Today, I should be writing something about politics. Or food. Or how food affects politics. That would be a good one.
Instead, though, I’m in class all day. Well, technically, it’s a “Pastor’s Conference.” But I’m back at Ouachita Baptist University for the day. Ann and I will be with the School of Christian Studies faculty (back in our day, they were the Biblical Studies Department) learning about….MALACHI!
That’s right. 6 hours in Malachi. And we won’t scratch the surface.
Then, over the weekend, we’ll both peruse a few articles in the latest Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (I need to renew that subscription). Why?
Because we learn for life. It’s necessary. For us, we mainly do this in areas like Biblical Studies, communications, history, but we also love places like science museums and art galleries. The world is a big place.
The God who created it is a big God, after all. And loving God with all that we are means we are not going to put our brains in “park” and stop growing in our understanding.
So, back to normal blog stuff next week. Whatever that is around here—considering I start back on the Ph.D. this week—and we’ll look at everything from politics to what I’ve been learning about taking Sabbath.
First, your eyes are not deceiving you. The young lady on the book cover is doing a handstand, and has no legs. Jen Bricker was born without legs. This book is her story, told with the help of Sheryl Burk. As with any biography/autobiography, it is difficult to comment on the book without commenting on the subject matter.
Everything is Possible starts with the story of Bricker sailing into an event in Qatar attached to a hot air balloon. It sets the tone for a high-flying adventure. The first chapter grounds that adventure in the challenges of being born without legs and the true cost that was to Jen Bricker and her family. Her biological parents felt ill-equipped to care for her and so placed her for adoption.
From there, the story picks up. Bricker is an unstoppable force, and her faith in God is the push she needs to do whatever she sets her mind to. We find a girl who is limited only by those around her, and who typically finds a way around those limitations.
This results in a story that you would never believe if it were sold as fiction. There’s just too many times that Jen accomplishes things which many people with all four limbs would struggle with for this to be real. Except that it is.
Now, from a writing perspective, this book exudes the enthusiasm of youth and accomplishment. As yet, Bricker hasn’t encountered something she could not do. Her outlook is molded by this: she can accomplish, she will accomplish. Therefore, dear reader, so should you. Except some of us old cynics will respond that some things you actually cannot do. There are limitations. That reality, though, is noticeably absent for this story.
And given the obstacles that Bricker has overcome, it is no wonder that she firmly believes that all can be overcome. May more people be driven to try in the face of obstacles and not fold up at the first sign of trouble.
It’s written plainly and straightforward. I’d put it in the hands of anyone needing a current biography. And it’s definitely readable at a high school level, if not a touch further down.
Jesus is headed to the Cross. We’ve seen Him clearly state this in Matthew 17, Matthew 16….you get the idea. At this point, the Twelve Disciples are beginning to get the idea as well. How can we see that? Look at the question which opens Matthew 18. The question arises about who is the greatest?
The Twelve are starting to think about rank and position, because if Jesus is about to come into His kingdom, then it’s time to assign the work. It is time for each of them to find their place in the vanguard of the kingdom, so Jesus needs to point out which one comes first. He does not pick one of the Twelve, though, to point out the greatness of His followers. Instead, He takes a child and makes a point about humility, trust, and compassion.
Which becomes the common thread for the remainder of Matthew 18. Jesus highlights the need to receive children and not cause them to stumble, then goes on to point out how His hearers should strongly remove what causes them to stumble! We then follow Jesus as He instructs the disciples about chasing down a wandered sheep, and about keeping a fellow sheep from wandering too far. That text, Matthew 18:15-20, is most often cited for cases of church discipline, yet placing it in context moves the emphasis of the passage, and of church discipline, to restoration above rebuke. It is, after all, surrounded by passages about forgiveness and seeking the lost. In Focus:
The last story will draw our focus today. Matthew 18:21-22 retells Peter’s question about forgiveness. Contrary to the rabbinical teaching of forgiving three times, Peter offers that seven times seems better. Jesus, though, hits Peter with a math problem (maybe) and a growth issue. Jesus responds that seventy-seven times should be the limit—and then highlights that forgiveness between servants should be at least as great as the forgiveness of their master.
His point is clear: forgiveness between people should be unmeasured. After all, God has poured a greater forgiveness on us. In Practice:
When you get up tomorrow, then, the first thing to realize is that you do not get to make another tally mark to count down the forgiveness you give others. Instead, the forgiven heart will long to forgive.
Unfortunately, we have to address a caveat here. Some hurts, some wounds, are so deep and so personal that forgiveness comes from a distance. And lives stay at a distance. Further, forgiveness is a spiritual action that connects to eternity. Consequences will remain. Anyone who suggests that you ignore a serious crime, like abuse, in the name of “forgiveness,” does not understand the concept. Point them back to the beginning of the chapter about stumbling blocks and millstones….and being cast into the ocean.
