Sunday, December 31, 2006

A New Thing

Earlier this month, I finished what has been my toughest semester in divinity school so far. Someone should have warned me not to take Greek and Systematic Theology at the same time. but, everything turned out ok, and I have had some time to reflect on what has happened not only in the past semester but in the past year.

As I began my internship at FBC Statesville, there were those around me who encouraged me to investigate a career in the academic world. When you are on the kind of spiritual journey I am on, you tend to look for signposts: messages from God that give you an idea of which roads to take and which roads to pass by. So, a part of me began to wonder if these people were signposts from God pointing me in the direction of the academic world. In order to get a Ph.D., I would need to study German and French in addition to the Hebrew I had already studied and the Greek I was enrolled in. So, I decided I would think and pray about what my future would be this semester and try to make a decision by the end of the semester. To make a long story short, I feel like God has reaffirmed my call to work in the church during this past semester. I found myself enjoying ministry classes, like Pastoral Care and Art of Ministry, much more than the more academic classes like Theology and Greek.

Those of you who know me a little better, know that it has been a tough year. My home church in Tampa split, and the church I have been interning in has been struggling. But during my visit to Logos Dei, a new church start here in Tampa, the words from Isaiah 43 kept going through my head:

18Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. 19I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

While this scripture definitely applies to the life of this new church, I also felt that God was applying this to me. Its time for me to put the events of the last year behind me and its time for me to look for the new things that God is doing. I think this not only applies to my specific situation, but to the situation of the church in general. I think in many churches, the current model is not working; and the time has arrived for something new. What is that something new? I don't know yet, but I have some ideas. This transition to a "new church" is not going to be something we can accomplish on our own. Rather, it will be something my wife calls a "God sized thing"; something so big that we cannot possibly accomplish it on our own.

We need pastors who are willing to set aside their own ideas and, as Henry Blackaby puts it it in Experiencing God, find where God is working and join him in this work. The church is not a business where the pastor is the CEO. We need pastors who recognize that being a senior pastor is not a higher calling than being a youth minister, a music minister, or a children's minister, and as a result, use team models of church organization rather than a hierarchical one. We need congregational leaders who understand that it is not "their church"; it is God's church. Finally, we need clergy and lay leadership who are willing to step out on faith; without faith, God sized things can't happen. This transition to a "new church" is not going to be something we can accomplish on our own. Rather, it will be something my wife calls a "God sized thing"; something so big that we cannot possibly accomplish it on our own.

I believe we have arrived at a pivotal moment in the life of the church. It is a time that is both scary and exciting. It is a time in which the church will need the gifts of all of its leaders, not just pastors. It is a time for everyone to understand that the church of the 21st century may look much different from the church we have come to know.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Merry Christmas!




I'm sorry I have not posted since I finished school this semester, but my computer died shortly after exams were over, and I am still working on getting a new one ready. Gay and I will be headed back to Florida on Christmas day, and I will definitely post some while I am home for the holidays.

I wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and all the best in the new year!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Personal Update

This semester I feel like a little kid sitting in the back of the car on vacation. But instead of constantly asking, "Are we there yet?", I am constantly asking, "Is it over yet?"

Beginning about a third of the way through the semester, I began to feel overwhelmed, and that feeling has evolved into an overwhelming feeling of being overwhelmed. Friday is the last day of classes, and I will be done with exams by next Wednesday afternoon, so please pray for me between now and then. This is obviously why I have not spent much time blogging. Things should be better next semester.

I took the above picture today after class. It is a Wake tradition to TP the quad after a big victory, and our football team has provided plenty of those this year. Wake will be playing Georgia Tech for the ACC championship on Saturday. If they win, they go to the Orange Bowl Not bad for a team that was the preseason pick to finish last.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Dobson + Coulter: Focus on the Fundamentalists

In September of 2003, the then president of Mercer University, Kirby Godsey, delivered a paper at a preaching consultation in St. Simon’s Island, Ga. At the beginning of this paper he had this to say about fundamentalism:

I believe that over the next few decades, fundamentalism will be unmasked and exposed as a fraudulent form of faith. Fundamentalism in all of its expressions worldwide is barbaric and uncivilized, replacing creativity with control and manipulation. It churns out passions that breed religious hatred and bigotry and the twisted wreckage of misplaced devotion. The ascendance of fundamentalist passion and the rhetoric of holy destruction (an oxymoron if I ever heard one) is contributing to the demise of humankind, diminishing our higher calling to love mercy and to do justice and places the progress of human creation in peril. There is not a dime’s worth of difference in Christian, Baptist, Jewish, or Islamic fundamentalism. They are all dangerous, evil forms of religious commitment. People who maim and kill and destroy and put other people down in the name of God are children of evil and the appeal to God’s name does not bring sanctity to their work. Holy meanness is still meanness!
If anyone has any doubts of the wisdom of Godsey's observations, they need only look at this article from EthicsDaily.com. I will be quoting liberally from this article for the rest of this post. Please look at the original article for links that back up much of what the author is writing.

At issue is the recent guest appearance of the ultra-conservative political pundit Ann Coulter on Dobson's Focus on the Family radio program last week. For those of you unfamiliar with Coulter, here are a few quotes I found while surfing the net:

(Concerning Muslim Countries)We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That's war. And this is war.
(Concerning the environment) "The ethic of conservation is the explicit abnegation of man's dominion over the Earth. The lower species are here for our use. God said so: Go forth, be fruitful, multiply, and rape the planet--it's yours. That's our job: drilling, mining and stripping. Sweaters are the anti-Biblical view. Big gas-guzzling cars with phones and CD players and wet bars -- that's the Biblical view."
(This quote is from her latest book Godless: The Church of Liberalism and concerns the widows of 9/11)These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by grief-arazzis. These self-obsessed women seemed genuinely unaware that 9/11 was an attack on our nation and acted as if the terrorist attacks happened only to them. ... I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much ... the Democrat ratpack gals endorsed John Kerry for president ... cutting campaign commercials... how do we know their husbands weren't planning to divorce these harpies? Now that their shelf life is dwindling, they'd better hurry up and appear in Playboy."
Does that sound like a Christian to you? Is this the kind of message you would like to teach your children? Obviously, James Dobson thinks so. What follows is the summary of the interviews as it appeared in the EthicsDaily.com article. I will highlight in red the statements I find to be particularly offensive:

When Dobson asked her about the title of the book and its attack on liberals, Coulter responded, "They are the opposition party to God." However, Coulter does not appear to be a member or regular attender of any church.


Coulter also reportedly swears, drinks and smokes. Additionally, Coulter's over-the-top rhetoric and ad hominem attacks—such as those on women who lost their husbands in the tragic attacks of Sept. 11, 2001—bear little resemblance to the biblical model of being loving or careful in what one says.


Despite these problems, Dobson not only gave Coulter two days of his show but also lavished her with praise throughout the interview. He encouraged her to come on the show again and expressed his "hope" that she would be a guest on the show many times "through the years."


"It is obvious why you drive the liberals absolutely crazy, and it's fun watching you do it," he told her. "You are a good lady. … And I appreciate what you're trying to do."


