Archive for January, 2010

ZIBBCOTA couple months ago, I wrote a review of Zondervan’s Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (ZIBBCOT) Volume I (Genesis – Deuteronomy), part of a new 5-Volume set from Zondervan. I was highly impressed with the insight and sources provided in the historical comparative material covered in that volume.

In late December, I received volume 5, which covers the minor prophets, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs. It should be no surprise that I have loved it almost as much as volume one. In fact, my wife heard me talk about it enough that she purchased volumes two, three and four for me (to finish out the OT set) for Christmas, and the New Testament set for my birthday!

Following in the same format as Vol. 1, ZIBBCOT vol. 5 first covers the chronological placement of each of the OT books it covers, in some cases narrowing it down to 2 or 3 possibilities (where the biblical books do not give explicit time-periods). Then, based upon the most likely time placement, it uses the architecture, literature and artwork of the period to construct the culture of Israel and the surrounding countries, as relevant to the biblical text.

Additionally, there are beautiful photographs of the geography around the setting of relevant books/passages, maps, diagrams and lots of artifacts which illustrate the subtext of man passages.

As I noted in my review of Vol. 1, the authors of this series of commentaries are very respectful of the biblical text, as they compare and contrast contemporary beliefs and practices with those of the Hebrews in Israel. This is not done in any way to attempt to undermine the biblical text, but to help enhance it with a fuller cultural understanding.

For example, in Jonah 3, where the text indicates that God changed his mind, the authors note that the verb used here is the same one used in other OT books where it is said that God does not change His mind. Where this is different in Jonah is that the earlier passages were in the context of covenant agreements (where God will not change His mind), whereas the one in Jonah deals with the outcome of a prophecy (in which God can change His mind in how to meet the ends of a prophetic pronouncement).

Personally, I found the chapter on Job, the oldest book of the Bible, in terms of authorship, to be the most interesting one, with interesting notes on the differences between ‘the accuser’ in Job and the proper-named ‘Satan’ later in Scripture, and in-depth discussion on the origins of ‘the behemoth’ and ‘the leviathan’.

If I have any complaint about Volume 5, it is only that it seems a little more disjointed than Volume 1, which is only to be expected, since it covers so many short books of the Bible. All in all, though, it is an excellent resource that i will continue to go back to in my personal library.

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Way back in 2006, Mark Driscoll was interviewed prior to speaking at the Desiring God conference that year.  One of the interview clips can be found here, but I’ll quote the salient part:

When [missionary] Hudson Taylor shows up in China, and dresses in Chinese dress, and learns Chinese language, and eats Chinese food, and gets a Chinese haircut, everybody says, “There’s a good Christian.” When we do that in punk rock culture, people think it’s capitulation. I think there’s hypocrisy there. That’s why we’re not reaching Americans. We have a double-standard that we get stuck on the style and we forget the substance of the Gospel.

A missionary family (we’ll call the couple George and Mary — names changed for safety/anonymity sake) was recently at my church.  The people group to whom they minister are very disinterested in reading.  So much so that it is not uncommon for houses in that part of the world to lack indoor plumbing but have satellite television.  Another example — to be considered a best-seller, a book has to sell only a few thousand copies.

While their ultimate goal is translating the Bible — this people group does not have the Scriptures in their language — George and Mary realize that in the short-term, they need to set a primary focus on spreading the Word through other media (though, even this is not simple, due to laws in their region).  As George was describing the unique challenges that they face, he noted that their desire was to be — parents, cover your children’s ears — relevant.

A horrified gasp went up from the congregation when he used such a dirty word.  Actually, I’m kidding.  His choice of that word summed up what they were trying to do, given the culture of the people with whom they are dealing.  His point was that their message to those people is not “get your act together, get interested in reading, and then we’ll deem you worthy of telling you about Jesus”.

I doubt that anyone would fail to laud George and Mary’s efforts.  So why, exactly, does any mention of relevance in our culture get poo-poo-ed on so quickly and thoroughly by so many?

Are people in our culture less unsaved?  I keep seeing an image of Westerners showing up at the pearly gates, and St Peter does his best Maxwell Smart* impression, saying, “Missed it by that much.”

* (the Don Adams version — I’m old)

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A while back we did a series of posts we called ‘Learning to Listen.’ In that series we scratched our way through the lyrics of various songs written by, mostly, ’secular’ artists.

I am a big fan of music–and even more so since I have grown up and actually started paying attention to the lyrics and trying to understand what the artist is saying. I’d like to invite you to help me understand a song written and performed by Peter Gabriel called ‘The Blood of Eden.’

