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“Virtue signaling” is a new term aimed at those whose social action never extends beyond the outrage they express. The person is satisfied with the signal of justice – the posting of an informative article, an expression of outrage or biting criticism of people who deserve it – rather than all the appropriate actions that could do actual good in the world. “Virtue signaling” is difficult to detect in others. In my mind, it is most appropriate when self assessed. I know what “virtue signaling” is because I know myself.

I know that Facebook gives me the illusion of justice when I express my outrage – just enough to satisfy my anger but not enough to produce any real change in myself or motivate myself to real action. Just enough to produce likes or comments but not enough to produce change in me. Anger has its place; it can wake us up from ethical slumber and call us to action. Yet, in merely signaling where injustice occurs, do we avoid the more difficult path self-reflection that could lead us to the development of character God requires from us?

Our own proper outrage resounding in the echo chamber of our internet communities provides us an illusion of our own righteousness. I can only speak for myself when I say that I’ve let my own anger drown out my responsibilities to personal and social righteousness. I’d like to pat myself on the back and say I’ve loved my family, my neighbors, and my God, but I know that I’m just as wicked as I was before the crisis began.

We live in a time where we don’t have to give up something to participate in Lent. Lent has pressed its borders on us. Lent uncovers our hypocrisy. We substitute the Holy Spirit’s call with empty actions meant satisfy our lazy consciences. The only path is the one Jesus blazes for us. Yet, we find a desire to go our own way and make a name for ourselves. In Lent, we follow Jesus in desperation. In the wilderness, there’s no other way. We need  Jesus to lead us because we are frail. The wilderness hasn’t made us frail. We have always been frail because we have always been evil.

Like the disciples, I’ve struggled in groggy prayerlessness and been more focused on the shifting news of the day than on the eternal words of our Lord.  I believe my anger is appropriate. I believe our leaders have committed serious error and then tried to cover it up with pompous political self-congratulations while thousands of Americans are sick and millions of others have applied for unemployment. What did I actually do in the light of this injustice? All I did to help the matter was post something or comment on something or like or hate something. I indulged my own pride. I added my small contribution onto the big mountains of wrongs in this world.

In Isaiah 5, God calls Israel to judgment for their failures to produce the kind of fruit that God expects his chosen people to produce. They call evil and good and good evil. They exact justice on the innocent and accept bribes to acquit the guilty. Isaiah 5 paints the picture of constant unbearable evil where the wicked succeed and good withers and dies. An almost unimaginable scenario in our country where we like to think that we value justice. At least it was a few months ago. Now, it is hard to imagine good succeeding. Isaiah 6 paints a different picture: unconquerable holiness. Angelic creatures flying around eternal proclaiming holiness of the universe’s king who has never given up his heavenly thrown and has never stopped watching. What can bring the realities heaven to earth?

God gives us the words to pray: “As your will is done in heaven, so let it be so on earth.”

I’m sure many of us have, like I have, worn down our phone’s battery life updating Twitter or checking news sites for any new information on the status of the fight with this virus. I’ve been grieved by the stories of how the sick suffer. I’ve read where and how our leaders failed. I’ve seen the bleak projections of the months ahead. As we find new sources of anger and uncover more injustice, let us not look at the waves and storm, but to the man who personally knows what kind of evil this world can do to a person. Jesus will lead us through the troubled waters. News shifts, the world turns, hope lives one moment and dies the next. All the while there is one who watches with unblinking eye who leads us through the wilderness. We should endure in watchful prayer – the night is dark but it is also short. Evil will end. Good will triumph. We know the most powerful being in the universe, and more importantly he knows us. He knows we are weak. Our weakness is God’s strength because in our weakness we turn to the only one who can really do anything meaningful about our crisis. He will not leave us with scars too deep for grace to heal. Through his grace we can support each other’s feebleness.

 

 

 

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We are all familiar with Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam where the man dares to reach toward the extended finger of God. Michelangelo freezes the frame with just a tiny space between the two fingers making us wonder at the eternity that exists in the space between the fingers. Is there any analogy more appropriate for the space between last Friday and now? As the pathogen known as COVID-19 reshapes the entire world – halting the world economic engine, stretching and breaking national healthcare systems, and altering and ending human life at catastrophic rates – we sit in relative uncertainty of what the world will look like tomorrow let alone what it will look like when this finally ends.

Speaking for myself, my chest hurts from the anxiety of adjusting to new life at home, worrying about every trip I make into public space, figuring out what daycare looks like, and trying not to think of the economic impact this will have as it draws on. This past week has been the most stressful week of my life in recent memory. Beyond my own circle, there are many worse than I am – they have no job or maybe they are one of the currently 200,000+ people who are sick with the virus. In weeks like this, the only certainty is that the worst is yet to come. Every good outlook is beyond our vision. As we float aimlessly through the open ocean with nothing but a piece of driftwood holding us above the surface, we can only hope that the next wave that breaks on us doesn’t drown us.

I had planned to write about uncertainty and faith prior to the world crisis, but I was going to focus on the modern obsession with certainty. Human certainty is elusive – we could always raise some philosophical question to cast doubt on anything we hold certain. We live in a world where morality is relative, scientific consensus on many issues shifts regularly (as it should), God is basically unknowable, and we can’t even know for sure if our senses are geared towards discovering truth or just tell us what it takes to survive another day. Yet, most of us act each day as if there are certain laws in the universe that govern what we do. We do without knowing but not merely as a matter of pragmatism. We believe that there is good and bad. We believe in gravity. We trust our senses enough to act according to what we perceive.  I think we do this because there are laws built into the universe that we recognize almost by instinct that causes humanity to act this way. I think we’re designed this way.

Christians are not immune to uncertainty. Every believer goes through the wilderness of doubt with some regularity. Abraham had Hagar. Moses had stammering lips. David had Bathsheeba. Thomas, disciple known for his doubt, refused to believe his friend’s witness of the resurrected Jesus. When Jesus appeared to Thomas, he rebuked him for his idolization of certainty: “blessed are those who don’t see and believe.” Faith never completely squelches doubt until it is made sight.

COVID-19 introduces a different kind of doubt. The things we thought we controlled slipped beyond grasp in only a couple days. We don’t know when we will be safe. We don’t will happen to our money. We don’t know when this will end. We don’t know what normal will look like when this is over. Uncertainty is our horizon. Jesus teaches us that none of the “guarantees” of this present life are worth our worry. We can’t change anything by worry. The security that we gain in this world is limited to this world and is vulnerable to all invisible threat. The security Jesus offers through faith is eternally protected, and our Father knows what we need (better than we do).

In Lenten season, we choose to fast earthly pleasures in order to relate to Christ who gave up everything when he came to earth. The current crisis brings Christ’s willing deprivation into sharper focus and brings us westerners who don’t often struggle with uncertainty of material well-being into closer relationship with many Christians presently and historically who experienced regular deprivation. Many of them are persecuted. Many of them are ostracized. Many of them are destitute. They all, however, share a common faith that God holds onto them. We can learn from them. This world is fleeting, but God doesn’t change. As we continue to worry over this global crisis, certainty eludes us, but faith doesn’t depend on our certainty. Our faith depends on our Father who gladly supplies it. Our faith doesn’t have to be big; it just has to be present. And faith is present because God is present. Michelangelo’s God – a finger outstretched without touching man – is not our God. He holds us. Though we worry and doubt, he is bigger than both. The world will almost certainly be different after this crisis, but God will not be. He is our guarantee. So let us with feeble faith trust him.

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Lent and Lament

In Lent, we join Jesus in the journey through the wilderness. We join him in self-deprivation where we can rediscover our truest need – our need for his constant abiding grace. Lent is not our journey alone
as individuals. Lent reminds us that our journey is collective. We as the church travel together. Through the journey we encourage each other, confess our sins to each other, pray for each other, and mourn with each other.

Lament is uncomfortable and unpredictable and, in some cases, constant. The longer we live the more likely we are to accumulate grief. Grief comes in various forms: tragedies, secret sins, bouts of depression, doubt, loneliness, broken relationships, hateful words, physical ailments, persecutions and injustices. Sometimes, God removes the reason for grief completely. For others, grief leaves scars and impressions that can’t quite be shaken. They may fade over time but don’t always leave us.