During the interview, Coulter and Dobson mocked Senator John Kerry's faith and military service. Dobson complained that during the 2004 election, Kerry's five votes against a partial-birth abortion ban were not very widely reported.


Coulter responded with the sarcastic response, "No, what we heard was that he was an altar boy." As she laughed, Dobson added with a chuckle, "Yeah, repeatedly." Coulter would later again state sarcastically, "He was an altar boy" as Dobson chuckled at her response.


Yet, how can they know his sincerity since they cannot know his heart? After all, "James Dobson is no Jesus."


In the midst of this segment making light of Kerry's religious dedication, Dobson also mocked Kerry's military service in Vietnam. He injected with a light-hearted tone, "And by the way, did you know he fought in Vietnam?"


Both Dobson and Coulter laughed at the remark. Yet, even if one accepts the Swift Boat version that Kerry's record was not as heroic as he claimed, he should be praised for actually going and serving his nation in harm's way.


During the interview, the two attacked Hollywood, the media, the courts, affirmative action, stem-cell research, public schools, concerns about torture, environmentalism, feminists and evolution.

Most of the attacks centered on "liberals," their influence on society and their supposed attempts to suppress Christianity and the family.


Dobson repeated and affirmed Coulter's claim in her book that "Liberals are anti-science." Coulter also attacked claims that liberals care about the poor and argued that they instead try to keep people poor and kill the poor.


"Liberals don't care about the poor," she retorted. "That is part of the point of the book to wake people up who are decent people who call themselves 'liberals.' I don't think there are that many of them left, though."


At one point, Dobson asked which institution Coulter would most want to take control of because of its importance.


"The public schools," Coulter responded. "What is being taught in the public schools, I think would make most parents to go out and boil the teachers unions' officials in oil."


Dobson, who has attacked public schools before, chimed in by claiming, "There is no redeeming social value, I think, in the National Education Association." Coulter expressed her agreement with this statement.


Near the end of the interview, Coulter dismissed concerns about how prisoners are treated at Guantanamo Bay. She argued that the idea that one should "shower [your enemies] with kindness" is merely "a liberal idea that will not die." So much for turning the other cheek or praying for your enemies.


Following the interview, Dobson exclaimed on the air, "I really enjoyed this interview." Yet, after the two episodes, one question arises: is this picture of conservative Christianity and family values?
Are these statements consistent with the New Testament you have read? Is Coulter a good example of a Christian following Jesus' instruction to "love your neighbor?"

It is my observation that, historically, moderate Christians have not been willing to speak out against fundamentalists, because we don't want to set the wrong example for what Christians should be. However, I would propose that Coulter and, because he did not correct her, Dr. Dobson are false prophets. Their teachings are not based on scripture, rather they are contrary to them. Paul writes in II Timothy: "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." So, as Christians, it is time for us to speak up and gently use scripture to teach, rebuke, and correct Dobson and other fundamentalists like him.

As a country, we are facing serious issues that will require serious contemplation and discussion from both sides of the aisle. By the way, it has always been my belief that there are and need to be Christians in both parties. If you believe that one party has all the right answers, then you are fooling yourself. These kinds of remarks serve no useful purpose, and are, in fact, counterproductive. Since I identify myself as a Democrat, I will look to a democrat for a better option:
"We believe in a politics...dominated by evidence and argument. There is a big difference between a philosophy and an ideology on the right or the left. If you have a philosophy, it generally pushes you in a certain direction or another. But like all philosophers, you want to engage in discussion and argument. You are open to evidence, to new learning. And you are certainly open to debate the practical applications of your philosophy."

"The problem with ideology is if you got an ideology, you already got your mind made up, you know all the answers, and that makes evidence irrelevant and argument a waste of time, so you tend to govern by assertion and attack. The problem with that is that discourages thinking and gives you bad results."

"I long for the day when Republicans and Democrats will sit around and have these raucous, exciting arguments and actually love learning from one another, and when we create the common good out of a dynamic center."

— Bill Clinton, October 18, 2006 (excerpts speech given at Georgetown University)

We should also encourage Dr. Dobson to change the name of his radio program to "Focus on Fundamentalism" because he has lost his emphasis on the health of the Christian family and seems to be much more obsessed with protecting and increasing his political power.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Olbermann Commentary on Republican Terrorism Ad

With an election coming up soon, you may see a few more political posts from me.

I continue to be impressed with Keith Olbermann's writing skill and eloquence in delivering commentary. Whether you are on the right or on the left, please take a minute to watch this commentary and let me know what you think.


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Fred Craddock Sermon


Fred Craddock preached in one of our chapel services earlier this year. It is one of the most amazing sermons I have heard. It is now available on the Wake Forest Divinity School Website, or you can listen to it by clicking here. Do yourself a favor and listen to this sermon.

In addition, you can listen to some of the other special speakers we have by clicking here.

It looks as if I will be able to take a course with Dr. Craddock next semester, and I am very much looking forward to that.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Earthquakes!

The above image is from the United States Geological Survey, and it shows the THREE earthquakes that have occurred in Winston-Salem today. The first, and largest, was this morning about 5am, and it woke Gay up. The latest was at about 9:11, and Gay and I knew what it was as soon as it happened. The largest only measured a 2.6, so they are not major quakes, but it is still a little bit weird to feel the condo rattle.

Friday, October 06, 2006

A Slightly New Look

I upgraded the blog to the new version of Blogger, so you may notice a few changes to the look of the site. Much of the functionality is the same, but I think it looks nicer, and it is much easier to change.

Let me know if you notice anything that is not working correctly or looks weird.

I am in the midst of mid-terms, but I will try to post something in the next few days.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Something to Think About...

"If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy."
--James Madison


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

What is done in the dark, can be brought to the light.

First, for those of you who may have thought I disappeared, I had a problem with Blogger in the last couple of days that caused my blog to disappear. I appreciate the quick response from them, especially considering I pay nothing for this service. If it happens again, just be patient and try again in a few hours.

Associated Baptist Press has a very interesting article about the role of blogs in a church conflict. One of the churches mentioned is Bellevue Baptist Church, which is the well known church where Adrian Rogers served as pastor.

I would love to hear some reaction to this story, so if you read it, take a minute and leave a comment.

You can read the story by clicking here.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

A New Perspective on Pastoral Care

***Update*** Something went a little screwy when I copied text from Word to Blogger, I think I have it fixed now, but some of the punctuation may be missing.

Occasionally, I like to write about some of the things I have learned in class, and that is the case with this post. I am enjoying my class on pastoral care, so I decided I would write on that for this post.

For those of my readers who are or have been pastors, this may not be a "new perspective," but it was for me. One of the classes I am taking this year is "The Ministry of Pastoral Care." Before starting the class, I admit that I thought of pastoral care as something that mostly happens one-on-one. I thought I would be learning about dealing with birth, marriage, divorce, death and dying. And all of those things will be a part of the class. But, in a congregational setting, ministers must not only do what they can to promote the health of each individual member; they must also protect and promote the health of the congregation as a whole. We are currently reading two books that begin by discussing the health of the congregation.

