Jesus, sermon

Wisdom

David died and was buried in Jerusalem. 

So Solomon – not without drama (read the first chapter of 1 Kings) – sat on the throne; and his kingdom was firmly established. By firmly established the writer means he had killed all known threats to his reign.  (read chapter 2)

Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; but he was not unpolluted by his people, who sacrificed and offered incense at the high places even though they weren’t supposed to.  They did it because the temple had not yet been built and they had no where else to worship.  

If you know the history of Israel, you know it was a chronic problem this failure to tear down the Ashera poles and altars in the high places …

Nonetheless, when Solomon went to Gibeon (the highest of the high places) to sacrifice, the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Ask what I should give you.” 

Maybe it was the story of Aladdin or maybe it was because I grew up watching “I Dream of Jeannie,” but when I was a kid my sisters and I often supposed what we would wish for if we had 3 wishes.  Our first wishes were always for stuff, our second wishes were always for more stuff and our third wishes were always for 3 more wishes.

But Solomon was different.

He replied, “You have always been good to my dad because he yielded his heart to you; and you have kept him in your great and steadfast love; You’ve kept your promise to put one of his sons on his throne. And now you have made me king, though I am only a little child and I do not know how to go out or come in.   

Solomon was not literally a little child (like Josiah was when he took the throne at age 8), he was probably 20.  What he likely meant was that he was young and inexperienced and didn’t know a thing about governing.

“Therefore,” Solomon continued, “give me an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil.”

In his podcast last week, Scott Jones harkened this passage back to Genesis 3, and he wondered how God would have responded had A & E asked for knowledge instead of grabbing it, since He seems pleased with the request here.  

But this is different.

Solomon didn’t ask for knowledge of good and evil – that ship had sailed – he already knew all about evil.  He had likely seen the evil deeds inflicted upon his father by his brother Absalom; he had likely heard stories about the evil his father inflicted upon his mom’s first husband, Uriah. He didn’t ask for a knowledge of good and evil, he asked for the ability to discern between the two.

Knowledge = awareness of facts

Discernment = ability to judge them well

The second big difference has to do with motive.  Adam and Eve bit into forbidden knowledge because they wanted to be like God.  We all want to be like Jesus, but this was different, they wanted to be on a par with God.

Solomon wanted the ability to judge between good and evil so he could govern well. He knew he was out of his league with this kingship, he knew he had big shoes to fill and he wanted to make his dad proud.  He wanted to make the Lord proud, too.

So he asked for the one thing he knew he needed in order to do a good job.

James understood the importance of asking with the right motive. He wrote: “You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you do ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

It wasn’t so much Solomon’s request for the ability to discern between good and evil that pleased God, it was the motive behind it.  He didn’t want wisdom so he could show off it off, he wanted it so he could do right by God’s people.

“Because you have asked this,” God replied, “and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, I will indeed give you a wise and discerning mind.”

Wiser than anyone’s before you and after you.

I remember laying in my trundle bed one Sunday night after hearing this story in church.  It must have been before I was six because we stopped going to church when I was six. My older sister asked me what I’d rather have – riches or wisdom.

“Wisdom,” I said, seemed like a no-brainer.

I was surprised when she said, “Not me, I’d rather have riches.”

Had she not listened to the end of the story?

To Solomon God said, “I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you.

And.

 If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, I will also lengthen your life.”

If you walk in my ways, if you keep my commandments…

If you continue to take me seriously.

When Solomon awoke he realized it had been a dream.

He returned to Jerusalem, stood before the ark of the Lord’s covenant and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then he gave a feast for all his court.

It wasn’t long before the Lord gave him an opportunity to use his newly bestowed wisdom.

You probably know the story well.

Two prostitutes came and stood before him.

They both lived in the same house.

They each had a son within 3 days of one another.

During the night one son died because his mother laid on him. 

The mother of the dead son switched the babies.

“Did not,” she said.

“Did so.”

And so they argued before the king.

“Bring me a sword,” he said.

So they brought him a sword. 

“Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.”

The woman whose son was alive was deeply moved out of love for her son and said to the king, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!”

But the other said, “Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!”

Then Solomon gave his ruling: “Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother.”

When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice.

Hooray.

Wisdom discerns between those who would destroy life and those who would protect it.   Wisdom discerns between selfishness and sacrifice.

And Wisdom sides with life.

Psalm 111:10 reads, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;”

Proverbs 9:10 says it, too:  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”

Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord.   So what, exactly, is the fear of the Lord? 

Rudy is one of the hub’s favorite movies so we watch it from time to time.  You know Rudy?  True story of a young man whose dream was to play football for Notre Dame in spite of having no real athletic ability, size or academic talent.

He studied hard at a community college, prayed hard, kept applying to Notre Dame and kept getting rejected.

He finally asked his mentor, Father Cavenaugh, for help. He wanted to know what else he could do besides study and pray. He wanted to know the mind of God.

The priest’s response says it all; “Son, in 35 years of religious studies I’ve come up with only two hard, incontrovertible facts:  There is a God and I’m not Him.”

That’s the fear of the Lord.

Realizing that, “I’m not Him,”

I’m not smarter than He is, I’m not kinder than He is, I’m not more compassionate than He is, I don’t care more than He does.

I don’t care nearly as much as He does.

Once we realize that – as Solomon did, we begin to depend on His intelligence, His goodness and His compassion and we ask for it in service to others.