I have some ideas about what the lyrics mean, but I’d like to invite you to give me your take so that I can see where mine are in the mix. It’s a rather beautiful song and Gabriel is a wonderful lyricist. Sometimes, however, his lyrics take an extra going over or three or a hundred before they all fall into place. So here’s the lyrics, have at it and let me know what you think. Thanks.

“Blood Of Eden”

I caught sight of my reflection
I caught it in the window
I saw the darkness in my heart
I saw the signs of my undoing
They had been there from the start
And the darkness still has work to do
The knotted chord’s untying
They’re heated and they’re holy
Oh they’re sitting there on high
So secure with everything they’re buying

In the blood of Eden
Lie the woman and the man
With the man in the woman
And the woman in the man
In the blood of Eden
Lie the woman and the man
We wanted the union
Oh the union of the woman
The woman and the man

My grip is surely slipping
I think I’ve lost my hold
Yes, I think I’ve lost my hold
I cannot get insurance anymore
They don’t take credit, only gold
Is that a dagger or a crucifix I see
You hold so tightly in your hand
And all the while the distance grows between you and me
I do not understand


At my request, you take me in
In that tenderness, I am floating away
No certainty, nothing to rely on
Holding still for a moment
What a moment this is
Oh for a moment of forgetting, a moment of bliss

I can hear the distant thunder
Of a million unheard souls
Of a million unheard souls
Watch each one reach for creature comfort
For the filling of their holes

In the blood of Eden
Lie the woman and the man
With the man in the woman
And the woman in the man
In the blood of Eden
We wanted the union
Of the woman and the man

In the blood of Eden
Lie the woman and the man
I feel the man in the woman
And the woman in the man

In the blood of Eden
Lie the woman and the man
I feel the man in the woman
And the woman in the man

In the blood of Eden
We’ve done everything we can
In the blood of Eden
Saw the end as we began
With the man in the woman
And the woman in the man
It was all for the union
Oh, the union of the woman, the woman and the man.

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I’m just a few pages away from finishing the book Game Change. The book is about the 2008 Presidential election. It’s the first purely political book I’ve bought in a long time, maybe ever.  The book is decidedly Pro-Obama and an Hillary.

It’s been a fun read. The book showed me many things I didn’t previously know and yet those things reinforced for me some things that I had been thinking all along.

This post has nothing to do with Politics or the book. I just wanted to give you the background.

It occurred to me throughout the book that many people cast their vote not based on ideology. That is to say, many of the people throughout the book talked about why they cast their fate with a particular candidate. Time and time again it came back to one word. Not the plan (with some of the candidate’s the plans were very very similar). I mean obviously the Republicans were going to vote with the Republicans and Democrats with Democrats, but ultimately it came down to something intangible.

That something is called hope.

It struck me as I read this sweeping book about the sport of politics that hope is the one thing that the church has in spades. I mean think about it! We have hope that God is and will make all things new. He’s reconciled all things to Himself.

God gives us the promise of Hope. In fact one of the most misquoted verses in the whole Bible is because often the person doing the quoting leaves off the most important phrase. You know the verse.  It says

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you

Now, I’ve heard this verse used to defend people who are literal 6 dayers and why they fight for it. I’ve heard heretic hunters use it. Of course they never actually get to the next part of the verse. It says

to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

Give an account for the hope you have in you. What is that hope? Christ died for you for me to bring us to God. I wonder if the reason we’re so rarely asked about our hope is because we don’t actually act like people with hope.

The fact that passage goes on to talk about how our gentleness and respect (actions) are our actual defense and not our finely tuned theological statements is just a bonus. Not our megaphones, or our witty blog lines. Not our book deals, or our denominations. Not how many years we’ve been in “professional ministry.” Not our cred’s.  Our action.

Did you ever wonder why he had to put the whole gentleness and respect in right after talking about hope. I think it’s because hope is offensive and scary to many people. In fact just today I talked to a guy who said, “Let me tell you something, hope is an f-ing scary thing. It may be the worst thing ever. A man can go crazy with hope.”  I’m going to withhold the rest of the conversation because the words would cause too many you to focus on them instead of the post. (Maybe me too?)

May you be someone who is filled with hope. May you be someone who people ask about the hope found in you. When pastor’s betray you, and friends abandon you. When Christians give more kindness to drug addicts than to you and you’re worse nightmare comes true may you be able to see and hold onto the hope found in you.

When you are at the end and are convinced you can’t go another step, may you be filled with the Hope that only God can give. May God grant you the clarity to see the Hope He offers.

May you always remember that God died for you.

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This week I have been reading through Romans 1:1-7. There’s a lot there. It is dense, thick with words as Paul writes in every square millimeter of the scroll—trying to cram in as much as he can.

Wright, in his commentary, notes: “Paul has now drawn a miniature map of God’s purpose, revealed in Jesus the Messiah, proclaimed in the apostolic gospel.” See, then, what Paul says.