In the community of faith we celebrate our healing in Christ, but for those of us who suffer, our celebration is limited by grief. Our grief can make us feel less human. Rejection and bitterness distort us. Grief deforms us and shames us, so we hide it. In our Lenten journey with Christ and the church, we discover our griefs together. We have a need to be seen, and we are seen. Like Switchfoot’s ecclesiastical hymn The Blues, we say:

It’ll be a day like this one
When the sky falls down and the hungry and poor and deserted are found

Jesus is not unacquainted with sorrows. Jesus did not try to escape grief. He went through it, and he still bears those marks. He never refuses compassion to those who need it. Together in the wilderness, we embrace the discomfort of your griefs and weep. Joy will indeed come, but until it does we mourn with you and you mourn with us.

Our hope of course is that at the end of our wilderness journey, we finally find the kind of joy that erases the memory of our grief. Until then, what do we do? Why does God allow us to carry such deep wounds? One of my favorite reflections comes from Marilynne Robinson’s novel Lila. Lila is a forgotten woman. Treated so poorly through her hard life that she had no idea how to respond to the kindness she received from an old pastor who himself carried deep sorrow from a personal tragedy. The pastor’s compassion won out despite Lila’s best attempts to reject his acts of kindness. At the end of the novel, Lila reflects on the wounds that she carries in the view of invincible grace:

There was no way to abandon guilt, no decent way to disown it. All the tangles and knots of bitterness and desperation and fear had to be pitied. No, better, Grace has to fall over them.

We cannot bear our griefs on our own. We cannot self-heal. We know this. Jesus must heal us. Our griefs remind us to extend our open hands drawing sharp attention to our desperate need for grace. Jesus meets us here and fills our need abundantly.

Though we still lament loss, we are given grace to bear it. Not only to bear it, but to extend the same grace which has fallen on us to others. We share what we have received because in the wilderness of this world we all have the same need for the same grace. By partaking in the cycle of grace, the humanity we’ve lost through grief is restored.

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Wednesday this week marked the beginning of Lent season for Christians around the world. My own worship tradition, the free church, doesn’t participate in Lent. We can probably trace our non-practice through the Puritans and Baptists both of whom rejected many church traditions in order to practice worship that is more mindful of God and directed more explicitly by Scripture. In my mind, their concern was warranted. Human beings produce idols out everything. Our tendency is to create easy button replacement of true worship – something that requires just enough devotion to satisfy our consciences and is easy to repeat. No form of worship is free from tradition either. Free churches either settle with  a “we’ve always done it this way” or a “jettison anything that appears decrepit” approach. Neither approach is necessarily directed toward God and more than likely rooted some human-made form of false worship.

I am not arguing in favor of incorporating the Lenten season in free church worship calendar (we do actually practice an abbreviated version with Good Friday and Easter). I do wonder if a proper reflection on Christ’s life and sacrifice through the season of Lent wouldn’t help us with one of our treasured idolatrous traditions: privatization of our lament and worship. We could cite typical examples of private practice: devotion, praise, confession, repentance – all our appropriate and necessary – but I’m talking about our corporate worship. Our corporate worship is almost certainly instructed by and built in service of our private practice. Worship music is left with just enough meaning for us to fill the gaps with our own interpretations. Ethical applications from Sunday School and sermons are directed toward personal, private practice. Even our most corporate act of worship, the Eucharist, is taken in mournful silence combined with private reflection and private repentance (I think there is something wrong with a mournful Eucharist, but that’s another story). If we’re not mindful of our individualizing tendency, we could all sing the same songs, hear the same prayers, be exhorted by the same sermon but relate everything back to our private experiences.

Some of the more public expressions of our faith our found in the things we fight against.  I’m not talking about sin and temptation. Our doctrinal purity, our apologetics, and our politics are very public. In response to an opinion piece in a popular Christian magazine which argued for empathic treatment of polyamory within the church, one Christian leader wrote: “These are soft men, writing soft words for a soft magazine, published in a soft generation, and all of it guaranteed to go down softly.” Not to say we shouldn’t comment on public sins, but are we open about our own struggles? Do we guard our own rights so fiercely that compassion and mercy appear like second class virtues? While I certainly disagree the original article, I am not sure calling out an entire generation for being soft the same as calling someone to repentance. It sounds angry rather than mournful. It leaves  spiritual wounds open and untreated.

