My current stroll through the Bible is slow enough that it allows me to notice and think about things. I’m reading about a chapter a day, and that gives me the chance to mull it over in my mind.
“God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” — Genesis 1:31 NRSV
This verse appears at a significant place. It is a summing up statement, coming at the end of the sixth day it is also a statement about the whole world that God had created. The seventh day will be a day of rest.
So, it represents God’s evaluation of the world that has been created: “very good” (ט֖וֹב מְאֹ֑ד).
How often I have lost this perspective of the essential goodness of the world. Part of this is my scientific background, by which I learned about the concept of entropy. Entropy is random disorder. The second law of thermodynamics asserts that natural processes favor the increase of random disorder. With the apostle Paul I have a strong sense that the world is in “bondage to decay.” (Romans 8:21 NRSV). I see the cruelty of life more often than I appreciate its beauty and wonder. I used to have trouble singing: (more…)
I find passages like this some of the most interesting parts of Paul’s letters. Here we see his motives in ministry. Here we see what kept him going. Paul is often very open about his discouragements and failures, as well as his successes. In that regard, I have always found 2 Corinthians interesting as well. Here we get to see the apostle’s motivations, his discouragements, his goals.
In the verses before, he has dealt with more theological issues — though these are issues which have very serious bearing on their lives. He writes to correct misconceptions which have become prevalent in the Colossian church. He believes that ideas influence behavior — and that is why is is so often concerned to correct mistaken theological ideas. (more…)
Certainly it is that — or it should be.
But, that is not all it is. It is also a perspective that embraces all of life. Christianity is a belief about what life is all about. It is not just about what is within us — it is about what is all around us. It is a faith in the God who is the Creator of all that is. The God to whom we pray is not just our God. Our God is the God of all people — and all things.
Notice the following verses: Colossians 1:16,17: (more…)
One of the remarkable things about the Bible is it’s willingness to expose the weaknesses, errors, and sins of its major characters. One of the especially endearing features of the Old Testament is its openness about its heroes flaws — and of the flaws and failures of the nation as a whole. This is a poor piece of propaganda for the nation — we see its sins and its errors and its flaws. It is not propaganda. It is not an apology for the nation at all. It is not a glorification of its heroes. We see them as deeply flawed. It is a glorification of God’s character and grace.
לֹא לָנוּ יְהוָה לֹא לָנוּ כִּי־לְשִׁמְךָ תֵּן כָּבוֹד עַל־חַסְדְּךָ עַל־אֲמִתֶּךָ
“Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.” (NRSV)
Adam Clarke paraphrases the first part of this verse this way:
We take no merit to ourselves; as thine is the kingdom, and the power in that kingdom, so is thy glory.
In the Old Testament, even the official religion and ritual of the people comes under heavy criticism:
“Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation — I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:10-17 NRSV) (more…)
There is a Religion News Service article by Kimberly Winston which is circulating around the Internet with the provocative title “Can you question the Virgin Birth and still be a Christian?” I put it in my Twitter feed so that I could comment on it later, if I had some time.
Responding to it gives me a chance to say a little more along the lines of what I was saying (or implying) in my comments on Luke 1:26-38.
(1.) This article’s title assumes something that is not true: that Christians cannot question received teachings. The writer (or the editor) is making the assumption that questioning is incompatible with Christianity. In fact, Christians have been questioning and exploring and refining their beliefs since the very beginning of the Christian movement. Christians (Protestants especially) are encouraged to check out what they hear from their spiritual leaders against the original sources of the faith in Scripture. And though there are a few lonely voices saying Christians should not read the scriptures — most are strongly encouraged to do so. There are contemporary translations, Bible study helps, Bible reading plans, etc. to help them to do so. The apostle Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 “prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” (ASV.) (more…)
This week I attended a forum held here in Grand Rapids for discussing sexuality issues. It was nice to actually meet in person some people I know only from the Internet. And several of the presenters had interesting things to say — as people who strongly disagree about the morality of same-gender sex interacted with each others ideas and experiences.
