Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Expectations and Fulfillment

An important truth to remember in the coming year:

You will rarely get more than you expect. Now, there are substantial exceptions that prove the rule: in marriage, you often get much more positive than you expect; acting in faith often brings more than you expect; and sometimes other folks will surprise you.

But in two areas, realize that your expectations define the outcome.

First, in your interactions with businesses. You know why your order is wrong 75% of the time you go to McDonald’s? There are a few possibilities. One is that your order is too complex for reasonable people, like wanting a hamburger with cheese on half and two bottom buns but no onions. Seriously? Order close to the menu, man.

The second is that you are actually not ordering what you think you’re ordering. The McDouble? It’s not chicken.

But the main reason? We’ve come accept, and then expect, that even though we pay for the service of getting a meal, and even though the restaurant claims to be competent to serve it, they’ll screw it up. We’ve come to expect that the places we eat aren’t going to be clean, the stores will have less-than-friendly workers, and so forth.

And then we get what we expect. Following that up, we get grumpy when the error is “too big,” after setting a standard of “make an effort, but who cares on the results.”

This starts the cycle: a business then performs to its lowest possibility. It then performs, financially, at that level. Then, they only pay for that level of competence from their employees. Competent people then move on…or slide down to the average around them, depending on the structure.

So stop it. Stop accepting it. Don’t be a jerk about it, but be clear about your expectations, and be firm that you will not accept it. Be it with those you work for, those who work for you, or those whose services you utilize. Because here’s the deal: if you served good food, fast, in a clean environment, cheerfully, without being on your cellphone, then McD’s might be able to pay you more an hour because you’d have more customers. And certainly, that person who just came through your line won’t walk away sneering at your desire for a raise.

More than this, though, is that we need to expect more of ourselves.

It’s very easy to see how we should expect more from the people around us.

But what of ourselves? Do I expect to be putting in the work, doing the tasks?

Consider this: Do we expect from ourselves as much as we expect from others?

I’ve become convinced, in the last 2 weeks, that part of why we get so readily agitated at poor service and poor quality is not that we’re not getting what we pay for. It’s not that we deserve more or that days used to be better.

It’s that we see ourselves in the mirror of low results. It is that we haven’t put our whole heart into our work. It’s that we have reached a point that we’ll do the minimum and walk away.

So raise the level this year. Put in your best, expect more from you.

Then patiently raise the expectations around you.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Book: A Passion for the Fatherless

Today’s Book is brought to you by Kregel Academic.

What does it mean to have a passion for the fatherless? That is the key question in Daniel Bennett’s book A Passion for the Fatherless. In the answering of this question, Bennett does not merely give the emotional side of the idea.

Instead, he develops a robust theological response to the needs of orphans. Rather than simply engaging the emotional drive that “something must be done!,” this work recognizes the long-term nature of the problem. There will always be orphans in need of care.

The church, both at-large and locally, should always be at the forefront of the efforts to provide that care. Yet if we are going to do so, emotion may get us started but we need a better foundation for ongoing involvement. Additionally, involving the whole body of faith will include demonstrating why it is necessary to those who are less emotionally swayed. (And these folks aren’t automatically wrong: some are more emotionally vested in widows than orphans—both are important ministries!)

This is where Bennett’s work shines. Rather than build on a foundation of acting on your feelings, he presents first the Bible case for orphan care through the body of Christ and through individual believers. He then goes on to develop specific ideas that can be implemented, paying attention to the various contexts of believer’s lives and cultures.

As a church pastor, I found the chapter on “When Not to Care for Orphans” an excellent inclusion. Bennett expresses several valid concerns regarding those who pursue orphan care without regard to the cost of their involvement. He does so without being a wet blanket on the passion of individuals, instead giving alternate paths to work that passion into an effective outcome.

I heartily recommend that a church entering into an orphan care ministry take the time to work though A Passion for the Fatherless along with its small group study guide. We need to do this: care for the orphan. We need to do this right, though, and a solid Biblical foundation is crucial. Bennett provides that guidance.

I was provided this book by Kregel Academic Publishers. They do not insist that my reviews be positive, but I generally find they are selective enough to publish stuff that’s almost always good.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Sermon Recap: December 28 2014

This is our last Sermon Recap for 2014. Processing through all of them covers highlights across the entire Bible. We’ll wrap up the through the Bible reading and preaching plan in Revelation 22 on January 4, then begin our year-long look through the Gospel of Mark.

Also, somehow I’ve been uploading the Videos to Youtube in a strange place. I’ll try and get that fixed soon.

Sunday Morning, December 28: 2 John (Audio)

December 28 AM 2 John

I. Love

II. Love walks in God's commandments

III. Love does not walk with wickedness

IV. Love walks closer with Jesus than anything, anyone else

V. Love is personal

Sunday Evening: Revelation 1 (audio)

Revelation 1

1. Who was and is and is to come

2. No doubting His return

Concluding Notes:

1. I do have the rough audio of Sunday Night’s Q&A session, but I’m not sure yet that it’s useful for posting.

2. I am not sure how to improve video quality with the current equipment.

3. If you want to subscribe, here’s a list:

A. iTunes for audio subscription link is here.

B. General Audio RSS feed for other programs is here.

C. If you’re a Stitcher User, the link is here

D. For Youtube Video, subscribe here: https://www.youtube.com/user/dheagle93/

E. Some videos are up on Vimeo, but budget constraints have ended my posting to Vimeo for the time being.

4. Yes, I think I’m not getting a lot of plays on each service or hits on each blog, but in total it’s a decent reach. A social media expert might suggest changes, but this is free-to-cheap, where I have to live right now.


5. Each blog has a “Follow” button and a “Subscribe via Email” option


6. Follow on Facebook: Doug’s Page or the First Baptist Almyra Page

Christmas Eve 2014

Here is the video, all 45 minutes (or so) of it, of our Christmas Eve service. Since we use a simple video setup, you don’t quite get the effect of the light spreading with the candles at the end, but it’s a lovely view. There’s no way to capture it without assigning someone to video instead of participate, so we just take what we’ve got.

 

Hymn numbers are from the 2008 Baptist Hymnal from Lifeway.

 

Christmas Eve 2014

O Little Town of Bethlehem: 196

1. Shepherd

Psalm 96:1-6

  1. Splendor and Majesty
  2. Dwelling among us
  3. The Good Tiding of Salvation!

O Come, All Ye Faithful: 199

2. Sustainer

Psalm 96:7-13

  1. Glory and Strength
  2. Righteous Judgment
  3. All Creation Together

Joy to the World: 181

3. Sacrifice

Luke 2:1-14

  1. Fear Not!
  2. Peace with God
  3. Great News for ALL!

Hark the Herald Angels Sing: 192

It Came upon the Midnight Clear: 188

4. Source of Joy

Luke 2:15-20

  1. The Angels Leave
  2. So we share our joy!
  3. Both pondering within and speaking out

How Great Our Joy: 202

O Come, O Come Emmanuel: 175

5. Saviour

Isaiah 9:2-7

  1. Darkness Flies
  2. The Great Light: Jesus!
  3. All that we need: Wonderful! Counselor! The Mighty God! The Everlasting Father! The Prince of Peace!

