Archive for March, 2010

In Part I of this series, we examined Lamb Selection Day, and in Part II, we examined the preparations for Passover.

In Part III, we will examine the banquet traditions of Passover as practiced in the first century – in very similar manner as is done today – with the intention of examining some significant details relevant to Christianity. It is not my intention to give an all-encompassing look into what is now referred to by faithful Jews as the Seder (which is most likely not the name used for this meal in the first century). If you want to see all of the parts of the service, there are a number of Christian and Jewish websites which document this.

The Banquet

Unlike the traditional Christian “Lord’s Supper”, this meal was a four-course banquet, each with a specific cup of wine to symbolize it, which might take five or six hours, total, from beginning to end. While we are certain that this was practiced in the First Century, we do not know whether Jesus and his disciples each had four cups or if only Jesus had the four cups (there is evidence of both, though the synoptic accounts seems to indicate that Jesus shared from one cup for at least the third cup), which also signified where they were in the meal. We do know, though, that the tradition of the cups of wine began some 200 years before Jesus and his disciples met in the Upper Room.

These four cups, according to Jewish tradition, are given their meaning from Exodus 6:6-7

“Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will deliver you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.

The four cups are (sometimes the English translations for the names differ, but the meaning is consistent):

  1. The Cup of Blessing/Thanksgiving (I will deliver you)
  2. The Cup of Judgment (I will free you)
  3. The Cup of Redemption (I will redeem you with an outstretched arm)
  4. The Cup of Praise (I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God)

Each of these four cups symbolized one of God’s promises, and it is believed, from numerous early Jewish sources, that wine was representative of life/blood, and that God was promising on His own life that He will keep His promises (more on this in the next installment, if it seems a little “odd” to you).

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HopeOver the past 20-odd years, I’ve had a number of opportunities to teach and/or counsel high school youth groups, along with some additional experience w/ folks struggling with addiction recovery (groups that have more in common that you might think).  One of the common topics that I’ve found that these people have struggled with is the concept of decoupling forgiveness from the consequences of sin.

“If you have forgiven me, then things must go back to the way things used to be…”, so the argument goes.  “If you are still going to treat me different/punish me, then you really haven’t forgiven me,” is cry of the addict, and it is the siren call of the addicts’ enablers in allowing the abuse to continue.  In addictive/abusive relationships, it is quite common for the abusers to manipulate those around them by taking a key component of Jesus’ teaching about living in the Kingdom – the concept of forgiveness – and twisting into something antithetical to its purpose.  As the saying goes “the best lies are the ones that contain the most truth”..

And without a good grounding in the Word, it is easy to fall for this lie, which is why so many do.  And, as so many of the key threads of Jesus’ teaching do, the decoupling of forgiveness and consequences begins in the Garden of Eden.

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In Part I of this series, we examined Lamb Selection Day, which we Christians celebrate as Palm Sunday (though technically, since the selection happens on Sunday evening, it is actually on Monday in the Jewish calendar).

In this, Part II, we will examine some more of the traditions of Passover as practiced in the first century – in very similar manner as is done today – with the intention of examining some significant details relevant to Christianity.

Removing the Leaven

For seven days no yeast is to be found in your houses. And whoever eats anything with yeast in it must be cut off from the community of Israel, whether he is an alien or native-born. Eat nothing made with yeast. Wherever you live, you must eat unleavened bread (Exodus 12:19-20)

In Hebrew practice and tradition, on the seventh day before Passover, all families would search their houses for yeast (in some Jewish families, a paternal figure would hide bits of bread for the children to search out and find – which may have been borrowed later by Christians in ‘Easter Egg Hunts’. We do not have evidence, though, that this particular tradition was practiced in the first century). All yeast found in the houses would be brought to a central place and burned.

