This month: 189 - Freedom in Christ
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Archives for November, 2015

RatCritic1I found this statement at the end of the animated film Ratatouille profound. These are the words of the food critic Anton Ego in his review of the restaurant in the movie.

“In many ways the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgement. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read.

But, the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things... the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are
times when a critic truly risks something… and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends.

Last night I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from an singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking, is a gross understatement– they have rocked me to my core.

In the past I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto: “Anyone Can Cook”. But I realize only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.

It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the
genius now cooking at Gusteau’s, who is, in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest Chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau’s soon, hungry for more.”

I think this quote nails a few things about playing the part of the critic. Critics are a dime a dozen online. Doers are fewer and further between. People will always find it easier to tear down than to build up…to deconstruct rather than reconstruct. It is harder to pick up a brick, put down the mortar and set it in place than to take a hammer or a bulldozer and knock a building down. Bricks left in a field do not organize themselves into a building and buildings left in a field will ultimately turn into a pile of bricks. Entropy is the normal direction of things…things tend to fall apart. Building takes vision, energy and risk. Criticism puts the risk on someone else. To deconstruct without being willing to do the heavy lifting of reconstructing is reckless laziness. It is always far easier to criticize people or even churches or ministries or Christianity as a whole than it is to do something meaningful that shapes a better tomorrow.

Let us all be working to make a difference. Let us use words that build up rather than tear down. Let us speak the truth in love. Let us be patient with each other and realize that just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t mean they are dishonest or your enemy. May God have mercy on us all!

marginIf you really want to understand the birth of Jesus you have to look back to the Old Testament. One reason I can say that with confidence is that all four Gospels start by pointing backward. Matthew starts with a genealogy going back to David and Abraham. The NIV uses the word “genealogy” to translate the Greek word “Genesis” which means “beginning.” Mark skips Jesus birth but does just the word beginning (arche, not genesis) to start wit the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Luke starts with the birth of John the Baptist and also, like Matthew, also gives us a genealogy going back to Adam. John starts with a phrase taken from Genesis 1, “In the beginning” (like Mark, the word arche). All four Gospels start with the idea of beginning and three of the four (the three that have anything to say about the Incarnation) have a beginning that is not the birth of Jesus. The all point backward to the Old Testament. Even Mark starts by pointing back to the Old Testament as he quotes Isaiah only 2 verses into his gospel and then has John the Baptist reference Jesus as the “Lamb of God.”

The birth of Jesus is not the start of the Gospel. The Gospel writers knew that if you want to know the full story of Jesus you have to look back to the Old Testament. So let’s do that for a minute. Let’s start with Matthew 1:1,

You know more Greek than you thought…“Biblos geneseos Isou Christou”

Literally – [This is the] book of [the] Genesis of Jesus Anointed.

Matthew tells us exactly who Jesus is. He is the Messiah (Hebrew word for Anointed. This is Christ in Greek). He then backs up that assertion with his evidence, the family tree of Jesus. This family tree gives us both the expected and the unexpected origins of Jesus. First the expected – his lineage through Abraham shows he is Jewish and a member of the covenant and recipient of the covenant promises and blessings of Abraham. Then comes his connection with David, making him in line for the divine promise of a ruler to come from the lineage of David. This means Jesus is eligible to be the Messiah. He doesn’t violate the family tree criteria.

But there is more…the unexpected people in the family tree:

  • Tamar (1:3) – She was a Canaanite who had a child through her father-in-law Judah. The levirate marriage laws required the brother of her deceased husband to bear children for his brother in his deceased brother’s name. Her deceased husband’s brother refused and so she was determined to have a child out of her husband’s blood line. So she tricked/seduced her father-in-law Judah into impregnating her. This child is in the lineage of Jesus.
  • Rahab (1:5) – Another Canaanite who didn’t play the part of a prostitute to be impregnated by her father-in-law. She was a prostitute. She was spared in Jericho and ended up in the family tree of Jesus.
  • Ruth (1:5) – A Moabite who married Boaz. It is possible that was also another questionable sexual exploit like Tamar and Rahab but that is in dispute. She was, like Tamar and Rahab, a foreigner to Israel.
  • Bathsheba (1:6) – She was married to Uriah the Hittite (a foreigner) and had an affair with David.
  • Mary (1:16) – poor, teenage pregnant mom who had baby Jesus out of wedlock in a backroom stable at an out of town house. Obviously, that wasn’t anything scandalous when the truth is told and understood as she was with child via the Holy Spirit and not by her own sinful behavior.

