Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Terribly Distracted from the Goal

If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it." (Gen. 4:7 ESV)

Q. 14. What is sin?
A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.

The first time sin is mentioned in the Bible is Genesis 4:7 where Cain is warned that temptation to sin is coming.  If we look at this passage, does the definition from the Westminster Shorter Catechism (WSC) make sense?  Can we replace the word sin with definition from the catechism?  It then becomes thus: 

If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, a want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it." (Gen. 4:7 Catechism Definition Substitution Version.)

Does this make sense? 

Let us first examine if this makes sense from a cultural point of view.  From a modern point of view, we don't think of sin as our basic problem, rather we think that some technical issue is the problem.   So we call in the technicians to solve our problems: doctors, lawyers, plumbers, electricians, school counselors, environmental scientists, etc...  By the way these are all fantastic means of service to human kind.  There is only one who can solve our sin problem though, the Lord Jesus Christ.  No, it does not make sense for our culture, but it is the Biblical teaching.  Our main problem is that of sin. 

What is this sin? 

Let us secondly examine if this makes sense linguistically.  Linguistically the word "sin" in the Hebrew of Genesis 4:7 is khatah (חטָּאת) and means "to miss the mark".  As in, if you are shooting at a target and you did not hit it. So there is a target which is metaphorical.  That target is a standard of word, thought, or deed which was not met.  The target or standard is missed and that is sin.  In Cain's case, his behavior goal was to not kill his brother.  However, we could say his sin is complex and he had other goals he should have met, like worshiping in faith.  It is possible he knew that a blood sacrifice was needed and he gave the fruit of the ground rather than a blood offering.  If that is an issue, it is not explicitly called out, but it is clear that he was going about worshiping God on his own terms rather than God's terms.  There is so much no spelled out on what specific sins were crouching at his door.  Likely, he was already doing things according to his own terms.  He then hated his brother because of the lack of acceptance of his own gifts.  As is often the case, one sin begets another. 

Back to the linguistic question, sin is a moral mistake.  All morality has implied authority.  God is the authority who defines right and wrong.  So the metaphorical target he is missing is God's direction.  He instead is lacking conformity to what is good and right.  He is doing his own thing. 

But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it. (Gen. 4:7 NET)

Using the technique of paraphrasing it in order to meditate on the meaning, let's try this on for size:

But if you do not do what is right, moral failure is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it. (Gen. 4:7 Terry's Strange paraphrase - ethics paraphrase)

But if you do not do what is right, rebellion against God is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it. (Gen. 4:7 Terry's Stranger paraphrase - authority paraphrase)

But if you do not do what is right, disastrous self-assertion is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it. (Gen. 4:7 Terry's Strangest paraphrase - utilitarian ethics paraphrase)

But if you do not do what is right, a personified cosmic disorder is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it. (Gen. 4:7 Terry's Stranger than Strange paraphrase - natural order ethics paraphrase)

But if you do not do what is right, not a little mistake is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it. (Gen. 4:7 Terry's Simply Stranger Than You Would Think paraphrase - hyperbolic understatement paraphrase)

But if you do not do what is right, downright mean, evil and despicable actions are crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it. (Gen. 4:7 Terry's Absolutely Strangest paraphrase - political attack ad paraphrase)

Then again, the word "sin" works too.   All the major English translations I keep up on my Bible software uses that English word. 
When I took Arabic, if we made a mistake in Arabic class, the teacher would say "khatah" (خطأ).  This was the teacher saying were were "wrong".  This was not a moral mistake rather an academic mistake.  We were missing the mark, but it was not moral but academic.

It is a common teaching technique for God to make an oblique reference on a topic in order to help the mind and heart to be ready to accept a hard or uncomfortable teaching.  Jesus used parables so that a person could enter the issue slowly. This technique recognizes the need for perspective, context, and background information in order to embrace.  We are not going out on a limb here by saying, Cain did not understanding what was happening to him.  He could not receive it all.  He needed to stop and ponder.  Instead he went on a rampage.  We often are in this sort of situation where we need God to help us understand what is going on. God teaches via questions.  We often look for answers, but that is less important than the question.  With bad questions we get answers that really are not all the relevant or insightful.   Perhaps someone should write a Bible study called "Divine Questions: Answers to Stuff We Did Not Know Were Terribly Relevant".

