Archive for May, 2009

Humor Me

The new preacher moves his things into his new office and comes across the former pastor, taking his items out. The former pastor says, “I left three envelopes in your desk. If you have any trouble, open them.”

Well, of course the new preacher thinks he will never have to use them, but in his youthful enthusiasm, he tries to change the order the kids march in during Vacation Bible School. Well, this makes the workers absolutely furious and there is a lot of ugly talk about the new pastor. He remembers the envelopes and opens the first one. It says, “You haven’t been here long, but you decided to make a change in the Vacation Bible School; now everyone is mad. Tell everyone that the former preacher had told you this was how you preferred to do it.” So the young preacher did that and it worked well.

He had been there about a year and a half when he tried to change the deacon position from being a life-long job to a position that rotated annually. Well, this made the deacons really mad, and they were the ones who made his salary recommendation. So he went back to the drawer and got the second envelope: “You did something to make the deacons mad and there’s talk of replacing you. Tell them this is the official denominational policy; that you thought they wanted to comply, but it doesn’t make you any difference what they do.” He tried this, and again it worked great.

You guessed it. After three years, he finally told the women’s organization that they were going to have to open the kitchen so that it could be used without a representative from the women’s group being present. This put the women’s organization in open revolt. So he went back to that third and final envelope: “You’ve been here about three years and you finally got the women’s organization mad. The only thing to do is prepare three envelopes …”

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This installment of the De-Sanitizing the Parables series will explore the Parable of the Soil found in Matthew 13. However, before I explore the parable itself, I’d like to give some background on the nature of the parables found in Scripture. To do this, we will listen to two different scholars who give us some crucial background on the nature and use of parables in the New Testament, and a pastor who will help us better understand Jesus’ use of them as story. As such, I have decided to break down my post into two parts. First, an introduction to the nature of parables and second and exploration of the parable of the soils.

Craig Keener has written several books but in this particular case I will depend upon his massive Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Keener notes a couple of important aspects of the parables in the New Testament. First, he writes: “Rabbis commonly taught in parables, sermon illustrations, to communicate their main point or points. This Palestinian Jewish teaching form appears in the New Testament only in the teaching of Jesus, and thus cannot be attributed to composition by the later church outside Jewish Palestine.” (81-82)

This speaks to the authenticity of parables and their direct link to the mouth of Jesus. Especially helpful here is the idea that these are not mere distortions of Jesus’ ‘true’ teachings by later preachers. As we will see too the parables are directly linked to the Old Testament prophets and are seen, to a large extent, as fulfillment of the prophets’ words. There are parables in the Old Testament as well. Nathan told David a parable when he confronted David (2 Samuel 12), for example, and Isaiah used a parable in Isaiah 5 to talk about God’s relationship to Israel.

Second, Keener notes the general character of the population of Jesus’ day, that is, his audience: “Most of the Roman Empire’s inhabitants were rural peasant farmers or herders. The literate elite often ignored this large population, but Jesus’ illustrations show that he ministered frequently among this class. Although Galilee was heavily populated with villages and boasted two major cities (Sepphoris and Tiberias), most of its inhabitants were rural, agrarian peasants.”

So you might say that, in a sense, we have to transport ourselves into their mode of thinking of the world; put ourselves in their shoes; listen to Jesus as if we were farmers, prodigal sons, poor widows, or terminated business managers. Jesus spoke to their point of view and used illustrations that they could understand and relate to and listen to in context. What would make better sense to farmers than an illustration from the farm or to a poor widow than the constant threat of losing a coin or to a shepherd than losing a sheep? If you are a shepherd and understand not just losing a sheep but the effort involved in searching for the lost sheep then perhaps you can understand, more deeply, the rejoicing in heaven when one sinner repents. (See Luke 15)

Jesus spoke to people in language they could understand. He didn’t, as some assume, speak down to them; he spoke in their language. If anything, Jesus, in using their words, their experiences, their context, elevated their words, experiences, and contexts. Parables keep our feet grounded by requiring us to think outside of our comfort zones about God, kingdom, Son of Man, and our everydayness. Part of the problem with interpreting parables is discussed by our next scholar, Robert Farrar Capon. In his book The Parables of the Kingdom, Capon notes that people can easily and often misunderstand the parables by too quickly assuming that they already know what the parables mean:

“Most people, on reading the Gospels’ assertion that ‘Jesus spoke in parables,’ assume they know exactly what he meant. ‘Oh, yes,’ they say, ‘and a wonderful teaching device it was too. All those unforgettable stories we’re so fond of, like the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son.’ Yet their enthusiasm is narrowly based. Jesus’ use of the parabolic method can hardly be limited to the mere handful of instances they remember as entertaining, agreeable, simple, and clear. Some of his parables are not stories; many are not agreeable; most are complex; and a good percentage of them produce more confusion than understanding.” (1)

This immediately puts the reader on the defensive: It is not likely we will understand the parables and we need to listen to them anew, listen to them afresh, and work our way through them again and again. After all, these stories were preserved for us, the Church. Yet, they were spoken to people who were not yet the church in any completely modern sense. Only too often do we allow what we ‘already know’ to get in the way of what is really there. We must admit that it is always difficult to avoid the biases that we carry to the text. Capon illustrates his point by directing our attention to the rejection of Jesus by his contemporaries:

“So too with Scripture. Often when people try to say what the Bible is about, they let their own mindset ride roughshod over what actually lies on the pages…Jesus, for example, was rejected by his contemporaries not because he claimed to be Messiah but because, in their view, he didn’t make a suitably messianic claim. ‘Too bad for God,’ they seemed to say. ‘He may want a dying Christ, but we happen to know that Christs don’t die.’” (4)

His warning, it seems to me, is not that we should be afraid of parables or interpreting them, but that we should be cautious and listen well. Peterson, whom I reference below, notes that “Inconspicuously, even surreptitiously, a parable involves the hearer…A parable is not ordinarily used to tell us something new but to get us to notice something that we have overlooked although it has been right there before us for years” (Tell It Slant, 19). It does us well to work our way through the parables often, and to be and become those whose eyes and ears are open to the Word of Christ. We need to continually visit them, read them, participate in their action. Capon goes on:

“It should be only after long study and repeated readings that I would dare to conclude what any particular passage meant, let alone what the entire thrust of his writing was. With such a wildly various collection, there would always be a temptation to let my own sense of what he was up to get in the way of what he himself really had in mind” (3).

