Wednesday, April 30, 2014

NERD BOOK! Interpreting the General Letters

Interpreting the General Letters by Herbert W. Bateman IV is a specialist sort of book. Not that anyone could not benefit here, but overall the target audience is the rising Biblical scholar, be it a pastor or a student.

(click the picture for Kregel’s webstore for Interpreting the General Letters. There’s an excerpt available there. It’s a lengthy excerpt.)

First, let’s establish the General Letters. These are the New Testament books of Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2, & 3 John, and Jude. These have differing authors (James, Peter, John, Jude, and ???? for Hebrews), and differing target audiences. There are special conceptual issues for these books compared with Pauline Epistles.

Now, let’s look at Bateman’s work. Herbert W. Bateman IV (Ph.D., by the way) has taught Greek and is a professor of New Testament. One should assume that he knows the material, and has dealt with deep issues. This book reads as a textbook for an exegesis class on the General Epistles of the New Testament.

It is not without value for the pastoral scholar as well, though, so all of this applies to both the academic student and pastoral scholar.

You will need a working skillset with Koine Greek to get the most out of this work. If you have let your Greek rust, then scrape the rust and reseason the pan, because you need it anyway. If you are using this in class, then just buckle up and do it. You need that language.

Bateman’s overall view of the General Letters is what we would call conservative in Biblical studies. He’s not promoting any obscure theories or deconstructionist views of the text. This book takes the text at face value, and provides interpretative tools for how to grapple with the text as-is, rather than take it apart and discard any of it.

For that, I highly commend this book. When you add the appendix providing a list of recommended commentaries, the value increases. These recommendations include commentaries that are more critical of the text than Bateman is, but provide good additional viewpoints.

The scheme of this book is not to treat with the individual letters too much, but to provide a framework for exegesis illustrated by passages from the General Epistles. This includes background on letter writing in the times as well as historical information.

Bateman also includes helpful information on textual criticism and reconstruction, with a view toward helping understand variants. The concluding chapters of Interpreting the General Letters deal with communicating what you have interpreted. This is valuable, because Biblical exegesis is not only about what we learn, but how we learn and grow in community.

Bateman and Kregel Academic are to be commended for their use of FOOTNOTES!!! throughout the book.

This book was provided by Kregel Academic in exchange for the review, and first appeared at my personal blog, Learning, Teaching, and Laughing. Kregel Academic also publishes the Philips Commentary Series. See here for more info: http://commentary.kregel.com/phillips-commentary-series/

Wednesday Random Thoughts: April 30

A random smattering of thoughts:

First, there was a very destructive tornado in Arkansas on Sunday. We get those. I’ve been in one very destructive. I’ve been in one, with the whole family, that wasn’t as destructive. It’s never pleasant and it’s far worse when you actually suffer loss. It is challenging to walk forward in normal life knowing about the devastation, but that’s actually a necessity. You have to go to work, I have to go to work—else those disaster relief donation checks will bounce. Help where you can, maintain the world as you need to, so there is a world to return to as life adjusts in disaster zones.

And on that same train of thought—be aware of how to help. Just shipping stuff, or dropping it off, isn’t always good. These are people with no place to store replacement furniture yet. Be around to help in 3 months. That’s a good idea.

Second, I’m studying on David and Bathsheba for church. Wondering about this: if “Bath” is also the Hebrew for “daughter,” and it is, and “Sheba” is also used as a place name, and it seems to be, then is this a name or a descriptor? The authors of the Old Testament historical books are not above using substitute names, especially to make a point. There is no sense of shared guilt here—David is held responsible for the whole incident. Highlighting this by referring only to her foreign nature would double-down on David’s guilty behavior. He has many an Israelite wife, and now he wants someone else?

I’m not ready to advocate that fully, but it seems possible. Also, a quick word: the issue in “foreign spouses” in Israel was about religion, not race. There’s no Biblical grounding for racist nonsense. Religious discrimination is everywhere—because that’s the nature of belief systems.

Third, we look with the kids tonight at the construction of the Temple. I think the kid material focuses on the old “do nice stuff for God” view with that, but there’s more here. There’s Solomon’s idea that God should be contained in one place, while simultaneously claiming he knows God is everywhere. There’s a mixed bag in creating “holy space,” because it causes us to think we can physically distance ourselves from God. That’s dangerous thinking.

Fourth, I’m not sure what the happy ending can be with the mess in the NBA with Sterling. I haven’t read all of his comments. I don’t care to. Having grown up in the South, I’ve heard plenty of racist nonsense. I think the NBA is right to bar him from the game. Practically speaking, he should now choose to sell his team. But think about this: how much profit will he make from that? You’re going to have him laughing all the way to the bank. Maybe the NBA should instead siphon off all profits from the Clippers and give them to schools and colleges that serve minorities, and not let the guy sell his franchise.

