Thinking Out Loud

August 15, 2019

The Best Christian Books Amplify the Bible’s Message

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:04 am

I didn’t realize I might want to mention this book here on the blog, or I might have taken some notes! The Beatitudes: Living in Sync with The Reign of God by pastor and theology professor Darrell W. Johnson was given to me by the staff of Regent College Publishing while we were in Vancouver.

Back home, I read the book’s 160 pages in just a single day. Eight beatitudes, ten chapters, total. Eloquently presented.

But now, ten days later, as I see the cover peering out among others on my coffee table, I can’t help but think that this is the best of what a Christian Living (the category in which Christian booksellers file the greatest number of titles) title should be all about.

I realize I say this occasionally, perhaps too often, but if someone was a recent convert and this was their first opportunity to read a Christian book, I would want it to be something like this; something which on a very accessible level says, ‘Okay, you’ve read the text before, you know it’s from The Sermon on the Mount, but now we’re going to look deeper and you’re going to see all manner of things you hadn’t considered.’

And then, in response, I would expect that young-in-faith reader to think, ‘If something like this can be produced out of just a single section of Matthew 5, then there must be thousands of layers of depth and insight that can be discovered in other Biblical texts.’

They would be right. 

One fun thing about the book is Johnson’s dealing with the repeated word, blessed. He offers, “Right on” are the poor in spirit, or those that mourn, and frequently reverts to, “You lucky bums!” That took some getting adjusted to!

The book ends with ten sets of questions for group study.

As I said, had I known I was going to write this, I might have written some things down, but for now, suffice it to say that this is the type of book which got me interested in Christian books, in later distributing them, and selling them; and then much later writing about them online.

 

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September 29, 2016

From the Archives: Delving into the Classics

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:06 am

September, 2008: This week my kids and I are “binge reading” a number of devotionals from a collection by A. W. Tozer, one of the pioneers in the Christian & Missionary Alliance denomination. His final pastorate was at the Avenue Road* Church in Toronto, Canada, which continues to this day as Bayview Glen Alliance. Tozer is one of a number of classic reads, in a list that includes D. L. Moody, George Whitfield, Watchman Nee, Jonathan Edwards, E. M. Bounds and others. 

[Note: In the eight years since this was written I have come to learn, that by classic, many would assume the writings of what are termed “The Early Church Fathers.” Although Tozer, who was still writing within the last century, is pictured here, I actually mean people of his generation and writers from antiquity.]

What is it that’s different about reading classic authors like these?

Language
– Right away you notice that they speak with a different voice, and having studied the Philosophy of Language, I know that our use of words shapes our understanding. There is also a greater economy of words on some points, but there is laborious repetition on others, so that we don’t miss something profound. Clearly, the did understand some concepts somewhat differently than many of do today; and the “spin” on some Bible passages is distinctive by our standards.

Intensity – These classic writers endure because they were passionate about living the Christian life to the nth degree. There is an urgency about their writings that is sorely lacking in some modern Christian literature. Were they preaching to the choir, or were they voices crying in the wilderness? Probably both, and with the same message for both.

Response – They wrote in response to the issues of their day, some of which are unknown to us now, but some of which are strikingly similar to the issues of our day. There was a concern for a general apostasy, a watering-down of the gospel and of Christian ethics. Is this just preacher rhetoric, or are things truly deteriorating with each successive generation? Or do Bible teachers and preachers just get so “set apart” that they start to view both the church and the world less charitably?

Wisdom – These books represent the cultivation of much wisdom in an era that wasn’t full of the distractions of our era. While we will inevitably turn back to our modern writers; there is much to be gained from seeing how scripture was interpreted in a previous century. They did their homework so to speak, and interacted with others who were on the same path of study; and some of them were simply a few hundred years “closer to the story” than we are today.


What classic authors do you enjoy?

*Gotta love the redundancy of the name, “Avenue Road.” Still exists, running parallel to Toronto’s main drag, Yonge Street. (Pronounced “young street.”)

October 19, 2015

The Bible as Literature

I remember cringing the first time I saw the course offered at my ‘secular’ university: The Bible as Literature. This was a book which had changed my life and which was so highly treasured among the people of my faith tribe, that to reduce it to simply ‘literature’ seemed disgraceful. Part of this was the context; after all, what could this godless college possibly have to offer that would affirm the tenets of my Evangelical upbringing?

