Monday, October 31, 2016

Fresh Studies in Matthew: Matthew 6

Matthew 6:1.  Matthew 5 ends with the admonition to be perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect.  This is perfect in terms of equitable treatment of people.  I don’t think we see it in that context, that love for all and fair, righteous treatment of all persons is the standard for perfection being discussed here.  I don’t think Jesus is saying, “Be as sinless as God is sinless,” since he knew men’s heart and that that was impossible.  But there are particular ways that we can be as perfect and sinless as God, and the ways he has been discussing up to this point are those:  no murderous, angry thoughts; not making vain oaths, fidelity in marriage, giving grace when not deserved, loving enemies (it doesn’t say here to have no enemies since others can make an enemy of themselves by choice—only love them).

Clearly, Jesus says to not do charitable deeds and public prayer to be seen of men.  If that is your motivation, the only thing you care about is the recognition, not the outcome for the poor and not the glory of God in prayer.  I’m sure you could take this to the extreme and say don’t even the let the church keep a record of it for tax purposes.  One would not be wrong to do that, but a confidential record is probably not the idea.  Having a building named after you is maybe different.  But where would colleges be without named buildings?  The point is freedom in giving with regard to obedience, God’s glory, and meeting needs. 

In verses 5-13, pray directly, secretly, daily, and with emphasis on the request rather than the rhetoric.  The notes in my Bible say that the “Our Father” makes it a corporate prayer, but not necessarily.  Even in private prayer we can remember we are part of a body. 

The “Sermon on the Mount” deals, probably equally, with vertical and horizontal, with duties to God and to man, and it is also an emphasis on “we.”  Don’t babble on; God is not stupid about your needs.  The only commentary Jesus gives after the model prayer is about forgiveness being necessary, something we refuse to believe and do, deep down.  I keep getting reminded of what someone has done and said to me over time instead of forgiving because he did ask for it. What we sometimes call forgiveness is more like a balancing act. 

Staying Off Facebook

Until the president is inaugurated.  In 2020.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Christian Gullibility

Beth Moore speaks out about Trumps misogynistic comments (which didn't just happen 10 years ago, by the way).

Obviously, then, she supports Hillary and all Hillary's evil positions.

What?  What kind of reasoning is that?  Is anyone who speaks out about evil therefore supportive of another kind of evil?

Beth is not my cup of tea, and in the past my "life group" has listened to her tapes, and I will not be encouraging that in the future, but it has nothing to do with this.  I think she teaches very well and textually sometimes, but then gets way off point other times.  She may have some other issues.  But calling her out as some kind of harridan (look it up) because of her defense of abuse survivors is evil and ungodly.

I am pretty disgusted by the gullibility of some of my fellow Christians. 

Someone actually put on Facebook in reply to one of my comments:  If Christians don't vote for Trump, the worst things will happen to our country.

This is unutterably sad to me. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

God intervenes whether invited or not

I was recently involved in a secular ceremony.  It was outside, well attended by supporters (but not students), nicely constructed and a general success.   I was proud of our college. But I have an ironic comment.

I was asked to find a student to do the invocation and benediction.  I was supposed to find a student to do both, but “diverse.”  Well, I wasn’t going to walk up to a girl in a hijab and say, “You look like a Muslim, do you want to pray in public?”  That would be pretty culturally insensitive on several levels (I don’t know if Muslims pray that way.)  So I engaged two students I know, one American and evangelical, the other Chinese/Malaysian.  They had to  submit their prayers/blessing for approval. 

I was a little nervous about it.  The people in charge wanted a secular program.  Ha, ha.
Well, my invocater said “in Jesus’es name” when he wasn’t supposed to.  The choir sang a song in Latin that was half “Hallelujah” (as if we weren’t supposed to realize what that word means).  The orchestra played Nettleton, which is “Come Thou Fount.”  The college’s alma mater is sung to the tune of Hyfrydol, which is the tune for several hymns. 

If anyone was trying to leave God out, God didn’t buy it.

Prodigal Son Misinterpretations

The story/parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15 gets preached a lot, and consequently we get it wrong a lot.  Of course, it is the story of the gracious father more than the prodigal.  We don’t know what prodigal means—it means “wasteful,” not repentant.  So the name itself is telling.  He wasted money, time in his life, relationships. 

Recently I heard John MacArthur preach on this (radio broadcast), and he was going on and on about how much the older son hated the father.  Where is he getting that?  There is no indication that the older son hates and disrespects the father.  MacArthur’s rhetorical flourishes on how much the older son despised the father were excessive.  The conflict is over the seeming preferential treatment of younger son, who is the real one who has shown disrespect.  I think he gets this from the analogy between the older son and the Pharisees, but Jesus was gracious toward Pharisees who came to him.  The father is kind toward the older son and affirms his love toward him.

I’ve said this before, but the younger son’s return doesn’t solve his problems.  There would probably always be distance between the two brothers.  The younger son has wasted his inheritance—does he get another one, half of his brother’s?  Did he pick up any diseases in his wild life?  Will the Bible equivalent of the Mafia be coming after him?  Does he have a police record?

Fame does interesting things to preachers and Bible teachers.  I think it makes them feel a bit infallible. I have been reading about the sins of Beth Moore in her connecting with Joyce Meyer and Joel Osteen and others not of the typical Southern Baptist stripe.  That is not so much my business, but I do have to wonder why she thinks she is now such a spokesperson for us all.  James says, “Be not many teachers, for teachers will receive greater judgment.”  I do not think I will encourage her in the future; her teaching can be quite solid, but then she gets on strange riffs that are not rooted in the Word but more her own emotional experience.  Even MacArthur, whom I have considered the most Biblical of Bible teachers, starts to believe his own press. 

Fresh Studies in Matthew: Matthew 5:33-48

Matthew 5:33-37  One’s personal credibility should be so strong that oaths in personal matters are never necessary.  An oath, or swearing, calls down a curse or malady if one lies or breaks the proise.  It should be needed, and it definitely should not bring into it or any of his creation.  If one has to swear, it means you’re not to be trusted.

Verses 38-48 are radical for that and every time.  If someone does you wrong, extend all the more grace.  The bishop in Les Miserables is the parable of this principle.  We today encourage people to stop extending grace at a certain point due to the emotional toll it can create.  Maybe we are ore concerned about the motional toll than the other’s soul.  Of course, I don’t think Jesus is talking about addicts and abusers here, which are the sins of our age.  This is about enemies, not family members with abuse issues (substance or otherwise) who steal your credit cards for drugs.  This is about the roman government, really.  It is the strategy of “heaping coals of fire,” although that implies a punishment and shame and this involves greater grace, as God would give, who sends rain on everyone, the deserving and undeserving. 

Fresh Studies in Matthew: Matthew 5:27-32

Matthew 5:27-32 is not taken seriously by very many in the church.  No wonder we are where we are.  Divorce is acceptable in a few cases, but most of the people I know who are divorced just go tired of each other or each other’s behavior and made up stories to justify their bad decisions.  Remarriage to a divorced woman is adultery.  Pretty clear to me.  Both sections are about sexuality, which we have lost control of.  Too much regulation can make people subvert and do wrong, but too much emphasis and freedom is the other extreme and results in just as much sin.  Why are we so susceptible to this sin?  Porn watching is so prevalent.  Access creates excess, is what I have always said.  People will search out sin, but if it’s so easily available they will take even more advantage of it and get to the point where simple use of the temptation is not enough—more and more is needed. 
That said, I am not in a position to judge someone who is divorced and remarried prior to a commitment to Christ or prior to understanding of the Bible standard.  Grace lives.  Honoring the covenant of Marriage is the standard. 

Fresh Studies in Matthew: Matthew 5:21-24

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause[b] shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. 23 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. 26 Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.

Verses 21-24 seems to be referring to spiritual relational health and 25-26 for political or civic.  Perhaps it’s a contrast between the two, but making peace in both realms is important.  There is no value ever in making conflict with another or letting it go on, intentionally at least.  Sometimes these things happen unintentionally, but “if you remember at the altar that your brother has anything against you” (as opposed to you having something against your brother) take care of it quickly in both cases; don’t let it go on.
So, does this apply to me?  Maybe not right this minutes, but it could.  I do sometimes think a person or rather my relationship with that person, is expendable.  But none are. Not all are equal in terms of the time and effort spent on them, but none are expendable. 

Fresh Studies in Matthew: Matthew 5:20

These verses can be problematic.  We interpret it as “only a perfectly righteous person can enter heaven, and since that’s not possible, trust Jesus for salvation.” And in the context of the whole Bible, it does mean that, but . . . he goes on to describe truly heart righteousness.  In this context, he speaks as though such righteousness is possible, and what we should strive for.  This is a fresh giving of the same law with emphasis on relationship, on his authority to give it, and on the centrality of motive.  This does seem like works salvation or more, works condemnation (cut off your hand to avoid sinning). I wonder if the right hand reference is to masturbation, since the context is lust?

