Friday, November 16, 2012

God's Gift of Pain

We live in a pain filled world. People are hurt physically  in both small and big ways everyday. We burn our fingers on a pot, curling iron or a cup of coffee. We smash a thumb in a door or with a hammer. On a larger level, we experience a fall, get into a car wreck or break a bone. The result is a wound that is accompanied by pain.

I have often heard preachers suggest that pain is a part of "the fall." That it is a curse that will be redeemed and one day there will be no pain. Perhaps on one level they are correct. Like everything else that is frustrated in creation, pain impacts us in ways that it was never intended. 

But pain is natural. If it wasn't for pain we wouldn't know that we were burning ourselves and thus be able to pull our hand from the fire. We wouldn't realize that we had cut ourselves until we saw the blood on our arm. Pain is a gift from God. It is the way that our bodies warn us that something is wrong.

My thoughts on this topic were formed many years ago when I read the story Ten Fingers for God. It is about Paul Brand the man who did much to help lepers in India. I was recently reminded of it when reading a  article about a young woman who has no sense of pain and thus injures herself regularly. It is in this week's NY Times Magazine

I also ran across a video of Paul Brand. It is 25 minutes long and explains how Paul Brand discovered that pain is God's gift to us.

The Gift of Pain: Dr. Paul Brand - Day of Discovery

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Biblical World Hits 500,000!

Sometime in the next few hours the Biblical World will record its 500,000th visitor. That is half of a million for those who can't figure the zeros. Since I doubt very much that I will be awake when that happens I thought I would announce it now.

Many thanks to all of my regular readers. I started the blog in July of 2010 and in a little more than two years it has grown!

Here's to the next half million!

Who is responsible for chapters and verses in the Bible?

One of the classes I teach first year seminary students  is course on how to read and interpret the Bible. It is very basic in approach and forces people to slow down, read, and observe. Many come away from the class admitting that they weren't really reading the Bible.

One common stumbling block almost all my students encounter is the chapter and verses numbers. Since this is the only way they have ever read the Bible the numbers are ingrained in their approach to the Bible. They assume, for instance, that since 1 Cor 11:1 is the beginning of a new chapter it must mean Paul has started a new topic. But as most bible students discover when Paul says "imitate me" in 11:1 he is really ending his discussion of eating meat offered to idols in chapter 10, not starting a new topic.  That verse should never  have been part of Paul's discussion on head coverings in the church. Most modern Bible translations recognize this and thus separate 11:1 from the rest of chapter 11

But it is amazing how the verses have reached "inspired status" over the years. People assume, subconsciously at least, that they have always been there and that Isaiah, Paul and others included them in their original document. In reality, the creation and inclusion of chapters and verses in holy writ has taken 100's of years. In English translations, for instance, the first time chapters and verses appear together is in the the 1599 Geneva Bible. This means that prior to 1599 holding up a sign at a football game with John 3:16 on it would have meant nothing to those who read it. And a quick comparison of modern Bible translations will reveal that the verse numbering system can change, even if only slightly, from translation to translation. 

Over at the Bible Gateway Blog there is a short piece on how we got the chapters and verses. Here is a bit of what they say.

For one thing, our chapter/verse numbering occasionally creates quirky or confusing situations. In your own Bible reading, you’ve probably noticed places where a sentence or train of thought is oddly interrupted by chapter or verse numbers. (See Acts 8, which opens with the final sentence of the previous chapter’s story.) Chapters and verses vary widely in length, and don’t necessarily correspond to the beginnings and ends of stories or sentences.
These numbering quirks do not hinder our ability to read Scripture, but you can bet that plenty of Bible scholars and readers have dreamed up alternate reference schemes to make chapter and verse numbering more consistent. But even if you’ve come up with the perfect Bible reference system, don’t hold your breath waiting for the world’s Bibles to conform to it—people probably won’t want to “break” several hundred years’ worth of Bible scholarship and verse memorization just because you think “John 3:16″ would be more logically called “Gospel/John.14.25-a.”

You can read the whole article here

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Iron Age Temple Found at Beth-Shemesh

Bird's-eye view over the sacred complex, with round stone
structure at right and temple at left. Photo: SkyView.
Beth-Shemesh is a modern city in Israel. It is one of the places I go to when I am buying groceries for the 60 plus workers at Tel-Gezer. 

But in biblical times it was a city that sat on Israel's border with the Philistines and it frequently changed hands between Canaanites, Philistines, and Israelites. Careful readers of 1 Samuel 6 will remember that Beth Shemesh is where the Ark of the Covenant came to rest after returning to Israel from Philistine territory. The Philistines had captured the Ark in battle, but returned it after seven months when they realized that God was knocking over the statues of their gods and giving the people hemorrhoids. But things didn't end all that well for the people in Beth'-Shemesh. Some of the inhabits let their curiosity get the best of them and took a peek in the Ark. God killed 70 of them. I guess they never saw Raiders of the Lost Ark

This week archaeologist have announced the discovery of an iron age temple complex at Beth-Shemesh dating back to 1,100 BCE.

