Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Why Does Luke's Orderly Account Include Mary's Song?

Have you ever read the Christmas story and wondered why Luke included songs? At the beginning of his gospel, Luke says he aims to provide "an orderly account" so that Theophilus could "have certainty concerning the things you have been taught." When we're looking for the facts, just the facts, we don't usually expect to find poetry, do we? Let's consider a couple reasons why Luke's orderly account needs the Magnificat.

Firstly, I encourage you to read the poem. I'll encourage you to do so lastly, as well. But, for now, at least read through it to get the main idea and tone fresh in your mind.

It Means More

Let's begin our investigation at the obvious starting point—the ending! Don't worry, we'll come back to the opening line in a moment. The real anchor for the song's inclusion, however, is at its conclusion.

He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.

Much of Luke's non-poetic Christmas story tells us what happened. Mary closes her song with a confession that tells us why it happened. God became a flesh-and-blood person to make good on his promise to redeem his people. You might be thinking, That's fine and goodof course, we need to know why it happenedbut that doesn't explain why the why needs to be in a song. The why needs to be in Mary's song because it means more that way.

Sure, Luke could tell us that the Jews were waiting on God to make good on his promise. Mary, however, can give us the firsthand perspective. Mary sings to us, My people were waiting, and now God has done this great thing—he has helped his servant in remembrance of his mercy. This personal perspective connects to the other reason for the song that we'll consider from its opening.

It Means My Soul

Now, let's jump back up to the start. We see another reason for including Mary's song in its very first words.

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior

Luke's narrative needs Mary's song because her soul sings it. Luke needs us to know that not everything about this account is altogether orderly—because in some regard it is so intimate. Remember that folks in Mary's day didn't draw the hard distinctions between mind and body and soul that we sometimes do. When she says, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior," she means everything she's got—everything she is—points to the Lord and says, You are magnificent!

When we ask Mary what Christmas is all about, her answer begins with, My soul. That communicates to us the personal meaningfulness of God becoming a flesh-and-blood person in a way that we don't get from too orderly an account.

It Means Your Soul

Read through Mary's song again. Read it slowly. Read it two or three times. Let it influence the song of your maybe-sometimes-less-than-orderly account. Remember, God's becoming a flesh-and-blood person imparts meaningfulness into your being a flesh-and-blood person. Think about that personal connection when you read Mary's song. Let it lead your soul, too, to magnify the Lord.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

What Is The Tragedy Of God?

Last week the calendar popped up my favorite Oswald Chambers entry. It's titled, The Focal Point of Spiritual Power. Here's how it opens.

If you want to know the power of God (that is, the resurrection life of Jesus) in your human flesh, you must dwell on the tragedy of God. Break away from your personal concern over your own spiritual condition, and with a completely open spirit consider the tragedy of God.
These two sentences go against the bulk of contemporary Christian teaching in two fundamental ways.

Tragedy Over Triumph

Firstly, when was the last time someone told you to focus on the tragedy of God? We hear much more about the victory of Christ. To be sure, we need the good news that Jesus overcame the world and defeated the power of death. Let's not, however, neglect that Jesus defeated death by his own death, and that death was a tragedy because the One without sin was made to be sin.

When we neglect the tragedy of God to focus only on the victory, we also focus on claiming that victory as our own. I'm not arguing against that. I'm only saying we must remember its starting point. Failing to do so leads us to seeking our own overcoming of the world, and that brings us to the second distinction.

His Wholeness Over My Holiness

"Break away from your personal concern over your own spiritual condition . . ." What?! This instruction alone cuts through so much of the self-help rhetoric that masquerades as Christian teaching. It's not all about me and my goals and my self-esteem and my serving? Here's how Chambers answers that question.

The effect of the Cross is salvation, sanctification, healing, etc., but we are not to preach any of these. We are to preach “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). The proclaiming of Jesus will do its own work.

Do we believe the proclaiming of Jesus will do its own work? Is that biblical? Consider Isaiah 55:10–11.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

When we give people tips for better living, they have to go out and do the work of making those ideas real in their lives. When we proclaim Jesus Christ and him crucified, the Word of the Lord will do its own work.

Proclamation Over Proficiency

Let's take the Lord at his word that his Word—namely, the proclamation of his tragedy in the death of Jesus—will accomplish his purpose. Let's be careful that the teachers we allow to speak into our lives are preaching Christ crucifiednot primarily to help us be better spouses, fathers, mothers, children, employees, employers, or even better Christians, but to the glory of the One who made Jesus to be sin for our sake, and then raised him from the dead.


Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Why Does Your Bible Say What It Says?

You should know something about your Bible. Yes, it's more important to know what your Bible says, but you should also know something about why your Bible says what it says.

Read the preface. Know something about who translated your Bible and what principles guided their translation. Will you find something that leads to a profound spiritual experience? Probably not, but here's the point.

You Never Read Your Bible Alone

Whenever we read an English Bible, someone has made decisions for us. These decisions determine our starting point for trying to understand the Word of God. So, let's at least have some awareness of who made these decisions and what their decision-making philosophy is.

I said all of the above because it's the main takeaway from everything I'm about to say. Most of you will find the rest of this post pretty uninteresting. Whenever you decide to bail, just please remember to read the preface to your Bible. OK, now let's look at one example why we need to know something about our Bibles.

At Least They Didn't Wait til 2020

In last week's post I mentioned my inclination to mark 52 words in my Bible. The 52 words in question are the changes to the 2016 ESV text edition from the 2011 edition. Why would I want to note these?

I had assumed the 2016 edition was inferior to the 2011 edition. I based this assumption only on the changes to Genesis 3:16 and 4:7. I guessed that these changes were representative of a philosophy change that led the translators astray elsewhere as well. More on that in a moment. But first, what is going on Genesis? Here are the verses in question.

Genesis 3:16 (2011)
To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”

Genesis 3:16 (2016)
To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
but he shall rule over you.”

God's statement to Cain in Genesis 4:7 on sin desiring him also uses contrary to instead of for. Now, is this a clear-cut matter of one translation being better than another? Maybe, but that's not the point.

Nuance in the Notes

Translation is always an act of interpretation. All the same, when we translate our goal must be to represent what the text says rather than what we think it means. Granted, these principles always require caveats. We want to represent what the text says so long as that's meaningful to the reader. The 2016 rendering contrary to reflects what the translators—or the ESV editorial team—think the text means. They can make an argument for that, but the translation is not the place to make that argument.

The ESV Study Bible includes a note that explains how contrary to supposedly fits the context—and that's where interpretation belongs. For more on the translation-theory issues in the 2016 ESV's use of contrary to, see Denny Burk's post, Five Quick Points on the ESV's Rendering of Genesis 3:16.

Regarding the rest of the changes to the ESV 2016, however, I've read enough to now think marking all the changes probably isn't necessary. Contrary to seems to be the only instance where the cultural momentor maybe a response to the cultural moment—led the translators to theologize in the text.

Responsibly and Regularly

Again, translation is always an act of interpretation. So is reading. We are not perfect readers, and the translators are not perfect translators. We can, however, follow principles for responsible translating and reading. One of those is to know something about who translated your Bible. So, read the preface. Also read what someone else has to say about the translation you usually use, and then get back to reading your Bible!


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Why I Don't Take Notes In My Bible

I'm not telling you not to take notes in your Bible. Below are my thoughts from my experience, though I do have a recommendation for note takers.

Writing in your Bible is OK. In fact, you're encouraged to take notes in your Bible. That was the message from my Sunday school teachers when I was kid. I agreed with them in theory, but not in practice. I don't know why.

Why didn't I follow this guidance? I don't remember thinking it an act of rebellion. I just felt an aversion to marking in my Bible. I went with my gut.

More recently I've found a reason not to write in my Bible. When I'm reading the text, that's all I want. It's the same reason I don't primarily use a study Bible. I don't want my reading of the text skewed by someone's interpretation. I also don't want my reading skewed by my own interpretation!

Then and Again?

If I've made notes in a passage, then when I read that passage again the note will take my mind back to what I was thinking the last time I read that passage. A note taker might say, That's the point! Or, rather, the note shouldn't take me back to what I was thinking, but rather to what the Spirit told me.

My feeling is that I don't want the meaningfulness of the text then to distract me from its meaningfulness now. That is, I don't want to miss the application to my life today because my notes are reminding me of my situation—the hopes, circumstances and challenges—ten years ago, or even last year or six months ago. The note taker may argue that I'm missing something else.