Capon also draws our attention to the fact that the parables, if they are about God, happen to turn on their heads our popular conceptions of who God is and the way God does things:

“In the Bible, as a matter of fact, God does so many ungodly things—like not remembering our sins, erasing the quite correct handwriting against us, and becoming sin for us—that the only safe course is to come to Scripture with as few stipulations as possible. God used his own style manual, not ours, in the promulgation of his word. Openness, therefore, is the major requirement for approaching the Scriptures. And nowhere in the Bible is an un-made-up mind more called for than when reading the parables of Jesus.” (5)

Indeed. The parables turn our conceptions inside out and outside in as he further observes for us:

“For example, some of the parables are little more than one-liners, brief comparisons stating that the kingdom of God is like things no one ever dreamed of comparing it to: yeast, mustard see, buried treasure secured by craftiness, fabulous jewelry purchased by mortgaging everything…Once again, they set forth comparisons that tend to make mincemeat of people’s religious expectations. Bad people are rewarded (the Publican, the Prodigal, the Unjust Steward); good people are scolded (The Pharisee, the Elder Brother, the Diligent Workers); God’s response to prayer is likened to a man getting rid of a nuisance (the Friend at Midnight); and in general, everybody’s idea of who ought to be first or last is liberally doused with cold water (the Wedding Feast, the Great Judgment, Lazarus and Dives, the Narrow Door).” (10)

Finally, there is a pastor, Eugene Peterson whose book, Tell It Slant, is a masterpiece in Peterson’s ‘conversation in spiritual theology.’ In the book, he takes on a journey with Jesus through Samaritan country as he explores Luke 9:51-19:27 and the parables contained therein. I wish there were space and time enough to note more, but I’d like for the time being to pick up on just a particular aspect of Peterson’s work. He begins by reminding us of the rather mundane, earthy subject matter of the parables:

“The subject matter is usually without apparent religious significance. They are stories about farmers and judges and victims, about coins and sheep and prodigal sons, about wedding banquets, building barns and towers and going to war, a friend who wakes you in the middle of the night to ask for a loaf of bread, the courtesies of hospitality, crooks and beggars, fig trees and manure. The conversations that Jesus had as he walked on the Samaritan roads were with people who had a different idea of God than what Jesus was revealing, or maybe not much of an idea at all. This was either hostile or neutral country. Parables were Jesus’ primary language of choice to converse with these people, stories that didn’t use the name of God, stories that didn’t seem to be ‘religious’” (20-21).

For all the ‘high’ talk we use in churches, talk about sanctification, redemption, propitiation and suchlike (all great and useful words!), talk that make us sound far more knowledgeable than we truly are, we stand in contrast with Jesus who didn’t. Jesus seems to have delighted in ‘low talk.’

This prompts Peterson to ask, “Why in the world is Jesus telling unpretentious stories about crooks and manure? Why isn’t he preaching the clear word of God, calling the Samaritans to repentance, offering them the gift of salvation in plain language?” (21) Peterson observes that Jesus’ choice of language is increasingly relaxed and conversational as he nears the day (he is speaking of the context of Luke 9:51-19:27). And Jesus doesn’t apologize for doing so.

Why? Well, Peterson believes that this keeps the conversation going by continually involving the listeners. As Jesus neared the crucifixion, knowing he would not see these Samaritan people again, his language became less direct. He told them stories they would remember, chew on, think about and be involved in forever. We are keen to remember a good story, to hear a good story, to tell a good story. Even now, the popular culture is fond of ‘Good Samaritans’ and ‘Prodigals.’ But church folk forget this simple aspect of life and in our attempts and efforts to be important, we fail to capitalize on such an idea. We forget how to be children. I remember when my eldest son, now nearly 16, was but a toddler. He could listen to the the same stories over and over and over; memorized them too. Why do we forget this as adults? This is what stories are for in the first place. Not merely to entertain even if they do entertain. We remember stories. I couldn’t tell you the financial reports of last month’s board meeting. I can tell you stories from every church I have ever had the pleasure or displeasure of knowing.

“It is common among many of us when we become more aware of what is involved in following Jesus and the urgencies that this involves, especially when we find ourselves in Samaritan territory, that we become more intense about our language. Because it is so much more clear and focused we use the language learned from sermons and teachings to tell others what is eternally important. But the very intensity of the language can very well reduce our attentiveness to the people whom we are speaking—he or she is no longer a person, but a cause. Impatient to get our message out, we depersonalize what we have to say into rote phrases or programmatic formula without regard to the person we are meeting. As the urgency to speak God’s word increases, listening relationships diminish. We end up with a bone pile of fleshless words—godtalk” (21).

So, why? I think this has something to do with keeping people involved in the conversation by requiring their participation. “A parable is not an explanation. A parable is not an illustration. We cannot look at a parable as a spectator and expect to get it. A parable does not make a thing easier; it makes it harder by requiring participation, by entering the story…” (59-60).

Parables require effort. Parables require eyes of faith to see and ears of faith to hear. We have to listen and participate.

What I have laid out for you is three important aspects of the parables. First, Keener teaches that parable teaching is a common feature of teachers and rabbis of that day. This is not a later invention of the church. Second, as Capon noted, the parables turn our conceptions of God, Kingdom, Son of Man upside down and undo all our pretension. Third, as Peterson draws our attention to, parables keep us involved in the conversation by bringing us back to earth. “Why do you stand there staring at the sky?” the angel asked the disciples. Indeed, the answers are not found ‘out there’ or ‘up there.’ Jesus said, “Behold! Look around! You will see the Kingdom of God, indeed God himself, at work in places you never would have thought, under the spell of your own knowledge and wisdom, imaginable.”

Jesus told parables. He told stories that had meaning and connection to the everyday lives of the people who heard those stories. We do well, when we interpret the parables, to first listen to the parables. We do well to pay attention to the context of the parables. We do well to hear first the story of earth before we presume to know and attach meaning of heaven to the word of God. These are not earthly stories with heavenly meanings. They are carefully told earthy stories designed to capture our attention, involve us in a conversation with Jesus, and seek him and his kingdom first. In part two of this post, I will explore the parable itself and de-sanitize it.

De-Sanitizing the Parables: The Good Catholic

Friends,

Here are the few notes I made on Psalm 1 for this week’s lesson. They are somewhat hurried, but I think you will find some usefulness in them. There are a few quotes from various authors and commentaries. You can also download the MSWord version at box.net: Psalm 1. Be blessed. [PS–There are a couple of random notes in the midst. They cover Revelation 1:7-8 and have little to do with the Psalm. I wrote them for a friend of mine, but you can borrow them too.] As with most of my notes, these ones are very loosely connected and mostly random. I’m sort of thinking as I go.

Psalm Lesson
Psalm 1, May 24, 2009

1 Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.
2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.
4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

This Psalm is a beatitude and it stands at the front of our most ancient song book/book of prayers. The Psalmist puts before us two paths. On one path walks the blessed person; on the other walks the wicked. And if the blessed one never steps foot onto the path of the wicked, we can be sure and certain that the wicked person never steps foot on the path of the righteous person. The Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked? It appears not so much since their way will be destroyed.

The history of interpretation of this Psalm is to tear apart the metaphors and fill them with all sorts of meaning, but maybe it would do just as well to simply see the metaphors for what they are: Two paths. There is no in-between, there is no third path, there is no alternate root. There is the way of righteousness and the way of wickedness. Maybe these paths are blurred at times because of those who tread them, but the paths themselves do not alter or change.

Notes from Acts 1:

Acts 1:7-8 is like a circle, right? A concentric circle of evangelism where the influence and power of God’s kingdom expands: Jerusalem, Judea/Samaria, Ends of the Earth. It’s a beautiful thing that I noticed in other places too.

