Tuesday, June 27, 2006
If I am counting right the best received post I have placed on my blog is "Jesus: Welcoming Friend of Sinners." I am still prayerful about it. Here is a quick link to the post if you have not read it before:
Where to Begin?
I have long been fascinated by the enigmatic figure of Huldah. I discovered Huldah in 1988 in an “OT” Survey class reading through the Bible. We never actually discussed her and I am not sure we could have done so. But I never forgot her. She has been a poltergeist floating in my mind for nearly 20 years!
Here was this woman placing a stamp of authenticity on Scripture, interpreting it and exercising authority over men . . . all at the same time! I did not know what to do with her. Since then I have been involved in many discussions regarding women in Scripture. Invariably I am told a woman never exercised authority over men with God’s approval because Paul forbade it. I then ask, “What about Huldah?” The response is almost (without exception) “Huldah Who?”
Here are two representative samples (out of many that could have been picked) of some attitudes towards women’s role among conservative Christians. I mention these not to make fun, nor to demean, but simply to illustrate my point:
“Prophets were not preachers. They did not preach; they did not do the work of a pastor nor the work of an evangelist, nor of a Bible teacher. To prophesy means to foretell the future. A prophecy is a revelation of the future. A prophet is a man who receives a divine revelation. A prophetess is a woman who receives a divine revelation concerning the future.
Prophetesses never preached in the Bible. They received brief divine revelation to give to individuals, but were never sent to preach, to address public assemblies as expounders of the Word, nor to do the work of a pastor or evangelist.”
John R. Rice, Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives and Women Preachers
(Sword of the Lord Publications, 1941), 48-49
“Lindy Adams’ article dealing with the role of women reveals an area of debate that fails to consider the heart of the problem. We are not saying a great deal about the role of women in the secular realm. This is the heart of the issue. This the area in which all the problems of leadership originate. But the first question we must answer is, “Does the Bible authorize women to be in positions of authority over men in any area of life?” It is my belief and one in which I would debate, that women have no biblical authority to be over men in any area of life. Her subjection role was given at creation and has never been changed.”
Tony Demonbreun, “Letter to the Editor,”
Christian Chronicle 61 (December 2004), 31
But there is another perspective. It comes from a 9 year old little girl. I did not ask for this, but Rachael gave it to me. She knew I was studying for this presentation [for ACU] and got out her Bible. She laid out on the floor next to me and asked where she could read about Huldah. She went off and made a ‘report’ (we do this often for our home schooling) on Huldah and gave it to me on Friday night . . . If you do not mind I would like to share it with you. Please bear in mind this is written by a 9 year old girl.
The Prophetess Huldah by Rachael Valentine
The King of Jerusalem sent the priest Hilkiah over to Huldah to speak to her she said to him a message from the Lord, to be sent to the King. The Lord God is ruler over Jerusalem. The people will be under a curse. The fire of my anger won’t be put out. I am doing this because for so long have you worshipped the Baals. You will be with your ancestors. You won’t see what I am going to do to this place.
God is having a little trouble with people [sic]. He is troubled with the people’s disobedience to the Covenant. The Covenant was a promise to only to worship God. But as I said, they had been burning insence [sic] to the Baals, breaking the Covenant. Obviously, Huldah is warning them, giving them a chance to repent. And repent they do. The King of Jerusalem gathered a meeting of all the people. They burned offerings to the Lord. The King sent away the priests who served other Baals. The people are trying to get out of God’s anger.
My daughter, Rachael, told me what to say. If any of you would like to have some encouragement let us know while we stand and sing.”
The open faith of a child . . . Sounds quite a bit different than what we saw a moment ago from some older men. I laughed until my stomach hurt at that last line, but I was so moved by it I asked her if I could share it with you.
What is a Prophet?
You will recall that Rice stated that a prophet simply predicts the future, that a prophet never acts the part of an evangelist, nor as a Bible teacher. (One wonders if he ever heard of Jonah? Or Moses? Surely these prophets were evangelists and bible teachers) Others, like LaGard Smith (and I am not picking on him), take away from the authority of the prophetic ministry by saying prophets were only ad hoc agents and the “real stuff” of God was located in the priesthood. I have serious problems with characterization. Can we come to a biblical definition of what a prophet is?
1) In Exodus 7.1 Yahweh says “See I make you as God to Pharaoh and Aaron your prophet.”
2) Amos 7.16 Amaziah says to Amos “Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Israel.” The parallelism here make it almost certain that “to prophesy” and to “preach” are the same thing.
3) Paul says in 1 Cor 14.3 that “those who prophesy speak to other people For their up building and encouragement and consolation.”
From just these very select passages it is clear that a prophet speaks a word from God. Some times a prediction but more often it is not. The prophet preaches the word of God to build up, to encourage and to console . . . and to challenge.
Female Prophets in Scripture
For those who know who she is, Huldah has been either an irritant or an inspiration. But she need not be the former for there are other women with the honor of “prophet”
Miriam (Exodus 15.20; cf. Micah 6.4)
Deborah (Judges 4-5)
The False Prophet Noadiah (Nehemiah 6.14 . . . False for not telling the truth, not because she is a woman)
Wife of Isaiah (Isaiah 8.3)
Huldah (2 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 34)
False Female Prophets of Ezekiel (13.17-23, cf. vv. 1-16 for false male prophets)
Anna (Luke 2.36-38)
Female Prophets of Pentecost (Acts 2.17-18)
Philips Four Daughters (Acts 21. 8-9)
Corinthian Female Prophets (1 Corinthians 11.4-5)
The Bible of the early Church also contained wonderful stories of other great women of God like Susanna, Judith and Greek/Old Latin Esther . . . Wonderful narratives of women in the service of God. In Tobit, Sarah (wonderful prayer of hers) and Anna are brought to life. We should avail ourselves to these tales of faith and courage by women of God.