Notes and Narrative

I've heard people say their Bible notes tell the story of their spiritual journey over the years. I think you know I believe in the importance of knowing one's story! I'll also grant that when I critique note taking, I'm knocking something I've never tried. Not to say I haven't taken notes from Bible readingI just always do so in a separate notebook. So, in some regards I agree with the note taker in spirit.

I agree there is value in documenting what the text (and hopefully, the Spirit) have taught us over time. There's also value in just recording the questions and thoughts that pop up. I will not, however, concede that all we have is a disagreement over method.

My concern is for keeping space open for new words from the Word. The note taker may claim he or she has continually understood new aspects of the text over the years without interference from his or her past notes. If that's the case, maybe this question is a to-each-his-or-her-own kind of thing. Still, I'll offer a recommendation to the note taker.

Fresh Pages, Fresh Eyes

Don't read only your note-taking Bible. Keep also a Bible that you never annotate. Spend a week in it every so often. Give yourself opportunities to read the text as though you were reading it for the first time. See what you see that you haven't seen. Will I make the converse concession, to spend a week now and then making notes in a separate Bible? I don't think so, but maybe I should.

I have some inclination to mark a certain 52 words in my current church-carry Bible. If I go through with that in the next week, you can read all about it right here. In the meantime—if you trust the Holy Spirit living in you as the guarantee of the salvation accomplished by Christ, then the only wrong way to read your Bible is not to read it. So, whether or not you take this note-taking or non-note-taking advice (from a kid who mostly listened to his Sunday school teachers), read your Bible!


Tuesday, November 10, 2020

On Watching A Helicopter Land Atop Children's Hospital

One day last week I found myself sitting in a parking deck, looking at the city. Suddenly, a helicopter appeared overhead. I watched it, and after a moment it took on a different motion. It became surreally deliberate in its descent. Then I realized it was landing on top of Children's Hospital.

It's neat to see something that appears to be still, but also moving, while knowing part of it is moving so fast you can't really see it. It was awesome—reminded me of Airwolf, but just for a moment.


Soon people appeared on the roof, rolling a stretcher to the helicopter. I had to process the reality. This scene wasn't Airwolf. It was somebody's baby who needed to get to the hospital as soon as possible. That sent me down a different line of thought.

I'm glad our society has systems in place established on the premise that preserving human life is worth a helicopter flight. Yes, I know someone owns the helicopter. These systems can be lucrative. But, think about the pilot and the people on the roof. In that moment, do you think it was about the money?

So, a different way to say it could be that I'm glad we have systems established on insurers trusting that somebody considers the preservation of human life to be worth a helicopter flight. That's the less-feel-good sentiment, but we can feel worse still.


We could say that our society considers human life to be worth a helicopter flight, at least for now. While Western culture has continually looked less and less to Judaeo-Christian principles for its values, the average atheist still agrees that you don't count the cost before flying someone to the hospital. We'd be foolish, however, to take societal agreement on that point for granted.

Here is where we could list fundamental ideas whose perseverance was taken for granted anywhere from 70 to just ten years ago. But, that's not necessary, is it? The point is that we'd be foolish to think that dynamic has reached its conclusion. Some folks like to say the culture war is over, and we lost. That doesn't mean we don't have more to lose. Or, as Bob Dylan says it,

When you think that you've lost everything
You find out you can always lose a little more

So, what do we do?


I don't have the answer for how to help atheist and pagans continue (or start!) believing that human life is worth a helicopter flight. Thankfully, that's not our job. Our job is to preach the gospel and to live by the ways of the kingdom.

  • Love my enemy
  • Give and serve without seeking recognition
  • Defer to the rights and dignity of others

The kingdom of God is always growing, always expanding. The culture doesn't always reflect that continually growth because the kingdom doesn't play by the culture's rules. The kingdom's advancement is mysterious, sometimes hidden. It doesn't look like a Fortune 500 company or a successful political campaign. It looks like:

  • A mustard seed
  • A woman kneading yeast into flour
  • A banquet for bystanders and beggars

We live our lives by the truth of the kingdom. In the world we find a chorus of voices that deny the kingdom's existence. So, we don't expect the world to look like the kingdom, and we shouldn't expect the kingdom's advancement to look like worldly success. Rather, while we go on living in the world, we go on looking for the kingdom and living by its ways. That doesn't mean we give up on the culture altogether. Sometimes the seemingly rocky ground rests on good soil hiding just beneath. We don't try to dig everything up. We scatter the seed.