One such other place is in Revelation 4-5 where everything spoken of is spoken of in relation to the throne. Who is on the throne, in the center, but Jesus. “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures…”

Another such place is Revelation 1:12-13 where Jesus is spoken of as ‘among the lampstands. But what it really says is that Jesus was in the ‘middle’ (meso) of the lamps.

Then also in Mark 3:31-34. “A crowd was sitting around him…Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him…”

What is that expanding circle spoken of in Acts 1 but the people who are gathering in this circle spoken of by Mark and John with Jesus at the center? What is Kingdom? What are witnesses but those invited into the circle, not an inner circle where we have secrets and exclude people, but an expanding circle around Jesus where everyone has equal access to him and everyone and anyone is invited to join the circle around him, to orient their lives around Him? It’s like the circle gets bigger because people are joining and not necessarily because people are fanning out.

And how should this kingdom and witness be done? Always with reference to the Lamb who is in the center. So all of our work and effort and witness is centered on Jesus and built around Him.

Well, that’s all very preliminary, but it came out in last week’s bible school lesson. It’s free and food for thought in case you find yourself needing an idea.

A good starting reference is found in Joshua 1:1-9:

1 After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. 3 I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Great Sea [a] on the west. 5 No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.

6 “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. 7 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

There has always been this massive importance placed upon the reading and keeping of the Scriptures. Why? Why the importance? Consider:

1 These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. 3 Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, promised you.

4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

10 When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

Remembering the Scripture helps remind us of what God has done. It keeps us in touch with Him and what He has done—reminds us to be humble. All three of these passages remind the reader to pay attention to the Word of God. And why pay attention to the word of God? The Psalm reminds us why. Two paths. Jesus also talked about two paths. This one path is defined by the Word of God.

MT 7:13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Consider this from Jeremiah 17:5-8:

JER 17:5 This is what the LORD says:
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who depends on flesh for his strength
and whose heart turns away from the LORD.
JER 17:6 He will be like a bush in the wastelands;
he will not see prosperity when it comes.
He will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.
JER 17:7 “But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose confidence is in him.
JER 17:8 He will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”

What is amazing is that across the board, Moses, Joshua, Psalms, and Jeremiah and Jesus all have the same or similar ideas about the righteous person and the Word of God.

Commentary and Notes

College Press NIV Commentary, Psalms 1-72, Edward Tesh & Walter Zorn

“Righteous or wicked, godly or ungodly, wise or foolish—whichever terms are used, the contrast in the psalm is well defined. In the OT Scriptures if one is not godly, he is not wise, for there wisdom and godliness are inseparable. This wisdom directs one in the ways of God and is to be distinguished from mere knowledge, such as an encyclopedic accumulation of facts.” (86)

“And it is a happiness that is very definitely related to conduct. The good life is attractive and brings real, not superficial, happiness.” (87)

(1:2) “The state of blessedness or happiness in life finds it source more in what a person does than in what he refrains from doing. The wise man refuses to walk in the way of evil, not because he is bound by an oversensitive conscience but because he has chosen to walk a better way. When it is a matter of choice between the counsel of the wicked and the way of the Lord, for him it is no contest. He chooses the latter.” (88)

[See Luke 11:28]

“The first word of the Psalm 1 is ‘blessed,’ describing the condition of one who walks in God’s way. The last word is ‘perish’ and refers to the end of those who reject the way of God. These two words, the first and last, encompass all that is in between. Thus the Psalm is ended. The righteous will lay it to heart. Regrettably, the foolish, unless they turn from their folly, will go on in their mocking.” (90-91)

How Long O Lord, DA Carson, 126

“Indeed, in God’s sight, the wicked are insubstantial, inconsequential: ‘They are like a dream when one awakes; when you arise, Lord, you will despise them as fantasies’ (v 20). The thought is akin to the last verse of Psalm 1: ‘For the Lord watches over the way of the righteousness, but the way of the wicked will be destroyed’ (v 6): not merely the wicked, but their way, so inconsequential are they.”

Tyndale Old Testament Commentary, Psalms 1-72, Derek Kidner

“Preferable to Blessed, for which a separate word exists, is ‘Happy’, or ‘The Happiness of….!’. Such was the Queen of Sheba’s exclamation in 1 Kings 10:8, and it is heart twenty-six times in the Psalter. This psalms goes on to show the sober choice that is its basis. The sermon on the mount, using the corresponding word in Greek, will go on to expound still more radically.” (47)

“The Law of the Lord stands opposed to the ‘counsel of the wicked’ (1), to which it is ultimately the only answer. The psalm is content to develop this one theme, implying that whatever really shapes a man’s thinking shapes his life.” (48)

“So the two ways, and there is no third, part for ever.” (49)

The Message of Psalms 1-72, Michael Wilcock, 19-22

“It is striking that the very first word of the entire book of Psalms should be this one. Surely it is far more important (this is the second question) that we should be righteous, or obedient, or loving, than that we should be merely happy? Yes, in the short; but from his original creating of his people right through to his final redeeming of them, Scripture is clear that God’s long-term purpose for them is that they should be blessed. The psalmists celebrate every foretaste of that heavenly promise.” (20)

Answering God, Eugene Peterson, 23-32

“The first word of the first psalm, blessed, sets the tone: happy, fortunate, lucky with holy luck. The second psalm uses the same word at its finish.” (24)

“This is quite different from merely reading God’s word, or thinking about it. This is not so much an intellectual process, figuring out meanings, as it is a physical process, hearing and rehearing these words as we sound them again, letting the sounds sink into our muscles and bones. Meditation is mastication.” (26)

“‘Meditate’ in Psalm 1 and ‘plot’ in Psalm 2 are the same verb. And it is the same action: a murmuring, absorbed, ruminative interest over the word of God, realizing that this is the important word, the word that determines all existence. But while Psalm 1 directs us to approach this word with delight, receiving it as life-giving, Psalm 2 shows people plotting against this word, devising schemes for getting rid of it so that they can free of all God-interference in their lives. These people want to see God’s words not as javelins penetrating their lives with truth, but as chains that restrict their freedom. They put their minds together to rid themselves of this word so that their words can rule.” (28)

Losing our Virtue, David Wells

“For what is unusual is that people now thing that happiness has little or nothing to do with the moral life, that it can be pursued as an end in itself, that it is something which can either be bought or, at least, manufactured.” (99)

God in the Wasteland, David Wells

“Only those who are countercultural by way of being other-worldly have what modern culture most needs to hear—a Word from God that can cut through the deceits of modernity to reach the hearts that lie within. These are the people for whom God has weight, and, because of this, they themselves have weight. In contrast, it is this-worldly Christianity, no merely in the old liberal forms but increasingly in the evangelical church today, that produces weightlessness in God and in its purveyors. It spreads something light and superficial, a mere gloss on modernity, under the illusion that it is actually offering the antidote to modernity. So it is that evangelical faith and practice have unaccountably run aground in the shallow waters of modernity. If we are to survive, we most return to the deep waters of God’s otherness—his holiness and truth—for that is where our safety lies.” (151)
_______________________

Still, we walk this way with a limp.

If we are to put our roots down anyplace at all, we put down roots into the word of God.