Setting of the Huldah Narrative
Huldah is extremely important to the history known as Joshua-Samuel-Kings and also Chronicles. Most of the names we think of when we here the word “prophet” are not even mentioned by either of these histories. Jonah and Isaiah (“writing prophets”) are mentioned in Kings. Jeremiah is not, to my knowledge mentioned at all. In Chronicles Isaiah is mentioned as is Jeremiah mentioned briefly as the author of a lament over Josiah (2 C 35.25) and in 2 C 36. 12, 21. He is never mentioned in connection with Josiah’s reform . . . But Huldah is given considerable space (comparatively) by both Kings and Chronicles.
As we shall see the Huldah narrative is central not only to the Josiah episode but to the entire structure of Chronicles (where I will spend most of my time). Here is a structural outline that highlights what I mean:
A. Formulaic Introduction (34.1-2)
B. Cultic Purification of Judah & Jerusalem (34.3-5)
C. Cultic Purification of the North (34.6-7)
D. Discovery of the Book (34.8-18)
E. Prophecy of Huldah (34.19-32)
D’ Implementation of the Book (34.29-32)
C’ Cultic Purification of the North (34.33)
B’ Celebration of the Passover (35.1-19)
A’ Extended Formulaic Conclusion (35.20-36.1)
This structure, known as a chiasm, places Hudah’s work as the theological and structural center of the Josiah narrative. It stresses the authority of the prophetic word and scripture. The king and the people stand under the prophetic word.
Josiah’s Question (read 34. 14-21)
In response to the discovery of the “book of the Law” Josiah is alarmed. But he is not foolhardy. He needs to know if this work is authentic . . . If it is “true.” What Josiah does next fits well with what we know from Assyrian parallels of Esarhaddon and Nabonidus. When the king receives an oracle or an omen he would “double-check” it with another “god.” Josiah has just received bad news (an omen!) and wants to know if it is really the word of the Lord. So he “double-checks” so to speak with the Prophet Huldah.
So Josiah sends five men to “inquire of Yahweh.” Not just any men but some of the, if not the, most important men in the nation. It might pay to reflect on who these men are for just a moment:
1) Hilkiah the High Priest. The highest spiritual leader in the country.
2) Ahikam son of Shaphan. The Shaphan family is important in Judah. Ahikam is father of Gedaliah who becomes governor (2 Kgs 25.22)
4) Shaphan the Secretary. He is basically the secretary of state or chief of staff for the king.
5) Asiah the king’s attendant.
These men are important in ancient Judah both theologically and politically. We should not miss this fact.
Josiah’s instruction to these five men is “inquire” or literally “seek the Lord.” “Seek” is a major theme in Chronicles. God seeks seekers in Chronicles. Josiah does not “seek” for himself alone but for the entire people of God (v. 21). The question is a question about authenticity and interpretation: “seek/inquire . . . ABOUT what is written in this book.” Is it true? Will we die? Is there no hope? These are significant questions, in Josiah’s day and our own.
Enter Huldah Who? (34.22-28)
When Josiah was in the midst of a great spiritual and moral crises, Huldah is the single person to whom he turned. We do not know if Josiah told these men to go to Huldah but that is what they did. The King wanted answers and these five very important men went directly and naturally, apparently, to Huldah!
Given our history, and disposition, one is disposed to ask “why Huldah?” The question is even more important when we realize that there were male prophets active at this time. Most “famously” would be Jeremiah. But Zephaniah, Nahum are also active prophets at this time and Habakkuk would be prophesying by no later than 612. Another male prophet is mentioned in the narrative, a “Jeduthan” who is called the “king’s seer” (35.15) So why her? One scholar opines, “It is clear that Huldah was a major cult official, and her reputation in her own time probably was greater than Jeremiah” (John Otwell, And Sarah Laughed: The Status of Women in the OT, p. 158). I think in light of Huldah’s place in the narrative of both Kings and Chronicles and the relative silence regarding Jeremiah and other prophets that Otwell is probably correct in his opinion.
After the longest “introduction” given to a prophet in Chronicles (Hicks, p. 296) we hear the word of God flow from the lips of a female prophet. (READ 34.23-28).
Huldah “authorizes” the Book. She places her stamp of approval on the content as truly from the Lord. For the first time in history (that is recorded) we read of a writing being declared to be scripture . . . And a woman did it! As another has written,
“The authority to pass judgment on this initial entry into the canon was given to a woman. At the beginning of the Bible we find Huldah; in her we discover the first scripture authority. . . How could we have lost sight of her all these years” (Swidler, p. 1783)
Huldah's authority is unquestioned by the king or his men. I have to conclude that she likewise had the authority to declare the "book" to be a fraud. If she would have declared it to be a hoax I do believe that Josiah would have believed her. But her authority is what gave the book credibility and power. But she did more than authenticate the book.
Josiah had placed the burden of the guilt of Judah in the past (v.21, “because of our fathers”), Huldah places the burden in the present (v.25, ‘they have forsaken me”). Please note that Huldah did not only place her stamp of approval on the book brought by the High Priest and his entourage. She became its interpreter. She set its announcement of doom in Judah’s contemporary condition. In fact I believe there are three implicit claims made by Huldah . . . And endorsed by the inspired authors of Kings and Chronicles. These claims are in “authorization movements”:
1) Huldah began as an authoritative person, one who made a claim, recognized by the king, the high priest and the secretary of state as a legitimate claim, to speak for the Lord God of Israel.
