Archive for February, 2016

Reading Rambling – February 21, 2016

February 14, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday in Lent – February 21, 2016

Texts: Jeremiah 26:8-15; Psalm 4; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35

Context: The enemies of God are always active, always seeking to silence his Word. Their means are sometimes subtle, and sometimes overt. They hate to hear God’s Word, and hate the life that it brings to those who hear it.

Jeremiah 26:8-15 – Jeremiah is working around the end of the 7th century BC, around 627 BC, and we suspect that his ministry lasted perhaps 40 years (to 587 BC in Egypt). The northern kingdom of Israel has been destroyed, and the southern kingdom is threatened with destruction now as well. However warnings to this effect are not well received!

The reading picks up with the response of the other priests and prophets to Jeremiah’s warning about the demise of Judah and Jerusalem. The ruckus that ensues gets the attention of the officials, who come to sit in judgement and hear what has been going on. Jeremiah’s opponents argue that he should be executed for speaking ill of God’s city and people. Jeremiah’s defense is simply to argue that he has spoken as the Lord has directed him. He directs them to repentance as a means for avoiding the punishment to come. He also acknowledges his vulnerability – they are free to kill them and he cannot stop them. But the result will be innocent blood on their hands and heads. Those who serve God and follow his leading expose themselves to risk sometimes.

Note that it is the priests and prophets who demand Jeremiah’s death. The officials and the people will rule in Jeremiah’s favor, affirming that he is speaking on behalf of the Lord, and referencing other prophets who said similar things.

Psalm 4 – This psalm is a request for God’s rescue and vindication from falsehood (v.2). As with many psalms, the speaker begins with invoking God’s assistance based on God’s assistance in the past. Because God has helped the speaker in the past, the speaker is bold to pray for God’s assistance now (v.1). Verse 2 indicates the nature of the problem – people who lie about the speaker, ruining his reputation. Verse 3 is a reminder that the Lord is not absent or uncaring – the Lord responds to the prayers of his people!

It may be that God has already answered on behalf of the speaker, so the speaker exhorts his enemies to right behavior (vs.4-5). The psalm concludes with confidence and joy. The Lord has given the speaker cause for joy, as the source of the speaker’s security and safety. For those who suffer for their faith, they can have confidence that they are never alone or forgotten. God remains with them always, strengthening them in their witness, and promising that one day – sooner or later – their faith will be vindicated!

Philippians 3:17-4:1 – There are many who walk contrary to (or in ignorance of) the way of Christ. We are not to focus on these people. This is to be expected, after all! Rather, our focus should be on those who seek to walk in the way of Christ. Those who strive to walk after Christ walk in new life, as opposed to the destruction those contrary to Christ are destined for. As such, what we look forward to is a reward and life beyond this one. So we should stand firm in the faith even when those opposed to it seem to gain advantage and be rewarded in this world. We should not be surprised or dismayed by this, but rather fix our eyes on the faithful who have gone before us and who walk beside us.

Luke 13:31-35 – Jesus faces his share of threats as well. Here the Pharisees come to warn him, leading one to suspect whether or not their accounts are true or not. Thus far the Pharisees as depicted by Luke have been anything but solicitous towards Jesus. Is this an indication that they would rather side with him than the Romans? Or are they simply trying to silence him?

Whether they are sincere or not, Jesus is unperturbed. His way is already dicated and laid out for him by God the Father, and Herod or any other earthly power will not dissuade him from that course (remember Satan’s temptations last week). Jesus moves towards Jerusalem but He is not going there yet, as it will be there that He will endure his suffering and death, just as the prophets did before him. Herod might plot against him, but Jesus moves in obedience to God the Father, and the Father’s will cannot be gainsayed.

But again, Jesus does not come in anger and judgement (John 3:17). His desire is that his people (represented as Jerusalem) would welcome him, would turn to him and live (Ezekiel 33:11). Perhaps because of Herod’s ill will, Jesus will not attempt to come to Jerusalem until his final visit (Palm Sunday), when the people will indeed shout out the acclamation He indicates here.

It is easy for the people of God to obsess and focus on those who array themselves against the Gospel and perhaps even against us. A few vocal critics can easily loom large despite dozens of calmer supporters. We are to focus on being faithful as the Holy Spirit of God directs us. Perhaps we are called to speak the Word of God in the face of opposition like Jeremiah. Perhaps we are worried about possible repercussions and threats similar to the ones Jesus faced. These are not to be concerns of ours. We do not seek out opposition but we should not be surprised or intimidated by it when it comes.