Then come the shepherds. We read that as a quaint detail. Shepherds were typically at the bottom of the social scale. They were typically pretty poor. It says a lot about a God who would first reveal the unfolding mystery of the Gospel that the angels and prophets longed to know to shepherds. Joel Green, in his fantastic commentary on Luke, points out that this is a direct connection with Mary’s song in Luke 1, particularly 1:52, “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.” We see the unexpected come out on top over the expected.

These are the unexpected ones. It is no wonder that Jesus had a heart for the tax collectors and “sinners” and that he allowed table fellowship with people of questionable character and sexual history. Jesus was without sin and yet he could relate to these people because these were his people…sheep without a shepherd. So we start with the family tree of Jesus because it helps make sense out of not even just the birth of Jesus but also the life and ministry of Jesus. We are reminded that even though we sin, Jesus still has a place for us.

In Luke 14:15-24 he tells a parable about a wedding banquet. The first people invited were those one would expect to attend a celebration of this magnitude but they refuse to come. One just bought a field. Another just bought some oxen he wants to test drive. Still another just got married. Many commentators have noticed that these three things were in the Torah regarding those excluded from having to go to war in this exact order (property, work and marriage – Deut 20:5-9). Many have also noticed that those who were invited in the remaining verses of the parable were the “unclean” ones of society (see below). Jesus is reversing the expectation in his new way of doing things…in his own “holy war” so to speak (see Swartley’s Israel’s Scripture Traditions in the Synoptic Gospels, 136-137). Jesus is fighting a different kind of fight and he invites us to a table of the unexpecteds. This was nothing new…the baby in the manger warned us this was coming!

Here is how the parable ends,

“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

“‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

The margins are exactly where Jesus finds those willing to accept his invitation. It is entirely possible to think you are on the guest list but not even know that you received an invitation. The invitation might come from the mentally challenged person who “interrupts” your Bible class, the child who wants your attention so badly that they misbehave to get it or the person you hesitate to make eye contact with because you know they will ask you for money. These are the daily invitations we receive…invitations from the margins…invitations from the least of these to participate in something that we might not choose otherwise but are at the very heart and soul of what the Gospel is all about.

TopicalCommentary-Revelation

Bruce Metzger – Breaking the Code *DEAL*
This little book offers some great insights into the book of Revelation. This was my first crack and studying Revelation and I still remember all of the discoveries I experienced reading this book. I would encourage people to start here as it will introduce you to material that you can get in greater detail in some of the commentaries below. You can get this for around $2 on amazon.

David deSilva – Seeing Things John’s Way: The Rhetoric of the Book of Revelation
deSilva takes an approach he calls the contemporary-historical approach that tries to understand Revelation in its own day and time in order to understand it in ours. I just call that solid biblical interpretation 🙂 So this book isn’t really a commentary that goes by chapter and verse. It is almost like a theology of Revelation that mainly covers the meaning that is revealed through the rhetorical approaches used in the book and the apocalyptic genre of the book.

A.P. Garrow – Revelation (New Testament Readings)
Garrow tries to identify the story that he believes underlies the text. This is like when we recognize that Paul’s writing is not narrative and yet there is a narrative that underlies a lot of what Paul writes about (the story of Adam or Abraham for example). This is a similar take on Revelation based on statements of what must soon take place. That leads Garrow to believe Revelation follows a narrative that helps explain the content of the book. This is an interesting approach but not one I would go to first.

 

Commentaries

David Aune – Revelation (Word Biblical Commentary)

I picked this up not very long ago so I haven’t had the chance to use it very much. I picked it up based on its reputation in the series as being one of the better commentaries on Revelation.