Deeds of darkness, the way of sinners, wicked, and scoffers…we want nothing to do with all that. As the people of God he has empowered us by his Spirit—who leads us into all truth.

RO 13:11 And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

Also consider this from Ephesians 5:

EPH 5:8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14 for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said:

“Wake up, O sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

EPH 5:15 Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. 19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

His delight…is in the Law of the Lord. Well who delights in rules, laws, and such? Who delights in Torah? But Torah is meant to be a blessing and not a burden. Can this Torah be a delight? How can we delight in the Torah?

This Psalm guards the entrance into the Psalm book. It is the first idea we encounter as we get ready to enter into the book. This psalm will guide our understanding and control our interpretation and our singing and praying of the rest of the Psalms in the book.

The good man does something negative: He does not walk in the way of the sinners, etc. He won’t even take a stroll through the wickedness of the unrighteousness. Instead, day and night he is chewing on the Word of God. It is his waking and sleeping thought.

Then he says: Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor the sinners in the assembly of the righteous. I thought about the Revelation:

REV 6:15 Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16 They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

REV 7:1 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. 2 Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: 3 “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” 4 Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel…. REV 7:9 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

Someone will indeed stand! It will be the righteous. Who can stand? If no one can stand, who can stand? God is able to make them stand and they will stand.

Two ways to choose and neither way can be chosen apart from Christ Jesus. He makes the one way possible and makes the other way horrifying. For what is life apart from Jesus? Where is there hope apart from Him? Who can stand?

Friends,

Here are lesson notes from John 17:6-19. You can also download them from box.net in MSWord format: John 17:6-19. These notes follow no particular order. They are random and rambling. They are kind of like a play by play as I read through the verses again and again and again picking up a bit here or a bit there, reworking the outline, letting the text saturate my mind and heart. There are only a couple of books consulted in these notes, Peterson and Wright. You can access another sermon I preached on this text here. Be blessed. And preach the Word.

Lectionary Notes
John 17:6-19, May 24, 2009

“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. 8 For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. 9 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name–the name you gave me–so that they may be one as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

Some Random Observations

Jesus prayed so many words that night. And he prayed them in the company of the disciples. I assume that he did so because he wanted them to hear these words.

I think, as I read this, what stood out to me in these particular verses is the word ‘world.’ The word ‘world’ was introduced early on in the story of John’s Gospel.

JN 1:6 There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

JN 1:10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The word is used in nearly every chapter of the book of John’s Gospel, but it is concentrated 13 times in chapter 17, in the verses for today’s lesson (6-19), it is used 8 times. It was this particular concentration that intrigued me; so I looked again.

• Verse 6: Jesus made revelation to those God gave him out of the world.
• Verse 9: Jesus was not praying for the world.
• Verse 11: Jesus said “I will remain in the world no longer.”
• Verse 13: Jesus was speaking while he was still in the world.
• Verse 14: The world has hated the disciples.
• Verse 15: Jesus did not pray that God would take us out of the world.
• Verse 16: They are not of the world.
• Verse 18: Jesus was sent into the world and he sends them into the world.

The world continues to beat upon the disciples of Jesus. The world—and all it’s trappings—the world and all its death, here we are. He won’t take us out of the world—but does pray for our protection while we are in the world. We beg. We plead. We ask. We cry. And here we are; protected and all.

We are out of the world, and yet some of that world still remains in us. And he will not take us out of the world. NT Wright notes, “‘The world,’ remember, in this gospel doesn’t mean simply the physical universe as we know it. It means the world insofar as it has rebelled against God, has chosen darkness rather than light, and has organized itself to oppose the creator. See from within that ‘world’, Jesus is ‘from’ elsewhere. So, too, we now discover to our surprise, are the disciples. In other words, ‘the world’ in this dark sense is not the place, the force, the sphere, that determines who the disciples most truly are.” (John for Everyone, vol 2. 95).

Maybe an outline looks like this:

• Verses 6-10: Seem to focus on the Revelation given by Jesus to those possessed (or given to) by Jesus. (There’s emphasis on the word ‘give’ [6 & 7 & 8 & 9 and ending with ‘all I have is yours and all you have is mine’]).
• Verses 11-12: Seem to focus on Jesus leaving the world and the protection he knows we will need while we remain. (That protection comes via ‘the name’ [‘name’ appears three times in these two verses])
• Verses 13-19: Seem to focus on the necessity of our being made complete after Jesus has gone. He uses a special word here ‘sanctify.’ But I think also ‘full measure’ (of his joy).

So we are introduced to him by Jesus. We are protected by Jesus. We are sanctified by Jesus as the journey continues. Never, though, does he remove us from the world. He keeps us here in this place where all this happens. We are introduced to him here—in the world. We will continue need protection here in this world—by the power of His Name. We will be sanctified here in this world. It all happens here. He spares us no unpleasantry in this place. But he is deliberate enough to pray for our protection.

But it might also be important to just pay close attention to the prayer itself. That is, many prayers are prayed out of the hearing of listening ears. Not this one. This prayer is prayed. This prayer, prayed to the Father, is heard also by the disciples. Jesus’ prayer became in time our Scripture. His prayer became God’s Word to us. So Eugene Peterson writes, “The disciples are in the room, but they are no longer asking questions and making comments. They are listening to Jesus speaking with the Father. As Jesus’ followers, we are most definitely included as listening participants.” (Tell it Slant, 217)

So what do we hear Jesus saying in this prayer? I hear him saying: Most of what is going to go on in your life as a follower of me, as someone I pray for, is going to happen right here in this world, this world that hates you, and I am not going to take you out of it until that work is done. Paul wrote that he will not fail to complete in us what he started. Jesus is the author and perfector of our faith. I hear him preparing us for here. And yet, the action is decidedly Jesus’. Pay attention: I have revealed; I gave them words; I came from you; I pray for them; I am not pray; all I have is yours; I will remain; I am coming to you; I protected them; I am coming to you; I say these things; I have given them your word; I have sent them into the world; I sanctify myself; I am not of the world any more than they are. And perhaps more. Jesus takes all the burden upon himself. He initiates all the action. He culminates all the action.

So we have to listen to him praying for us. Maybe it is more important for us to listen to Jesus pray than it is for us to break down the words he did pray.

“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. 8 For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. 9 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name–the name you gave me–so that they may be one as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

This is not the prayer of someone who believes he has lost control of the situation. This is the prayer of someone who knows what he is doing and where he is going. This is the prayer of someone who wants his listeners to know something about the world they are in, about the God who protects them, and about what it all means in the first place. Jesus is concerned that we do not get sucked back into that world from which were pulled to begin with. Jesus prays a prayer so that we understand exactly what we are up against and who is for us.

