Series Recap: The Weight of Waiting (Habakkuk)

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Waiting on God is hard. We’ve all been there – and the book of Habakkuk give us hope and a way forward in these seasons. This is the prophet’s real-time wrestling with fear, doubt, and disappointment.

(1) Miss a week?  Catch-up here.
Week 1 – Habakkuk 1
Week 2 – Habakkuk 2
Week 3 – Habakkuk 3

(2) Study Aids!
>The crew at “The Bible Project” does a great job with book overviews. Here’s a snapshot of Habakkuk’s structure and themes!

(3) Books:
Walking with God through Pain and Sufferingby Tim Keller (Christian Living)
*Full of wisdom and clarity, Keller helps us see suffering from the perspective of the cross and God’s redemptive heart.

The Dangerous Act of Worship, by Mark Labberton (Christian Living)
*The Hebrew prophets connect our worship and our practice of justice. Labberton explores that connection in this challenging but accessible work.

Plowshares and Pruning Hooks, by D. Brent Sandy (Biblical Studies)
*Not for the light of heart, Sandy provides an in-depth guide to interpreting the works of the biblical prophets.

(4) Action Steps:
>In our pain, riddled with whys, ask God to move you from fear to faith. Are you calling out to God in faith? Maybe baptism is your next step. Baptism is an opportunity to go public with your faith – to identify with Jesus’ work on your behalf. Contact the office to talk with a pastor (217-277-7772; office@lifepointqcy.org).

>Waiting on God can make you bitter or better. Are you stuck in bitterness?  You weren’t meant to walk that path alone. Talk to a friend, a LifeGroup leader, or set-up a time to talk with a pastor (see contact info above).

>Because the Lord is my strength, I can worship even in my weeping. Need some inspiration?  Need to hear that song from Sunday again? You can check-out songs from our Sunday gatherings via Spotify here.

LifePoint, like the prophet, may we learn to worship even in our weeping: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vine… yet I will rejoice in the Lord. I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” (Hab. 3:17-18).

LifePoint, rejoice: We have a Savior!

– Brett

Series Recap: Transformed (Philemon)

Paul’s letter to Philemon gives us a powerful picture of gospel transformationGod changes us by the gospel, into the gospel, and for the gospel. As we wrap-up our “Transformed” series, I wanted to share some resources and possible next steps…

(1) Miss a week?  Catch-up here.
Week 1 – Philemon 1-3
Week 2 – Philemon 3-7
Week 3 – Philemon 8-16
Week 4 – Philemon 17-25

(2) Study Aids!
>The crew at “The Bible Project” does a great job with book overviews. Here’s a snapshot of Philemon’s structure and themes!

>Want to learn to study the Bible?  I’ll be teaching a 12-session class called “Biblical Interpretation for Ministry.” It will be intense, but “fun” (*definitions of fun may vary). Check out the syllabus here. We’ll meet Thursdays from 6-7am beginning on 2/15. If you’re interested, email me (bsanner@lifepointqcy.org) for more info!

(3) Books:
You Can Change: God’s Transforming Power for our Sinful Behavior and Negative Emotions, by Tim Chester (Christian Living) *Ready for change? Chester offers a practical approach to experiencing real change through the power of the gospel.
Dream with Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win, by John Perkins (Christian Living) *The racial divisions of our society have no place in the church. Perkins reminds us that the gospel call to reconciliation means facing these issues head-on!
Going to Church in the First Century, by Robert Banks (Historical Fiction) *Want to know what a first century house church was like? PhD level historical research shapes this fictionalized account.
The Letter to Philemon, by Scot McKnight (Commentary) *McKnight’s verse-by-verse exploration of Philemon is filled with textual and contextual insight; a technical but accessible volume.

(4) Action Steps:
>We can never be all that God wants us to be on our own. If you’re not in a LifeGroup, contact Kourtney (kprice@lifepointqcy.org) to get plugged-in.

>We aren’t just saved from something; we’ve saved for something. The church has a mission. A great starting place for you might be to serve with our missions partners at Horizons. Join a team of LifePoint volunteers on the first Thursday of each month. Contact Danny for more details (dmcmanus@lifepointqcy.org).

>Because of Jesus, we go first with a love and forgiveness that defies category! Holding on to a grudge? Is God calling you to forgive someone? Call/text/email that someone today and set a date to connect. You can’t stay bitter and get better.

LifePoint, I love being part of such a Gospel-centered, Scripture-saturated, mission-living community!  Onward, ever at the heels of Jesus!
– Brett

 

The Land They Call Holy…

“Five gospels record the life of Jesus. Four you will find in books and the one you will find in the land they call Holy. Read the fifth gospel and the world of the four will open to you.” – Jerome (347-420 AD)

It’s easy to miss – among all the city life, the politics, the ethnic and religious tension, among the sunsets and mountain vistas, even among the holy sites and ancient ruins. With all that beauty and history and tension that is Israel, it can be easy to miss the signs that point to something greater than the place itself. It’s as if the land is whispering, inviting us into the story that unfolded among its hills and cities.

