Friday, January 30, 2015

Which will it be? Homer or Isaiah?

Love this line:
I’ve never heard a Christmas carol that came from The Iliad. Isaiah is where Handel found the inspiration for his timeless Messiah.
<idle musing>
Isn't that great?! It sums up the polar opposites so succinctly—Achilles = death and destruction; Jesus = Immanuel, God with us. Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing
</idle musing>

Hebrew grammar matters

Ps 118:25 provides us with a clear example of the author’s ultimate respect, politeness, and gratitude toward God, with its use of two נָא particles, two ָאנָּא particles, and two long imperatives. This verse appears as the climax of a very emotionally charged outburst of thanksgiving to God: אָנָּ֣א יְ֭הוָה הֹושִׁ֘יעָ֥ה נָּ֑א אָֽנָּ֥א יְ֝הוָ֗ה הַצְלִ֘יחָ֥ה נָּֽא׃ ‘Please, O Lord, please save (me); please, O Lord, please grant (me) success!’—The Syntax of Volitives in Biblical Hebrew and Amarna Canaanite Prose, page 73 n. 152

But it won't stick otherwise

Although mortals can and clearly do curse, their maledictions do not have much effect unless the divine world gives its consent and allows the curses to have impact. This hinges on the assumption that a curse cannot be fully efficacious (that is, become energized/active) without some form of heavenly recognition and support.— Cursed Are You!, page 153

<idle musing>
Indeed. This continues the thoughts from yesterday...without the recognition/support/blessing of God, the curse "won't stick" so to speak. That, again, is what Proverbs 26:2 is all about. (Now I need to go read what BHQ and HBCE say about that qere/ketiv pair...)
</idle musing>

Caesar? Peacemaker?

In Luke’s vision, the practical corollary of the primacy of God in Jesus Christ is, to employ contemporary language, the primacy of peace and service. Where the lordship of the Roman emperor entailed a pax predicated upon pacifying strength and terror, the lordship of Jesus, so Luke believed, produced a revaluation of the world’s sense of pax. If the Caesars could be called “peacemaker,” it was not without the realization that their form of peace was tied to a still deeper possibility of military violence.—World Upside Down, page 113

<idle musing>
Possibility? I would say probability—no strike that—certainty is the right word. And it still is for any country that claims that there is peace through war. I'm looking you/us, America...
</idle musing>


The irony of wealthy follower of Jesus cannot be ignored.— Sermon on the Mount, page 204

It just doesn't make sense

Jacob was to learn that the way God conquers our enemies is to conquer us. It doesn’t make sense from the human standpoint.—A.W. Tozer, Voice of a Prophet, page 58

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Divine cursing

Cuneiform and Hebrew texts demonstrate that curses by the deities have four principle characteristics. First, solicitation is not a feature of divine maledictions. They function as mandates. This would explain Ḫammurabi’s description of Enlil’s curse: it is KA/pûm, a command. Second, they have an almost immediate effect. Rather than days or weeks, only hours need elapse before the consequences can be readily detected in the physical world. This feature in particular put humanity on guard, making ancient Near Easterners extraordinarily aware of their environment. They were ever watchful for any change, any transformation in their surroundings that may indicate that the effects of a divine curse were invading their cities, homes, land, livestock, and/or people. Third, the words of curses by the supreme deities tend to be fixed and unalterable. This does not mean that the deity looses [sic] control over the curse as soon as it is uttered. Any deity would [have] retained authority over the effects of what had been declared whether it be death, disease, misfortune or diminished fertility. At the very least, a god or goddess could counteract a malediction with a benediction, thereby nullifying it as Yahweh does. The fact that a divine curse was immutable certainly contributed to a malediction’s amazingly independent character. This is the fourth feature of a divine anathema: it can become hypostatized and enjoy a special kind of self-sufficient existence.— Cursed Are You!, page 152

<idle musing>
Interesting, isn't it? Plug Jesus's cursing of the fig tree into this...and the disciples' response. Basically another "proof" of his divinity in their eyes.

Now, let's complicate things a little here—and this is part of my reevaluating my theology, so it is a work in process...bear with me and perhaps even assist me, if you would please.

I was saved through the Jesus Movement and was a part of the the Charismatic Movement up until the "word of faith"/name-it-claim-it-stomp-on-it-and-frame-it people took it over. But, I was still influenced by that mindset in ways that I am still discovering and weighing in the theological balance. Some things I retain, some I reject.

One of the things I rejected (or thought I did!) was the whole "negative confession" theology. For example, one day I was on my way to take a test in a class; I knew I was going to ace it—I had studied and knew the material backwards and forwards. On the way, a friend asked me where I was going. I jokingly responded that I was on my way to "flunk a test." His response, dead serious, was something like don't curse yourself with a negative confession! I about fell over; it was all I could do to keep from laughing out loud! I aced the test, by the way : )

Basically what he was saying was that an utterance out of my mouth automatically became true (sure, I know about the psychological power of negative utterances and all that—I'm not talking about that here). And that belief forms the foundation of the word of faith theology.

I rejected that then and I do now. Sure, there is a place for faith and making statements on faith, but again, that is not what I'm talking about. What I'm talking about is the belief that words automatically have the power to bless and curse—that they become in some sense divine! Reading this book has caused me to examine that belief in a new way.

In order for a curse (or a blessing) to take affect, it has to be approved by a deity—and a deity with enough clout to keep it from getting overruled by a higher deity. That's what makes things complicated in a polytheistic society—witness Enkidu's dual curse: One curse is approved and the other one isn't. The curse that isn't approved now is on its way back to him (and it will curse him!), so he quickly turns it into a blessing on the person he had cursed (this is explained in detail on pages 153–57 in the book).

(For those of you who aren't familiar with Enkidu, he is the sidekick of Gilgamesh in the epic of Gilgamesh. He was a savage—less than human—until he encounters a harlot who tames/civilizes him. The curse that gets turned back is the curse against the harlot.)

But, as Christians, we are in a monotheistic thought world—or at least we should be! So, if someone utters a curse at you, what does that mean? Influenced by the word of faith mentality, I used to think it had real power and would "block" it in prayer. See what I just did? I rejected monotheism. I set up a different deity who had the power to energize that curse! Subtle lack of faith...

OK, have at it! Tell me where I am wrong—or right (I hope the latter is truer!). I'm still thinking through the ramifications of this book, as you can see.

Just an
</idle musing>

No competition

Jesus does not challenge Caesar’s status as Lord, as if Jesus were somehow originally subordinate to Caesar in the order of being. The thought—at least in its Lukan form—is rather much more radical and striking: because of the nature of his claims, it is Caesar who is the rival; and what he rivals is the Lordship of God in the person of Jesus Christ.

Yet, we would be mistaken were we to think that this rivalry takes place on a level playing field—an ontological basis, say, that is deeper than both Jesus and Caesar—as if there were two competitors playing for the same prize, the title κύριος πἀντων [lord of all]. In this way of thinking, κύριος πἀντων is something separable from Jesus himself, a trophy, as it were, that he (rather than Caesar) wins. But in Luke’s way of thinking, κύριος πἀντων is who "Jesus" is: Jesus is completely inseparable from his identity as the universal Lord. Caesar’s rivalry thus takess the form of wrongful (self-) exultation to the sphere whose existence is exactly concomitant with the identity of God in Jesus Christ. Politics, that is, inevitably involves the question of idolatry. From the perspective of the Graeco-Roman world, therefore, things are indeed upside down: Jesus’s lordship is primary—onotologically and, hence, politically—not Caesar’s.—World Upside Down, pages 112-113

<idle musing>
Oooh! I like that! It does indeed turn the World Upside Down! Now, I dare you to bring this insight to bear on the current situation in the U.S. political I read somewhere after the last election, if the results of yesterday's election left you either elated or depressed, then your hope isn't in God, it is in the political process. And that, my friend, is idolatry, pure and simple idolatry.
</idle musing>

The motive?

As a pastor it’s pretty common for me to talk to someone who has come to me to confess a sin or some kind of ongoing struggle. There are often tears as he or she admits the truth. I know it’s a difficult and humbling thing to do, because I’ve been there as well. But one of the questions I’ve learned to ask is, “Are you confessing this to me because you got caught?” That is almost always the case.”—AHA Student Edition electronic edition

<idle musing>
Ouch! If that is the case, then is the confession one that leads to repentance and new life? or does it just assuage the conscience? I suspect that in most cases it is the latter...that's why we have repeat offenders—I would say it is cheap grace, a license to sin even.

