Read the Bible With Me in 2017

Can I suggest a New Year’s resolution for you?  Make the commitment to read through the Bible with me in 2017.  At Munger, 2017 is our Year of the Bible, and we’re launching something called The Bible Project.  Here are 3 reasons why I hope you’ll join me in reading through the Bible in 2017.

 

The Bible is Difficult to Read Alone

Lots of folks struggle to understand the Bible, which shouldn’t be surprising: the Bible is a collection of ancient documents, written by strange people in strange languages–of course it’s difficult to read and understand all by yourself.  Through the Bible Project (we’ve taken the name from some folks in Portland with whom we’re partnering), however, we’ll be updating our blog every day with explanatory notes, videos, charts, etc.  To give you an example of the kind of resources available, check out this great intro video to the Book of Genesis:

The Bible is difficult to read alone–so don’t.  Read along with me.

The Last Time You Tried It, You Quit in February

Many of you have probably tried to read through the Bible in a year, only to abandon your resolution in February when you got to Leviticus (if you made it that far).  You’re much more likely to complete marathon training in a group, and in the same way you’re much more likely to read through the Bible along with other people.  I’m preaching through the Bible in 2017, we’ll have a weekly Bible study, a daily blog, podcasts, etc.  All these resources are to help you persevere.  Good things come to those who persevere.

Nothing Has More Potential to Change Your Life

I guarantee you that 2017 holds unexpected challenges for you.  How will you prepare?  There is nothing you can do that will have greater potential to change your life and prepare you for the future than the daily discipline of spending time in silence and scripture.

So, Here’s What to Do

If you are a Mungarian, pick up one of the free One Year Bibles we’re handing out at church; if you don’t live in Dallas, get one of these from Amazon.  (We’re using the ESV translation, but they are currently out of print.)  You could also use the Bible app on your smart phone and pick the One Year Bible reading plan, but I recommend using the hard copy.

Follow along with our blog: bibleproject.mungerplace.org.

Watch my sermons: http://www.mungerplace.org/sermon-library/.

Start on Sunday morning.

Of all the New Year’s resolutions you could make, reading through the Bible is the most important.

So, are you in?

 

The fox knows many things;
The hedgehog knows one big thing.
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Does Old Testament Law Apply to Christians?

Does Old Testament law apply to Christians?  A large portion of the first 5 books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) is dedicated to laws governing how Israel was to live, eat, and worship.  Should Christians follow those laws?

The Old Testament is Obsolete, Right?

I’ve heard and read something like the following argument countless times:

No sane person thinks that there is any problem wearing clothes made of different fabrics [Leviticus 19:19], nor would any sane person think capital punishment appropriate for a child who curses his parents [Leviticus 20:9].  Since we don’t abide by these or many other Old Testament laws any more, isn’t it clear that modern Christians shouldn’t abide by ANY Old Testament laws?

Unfortunately it’s not that simple.  Here’s the problem:

The Old Testament, while containing some laws that no longer apply to Christians, also contains the Ten Commandments and other components of the ethical foundation of the teachings of Jesus.  For example, Leviticus, the book everyone loves to ridicule, contains beautiful ethical teachings:

Did you know that “Love your neighbor as yourself” comes from Leviticus? (Leviticus 19:18.)

Rather than being obsolete, the Old Testament contains much that is more relevant than ever for the people of God.  But, it also contains elements that no longer apply.  Which is which?  How do we know which parts of the Old Testament law we should follow, and which are no longer binding on God’s people?

The Epic of Eden

Sandra Richter, Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, has an excellent book on the Old Testament called The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in learning more about the Old Testament.  In the epilogue to the book she includes some Frequently Asked Questions, one of which is What Role Does the Law of Moses Play in the Christian’s Life?  (pp. 225-229)  I found her answer so helpful that I publish it below, with permission from her publisher.  I’ve added my own remarks throughout.

What Role Does the Law of Moses Play in the Christian’s Life?

