Thursday, September 28, 2006

John 7-9

These three chapters of John contain some of the most famous quotes, quips and confrontations of Jesus' ministry. Chapter 7 contains a lively discussion between Jesus and some of his fellow citizens. Chapter 8 is the story of the Woman Caught in Adultery, and then the famous verse: the truth will set you free...if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. Jesus ends the chapter with almost getting stoned by rocks. Chapter 9 is a funny, insightful and realistic story of two reactions to Jesus.

What themes did you find in these three chapters? Key words like light/dark, sin/freedom, belief/blindness, healing/hope.

C.S. Lewis famously described three options that people can have about Jesus: upon reading the Gospels you can come to one of three logical conclusions - Jesus was either a lunatic (see the comments about Jesus made in chapter 7), Jesus was a liar (see comments made about Jesus in chapter 9) or Jesus was Lord (see the response of Nicodemus, the Woman, the Blind Man).

As you read through the Scriptures, be praying for the Spirit to illuminate your mind and open up your heart to what He needs to teach/transform in you. Don't just read to get through the content, be reading to get God's Word in Your Heart.

Note also the contention surrounding Jesus: he is a prophet confronting the established religion of the day - he is getting the same general reception as all the other prophets (Isaiah was, according to legend, sawed in half; Jeremiah was put in stocks, thrown in a sewer pit, and beat up; Ezekiel was mocked...etc). Jesus came as a son of Abraham, the Blessing promised in Genesis 12. Jesus was come to fulfill the Torah and the Promises of the Prophets. What made it so hard to accept Jesus and his Message was that, in regard to the established religion people he undermined their power, exposed their falsity, pointed out their wickedness and greed; in regard to the average person Jesus' teachings were way too good to be true.

Jesus has the same effect today. He calls a spade a spade, and his promises seem too good to be true. We struggle with believing what Jesus teaches and we struggle with accepting it and we struggle with obeying it. We like to pretend something we're not (usually posing as better then we really are); and we get a bit jaded and cynical about what good can be done in the world. And yet for those that dare to believe and follow Jesus (Nicodemus & power, Woman and Blind man & news too good to be true), life ends up different...if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed... free do you feel these days? burdened do you feel? blind do you feel?

"Does no one condemn you?"

"No one, Master."

"Neither do I" said Jesus. "Go on your way. From now on, don't sin."

Is that your story too?


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

James 3

James 3 is a fascinating chapter. It has several layers to it that are worth noting. He starts the chapter with a warning: beware of becoming a teacher - the stakes are high and the accountability is higher. With that warning he launches into a masterful teaching of the tongue - masterful for his use of metaphor and simplicity. His teaching on the tongue is potent, and memorable. His brother was a masterful teacher, and so is he. The second half of the chapter takes an interesting twist. He moves from a fascinating section on the tongue (full of metaphors), to a section on wisdom that is unlike his section on the tongue. The section on wisdom sounds like he took some of Paul's teachings and Jesus' teachings and meshed them together. How do these three sections tie together (the warning to teachers, the metaphors on the danger of the tonue, and the benefits of wisdom)? A teacher must use the tongue wisely and use the tongue to teach wisdom, since teachers will be judged more strictly.

Did you notice how many questions James asks in this chapter? Do you prefer to have people ask you questions or tell you what to do? What did you learn from this chapter about teachers, your tongue, and the benefits of wisdom? Did you notice that the last verse of the chapter sounded a lot like one of the Beatitudes? Which Beatitude?


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Genesis, Abraham, and the Origins of Israel's Enemies