The lectionary’s alternative OT text for today is Proverbs 9:1-6

Wisdom has built her house,
she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine,
she has also set her table.
She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls
from the highest places in the town,
“You who are simple, turn in here!”
To those without sense she says,
“Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Lay aside immaturity, and live,
and walk in the way of insight.”

Okay first of all, wisdom is a woman.

I love how she has prepared a sacrifice and set out wine.  It ties in so well with our gospel.

“Come eat,” she says to the simple.

None of us has to has remain a fool because we are all invited to eat at Wisdom’s table.

But we must eat.  It’s not enough to just come and admire her beautiful china or read her beautifully crafted words, we must ingest what she has to offer.  We must chew and swallow and let it become part of our cells.

And we must be careful because folly is a woman, too.

Further down in Proverbs 9 it says,

Folly is an unruly woman who is simple and knows nothing.
She sits at the door of her house,
on a seat at the highest point of the city,
calling out to those who pass by,
who go straight on their way,
“Let all who are simple come to my house!”
To those who have no sense she says,
“Stolen water is sweet;
food eaten in secret is delicious!”
But little do they know that the dead are there,
that her guests are deep in the realm of the dead.

Welcome to the Hotel California. You can check out any time you like but you can never leave.

Sounds like pornography – sounds like an addiction to anything.

Both wisdom and folly call to the those who have no sense but one serves up Christ and the other serves up contraband.

If you need help discerning between the two, do as James advised when he wrote, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

We can confidently say that a prayer request for wisdom is one to which God will always reply, “Yes!” There’s no, “no” or “wait” when it comes to a request fro wisdom, it’s always “Yes, yes, yes!, Right now!”

Because Wisdom keeps us out of trouble. Which brings us to our epistle.

Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.   Ephesians 5:15-20

When I was in college, my heart was broken by a young man who was not wise, who was not filled with the Spirit.  I’m talking debauchery.  

So my friend Sandy took me and my broken heart to the Peanut Barrel – some of you MSU alums might remember it – to get us drunk.  I wasn’t much of a drinker, but I do remember thinking, after a couple glasses of wine, “John who?”  And for one glorious moment I thought I had discovered the key to not feeling the hurt – just keep drinking wine. Every day, until time has healed the wound.

But then wisdom spoke up and said, “Yea, but then you’ll have to deal with a drinking problem.”

Dang it.  That’s wisdom for you, always calling us back to the high road.  Always keeping us from being a fool.

And wisdom is right, of course.  Psalms, hymns and gratitude are much better than wine at comforting a broken heart.

God has always given wisdom lavishly.  Even in the midst of their obstinance, God, through the mouth of Isaiah, promised the voice of wisdom to the ancient Israelites. 

 “Whether you turn to the right or to the left,” He said, “your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”

Likewise, Jesus promised His disciples that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth.

In our gospel reading He said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

If we tie the gospel reading to the OT texts, the bread He’s talking about here is wisdom.  

And the wisdom that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

“Man shall not live on bread alone,” Jesus said to the tempter after 40 days in the wilderness, “but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

When He said that He was quoting Deuteronomy 8:3 which says: “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

Manna was food for the body.

Jesus is food for the spirit.

I like how Thomas Nash put it in in his book entitled Worthy is the Lamb: “As the bread-like manna sustained ancient Israel en route to their earthly Promised Land, so too, Christ, the ‘true bread from heaven’  leads us to our eternal paradise … Thus Jesus became not only the perfect Passover Sacrifice for our sins, but also the perfect Passover meal to sustain us spiritually unto heaven.”

At the churches I’ve attended in the past, the Lord’s Supper is celebrated only once a month, but I like our weekly eucharist.  I need weekly sustenance for the long, hard journey to heaven.

I’ll end with a quote that Scott Jones shared on the podcast I mentioned earlier.  It’s taken from Dale Bruner’s commentary on the book of John.

“The sacraments are not a second way of salvation, they are simply Jesus’ one way of salvation scaled down, physicalized, individualized, simplified and concretized [in other words, they are object lessons]. From heart to hands, from soul to body, from group to individual, Jesus was eminently wise when he instituted the sacraments for His disciples.  He knew that we need not only spiritual things but also physical things in order to grasp Him more easily, to come to Him more specifically.”

As I listened to the quote, I thought of all of us, lined up in the aisle, our attention focused for the moment on receiving Christ.

I like the image I saw of us – young and old – simply participating in the weekly reminder that Jesus is our spiritual strength; the weekly reminder that salvation is a gift, placed in our hands, not taken.

“Come,’ wisdom says, “eat.”

Amen.

#SundaysSermon

Lectionary readings:

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
Psalm 111
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

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faith, Jesus, Light

Alignments

Apparently I blew some minds Sunday morning; completely blew the doors off the place.

That’s what one of the congregants texted our out-of-town pastor after the service:

Well…the way the preacher completely blew the doors off the place talking about todays reading in Genesis is firm proof women should be preaching.

Another commented:

She blew minds.

I don’t know whether he received any negative feedback, but it’s real nice that he shared the positive.  It’s kind of a relief after you’ve blown some minds.

One of the members, who was late to church, told me he was sorry he missed my sermon.  I told him I’d post it for him.

So here it is:

The Lessons Appointed for Use on the Sunday closest to June 8 (track 2):

Genesis 3:8-15
Psalm 130
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-35

Whenever I walked past my parents’ library as a kid – the room off the front entrance that had shelves and shelves of books – a certain spine would always catch my eye:  Escape from Freedom by Erich Fromm.

