Jesus The Radical Pastor
Exploring the life and mission of the very human Jesus of 1st century Jewish culture and the implications for what it means to us who claim to be his followers, his church, his continuing presence in the world.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Monday, July 30, 2007
African Bible Commentary: New Lens on Life
A good friend of mine recently gave me a copy of the African Bible Commentary. I've wanted one since it became available over a year ago. It is a one-volume whole Bible commentary with entries from 70 African scholars. These highly competent men and women (most have PhDs from highly prestigious schools) present a commentary from their culture and worldview. These African scholars invite us westerners to look beyond the confident, often arrogant results of our biblical study skewed as it is by western cultural limitations.
Kwame Bediako, PhD in Divinity from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland (as well as PhD in French Literature from the University of Bordeaux, France) wrote an opening article for the ABC titled "Scripture as the Interpreter of Culture and Tradition." While Kwame Bediako's entire article is immensely stimulating, one sentence by this African scholar leaped from the page, grabbed my mind and pinned it to my desk saying, "Think!"
Kwame Bediako wrote this simple, stunning sentence: "The gospel has no permanent resident culture" (ABC, 4).
Why did this sentence stun me? Because it socked me in my fat American arrogance. Bediako humbled my supposed theological superiority. His precise sentence was a crow bar that pried away my culture-bound grip on the Americanized "good news."
We live in a truly startling moment in history (no matter how you feel about USAmerican politics). We live in a time when clear, strong voices "from [almost] every tribe and language and people and nation" are helping to shape a global gospel and an international theology that are not hide-bound by any one culture. Western gospel empirialism is fading fast. To God be the glory!
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
The Openness of Jonah 3
We serve a God of second chances. "Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time:..." (Jonah 3:1).
Jonah obeyed and went to Nineveh. Smart man.
Nineveh was "very important city" (NIV). Actually, it was "great (according) to God," which is what the Hebrew reads (vs. 3). Allen sees the phrase as an intensive phrase, something like "Nineveh in comparison to God was great." Or, "Nineveh was God-sized." Whatever the meaning, it presents the mammoth task of Jonah as he begins his apocalyptic preaching to this massive city, "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned (demolished)." This message is the biblical inspiration for seeker-friendly preaching.
I love it. Brevity is the soul of repentance. From the king to the kindergarteners the whole city turns to Yahweh. If Jonah were Napolean Dynamite, he might have said, "Gosh! I just can't believe it. Sackcloth and ashes? These ratty Ninevites have gone maximum religious on me."
Jonah chapter three ends with one of those Old Testament bomb blasts. The writer tells us in verse 10 that "God repented," too. The words create a gasp in us. God repents or relents or changes his mind? It sure sounds like it even in the NIV: "When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened."
At least 36 times in the Old Testament we read that God changed his mind, or relented or repented. These 36 occurrences cause severe mind cramps in many people. They get knotted up because they reason like this: God is perfect. Perfect can't change. If perfect changes for the better, then it wasn't perfect to begin with. Yikes! We can't start with an imperfect God. Continuing, if perfect changes, then it must be only for the worse. Yikes again! We can't end with an imperfect God. Therefore, the Bible is dead wrong 36 times when it flat out tells us that God changed his mind.
The insider, wise ones among us help out here. What we have 36 times, they propose, is an anthropomorphism. This is a long, catchy word for "These 36 verses don't fit our theology." The mantra is: "God can't change! God can't change!" God is the great unblinking unfeeling stare. We're told that God condescends to our childish state ("baby steps") and merely reports that God seems to be like us--we can change our minds after all--but, really, God is not like us. We can do something that God can't do. Doesn't that make you feel really special? You can change your mind, but God can't change his. What a mighty God we serve!
Oops! I misspoke or miswrote. We really can't change our minds because everything we think, say, feel or do has been decreed beforehand. We, too, are cosmic unblinking little stares just living out the programming of Big Daddy Stare. Ooh, I get goose bumps from such articulate, warm theology. Just think, everything that I am writing at this moment has been decreed by God from eternity past. He decreed that I write about how silly it is that he decreed everything. This is just too fun.
But you say: God didn't predetermine everything beforehand. He just knows everything beforehand. Well, if God just knows the future, but doesn't determine it, does that mean I can actually do something different than what God "knows"? If God merely knows beforehand that I am going to eat Copper River salmon today and then I choose to eat a Johnsonville brat instead, was God's knowledge imperfect? There's that dastardly word again. Just because God merely knows beforehand doesn't mean we have actually have a choice in the matter. We will think, feel, and do exactly and only what God "knows." And remember, according to the insider, wise ones, God knows all things actual and possible. Sing to the tune of "I'd like to be an Oscar Mayer weiner"...
