Saturday, July 30, 2011

Nadab & Abihu

You’ve probably heard the story from Leviticus 10 of Nadab and Abihu. They were two sons of Aaron killed by God for offering “strange fire” before the Lord. As the story is traditionally taught in Churches of Christ, Aaron’s sons fail to follow the pattern of worship given by the Lord, so Bam! God sends down his own fire and fries them in their place. And so it goes, we’re taught, for anyone who goes beyond what’s written.

Only problem is, we see in the very same chapter of Leviticus that God doesn’t always zap those who fail to follow the pattern. Aaron’s two remaining sons, along with their father, refuse to eat the offerings commanded by God. Aaron explains their reasons, and Moses, at least, is satisfied.

God must want us to consider, meditate on, and even speculate on the Scriptures. Otherwise he wouldn’t give us the kind of ambiguity we find in Leviticus 10. But problems flare up, of course, when we go beyond what’s written and teach our speculations as facts.

Copyright 2007, 2011, A. Milton Stanley

Commentary resource: TfD

The name was enough to catch my attention: Torah from Dixie, a website offering commentary on weekly Torah readings from the Jewish community of Atlanta. As a goy, I've learned something from reading devout, non-Christian interpretations of the books of Moses. If you're interested in reading "scholarly comments with a properly deep-fried flavor," you can easily access articles through the site's archives.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

581 million miles without him

One year ago today my wife and I got up in the morning to find my father dead in his bed. He had lived a good, long life--almost 89 trips around the sun, most of them with his wife and boys nearby. For the past few years he had lived with my wife and boys as Alzheimer's tore through his mind and body. We were blessed that he never forgot who we were--even after he, quite literally, forgot how to swallow. One of the few blessings of that awful disease is that in his final months he forgot some of the pain of losing my mother, who died in 1999 after 57 trips around the sun as his wife.

In the past year the earth has traveled 581 million miles around the sun. That's 939 million kilometers. It's a distance I've traveled many times before, but never without my daddy.

Assurances that'll I'll see him in heaven one day, or reminders that our Heavenly Father is still going strong, simply don't do much for the pain. But praise God, indeed, that this world of rising and falling, of finding and losing, of learning and forgetting, and spinning around and around and around and around, is very surely not the whole story.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

More goodies for preaching, teaching, and study

Here's another site that's new to me: Working Preacher, featuring commentary on lectionary texts, primarily by OT and NT scholars. The site is maintained by Luther Seminary, and commentary tends to be from a mainline Protestant perspective.

If you do lectionary preaching, you'll want to check out their home page or lectionary calendar page. If you're looking for brief, often insightful commentary on particular biblical passages, you'll want to use the site's Bible Reference Index.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Online treasure chest

Since beginning in 2005, this weblog has been devoted to sharing links to the best online sources for preaching and Bible study. Yesterday I came across one that's jaw-droppingly rich: Ministry Matters, an online resource of United Methodist Publishing House in Nashville.

The site's library section contains a treasure chest of online commentaries including The Interpreter's Bible, New Interpreter's Bible, Abingdon OT & NT commentaries, Believer's Church Bible Commentary (one of my favorites), and Storyteller's Companion to the Bible.

If there's a catch, I haven't found it yet. I highly recommend the site.

You've heard it before . . .

. . . but it's worth repeating: What if the Hokey Pokey really is what it's all about?

Friday, July 08, 2011

John 3:5 - Born of water & wind

"Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." - John 3:5 (KJV)

If you've been studying the Bible for a while, you're probably familiar with the ambiguity of "water" in this verse (Does it mean amniotic fluid, baptism, spiritual cleansing, the Word of God, or some combination?). That's confusing enough, but there's at least as much ambiguity regarding what, in translation, seems very straightforward: "the Spirit."

First of all, in the original, Greek language of the New Testament, the word for spirit is pneuma. In addition to what we think of as "spirit," pneuma can also mean breath or a movement of air. The best example of this biblically less common use of pneuma occurs a mere three verses later, when Jesus says, "the wind [pneuma] bloweth where it listeth." The KJV is usually helpful in italicizing words added to the English translation but not present in the original manuscripts. That's what they did, for example, with of in John 3:5. Yet in this same verse, the KJV and most other English translations insert another word: the, right before "Spirit."

And why does any of this matter? It matters because most English translations (the NET Bible & LEB among the few exceptions) obscure the intense ambiguity in Jesus' use of pneuma in John 3:5. If pneuma can mean wind, and there was no "the" in front of it, then Jesus, in effect, told Nicodemus, "unless someone is born of water and wind, he can't enter the Kingdom of God." Now, that's confusing.


Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Let everything praise the Lord

Psalm 148 calls on everything to praise the Lord. And it’s not just calling human beings to sing praise, but also angels, wild animals and cattle, birds and reptiles, sea monsters and trees. Even what people nowadays don’t consider alive—the psalmist calls them to sing hallelujah, too: sun, moon and stars; lighting, clouds, wind, and hail; mountains and hills. God created all of it, and it’s right that everything in heaven and earth praise him.

Of course, modern thinking explains why all these things aren’t really praising God: the psalmist was merely imitating songs of pagan nations; the hymn simply reminded ancient Israel to worship the creator rather than his creation; the psalm uses personification for poetic effect.

I’m not buying it. We may not understand the language of deer and hawk and carp, of dirt and wind and stars. But that doesn’t matter. When we lift up our voices to praise Jehovah, we’re never singing solo.

© Copyright 2007, A. Milton Stanley

Digging through the closet

In addition to new writings and links to helpful web sites, from time to time I'll be posting short essays from one or more of my other blogs. Next up is one of my own favorites from the now-defunct Milton's Daily Dose.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Loved ones and 2 Cor. 2:12-13

In The Four Loves C.S. Lewis tells of Augustine's warning about loving anyone or anything but God--anything, in short, guaranteed sooner or later to pass away.

I don't know how well I understand Augustine, but I can relate to the fear of growing too deeply into earthly attachments. I take great comfort in the company of my wife and children, but I worry sometimes about becoming too dependent in them, of relying so much on earthly kin that love drifts imperceptably into idolatry. According to Jesus, these kinships are the very kind that can separate us from God (Luke 14:26).

But 2 Cor. 2:12-13 shows the other side. When Paul came to Troas he was disappointed not to find Titus, who would have provided a rest for Paul's spirit. Eventually, Paul did meet up with Titus and found comfort in his presence (2 Cor. 7:6-7). Though Paul could be content in any circumstance (Phil. 4:11), he took special comfort in a beloved son (Titus 1:4). The point? Faithfulness isn't stoicism.

Paul wasn't alone in such a view. Jesus, after all, sent out his ambassadors in pairs, and in his own night of anguish Jesus himself sought the company of his three closest friends.

The OT makes clear that God created human beings to share life in community with one another, and that as long as the Lord builds the house, loving human relationships are very good. That should already be clear enough to a Christian. But sometimes it's good to be reminded that taking joy in our loved ones is even better than OK.