Thursday, July 31, 2014

Know and Tell: Deuteronomy 6

In Summary: A covenant is only as good as the knowledge of it. If the people of Israel do not know the covenant they have with the Lord their God, then they cannot hold up their end of the bargain. Or, more correctly, they cannot be held accountable for failing to keep the covenant if they do not know what it is.

Therefore, Deuteronomy 6 establishes guidelines for teaching the covenant to the future generations. The Israelites are not left wondering what or when to teach their children. Deuteronomy 6:7 tells them to discuss at home and on the road, in the evenings and the mornings. In short: all the time.

This is an important concept that we often miss in our lives, and I think we read backwards the same problem. While there are definitely periods of intentional teaching in both the Old Testament and today, we cannot neglect weaving teaching the ways of God in the warp and woof of life. It is not viable to fall back only on Sunday School, one homeschool subject, and the occasional VBS to teach our children about Jesus. Neither could the Israelites rely on the Levites to come by every now and then. Instead, this chapter gives the guideline: teach in all places, during all times, through all things.

The content is also present. Even though the minutiae of dietary laws are missing, and even the important moments like the Passover are shortened, Moses gives the people the critical things to teach. First, the fundamental truth of God’s existence and exclusivity. Second, the need to wholeheartedly follow God. Third, the testimony of what God had done for them. Fourth, the need to serve worship God and God only. Fifth, the responsibility to pass it on to the next generation.
In Focus: The focal point here is typically found in 6:4-5, and we see Jesus echo that Deuteronomy 6:5 is the first and greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37-38). Traditionally, these verses are referred to as the “Shema Israel” (or the “Shema”), as the opening words would be pronounced in Israel. This passage sets apart the Israelite faith as clearly monotheistic, telling us that there is only one God.

We should also see these verses as important, because if we are to be like Jesus, we will see this as the most important commandment to fulfill. Loving the Lord our God with all we are is a robust challenge—and truly, if you live your life driven by this commandment alone you will do many things in obedience to God’s design.
In Practice: I commend to you the following principles for practice, based on this chapter:

1. Know the Word of the Lord. Not only how to find things in the printed, or how to pull it up on the smartphone, but have the Word of God imprinted deep in your heart. Otherwise, how can you constantly note for yourself the works of God?

2. Share the Word of the Lord. First, with those who know Him but need to know Him better. It is a far better thing to connect life experience to Scripture, allowing us to grow through that, than to simply be happy-feely about life. Share the Word that is appropriate to the moment. Second, with those who do not know Him. A well-timed, well-laced gracious word does amazing things.

3. Love the Word of the Lord. This is part of loving Him. We sometimes want to love God and not love His Word. How does that work? Can you love a person but never wish to hear them speak (or see them sign, or whatever method of communication is available)? A love for God translates to a love for what God has said.
4. Remember the Word of the Lord. How else do we know the testimony of God, what He has done? Remember and mark what God has done, and pass that on.

In Nerdiness: So many nerds, so little time—a quick glance at one thing: it is a consistent reality of the Hebrew language that the word translated “God” is a plural word. It’s actually the exact same word as “gods,” for false gods. There is no capitalization to clear this up, so what do we do?

Quite simply, Deuteronomy 6:4 clears it up: when speaking of the One True God, we see that a plural is used. We call it a “plural of majesty” or a “plural of deity,” and the basic idea is that you can’t contain God with a singular word. He’s too big and too much for it. It’s like the traditional “royal we” but exponentially bigger than that.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A few randoms for Wednesday

I should have some coherent thoughts, but I don’t. Instead, I’ll share a few random ones:

1. I love that my wife works at home. (She works for Home Educating Family). She actually works, so it’s helped me learn to work at home. Used to be, I’d “work at home” and cram a day of work into two. Now I actually get stuff done. It’s nifty.

2. I remember watching TV series as a child and being sad when they ended their run. I still remember Judge Harry Stone leaving the Night Court, Sam turning off the lights at Cheers, and Cliff and Claire dancing off the Cosby Show. Now I binge watch via Netflix DVDs, and wonder if it would be better for Rick and Kate to retire so I can just watch the whole series in sequence. 

