Archive for January, 2018

Reading Ramblings – February 4, 2018

January 28, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany ~ February 4, 2018 ~

Texts: Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-11; 1 Corinthians 9:16-27; Mark 1:29-39

Context: This is the last Sunday of Ordinary Time until June 3 – after Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and Holy Trinity Sunday. Next week is Transfiguration Sunday, and the Wednesday after is Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. Yes, Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day this year, and Easter falls on April 1!

The Gospel, Old Testament and psalm all emphasize the power of God, his absolute mastery over all things for which it is appropriate to give him praise and worship. The Epistle text continues independently along the lectio continua line, working through 1Corinthians. The texts about the power of God are fitting as we prepare ourselves to see the power and majesty and glory of the divine Son of God shining through the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth next week.

Isaiah 40:21-31 – Having declared a message of comfort and good news for God’s people at the start of chis chapter, the rest of Isaiah 40 is dedicated to extolling God’s power and greatness. Comfort is assured because God is all-powerful. He is the creator of all things, eternal and compared to this eternal power we are a fleeting breath, a tiny insect or a bit of grass here today and gone tomorrow (vs. 21-24). Such is God’s power that no aspect of his creation is ever forgotten or lost to him (vs.25-26). So of course it is ludicrous to think that we can hide from God, or that we could accuse God of somehow being unfair to us. God is the source and power of all things, which should be a constant source of encouragement, a constant object of praise. We should expect that He will sustain us in the midst of all things, carrying us at last through death itself and beyond all adversity as surely as an eagel soars effortlessly above the struggles and dangers of the earth below.

Psalm 147:1-11 – A song of praise exhorting God’s people to worship him because it is appropriate. For one thing, He watches over his people, gathering them together. He is the source of healing for those who are sad. This is possible because of God’s power, so vast that He controls the heavens and therefore can protect his people from evil. Further praise goes to God for sending his creation all that is necessary to live and thrive. As such He is not impressed by feats of strength and examples of power, but rather desires the worship and love of those He has created.

1 Corinthians 9:16-27 – In the opening half of this chapter Paul responds perhaps to objections the Corinthians have expressed to his authority, perhaps insinuating or asserting that since he is not one of the Twelve, he isn’t really an apostle and shouldn’t expect to be treated as one. Paul objects to this on a variety of grounds before moving on in his thoughts to the kind of ministry he has been called to – a ministry that involves him adjusting himself to his environment and his tactics. With the Jews he is the observant Jew, yet when with Gentiles he does not allow his Jewish traditions to interfere with or complicate the Gospel message he preaches. He has given up his rights and privileges and even authority in order that he might convince as many people as possible of the truth of the Gospel.

Paul encourages his hearers to be as intentional in their lives and witness. There is a goal towards which they strain – the goal of being found in Christ at his return, and the secondary goal of drawing others into a similar relationship. Paul is willing to endure the scorn of the Corinthians if it means that they are drawn to Christ, but he also is willing to correct their misunderstanding or arrogance or ungratefulness, and clarify his own position as one not of exploiting them but rather relying on them to support and encourage his ministry both to them and others.

Mark 1:29-39 – The conclusion of the beginning of Mark’s gospel shows Jesus demonstrating his power not only over evil spirits but also physical maladies. Mark is clear in this passage that Jesus is doing both of these things. Some people assume that people in Jesus’ day were stupid and couldn’t tell the difference, but it’s clear that they did know the difference, and that they could discern the different effects of Jesus’ power and work. We might be inclined to assume that someone could fake demon possession or casting out demons, but getting rid of a fever and curing other known physical ailments would be more difficult to fake. Jesus becomes even more well known, and the people of Capernaum, where He appears to have based his ministry, may have felt a special relationship and ownership of him.

So the disciples indicating in the early morning hours that the town is already looking for him may imply more than at first glance. They wanted him to be their personal physician and healer and wonder-worker, and there was apparently enough need for such that they could keep him busy from early morning until the end of the day. Jesus has to clarify to his disciples that his mission and purpose is not to hang out his shingle as the town’s healer and demon-defeater. Rather, his mission has a larger scale. Two thousand years later we might better appreciate the full scope of his words. He doesn’t simply mean that He wants to visit Bethsaida or Nazareth or the other local towns. Rather, his mission would continue on from next town to next town, through his disciples and then through the Church, until everyone in the world would hear of the miraculous work of Jesus culminating in his death and resurrection, his ascension and promised return.

Jesus’ power was not local in nature but global – universal even. So wherever He went He exercised similar power and authority to the previous places He preached and ministered. Demons were cast out, the sick were healed, and most importantly the good news that the kingdom of God was near was proclaimed. It was this message that the exorcisms and healings were intended to point towards and provide validation of. The powers that held humanity captive – physical afflictions as well as spiritual oppression – were losing their power. Jesus came to destroy those not on just a limited scale geographically or historically, but throughout all time and space.

How Your Kids and Grandkids are Dating

January 25, 2018

Coming of age in the 80’s, the possibilities of who to date were limited by who I knew and what they knew about me.  Possibilities were limited to the social circles I moved in – school, work, and church.  In high school I thought it was exotic that some people would date people who went to a different school.  I went to a big high school (my graduating class had over 900 people in it), so while I might not know the girl who caught my eye, I could network socially (with actual real people, in person) to dig up information that would help me determine whether or not I they were someone I might be interested in asking out, and whether I stood a chance in asking them out.  Life was further simplified by the fact that regardless of the first answer, the second answer was nearly always a resounding no.