In some ways, today I still see the Bible as so much more and yet I am also now a strong advocate for the one story type of approach to sacred scripture, impressing on any and all who will listen the idea of a single overarching story. I’m also increasingly convinced that the ways and purposes of God have been revealed through narrative. This is, after all, the way our children learn the first principles of our faith system, through Adam, Noah, Abraham, David, Daniel, Jonah, Jesus, Peter and Paul.

Texts of TerrorLast week a long-time acquaintance loaned me a copy of a 1984 book she had just purchased: Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narrative by Phyllis Trible (Fortress Press). The four stories are truly among the most horrific the Old Testament has to offer: Hagar, Tamar, Jephthah’s daughter, and the unnamed mistress in what is probably the worst of them all, the story commencing in Judges 19.

Why are these stories even in the Bible? It’s a fair question, and it doesn’t diminish my respect if you feel like asking it.

I couldn’t help but thinking these four stories would make a great Halloween month preaching series, sorta like a friend of ours did a few years back. (We referred to him in this 2010 blog post.)

I was also a little nervous about the idea of this being a particularly “feminist” reading of the text, but it didn’t really play out that way. True, it’s centered on female characters and would fit well into a Women’s Studies core curriculum, but I think the commentary was fair and balanced, and certainly delved into a lot more detail on these particular stories than you might find in a broader commentary title on Genesis, 2 Samuel or Judges.

But the reading the Bible through the lens of literary criticism is both fascinating and disturbing at the same time. The reference to “chiasmus” (I know these as chiasms) which are stories containing a built-in symmetry (often following the form, A, B, C, D, C’, B’, A’ or something similar*) was interesting but I don’t know that every story has to have this feature. I can see how it makes for great literature but again, I think you’re forcing the literary agenda on texts that, as beautiful as they are, weren’t written to win a prize for non-fiction.

To that end, the author had a penchant for invoking Messianic phrases from Isaiah. Some of them were obvious I suppose, you could see them coming, but I’m not sure how this advances understanding of these texts. I just didn’t see the typology; placing these women as types of Christ, though there were some similarities in the storyline. The payoff on some of those comparisons really was found in the word-study application to similar uses of the same Hebrew word in passages with which we are familiar.

I did love the contrast between the text in Judges, “Every man did what was right in his own eyes” to the author’s commentary that while that may have been the case when “there was no King in Israel,” when there was a king, “Royalty did the right in its own yes.” Good observation. There was another section — one the person who loaned me the book didn’t underline — I meant to come back to, but now I can’t find it. 

Texts of Terror is a 1984 print-on-demand paperback ($20 US, 128 pages) with a forward by Walter Brueggemann, that is part of the Overtures to Biblical Theology series.


We ran this picture just a few days ago — it’s from a different source — but it’s appropriate to repeat here:

Exodus as a reversal of Genesis

 

September 22, 2015

Max Lucado Visits Israel’s Best Days

Glory Days - Max LucadoWhether it’s a specific time-frame in music history, the winning-est season for a favorite team, or maybe even a season in the life of your church; everyone knows what it means when you say “it was a golden era in the life of…” music, the team, the church.

For author Max Lucado, Israel’s golden era, or as he would say, Israel’s Glory Days were the time of entering the Promised Land as described in the first 14 chapters of the book of Joshua. This then, is the theme of his new book. Glory Days: Living Your Promised Land Life Now (Thomas Nelson).

Lucado books are often thought of as lite (sic) reading by those who prefer more scholarly and academic authors, but I found this one to be more substantive than some other books by him. Really, this is a commentary on the first part of Joshua, but it is a devotional commentary, in the same way the NIV Life Application Bible is a study Bible, just not the type of study Bible chosen by those who prefer the NIV Study Bible. I would contend however that without practical application, Joshua’s life — or the life of any other Bible figure — is simply facts on a page, which is fine for those of you who study history, but not enough for people who face real-life challenges and want assurance of God’s care and provision.

That is the appeal of his writing, and that shines through so clearly in Glory Days. Also apparent is that for a Old Testament study, there are numerous New Testament references which includes but is distinct from a Christocentric focus which also comes through in his writing.