Why would anyone want to escape from freedom?, my inquisitive young mind would wonder.  

I finally asked my mom about it.  She explained that the author – a psychologist – theorized that people don’t really want to be free.  It’s too scary for them.  So they escape freedom by putting themselves under the authority of another. That way they no longer have to take responsibility for their lives.  Fromm said individuals do it and whole nations do it.

Ancient Israel did it.

Israel had always been led by prophets and judges.  Samuel, who was both a prophet and a judge, was getting old and ready to retire.  His sons, who would inherit his leadership position, were lame.  So the elders of Israel came to Samuel and said, “You are old and your sons don’t follow your ways; we want you to appoint a king to govern us, like other nations have.” 

Samuel was bummed and a little hurt, but even so he took their request to God.  “Listen to what the people want and don’t be bummed,” God said, “they haven’t rejected you, they’ve rejected me from being king over them, just as they have from the day I brought them up out of Egypt. Listen to them and let them have what they want, but solemnly warn them. Tell them what it will be like to live under an earthly king.”

So Samuel told them they could have a king if they really wanted one, but, he warned, “He will reign over you and make you do his bidding: he will make your sons run in front of his chariots and many of them will be crushed; he will force some to be commanders, he will use some to work his fields and make his weapons. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his cronies. He’ll take one-tenth of your grain and wine and give that to his cronies, too. Basically, he’ll make you his slaves. And when he does, you’ll cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord is not going to listen to you. You will have to lie in the bed you made.”

The people didn’t care, they wanted what they wanted. They were determined to be like other nations – with a king to govern them and fight their battles.

So Saul was appointed king.

And all that Samuel warned would happen, did happen.

The lesson:  Be careful what you wish for.  Be careful what you stubbornly insist upon. And trust God to fight your battles.

That passage from 1 Samuel 8 was the track 1 lectionary reading for today.  I thought it was the one we were doing until the June schedule showed up in my inbox last week.  But it’s okay because the story in 1 Samuel 8 ties in nicely with Genesis 3, especially if we read to the end of the chapter.

Adam and Eve heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the evening and they hid. The Lord called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard You in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; so I hid.” 

The knowledge they thought they wanted, the knowledge they thought was going to make them more like God, the knowledge they had to disobey God to get, didn’t turn out to be so great.  All it did was make them afraid – an emotion they had never felt before.

“Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 

Now listen carefully to what the man said in reply, “The woman you gave me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” 

Did you hear how Adam blamed God for his sin and threw Eve under the bus?

Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”

Eve blamed the serpent. 

And because Eve called the serpent out, there is – to this day – enmity between the him and the woman, just as God said there would be.

“The Lord God said to the serpent,
‘Because you have done this, (God and Eve were in agreement on who was to blame)
upon your belly you shall go,
and eat dust
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;’”

The Septuagint uses “hatred” rather than “enmity”.  

“I will put hatred between you and the woman…”

Given the current sex slave industry and the long history of abuses against women, I think hatred is pretty accurate.  The enemy hates women. He is holding an insidiously long and bitter grudge against us. 

Because Eve aligned herself with God by blaming the serpent and Adam aligned himself with the serpent by accusing God, God did something that often gets overlooked:  

(I’m about to blow some minds here. I’m about to say the sort of thing that got Jesus in trouble in today’s gospel reading. Ready?)

He booted Adam from the garden, but He may not have booted Eve.

Listen closely to the rest of the chapter and see if you agree:

“The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.  After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.”

Let me read that again because the actual reading of Scripture might be challenging what you’ve always been taught:

“The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them (plural pronoun.) And the Lord God said, “The man [singular noun] has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He [singular pronoun – not “they”] must not be allowed to reach out his hand [singular – his hand, not their hands] and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God banished him [singular] from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.  After he drove the man [singular] out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.”

See what I mean? The man was booted, the woman was not. 

Which means she left voluntarily,

and that sheds light on what God said would be her consequences:

“To the woman He said,
‘I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”

Some use this passage to teach that God commanded man to rule over woman.

But God wasn’t talking to the man, he was talking to the woman.

And He wasn’t giving a command, He was giving a warning.

The word translated desire is t@shuwqah (tesh-oo-kaw’), which originally means “to stretch out after” or “to turn to”

God was saying, “If you stretch out your arms after your husband, if you turn to him and away from me, if you align yourself with him, if you make him your king, he will rule over you.

If you make man your king he will rule over you.

It was a prophetic warning, not a punitive command. 

It’s like the prophetic warning Samuel gave the Israelites: If you insist on a king other than God, you’re going to be miserable.

Perhaps Eve wanted a companion with skin on, or perhaps she wanted to escape the responsibility of taking care of herself or perhaps she just wanted a husband.   Whatever the reason, she voluntarily escaped paradise to chase after her man. And she certainly suffered pains in childbearing.

Child-bearing and child-rearing, because her pains extended way beyond labor.

One of her kids took after her and yielded to God and one took after his dad and rebelled against God and in the very next chapter Cain murdered Abel.  

Child-rearing doesn’t get more painful than that.                                                                              

So let’s recap, Adam aligned himself with the serpent and got himself booted, Eve aligned herself with Adam and she was out, too.

The lesson: As long as man tries to rule over woman and woman tries to make man her king, relationships will never be what God intended them to be.

It’s all about alignments.  

Which brings us to our gospel reading:

Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat.

When His people heard about the stir He was creating, they went to take custody of Him saying He had lost His senses.

