Thursday, May 25, 2006

Deuteronomy Chapter Fifteen: Big Change, Economic Equality

Deuteronomy chapter fifteen centers on what might be called the economics of God, the sabbatical year where all Israelite debts are cancelled. Before we dive in to this section it might be good to define "sabbatical"--a basic definition would be: Of or relating to the Sabbath as the day of rest. In this context the sabbatical year--where Israelite debts are cancelled--has a congruence with the Sabbath, day of rest, where Israel was called to lay down its heavy loads (even economic loads). Part of this sabbatical year can be seen, not only as an opportunity to relieve personal economic loads, but also societal economic loads, so we read, "Every creditor shall cancel the loan he has made to his fellow Israelite. He shall not require payment from his fellow Israelite or brother, because the LORD's time for canceling debts has been proclaimed." (Deut ch.15 v.2). So, part of v.2 can be seen as an opportunity to maintain a level of holistic equality among all Israelites, thus keeping God as the only sovereign.

As we go on we read, "However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless youif only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today." (v.4-5). What we see here is that while Israel has the resource capacity to have no poor among them (much like we do today) the manifestation of this hinges on "if only you fully obey the LORD your God." The sad reality of what will always happen in Israel is expressed in verse 11, "There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land." Even though they have the resources, they lack the moral resources, thus verses four and eleven belong together to remind us of our inherent selfishness and our overwhelming need for Christ's atoning sacrifice and the spirit's renewal of our hearts.

It is my thought--as alluded to in the above paragraph--that God, knowing the sad truth that his people will in fact not "fully obey [him]", instituted the sabbatical year as a point of renewal. Verse five is hopefull in one sense, and dim with hope in another. If God's chosen follow him, then-- among other things--there will be no poor among us. History tells us that Israel will fail, still there is the contingent "if" of verse five: "what if". Though, and in spite of the fact that we are plagued with Israel's failure throughout history, in Christ we have one who is truly faithful, in Christ the "if" becomes more than simply an "if" rather a promise (Romans 8:19-21, and let's not forget the Lord's prayer that it be "on earth as it is in Heaven"). So, on one hand we stand observing man's failure throughout history, on the other we wait in anticipation knowing the kingdom of God (with it's holistic reorchestration of society and individuals) to be a promise of new creation.

We hear this "if" in a lot of political discourse. "If" we do such and such, follow some ideal then things will go perfect. This is not a flimsy political ideal as is Marxism. No, Marxism will never work because it lacks the power to create new men; it tries to force the old man into an ideal, in which forgetting God is prerequisite and guilt is the motivation--in this light its eventual disaster is obvious. Again, in Christ the "if" of verse five is a promise--it is not contingent on our action but on our Lord's sovereign action. The Kingdom of God is a not a flimsy ideal, it is thick reality.

Along similar lines verse six reads, " For the LORD your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you." The idea here is not one of superiority or depotism but rather one of stewardship. In Isaiah ch. Two we have a similar picture, it reads:

Many peoples will come and say,
Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths."
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

In this light we see that rather than God giving Israel a promise of imperialism He entrusts them with choseness, and out of that sprouts the person of Jesus Christ and through him the kingdom of God; God's chosen our the ambassadors of true change.

The remainder of Deuteronomy Chapter fifteen is of great importance it gives imperatives to give liberally to the poor and sets down great rules for dealing with hired hands. Also it enters into more description of the requirements for sacrifice. I will stop the exegesis here though; partly because I'll be surprised if you even make it this far, but also because I am a bit tired and have a lot more to do today.

Love to hear any feedback.

The Da Vinci Code, Not Yet

A few posts ago I mentioned a "personalized outreach opportunity" regarding the Da Vinci Code and some drinks afterwards (hopefully including a good discussion). Well, to those who are wanting a post on the subject it hasn't happened yet. All the folks I was planning on going with are still interested in all that but... It just hasn't worked out yet.

I'll keep you updated...

Thursday, May 18, 2006

In Review: The Secret Message of Jesus

Last week I finished Brian Mclaren's new book The Secret Message of Jesus. My conclusions about the book itself are mixed, though the only negative thoughts are primarily personal (and in view of it's intent the positive outweighs my negative sentiments). I certainly have gained a deep respect for Brian as a missiologist. He not only knows the culture that he his hoping to reach, by the work of the spirit, but also he has written a book that is biblical, in a holistic sense.

As I mentioned in an earlier post his influences are clear. N.T. Wright and Walter Brueggemann I'd say seem to have had a very formative influence, as well as Dallas Willard. So TSMJ, to some extent, can be viewed as a popular synthesis of their works in a missiological framework. This aspect of the book is truly hospitable. Also, and I think this is of vast importance, he shares a subversive Gospel (thanks, no doubt, to N.T. Wright) that challenges empire, of every variety.

