This Post is Not about Eyes

Reading with the Pastor
Read Matthew 25  and  Psalm 30

Startling fact: Every 1/40th of a second, the retina of your eye can transmit a new image consisting of more than 100 million bits of information.

God did that! We serve a powerful and creative God.

We serve a powerful and creative God.

His designs are awe-inspiring. His creativity is beyond our imagining. His power is limitless. 

In Psalm 30, David pens one of the most awe-inspiring, beyond-imagining, displays of God’s power in his life with the following words:

You have turned my mourning into dancing;
 .     you have loosed my sackcloth
>     and clothed me with gladness,
that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
.      O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever!

Psalm 30:11-12 (ESV)

Turning grief and sorrow and loss and mourning, darkness, and depression into dancing is an unthinkable miracle when your pain is at its most oppressive thickness; when your spirit, soul, and body are assaulted by tragedy, and hopelessness invades your spirit and violently tries to undo all of your dreams and plans.

David says, “that’s where I’ve been” but the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, my God “turned my mourning into dancing.” (vs. 11) With confidence, he cries out “O LORD, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.” (vs. 3)

We serve a mighty God.
We serve a good God.
And He delights to do what looks impossible.

Trust Him like King David.

When Christian Leaders Speak Truth to Power

Ambrose of MilanAmbrose was instrumental in Augustine’s conversion and that would be enough to cement his importance in Church History but he was a giant in his own right and mightily used of Christ in his generation. Oh that God would raise up bold preachers of the word of God in our generation!  Enjoy this snippet of history from the Kairos Journal.

The Duty of a Christian Leader Is to Speak Up—Ambrose of Milan (c. 339 – 397)

Late in the fall of 374, the crowd gathered in Milan’s great cathedral turned their attention to Ambrose, the consular prefect of their province. Bishop Auxentius had just died, and the prefect had come to address the anxious gathering. In his usual eloquence, he began to plead with the various Christian factions to put their differences aside and elect a new, strong bishop who would unite the Church—but he didn’t get far, for he was quickly interrupted—and shocked—by the call, “Ambrose for bishop!”

Ambrose was born around the year 340 to a prominent Christian family in Trier, Germany. His father was a successful governor in southern France, and his mother was a highly educated and pious woman. From an early age, Ambrose was trained in Greek, literature, law, rhetoric, and philosophy, and was expected to follow his father in civic service. Around 372, Ambrose was appointed governor of the province of Aemilia-Liguria, with headquarters in Milan, Italy’s second capital. In Milan, Ambrose quickly showed himself to be a very capable administrator and a great orator, and he gained a reputation for impartiality and fairness.

When on that fall morning in 374 he entered the great church to give his speech, Ambrose thought he had come to restore order and ask for the bishops to unite the Church; he had no intention of getting into ecclesiastical politics. When the call came, “Ambrose for bishop!” Ambrose ran out of the building, not wanting any part of this, reminding everyone that he was only a catechumen.1 But the people insisted, and the governor acquiesced, for, in the oldest of Roman customs, vox populi, vox dei, “the voice of the people is the voice of God.” And so, within the span of a week’s time, Ambrose was baptized into the Church, ordained as a priest, and consecrated as a bishop.

In spite of his “irregular” beginning, or perhaps because of it, Ambrose became one of the most beloved bishops in the history of the Church and one of the four doctors2 of Western Christianity. An unparalleled writer, theologian, hymnodist, and pastor, Ambrose continued throughout his episcopacy to care both for his city and for his church. The bishop of Milan was never intimidated by either imperial authority or invading armies. When the Goths invaded his province and captured many, Ambrose gave all of his personal wealth to ransom as many as he could and even melted down the golden vessels belonging to his church to ransom many more. And when Emperor Theodosius I (379-395) massacred 7,000 people in Thessalonica in 390, Ambrose excommunicated him and forced him to perform public penance for eight months before he would ever be accepted back into communion.3