Fifth, if we’re going to punish racism, we should punish racism. Where’s the outcry about anti-Semitism in many corners? Just a thought.

3 or 4: Proverbs 30 for April 2014

Another month has gone by, and with it another read-through of Proverbs. I’ll squeeze Proverbs 31 in later today. Today, let’s look at Proverbs 30 as whole. Why?







While I think we do a disservice to the Proverbs by only reading them as individual short statements and not considering the whole book, this is highlighted as a problem in Proverbs 30. Too many of these verses are the completion of thoughts in the prior verses. It is necessary to read it in large groups to comprehend the point.







After all, we must not forget that the Bible was written word-by-word and line-by-line, but not verse-by-verse and chapter-by-chapter. Those divisions are later editorial aids for later readers. Read Scripture in thought units, like paragraphs, to better grasp the point.







In Proverbs 30 we see this illustrated in groups like these: Proverbs 30:1-4; Proverbs 30:11-14; Proverbs 30:21-23. With these examples, you should be able to notice the other groups of verses that represent full thought units in the chapter.







Let us take a look at Proverbs 30:21-23 for today. The first is a typical idiom that occurs elsewhere in Scripture (Amos, other places in Proverbs come to mind), where you start with a number and then increase it by one to set up a list. Here it’s a “under 3 things, even under 4,” though the same phrasing works with any other numbering. It’s a rhetorical device for emphasis. There is no cause to go hunting for the other 3 or to assume there should be 7 total here.







I am searching for any source which indicates that the fourth item should be regarded as more significant, and the UBS Handbook series in my Logos Bible Software acknowledges the possibility. If it is relevant, then we would see emphasis thrown onto the maidservant that supplants her mistress, which is a decent warning to a future king. Especially if Solomon is highlighting problems for his successors to avoid.







This would require seeing the Hebrew as showing a building of emphasis rather than the more typical parallel, but that is possible. Some translations see it as simply rhetorical.







Considering these four things, though, let’s look at them. They all involve the reversal of roles or the accession to power without process. That’s the big issue at stake: individuals who attain great power without passing through responsibility to get there.







Expand that as you look around you. While I am no fan of lifelong politicians, there is something to be said for people with a history of service arising to leadership over hacks who can draw voters with charismatic cluelessness. Likewise, we can see it in churches when we let people who have never served become leaders.







There is a need to test first, then allow people into power. Otherwise, trouble comes. Especially if power is attained through deception, like the last case in Proverbs 30:23, where lies were part of the equation.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Predestined: Ephesians 1

In Summary: Moving ahead from Galatians, we find Ephesians. Written primarily to the church at Ephesus, Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians points the church to her spiritual blessings and riches. Contrary to Galatians, Ephesians is not focused on rebuke, though it does contain some aspects of correction throughout.

The first chapter is concerned with introductory matters, including Paul’s standard greeting of “Grace and peace to you,” and his invocation of God as the source of that peace. He cannot get through this first chapter without launching heavily into the praise of God for this grace and speaking of how the believers were chosen before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) and the redemption according to Christ (1:7).

It is difficult to not note who Paul is, and what he went through at Ephesus with the church there. You should refer to Acts 19 (here) and Acts 20:13-36 for that information. Suffice it to say here that Paul was no stranger to the Ephesians, both the church and the wider population.

In Focus: Finding a focus in Ephesians 1 is like choosing which bite of a wonderful steak is the best. Is it the praise of Christ and His grace? The glorious truth of God’s unshakable adoption of His people? Perhaps we should focus on the spiritual blessings inherent in Christ. The riches of His grace, the fullness of of the times and all things in Jesus?

Through all of this, I think we can take a cue from the likely origin of the Epistle to the Ephesians. Paul is most likely in his Roman imprisonment here (Acts 28). He had visited the Ephesians on his way back to Jerusalem (Acts 20:13-36, mentioned above). He had been warned, there, that he would be delivered over to the Romans. The church was concerned for Paul’s well-being.

They are, on the surface, right to be worried. Possibly all they know is that Paul was arrested by the Romans and is on his way to Rome for trial and possible execution. What about this? What of their mutual faith?

Then this letter arrives. Paul, from his captivity, writes of God’s predestination. Not merely of a fatalistic “this was always going to happen” view, but of the reality that before the foundation of the world, God predestined life according to God’s purpose. Whatever stresses and strains the Ephesians may have, whatever worries may come, Paul wants them to know that God is not only in control, but God is also not reacting to anything. He is proactive in His control of the universe and the affairs of men.

In Practice: Practically, this can lead us to despair and laziness if we fall back to the fatalism. There is a challenge here for us to choose the other response, the response of passionate obedience. Why? Because God has a purpose, and therefore His commands have a purpose. If He has commanded that we tell the world of Jesus, then He has an eternal purpose that we do so. After all, how will they believe if they do not hear? (Romans 10:14, anyone?)