Away in a Manger: 205.

Silent Night: 206

Friday, December 19, 2014

16 Years

I owe you, dear readers, several things. First, a few more posts. Second, several book reviews. Third, something light and fluffy and inspirational for Christmas.

Perhaps I will fulfill that debt in the next few days. Today, however, is not that day.

Today, I celebrate 16 years of marriage. Whether it was pity that caused her to follow through or something else, Ann went ahead and came down that aisle and said “I do.”

She knew little of the road we would walk together. Or of the challenges of being married to me and wrestling with my insecurities, idiosyncrasies, and peculiarities. Or my obsession with odd sci-fi stuff.

Still, she sticks around. She pushes me when I need pushed. She hugs me when I need hugged. She makes up for my parenting deficits, my skill deficits (seriously, how bad would the budget be with me balancing it?), and is my partner in all things.

16 years. It’s not quite half of her life, but I’m sure it feels like a lot longer. There are no words for the healing and restoration and strength she’s given me over those years.

I am truly blessed to be half of Doug and Ann. I look forward to many more years of being it!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

In the Villages: Luke 13

In Summary:

We return to Luke’s Gospel and see familiar themes. We see another “healing on the Sabbath” controversy, this one intensified by the presence of a crowd seeking healing. There is something to the idea that we should not be angered when our worship traditions are interrupted by those seeking the healing of the Lord God Almighty. People may show up at church in the middle of our themed-out parties and need something. Let us not be so obsessed with our orders and structures that we cannot meet the obvious needs.

We also see a pair of parables that bracket the Sabbath healing. The first is about an unfruitful tree, the second provides clear illustrations of what faith is like. Taken on their own, these are good illustrations: be fruitful, be faithful. If you put them alongside the healing then you see something additional: the Kingdom of God brings life and growth wherever it goes. If there is no life, then it is not the Kingdom. The tree? If it responds, then it stays. The mustard plant? The loaves that grow? Life. Death and uninformed repetition are not. What characterizes our lives as Christians? Or in our churches?

In Focus:

Let us tighten a little focus on Luke 13:22. Jesus is traveling through villages and cities on His way to Jerusalem, and teaching as He goes. Luke does not record exactly which cities and villages are visited, or even the specific people He encounters. We do have specific teachings, though, and they are not all comforting.

For example, we have the question “Are just a few being saved?” and Jesus’ response that says, basically, “Yep.” Here He uses the image of the narrow door and the eventual locked door to illustrate that salvation is not always available. This is extended by pointing out that people will come from east, west, north, and south and dine with the prophets and Abraham in the Kingdom.

Overall, the narrow door that Jesus speaks of is complete trust in Him. Surrendering to Jesus as Lord, rather than trusting in our own righteousness or seeking another savior elsewhere, is the only path back to God. And why shouldn’t He know that? Let’s keep in mind what John brings up in John 1: Jesus is the only one who can truly explain God, since He is God.

In Practice:

Where this gets practical is twofold:

First, we need a relationship with Jesus. This starts with knowing that we’re not Jesus. That means our hearts surrender to Him, and our lives are His to command. It also means that we don’t get to be the judge of who comes through that narrow door. There are evidences, to be sure, of who is headed toward it, but the final decision is not mine…or yours.

Second, we need to share His message with the world. Guess what? Jesus came to seek and save. We don’t have to do the save part, but we should seek those He came to save. It is of far greater value to proclaim where the door is than to make people act like they’ve found it.

In Nerdiness: 

The opening verses of this chapter should inform our response to tragedy. Jesus declines to label those killed by the wicked Pilate as either righteous or unrighteous. Instead, He highlights that death comes to all of us, and it behooves us to be ready for that reality.


This counters our typical Americanized response to tragedy, where tragic death means “They all went to heaven.” Nonsense, says Jesus in this passage: they went wherever they were headed in the first place. If they were not repentant toward God, then tragedy did not save them. Only the Cross saves. It’s how Jesus died that matters, not how you do.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Book: My Perfect Pantry

Today’s book is a cookbook. Why? Because I like cooking and was offered a free cookbook.

Geoffrey Zakarian is one of the  typical combatants on the TV show Iron Chef America. He is also a restaurant owner and involved with a plethora of other shows. In all, he’s a busy chef.

My Perfect Pantry, his current cookbook, is not meant to evoke the fancy flavors of Iron Chef, nor of the high dining in his restaurants. Instead, this is directed at the home cook, giving guidance on how to stock your pantry and spice cabinet for some amazing meals.

The concept is simple: 50 foundation ingredients are listed, and then there are recipes based on 50 pantry ingredients. Zakarian then builds recipes that utilize those ingredients to make dishes that range from snacks to entrees. The foundation ingredients are spices, and while I know, and you know, that great chefs burn through spices pretty quick so they don’t get old, we keep the same tin of cloves for a long time. I’ll say this: Zakarian says to change them out once a year, and it’s not a bad idea.

Then there are the pantry staples, again 50 items that will last a while. You can keep these on hand and just snag something off the shelf, make a marvelous meal!

If, that is, you have picked what you’re wanting to make and have the relevant fresh ingredient on hand. That’s the downside on this cookbook: on the one hand, I was hopeful it would give me ways to use just what I have. That is not what you get here, and I think the let-down is more on the marketing and description than it is on the author.

So, keep in mind that you will need to gather a few fresh ingredients to go alongside the staples and foundation spices listed. Some of them are certainly normal for the American kitchen: chicken, ground beef, eggs, but you just want to make sure.

I would recommend this one for someone past the beginner stage of cooking, or as a base for a big group gift-giving event. Picture throwing in with 20 friends to equip a newly married couple with this book and the 100 stable staples mentioned—there’s a great use for it.

Otherwise, it’s good. The food turns out well, but you may care for “Spicy Peanut Butter Slaw.”

I know I didn’t. So, your mileage will vary, but on the shelf beside a few others, a useful cookbook.

Free book in exchange for review: I picked a title I thought I’d like, so I’m predisposed to give it a favorable review. Send me books at random, and I’ll dislike more of them.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Compendium of Last Week’s Church Blog Posts

I’ve been writing a short devotional thought on the church blog over at www.fbcalmyra.com every day. I thought I’d skip out on real content here, today, and repost all of that. I doubt I need permission, since I’m the content creator Smile

 

The First Monday of Advent 2014

It’s so easy to celebrate Jesus on Sundays. There’s not much else going on, and we can block out the world.

Monday is different. Monday puts us back to school, back to work, back to the responsibilities. What do we do?

Look with me at Isaiah 40:1-11 and consider this:

1. God’s presence brings comfort, but not all comfort is what we expect. His comfort is His presence and His Word.

2. God shepherds His people, carrying the weak and guiding us along. It’s not a sit and soak life. It’s a walk of obedience.

But it’s a walk in community, with the presence of the Good Shepherd. Which is so much better than the wandering alone we often try to do. Even when we have a destination. Hearken to the words of the Shepherd, and walk in His paths.

It’s the only way to make it through the Mondays of life.