But I digress.

Things didn’t change a lot in the workplace.  You’d meet the new co-worker, chat a little bit around the copier, and between those interactions and the input of co-workers, figure out the answer to those same two questions.  Church was the same.

There were places you could go, of course, to meet different people that you might want to date but weren’t likely to meet at work or school or church.  But there were also stigmas to certain degrees about such encounters as well.   Bars, nightclubs, the local mall, video arcades.  I personally didn’t find those options terribly appealing or effective, but I know that some people did, and still do.

But people today of dating age evidently consider those options claustrophobic and very limiting.  Why limit yourself to potentially dating just people that you know casually at school or work, or have seen in those environments?  Aren’t more options always better than fewer?  How about eliminating the human factor in social networking and just rely solely on what a person looks like and how clever they can be in 2-3 sentences?  What could possibly go wrong?

So early on in the Internet, people were working out ways to meet people for romantic possibilities, and now in the age of mobile phones we have not only dating web sites where people can take the time and effort to input meaningful answers to help others determine if they might be compatible (or to make up completely false stuff they hope sounds good to others), but there are myriad dating apps that provide a face and a very short bio as the sole criteria for determining possible interest.

With little more than a face and a concise, curated online persona, they determine whether to swipe left (pass over) or swipe right (express interest in) to begin chatting and determining if they want to meet up in person.  But just because they meet in person doesn’t mean that they really know each other after texting each other or maybe talking on the phone.  In fact, odds are that they don’t even know the other person’s last name until well into the relationship, according to this Wall Street Journal essay.

Young folks now find it creepy that someone would want their last name, presumably to look up more information about them online.  So they’re not divulging last names in favor of nicknames until they determine the relationship is important enough to risk revealing their fuller online personality.  The story opens with a vignette of a young woman at dinner with a man she’s been dating for three months, and it’s at this point that he asks her for her last name, cluing her in that he was elevating the relationship level.  I’ll assume she didn’t know his last name either, and this wasn’t a problem for either of them.

Considering that in our culture having sex by the third date is considered normal (if not a bit on the late side), this means couples are doing a heck of a lot more than just having dinner together without knowing anything more about the other person than what that person chooses to tell them or show them on the date or via online texts and phone conversations.

Is it just me or is that really weird – regardless of the sex aspect of things?  It seems to highlight all sorts of things about how dating is approached these days.

  1.  People find it unsafe to share with a suitor the details they routinely share with the hundreds or thousands of acquaintances, friends and family they are connected with online.
  2. The assumption is that everyone is dating (or just hooking up with for casual sex) multiple people at any given time, therefore the need for more personal information is unnecessary unless the relationship is moving beyond the casual hang-out or hook-up to something more serious (and I presume exclusive).
  3. Actually having other people who can provide information helpful to us about someone who has caught our eye is a thing of the past.  Perhaps because of the 2nd item above, people prefer anonymity in dating, hiding their friends and family from who they’re seeing, and visa versa.
  4. Wanting to be able to validate that what someone claims is true about themselves is actually true is now seen as creepy and in itself a reason to potentially quit seeing the other person.

It’s not that people haven’t always been able to lie in relationships.  If you met a cute girl at the mall or a bar you had no idea whether what she told you about herself was true or not.  That was the understanding, at one level or another.  And perhaps part of the appeal.  And perhaps that’s why I never really found those dating options appealing.  It made much more sense to me to have a better idea of what I might be getting myself into rather than seeking out a series of essentially blind dates with people I knew nothing about.

But if this is now the norm for things, which I can’t help but think is problematic.  According to this Pew Research study from two years ago, while the stigma of online dating has declined, and while more people claim to be using online dating services and apps, only 5% of married couples at the time reported they met online.  I’d be curious what those rates are now.  If that rate remains low, it could indicate that people are using dating apps more for hook-ups and casual sex than with any real intention of a serious relationship.  Which would make the information they provide about themselves potentially even more suspect, which would justify not sharing any more about themselves than they absolutely have to – including last names.

Which means that people need to be honest about what they’re hoping for from online dating sites or apps, and regardless of their intentions personally, recognize what the intentions likely are of the people they’re hoping to meet.  Hoping to meet and date a stranger you meet by chance isn’t any less dangerous or unreliable than it ever has been.  But it likely is a lot more so.




True Spirituality – Section 1 – The Law and the Law of Love

January 24, 2018

This is the second in a series of posts analyzing Francis Schaeffer’s book True Spirituality.  You can find the first post here.

If we’re going to talk about what it means to live the Christian life, a life of true spirituality as a Christian, then we have to acknowledge that the only way such a discussion has any value is if those engaged in it are actually Christians.  It makes no sense to explore what the Christian life might look for anyone other than a professed Christian.  The challenge then becomes what is the definition of a Christian?  There are certainly no shortage of options.

Is being a Christian defined by your membership and participation in a particular expression of the Body of Christ, like the Roman Catholic Church or a Baptist Church?  There are folks in both those parts of the Christian body that would answer yes to this question, but I disagree that such positions are Biblically supported.  I can appreciate Rome’s argument that they are the one true Church because of apostolic succession, but apostolic succession isn’t a Biblical definition of what makes one a Christian, though it certainly is a nice tradition to be able to point to.