The Lucado formula is evident in each chapter and has been copied by dozens of writers since. A contemporary story introduces a principle that is then discussed in the text. The difference that has earned Max the right to be heard over the years is the number of these stories that flow out of real-life experience and real-world contacts he has made.

The life of Joshua has inspired writers for generations. I can heartily recommend this to both veteran readers of Christian Living titles and those for whom this might be their first Christian book.

Note: A companion 6-week DVD-based small group study is also available for Glory Days.

 

March 15, 2015

Luke: The Gospel of Amazement

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:20 am

Michael Card - Biblical Imagination Series - IVPI just finished reading what is for me, the second book in a series I hope to complete over the rest of the year. Luke: The Gospel of Amazement by Michael Card is part of the Biblical Imagination series. Since I’ve already devoted some space to it after I read and reviewed Mark: The Gospel of Passionclick here to read — I won’t go into great detail, since the format of all four books in the series is the same.

In this volume, Card points out certain recurring themes in Luke that aren’t present (or as noticeable) in the other gospels including the attention to detail and the observations on the role of women in the narrative, and we also come to understand how it is that Luke got the information that is unique to his story.

I wasn’t really taking notes on this one, but one takeaway — which applies to the whole series — is that the speculative, imagination-based things Card points out are not things being extrapolated without other Biblical support, but rather, the text bids us or begs us to make certain connections.

Honestly, completing the book only makes me want to read more Luke commentaries. There is so much going on in these gospels that we miss completely.


To my friends at InterVarsity / IVP Books in Illinois: I had to buy this one. Next one is your turn, okay?

March 3, 2015

First Person Faith

B. J. Stockman

This first ran here three years ago under the title “A New Type of Bible Translation” It was produced by B. J. Stockman and appeared as a guest post at another blog that is now dormant.  Stockman called the concept “Preaching to Yourself” and it involved taking a chapter of an epistle and re-interpreting it in the first person, so that instead of it being Paul writing to a first century church, it’s me making a declaration to live out the things Paul is teaching. You might want to pause here and read his introduction to the first chapter.

I had already posted a link to the original introduction and first chapter of Galatians, when I decided to share it in our family Bible study evening that night using the section of chapter three I had posted at Christianity 201, and also reading the original text from my NIV Study Bible. What amazed me was how this reconstruction of the text served as commentary; how much it brought the text to life.

I thought I would allow you to look at Galatians chapter five in parallel.

ORIGINAL TEXT – NIV
Freedom in Christ

1It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

7 You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? 8 That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. 9 “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” 10 I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. 11 Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. 12 As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!

Life by the Spirit

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.


