Seven Modern Maladies and God’s Solutions (3 of 7)

Gluttony/Temperance

Gluttony is the vice of over-indulgence.  Temperance keeps need from becoming greed.

Anyone OVER 50 years old needs no introduction to

skipper

“the Skipper” from “Gilligan’s Island.”

          Of course, “Skipper” is a nickname and a title: extra points for anyone who can tell me the character’s actual name.  (A: Jonas Grumby.)  The Skipper and Gilligan are characters reminiscent of screen legends Laurel and Hardy.

The actor’s name was Alan Hale Jr.  (Can you imagine calling a man his size “JUNIOR?”)  In the show, the Skipper was easily the strongest man and probably the tallest character too.

Before Hale was cast in the role, actor Carroll O’Connor was considered for the part.  Thinking about Archie Bunker as the Skipper is almost too much for the mind to handle isn’t it?

A side note: in 2003 film and TV critic Thomas Carson wrote a book, Gilligan’s Wake, which supplied a back story for the Skipper, where he served with JFK on PT-109 and Captain McHale (Ernest Borgnine) from the “McHale’s Navy” TV show.  Blending history and fiction, the book was well-received.

I chose this picture of the character because its’ the one that best shows off the Skipper’s sizable paunch.  It’s true that a guy like me has no right to fault the Skipper’s figure.  The point simply is that the Skipper is our best symbol of gluttony because the evidence is piled up above his belt.  Hale was also a seafood restaurant owner, so no reason to limit dinners.

When he died in 1991, Alan Hale Jr.’s ashes were sprinkled over the Pacific Ocean, a fitting end to a character who spent 30 years on “Gilligan’s Island.”

  1. The vicious vice of GLUTTONY (Luke 12:13-21)

What is “gluttony?”

– An obsession over satisfying any physical appetite beyond what’s needed.

– A perversion of need into greed. Billy Graham wrote: “Gluttony is a perversion of a natural, God-given appetite.  We must fix in our minds the fact that sin is not always flagrant and open transgression.  It is often the perversion and distortion of natural, normal desires and appetites.  Love is distorted into lust.  Self-respect too often is perverted into godless ambition.  When a God-given, normal hunger is extended greedily into abnormality…it becomes sin.”  (7 Deadly Sins, p. 75.)

Overeating is a common example of gluttony, but it takes many forms.

– A thirsty person needs to drink.  Consuming too much of some kinds of drink leads to drunkenness.

– A hungry person needs food.  Too much food leads to obesity-related issues.

– A hurting person needs medication.  We’ve heard a lot about how opiod addiction has hurt so many people.

– A poor person needs to work, but workaholism hurts relationships and one’s physical health.

– A bored person needs activity.  We spend so much time and money on amusements, they can be addictive.

– An ambitious person needs achievement. Too much of self sacrificed to being #1 reduces relationships to superficiality.

What’s needed is moderation.  Take eating as an example, the Old Testament Law set aside days of feasting and fasting.  In both cases, the issue was never food; the issue was love for God manifest in obedience. The feasting and fasting were both commanded by God and were good.  In our day and theirs, sin intervenes when we do too much of either or do any of it out of an ungodly motive.  “Gluttony” is over-doing anything that is otherwise necessary and/or good.

Why is gluttony deadly?

– It is an expression of materialism. Where are your thoughts most of the day?  How often are you thinking about God and what He wants you to do?  How often do you cross the line between need and greed?

– It is another form of selfishness. Whenever we try to justify abundance and ignore the need of others, we are guilty of sinful self-centeredness.  Whenever our own pleasure becomes the most important thing, we’ve gone over into gluttony.

– It is a subtle version of idolatry. The maxim, “we eat to live, not live to eat” is a reminder that we’re not to let anything in this life take the place of God.  While we may not bow down and pray to a sandwich, it can still be idolatry.

– It violates God’s commands to honor Him with our bodies.  1 Corinthians 6:19-20 and Romans 6:13 are two examples of God’s commands to offer ourselves, body and soul, in service to Him.  Reminding ourselves that all things belong to God is one way we avoid gluttony.

Jesus gave a fictional example of the deadly reality of gluttony.  The context of the passage is Jesus’ refusal to be brought into a family feud (vs. 13-15).  He had the spiritual insight to know that the real issue was GREED and he wisely avoided taking sides.  Never one to waste, Jesus turned the incident into a “teachable moment.”

The main point of the parable: it is foolish to have an insatiable appetite for worldly things and neglect God. How do we know that?  We look at the specifics.

The man expressed the point of view typical for a glutton (vs. 16-19).  Rather than see his abundance as a blessing and honor God, the RICH FOOL’s only thought was how to hoard it and keep it for himself.  Rather than see his abundance as God’s supply to enable him to help others, he only made plans how to have more.

God condemned his point of view in v. 20.  Morally & spiritually, he was a FOOL.  In the Bible, ungodly and evil people are foolish.  Their problem is not a lack of intelligence, but a lack of attention to the things of God.  Evil deeds are the result.  The man in the parable is not condemned as foolish because he had wealth, but because he made the decision to waste it on himself. God grants us the ability to create wealth (see Deuteronomy 8:18) for two reasons; so we can care for ourselves, not depending on others, and also so we can help others who find themselves in need. On a practical level, he wasted time and money on himself: death would cheat him of all he’d stored up.

It is better to be RICH TOWARD GOD than well-stocked in worldly things.  Jesus ended with a stern warning in v. 21; “THIS IS HOW IT WILL BE WITH ANYONE WHO STORES UP THINGS FOR HIMSELF BUT IS NOT RICH TOWARD GOD.”

  1. The vital virtue of TEMPERANCE (Daniel 1).

What is temperance?  It is an attitude of moderation in regard to satisfying physical appetites.

– It is using worldly things without being used by them or getting too used to having them.

– It is owning things without being owned by them or forgetting that God is the true owner of all of them.

Temperance involves acts of self-control that disciplines one’s self by self-denial.  Moderation is only possible when we exercise our intelligence, practice self-discipline, and rely on the Holy Spirit. Falling into extremes requires less of these virtuous things, often resulting in a loss of truth and ruination of relationships.

God’s preference for moderation in all things is clearly revealed in Ecclesiastes 7:18 = IT IS GOOD TO GRASP THE ONE AND NOT LET GO OF THE OTHER.  THE MAN WHO FEARS GOD WILL AVOID ALL EXTREMES.  How much better would our American society be if all extremists took this line of thinking?

Obedience to God’s commands requires us to put Him before all worldly things.  Love for God is manifest in obedience.  Actions convey love for God.

Obedience is also required because God is self-identified as “jealous” of us.  God will not share you with the world.  We must be His; first AND foremost.

Why is temperance a vital virtue?  First, because temperance recognizes that our liberty in Christ is boundaried by our responsibility to obey God and bless others.  Human nature seeks to satisfy self first and take the path of least effort to do so.  Our new divine nature seeks to obey God first and bless others by pointing to God.  People who are prompt to insist on their rights and/or ignore their responsibilities reveal a heart in rebellion against God, making an idol of self.

Second, temperance seeks to avoid sin by keeping things in perspective; God’s perspective.  Temperance is founded on seeing the world as God does; flawed by sin, one day to be replaced.

Daniel is a great example of temperance.  The context of Daniel 1 is the historical fact of the “Babylonian Captivity.”  Daniel was one of many deportees from Judah.  In ancient times, the winners of a war took captives from the conquered people to be slaves.  The intent was to inculcate them with the victor’s culture and then send them back home to spread the influence of the conqueror to the subject nations.

Daniel was one of a group of especially promising young men who were going to be renamed, retrained, and put to work in government offices (v. 4).  Daniel is one of the most godly men in the Old Testament.

The place Daniel demonstrated the vital virtue of temperance was – unexpectedly – in his diet. The people serving in the king’s palace were naturally used to the very best food (v. 5), probably lots of it.  This was the king’s will and that was not a thing to be trifled with (v. 10).

Daniel’s objection to the king’s diet was spiritual!  We choose to diet for physical or emotional reasons.  But v. 7 says Daniel RESOLVED NOT TO DEFILE HIMSELF with the king’s food.  Though it might be used in an emotional sense, the word DEFILE is a spiritual term.  To defile something was to compromise or impugn its holiness.  We see the spiritual/religious/love-as-obedience-to-God aspect of Daniel’s dietary designs in three inferences.

– One, the food had probably been offered to idols first, which meant that to eat it made Daniel a participant in idolatry, even if it was “after the fact.”

– Two, the Babylonians did not observe Jewish kosher laws and thereby put food on the table that the Law had forbidden.

– Three, gluttony was probably encouraged at every meal.  Then – as now – conspicuous consumption of food is something for which the wealthy and powerful are notorious.  (Ask me about Roman vomitoriums and using bread as napkins.)