We should not think, however, that Jesus prayed this prayer once and then left us to our own made devices. Hebrews notes:

HEB 7:23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

Eugene Peterson writes:

“A major difficulty in taking this prayer to heart is that it doesn’t seem to have made much difference for twenty centuries now, and certainly doesn’t seem to be having much of an impact on Christians at the present. The Christian Church is famous worldwide for being contentious and mean-spirited, for using the words of Moses and Jesus as weapons to exclude and condemn. One of the identifying marks that Jesus gave his disciples is that ‘you have love for one another’ (John 13:35). But not many centuries had passed before outsiders were saying, ‘Look how they vilify one another!’ We kill with verbs and nouns, swords and guns, ‘Christians’ marching under the banner of the cross of Christ.” (Tell it Slant, 223)

There are a hundred different ways one could approach this text. It might be important to think about the context. In 13:1: “Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father.” Now here Jesus prays in 17:1: “Father, the hour has come.” He prays this prayer in the full knowledge of his own impending death. He prays this on the night of his betrayal. He prays this after he has washed feet. He prays these things so that we might have the full measure of joy within us.

Maybe it’s called the ‘prayer Jesus did not pray.’

• Verse 9: “I am not praying for the world.”
• Verse 15: “I am not praying that you take them out of the world.”

There are other negatives in these verses:

• Verse 11: “I will remain in the world no longer.”
• Verse 12: “None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction.”
• Verse 14: “For they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.”
• Verse 16: “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.”

There’s the contrast between the Holy Father whom Jesus petitions to protect us and the evil one who seeks to do us harm. If he is praying for us, it must mean that we are in great danger. If we need the sort of protection that comes from God it must mean we are in the sort of trouble from which we cannot extricate or protect ourselves.

We have to listen to the things that Jesus prayed. What does Jesus say about those he prays for? They were yours; they know that everything given Jesus comes from God; they accepted his words; they knew with certainty where Jesus came from; they believed that God sent him; they are still in the world; so that they may be one; he prays so that they may have joy to full measure; they are not of the world; they are meant to be sanctified. They, then, are just as significant in this prayer as ‘I.’ They are the ones he prays for. They are the ones for whom these specific ‘goals’ are stated and prayed. He wants them to know what he prays for and what he does not pray for.

So the prayer he does pray and the prayer he doesn’t pray are equally significant.

But there might be one more part of this prayer and that is the ‘You.’ I have revealed you; those whom you; they were yours; you have them to me; they obeyed your word; everything you gave me comes from you; the words you gave me; I came from you; believed you sent me; those you gave me; they are yours; yours is mine, mine is yours; power of your name; name you gave me; I am coming to you; your word; not that you take them out of the world, but you protect them; your word is truth; you sent me.

So there is the pray-er (Jesus). There are those prayed for (‘they’). And there is the one prayed to (Father).

I want people to hear this prayer, so I plan on repeating the prayer at least 4 times in the course of the sermon. It is necessary for the congregation to hear what the Son of God had on his lips on the night he was betrayed, in that ‘hour.’ (17:1) There is all sorts of detail contained within the prayer itself that can be fleshed out, but I want to focus on the repetition in the prayer. Thus:

The action of Jesus: “I ______.”
The petition to the Father: “You________.”
The needs of the prayed for: “They/Them________.”
The place where we live and are prayed for: “The world________.”

And still the question remains: Why does Jesus leave us here? Why is he convinced that our perfection must take place in such hostility? Why is the world the place for us to be as we live and grow and learn and mature and are perfected? How can Jesus pray this prayer on the night of his betrayal, on the night of his trials, on the eve of his crucifixion—that is, if he knew he would face as much, how could he pray it knowing our lot would be no different? He deliberately leaves us here.

This should tell us something about this ‘here’ where we have been left.

Do we believe and trust that God will protect us? (11-12)
Do we understand this is all part of the sanctifying process? (19)
Do we believe with certainty even though the signs around us cause doubts? (8)
Are we going out as he has sent us? (18)
Do we believe and trust that all things are Jesus’ (7 & 10; much like Matthew 28:18-20, ‘all things, etc.’)?
Do we believe what he prayed even if we don’t happen to like it very much at all? (9, 13)
Do we trust that he is still praying for us? (Hebrews 7:25)
Do we believe that Scripture being fulfilled still matters as much now as it did then? If so, what has Jesus promised in Scripture for us? (12)
Do we listen to these words of Jesus with the expectation of being filled with the full measure of Joy? (13)
Do we understand why the world hates us? (14; because we have the Word of God)
Do we understand why he has left us in the world even though he has left the world? (15)

Remember, this prayer became Scripture for us. We are not just reading a prayer or even listening to a prayer, but we are listening to the Very Word of God, prayed on and remembered from the night of his betrayal, the eve of his crucifixion.

Finally, I notice that in verse 6 Jesus said he revealed God. In verse 7-8 we are told about their belief. Then we are told that we bring glory to Jesus 9-10. The point is that by the end of the prayer (11-19) he is saying that we are becoming like him. That is, the world hates him, and us; we are not of the world, neither is he; he is sanctified, so must we be. We become more and more and more like Jesus in our experience as we live in trust and obedience to the revelation we have received. If Jesus has revealed God the Father to us, and we have believed, then it is inevitable that our lives will take on the quality and character of that of Jesus. We become what we love. We become like Jesus.

So if we become like Jesus in our experience, do we also become like him in our prayer? It’s one thing to know that the ‘hour’ is upon us; it’s quite another thing to pray through that night.

Letting Love

“We are created by love, to live in love, for the sake of love…By worshiping efficiency, the human race has achieved the highest left of efficiency in history, but how much have we grown in love?” (Gerald May, quoted in John Eldredge, Waking the Dead, 48)

I’m thinking about this love—and especially as this love relates to the church; to Christians. Commenting on 1 John 5:1, author Morris Womack writes:

“If love is one of the familial traits in God’s family, then each of his children will love God and love the brothers and the sisters in God’s family. You cannot love God without loving your brother. You cannot have one without the other. John reminds us that the way for us to become children of God is (1) by loving God; and (2) by carrying out his commands…[T]he conclusion we expect is: therefore if you love God you will love your fellow Christian.” (College Press NIV Commentary, Morris Womack, 1, 2, &; 3 John, 116-117)

And yet…and yet…Eldredge asks, “Why is it so easy to get angry at, or to resent, or simply to grow indifferent toward the very people we once loved?” (Waking the Dead, 113). John made it perfectly clear in his letter, “…everyone who loves the father loves his child as well…This is how we know that we love the children of God of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands” (1 John 5:1b-2).

Why is love so difficult for us? I mean, as I read blogs and the comment sections of blogs I am led to believe that the family of God is one great big, gigantic dysfunctional family. Why? Because we can’t and don’t and won’t love our brothers in Christ—no matter that we are commanded to. But it is one thing to lament the lack of love and quite another to offer solutions. It is one thing to see others as the stumbling block (“I can’t love them”) and quite another to see ourselves as the stumbling block (“I won’t love them.”) I wonder which is worse.

Ah, therein is my problem. I have no solutions. I don’t know how to convince people that they not only should love their brothers and sisters but that they can. That seems to be what grace does in our lives. That is, enables us to do something, love, that previously we could not do and would not do. I don’t know how to convince myself that I should love. Hey, sometimes it is hard to get over hurt. It is one thing to want love to win and quite another to go out of my way to make certain that is a reality.

