Welcome Home

15 Feb
Church of Christ Groton, Connecticut

Church of Christ
Groton, Connecticut

We’ve come over 3,000 miles to settle into our new home on the Atlantic Coast of New England and the contrasts to San Diego are startling. The sun sets over the Pacific, but it rises over the Atlantic. Someone described Southern California as a “parking lot that moves at 70 miles per hour.” Rush hour on route 12 which runs in front of the church in Groton, Connecticut and our home, means four cars at the stop light turning into the Navy base. There are some obvious differences: San Diego rarely (if ever) sees snow. In fact, people there are startled by rain. Just after we unloaded the U-Haul truck into the parsonage, we had over a foot of snow to celebrate our arrival. Perhaps it’s the contrast to the dazzling, white, blanket of snow, but I’ve never seen such blue skies as those we have seen in the past two weeks in Connecticut.

On the other hand, some things remain the same. That’s the beauty of being a part of God’s Family. Wherever you go in the world, you are home. I remember many years ago when I was a young soldier away from home for the first time. I was stationed in Berlin, Germany and the first thing I did when I arrived was search out the church. It was different. Instead of calling themselves the “Church of Christ,” they chose to call themselves the “Gemeinde Kristi.” (The German word for “Church” is too formal and cold to describe the fellowship we enjoy.) Likewise, the little group of believers met in a large, two-story home instead of a formal building surrounded by a parking lot.

On that first Saturday, when I nervously knocked on the door, I was met by a wonderful, round-faced, white-haired woman, Marianne, who didn’t speak a word of English. That was okay because I didn’t speak nearly enough German to carry on a conversation. All she knew was that I was an American believer and that made me family. She welcomed me into her home, served me cookies and tea and showed me the family photo albums chatting away (in German) as if I was a long- lost cousin – and I was!

Jan and Dixie and I have come to work with the church in Groton, Connecticut. It’s much, much smaller than the church in San Diego and they don’t have nearly the staff (just me) or the finances that Canyon View enjoyed, but what impresses us isn’t what they lack – it’s what they have!

Our truck was met by Sue who had stocked the pantry and the fridge and even gave us enough home-made chicken noodle soup to eat on for a week! The next morning people just kept coming and coming and coming and carrying in our boxes and belongings. The woodshed in back was packed with firewood for the stove and Wednesday night after services (which consisted of a delightful meal accompanied by stories and songs and prayer) the men packed into our living room to demonstrate their fire-building skills in our wood stove. Everyone had advice and suggestions on how to get the most heat and survive a New England winter. Then right on cue, the snow began to fall.

Can you imagine what it felt like to sit in my chair in the living room with my feet propped up on an ottoman with a hot cup of coffee and a good book by the fire? Outside the bay window everything was buried under new fallen snow, but we were snug and even Phoebe our old cat was curled up by the warmth of the woodstove.

So, what does this little dynamo of a congregation have? First, leadership. I believe “A congregation is no stronger than her leaders” and we have two amazing Shepherds. Notice I didn’t say “managers” or “visionaries” (although they are that too.) Biblical leaders – call them elders or overseers, presbyters or pastors – are first concerned about people and their souls. Deacons can take care of the physical stuff, budgets and buildings, but Shepherds are called to care for souls. On the Judgment Day, the Shepherds won’t be questioned about paint chips and carpet samples. The Great Shepherd will want to know what happened to His lambs.

Murray and Dorothea are retired after serving twenty-years with East European Mission in Vienna. Murray’s ancestors helped settle Connecticut and their love for this area is obvious. We don’t say much about the role of an elder’s wife, but Dorothea is exemplary. She and Murray work together in a beautiful way as a team.

Our other elder, Jim and his wife Denise, are perfect for the mission of this congregation. We are located just across the street from the main entrance to the Navy’s submarine base and Jim is a former submarine officer. He shares the responsibilities for leading singing and teaches the Sunday morning Adult Bible School class. I’ve never known an elder more loved by the children than Jim. Likewise, I’ve known churches where Paul’s admonition that elders be “able to teach” is brushed aside, but both Jim and Murray are excellent teachers.

