Monday, January 28, 2008

The Giving of God's Word

1. Moses and the Giving of God's Word

  • The Israelites left their life of slavery in Egypt on the first Passover.
  • Forty days later Moses ascended Mt. Sinai.
  • Ten days after that, Moses came down with the Ten Commandments, an event accompanied by a cloud and consuming fire - the first Shavuot ("Pentecost").
  • After another bout on the mountain, Moses descended to find the Israelites worshiping a golden calf; and at the hands of the religious leaders, the Levites, about 3000 people died.

2. Jesus and the Giving of God's Word
  • Fifteen hundred years later, Jesus was sacrificed on Passover, freeing us from our life of slavery to sin.
  • Forty days later, Jesus ascended into heaven.
  • Ten days after that, the Apostles came forth with the words of God, accompanied by wind and fire.
  • At the hands of the religious leaders, the Apostles, about 3000 people were saved.

Shavuot, in addition to commemorating the giving of the Ten Commandments, also commemorates the harvest of "First Fruits". By giving the Ten Commandments on the day of harvest feasting, God reminds us that "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God".

The Temple of God

The Temple of God

In Judaism --
* the Temple was the "big" sanctuary for God
* the home was the "little" sanctuary (how the rabbis referred to the home during the exile)

In Christianity --
* the church is the "big" sanctuary for God
* the individual is the "little" sanctuary

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Bride of Christ

The Biblical books of both Ephesians and Revelation picture the church as the bride of Christ. A female friend pointed out to me some time ago that it must be hard for a man to think of himself in terms of a "bride". I had never thought much about that, but yes, I've always tended to dismiss that imagery. The idea of being a "bride" just doesn't work for me.

Church Unity

We've got to unite ourselves as one body. Because Jesus is coming back, and he's coming back for a bride, not a harem.
-- Unknown

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Blessing at a Meal

Unlike the practice of most Western Christians today, in Bible times the Hebrew people did not see the need to bless food, drink, or other material things. In prayer they focused only on blessing God, the Creator and Giver. The Gospels indicate that Jesus followed this same custom (e.g., note the NIV translation of Matt. 26:26 and Luke 24:30), one commanded in the Torah: "When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you" (Deut. 8:10). The Lord alone was worthy of receiving the blessing and praise as divine Provider. As we pointed out in the previous chapter, the Hebrew term berakhot (singular berakhah) means blessings. Yechiel Eckstein comments: "The berakhah does not transfer holiness to the object itself, but rather entitles us to partake of the world's pleasure. . . . We give thanks to the Lord and testify thereby that the earth is his and we are but its caretakers." The following ancient blessing used in Judaism as grace before meals reflects the above point: Barukh attah adonai elohenu melech ha-olam ha-motzi lehem min ha-aretz, "Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth." The ancient Hebrews would never have thought of blessing what they ate. The idea would have been totally foreign to them; it would also have been an insult, of sorts, to God. If everything God created was "very good" (Gen. 1:31), why should one imply that it is really unholy and profane? The postbiblical notion that one needed to sanctify, cleanse, or purify what God had already created and declared to be good would be strange theology to the biblical writers. It suggests that food and drink, in and of themselves, are unacceptable gifts until suddenly made holy through prayer.

How did this practice originate? Again, the Church went wrong because it severed its Hebrew roots. . . .
Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith, p. 177. Wilson, Marvin R., William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1989.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Cause of Homosexuality?

A blog I've been reading recently quoted Romans 1:18-32, and as I read this quote I saw something I've never seen before. I had always read this passage to say that because people commit some sin (such as homosexuality) they've become separated from God. This passage says that it's the other way around; instead of sin causing separation from God, it is the separation from God that causes sin.

Here are the relevant portions of the passage (NIV):

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him . . . .

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another . . . .

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity . . . .

So, the cure for homosexuality, or for greed, or for evil wickedness, or for any other sin, is not a twelve-step program, or a regime of self-discipline, or hypnosis; rather it is to:

1. Glorify God
2. Give thanks to God.
3. Retain the knowledge of God.

Wow. Can it really be that simple? ("Simple" in concept, I mean, not neccesarily in execution.)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Watch this Sea-life Video. Awesome. Must-see!

This is an incredible 5-minute video; highly recommended.
David Gallo shows jaw-dropping footage of amazing sea creatures, including a shape-shifting cuttlefish, a pair of fighting squid, and a mesmerizing gallery of bioluminescent fish that light up the blackest depths of the ocean. He focuses on the work of two scientists: Edith Widder at the Ocean Research & Conservation Association, and Roger Hanlon at the Marine Biological Lab.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Verbal Meditation of the Bible

From pgs 154-155 of Marvin R. Wilson's "Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith":
The subject of meditation is crucial for understanding the precise organization of the Hebrew Bible's three-fold division into Law, Prophets, and Writings. Joshua is the first book in the Prophets, the second major division of the Hebrew Bible. It opens with God commanding the Israelites to meditate on the Law of Moses (the first major division of the Bible) "day and night" (Josh. 1:8). The book of Psalms is the first book in the Writings, the third major division, and it opens with the same motif -- that of meditating on God's Law "day and night" (Ps. 1:2). Elsewhere, the psalmist says, "I will meditate on all your works" (Ps. 77:12). Viewed contextually, these passages indicate that meditation is the key theme which binds the three divisions of the Hebrew Bible together.