That's the final excerpt from this book. I highly recommend it; as I've said multiple times, reading it has answered my long-time question of why some people repeatedly run through the same cycle of awakening but never really break free. In my experience it is usually step three—do something now that is the stumbling block.
</idle musing>

The response

We are body, soul, and spirit and not bodies with a spirit or soul dwelling in us. The former sees us as an organic unity, while the latter sees us as having an inferior part (body) and a superior part (soul, spirit). Fasting in the Bible is the organic, unified response of a whole person to a sacred moment.— Sermon on the Mount, page 201

<idle musing>
It's that nasty gnosticism sneaking into our theology again: only the spirit really matters. Wrong! We are an "organic, unified...whole person" and the sooner we adjust our theology the better. Perhaps then we won't have obese preachers who rail against other sins but ignore the sin of gluttony—just to address the most obvious example.
</idle musing>

But is it God?

We have tried to make God in our image, and because we have made Him in our image, we think we can explain everything He is supposed to do. If you can explain everything about God, it really isn’t God.—A.W. Tozer, Voice of a Prophet, pages 51–52

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The alleged first century Mark

There's been a good bit of stir of late about a supposed papyrus fragment containing the Gospel of Mark. It actually is an old story from 2012 that got resurrected of late. I'm skeptical—I always am when it comes to sensational finds...but in this case, I'm not the only one. I just saw this over at Evangelical Textual Criticism:
I have had correspondence with Craig Evans and have his permission to confirm that he has not seen the alleged first-century manuscript of Mark and does not know the identity of the scholar or scholars to whom it has (presumably) been assigned for publication.

I also believe that Dan Wallace had not seen the alleged manuscript at the time he debated Ehrman. I do not know whether he has seen it since then.

There may have been more eyewitnesses to the Secret Gospel of Mark than to 'FCM'.

Based on current evidence I would conclude that, although 'FCM' may exist, we currently have no reason to believe that it exists or will be published in the coming years. Of course, a historical kernel might exist to the stories of 'FCM', but I personally have very limited enthusiasm for source criticism.

Agreed. And here's what Larry Hurtado has to say:
So, what we can ask in the case of this putative fragment of Mark is that the owner(s) enable the scholarly world to access it, so that a critical and measured analysis can be done. Until then, there is no need to ask what I think of the claim that it is a first-century fragment of Mark. No data, no opinion.

The hidden lining

This perceived incongruity must be tempered by the realization that curses and blessings can be reciprocal. This means that when a person utters a curse against another, he or she simultaneously seeks an implied blessing for himself or herself at someone else’s expense. For instance, cursing an enemy ultimately aspires to a blessing. Therefore, an anathema directed toward a hostile target will become a blessing for the curser should the deities respond according to the solicitation.— Cursed Are You!, page 140

Jesus = God in Acts

In contrast to the emperor, the ultimate Lordship of Jesus Christ in Acts just is the Lordship of God. Indeed, the God of Israel and Jesus Christ do not stand in competition for the designation κύριος [Lord] but rather share this identity. In case there is any doubt about this, we may dispense with it by brief recollection of the use of the OT in Acts 2:16-21, where Peter counters the charge of drunkenness with a citation of Joel 3:1-5 (LXX). “‘and in the last days,’ says God [ὁ θεός], ‘I will pour out my Spirit…and show wonders…before the day of the Lord [κυρίου] comes, that great and manifest day. And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord [τὸ ὄνομα κυρἰου] shall be saved.”—World Upside Down, page 111


There’s a big difference between regret and repentance—the actual turning away from our wrongs. Too often we have an awakening and regret the way things have turned out—but we won’t turn away from our part in it. We hate that someone found out. We regret that we’ve been caught. But we’d still rather deceive people and cover things up instead of fessing up to the truth.—AHA Student Edition electronic edition

<idle musing>
Yep! That about sums it up...
</idle musing>

Do ut des?

[T]he lack of emphasis on the promises that come to the one fasting—Jesus only promises “reward”—means we need to avoid motivating people to fast by what they might gain. The obsession some have with marketing fasting because of its many blessings can be called “benefititis,” the inflammation of material and spiritual blessings that come to the one who fasts. There are no guarantees because fasting is not a mechanical device we ply in order to get something.— Sermon on the Mount, page 200

<idle musing>
But isn't that so like our culture? We reduce everything to the balance sheet. I do this, I get that. No payback? Why should I do it?

Far more pagan that Christian, isn't it? We just rarely take the time to look at it so baldly...

By the way, do ut des is a Latin phrase that means I give so that you will give. About sums up our view of life doesn't it?
</idle musing>

Bluntly honest

I have discovered that God specializes in hopeless cases.

If it were up to me, I never would have chosen Jacob. My choice would have been Esau. I find him to be a much better person than Jacob ever was. There was not really that much bad about Esau; it was always Jacob who had a crooked view of everything around him. I think I could have gotten along with Esau.—A.W. Tozer, Voice of a Prophet, page 48

Celebrate snow

Bobby from Hendrickson Publishers just sent me a link to a marvelous poem about snow by Emerson:
Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o'er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hills and woods, the river, and the heaven,
And veils the farm-house at the garden's end.
The sled and traveller stopped, the courier's feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.

Come see the north wind's masonry.
Out of an unseen quarry evermore
Furnished with tile, the fierce artificer
Curves his white bastions with projected roof
Round every windward stake, or tree, or door.
Speeding, the myriad-handed, his wild work
So fanciful, so savage, nought cares he
For number or proportion. Mockingly,
On coop or kennel he hangs Parian wreaths;
A swan-like form invests the hidden thorn;
Fills up the farmer's lane from wall to wall,
Maugre the farmer's sighs; and, at the gate,
A tapering turret overtops the work.
And when his hours are numbered, and the world
Is all his own, retiring, as he were not,
Leaves, when the sun appears, astonished Art
To mimic in slow structures, stone by stone,
Built in an age, the mad wind's night-work,
The frolic architecture of the snow.
Wonderful! Reminds me of my favorite meditation on snow, which I haven't posted now for about 3 years. I'm remedying that oversight right now : )
When rain turns to ice and snow I declare a holiday. I could as easily resist as stay at a desk with a parade going by in the street below. I cannot hide the delight that then possesses my heart. Only God could have surprised rain with such a change of dress as ice and cold...

Most people love rain, water. Snow charms all young hearts. Only when you get older and bones begin to feel dampnesss, when snow becomes a traffic problem and a burden in the driveway, when wet means dirt—then the poetry takes flight and God's love play is not noted.

But I am still a child and have no desire to take on the ways of death. I shall continue to heed water's invitation, the call of the rain. We are in love and lovers are a little mad. (Space for God)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Grand Marais, the coolest small town?

Just found out about this at the Coop today. Grand Marais could be the "coolest small town." Want to know more? Check it out here and vote. One vote per day, so vote often : )

Try as he might, he couldn't control God

Jephthah, much like Saul, can display all the signs of success, but because he could not rise above the scars of rejection, he will remain a troubled personality throughout. Opportunistic, he can grasp power although it is not his to have—but truth to tell, also not Israel’s to give. Controlling, he imagines himself capable of manipulating Israel’s God. He plans selfishly and, in one scene that distills his many faults as well as his few virtues, he makes a vow that is emblematic of his incapacity to adjust to life as leader of consequence.—Jack Sasson in Literature as Politics, Politics as Literature, page 420

Good generals

When setting off to war, beyond organizing a large and disciplined army and investing in decent spies, good generals consult the gods, sacrifice to them, and bring them along as talismans out to battle. More economical, however, is to petition a god with a specific goal in mind, pledging gifts or services in return for divine patronage.—Jack Sasson in Literature as Politics, Politics as Literature, page 410

Mood (grammatical!)

Although most languages have an identifiable linguistic structure designed to express modality, the elements in the system may have more than one function; they may extend their meanings to more than one semantic domain. Through her study of modal auxiliaries in English, A. Wierzbicka demonstrates that linguistic economy in most languages dictates that markers serve multiple functions [A.Wierzbicka,“The Semantics of Modality,” Folia Linguistica: Acta Societatis Linguisticae Europaeae 21 (1987) 25–43]. For example, the word can is used to express ability (e.g., “Our team can beat your team”) and permission (e.g., “You can go now!”). The word shall also carries several meanings or expresses several moods, depending on the context in which it is found. For example, shall expresses strong vo- lition in the following statement: “You shall obey my orders!” In the sentence: “I shall write a letter tomorrow,” it expresses “intermediate volition,” while in: “Good dog, you shall have a bone later,” shall expresses “weak volition.” Thus, in English, one modal element can carry several meanings. I expect this to be true in other languages as well, where one verbal form marked for modality or one independent morpheme can express various degrees of modality depending on the context in which it it found.—The Syntax of Volitives in Biblical Hebrew and Amarna Canaanite Prose, pages 11–12

Whom do you trust?

