Saturday, December 16, 2006

Holy Cow...

Okay, I know that it has been about a month and a half since my last post... my bad; and I'm sure that because of that people have stopped checking this blog, but I'll share the news anyway. My beautiful wife, Amber, is pregnant... and that's Awesome! We had a positive pregnancy test reading this past Lord's Day and had that reading confirmed at the OBGYN on Tuesday. We are really stoked about it and we appreciate those of you that have been so supportive and encouraging. We will also be very appreciative for your prayers during the upcoming months. It's an exciting time. We actually already had some names picked out: if it's a boy... Micaiah; and if it's a girl... Micayah. For some background to the boy's name check out 1 Kgs. 22:13-28. My schedule is much more free due to school being out so hopefully future blogs will be much more consistent. Until then...

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Why I have gotten the O.T. wrong... part V

It has been awhile since my last post... my bad. I shall, however, continue this study on why I have indeed gotten the Old Testament wrong by proceeding on to the Second Commandment. Exodus 20:4-5a says, "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them..." (ESV).

When I was a child I became familiar with this commandment. (When I say "familiar" I mean that I had heard of it.) Rather than tell you my eventual interpretation of this verse, let me just paint a picture for you in your mind. Whenever I would see a picture of Jesus in a home or church building I would become uneasy. There you go... my interpretation of the Second Commandment. This is what I thought, and rightfully so, because this is what I had been taught up until the age of twenty-two when a seminary professor named Dr. Gentry set me straight. The King James Version states it like this: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image,..." In other words, "DON'T MAKE AN IDOL!" In my mind a picture of Jesus was an idol because it is a false representation of Him, unless of course He really was an attractive, middle-class, white Republican.

My goal is to help put you into the mindset of an Israelite that would be hearing this command for the first time... so here's the deal: In the ANE (Ancient Near East) pagan cultures would make statues, or images, which, through a process, would eventually become gods and be used as a mediator between themselves and that god. Here are some other details: All public worship was around the image; it was awakened, clothed, fed twice a day, and put to bed (The image was seen as a way to meet the needs of the god); and they perceived the image as not simply a representation of the Deity, but as a manifestation of its presence. This is the context that helps us understand what an idol was back then. Now to bring it all together...

A comparison of translations:

"You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything..." (Ex. 20:4, ESV)

"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing..." (KJV)

"You shall not make for yourselves an idol, or any likeness..." (NASB)

"You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything..." (NIV)

According to the Hebrew the NIV got it right while the others can be used to support the teachings of the early Rabbi's that said you were to make no images of creation at all. Do you see the differences in the translations? The first three should not say or, but of. "Do not make for yourselves an idol of any likeness." To make a long story short, the Second Commandment is saying that no image is to be used as the mediator from deity to people or as a mediator of worship. And we must remember that God has already made His image... man.

So, was I right to feel uneasy at the sight of a picture of Jesus in a church or home? Only if that church or home was making an idol out of it, which they were not. There is nothing inherently wrong with having an image of Jesus, but worshipping that image as the manifested presence of God is definately a sin. Until next time...

Friday, October 13, 2006

A Pause for a Question

I thought that I was going to write this post on the Second Commandment, but that will have to wait until next time. Right now I would like to say something about a question that I have been asking myself recently. The question is this: "What am I doing?" And here's the background. I am in an accountability group with Jesse and Eron and a while back we were talking about George Muller. If you are not familiar with Muller then you need to become so as soon as possible. It will be enough for now to say that he was a great man of prayer and faith. We were on the subject of living by faith and Eron said something along the lines of, "If Kari (his wife) and I decided to sell everything we own and live our entire lives on nothing but the promises of God to meet all of our needs while giving ourselves completely to the furthering of His Kingdom, we would be okay. God would take care of us." Now, the three of us agreed that this does take a special calling to live this way, but there is still an alluring quality about it isn't there? What if Amber and I just quit our jobs and devoted ourselves to full-time ministry and sacrificing our lives and our comforts for Christ? We would be okay. We know this, and yet, I can't help but think that we're not going to do this. Is that bad? I'm not sure right now.

Two more things...