The first book is Cultivating Wholeness by Margaret Kornfeld. One of the concepts introduced in our reading so far is the role of the pastor in helping to create what she calls "real community" in a church. Churches are frequently referred to as communities of faith.” A community may be thought of as a group of individuals, and, just like an individual, a community can be either spiritually and emotionally healthy or unhealthy. Kornfeld uses the term real community” to describe a community that is healthy. In a real community, a person feels free to be who he or she is; a person does not have to change or pretend to be someone they are not to be accepted by a real community. Real communities are safe” places to be. Real communities allow individual members to disagree with each other and question the leadership of the community without risking their membership in the community. When these characteristics are considered, it becomes easy to see why real communities are actually more prone to conflict. This should actually be considered healthy, however, because in any community situation, conflict is inevitable. The characteristics of a real community allow it to deal with conflict in a healthy way; they are able to, as Kornfeld puts it, claim their conflict” and potentially resolve them before anger reaches a level that harms the community as whole.

Kornfeld uses the term “pseudo community” to describe a community that is unhealthy. Pseudo communities may appear to be real communities, but appearances can be deceiving. There is little room for individual identity in a pseudo community because they tend to emphasize a group identity. The differences of the individual members are not valued, so individual members feel they must conform to the identity of the group and follow the leadership no matter what. Disagreement is discouraged which causes a build up of anger allowing the smallest disagreement to rapidly escalate into a war within the group. Pseudo communities are not safe places to be.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul described Christian community as the “body of Christ,” and the concept of real community fits nicely with PaulĂ‚’s description. A real community values the differences of its members and understands that each of us has different gifts. In addition, only a real community follows Jesus' command that we “love our neighbor.” The type of love Jesus was describing is not conditional; it is not a love that is available only if one is willing to conform.

The second book is Mighty Stories, Dangerous Rituals by Herbert Anderson and Edward Foley. Anderson and Foley discuss the impact that narratives and rituals have on our lives, our worship and the practice of pastoral care. All three of these categories are at their best when they are able to achieve the proper balance between the divine story and the human story. As human beings, we yearn not only to find our place in the divine narrative, but we also want to discover where God is present in our story. Anderson and Foley believe that worship and the practice of pastoral care do not have that balance. Ironically, they believe they are out of balance on different sides of the narrative spectrum. As Christians, we need to do a better job of integrating the human story into our worship and integrating the divine story into pastoral care.

There are many Christians who find worship to be boring and irrelevant. I believe Anderson and Foley are correct when they assert that one of the reasons for this is the fact that many churches have taken the human story out of worship. When a member of a congregation complains that a worship service is boring, he may be told that he is just being selfish and that the worship service is not about him; it is about God. In other words, worship is only about the divine story. But, what if the real problem is that the worship service is not allowing God's story to connect with the worshiper's story ? Would that not result in an image of God in which he can only be found in the church building and not in the daily life of a believer? When we attend a movie, we most often become the most interested in the character we can identify with because their story somehow intersects with ours; we see some part of our story in their story. Consequently, the solution to boring worship may not necessarily be a flashy service with upbeat music and high tech displays. Rather, the key to genuine worship is designing a service that illustrates how God is a part of our lives outside of the church and show where God's story is present in our story. If we are able to do that, our worship, whatever style it may be, will be more genuine.

On the other side of the coin, those entrusted with the ministry of pastoral care may have erred the other way: they have emphasized the human story at the expense of the divine story. One of the reasons for this is the tendency for counselors to draw from psychological theories and practices rather than the Christian story. When we begin to draw from the Christian story, we have to acknowledge the role of God as a co-author, and in doing so, identify where the divine story intersects with the human story. These acknowledgments allow us to open the door to the practice of communal religious rituals in the ministry of pastoral care. The result is that we are able to not only re-connect an individual's story to the divine story, but we are also able to reconnect the individual's story with the story of the community of faith.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Olbermann Commentary

School is keeping me really busy, but I hope to post something this weekend. In the mean time, I read this commentary that Keith Olbermann delivered on MSNBC last night, and I thought it was incredible. Video is available by clicking here.

This hole in the ground


Half a lifetime ago, I worked in this now-empty space. And for 40 days after the attacks, I worked here again, trying to make sense of what happened, and was yet to happen, as a reporter.

All the time, I knew that the very air I breathed contained the remains of thousands of people, including four of my friends, two in the planes and -- as I discovered from those "missing posters" seared still into my soul -- two more in the Towers.

And I knew too, that this was the pyre for hundreds of New York policemen and firemen, of whom my family can claim half a dozen or more, as our ancestors.

I belabor this to emphasize that, for me this was, and is, and always shall be, personal.

And anyone who claims that I and others like me are "soft,"or have "forgotten" the lessons of what happened here is at best a grasping, opportunistic, dilettante and at worst, an idiot whether he is a commentator, or a Vice President, or a President.

However, of all the things those of us who were here five years ago could have forecast -- of all the nightmares that unfolded before our eyes, and the others that unfolded only in our minds -- none of us could have predicted this.

Five years later this space is still empty.

Five years later there is no memorial to the dead.

Five years later there is no building rising to show with proud defiance that we would not have our America wrung from us, by cowards and criminals.

Five years later this country's wound is still open.

Five years later this country's mass grave is still unmarked.

Five years later this is still just a background for a photo-op.

It is beyond shameful.

At the dedication of the Gettysburg Memorial -- barely four months after the last soldier staggered from another Pennsylvania field -- Mr. Lincoln said, "we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."

Lincoln used those words to immortalize their sacrifice.

Today our leaders could use those same words to rationalize their reprehensible inaction. "We cannot dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground." So we won't.

Instead they bicker and buck pass. They thwart private efforts, and jostle to claim credit for initiatives that go nowhere. They spend the money on irrelevant wars, and elaborate self-congratulations, and buying off columnists to write how good a job they're doing instead of doing any job at all.

Five years later, Mr. Bush, we are still fighting the terrorists on these streets. And look carefully, sir, on these 16 empty acres. The terrorists are clearly, still winning.

And, in a crime against every victim here and every patriotic sentiment you mouthed but did not enact, you have done nothing about it.

And there is something worse still than this vast gaping hole in this city, and in the fabric of our nation. There is its symbolism of the promise unfulfilled, the urgent oath, reduced to lazy execution.

The only positive on 9/11 and the days and weeks that so slowly and painfully followed it was the unanimous humanity, here, and throughout the country. The government, the President in particular, was given every possible measure of support.

Those who did not belong to his party -- tabled that.

Those who doubted the mechanics of his election -- ignored that.

Those who wondered of his qualifications -- forgot that.

History teaches us that nearly unanimous support of a government cannot be taken away from that government by its critics. It can only be squandered by those who use it not to heal a nation's wounds, but to take political advantage.

Terrorists did not come and steal our newly-regained sense of being American first, and political, fiftieth. Nor did the Democrats. Nor did the media. Nor did the people.

The President -- and those around him -- did that.

They promised bi-partisanship, and then showed that to them, "bi-partisanship" meant that their party would rule and the rest would have to follow, or be branded, with ever-escalating hysteria, as morally or intellectually confused, as appeasers, as those who, in the Vice President's words yesterday, "validate the strategy of the terrorists."

They promised protection, and then showed that to them "protection" meant going to war against a despot whose hand they had once shaken, a despot who we now learn from our own Senate Intelligence Committee, hated al-Qaida as much as we did.

