Thursday, January 21, 2016

Blessed or Not: Deuteronomy 28

In Summary:

Deuteronomy 28 continues the storyline from Deuteronomy 27. Moses commands the people to gather at Shechem and recite both curses and blessings from Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. This is done with the Ark of the Covenant in the middle of the people, symbolizing the presence of God Almighty in the process.

These blessings and curses are given as the consequences for covenant-keeping. If the Israelites keep the covenant, then the blessings will apply. If they reject the covenant, then the people will face the curses. There are significant predictive concepts in the curses. Deuteronomy 28:36, for example, speaks of the king which Israel won’t have for another 400 years. Further difficulties are foreseen, including cannibalism and plagues like Egypt faced. The capstone of the curses is a forced return to Egypt (Deuteronomy 28:68) as slaves, but slaves without owners.

While these curses are comprehensive, let us dispense quickly with a few important facts. First, we should most likely see this as fulfilled in the life of Israel in the ancient world. Israel’s fall to Assyria in 722 BC and Judah’s fall in 586 BC are candidates for this, as is the Roman forced diaspora in 135-140 AD after the Second Jewish Revolt. There is no justification in these curses for willful anti-Semitism. Second, we should see this as predictive by the power of God, not as written retrospectively.

In Focus:

Draw your eyes back to the first portion of the chapter. In 68 verses, 14 relate to blessing and the rest to curses, but let us look closely at the blessings. Deuteronomy 28:2 speaks of blessings “overtaking” the people. This does parallel with the opening verses on curses, where the curses will “overtake” the people in 28:15. More importantly, though, this speaks of the inescapable truth that obeying God would bring blessing on the people.

The idea is that the blessing of God is comprehensive. It surrounds not only what you do, but where you go. It is not just for the people of Israel that day, but all of their offspring. And the end result?

The peoples of the earth will fear Israel and recognize YHWH as the Great God. (Deuteronomy 28:10).

In short, blessing comes through obedience for the purpose of the glory of God. The purpose is not the benefit of people. That is just the means to the greater end.

In Practice:

Let’s kill one practical step quickly: in reference to material prosperity, these verses relate to national Israel. Not to you. This passage does not endorse a personal wealth result from walking with Jesus. Not at all. Our results from walking with Jesus should be expected by His words: “you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33). Or perhaps the experience of the apostles in Acts 14:22, referring to hardships for entering the Kingdom.

Instead, substitute these practical expectations:

1. There is a natural structure of consequences from results. Disobedience will bring worse results, in time, than obedience brings. Looking through the lens of eternity, remember this in your personal life. There is more at stake than just right now.

2. When God’s people are gathered, the blessings of obedience multiply, but so do the curses of disobedience. When the church is gathered, though this passage is about Israel and not the church, the concept applies. One sinful person in a church may not bring great curse upon it, but a church which adopts of culture of sin will face God’s judgment, including its ultimate destruction.

3. Again, drawing from the principle, one can imagine that any nation which openly flaunts the righteousness of God should expect similar consequences. 

In Nerdiness:  

It’s hard to do justice to this passage. The totality of the destruction envisioned in the curses, compared to the blessings, reflects the holistic nature of the Law, the Covenant, and the People.

One thing that you should notice in study is the parallel structure of the first sections. The blessings will be exactly countered by the curses. Further, one can see how badly life will turn. If we take this passage and place it into 2 Kings, we see just how terrible the fall of Israel truly was.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


If you missed it, there’s a new movie in first place on the United States box office chart. It’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. As a life-long Star Wars fan, I’m excited by this. Even knowing the similarities between this one and the original Star Wars, I’m still excited by this.

Except, perhaps it’s not the first place movie. If you adjust for inflation or try to figure based on an estimate of ticket sale numbers, then The Force Awakens is closing on the top ten, but lags behind the original Star Wars, Avatar, Titanic, and the first: Gone with the Wind. (The source for all this info is

So, maybe Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the number one movie of all time. And maybe it isn’t.

