For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. – 1 Corinthians 1:17
Two quick thoughts on this. First, Paul’s attention isn’t beginning to drift at this point in his argument. This pivot is crucial to his argument. Where factions and divisions exist in the Body, Christ is the answer.
Second, eloquent words of wisdom would empty the power of an objective, historical event. Keep reading 1 Corinthians 1 and you’ll see that God’s wisdom trumps human wisdom and the wisdom of God is the cross of Christ. Human wisdom consists in arguments and theories, God’s wisdom is an event, it is actions. Men write thesis and dissertations, God writes his wisdom in the history of the world. Amazing.
Here’s a sermon I preached at LifeSpring Community Church on 3/10 on Matthew 7:7-12.
Praying grounded on these solemn and profound convictions is the only true praying. Preaching backed by such praying is the only preaching that sows the seeds of eternal life in human hearts and builds men up for heaven. -E. M. Bounds, Power Through Prayer
What is the point of the travel details and the storm and shipwreck of Acts 27? In seminary, we had to memorize all three of Paul’s missionary journeys. For the test we were given a blank map and told which journey we had to plot including putting the cities on the map in the right place. So again I ask, what is the point of the travel details in Acts 27? I mean, other than to torment poor seminary students?
I’m not sure I can firmly answer that but I suspect this has something to do with it: The Jews in Rome said to Paul, “We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brothers coming here has reported or spoken any evil about you. But we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.” (Acts 28:21-22) So the people who wanted Paul killed in Acts 23-26 apparently hadn’t shown up in Rome yet. Why? I would guess that if Paul had such harsh travels from Caesarea, his enemies probably had worse! God sent an angel to speak to Paul and promised to deliver everyone on the ship (Acts 27:23). After Paul survived being shipwrecked, he got bitten by a poisonous snake (Acts 28:1-6). The only way Paul survived all of this was because God wanted him in Rome (Acts 23:11). If any of his accusers came after him I doubt they would have made it.
“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” – 1 Peter 4:18
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. – 2 Corinthians 5:1-5
I don’t want to be naked, not naked like Paul is describing it above, at least I don’t want to be that kind of naked for very long. Though Paul is mixing the metaphor a bit, what he is getting at is that we’re not souls in a physical body which we’ll be released from when we die. A disembodied soul is what he means by being “naked.”
When I was a kid, the idea you got from movies and TV was that when we die we go to heaven to become angels. Sometimes we have to earn our wings by doing something to help the living so what we really become is guardian angels. That sounds nice and makes for okay TV movie plots, but in reality it is a far cry less than what really awaits us.
According to Paul’s terminology here, we have a “tent” that is our earthly home. But it isn’t a flesh spacesuit we take off when we die. It is imperfect and, whether we know it or now, we long for the heavenly version of it. But that heavenly version isn’t clouds, halos, harps, white robes and earning wings and becoming angels. No, we will judge the angels (1 Cor 6:3) and what we have is what the angels long to examine (1 Pet 1:12).
We get something much better than what the angels get. When some of the angels rebelled, God created hell for them (Matt 25:41) and appointed a day when they’d get sent there (Matt 8:29) to be punished for their rebellion. He didn’t make a way for their sin to be forgiven. Angels won’t be redeemed.
But God decided to redeem a portion of humanity even though we’re a little below the angels (Heb 2:7). The cost to accomplish this, the eternal Son to set aside his glory, took on a real human body and human soul so that he could die a real human death. And what did Jesus gain for us? Clouds and halos for eternity? No, that would be boring. Jesus no only got us an escape from hell, which would be very good, but he also gained us new life. That new life consists of a new heart in this life and a resurrected body for eternity. The taste we get new pales in comparison to what it will be like for us in the resurrection. That’s what Paul is getting at in the quote above. What is mortal will be swallowed up in life, not in long white robes and not disembodied spirits floating around either.
So what happens after death and before the resurrection? We are with Jesus (2 Cor 5:8) which is better (Phil 1:21). According to the parable of Lazarus in Luke 16 we will be comforted with the saints, not tormented with the sinners. But according to Paul above, we still long for our resurrected bodies. We’re not complete if we’re just a spirit and we’ll long for the completion.
I shall sleep sound in Jesus, filled with His likeness rise,
To love and to adore Him, to see Him with these eyes:
’Tween me and resurrection but Paradise doth stand;
Then—then for glory dwelling in Immanuel’s land. – The Sands of Time are Sinking, Anne R. Cousin
In describing a large water basin, 2 Chronicles 4:2 reads, “Also he made a molten sea of ten cubits from brim to brim, round in compass, and five cubits the height thereof; and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about.” A similar verse appears at 1 Kings 7:23.