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Fresh Studies in Matthew: Matthew 5:17

“I have not come to abolish the law.”  Humm, interesting that he had to say that in the first place, unless some had misinterpreted Jeremiah and other prophets to say the law would go away in the future kingdom.  “But to fulfill it.” The doctrine the modern church does not want to talk about.  He fulfills the law by living it perfectly and by being the perfect legal sacrifice. 
I never saw the connection between “unless your righteousness exceeds .  . “ and “you have heard it said, ”in the rest of the chapter.  Jesus is early on setting up the choice between the industry of the temple and Pharisees and scribes and him.  The people had “heard it said” but did not have the ability to see it or read the books with the interpretations. 
The second half of Matthew 5 is a series of six “you have heard it said.”  This is in contrast to the immediate reference to the Pharisees and what they teach rather than the real basis of the law.  Plus, his audience may be people who are no so much as illiterate as unlettered.  They are working people who didn’t have time to be in the intellectual class, were not born into it.  So they have depended n “oral preaching” rather than being able to study themselves.  This is sadly too prevalent today, despite the variety of tools we have.  Getting real people to study the real Bible on their own, like people did 100 years ago, is a passion for me.  The Bible is not for the intellectuals, but for everyone.

Fresh Studies in Matthew: 5:14

Let your light so shine before men so that they may give glory to your Father in heaven.  If all they see is my good words, the point is missed.  Dong good works in such a way that God gets the glory is a tough one.  It also means we have to get out of the self-glory business.  At the same time we can get too worried about that and stop from doing good works, overanalyzing our better impulses.  Sure, the flesh and Satan will try to convince us we are doing it for self-glory when we weren’t even thinking about that in the first place, and those temptations to believe that lie can paralyze us.  Overawareness can rob us of the freedom of obedience.  God can redeem good works that may have a slight taint of self-righteousness. 

Fresh Studies in Matthew: Matthew 5:13

I come to the “salt” verse.  I have heard so many takes on this that I don’t know who is right, but I think Jesus defines it.  Whether our salt is to preserve, improve, or transform society, we have to retain our saltiness.  Apparently salt can lose its savor over time.  We must be different in order to transform or help, and that is the plea to us today:  Christians must be different.  We are no good if we are not different and if we are not out there in the world being different in a good way, because saltless food is generally not very edible.  There are many examples in the Bible of ways we are different in a good way:  the fruit of the Spirit, the ways of the Beatitudes, the love of I Corinthians, the armor of Ephesians 6.   How am I different for the glory of God, not for myself?

Saturday, October 08, 2016

My 1600th post on this blog: Review of Raging Bull

Yes, I have reached this milestone.  Most of them are Bible studies.  This one is a movie review. 

This was on one of the cable stations last night and I decided to watch it, finally.  I think I had started once before but early in the film Jake LaMotta is beating up his first wife, so I didn’t feel I needed to watch that. 
I read a lot of reviews afterward that spoke of its great brilliance, but as a whole, that was lost on me.  Yes, the cinematography was groundbreaking and interesting, that is, the use of light, black and white, angles, and the point of view of the camera in the fights.  (I had to turn the volume up to 55 from a usual 20 to hear their mumbling throughout most of it, though). 
The acting was equally brilliant. 
The story, not so much.  He is a violent, paranoid, jealous, mean, vulgar person who stays violent, paranoid, jealous, mean, and vulgar and maybe in the end has a better sense of his “self” but he has lost everything that matters and may care, but do we? He’s a terrible comedian, too.  I didn’t see the point. 
Some movies are great and you watch them over and over.  I won’t be wasting another precious two hours of my life on this one.  It may be a guy thing.  I think some movies, guys think are great, some movies, women think are great, and the really great ones appeal to both genders equally. 

Fresh Studies in Matthew: Matthew 5:11-12

“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” 

Stand up to persecution, which may not be physical torture or jail but reviling and false accusations.  This does happen to us in America, so it is comforting that Jesus included it and not just the most extreme kinds of persecution such as martyrdom and imprisonment.

As an academic, I don’t do reviling or false accusation well.  Reputation is everything.  Why do I care what people think?  Am I that afraid of losing a job?  This is what I signed up for.  It is part of being a Christian believer in a reviling world.  Academics have their own ideology:  that of not looking stupid around peers. They believe they are smarter than everyone else (they usually are better informed, but still have very strong lenses, as they say, for seeing the world.)

