Resurrection Sunday Meditation 2019

A brief story.

The story of Mary of Magdala encountering the risen Christ in the gospel of John has a special significance to me on a very personal level.

Somewhere in the early 70s (’70 or ‘71 perhaps?)–my father received a phone call from his sister.

“Park? Dad has died.”

I remember the rushing back and forth, loading everything into the car and driving that evening into Oklahoma to my grandfather’s place.

The lights were on, several cars were parked outside.

My parents got out of the car and we three boys struggled with the luggage behind them. When my dad entered the doorway, he stopped dead in his tracks: frozen.

We tried to get around him, but he wasn’t moving.

Finally after a moment, he moved aside and we nearly fell in. We looked up.

There was my grandfather sitting in his easy chair, talking and visiting with those who had gathered.

Remember, we spent the entire day gearing up to the fact our grandfather died. In those days, we went to every funeral. Period. Even though we were children, we knew what death meant. We knew what it was. We had been grieving.

But there he was–alive.

It turns out the phone reception hadn’t been terribly good and my aunt had said, “Park, Ed has died” (their brother, Ed)–not “Dad”.

I’ll never forget that moment of shock and confusion and that feeling of something else for a second, just a second: awe.

Back to Mary. She knows Jesus is dead. She wasn’t like the other disciples who fled. She and the other women stuck with him until he died. She watched it all.

No mistakes.

And if anyone was unclear, a Roman soldier ran a spear through him just to make certain.

So on the third day, in the early morning by the tomb, when Jesus says, “Mary”–I have an inkling of something she might have felt.

When he says “Mary,” she reacts. She knows that voice.

When she hears that voice say her name–everything changed, for her and for the world.

So, I won’t make some big application here. Just telling the story. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

Resurrection Sunday is in the morning!

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On Politics and Theology

In my tribe of believers we have a quaint practice.

There is no American flag in our auditoriums/sanctuaries.

It is a nod to our historic approach to government. While we were happy to be citizens and while we honor and respect our elected officials, we recognized our primary allegiance was to God, not to the United States government. So in the places where we came weekly to remind ourselves to whom we belonged and whom we served, there would be no symbols of empire. We recognized that the subjects of the Kingdom of God found themselves citizens in all nations and yet under the the rule of One who transcended all government.

Our unity is not based on political parties or forms of government: but upon the Spirit.

However, some have mistakenly suggested that Christianity should leave the secular things alone and concentrate only on spiritual things; that somehow we should not comment on our country or on policy. We somehow should avoid the stance of prophet and instead lock ourselves in our church buildings and remain spiritual (whatever that means).

The truth is there is no separation between sacred and secular. All creation is God’s and therefore under his rule. All creation was called good and to be cared for and participated in. So as followers of Jesus we do have the obligation to seek the best for the country where we live. But of course, even that obligation can be interpreted in different ways.

The very act of public worship is political action. Worship is a political statement. It is a statement saying that Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Gary Johnson, and Jill Stein are not the saviors of America. It is a statement saying our trust is not in our constitution, our government, our armed forces, even our laws. That the follower of Jesus is not to place his ultimate allegiance, trust, or hope in governments or rights or economics.

Our worship is a political act that says we will not trust in chariots or horses, or tanks, or bombs,  a healthy GDP, job growth, the stock market, presidential candidates, or party platforms. Our trust is not in legislative power, laws, elections, or supreme court justices.

Our trust is in the Lord our God.

While trust in candidates and platforms tend to divide those who claim allegiance to Jesus, trust in God should unite believers.

So, in every political discussion we must keep in mind the unity created by the Spirit and do everything in our power to maintain the unity God has provided (Ephesians 4:1-4). In every political discussion we are required by love to give our sisters and our brothers the benefit of a doubt (1 Corinthians 13:7–“love believes all things”).

To attack the intelligence or motives of our brothers and sisters is not in keeping with our call to love, our call to be kind, or our call to be gentle. To speak harshly goes against Paul’s admonitions.

Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God…Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. 

-Ephesians 4:29-32

Note the “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” How does one do that? But dividing, by hating, by slander, by being cruel to each other. The Spirit creates unity–when we act in ways counter-productive to unity we break the heart of God.

Can we recognize that Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Greens have good motives and yet all of our parties have problems? That is, can we recognize we are all humans with a mixed bag of motives? Just because you are against the Affordable Health Care Act doesn’t mean you are against the poor getting adequate health care. Just because your candidate defends Roe v. Wade doesn’t mean you want to see abortions increase.

Here are some differences (albeit simplistic) between the parties that have similar underlying motivations.

