The Sunday School Squeeze II

I had chosen to lead into Isaiah 61 by starting with Luke 4:16ff, but I only got to the end of 4:16, “stood up to read.” I don’t work well with these schedules.

The Sunday School Squeeze

This morning I have:

  1. Isaiah 61 as my scripture
  2. 45 minutes of teaching time

Something’s gotta give!

The Flawed Way People Read Polls

Here’s your illustration. Liberals loved Nate Silver because he calculated that Barack Obama would win the presidency, among other things. Conservatives didn’t like him so much. Now conservatives are pointing to the poor odds, though 60-40 is a ratio many politicians would covet.

I love Nate Silver not because of who he supports but because he shows his work, admits his mistakes, and has a pretty good track record. If I want to disagree with him, I can find the data in his own material. No, I don’t think he’s always right. The good thing is that he doesn’t think he’s always right.

People on both sides of the political spectrum try to make polls say what they want, or they cherry pick the poll that suits them. Newspapers tend to represent polls in whatever way will sell the most papers. It causes me to remember the book Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics. There’s no better way to lie to people than to combine two factors: 1) Tell them what they want to hear and 2) Put some numbers in it.

Canada for President

As a dual citizen, I had to appreciate this:

via Note: I read their Significant Digits every day. Great site.

Perspectives on Paul: Introducing Paul, an Apostle

Apocalyptic background - flash and lightning in dramatic dark sky

I’ve been having an interesting time preparing for my study tonight, and I’m feeling the boundaries of a 1/2 hour study. Most people will probably be glad. In order to make this work, however, you’ll need to read the material suggested. In this case, the “Introduction” from Meditations on the Letters of Paul by Herold Weiss and “Becoming Galatian: Spiritual Practices for Reading Galatians,” and Lesson 1: Introduction and Background,” from Galatians: A Participatory Study Guide by Bruce Epperly. The scripture passage will be Galatians 1:1-5, but it would be a good idea to read the entire book—it’s only 6 chapters—and also read and compare the introductions to other letters of Paul, whether disputed or not. Just start at Romans and read the first verse or two of each book until you get to Hebrews.

I’m finding the idea of posting two or three times on this topic during the week difficult, but that’s not a reason to abandon it. It’s important to allow topics to percolate, and one of my bad habits is to study the material on Thursday morning. In this case, I have looked at it some before today, but not enough, and I intend to change that.

But for tonight we’re going to look broadly at what is contained in the reading material and then focus on what made Paul an apostle, what made his letters authoritative for the church, and the nature of these letters as evidence. I’ll also touch on why I’m using Galatians, besides the fact that I think Epperly’s study guide is the right sort of challenging material to get us out of a rut on how we read the book. I think Herold Weiss similarly challenges our standard approaches (read his article Paul Did not Teach Righteousness by Faith), but he does son on a broader basis. We’re going to use Epperly’s more focused book to get to Weiss’s broader understanding.

Note here that I don’t mean that we will necessarily agree with either one. Rather, I’m looking at the focus and at ways of getting us each to let Paul’s writings speak to us. We will never completely discard our background. Yet we can try to give the scriptures the greatest possible chance to change us. That is the goal of this study.

Here’s the video embed:

No, Dr. Who, You Can’t Do That!

So says (or at least that’s what I derive from) the work of Dr. Richard Muller. Enjoy!

Seven Marks of a New Testament Church – Sacrificial Living

nt church books

… salvation of necessity leads to service. (Seven Marks of a New Testament Church, p. 43)

This is the final post of my series on this book, and I’d like to make an observation about the entire enterprise. I’ve become increasingly convinced of two things during this study. First, there is no single form of church organization or structure mandated by the New Testament. Second, there are quite a few principles that should be applied in any church structure that we may choose to use.

Those may sound like they are at least in tension, but I think any tension is both appropriate and quite possibly intentional on the part of New Testament writers. I also do think that one’s organizational structure can either aid in applying Christ-like principles to one’s church structure or they can hinder us from doing so. Unfortunately, we can turn the best organizational plan into something dangerously hierarchical and lacking in accountability.