Critics point out that this implies that pi is 3, and in 1983 about 100 professors and students at Emporia State University in Kansas founded an Institute of Pi Research to lobby (wryly) for adopting this new value in place of the awkward 3.14159 …
“To think that God in his infinite wisdom would create something as messy as this is a monstrous thought,” medieval historian Samuel Dicks told the Kansas City Times. “I think we deserve to be taken as seriously as the creationists.”
“If the Bible is right in biology, it’s right in math,” added economic historian Loren Pennington.
But writing in the Mathematical Gazette in 1985, M.D. Stern of Manchester Polytechnic noted (also wryly) that the word translated as line above is transliterated qwh but read qw. Further, the ancient Greeks and Jews used letters to denote numbers, with the letters q, w, and h taking the numerical values 100, 6, and 5.
“Thus the word translated line in its written form has numerical value 111 whereas as read the value is 106. If we take the ratio of these numbers as a correcting factor for the apparent value of pi as 3 and calculate 3 × (111/106), we obtain 3.141509 to 7 significant figures. This differs from the true value of pi by less than 10-4 which is remarkable. In view of this, it might be suggested that this peculiar spelling is of more significance than a cursory reading might have suggested.”
Source: Futility Closet
Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children…But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. (Galatians 4:21-25, 30-31)
Paul is saying here, via allegory, that Jerusalem as it was in his day was cast out. He said that Jerusalem was Hagar and then cites scripture that says Hagar and Ishmael were rejected.
And if you consider the context of the quote from Genesis 21 what God told Abraham to do was follow the wishes of his wife Sarah “for through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This promise of offspring, according to Galatians 3, is the promise of Jesus and the promise was given in the form of a covenant. The blessings of the covenant would come through Isaac, not Ishmael therefore Ishmael was to be cut off and sent away. So what Paul is saying in chapter 4 through this allegory is that Jerusalem was cut off from the blessings of Abraham’s covenant. That doesn’t mean that God is going to completely ignore Israel any more than he was abandoning Ishmael. God promised Abraham “As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.” (Genesis 17:20-21)
The covenant doesn’t belong to national Israel because they rejected the promised Offspring and choose instead to remain under the law. God may still bless them, indeed history seems to show that he is still watching over them, but the covenant is with Sarah and her children. This is why at the end of the letter to the Galatians when Paul picks up the pen himself, he says “And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” (Galatians 6:16) The rule is a rejection of circumcision and blessing is upon those who agree with that and the Israel of God, that is, the offspring of the free woman, the church.
This is really just a fragment of a larger discussion on the covenant and the place of Israel in it. This little post doesn’t say all that is to be said on that subject. Consult a theologian before using this post.
When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” And he said, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so.” – 2 Kings 2:9-10
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. – Acts 1:8-9
I don’t want to make too much about this but I find it interesting that Elisha received a portion of the Spirit that was on Elijah as he watched Elijah be taken into heaven and in Acts there is an emphasis put on the coming of the Holy Spirit and Luke clearly points out that the disciples watched as Jesus ascended. Then the Spirit comes upon them at Pentecost.
To be fair, I think Luke’s point is clear in the next verse: “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” It just seems that the parallel is kind of obvious.
The other thing I noticed in reading the first three chapters of Acts is how the very early church relied upon and interpreted scripture. The book begins with the disciples asking if Jesus will now restore the kingdom to Israel. That’s a biblical question since the the idea that the Son of David will restore the kingdom is a matter of biblical exegesis.
Then there is the apparent parallel to Elijah. Next the disciples gather and Peter interprets Psalm 69 and 101 to mean that they should replace Judas as an Apostle.
Then Pentecost comes and the Spirit fills the disciples so that they start preaching in various languages. When the disciples are accused of being drunk (because, you know, drunk folks can speak other languages fluently) Peter again interprets scripture. He cites the book of Joel to explain what the crowd is seeing and then returns to the book of Psalms citing Psalm 16 and 110 to explain who Jesus is.
The Church has relied on the scriptures from the very beginning of her existence. And the Church relied on scriptures to inform how she should conduct her business, to explain her methods and in evangelism. We’re missing a lot if we think that we don’t need to follow what the scriptures say or if get the idea that they don’t speak to the situation of the church today. David wrote the Psalms about 900 years before Peter applied them so it isn’t like they have a limited shelf life.
Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?
I have to admit that this has always puzzled me. Jesus was a very well known person by this point in his ministry so why did Judas have to identify him to anyone? And why use a kiss to identify him? Since Judas came with a crowd, why not just point and say “That’s him!” It is a poetic and powerful image but I don’t get why it played out this way with Jesus. Turns out, as it usually does, that not only does it make sense, but it contains a kind of warning for us.