Our promise is that the Word of God will not be stifled and cannot be negated. Opposition may arise but that opposition will fall by the wayside, sooner or later.

Good Tech

February 10, 2016

It’s amazing what science and technology can accomplish, and how quickly applications develop.  For those in the business of interpreting ancient documents, this technological evolution is a true Godsend!

Who Do You Trust?

February 9, 2016

Would you trust a stranger to plan your next 3-day weekend getaway?  If you give them a per-person budget that would cover accommodations and travel?  And you don’t find out where you’re going until the day you leave?

This is kind of fascinating – it would be fun to try someday!

Shock and Awe

February 8, 2016

The Gospel lesson for Sunday was the Transfiguration.  Peter, James, John and Jesus up on a mountaintop, suddenly joined by Moses, Elijah, and God the Father.  Many of us have grown up hearing this story so that it loses its impact.  There is no shock and awe, to use a 90’s Gulf War term.

When is the last time that you experienced shock and awe?  Not surprise?  Not bemusement.  Not puzzlement.  Shock.  Awe?  I experienced it Saturday.

We were sitting around the dining table finishing breakfast when the dogs – Milo and Opus – started barking their heads off at the front window.  While they are prone to doing this whenever a dog passes by, they were particularly frantic, so we got up to see what they were so riled up about.  A large, paunchy raccoon saunters across our front yard en route to the hill behind our yard.  We all race to the back patio doors and sure enough, the raccoon is meandering up the hill, leisurely sniffing and perusing the ivy-covered hillside before eventually wandering out of sight.  A wonderful Wild Kingdom moment.

Our Brazilian exchange student was leaving to return to Brazil in a few hours with her her of 11 Brazilian teens, whom we had hosted for hamburgers and smores a few nights earlier.  The kids managed to clean up their room enough to show her Kidsword – the domain of the second floor of our house.  Up went a Brazilian, a Belgian, three kids and two dogs.  My wife and I remained around the dining table finishing our tea.

A few moments later we hear a commotion upstairs.  The thundering of hooves, as it were, save for there not being any hooved animals upstairs, and the upstairs not extending over the dining area of the first floor.  But this noise was extending directly above us.  Approaching with a massive commotion, accompanied by the fainter shouts and yells of our children.

As we rose to our feet, out of the sky dropped our two dogs.  They had gone outside on the upstairs patio accessible from Kidsworld, when Milo decided he should hope the 3.5 foot railing.  After some clambering he succeeded.  Opus easily jumped it after him.  Then, perhaps still fixated on the remembrance of the raccoon, Milo raced across the roof, perhaps thinking he could jump to the hillside from the first floor roof.

He couldn’t.  So he leaped down to the patio below.  Followed more reluctantly by Opus.  A drop of about 10 feet.  They both landed on their feet and scampered towards the back wall, unable to get to the hillside and the raccoon but obviously fixated on it.

We stood there in shock and awe.  Dogs dropping from the sky.  Something you are completely ill-prepared for.  You don’t expect it.  It hits you from out of nowhere and you find yourself standing there muttering incoherently (or unrepeatedly).

The dogs were fine.  No broken bones.  Opus broke his tag off his collar but otherwise they are unscathed.  I’m probably more traumatized by it all than they are.

So if Peter makes some stupid suggestions, I can forgive him.  What do you say when you have no way of making sense of what your eyes are seeing?  You do the best you can.  Sometimes God has to tell you to shut up and pay attention to what His Son is telling you.  Other times you just give thanks for stupid and unharmed dogs.

Shock and awe.  You can’t prepare for it.  You don’t expect it.  But suddenly you’re in the thick of it trying to figure your way through it.  Cut Peter some slack.  I know I will from now on.

A Helpful Start

February 7, 2016

I mused a few days ago about my surprise that there are apparently no good, complete, current translations of the Church Fathers – the earliest writers and theologians after the Apostles.

It came to mind that once upon a time years ago I found online sites purporting to publish free, online, the 19th century translation of these Church Fathers’ writings.  A quick Google search led me to the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.  There, you can read Philip Schaff’s 1885 work, Ante-Nicene Fathers for free.  While I’d still prefer to have this in hard copy for note-taking purposes, it’s nice to know that I can begin reading these works for free online – and so can you!