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Steadfast Love and Knowledge of God

Text:

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hos. 6:6 ESV)

What We Are Like: 

It is often easier for us to imagine a God who desires us to fulfill basic duties. In this Old Testament verse, that duty was sacrificing an offering in the Temple. Today we might think that attending church, giving our tithe or volunteering our time is what God desires. Certainly those are good things, but the God of the Bible desires our hearts to have "steadfast love". Other good translations say "mercy". The second half of the verse has another but related emphasis. The God the Bible wants us to know him. This is not knowledge about him, but relational knowledge. This is knowing him as a person, not a mere academic theological. Knowledge of theology is not bad, but it can be disconnected from things like wonder of worship, sense of purpose in life, sense of connection, and understanding of one's own existence in relation to God. The God of the Bible desire "steadfast love" and "knowledge of God".

Explaining the Text:

This Old Testament passage of Hosea 6:6 is quoted by Jesus in Matthew 9:13. The religious leaders of the day questioned why Jesus ate with sinners. Before quoting the first half of Hosea 6:6 Jesus says those who are not sick have no need for a physician. Steadfast love for God and people fulfills the two great commandments. Steadfast love means loving God and loving people. Jesus was befriending those who had a need.

Illustration:

It is easy to congratulate ourselves on a job well done. It may be true that we have done well.  However, our focus on that success may keep us from seeing the needs of those around us. A part of love is seeing the needs. We can only direct our focus on so many things. It is a common experience. When driving, we can have a conversation with someone beside us. We can drive and adjust the radio. Switch off the radio and add our phones things become a bit more complex. Then add it all together. Have a conversation, follow the navigate in a new location from your phone and solve a dispute in the back seat may keep us from focusing on the most important thing, driving safely. Likewise, when we think have our Christian duty conquered, and think about how well we are doing, we may not see those who have needs right beside us. We are focused on self, rather than God and others.


Application to Us:

Whether it is a phone call to a shut in, or a food for the grieving or simply loving the unlovely, God wants our hearts. God does not desire us to focus on achievable duty but on a heart full of steadfast love, compassion, and knowledge of him. We cannot do this under our own power, we need the grace of God.  We must not see the steadfast love as a new duty, but a heart empowered by the Holy Spirit to love God and love others. 

3rd Verse of  Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies

Visit then this soul of mine,
Pierce the gloom of sin and grief;
Fill me, radiance divine,
Scatter all my unbelief;
More and more Thyself display,
Shining to the perfect day.

                                 ~Charles Wesley
                                 


Saturday, August 18, 2018

Church growth comes from three sources: transfer growth, biological growth or conversions.

Numeric Growth Resulting from Transfers from Other Congregations:

Church Growth in post-modern America often comes from transfer growth from other churches.  When people move from one city or area to another, it is natural for them to find a new church.  When someone relocates, this is good transfer growth.  Transfer growth is less desirable when it is merely the movement of Christians from one gospel believing church to another, but each story is different.  Particular moves may be necessary and good but capitalizing on transfer from other local congregations may provide vitality to the gaining congregation, but not expand the Kingdom of God.  For a new church or a church seeking to revitalize, gaining transfer growth is a good place to build to the congregation.  Transfer growth means that gaining congregation is conserving the discipleship efforts of a sister church which they may or may not know.  Transfer growth means welcoming into the congregation new people who need friends.  People are most likely to seek a church within weeks after they move into a community.  Advertising dollars are well spent on reaching new comers to a community. 

Numeric Growth from New Babies: 

Church growth happens when congregation members have children.  Ensuring that this sort of growth means 1st affirming that children are the church, not the future church.  While children are not ready for executive functions of leadership, they are a part of the current church.  Children and youth programs should both aid in including the children in the church and bringing age appropriate discipleship.  Often children and youth are mistakenly taught by our actions, not our theology, that the church congregation is for the generation of their parents.  So when they go to college, they look for a congregation that includes their age group.  Youth group often does not give way to participation into the life of the congregation.  Two common paths are for teens who are not serious about their faith to drop out of church as an adult or alternatively to find a church where they are taken seriously.  Ensuring that the church love and serves covenant children is as much a social phenomenon as anything else.  The big question is, do we respect our youth?  We often have affection for youth, but respect means that they are sitting on the bench of service until they are 30. 