There is one more imperative quality for an elder in my opinion and that’s having a heart for hospitality. Elders who open their homes understand how important that virtue is for church growth. Again, it’s an easy quality to dismiss, but damnable when it is lacking. I know it sounds trivial, but Jan and I were truly impressed when Jim and Denise opened their home to the entire congregation for their fourteenth Super Bowl party! There were TVs everywhere and food and drink and laughter and stories and Jan and I knew we had found a new home in Connecticut.

It takes more than just good leaders to have a dynamic congregation. It takes brothers and sisters with Nehemiah’s “will to work” and judging by how our new family welcomed us, Groton feels like home!

Leaders, family, and a love of the Lord: I’m excited about our future together.

A Cup of Coffee and Granny’s Bible

9 Jan

img_0262I had to get out of the office so I could focus on my class preparation. There were too many distractions and too many people dropping by, but when I settled down in the diner with my hot cup of coffee and my laptop, a young girl in the booth next to me asked, “What are you reading?” I took a deep breath, smiled and answered, “The Bible.”

“Oh, that old book,” she replied. “My grandmother left me her Bible when she died, but I just couldn’t get into it.”

“Did it sound a bit like Shakespeare?” I asked.

“Yeagh,” she smiled. “I guess it did. I just don’t understand what all the fuss is about. Why should I bother reading the Bible anyway?”

“Was it important to your granny? I asked.

“Yes. She read it all the time. Kept it next to her bed in the home,” she answered.

I put down my coffee and looked at her. “It’s a curious book.” I closed my Bible so we could read the cover. “Do you see it’s full name?” I asked. “It’s called the ‘Holy’ Bible because the word ‘Holy” means ‘special.’ It’s a unique book, unlike any other.” She picked up her coffee and came over to my booth and we began to talk. “Let me see if I can give you some reasons to pick your Bible up again,” I said.

“The Bible is a very old book. In fact, some of the oldest parts of the Bible were written over 3,500 years ago and the most recent parts were written nearly 2,000 years ago. The fact that it has survived at all is amazing. It was originally written on perishable material like cured animal skins and a fragile material made from plants called “papyrus.” Many ancient books have perished through benign neglect, but the Bible has even survived determined efforts to destroy it!”

“There are a lot of really old books though aren’t there?” she asked.

“That’s true, but the Bible is different. For example, it doesn’t reflect the common errors of its day,” I answered. “Think about it. Egyptian medical books from the time of Moses prescribe animal feces, crocodile teeth, and other similar remedies for disease.”

“If men had written the Bible from their own unaided wisdom, the same silly ideas we find in other ancient books which treat scientific matters would be found in it. How shall we explain their absence in Scripture?” — Rubel Shelly.

She stopped for a minute to think. “So the Bible doesn’t do that?” she asked. Then she took a sip of her coffee and continued. “But I’ve always heard that the Bible contains a bunch of errors. In fact, I’ve heard it is filled with mistakes.”

Now it was my turn to sip my coffee. “The ‘errors’ of the Bible are a slippery lot. The list keeps changing! Relevant research by historians, archaeologists, and scientists have always settled every dispute. For example, before the 20th century, scholars thought the book of Acts was full of mistakes. Let’s look at just one. Luke, the author of Acts, called the rulers of the city of Thessalonica in Greece ‘politarchs.’ Scholars said that was an obvious ‘mistake’ since not a single inscription could be produced using this term. Today we can point to nearly 70 inscriptions that use it and over 40 percent of those are from Thessalonica itself!”[1]

“Yes, but I’ve heard that the Bible has been changed through the centuries. Couldn’t people just have edited out embarrassing stuff?”

“A lot of people think that,” I said. “Some people believe the church changed the wording. Others think books were added to it and still others believe things were taken out. What do you think?”

She rolled her eyes. “Well, a lot can happen over 4,000 years!”

“William Shakespeare wrote 400 years ago. How can you be sure the Romeo and Juliet we are reading is the same as the one he wrote?” I asked.

“Can’t we just look at his first manuscript?” she asked.

“We don’t have it,” I answered.