Daniel did not act in rebellion, but reasonably asked for an exception to the royal table. He overcame his handler’s hesitation by suggesting a test: a ten day veggie diet (vs. 9-14).  Eating veggies only was the only sure way to avoid eating meat offered to idols, so this is not a vindication of vegetarianism.  This situation came up because Daniel and his friends insisted on following God’s law, not man’s law.  If you choose to be a vegetarian or vegan, you are free to do so for other reasons; please don’t cite this chapter as justification.

The result of the ten day table test was that Daniel and his Jewish friends were healthier than the guys who bellied up to the “Royal Buffet” every meal (vs. 15-16).  Daniel’s instructor approved their special meal plan and God did too, as indicated by two stamps of “divine approval.”

– In v. 17 we see that God gave Daniel something like the Spiritual Gift of Discernment in his ability to interpret VISIONS and DREAMS OF ALL KINDS.

– In v. 20, God gave Daniel and fellow Jewish superior wisdom, making them TEN TIMES more able than ALL THE MAGICIANS AND ENCHANTERS in all of Babylon.

How do we practice temperance?  We can follow Daniel’s example.  Don’t follow the crowd.  The world will mislead and distract you from following God’s will.  This will result in sin and a life less than what God has chosen.  Don’t compromise God’s standards as you understand them.  In this situation, God did not give Daniel a new command to be a vegetarian or reward Daniel for that kind of diet.  Instead, we see Daniel used his brains and followed the Spirit to figure out a way to avoid idolatry.  Similarly, we must be creative to see God’s path.  New solutions may be needed!

We must recognize self-control is a biblical virtue and one area that needs control is our impulse to please ourselves.  Our spiritual nature must control our human nature.  We must be more concerned about pleasing God than pleasing ourselves.

Practice moderation in all things is a biblical virtue; simplify your life by practicing it.  Moderation has very few advocates and it is more difficult to achieve, but almost always puts you closer to God.

If you can’t do push-ups, practice your “push-aways.”  As in “push away” from the table.  More importantly “push away” from things that will tempt you to deny God.

Anyone UNDER 50 needs no introduction to

glut yelp

“Yelp,” a website and app that allows users to post and read reviews of local businesses, especially restaurants.  Yelp was started in 2004 by a couple of former PayPal employees.  At the end of last year, users had posted 148 million reviews, using a five star rating system.  Most of the people who use Yelp live in major metropolitan areas and are doing so on a mobile device.

Studies have shown that Yelp carries considerable clout.  A study showed that restaurants gain 5-9% more reservations for every star in their Yelp rating.  Of course, this kind of success attracts criticism and some have claimed the system is flawed and abused.

I suppose it is because of the connection to restaurants that Yelp was chosen as the symbol of gluttony.  However, given the amount of criticism Yelp receives each year, it may have been chosen because use of the site are “gluttons for punishment!”

At an entirely different site, Trulia.com rated Las Vegas, Nevada as the most gluttonous city in America.  Vegas’ rating of 113 (most other cities scored in the 20s) was probably based on the number of buffet restaurants, the number of plastic surgery offices (0.94 per 100,000 residents), obesity, drinking, and smoking rates.  If Vegas really is the capital of gluttony, then not EVERYTHING that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.  Some of it comes home on one’s tummy and thighs.

Gluttony is the vice of over-indulgence.  Temperance keeps need from becoming greed.

Gluttony is the sin of abuse and over-use of things that God created for our good.  It has deadly spiritual consequences and does our health no good either.

Remember, gluttony is not limited to food and drink.  Anything in this world can be a means of gluttony.  Part of our daily life must be making decisions that exercise self-control so that God’s good gifts never become a substitute for God Himself.

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Seven Modern Maladies and their Divine Solutions (2 of 7)

Envy is a sin because it makes an idol of things.  The virtue of Contentment is based on trust in God.

Anyone OVER 50 years old needs no introduction to

Mary Ann

“Mary Ann,” a character on the TV series “Gilligan’s Island.”  Actress Dawn Wells played this character in all 98 episodes of the series.  She and Tina Louise are the only surviving members of the cast.

The character of Mary Ann is chosen as a symbol of ENVY because it was clear that she envied the beauty and glamor of the movie star character named “Ginger.”  In fact, in episode 92, “The Second Ginger Grant,” Mary Ann suffered a blow to the head and took on the persona of Ginger, wearing her clothes and acting like her.

Mary Ann’s envy of Ginger was purely a plot device and exactly at odds with reality.  Of the two, Dawn Wells was the beauty queen (Miss Nevada, 1950), she was “Gilligan’s” personal favorite, and received more than twice as much fan mail as cast mate Tina Louise.  In 2005, Wells consigned her costume for sale and it sold for $20,700!  In forty years of polls on the subject, men have expressed a preference for Mary Ann over Ginger that is 3-1 or even 4-1.  If art had imitated life, Ginger would have been envious of Mary Ann!

ENVY is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, a list formulated by the Church in medieval times.  We are examining this list and each week offering a virtue to take the place of the vice.  Today we’ll see how and why believers must replace ENVY with CONTENTMENT.

  1. The vicious vice of ENVY (Genesis 4:1-16).

What is envy?  ENVY is wanting what you don’t have, often paired with an unwillingness to wait for it or earn it.  It is a form of materialism that reflects on what others possess.

In his book, 7 Deadly Sins, the late Billy Graham wrote, “The envious man somehow feels that other people’s fortune is his misfortune, that their success is his failure and hat their blessing is his curse.” (p. 42)

Why is envy so deadly?  It puts a priority on things over God and others. An envious person values material things over persons.

It drains happiness and prevents satisfaction.  When your attention is fixed on worldly things you can never be satisfied, because the things of this world – even the good things – always end in an appetite for more.  The other thing we must learn and relearn is that the things of this world – even the good things – are temporary.  Even if they last generations, all worldly things are temporary.

Cain is a biblical example of envy’s deadliness.  When we read the account of Cain and Abel, God’s choice of Abel’s sacrifice and his rejection of Cain’s is obvious.  As the text states, GOD LOOKED WITH FAVOR ON ABEL AND HIS OFFERING (vs. 4+5).

What’s not spelled out is why. We infer the reason for God’s choice by a close reading of the text, particularly Cain’s reaction.  He became envious and angry.  So angry, in fact, he murdered his brother.  Verse six says Cain was ANGRY AND DOWNCAST.

Cain’s anger motivated him to be disrespectful and evasive when God asked him about Abel; “Am I my brother’s keeper? (v. 9)”  The best answer is “YES.”

Cain gave into envy.  He looked upon Abel’s success and wanted it too.  Abel’s sacrifice was motive by gratitude and/or love; some other God-honored motive, as seen in God’s acceptance of Abel’s sacrifice.

This was a murder that God tried to avoid.  In v. 7, God gave Cain an unusual warning: SIN IS CROUCHING AT YOUR DOOR.  He should have heeded God’s warning and dispensed with ENVY.

Cain’s consequences were isolation and failure.  Cain was sent away, separated from his parents and condemned to be a wanderer on the earth (vs. 12+14).  We don’t know what the MARK of Cain was, but it was a two-sided thing: it separated him from every other human being who had no such marking, but it also warned off anyone who might want to take revenge.  It was God saying; “This one is mine.  Leave him alone.”

We see Cain cursed to failure.  In 3:17-19, Cain’s father Adam received God’s discipline for his sin; the GROUND was CURSED because of Adam and it was only by hard work that it would yield any fruit.  Cain’s discipline is worse, in that the GROUND will never YIELD CROPS for him.

Cain later enjoyed some worldly success as an urban developer (v. 17); in fact, the Bible credits him as inventing cities. But envy destroyed his brother, his family relationships, and worst of all, estranged him from God.  ENVY is deadly; it demands to high a price and delivers only unhappiness.

2. The vital virtue of CONTENTMENT (Philippians 4:10-13).

What is contentment?  Contentment is a sense of satisfaction that exists apart from your circumstances.  It is an abiding trust in God that He will provide what is needed, when it is needed.

A contented person trusts in God’s provision, not their own.  As the song says, “Put your hope in things eternal.”  Unlike worldly things, heavenly things truly satisfy and their effects are everlasting.

Why is contentment a vital virtue? There are many reasons; here are a few.

It is God-honoring and faith-based.

It is part of a maturing faith.

It removes the distraction of materialism.

It prioritizes our relationship with God, the Source of true satisfaction.

It allows us to use things without being used by them.

Let’s look at Paul as an example of contentment.  Paul’s philosophy of financing ministry was simple: while he deserved each church’s support, he preferred not to need it.