Yeast is used throughout the scriptures – both the Old and New Testaments – as a symbol for sin. While the elimination of yeast was a remembrance of the Children of Israel leaving Egypt so quickly that there was not time to make bread with yeast, this elimination is also symbolic of systematic removal of all traces of sin in one’s life. Keeping in mind that it is always important to keep sin out of our lives, it is this purposeful searching that it done at Passover that seeks ALL the sources by which it may have crept into our lives.

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But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 1 Cor. 15:20

In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul addresses the church on an issue where there seems to have been some doubt – resurrection of the dead. I noticed, especially in this passage, Paul’s reference to Christians who have died as having fallen asleep (he does this in other passages in Corinthians as well as the letters to the Thessalonians). He does not shy away from the word death or from talking about death, in fact, part of what stuck out to me is that this passage contains so much repetition and focus of both terms. In John 11 we read how Jesus told his disciples that their friend Lazarus had fallen asleep and that He was going to wake him up. When they misunderstand him, he tells them that Lazarus has died.

When great men die, the world mourns… briefly. When great men sleep, the world mourns… but has been transformed. I will probably not forget how publicly the world mourned for Princess Diana, nor how Mother Theresa’s passing was overshadowed by it. And yet Mother Theresa is still quoted, referenced, and held up as a symbol of loving, humble, sacrificial service in written and oral communication. Our lives have been impacted by these men and women of the Christian faith because they have taught, mentored, shaped, challenged, and provoked us to live more fully in and for Christ. Often we have personal relationships and friendships with these people, but sometimes God uses a humble servant to touch many lives from a distance.

And so it is the case now that a dear brother in Christ, Micheal Spencer (a.k.a. iMonk) is tired and close to sleep. Through his writings and his own walk he has impacted the lives of many toward maturity in Christ. Below some of our writers (past and present) share in memory, reflection, recognition, and in celebration of how this great man connected with them. Due to the cancer and the loss of work, the Spencer family could use financial assistance if you would like to help. Go here and you will see a note from Michael and Denise with a PayPal link for donating. They do ask that you e-mail Denise if you would like to give.


About 12.5 years ago, God called home singer/songwriter Rich Mullins. Burned into my mind for eternity are the first four words of Danl Blackwood’s email notifying us of Rich’s passing : The unthinkable has happened. I still get a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach when I hear a hammer dulcimer (an instrument indelibly associated with Rich in many folks’ minds — I personally know of three people who took up the instrument because of him).

Six months after his passing, I sat in a church for a Caedmon’s Call concert, ready to endure two opening acts that I had never heard of, so that we could hurry up and get to the band that we had all come to hear.

The first act was some guy named Andrew Peterson. I liked his music OK at the time. (In retrospect, I probably would have liked it a lot, had I not been predisposed to being a bit ticked that he was delaying Caedmon’s Call from hitting the stage.)

The third song in his set was called “Three Days Before Autumn”. He had written it as a tribute to Rich and as a memory of the whirlwind of emotions that he went through when he found out about Rich’s passing. You can read the lyrics here. It’s a painfully raw song, and I lost it about three lines in. Not a bit misty-eyed, not a few quiet tears, but convulsions of weeping.

I thought I was over Rich’s death. As a friend of mine says, “You know what ‘thought’ done.”

I don’t remember anything else about Andrew’s set, nor anything of the set done by Bebo Norman (the second opening act). When I got home, I looked Andrew up on the web. In those days, he was wholly independent, having never been signed, so some of his music was freely available on his site. I probably listened to “Three Days” about 50 times over the next few days. You may think that maudlin (and maybe you’re right); I found it very cathartic.

I came to realize that, much like Rich had been able to put words to what I was unable to express about God, Andrew had been able to put words to what I was unable to express about Rich.

So why bring this all up now? It’s nowhere near the anniversary of Rich’s passing. Heck, it’s not even too close to Andrew’s birthday. But I’m getting a profound sense of déjà vu.