Eron, Blake, and I have the same Hermeneutics class and before class started last Monday Eron was talking about the new Passion DVD and John Piper's sermon. One of Piper's themes was 1 Cor. 15:19 which reads, "If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied." Why did Paul say this? Because if Christianity turns out not to be true then they gave their lives for nothing. Paul and others at that time (and since then) gave up everything for Christ... EVERYTHING. They risked their lives and even gave their lives because they were convinced that Heaven was better than earth. Therefore, they deserve to be pitied if Christianity is not true. But what about me? What about us? If in this life only we have hoped in Christ would we deserve to be pitied? Ashamedly, I know that I would not. Here in America we have become so comfortable. We have designer clothing, cool music, nice cars, etc... Being a Christian costs us nothing. Therefore, if Christianity turns out not to be true, then we're still good. We don't deserve to be pitied because Christianity was "good" for us here. We have all of the comfort that the world has and more in many cases. I detest American Christianity for this and yet right now I feel like I am its "poster boy". What am I doing?

The other thing is a story I heard once about two female American Christian missionaries that had a chance to speak with a couple of Christian women in India. During their conversation one of the Indians asked the Americans if they had ever lost their job for being a Christian. "No," replied the Americans, "we have never lost our job for being a Christian." "Have you ever had rocks thrown at you because of your faith?" asked the other Indian Christian. "No," replied the Americans, "we have never had rocks thrown at us because of our faith." "Have you ever been burned for being a Christian?" asked the Indian Christian, who had obvious burn marks all over her arms. "Of course not," said the Americans in almost disbelief, "we have never been burned for our faith. You see, in America we have laws that protect us from those types of things." After a short silence one of the Indian Christians asked the Americans, "Then how do you know what it means to be a Christian if it costs you nothing?" What am I doing?

One other thing actually... Eron told me that in Chapel on Tuesday Mohler posed the question, "Do we really believe that Heaven is better than earth?" All of these things have been going through my mind recently (this week actually) and I really feel somewhat burdened by this. You see, there is a family that lives right next to Amber and I (about three feet from our door to be precise) and they are lost. Now, we have bought them a gift basket and given them a New Testament and a couple of tracts, but what if we did more. We could sell our television, surround sound, DVD player, and stereo and give that money to this family to share the gospel with them and to help them see just a little glimmer of the amazing love found in Christ... but we probably won't. I could sell my truck (I have a bike to ride) and use that money to minister to the lost and hurting in this community, to the widows and orphans, to further the advancement of the gospel in world missions... but I probably won't. So what am I doing? Do I really believe that Heaven is better than earth because it sure seems like I am trying to be as comfortable as possible here, in this world that is supposed to be a foreign land to me. This is not supposed to be my home and yet, I feel very much at home. Why? You know what the crazy thing is? I fully understand that doing these things would not only glorify God, but it would be one of the greatest blessings that I would ever receive. It would strengthen my faith and my wife's faith, and I believe it would usher in a sense of nearness to God that I know I will never experience apart from living in this sacrificial way. That's the crazy thing about it... I know this! So what am I doing? It makes me wonder how long I am going to be satisfied with all of my "stuff"; with all of my comfort. I desire to live this way, and yet I don't. "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate... For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing... Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Rom. 7:15, 19, 24-25). It is times like this that I really appreciate the patience of the Lord. Pray for me. You may be living in a way that proves you believe that Heaven really is better than this place. I thank you for that, but pray for all of us who are poster boys and girls for American Christianity. May we grow tired of trying to hold on to all of this sand.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Why I have gotten the O.T. wrong... part IV

I spent the weekend trying to clean/rearrange the office in our apartment so blogging wasn't happening. But I now have it down to just a few papers on the floor that I need to go through and vaccuuming, so almost there. I think it's time to begin the Ten Commandments. In the Ancient Near East (ANE) they were also known as the Ten Words. Another thing to note is that the first four deal with our relationship to God and the last six deal with our relationship to each other. One more thing to note is that after each of the first four commandments there is an explanation following it, but not aftert the last six. This is because the last six were nothing new to the ANE Israelites. All six could be found in various other law codes surrounding them and so no explanation was needed... they understood the purpose already. But the first four were new so God provided them with an explanation as to why they were important and what they're purpose was. For example, the First Commandment reads, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me" (ESV). Here God is saying that the reason the Israelites should have no other gods before Him is because they had nothing to do with the Exodus. It was Yahweh and Him alone that delivered them. Now the question of this commandment is what does the word before mean? This word could also be translated as besides; but the idea that is being presented to the Israelites is spacial. You see, I always thought that the first Commandment was demanding monotheism (that the Israelites were to only believe in one god), but this isn't what it is saying. As I said before, the idea being presented is spacial... "You shall have no other gods before me" means that the Israelites were not to imagine any other gods in the presence of Yahweh. Just like when a convict goes into a courtroom and comes before the judge.

It is thought that the early Israelites were Henotheistic, which means that they believed in many gods, but only worshipped one, and later became monotheistic. Gods in the ANE were seen in a Pantheon, or theistic hierarchy. (Kind of like the President and his cabinet.) And so you had all these gods placed in this hierarchy with each one having there own power and control of certain things. This is why there was a "moon god" and a "sun god" and a "rain god" and so forth; a Pantheon suggests a distribution of power. What God was communicating to the ANE Israelites that were at least familiar with this mindset if not believers in it themselves was that He is omnipotent, or all-powerful. He is saying that He is the only God worthy of worship, not that He is the only god, although He does say this later on (see. Dt. 4:35, 39; Is. 43:10). So, in conclusion, the first Commandment does not say that no other gods exist, but that they are powerless... therefore leaving them with no status worthy of worship. Next we will look at the second Commandment... which I also misunderstood.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Why I have gotten the O.T. wrong... part III

This is one of my favorite "things I didn't know". The Garden of Eden was a "garden sanctuary" designed by God for Adam and Eve. It was a closed, protected place. In the Old Testament kings would build walls to surround their gardens also (see. 2 Kgs. 25:4; Jer. 39:4, 52:7; Is. 5:5). You see, kings in that time took great joy in walking around the gardens that they had built as a type of "pleasure park". This is why in Ancient Mesopotamia (where the Garden of Eden is assumed to have been), the word "gardener" meant "monarch"(The Israelites at the time of Moses would have known this). Kings were the gardeners. When God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden He told him to "work and keep it", or "be the gardener". What He is saying is "you have the responsibility of a ruler of this land", which takes us back to the last discussion on what it means to be made in the image of God. So, Adam was the monarch, the gardener. That's the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context; now here's the jaw dropper. The New Testament got this right. In John 21:14-15, after Mary had just found the tomb of Jesus empty it says, "...she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. (15) Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?" [Mary,] Supposing him to be the gardener said to him..." The crazy thing is she was right! He was "The Gardener". He is the Monarch, the Ruler, the King of kings. Jesus is the Gardener! I don't know if that drops your jaw a little like it did mine, but I believe that every word of Scripture is the inspired word of God and I believe this "misunderstanding" on Mary's part is there for a reason. Until next time...

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Why I have gotten the O.T. wrong... part II

In the words of C.J. Mahaney, "I've never had an original thought, don't intend on ever having an original thought, don't expect God to ever entrust me with an original thought because of the pervasiveness of my pride." Dr. Peter J. Gentry is my O.T. professor and I owe this entire series to him. If anything I say sounds odd, or unlikely, then that part is probably me and not Gentry. We've probably all read Genesis 1:27-28 before and either heard or asked the question, "What does it mean to be made in the image of God?" Well, the answer can be found in the literary structure of these two verses which is known as a Hebrew chiasm, or Chiastic parallelism.

(27) "So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

(28) And God blessed them. And God said to them,
"Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it
and have dominion over the fish of the sea
and over the birds of the heavens and over every living
thing that moves on the earth." Genesis 1:27-28

This Hebrew chiasm is structured in ABBA form where the first statement corresponds with the last and the middle two statements with each other. It's called a chiasm because symbolically it looks like an "X" which is the greek letter "chi". If you cut the X in half horizontally you have a top and bottom part that are mirror images of each other, therefore the top has an A-B statement that mirrors the bottom B'-A' statement. (I promise, this is important.)

In Gen. 1:27 the "A" is the first statement, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him;" Where we err is when we try to match this with the next statement, "male and female he created them." This is what Karl Barth did and concluded that our sexuality must be what it means to be made in the image of God. But this is not how the Hebrews wrote this text. Because of the chiastic form the original intent of the author was to have his readers relate this to the last statement in verse 28, "... subdue it [the earth] and have dominion over... every living thing that moves on the earth." In a way, when we are told that God created man in his own image we are being prepared for the later statement that we are to have dominion over the rest of creation. Similarly, the second statement of v. 27, "male and female he created them" is meant to prepare us for the following proclamation, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth." So, the top and bottom "A" statements go together and the middle two "B" statements go together. I hope I have made this clear. Now for the context that blew me away. In the Ancient Near East kings and pharaohs were called, "the image of god". Now, when these kings would go out and conquer land they would put a statue, or image, of themselves in their new territory. What this told all of the inhabitants that saw this image of the king was that he was the ruler of this land. You see, God has made man in his image and placed us all over the earth and by so doing he is proclaiming to all of creation that he is the ruler of this earth. This is what it means to be made in the image of God. The Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) Hebrews would have understood this. It's harder for us to grasp this since we are living several millenia after the fact, but when we dig deep enough to understand the context that the Scriptures were written in we are able to see and understand things a little more clearly. I hope you are enjoying this series so far. More to come...

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Why I have gotten the Old Testament wrong...

Never before has the O.T. opened up to me like it has the past few weeks. I am currently taking an Intro. to the O.T. class at Southern and have left many-a-class with a dropped jaw. My professor, Dr. Peter J. Gentry, may be the smartest man alive. This coupled with my Hermeneutics (the study of interpreting Scripture) class has helped me see the importance of the grammatical-historical method of interpretation. What this method does is attempt to put you in the original context of the author while keeping the whole of Scripture in mind. Dr. Gentry labors twice a week trying to get us to see what it would be like to be an Israelite in the Ancient Near East (ANE) and hear these words of the O.T. Scriptures for the first time. What has been most interesting to me personally is to look at the pagan culture that was surrounding Israel and notice the striking similarities. For instance, the tabernacle that God so precisely described to Moses for the Israelites to build was just like all of the other tabernacles and temples of that day except for a couple of small differences. But those small differences make all the difference in the world! The ancient Israelites would have not been surprised to hear Moses read to them the guidelines for building the temple... it would sound just like what they were used to. But when he got to the part about what was to be in the Holy of Holies they would have said, "Wait a minute... that's not right. Why are we doing it this way?" You see, all of the other pagan tabernacles and temples at that time had an outer court, an inner holy place, and an even more inner Holy of Holies... nothing new. But in pagan temples the priest would be met with a statue of their god upon entering the Holy of Holies. What's the difference? In the Israelite Holy of Holies the high priest was met with a box, not an image of God. What's God saying here? He's saying, "I am invisible! And there is no idol that you can use as a mediator to get to me." And what is inside the box? The Ten Commandments, or Words. What is God saying with this? "If you want to worship me, here's how you do it. I want you to obey me; I want your life." The differences speak volumes. I think I am going to do a small series on why I have gotten the O.T. wrong. Maybe some that are not given the opportunity to sit under Dr. Gentry will be blessed by it; I know I have been. For me, my error in how I have interpreted the O.T. can be summed up in failing to study the context that it was written in. Next time I'll talk about what I now believe it means to be made "in the image of God". Until then... peace.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Free Time

I heard a saying once that I think comes from the Philippines. It goes something like this, "The Westerners wear their gods on their wrists." Now, me being a Westerner should pause to think about this for a moment. Are they right? Well, their correctness probably depends on the person, but it seems to be at least somewhat true in my case. I am currently taking three classes from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, a newly-wed, a Christian devoted to the weekly fellowship of believers, and a new employee of Chick-fil-A, which means in the near future I will probably add working out to my schedule. All of these things demand time, which seems to become more precious the busier my schedule gets; which leads me to the thought of "free" time. What is "free" time; and why don't I seem to have very much of it? Really, all time is "free" isn't it? It's just that some days we seem to have more of it than others. I think that in this age of technology time has become a precious commodity, but not just any kind of time; we long for "free" time; time that we can devote on us. As I write this I can't help but notice that the desire for this kind of time seems somewhat selfish, but it also seems necessary. I also cannot help but think that me adding a blog to my schedule is going to take, well, time. There are so many things that I want to do, so many books that I want to read, so many places that I want to see, but I just don't think that one lifetime, or life of time, is enough. After quite a bit of thought on this I have come to realize that it's okay if I don't see Rome, or read a library full of books. Maybe God has not given me enough time to do everything that I want to do for a reason. Maybe there is a reason that life seems so short in light of the endless amount of things that you could learn or experience. The problem is not our great desires; the problem is looking to fulfill those desires with this world, with things that are not infinite. We have an ocean of desires and try to fill it with teaspoons of water and it just seems overwhelming; sometimes discouraging. I confess that many times my horizon is far too low. I feel my longing for experience and I fail to raise my horizon to the only experiential Quencher. There is a purpose behind this never-ceasing wave of technology trying to drown us. It makes us long for more time; for "free" time. How am I going to spend it when I get it. Will the knowledge that life is short lead me to lift my horizon in search of a better way to spend my time? Will I use this precious time to join the work Christ, the Sovereign behind this situation, or will I continue to look at my surroundings and wish I had more time to cram it all in?