2) Regarding the text she claimed the authority to declare it worthy of obedience and representative of the will of God in the present day (of Judah)
3) She judged the validity of the text vis-à-vis history by interpreting it in light of the present condition.
These are no small claims but these are in fact what the Chronicler describes Josiah and the People of God giving her . . . And he does himself.
By way of just passing notice does not Esther do the same in Esther 9.29, 32?
Huldah the Female Prophet of God did the following things: she declared this book to be scripture, she interpreted it and applied it for and to both men and the nation of Israel as a whole.
Huldah in Light of Chronicles’ Theology
The second half of Huldah’s oracle gives a positive word to Josiah. Because he repented and “humbled” himself before Yahweh he would not see these evil days. The term humble oneself is a key theme in the larger framework of the book. It appears in a number of significant passages which are not found in the parallel accounts in Kings.
A key to the Chronicler’s use of the term “humble oneself” is 2 C 7.14. After Solomon prays at the temple dedication, the Lord promises that the peoples prayers will be heard if they “humble themselves”. In the Chronicler’s account, Rehoboam is spared when he “humbles himself” (2 C 20). Hezekiah humbles himself before the Lord in 2 C 32.36. Manasseh is spared and restored to the throne in 2 C 33.12 and 19 because he “humbled himself” before Yahweh. Josiah is spared destruction in his day because he humbled himself before God. This is the only one of these passages which is paralleled in Kings. What is important for our purposes is that the Hebrew root is used only once in 2 Kgs 22.19 but the Chronicler uses it twice in 2 C 34.27 in order to emphasize it.
The last occurrence of the term “humble oneself” in the book of Chronicles is also significant and forms a climax to the mercy theme God grants to those who are humble before him. This is found in 2 C 36.12 in the introduction to Zedekiah. He did “evil” in the sight of God and the Chronicler adds “he did not humble himself” before the word of the Lord.
This theme expressed by the word “humble oneself” ( ) runs through out the Chroniclers account of the kingdom from Solomon’s prayer to the fall of Jerusalem when Zedekiah refuses to humble himself. The use of “humble himself” twice in the prophecy of Huldah makes her articulate one of the most important concerns of the Chronicler himself. Far from being a peripheral character she expresses the heart of the theology of Chronicles.
This theological analysis lends support to our previous structural analysis suggesting that Huldah is not a “who” but a very important person in the history of redemption.
What is Huldah’s legacy? Does she have one? Yes and No! If her legacy was great in the modern church I would not have titled my presentation “Huldah Who? The Forgotten Story of a Female Prophet.”
But it has not always been so. She has been an inspiration to both men and women of God through the centuries beginning with our biblical historians. They did not want her forgotten . . . Historians are selective in what they can place in a work and they made sure she was included. That says a lot, I believe. If we had only Kgs we would never even know Jeremiah or Amos existed . . . But we would know of Huldah!
The early church recognized her greatness (along with other women of God) in the prayer for the ordination of a deaconess in the Apostolic Constitutions (Fourth Century A.D.):
“O eternal God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Creator of man and of Woman, who filled Miriam, Anna, Deborah and Huldah with the Spirit . . . Look upon your servant who is chosen for the ministry and grant her your Holy Spirit.”
Women from our own history like Abigail Roberts, Nancy Towle, Rebecca Miller, Sadie McCoy Crank, and Selina Holman have felt the call to ministry or teach . . . And all appealed to Huldah. Miller for example appealed to Huldah as an example of women serving the Lord in ministry:
“That Huldah, being an approved prophetess of the Lord, was consulted by Josiah, the penitent king of Judah, to whom she sent so thrilling a message from the Lord that it cause all Judah and Jerusalem to tremble and turn to the Lord” (quoted in Brekus, Strangers & Pilgrims, p. 218)
Elizabeth Cady Stanton defended her work on behalf of women’s rights by appealing to Huldah. In her mind Huldah was one of the greatest of all God‘s servants:
“The greatest character among the women thus far mentioned (in the OT) is Huldah the prophetess, residing in the college in Jerusalem . . . Her wisdom and insight were well known to Josiah the king; and when the wise men came to him with the ‘Book of the Law,’ to learn what was written therein, Josiah ordered them to take it to Huldah, as neither the wise men nor Josiah himself could interpret its contents . . . We should not have had such a struggle in our day to open the college doors (to women) had the clergy read of the dignity accorded to Huldah. People who talk the most of what the Bible teaches often know the least about its contents.” (quoted in Phipps, p. 15).
Huldah is an incredible woman of God. She was called by God to be a prophet. She had a great reputation in ancient Israel. She did in fact exercise authority by the very nature of her ministry. She is the first person to declare a text scripture but she also interpreted and applied it to her day. She stands at the very heart of the Josiah narrative and in fact his reform movement was the result of her prophetic work. But the Chronicler also uses her to articulate one the central motifs of his entire work . . . The theme of mercy given to those who humbly seek the Lord.
One of our own, C. R. Nichol, wrestled with Huldah in a book written in 1938 called God’s Woman. This is an amazing book. As we close our time together I would like to share some of his conclusions from studying Huldah:
“Sex relationship was the same in the days of Huldah that was in the days of the apostles. Huldah was inspired by the Holy Spirit to teach a group of men, and she did teach them without violating the law of Jehovah. Though we do not have inspired men and women today, it does not follow that a group of men may not be taught by a man, or a woman. (God’s Woman, p. 30).
I do not have all the answers to the tough questions regarding women, or even, men in God’s church. But I do know this that we need to deal with all of God’s word and we need to deal with it honestly. We need to let Huldah challenge our notions. It is simply not the case that a woman has never exercised authority over men with God’s approval. Huldah did that . . . And much more. Must Huldah remain “Huldah Who?” Can we not be like Josiah and Hilkiah and learn from her?
Hesed & Shalom,
Thursday, June 15, 2006
A couple weeks ago I went, like many of you, to see that movie The Da Vinci Code. I had in fact read the book in the fall of 2004 and hoped it would go the way of all bad literature. But that was not the case. There was one arresting scene in the movie that I did not recall in the book however.
Professor Langdon, Sophie Neveu, and Professor Teabag (I mean Teabing) are escaping France on Teabing's private jet. During the flight Sophie interrogates the monk, Silas, on his culpability in her father's death. After a semi-violent exchange Neveu says "Your God does not forgive murderers, he burns them."
It was a dramatic moment in the movie and it made quite an impression on me. The God she refers to is the "Christian" God regardless of Silas' abuse of the word. Is this what Dan Brown thinks of the Christian God? Is it true that the Christian God does not forgive murderers? Is he a merciful God? Is the view that Sophie reflects one that is common to our "Christian" America?
Does that assertion represent simply an emotional outburst on Sophie's part or does it truly reflect her worldview? Given the context, however, of the book/movie I can only draw the conclusion that it truly reflects her worldview. This is, it seems to me, to be a bold theological statement about the character of God.
But is it true? Does it reflect anything at like the character of God revealed in Scripture and supremely in the life of Jesus of Nazareth? I have to say once again that this is one of Dan's biggest hooters (see the previous post Dan Brown's Top 10 Hooters http://stoned-campbelldisciple.blogspot.com/2006/06/dan-browns-top-10-hooters-nearly.html).
The Torah relates the story of a man by the name of Moses. Exodus 2.11-15 tells us that Moses took justice into his own hands and murdered an Egyptian task master, becoming a fugitive of the law. The Lord saw fit to make this man, next to Jesus, the greatest mortal to walk the face of the earth. We will be singing the "Song of Moses and the Lamb" for eternity. What mercy was shown.
Dr. Luke tells the story of a man named Saul. This man was the ancient counter part to Osama bin laden -- a religious terrorist. Luke gives us but one example of his calculating coolness in the face of the death of one follower of the Way (Acts 7.54-8.1). Saul would later tell us that he was give grace by God and made an apostle for the cause of the Nazarene. He became the pattern of grace for all (1 Timothy 1.12-17).
But perhaps the greatest rebuttle to Sophie's theological judgment of the character of God is seen in the Gospels Brown wishes to cast aside. Jesus was dragged before a packed court, arraigned on bogus charges, brutally beaten, hauled through the streets, and nailed to a cross. As he hung exposed before all the world, to die due to jealousy and hate, the crowd still taunted him.
In the midst of it all, we have perhaps the greatest and most forceful rejections of Sophie's false view of God. Through the commotion of hate we hear a voice that made even the demons quake
"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23.34)
Those are, perhaps, the most amazing . . . and thus the most unbelievable words . . . in the entire canon of Scripture!
Sophie was wrong. Sadly, her theology is embraced by many who would follow the Nazarene. But if her theology were true, what would have happened to Moses? to Saul? and the jeering crowd before the Cross?
Perhaps another more disturbing question would also be: Are we Christians proclaiming a message that is more in tune with what Sophie hears or what Jesus says on the Cross?
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
The number Seven appears in scripture many times. For example the Sage tells us there are "six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable in his eyes" (Pr 6.16-19). God rested on the seventh day and blessed it with shalom. For some reason the Bible likes seven. In that spirit I have decided to relate Bobby's Seven's . . . the Seven things that are my favorite . . . in appropriate categories.
1) Seven Favorite People
2) Seven Historical (non-biblical) People I would Like to Meet
- Judith (if she was real - bold faith & courage)
- Eric the Red
- Sojourner Truth
3) Seven Things I Want to Do Before I Die
- Live my lifetime with Pamella
- Watch my girls grow into mighty servants of the King
- Complete the Ph.D
- Go sky diving
- See the Pyramids
- Have great friends
- See Jesus
4) Seven Greatest Non-Biblical Books
- The Iliad/Odyssey (sorry can't separate them)
- Confessions of Augustine
- The Knights Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer
- The Imitation of Christ
- Siderus Nuncius by Galileo
- The Prayer of Manasseh (Tobit or Judith could be here too)
- Lord of the Rings/or Chronicles of Narnia
- Oh, I almost forgot . . . Kingdom Come!! :-)
5) Seven Things that Attract Me to Pamella
- Her eyes sparkle
- We have great conversations about art, books, organic veggies :)
- She is tough as nails ... you have to be to run marathons
- I love to hear her sing. One of my favorite times of the week is hear Pamella sing at church call me crazy but I love her voice.
- Pretty Woman (read Song of Songs 4.1-15 or listen to Roy Orbison)
- She is fun. I simply enjoy her presence. She completes me. I know I take her for granted but I really do thank God for bringing us together.
Tobias prayed regarding his beloved bride Sarah on their wedding night this really does sum up my hopes and dreams for this life. I used to dream of being a famous scholar but I have changed my view over the year. Nothing compares with being the husband of Pamella Gayle Valentine. To the prayer ...
Blessed are you, O God of our ancestors,
and blessed is your name in all generations forever.
Let the heavens and the whole creation bless you forever.
You made Adam, and for him you made his wife Eve as a helper and support.
From the two of them the human race has sprung.
You said, 'It is not good that the man should be alone;
let us make a helper for him like himself.'
I now am taking this kinswoman of mine, not because of lust, but with sincerity.
Grant that she and I may find mercy and that we may grow old together."
6) Seven Favorite Books of the Bible
- (I cheated!)
7) Seven Greatest Movies
- Star Wars (hands down the greatest movie ever made)
- The Shootist
- Hotel Rwanda
- Lord of the Rings
- Absent Minded Professor
- Revenge of the Sith
Well there you have it! Bobby's Seven Seven's. I am sure I could come up with more but these show that I am a very uncomplicated person. Of course there are many others I would love to meet, C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, Martin Luther, William Tyndale, Helen of Troy (they fought a war over her), and many more. I would love to see the cave art of the Lascaux Caves, Easter Island, get lost in the Louve, learn Mayan, be confined to St.Cathrine's for a month. Feel free to add your Sevens.
Hesed & Shalom,
Monday, June 12, 2006
I recently found myself at my second most favorite place, Half Priced Books (the first is Caribou Coffee) and picked up three interesting looking books.
The first I have already read a third of: Joshua Zeitz, “Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern.” My wife is also interested in this one. It is a fascinating window into the roaring ‘20s.
I picked up Ralph C. Wood’s “Flannery O’Conner and the Christ-Haunted South” and look forward to getting into that.
And I picked up Bob Ekblad’s “Reading the Bible with the Damned.” With a title like that I could not pass it up.
I have been reflecting on an unusual pattern I have noticed in Scripture . . . the type of people Yahweh almost always uses to provide leadership among his people. This is the one trajectory that we often fail to discern in Scripture. Perhaps we fail to see this pattern because we tend to squeeze the life out of the text and thus turn the people into flannel board characters.
I grant that God wants his leaders to be men, and women, of good reputation, models of purity and the like. But I have to ask myself given the way we sometimes treat our leaders and the apparent perfectionism we often hold them too -- I think we would eliminate most of the leaders that God himself has appointed. Most of our leaders are in fact "damaged goods." But I would contend that does not disqualify a person, rather that person then becomes a model of the transforming power of God's grace in the life of an individual.
Just think with me for a moment about the leaders of God's People down through the ages -- please note that the one theme that ties these folks together is they are "damaged" goods. For example:
1) Noah had a drinking problem
2) Abraham was a liar and a compromiser of his wife (he passed this legacy down to his children -- not much of a father in that regard)
3) Judah had that shameful episode with Tamar . . . if there is a page we censor from our nine and ten year old it is usually this one
4) Moses was a murderer
5) Aaron made Idols on the side
6) Gideon tested God (repeatedly)
7) Jephthah did the unthinkable to his daughter
8) Samson -- well I wouldn't let my daughter be caught dead with him
9) David, the man after God's own heart -- called "the shepherd of my people", broke every law in the book save the Sabbath commandment (and the text is simply silent on that) -- he abused his power, he lusted, committed adultery, committed murder of his loyal subject, he lied and on I could go.
10) Hezekiah and Uzziah are shown to be men with feet of clay
11) Manasseh, the practitioner of magic, witchcraft, murderer of his own son in a pagan ceremony is made by God ruler of his people (2 Chr. 33.1-20)
12) Hosea had an adulterous wife and a horrendous family life
13) Jonah -- what more needs to be said?
14) Matthew had a "reputation" for he was a nasty tax collector
15) Peter denied, publicly, of any knowledge of Jesus, he goofed in Antioch
16) Paul was a blasphemer, murderer, and certainly had a "reputation"
17) Finally Jesus himself had a certain reputation (a glutton and a drunkard they said)
Go through the "hall of fame" of faith in Hebrews 11 and ask who are NOT "damaged goods." Precious few!
My point here is that when we look for leaders we do not automatically exclude the sister or brother with "a past." What we need to look for is a person who has been walking trustingly in the faith. A person who is a living testimony to the grace of God. I have been part of churches where none of the persons listed above would have made the cut -- because they were "damaged goods." But WHY did God choose these very people? Perhaps Jesus' words to Simon shed light on the reason: "who will love him more?" Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled." (Luke 7.36-50). Paul said THE reason he was chosen was precisely because he was the world's greatest sinner (1 Tim. 1.15-17).
Being of good reputation does not mean never fallen, never blacklisted, never bruised, never damaged. Would David be "qualified" to be an elder? He is called a Shepherd, King, a man after God's own heart. Would Paul be qualified? I had a Shepherd that was a recovering alcoholic and I believe he was one of the most qualified men I have ever served with. People who have been damaged, people who have been clobbered by the world in the past -- often times are the very ones who have just what it takes to give strength to the weak, bind the sick and injured, to be the instrument of mercy rather than judgment (see Ezk. 34).
Far from saying that we are "lax" I believe that by finding our Pauls, Davids, Mannassehs, Abrahams, and the like shows to the world that we are people in the redemption business. God takes broken lives and transforms them into whole, meaningful and God oriented lives. Mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2.13b).
Damaged Goods are close to the heart of God -- at least that seems to be one of the patterns of scripture to me.
Hesed & Shalom,
What would happen if there was a breach in the "space-time continum" and the U.S.S. Enterprise found itself up against, not the Borg but the Death Star and Darth Vadar? For many of us we can only imagine but one person has found out. If you too would like to know just click on the following link:
Not quite as funny as the Evolution of Dance but still very creative.
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
One historian recently wrote that we, in the Churches of Christ, are "an argumentative bunch." That is an apt description of what has made us, as a people of God, tick. We have argued! We have argued with Baptists. We have fought the Methodists. And we have wrestled with the Catholics. We have argued with each other over virtually everything under the sun from versions, orphan homes, autonomy to Zionism.