Now, back to the application for those who are not dealing with that particular issue—which is most of us. First, our standard of forgiveness is neither the world nor spiritual people, but the actions of God Almighty. This is where Peter is a bit confused. He is trying to go a bit better than the good folks, but the good folks are not our standard. God is.
Second, when we encounter those who owe us, we should meet them with grace. (If you fall into the above group, grace is shown differently. You need God-honoring counsel about your personal situation.) Grace that does not demand immediate repayment, but instead recognizes what all believers are: those who have been forgiven much by the Master, and who are all His servants. In Nerdiness:
(With much appreciation to Craig Blomberg’s NAC volume on Matthew for some of these ideas.)
First, the math problem. Is Matthew 18:22 rightly translated as 77 or 490? We tend to favor 490 for its extravagance, but 77 is probably the better choice for the Greek word. Further, Augustine (Early Church Father Augustine,) finds a parallel in Luke 3’s 77 generations from Jesus back to Adam.
I think the better connection is the one highlighted by Blomberg and Hilary of Poiters (another Early Church Father.) If you go back to Genesis 4:15, we see Cain would be avenged up to 7 times. Then in Genesis 4:24, Lamech claims “seventy-sevenfold,” or 77, (though that could also be translated a touch different at 490) as his vengeance. We see here a parallel undoing the vengeance of the early times of man. Peter offers to be as forgiving as God was vengeful—God was the one who pronounced the vengeance for Cain, after all—but God proclaims that He is as merciful as man is vengeful.
Second, there’s a challenge for us who claim the Bible is to be taken literally in Matthew 18:8. If your method of studying and applying the Bible is simplistic and literalistic, you’re going to be missing parts. Better learn to understand through a more robust way.
Third, Matthew 18:12-14 should be read understanding that there aren’t 99 good sheep. We all are represented by the 1 wanderer.
Fourth, we tend to hold on to the Matthew 18:20 no matter what we’re doing, but that should go in context. And then, in the church discipline context, remember that Jesus has stressed continually the need to be forgiving of harms against us. The best application I can make of this comes here: the first part of the chapter addresses removing stumbling blocks—those things which draw the innocent from Christ. The second half addresses forgiving those who sin against us. That suggests that giving someone the left-boot of fellowship should be reserved for those who are tripping the innocent and naive, not for those who annoy the mature.
Fifth, ten thousand talents (Matthew 18:24) is an impossibly huge debt. That’s the point. Cue the music.
Today, let’s look at the NKJV Teen Study Bible from Zondervan. I’d like to focus on the study helps involved with this Bible, because a simple review is no place to treat with the weighty issues of Bible translation critique. I’ll say this and move forward: there are good reasons to use a translation other than the New King James version of the Bible. There are also some good reasons to use it. The best Bible translation of the world is basically useless if you don’t read it. So if you’ll read NKJV but won’t read NASB or HCSB or NIV, then there’s no reason not to read NKJV. (There are spurious pseudo-translations that you should not read. This is not one.)
First observation: I’ve got the hardcover from Zondervan. It has held up well to several weeks of being tossed in a backpack and lugged around. After all, if you want to give a Bible to a teenager, you need it to hold up.
Second observation: contents are in color, which helps with attention span and focus. Further, colors help separate the Biblical text from the other materials.
Third observation: the general study helps are fairly denominationally neutral. They are mostly on the “conservative” side, to use the catchphrase. In this case, it’s not political but theological. “Conservative” tends to stick with the traditional views of the existence of miracles, historicity of the text, and so forth.
Fourth observation: the authors include the classic Apostle’s Creed in examination of basic Christian beliefs. For readers in a non-creedal tradition, this may be somewhat odd. But this does provide a good summary of minimal Christianity.
Conclusion: as a pastor, I’ll be passing this one on to a teen who needs a study Bible. It lacks the depth of say, the Zondervan NIV Study Bible, but it’s not intended to be. For an entry level study Bible, it’s a good option. It does not stand out among the crowd, but if NKJV is your preference, this one works.
I did receive a free book in exchange for this review.
Matthew 17 opens with the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. It ends with a fishing story. Sandwiched between those two is a healing of a demon-possessed young man. It’s a fairly typical “week in the life” segment for Jesus and His disciples.
Matthew opens with giving a specific time reference. The opening event, The Transfiguration, begins six days after the statements in Matthew 16:28. Without poking at too many great scholars, it is worth noting that the narrative has Jesus leading Peter, James, and John up the mountain after six days. Whether or not the whole event took place in just one day is debatable. It may have been too much of a mountain.
While up on the mountain, Jesus is “transfigured” or changed in front of the three who are with Him. The general consensus is that He appears as His glory truly is. (See, for example, Revelation 1:13-16.) Along with Him are Moses and Elijah.