The occasion for this letter to the church in Philippi was Paul acknowledging their gift to him, recently sent by Epaphroditus (v. 18).  Keep in mind Paul was in prison when he wrote this.  He said their gift gave him “immense joy” (v. 10).  I’m sure Paul was happy that they’d remembered him, especially in his chains.  But Paul wrote that his joy was IN THE LORD.

What’s important for our purposes was that Paul the prisoner had been content when he’d been with them and still practiced contentment while in prison!  This was because Paul had learned the SECRET of contentment in EVERY SITUATION; keeping his priorities in order.

WHETHER WELL FED OR HUNGRY was not a rhetorical comment: prisons of that day did not feed their prisoners.  Food had to be supplied by outsiders.

WHETHER LIVING IN PLENTY OR IN WANT is one way of summarizing Paul’s life.  The Apostle Paul had been born into a wealthy family, but since accepting God’s call on his life, there had been lots of occasions for being in need, not the least of which was being shipwrecked!  The SECRET is this; contentment is found in GOD in not self.

There is good evidence that Paul was well-educated and steeped in the Greek-influenced culture of his time.  It’s likely he’d read what the Greek philosopher Plato wrote about the contented man; “that man should be sufficient unto himself for all things, and able, by the power of his own will, to resist the force of circumstances.”  What Plato misunderstood as an achievement of will, Paul rightly understood as an act of God’s grace.  He wrote, I CAN DO EVERYTHING THROUGH HIM WHO GIVES ME STRENGTH.

God’s strength and His love never fail.  The love and strength of people will ultimately always fail, despite our best intentions.  God never does.  Philippians 4:13 is often taken as a promise of empowerment and it is that, but it is also the basis for our contentment, regardless of whatever we’re experiencing in the moment.  To be content, we must seek to be

DEPENDENT on God,

INTERDEPENT on each other, and

INDEPENDENT of the support of others so we can avoid idleness and support others.

Envy is a sin because it makes an idol of things.  The virtue of Contentment is based on trust in God.

Anyone UNDER 50 needs no introduction to

FB

        Facebook is an online social media and networking company. It was launched on February 4, 2004, by Mark Zuckerberg, along with some fellow Harvard College students, with membership initially limited to Harvard students.

As of January 2018, Facebook has more than 2.2 billion monthly active users. Facebook has become so commonly used that most of the people you know use it.  In fact, some Millennials have abandoned Facebook because it’s gotten so full of “old people!”

We chose Facebook as a symbol of ENVY because, like the cartoon character in this illustration, Facebook becomes a way of looking into the lives of others, a view that can easily degenerate into envy.  However, here’s a disclaimer: just because someone put something on Facebook doesn’t make it true.  No, I’m serious!

In an article on the Independent’s website, Peter Walker cited an experiment by the University of Copenhagen involving 1,095 people, half of whom were asked to continue their Facebook habits and half ordered to abstain from logging on.

The data suggests Facebook causes people to suffer what they called “Facebook envy” and become particularly depressed.  Users taking a week-long break from Facebook were found to be more satisfied with life and gave higher scores to their own well-being.  So “Facebook envy” is not something made up to benefit this message, there is a reasonable connection between Facebook and the vice of ENVY and users suffering the consequences of ENVY.

God’s people are to practice CONTENTMENT instead of being guilty of ENVY.  This leads to our final question:

How do I practice contentment?

One, simplify your life.  Adopt the motto “Less is more.”  Imagine what the object you want to buy sitting neglected and dusty on a shelf or in a closet, as that’s how it will probably end up.  Hum or sing the song “The Bare Necessities” as you shop. Understand the “Inverse Rule of Possessions” – “The more things you own, the more things own you.”

Two, keep your ambition within your means.  This is a financial philosophy: “debt is dumb” as financial guru Dave Ramsey says.  It stresses relationships and creates financial chaos that will take more effort to undo than it did to do.  This is also a philosophy for all of life.  We all have our strengths and weaknesses.  Envy happens when we mistakenly think we ought to have things that are not actually in our power to possess.

Three, put your priorities in order.  Do we need to be reminded that God is to come first, others second, and self last? We may not need a reminder to believe it, but we probably need a reminder to ACT on that principle.  We affirm this truth in the way we act & speak.

It’s a fairly easy thing to say that the Bible is true and that we ought to follow God’s commands as revealed in the Bible.  However, so much more than a nod of one’s head is required.  We must act as if it is true by having our attitudes and actions be determined by what the Lord says.

Take ENVY for example.  Envy is a poison we take hoping the other person will drop dead.  Don’t do it. Replace ENVY and worry and all other forms of materialism with CONTENTMENT and trust in God.

A Full View of the Father

God is a Spirit; He wants us to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.

OK, Happy Mother’s Day to everyone who is a mom and everyone who had one.  In honor of the day, we are going to look at the ways the Bible uses motherhood as an example of God’s love for His people.

We need to be careful, even more so than usual, of confusing the imagery with the reality.  On Mother’s Day, sentimental feelings abound, but as is the case with all things in this world, the reality is more complicated.  Let me give you a couple examples.

First, over a decade ago, an email story made the rounds, telling about a report published in National Geographic magazine about a mother bird killed in a forest fire.  When walking through the area after the fire was extinguished, rangers found a bird’s body “petrified in ashes.”  A little heart-sick by the sight, they attempted to break up the corpse by knocking it over with a stick.  When they did so, three little chicks scurried out from behind the body, unharmed.

This inspirational email drew a moral to this story about motherhood and the kind of loyalty mothers feel for their children, sometimes even defending them at the loss of the mother’s life.  It’s a great and inspiring tale, and it’s also not true.

National Geographic denies having printed such a story and officials at Yellowstone national park deny having had or publicized such an experience.  Worse still, one of their bird experts said that for a bird to sacrifice herself in such a way was contrary to all we know about bird behavior.

I offer this solely as a cautionary tale about how the world is more complicated than our symbols can hope to account for.  The best way to honor moms is with real memories of them in the fullness of who they are or were.  Sentiment can get in the way of truth more subtly than an outright lie.

Second, some of you may remember the furor started by a women’s conference held in 1993 in Minneapolis.  It was called a “Re-imaging Conference” in which the 2200 attendees were invited to “re-imagine” God as a woman.  It was hoped that this exercise of imagination might ultimately empower women to overcome bias and a culture that oppressed them because of their gender.

What made headlines about the conference was not anything it did to help women, but the flaky stuff that happened there in unbiblical and ill-advised attempts to be provocative and turn male-dominated culture and theology upside down.  One example is worship directed at Sophia, a goddess of worship.

Some may claim that the conference was well-intended, but got hijacked along the way by pagans and feminists.  The extremists got all the attention and the more orthodox elements were ignored.

Here we are 25 years later.  I think it’s fair to ask what difference this conference made.  I read a speech given by one of the participants trying to defend the conference.  It was thin stuff.  Personally, I think attempts to paint over centuries of Christian teaching and tradition were unwise and did little, if anything, to expand our faith or our public life.  Gender inequality still exists.  The Re-imaging Conference is a trivia question that only serves as an illustration of how divided we can become when the extremists are allowed to frame the discussion.

All of that to say this: the Bible declares God is our Father, but also uses motherly images to show the comforting and protective aspects of His character.  A full view of God acknowledges both.  Further, a full view of God acknowledges That He is a spiritual being, a higher form of personhood that is not limited to one gender.  When we say God is our Father, we are not saying He has a physical form like dear old dad.  We are not saying He has any gender.  We are saying that He has acted toward us in ways we understand as being typically masculine and in ways we understand as being typically feminine.  When doing theology, we need to be careful about mistaking our words for the reality.  God is greater than our words.  Otherwise, we fall into error akin to that seen at the Re-imaging Conf.

  1. There are Bible Verses that Compare God to a Human Mother.

For a long time I [God] have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back. But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant. (Isaiah 42:14)  It is comforting to know that God has promised to save His people.  More than that, He is EAGER to do it.  His eagerness is similar to that experienced by a pregnant woman eager to have her baby.  Sometimes other people get eager for the day to arrive!

As a mother comforts her child, so will I [God] comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem. (Isaiah 66:13)  We have good biological and cultural reasons to associate comfort with mothers. The fact that God comforts His people in a way like a mother’s comfort of her child does not mean that God possesses a feminine gender; this is a figure of speech that is meant to have an emotional association.

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I [God] will not forget you! (Isaiah 49:15) It’s comforting to know that even though He brings discipline and allows us to suffer trials, God has not forsaken His people.  Using this metaphor, Isaiah invoked the steadfast love a mother shows her children.

  1. There are Bible verses that compare God to a Mother Bird and a Mother Bear.

A common image of God is of a mother bird sheltering her chicks under her wings.  We can look at six examples.