Meanwhile, over at the University of Alabama, Coach Nick Saban has won another football National Championship. The discussions in sports media since then have centered on just how great of a coach he might be. Is he the greatest football coach of all time? Or just the greatest college coach of all time?

Then again, though, Bear Bryant coached in a time when practice and school requirements were different. Goodness, I think he coached before there was Gatorade. There have certainly been more coaches in the past that did amazing things, with far smaller budgets and far smaller players.

Perhaps Saban is the greatest, but then again, Vince Dooley or Bear Bryant or Knute Rockne might have something to say about that.
Where is this going?

These are examples of the mistake of trying to draw full comparisons across lines of history and generations. Consider this: Gone with the Wind came out in an era where you had to see movies in the theater, and if you wanted to see it again, you went to the theater. Again. For entertainment, you had live events, a few movies (and rarely more than 2 in one place,) and the radio. Is it fair, then, to compare the pull a movie of the 1930s had on people with a movie in the era of Netflix, DirecTV, and the multiplex? (Even admitting that 4 screens had Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it was 4 out of 20.)

Likewise, when we compare the present success of the University of Alabama to prior eras of football. True, just as good storytelling (except maybe Titanic) is the key to the great movies of any era, hard work is the key to any football team’s success. And Saban, Rockne, Dooley, Bryant, etc., all had teams that worked hard. Yet is a team with millions of dollars of specialized workout equipment better than a team with a broken down fieldhouse and standard free weights?

Into this, throw one more comparison. Look at the average of church attendance and involvement in American society. We spend a great deal of time, especially churchy-people, critiquing and lamenting that our numbers have not kept pace with the growth of population. Even now, we see churches that were once tremendous in size and cultural influence are fading in their connection.

Gone are the days when the words from one or two pulpits truly thundered across the nation and people listened. Gone are the days when Sunday morning found the vast majority of the population filling a pew in their Sunday finery. Gone are the days when a candidate had to do more than just claim a religious belief to get elected. Gone are the days when everyone knew the pastors, and everyone respected them.

Alongside this, though, we should see another reality. Gone are the days when one needed to join a church just to get a job in town. Coming are the days when one no longer gets elected by paying lip-service to Christianity. Gone should be the days where “church membership” helped one evade criminal prosecution or responsibility for your actions.

In short, the era of culture enhancing church statistics is drawing to a close. After all, there were days that attending church brought benefits that have almost nothing to do with Christianity. Can we truly compare how much people participate now, when the only benefit (only?) is honoring Christ by participating with the local body of believers?

Just as the eras of movies and football have shifted, the era of churches has shifted as well. There are many other ways people spend their time, and that results in a normal, cultural life that does not require, and barely encourages, worship participation.

Now, there has to be a valuable takeaway from this. What continues to make good movies? Storytelling, acting, and cameras. What makes great football teams? Hard work, good coaching, and sure hands. The externals have changed, but the core remains the same.

What, then, makes for strong churches? Jesus Christ is always Lord of the Church. The first requirement is that the church acknowledges Him as the Lord of all. The next two things are critical right behind that: commitment to the Word and relationships within the Body. Take away the smoke and mirrors, or the pews and organs, and you find this: A church that honors Jesus as Lord, knows His Word, and serves one another faithfully will be successful before God in any era.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Sermon Recap for January 17

Good morning! Here are the sermons from Sunday, January 17.

Morning Sermon: John 6 "Afraid of God" (audio)

Evening Sermon: Nehemiah 4 (audio)


Monday, January 18, 2016

Book (sort of): The Word of Promise NT Audiobook

Today’s Book is actually an audiobook. Provided by the publisher for review.

First of all, I’m going to focus on the actual audiobook/dramatization of the New Testament rather than delve into the pros and cons of the New King James Version of the New Testament. I’m not a major fan of that translation, but there’s nothing wrong with it.

Second, do keep in mind that this is a full CD set. While it would all fit on one thumb drive, the actual product here is physical CD. That’s a great thing for those of us with in-dash CD players, because we don’t have to wonder if it’s okay to be burning the data off the drive. The physical product, including the case is good. Holds it all together, the CDs all worked. I don’t know of a better way to put 20 discs in a case, so the strange stacking is just something to cope with.