The temple leadership even came from Jerusalem and declared, “He has aligned Himself with Beelzebul.” 

Jesus replied by saying, “That doesn’t even make sense, “How can Satan drive out Satan?”

“Truly I tell you,” He continued, “people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”

He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.” 

We all know that blaspheme against the Spirit is the only unforgivable sin, but have you ever thought through why?

Strong’s definition of blaspheme is:  “to speak reproachfully, rail at, revile, make false and defamatory statements about…”.

When Jesus was on trial, and while he was on the cross, people mocked Him and hurled all kinds of abuse at Him.  And He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  (Luke 23:34)  

You can hurl insults at Jesus out of ignorance and then, when you come to your senses, you can humbly ask for forgiveness, confessing that you did not know what you were talking about.  And you will be forgiven.

But you can’t make false and defamatory statements against the Holy Spirit and be forgiven.  

Here’s why:  

When Jesus lived among us, He limited Himself to doing only what we can do.  Because He limited His power, it is understandable that people might not have understood who He was.  But, when the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus to us, He does so with the full, unlimited power of heaven.  He is quite capable of making Himself clear.  Therefore, anyone who rails against the Holy Spirit knows what they are doing.  Their blaspheme is not out of ignorance, it is out of pride.   And pride is the one sin that cannot be forgiven because forgiveness requires the humility to ask for it and pride won’t ask.

So the religious leaders came and blasphemed the Spirit and then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived on the scene. 

Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him.

A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

It’s all about alignments.

You can put your trust in politicians or you can make God your king.

You can continue to walk with God in the cool of the evening and wait for a man after His own heart, or you can flee paradise in pursuit of the only man in sight.

You can align yourself with the religious establishment, keep them happy by toeing the doctrinal line, you can keep your mouth shut about God and keep your family and friends happy, or you can align yourself with those who do God’s will. 

The Israelites aligned themselves with a secular, political king and ended up exploited and enslaved.

Eve aligned herself with the only man in town and ended up living east of Eden, forever unequally yoked.

Jesus aligned Himself with His Father, His mission and with those who are not ashamed of the gospel and saved our sorry souls.

Today’s Scriptures beg some questions we can all ask ourselves:

To what or whom am I looking for security?

Whom/what am I chasing?

With whom am I most closely aligned?

I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; 
in his word is my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord,
more than watchmen for the morning, 
more than watchmen for the morning.

Amen.

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Jesus, Light

Jesus Christ Superstar

I didn’t watch the live performance of Jesus Christ Superstar last night, did you?

I planned on watching it but when the time came I just wasn’t feeling it, watched a movie instead.  At one point I switched over, hoping to catch Sara Bareilles singing, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” because I LOVED that song as a young teenager back in the 70’s, when the album came out – sang it over and over again.

But Sara wasn’t singing, Alice was singing and the song sounded like a circus tune, so I switched back to the movie.

I’ve been thinking about the musical, though, about how it was banned in some places back in the 70’s, about how Christians protested it.

Because they didn’t get it.

They didn’t get that it wasn’t meant to be a Biblically accurate portrayal of the passion of Christ.

It was meant to be the passion told from Judas’s point of view.

And his view was skewed.

The hub and I were invited to watch a production of it in the home of one of his friends, back when we were first married.  The production was well done.

If you’ve never seen it, it ends with Jesus on the cross.  Dead.

During the discussion that followed I may have offended the host and hostess by commenting, “They left out the best part – they left out the resurrection.”

I didn’t get it back then either.

I didn’t get that from Judas’s point of view that’s how the story would have ended, had he been alive to see the end.

Scripture doesn’t tell us when Judas started following Jesus, but my guess is that he was among the great crowds who began to follow Him in response to the miracles He performed.

Judas saw the miracles, saw the opportunity and jumped on Jesus’s coattails, hoping to ride them all the way to the top.

Fame and fortune.

Perhaps Judas thought Jesus was a brilliant con man and he wanted in on the con.

But the con wasn’t playing out as one would expect.

Every time I look at you I don’t understand
Why you let the things you did get so out of hand?
You’d have managed better if you’d had it planned…

… Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ,
Who are you? What have you sacrificed?
Jesus Christ Superstar,
Do you think you’re what they say you are?

Was Judas beginning to fear that the whole thing wasn’t a con, that Jesus actually believed His own press?

A con artist had coattails he could ride, but a lunatic who actually believed what He was selling?

That wasn’t going to get him anywhere.

Or perhaps the betrayal was as simple as money.  The love of money is, after all, the deep-seated root of every devious deed.

I started a ministry and asked a like-minded friend to serve on its board.

She did.  Happily, peacefully for several years.

And then the ministry received a large grant.

Little by little she no longer served happily, peacefully.

Discontent took root and grew.

While we had all been content to serve without compensation, she began saying, “You’ll have to pay me for that…”

I didn’t.

The grant wasn’t for salaries.

Her unrest hacked away at my strength, my soul, my faith in my fellow humans.

Or at least in my fellow Christians.

And then one day she resigned, to my great relief.

The chronology of Scripture puts Judas’s plot right after a scuffle about money:

Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples, said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)

Jesus told Judas to leave Mary alone.  She was doing the right thing.

So he left and sought out the chief priests.

He was going to make money one way or another.

But it turns out he had a conscience.

When Judas saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself.

He hanged himself before the end of the story, before the resurrection.

The passion from his point of view ended with Jesus hanging dead, because he hung himself dead.