May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.  (Ruth 2:12)  The word for WING can also be translated as “skirt” for a woman’s garment or “robe” for a man’s garment.  This imagery can be applied to avian and human moms.

Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings. (Psalm 17:8)  In v. 7, David asked God to show THE WONDER OF YOUR GREAT LOVE.  Apparently God answered this prayer as in v. 8 he offered this image of a protective bird as an illustration of God’s wonderful love.

I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed. (Psa. 57:1)  In this verse, the psalmist is calling out for God’s MERCY, not his love, but the analogy of a protective bird is used again.

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge. (Psalm 91:4) In v. 3, the reader is promised to be saved from THE FOWLER’S SNARE, doubling down on the bird imagery.  The psalmist is the bird trying to elude the hunter and God is the parent bird giving him a safe shelter from the hunter.

Jesus renewed these images when he lamented over Jerusalem: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34)  Jesus expressed His grief over the people’s unwillingness to recognize Him as their Messiah.  In so doing, He drew from the Old Testament passages we’ve read and puts Himself in the role of the divine mother hen.  His heart’s desire was to save His people from their sin and the city from destruction, but they utterly refused the refuge He offered.

A variation of this image looks to mother eagles, which are known to teach their eaglets to fly by pushing them out of the nest but catching them before they plunge to their doom. “[God] guarded [Jacob] as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft.” (Deuteronomy 32:10-11)  This infers that though we have times in our lives that it feels like God has tossed us out to fly or die, He is watching over us to catch us before we truly hit bottom.

The other side of these biblical images of motherly warmth is the fierce protection momma gives when her young are threatened.  In another observation of nature but with a different animal, Hosea 13:8 reads, Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them and rip them open,” says the Lord.

There are three wild animals mentioned in this chapter; lion, leopard, and bear.  All three were native to that land and were notorious for their relentless and ferocious natures in killing prey, especially in defense of their young.  The maternal instinct can produce wrath as well as warmth. Beware the fury of a mother whose cubs are threatened!  This is not a sentimental mother-image, but it is comforting to know that God will protect us and will make things right.

  1. But God is Never Called “Mother.”

We’ve seen how the Bible uses maternal images to describe the character and action of God.  However, the Bible never uses feminine gender for God and never called God “our heavenly mother”.

Some people will explain that by citing that the Bible writers lived in a patriarchal culture.  While I think you can argue that point, it still surprises no one that in such a culture, it would be expected to use masculine pronouns for God.

On his internet blog, Shiao Chong offers a better reason. It is his point that the Bible writers would never call God “Mother” because the pagan religions of the day had idols of a “Mother Nature” kind.  They made an idol in a female form, a Mother Goddess, because they hoped to create fertility by worshiping her.  This was not an attempt to glorify women, but to gain some control over nature by personifying it.  Unlike modern pagans, calling god “mother” was never about empowering women. It was about glorifying nature.  God inspired the Bible writers to use metaphors of the fatherly qualities of God with motherly qualities, as need be.

Fatherly qualities are not meant to suggest that God has a masculine gender, nor do the motherly qualities prove that God has a feminine gender.  Together, they prove that God is not limited to a gender as we are: He is greater than both.

God is a Spirit; He wants us to worship Him as Spirit and as Truth.

There are not many verses that present God in a female way but they are part of the Bible and they present a side of God we need to convey more often.  If we were to attempt something similar, we could say of God, “He is like a grandma who puts your coloring pages on her refrigerator.”

Using figures of speech like this does not change our belief about the person of God – He is a spiritual being, without gender – but they help us understand, by association, the characteristics we typically associate with fathers and mothers.  The figures of speech do not define the reality of God, they describe Him to us in symbolic terms that have personal and emotional terms.

We’ve seen that the love of God is protective, comforting, loving, and sheltering.  Those are qualities that some Bible writers used motherhood to illustrate. At this moment you may be wondering if this has anything to do with anything other than theology.

ON A THEOLOGICAL LEVEL: We need to understand what God is saying to us.  God has promised to love His people.  He has declared His love in His desire to comfort, nurture, and protect us. In this relatively short supply of verses, those qualities have been illustrated by examples of motherhood.  These are beautiful and sentimental images that deserve to be heard as such, not used as flimsy justification for re-imaging God.  God does not need a “hostile makeover!”  Let’s defend our theology on this point.

ON A RELATIONAL LEVEL: Genesis 1:27 tells us that God created human beings of both genders in His image.  This verse makes it clear that no one is “more like God” because of our gender.  So this discussion has ramifications for something utterly essential, like our gender and our identity as men and women.  The truth is; both genders together that most completely portray the image of God.

ON A PRACTICAL LEVEL: an application can be found for parents: mothers and fathers must follow God’s example to be the kind of parents He wants us to be.  He is our Father and we must refer to God as such, but He shows us love in forms that we might consider masculine and feminine.

RESOURCES

Shiao Chong’s Blog: “A Reformed Christian’s views on the Christian faith and its engagement with culture and all areas of life.”  https://3dchristianity.wordpress.com/2011/05/06/biblical-maternal-images-for-god/

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

 

Seven Modern Maladies and Their Solutions (1 of 7)

Those of you over 50 years old…

 

professor

need no introduction to this guy.  Chances are you can recount the episode from which this picture was taken.

For the rest of you, this is a picture of “the Professor” character from the TV show “Gilligan’s Island,” which premiered on CBS on September 26, 1964.  Actor Russell Johnson portrayed Professor Roy Hinkley all three seasons the show aired and in subsequent sequels.  He originally did not want the part (in what may have been a prideful moment, he was hoping for a show of his own) and admitted to having difficulty memorizing the lines with a lot of scientific words in them.

Several years ago I received an email that identified the characters on Gilligan’s Island with the seven deadly sins, just for fun.  The Professor was chosen to represent the sin of PRIDE because he was a “know-it-all.”

Pride is a sin because it makes an idol of self.

  1. The vicious vice of pride. (1 Cor. 8:1-3)

How can I identify a sinful degree of pride in myself?  It is a matter of trust: do I trust God or self?  Pride is putting trust in myself or any other worldly thing.         It is a matter of love: do I love God first?  Love of self is appropriate if we love God and others first.  It is a matter of grace: do I try to earn favor?  This can be subtle, but I believe that I can be worthy to enter heaven by being a good person, that is a form of pride.

Why is pride deadly?  It is deadly because it can blind us to our need for God.  If we don’t acknowledge our personal problem with sin and our need for Jesus Christ as Savior, we are dead in our sins and unsaved.  Self-reliance can be a good thing except in spirituality.  In spiritual matters we must rely on God.

The context of this verse is a “hot button” issue in the early church; whether or not it was appropriate to eat the meat of animals that had been slain as a sacrifice to an idol.  Paul’s teaching on this issue reveals how pride can replace true spirituality.  In his answer, Paul was inspired to make three points.

First, WE ALL HAVE KNOWLEDGE.  That was Paul’s way of saying, “Everyone in the church has an opinion on this subject.”   The question was, whose opinion was right?

Paul’s answer might be summarized as, “The person who relies on God’s wisdom than human knowledge.”  The spiritually mature view is to not be legalistic because legalism is a religious form of pride.  It puts human knowledge above spiritual revelation, and law above grace.

Second, love is better than knowledge.  Paul wrote that KNOWLEDGE PUFFS UP – that is – it creates a pride.  “Know-it-all” people and legalists have a toxic effect on relationships.  LOVE is better because it BUILDS UP other people.  People who have the love of the Lord have a positive effect on relationships.

KNOWLEDGE asks questions like…

What are my rights?

There are no exceptions – no need to pay attention to context – so, what does the law say?

How can I be vigilant to correct wrong-doing in others?

How do I need to exert my will?

LOVE asks questions like…

What is my responsibility?

What has God revealed to me?

What can I do to show God’s grace and promote spiritual maturity?

How can I help others to do God’s will?

Third, humility is best defined as accurate self-knowledge.  This may sound shocking: self-reliance is the greatest enemy of faith because it encourages inaccurate self-knowledge.

People who are intellectually self-reliant are proud of their big brains.  They tend to reject faith, tradition and Scripture because they’ve “figured it all out” and “know better.”

People who are materially self-reliant seek security from money in the bank or are materialistic in more subtle ways.

People who are physically self-reliant tend to emphasize experience and value excitement.  They refute absolute truth and morality as it might limit on their freedom.

People who are spiritually self-reliant have made up their own faith; they see no problem with placing their hope in something that has no more authority than wishful thinking.

Humility is needed and none of these self-reliant people are humble because they fundamentally misperceive themselves.   Accurate self-knowledge comes only in relationship with God.  For example, every day we rely on a mirror to accurately view our appearance.  In a similar but more important way, we need someone to reflect our true self back to us.