If the land itself whispers, it is beckoning us not to itself, but to what was revealed here: nothing less than the very glory of God. Here God’s glory was revealed not by mountain vistas or sunsets over the seas. No, God has revealed His glory in the person of Jesus (2 Cor. 4:6) – and this land bears testimony to His life and His ministry.

Still jet-lagged, Kristin and I returned yesterday (Monday) from 10 days in Israel with my DMin cohort. From the weather and the food to the teaching and the ancient sites, this was an amazing experience! I hope to walk through some of the highlights site-by-site in the coming weeks. For now, however, here are a few images that we managed to capture from our time in Israel!

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Scenes from Caesarea Maritime, where Peter preached to Cornelius (Acts 10) and Paul was imprisoned (Acts 23-25). Clockwise: Herod’s aqueduct; the ruins of Herod’s palace; the ancient theater.
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To the far north (Golan Heights) for Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:13-28; top) and Dan (site of a rival temple, bottom right)… then to the Sea of Galilee for Capernaum (synagogue, bottom left) and Magdala (the Magdala Stone, bottom center)!
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A breath-taking wealth of treasures! Clockwise: Sea of Galilee (looking towards Magdala), Megiddo (an ancient altar used in pagan worship for over 2000 years), Sepphori (a city neighboring Nazareth, which likely provided carpentry work to Jospeh and Jesus), and the remains of an ancient fishing boat (roughly 1st century) outside Tiberias!
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Traveling from Galilee to Judea, we moved south through the Decapolis (its capital Scythopolis, right), down the West Bank and to Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity (left).

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Jerusalem is simply too much for words.
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Clockwise, Herodium, the Western Wall, the Garden Tomb, and Joffa. In addition to all the amazing sites, the teaching by Scot McKnight (left) and Joel Willitts (right) made our time truly exceptional.

On the Road: Headed to Israel

Passport: Check

Itinerary: Check

We’re knee deep in preparations here. In just a few weeks, Kristin and I will join a crew from my Northern Seminary DMin Cohort for a 10-day study tour of Israel!  While we’ve had the opportunity to see many biblical sites in Turkey and Greece, this will be our first time in Israel. Guided by our doctoral professors, Scot McKnight and Joel Willitts, our cohort have the opportunity to see firsthand the sites and scenes that help to animate much of the Bible. This kind of context isn’t a mere backdrop to the biblical drama, it is integral to the story unfolding on the pages of scripture.  If you read the Bible carefully, the setting is a rich and compelling character, used by the authors to give nuance, depth, and detail to the story!

For those who might be interested, I’ll be doing my best to offer some highlights here on the blog. Here’s a simplified itinerary of our time:

Day 1 – Depart the US

Day 2 – Arrive in Tel Aviv; Tour Joppa/Jaffa and Caesarea

Day 3 – Tour Megiddo, Mt. Carmel, Druze Village, Nazareth, Cana, Galilee

Day 4- Mount of Beatitudes, Golan Heights, Caesarea Philippi, Tel Dan, Sea of Galilee

Day 5 – Galilee, Capernaum, Jordan River, Beit Shean, Bethlehem, Jerusalem

Day 6 – Mount of Olives, Palm Sunday Road, Garden of Gethsemane, Jewish Quarter, Temple Mount, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Southern Steps

Day 7 – Masada, Ein Gedi, Qumran, Dead Sea

Day 8 – Shrine of the Book (Dead Sea Scrolls), Model City, Hezekiah’s Tunnel, St Peter in Gallicantu, Garden Tomb

Day 9 – Jerusalem, Herodian, Khirbet Qeiyafa, Elah Valley

Day 10 – Depart to the US

It’s going to be a whirlwind, but we can’t wait for the opportunity to learn and grow together!

What good news?

In the church world, we throw around the word gospel on a daily basis. Indeed, it has become the adjective de jour in the Christian publishing world (gospel-centered this, gospel-shaped that). And yes, we should be a gospel-centered people and churches… I agree emphatically. The problem is that sometimes we use the word in a way that is disconnected from its Biblical roots. The gospel can easily become short-hand for a specific system of doctrine, or for a particular way of looking at salvation. Doctrine and salvation are so important… but they are not the gospel itself. They flow out of the gospel; they are implications and applications of the gospel… but what is the gospel (good news) in Biblical terms?