Maybe I was having a childlike (or at least less cerebral) moment in the parking deck, because I was genuinely surprised when the helicopter took off again. Maybe even American culture has pleasant surprises still in store—some good soil beneath the surface. After all, we believe in the One who does the work of redemption. We are waiting for the One who makes all things new.


Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Christ's Victory Over Death Doesn't Wait For Us To Die

Trusting Jesus means having no fear to die.
It should also mean having no fear to live.

You may have seen a headline over the summer about a professional golfer who wants to live to age 130. His name is Bryson DeChambeau. He believes that improving medical technology—along with forward-thinking diet and exercise—will make this goal achievable for his generation. DeChambeau is 27. So, he's got a ways to go. He discussed his lofty target in an interview that leaves plenty of questions unanswered.

The Dilemma

First of all, why? Granted, staying alive is the default human ambition. You probably did at least something today under the motivation of not dying, and you feel no need to explain that choice. Nonetheless, if you want to live a good 50 years beyond the average lifespan, that's a philosophical decision. You should have a reason why you want to live to 130 instead of to 80. That brings us to another question.

What does DeChambeau plan to do in those additional 50 years? Yes, he's chosen the one sport that somewhat forgives aging, but even if 80 years of life is not enough living, surely 80 years of golf is more than enough golfing. How is he going to spend his platinum years? Also, what does he want at the end? Does he want to know when he's finally made it there? Let's transition this thought experiment to the life of faith.

The Difference

In his book, A Cross-Shattered Church, Stanley Hauerwas points out that Christians in earlier times wanted to know when they were nearing death. He refers us to the Great Litany of the Episcopal Church, in which the pray-er petitions to be spared "dying suddenly and unprepared." Stan contrasts that idea to the modern desire to die in one's sleep after a day like any other. Short of that luxury, we hope for doctors skilled enough to keep me alive to the point that I don't know I'm dead. We want to be here, and then not, without facing reality in between. That makes sense enough, unless you believe death is not something to fear.

Christians can live without fear of death because we know that in Jesus God made good on his promise from Isaiah 25:8.

He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.

By his own death Christ defeated the power of death. So trusting Jesus means having no fear to die, and also having no fear to live. That is, we can live without fear of failing to cheat death. We can reject the scams this world peddles as ways to beat death. Let's consider a couple of these bogus prospects.

1. The Robust Life

This idea says that if you do everything you ever wanted to do and go everywhere you ever wanted to go and own everything you every wanted to hold, then, congratulations—death cannot defeat you, because you've gotten everything you wanted out of life anyway. This idea has plenty of problems.

Firstly, well—read Ecclesiastes. So few of the things we long for get even close to delivering the satisfaction we imagined they could. Secondly, there's always something else. Desire is part of our makeup. Only those who train their desire on righteousness and holiness will be satisfied. For the rest of us, there will always be a next thing that we want. Finally, this approach simply saddles us with a different kind of fear—the fear of not accomplishing everything on the list. What if I have an unexpected expense and then can't afford the Paris trip?

2. Transcendence

We're still reading Shakespeare. While few of us aspire to that level of relevance after death, the world still tempts us in the same way on a smaller scale. If we can just make a name for ourselves in some circle of influence, we'll be remembered—at least for a little while, at least by somebody. The world touts legacy as a sort of immortality. This idea also fails. First of all, any scheme for cheating death that uses immortality metaphorically is a fantasy. And, again, it leaves us fearful. How can I ever be sure that I've done enough, said enough, or achieved enough to be remembered?

The Way

Trusting Jesus means we don't have to play these games, or any others. We don't have to find a way to cheat death because Jesus has already conquered death, and his victory over death doesn't wait for us to die. Jesus frees us to live today. Any attempt on our own to establish meaningfulness in life doesn't really constitute living. Rather, it becomes toil—toiling to find some way to defy the fearfulness of death.

To toil is part of the curse of sin. Jesus not only swallows up death, he also removes the reproach of his people. The curse still mars this world, but we don't have to be slaves to it. The answer to escaping the curse of this world isn't stretching our time in this world to 130 years. Rather, it depends on the One who is making this world new. Jesus liberates us to love God and love others without being fearful to die and without being fearful to live!


Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Whether Church or State, Disputes Usually Get Personal

Remember when the plan was 15 days to flatten the curve? John MacArthur does. The statement on his church's website is too long to read, but from skimming it you get the gist. God established three institutions: family, church, and state. When the state tells the church when and how to worship, that's jumping jurisdictions.