Ambrose stood at the threshold of history, where the Church began moving from the margins to the center, from a persecuted minority to a powerful force not only for personal, but also for social transformation. As a bishop, it was his responsibility to God not to accommodate the emperor or the state, but to speak the truth. In one of his letters to Emperor Theodosius he said:

[I]t is not right for an emperor to refuse freedom of speech, nor is it right for a priest to refrain from saying what he knows is right. . . . The difference between good and bad rulers is that the good love liberty and the bad, servitude. There is nothing so dangerous for a priest in the eyes of God and nothing considered so base in him than that he not speak his mind freely. For it is written, “I spoke of your laws in the sight of kings and I was not confused” [Ps. 119:46]. Elsewhere, we read, “Son of man, I made you a watchman of the house of Israel, . . .” [Ezek. 3:17].4

Today, many pastors and leaders of the Church forget their role as “watchmen over Israel” and accommodate the culture around them, trying to be “relevant,” “non-offensive.” Unlike Ambrose they forget that one of the central roles of the Church of Christ is to be the conscience of the people, of culture, and of governments. Her call is to speak openly, clearly, and without compromise, and to bring God’s message of salvation and transformation to all who hear.

Footnotes:

  1. One still being trained in the Christian faith and not yet baptized.
  2. So named for the great impact of their doctrine on the Catholic Church. The four—Gregory the Great, Augustine, Ambrose, and Jerome—were so designated in the early Middle Ages.
  3. See Kairos Journal article, Church Discipline for the Emperor.
  4. Ambrose, “To Theodosius, Letter 40,” The Early Church and State, in Sources of Early Christian Thought, vol. 4, ed. and trans. Agnes Cunningham (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982) 87-88.

I Found Some Old Friends in a Box Today

Our House
Our New Home in Rock Hill, SC

We just purchased a house and the boxes we packed in Illinois are beginning to be unboxed and now adorn our new home in South Carolina. With a busy schedule, life unfolds out of the boxes in our garage in slow stages of discovery. Today I found the last box of my over 4,000 volume library and it was a good one.

The box was marked “novels and short stories.” A few slices through the packing tape and the cardboard flaps opened and then my friends were free. Shakespeare, Dorothy Sayers, J.R.R. Tolkien, Flannery O’Connor, Aldous Huxley, Frank Herbert, Thomas Hardy, Douglas Adams (the rollicking Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe series), Chaim Potok, John O’Hara, George MacDonald, and Brett Lott (perhaps the best substantive-Christian novelist writing today now that Walker Percy has left the scene), they were all there.

So many memories. So many mind, spirit, soul-expanding thoughts, questions, arguments, challenges are in those pages and in the arguments and discussions I carry on in the margins of all the books I read. Many of the books have been read two or three times, a few even more. Every read is a new adventure and every ending bittersweet. But now they are out of the box, shelved and ready to be revisited.

Reading, and reading broadly has been a passion for me since the summer of 4th grade. That summer I was behind my classmates in reading capability. Mom and Dad sent me to summer school where Mrs. Sullivan taught me and showed me “the wonder of story” that has nourished and challenge my soul ever since. 

Mom and Dad live with Jesus now and Mrs. Sullivan is probably gone from the scene as well. But I am eternally grateful for their wisdom, patience, and skill in helping me to become a reader. 

“Readers are leaders and leaders are readers,” goes the oft-quoted proverb. The books on my shelves and the wisdom of those writers (and sometimes the silliness and absurdity of the perspectives) have all contributed to making me a better man, husband, father, leader, thinker, and pastor than I otherwise would have been. And whether the book is a novel, philosophy, science, theology, language, history, politics, geography, technical journals, biographies, or gardening, those books have provided thousands of hours of pleasure through the years.  

Coveted as they are however, given the choice to take one book for the rest of my life, I would not hesitate to take the Bible over all of them. Jesus put it this way,

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me;

John 5:39

Indeed.

Give me the word that leads to eternal life and the presence of Christ over every treasured page in every treasured book in my library.

