Monday, October 31, 2011

Hebrews 1: guest preacher at the synagogue

Of the authorship of Hebrews, the church father Origen wrote sometime after 200 A.D. to Eusebius:

“For not without reason have the men of old handed it down as Paul’s. But who wrote the epistle, in truth God knows.”

Which about says it all, I suppose. Hebrews contains words, people, and ideas both familiar and foreign to Paul. And anyway the “tone” is just not Paul. Paul’s sheep know his voice, and few of them seem to have heard it in the book of Hebrews. Whoever wrote it did so before the destruction of the temple in 72 AD, based on the discussion of temple sacrifices in the present tense.  Best bet: influenced by Paul, someone else wrote it. Barnabas the encouraging Levite? The learned Appollos, the Jew with the Greek name and training? “In truth God knows.”

Hebrews is a sermon packaged into a letter. I “hear” Hebrews most authentically when in my mind’s eye:

I am sitting in a dusty, hot Mediterranean synagogue. We have sung Psalms 2 and 45 and have chanted the Shemah (“Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is one God”) and now we await the sermon. After an introduction by the president of the synagogue, the learned visitor steps forward. He addresses us:

“In the past, God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.”

That our esteemed visitor knows Greek oratory and the Greek translation of the Holy Scriptures is obvious, but the man is no showman. He is a great “moreh”, a master teacher, full of Spirit and truth. I sit transfixed as he explains that Christ is greater than the angels. There is grumbling from some fools in the back who say the Archangel Michael will lead Israel in the Kingdom of Messiah.  

The moreh anticipates the grumblers and shoots them the rhetorical question: “to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’?”

Not a one of them, I answer silently.What the grumblers think I cannot say for they too are silent.

Unrelenting the moreh continues, “are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?”

And I answer silently, I see, Moreh, I see. Angels serve. Christ reigns.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Philemon: Age to age, Paul's still the same

And so at last I come to Philemon, and prepare to say goodbye to Paul, who (except Jesus of course) is the most dominant character of the New Testament and has shaped the hearts and minds of western civilization more than any other person.

He has changed so much since we met him back in Acts. Then he was a young zealot holding the cloaks for murderers; now (in II Timothy) he is an old man begging his "son" to bring him one. Then he was imprisoning Christians; now he himself is imprisoned for Christ. Surely the Lord kept his promise to Ananias to show Paul "how he will suffer for my name." Then Paul cared only for orthodox Jewish purity; now he begs a Gentile master to allow a Gentile slave to stay with him and keep him company and help him fulfill his lifelong calling of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles.

But no - he's not "begging" Philemon to let Onesimus stay with him. He is, well, demanding. Nicely. Kind of. Oh let's be honest Paul has always been a goal-oriented Alpha Male and he will be one until the day he dies. Shy and retiring and accepting and complacent, he will never be. God left his personality unchanged, choosing instead to clothe him in a new, Christ-like character suited for his new lifelong occupation.

As a father, I don't want or expect Tim, Joe or Imani to change who they are (in broad, non-limiting strokes): Tim the deep thinker, Joe the helper, Imani the social leader. But I pray God dress them in clothes of divine love, truth, power and special purpose. And I hope they will pray the same for me.

I love the Philemon/Onesimus/Paul story as it unfolds in this first-person correspondence. It is moving and even funny. It reminds me of the part in Les Miserables where the escaped prisoner and silverware thief Jean Valjean meets the godly bishop and is treated with such love that he too becomes a minister of grace. (Perhaps a Hugonauts among my friends knows if Philemon was the inspiration.) And the funny part is Paul's SHAMELESS guilt-tripping and arm-twisting of his squirming, slave-owning friend, to get something he really wants. I can imagine Paul saying in a husky voice, "Philemon my good friend - I will make you an offer you can' refuse." In prison or imprisoning, Paul has always been the godfather.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Titus 3 - how precious did that grace appear

After pounding on the immoral Cretans for two chapters, Paul gives missionary Titus a word of humility. I can almost hear Paul chuckling ruefully, "no, I was never as bad as the Cretans - I was worse."

Paul trains Titus to always remembers there is no "I" in "Gospel", no room for clubby self-righteousness. Without letting the Cretans off the hook of obedience to God and human authority, he cautions Titus and perhaps himself, too:
"3 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. 8 "
Paul directs Titus to humbly identify with Cretan sinners, testifying how being made an heir of God through the good work of another, Jesus, he himself has been reborn and renewed through the Holy Spirit. 
I know a young person (not a relative) who smokes dope. She's really lost in every way. To her I am probably a well-meaning grayhaired holy roller with no concept about "real life." I hope to tell her I was 16 once and smoked dope because it made me feel good when nothing else did until someone told me 38 years ago last Friday about how Jesus could give me new life if I just would say "yes" to him and I heard something in my spirit ask me if I wanted to do this and I said yes and lo and behold the desire to smoke pot just went away and I broke my pipe and tossed it into Malletts Bay in front of my parents' house, where it is rusting still I expect but I on the other hand am alive and expect to be so, forever.
And if by grace that testimony ever takes place, I will add silently, "Hallelujah, and Glory to God!"

