Friday, July 25, 2014

Come, Holy Spirit and Quench our Thirst!

We are a dehydrated people.  
Nothing will quench our thirst and end the drought 
but God pouring out his Spirit once again.  
Only a fraction of the promise was fulfilled 
at the time of the apostles.
Must it not now be fulfilled on a larger scale?
This stream of the Spirit will come--
let us await it with confidence.
The thirst is almost killing us,
and people are deteriorating both
inwardly and outwardly.
But now,
because we need this Spirit, 
God will give it again.

--Johann Christoph Blumhardt

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

REZ Band--Some of My Favorites

I spent some time on Youtube and traveled a little down memory lane.  REZ Band was one of my favorite bands in the 1980's.  Here are some of my favorites.

The Chair

Tears in the Rain

Three Seconds

Monday, July 21, 2014

When Death Comes

Russel Saltzman has a fine piece entitled Five Rules for Consoling the Dying.  The whole piece is worth reading but I was especially by these words:
First, if you are approaching a bedside, try not to act like a novice Optimist Club member, all hale and hearty and booming of voice. I know you are trying to cheer people up, but that’s not the way to do it. Ginned up bon ami “let’s do lunch soon” camaraderie makes me wonder if you can see reality.
But, as somebody is always saying, where there is life there is hope, right? Good cheer is part of that, right? Sure, but let’s keep it real. For Christians the ultimate hope that cheers us is lodged elsewhere than in a firm bedside handshake.
Nobody’s getting up from this bed, understand. This room, these faces looking at the patient, those things on the wall, these are all that remain of a life that once enjoyed more, much more. Things have gotten smaller now. The world has become vastly diminished, constricted. Hope of getting the grass cut this weekend or doing any of those other small ordinary things that mark the pace and even the pleasures of our life—those are over and of no concern.
With that last paragraph I couldn't help but think of my own father's death and all that led up to it.  I then realized that unless death comes for me very quickly my world will shrink down--"become vastly diminished, constricted"--and the rhythms of life I now enjoy will be over.  In light of this I feel both saddened and enlivened.  Saddened--it wasn't meant to be this way.  Sin is so utterly devastating and ugly.  Enlivened--Jesus has been raised from the dead!  He will raise me and all his people up to eternal life.  The specter of death still roams and runs but there is Another--the destroyer of death.  I believe in the resurrection!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

How Love Wins by Steven Curtis Chapman

A beautiful song from the perspective of the thief on the cross next to Jesus who asks to be remembered by Jesus.  I especially love the words, "This is how love heals the deepest part of you, letting Himself bleed into the middle of your wounds."

Cutting and Self-Injury: Some Biblical Considerations

* The following is a piece I wrote in response to a question of whether the Bible really is against cutting.  This was written to respond to a specific question and not to give a full pastoral approach to this issue.  I would recommend the book Inside a Cutter's Mind: Understanding and Helping Those Who Self-Injure by Jerusha Clark with Dr. Earl Henslin for a fuller discussion.  As will be obvious, I'm writing in response to a married Christian woman.  

I want to attempt to provide a Scriptural approach to “cutting.”[1]  I think it’s important to define cutting.  We are not talking about a medical doctor doing surgery with a scalpel.  Cutting is the deliberate damaging of the body to provide relief from mental, spiritual anguish.  One author states it this way:

The majority of sufferers…cut or burn because they seek relief from seemingly uncontrollable pain or deadening numbness.

Later she writes:

People who engage in self-inflicted violence are usually not trying to end their lives; instead, they are attempting to find temporary relief from their pain.  Self-injury is most often used as a survival technique rather than an exit strategy.[2]

I think it’s important to understand not only what cutting is, but why someone might be engaging in cutting.  The Bible speaks to both actions and internal motives.  So even if there is not a specific verse that speaks about modern day cutting the Bible has a great deal to say about the internal states of our hearts and motives.

What I attempt to do below is to look at various Scriptures that are relevant to the issue of cutting.  It’s important to look at all of Scripture.  The passages below should be taken all together.  I don’t think any one of them specifically deals with cutting but taken all together we begin to see God’s mind on our bodies and how to view them.  We can then ask, “Is cutting consistent or inconsistent with this picture that God gives us in his word?” 