The Biblical definition of a Christian is one who looks to Jesus of Nazareth as both the human son of Mary and the divine Son of God, through whom alone we receive forgiveness and therefore reconciliation with God the Father.  Put more simply, I believe that my only hope of reconciliation with God the Father despite more moral guilt is the death and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ.  Nothing I do or say can improve upon or add to what Jesus did.  I can only accept it as being done for me, or I can reject it.  Accepting it makes me a Biblical Christian.  Rejecting it makes me something else.

All of this is wrapped up with that concept of moral guilt just mentioned.  I’ve not met anyone – of any philosophical or religious bent – that thinks they are perfect, completely free from flaw or moral guilt – a violation of some universal or personal standard of behavior.  Everyone I’ve ever talked to has been willing to admit that they aren’t the person they think they should be, let alone the person others think they should be or that any particular philosophical or theological tradition thinks they should be.  We all fall short.

Some will  say that there are no greater ramifications to this than a limited sense of disappointment or harm to others, that there is no Higher Power to be offended by these failures or that any possible Higher Power simply isn’t offended.  For such folks, the idea of the necessity of a Savior is confusing and complicated.  What do I need to be saved from?  What are the long-range ramifications of my moral failings?

The Bible asserts that there are long-range ramifications that can potentially be eternal.  The Bible asserts that there is a higher power, and that our moral failures and corresponding moral guilt is first and foremost an offense against this God, and only secondarily an offense against ourselves or others.  Your real problem isn’t your love of gossip, or your uncontrolled temper, or your lust or greed or whatever – your real problem is that these things are an offense against a holy and perfect God, the creator of all things including you, and the definer as well as the embodiment of the moral law you have violated (whether accidentally or intentionally).   Your lust may be a danger to yourself and others, but it is first and foremost an offense against the God who created you as well as the others that may be involved in your lust.

Having violated this moral law, having offended against the demand for perfection issued by a righteous and holy God, I have no way of making up for my violations.  I can neither stop them completely, nor in any way make up for past violations.  Saying sorry doesn’t cut it.  And I have nothing to offer the all-powerful Creator of the Universe in exchange or compensation for my offense.

Therefore, if there is to be any hope for reconciliation, it must be initiated by the very God whom I offend, and on his terms alone.  The Bible gives us the unlikely good news that God has indeed initiated this very thing, and details the specifics – accepting the death and resurrection of the perfect and holy Son of God as a gift to me, despite my sinfulness.  In faith, I receive the offered perfection of the Son of God and dressed in his blood-soaked clothes, I can stand before God and be pronounced holy and perfect and clean.

This is the starting point of the Christian life – my acknowledgement that such is my predicament and such is my hope and confidence for salvation.

I would argue this has nothing to do with emotion, though emotion may well be appropriate  at the moment these truths break through to one as real and true.  It doesn’t matter whether I feel saved or not.   What matters is whether this is my honest profession of faith.  Am I trusting God and his Word to me or am I not?

You can’t just act like a Christian, you have to be one, and being one requires your trusting the promises of God rather than rejecting them in favor of some alternative.

All that being said, what we have said is that accepting the promises of God the Father in God the Son by the power of God the Holy Spirit is the beginning of the discussion of and actual living out of the Christian life.  But it is only the beginning.  Schaeffer compares this to our physical birth.  Our physical birth is necessary as the condition for our existence in the physical world.  In that respect it is the most important aspect of our lives because it is the absolutely essential starting point of our lives in this world.  But from another perspective, it is the least important moment because once it’s done, it’s over with.  New things become of primary concern once we have been delivered into the physical world.

So our spiritual birth through profession of faith in Jesus  as our Lord and Savior is both the most and least important part of our Christian life, depending on your vantage point and what it is that you want to talk about.  Just as nobody would claim that, once being physically born there is nothing more to living life in the physical world, nobody should claim that the moment of placing one’s faith in Jesus for forgiveness of moral guilt against a perfect and holy God is the end of the story of the Christian life.  Theologians distinguish this act of putting our trust in Jesus as our savior as justification, and the living out the Christian life now made possible because of this faith as sanctification.  Being broken and sinful (despite being forgiven), we are ever tempted to switch these two around, putting the cart before the horse and making the living of a Christian life a prerequisite for saving faith in Jesus.

The question for the new (and old) Christian is what next?  For an adult convert to Christianity this may most often take the form of a list of things once considered acceptable but which are not acceptable now that this person claims is a follower of Jesus.  But the Christian life is not simply a matter of Thou Shalt Nots.  Naturally there are those Christians who realize this and may react against the list of requirements and insist that they should be done away with.  This might be appropriate, unless what one is really getting at is the desire to do the things prohibited by the lists of Thou Shalt Nots.  If your ultimate goal is just making the Christian life easier, or more palatable to non-Christians, you’re headed down the wrong path just as surely as those who make the Christian life all about following zealously the Thou Shalt Nots.

Luther dealt with the Law and the Christian life in this way:

A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to  none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.

That is because behind the Law – the Ten Commandments and every other instruction from God to his people whether universal or particular –  there is a deeper Law, the Law of Love.  The Law that says my ultimate concern is less the minute attendance to the Law, but how my attendance to the Law expresses love towards God and neighbor.  Jesus was rather critical of the Pharisees who gloried in their self-righteousness but lacked love for others (Matthew 23:4).  The Law is not given to make us miserable, but rather to show us how to love our neighbor and our God.  The spiritual life of a Christian should be a realization of this more and more, which of course transforms the reason why we seek to obey the requirements of the Law.  Not out of peer pressure or a sense of self-righteousness, but because we trust that in observing the Law, we are more apt to be loving God and our neighbor.

