Reading Ramblings – June 4, 2017

May 28, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Pentecost Sunday – June 4, 2017

Text: Numbers 11:24-30; Psalm 25:1-15; Acts 2:1-21; John 7:37-39

Context: Pentecost is the Greek word for 50th and indicates the 50th day after Passover. In the Old Testament it is referred to as the Festival of Weeks (Exodus 34:22). Pentecost was the second of three annual holidays which required all able-bodied Jewish men to come into the Lord’s presence, either outside the Tabernacle or the Temple. Pentecost was associated with the end of the grain harvest, and was a time for celebration after hard work. This was the reason for so many Jews from so many places in Acts 2. It was the perfect opportunity for the Holy Spirit to witness in power to a great many Jews, many of whom would have been present in Jerusalem for Passover and would be personally familiar with Jesus’ execution and the proclamation of the empty tomb. So it is that this crowd will be convicted of their sin and respond to Peter’s call for repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus Christ (which isn’t technically part of today’s reading but is the highlight of his sermon that we begin to hear today!).

Numbers 11:24-30 – The Holy Spirit arrives on Pentecost and ushers in a new era, in which God the Holy Spirit dwells in the hearts of all of God’s people, beginning with the apostles. Until this time, the Holy Spirit only came to some people, such as the elders of Israel in this reading. Moses expressed his desire that all God’s people should be blessed with the indwelling Holy Spirit, but it wouldn’t be until 1500 years or so later that his prayer would be granted. We are blessed in a way that many of God’s people through time could only imagine. Earlier in this segment, (v.17), God indicates that He will share his spirit so that Moses does not have to bear the burden of God’s people alone. So the Holy Spirit is a means of strengthening the people of God, allowing us to share one another’s burdens. Although the Spirit’s presence is manifest by prophecy in v.25, it is important to note that this was a temporary reaction, perhaps intended as a demonstration of the newly appointed authority of these leaders. While the Holy Spirit undoubtedly still does provide prophetic insight and wisdom to some people still, it is not something that we should expect of all God’s people. God provides his good gifts according to his good will, not our personal preferences or expectations!

Psalm 25:1-15 – The psalmist expresses hope and trust in the Lord’s provision, so that he will not be overwhelmed by adversaries (vs.1-2). He bolsters this confidence by confessing that God never allows his people to be put to shame for his sake (v.3). Rather than focus on his own ways of saving himself, the psalmist asks for God to teach him, and to help him focus on God’s Word (vs.4-5) so that he is patient for God’s timing. He encourages God to answer his request based on God’s steadfast faithfulness which He has demonstrated with his people from of old (v.6). He also asks that God would forgive his sins and not hold them against him (v.7), something that might cause God to refrain from responding to his prayer. He then begins to extol the virtues of God, affirming that God does indeed lead and guide his people who seek him, and that wisdom is to be found in following God’s leading (vs.8-10). Perhaps burdened by his sins, he once again asks for forgiveness (v.11) before affirming the wisdom of following God’s leading, and the blessings that are to be found in such obedience (vs.12-14). He concludes this section of the psalm with the assertion that God will indeed rescue him from the predicament alluded to in the opening verses.

Acts 2:1-21 – I wish that we would read through all of Peter’s Pentecost sermon instead of breaking it into pieces! The Holy Spirit’s presence is indicated in ways reminiscent of God’s presence in the Old Testament, particularly Exodus 19. Luke’s description indicates a real event, with real manifestations that were both audible and visible to those gathered in the room with the disciples. We aren’t sure how many believers are there. It could be interpreted as just the twelve, based on the end of Acts 1. Or it could mean a larger assembly of all those who had come to faith in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, though that seems like an unusually large number of people for a single gathering. There are more than a dozen different ethnicities mentioned in vs. 7-11 so perhaps it is more than just the twelve who are there and are gifted with the ability to speak in tongues. Verse 14 indicates only that Peter and the other eleven disciples stand up or are already standing, perhaps at the forefront of the group, during this event. As Jesus’ inner circle it would be most appropriate for them to stand in order to bear witness and answer the questions of the crowd. The main question to be answered is not how is it that the disciples can speak in these other languages, but rather, what is the meaning of this event? God’s people recognize that there must be a reason why these uneducated men are suddenly speaking in different languages, and it is this question that Peter seeks to address in his sermon.