G.K. Beale – The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary)
I have used this on a number of occasions and have found it incredibly helpful. While the commentary section requires some knowledge of Greek the introductory material does not and it is both lengthy and very helpful.

Grant Osborne – Revelation (Baker)
These commentaries usually either go multivolume or else are just ginormous. This one went the ginormous route. If you want a wide variety of scholarly opinion over the years on various interpretations this is the commentary you will want to consult.

Richard Oster – Seven Congregations in a Roman Crucible: A Commentary on Revelation 1-3
This is the first in what will be a multivolume commentary on Revelation by Dr. Oster who teaches at Harding School of Theology. I have read it in its entirety and it is very useful. This is a must read on the first three chapters, studies on the letters to the churches, etc and especially if you want it from someone who comes from a Restoration/Church of Christ background.

Mitchell Reddish – Revelation (Smyth & Helwys)
This is probably my favorite commentary on Revealtion. It is a bit pricey (as Revelation commentaries tend to be) but it also comes with a CD of the entire commentary in pdf. That allows you to search the text of the commentary, which has helped me on a number of occasions. This commentary is technical enough for advance students but also easy enough to read for people just starting out.

Tom Wright – Revelation for Everyone *DEAL*
Great beginning study on Revelation. You can get this for less than $10 at amazon and it covers the entire book of Revelation.

marginIt is easy to think the “margins” are over there somewhere but the truth of the matter is this…not only are the margins closer than you think, the margins are actually within you. What kind of margins am I talking about? When we use phrases like the “margins of society” we are usually talking about the down and out, those who have difficulty belonging, the disenfranchised and “marginalized” of the world. So when we say “margins” it is usually used in the sense of people “other” than us. It is used of people who we think are mostly not like ourselves.

This comes from a belief that the margins and the marginalized are “out there” somewhere. It doesn’t seem very close to home. The truth of the matter is the margins are not just without…the margins are also within. This is true in two ways, two sides of the same coin. In one sense, the margins are within the heart of every Christian as we are called to be aliens and strangers in this world (1 Peter 2:11). We are called to a new belonging that excludes belonging to the old order of things. That is the bright side of the margins being within us. However, that is only one side of the coin.

The dark side of the margins living within us is that each and every one of us has the propensity to sin. Each and every one of us has the ability to inflict pain on others. You and me and every other adult within 10,000 miles of you has the ability to indulge in things that are unhealthy which reminds us that the things we typically associate with people who are broken on the margins can also be present in our lives. Maybe we hide it better. Maybe we manage it better. Or maybe we just haven’t had the circumstance where it cost us everything but the roots or even the full grown tree of those same things is present within us as a reminder that the margins aren’t just close…they are within.

The margins are within you. That should help us relate to those who we see who are in serious need of help because they are less “other” than we once thought they were as we begin to be more honest about what is inside our own hearts.

shaneclaiborneA big thank you to Shane Claiborne for taking a few moments to talk about everything from the new monastic movement to how we see and treat those who are different than ourselves. I am convinced these are words we need to hear more and more in a world that is pushing people to the margins. As the margins grow so does the need for communities of faith in those areas. Shane doesn’t just teach this. He embodies it.

Matt: What does that mean for you when you talk about the new monastic movement?

Shane: Monasticism begins with mono which is like when Kierkegaard said, “to will one thing” which is to seek God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. It fuses together orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Right thinking and right living. Those are things we have often separated. When I think of some of the great renewals in the church I think of folks like St. Francis and Clare of Assisi who, through their lifestyle, were challenging the patterns of materialism and militarism and it affected the Christianity of their age. Those movements of renewing the church have happened throughout history. I think of the Catholic worker movement and Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin and others.

The monastic folks have the spirit of being in the world but not of the world, sort of peculiar people who have gone to the desert to live on the margins of the empire. Sister Margaret, who is a mentor of mine, says the inner city is our contemporary desert. This is where we go to find God on the margins of the empire. This is where we go to build a new society in the shell of the old one. So we have been mentored from the very beginning by Catholic folks who are invigorating the best of the monastic spirit.

A few years ago we put together the twelve marks, twelve distinctive characteristics of the new monastic movement. These are things like: racial justice, environmental care, nonviolence.