"Oh, I'd like to be a predetermined pup-pet.
"That is what I'd really like to be-ee-ee.
"For if I were a predetermined pup-pet,
"God would always be in charge of meee."
Fun, eh? We must, at all costs, protect God's sovereignty. It's up to us, you know. God needs us to protect his meticulous control. How mighty we are! We must protect his omniscience, too. How can God get along without us protecting him?
And God changed his mind. Whoopty-doo. I would like to think that God is free and if he wants to change his mind, have at it. I like a truly relational God, a truly interactive God. I like a give-and-take God who mixes it up with us. I'll take Jonah 3:10 and the other 36 verses any day over the imported perfection of Platonism.
Monday, July 23, 2007
Who Puts Who to Sleep?
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
The Aquatic Prayer of Jonah 2
Nothing improves a person's prayer life better than getting swallowed by a great fish. Jonah is witness to this biblical truth.
With what one writer calls "intuitive perfection," Jonah crafts an artistic, even stunning prayer of thanksgiving. With a deep memory of the Psalms, Jonah writes his own, drawing on words and phrases from "the prayer book of Israel." I imagine this was quite challenging as he was being churned in the stomach of a large grupper and marinating in fishy, digestive juices. My heart goes out to Jonah because I have a hard time praying in a decent, comfortable room. Maybe I need to use the Jonah method of prayer.
The Prayer of Jonah. It has a faint, familiar ring to it. I can't quite put my finger on it. What is it? Do you think "The Prayer of Jonah" and its unusual Sitz im Leben* would make a really marketable little book?
Just as Yahweh--the God of Israel--is the real hero of chapter 1, so Yahweh captivates Jonah's mind as he shapes his prayer in chapter 2. Feel the impact of his resounding conclusion: "Salvation comes from the LORD!" Jonah doesn't just know this truth, he incarnates it. Jonah compresses the glorious, central message of the Bible into five English words (just two in the Hebrew).
Jonah, by his own admission, was snatched from the jaws of a watery death. On the verge of unconsciousness, Jonah prayed. Yahweh heard. Thinking that he would die from seaweed wrapped around his throat, he gets swallowed by a God-appointed fish. In the dark, slippery folds of the fish's gut Jonah begins to faint away. Perhaps the last conscious thought of this rebellious prophet was "Help!!" Yahweh helped him. God talks to the fish (2:10) and, blurp!, Jonah is deposited on dry land. Terra firma never felt so good to him, having been to hell (well, Sheol) and back.
Did Jonah first scrawl out his thanksgiving prayer in the sand on the beach near Joppa? Who knows? We do know there was one happy prophet with a whole new appreciation for God recuperating on the Mediterranean coast.
Pagan sailors cried out to God for help in chapter 1. A rebellious Jewish prophet called for help in chapter 2. Yahweh heard both. Human need and honest prayer get the attention and response of the God of the Bible. Yahweh is no respecter of persons.
Liberated from the fish's "bowels of mercy," Jonah wonders about Nineveh.
*Sitz im Leben means "setting in life."
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Jonah the Anti-Hero Prophet 1
"...and the ship thought it would shatter (like pottery)" (Jonah 1:4).
What creative personification by the poet-author of Jonah! God "hurls" a great wind onto the sea and the ship thinks, "Uh oh, I am going to crack up!" The ship thinks. Remember the little engine that could? "I think I can..." A rebellious Jewish prophet makes a ship think.
Jonah 1 presents an Israelite shocker: Jonah gets a Yahweh-call and immediately proceeds to disobey it. When verse 3 was read for the first time, the Jewish listeners sucked all the air out of the room. Jonah did not go for or with the LORD; twice we read that he went away from the LORD. Silly, silly man.
During the hurricane, sailors and captain are frantically throwing cargo overboard and crying to their gods, "Help! Help!" But Jonah "has a real peace" about his decision. He is below deck sound asleep.
Never bank on "having peace about it" to verify the will of God. Jonah had "peace" and was in active rebellion from God. "Having peace about it" for many is a cloak to do what they want to do or to avoid what they don't want to do..."I just don't have 'peace' about it." Be careful with that tom-foolery.
"The lot fell to Jonah." Now Jonah owns up to his rebellion. Lots don't lie.
Jonah got tossed overboard to settle the fury of Yahweh as symbolized in the fierce storm. At first the sailors tried to get to shore, but couldn't make it. They were good guys. As soon as Jonah sank, the storm stopped. The pagan sailors worshipped Yahweh. Jonah is a sorry specimen of faith compared to them.
God "appointed" a great fish who went fishing for men and caught Jonah. Jonah can tell you a lot about "bowels of mercy." He does in the next chapter.
