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Teaching at Crosswalk

2 Oct


So I’m teaching next Sunday at Crosswalk. Nothing builds up as much inner turmoil in me as teaching from the bible. I have a bunch of stuff going on within me as I prepare.

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Reading the Bible

13 Aug

Kenneth Bailey who has been very helpful at times in helping me understand the landscape, culture and traditions of the biblical world has a blog in which he made several posts about the scriptures along with do’s and don’t in interpreting. Check it out here.

Early Easter Thoughts…

19 Mar

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Easter: A time when the resurrection of Jesus is celebrated. It often stands out as a unique time when the natural order of things were overcome by a supernatural event. This event ascribed to Jesus is a belief designated to no one else in history. However, I believe the resurrection event of Jesus isn’t something that we just believe happened in the past but it a predictor of what is to come. The claim of the scriptures is that what God did for Jesus on that Easter Sunday morning is his intention for the whole world.

While this doesn’t eliminate or even dull the pain of losing someone we care about it puts this loss in perspective. Whatever death seems to have stolen from us the resurrection promises that God will return to us in a form more alive than ever before. Easter doesn’t cancel Good Friday but it illuminates it. God might not remove the memory of what has happened but he can remove the sting.

Visualizing the Bible

1 Feb

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So I found this visualization created by a guy named Chris Harris. According to his website:
Different colors are used for various arc lengths, creating a rainbow like effect. The bar graph running along the bottom shows every chapter in the Bible and their respective lengths (in verses). Books alternate in color between white and light gray.

With all this going on it is understandable that the bible can be a pretty difficult book to take on. It also becomes evident that there seems to be a back story to everything that is going on in a portion of scripture that you are reading. When we take a key verse and form all of our understanding about God based on one or a couple of our favorite passages we run the risk of interpreting all of the bible through those passages rather than interpreting those passages through the rest of the scriptures. I think this is another reason why we should practice caution in just handing out the new testament to people. As far as I can tell, the arc of Genesis 1 goes all the way to Revelation 22.

One of the most helpful articles on the bible for me was written by N.T. Wright. It was called how_can_the_bible_be_authoritative.pdf. Check it out!

A case in context-Ephesians

11 Jan

So my last post (other than Chuck Norris jeans) was about the importance of context. This post is a bit of a case study before I go off to bed. It’s only 9:00pm on a Saturday night as I start this but I’ve got a pretty bad cold I am fighting off.

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God
to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus.”

Suppose someone asked you to read the book of Ephesians. What comes to your mind when you think of Ephesus? Probably nothing, especially if you are new to the scriptures. Now I affirm that you can pick up the letter and read the whole of it, within
the whole of the cannon of scripture and gain a lot of correct thoughts and through the Spirit of God find yourselves transformed. But I have a feeling that you can pick up quite a bit of baggage along the way.

So a few observations of Ephesus (which will come into play in future posts)

It was the place where East met West. This was no truer than in the case of the goddesses. From the East the goddess was named Cybele. Literally, “Big Momma.” As in I worship a Big Momma. From the West was the goddess Diana. From what we know about her she was known as the goddess of the hunt and the protector of small animals (common, you can’t have it both ways). They merged together as best we can understand in the goddess named Artemis. She was known as the eternal many breasted fertility goddess.

Now every goddess has to have a home town and Ephesus was neochorus to Artemis worship. This meant that she had her temple here. In fact it was one of the seven wonders of the world. Antipater, a second century B.C. historian said:

“I’ve seen Babylon’s walls wide enough to take traffic.
I’ve seen the statue of Zeus on the banks of the Alphesus.
I’ve seen the Hanging Gardens and the Sun’s Colossus.
The enourmous labour of the Pyramids towering upwards,
The immense tomb of Maussolus, but once
I’d set eyes on
The temple of Artemis with the clouds almost touching
It put all other marvels into the shade.
Except for Olympus
I’d say the Sun shed its light on nothing sublimer.”

One of the primary ways that the people understood and interacted with the goddess was through the seeking of blessings from Artemis. They believed that this was best acquired through praise of Artemis and being uninhibited towards their passions. So there became a month long festival called the Artemisia. Often times the population would swell to well over a million people (huge for ancient times…just imagine the plumbing problems alone) with pilgrims from all over.

Here are two descriptions of the Artemesia:

“The people of Ephesus thought it would be appropriate for the entire month which has this holy name to be consecrated
and dedicated to the goddess; by his decree, we have decided to establish the following cult in her honor: that the
month of Artemision should be sacred throughout all its days and that on those days of that month, feasts and the
celebration of Artemisia should take place, so that, in fact, the whole month should be consecrated to the goddess. The
greater the honor rendered to the goddess the surer our city is to remain ever more blessed with good fortune and
glory.”