Matt: There isn’t a cookie cutter that fits all of the early desert fathers but it seems to me one of the common themes you hear from them is that their withdrawal from urban centers that was in part due to a recognition of their own fleshliness and temptations. I hear them saying that they live in the wilderness because they knew that if they lived in the city they would probably not be living the kind of life God intended for them to live. What is it for you that draws you into urban life instead of away from it?

Shane: First, in response to your thoughts on leaving society. There is one big misunderstanding of the monastics leaving society. I don’t think that is it at all. I think they were going to the desert to build a new society and in a sense to build a new world, a new culture together where it was easier to be good and holy. Sister Margaret and others said the desert was filled with the most beautiful saints and the worst of sinners. So there were a lot of people there who were outlaws and outcasts. So it wasn’t like some Utopian world. It was a hard place but it was also where they found God. In some of the places our communities are like in Canton, New Jersey or in Kensington North Philadelphia where we have abandoned houses there is this struggle in a very real way of the light and darkness or the good and bad. The principalities and powers are here. You read the monastics and they talk about wrestling with demons. You see that in a way that I didn’t growing up in the hills of Tennessee or in the suburbs and cul de sacs.

We see God all the time here. People only hear bad things about our neighborhood. Kensington is known as the badlands. I always say you have to be careful when you call a place the badlands because that is exactly what they said about Nazareth. Nothing good can come from there. I think we see God in the margins. Jesus was born as a refuge in a manger and spent much of his life on the margins. He was crucified in the center of Jerusalem. We see that in Jesus and the early Christian movement.

The city chose me. I moved to Philadelphia to go to school at Eastern partly because I wanted to study the Bible and I also went to study sociology. I like how Karl Barth said we have to read the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other so that our faith doesn’t just become a ticket into heaven and a license to ignore the world around us.

Philadelphia caught my attention in 1995 when a group of homeless families were living in an abandoned cathedral. Even from the beginning they connected theology with what they were doing. They put a banner on the front of the cathedral that said, “How can we worship a homeless man on Sunday and ignore one on Monday.” Those families really opened my eyes to the city and that neighborhood has been my home ever since. We have been here twenty years building a little village that’s inspired by the monastic renewal and by the spirit of the early church where they shared everything in common. No one claimed their positions as their own.

Matt: You mentioned that being in east Tennessee or in places of more affluence, that you didn’t see these things there even though they were present. What is it that makes it so hard for us to see those things in the context of affluence?

Shane: We can ignore suffering no matter where we live. There are people who live a few miles from here who never see much poverty or the injustices that live on our doorstep. There is extreme poverty in Appalachia, where I was, and increasingly poverty is not just an urban thing. There are a lot of suburbs where there is great poverty.

When you look at Matthew 25 where Jesus is talking about the least of these, people asked when did we see you hungry or in prison. What I take away from that is that we can live and die and not choose to see people who are in prison or a stranger in need of a house or refugees…the choice to see is a choice. There are scriptures that point to that like in 1 John when he says how can I pass by my neighbor who is in need and not have compassion and say the love of God is in me. I like how someone once said being a Christian is not about having new ideas but having new eyes. This is the ability to have our hearts broken with the things that break the heart of God. That is part of what it means to be a Christian.

Matt: In Richard Beck’s book The Slavery of Death he talks about how we have professionalized and clinicalized suffering with the example of how we used to tend to our sick and home and when they died we buried them in the backyard. It was all very personal. Now people take them to hospitals away from where you can see the hurt and pain. We insulate ourselves from suffering. What advice would you give to churches that are in places where the suffering is present but maybe not something we see or choose to see? How can Christians and churches engage more in those areas?

Shane: We have a relational problem with those who are suffering or who are different from us. All of us are most comfortable around people who are like us culturally and economically. Jesus is challenging that when addressing “who is your neighbor” and he has a lot of hard things to say about family, “unless you hate your own family you are not going to be a disciple.” He is challenging the limits of our compassion and our love as if someone’s kid suffers it should be as devastating to us as if it were our own kid. That is what the early church said. If you have two coats you have stolen one. We have no right to have more than we need when someone else has less than they need.