The opening lines of Andrew’s song say:

Three days before autumn
A cold winter came
Blew in a telephone call when my friend went away
And I swear I heard thunder at the sound of his name
He never even knew me at all, but I loved him the same

It struck me as startling, yet accurate, that Andrew referred to Rich as his “friend” despite the fact that Rich “never even knew [Andrew] at all” and that Andrew “loved him the same”. This is certainly how I felt about Rich, and I’m sure that Andrew and I aren’t the only two people who feel this way.

Now that same feeling (as well as many others expressed in the song) is back with a vengeance, but for someone else. Michael Spencer, dubbed “The Internet Monk” (or “iMonk”, for short) was blogging long before all the cool kids started doing it. And not piddly little “Look at this cute video I found on YouTube” junk — but deep, heavy stuff that often reflected Michael’s own struggles and shortcomings as he tried to live out his faith in Christ as best as he could. If Michael was any more transparent, he’d be invisible.

I’ll be honest — I don’t always read his site as faithfully as perhaps I ought. Sometimes it’s sheer laziness, but sometimes it’s the fear that if I read something that Michael is struggling with, then I’m responsible to deal with it, too. And to be honest, if I had to face down one tenth of what Michael has had to wrestle with, I think I would have bagged this whole Christianity thing a long time ago. But Michael isn’t like that. Even as he recognized severe problems in much of modern-day evangelicalism, he hung on to his faith. Francis Schaeffer may have written a book entitled “How Should We Then Live?”, but Michael is the personification of that question.

Sometimes I have to wonder if what he’s dealing with now “ain’t nothing but a ham sandwich” (as Pancho Juarez is fond of saying) compared to the many issues that he’s written about in the past.

Several months ago, Michael was diagnosed with cancer. He has more recently stopped writing at his site, though a friend has taken over, contributing his own material and recycling some of Michael’s many “greatest hits”. Michael’s wife, Denise, has kept us apprised of his status. Two weeks ago, she told us that the doctor had said that the cancer was too advanced and aggressive to expect a remission from ever occurring, and that he expected the current course of treatment to only give Michael another 6-12 months to live. (I strongly encourage you to read that whole post, as Denise writes about Michael’s faith through this ordeal. It’s encouraging and challenging.)

On Tuesday, Denise told us that that treatment was not helping at all, but actually hurting. So it was discontinued, and Michael is now under hospice care. Denise’s prayer requests have shifted to prayers “for minimal pain and for a peaceful passing”.

As Andrew wrote about Rich, so I feel about Michael. I count him as a friend, even though he “[barely] knows me at all” (I’ve commented several times on his blog, we’ve exchanged a few emails, and I even once was given a derisive nickname by another blogger while in Michael’s defense — a nickname that I wear proudly). And “I love him the same”.

While I’ve learned many things from this guy from a little town in eastern Kentucky, the over-arching theme of what I take from his life and his writings is tenacity. Even in the midst of a lot of insanity swirling around him, Michael holds on to Jesus.

He’ll see Him face to face soon; our loss will be his great gain. Vaya con Dios, my friend.

Tim Reed

I have to admit that I’m a little bit in shock right now. I just got done reading this announcement by Denise Spencer. It is an update on the health of Michael Spencer, who is known as Imonk.

I never met Michael. In fact I only talked to him personally once in an interview I did with him. I remember a few different things about that interview, but what really sticks out was that he warned me that he couldn’t be as witty and entertaining as Brant Hansen, who I had interviewed the week before. Of course, few if any of us can be. That struck me as odd because Michael is undeniably gifted. The idea that he would be intimidated by the performance of someone else on a stage as small as the one I offered was an absurd one, it was a bit like Alex Rodriguez being worried he wasn’t a very good pitcher (somehow the baseball metaphor seems an apt one). The other thing I remember about that interview was realizing how greatly Michael had been gifted by God. I preach once a week. I pour my heart into it, and I am very competent, maybe even approaching excellent at times. However, in order to do that I have to devote 15 hours to crafting a sermon. Michael told me in that interview he sometimes preached as many as 4 in a week. I’d have to work 60 hours to do that, and he maintained a full work load at a ministry in addition to that.