The determining factor in how our churches will function is whether we are prepared to actually be the body of Christ, living under one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12). Unfortunately, many have seen the test of the church as being the power of the miraculous signs that are displayed, when the real message of that chapter (really 1 Corinthians 12-14) is that the test of the miraculous signs is the one Spirit.

This final chapter of Seven Marks is critical for this reason. It says that we really mean it. Now we can’t neglect the other elements, but the final demonstration is going to be involved in sacrificial living. Note that the title is not “sacrificial giving.” We can give sacrificially without accomplishing anything for the kingdom. When we are emotionally persuaded to give large amounts of money for an unneeded or ostentatious facility or program, we can give sacrificially, while still failing to live sacrificially.

What does it mean to live sacrificially? I must, of course, recommend reading this entire chapter. But let me suggest that for the Christian, this means putting everything we have and everything we are in God’s hands. It’s not a percentage of giving. It’s not a percentage of our time for worship. It’s a complete commitment of ourselves to being the body of Christ, to act as citizens of God’s kingdom while we are aliens here. (Mixing metaphors is fun!)

Christianity is not something you tack on to the rest of who you are. Yes, I belong to the ___ club, I’m part of the ____ political party, and as for religion, I’m a Christian. No! Being a Christian is not like a club or political party membership. It defines who you are.

Bruce Epperly, in Transforming Acts: Acts of the Apostles as a 21st Century Gospel, p. 46 puts it this way:

As Acts 2 proclaims that the first Christians “devoted themselves to the Apostles teaching, to the community, to shared meals, and to prayers …. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” They did not separate economics from theology or spirituality. Within the body of Christ, unity of spirit leads to the quest for physical well-being. While there may have been inequalities in income and property, there was no destitution or neglect. Everyone had enough of the Earth’s bounty to have the energy and inspiration to share the good news of God’s life-transforming Shalom. Putting God first lead Jesus’ first followers to generosity and sacrificial living in which the neighbor’s need outweighed property rights and personal comfort.

Ruth Fletcher expresses the vision and the goal well in her book Thrive: Spiritual Habits of Transforming Congregations, p. 48:

Those first followers gathered around Jesus’ table in order to be shaped by the values embedded in the story of God’s New Creation. They came together to be equipped with the tools and the courage necessary to make God’s intentions real. Although not large in number, the small bands that followed Jesus began to affect the whole fabric of the culture around them. They were like grains of mustard seed springing up like bushes everywhere. They were like leaven affecting the whole loaf, like salt flavoring the whole pot of soup. They were like light shining from a lamp stand showing what God had in mind for the world.

Today we look to large church programs with the goal of bringing people into the church. Might we not accomplish more if we became those grains of mustard seed in order to impact the world around us. In order to do that we have to be willing to live sacrificially, not as a momentary impulse, but as a lifestyle.

One last thing I’d like to note about this series is that, while I’ve followed Dave Black’s outline from Seven Marks, I’ve been able to find very similar notes from my other two authors. These three authors come from different denominations and different tradition streams, yet they find many similar principles for how we should live as the church.

There are many things we can argue about, but I perhaps we can agree that we should be living as a community, caring for one another, and carrying out our witness through caring for the entire world.

Two Books in New eBook Channels

I don’t write that much about my day to day life on this blog, but here’s a snippet and a bit of good information combined with advertising.

Energion Publications keeps me busy, and it’s growing. It never grows as fast as I’d like to do, but even so I have to balance finances and time, and it’s not always easy. Let’s rephrase that. It’s really never easy.

Right now I have five new books in the final stages, from page layout to proofs to finalizing everything for print. You can keep your eyes open for Running My Race by David Alan Black, for which I also wrote the foreword, The Gospel according to Mark: A Participatory Study Guide by Bob McKibben, Holy, Dark Place by Daniel MacGregor (the latest volume in the Areopagus Critical Christian Issues series), A Cup of Cold Water by Chris Surber (the next Topical Line Drive), and The Ground of God by Donna Ennis. Only the first two are in the catalog, but they’re moving along.

At the same time, we’re trying to catch up on ebook production, which is also largely something I do. We publish ebooks for iTunes (iBooks), B&N Nook, Kindle, Google Play, and an assortment of less popular outlets. Today, I prepared several editions of Tithing after the Cross and Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. I just uploaded those books to iTunes and they should become available in the next day or so. They are both already available on the Kindle store. You can find out more about our ebook offerings on Energion Direct. You can find all our Kindle books in our Kindle aStore.