It all starts back in verse 2 and if you don’t pay attention it it, you’ll wind up like me, poor person, missing the point. “And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people.” Why didn’t the chief priests and the scribes just grab Jesus? Because of the crowd. Why did they have to scheme with Judas for a way to betray Jesus? Because of the crowds. And when they and Judas finally figured out how to get their hands on Jesus, who did they bring with them? “There came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them.” (47)
Get it? They were afraid of the crowd and how they would respond if they saw Jesus being arrested. Their first thought was to arrest Jesus secretly, away from the crowd so that there wouldn’t be a riot. That’s why Judas was included, they needed an insider to point the way, to alert them when and where he might be alone. But that isn’t quite how it played out. It wouldn’t have necessarily prevented a riot once the people found out that the one they shouted “Hosanna” to was arrested. The people really couldn’t be excluded from this, they had to find a way to include them and it appears they did. A portion of the people came with them to arrest Jesus. Not all of them, but a big enough group to be called a crowd were somehow enticed to join in.
Now I have to speculate a bit here but I don’t think I’m going too far afield in this. The crowd knew Jesus. At least a lot of them did since they saw him ride into Jerusalem on a donkey and then spend the day terrorizing the abusers of the temple courts. That has to mean that a lot of people saw him. So I don’t think it is unreasonable to assume that many of the people in the crowd who came to arrest Jesus knew who he was. At least the chief priests and officers of the temple did and they were there too according to verse 52. So here’s what I’m presuming. Judas and the authorities told the crowd that there was a troublemaker present who was going to mess up the Passover celebration. There were probably a mix of stories told in order to get the people agitated. “And you know,” you can here the schemers saying, “the Romans don’t care about our feast. They certainly won’t do anything to prevent this troubler of Israel from doing what he’s going to do. No, as Jews it is up to us to protect the feast!” They probably introduced Judas as a hero who was part of the mad man’s group who would lead them to him so they could stop him. And to make Judas look even more like a real insider, a key member of the cult, Judas would kiss the leader and when he did, the crowd should arrest him immediately. They didn’t have to say it was Jesus, they may have said that there was someone in group of the Galileans who was up to this. They didn’t know who it was but Judas did and he’d lead us to this traitor.
All of that is unsaid any any of the Gospels. It is speculation and could well be wrong, but it seems to fit with what happened after Jesus was arrested. When he was brought before the council, they were having a hard time finding an accusation that would stick because those who accused him were presenting contradictory and conflicting accusations according to Mark 14:55-56. It could be because the scribes sowed numerous false accusations in order to stir up the crowd against him. Now the peoples’ fertile minds were remembering things Jesus had said or things they thought they’d heard Jesus say and they were turning them into accusations. That’s why the final accusation that they did get to stick was what Jesus said but not what he meant. See John 2:19-21 and Matthew 26:61. And then look at what happens when Pilot wanted to release Jesus in Matthew 27. The deception and manipulation of the crowd continued: “Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus.” I think the explanation I’ve given above fits pretty well with the fact that the leaders could persuade the crowd to ask for the release of “notorious prisoner,” murderer (Mark 15:7), and insurrectionist (Luke 18:40) like Barabbas over a thoughtful rabbi like Jesus.
Here’s how this is a warning to us. Crowds can be manipulated. It doesn’t really matter what unites the crowd: nationality, religion, a lack of religion, a shared goal, whatever. When we band together for a common cause, and human beings always do that, our leaders can manipulate us, even when they fear us, by making it seem like our common interest is threatened. And when they do this, they will aim the crowd at the target of their choice by claiming that that target is the threat. This works even if the day before the crowd was praising the target.
What makes us vulnerable to this kind of thing is the fact that we think we’re beyond it. We have the internet, education, free thinking. “We have never been slaves to anyone!” we assert. The real way we can avoid this is by being aware of the fact that we susceptible to it, by picking our leaders very carefully and then keeping a close eye on them. This applies in churches, government, families, etc. So, for example, be careful of reposting things that enrage you on Facebook without checking the source. You may be being manipulated into supporting or opposing something that isn’t so. Take care how you listen.
An unimaginable tragedy has taken place in Newtown, CT. Elementary school children have been killed and the nation, rightly, is shocked. The inevitable questions are being asked and the usual suspects are being brought out. I’m going to forgo the theological question for a change; I believe John Piper has admirably answered the question of theodicy when he spoke about the 2004 tsunami.
Instead I’m going to speak to the issue of how this could happen and what we should do about it. The number one usual suspect in these cases is gun control. The man entered an elementary school with an assault rifle, shouldn’t we ban assault rifles? The president has made rumblings about more gun control when he gave an otherwise wonderful eulogy at the school. And though I think we need to reform our gun laws, I don’t think doing so will solve the problem.