FIRST PERSON


  • Jesus set me free. Therefore I will not submit to any “yokes” of slavery that are add-on’s to the Gospel no matter how spiritual they may seem. My freedom hinges on Jesus’ work—nothing else. (5:1)
  • I will stand firm in the Gospel. My right-standing before God is due to Jesus not something that I do or don’t do. I stand firm in Christ not self. I know that love for the Gospel will breed humble Christ-confidence not prideful self-confidence in my life. (5:1)
  • I recognize that if I receive something else besides Jesus, like circumcision, to increase my spiritual standing before God Jesus is no benefit to me. The benefits of the Gospel come from Jesus alone. (5:2)
  • When I receive religious traditions and law as well as the person of Jesus, I place myself under obligation to keep the whole law. In light of this, I trust Jesus and thus reject everything else as a means to finding favor with God. (5:3)
  • I know that seeking justification from law is falling from grace. Falling from grace isn’t so much a direct rejection of Jesus, but an indirect acceptance of anything else besides Jesus to make me right with God. If I treat Jesus as only a piece of God’s saving work, I sever myself from Jesus. Therefore I will seek to sever all those things from my life which disconnect me from Jesus even if others think those same things connect me to Jesus. (5:4)
  • I wait for the hope of righteousness through the Holy Spirit and by faith. Righteousness comes from the work of the Spirit not through my works. (5:5)
  • I believe that faith works through love. Faith is not empty. Faith is filled with love. Therefore by faith I believe that Jesus alone means everything, and that religious traditions like uncircumcision or circumcision mean nothing. (5:6)
  • I desire to run my race well, and I believe that I run best not by adding things to the truth of the Gospel, but by trusting the truth of the Gospel. I will train myself daily with the Gospel believing Jesus’ work on my behalf. I will begin my days not doing work for Jesus but trusting Jesus’ work for me. (5:7)
  • God calls me to Jesus—not Jesus plus something or someone else. God loves persuading people to the sufficiency of his Son not to self-sufficiency. (5:8)
  • I know that my life and the church as a whole can become filled with leaven—filled with things other than Jesus. Since leaven spreads quickly I will seek to be on guard against any particles of the leaven of legalism and law-living in my life and the community of faith that I am a part of. (5:9)
  • I recognize that false teachers who sneak into the community of faith and preach another Jesus or in addition to Jesus will come under judgment. (5:10)
  • I believe that the cross is a stumbling block. It is offensive. I will not be surprised then when moralists are offended by the radical grace of Jesus, nor will I be surprised when false teachers attempt to undermine the centrality of the cross of Jesus in the church. (5:11)
  • Paul uses harsh language when speaking of false teachers. He wishes that those who advocate circumcision along with Jesus as a means to salvation would go all the way and castrate themselves. Therefore I will not be soft on false teachers who know better. (5:12)
  • I will use sarcasm for the sake of the Gospel to reveal the foolishness of false teaching. Sarcasm is not to reveal my cleverness but to point people to Jesus. (5:12)
  • My freedom in Christ is not a freedom to sin. Therefore I resist tendencies to turn the radical grace of God into license. Instead Gospel-freedom moves me to serve and love others, not serve and indulge myself. (5:13)
  • Since the Law is fulfilled in loving my neighbor as myself—I will love Jesus and love other people. Radical grace emboldens me to love radically not sin radically. (5:14)
  • I will not engage in biting and devouring other people through my self-centered words and actions, but will seek to build up the church. (5:15)
  • By faith I will walk by the Spirit so that I do not carry out the desires of the flesh. I will not fight flesh with flesh, but flesh with Spirit. (5:16)
  • I know life is war and that an inner conflict of flesh versus Spirit wages within me, and within those in the church. Therefore I will seek to live by the Spirit, and will strive to be patient with others and forgiving toward others knowing that perfection will not be achieved till Jesus returns. (5:17)
  • Because of Jesus I am not under the law, but led by the Spirit. I will avoid living a life led by law, and pursue the Holy Spirit’s work in my life. (5:18)
  • I will seek to kill the following sins in my life: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and other things similar to these. I take the warning of Paul against these things seriously, and will not play with sin. I know that playing around with particular sins end in practicing and being addicted to the same sins. At times I will examine myself and ask the opinion of others to see that I am not engaging in these sinful deeds. (5:19-21)
  • I know that those who practice and live consistently in these sinful lifestyles will not inherit the kingdom of God. I will not lift my noses at others who engage in these things, but will live soberly knowing that I too could become entangled in them. Also, I will not be controlled by my past when I have engaged in these things (even if the past means yesterday), but I now ask Jesus to forgive me and ask for the Holy Spirit to enable me to kill my sin and bear the fruit of the Spirit. (5:19-23)
  • I desire and ask the Holy Spirit to produce the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in my life. I know that these aren’t fruits plural but fruit singular, and that I am called to walk in all of them not just some of them. I will not settle with my current level of maturity, but desire growth in the Spirit. (5:22-23)
  • Because I have died with Jesus, I have died to the flesh and these sinful passions and desires. Therefore I will live and act like I am dead to them, because I really have died to them. I don’t kill sin in order to die to sin and in order to be alive to Jesus. I kill sin because I’m dead to sin and alive to Jesus. (5:24)
  • Because I live by the Spirit due to the person and work of Jesus I will walk by the Spirit. I know that this is not passive, but an active pursuit. Therefore I ask God for help and for more of the Spirit’s work in my life. I desire continual fillings of the Spirit so that I am empowered to walk filled with the Spirit. (5:25)
  • I know the Spirit hates boasting, and challenging, and envying my brothers and sisters in Christ. Therefore I will strive to boast in others successes, encourage others in their faith, and rejoice when others are blessed. I believe that the Holy Spirit works supernaturally, but sometimes the great work of the Spirit is found in the “simple” things like an encouraging word or holding one’s tongue. (5:26)


A few takeaways about the process itself:

  • You can do this. Yes, you. Great Bible study motivator.
  • Your small group, Sunday School class, youth group can do this.
  • You can repeat this process with the same book months or years later and get new results.
  • Some of you are familiar with a practice of ‘praying the scriptures’ and this can be seen as a variant on that.
  • Be sure to read the introduction mentioned above to learn more about the process.