Most everyone recognizes that simply abolishing the entire Mosaic law contradicts the New Testament (what do you do with the Ten Commandments?).  Most equally recognize that imposing the law in its entirety on the Christian also contradicts the New Testament (what of God’s instructions to Peter in Acts 10 to embrace unclean foods as clean?).  So most have concluded that there must a middle-of-the-road position.  The most enduring approach to defining this middle-of-the-road position has been the attempt to somehow delineate the law according to “moral” versus “civil” (or “ethical” versus “ritual”) categories.  The claim is typically that the moral/ethical features of the law are still in force for the Christian, but the civil/ritual features are obsolete and can be put safely aside.  For example, some would claim that the Ten Commandments can be cataloged as “moral” and are therefore still binding, but the law requiring tassels on the four corners of a person’s garment is to be catalogued as “civil/ritual” and is not (Num 15:38-39).  The problem with this sort of delineation, however, is that in Israel’s world, there was no distinction between the civil/ritual and moral/ethical aspects of the law.  All of these laws were deemed as the imperatives of God’s divine will.  Moreover, to “honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12) was both a moral expectation and the civil requirement of a patriarchal society to provide for the elderly of one’s clan.  And proper worship in a theocracy was an expression of both a moral/ethical and civil/ritual expectation.  So what to do? [Emphasis mine.  One of the mistakes we make in reading the Bible is to put our own categories on top of it.  As Professor Richter points out, unlike us the ancient Israelites did not divide the world into the sacred and the secular, the religious and the legal: it was all one.  –AF]  In the end, most assume that the Mosaic law is generally annulled as regards the Christian but hold onto those aspects of the law that are either reiterated by Christ (a good idea) or those that generally just seem “right” (obviously not a satisfactory response to the question).  [We see this all the time: people decide what’s right beforehand and bring that decision to the Bible.  Here’s the problem, though–Where and how do we decide what’s right?  What are the sources we use to decide what’s right?  Aren’t we in danger of just blessing whatever feels good to us, or whatever the dominant culture tells us is right?  The reason for the Mosaic Law in the first place was to give Israel a way of knowing right and wrong that was distinct from the surrounding pagan Canaanite cultures.  –AF]  Although I cannot offer a complete solution to the conundrum, let me at least contribute to an answer.

First, it is important to realize that as covenantal administrations change, so do the stipulations of those covenants.  So, yes, the rules can and do change.  And they change according to the will of the suzerain.  [The suzerain is the king making the covenant, as she explains earlier in the book.  For the Israelites, their king was the Lord.  –AF]  Hence, the first question we want to ask is, how does Jesus (our suzerain and mediator) change the rules with the new covenant?  We find the answer to that question as we read through the Gospels.  Here Jesus regularly calls his audience back to the intent of the Mosaic law.  Was the sabbath created for man, or man for the sabbath (Mt 12:10)?  Is adultery the problem or unbridled lust (Mt 7:27)?  Is it more important that a person keep themselves ritually clean, or serve a neighbor in need (Lk 10:30-37)?  So one thing Jesus tells his audience is to look beyond a legalistic adherence to particulars and see the goal of the law.  This is clearly articulated in interactions like Matthew 22:36-40:

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  And he said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the great and foremost commandment.  The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments depends the whole Law and the Prophets.”

Galatians 5:14 says the same: “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Thus, whereas the detailed message of the Mosaic law embodied the love of neighbor and God in concrete, time- and culture-bound expressions, Jesus finds a way to articulate the transcultural and all-embracing message of that same law to a new audience.  [Emphasis mine.  I think this is a perceptive analysis of the ethical teaching of Jesus.  –AF]  Moreover, he makes it clear that this message is still binding upon us new covenant adherents as well.

We also read that Jesus redefines the major institutions of Israel’s theocracy: the temple and the theocratic government.  The temple is first re-defined as Jesus’own body, and then as the individual believer and the church (Jn 2:19-21; Eph 2:19-22).  Jesus is identified as the final sacrifice (Heb 9:24-26) and as the church’s new high priest (Heb 2:17).  Thus, with the new covenant we learn that Israel’s temple cultus is obsolete.  [A “cultus” is a system of worship.  –AF]  And if this theocratic institution is obsolete, I believe it is safe to conclude that the complex processes dictated by the Mosaic law that directed the function of this institution (e.g. the design and décor of the building, the cleanness of priest and worshipper, sacrifice, mediation and the calendar of cultic celebration) are now obsolete as well.  This means that in the new covenant the specific Mosaic regulations regarding these issues are annulled: our buildings of worship are no longer required to bring sacrifice, the laws of “clean and unclean” are abrogated, the mediation of human priests is unnecessary, and the holidays of Israel’s cult have become “a mere shadow of what is to come” (Col 2:16-17).  [Emphasis mine.  Did you get that?  Because the Temple is obsolete for Christians (the entire book of Hebrews is essentially about this topic), then it follows that all the Old Testament laws pertaining to Temple worship are also obsolete.  –AF]

