jesus Christ.

May that be our benediction as well.

Nerd Note: Try a little nerd activity and see how many of the names in Romans show up elsewhere, and see what we know about them.

Further, Erastus is one of those awesome names in Scripture: we have, from the time of Paul, archaeology that shows an Erastus as a city official in Corinth. Here it is:

August 6 2013: Proverbs 6

`Carrying on with Proverbs:

 

Proverbs 6 starts much of the “general wisdom” section of Proverbs. While there are portions here that warn against the forbidden woman that Proverbs 5 focuses on, these references fade a bit and are placed alongside other issues.

 

I do find it valuable to recognize just how important Proverbs shows sexual ethics to be. If “wisdom” in Proverbs is properly defined as skill for living in fear of YHWH (I think that’s how Philips does it in God’s Wisdom in Proverbs, but my copy’s loaned out), then there it is necessary to base our sexual ethics in reverence to God if we are to be wise.

 

Moving into our focal verses:

 

Proverbs 6:8 is one of those verses that requires grasping the section, not just the verse. The advice is in the section on seeing what the ant does, and following the example. Gather by increments, so that you have when you need it.

 

That applies in both material wealth and other areas. Think about skills and knowledge: ever crammed for a test? Then forgotten everything? Acquire slowly, incrementally, and see how much better it sticks. The same is a valid consideration for wisdom. You cannot become wise overnight, but you can make small gains. Then, when it is time to harvest, there is more than you expect.

 

Additionally, consider spiritual growth. Step by step—then, instead of being in terror, there is a wealth of development there.

 

Proverbs 6:18 addresses the need to avoid sinful activities. This falls under a list of seven things which are an abomination to God, things which He hates. Feet that rush to get involved in evil and hearts that devise wicked plans.

 

Remember that culturally, ancient Hebrew thought in the heart and felt in the guts, so this is about thought processes. We should avoid concocting plans and also not get wrapped up in other people’s schemes!

 

Further, the preceding verses tie together the way different parts of the body participate in evil. It is important, I think, to remember that we should control the parts of ourselves by the sum of who we are: not “I’m a pretty good person, except I have feet swift to evil…” but “I will control my feet, for I will be committed to Christ.”

 

Proverbs 6:28 brings up the consequences, initially applied to adultery, that eventually sin will get you. We have likely all seen people walk on hot coals for a time without burning…but eventually it will catch up to you. If you find yourself having escaped the consequences of sin, then get out now. You still need to address the consequences, but move on before you destroy yourself. Better to limp now than to burn your feet!

Monday, August 5, 2013

August 5 2013

Slowly, we’re going to get back on this horse and look at Proverbs more frequently.

Today is August 5, so we’ll look at Proverbs 5. Now, I know that it’s important that we look at Proverbs as a unified book, and not just pick it apart verse-by-verse as if there is no cohesion. However, there are still nuggets to draw out.

 

I see Proverbs similar to a gold mine: the value of the whole is substantially greater than any individual nugget, but there are individual nuggets that can be pulled out without destroying the unity and usefulness of the whole.

 

Plus, a verse-by-verse look is going to highlight every verse, but we won’t neglect the overall context.

 

Proverbs 5 is, overall, a warning against adultery. The opening sections hit hard on the dangers of the forbidden woman. The concept is possibly either foreign women or women that are forbidden because they are not your wife. Given that Israel’s religious call was to avoid entanglements with those who did not fear and revere YHWH, the Covenant God of Israel, the prohibition works both ways.

 

Our focal verses for today are Proverbs 5:8, where the instruction is not only to avoid the forbidden woman but to not go near the door of her house. Got that?

 

Not near. Not anywhere near at all. How foolishly we play with temptations and sins—we think we can gaze from the rooftops and not be entangled. We expect to carry fire and not be burned. This foolishness has destroyed so many. Reserve your strength for the times when it is necessary, do not use it just to prove that you are strong. Every person has their limits. Why risk exceeding yours?