Monday, July 09, 2007
We have welcomed a new family member to our home. Lois Mays, Julie's mother, has moved from Nashville, TN to Grand Rapids, MI, to live with us.
Lois was living with Julie's sister, Diane, and family.
At 88, Lois is an avid reader and enjoys crossword puzzles and jigsaw puzzles. She was an excellent seamtress. When I started dating Julie in 1968 at Moody Bible Institute, she had the cutest clothes---originals made by Lois. Lois is one of four sisters--all who are still alive-- Phyllis, Lois, Julia, and JoAnn. Famously known as "the Porter girls."
This past May, Lois was reunited with her sisters at a family reunion/wedding celebration in Nashville. Diane's youngest son, Jonathan married Grace. What a wonderful time with extended family. Julie counted 33 relatives all related to "the Porter girls."
Walter Mays, Lois' husband, a Texas man worked many years for Ford, Inc., for LeTourneau Corporation, Marathon Corporation, and the Texas Crippled Children's Hospital. Walt (aka "Shorty") was the youngest of 9 brothers from Frisco, TX--enough for their own baseball team. He was a devoted Christian and helped found Village Bible Church of Hot Springs Village, AR. He died in August of 2000.
Lois had 3 children--a son, Brian who died at the age of 35 of cancer. He was a neat man (who looked very much like Paul Newman). Brian was a civil engineer who owned his own business in the greater Chicago area. Brian was quite an athlete--in football (all-state quarterback) and in golf. Man, could he hit the long ball off the tee!
We're glad Lois is part of her Michigan family now.
Thursday, July 05, 2007
Sweet little Jesus boy.
"My Sweet Lord."
There's an indie film titled "Sweet Jesus." You can get a "my sweet Jesus doll." It's so cuddly.
A sculptor caused a religious uproar by crafting a naked, 6-foot crucified Jesus out of chocolate! Talk about sweet!
The last adjective that comes to my mind to describe Jesus is "sweet." Having rummaged around in the four Gospels for some years now, I can think of a lot of good adjectives for Jesus, but sweet leaves a sour taste in my soul.
I prefer Salty Jesus. And I don't mean salty as in "salty language" (profanity). Jesus was high potency salt. He even describes his followers as "the salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13). Why do we try to be "sweet" people?
You don't call someone who terrifies the daylights out of you "sweet." Jesus terrified his disciples numerous times---"It's a ghost!" they screamed. He terrified people in Decapolis by casting out a "Legion" of demons. Jesus created fear in the lives of lots of people.
You don't call someone who irritates the daylights out of religious people "sweet." The religious leaders of Jesus' day had a lot of adjectives for Jesus---demon-possessed, mad (crazy), deceiver, bastard, fraud. I don't think "sweet" ever entered their minds. "Let's kill him" did enter their minds. Do you want to murder "sweet" people?
Let's leave the word sweet out of our Jesus vocabulary. Let's keep it for Grandma, grandkids, tea, nice guys and the hip epithet "Suuuue-eeeat!"
For Jesus, I like "holy," "agitator," "rebel-rouser," "courageous," and "gutsy."
I know. "Salty little Jesus boy" just doesn't have...what?...that sweetness.
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Jesus the Trouble-Maker
Galilee and Judea were a fireworks warehouse and Jesus was a flame-thrower.
From one perspective, Jesus was a trouble-maker. For the "don't rock the boat" crowd, Jesus danced in the canoe. What is a trouble-maker?
Anyone who instigates change will be viewed as a trouble-maker. Anyone who questions the way things are because of a vision of the way things can be will be called a trouble-maker. Anyone who knows "the pecking order," but does not peck or allow his followers to peck in their proper places will be called a trouble-maker. Anyone who knows where the boundaries are and then lives like he doesn't care where the boundaries are will be called a trouble-maker. Anyone who is not threatened by the powers that be will be viewed as a trouble-maker.
Gandhi was a trouble-maker. So were Rosa Parks, Martin Luther, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Ignaz Semmelweiss, and Erin Brockovich.
Jesus was a destabilizing reality. He, in the shadow of Jeremiah, came "to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow" (Jeremiah 1:10). Some even thought Jesus was Jeremiah (see Matthew 16:14).
One of my favorite teachers, "Prof" Howard Hendricks, use to say, "All true learning takes place only after you are thoroughly confused." Trouble-makers confuse us and, in that sense, serve us. We so easily petrify in our views, in what appears to us "to be right."
Have we so sanitized Jesus that it seems sacriligious to us to see him as a trouble-maker? The Roman Empire did not crucify "nice guys." They crucified trouble-makers.