I’m going to write a bit about Seven Marks later today as I finish up my series of blog posts on that book, but I wanted to comment on Tithing after the Cross. As I prepared it for publication in epub format (what iBooks and most outlets other than use), I was struck again by the thoroughness of author David Croteau in dealing with a variety or arguments for and against tithing. But he doesn’t leave it there. In just 94 pages he really does get to what the subtitle calls “a new paradigm for giving.” That latter part is what is important. May think, as I once did, that we have to cling to the idea of tithing, even if it’s a truncated form that just means some type of regular giving, even if that’s 2%. In many churches, people are urged to move toward a “full tithe,” which means 10% of their income. David argues that this is not the New Testament basis for giving.

We have another book, Stewardship: God’s Way of Recreating the World by Steve Kindle. It also starts the discussion of stewardship in a completely different place than your standard stewardship sermon. I’m embedding below the video of my interview with David and Steve on this topic. I think you’ll find it enlightening.

And now back to trying to get a few more things done in the publishing business!

Translating Metaphors and the NLT of Isaiah 43:2

is43-2I am very slow to criticize translations in broad terms. Every time I point out what I consider to be a problematic rendering in some Bible translation, someone will ask me if they should discard that version in exchange for a more accurate one. Any translation will contain renderings that can be questioned. In many cases there were people on the translation committee who questioned the chosen rendering. Translation has a great deal of art to it. Keep that in mind as I criticize this rendering in the New Living Translation.

Here’s the NLT of Isaiah 43:2 —

When you go through deep waters,
    I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
    you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
    you will not be burned up;
    the flames will not consume you. (via

Now I think the NLT has captured some of the meaning very clearly. The interesting thing is the translation of the metaphors. The words [of difficulty] and [of oppression] are not explicit in the Hebrew. Now the metaphor probably justifies this reading as a good option for understanding the text. My problem with it is that the metaphor is, in my opinion, equally comprehensible in English as it is in Hebrew. That is, in reading this passage, an English-speaking reader would probably feel free to choose from the same set of events or experiences that might be referenced by the metaphor.

On the other hand, the modern reader might tend not to see the same range of literal understandings. “Through deep waters” doubtless would evoke the Red Sea (Sea of Reeds) and possibly the flood. “Through rivers” would likely evoke the story of crossing the Jordan, while “fire of oppression” might well draw on the story of the three Hebrews (Daniel 3), though of course based on dating, that story might even be said to draw on this. In this way the NLT rendering takes away some literal connections to the narrative of Israel’s history/traditions which might easily be missed.

The three metaphors are each translated with a different impact. The first, “deep waters” is left literal. This is perhaps due to the flood, Red Sea (Sea of Reeds), and the Jordan. In the second case we break out the metaphor, though it is closely parallel to the first, but we break it out in a generic sense, “of difficulty,” which says to the reader, “Don’t take this literally, but it has broad application.” Finally, in discussing fire, we get very specific, and say, “fire of oppression.”

But does not that third option reduce the potential for the English reader to less than the Hebrew intends? Yes, sometimes translators have to make this sort of choice, but in this case, I think we take a passage that can be clearly understood when rendered in a largely formal fashion, and actually diminish its impact with explanatory prepositional phrases.

This isn’t a terrible rendering, but at the same time, it struck me as not being one of the better ones in the NLT.


Self-Demonstrating Statements

Well, only if you blog them.

Yesterday I wrote about checking the truth of what we post on social media, (though I was more interested in us checking the truth of what we share about one another personally), and today I note that a post by Ed Brayton (Dispatches from the Culture Wars), written by a liberal urging liberals not to share/quote certain (types of) sources (Please Stop Sharing Links to These Sites), now has 581 comments (It’s 10:30 am central time). Most of these comments clearly demonstrate the problem that Ed is talking about. (Mental Health Warning: Read only a judiciously selected small portion of these comments.)

And since I know I have both conservative and liberal readers, and many that defy classification, if you’re nodding your head about the liberal sites, be aware that there are plenty of conservative sites that behave likewise. The names aren’t the key. It’s the behavior and the content.