There was a a time when arguing was, perhaps, not such a vile thing. Most of the folks looked like us, talked like us, and lived like us. They believed in God, Christ, the Bible, and basically had the same white, middle class, value system. In that kind of environment it was easy to focus on minor areas of disagreement, which typically had little (or no) impact on actual Christian living. It was only by focusing on these matters of minutiae that we were able to make ourselves "distinct." So we argued. And we became experts on the forensic platform.
But if September 11, 2001, has not done anything else it has done this: It has taught me that I need to understand the times! Just in case we have missed it by our arguing -- September 11 told us the world has radically changed. It has been changing all along . . . but we simply were unaware. Our eyes were wide shut!
Our world was wracked by massive social upheaval in the civil rights movement. It had witnessed numerous political assassinations. The powder keg of Vietnam left many in a moral daze. A president resigned . . . Yes our world was in deperate need of a Word from God and so we debated the Herald of Truth, fought the election of JFK, slandered King as a communist. We published tomes on the "Dangers of Modern Versions" and largely became irrelevant to the lives of people living now. We did not address the issues of living now.
But 9/11 has shown us we no longer have the luxury of arguing. We have not had that luxury for a long time. We as Christians must lay aside petty issues and focus on the real issues confronting this world in its absolute chaos.
Today in the United States there are more Muslims than members of the Church of Christ and the Episcopal Church combined. Today those around us are asking serious, and even frightening, questions that we must be prepared to answer. There are issues faced by teens today that most adults can not imagine. It is time for us to understand the times. It is time for us to reject the wiles of Satan who would distract us from being the real salt of the Earth. It is time I realize that most folks do not share a biblical value system. It is time I realize that the Baptists or Christian Church, despite our differences, in light of the horrible evil of 9/11, are hardly my enemy. The world left "Leave It to Beaver" in the 1950s, that world does not exist (if it ever did). It is time for us to enter the real world of the 21st century and do battle with the real Enemy.
Until we understand the times we will be ineffective in ministry to the world. September 11 was our wake-up call. Are we still sleeping? Do we have a word from God for today?
Monday, June 05, 2006
Greetings from Milwaukee . . . What follows does not replace our "Praying through Romans" rather this is just a "report" on some exciting reading I discovered.
Sometime back I shared my discovery of praying with the saints. This has richly blessed me in my walk with the Lord in many ways. I have learned many prayers by heart, developed many "relationships" across the centuries and have come to value that sense of spiritual companionship that is, unfortunately, often missing from Christian communities today. And we rarely have a true doctrine of the universal church . . . I would like to share a blessing that has come my way.
I bought a book yesterday called Prayers from the East: Traditions of Eastern Christianity, ed. Richard Marsh (Fortress Press, 2004). There are prayers and prayer cycles from the Syriac, Coptic and Armenian churches . . . ancient fellowships of Christians that have stood outside the sphere of influence of Western Christianity. The prayers that follow are from the Coptic (Egyptian) Christians and are midnight prayers (not far from midnight now).
Perhaps we need to imagine ourselves in a monastery out in the desert with the monks gathering together midnight prayer. The quality of the spirituality of the desert is special and this has long been a significant underpinning for Coptic Christianity. It is a Christianity forged in the crucible of the desert where emptiness heightens the sense of God's presence.
In the prayers that follow there is a feeling of urgency and the immincence of the end times. They are a meditation based on Jesus' parable of the wise and foolish virgins. Jesus is the Bridegroom and the Church is called to be watchful and ready for his coming. These are not bad themes for the church at the beginning of the 21st century . . . it is not often that the "end times" works its way into our prayers . . . corporate or otherwise.
I am grateful for this from these prayer warriors . . . but to the prayers:
"Behold, the Bridegroom comes at midnight. Blessed is that servant whom he shall find watching, but he whom he shall find sleeping is unworthy to go with him. See, O my soul, that you grow not heavy with sleep, lest you be cast outside the Kingdom, but watch and cry aloud saying, 'Holy, holy, holy are you, O God!' For the sake of the birth-giver of God, have mercy upon us.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
O my soul, consider that terrible day and awake and light your lamp with the oil of gladness,because you know not the hour when that cry comes upon you saying, 'Behold the Bridegroom is coming.' See, O my soul, that you sleep not, lest you be found outside, knocking like the five foolish virgins, but watch, that you may meet the Lord Christ with oil of fatness and that he may grant you the true wedding of his divine glory.
Both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen."
Another prayer said at midnight using the same themes is as follows:
"O heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, who are everywhere present, and fill all things, O treasury of good, and bestower of life, come and dwell in us, and cleanse us from every stain, and save, O Good One, our souls.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
As you were with your disciples, O Saviour, and gave them peace, come also and be with us, and save us, and deliver our souls.
Both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen."
One last prayer from the parched desert at midnight pulses with urgency . . . to be graced by the Gracious One:
"O Lord, hear us, have mercy on us, and forgive our sins. Lord have mercy.
Holy, holy, holy, O Lord of Sabaoth, heaven and earth are full of your glory and your majesty. Have mercy on us, O God, the Father Almighty.
O holy Trinity, have mercy upon us.
O Lord of hosts, be with us, for we have no other helper in our tribulations and necessities but you.
Loose, remit and pardon, O God,
our transgressions that we have committed
voluntarily and involuntarily,
consciously and unconsciously,
secretly and openly.
O Lord, remit them for the sake of your holy Name,
by which we are called,
according to your mercy, O Lord,
and not according to our sins. Amen."
(prayers come from pages 68 and 69 of Prayers from the East)
We could do worse than to teach ourselves and our congregations to pray for awareness of the times . . . and seek forgiveness in anticipation that the Bridegroom's will return . . . and soon!
