Reading Companions?


This is an excerpt from a lecture at a local Christian College class taught by community pastors – my assignment was Neo-Orthodoxy to what is going on now!  The following introduction has to do with our reading companions – who do we consciously or subconsciously rely on to interpret the scriptures?


Theology is written by very human theologians.  The truth of God is eternal and unchanging but our understanding is often tied to the other things we know, or think we know.  We interpret the Word of God by our world, our experience and through our culturally conditioned eyes.  We read the Bible through cultural lenses.  So we see that:

  • The Church Fathers were very influenced by Plato and Neoplatonic thought.
  • The Medieval theologians were influenced by Aristotle.
  • Modernist Theologians were influenced by science, Darwin and a view of human progress.
  • This is seen in how we view Creation, for example. Galileo did not so much challenge the Bible, but a consensus view that was based on Aristotle, Ptolemy and the Bible.
  • This is seen in how we view Revelation – is the Bible a Divine Book only (Neoplatonic church fathers), a human book only (higher critical modernists) or both ( Evangelical – e.g. Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy)
  • This is seen in how we view Salvation – The Christ pictured in the Sistine Chapel is unapproachable and busy sending sinners to hell and saints to heaven (is it any wonder that the people turned to Mary?); the Christ of Liberalism is kindly and humane. Albert Schweitzer said of the “quest for the historical Jesus” that European scholars searched carefully and found that Jesus was just like themselves.

C. S. Lewis said that one should alternate reading current books with old ones. This is one way we help see the trap that is the world view of our own times. Reading church history raises this question for us.  Who or what do we use to stand next to the Bible to interpret it?   Tradition (officially co-equal to scripture in Catholic Theology); Theological schools (Calvin v. Arminius); Popular Culture (church should entertain); the Business world (Pastors are CEOs); Social Media; Psychology (as practiced by Oprah, Dr Phil);

Question: What lens do you use to understand the Bible?

(Full notes – NeoorthodoxyEtc.notes )

10 Commandments – Plus and Minus

10Com This is from last Sunday’s message:

The Ten Commandments have a positive and a negative side.

Most of the 10 are written in the negative.  “Thou shalt not…”  Yet when we think of them, we need to consider them to have a positive and a negative side.  Take each commandment and think of it like a coin. There is a head and a tail. There is a negative “do not do this” and a positive “because you should do this instead.”

John Calvin said this:

“Thus in each commandment we must investigate what it is concerned with… until we find what the Lawgiver testifies there to be pleasing or displeasing to himself….from he same thing we must derive an argument on the other side, in this manner:

            If this pleases God, the opposite displease him;

            If this displeases him, the opposite pleases him;

            If he commands this, he forbids the opposite;

            If he forbids this, he enjoins the opposite.


            “Therefore in the commandment, “you shall not kill” men’s common sense will only see that we must abstain from wronging anyone or desiring to do so.  Besides this, it contains, I say, the requirement that we give our neighbors life all the help we can….God forbids us to hurt or harm a brother unjustly because he wills that the brother’s life be dear and precious to us.”

(Calvin, Institutes 2:8.8)

Is it Real or is it…?


If you are old, like me, you remember the ad for cassette tapes which asked, “Is it real or is it Memorex?”

Sometimes we have to ask if something in the Bible is real or symbolic.

This week I am thinking about Babylon and Jerusalem.  These are real places.  The Biblical story of Babylon begins with Babel in Genesis 11.  The real city/state/empire of Babylon was a looming threat for much of Judea’s history.

And yet Babylon takes on a symbolic role.  St. Augustine spoke fo the City of God and the City of Man.  The City of man is where people deny God and love themselves.  The city of God is where people deny themselves and love God.  Babylon becomes a symbol of this “city of man” in scripture.  The Fall of Babylon in Revelation 17-18 is not just about the location in present day Iraq, but about a world system of government and living that is hostile with God.  Babel/Babylon is symbolic of this stemming back to the goals formed on the Plains of Shinar (Genesis 11:3):

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves…”

Jerusalem was a Jebusite city taken over by King David and selected because of it was a place where wrath was stopped by Sacrifice.  It is also identified with the location where Abraham was to offer Isaac in Genesis 22.  There we find a pregnant promise, “…on the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.”