Buying seeds for your garden? There's a list of trustworthy companies at Council for Responsible Genetics

Personally, I buy primarily from Fedco Seeds (which is a cooperative, but you don't need to belong to buy) and Johnny's. But I also buy from Seed Savers Exchange, Seeds of Change, and Peaceful Valley. I love looking at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (their magazine is sold at the Coop here in town and it is wonderful!) but so far haven't ordered anything from to go get those onions and leeks started. And see if I can get some broccoli to grow in the basement under lights in those self-watering containers...

How effective was cursing?

In the human realm, the curse operated differently. As those who enjoyed the final word, the deities, particularly the principal gods and goddesses, were seen as judges who reviewed and supervised the solicitation behind every mortal malediction. Thus, a major component of their role as adjudicators would be to determine the worthiness of a curse. If the petition was justified, then they would utter a judgment and permit the actualization of the condemnation. It would have effect. If the curse was unjustified, then the deities would ignore the malediction. It would remain inactive and eventually fade from all living memory.— Cursed Are You!, page 134

<idle musing>
Interesting, isn't it? I had always thought of curses as having a life of their own once they left your mouth. But it appears that they don't. Of course, if I had stopped to thing about it, Proverbs says as much, "Like a darting sparrow, like a flying swallow, so an undeserved curse never arrives." (Prov 26:2 CEB) NIV has "an undeserved curse does not come to rest" and the NRSV has "an undeserved curse goes nowhere."

Perhaps a part of my theology should be reexamined—ok, not perhaps! It definitely should : )

And what does that do a good bit of "word of faith" theology? They have an almost magical view of words—be they curses or blessings....
</idle musing>

To put it bluntly

In short, the κύριος πάντων [lord of all] must be divine (or at the very least uniquely connected to the divine). Social contract advocates since Rousseau have naturally tried to dispense with this necessity—as has the modern world in general—or at least to restate it in terms of the power of “the People.” But the ancients knew better. Ultimate sovereignty entails divinity. The Roman emperor was a god.—World Upside Down, page 111

Step 2

But if we try to get away from honesty, we will short-circuit any real change that AHA may bring. When there’s recognition but no repentance, AHA doesn’t happen. The awakening must lead to honesty.—AHA Student Edition electronic edition

<idle musing>
This is step 2 in making AHA moments stick. You can't/won't repent of something when you minimize it. You have to see it as it really is—as God sees it—in order to repent of it.
</idle musing>

Turn it on its head

Jesus may well be turning the act of fasting inside out in a comic act of exaggeration: the quintessential act of grief in the Jewish world (fasting) becomes an act of celebration. How so? He tells them to “put oil on your head and wash your face (6:17). As we find in Psalms 23:5 and 104:15, oil on the head or face is a sign of gladness and joy, and this might mean Jesus encourages them to dress up for a party.— Sermon on the Mount, page 198

Tuesday Tozer

When it comes to truth, it must be regarded as not only the will of God but also the heart of God. God is not laying upon us strict disciplines to delight in our suffering. Sometimes we get this idea from people who, for some reason, glorify suffering. I never delight in my suffering. That is why it is called suffering.—A.W. Tozer, Voice of a Prophet, page 41

Monday, January 26, 2015

I don't get it

I don't understand it. Well, that's not quite true; I do understand it, but don't get it. Maybe that's not quite right either. I understand it, I get it, but I don't like it.

I have posted over 3800 times in the last 9 1/2 years. My most popular posts have been ones dealing with obscure stuff like Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic grammar. My all-time most popular post was back in 2006 when I posted about the Carta alphabet wall chart, followed closely by my musings on the plural of index.

Not that any of these have seen huge hits! I'm content to blog on obscure stuff that matters to me and a few others. I doubt I'll ever crack the Bibliobloggers top 50, or even the top 100 for that matter. That's fine with me. I post because I enjoy sharing what I'm reading, thinking, and experiencing.

But yesterday I posted on a current political debate—something I rarely do. In less than 24 hours, it has become one of the top posts of all time—again, that's not a huge number, but in less than 24 hours?

I would rather post on heart holiness and see that get huge hits! Or on aspect in Greek, or something like that : )

But yesterday I ran across an article by the children of same-sex marriages and posted it with some idle musings and it caught hits. And one semi-literate comment from someone who probably never read my blog before and probably never will again... Although his(?) syntax was shaky, I think he accused me of being a self-righteous christian, which is why I suspect he has never read my blog before. The only righteousness I have is that which is imputed and imparted to me by Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit as I rest and abide in him!

It takes on a life of its own

They do not dread Saul or even Yahweh, whom we would expect to be the greatest object of concern because the deity would be the activating force behind the harm in the malediction should it be breached. There is a definite sense that the troops are treating this curse as an independent entity that is not only to be feared but also to be respected precisely because of the fear it inspires. Here, the curse operates on the threshold of hypostasis. It is evolving into an independent entity.— Cursed Are You!, page 112

<idle musing>
As she will note a bit later, the ANE world even had deities that were basically curses come to life. Once uttered, a curse took on a life of its own, as did a vow. That's why Proverbs says not to make a vow lightly...words matter.
</idle musing>

The Pax Romana

To belabor a point now well recognized in the study of ancient Rome: the pax of the pax Romana was at the very least more complex than the panegyrical remarks of Virgil, Velleius, and others would suggest. Indeed, seen from the perspective of the dominated the pax Romana may well be rendered best—if in somewhat of an extended form—as the pacification of other peoples by Rome. As even Tacitus was able to see, the peace of Rome was in reality little more than ruthless domination for those on its underside.—World Upside Down, page 107

<idle musing>
Hmmm...sounds way too much like the pax Americana, doesn't it? And like the pax Britannica of the 19th century and any other pax other than the pax Dei.

Maybe that's why the prophet wailed, "Peace, peace, but there is no peace!"
</idle musing>

The wake-up call

Have you had some moments like this with the truth? You realize something you have never realized before, and it wakes you up.

You realize you’ve been trying to live a Christian life through your own power and strength rather than through the power of the Holy Spirit.

You realize you weren’t actually following Jesus—you were just following a list of rules.—AHA Student Edition electronic edition

Where's the focus?

At the heart of the Sermon is a section on spiritual disciplines because Jesus expects his disciples to practice charity, praying, and fasting. Jesus, however, doesn’t command almsgiving, prayer, or fasting but assumes them. The central issue that provokes Jesus is an act done to be noticed as pious and to gain a reputation. Disciplines are done with eye, heart, mind, and soul focused on God.— Sermon on the Mount, page 195

Thought for a snowy Monday

The false prophet would tell you that if you are a Christian you should not experience any bad times. Everything should go wonderfully for you. You should prosper and be successful in everything you touch your hand to. That sounds fine, but it has no root in the Word of God. What it does do is take the focus off what God has for us.

Robbing God’s people of God’s best is one of the fundamental problems in this generation. These false prophets are exchanging God’s best for what they consider their best. Are we followers of God, or are we following man? False prophets would have us follow them. Always remember that when you follow a man, he will always lead you away from God.—A.W. Tozer, Voice of a Prophet, page 31

Sunday, January 25, 2015

But what do the children say?

I'm sure I will catch all kinds of flack for this one...but it needs to be said. What do the children of same-sex marriages say? It appears that a few of them have filed court briefings...
"While I do not believe all gays would be de facto bad parents, I know that the gay community has never in my lifetime put children first as anything other than a piece of property, a past mistake or a political tool to be dressed up and taken out as part of a dog-and-pony show to impress the well-meaning," Klein wrote.
<idle musing>
So, what of the children? This excerpt is just one of a selection from the court briefing...go ahead and read the rest at the site. Mind you, she was raised in a same-sex family, so she's speaking from the inside.

So, are we being honest here? Or is it a case of "nice" so we don't have to face the flack of disagreement? Is one particular form of sin being privileged here? What is the role of the church? Of individual Christians here?

We are quick to point out the abusive relations that alcohol produces—and we rescue kids from that. We are quick to point out the evils of the sex trade—and we rescue kids from that. When a divorce happens, the judge has to decide which parent will offer the best chance for the children. But what about this?

Anybody who has read this blog for very long knows that I don't elevate one sin above another—they are all reprehensible in God's sight! And I believe in God's unconditional forgiveness and love for all. But, most importantly, I believe in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to deliver people from all sins.

I don't pretend to have an answer here, so don't think I am advocating any particular path. I'm just raising a question that seems to have been neglected in this whole debate.
</idle musing>

Update: I am assuming that the legalization of gay marriage is inevitable. I am simply trying to get the question of what about the children into the discussion. I am not talking about the morality of same-sex marriages. That is a different issue all together. You can probably guess where I come down on that!

Was Rome right?