To a Christian that is both politically conflicted (think Sojourners) and also acquainted with Mclaren's influences, the primary sources if you will, TSMJ feels a little...well lite. But, while I find a it little 'lite' for my tastes, I think, in that we can see part of Mclaren's intent. Remember spiritual infants need spiritual milk. So, while it didn't conform to my desires I can say that for its intent TSMJ is a success.

Deuteronomy Chapter Fourteen: Don't Eat That and Giving to God

The first section of the Deuteronomy ch. 14 describes clean and unclean food. About this biblical scholar Tremper Longman III writes, "Perhaps certain animals were thought to conform to the norms of creation, while others were thought to blur the boundaries. For instance, fish that have "fins and scales" are true fish, while other animals in the deep that do not have them (lobsters) somehow do not seem to fit this category (Renovare Study Bible 269)." That said, what is of the most importance is that dietary laws helped distinguish Jew from gentile. The New Testament, however, declares that in Christ all outward distinctions are superficial (Galatians 3:28). What is of higher importance is that we remain in Christ, relying on the Holy Spirit--this, quite naturally, distinguishes God's chosen as a counter-culture to the world's ways. Now, if we were to rely on dietary restrictions for entrance into the Kingdom of God we would be forgetting Matthew ch. 11 v.11 where Jesus tells the group surrounding him, "What Goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean'". Also, in Acts ch. 10 the Lord gives Peter a vision of unclean animals and concludes the vision with the charge, "kill and eat." Thus solidifying the Jesus' message in Matthew.

* * *

The section of Deut. 14 is about tithing. It is here, among other places in the Old Testament, where we receive the distinction of 10% (ch.15 v.22) of our income should be poured back out to God's work. While this frustrates our thoroughly western sense of ownership and property it serves as a high reminder that God has allowed us to receive what we have--so in a real sense--it is already his. In view of this tithing only 10% is more God accommodating us, more than us accommodating God. Also, it is a fundamentally healthy because it prevents us from hoarding and falling into the temptation of decandence.

Moses charges Israel to give the tithe "in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always" (14:23). What we come to understand from this is that our offerings are on God's terms, not only does he provide the means for us and sets the amount that we should give back to him, but also he decides where it all happens. Moses tells us that this all happens so that, we "may learn to revere the Lord". We learn to worship when we let God decide.

But God isn't a cold slavemaster, or a distant despot, the following verse tells us that if a family is far away from the place God chooses then they shouldn't be burdened by having to carry an animal all the way with them. Find an animal when you get there, but don't steal it, buy it (v. 24). God cares about us, he doesn't want us burdened--the journey there to worship is the greatest importance.

Lastly, there is a social justice component to tithing. Though this might be obvious, since the call is to give to God's kingdom. It, of course, is important to point out. First, we read that the Levites (the priestly tribe), whose inheritance is the Lord himself (Num ch.18 v.20, ch.26 v.22 Deut. ch.10 v.9). After stating the provisions for the Levites the text opens up to embrace "the aliens, fatherless and the widows" (v.29). Israel is called to give to them out of their supply (v.28) so that they "may come and eat and be satisfied" (v.29). It is important to note that this isn't just forced service project, this wide-armed, welcoming care that is extended to the marginalized ("least of these") and it is worship to the core.

Question: Does this have implications for the current immigration issue?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Deuteronomy Chapter Thirteen: Troublesome Yeast

History tells us that in pivotal times (socially, economically, religiously) the results of inconstancy are heightened. Think of any revolution...for its success it takes the body of revolutionaries to have a unified vision. Any compromise in that singular vision and the revolution itself is compromised. Paul says it this way, "Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast —as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed" 1st Corinthians ch.5 v.6-7). Paul boldly tells the young Corinthian church that your acceptance of the "old yeast" is like allowing a deadly pathogen free reign in your body, it's like using bad yeast to make bread.

There is no surprise that the book of Deuteronomy agrees with Paul on this matter. Before we go on though we should review the context of Deuteronomy. Israel is on the verge of the "Promised Land" there are heightened expectations. It'd be safe to say that Israel is tired, hungry, and anxious. With the long journey, nearly finished, as it's backdrop, God uses Moses to convey his sovereign message. The message is filled with blessings and curses (ch. 11 v.26-32), commandments (ch. 5), and calls to remembering times of grace and salvation (ch.4 v.10, ch. 8). To add to this they are on the banks of the river Jordan, their only separation from the promise*.

