Friday, November 28, 2014

Food for thought

The Lord Jesus Christ refused to be committed to the parochial needs of His own day and generation; He was not committed to the political situation in Palestine, or to the emancipation of the Jewish nation from the Roman yoke! He was not committed to the pressing social problems of His time, nor to one faction as opposed to another, any more than today His committed to the West against the East, or to the Republicans against the Democrats (as though either were less wicked than the other!). Christ was not even committed to the needs of a perishing world; He was neither unmindful nor unmoved by all these other issues, but as Perfect Man He was committed to His Father, and for that only to which His Father was committed in Him—exclusively!—The Mystery of Godliness, pages 18-19

<idle musing>
I'm tempted to brush this off as too simplistic. It levels the field too much. But, at the same time, he has a valid point. Perhaps my reticence is that far too often I've heard this argument used as an excuse for indifference to injustice.

But, if one is really committed to doing the will of God, how can it fail to overflow into social action? Unless one does a major editing job on the biblical text, there is no way one can escape the social ramifications of being a Christian.
</idle musing>

Thought for a Friday in November

The Christian Scriptures are so deep that, even if I studied them to the exclusion of all else, from early childhood to worn-out old age, with ample leisure and untiring zeal, and with greater capacity of mind than I possess, each day I would still discover new riches within them. The fundamental truths necessary for salvation are found with ease in the Scriptures. But even when a person has accepted these truths, and is both God-fearing and righteous in his actions, there are still so many things which lie under a vast veil of mystery. Through reading the Scriptures, we can pierce this veil, and find the deepest wisdom in the words which express these mysteries, and in the mysteries themselves. The oldest, the ablest, and the most ardent student of Scripture, will say at the end of each day: “I have finished, and yet my studies have only just begun.”—Augustine of Hippo, Letter 137 as quoted in 2000 Years of Christ’s Power, Part 1

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A very good book

I've been reading a good history of the Jesus People Movement, God's Forever Family. Good stuff. I was saved through the Jesus Movement, so I have a special place in my heart for it. Eskridge does a good job of chasing the various strands and tying them all together.

I think this little excerpt, from an Atlanta Discipleship Training Center newsletter ca. 1970, sums up what the Jesus Movement was all about:

We suggest and encourage our new brothers and sisters who are somewhat freaky in dress, hair, and general appearance to ask the Lord in prayer for a balance. We do feel that the beads, bells, and various astrological signs along with the no-bra philosophy of the Hip Scene should be forsaken. We do not believe, however that a shave and a haircut make a you a Christian any more than long hair and sandals....We are not rehabilitating people to melt back into society as good, clean-shaven and well-spruced American citizens, but rather to learn to follow Jesus Christ and do the will of the Father. (Quoted on page 110)
I ran into a good bit of the "Jesus saves and shaves" mentality once I became a Christian. I remember once going with a straight-laced friend to a revival service at a local Nazarene church. There were 3 of us long-hairs with him. I think the evangelist was trying to get us saved the whole night. I'm not sure what he thought afterwards when we greeted him after the service with a "Praise the Lord, brother." : )

Big job

Had He been prepared to accept “religion” as He found it, and recognize the “status quo,” no doubt the Lord Jesus Christ might well have found acceptance, even among the Pharisees; but He was a trouble maker! He dared to cleanse the temple!

Christ did not come to be “accepted,” nor was He “looking for a ‘job’” in contemporary religion! He came to cleanse the temple—and to do a bigger job than just to cleanse the temple in Jerusalem; He had come to cleanse the temples of men’s hearts, that they might be fit again to be “an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22).—The Mystery of Godliness, page 17

Shining lights

Don’t tell me, “It is impossible for me to influence others.” If you are a Christian, it is impossible for you not to influence others! Just as the elements that make up your human nature do not contradict each other, so also in this matter—it belongs to the very nature of a Christian that he influences others. So do not offend God. If you say, “The sun cannot shine,” you offend Him. If you say, “I, a Christian, cannot be of service to others," you have offended Him and called Him a liar. It is easier for the sun not to shine than for a Christian not to do so. It is easier for light itself to be darkness than for a Christian not to give light. So don’t tell me it is impossible for you as a Christian to influence others, when it is the opposite which is impossible. Do not offend God. If we arrange our affairs in an orderly manner, these things will certainly follow quite naturally. It is not possible for a Christian’s light to lie concealed. So brilliant a lamp cannot be hidden!—John Chrysostom, Homily 20 on the Acts of the Apostles as quoted in 2000 Years of Christ’s Power, Part 1

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

But it really isn't as bad as it looks...