 

This is not against being involved with sinful people for redemptive purposes, but we frequently can trace those moments when our relationships cross-over from redemption to self-gratification. At that moment, it’s time to flee.

 

The next focal verse is Proverbs 5:18. The obvious meaning of rejoice in the wife of your youth is to stay faithful to your original spouse. This set me thinking about the difference in young marriage and later marriage.

 

I really got to thinking about 15 years ago when two young and not-exactly-wise people planned and executed a wedding in 5 months. We now have three children and 15 years behind us.

 

How many ways can we both look back and think of qualifications for our spouses that we might be better off with? She deserves a better money manager. I could use a piano playing preacher’s wife. She should have someone smarter, better-looking, and so forth…and how often do we men (especially, not that women don’t) start noticing age and thinking about younger or taller or (fill-in-the-blank on the world’s beauty structures)?

 

Rejoice in the wife of your youth. Rejoice in the person that you have learned to have a marriage with, rather than going out to find someone that fits your checkbox list. The person who chose to commit with you to life together rather than someone that “meets your needs.” Why? Because you’re also supposed to meet her needs.

 

Marriage is not about one person holding a job description and finding the right person to fill it. Marriage is about two people learning to live together for the rest of their days.

 

And it should be a place of rejoicing. If you can’t rejoice about being married to who you’re marrying before you marry them, don’t do it.

 

If you're not rejoicing because you’re being selfish—then fix it. If you’re not rejoicing because you’re in danger, then get safe. That’s a whole different discussion.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Sermon Wrap-up for August 4

Note: 3 years ago this weekend, I preached for the good folks at Almyra for the first time. Most of the folks who came then, still come now. For that I am very grateful. It may be that they’re still waiting to hear a good sermon, but I’m afraid to ask.

We’ll do audio links for morning and evening, then videos, then the outlines.

Morning Audio on James 5:12 is here

Evening Audio on Romans 12:1-2 is here

(Clicking the above links will open a separate window/tab that has the media player in it.)

Morning Video:

Evening Video:

 

Morning Outline:

Central Idea: Fidelity to Our Word
Theological Idea: God is faithful to His Word

 

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.(Declaration of Independence)

On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty to God and my country, and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight (BSA Oath/Promise)

Rather than promises or swearingor any other oath-taking, we should focus onstrengtheningour character to be trustworthy, no matter what words we use on the issue.

Why?

1. Jesus said so: James 5:12 and Matthew 5:34-37

2. It echoes the character of God

3. We swear, but we don't control anything beyond our own behavior anyway

How would being honest people affect us? In Family, Friendships, Dating, Marriage, Work, Church....politics?

Family---all portions: parents, children, extended family

Friendships--honesty and fidelity:

Dating--for those of you doing that: why do you need promises?

Marriage--spouses; (add in that a wedding vow is not a vow to the other person. It's a vow to God aboutthe other person)

Work--employer and employee; customer and business

Church--Membership and commitment

Church--leadership and service

and we won't even get into politics

Connects to Matthew 5:34-37

Application Action: Go all week without making promises. Just deliver on what you say. Take "Promise" out of your vocabulary and be a person of integrity.

Why?

Because it reflects the integrity of God. In the Scripture, God never promises anything.

He speaks His commitment. We read back into His declarations that they are promises--to the point that in some instances we translate the Hebrew word for speak (דבר DBR daleth-beth-resh) as promise.

How about us?

Transition:

One of those clear declarations of God is this: "Whosoever would call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." Romans 10:13.

Maybe you don't know this...or don't understand it. Perhaps you need to respond right here, right now to this. Why now? Because we are assured of this: "It is appointed unto man once to die, and after that, the judgment." (Hebrews 9:27)

You get this opportunity--then there is only one thing certain. Judgment comes

Evening Outline:

August 4 2013 PM Romans 12:1-2

Training and Transformation

Play the guitar!!