We didn’t talk writing at all in that interview. But I was always amazed at the sheer volume of his writing. He would update Internet Monk several times a week, sometimes with very in-depth writing. I update maybe twice a month. And these days its not terribly in-depth. I’ve started four different novels. I love the concepts behind each of the four of them. None have more than a chapter or two finished. Michael has only officially written a single book that has yet to be released, but I recall how quickly he was knocking out chapters as he kept us updated on the progress of his highly anticipated book.

The man was flat out gifted. Yet, still concerned that he couldn’t entertain as well as others. And its exactly that sort of honest self-reflection that I came to admire and love about him. Because he wasn’t as entertaining as Brant. He wasn’t as good an interview as Brant. And that sort of honest self-assessment was reflected in the body of his work in which he was willing to expose his short comings to the entire world if it meant communicating the gospel in an effective way.

As I read back over what I’ve written I realize that I’ve written about myself a lot. Odd, considering this is supposed to be about Michael. But that’s the kind of person that Michael is. I can’t write about him without writing about myself because the authentically confessional style of writing that Michael was known for draws out the personal journey of each reader into the experience of Micheal’s communication.

I’ll be the first to admit that when I first began reading the Imonk, I didn’t like a lot of what I read. If you dig through my blog’s archives I guarantee you that you’ll find uncharitable, angry, and just plain mean posts about Michael. I don’t have the heart to deliberately delete what I was writing at the time, but I don’t like them now. Its probably why he never (rightly) acknowledged my emails asking entrance to the Boars Head Tavern. As time went on I found myself not so much agreeing with the specific point of his writing, but agreeing with the way he was writing. I won’t pretend that Michael’s writing was the driving force behind the growth I’ve experienced, but his writing significantly affected me. In a lot of ways it was a bellwether to where my journey was taking me. The rejection of consumerism and the culture war especially strongly affected the way I would come to think of my faith. He, in conjunction with other mature and intelligent Christians helped to steer me away from these particularly destructive mentalities to the gospel. And for that I’m forever grateful.

The one thing however, that Michael did without question that impacted his readers more than any other was transparently living and teaching the gospel. The emotions he wrote about were real. The issues he was struggling with were real. The apologies he issued were real. And the gospel he articulated so well is real. In a lot of ways you can’t separate the real struggles, and real emotions from the real gospel. Few people are willing to open themselves up to the kind of scrutiny that Michael was. And as a result few were as effective at communicating the gospel as he was.

You’ve probably realized by now that this might be a eulogy. A few weeks ago his wife, Denise, let the world at large know that Michael was struggling with cancer. It looked bad, the doctors gave him 6-12 months. Today she let us know that the treatments had been ineffective and that they had discontinued medical treatment and had contacted hospice. I had always assumed that some day some lucky publisher would give Michael an opportunity, and that opportunity would grow into a second career as he became well known. Now, it looks like that won’t happen as Denise Spencer has asked for prayers for healing to shift to prayers for a quick passing.

I know this is probably a eulogy, but I hope its a prayer answered, as when Michael Spencer passes, the church and myself will have lost something valuable.


I have been a reader of the Internet Monk since I first discovered the wide world of blogging. I am a fan. It’s that simple. I have never met him. I have never spoken to him face to face. And the highlight of my friendship with him was when he once left a comment on a rather curious Facebook status update I had posted. That’s it. Even the few times I posted at his blog as a commenter, I was easily ignored because I was small fish in a big pond, a lightweight fighting heavyweights, and, mostly, because I never said anything that would contradict the Monk. That is, I typically agreed with everything he wrote. I wasn’t controversial. (Well, maybe a couple of times.)