MacArthur says the church answers not to Caesar, but to Christ. I'm sure many would affirm that truth without condoning Grace Community's mass gatherings. The statement's addendum says the church initially suspended services to do their part in flattening the curve. But, because we now see that earlier "horrific projections of death . . . were wrong and the virus is nowhere near as dangerous as originally feared," the church should resume meeting needs that it can only meet by meeting in person.

In other words (my words), MacArthur was ok with flattening the curve, but because the virus underperformed, he's not interested in trying to flatline the curve, which pushes its presence into perpetuity.

I don't have the answers on all this. I will say we're being naïve if we think anyone is being strictly objective right now. That's not how humans work.

Disputes usually get personal. When you challenge Caesar's authority, he always takes it personally. Granted, human church leaders are human as well. Who is more so playing by the rules, and who is mainly threatening to take their ball and go home? To really make that distinction, you often have to be on the playground yourself.

California is not my playground. I'm not saying we shouldn't care whether California churches answer to Caesar or Christ. I'm only saying we have a greater responsibility to do what we can here. In that regard, I read some useful thoughts from Will Willimon.

Willimon looks to Barth's responses to German nationalism for coronacoping ideas. Will finds Barth emphasizing the church's mission to preach “Jesus Christ is Lord."

He describes Barth as "refusing to be jerked around by what the world regarded as momentous, earth-shaking events." Instead, he encouraged believers to "deal with the shock that God has, in Jesus Christ, made our history God’s." That shock raises the question, "How then shall we live now that we know the truth?"

My hope for John MacArthur is the same as for my own church's leadership—that we navigate this situation in light of God making our history his own in Jesus. 


Monday, August 10, 2020

A Cup Of Cold Water (And Cash?)

And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water
because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you,
he will by no means lose his reward.” Matthew 10:42

Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison captures a real moment from a time and place that—thankfully—seems so unreal to me. Part of the magic comes from Cash’s comments between songs. He admits that he cannot truly relate to the prisoners, and yet, he sounds like he can.

Before one song, Cash asks for a glass of water. He takes a swig and says, “Ah, that’s water,” as in, It tastes horrible, but you can’t deny it’s water—it wouldn’t pass for anything else! Taste aside, Cash continues the performance. The cup of water was enough to keep him going.

We all sometimes need a drink of water to carry on. When you’re hot, tired, cranky, dry—just a small, cool drink of water can refresh your spirit. You press on, longing for the taller glass of water at the end.

Jesus sent out his disciples to proclaim the kingdom-nearness. He put them on roads that would be hot and dry. Jesus declares a blessing for anyone who will give a cup of cold water to these little ones—that is, those who are poor in spirit, who are otherwise overlooked.

The greater ones—the rich in spirit—will be noticed by those able to give them food and wine. The little ones, however, depend on their fellow littles, who can offer them only water. Wine is for celebration. It’s the water that keeps us going when there’s a job to do.

Who in your life can you bless today with a cup of cold water?


Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Who Is The God Who Loves You?

God loves you. God loves you. God loves you?

Here's my opening admission. I'm going to raise a difficult question, but only answer an easier one.

I've had the first question in the back of my mind for a few years now. A friend brought it up where most important theological discussions happen—Momma G's.

My friend Dave had noticed his church leadership—or at least the worship service emcees—saying God loves you early and often. They were really driving this point home, proclaiming it several times per service, week after week. No matter what the sermon was, the emcee always began and concluded each service with this mantra, with no elaboration.

Dave wasn't sure what to make of these declarations, given that the emcee was speaking to a thousand people, and the emcee knew so little about who was listening. Who in the audience were believers, and who were not? Who was going to do something horrendous that week because they didn't have the Holy Spirit? Who, among believers and nonbelievers alike, was experiencing life circumstances that they couldn't see as reflecting God's love?

I don't remember exactly how Dave posed his question, but here's how it's taken shape in my mind:

How meaningful is it to repeat God loves you ad nauseam when you don't know who you're speaking to?

That's the difficult question that I'm not sure how to answer. Here's why I'm thinking about it today. Over the weekend a certain Instagram account posted the following two statements:

The most important thing you can know in life is that God loves you.

