Enjoying Worship

GivingThis evening as I was preparing for my Bible Study group, when I happened upon a quote by G. H. Mallone (Furnace of Renewal: A Vision for the Church, Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1981, pp.51-52) concerning the oft heard question, “Did you enjoy the worship service today?”  His well worded reply to the apparently self-serving orientation of such a question was, “Whether we enjoy it or not, are comfortable or not, are built up or not, none of these areas is a sufficient criterion for measuring worship.  Rather, the test of any worship should be, ‘What did God receive from it? What did I put into it? Did God enjoy the worship? Was he pleased by the sacrifice of our praise and our service? Or was he discontent because our wills, emotions and intellects were disengaged in the process?'”

[originally published on bluechippastor.org May 15, 2012]

Pastoring Your Spouse

pastors wifeIt is always a difficult thing to be your family’s only pastor. As if it weren’t difficult enough in relation to your children, you also are given the care of your spouse. In this regard, my wife is gone for two days to a minister’s spouse retreat with others in the same life-setting. I find this to be an invaluable ministry to help meet some of her social and spiritual needs. I realize that there needs to be others speaking into her life and that she needs time away from the children to be refreshed and enjoy the friendships of other women who’s husbands serve the church. This is one of those get-aways that I have strongly supported from the beginning as part of my pastoral (and husbandly) care of my wife. So what do you do as a pastor to care for the needs of your spouse?

[originally blogged at bluechippastor.org on May 15, 2012]

The Discipline of Prayer Retreat

Jesus took his disciples away from the crowds to be alone with them…in prayer and fellowship…and he also went alone to be with His Father. (Luke 9:28; Matthew 14:23)

This week I traveled to a neighboring town to spend a day in prayer and fasting with some pastors from the region. It was refreshing to offer prayers for each other and know there are others who take their responsibility as a pastor seriously enough to gather for such a thing. I find these “retreats” to be essential to my well-being and success as a pastor.

Just a few years ago I was feeling the wear and tear of ministry and needing to find a place for retreat. My wife and I had searched online for any possible places where I could take a few days and that would not cost a lot. As it turns out the seminary I was attending would let me stay for a very reasonable price. They housed me in a small dorm where I was the only one staying. No T.V. No music. No internet. Just the solace of the few books I brought with me (including my Bible), a laptop for writing and some basic food stuffs. It became my “monastery” for spiritual retreat and I have often found great refreshment as I prayed and studied there.

In other words, I’ve had to discover (and re-discover) the strength and renewing of such times of retreat…both with others and alone. Lord, teach me to pray and find my daily provision in the hand of your Father.

[originally blogged at bluechippastor.org May 12, 2012]

Resurrection of a Blog

Perhaps this is a bit selfish of me, but I am resurrecting posts to this blog over the next few weeks that were from another blog. I just realized that I was potentially losing a number of blog posts from a now sadly defunct co-authored blog (bluechippastor.org) that I thought should perhaps be shared and preserved. That blog was a tremendous contribution (in my estimation) for pastors by pastors and I am deeply grateful to Dan Thompson (and the numerous others who contributed) for sharing this blog for several years. Thus I will be posting my old posts from that site in order to not lose them and perhaps offer aid to those who might further benefit from them. These ran from May 2012-July 2014 and are dated according to their original publication.

Gordon Anderson on Eschatology

Gordon AndersonThe following hour long audio is from the Minnesota Assemblies of God Family Camp 2015. Dr. Gordon Anderson (president of North Central University) spoke to the topic of eschatology and offered a perspective that it would be well for more in the Assemblies of God to embrace. He briefly covers the history of dispensationalism and its impact on the A/G as well as offering anecdotal accounts typical of those raised under dispensational teaching (my own story being quite similar).

I personally found his approach to be both biblical and confessionally sound. He ends with a call to all ministers in particular to preach Jesus in preaching eschatology instead of preaching timelines, exposing numbers and beasts, etc. His teaching was a refreshing word not often heard in our camp meetings, but all too necessary. I have preached and taught many of the same things, but was greatly encouraged to hear another doing likewise.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

(HERE is an MP3 version for download as well)

Leonard Sweet on Ministerial Training

Leonard SweetReading a student’s paper tonight, I was struck by a statement Leonard Sweet (always thoughtful and provocative) made about the potential that we (particularly ministerial training institutions) might be training pastors for a ministry that no longer exists (found in his forward to Edward H. Hammett’s, “Reframing Spiritual Formation: Discipleship in an Unchurched Culture” [Macon, Ga: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Incorporated, 2002.], p.x).

I have often wondered if we are failing to adequately prepare ministers for the kinds of issues and situations they will face. Perhaps we have landed on certain models of and content in ministerial education that fails to address the needs of our contemporary world.

Some questions in my mind:

  • Are we properly addressing the issues of healthy sexuality? Singleness and marriage?
  • Are we considering how the church of tomorrow can and should function to give proper worship to the Lord in contextually relevant ways?
  • Are we equipping students as disciples to make disciples rather than simply hoping they will be discipled and hoping along the way they might figure out how to disciple others?
  • Are we encouraging and developing theologically and imaginatively rich ways of “doing church” that are both rooted in the Church historic and universal, but culturally sensitive?
  • Are we training in ways of communication to further the modes and manner of effective discipleship and evangelism?