The First Tuesday of Advent 2014

Look with me at Psalm 85:1-2 and let us take a moment on this Tuesday to consider this:

The Psalmist speaks first of the history of Israel and their deliverance from Egypt in the Exodus. Yet he speaks of deeper things as well, for he speaks of the captivity to sin.

Verse 2 speaks of forgiveness of iniquity and covering of sin. Not just some of it, but all of it. Verse 1 speaks of grace and restoration.

As we move on through the lights and mayhem, let us remember that the coming of Christ, what we celebrate at Christmas, is the key point in establishing our relationship with God. It was there in the manger that the path to the cross began.

This is our restoration through the grace of God. This is where our sin is covered, and our iniquity forgiven. Live Christmas as if forgiven!

1st Wednesday of Advent 2014

2 Peter 3:8-15 reminds us of an important truth: God is not bothered by time. Not one bit. All the times we think He is slow, we need to come back to this point.

The Incarnation, the coming of Jesus that we celebrate at Christmas, came at the right time. His second coming will also occur at just the right moment. It is remarkably easy for us to get impatient and think that God should show up on our timetable.

He doesn’t. And it is not because He’s a slacker, nor for lack of love toward you and I.

But keep this in mind: the return of Christ marks the permanence of judgment. From that point forward, there is no Scriptural support that anyone else will be saved. No one.

So if the Lord tarries one more day, it is for the sake of His people. It is to allows us one more day to walk in obedience and shine the light, that one more lost soul can find their way home.

Shine the light this year, and point the way home for those who are lost.

First Thursday of Advent 2014

Mark 1:1-8 (for the record, I’m pulling the passages from the Revised Common Lectionary. Not a very Baptist thing, but it gives a good Scripture place to start) tells that John Baptist came, fulfilling the prophecy of a forerunner, a messenger, that would before Jesus.

He filled a role common in the ancient world. When a king travelled somewhere, he would send an advance team to make sure all was right for his arrival.

You’d hate for the king to find no room in the inn, for example. That would be bad.

But here’s the deal, my fellow believers: Jesus is coming again. And this time, it’s not just John the Baptist who is responsible for announcing his coming. It’s John, and Doug, and Mary Ann, and Olivia, and Rachel, and Gary, and Jennifer, and Ted, and Susan, Carl, Martha Ann, Jonathan, Ryan, Karlyn, and….well, you get the point. (and it’s not that I left your name off!) It’s all those Baptists and the Methodists and Presbyterians and everyone else. We are all here to proclaim that the Lord is coming.

Let’s not miss that this Christmas. But even if we do…don’t miss it in January.

First Friday of Advent 2014

Turning our attention to Psalm 85:8-13, take a look at what God says here:

First, “peace to His people.”

Second, “salvation is near to those who fear Him.”

Third, “Lovingkindness and truth have met.”

Fourth, “Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”

What of it all?

It is remarkably easy to separate peace from fear or love from truth. Righteousness does not always pair well with peace—but the Psalmist says these all go together. How?

In the same way that God and man go together. Not through great theological gymnastics, nor through many words. It is not by some incantations chanted by people.

Instead, it is by the one Word of God, putting on flesh and dwelling among us. All of these seemingly conflicting ideas: love, truth, peace, justice, salvation, fear; all of these come together because of Jesus.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

In Barns: Luke 12

In Summary:

Remember that Luke records substantial portions of Jesus’ teaching moments. Breaking Luke down into chapters does not isolate specific teaching concepts or even moments, so any given chapter will cover a variety of topics. Luke 12 is no different.

First, Jesus warns his disciples of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. In doing so, he highlights that hidden deeds and whispered words will not remain secret. Combining these two makes sense, as the Pharisees were experts at public righteousness. Many times it is easy to be righteous when observed, but we hide our wickedness. That is to be avoided: be the same person on display and in public.

Second, Jesus stresses the right one to fear. NASB capitalizes “One” because it refers to God. We often allow fear of everything else—I’ve seen Luke 12:5 misapplied as suggesting we fear Satan. Satan has no authority to cast into hell. That’s judgment based on God’s Word, not on anyone else.

Third, Jesus teaches that our trust is to be in him, not in our skills or wealth or friendships. All of these will push back against our obedience and public acknowledgment of Christ as Lord, but we cannot allow it. Our choice really is simple: Jesus or anything else.

In Focus:

Let us turn our focus to the parable of the rich man with the barns. First, consider the precipitating question for the parable: Why does Jesus teach with this parable? That question is often overlooked, but it matters. Jesus is asked by a man to settle a probate question. The man wants his share of an inheritance, of the family wealth. Jesus refuses to be involved and instead warns all of his hearers about greed.

The warning takes the form of a parable. Sometimes called the “Parable of the Rich Fool,” it’s the story of a man who has a great farm year. He wonders what he should do, and decides to tear down his existing storage units and build bigger ones. His expectation is that he will now be able to take many years off from working.

Instead, God calls the man a fool, a rarity in itself, and points out that death has come for him. Now. This very night, the man’s soul is demanded and he leaves everything behind. What good does it do him to have everything stored up?

I do find it noteworthy that the man never even gets the barns built: he just plans to do so. His intentions are judged here, not his actions. Again we see God knowing the heart of man and acting on wickedness before it comes to fruition.

In Practice:

What was so wicked about the man’s plan? Should we take this to mean we ought not save or prepare for the future?

Let us nip that in the bud: Scripture speaks plainly of relying on God for our futures. It also speaks, in the book of Proverbs, of the wisdom of savings and planning. There is nothing inherently evil about recognizing that God provides, at times, for both today and tomorrow.

The issue here is slightly different. First, the man has a great year and his first thought is for himself. He gives no consideration to the needs of others or even of his worship of God! How do we respond to unexpected material blessing? Do we look for good to do for others? Or for the spread of the Gospel? The selfishness inherent in seeing growth as only for himself is condemned. We should be wary of that attitude.

I recommend, highly, the book The Generosity Factor by Ken Blanchard and S. Truett Cathy. If you are a believer and a business manager or owner, you need to consider the amplification of Biblical principles found in that book.

Second, the man considers that his great storehouse will enable a life of luxury. He has provided for himself, and has no need to do anything else. We cannot, as Christians, think this way. If we have a great storehouse, it was provided by God. Through our hard work, perhaps, but provided by God and not ourselves. Additionally, God does not provide so that we can be lazy. He provides in one area so that we may serve more actively in another.

Take, for example, retirement from going to work every day. Many people want to reach “retirement,” but to what end? The question should be “How can I serve God now that I do not have to punch the clock everyday?” rather than “How much fun can I have?” The fun comes with the service.

In Nerdiness: 

One of the big questions regarding the parables of Jesus is this: does he create the stories or is he telling something that happened? I have known quite a few that think he must always tell the truth and that requires no use of fiction. Besides, Jesus would know everything, so he’s bound to know a true story.

I do not think the honesty of God requires no use of illustrative fiction. In fact, typically a parable was just that: illustrative, instructional fiction. Only of Jesus would we demand that they not be fictional. Whether this is the case falls to you to study and discern.