What I love the most about the internet is that is makes the world small(er). I have the blessing of knowing people I would never have known if the internet didn’t exist. What I love about blogging is Michael Spencer. He is honest. He gave honor where honor was due. ( ;) ) And he wasn’t afraid of two of my favorite authors and Christians, Eugene Peterson and Thomas Merton.

And you know what? He dealt with the journey. It was a journey for him, I suspect, where each day brought something new to his mind and comforted his heart in some new way or challenged his assumptions in another way or tweaked his understanding of Jesus and made him start all over again. He explored some of this at one of his lesser known sites, Jesus Shaped Spirituality. He’s kept learning, and we are still growing because of it. It is no small thing to suffer as he did. It is no small thing to do so publicly as he did. It’s no small thing to trust Jesus with all of it and to embrace what he so long taught us to embrace. I will miss Michael Spencer, but I’m not sorry. He is blessed, even as he has been a blessing.

“It takes heroic charity and humility to let others sustain us when we are absolutely incapable of sustaining ourselves. We cannot suffer well unless we see Christ everywhere–both in suffering and in the charity of those who come to the aid of our affliction.”–Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island, 93-94

Chris L

The continual process of change – “growing” – has always been a painful one for me, since I find so many of my moorings in the past, and when some of those ties are cut, the uncertainty of change creates an uncomfortable feeling of drift without direction.

One of the few items I remember from my high school English Lit class was a poem by Dylan Thomas, Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.  A brief snippet:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And so has it been for me throughout my life, when faced with friends and acquaintances who have left, or are leaving – ever since a classmate of mine, Matt, was killed by a drunk driver back in high school … while I was taking English Lit.  I skip right over Kubler-Ross’ stage one (denial) and jump right to anger.  Whether it was Matt, or my grandparents, or Rich Mullins or my favorite high school teacher, gunned down in the act of playing “Good Samaritan”, my anger at Adam and the mortality he cursed us all with is deep and wide.

And so it was when I learned that our brother in Christ, fellow blogger iMonk, Michael Spencer, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, and more recently, that the treatments were not working, and that he would be moving to hospice care.

When I first started reading blogs, particularly Christian blogs, iMonk was one of the first I’d ever read.  At first take, his name seemed awfully “Catholic” (particularly to one who would have agreed with the Ken Silvas of the world just a short time previous to this), but his wit and insight into the conundrums of living out belief kept me coming back.  It wasn’t that I always agreed with him – I didn’t.  And sometimes, he talked about subjects and held opinions that baffled me – on subjects of theology that I didn’t even know were ever debated.

After John at VerumSerum talked me through how to start a blog, iMonk was one of the first links I listed in my blogroll – and he has been on the blogroll on this site (and its various earlier forms) since the very beginning.  On my own site, I had/have two blogroll lists – one for folks that I generally agree with, and another for ones that I really like, but still “proceed with caution”…  iMonk landed on the second list (along with others I’d probably now move to the first one, but haven’t, just to remind myself that I have changed and survived the change) – he still sounded suspiciously Catholic to me (which is really ironic, since he’s from the Southern Baptist tradition).

As time has passed, I have grown to appreciate Michael’s insight more than I did originally, and our podcast interview with him was one of my favorites – the story of the school and community he worked at and how it operated.   His radically different lifestyle and outlook on life was (and is) very challenging to me.  His view of the kingdom, how it is lived out, and about American materialism has always given me pause – and still makes me uncomfortable when I look at how I live.

His voice will be sorely missed, and I would ask that we all say a prayer for Michael and his family, and that you consider a donation to them if you can afford it, and are led to do so.

And as for anger?  I still rage at the changes that we are forced to live with – particularly those like Michael’s.  I don’t think I will ever fully be over with that in this life, but even so, I want to remember how this iMonk lived and what he passionately believed.  I want to remember this far more than the sorrow and anger at his leaving us.

We will miss him here and now, but we have the hope of meeting him, through the Lord and Savior we share, again in the world to come.