Reading Ramblings – February 14, 2016

February 7, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: First Sunday in Lent, February 14, 2016

Texts: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-13; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13

Context: Who is it that gives good gifts? God is the giver of all good things. Satan lies and pretends as though he can give us good things, but he can’t. He lies and pretends what he does not have and what he would not give, even if he could. This is the first Sunday of Lent, the season of preparation for Easter which will last for four more weeks before Palm Sunday (which is technically still part of Lent but as the beginning of Holy Week takes on a different tone from the previous Lenten Sundays.

Deuteronomy 26:1-11 – Moses begins teaching the Israelites in Chapter 5, and most of Deuteronomy is this extended teaching session, prior to Moses’ death and the Israelite entry into the Promised Land. Chapter 26 concludes this extended discourse, aimed at reminding the Israelites to be faithful to God and thankful to him once they receive the land He has promised them. Gratitude is situated within the entire story of the covenant people, not just individual personal experience. This begins with Abraham, extends through the migration of Jacob and his sons to Egypt, through slavery in Egypt, through the Exodus and the wilderness and to being situated in the land and enjoying the richness of the land. Our gratitude to God should likewise be anchored not just in the events of this day or hour, but in the story of God’s faithfulness to us through Christ. We are part of a larger story! And the purpose of remaining in this larger story is not just for our own blessing, but so that others may also recognize the goodness of God and rejoice in him.

Psalm 91:1-13 – It can be difficult to read this psalm without thinking to ourselves that this isn’t necessarily absolutely true. Being a follower of Christ does not exempt us from the suffering of the world, including death in battle and suffering in numerous other ways. Yet regardless of the dangers we face, as followers of Christ we need not fear. These things cannot separate us from God. He remains our refuge and our protection. We do not seek out these dangers recklessly, but when faced with them we face them as people who have a hope and a promise that extends beyond the risks at hand to eternity. Whether we are spared from calamity and live to a ripe old age, or whether we die young or in battle, we remain in Christ. Truly there is no harm that can overtake us in this respect, and the Most High will remain our dwelling not only here and now but for eternity.

Romans 10:8b-13 – This short reading could link the Old Testament text with the psalm, but it also serves as insight into the Gospel lesson as well. The Word of God is readily available to us and can be called upon by us at any time. But while we may fret about what to memorize or how much of Scripture to memorize, what is most important is our willingness and ability to profess Jesus Christ as Lord. It is our trust that He was raised from the dead wherein our salvation lies.

Luke 4:1-13 – Jesus’ encounter with Satan is not random – it is part of God’s plan and so the Holy Spirit leads Jesus to this encounter. Jesus must prove that He will remain fully obedient and faithful to God the Father, rather than disobey as Adam and Eve did. In order to rescue humanity from sin, Jesus must remain without sin himself, so that He can be the perfect, final sacrifice for sin.

Satan tempts Jesus in regards to both his humanity (in regards to his hunger) and his divinity (in regards to his mission). Can Satan make good on his claims? His first and third temptation rely on Jesus’ power, not his own. In each of these instances he is asking Jesus to misuse his power to satisfy himself, whether his physical hunger or his desire to be recognized and honored for who and what He is. Only in the second temptation does Satan claim to have power of his own. But this is obviously a lie. The only one capable of bestowing all authority and splendor is God. While Satan may be speaking truly about being the prince of this realm, and therefore having influence, that he can convey all earthly splendor to Jesus is very far-fetched to say the least. All such honor and acclaim will be Jesus’ by remaining obedient to God the Father.

In all three instances Jesus refutes Satan by relying on the Word of God. The result is that Satan leaves. Satan does not give up – but recognizes that at this point he is not going to be able to lead Jesus into sin. While memorizing Scripture may not be so fashionable these days, Jesus demonstrates how it is useful for resisting temptation.

A Room with a CPU

February 5, 2016

I finally have a reason to make Amsterdam a destination – and I already know where I want to stay!

Slightly Insane

February 3, 2016

Years ago as we were preparing to wed and thinking about our future life together, my wife and I often dreamed that one day we would have an international guest house of sorts.  Under the influence of L’Abri and the idea of Christian community as a formative venue for engaging people in meaningful dialogue in an age of inanity, we imagined a sprawling campus where people could come to live and dialogue and explore and work together.

