Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Church Fathers on Peacemaking

Today I spent a few hours working on some background research for my thesis and worked through what the Church Fathers said in regard to Matthew 5:9. What does "blessed" mean? "Who are the peacemakers?" "To what extent does peacemaking go?"

I came across a letter from St. Jerome written to Theophilus, the bishop of Alexandria in 399 A.D. Apparently, St. Jerome and John of Jerusalem were having a tiff over various theological and ecclesiastical matters (that I won't get into here). What I want you to see is the beauty of Jerome's language and the vivid pictures he creates with his words.



St. Jerome in his study

"You have quoted many passages from the sacred books in praise of peace, you have flitted like a bee over the flowery fields of scripture, you have culled with cunning eloquence all that is sweet and conducive to concord. I was already running after peace, but you have made me quicken my pace: my sails were set for the voyage but your exhortation has filled them with a stronger breeze. I drink in the sweet streams of peace not reluctantly and with aversion but eagerly and with open mouth."

I wish that today's peacemaking could carry that same spirit. Sadly, the history of mankind is less one of generosity and more of selfishness and defiance between each other. Cyprian gives us the character of a biblical peacemaker in his First Treatise on the Unity of the Church.

"If we are fellow-heirs with Christ, let us abide in the peace of Christ; if we are sons of God, we ought to be peacemakers. "Blessed," says He, "are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the sons of God." It behoves the sons of God to be peacemakers, gentle in heart, simple in speech, agreeing in affection, faithfully linked to one another in the bonds of unanimity."

My wish for the church would be to take up the example of our church Fathers. Set your sails for peace. Be gentle in heart, simple in speech, agreeing in affection, and linked in the bonds of unity.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Seeds of Truth - 4/15/11

Scripture: Psalm 19:7-11

Observation:

The law, statutes, precepts, etc. are more than simple words, they are the words of God and they bring delight to the soul.

The poetic structure of this psalm goes beyond a few observations. I remember from prior studies that this section is part of the chiastic form of the larger Psalm. The first part of the Psalm draws attention to how God reveals himself to all people through his creation. The last verses deal with God's very specific revelation to the individual through his thoughts, meditations, and prayers. The focus of the Psalm is on these verses - which highlight God's unique revelation to all who have the Word of God.

Just a quick note here on why I love the Old Testament so much. At the time of this writing there was no New Testament. In fact, many of the prophets had yet to be born. But David speaks so passionately about the Word that you can't help but be drawn to it. He isn't just talking about the stories and the miracles - though they are there. He isn't just talking about the prophecies of Christ - though they are there. He isn't just reflecting on the promises of God's goodness - though they are there. He isn't meditating on the character of God through the wisdom literature - though that is certainly there. He is addressing the Laws of God as revealed through Moses.

As a king of Israel he was required to hand-write his own copy of the Pentateuch so that he would know its requirements. David is expressing here a first-hand love of this law, the precepts, the commands and so forth. It is the law that governs behavior and the precepts that provide the foundation for a just and generous society. The fear of the Lord is the basis for all wisdom and the way that we approach a holy God.

David drinks it all in and absolutely gushes in his delight in the words of the Lord. They are like water in a desert. They are light in dark places. They are truth in a world of relativity. They are life-giving morsels in a land of spiritual famine.

Oh how I love your law.

Application:

The Lord has still been impressing me with new thoughts as I meditate on all of the themes of plants that grow. Maybe it's the spring (sort of - maybe snow tomorrow), but I have been reflecting on so many thoughts of planting and harvesting.

The parable of the Sower and the Seeds (Matthew 13)

The Lord of the Harvest (Luke 10:2)

Oaks of Righteousness (Isaiah 61:3) and a garden (Isaiah 61:11)

The harvest as a sign of God's blessing (Psalm 67:6)

None of these themes were conceived ahead of time as I selected the verses for the 40 days. But God has been using them to remind me that what is sown will eventually be harvested. Where the seed is cast the fruit will last. (OK, that's a pretty bad rhyme...)

Prayer:

Today, Lord cultivate the soil of my heart anew. Turn over the earth and upset the compacted places of my heart. Freely plow up the weeds and break up the hard soil. Plant your word deep in my mind and heart today as I feast on your truth. Bring joy and delight to me as I follow your commands. May this day be one of planting new seeds and also a season of bearing fruit. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.


 


 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Listening with your Heart – 4/12/11

Scripture: Romans 10:8-11

"...it is with your heart that you believe and are justified..."

Observation:

The word is near you - very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart. (see Deuteronomy 30:14). Jesus also said that the two of them are connected when it comes to my speech (see Luke 6:45).

The word that is planted in the heart bears its fruit through my lips. What I say is an indication of what is happening in my heart. If my heart is full of the presence of the Lord, then my speech will represent him. Here is a good indicator of the state of my heart.

Application:

I know that as a teacher my words mean a great deal. I also know that when words are public there is a good chance that I'll slip up and say stupid things. That's being part of humanity. But what is the overall tenor of my conversation?

Today I will watch my words carefully. Not to hold my tongue, but to try hard to evaluate the state of my heart through observing the words that I speak (and write).

Prayer:

Today, Lord, I surrender my words and my heart to your control. Overtake me by the power of your love and transform my heart. Cause me to love your word and your sovereign rule over me. May my words today be words of grace and mercy and truth. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Listening to God with your Heart


Hearing God with your Heart (John 17:6-8, 17-19)
""I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. " (John 17:6–8, NIV)
"Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. " (John 17:17–19, NIV)

Listening with your heart is different than learning with your head.

Devotional Reading
The chief aim of devotional reading of the Bible is not to learn more information about God, but to encounter God in his Word. It is more for transformation than information.
Spiritual reading is slow, thoughtful, a conscious interaction with the Lord along the way.
Here are some of the important elements in devotional reading.
Listen to and Understand the Bible text. Read a short section several times slowly. Take your time and reflect. Watch for helpful indicators of what the text means. (look for repeated words or phrases, structure of the text, metaphors and images that may be helpful.) Invite God to teach you from his Word as you read it or listen to it with your heart.
Remember it – take the message deeply to yourself in terms of its implications for your own situation. This is entering into the world of the text, taking the Bible to be the script for your life.
Pray it – transform the Word of God into a prayer to God by praying its impact and implications back to him.
Live it out – submit to the Word by taking what you read and meditating on it throughout the day and praying over it throughout the day, living it plainly and humbly in your personal life and relationships. (Eph 2:10 living)
Share it – share its impact on yourself with others

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Now Reading: Pesherim, Companion to the Qumran Scrolls

Timothy H. Lim, vol. 3, Pesherim, Companion to the Qumran scrolls (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2002).


"The pesherim are some of the best-known biblical exegeses to be found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. They are scriptural commentaries named after the technical Hebrew term pesher (pl. pesherim) which characteristically appears in formulae that introduce an exposition of a biblical verse (e.g., 'the intepretation [Hebrew: pesher] of the matter is …')."

I purchased this book as part of a set through Logos. I read it last night in utter fascination. This book is more than an exegetical tool to unwrap the meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), it is also a fantastic view into the second temple period and the community of Qumran.

Ever since visiting the DSS exhibit at the Minnesota Science Museum last year, I am particularly drawn to the findings at Qumran and the studies that continue to pour forth from this extraordinary archeological discovery.

I love writing. Or rather, I love to study writing. There is something magical about ink and paper that excites me. I must have ink in my veins as a result of my dad's print shop. Or maybe it's from my early experiments in calligraphy. I'm not sure of the source, but I seem to have the sickness. Even today I buy fountain pens and use them on a fairly regular basis. As much work as I do on a computer, I love to step back in time and pen my thoughts with liquid ink.

When I visited Israel several years ago I spent part of a day at Qumran. We saw the caves from a distance. We toured a cheesy replica of the scriptorium (or whatever the Hebrew name is), and viewed the baptisteries and the foundations of buildings. I was interested but not overwhelmed.

However, we later went to the Shrine of the Book, where the actual copies of the DSS are stored and displayed. As I stood inches away from the copies of the writing and I read the words from the scroll of Isaiah I was moved to tears. Goose bumps formed on my arms and the back of my neck tingled as I stood so close to words written on parchment sometime prior to the time of Christ.

So it was with some real interest that I opened this book on the Pesherim and read with delight and fascination about a time and place when the study and copying of God's Word were the calling of the Essenes.

