Learning at Daniel’s feet

Brent White shares his testimony of his conversion to being a strong conviction about the truthfulness of the Bible.

Included in the post are comments on a British podcast by a Christian apologist and Oxford mathematician. The full transcript of his lecture explaining how the Book of Daniel is a perfect book for Christians trying to figure out how to live in the 21st century. The speaker, John Lennox, speaks specifically of Great Britain, but I think many of his observations apply to us — or will in the coming years. This is how he frames the story of Daniel.

So, we have a young man who has been brought up to believe in God and he’s suddenly without warning precipitated into a completely alien culture. He’s moved physically. Now we haven’t been moved physically in this country, but in recent years and with increasing acceleration, we’ve been shifted from a culture that has been broadly monotheistic, in a culture that is increasingly relativistic, that’s increasingly atheistic, and that’s increasingly marginalising the capacity of the possibility of articulating faith in God in public….

To maintain your faith in God and your public witness in that kind of a situation is not easy. My view is that if we can gain anything from looking at this book that will help us to unpack the secret of Daniel’s stability and his conviction and his power and understanding, then it is worth doing.

If you prefer to listen, the lecture audio is here.

Is this why mainliners don’t read their bibles?

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order has passed away.” (Rev. 21: 3-4)

Before we ponder these beautiful verses, let’s skip down a few.

“Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, idolaters and all liars — they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Rev. 21: 7-8)

The beautiful hope of God rings out from the first quotation. The dire warning of God greets us in the second.

I have all these tendencies to want to embrace what people tell me I should believe as a United Methodist. I want to be able to pretend that Jesus never said anything hard that was directed at me and people like me. Sure, he said hard things to Jerry Falwell and the CEO of Monsanto, but not us. I want to be able to smile on my own sin and yours and say, God does not care all that much about it. He loves me. He loves you too much to speak harshly of sin.

And as long as I don’t actually open the Bible, I can get away with this.

40 questions, lots of answers

Reformed blogger, writer, and pastor Kevin DeYoung has written a post asking 40 questions of those who feel pulled to embrace the rainbow flag and consider themselves to be a “Bible-believing Christian, a follower of Jesus whose chief aim is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

The post has generated a fair amount of response. Here’s one blogger who has collected some of those links and offered her own.

Somewhere in here is an interesting small-group study. I think some of the responses reveal that they are not really from DeYoung’s target audience — evangelicals. For instance, the writer who says Paul was a cult leader who blunted the revolution of Jesus probably would not meet most definitions of evangelical.

But these are still interesting questions and responses that could be the basis of deeper and more prayerful conversation among those who are interested in such things.

Is that job already taken?

What is the better metaphor for the role of elders in the United Methodist Church: Watchman/woman or Shepherd?

John Wesley most often made reference to the way Ezekiel speaks about watchmen. He spoke often of being clear of the blood of those who did not listen to his preaching. He had Ezekiel 3 and/or Ezekiel 33 in mind.

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. But if you do warn the wicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will die for their sin; but you will have saved yourself.” (Ezekiel 3:17-19, NIV)

But Ezekiel also speaks of shepherds.

“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.” (Ezekiel 34:2-6, NIV)

Yes, I know these are not the only two metaphors for the work of an elder, but today this is where I am looking.

On the one hand, I am drawn toward the metaphor of the shepherd because it plays toward my gentle and nurturing side. But, of course, in Ezekiel 34, God seems pretty set on assuming the title and role of shepherd for himself.

Could it be that it is God’s task to gather up the lost, bind up their wounds, and provide them with food?

Could it be that the task of the elder is more to be a watcher on the wall than to be a shepherd in the field, to study and speak the word of the Lord? Is that perhaps what Paul is saying to Timothy?

These are honest questions. And I know the answer is probably more both/and than either/or, but I do wonder if we run the risk of usurping the role of Jesus when we see ourselves primarily as shepherds.

The lepers of Samaria

I was reading in 2 Kings last night when I came across a story I had forgotten from previous journeys through this book. In 2 Kings 7:3-20, we learn the story of the lepers of Samaria.

