Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

Evaluating Risk

May 26, 2020

Yesterday Governor Newsom announced religious institutions would be permitted to resume worship and other services. Stipulations and requirements are of course, well, required. Our congregational leadership has been preparing for this for some time and we’re ready to roll. But of course there is inevitably – and appropriately – the nagging question of whether it’s safe to do church again.

Lots of voices weigh in on this. My ecclesiastical supervisor issued a notice today encouraging pastors in his jurisdiction to not rush back to holding worship services again, but to make sure they have properly followed the instructions outlined by the Governor to protect their parishioners. Judicious advice. And while I’m sure there are a few hard-headed pastors out there who are hell-bent on starting worship again without any consideration for their parishioners, I trust they are a very small minority. I trust most pastors care a great deal about their parishioners and shudder at the thought that, perhaps, regardless of preparations and precautions, one of them might happen to catch something at church that leads to serious illness or death.

Should we sing? Should I wear a mask? The what-ifs abound. Despite very low occurrences of COVID-19 in our county it’s still a concern. Given the age of my parishioners the concerns are not unwarranted. Now, as always, I desire that worship not be an associated cause of death for anyone. Now that we know about a new virus, are additional concerns warranted?

Part of that concern is due, no doubt, in part to early reports of super-infection events concerning churches, reports that no doubt led to not just a shutdown of religious institutions but added ammunition for shutting down most institutions in general. Perhaps the first and most widely cited such event occurred on March 10th, a week before the statewide shutdowns started, and occurred at a small Presbyterian church in Mt. Vernon, Washington. Sixty some members of the church choir assembled for practice and within short order more than 40 of them were infected with Coronavirus and at least two died from it. Truly a horrific event that would haunt a pastor for the rest of his or her life.

But what if there was more to the story? What if it wasn’t simply a matter of a church choir? What if additional details weakened the link with churches and singing? Does that eliminate the possible risk to my people? No, it doesn’t. Are individuals and churches more informed and aware and in a better condition to practice reasonable cautions now than we were two months ago? Undoubtedly.

Still the effort to link houses of worship – particularly Christian ones – to COVID-19 spread and as justifying continued restrictions and modifications to worship persist. Consider this story from just last week. The headline makes it sound like this just happened – some crazy church someplace met in defiance of orders and now look what happened! Confirmation bias from the headline alone is pretty powerful.

But if you read the story, it has to do with a church event back in early March. March 6-8 to be specific. Not just a worship service but a multi-day children’s event. The article doesn’t indicate whether it was a retreat style event with children sleeping at the church. But it’s clear it’s not just a typical church event, and I’m guessing there’s more than a good chance that many of those present were not members or attenders of the church. Yet the headline and lead off of the article stresses the need for churches to either remain restricted or modify their services to protect the public.

But there is still risk. I argue there has always been risk. I have members paranoid about deranged shooters showing up, and certainly that’s a risk. We have flu season every year and for many of my folks the flu could be every bit as fatal as the Coronavirus, yet we continue to have church. Over the years many members have fallen, suffered seizures and other health crises during worship. Does that mean church should not meet? Does it mean Christians should be afraid lest injury or illness or death strike during worship?

At the end of the day, we know quite a lot. We know that one of two events is going to bring life as we know it and experience it personally to an end. Either each one of us will die, or our Lord will return to bring creation history to fulfillment and usher in something much greater and larger and better. Barring the occasional Enoch or Elijah, I can guarantee that one of these two events will affect every single one of my members. What we don’t know is the when and how.

But the Biblical injunction in uncertain times is always the same – don’t be afraid. Don’t be an idiot, either, but don’t be afraid.

God’s words to Abram in Genesis 15? Don’t be afraid. What did Moses command the Israelites, caught between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army? Fear not. God’s command to Joshua as he takes over Moses’ role as leader of the Israelites? Be courageous. Jonathon’s words to David as he fled Saul under threat of death? Don’t be afraid. Elijah’s words to the widow and her son who were preparing to die of starvation, when Elijah asked her to use the last of their foodstores to help feed him? Don’t be afraid. God’s message to Joseph in a dream after Joseph discovered Mary was pregnant before they were fully married? Don’t be afraid. The angels’ words to the shepherds before announcing the birth of the Messiah? Fear not.

Followers of Christ are not to be people of fear, and this takes tangible expression in how we live our lives and make decisions. Risk and danger are all around us – will we live in perpetual fear of drunk drivers or nuclear missiles or contaminated drinking water or COVID-19? No. We will use the brains God has given us and we will trust in our God, knowing that He has conquered all things in Christ and even our own health and death has been conquered by Christ. We don’t seek to die, but if and when we do we do so in the confidence we will live again.

Christian worship is the expression and articulation of this faith and anticipation. As we join our voices of praise with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven we proclaim the dead are not gone but saints with Christ in glory, as we one day will also be. And that all of us will stand with Job and gaze upon our Redeemer with our own eyes.

So as churches open – and bookstores and movie theaters and sporting events eventually – we live our lives using the brains God gave us. This may mean we wait a little longer than others before showing back up for worship or using our season tickets to the Lakers. If that seems wisest given our own health condition, so be it. But each person will need to eventually make a decision whether they will live in fear or not. I can’t make that call for them, I can only try to show what it looks like to live confidently in my own life. Failures and all.

Reading Ramblings – May 31, 2020

May 24, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: Pentecost Sunday – May 31, 2020 – COVID-19

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

Context: Fifty days after Passover, Pentecost is the Greek word for the Hebrew festival of Shavuot, also known as the Feast of Weeks, primarily a harvest celebration. However the Jewish people also associated Shavuot with the giving of the Law to Moses at Mt. Sinai. So there is great significance that it was during this festival celebration the Holy Spirit was poured out first on the disciples and then on all those who were brought to faith in Jesus by the Holy Spirit. The symbolic timing would not be lost on those Jews gathered together and listening to the disciples speaking miraculously in languages they did not know, perfectly understandable to a broad cross section of Jews gathered from around the Roman world for this special festival celebration. The God of the Bible continues to pour out his blessings on his people, marking special occasions such as the creation of his chosen people Israel at Mt. Sinai, and the expanded people of Israel through faith at Pentecost.

Numbers 11:24-30 – Moses is tasked with leading perhaps as many as two million people through a desert wasteland where they are daily dependent upon God to satisfy their needs for food and water and safety. Needless to say, they are not always pleased with how God chooses to do this, quickly forgetting the laborious slavery and genocidal policies He delivered them from in Egypt. Their constant complaining is a burden to Moses, a responsibility he is unable to handle on his own. God’s solution is to provide assistance. Moses is instructed to gather 70 leaders of the people. These men would have come from each of the twelve tribes (though 70 isn’t neatly divisible by 12. It could be that larger tribes would have more leaders to watch over them) and would already be held in high regard by the people (v.16). But that esteem and regard was not enough. To properly lead and guide the people of God, these leaders needed the very Holy Spirit of God, and so God the Father shared the power and presence of God the Holy Spirit among these 70 persons as well as continuing to abide with Moses himself. Joshua’s response to the Holy Spirit’s presence even with those who had not obeyed the summons to assemble is understandable – why should they benefit from the Holy Spirit? Isn’t the Holy Spirit something to be guarded and restricted? Moses understands better though. What could be better than the abiding presence of the Spirit of God with every one of God’s people? What should better guide and keep the people of God in unity and obedience if not the indwelling Holy Spirit? Moses’ words foreshadow Pentecost, when God will indeed pour out the Holy Spirit upon all believers!

Psalm 25:1-15 – In Hebrews this psalm is an acrostic with the ongoing theme of the necessity and importance of being taught by God. The opening line of the psalm is a visualization of prayer itself, a lifting of and presenting to God of oneself in acknowledgement that all we have comes from God and is dependent upon him. In contrast to the speakers’ enemies, who are presumed by their actions to be enemies of God as well, the speaker desires most to learn (vs.4-5). This is the major blessing of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God, opening minds and hearts in obedience to the will and Word of God where alone we can find reliable and truthful guidance through our lives. While we may obsess over the acts of power the Holy Spirit works through the disciples on Pentecost and all through the book of Acts, these acts of power are secondary and dependent upon the disciples acceptance of divine wisdom and guidance. As such these acts of power are no longer to be interpreted as the arbitrary initiative of the apostles, but rather as their obedient following of the Holy Spirit’s prompting to heal, cast out demons, raise the dead, and work other powerful signs and wonders as well.

Acts 2:1-21 – Jesus granted his disciples the Holy Spirit on Easter evening (John 20:19-23) but now they receive the Holy Spirit in power, a power made discernible as a mighty rushing wind instead of the gentle breath of Jesus on Easter evening. A power made visible in tongues of flame setting apart the followers of Christ – not just the apostles but all those gathered in faith together there. A power demonstrated through the sudden speaking of foreign languages. Multiple senses as well as internal and external observations validate that something is happening, the Holy Spirit is at work suddenly and mightily. Likely gathered together in the vicinity of the Temple, the languages now spoken by the apostles draw the attention of the Jews surrounding them, pilgrims to Jerusalem from much farther away than Galilee! They are amazed that these men – who obviously are not men of leisure or learning – can speak their languages fluently. Yet these mighty signs are quickly shown to be secondary to what really matters – the preaching of the Gospel, confronting the hearers with the objective reality of Jesus of Nazareth raised from the dead and the subjective implications on the hearers’ lives. Either accept or reject. Either repent or refuse to acknowledge responsibility or guilt. Either believe the testimony of the gathered witnesses or ignore or reject it. Power in and of itself is never of value, but rather is the means to accomplishing some other end. That end can be personal and sinful, or it can be the salvation of individuals as guided by the Holy Spirit.

John 7:37-39 – The third of the great Old Testament feasts is referenced here in the Gospel – the feast of Sukkot or the Festival of Booths as it is otherwise known. Solomon’s Temple was dedicated on Sukkot (1 Kings 8:2), and Sukkot was the occasion when the exiles returned from Babylon and assembled to hear Ezra read God’s Word to them (Nehemiah 8). Themes of true worship are then bound up closely with this festival. So when Jesus proclaims loudly in the Temple on the final day of the feast, it is accented heavily. Rather than coming to the Temple, people should come to him. Rather than worry about the required sacrifices, those who come to Jesus will instead be given living water to flow out of them to others. Here Jesus prophecies what will happen at Pentecost, but also in fulfillment of Moses’ words in Numbers 11. Only in Jesus will the Holy Spirit be poured out in full rather than on just a few. In Jesus all will find life that is not merely a subsistence living but is bountiful and plentiful and a blessing to everyone around them, perhaps foreshadowing the descriptions of the early Church in Acts 2:42-47.

Jesus’ words clearly strike a chord in the people. He speaks with the power and boldness of the prophets of old, as some in the crowd acknowledge (v.40). So Jesus’ call remains bold and decisive today, leaving each person to either accept or reject the witness of his resurrection and his promise of forgiveness.

ANF: Fragments from the Lost Writings of Irenaeus

May 20, 2020

The ongoing saga of my life-long effort to read through all the Ante-Nicene Fathers’ writings….

The first volume of the ante-Nicene Fathers (ANF) set concludes with a collections of quotes and paraphrases of Irenaeus from fragmentary documents as well as other authors.  These 55 snippets are various in nature, some conveying complete thoughts and others without much meaning in and of themselves but clearly part of larger works which have either been lost to history or remain to be discovered or translated.

Some notable inclusions:

Section III – contains a remembrance of Polycarp’s visit to Rome during the papacy of Anicetus.  They disagreed on the proper day to observe Easter, yet refused to let their different traditions cause a rift between them.  So firm was their commitment to unity rather than division that St. Anicetus allowed St. Polycarp to preside over the Eucharist celebration in the Church in Rome.  The translator references the Council of Arles in 314 AD as commemorating this by decreeing formally that the holy Eucharist should be consecrated by any foreign bishop present at its celebration, but I can’t find corroboration for this assertion.

Section XIThe business of the Christian is nothing else than to be ever preparing for death.  (as quoted by John of Damascus, likely from a work of Irenaeus entitled Miscellaneous Dissertations, which is referred to by Eusebius).

Section XVI – There may be some uncertainty as to  whether this is really from Irenaeus or not, but in treating the topic of the Fall in Genesis 3, Irenaeus lauds Eve not as the weaker of the the humans but the stronger.  She resisted Satan’s temptations for some period of time, even arguing with him, while Adam ate immediately when she offered him the forbidden fruit without any objection or apparent misgivings.

Section XXIV – He asserts that Matthew’s Gospel was intended for Jewish readers.

Section XXXII – Quotes a tradition from Josephus, that Moses was not just brought up on the Egyptian Pharaoh’s palace, he served as a general in a military effort against the Ethiopians.  Because of his victory he married the daughter of the Ethiopian king.  The translator offers this tradition as perhaps an explanation of St. Stephen’s words  in Acts 7:22, emphasizing Moses’ esteem and wisdom before being selected by God to confront the Pharaoh.

Section LV – A fascinating commentary on the mother of James and John asking Jesus to grant her sons special favor  in glory (Matthew 20:17-28).  Usually, commentators look poorly upon her request, coming as it does so immediately upon Jesus’ prediction of his upcoming suffering and death.  It seems to be the height of not  just pride or grasping for  honor or glory, but terribly poor  timing!  But Irenaeus looks at it differently.  He instead praises their mother.  While we often focus on the first part of Jesus’ prophesy, that he will be tried and condemned to death and be flogged and crucified, the mother hears only the last words.  So firm is her faith – according to Irenaeus – that she considers the tribulations and sufferings of Jesus truly as inconsequential compared to the glory they will bring to him and his followers.  Precisely because she makes the request at this particular point, rather than after the resurrection is a praiseworthy demonstration of faith on her part!  The Saviour was speaking of the cross, while she had in view the glory which admits no suffering.  This woman, therefore, as I have already said, is worthy of our admiration, not merely for what she sought, but also for the occasion of her making the request.  

With this, I’ve completed the first volume of the  Ante-Nicene Fathers.  Thank you again too Lois for her generous gift.  At this rate, I may indeed finish them before I die – just barely!


Reading Ramblings – May 24, 2020

May 17, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: Seventh Sunday after Easter/Ascension Observed – May 24, 2020 – COVID-19

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

Context: Jesus ascended to heaven 40 days after his resurrection (Acts 1:3). As such, this event never falls on a Sunday for proper observance, but rather midweek. While some congregations (ours included) offer special Ascension services, this year that won’t be happening because of the Coronavirus. I’ve opted to use the readings assigned for Ascension Day instead of the readings assigned for the Seventh Sunday of Easter. It’s easy to focus on Easter and not realize things continue to happen after Easter in regards to the resurrected Christ. A certain level of resolution is necessary to avoid errors. Jesus is not still wandering the earth physically. He left. He did so bodily, which leads us to conclude that the incarnation was not just a temporary thing but perhaps eternal. He left with a promise to return, reiterated by the angels who direct the disciples after his ascension. Theology aims to try and speak truthfully and accurately about what our Lord has told us, even if popular culture is more amenable to fuzzy generalities or statements that are less than technically accurate. Keeping our eye on the Word of God should guide us in how we talk about God and his Word and our hope as his people.

I’m also rearranging the order we move through these readings slightly, as I think Luke and then Acts work best when read in close proximity, just as they were originally circulated.

Psalm 47 – The psalm praises God as King. Not just one of many kings, but the King, the King over all the earth – a feat many kings have sought but never accomplished. He holds this power in respect to the fact He did not take or assume his rule from any other, but rules as the Creator of all things. God’s people first demanded a king in 1 Samuel 8, a path the Lord made clear through the prophet Samuel would not end well. A human king has human limits. God offered his people when He brought them out of Egypt to be not simply their king but their God. Further, God’s intention from the start of all things was to provide his people a king who was human but more than human, a king above all kings, Jesus the Christ. Mankind has always striven to provide for themselves what God originally was to humanity and will always be – King. God’s people are true to their created nature when we praise and acknowledge God the Son as King over all creation and alone worthy of the praise and glory we so easily give to others or that is commanded from us by others.

Ephesians 1:15-23 – Since I’m using the readings for Ascension Day rather than the seventh Sunday of Easter, the Epistle is not from 1 Peter but the first chapter of Ephesians. Paul rightly understands not only the reality but the symbolism of Jesus’ ascension. Just as in many coronation rights the rank is emphasized by a physical elevation over everyone else – often through a dais or a platform or stage of some sort – so Jesus’ ascension is the ultimate coronation, the ultimate declaration of power. What other potentate can hope to ascend – literally – so high as Jesus? Higher than thrones, palaces, skyscrapers, international space stations – beyond the merely physical realm completely. Jesus’ ascension not only answers the question of what happened to Jesus and where is He now after his resurrection, it demonstrates what He earned through his obedience even to death and burial. He truly is the one to rightly be acknowledged as King of Kings over all other powers. We acknowledge this in the awe that He rules in majesty and glory but also in mercy and love, desiring all of creation to be brought back into proper relationship with him through the forgiveness of God the Father. The very power that raised Jesus from the dead is the power, the God who works continually on the behalf of all creation, but most especially on behalf of all those in faith in Jesus Christ, the King of Kings.

Luke 24:44-53 – It’s unclear how closely to link Jesus’ words in 44-49 with the day of his ascension. These words could easily be associated with his initial words to them Easter evening, which is what vs. 36-43 describe. Regardless, the disciples are instructed that they are to wait further marching orders. Since this corresponds with Jesus’ words as Luke records them in Acts 1, it might be reasonable to peg these verses with the Ascension recorded in Luke. Luke and Acts are two parts of a single writing from Luke. The first details the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. The Ascension is the natural conclusion to this portion of Luke’s writing, and bookends the Gospel with the extensive birth narrative Luke provides in Luke 1-2. So we have how Jesus arrived on the scene in fulfillment of Scripture, and we have Jesus’ departure from the scene. Both his arrival and departure are unusual – virgin birth and ascension – but both are eminently physical. Early Church heresies that sought to portray Jesus as just an illusion – a spiritual reality pretending to have a physical body. But Luke is clear from start to finish that Jesus is very, very physical (note v.42). Our savior is real, not an illusion, and so our hope and faith is grounded in reality rather than fantasy or imagination.

Acts 1:1-11 – Although titled The Book of the Acts of the Apostles, Luke indicates the topic is not so much the apostles but Jesus, still. The Gospel of Luke tells the story up through Jesus’ bodily ascension, and implies this second part remains concerned with the work of Jesus now through the Holy Spirit. It is good to note the language in Acts 1:2. Jesus remains passively obedient throughout – even his ascension is something He is obedient to. He does not ascend on his own will, but rather is taken up. His disciples are concerned with whether Israel will be restored to glory, a common understanding of the messiah’s purpose (even after three years following Jesus!). Jesus corrects their focus. They needn’t worry about the restoration of Israel – God the Father’s timeline is His business, not theirs.

Their role is to receive power (passive again, just like Jesus. Obedient, just like Jesus.). Then they are to give witness to Jesus as the one raised from the dead in vindication of his identity and work as the Messiah and the Son of God. When that should result in the restoration of Israel’s glory is not their concern. They simply share what they saw and heard and experienced during their time with Jesus. This is not a universal evangelism mandate, though it could easily be seen as that. The apostles are in a unique position to give witness to their experiences of and with Jesus. They were with him throughout his ministry more consistently than anyone else. What they could preach and teach about him is of primary importance, guided and enlightened by the Holy Spirit, something already begun by Jesus during his resurrection (Luke 24:45). Nobody else could function as witnesses the same way the apostles could.

They witnessed to crowds (Acts 2), Jewish authorities (Acts 4), to the Gentiles (Acts 10, etc.) and to secular authorities (Acts 22-28). Their witness continues to you and I 2000 years later in the words they recorded of their witness, the Gospels. While you and I may have the opportunity to give witness to our experience with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, our testimony will be considerably different in nature and scope than the apostles’!

Reading Ramblings – May 17, 2020

May 10, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 17, 2020 – COVID-19

Texts: Acts 17:16-31; Psalm 66:8-20; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21

Context: The common themes in the readings this week is a little harder to discern at first glance (or second!). But what strikes me is that the first three readings make sense only in light of the Gospel reading. Without the promise of God the Holy Spirit with us until Jesus takes us home, how – or even why – would we be willing to share the Gospel when ridiculed (Acts) or praise God even when He tests us (Psalm) or again, or be willing to suffer for no reason? What could possibly enable us to do such counterintuitive things if not for the very presence of God with us? Surely we can’t hope to complete any trial God sets before us unless God is with us to sustain us and enable us! And surely we can’t hope our meager words can convey the depths of spiritual truth unless it is the Word made flesh guiding us through the Holy Spirit! And surely nobody would be willing to suffer disrepute or even legal threats unless they were assured that not only is God real but God will accompany in and through all things?

Acts 17:16-31 – Some Christians are inclined to read this passage and take from it a burden of guilt. Here’s Paul, fearlessly sharing the Gospel with perfect strangers! That’s what I should be doing, and God must be so disappointed in me that I haven’t! I’ve failed so many times, had so many opportunities! Surely this passage is meant to spur me to more resolve in the future! But what’s interesting is how this passage begins. It begins not with Paul or a resolution on his part, it starts with Paul being provoked. The Greek term here can mean stirred or spurred on. In other words, Paul doesn’t decide to evangelize on his own as his Christian duty. Rather, the Holy Spirit provokes Paul to the point he can’t keep silent. God is not just leading Paul but driving him to engage the Greeks. Not in anger but out of love. Not in derision of their pagan beliefs but in an earnest effort to engage them through their own culture and understanding, the very idols around them become more than empty tributes to non-existent gods, but by the power of God the Holy Spirit they become tools for Paul to engage the Greeks to share the Gospel. If there is a lesson to take from this it is that God the Holy Spirit will make it clear to us when we are to speak, and will provide us with the words and examples to do so!

Psalm 66:8-20 – Many Christians are nervous of evangelizing to friends or family or strangers. It might be much easier just to give God thanks for who He is and what He does, both in our lives as well as in history and the world around us. Very few people will take offense at you describing a way God has delivered you from difficulties, and even from praising and thanking him for this in their presence! Our mantras of tolerance and diversity give us that permission more easily than we suspect, even if it isn’t the sort of thing that tolerance and diversity ultimately want to hear! Being in the Word of God and resting in his power and presence allows us to see our lives through the Holy Spirit. Coincidences are transformed into examples of God’s presence, love and care. Even our losses and sorrows become opportunities to give thanks and praise to God for carrying us through difficult times, and instill greater faith and confidence that He will do so in the future. Living out our lives of faith in this fashion is simply a witness to the God who created, redeemed and sanctifies us. It allows us to witness without the pressure of somehow being responsible for instilling faith in another person (which is never our duty!). Rather, in bearing witness we allow others to see not just us and who we are in our faith, but the God in whom our faith is both sourced and completed.

1 Peter 3:13-22 – Mysteriously, our reading today skips over the section providing guidance to husbands and wives in how to be with each other in Christ! But thematically the assigned reading does fit in better. Faith in Jesus as the resurrected Son of God will sometimes incur suffering. The early Church knew this as tensions continued within the larger Jewish community of which they were one subset, until those ties were finally severed. Religious and political persecution of Christians has continued steadily through the world for 2000 years, regardless of the relative calm we have enjoyed as Americans for nearly 250 years. Is suffering evidence of God’s disapproval or judgment or lack of care or concern? Hardly! Rather we are exhorted to faithful trust in our God despite human sin and persecution. We are to conduct ourselves by his rules rather than what is reasonable according to our own ways of thinking and doing. There is more at stake than preserving our lives or goods – what is at stake is the witness we give to our God. Is He only a god of convenience and prosperity, or does He remain the good and loving God even when we are mistreated? Our conduct during persecution becomes a testimony and witness to the living God!

John 14:15-21 – We continue in Jesus’ Last Supper discourse with his disciples, trying to prepare them to handle the events already starting to unfold which will lead to his arrest and execution. He has assured them their separation will only be for a time (14:1-14), though how well they understand this is highly debatable. He shifts to describing that in the meantime, they are not orphaned or left alone. Far from it! They will have the very Holy Spirit of God – the very Spirit Moses wished was with all people (Numbers 11:29)! The coming traumatic events will trigger further fulfillment of Scripture as the Holy Spirit comes in power (Joel 2:28), something the apostles will only understand fully after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension (Acts 2:17).

We are not in this alone! Not in any aspect of our lives, least of all during difficult times and situations. God is with us! As such, the Holy Spirit may direct us as He directed Paul in Athens, equipping us to give a bold witness in a moment of opportunity. Or the Holy Spirit may lead us to praise and thanksgiving of God not just in a Sunday morning prayer but in every aspect of how we live our lives, transforming us into witnesses of our God’s power and presence. And even in the midst of persecution, the Holy Spirit will be with the people of God to empower them and give them the right words with which to answer their accusers.

Notice we are not promised deliverance or exemption from persecution. We are simply not to fear it, trusting as we do in the God who is not only with us in this very moment, but preceded us in our Savior and promises to bring us to him. Everything else in this world will fall apart, there is nothing we have the power to hold on to. Not our rights or freedoms, not our health or long life. As we’ve been shown in the past few weeks everything can be changed in practically a moment’s notice, with the decree of a State official or the arrival of an invisible contagion.

But our lives in Christ can never be taken away from us by any external power, and God the Father will never change his mind in his love for us through Jesus Christ. So we are bold. Bold to live. Bold to love. Bold to witness. Not for our own glory or our own agendas, but only and always in response to the love of God continually poured out into us.

Reading Ramblings – May 10, 2020

May 3, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fifth Sunday of Easter – May 10, 2020 – COVID-19

Texts: Acts 6:1-9, 7:2a, 51-60; Psalm 146; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14

Context: As the good news of the resurrection of Jesus the Christ continues to spread, so does opposition. As Jesus predicted the prince of this world would go after Jesus’ followers. But they are not to fear, for the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit now at work in them is no power Satan can thwart. While followers of Christ are not promised invulnerability to the attacks of Satan and those he has misled into rebellion against the true King of Kings, we are to trust always in our Savior who has prepared a place for us and will ensure we are strengthened for the tasks at hand in this world, and conveyed in joyous bliss to his side in the next.

Acts 6:1-9, 7:2a, 51-60 – Things seem to be going well – almost too well. The rapidly growing body of believers has many needs to be attended to. Initially at least, the apostles seem to have overseen these needs personally, but eventually it’s clear this is not the best use of the Holy Spirit’s gifts. Others are designated to oversee aid to the needy so the apostles can focus on their call to prayer and the ministry of the word – likely meaning teaching and passing on the things Jesus said and did to those around them. Stephen is an obvious choice for these duties. But Stephen is apparently gifted by the Holy Spirit for more than just waiting tables, and the signs and wonders he accomplishes among the people land him in the hands of the Sanhedrin with charges of blasphemy. Stephen speaks full of the power of the Holy Spirit – which is to say what he says is true. Painfully true. And the result is not, like after Peter’s sermon, repentance and conversion, but rather vehemence and anger that result in Stephen’s death – the first Christian martyred for the faith. Opposition not just to the truth but to the power of what the Son of God’s sacrificial death and victorious resurrection accomplished cannot change the objective reality of grace and forgiveness now offered through faith in him. But opposition can seek to intimidate and deter people from embracing that faith as their own.

Psalm 146 – What an interesting psalm for our times, as protestors storm the beaches in Southern California and the capital in Michigan. The psalmist begins with what our proper focus should be – lives of praise to God – this is our proper purpose and focus. There are plenty of others who would distract us from this in order to have praise heaped upon themselves, or glory or honor or power or any number of other desired commodities in our world. While we give to these peopole what their due is (Romans 13), we remain cautious and skeptical. Even the best intentions often come to naught. The winds of fortune frequently change direction and even the best of leaders are mortal and their ideals and plans come to an end. The power of God knows no such limitations. He who created and sustains all things is capable of seeing his plans through to completion, and we can trust his plans are for our best. That is why He is worthy of our focus, our praise, our honor, and our faith and thanksgiving.

2 Peter 2:2-10 – Strangely, we jump back from our reading from last Sunday to the start of this chapter. Continuing on from the end of Chapter 1, which emphasizes the limitations of the flesh and this world, we are exhorted to continue lives of holiness in anticipation of the time when the holiness that is ours through Christ is manifest, and the sinfulness that is now temporary to this life here is burned away and we are free of it at last and for eternity. But our faith is based in a man who was rejected. Arrested, tried, executed. He suffered the great humiliations and suffering this world can give. To all appearances He is less than nothing. But the appraisals of man were inadequate and misguided, and in the resurrection Jesus is revealed as what He truly always has been, the most important of all stones, holy and precious. Likewise we should probably expect the world to misjudge us as well, to not see us for who we are in Christ but who we are by the standards of the world. This is dangerous not just because it is inadequate but because we might be tempted to value the judgments of the world over the holiness of Christ received in our baptism! So we are exhorted to remain clear about who we are, and where our justification and value comes from. Not from the world’s standards and expectations but rather from God the Father who created us and God the Son who redeemed us and God the Holy Spirit who brings us to faith and sustains us in that faith to life everlasting.

John 14:1-14 – Jesus has said many disturbing things during his last meal with his disciples, from warnings about one of them who will betray him, to prophecying Peter’s denial of him and the disciples’ abandonment of him in a few short hours. The disciples, protected as they have been for the past three years by the presence and power of the Son of God, Jesus, are not prepared for the weight of fear and danger that will bear down on them very shortly. They are understandably bewildered and frightened. Jesus now speaks to comfort them. But the comfort is not that everything is going to turn out lovely for them. Not in the short term! Jesus knows full well that almost all of them will die prematurely and violently precisely for their faith in Jesus. Jesus does not try to calm them with assurances that lack truth or power. Rather, He focuses them on what is true, and the power that no fear or danger or demon in all of creation can change. Their relationship to him is such that He goes to prepare a place for them, on the other side of danger and fear and death itself. A place where they will be with him and with the Father. This is part of what Jesus will accomplish in his sacrificial death – the assurance that all those in relationship with him will be with him forever in places prepared beforehand for them. You and I have this assurance.

Jesus does not promise the disciples this as a source of pride or gloating. It is just the assurance of what is real and true, and that reality and truth must sustain them through the times of fear and danger ahead. All the way up to their final, bitter moments. They can face those moments without obsessing about them or fearing about them. They can face those moments for what they are – moments that will pass and in the passing will pass the power of this world and our ancient enemy to harm us any further. When the world has done all it will to us, whether through persecution or affliction or sickness or disaster or old age, when we close our eyes at last in death, the power of this world is finally broken and we are free at last in Christ!

This is to be our hope and focus. We live our lives with this as the constant backdrop and anticipated conclusion and beginning. We endure difficulties and losses and hardship knowing the joy that is ours already in Christ and will be fully realized one day soon. And our joys in this life are sweetened by the eternal promise of Christ.

All of this because of Jesus’ faithfulness unto death and his vindication in his resurrection from the dead. All of this is real and true for you and I as it was for the disciples because He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Reading Ramblings – May 3, 2020

April 26, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fourth Sunday in Easter ~ May 3, 2020 ~ COVID-19

Texts: Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10

Context: Last week’s readings stressed the passive nature of our role in salvation. God literally does everything, including providing us with faith itself. Our utter dependence on God to do everything for us in the realm of salvation should naturally translate into an equally trusting and accepting role in allowing our Lord to guide our lives in the ways He knows are best for us. Yet we have remarkably difficult times with this! It is so easy to insist that we know best, our choices are best, our ways are best even when they directly contradict the Word and wisdom of the God who created and redeemed us! Even, in fact, when we know full well that what we want is not best at all. It’s simply what we want. God’s graciousness to the waywardness of his people is remarkable, to put it mildly!

Acts 2:42-47 – It isn’t as though these people had no homes. No lives, no jobs, no routines. But all of those things are recast when the good news of the resurrected Son of God is received. When life itself is on the line, how attentive people become to the nature of their salvation. Keep six feet apart? No problem. Stay at home? No problem. We’ve witnessed how dramatically lives change when confronted simply with fear. What then, to be confronted with hope? Not with the threat of sickness or death but rather the promise of healing and life? Astounded by the goodness of God in Jesus Christ, the early believers voluntarily changed their lives radically so that this Savior was the center of their life. Not simply intellectually or spiritually but practically as well. They discovered a whole new family, or a whole new depth of family. They reprioritized their time and assets to keep Jesus at the center of their lives in faith. An encouragement and reminder to all of us not simply in times of pandemic but in all times, that our lives should reflect our must fundamental truths and beliefs!

Psalm 23 – The quintessential summary and description of the Christian life. What does God not provide to us? Food? Water? Health and protection? Guidance at all levels of life? Companionship more intimate than any human relationship? His abiding presence not simply to our moment of death but into death and beyond it with us? Salvation? Peace? Eternal joy? Freedom from all our enemies – including sin, Satan, and death itself? It isn’t as though God has demonstrated himself to be trustworthy! Yet how we often balk at the imagery of sheep! How often we’d rather be a lion or a wolf, fending for ourselves on our own terms! Thanks be to God who is the true Good Shepherd, guiding us back to the fold even after our times of rebellion!

1 Peter 2:19-25 – Trust and obedience in God take concrete forms. We are not free, at a certain level, to innovate, trusting in our estimations rather than in his Word. Peter has begun spelling out what this looks like precisely because it doesn’t always look and feel the way we think it ought. Shouldn’t the God who created us and saved us be chiefly concerned with our happiness? Shouldn’t fairness be one of his great concerns in our lives? Shouldn’t we, above all people on earth, expect our lives to glow with God’s blessings and glory but in ways defined and dictated by a sinful and broken world? Certainly much of American Christianity in the past few decades has decided this – preaching wealth and health and prosperity if we just name it and claim it. Assuring us God wants the same things for us that we want for ourselves, and on our terms as well! Perhaps these preachers and their followers should spend more time on 1 Peter than on Jeremiah 29:11. Not that Jeremiah is wrong, but rather we need to hear his words in light of Peter’s, and visa versa. As a reminder and example we have no less than our Lord and Savior himself, who offered himself up to the worst of the world’s treatment rather than expecting to revel and bask in glory and honor and comfort. The certainty of God’s love for us is in no way diminished by the sinfulness within us or around us, and Christians would do well to remember our defeated enemy continues to flail and thrash futiley against his coming judgment and condemnation. Certainly life will be hard at times for the people of God. Hard even to death itself. But these are minor things compared to the love of God in Jesus Christ that endures for eternity!

John 10:1-10 – Countless voices and powers seek access to us every day. Our Alexas and Siris listen not simply when we call their names but all the time, seeking to learn more and more about us so they can better optimize what they offer to us for sale. Politicians promise us the moon for our vote and our tax dollars. Many Christians see their churches as constantly demandingn money for various programs or projects, sometimes without bothering to see whether the people themselves want or need them. The companies we work for seek the balance, paying us as little as possible in return for as much as possible, saving the lion’s share of profit for upper management or stockholders. Everywhere we turn, somebody is trying to get something from us, for purposes that are oftentimes only incidentally of value to us. We are easy prey.

Contrast this with the Good Shepherd. The one who comes not to demand but to offer. Not to take but to sacrifice. Who needs nothing from us because we have nothing to offer, but is willing to give all He has so that we might have life in him, and have it abundantly! We know this voice, a voice so different than any other voice in our life. A voice of infinite patience and calmness, infinite love and kindness. This is the one and only Good Shepherd. And we are most assuredly his sheep. What comfort that should bring us! Do we feel lost? He searches for us and will find us! Do we feel weak and weary? He will sustain us and carry us when we have no strength left to go on! Are we afraid of the predators around us or the illnesses and aging of our bodies? His rod and staff are our comfort, having defeated even death itself so we no longer have anything to fear!

Reading Ramblings – April 26, 2020

April 19, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: Third Sunday of Easter – April 26, 2020 – COVID-19

Texts: Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-14; 1 Peter 1:17-25; Luke 24:13-35

Context: The grace of God is the gift of God. It is not something we demand or earn but something freely offered. The readings all focus in on this reality, whether it’s two followers of Jesus who receive him when they thought He was dead and gone, or the psalmist emphasizing God’s grace when he turned to God, or Peter’s injunction to the crowd on Pentecost Sunday to simply repent and receive. The tradition in the 3-year lectionary cycle is to draw readings in the season of Easter from the Book of Acts rather than the Old Testament as normal, and we are also spending our time in 1 Peter this Easter season in a sort of lectio continua fashion.

Acts 2:14a, 36-41 – We’ll hear most of Peter’s sermon on Pentecost Sunday and Holy Trinity Sunday, but here we see the conclusion of that sermon. First the crowd was cut to the heart. More than an intellectual assent, and more than an emotional response. It wasn’t simply logic and it wasn’t simply emotion. Rather, Peter’s Holy Spirit-inspired words convicted these people, personally, of the need of a response. What Jesus did requires a response from everyone who hears about it. There is nobody who can stand to one side of the account and say it has no direct bearing on them. There is nobody Jesus did not die for. There is nobody who can say his empty grave doesn’t matter to them. It matters to everyone, and the crowd on Pentecost recognizes this and their response is one bordering on despair – what shall we do? If the Son of God died not just for you but because of you, what hope can possibly remain? The same hope that remains today – to accept that his death for you and because of you is God’s gift to you. Receive the gift! It truly is for you!

Psalm 116:1-14 – God listens and responds. Always. The crowd crying out in anguish to Peter’s sermon has the ear of God attending to them. And if you have the ear of God the Father always inclined toward you, could there be any other response but to be in constant joy and praise and thanksgiving of this reality? God’s attentiveness to our needs has truly rescued us from the reality of death. We need not fear death – or anything else in life – because we know God has conquered all things on our behalf. This should not make us reckless or careless – we still are sheltering in place and practicing social distancing! – but it should leave us at peace knowing God is with and for us always, in sickness and in health. Verses 12-14 make me that much more anxious for us to gather again together and sing those words in praise and thanksgiving to our God!

1 Peter 1:17-25 – God turns us to him so we can hear his offer of grace and salvation in the Son of God through God the Holy Spirit. And in faith we can call upon God the Father knowing He hears us and we are never out of his eye. But He has saved us not just from something – sin and corruption and death, but for something – holiness. The life of faith is the growing up into the holiness. But that honor – to grow in holiness – was bought with a terrible price. With the very blood of the incarnate Son of God. It is his sacrifice that makes our holiness possible, that wins our forgiveness and freedom from death and Satan. Our lives should be lived out in this reality, which should in turn guard us against the desire to live sinfully as we once did or might be inclined to were we not followers of Christ.

Luke 24:13-35 For such a well-known story, there is difficulty in knowing where exactly the village of Emmaus was or is. The traditional place – renamed Nicopolis during the Byzantine Empire and afterwards renamed an Arabic variant (‘Imwas) of the name Emmaus – is much farther away than Luke states. Luke states it as being 60 stadia away from Jerusalem, or about seven miles. Emmaus-Nicopolis however is roughly 19 miles away, and it would have been a very difficult thing for the two men Jesus accompanied on the road to accomplish the return trip the same evening.

Another possible site is 30 stadia from Jerusalem rather than 60, and is recorded by Josephus as a place given to Roman military veterans after retirement. The distance is not right, but one explanation could be that Luke’s distance refers to the total round trip distance covered by the two men rather than the one way distance. The Roman road leading west from Jerusalem to two different Emmaus’ is still visible today though it has fallen into disrepair.

Many people hear this story and want to know how it was the two men did not recognize Jesus sooner. Luke simply states that their eyes were kept from recognizing him. The Greek is more forceful – their eyes were held back or restrained from recognizing him. It wasn’t that Jesus was not recognizable but they were deliberately prevented from recognizing him, presumably a work of God the Holy Spirit. But why?

The passage we read in John last week about Doubting Thomas emphasizes Jesus’ physicality. He was not a spirit or a vision or a hallucination but an actual physical person they could touch. Likewise, Jesus travels a good distance with the two men. Nothing in his manner suggested to them He was anything but a human being – physical. Kicking up dirt and dust as they walked, gesturing, perspiring. All very physical. It is only when He breaks bread they realize who He is – their eyes are freed to see him for who He is, and of course this is how Jesus is best and most fully known – in his sacrificing of his body for you and I, his body broken by death on the cross for you and I, a sacrifice and brokenness embodied in the Sacrament of Holy Communion as instituted by Jesus on the night of his betrayal.

Literally as the two men see Jesus breaking the bread they are freed to see him for who and what He truly is, the one who was sacrificed and broken but now lives. Not as a ghost or a spirit or a wishful imagining but as an actual resurrected person.

So it is for you and I. Jesus is not just an idea or a concept for us to intellectually evaluate and critique. He is an actual person of flesh and blood that we are invited into a relationship with. A person we can only know best in terms of what He has done for us in giving his life and taking it back up again.

Theudas & Judah of Galilee

April 16, 2020

The Epistle reading for this Sunday is Acts 5:29-42.  It’s an interesting passage full of historical personages we have conflicting information on beyond Scripture itself.  Some see this passage as problematic, particularly in reference to Theudas and Judas of Galilee.

From the Jewish-Roman historian Josephus we know of a Theudas who apparently intended to lead a revolt against the Romans.  However Josephus implies a Theudas active after this passage written by St. Luke, culminating in the dispersal of Theudas’ adherents and Theudas’ decapitation under order of the Roman procurator Cuspiuss Fadus, who ruled in Judea from AD 44-46.  This causes some to assert an error in Scripture.  But such an assertion rests on the confidence that the Theudas mentioned in Acts 5 is intended to be the same one Josephus mentions.  It also presumes Josephus is correct and, while Josephus is a respected historical source, he is also known to be in error upon occasion.  Scholars differ as to how common the name Theudas was in the first century (the meaning of the name is either gift of God or perhaps flowing with water, depending on where you source the name).  Respected New Testament scholar F.F. Bruce indicates it was probably a fairly common name (The Book of Acts, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, p.125 footnote 47).  However The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia claims it was an uncommon name (p.838).

At most we have a curiosity, and it would seem rash to rush to the assumption Luke has his information wrong (or misquoted Gamaliel).

The second figure mentioned is Judas of Galilee, whom Luke quotes Gamaliel as referencing “in the time of the census”, but after Theudas.  If the census mentioned is the one Luke mentions in his Gospel, it would provide significant complications by making Theudas’ revolt far too early to ever reconcile with Josephus.

We know of three Roman census’ that fall within the Biblical time frame – one in 8 BC, one in AD 14, and one in AD 47.  The one in 8 BC matches well with the time frame of Jesus’ birth, and the AD 47 census would be after the account of Acts 5.  But it could be Gamaliel is referring to the census in AD 14.

This would not remove the conflict with Josephus’ account of things, but given how accurate Luke is on many other technical issues in his writings, it’s not necessarily fair to presume the error lies with him.  Nor does the above information rule out the possibility of other figures with similar names that we don’t have external historical corroboration for.

Gamaliel himself is a well known-historical figure.  He was the grandson of the great rabbi Hillel the Elder.  He has considerable documentation validating his existence, identity, and the role Luke attributes to him in the Sanhedrin.  He is believed to have died in AD 52.

A lot of information for a relatively short passage!

Reading Ramblings – April 19, 2020

April 12, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday of Easter – COVID-19 – April 19, 2020

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

Context: He is risen! He is risen indeed! Hallelujah! This is the ancient Easter greeting of God’s people. One tradition traces this back to Mary Magdalene, who journeyed to Rome after Jesus’ ascension to evangelize. Eventually she found herself called to the presence of the Emperor Tiberias, to whom she stated “Christ is risen!”, and then gifted him with a red egg. Eggs were a common gift among the poor on special holidays, and this began the Christian association of eggs with the resurrection. The egg is rumored to have been red because of another unverifiable legend, that of two Jews meeting in Jerusalem on that first Easter Sunday. One asked the other if he had heard the miraculous news of Jesus’ resurrection. The other, carrying a basket of eggs, said he could not believe such a preposterous assertion – it sounded as impossible as white eggs turning red. At which point the eggs in his basket turned red, prompting his conversion to the faith. Whether these stories and the traditions they generate are true or not, the truth of our Lord’s resurrection remains something that deserves a special exclamatory and celebratory phrase! The Lord has risen! He has risen indeed! Hallelujah!

Acts 5:29-42 – The first witnesses of our Lord’s resurrection were commanded to quit talking about it. The religious authorities thought with the death of Jesus, his popularity would fall and his followers would disperse. Wasn’t this what happened naturally to most groups when a leader died – especially if that leader died in disgrace and the threat of similar disgrace was extended to the followers? But Peter and the apostles, who had been so frightened the night of Jesus’ arrest and the day of his execution and burial are no longer afraid. They have seen their risen Lord! How could they ever stop talking about it? Others might take violent action against them but they could never betray the truth the carried. Wiser minds among the religious leadership understood that while they might not believe what the disciples claimed, either the falsity of it would be exposed in due time and without further pressure from the Sanhedrin, or it might actually be true, in which case all the power and threats of the Sanhedrin and Rome itself would be incapable of stopping the spread of such amazing news. History stands as a witness to the truth of Gamaliel’s words.

Psalm 148 – What a beautifully unabashed hymn of praise! The Lord is to be praised, and there are no exceptions as to who or what should be praising him, since He is the creator of everything. The heavenly bodies are called to praise him (vs.1-4), and vs. 5-6 are an interesting clarification – these heavenly beings praise God as their creator. They are heavenly, but they are not divine. They are not to be worshiped but rather to be revered as a mirror of the power and majesty of God who created them. Nature is next called to praise God (vs.7-10) and this includes both natural features as well as the creatures associated with them. Verses 11-12 summon all of humanity from the highest stations to the lowest to praise of their creator. The reason for this praise is finally alluded to in the final verse, as God has raised up a horn for his people. Horns were often symbols of strength, drawn from the animals who possessed them. A horned beast could scatter and defeat enemies. Horns from these animals were taken as musical instruments and also copied into architecture and art – the altar on which sacrifices were burned in the Old Testament had horns on the four corners. So this wording here means strength, deliverance from enemies, security, and all good things for which God truly should be praised!

1 Peter 1:3-9 – This passage is a fantastic summary not only of the source of our faith but also our hope. Peter gives praise to God the Father because it was according to his plan that Jesus the Christ would enter into creation on our behalf. This is motivated by divine mercy, rather than any merit on our part, and that mercy makes possible to us new life grounded in the reality of the resurrection of Jesus. This new life in us is more than life as we think of it in terms of mortality. Rather, it’s an inheritance, something yet to be received in full but guaranteed to us, protected for us and from our enemy, Satan, by God in heaven. This salvation is a reality that will be seen eventually, and anticipated in hope now. As such, even when things here and now are hard, we don’t lose hope or peace or joy. This present moment passes, but what we look forward to does not and will not. Our faith in the midst of struggle and trial is not simply a testimony to our faith, but ultimately to the glory of God who has worked things in this fashion. We give testimony to the goodness and greatness of our God that not even the worst threats of this world can diminish.

John 20:19-31 – Hands and sides. Jesus offers his disciples evidence of who and what He is. Why would this be necessary? Wouldn’t his disciples know him for who He was? The simple answer seems to be no, not necessarily. Mary didn’t recognize him initially outside the tomb. The two men on the road to Emmaus are clearly familiar with Jesus and his work and more than sympathetic to him, yet they don’t recognize him on their walk or even as they sit down to eat with him. When they saw Jesus walking on the water earlier in their time with him (Matthew 14) they presumed him to be a ghost, so there’s some understanding or belief in them that spiritual entities exist and might be the explanation behind things physical beings shouldn’t be able to do.

Against uncertainties and confusions and misunderstandings, against fears of the spectral Jesus offers his physicality. Just as He could walk on water yet remain a physical man, so now Jesus appears before them, alive though slain, standing though buried. Though the marks of his scourging are apparently gone he retains the key signs of his death – the nail holes in his hands and feet as well as the wound from the spear thrust in his side. These wounds remain fresh, unhealed, since He can offer to Thomas even a week later to place his hand in Jesus’ side. These wounds are definitive, and they bring faith and comfort to the ten and then to Thomas as well, and so to you and I.

The disciples knew Jesus. They were expected to differentiate him from some other spiritual presence. His physicality was as real after the resurrection as it had been before, including the fact that his physicality could do things (walk on water, enter locked rooms) other physical human bodies could not. If there is suspicion about the solidity of things as we understand them to be, perhaps it should be suspicion regarding the things around us rather than our bodies themselves!

The disciples are not asked to believe blindly, and neither are we. We are asked to trust testimony, testimony subject to the same evaluation and testing as the other testimony we build our lives around.