They come down the mountain and encounter a man with a demon-possessed son. The disciples, at least the remaining nine, could do nothing for him. Jesus drives out the demon and departs. They move on through Galilee and into Capernaum. On the way, Jesus declares very clearly that He will die. And then, when they get there, Simon makes a mistake in answering a question about Jesus…and we get a fish with a coin.
In Focus: (I’ve touched on this event before, in Mark and in Luke. Click on over to read those thoughts.)
Since I have links to the Transfiguration (and in the Luke one, deal a bit with the demon-possession,) let us turn our focus onto the fish. After all, who doesn’t love a good fish story? I do see Jonah leaving the room in the back there, but everyone else is with me, right? Good.
Peter is asked whether or not Jesus pays the “two-drachma.” This was a tax that originated in Exodus 30:13. It was required in Exodus of all those who God delivered from slavery. Jesus has, apparently, gone on ahead and Peter answers for Him. For the record, answering for Jesus without checking with Him is not the best approach…Jesus then corrects Peter when they are gathered in the home. (Possibly Peter’s house, Matthew 8.) He asks whether or not human kings charge their children taxes.
He then sends Peter out to handle the tax anyway. Even though they are agreed that Jesus does not owe this tax, He wants to prevent the stumbling of the people around Him. So, God arranges that a fish with a shekel in its mouth will be interested in Peter’s fishing hook. The money is then used to pay the tax. It was enough for Peter and Jesus’ tax because four drachma make one shekel. In Practice:
Seem odd to you? Unfortunately, we cannot make the application of this passage that we pay the IRS only whatever shows up in the fish we catch. We can find a couple of things:
1. The half-shekel/two-drachma was a tax based in paying for redemption. Jesus did not owe it because He is the Redeemer. Peter, you, and I, do not owe it because we are the redeemed. No amount of shekels will cover our sin or redeem our lives. Only Jesus does so. Stop trying to earn salvation. Even the offerings you bring are powered by God—after all, you didn’t make yourself, did you?
2. Offending others, causing them to stumble, is not something to be done lightly. Jesus has no qualms about setting people right, but in this case He seeks to keep peace and address the problem later. That has implications for us, too…
3. It’s worth restating: our gifts to God are like Peter’s ability to pay this tax. We have nothing that is not given to us in the first place. God accepts what we bring out of love, not out of obligation. In Nerdiness:
Synoptic problem: Luke 8 refers to 8 days. Matthew 17 to 6 days. Is someone wrong? Or does Luke include a bit more travel? Does Matthew’s more Jewish viewpoint lead to excluding Sabbaths? They likely didn’t travel much on the Sabbath…
Harmonization/textual criticism: some of the earlier manuscripts of Matthew do not have Matthew 17:21, but the verse shows up in the Mark 9:29 parallel. Did a scribe copy it in? Does it matter, since if Mark is inspired (I believe he is,) then he’s right about what happened. If Matthew left out a detail, that is not the same as Matthew claiming a different version. I may not have told you I stopped at 2 red lights coming home. I may just say “I drove home.” That’s not a lie. I just also stopped at two lights…
Old Testament in the New Testament: Exodus 30 would seem to leave the half-shekel tax as an Exodus event. Apparently, it became a repeated event and was collected typically in drachma. One drachma is an average worker’s daily pay.
Ephesians 1:1–2 NASB95 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. He is "Paul." The Ephesians know him--time has been spent, relationships built. He is "Paul." Not "Sergious Paulus Extremely Awesomeus." God used him for who he was. Not even for who he should have been. God will use you as you are. When you are obedient . Paul is responsible to Christ Jesus. Not to the Ephesians. Nor to anyone else. Except Jesus Christ. God does not ask if you would like to... by the will of God He's the one in charge!! What does this look like? A relationship with Jesus, for starters Salvation by grace Salvation from sin and for God A surrender to Jesus, for the next step All lives Called out servants as well A commitment to the cause of Christ! Every day Every person! Exported from Logos Bible Software, 3:31 PM September 19, 2016.
We had just one service Sunday, September 4. This week, though, we get back on track. Next time we won’t have an evening service will be October 30th when we host our Fall Festival. Additionally, we’re going to start a digital church newsletter. It will publish once-a-month, starting in October (hopefully). If you want in on that, sign-up here.
Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men,
For Christians, our work now belongs to God
You do not go to work to please your boss
You go to work to please your Master
Your provision is from God, not man. Even if man is the instrument.
And keep in mind, the new heavens and the new earth are not the absence of work! It's not the end of God's purpose but the redemption and fulfillment of it. We have no way to truly fathom what God's work assignments to us will look like. But we need to know they are there.
We can see that worship and praise will be part of it. Whatever else may be, it will not be frustrating to do it.
For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
The one work we cannot do: redeem mankind
This work is already done for us!
Jesus has redeemed us through His blood.
Sometimes the hardest thing to remember is not to work--while there is a sermon in that about taking a Sabbath, the important part at this point is about the work we can NEVER do: