December 31, 2008

Immanuel, part 2

So, we saw last time that the famous "Immanuel" passage in the Christmas story comes from a prophecy in Isaiah ch.7. The prophecy in its original context did not foretell a future Messiah who would be born of a literal "virgin" (b'thulah), but rather, an impending birth of a child by a "young woman" or "maiden" ('almah).

We also saw that centuries after the prophecy was spoken by Isaiah, and over a century before Jesus' birth from a literal virgin, Jewish translators who translated the Hebrew text into the widely-spoken Koine Greek language translated Isaiah's 'almah with the Greek word for virgin, parthenos.

It is this text that Matthew pointed his readers to as having been by Jesus' virgin birth. So the question remains: How did Jesus' birth "fulfill" a prophecy spoken 700 years beforehand about a young woman giving birth to a child in King Ahaz's day?

It all hinges on what Matthew means by the word "fulfill."

When we say something "fulfilled" something spoken long ago, we immediately think of a prediction that then comes to pass. This is a perfectly valid meaning of "fulfill." But it's not the only meaning...and it's not the one that the NT writers most often mean.

Rather, when they speak of Jesus as having "fulfilled" the Scriptures, they mean that in His life, death and Resurrection, Jesus has relived, reenacted, or recapitulated the story of Israel found in her Scriptures. In other words, He has "filled fully" the story found in the text.

What does this mean?

Well, it means that when Matthew says Jesus' birth to a parthenos is the fulfillment of Isaiah 7's promise to Ahaz that "the 'almah (Heb.)/parthenos (Gk.) will give birth to a son and will call him 'Immanuel'", he IS NOT claiming that Isaiah 7 is making a future prediction about Jesus Himself being born of a virgin. Rather, Matthew is looking at the story of Israel as a whole, and in this case Isaiah's account of the seige of Jerusalem during Ahaz's time, and claiming that Jesus is repeating in his own life the story of Israel as a people...but where they failed, He will succeed.

We don't normally catch this meaning when reading Matthew 1-2 because often we are not very familiar with the original Scriptures Matthew is citing or their historical setting. But if we were, as Matthew's 1st century Jewish readers were, we would see that Matthew is using very well-accepted and widely-used Jewish interpretive methods of his time to make this point. He is keying in on certain terms that link Jesus' story with that of Israel. As Michael Brown notes in his EXCELLENT work on this passage:

For Matthew—rightly so—the Hebrew Bible was the Messiah’s Bible, and therefore, given that (1) Yeshua was literally Immanuel, God with us, (2) the Immanuel prophecy was clearly directed to the house of David, (3) Miriam, Yeshua’s mother was an Ężalmah who had never known a man, and (4) the surrounding context in Isaiah contained highly significant Messianic prophecies, it is no wonder that Matthew pointed to Isaiah 7:14 as being “fulfilled” in the birth of Jesus the Messiah. Who else fulfilled it? Or put another way, since Matthew knew beyond a doubt that Jesus was the Messiah and since he knew that Yeshua was born of a virgin, was he wrong to quote Isaiah 7:14 in reference to Yeshua’s miraculous birth? Was it not another important link in the chain of promises and prophecies given to David and his line?

Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 3: Messianic
Prophecy Objections (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2003), 28.

Basically what Matthew is saying to his readers is this:

"Hey, you know how in our Scriptures it talks about God giving a sign to Israel that the birth of a child named 'Immanuel' would herald their salvation from the threat posed by the seemingly unstoppable enemy surrounding them? Well God did it again! But this time He did it on a universal scale! This time another young maiden (who actually was a virgin!) gave birth to a son. And instead of just being named 'Immanuel', which means 'God-with-us", this son actually turns out to LITERALLY be God with us! And just as Immanuel's birth heralded the impending defeat of Israel's enemy Assyria, this "Immanuel's" birth heralds the impending defeat of Israel's ultimate enemy, the Evil One himself! Our people's story is being filled fully with new meaning in the person and work of this child born in Bethlehem! The story if Israel in Isaiah 7-11 is being relived through the arrival of her long-awaited Messiah, Jesus! This is indeed Good News ("Gospel"). There's a new Immanuel being born, who's actually "Immanuel" in the fullest sense! Israel's deliverance is near! "

But what ended up being so shocking about this "fulfillment" was the means by which Israel's (and the world's!) deliverance would come about...

Blessings and have a wonderful 2009!

JMS

December 18, 2008

Immanuel - Son of a 'virgin' or son of a 'young woman'?

Christmas time is here...happiness and cheer...fun for all, that children call...their favorite time of y...

Sorry. I just watched "Merry Christmas Charlie Brown" a couple of nights ago! Best Xmas cartoon ever! [Note: It's okay to write "Xmas" because 'X' is the Greek letter "chi" which is the first letter in "Christ"...which is how early Xians abbreviated it sometimes.]

Anyway, while Linus' epic homiletical slam dunk pulled exclusively from Luke's Gospel, there is another account of the announcement of Jesus' birth found in Matthew's Gospel that is equally famous:

"Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which translated means, "God with us." (Matthew 1:22-23, New American Standard Bible)

So Matthew is saying that the Old Testament Prophet Isaiah predicted that the Messiah would be born of a virgin, right? That's what most people who read or hear this passage at Xmas assume.

But it's not true.

"Sure it is! Look at Isa.7:14: Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.' (NASB, KJV, NIV, ESV). It's right there in black and white!"

Not so fast though.

Look at this passage in the Revised Standard Version (along with the New Revised Standard Version): "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."

Is this just a case of the RSV and NRSV, which are often labeled by Fundamentalists as "liberal", "heretical" and even "wicked", mistranslating the text in order to take away from the Gospel message?

No.

Hebrew-literate skeptics have pointed out that the Hebrew word for "virgin" is:





[b'thulah]

However, in the Immanuel prophecy in Isaiah, we don't find the b'thulah. Rather, we find:





['almah]

Now an 'almah could be a virgin (because most young women who weren't married were virgins), but the word itself speaks of the age of the woman, not her virginal status. So the translation "virgin" in Isaiah 7:14 misleading...as many Jewish friends have pointed out for centuries! "Young woman" is, in fact, the more acccurate translation.

So why, when he was writing his Gospel, did Matthew (*yes I believe Matthew wrote it and the arguments for late-dating, Q, and other such conjectures don't stand up to close scrutiny*) use the Greek word for "virgin"



[parthenos] when he came to this passage in Isaiah? Was he deliberately trying to make the Hebrew Bible foretell Jesus' virgin conception in order to fool the biblically-illiterate??

Nope.

Over a century before Jesus was born or Matthew picked up his quill, the Hebrew Bible was translated into the Greek language--which had become the common language throughout the mediterranean in the wake of Alexander the Great's conquests--in order for Greek-speaking Jews who no longer spoke or read Hebrew to be able to read and understand the Scriptures. This translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek came to be known as the "Septuagint" or "LXX" (literally: "the seventy"because it was said to have been translated by a group of 70 Hebrew scribal experts...though this may be more urban-legend than fact.) And what word did the LXX translators use to translate 'almah in Isaiah 7:14 years and years and years before Jesus was born?

You guessed it! Parthenos

And it was the LXX translation which Matthew used in writing his Gospel. So Matthew was not twisting, mistranslating or misinterpreting Isaiah in order to write about Jesus' virgin conception. But from the first century on, most Christians have translated the Isaiah passage using the LXX's reading of Isaiah 7:14, whereas Jewish translations (and some Christian translations) have kept the Hebrew original's "young woman".

What makes things REALLY interesting is that when you read Isaiah 7:14 in its original context, it is NOT predicting the birth of the Messiah, NOR is it predicting something that would happen long after Isaiah's time (Isaiah lived more than 700 years before Jesus' birth!). Rather, it's predicting that a young woman would give birth to a child in Isaiah's day as a sign to King Ahaz of God's deliverance from the threat of Assyrian invasion.

So what is Matthew doing saying that Jesus' virgin conception somehow fulfills this prophecy??

Why do Christians read it every Xmas?

Why do some English Bibles still insist on translating "young woman" in Isaiah 7:14 as "virgin"??



Stay tuned to the Dojo to find out sometime next week...


;)

JMS

December 17, 2008

Finally!!

I'll be honest...I usually hate Devotionals!

I know, I know...some people thrive off of daily nuggets from Max Lucado or The Upper Room. God bless 'em...I'll never understand such people, but I still love them as brothers and sisters in Christ. :)

However, I recently began reading a Devotional that caught my eye and I wanted to share it with the Dojo because I know I'm not the only one who wants more than the usual "Johnny-felt-sad-so-God-sent-a-rainbow-that-day-as-he-was-driving-home-letting-him-know-that-he-is-a-dear-child-of-his-heavenly-father" type devotional.

It's called "A Faith and Culture Devotional: Daily Readings in Art, Science, and Life" by Kelly Monroe Kullberg and Lael Arrington.

Each day there is a 2-3 page excerpt by a scholar, theologian, scientist, artist, writer, historian, or other culture-shaper, followed by thoughts and questions based on the reading and Scripture. Just this week I've read devotionals on Abraham being the father of 3 faiths, God and the Human Genome, Milton's "Paradise Lost", Art as a response to God's beauty, a conversation with Muslims, the archaeology of Sodom and Gomorrah...and that's all within the first two weeks worth of readings!

It's also wonderful to pick up a devotional and find writings from the following people:
Randy Alcorn
Michael Behe
Darrell Bock
G.K. Chesterton
Francis Collins
William Lane Craig
Guillermo Gonzalez
Os Guinness
Gary Habermas
Walter Kaiser
Frederica Mathewes-Green
J.P. Moreland
Hugh Ross
Francis Schaeffer
John Stott
Dallas Willard
and
Philip Yancey

I'm looking forward to the next few months' with this Devotional and hope that the demand for more like this one increases exponentially among Christian readers.

JMS

December 15, 2008

Final thoughts on The Blue Parakeet and women preachers...

In my last post, I talked about Scot McKnight's new book "The Blue Parakeet", which I was reading at the time. I finished it two days ago and wanted to give a follow up.

"Parakeet" devotes the final 3rd of the book to looking at an issue in Scripture which for many readers is a "blue parakeet" issue (one that makes us uncomfortable, challenges us, or seems to go against other passages we read). The issue he chooses is the role of women in teaching and preaching in church settings. I won't recount the entire argument here, but I do want to point out a couple of things he does well, which many in the church--especially us Evangelicals who hold to the Inspiration of Scripture--should take more time thinking through and wrestling with (instead of the usual 'proof-texting' method preferred by many Biblical "experts").

McKnight's main point is that when we look at the Biblical record as a whole--as a story--we see the big picture and how God's moving and ordering history to accomplish His purposes. When we do this, we see that the handful of passages in the New Testament which seem to "silence" women from teaching men run counter to not only the overall plan of God to undo the effects of the Fall through the Gospel, but also to the actual events and roles of women in Scripture itself. As McKnight says, before we ask "What can women do?" (WCWD?), we need to ask "What did women do?" (WDWD?). When we ask the latter question, we find women teaching, preaching, ruling and having authority over men at certain points in both the Old and New Testament (i.e. Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Junia, Priscilla, Phoebe, etc.). Therefore, when we come to passages in a letter where a New Testament author seems to reverse or condemn such leadership among women, we should probably look a little closer at the actual details surrounding those he is writing to before simply adopting his command to that congregation as universally binding.

I agree with McKnight on this issue (though unlike him, I was never raised with the "traditional" belief that women shouldn't teach or preach to men in the church). Whenever it comes up, I'm always curious as to why the discussion inevitably begins with the prohibitions contained in the later Biblical books (i.e. 1Corinthians, Timothy, etc.) and reads the entire Bible through the lens of those specific prohibitions instead of beginning with the clear passages depicting righteous women in leadership roles of authority over men when called by God to do so and then read the prohibition passages in light of such an overarching pattern.

Of course there are Godly Christians, men and women, who end up coming to differing conclusions about the role of women in spiritual authority positions. And while I don't for a second question their genuine faith, filling of the Spirit, and devotion to Jesus as Lord...I do believe on this issue they have erred in their interpretation of Scripture. For more on this, I recommend picking up a copy of "The Blue Parakeet" and then, listening to both views presented and critiqued by one another in resources such as this or this.

December 12, 2008

Perspective is everything...

Regardless of your politics, or whether or not you own a copy of The Green Bible, this site I came across puts human wastefulness in perspective like nothing else I've ever seen...plus, artistically speaking, it's pretty impressive:

http://www.chrisjordan.com/current_set2.php

Blessings,
JMS

December 4, 2008

The Blue Parakeet...



I'm reading the book "The Blue Parakeet" by Scot McKnight right now. I'm thinking of suing him for plagiarism--I've been teaching this same stuff in Bible for the Rest of Us for years now!! Joking aside, this book is phenomenal. Chapter 5 alone is worth the price of the entire book.

If you want a sneak peek inside the book, you can find it on the publisher's website.

But if you trust me and just wanna go ahead and buy it now, I wholeheartedly recommend doing so!

And why the weird title? You're just gonna have to read the book to find out. But like "Velvet Elvis", the title immediately starts to make sense once you begin reading.


JMS

November 29, 2008

A sad day for this Dawg...

Photobucket

Uga VII's face above pretty much sums up our '08 football season. So much potential...so much choking when it counted. *sigh*

November 25, 2008

Some perspective on Thanksgiving...that isn't sentimental for a change!

My friend Mark sent this video link to me today and I thought it was absolutely right on! PLUS...both guys in the clip are funny and redheaded; what more could you ask for??

Enjoy!



JMS

November 21, 2008

Please take less than 1 minute and do this...



Hey everyone,

I hate when Christians send around petitions because they're usually alarmist, fear-mongering, or simply untrue. BUT this is one that history will absolutely judge us on as a society:

PLEASE take the minute or so to do this. I'm not gonna use any of those "you're not a true believer if you don't..." tactics or anything like that. I'm simply appealing to your desire to fight the greatest human rights injustice in the US today and to do what is right, true and just in protecting the innocent and aiding those in need of help (both child AND mother!).

Even MANY who are generally Pro-choice(!) have rejected the proposed Act because of its horrible potential consequences and moral bankruptcy. This is a non-partisan issue...as was abolition, women's suffrage, and civil rights.

As I've said before, I will respect, follow and pray for our new President, President Obama. But he MUST be told that such an Act as the FOCA is both unconstitutional and, well, evil masquerading as 'freedom'.

If you feel passionately about this as well, PLEASE pass it on to others. Don't do it in an annoying self-righteous or combatitive manner. Be respectful, polite, but straightforward. The conscience of a nation can be changed...just ask William Wilberforce, Susan B. Anthony, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sincerely and passionately,

JMS



ps: If you have a Myspace, Facebook, Blog, or website, please post this banner somewhere on it to raise awareness of this. Just copy the code found here and paste it into an html section of your page.

November 19, 2008

Exegesis? What's that??

Next week will mark the end of this semester's Passage classes. I've had a blast teaching "Bible for the Rest of Us" and "The Hebrew Bible" and I hope those of you who have completed the courses have as well!

One of the things we talk about in all our Passage classes is the importance of faithfully and accurately interpreting the texts of Scripture in their original contexts before determining any modern meaning or application. This often involves some hard work and study...but that's how God designed it!

This process of finding the original intended meaning of a text to its original audience is called exegesis (X-uh-JEE-sis). It means "to draw out", as in to draw out the meaning from the text itself rather than reading our own meaning INTO the text. That process has a fancy name as well: eisegesis (EYE-suh-jee-sis)...and it is to be avoided as much as possible--particularly by those who find themselves in positions of teaching or spiritual authority.

This point was illustrated to me recently by a prayer letter that was sent by a very prominent TV ministry to a member of GS. She gave it to me and asked me to take a look at it.

I did.

I was not encouraged by what I read.

The letter is a call for Christians to pray for the safety of Israel right now because of Russia and Iran's evil intentions. (You can find it online here.)

Fine. No problem. (But why not pray for Russia and Iran's people and their safety as well, while we're at it??)

The petition for prayer wasn't the problem (though it WAS dangerously nationalistic...something thewhole book of Jonah was written to combat!). The problem came when the author attempted to provide "Biblical" support for his political foreign policy position.

Here is an excerpt:

About 2600 years ago, God gave the Prophet Ezekiel a description of an invasion
of Israel after the Jews had been regathered to the Promised Land from all over
the world in the “latter days.”
Ezekiel wrote of an invasion force led by Russia
that would include Iran and “Cush,” which is Sudan
. The other parties described
by Ezekiel that constituted theinvading force
could include some of the Muslim
nations in the former Soviet Caucasus region and possibly Turkey
. According to
Ezekiel 38:12, they would come seeking “plunder and loot.”
What greater plunder
than the oil riches of the Persian Gulf
?Will this unfold all at once? It’s
difficult to say. But what is clear is this: The Israeli strike against Iran
will be the trigger. From then on, dramatic events will follow in quick
succession. It all will conclude when God has rained fire on the islands of the
sea and on the invading force coming against Israel.

Where will the United States be in all of this conflict? According to Ezekiel, the “young lions of Tarshish” will be questioning the Russians about their aggression – questioning, but not acting to stop it. Who are these “young lions of Tarshish?” Tarshish was the region beyond Cadiz in Spain. In antiquity, explorers from Tarshish came to Ireland, then acrossthe ocean to North America, traveling the Mississippi River as far as the present-day site of Davenport, Iowa.I believe the term “young
lions of Tarshish” refers to England and the United States of America. According
to Ezekiel, when the Middle East trouble begins, the young lions of Tarshish will warn Russia and Iran, but refuse to act. We will suffer grave economic damage, but will not engage in military action to stop the conflict. However, we may not be spared nuclear strikes against coastal cities
.

In conclusion, it is my opinion that we have between 75 and 120 days before the Middle East starts spinning out of control. If there was ever a time for fervent prayer, it is now. Prayer can change the course of history!



Now while I wholeheartedly agree with that last sentence, that is about all I can find there that is Biblically based! First of all, it would be helpful to read the chapter that the author is referring to from Ezekiel. (Rather than posting it all here, you can find it online at various Bible sites such as this one.)

Now, did you notice that not once in the entire chapter do we find any references to Russia, Iran, Sudan, the Soviet Caucasus, or Turkey? Those modern countries have been READ INTO (i.e. eisegeted) the text in order to fit with the author's idea of what should happen. I've highlighted the eisegetical ideas above for clarity's sake.

And putting aside for the moment that the Hebrew text does not say "the young lions of Tarshish", but rather "Sheba and Dedan and the traders of Tarshish with all their young lions", the much bigger eisegetical error is using the fact that some people may have moved from Tarshish, Spain to Ireland and then to parts of America as indicating that Tarshish really means "England and the United States." This is a bogus journey of interpretation indeed!

What about the fact that millions of people have settled in the US and England from places like Iran, Russia, Sudan, and Turkey? Using the very same eisegetical line of thinking the author is using, one could argue that since the US has people from all those countries, it is THE US that is being spoken of as the invading forces in Ezekiel! Surely the author would not agree with this? So why then should this reasoning be used to identify the US as "Tarshish"?

My point is that ALL of this is reading a meaning into the Bible that is simply not there. That is the essence of eisegesis and the complete antithesis of sound Biblical interpretation, exegesis. Such imaginary readings go a long way in instilling fear and xenophobia into readers who may not know better and who may simply trust the author because of his fame as a minister (not to mention driving up donations to ministries such as his who seem to be able to "decode" the current political events)...but they do little in the way of teaching the Bible and creating sharp, discerning, learned students of Scripture--which we are all called to be.

Even well-known and well-intentioned Christians can fall into error...and unfortunately it usually makes it into the media when they do. If you ever feel like one of the pastors or teachers here at GS--especially me!--is falling into eisegetical readings of Scripture, please come to us one-on-one or via email or however you feel comfortable and let us know. I know I am not above making interpretive mistakes, and should I ever fall into error I hope the Body of Christ is there to guide me back into truth. So consider that an open invitation for discussion to anyone reading this! :)

"Much will be required of everyone who has been given much. And even more will be expected of the one who has been entrusted with more." Luke 12:48b

JMS

ps: For anyone wanting to learn more about how to avoid eisegesis when reading the Bible, I recommend the following resources wholeheartedly:

How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth - Gordon Fee & Doug Stuart (Dr. Stuart was a prof. of mine as well as of my Dad, and is a phenomenal teacher and scholar of the first rank)

Exegetical Fallacies - D.A. Carson

for higher-level study, I recommend Fee's New Testament Exegesis and Stuart's Old Testament Exegesis as well.

November 18, 2008

Chuck Norris' computer has no 'ctrl' key...Chuck Norris is always in control!

My friend Bert sent me a link today to an article that the uber-legendary Chuck Norris wrote regarding all of the events surrounding California's passing of Proposition 8. Chuck's probably a little more "God and Country" conservative than I am, but he does make some good points in the article.

Particularly interesting is the following observation:

"What's surprising (or maybe not so) is that even though 70 percent of African-Americans voted in favor of Proposition 8, protests against black churches are virtually nonexistent. And everyone knows exactly why: Such actions would be viewed as racist. Yet these opponents of Prop. 8 can protest vehemently and shout obscenities in front of Mormon temples without ever being accused of religious bigotry. There's a clear double standard in our society. Where are the hate-crime cops when religious conservatives need them? "

This is quite the irony, is it not?

Discuss at will.

And while you're mulling it over, here are some facts that you might not have known about the author.

:)

JMS

November 14, 2008

Questions surrounding the Bible and same-sex teachings

The debate concerning homosexuality and its place in the life of the Christian faith has been going on for the last few decades. There are many people who are advocates of homosexual sexuality and its validity in the context of mutual monogomy, who also seek to maintain their understanding of the teachings of Jesus. Unfortunately, they are usually met with vitriol, contempt, or dismissal by Evangelical Christians (not to mention outright hate, perpetrated in the name of Jesus, by cult members like Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church!).

This is unfortunate and unnecessary--and in my opinion, completely unacceptable. Fortunately, there are those who hold to the Apostolic historic Christian faith who balance proclamation of Biblical truth with courtesy and tact. When it comes to the issue of same-sex relationships and behavior, an individual who demonstrates such a response is Dr. Robert Gagnon, NT Professor at Pittsburg Theological Seminary. Dr. Gagnon has written what is, at the moment, the most exhaustive and definitive book on the Bible's teachings on homosexuality, "The Bible and Homosexual Practice". In addition, Dr. Gagnon has lectured extensively, particularly within mainline denominational settings where this issue is a lightning rod for controversy.

I recently came across the following program where Dr. Gagnon provides some excellent insight from Scripture on the issue. I thought I'd share it with the Dojo:


Pure Passion Season 3 / Episode 2 - Robert Gagnon from Pure Passion on Vimeo.

Blessings,
JMS

Lecrae's new album, "Rebel"

Christian hip hop has traditionally been...well...pretty weak. Christians are usually about a decade behind the culture when it comes to arts and entertainment. So whenever people find out that I'm a huge Christian hip hop (or Gospel Rap) fan, they usually look at me with that "Bless your heart" expression in their eyes. (Those of you in the south know what "bless your heart" really means!)

I understand and can sympathize with hip hop fans who've only heard of early DC Talk or John Reuben and think there's not really any Christian hip hop out there that can compete with Jay-Z, Nas, Tupac, 50 Cent, Outkast or Li'l Wayne.

But God has been raising up in the last few years a whole generation of men and women who have a passion for Him and a hip hop heartbeat. Cross Movement, Flame, Da' T.R.U.T.H., JR, 116 Clique, Trip Lee, Grits, DJ Morphizziz, DJ Maj, Tunnel Rats, Urban D and many many others have arrived on the scene and are claiming hip hop culture for the Kingdom of God. And in my personal opinion, Lecrae is at the head of the pack! I've seen him live and this guy transforms the stage and the crowd into a mixture of club, stadium and sanctuary.

His newest album, Rebel, is everything I expected from him. Lecrae has the ability to put the deepest theological and cultural concepts into lyrics that border on genius; yet he's able to speak to the culture on a level that any kid watching BET or MTV can hear.

Lecrae has a passion for taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth--and additionally, a bigger passion to see those who've accepted the Gospel grow in their faith and become full-on disciples of Jesus. Listening to Lecrae, in contrast to much of what clutters the Christian music airwaves, is often much like sitting in a seminary classroom...with a ridiculously good beat. If you've yet to discover Lecrae (and those like him), let me be the first to introduce you.

And once you've gotten hooked on him, follow it up with the following albums:

"Real Talk" and "After the Music Stops" by Lecrae









"Rewind", "Our World: Fallen" and "Our World: Redeemed" by Flame









"13 Letters" and "Amped" by 116 Clique



"Moment of Truth" and "The Faith" by Da' T.R.U.T.H.



And if you have a chance to see any of these guys live, by all means go see them!!
Blessings,
JMS

November 13, 2008

Sarah Palin and gender equality thoughts...

This afternoon I got an email from my friend Rick Hiner with a link to a blog that cited a paper his wife Amanda had written about gender equality in this country in the aftermath of the election. Amanda and Rick have been in a number of classes with me here at GS and Amanda has time and time again impressed me with her insight and eloquence...though with her being a Ph.D, one shouldn't be surprised. Regardless of who we voted for, I think Amanda makes excellent points in her essay and I wanted to share them with the Dojo and welcome any discussion on the topic.

http://amandahiner.talksabout.net/archive/2008/11/11/not-our-time-sarah-palin-and-american-sexism.aspx

I've loved getting to know Amanda and Rick in class and am truly grateful to have people like them in our church community!

Blessings,
JMS

ps: I must confess though that as far as Lampooning goes, Fey's Palin was far better than previous candidate impersonations...and it seems that even Palin enjoyed it when she appeared on the show. :)

November 11, 2008

pinch-hitting for my boy tonight

Tonight I had the honor of filling in for my good friend and brand-new 2nd-time father, David Hickman as the speaker at CharlotteONE:. The previous week I had done a live painting onstage while he spoke on the Cross of Christ. (It was so much fun and I believe we are going to auction off the painting and give the proceeds to ONE)

Anyway, he was going to speak tonight, but his wife decided she'd go into labor this afternoon (so selfish!). ;) He had asked me a few weeks ago if I would be able to step in should the need arise and I said absolutely. So tonight, David got to welcome Cole Wayne Hickman into the world and I got to teach on Jesus' cry of "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?!"

If you're interested in hearing the message, it is up on the CharlotteONE: website here. It was a fantastic experience and maybe if I'm fortunate, or if David has any more kids on a Tuesday night, they'll ask me back. :)

JMS

November 6, 2008

Excellent critique of a recent Focus on the Family letter

Recently, James Dobson's Focus on the Family released a letter about the horrors that would likely happen if Obama were to win the election. You can read the original letter here.

Today, I came across the following response to this letter on the Neue ministry website:

http://www.neueministry.com/2008/11/a-reply-to-dobsons-letter/

I absolutely agree with the author and feel that he brings to light quite well why it is exactly that younger evangelical Christians are becoming more and more distant from Focus on the Family, The 700 Club, and other political-religious institutions.

For my own thoughts on the election, I refer you to the previous post in the Dojo.

Blessings,
JMS

November 5, 2008

Our soon-to-be-President



This is an historic period in our country's history, absolutely. Tuesday night America chose our next president, Barak Obama. As someone who is a political Independent I have seen good and bad in both candidates. Now that the country has spoken it's time to get behind our next Commander in Chief no matter who we voted for.

First, the good news. President Obama will VASTLY increase America's reputation around the world. There's a reason the world followed this particular election so closely. Obama represents what the world sees as America's shift away from its Neoconservative foreign policy and racial hypocrisy (regardless of whether or not such reputations are deserved).

Obama's victory has also done much to chip away at the cynicism, particularly among young urban voters, regarding the importance of being involved in the political process we are so fortunate to have. It was also good to see the excitement among students, particularly among non-white students, as we finally see tangible evidence that in order to hold the highest office in the land, you don't have to be the stereotypical "old rich white guy". This has, in theory, always been the case; but now it's become a reality.

Also, Obama is to be commended for his desire to meet with Americas enemies diplomatically with no preconditions. This is, in my opinion, much closer to the Gospel's demand that we be peacemakers and that we go to those who we realize have things against us, rather than waiting for them to come to us.

Lastly, Obama does not hold to the dangerous ideological/theological worldview that sees America as God's Nation and the various "end times" scenarios that such theologies almost always entail.

Now the bad news. There has never been a President who shows less regard for human rights of the unborn than Obama. Here is his address to Planned Parenthood, the most powerful advocate of legalized abortion in the country.

Obama has the potential to be an incredible world leader...but not as long as he supports--no, fights to uphold--the ongoing holocaust of the womb. God's heart is for the most vulnerable in society...even those who He knits together in their mother's womb (Psalm 139:13).

Therefore, as followers of the TRUE One in charge, it is our calling and duty to pray for President-elect Obama. May he govern with Wisdom. May he see the awful reality of fetal genocide (what else can you call the death of 50 million innocents in the last 30 years??) and may his heart be brought to repentence and may he then TRULY be one who brings change.

Blessings,
JMS

ps: I have to say though, it's pretty cool that our next President can drive the lane! :)

October 29, 2008

Christians suffering persecution in India right now

For those who haven't heard yet, radicals in the Indian state of Orissa have been killing Christians and destroying their property, schools and orphanages. There is some history there involving the killing of a radical Hindu leader and the blaming of Christians for it, as well as previous tensions between radicals and Christians in that region.


Please help get the word out about this human rights violation. The largest democracy in the world should not have things like this happening within one of its states.


Here's a story from India's national newspaper as well:

http://www.hindu.com/2008/09/07/stories/2008090754090900.htm
Christian federation condemns Orissa violence

NEW YORK: The Federation of Indian Christian Organisations in North America
has expressed shock over continuing violence against Christians in Orissa and
demanded an immediate inquiry and replacement of the local police and
paramilitary forces by the Army to stop “ethnic cleansing by Hindu
fundamentalist outfits.”
The federation, in a statement, demanded the
dismissal of the State government which, it said, had failed to protect its own
people.
It rejected the contention of the State government that the
situation was under control, saying six more churches were burnt since that
statement was made by the authorities. Hundreds of Christian houses had been set
afire and more than 60,000 Christians were hiding in forests without food and
water. Also, the number of missing persons was rising, it said.
“Hindu
radicals are making plans to cleanse Orissa of its Christian population. The
brutal mob goes on raping nuns and beating up priests. There have been more than
3,000 forcible re-conversions to Hinduism,” it said.

— PTI

Here is another story that focuses on a pastor and his family's struggle there: http://www.morungexpress.com/frontpage/orissasreality458.html

Please pray for the persecuted and help raise awareness of it any way you can.


JMS

October 24, 2008

Cheap T's that can change the culture...

For those who may not know about it, the banner at the top of my blog is to a website dedicated to educating society regarding the issue of abortion. They take a grassroots approach, particularly on college campuses (where future legislators and judges are currently residing!). They recently released a series of limited edition t-shirts with one of my favorite of their tag lines for $7.50 each.


Now a t-shirt for under 8 bucks is usually a good thing. But a t-shirt for under 8 bucks that raises awareness of social injustice and whose proceeds go toward educating others about it is a great thing! So if any of you want to join me in sporting some sweet gear for a righteous cause, drop by

http://www.abort73.com/newshirts/festival_guns.html

and snatch one up for you or someone you know who'd wear it. And help spread the word about abort73.com to everyone you know. It was just such grassroots action among 19th century British citizens that helped pave the way for William Wilberforce's ultimate victory in Parliament that abolished the slave trade. If ol' Wilby was around today, I'm sure he'd be rockin' the $7.50 Lapis blue abort73.com t-shirt...just like me.

Change minds, change culture, change the world

JMS

October 23, 2008

Two excellent new study Bibles

In my "Bible for the Rest of Us" class, we spend some time covering various Bible translations, their differing interpretive approaches, translation theory, and study Bibles. If you've taken the course, you've heard me recommend when studying Scripture (as opposed to simply reading for devotional purposes alone) if you are unable to read the original Hebrew or Greek it is best to use three translations: a "thought for thought" translation, a "word for word" translation" and one that sits somewhere in the middle. This gives you the best access to the ways that various translators handle the passage you're studying. It's also important to use good study Bibles for serious study of Scripture. There are so many lame study Bibles on the market that it's important to be discerning and to know what to look for in Bible you're going to spend between $30-$80 for!

My personal recommendation for translations to use is the following:

"Word for word" - ESV or NASB
"Thought for thought" - NLT
Base translation - TNIV/NIV or HCSB
Those provide a great range for getting a feel for the original words of the Inspired text. In addition, however, it is important to have access to a good study Bible. The purpose of a study Bible is to supplement the texts of Scripture with notes, maps, charts and other background information that help explain the texts in their original contexts and historical settings. Without such knowledge, we run the risk of reading things into the Biblical passages that the authors (and the Original Author Himself!) did not intend.

My recommendations for good study Bibles in a Base translation are:
The Archaeology Study Bible - NIV
Life Application Study Bible - various translations
TNIV Study Bible/NIV Study Bible - the TNIV edition is far better, in my opinion
The Quest Study Bible - NIV

Recently, I've come across two new study Bibles representing each end of the translation spectrum that I wanted to let the Dojo know about. I recommend them both!
The NLT Study Bible
and
The ESV Study Bible

These two study Bibles are fantastic. They have slightly differing purposes and theological leanings, but both fall within the general Evangelical stream of Biblical scholarship. I've found the NLT study notes very helpful in my recent study and teaching of the Song of Songs. The ESV study essays at the beginning of the OT are extremely insightful and do a great job summarizing overal themes that are important to understand in order to make better sense of the Bible as a whole. Another great thing about the ESV study Bible is that if you buy it, you get access to the online version for free (which is a fantastic bargain, particularly if you need digital access to the information in it)!

Anyway, I've only had a chance to scratch the surface in my use of these tools, but so far I've been thoroughly impressed and am glad to have them on my shelf at arms reach. I hope you are able to enjoy the same.

Be blessed,
JMS

Edit on 10.25.08 - I wanted to note also that the ESV Study Bible contains, at the end, 250 pages of Biblical/Theological resources that are extremely helpful and informative. There are essays on the following: Biblical Doctrine, Biblical Ethics, Interpreting the Bible, Reading the Bible Theologically, Reading the Bible as Literature, Reading the Bible in Prayer and Communion w/ God, Reading the Bible for Personal Application, Reading the Bible for Preaching and Worship, The Canon of the OT, The Canon of the NT, The Apochrypha, The Reliability of the OT Manuscripts, The Reliability of the NT Manuscripts, Archaeology and the Reliability of the OT, Archeology and the Reliability of the NT, The Original Languages of the Bible: Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, The Septuatint, How the NT Quotes and Interprets the OT, Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Liberal Protestantism, Evangelical Protestantism, Evangelical Protestantism and Global Christianity, The Bible and Contemporary Judaism, The Bible and Other World Religions, The Bible and Islam, The Bible and Religious Cults, History of Salvation in the OT.

This collection of resources is almost like having a brief overview of the first year of seminary courses. I applaud the editors for their inclusion of all this for the average reader to go deeper in his or her knowledge of the faith overall.

Also, the NLT Study Bible has a nice feature where certain key words in the text are noted and in the margins, the original language word is given and cross-referenced for word study purposes. This is helpful in a less literal translation such as the NLT where key words are often missed in the translation of the text into more fluid and understandable English.

October 22, 2008

Thoughts on Rob Bell's new book "Jesus wants to save Christians"

I just finished reading Rob Bell's new book, "Jesus wants to save Christians" (Zondervan) yesterday and thought I'd shoot out a quick blog about it. If you don't know who Rob is, he's the founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible church in Grand Rapids and the speaker in the popular NOOMA short films.



When I first picked up the book, I thought it was going to be just another critique of commercialized Christianity from an emergent perspective. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn't. Rather, it is an overview of the Biblical concepts of slavery, redemption, oppression, luxury and salvation told in Rob's near stream-of-consciousness style of writing.


The titles of the chapters are such that you have no idea what they're going to be about, but once you've read each chapter, its title makes perfect sense. The chapter titles are:
Intro - Air Puffers and Rubber Gloves
1. - The cry of the oppressed
2. - Get down your harps
3. - David's other son
4. - Genital-free Africans
5. - Swollen-bellied black babies, soccer moms on Prozac, and the Mark of
the Beast
6. Blood on the Doorposts of the Universe
Epilogue - Broken and Poured

Throughout the book, Rob does not hide his distaste for the type of Christianity exemplified by the "God and Country/Let's take back America for God" crowd (i.e. the Religious Right/Moral Majority/etc.). Though he doesn't single out any particular individual or group who fit this category, he does offer compelling examples of how such thinking is often more about establishing worldlyl "Empire" rather than the Kingdom of God. He critiques views of war at the expense of social justice, which epitomizes the Evangelical Christian stereotype in a thoroughly unapologetic, yet non-combatitive way. Perhaps the quote that summarizes his main thrust best is the following from p.161:
"As Paul says, 'We don't fight with those weapoins.' A church's authority
comes from somewhere else - it comes from how we've been broken open and poured out, not from how well we've pursued power andlobbied and organized ourselves to triumph. This is why when Christians organize politically and start flexing that muscle, making threats about how they are going to impose their way on others, so many people turn away from Jesus.

Jesus' followers at that point are claiming to be the voice of God, but they are speaking the language of Caesar and using the methods of Rome, and for
millions of us it has the stench of Solomon."

Some criticism:
Perhaps my main criticism of "Jesus wants to save Christians" is that while Rob thoughtfully addresses current issues of injustice and oppression, casting them in light of Biblical examples of such, he does not say a word about the most horrific oppression going on in our country every day. In his desire to distance himself from the Religious Right, he (perhaps unintentionally) never once mentions the injustice of abortion-on-demand. This is too bad because it would've provided another perfect example of Christians (mostly mainline) buying into and condoning or perpetuating a facet of Biblical social injustice. Just as oppressive financial systems are modern day examples of the "Mark of the Beast", the institutional injustice of abortion-on-demand is a modern equivalent to the ancient worhsip of the Canaanite gods through infanticide and child sacrifice. It's surprising Rob never mentions this, especially since one of his influential mentors, Ray Vanderlaan, is quite passionate about pointing out such injustice.

[Note: While there are many Christians, particularly of the Westminster persuasion (i.e. Reformed/Calvinist/etc.) who have critiqued Rob's (and Ray's) overall system of hermeneutics, use of later Jewish sources and his "postmodern" views of Biblical authority, I find myself in agreement with Ben Witherington's conclusions regarding this and direct the reader to his more comprehensive review for more discussion.]

I also felt like some of the presentation of the facts/stats were somewhat superficial. Comparing the amount spent on military budgets with the number of social ills in the world is too simplistic. The counter arguments are never addressed (i.e. without this amount spent on the military, there would be exponentially higher number of social ills, etc.). While I don't disagree with much of Rob's overall argument, I think a more thoughtful engagement (or at least an awareness of the differing views) is needed.

Another minor criticism of the book is that the endnotes where skimpier than I would have liked. I'm a big advocate of careful background research, particularly when discussing ancient texts or events and while the book isn't aimed at a technical audience, it would be nice if the notes reflected the amount of study that Rob puts in.

What I liked:
The edges of the puzzle [those of you who've taken Bible for the Rest of Us with me know what I'm referring to by that phrase!] - I think that the best part of "Jesus wants to save Christians" is that it gives a wonderful overview of the big picture of the Biblical narrative. He weaves events in Israel's history--some well known, some obscure--into a tapestry that often brings an "Ah-ha!" moment to the reader as stories are connected in ways they have likely never thought about.

Exposing the pseudo-gospel of America as God's favored nation - I found myself in agreement with Rob about the way in which many within Evangelical Christian circles (particularly those with the most media/political influence!) have merged patriotism with faith in a dangerous way. The comparison of the Pax Romana with many Christians' view of America's role in the world was a well-needed challenge to all of us who claim the name of Christ. There is a constant need among God's people to do some serious self-evaluation...particularly at this time in our nation's history!--when we find ourselves to be in a position of power or secular influence.

Overall conclusion:
I wholeheartedly recommend "Jesus wants to save Christians" to every follower of Christ. Even if the outworkings of our faith in the realm of the political or social sphere differs in the end from Rob Bell's, his Biblical overview is both fascinating and thought-provoking. The book was much more "Biblical Theology" than "Social Ethics" in its scope and challenges all of us in our views of God, wealth, oppression, power and salvation. I found it much better overall than either of his previous books (Velvet Elvis and Sex God), particularly because of its presentation of the overall story of God's people found in both Testaments of Scripture.

And for those of you who hate reading...it comes in audiobook format too! :)

October 10, 2008

Things are just getting worse and worse...really??

Isn't our culture so depraved? Wasn't it better off when we were growing up in a God-fearing society?

My answer, whenever I'm asked this in class or whenever it's discussed is always "No, things are not getting worse. This world is no more Fallen now than it's ever been in the past." Usually the "our culture is heading headlong into hell in a handbasket" (alliteration is fun!) line of argument is made by those who long for "the good ol' days"...you know, usually sometime around the 1930s-50s...

...when there was Great Depression, World War, Nuclear proliferation, and let's not forget about good ol' Jim Crowe laws!






No, today's culture is not any worse now that it's ever been. At least, I'm not convinced that it is. When I read the Hebrew Bible, I see cultures who have state-run fertility goddess worship orgies and child sacrifice. In the New Testament, I see state sponsored (and required) polytheism and Imperial slavery. Christians in the US, particularly down here in the Bible belt, who feel that we're so much worse off now than in the past need to ask ourselves two questions:



1. How many more believers are there in the world today advancing the Kingdom of God?



2. When's the last time you were required by the local government to take part in a pagan feast and/or ritual sex in honor of the local gods and goddesses?

It seems to me that good and evil, sin and righteousness, justice and oppression have always been part of this Fallen world and have been equally prevalent in every age. It also seems that in every age, there are those who long for "the good ol' days." Need proof? Listen to this critique of current youth culture:

"I see no hope for the future of our people if they depend on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words. When I was a boy we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wild and impatient of restraint!"

--Hesiod (Greek poet who lived 800 years before Jesus' birth!)



I suspect people will always feel this way--that culture is spiraling out of control, things are worse now than ever before, and young people are growing up in a moral abyss--until Jesus returns and puts everything right.

In the meantime, I believe we must continue to live somewhere between the Religious Fundamentalists' gloom-and-doom outlook and the Religious Liberals' naive optimism regarding the human spirit's ability.

Lord, help us stay balanced lives; for your truth is almost always in the middle of the extremes.


JMS

September 28, 2008

Obsession with Obsession - radical islam and controversial film

A few weeks ago, the Charlotte Observer, along with the New York Times and other newspapers around the country, included a free DVD in its Sunday edition. The DVD was an abridged version of the film "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West."

The film has generated controversy because it is said to unfairly portray Islam as a violent religion, use fear-mongoring and appeals to emotion in comparing Islamic extremists with Nazis in 1930s Germany, and incite hatred toward all Muslims.

I watched the film and can see why some Muslims would be upset at it. However, I think that the film itself goes out of its way to differentiate between (and even endorse) the majority of Muslims in the world who oppose terrorism and violence from the minority who support and condone it.

But I must say that I can understand Muslims feeling negative towards it in general in the same way that I find myself critiquing documentaries on things like the Crusades, the Salem Witch trials, abortion clinic bombings and religious imperialism done in the name of the Church. These documentaries often feature speakers who are otherwise hostile or critical of Christianity in general (even though they don't appear so in the particular piece in question), thus I get frustrated because people then see them as an "expert" on Christianity. Likewise, these documentaries often don't feature promiently enough actual believing Christians who speak openly and honestly about why these atrocities go against the very nature of the Christian faith and are, therefore, to be seen as aberrations rather than examples of "radical Christianity." In addition, these type of documentaries usually mistranslate or take out of context passages of Scripture which leaves the impression that Christianity in some way does allow for these type of interpretations. Thus I end up not recommending such films or critiquing them for all the negative results they may have in not leading people toward the true message of the Christian faith.

This is precisely why I can understand the criticisms of "Obsession" by many moderate Muslims and Islamic groups. The film does not attempt to be pro-Islamic (though it tries not to be "anti-Islamic"). Some speakers in the film are openly critical of Islam in general elsewhere in their writings or interviews, yet are not indicated as such in "Obsession", leading one to believe they are "objective" in general toward Islam. This would be more acceptable to many Muslims, I believe, if the speaker's views toward Islam in general were made clear or noted somehow in the film for qualification purposes. Finally, the film translates many things on the screen which appear in Arabic, though the translations are apparently not accurate translations of what is actually on the screen.

These are valid criticisms against the film and deserve to be heard by non-Muslims who view it.

The charges of fear-mongoring, "hate speech", and racism that have been levelled against the film, however, are simply disingenuous in my opinion. They are on par with similar critiques levelled against "The Passion of the Christ" when it was released. The film depicts many Muslims in favorable light and even shows the violence committed by terrorists against fellow Muslims who do not agree with them. There is a clear and unambiguous disclaimer right at the beginning that specifically states that the film is about those on the fringe who use Islam to promote violence rather than the majority of Muslims who condemn violent Jihad.

So all in all, I have to say that I recommend people watch the film (which you can do for free on Google video or at the film's website www.obsessionthemovie.com). It is extremely eye-opening (and heart-breaking), particularly regarding the indoctrination of violence and terrorist tactics to young children by radicals.

HOWEVER...

I also recommend watching the film with a critical mindset and listening to the concerns raised by non-radical Muslims about the film and the depiction of Islam in general (which can be found in a helpful format at www.obsessionwatch.org). As in every attempt at objectivity, "Obsession" does not achieve it, despite its intentions.

Any discussion of religion mixed with politics and violence will always be controversial--particularly among adherents of the religion in question. This should be kept in mind and weighed accordingly. However, in the case of "Obsession", I believe there is enough truth in it to outweigh the shortcomings and I believe it is worth watching if for no other reason that to generate critical thinking and discussion of these issues.

As usual, your comments are welcome. I'm curious to hear how others who received the DVD and have watched it feel about it.

JMS

September 25, 2008

Passage is underway!

For those of you who don't know, we've started our semester of classes here at GSUMC's school of theology, Passage. Passage classes are divided into four areas of study: Biblical Studies, Spiritual Growth, Practical Ministry and Christian Thought.

I'm currently teaching two Biblical Studies courses:

BS 101 - "Bible for the Rest of Us" - our foundational introductory Bible class that's unlike anything else out there! We learn about translation issues, text criticism, the canon, overviews of the Bible's main theme and look at over a dozen well known passages that have been mistranslated or misinterpreted and why. It's always a fun class and I encourage everyone (even if you don't go to GS!) to take it next time around!

BS 201 - "The Hebrew Bible" - Building on what we learned about the OT in BS 101, this course takes us deeper in our understanding of the Bible of Jesus...without which we can't really understand the Jesus of the Bible!

I absolutely love teaching courses at Passage! It's easily my favorite part of the job as Pastor of Discipleship. I also love the fact that we have been raising up some fantastic teachers from among the GS body that are Passage teachers as well. They are fantastic and so many people are being sharpened through the classes they're teaching. If you see any of the people below on a Sunday or around GS anytime, be sure to thank them for their time, energy and passion over the past year and a half that Passage has been in existence (even when it was called "Fathom"!):

Dan & Jayne Lanier - BS 202 "The New Testament"

Doug Berryhill - SG 101 "Exploring Prayer"

Mark Blanco - BS 301 "The Book of Genesis"

Bill Caulfield - BS 202 and BS 348 "CSI: Galatia"

Donna Caulfield - SG 103 "Boundaries"

Chip & Kristine Lofton - SG 105 "DivorceCare"

Laura Lucas - SG 102 "Crown Financial"

...also, I can't forget my fellow GS Staff who've lent their teaching expertise to Passage as well: Rich Tuttle, Ron Dozier and our Senior Pastor, Talbot Davis (all of whom have great blogs you can check out if you look on my blog list on the right side of the screen!).

And beginning this semester, I've been fortunate to have the help of Guest Services as we've launched the semester, led by our fantastic Pastor of Connection & Communications, Rebecca Grayson!

If you've never taken a Passage class, be sure to sign up for one next semester. SG 100 - "First Step" (taught by Talbot) would be where to begin. From there, any of the 100 level classes are open to you. And after that, on to the 200s and then the 300s...almost like college or seminary...but a WHOLE 'lot cheaper!!

Walking together, training together...
JMS

September 23, 2008

Funny picture of the week

Those of you who know me (especially my friends on Facebook!) know that I love finding funny pictures online and sharing them with everyone to enjoy. Since things can get serious here in the Dojo, what with all the theological/biblical banter going back and forth, I decided that each week I will post a picture that's made me laugh and invite any of you out there to post captions or comments or just to let it make you smile in your cubicle!
Enjoy:

September 16, 2008

A new direction for worship...

My friend Mark sent this to our Fusion listserve today and I just couldn't help but share it with the Dojo. I think this is definitely the new direction we should be headed in worship here at GS! [Note: heavy use of sarcasm]







Favorite lyric by far:

"He is like a Mountie,
He always gets His man,
and He will zap you
anyway He can."

Hahaha! Oh dear! All I can say is that it's a good thing that in the words of Samuel, "The LORD doesn't look at outer appearances, but rather looks at the heart"! :)

Be blessed and have a fun rest of the week!
JMS

September 4, 2008

Pathfinder has officially launched!




Last night at Good Shepherd we had our first ever Pathfinder Launch, and it went phenomenally! The atmosphere was fantastic (thanks Rebecca, Cherie, Dawn, Jennifer, Brad, Bob and the Trustees!!), the snacks were delicious, the music mix in the background was fantastic (thanks to me! heh heh!) and there was an excitment and buzz in the room that I've never seen in all my years of working with small group ministries!







Over the course of the 2 hour Launch, people got numerous opportunities to connect with one another, meet new people, deepen current acquaintences and find things in common with others they never knew they had! It was so much fun...especially when I saw how many people there were who I had not ever met before!

After some initial connecting time, people were allowed to choose their own group to participate in for the next 5 weeks. Each group had a trained Pathfinder Guide at their table (THANK YOU SO MUCH, GUIDES! YOU ARE KEY TO OUR SUCCESS!) and for the better part of the next hour, Rebecca led them all through some questions and discussion in order to get to know those at their table a little better, while I presented the vision, purpose and expectations that make up Pathfinder Launches and Groups.










When all was said and done, we ended up with the following (as compiled by my wonderful and dedicated Group Ministries Leader, Dawn Rierson! You're the best, Dawn!!):


* 13 Groups formed
* 18 Guides
* 120 committed to the six weeks
* Average of 9.2 people per group







I also want to thank our entire Pastoral and Program Staff for being there to help make this such a great event (a few of them even decided to be Guides themselves, which is phenomenal!) and for their servant leadership. Brad, Carrie, John, Chris, Rich, Ron, and Talbot--Rebecca and I could not have done it without you!




So what about all of you who were not able to make it to this Launch, but who are now so excited about getting involved that you can hardly contain yourselves...?? Relax! You have another opportunity coming up in just 7 short weeks! That's right! On

WEDNESDAY, OCT. 22ND

we will be having our

2ND PATHFINDER LAUNCH

this Fall! You can even begin to pre-register for it shortly on the Pathfinder page of our website www.gsumc.org!
However, after last night, we realized that in order to make the experience as successful as possible, we may have to limit the number of people who can register based on the number of Guides we have for that Launch. So in other words, register soon if you want to be sure you make the cutoff!


Blessings to everyone here in the Dojo and especially to those of you who have set off on your first Pathfinder adventure! This is just the beginning!



Your fellow traveler on the Path (and excellent co-MC),

JMS

September 2, 2008

A great new resource for sharpening our swords!

I just found out today that Zondervan publishers has a blog where various Biblical scholars and theologians post regularly on a variety of topics. It's called Koinonia, which is the Greek word for fellowship/community.

There are some great articles on there, some more technical than others. Go check it out when you have a chance. There's a whole world of Biblical studies out there just waiting to be experienced by the church in general and let loose from the cloistered walls of academia!

Blessings,
JMS

August 29, 2008

Thank you Amie Berryhill!!

Why am I thanking my fellow GSUMC staffer? Because she sent a link today to one of the best blogs I've read ever!

http://stufffchristianslike.blogspot.com/2008/08/389-church-mafia-4-ruling-families.html

Oh how true so much of it is!

Enjoy and have a great weekend,
JMS

August 28, 2008

Bible nerds and computer nerds unite!

I just came across this story tonight. It's pretty incredible how technology has the capacity to so greatly improve our knowledge, not just of the world, but of God's Word as well. The further away we move from the original Scriptures, chronologically speaking, the more technology helps compensate and bring us, somewhat paradoxically, closer to those originals.

Anyway, for all of you who wanted to see the Scrolls when they were here in Charlotte, but weren't able to, soon you'll have a much better view than any of us got in the dimly-lit museum tour!

JMS

August 26, 2008

Paul and women

Last night I was at a guys' small group that I've recently begun attending and the conversation touched on Paul and his views on women in ministry. We talked some about people's understandings (and misunderstandings!) of Paul's letters when it comes to the issue of women and their role in church and society in general.

It's a topic that is surrounded by so much half-truth, urban legend, and just plain bad interpretation, that I thought it would make a good post here in the Dojo.

Here is a link to a series by one of my old professors, Dr. John Jefferson Davis (with whom I didn't always see eye-to-eye, but whom I respect greatly and learned many many things from!), on Paul's views on women in light of the "chauvinistic" passages found in some of his writings--particularly 1Timothy 2:12.

Enjoy! And as usual, feedback/critiques/comments/discussion are always welcome!

Blessings,
JMS

ps: On an unrelated note, I just found out that 3 lectures given earlier this year (the third of which I was able to attend in person) by fellow GCTS alumnus and New Testament Scholar, Ben Witherington, have been posted online. They're all about the pseudo-Jesus that we often see portrayed in pop-media or bestselling books. I encourage you to listen to them, particularly the 1st and 3rd ones, and pass them on to any friends or family who may be curious about what to really believe regarding the historical Jesus and the modern claims being made by some about Him.

