Spiritual Disciplines and New Years Resolutions

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14 ESV).

“Therefore, an apprentice of Jesus is restructuring and reorganizing his or her life in order to spend time with him to learn from him how to be like him. It’s making every serious intention to become holy love as God is. This requires a lifestyle of constant engagement with the transforming grace of God.” – from What is a Missional Community? by Jason Zahariades.

Apparently, the Christian life isn’t supposed to be a haphazard affair. Grace is often taken as license, but the verse from Titus above states that it is the revelation of God’s grace that teaches us to be godly.

This is the time of year that people talk about resolutions. Yahoo has a career resolution page up that I thought was interesting. Most resolutions seem to fall by the wayside, but I think I’ll make a resolution I can keep: In 2007 I will try harder to figure out how to be a faithful, grace-filled apprentice of Jesus Christ, and help others who are interested in knowing and walking with Him to do the same.

It probably wouldn’t hurt for me to resolve to lose weight, but I prefer to make resolutions I think I actually might keep….

Relevancy and the KJV

Yesterday I stumbled across a funny post with a picture the blogger took while in traffic. Check it out.

It reminds me of when I lived in Arkansas, a place thick with a cappella churches of Christ, Baptists and Pentecostals. There were independent Bible Baptists there who held to the staunchest conservative views, including belief that only the King James Version should be used. Once, while driving home from Little Rock, I noticed a new billboard advertising one of these Bible Baptist congregations. At the bottom it said: “KJV 16:11.”

Did you get that? Whoever actually put the billboard up thought that was a reference to a Bible verse, not to the version used. A few weeks later the colon was gone.

Sometimes the crap we advertise doesn’t make any sense to outsiders.

Prayer Beads

In a recent post I mentioned students at a Bible college who are getting into ancient liturgy and prayer beads. Here’s a link I’ve found to suggested prayers on such beads, and here’s a Wikipedia article on prayer beads.

Does anyone think this falls into the category of vain or repetitive prayer?

“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words” (Matthew 6:7 NRSV).

Prophecy Fulfilled

An interesting problem for open theism is the question of fulfilled prophecy. The fulfillment of many prophecies can be attributed to God’s designation and working for the fulfillment, and indeed I have argued elsewhere in this blog that all prophecy is simply a declaration of the will of God, even when apparently predictive. The real issue comes up when extremely specific events that were predicted take place. The thirty pieces of silver and casting lots for the clothes of Jesus are both examples of this, though these can be understood as the early Christians reading details back into the Gospel narrative. Another possible example of precise prediction can be found in the verses below:

“Joshua then pronounced this oath, saying, ‘Cursed before the Lord be anyone who tries to build this city—this Jericho! At the cost of his firstborn he shall lay its foundation, and at the cost of his youngest he shall set up its gates!’” (Joshua 6:26 NRSV)

“In his days Hiel of Bethel built Jericho; he laid its foundation at the cost of Abiram his firstborn, and set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke by Joshua son of Nun” (1 Kings 16:34 NRSV).

There are two schools of thought on these verses of which I am aware.

The first is the traditional view that this is simple predictive prophecy. According to classic theology, depending heavily on Plato, God is beyond linear time, and exists in an eternal moment. To Him, everything that has happened, is happening or ever will happen is infallibly and perfectly known. All is settled in God’s eyes. Thus, there is no difficulty in God letting a prophet know what will eventually happen.

The second is the liberal view that deuteronomist editors worked these passages into agreement with one another. That resolves the issue of how, though it removes any sense of wonder and puts words in Joshua’s mouth. A further difficultly I, as a non-scholarly reader, find with this is the writing style. I’ve noticed that 1st and 2nd Kings seem to repeat certain phrasing, especially “the word of the Lord.” It may be observed that the book of Joshua speaks of an “oath,” while 1st Kings refers to “the word of the Lord.” Thus, the style and wording of the verse in 1st King contrasts somewhat with that of the verse in Joshua. Enough, in any event, for me to believe that different writers were involved.

A third view that, admittedly, needs developing is that this “oath” carried the full weight of a curse from God, a divine condemnation against the city and those who would rebuild it.

Yet a fourth view could be that Hiel of Bethel, the one said to have rebuilt Jericho, was familiar with the oath of Joshua and took it, wrongly, as a command to sacrifice his firstborn and youngest sons. The difficulty with this view is that it would have been possible for him or someone else to disregard the oath and simply rebuild the city.

Where do I stand? I’m not sure. How about you?

Buyer Beware

I’ve always loved doing things online. I buy books from Amazon.com, gifts on Ebay and yes, I blog.

This month has been a bad month for me as an occasional Ebayer. I bought an unlocked GSM phone for a friend, but the seller sent an MP4 player instead. He offered to let me send it back, but I decided to keep it. The main reason I’m keeping it is because of my other big Ebay headache: The gift that never arrived.