From Paul’s perspective, however, if peace and justice come through violence and war (whether then or now), then Rome was right and Christ died in vain. The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant, page 192 (emphasis original)

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Unholy trinity

Three elements are present here: sensationalism, emotionalism and entertainment. I must point out that all these are contrary to wholesome spiritual development.

Make it Sensational

Sensationalism can capture the headlines, so to speak. That is just a temporary thing. When we sensationalize the gospel message, we out of necessity must take it out of context. There was nothing sensational about dying on the cross. To try to sensationalize this is to miss the whole focus of the crucifixion. To turn the crucifixion into entertainment is about as blasphemous as you can get.

Make it emotional

I have seen some of these sons of the prophets stir up an audience emotionally. By playing on their emotions, they can control the audience and bring that audience to any point they want to. We used to see this in the circus; now we are seeing itin the pulpit. Can anything be more blasphemous than that?

What most people do under emotional high will never translate into daily disciplined living for God.

Make it entertaining

The thing I cannot understand or accept is the entertainment aspect of today’s sons of the prophets. For some reason, they go to Hollywood to get their authority these days. If they can only package the message in an acceptable manner that will entertain the most numbers of people, they count that to be successful. Even so, I wonder how entertaining it was for Jesus to die on the cross?—A.W. Tozer, Voice of a Prophet, pages 21–22

Friday, January 23, 2015

It's complicated

1 Sam 11:6–7 [Saul sending pieces of an ox to the 12 tribes, demanding they assemble for war] establishes several important points about the way a conditional imprecation could be imposed. First, those who are conditionally cursed do not have to be present when the imprecation is performed for the malediction to be valid and effective. They need only to be informed. Notification of the existence of the conditional anathema is made through the dispatch of messengers bearing a token of the curse. Second, the people to whom the portions of meat are sent do not appear to have any right of appeal. They must obey or possibly suffer the consequences of the curse should they choose not to honor the conditions. Third, the right to impose conditional curses was not limited to the priesthood. It was a right also enjoyed by the king. Even though Samuel is mentioned in v. 7, it is Saul who butchers the oxen, cuts them up and disseminates the pieces among the tribes of Israel. There is no doubt that he is imposing the malediction. And fourth, we may assume with some confidence, that the spoken element of the malediction initially declared by Saul was then repeated by the messengers on delivery of the cursed meat.— Cursed Are You!, pages 109-110

False options

Yet, as any number of contemporary examples might remind us—Martin Luther King Jr., to take only the most obvious—the rejection of insurrection does not simultaneously entail an endorsement of the present world order, as if the fact that Jesus was δίκαιος necessitates Luke’s approval of the crucifixion.—World Upside Down, page 88

The social factor

I am pleading with you to come to your senses. There’s a storm brewing, and there is no time to waste. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that those closest to you will be able to escape the devastation of your storm. Your journey to the Distant Country doesn’t affect just you; it affects all those who share life with you.

When Jonah ran from God, the sailors were terrified. Their lives were at risk. Jonah’s running led to the near destruction of the people around him.—AHA Student Edition electronic edition

But I can just fast for it, right?

The most influential understanding of fasting today is the instrumental theory. In the simplest of terms, this theory teaches that we fast in order to gain some benefit. …

But instrumental fasting is all but impossible to find in the pages of the Bible and is rarely reflected in ancient Judaism or the rabbis. Instead of an instrumental approach, the genius of the Bible is its focus on the whole-body response of a human being to grievous, severe conditions. Fasting means a human being refrains from food or water, or both, for a limited period of time in response to some sacred, grievous moment.— Sermon on the Mount, pages 193, 194

<idle musing>
Scot wrote a whole book on fasting, developing this thought even further. Do yourself a favor and read it!
</idle musing>

Daily dose of Tozer

In some places, the church is being marketed as though it were a business. Christianity is not a commercial commodity or product. I do not see that in the New Testament.

What bothers me is the fact that the message gives way and takes second place to the presentation of the message. If the message is presented in a certain way, it is okay regardless if some point is missing. That is my definition of heresy. Heresy is presenting truth but conveniently leaving out some of the truth. This is happening today through the presentation process we have today—A.W. Tozer, Voice of a Prophet, page 19

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Grammar really does matter

Further, Neh 5:13 also illustrates the custom of pronouncing a curse twice. The first articulation is expressed with an active verb that is clearly informed by and coordinated with Nehemiah’s performance of shaking out his cloak. After the predictive act and word is completed, the curse is pronounced again but this time with a passive participle. This reflects a careful balance between the active and passive voice and likewise suggests a mutually dependent paring of ideas in maledictions expressed in this way. Even though the passive participle relies on the preceding curse for some meaning, it is still possible for the passive curse to stand on its own. This proposes that ָארוּר-formula imprecations developed from the second element of binary curses in which the first element expressed the malediction actively with a curse act.— Cursed Are You!, page 66

Religion, the fabric of Roman culture

Because “religion” in antiquity was not a category separable from the rest of life—as modern usage generally implies—this difference in the perception of divine identity amounts to vastly more than a mere difference in a discrete sphere of faith and ritual (that corresponds, e.g., to the subject matter of a particular academic discipline). As both classic and more recent studies have shown, to take ancient religion seriously in its various dimensions is to see that it “ran through all [of life’s] phases.” [Nock, Conversion, 272] Ancient religion, that is to say, is a pattern of practices and beliefs inextricably interwoven with the fabric of ancient culture. Religion is not, however, just part of this fabric, ultimately passive and controlled by other more basic influences such as politics and economics, for example. Rather, religion is also constitutive of culture; it helps to construct the cultural fabric itself. Religion is, therefore, in the last resort “indistinguishable from culture.” [Young, Biblical Exegesis, 50]—World Upside Down, pages 50-51

Always pursuing us

Both sons were in the wrong, and it was really their responsibility to seek out the father. The younger son did, and the father was waiting. As soon as he could see his son on the horizon, he ran to him. He didn’t sit back and wait. He didn’t make his son sweat out each last step. He didn’t posture himself as most patriarchs would have back then, full of pride and indignant about any disrespect. No, he ran to his son.

And when the older brother was in the field, the father left the celebration to find him. He engaged his son even when he didn’t have to.

What do both of these interactions tell.—AHA Student Edition electronic edition

<idle musing>
As Augustine said, the Holy Spirit is the hound of heaven (I know, this post is about the Father!). And I praise God that he is still pursuing me—despite my many stupid, selfish mistakes/sins...
</idle musing>

The power of prayer

I affirm what Tiessen calls the redemptive intervention model [of prayer], in which God’s overall plan is established and known to God while granting freedom within that plan. In this model, prayer changes things, and I believe the biblical models of prayer, from Abraham to David to Elijah to Isaiah to Jesus to Paul and the early churches, affirm this interactive model in which prayer sometimes alters the path of history within the overall plan of God in response to the prayers of God’s people. The upload from this theoretical sketch is that our yearning and our aching for God’s name to be hallowed, for God’s kingdom to come, and for others to experience the blessing of God can prompt God to actions that satisfy those yearning and aches.— Sermon on the Mount, page 188

<idle musing>
Amen and amen! That's my take, as well.
</idle musing>

Thought for the day

Have we come to a stage in this generation that the so-called church is promoting everything and anything that will add to its number? The bottom line, as they say, is success; and success has everything to do with numbers. Whatever brings the numbers in must be all right.

This is far from the church fathers who gave their lives to establish the church of Jesus Christ.

The problem, as I see it, is that we have lost the vision the fathers had of what we refer to as the New Testament church.—A.W. Tozer, Voice of a Prophet, page 17

<idle musing>
And I would go a step further and say we have lost the vision that Jesus, the apostles, and Paul had for what the church is...
</idle musing>

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

There is a difference

There is a fundamental distinction between a vow and an oath. A vow is a conditional promise that seeks to bargain with a deity to support a desired outcome. Most notable vows articulate the arrangement in positive terms; expressing how each party will mutually benefit when the agreement is fulfilled. Vows generally lack any references to penalties for a failure to meet the vow’s demands. This may be attributed to the fact that a human being cannot punish a deity for not honoring the arrangement. The freedom of divine will must be respected. However should a mere mortal fail to thank the deity for his or her generosity by fulfilling the vow, we can presume that there would be repercussions. Yet again, this leaves the deity free to determine exactly what that punishment will be.