John 7:37-39 – The presence of the Holy Spirit is indicative of life itself. This new life in Christ is not contained within the individual but naturally flows out as an expression of love towards God and towards others. The disciples, therefore, really don’t have an option. When the Spirit moves them, they respond. When people ask them what it means, Peter steps forward to speak. These are actions motivated by love for Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. We often worry that we will be unprepared in the moment to give testimony to our faith, but we should trust that God the Holy Spirit himself will be there to give us the words!

What flows from us in faith is not simply evidence of our own life in Christ, but as we speak the Word of God and the Gospel to others, it is actually life-giving to them as well! The Word of God that goes out from us carries the power of the Holy Spirit to bring life to the one who hears. While we may find our words inadequate or awkward, the Holy Spirit can use them as the source of life.

Movie Review: The Book of Eli

May 24, 2017

I’ve wanted to see The Book of Eli for some time.  I’m a fan of post-apocalyptic films and on a long trans-Atlantic flight recently I had the opportunity to finally watch it.  Visually it’s impressive.  The fight scenes are brutal and sparse.   Characters are basic and two-dimensional, but the acting is fine if not exquisite.  I felt like Gary Oldman was re-channeling his Zorg character from The Fifth Element, but that’s fine as well.

My interest was piqued by the centrality of the Bible in the movie.  Denzel Washington’s character, Eli, possesses a very rare commodity – a Bible.  Most Bibles were wiped out after the nuclear holocaust, viewed widely as a leading contributor to the catastrophe.  Eli is on a mission to deliver the Bible to the West Coast for reasons not altogether clear even to himself.  Oldman’s character, Carnegie, is the tyrant of a small town and has been searching in vain for a Bible for some time.  Both men need and want the Bible, but their reasons differ.  Eli needs and wants the Bible to give it away, believing that in doing so, he is contributing to humanity.  Carnegie needs and wants the Bible as the ultimate tool of coercion and control of the masses.

Fascinating interplay, but I was disappointed but the very shallow treatment of Scripture in the movie.  Oh, don’t worry, there are a few verses scattered throughout .  But I mean the overall understanding of the importance of the Bible is lacking.  Both characters see the Bible as the single-most important book on earth.  But Carnegie sees it only as a means to control others, not understanding the source of this power which ultimately would undermine what he hoped to accomplish with it.  And Eli thinks the Bible basically says “to do more for others than you do for yourself”, without recognizing that such a message could hardly be responsible for nuclear annihlation.

The movie gets it right – the Bible is the single-most dangerous and subversive book in all of human history.  But it fails to really take this seriously and explore what that means and why.  It presents both Eli’s faith and Carnegie’s utilitarianism as relative equals.  One is nicer than the other, but both are viable responses to the book.  Both basically use the Bible for personal ends – one is more altruistic at first blush but Eli is just as ready to defend his faith – which he has barely any grasp of – and use of the book as Carnegie is.  Is that really altruism?

The Bible is dangerous and subversive to any institution of power or control as it removes all authority to God.  Both Eli and Carnegie can’t make sense of this beyond their own limited perceptions.  We are not free to do things as we see fit.  We are responsible to a Creator who will judge us, as Eli whispers to a thug he has just severely roughed up.  It’s phenomenal to me that the writers/directors could think that Eli could be wandering westward for 30 years, reading the Bible every single day, willing to defend it with his life, yet completely unaware of the true power and story it contains.  It’s baffling that someone could see the Bible as dangerous simply for saying be nice to each other.  The Bible goes well beyond that – to demonstrate that we can’t even do that one little thing, and that we are dying because of our failure, a failure we can’t overcome on our own no matter how much we might attempt to.

It’s an interesting post-apocalyptic movie but it had the potential to be so much more, and there were brief moments I thought it might succeed.

Back in the Saddle

May 23, 2017

For the past month I’ve led my family on an international exploration.  Over 30 days we were in ten different countries working with five different languages (six if you include Swiss German) traveling by plane, train, automobile, bus, boat and on foot.  We visited 20 different people and while I haven’t calculated the total distance we covered yet, I’m estimating that including the flights to and from the US West Coast, we’re a bit over 15,000 miles.  We saved four years to make this a reality, planned and executed every step of it on our own, and had an amazing experience that will stay with us the rest of our lives.  It was exhilarating and exhausting, every bit as fantastic as we imagined and better than we could have hoped.  We are grateful to God, friends, family, and all those who prayed for us and helped to make it a reality.