It is much easier to confront a person with his sins than it is to confront him with his “sin”…”sin” is an attitude which affects a man’s fundamental relationship with God; it has to do with what a man is; whereas “sins” have to do with what a man does, and we all have a happy knack of being able to detach what we do from what we are! We are all highly skilled in the art of self-justification and are able to produce innumerable reasons as to why what we did was excusable—even if it was wrong!—The Mystery of Godliness, page 13

<idle musing>
Ain't that the truth! I ran across a good description of how we view sin a while back:

The difficulty, of course, is that sin doesn't look evil and wrong—unless we see it in someone else. In our lives it appears to be benign, attractive, and even indispensable. How could we live without it? We're so familiar with our sins that they seem second nature. That's the problem!— Christianity Lite, pages 109-110
You might recognize it, I posted it before.

Thankfulness

We must not only give thanks to God that He has created us asa intelligent beings, equipped us with the power of free-will, blessed us with the grace of baptism, and granted us the knowledge and help of the Law. We must also give thanks for those things which are bestowed on us by His daily providence. For He delivers us from the cunning of our enemies, and works with us so that we can overcome the sins of the flesh. Even without our knowing it, He shields us from dangers, and protects us from falling into sin. He helps and enlightens us, so that we can understand and recognise the help He actually gives us. By His secret influence, He kindles within us repentance for our sins and for the good things we have not done, visits us with His grace, and chastises us for our soul’s health. Overcoming sometimes the opposition of our own will, He draws us to salvation. And finally, even our free-will, which is quicker to sin than to obey, He turns to a better purpose, inclining it towards the way of goodness by His prompting and suggestion.—John Cassian, Institutes Book 12, chapter 18 as quoted in 2000 Years of Christ’s Power, Part 1

Thought for a snowy Wednesday

Vicious pleasure overcomes the soul that is given to the world. She thinks that there are delights beneath these thorns, because she has never seen or tasted the sweetness of God or the internal delight of virtue. They, on the other hand, who entirely despise the world and seek to live for God under the rule of holy discipline, are not ignorant of the divine sweetness promised to those who truly renounce the world. They see clearly how gravely the world errs, and in how many ways it deceives.—Thomas à Kempis

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A bit of Greek musing

I was reading in Hebrews tonight in the Greek and ran across this:
τότε εἴρηκεν· ἰδοὺ ἥκω τοῦ ποιῆσαι τὸ θέλημά σου. ἀναιρεῖ τὸ πρῶτον ἵνα τὸ δεύτερον στήσῃ, 10 ἐν ᾧ θελήματι ἡγιασμένοι ἐσμὲν διὰ τῆς προσφορᾶς τοῦ σώματος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐφάπαξ. (Heb 10:9-10 NA27)

then he added, “Lo, I have come to do thy will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (RSV)

<idle musing>
I had never noticed the repetition of θέλημα (will) before; it gets lost in the English unless one is paying close attention—as does the use of the perfect passive periphrastic—; possibly because in English "that" isn't as clear as if it had been translated "which". And remember that ἁγιάζω can be translated "holy" not just sanctified, which to my mind sounds too lofty and distant. I would English it as "by which will we have been made holy..." or some such to bring out the reference back to the will of God in the previous verse(s), even though it makes bad English : )

Entitlement: Some thoughts from long ago

“Why shouldn’t I enjoy what God has given me? It lies within my power to enjoy it. Didn’t God make everything for our enjoyment?” These words proe you have no knowledge of God’s will… “Seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33) What if God has made a gift of all things to us, putting them in our hands? Even if all things are lawful, yet “not all things are profitable” (1 Corinthians 10:23), as the apostle Paul says. It was God that gathered the race of humanity into fellowship; He shared out His own goods at first, bestowing His Logos as a corporate possession for all. God made all things for all humans. Common ownership is a reality! The rich may not demand more than their fair share of goods.