Thus obedience to the Law is always primarily an inward, internal thing.  It may well manifest itself externally, but this is not a good indicator of the inward rationale.  I may not kill someone, but that doesn’t show whether I really love them or am simply afraid of going to prison.  So as we consider the Christian life and Christian spirituality, we need to distinguish between an external, loveless adherence to the Law (which Jesus was constantly criticizing others for) and an adherence to the Law motivated primarily by love for God and love for neighbor rather than out of fear or a desire to be accepted by others.

To move towards this is to intentionally cultivate a trust and reliance on God for all things and in all things.  The ways that I sin against God and against others tend to happen when I am not trusting God and resting in his provision, but rather out to procure for myself, on my terms, what it  is I think I need or want.  Thus the Law against coveting is really the first Law broken before any of  the other nine are!

The Christian is called to trust God’s promises that as St. Paul writes in Romans 8 for those who love God all things work together for good.  That means both in my blessings as well as in the areas that I wish were different.  Both in my victories as well as my struggles.  Both in my satisfaction as well as my malcontent.  If I don’t have something that I think I ought to, or that I really want, I have to trust that, rather than resorting to sinful means to procure it, I need to trust that  God the Holy Spirit is perhaps using my lack or want for his purposes, which are always good (unlike mine!).

In the Christian life, therefore, each moment I have a decision to make – will I give thanks to God for his good gifts, or will I focus rather on what I don’t have and cultivate a sense of bitterness or entitlement that quickly leads me to coveting sinfully and then sinning in thought, word, or deed?  Part of Christian spirituality then is to deal with life moment by moment, opting intentionally to trust that whether I am particularly pleased about something or not, God the Holy Spirit is still capable of working all things towards good.  I am never justified in sinfully violating God’s will in me.

Another way of saying it might be this:  The Christian confesses a faith and trust in an all-mighty and all-knowing God, and also an all-loving God.  God has created every individual in the context of a struggle between good and evil.  Every Christian is called to resist evil as they are enabled, to fight against it in their particular context or vocation.  But trust in such a God means that we ought to trust him to put us where in this struggle He knows best.  And that we trust that his decision is not arbitrary but ultimately for our best and good.  This should assist us as we strive (like St. Paul) to be content (trusting of God) in all things.

Finally, if we are to begin describing the Christian life we can’t simply speak in terms of what is forbidden, the Thou Shalt Nots.  Rather, we must speak both in those negatives but also in positives.  Not only what we in our sinful brokenness are restrained from but the blessings we are promised, the gifts of God’s Holy Spirit and the fruit they produce in our life.  The Christian life cannot be described simply by what we don’t do, but I think that for many people (Christians included) this is the first way we think of it.   I’m a Christian so I don’t fool around before I’m married.  I’m a Christian so I don’t kill people.  These are all well and true, but they are external aspects of an internal spirituality, and they are ultimately only part of the story.  If the negative aspects of the internal Christian life – the Thou Shalt Nots have an external  manifestation, then it should be equally expected that positive, cultivated aspects of the internal Christian life will also have external manifestations.


True Spirituality – Preface

January 23, 2018

This knowledge puffs up, but love builds up….And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died.  Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.  

1 Corinthians 8:1b, 11-12

This is part of the Epistle lesson assigned for this Sunday.  It’s a powerful passage, and it has much to do with several different issues that have been raised in our congregation in the past three months.  At heart it is a reminder that our goal is not to be right, but to ensure  that what we do is not injurious to the faith of a brother or sister in Christ.  Throughout my life this has been a lesson I have been trying to learn and share with others in Christian community, a lesson that is rarely well-received and is often the first to be forgotten the moment there is a disagreement about something or other.  As our community strives to make decisions together, and as my community struggles in part with depression and other aspects of living the Christian life, these verses and others from Paul are so very helpful to me.  They don’t necessarily make things easier, but that’s not Paul’s point.

I pair these words with these words from Francis Shaeffer’s introduction to his book True Spirituality:

Gradually I saw that the problem was that with all the teaching I had received after I was a Christian, I had heard little about what the Bible says about the meaning of the finished work of Christ for our present lives. 

The Christian faith is not simply a moral code.  Nor is it simply the guarantee of a happy ending after death.  Rather, it is an assertion that how we live here and now has purpose and meaning both to ourselves and the world around us.  We do what we do (and refrain from certain other things) not out of a legalistic coldness but out of the understanding that the Biblical teachings about how to live have a definite impact not just on ourselves but on those around us.

What a beautiful thing to remember.  In joy or in sorrow, in conflict or in harmony, our goal is to reflect the love of Christ in our lives to one another.  That this is not only a goal but an expectation – something that can be achieved (little by little and of course imperfectly always) here and now, today.  Not by some sort of mystical escape to  a mountaintop away from the issues of daily life, but in that daily life itself.

While I reviewed this book a while ago, I’m going to start blogging through it – something I haven’t done a lot of for years.  But I want to capture my thoughts as I go through it again to create a study for our members (or anyone else) that will help them deal with the why and how and what of the Christian life, and how it affects everything we do and say and think and feel.

A&tCL V – Joshua Through 2 Chronicles

January 22, 2018

This post is part of a series on Alcohol & the Christian Life.  It is a continuation of this post.  I am systematically examining every verse in the Bible that deals with wine (and by extension strong drink or alcoholic beverages) to better understand the Biblical stance on alcohol as part of the life of God’s people.