Had he waited a few days, had he wept bitterly – as Peter did – and then carried on, had he not been completely blinded by his own agenda and preconceived notions, he would have understood that Jesus was all about restoration and forgiveness.

Had he waited, he would have encountered Mercy.

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Tragically, restoration and forgiveness were too far off his radar.

We sang joyful songs in church yesterday:

Hear the bells ringing they’re singing that you can be
healed right now
Hear the bells ringing, they’re singing
Christ, He will reveal it now…

Joy to the world, He has risen, hallelujah
He’s risen, hallelujah
He’s risen, hallelujah, hallelujah

Jesus Christ Superstar ends with Jesus dead on a cross.

Such a shame, Judas leaving the theatre before the radiant final song.

#radiant

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faith, Jesus, Light

Low & Mighty on Passover Eve

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Exodus chapter 12 describes, well, the exodus, the mass departure of the Israelites from Egypt.  On the night they were to leave God instructed them to roast a lamb and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They were to eat in haste with their loins girded, sandals on their feet and staff in hand.

“This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.”

And so it is that the Passover is celebrated faithfully, year after year.

In the 13th chapter of the Gospel of John we learn that the Last Supper took place before the festival of the Passover.  It was Passover Eve.  Not Christmas dinner, but Christmas Eve dinner.  The rehearsal dinner, not the actual wedding banquet. The Last Supper was not the actual Passover Seder, it was the night before.

John’s gospel tells us a few more things about that evening:

  1. Jesus was aware that He would soon be returning to His Father.
  2. He was aware that each and every one of His dinner companions had been given into His hands.  That’s what the phrase, “knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands” means.  “All things” is better translated as “each and every one.” Each and every one of them was gifted to Him, even Judas.
  3. He loved His charges with an agape  love. One aspect of agape is “to be full of good-will toward.”

And so it was with love and good will that Jesus sat down to His last human supper.

In Chinese culture, jade symbolizes nobility, perfection, constancy, and immortality. It is viewed as the most valuable of all precious stones.

A Chinese boy set out to learn all about it. He went to study with a talented old teacher.  The old gentleman put a piece of the stone into the youth’s hand and told him to hold it tight.  Then he began to talk of philosophy, men, women, the sun and almost everything under it.  After an hour the teacher took back the stone and sent the boy home.  This procedure was repeated for weeks. Finally the boy became frustrated – when would he be told about the heavenly properties of jade?! – but he was too polite to interrupt his venerable teacher.  So he held the stone and listened. Again and again. Then one day, when the old man began their lesson by pressing a stone in the boy’s hand, the boy cried out instantly, “Hey wait! That’s not jade!”

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.” (italics added)

It seems out of place, that third sentence, “The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him,” since John doesn’t speak again of Judas until later in the chapter, but it isn’t out of place, it’s the reason Jesus got up from the table.

He knew He was about to be betrayed, He knew human nature full well. Perhaps at that moment He remembered back to the disciples’ argument about which of them was the greatest, perhaps He remembered all the way back to when Adam and Eve disobeyed so they could be like God, perhaps He remembered even further back to when Satan wanted to be greater than God. He may have also looked ahead to all the ways evil men would infiltrate the church and exploit Him for selfish gain.

It was His awareness of our propensity to competition, our desire to be “better than” that got Him up from that table.   It’s what caused Him to take off his outer robe, tie a towel around his waist, pour water into a basin and press a precious stone into His disciples’ hands one more time.

So they would remember what He feels like.

You know the foot washing story and you know Peter. When Jesus got to his ten piggies, Peter said, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

In other words, “You’re too good to wash my feet!”

Jesus answered, “You don’t get it yet, but you will.”

Peter insisted, “You will never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”

And so Peter, being Peter, said, “In that case, wash all of me!”

So Jesus laid it out for him. Again.

“One who has bathed does not need to wash.”

Wash and bathe in this passage are separate greek words.

“Wash” is nipto – to cleanse (especially the hands or the feet or the face); ceremonially.

It was customary back then – as it is now – to wash their hands before a meal.

“Bathe” is “louo,” it is a word used in the context of washing a dead person or cleaning blood from a wound.

Peter was already bathed as a dead person when he was baptized, when he was crucified with Christ and raised to new life.  He never needed to be bathed in that way again.  Just as a person doesn’t need to keep going forward at every altar call.  Once is enough.

All of the disciples had been bathed in the waters of baptism, except one. Scripture doesn’t tell us how and when Judas was called to follow Jesus, but it is telling us right here that he was never baptized, never raised to new life.  Even so,  Jesus loved each and every one of the 12 His Father had given Him.

“So Peter,” Jesus was saying, “zealous, enthusiastic Peter, you don’t need to be bathed, you only need to be washed.  Bathing is for souls, washing is for feet.  Feet that get dusty trodding through this sin-filled world.”

If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive them and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Our souls need to be bathed only once – through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit – it’s our bodies and minds that need daily cleansing from the stink of sin.

After Jesus washed their feet, put back on his robe and returned to the table, He asked:

“Do you get it?

I just pressed something important into the palms of your hands.

I’m not too good to wash feet and neither are you.

Peter had it backwards. It’s not a matter of being too good, too high and mighty; it’s a matter of being good enough, of being low and mighty.

Servants are not greater than their master, so if I’m good enough to wash feet, then you be good enough, too.

Once you understand this concept, and do it, you will go through life blessed.