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Clash of Titus and the Cretans

After filing yesterday's blog post, I received a "Happy Birthday" phone call from none other than missionary Paul Barner. It's his school, Barner Learning Center, that Diane supported so enthusiastically and that many people have contributed school supplies and vitamins, which Joe and I have shipped to Paul in the Philippines. Due to a computer glitch he thought yesterday was my physical birthday (Oct. 17), but in fact it was my spiritual birthday (Oct. 21, 1973). We learned that we each had met Christ in the early 1970's under the ministry of a visiting evangelist (in my case, John DeBrynne of "Songtime"). Thank you God for electing me - the only election that really counts, quite a bit more important than being a Cambridge Justice of the Peace!

Yet with Election comes responsibility. The joy of Election Night gives way to the realization that the burdens of service can be as heavy and thankless as they are important. “Whoever would be first among you, he must be your servant.” As always Jesus leads the way in sacrificial servanthood, - glory and praise be to his name! - not "only" in example but in real-time co-labor through His Word and Spirit. So the job is only as heavy and thankless as I allow my flesh to make it. This is as true for the Philipino missionary as it is for the American public affairs consultant.

And even more true of Titus. This brother got all the dirty jobs. Who gets dragged before the all-Jewish Jerusalem Council as Paul’s token Gentile believer? Titus. (But at least he doesn’t have to get circumcised!) Who has to bring Paul's second, critical letter to the crazy Corinthians,and make sure his commands are followed? Titus. Who gets sent to reform the Cretans, described by Paul as “always liars, evil brutes and lazy gluttons”? Titus.

In his harsh criticism, Paul notes he is jus’ sayin’ what “one of their own poets” has already said of the Cretans, residents of the fourth-largest island in the Mediterranean. There is a fascinating back story here that reveals Paul’s familiarity with Greek literature and philosophy.  Epimenides was a semi-legendary sixth century BC Cretan poet and seer credited with the spiritual cleansing of Athens. In a poem in defense of Zeus, he wrote these lines:

 They fashioned a tomb for thee, O holy and high one
The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies!
But thou art not dead: thou livest and abidest forever,
For in thee we live and move and have our being.

Hmmm…. A god who was supposed dead in a tomb, but who lives forevermore? And if that last line sounds familiar – it appears in Acts 17:28, where Paul quotes it to the Athenians! To the Greeks, I am a Greek…..

 P.S. – surprisingly the modern day epithet “cretin” does not derive from Paul’s critical assessment of the average cretan. If anything the cretans seem to have the last laugh on Paul, as even Supreme Court Judge Antonin Scalia traced the root of “cretin” to “Christian”. However, the preferred derivation comes from an obscure dialect of the French Alps, to describe a person with a particular, extreme, and possibly inbred, physical and mental deformity. See below from an online etymological dictionary: 

1779, from Fr. crétin (18c.), from Alpine dialect crestin, "a dwarfed and deformed idiot" of a type formerly found in families in the Alpine lands, a condition caused by a congenital deficiency of thyroid hormones, from V.L. *christianus "a Christian," a generic term for "anyone," but often with a sense of "poor fellow." Related: Cretinism (1801).

Oh and finally – the fact that Epimenides was a Cretan calling all Cretans liars has been played with by philosophers and other variations of sophists for hundreds of years, to wit: If a Cretan calls all Cretans liars, is he telling the truth? To this day, online philosophers are discussing Bertrand Russell’s invocation of the Epimenides Paradox, the inspiration of Paul, and making statements like “If he states all cretans are liars, he may be telling the truth about cretans, yet lying about himself being a liar. The true statement would be ‘all cretans except me are liars.’ By leaving out the latter, he lies while subsequently justifying it.” I remember a Star Trek episode in which Captain Kirk saved the Enterprise by telling a super-powered, super-smart, but socially naive robot, “I lie all the time.” The poor robot’s brain exploded.

No doubt Paul, who knew Epimenides better than either Captain Kirk or Bertrand Russell, would have said something like what he told Titus in chapter three: “avoid foolish controversies and arguments, because they are unprofitable and useless.”

Bless the Cretans, Cretins, Crestins, and Christians, God bless us every one! Tomorrow maybe I will get to what Paul tells Titus to tell the Cretans, and how it may apply to this Cantabridgian and sometimes lazy, gluttonous, lying, enjoyer of unprofitable, useless, foolish arguments.

Friday, October 21, 2011

II Timothy 4 - Paul, cold and alone

Cold and alone.

Winter is coming.

Some of us are cold and alone.

I am one of them of course. I seek from myself neither pity nor denial. What can I do? Go all stoic? No. I will do what Paul did. In jail, alone, no coat, winter coming, Paul asks his son Timothy – twice – to come before winter, and bring a cloak.

One solution for both problems, no burden to anyone. Paul reaches out to someone he loves and who loves him. Does he repeat himself because he is getting old and forgetful? I don’t think so. In forgivable self-interest he asks Timothy once for the cloak, and again to come before winter, because he doesn’t want his discomfort to be forgotten. He does not want to endure a dank Roman winter in chains, cold and alone.