And what of Israel’s theocratic government?  Keep clearly in your mind that Israel was a nation that was directly ruled by God.  Yahweh was enthroned in the temple in Jerusalem, “between the cherubim,” and carried out his ordinances by means of his officers, the prophet, the priest and king.  Israel was a political entity with national territory.  Its citizenry were, exclusively, the people of God.  Foreign oppression, drought and famine were God’s communiqués that his people had somehow broken covenant; national prosperity was the sign that they had kept covenant.  Thus the nation of Israel could justly go to war in the name of Yahweh, slaying Ammonites, Moabites and Edomites to defend the national boundaries of God’s kingdom.  But Jesus makes it clear that his only throne will be in heaven (Mk 16:19; Heb 8:1; etc.).  And as we’ve seen, the new citizenry of his kingdom will come from every tongue, tribe and nation.  As opposed to the land of Canaan being the Promised Land, now all of the recreated earth is.  Thus, in the new covenant there is no longer any single nation that can lay claim to being “the people of God” nor any single piece of real estate that is promised to them. [Emphasis mine.  This is HUGE.  Whereas before Jesus you had to be a member of Israel to be part of the people of God, now the church–the new Israel–is open to people of all ages, nations, and races.  –AF]  There are new officers for this new kingdom too.  Even a cursory glance at Ephesians 4:11, 1 Corinthians 12:28 or 1 Timothy 3 lets us know that apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, deacons and teachers have replaced the prophet, priest and king of the Mosaic covenant.  The only title that survives into the new covenant is that of “prophet,” but even this office is substantially transformed. Thus the very literal political realities of Israel’s theocracy are abrogated by the new covenant, and I believe we can safely say that the complex list of laws and regulations that governed the theocracy are abrogated as well.  [Update: This is why capital punishments for crimes such as blasphemy and sorcery, etc., no longer apply: those rules were part of the Old Covenant theocracy.  The offenses themselves are still sinful, but now that we live under the New Covenant of grace and no longer under the Israelite theocracy, the way the people of God deal with those offenses has changed.  –AF] 

Then, of course, there are those aspects of the Mosaic law that the writers of the New Testament specifically address as being changed or terminated.  A few examples would be the necessity of circumcision (1 Cor 7:19), the regulations of kashrut (Acts 10:15), the rabbinic restrictions regarding the sabbath (Mt 12:1-9) and even divorce (Mt 19:3-9).

In sum, I think we can identify at least three categories of Mosaic law which, in their specific expectations, no longer apply to the Christian: those involving the regulations of Israel’s government, those involving the regulation of Israel’s temple, and those laws that the New Testament specifically repeals or changes.  I would still argue that the values that shaped these regulations express the character of God and therefore must be attended to by the Christian, but the specifics of their application are no longer our responsibility.  Thus my contribution to the conundrum named above is that rather than attempting to delineate the law of Moses based on categories foreign to that law itself (“more/ethical” and “civil/ritual”), perhaps we should address the question through a lens that is more native to both Old and New Testaments—Jesus’ redefinition of certain major institutions of the Mosaic covenant.  And for all the Mosaic law, be it superseded or not, we need to recognize that we can (and must) still learn a great deal about the character of God through these laws, even if we can no longer directly apply them to ourselves in this new covenant.  [Emphasis mine.  Rather than being irrelevant to the church today, even those Old Testament laws that have been abrogated by the New Covenant have much to teach us about the Lord.  –AF]  So rather than thinking in terms of the Mosaic law as being obsolete except for what Jesus maintains (as has been the predominant view), perhaps we should begin to thing in terms of the law being in force except for what Jesus repeals.

Taken from The Epic of Eden by Sandra L. Richter. Copyright (c) 2008 by Sandra L. Richter. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426. www.ivpress.com.

 

 

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My Daily Media Diet

What are the books, podcasts, websites, blogs, and newsletters that make up your media diet?  You are what you eat, and that includes the information you consume.  Today’s post is about what I read daily as part of my media diet (part 1 of a 3 part series).

What Is a “Media Diet?”

“Media diet” is a phrase I came across several years ago in a web series by The Atlantic.  A reporter would interview public figures about how they stayed informed and what they regularly read and watched and make a simple post out of it.  (I still remember Malcolm Gladwell‘s comment about his daily reading habits: “Since my brain really only works in the morning, I try to keep that time free for writing and thinking and don’t read any media at all until lunchtime.”  I totally identify….)

In part 1 of this series (parts 2 and 3 coming on the next two Mondays) about my media diet, I’ll focus on what I read daily (or at least regularly).

What I Do First Thing in the Morning

I’ve written before about the importance of the First 15, i,e., spending at least the first 15 minutes of your day in prayer, scripture, and silence.  So, I’ve been getting up really early recently in order to have an unhurried time of prayer first thing, before I workout.

Currently this is what I use in my prayer time:

FullSizeRender 9

 

Breakfast: The Dallas Morning News and NPR

After working out and while eating breakfast and getting ready:

  • I get the print version of The Dallas Morning News delivered at home, and read it every morning (except Sundays, when I don’t get to it until late afternoon, if at all).  I have come to really like The DMN and get more locally-focused and sports news from it than anywhere else.
  • I listen to NPR’s Morning Edition radio program most mornings.

Blogs: Rod Dreher (and Not Much Else)

I used to read Andrew Sullivan’s blog almost every day.  Now that he has stopped blogging, almost the only blogger I read regularly is Rod Dreher.  Rod Dreher is a fascinating and unique writer: a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy living in his native rural South Louisiana who writes about culture from a social conservative point of view.

One of the topics Rod Dreher writes about that I find most intriguing and persuasive is the so-called “Benedict Option”: the idea that Christians in the West today may need to follow the 5th century example of St. Benedict and spend less time participating in politics and the culture wars and more time deliberately cultivating the practices that will “thicken” our faith and deepen our witness.  Here is a post from Rod’s blog in July that summarizes his thoughts on the Benedict Option.

Websites I Read Almost Daily

  • I read The New Yorker almost every day.  I like the short form pieces from folks like John Cassidy and Amy Davidson, but I really prefer The New Yorker for its long-form essays like this one about Northern Ireland that I wrote about in April.
  • I also browse The Atlantic‘s website regularly, though I believe that The Atlantic is a much worse magazine since it expanded its online footprint.  Many of the online articles seem to be merely a slightly (sometimes very slightly) more serious version of the kind of thing that I suppose you find on Buzzfeed or The Huffington Post, and I do not mean that as a compliment.  The Atlantic these days seems to feature quick-reaction pieces on hot-button topics that lack nuance and wisdom.  (I’ll say more about my complaints with The Atlantic in part 3 of this series.)
  • I browse the Yahoo! main site and scroll through the headlines, particularly about sports and politics.
  • I check out the BBC Sport’s soccer page almost daily.

Online Newsletters and Other Sites

  • I read movie reviews on Plugged In every few weeks or so.  I’m interested in movies, but I like reading reviews from a conservative Christian perspective (a perspective you don’t get from mainstream reviewers).  I rarely have time to see movies in the theater anymore, so I find myself reading many more reviews of movies than actually seeing movies.
  • I’ve recently discovered Book Notesa free newsletter from Byron Borger, owner of Hearts and Minds bookstore in central Pennsylvania.  Through Book Notes, I’ve stumbled across books that I would never have heard of elsewhere–it’s a great resources.
  • I read articles and watch videos the videos on the CrossFit main site several times a week.

Coming in Parts 2 and 3….

Parts 2 and 3 will be about what I regularly listen to and watch and read in print.  The above is what I read online on a  regular basis.  What about you?  What makes up your daily media diet?

 

 

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Why Did God Permit the Charleston Murders?

We don’t know.  “We don’t know” is the honest answer to any question about why God permitted Dylan Roof to murder the Charleston Nine.  No one knows.  But though we will never have a definitive answer this side of the grave, a strange parable Jesus tells does offer an interesting perspective on the perennial “Why?” we ask whenever innocent people suffer.

Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press

Today’s Eat This Book Portion

The Eat This Book campaign at my church provides folks a scripture reading schedule to follow.  Right now, we are reading through the Gospel of Matthew (about a half chapter a day), and today’s reading comes from Matthew 13, one of my favorite passages in scripture.  Reading the strange parable of the wheat and the weeds this morning has got me thinking about last week’s murders in Charleston.

The Wheat and the Weeds

wheat-fields-nature-landscape-sunrise

Surrounded by a crowd by the shore of the Sea of Galilee one day, Jesus told the following parable:

 ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn….” 

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’ He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man;the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!'”

(Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43)

Parables are meant to unsettle, to make you think.  So go read this strange parable again, slowly.  (In other words, don’t scan the way you normally do on the Internet.)

Some Quick Observations

  • Jesus points out that evil and good are so tightly mixed together in this world that no man or woman can perfectly separate one from another.  I know this is true, because I know it is true in me.
  • Jesus reminds us that, though evil seems to be growing stronger, so is good.  This is an evil world, but evil is not stronger than good.
  • Jesus says that, this side of Judgement Day, it is impossible to root up all the evil in the world without also destroying the good.  For reasons only known to God, if there is to be good in the universe, there must also be the freedom for evil.
  • Jesus makes it very clear that evil, though it seems strong today, will one day be utterly destroyed by God.
Emmanuel AME Zion Church member Kevin Polite helps members into the church for the service on 6/21/15 [David Goldman/Getty Images].

Emmanuel AME Zion Church member Kevin Polite helps members into the church for the service on 6/21/15 [David Goldman/Getty Images].

Let Me Know What You Think

I find this parable strangely comforting.  What about you?  What do you think this parable is about, and how might it relate to the evil that was done in Charleston last week?

 

 

Take the Abraham Quiz

The Bible is mysterious and difficult, but it’s not impossible.  With a little bit of background knowledge about the ancient cultures of the Bible, ordinary people like you and me can learn to read scripture in such a way that even some of its mysterious parts offer important insights.  Below is a bit of background information about a very strange episode in Genesis.  Read the background, take the quiz, and let me know what you think.

"Butcher's Shop," by Annibale Carracci, 1580 [Wikipedia]

“Butcher’s Shop,” by Annibale Carracci, 1580 [Wikipedia]

 

You “Cut” a Covenant

In the ancient middle east, the way 2 parties formalized an agreement was through a covenant ceremony.  In Hebrew, you “cut” a covenant, because covenants involved taking animals and sacrificing them, and then walking between the carcasses.

And Say, “I’ll Become a Slaughtered Calf”

Here’s the point: when you walked between the pieces of the slaughtered animals, you were saying, “May I become like these dead animals if  I don’t keep my end of the agreement.”

(I think our wedding ceremonies would be much more interesting and divorce much less frequent if we adopted the same practice….)

beefmap

So, Abraham Gets Ready

In Genesis 15, Abraham, on the Lord’s instructions, prepares one of those covenants:

The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon.’ 10He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.” [Genesis 15:9-11]

It’s obvious what will happen next: Abraham will pass between the carcasses, showing his commitment to the Lord’s plan.

Abrahamic-Covenant-890x713

[www.tillhecomes.org]

But Something Strange Happens

But, that’s not what happens:

12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him….17When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire-pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces.18On that day the Lordmade a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.’” [Genesis 15:12, 17-21, my emphasis].

 

Take the Quiz: What Does Genesis 15:17 Mean?

What’s the point of the covenant ceremony recounted in Genesis 15?  What does this mean?

(Hint: The best way to read the Bible is to read backwards, i.e., to read the Old Testament in light of what we have in the New Testament. To put it another way, use Jesus as the interpretive key.  In light of what the Church believes about Jesus, what’s going on in Genesis 15?)

 

 

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3 Don’ts When Reading Genesis

Genesis is hard enough as it is; here are three things NOT to do when reading the first book of the Bible.

"The Tower of Babel," by Pieter Brueghel

“The Tower of Babel,” by Pieter Brueghel [c. 1563]

Don’t Mistake “Is” for “Should”

Genesis is descriptive, not prescriptive, i.e., it describes the world as it is, not as it should be.  Subsequent to The Fall described in chapter 3, every situation, family, and life is corrupted by sin.  Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are sinful men, and their families are a mess.  Don’t be surprised when great heroes of the faith turn out to be seriously flawed.  And don’t confuse descriptions of sin with approval of sin, even in the lives of the Patriarchs.

The good news?  God writes straight with crooked lines.

Don’t Draw Conclusions Before the End

The Bible is not a series of disconnected stories; rather, it is one long drama in three acts, with a prologue at the beginning and an epilogue at the end:

  • The Prologue: Genesis 1-11 (Creation, Fall, and the Flood)
  • Act 1: Genesis 12 through the rest of the Old Testament (Covenant and Israel)
  • Act 2: the Gospels (Jesus)
  • Act 3: the book of Acts up through the present day (the Church)
  • The Epilogue: the Book of Revelation (the End).

Each small story in the Bible fits into the larger whole.  You wouldn’t draw too many conclusions about the author of a story from the first page of a novel or the director of the movie from its first five minutes.  In the same way, reserve judgment until you see how the story resolves.  Yes, there are parts of the story that are troubling, but reserve judgment until you see where everything is going.

Don’t Fill the Gaps with Suspicion

The Bible is filled with gaps.  All we usually get are big broad strokes, and it’s left to our imagination to fill in the gaps about why or how.  For example, in the Genesis 4 account of Cain and Abel, why does the Lord God approve of Abel’s gift but not Cain’s?  Isn’t that rather arbitrary and unfair?

Mind the gap

Here’s the true answer: no one knows why God preferred Abel’s gift to Cain’s.  In the face of such a gap, then, we have to fill it with our own conjectures.

Unfortunately, in the modern, cynical world, we are quick to fill gaps in the Bible with our own suspicions.  But suspicion is a choice, and there is another approach:

Don’t fill gaps with suspicion; fill gaps with trust.