Fresh Studies in Matthew: Matthew 5:10

In studying texts such as the Beatitudes, which were originally oral, we may find things that aren’t there.  Why does the tenth verse mirror the third (the bookends of the Beatitudes), both saying “the kingdom of God is theirs”?  In the tenth verse, the emphasis is “those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake (big difference from persecution in general) are bless.” 
 Persecution per se is not the point, though laws should protect us from it.  If a person is discriminated against, should we care?  IS that a form of persecution?  Good question.  Yes, but that is not the message here.  Look elsewhere for the role of justice and just treatment.  The following verse adds “for my sake” or “because of me.”  Those persecuted for skin color or ethnicity or political views should not be ignored, and sometimes there is overlap, but this is focusing on those whose righteousness behavior and faith in Christ bring government attention and government power down on their heads. 

Fresh Studies in Matthew: Matthew 5:9 Again

I am still stuck on peacemakers.  Like mercy, this is a lifestyle, not just the resolution of conflict, but the dispelling of conflict before it starts.  To the extent one is in leadership, one can create conditions for peace to flourish.  That is also making peace.
Not that we can “condition” the reasons for conflict out of people, however.  We are sinners and conflict due to our selfishness is going to happen.  But if peacemaking is possible after the fact through a grace-filled action than it should be possible before the fact through grace-filled action. 
Les this sound like appeasement, or trying to keep the angry people tamped down by walking on eggshells, I would say it’s even less that.  Engaging the angry in terms of their angers, understanding the causes of anger, might be a start.  Angry people are angry for a reason.  We are not just born this way (one of the most perfidious lies there is today).  We are not just angry because we grew up in certain conditions.  Engaging anger and conflict before and after is part of peacemaking a diplomacy.  We do bring peace by the gospel.  Isaiah 52:7 is the Old Testament reference here.
All this to say that Jesus does come with soothing words for those who reject him.  If he is God, he gets to call the shots, and some of that could be “offensive” to those who don’t want a Jesus of strength, just a tolerant Jesus who didn’t say anything about certain sins (because it was assumed that Jews of that time would not partake of them.)
In the end, the Beatitudes cannot be studied outside of the larger context of what Jesus was saying and doing.
What meaning does one’s life have if not anchored in the past?  But what past?
Finally, the Holman translates this verse, “The peacemakers are blessed, for they will be called sons of God.”  This is problematic.  They are not the only ones who will be called sons of God, but peacemakers have a special designation here.  Making peace is a godly attribute.  None of the others say this, and Luke has a similar sermon but this verse is not there.  Peace, of course, to the Jewish mind was much more than getting along with people, or not international conflict.  Peace as a concept is in the Bible a great deal.  I am puzzled by this verse and wonder why we don’t value peacemaking through the gospel.

Fresh Studies in Matthew: Matthew 5:9

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”
Do we really believe this?  That bringing or creating peace from conflict is blessed enough for Jesus to put it here.  What does this mean, especially when he said he did not bring peace but a sword, himself?
We don’t get the privilege to bring a sword.  The very fact that our belief and attitude toward him makes all the difference in the world and in our lives means he will be divisive.  He brings the sword because people will differ over him, not because he is carrying one himself.  And in the end he brings a sword to make peace.  We want a sweet Jesus who loves children and gives wise sayings.  No such Jesus.
Jesus did bring a sword.  Not everyone is thrilled by Christian conversions.  It brings conflict in families, and Christ must come first.  Yet he is the prince of Peace.  These are the paradoxes.  Suffice it to say that making peace is something God wants for us.  We are not Christ and thus are not worthy to be the cause of existential division.  Only he is. We can be messengers of peace. 
How do we bring peace?  By compromise?  Sometimes, yes.  By reconciling people to God?  Yes that would too.  But not fueling conflicts?  Yes.  By looking fore creative solutions to conflicts?  Yes.  By making our own sacrifices?  Yes.