But now we’re home so I’ll start writing again.  Talk more with you soon!

Reading Ramblings – Ascension Day (Observed) – May 28, 2017

May 21, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Ascension Sunday ~ May 28, 2017

Texts: Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

Context: Technically this is the Seventh Sunday of Easter, and Ascension is actually Thursday May 25. But I’ve made it a habit in recent years to follow the readings for Ascension Day on Sunday. Otherwise, the Ascension of Christ gets omitted from the liturgical cycle completely. Rather than move directly from the Resurrection to Pentecost Sunday, I think it’s critical to spend a Sunday contemplating the Ascension.

Ascension answers the question of where our Lord and Savior is now. Is He still roaming the earth resurrected, appearing to people unawares like the disciples on the road to Emmaus? No. He is at the right hand of the Father. Is Jesus in my heart? No, He is at the right hand of the Father. Has He abandoned us? No. He promised to send the Holy Spirit after his Ascension (John 14:15-31). It is the Holy Spirit who abides with me and makes my heart his home in a way I cannot begin to understand, but trust implicitly. As such I have two advocates on my behalf before God the Father – God the Holy Spirit within me and God the Son in the presence of God the Father. I don’t need Jesus’ mother or saints or dearly departed loved ones to pray to on my behalf – 2/3 of the Godhead are already doing this!

The Ascension also reminds me that I am waiting for something other than death – I await the return of my Lord. This is to be the anchor and focal point of my life. As He has gone, so He will return. Come Lord Jesus, come.

Acts 1:1-11 – Luke’s depiction of the Ascension is a slightly more detailed account than the one he provides in the 24th chapter of his gospel. Luke wrote a two-part account of the Christian people (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-3), organizing it into one part detailing the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ and the other part detailing the history of the Christian church following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. The Ascension becomes the logical break point and unifying point of these two distinct but inseparable stories.

Jesus’ disciples expect now that He has been miraculously raised from the dead, Jesus will usher in his kingdom in power immediately (v.6). But this is not the case. What He accomplished in overcoming death must be told to others, so that they might come to faith in him as well. This will be accomplished in stages – starting in Jerusalem, the center-point of God’s covenant people, then extending outwards to all the Promised Land and then to the world beyond. This is the task of the Church – to bear witness to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection and to disciple people in the implications of this reality for their lives today.

Psalm 47 – A victory psalm that proclaims the sovereignty of God. Very appropriate as we continue to reflect upon our Lord’s victory over our ancient enemies of Satan, sin, and death! The Ascension is part of this victory. Jesus accomplished everything that He was sent to. He now awaits God the Father’s perfect timing to usher in the kingdom of heaven in power and glory throughout all of creation. Yet we, the faithful, already perceive this kingdom, already live within it, are already citizens of it through baptismal faith, and already sing the praises of our King! God does not reign at some indeterminate time in the future – He reigns now, and one day all of creation will see what we see by faith to be true as evidenced in the resurrection of the Son of God.

Ephesians 1:15-23 – Paul beautifully elaborates on the reign of God celebrated in Psalm 47. The full glory of God is made evident in the resurrection and ascension of his Son, Jesus the Christ. Jesus already sits in glory, already exalted over every other principality and power of creation, already sovereign and supreme by virtue of his perfect obedience, even to death. Not everyone recognizes his authority or respects it, but this is a temporary state of affairs, indicative of rebellious arrogance or willful blindness. What we, the faithful already receive and experience will one day be made clear to everyone, even those who would prefer to remain blind to the reality of Jesus’ sovereignty.

Luke 24:44-53 – Luke summarizes Jesus’ final days with his disciples after his resurrection. Although Luke is not one of the twelve disciples, he knows at least some of them firsthand and therefore has access to their memory of events. Jesus provides his disciples with the ability to understand Scripture – meaning the Old Testament – as a preview and pointer to himself and his work. What the leaders of God’s people were unable to see or refused to see is made clear to these simple and relatively uneducated men. The substance of this revelation is not generic or non-specific, but particularly related to Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection on behalf of humanity for the forgiveness of sins. His disciples witnessed these events in his life but did not of their own accord understand them, certainly not within the context of Scripture.