This issue has been tearing the United Methodist Church apart. During all the recent talk about denominational schism I have kept quiet here. I am on the sidelines now. If the church wishes to split (which I don’t imagine it does), so be it. It seems to me that the current position on gay and lesbian issues in the United Methodist Book of Discipline does not allow for a “Third Way” (agree to disagree) of any sort. Any proposal for one would be allowing for limited, regional violations of the Discipline. Surely that won’t pass Judicial Council muster — and it shouldn’t. Does the United Methodist Church have a way forward? I don’t know. I really can’t imagine that the God we know through Jesus Christ is much concerned with the survival and fate of our various human denominational institutions. The apostle Paul had a bit to say about the factions humans create within the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 1:10-13 — and he wasn’t in favor of it. (more…)
Here is another great video from the Asbury Theological Seminary’s Seven Minute Seminary series. Ben Witherington, Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary, addresses the often-disputed interpretation (and common misuse) of Romans 7. “Some point to Romans 7 as the proof-text for the saint-sinner paradox, suggesting that if even the apostle Paul struggled with his unrelenting flesh, Christians must face defeat in certain areas of their Christian life as well. On the contrary, Ben Witherington reveals that the ancient context illuminates the text in a way that eliminates Paul as the subject of this passage and paints a more optimistic picture of God’s sanctifying grace.”
When I was just starting out in Christian pastoral ministry (long ago) I was drawn to the writings of Paul for preaching material. It read more like theology to me — it seemed more about ideas and morality — and seemed a better fit for the needs of a three-point sermon outline. I could simply draw from Paul’s writings my point #1, point #2 and so forth. All my points were Biblical (from my point of view at the time) since they each had a verse or a phrase from one of Paul’s letters attached to them.
What I was missing was that all these assertions Paul makes, all the apparently abstract theology and moralizing, was, in truth, reflection on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus — working out its implications for first century believers. The Epistles must take us back to the Gospels — or else, we are just not getting it. The Gospel message we need to communicate is the story of Jesus. (more…)
I don’t know where such ideas come from — but a moment of thought will dispel them. The great Bible characters did not have lives that were devoid of difficulties or setbacks or griefs or disappointments. If this did not happen with them, how can I reasonably expect it for myself? Jesus grieved over Jerusalem. The apostle Paul knew setbacks and discouragements in his ministry. How can I suppose my life can be free from such things?
The path of the Lord is not easy, it is worthwhile. Those who choose to live as Christ has taught make a positive contribution to life — to their own life and to the lives of others. We move along a difficult path characterized by faith and love and hope. And, by doing so, we bring more faith and hope and love into the world. (more…)
I said last time that Psalm 25 is a psalm for the Waiting Time. I haven’t always seen it that way. I first became aware of the prominence of this “waiting” theme in this psalm through Peter Craigie’s commentary. But, even without Craigie’s conjectural reading, the theme is of “waiting” is still found in the repeated use of the Hebrew term קָוָה (qāwāh, v. to hope in; to hope for, wait for, look for) in verses 3 and 21. I’ve indicated the appearance of the word by text color below:
גַּם כָּל־קוֶֹיךָ לֹא יֵבֹשׁוּ יֵבֹשׁוּ הַבּוֹגְדִים רֵיקָם
“Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.”
תֹּם־וָיֹשֶׁר יִצְּרוּנִי כִּי קִוִּיתִיךָ
“May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.”
I think it’s worthwhile to take a moment to notice the close relationship between the concepts of “waiting” and “hoping.” (more…)
יִשְׁלַח מִשָּׁמַיִם וְיוֹשִׁיעֵנִי חֵרֵף שֹׁאֲפִי סֶלָה יִשְׁלַח אֱלֹהִים חַסְדּוֹ וַאֲמִתּוֹ
“He will send from heaven and save me, he will put to shame those who trample on me. Selah. God will send forth his steadfast love and his faithfulness.” (NRSV.)
Recently I posted some thoughts about the first phrase in this Psalm: “[God] will send from heaven and save me….”
The next phrase (“he will put to shame those who trample on me”) points up one of my long-standing problems with the Psalms.
When I first began to read the Psalms, as a young man, I was put off by the recurrent theme of “enemies.” Praying to God in the midst of confusion and need I could understand. Praying to God in times of distress and suffering I could understand. But, the frequent and recurrent theme of persecution by enemies was something with which I could not connect.
Or, maybe I just didn’t want to connect with it. (more…)