An oath, on the other hand, is a conditional curse. It solicits a deity or deities to punish someone for failure to respect and maintain the terms of an arrangement. One of the more interesting characters {sic] of ancient oaths is that they could be exacted in two different ways. One method allowed one to bind oneself to the agreement. This is an oath as a conditional self-curse. Thus, the one who swears the oath generally determines the nature of the punishment as expressed in the curse. The other method allows a superior party to impose an oath on another person. Here, the superior party unilaterally establishes all features of the oath from every detail of the terms, to expansive lists of curses.— Cursed Are You!, pages 61-62

You hit the stone wall

This collision, however, is not due to the missionaries’ lack of tact (though they were doubtless bold) or to a pagan propensity for rash violence (though there was doubtless bloodlust); rather, its deeper basis rests ultimately in the theological affirmation of the break between God and the cosmos. For to affirm that God has “created heaven and earth” is, in Luke’s narrative, simultaneously to name the entire complex of pagan religiousness the character of ignorance. Pagan religion, regardless of the specific differences engendered by time and locale, knows only the cosmos; it does not know God.—World Upside Down, page 50

What are you portraying?

Jesus knows that most people base what they think about God on His representatives. In that day, people viewed God based on how the Pharisees and teachers lived and behaved. Think about it: Our interactions with employees shape our view of a company. I mean, if you walk into Target and a sales representative is rude and cusses at you, you’re not going to be happy. You might complain to him personally, but more likely, you or your parents are going to say, “I’d like to speak to the manager, please.”

That’s what’s behind Jesus’s challenge to these Pharisees. These older brothers lived and worked in the Father’s house. They told the people how to follow the Father. Jesus knew the people were looking to them as a reference point of what the Father is like. And He knew there were a lot of older brothers totally misrepresenting the heart of God. (There still are.) These older bros were portraying God as a Father who is unreasonable, unpleasable, uncaring, and unmerciful. And it’s often the older brothers’ portrayal of God that sends prodigals to the Distant Country in the first place.

But that’s not the kind of Father Jesus described.—AHA Student Edition electronic edition

Simply put...

Those who genuinely love others forgive. Those who don’t are not kingdom people.— Sermon on the Mount, page 183

<idle musing>
You couldn't put it much simpler than that, could you. Or truer.
</idle musing>

Good advice

My child, stand firm and trust in Me. For what are words but words? They fly through the air but hurt not a stone. If you are guilty, consider how you would gladly amend. If you are not conscious of any fault, think that you wish to bear this for the sake of God. It is little enough for you occasionally to endure words, since you are not yet strong enough to bear hard blows.—Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

It's up to them

Although a deity, insulted by the offense of vow neglect, could indeed castigate the offender with a variety of misfortunes, the punishment is never seen to derive from a prearranged, conditional malediction. This illustrates a fundamental distinction between the vow and the oath. The curse in an oath establishes the nature of the punishment in advance while the vow leaves the penalty to the whim of the deities.— Cursed Are You!, page 36

<idle musing>
And given the unstable nature of some of those gods, I don't think that was supposed to be a comforting thought...
</idle musing>

Make the choice

The burning of magical books and the uproar caused by Demetrius and the craftsmen are not two unconnected or random events but rather two different responses to the life of transformation proclaimed by Paul and the early Christians. Acts 19:18-20 and 19:23-40, that is, narrate two sides of the same, stark either/or reality. The practice of magic is incompatible with Christian life, as is the worship of Artemis and veneration of her images/shrines. In Acts, it is either magic or Christianity, either Artemis or Christ.—World Upside Down, page 49

<idle musing>
It still is. We just aren't a quick to realize it because the names have changed. Check out this blog post from the other day:

Superstitious reverence for all things military constantly verges on the idolatrous and prevents the church from being a prophetic people. Memorial Day is not on the church calendar and military color guards marching down church aisles with rifles on their shoulders should not be part of our liturgy.

Consumerism, as much as anything, has come to define much of America’s most visible expressions of Christianity. Take a quick stroll though “Christian TV Land” and you’ll see what I mean. This is what Janis Joplin mocked when she sang, “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz.” The cross heaps shame on all of this.

The American prescription for happiness is the script we’ve been handed. But it’s a lie. It’s a false gospel, yet enormously popular. The only possible way to resist that dominant script is through the adoption of what Walter Brueggemann calls a counter-script. For the Christian that counter-script is the gospel of Jesus Christ — at the center of which stands a cross!

Amen and amen! May we see through the facade...
</idle musing>

It covers us all

The Pharisees listening to Jesus were about to learn what they had forgotten—and what we often forget: the followers of Jesus aren’t on earth to assign blame; we’re here to free the trapped, bandage the wounded, help the hurting, and celebrate homecomings.


But the older son didn’t get it. He stayed angry and offended, despite his father’s pleas. This older bro may have worked hard and faithfully tended the fields, but he was lost in his father’s house.

There was no awakening.

There was no honesty.

There was no action.

The truth is, he, too, was a prodigal son. He, too, had a heart that was far from his father. He, too, was lost—but he didn’t see it. Pastor Tim Keller puts it this way: 'The bad son was lost in his badness, but the good son was lost in his goodness.’—AHA Student Edition electronic edition

Try getting around that!

Verse 12 is a prayer request: forgive us our sins as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us. In other words, the appeal to God for forgiveness is rooted in our forgiving others. For most of us this seems backward because it seems to make God’s forgiveness conditioned on our forgiving others. But that’s what Jesus says!— Sermon on the Mount, page 182

<idle musing>
And books have been filled trying to get around it for 2000 years! None of them convincing...

Maybe we're just trying to keep grace cheap?
</idle musing>

Thought for a Monday Tuesday

Oh, how good and how peaceful it is to be silent about others, not to believe without discrimination all that is said, not easily to report it further, to reveal oneself to few, always to seek You as the discerner of hearts, and not to be blown away by every wind of words, but to wish that all things, within and beyond us, be done according to the pleasure of Thy will.—Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

Friday, January 16, 2015

Vows as bargaining chips

In its most fundamental sense, a vow is a conditional promise. In the ancient Near East, vows were most frequently used as a means of bargaining with the divine. While one could loosely identify the expression of vows as “prayers,” they were, nevertheless, primarily negotiating tools. Human beings used them to enlist heavenly assistance and gain advantage in situations that were perceived to be beyond mortal influence.— Cursed Are You!, page 35

<idle musing>
Not a whole lot has changed, has it? We still try to bargain with God, promising him this, that, or something. And in the end, it's all about control. We want to be in control. And we think that by making a vow we can "get God on our side."

Nope. Nothing really has changed—except they were a bit more honest about it than we are...
</idle musing>

It's more radical than that

To agree with the logic of the Areopagus speech in the end, therefore, is not to see the truth of the gospel in pagan philosophical terms (translation) but to abandon the old interpretive framework for the new. It is, plainly said, to become a Christian.—World Upside Down, page 41

Who's the subject of the sentence?

We think, It’s too late now. I don’t have time to get cleaned up. I don’t have time to get my life together. But it’s not too late—the Father wants you just the way you are. When you finally act, your heavenly Father comes running with arms wide open. He loves you just as you are, but He doesn’t leave you that way. He puts His best robe on your dirty body. He puts the family ring on your hand. He kills the fattened calf.

Meat was a rare delicacy during Jesus’s time. It might get served at a party, but nothing was more extravagant than killing a fat calf.

Do you see how quickly the focus of the story shifts from the action of the son to the action of the father? We make the story all about us, and it feels too late. But the story is really about the Father. And it’s never too late.—AHA Student Edition electronic edition

Maybe today means today...

The sweep of the Gospels, not to mention [Matt] 6:25–34, where Jesus points a long finger at consumerism and preoccupation with money and possessions, suggest that when Jesus says, “Give us today our daily bread,” the word today suggests we are not to worry about tomorrow or about storing up food but to trust God for what we need that day. We perhaps need to remind ourselves that the followers of Jesus were not wealthy with pantries and refrigerators filled with food.— Sermon on the Mount, page 182

Thought for a Friday

Grant me help in my needs, O Lord, for the aid of man is useless. How often have I failed to find faithfulness in places where I thought I possessed it! And how many times I have found it where I least expected it! Vain, therefore, is hope in men, but the salvation of the just is in You, O God. Blessed be Your name, O Lord my God, in everything that befalls us.— Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

Thursday, January 15, 2015

I didn't know that

The fundamental difference between an oath and a vow is the curse. An oath has a curse; a vow does not. An oath automatically solicits the divine world. A vow, on the other hand, involves the deities but the principle on which the solicitation is based rests on the axiom of reciprocity. A vow negotiates with the divine realm. An oath does not; it only petitions harm should the oath not be honored.— Cursed Are You!, page 33

The implications

It is particularly noteworthy, therefore, that the magicians did not give or throw their books away, or, for that matter, sell them for money to help widows and orphans (an obvious Lukan concern; see, e.g., Acts 6:1-2). The mere existence of magic, implies Luke—not simply the practice of magic by those who now know better—is antithetical to the Christian way of life. Hence not only does the public action prevent the books from being used by others who are not similarly persuaded, it also visibly and dramatically enacts the irreversibility of the practitioners’ divulgence and confession. Books once burned can never be retrieved. The termination of magical practice and the burning of the books that make such practice possible thus visibly mark and publicly proclaim the end of a way of life. The life that supports and is supported by magic has gone up in flames.—World Upside Down, page 43

Hang it up! There's not a chance...