From the idea that Jerusalem was the home of the King and the location of the Temple, we have a combined hope of glory and grace.  Jeremiah’s the historic city has never lived up to that promise. Consider the description of Lamentations 1:1-2

How lonely sits the city
    that was full of people!
How like a widow has she become,
    she who was great among the nations!
She who was a princess among the provinces
    has become a slave.

She weeps bitterly in the night,
    with tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers
    she has none to comfort her;
all her friends have dealt treacherousl

Isaiah 2 and Revelation 21 share a vision of Jerusalem as a place for the Nations to live in the knowledge and blessing of God.  The citizens of that City of God are those who are born there by faith – as we find in Psalm 87 (NIV)

He has founded his city on the holy mountain.
The Lord loves the gates of Zion
    more than all the other dwellings of Jacob.

Glorious things are said of you,
    city of God:
“I will record Rahab and Babylon
    among those who acknowledge me—
Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush—
    and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.’”
Indeed, of Zion it will be said,
    “This one and that one were born in her,
    and the Most High himself will establish her.”
The Lord will write in the register of the peoples:
    “This one was born in Zion.

As they make music they will sing,
    “All my fountains are in you.”

So when you read Babylon or Jerusalem, ask if it is Real or Symbolic.

Some Bible Reading Links


Daily Reading  Online resources that you can get to your email inbox every day. a regular reading that can be gotten on line, by email or get the book  a Daily Reading with a Read through the Bible in a Year plan.  several devotional reading plans to choose  Several Reading Plans to choose.   Daily Readings with short introduction.

Get the App Top Ten Bible Apps:  I use this one

Commitment and Guilt – those reading plans


New Years.

Yes it seems like a good idea to make a great plan.

Read through the Bible in a year.  However, we tend to shipwreck somewhere between Leviticus and Numbers.

I have a plan to read a chapter of the New Testament and a Psalm in my Spanish/English Bible.

Yet I have already fallen off the wagon.

Alas, I have experience with commitment and guilt.

Here is my advice

  • Avoid over eager plans.
  • Avoid plans with boxes to check off.  All those un-checks stare ate your with outstretched fingers of accusation. Who needs it.  Just read the next chapter whenever you do get to it.
  • The Sabbath is God’s idea, so build in some days without Bible Reading work in it.
  • Remember the point is to learn and internalize.
  • If you are going to try to read the whole Bible, try a plan that mixes OT and NT and a Psalm each day is nice.
  • Reading a genealogy is usually a matter of skimming (but not always as Matthew 1 attests).
  • Reading a parable or proverbs requires that you stop reading and think it over.
  • You did not fail if you fell a few chapters short; think of what you did read.
  • Next year will come soon enough.

Meditation – minding my mindfulness

what I was thinking about during the mindfulness lecture.

what I was thinking about during the mindfulness lecture.

I was just at a lecture on mindfulness meditation. That form of meditation is built upon Buddhist teaching. Its goal is to quiet the mind so that it is not thinking about anything at all, but is at rest. The presenter defined it as “being fully present in the moment.”

This can be a good exercise for a Christian as well. I remember when I was in college and I used to go and sit in the church sanctuary that was near campus. After a half hour of sitting and resting my mind and my ears, I was in a much calmer frame of mind. Sometimes I take a walk outside and enjoy the world that God has made.

Meditation as described in scripture is something different. Rather than clearing the mind, it seeks to fill the mind. Rather than emptying the mind, it seeks to fill it with the scriptures. And rather than being a thing I do alone, it is something I do in fellowship with God. We do not meditate about God, we can meditate with God.
We are out of shape. We are out of practice. Many of us do not know how to do biblical meditation.

There was a study reported in the news. Three fourths of men and 1 third of women in the study could not even tolerate 15 minutes of silence without a book a radio or the internet. When given a chance to think about nothing or receive a small electrical shock, they chose to be shocked! We have so much outer life, that we neglect the inner life.

I sometimes preach a sermon in the form of a congregational meditation. It takes this shape.

Read the verse repeatedly.
Observe each word and phrase.
Connect the verse to your world.
Commit yourself to obedience.

A Proverb is like a Punchline



One scholar said that a proverb is like the punch line of a joke where the rest of the joke is missing.  So you have to think of what kind of story fits the punch line.

Here is a punch line:  “Pastor Dave’s feels longer.”

That does not make a lot of sense.  But when it comes after the first part of the joke it does.


Q: Which is longer, a World Cup game or Pastor Dave’s sermon?

