Bible Geek, Continued

I’m a bible geek. I know I’ve mentioned it before in May 2004 and August 2003. Anyway, I was doing some late summer cleaning, throwing stuff out, moving stuff and i moved my collection of bibles to a place outside their former closet space. That’s personal history, right there. Every one of those books played an intimate role in my life from the time I was 15 until my 30s. And then I walked away. Okay, it was more than that. I have a BA in Biblical studies and have several bookshelves and filing cabinets full of books and reference materials that speak to the compulsive book-buying thing that I had going when I walked away.

So here it is 15-years later and what used to fill my bookshelves I can now put on my Palm PDA, and tools I could never imagine are available on my computer(s). With the latest terrorist crap coming down at the end of last week I decided that I needed to find out more about the Islamic faith and pulled out my old out of date copy of Eerdmann’s Guide to World Religions. I used to love Eerdmans guides and looked for whether they offered any of their guides either on computer or online. No such luck but I did find that my old Thompson chain-reference is available on Windows or Palm PDA platforms. Very cool. Of course, I’m probably the only one who feels that way. It’s just that I can appreciate, after having been away for so long, what it means to have all of these resources available for way less than it would cost to buy the actual books or reference works, and then have them be just a simple mouse click away. It’s mind-boggling. Now I just need to get through the rest of Matthew before J. Vernon McGee laps me on the radio/podcast. JBB

Mt 24 – Questions about the End of the Age & the End of Me

herod's temple

I have taken far too long before addressing these passages of scripture and spending time listening to Jesus’ Olivet Discourse. A lot of my own difficulties over the past months could have been less difficult had I stayed closer to the Word. A speaker this past week at the “In His Presence” conference referred to the Bible as his means of sifting through all the noise that comes to us in our lives. I needed to hear that. Besides, Dr. McGee’s “Thru the Bible Radio” is now beginning the book of Matthew and if he laps me, that’d be bad.

So the apostles were gawking at the impressive structures that made up the Temple complex and Jesus responded by telling them that the whole thing was going to be leveled in a judgment from God. Okay, that got their interest. They asked three questions: (1) when will this happen (the destruction of the temple, (2) what will be the sign of your coming, and (3) what will be the sign of the end of the age? (Matt. 24: 3) My first thought is whether these three questions are referring to one event (end of the age/destruction of the temple/Jesus’ return) or to three events. The second question, putting the question back into the context of the last weeks of Jesus’ ministry, why would the disciples be asking about when he would be coming back? I mean, he’s standing right there teaching them.

One train of thought might be that they are asking him, in essence, when are you going to come in power and establish your kingdom. When they heard about this destruction then the natural assumption might be that Jesus would then take his place as the political leader, being after the line of David. That makes sense, but my more literary/scholar self sees that these questions would be most applicable to Matthew’s readers 40-years after the events. This is not to say that Matthew was writing history as if it were prophecy but the disciples asking about Jesus’ return in the context of the destruction of the temple would be a screaming headline for those who were about to, or had just witnessed the temple’s destruction at the hands of the Roman General Titus. In which case, the warnings to flee when they saw the temple’s Holy of Holies desecrated, warnings that according to Josephus, were followed by the Christians, very much ties these passages to the events of 70AD. (Matt. 24: 15-22; Dan. 9:27)

But clearly Jesus didn’t return, and the end of the age in the sense of either God establishing his Kingdom (politically as well as spiritually) or the final judgment did not happen. So, what does this mean? The words, the warnings were instrumental in the survival of the church when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed, so there is a historical context that has happened. But the teaching or warning about how people will act in times of destress (judgment) still applies. And if anything Jesus makes it pretty clear that his coming will be very much unlike his ministry at the time in that it will be universally observed and obvious to the whole world (not in the desert and not in the inner room). (Matt. 24:26-28) Oh yeah, before the coming things are not going to get better for you Christians, but they are going to get worse, to the point where Christian will turn on Christian (hmmm, that hasn’t happened before…).