Fresh Studies in Matthew: Matthew 5:8

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  Are these cause-effect, or effect-cause?
Pure in heart:  That implies, I think, self-awareness to keep one’s heart with all diligence (Proverbs 4:13).  I suppose one could be pure in heart because of innocence, but none of us lives in innocence.  Is this what we think about people and issues and what motivates us, or is it the absence of evil knowledge?  Since Jesus was aware of men’s heart and saw evil and because one would have to  live in isolation to be truly innocent as humans, the latter seem unlikely. 
These verses interconnect with one another, so mercy and the other virtues are relevant.  Pureness of heart may mean that we expect the best of others, as I Corinthians 13 says of love.  And of course motives are the default answer for the meaning of purity.  Our motives can be so muddied and muddled.  Why do w do what we do?  Why am I typing up these blog posts on a Saturday morning in October?  Is is possible to do service with not hint of self-glorification?  (Self-gratification is a different matter, since not all self-gratification is necessarily bad.)
Without all this psycho-pseudo-spiritual babble, what did Jesus mean as a Jew?  Pure means not mixed with anything.  Refer to Psalm 73:1.  Sufficient to say that pureness of heart allows one to worship and follow and obey God.  How?  Partially, confession, self-awareness, and removal of input that impedes purity.
I work with media scholars who are very interesting to talk with.  One teaches her students that they are constantly bombarded with media images that stay subconsciously with them.  I know that is true for me. 

Fresh Studies in Matthew: Matthew 5:7

“Blessed are the merciful for they will attain mercy.”  This one is a little easier to understand on the surface but still hard. We think of mercy as forgiveness and forgiveness is part of mercy, but I believe it is a sustained quality of life, not just an occasional act toward others.
Mercy is (cliché alert) “not giving people what they deserve and grace is giving them what they don’t deserve.” Mercy can be proactive, not just after the fact.  I can be merciful before a person does something “bad.” I can be understanding of their reasons for being who they are, while not excusing bad behavior. 
A merciful spirit then, is also returned in kind, I think.  Also, of course, we cannot expect mercy from God is we are unmerciful as a rule of life, a very hard commandment/teaching and one not lived very much.
So that does that mean we are walking around without mercy and forgiveness from God because harboring ill in our hearts?  Could be.  We don’t get a pass on this, so we might as well get over ourselves and forgive people and extend mercy.  For me that’s every day with certain people because I’m so easily frustrated with them, even when they are just being themselves. 

Fresh Studies in Matthew: Matthew 5:6

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”  Almost as enigmatic as verse 5, at least for me.  I wonder if the original audience found them so.  What kind of righteousness?  Not one’s own righteousness—always a bad thing in the Bible to depend on one’s own righteousness, if it even exists.  It means true righteousness, right standing expressed in right behavior before God and humans, the first being grace and the second requiring at least good decision-making but not self-oriented efforts of the will.
“They shall be filled” implies passive, that it will come from another.  Whatever that drive or emptiness is will be met, but he doesn’t say when or how here.  We are afraid of “righteousness” because we confuse it with self-righteousness and pridefulness and prudishness, “goody-two-shoes-ness.”
We each have our own sin.  I want to be righteousness before God, which for me means watching my mouth mostly and my reactions, but there is more to it than that.  It is treating everyone rightly, fairly, lovingly, even the person who disappoints me the most.  Love is not the opposite of righteousness, either, but an expression of it.

Fresh Studies in Matthew: Matthew 5:5

What is “the meek?”  What is “inheriting the earth?”  This is probably one of the most enigmatic statements of Jesus, and he really did not give many enigmatic statements.  He is pretty straightforward in the gospels, but that doesn’t mean that everything he says is easy to do or believe, just pretty clear.  But this one, I don’t know about, which tempts me to go on, not because I don’t like to dig, but because I don’t think I’ll figure it out to my satisfaction or have the verbal powers to express it. 
Meek is “not weak.”  Moses was meek, we read elsewhere.  But Moses’ only virtue was that he let God use him, really.  He was a weak person.  He had little to go on in himself and what matters, and he realized it (see Exodus 3).  
I think meekness is the right kind of humility and of self-view. Not self-loathing, just self-reality. 
Inheriting the earth—I have no idea.  Would we want it in the first place?  The new heaven and new earth will be a place where humble people are most happy.  While I am, I hope, working toward self-reality, true humility, and meekness, I am not ready for the new heaven and new earth.  I am still too in love with this one.  But if this one is so beautiful (I recently saw photographs of glaciers in Argentina I didn’t know existed), would not the new heaven and new earth retain and improve upon that beauty?  I would not teach that thought as gospel truth, but it’s a comforting thought. 

Text of my presentation at Southern States Communication Conference on Open Educational Resources

On April 8 I spoke at SSCA on the subject of Open Educational Resources.  Here is the text of my remarks. The University System of Geo...