If you say, “It is my property, I abound in goods, why shouldn’t I enjoy it?”—that is not a human or social sentiment. What love says is this: “It is in my hand, so I will share it with the needy.” The perfect Christian is the one who embodies the command, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” That is genuine enjoyment! That is accumulating real riches. But what you spend to amuse your silly desires, God registers as loss, not true expenditure. I know God has empowered us to make use of things, but only on the basis of need, and His purpose is the common use of His creation. O how disgusting it is that one human lives in luxury, while most exist in need! How it shines brighter to benefit others than to live in opulence! What a greater wisdom to spend money on people, rather than on gold and jewels! What a greater value to beautify ourselves with friends than with mere dead things! Which brings the richest benefit—amassing property, or showing compassion? In the Gospel, the Lord frankly labels the rich man a fool, when he packs his barns and says to himself, “You have many goods stored up for many years. Eat, drink, be merry!” The Lord says, “This very night your sould will be required of you. Then who will get the things you have stored up?”—Clement of Alexandria, The Tutor, Book 2, chapters 12, 119-20, 125 as quoted in 2000 Years of Christ’s Power, Part 1

<idle musing>
I plan on publishing a review of this book later this week, but for now suffice it to say it was an excellent book that I highly recommend. I'm looking forward to reading the other 3 volumes in the series!
</idle musing>

Success?

All too often quantity takes precedence over quality, and in this highly competitive age those outward appearances of “success” which are calculated to enhance the reputation of professional preacher, or the prestige of those who have promoted him, are of greater importance than the abiding consequences of his ministry.

In an unholy ambition to get “results,” the end too often justifies the means, with the result that the means are certainly not always beyond suspicion, and the “results,” to say the least, extremely dubious!—The Mystery of Godliness, page 11

I'm the source, didn't you know?

There is no holiness, then, if You withdraw Your hand, Lord. There is no wisdom if You cease to guide, no courage if You cease to defend. No chastity is secure if You do not guard it. Our vigilance avails nothing if Your holy watchfulness does not protect us. Left to ourselves we sink and perish, but visited by You we are lifted up and live. We are truly unstable, but You make us strong. We grow lukewarm, but You inflame us.

<idle musing>
Ain't it the truth! But one that we would conveniently forget...it stands in the way of our ego. I want people to congratulate me. I want the center stage! I did it!

But did I? Leaving aside God for the sake of argument, who along my nearly 59 years hasn't had some part in making me who I am today? And I want to say I'm a self-made man? Hogwash! And that's without even adding God into the equation! Put God back in, and...well, let's just say that à Kempis states it very well...

Just an
</idle musing>

Monday, November 24, 2014

Eating up the time

How much can you do without Him? Nothing! So what is everything you do without Him? Nothing!

It is amazing how busy you can be doing nothing! Did you ever find that out? “The flesh”—everything that you do apart from Him—” profiteth nothing” (John 6:62), and there is always the awful possibility, if you do not discover this principle, that you may spend a lifetime in the service of Jesus Christ doing nothing! You would not be the first, and you would not be the last—but that, above everything else, we must seek to avoid!— The Saving Life of Christ, pages 150-151

<idle musing>
Ain't that the truth! Sometimes I lose sight of this and fill my days with "nothing." Lord deliver me! May my days be filled with you.
</idle musing>

The end

Jesus refuted the war option when he told Peter to put up his sword. Killing in order to liberate Jesus and his followers from the violent injustice of Caiaphas, Herod, and Pilate would have been a just war—but Jesus refused to engage in a just war. He chose instead to bear witness to the truth, forgive, and die. Jesus took the death of a world framed by war into his body and he and it both died together.— A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor's Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace

<idle musing>
That's the final excerpt from the book, and a fitting one, I would say.

What do you think? Did he convince you that war is not an option for the Christian?

I was already convinced—once I became a Christian back in 1972, that was the first thing that God changed in my outlook. I went from being very ready to use violence to overthrow the current hierarchy to being a pacifist. I guess I didn't know enough then to throw out Jesus very clear teachings in the Sermon on the Mount : )
</idle musing>

Thought for the day

What return shall I make to You for this grace? For it is not given every man to forsake all things, to renounce the world, and undertake the religious life. Is it anything great that I should serve You Whom every creature is bound to serve? It should not seem much to me; instead it should appear great and wonderful that You condescend to receive into Your service one who is so poor and unworthy. Behold, all things are Yours, even those which I have and by which I serve You.—Thomas à Kempis

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>