Then Jesus warned the disciples to be diligent and observant for his coming and to not be caught unawares. He mentioned the days of Noah and how people carried on with life right up to the moment the flood hit, not unlike our own experiences with natural catastrophes over this past year (Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of New Orleans, for example). Of course, in his example the one “taken” is the one lost to the flood, which has somehow, in current Christian theology, been changed to mean that the ones “taken” are the ones saved by God from the tribulation before the End of the Age. How does that work? I know Paul refers to “meeting the Lord in the air” (1Th. 4:17) but I’m not sure if stretching these verses in Matthew to fit the scenario gets in the way of Jesus’ point, that we need to be ready.

Also problematic is this business that when Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” (Matt. 24: 34). Clearly Jesus’ contemporaries (or Matthew’s or even those who witnessed the destruction of the temple) have passed away. So what does this mean? I don’t know that I can answer that one. That he would spend so much time making it clear that no one (not even the Son) knows when he’s to return, that we’re to be diligent (the homeowner against the thief, the servant at the master’s arrival, and in the next chapter the 10 virgins and the bridegroom), but then to say that this would “all” happen before this generation passed away? That’s a problem.

I remember in the ‘70s that we were thinking that this meant the generation that saw the re-establishment of the nation of Israel and so we all expected His return to be some 48-years (a typical generation…. I don’t know who came up with that number) after the Jewish state came back into existence (1948 plus 48 = 1996), so this was supposed to happen some time before 1996. Oops. I guess the Calvary Chapel followers now know what the Millerites and Jehovah’s Witnesses went through when their “set” dates came and went. I want God to establish His Kingdom. I want to see the beatitudes in the opening chapters of Matthew fulfilled and the prophecies of Isaiah about the Kingdom come to pass. But the truth of the matter is that, as a 48-year-old, the end of my “age,” my personal experience is very real and very imminent. Rapture, no rapture, pre-milenial, post-milenial, it doesn’t really matter because my time will come just as assuredly as the sun will rise in the morning. And whether I believe in any of this or protest like Homer Simpson that I don’t even know this “Jebus,” my time will come to an end and what will matter most will be how I lived the days that were given to me and whether I left the place in a better condition or worse

Mt22 34-23 39 Difficult Questions, Continued – Respect the Office/Reject the Example

So, did Jesus’ answer about the greatest commandment meet with their approval? One might guess so, in that they didn’t seem to offer any objection. Then he turns the table around and asks them a “biblical question”: Whose son is the Christ? Of course they know that the Christ is going to be the son of David, from David’s lineage. Ok, but if the Christ is David’s son, how can David call him “Lord,” which would never happen in a strict patriarchal society?

Is Jesus just trying get “one up” on the Pharisees, and beat them in the game of difficult questions, or is there more at stake here? On one level the question is really about recognizing what kind of “person” the Christ is going to be. Another part is that this points to a religious observance that it built only upon literal understandings without the benefit of having a Heart for God.

The Pharisees were very much the defenders of the Faith, the conservatives who vigorously defended the Laws of Moses. But they’d gotten so literal and had so departed from the Spirit of the Law that they were missing the point of the Faith they were defending, to the point where Jesus pronounced a long series of “Woes” on them and those who would be like them.

One thing to note is that Jesus began this condemnation with the observation: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must obey them and do everything they tell you.” (Matt. 23: 2-3) Thus while condemning their practices and failure to appreciate the Spirit of the Law, he recognized the authority of their position in the community. That is somewhat difficult for us to grasp the need to respect the office and importance of the community, while rejecting or correcting the errors of the person holding the office. We are so given to finding fault and then wanting to throw the whole structure down. And American Christianity is such an individualistic thing that we scarcely even recognize the need for community much less the role of authority in our fellowships. Don’t like something, either just move on to the next church or pull the whole thing down and build it up again in ones own image.