The most important thing you can do in life is love him back.
These statements have the same problems as the emcee's refrain. On Instagram, you don't know who you're talking to. Not everyone agrees on who God is. That's been true for a long time. Remember Pharaoh's initial response to Moses and Aaron?

“Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:2)

It's more true in America now than in any other generation. If we want to tell people that God loves them, we need to tell them who God is and how he loves. That brings us to the easier question:

How do we describe the love of God, and how do we identify the God who loves?

The Bible gives us several succinct answers. For example,

. . . but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

Those 18 words tell us more than just God loves you.
  • What God/god are we talking about?
    • He's the God who's connected to Christ.
  • How does he love?
    • He provides salvation through Christ that we don't deserve.
Sure, Romans 5:8 requires further exposition, but even without any it goes further than God loves you. Let's try another one.

Granted, in my faith tradition we recited John 3:16 without much meaning. It was something you turned off your brain to say. But, at least it says more than God loves you.

Now, about John 3:16. One might argue that because God so loved the world, anyone can say God loves you to any number of unknown people with confidence that he or she is speaking both truthfully and meaningfully. Maybe that's right. Maybe.

To understand who makes up the world in John 3:16 and in what regard God loves the world exceeds the scope of this post. What I do know is that if you begin and end each service by quoting John 3:16, you're saying something about who God is and how he loves. You're saying something that relates to the gospel.

God loves you⁠—without any context⁠—isn't the gospel. It isn't the church's message to the world. Our message is: You need to be reconciled to God. Thankfully, there is a means of reconciliation. It is the gospel of Christ Jesus.


Monday, June 29, 2020

On Being Back In Church

Being back at church Sunday didn't feel too weird, even with the masks and socially distanced seating. It felt normal compared to not being there at all. On the way in, I reminded my kids not to hug or kiss anyone. Dad, we never kiss anyone at church!

The weirdest part was the recorded message after the service. A familiar voice used an airport tone to tell us to get outthe sooner you get out, the sooner the people who have to clean all the pews can go home. She didn't actually say that. Maybe she should have.

Our church even asked us to leave the whole building immediately. I get it, but that's a hard ask. Visiting—next to singing with people singing all around youis the chief difference between worshiping at church and watching at home. We stopped for just one conversation in the lobby, and I was rushing us through that one. I try to play by the rules, I guess.

How Long?

In the service I found myself wishing we would celebrate communion. That was the last thing we were going to do. But, it would be the first thing to do if we were going all the way from watching in homes to worshiping in one house. Going all the way was never the plan for the first Sunday back. When will it be? That reminds us of the psalmist's inquiry, How long?

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
   and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? (Psalm 13:1–2)

Sure, I know it isn't as bad as that. For one thing, we're the ones hiding our faces. If we worship in person, but file in and out like automatons, are we living with the virus, or hiding from it? Granted, I don't bear the burden of making these decisions for my church. I imagine those who do would say, Yes, we're living with the virus; hiding from it is telling everyone to stay home.

What Do We Do?

I guess I'm feeling ready to live in spite of the virus. That I feel as such doesn't make it wise. So, what do we do?

We look to heaven and say, How long?  How long until the Spirit gives our leadership confidence that it's time to meet and greet? We trust our leaders to listen to the Spirit for that guidance. In the meantime, some of us will wear mask, and some of us won'tliberty in the non-essentials, right? It's the same policy we've always had for instructions like this one:

Greet one another with a holy kiss. 
(2 Corinthians 13:12)

Follow the bikes to the book!

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

On The Air That We Breathe And The Water That We Filter

It's a decision every dad must make. Do I write a blog post on my children's fish?

Should I really compare us—you and I—to nine-dollar Danios? Am I, too, going to see something in an aquarium about the fragility of life?

It's a decision often made too lightly, including this time.

But! What if I told you this post isn't about the choice to get out from behind the plastic plant and explore your world? What if this post is about a prayer—not the prayer of a father, but of a mother? Now, you're reading [likely, something, somewhere, if not this].

I was taken aback by Sarah's prayer Saturday when she first saw these fish in the plastic bag from the pet store. With no forethought or pretense, she pleaded for their perseverance. She petitioned the Ruler of the universe to fix their gills aright for this water we have filtered and heated for their home. She prayed so earnestly that I cannot think it was for the life of the fish, but for the feelings of our daughters. But, it was for the life of the fish—two sides of the same coin.