This leads to the question: is it possible that the man of the parable in view is the father of the man who wants Jesus to intervene in his inheritance issue? After all, that would be very personal: your own father didn’t think of you in his wealth, and now you and your brother are fighting. That might be the case, but it may just be that Jesus told a story that made the point perfectly.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Sermon Recap for December 7

Please join me in praying for Jacque Synco. The medical people are still trying to sort out how to meet her nutritional needs.

Morning Sermon: Romans 1:16-17 (audio)

1. Not Ashamed: of all the things we have to be ashamed of, the Gospel is not one of them!

2. The power of the Gospel: salvation, no matter your background

3. Righteousness of God

Evening Sermon: 2 Corinthians 9:6-9 (audio)

Why do we give?

1. Obligation?

2. Benefit?

3. Gratitude?

Concluding Notes:

1. I do have the rough audio of Sunday Night’s Q&A session, but I’m not sure yet that it’s useful for posting.

2. I am not sure how to improve video quality with the current equipment.

3. If you want to subscribe, here’s a list:

A. iTunes for audio subscription link is here.

B. General Audio RSS feed for other programs is here.

C. If you’re a Stitcher User, the link is here

D. For Youtube Video, subscribe here: https://www.youtube.com/user/dheagle93/

E. Some videos are up on Vimeo, but budget constraints have ended my posting to Vimeo for the time being.

4. Yes, I think I’m not getting a lot of plays on each service or hits on each blog, but in total it’s a decent reach. A social media expert might suggest changes, but this is free-to-cheap, where I have to live right now.


5. Each blog has a “Follow” button and a “Subscribe via Email” option


6. Follow on Facebook: Doug’s Page or the First Baptist Almyra Page

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A few additional thoughts on marriage

No, not on the current cultural revisions to marriage. Not exactly.

On social media yesterday, I noticed someone critiquing a move by several ministers to refuse to sign government marriage licenses. This is not something that I have heard about until now—once again we find “leading people” are leading fewer than they think they are, and even fewer than their critics think they are—and I assumed it was a fringe, crackpot idea. Well, it’s less fringe than I expected given that a few of the names connected to it have been somewhat reasonable on other issues.

Overall, here’s the summary: Christian ministers should refuse to sign government marriage licenses. Marriage is a religious affair, after all, and needs no government permission. Besides, government marriage has become something far different from Bible-based marriage.

The truth of the latter two statements does not, though, require the first premise as an action. I have supported, and still consider worth pondering, a dual-structure where there is religious marriage and civil marriage, for lack of better terms. I don’t count that as ideal, but there are two spheres at play. Some people want both of them in their relationships. Some just want to share a tax return. Why co-mingle the two?

But the idea that, in our current society, Christians should eschew societal/governmental recognition of our marriages is nonsense. First of all, this is a silly capitulation to cultural redefinition of marriage. Rather than living out the distinction between Christian marriage and American marriage, this cuts and runs for the bunker. I like the bunker, but we cannot live there. Abandoning filing your marriage as official with the government is surrendering and saying that we have no interaction. I find that, on its own, reason to reject such an idea.

That is not the only reason. It is the best theoretical reason, but not the best practical reason. The best practical reason is this:

We live in a sin-soaked world. Because of this, marriages do not always last, nor do they reflect the relationship of Christ and the Church as they ought to. Failing to be married “on paper at the courthouse” will cause problems, will strip protections, from spouses who need help. Ideally, yes, the church should meet that need. We all know that ideal isn’t reality. After all, ideally we’d all only get married out of obedience to God and there would never be: abuse, adultery, abandonment or anything else!

Having those protections is no different than me acknowledging my church members are trustworthy, but still keeping my office locked. Sometimes you just need a hand.

Third, there are the exact same reasons that the cultural community wants to claim marriage as a right for any group of people that want it: access and decision-making. Who gets to go to “family” waiting room during your emergency surgery? The ones the hospital recognizes as married. Will UAMS recognize a ‘church-only’ marriage? Maybe, maybe not.

Given that there is no sin inherent in filing a marriage license with the state, there is no reason to refuse to sign them. Nor should we encourage Christian couples to eschew that process.

I say all this, but here’s the caveat: the time may come where a minister is required to violate God’s law to sign Caesar’s marriage license. The times of Valentine may return, where Caesar bars obedience to God in marriage for people. Should those days come, then these ideas have merit.

Until then, though, it is unnecessary to push young couples into the risks inherent of having a “not-marriage marriage.” Separate religious marriage from civil marriage, perhaps, but do not refuse the civil union.

Previously, I think I have suggested “marriage” as the religious term and “civil union” for the government one. I think that’s got some possibility: marriage has historically been a religious observance recognized by the government. Let the government define, regulate the unions they will recognize. Let the religions define the worship act called “marriage” and go from there. But that in no way reduces this: in current, 2014 America, if you are going to live as a “married” Christian then you should file the paper.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Justice and Governance: Deuteronomy 17

In Summary: Justice and governance. These are the themes of Deuteronomy 17. The opening verse addresses the need for proper sacrifices but the rest of the chapter delves into the administration of justice. First, the Israelites are commanded to make a thorough investigation, but then penalties are required. The opening section deals with capital offenses.

Next, we see the idea of establishing a judicial system for those cases that are too hard to handle. Then there are rules established for the king, if the people ever have one. I still support the idea given for the king here. He was to make his own, by his own hand, copy of the Law of God. This likely would have been the book of Deuteronomy alone, but could have been the entire Pentateuch. My guess is just Deuteronomy, but further we do not see in Kings or Chronicles any evidence that the kings did this. In fact, under Joash we see the Law found as it had been missing! They apparently rarely did this. I think we’d be better off in America if everyone elected to public office had to at least copy the Constitution and Declaration of Independence…and if the President had to do the Tax Code, I bet it would get simpler!

Overall, we see that there were provisions for dealing with clear transgressions and for muddled situations. If it was clear and there were adequate, trustworthy witnesses, then justice was to be done swiftly and by the community. Think about how important the commandment of not bearing “false witness” becomes here: a false witness could cost someone their life! More complicated issues were to be taken up with trained judges, but clear cases could be handled by those who lived, day-to-day, with one another.

In Focus: Let’s put Deuteronomy 17:12 in focus. There are three necessary parts in this one verse.

First, there was the priest that served the Lord God and the judge that worked with him. Those who worked to establish and maintain justice in Israel were servants of God and His ways. It’s a subtle distinction between that and serving the people, but an important one. Justice is, at its core, a fixed issue: right is always right. Judges and legal systems are established to determine how to apply the law for right to happen. This is why the Hebrew system involved both judge and priest, to keep what is right in view.

Second, there was condemnation for anyone who refused to listen to the priest and the judge. Hasty judgment or refusal to honor the judgment was forbidden. Even if a person, apparently, was the aggrieved party they could still suffer punishment for not listening to the priest and the judge. Listening was a vital component.

Third, there was the clear connection between individual sinful behavior and evil in the nation. The justice system had to work to remove evil from the nation.

In Practice:

First things first: a justice system that is disinterested in the truth is one that will never do that which is right. There is a difference between the truth and the letter of the law, for there exist times when doing what is right is doing something that is not legal—and those are times when the law must be changed. It is for this reason that the American system allows judges to invalidate laws. Not for the convenience of people who cannot get a law passed, but to avoid punishing people for doing things that are right. Take Rosa Parks, for example here: the judge in her case should have cast aside the law both for her sake, because she had done nothing wrong and it shouldn’t have been illegal, and for the sake of the police who were responsible to arrest law breakers. They should never have been required to enforce a law that was wrong.