So, for those of you reading along with us in our Reading with the Pastor journey for the remainder of the year, I hope you will continue to carve out the time to read along with us and grow with us as we search the Scriptures. The only book that reveals the heart of God and the nature and person of Christ and points the way to forgiveness, purpose, and eternal life. God’s best to you as you read.

Training the Heart to Not Fight with God

Reading with the Pastor
Matthew 22  and  Psalm 27

Jesus confounds his enemies. One by one they come. First, the Pharisees joined by the Herodians (vs. 15), then the Sadducees (vs. 23). Finally, the Pharisees return (vs. 34). Each one questioner tries to trap Jesus in some way. But one by one he dispatches them with incisive wisdom and superior command of the Scripture.

They should have known better. Jesus even said so.

“You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God.”  (vs. 29)

In the end, all those who will not believe, go slinking away.

“No one was able to answer Him a word, nor did anyone dare from that day on to ask Him another question.”  (vs. 46)

Remember, you never had a better idea about anything in your life at any time in your life than the idea that Jesus has for your life at every moment of your life.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.     (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Here’s a song based on Psalm 27 that you might want to give a listen. Counsel: Read the Psalm before you listen.

How to Read OT Quotations in Matthew

Sunday Musings

Reading with the Pastor
Matthew 21  and  Psalm 26

Dead Sea Scrolls

This is a story from history that will show you how to read Old Testament quotations in the New Testament.

“One afternoon late in 1946” a Bedouin shepherd boy threw a stone into a cave and heard the sound of pottery breaking. By 1948 news began to break that ancient manuscripts had been found in that cave dating from the time before the time of Christ.

But forty-five years later, many manuscripts were still inaccessible to all but a tiny team of researchers, much to the outrage of scholars everywhere. A young graduate student by the name of Marty Abegg had been introduced to the ancient documents by one of his professors, Emanuel Tov. In the course of doing other research, Abegg stumbled on a way to reconstruct the text of the other scrolls, and in 1991, he published a section for all the world to see. “The effect was like a thunderbolt. The cat was out of the bag,” he said. Soon the rest of the scrolls were forthcoming. Abegg had forced the hand of Tov, who had by then become the chief editor of the Dead Sea Scrolls team.

Tension was thick in the air when Tov and Abegg encountered each other at a Scholarly meeting later that year. The balding Jewish scholar paused, uttering just three words to his former student:

“Banim gidalti veromumti.”
“I have raised children and brought them up.”

. . . Abegg vaguely recalled the phrase, recognizing it as a passage from the book of Isaiah. But it wasn’t until later in his hotel room, when he cracked open his Bible and read Isaiah 1:2, that he felt the brunt of Tov’s rebuke: “I have raised children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me!”

Here’s the point

Abegg winced, knowing that Tov was using a classic rabbinic technique, quoting part of a verse and leaving the rest unstated. As an observant Jew, Emanuel Tov . . . knew that Abegg would get the point as soon as he discovered the full context of the message.

Now listen to the words of another brilliant Jewish scholar . . . He [Jesus] had been preaching and healing people within the Temple grounds. The crowds were cheering for him. Even children were shouting out “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Indignant, the priests and teachers of the law stormed over to Jesus to confront him: “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked.

Jesus replied, “Have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’? (Matthew 21:16)

Instantly, the rest of Psalm 8:2 would have reverberated in their minds:

From the lips of children and infants
.      you have ordained praise
.     because of your enemies,
.     to silence the foe and the avenger. (italics added)

The psalmist is saying that God’s glory is so great that even children instinctively worship him, to the shame of those who hate him.

—Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg
Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus,
(Zondervan, 2009) p, 36-37.

Lesson:  When you see an Old Testament quote on the lips of Jesus, always go back to the quote and read the context. You will be amazed how it fills out the meaning or the point that Jesus is trying to make.

Don’t forget to read Psalm 26 today.

