Moving Article by Gordon MacDonald on How a Loving Bible Teacher Prepared Him for His Latest Health Challenge

I love the writing of Gordon MacDonald. I owe that man a debt of gratitude. I heard about his health condition today and will be praying for a full recovery for him as he has a benign tumor in his brain that will have to be removed. Gordon wrote this powerful piece for Christianity Today regarding a childhood teacher whose strict instruction in the scriptures prepared him for this very moment in his life. It is a moving read and a powerful reminder for those of us who spend time teaching the scriptures to people. You can read it here

When the Doctor Calls

The Most Memorable Bible Class Of the Last Five Years

Last Sunday we had one of those moments in Bible class that I will never forget. We were talking about Gideon, God’s people in rebellion and God’s deliverance. In the middle of it all one of our visitors raised his hand and basically said he needed us to make it all real for him. He had gotten out of prison a few weeks ago after 5 years in jail on some extremely serious charges. He promised God that if he got out of jail that he would do whatever God wanted him to do and now he was here, in class, to learn what God wanted him to do. He went into foster care at the age of 3, was arrested on weapons charges and got charged with murder while in jail for an altercation with his cell-mate that turned fatal. God got him out but he was back in the same environment that ruined his life and he wants desperately to change and be delivered from his former way of life. Wow, wow, wow!

People came out of the woodwork to offer him love and support. They encouraged him. They supported him. They were so loving and kind and gracious. After class, our 20 somethings were exchanging phone numbers with him so they could call him outside of class. It was touching and one of those moments that is so critically pivotal that is gets burned into your mind. It was a huge reminder and wake up call that Bible study is not an intellectual game or theological gymnastics with arbitrary score cards showing how well we taught or how good the comments were this week…this is life and death. This is about redemption and resurrection and rehabilitation and not just for those who have found themselves in a physical jail but for those of us who walk about with the illusion of being free but on the inside are trapped in spiritual prisons of our own making. God is the great deliverer and just like in the book of Judges, God is patient with us even in the midst of all of our messiness…I love the Lord!

Technology Makes Putting Up With Difficult People Harder

One of the “advantages” of technology is that you don’t have to put up with people or content that you don’t want to hear. You can just click the “ignore” button and it all seemingly goes away. You don’t have to deal with it, think about it or respond to it. Don’t like the email you got? Junk it. Don’t care to respond to that text…ignore it. Is someone trolling you online? Go some place else… When there are billions of options to choose from you can pretty much find your niche of people in a little corner of the web who agree with you and where people pretty well get along. In life there aren’t billions of options…instead, people are placed in our lives and we have to deal with them. Some are so graceful and easy and others are a lot more difficult, even mean sometimes. You can’t ignore them. You can’t blog them. You can’t push a button and make them go away. The internet is not the best resource for growing your patience, learning to put up with people you disagree with or a great classroom for being kind. The real world gives us plenty of opportunities to grow in those areas if we are willing to engage people, even those we disagree with, in kind and loving conversation.

Looking For Your Small Group Lesson Series Suggestions

I have started working on a new small group lessons series on the “One Another” passages in the Bible. It made me wonder what series topics/texts you guys would be most interested in doing if you could just pick something. So fire away in the comments with suggestions for future small group series. If there are common themes that come up, that is helpful so feel free to “amen” a suggestion someone else makes too.

The Tension Between Holiness and Grace in Both Testaments

We are studying Judges on Sunday morning. What a train wreck. The people are worshipping idols. They have turned from God…until life gets tough and then they repent…but only until life gets good and then they turn from God again. What makes matters even more tricky is that their deliverers are also often less than morally stellar. Samson does some crazy stuff as does Ehud and Jael and Jepthah…and pretty much all the rest of them. If these are the heroes of the story then maybe any of the rest of us have hero potential too! Here is how Wenham explained it in his book “Story as Torah: Reading Old Testament narrative ethically” p. 4

It is hard to figure out the path between God’s expectation of holiness and obedience to Torah and the behavior of the people God uses for his divine purposes. This reconstruction of the ethical world-view of some Old Testament writers provides the background for a rereading of some problematic stories of Genesis and Judges, such as the Rape of Dinah (Gen 34), and the Gideon cycle (Judg 6–9). It will become apparent that the biblical writers do not merely assess these characters against the requirements of the law codes but against the ideals we have sketched in the preceding chapter (Chapter 5).

Obviously the behaviour of the chief actors in many instances falls miserably short of the ideal, and they often suffer in some way for their mistakes. Yet it is clear too that they are not deserted by God despite their sinfulness. So there is a paradox in Old Testament narrative ethics: on the one hand God is terribly demanding, he looks for nothing less than godlike perfect behaviour, yet on the other, despite human failings, he does not forget his covenant loyalty to his people, and ultimately brings them through the suffering that their sin has brought about. Old Testament ethics are therefore as much about grace as about law: they declare that God, the all-holy, is also God, the all-merciful.

Thus in many ways the fundamental principles of Old Testament ethics are much closer to the New Testament than is often perceived. Both look for divine attributes to be replicated in humanity, but both realize that this rarely occurs and that the overwhelming need for the human race is divine mercy. In this way the incarnation fulfills the goals of the Old Testament system of ethics.

God is patient and gracious and is intimately concerned with and involved in humanity…so much so that he was willing to become one of us and place himself on the receiving end of violent, unmerciful people. God knows how to be merciful because he is God and he made us but also because he has walked a mile in our shoes and has the kind of knowledge that comes by experience.

Tragic Value Systems

An entertainment news show started off tonight intro’ing these headlines:

  • Actress gets out of the psych ward.
  • Reality star commits suicide.
  • Another actress dies while in rehab for drug abuse.
  • Fitness star with an eating disorder.

All of these people are attractive, famous, and would seem to have pretty much everything the world values. I don’t know these people and I don’t presume to know what they are thinking or what they value but I can’t help but think that all of this fits the narrative of a society that’s promises of fulfillment turn up empty again and again. It is a world gone crazy. Crazy with greed. Crazy over image. Crazy to be filled but just feeling emptier and emptier until there is nothing left to live for. It is all very tragic. These are real people who have been turned into objects by the very people they depend on…it is a brutal relationship. Keep up the image and we will value you…we will value you as an object but better to be valued as an object than miss out on everything the world says will fulfill you.

Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” – John 10:10

The above list shows exactly how much havoc the “thief” is able to dole…Thank God that Jesus’ invitation is open to all and that life to the full is attainable, just not through the ways the world understands.

The Importance of Capturing the Imagination

I am convinced that one of the biggest reasons people aren’t interested in church is that they don’t see how church engages them in the deepest levels of their identity. The way to re-engage people is to engage their imagination again. Some people lose their imagination due to rigid traditionalism sucking it out of them. Other times it happens when churches go into maintain mode…just get through it, make sure the sermon is preached and the songs are sung and the Supper is taken and everything is good. Little time gets spent on engaging the imagination.

Before you think I am just talking about fostering an attitude or culture of consumerism I want to point out that in scripture we see over and over again God capture the imagination of His people…giving them a glimpse of how things could and should be and inspiring them to live up to a new vision of reality. In scripture God does it through theophany (an encounter with the living God), through the miracles, through dreams and through imaginative teaching. In the Gospels we hear over and over that Jesus preached about the kingdom of God. Jesus was expanding people’s view on what God was up to in the world and it gave them great hope. The parables are a great example of Jesus capturing the imagination of the people and inspiring them to see life and live life in new ways. God did this with the Old Testament prophets and some of the odd tasks and symbols God had them use to get their message across. We see this in John the Baptist and the preparation he did for Christ. The list goes on and on…Once you have captured someone’s imagination they start seeing everything in new and powerful ways. That is transformative and powerful!

This is true of preaching, church events/activities, teaching, and just about everything else we do together. So start asking yourself how a given event, class you are teaching or sermon you are preaching might better engage the imagination and go from there.

A Patriarch, A Judge and a Prophet Walk Into a Bar

I have been studying Gideon and I ran across some really interesting parallels he has with Jacob and Elijah.

They all were called on by God.

They all had personal encounters with God.

They all built altars to the Lord

Jacob and Gideon had their names changed.

Gideon and Elijah had encounters with the prophets of Baal.

Gideon and Elijah had their offerings burned up with divine fire.

Gideon stands at a point in Israel’s history that points back to the first Israel (Jacob) and forward to the prophet Elijah. In Gideon’s story we are reminded that God can do great things with weak people (Judges 6:15) and severely limited resources (7:1-7). We are also reminded that God is incredibly patient (the offering made sure it was God’s voice, the fleece made sure it was God’s will and hearing the dream of the enemy confirmed God’s will) and graceful (6:17)…and that God hears the cry of His people and is a divine deliverer. Last, we learn that God is present even when it doesn’t seem like he is (6:13).

Jesus in Context – One of the Most Helpful Biblical Background Books Around

JesusInContext-BockI recently came across the most helpful resources on the historical backgrounds to the Gospels that I have ever seen. It is called Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study by Darrell Bock. This book works through the synoptics and John and pulls just about any relevant extra-biblical text in full quotation to help you see what other ancient writers said about a topic, a city, a custom, etc. Reading the geneaology of Jesus? Look and see how other ancient Jewish writers did genealogies. Studying Jesus’ turning water to wine at Cana? You go to that miracle in this book and it first gives you a bit of historical background on eschatology and wine followed by relevant quotations from 1 Enoch, 2 Baruch, Tobit, and the Talmud on wine and quotations from Josephus on Cana. Combine the content with Logos Bible software and you have an unbelievably powerful resource for your studies. This book concludes with multiple indices that include index by topic, by scripture, by extra-biblical reference and a huge list for further reading broken down by topic, If you are a student of the Gospels and want extra-biblical references all in one place this is the book for you. If you would use Logos and would like to have it at your disposal in a fully searchable, indexed format with clickable links with full references for you to use in your study or writing, you can get it here.

SWOT Analysis: A Helpful Tool for Understanding Organizations

In preparation for teaching at the Pepperdine Lectures in May Charles Kiser introduced Eric Brown and I to SWOT Analysis. I have been a fan ever since. Here is a diagram that will help you wrap your mind around it.

SWOT-Analysis

This framework helps you identify what internal and external resources and liabilities and organization. This can be used to map out what is going on with an organization as a whole, a given project within an organization, a ministry, etc. You can take this matrix, have multiple people who are working on the same project or part of the same organization work through it, putting in each quadrant what they think belongs and then having a group discussion over the results. This can be a helpful way to bring clarity to some big decisions. We used this to help churches/ministers conceptualize what is going on with their young adults but this could just as easily be applied by a church staff or eldership with any aspect of the congregation they shepherd.