The Democratic party believes the poor should be cared for. Lyndon B. Johnson had the idyllic belief that government could solve the problem of poverty and so he instituted programs run by the government to that end.

Johnson’s motivation, and the motivation of many fine Christians was (and is) compassion for the poor. His solution was a centralized approach funded by federal tax dollars.

The Republican (and Libertarian) party believes the poor should be cared for, too. However, they believe government has never been particularly efficient at anything except for the military (and there’s even debate about that–but that is mandated by the constitution). Republicans and conservatives believe the poor are best taken care of when local governments and non-profits step in. For one, it demands more face to face encounter and more ownership of the problem from the local community.

The Republican motivation, and the motivation of many fine Christians  is compassion for the poor. Their solution is a local approach by local governments and citizens.

Pro-life. The Republican party believes that the unborn is the most under-represented group of humanity on the planet. They have no voice, they have no protector and it is the human duty to protect the helpless. This is an attitude that goes way back to the first century when Christians brought social pressure to bear (not through legislation or protests but through caring action) and infanticide was finally done away with.

As a result of this desire to protected the voiceless, thousands of pregnancy centers across America have been created to help women find the necessary resources to avoid abortion and care for their children. Free prenatal and post natal health care are provided. Alternative solutions such as adoption services are provided as well as supplies, financial counseling, and in some cases psychological counseling are offered to help the new mother to care for the health of her new born (there is one such center in our small town of 25,000).

The Republican party (as a party) believes the answer to the abortion problem is to legislate and outlaw abortion–or at least overturn Roe vs Wade which would not outlaw abortion, but return legislative control back to the individual states.

Pro-choice. Most (but not all) of the Democratic party believe women have been ill abused for generations and have not been able to protect themselves from aggression that includes forced pregnancies. They generally believe that the woman as an autonomous human has the right to make decisions regarding her own body.

This does not mean Democrats like abortion. Many who vote Democrat believe abortion should be rare but available. They believe more attention should be paid to educating young people about responsible sexual practices and preventing pregnancy before it happens. Some Democrats are actively opposed to abortion (Democrats for Life).

Democrats perceive an inconsistency among “pro-life” advocates because there is a tendency for pro-life advocates to be pro-death penalty and pro-military intervention–which ends in the taking of life. In the case of military intervention one cannot argue that only guilty life is taken. The existence of the sterilized euphemism “collateral damage” is enough to make the case. The fact is, no modern day military conflict avoids the death of innocent civilians and non-combatants. In the case of the death penalty there has been ample evidence that many innocent men and women have been on death row and have only narrowly escaped the needle through later DNA testing.

The Libertarian party believes matters of abortion should revert back to the states but not made illegal, so sometimes they are perceived as pro-life and sometimes they are perceived as pro-abortion. It’s complicated.

All parties believe abortion should be at minimum rare. All parties believe generally that abortion is a tragedy. But they differ about whether or not the government should intervene.

Do you notice an inconsistency here? In one instance (health care and poverty) the Republican believes in less government intervention while Democrats believe in more, and in another instance (abortion) Republicans believe in more intervention while Democrats believe in less.

Like I said, it’s complicated.

The follower of Christ has to navigate through all of these options and choose which makes the most sense. On one hand there is the bent to be the voice for the voiceless. But on the other hand there is the desire to seek justice for the poor–who can also be voiceless. Then there are those Christians who believe the active taking of any life is not in the spirit of Jesus.

What is not a matter of faith. While you may strongly believe in second amendment rights and the free market system–those are not issues related to following Jesus in particular. They are certainly important issues, but they are not issues that directly relate to following Jesus. To condemn those who are pro-gun rights or those who are against gun-rights as somehow being unChristian is simply wrong. Affordable Heath Care Act: You may think it is a horrible plan, you may think it is the best thing in the world. It isn’t a matter of faith.

I urge you to think through your convictions. I urge you to ignore simplistic single issue votes and if you choose to vote, do so according to your informed convictions–not according to the convictions of others. If you feel Trump is the only way you can vote in good conscience then vote for him. If you feel Clinton is the only choice you have, then vote for her. If you feel both candidates are not equipped or represent ungodly choices, then vote third party, write in a candidate or do not vote. As an American citizen it is your right to make any of these choices.

As a Christian it is your duty to vote or not vote according to your conscience–according to what you believe God informs you to do.

But of one thing you do not have a choice over if you are a Christian: How you treat others. You can speak no evil–you cannot condemn others who vote differently than you or who honestly disagree with you. It is not your right to judge the motivations. It is not your right to cut off friends and family members for disagreeing with you.

And you must do everything you can to preserve the unity that the Spirit of God created.