It’s true that deciding ahead of time to fill the gaps in the Bible with trust is a faith decision, but deciding ahead of time to read with a hermeneutic of suspicion is itself a faith decision.  If you decide ahead of time that the Bible can’t be trusted and that God is cynically setting up people for failure so he can punish them, then nothing you read will ever change your mind.

A better way is to decide to fill the gaps in Genesis and elsewhere with trust and humility.  Then, when you encounter things you don’t understand, you’ll admit what you don’t know and assume that what you don’t understand has a purpose in God’s redemptive plan.

P.S.  What About the Bizarre Stuff in Genesis 6:1-4?

If you ever tried to read through Genesis, chances are that Genesis 6:1-4 caused you some trouble.

When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. Then the Lord said, ‘My spirit shall not abide in mortals for ever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred and twenty years.’ The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterwards—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown.”

-Genesis 6:1-4 [NRSV]

Here’s the truth: nobody really understands this passage.  Here’s how Terence Fretheim puts is:

This brief segment is one of the most difficult in Genesis both to translate and interpret.  Certain words are rare or unknown…; issues of coherence arise on many points.  These verses may be a fragment of what was once a longer story, or scribes may have added to or subtracted from the text.  The fact that the text presents ambiguity may be precisely the point, however: the mode of telling matches the nature of the message….

“Consistent with other sections in chaps. 1-11, this material reflects an era no longer accessible to Israel. [That is, the ancient Israelites who were the original readers of Genesis.  –AF] The text does not mirror a typical human situation…but speaks of a time long past when God decreed a specific length to human life.”

-Terence Fretheim, from Genesis, in vol. I of The New Interpreter’s Bible

So, who are the mysterious “sons of God” mentioned in v. 2?  Three options:

1. They are sons of Seth, mentioned in chapter 5, mixing with unbelievers.

2.  “They may be royal or semi-divine figures who accumulated women in their harems” (Fretheim).

3.  They are some kind of angelic beings.  This seems most likely in context, and most troubling and bizarre to think about.

But, basically, as mysterious as this passage is, it fits with the larger context: before the Flood, things were going from bad to worse, spinning out of control.

The good news is that Genesis 6:1-4 doesn’t affect any important Christian doctrines or beliefs.  (Which doesn’t mean it isn’t really strange.)

Lurking at the Door

Where did it go wrong with Bob McDonnell?  Where does it go wrong with any of us?  Beware thinking that you or I are aren’t capable of the same things.  And worse.

Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

What Do You Do When You Want to Sin?

It’s a question I’ve been asking recently: how does someone purposely refuse sin when it’s sin that he wants to choose?

It’s easy to refuse sin when it’s not what you want, but what about when sin’s precisely what you most want?

The one who wants to commit adultery will choose adultery.

The one who wants to steal will choose theft.

The one wants to gossip will choose to spread the unkind word.

The one who wants to murder will choose murder.

At the moment when you are confronted with a sinful choice that you’ve already decided you want to take, it’s too late.

The First Murder in the Bible

The first murder in the Bible is in Genesis 4, but before it happens, the LORD God warns Cain, “Sin is lurking at the door.  It’s desire is for you, but you must master it” [Genesis 4:7 NRSV].

At some point, rather than fearing sin, Cain welcomed it, and was devoured.

Cain murders Abel–his own brother–and murder has been part of the human story ever since.

[http://www.africadreamsafaris.com]

[http://www.africadreamsafaris.com]

No One Is Safe

Bob McDonnell, former Governor of Virginia, was sentenced Tuesday to 2 years in Federal Prison on corruption charges.  Bob McDonnell is a Christian and is described by his family, associates, and political rivals as a good man.  And yet for all that, Bob McDonnell made a choice to choose the sin that would devour him, but that choice wasn’t at the specific moment that a political donor asked him for some special favors: it was way before that.

At some point, Bob McDonnell made a choice to ignore small dishonest choices.  And then those choices grew up.

Sin starts small, but grows.  There are sins in my life that if I ignore–or worse, deliberately attract–will devour me.

Same goes for you.

At the moment we are faced with the sin that will devour us, it’s too late.  The only way to be protected is to fight the sins early, when you don’t want them and when they are small.

Kill It Early

The easy time to kill adultery is when the first thought of it appears, not when you’re on the work trip with the co-worker you’ve been flirting and drinking with for 48 hours and whom you’ve been looking forward to sleeping with for several weeks.  At that point, you want to choose sin, and you will.  At that point, sin’s been lurking at your door a long time: its desire for you is probably much stronger than your desire to master it.

You fight theft by attacking the obvious signs of greed in your life.

You fight gossip by repenting of small harmful sentences you speak about others.

