Amos: A Fresh Translation

A friend recently asked me if I might do a new translation of Amos for him to record a reading of it for a ministry he serves (which I will perhaps post the audio of here when finished).

This is one of those books that every time I make my way through it, I find it making its way through me. There is a sifting, a shaking, a sorting. The remnant in me that remains looks to the God of Israel with hope for mercy and restoration, the hope of a rebuilt dwelling for the Son of David.

The call of Amos roars across the pages and compels to faithful and righteous concern for “the other” (the weak, the poor, the needy, and all those who are abused). The message beckons for a turning from death to life, from unfounded celebrations to justified mourning, from self-congratulating worship to humility before the coming sovereign. The prophet/ic will not be silenced! The God of heaven’s armies is on the march! Prepare to meet your God!

For whatever it may be worth, here is my humble attempt at a fresh translation of this beloved message that speaks again and again to every generation that has lived at ease and in comfort … in need of a divine shaking. May he shake the foundations and may we stand in that day!

Amos: A Fresh Translation

Posted in Amos, translation | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Damascus Road Experience and Evangelicals on the Way

My pastor preached a fantastic sermon last Sunday concerning the transformation of Paul by his encounter with the living Christ on the way to Damascus. This post is not about that (though it found inspiration in his text).

Instead, I was struck by the Evangelical church’s language of a “Damascus road experience” and how we use this language to describe radical conversions as we understand them. This is typical in my experience as referring to those who had been given over to all manner of (Evangelical) sins: drunkenness, drug addictions, sex outside of marriage (the old saying: “smoking drinking and chew, and going with girls who do”)… you know the stories. You’ve heard these shared at camps and in churches. We’re all moved by these individuals in their transformation from sins committed wantonly and flagrantly. And then … some radical encounter with Jesus to change it all. This may happen by being jailed or some other form of reaching the “bottom of the barrel” until suddenly the light dawns.

Such testimonies are indeed moving. I’m also moved by them. And I praise the Lord for such transformations!

But the Damascus road experience for Saul was not this.

Saul was a man deeply and faithfully committed to righteousness and piety, and holding all others who made profession in his God to such standards. He was so radically convinced of the Scriptures that he actually sought to forcibly attack and destroy anyone not holding to such singularity of worship and love as he did. And all of this was in obedience to the word of the Lord. He did this when so many others were willing to simply allow folks to respond to the Lord as they saw fit. Saul would have no such room for compromise. He would be faithful to the end. This was the “Evangelical” Saul.

But then Jesus showed up.

Saul’s encounter with Jesus was the turning point because Saul’s righteousness was rooted in Saul’s righteousness. Here on the road, he met God’s righteousness in and for the world. And God’s righteousness was not trekking to the ends of the earth in search of the unrighteous to destroy, but to save. It did not look down on “the others” but declared their inclusion in this kingdom of righteousness as intended to embrace “whosever will”. God’s righteousness meant the end of Saul’s own righteousness as one who had every appearance of loving his God with all he was. This righteousness of God was loving Saul with all he was. And this righteousness met Saul to bring that righteousness to bear in Saul’s life … and the lives of those who Saul would later seek at the farthest corners of the empire, that they might also know this righteousness that is apart from themselves. This righteousness embraces “the other” in his transformative embrace.

It is this kind of “Damascus road experience” that I am more and more convinced needs to still happen among “Evangelicals”. The turning is not from Evangelical sins (those which such a community regards with disdain and treats its public practitioners with disdain, as mentioned previously) which one must also turn from, but from the sins of Evangelicals: pride, arrogance, self-righteousness, and abuse/disdain of “the other” (as outsider). This seems never more true of the sins of Evangelicals than found currently across the U.S. as the last several decades indicate.

Evangelicals find themselves now “kicking against the goads” of Jesus, all the while waging wars against “the others” that they believe are destroying the Faith. For too long this has continued.