The work of the Holy Spirit continues to be that of opening the minds of the faithful to the truthfulness of Scripture in regards to the accomplishment of the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth. So it is appropriate that faithful men and women continue to dedicate their lives to the study and interpretation of God’s Word. As well, it seems clear that we should expect the Holy Spirit’s revelatory work to continue to be directly linked to and centered upon Holy Scripture, rather than some sort of new and unprecedented revelation. The Holy Spirit needn’t reveal something new to us. What is necessary is contained in the Word of God referring to the Word of God made flesh. While there may be much that we would like to know, what we have is sufficient (John 20:30-31, 21:25).

As such, we should make the study of God’s Word an important aspect of the life of faith rather than relying on unsubstantiated and spurious leadings of the Holy Spirit – which might actually not be the Holy Spirit’s leadings or teachings. We should expect that what the Holy Spirit reveals to us will be directly related to the Word of God passed down to us, and certainly not in any contradiction to this Word.

Jesus is not merely risen, He is ascended. He is not simply ascended, He is returning. This is what we look forward to. This is the conclusion that we are to center our lives around, not the other miscellaneous events that so often cloud and complicate and clutter our horizons. It isn’t marriage or children or retirement or death that are the endpoints we anticipate, but rather our Lord’s return.

Reading Ramblings – April 23, 2017

April 16, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday of Easter ~ April 23, 2017

Texts: Acts 5:29-42; Psalm 148; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

Context: Easter is not a single day but a season, eight weeks that take us to the day of Pentecost and the last major season of the Church year. The readings during the season of Easter emphasize the power stemming from Christ’s resurrection, as well as on elaborating the Easter story itself. Although the assigned Gospel for Year A in the three-year lectionary cycle is Matthew, John’s Gospel is the key one for the high holidays of the Church year, and we’ll revert to Matthew after Pentecost for the remainder of the liturgical year. Also during Easter the Old Testament readings are replaced by readings from Acts that emphasize the resurrection power unleashed in the Holy Spirit.

Acts 5:29-42 – Jesus’ crucifixion was to be the end of his preaching. No doubt the religious authorities expected his followers to disperse rapidly after his execution. But because of his resurrection, his disciples who up until that point were timid and clueless are now emboldened and articulate. Where once they feared the power of the religious authorities they now considered themselves bound to an even higher authority. Confronted with this unexpected turn of events, the Jewish leadership convenes to form a plan. It is Gamaliel who speaks to his colleagues and advises temperance. That which is not from God will flounder on its own – and history is littered with pretenders to the title of Messiah and their disappointed followers. But the true power and authority of God cannot be thwarted, and for 2000 years this has proven true as followers of Jesus Christ, based on eye-witness testimony of the resurrection, continue to share good news with those around them.

Psalm 148 – God’s creation is exhorted to praise him. The heavens and the heavenly host is first exhorted, then the objects of the sky. Next come the mighty creatures of the oceans and the very seasons themselves. Next the earth itself is summoned to praise, creatures of the earth, then the human powers of earth and finally the classes of people considered lowest – women, children and old people. God is to be praised by all of his creation for raising up a horn of salvation, a reliable and trustworthy deliverance in his promised Messiah, Jesus.

1 Peter 1:3-9 – What a beautiful description of the reality of the life of faith! Peter begins with blessing and praising God the Father as the author of the plan of salvation brought to fruition through God the Son, Jesus the Christ. Because of God the Father’s mercy, He has extended life to those who hold faith in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. That life is characterized as a glorious inheritance, far surpassing our best conceptions of inheritances here and now that can be frittered away or destroyed. God’s faithful rejoice in his mercy and his promises despite the reality that life can be very challenging and that God’s faithful have often and regularly been singled out for persecution and destruction on account of their faith. But even in our sufferings, God’s faithful are called to rejoice, trusting that the worst of the world and our defeated enemy Satan can only inevitably be to the glory and praise of God the Father when Jesus returns in glory.

We, the faithful who have not seen Jesus resurrected in the flesh nonetheless can love him and trust him based on the faithful account of his disciples. In doing so, we give thanks to God for what He accomplishes in the faith He himself places within us – our eternal salvation.

John 20:19-31 – John continues the description of Jesus’ Easter appearances. Since Luke tells the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, John instead focuses on Easter evening and Jesus’ appearance to his worried disciples in the locked upper room. The reports are strange and hard to make sense of. Jesus has been seen alive by multiple people, men and women, in Jerusalem and beyond. Finally, the ten disciples see him for themselves, and He offers them compelling proof that He is truly alive again. They are not seeing a ghost, they are not hallucinating. They are able to touch his body, explore his wounds, and verify that it truly is him and not somebody else.