About the author (from B. J.’s blog, 5:21)

B.J. lives on the redwood coast of California with his beautiful wife Kate, daughter Grace, and son Adoniram. He has a passion for leading people deeper into the gospel of grace in Jesus and the glory of God. He graduated from Bethany University with a B.A. in Biblical & Theological Studies, has studied at Fuller Theological Seminary, serves pastors around the nation through Docent Research Group, and has a real day job too.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit (vs 25)

September 23, 2014

Book Series Review: Biblical Imagination by Michael Card

Michael Card - Biblical Imagination Series - IVP

After reading Mark: The Gospel of Passion, I really trust that a generation or two down the road, when people have moved on past Michael Card’s music, this set of four commentaries on the gospels by the veteran Christian musician will still be read and enjoyed.

Full disclosure: I obviously haven’t read the entire series of four books, but I believe Mark to be representative of all four of the Biblical Imagination series, published over the course of four years by IVP (InterVarsity Press).

The format is somewhat reminiscent of the Daily Study Bible series by William Barclay. In the case of Mark, there are sixteen chapters and most have at least three subsections, while a few have at least double that. So reading devotionally each subsection a la Barclay, this would give you 63 days of reading, excluding four introductory sections.

But reading an entire chapter at once is most rewarding.  While Card acknowledges one place where the chapter division is rather awkward, he does manage to find beauty in the way Mark arranges his stories from the life of Christ. In chapter five he notes three people are held captive, “one by demons, one by disease and one by death.” In chapter ten, four questions that are put to him by various individuals or groups. And there are some recurring themes, such as the imagery of bread.

Some of this is standard commentary fare, but then this is where the “imagination” part of the series title kicks in and where the heart of Michael Card, the artist, is most evident. For a sample of this, click to this excerpt from the story of The Transfiguration, which I posted yesterday at C201.

The other option is to read the books — and keep them on your bookshelf — as commentaries. It’s in the fulfillment of that objective that I find the enduring quality of his writing.

With each of the four books in the series, completed by this spring’s release of John, there is a companion CD available. Two weeks ago here we looked at the CD which corresponds to the book of Mark. (The books are shown in the graphic above in the order in which they were released between 2011 and 2014.)

I was struck by the readability and practicality of Michael Card’s approach. He goes deep in many places, but it doesn’t frustrate or intimidate the reader, and in the case of Mark, like Mark himself, he moves quickly from scene to scene.

Do I have any complaints? Only that having the one book and CD is causing me to covet the rest of the series!

 


 

Books and CDs were provided to me by the Canadian distributor for InterVarsity Press (IVP) who know where they can send the remaining titles if they so choose!

Michael Card - CD series based on the Gospels

Postscript: Note that the books and CDs each have distinct titles:

John: A Misunderstood Messiah
John: The Gospel of Wisdom
Luke: A World Turned Upside Down
Luke: The Gospel of Amazement
Mark: The Beginning of the Gospel
Mark: The Gospel of Passion
Matthew: The Gospel of Identity
Matthew: The Penultimate Question

July 22, 2013

Fresh Insights into Jesus’ Encounters

Encounters With JesusThrough the Willow Creek “Midweek Experience” teaching videos, I’ve gotten to hear a number of messages by Wheaton College professor Gary M. Burge. So I was due to read one of his books, especially when I stumbled over a sale-priced copy of Encounters with Jesus: Uncover the Ancient Culture, Discover Hidden Meanings; published in 2010 by Zondervan. Clocking in at only 128 pages — and filled with pictures — finishing this book on Sunday afternoon was no major feat.

Before I continue, two observations. First, I’ve noticed a pattern developing lately in the people I’ve been watching/listening-to/reading online and all I can say is that if I were a high school student considering a Christian college, Wheaton College would be at the top of my list. Be sure to check into this school, okay?  (Oh, to be young again, and know what I know now about the direction my life is headed.) Second, I’ve noticed a pattern where despite my access to the latest review books, some of the best finds lately have been among the backlist titles picked up from a variety of odd sources, including scratch-and-dent titles, remainders and items on sale.