August 17, 2008

Training thoughts from the past few weeks

This past Saturday, I tested for my brown belt at my real-life dojo, Leadership Martial Arts. It was a physically as well as mentally demanding 90 minutes that I had been planning for and getting in shape for for a while now (though I still missed a few things during it and didn't do as well as I'd have liked). Brown belt is the rank just beneath black belt at our school and the curricula is a mixture of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), Judo, Taekwondo, kickboxing, Jeet Kune Do, stick-fighting and wrestling. Needless to say, a black belt at LMA is no small feat! So testing for my brown belt was something I had been looking forward to for months now and I'm anxious to find out how I did.

The week before my testing week, as many of you may know, I was in Nairobi, Kenya for 10 days working with a team from Good Shepherd at the Jubilee Children's Center. The JCC is an orphanage for children, most of whom were orphaned due to HIV/AIDS, that is supported by GSUMC and a number of other churches. In the mornings, I helped with the Bible lesson portion of the Vacation Bible School we did and in the afternoons, I worked with the teachers on studying and interpreting the Bible.

The children at the JCC were an absolute treasure, no doubt God has great things in store for them. But what was most rewarding for me was seeing the hunger with which the teachers approached the study of Scripture during our time together. Two of them, Solomon and Raydon, both in their 20s, shared with me that the biggest need in Kenya right now is training and resources for the pastors. Even simple things such as a Bible dictionary or basic Hebrew language training are extremely hard to come by for the average rural pastor. This really brought home to me the amount of wealth, both financially and informationally, that God has blessed many churches in the West with...as well as how little we do with it--focusing instead on gobbling up top-10 bestsellers which are often nothing more than spiritual cotton-candy.

I was able to test for my brown belt Saturday because I have access to an amazing instructor, a fantastic dojo, and a group of fellow students equally committed to sharpening one another's skills. The teachers and pastors I met in Kenya do not have the equivalent of this when it comes to their training and instruction in wielding "the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God" (Ephesians 6:17). Yet, they continue to minister faithfully with what the knowledge they have, and in the grace of God poured out in proportion to their faith (which dwarfs that of most churches in the West, I would suspect). I pray that God stirs up His people whom He's blessed abundantly with resources to take or send those resources to where they are needed most throughout the world...beginning with us at GSUMC.

Training daily,
JMS

August 13, 2008

This is an amazing interview!


A friend of mine sent this to the Fusion listserve today. It's an interview with Mosab Hassan Yousef, the son of a Hamas leader in Ramallah. He converted to Christianity and now is living in the U.S. seeking asylum.

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,402483,00.html

His analysis of the wrong on both sides of the Israel/Palestine conflicts is right on in my opinion. I pray more and more people take notice of what he's saying, especially Christians who simply believe "Palestinian = evil" and "Israel = righteous."

Blessings,
JMS

August 9, 2008

Do you live in Charlotte or the Charlotte area??

If so, then you need to know about CharlotteONE:. CharlotteONE: is a ministry that GSUMC fully supports and has benefited from greatly. It's an amazing place where young adults from all over the area can connect, make new friends, experience phenomenal music and be challenged by fantastic speakers.
Here's a peek at what it's all about:


2008 CharlotteONE Promo Video



Tell everyone you know!



JMS

July 22, 2008

So who exactly are Christians supposed to pray to?

Hello Dojo,
I will be leaving for Kenya this weekend and wanted to get one solid post in before I leave. I felt like this would be a great one, especially in light of the last post being a request for prayer for my friend Lynda.

Last week I received the following email at the office. I asked the sender if I could use it as a post in the Dojo and just abbreviate her name. She said that would be fine. Here's the original email she sent me:

To: James-Michael Smith
Subject: Prayer

James-Michael,

I have hesitated long enough on my question to you. I know that with your knowledge you are a good one to ask, but I’ve been a little embarrassed and just hated to ask. I need to know Who am I praying to? Do you specifically pray to GOD or Jesus? Is this a dumb question? Should I know this? I’m sorry if it’s petty, but my prayer life is so weak and I’m trying to be stronger and some how seem to struggle when I get hung up on whom I’m praying to. I sometimes pray to Jesus say for the things he did while here and the path he made, etc. Then pray to GOD for the world he created, etc. I have so many other prayers and wonder to whom am I praying to both?

Sincerely,
T

This was such a great question--and one that many Christians have asked (or wanted to ask)! It also shows the need for strong theological teaching in churches for pastoral purposes. Many people brush aside any level of deeper theological discussion in favor of a "just-give-me-Jesus" faith that is unreflective and intellectually shallow. But as T's questions above reveal, there are serious applicational issues at stake when it comes to theology! It is so important that we not run from these questions or try to dismiss them, settling instead for a "folk-christianity" consisting of bumper-sticker slogans and 10 minute devotionals from a book with pictures of flowing streams, cozy cabins, and rosy-cheeked caucasian children from in Norman-Rockwell-meets-Thomas-Kinkade settings. (Okay, maybe that was a little harsh...but hey, at least you now know my tastes when it comes to Christian paraphenalia! :)

That being said, here is my response to T's email. As always, any comments, critiques, or questions are welcome in the Dojo!

From: James-Michael Smith [mailto:gsdisciple@gsumc.org]
Sent: Wednesday, July 16, 2008 12:19 PM
To: T
Subject: RE: Prayer

T,

Don't be silly! This isn't AT ALL an embarrassing question! It strikes at the very heart of the Christian faith! You're thinking about prayer theologically--and that's a GOOD thing. You're using your mind to try to understand one of the deepest revealed truths in all of Scripture. It's okay if you feel a bit confused at times! That's the beauty of walking together as a community of believers--we can help one another think through these things and by doing so, come to know God better and deepen our relationship with Him. Again, that's a GOOD thing! :)

Here's what we know:

* God is the only one people in the OT ever prayed to.

* God is the only one Jesus Himself ever prayed to.

* Jesus is our model of what a true relationship with God is.

Therefore...

*** God is the only one we pray to.

Sounds good, right?

Except...

* Jesus claimed to somehow BE God.

* Jesus' earliest followers sometimes prayed to Jesus.

* Jesus' earliest followers sometimes prayed to the Holy Spirit.

Therefore...

*** We sometimes pray to Jesus and/or the Holy Spirit

Now, how does this not contradict the first conclusion??

Drumroll.....

* Jesus and the Holy Spirit are somehow God!

Ta-dah! The Trinity!

It was by reasoning through various thoughts and issues like this that the Church Fathers gradually were able to put into words the concept of God's Triune nature, or what we call "The Trinity." Despite being immersed in a Greco-Roman philosophical world of logic and propositions, the early Church was able to hold to the mystery of God's nature as revealed in the Hebrew Bible and the person and work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. They were able to verbalize the Biblical concept of God's triune nature with the following:

God is 1 substance (Greek: "ousia") in 3 persons (Greek: "hypostases"). Not 1 substance and 3 substances, or 1 person and 3 persons. [btw, the words "substance" and "person" don't really capture the idea very well in modern English because of how we normally use them. That's why I'm using the Greek terms below.]

Therefore, no matter which "hypostases" you are praying to (God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit), you are always praying to the same "ousia", God.

This is why the NT writers could switch between praying to God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit with such ease--it's all God.

I personally usually pray to God the Father, and occasionally address my prayers to Jesus or the Holy Spirit whenever I want to approach God in one of those aspects.

This is such a great question for you to be struggling with because it shows a mature and reflective faith and it goes beyond what most people simply don't ever bother to think about! Be encouraged by this.

And if you would like to borrow it, I have the book "Prayer" by Richard Foster in our Discipleship library in my office. It is one of the best books ever written on the subject of prayer and I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Hope this helps. Let me know if you have any follow up questions or thoughts.

Walking together...

James-Michael Smith

Pastor of Discipleship

Good Shepherd UMC

Charlotte, NC

gsdisciple.blogspot.com


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