A spirit of defeatism can be expected if everything depends on us. If it’s up to our actions to save ourselves, then, yeah, it’s too late—way too late. A spirit of defeatism comes because we don’t accurately take into account how the Father will respond when we come home.—AHA Student Edition electronic edition

<idle musing>
Amen to that! This is not a self-help book! This is a "obey the Lord and he will live it through you" book. It is all about the presence of the Holy Spirit convicting (the AHA moment), enlightening (the brutally honest moment), and empowering (the obedience step). If you carry through with the second and third steps, God will transform you...and watch the subject of those sentences: it's always God.
</idle musing>

Brutally honest

It can be put baldly: we do not know exactly what “daily bread” means. For some this wrecks what we have always known to be true, but “our daily bread” uses a Greek term that is used but one time in the ancient literature.— Sermon on the Mount, page 181

<idle musing>
Sorry to pop your bubble! And you thought knowing Greek would give you all the answers!
</idle musing>

Our violent legacy

Just ran across this, about our culture of violence. Read the whole thing here.
Any culture has a difficult tendency to send conflicting messages on an array of issues, and American culture is no different. This fact is especially true when it comes to one of America’s hallmark characteristics: violence.

The use of violence towards others is at the very foundation of the American identity– it’s how we were born as a nation, and how we have thrived as a nation. Since we benefit so greatly from this violence, we have not only culturally justified it but have gone one step further and glorified it as being good, noble, justified, and one of the things that makes us so “great.”

Those who volunteer to sign up to carry out America’s violence are immediately deified as cultural heroes– even within the church of Jesus Christ itself. I often see this immediately upon entering many churches in America, where one can often find bulletin boards on the walls plastered with pictures of military members the church has sent off to use violence to advance the interests of empire.

<idle musing>
Sobering post, isn't it? Do read the whole thing. I'm adding him to my blog roll...
</idle musing>

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Look out! They're everywhere!

So close is the connection between curses and their heavenly derivation that curses can become deities themselves. They separate the dead from the living. They are disease, calamity, ailment, and misadventure. They are the agents of death. They are the personification of divine weapons, the instruments used in the execution of the evil embedded in every malediction. They are executioner deities, dispatched by their divine lord and master to work his will. They are ever active. They move in collectives. They pursue and chase offenders. They attach themselves to the body of their victims. They grab the hems of garments and lurk in doorways and corners. They hide in jars and pots. They live in areas sparse in life, in cemeteries, in the wilderness, in the desert. They are demons. They bring death; therefore, they are the denizens of the netherworld.— Cursed Are You!, page 5

<idle musing>
This is the world the Bible grew up in, if you will. Curses are real. They are "out to get you..." You need a potent ally to protect you. Is your god big enough, strong enough? Do you take good care of your god? You need to or they won't stop the curse(s) from getting you!

There's a reason for all those sacrifices. There's a reason for the popularity of the personal god (dLAMMA in cuneiform [see CAD L: lamassu, lamassatu for more information]). There's a reason the Greeks venerated the Hermai and got all bent out of shape over their desecration—indeed, they even credited the failure of their expedition against Syracuse to the desecration! There's a reason the Romans had hearth deities (Lares & Penates).

They needed protection!

Enter the idea of monotheism. Think about the ramifications of that. You don't have a small god anymore to protect you! You've only got one god, and he's way up there!

When I look up at your skies,
at what your fingers made—
the moon and the stars
that you set firmly in place—
what are human beings
that you think about them;
what are human beings
that you pay attention to them? Psalm 8:3–4 CEB
It suddenly makes sense why the Israelites had a hard time giving up their other deities. It makes sense why, even after the "Christianization" of Europe, folk religion continued to be the real religion.

And, if I may be so bold, it makes sense why superstitions are so powerful in sports today...they really are out to get you!

Think about it. How different are you, am I, from those ancient Near Eastern people?

Just an
</idle musing>

Compliment? or insult? Yes.

Luke actually exploits the ambiguity of δεισιδαιμονέστερος. The characters of the story, that is, hear δεισιδαιμονέστερος in a complimentary sense, while the auditors—remembering the perspective created by 17:16—hear Luke’s critiquoe of Athenian idolatry as superstition. Δεισιδαιμονέστερος is simultaneously very “religious” and “superstitious.”—World Upside Down, pages 33-34

<idle musing>
I remember teaching this section of Acts one summer to a second year Greek class. I brought up the double meaning and noted that F.F. Bruce, in his Commentary on the Greek Text of Acts, came down on the side of "too superstitious." I, in turn, made the argument for "very religious." One doesn't argue with Bruce lightly!

A bit later in the class we were reading Theophrastus's Superstitious Man (English text here). The students, of course, didn't remember the word at all. But it drove home to me the double meaning of the word. I've wondered about how to take it for years (this was 1985), even though I still came down on the side of "very religious." I think Rowe has pegged it right... If I ever teach that section of Acts again, I'll point out his interpretation. Very satisfying.
</idle musing>

Right now!

If there’s an awakening and you come to your senses and you know something needs to be done and you think to yourself, "Tomorrow I will…" or, "Next week I’m going to…," that’s not the Holy Spirit. This was actually an awakening for me a few years ago, an AHA moment that came as I studied the Bible. I came to the startling realization that the Holy Spirit always says today. He never says tomorrow.—AHA Student Edition electronic edition

As it is in heaven

“On earth as it is in heaven” is fundamental to the entire Lord’s Prayer as well as all of early Christian eschatology. Jesus clearly has no desire, as was the case in Platonic and the wider reaches of much of Greek and Roman thought, to move through this life with as little hassle and suffering as possible. The release of souls from this embodied life into a celestial disembodied existence is not a biblical notion. The opposite is the case with Jesus and for the entire Bible.— Sermon on the Mount, page 180

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Why a curse?

For the harm in all curses ultimately aspires to one end: death. They seek death in order to preserve life. This death is indiscriminate. No one is immune. It can be instant or slow and torturous.— Cursed Are You!, page 5

<idle musing>
This is a repeated theme in the book. Curses aim to destroy the person/god/animal/thing being cursed. The difference is in the extent and means that are employed in getting it done.

In short, curses aren't nice things. And in the ancient world, everybody was susceptible to them—even the gods!

Of course, if you cursed the gods, it wouldn't go well with you,either...
</idle musing>

Athens as Paul saw it

Instead of a romantic view of Athens as the place of university-like debate, Luke portrays the city’s rampant idolatry—Paul is rightly vexed—as the context in which the Christian preaching of the resurrection of Jesus (1) is distorted and (2) results in a potentially life-threatening situation for Paul vis-à-vis the political authorities (who are themselves enmeshed in hypocrisy).—World Upside Down, page 33

<idle musing>
Makes you want to read the book, doesn't it? : )

How is the resurrection being distorted? Why is Paul in a life-threatening situation? How are the political authorities enmeshed in hypocrisy?

You'll have to read the book because it's too complicated to answer in this space. Trust me, though, this book is worth the time and energy—especially if you know Greek and think you know a good bit about the New Testament world...

And I do praise God for interlibrary loan!
</idle musing>

Two-thirds isn't the point

When our AHA experience finds its fulfillment in immediate action, Jesus is ultimately glorified. Most of the non-Christians you know are probably aware of what you say and believe. And I bet they would say that most Christians don’t experience AHA; they just experience AH. But if Jesus is really in our lives and His Spirit is truly inside us, that should make the difference between AH and AHA.—AHA Student Edition electronic edition

<idle musing>
Wesley used to say that he pitied the religious man—he had enough of God that he couldn't enjoy sin, but not enough of God that he could enjoy God. I would say that sums up the person who settles for AH instead of AHA...
</idle musing>

Who's at the center?

In Israel’s Story, God is preeminent. Observance of the Torah is to be done before God. God-centered obedience glorifies God by making God preeminent.

