Thursday, October 21, 2010

Psalm 24

The Psalms are beautiful in English; they are stunning in Hebrew.

Hebrew poetry is laid out in exquisitely balanced lines where several components work together to give the sense that the second line belongs somehow with the first and enhances its meaning.  Biblical poetry doesn't have rhyme, rhythm, or meter (the way we think of it), but it is artistically captivating.  If you have studied Hebrew (or if you haven't but are highly motivated), I highly recommend two books on the subject: The Idea of Biblical Poetry by James Kugel, and The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism by Adele Berlin.  Both were very, very helpful to me.

I've immersed myself in Psalm 24 this week, writing an exegesis paper on it.  Here is my translation, with a few notes on what has stood out to me.

Psalm 24
1 Of David, A song.

The earth and its fullness (are) Yahweh’s,
the world and those dwelling in it.
2 Because he himself laid its foundation upon the seas,
and established it upon the rivers.

Yahweh is the God of the whole earth.  This is remarkable, because other nations of that day claimed to have their own deity, specific to their region.  Israel declares that her God is the Lord of the whole earth.
Why does the whole world belong to Yahweh?  Simple.  He made it!
He subdued the chaos of nothingness and made a place we can inhabit.

3 Who may go up on the mountain of Yahweh?

And who may stand in his holy place?
(One who has) clean hands and a pure heart
who does not lift up my soul to vanity
and does not swear deceitfully.
5 He will carry a blessing from Yahweh
and righteousness from his saving God.
6 This (is the) generation seeking him,
the seekers of your face. Jacob. Selah.

How, then, can those who are citizens of this world made by Yahweh please Him? We must have clean actions and pure motives.  What we say we will do, we must do. That is the kind of person Yahweh blesses.  The descendents of Jacob, the deceiver, are unlikely candidates, but God delights in new beginnings!  Take note that the one who ascends is not bowing in worship but standing, perhaps making a request.  Those who want their prayers to be heard need to be this kind of person.

7 Lift up your heads, O gates

and be lifted up, O ancient doors,
so the glorious king may come in.
8 Who is this glorious king?
Yahweh, strong and mighty;
Yahweh, mighty (in) battle.
9 Lift up your heads, O gates,
and lift up, O ancient doors,
so the glorious king may come in.
10 Who is he then – this glorious king?
Yahweh of armies;
He (is) the glorious king. Selah.

Most commentators suppose that this section of the Psalm is a liturgy celebrating the bringing of the ark of God into Jerusalem.  If they are right, Yahweh would have been seated above it with his feet resting on the cherubim.  The gates would certainly have needed to 'lift their heads' for God to fit through! 

But here's my nagging question, and none of the commentaries are asking it.  David asks who may ascend the hill of the Lord (i.e. Jerusalem), and describes the kind of righteous person who is allowed to stand in the presence of God.  Next we see Yahweh Himself making the ascent and entering the city.  Is this to suggest that He alone is righteous?  Does this hint that He will have to be the answer to the quest for a righteous person who can intercede for the people?  If so, David's song points forward to the New Testament (see John 12:12-16).

N. T. Wright says this: "Jesus' prophetic vocation thus included within it the vocation to enact, symbolically, the return of YHWH to Zion." (Jesus and the Victory of God, 653)

Lift up your heads, O Gates,
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
That the glorious king - JESUS - may come in!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

lessons from little house

We're transitioning to a new form of family entertainment.  After watching 9 full seasons of Little House on the Prairie, we're moving on to Christy.  No show is perfect, but there are a lot of things I liked, and will miss, about Little House:
  • Pa.  He reminds me of my Dad.  Strong.  Wise.  Caring.  Courageous.  A good, hard worker who can do just about anything. And lots of dark, curly hair.
  • Real life issues.  If it's been awhile since you've seen Little House you may remember it as a squeaky clean show.  Not so.  Little House deals with all sorts of gnarly issues like alcoholism, drug addiction, adoption, revenge, child abuse, physical and mental illness, gambling, natural disasters, and deep-seated unforgiveness.  Through it all the Ingalls' kids learn honesty, forgiveness, perseverance, and the importance of faith.
  • Laura.  There was something special about watching her grow from a toothy little "half pint of cider all drunk up" to a young woman with grace, dignity, spunk, courage, and a whole lot of her pa's wisdom.  Incidentally, Melissa Gilbert, who played Laura all those years, now plays Ma on Broadway.  I like that.
  • Mr. Edwards.  I'm so glad they brought him back for the last season.  He's so rough around the edges, not at all refined, but knows just what to say when it needs sayin'.  And he's not afraid to love.
  • A close-knit family.  The Ingalls family had their challenges, but they were committed to each other.  How unusual to have such healthy family dynamics onscreen for all to see.  They faced a lot of real life, but they did it side-by-side.
  • No commercials. 
It's been a fun tradition to pop a huge batch of popcorn on Sunday evenings and watch Little House together.  It took us about four years to get through all nine seasons.  Now that's a lot of popcorn!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

theological interpretation

Joel Green, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in California, wrote an article back in 2004 that I just discovered this afternoon.  It's called "Practicing the Gospel in a Post-Critical World: The Promise of Theological Exegesis" (Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 47 no 3 S 2004, p 387-397).  Since I'm in the biblical studies orbit, the terms "theological exegesis" or "theological interpretation" are not new to me, but I found Green's explanation of it very helpful and I thought you might, too.