Justice systems should serve right and truth. When that does not occur, we see problems and eventual breakdown. Judges should never be bound to political expediency or even popular anger. Right is always right. This does not excuse wrongdoing by judges: there must be, because of the fallen nature of man, a way to correct for bad judgment.

Second things second: those who go to the judge must listen to what is said and recognize the decision. If it is wrong, there should be checks in the system to make it right. And while not mentioned here, throughout Scripture we see explicit condemnation of those who lock justice away from the poor. Our system does this: ever looked at what it would take to challenge something in court? I can’t afford it. Neither, most likely, can you.

Third: we must fight against evil personal behavior and its influence on society. We must also work to prevent evil societal action. But it starts with the individual. If we are slow to act on personal justice, if we allow delayed justice, then we are allowing evil to reign. That must stop.


In Nerdiness: The passages on the kingdom come into view here. Was Moses foreseeing a time when they would want a king? Or is this evidence that Deuteronomy was composed later? How you answer that is more a function of your presuppositions about Scripture than your Old Testament skills. I say that God inspired Moses looking forward, because my presupposition is that God is able to do so. Others take a different view. Passages like this test those assumptions.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Book: The Heretic

Look to your right! There’s a book –>

Henry Vyner-Brooks’ The Heretic is a heavy duty historical novel. Based in England, 1536, The Heretic covers the lives (and deaths) of some who would reform the Church of England, some who would restore the Roman Church in England, and some who would leave the Church altogether.

And if you think that’s a complicated summary, you should read the book and realize just how oversimplified I made it. This makes me of two minds about Vyner-Brooks’ work. First is the concern that it’s too complicated and too woven into the historical events to be widely read.

And that is a legitimate concern. If you are not familiar, generally, with the history of England, then you will be lost from the beginning of this book. It is a different style of historical novel than I typically see. Usually, historical fiction uses the story to help inform the past, helping the reader to know what happened. Vyner-Brooks has taken a different turning in this, and you need to know the macro-level events. From his writing, you will gather the day-to-day, personal level events that went on, things that don’t make it into history books. It is a different manner of doing historical fiction.

Which brings me to my second mind on this book: I love it. It is rich with history and smells of unwashed monks, unrefrigerated foods, and grouchy monarchs. There is no pandering to the reader nor patronizing parentheticals to remind you who “Martin Luther” was. You need to know. It’s a grown-up level read, for those who want to dig into the flavor of the times.

Does it have a happy ending? Does anything in that time?

It took work to get through The Heretic, but it was a book worth reading.

 

Note: yes, I got this one for free from Kregel. They offer books, I take books.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Joy in the Kitchen

I know this post is tagged as “cooking,” and you may be looking for a recipe. I don’t know if you’ll find one or not. It’s more of a random meander post than a recipe post. For a few moments I want to talk about cooking.
Why?
I love to cook. Not that I have much formal training in it: I learned in the kitchen with my mother, I learned around the camp stove and campfire in Boy Scouts, but I’ve never had a “cooking class.” Unless you count the Table for Two night at the Rockefeller Institute up on Petit Jean, where we learned how to make one dish. (Speaking of, if you’d like to sponsor a return trip…let me know. Or if you’re in PR for WRI and want to comp a blogger to participate, I’m up for that.)
I’ve learned that my creative side comes through more in the kitchen than anywhere else. You see, in the kitchen, certain facts matter but they are hard to dispute. For example, chicken is either cooked or raw—once you get it past raw and into “done” where it’s unlikely anyone will get deathly ill from it, you can do whatever your heart desires. It’s simple, and you can’t misconstrue it. (Likewise, there’s just no way to misunderstand raw chicken. It’s nasty, no matter what you do with it.)
Beyond basic facts like “raw” and “cooked” or “poisonous” or “healthy,” there is wide freedom. Certain things work better than others, but you’re not really bound to a hard list. In fact, I find many interesting things just by tossing two odd flavors together and trying to build a bridge between them.
Sometimes, I fail. I really do. My beloved wife won’t admit to it, but I have served up some awful stuff. Food Network once did a “Worst Cooks in America” show, and I have put stuff on the table that would have won me that show. In one episode.
But you try, and you try again. Because you have to eat, and you might as well learn to love getting it all together. Plus, there is this immediate feedback on whether you’ve done any good at all.
And that feedback is honest. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a pastor-teacher for my local church, but the feedback on whether or not I’ve done well is tough to filter. I have some people who I have made angry, and giving them a kidney wouldn’t get a positive view from them. Others are happy, and they’d give me a kidney. Just to keep in a jar, in case I needed it, because they are kind and gracious and like me.
So it’s tough to sort out this question: Is what I have done good?
At the table, though, I get immediate and honest feedback. Is it good? It’s eaten quickly! Is it bad? Then the parenting skills have to come out and get it done. Is it awful? Then cookies are necessary…
I love it, and find joy in it. Find joy in the normal parts of life, and see how much it grows.


Oh, and recipe? Don’t have one, but I did discover that you can pan fry shredded mozzarella and get a result not unlike halloumi. And it’s a lot easier to get mozzarella.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

In Judgment: Luke 11

In Summary: First, we have Luke’s recollection of Jesus teaching the disciples to pray. This parallels the teaching in Matthew 6, and that has caused some to think this records the same event. That is an unnecessary leap: surely Jesus taught similar lessons to differing crowds—and sometimes to the same crowd! The term used here is “disciple” rather than “Twelve,” so it could have been one of many.

Second, Jesus follows this with an extended explanation of the need for persistence in prayer. He notes that his followers should keep on praying, keep on seeking, if they wish to see answers. He reins in any foolishness, though, by noting that even people know not respond to unsafe or foolish requests! If a human father knows that an undesired fish is better than a requested snake, how much more does our Heavenly Father? Even if we persist in asking, God will not give us that which is foolish. In fact, His answer, according to 11:13, is the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Third, we see the source for Abraham Lincoln’s famous “House Divided” speech. It was Jesus. Sidebar: I wonder when we’ll see Lincoln condemned for using religion in his politics? Luke 11:17 is the verse in question. Jesus points out that even if what he does is from Satan, then it’s great! Because Satan is going to fall apart.

There is also an extended question to answer: how many times do we Christians turn the body of Christ into that divided house that cannot stand? The Kingdom of God should be united, but the greatest risk is the damage we bring within.

In Focus: Focusing our attention on Luke 11:29-32, we see judgment. The judgment? It is on the current generation, the ones Jesus is speaking to. Take note, though, of who is doing the judging: The men of Nineveh and the Queen of the South (the Queen of Sheba). Who are these? Read the book of Jonah and 1 Kings 10. These are non-Israelites who still listened to the Word of the Lord and followed him.

Jesus highlights that someone greater than Jonah is here. Who? Him. The one who sent Jonah, the one who gave Solomon wisdom and drew the Queen of Sheba up north. And yet they still are not listening. They would praise Jonah and Solomon, remembering Nineveh and Sheba, but then they attacked Jesus.