The polite phrase for how so many of us were duped into supporting a war, on the false premise that it had 'something to do' with 9/11 is "lying by implication."

The impolite phrase is "impeachable offense."

Not once in now five years has this President ever offered to assume responsibility for the failures that led to this empty space, and to this, the current, curdled, version of our beloved country.

Still, there is a last snapping flame from a final candle of respect and fairness: even his most virulent critics have never suggested he alone bears the full brunt of the blame for 9/11.

Half the time, in fact, this President has been so gently treated, that he has seemed not even to be the man most responsible for anything in his own administration.

Yet what is happening this very night?

A mini-series, created, influenced -- possibly financed by -- the most radical and cold of domestic political Machiavellis, continues to be televised into our homes.

The documented truths of the last fifteen years are replaced by bald-faced lies; the talking points of the current regime parroted; the whole sorry story blurred, by spin, to make the party out of office seem vacillating and impotent, and the party in office, seem like the only option.

How dare you, Mr. President, after taking cynical advantage of the unanimity and love, and transmuting it into fraudulent war and needless death, after monstrously transforming it into fear and suspicion and turning that fear into the campaign slogan of three elections? How dare you -- or those around you -- ever "spin" 9/11?

Just as the terrorists have succeeded -- are still succeeding -- as long as there is no memorial and no construction here at Ground Zero.

So, too, have they succeeded, and are still succeeding as long as this government uses 9/11 as a wedge to pit Americans against Americans.

This is an odd point to cite a television program, especially one from March of 1960. But as Disney's continuing sell-out of the truth (and this country) suggests, even television programs can be powerful things.

And long ago, a series called "The Twilight Zone" broadcast a riveting episode entitled "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street."

In brief: a meteor sparks rumors of an invasion by extra-terrestrials disguised as humans. The electricity goes out. A neighbor pleads for calm. Suddenly his car -- and only his car -- starts. Someone suggests he must be the alien. Then another man's lights go on. As charges and suspicion and panic overtake the street, guns are inevitably produced. An "alien" is shot -- but he turns out to be just another neighbor, returning from going for help. The camera pulls back to a near-by hill, where two extra-terrestrials are seen manipulating a small device that can jam electricity. The veteran tells his novice that there's no need to actually attack, that you just turn off a few of the human machines and then, "they pick the most dangerous enemy they can find, and it's themselves."

And then, in perhaps his finest piece of writing, Rod Serling sums it up with words of remarkable prescience, given where we find ourselves tonight: "The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men.

"For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own -- for the children, and the children yet unborn."

When those who dissent are told time and time again -- as we will be, if not tonight by the President, then tomorrow by his portable public chorus -- that he is preserving our freedom, but that if we use any of it, we are somehow un-American...When we are scolded, that if we merely question, we have "forgotten the lessons of 9/11"... look into this empty space behind me and the bi-partisanship upon which this administration also did not build, and tell me:

Who has left this hole in the ground?

We have not forgotten, Mr. President.

You have.

May this country forgive you.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Reflections...(Part 4)

This post is a continuation in my series of posts on my reflections on my first year in divinity school.

As many of you know, Wake Forest is an ecumenical seminary. About half of the students are Baptist, but the other half come from a wide variety of Christian denominations. I have long stated that I believe this is a positive, not a negative and I plan to expand a little bit on my reasons for this in this post. Much of this post will discuss the "Baptist Wars" but I believe my conclusion equally applies to the relationship between Baptists and other denominations.

First, I think it is important for churches to forget the idea that we are in competition with one another. I believe that God has a unique mission for every church. He does not call every church to be a Saddleback, Willow Creek, or Lakewood church. So, it worries me when I see so many churches trying to emulate what these churches are doing so that they can be more "successful." Before any church embarks on a campaign to become "Purpose Driven" or "Seeker Sensitive" or even "Emergent" for that matter, they need to seek God's will for their church. Every church needs to measure their success the way God measures success, not the way men do. Is it possible for a small church in the same neighborhood as a mega-church to actually be more successful than the mega-church? Absolutely! If that small church is carrying out the great commission in its own unique way and acting in accordance with God's will for that church, it is successful and I believe God will bless it. Does that mean it will ever be even a tenth the size of mega-church? Maybe not. But isn't that using our measure of success rather than God's? Isn't it more of a blessing to have a church where God's word is taught, Christians fellowship with each other and support each other on the Christian journey? Is a big fancy building, a large budget, and thousands of members worth more than that? Of course not! It is also important to understand that I am not implying that the mega-church is not doing God's will, God could be blessing the mega-church in much the same way. My point is that we need to be very careful how we measure success.

If you believe the above is true, then it becomes obvious what every church needs to do. Every church needs to prayerfully consider what God is calling that church to be. Once you decide what that is, Go for it! Don't worry about what another church is doing. Don't worry about what style of worship they have, what literature they are using, etc. In other words, if you are different, don't worry about it. I am well aware that this is not as easy as it sounds. Church members are always more than willing to point out what they think other churches are doing better than you are. But always remember, the church is the body of Christ, and a body is made up of very different parts that function the best when they are doing what they are intended to do. If you go to First Baptist Church, be the best First Baptist Church you can be. I guarantee you will be a better church than you will be if you try to be the next Willow Creek.

So, how does this apply to the so-called "Baptist Wars?" I think that both sides need to acknowledge that it is not only possible, but it also the most desirable outcome, for God to bless both the SBC and the CBF. So, how do we get there? I believe that Paul identifies the root of the problem for us:

1 Timothy 1 (Paul's warning against false teachers)
4 ...These promote controversies rather than God's work which is by faith. 5 The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. 7 They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

Titus 3:9-11
9 But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. 10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. 11 You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

I firmly believe that the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC promoted controversies rather than God's work. Consequently, I believe that those who formed the CBF did the right thing when they left. I believe it would have been unbiblical for them to stay and continue to "promote the controversy." I believe that by leaving, they made it possible, although I do not yet believe this is the reality, for the SBC to re-focus themselves entirely on the work of God.

The two recent articles published by Baptist Press show that the SBC has still not reached the point where they are able to get above "promoting the controversy." The passage I quoted from Titus, however, has given me a new respect for the way CBF responded, or rather did not respond. They could have continued to "promote the controversy" but instead they followed the advice that Paul gave to Titus and had "nothing to do with them."

I also have a greater appreciation for the way the CBF is organized. There is no method in the CBF of bringing a motion to the floor to do something like organize a boycott of Disney. It is my believe that this was done with the intention of following Pauls advice not to promote controversy and instead focus on God's work. CBF is simply a group of Baptists who have decided to network and help each other do God's work. That's what I love about it. Is it a perfect organization? Of course not. But it feels like home to me. Gay and I are hopefully going to be a part of a new generation of CBF leadership that is able to put the controversy behind us. CBF needs to concentrate on its own calling, and let the SBC concentrate on theirs. And yet, the SBC doesn't seem to want to let us do that. They continue to promote controversy by publishing articles that criticize CBF in one way or another. CBF appears to be trying to move beyond the controversy, and I hope the SBC will let us do that. While it may be hard for those hurt by the leadership of the SBC to pray that God will bless the SBC, that is certainly the Biblical thing to do.