Timothy, Barnabas the encourager, Titus, Mark, Luke the doctor/writer, compassionate Onesiphorus, hard-working Lydia – these people are Paul’s family. Except for that nephew back in Acts, whatever family of Saul of Tarsus had seems to be dead to Paul the Apostle, either in fact or by their own choice. His brothers, sisters, and children in the faith all work hard in the “family business,” which is bringing God’s glory to the nations. Paul is the father /sole proprietor. They are bound one to another by love, faith, Spirit, and common mission.

To deal with the “cold,” I went on Front Porch Forum and found an Overnighter wood stove to replace my smaller Defiant. The seller is someone I met in the 5K Labor Day road race, whose son is in the same grade as Imani at Lamoille, and who as an admissions person at Johnson State gave me good advice should Tim desire to re-enroll there someday. I don’t know if this person is Of The Faith but I do know that I have reached out to another Cambridge person and made my winter more comfortable at the same time.

As for “alone” – through December at least I will blog. After that God knows. Griefshare ends in November, but God willing I will stay in touch with some or all of my fellow grievers, and other single people who daily walk the narrow path alone. The holidays will be close family times, very intentionally I am sure. Like Paul, I will find His love as I do my part in the family business of giving God glory in music, missions, and Montpelier.

And by His grace I will believe God for the exciting, the unbelievable, the impossible, the stuff that makes the nations rise up and say “Glory to God, He has done great things.” And again I turn to Paul in II Timothy 4 and his plea for Timothy to come by winter.  When he wrote these words, perhaps sick and shivering and alone, could he have known that his simple plea for human warmth would inspire a Gethsemane decision in a saint of God 19 centuries later?

The year is 1939. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a leader of the German Christians opposing Adolf Hitler, has fled to America to avoid the draft. He did not fear military service, but in conscience he could not fight for Hilter nor would he expose the Confessing Church he led to the charge of cowardice and treason.  So to the joy of American evangelicals he came to New York to speak the Word here, to minister to European refugees, and above all to prepare for the reconstruction of the German church after Hitler’s (hoped-for) defeat.

But it was no good. The swirling bonds of love and duty to God, the brethren and Germany were too strong. Aghast at the worldly sermons of New York’s Riverside Church of whom he was an honored guest, an unmarried man missing the close fellowship of the German teaching communities he led in almost Zinzendorfian fashion, he took refuge in the Losung, the German church’s missal and prayerbook. On June 26, 1939, in the height of agonizing indecision – “should I stay or should I go now?” he read the passage in II Timothy 4 translated as “Do thy diligence to come before winter.” After long reflection he noted in his journal, “it is not a misuse of scripture if I take that to be said to me. If God gives me grace to do it.”

And so he returned, and led the church amid persecution, and plotted with the Stauffenberg group (“Valkyrie”) to kill Hitler, and was imprisoned and executed.

I get the Free Press three days a week, and every morning that I don’t I read “Bonhoeffer” by Eric Metaxas. The chapter on the New York trip, with its journal entries about the agonies of determining God’s will and his trenchant observation on the American church (“Tomorrow is Sunday, I wonder if I will hear a sermon”) and the American concept of freedom and civil engagement, is priceless. But the whole book is great, so far. And in Montpelier, as in Berlin, there are those who would hasten the death of the “useless eaters” of health care resources.

Will something I write, say or sing this winter echo into eternity to His glory? YES, if God gives me grace to do it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

II Tim 3 - who the heck are Jannes and Jambres?


is the best description for these two. The scriptures are full of people who have lost their way and oppose the Spirit of God (whether they recognize Him as such or not). Haman, the Sons of Korah, Alexander the silversmith..... Mostly they are about as well remembered as the losers of the World Series or the presidential elections. How many Americans know who James Blaine, Alf Landon, Al Smith, and Adlai Stevenson were? Maybe the names Grover Cleveland, FDR, and Eisenhower are better known? They say that history is written by the winners. The Spirit of God wrote the scriptures. They are history of God triumphing through His people.

Through His People.
Including - Me!

Hallelujah, Jesus.

So when I go to a press conference in Montpelier and find that the architect of gay marriage has been appointed to the Vermont Supreme is helpful to remember the Big Picture of history. (I might also add that the appointee is an accomplished lawyer and a very intelligent, personable person, and for all I know is qualified in many ways to serve on the bench. Perhaps my implied comparison is unfair and should serve for illustration purposes only.)

The following is from the Jewish Virtual Library......

JANNES AND JAMBRES, two legendary Egyptian sorcerers whose names appear in various sources as the adversaries of *Moses. Jewish tradition seems to identify them with the sorcerers mentioned in Exodus 7:11ff. (cf. Targ. Jon., ibid.). They are also mentioned as the sons of Balaam (Targ. Jon., Num. 22:22; Yal., Ex. 168, 176) and as having played a part in the incident of the *golden calf after joining the mixed multitude that accompanied Israel in the exodus from Egypt (Tanḥ., Ki Tissa, 19). The sources of the legends surrounding the activities of Jannes and Jambres go back at least to the time of the Second Temple. They are mentioned in the "Damascus Document" (Zadokite Fragments, line 17ff.) as "Jannes and his brother" and in the New Testament (11 Tim. 3:8). Mention is also made by the Church Fathers of an apocryphal book dealing with Jannes and Jambres.