Further, we can trust that the moments that surprise us do not surprise God. This is more than just a little good news. It remains that we must trust Him for why things happen, but we must read the whole of Ephesians 1 and see that this is not just any god at stake. This is a good, grace-giving God. The One True God. We can trust His character even as we learn to trust His ways.

In Nerdiness: Nerd questions like authorship, date, and setting are always good ones. The general view is Paul, 60-62 AD, during his probably first Roman imprisonment. Other possibilities are earlier imprisonments or a latter Paul impersonator.

I’m with the tradition here, though I like the suggestion in a few sources (I think the IVP Dictionary of Paul was one) that Ephesians served as the introduction letter for the early church’s collection of Pauline Epistles. It is a rich summary of his view of grace and Jesus, perhaps even better at that than Romans.

There is also a great deal to explore here regarding God’s predestination. I will assert this: Ephesians does not know a God who is dependent on any human agency for His will. Ephesians also does not know a humanity that is not responsible for their response to God.

Expose the Truth: Proverbs 29 for April 2014

I’ll not trouble you with excuses, just a quick note that no, you have not missed posts this month. I have not written them. Good habits are hard to make, easy to break; bad habits are easy to make and hard to break. Daily writing? It’s a good habit.






Let’s take a look at Proverbs 29:24 for a moment and consider criminal justice. We all know that there are people in this world that do bad things, right? This is not in doubt. Even right now, in the backlash of major tornado disasters, law enforcement agencies are fending off looters and charity scammers. That’s right: people are willing to steal from families who have lost loved ones and homes. The implications of this on how you see “human nature” need another post to develop.





Instead, let us focus on the individuals here. First, we see a thief, but the thief is immediately discarded. Outright stealing is obviously wrong, based on a Biblical ethical worldview. Theft is one of those issues that is so plain it does not receive much discussion. After all, once you say something is wrong in the first 10% of the book, why harp on it? Recipes don’t constantly remind you to preheat the oven, do they? No. Something clearly defined as “sin” in Genesis-Exodus stands unless explained later as not sin.





The issue at stake is not the thief, who will face punishment. The issue is the partner. The lookout, the getaway driver, the fence, or just the motivator. That person? He’s participating to his own hurt as well. Why? Because he will allow sin in the community to go undiscovered.





Keeping the secrets of the lawbreaker is condemned here. The context is that the whole community would hear an oath pronounced that the truth should be disclosed. But the partner ignores that oath, ignores the call for disclosure. Perhaps he would answer a direct question, but he’s not volunteering anything.





How does this apply? First, of course, don’t partner with thieves.





There is a larger issue to consider: when we know of sin in the community, do we have a duty to address it? I think Solomon is stressing that yes, we do have that duty. There are cases where that explicitly means law enforcement, but others where it is simply that we must disclose what we know.





After all, there is no greater thievery than those who steal the innocence of children or the truth from the lives of others, is there? Those who steal joy through oppression or steal faith through abusive behavior?





Do not partner with these thieves by staying silent. Find the right place and tell the truth, if for no other reason than your own life and soul.

Book: Great Kings of the Bible

Today’s Book is from Christian Focus for Kids, who provided a copy for the sake of the review.

The current trend in Christian publishing is finding Jesus in every portion of Scripture. Some books handle this almost like Where’s Waldo, as if there’s hidden meaning that we have to discover to point to Christ. Others ditch the actual context to make a story that’s about someone else really about Jesus.

Fortunately, I find Deepak Reju’s Great Kings of the Bible to navigate those rocks fairly well. He faithfully retells important moments from the lives of Saul, David, and Solomon. He lets these stories speak for themselves, then goes on to point out how Jesus is greater.

For example, in dealing with David’s sin with Bathsheba, Reju explains how God’s promise was that a King would come who would never sin. This is a good example of pointing to Jesus as supreme over David, without making David a fable to fall forward from.

A word is also due about the illustrations here. All three kids (12, 10, 7) liked the illustrations because they were reminiscent of the illustrations in some of our older Bible story books. The style is more old-school like this—you can tell from the cover picture. That’s not bad, but it’s not the high-color glossy that many children’s story books are these days. So it stands out. Also, Saul, David, and Solomon are not near as white in the book as they are on the cover.

Overall, the message repeated throughout Reju’s work is that even great kings are just like us: sinners in need of the greatest King, Jesus. It’s a good message. Put a copy of this one in your children’s reach, both at home and at church.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Book: Gospel Assurance and Warnings

Today’s Book is the next in the Recovering the Gospel series by Paul Washer. The book is published by Reformation Heritage Books and was provided through Cross-Focused Reviews. No requirement for a favorable review was made. This review first appeared at my personal blog and the opinions are entirely my own.