In 1 Corinthians 15:1-7, a very early account, Paul tell us pretty squarely:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you — unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

What’s the good news here? The person and work of Jesus in history. Jesus is the good news! Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection is good news… all of which occurred “in accordance with scripture” – that is, Jesus (especially in view here is His death and resurrection) is the climax of the redemptive work that God has been about throughout the “scripture” (read: Hebrew Bible/Old Testament).

As Scot McKnight says, “It’s not about us. It’s not about salvation. It’s about Jesus. But in getting Jesus, we get salvation, and us, and a lot more flourishing than we could ever imagine”. Check out this short interview posted by the people over at the Regeneration Project:

What do you think? Helpful? More important, biblical?

The Prophet's Call

In Luke 9:61-62, a would-be disciple tells Jesus, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus responds by reflecting on the radical commitment necessitated by his call: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

If you know your Hebrew Bible well, you might notice some parallels between Jesus’ interaction with this would-be disciple and Elijah’s call of Elisha in 1 Kings 19:19-21. In both texts we note the plow imagery, a potential disciple requesting furlough to attend to matters at home, and the dynamics of the charismatic-prophetic figure enlisting disciples into service of his mission. This isn’t a coincidence. It would seem that Jesus sees the call of Elisha by Elijah as prototypical to His own call of disciples. But there is an important difference between Jesus and Elijah’s interactions with these potential disciples: where Elijah permits Elisha to return home, bid his family farewell, and offer a sacrifice of the oxen, Jesus doesn’t allow this would-be disciple to return home. This is Jesus’ intensification of the call to discipleship.

Here’s what I think is happening: Jesus is intentionally recreating this scene from the Hebrew Bible. Like other charismatic leaders of late Second Temple Period, Jesus can be counted as a scripture prophet – “prophets who searched the scripture to discover their own life and destiny in the pages of the Tanakh” (McKnight, 77). As Dodd observes, it was Jesus Himself who “directed the mind of His followers to certain parts of the scriptures as those in which they might find illumination upon the meaning of his mission and destiny…” (Dodd, 110).

The scripture prophet is guided by a self-understanding derived from some preceding religious texts or sources. In Luke 9:61-62, if Elijah’s call of Elisha is prototypical, Jesus is directing his disciples to see Him as a new Elijah – or possibly one greater than, but in the same tradition as, Elijah.

Jesus isn’t drawing our attention to Elijah’s call of Elisha for nothing. Jesus is using the language and imagery of this classic Hebrew story to help would-be disciples understand something about His own mission. Here we have a archetypal call narrative from the Old Testament – and Jesus puts a bold spin on it. In refusing this disciple leave, Jesus is making emphatic the exclusive and disruptive nature of His call, and his own sovereign authority. The urgency of Jesus’ message – and His own messianic authority – allows Him to break with social and even religious protocol. Likewise His disciples are expected to prioritize this mission above competing allegiances: comfort, safety, vocation, and even family.

A Week in the Life…

I love exploring the New Testament’s first century context. There’s such richness of history and insight to be mined. But this isn’t just learning for learning’s sake. I’m convinced that familiarizing ourselves with the cultural context of the Bible helps us understand and apply the Bible’s truths. It helps us ask the right questions of the text. It helps us hear Jesus as He would be heard in His world. It helps us appreciate the dynamics and tensions that run just under the surface of the text – but often fuel the drama and conflict of the narrative.

So, I was excited when IVP sent a new book my way last week: A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion. Here Burge, a NT professor at Wheaton College, imagines a Roman Centurion in first century Capernaum – his work, his culture, and his interactions with an itinerant preacher called Jesus. If you’re interested in the context of the ancient world but prefer a well-told story over the wooden prose of a textbook, then Burge’s book may be for you. Yes, it’s fiction – but it may just help you become conversant in the culture in which Jesus lived and ministered. What do you think? Is this just another way to sell books… or is this a useful way to bridge the gap between scholars and the people in the pews?

If you’re interested, here’s an interview provided by IVP that helps us understand Burge’s heart behind this latest book:

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Traveling Back To Roman Times

UnknownWhether it’s teaching the New Testament to undergraduates at Wheaton College or publishing commentaries on the Gospels, accomplished New Testament scholar Gary Burge is passionate about helping people understand the context of the Middle East and the unique world of ancient Judaism in order to read their Bibles better. In pursuit of these same goals, Burge recently tried his hand at writing A Week in the Life of a Roman Centurion, a fictional account of a Roman centurion during the time of Jesus. He gives insight into this experience in the interview below.

What compelled you to take this fictional approach?
Gary Burge: My interest in the book came from the need to explain the cultural assumptions that are always at work within the New Testament. We do this frequently in our textbooks, but this is a modality that is a lot more fun.