Apart from God, all we have are other people to be mirrors for us.  There are at least two problems with depending on people to serve as our “character mirrors.”

No one else really knows us.  They can’t know read minds and they have not lived all our life with us.  God knows us better than we know ourselves and He has been with us all our lives.

The perspective of others is always heavily influenced by their own thoughts and experiences; they are incapable of being a truly accurate reflection.  God IS the truth.  He alone can truly reflect us.

So how do we access God’s perspective?  Primarily, we gain God’s perspective through prayer, Scripture, and the Holy Spirit.   Secondarily, we can gain God’s perspective through other believers who are spiritually maturing and speak through the Holy Spirit.

  1. The vital virtue of humility. (Romans 12:3)

The context of this passage: in Romans 12, Paul reminded the church members that they were not separate bodies, but one.  The individual believers, like organs in a body, must all function and function together for the health of the whole.

How am I to practice humility?  Paul listed three specific requirements.

First, I must stand in God’s grace, not in my works.  In the phrase, FOR BY THE GRACE GIVEN ME Paul identified the authority behind his words (God) and the source of his words (also God).

GRACE is God’s favor on undeserving people.  Pride is a sin because it attempts to do away with GRACE, to make it unnecessary by redefining sin out of existence or at least making it unimportant.

Humility is a virtue because it admits to our complete dependence on God.  You can’t have humility without GRACE.

Second, I must not think too highly of myself; no more than I OUGHT to.  Humility is NOT making yourself a doormat.  It has very little to do with passivity.  Humility is knowing who you really are, as God has given you perspective to know yourself accurately.

Accurate self-knowledge will never lead to pride.  It is never self-centered.  Accurate self-knowledge is awareness of your strengths and weaknesses and a desire to live within them.  Accurate self-knowledge does not deny ambition, but it tempers it.  It is based on truth and is the most realistic view of self.

I must think of myself as God does.  Because of GRACE, I see myself as a child of God.  Thereby I can…

Third, exercise SOBER JUDGMENT.  I can see good and evil in the world and react accordingly.  I understand life IN THE MEASURE OF FAITH.

Notice FAITH too is God’s gift.  FAITH is not something we make up to suit ourselves or to fit in with the crowd.  FAITH is received.  It must be sought and discovered.  It is passed on and received.

Humility is vital because pride can blind us to our need for God. Pride replaces God with self.  Pride leaves us dead in sin because if we don’t acknowledge our sin & our need for the Savior then we will never have faith.

Those of you under 50 years old…

selfie

know what this woman is doing.

For the rest of you, this gal is taking a “selfie” and she’s using a “selfie stick” and her smart phone to do it.  She will post the self-portrait on a website called Instagram, where people typically draw attention to themselves.

A friend gave me a copy of this cartoon that identifies the seven deadly sins with websites, updating this list for modern times.   Instagram is a photo and video-sharing website and app that began way back in 2010 and is owned by Facebook.  As of September, 2017, Instagram had 800 million registered users and over 40 billion photos and videos have been uploaded to it.  Instagram is criticized both for its censorship and its lack of censorship, proving again you can’t make everyone happy.

My point is not that users of Instagram are raging egomaniacs.  Instead, I merely offer Instagram is a symbol of pride because it is a place where people show themselves to the world.  However, the self they’re showing is possibly more flattering than accurate.

Pride is a sin because it makes an idol of self.

Our message is simple: avoid the vice of pride while practicing the virtue of humility.  We prize independence and in politics and finances, that is a good thing.  But in every other respect, dependence on God and interdependence among believers is the ideal.  It is an ideal achieved by humility, not pride.

Bart, Interrupted

Bart Ditched His Bible and He Wants You to Do the Same

A review of Jesus, Interrupted by Bart D. Ehrman

Bart

From the Top, the Bottom Line

Bart D. Ehrman has thoroughly researched the Bible and he is thoroughly convinced is a merely human invention.  On that basis, he ditched his Bible and became an agnostic (officially a “doubter” that there is a God, functionally an atheist) and he wants you to do the same.  Jesus, Interrupted is nothing more or less than the “science” of historical criticism warmed over and plated in a way to appeal to the widest possible audience.  The book is not worth your time.

Meet Bart

Dr. Bart Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of – get this – Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.  If an avowed agnostic directing a department of religious studies sounds oxymoronic, you may not need to read the rest of this review.  You already get his schtick.

Visit his website and you’ll find Dr. Bart is a media darling.  If Oprah were still dosing out daily secular culture, she would have Dr. Bart on the show as a regular.  Not content to poison the waters of academia (he says that nearly all the experts agree with him anyway), Bart has set his site on the general public.  It is his method to make this one-sided academic as folksy as possible so that more of us bumpkins will follow his lead.  All that’s necessary is that you trust Dr. Bart implicitly when he says this is this and that is not what you thought it was.

He claims that his aim is not to tear down anyone’s faith, but his use of language, repetition, and his one-sided, single-minded propagandizing give the lie to that claim.  Whether his real motive is to increase his fame, enlarge his followers, please his dog Billy, or what I don’t know.  I do know that nobody goes to all this trouble for some selfless “Dragnet”-like presentation of “just the facts.”  There is no reason to trust someone who possessed faith and recanted it (see 1 John 2:18-19 and 1 John 2:26-27; 5:10-11; 2 John 7-10).

Bart, Interrupted

If, for now, the reader hesitates, wondering if I am oversimplifying or overstating my case, let me offer the subtitle of the book; “Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don’t Know About Them).”  No, I’m not making this stuff up.  When you get beyond the cover, that kind of thing is repeated several times each chapter.  Unless I missed something on Dr. Bart’s website, none of his degrees are in history.  Just keep that in mind as he identifies himself as a historian.  Now we’ll take a look at some of the details and see if there are answers to Dr. Bart’s rhetoric.

  1. Dr. Bart’s Thesis. “My thesis here is that not only is the Bible a very human book, but that Christianity as it has developed and come down to us today is a very human religion.”  (p. 226)
  2. Dr. Bart’s Personal Application. “The Christian claim that their religion is also divinely inspired is a theological view that historians have no way of evaluating; historians don’t have access to God, only to what happens here on earth and in front of our eyes – or in front of someone else’s eyes.  I personally do not accept this view any longer (though I once did); but as you will see in the final chapter, the historical findings I am discussing here do not necessarily lead to my personal agnostic conclusions.” (p. 227)
  3. Dr. Bart’s Main Points. Why you too should not believe the Bible is the Word of God.

a. The Bible is just a human book because we don’t really know who wrote these books. Under intense scrutiny experts in language and history find differences in books attributed to the same author.  Dr. Bart helpfully supplies a number of reasons why someone would write a book claiming to be someone else.  He concludes that this kind of duplicity is damning evidence of the unreliability of the Bible.  That suits his case, but does it really matter?  Is it impossible that God could inspire someone who wrote under a pseudonym?  Comments like these delve into minutiae, constructing mountains out of molehills.  Even if we give them this point, does it make any real difference?

b. The Bible is just a human book because we don’t like some of the things written there. This is the most convenient part of the opinions of Dr. Bart and his fellows; find something disagreeable almost everywhere they look.

Generally speaking, people with Dr. Bart’s point of view are Modernists who haven’t got the memo.  They think the scientific method is all that and a bag of chips.  So, let’s start by assuming an evolutionary frame of mind: what’s new (and incidentally trendy) is better.  Only things that bow to the idol of reason or can be observed by the five senses are true: everything else is opinion, not fact.  The short list of things cut down by this perspective include the non-scientific, extrasensory, and politically incorrect. Misogyny.  Homophobia.  Miracles.  Divinity (the supernatural, not the fudge-like stuff grandma made at Christmas).  Prophecy.  Inerrancy.  Infallibility.  Inspiration.  Capitalism.

c. The Bible is just a human book because the selection of the canon was done by the Church. Dr. Bart’s opinions rely on viewing these complex issues through a single lens; a “scientific historian” one.  A modern, Western, scientific historical one.  A viewpoint that looks like his.  Put on your cardigan and suit coat with the leather elbow patches.  A scraggly beard and glasses would help.

d. The Bible is just a human book because other ancient writers said so. As non-Christians, what would you expect?  People outside the faith aren’t going to credit it as true.  If Christianity competed with their worldview, they’d ignore it, decry it, or minimalize it.

e. Because the Bible is just a human book, we’ve entirely missed the point on Jesus; he actually was just an “apocalyptic Jewish prophet.” Yeah, try that on for size.  Is anyone else seeing this as a conclusion strikingly similar to Muhammed’s take on Jesus; “just another prophet?”

4. Dr. Bart’s Methods.

a. “I’m a doctor, trust me.” Bart D. Ehrman wants to spare the reader the tedious work of studying these matters (a worthy goal) and independent thinking (an unworthy goal).  He may sincerely believe he’s giving us the benefit of his lifelong search for the “historical Jesus,” but he repeatedly resorts to the equivalent of “just take my word on this.”