His visit is not simply cordial. He conveys to them the peace of the Holy Spirit and the essence of the Church – the declaration of forgiveness. The Church is to be the one who speaks what Jesus has accomplished, assuring individuals in repentance that their sins are truly forgiven through the death and resurrection of Jesus. While Jesus himself could forgive sins during his ministry (Matthew 9), He is free to delegate that message to his disciples and his Church.

Thomas is not present and is understandably skeptical. Despite the multiple reports of the women and the disciples, he is adamant that he will not believe unless he can see and touch for himself. His insistence on this should be comforting to those who worry that the disciples were weak-minded or easily swayed or fooled. Thomas would fit in well with our post-modern doubt of all things!

But when confronted with the resurrected Christ, Thomas is immediate in his declaration of faith and worship. He is convinced by his personal encounter with the resurrected Christ. John assures that while Thomas was blessed to receive such assurance, the eye-witness testimony of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection should be more than adequate to convince someone of the truth of the matter. The resurrection is incredible, but not beyond belief. John invites us into the same confession of faith as Thomas, to not remain doubting or dubious but to explore the evidence and to believe.

When the Lost Find

April 13, 2017
Now, I know all you folks are the right kinda parents.
One fine night, they leave the pool hall,
Headin’ for the dance at the Arm’ry!
Libertine men and Scarlet women!
And Rag-time, shameless music
That’ll grab your son and your daughter
With the arms of a jungle animal instinct!
Mass-staria!
Friends, the idle brain is the devil’s playground!
Trouble, oh we got trouble,
Right here in River City!
With a capital “T”
That rhymes with “P”
And that stands for Pool,
That stands for pool.
“Ya Got Trouble” from The Music Man

 

I’ve been playing pool all of my adult life, which means countless hours spent in pool halls and bars.  I’ve seen a lot of things in those places, but there’s also a lot of things I haven’t seen, primarily because I don’t know what I’m looking at or looking for.  Pool halls and bars have earned their reputations at least in part, however, and just because I don’t see the sexual solicitations or the drug sales all the time doesn’t mean that they aren’t happening.

But there are also times when it’s pretty obvious what I’m looking  at, and then there are times when I’m reminded that I’m not seeing everything I ought to.  Not by a long shot.

I stopped in to a familiar bar with the best tables in town up the hill from my house the other day to snatch a quick few games of pool before an afternoon of meetings.  I knew a few of the guys playing there, and I quickly got my cues assembled and the balls racked and broke.  It was only after a few moments that I saw a girl I didn’t recognize chatting with one of the guys.  And as the game progressed I rapidly realized that the man was making pretty free use of her as she sat with her eyes glued to her smart phone.  Far more use than a casual acquaintance or even a good friend might, to put it diplomatically.

They disappear to his car for a few minutes and emerge in a haze of marijuana smoke and laughter.  But by this time I have to get back to the office.  I’ve packed up my cues and am on my way out of the bar, giving my regards to the guys I know and passing the couple as they re-enter the bar.  As I exit the cavern-like darkness of the bar into the blinding Central Coast sunshine, fumbling for my sunglasses,  I hear a woman calling Hey! after me.

You and I need to talk, she says as I turn in the parking lot to look back.  It’s the young woman the guy was with.  Her attire is eye-catching without being too over the top.  Faded denim jeans and a white t-shirt.  Her blond-ish hair has purple tints in it and her make-up is not light.  She’s probably in her late 20’s and the scent of her perfume alone is enough to nearly knock me unconscious.

I don’t imagine the conversation will be too long, as there can’t possibly be much to say.  Of the three guys at the pool table she was closest to, I paid her the least attention (by far!).  I assumed she just wanted to make sure I properly acknowledged her vanity, as it should have been obvious that I wasn’t interested in her services.

Are you really a priest? I mean, a real priest?   I assure her that I am, indeed, a card-carrying minister, realizing that the guy must have filled her in on that detail for some reason during their time together.  She’s taking her time now, sizing me up.  We’re blocking traffic in the parking lot so I move us out of the way.  I’m in a slight hurry, and not interested in playing around conversationally or otherwise.  But at length she asks What church?  I tell her the name and where it is.  She hasn’t heard of it.  Not surprising, I think to myself.  I start to search for a business card to give her.  My dad died a couple of months ago, and I’d like to think he’s with you.  When I look back up at her face she has tears on both cheeks that she’s wiping away.  I hope he’s with God, I respond after a stunned second.