Someone else wrote: “Brotherly love is proof of love of God; but the reverse is also true.” (Smalley, 268) Ouch. That hurts. Brotherly love, love God, love people. It makes my head hurt thinking about the various peoples that God calls me to love and the various peoples that God, by virtue of his command, calls to love even me. I can’t imagine the horror some people experience when they read in the Scripture that they are, by virtue of their new birth in Christ, obligated to love so-and-so; or me. I am probably more amazed at the people who have willingly, sacrificially, unconditionally, without an agenda loved me; warts and all that is. Yet I complain when I am commanded to love so-and-so.

Eugene Peterson wrote in Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places:

“A primary task of the community of Jesus is to maintain this lifelong cultivation of love in all the messiness of its families, neighborhoods, congregations, and missions. Love is intricate, demanding, glorious, deeply human, and God-honoring, but—and here’s the thing—never a finished product, never an accomplishment, always flawed in some degree or other. So why define our identity in terms that can never be satisfied? There are so many easier ways to give meaning and significance to our human condition: giving assent to a creed or keeping a prescribed moral code are the most common in congregations.” (313)

Don’t you think that is too much pressure? Quite frankly it would be much easier if we did have a set of rules that would measure our success; indeed, many think we do. But the Scripture is rather clear that the measure of our success is determined by our love for one another and in no other way. There’s an easy way and the right way. The easy way is rules; the right way is love. And Peterson is right: love is never a finished project or product. There is always some obstacle we have to overcome along the way. Love always wins when we are brave enough to love.

I don’t think I’m searching for anything out of the ordinary, although, to be sure, love is out of the ordinary. It is not what we are accustomed to in this life. So when we get involved with the Jesus life we are shocked that this is what we are called to do. Love one another. Love one another. A new command I give you, Love one another. Jesus said it three times on the night he was betrayed. Three times! I suppose that shocked his disciples that night. Love one another. Pshaw! What sort of kingdom is going to grow, overcome the world, and remain when the cornerstone of that kingdom is love for another?

I’m not looking for anything out of the ordinary, although love does not come naturally to us. To love the people of God causes us all sorts of revulsion and convulsions and indigestion. Yet that command is not rescinded: Love one another is what Jesus left us with. He could have said any of a billion different things is the ‘new command’ he was giving us. And yet…and yet…our story, his story, is defined by love. No matter how complicated it becomes the command never changes: Love one another. Jesus either had a sense of humor or he was serious. Could be both. But while not excluding the former, I am inclined toward the latter.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another. If anyone one of you has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in you? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18).

Yeah, right. That’s going to work.

Friends,

Here are my lesson notes for this week’s epistles lection, 1 John 5:1-6. There are only a few verses, but they are packed. I relied on commentaries from Word Biblical Commentary series and the Bible Speaks Today series. I also found some great quotes from Eugene Peterson, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Karl Barth.  I made a few comments on the Greek text as well. There are 14 pages of notes for you to peruse. Be Blessed. jerry

Epistles Lesson, 1 John 5:1-5, Jesus our Love, our Law, our Victory

Excerpts:

‘Born of God’ rings with echoes of John 3. But what John is talking about here is a supernatural birth. He is not talking about becoming something new or different or even improved by the exercise of human prowess or ingenuity or techniques. John is talking about the kind of birth that is a radical, violent collision of our old self with what God means to make us. It is not enough for us to be merely remodeled. We need to be radically overhauled. CS Lewis talks about us being completely undone and remade into an entirely new creature. Heart transplant—Ezekiel style recreations, Jeremiah type transplants. Born of God is an indication of something we cannot affect on our own and I don’t think we can predict the outcome either. But submission to God in this rebirth will allow his Spirit to upend us and challenge all our ideas. We cannot measure it, control it, or predict it. Born of God means that only God has the depth and measure of knowledge about how and where our growth will occur. As Jackman says, “It is only God who can give life.” (137) See also John 5:25.

It all begins by loving God. It starts with loving God. If we love God, and if we are born of God we will love God, then we cannot help but love those who are also born of him. It is simply incompatible with our heritage and parentage to not love those who belong to the family of God. There should be no civil war in the family of God. But sometimes it seems that the family of God is so fractured that it is perpetually defeated. It makes one wonder how often the enemy capitalizes on this? It makes one wonder what those literally not born of God think about those who claim to be born of God. What sort of family do they believe us to be? What sort of fractured family are we?

Jackman writes, “This will apply, first to our love for the only-begotten Son, the Lord Jesus, but also all of God’s adopted children, as verse 2a makes clear. Since this is set in the context of a new family life, we are in fact proving our membership of that new unity by sincerely loving our new brothers and sisters. For without love of the brother and sister whom we have seen, any claim to love the invisible Father is a lie (4:20).” (138) I think there is application here, especially, in relation to people who come from broken families or dysfunctional families. When they become a part of the family of God with new brothers and sisters the healing can begin. So what did Jesus say?

Friends,

Here’s an update on my Psalm 98 notes posted last night. These are more along the lines of prayer thoughts and gave way to my prayer time this morning–a sort of thinking out loud about the Psalm (and will make much better sense if the lectionary notes are read).

Past, present, future–there is never a time when we shouldn’t worship. There is never a generation who should declare his praise. There is always a reason to worship: His salvation has been made known, visible.

Never shall a day pass when God’s name shall not be declared. Worship is the effluence of the Spirit bursting us at the seams, rattling us to the bone, shaking us to the core. Worship turns us inside out. That is, everything inside of us comes pouring out of us uncontrollably. His Spirit within–stirring us, shaking us, rattling us.

Rivers never stop clapping. Seas never stop resounding. Mountains never stop rejoicing. We do, though. How can we keep from singing? How can our praise abate? This is why the apostle says that our daily act is to offer ourselves as living sacrifices–our spiritual act of worship.

Maybe we should always carry around our guitars and make noise in the park? Maybe our harmonicas should always be in our back pockets or on our lips. Maybe we should hoist pianos on our backs and carry them about with us? Maybe we hold back the the shout out of fear or worse, complancency. Maybe our hands ought to be cymbals and our mouths trumpets. We breathe in air and turn out worship and praise. Even air is transformed in the lungs of God’s children. What sort of factory is in us? What are our lungs producing? Is it worship?

Is it praise?

Our feet ought to be drums and our tongues ought to be flutes. Our teeth ought to be tamborines and the growls in our stomachs the low bass of the tuba or the slobbery sound of the trombone. Our bodies instruments of worship and organs of praise.

And we join in with the sounds and noise around us–the everydayness of today; the present. Rivers and mountains are not afraid to be what they are: noisy, boistrous, loud, constant. Why are we? Rivers let rip; why don’t we?

Thanks for stopping by.

I’m getting a head start this week on my notes for the Lectionary readings. Today I spent with Psalm 98. You can download the notes from my box.net account. Here’s an excerpt:

This is David dancing before the ark like a mad-man. Do the expressions of praise ever end? Do the varieties of worship ever find conclusion? Is there any way in which we should not praise and worship? If God indeed invites rivers, mountains, and seas and rocks to join in the praise—where then should our worship stop?

This is the final act of unity for all of creation: Every knee bowing and every tongue confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord. Is this anything less than what God demands?