“It was the monthly festival of Artemis and the whole place was full of drunken roysterers; the whol night long the
entire market-place was occupied by crowds of people.”

More to come next post. Let it soak in…it’ll make sense later.

Thinking about context-Ephesians

10 Jan

Suppose I said to you that the man was mad about his flat. Then I asked you to define what I meant. You might reply that there was a man standing by the side of the road with an unhappy face because his car had a flat time. Sounds good but I would respond that you are wrong. You see the man is from England not America and he is excited about his apartment. The context shapes the words that we hear at times more than the sound of the word itself.

Perhaps I said to a child in France the phrase four score and seven years ago. Maybe in their vocabulary they can put together that fourscore is eighty years ago. Then they add seven to eighty and they get from the sentence that I am talking about an event that happened eighty seven years ago. Perhaps they would say that I was talking about an event that happened in 1920. Had I said this to any American familiar with American history they would automatically associate this with a speech by Abraham Lincoln and the event that he spoke of was the founding of our country.

The speaker and the audience seem to be the determiner of what the words mean. I think this is just the tip of the iceberg in explaining the difficulties we have in just picking up the bible and reading. The bible isn’t some sort of hermeneutically sealed book that fell out of the sky into 21st century American culture. It is a book full of real people, real places and real times. When we try to short circuit the historicity of the text I imagine that we are like an American unsure of why an englishman is excited about his flat or like a student in France trying to figure out what is so important about 1920.

An inherant danger we face is that as humans we have this tendency to make ourselves the center of the universe and time. We tend to make our lives the context through which we interpret everything. Unfortunately we have quite a few blindspots. If we aren’t careful we can turn Jesus into our mascot. Mascot’s entertain us during dull moments at sporting events. No one follows a mascot. Jesus can quickly become a bigger version of us who loves all the things that we love and hates all the things that we hate.

This is probably how we have gotten thousands of denominations. Some people who are so tired of the splitting simply say that if you love Jesus that is all you need. There is truth to that but after I’ve heard their description I’m not sure what Jesus they are talking about. N.T. Wright offers these words to those who want to love others but not ignore who Jesus really is.

“If we are to come together as Christians, it will not be by watering down everything until there is so little left that we can all agree on. It will be by all of us learning more and more of Christ . . . so that we can grow closer to each other because we are closer to him.”

And if we don’t learn to discern who Jesus is and we continue to make him a bigger picture of us and our nation I pretty much feel that this cartoon covers how ultimately deadly this can become:

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A Posture of Preaching-Ephesians

9 Jan

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Maybe you have experienced this. Someone stands up in front of a group of people and reads 1 to 15 sentences. Taking somewhere between five seconds to a minute and five seconds. They then go on for twenty to forty minutes telling everyone what God is saying.

There is that saying, “better to be silent and to be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” I think a survey of preachers will show that this saying carries quite a bit of weight to it. Anyone in my mind who stands up and tells others what God is saying and what God wants sets themselves up to look the part of the fool. It is usually quite easy to see if a preacher is being conformed into God’s image as he studies the scripture or rather whether god is being conformed into the image of the preacher.

I had this experience several months ago when I was watching my nephew Andrew. I opened up a bag of Hot Cheetos and put a few of them on a paper plate. We sat back and watched Toy Story the tenth anniversery edition on the DVD player. After snacking a bit on the chips Andrew turned to me with a concerned look on his face. He looked at me and asked for apple juice concluding his sentence with the words, “I’m spicey.”

Upon remembering that I was feeding him Hot Cheetos I asked him, “You mean that your mouth is hot?” He responded back, “uh-huh, I’m spicy.” He was trying to convey something that was going on inside of him that was true yet he didn’t quite have a handle on a language that allowed him to communicate in a way that made sense. I think that often takes place within the life of the preacher. He will engage a text during his study and as a limited human being he simply won’t be able to communicate with any sort of perfection because he is limited. Not only that but because of all the other things going on in our lives we never approach the text objectively.

So what does this mean? Should no one ever stand up and say that this is what God says? Yes and no. I think that we have to be extremely careful of giving God credit for our thoughts. But we still need to speak, with a sense of humility. Maybe we acknowledge that what we are saying is the first word and not necessarily the last word. The preacher should freely admit that there may be many times when he is speaking, while he may be fully convinced, that all his audience hears is “I’m spicy.” As far as telling people what God has told them to say. I think that there are moments when people are speaking in which you know that their words and God’s words are the same and it has nothing to do with them prefacing it with “God told me.”

So to those who lead. It’s good to acknowledge that we are “spicy” at times. We are processing things and learning and being transformed. If we don’t remind them of this they may pick up our “spicy” language further alienating them from their culture. Let’s have the humility to be open about that. It doesn’t mean that we throw conviction out the window, but we learn to listen to others and perhaps as we listen to others discuss what we called “spicy” they may give us a better working vocabulary.