Would some statistics or facts help or harm his position?  He frequently resorts to generalities “lots, many, most” that could just as easily be oversimplification or exaggeration.  Dr. Bart does offer examples of passages that support his views, but he also claims that there are “lots” more of these in the Bible.  How about a list?  Generalized, exaggerated, inflated statements like these typically betray someone trying to sound more knowledgeable than they really are.  (Ooops.  Was that ironic?  Am I trying to do the same thing to Dr. Bart that he’s done to the reader?)

b. “Eight out of ten doctors of religious studies in liberal universities agree with me.” OK, I am clearly overstating this to make a point.  Since when does orthodoxy equal popularity?  When a writer appeals to popularity as a basis for authority, reasonable discourse is less possible.  Again, it’s the kind of thing you write if you want to sound authoritative without actually supplying evidence.

c. “People who believe in divine inspiration are biased, ignorant, and unsophisticated.” This is implied, not stated, but it’s a mood that clings to the book like cigarette smoke to a bowling shirt.

d. “I can trace my philosophic lineage back to Schweitzer and Bauer and they lived a long time ago.” Albert Schweitzer became a Unitarian and denied the divinity of Jesus Christ.  Walter Bauer’s thesis (one that Dr. Ehrman seems to embrace) was that one version of Christianity triumphed over the others and won the title “orthodox” (correct belief).  You can – as “historians” often do – blame Constantine for that.  The fact the other Christian beliefs existed is, to Dr. Bart, a sure sign that a human process was at work and orthodoxy is just a human invention.

e. “Let me remind you.” There is a sentence that is rephrased but appears often in this book.  It is the same assertion made in the subtitle; the Bible is just not trustworthy.  It is the same old “full of errors and contradictions” stuff that people spout just because they’ve heard it from somebody in authority.  That kind of repetition is pedantic, propagandistic.

5. Where I agree.

a. If you define “historian” as a guy like Dr. Bart, then I agree with his contention that such people are unqualified to judge the supernaturality of anything. However, he uses that as a point for rejecting anything of the divine, so I guess he thinks maybe he is qualified after all.  I suspect it is a rhetorical device for avoiding discussion of anything he doesn’t want to discuss.

b. When someone claims as a statement of faith that the Bible is “inspired in its original autographs (first copies),” that is a cop-out. We simply do not have the original documents.  It’s not a great leap of faith to say, “We believe God inspired the original authors, but these copyists we’re not too sure about.”  Make a statement about the Bible in your hands or say nothing at all.

c. Bible interpreters DO need to do more of what Dr. Bart calls “horizontal reading,” making comparisons in biblical passages. “Vertical reading” is very much akin to cherry-picking and taking quotes out of context.  Every Bible study and sermon needs to examine the text in literary, cultural, and historical contexts.  More horizontal reading will lead to less error and be less prone to eisegesis (interpreting from preconceptions first).

d. There are things in the Bible that require, at least, some mental gymnastics to fit together and fit in a systematic theology. The Bible itself seems to offer resistance to making easy generalizations.  Exceptions and challenging passages are numerous.  However, in my experience, they rarely – if ever – amount to much.  For example, how did Judas die?  Who cares?  I have struggled to harmonize the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection.  It can be done.  Is it important?  Not really.

e. Introducing us to some of the books that did NOT make the canon (were not included in our Bible), Dr. Bart supplies good reasons for their NOT being included, though he does not say that. Some of the stuff in this non-canonical works is just goofy.

f. “In traditional Christianity the Bible itself has never been an object of faith.” (p. 225) There is a line that is crossed when knowledge of the Bible becomes the primary or sole means of salvation.  It is a line drawn by the beholder, but it’s there just the same.  The object of our faith is Christ; the Bible is one means Christ has been revealed to us.  I try to refrain from “bibliolatry” as I call it.  If this is Dr. Ehrman’s point, then I agree.

6. Where I disagree.

a. Despite his claims to the contrary, Dr. Bart does want to persuade the reader to adopt his opinion. Generously, he allows you to make up your own mind how you apply it to life or faith.  That does not change the fact that his aim is to create a new orthodoxy and is trying to make it as appealing to a mass audience as possible.  (After all, who wants to be “unsophisticated” or “unscientific?”)

b. Proving that people had something to do with the Bible does not prove its unreliability as a written revelation of God. It proves that historically, people were involved.  Dr. Bart won’t even speculate that God might’ve been providentially involved in a process that can be historically described.

c. Dr. Bart has exercised his imagination in providing an alternative and thoroughly secular view to the development of the Bible and Christianity. Take the same set of facts and look at them from a theological viewpoint and other explanations arise.

d. When is Dr. Bart going to apply his critical expertise to the Quran or the Bhagavad Gita? When are other sacred writing exposed to this withering scrutiny?  How would this kind of prickly expose be received by Muslims or Hindus?

e. What you won’t find Dr. Bart discussing are the facts that the Bible was penned by nearly 40 authors over a period of 1600 years. It would be a statistical impossibility to achieve the internal integrity shown by the Bible.  You won’t find the same level of consistency in the Quran, Book of Mormon, or the Bhagavad Gita, though they are all reputedly written by a single person.

f. If 90% of the Bible (as a completely arbitrary figure, giving Dr. Bart too much credit) is self-consistent and 10% is not, it does not make sense to write a whole book about the 10% and claim it discredits 100% of the book.

g. I don’t accept Dr. Bart’s viewpoint as solely conclusive. I don’t trust him and view his generalizations, simplifications, and exaggerations with suspicions.  Indeed, our modern predilection toward viewing the scientific method as being THE test of truth is self-serving.

h. Portions of the Bible identify itself as inspired. For example, Peter viewed Paul’s writings as Scripture (see 2 Peter 3:15-16).  Dr. Bart speculates that Paul did not write his letters thinking of them as Scripture because he nowhere asserted such a claim.  That’s merely an argument from silence.  If historians find God inaccessible, what makes him think he can access Paul’s mind?  I would think a disciplined historian would not make unproveable assertions.

i. People who want to find fault always do. If Christianity had emerged whole cloth and Scripture was easy to harmonize, then people like Dr. Bart would still cry foul.  Imagine four people on the corners of an intersection.  Their accounts of a traffic accident occurring in their midst would not agree in all the details and significant differences may occur.  Does that make the witnesses liars?  Could not the explanation of the accident that accounts for the greater portion of the witness accounts be assumed to be an accurate portrayal of the accident?  Look at all the commentary on JFK’s assassination.  Is there no way to evaluate all that evidence, mitigating biases, to come up with a rational explanation?

He cries foul because, given some factoids and imagination, he can trace the development of the Bible and Christianity as a merely human set of actions (a conspiracy?).  The presence of what I call “human fingerprints” and a historical paper trail do not disprove the role of the supernatural in what we call orthodoxy today.  This is political correctness and modernity masquerading as scholarship.

j. Textual criticism and historical criticism are not methods of study that inevitably lead to Dr. Bart’s conclusions. That’s called bias, Dr. Bart, and that’s the charge you lay at the feet of the church fathers.

k. It’s counter-intuitive to contend, as Dr. Bart does, that a theology was formed and then sacred writings were cooked up to justify them. A simpler explanation is that the theology was received by writings that were later regarded as sacred.  Whether the canonizing councils always did right and for the right reasons merely proves their humanity, not their inaccuracy.

l. “Amazingly, virtually every time a new document is found, it is ‘heretical’ rather than ‘proto-orthodox.” (p. 215) Please don’t be distracted by the jargon; Dr. Ehrman’s point is that archaeology typically disproves the Bible.  Here’s another of those generalizations I told you about.  Dr. Bart wants us to take his word on this.  Here’s why; the movement of historical criticism of the Bible predates the establishment of the science of archaeology.  Germans like Schweitzer and Bauer were skeptical of the historicity of the Bible because, in part, there was so little evidence to examine.  But then people started digging stuff up.  Archaeology was born.  For example, no contemporary records for the existence of Pontius Pilate had been found and skeptics famously insisted the Bible was wrong on that point.  Then a monument was unearthed bearing his name.  Ooops.  Did any of those “experts” recant?

I will commit the same kind of gross generalization Dr. Bart does and say my perception is that the findings of these digs consistently uphold the Bible as an authentic statement of ancient history.  I wonder if there is any reliable statistical data to support either of us?  What Dr. Bart perceives is no doubt the bias of the people he’s read.  Me too, probably.