“The newly discovered sacred complex is comprised of an elevated, massive circular stone structure and an intricately constructed building characterized by a row of three flat, large round stones.” Declared an unparalleled discovery by excavation directors Shlomo Bunimovitz and Zvi Lederman,* the early sacred site was not merely destroyed; it was intentionally desecrated by later occupants. Just above the sacred stratum, which yielded shards of painted chalices and goblets, bones and liquid channels, lies a stratum featuring manure and Phytoliths (weed remains), suggesting that the sacred space was reused as animal pens in the successive occupation. Later still, occupants built ovens over the complex, a surprising construction in a non-domestic area. Archaeologists working at the site believe the ovens were used to cook feasts celebrating the memory of the sacred history of the site even after it was desecrated.

You can read about the temple here, here and here

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sharing more than the Gospel: 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12

In my continuing series on the Thessalonians correspondence I look at 1 Thessalonians 2:7b-12

Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, 8 so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. 9 Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. 10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

In some Christian denominations it is common practice to refer to the male priest or minister of a church as “father.” Similarly, in a convent where a woman is the recognized leader she will be given the title of “mother.” While the title of “father” and “mother” could be interpreted as creating gender specific ministry roles, I think that misses the more important point of these titles. These men and women are parents in God’s house. While some will be uncomfortable with addressing a leader as “parent,” it does highlight an important element of ministry. Those to whom we give direction and guidance are our spiritual children. Just as biological parents are expected to care for, discipline, and give counsel to help their children be successful in life, ministers of the gospel should do the same for those in their care. Moreover, when we act as parents in God’s house we are emulating the way that God interacts with his children and how the Apostle Paul related to his converts.

In 2:7b-12 Paul reveals parental instincts for his children, the Thessalonians. Beginning with the second half of verse 7 Paul’s completes the transition away from talking about how the apostles did not act among the Thessalonians (vv 1-7a) to how they did act among them. Bookending the section is a pair of parental metaphors that illustrates the apostles’ conduct during their visit. The opening sentence compares the apostles to a nursing mother and the last sentence compares them to a caring father. Both sentences mention “children,” which is certainly meant to refer to the Thessalonian believers. This parental language communicates the depth of the relationship that Paul feel’s for his converts. Add to this the relief that Paul displays in this letter at learning that Thessalonians are doing well (cf. 3:6-10) and it is easy to see that Paul views himself and the other apostles as foster parents for God in this chapter.

It’s easy so caught up in the goal of delivering the gospel and forget that there is more to it than that. Salvation is important! But so is sharing life together with those who are on the journey with you. Paul reminds the Thessalonians here that the apostles didn’t just give them the gospel, but also their lives. Tie this together with Paul’s parental metaphors in this section and you realize that being in ministry is more than just about numbers saved, programs started, and buildings built. It is about relationship.

I am blessed to fulfill my ministry calling in the context of a seminary where I teach some great students who are going to be even greater pastors, counselors and missionaries. Along the way I have also developed relationships with some who have become close friends. These relationships began not over a discussion of the Greek text or a particular doctrinal question. More often they began with a crisis. I have had more conversations in my office, home and over lunch with students who wanted to talk about what was going on in their life rather than how to exegete a passage. That means that I am often sacrificing precious time out of my schedule to listen and minster to them. But I have also learned that simply delivering them information in a classroom is not going to make them successful in ministry.  I am going to have to invest myself in their lives.

We aren't accustomed to thinking of Paul’s ministry along these lines. We read Acts and assume that he kept moving from place to place winning converts and establishing churches. While this is true to some extent, we also see that he invested his life. Paul cared about the people he ministered to. Had he not he probably wouldn't have written so many letters. The same can be said for any type of ministry, but particularly pastoral ministry where we are tasked with the long term care for a group of people. It can be easier to show up twice a week and deliver a sermon and cast a vote at a board meeting than it is to get involved with the lives of people.  Life is messy and sometimes when you are trying to help someone you get dirty. But that is part of being family.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Book Giveaway Winner!

Congrats to Stefanus Kristianto of Indonesia!

He is the winner of this week's book giveaway. Stefanus has won  Kenneth E. Bailey's Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Critical Studies in 1 Corinthians (IVP, 2011). 

Stefanus, please send your details to and I will send the book to you. Remember, you have five days to claim your prize.

Thanks to everyone for entering.