Now, to the real meat of The Word of Promise New Testament: the content. This is not just the Bible read aloud to you. You have a multitude of actors doing the various characters of Scripture. I especially liked that a specific voice was used for Moses when he is quoted from the Old Testament.

Generally, most of the actors are well placed. I’m not sure Kimberly Williams-Paisley was the first name that popped in my head for Mary, but she does well. Richard Dreyfuss does a good Moses, and Jim Caviezel carries the lines for Jesus well enough. Voicing Jesus is not an easy one—you need to sound tough, loving, compassionate, and strong all at once. Caviezel is as up to that challenge as anyone else I can think of would have been.

If there’s a drawback, it is that some of the letters do drone a bit, because once you are past the narratives of the Gospels and Acts, it’s one voice. There are shifts from Paul to the General Epistles, but you still get the whole thing in one voice. I don’t know that there’s a way to vary that, unless you take the co-authorship theory for some letters and let Timothy speak as well!

It’s not your ideal Bible, but it’s a far better thing for your travel listening than many other options.

Again, free product in exchange for the review.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Tempted: Matthew 4

In Summary:

Returning to the Through the Whole Bible project!

Matthew 4 follows immediately after the conclusion of Matthew 3—the other Gospel accounts help verify that immediately after Jesus is baptized, He heads out into the wilderness. Matthew presents that the purpose of the wilderness days is to be tempted, while Mark and Luke record the temptation as the primary event, though not as the sole intent.

Finishing the temptations, Jesus begins His ministry by two clear acts. The first is to preach (4:17) in the Galilee region. The second is to gather a small group of disciples (4:18-22). These setup the large crowds that come for hearing and healing in the last segment in Matthew 4:23-25. We should see here a pattern worth exploring. 

Ministry should pattern like this: 1. Public declaration of faith. Jesus does not declare His faith, since it’s faith in Him we need, but we see the public acclamation through baptism. 2. Private, definite demonstration of commitment. The temptation period was a clear opportunity to turn from the call. While those in ministry (and by and large, all believers) should not be required to live out a public temptation, there should be a clear time that we are able to look back and say “Yes, I could have become otherwise, but this is what I chose.” 3. Public proclamation of the Word of God. Jesus does this in Nazareth and then moves on to Capernaum (see Luke 4:16ff for His first recorded sermon and the results). Ministry is about the Word, in word and deed. 4. Personal investment in others. While in Jesus, it’s basically one-sided as He didn’t really need help, He chose to involve the disciples anyway. Those of us who are only human should take the step of developing the relationships that will strengthen us and will see us strengthen others—and the accountability will not hurt, either. 

Finally, we see whether or not crowds come in response. Why? Because our stability should come from those first four items. The crowds come and the crowds go, but our relationships sustain us. The Word of God is the center of ministry for God and to others; we alone should know before God everything that set us on this path. And nothing begins without that initiated relationship through the blood of Christ, faith that came by hearing and the life brought by the Spirit.

In Focus:

Take time to focus on all three temptations at the head of the chapter. Satan (not STAN!) throws against Jesus these three concerns: everyday survival, crisis survival, and success. Seriously, those are the three: food, medical emergency (you think jumping off the Temple wouldn’t cause a medical emergency?) and drawing the crowds and kingdoms.

The perfect response to all of these? Dependence on God to provide. To provide for the basic needs of life (4:4). To provide protection in the necessary times (4:7). To provide the right focus of service (4:10). These alone matter, and are supplied for our knowledge in the Word of God.

In Practice:

What does this look like practically? Here is the short form: know the Word of God, and do not resort to bizarre or questionable means to accomplish the basics of life. You know you need to eat, so take the ordinary means God has provided for that need rather than mumbo-jumbo or conjuring tricks. You are going to serve something in life—so make it the right One to serve. Whatever the temptation, remember to bring it back to the Word of God and see what it is that God has to say about that temptation. 

In Nerdiness:  

Note that Satan himself uses Scripture in Matthew 4:6. Just because a verse says it, doesn’t mean you should do it. 