The background is this. The city of Samaria, the capital of the divided kingdom of Israel, is under siege and conditions have gotten bad. People are eating anything they can find, including their own children. (2 Kings 6:24-29). In the midst of the famine, the prophet Elisha declared that within 24 hours, wasting and famine would be replaced by abundance and plenty. The officials of Samaria did not believe such a thing was possible.

The story turns then to four men with leprosy who sat at the gate of the city. They were desperate. They decided together to go over to the enemy camp of the besieging army. If the enemy took them in, they would not starve. If the enemy killed them, they would no longer be suffering and dying.

When they got to the enemy camp, though, they discovered it empty of people but full of food and treasure. The Lord had set the enemy to flight. They had fled in panic leaving behind all their provisions and treasures. Alone in the midst of this bounty, the lepers went from tent to tent, feasting and gathering up treasures, until a thought struck them.

“Then they said to each other, ‘What we’re doing is not right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves. If we wait until daylight, punishment will overtake us. Let’s go at once and report to this to the royal palace.’” (2 Kings 7:9)

It is a fascinating story, and I have left many interesting bits out. Go read it yourself if you like. Here are a few stray thoughts that it stirred up in me.

First, the lepers played a crucial role in the revelation of the hidden good news. These men were outcasts and desperate. There really is nothing noble in what they did, but in the midst of their desperation, they were the only ones to venture across to the hostile camp where good news was waiting for them. There is a truth here about us. When we are at the edge life or death, we can be driven to discover good news that was waiting for us all along.

Second, those inside the city were trapped by their fear, the false security of their walls, and their unbelief in the providence of God. Even after the lepers reported what they had found, the leaders were terrified of a trap and slow to hear the good news.

Third, good news must be shared. If the lepers had feasted and reveled alone while the starving city close by suffered on, they would have been fit for punishment. Holding on to the good news for our own joy and need is wrong. This is a tale about the necessity of evangelism, perhaps?

I’m sure there is more treasure in this story than I have unearthed, but reading it last night was one of those moments where the joy of reading the Bible came to me again. Read your Bible prayerfully. Ask God to teach and shape your life by the Word. You will discover good news lying hidden there in its pages.

Trying to figure out how to think about Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner

I fear opening up a firestorm here, but I am at a loss.

I’ve seen all the coverage of Bruce Jenner deciding he should be called Caitlyn Jenner and how far Jenner has gone to cut, slice, and reshape his body. According to one story, Jenner has had facial surgery, surgery to reduce his Adam’s apple, and breast augmentation but has not had surgery on his genitals.

From a non-Christian stance, I don’t understand why this is seen as a reasonable thing to do rather than as a form of mental illness. This 2004 article about why John Hopkins stopped doing sex re-assignment surgery comes down on the side of mental illness. This 2014 piece in the Wall Street Journal by the same author — the former head of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins — cites research studies and argues that people such as Jenner should be getting treatment rather than surgery.

I know there are whole fields of social science and social theory dedicated to the proposition that sex and gender are socially constructed ideas, and advocates of these theories reject the kinds of arguments made by the psychiatrist above. (Here is one example of such a rebuttal.)

Shifting back to Christian concerns, I know as well that the theory of the social construction of knowledge is based on the theories of atheist philosophers such as Karl Marx and Michel Foucault and rejects the idea that their is any truth beyond what humans agree is truth. In other words, the theories of gender at the base of most of culture’s conversation about sex and sexuality are at their foundation antithetical to the idea God exists and that God’s truth might be something beyond and above our comprehension. Those foundations make me resist the counsel of such theories.

I’m only beginning to try to grapple with this. The Bible appears to me to be pretty clear in its view that male and female are categories of creation. I don’t see any support for the notion that we can choose what we are. So even as the entire culture celebrates and applauds, I have a hard time avoiding the conclusion that Jenner’s suffering requires something other than a scalpel, a lifetime of hormone injections, and a new TV show.

What do you think?