During election years I am reminded the wisdom of my tribe: no American flag in the auditorium or sanctuary. It is a strong political statement that says no matter who is President or who controls the legislative branch, your ultimate loyalty and allegiance is to God.

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On Versions and Translations

Disclaimer: I have studied both Greek and Hebrew but I am no scholar. I basically know enough to get myself in serious trouble! But my MA is in Biblical text and I know enough about the languages that I can research in the language and I know something of the history of text transmission and translations.
Also, I normally do not go into detailed discussions regarding translations because many who wish to get into arguments really have no clue and it becomes an exercise that ends in frustration. However, there are many people who honestly don’t know the issues involved and have never particularly researched. When they do, they search online and run into quite a few bad websites that only serve to confuse.
Also, I am not suggesting in this post that the New International Version is the best version or the worst version of the Bible. It is merely one version among many. Each translation has its own strengths and weaknesses. I always recommend for Bible study the use of several translations.
Recently, I felt it important to address the issues of translations for those who are interested. 

Years ago I was in Honduras visiting with a missionary there. He told me about a visit he had with a North American preacher who demanded to know if he used the King James Version of the Bible in his preaching and teaching.

“Well, no sir. I use the Reina Valera version.”

“What?! Why don’t you use the King James?”

“Well sir, it would be inappropriate since the King James is in English and I teach in Spanish.”

The preacher argued that the missionary should use the KJV because it was “the most accurate” and stood the test of time.

“Well, if it is the test of time you are concerned with, since the Reina Valera was translated in 1569, I’d say we had the 1611 English version beat by nearly eighty years!”

On another occasion I was listening to a panel of elders taking questions from a gathering of preachers. One preacher asked, “What do I do if my elders demand I only preach from the KJV?”

One of the panelists, a now since retired professor who holds two Doctorates (one in Old Testament from Hebrew Union and one in New Testament from Harvard), who himself taught Greek and Hebrew, snorted. “Well, that’s a problem of your own making since you agreed to work in that church.” Then he added, “I cannot for the life of me understand how any eldership can claim to know what version is the best version when they cannot even translate one line of Greek or Hebrew.”

Recently I was given a packet about the New International Version and all of the “problems” with it. Evidently, it was such a bad translation it should be rejected by any follower of Jesus outright!

The article was evidently downloaded from some ministry website. The title of the article was “The New International Perversion.”

Now to set the stage I need to point out the “Statement of Faith” listed on the website, which lists 14 items. Number two is as follows:

We believe the King James Version is God’s Holy word. It is the preserved word of God without any error according to Psalms 12:7.

(Note: Psalm 12:7 says nothing about the King James Bible since it wasn’t in existence until several centuries later!  The verse itself is ripped out of its context.)

There are too many factual errors in the article to address them all. Let me just deal with “The NIV ‘Taketh Away’ 64,576 words!” The author begins with these statements:

Don’t look for “mercy seat” in the NIV – Gone!

Don’t look for “Jehovah” in the NIV – Gone!

Don’t look for “Godhead” in the NIV – Gone!

…Despite God’s clear warnings about “taking away” from His words–the NIV removes…over 8 percent of God’s words…

Wow.

The problem is, the King James Version is not what any of the biblical writers had in mind when they said “do not take away”. The King James Version wasn’t in existence until 1611–the Bible was written over a period of a several hundred years and the latest writing predates the KJV by, um, over 1,500 years. English language as we know it wasn’t really around until Chaucer several hundred years after the New Testament was written–and anyone who has ever memorized the prologue to Canterbury Tales know Middle English is almost impossible to understand.

So technically, none of those English words were “God’s words” that were not to be taken away, were they? The words being spoken about were Hebrew and Greek words, not English words. (I suppose the original scholars in 1611 might have been incensed that the Editors of the current edition of the KJV changed Iehovah to Jehovah–is that taking a word away, I wonder?)

So words like mercy seat and Godhead were not in the Bible used by Christians in the early 2nd-4th centuries. Those are English words used to translate Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic words (the languages in which the Bible was originally composed). So, when the NIV chooses not to use these words they are not taking anything from the Bible. They are just using more contemporary (and in many cases more accurate) English words.

Godhead is used to translate θεοτητος in two passages. A better translation is deity or divine nature. In Acts 17:29 Godhead is used for the Greek word θεός which means “God” or “Deity”. The word Godhead is merely the way the scholars in 1611 translated these words. (Should I point out they translated ἀγάπη as charity in 1 Corinthians 13 which in 1611 meant “love” but now charity no longer has that meaning)?

My favorite, by far, is Jehovah. I, for one, applaud the NIV translators (and most every other contemporary English translation including the NASV, NRSV, RSV, ESV, etc., etc.) for removing this mis-transliteration.

Jehovah first appeared in Tyndale’s English translation in 1530. John Wycliffe was credited with creating the first English Bible in the 1380s (although some believe there were several translators involved). Wycliffe did not use Jehovah but instead translated the name of God as Adonay (Lord). The actual covenant name for God is YHWH or YHVH in Hebrew (some think this is pronounced Yahweh or Yahveh). The written Hebrew language did not utilize vowels. It wasn’t until around the 2nd century CE/AD that the Masorites added dashes, dots, and small symbols to serve as vowels (called “vowel markings”).

The challenge for these Rabbinic scholars was to prevent a reader from taking YHWH’s name in vain by pronouncing it out loud. In their minds it was better to substitute the word adonai (lord) for YHWH. (To this day many orthodox adherents of Judaism will simply say “LORD”, “The Name”, or Hashem instead of God’s actual covenant name).

So what to do? In each case where the word YHWH/YHVH appeared, they placed around it the vowel markings of adonai (ah-o-ah) to remind the would-be reader to pronounce the word adonai instead of Yahweh/Yahveh. So what happened? Tyndale transliterated (i.e., substituted English letters for the Hebrew letters) the consonants YHVH and the vowel markings A-O-A and a new word YaHoVaH (Iehovah or Jehovah) was born. The word most likely did not exist before Tyndale mis-transliterated it. The KJV scholars merely followed Tyndale’s lead.

Any decent collegiate dictionary will tell you this if you look up Jehovah. You can also read the preface of most any Bible and you will see the reference to the Tetragrammaton (i.e., YHWH) and an explanation. Those who are first year students in Hebrew know this to be the case. (I know this also may burst the bubble of those who actually believed Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code when he claimed Jehovah was a combination of Jah the “masculine deity” and Havah, Eve his consort–sorry conspiracy theorists, just not true).

I won’t address any more of the article’s attack on the New International Version. The fact is, the author of the article does not know Greek or Hebrew and has no clue about how translations are created. The writer actually believes that the King James Version is inspired without any error.

The truth is, the King James Version, like any other translation of the Bible is a product of human beings who are just as subject to mistakes, bad judgement, and inferior knowledge as any of us are. One only has to go to 1 John 5:7 in the KJV,

“For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.”

Now if you will look at other versions such as The American Standard Version, The New American Standard VersionThe Revised Standard Version, The New International Version, and The New Revised Standard Version (to list a few), you won’t find that verse. (And if you look in the Greek texts I have, you won’t find the verse there, either). Why is that?

It is not in the most reliable manuscripts. In fact, it is in no Greek manuscript dating before 1500 CE/AD!  To quote Greek professor Daniel Wallace,

…there is no sure evidence of this reading in any Greek manuscript until the 1500s; each such reading was apparently composed after Erasmus’ Greek NT was published in 1516.

So much for the KJV being “the preserved word of God…without any error…

This is not to castigate or condemn the King James Version, either. But to recognize there is no translation that is without some problems.

So what is the take away? Does this mean the Bible is hopelessly flawed and untrustworthy? Absolutely not! What it means is that translations are not flawless.

If anything, the Bible has stood the test of time. We have more ancient early manuscripts of the original Greek and Hebrew texts than any other document in antiquity. And not just a few more–but thousands more. If anything, our desire to continue to search for earlier and more reliable manuscripts to make certain we are as close to those original documents is a testimony to the accuracy of newer contemporary translations. Because when older manuscripts are found, if they are proven to be superior documents, they are included in translations.

This is a good thing.

It means we are serious about getting as close to the original documents as possible. And the translations that keep coming out every year shows that scholars are serious in getting the Bible into the words of everyday people.

Language changes. Word meanings and usage changes every year. As long as our modern languages are living languages, there will always be the need for new translations.

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Week Forty-one: Leadership

Preparation

  • Recite or sing/chant Psalms 130 and 131 (I suggest you memorize these two Psalms)
  • Moment of Silence

 Presence (through the Scripture)

  • Psalm reading (select from below):
    • Morning: Psalm 41
    • Noon: Psalm 93
    • Vespers: Psalm 119:169-176
    • Night: Psalm 112
  • Moment of silence
  • Scripture readings:
    • Monday: 1 Timothy 1:3-20
    • Tuesday: 1 Timothy 2:1-15
    • Wednesday: 1 Timothy 3:1-16
    • Thursday: 1 Timothy 4:1-16
    • Friday: 1 Timothy 5:1-20
  • Moment of silence

 Prayers

  • Prayers of thanksgiving and petition
  • Journaling and silent reflection
  • Close with the “Lord’s Prayer”

 Practice

It is important to understand that the New Testament documents are a collection of writings from narratives and poetry to personal letters. These documents are 2,000 years old and translated from a dead language (Koine Greek). They also represent at least three different Mediterranean cultures (Roman, Greek, Hebrew). So what some consider the obvious meaning may not be accurate.