In other words: I’m not a fan of waiting for next season. 

3. There is a line between being passionate for the truth and being a rabid pain in the backside. Be the former, not the latter.

4. If you have no sense of humor, you’ll live longer. Or at least, it’ll seem longer because you’ll be miserable. And it will make other people’s lives seem longer, too. Cheer up.

5. As a counterpoint to that thought, it’s a challenge to be cheerful in a highly-connected world. After all, I always know of someone in crisis or a world tragedy. ALWAYS. Am I disrespecting a loss by carrying on? No…but I don’t carry on nonsensically directly in front of those dealing with tragedy.
And no, generic Facebook doesn’t count as directly in front of you. About anything. 

6. That being said: no, my Facebook post isn’t rubbing your face in my religion or my politics. Neither is yours, unless you tag me in it. Or post it on my wall. That’s annoying—but otherwise, do what I do: speed scroll past the morons. Yes, you may speed-scroll past me and and me past you, and so we’re both morons. Get over it.

7. School year is about to start. Which means it’s time for: The public school folks to lay guilt on the homeschoolers, the homeschoolers to lay guilt on the public schoolers, the private school people to act all super-duper for their private school, and the rest of us to dump on them.

Or we could all pray for and encourage each other rather than pounce on those who walk differently than we do. Yes, you will hear more from me about homeschool encouragement and methods than the other two. Why? BECAUSE I HOMESCHOOL. It’s the community I dwell in, and what I know. It would seem somewhat pretentious for me to post a “public school tip” every week when I’m not involved. I will post general ideas about learning that I think benefit everyone…but really, let’s learn to back off and let people do what they think they need to do.

8. Some people hate blogging and complain about bloggers. I’ve seen them do this on their blogs. Or in their books, which they got published without any real error-check or anything because of political or religious connections—but they rail against “unreliable bloggers” in their unreliable books. 

9. I’m amazed at how much stuff I print from my paperless work flow.

10. There’s a rabbit on my desk. Fortunately, he’s stuffed, but adjusting his ears does not improve my Wi-Fi reception.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Concerned Rejoicing: Philippians 4

In Summary: Paul wraps up his rejoicing letter by speaking of a few concerns alongside his celebratory remarks. There is a minor feud in the church between Eudoia and Syntyche, and there is perhaps a concern about where the focus of the church is drifting to, and he seeks to focus them back on true, honorable, right, pure, lovely things.

Additionally, Paul expresses his gratitude for the support he has received from the Philippians. Let us not kid ourselves about what he means, either, as he speaks of their “revived concern.” We are seeing his appreciation for their provision for his material needs. Paul, as an itinerant teacher, made his living (fed himself) sometimes by finding other work (tent, anyone?) and sometimes by the support of those he taught. The Philippians had enabled Paul to focus on the teaching, and he is grateful for that.

In Focus: One cannot meander through Philippians 4 without taking a moment to focus on Philippians 4:13. This verse, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (NASB), “πάντα ἰσχύω ἐν τῷ ἐνδυναμοῦντί με,” if you prefer Greek. This verse has been the most out-of-context cited verse in recent years, though “Judge not, let ye be judged” is gaining on it quickly.

Understanding this verse requires not only looking at the individual words, but looking into the context. First, the words: these are pretty straightforward. We’re not in a hard verse to translate—the word order is a little different because that’s how Greek works. “All (things) I can do through the (One) that strengthens me.” When you work through this and see personal agency, as you should, then phrasing becomes “the One who strengthens me.” Since the term “one” is a masculine pronoun, you would use “Him” instead, because it’s clearer. “All” becomes “All things” because it’s an adjective used as a noun, and that’s common. It’s not referring to “all people,” either, because it’s neuter and so is used to refer to “things.”