Right now we have a Belgian girl and a Brazilian woman living with us.  Tonight the Brazilian woman, who is the chaperone/tour guide for a group of Brazilian teens, will bring those 11 teens to our home for a cookout and a rousing game of Bean Boozled with our own ecstatic children.  Saturday the Brazilian woman leaves and we move the Belgian girl into the Brazilian woman’s room to free up a room in anticipation of the arrival sometime Saturday of a couple from Sweden that my wife was acquainted with 20 years ago or so.  They’ll stay for a few days before leaving. The following weekend my buddy from Sem will travel back with me from a conference in Phoenix for a few days of R&R.   At the end of the month the Belgian girl’s parents will arrive to stay with us for an evening before departing with her for two weeks of travel before returning home together to Belgium.  A week later we will receive a girl from Japan and a girl from France.  Our two dogs are always thrilled to meet the new people.  Two Swiss girls are anticipated in the late spring and summer, and in the fall we already know that an older German lady who stayed with us for three months last year to attend English school in town will return to stay with us for another three months.  There will undoubtedly be other additions to this schedule as the months go by.

Most people who know us think that we’re insane, and we’re prone to agree with them.  We don’t know how or why, but it works for us.  It allows us the opportunity to bring people to church, to talk about God, to pray before our dinners together, and to establish relationships that may affect all of us in ways we can’t possibly fathom.  Some of this is ministry.  Some of it is personal interest and a passion for cross-cultural exchange.  Some of this is family being established across the planet.  God has helped some of those first dreams come true, though in the smaller confines of our home – at least for now!  And He gives us stamina to survive and grow together in the process.  Definitely not for everyone, but we’re happy that it works for us.

False Pretenses

February 2, 2016

I just posted about the controversy regarding the indictment of people involved with the undercover videotaping of Planned Parenthood last summer.  It’s a curious legal situation to be sure, and a lot is riding on it for both supporters and critics of Planned Parenthood and abortion.  But I started thinking a bit about how a Christian should feel about all of this.  Is there a problem with misleading people or misrepresenting yourself?

It’s certainly true that Scripture condemns lying and dishonesty.  But does that mean it’s never OK to lie?  I think we need to acknowledge first of all that we live in a fallen world.  Which means at times we will be faced with paths that don’t necessarily allow us to remain completely free from the guilt of sin.  I don’t think that refusing to tell a lie when you know it could save someone’s life keeps you innocent in God’s eyes.  What is our goal in life as Christians?  To love God and to love our neighbor.  Because we are sinful people in a sinful world, I think that sometimes this means we will sin in order to fulfill the latter command.  This does not justify our sinfulness in the eyes of God – it doesn’t make sin into not sin.  But it is the honest recognition that sometimes our sin might lead towards ends that are less sinful.  Refraining from acting because of a fear of sin could lead to greater damage to our neighbor than if we just go ahead and sin.  This is the conundrum that Dietrich Bonhoeffer had to sort through in his decision to take an active role with people plotting to kill Hitler.

So is it sinful to lie about your identity in order to secure an interview or discussion with somebody?  Sure.  Might that be necessary in order to stop a greater evil?  Possibly.  As with all of our actions we must be aware that sin is always lurking within and behind them.  Even worship is tinged with the sin of pride or ego or vanity or any number of other possible culprits.  If I think that what is at stake is my purity I’m mistaken – I’m not pure.  My purity comes from Christ.  My righteousness comes from Christ.  Everything in and of myself is sinful and broken.

Biblical injunctions to honesty are real.  I could probably argue that many of them are intended against those who would use dishonesty to harm or abuse or take advantage of someone else, but ultimately what the Bible calls us to is purity and holiness and perfection – which is impossible for us to attain on our own.  It might be necessary to sin in order to accomplish a greater good.  I still remain sinful.  I still may need to face the consequences for my sin temporally.  But if I try to take refuge in my righteousness rather than deal with the dirty reality of a shattered creation, I’m still lying – I’m just lying to myself.

Who Are You?

February 2, 2016

The legal turning-of-tables on the people who released compromising videos of Planned Parenthood employees and executives discussing the sale of aborted baby parts has been quite a surprise.  It appears to be purely a punitive measure for the embarrassment Planned Parenthood suffered through these videos, despite an overall successful campaign to dismiss the videos as doctored and edited (does anyone ever post non-edited video?  Have you ever tried to create unedited video or audio footage?  It’s horrid!).

What are the implications for indicting people engaged in undercover journalism?  Are there any limits to undercover investigations, and how do we define those without eliminating a powerful weapon against corruption or illegal practices?  Journalists are certainly interested in this question.  Even those who are fully supportive of Planned Parenthood are voicing concerns about the legal ramifications of this move.  There certainly isn’t any available public information yet on why these charges have been made.  But it’s something we all have a stake in, regardless of how you feel about Planned Parenthood.