Jesus is looking at the practice of the body of Christ and not just failings of these Pharisees. Remember, these words echo the practices of the first century church just as much as the pre-existing culture from which it came. So Jesus warning against calling one another “Father” is not only for the individual seeking recognition, but also for the community living side by side in their daily practice. It’s not about them or the individual or even the Pharisees, but it’s about us and our practices as a community of believers.

He thus ends this section with a lamentation for the whole city of Jerusalem for its history of rejecting and murdering God’s prophets and for rejecting the love and care that God wanted to give them. He mourns the city and its coming destruction because it has rejected these gestures of Love from the Father. He began with the failure of the Pharisees and ends with the loss of the city. JBB

The Need for the Word in my Life

stack of bibles by Joe Bustillos

A couple summers ago I teased my friend Brent when he told me that he had been studying the Gospel of John with a friend for the past four years. I laughed and told him that he could gotten a doctorate on the Gospel of John in that much time. Ha! I guess that means that I should have at least an M.Div. in the time it’s taken me to work my way through the Gospel of Matthew. Ack.

Okay, honestly, the actual time I’ve spent studying Matthew probably doesn’t equate a couple 16 week undergrad courses (Matt 1 & Matt II!). I know I’ve made a comment about this before, but it’s a pain to have studied the Bible so much before, such that I can’t just read a passage, but I really have to meditate and think through my reading to sense the benefits. But… well, the laziness of not reading is a no win situation either. I may often be too liberal for my Vineyard friends, but there is just something that I need that I can only get from time spent in the scriptures. Over the short years of my current journey the times when I’ve felt the most enthusiastic and “together” has been when I’ve had a structured, somewhat academic study in the scriptures to look forward to. The most recent example of this was when Pastor Jim launched into his study of Revelation and the time before that was when my Anglican/Episcopalian friend, Chris, was leading our small group through the last small epistles of the New Testament.

Maybe all of this is about a need to balance my great capacity for passionate/emotional expression through music and worship with things much less emotional. Having the great desire to sing and play is balanced with a practical, somewhat intellectual need for the scriptures in my life (though under the surface, even as I write these words I can feel the excitement I have for being “in the Word” and doing that with my close friends and community of believers). JBB

Music: So I Worship – Chris Miller – Vineyard Club Volume 53

Mt22 15-22 33 – Dealing with Difficult Questions

Matt. 22:15-22:33 – Dealing with Difficult Questions

Jewish-leadersAfter the series of condemning parables given to them by Jesus, the Pharisees have lined up their best shot at trapping with his own teaching. Would that they were asking a genuine question, that this were an inquiry into the further wisdom of God, instead of a political trap. But the question itself does seem to be a reasonable question for someone trying to be a faithful Jew in a subjugated territory. Is there a conflict between being a good Jew and paying ones taxes to Caesar? Granted, it’s not an easy thing for this 21st Century US citizen to really understand what it means to be conquered people subject to the laws and rules of a foreign power. My thinking is that there were probably a whole school of great thinkers who had been pondering questions like this for years and years and always seemed to come up with the Zeolots’ point of view (don’t pay) or the Herodians point of view (be a good citizen and pay). Jesus cuts much deeper and finds an answer that none had probably seen before.

denariusI think that there’s something here about dealing with difficult questions and entrapment. In an earlier verse the Pharisees mean to trap Jesus by demanding to know by whose authority he goes about baptizing and making disciples (Matt. 21:23-27), in this case he chooses to not answer their question until they can answer his question about what they really think about John the Baptist (something he knew that they would not openly declare out of fear of offending the people). In the case of the question about paying taxes he chooses to answer them, even though he knows it’s meant to be a trap. That he would find the answer in the coin used to pay the tax is absolutely amazing. It’s some what literal but really takes the air out of the objections one might make. There’s no trick here, it comes down to getting past all the accumulated B.S. and really looking at things they way they are. And in this case, there’s no offense at paying ones taxes (or tribute to Caesar, as the case may be).