We often seem to get locked into one way of conceiving of how things should be done. It can be difficult as well when we who are educators might have served in ministry some years prior to our service as professors. This can at times mean we no longer think creatively or in culturally relevant ways because we are not being pushed to do so by “living in the trenches” of the pastoral vocation. On the other hand, sometimes ministers (and educators) can become consumed with the latest trendy ministry models and tools all the while still failing to effectively evangelize and disciple (themselves and others).

What are your thoughts?

A Window for Death

 As I prepare for my course on Jeremiah this fall I noticed that the commentaries I was using (Brueggemann, Feinberg, Harrison, Kidner, Lalleman, Wright) were not covering the Ugaritic connection in Jeremiah 9:21 (English versions; vs. 20 in the Hebrew) which reads:

‘Death has climbed in through our windows. It has entered into our fortified houses. It has taken away our children who play in the streets. It has taken away our young men who gather in the city squares.’ (‭Jeremiah‬ ‭9‬:‭21‬ NET)

In fact, only one (Fretheim p. 162) even mentions any Canaanite connection at this passage and even so draws in the connection to death overcoming Baal and leaving him “strewn across the countryside”.

The Ugaritic Baal Cycle contains a whole account of the Baal’s house (temple or palace) being built by Kothar-waHassis. As he builds the house, Kothar-waHassis is emphatic that he wants to put a window in, but Baal is concerned about having a window for fear of Mot (death) entering his house. At last he relents and the window gets installed. Mot enters and defeats Baal. At Baal’s death El and Anat weep and mourn.

This is precisely what seems to be at play in Jeremiah’s call for lament in chapter nine. In fact, verse 14 had already mentioned their commitments to Baal:

Instead they have followed the stubborn inclinations of their own hearts. They have paid allegiance to the gods called Baal, as their fathers taught them to do. (‭Jeremiah‬ ‭9‬:‭14‬ NET)

It would only seem fitting that their end should follow Baal who found his house also invaded via a window for death to enter and the call for mourning has been issued.

Instead they have followed the stubborn inclinations of their own hearts. They have paid allegiance to the gods called Baal, as their fathers taught them to do. (‭Jeremiah‬ ‭9‬:‭14‬ NET)

____________________________

Addendum

Having just looked over Thompson’s comments (p. 317), I note that while he gives attention to the Ugaritic account stating at the first that is has “a significant parallel in Canaanite mythology” he concludes stating, “despite the apparent closeness of the parallel it may be no more than a coincidence arising from Jeremiah’s personification of death”.

Craigie, et al, (pp. 150-1) notes that this account in Jeremiah has “occasioned much debate” because of the potential connection. They cite an article by S. Paul as having “argued persuasively that the proposed connection is not correct”. They further offer (via Paul) a connection to the Babylonian account of a demon named Lamashtu. In Paul’s article, the primary contention against any Baal myth connection (or at least the argument for direct dependence which I would also oppose) is, first, that Mot is not engaged in conflict (nor mentioned) in the window building section and, second, that there are no extant texts that Mot ever enters windows (pp. 373-6: here S. Paul also notes the development of the notion of connecting Jeremiah 9.20 to the Baal Cycle giving treatment to those who argued for it and added to the notion citing Cassuto, Pohl, Albright, Ginsberg, Singer, Lowenstamm and Hyatt).

Finally, Smith (pp. 602-10) explains at length that the function of the window in the Baal Cycle is not for Mot to enter (noting that Mot is never connected to the window in any of the extant texts), but only for Baal to exercise his kingly dominion. It becomes the means by which Baal will thunder his voice and send the rains and bring fertility to the earth. He cites a number of scholars who did not go as far as those S. Paul noted that argued for direct connection (see above), but mentions those who still see connections between the window and Mot (Caquot and Sznycer, Gordon, and Pardee; p. 604).

Upon further reflection from reading Paul and Smith, I note now that my reading of the connection owed its origin to a number of the writers each indicated. I had not read either of their work on this particular passage. While they are correct to note that Mot is not connected directly to the window in Baal’s house, it still seems that Baal had trepidation (unnamed though it is as to its cause) about the installation of the window. That the cycle continues from that point with the conflict with Mot is striking. Further, that Baal is actually named in the same poetic unit (v. 14) is also striking. My own understanding might be that there is not a direct literary connection, but a common myth (perhaps shared in the Babylonian texts noted above) of death entering via the window (though Mot is not seen to enter Baal’s window).

Bibliography

Brueggemann, Walter. A Commentary on Jeremiah: Exile and Homecoming. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1998.

Craigie, Peter C., Page H. Kelley, and Joel F. Drinkard. Jeremiah: 1-25. Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1991.

Feinberg, Charles L. Jeremiah, a Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1982.

Fretheim, Terence E. Jeremiah. Macon, GA: Smith & Helwys Pub, 2002.