This is something we see racially in the church as well. As Dr. King said, one of the most segregated hours in the world is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning. We end up reinforcing segregation. We reinforce the walls rather than tear them down. That doesn’t change until our relationships change, until our dinner tables and living rooms change. Mother Theresa said it is very fashionable to talk about the poor but it is not as fashionable to talk to the poor. The question is, Do we know poor people? Matthew 25 says, if I was a stranger you welcomed me in. I was in prison and you visited me. These are very personal, relational acts of compassion. For a lot of wealthy folks, it is not that they don’t care about poor folks it is that they don’t know poor folks.

It is similar with race too. Sometimes our tunnel vision is limited to what we see outside our window. Until racial injustice becomes personal then I don’t think it moves us in our gut. What the Black lives matter movement is doing is they are making it personal. They are making it hash tagged, exposing the racial injustice that continues to haunt our country in a way that you can’t ignore. There is power in injustice becoming personal.

Matt: There seems to be a tendency in ministry of thinking that if we have a ministry for that then we are that kind of people or we are that kind of church. A church solution is not ultimately a personal solution. I think it starts around a table. There was the Corinthian church who had the socioeconomic divisions around the Lord’s table in 1 Corinthians 11 where the rich are going first and getting full and the poor are going last and it is so bad that Paul says they aren’t even taking the Lord’s supper any more. One thing I gathered from what you are saying is that if we started out around our own dinner table, not just thinking the church needs to take care of it on Sunday morning during that “most segregated hour” that even if we addressed it in the assembly or as a ministry that we still don’t have to take it or make it personal.

Shane: That is part of our critique of some of the charity and service work is that we can still keep relationships at a distance by creating programs that offer services but we don’t really create a reconciled community. That is the most radical thing the church is called to do. It is not just that Jesus ran programs for the poor but Jesus actually ate dinner with people. There is a difference between feeding someone and eating dinner with them. If every Christian at home just made room for the stranger we would end homelessness overnight. If every Christian family brought in a child who needed a family we would put the foster care system out of business.

When it comes to the big issues like immigration, everyone has a role. The government has a role. The church has a role. Every Christian has a role. We can run programs and still not have that kind of community. So Mother Theresa said it is not how much we give that is important but how much love you put into doing it. So it is not just how many units of housing we create or how good our health care system is, it is that people have someone to eat dinner with and that people have someone to hold their hand when they die. That is what we are called to do and it is the love of Christ. It is relationships. When we have those relationships we cannot help but to develop a heart for justice to care about why people are hungry. When one in three Black men are in prison, those larger systemic injustices become a part of what it means to love our neighbor as ourself. We care about dismantling institutional racism. That begins in relationships when you see injustice happen.

That is the power of the Eucharist. At the communion table you have rich and poor together in the early church and they were being challenged. We don’t actually have rich and poor together instead we have a family. What does it mean? If you have resources, you hold them with open hands. The mark of the early church was that they began sharing and it said there were no needy persons among them. They ended poverty as they created this new loving community. The Eucharist is a symbol of that as you have bread, the staple food of the poor, and wine, a luxury of the rich, which are brought together at the table. They both have in them things that are crushed: grain and grapes to become a new substance. Some people were getting to worship while others hadn’t gotten there yet so they were well fed at the love feast while other people had jobs and couldn’t come early. There was a class thing that was happening during the love feast that Paul is getting at that they weren’t waiting on everyone to get to the table and that is a disgrace.

Ghandi said in a world with so many hungry people it just makes sense that God would come as food. God sent the living bread and the living water in a world where there is so much thirst and so much hunger. We can super-spiritualize those but for many it made a lot of sense that God is bread and God is water as those are things that are killing people who don’t have them.

Matt: We are in an identity crisis in many of our churches trying to figure out who we are and what we are really all about. Christianity has lost some of its position, power and influence in the Western world and we had put so many eggs in that basket that as that is removed we are confused as to who we are. Jesus said that nothing grows unless a seed falls to the ground and dies. Only then will something else grow that is more what it should be. It seems to me we have fantastic opportunity to re-envision things. How do you see Christianity re-pointing things into the future?