Throw out the whole point.  What difference does it make if historical evidence can be found?  The very nature of faith is that it operates independently of secular and physical evidence.  Who agreed that reason and/or the human brain and senses should be exalted as the final authority?  That kind of idolatry serves the skeptics, so they insist on it.  Phooey.

m. Dr. Bart is fairly transparent in writing that for him personally, the sticky wicket of Christianity is not claims of divine inspiration of the Bible, but the problem of suffering.  The existence of evil and suffering is a deal breaker.

I find this disappointing because it is a superficial complaint, even an excuse too-frequently offered.  Some people can’t (or won’t) reconcile the existence of evil and suffering with a god who is perfect in love or power.  Because bad things happen, god must either be imperfect or the whole thing is an exercise in wishful thinking.  This is the objection that grounded the faith of Charles Templeton, a close friend of the late Rev. Billy Graham.  In the 1940s, Templeton and Graham were in a kind of competition to establish ministries as mass evangelists.  It wasn’t so much that Graham won the race as Templeton chose to drop out.  He witnessed atrocious suffering and lost his faith, becoming a notorious atheist. Obviously, Billy Graham kept faithful to his faith and went on to impart it to countless others.  (This is merely an example.  I do not offer it as a proof of anything.)

There are many things that can be offered in answer to this problem.  As many of them are derived from the Bible, one wonders if Dr. Bart would receive them at all.  There is not space enough to address this issue here, so instead I encourage to read his Bible and to reason it out as well.  Quite simply, there is evil in the world and it creates suffering in its wake.  God allows suffering as a worldly outcome of free will and utilizes it, redeeming it, as a means of refining our faith.  An image of god that is only pleasant is another exercise of imagination and a “straw doggie” set up because it is easy to knock down; another rhetorical trick.

 

A Fishy Story

Please read Matthew 17:24-27 in your favorite Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

Because of the law of love, keep the law of the land.

  1. The problem as the tax collectors saw it. (17:24)

The tax collectors saw Jesus and Peter as being delinquent on their taxes.  That was the presenting issue anyway.  I suspect this was a trap set for Jesus.  The passive aggressive way the question is framed supports this view.  Also, the Gospels mention several occasions when Jewish leaders tried to catch Jesus in an error or taking sides in a hotly-debated issue.  Kind of like our media!

This event happened in Capernaum, Jesus’ usual home when in Galilee, the province north of Jerusalem in Judea.  The word “tax” doesn’t actually appear in verse 24.  It literally says “two-drachma coin,” which was the temple tax rate.

This was the only tax collected by the Jews not the Romans.  The Romans were historically lenient when it came to religious observances that did not compromise imperial taxes and/or loyalty to the empire.  Interesting fact: even after the Jewish temple was destroyed in 72 AD, the Romans continued the tradition of the “temple tax,” but they used it to find their temple to Jupiter!

We might call this a “head tax;” if you’ve got one, you’ve got to pay it.  It was commanded in Scripture: see Exodus 30:11-16.  It is also mentioned in 2 Chronicles 24:6+9, where it is called “atonement for your soul.”  That sounds important!

One drachma was a day’s wage for a typical worker.  Imagine me showing up on your doorstep once a year and hitting you up for two day’s income.  It might not bankrupt you, but it wasn’t painless either.

Commentator William Barclay explains the need for the tax:

“The temple at Jerusalem was a costly place to run.  There were the daily morning and evening sacrifices each of which involved the offering of a year-old lamb.  Along with the lamb were offered flour and oil.  The incense which was burned every day had to be bought and prepared.  The costly hangings and the robes of the priests constantly wore out; and the robe of the High Priest was itself worth a king’s ransom.  All this required money.”

(The Daily Study Bible Series, Matthew, p. 168.)

  1. The problem as Jesus saw it. (17:25-26)

Jesus’ saw the problem as being the tax collector attempting to collect from Peter and Himself a tax from which they were exempt. The encounter started with the tax collectors jumping Peter at the door.  Maybe they were trying to surprise Peter and intimidate him?  Peter may’ve been intimidated or surprised and he blurted out, “YES, HE DOES,” then went inside to make sure He did.

Jesus overheard; I imagine the tax collectors made a loud accusation, trying to make Jesus look bad in front of the folks that typically gathered outside any place He settled.  When Peter came inside, Jesus commented: “WHAT DO YOU THINK, SIMON?  FROM WHOM DO THE KINGS OF THE EARTH COLLECT DUTY AND TAXES – FROM THEIR OWN SONS OR FROM OTHERS?”

The answer was obvious, and Peter got it; “FROM OTHERS” he replied.  This was true; it was the habit of kings of the day to excuse members of their family from paying taxes.  Jesus’ first point is that the king’s kids are excused from paying taxes.  This was one of many examples of the powerful oppressing the needy.

His next point is that He is Son to a much greater King; the very God who commanded the tax be collected!  Jesus’ knowledge of His unique place came early in life.  In Luke 2:49 we see that Jesus, as a 12 year-old, referred to the temple as “MY FATHER’S HOUSE.”  As God’s Son, He was not – according to usual standards – required to pay any taxes.

A third point is that if this tax really was “atonement for the soul,” He needed to do no atoning, because He was not guilty of sin. There was no separation between God the Son and God the Father. No offering was needed.  Just the opposite; Jesus IS our atonement!  In His sacrifice on the cross we find our sin forgiven and our relationship with God restored.

He turned the occasion into a teachable moment, revealing two things about Himself.  First, Jesus is LORD.  “THEN THE SONS ARE EXEMPT” Jesus said to Peter, continuing the dialogue (26).  As the Son of God, Jesus was not required to pay that tax.

When we accept the Lordship of Jesus, we accept His right to rule over our lives and offer ourselves in service to Him.  Ironically, it is in this surrender that we realize true freedom.  As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:17; NOW THE LORD IS THE SPIRIT, AND WHERE THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS, THERE IS FREEDOM.

Second, Jesus revealed that He is LOVE.  Jesus went on to say, “BUT SO WE MAY NOT OFFEND THEM…” (27).  The Gk word for OFFEND is skandalizein.  It meant to be a “stumbling block, a reason for sin, an obstruction in someone’s path.”  We must carefully guard against bringing offense or scandal if it’s at all possible.

A basic moral principle is the “preciousness of others.”  It’s based on Phillippians 2:3; DO NOTHING OUT OF SELFISH AMBITION OR VAIN CONCEIT, BUT IN HUMILITY CONSIDER OTHERS BETTER THAN YOURSELVES.  Jesus was under no legal obligation to pay their tax, but He did pay it, out of love.

  1. Jesus’ solution to the problem. (17:26-27)

The customs of the day did not require Jesus to pay the tax – the law did not apply to Him.  However, He voluntarily paid the tax because of the greater law of love.  Even though it was just tricky tax collectors setting a trap, He voluntarily paid the tax.

He performed a miracle to prove His legal exception and His true nature.  This miracle drives some people crazy.  The whole coin and the fish thing sounds like – well, like a fish story!           After all, why not just reach in His pocket and give Peter two coins?

First, pockets hadn’t been invented yet.  The French did that hundreds of years later.

Second, when we do what anybody can do, how does God get any glory out of that?  Miraculous and supernatural things serve as better evidence for God than everyday things.

Third, I picture the crowd outside waiting on the results of this confrontation and understood it to be a demonstration that will literally show them who is boss.

Jesus sent Peter out to the lake, which was probably nearby.  “Go fish” He said.  The first fish to bite would have something special in its tummy.  Peter was to take the coins he found there and use those funds to pay their taxes.

People who are troubled by these verses have not taken time to think it out or have a nutty predisposition against miracles.   Some think they are too smart – too “scientific” – to believe in miracles. Others think it depicts Jesus as misusing His divine power.

They’re both wrong.  Every Gospel miracle had a shared purpose: to show people Jesus is God’s Son.  The purpose of this miracle is no different.  Only the occasion is different.  Jesus claimed to be God’s Son and then proved He was by means of this miracle.

  1. How does this help you pay your taxes?

Go fishing – what can it hurt?  You will likely find this is a one-time event and won’t be repeated for you.  Notice that the fish had exactly what was needed, no more.  God supplies our “daily bread” without wasting any extra “dough.”

He supplies our needs, not our “greeds.”  Biblically, the ideal is that we can be self-sufficient enough to be generous with those in need and support God’s work too.

It can help with your attitude if you follow Jesus’ example of  humility and love.  Love for others is the second greatest command.  Jesus showed love by sincerely attempting to avoid causing offense to the legalistic crowd hung up on his taxes.

Because of the law of love, keep the law of the land

I’ll admit: on the outside this story reads strangely.  One commentator wrote that he’d been ashamed of the story because it felt so contrary to our reasonable and scientific culture.  It can feel silly to moderns who are so proud of their brains and have put their trust in science.