The term “Gospel” is everywhere in modern Christian writings. This brings us a great question: “What is ‘the Gospel,’ then?” Paul Washer’s Recovering the Gospel Series is intended to answer that question. Gospel Assurance and Warnings is the third volume in the set, dealing with the implications of the Gospel in a person’s life.

Rather than even attempt to treat with Washer’s theological writing here, I’ll offer just a few thoughts on the text in general. Certainly, you can see a few other reviews that deal with the in-depth issues.

First, you should know that Washer approaches theology from a Reformed point of view. This is, after all, published by Reformation Heritage Books. If you come from a different view of Christian theology, I would suggest starting with the first volume, The Gospel’s Power and Message. That volume provides a better explanation of Washer’s viewpoint.

Second, Washer’s writing style is dense. There’s not any diversionary words or topics here. You’re going to encounter big words and heavy theological structures. You’re also going to need a Bible to clear the references.

Third, Washer is very direct. If you have never encountered Washer as a preacher, you may not realize this. It’s not that he’s wrong. He’s just not fluffy. Washer’s writing in Gospel Assurance and Warnings matches that characteristic behavior.

Now, subject matter:

Washer is concerned here with the same concepts that Dietrich Bonhoeffer dealt with in Discipleship and others have in other works. When salvation is by grace, there is a risk that people may misuse that grace. What does that tell us?

Are those people truly saved?

What of those who struggle, as we learn the Word of God? We learn more and more of our sinfulness. Can we be certain of our salvation?

Washer explains his answers to these two questions. The first is that those who abuse grace are not partakers in it. The second is that grace is our assurance, and the power of God our certainty.

Of course, you really need a bit more explanation. That’s what the book is for.

I wouldn’t suggest handing this book off to just anyone. The reading is challenging, and the assumptions require a prior grasp of Christianity and the Bible. However, as you are digging deeper into theology, this is a useful book on the shelf.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

David, Ziklag, and Amalekites: 1 Samuel 30

Tonight at Almyra First Baptist, we’re going to look at David and 1 Samuel 30. We may drop back and cover a few other issues, but this is our focus.

First, we need to see where David is at the beginning. He’s been off serving the king of the Philistines, Achish. Achish is headed at this point to fight with Saul, King of Israel, and David is sent away from the Philistines.

Second, we look at what occurred. The Amalekites, long-time enemies of God’s people, sacked the area David’s family (and his men’s families) dwelt in. The families were home in Ziklag while David was lining up to help the Philistine Army invade Israel.

What do we take from this?

These items:

1. David’s men are ready to stone him, because he has failed. End of story, he’s blown it here.

2. David, though, takes his strength from YHWH.

Where do you turn when it all goes wrong? Do you turn to God? Or do you set out to stone those who failed you?

Godly people fail, and often it is worse than when ungodly people fail. After all, one does not expect the venomous snake to be nice. Yet the one we thought trustworthy? That’s another matter entirely.

David’s men thought they could trust him, and when he failed, they lost heart. There was nothing for them.

We often mistakenly put our trust in people. We think they are worthy, they can carry the strain. Yet these people should only be part of drawing near to God, not the substitute.

David draws his strength from God here. We need to learn the same thing: our own failed leaders are not going to fix it. We need a move of God, not of us. Let’s call out to him.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Sermon Wrap-Up for April 20

Good morning! You will notice some difference in the audio options. This is because I am having to move the audio hosting to a new site. Hopefully, this is the last time I’ll have to do that! Here is the sermon recap:

First, we had our first ever Good Friday Worship Fellowship. I did not video that, but here is the audio link:

 

Second, we had the Easter Sunrise Service held jointly with Almyra Methodist Church. Here is the audio:

Here’s the video:

One Sentence Changes Everything: April 20 from Doug Hibbard on Vimeo.

Third, we had our normal Sunday Morning Service. The audio is here:

Here’s the video:

April 20 AM Easter Service from Doug Hibbard on Vimeo.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Following Through: Numbers 36

In Summary: Numbers is over. We have reached the edge of the Promised Land, and now it’s time to wrap it up. Except for recapping it all through Deuteronomy, the wanderings are over. The people are ready to cross the Jordan into the Land of Promise.
There are a few final details to deal with. First of all, there’s a flashback to Numbers 27 and the case of Zelophehad’s daughters. These women were granted a special situation in the distribution of land by being alloted territory. Typically, only men were property holders, a fact common to most cultures in the region and time frame.
However, the daughters of Zelophehad were his only offspring and they were granted the right to his property. Interesting here is that the property allocation is based on who left Egypt, not on who entered Canaan: Zelophehad was due property to his family, even though he would never touch it. His daughters were not “married out” but continued the family line.
The final issue with this arose when others in the tribe became concerned about who the Daughters would marry. If they married into a different tribe, then the property would shift from Manasseh to another tribe. These leaders were concerned that their tribal prominence would be diminished if they lost the Daughters’ land. Moses then commands that the Daughters must marry within the tribe of Manasseh, securing the property into the tribe. The Daughters (named in Numbers 36:11) did as God commanded through Moses and married cousins.
(Insert Alabama related joke here.)
That’s the bulk of Numbers 36.