The book of Joshua doesn’t mention wine at all.

Judges mentions it in chapters 9, 13 and 19.  In Judges 9 wine (tirosh) is mentioned in a metaphorical way as the appropriate business of a vine as opposed to some other business.   Judges 13 is the beginning of the story of Samson.  13:4 indicates that Samson’s mother is to have neither wine (yayin) or strong (alcoholic) drink of any kind as part of her special preparation.  Up till this point in her life she has been unable to conceive, but she receives an angelic visitation letting her know that she is going to conceive, and because of the special nature of her future son, she herself is to observe certain things, including abstaining from alcoholic drinks and unclean foods.  She repeats his instructions to her husband in verse 7.  Verse 14 has the angel repeating his instructions to both the woman and her husband.  By implication, wine and strong drink are understood to be at least potentially commonplace activities that she is to avoid.  The warning against unclean foods could indicate that this has also become commonplace given the overall description of the time of Judges as a generation who no longer knew who the Lord was or what He had done for their forefathers (Judges 2:10).  Judges 19:19 mentions wine (yayin) as part of the hospitality offered to a traveler, and seems to indicate that this was a commonplace practice.

Ruth 2:14 sometimes is translated as including wine, but it is one of only two verses in the Old Testament that use the Hebrew chometz, and a better translation may well be vinegar.  It’s something that bread is dipped into and seems more like a condiment than a drink or something expressly alcoholic.

1 & 2 Samuel both contain a few references to wine.  1 Samuel makes reference in chapters 1, 10, 16 and 25, and 2 Samuel makes references in chapters 13 and 16.  In all cases the Hebrew word yayin is used.  1 Samuel 1 is the story of Hannah and Eli, and the basic premise is that Eli accuses Hannah of being drunk when she really is just overcome with emotion.  So the references in verses 14, 15, and 24 are all in that context.  The first two contain his accusation and her rebuttal, and verse 24 is a list of the items that she brought to sacrifice to God in thanksgiving for becoming pregnant.   1 Samuel 10:3 simply lists wine as one of the items three men will be carrying with them.  1 Samuel 16:20 likewise just lists wine as one of the items that David’s father sends with young David to his brothers at war.  1 Samuel 25 is the story of the unkindess of a man named Nabal that nearly costs him his life.  Were it not for his much wiser wife, Abigail, his wealth would lay in ruins.  Wine is listed both as an item that she brings to David and his men as a gift, as well as something that Nabal overindulges in.  Nabal is described as a man with several character faults that perhaps could be summarized around pride or greed, but which also include at least occasional drunkenness.  The drunkenness is more of an aspect of his overall failure to be grateful for all God has given him than an issue in and of itself.  In 2 Samuel 13:28  Absalom commands his followers to kill his brother Amnon when Amnon is merry with wine.  It’s reasonable to conclude that he means when Amnon is drunk and therefore unable to realize what is about to happen or adequately defend himself or marshal others to defend him.  Clearly this is an indication of one of the problems with drunkenness – it renders us less able to deal with situations appropriately and others are well aware of this and can use it to their advantage.  Similar in this respect to Lot’s daughters in Genesis 19, excessive drinking is portrayed in an unfavorable and dangerous light because it can weaken our ability to recognize or resist sin, whether our own or the sin that others seek to perpetrate.  2 Samuel 16 lists wine as one of several gifts presented to David.

Of  1 Kings and 2 Kings, only 2 Kings 18:32 mentions wine (tirosh) at all.  Here it is mentioned as one of several blessings that the King of Assyria will give to the inhabitants of Jerusalem if they surrender to him rather than continuing to resist based on the orders of King Hezekiah.

1 and 2 Chronicles mention wine several times.  In the majority of these verses it is yayin that is used, and I’ll cover these first.  1 Chronicles 9:29, 1 Chronicles 12:40 and 1 Chronicles 27:27 each list wine as part of a larger list of inventory items with no further mention or attention paid to it.  Likewise with 2 Chronicles 2:10 & 15, as well as 2 Chronicles 11:11.  2 Chronicles also contains two instances where tirosh is used instead of yayin for wine.  2 Chronicles 31:5 and 32:28 also simply list wine among other commodities without other comment about it, and there seems to be no difference between the choice of yayin or tirosh in any of these verses.

In each of these books wine is treated as an accepted and normal part of life for God’s people.  Certainly it can be abused, and when that happens bad things can happen.  But it remains a constant background in terms of hospitality and a sign of God’s blessing to his creation.






YFA – January 21, 2018

January 21, 2018
A Weekly Devotional Aid
  • Sunday – Reflect Upon Today’s Sermon & Service
  • Monday – Old Testament Lesson – Deuteronomy 18:15-20
    • How is God’s plan of salvation in Jesus considerate of us (v.16)?
    • Is Jesus the only or the ultimate fulfillment of this prophesy?
  • Tuesday – Epistle Lesson – 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
    • What is Paul’s opinion of knowledge as opposed to love (vs.1-3)?
    • How should we show concern for those with weaker faith?
  • Wednesday – Gospel Lesson – Mark 1:21-28
    • What might be the reason for the demon-possessed man’s visit (v.23)?
    • Why might the demon presume Jesus has come to destroy them?
  • Thursday Psalm 111
    • Which of the Lord’s works are you fond of remembering (v.2)?
    • How do you practice fearing the Lord (v.10)?
  • Friday – Luther’s Small Catechism – The Eighth Commandment
    • How are you most likely to break this commandment?
    • Who in your life do you have the most trouble speaking well of?
  • Saturday – (LSB #790) Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
    • What needful thing has the Lord provided to you (v.2)?
    • How has the Lord prospered your work (v.3)?

YFA – January 28, 2018

January 21, 2018

A Weekly Devotional Aid

  • Sunday – Reflect on Today’s Sermon & Service
  • Monday – Old Testament – Isaiah 40:21-31
    • What is one way we are to know of God’s power (v.21)
    • How do verses 28-31 encourage you today?
  • Tuesday – Epistle – 1 Corinthians 9:16-27
    • What distinction does Paul make in v.21 and why?
    • What should be the primary goal of our lives (v.24)?
  • Wednesday – Gospel – Mark 1:29-39
    • How do the people of Capernaum respond to Jesus’ ministry (v.37)?
    • How do you make time to pray each day?
  • Thursday Psalm 147:1-11
    • How has God healed you when you were brokenhearted (v.3)?
    • What does the Lord take pleasure in (v.11)?
  • Friday – Luther’s Small Catechism – The Ninth Commandment
    • When have you been tempted to covet your neighbor’s property?
    • What do you do each day to protect your neighbor’s property?
  • Saturday – (LSB #802) Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise
    • Why does the hymnist describe God as invisible and inaccessible (ST 1)?
    • On what basis do stanzas 2 & 3 exhort us to praise?


Reading Ramblings – January 28, 2018

January 21, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany – January 28, 2018

Texts: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28

Context: We continue in Ordinary Time (though denoted as Sundays after the Epiphany), and a chronological progression through Mark’s Gospel account. We also continue the lectio continua through 1 Corinthians. Between the reading from Deuteronomy and the Gospel lesson, there is an emphasis on the authority of Jesus, an authority prophesied by Moses and affirmed by the people who see Jesus command unclean spirits to depart. This is the first miraculous working that Mark records, though we know based on John’s gospel that it isn’t the first of Jesus’ miracles. It’s definitely one of his first public miracles though. Moses warned the people of God to be on the lookout for a greater prophet than himself. And though Moses’ hearers would likely have assumed he was talking about someone within their lifetime, his words certainly find their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth, who like Moses would act as the intercessor between God the Father and creation.

Deuteronomy 18:15-20 – God’s people are to watch and wait for a future prophet. He will share a unique relationship with God the Father just as Moses has. This prophet will be one of God’s people – a human intercessor as Moses was the go-between the Israelites and God the Father. But what this future prophet speaks is very important, because failure to respond to it will result in divine judgment. All of which might make people nervous – how will they know a legitimate prophet? The test is simple – a false prophet will speak something the Lord has not commanded, and what he prophesies will not come true. The penalty for the one who presumes to speak on God’s behalf is death. The trustworthy prophet is the one enabled by God to predict some future event that does indeed come true. Thus, Jesus’ prophesy of his arrest, crucifixion, burial and resurrection are critical for fulfilling Moses’ instructions. This passage should also serve as a warning to those who would claim divine authority for their pronouncements!

Psalm 111 – God is to be praised at all times and in all things. He provides in many ways for his people (food, wealth, prestige, redemption) his covenant with his people takes pre-eminent place. Within his covenant He reveals the way that we should live, a way that is consistently shown to be true and superior to any other suggestions. This justifies the study of his word as a source of delight (v.2) as well as wisdom. To the one who wants to be or presumes to be wise, the first necessary step towards that goal is the fear of God, a proper understanding of the relationship between the God who created all things, and we who are his creations designed to praise and glorify him.

1 Corinthians 8:1-13 – A fascinating passage on the relationship between truth and love as we apply it in our lives. Paul has been questioned by the Corinthians as to whether or not they are permitted to eat food sacrificed to idols. In Corinth the various worship cults would have places where you could get food to eat as well. Should they avoid at any cost such food, or food that may have been sacrificed? Paul first begins with the truth – there are no other gods and therefore there is no difference qualitatively in food offered to idols than food that has not been. It as not as though the offering of the food to idols has in any way changed it, or made it theologically harmful in some way. This is truth, and those who understand this are correct in their understanding as opposed to those who think such food is somehow impure or sinful.

But Paul doesn’t simply answer a theological question, he drives further to say that what we do should be done in love and concern for our brothers and sisters in the faith, some of whom may have a different understanding based on their personal experiences. For these people, our correct theological stance is not in and of itself justification for our actions. Rather, we need to temper our actions with love and concern for our brothers and sisters in the faith. Because more important than being proved right is acting out of love and concern for one another, soas to avoid endangering someone else’s faith. Paul advocates limiting our Christian freedom and limiting the application of truth in favor of protecting the weak faith of a brother or sister in the faith. I’m sure that Paul would have approved of working in love with this brother or sister to better their understanding and confidence, but in the meantime he advocates limiting his own (and our) liberty on their behalf.

Mark 1:21-28 – Jesus faces the first threat to his ministry – a demon-possessed man intent on causing confusion and sewing seeds of discord among Jesus’ hearers. This is a frequent tactic of the demons – their identification of Jesus is not purely to show off their perceptiveness, but rather also to cause his hearers and followers to conjure ideas of who and what Jesus was and should be. Such confusion is something Jesus seeks to avoid throughout his ministry, avoiding the titles of Messiah or Holy One of God in favor of less politically and theologically charged titles such as Son of Man. The demons know who Jesus is, but Jesus also knows who they are, and his power is infinitely superior to theirs. If they intend to thwart Jesus’ ministry, they are sadly mistaken. Here as elsewhere Jesus demonstrates his complete mastery of the situation – and the demonic elements involved.