It is my prayer that we’ve looked more deeply.  With God’s Spirit we’ve seen this event through the eyes and ears of the people on the scene when it happened.   Hopefully it will make more sense and be visible to us as a time when Jesus used an unusual circumstance to teach very typical lessons on who He was and how we are to live like Him.

While it is a “fish story,” it is true and a parable of sorts that reminds us about God’s provision for us, our provision for each other, and our responsibility to see God in the details of daily living.

What NOW?

NBS 13

Take a moment to read Numbers 13+14 in your favorite Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to research these remarks.

I think it’s something that happens to all of us at one time or another.  We’ve prepared for something, enjoyed success, felt elated and satisfied…and then we wake up the next morning and realize that thing is over.  There’s an obvious hole where that thing was, and we wonder, “What now?”

It’s the feeling Simon Peter had the day after the resurrected Jesus appeared to him and even Thomas was finally on board.  Being a man’s man, Peter met the “morning after blues” head on and said, “I’m going fishing.”  Look it up.  It’s in John 21:3.

This is a twice-yearly feeling for pastors, one that is felt most keenly the day after Easter.  Andy Fuqua described it pretty well in an article entitled, “The Post-Easter Blues.”

“You might think that a large attendance, a big production, a chance to passionately share the gospel, and an opportunity to rejoice because Jesus is alive would mean that pastors go home from Easter Sunday on cloud nine.  It may come as a surprise to learn that many, many pastors contemplate quitting the ministry the day after Easter.  The ‘post-Easter blues’ aren’t logical, but they are real.”

(Read the whole article at andyfuqua.com/2016/03/28/post-easter-blues/.)

When dealing with “morning after” moments and the other disappointments of life, the bottom line is this:

Don’t give up on God.

This morning we’ll take a quick look at one instance where the people of God gave even before they got started.  They gave up on God, suffering devastating consequences. We can learn from their mistakes.

  1. 12 spies had 40 days of fruitful research. (13:23-27)

The first half of chapter thirteen details the first committee formed in the Bible; the twelve men sent in to scout the Promised Land.  This was a 40 day trip; pretty extensive searching and a rather daring thing to do considering they didn’t know any languages or cultures.

The last half of the chapter deals with the report they filed.  They brought along physical evidence; a CLUSTER OF GRAPES, with POMEGRANATES and FIGS.  This collection of fruit was so great it took two men to carry it.  They said, “WE WENT INTO THE LAND TO WHICH YOU SENT US AND IT DOES FLOW WITH MILK AND HONEY!  HERE IS ITS FRUIT.”

  1. 10 spies gave up on God’s promise. (13:28-33)

After attesting to quality of the land and its produce, the majority gave up on the LORD when they got around to describing the people who lived there.  “THE PEOPLE ARE POWERFUL,” they said, and embellished on that with, they are “DESCENDANTS OF ANAK (28), and THE NEPHILIM (33).  You might read Genesis 6:1-4 to find out who these legendary characters were.  But please don’t ask me to explain; we don’t have enough room for that.

It seems to me the majority is making excuses; “ALL THE PEOPLE THERE ARE OF GREAT SIZE” (32) and “WE SEEMED LIKE GRASS-HOPPERS IN OUR OWN EYES, AND WE LOOKED THE SAME TO THEM (33).”  These exaggerations are bent on disguising the fact that it was their fear of the size of the task that motivated their pessimism, not the size of the people.  The true comment is added almost as an afterthought:  their “CITIES ARE FORTIFIED AND VERY LARGE (28).”

The two dissenting members were Joshua and Caleb.  Caleb voiced the minority opinion in verse thirty, trying to impart some faith-fueled  confidence to these cowering characters.

  1. 40 years and 1 generation later, they would finally enter the Promised Land (14:1-45).

The majority worked their tale-spinning until the whole COMMUNITY spent the night grumbling and bawling (14:1-4).  They were ready to elect someone to lead them back to Egypt and a return to slavery!

Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb tried to talk them out of this dumb idea (14:5-9).  They gave four excellent reasons for obeying the LORD and entering the Promised Land.

Verse seven: The “LAND IS EXCEEDINGLY GOOD.”

Verse eight: The “LORD…WILL GIVE IT TO US.”

Verse nine reveals two “do not’s.”  One, “DO NOT REBEL AGAINST THE LORD,” and the other, “DO NOT BE AFRAID OF THE PEOPLE OF THE LAND.”

The people’s reaction was violent (14:10).  To make room for new leadership, they decided to stone their current leaders to death!

But God Himself intervened and the GLORY OF THE LORD APPEARED AT THE TENT OF MEETING.  From the beginning (see Exodus 20:18-21), the glorious appearing of the LORD had filled the Hebrews with fear.

God’s reaction sounds extreme (14:11-12).  He was justifiably angry and said to Moses, “HOW LONG WILL THESE PEOPLE TREAT ME WITH CONTEMPT?”  Adding, “THEY REFUSE TO BELIEVE ME IN SPITE OF ALL THE MIRACULOUS SIGNS.”

How could they be so slow to believe?  Not for the first time, God threatened to strike them all down and start over with Moses: “I WILL STRIKE THEM DOWN WITH A PLAGUE” (v. 12).  That was not an empty threat.  Though the nation was spared total destruction, the ten negative spies were NOT spared and, in 14:36-38, died from a PLAGUE.

Moses interceded in prayer for the nation (14:13-19).  Here is Moses’ reasoning: first, killing the entire nation would undo what God had done, causing the nations to disbelieve (14:13-16).  Killing the entire nation would also be contrary to God’s character.  God is love: He is “SLOW TO ANGER, ABOUNDING IN LOVE AND FORGIVING SIN AND REBELLION” (14:17+19).  God is holy, too, demanding justice for the sake of the victims of sin: “HE DOES NOT LEAVE THE GUILTY UNPUNISHED” (14:18).

God forgave the people, but did not tolerate their sin (14:20-38).

According to verse twenty, the LORD had already forgiven them.  Regardless of how it may appear, this conversation is not Moses talking God into forgiving the people as He’d already done it.

But forgiveness does not always mean the offender avoids the consequences of his offense.  Indeed, avoiding discipline or the natural consequences of one’s actions is a shallow perversion of love, not the genuine thing.

That generation of adults had repeatedly been guilty of committing serious sins against the LORD.  In this situation, they had:

DISOBEYED and TESTED Him (22).

Treated Him with CONTEMPT (23).

GRUMBLED against Him (27).

Enacting love and holiness, God gave Moses new orders: “Go back the way you came” (14:25).  This is ironic justice: they’d been plotting to return to Egypt, so God sent them in that direction.

God’s wrath would take 40 years to satisfy.  That complaining, disobedient, and contemptuous generation did not enter the Promised Land; they wandered the wilderness until every member of that generation died (14:26-31).

The people suddenly repented but disobeyed the LORD again and got a whuppin’ for their foolishness (14:39-45).  The death of their ringleaders (36-38) put the fear of God in the nation.  When Moses repeated all God had to him, they MOURNED BITTERLY (14:39).

After what was probably a sleepless night, they were all ready to repent and obey God’s original instructions (14:40).  But they were too late.  This illustrates the principle of “obedience in time” as essential to complete obedience.  When we delay, make excuses or procrastinate, we are being disobedient.  Complete obedience requires doing what you’re told and doing it right away.

Talk about stubborn!  These people thought they’d avoid God’s justice by disobeying Him AGAIN (14:41-44).  The first time they disobeyed Him by refusing to fight.  Now they disobeyed the LORD by refusing to leave, insisting on a fight.  In verse forty-four the writer rightly identified their sin as PRESUMPTION.

Moses warned them a battle now would end with a number of deaths (14:43), which was the awful outcome (14:44-45).  When are we going to learn to obey?  When will we learn going our own way results in calamity?

Notice that in verse forty-four neither Moses nor the Ark of the Covenant was involved in this doomed military expedition.  This battle was not the Lord’s doing & He didn’t assist them.

Don’t give up on God.

You may’ve wondered earlier if I got the “post-Easter blues.”  Not an extreme case, but a little.  I pursued an unusual cure.  I went to a public library and pulled a book from the shelf that expresses some very critical views of the Bible.  I spent the afternoon reading that book and I hope very soon to post a rebuttal on our website.  It sounds weird, but this guy’s heretical opinions set me on edge and that got me out of any sense of the “blues.”

The better part of the experience is being reminded that Easter is not the end of Jesus’ story nor is it the end of ours.  There is a lot of living, loving, and serving in the days ahead.  We might as well be grateful for what God gave us on Easter and get on with it.

That’s a little bit of what Jesus said to His disciples just before He returned to heaven.  To paraphrase just a bit, He said, “It’s time to get to work.  There’s a whole world out there and everyone in it needs to learn about me.  We’ll go together.”

The God who began that work in you will surely see it to completion.  Just don’t give up.