Shane: The future of the church is also about looking back and looking at where we see these wonderful renewals and what we can learn from the early church. I think it is a really exciting time where Phyllis Tickle said every few hundred years the church needs a rummage sale where we can get rid of some of the clutter. We can also cling to the treasures of our faith and get rid of the things that are cluttering that. It is a time we are seeing some trending away from the things that were cluttering our faith. There is an innocence or purity that we see in renewals and in the Mennonite church and a new an invigorated civil rights movement. We see it in things like Moral Monday’s in North Carolina and in people like Traci Blackmon in Ferguson. It is a really exciting time to be alive.

So I have this certain reluctance when it comes to this idea that we are spiritual but not religious and we want Jesus but not the church. Why can’t we have both? With the early Christians you couldn’t have God as your father unless you have the church as your mother. This isn’t accepting the church as a perfect thing. It is as my friend said that when people say the church is full of hypocrites, he says we always have room for more. The world is looking, not for Christians who are perfect, but for Christians who are honest and who are willing to be honest with some of our contradictions and hypocrisy. The church is a place where broken people can fall in love with a beautiful God.

_______________

If you want to get to know Shane better check out the bio below. I have been blessed by reading his books and one of his best, Irresistable Revolution is being updated and expanded. He also has a new book on the death penalty coming out next year called Executing Grace.

Shane Claiborne graduated from Eastern University and did graduate work at Princeton Seminary. In 2010, he received an Honorary Doctorate from Eastern. His adventures have taken him from the streets of Calcutta where he worked with Mother Teresa to the wealthy suburbs of Chicago where he served at the influential mega-church Willow Creek. As a peacemaker, his journeys have taken him to some of the most troubled regions of the world – from Rwanda to the West Bank – and he’s been on peace delegations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Together with his friend Tony Campolo, Shane heads up Red Letter Christians, a movement of Christians committed to living out the lifestyle prescribed in the Gospels. Shane is also the visionary leader of The Simple Way, an organization in inner city Philadelphia that has helped birth and connect radical faith communities around the world. He is married to Katie Jo, a North Carolina girl who also fell in love with the city (and with Shane). They were wed in St. Edwards church, the formerly abandoned cathedral into which homeless families relocated in 1995, launching the beginning of the Simple Way community and a new phase of faith-based justice making.

Shane writes and travels extensively speaking about peacemaking, social justice, and Jesus. Shane’s books include Jesus for President, Red Letter Revolution, Common Prayer, Follow me to Freedom, Jesus, Bombs and Ice Cream, Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers – and his classic The Irresistible Revolution. Shane’s newest book is Executing Grace (February 2016).

Shane has been featured in a number of films, including Another World Is Possible and The Ordinary Radicals. His books are translated into more than a dozen languages. Shane speaks over 100 times a year, nationally and internationally. His work has been published in Esquire Magazine, SPIN, Christianity Today, and The Wall Street Journal. He has appeared on Fox News, Al Jazeera, CNN, and NPR.  You can follow Shane on Twitter (@shaneclaiborne), Facebook (Shane Claiborne), and www.redletterchristians.org.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
we tremble before this cup,
give us the strength to drink it,
this: our prayer for our enemies.

And we confess
that we are but dust,
we do not have the strength to carry this burden.
So fill us with your Holy Spirit.
May your Spirit intercede for us in this moment.

For nothing draws us to this prayer.
And we confess
that we kneel before you
more out of obedience than grace.
Obedience to the one who commanded us to love our enemies
and pray for those who persecute us.
We pray for our enemies
because the love of Christ compels us.

Father, we pray for our enemies. We pray for ISIS.
And in doing so we face in this moment
the terrible mystery of our faith.
The stumbling block.
The scandal of the cross.
Give us your Spirit, Father,
so that we will not falter in this, our great test, to carry the cross.
Give us the strength to carry the burden of this love.

We pray for our enemies. We pray for ISIS.

We pray for their repentance, their conversion and their salvation.

We pray, dear Father, that you carry these words, through your Spirit, to our enemies.
We pray that these words pierce their hearts and trouble their souls.
Father, may your Spirit move in the hearts of our enemies
to hear these words:

Dear brothers, hear the Word of the Lord.