I wrote in an earlier post that I am Christian first and a Baptist only a distant second. I believe that many of the above arguments apply equally to other denominations. As Christians, we should pray for the success of the church as a whole. As Baptists, we should pray for the Methodists and Presbyterians, the Moravians and the Quakers. I think that is what Jesus would want.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Reflections...(Part 3)

This is the third in the series of my reflections on my first year in divinity school. Those of you who are unfamiliar with the recent events at my home church may want to skip reading this post.

Shortly after I announced my call into ministry to my home church, Bayshore Baptist in Tampa, Gay and I started hearing from some church members and former ministers (Bayshore has more than 20 former ministers) about how well the church would treat us during our time in school.

I attended Bayshore from the time I was three until I was twelve and my family moved too far north for us to continue attending a church in South Tampa. However, I returned to Bayshore in 1998 after I moved back to south Tampa. My wife and I were married at Bayshore in 2000. I was ordained as a deacon there in 2002, and Gay and I were ordained into ministry in 2005. So, this church has played an important role in my life, and Gay and I love many of the current and former members of Bayshore. The former minister of congregational life, Nancy Burke, helped both Gay and me answer God's call into ministry. The former minister of youth, Dr. Sam Hestorff, has shown me that the church of the future can adapt to meet the the needs of a changing world, and Dr. Tom Pinner has been a mentor to me since I was in high school. So, it is with great sadness that I write this entry, but I felt that any reflection on my first year in Seminary had to include my disappointment with the support, or more specifically the lack of support, I have received from the leadership of my home church.

I decided to write this post in response to some questions that I and my parents have received asking about the status of scholarship funding from Bayshore. I wanted to give the members of Bayshore who read this blog the chance to hear the truth straight from me. So, here it is.

Before we left Bayshore last year, I was awarded some funding from a Bayshore endowment. The sole purpose of this endowment is to provide funding to seminary students. Before I received the award, I was told that this was my funding for this year, and I could receive it however I wanted, one payment, two payments, etc. I was also told that the minimum balance specified in the endowment would have to be changed for me to receive further awards, but that the change was possible, and a church business meeting would be held sometime during the next year to address that issue.

So, when I decided to take Hebrew over the summer, I wrote a request to the Bayshore Scholarship committee requesting financial assistance to pay for the classes. I received a call a month or so later saying that there was no money available, so Bayshore was going to be unable to help me. However, I found out a few days later that the committee never met to discuss my request. Rather, the pastor simply told a committee member to call me and tell me that no money was available. It is important to understand that this money would have come from a designated account and would not have affected Bayshore's finances. I would also have no issue if the Pastor had actually called a meeting of the committee to discuss the matter, rather than making the decision on his own. Contrary to some reports I have received, I was never told that the initial reward was the only reward I would be able to receive. If that was the case, I would never have taken the time to write the request, and would not have been encouraged to write the request by a member of the committee at Bayshore. Before writing this post, I also took the time to verify my own memories with others at Bayshore, and my memories proved to be accurate. So, the long and the short of it is, I do not expect to receive additional support from Bayshore.

But, I feel it is also important for me to point out that there are additional ways to support seminary students. Since we left Bayshore, we have not received a single call, letter or e-mail from the pastor. I firmly believe that it is part of the staff's job to keep our names in front of the church and remind them to be in prayer for us. Bayshore currently has four students in seminary. In addition to me, there is one at Duke, one at BTSR, and one at Emory. Bayshore should be proud of these students and celebrate our successes. If that has happened, I have not heard about it.

When we moved here, I joined Statesville under watchcare, because I wanted to keep my membership at Bayshore. Even though I am not a member, they have supported Gay and me one-hundred percent. I can remember being at a Wednesday night dinner after I finished the Spring semester, and the Minister of Education congratulated me on finishing the semester with all A's during the announcements. I have started teaching a wonderful Sunday School class that gives me the freedom to explore different ways to apply what I am learning at school to real-world ministry. Their willingness to discuss the difficult issues and share their opinions with me has been a real blessing, and I know they are praying for Gay and me on a regular basis. When Gay mentioned the fact that I was seeking money to pay for Hebrew over the summer as a prayer request in staff meeting, a staff member encouraged me to make a request to Statesville's education endowment for the necessary funding. They readily agreed to pay the tuition and books for my summer classes. A few weeks ago, the chair of the committee came to Gay and asked her how they could help me this semester, and they have agreed to buy my books. They have no idea how much I appreciate the fact that offered to help me before I even asked for it. They are supporting me, both spiritually and financially, even though I am not a full member of the church. I believe that is the way the church should work.

I would also like to thank Florida CBF for their support. They have supported me through a scholarship which has been renewed for this year, and they also keep up with Gay and I on a regular basis. Tommy Deal and Carolyn Anderson have been wonderful, and I was honored to be able to speak to Florida CBF during the general assembly in Atlanta.

Finally, I would also like to thank the individuals that have supported us at Bayshore over the past year. Your prayers, letters and e-mails have been appreciated. My disappointment is with the pastor at Bayshore, not with the members.

Feel free to e-mail me, or leave a comment if you have any questions. In order to filter out comment spam, I review all comments before they are posted, so if you want your comment kept private, just mention it, and I will honor that request. There is an e-mail address listed in the column on the right if you don't have one for me.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

CBF Response to SBC Articles



Earlier this week Baptist Press, the official news agency of the Southern Baptist Convention, posted two articles attacking the CBF in one way or another.  You can read them by clicking on the links below:

CBF church count violates church autonomy, scholars say
SBC, CBF seminaries differ in educational approach, profs say

I commented on the second article briefly in one of my earlier posts.  It is interesting that both articles are written by the same person and both articles use the same scholarly sources.  The SBC doesn't want moderates (although we are soon going to have to replace the word moderate with the phrase "anyone that doesn't agree 100% with a small group of SBC leaders) to come back, and yet they don't see to want to let us leave and do our own thing either.

CBF has responded to these two articles, and you can read that response here:

Response to Baptist Press stories on August 11

You can also read a few blog responses by clicking on the link below:

Leave us alone and get your facts straight
The Red Herring starring the CBF

Remember that crisis in leadership thing I was talking about?  I think that certainly applies to the SBC as well.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Reflections...(Part 2)

This is a continuation of my previous post. I am reflecting on the completion of my first year in divinity school.

Training for the ministry involves both academic and practical education. Although the formal portion of my practical education starts this year, I have spent enough time in churches to identify some issues worth mentioning.

One of the biggest crises facing the church in the area of leadership. In my opinion this crisis applies equally to both lay leaders and ministerial leadership. There are many in leadership who seem to forget who the church belongs to. The church certainly does not belong to the pastor, to the deacons, or even to the membership, but there appear to be many in leadership who forget that. So, whose church is it? Let's look at Matthew 16:18:
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.
Notice that the verse does not say "I will build the church" or "I will build a church." Jesus states pretty clearly that he is going to build his church. My point is that those in leadership should not do with the church as the wish simply because they have the "power" to do so. Every decision should be made only after prayerful consideration and study. Being a church leader is a huge responsibility, a bigger responsibility than we can possibly handle on our own. We need to remember that all of us are "servant leaders" and that we should only help the church go where God wants it to go and should not blaze our own trails.

So, how do we know if we have made the wrong decision? If the decision has to be kept quiet, it is probably the wrong decision. If the decision has to spun in order to be presented to the church, it is probably the wrong decision. If a board, committee, or staff decide to do something that they believe is contrary to will of the church as a whole, it is probably the wrong decision. If you decide to take an action simply because it is the recommendation of the senior pastor, another minister, chairman of the deacons, or someone else in authority without seeking the will of God, you probably made the wrong decision. Finally, if you make a major decision without taking the time to pray about it first, chances are very good you will make the wrong decision. If more than one of the above is true, you definitely made the wrong decision.

To be continued...

Monday, August 14, 2006

Reflections...(Part 1)

Well, I have finished the first year of divinity school at Wake Forest, and most of the time it has actually flown by. I am all finished with Hebrew, which I have to admit got just a little bit tedious toward the end. Working on it every day obviously helped me learn it faster, but it was also tough not getting much of a break. The amazing thing is that 10 weeks ago, I didn't know the Hebrew alphabet, but by the time I finished the class, we were reading Ruth from the Hebrew Bible, although the reading went very slowly. I am happy to report that I got an "A" in both classes. If it weren't for the minuses (ex. "A-" rather than "A") that Wake uses, my GPA would be 3.90, as it is, it will be a 3.7 something I think, I am still waiting for it to be computed.

I am not posting the above to brag about my success. Rather, I am posting it because I believe it is a reflection of my commitment to my call into ministry. I have never looked at these three years in school as a break. I look at them as more of a gift. God has blessed me with the opportunity to spend three years learning everything that I can to prepare for the ministry. The only way I feel I can be true to my calling is to devote all the energy and effort I possibly can to my studies, and that is exactly what I have done. I also posted these results as a way of thanking those who have supported me over the past year, both financially and with prayer. I wanted to make you proud of me, and I hope I have done that. I appreciate everything you all have done for me and everything you will continue doing for me both through the next two years at Wake and throughout my ministry.

The SBC posted an article today that was critical of "CBF Seminaries." (You can read this article by clicking here.) When I read the article to my wife Gay, she pointed out that the article never even talked about "the call." It never pointed out that maybe, just maybe, students should attend the theological institution God is calling them to attend. Those of you who have known me for a while, know that WFU was not my first choice when I began visiting schools in 2004. It was the last stop on our tour, and we really just stopped here because it was so close to Campbell and they happened to be having their "Discovery Day" on the last Saturday of our trip. But, the most amazing thing is that as soon as the day was over, Gay and I both said, "This is it!" We both knew that this is the place that God was calling us to. And, a year later, I still feel the same way. I know for sure that I am getting a top quality education. Wake is a small university and a very small divinity school, but that size means that I am able to get to know many of my professors on a one to one basis. At how many schools can one sit around a table with only half a dozen other students and discuss contemporary Christian issues with the dean of the divinity school who is one of the foremost Christian historians in the country and the former director of the Baptist Joint Committee? That was was we did in my "God and the NY Times" class. I have no doubt this class will be one of highlights of my education, and it would never have happened in a larger school.

Why do I go to The Divinity School at Wake Forest University? Because that is where God called me! And I take offense to anyone who criticizes me for that decision, or criticizes Wake simply because it is small, or because we have non-Baptists. I look at Wake's diversity as a strength, not a weakness! I am Christian first, and a Baptist a distant second. I am studying at a school with other Christians, and I don't really care whether they are Presbyterian, Moravian, or Quaker. We are all Christians, and we can all learn from each other. Baptists do not have all the answers, and they never will. So, as you can see, I am proud of my school and the education it is providing me, and I thank the Lord for allowing me to attend here.

I know so much more than I did a year ago, and I think about my faith in a different way. I approach the Bible in a different way, for example. Whenever I study now, I read the text several times. The first time I read it through just to get my own thoughts on the text, and I ask myself, "What is the text saying to me?" Then I often read the footnotes and commentaries to answer the question, "What has the text said to others." Then I read it again and I ask myself, "What would this text say to me if I was not a Christian?" I try to look at it from the perspective of ancient Jew (if I am reading the Old Testament) or as a non-Christian. How does that make me see the text differently? How does that help me teach the text to others? I then stop for a while, pray, and ask "What is God saying to me through this text?" Because, in the end, that's really what it is all about. It isn't really all about who wrote the text, when the text was written, or whether the event being described actually happened the exact way it is being described. Those things can be important, and they are certainly interesting, but they are secondary. They are secondary to the message that God is trying to give me, through the text.

To be continued...

Friday, August 11, 2006

What Would Jesus Recognize?

I'm sorry I haven't blogged for a while, but, as many of you know, some things have been going on at my home church that required Gay and I to make a trip back. For those of you in the middle of this situation, seek the truth. Don't trust what you are hearing. I will write more on this later.

I saw this article in the latest edition of Baptists Today, and I thought it was very profound. It is in a section called "The Lighter Side" but I thought the message behind this article is very relevant to the church today. It is called "What would Jesus recognize?" and it was written by Brett Younger.

Jesus wouldn't recognize...
  • heated, fiberglass baptisteries (Rivers are better symbols that bathtubs.)
  • grape juice at communion (What exactly does Welch's represent?)
  • pictures of Jesus (Do artists know what Jewish people look like?)
  • DaVinci's The Last Supper (Why are they all on one side of the table?)
  • walking the aisle (There's not a single instance of walking the aisle in the New Testament.)
  • the "plan of salvation." (There's not a single "plan of salvation" in the Bible; there is a "person of salvation" who reveals and offers God's grace.)
  • timid Sunday school lessons that don't upset anyone (After teaching Sunday school in Nazareth, the class tried to throw Jesus off a cliff.)
  • age-graded classes (Wouldn't it be helpful to learn from people who aren't our age?)
  • requiring someone from another Christian tradition to be re-baptized (Baptists didn't show up until 1,600 years after Jesus.)
  • Robert's Rules of Order (What were they thinking when they let this into the church?)
  • Steeples (Towels are more symbolic of servanthood, but it's hard to picture a 40-foot towel on top of the building.)
But Jesus would love...
  • worshipping in spirit and truth (We lift our hearts to God.)
  • congregation singing (We join our souls in celebration.)
  • listening for God's voice (We discover what it means to follow Christ.)
  • prayer groups (We share concerns and dreams.)
  • Vacation Bible School (We give thanks for gloriously noisy children and gloriously patient teachers.)
  • adults asking hard questions (We open our minds to mystery.)
  • children hearing the stories of faith (They learn that they are their stories too.)
  • church supper clubs (Jesus said the kingdom is a banquet.)
  • disciples who share their lives (We become lifelong sisters and brothers.)
  • people who hug (Hugs are 21st-century "holy kisses.")
  • prayer groups (The prayers of the saints hold the world together.)
  • those who visit the homebound (Remembering the elderly is radically Christ-like behavior.)
  • mission trips (They are more fun than Disneyland -- and cheaper, too.)
  • class parties (Jesus came "eating and drinking.")
  • Sunday lunches and Wednesday suppers (Would you want to go to a church that didn't eat together?)
  • world hunger offering (This is the kind of offering St. Paul would take up.)
  • Habitat for Humanity (Carpenters, in particular, appreciate this one.)
  • people who know their way around Hospitals ("I was sick and you took care of me.")
  • food pantries ("I was hungry and you gave me food.")
  • clothing rooms ("I was naked, and you gave me clothing.")
  • smiling greeters ("I was a stranger and you welcomed me.")
...Jesus wouldn't recognize everything at our churches, but there is so much that much make Jesus smile.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Should This Happen Here?

Number of people in the United States convicted as minors serving life sentences without the possibility of parole: 2,225

Number in the rest of the world: 12

The practice of sentencing minors to life in prison without the possibility of parole is prohibited by the Constitution on the Rights of the Child which has been ratified by every country in the world except The United States of America and Somalia.

For more information, you can visit the Human Rights Watch website by clicking here.

Monday, July 24, 2006

In the Beginning...


The word above, pronounced in English as "bresheet" is the first word in Genesis. It is also the name of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible. We spent one day in Hebew last week talking about the first few verses in Genesis. It was extremely interesting, and one of those days when you feel blessed to be in divinity school.

Let's start with the King James translation of Genesis, just to remind us what that translation of the text says. (I am using the King James for a reason which will become clear at the end of the text.)

1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

Contrary to our tradition, the word above is accurately translated as either "In beginning" or "In a beginning." The definite article "the" is not hidden the above word. If it was, it would be prounounced in English as "brasheet." So, what does it mean then? The verb that follows it is "bara" which means "he created". Intrestingly, in the Biblical text, only God can "bara", but we will get back to that in just a minute. If one analyzes the grammar and syntax, it would appear that the first word is in what is known as a construct relationship (kind of like possessive) to "he created." However, it is very unusual for a word to be in a construct relationship with a verb. But, let's assume for the moment that the two words are in constuct, what would that mean? In English we would translate the construct as "he created's beginning." As a result, the Jewish Publication Society translates this text as "When God began creating the heavens and the earth...". I get back to some of what that might mean in just a minute, but lets go to the next word in Genesis 1:1.

The next word in Genesis 1:1 is Elohim, one of the names for God used in the Old Testament. So, what can we learn from the way God is referred to for the first time in the Bible? The interesting thing about the word Elohim is that the "im" ending makes it a plural? But notice the verb that Elohim refers to is singular. If you notice above, I translated bara as "he created" (Hebrew words have gender and number characteristics to them.) not "they created." If you are a Christian, the explanation is simple. "Elohim" refers to the trinity, one God in three. That would allow plural subject to take a plural verb. I need to ask the professor how the Jewish tradition explains this, and I will post that here when I find out.

So, lets get back to the "in beginning" question. Notice how the whole form of of Genesis 1:1-2 if we change it. Again, here's the KJV original:

1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

But what happens if we change that to this:

When God began creating the heavens and the earth, (and) the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

See how that changes the verse? If you translate it that way, earth already existed at the beginning of creation, as did darkness and "the deep." But questions also arise with the original translation as well. The words "without form and void" in Hebrew are "tohu vavohu" and "vavohu" never appears without "tohu." Think of the English phrase "the whole kit and kaboodle." We never just talk about a "kaboodle." From other texts, we can determine that the best meaning for the phrase "tohu vavohu" is "total chaos." So, if you use the original translation, did God created the chaos? Did God create the darkness? Is darkness something in itself, or simply the absence of light? I don't have the answers, just the questions.

Some of you may have heard of the Gap theory. This theory proposes that there is a significant time gap between verses 1 and two, and translates verse two as "the earth became void." That is also an entirely accurate translation. That's how some very conservative theologists explain the existance of fossils, earlier forms of man, etc. To them, in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, including dinosaurs, etc. Then the Earth was destroyed, and became tohu vavohu. So all those fossils come from an earlier creation.

Continuing with that same verse, the word for "deep" is also interesting. The word in Hebrew is "tehom." This could be translated as something like the primordial ocean. But that is not the significant part. The original auction would probably have known about other creation stories in which an ancient sea dragon named "Tiamat" (appears to be related to the word "tehom") was defeated during the creation of the world. So, in contrast to those stories, the Genesis story can be seen as creation without opposition in contrast to the other stories of the time.

We're still not done with verse 2 yet! We have to deal with the phrase "And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters" or in Hebrew "veruach Elohim merachefet al-peney hamayim" (the "ch's" are h's at the back of the throat, not an English ch sound.) The Hebrew word "ruach" (the "ve" is just "and") can mean wind, breath, spirit, etc. It just doesn't mean spirit. The best way to think about it is that to ancient Jews, one's breath was one's life force, one's spirit, one's soul. Interestingly, the word Elohim can also be used as an adjective. Think of it as "awesome" or as I like to think about it, the adjective of all adjectives. So, it would be entirely accurate to translate "veruach Elohim" as either "a spirit of God" (the "the" is not there again) or as "a mighty wind." Thanks to our knowledge of the Ugaritic language (a semetic language related to Hebrew) we know that the word "moved" would be more accurately tranlated as sweeping or swooping like a bird.

Verse 3 is actually shorter in Hebrew than it is in English. In Hebrew it reads:

Vayomer Elohim yehi-or vayehi-or.

Literally translated that would be: "And he said God let be light and it was light" or "And God said, let light be and light was." Not much to say about that.

Verse 4: And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

Notice the darkness is never said to be good. And what did a mixture of light and darkness look like? But seriously, the separation and the creation of order out of chaos (tohu vavohu) is a major theme of Genesis 1, and much of Genesis in general. Consider the following phrases from other verses in Genesis 1:

7 So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome.

25 And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

All of these verses are examples of the creation of order out of chaos. This brings up some very interesting points. In this order, God created categories, which you can see in verse 25 above, and above these help create order. Think of the categories this way.

Animals
Humans
Elohim

As long as these categories are maintained, everything is good. God said that himself. However, when these categories start to get mixed up there is a problem. The first example is with Adam and Eve and the trees in the garden. One could certainly make an argument that at the beginning of the story, two things separated humans from Elohim: the knowledge of good and evil and eternal life. Consider Genesis 3:22 in this light:

Then the Lord God said, ‘See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever’

So, it would appear that the only thing left separating man from Elohim is eternal life, so man had to be removed from the garden. But this did not stop the mixing of man and Elohim. Consider Genesis 6:


1 When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. 3 Then the Lord said, ‘My spirit shall not abide in mortals for ever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred and twenty years.’ 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterwards—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown.

This passage is shortly before the story of the flood (many scholars belive that is what the 120 years in this passage means, the flood occured 120 years after this happened.) Again, we have the disruption of the order God put in place in Genesis 1. We have man mixing with Elohim (sons of God = Elohim) and the result is flood. So, now put yourself in the Jewish mindset. You are taught about this order God established, and that problems happen whenever this order is disturbed. If you believed this, how would that affect your view of the story of Jesus? Jews would see the birth of Jesus as an inappropriate mixture of Elohim and human again, and they would completely disagree with the idea that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. That idea is against the order they see in Genesis chapter 1. Interesting, huh?

Finally, verse 5:

And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

The only thing I really have to say about this verse is this. The last sentence is literally translated, "Evening was, morning was, day one." I would argue that there could be a significant difference between "the first day" and "day one." Day one of what? Day one of all of creation? Day one of this creation? Then again, they could be exactly the same thing.

So, what do I want you to get out of this? A few things:

1. Hebrew can be a somewhat imprecise language. There are very often several translations for a passage that are all equally correct

2. For any of you who think that the King James translation is the most accurate translation, it isn't. It is not a bad translation, the translators did an excellent job with the resources they had. But modern scholars have many more texts and a much better knowledge of other Semetic languages that allow them to translate the texts more accurately than those in the early 17th century could.

3. It is important to understand that the Hebrew text is an oral tradition not a written one. The text as we have it was meant to be chanted. The oldests texts we have, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, do not have vowels. That is because the text was only to be used as a reminder, Rabbis would have the text memorized. The vowels were eventually added in an effort to preserve the correct pronounciation of the text, which no doubt had changed significantly since it was originally recorded.

There is a whole lot more I could write about the first creation story in Genesis 1, and the second story that starts in 2:4b. But, this post is large enough. I will however, leave you with the NRSV translation of the Genesis passage. The phrases in parenthesis are translation notes provided by the NRSV:

1 In the beginning when God created (Or when God began to create or In the beginning God created) the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God (Or while the spirit of God or while a mighty wind) swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

You can see why so many scholars like the NRSV. In many cases it gives other possible translations. You can read the NRSV online by clicking here.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Good Discussion on the Prophetic Voice of the Church

I have been having a good discussion with Michael the Leveller in the comments section of the post on Buddy Shurden's address at the BJC Luncheon. So, take a look at the comments section for that post, or click here. Feel free to chime in on the discussion. Anyone who has read the Old Testament knows how difficult it is to be a prophet (Don't believe me? Go read Ezekiel!) , but let's pray that the next generation of leaders has the courage and conviction to say what needs to be said and do what needs to be done.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Shurden's Address at the Baptist Joint Committee Luncheon

The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty has published a transcript of the address that Buddy Shurden gave at their luncheon during the CBF General Assembly in Atlanta. Shurden is the Callaway Professor of Christianity in the College of Liberal Arts at Mercer University. He is also the executive director of The Center for Baptist Studies at Mercer University and the author or editor of 15 books.

The theme of Shurden's response is this: if Christians are not careful, something like the rise of the Nazi party in Germany could happen here. You can read Shurden's adress by visiting the BJC's website or clicking here.

All Gore Interviewed by Ethics Daily.com


Ethics Daily has a great interview with Al Gore. For those of you who do not believe it is possible to be a Christian and a Democrat, you need to read this interview. You can read it by clicking here.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Baptist Center for Ethics Luncheon

The following is a report on the Baptist Center for Ethics luncheon we attended at CBF. Thanks to CBF Florida for the tickets to the luncheon. The article is from the Worldwide Faith News Archive.

From "Daniel Webster" <dwebster@ncccusa.org>
Date Fri, 23 Jun 2006 15:51:44 -0400

'We are the leaders we have been waiting for,' NCC?s Bob Edgar tells Baptists in Atlanta

Atlanta, June 23, 2006 ? "We are the leaders we have been waiting for," Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, told more than 400 moderate Baptists from across the South Thursday at a luncheon during the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship's general assembly at the Georgia World Congress Center here.

The luncheon honored the 15th anniversary of the Baptist Center for Ethics, a pioneering agency which sponsors the popular EthicsDaily.com website and publishes church-centered curriculum materials on ethical and moral issues.

Edgar told the pastor leaders, God is calling all Christians to learn how to walk together "in the footsteps of Jesus," actively leading today's world to affirm values that Jesus taught and practiced, while addressing the challenges of "fear, fundamentalism, and Fox News". Edgar, an ordained Methodist minister, is a former seminary president and served six terms in Congress from Pennsylvania prior to becoming the NCC general secretary.

Acknowledging that Baptists sometimes have had trouble with the National Council of Churches, Edgar said, "You might be interested to know we've got lots of Baptists" in the NCC. He pointed to the Council's membership that includes more than 15 million Baptists in six different Baptist conventions.

"What we all have in common, whether inside the Council or not, is the spiritual leadership of Jesus Christ," Edgar said.

"Studying the Scripture," he said, "I find there are five directions God is calling us to walk together with Jesus":

--Peace. "We must engage in a relentless pursuit of peace, seeking reconciliation within families, communities, nations and the world of nations, reaching across boundaries that divide, building bridges instead of walls," he said. "Whether in Sudan or in Iraq or in a neighborhood gripped by crime or violence, Jesus would have us be peace-makers, not just peace-lovers."

--Poverty. "We are challenged by the life of Jesus, who gave himself for the poor and outcast, the despised and rejected," Edgar said. "We must take concrete actions that reduce poverty in our own time and place, anchored in Jesus' passionate concern for 'the least of these.' This challenge must not be confined to personal generosity, but community action, and national policy--going to the root of the problem, finding solutions that work and that last."

--Planet Earth. "The biblical Christian is also called by the Scriptures to exercise reverential stewardship of this God-given planet, rooted in mankind's earliest encounters with the Creator, beginning in Eden," he said. "We must fight the efforts of many to pillage and pollute, to waste and destroy the natural environment on which life itself depends. The wise management of the finite resources of the earth is a God-given mandate that the church is accountable to fulfill."

--People's rights. "The person who would be Jesus' disciple will be found standing in strong defense of people's rights, believing that such dehumanizing acts as racial or gender discrimination, torture, and invasion of privacy are an affront to the will of God for his creation," Edgar said. "The church should be the first line of protection for the disadvantaged, the powerless, the overlooked. They have no other advocate but Christ and his followers."

--Pluralism. "We who would claim the name of Christ must express his hospitality in the face of the whirlwind of cultures, languages and races that our world presents us in the form of accelerating pluralism in every community where we serve," Edgar said. "Jesus remarkably found kinship with those his own religious hierarchy condemned, those his culture rejected, and those his own heritage devalued. Jesus saw only God's priceless creative will and boundless love when he looked into the faces of the Samaritan, the stranger, the Other. A God who finds joy in populating the world with such extravagant diversity certainly must find grief in our rejection of this banquet feast."

Edgar shared with the Baptist leaders his experiences in pre-war Baghdad, where he worshipped with Iraqi Christians as part of a religious delegation seeking a peaceful settlement without war. He also told of a youthful life-changing exposure to Martin Luther King, Jr., and of later serving on the Select Committee on Assassinations as a Congressman, probing the deaths of Dr. King and President John F. Kennedy.

Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of Churches has been the leading force for ecumenical cooperation among Christians in the United States. The NCC's 35 member faith groups come from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, African American and Living Peace traditions and include more than 100,000 local congregations with 45 million members.

The Council sponsors the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, the FaithfulAmerica.org advocacy website, and the "Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches." Its member communions underwrite humanitarian work through Church World Service, a sister agency.