The names also appear in pagan Greek and Roman literature. Both Pliny (Natural History, 30:11) and Apuleius (Apologia, 90) mention the name of Jannes only, the former including him in a list of Jewish sorcerers the first of whom is Moses, while the latter names him immediately after Moses in a list of famous magicians. Both Jannes and Jambres, however, are mentioned and discussed in detail by Numenius, the neo-Pythagorean philosopher (quoted in Eusebius, Praeparatio Evangelica, 9:8; cf. Origines, Contra Celsum, 4:51). They are described as Egyptian priests who excelled in wizardry at the period of the "expulsion" of the Jews from Egypt and as having been considered by the Egyptians capable of rescuing their country from the disasters brought upon it by Musaeus (Moses). Jannes (Iannis), with slight variations, is the most common form in which the name appears in Greek sources, as well as in the Palestinian Targum and in the main midrashic references. The Babylonian Talmud, however, gives the name as Yoḥana (cf. Yal., Ex. 235 – Yoḥane). There appears therefore to be justification for retaining the reading Johannes as it appears in the best-preserved manuscript of Apuleius.

Monday, October 17, 2011

II Timothy 2: 10 Grace Strengthening Exercises

It seems an oxymoron to want to "be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus". Strength doesn't need grace.

And yet I have known people whom grace hath made strong. Not overbearing. Not inflexible. But in their patience, commitment, and selflessness, their pressing into God in response to problems that would tear others apart - they are steel. Unbreakable. A fit tool for a lifetime of Kingdom building. Formed on the anvil and tempered in the furnace. As our brother Larry Staab, a graduate of "Hell Week" SEAL training, told me Sunday, "pain is just weakness leaving the body." So....straight to me from a fellow named Paul who oughta know, here are 10 Grace Strengthening Exercises.

1. Expect to suffer. Soldiers suffer. Follow orders anyway. It will please the CO. 
2. Follow God's rules even when it hurts and no-one is looking. Winning athletes can't take shortcuts.
3. Reflect on what I am taught, and expect God to give me insight.
4. Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. (Especially when religious people who deny His resurrection are trying to kill me.)
5. Realize that even if I am chained......God's word is not chained! THE GOSPEL DID NOT DEPEND ON JESUS BEING FREE AND COMFORTABLE.
6. Endure everything for the sake of the elect.
7. Know that if I endure, I will someday reign. I won't win every battle, but God will win the war, and in some undescribable way I will share His victory.
8. Don't argue over stupid things. Rather, kindly speak God's Word.
9. Flee the evils of youth, pursue righteousness, faith love and peace. As our brother Dick Lawson recalls the the men of Nyack College saying, "we don't smoke and we don't chew and we don't go with girls who do."
10. Love opponents of the gospel. They are captives of the devil, in need of deliverance from him, not eternal death beside him.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

II Tim 1 - a Godly Legacy

Time waits for no man, not even the Apostle to the Gentiles. Languishing in a real, shackles & chains prison, abandoned by all of his traveling companions except Luke, Paul reaches out to young pastor and "my dear son" Timothy. He longs to see him. But even more he longs for him to walk in courage, in the Spirit, and in his gifting. He knows the arc of his life is almost over, his greatest accomplishments things of the past. Behind him are his godly ancestors; ahead of him, Timothy; all three generations are links in the chain of faithful witnesses. Paul also invokes Timothy's spiritual heritage, of a godly mother and grandmother.

This afternoon Diane's brother Steve Carlsen called to wish me Happy Birthday. His wife Sue is recovering from serious illness, and Steve is the primary caregiver. Not surprisingly, he's tired a lot.

The Carlsen kids had a difficult childhood, but they also had the great blessing of a godly, loving grandmother, Helen Edwards. (Joe's full name is Joseph Edwards Page, in her honor.) Grandma Edwards was a rock of love and affirmation. My words cannot describe Diane's loyalty and affection for her. Sometime ago, Diane inherited her precious, extremely well-read Bible. About 12 years ago Diane was wondering if the dead (including her) could speak. On a whim I said, "why don't we open her Bible randomly and see what we can find?" We did so and my finger fell on I Samuel 28 - the story of Saul calling up the spirit of the prophet Samuel! The message was clear: if those asleep in Christ could speak, they would urge obedience to God's word.

But the ministry of Grandma Edwards and her Bible doesn't end there. Steve told me today that in his fatigue he was reading through her Bible, looking for inspiration. He came across a note Helen had written in a margin: "When I am at my lowest, I must praise the Lord!" And so, her grandson did, 25 years after she went on to Glory.

I like to think that something in this blog will bless my middle-aged grandson or granddaughter someday, long after my physical arc is complete. Even more I hope that by God's grace the next generation or two will see in my life and example the comfort of Christ.  To all of my offspring - including my own son Timothy - I say with Paul: "What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us."

Saturday, October 15, 2011

I Timothy 6 - Slavery, Money, Timothy's Charge, and Paul's God - in 250 words

Could write 1000 words on each of the four parts of I Timothy 6. Won't. 250 for the whole enchilada, or bust!