In the case of the Sadducees question about the woman and the seven brothers, Jesus’ answer rests on a form of the words “to be.” Jesus condemns them because their error is based on the ignorance of God’s Word, in this case they seem to have rejected the concept of the resurrection of the dead because they weren’t able to figure out how things like the woman and the seven brothers would “play out.” Again, the error is in having a limited level of thinking. But cutting to the heart of the issue, Jesus rests his argument in the word “is” as in when God tells Moses that he IS the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob. These patriarchs, being long dead, should have been referred to in the past tense “was” instead of “is.” Again, I can imagine whole schools of thinking which had been grinding over this problem for years, only to be answered by a form of the verb “to be.”

iamI’m encouraged, in that I often do not see that clear, concise answer to difficult questions. There have been times when I’ve listened to the wisdom of my professors when they’ve said that there are reasons why they call these problems “Difficult” or “Great Problems.” And I have been content, for the most part, to live somewhere between the problem and the solution. I am reminded in these verses that these are great problems for men, but not for God. I shall endeavor, not to look harder or dig deeper with my own intellect, but to quiet myself enough to possibly hear the greater and deeper wisdom of God, where these “Great Problems” can be answered with the flip of a coin or a form of the word “to be.” JBB 12/18/2005

Worth Waiting For (Matt. 13:44-46)

Love by Jennifer C.

loveletterThe kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” (Matt. 13:44-46)

Some things are worth waiting for and fighting for…. more later… JBB

Mt21 18-22 14 – The Danger of Being All Leaves and No Fruit

Matt. 21:18-22:14 – The Danger of Being All Leaves and No Fruit

tree04This section begins with a visual or “living” parable as Jesus came into the city and decided to look for something to eat. He found a fig tree with leaves but no fruit, and cursed the fig tree, which caused it to wither up. The disciples were all caught up in the apparent power of this demonstration and seemed to skip over completely the meaning behind why he did what he did. Granted, Jesus does answer their amazement with a promise that whatever they pray for will be given to them if they “have faith and do not doubt” (Matt. 21:21).

But the unexplained point of this living parable is that fig leaves appear about the same time or a little after the fig tree produces fruit (according to my NIV Commentary). So for this tree to have leaves but no fruit is a kind of “false advertisement.” The world no doubt operates on a principal that it’s better to look good than to be good. In the Kingdom of Heaven it’s all about the fruit that comes from what is really inside of you. It’s not enough to look good, but your life should produce the results/the fruit that speaks from what kind of person you are. This tree suffered the consequences of looking good but having no fruit to show for itself. Over the course of this section Jesus is going to warn the chief priests and elders, through several other parables, that the Kingdom of God is going to be taken from them and given to other because, like this tree, they may have been good at “looking good” but they do not have any “fruit” to show for themselves.

jesus_confrontedWhen Jesus’ authority was questioned in verses 23-27 by the chief priests and elders he answered their question with a question. Their deliberation over an answer showed an unwillingness to speak from what was really in their hearts. They acted on what was politically expedient, but it cost them their part of the coming Kingdom of God. In the parable of the two sons (Matt. 21: 28-32) it wasn’t the son who said he was going to work in the vineyard, but the son who said he wasn’t going to, but did anyway; it was the second son who did what he was told. So they were being warned that the social outcasts, the tax collectors and prostitutes, were going to be a part of the Kingdom of Heaven before them because they listened to and obeyed John the Baptist. And even after seeing that, the elders were unwilling to acknowledge John.

The history of how the people of Israel treated God’s prophets can be seen in the parable of the Landowner (Matt. 21: 33-44). God had given the Kingdom to these people to shepherd but when he sent his representatives to them to check on their progress and get their “rent check,” they mistreated his representatives, to the very point of killing the landowner’s son. The elders pronounced their own judgment when they agreed that whoever had done this should be punished.

In the parable of the Marriage Banquet (Matt. 22: 1-14) Jesus warned the elders that they cannot afford to ignore the bidding of the king and that as a result of their mistreatment of his servants, the invitiation that was meant for them will be opened to all who are willing to come (though there is a warning that just coming is not enough but one must be dressed appropriately, that is to have a prepared heart).

figtreeFor us the warning still holds that it is not enough to rest in our cultural or heritage claim that we are entitled to participate in Jesus’ Kingdom of Heaven just because we’ve been going to church all of our lives or because our family has been a part of such and such church community of X-number of generations. We have to beware of not being like the fig tree parading around with our leaves all out showing everyone how righteous or religious we are but having no fruit to show what is really inside of our hearts. The inside has to balance with the outside. Public piety is meaningless and a disservice to the Kingdom of Heaven if there it isn’t balance with one’s personal prayerfulness. That we are called is a blessing, but we must be careful to answer the call daily with the way we choose to live our lives. JBB 8/19/2005

music: amazon linkStraw Men by Mark Heard on the Ashes & Light recording

Mt21:12-17 Cleansing the Temple of our Hearts

bookflipI am reminded by the NIV Commentary that this is the second time that Jesus cleansed the temple. The first time was early in his ministry and recorded in Jn. 2:13-22. I wonder if the temple officials half-way expected him to do it again. From their point-of-view, one time would be bad enough, two times in little over three years would be totally unacceptable. Unfortunately they no doubt just didn’t get the reason for Jesus’ anger. What they justified as a reasonable means for dealing with the needs of the pilgrims coming to Jerusalem, particularly during festival seasons such as Passover, to Jesus, was completely overshadowing the fact that the Temple was meant to be a place of prayer and meditation, a place where one’s mind was meant to be on “meeting” God. But he found that it was becoming a place where a lot of the gathered (those selling goods) had hearts only concerned with turning a healthy profit.

As someone who has done “Christian music” in the past, I wonder about the hearts of the Christian music executives who probably went into the business with a heart for seeing that this music would be heard by as many as possible but are probably now more focused on which artists to support who are going to give them the greatest return for their investment. What started out as a means to “getting the word out” has most likely become a clone of it’s secular cousin, where it’s about promoting celebrity personalities and supporting the business of promoting “Christian” music. Granted, I only had a cursory exposure to the business way back when and never was on the end of the business where there was ever a risk of anyone making money at it. But I have to wonder what Jesus would do (WWJD!) if he happened upon the marketing meeting where the Christian music executives tried to decide what to do about Jessica Simpson and decided not to promote her because they didn’t know what to do about her breasts. My theory is that a number of tables and chairs would have been tossed in that meeting. We have to all beware of not letting the “practical” get in the way of our primary call to worship and love our Heavenly Father. JBB 8/11/2005

music: Your Mac Life – August 10, 2005

Mt21 1-11 – The King Makes His Entry

Matt. 21:1-11 – The King Makes His Entry
In the two previous passages Jesus has had to contend with disciples vying for position when he claims his kingdom. Then after that as he was approaching the city two blind men get his attention and his compassion and he heals them. So far it’s looking like a very busy day. Now as he approached Jerusalem he had a very specific “presentation” in mind and sends two disciples out to get the “props,” a donkey and her colt. Where is Jesus’ mind at? Finally after having to be deliberately cryptic about who he is and why he is there, he embraces symbolism that everyone would understand and makes his entrance as the Messiah, the One Who Is to Come.

But as he previously explained when he spoke about the nature of leadership (i.e., service to others, Matt. 20:25-28) he was not striding into Jerusalem like a proud Roman general returning from his conquests, but as a servant of the people. And as he received their praise his heart no doubt was touched by the thousands of souls whose burden he knew he would carry within one week’s time. They received into their city and he received them into his heart. They said, “Hosanna” as a form of praise, he, no doubt, heard the original meaning of the words, just as he had the two blind men along the road, “Save us, Son of David!” JBB 7/28/2005