Hunter Baker proposed a different answer than gun control. He has suggest increasing security at our schools. The gunman shouldn’t have been able to entire the building to begin with. I’m not crazy about militarizing our schools or turning them into a prison in order to keep bad people out. Besides, in Newtown the gunman broke into the building, he didn’t walk in the front door and start shooting.
Here’s something that isn’t being said in this discussion. Lanza didn’t kill those children simply because he owned a gun or only because he had access to a school; he killed children because he was mentally disturbed. Now I don’t want to make it sound like all mass murderers are insane. I think it is pretty clear that Anders Breivik was and is quite sane, he’s just evil. But many mass shootings are done by mentally disturbed individuals. So before we fix the schools or our laws, how about if we consider the individual, the gunman first. A man in China, just a few days before the Sandy Hooks tragedy, attacked school children with a knife, stabbing many and killing a few. And the ironic thing is that China had banned the sale of knives not that long before this happened during the inauguration of their new president or whatever they call him. The man was mentally ill whether he had a knife or a gun or a bag of rocks.
There is a fascinating article from March 2012 on this issue at The Federalist Society website. Here are some statistics they cited:
- In the 1980s, the frequency of mass murders increased.
- Guns did not become more available during this time, indeed federal and state laws became more restrictive.
- Assault rifles and other types of guns weren’t introduced in this timeframe, they’d been available well before the increase started.
What caused the increase in violence if it wasn’t the availability of guns? By the 1980s, over 90 percent of the chronically mentally ill patients lived outside mental hospitals. A process of “deinstitutionalization” was began in the 1950s with the goal of moving mental patients from long-term care in an institution into community-based treatment. This sounds like a good thing. There are horror stories of what happened in mental health institutions and I’m sure many are true and many more that were never told.
The net result though, was that people who needed special care were returned to their homes and taken care of on an outpatient basis. That meant that families who were unprepared had to care for family members, some of whom were dangerous to themselves and others.
While it is wrong for us to dump the mentally ill into hospitals where there is abuse and neglect, it seems to me to be equally wrong to pull them from places that could help and put them out on the street. Add to this the fact that healthcare laws have changed quite a bit since the 1950s so that it is hard to medicate or institutionalize an individual against their will. But it may be that the patient is the one who is least capable of making a good decision about medication and hospitalization for themselves.
In Connecticut, weeks before the Sandy Hook attack, a bill that would have made it easier to do these things for the mentally ill was defeated because of concerns about patient privacy and rights. I’m not going to claim that had the bill passed the attack wouldn’t have occurred, but it is ironic how these things work out.
The bottom line is that we need to figure out a way to take better care of our mentally ill citizens. There was a jarring article I first saw at the Huffington Post that made this very point. A mother of a disturbed 13 year old told the story of how ill equipped she is to care for her son. Here is an example of her life that she shared:
A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7 and 9 year old siblings knew the safety plan—they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to. I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me.
Surely we can do better for the families and for the individuals. Suppose that Michael eventually acts on his violent threats, thought I pray he does not. What will become of Michael and his family is what has become of Adam Lanza and his mother. The media will turn him into a monster and cast a long look sideways at his mother. What about long term care by professionals in an environment where it will be more difficult to Michael and others like him to harm people? Unfortunately, the money and political will aren’t there. I know of a family whose young adopted child sounds a lot like Michael. The child was finally admitted into State care where they were beginning to get to the real issues. Unexpectedly, the case worker said that they might not have enough money to complete the treatment and the child may have to come home. In many ways this child may be worse and the family in greater danger than if the treatment process had never started.
The “answer” to Sandy Hook and other horrific shootings is complex and I don’t want to narrow it to one issue. But I think the way to begin fixing it is by taking a look at the individual responsible first. Sure, make it harder for them to get dangerous weapons. Sure, make sure our schools are safe places for our children to learn. But what always seems to get missed in this discussion is what we are guilty of doing and not doing for the individual who caused the horror to begin with.
It seems unlikely that Obamacare will actually go away and it looks like reforming it will be an uphill battle. Such is life. But I think a prime candidate for the use of federal and state monies is in caring for the mentally ill. We have got to come up with something better than deinstitutionalization without returning to the dark days of Nurse Ratched. Surely by now we can do better than either of these alternatives.
The Emptying of Mental Institutions – First Things
Wrong Answers for Mass Shooting – Reason
Why Not Renew the “Assault Weapons” Ban? Well, I’ll Tell You… – A “leftist who loves guns.”
Choose Your Own Crime Stats – Amidst the Noise (video)