Slavery - hate how this passage has been misapplied by white so-called Christians to justify capturing, selling, enslaving, raping, torturing and killing generations of blacks, in violation of Golden Rule. Roman slavery often more like indentured servitude, entered into by choice. Elsewhere Paul compares slave traders to homosexuals, and doesn’t forbid efforts to leave slavery.

Love of Money (to the tune of America the Beautiful) - "O beautiful the hands and feet that run to serve the poor / that need no more than clothes and food / contentment to restore / America, America, God shed his grace on thee / don't let your dough ensnare you so / be rich in charity."

Paul’s Charge to Timothy – flee love of money like Joseph fled Potiphar’s wife. Instead pursue love of God and other gifts of Spirit: free, more satisfying, retirement plan much better. Young man: don’t settle, go for the best. The slavers, the money lovers, the arrogant finance barons and any Strong who enslave, oppress and kill the Weak for love of money or lust - they have chosen their false gods, but YOU Timothy, worship and confess and give glory to and wait for the return of the Son of the one true God -

The Blessed and Only Ruler
The King of Kings and Lord of Lords
Who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light
Whom no one has seen or can see
To Him be honor and might forever

Total words: 247!

Friday, October 14, 2011

I Timothy 5: the Church and the Occupy Wall Street movement

Tuesday night at a seaside restaurant on the North Shore of Massachusetts, my dinner companion, an old friend from high school and college, mentioned the Occupy Wall Street movement and asked, “what does the Church have to say about it?”

It’s a timely question. To its shame much of the church tolerated the destruction of the American Indians, ignored the rise of Nazism and sat on their hands while civil rights protesters marched. It pleases Christ the Head that His Body neither loves the approval of the world’s movers and shakers, nor ignores pleas for justice, emerging, like the tired old judge of the parables, only when its own comfort is threatened. Instead the Holy Spirit uses prophets and the irreproachable lives of His people to speak redeeming gospel truth to individuals and nations. The gospel message may begin by recognizing and solving the problem at hand, but it always ends with a call to join the Kingdom through the Cross.

My superficial answer to my thought-provoking friend’s question was something like, “in Thessalonians Paul tells the idle men of the church to get a job, work hard, and take care of their own families.” And there is some truth to that rebuke. The American spirit of quiet, determined industry has been corroded (I do not say replaced) by a loud, demanding spirit of entitlement. Say what you want about the illegal immigrants, but they are not occupying Wall Street. They and their green-carded brethren are holding nail guns, not cardboard signs. The protesters are the “real” Americans who have been raised with wealth but a declining sense of family and community support, and now that bad times are a’ comin’, both the government and family safety nets look overused, overburdened and full of holes. These folks are scared, and given their situation I do not blame them. The church can lead by example, being careful to give God the glory in the prayer closet and in public, if it follows some of the direct and implied directions about community support contained in I Timothy 5.

The gist of Timothy 5 is that we love those around us in appropriate ways. Treat old men like fathers, younger men like brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters (with purity). Widows are to be cared for by the church if necessary, but ideally by re-marriage. Americans may miss the impact of these statements because we lack a sense of Jewish family cohesion or Middle Eastern hospitality: “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

Whoa! So if I fail to treat everyone in the Body as relatives for whom I am responsible, what does that make me?! In Old Testament times the brother or near male relative of a man who died was obligated to care for the widow and children, thus the concept of the kinsman-redeemer. This was “welfare”, God-style. What if….what if….what if…..I actually practiced something like this? What if I really was my brother’s keeper in tangible, serious ways? No doubt I would have less money and time and living space, fewer “talents” to invest in my personal pursuit of the American Dream. (Oh boo hoo.) But as David Platt in his book “Radical” says, Christ has carried his cross and so must his followers, and indeed Christ through us is carrying the gospel cross until the Great Day when its work is accomplished.  I am reminded of admonition of the King to his servants in Luke 19’s Parable of the Talents:

“Occupy until I come.”

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

I Timothy 4: The value of physical training

Paul writes in 4:7-8, in response the supposed godliness of restrictive diets and presumably other physical disciplines:

"....Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come."

In today's Boston Globe appears a story that the Boston Red Sox starting pitchers, on non-start days, would sit in the clubhouse drinking beer, eating fried chicken, and playing video games. Paying little heed to their calling as athletes or their responsibilities to their teammates and the Great Cloud of Witnesses that is Red Sox Nation, they "let themselves go". Two of them, John Lester and Josh Beckett, were looking pretty chunky towards the end of the season, and perhaps not coincidentally they both pitched lousy and the Red Sox were beaten out of the playoffs on the next to last day of the season.

A year ago in July I wrote Diane 18 reasons why I should lose weight. I refer back to that list today because it seems that for the Christian the "why" of physical training is at least as important as the "how." The Hebrew mindset, in many ways very much "of this world" with its appreciation for nature and community, seems unconcerned with physical appearance and training. Can you imagine the Greeks not even bothering to describe the physical appearance of its central man-god figure? Their myths are all about buff Apollo and winged Mercury and femme fatale Athena and that randy old goat of many disguises, Zeus. But the Hebrews, with a few exceptions (Song of Solomon notable among them) don't much dwell on it. So in terms of cultural patterns, we are left with zilch from the Hebrews, and TMI from the Greeks.