No more. No more.

Dear brothers, repent. Repent and believe the Good News that the Kingdom of God is in your midst.

Dear brothers, the Kingdom of God is there in the faces of those you kill and rape.

Dear brothers, the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom you seek, is there weeping, pleading in front of you.

Dear brothers, can you see it?

Can you see through the lies of the Evil One?

Dear brothers, my God, your God, the God of Abraham, is a God of peace and love.

So no more, dear brothers, no more. Do not do this terrible thing.

Repent, and believe the Good News.

We are all children of God.

We are all brothers and sisters.

Repent.

For God is a God of love.

Father in Heaven, carry these words,
by your Spirit
carry these words to our enemies.

Wound them with our love and yours.

_______________

This originally appeared on 9/14/2015 on Richard’s blog.

If you would like to pray for the leaders of ISIS by name, here is a list. Add them to your prayer journal and see what God does with this.

Commentary - GalatiansTopical

E.P. Sanders – Paul and Palestinian Judaism
This is a work that kicked off the New Perspective on Paul. Sanders goes into extra-biblical material from Judaism to help us understand how the Jews viewed their own religion. Rather than imposing Luther back on the Torah, this book advises letting Judaism speak for itself. This allows you to read the Torah and the Old Testament with new ears with a greater degree of accuracy. This book has been challenged in several areas but still stands as an important reference work by its own right. There are other works that are shorter and have the benefit of another few decades of scholarship like the next book.

Commentaries

F.F. Bruce – The Epistle to the Galatians (New International Greek Commentary)
Highly technical. This works off of the Greek text rather than the English text so you better have brushed up on your Greek!

Hans Betz – Galatians (Hermeneia)
This is an excellent commentary on Galatians but does require some knowledge of Greek to get the full use out of it.

James Dunn – Galatians (Black’s New Testament Commentary)
Requires less knowledge of Greek and also incorporates information from the New Perspective on Paul that is very helpful. This is commentary is one of my favorites that I would recommend to anyone wanting a better grasp on Galatians.

Ronald Fung – The Epistle to the Galatians (New International Commentary on the New Testament)
I haven’t used this one. I list it because of my respect for the NICNT.

Scot McKnight – Galatians (NIV Application Commentary)
I have used McKnight and this is the perfect commentary for an introduction to Galatians. He is influenced by E.P. Sanders and James Dunn on the New Perspective and I view that as a plus.

Ben Witherington – Grace in Galatia: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary
I haven’t consulted this commentary yet so I am not sure how good it is. I mention it here because I have used BWIII a lot on other studies and respect his work. It is typically very readable with lots of detail but still written well enough that most people would find it helpful.

Tom Wright – Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians
As I have said before these are great to give you the overview but less helpful if you are looking for answers to specific textual questions. I use these any time I am studying a particular book of the New Testament.

Articles

N.T. Wright – Paul, Arabia, and Elijah (Galatians 1:17)

N.T. Wright – The Letter to the Galatians: Exegesis and Theology

 

Three prayer requests.

1. Pray for comfort and peace in Paris, but also in Beirut which was bombed the day before, families on the Russian airliner, and for Syria and Iraq where people suffer on a daily basis from the violence of ISIS.

I wonder why we painted our Facebook pages with French colors but not Lebanese or Russian. Perhaps I have some sense–we have a historic alliance with France….and because they are European…or perhaps the events in Paris are closer to home–they certainly are in terms of media coverage.

Whatever may be the case, we pray for France, but we also pray for everyone affected by ISIS’s violence. Perhaps this is a moment to deconstruct our Western centrism and embrace a desire for all human beings to live in peace. Consequently, we pray for all–including Syrians, Russians, and Iraqis–who have, in recent days, experienced the horror of ISIS violence.

Let us serve them as we are able.

2. Pray God will “break their teeth” (Psalm 58:6) and defang their power; pray God will put things right and reveal a sense of divine justice amidst this violence.

Imprecatory prayers are part of the Hebrew Bible, and they are also part of the New Testament, including Revelation 6:10. This is a legitimate way to express our anger, even our desire for revenge, and especially our desire for justice. We have these feelings, and the presence of these prayers are a divine invitation to express those feelings and desires to God.

At the same time, we leave them with God. We express them, give them to God, and plead with God to do something about it. We trust God will one day put everything to right, and God’s justice will reign upon the earth. Prayer places it in God’s hands, and we divest our hearts of any such feelings by pouring them into God’s heart. And God will do what is right, though perhaps not in our timing.

Let us give our anger to God.

3. Pray for a heart to love refugees, immigrants, and others who come to the West as they escape the violence of Syria and Iraq; pray God will give us a love for our neighbors rather than anger.

I pray my brothers and sisters will not visit the sins of ISIS on their Muslim, Middle Eastern, or immigrant neighbors here in the United States.

I pray we will not permit a few terrorists or ISIS fighters to subvert the merciful intent to receive refugees who seek safety and peace.

I pray we will seek every opportunity to share the love of Jesus with people who come to live among us as the world comes to us and we have a grand opportunity (which we have not had previously with many Muslims) to love them as Christ has loved us.

Let us treat our neighbors with goodness and mercy.

May God have mercy!

IMG_0776[1]Topical

Gerd Theissen – The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity: Essays on Corinth
This book is a series of translated essays. The points of interest are his discussion of the strong and the weak and the Lord’s supper and the economic/demographic issues tied to each one. I had never considered how wealth would impact the availability of eating meat and how that also then impacts the economic and religious function of the meals that these Christians were engaged in.

Ben Witherington – A Week in the Life of Corinth
A fictional account of life in Corinth that pulls together biblical, cultural and historical points to help one make sense out of how life in Corinth would have been in Paul’s day.

Commentaries

C.K. Barrett – The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Black’s NT Commentary)
This is a great all around commentary on 2 Corinthians. I would first go to Witherington and then to this one. For more technical information try Martin.

Ralph P. Martin – 2 Corinthians (Word Biblical Commentary)
A more technical commentary that requires some knowledge of Greek to be able to get the most of of it.

Ben Witherington – Conflict & Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary

Tom Wright – Paul for Everyone: 2 Corinthians
Very introductory and yet still useful for a more advanced study. I often go here early in my study to help get the gist of the text and then go to the more in depth commentaries in order to get the finer details. Wright’s For Everyone series gives me cubbies in my mind to put the other information into.

TopicalCommentary - Ephesians

Walter Wink – Engaging the Powers
A powerful and engaging look at spiritual powers and warfare. This is a must read on the principalities and powers.

Watchman Nee – Sit, Walk, Stand
This is devotional material based on three of the imperatives in Ephesians. This book challenged me spiritually and is one that I will definitely read a few more times.

Commentaries

Ernest Best – A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Ephesians (International Critical Commentary)
A pricey but extremely helpful commentary on Ephesians. There are a few other options that are nearly as good without spending this much money. This one and the Word commentary below will require some knowledge of Greek to be beneficial.

F.F. Bruce – The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon and to the Ephesians (NICNT)
Bruce’s commentaries in the NICNT commentary series are exceptional and ones that I turn to over and over again. I would go to O’Brien and Witherington before going to Bruce and definitely before spending the money on Best.

Andrew Lincoln – Ephesians (Word Biblical commentary)
This is considered to be one of the best in the WBC series. I haven’t personally used it to any great length but I keep it on hand because of its reputation and because I often use Word Biblical commentaries or the New International Greek Testament Commentaries if I have question on the original languages.

Ralph Martin – Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon (Interpretation)
This commentary is geared for preachers and teachers and would make a great recommendation for a Bible class teacher looking for resources to assist them in their preparation.

Peter O’Brien – The Letter to the Epheisans (Pillar)
This is my favorite commentary on Ephesians because of its balance of being thorough and yet highly readable/understandable. If I had to pick one commentary for Ephesians this would be the one.

Ben Witherington – The Letters to Philemon, Colossians and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary
This is probably my second favorite after O’Brien and just before Bruce. Definitely one you want to consult if you are studying Ephesians.