Our clarity, then, comes from context. Paul is not talking about becoming a great writer or actor, nor is he discussing athletic competition or even church growth. Throughout this passage, Paul is speaking of dealing with trials and material shortages, of facing famines and feasts. He can both have too little, and make it, and have too much and not get arrogant—all through Christ, because He knows that only Jesus brings Paul to anything of value.

In Practice: What do we do with this, then?

First, we stop misusing Philippians 4:13. You can give God the glory for your successes and His benefits without misapplying Scripture. Stop it.

Second, we apply this to our lives by trusting Christ for all things. How often do we violate the Word of God and our Spirit-driven, Scripture-informed consciences for the sake of stuff? Too often. Rather, we should take the same stand as Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms: let the trouble come, but here I stand.

This applies to both our dealings with the world and our dealings within the church. I think it’s even money where it matters the most: inside the church, we need to get right before God, even if we have to give up our creature comforts. Outside, we must recognize that trouble is coming on us from a wicked world.

Either way, we must get to the point that we don’t see a perfect ACT or a great pass as the all things we can do through Christ. It’s the surviving taunts and rejections, dealing with poverty or even fame, that we are up against.

In Nerdiness: Syzygus? Loyal yokefellow? True Companion? Who is this person mentioned in Philippians 4:3? Unlike the feuding sisters Euodia and Syntyche, we’re uncertain if this is a name, a title, or just a call-out to anyone who fits the description. (I’ve looked and don’t think there’s a case to be made that Eudoia and Syntyche are anything but personal names.)

So, what’s the debate? Some translations render this as a personal name. Others footnote the name and render the term, like “true companion.” It appears that Paul is asking for an individual’s help in defusing the issues between Eudoia and Syntyche. It would help, of course, if we knew what the feud was about in the first place! That might enable us to know what type of help Paul was looking for.

Yet having been in churches all my life, I have a suggestion. First, my resources are about evenly split about the possibility that the term “syzygus” could refer to the church as a single unit. This is questionable based on the Greek grammar surrounding the term (a singular verb), but let’s take that possibility and then extrapolate a possibility. On, then, to the argument from experience:

Many church feuds begin between people who are growing believers who address issues differently. A modern example is the strain between the kitchen committee who tries to keep everything organized and the various church groups that use the kitchen…and then don’t put things back exactly. Both are trying to mind the resources of the church, and use them, but they disagree about how. Or the people who want to know what’s happening, so they want bulletins…and the people who think it’s a waste of money because they throw out dozens of bulletins a week.

These two sides, usually starting with two individuals, then entrench and find supporters within the church body. While I am clearly reading this backwards on to this passage, this is my suggestion, given that human nature doesn’t change much. Eudoia and Syntyche had a minor disagreement. Both are believers, both are valuable parts of the church (this is absolutely clear in the text). Paul then appeals that the church not sort out whose side they are on, but to instead defuse the disagreement.

The same way one defuses a spat between the choir director who wants the choir to wear robes and the maintenance committee who accidentally put heat lamps over the choir loft—by listening, praying, and finding more important things to focus on. That’s my suggestion, for whatever it’s worth.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Sermon Recap for July 27 2014

Another month has flown right on by us. Here are the sermons from yesterday. We had a guest speaker from the Gideons International as well.

Morning Sermon: Jeremiah 1 (audio direct link)

I. We have the Word

II. We must speak the Word

III. Give, work, go!

Evening Sermon: 2 Chronicles 34-35 (direct audio link)

2 Chronicles 34-35 Settling the Worship Discussion

I. Worship

II. The Word

III. The heart

Final Comments

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:
E. For Youtube Video, subscribe here:

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

Friday, July 25, 2014

What Else Can You Say?