This authority prompts fevered whispering. Could Jesus be the prophet that Moses prophesied about? They are impressed initially with his teaching, a teaching that isn’t simply a repetition of Scripture and various rabbinical opinions about it, but rather an authoritative teaching centered in his own interpretation. But the demonstration of his power is what gets people talking about him. By casting out the demon He demonstrates a power that goes beyond just a winsome way of explaining Scripture. He brings with him the good gifts of God to his people, freeing them not just from ignorance but from the active efforts of evil to keep them from the peace and joy intended for them at creation.

So we continue to evaluate the many voices around us, looking for the sources of their authority and in some cases power. We listen carefully to see whether they presume to say things that God hasn’t told us, or more importantly to contradict what God has told us. We watch for other reasons we should take their pronouncements seriously, placing the burden of proof on God to reveal his true witnesses, rather than on we who are easily fooled and misled. God the Holy Spirit is still at work in the world, but so is evil, so are charlatans, so are those who seek not to lead and guide and nurture God’s people but rather exploit them for their own personal benefit. We are to be wise, and that wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord and the thorough study and knowledge of what He has said to us!

ANF – The Encyclical Epistle of the Church at Smyrna

January 17, 2018

This post is one of a series of reviews of the early Church Fathers, who are technically referred to as the Ante-Nicene Fathers (before the Council of Nicaea).  To find other reviews of these ancient writings, use the search bar on my blog and search for ANF.

An encyclical describes a letter that was sent from one Church to the next within a given area.  It was a means by which the words of one person (often a Bishop) could be shared with multiple congregations without the need for the Bishop to send multiple letters himself.  Over time the term has come to mean any official correspondence sent by a Bishop, and now refers specifically to official letters from the Roman Catholic Pope.  The word derives from the Latin encyclios, which means circle or round, and is the same root word for our English word encyclopedia.

Thus, The Encyclical Epistle of the Church at Smyrna.  Sent from the Church at Smyrna (one of the seven churches addressed in the Revelation of St. John) to the Church at Philomelium.  Some versions of this document say Philadelphia instead of Philolium, perhaps in deference to the book of Revelation, but the textual evidence supports Philolium better.  The letter was then copied and sent to other congregations nearby.  The bulk of the letter is a detailed account of the martyrdom of Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna.  He was the twelfth Christian to be martyred in Smyrna, and undoubtedly the one of highest rank in the Church, thus occasioning the letter.

These Christians were referred to as Atheists – those who refused to accept a multiplicity  of gods and instead insisted on there being only one God.  The letter recounts the details of several other martyrs, including a Germanicus who, when sentenced to death by wild animals with other Christians fought against the animals and had them kill him first.  Mention is also made of Quintus, who apparently thought that the right thing to do was to surrender voluntarily to Roman authorities and accept martyrdom.  Yet when he was faced with martyrdom by wild beasts, Quintus grew afraid and agreed to offer sacrifices to other gods and denounce Christ.  The letter asserts the policy, based on this situation, that people should not actively offer themselves up for martyrdom because this is not directed by Scripture.

The letter describes Polycarp’s prophetic dream whereby he knows how he will be martyred – by fire.  But then when his martyrdom arrives, the fire is unable to touch him, and he has to be killed by a sword instead.  I love Polycarp’s response when asked/commanded to denounce Christ and offer sacrifices to pagan gods – Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury:  how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?

Polycarp’s martyrdom is attended to with miracles.  He tells them not to nail him in place because God the Holy Spirit will ensure he doesn’t attempt to escape the flames.  When the fire is kindled it does not touch or harm him in any way.  When the sword pierces his left side, in addition to a flow of blood (likely because his heart is pierced) a dove also emerges.  There is controversy over this latter detail though, and some early copies (Eusebius) omit it all together as incorrect.  The Greek for dove looks similar to the Greek word for “on the left side” and could possibly be an error in copying.

This is likely the first of the martyrologies – works recounting the deaths of Christians on account of their faith.  It serves as both a warning to what awaits those who persist in the faith, as well as an encouragement that, even in the hour of death, God does not abandon his children, and will give them the necessary courage to endure whatever is put upon them.

A&tCL IV – the Rest of the Pentateuch

January 16, 2018

This post is part of a series of posts on Alcohol & the Christian Life.  It is a continuation of this post, which deals with wine/alcohol as mentioned in Genesis.  I am systematically examining every verse in Scripture that addresses wine in one way or another as a means of understanding more clearly how Scripture addresses the role of wine and alcohol as part of the life of God’s people. 

Exodus only mentions wine once – 29:40.  Contextually, this chapter continues God’s details to his people for how they will worship him, and specifically this verse is part of the detail of the daily offering that will be burned by the priests on the altar.  Yayin is the Hebrew word used here, and I think that overall, the verse demonstrates again that wine is part of the lives of God’s people and so it is part of a daily offering to God.