Numeric Growth from Conversions:

When we say evangelism, we mean people coming to faith who did not have it before.  They dynamics of evangelism is often quite different than people expect.  In the history of the American gospel believing church often evangelism means heavy persuasion.  This persuasion type evangelism does address certain dynamics of the process.  However, the persuasion evangelism of the past sat solidly on the shoulders of the extensive teaching ministry of the church.  Sunday School, Biblical preaching, and many other teaching ministries of the church made it possible for evangelists to focus on the will.  The cognitive, emotional, ethical, personal habit, social habits, and social association education were done by the church at large, while the evangelist could focus on the volitional aspects.  In post-modern America the focus should be on full person engagement of discipleship rather than focus on the will. 

The worship service is our focus of whole person discipleship.  The singing, prayers, public reading of Scripture, preaching, and sacraments must all be leading us to Christ in our mind, our emotion, our will, our habits, our behaviors, and our relationships (with God, with others, and with ourselves).  It is common that we think of education and discipleship as primarily cognitive in nature.  While there are certainly cognitive aspects to Christian discipleship, it certainly is not merely cognitive.  Our evangelism begins with worship where we are making disciples.  This is not to suggest in the slightest that our worship service is merely a time for teaching by lecture.  Rather as we meet the Trinity in worship, where everything leads us to Christ, we become followers of Christ or we become better followers of Christ.   

Saturday, May 19, 2018

New City Catechism: Question 1 - What is our only hope in life and death?

New City Catechism:

Question 1:
What is our only hope in life and death?

Answer 1:
That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.
 
οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἡμῶν ἑαυτῷ ζῇ καὶ οὐδεὶς ἑαυτῷ ἀποθνῄσκει· ἐάν τε γὰρ ζῶμεν, τῷ κυρίῳ ζῶμεν, ἐάν τε ἀποθνῄσκωμεν, τῷ κυρίῳ ἀποθνῄσκομεν. ἐάν τε οὖν ζῶμεν ἐάν τε ἀποθνῄσκωμεν, τοῦ κυρίου ἐσμέν. (Rom. 14:7, 8 NA28)

For no one of us lives for himself and no one dies for himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord.  If then we live or if we die it is to the Lord.  (Author's Translation)

      We all live for some purpose.  It may not be a well thought out purpose.  It may be a purpose that has selfish or sinful motive.  Our underlying motives are often difficult to discern without self examination.  In 21st Century western society, we usually do not think of us dying for a purpose unless it is for rendering emergency aid for others or some times for combat.  Martyrdom for one's faith would be unusual not in our century but in our geographic surroundings.  Those things we do that risk our lives are things that we may very well die for, however, it probably will not be what we intended as the trade off.  By and large in western culture our goal is not to die for anything but simply to avoid death as long as possible.  Perhaps it was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said "There are some things so dear, some things so precious, some things so eternally true, that they are worth dying for. And I submit to you that if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live."  It may seem morbid that we would want to talk about dying for some purpose, however, it is true we are going to die and how do we die with a purpose?  Purpose in life and death means that our heart is tied to something it loves.  What do we give ourselves?  Or to whom do we give ourselves?  In other words, what do we love? 

     Paul is dealing with the concept of each person living according to his own convictions of what the Lord desire for that person.  We each have to live according to those conviction.  Convictions are not our preferences.  Convictions are those things we believe we are obligated to live up to. There is a sense that if we desire to tell someone what exactly they should believe and do, we might be urging that person live for social acceptance rather than to the Lord.  We as a member of the covenant community must guard against requiring obedience to man made laws.  This is not a live and let live strategy of harmony, but a recognition that obedience to the Lord requires one to live according to convictions.  In order to live according to convictions there must be seasons where the individual who is a member of a family or a church must weigh in for himself or herself.  The person has think it through for himself.  In this life we can often defer to others about various opinions.  However, when it comes to our obedience to God, we must obey what we believe God wants and not some other person.  This is part of how we ensure we are loving God and not just settling into social norms.  The tension of discerning (not deciding) what we think God desires and it being in conflict with other godly people is exactly the sort of tension that keeps our eyes on the Lord and not on the church.  If I follow social norms of the church against what I think God has shown in the Bible, I love the church more than God.  If I follow the social norms of my parents rather than what I believe what God would have me do, I love my parents more than God.