That is the context of Deuteronomy chapter 13, where we read about the deceiving prophet, "If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder [and it takes place] and [then] he says 'let us follow other gods' [...] you must not listen to the words of that prophet [...] (ch.13 v.1-5). The hinge of this first section of Deuteronomy ch. 13 turns in v.3-4 where we read, "The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery; he has tried to turn you from the way the Lord your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you." The message is clear God allows testing to happen; testing creates an opportunity to grow in love for God. But God gives freedom enough to avoid his grace--to some extent--the deceiving prophet is proof enough for that.

The decisiveness of this "purg[ing]" is expressed v.6-8, where we read that the deceiver is to be put to death, not only that though but even if it is an intimate friend or relative. This obviously is not a 'timeless' law, but it does bare some valuable wisdom. Common reasoning tells us that intimacy yields an understanding that is void of judgmental sentiments, that's true, but the unfortunate by-product is a lack of objectivity in the face of harmful sin (remember a little yeast works through the whole dough). It is easy to demonize the judgment but in doing so we fail to remember that God works within history. In Israel's historical context there was nothing immoral about this, especially given Israel's pivotal place before and after settling in the Promised Land. In fact this judgment serves to protect Israel from the true evil of sacrificing children to idols (ch.12 v.31) which apparently was common among the areas pagan worship. In this way God keeps His people in relationship with Him, and preserves the livelihood of His people continuing the theme of 'mutual flourishing'. Also, in v.14 Israel is charged to "inquire, probe, and investigate" so that alleged claims of apostasy are verified and tested--this is not an inquisition, nor a Salem witch trial.

In verses 12 to 17 we read that a whole area, or town, is to be found guilty if "they are led astray" (v.13). This illustrates the biblical truth of all sin being both personal and corporate. For instance a culture's sin takes root in the people of the culture--it is both the culture and the people of the culture that are responsible. So the towns that are led astray are all together guilty because they chose the immediacy of pagan worship rather than the prolonging favor of the Lord. These settlements are to be fully devoted to God by destroying them, and not rebuilding them. This destruction, or testimony of the final end of sin, is a sad opposite to the covental watchtowers that Israel's patriarchs built to remember covenants (Gen ch.39 v.48-49, there are many others though I can't remember them currently).

We end this chapter not with more curse, or judgment, but rather the heart of covenant, "[if you follow God He] will have compassion on you, and increase your numbers, as he promised"(ch.13 v.17). When reading texts that challenge our post-modern and western sentiments let's remember that God is not contained in any culture or time period, nor are his covenants.

*This could be read as a type, as we Christians enter into the promise of Christ by descending into the waters of baptism similarly the Israelites descend into the river Jordan before entering into the Promised Land.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Besides Eat This Book I'm Reading

On top of Eugene Peterson's Eat This Book, which I am reading with the other contributor to this blog, I am reading Brian Mclaren's new book The Secret Message of Jesus. W Publishing was kind enough to give me two free copies of the book, along with 20 chapter samplers (which will hopefully be used to help with a word of mouth campaign). I am almost done with the book and from what I've read I'd say that it is a good introduction to voices like N.T. Wright and Dallas Willard. If you haven't read them check it out, if you have then you might find yourself reading a popularized version of their work. However the real treasure of the book is Mclaren's "lack of salesmanship" as Donald Miller says on the back. For the non-Christian bent out of shape because of our current political situation, or for other various reasons, this is a great and fresh intro to the subversive message of the Bible. I pray it appetizes their heart.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Eat this Book

Bryan and I are reading Eat This Book, a new book by Eugene Peterson about the "art of spiritual reading." He uses the metaphor of eating to give meaning to his phrase "spiritual reading." To put it simply, Peterson is proclaiming that the Bible is a book to be "eaten" and acted out, rather than reduced to information. I am excited to see how to do that. Wow, what a concept- living out what we read in scripture! Here is a quote that speaks to the smorgasboard, do it yourself evangelical church we live with today:
We don't form our personal spiritual lives out of a random assemblage of favorite texts in combination with individual circumstances; we are formed by the Holy Spirit in accordance with the text of the Holy Scripture"
( Peterson, Eat This Book, p. 15).

How often do we all do this- wrestle control from the author of our faith and take creative license with the life he has given us?

A Long Obedience Quote

I am still working on the Deuteronomy post, perhaps in a few days. In the meantime though I hope to share some invaluble quotes from books I have been going through. The first is from Eugene Peterson's A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.
A Christian who has David in his bones, Jeremiah in his bloodstream, Paul in his fingertips and Christ in his heart will know how much and how little value to put on his own momentary feelings and the experience of the past week.
Wise words indeed. After finishing this morning I can whole-heartedly recommend it. While reading it I am sure you'll find, as I did, someone who is both scholar and pastor, poet and theologian