Lent is a fast; a willful denial of basic needs in order to recover the most basic need: Christ. In the Lenten season, the church follows Christ into the wilderness. We face our failures both personal and corporate. The Spirit leads us to repentance. Here’s my public confession. Faced with the temptation to wander or to follow, I have opted for wandering many, many times in my life. I chosen to follow my own way rather than Christ. I’ve preferred the easy life over full devotion. I’ve worried obsessively about things that I have no control over. I’ve failed to be generous. I’ve lost my patience and been angry. I’ve held on to the faults of others instead of forgiving them. I’ve failed to love my neighbor let alone my enemy. Frequently I’ve compromised. Often I’ve failed. Yes, I’m soft.

So I ask: forgive me. Mourn with me over my failures. Show compassion to me. Ask the Lord on my behalf for mercy.

I think Lent leads us to public confession of our guilt – not only to God in our private moments, but to each other our public worship. We ought to be mindful of the voices beside us. Each one making the same confession of sin. Each one proclaiming the same message of praise. Each one encouraging the other through song. Each one proclaiming that we are one in Christ in our struggles and our joys. As we journey through the wilderness of this present life, as we struggle with all evil, as we battle our inner demons, we can lean on each other as we follow Jesus who leads us and keeps us from wandering off. Let us be honest with each other, so that we can help each other be whole in Christ.

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Dear sir,

I am writing to you from my wife’s hospital bedside. I have been here for 6 hours now; she has been here for 11. You should know first, she and baby are fine. The doctor required us to stay over night, which amounts to a mild inconvenience given how much greater damage the accident could have caused. I’m sure you have thought of it  as much as I have.

I am not writing to heap guilt on your head though. We each take our own daily risks by getting behind the wheel. In this situation, I’d rather meditate upon the real mercies than the potential tragedies.

If I may be forward, I can’t stop thinkng about you. I see your face. I hear your voice. I see the pain and distress. I know your illness paints a bleak picture of your future. And I, who am not prone to crying, am nearly moved to tears thinking about you.

Please receive some comfort from this letter. I was thinking about our vehicles. They were transformed in an instant from well-functioning, comfortable transport to permenantly disabled, mangled heaps of scrapmetal. They did their job. They protected their drivers and absorbed most of the force of the collision. Later this week, I will drive on this same road, and there will be no memory of this accident. The road will be clear. Thus, we can say that these vehicles became a sort of witnesses to temporality and fragility of our material lives with which you are no doubt already familiar.

The Psalms in several places have verbalized this idea by describing life as a vapor or grass that fades quickly in the wind. Our own experiences echo their “Amens” when we think of how short our lives actually are, how small we are in the history of time, how in end only God’s eternal memory, which has known us fully from the beginning of time, can protect us from the forgetfulness of time.

These witnesses, lying in the road, destroyed and useless, towed away before the hour had passed, only tell half-truths. For we also stood there alive and relatively unharmed. We have value, and God’s divine mercy is a better witness to our worth than worthless vehicles is to worthlessness of life.

For in his mercy, our deepest wounds which neither time nor medicine could not heal, find their healing. Our sorrows and pains find their end in his own sorrow and pain. Our tears are dried by his tears, and his weeping brings us joy.

For in all these things – in the cross -, divine mercy finds its fullest expression, and we find our deepest sense of worth. As I sit here by this hospital bed, memory of that divine mercy moves me to thankfulness and praise.

I’ve lost many things today. I’ve lost time and opportunity. I’ve lost money and possessions. I’ve probably lost some hair from all the worry. But all these things pale in comparison to the appreciation of God’s mercy that I’ve gained today.

Yes, our totaled vehicles bear witness to the brevity and sorrow of our lives, but His blood speaks a better word to us than does the guilt of our consciences and bears a truer witness to the reality of our worth before God than mangled mess of our vehicles.

In her book Lila, Marilynne Robinson writes, “There was no way to abandon guilt, no decent way to disown it. All the tangles and knots of bitterness and desperation and fear had to be pitied. No, better, grace had to fall over them.” Today, God has shown us mercy and that would have been true no matter what happened. I hope that for you, if you haven’t already, I hope you will find rest for soul in the kindness of Jesus Christ. That the same divine mercy which has held onto us today, would hold you as well. And that all of your being including those bits of lasting pain, sorrow, and sin are plunged into depth of God’s grace so that you would be granted assurance of your worth before him.

Warmest sympathies,

Nathaniel

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My interest in scholarly philosophical and theological thought began in my youth. Much of it was driven by the concerns of the older generation who saw my generation’s waning faith as symptomatic of the subversive influence of our “antigod” culture.  The passion one develops in middle school and high school quickly fades when our professors present us with a rational alternative to the Christian story.

Apologetics became an essential part of my education. I love completeness and tidiness. I thought that with deep thought and good research I could answer almost any question opposed to my faith. My high school science textbooks diverged from time to time to address Creation vs. Evolution questions. I remember attempting to read Josh McDowell’s New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, which was at the time, an authoritative encyclopedia of apologetic evidence for Christianity. I attended conferences, debates, and lectures, and discussed them with my friends. I could listen to Stand to Reason podcasts for hours. Every activity I devoted to studying apologetics honed my thinking about Christianity, Scripture, and the world.

After many years and hours of listening, reading, and discussing, I finally had my fill of apologetic thought – the same questions, the same answers, hashed and rehashed. I was satisfied with the answers, and my interest shifted directed toward theology and biblical studies. After I graduated NC State, I took a half year before enrolling in Seminary. With the same appetite for knowledge and the same love for completeness I pursued academic learning.

I had a new questions to investigate. I had trained my mind through apologetics to seek answers, and theology and biblical studies asked plenty of difficult, interesting questions. At the end of my six years, I had satisfactory answers to many of the questions I initially asked. I also had way more questions to ask. When I started, young and naive, I thought I could discover answers to some of the nagging questions of the Faith – questions like continuity/discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments, Christian use of the Law, and the key to a proper Christian reading of the Old Testament, and other issues that only seem to interest scholars. At the end, less young and more naive, I could only answer those questions by discussing possibilities or providing an answer with a long list of qualifications. Apparently simple questions defied simple answers and required devotion to research with little guarantees that the research could provide tidy or complete answers.

Was I wrong to invest so much time an interest in study into something that provided very little in terms of satisfactory answers? If what I have left after so much study are questions that hold little to no interest to the lay public, what was the value of all those hours? Are my only options to seek information for its own sake? Shall I with Ecclesiastes say: “Vanity! Vanity!” and give up? What value did my academic pursuit add to my life and my faith ultimately?

These are the new questions I ask myself. I admit that I slipped into a mild depression as I sought an answer. These are soul-searching questions. I can only provide some reflections, but these reflections have comforted me lately and re-energized my pursuit of knowledge.

There is a conflict between the local church and the seminary.  We have opposing critiques about what’s significant, and we aim our critiques like canons at each other. One side rebukes the other for their lack of pragmatism and the other for their lack of theological interest. On the one side, we run into the danger of capitulating to cultural pragmatism and thus limiting our interest in Scripture to “how to’s” and instruction manuals. The other side risks a kind of positivism that fails to realize our limitations as human beings and diminishes the vastness of its research subject, i.e. God and Scripture.

How humorous would some passages of Scripture be if the author had substituted “Amen” for how we might actually be reading it? We could consider the many times Jesus spoke, “Amen, amen, I say to you…” as if Jesus were saying, “I have some advice for you. I think this could really help you out.” Or if Paul had said instead of “Amen” in Romans 11: “Oh the depth of the riches…Q.E.D.” as if he were summing up his proof of justification and election instead of concluding in benediction.

When we come to some understanding of God, for instance that God is Trinity, it doesn’t really dispel the mystery. If anything, it embellishes that mystery and we come to the limits of our understanding  (is there anything in the world like the Trinity?). If our concern in reading Scripture is limited to what we are supposed to do, what do we with the parts that are not as immediately pragmatic? In either case, we’re not really affected by the great truth Scripture reveals to us. Only if we end up at praise and benediction, we can arrive at an appropriate response: “This is how God really is. Amazing!”

Scripture often redirects our questions and provides us unexpected answers. Consider Job. He loses his children, his wealth, and his health and for many long chapters he is advised, questioned, and accused by his friends. Job seeks out an answer for his unjust suffering, and we wants God to give that answer. At the end of the narrative, God appears to Job and says basically, “I’ll answer your questions, if you can tell me answers to mine.” God asks Job many unanswerable questions. In effect saying, “if you can’t understand these simple questions, how can you understand why you’re suffering?” Job acknowledges his limitations and receives comfort from it.

Job receives an answer that doesn’t answer the original question. When God reveals himself, he realizes how small his world is and how vast God’s knowledge is. Job, wise as he is, does not have the capability to understand  everything that happens in the world. As readers, we know God makes a bet with the accuser that begins Job’s suffering. We may understand the cause Job’s suffering, but we don’t understand why God would allow or even be in some ways responsible for Job’s suffering. Scripture gives us glimpses of God’s decisions, but we cannot hope to understand the depth of God’s wisdom. He’s out of our league, and our tiny minds could not comprehend all the reasons behind God’s actions.

Personally, I tend toward positivism: Humanity can overcome its limitations through rationalism and science. Positivism has no patience for mystery for the only thing that is not limited in this world is the human capacity to discover and know. I considered all these theological and biblical questions answerable with more reading and knowledge. Our minds, however, were created by God, and our ability to understand and to fashion tools for discovery are gifts from the Creator.

If Job teaches me anything he shows me that I am indeed limited. Some types of knowledge exist in this world which the human mind cannot grasp. Moreover, the most important kind of knowledge is beyond the reach of our best tools to discover it. We learn this kind of knowledge through revelation, and our discovery of that revealed knowledge is subject to a will greater than ours. God decides where and how and what to reveal, and he opens our minds to understand it.

We, limited as we are, still discover great things. We learn, think, and understand, and we wonder, which seems to me to be the most appropriate response when we come to any kind of understanding of God, this world, or his Word. By doing so we avoid the temptation to think that by understanding we own the subject matter we have come to know. We avoid the mistake of pride which itself kills any true pursuit of knowledge. Pride limits the world and the questions we ask as if there are only a few gaps in our knowledge.

True knowledge directs us to worship. In knowing God we know that we are limited. When we come to know our limitations, we recognize the vastness of the knowledge of God. The only proper response is benediction – the pronouncement of “Amen.” With each discovery, our Amen’s ought to become louder and more frequent. For in doing so, we recognize knowledge as a gift, that our tiny minds have the ability to grasp something vast whether in science or Bible or theology causes us to wonder, and that One who willed us to know, revealed himself as an act of kindness toward we who are feeble-minded. This is a great mystery and a great mercy. Amen.

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In Mark 2, Mark describes how a group of friends bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus by removing part of the roof on the house where Jesus was teaching. They were expecting Jesus to heal their friend. He did, but to the great irritation of the religious leaders Jesus’s version of healing included forgiving the man’s sins as well. In this passage, we come face-to-face with a question that still puzzles us today: “Which is easier to say: ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Get up and walk?'” For Jesus, the healing of the paralyzed man is an inside out process, and his physical healing demonstrates the reality of his spiritual healing.

Today, we might say this: “Which is easier: ‘to let someone go despite wrongdoing’ (read “forgiveness” here) or ‘to make them pay?'” In our society, the latter receives the most attention. Movies like Kill Bill, where a woman seeks revenge on her former employers for taking the life of her unborn child and sending to her a hospital in a coma, portray a messy, yet to some degree rewarding view of revenge. At the end of the Kill Bill movies, she locks herself in a hotel bathroom while she laughs hysterically for the joy/relief of accomplishing her revenge mission. Katniss Everdeen, the main protagonist of the book series The Hunger Games, votes in favor of instituting a final Hunger Games, turning the Capital’s (the antagonists) main method of subjugation against them, in order to demonstrate the brutality of the Capital and exact retribution from them. Cultural depictions of revenge often acknowledge its inherent messiness, yet revenge is often glorified as a better alternative than forgiveness. After all, what’s more satisfying than successfully exacting retribution and putting the offender in their place?

Forgiveness, however, does not receive its fair shake. Keira Knightley illustrates this point well when she says: “It’s absolutely extraordinary. If only I wasn’t an atheist, I could get away with anything. You’d just ask for forgiveness and then you’d be forgiven.” It’s too costly for the one wronged and too cheap for the one forgiven. Forgiveness demands no change of course for the forgiven and gives no justice to the ones who have been wronged. Forgiveness offers no satisfaction – at least in the eyes of modern people.

Jesus holds a different view: His forgiveness is a powerful healer. Aside from Mark 2, where forgiveness and healing are presented as part-and-parcel to Jesus’s ministry, take a look at how Luke 4:17-21 talks about Jesus’s ministry:

And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus uses the language of Isaiah to describe his own ministry. Isaiah is using the language of Jubilee where debt forgiveness receives a central focus. The prisoner is no longer a prisoner because he is free. The blind is no longer blind because he can see. The debtor is no longer a debtor because he is forgiven. Forgiveness is truly a powerful thing if it can accomplish that!

So we come around once again to Mark 2. Jesus healed the man from the inside out. Forgiveness does not come cheaply for Jesus, but he gives it freely to those who need it and ask for it in faith. For those who receive his forgiveness, their outlook on the world is different. They are no longer rebellious outcasts but faithful children. No longer are they to perpetuate injustice; they are to be beacons of justice. They are to be lovers of God and of people. They are not perfect, but they seek to live lives that forgiveness frees them to live. Forgiveness does not allow us to live how we want without consequences. No, forgiveness frees us to live the way were made to live without condemnation.

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Writing for the church

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been kicking around ideas for putting what I’ve studied and taught in Sunday School and at Southeastern into text. While I don’t think that what I’ll say is a “new” or “fresh” perspective on an issue, I hope that what I write provides a way for people who don’t have the time or resources to go to seminary to share in the benefits from my learning. My education would only really be a waste if I kept it to myself.

Here are a couple of the projects I’m thinking about right now:

Amos Today: How Amos’s words calls today’s church to action. I’ve been studying Amos in my Septuagint class.  In his message to Israel he describes the depth of Israel’s sin and coming judgment of God on his people. We are met by a holy God who cares about what his people do. His words are tough yet gracious since they since he reminds of the importance of how we live in his world. Even the “mundane” matters to God!

What the Psalms say about… A few months ago I team taught a 13 week series on various types of Psalms. Instead of dividing the psalms by their genre, we asked how the psalms address different situations in our lives, how they guide our worship, how they structure our prayers, and how they shape our understanding of God and faith.

In addition to these topics, I’ve been struggling with what the content should look like. I would like for this book to be useful in small groups.

How detailed should the book be? How much attention should the book pay attention to academic matters?

On the flip side, how devotional should the book be? How can both the “academic” and “devotional” elements be blended together?

If this book’s target audience is small groups, what kind of material would be beneficial for small groups?

The biggest question I have to answer is how much do I let questions we ask today shape the material?  The biblical text often (and ought too!) reshape the kinds of questions we ask and I need to pay special attention to that.

There’s a lot of work to be done, but I’m hopeful that by God’s grace I can produce something that is useful to my brothers and sisters in Christ.

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Septuagint Presentation

One of my assignments in my only class this spring semester is to present on Amos 2. The presentation covered everything  from  evaluating important textual issues to developing sermon/teaching outlines. It was fascinating to try to get into the mind of the Greek translator as he struggled to translate the Hebrew text accurately and present a version that his readers could understand. The presentation went excellently, and I just want to tip my hat to those who made this long process of research go smoothy.

First, my partner, Matt Christian, was a great cog in the machine that made this process go well. Our conversations about the little things (we spent an hour at least on one word during our first meeting) and the big things (we opened the library every Monday) was extremely valuable.

Second but not really second, My good friend, Jacob Cerone, always provided solid guidance and good recommendations for resources to consult for my research. This project would not have gone nearly as well without him. His friendship continues to be invaluable.

Thirdly, I’d like to provide an abbreviated annotated bibliography on a few works I found most helpful for this project.

Glenny, Edward. Finding Meaning in the Text: Translation Technique and Theology in the Septuagint of Amos.

If there is any book that I found helpful in getting my mind around what’s going on in the LXX of Amos, it was this one. He provides a detailed discussion on translation theory as well as a detailed overview of the changes the translator made and why he may have made them. This resource is excellent, and I think is helpful even if your research in the LXX is not focussed on the book of Amos.

Dines, Jennifer. “Stylistic Invention and Rhetorical Purpose in the Book of the Twelve.” Et sapienter et eloquenter: Studies on Rhetorical and Stylistic Features of the Septuagint.

I found anything that I read with Jennifer Dines’s name on it was gold. Her discussion here as well as her dissertation on the book of Amos were insightful. In this article, she lists rhetorical features that she finds in the Greek text but not in the Hebrew. She also gives her reasons why she thinks the translator may have added those rhetorical features. This short article was excellent and thought-provoking

Paul, Shalom. Amos: A Commentary on the Book of Amos.

Shalom Paul’s contribution to the Hermeneia Commentary series is a good one. His attention to the details of the Hebrew text (and the Greek!) really helped me think through many of the finer issues of translating, evaluating textual differences, understanding the meaning of words and difficult constructions, and comprehending the passage as a whole. Once again, I recommend this work for any serious study of the book of Amos.

Rudolph, Wilhelm. Joel-Amos-Obadja-Jona. Kommentar zum Alten Testament XIII/2.

This volume is dated, yet I still found his notes on textual issues informative and helpful. The details are amazing, and he helped me form an understanding of what was going on with the differences between the LXX and the Hebrew text.

Lastly, I just want to say that this project was one of most challenging that I’ve ever done. I’ve learned more about God’s Word in Amos than I’ve learned before (and I’m only at the beginning  of the book!). I’m looking forward to further discussions on what Amos has to say to us today.

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Define “Sarcasm” –  the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really want to say especially in order to insult someone, to show irritation, or to be funny (Merriam Webster).

Example: I love very few things more than memorizing enough vocab to win at German scrabble.

While my use of sarcasm also contains a heavy dose of overstatement, I really do not love to memorize words. This statement shocks no one, I’m sure. I, however, was home schooled. Typically, we home schoolers have (at least) the entire English dictionary memorized by the time we reach high school. I never grasped the practice.

Since I am a student of both Greek and Hebrew, I know the immeasurable benefit of memorizing words, namely, being able to read. I am now in the process of learning another language: German. In the first two weeks, I have memorized the English glosses of nearly 500 German words. Trust me, the fun is in the reading. Actually, memorizing Worten hasn’t been too schlecht. Plus, the more vocab you have memorized, the easier time you have in figuring “fun stuff” of syntax.

Let me tell you something. Prepositions put the Furcht Gottes in any potential language learner. German is no exception. My vocab memorization was going a lot like a Schiff in guten Wetters…until I got to prepositions. Then my nice Schiff hit some scharf rocks. Sure, April Wilson tells you that the discussion on prepositions is overwhelming and that the material is really only reference material. If you’re really going to learn a language, you’re going to have to learn the prepositions. No question. It still hurts when you come across a Wort wie “gegen.”

While prepositions are nasty in any language, German loves to stick it to you. Apparently, German prepositions can change the meaning of verbs, come after the object of preposition, or even be split up in the phrase. Yes, fun stuff indeed. I feel a little hypocritical at this point since a non-English speaker accused English of similar crimes. Non-English speakers, ich leide mit dir.

Don’t let this somewhat negative post deceive you. Ich leibe Deutsch. I love learning languages. I love the prospect of being to read and enjoy the language (even the nasty prepositions). I only hope to communicate that memorizing viele Worten, as painful as it is, is probably one of the most best ways of truly learning a language. It will remove many road blocks and lead to a more satisfying experience.

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