They are ‘called of Jesus Christ.’ (6)

They are ‘called to be holy.’ (7)

But they are also ‘in Rome.’ (7)

The question becomes, at least in my mind, how can ‘we’ be holy and of Jesus Christ when we live in Rome? Rome is a tough place to be, a hard place to live. Rome is full of the wrath and fury of the dragon. But Rome is also glorious and beautiful and her beauty is captivating. How can we be holy, called of Christ, Israel in the midst of Rome?

I suppose one place to start is by remembering that we are also ‘beloved of God’ and a second place is to remember that he has blessed us with ‘grace’ and ‘peace.’ He loves us! We are his beloved! We are his sons and daughters—those he baptized in the Red Sea as he led us out of Egypt. What glorious wonder is this that we should be called ‘sons of God’?

“For Paul, the ‘call’ was God’s powerful word, creating new life—creating, indeed, the response it sought, as a word of love is always capable of doing. And it is to the love of God that Paul now appeals, not for the last time: ‘God’s beloved in Rome,’ he labels the church, ‘called to be saints.’ Both these phrases, while carrying their own echoes of love and holiness, look back inevitably to the status of God’s people in the past, the people whom Paul sees as now renewed and expanded so as to include believing Gentiles as well as Jews.’ (Wright, TNIB)

Just remember today, wherever Rome happens to be for you (maybe Topeka, Port-au-Prince, Washington D.C.) that you are beloved of God—buried, as it were, in the grace and peace of Christ, called to be holy, called of Christ Jesus, and remarkably blessed as a part of the family of God, even Israel.

Paul writes as if the greeting itself came from Jesus. Read this (Romans 1:1-7) then, not as the words of one man to another, but as they really are: The greeting of Christ himself to you. And he is greeting you with grace, peace, and love.

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Ephesians 5:21 NLT
And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

I Corinthians 16:15-16 NLT
You know that Stephanas and his household were the first of the harvest of believers in Greece, and they are spending their lives in service to God’s people. I urge you, dear brothers and sisters, to submit to them and others like them who serve with such devotion.

Hebrews 13:17 NLT
Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit.

The issue of accountability has always been a no-brainer for me. I guess I owe my strong feelings about that value to my parents and in particular to my father who, despite his disagreements with the denomination he was in, chose to submit and stay accountable to them. Because of this I find it strange that Christians deny the necessity of accountability to one another and a leadership structure.

One area where accountability is sorely needed is the world of blogging and that has been said here and elsewhere a number of times. This issue of non-accountability seems to be more prevalent on discernment blogs where bloggers often criticize people supposedly knowing the will of God (in particular WoF/Prosperity preachers) and I think they are right about that most of the time. But then they in turn often claim to know the will/judgement of God about others in the same shaky way that those preachers do. When it comes to knowing or discerning the will of God I think we especially need to be accountable towards Christians around us.

It is then perplexing to me when I read something like the following:

There is a criticism – a protest, if you will – that discernment websites are accountable to no one but themselves. It depends on the context and what they mean by ‘accountable’, of course. On the one hand this is a self-refuting argument; calling out those that are perverting the simplicity of the Gospel to accountability of God’s word is by the same definition making oneself accountable to the word of God. On the other hand, to whom exactly should discernment ministries be accountable to? Should we institutionalize all these type of ministries under one banner and make them all sign some relevant decree? What happens if that institution itself becomes corrupt, then what? And if discernment ministries were accountable to an institution would false teachers take heed when warned? Of course not, it’s a dishonest criticism to begin with

It sounds to me like the author is excusing himself and other “discerners” from being accountable to other Christians. Be that as it may, it raised a  question with me that I would like to explore with all of you here:

  • Is there a point where we stop being accountable to one another or some leadership structure? What then?

Important Note: I realise that the values of submission and accountability can be abused by leaders like a lot of other good stuff. But I don’t think those abuses gives us the licence to throw these values away.

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Chris noted in a previous post that we have a very diverse set of voices reading and commenting on this blog and I would like to hear some of that diverse perspectives.  I have to deliver a sermon on the subject of worship within a few weeks. The sermon will be one in a series about spiritual growth, worship being one aspect of that. I would like to hear your perspective on worship.

My main scripture will be Luke 7:36-43 where the immoral woman (I assume a prostitute) crashed a dinner party of some very religious people to worship Jesus.

Luke 7

36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat.[h] 37 When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. 38 Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!”

40 Then Jesus answered his thoughts. “Simon,” he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.”

“Go ahead, Teacher,” Simon replied.

41 Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people—500 pieces of silver[i] to one and 50 pieces to the other. 42 But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”

43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.”

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Four of the best minutes of film in 2009

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