Friday, June 02, 2006
Greetings from the land of Admirals, Brewers, Cheese and Harley's. As I was praying with Paul in Romans, through lectio divina, I was captivated by the notion of "bragging" or spiritual arrogance in our relationship with God. As I ruminated on that picture generated by Paul my mind drifted to another spiritual text. One filled with the opposite attitude displayed before God.
My mind was taken to the Prayer of Manasseh. It is one of the most beautiful pieces ever written, in my opinion. First I will give the text of Pr of M in its entirety from the NRSV and then make some comments upon the text.
"O Lord Almighty, God of our ancestors,
of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and their righteous offspring;
you who made heaven and earth with all their order;
who shackled the sea by yor word of command, who confined the deep
and sealed it with your terrible and glorious name;
at whom all things shudder, and tremble before your power,
for your glorious splendor cannot be borne,
and the wrath of your threat to sinners is unendurable;
yet immeasurable and unsearchable is your promised mercy,
for you are the Lord Most High, of great compassion, long-suffering and very merciful, and you relent at human suffering.
O Lord according to your great goodness you have promised repentance
and forgiveness to those who have sinned against you, and in the
multitude of your mercies you have appointed repentance for sinners,
so that they may be saved.
Therefore you, O Lord, God of the righteous, have not appointed
repentance for the righteous, for Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, who did
not sin against you, but you have appointed repentance for me, who am a sinner.
For the sins I have committed are more in number than the sand of the sea; my transgressions are multiplied, O Lord they are multiplied!
I am not worthy to look up and see the heights of heaven because of the
multitude of my iniquities.
I am weighted down with many an iron fetter, so that I am rejected because of my sins, and I have no relief; for I have provoked your wrath and have done what is evil in your sight, setting up abominations and multiplying offenses.
AND NOW I BEND THE KNEE OF MY HEART, imploring you for your kindness. I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned, and I acknowledge my transgressions. I earnestly implore you, forgive me, O Lord, forgive me!
Do not destroy me with my transgressions!
Do not be angry with me forever or store up evil for me;
do not condemn me to the depths of the earth.
For you, O Lord, are the God of those who repent,
and in me you will manifest your goodness; for unworthy as I am,
you save me according to your great mercy,
and I will praise you continually all the days of my life.
For all the host of heaven sings your praise, and yours is the glory forever.
Now brothers and sisters that is a rich prayer. Its author is well aware of his (or her) lack of standing before God. It expresses in moving language the full conviction of the infinite grace of God.
In the great Geneva Bible the Pr of M was included as an appendix at the end of 2 Chronicles. It was included in the LXX and the other ancient versions of the Hebrew Bible (Old Latin, Vulgate, Syriac, etc).
If one reads carefully there are some distinct echoes especially with Luke's writings. Luke consciously mined the Psalm and Prayer treasures of Judaism (as reflected in the LXX) in his writing style . . . and there are a number of echoes from this Prayer in Luke.
The high esteem of the Patriachs is reflected also in the Apostle Paul who argues that Israel is "loved on account of the Patriarchs" (cf. Romans 11.28).
That God is especially interested in the repentance of sinners is seen in a number of Luke's phrases: "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance" (5.32); Jesus refers to the 99 that do not "need to repent" (15.7)
In Luke's telling of the "sinner" in the temple in contrast to the arrogant self-righteousness of the religious man . . . there are a number of echoes from this magnificent prayer. Both v 8 and 9 have distinct verbal parallels in Luke's story. Luke writes:
"the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven . . . and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner."
These two phrases are used by "Manasseh." We read "you have appointed repentance for me, who am a sinner . . . I am not worthy to look up and see the height of heaven . . ."
It is indeed an interesting fact that these nearly identical phrases in the Greek text occur in such close proximity, and in the same relation, in both Manasseh and Luke.
The beautiful prayer, of which much more could be said, teaches like Luke's recording of the Prodigal Son . . . God is indeed the God of the penitant. His mercy is grand and breathtaking.
Is it any wonder that some folks saw fit to preserve this prayer. Luke, it seems to me, enjoyed some of its phrases . . . and its theology.
See what can happen when we pray with Paul :-)
I am delighted by all the discussion of unity lately (that is much better than silence). I do not believe unity is unattainable simply because I happen to believe that all Christians are ALREADY unified in Christ Jesus. Our problem is trying to divide what God by his grace has brought together. Here are a few "baby steps," if you will, toward maintaining what God has created:
1) Our congregational prayers should include regular prayers for the unity of the local church, as well as the church universal;
2) Emphasis should be placed in demonstrating that the Communion is in fact a "sacrament of unity" -- unity with God and unity with each other. These two simple things can heighten our awareness of the importance of unity in God's plan;
3) Unity can be stressed by promoting " gospel meetings" (etc) of congregations that you may or may not particularly like or agree with; cross the divide and support your brothers and sisters even if we do not agree on a laundry list of issues;
4) Shepherds and ministers can model a "spirit of unity" among the flock by their gentleness and Christlike spirit on so called controversial subjects and persons and;
5) finally have a Sunday class or Wednesday on a book such as Leonard Allen's Distant Voices. I think even the recent work of John Mark Hicks and myself could help us with a godly vision, Kingdom Come. There are some outstanding recent works that can help promote healing and dialogue. I think of Jack Reese' The Body Broken and Rick Actchley and Bob Russell's Coming Together. A little unifying history in our blood may do us some good.
These are "baby steps" but I do believe they can be of help.