It is these sins of Evangelicals that marks such persons and communities as being like Saul with his religiously institutionalized letter of approval to oppose all who do not conform to the standards of piety and righteousness dictated by a (mis)reading of Scripture. And I pray that when Jesus shows up in blazing light that the senses will be both dulled and enlightened by that encounter. An encounter that leads to a baptism of repentance and a transformation by the Spirit.

For the sake of God.

For the sake of Christ.

For the sake of the World.

Posted in Acts | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Acts 1.8 – The Spirit and Jerusalem: A Brief Reply

Once again I owe another post to a brief conversation with a (former) student. As he was meditating on Acts 1.6-9 he was wondering about my thoughts. Here is my reply to him and a bit more:

Acts 1.6-9 addresses the intentional choice of being “exiled” by the Spirit to the nations from “Zion” which is the opposite direction that Israel believed things were to go. The OT again and again points to the drawing to Zion/Jerusalem as the hope of Israel (and ultimately of the nations).

The movement out from Zion/Jerusalem would prove to include people from every tongue, tribe, and nation into that great city come down from heaven, the New Jerusalem.

When Jesus instructs his disciples to remain in Jerusalem it is a call to remain gathered in the city they had placed their hopes (as the witness of their Scriptures had always indicated). However, the promise of the Father would be given not to remain forever gathered to that city, but to be sent from that city to the ends of the earth with the message of this soon returning king and kingdom. It was a willful “exile” from that city on the way to another (better) city. That other city made not with human hands that is testified to upon that great and high mountain lifted high … where the nations would enter the gates of gladness into the presence of the eternal king.

We miss this movement of the Spirit (as the movement of Father and Son) when we (1) make it about the idea of “finding your own Jerusalem”, or (2) a movement “Back to Jerusalem”. The first utterly misses the redemptive movements of God to redeem the nations and replaces it with a very individualistic self-centered notion. The latter imagines only an earthly promise falsely located in a specific geographic location, thus, replacing the City of God with a city of man, replacing the true with what was always only a sign.

May we find ourselves caught up in the Spirit’s movement from Jerusalem to that Zion come down, and find many to join in that divine procession as the adopted en-Spirited daughters and sons of God!

Posted in Acts, Baptism in the Holy Spirit, Spirit | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Discerning the Spirit of the Good News – A Conversation with a Student

I received a question from a student today regarding a Spurgeon quote and what it means to share the “good news”. Here is our online conversation (one of the many ways to continue discipling in the current era).

______________________________

STUDENT:

Hope you are doing well professor!
Check this out and let me know your thought on this!!!

This is a great Quote by Spurgeon that will help make more clear why we shouldn’t just tell people Jesus loves them in isolation!
We need to give them the full Gospel!!! We must mention sin equals death somewhere in our conversation! (ROM.6:23) Then give them the good news, they will appreciate knowing there is a cure and that’s the work of Jesus Christ dying on the Cross, and rising from the dead!

“You are too delicate to tell the man that he is ill. You hope to heal the sick without their knowing it. You therefore flatter them. And what happens? They laugh at you. They dance upon their own graves and at last they die. Your delicacy is cruelty, your flatteries are poisons; you are a murderer. Shall we keep men in a fool’s paradise? Shall we lull them into soft slumber from which they will awake in hell? Are we to become helpers of their damnation by our smooth speeches? In the name of God we will not.”
C.H. Spurgeon

MY RESPONSE:

It can sometimes be taken too far (I’m thinking of The Way of the Master series) if we think to make people confess they are sinners first. However, it is imperative that we not justify sinners in their sinfulness, but point them to God’s justifying them in the life, death, and resurrection of the Christ.

There are times in which some have tried to so emphasize the “bad news” that it is actually no longer really “good news”. The poor, blind, lame, imprisoned, do not often need told they are in need of rescue, healing, redemption. While the “righteous” continue on as if all is well. They will stand condemned if they do not likewise come to see all their righteousness as filthy rags, but we miss the goodness of the good news when we overemphasize the bad news.

It can become more about trying to manipulate people into confessing. Rather than proclaiming the good news and allowing those with ears to hear and eyes to see to receive it. And those who will not see to continue to not see…and not hear…to continue to not hear.