 

How We Learn to Pray

Reading with the Pastor
Matthew 20  and  Psalm 24

Bible quote Philippians 1(9)

I was once asked why I read the psalms so much. 

[Side Note: My Bibles are all marked up into different divisions so I can read through the entire book of Psalms in a month or the 119th chapter in either a month or a week. It helps me to saturate my mind and heart with the will of God.]

My answer: Two reasons . . .

First: The psalms are filled with all the emotions of the human experience. The people I know who read the psalms on a regular basis have been wiser in their relationships, gentler in their compassion for people, and in their resilience through times of affliction and heartache. I want to be like that.

Second: This was ancient Israel’s prayer book. Using God’s word to frame my prayers is the surest way I know to ensure that my prayers are according to the will God. There are great promises in God’s word for prayers prayed according to his will (cf. 1 John 5:14-15).

Bonhoeffer apparently felt the same way.

“The child learns to speak because the parent speaks to the child. The child learns the language of the parent. So we learn to speak to God because God has spoken and speaks to us. In the language of the Father in heaven God’s children learn to speak with God. Repeating God’s own words, we begin to pray to God. We ought to speak to God, and God wishes to hear us, not in the false and confused language of our heart but in the clear and pure language that God has spoken to us in Jesus Christ.”

—Deitrich Bonhoeffer in,
Life Together and The PrayerBook of the Bible, 108-109.

Try using Psalm 24 to frame your prayers for your family today. 

“Lord, the whole earth is Yours. All the peoples of the earth are Yours. Teach my soul to remember that You are the rightful owner of all that I see in this life. Draw my heart to You. Show me and make me to know in the deepest recesses of my soul that you are the King of glory, Through Christ my Lord, Amen.”

What Jesus Was Thinking on the Cross?

Reading with the Pastor
Matthew 18  and  Psalm 22    (a day late)

Jesus on the CrossRead the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21-35. Let it sink into your soul. If the body of Christ would master just this one parable, the whole life of the church, our families, our relationships with others would be radically changed. Pray for that. Start with yourself, but pray it for all the churches of our community.

When I think of Psalm 22, the first thought that comes to my mind is “This is what Jesus was meditating on as He hung on the cross for my sin.” (Mt. 27:46; Mk. 15:34) 

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
.         Why are you so far from saving me,
,         from the words of my groaning”

Psalm 22:1a

The quoting of the opening line of the Psalm is the signal for us to examine the whole Psalm. Jesus was identifying with all of us who have felt abandoned or forgotten by God.

  • He was taking on our sin (1 Cor. 15:3).
  • He was hanging in our place (1 Peter 2:24).
  • He who knew no sin was becoming sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21).
  • He was giving Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age (Gal. 1:4).
  • He was fulfilling and proving the curse of Deuteronomy 21:23 (cf. Galatians 3:13).
  • And He was sustaining His soul by meditating on Psalm 22.

The Psalm moves back and forth between complaint and trust. Verses 1-2, 6-8, and 12-18, are the complaint sections. Verses 3-5, 9-11, and 19-21. David, the original writer of the Psalm, finds his circumstances dire and his faith weak but reminds his heart to continue to trust in a “holy” (vs. 3), caring (vs. 9), and rescuing God (vs. 19).

Verses 22-31, are the announcement that the internal battle between unbelief and faith has been won. They are the triumphant declaration of a man (David) who has seen the worst and knows that God is faithful. 

This is the text that Jesus refers to on the cross as He hung between heaven and earth for our sins. He used David’s words to tell us that He identified with the feeling we often have of being forsaken. And He was pointing the way for us to conquer those feelings and emerge on the other side of the firestorm unscathed.

Lord, help me to remember that “the afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;” and “those who seek You will praise the Lord” (vs 26). Make me a man who tells of your name to my brothers, and who praises you in the congregation for you have not despised or abhorred the heartache of the afflicted. (vss. 22-23). For the glory of Christ, I ask it. Amen.

Go to Psalm 23