What struck me the sharpest was her confession, You made these creatures. Now I'm tempted to ruminate more deeply than the outset of this post should allow.

They are genetically engineered to make their color more eye-catching, but You made these creatures.

They were taken from their previous tank, seemingly at random. We just as easily could've gotten any other two from the twenty, but You made these creatures.

We moved their new home out from under the air conditioning vent. We bought different water conditioner and we're following the instructions more closely this time. We hope for the best, but You made these creatures.

I think about the refrain, "the Lord giveth"—from Job—repeated so mechanically in As I Lay Dying that it loses the spirit of Psalm 100.

Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. (v. 3)

It goes for now, and for virus time, and for all times other. Whatever we think we own, and whatever rights we like to holdwe are his, same as the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the tank.

Please like my author page on facebook!


Tuesday, June 16, 2020

On Hymns We Used To Sing And Hear

Years ago I started looking for a good CD (that's how long ago it was) with all the hymns we used to sing in church. I wanted my children to know Blessed Assurance, Sweet Hour of Prayer, The Old Rugged Cross, All Creatures of Our God and King, and a hundred others, and I knew they wouldn't learn them at our church.

Yes, hymns make appearances at our church, but precious few get sung even in consecutive years, and those often have new-fangled praise choruses forcibly inserted.

I know I'm once again sounding like old, bitter grownup church kid. But, I do have something positive to say. I have finally found that CD—albeit not physically, but on Spotify, which I hadn't heard of when I began this quest.

The answer proved to be Baptist Hymnal Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 by Tony Weeks. These recordings are not what I set out to find. I wanted something that sounded close to how the hymns were sung at my home church. I thought that would be easy to find. It was not.

Tony Weeks' recordings are not close to my hymn-singing background either. But, by the time I discovered him, I was desperate. And these acoustic-guitar renditions are very listenable (after all, who really drives to the park with a pipe organ and choir as the soundtrack). They reflect the same spirit as congregational hymn singing. These albums don't so much sound like the Sunday mornings of my youth, but they feel like them. They stand in the stream of tradition.

That's really the crux of the matter, right? I want my children to know the songs I sang as a child in church, in part because my parents and grandparents and beyond sang the same songs. And, if you'll permit my bitter traditionalist persona to pose a question:

When was the last time we sang Awesome God? When was the last time we sang Oceans? We sang the hymns for generations, but when a song is written for the moment, that's exactly how long it's good for.

Please like my author page on facebook!

Follow the bikes to the book!

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Why Don't Baptists Say The Apostles' Creed?

Will Willimon says he didn't think much of Dogmatics in Outline when he first read it, just that Bart sounded like "some kind of conservative." Well, sure. Dogmatics in Outline is Barth's brief commentary on the Apostles' Creed, and anyone doing right by the Creed should sound like a conservative, because the Creed is so faithful to Scripture. One might respond, Yes, but the Creed is not Scripture. That line of thought must be why I never heard of the Creed—at least not at church—in my evangelical upbringing.

If we neglect the Creed simply because it is not Scripture, we might ask whether we need any theology at all. Why not just read the Bible, and only the Bible? We can answer that question with one wordTrinity. It's a word not found in the Bible, but it helps us understand what the Bible teaches about God. The same is true of the Apostles' Creed.

The Creed concisely states fundamental Christian beliefs that are taught throughout different places in the Bible. The ESV Following Jesus Bible has a page on the Creed that matches up 23 biblical references to specific items.

One might argue we would do better to memorize the 23 Scripture passages. OK, but, the Creed is easier to learn and easier to share. If we learned the 23 passages, we'd also need to learn some way to understand and communicate how they fit together. Given this usefulness of the Creed, we again ask, why don't Southern Baptist use it?

In answering this question, Google reminded me that Al Mohler wrote a book on the Apostles' Creed just last year. In this interview, he says Creed aversion usually stems from a fear that we'll emphasize the Creed above Scripture. I get that. I respect the concern that we not confuse anyone on what is authoritative. At the same time, this position brings us back to the difficulty of a "nothing but the Bible" approach. If that's our stance, we need to throw out the Hymnal. [My church already did that, but that's a different story.]

Mohler also says that if we don't use the Creed, we'll need to make up some other summation of our faith. Mohler warns against that. The Apostles' Creed has stood the test of time for good reason. That reminds me of Stanley Hauerwas' comment that Christianity is something we receive, not something we make up as we go along.

I enjoyed Dogmatics in Outline. I don't know if I'll read Mohler's book, but I do plan to read Ben Myers'. I used to enjoy his blog. (It's still here, but someone else posts on it now.)

If you don't know the Creed, I encourage you to learn it. It's a good thing to carry around with you (in your head). You'll find yourself remembering it on occasion. You'll read or hear something and think about how it connects to the Creed.

I can't predict how referring to it may go over in your Sunday school class, but, if you run into Dr. Willimon, maybe he'll think you're some kind of conservative, like Karl Barth.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The 3 Times I Met Pat Dye

I've known the legend all my life. I didn't know the man personally, but, with Coach Dye, you felt like you did. It seemed like the man in the arena was the same as you would find him anywhere else. I always hoped that was true. They say not to meet your heroes, but in the times I met Pat Dye, he never disappointed that hope.

The Dinner Party

It was either my second or third year in school. Matt and Sam and I went out to eat at some restaurant on College Street, out past the interstate. Why we went to this place, I have no clue. We may have been the only ones in there when they seated us. We were already eating before anyone else came in. I was facing the door. Matt and Sam sat across from me.

I told them Coach Dye just walked in. They didn't flinch. They thought I was joking. [They knew me well enough to know I don't joke about Pat Dye. But, sometimes you know someone too well.] The host seated Coach and his family at the table next to us.

He must have seen that I wanted to shake his hand, but I had wing-sauce all over them. [That must've been why we were there. Matt was into getting wings for a while.] Instead, he put his hands on my shoulders just like he knew me. It was so cool. He must have seen the way I looked at him. He had seen it a hundred thousand times. He knew I had watched games sitting in the floor. He knew what my first Iron Bowl meant to me.

He could see that I hadn't played football, but that I played more years for him—in my mind—than any letterman.

After they sat down, Sam immediately started recalling all manner of Auburn football games and events from the 80's. Was he saying all this loudly enough for the next table to hear? Maybe.

Whatever you think of that move, know this: Sam just as likely would have done that any other time we went out to eat, or got pizza, or went to a movie, or church.

He wasn't acting differently. He was just being himself for a different reason.

I don't remember whether we said anything to them when we left. I hope not. They probably chose an unpopular restaurant for a reason.

Game Day

The next encounter must have been the following football season. We had just entered the stadium at the student-section gate when Matt exclaimed, "Hey, Coach Dye!" I looked over, and there he was, coming right at us.

This time there was no wing-sauce, and he shook my hand. I think he said something like, "I gotta find where I'm supposed to be." He was looking up, trying to read the signs that tell you which way to which section. One of his teams was being recognized on the field before the game. It was funny. You'd think he would have an entourage, or a handler, a bodyguard, something. Nope. He was on his own, looking as lost as any freshman (or senior) trying to find a class in Haley Center. The next time I spoke with him was at Haley Center.

War Eagle

I wish I could date this one precisely. I think it was the 2006 Washington State game. Sarah and I were milling around the University Bookstore when we saw people in line in the courtyard. What's this for? Coach Dye was signing copies of his new children's book, War Eagle. What! All I have to do is stand in line for a little while, and buy a book [surely I can think of somebody with a kid who would like to have this book—oh, yeah—Matt!] and I can speak to Pat Dye? Show me to the end of the line!

I was a little nervous. They had us fill out slips for how we wanted Coach to autograph the book. I wrote something very original, like "War Eagle, Sam!," and asked the student managing the line if that was appropriate. He said it was perfect.

What do I remember from the front of the line? Not much. He said something to me that I thought was quintessentially Coach Dye, and I told everyone, but now I can't remember what it was. Mostly, I just remember it making me happy.

Coach made a lot of folks happy over his 80 years. Of course, the man I "knew" wasn't the only side of Coach Dye. That's reality for everyone. We are sinners. We await the full revelation of Christ's work to make all things new. Thankfully, in the here and now we already see some fruit of the redemption.

I think we see a redemptive arc in Coach's life—something of a move from work to grace. That idea exceeds the scope of both this post and my insight. Nonetheless, it is something I hope. In 1986, Alabama led Auburn by 10 at the start of the fourth quarter. It was an era when points were harder to come by—especially in the Iron Bowl. It didn't look good, but with Pat Dye on the sideline, you never lost hope.