Isaiah said so, too: ‘take care of one another and then your light shall break forth like the dawn,

and your healing shall spring up quickly;…

The Lord will guide you continually,

and satisfy your needs in parched places,

and make your bones strong;

and you shall be like a watered garden,’

Take care of one another and you will flourish.”

As someone who is chronically dehydrated and has osteoporosis, I like Isaiah’s wording – strong bones, well-watered….

Be low and mighty enough to serve others and you’ll like your life.

The lectionary for Maundy Thursday (you’re reading the homily I gave last night) skipped over the details of Judas’s departure, but you know how it went down. It picked up again at verse 31:

“When [Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.'”

Judas’s departure set Jesus’ finest hour in motion.

His finest hour as a man – enduring physical and emotional abuse, bearing false accusations silently, as a sheep before its shearer.

I watched a tribute to Andrew Lloyd Webber Wednesday night.  At the end of it,  John Legend, who will play Jesus in Sunday night’s live presentation of Jesus Christ Superstar, asked Andrew for advice on playing the role.

“It’s all about redemption after all,” Andrew replied.

John mentioned the angst and fear and doubt Jesus experienced as He faced the cross.

“And yet He went through with it,” Andrew replied.

“Yes,”  John smiled slightly, “He went through with it.”

He was glorified as the Son of Man by going through with it.  By laying down his life for his friends – there’s no love greater than that.

His finest hour as God was defeating sin and death, which no man can do.

His Father’s finest hour? Showing a restraint in the face of His Son’s suffering the strength of which no human father could match.

John didn’t mention the bread and the cup in his account of the Last Supper, but our epistle reading from 1 Corinthians 11 did.

“…the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

The Passover feast was a perpetual ordinance for God’s people to remember their deliverance from the physical bondage of slavery.

And now a new perpetual ordinance has been instituted, to remember our spiritual deliverance from bondage to sin and death.

My body broken for you. My blood shed for you, because without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

Jesus, Our Passover Lamb.

Our gospel reading ends with a precious plea:

Little children, I am with you only a little longer.

At my church the children come forward and crowd in the aisle between the rows of pews for “The Lamb’s Liturgy.” The pastor gives a brief lesson and then touches each of their heads and blesses them before they head off to Sunday school. It’s my favorite part of the service. I love to see them walk back down the aisle, their little heads blessed, their faces Hopeful, expectant that the future has good things for them.

The tenderness with which the pastor blesses our children is the tenderness with which Jesus beheld those at the table, on the eve of His great suffering:   “Little children, dear ones, my charges, my responsibility, my baby chicks, my friends…

I’m leaving and you can’t come with me.

So just love one another.

By this everyone will know that I taught you well, if you love one another.

By this my Father and I will be glorified.

By this our strength will be shown.

Because no one can live low and mighty apart from us.”

Amen.

#betrayed

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Jesus, Light, war on women

The Fabled Rib

Whenever I see something that causes my soul to despair the opening line of Paint it Black (Rolling Stones) hums in my head.

This morning, skipping church to look after Dixie, I had a little internet with my coffee and I discovered that the same people who brought us The Mask You Live In (the trailer of which I shared with you yesterday), also did a documentary entitled Miss Representation. Based on its trailer, it’s about the distortions our culture teaches boys and girls about the value of women.

I’m not going to share the trailer, though, because it might be hard on those who are struggling to overcome a pornography addiction.

Sad, sad, sad: A documentary on what we teach boys and girls about the value of women and the images in the first half of the trailer are so pornographic I can’t show it to you.

I see a red door and I want it painted black.

The trailer blames advertising and the media, I blame the church.

More accurately I blame the devil, who declared war on women way back in the beginning. I blame the church for playing into his crafty hands.

I’ve written about this before.  Search “War on Women” at the top of my blog if you’re interested (or click here).

The Fabled Rib

In Purple Reign I explained that, contrary to popular belief, God did not create woman as an afterthought. She was not created merely to meet man’s need for companionship. Man and woman were created together, at the same time, and given a joint purpose.

Now let me explain about the fabled rib.

Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.  Genesis 2:22

The word translated rib here is the Hebrew word tsela’. It is an architectural term that means “side, beam, plank, leaves of a door” (think 2 sides of a double door). The only place tsela’ is translated as “rib” is here in Genesis 2.

Anytime a word is translated a certain way only once, it raises a red flag. Especially when the 41 other times it is used it is translated as side, plank, beam, etc.

Actual ribs are mentioned only once in the Bible. Daniel 7:5 refers to three ribs of an animal. That portion of Daniel was written in Aramaic so we cannot do a direct word comparison but the Aramaic word translated “rib” in Daniel is ‘ala.

So how and why was tsela’ mistranslated in Genesis 2:22?

The idea that Eve was made out of one of Adam’s ribs has its origin in rabbinical lore. One story says, “Eve was made out of a tail which originally belonged to Adam.”

Rav, the great head of the Babylonian rabbinical school, declared, “Eve was formed out of a second face, which originally belonged to Adam,” and another rabbi declared, “Instead of a rib taken from Adam, a slave was given him to wait upon him.”

(Remember when I told you the Hebrew word translated “suitable” or “help meet” in Genesis 2:20 is neged? And that neged means “in front of, in the sight or presence of, before the eyes of, face to face”?  I’m guessing Rav got his “second face” from a misinterpretation of neged – “face to face.”)

But it’s Rabbi Joshua’s disdainful commentary that has provided the fable which has been most promulgated by Christian Bible commentators.