In Focus: The closing verse, Numbers 36:13, is worth focusing heavily on. This verse serves not as a summary for the chapter but as the summary for the entire book of Numbers.
This verse hits three major points:
First, THE SOURCE: YHWH, God of Israel is highlighted as the source of the Law given in Numbers. Whatever the people may have felt, the Law was from God. Any continuity between the laws of prior lands or neighbors was severed, and the issue was obeying not man or logic, but the Lord God Almighty.
Second, THE TIMING: the Law is given before the Israelites take the land. The responsibility is about to pass into the people’s hands, and God has been clear about it.
Third, THE INSTRUMENT: Moses has spoken and written the Law, but he is only an instrument in the hands of God. Because of this, the people are aware that the Word of God goes on, even as the human instrument changes.
In Practice: The, for us, the same three points:
First, THE SOURCE: If we think that the Israelites may have disliked God’s Law, consider how people react to it these days. Yet the source of the Word of God remains the Lord God Almighty. It is not a human invention that Jesus is the only way to salvation, or that God requires holiness. It is divine in origin, and must be obeyed.
Second, THE TIMING: Jesus even warned in Luke 14:26-27 that the Kingdom of God was not going to be an easy place for us, so we should be aware: their are consequences of coming to Christ in faith. The balance is tilted entirely in the favor of God’s grace, which is our salvation, but obedience results. As does rejection by this world. We should be aware of that.
Third, THE INSTRUMENT: God uses all manner of instruments to create the symphony of His work. Some of them are better than others. Some folks are just plain old out-of-tune, while a few are smuggling machine guns in their violin case. They were brought in to play and only harm. Yet we cannot hold the instruments against the Master. We listen, though, to the tune He creates through His people. Being His instruments, we strive to reproduce the tune beautifully. Being hearers, we strive to hear the beauty in the song behind the missed notes.

In Nerdiness:  Now, onto the Nerd part. One aspect of Old Testament study questions whether or not the Pentateuch is a good division of the Old Testament. There is a suggestion that Deuteronomy and Joshua belong paired together, crediting Moses with Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.
This theory gains some credence with the closing line here in Numbers 36:13. It would setup the idea that Moses recorded all of the form of these books in Moab. (Now in Jordan, by the way, so go visit. Lovely place.)
Additionally, one should consider the impact a verse like this one makes on preceding material. The overall statement here is that the words before it are the very Words of God Almighty.
That’s pretty high claim.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

For Frank: Is Captain America a Christ figure?

In the modern era of American Christianity, we have a habit of trying to shoehorn an image of Jesus into every container we find. Mocking this, a blogger of ill-repute named Frank Turk has emerged from his hiatus long enough to poke Internet-based Christianity about Captain America and Jesus. While there were several efforts to line up Jesus with Superman last year, there have been no major efforts to align Captain America (Steve Rogers) with the Lord.

I am not the comic book junkie that my Inter-friend Frank is, so I cannot address the comic book Cap. I am familiar with him from the recent explosion of movies from Marvel Movie Studios, including Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers, as well as the affiliated other films. As an aside, the Marvel/Avengers series has filled the gap abandoned by Star Wars when Lucas decided to justify Darth Vader as simply a maladjusted loving husband who made a few errors.

Back on track, the question that has been posed is this: How does Captain America compare with Jesus? Should we find a comparison? I expect that more than a few preachers will find those comparisons and make them this Sunday as we try desperately to be cool for all the folks who reject God’s plan of continual fellowship with believers.

I have found a few parallels, but unfortunately I find that Captain America, awesome as he is, is not Jesus. Nor is he a good stand-in or stunt double for the Lord Almighty. Here’s why:

First: Steve Rogers begins as a great heart with no power. That reason alone should stop the comparison points. Despite being a compassionate, self-sacrificing man, Rogers begins his journey without the power to act on his heart for righteousness. By comparison, Jesus comes in with life in the first place, with all power over Creation (John 1:1-4 suits that issue). Compare this to the Lord, who rather than needing to take on power, Jesus came with all power and retains it through this day (Matthew 28:18-20).