You fight murder by being aware of your tendency to small bursts of indignance and superiority.

It’s Lurking At Your Door

I’m not any better than anyone else.  And neither are you.  But for the grace of God, there we go.

Quick Thoughts on Genesis 1 (& the Best Visual Interpretation I’ve Seen)

How things begin matters.  We see God’s intention for creation from the beginning: an integrated whole, in which all the parts are good and all the parts fit together to give glory to God.  The Hebrew word for this is shalom: peace, wholeness, harmony.

I love this visual interpretation of Genesis 1 [www.minimumbible.com]

[www.minimumbible.com]

The Song of Creation

One other quick thought on Genesis 1.  The author talks of days and nights from the very beginning, but the sun and the moon aren’t created until the fourth day.  Ancient peoples were more connected to sun and moon than we are, now that we have electricity and night doesn’t mean dark.  Ancient peoples certainly knew that the sun and the moon are required for there to be “days” and “nights.”

Here’s the point: Genesis 1 is a beautiful theological treatise on creation, and for me, I don’t see it contradicting physics and cosmology; I see physics and cosmology providing the fine details and Genesis 1 the broad strokes.

 

P.S. The Best Visual Interpretation of the Bible I’ve Ever Seen

I’ve written previously about Darren Aronofsky’s Noah and shared some of my reservations about the final 15 disappointing minutes of the movie.  But this scene in which Noah retells the Genesis story of Creation and Fall is the best visual interpretation of scripture I’ve ever seen (although the image from The Minimum Bible project I included above is pretty good, too):

P.P.S. Join Us!

Folks in my church are reading through Genesis as part of our 2015 Bible reading plan.  We’d love to have you join us and make it a part of your #First15.

 

The Advent Conspiracy

After such a week, after such a year of violence, rape, murder, hate, falsehood, and war, J.D. Walt says what I want to say:

Come, Holy Spirit, and inaugurate Advent in our midst. Come and open up the book of a new year of our Lord. Lift our hearts to long for your coming and deepen our longing to imagine your kingdom.

We confess— Advent, the season of holy anticipation, has become for us a sign of anxiety. Like Martha, we busy ourselves with so many things, preparing for a celebration of our own design. We confess— our attention has become distraction. Our hearts, minds, and souls are divided as we literally surf the channels of our consumeristic culture. “Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isa. 64: 8). Begin anew this Advent to shape us. Make us like Mary to sit at the feet of our Lord Jesus and discover the only necessary thing: your Presence. Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved. Shape these days of Advent into a season of undivided attention, of holy anticipation.

As we sing of peace on Earth and goodwill to all people, open our ears to hear the mournful songs of a war-torn world: the unquenchable cries of ordinary families like our own whose losses are beyond our ability to comprehend. As we prepare to wrap the countless gifts our children will open on Christmas morning, open our hearts to the countless children for whom Christmas morning will be yet another day to survive. Lead us to respond to you in remembering those who will otherwise receive nothing, who are orphaned, whose parents are dead, distant, or imprisoned. Open our eyes to see those neighbors nearest to us who are lonely, afraid, sick, and suffering. We confess— our lifestyles have become enclaves of escape from the pain and suffering that surrounds us. “Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isa . 64: 8). Let this year be different, Lord. Shape our attention in these days of Advent into a lifestyle of love for neighbor and the needy.

“Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead [your people] like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth” (Ps. 80: 1). “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence” (Isa. 64: 1). As we remember and celebrate the birth of the baby in Bethlehem, let us not forget that the King is returning. We confess— we have made ourselves at home in a world that is not our home. We know a time is coming when the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give us light, when the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. We know the Son of Man will come on the clouds with great power and glory and he will send out his angels to gather his elect from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven (see Mark 13: 24– 27). Stir in our hearts a holy anticipation for the world to come, and an undying urgency for the world that is passing away. By your Spirit, make us watchful and wakeful. For, “O L ORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isa. 64: 8).

Come, Holy Spirit, and inaugurate Advent in our midst. Come and open up the book of a new year of our Lord. Hear us as we pray:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
(
Matthew 6:9-13)”

A prayer from from Not Yet Christmas: It’s Time for Advent, by J.D. Walt

Come, Lord Jesus

Here’s what I want to say about Ferguson: Come, Lord Jesus.

Here’s what I want to say about Eric Garner: Come, Lord Jesus.

Here’s what I want to say about Syria: Come, Lord Jesus.

Here’s what I want to say about Ebola orphans: Come, Lord Jesus.

Here’s what I want to say about rape, about divorce, about broken families, about our epidemic of fatherlessness, about all the terrible, ugly things that are a part of our daily world: Come, Lord Jesus.