I ramble. What I'm trying to say is that godliness is the guide for a biblical view of physical conditioning. For example: I told Diane I know am called to work hard to provide for my family and to also work hard in the Lord's vineyards. Since doing so requires staying healthy and energetic, I must eat and exercise well. Sickness may come, but shame on me if I bring it on myself. It's all about being a faithful maintenance worker of God's temple.

A couple years ago I was so tired and heavy that, like Beckett and Lester, I just faded in the homestretch of the Legislative Session. At a time when I needed gas in my tank, I was running on E. I noticed that other men my age but in better shape seemed to move more quickly and with more energy. They were equal to the task. And of course as I head into my mid-fifties (will be 54 next Monday!) it is important to do my part to reduce the likelihood of lifestyle-related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, back pain, arthritis, and cancer.

Taking care of myself is an act of love for my kids. God bless them they all have made it clear that they want me around for a very, very long time. For me to live is Christ and to die is gain, but being convinced that there is fruitful labor for me, I resolve to stay and live and love with them, and the grandkids when they come, too.

And for me to be fat is just a lousy, lousy witness. It proclaims to the world, "Jesus has no real control over my appetites, over the warp and woof of my daily life. My addiction is more powerful than He is."

I do not make these statements for anyone else. They are about me, my motives, my life. And because they are mine, they are truly motivating as I eat and exercise with a positive goal in mind.

Monday, October 10, 2011

I Timothy 3: Overseers and Deacons

Ever since the lunch rush at the Jerusalem Church cafe got too crowded for the apostles alone to handle, causing Peter to say in Acts 6, "it is not good to neglect the ministry of the word to wait on tables," there have been overseers and deacons. The oversimplified distinction between the two is: overseers serve the soul, deacons serve the body. There is crossover. In the first century, Deacon Philip preached the gospel to Samaritans and Ethiopians. Last Saturday night, Overseer Peter (Andersen) waited on tables at the Jericho Congregational Church chicken supper. Only in the religious flesh is one position "more important" than other, for in the Kingdom all are servants, the greatest least of all and vice-versa. The biblical emphasis on servanthood probably explains why the qualifications for both jobs are less CEO and more PTO: be a good dad, a good husband, well-thought of, honest, sober. As for job-related qualifications: the overseer must be able to teach; the deacon, not given to dishonest gain (unlike Judas, the "deacon" of the original 12). Neither should be untested newbies. As always, Paul points to the Lord Jesus as the example. The church's call to serve both body and soul comes from he who dwelt among us in the body, walked in the Spirit, and magnificently ministered to the whole person, unlike any other before or since. I had never noticed it before, but Paul's little hymn at the end of chapter two (who goes very well with the traditional Christmas song "the Christmas Bells Are Ringing") portrays Jesus equally in body and in spirit, in the "seen" world and in and by the unseen:

He appeared in a body / was vindicated by the Spirit
was preached among the nations / was seen by angels
was believed on in the world / was taken up in glory

I have received some gracious, interesting feedback on the last blog entry about women being silent in churches. One brother wrote that his wife asked him, "so where was Adam when Eve sinned?" In other words, why wasn't the brother leading? Was he off playing golf? Watching passively? It's a good question. (The answer would probably conclude that just because Adam and every male leader since has been a cowardly, power-hungry, lazy, arrogant dope from time to time, their failure has not revoked God's call. The church did not discard the Cross when the Romans and the Klan misused it as a weapon of intimidation and power.) Another brother, by far the most Patriarchal, head-covering-and-silence-for-women believer I know, gently mentioned that scripture encourages women to prophesy in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is an example of scripture commenting on scripture.

There are four steps to inductive Bible study: 1. Definition - what do the words in the passage mean? 2. Interpretation: what is the writer saying? 3. Application: what does this passage mean for my life? And, 4. Correlation: how does the teaching of this passage fit with the rest of scripture? In the last blog, I gave a quick treatment of 1-3 and left 4 untouched. That is a task for another day, or perhaps for a group of godly men and women, led by overseers "able to teach".

Saturday, October 8, 2011

I Timothy 2 - The Whole Counsel of God

15 short verses on life and worship, today’s blog post will be a breeze…..

Pray for kings and rulers, so that we can be left in peace – check.

As the rabbi in Fiddler on the Roof said, “A blessing for the Czar? Hmmm, let me think. Ah – May the Lord Bless and Keep the Czar – Far Away From Us!” Paul doesn’t want to be or even advise the Caezar, but he does value his Pax Romana as an unwitting enabler of the spreading of the gospel. But he hastens to add that there is one mediator between God and man, and it is not the GodKing Caesar – it is Jesus Christ. There is room in Paul’s pecking order for Caesar, but not at the top.

Men, lift holy hands in prayer – check. Testosterone makes ungodly men lift hands balled in fists or holding rocks. The Spirit turns these aggressive impulses into humble prayers for strength, protection and whole-armor-of-God unity. All men must have a deadly enemy to fight. In Christ we no longer wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the devil in the world and inside us.