STUDENT RESPONSE:

Yes agreed! So would it be right to share the bad news and the good news in balance, because my thinking is if I just shared to good news without mentioning sin, they may receive it but did I just create a false convert if they don’t know what they are saved from?

MY RESPONSE:

I don’t think it is about “balance”. I think it is about discerning what the Spirit is saying in each occasion. To some we speak forgiveness of God. To others his judgment. To all, his love. It is seeking to speak as the Spirit is speaking. He convinces of sin, righteousness and judgment. He makes Jesus known. To sinners (who know they are sinners) he becomes a friend. To the righteous, who believe themselves righteous, he becomes a stone of stumbling. He did not come to crush the broken-hearted, but to heal. He did come to crush those with hearts hardened.

STUDENT RESPONSE:

That’s good! So it is so important that we are lead by his Spirit to speak what He says! Reminds me of Ezekiel 3:17-21

MY RESPONSE:

Yes! I think what we tend to want is a method or rule to follow. Rather than an ever discerning ear and heart for obedience to the Living Word.

STUDENT RESPONSE:

Yes, at the same time I get away from methods, I end up coming up with another one!!! 🤦‍♂️ Oh that we would just stay at his feet and only speak when he says to open our mouths!!!!

Posted in Discipleship, Gospel, Spirit | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Five Fold Ministry? A Question of Ephesians 4.11-14

I was asked by someone this week about how I understand the “Five Fold Ministry” of Ephesians 4.11-14. Below is my response which does not include any explanation of what each of the points might look like in any given context (perhaps another post another time):

Ephesians 4.11-14

I do believe these should all be active (though I include others beyond these “five” which I regard as given somewhat ad hoc to simply make the case Paul was making to one congregation at one time). However, I do not believe every individual congregation must have each of the “five”, but may in fact enjoy the benefits of multiples of any individual of the “five” as well as have regional persons fulfilling any given function of the “five”.

Further, my reading of Paul in his letter to the Ephesians is that it may actually be four fold: Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor-Teacher (based on the Greek grammar that seems to indicate the final in this list is intended together rather than separate).

I don’t see Paul saying these “five” (or “four”) are all that is needed or given (which would need to include administrators, bishops, deacons, elders, workers of mercy, etc., drawing upon the manner other ways Paul speaks of the Spirit evidencing Lordship in and through the community). The Five Fold idea is widely believed among many within Pentecostal circles globally (even when there are differences of opinion about what these entail). I think Paul was simply pointing to the need to all contribute to the maturation of each other toward being made like Christ Jesus (even if some necessarily fulfill specific functions to equip others).

Whatever gifts we have are given to us by the Lord who is making all things subject to the Father by making us (in the power of the Spirit) to be in Christ Jesus as all in all.

Posted in Five Fold Ministry, Pentecostal | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Irony in Translation: Joshua 1.17a

My month of December is being spent translating Joshua (as a consultant) and I was struck by Joshua 1.17a which I have translated:

In the same way we obeyed Moses, we’ll obey you.

These are the words of Israel to Joshua.

The irony of a stiff-necked and rebellious people (just give a reread of Numbers and Deuteronomy) who seemed to question Moses and his decisions at every turn…now saying to Joshua they will obey him in the same fashion.

Either they actually believed they had been obedient or they intended to be just as “faithful” as they had been previously. Perhaps this is precisely the reason Joshua resists their appeals to faithfulness in Joshua 24.19-28, until he ratifies their commitment in writing (with a stone to boot) as a witness against them for when they “obeyed” just as they had for Moses.

These are the kinds of ironies I laugh at while working through the texts of Scripture. I imagine the twinkle in the eye of the author who writes such things knowing they could be read in several ways, but knowing also just how such has played out in the life of Israel (where the author has the insight of one writing after the events). Such things are a constant reminder of the artistry of the Scriptures and of the humorous wit of God’s revelation through Israel and her texts. And also a cogent reminder to not overestimate our own obedience (past, present, or future), but to rely always on his faithfulness.