In Practice: I’m sure glad that none of us are like that, aren’t you? We don’t sit around and praise the righteousness of our forebears while ignoring exactly what they taught us, right?

After all, we are committed to the kingdom of God like Lottie Moon or Nicholas von Zinzendorf. We are in the Word like John Wesley. We search the sciences like Galileo and Newton, marveling to understand God’s ways.

Or are we much more like the Pharisees and bystanders of Jesus’ time? Sitting here and not doing, all the while praising the preaching of Spurgeon, the commitment of Carmichael, the passion of Bonhoeffer, the compassion of King? Let us not see our heroes or the ones who followed them sit in judgment on us.

In Nerdiness:  This is one that you’re likely familiar with, but it’s still important: Luke 11:51. From “Abel to Zechariah,” while looking like “from A-to-Z” like we use in modern English, is not an alphabet reference. If it were, you’d need someone whose name started with an omega in Greek, or a tav in Hebrew. Instead, we see a reflection of the order of the Old Testament. The order used in Jesus’ time began with Genesis but then ended with 2 Chronicles. Everything else fit between them. Zechariah is murdered in 2 Chronicles 24, the last recording of a faithful prophet of God being killed in the Old Testament. So, it’s a reference to the whole of the Old Testament.


Also available for your nerd consideration: 11:42. Does Jesus here declare the end of the tithe? Or that tithing is appropriate but should follow after justice. It reads like the Pharisees should have been doing both: justice for the many and tithing on their herbs. Why the herbs? Typically, one grew little herb gardens, something still not uncommon. In their zeal for the Law, the Pharisees would make sure to tithe even the results of these gardens, something that hardly accomplished the concept of the tithe as providing for the priests, Levites, and poor. The point here is that one can be exact about their own holiness and miss the point by ignoring their fellow man. Let’s not do that.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Sermon Wrap-Up for Nov 30

Good Morning! There’s a bonus here: The Thanksgiving Sermon from Wednesday. That’s right, 3 sermons for the price of one! It’s my Cyber Monday deal for you.

Wednesday Evening: On Thanksgiving (audio)

Colossians 4:2-6

How are we thankful?

1. Prayer, alert for seeing the blessings of God

2. Prayer, petitioning God to empower His people

3. Conduct, being wise

4. Conduct, speaking with grace

 

Morning Sermon: 1 Corinthians 13 (audio)

1 Corinthians 13

Don't be a Noisy Christian

1. Things that cease
2. Things that abide
3. Things to avoid
4. things to pursue

Love is the only one of these 3 wherein we are like God: the others bring us before Him, teach us to rely on Him.

But only by loving do we do what Jesus did.

Faith hope love.

We cannot show love without obedience to the Lord
We cannot have hope without compassion from the Lord

 

Evening Sermon: Acts 19:21-41 (audio)

Acts 19:21-41

1. Great is our Christmas tradition!

2. Great is our shopping extravaganza!

3. Great shall be our anger if we don't get our way!

Or, perhaps, we should let Christ overwhelm it all and change our entire way of life.

Note: the evening sermon was quite shortened. We do an open question time on Sunday nights. As a church, most of us are reading through the Bible this year, using a Chronological Study Bible. I take questions mainly pertaining to the reading, but I will take a shot at anything. This past week included reading 1 & 2 Corinthians, so I took questions on:

  1. Baptism for the dead
  2. Speaking in Tongues
  3. Handing someone “over to Satan”
  4. Head coverings in church

That took a few extra minutes Smile. Therefore, the sermon shortened up some to respect the need to think about what we already covered. Those interactions are not videoed, so there’s nothing to put up here.

Concluding Notes:

1. I do have the rough audio of Sunday Night’s Q&A session, but I’m not sure yet that it’s useful for posting.

2. I am not sure how to improve video quality with the current equipment.

3. If you want to subscribe, here’s a list:

A. iTunes for audio subscription link is here.

B. General Audio RSS feed for other programs is here.

C. If you’re a Stitcher User, the link is here

D. For Youtube Video, subscribe here: https://www.youtube.com/user/dheagle93/

E. Some videos are up on Vimeo, but budget constraints have ended my posting to Vimeo for the time being.

4. Yes, I think I’m not getting a lot of plays on each service or hits on each blog, but in total it’s a decent reach. A social media expert might suggest changes, but this is free-to-cheap, where I have to live right now.


5. Each blog has a “Follow” button and a “Subscribe via Email” option

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Blogcation 2014

I’ve been sporadic, and it’s time to stop that.

So, I’m declaring myself on Blogcation for the rest of this week. I will return on December 8th with sermon recaps and then should be stable going forward.

Meanwhile, have a great Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Sermon Wrap-Up for November 23

 

Well, another week, another batch of sermons. Still, in light of this blog post, that’s what I do.

All of my notes were handwritten, and not on Livescribe paper, so nothing to post. Here are the video and audio links. The direct downloads are linked with the passages, and then the media players.

Morning Sermon: 1 Thessalonians

Morning Nov 23

Evening Sermon: Galatians 6

Evening Nov 23

Concluding Notes:

1. I do have the rough audio of Sunday Night’s Q&A session, but I’m not sure yet that it’s useful for posting.

2. I am not sure how to improve video quality with the current equipment.

3. If you want to subscribe, here’s a list:

A. iTunes for audio subscription link is here.

B. General Audio RSS feed for other programs is here.

C. If you’re a Stitcher User, the link is here

D. For Vimeo Video, subscribe to this channel: https://vimeo.com/channels/almyrafbc

E. For Youtube Video, subscribe here: https://www.youtube.com/user/dheagle93/

4. Yes, I think I’m not getting a lot of plays on each service or hits on each blog, but in total it’s a decent reach. A social media expert might suggest changes, but this is free-to-cheap, where I have to live right now.


5. Each blog has a “Follow” button and a “Subscribe via Email” option


6. Follow on Facebook: Doug’s Page or the First Baptist Almyra Page

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Book: Preaching by Ear

Yes, I know: you preach with your mouth. You listen with your ears.

Preaching by Ear by Dave McClellan

<-Use your eyes, see a book about using your ears to preach with your mouth. Wait, what?

Today’s book was provided by Cross-Focused Reviews. Shaun lists books, I pick one that I like and review it. No obligation, no cash, no coffee is exchanged in this case.

Dave and Karen McClellan’s Preaching by Ear addresses a question many of us preachers have never thought to ask: “Why have we taken a written approach to an oral practice?”

The sermon, after all, was initially an oral presentation. There is no biblical evidence that Peter, Paul, or John prepped a written document before their messages in Scripture. Further, many historical sermons, prior to the printing press, were delivered orally from the mind and heart rather than from paper.

First, McClellan makes his case for the historicity of the oral sermon. He clearly demonstrates how much better we understand things by internalizing them through oral practice.

Second, McClellan gives some ideas on developing and delivering sermons from an oral perspective. Rather than looking at the sermon as complete when it is good paper, the sermon is not done if it isn’t clear aloud.

Here is where the work really shines. It is one thing to express a disagreement with common practice, but without developing how-to ideas about implementation.