Our worship is too sedentary. Our worship is far too complacent. Our worship is far too mundane, controlled, and earth bound. We don’t really sing to the Redeemer, King and Judge; the one who Was, and Is, and Is to Come; the One who is the Same Yesterday, Today and Forever. Our worship is far too centered here on earth instead of on the great spiritual realities, that God has revealed in his Victories and Salvation. Have we really come into the presence of the King?

Do we know what the Lord ‘has made known’? Oh, I think not. If we really knew what the Lord made known we wouldn’t be feeling so safe in worship. We wouldn’t feel so secure when we enter into his presence. Oh, we should be writing new songs all the time. The songs should be flowing out of us like rivers and streams as the Spirit who wells up within us does (John 4). Let rip.

“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” -Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Talk

May 17, 2009, Psalm 98, Our Sedentary Worship

(I may add to these as things come up in other reading this week. Be blessed.)


Preaching is defined not by those who listen, but by the One who calls us to preach. Eugene Peterson said in an interview the following:

You have to go back a step and ask, “Why am I a pastor? What is my primary responsibility to this congregation?”The most important thing a pastor does is stand in a pulpit every Sunday and say, “Let us worship God.” If that ceases to be the primary thing I do in terms of my energy, my imagination, and the way I structure my life, then I no longer function as a pastor. I pick up some other identity. I cannot fail to call the congregation to worship God, to listen to his Word, to offer themselves to God. Worship becomes a place where we have our lives redefined for us. If we’re no longer operating out of that redefinition, the pastoral job is hopeless. Or if not hopeless, it becomes a defection. We join the enemy. We’ve quit our basic work.

Peterson goes on to say: (The questions in boldface are asked by the interviewer. Part 2.)

Most pastors I know would say that worship is critical and Sunday is very important to them. How could they begin to move away from that?

The defection starts subtly in what you do when people are not asking you to do anything. After three or four years in ministry, you realize that nobody is asking you to pray, and they are asking you to do a lot of other things, so prayer starts to erode.

Then study starts to erode. You cannot go to a pulpit week after week and preach truth accurately without constant study. Our minds blur on us, and we need that constant sharpening of our minds. And without study, without the use of our mind in a disciplined way, we are sitting ducks for the culture. This culture is an evil culture. This culture is the enemy. Through the media, through friends, through conversations we’re constantly fed lies, and like most lies, they’re 90 percent the truth. So you swallow the lie, and subtly, the edge of the gospel is blunted; you think you’re preaching the gospel, and you’re not. You don’t even know it.

So the first task in providing pastoral care is to pray and to study the Word

Who’s going to do that except the pastor? People in the congregation are busy in their jobs, reading their periodicals and attending their conferences. It’s my job to be suspicious of the culture. I’m not a culture critic, but to be a pastor, I cannot be seduced by the world. This becomes increasingly difficult in this so-called postmodern time. If you’re not sharp, you’re on the Devil’s side without knowing it.
A student was telling me he saw a video on Michael Jordan. He said, “Michael Jordan looks so lazy. He looks like he’s not doing anything. Then suddenly, he’s through three people, and he’s slam-dunking the ball.” As a pastor, how do you slip through the opposition and make your point? You do it by being lazy—or what looks like being lazy—sitting in your study for half a day reading a book that doesn’t have anything to do with your sermon. As a pastor I’ve got a responsibility to be alert to my culture so that my congregation is not seduced. If I don’t do it, nobody will.

Most congregations don’t think they’re paying pastors to do that.

That’s true. But they’re not the ones who give me my job description. I get my job description from the Scriptures, from my ordination vows. If I let the congregation decide what I’m going to do, I’m as bad as a doctor who prescribes drugs on request. Medical societies throw out doctors for doing that kind of thing; we need theological societies to throw out pastors for doing the same thing. And if you give up prayer and study, you will soon give up the third area: people.

Now here is Piper on that subject of preaching and the church.

Here’s the written version of Piper’s words in part:

Preaching is not the totality of the church. And if all you have is preaching, you don’t have the church. A church is a body of people who minister to each other.

One of the purposes of preaching is to equip us for that and inspire us to love each other better.

But God has created the church so that she flourishes through preaching. That’s why Paul gave young pastor Timothy one of the most serious, exalted charges in all the Bible in 2 Timothy 4:1-2:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word.

That’s the call. That is preaching.

Here is my third installment of this week’s lectionary notes. These notes are from Acts 8:26-40. It is a short set of notes primarily because I won’t be preaching from this text this week. Still, there’s 8 pages and plenty of references and a couple of outlines. Resources include Rob Bell, Roy Clements, Aijith Fernando, and more. Be Blessed.

May 10, 2009, A Desert Road, a Dry Man, Acts 8:26-40.

Excerpt:

Finally, evangelism. Strange that God would choose an Ethiopian eunuch as one of the first converts. Strange the ones that God chooses to be his emissaries. Perhaps stranger still that the eunuch would be going back to Ethiopia without a Bible, without an apostle, without any guidance whatsoever for his new found faith. I wonder if any of the fruit of that first African conversion remains to this day? What is the importance of evangelism? The eunuch went on his way ‘rejoicing.’ “Who can speak of his descendants?” (33) But eunuchs have no descendants, but who can speak of his? Evangelism invites eunuchs to become fathers and prostitutes to become brides. Evangelism invites orphans to become sons and daughters. Evangelism invites people into the story of the Lamb. Evangelism meets people along the desert road and even out of ‘dry trees’ flows springs of living water. Evangelism sends people back to their home town with a completely new story to tell and share with the people they work with and for. Evangelism allows people to see that God can do with them what they cannot do for themselves. Evangelism tells the story of Jesus to those who ask.

Here is my second installment of this week’s study notes. These notes are for Psalm 22. There are 13 pages of notes, quotes, outlines, and exegesis. Author’s who are referenced include John Piper, Eugene Peterson, Stanley Hauerwas, Michael Wilcock, CS Lewis and more. You can download the entire MS Word formatted set of notes from my box.net account. Be Blessed.

May 10, 2009: Psalm 22, My God, My God

Excerpt:

First, I noted that this is a song that was meant to be sung. “For the director of music” must mean that it was for the orchestra or choir director or both. Thus, there would be a performance of this song at the court, or perhaps in the temple. It is certainly not meant to be left lying flat on a piece of parchment collecting dust. Michael Wilcock interprets the Psalm through a number of lenses, one of them being ‘liturgy.’ He writes, ‘Psalms begin to appear which are suited, or intended, for corporate use. In this respect Psalm 22 is like Psalm 20 and 21. Although it is I who speak throughout, this is my praise in the great assembly, and in the congregation I will praise you (22:25, 22).” (Wilcock, Psalm 1-72 in the Bible Speaks Today Series, 79).

But I suspect this is only a part. Furthermore, how would this song be used in corporate worship? These are the words that one meant to come alive in the heart and spill out of the mouths of people. Yes, I agree that it is the personal lament of an individual, but the individual offered it to the director music for corporate singing. Then their collective experience would be ‘My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” Their voices, raised in chorus, repeating the same phrases thus would run from one end of the ebb to the other end of the flow (see my outline below). It is a way of recognizing that we suffer together (as in, when one part suffers we all do, when one part rejoices we all do). [But this is, of course, based on the assumption of the historical validity of the superscriptions which, I, in fact, accept.]