Harrison, R. K. Jeremiah and Lamentations: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale Old Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973.

Kidner, Derek. Jeremiah. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014.

Lalleman, Hetty. Jeremiah and Lamentations. Tyndale Old Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2013.

O’Connor, Kathleen M. Jeremiah: Pain and Promise. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2011.

Paul, Shalom M. “Cuneiform Light on Jer 9:20.” Biblica 49, no. 3 (1968): 373-376.

Smith, Mark S. The Ugarit Baal Cycle: Volume 1: Introduction with Text, Translation and Commentary of KTU I.1-I.2. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994.

Thompson, J. A. The Book of Jeremiah. New International Commentary of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1980.

Wright, Christopher J. H. The Message of Jeremiah: Against Wind and Tide. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2014.

Please Don’t Prune Me!

Christ the True Vine (Greek Icon 16th C.)

Christ the True Vine (16th C. Greek Icon)

I heard a good message today from John 15:1-11:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper. He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit. You are already trimmed because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything. If you don’t remain in me, you will be like a branch that is thrown out and dries up. Those branches are gathered up, thrown into a fire, and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples. “As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. Remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete. (CEB)

Essentially it was preached as I have preached this text myself: we must allow God to prune us that we might be more fruitful. However, I was struck today by the following thought: What if this is NOT about personal piety, but about communal life?

Here’s what I mean: Such texts seem readily enough at hand to describe the biblical notion of God purifying for Himself a people. He indeed is sanctifying us through and through as individual members of His Church. However, this text seems more intent on the notion of cleansing the community of all unfruitful members. This community that is God’s vineyard finds itself rooted in Jesus as “the True Vine”. All who will not abide in him are cut off and will be cast out.

Instead of this text being about how our God sanctifies individuals, it appears instead to be about how God creates His community, His people as a people. Israel of the flesh would be excised if they would not obey the commands of God and His Son. That is their abiding: to trust in Jesus as Messiah and as Lord. Any claims to belonging to that community apart from remaining in Jesus would lead to death and removal.

Further the community of those who abide in Jesus will have joy fulfilled and receive what they ask in his name. He will be the center of all existence for this community. Their very being is established in him and this because God will cut off all that is not to be found in Jesus.

While I still think there are notions of personal piety entailed (“You are already trimmed”), I think this still has community intent given those who had left Jesus in John 6 over his words about eating flesh and drinking his blood and then later by Judas at the supper in John 13. They had been pruned. Who would remain?

What do you think? Is this a faithful reading of the text? Has our personal pietistic reading hampered our ability to hear this text for its congregational (community) intent and force?

Worship, the Arts, and the Spirit

David Plays the Harp for Saul by RembrandtI just submitted my proposal for the Society for Pentecostal Studies 2016 meeting in San Dimas, California (most excellent, dudes!) which is broadly themed “Worship, the Arts, and the Spirit”.

I am hoping my proposal gets accepted as in most previous years. I’ve titled my paper (which will end up as a part of my PhD thesis) “When Prophets Play the Lyre: Saul and the Strings of the Spirit”.

Here is my summary that I submitted (which is always fun to write when NONE of the paper has been written yet :-) ):

A recurring notion in 1 Samuel (chapters 10, 16, 18-19) appears to highlight the relation of King Saul to the Spirit, prophesying and the playing of the lyre. Saul initially receives the Spirit of the LORD and begins to prophesy as predicted by Samuel once Saul hears the music of the prophets at Gibeah. Later, the Spirit of the LORD departs from Saul and comes upon David. With the departure of the Spirit of the LORD a “troubling spirit of God” comes upon Saul causing sudden violent outbreaks. The only relief from the troubling spirit is the music of Spirit-endowed David on the lyre. Further, the “prophets prophesying” appears to function musically throughout this literary unit including with the overcoming of Saul twice to “prophesy” when encountering a group of prophets prophesying (in the first instance explicitly with music and suggestive in the second). A literary and theological interpretation of the relevant texts is offered for discerning the role of the Spirit in the instrumentation of the prophets in 1 Samuel with several proposed implications for Pentecostal practice.

How NOT to Interpret Daniel

John the BaptistOn Sunday I held services at the nursing homes in Ellendale and spoke on Daniel chapter 6 giving the summary of the book of Daniel which is among my favorite books of the Old Testament and I hope at some point to write a commentary on it, but that needs to wait a good decade. Daniel is just one of those books that holds my fascination.

All that aside, I received a notification from Faithgateway that there was a free offer for The Daniel Jumpstart Guide. I was horrified (once again). Here was yet another false interpretation and application of this sadly manipulated and abused book. It is a prequel diet plan to lose weight and get healthy…based on (a distortion of) the text of Daniel. This plan includes more than other plans (says the video ad). It includes what no other plan includes which will make it more successful (says the video ad): focus, friends and faith, plus fitness and food. Its alliterative so it must be right (that or a preacher developed it). Another sad money making scheme using Scripture inappropriately and marketing to Christians. :-(

With that said, I still think my John the Baptist diet plan could go viral. And when I follow it with the John the B clothing line…lookout world!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,102 other followers