Lim's book has a lot of helpful background information on the Qumran community, the dating of the scrolls, how they fit together. There is an interesting piece on paleography and some comparative studies of the handwriting styles. Unfortunately I only have an English translation of the scrolls so I couldn't do my own comparison. (I know, you can go online to the database somewhere and see some recent digitalized photos, but haven't pursued that yet.)

The Pesherim are essentially short, highly personalized commentaries on the words of Scripture. Actually, in some ways these are similar to my own discipline of devotional journal writing (SOAP: Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer), which you can read on this blog.

Each section begins with a recitation of the passage. (This helps validate much of the Old Testament Massoretic manuscripts, but also creates a lot of discussion. Are these copies of the actual words or are they paraphrases? For textual criticism, this is a very important distinction!)

Following the Scripture is an interpretation (Pesher is the Hebrew word that can be translated, "interpretation".) This is where my devotional writings and the Pesherim differ. The Persharim, according to Lim, offer a continuous revelation of prophetic speech rather than a merely contemporary fulfillment paradigm (p 24). The community at Qumran believed that the fulfillments of prophecies in Isaiah, Habakkuk, and Nahum, for example, were linked to events that were unfolding in their present day.

The role of the "Teacher of Righteousness" was that of interpreting the words of Scripture for the community. This example shows the pattern of the Pesherim as well as provides insights into this teaching figure. (The text of Habakkuk is italicized and the Pesher is normal font.)

I will take my stand to watch and will station myself upon my fortress. I will watch to see what He will say to me and how [He will answer] my complaint. And the Lord answered [and said to me, 'Write down the vision and make it plain] upon the tablets, that [he who reads] may read it speedily (Hab. 2:1–2) []. And God told Habakkuk to write down that which would happen to the final generation, but He did not make known to him when time would come to an end. And as for that which He said, That he who reads it may read it speedily (Hab. 2:2): interpreted this concerns the Teacher of Righteousness, to whom God made known all the mysteries of the words of His servants the Prophets (ll.1–2).

Other figures that are mentioned are "the wicked priest" and "the liar". These names are recorded in the writings, but are not necessarily identified with historical personalities. Like I said – fascinating glimpses into history.

I found myself drawn into the discussion surrounding Psalm 37, which is perhaps my favorite psalm. I have viewed this as David's autobiography in which he characterizes his life contrasted with Saul's. The Pesher on this passage links David with the "teacher of righteousness" and Saul with "the wicked priest". Not knowing about whom they were speaking leaves a gap in our understanding, but I can appreciate how they have personalized the text to their own setting.

As a 21st Century student of the Bible I struggle with their hermeneutic. It seems to make large assumptions of the text. Most of my work today is in uncovering the socio-historical-linguistic clues to understand the text and then bridge it to contemporary settings. They seem to circumvent the heavy lifting and get right to the personal application. That's sort of like the comments I always got from my math teachers, "Randy, show your work." Even if you get the right answer, sometimes it's helpful to know how you got there.

Although this text provides a wealth of background information into the time of Christ, it still is only from a small piece of the pie. It is a history seen through the eyes of a small sect that lived on the far outreaches of civilization at their time. They copied and wrote extensively, but only from a limited point of view. Very helpful, for sure, but it needs to be studied in the context of other extra-biblical material from the time.

In short, I loved it! I found it to be a captivating glimpse into a unique set of documents that reveal a lot about a unique group of scholars, writers, and devout followers of the Lord. I recommend that if you get it, you also have an English copy of the DSS. It is a technical book aimed at the graduate level, but not entirely unapproachable. I struggled at times, but even with my limited Hebrew, I got a lot out of it. And it sure beats nighttime reality TV.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