In all, if you are looking for a different approach to preaching than the current written-oriented methods, I think Preaching by Ear is well worth your time.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

In Transit: Luke 10

In Summary: Luke 10 summarizes quickly: life as a disciple of Jesus cannot be focused in one place. The eyes of a disciple must look for the needs, whether they are physical, spiritual, or relational, and our behavior must work to meet those needs.

First, we see the 70 sent out to preach. They are told to go to the various towns and villages on behalf of Jesus, preaching the kingdom. The instructions are useful and will be the focus for today.

Second, we see Jesus put success in perspective. It is not the spiritual power—after all, He saw Satan fall, so you seeing one demon run away pales in comparison. Rejoice in grace, not in power.

Third, we see the woes on Bethsaida, Chorazin, and Capernaum. Why? For rejecting the message, which means they rejected the Messiah. Judgment comes from that, but the Judge is not joyful in that. He is sorrowful, but His law must be fulfilled.

Fourth, we see the Good Samaritan story. This one is familiar even to many non-Bible folks, so I’ll leave you to read it on your own.

In Focus: Consider the instructions given to the 70 that are sent out by Jesus. First, they are sent in pairs. They lost the large companionship of the disciple pack, but they retained at least one like-minded person to go with them.

Second, they are sent out to tell people that Jesus was coming (10:2). That is critical: the message was not about the travelers nor their desires. It was about the coming Messiah.

Third, they are told to be content with the provisions that come. They are not to go chasing better offers, nor to demand better treatment. The purpose is to spread the message of Christ. It is also worth noting that “being content” also kicks back against show-off style asceticism. If they were offered the fancier things of life, no protest of “oh, I’ll take something else…” was permitted.

Fourth, they are told to move on from those who reject the message. This sets up an interesting development: Jesus is still coming. The town, though, will have no preparation.

In Practice: Practically speaking, these four points come through plainly:

First, even the most prepared of disciples need support. These 70 had physically been with Jesus, were hand-selected by Him, and still needed to go in teams. Don’t go it alone. Take whatever companions are fit to the same task.

Second, focus on the message. Our message is about the finished first coming of Jesus and the anticipated second coming. Anything else is auxiliary to this mission.

In this, though, note the story of the Good Samaritan in this chapter. People matter more than schedules, so no matter how important you think you are, that person in the ditch needs you.

Third, be satisfied. This especially hits on my brethren engaged in ministry as a profession. Be content with what you get, and neither trumpet your mendicant status nor your wealth. You have what you have because the Lord sent you there—had He swapped the assignments, you’d be what you envy or disdain. Focus on who sent you, not what you get for going.

Fourth, move on. There comes a time to go on from a space where you are not being heard. Move ahead and find the next place to proclaim the message, and shake off the bitterness or frustration. The message needs to get to hearers so get it to hearers. All the stunts we pull to try and get an audience are nonsense, because they aren’t hearing the message, just watching the stunts.

In Nerdiness: A pair of nerd thoughts: you’ll see a footnote about whether 70 or 72 were sent out. Here we have the classic textual question: how do we decide which variant is appropriate? The typical methods leave us uncertain: external evidence (the number of manuscripts and the diversity of them) suggest 70 as the better reading; internal evidence (explaining why a scribe/copyist would make a change) suggests 72 as better. It’s the difference in 1 team of 2 disciples. I think 70 more likely, in part because of the connection to Genesis 10 and the table of nations…70 nations.

Second, note the use of “sent out” here. What does that matter? Apostle is a noun derived from the verb for “send out.” Rightly speaking, these 70 (72) are “apostles” in the simplest form of the word. We do reserve the word Apostle for the twelve named as such in Scripture, with Matthias replacing Judas and Paul being added. The key here is Jesus’ authority to send: send with power, send with instructions, send with accountability.


Monday, November 17, 2014

Sermon Recap for November 16 2014

Good morning, one and all! Here are the sermons from yesterday. I used handwritten notes, so I'm experimenting with how to post those. I could tape them to the screen, but you couldn't see them if I did.  

Morning Sermon: Acts 4 "Prayer that Shakes the World, Compassion that Moves the Heart." (Title links to the audio file)

Nov 16 AM (Preaching notes)
   

Evening Sermon: Acts 10 "Appearances"

 

 (A quick note: I managed to, apparently, stick the title slide into the point between the 2 video files for the evening sermon. I did NOT stop at the 20 minute mark, hold up a sign, and then go forward. That's just my video oops.)

Friday, November 14, 2014

Celebrating as Community: Deuteronomy 16

In Summary: Deuteronomy 16 covers the three major religious festivals of the Jews in Israel. These are the “major” festivals because, as you see in 16:16, all the men of Israel were required to appear before YHWH at the place of His choosing. More on that when we come In Focus.

Let us turn to a quirk of Deuteronomy 16. This chapter, more than many others, acknowledges that the Israelites will have a decentralized governance. Many of the segments of the Law deal with how to offer sacrifices and individual obedience to God and other sections address how the nation is to act, beyond dividing the land there is not much about how each city and town is to operate. Or about how to balance centralized worship with people living scattered.

Alongside the religious festivals, this chapter addresses local governance. The people are commanded in 16:18 to appoint judges and officers in all of their towns (literally “gates”—I would suggest that any settlement big enough for an enclosure would be in view). These are to judge righteously, not taking bribes to ignore what is right. Verse 20 admonishes the people to pursue only justice, or there would be trouble. What is justice? A working definition I would suggest is this: justice is truth diligently acted on with wisdom and grace. We could use more of that in each of our towns.

In Focus: Let us return, in focus, to the three major festivals. Rather than deal with the spiritual significance of each one, consider how the people were commanded to observe them.

First, they were communal. The important moments of Israelite history were not celebrated as individuals, but as the people. They were commanded to be together, which required them to be able to be together.

Second, they were inconvenient. With many others, I’ll push for a simple celebration of the upcoming holiday season rather than the madness so often encountered. The Israelites could not have a convenient Passover—they had to pack it up and head out. Then there was the Feast of Tabernacles, where they had to move out!

Third, they were dangerous. Think about it. Who is the defense force? From bandits, invaders, and wild animals? The men. All of whom are headed to the place God commanded. That empties the land, and trust in God was required for those left behind.

In Practice: We obviously do not practice as the Israelites did. Americans are not going to all cram Philadelphia on July 4, and Christians would do well not to overrun Bethlehem by all going for Christmas. Not that there’s anything wrong with a few of us going…I’d love to do both of those.

I would suggest to you that we consider the principles of communal, inconvenient, and dangerous. Now, we can quickly use modern definitions and concepts for these and ruin ourselves. Don’t do that.

But think about this: how are you celebrating what God has done together with others? Do you think that God worked in your life alone, or that He didn’t command you to be with other believers?

It can be hard, difficult even. So be it. Celebrating the work of the Most High should be about honoring His commands and ways, not about sliding into our schedules. That does not mean we just tell people to get over a schedule problem—usually we do that for our man-made schedules, not for His commanded ones!

And it is dangerous. Dangerous as little else can be, for when we are publicly with God’s people, doing what God has commanded, we are at risk from both sides. From the world that will lump us with the rest of the crazies (which we are a subset of) and from God who will draw us ever nearer to Him through our obedience.