Emphasis:

In a bay in Massachusetts, there sits a stone. It's a stone famous for traveling, though it may not be the exact point some people think it is. It may be more famous for its own travels than it should be for human travel.

Tradition holds that, in 1620, a group of passengers disembarked a sailing vessel called the Mayflower near a piece of Dedham granodiorite that came to be called Plymouth Rock. The rock itself, though, isn't from around there any more than the Pilgrims were.

It is what is called a glacial erratic boulder. It was dropped off in Massachusetts sometime as the Last Ice Age ended, and left there. How did come down? Well, glaciers travel somewhere around a few inches a year in most cases. The rock? It may have taken hundreds of years to get to Plymouth, where melting left it where it is.

It took time.

Being the rock takes time.

Development over instantaneous

Transformation through training

Slow development: the world is changed by inches.

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Sped-Up Life

I’m sitting here at my computer, watching the clock spin around and around. Well, perhaps not quite that fast, but it’s still spinning like there’s no tomorrow. Or at least that everything has to be done today.

But does it?

One area of life that I think many of us are stumbling on in life is just that. We are unable to separate out the items that truly have to be done today from those that can wait. Our world has become so instant that we want everything at the speed of light.

What do I mean?

Remember waiting until all the way after an event to see the pictures? Especially if you only took 12 on a 24-shot roll? I can remember wishing Mom had a 35mm instead of that blasted 110, because then we could have used the 1-hour developing. Of course, once I had a 35mm and found out the price difference, I still didn’t do 1-hour!

Now, my kids move so fast after I have them say “cheese” that sometimes the picture hasn’t taken. Why have they moved? Because they want to see the picture on the viewscreen and voice their opinion on it!

This pace of life is challenging for many of us. And, in all honesty, it’s not sustainable. I’ll use that word, even though it’s such a buzzword these days, because it is an accurate depiction. Sustainable.

As in, can you keep this up?

Can we keep this up?

Human beings are complicated beings. We are physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational creatures. Yet we run at such a breakneck pace that we are constantly neglecting at least one of these aspects of who we are.

  • Physical: do you have to not exercise? Not eat right? Do you have to compact in your exercise rather than having a natural life that keeps you fit? Stop and think about this: how much time do you work to pay for compacted exercise and to contract out your healthy eating? Or, how much time do you work keeping you from fitness, healthy eating, and saving up to pay off the cardiologist?
  • Emotional: let’s cut to the chase here. Many people are so frenetic in life that they need emotional recovery that takes weeks at a time. Why? Sometimes because we’re so busy working for the weekend that we miss life in the meantime. And you could shave a few minutes every day, come home sane at night, and then? Find out that your lower-cost weekends are actually more relaxing than you expected.
  • Spiritual: we want to microwave our relationship with God. That just does not work. We want a full-out, totally immersive once-a-week experience to set us up spiritually, and then just to go on with the week. Really? A lower-pace, less nutty experience that you bring your full self into builds into your heart better. It really does. We want church leadership to spend hours planning the ultimate worship service, but really should spend time every day ourselves preparing for gathering with the body.

And then there is how we want God to zap us into perfection rather than growing into it. That’s a whole additional subject.

  • Relational: let’s all hurry up and do something together. We have to play a game or watch a movie or go somewhere. Or we could do and do and go and go….and then we wonder why we don’t really have a relationship with the people around us. Instead, we have functions alongside each other, but we don’t really know one another.

And through all of this, we wonder why our social structures and societies are breaking down. We marvel that children turn violent, that parents harm instead of heal, and that leaders pillage rather than protect.

Somewhere along the way, we need to find some space in our lives. Not a complete abandonment of life nor a return to the cave.

Just a question: if you ended your sped-up life and took more time to do and be, what would your benefits be? What would your costs be?

What are the costs of not?

Sermon and Service Recap for November 8

Looks like I forgot to post this! Thank you!