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[A few years back, I did a series of articles on Holy Week on my personal blog. I'm making a few updates and reposting them during this year's Holy Week.]

Sheep's GateThere are a number of interesting events and “coincidences” that can be examined in the Jewish Traditions of the Second Temple period which hold significant parallels with Christian understanding of the last week of Jesus’ life, leading up to his resurrection.

This is Part I in the series (Palm Sunday), with further parts planned for later this week, to correspond with the days being celebrated.

Lamb Selection Day

On the tenth day of the first month of the year (five days before passover), every family was required to choose a lamb for passover, per the instructions given by God to Moses:

Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. (Exodus 12:3-6)

In order that the families could comply with the instructions from Exodus 12, the lambs were chosen the afternoon of the 9th day of the first month, so that they would be with the family from the 10th (which began at sundown) through the 14th. One reason for this, according to some Jewish sources, was so that the lamb would spend time with the family, becoming a part of it, so that when it fulfilled its purpose, it would take the sins of the family with it.

Jewish historians record that the lambs were brought from the fields of Bethlehem to the south up to Jerusalem and through the Northeast gate of the city by the pool of Bethesda, called the “Sheep’s Gate” (see above). (As we discussed during the the Desanitizing Christmas series a couple of years ago, the sheep of Bethlehem were owned by the Sadducees, and only these sheep were allowed to be sacrificed on Passover – for the purpose of filling their corrupt coffers.)

The year of Jesus’ death, He and his disciples began the trip into Jerusalem on a donkey at Bethphage (which is exactly one Sabbath day’s walk from the city walls). Bethphage is to the east of Jerusalem, and the road travels over the Mount of Olives down to the Sheep’s Gate. There they were met by a crowd of people waving palm branches.

The palm branch was a symbol which some scholars believe was not allowed within the city of Jerusalem, because it was associated with the zealots who wanted to overthrow Rome. The war cry of the zealots was “(God) Save Us!” chanted over and over again. In Hebrew, this would be pronounced “Ho-sha-NAH”, which we pronounce today Hosanna. This comes from Psalm 118:25-26, which is at the end of the Psalsms of Jewish blessings (Ps 113-118) called the hallel, sung during Jewish holidays.

O LORD, save us;
O LORD, grant us success.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.
From the house of the LORD we bless you. (Psalm 118:25-26)

And so, the cry of “Hosanna!” was not one simply of recognizing Jesus as a king – but one of a liberator. It was a cry for revolutionary overthrow of the oppressive Roman government. As an opening to the Passover week, it was a harbinger of civil unrest and violence that put the authorities of the city on edge.

Palm Sunday

This is the setting for Lamb Selection Day – which we Christians call “Palm Sunday”. And it is on this day that the Lamb of God, born in the flocks of Bethlehem, who was sacrificed for all of our sins, entered the city of Jerusalem. This was done at the end of the day (Mark 11:11) which would have been the same time at which the Passover lambs were being selected for each family group (and it is also the time that the disciples would have chosen the lamb for their own Passover Meal, which occured on the evening of the 14th day).

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

“Say to the Daughter of Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosannain the highest!”

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”

The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” (Matthew 21:1-11)

As Westerners, we may miss this, but to Hebraic audiences, the picture is a stark one being painted here: Jesus is proclaimed a messiah by the people, but in doing so, they were selecting him as the Passover lamb to cover all the sins of the people for all time. He was from the flocks of Bethlehem, as all lambs were required to be in that time. The people waved the Palm branches, declaring Yeshua the Messiah. And so it is that the early Christians understood this day (which we celebrate as Palm Sunday) as the day in which Jesus was selected to be our sacrifice.

