Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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Of Food, Education, and the Bible

April 14, 2010

My daughter shared with me today this article, which makes some insightful observations about our tendency to get so analytical about a topic that we miss the real point.    The author talks about how we’ve done that with food, reducing it to a vehicle for delivering nutrients… and with literature, reducing it to a “mere delivery systems for varying quantities and qualities of  the dissected dry matter now called education- things like vocabulary, critical thinking skills…

Food is so much more than a collection of nutrients.  Eating is an experience to be enjoyed.  Similarly, literature is not primarily for the purpose of  education, but for communicating experiences and emotions, for sharing beauty and joy and irony and tragedy.

As I read the article my daughter sent me, I couldn’t help but think that Christians often make exactly the same mistake with the  Bible.   Like the nutritionists, we’ve tried to distil from the Bible the core pieces of information that we “really need” and place all our emphasis on those.  Like the literary critic, we’ve reduced the Bible to a source of material to fuel debates about whose interpretiation is best.  In doing so, we miss the point of the story;  we miss the beauty, the joy, and the tragedy; we miss the heart of the Bible.  We’re too much like the Pharisees to whom Jesus said:

John 5:39-40  You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me,  yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

We miss the point because we “diligently study” the Scriptures with the wrong core assumptions.  We’ve been embroiled in doctrinal debates for so long that the only thing we really know how to do with the scriptures is to argue.  When we approach scripture as though it’s all about logic and hermeneutics and defending “our” doctrines, we miss the heart completely.

Trying to analyze matters of the heart  just makes us look silly.  Robin Williams made the same point in the film Dead Poets’ Society:

But when I read the article my daughter sent me, the first movie that came to mind was Rain Man.  Specifically, I remembered the scene where Raymond is riding in the car, watching random things pass by — obsessed with the irrelevant and missing the meaning of everything that was really going on around him.

Our Bible study is too much like Rain Man.  We easily become obsessed with the irrelevant, and end up straining out gnats and swallowing camels.  Are we diligently studying the scriptures, and missing the compelling story of Jesus?

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Safe? or Out?

April 4, 2010

Safe? or Out?

This picture has always captured my imagination.  It’s  like a commentary on life.  Is he safe?  Or is he out?  It depends on which umpire you ask.

In life, ultimately only one umpire’s opinion really matters.  He’s told us how he will make the call, and he will do what he said.   Along the way, plenty of folks around us may call us “safe” or “out”  but it’s wise not to put much stock in what they say.  Some of them are certainly wrong.

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Sabbath

February 20, 2010

Exo 31:12-17 [ESV] And the LORD said to Moses, “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.'”

Observing Sabbath was a top priority under the Law of Moses. God told Moses to instruct the people that “Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths.” Apparently God saw some commands as more important, more fundamental than others. Observing the Sabbath was at the top of the list.

The scriptures have a lot to say about Sabbath.  Sabbath has layers of meaning.  Sometimes it is explained in relation to the deliverance from Egyptian slavery (Deut 5:15).  But in the above passage, God explains that Sabbath commemorates God’s rest after the six days of creation. That rest was precious to God. He told Moses that “on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.” God gave to Israel that same precious experience with the Sabbath, as a sign to remind them that God sanctified them.

The Sabbath was a time, not only to remember, but also to participate in that rest. It was designed to be a delight and a source of joy and feasting on the blessings from God:

Isa 58:13-14 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” The mouth of the LORD has spoken.

In the words of Jesus, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mk 2:27).  Sabbath was meant to be a blessing of rest.

Modern Christians need some of that rest. We live such cluttered lives. We dash from task to task.  We may be doing many good things, but in the process we are neglecting our own spiritual needs. When we do find spare moments, we tend to spend them in front of a television, or on the internet, in one way or another drinking the poisonous fare of popular culture into the deepest parts of our souls. And we wonder why we are stressed, frustrated, tense, apprehensive, impatient, short-tempered… Our souls are starved for Sabbath.

Many Christians are starving for periods of spiritual rest, for remembering that God sanctifies us. Our souls need a time, not for “doing as we please”, not for “speaking idle words,” but for spiritually nourishing rest, for meditation on God’s Word, and for remembering the blessings we have in Christ.

The Law of Moses set apart every seventh day for Sabbath rest. Perhaps we’re designed for that. Perhaps we need a day of rest every week, to thrive as God intended. After all, we are created in God’s image, and God rested on the seventh day. The Sabbath was made for man. Maybe we should accept the gift.

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Moving to WordPress!

February 6, 2010

I have been blogging on Blogger for years (and publishing via FTP to my personal domain.)  Within a few weeks, Blogger will be turning off FTP publishing.  So I’m in the process of migrating to WordPress.  Hopefully I will be able to point my domain here and keep my search rankings!

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Follow me!

January 6, 2010

The elders and ministry staff of our congregation like to choose a theme for each year. Of course our purpose and mission does not change from year to year, but having a theme helps to focus our choices for teaching and other programs throughout the year. When all our efforts are aligned with a given focus, we think we stand a better chance of making significant progress on the currently perceived needs.