1.     Leviticus 19.28  (also Deuteronomy 14.1-2)  “You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the Lord.”

I realize that this verse is not directly speaking to contemporary cutting--you are obviously not doing it “for the dead.”  This commandment speaks of cutting and tattooing as a religious acts in seeking other gods.  What I would point out, however, is that this issue of cutting comes up in an idolatrous context.  It doesn’t appear in the true worship of the true and living God.  I am going to argue, based on the evidence, that God is a God of healing.  The other religions are to some extent motivated and energized by the evil One and he is one who is destructive.  That is why we find in the religions surrounding Israel practices that undermine the value of humans.  Think, for example, of child sacrifice.  The pagan nations surrounding Israel engaged in this destructive behavior whereas God told his people Israel not to do this.  The true and living God is a God of life and his worship practices reflect that.  Yes, blood sacrifice is needed but God graciously gives the animal sacrificial system which points to the ultimate sacrifice of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ.  Watch for this pattern--where does cutting show up in Scripture?  What we will see is that is shows up in places where idolatry and the evil One reign--not in the midst of the true worshippers of God.

2.     1 Kings 18.28  “So they cried out with a loud voice and cut themselves according to their custom with swords and lances until the blood gushed out on them.”

Again, this is a context of idolatrous worship and not directly relevant to contemporary cutting.  Yet, again, notice where cutting does show up in Scripture--among those who don’t know God and are enslaved to a false system of religious belief.  God provides detailed instruction for his people in the Old Testament on how to worship him and these instructions do not include the cutting of the body.[3]

3.     Mark 5.1-20: Jesus and the man with many demons (Legion)

Verse 5: “Constantly, night and day, he was screaming among the tombs and in the mountains, and gashing himself with stones.”

In the Old Testament we’ve seen that false religions (motivated and empowered by demons) has the cutting of flesh involved.  Here we see when someone is in bondage to the demonic there is, again, the cutting of flesh.  This behavior is marked out as “out of the normal” and when Jesus casts out the demon the man is “clothed and in his right mind” (v. 15).  Presumably has stopped cutting himself.  Can we really imagine him sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to Jesus and still engaged with cutting himself? 

I think we begin to see a principle here.  Jesus said that the “thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10.10).  Jesus referred to the devil as a “murderer” (John 8.44) and he is also referred to as “Apollyon” which means “destroyer” (Revelation 9.11).  Cutting is a destructive way in which to seek relief.  It fits with the kinds of lies the evil One tells. 

4.     1 Corinthians 6.15-20

There is some crucial teaching about the physical body of the Christian here in these verses.  We need to recognize that the context is about combating sexual immorality.  But in the process of speaking about this issue the Holy Spirit through Paul states important truths about the physical body.  Here a few of the items worth noting:
a.     “your bodies are members of Christ” (v. 15)

Paul reasons from this that we shouldn’t take our bodies and make them members of a prostitute.  What we do with our bodies intersects with Christ himself.  The same would seem to go for cutting.  For a Christian to cut themselves is, in a sense, to cut Christ’s body.

b.     “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” (v. 19)

The body is not some optional piece of meat to be discarded or overlooked.  Our physical bodies are the dwelling place of God’s Spirit.  This leads to a positive concern for the body.  Does the Holy Spirit want his temple cut?

c.     “you have been bought with a price therefore glorify God in your body” (v. 20)

We have been bought by the blood of Jesus and this has implications for how we are to treat our bodies.  We do not belong to ourselves—we belong to Jesus as his blood-bought and redeemed people.  Cutting is not consistent with Christ’s loving ownership of us.

5.     1 Corinthians 7.3-4 “The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband.  The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.”

Again, this passage doesn’t discuss cutting in particular but the principle spoke of here is applicable.  For a married couple there is a sense in which their body is not their own—it belongs to the other.  There is a fundamental union that includes the body.  The context is obviously that of sexual intimacy within marriage but the principle seems to be applicable to cutting.  You are not just cutting your body.  You are cutting what the Bible says belong to your husband.  As a married woman you cannot think of what you do your body as merely affecting you.  You are united to your husband.  Because he loves you your husband does not desire that you cut your (and his) body.

6.     Ephesians 5.28-29 “So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church”

We see in this passage a presumption that there is a natural inclination to protect one’s body.  This is right and good.  Furthermore, a husband is to be like Jesus.  He is to nourish and cherish his wife as Christ does the church.  Can we really imagine Jesus “cutting” his bride so as to punish her or numb her?  Your husband is seeking to nourish and cherish you (including your body) by helping you not to cut and you are expected to let him love in this way.