Leviticus contains two mentions of wine, both using the Hebrew yayinLeviticus 10 is an interesting passage.  It describes the death of Aaron’s two sons, who were serving as priests and took it upon themselves to make an incense offering to God that was not required.  This seems to be a liturgical issue, where they are doing something not prescribed by God for worship.  Scripture is silent on their motivations for doing this.  While we meet Nadab and Abihu in Exodus, no comment is made about them until this incident.  Based on 10:9, perhaps God was judging them for serving in an intoxicated state.  Perhaps even with good intentions, while intoxicated they took it upon themselves to innovate in a matter of worship and were punished for it.  That’s speculation, but it would help explain why God sees it necessary to warn against drinking before entering his presence.

Note that the prohibition is not a general one, but specific.  They are not to drink either wine or other strong drink – so here is a Hebrew word with a broader semantic domain than wine – shekar (7941), which is loosely translated as any strong (alcoholic) drink.  It also has semantic links with another Hebrew word for drunkenness (shakar).  Shekar appears 23 times in the Old Testament.

Leviticus 23 is another passage dealing with appropriate sacrifices and includes wine (yayin).

Numbers has several mentions of wine.  Numbers 6:3, 20  are part of the details of the Nazirite vow, and in addition to yayin also mention shekar.  The Nazirite vow is a formal dedication of a person to a particular vow or promise, and entails an outwards manifestation of that vow in how they look (they don’t cut their hair) as well as what they do (no contact with anything that comes from the grape fine as well as other cultic requirements).  By inference, it would seem that wine is once again a typical part of people’s regular lives, and so the Nazirite vows remove the person from that day-to-day routine until the completion of their vow.

Numbers 15:5, 7 & 10 as well as Numbers 28:14 all have to do with sacrifices, and all utilize yayin.

Numbers 18:12 utilizes tirosh.  The section has to do with what the priests and their families are entitled  to from the sacrifices of God’s people, including the best of the offered oil and wine.  God’s priests are not prohibited from God’s blessing to his creation in wine.

Finally, the last book of the Books of Moses, Deuteronomy, has multiple mentions of wine utilizing yayin, tirosh, and for the first time (and only time in the Old Testament) enab.

Enab appears in Deuteronomy 32:14, which is an extended song that Moses composes, summarizing God’s history with his people thus far.  The use of enab here may be entirely poetic.  It is part of a section summarizing the great and lavish care that God provided to his people, and I don’t see any contextual reason to treat this as anything other than a synonym for yayin or tirosh.  In other words, there is no contextual reason to think that God provided his people, as summarized by Moses, with something other than wine as we know it and is referenced elsewhere.  I don’t think Moses is claiming that God only provided his people with non-alcoholic wine.

Yayin is used in Deuteronomy 14:26, 28:39, 29:6, and 32:33 and 38.  Deuteronomy 14 is interesting because here God’s people are clearly told that they can enjoy both wine and strong drink (shekar).  Once they enter the Promised Land and take possession of it and begin to live off the land, they are to set aside a portion of their annual produce in order to take it and feast on it where God directs them to – mostly likely wherever the Ark of the Covenant is currently located.  This includes grain (bread), oil, meat, and wine.  If they live far away from the designated location, they are allowed to sell what they have set aside for money, and to take that money with them to the designated place and there purchase these things to enjoy.  In other words, God is commanding his people to relax and enjoy what God has provided as a means of thanking God for what He has provided.  He specifically wants them to eat and drink in his presence and by doing so to give thanks to him for what He has provided!

Deuteronomy 28:39 is part of a section outlining the curses that God will visit upon his people if they forget their covenant and abandon his directives.  Part of that curse is that their vineyards will be devoured by worms resulting in a lack of wine.

Deuteronomy 29:6 is a summation of the experience of God’s people with God since He brought them out of Egypt.  Their condition is one of being wanderers, unable to produce anything and reliant completely on the providence of God.  He has fed them with manna and quail and water because they have not been able to grow grain, cultivate herds, or plant vineyards.  As such, they have not had wine or strong drink, but God has still watched over them and provided for them, just as their clothes and shoes didn’t wear out despite their long sojourn in the wilderness and their inability to easily produce new ones.

Deuteronomy 32:33 & 38 is from Moses’ song mentioned earlier, and is prophetically describing how God’s people will wander from him and how they will suffer.  How they will take his blessings and turn from the one who gives them.  It is a prophetic indictment against apostasy, and is not concerned specifically with wine beyond it being shorthand for part of God’s blessings to his people.

Tirosh is used in Deuteronomy 7:13, 11:14, 12:17, 14:23, 18:4, 28:51 and 33:28.  Deuteronomy 7:13 and 11: 14 are both references to how God will bless his people.  Deuteronomy 12:17 is linked with chapter 14 (and therefore 14:23) in reference to the proper use of the tithe that they are to be setting aside through the year.  Deuteronomy 18:4 is a directive to God’s people on what they are to provide for the priests through their tithes.  Deuteronomy 28:51 is a description of God’s curses to his people if (when!) they abandon his covenant, and this includes destruction of their vineyards and wine in addition to other staples of life.  Finally, Deuteronomy 33:28 is part of Moses’ final blessing on God’s people, tribe by tribe.  Specifically is part of the final, more general blessing over all of God’s people.

So the first specific Biblical warning against alcohol occurs in the context of God’s priests who are attending to their duties.   They are not to show up for service in the Tabernacle (Tent of Meeting) intoxicated or having recently imbibed any alcoholic drink.  That certainly sounds like wise advice!  Overall the Books of Moses are very consistent in their use of either yayin or tirosh when referencing wine, demonstrating no clear difference in meaning between these two words.