Second: Captain America trusts others. Take the scene in The Avengers when Tony Stark and Bruce Banner confront Steve about their doubts regarding SHIELD’s behavior. Rogers, to this point, has trusted Nick Fury without doubt. Nick Fury? As Stark points out, “his secrets have secrets.” Rogers trusts, because he expects others to be honest like he is. Compare this to Jesus, who had no such trust issues, as we see in John 2:24-25, that He knew what was truly in people.

Third: Steve Rogers fails at points. Take the first film and the battle on the train. Rogers’ has lost his best friend in that battle because he could not save him. (SPOILER) We know from Captain America: The Winter Soldier that Bucky is not dead, but is his fate not worse? Rogers has a friend and a follower in Bucky Barnes and he loses him, body and soul, to the forces of evil. Compare this to Jesus who did not lose one from those who were His (John 17:12).

Fourth: Captain America’s primary weapon is reflecting the enemy’s power back at him. That’s a little long, but it’s the second use of Cap’s shield. Generally speaking, you see him deflecting shots, explosions, or other rays of doom back at the sender. It’s effective, mind you but when you see Cap with a weapon, it’s no different than any other weapon on the field. Compare this to the Rider on the White Horse who brings His own weapon, the Word of God, wielded perfectly and effectively (Revelation 19:11-15). Jesus equips His people with His weapon rather than equipping Himself with whatever everyone else uses.

Fifth: Steve Rogers struggles to find his purpose. Across three movies with Cap, it takes him some time to know what he should do. He’s conflicted in his origin story; he struggles with how things work in the action gathering; and then he has to find his place in the second Cap film. He’s uncertain what he should be doing, other than to do what’s right. Compare this to Jesus’ prayer that He came for a purpose (John 12:27); that He should be about His Father’s business (Luke 2:49); that He came to give His life and to serve (Mark 10:45).

With all that, though, there is one major parallel between Steve Rogers and the Lord that I see. They both love imperfect spouses. Rogers is passionate about Lady Liberty, the beautiful image of the United States as the Land of the Free, Home of the Brave, a place which does right in all things. Even with the flaws, the changes, Rogers does not suggest destroying America to create a different nation. He wants to see her come right, to turn toward the greatness that he saw so many give their lives for in the years gone by.

Compare this, though, to Jesus and Cap pales a bit. Jesus loves His bride, the Church. Loves us through the failures and shortcomings, loves us though we are not what we ought to be. Loves us, shown in His death for us. Loves us, and is working to make us without spot or blemish. Jesus does not want to see His bride go back to greatness but to progress in holiness.

Captain America is a great guy. Little would have helped Loki in Thor: The Dark World like trying to be like Cap rather than just look like him. And I’d rather my kids grow up to like a hero who defends with a shield instead of a narcissistic rich guy with a nice suit.

Yet Jesus is so much more. Our goal as Christians is not to be like a great hero but to be transformed into the image and likeness of Christ. We get good entertainment from good films.

We draw our life’s purpose from God’s Word.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Galatians 6: I'm done with this

In Summary: Paul is wrapping up his letter to the Galatians in this chapter. Compared to some of his letters, this one ends rather coldly because it lacks any of the personal greetings of his many other letters. This is remarkable especially in light of Romans, a letter to a church he has never been to, which features a substantial greetings section.

Galatians 6 shows how different Galatians is from other letters by focusing on practical, behavior-driven content. Typically, Paul’s letters take a hard turn about halfway through (usually marked with a “Therefore” in the NASB) where the emphasis moves from doctrinally underpinning to effective implementation of the doctrinal concepts. That’s a simplification, but you will see it in Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, 1-2 Thessalonians.

Galatians, though, is not about the right actions. Galatians is tailored to address a group of churches that are, overall, acting morally and near to the ideal of godliness from Scripture. Their problem is doctrinal: they are doing the right things for all the wrong reasons. That is Paul’s focus in his letter: fix the doctrine.

There are a few basic implications that he wants to address. These are how people should interact based on their standing in Christ. Notice how Galatians 6:1 speaks to sin and restoration. There are very few New Testament references to sin without restoration and Paul keeps the two rightly together here. He highlights an important truth: if you are as mature and spiritual as you claim, you should be first in line to be gracious and restorative to the sinners among you.

We could use more of this in churches today. And in church-critics of today. I find it troubling how quickly I and my fellow pastors pounce upon sinners as if they cannot be restored. The other side of the sword is also troubling: you will find few people as harsh toward fellow believers as the ones who have become “spiritual” enough to see through what they see as weak churchianity. Folks, we need to surrender to the Lord and be crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20), not just to a cultural Jesus who we hope for wish fulfillment from, but the Jesus of Scripture.

Yet if our only method is vicious attack, then our claim to “spirituality” is sheer nonsense. If you cannot bear the burdens of that church member who cannot attend another seminar, if you cannot bear the burdens of that pastor who still believes in Sunday night services, if you cannot be a strengthening agent for the church then you are wrong. Maybe not in thought but in implementation.