A:  Pastor Dave’s feels longer.





Tale of Two Kings – Daniel 1

JehoiakimI am working on a message on Daniel 1.  The Hebrew text frequently hints at things that are not clearly said.  One has to pay attention.

Daniel 1:1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 

Jehoiakim is the second king after Josiah.

In a previous message, we explored how Josiah came to hear, for the first time, the “Book of the Law” which was found, having been lost in the temple.  Upon hearing the word read, Josiah repented, inquired of the Lord and set out to rid the Temple, the Royal City and the Nation of a cluster of abominations placed there by previous kings.  Josiah is warned that judgment was coming, but that he would not live to see it.  (II Kings 22,23)

Now Jehoiakim, a son of Josiah enters the kingship.  He does not follow the example of Josiah.  An interesting story is told in Jeremiah 36, where the Prophet dictated a scroll to Baruch, who took it to be read in the Temple grounds.  The book was finally brought to this king, who had it read to him, and as it was read, he cut out the pages and tossed them in the fire. No repentance, only disrespect.

So Daniel 1:1 reports that after 3 years of his reign, he is besieged by Nebuchadnezzar.  the holy vessels of the temple are taken away and placed in Babylonian temples – presumably for safe keeping until the 70 year exile would end.

The end of the chapter, after Daniel and his three companions survive a test of faith and loyalty, it is said that Daniel served in exile until King Cyrus – the instrument of restoration – came to power 65 years later.

In the heart of the city of God and the house of worship was unfaithfulness and a disregard for the word of God – under Jehoiakim.  In the heart of the city associated with magic, decadence, and idolatry, we find faithfulness and care in keeping the Word of God, with Daniel.

Surf or Swim?


Your computer probably is twice as fast at everything that one you owned a few years ago.  The capacity of your computer, tablet, smart phone or other device increases by about 100% every two years.

Your brain works at about the speed that the human brain has always worked.  This is why the amount of information available is not necessarily making us smarter.  We can access more information with more speed than ever before.

Very often we are only riding the surface, not experiencing the depth.

Suppose you were in a boat off of a tropical island, you would see lovely blue water.  It would only be when you stayed in that location but dove below the surface that you would see the very busy world of life below.

Bible study can be done by surfing or swimming. You can listen to the radio, or read the web, or down load pod casts without end.  Almost every church posts the pastors message these days, even we do!

I advocate that you stay longer in a good location and dive in deeply.  You will learn more if you concentrate for a significant time on a single chapter, or psalm or book of the Bible.

The Lord made your mind for swimming, not for surfing.  You can not really take to heart everything you hear.  You can take to heart that which you explore deeply.

This summer, pick just one chapter, or Psalm or one short book and dive in.  Spend the whole month of July with a short passage and see what you will discover in its depths.

Suggestions:  Psalm 32, 104, 139; Matthew 6; Romans 8, Isaiah 40, Job 28.

Farewell Old Friend – NIV 84

yorickI remember back (way back) in High School when the NIV New Testament was coming out.  We had at the time the choice between the King James Version, the RSV and the NASB.  The King James was dated, though still loved.  The NASB was rather wooden, though good for study (think if it as a sturdy ancestor of the ESV).  The RSV was not acceptable among most Evangelicals because of some of its translation choices.  (“young girl” instead of “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14.)

I got the NIV NT and then the NIV whole bible later, when it came out in a nice single column format.  It was my bible for years – notes and highlights in the text.  Until finally it wore out.

Its value is a combination of faithfulness to the original text along with readability.  Some translations that were more “literal” were almost unreadable.  So the NIV was a solid bible for anyone.  People who had not grown up in the church could read it.

I am been reading for a year in the New NIV – it is generally like the Old NIV – there are some changes – the most controversial is the attempt at gender neutrality.  When a male pronoun is really a generic pronoun, they translate it generically.  “Brothers” become “brothers and sisters.”  Yet God is still “Father” and Jesus is still the “Son.”  I’m ok with that.  It is how English works these days.

I have noted a few clunks – when “they” is used for “he” it can change the meaning – from singular to plural.  Psalm 32 was an example of this kind of clunk.

However, overall I find the New NIV usable.

Yet, after a transition, the NIV – 84 has been removed from the list of choices on-line.  You can not buy a new old NIV because they are no longer printed. You can not find it on Bible Gateway, because it is no longer there.

“Alas, Old NIV, I knew you well.”