In each of the three texts cited above, the Hebrew word for "meditate" is hagah. The word properly means "emit a sound," "murmur," "mutter," "speak in an undertone." For the Hebrews, meditation was not like a Quaker meeting; it was not silent. Several texts clearly support this contention that meditation was normally verbal, that is, expressed in spoken words. In Psalm 49:3 (RSV) we read, "My mouth shall speak wisdom; the meditation [hagut] of my heart shall be understanding." The Hebrew parallelism indicates that what is spoken with the mouth is the same as "meditation." Hence, the NIV renders hagut not "meditation" but "utterance." Again, in the well-known Psalm 19:14, the expression "words of my mouth" parallels "meditation [hegyon] of my heart." Furthermore, Joshua 1:8 states, "Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate [ve-hagita] on it day and night." In this context, "meditate" is defined by the command not to let the Law ever be out of one's mouth. "This negative way of speaking implies a strong positive. . . . The mouth is here the organ of speech."[footnote in original] Furthermore, hagah is used in the Hebrew Bible to indicate such varied sounds as the "growl" of a lion (Isa. 31:4) and the "moaning" of a dove (Isa. 38:14).

Such passages give graphic insight into what meditation involves. Meditation is the outward verbalizing of one's thoughts before God, of the poring over his teachings and works. It means to articulate, in a low tone, thoughts of worship, wonder, and praise. But, in addition, the use of hagah in texts such as Joshua 1:8 and Psalm 1:2 implies that the Scriptures were not primarily written to be read silently. Indeed, in the words of Otto Kaiser, the Law itself was to be "read aloud" by day and by night. [footnote in original]
. . .
Each day it is customary for an observant Hasid to make time to be alone for awhile so he can meditate by talking aloud with God. This meditation is a private pouring out of personal prayers, doubts, or problems. To recover a childlike quality of faith (cf. Matt. 18:3-4) the rabbis recommended hitboddadut ["alone-ness" - Kent] at night in an open field.
Some contemporary forms of church worship may appear to be a bit boisterous or too extemporaneous for those of us with more subdued and orderly Western tastes. But we should not forget that Hebrew worship -- including prayer and the study of the holy books -- was no sedate or dreary event. It included dancing with tambourine (Ps. 149:3; 150:4), all kinds of instruments -- including trumpets and cymbals (Ps. 150) -- singing (33:3), hand clapping (47:1), and even shouting (95:1). for the Hebrews, praise was the basic token of being alive; it was the way to observe the command, "You shall meditate on it day and night."

The Bible as a Mirror

I was recently in an office's waiting room, and found a book on the shelf entitled something like "The Evidence for Jesus". I don't recall the author's name (but no, it was not Josh McDowell). I opened the book somewhere in the middle and read a page or two while waiting, and the message in those pages struck a chord.

The author basically said that the Bible very often functions as a mirror; whatever ideas you have in mind when you read it, you'll find reflected in the text. So if you have Southern Baptist ideologies, you'll find support for your Baptist ideas in the text. If you have Charismatic Presbyterian ideologies, you'll find support for your Charismatic Presbyterian ideas in the text.

It struck me that this claim is true, even in the case of my Church of Christ ideologies with which I grew up. Over the past few years as I've tried to read the Bible without my "Church of Christ" glasses on, I've been astounded to find that I'm not seeing nearly as much "Church of Christ" doctrine in the text as I used to see. If I temporarily put on some "Baptist" glasses, I'm amazed to see that I find Baptist doctrine in the text. If I take off those "Baptist" glasses and temporarily put on "Secular Atheist" glasses, I see in the text a capricious God doing things that are scientific nonsense. If I take off those "Secular Atheist" glasses and put on "Mormon" glasses, I see lots of polygamy in the text.


What does this mean? I'm not entirely sure. One conclusion I make, however, is that it is not appropriate to conclude that someone with a different understanding of the Bible than that which I have is "blind" or "stubborn" or "has an agenda". Another conclusion I make is ... "God, be merciful to me, a sinner, a sinner who has no understanding, or worse, a sinner who thinks he does have understanding."

Friday, January 11, 2008

Reciting the Shema

I've been getting a lot of exposure recently to the Jewish background of Christianity, and some friends of mine have also been so exposed. Some of the common material we've been exposed to pointed out that Jesus was Jewish -- not just the little bit Jewish that we Western-thinking, American Gentiles think of him being, but the full-blooded, tassel-wearing, phylactery-sporting, springy-sideburned Jewishness to which we tend to react by turning up our noses. As such, one of the things he'd likely have been doing every morning was reciting the Shema, as every good Jew male had been doing from little-boyhood. Independently, my friends and I thought it would be good to emulate this practice, so they've taught their young children the Shema, and I have been reciting it every morning myself. The version I use is kind of a mish-mash between the original (Deut 6:4), Jesus' version, and Jesus' addendum to it:
Hear Oh Israel! YHWH our God, YHWH is One. And you shall love YHWH your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
(Note that we Gentile Christians have been grafted in as Israel, so this message is for us as well as the physical descendants of Ibrahim.)

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Why Would God Allow This?!

A friend of mine recommended I read the book "The Irresistible Revolution" by Shane Claiborne. Starting on page 64 Claiborne relates a story found in an old comic strip:
Two guys are talking to each other, and one of them says he has a question for God. He wants to ask why God allows all of this poverty and war and suffering to exist in the world. And his friend says, "Well, why don't you ask?" The fellow shakes his head and says he is scared. When his friend asks why, he mutters, "I'm scared God will ask me the same question." Over and over, when I ask God why all of these injustices are allowed to exist in the world, I can feel the Spirit whisper to me, "You tell me why we allow this to happen. You are my body, my hands, my feet."