Go ahead and watch the news for a few days. It’s downright awful out there, and it’s only getting worse. What do I mean? Here’s a roundup:

  • ISIS has violently driven all Christians out of portions of Iraq, including Mosul. That’s right, every drop of American blood spilled to secure freedom in that town is now, effectively, wasted. It’s like letting Neo-Nazis take over a few cities in Germany or re-establish ghettos for Jews.
  • A young man has been murdered in Stuttgart, Arkansas, and the web allegations include that the police chief’s son is partly involved. Of course, he’s not arrested or charged—and how do you know?
  • In Texas, some folks say another young man was ramrodded into prison for a sexual assault he didn’t commit. Others say the 4-year-old victim is being re-victimized by public opinion. Meanwhile, it is clear that the evidence was mishandled; not to say it’s not valid, just that it’s hard to verify. Either way, though, a community is divided and the big issue is missed: there is more concern for evidence rules than a 4-year-old sexual assault victim.
  • In Central America, things are apparently so bad that many children are being sent to the US Border. As they travel, various thugs and criminals are mixing in and they’re all crossing the border to overwhelm US border security. Naturally, the only voices in the media are claiming that we should either send every one back (or shoot them) or those who think we shouldn’t have a border at all.
  • In Israel, terrorists are launching rockets from schoolyards to kill civilians. The result? Military action that attacks…schoolyards. How many civilians will be killed? Far more than combatants.
  • Remember the whole “Bring Back Our Girls” things? Guess what has been done, other than a hashtag? Nothing.
  • At the back of all this is a world that just seems bent on self-destruction. Really and truly. No one is forcing us all to go down this road, and the few people who truly would violently force us in their direction (ISIS, that guy who suggested “ruthlessly suppressing” people who don’t support his agenda) can be isolated to their own self-destruction. The truth is that we are so self-absorbed as the human race that we would just as soon see the world burn as let our enemies have one square inch. It’s nonsense. But it is the way we behave.

All that to say, often these matters occur and then someone gets on a high horse and complains that “People are being silent about….” and then fill in the issue of the moment. Here’s the deal:

What else would you like most of us to say?

Murder is wrong, and I’m not in favor of it. Sexual abuse, domestic violence, these are wrong, and I’m not in favor of them. Exploitation of children, oppression of workers, suppression of individual liberties that do not infringe on others: all wrong. Assaults on religious liberty, big or small: wrong. Voter suppression and voter fraud: wrong.

Economic injustice? Political injustice? Violence in the streets?

All wrong.

But if you know me, you know that I think that. And you know that one measly little blogger in Arkansas saying anything about it won’t change it. When it comes to these problems, what else can you say?

Not much.

So find something to do.

Education fights poverty, so strengthen it.

Strong people standing for justice affects the weak-minded who force injustice.

Votes matter, and educated voters are more powerful than money if they vote.

Of course, some things you can’t do much about. The government is controlling who can and can’t help at the border—and many who would help are being turned away. I don’t know where to look in Nigeria. I don’t know what to do about Israel.

But I do know that demanding 140 character answers and simplistic politically easy solutions is nonsense. So let’s hold our political leaders accountable to real solutions, not soundbites.

That’ll help.

Beyond that, though, what else can we say? Bad things should not happen, and like most people I’m against evil. I just don’t blog about it directly very often because I’m usually looking for ways to do something, at least about the nearest things I can reach.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Always with the Living: Deuteronomy 5

In Summary: I know it seems that every one of these summaries starts with “Moses repeated…” but then again, that’s Deuteronomy for you. There’s not much new ground to plow in these passages. This is not to make them as without value, simply to highlight that we’ve covered much of this territory.

Deuteronomy 5 is no exception. Here we encounter a restatement of the Ten Commandments. Rather than addressing these as the written commands of God, though, Moses here highlights the spoken nature of the Decalogue. The people of Israel not only received the written word, but heard the spoken word prior to that.

What difference might that make? Taking Deuteronomy 5 as a whole, the Ten Commandments are the content of God’s speaking and the center of the chapter. The conditions of the speaking form the frame of the narrative. Look at what you have: first, God speaks to the people (v. 4), then the people decline to continue hearing from God (v. 25). They send Moses as their representative. This same Moses whose leadership they reject later in their wanderings, including raising the question about whether or not God had truly spoken to him!