On December 8, 2006 I paid “campus111” for an MP3 player that my wife had seen and wanted. On December 16 I contacted the seller asking why it hadn’t arrived, and he said it had been “lost.” He said he was sending a replacement, and gave me a USPS tracking number (9101805213907414499328). The tracking number doesn’t tell me anything, though.

The MP3 player did not arrive by Christmas, so my wife didn’t have her gift. It didn’t arrive the day after, either, or yesterday. Today I received the following e-mail from the seller:
____________________________________________
From: campus111 [mailto:helps@campus111.com]
Sent: Thursday, December 28, 2006 1:55 AM
To: Gonnerman, Adam
Subject: RE: Campus111– Order# 101420 – awgonnerman – 260060923592 – NFB

Dear Adam Gonnerman,

After double and double checking, we found that two
sheets of our shipment list on Dec 16th were missing
in the transfering to our warehouse since many
customers of that day reflected that they did not
receive their items.

we now hand your item to post office immediately when
it is opened in daytime. we are terribly sorry for all
the troubles caused for you. You will receive the item
in two to three days. we are sorry that USPS will not
update the information on website until the package is
delivered.

we will refund the postage as a compenstion after you
receive it.

would you be satisfied if we solve the problem in that
way, and withdraw the negative feedback for us?

we look forward to your amicable response.

Wish you a wonderful and prosperous new year!!!!

(Pls keep the subject and content when you reply this
email so that we can follow up your case
efficiently.Thanks.)

best regards
campus111
Helen

Paying the “Incarnational” Price

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8 NRSV).

People love throwing around words like “missional” and “incarnational,” and readily say “amen” to those who sprinkle their writings and spoken messages with this terminology. It is my opinion that few of us truly appreciate the full import of these words.

It sounds very pretty to talk about carrying out incarnational ministry, being with the people in their struggles, but does that include living among them? If your answer is “of course,” then I suggest you breath deeply, try to be a bit more honest with yourself and read what I have to say.

Imagine moving to a neighborhood where you always feel like you’re being watched. Your apartment is broken into nearly on a weekly basis, and every few months you are mugged. You are there to preach the Gospel. Are you up to it?

Okay, so you move to the neighborhood, but you have a family. The schools are “those kind,” you know, ghetto schools. Your children don’t have any friends you can let them sleep over with because you know their families have serious problems. Every time you let your children invite someone over, even just for an afternoon, something disappears. And then a day or so later your house is burglarized again.

You hear police and ambulance sirens in the street day and night. The neighbors upstairs have a nightly domestic dispute, with all the accompanying banging, screaming and sobbing. The heat only works in half of the apartment in winter, you don’t feel like risking the ill-maintained elevator, and the building rental company doesn’t answer your calls.

Is it bad enough yet?

People tell you they’ve heard threats of rape against your wife. Your ten year old son is beaten up at school. Your car is stolen and only found weeks later after being stripped for parts and burned.

“Oh,” you say, “we’ll go because we know God will protect us.”

Will he? Are you sure?

He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32 KJV).

God did not spare His own Son. God did not spare His own Son! Think about that. Why will He deliver you from every harm if that is not His will? What if, in some way you cannot see clearly, it is His will for you to suffer?

“I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24 NRSV).

Isn’t “incarnational ministry” all about sharing in the sufferings and difficulties of those you seek to serve? Yes! But who is willing to pay the price? I’m not even certain how I feel about this. I’m writing it because I believe it’s true and the Lord’s will, but I’m not sure how well I can live this message.

Somehow, our attitude must be the same as that of the Hebrew men who refused to worship the king’s idol.

“If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18 ESV).

Whether or not God would intervene, they would not betray their God. They were delivered, yes, but many others weren’t.

"Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground” (Hebrews 11:36-38 NRSV).

Imagine a baseball field on a moonless, overcast night. Looking around, you can’t tell you’re at a baseball field…you can barely see the hand in front of your face. Suddenly, one of the powerful lights comes on overhead. With only one light pole illuminated, you can see far more than before. The bases are very obvious now, although it remains so dark you can’t distinguish colors except in the immediate vicinity of where the light falls. Then, one by one, the remain lights come on. You find yourself bathed in so much light that it may as well be noon.

That’s how God intends it to work with Christians and His church. Even one light in a dark place is powerful. Those same baseball field lights on a sunny day would be unnoticeable. They are needed in the darkness. In the light of day they are superfluous.

The darker the place a disciple of Christ goes, the bigger difference his or her “light” will make. When God sent His only-begotten Son, it was into darkness.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:1-5 NRSV).

This is a hard word that I am writing, especially for me. I don’t write it because I like it. I’m posting this here out of the solid conviction that it is true. While I don’t think I’m saying that we are obligated to be foolish or place ourselves or our families needlessly in harms way, I do believe we need to be more serious about realizing God’s objectives in the world.

I need to be more serious about realizing God’s objectives in the world.