As you read through Genesis, remember that the story (stories) is about people, specifically Abraham. In a larger context, the book of Genesis is about the origins of Israel, and Israel's enemies. The Hebrew people were meticulous in their geneaological records. You already read several geneaological records in the first eleven chapters. In one sense, Genesis 12-50 is a short geneological record with lots of stories attached to some of the characters. For example: the story of chapter 19 - what is the main point? Is it about Sodom and Gomorrah? No. Is it about Lot? No. Why even have Lot involved in the story, he doesn't even figure favorably in any of the situations. The story of Lot is included because of the two sons he fathered incestously via his daughters: Moab and Ammon. The end of chapter 19 is the clue to the point of the story: the future enemies of Israel- the Moabites and Ammonites came from an incestous relationship, from a dirty old man who lived in a dirty old city that God judged and punished in a most spectacular way. You can only imagine how much little Jewish boys loved telling that story, especially when they played on the recess playground with little Moabite and Ammonite boys. Or how about the story of Ishmael, what does it reveal historically? From him came twelve sons that would in the future be enemies to Israel. What's the story of Abimelech about? He is a Philistine, and the story shows that Abraham has more power then the king of the Philistines (future enemies of Israel). Again, a favorite story for little Jewish boys to recount when the Philistine bullies come down the alley.

The stories have many layers of value. We have just explored one layer of meaning - these chapters of Genesis 19-22 give the origins (genesis) of Israel's relationships with their future enemies. But within those stories are complex character themes regarding Abraham, Sarah, Lot, and others involved in their lives. For example, note the deceptiveness of Abraham's heart in chapter 20 as he deals with Abimelech. And then note the faith of Abraham's heart in chapter 22 as he deals with the sacrifice of his one and only Isaac. Maybe chapter 20 provides the background to why God needed to see what was in Abraham's heart, as unveiled in chapter 22.

One last note, did you have fun reading the barter story in chapter 23? Notice how Abraham and Ephron broker the deal - it is classic Middle Eastern deal-making.

So if you are willing, mark out the different character traits of Abraham that you discovered in reading about him in chapters 19-23. Abraham had the marks of a real human being - prone to goodness and wickedness, capable of greatness and of pettiness. A man alot like you and I. God is the God of Abraham...what does your study of Abraham reveal to you about God?

Let me know your thoughts...

Monday, September 25, 2006

A Note about Hebrew Poetry

About 75% of the Bible is Old Testament. And much of the Old Testament is poetry. Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, all of the Minor Prophets and most of the Major Prophets; plus poetry shows up in all of the other books of the OT. Poetry shows up in the NT, but it is not as noticeable - I will help make it noticeable since it will be helpful towards your understanding of what Jesus and Paul (and others) are teaching (the Beatitudes are poetry, for example).

Briefly, OT Hebrew poetry has three basic patterns: Agreement, Contrast, Extension; Hebrew OT poetry generally has two lines as well. Thus Line One and Line Two agree with each other, but it is stated differently (Psalm 119:1 "Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD" ESV). In Contrast, Line One and Line Two state opposite statements to make a point (Psalm 119:3 "who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways!" ESV). In Extension, Line Two extends the thought begun in line one, (Psalm 119:9 "How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word." ESV).

I'll explain more about OT Hebrew poetry as we go along - it is a rich experience, and since the bulk of the OT is poetry, be sure to take the time to understand its significance, to understand what it is communicating.

For now, your task is to try and identify these three types of poetry when you read the Psalms, Job, Proverbs and wherever else you find it in Genesis, James and John. Look for Line One and Line Two to either Agree with each other in thought, to contrast each other, or extend the thought of the other.

Have Fun!


Children's Ministry Starts at Home

Today in my Anthropology for Missions class, the professor made a point to state boldly that a missionary's first and primary ministry is to his own wife and children. This is true for pastors, and it is true for all believers.

A father and mother ought to take their child's spiritual formation into their own hands. They, not the church community, bear the primary responsibility for raising up whole and holy children who love God and serve humanity as Jesus Christ.

So what is the role of the church community in helping parents raise up these kind of children? And what is the role of the church community when children are part of a church without their parents? Or just one of their parents? Or what if they only are with one parent at at a time? And so what does children's ministry look like in a local church? It depends on where that church is located. And it depends who are the people being that church and doing ministry.

I know for me, my two biggest success in ministry will be 1) Is my wife more beautiful, wise, loving, holy, just/merciful, serving due to my husbanding her over the years; 2) Are my children more beautiful/handsome, wise, loving, holy, just/merciful, serving due to my parenting (with their mother/my wife) of them? Following my ministry to my wife and children is my ministry to fellow believers. My effectiveness in ministering with other believers hinges on my ministry at home. And my ministry with other believers primarily consists of helping them minister to other believers.