In Focus: Take a quick glance at Galatians 6:17 and see what Paul says there. I think this is his “I’m done with this issue” statement. No longer is he going to argue about salvation or racism or legalism. He has been clear about it, and he has been clear about what is right. The feeling is that there are better ways to spend the time of the church, and there are: serving the Lord.

In Practice: We should consider a similar approach. Some things are not worth fighting for—and I say this in light of being graceful and restorative. But there are bounds to what a church believes, and there comes a point where we would do better to say clearly “This we believe” and allow people to choose to go elsewhere or do other things. We do no favors to the Christian faith by defining it so broadly that anyone fits.

A clear definition of what Christianity does (and does not) believe aids all. We deal graciously with those who reject it, but we are not required to define non-Christian belief and behavior as allowable in the faith just to be gracious. When people desire to come in, though, we should be open to restoration of even the most troublesome of critics and forgive as we have been forgiven.

In Nerdiness:
A couple of Nerd-Points here:

1) Some take Galatians 6:11 as evidence of Paul having poor eyesight as a result of his being blinded on the road to Damascus. With all due respect, I can accept poor eyesight due to age but do not agree with the identification of residual eye problems from the Damascus Road as Paul’s thorn in the flesh. Why? Because Paul is healed by God’s command, and we do not see God healing people and leaving them unhealed. Further, such a result would have hampered Paul more socially than physically: the synagogues would likely have not allowed him to even begin speaking due to the apparent judgment of sin. More likely, Paul’s just tagging in his signature as was common, and either he wrote largely, or his amanuensis wrote small, or both.

2) Galatians 6:10 is a good guideline for how we structure aid ministries in churches. Focus on the household of faith, but help all we can.

3) I think Galatians is one of Paul’s later letters based on overall tone. He’s tired of writing and correcting the same old problems, and it shows through in his directness. Also, that would allow for the clearly large number of years in the first couple of chapters.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Proverbs 14:14 April 2014

There is value in noting Proverbs 14:4 and comparing that to how we want to keep things like church buildings nice and pristine. We aren’t here to make clean mangers. The goal of our lives is to walk in obedience, bringing increase to the Kingdom.

 

I also want to highlight a thought about Proverbs 14:14 and the backslider’s filling compared to the good man’s satisfaction. Of note in this idea is that those who slip away from the right path, the backslidden, do not do without. In fact, they are filled.

 

But it’s more like the filling you get from a terrible meal, and then you eat a bit more. Sure, it’s enough. It’s just unpleasant, and in the long run, you regret it.

 

Backsliding, attaining to growth and then falling backwards from it, is the same way. We get what we want, but it’s never enough.

 

The other option is that we choose to be good, to be God-honoring in our behavior. This provides true satisfaction, not a temporary feeling of fullness that won’t last. That won’t be worth having.

Sermon Recap for April 13

The morning service was handed over to the choir to present in song, so there’s nothing to recap on that. They did quite well. The only major issue was the narrator wasn’t too exciting.

The evening service audio is here

And here is the video:

April 13 PM Almyra from Doug Hibbard on Vimeo.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Devouring Ourselves: Galatians 5

In Summary: Galatians is a thoroughly-packed letter from the Apostle Paul. As with Ephesians and Philippians, I would love to see Galatians redivided into twice as many chapters, or presented straight through and you can divide it where you will.

After all, the chapter divisions are not original to the text anyway. That’s why you should always be cautious hanging too much emphasis on “this was in a different chapter!”

Galatians 5 carries on Paul’s overall theme of liberty in Christ based on the sufficiency of Jesus for salvation. This is the overall point of Galatians: that we are set free (Galatians 5:1) by Jesus. We are to walk in the Spirit, not by the Law—but also not by the flesh. This is where so many conflicts arise.

We find it far easier to walk by the Law or run to the flesh rather than live in the Spirit. The Law makes plain what we cannot do, and the flesh is generally happy doing whatever it wants as long as it goes unlimited. The Christian life, though, does not chase the pleasures of the flesh, though the Christian is set free from the Law. (Note that “the pleasures of the flesh” is a generic concept that encompasses sinful activity, not pleasing and godly behavior.)

In Focus: The focus of this passage, even with the importance of the Fruit of the Spirit passage, should drift down to Galatians 5:26. Take a look at the concept, then at any extended discussion of behavior in Christian life.

It’s easy. Search for something: modesty, homeschooling, keeping Lent, not writing all of “God,” sustainable foods, environmentalism, and politics. You can find them anywhere—or check a subgroup of “how” to do any of those. Or the latest discussion in denominational politics/theology (because as a Baptist, I’ve noticed this: we can’t separate those two things).

And what do we have?