Women, adorn yourselves with good deeds not beautiful jewels – check. Men like this verse because our women’s good deeds are usually not very expensive! But seriously – from my perspective, a woman’s adorning beauty may create attraction, but her good deeds create the trust and the soul-ties. Diane was a knockout blond but it was her dogged loyalty to her troubled son and her depth of character that really drew me to her.

“I do not permit a woman to tech or to have authority over a man; she must be silent… was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner…..but women will be saved through childbearing….” – NOT check. Not-even-CLOSE-check.

I am forever preaching to a woman pastor friend of mine that evangelicals, unlike religious liberals, are empowered for life and doctrine because they follow the whole counsel of God. Unlike Thomas Jefferson and his famous scissored gospel, we do not pick and choose. It is precisely verses such as this that “test” me, and I mean that in a positive, gold-purified-by-fire way.

I am reminded of a story by the great WWII war correspondent, Alan Moorehead, in his book about the North African campaign, “The Road to Tunis.” A group of Afrika Corps captives are marching in file past their British captors, defiantly singing the Nazi version of “Yankee Doodle”, called “the Horst Wessel Song”. The rank and file soldiers, among them many cockneys from London, jeer and gesture. “Bugger off ye sodding wankers…..” and the like. Their officers, on the other hand, are upper-class gentlemen. They just turn their backs.  The seeming misogyny of this verse is the song; the cockneys are mocking religious liberals; I am the officer, politely, discretely turning my back, saying nothing.

In defense of Paul, I could argue that history shows that male-only preaching has done pretty well over the last 20 centuries, and churches that have embraced women preachers are in decline. But this argument fails for two reasons: first, there are many third world mission fields where women are preaching the gospel quite effectively. We just don’t see them here in America. And second, history is written by the winners and is at best a subjective “proof” for a teaching.  The horrific, respectable 19th century obsession with Aryanism and Manifest Destiny is reason enough to avoid the “obvious lessons of history,” which may illustrate, but do not convincingly confirm  or persuade. Only the whole counsel of the rest of scripture can do that.  Truth has its pecking order, too.  As the Lord Jesus is over Caesar in authority, so His Scripture has authority over the interpretations of the history of the kingdoms of this earth.

So here is what I think: Under the inspiration of the Spirit that loves and redeems and empowers men and women without distinction, Paul commands male servant leadership in the area of teaching scripture. His reason: Adam was formed first, and Eve sinned first. He hearkens back to the Garden, before the potential for sin inside us and the world outside us had warped our minds and loyalties. Men are to be like the first Adam, redeemed, giving names and bestowing knowledge and order as stewards of creation. Like Eve, women are to join with and help men in this work. In its application it is a hard teaching, hard both to understand and accept in its many permutations. I think it is part of the narrow way, the cross, reviled by the world, countintuitive to our own understanding. The Romans embraced the cross as a tool of domination. The Christians embraced the cross as a tool of humble service. No doubt the Word of God has been and will be used in the same way, until its Author returns.

Does that mean women cannot preach the gospel to men in Africa? I think it does mean that when those men receive the gospel, they should find those among them with the pastoral and teaching gifts. Even closer to home, does this mean that women who teach men should altogether cease doing so? I think it does mean they should recognize this principle of Paul’s and seek to transition to it, in an orderly way, encouraging the men among their students to develop their gifts. And above all I think this verse needs to be understood and if necessary clarified in the context of other scripture. As I said above, neither the world nor history can tell the church what scripture means; that job belongs to other scripture.

Well, like I said, 15 verses, a breeze. A stiff, 90 knot, capsize-your-sailboat breeze. Enough for today of trying to rightly divide the word of truth – the sun is shining, the mercury is dropping, I gotta go split some wood.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Advice to Timothy from the worst of sinners

So I went ahead and highlighted the parts of I Timothy 1 I want to talk about......

Timothy my true son....command certain people not to teach false doctrines..... they want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm... the law is made for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars.

I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.

Timothy, my son, fight the battle well.

I have a son named Timothy, too. And besides my adopted son Tim, I have a kind of "son in the faith" named Timothy, a former roommate and fellow journalist whom I pointed to Christ lo these many years ago. I am grateful to God that both of these Tims are trophies of God's grace and deliverance, as am I. There is a quaint saying, "there but for the grace of God go I." This is truer than I will ever know this side of eternity.

Gotta wonder what those good Christian slave traders in the 18th and 19th centuries thought when they read a scripture comparing them to homosexuals and liars. No doubt in the spirit of the Pharisee they said, "he must be talking about UNRIGHTEOUS slave traders."

Paul really threw young, timid Timothy into the deep water. He is told to "command" the self-righteous confident Judaizers in the church to cease and desist. Wonder how that worked out for him. Clearly Paul knew that Timothy knew what he needed to know, he just lacked the necessary vim. One thing I am learning in the gym - sometimes I have to just go out and "just do it" even when it's way out of my comfort zone, and when frankly I don't think I can do it.

Monday, October 3, 2011

II Thess 3 - Everyday Heros

I just found out today that "Courageous" will play at Essex Cinemas for at least another week. Since seeing the movie Friday I have been thinking about what it means to be Dad, head of household. Paul has a lot to say about it in Chapter 3. After laying on a heavy trip about the Anti-Christ and the Mystery of Lawlessness and the End of the World, he takes a deep, calming breath, and says, "now, you men. Don't be lazy. Work hard. Mind your own business. If you don't work, you don't eat."