In more nerdy fashion, Luke 4 puts the Temple Temptation (throw yourself off!) last, while Matthew here places that one second, and the temptation to worship Satan last. This is probably the clearest place to find the Synoptic Problem, which is the term for “What do we do when it’s obvious multiple Gospel writers are writing about the same thing but give slightly conflicting reports?” After all, either Jesus was tempted to throw himself off the Temple 2nd or 3rd, but not both. One can find a couple of possible responses.

First is that Matthew and Luke do not record enough chronological markers to tell us which temptation came when. That’s all well and good, but they read to us like they go in order. The second possible response is that one is right and the other is wrong. Theologically, I side with the first response. 

How would I support that? Look at Mark’s summary in Mark 1:13, Luke’s conclusion in Luke 4:13, and Matthew’s final words in Matthew 4:11. Mark just highlights temptations, Luke does not limit the temptations to three, and Matthew closes out the temptation with Jesus’ commitment to the sole worship of God. We have to understand that accuracy in 1st century meant that the events happened, and that *if* a definite chronology is used, it is accurate. Otherwise, an event that stands out will be moved to the point of prominence that is in context with its author’s primary point.

Luke places Jesus’ refutation of Satan’s use of Scripture at the pinnacle of the moment. Matthew places the worship of God as foremost—both serve the further points of their writing.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Sermon Recap for January 10

Here are the sermons from January 3 and January 10. There’s no video from January 3.

January 3 AM: John 5 “Always Working” (click for audio)

January 3 PM: Ezra 3 (click for audio)

January 10 AM: John 5 “Search and Believe” (click for audio)

January 10 PM: Ezra 8 (click for audio)


Here is the full service from January 3: (please note that the music is copyrighted by its respective authors/publishers and that we can’t post every service out of respect for that.)

Monday, January 11, 2016

Book: EGGNT John

Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: John by Murray J. Harris; series editors Andreas J. Kostenberger and Robert W. Yarbrough; 2015 from B&H Academic, Nashville; 366 pgs, softcover, $34.99.

Why did you study Greek in seminary or college? Most of us would claim it was to better understand the Word of God. Yet for too many of us, our Greek usage in everyday Bible study is a few word studies and recognizing what an “aorist” is when we read an English-language commentary. These commentaries are often based on an English translation and then comment on how the translation is either helpful or needs improvement.

The Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament (EGGNT) series finds its niche by focusing on the actual Greek New Testament rather than a translation. Yes, for those who would quibble, it’s actually based on the UBS5 version of the Greek text. Therefore, rather than address translation adequacies and inadequacies, the authors are able to focus on the grammar and structure of the original.

Murray J. Harris, who authored the EGGNT volume John, was the originator of this series that is now published by B&H Academic. Harris was trained by some of the foremost scholars of the twentieth century until he became one of them, and his insights are not only academic but also pastoral and filled with the wisdom of long service to the Lord Jesus.

Taking the EGGNT:John volume separately from the series, the following items should be noted. First, while the other volumes in this series contain the Greek text, this one does not. While this move saved space and produced a single-volume work, it does require that the reader supply the Greek text. The work is based, as stated, on the UBS5 text which was released in 2014. This may be a drawback to some readers, yet it should not be.

Second, readers of the EGGNT:John volume will realize the benefit of improving their old Greek skills. Rather than fleeing from this Greek-based commentary out of fear of rust, readers will begin to see the Greek become easier to work with. Further, readers will better see the context of various Greek terms. True, one will still need a bit of vocabulary help, but seeing the insight from Greek will improve the overall use of Greek by the preacher or teacher.

Finally, Harris’ overall insights are valuable for the preacher and teacher. His brief overview of the background for John is helpful, including explaining some of the basis for the traditional understandings of authorship. His explanations of the textual structure provide guidance for teaching, and his homiletical suggestions are almost too useful for the hurried preacher—use your own skills, do not just copy his!

Anyone seeking a better understanding of the Gospel of John will benefit from Harris’ work on the Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament: John.

This review first appeared in the Arkansas Baptist Newsmagazine.

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