With Gary Burge’s voice audibly sounding in my head as I read the book — an advantage to having watched him teach on video — I thoroughly enjoyed his take on five specific encounters Jesus has with:

  1. The woman who was hemorrhaging
  2. Zacchaeus the tax collector
  3. The centurion with a slave who is ill
  4. The thirsty woman at the Samaritan well
  5. The Gentile woman with a sick daughter

…though I have to say that since the historian in me and the anthropologist in me are both entirely non-existent, I did not look at a single one of the color photographs. I was too engrossed in the text.

In the case of Zacchaeus, I once again found myself in the position of having to potentially un-learn something I had been taught from infancy in Sunday School. Surely anyone who has an encounter is immediately changed, right? Maybe not so much in this case. If the interpretation here is to be considered, then Zacchaeus doesn’t have so much of a before-and-after transformation; rather, Jesus is affirming the person who Zacchaeus has always been, and the “salvation” that has come to “this house” refers more to the saving of Zacchaeus’ reputation in the wider community.

I always thought that Zacchaeus’ speech is a pledge or promise of something he is about to do to make things right, however…

…This is not what Zacchaeus says. His comment to Jesus is in the present tense. “Look! I give half of my possessions, Lord to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone, I repay them fourfold.” Greek has what we call the “future use” of the present tense and interpreters sometimes apply it here. But this is not demanded. Generally these uses imply some immediacy or certainty…

…But many scholars refuse to use it here in Luke 19. We have no suggestion that Zacchaeus needs to repent, nor does the story imply any conversion on his part. He even refers to Jesus as “Lord,” a mark of high honor and discipleship in Luke. As Joel Green remarks, “On this reading Zacchaeus does not resolve to undertake new practices but presents for Jesus’ evaluation his current behaviors regarding money.”

This would be a great revelation to the electrified audience standing on the street in Jericho. Zacchaeus is not what everyone has assumed. He has been honest; he is collecting what is demanded without corruption and abuse, and he is generously giving away large portions of his wealth. The law required that if there was financial fraud, the original amount had to be returned plus 20 percent. (Lev. 6:5)  Here Zacchaeus practices fourfold reimbursement…

When word of this emerges outside, the crowd that thought it had seen one shocking scene for the day now witnesses another. Their notorious tax farmer, who has colluded with Romans, is a man of principle. Rumors of his corruption are evaporating like a mist… (pp. 67-68)

This approach is entirely new to me. And the above excerpt is just a small portion of the insights into this story.

Got you wanting more?


Other books in this series include: The Bible and the Land, Finding the Lost Images of the Desert, Jesus and the Jewish Festivals, Jesus the Middle Eastern Storyteller, and Finding the Lost Images of God. If anyone at Zondervan is reading this, you have my address, right?

November 18, 2012

A Must Have Resource for Bible Teachers

“If we present something as God’s Word when it is not, we are misusing God’s name. Students of the Bible expect their teachers to present the authoritative teaching of God’s Word as given by the inspired authors. If we substitute this teaching for some idea we think is important, students don’t know the difference. We are then violating the third commandment because we have attributed God’s authority to what is really only our own idea.” (p. 25)

If you know anyone who is responsible for teaching the Bible in Children’s ministry, youth ministry, small group leadership; or someone who is simply wanting to get it right when it comes to their parenting responsibility in leading their family in their daily devotions, The Bible Story Handbook: A Resource for Teaching 175 Stories from the Bible by John Walton (Crossway) is an essential resource.

John Walton, professor at Wheaton College and his wife Kim Walton, a longtime curriculum user, developer and evaluator work through 97 Old Testament narrative stories and 77 New Testament stories in light of: Lesson focus, Lesson application, Biblical context, interpretive issues,  background information and mistakes to avoid.

It is the final section for each entry — mistakes to avoid — that is where this book shines. Too many times we’ve been subject to teaching which put the emphasis in the wrong place, missed the greater context, or simply went off down the rabbit trails of story details.  Often these misguided teaching foci proliferate or are passed on from church to church or generation to generation.