How did this experience differ from your nonfiction writing?
Burge: I have written extensively about the Gospel of John, and in my teaching I specialize in the Gospels and the history and culture of first century Galilee. For the past few years, I have been interested in bringing to more popular audiences the things we scholars read and discuss regularly. There is a huge gap here. Regular readers of the New Testament do not know the things we take for granted. And when we fill in the picture for them, suddenly they see that the New Testament has real life in a real living context.

Was writing fiction easier or harder for you?
Burge: I found that the genre of fiction was reasonably challenging. Those of us who write non-fiction descriptions of the Biblical world or theology don’t think about story arcs or the development of characters.

What were your goals with the story?
Burge: In this case, I wanted the main character, a centurion, to seem real: he is a violent man, he drinks heavily, he has a concubine, and he doesn’t mind visiting a brothel. And yet there is loyal side to him—not just to his legion but to those in his familia. And the narrative brings a slave into his familia. It is this relationship that I wanted to explore—and it is in this relationship that I wanted to present a difficulty that needed resolution.
Above all I did not want to write Christian fiction that converted the centurion. That would be too easy. This is a complicated man. And he wouldn’t simply become a “Christ follower” overnight. He is skeptical, he is suspicious of the Jews he controls, and he’s been disappointed by religion many times.

Who do you hope will read this book?
Burge: My intended audience is a Christian who has some acquaintance with the New Testament and would like to know more about the background of its story. Or the reader may be someone who is fully acquainted with the New Testament and has read little that is new for a long time. My hope is that this will surprise both of them.

Check it out here!

Jesus' Call in Context

I’m working on a paper this week for school. In lieu of something more personal or original this week for the blog, here’s a taste (1/20th) of my paper on the call narratives of Jesus (minus the footnotes). In examining these call narratives (when Jesus calls someone to “follow me”), my hope for the paper is to show how the gospel writers frame Jesus’ purposes, expectations, and distinct social location within his first century Jewish context. Sounds like a party, right? Anyway, here’s a snapshot (and forgive the wooden, academic language):

The gospels often speak of the Jesus’ disciples – as well as the disciples of John the Baptist and those of the Pharisees. The gospel accounts use a specific term to denote such disciples: mathetes (μαθητής). In the first century, this Greek term and its Hebrew equivalent (תַּלְמִיד//talmidh) could readily be used to refer to a learner, in a general sense, or more technically to an adherent of a significant teacher or master. While the term mathetes rather literally denotes a disciple, the gospels also employ a metaphoric use of the term akolouthein (to follow; ακολούθει) to describe a disciple’s relationship to a master. Thus, with two simple words, Jesus calls Matthew (or Levi) from his tax booth: “Follow me.” Matthew followed, and from this point forward is consistently numbered among the disciples of Jesus. Indeed, the term akolouthein plays a significant role in the gospel call narratives, where it can, as Kingsbury argues, “connote accompaniment in the extended sense of discipleship.”

On the other hand, of course, the gospels also use akolouthein in a strictly literal sense. Matthew’s gospel provides a ready example: after an encounter with a “ruler” (whom Mark and Luke identify as Jarius, a synagogue leader), “Jesus rose and followed him.” The language is that of akolouthein – yet nothing in the context would suggest that Jesus is now a disciple of this ruler. Given these examples from Matthew’s gospel (cf. Mt. 9:9 and Mt. 9:18), the question becomes how the reader determines whether Matthew (or any other gospel author) is using akolouthein in a literal sense (to come/go after a person in sequence) or a metaphoric sense (to come/go after a person as a disciple). How does one discern whether a gospel author intends to indicate a sense of discipleship in a given use of akolouthein?

Along this line of inquiry, Kingsbury, in his analysis of Matthew, identifies two factors that characterize the metaphorical use of akolouthein: personal commitment and cost. In the context of call narratives, then, it does not surprise the reader to find Jesus telling would-be disciples to forego familial obligations, take up one’s cross, deny one’s self, or sell one’s possessions to benefit the poor. Fundamental to akolouthein as discipleship is Jesus’ call for a personal commitment (whether by way of a direct summons or a word addressed to his disciples) – an invitation which entails some sense of sacrifice, renouncement, or cost.

Already then, the reader begins to form some conclusions about Jesus’ position in the socio-religious landscape of first century Palestine. The almost formulaic connection between call, commitment, and cost as found in the metaphor of akolouthein as discipleship is nowhere recorded in the context of appointed office or authoritative succession. Rather, as Hengel observes, “these ideas occur in contexts where the traditional order and its standards are repeatedly broken down, or indeed outright rejected.” Jesus’ call to follow did not stem for a position of institutional authority (be that the Temple or a Pharisaic school of thought). This call comes from one who seemingly never even had formal instruction under a recognized rabbi.