Rabbi Joshua wrote: “God deliberated from what member He would create woman, and He reasoned with Himself thus:  I must not create her from Adam’s head, for she would be a proud person, and hold her head high. If I create her from the eye, then she will wish to pry into all things; if from the ear, she will wish to bear all things; if from the mouth, she will talk much; if from the heart, she will envy people; if from the hand, she will desire to take all things; if from the feet, she will be a gadabout. Therefore I will create her from the member which is hid, that is the rib, which is not even seen when man is naked.”

This is the inane fable which lies at the basis of the idea that Eve must have been made out of Adam’s rib, a fable still being told in the church today.

(Info on the rib fable taken from Dr. Katharine Bushnell’s, God’s Word to Women, paragraphs 42 and 43.)

A misogynistic Rabbi wrote a fable which was included in the Talmudic teachings (the Talmud was not Scripture, it was more like a collection of rabbinical commentaries), and those teachings have worked their way into the church.

“Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees,” Jesus warned His disciples. (Matthew 16:5-12)

But someone, some many were asleep at the switch.

Need proof that the yeast of the Pharisees has permeated our Christian bread?

Open your Bible to 1 Corinthians 14 and read verses 26-35.

Now shift your eyes back up to verse 34, “[Women] are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.”

Law? What law?

Notice the lower case l.

The “law” to which the verse is referring was likely the Talmud (remember: not Scripture but a collection of rabbinical teachings.) Here is a sampling of those Talmudic teachings: “Out of respect to the congregation, a woman should not herself read in the law.” “It is a shame for a woman to let her voice be heard among men.” “The voice of a woman is filthy nakedness.”

The upper case “Law” is the Torah. The Torah is Scripture, it’s the first five books of the Bible, aka the Pentateuch.

Search your memory, search your concordance, search God in prayer. Can you come up with one instance when the Law or the Prophets or Jesus said that women are not allowed to speak in church?

Can you come up with a single instance when any of them said a woman must be in submission?

I couldn’t come up with one either, and believe me, I searched and researched.

I did, however, find plenty of instances where women were allowed to speak, and where God elevated their status above the culturally prescribed submission. Here’s my list:

Sarah (Genesis 21); Miriam (Exodus 15); Deborah, a judge and a prophetess through whom God spoke (Judges 4 and 5); the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 27); Huldah, another prophetess through whom God spoke (2 Kings 22); Job’s daughters, whom Job elevated once he saw the Lord clearly (Job 42); Anna, another prophetess through whom the Lord spoke (Luke 2); the various women Christ compelled to speak in public (Luke 8:47, Luke 13:13, John 4:1-42, John 20:1-18); the females whom Jesus invited into His church’s very first small group (Acts 1:12-24). There are plenty more but I’ll save them for you to add.

So here we are in 2017 despairing of a dire and dangerous Miss Representation of women and it’s all because of a misrepresentation of Scripture and a failure to beware the yeast of the Pharisees.

Failure because some like the yeast.

Failure because some chose a long time ago to side with the devil in his war on women.

I see our misread Bread and I want it painted right…

Sing with me.

#fadetoblack

 

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Jesus

Without Compassion or Love

Thursday night the hub and I binge-watched 5 of the 8 episodes of Manhunt: Unabomber.

Last night, after he returned from his weekend fly fishing trip, we watched the final three.

And though I found the whole series interesting, I was very disturbed by episode 6.

Why is it, I wonder, that I was more disturbed by the evil done to innocent minds than I was to the evil done to innocent bodies?  Have I simply become numb to physical violence?

Or is it because I am so aware that, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me,” is so NOT true.

Or was I disturbed by episode 6 because the evil done by Dr. Ted Kaczynski was rightly reviled as evil while the evil done by Dr. Henry Murray was lauded as science?

As far as I’m concerned, both should be in prison – if Dr. Murray were still alive.

If you aren’t familiar with the unabomber’s backstory, he and his IQ of 168 enrolled in Harvard at age 16, where he volunteered to be a subject in a very unethical 3 year psych experiment. Unethical and evil.

Forgiveness.

At the end of episode 8, at Ted’s sentencing, the victims were given a chance to speak. They described the horrendous impact Ted’s actions had on them and their families and then one of them said this:

“As you start your life sentence in prison, this is what I wish for you: Given that your victims were blinded by your bombs, may you also be blinded by being deprived of the incredible light of the moon, the stars the sun, the beauty of nature for the rest of your life. Given that your victims lost their hearing because of your bombs, may you spend the rest of your days in stony silence. And given that your victims were maimed by your bombs, may your body be shackled with the same violence and hatred that have already imprisoned your mind. And given that your victims were killed by your bombs, may your own death occur as you have lived – in a solitary manner, without compassion or love.”

That last phrase especially – “without compassion or love” – made the hub and I both wince.

“That’s all so wrong,” I said, shaking my head.

The hub nodded in agreement.

We prayed this yesterday in church, we pray it often:

“Lord, in compassion, help us see beneath the surface of things to the wounds and sorrows in the hearts of those who sin against us. Deliver us from a pride which accounts them as sinful and us as righteous. We are not better than them. We are one with them at the foot of the cross. We cry out, ‘Forgive us!’ Set us free from the snares of hatred. Enable us to see our enemies as you see them from the cross, as persons you created and intended them to be, and make us instruments of their healing.

Lord, remember not the suffering the enemies of the cross have inflicted on creation and humanity; remember instead the fruits your disciples have born – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – which have grown out of the trials they inflicted, and when they come to judgment, let the fruits your persecuted ones have borne be their forgiveness. Lord, hear our prayer.”