In the bar I first saw a young woman who was so jaded in life that she didn’t care how men used her as long as they noticed her.  Then I saw a woman supporting herself with that attention and exploiting it.  What I had failed to see – in part because I didn’t want to pay too much attention to her – is someone lost.

My work in the recovery community has taught me a lot, but the one thing it has to keep teaching me over and over again is something that my faith taught me but is difficult at times to bear in mind.  People are more than the sum of their circumstances and choices.  They might be a train-wreck of addiction and crime and moral degradation, but it isn’t who they are.  It isn’t all they are.  And given the right circumstances and situations and the power of God the Holy Spirit, even the most monumental of train wrecks can be repaired.  The tracks cleared, the rubble swept away and a life of promise and possibility stretching into eternity put in place.

I hadn’t seen that with this girl.  So perhaps God the Holy Spirit sent her after me to make sure that I saw it.  I went to my car to search for a business card and brought it back to her.  By this point she was standing by a beat-up car lighting up a pipe of marijuana.  I recognized the young man in the car as someone who had been sitting at the bar earlier, and surmised it was her boss.  I handed her my card, wondering what he thought of the whole thing and realizing he probably didn’t think anything of it.  I wasn’t likely going to upset their arrangement.

I wasn’t.  I’m not.  But God the Holy Spirit, that’s another matter.  That’s a daugher of God the Father I was talking to.  That’s a woman The Son of God died and rose again for.  And while I may not want to look at her too long or bother to get involved too deeply, the Holy Spirit of God is after her.  He can do what I can’t.  He can lead her away from the pipe and the pimp and the random encounters in darkened bars in midday.  He can find the lost and lead them home and I pray that’s what happens with her.

It was a good reminder of the power and purpose of the Gospel.  One of the key reasons God gathers his people together, so that the Word might go out and reach the lost.  So that He might bring them home – the very people we don’t want to look at to closely or be seen talking to in the bright early afternoon sunlight of a busy parking lot.  It’s not a comfortable place to be, but it’s a necessary discomfort for somebody.  Perhaps even me.

 

 

 

Maundy Thursday

April 13, 2017

I was surprised when researching the history of Maundy Thursday.  I understand the idea that it is based on the Latin word for command, mandatum.  But I always assumed that this was in conjunction with the Lord’s Supper.  Jesus commands his disciples to take and eat, take and drink.  However the actual service is based on Jesus’ command in John 13:34.  And specifically, the term for this day became associated with Jesus’ demonstration of the kind of love He was commanding by washing his disciples’ feet.

This is a worthy commandment (nice of me to agree with Jesus, eh?).  It is incumbent upon all followers of Jesus to take it seriously.  But by making Maundy Thursday about this, about us and what we do to and with each other, it takes our focus off of Jesus, and that is problematic to me.  Each Gospel writer sees fit to spend a substantial portion of their account of Jesus’ ministry on his last week of ministry.  John spends five chapters alone on the evening of the Last Supper!  I can’t help but think that we are intended to look and listen to Jesus rather than look to ourselves on this night.

So I like this short essay that explains how Lutheran theology ‘hijacked’ Maundy Thursday a redirected the focus towards what Jesus gives to us – himself – rather than what we do to and for one another.

Wet Bar Wednesday – Acalpulco

April 12, 2017

It isn’t that I haven’t been drinking, I just haven’t taken the time to do anything compellingly different in a while.  However Billie kindly provided me with an amazing bottle of aged dark rum for my birthday, and it seemed only fitting to find a good use for it (other than just sipping it straight and smelling it!).  This led me to the Acapulco, which is quickly becoming a go-to alternative to the Manhattan for my wife.

As with most drinks, there are plenty of variations.  Generally the recipe calls for light rum but I used the delicious dark rum instead.  It adds a more complex, mellow tone to the drink rather than the crispness of light rum.  I think it has a similar flavor to the pisco sour, but the dark rum really adds a different tone from pisco, which is usually unaged.  (Holy cow – I just realized that I’ve never blogged about the pisco sour before!  I guess I’ll have to do that next!)