This gives us an additional concept in Deuteronomy that was not as clear in the Exodus narrative of the same event. God initiates not merely a formal “obey this” covenant with His people at Horeb (another name for Sinai). God initiates a relational covenant with His people, just as now. It has never been the revealed will of God to create automatons or independent actors on His behalf: God relates to His people.

True, He’s still in charge and sovereign, but there is a relational, personal aspect to how He rules.

In Focus: Take a hard look at Deuteronomy 5:2-3, and then think about what you remember of the history of the Israelites in the Exodus. Who is present during the Deuteronomic retelling of the history?

That’s right, it’s only the children of those present at the first giving of the Law. Yet Moses reminds them that the covenant of God is with them, not their parents. The covenant is with the living. Why?

Because, as noted above, the covenant is relational and the living are those able to walk in a relationship with God. There is a change in the relational dynamic when people pass from this life into eternity, because the glorified reality of God’s people is very different from dealing with the sin-afflicted life we have now.

In Practice: We need to remember this concept as we remember the Mighty Acts of God in our history. God’s covenant is either with us, or we do not have one that is effectual in our lives. There is no covenant with God whereby we can claim His blessings because of our parentage. Only through our ongoing relationship with God do we have a connection with Him.

This is true of salvation: the old saying that “God has no grandchildren” is accurate. You are either His child or not.

This is true of our churches: that the last generation was right with God is no guarantor of present righteousness. We do, or we do not, but that they did is informative, not protective.

This is true of nations: are we obedient or not? The prior righteousness, and unrighteousness, of a nation have created the situation, but they do not maintain it.

Walk with God in the covenant He has structured for you: forgiveness and grace through Jesus Christ, and obedience rooted in love going forward. Nothing else is adequate.

In Nerdiness: Of course, any mention of Horeb/Sinai brings us to the question of where it really was. That’s a fun nerd-question, but hardly one I’m up to settling tonight. I will say this: there are compelling reasons to doubt the traditional location on the Sinai peninsula and look on the Arabian peninsula. There are also compelling reasons to hold the tradition. Grab some reputable books and consider—and no, a Google search doesn’t count as research.

Also note how the people fled from God, though they were invited into His presence. Don’t do the same.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Book: Starting at the Finish Line

John B. Wallace’s Starting at the Finish Line is intended, per the author, as a defense of orthodox Christianity against the claims of Mormonism. The intention is that, rather than taking down Mormonism, Wallace will highlight the areas where Mormonism claims to be right and Christianity wrong, and defend Christian teaching.

This is a different approach than most books delving into the divide of Mormonism and Christianity. Typically, authors highlight the problems either with Mormon history or Mormon theology, and express why Christianity fills that hole. Wallace sees a difficulty here, though, in that many of those he has seen leave Mormonism as a faith do not come to Christianity. Taking down the one faith does not replace it with another. I like the attitude behind his approach: Joseph Smith preached Mormonism as a replacement for failing Christianity, and Wallace demonstrates why Christianity needs no replacement.

Does Wallace know what he’s talking about? Yes and no. Wallace grew up an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints—he was a Mormon. One thing I am certain of about the LDS Church is that they are passionate about keeping their members well-versed in their doctrine, so his background is there. His background in Christian theology is there, but he is not a Christian academic. That makes him easier to understand, but also sometimes less clear on the finer points of Christian doctrine. His big picture is great, but a few of the zoom-ins aren’t quite dead on.

Overall, though, Wallace does well in presenting his case for Christianity. His method is generally to cite theologians and pastors, and this provides valuable additional resources to consider for the reader.

Is it persuasive? I can’t speak directly to that, as I’ve never been a Mormon. I do know that, if you removed the comparison points and only read Wallace’s description of Christianity, he does an excellent job of presenting the grace of God. That’s good enough for me to be positive about this book.

Certainly it’s difficult to work through a book that takes sides in a debate, and I can understand that despite Wallace’s efforts at gentleness, some will still take offense at his words. Even so, he speaks clearly and gently and points to Jesus throughout.

Free book received in exchange for the review.

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