Lord, 
We belong to you.  We desire to increase our love for you both in how we live day by day.  We desire to give our lives in humble service to you.  We belong to you Lord.  We belong to you. 

Amen

Charlie-in-the-Box from The Island of Misfit Toys

ἕκαστος καθὼς ἔλαβεν χάρισμα εἰς ἑαυτοὺς αὐτὸ διακονοῦντες ὡς καλοὶ οἰκονόμοι ποικίλης χάριτος θεοῦ. (1 Pet. 4:10 NA28)

Just as each one received a gift so also serve one another as good keepers of the varied grace of God.  (Author's Translation)

Of note in this verse is how there is coordination between receiving a spiritual gift from God and the type of service one renders.  This is not merely a nice idea that could be a strong choice, rather it is a matter of proper care of the thing that God has given.  The reason for serving according to one's given gift is οἰκονόμοι (Transliteration: oikonomoi), which is the word from which we get economics.  Rather than theory about finances of the world, nation, or other human grouping, this word emphases originally the wisdom needed to make a household orderly.  The beginning of the word has house in it (οἰκος).  In ancient times, the home was not just a place to relaxation or retreat.  The home had many functions, to include things like food production, clothing production, safety, etc...  It was a place that required orderly administration.  This is the emphasis of the word "steward" or "keeper".  If we fail use the gifting from God, we fail to cherish his gift.  We fail to preserve his gift.  We fail an orderly administration of it.

In a world that emphasizes theories that account for all cases, this verse emphasizes understanding with an eye towards variety.  All people are the same.  All people are a bit different.  In fact, the whole of human experience cannot be experienced narrowly.  Those who are different are a part of variety God has given.  Aptitudes, dispositions, interests, abilities, and discernment all are a part of our gifting.  No one has a corner market on what ministry should look exactly like.  In fact each person's gifting is unique.     

Meditating on this verse in 1 Peter has been a blessing to me because it shows that not all have the same gifts, and definitely my gifting does not run on the same tracks as the well travelled routes.  In fact, my path has been highly off from norms.  I have been tempted to get discouraged that I have not normalized my progress in ministry.  When I look at the ministry path I have taken, one way of looking at it is to say I have done it wrong.  There is definatly a truth in saying that.  For instance I did not complete my Masters of Divinity (M.Div) in my 20s as is more in line with normal paths in ministry.  In many ways I wish I had completed my M.Div in my 20s, but finishing after I was 50 has brought me humility and recognition of my own limitations.  Coming face to face with our weaknesses is grace.  "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." (2 Cor. 12:9 ESV)"  God's power is made perfect in my weakness.  My weakness is his tool to bring me closer to him.  I do not naturally rejoice in my weakness.  I do thank God for my frustration and slowness of completing my M.Div.  Another area where I am off of the norm is my focus on engagement with the academic side of Bible interpretation.  This bent may hinder some of my desires for the future.  However, this may aid me to focus less on pleasing people and perhaps focus more on pleasing God.  It is yet to be seen how it works out, but seeing that my "Island of Misfit Toys" disposition it is good to know that it has not been out of God's plan.  This brings me comfort.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Prayer for the Return of Christ

Lord Jesus, Lord of Hosts, and coming King,

We have hope not merely of earthly success but we possess hope in your coming to set all things right.  We often pray in this life that we would be delivered from illness, conflict, and failure.  However, we know that this trajectory is near sighted and we must pray with the Apostle John in the book of Revelation, “Come Lord Jesus” in order to see ultimate delivery.  We approach your throne to see your face and prepare our hearts for your coming.  Come Lord Jesus.

Amen