Bruce Epperly, in his comments on the scriptures for the first Sunday in Advent at Process & Faith, has a note about praying for Jerusalem. The call for this is made in the Psalm for this first Sunday in Advent, 122.
“I was glad when they said unto me let us go unto the house of the Lord,” rejoices the Psalmist. The Jerusalem temple becomes a focal point for the nations through its vision of peace. Without peace in Jerusalem, there is no peace on Earth, the Psalmist asserts. The Psalmist commands, “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” This is a strong admonition for progressives who often side with the Palestinians over the State of Israel. We must pray for Israel as well as Palestine; we must insure a just peace that protects Israel as well as liberates Palestine. We must go beyond polarization in the Middle East, recognizing the universality of threat, violence, and self-interest, along with the possibility of personal, national, and regional transformation. God loves the whole world, without exceptions; and God’s love embraces the diversity of nations and ethnicities, inviting them toward peace, goodness, and beauty.
As Christians, it is our duty to love and care for all people, not just particular people. It’s very easy in promoting a particular political agenda to ignore the needs of those who are out of our focus. But the agenda of the Christian should be to build the kingdom of God.
There are many responses to Psalm 122 amongst Christians. There are those for whom the command is a simple command to us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Some would respond that this command was given to the people of Israel, and not in general to the people of the world. And it is truly “decreed for Israel.” At the same time, the language of this Psalm is such that it’s hard not to get an eschatological sense from it, or perhaps to read one into it if it’s not already there. Others might see its application in praying for our own nations and their leaders. My point is not to deal with all possible issues of interpretation, nor to answer policy questions regarding the middle east. Rather it’s to look at our prayers, starting at home, but extending to all people.
Bob MacDonald, in Seeing the Psalter, notes that the reference to the house of David (verse 5) falls between opening and closing references to the house of the LORD (verses 1 & 9). This explains to some extent why the passage is an advent passage. That eschatological sense comes through. God’s presence is, according to the Psalmist, manifested in Jerusalem in the house of the LORD. God’s presence will be manifested. Eschatology always has a sense of the future in the present.
I must mine another one of my Energion authors, Edward W. H. Vick, quoting from Eschatology: A Participatory Study Guide:
Christian theology is essentially eschatology. ‘From the beginning, eschatology is not primarily an apocalyptic conception, but an understanding of being in faith.’ The question then is, Which eschatology? Is it a theology of the future? Or, may it be better understood as a theology of the present? Are there other alternatives, relating present and future? (p. 51)
If the tension between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’ in the New Testament and in the Christian message is maintained, there is no antagonism between ‘salvation-history’ and Christian existentialism. Indeed the two positions are complementary. To raise the essential question of continuity between the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith is to press beyond the position of Bultmann. The question is whether a sequence of events can be an object of faith as well as of assent. Cullmann answers with an emphatic affirmative. In faith the believer is overwhelmed by that in which he did not participate (p. 115). The events of salvation are pro nobis, but first they are extra nos. (p. 63)
Now there’s quite a bit of theological terminology in that quotation, especially without the 12 pages that come between the two paragraphs I quoted. But I want to bring out two points. First, Christian theology is essentially eschatology, that is, it has to do with the age to come, last day events, or something similar. What we often miss, however, is that God coming near is also now, not just something to await in the future. Second, when we participate in Advent we are celebrating events “in which [we] did not participate” and in that celebration we certainly hope they “overwhelm” us, i.e. bring us into themselves.
It’s in that “overwhelming” that “to the Jew first, but also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16) becomes also “there is no longer Jew nor Greek” without contradiction. At the same time, it is only in that way that we can both pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and for justice for Palestinians without contradiction.
I learned from my wife, a 12 year veteran as a hospice nurse, that it’s important to think and talk about end of life care and dying. We tend to avoid it, especially when we’re younger. First, it’s because death seems so far away. Surely we have 50, 60, or 70 years, at least, to go! Then we avoid it because it seems that talking about it makes it come nearer. Fear of death impacts our lives in so many ways.
Over the last couple of weeks, several families close to us have experienced the death of a loved one. Yesterday, Jody’s uncle and godfather passed away. When so many deaths in your immediate circle of friends and family come so close together, it tends to make you think.
I suspect that’s why Jody reposted something I wrote for her devotional list back in 2010 this morning, titled Life and Death. I might retitle it, as I have here, How to Die – How to Live. The “How-To’s” are amazingly similar, I believe.
When President Obama was elected in 2008, I commented to Jody that I would now have to listen to over-the-top complaints from a completely different group of friends than I had over the previous eight years.
I’m no apologist for George W. Bush. I just don’t think he was as bad as so many of his critics thought he was. Neither was he as good as his apologists tried to claim. I think you could say that about just about any politician.
President Obama also has his critics and defenders, and I would say the same thing. He’s not nearly so bad as the critics claim, nor so good as his apologists would have us think.
Now there will be plenty of shrill voices to tell me I’ve missed this or that scandal about either man. I make sure that my ears are not just picking up from any one direction, so I’m going to hear both sets. What will I hear? I will hear Democrats excusing behavior on the part of the current administration that would have had them apoplectic had the same behavior taken place in the previous administration. I will hear Republicans criticizing the current administration for things they would have excused under a Republican president.
That’s why I move past these criticisms very quickly. It’s not that I think the behavior—in either case—is OK. It’s just that I always hear the other half of the argument, whether it’s explicit or not: And so you should vote for our party.
But the problem is that “your party,” whichever party that happens to be, scares me. As much as I dislike the failure to agree to compromise legislation on things like the budget, I also am very much afraid of what would happen if either of the two parties we have now gets hold of the entire government. There just isn’t enough good sense to go around.
So regardless of the screaming, I can tell you right now that I don’t know who I will vote for come the next election. That’s going to depend on who is nominated by each party. I’m going to go through the issues, the behavior, and yes, the associations of each candidate and make my decision. I’m also not going to be commenting publicly that much. Doing a good job of political commentary simply takes more time than I have, and apparently than most of you, or most of the paid commentators have. This piece is a good example. I should provide examples and references. I should tell you what I think would be “good sense” in government. But I’m not going to. I just don’t have the time to do this right.
So this is more in the nature of a plea to self-examination. Try to recognize the weaknesses on your own side. You can actually vote for a candidate you consider flawed. I do it every election. If I were running, I would be that flawed candidate. There are no candidates without flaws.
We should admit it, and make the best decisions we can.
My friend and Energion author Greg May writes about navigating in the fog today on Greg’s Waterin’ Hole. The post brought back a memory from the 60s, traveling with my family in Chiapas, Mexico, way off the main roads. We were in the mountains on a gravel road, with a cliff on either side, and we drove up into the fog at night. We were nearly at our destination and I guess my dad didn’t want to hang out where there was nowhere even to park. So my mom had her head out one window and one of my older sisters (I suspect Patty, as she was more likely to be navigating) had her head out the other. They’d yell if the car got too close to either side. We didn’t go over the edge, nor did we try to climb the mountain the most direct way, but it seemed to be a close run thing.
I think that the image of waiting for the fog to lift that Greg uses is a good one, whether we’re thinking spiritually or just plain logically. (We often assume there’s a great gulf fixed between those two viewpoints, but I think not.) There’s the overconfident person, arrogant in his or her own knowledge and wisdom, who takes off before the fog has lifted, often blundering into ruin. On the other hand, there’s the fatally indecisive person, who waits for the last cloud to disappear from the sky before becoming certain that a decision is possible.
I tend toward the second. Jody balances me. I think it often works that way if we learn to listen to the people around us.
When there is no guidance a nation falls, but there is success in the abundance of counselors (Proverbs 11:14, NET).
12 The words of a wise person win him favor,
but the words of a fool are self-destructive.
13 At the beginning his words are foolish
and at the end his talk is wicked madness,
yet a fool keeps on babbling.
No one knows what will happen;
who can tell him what will happen in the future? (Ecclesiastes 10:12-14, NET)
My company is offering special prices on all our books related to the Old Testament. I decided to blog a bit about the books we’re offering. So if you don’t want to hear about books that are for sale, this one isn’t for you. On the other hand, I promise to be wordy, tell stories, and fail to get to the point for paragraphs at a time. As usual! And by the way, this got started because we’ve put Ecclesiastes: A Participatory Study Guide, the first in the series on an Old Testament book, on pre-order. Look for it in mid-November. I’ll talk about it later in the week.
This morning I was thinking about two books, because they relate so closely to my own Christian experience and to a weakness I see in the church and the way we teach the Bible. The first is by one of my college professors, Dr. Alden Thompson. He guided me through my second and third year of Hebrew as well as any number of questions that arose. I never did take an introduction to the Old Testament, though I took several Old Testament courses other than Hebrew, but I did dig into the theology enough to keep the discussion lively.
Alden is primarily concerned with getting Christians to study the Old Testament more, and with letting people know that you can find God’s story of grace there as well as in the New Testament. His book, Who’s Afraid of the Old Testament God?, was released after I graduated, but I read it with great interest, and when I was invited to teach later in a Methodist church, I found it was no longer in print. I got some remaindered copies from him, and then later got permission to issue two different comb bound editions. These got me through a number of classes, but we referred to one of them as the “unfortunate edition.” This was also before Energion Publications had come into existence.
We issued a fourth edition, properly printed and bound, though the printer did not produce the best quality work. I purchased several thousand of those books from another organization I’d been working with and used that as the starting point for Energion Publications. So Who’s Afraid of the Old Testament God? (now in its fifth edition) is a key part of the history of the company.
Alden’s focus can be found in two stories, I think. When I first contacted him about his book, some 20 years after we had last talked, his first question, before he wanted to talk about books, was this: “How are things with your soul?” Authors tend to care about their books, especially if there’s an opportunity to get them reprinted. But that was his first thought. Later, when he came to teach at Pine Forest United Methodist Church here in Pensacola, he told the group that the measure of his success as a teacher would be whether he left them loving God and one another more than when he came. I like that.
The book itself can be mildly (or more than mildly) controversial, as one would expect of a book that has chapters covering Judges 19-21 (read it if you don’t understand why), and another on the Messianic prophecies. It’s easy to generate an argument on those topics. But I’ve seen a lot of people spending more time with their Old Testaments after hearing Alden speak about it. If nothing else, his enthusiasm for the topic draws people in.
The second book is related, though it comes more from my present than my past. It’s written by Methodist pastor and seminary professor Allan R. Bevere. It’s based on sermons he preached from the Old Testament. Now there are those who are turned off by collections of sermons. I like them, provided they are good sermons that serve a purpose, and that they apply to a broad audience. The book is The Character of Our Discontent, I think this book has not gotten the attention it deserves. The vast majority of times that I hear sermons from the lectionary, the text is from the gospel lesson. Now I don’t have any problem preaching from the gospels. But I don’t think people will understand the whole story if they don’t get the background to the gospels by learning from the Bible Jesus used.
So I’d see two purposes to this book. First, it can be read for devotional reading. I’d take an essay at a time. You’ll find your spiritual life growing when your devotionals don’t just come from the Sermon on the Mount, but also take in characters like Samson and texts from books such as Leviticus or Ezekiel. But second, if you’re a pastor, consider looking at this pattern of presenting material from the Old Testament.
And unlike Alden Thompson, Allan Bevere is a New Testament scholar. Just because you specialize in the New Testament doesn’t mean you can’t include preaching from the Old. You may even have some special perspective.
Anyone who looks at the blog header, or my Henry’s Web icon at the right, will know I like spiders. When I was younger (as in pre-teens and early teens), I read books about them and collected a few. That started while we were living in north Georgia, and continued in Guyana, South America, where I was able to collect a small Tarantula, between 4 & 5 inches across. I used to have a picture of it set on a towel with one inch colored squares, but I’ve lost that.
In any case, because of that interest, the picture to the left caught my attention immediately. Compare this beauty to the picture I have in my post Can You Identify This Spider?, a Golden Orb Weaver that set up shop near my office. Since then a number of them have done so, not to mention other varieties, and I try to leave an area for them that won’t get disturbed.
In any case, it should be immediately obvious that this “Angolan Witch Spider” is a fake. A rather nicely done fake, but still fake. Nobody should believe it for a minute. If you’re in doubt, you can always check Snopes, and in this case they actually have a picture of the spider that was quite artistically placed on the house, provided to them by the original artist.
It’s not that hard to avoid being scammed. In this case, it’s just fun, but there are plenty of scams both on the internet and elsewhere in real life. The first thing is just to stop, think, and apply logic. The internet is great at providing both misinformation and information. It’s simply great at passing “stuff” around. What type of stuff you discover is up to you.
There are those who want to blame the medium for the problems. The handwritten page, the printed page, the telephone, radio, television, and now the internet have each, in their turn, been blamed for spreading falsehood and immorality. But it’s people that do the bad things. The medium is just, well, the medium. And each change of medium also provides opportunities for truth, facts, logic, and dialog as well as all the negative stuff.
You just have to be willing to look for it!
Because y’all have nothing better to do!
I wanted to promote a comment from Chris Heard: (who blogs at Higgaion)
Sadly, when I clicked through to the article on Charisma News, one of the sidebars pointed to another Charisma News article entitled “This Is What Heretical, Counterfeit Christianity in Action Looks Like.” That article condemned an Anglican preacher as “sinning” and practicing “heretical, counterfeit Christianity” for speaking out against homophobia and heterosexism. Commenters piled on to aver that the preacher in question is “not a Christian.” Sad that one columnist on the site faults MacArthur for using techniques that another columnist on the same site employs against a liberal Anglican. Broadsides against liberal or progressive Christians are no better than broadsides against charismatic Christians. To clarify, I am not tarring you with that brush, Henry, just noting that there’s plenty of incivility to go around.
I definitely appreciate his not tarring me with the same brush, but I think this is an experience that needs to be emphasized.
In this case, it was two different people in the same magazine, but often it’s one and the same person. We object to the way we are criticized while speaking harshly of others. I want to emphasize that I’m not talking here about upholding what you believe to be the truth, nor of compromise, or of approval. I’m talking about both civility and effectiveness. Obviously I’ve been speaking with some vigor about the way certain people are speaking. What I do not think you have heard me do, though I have been guilty of it at various times in the past, is condemning a whole group of people.
Inevitably someone will say that certain doctrinal beliefs, such as whether one accepts gay marriage or not, is simply outside the bounds. Be very careful who you place outside the bounds of civil discourse. Are there cases where someone is that far out? Yes. I would say so. But there are many less, I think, than we so categorize. I think I would summarize my approach by saying it’s best to talk about what is right more than who is right.
I’ve made a mission of conversation, and while I spoke under the current circumstances of charismatic and evangelical, I am committed to having this conversation include Christian liberals as well. You can hear my approach in the video I’ll embed below. It’s a simple home video which I made early in the process of forming my company, Energion Publications. I’ve heard many times that my plan is not viable, either for a publishing company (too much variety, too little focus) or for any ministry. I think there are good things that happen when we listen to one another, and I’m going to make that effort.
I make some (but not many) apologies for the (sort of) commercial. After all, publishing is what I do. I’m bound to talk about it.
Finally there is a review of Killing Jesus from someone I trust. John Byron pretty much tells the story. You’ve gotta love this:
On a recent 60 Minutes interview Bill claims that he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the book (see below). If this is true, it’s too bad the Holy Spirit didn’t help him to do a better job of it.
Now I can not read the book with a clear conscience.
I’ve always believe in open communion in the sense that any Christian should be permitted to participate. Over the last few years I’ve attended a church where truly open communion is practiced, because the pastors believe, with John Wesley, that this is a converting sacrament. So they state each time communion is offered that you don’t have to be a member of the church, or even a Christian, to participate. Jesus invites everyone.
I’m not at all prepared to debate the issue; I simply haven’t studied the theology enough. But I do have a couple of authors who are quite involved in it. One is Dr. Bob Cornwall, who will be writing a book on the Lord’s Supper for the Topical Line Drives series. (The book itself hasn’t yet been announced, but the contract is signed.)
In the meantime another author, Dr. Bob LaRochelle (I’d be in trouble without authors named Bob), who has a special perspective as a former Roman Catholic who is now a Protestant clergyman, is beginning a series of columns for Energion.net on ecumenical issues, and his first column deals with communion.
I’m putting this on my personal blog because I’d like to see comments from some of my readers on this particular topic.