Posted in Joshua | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Divine Command: Love Him, Kill Them (Deuteronomy 7): A Sermon

The following is a message I shared in response to several questions regarding the violence of God in the Old Testament. This message was preached at Crossroads Church in Bemidji, MN, Oct. 13, 2019. The title of the message is “The Divine Command: Love Him, Kill Them” (Deuteronomy 7). Click here to listen or download.

Posted in Deuteronomy, Sermon | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘What Does It Mean By “Submit”?’: A Question and a [Theological] Response

In the course of any given day, I may receive various questions regarding Scripture or theology. I personally love these as they are chances to reflect with others about what God has revealed and might be making known to and in us. I received the title of this blog post as an email subject line with the following question and, below that, I offer my (perhaps overlong) theological reply. The question emerges from one of my former students who is a pastor.

The question:

So I’m hung up on the fun theological question of relational roles and I think over the last couple of years I have gone so far to the point of eglitarian belief where each member is as valuable and has just as much say as the other that I am wondering that I might have gone to a point where I may be missing what it means for a man to lead. I think I was raised so heavily on the “woman submit” mentality, that when I pushed against the idea in the way I knew it, I may have ran from the actual intent of the passage? I guess at this point I am wondering if treating both members as equals doesn’t mean that there aren’t still some roles within a relationship setting? But I’m stuck on how are two people equal if one person gets the final say in everything?

My response:

I totally get it. There can be a tendency in swinging positions to ignore the critique of the other/s. In this way, I personally contend for egalitarianism even as there must be distinctions of persons, but not any predetermined roles with the one exception of producing a child in bearing a child [mother] and producing a child without bearing a child [father]. Otherwise, I see no clear distinctions of roles for earning income, determining responsibilities, child care, household care, etc. There is only a mutuality of shared agreements between the parents (when two are present) that allows for mutual loving of each other and any children (or others brought into that sphere of life including family by blood or choice, and the Church).

The call to “submit” is a mutual submission in Ephesians 5:21 that seems inclusive of all who are in Christ. In this fashion, there is no distinction of gender, social class, age, etc. Even as any distinctions are not erased, ignored, or imagined to not exist. All relationships are re-oriented in Christ Jesus as the mediator between every person and every other person, between individuals and groups, and groups and groups. He is the mediator for all relationships. In this way there cannot but be mutual submission to the other as to Christ our Lord.

Now, I read Paul as engendering relations of his historical-cultural-social context/s in how he explains such relations playing out following this mutual submission call. In his context, there are culturally delineated roles of husband-wife, parent-child, master-slave that simply are not our own context/s (we not only do not believe the relation of master/slave ought to still be maintained even if “good”, but we actually believe children have rights as humans…and for the Church we contend they are in Christ Jesus by faith and in this manner we relate to them). Even as he calls for relationships to be specifically faithful in the given context they are found in, there is a sense in which through the movement of his letter to the Ephesians that all relationships are upended, transformed, and made new in Christ in whom all things are being brought to submission and brought into for the redemption that is ours in him. This is the end of all things breaking into the present age in the crucified and risen One.

As to the question of both being “equal”, that is a problem that requires further explanation. Our own western contemporary ideals of what it might mean to be “equal” convolutes the discussion. We really may be far better served not speaking of each other as “equals”, but as those who are “in Christ”. This means we all have differing contexts, histories, cultures, responsibilities, gifts, etc., that are honored and remade in our obedience to the Word. This should not be confused with being “equal”. Equality can suggest all things equal, which seems to ignore our specificity as humans that are different from one another and that somehow in this differentiation we bring glory by the Spirit to the Father. It is not in overcoming our different-ness, but in living by the Spirit in that different-ness that we are conformed (and being conformed) to the Son. It is not the removal of difference, but the sharing of difference as a sort of mosaic of new creation in Christ. This actually honors our different-ness and appreciates each social-historical-cultural context.