  • 1.5 oz dark rum
  • .75 oz Gran Marnier
  • .5 oz fresh lime juice
  • .5 oz simple syrup
  • 1 egg white
  • mint sprig for garnish

Place all the ingredients together in a shaker and shake vigorously for at least 90 seconds.  If, like me, you run out of simple syrup and just add equal parts water and granulated sugar, then you want the sugar to dissolve completely.  You also want to make sure that the egg white becomes nice and foamy and takes on the flavor of the other ingredients.  Pour the drink over ice and garnish with a sprig of mint.

This is a top shelf version of the Acapulco.  You don’t need to use Gran Marnier – most recipes just call for triple sec.  You can use white rum instead of dark – whichever you prefer.  Adjust the lime and simple syrup proportions to your particular sour/sweet preferences.  Most importantly, enjoy!

 

 

 

Interpreting Sacrifice

April 11, 2017

Kudos to this pastor for taking a stab at arguably one of the most difficult passages in the Bible – Abraham’s call to sacrifice his son Isaac in Genesis 22.  I don’t know who this pastor is as his blog site has no personal data.  And I thank him for his post because he helped me to clarify some of my own struggles and responses to this passage, and together, we hopefully can help make sense of what God is doing.

Firstly, I think it’s important to clarify a few points of order.  Genesis 22 begins with the clear word to the reader/hearer that this is a test.  The reader/hearer is never under the assumption that what transpires in the following chapter is a directive of any kind from God regarding human sacrifice.  Nowhere in the Bible does God demand or even permit human sacrifice or child sacrifice.  There are plenty of passages that speak to this implicitly and explicitly (Leviticus 18:21, 27:28-29; Deuteronomy 12:31, 18:10, 2 Kings 3:27, 21:6; Jeremiah 7:31).

Secondly, though God does not want child sacrifice, we have nothing in Scripture that clearly indicates Abraham’s spiritual background.  In other words, it would be reasonable to assume that Abraham was not a lifelong follower of the Biblical God.  As such, Abraham would have been very familiar with neighboring religious practices that made use of child or human sacrifice.  The Bible indicates it was a practice among the Ammonites who worshiped Molech.  Scholars have argued that Phoenician Carthage practiced human sacrifice.  The deities from this area have been found in carved sculptures in northern Israel (Hazor), which means that possibly child sacrifice was practiced in those regions by followers of the deities Tanit and Baal Hammon.

A.R.W. Green researched this topic and reported evidence of human sacrifice throughout the Ancient Near East, including  Mesopotamia, Egypt and Syro-Palestine.  In other words, while we today would gasp in horror at this test, it would not have necessarily been such an uncommon test for Abraham.  In other words, Abraham would have been familiar with deities who demanded such things.  So this would actually be a real test – would Abraham be willing to actually give what he actually believed God might actually ask of him?  Or would He refuse?

This test would not have worked in Moses’ day – just a few hundred years later.  Thus the clear indication at the beginning of Genesis 22 that this was only a test.  Moses’ hearers would have been just as aghast and confused at God’s request as you and I, so Moses clearly prefaces the episode with the disclaimer that this is just a test.  Scripture makes it clear that God does not permit or desire such sacrifices, and therefore we don’t need to be concerned that He might ask us to do so.  Even if the “sky opened up and God’s voice boomed down”, we would do right to say no.  It’s clear that such a voice could not be God’s voice.  God might test us in other ways, but not in this one because we already know his clear will in this regard.  I would be far more concerned about the sky opening and the voice of God demanding that I give my entire IRA to someone in need.  That’s not necessarily an impossible (unBiblical) demand.  I can only pray that I would have the faith of Abraham to obey.

There is a confusion about midway in the essay as to the nature of God and his relationship to his rules.  The issue – though not raised this way in the Lutheran Pastor’s essay – centers on what makes something good, and how is God (or the gods) bound in this regard?  It’s an issue that Plato records Socrates dealing with in Euthyphro.  Is good an abstract absolute that the gods must obey, or is good something that the gods determine, and therefore subject to change at the discretion of the gods?  It seems like quite the conundrum.  The Biblical answer to this issue is that neither option is correct.  Good is not an objective absolute – a pre-existing condition to which God is bound.  Nothing pre-exists the Biblical God.  But by the same token, good is not an arbitrarily defined thing.  God doesn’t decide today that the color pink is good and the color green is evil, but then decide thousands of years later to change this.  God doesn’t have to decide what is good because God is good.  It is the definition of God himself.  God could no more command something that was evil than He could create a rock so big He couldn’t lift it.  It’s a matter of philosophical categories and not confusing them.