This Is Why Advent Matters

It’s more important than buying the presents, attending the Christmas parties, sending out the Christmas cards, or decorating the Christmas tree.  It’s the only way to avoid getting caught up in the soul-destroying getting and spending of the season.  And, if you have kids at home, it’s a way you can be deliberately counter-cultural and push back against the messages of materialism to which our kids are incessantly subjected.

What’s more important than all those things is to prepare spiritually for Christmas by observing Advent.  Advent is the time of the church year that leads up to Christmas.  It’s the way we remind ourselves of why we celebrate and what we truly need.

And, in the midst of the heavy headlines these past few weeks, Advent gives voice to the deepest need we have: for a Savior.  Liberals and conservatives; black and white; rich and poor–we may not agree on many things, but we can all agree on this: our world is a broken, hurting world.  Come, Lord Jesus.

One Simple Way to Let Advent Shape Your Soul

At my church, we’ve selected a series of Advent readings to help you prepare for Christmas; one chapter of scripture a day, leading up to Christmas Eve, that tells the grand story of salvation, Genesis to Jesus.  You can find the list of readings here and a family plan here.

Read a chapter a day.  If you have kids, you might want to read the chapter before opening that day’s box on your Advent calendar.

It’s Not Too Late to Catch Up

The reading plan started Monday, December 1, but you can catch up easily this weekend.

I’ll Be Blogging About Each Day’s Reading

I’ll offer a short blog post each day to put the reading in context.  Because I’ve already missed a few days, I’ve added them below.

 

Genesis 1: Creation’s Song

How things begin matters.  We see God’s intention for creation from the beginning: an integrated whole, in which all the parts are good and all the parts fit together to give glory to God.  The Hebrew word for this is shalom: peace, wholeness, harmony.

One other quick thought on Genesis 1.  The author talks of days and nights from the very beginning, but the sun and the moon aren’t created until the fourth day.  Ancient peoples were more connected to sun and moon than we are, now that we have electricity and night doesn’t mean dark.  Ancient peoples certainly knew that the sun and the moon are required for their to be “days” and “nights.”  Here’s the point: Genesis 1 is a beautiful theological treatise on creation, and for me, I don’t see it contradicting physics and cosmology; I see physics and cosmology providing the fine details and Genesis 1 the broad strokes.

The connection with Advent: God’s purpose for creation is shalom.  That’s what we’re waiting for.

 

Genesis 3: The Problem Starts Here

Why does sin enter God’s good creation?

I don’t know, and neither does anyone else.  What we do know is that this creation that God created good is marred, every part of it. There are no problem-free situations.  Sin has ruined everything.  Because of sin there is racism, rape, war, divorce, cancer, etc.

Note that sin means that deceit and blame are now a part of human relationships.

The connection with Advent: This is why we need a savior.  This explains why the world is the way it is.

 

Genesis 12: The Conspiracy Begins

It’s the strangest plan in the world: the Lord’s plan to redeem and heal all of creation begins with one lonely Mesopotamian nomad named Abraham.  Through Abraham, the Lord will do something amazing: “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3b).

One of the things I love about the Advent Conspiracy is how it begins so small: one man; one family; one manger.

The connection with Advent: This is where the conspiracy begins.

 

Genesis 24: The Next Step

The plan won’t work if the family line dies out.  Abraham is miraculously blessed with a son named Isaac, and now Isaac meets his wife, Rebekah.

The connection with Advent: The conspiracy continues.

 

Genesis 25: The Strangeness of the Conspiracy

Rebekah is pregnant with twins, and she receives a puzzling word from the Lord:

“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples born of you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
the elder shall serve the younger.” 
(Genesis 25:23)

This strange conspiracy is overturning the way things work.  Everyone knows that older brothers are more important than younger: this is how society works.  And yet in this conspiracy, the elder shall serve the younger.

The connection with Advent: don’t expect things to work the way you think they should.  The Lord’s ways are not our ways.  Thank God.

 

Genesis 37: The Conspiracy Begins to Unravel

That younger brother mentioned above is Jacob.  Jacob fathers a whole bunch of kids (12 sons; 1 daughter) with four different women.  You don’t have to know much about human nature to know that this is going to be messy.  The 2nd youngest son, and Jacob’s favorite, is named Joseph.  The family drama is so modern:

This is the account of Jacob’s family line.

Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad reportabout them.

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him.When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.”

Genesis 37:2-4

Jacob’s sons fake the death of Joseph and sell the boy into slavery.  (You really should read the Bible–very interesting.)

The connection with Advent: Just because we can’t see how the conspiracy is going to work, doesn’t mean the Lord isn’t working….