As to the question of one individual getting “the final say in everything”, I would say there is only one who does this: God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The only person who does this is the God of Israel, given to and for us, the man from Nazareth, Jesus, and poured out and enjoined in his Spirit. To imagine that one spouse has any “final say in everything” would be for that spouse to take the place of the Lord in the relationship. Neither spouse is the Father, nor the Son, nor the Spirit. Nor should either take the place of such. To do so would be as if the Father simply dictated to Son and Spirit and they obeyed. But this misses that our God, in the bonds of love, mutually submits for the sake and glory of Father, Son, and Spirit. The “final say” in this way is the mutually shared agreement of Father, Son, and Spirit in making all things new. But the model you are speaking of is widely held and believed in the Church even as it is precisely the model Jesus condemned as the world’s way where one lords it over another. This is not who we are, because this is not the God we worship and are being sanctified into the image of.

Does this make sense? What are your thoughts in response? Sorry for the long explanation that is perhaps difficult reading. I’m thinking I will go ahead and post my reply as a blog post (so thank you for being my muse 😉 ).

Blessings,

Rick

Posted in Ephesians, Theology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Second 2020 SPS Paper Approved

I just received word today that my second paper proposal to the 2020 Society for Pentecostal Studies annual meeting was approved. I submitted the following proposal to the Ethics Interest Group.

“Bonhoeffer Meets Macchia: Toward a Pentecostal – Pneumatic and Embodied – Christocentric Ethic”

This study will propose to bring two theologians’ Christologies into conversation toward a pneumatic embodied ethic centered in Christ as the embodied and enspirited Son of Man. While Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christological foci and most specifically his Ethics have been mined for their own contributions, a number of his insights (regarding Word, Church, history, world, the ultimate, and the real) are brought into conversation with the recent constructive Christological contributions of Pentecostal theologian, Frank Macchia (particularly in his Jesus the Spirit Baptizer: Christology in Light of Pentecost). Bonhoeffer’s rejection of principlizing ethics and focus upon the real, the ultimate, that is the Christ, offers a welcome conversation partner for those seeking to discern an ethic within the Christocentric full gospel message of Pentecostals. This conversation offers overtures drawn from the Christocentric ethic that Bonhoeffer began to envision, but which Macchia might fill out further with insights drawn from the Spirit Baptizer at Pentecost. Thus, the ethics of Bonhoeffer are drawn into a constructive ethical movement with insights from Macchia’s Spirit Baptizer Christology as a means of explicitly Christocentric-enspiriting of the Christocentric embodied ethic of Bonhoeffer. This movement provides a re-envisioning of ethics centered in the Christ of the full gospel emphasizing the manner in which Jesus as Spirit baptizer speaks to faithful/faithfilled response-able living for God and world.

Posted in Ethics, Society for Pentecostal Studies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2020 SPS Paper Approved

I received notice this weekend that one of my paper proposals for the 2020 Society for Pentecostal Studies meeting hosted by Vanguard University was approved. Following is the title and brief summary:

“On Ladies, Women-Folk, and Wives’ Tales in 1-2 Kings: A Pentecostal Literary-Theological Retelling”

This study will examine the texts of 1-2 Kings concerning female characters and portrayals toward discerning the various re-presentations of women for the exilic community/ies that preserved these texts. A literary and theological reading of the relevant texts will offer various categories for the types of texts (along the lines of Form Criticism, but with movement toward canonical shaping and placement) and the manner in which female characters are portrayed, described, and engaged. This literary and theological approach seeks to recover ways in which women may have been recast in the exilic period as part of the social and theological memory of the exilic community/ies of Israel and Judah. Such a study is intended to discern some of the complexities of literary characterization/s and their theological significance/s in self-understanding and self-re-presentation. Further, this study proposes several intersections with historical and contemporary re-presentations of women within the Pentecostal tradition/s noting a number of recent publications: E. Alexander and A. Yong (Philip’s Daughters), K. Alexander and J. Bowers (What Pentecostal Women Want), M. de Alminana and L. Olena (Women in Pentecostal and Charismatic Ministry), and J. Qualls (God Forgive Us for Being Women).

Posted in 1 Kings, 2 Kings, Society for Pentecostal Studies, women | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment