Sunday, November 23, 2014

Lamentations and God

I was reading Lamentations this morning when I noticed that "God" doesn't appear very often. In fact, in the CEB that I was reading, it occurs only twice, but "lord" and "LORD" occur frequently. "Most High" occurs a couple of times as well. So, I thought it would be fun to check the Hebrew and see what's going on "under the hood" so to speak.

Here's what I found (numbers are via Accordance):
‏אֵל ('el) occurs once
‏אֱלֹהִים ('elohim) doesn't occur at all!
But ‏יְהוָה (YHWH) occurs 32 times
and ‏אֲדֹנָי ('adonai) occurs 14 times (only Amos and Ezekiel have a higher percentage occurrence)
finally, ‏עֶלְיוֹן occurs twice (only Psalms has a higher percentage occurrence)

Interesting, isn't it? Not quite sure what to make of it yet, but it does seem to reflect the personal nature of the laments. I wonder if there is any significance in the location of אֵל ('el) occurring in 3:41? And that it occurs as ‏אֵל בַּשָּׁמָיִם ('el beshamayim)? The only other place that phrase occurs is Deut 3:24 where Moses is pleading with God to let him cross the Jordan:

Please, Lord God! You have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. What god in heaven or on earth can act as you do or can perform your deeds and powerful acts? (CEB)
The phrase "God of Heaven"—as opposed to "God in Heaven"—occurs (as ‏אֱלֹהֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם ['elohe hashamayim (Heb)][9 times] and as ‏אֱלָהּ שְׁמַיָּא ['elah shemaya (Aram)] [12 times]) 22 times. I know, the numbers don't add up—there is a Hebrew occurrence of ‏אֵל הַשָּׁמָיִם ('el hashamayim) in Psalm 136.

So, what do you make of all this?

By the way, אֱלֹהִים doesn't occur in Esther (but we all know that, right?) nor does it occur in the Song of Songs (no surprise there, either) or Obadiah, and it only occurs once in Nahum. Is there any significance that both Obadiah and Nahum are about the destruction of Edom and Babylon (respectively) and Lamentations is about the destruction of Jerusalem?

Food for thought, anyway...

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Forgiveness or reconciliation?

Ran across this yesterday in an interview with Anne Graham Lotz.
Lotz spoke of the need for those who have been wronged to forgive those who have wronged them and avoid clinging to bitter feelings. Forgiveness, she said, was "a choice, not a feeling. The reason is because God says so. It's not because they deserve it; it's an act of worship. The only reason I would forgive this person is because God says so and because Jesus has forgiven me, so because I love Jesus I forgive someone else."

Refusing to forgive because it would somehow mean that the other person had 'got away with it' was "like drinking the poison hoping the other person will die. So to refuse to forgive, to hang on to bitterness, resentment, anger, because you think that if you release it they'll will get [away] with what they did: that's killing yourself, it doesn't hurt them.

"So we release that for our own selves if nothing else, for our own moral, spiritual and emotional health. But God says, vengeance is mine, I will repay. God will deal with that person. He is a just God, a loving God, and he has mercy, but there are people in my life who have hurt me and wounded me so deeply, and I'll let it go, because in the end God sees and in the end he will sort it out."

However, she added: "There's a difference between offering forgiveness and reconciliation. Reconciliation takes two people. You can't reconcile with someone unless the other person is willing.

"There are relationships I have that are not reconciled, but I believe I have forgiven everyone I know that has wounded me.

"I live my life for God's pleasure. The worse the wound, the harder it is to forgive, but the greater the act of worship."

She spoke of the importance of building healthy relationships in churches, saying: "We have to be good forgivers. We can't allow ourselves to be easily hurt. Some people are just very easily offended. You just look at the them the wrong way and they've read into it and they're offended.

<idle musing>
That's probably why Peter says "as much as lies within you" to be at peace with all. Reconciliation takes two. Forgiveness is what we do and it is unilateral, but it will affect the way we interact with others, hopefully resulting in reconciliation. But even if it doesn't we are called to forgive.

It also sheds light on the verse in 2 Cor 5: in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them... (NRSV). But we have to be willing to be reconciled to God in order for the whole thing to happen...I think, anyway. Not sure I'm doing a good job of expressing what I'm thinking here...
</idle musing>

Acrostic lament

I just received Dennis Pardee's The Ugaritic Texts and the Origins of West-Semitic Literary Composition via Interlibrary Loan today and have been reading it. Good stuff! Mainly philological stuff that doesn't lend itself to extracts very well. But this one, toward the end of the book is an interesting thought:
Four of the five chapters of this book [Lamentations] show a structure without parallel in Ugaritic literature, that of the acrostic: the first word of each verse beings with a letter of the alphabet in the order of alphabetic recitation—in the case of ch. 3, the verses are arranged as stanzas consisting each of three bicola, each of which begins with the required letter of the alphabet. The procedure may appear artificial to us, but its purpose appears to be that of imposing absolute order on grief so as to objectify it and lessen its power. (page 118)
<idle musing>
Fascinating idea, isn't it? Using poetic technique to get life back under control, so to speak!
</idle musing>

Friday, November 21, 2014

Real life

Eternal life is not a peculiar feeling inside! It is not your ultimate destination, to which you will go when you are dead. If you are born again, eternal life is that quality of life that you possess right now, at this very moment, in your own physical body, with your own two feet on the ground, and in the world TODAY! And where does this life come from? Of Him! He is that Life!— The Saving Life of Christ, page 149

Willing to die for

In his death and resurrection, Christ abolished war. Christ made it clear on the cross that war will no longer be the way the world is transformed. The cross exposes the use of violent force as a shameful practice to be renounced. Yes, Christ has abolished war. The King of Kings won his kingdom without war. Jesus proved there is another way. Jesus is the other way. The question “What are you willing to die for?” is not the same question as “What are you willing to kill for?” Jesus was willing to die for that which he was unwilling to kill for. Jesus won his kingdom by dying, not killing. Ruling the world by killing was buried with Christ. When Christ was raised on the third day, he did not resurrect war. With his resurrection the world is given a new trajectory, an eschatology toward peace.— A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor's Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace

<idle musing>
Amen! Good preaching!

I especially like this line: “What are you willing to die for?” is not the same question as “What are you willing to kill for?”

I suspect we get the two mixed up in our violence-happy society in the U.S....
</idle musing>

Tangental?

I don't often comment on current political items. Most of the time they are just a distraction—especially given the current political deadlock and polarization. Christians need to stand above the chaos and speak peace (shalom-type peace) and love into every situation. The problem comes when certain positions become labeled as "Christian" and certain other ones "unchristian" despite the lack of scriptural backing for the categorization...

One of those areas is immigration reform. Everyone acknowledges that the system is broken. But no one can agree on the solution. I certainly don't have the answer! But I do know that as Christians we are called to stand by the stranger in our midst. To stand up for them against the oppressor (whoever that oppressor might be). We are strangers and foreigners in the land ourselves; our true citizenship is elsewhere.

Now it appears that the President has decided to take action—Congress hasn't been able to and certainly won't in the next 2 years. It's too hot a political potato to risk with a Presidential Election coming up. After all, in the wisdom of the world, getting elected is what it's all about, right?

Given the antipathy of certain large segments of the Evangelical community to the current president, this puts them in an interesting position. They claim to be concerned for the "stranger in our midst" but how can they support the actions of a person they dislike? (I could say hate, but that wouldn't be nice—although when I hear the venom in their voice when they mention his name...well, let's just say it isn't love.) Ken Schenck has a good observation and post on the whole thing today. But here's the part I think hits home the best:

[M]any American Christians can't tell the difference between being a certain kind of Republican and being Christian. Well-intentioned to be sure, many American Christians can't clearly see where their faith ends and their particular form of Republicanism begins. It's called civil religion, and it is a major problem in the American church.
Of course, I would expand that observation to include a lot more than just immigration reform...
</idle musing>

Thursday, November 20, 2014

It's not the negatives

The Lord Jesus did not live a victorious life just because He did not commit sin in the negative sense; because He did not tell lies, because He was not dishonest; because He never committed adultery, and was never envious—that was not the mature of His victory. If that had been the nature of His victory and that the criterion of His righteousness, He could have stayed in heaven and been all that! The nature of His victory was that as Man He positively implemented that purpose for which He was incarnate; that apart from not doing the thing that were wrong, He positively accomplished all that was right; that His absolute availability to the Father for every moment of 33 years enabled the Father in His deity to do in and through the Son in His humanity all that had been agreed on between the Father and the Son before ever the world was.— The Saving Life of Christ, page 146

<idle musing>
If you wade through all the negative statements in that paragraph, you end up with a very Patristic thought: God became man that man might become God (Athanasius). Not God in the sense the Mormons mean! And not God in the sense of Nirvana—absorbed into the divine. But God in the sense of theosis (or divination as it is more commonly called in the western church). Union with Christ, sanctification, growing in grace, death to self, the exchanged life, deliverance from sin, add your favorite phrase here...they all mean the same thing. And that's what the Christian life is all about...
</idle musing>

A sword and a cross

So what does the sword-cum-cross in the Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel mean? What is its message? Is it intended to communicate to the worshipper that as Christians we are willing to lay down our lives and die by the sword of our enemy in imitation of our Lord? Of course not! It means just the opposite. It is intended to communicate to the worshipper that Christ himself blesses the weapons we wield and the wars we wage. The symbolic message is this: following Christ and waging war are completely compatible. Or perhaps even this: the sword saves the world. Good guys killing bad guys redeems the world. Eliminating evil people can eliminate evil. But it’s all a lie. A terrible, pernicious lie. A satanic lie. It is the unmaking of the cross. It’s a faith undone.— A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor's Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace

Thought for a chilly Thursday

Left to myself, I am nothing but total weakness. But if You look upon me for an instant, I am at once made strong and filled with new joy. Great wonder it is that I, who of my own weight always sink to the depths, am so suddenly lifted up, and so graciously embraced by You.

It is Your love that does this, graciously upholding me, supporting me in so many ne- cessities, guarding me from so many grave dangers, and snatching me, as I may truly say, from evils without number. Indeed, by loving myself badly I lost myself; by seeking only You and by truly loving You I have found both myself and You, and by that love I have reduced myself more profoundly to nothing.— Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

SBL Handbook of Style 2nd edition

Paragraph 2.1.3.5

Only one space is needed after any punctuation, whether within or at the end of a sentence.

<idle musing>
Yes! Now I can point people to a definitive spot : )
</idle musing>

Numbers don't tell the whole story

It is not the statistical frequency or infrequency that makes the initial placement of adverbials special, but the cognitive processing function that they accomplish in this position. In each case, the nonfocal element provides an explicit frame of reference for the clause that follows. It is not the most important part of the clause (i.e., focal), instead it sets the stage for the clause that follows by establishing a specific state of affairs or context for relating the clause that follows to the previous context.—Discourse Grammar of the Greek New Testament, page 227

I'm not the only one

Good thoughts today from Ted Gossard:
We have to let scripture speak, even if it doesn’t fit into our theology. Our theology needs to be adjusted to scripture, not scripture to our theology...

If we believe we can’t turn the corner in regard to sin, then it makes it less likely we will. Moses was once a person who took matters in his own hands, but we are told that he became the most humble person on the face of earth. Some might argue that he simply grew up and matured. In part that’s surely the case. But didn’t he have to turn the corner on the sin of pride which arguably is thinking of and looking to ourselves and not thinking of and looking to God?

<idle musing>
See. I'm not the only one crying in the wilderness! : ) </idle musing>

Walking with Christ

“As ye have receive Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him” (Colossians 2:6).

How are you to walk in Jesus Christ? As you received Him. How did you receive Him? By faith. Was that very difficult?

How then are you to walk in Him? By faith! Will that be any more difficult?— The Saving Life of Christ, page 136

<idle musing>
But we make it more difficult! Do we do it because we want it to be more difficult? Or do we do it because we want a checklist? After all, if you have a list, you can see how you're doing. If you just have to respond to the Spirit—well it's easy to deceive yourself...

These are honest questions that I'm asking, not rhetorical ones. And I don't have the answer, but I suspect, if I'm honest with myself, that it is some combination of the two.

What's your take?
</idle musing>

I pledge allegiance...

So politically I call for my nation to prioritize caring for the poor, the sick, the immigrant, and the imprisoned, and to renounce an ambition to dominate the world economically or militarily. I do this in the name of Jesus. I pledge no allegiance to elephants or donkeys, only to the Lamb. These are my politics for the simple reason that they are clearly the politics of Jesus. Jesus says so! Are you good with that? Or do your partisan political allegiances make it hard for you to accept the politics of Jesus? If so, you have some thinking to do.— A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor's Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace

<idle musing>
Now that's a pledge I can get behind! A few years ago I heard someone say that if you rejoice or cry at the results of an election, then your hope isn't in God, it's in the political results. I agree.
</idle musing>

So it was happening in 587 BCE, too

Neither Zedekiah, his attendants, nor the people of the land listened to the Lord’s words spoken by the prophet Jeremiah. 

Nevertheless, King Zedekiah sent Jehucal, Shelemiah’s son, and the priest Zephaniah, Maaseiah’s son, to Jeremiah the prophet with this plea: "Please pray for us to the Lord our God." ( (Jeremiah 37:2-3 CEB)

<idle musing>
Yep. We want God's blessing, but we sure won't obey God in order to get it, will we? 

So the health & wealth "gospel" isn't a new problem; Jeremiah was fighting it in his day as well. I'm not sure if that's encouraging or discouraging!
</idle musing>

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Just arrived

This arrived yesterday afternoon from SBL Press. Total geek out! I can't wait to digest it.

I know, I'm weird! But thanks to Bob Buller and Leigh Anderson for sending it to me! Believe me, I will use it...

What if God died?

Ignoring what they say, and what they sing, and what they pray, countless Christians live as though God were dead—and the Church of Jesus Christ needs above averything else to re-discover the fact that God is alive, and to act as though He were!

Suppose that God were to die tonight! Would it really make any difference to the way you live your Christian life tomorrow? For all you really count upon Him as you go about your daily business, or even do your Christian work, would you notice any difference? Would it make the slightest difference next Sunday in the services in your place of worship, if God were to die tonight? Or would it be business as usual? Would anybody know if nobody told them? Or would the whole machine grind on, with the people in the pew, the parson in the pulpit, and the special offering for the building fund! Nobody ever told them that God was dead!

If we dare to face the hard, cold-blooded truth, we would have to admit today that there is so little in the life of our churches, so little in the activity of so many of our missionary societies and Christian organizations that cannot be explained in terms of man’s ability and promotional activity, that few would cease to function if God were dead.— The Saving Life of Christ, pages 133-134

<idle musing>
Well? Do we really believe that "our life is hidden with Christ in God?" Do we really believe that "in him we live and move and have our being?"

I just finished Forgotten God (yes, I know, it's 5 years old now) yesterday. His theme is essentially the same. And then this morning I ran across this:

In fact there is much in the Protestant ministry world which is a carbon copy of the capitalist corporation. For some the adoption of a commercial, corporate organizational form is simply contextualizing to our capitalist culture. But I wonder if the Protestant church and mission world has crossed a line from contextualization to syncretism...

...The fact that we use either the “for-profit” or “non-profit” designation for nearly all organizations tells you something about the centrality of the commercial, profit-centered business in defining nearly all human organizations. Organizations are labeled by their relationship to profit. We generally would not think of describing non-profits as human flourishing agencies and for-profits as non-human-flourishing organizations...

...The corporate blueprint has pushed us toward treating the gospel as a product, turning our ministries into businesses and people into consumers.

Indeed. There seems to be precious little space for the Holy Spirit in our daily lives; we've got it too together—or so we claim and so we think...I suspect the only person we're really fooling is ourselves (and none too effectively at that!).

But the alternative is, well honestly, just too scary! Let go? Are you kidding! God might require me to actually let Him control my life! I can't have that! (Never mind that I've managed to do a good job of really screwing it up by myself!)

But the Holy Spirit stands there, patiently wooing me home...
</idle musing>

Right or Left?

In political conversation these days, we hear a lot about “right” and “left.” People have a lot of passion about these teams, but I have no allegiance to either the political right or the political left for this simple reason: Jesus has his own right and left! In the Jesus right-left divide, you definitely want to be on the right. (The goats on the left are sent away into the hell prepared for the devil and his angels!) But what does it mean to belong to the true “religious right”? What does it mean to be a “sheep” nation judged to be on the right side of Jesus and blessed by God? It means to be a nation that cares for the poor, cares for the sick, welcomes the immigrant, and practices humane treatment of its prisoners. We can argue about how this is best to be done, but that these are the priorities of Christ is beyond dispute. These values reflect the politics of Jesus. These are the political priorities that flow from the Sermon on the Mount. These are the things that the Son of Man cares about. These are the issues that have priority in the administration of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. The poor, the sick, the immigrant, the prisoner. Conniving politicians may say, “It’s the economy, stupid,” but Jesus says, “No. It’s how you care for the indigent and infirm; it’s how you treat the immigrant and imprisoned.”— A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor's Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace

<idle musing>
Amen! He sums up my politics perfectly...
</idle musing>

Thought for a Tuesday

The children of Israel once said to Moses: “Speak thou to us and we will hear thee: let not the Lord speak to us, lest we die.”

Not so, Lord, not so do I pray. Rather with Samuel the prophet I entreat humbly and earnestly: “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.” Do not let Moses or any of the prophets speak to me; but You speak, O Lord God, Who inspired and enlightened all the prophets; for You alone, without them, can instruct me perfectly, whereas they, without You, can do nothing. They, indeed, utter fine words, but they cannot impart the Spirit. They do indeed speak beautifully, but if You remain silent they cannot inflame the heart. They deliver the message; You lay bare the sense. They place before us mysteries, but You unlock their meaning. They proclaim commandments; You help us to keep them. They point out the way; You give strength for the journey. They work only outwardly; You instruct and enlighten our hearts. They water on the outside; You give the increase.

They cry out words; You give understanding to the hearer.

Let not Moses speak to me, therefore, but You, the Lord my God, everlasting truth, speak lest I die and prove barren if I am merely given outward advice and am not inflamed within; lest the word heard and not kept, known and not loved, believed and not obeyed, rise up in judgment against me.—Thomas à Kempis

Monday, November 17, 2014

Balmy Grand Marais

Strange for Grand Marais to be on the list of high temperatures around Minnesota!

Half a gospel

Why is it that a man [Moses] who could lead an unwilling people out [of Egypt] was unable to lead an unwilling people in [to Canaan]? This is the problem with which so many are confronted, who enjoy a measure of success in their evangelistic activity, but whose converts are of such poor spiritual caliber, who find it comparatively easy to precipitate the crisis of decision, but are baffled by the ensuing lack of spiritual substance in those who have made profession of faith.— The Saving Life of Christ, page 126

<idle musing>
Maybe because they don't really believe it's possible to live a holy life? I don't know, but I do know that it is a common problem...
</idle musing>

The truth hurts

Unfortunately, what I’ve learned through bitter experience is that a lot of people don’t want the game changed. They want to win the game— not change the game. My most vehement critics tend to come from those who regard my deep ambivalence toward a political “take back America for God” agenda as a scandalous betrayal. They simply cannot imagine how God’s will is going to be done if “our side” doesn’t win the political game. This is the game most of the church has played for seventeen centuries—use Christianity to endorse or buttress a particular political agenda. Christian then becomes a mere adjective to the dominant political noun. What is dominant is a particular political agenda. Politics trumps everything. The political tail wags the Christian dog. Christianity’s role is to serve a political agenda. So viewed through the American lens, Christianity is seen to endorse democracy and capitalism, just as it was once seen in Europe to endorse monarchy and feudalism. To even suggest that Jesus doesn’t necessarily endorse every aspect of Jeffersonian democracy and laissez-faire capitalism is enough to get you burned at the stake (hopefully only in a metaphorical sense).— A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor's Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace

<idle musing>
Yep. Ain't it the truth! As Christians, our first allegiance is to Christ and the kingdom of God. But far too often, we get the kingdom of God confused with the kingdom of this world—especially Americans!
</idle musing>

Patience...not!

For all men praise patience though there are few who wish to practice it.—Thomas à Kempis

Neonicotinoids and other thoughts

No, that's not some new grammatical or theological term! Neonicotinoids (neonics for short) are pesticides that theoretically are more effective than other pesticides. There's been debate about them for years, with many claiming that they are responsible for the significant crash in honeybee populations...

Well, the EPA has been testing them recently, and here's what they've found:

Last Thursday, EPA released preliminary findings on neonic-coated soybeans — a small part of the agency’s broader review of neonicotinoids. EPA’s headline finding? Neonicotinoid seed treatments “provide negligible overall benefits to soybean production in most situations.”

We know neonics are harmful to bees and other pollinators; a growing body of science has been pointing to these pesticides as a key factor in dramatically declining populations for years. But pesticide makers like Bayer and Syngenta have continued to claim that neonicotinoid products are essential for farmers' success.

This isn't the case, as EPA's recent findings highlight. Prophylactic uses of neonicotinoid seed treatments — that is, using neonicotinoids preventatively, before pest problems arise — don't actually increase farmer yields. As the agency's report says:

Published data indicate that in most cases there is no difference in soybean yield when soybean seed was treated with neonicotinoids versus not receiving any insect control treatment.

In other words, save your money folks; neonicotinoid seed treatments help soybean yields about as much as… applying no insecticides at all.

<idle musing>
But will the seed kings stop using it? Not likely! There's money in them there things!

So we continue to destroy our environment because the rich want to get richer...which reminds me: with the Republicans controlling both the House and the Senate, when will they introduce their long-promised anti-abortion legislation? Exactly! Never. It's just a sop to seduce the Evangelicals to vote for them...

Wake up people! There are more issues in the Bible than abortion! Yes, I'm against abortion. But I'm also against exploitation of the poor and the immigrants because God cares for all people. Lest you think I'm picking on the Right, I'm also against the drone war in the Middle East. White House, are you listening? Stop the killing! You're just creating another generation of terrorists!

As Christians, we need to be pro-life—from conception to the grave—and not just American lives, either!

OK, I'm done...flame me if you will. Maybe I've been reading too much of Jeremiah...but sometimes you have to scream to be heard.
</idle musing>