This is a book to keep on your shelf as needs arise. It deals exclusively with narrative passages; for example, in the New Testament, there are no entries after the book of Acts except for the lone one that covers all of Revelation.

Because it’s a Bible reference product, you might not read it sequentially, although you certain could take that approach.  But as a reference tool, I didn’t attempt to read it all; the copy I have is actually on loan; and the publisher is one whose products are not likely to cross my desk.  The Bible Story Handbook was published in 2010  and retails in paperback for $24.99 U.S.  It’s a great gift for a Sunday School teacher, youth pastor, or anyone with love for teaching the Bible to kids, teens or adults.

 

March 24, 2012

A New Kind of Bible Translation

B. J. Stockman

Tucked away in Wednesday’s link list was a reference to something produced by B. J. Stockman that appeared at Vitamin Z while Zach was off for a week.  Stockman called the concept “Preaching to Yourself” and it involved taking a chapter of an epistle and re-interpreting it in the first person, so that instead of it being Paul writing to a first century church, it’s me making a declaration to live out the things Paul is teaching. You might want to pause here and read his introduction to the first chapter.

I had already posted the link when I decided to share it in our family Bible study evening that night using the section of chapter three I had posted at Christianity 201, and also reading the original text from my NIV Study Bible. What amazed me was how this reconstruction of the text served as commentary; how much it brought the text to life. 

Anyway, Zach managed to stay away long enough for B. J. to get five of the six chapters posted, and I thought I would allow you to look at Galatians chapter five in parallel.

ORIGINAL TEXT – NIV
Freedom in Christ

 1It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

 2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

 7 You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? 8 That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. 9 “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” 10 I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. 11 Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. 12 As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!

Life by the Spirit

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

 16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

 19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.