Our annual themes need to contribute to achievement of our unchanging purpose and mission. Here is the closest thing we have to an official “mission statement” from our church web site:

We are a group of baptized disciples scattered over Gwinnett County, GA, and beyond who are committed to loving God, loving each other, and loving the lost. Our purpose is to obey the Greatest Commandment thereby fulfilling the Great Commission.

The Greatest Commandment, of course, comes from Jesus’ teaching in Mat 22:35-40:

One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Jesus answered the question with not one, but two commandments. According to Jesus, all the other commandments hang on these two. If we really fulfill these two commandments, the others will follow naturally. So these two commands summarize nicely our purpose as a congregation of Christians.

For 2010, we have chosen the theme, “Follow me!” This is the same call Jesus gave to Peter and Andrew (Matt 4:19), to Matthew (Matt 9:9), to the rich young ruler (Matt 19:21), to Philip (John 1:43), and to many others. It is the same call he gave to Peter after the resurrection (John 21:12). By following Jesus — his instructions and his example — we will fulfill our purpose in Christ.

So, what difference will it make, having “Follow me!” as our theme for the year?

For one thing, we are reorganizing our family groups into similar life situations based in part on the age of our children. For example, people who are raising preschoolers have a different set of needs and challenges from those who are raising high school students. We will be grouping people into peer groups and providing mentors, or shepherds, in each group to provide both spiritual and practical guidance specific to the needs of that group. In doing so we hope to help families more closely follow Jesus in their particular situations. And we hope to provide an outreach to the community from each peer group that will be better equipped to help those people with their real, felt needs. In short, we will be calling our members, their children, and our friends outside the church to follow Jesus.

In addition to providing new direction for our family groups, the “Follow me!” theme will be reflected in our bible classes, sermons, retreats, and other activities. We hope that this approach will cause each of our efforts to align with the others, so that the sum is greater than the parts.

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Merry Christmas!

December 21, 2009

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Through the British Museum with the Bible

December 19, 2009


On our return from Sweden, we spent a couple of days in the UK. We devoted one inspiring but exhausting day to the British Museum. Our hosts in the UK provided us with a guide titled “Through the British Museum with the Bible”. With this guide in hand, we entered the museum and were taken back thousands of years.

There was so much to see! We saw relics from Ur of the Chaldeans (Gen 11:28-31, approximately 2600 BC, four or five hundred years before Abraham). We saw a clay tablet in cuneiform telling a pagan corruption of the flood account, with remarkable similarities to the biblical account (including a man instructed by a god to build a boat, to load his family and all types of animals on it; and sending out birds to see if land has emerged.)

We even saw the Rosetta Stone — one of the most important archaeological finds of all time, enabling scholars to break the code of Egyptian hieroglyphics.

We saw a statue of Tuthmosis III, possibly the Pharaoh during part of Israel’s slavery in Egypt, and another even more impressive one of Rameses II, who possibly was the Pharaoh at the time of the Exodus. (From the look of his statute, he certainly was overly impressed with himself!)

There were documents referring to Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar. There were artifacts from Greece, Rome, and Ephesus — more than can be recounted in a blog post.

But what affected me the most was the vast array of carvings from the Assyrian empire, recounting the conquests and the barbaric treatment of those they conquered.

These carvings, which once adorned the walls of the Sennacherib, king of Assyria, tell their history as the king wanted it to be told. Shown above is an Assyrian soldier beheading a conquered enemy soldier (far left), while other soldiers march on waving the heads of other victims. Other carvings shown in the book (which we did not find) show the Assyrians cutting off the hands and feet of the conquered soldiers and impailing their victims on a wall. Another wall-sized series of carvings showed in great detail the Assyrian siege and conquest of Lachish (2 Chron 32; Isa 36) and the brutal treatment of the conquered (including, apparently, skinning some of them alive. Since I have no picture I will refer you to this link).

No wonder Hezekiah tore his robes, put on sackcloth, and poured out his pleas to the Lord in the temple! No wonder the people were terrified! And no wonder Jonah did not want to go to Ninevah! What a dreadful fate, to be conquered by the Assyrians! And that is what happened to Israel.

Also in the museum is the Taylor Prism, containing Sennacherib’s own account of his seige of Jerusalem. Although he had always conquered and destroyed all the other cities he attacked, in the case of Jerusalem he curiously states only that he shut up Hezekiah in the city “like a caged bird,” with no explanation for why he did not conquer that city also. (2 Kings 19:35-36)

I wish I had found the book a few weeks before our visit. There is so much in the museum that I would love to have seen, and perhaps I could have seen more if I had been better prepared. But what I did see was faith-building and inspiring. There is just something about seeing these actual physical pieces of evidence corroborating the biblical account, that gives a sense of strength and confidence. If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend that you visit the British Museum and see the evidence God has preserved for us. It was an experience I will not forget.