So God didn’t arbitrarily decide that human sacrifice was demanded of Abraham and then change his mind later.  The preface to Genesis 22 makes it clear that God never intended for Abraham to actually sacrifice Isaac to him.  But Abraham didn’t know that about God yet.

I like the way the author wraps up his essay.  He acknowledges that most of us have a limit to our faithfulness.  Would I really cash out my IRA and give it to someone else because I thought God was asking me to?  That would require a lot of faith.  I’d like to think that if I was convinced that this was definitely God speaking to me, that I would trust him enough to obey.  That’s the goal, of course.

But we all fail at times as well, so we need to focus first and foremost on what God has sacrificed in his Son Jesus, and that this sacrifice is not a moral example for me to follow, it’s actually atonement for my inability to obediently follow God’s directives in my life.  Maybe I’d be willing to cash in my IRA.  But am I willing and able to allow God to dictate my thoughts and actions every moment of the day?  Hardly.  So rather than debate about whether I could be faithful in the big things, I need to recognize that I’m not even faithful in the little things.  I don’t simply need help to be faithful in epic proportions, I need to be saved from the sin that is so much a part of me that I’m blinded to it.

So if you hear a voice from heaven telling you to sacrifice your child, don’t.  Period.  But if you hear a voice from heaven telling you to sell your house and go to a strange land?  Well, do some serious praying and talk with some brothers and sisters in the faith that you really trust.  If you really believe it’s God calling you to this, and if it doesn’t require you to abandon the vocations He’s already given you (spouse, child, etc.), then I pray you’ll have the faith to follow.  And just as importantly, that I would.

 

 

Memories and Magic

April 10, 2017

I found this article a couple of weeks back and it struck me but I’ve wanted to ponder it for a bit before posting on it.

The gist of the story is that scientists think that superstitious, magical-thinking is behind people’s attachments to personal items belonging to people who have died (or, I would argue, haven’t necessarily died but are no longer part of our lives).  The implicit assumption seems to be that if there are two identical items, then our attachment to the one shouldn’t necessarily be any stronger or different than the attachment to the other.  To reinforce this, they nickname this preference magical contagion.   This is a very materialistic understanding of reality and humanity, and very dismissive of personal attachment to memories evoked from a particular item.  Scientists assume that if two things are identical, then any preference for one over the other based on who it belonged to must be magical.

The assumption is that this is somehow illogical and irrational behavior and therefore requires an explanation.  That explanation they call social connection.  The test they run for this is rather curious, I think.  They first make a group of people feel ostracized or unwelcome in a social setting and then test to see how heavily they prefer items personally related to someone they admire.  The assumption was that the need for social acceptance caused a higher level of attachment to objects personally associated with known people.  Hence, the need for social connection is at the root of magical contagion.  The article notes that social disconnection is not the cause of magical contagion, it just intensifies the belief or need for it.

Thus, the desire to have something that belonged to someone important in some way gets disregarded as essentially irrational.

I won’t venture to assume that everybody likes to keep things that belonged to important people in their lives.  But I’ve met very few people who, when visiting their homes or talking with them don’t have some sort of memento.  These aren’t necessarily lonely people, and they certainly don’t appear irrational.

It’s tempting to make the argument that what is lacking is a spiritual dimension – that somehow an object actually owned or worn or used by someone has some bit of their essence to it, and that this would be the unstated reason why people prefer that item over an identical item without the personal association.  But I’m uncomfortable with that as it leads us slightly down the path towards an almost animist view of creation, where spiritual essences and properties are attached to most everything and we begin to revere objects for this property.  I don’t think it’s my rationalist, materialist upbringing (as a part of Western culture in the 20th and 21st centuries) that wants to discard this.  I don’t think it’s Biblical either.  Nothing in Scripture leads me to conclude that there is a spiritual essence which we pass on to objects.

I think it’s just part of human nature, by and large.  Why do I want the item from that person that they actually owned, rather than an identical one?  Because they actually owned it.  Is that rational or logical?  I can’t see the argument why it is, but certainly not from a strict materialist perspective.  What makes it special is that they owned it or wore it or purchased it.  When we see that item, it reminds us of that person.  It isn’t magical, but it’s important.  Just because you can’t quantify the why of that importance in physical terms shouldn’t denigrate it with such a pejorative term!