Green says that the main hurdle to overcome in understanding the Bible is not the historical distance between me and the text (i.e. the 2000-year gap), but the theological distance between belief and unbelief.  Because the Scriptures are written for the benefit of the people of God, in order to truly understand them we must be part of the believing community.

This is huge!  Do you have any idea how many schools offer a doctorate in biblical studies but ask students to leave their faith at home?  There is a sense in most university settings that faith clouds our ability to read the Bible objectively.  To be scholarly, faith must be put aside.  This has been a sobering part of the search for PhD programs, but an important issue to think through.  I agree that faith is a biased perspective from which to read the Bible, but un-faith is no less biased!  And those who bar faith from the classroom end up with skewed interpretations of the Bible because the Bible was intended for the faith community!  So ... three cheers for schools where faith is integral to the learning process and professors who are brave enough to say it publically!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

raising MMK's

When I was a kid, I really wanted to be an MK (missionary kid).  Unfortunately, this isn't something you can choose for yourself.  Your parents have to do it.  And, try as I might, I couldn't talk them into sub-saharan Africa.  So I was an MMK (missions-minded kid) instead.  At about 8 years of age I remember a missionary couple speaking at our church.  They fed us African stew and showed us slides of their work in Sierra Leone.  And then they challenged us to commit our lives to helping others hear the good news.  I distinctly remember thinking it over in a matter of moments and realizing, 'Hey!  I don't have other plans.  I could be a missionary!'  A few years later, in junior high, my Bible teacher asked us to memorize Matthew 28:18-20.  That was the beginning of a two-week period of time where that passage followed me everywhere I went.  We went to two different churches that Sunday, one in the morning and one at night.  In both churches the same passage was read.  I would open a Bible and it would fall open to that reference.  I would open a hymnal and my eyes would land on it.  I would turn on the radio and hear a song about it.  I couldn't get away from the sense that God was calling me to "go and make disciples."

As a teenager I devoured everything I could get my hands on that related to missions - biographies, magazines, newsletters - and poured over brochures about summer mission trips.  It was all I could think about.  I headed to Venezuela and Panama in 1992 and 1993 respectively, sharing the gospel with a bunch of other crazy teenagers using drama.  {Note: My parents may not have been called to go themselves, but they were tremendously supportive of my own desire to go.  Imagine putting your 14-year-old on a plane to Latin America without knowing anyone else who was going!}  And then I headed to Bible College to learn the skills that I would need as a missionary.  If you've known us for a while, you know that Danny and I did end up as missionaries.  We lived in the Philippines from 2002-2005 reaching out to several minority tribal groups there.  Eliana - our first MK - was almost 2 when we arrived and 4 when we left.  I loved it that she was experiencing another language and culture at such a young age.  Our second MK was conceived shortly before we returned to the States.  And though we are in the US, we are still serving as missionaries with SIM.  So technically speaking, we have 3 MK's.

But this week I had a startling realization.  (Don't ask me why it took so long).  We are living a normal, American life.  Our children attend public school.  We buy groceries at Wal-mart.  We own a house and 2 cars.  And on nice evenings we ride bikes in the cul-de-sac.  Though they have far more ethnic diversity in their classroom than I ever did, I'm not sure if they really "get" missions.  It's probably not fair to call them MK's.  Weird.

So on Wednesday evening I pulled out a map and spread it across the living room floor.  We put stars on all the places where we know people who are working full-time to tell others about Jesus.  Very, very cool.  They loved it.  Eliana and I are currently reading a great book by Joanne Shetler: And the Word Came With Power.  It's the story of Joanne's life as a missionary among the Balangao people of the Northern Philippines.  Joanne translated the Bible into Balangao and watched God transform an entire people group from fear to faith.

I'd like to be more intentional about praying together for missionaries, too.  Just because I read newsletters and pray, doesn't make our kids MMK's.  I want them to grow up knowing how important it is for the good news to be shared with all nations.  And I would love it if they wanted to be part of making it happen.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

a beautiful thing

There's nothing more beautiful than to watch someone doing just what God created them to do.

We spent 5 wonderful hours with our friend, Mindy, yesterday.  She absolutely exudes the joy of the Lord.  Just being in the same room is inspiring!  Mindy is one of only 10 foreigners living in a city of over 400,000 people in the developing world.  For her, all of life has one purpose: introducing others to Jesus.  Like the apostle Paul, she doesn't want to build on another man's foundation.  So she has her sights set on moving to another city, one where no foreigner has ever lived.  Her eyes sparkle as she tells us one story after another of recent opportunities to share her faith.  In less than a year, before she has even grasped enough language to talk freely about spiritual things, a fledgling church has been born.  She insists that it was others who sowed the seeds, she was just in the right place at the right time to catch the fruit as it fell off the tree.  But she makes it look so easy!

That's usually how it is with spiritual gifts.  The evidence of the Holy Spirit's empowerment is obvious.  After our time with Mindy I mentioned to Danny that I couldn't help questioning whether getting a PhD was the right thing to do.  Maybe I should just tell people about Jesus all day long.  Danny quickly reminded me of what I already knew:  each of us has different gifts.  It's easy to look at someone else who serves so effortlessly in some capacity and think, that's what I should be doing.  But the Spirit empowers each of us uniquely, using our personalities and life experience to contribute something beautiful to His kingdom.  We can't take our cues from someone else, because what looks effortless becomes a mess in the wrong hands.

So, in the words of Dr. Suess*:

"So that is why
I think that I
Just wish to be
Like me."

May His Spirit empower you today to do precisely what He has created you to do!

*Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Suess), writing under the pen name Theo. LeSieg in I Wish That I Had Duck Feet.