But humans want to usurp the place of God, making themselves the center of the Story. This happens at two levels in our passage: on the one hand, humans have a proclivity to usurp the place of God by sitting in judgment on one another, which is why humans seek the approval of others; on the other hand, we seek the approval of others instead of the pleasure of God in our behaviors because, as it often turns out, they will give us what we want (whereas God gives us what is good and right) .— Sermon on the Mount, page 152

Monday, January 12, 2015


Jacob is heading back to Canaan and about to meet his brother—not a good situation, I'd say. So, he decides he better serve only YHWH, who said he would be with him and protect him—a wise decision, I'd say. "So they gave Jacob all of the foreign gods they had, as well as the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the terebinth at Shechem" Gen 35:4 CEB. So much for background, now the fun stuff:
Certainly one cannot overlook the pun on which the verse slyly pivots. For אֵלָה “oak tree” can sound very similar to אָלָה “curse. Undoubtedly, “hiding” the cursed statuettes is equivalent to interring them. They are buried because they are dead. And they are dead because Yahweh considers them cursed (Deut 27:15).—Cursed Are You!, page 209
<idle musing>
I'm (slowly) working my way through this book in between linguistic books. You'll start to see a excerpts here over the course of the next month or three...but isn't the word play marvelous? For those who don't know Hebrew, I'll transliterate: ’ēlah (oak) versus 'alah (curse)
</idle musing>

Look out! The world is falling apart!

The missionaries are not calling for riotous insurrection (στάσις). Yet, read from within the perspective of the characters who utter the charges, it must be admitted that, despite their motivation (v. 19), they have witnessed in Paul’s exorcism the inherently destabilizing power of Jesus Christ for the pagan way of life. The recognition of the superior power of Jesus Christ is simultaneously the invalidation of the power claims of other πνεύματα.—World Upside Down, page 26

<idle musing>
Did you catch that? Stasis (στάσις) was a crime in the Roman world; it would get you killed. Paul is claiming they aren't wanting στάσις. But—and this is huge—the fact that he could exorcize a demon by the name of Jesus means that the claims of Jesus stand in direct contradiction to the entire pagan world system. And that especially includes the claims of Caesar to be divine.

In other words, who is God? and who demands your first allegiance? God in Jesus? or Caesar as god?

Think about that in the context of current U.S. nationalism. If I say that the U.S. is a war-mongering nation, what does that make you want to do to me?

OK, now assume that my view would destabilize not just "our troops," but the entire known world. That should give you a small picture of what he is saying here. The gospel has the potential to cause the entire known world to come crashing down.

I'm not doing a very good job of communicating this, but hopefully you can get a taste of how radical the gospel is—and how destabilizing it is to the status quo. (Mind the present tense; it's intentional!)
</idle musing>


The son’s plan of action wasn’t complicated. It was pretty simple. Get up, go home, talk to his father. He didn’t plan a pit stop to get cleaned up. He didn’t plan a way to earn a little money so he wasn’t going home broke. He didn’t complicate the plan with any unnecessary steps.

Keeping it simple can be hard for us. But when you try to tie up every possible loose end, you just end up frustrated and convinced you need to work harder at the solution instead of actually reaching the solution. Sometimes we need a simple—not perfect—plan of action to cut through the knots.”—AHA Student Edition electronic edition


Enemy love is not a magic formula. It’s not a trick. It’s a posture toward every human being we meet.— Sermon on the Mount, page 150

Check it out!

First, look things up. Humans area cursed with the deadly combination of a highly fallible memory and an overconfidence in how much they know. Our social networks, traditional and electronic, multiply the error, so that much of our conventional wisdom consists of friend-of-a-friend legend and factoids that are too good to be true.—The Sense of Style, page 302

Saturday, January 10, 2015

What to do with all that money

I'm rereading, after 25+ years, Daddy Long legs, delightful youth novel written in 1912. It definitely shows that some things never change:
I only saw Master Jervie once when he called at tea time, and then I didn't have a chance to speak to him alone. It was really disappointing after our nice time last summer. I don't think he cares much for his relatives—and I am sure they don't care much for him! Julia's mother says he's unbalanced. He's a Socialist—except, thank Heaven, he doesn't let his hair grow and wear red ties. She can't imagine where he picked up his queer ideas; the family have been Church of England for generations. He throws away his money on every sort of crazy reform, instead of spending it on such sensible things as yachts and automobiles and polo ponies.
<idle musing>
Imagine that! Spending his money on reforms instead of yachts and automobiles! What is this world coming to!

Of course, now it would be spending your money on planes and buying politicians—but it all amounts to the same thing, doesn't it? Me first!

Just don't call yourself a Christian when you do it...

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Matt 25:41–44 TNIV

Impossible grammar

English syntax demands subject before object. Human memory demand light before heavy. Human comprehension demands topic before comment and given before new. How can a writer reconcile these irreconcilable demands about where the words should go in a sentence?—The Sense of Style, page 131

<idle musing>
Enter the passive voice. Yes, the much maligned passive voice. Sure, it gets misused, but it's pretty handy...
</idle musing>

Friday, January 09, 2015

This is radical

[T]he radical nature of the apostles’ reinterpretation emerges in that it does not, in the manner of Aristobulus, for example, consist of a simple substitution of numinous realities—“that which you call Zeus is really the God of Israel.” It thus has no affinity with ancient pluralism (in which, e.g., divine names can be only incidental to divine realities). Instead, it involves both a demolition of the pagan model in toto (worshipping Zeus is futile) and the call for a new construction of divine identity.—World Upside Down, page 23

<idle musing>
Given our monotheistic/atheistic culture with its secular/sacred distinction, I don't think we can fully comprehend just how radical an idea this was. It tore the fabric of society into pieces. The world order depended on the divine realm—multiple deities that needed to be kept happy. That was part of being a good citizen. It's even more radical than not saying the Pledge of Allegiance, or refusing to stand and sing the Star Spangled Banner (both of which I refuse to do and have gotten no small amount of flack for over the years...).

I'm at a loss as to what it compares to...every comparison I think of falls flat.
</idle musing>

Good advice

[W]hile it may sound a little cold or trite, the truth is we need to obey God even when we don’t feel like it. When we obey God even without feeling motivated, eventually our feelings will catch up with our actions.—AHA Student Edition electronic edition

Love your enemy

Enemy love is not a command with a purpose—Jesus nowhere tells why we are to love the enemy. This [is] not Jesus’ strategy for conquering; it is not pragmatic. Nor is enemy love natural. This command, instead, confronts us with the one who is Lord and confronts from a world that is not yet ours: the kingdom. So asking about practicalities and practicability both miss the point.— Sermon on the Mount, page 147

<idle musing>
Wise words. Too often we get sidetracked trying to figure our why we are called to do something. In our culture everything has to have a reason (that we understand and endorse!) in order for it to make sense. That is not necessarily a kingdom outlook...
</idle musing>

The first principle

Though you shall have read and learned many things, it will always be necessary for you to return to this one principle: I am He who teaches man knowledge, and to the little ones I give a clearer understanding than can be taught by man. He to whom I speak will soon be wise and his soul will profit. But woe to those who inquire of men about many curious things, and care very little about the way they serve Me.Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

Thursday, January 08, 2015

The curse of knowledge

Hey, I'm talking to you. Your readers know a lot less about your subject than you think they do, and unless you keep track of what you know that they don't, you are guaranteed to confuse them.—The Sense of Style, page 63

About those scare quotes...

If you're not comfortable using an expression without apologetic quotation marks, you probably shouldn't be using it at all.—The Sense of Style, page 43

Thought for the day (2)

Let Your name, not mine, be praised. Let Your work, not mine, be magnified. Let Your holy name be blessed, but let no human praise be given to me. You are my glory. You are the joy of my heart. In You I will glory and rejoice all the day, and for myself I will glory in nothing but my infirmities.Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ


Converting to the God of the Christians was not merely an adjustment of this or that aspect of an otherwise unaltered basic cultural pattern; rather, worshipping the God of the Christians simultaneously involved (1) an extraction or removal from constitutive aspect of pagan culture (e.g., sacrifice to the gods), and (2) a concomitant cultural profile that rendered Christians identifiable as a group by outsiders. Yet the practices that created this cultural profile were themselves dependent upon the identity of God. Christian ecclesial life, in other words, was the cultural explication of God’s identity.—World Upside Down, page 18

<idle musing>
I would venture to say that Christianity is still countercultural—in different ways maybe, but if we think about the implications of the gospel...Don't go there! You might have to change some of your long-held and cherished beliefs and attitudes (to say nothing of actions!).
</idle musing>


Don’t miss this: our passive approach to the action God has called us to shows that we care about something else more than we care about Him.—AHA Student Edition electronic edition

Thought for the day

“It is the great mistake of a false Protestant ethic to assume that loving Christ can be the same as loving one’s native country, or friendship or profession, that the better righteousness and justitia civilis are the same.”— Dietrich Bonhoeffer as quoted in Sermon on the Mount, page 134

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Are we asking the wrong question

I simply want to clarify that the debate between pacifism and just war theory focuses on the question of permission to make war. that diverts attention from the equally important question of practices that prevent war. These are two different questions. Most authors of the new paradigm of just peacemaking are just war theorists, and some are pacifists. They disagree on the permissibility of just war, but they agree that practices of just peacemaking need to be made articulate and to be enacted. Just peacemaking theory does not answer the question of the permissibility of war. Its question is a different one, and we think an equally important one. I believe Jesus teaches more about the transforming initiatives of just peacemaking practices than about the impermissibility of war.—Glenn Stassen