For instance, Paul is writing Timothy who is working in Ephesus—the center of Artemis worship. Among other things Artemis adherents believed her to be the protector of wealth, the goddess of childbirth (if a woman converted away from Artemis the fear is she would die during childbirth), and she was considered the source of humanity. These beliefs directly affect interpretation of 1 Timothy.

There are many ancient sources one should be acquainted with in order to gain a fuller picture of the ancient culture. Ephesiaca (The Ephesians) is a novel by Xenophen which has recently been redated to the middle of the first century. Research the worship of Artemis this week and see if it affects your understanding of 1 Timothy.

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Week Forty: The Teacher

Preparation

  • Recite or sing/chant Psalms 130 and 131 (I suggest you memorize these two Psalms)
  • Moment of Silence

 Presence (through the Scripture)

  • Psalm reading (select from below):
    • Morning: Psalm 41
    • Noon: Psalm 93
    • Vespers: Psalm 119:169-176
    • Night: Psalm 112
  • Moment of silence
  • Scripture readings:
    • Monday: 1 Timothy 1:3-20
    • Tuesday: 1 Timothy 2:1-15
    • Wednesday: 1 Timothy 3:1-16
    • Thursday: 1 Timothy 4:1-16
    • Friday: 1 Timothy 5:1-20
  • Moment of silence

 Prayers

  • Prayers of thanksgiving and petition
  • Journaling and silent reflection
  • Close with the “Lord’s Prayer”

Practice

It is important to understand that the New Testament documents are a collection of writings from narratives and poetry to personal letters. These documents are 2,000 years old and translated from a dead language (Koine Greek). They also represent at least three different Mediterranean cultures (Roman, Greek, Hebrew). So what some consider the obvious meaning may not be accurate.

For instance, Paul is writing Timothy who is working in Ephesus—the center of Artemis worship. Among other things Artemis adherents believed her to be the protector of wealth (the Artemisium was like the Swiss banking system of the ancient world), the goddess of childbirth (if a woman converted away from Artemis the fear was she would die during childbirth), and she was considered the source of humanity. These beliefs directly affect interpretation of 1 Timothy in the areas of women, wealth, and false teachers.

There are many ancient sources one should be acquainted with in order to gain a fuller picture of the ancient culture. Ephesiaca (The Ephesians) is a novel by Xenophen which has recently been redated to the middle of the first century. Research the worship of Artemis this week and see if it affects your understanding of 1 Timothy. A name you might want to research is Dr. Gary Hoag who wrote a dissertation and a monologue on wealth in Ephesus in connection with new discoveries regarding Ephesiasca by Xenophon of Ephesus.

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Week Thirty-nine: The King

Preparation

  • Recite or sing/chant Psalms 130 and 131 (I suggest you memorize these two Psalms)
  • Moment of Silence

Presence (through the Scripture)

  • Psalm reading (select from below):
    • Morning: Psalm 39
    • Noon: Psalm 91
    • Vespers: Psalm 119:137-144
    • Night: Psalm 119:145-152
  • Moment of silence
  • Scripture readings:
    • Monday: Matthew 3:1-12
    • Tuesday: Matthew 3:13-4:11
    • Wednesday: Matthew 4:12-25
    • Thursday: Matthew 8:18-22
    • Friday: Matthew 9:18-34
  • Moment of silence

Prayers

  • Prayers of thanksgiving and petition
  • Journaling and silent reflection
  • Close with the “Lord’s Prayer”
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Week Thirty-eight: He’s coming back!

Preparation

  • Recite or sing/chant Psalms 130 and 131 (I suggest you memorize these two Psalms)
  • Moment of Silence

Presence (through the Scripture)

  • Psalm reading (select from below):
    • Morning: Psalm
    • Noon: Psalm
    • Vespers: Psalm
    • Night: Psalm
  • Moment of silence
  • Scripture readings:
    • Monday: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11
    • Tuesday: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28
    • Wednesday: 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12
    • Thursday: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17
    • Friday: 2 Thessalonians 3:1-18
  • Moment of silence

 Prayers

  • Prayers of thanksgiving and petition
  • Journaling and silent reflection
  • Close with the “Lord’s Prayer”

 

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