Ut omnes unum sint (John 17.21, Vulgate, "that they may all be one")
Thursday, June 01, 2006
Nearly everyone on planet Earth has heard of The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown. As of May 2006 there have been 60.5 million copies of his book sold and translated into 44 languages! If he makes one dollar off of every book sold . . . he is set for several life times. It is now a blockbuster hit approaching 150 million at the theater. But I do not begrude him that. I have read the book and seen the movie (I went with my colleague last Tuesday).
The DaVinci Code has the label "Fiction" on the back cover, I wonder if that label covers the story only or the details as well. Brown claims, in a note at the start of his book, first that the architectural details of the places mentioned are correct and second that there really is a secret society called The Priory of Sion to which people like Da Vinci himself, Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo, and others belonged. But Brown is careless, extremely careless, about his "facts" to the point of being simply absurd or lazy. A simple internet search could have eliminated most of the faux paus. Despite the claims for even accuracy of architectural details Brown simply reveals his top ten hooters for all the world to see.
The Top 10
10) Westminster Abbey does not have spires
9) There are no frescos in Notre Dame
8) Why would Isaac Newton be afraid of the Roman Catholic Church in 17th century England? (perhaps Brown never heard of the Reformation!)
7) Constantine collated the Christian Bible at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325.
6) There was a close vote on the deity of Christ at the Council of Nicaea. There was a vote regarding Arianism. The vote was 218 to 3 . . . if it were not for the hanging chads Constantine may not have won the day!!
5) Q was a "gospel" possibly written by Jesus' own hand (DaVinci Code, p. 343)!!.
4) The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the 1950s and is a collection of the earliest Christian writings. These hooters just keep getting better don't they!
3) Jesus is portrayed with more "human traits" in the Gospels banished by Constantine. This one is patently absurd! Jesus looses all identification as a real human being in the Gnostic texts of Thomas, Philip, Peter and the recently discovered Gospel of Judas. In these texts Jesus becomes a super deity with little connection to the flesh and blood.
In fact the canonical Gospels stress the humanity of Jesus as much as the deity of Christ. As John says "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God." This is the deity for sure. Then it says "the Word became flesh." That is the "humanity" of Jesus. Indeed, Jesus gets hungry, tired, overwhelmed with stress . . . and the most "human" trait of all he dies! And in Gnostic theology this most of all human traits is simply denied.
2) Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. In fact Grail scholar Professor Lee Teabag . . . I mean Leigh Teabing . . . in a show of unbelievable ignorance overwhelms Sophie Neveu with a citation of the Gospel of Philip
"There were three who always walked with the lord: Mary his mother and her sister and the Magdalene, the one who was called his companion. His sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary."
The brilliant Teabag, I mean Teabing, says "As any Aramaic scholar will tell you, the word companion in those days, literally meant spouse" (DaVinci Code, p. 246). There is no Aramaic word for "companion" in the Gospel of Philip for an Aramaic scholar to define. Philip is written in Coptic, not Aramaic. Second the word "companion" in the Gospel of Philip is a Greek loanword (not Aramaic) koinonos which does not mean wife or spouse but "companion," "friend," or "associate."
In all of the ancient literature, Orthodox or Gnostic, there is not a single place, in ANY "Gospel" that even alludes to a marriage or "romantic" relationship between Jesus and Mary. The writings of Paul, the "Gospel" of Peter, "Gospel" of Thomas, "Gospel" of Philip (cited by Teabing), "Gospel" of the Egyptians . . . not even the "Gospel" of Mary Magdalene suggests the existence of this secret love of Jesus (Bart Erhman has a very good discussion on this in his Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code, pp. 141-162. Erhman is a "happy agnostic" on the subject of religion so I find his writing especially interesting though I disagree with him on many details as well).
1) Jesus was not thought of as "divine" until the infamous Council of Nicaea. As Teabag, I mean Teabing says
"My dear,' Teabing declared, 'until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet . . . a great and powerful man, but a man nontheless. A mortal.
Not the Son of God?
Right,' Teabing said, 'Jesus' establishment as 'the Son of God' was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea." (DaVinci Code, p.233)
Brown finds himself in some serious self-contradictory speaking through Teabag. How do we explain the mere existence of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) that "won" at Nicaea if no one thought of Jesus as divine before 325? In those Gospels, all of which date to the First Century, Christians already were calling Jesus God. What of the writings of Paul? He clearly thought of Jesus as divine. And as we have seen the Gnostic Gospels themselves (the ones supposedly suppressed by Constantine) affirm the deity of Christ (their issue is that the humanness of Jesus is cast aside . . . despite the claim of Teabag, I mean Teabing).
But what of Ignatius who died about 110 A.D.? In his letter to the Ephesians, in the very first paragraph, he writes "by the will of the Father and of Jesus Christ our God . . ." In chapter 18 he writes, speaking of the death of Jesus, "For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived in the womb of Mary according to a dispensation, of the seed of David but also of the Holy Spirit . . ." In his letter to the Romans he writes "by faith and love towards Jesus Christ our God . . ." Later in chapter 3 he writes, "For our God Jesus Christ, being in the Father, is the more plainly visible." Ignatius is loaded with this stuff. What of Pliny who writes to Trajan for advice on how to deal with Christians along the Black Sea. He talks of Christians who sing to Christ "as if to a god."
This, in my view, is truly Dan Brown's biggest hooter of all!
Yet Dan Brown, perhaps, has placed all of us in his debt because people are actually seeking out information about the history of Christianity. The Bible did not come via fax from God. Brown's history (whether of art, architecture, or Christian) is full of hooters. But if Christians grow then it is all worth it. Ours is a historical faith and perhaps Brown has, unwittingly, helped many to see that great truth.