The question ends up being - how does my ministry with other believers over time result in them becoming more beautiful, wise, loving, holy, just/merciful, serving? The church community is only as vibrant as the homes that make up that church. The children/youth ministry is only as vibrant as the homes they come from and the homes of the leaders that work with them. So where do I spend my time? Who helps me become more beautiful before God? Wise, loving, holy, just/merciful, serving? Out of what do I help that happen with my wife, children and fellow believers? It starts at home...what kind of home am I constructing...what is life like around my kitchen table...who am I inviting to sit around my kitchen table? Who's welcome?

The goal of my family and my church is not just to be healthy, vibrant, good - the goal is much larger then that. Health, vibrancy, goodness are means to another end - God's work on earth to bring about reconciliation in a fractured world, redemption for those enslaved to vices, renewal for those burnt out and dried up, restoration for those defiled and wounded. Jesus himself was good news - his words, his work, his way was the Gospel. You can leave the darkness behind, you can be full of light and life. God's work will result in a New Heaven and a New Earth - my work, my family's work, my church's work is in line with Jesus' - to BE good news, and thus live out the Kingdom of God. Our ways, our words, our work will be the means through which God helps our friends, family and enemies trust Him and join his redemptive, restorative, renewing work.

If this is to my life...I must make sure that God's redemption, restoring, renewing, reconciling is at work in me...and then in my wife and my family...and then my church.

Hmmmm....I said more then I intended...

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Walking in the Woods

Emma, Levi, Isaac and I went walking through the woods again today. We went walking through them yesterday too. I never see other dads taking their kids for a walk through the woods. Today was a wet, yet warm morning - a perfect day to walk through the woods. You'd think other dads would want to take their kids walking through the woods - getting all dirty, picking up sticks, throwing leaves in the stream, wiping cobwebs off your face, slapping the occasional mosquito. Isaac likes to pick up as many twigs and acorns as possible and carry them to the bridge, and then he dumps them into the water. Levi likes to hold my hand and find just one or two sticks, and then throw them over the bridge. Emma likes to run ahead and pretend she is Dora and I am Boots - she is a very loud pretender. We always have fun in the woods. It reminds me of the few times me and my brothers walked through the woods out in the middle of my grandfather's farm. We'd have to walk through the corn field to get to this oasis of trees. There were trails, lots of fallen logs and plenty of birds. And no adults! Ah, what fun. Someday I'll maybe let my kids walk through the woods by themself...maybe. I don't want to miss the fun though!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

John 1-3 and Genesis 1-3

Take a few extra minutes and re-read the first three chapters of John and Genesis. They were placed as readings in the same weak purposefully. The John 1-3 chapters have been referred to as the Genesis account of the NT. Both John and Genesis begin with the same three words "In the beginning". That is not a coincedence. John wrote the first part of chapter one to sound similar to that of Genesis 1-2. What we have in John 1 is another side to the Creation story.

Look at how John uses the following words which are famously used in Genesis: beginning, light, dark, man, world/earth, flesh. In one sense John the Baptist is contrasted against Adam. What differences do you see between Adam's actions and John the Baptist's?

I don't want to push the similarities too far, but I think it is worthwhile to read the first three chapters of John and Genesis together and ask the question, "What is John teaching me about the Creation Story, and about the Creator, and about the New Work of the Creator come to the World?"

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Letter from James Chapter 1

Did you know that this James is a brother of Jesus? James was also the bishop of Jerusalem. Initially James had rejected his brother Jesus as the Messiah. But following his resurrection, Jesus appeared to James and they had a little chat. Life was never the same for James after that.

What is unique about James' letter is its strong Jewish feel to it. The letter is addressed to the twelve tribes of Israel - this is in contrast to Paul's letters, which are addressed to mostly Gentiles. Reading James' letter is a different experience then reading Paul's, and interesting enough, it seems that James' letter tends to be more popular and more often a favorite then any of Paul's letters.