People who become boastful and challenge or envy one another. We get angry, we get bitter. We blast those those who are successful, or those who live by the Spirit but reach differing conclusions. Someone will advocate a viewpoint, give their reasons, and the response?

Anything but gentle. Much more like a challenge to the individual expressing our discontent. Yet the command to the Galatians remains the same to us: live and walk by the Spirit.

In Practice: How, then, do we do?

First we find our own identity in Christ. You know why it does not bother me that you are bothered that I am a Baptist, homeschooling, pastor, father, husband, and sci-fi fan? Because my identity and worth is in Jesus, not your opinion. If you will find who you are in Jesus, and Galatians 5 is a great place to start, then you will be less disturbed that I chose a different education option for my children. Or that I let my wife wear pants to church. Or that I actually don’t “let” my wife do anything, because she’s a human being and we are partners in life, not boss-worker.

Second we allow others to find their identity in Christ. Guess what? I will gladly tell you why I am a Baptist, homeschooling, pastor, father, husband, and sci-fi fan. And I am fine if you are none of the above—in fact, biologically, you may not be able to do a couple of those. If we are claiming the freedom to find our identity in Christ, we cannot demand others find their identity in us. That’s nonsense. We can share our reasons, but if God is big enough to guide you through His Word, He’s big enough to guide me.

Third we admit there are limits to that, bound by the clear revelation of God. This is where we get dicey, because I know fellow Baptist, homeschooling, pastor, father, husband, and sci-fi fans who can expound exactly why Scripture requires those attributes. (Well, maybe not the sci-fi.) I think that only one of these is clearly Scriptural, but only a portion of being “Baptist” at that. There are clear things that should not be our identity if we are walking in the Spirit. The Spirit does not lead us to abuse, harm, or destroy lives. That’s the work of the the thief, not the servants of the One (John 10:10) You see more in Galatians 5:19-21 that are deeds contrary to the Spirit. Beyond the clarity of Scripture, though, we should be cautious to make demands of fellow believers.

This must be part of our life considerations, lest we run afoul of Galatians 5:15 and continue to devour each other.

In Nerdiness: Notice a few things: Galatians 5:14 has Paul echo Jesus in Matthew 22:39. That’s valuable.

Also note the harshness in Paul’s tone regarding going back to the Law through circumcision. I think there’s a deeper insinuation to “castrate yourselves.” That action would eliminate reproduction. Paul wants no more generations of slaves.


Then there is this: the works of the flesh are plural and listed. The Fruit of the Spirit is singular and listed. The Christian following the Spirit grows in all areas, not just one or two. This is not a “I’m good with joy but not with patience” life. We grow in it all.

Proverbs 10 for April 2014 by Doug


In the midst of a few days of being a dreadful slacker, I come to Proverbs 10:4. This is how God speaks through His Word: the truth is always there. Then when you need it and bother to read it, the truth smacks you in the face like a bug hits a windshield on the highway.


What do we do with Proverbs 10:4? First, we need to address a reality of life in poverty. There are some who are poor because of unjust systems or pure misfortune. The latter should receive assistance and the former should see us provide systems that provide justice.


There are those who are poor because of negligence and laziness, though. The difficulty in modern America is that we are so sensitive that we never want to judge another person’s behaviors when in point of fact, we should do just that in the case of poverty. How we do so should be carefully considered, but it should be done.


Why? Because as Solomon tells us, poverty also comes from working negligently. Consider that person at work who slacks throughout the day, the cashier who doesn’t pay attention, the sales rep who never tries to sell anything. These are negligent hands at work, and if they lose their job and end up in poverty, it’s not unjust systems or pure misfortune. It is their own action.


In this we see the importance of personal responsibility. The stories seem to sound so familiar: there’s always an excuse, a reason why it’s not our fault for the trouble. Are we really all helpless before a cruel world? I have my doubts. Big doubts. We need to wrestle with that in our own lives first.


This should include our spiritual development. While I am an absolute believer in salvation by grace alone, I am convinced that relationship requires effort. Our growth in walking with Christ requires effort. Spiritual poverty awaits those who work at their faith with a negligent hand.


Then we see the counterpoint in the Proverb: diligence makes rich. I think we mistakenly add an Americanized view of “rich” to this, and expect fancy cars, private jets, and massive mansions. True, that is how it happens for some. However, rich in this case should be seen as self-sustained, not blinged-out. A rich person is one who has a full pantry, a full stomach, and a roof to keep warm. That’s rich enough—which is a matter for other days, but is my opinion.




In all, we control a large part of our life. Our willingness to work diligently and strive makes a difference in the outcomes. There are exceptions to this, but we should them as that: exceptions to the rule. Strive for the rule and aid those trapped in the exceptions is a good way to work.

Service Recap for September 27

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