7.     There a number of questions that should be asked about any activity we engage in as Christians.

a.     Can this activity of cutting be pursued in faith?  According to Romans 14.23 Paul writes that “whatever is not from faith is sin.”

b.     Can the activity of cutting be pursued in the community of Christ?  Does this activity increase your love for the body of Christ?  The classic passage is, of course, 1 Corinthians 13.4-7.  Would it be loving for you to desire others to be cutting themselves?  I think the answer to that question is, “no.”  Would it be loving of the congregation for them to desire that you cut yourself?  Again, I think the answer to that question is, “no.”

c.     Can the activity of cutting be seen as consistent with walking in the Holy Spirit and his fruit?  Galatians 5.22-23 lists out the fruit of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control…”  Work through that list one item at a time and ask yourself whether cutting is consistent with each aspect of this list.  For example: “Is my cutting indicative of self-control?  Is my cutting consistent with the joy of the Lord?  Is my cutting consistent with the peace of God reigning in my heart?”  I find it hard to believe that cutting can be a Spirit driven and guided activity.  The Spirit is life (Romans 8.10) and promotes that which is consistent with life.

d.     Is the activity of cutting oneself a way to glorify God?  1 Corinthians 10.31 states: “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”  Whatever you do—including cutting.  Is cutting a way to glorify God?  Can you honestly and sincerely pray, “Lord, I am about to cut myself for your glory.”?

Again, like I stated at the beginning, none of these verses by themselves says, “Thou shalt not cut” (although the texts in Leviticus and Deuteronomy come close!).   The point is that by taking all of Scripture together we can begin to understand God’s heart on this issue.  Once we begin to understand what cutting it and why it is done I think it’s fairly clear that such an activity is inconsistent with the character of our heavenly Father who loves us and gave his Son for us.

[1] Another attempt at a scriptural look at cutting and self-injury is found here:
[2] Jerusha Clark with Dr. Earl Henslin Inside a Cutter’s Mind: Understanding and Helping Those Who Self-injure (Think, 2007), pp. 21, 42.
[3] The one point at which God does command cutting in the Old Testament is the circumcision of males as a sign of the covenant (Genesis 17.10-14).  This is different from the on-going cutting engaged in by the pagan nations surrounding Israel.  This is a one time cutting to be done to an eight day old male baby.  The purpose and reason for this cutting is given by God.  He speaks to the what and why of this cutting.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Some Recent Comments on Inerrancy

Last November (2013) the theme for the Evangelical Theological Society was given over to the topic of the inerrancy of Scripture.  The recent issue of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society contains a few pieces from the November meeting.

Robert Yarbrough delivered his presidential address entitled, "The Future of Cognitive Reverence for the Bible" (JETS 57/1: 2014, 5-18).  Yarbrough's essay is worth reading in full but I wanted to highlight just a few items.  I especially appreciated his definition of "cognitive reverence":
"I call this 'cognitive reverence' in that is privileges Scripture over human reason, experience, and tradition, without in any way denying that reason, experience, and tradition are necessary and welcome factors in how we go about understanding Scripture." (p. 8)
This is exactly the right stance for evangelicals to take in regards to the Bible.  If we affirm that the Bible is God's revelation to humanity then "cognitive reverence" is precisely the correct way to approach the Bible.  I have often thought in terms of "epistemic priority" that should be granted to the Scriptures but Yarbrough's "cognitive reverence" has a nice nuance.  "Reverence" is due to the living God and Yarbrough's phrase reminds us of this.

Yarbrough concludes his essay in this manner:
"I do not deny that we need continual refinement in our views.  Challenges and opportunities arise constantly.  The Chicago statements on inerrancy and hermeneutics, while compelling, can be improved upon.  But I think Jesus' response to the devil is suggestive for our response to calls to lighten up on our high view of the Bible.  'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God' (Matt 4:4 ESV).  Jesus regarded Scripture as words from God's mouth.  That should be understood analogically, of course, and not crudely literally, but the integral link between God and divine enscripturated speech remains.
"I am optimistic that Jesus' approach to the Tanach, already revered as holy in his day, retains value for Jesus' followers as they approach the whole canon of writings acknowledged in the Bible of the church.  Let me put that more strongly: in light of Jesus' dogged recourse to written Scripture from his temptation to his scriptural words from the cross, how is something like inerrancy not an entailment of discipleship?  Kevin Vanhoozer poses the question this way: 'how can we follow Jesus is we cannot follow with the utmost trust the words that oriented his own life?'"  (p. 17, emphasis added) 

Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Genre of Horror

My wife was teaching a literature class and she was discussing Poe's work as an early example of horror.  Some of the students wondered why they needed to read this genre.  She asked me to speak for a few minutes on why we need this type of literature.  I read some in the work of Brian Godawa.  His essay "A Theology of Horror Movies" was originally published in Chalcedon Journal (May and June, 2002) and can be found online.  I also came across his piece An Apologetic of Horror after I shared with the students.