James is writing about a very Jewish Christianity. His background is thoroughly Hebrew, and his conversion to Jesus did not change his background. Paul was a Hebrew as well as James, but Paul seemed to be influenced by much more Greek philosophy and Roman law then James. James hits on key themes with direct force: don't play favorites between rich and poor; ask for wisdom without doubting, suffering leads to righteousness, etc. These are themes taken right out of the Old Testament.

The major theme of James is not about faith and works. The major theme of James is about true religion: taking care of the widows and orphans. The suffering referred to at the beginning of the chapter is a reference to the hard times that the poor endure at the hands of the greedy and wealthy. Faith and works is stressed as a motivation for Christians to take care of the poor. As you read James 1, think hard about what he has to say about favoritism, true religion and holiness. How true is your religion. Be slow to speak/answer....


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Book of Genesis Characters

The stories in Genesis move fast, and each is rich in content - don't rush through them. The characters in Genesis are the main focal point - if you read the book and don't really notice the characters, you've missed the joy of reading Genesis. The word Genesis means "beginning", which is what all the stories of the book are about. Adam is the beginning of the human race, Noah is the beginning of a covenant people (God makes a covenant with humanity - the rainbow is a sign of his promise); Abraham is the beginning of the Chosen People, Isaac is the beginning of the Promised People, Jacob is the beginning of the Israelite people, Joseph is the beginning of the Blessed People (see the promise to Abraham in chapter 12 - and see how it partly comes true in the life of Joseph).

Each of these characters are crucial to the identity of Israel, of how they would think of themselves, and how God would think of them. In the future, God will refer to himself - not as Sovereign Lord, All-knowing and All-powerful, BUT as God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob! So as you read through the first eighteen chapters, take time to notice what the characters are like. What is likable about them, what is sad, what is wrong with them, what is right with them. They are very real people, and God is able to use them as they are....that should be an enouragement to you.

Come up with a one or two word description of each of the main characters of Genesis, as you read their stories, try to see yourself in them, and in others. And note how God is faithful to them.



Monday, September 18, 2006

The Book of Genesis

Did you know that the Book of Genesis is background story to the Book of Exodus?

The point of Genesis for the Israelites was to give them a history, to explain how they ended up in Egypt.

The nation of Israel did not exist until they left Egypt (which is called an exodus...hence the name of the book). The book of Exodus is the story of Moses leading the twelve tribes of Jacob (whose other name is Israel) out of Egypt, of Moses leading the exodus out of slavery into the promised land.

Tradition teaches us that Moses wrote the first five books of the Old Testament, the first five books are called the Torah. Torah is a Hebrew word that can have several translations depending on the context. A good word to use is "instruction", the purpose of the first five books was to instruct the nation of Israel about their God, their calling, their purpose, their history (mistakes and victories) and to forge an identity for them.

The book of Genesis clearly describes God as the sole source of the nation of Israel: he creates Adam and Eve, and from Adam and Eve come Seth, and from Seth (you can trace the many geneologies provided in Genesis) comes Noah, and from Noah comes Shem, and from Shem comes Abraham and from Abraham comes Isaac and from Isaac comes Jacob and from Jacob comes the Twelve Tribes, and from the Twelve Tribes comes Moses and the nation of Israel. We have Genesis so we know where Moses came from, how the Israelites got to Egypt. The Exodus is the birth place of the nation of Israel. Genesis is the pre-history of Israel. So when you read the first 9 chapters, you're reading ancient history. The point of the stories about Creation, Adam and Eve, Cain and Able, Lamech, the Flood, Babel is not so much the truth of the stories (it is very valuable to read them as true), the stories are stories which help explain why the world is the way it is, and for Israel, they are the foundational stories for how they got to where they are, and why they are to do what they are called/created to do.

Hope this background information helps. Feel free to ask for clarifications, post questions or make comments.

There's more background to this Genesis story...check the next post later today...or tomorrow...


Sunday, September 17, 2006

Reading the Scriptures in a Year

If you are reading this post, I hope that means you've chosen to try and spend the year reading the Scriptures on a regular basis. It will be fun to be spend the year reading with a bunch of your friends at Anchor.

Please give me some feedback on what I can do to encourage you to keep reading. If you have questions about any of the material you are reading (either in the Bible or content I provide), please leave a comment on this blog (just hit the comment button and follow the VERY SIMPLE instructions).