Transforming initiative

First, Matthew's Jesus points us to the traditional teaching of the Ten Commandments against murder. Second he diagnoses ongoing anger and insulting as a vicious cycle that leads to judgment (5:22). No imperative, no command against anger, is present. Rather, its central verb is a continuous-action participle. (Had the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount commanded us never to be angry, that would have been a hard teaching, a high ideal, impossible to practice. Instead he diagnoses a vicious cycle that leads to judgment, destruction, and murder, as when a doctor diagnoses an illness that will lead to death if I do not take actions of treatment.) The third member of the triad, vv. 23–26, is the transforming initiative—not merely a negative prohibition of murder or anger, but a way of deliverance. It is a command to take initiatives that transform the relationship from anger to peacemaking.—Glenn Stassen (emphasis original)

More on just peacemaking

I have worked to demonstrate that the Sermon on the Mount, from 5:21 to 7:12, is not dyadic antitheses, but triadic transforming initiatives. The Sermon is distorted if it is interpreted as "high ideals," or "hard teachings," or merely as renunciation; its fourteen transforming initiatives are realistic ways of deliverance from our vicious cycles—grace-based breakthroughs of the reign of God. Thus understood, the teachings become much more accessible and doable for living and action.—Glenn Stassen.

You can find the article here; a summary of the 14 points can be found here.

Is that an insult?

[T]he fact is that the secondary literature on Acts is no longer to the brim; it has now burst the dam and threatens to wash away the text of Acts in a torrent of scholarly glossalalia.—World Upside Down, page 11

<idle musing>
I dunno. I just enjoyed seeing scholarship being called glossalalia : )
</idle musing>

Thinking of doing ≠ actually doing

Here’s something I’ve learned: we sometimes get stuck between honesty and action because we confuse our feelings with actually doing something. We trick ourselves. We believe that because we feel differently about something, we are actually doing something—even though we haven’t actually done anything yet. So we spend our lives with good intentions and strong feelings, but we never actually get around to leaving the pigpen.—AHA Student Edition electronic edition

<idle musing>
I've seen this many times over the years in various people—and I've been there myself far too many times! Lord, don't let us settle for thinking about acting instead of acting! Light a holy fire under our butts!
</idle musing>

Withdrawal? Hardly!

Pacifism isn’t quietism or withdrawal or inactivity, and it isn’t simple submission. Pacifism’s root is connected to the peacemaking beatitude, rooted in love and expressed when the follower of Jesus actively seeks peace. Pacifism isn’t a lack of interest or noninvolvement, but the hard work of seeking peace. Pacifism is nonviolent resistance, not nonresistance. What Jesus teaches his followers to do illustrates the sort of pacifism he advocates: turn the other cheek, surrender even more clothing, go the extra mile, lend and do not charge interest or require a payment back. Hardly the stuff of the inactive. These acts subvert the Roman system.— Sermon on the Mount, pages 131-132

<idle musing>
And, I would add, subvert the American system as well...

It's too bad that pacifism sounds so much like passive. I've found the work of Glen Stassen on just peacemaking very helpful. I just ran across this on the SBL website while looking for the previous link. Looks interesting...
</idle musing>

Ice cubes

Woke up this morning to the howling of the wind. Every night this week it has been windy, although not quite so windy as Sunday. Here's what it is at the airport (mind you, the gusts seem to be about every 30 seconds!):

For those of you who prefer metric:, it looks even colder!

We're a bit warmer here at "only" -16ºF/-27ºC. The predicted high is -8ºF/-22ºC with snow. If it does snow, it is going to be very small and light flakes, that's for sure!

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Good advice

[S]tyle earns trust. If readers can see that a writer cares about consistency and accuracy in her prose, they will be reassured that the writer cares about those virtues in conduct they cannot see as easily. Here is how one technology executive explains why he rejects job applications filled with errors of grammar and punctuation: "If it takes someone more than 20 years to notice how to properly use it's, then that's not a learning curve I'm comfortable with."—The Sense of Style, page 9

I've heard this before

From every college in the country goes up the cry, "Our freshmen can't spell, can't punctuate." Every high school is in disrepair because its pupils are so ignorant of the merest rudiments.—1917—cited by Steven Pinker in The Sense of Style, page 5

Actively reading

In simple terms, to “read” Acts is to think Christianly in the late first century Graeco-Roman world.—World Upside Down, page 11

<idle musing>
I was going to title the post "Act"ively reading, but that seemed tacky.

He's making a bold statement here, though. He needs to defend it—which is what he will spend the next couple hundred pages doing...join me on the journey!
</idle musing>

Step 3

Maybe this is a helpful picture: Think of AHA as a door that swings on three hinges. The first hinge is a sudden awakening. The second hinge is brutal honesty. The third and final hinge is immediate action.

In Jesus’s parable of the prodigal son, there’s a simple phrase that changes the story: “So he got up …” (Luke 15:20).

The Prodigal Son took immediate action. He saw that it was time to get up. It was time to do something. And unless our stories read, “So he got up” or “So she got up,” then nothing really changes. But this is where AHA stalls out for so many of us. We have an awakening moment. We even find the strength to be brutally honest. But we never get around to actually doing anything different. We spend much of our lives stuck between honesty and action.—AHA Student Edition electronic edition

<idle musing>
As I've said before, this 3-step view lines up with the reality that I've seen in dealing with people. The second step is difficult, but the third step seems to be the real stumbling block...If you can get people to actually act on the conviction that God placed on their hearts, most of the time the awakening sticks.

Lord, soften our hearts; enable us to be honest with ourselves and others. And then don't guve us reast until we act on what you have laid on our hearts!
</idle musing>

Let's get this straight

It is hard for me to square any Christian military posture toward “our enemies”—the kind of label unworthy for the follower of Jesus—with what Jesus both performed in his last week and what he teaches here [Matt 5:38–42] (as well as at Matt 26:52). Prior to Constantine, apart from a few exceptions, Christians refused to participate in the military. Their nonparticipation was no ethic of resignation to Rome’s might but an ethic of resistance in the form of creating an alternative political society, the church. Beside their obvious denunciation of the pervasive presence of idols and false religions in that military, the earliest followers of Jesus did not enter the military because they believingly thought Jesus meant business in the passage under discussion. The issue for the pre-Constantine church was killing those made in God’s image.— Sermon on the Mount, pages 130-131

Monday, January 05, 2015

Facing reality

Denial is refusing to acknowledge the reality of a situation.

Projection is acknowledging the reality of the situation but denying any responsibility.

Minimization is acknowledging the reality of the situation and even owning responsibility for it—but denying its seriousness.

Instead of being brutally honest, we tell ourselves half-truths that we can feel better about. “It’s not that bad” is the favorite saying of minimization.—AHA Student Edition electronic edition

<idle musing>
And if we minimize it, or deny responsibility, or deny its reality, there is no way we can ever be delivered from it. It it doesn't really exist, then we are OK, right? Right?

Really, God, how can you be so insistent that we need deliverance. I mean, come on, we're only human, right? Right? I mean, what's a little sin here and there? It can't be that bad, can it? Can it?

So goes the logic. The logic that will keep us entrapped in our blindness and sin. Bring it to the light! Let it be burned away by the light of God's power and love. Let him embrace you in his freeing and purifying holy love!
</idle musing>

All encompassing

The question that confronts any serious reading of the Sermon on the Mount is this: Would Jesus have seen a difference between a kingdom ethic for his followers in their so-called private life but a different ethic in public? I doubt it. Why? Because Jesus’ Messianic Ethic, an ethic for his community of followers, is an Ethic from Above and Beyond.— Sermon on the Mount, page 129

Keep the guns, dump the people

This blog posting is wonderful. Please read the whole thing, but this little excerpt is unforgettable:
My eleven-year-old cousin died in a handgun accident in her house, killed instantly, shot through the heart, while searching her father’s dresser for tennis socks. I watched adults crumble. They vomited and wailed. They screamed and sat catatonic. They shouted accusations at each other and consoled each other. They dressed in dignified black, listened to comforting eulogies, put the diminutive coffin in the ground, and then those closest to the loss retreated to an alcohol haze for the next decade or more.

None gave up their guns. Most of those crumbled adults – the parents, aunts, uncles, neighbors – would get divorced. They gave up each other, but they kept their guns.

<idle musing>
What more can anybody say? That paragraph reveals a lot about our society, doesn't it? Keep the guns, throw away the people...sounds really Christian, doesn't it? (that's irony, in case you missed it)
</idle musing>