Are you a Bible moth?

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. (Psalm 119:105, NIV)

The glories of the law of God are praised nowhere higher than in Psalm 119, which I have been reading the last couple of days in the morning and evening.

Verse after verse, the psalmist praises the commands, instruction, statutes, and precepts of the LORD. They are a source of hope, a guide to life, and a shield against the many foes and troubles of the psalmist’s life.

What is remarkable to me — as a Christian in the USA in 2014 — is how clear the law is to the psalmist. The psalmist writes of meditating upon the law and pondering God’s precepts, but never puzzling over them. He does not cherish fuzziness. I often feel that our instincts run in the opposite direction. We seem to exalt obscurity when it comes to the law of God and the commands of Christ. We spend great energy looking for ways to stretch meanings or find loop holes. We do not meditate on the law so much as argue with it.

The psalmist does not argue with the law. He argues with God. He calls God to do what God has promised. He asks how God can let so many law-breakers run about with impunity. But all these questions appear to be so pressing precisely because the psalmist glories in the law of the LORD.

I suspect he’d be called a biblicist today. Or perhaps — to bring up an old epithet used against the first Methodists — a Bible moth.

In the preface to his sermons, John Wesley wrote:

To candid, reasonable men, I am not afraid to lay open what have been the inmost thoughts of my heart. I have thought, I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God and returning to God: Just hovering over the great gulf; till, a few moments hence, I am no more seen; I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing — the way to heaven; how to land on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way: For this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. Give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God!

His passion to know and do the will of God remind me of the voice of the Psalms.

Would that people heard such passion in my voice and saw it in my life.

Paul on Easter

Some words from Paul on the significance of the resurrection.

Romans 1:1-4

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart fro the gospel of God — the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David and was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 6:3-5

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

Romans 6:8-10

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

Romans 8:34

Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died — more than that , who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

Romans 10:9

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

1 Corinthians 15:12-14

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.

1 Corinthians 15:20-21

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.

Ephesians 2:4-6

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 2:9-11

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 3:10-11

I want to know Christ — yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

1 Thessalonians 4:14

For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep.


Binding and loosing

Jeremy Smith, an always engaging and frequently provocative United Methodist blogger, argues in this post that Matthew 16:9 and 18:18 give the church the authority to determine what is sin and what is not.

Smith bases his argument on New Testament scholar Mark Alan Powell’s assessment of the rabbinical meaning of binding and loosing and what it means in Matthew 16:9.

I would argue that Matthew 18 is the more helpful verse for interpreting this question since it is placed in a fuller context than 16:9. Using the principle that the Bible can help us interpret the Bible, I read Matthew 18 as offering little support for the notion that the language of binding and loosing is a wide grant of authority over the very definition of sin.

Here’s what I wrote on Smith’s blog:

Interesting post, Jeremy. My take, FWIW, is that you are over-reading the matter when you suggest that this is a process for defining what sin is.

The context is the parable in Matthew 18:10-14 about seeking wandering sheep, which itself is a comment on those who cause someone else to stumble (vv. 6-9).

In Matthew 18:15-20, the fact of a sin is not under negotiation. If someone sins, go point it out (like the one trying to bring back the wandering sheep.) If a person does not listen, then a process of widening attempts to bring the person back to the fold ensues, but if they will not listen, at last they are to be cut loose. Verse 18 about binding and loosing, after all, comes right after verse 17 about treating the one who will not listen like an outsider. That sounds more like saying that who the church sends away, so will God.

I think it is significant in reading these verses that the next section of the chapter is about forgiveness. When one who has caused others to stumble or wandered away is brought back, forgiveness is the order of the day. To refuse to forgive one who will not have mercy on a wandering sheep brought back to the fold [is a serious offense to God].

To my reading, at least, that language about binding and loosing needs to be set in the overall context of the chapter before we can conclude exactly what is being bound and what is being loosed. I can’t see how chapter 18 can be read as saying “the church determines what sin is.” I don’t see where the text supports that conclusion.

Getting off the Roman road

I missed this post last year when Howard Snyder wrote it, but found it thanks to this little number about ways we distort the gospel.

In the older post, Snyder takes aim at the over-importance we often place on Romans.

“All roads lead to Romans”? Not really. The Bible is a complex landscape with many roads, paths, trails, byways, and a few tunnels. We don’t know the Bible until we understand this. The more we do, the more we will see that all roads in the Bible lead to Jesus Christ, and the road he walked. Prioritizing Romans runs the danger of prioritizing Paul over Jesus; the epistles over the gospels; dogmatics over the very person of Jesus Christ and of the church as his body.

The post also includes an illuminating discussion of John Wesley’s canon within the canon.

Luc and the mute spirit #LukeActs2014

Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. (Luke 11:14, NIV)

My son, Luc, is on the autism spectrum. His mother and I are also convinced he has a condition called apraxia of speech. Basically, his brain and the muscles that produce speech do not connect in the way they do for most of us. In Jesus’ day, he would have been called mute.

In Luke, the word here that is translated “mute” is used in two other places.

The angel Gabriel strikes Zechariah mute in Luke 1 because he does not believe the good news of the impending birth of his son. In Luke 7, Jesus tells John’s disciples to report what they see of Jesus’ healing as testimony to who Jesus is. In this second example the word is translated “deaf” rather than “mute,” reminding me that in the Bible there are a whole collection of words that have overlapping meanings and the careful distinctions we make in our medical language were not important.

For these and other reasons, contemporary theology advises us not to connect medical problems with spirits or demons. As a child of the 20th century, I am inclined to go along with that advice.

But I’d be lying to say I do not feel at times that my son is under attack from an evil spirit that robs him of his voice. And what I am struck with in those times is how remarkably resilient he is. As I’ve said to many people, if I had to cope with the challenges he does, I’d be angry all the time. He is a model of contentment, peace, and joy nearly all the time.

I confess to not know what to make of Scripture passages such as the one above or how they relate to my son. I am conscious, though, of the impulse to read past them. In 2014, in America, we often want to ignore talk of spirit and demons and devils — especially when they are connected to matters our medical science explains. But Luc keeps me from doing that. Indeed, he makes those verses stand out in sharp relief. He forces me to see what I would not otherwise see, even if I do not yet understand.