“Let the fruits your persecuted ones have borne be their forgiveness.”

That’s all so right*.

Because the persecution Jesus has borne, and the fruits He has born, has been our forgiveness.

It is right that Ted Kaczynski remain in prison for the rest of his life, but depriving him – or anyone – of compassion and love makes us more like Ted and less like God.

It’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance.

*even as it is so, so difficult.

#believe

 

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Jesus

Longing

If you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you know that I used to teach the Bible to children on Monday nights.

If you’ve ever been a Children’s Leader in BSF (Bible Study Fellowship), you know how it works:  At some point during the summer break the age group you will teach the following school year is selected for you. Then, at the Leader’s Workshop in late August, you are given your assignment.  You can make your age-group preference known, but you likely won’t get it.

One of the reasons I stepped down from teaching this year is because I didn’t want to risk being assigned the first and second graders, the third and fourth graders, or even the fifth and sixth graders.

The only level I could remotely imagine teaching this year is Level 5 – the senior high students.

Why?

Because we’re studying the book of Romans and I’ve taught it before, to youngsters, in BSF.

BSF is well structured, organized and uniform – which is a good thing in the adult program – but it’s too much of a good thing in the Children’s program.

For instance, the leaders in every level – whether they are teaching 6-year-olds or 18-year-olds – are given the same outline from which to teach.  They have the freedom to make the illustrations and applications age-appropriate, but the aim and the principles must be stated exactly as written.  It can be awkward in any study to be teaching in your own voice and then have to abruptly switch to the the writer of the principle’s voice to deliver it exactly as written.  And in the case of Romans, it’s not just awkward, it’s HARD.

Or, more accurately, it’s HARSH.  The principles can be very harsh, causing the youngsters to appear browbeaten by week 6.

Because Paul – or at least the way his letter is presented – wants to make sure they know that they are horrible sinners.

“But hang on,” we tell them, “good news is coming.”

But what if we framed it differently (and no less accurately) right from the start?

Here’s what I mean.

Wrath.

Paul begins his letter by stating that he is a minister of the gospel and then, in verse 18, he abruptly switches from gospel to wrath.

And I say, “What?”

So I look up the Greek word translated “wrath” and I learn that the word is orgē, pronounced or-gā’.

And I see that the KJV translates the word in various places as wrath, anger, vengeance, indignation.

And then I read Strong’s definition: properly, desire (as a reaching forth or excitement of the mind), i.e. (by analogy), violent passion (ire, or (justifiable) abhorrence); by implication punishment:—anger, indignation, vengeance, wrath.

Strong’s definition is taken from the root word for orgē, oregō – which means “to stretch oneself out in order to touch or to grasp something, to reach after or desire something.”

Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines orgē this way:

ὀργή, ὀργῆς, (from ὀργάω to teem, denoting an internal motion, especially that of plants and fruits swelling with juice (Curtius, § 152); cf. Latinturgerealicui forirascialicui in Plautus Cas. 2, 5, 17; Most. 3, 2, 10; cf. German arg, Aerger), in Greek writings from Hesiod down “the natural disposition, temper, character; movement or agitation of soul, impulse, desire, any violent emotion,” but especially (and chiefly in Attic*) anger. In Biblical Greek anger, wrath, indignation… (bold added)

So the original Greek word could be translated as a ripening desire; a longing; reaching out for something.

And then, beginning with the writings of a poet named Hesiod, an element of anger was attached to the desire/movement of the soul.

Did you notice that last bit of Thayer’s defintion? I hope so because I emboldened it for you. In Biblical Greek, orgē is translated as anger, wrath, indignation.

Why? And what is Biblical Greek anyway?

Why isn’t it translated as longing, desire, a movement of the soul, as it was originally used?

At what point did God’s longing for us become a browbeating?

Did Paul intend that the word be interpreted that way? Was his intention to browbeat the Christians in Rome to whom he was writing  – Christians whom he had just commended for having world-famous faith? Did he want them to fully appreciate just how good the good news is by reminding them of their wretchedness? Why spoil the good news by rubbing their noses in their past? Or was he addressing any Pharisees who might get their hands on his letter thus blurring his audience? (I ask that because in several places throughout his letter he seems to be presenting an argument to those who think like he used to think, i.e. Pharisees.)

If Paul was indeed trying to lay out his (already saved) audience’s need for a Savior, Isaiah did it so much better. And faster.

In just one chapter Isaiah laid out the tangled condition of the world. Click here to read it.

And then, at the dawn of the next glorious chapter, he told the world what God’s longing/desire was going to do about it.

He left His throne and stepped into our darkness.

To redeem us.

And that’s how I’d be teaching Romans this year, if I were teaching it.

I’d define wrath as God’s longing for us, as His desire, the movement of His soul toward redemption. Any anger associated with the word is directed at the tangled mess we’ve made of things, at the mess we and His enemy have made of things, not at us, whom He loves. Paul said so himself in chapter 5: “While we were still [a tangled mess], Christ died for us.”

God’s longing is for us, His wrath is against that which entangles us.

If I could put the principles in my own words, I’d write them with God’s longing in mind. I wouldn’t alter any facts, I’d just sift each one through the good news: God knows how to untangle the mess.

*Attic is a dialect of Greek.

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P.S.  Please don’t take this post as a dis of BSF, I love BSF and I’m studying Romans with them as a general class member – but this time around I’m going to take a look at the book with fresh eyes.  I’ll probably show you the stuff I see.

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