It seems an odd segue.

But - not really. Surely one of the greatest restraints on the spirit of lawlessness is the biblical teaching of family, hard work, and minding your own business. The lazy, rootless young man  is a chaotic pimple on the hind end of humanity. He "produces" nothing but loud, late-night noise and graffiti. The young man who loves his work and his bride and his children is a happy person who produces something valuable every day is likely to promote the general order and welfare. So many men have said, "my Dad was my hero. Every day he got up and whether he felt like it or not, he went off to work and provided for us. He kept his nose out of other people's business and just put his head down and worked."

It is all very well to talk of singing hymns of victory while being led to martyr's chopping block, as I wrote yesterday. To this I may someday be called. But today Jesus says to me, "take up your cross and follow me." And so I do, obeying God by honoring my daily commitments to family and employer. And holding back the spirit of lawlessness for one more day in my own little way.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

II Thess 2 - the mystery and man of lawlessness

 First Paul tells me about the bad stuff sliding down the pipe in my general direction. He tells me the same thing Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Jesus and John the Revelator say: a ruler claiming to be God will demand obedience and worship in the holy places. Paul calls him the Man of Lawlessness. Jesus and the OT prophets call him the abomination that brings desolation. John calls him the Anti-Christ. The world, prepared for his coming by the spirit of lawlessness, will embrace him and his counterfeit signs, wonders and miracles.

Anti-Christ forerunners, those who foreshadowed and resembled this man, have already come and gone: the kings of Tyre and Babylon, the Greek Antiochus Epiphanes, the Roman Caesars, and Herod Antipas, regarded as divine by his subjects in the Book of Acts shortly before his guts burst open. In modern times, Alexander Solzynitzyn told of Greek Orthodox Church believers who chose the gulag over Communism, which they regarded as the mark of the Beast. To them, Stalin, the former priest candidate, was the anti-Christ. Bonhoeffer and other German saints repudiated the German church  when its pastors agreed to swear loyalty to Adolph Hitler. Each of these "types" of the anti-Christ were credited with seemingly supernatural powers of protection and success. Communism had its Rasputin, Hitler his SS worshippers of pagan Norse gods. Each encouraged and enjoyed a cult of quasi-worshippers. And sadly both were regarded as wordly saviors by the worldy so-called Christian church.

As to the mystery of lawlessness that goes before these men is a persistent, behind-the-scenes thing. For example......Whitaker Chambers, the American communist turned Quaker who exposed the infiltration of mid-20th century American government, called communism godless man's attempt to replace God and build the Kingdom without Him. Without the tireless efforts of generations of 19th century and early 20th century communists, Stalin could not have seized power. Without the generations of anti-semitism, selfish nationalism, and the growing popularity of "Aryan" triumphalism, Hitler's poisonous seed would have fallen on hard ground. Historians argue whether the Great Man makes Great Events, or whether Events make the Great Man. Paul would say that in a perverted way, the Spirit of Lawlessness brings about events that "prepare the way" for the Great, Evil Man.....just as the Spirit of God prepared the way for the Christ, "in the fullness of time".

And what does this mean for me, when the force holding back the Man of Lawlessness is finally removed? It means that the laws about assisted suicide and abortion I am trying to stop will be passed, because society's historic sense of compassion and decency will have disappeared. It means the church I worship in, the beautiful historic brick church with the beautiful bas-relief artwork and the joyful godly worship, will be either closed, empty, or compromised, and the salt and light traditions of communion and singing the old hymns and preaching the clear meaning of the Word of God will be forgotten by all but a few. Instead the hearts of many will revere the Great Man and revel in his signs, wonders and miracles. It means that people I love and respect will hate and reject me, because they hate the Kingdom. Our brother Marcel Berard had said often that the unbelieving agnostic world is drawn to Christianity because its story is so thin and ours is so rich.  But what if suddenly their story seems rich, and ours thin by comparison, as happened in Nazi Germany?

I choose now to live and love and worship today so that, if this abomination happens in my lifetime, I will be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and my belief in the truth, and will share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ - even if the glory to which I am called to share is His suffering. In short I choose to stand firm and hold fast to the teachings passed on to me. I am a link in a chain stretching back to when Jesus called his first disciple. The other end of this chain is at the Great Reunion. I am not the strongest or prettiest link, but by God's grace the fiery trials will only serve to temper my metal. I say this not in any false confidence in my strength but in trust that His grace will be sufficient. And if every church in the world is shuttered and burned down, I will still maintain one shrine to the love and glory of Jesus Christ the Son of God - my heart. He said, "the Kingdom of God is within you." No tyrant can rob me of the freedom to make my heart Christ's home. This morning in that wonderful church in Jericho we remembered Christ's sacrifice in communion and then sang a great old "pumper" hymn - "He Lives." If ever I am summoned to the executioner's block by the minions of the Man of Lawlessness, I will if able to sing one last song for his glory - the one that ends, "You ask me how I know he lives - he lives within my heart!"