In his love – 4/6/11


Scripture: Psalm 91:14-15
Observation:
The Lord's protection is for those who love him and show it by obedience to his Word. The protection is just one of God's blessings on his followers:
  • rescue (v 14)
  • protection (v 14)
  • answered prayer (v 15)
  • presence in trouble (v 15)
  • deliverance (v 15)
  • honor (v 15)
  • longevity (v 16)
  • salvation (v 16)
That's quite a list! It seems so strange to me that there are so many critics of Christianity who claim that God robs them of joy. I look at this list here and can only offer thanks to a generous God who pours out his blessings on his people.
These blessings are for those who: love him, acknowledge his name, and call on him in trouble.Jesus said that if we love him we will obey his commands. (John 15:9-14) He also indicated that if we remain in his love, then we God will hear and answer prayers (John 15:7). A final link between this passage in Psalm 91 and our John 17 passage is the reference to the name. John 17:11 tells us that our protection comes through the name (strength, might, power, care) of the Lord. Those who acknowledge his name are offered the protection afforded his family.
Application:There are three points here that apply to me today.Love him - I need to live within an abiding (Jn 15) relationship with Christ today. I need to invite his presence in every decision, every conversation, every relationship, every thought. Today I want to live in his love for me and to turn on every "love receptor" I have. I long to find encouragement and refreshment and grace from him and to dwell within his love.
Acknowledge his name - I belong to Jesus. First and foremost I am a follower of Christ. My deepest satisfaction in life comes from being united with him.
Ask for his blessing - I need to remember to come to him at appointed times as well as throughout the day. I need to ask him to help me admit my weaknesses and to see his strength.
Prayer:
Today, Lord Jesus, I acknowledge your name. I belong to you. As your child I come today to live in your presence and to be surrounded by your love. I am not alone. I am protected and sheltered by your love. Surround me today and shower your love upon me as I seek your face. ?May I find my greatest joy in knowing you and discovering the good works which you have laid out before me. As I study and write and listen and talk today, guide me and walk with me. I live today in your presence. Thank you for sharing your life and your love with me. I live today in the name of Jesus. Amen.

in his love - 4/6/11

(John 15:9-14). He also indicated that if we remain in his love, then we God will hear and answer prayers (John 15:7).
Scripture: Psalm 91:14-15

Observation:
The Lord's protection is for those who love him and show it by obedience to his Word. The protection is just one of God's blessings on his followers:
  • rescue (v 14)
  • protection (v 14)
  • answered prayer (v 15)
  • presence in trouble (v 15)
  • deliverance (v 15)
  • honor (v 15)
  • longevity (v 16)
  • salvation (v 16)
That's quite a list! It seems strange to me that there are so many critics of Christianity who claim that God robs them of joy. I look at this list here and can only offer thanks to a generous God who pours out his blessings on his people.

These blessings are for those who: love him, acknowledge his name, and call on him in trouble.
Jesus said that if we love him we will obey his commands
 Psalm 91 and our John 17 passage is the reference to the name. John 17:11 tells us that our protection comes through the name (strength, might, power, care) of the Lord. Those who acknowledge his name are offered the protection afforded his family.
A final link between this passage in
 (Jn 15) relationship with Christ today. I need to invite his presence in every decision, every conversation, every relationship, every thought. Today I want to live in his love for me and to turn on every "love receptor" I have. I long to find encouragement and refreshment and grace from him and to dwell within his love.
Application:
There are three points here that apply to me today.

Love him - I need to live within an abiding 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

the source of blessing and joy - 04/05/11


Scripture: Psalm 5:11-12
11 But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. 12 Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield.

Observation:
A strong link exists between dependence on the Lord and joy. The world tempts me to seek out and find my own happiness. God calls me to joy in Him. There is gladness and joy for those who take refuge in the Lord. The Lord is the protector of his people.

There is a difference for the person who knows the Lord and follows his commands. Theirs is a life of joy, gladness, protection, rejoicing, and blessing. The Lord surrounds them with favor.

Our protection comes from the Lord rather than from any other source. Human efforts at protection are mirages at best. They may seem to be impregnable fortresses, but are nothing but a house of cards. On the other hand - our God protects with his love and his strength.

Application:
Seek the Lord, obey his commands and priciples, and take refuge in him. It seems to be such a simple concept. Go to the Lord for joy rather than seek entertainment outside of Christ. Find protection in the name of the Lord rather than in human effort. This means that I need to present my requests to the Lord and let him provide the safety and blessing that I need. Trust and obedience are the paths to blessing.

Prayer:
Today, Lord, I come before you as your child. I trust in your promises to watch over and pour out your blessing on those who love your name. Cause me to love your name more today. Cause me to walk in the path of your commands. Create in me a true spirit of worship and dependence on you. And may I see your blessings providing for my safety and my joy. Today I trust and delight in your name. Amen.