Part of what I tried to do was to show that the Bible itself contains images of horror.  I looked at the following passages: Jeremiah 9.20-22; Ezekiel 9.1-11 (esp. vv. 5-8); Ezekiel 16.1-43; Revelation 14.9-12, 14-20.  Many of these are set in the context of idolatry.  We grow comfortable with our God-dishonoring ways and the biblical portrait of the radical evil of rejecting the living God is needed.  There are also a number of texts speaking about cannibalism: Deuteronomy 28.53; 2 Kings 6.28-29; Jeremiah 19.9; Lamentations 2.20; 4.10; Ezekiel 5.10.  I also spoke of a few texts in Proverbs linking illicit sex with the images of destruction: Proverbs 7.1-27; 9.13-18.

Here a few quotations from Godawa's An Apologetic of Horror:

The prophet Daniel wrote horror literature, based on images and drama pitched by God to him in Babylon. Not only did God turn the blaspheming king Nebuchadnezzar into an insane wolfman to humble his idolatrous pride (Dan. 4), but He storyboarded horror epics for kings Belshazzar and Darius as allegories of the historical battle between good and evil to come. Huge hybrid carnivorous monsters come out of the sea like Godzilla, one of them with large fangs and ravishing claws to devour, crush, and trample over the earth (7:1–8) until it is slain and its flesh roasted in fire (7:11); there are blasphemous sacrileges causing horror (8:13), including an abomination of desolation (9:26–27); angels and demons engaging in spiritual warfare (10:13); rivers of fire (7:10); deep impact comets and meteors colliding with the earth, Armageddon style (8:10); wars, desolation, and complete destruction (9:26-27). The book of Daniel reads like God’s own horror film festival.
 The book of Revelation is an epic horror fantasy sequel to Daniel, complete with science fiction special effects, and spectacles of horror darker than anything in a David Cronenberg Grand Guignol theater of blood. In this apocalyptic prophecy we read of a huge demonic spectacle of genetically mutated monsters chasing and tormenting scream ing people (9:1–11); armies of bizarre beasts wreaking death and destruction on the masses (9:13–18); a demonic dragon chasing a woman with the intent to eat her child (12:3–4); a seven-headed amphibious Hydra with horns that blasphemes God and draws pagan idol worship from everyone on earth (13:1–10); massive famines (6:8); gross outbreaks of rotting sores covering people’s bodies (16:2); plagues of demonic insects torturing populations (9:1–11); fire-breathing Griffon-like creatures (9:17); supernatural warfare of angels and demons (12:7); the dragging of rotting corpses through the streets while people party over them (11:7–13); rivers and seas of blood (14:20; 16:3); a blaspheming harlot doing the deed with kings and merchants (17:1-5) who then turn on her, strip her naked, burn her with fire, and cannibalize her (17:16); more famines, pestilence, and plagues (18:8); and when the good guys win, there is a mighty feast of vultures scavenging the flesh of kings and commanders in victory (19:17–18). And I might add, this all gives glory to God in the highest. 
This is exactly the tactic God uses with his prophets under both Old and New Covenants. God uses horrific explicit images in order to put up a mirror to cultures of social injustice and spiritual defilement. God used gang rape of a harlot and dismemberment of her body as a metaphor of Israel’s spiritual apostasy (Ezek. 16, 23), and the resurrection of skeletal remains as a symbol for the restoration of his people within the covenant (Ezek. 37). Our holy, loving, kind, and good God also used the following horror images to visually depict cultural decay and social injustice: skinning bodies and cannibalism (Mic. 3:1–3); Frankenstein replacement of necrotic body parts (Ezek. 11:19); cannibalism (Ezek. 36:13–14; Ps. 27:2; Prov. 30:14; Jer. 19:9; Zech 11:9); vampirism (2 Sam. 23:17; Rev. 16:6); cannibals and vampires together (Ezek. 39:18–19); rotting flesh (Lam 3:4; 4:8; Ps. 31:9–10; 38:2–8; Ezek. 24:3, 33:10; Zech 14:12); buckets of blood across the land (Ezek. 9:9, 22:2–4); man-eating beasts devouring people and flesh (Ezek. 19:1-8; 22:25, 27; 29:3; Dan. 7:5; Jer. 50:17); crushing and trampling bodies and grinding faces (Amos 4:1; 8:4; Isa. 3:15); and bloody murdering hands (Isa. 1:15, 59:3; Mic. 7:2–3). Horror is a strongly biblical medium for God’s social commentary.