FIRST PERSON


  • Jesus set me free.  Therefore I will not submit to any “yokes” of slavery that are add-on’s to the Gospel no matter how spiritual they may seem.  My freedom hinges on Jesus’ work—nothing else.  (5:1)
  • I will stand firm in the Gospel.  My right-standing before God is due to Jesus not something that I do or don’t do.  I stand firm in Christ not self.  I know that love for the Gospel will breed humble Christ-confidence not prideful self-confidence in my life.  (5:1)
  • I recognize that if I receive something else besides Jesus, like circumcision, to increase my spiritual standing before God Jesus is no benefit to me.  The benefits of the Gospel come from Jesus alone. (5:2)
  • When I receive religious traditions and law as well as the person of Jesus, I place myself under obligation to keep the whole law.  In light of this, I trust Jesus and thus reject everything else as a means to finding favor with God. (5:3)
  • I know that seeking justification from law is falling from grace.  Falling from grace isn’t so much a direct rejection of Jesus, but an indirect acceptance of anything else besides Jesus to make me right with God.  If I treat Jesus as only a piece of God’s saving work, I sever myself from Jesus.   Therefore I will seek to sever all those things from my life which disconnect me from Jesus even if others think those same things connect me to Jesus. (5:4)
  • I wait for the hope of righteousness through the Holy Spirit and by faith.  Righteousness comes from the work of the Spirit not through my works. (5:5)
  • I believe that faith works through love.  Faith is not empty.  Faith is filled with love.  Therefore by faith I believe that Jesus alone means everything, and that religious traditions like uncircumcision or circumcision mean nothing. (5:6)
  • I desire to run my race well, and I believe that I run best not by adding things to the truth of the Gospel, but by trusting the truth of the Gospel.  I will train myself daily with the Gospel believing Jesus’ work on my behalf.  I will begin my days not doing work for Jesus but trusting Jesus’ work for me. (5:7)
  • God calls me to Jesus—not Jesus plus something or someone else.  God loves persuading people to the sufficiency of his Son not to self-sufficiency.  (5:8)
  • I know that my life and the church as a whole can become filled with leaven—filled with things other than Jesus.  Since leaven spreads quickly I will seek to be on guard against any particles of the leaven of legalism and law-living in my life and the community of faith that I am a part of.  (5:9)
  • I recognize that false teachers who sneak into the community of faith and preach another Jesus or in addition to Jesus will come under judgment.  (5:10)
  • I believe that the cross is a stumbling block.  It is offensive.  I will not be surprised then when moralists are offended by the radical grace of Jesus, nor will I be surprised when false teachers attempt to undermine the centrality of the cross of Jesus in the church.  (5:11)
  • Paul uses harsh language when speaking of false teachers.  He wishes that those who advocate circumcision along with Jesus as a means to salvation would go all the way and castrate themselves.  Therefore I will not be soft on false teachers who know better.  (5:12)
  • I will use sarcasm for the sake of the Gospel to reveal the foolishness of false teaching.  Sarcasm is not to reveal my cleverness but to point people to Jesus.  (5:12)
  • My freedom in Christ is not a freedom to sin.  Therefore I resist tendencies to turn the radical grace of God into license.  Instead Gospel-freedom moves me to serve and love others, not serve and indulge myself.  (5:13)
  • Since the Law is fulfilled in loving my neighbor as myself—I will love Jesus and love other people.  Radical grace emboldens me to love radically not sin radically.  (5:14)
  • I will not engage in biting and devouring other people through my self-centered words and actions, but will seek to build up the church.  (5:15)
  • By faith I will walk by the Spirit so that I do not carry out the desires of the flesh.  I will not fight flesh with flesh, but flesh with Spirit.   (5:16)
  • I know life is war and that an inner conflict of flesh versus Spirit wages within me, and within those in the church.  Therefore I will seek to live by the Spirit, and will strive to be patient with others and forgiving toward others knowing that perfection will not be achieved till Jesus returns.  (5:17)
  • Because of Jesus I am not under the law, but led by the Spirit.  I will avoid living a life led by law, and pursue the Holy Spirit’s work in my life.  (5:18)
  • I will seek to kill the following sins in my life: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and other things similar to these.  I take the warning of Paul against these things seriously, and will not play with sin.  I know that playing around with particular sins end in practicing and being addicted to the same sins.  At times I will examine myself and ask the opinion of others to see that I am not engaging in these sinful deeds.  (5:19-21)
  • I know that those who practice and live consistently in these sinful lifestyles will not inherit the kingdom of God.   I will not lift my noses at others who engage in these things, but will live soberly knowing that I too could become entangled in them.   Also, I will not be controlled by my past when I have engaged in these things (even if the past means yesterday), but I now ask Jesus to forgive me and ask for the Holy Spirit to enable me to kill my sin and bear the fruit of the Spirit. (5:19-23)
  • I desire and ask the Holy Spirit to produce the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in my life.  I know that these aren’t fruits plural but fruit singular, and that I am called to walk in all of them not just some of them.  I will not settle with my current level of maturity, but desire growth in the Spirit. (5:22-23)
  • Because I have died with Jesus, I have died to the flesh and these sinful passions and desires.  Therefore I will live and act like I am dead to them, because I really have died to them.  I don’t kill sin in order to die to sin and in order to be alive to Jesus.  I kill sin because I’m dead to sin and alive to Jesus.  (5:24)
  • Because I live by the Spirit due to the person and work of Jesus I will walk by the Spirit.  I know that this is not passive, but an active pursuit.  Therefore I ask God for help and for more of the Spirit’s work in my life.  I desire continual fillings of the Spirit so that I am empowered to walk filled with the Spirit.  (5:25)
  • I know the Spirit hates boasting, and challenging, and envying my brothers and sisters in Christ.  Therefore I will strive to boast in others successes, encourage others in their faith, and rejoice when others are blessed.  I believe that the Holy Spirit works supernaturally, but sometimes the great work of the Spirit is found in the “simple” things like an encouraging word or holding one’s tongue.  (5:26)


A few takeaways about the process itself:

  • You can do this. Yes, you. Great Bible study motivator.
  • Your small group, Sunday School class, youth group can do this.
  • You can repeat this process with the same book months or years later and get new results.
  • Some of you are familiar with a practice of ‘praying the scriptures’ and this can be seen as a variant on that.
  • Be sure to read the introduction mentioned above to learn more about the process.

About the author (from B. J.’s blog, 5:21)

B.J. lives on the redwood coast of California with his beautiful wife Kate, daughter Grace, and son Adoniram. He has a passion for leading people deeper into the gospel of grace in Jesus and the glory of God. He graduated from Bethany University with a B.A. in Biblical & Theological Studies, has studied at Fuller Theological Seminary, serves pastors around the nation through Docent Research Group, and has a real day job too.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit (vs 25)

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