If you choose to start this week you'll find that the issue is not whether you have the time to read it, it will be trying to remember to read it. Please give me suggestions to pass on to others of tips to remember to read the Scriptures regularly.

Did you you know that Psalm 119 has 22 sections to it? Each section has eight verses. Each section corresponds with a letter from the Hebrew alphabet. Some of your Bibles may write the Hebrew letter. There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, and each of the eight verses begins with that corresponding letter. It is called an acrostic poem. Obviously in the English language this kind of acrostic poetry is not noticeable. But it helps to know the background of the psalm. And just so you know, the reason they did Psalm 119 as an acrostic poem was so that it was easier to memorize: that's right, easier to MEMORIZE! It is not uncommon for many orthodox Jews even today to memorize the whole Psalter! That's right, they commit all 150 Psalms to memory. But they also chant the songs, and songs are easier to remember, and you probably know the lyrics to more songs then you realize. If you can find a way to put the Psalms to music, let me know and we'll try to sing them on Sundays.

Check in later this week for more background on the Scripture readings for this week,


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Soul Care

Today a friend asked me about the condition of my soul. We hadn't met for several years, and he noted in me note of hurriedness that is uncharacteristic of maturing Christians. I'm glad he called me on it. He commented that becoming more like Christ translates into a less frenetic pace of life. Steps are slower, thoughts are slower, actions are more measured. Not out of doubt, uncertainty, indecisiveness; but out of wise contemplation. I feel busy and at times frenzied, and I also concurrently feel unsuccessful. I'm going to fast to really help anybody who is standing alongside the road needing help. And in passing by the opportunity to be like Christ, I pass into a darkness of soul. But to walk in the light is to walk in the way of Jesus. And that has to do more with how I use my time, and who I spend it with. If I want my soul to grow wise in Christ, I need to unclutter my heart with the fear and anxiety that fills the space. If I want to care for the souls of others, I need to have Christ working through my soul, working in my soul. Marana tha - Come Lord Jesus.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Neighborhood Churches Working Together

I met for lunch today with the pastor of a Mennonite church. His church is located a few blocks away from where Anchor meets. We're farily different people, but one thing we have in common is to make a difference in our neighborhood as Christ-ones, and to do it in step with other churches. It's a new thing for me to be part of a church that wants to do ministry with another church down the street.

I am energized by it, because I think that if done well, the neighborhood can be better served by the Gospel. I think that when several churches commit together to serve their neighborhood together, good things can happen. People will see our good works and give glory to our Father in Heaven. Especially when we demonstrate Christ in our serving. Christ promises the restoration of all things, his salvation from sin is how all things are renewed. If we want to see renewal in our own lives, renewal in neighborhood families , the the Gospel must come to them in such a way that they actually experience restoration.

Maybe it starts with bread, or clothing, or shelter - but then it moves to mind, and heart, and soul.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Stage of Life

It's difficult to appreciate each day for what it is. My tendency is to value a future scenario instead of value what is current in my life. This is true of my relationship with my wife, my children, my family and my ministry. My tendency is to also be foggy on past details, it is easy for me to become absentminded about how I got to where I am at today. Maybe that is why it is so easy to daydream and drift out of today's events.

Maybe I am too busy? Maybe I am too unfocused? Maybe I am too indecisive? I don't know...

I know that I want to enjoy each day. I also know that in order to enjoy each day, it is vital to have some sense of purpose, of vision of where these days are heading, how do they fit together. And I know that it is important to remember the past...I would be better served to remember and review how I arrived to this current day.

If I want tomorrow to be better then today, I have to reflect and then act on what I learned yesterday. I need to learn more about who I am and who I am supposed to become. And then I need to find work and play that molds well with me. But more important then my work and play is my family, my life as a husband and father. I don't want to ever forget that no matter what kind of contribution I make to ministry, my most important success will be with my children and wife. I hope and plan to be successful in my work and to have lots of fun at play.

But instead of daydreaming so much, I need to remember and learn. And then act wisely. Oh God, that you might continue to grant me wisdom.