Guess what? I hope your Thanksgiving, Christmas, and every other opportunity to draw near to God is communal, inconvenient, and dangerous. Those move us toward Him in ways that we cannot imagine, because obedience does that.

In Nerdiness:  Then there’s the end of the chapter. Asherahs and sacred pillars are mentioned, and labeled as things that God hates. These were likely fertility cult symbols, likely fashioned as anatomical items.


The contrast evident between these and the earlier commands is clear: either we worship as God commands or we worship our basic drives. If God is to be worshiped, our response must affect our full behavior. We cannot blur those margins.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Book: The Stories We Tell

This is not what my book looks like. Mine’s a Kindle copy.The Stories We Tell

The Stories We Tell by Mike Cosper is a look at how human mythology reminds us of our need for grace and redemption. Unlike a great academic treatise, though, Cosper does spend gallons of ink on obscure myths or distant stories. Instead, he goes to the American Myth Machine: TV and Movies. These are our stories, after all, truly the places where America developed a culture different from anywhere else, and then began to export it.

This is a book that sit on the fence about. First of all, I am highly grateful that this is not a “see how character B is like a Bible hero” book. There are more than enough of those. Perhaps too many. Neither is Cosper trying to find Bible stories or even sermon illustrations in modern myths. The Stories We Tell is more about seeing how our culture admits its need for the grand narrative that is God’s work in the world.

Cosper writes with an easy style. I found the chapters slipping away nicely instead of laboriously. If this book had a personality, it would friendly. Mine, as a Kindle version, would be e-friendly, I guess. Overall, the point is well-made that we make movies and TV programs that show our desperate need for redemption. It’s a good friend in that way.

My concern, and one that will likely have Cosper group me in the grumpy “Church Lady” category. First, I’m not sure that brushing all who have concerns about the actual moral content of entertainment aside as obnoxious prudes is appropriate. This book itself rides on the idea that stories inform and affect us, so raising moral questions about content is surely more than an exercise in Pharisaism and judgment. There is a hard line where glorifying ungodly behavior, and participating in it vicariously through media, should be classed as sin. Asking the question “Should we, as Christians, be entertained by seeing people treat God’s Word like dung?” does not “misunderstand what it means to be a Christian in the world” (ch. 1). It understands that the evil that pervades a fallen creation can creep in anywhere.

That goes to the heart of my concern here. Many of the movies and shows recommended by Cosper go to some lengths in depicting violence and sexuality. I say “recommends” because he holds them up as examples that he has enjoyed. The position advocated in the book is that, if one is strong enough spiritually, then no harm comes from anything mentioned. Yet that does not seem to match reality.

In all, I think The Stories We Tell is a worthwhile endeavor. I have some reservations about the recommended stories, but in all it’s a good work.

Free e-version provided by the publisher in exchange for the review.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

In Despair: Luke 9

In Summary: Luke 9 has some familiar territory for the Bible student. Luke’s retelling of the Feeding of the 5,000 is here (9:12-17), as is the argument about who should be counted the greatest disciple (9:46-56). Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah is here, echoing Matthew 16 but Luke does not record Jesus’ statement about the “rock” upon which the church would be built.

We also see the Twelve sent out, a similar story to Mark 6. They were given “power and authority” (9:1) to deal with illness and demons. Two things are worth noting here: Herod hears about it all and is perplexed, and the crowds still come looking for Jesus. We never see the Gospel writers record that the crowds came looking for the Apostles; they come for Jesus and Jesus only. No matter how much “power and authority” a disciple of Jesus has, it is only to be used to bring people to Him.

The chapter wraps with three people who apparently did not follow Jesus. They came, inquired, and the text feels like they quit. Why? Following Jesus was hard then, and they chose to reject the challenge. The sadness is that you cannot reject the exactitude of discipleship and still have Jesus. You have to take them together, or reject them together.


In Focus: The high point of this chapter is one of those “Ok…moving on…” moments of Scripture. It’s called the Transfiguration. Jesus goes up on a mountain to pray. Peter, James, and John go with Him. While He’s up there praying, His appearance glows, His clothing becomes white, and Moses and Elijah show up to say “Hi!” (We actually don’t know what they said.) This is a moment where, apparently, the glory of Christ is revealed. The same voice that was heard at the baptism of Jesus is heard again, reminding the disciples that Jesus is the Son…and directing that they “listen to Him!” (9:35)

Then they come down the mountain. They find there a man with a troubled son. Analyzing the text, in context, suggests that the man thought it was demons but it may have been epilepsy—we’ll take that apart In Nerdiness. What we see is that the disciples who were down the mountain, waiting on Jesus, could not heal the boy. The “power and authority” from 9:1 is apparently not enough for this situation.

What is even more clear is that this man, along with the nine disciples around him, has missed the events of the mountain due to his despair over his son. The story ends happily: those who missed the glory of God on the mountain see His glory in the valley.


In Practice: What can we do about this story?

First, we come in despair to Jesus. Who do we go to? At times, we all go to the servants of Jesus, to the disciples of Christ, for help. Then they fail us, and our despair gets deeper. We begin to act like the wicked and perverse generation that surrounds us. But before we get any deeper, we should turn to Jesus Himself. Rather than seeking self-help books, even those written by the godly, turn to Scripture. Rather than seeking just earthly assurances of our forgiveness, look at the Cross.

Second, we learn to look up. And then we point up. The disciples apparently thought they could handle this problem without looking up to Jesus or waiting for Him. Some problems, though, await the Lord’s coming to be repaired.

Third, we make time to listen. Jesus pulls the disciples from the moment and tells them to let His warning about the crucifixion “sink into your ears.” (9:44) We have to make time to listen to what God has said, or we will never grasp what the actions around us mean.

In Nerdiness: I promised you a nerd moment on the demon-possessed boy. Here’s the situation: we are fairly certain that most of the ordinary people (and many of the extraordinary ones) of the first century AD (and most centuries before, and at least 15 after) had no grasp of mental illness or nervous system disorders. If you could not see an illness, but you could see an effect, the general assumption was that the spirit world was at fault. It was the far opposite of our allegedly evolved view that the spirit world causes nothing, and may not even exist. Both are questionable conclusions in their extremity.

Even Luke as a physician would have learned that something were demon-caused. Medical knowledge was coming around, slowly, but something like epilepsy was far from well-described. The result is that we cannot, honestly, be certain that every “demon” in the New Testament was a demon. Some certainly were—see Legion and Pigs in Luke 8—but others were very probably not. This does not hurt our view of Scripture as inerrant: it must be placed in its context and the original audience understood. We cannot make the arrogant presumption that God had the text inspired to fit a 21st century Western post-modern society, as we are not the majority in our time much less in human history.


Does the boy have a demon or epilepsy? I’m inclined one way, but the text allows ambiguity. Jesus deals with the people as they are. Sometimes, that is just what is best. There is time to deal with the details later. For the time being, the glory of God is the concern.

Worship Services Recap for July 12

Here is what you’ll find: there is an audio player with the sermon audios built-in to it, just click to find the one you want. You’ll also f...