And so it is that this perfect lamb would have additional significance 5 days later, on the day of Passover…

(to be continued in Part II: Passover)

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It has been said that we live what we believe. John Piper recently wrote an article on evangelicalism and doctrine. (Doctrine means belief or teaching. In our context, that means the teachings of the Bible.) He quotes from Ronald Sider’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience to support his view that doctrine, right doctrine, matters to how Christians live. Not, I think, what we acknowledge as true, but what we believe is important. What we think about, and how we think shapes how we act. Romans 12:2 tells us to, “be transformed by the renewing of our minds.” Right beliefs develop right actions. Let me acknowledge up front that I don’t see this as a cut and dry issue. Nor do I think that every person who claims to believe the teachings of Christ has been transformed by them. Many examples can be given of people who hold to all the right doctrines, but are unloving. Of course, there’s a simple response to this – that they don’t hold to all the right doctrines.

Foundational to Christianity is love. It has to be when the very essence of God is love. He is relationship, three-in-one.* The very thing that defines us, that we proclaim and profess, that cannot be denied despite all of our denominational differences is that God loved us to His death. The virgin birth, the life of demand and stress, the teaching and the touches of hope and grace and peace, the quiet submission to torture, the obedience to the Father and the giving of life on the cross… were an act of love for us.

Our religion, our movement, our faith, our hope was born out of the cross… out of love. We love because He first loved us. 1 John says that anybody who does not love his brother, isn’t living in Jesus, isn’t living by truth. I’m guessing that the majority of examples that we could all provide of people who “have all the right doctrines” also have problems forgiving others, being generous to those in need, serving the marginalized of this world, and generally just don’t have much love. I agree with Piper that “God gives good press to good doctrine” (probably more than I agree with him on most things). But I can’t get over that God has given the best press to the following teaching:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV)

*Can love even exist outside of relationship? Some theologians think that the three persons of God, Father, Son, and Spirit, were not three before Creation and that They will return to the same state after the Second coming. I don’t see how this is possible if God IS love. The description of the three-in-one is most congruent with the teaching that He is, was, and will always be and that He is love.

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So, I’ve started going through the Bible on my iPod (with the long trip back from TN, I’m now somewhere in Numbers), using the stuff from folks at The Bible in 90 Days. (I don’t know that I’ll make it through in 90 days – my goal is just to go all the way through it again).

Needless to say, I’ve picked up an appreciation for more of the narrative and its flow as a listener (rather than a reader).  My problem w/ reading is that the footnotes, line notes, references, etc. all become very distracting and send me off on far too many bunny trails.  So, while reading through the Bible is an excellent study, for me (at least) it still misses some of the narrative aspects.

[For example, hearing Joseph - no longer able to hide his identity from the suffering of his brothers - tearfully confess his identity to them, has never been so powerful a picture to me than when I heard it (instead of reading it).  I'm sure I must have driven through a dust cloud at that moment, since it seems some of the dust stuck in my eye at that point of the story.]

So, I had to laugh in my most recent drive at the following verse in Numbers:

Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.

I know Rick Frueh has quoted this before, but coupling this verse with the accepted tradition that Moses is the author of Genesis – Deuteronomy, the irony finally hit me.  This is also why, a number of commentaries suggest that it was likely a later prophet who added this parenthetical clause to the Torah (and not Moses), since simply writing it would nullify itself.

And so it was, after I laughed, I got to wondering how many times I nullify the content of what I’ve just said, just by saying it…

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Two young children are sitting in the back of the car shoving, whining, and complaining about each other.

“What’s going on back there?” demands the mother.

“She keeps pushing me!” the younger whines.

The mother asks the older sibling if this is true.

“Yes, but that’s because she keeps putting her arm in front of my face,” explains the elder.

The mother replies to the younger, “If you want to stick your arm up in the air, fine, just don’t stick it in your sister’s face.”

When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable,
But he who restrains his lips is wise. – Proverbs 10:19 NASB

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This one was sent to me with a note that the song reminded the submitter of some of our commenters (w/o mentioning any names)

The above was rude of me to include, and should have been completely left off. My apologies, if anyone was offended.

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