This Psalm is often understood as the solitary cry of an individual sufferer. So Zorn and Tesh write, “The one who suffered is not the nation, but an individual, calling on his brethren, ‘the sons of Jacob,’ to join him in praising God (22-23). Of course, the nature of the psalm is such that it could, and would, be used to bring comfort to all the people in times of national distress. Yet in its origin it is a reflection of individual suffering. (The writer refers to his tongue, his jaws, heart, clothing, etc).” (College Press NIV Commentary on the OT, Psalms, vol 1, 203). That is fine as far as it goes, but it seems not to take into account the superscription which made this a Psalm for the congregation to sing.

What does it say about us as a people when we, the collection of people, the congregation, willingly share in the lament and grief of an individual? What does it say about the individual when he asks the entire congregation not to run off without him but to stay behind and share his grief? (Galatians 6). Verses 3-5 describe Israel as a people who trusted God, a people who were not disappointed because God did deliver them.

podcastWelcome to the Life Under the Blue Sky Skycast (podcast). Below find the audio from last Sunday’s sermon (May 3) from the Acts 4:5-12 Lesson. The manuscript and study notes can be found elsewhere at this blog. The sermon takes about 35 minutes.

Be blessed. You can download the sermon at No Other Name or use the convenient inline player below.

As always, subscription options are available by clicking the link below.

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Soli Deo Gloria!

In my ongoing series of posts on the current lectionary readings, I offer you these notes on 1 John 4:7-21. There are notes from DA Carson, Eugene Peterson, I Howard Marshall, Craig Keener, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and David Jackman among others. The notes focus mainly on John’s call to his congregation to love one another as this is the booked found in verses 7 & 21. There are 15 pages of notes in this study.

May 10, 2009: 1 John 4:7-21, Love One Another

Excerpt:

Let us love one another. I know how this works. I know what it means, but I tell you the truth: Loving one another is not about uttering words or feeling some particular swelling of the heart. John says that the only possible explanation for loving one another is that we happen to know God. He says that the only possible outcome of our knowing God is that we love one another.

And if we do not love one another then it is not God we know regardless of how much we claim to ‘know’ about him. Knowledge begets action not mere facts. Whoever does not love does not know: It is that simple and that terrifying. Furthermore, John is not content to allow us to define love on our own terms either. No. No. No. Scripture contains its own definition of what love is and how we can know that it is God we know. Anyone can define love on their own terms. Anyone can create their own ideas about love, but John defines love on different terms altogether: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only son into the world that we might live through him.”

Be blessed.

Friends,

From time to time I like to feature a guest post here at Life Under the Blue Sky. This is one of those times. A member of the congregation I serve has been volunteering in the Church office. Part of her ‘duties’ is to help with the publication of the monthly church paper. She helps by filling out the content and this guest post is her most recent contribution. I think you will enjoy it very much.

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I have been volunteering in my church’s office and part of that service is to write for the monthly newsletter. This is my column for May.

Reflections from the Secretary’s Desk – May 2009

A reflection is an image or a representation it also is a thought occurring in consideration or meditation. I have written my past columns as a reflection of what I was considering or meditating on each month. This column is more in line with the first definition. What is my image, my representation of Christ and His Church? I am stating that every member of this church needs to consider this question too.

Take this paper and go find a mirror. Look at yourself and ask yourself some of these hard questions. Is it easy to look yourself in the eye and answer them? How comfortable are you with your own truth?

What are you feeling? What have you done recently to restore order and peace to the congregation? Who are you accountable to for your behavior? Who are you listening to, the voice of dissension or the voice of God? Have you done anything to harm the reputation of this congregation? Who is in control of your actions and words? Who are you following?

In Proverbs 6, Solomon lists six things that the Lord hates. They include feet that are quick to rush into evil and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers. What are your feet rushing to do each day? What are you stirring?

I have spent a long time agonizing over these questions and the issues behind them. I wanted to make sure I was without a plank in my eye before I asked. Your image of me may be completely different from mine of myself, but there you are. I want to be this woman: well known for her good deeds, showing hospitality, helping those in trouble. I never want to be accused of being this woman: being idle and going about from house to house, becoming a gossip or busybody and saying things I ought not to. These descriptions can be found in 1Timothy 5.

Whose image do you see in your reflection?

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I hope you enjoy this. It caused me a great deal of…uh…well…reflection. I wrote to Beth (the author of the post) and told her, “It takes a great deal of courage to examine the self, and an even greater deal of courage to publish the results to the world. She gave me permission to make the results known to an even wider audience–that’s you.

I think in the church we have a lot to think about and much to learn. I pray you will grow in his grace even as I am, even as Beth is. Together, as we grow, we can create an environment in the church where people can be built up in their faith, by the Word of God, and not torn down because of  bad judgments.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Friends,

In my preparations for Sunday’s Lectionary readings, I came across this in David Jackman’s The Message of John’s Letters in the IVP The Bible Speaks Today series. The author is commenting on 1 John 4:20-21. I thought you might appreciate it:

“This final ground of assurance brings us full circle back to 4:7, where this major section began. When God’s love begins to fill our lives, he not only gives us a model of how we should live in our human relationships, but he gives us both the desire and the ability to begin to do it; to reflect his love others. Once again John reminds us of this most practical of all his tests of Christian reality. It is the easiest thing in the world to make a verbal profession of Christian commitment, or to say I love God. But if we do not at the same time love our brother and sister, it is a lie. Love for the unseen Lord is best expressed not just in words, but in deeds of love towards the Lord’s people whom we do see.

“Is this not one of our greatest sins as Christians today? We may talk a lot about loving God, we may express it in our worship with great emotion, but what does it mean when we are so critical of other Christians, so ready to jump to negative conclusions about people, so slow to bear their burdens, so unwilling to step into their shoes? Such lovelessness totally contradicts what we profess and flagrantly disobeys God’s commands. It becomes a major stumbling-block to those who are seeking Christ and renders any attempts at evangelism useless. In many churches and fellowships we need a fresh repentance on this matter, a new humbling before God, an honest confession of our need and a cry to God for mercy and grace to change us.

“Let us not avoid the plain teaching of Scripture. If we do not love those fellow Christians whom we know well and see regularly within our fellowship circles, we cannot be loving God. We may have occasional warm feelings, but these can be merely sentimental and unrelated to other people in their real-life situations. The proof of true love is not emotion or words, but deeds, which read out to help others in need. But the other side of the coin is that such practical caring love can be a wonderful ground of assurance. There is a divine obligation laid upon us all in verse 21. The whole law is summed up in the royal law of love and we cannot love God without keeping his commandments. His will is that we should reflect the image of our Creator, who is love, by our love for one another. Plummer quotes the words of Pascal: ‘We must know men in order to love them, but we must love God in order to know him.’ That is true, but John would insist that we add, Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (131-132)

I really needed to be reminded of this today.