Of Shakespeare’s plays, for example, no manuscript in his autograph is known, and much the same is true of the productions of the other playwrights who worked in the great period of drama from 1580 to 1642. …. The facts can be summarized in this way: no play by a professional playwright which was successful on the stage and which was printed before 1642 is known to have come down to our time or near it.[2]

I continued. “So what scholars do is gather up as many copies as they can find from ancient times and compare them. The more copies we have, the more certainty we have about the veracity of a reading.”

“Well that makes sense I suppose.” The waitress refilled our cups.

“With the risk of boring you,” I apologized, “let me share some statistics with you. You’ve heard of Julius Caesar?” I asked.

“Roman Emperor,” she answered.

“A Plus! The Emperor is famous for his book the Gallic War (composed between 58 and 50 B.C.). There several manuscripts of it, but only nine or ten are good, and the oldest is some 900 years later than Caesar’s day.”

“Okay,” she replied.

“The same is true of most ancient books. There are only a handful of copies and most of those are dated hundreds of years after they were originally written.”

Of the 142 books of the Roman History of Livy (59 BC-AD 17) only thirty-five survive; these are known to us from not more than twenty MSS of any consequence, only one of which, and that containing fragments of Books iii-vi, is as old as the fourth century. Of the fourteen books of the Histories of Tacitus (c. AD 100) only four and a half survive; of the sixteen books of his Annals, ten survive in full and two in part. The text of these extant portions of has two great historical works depends entirely on two MSS, one of the ninth century and one of the eleventh. The extant MSS of his minor works (Dialogue dc Oratoribus, Agricola, Germania) all descend from a codex of the tenth century The History of Thucydides (c. 460-400 BC) is known to us from eight MSS, the earliest belonging to c. AD 900, and a few papyrus scraps, belonging to about the beginning of the Christian era. The same is true of the History of Herodotus (c. 488-428 BC). Yet no classical scholar would listen to an argument that the authenticity of Herodotus or Thucydides is in doubt because the earliest MSS of their works which are of any use to us are over 1,300 years later than the originals. — F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?

“Now let’s look at the New Testament written about 2,000 years ago. There are over 5,000 ancient Greek manuscripts and over 20,000 ancient translations so we’re pretty sure we know what it originally said.”

“Okay, okay,” she said moving towards the outside edge of the booth.

“Wait,” I pleaded. “Before you go, let me give you two suggestions that will help you read it and three good reasons why you should.”

“This is beginning to sound like a sermon,” she protested.

I laughed and said, “That’s what you get when you drink coffee with a preacher!”

How to Read the Bible

  1. Use a Good Translation – the Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek. Keep Granny’s Bible with your precious keepsakes, but read the Bible in a modern translation.
  2. In the beginning, some parts of the Bible will be more interesting than others. I recommend new readers start with the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. Then get involved with a good Bible class to help you read the rest of this amazing book

Reasons to Read the Bible

  1. The Bible has an amazing history – It’s a very old book that is just as popular today as it was thousands of years ago. No other book compares in terms of popularity and circulation. The entire Bible is available in 554 languages. The New Testament is available in 518, and parts of the Bible have been translated into another 2,932 languages and dialects.
  2. No other book has had as much influence on western thought and literature. If you want to understand culture, you need to be familiar with the Bible.
  3. But the most important reason of all is the claim that the Bible makes to be the Word of God. Think about it! If it truly comes from God and not just people thinking about God, then no other book is as important as the Bible. When you read the Bible, God is speaking to you!

 

[1] Politarch. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

 

[2] Elizabethan Handwriting, 1500-1650: A Manual, by Giles E. Dawson and Laetitia Kennedy-Skipton (1966)

 

A 200 Year Old Solution

30 Dec

mcheyneRobert Murray M’Cheyne (pronounced “Mak-shayn”) was a minister for the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) from 1835 – 1843. Although he died of typhus at age 29, M’Cheyne left an incredible legacy. He was a very pious young man, praying for two hours every day (and six on Sunday), but what he is best known for is his “Daily Bible Reading Plan.” It’s a very simple schedule that allows the reader to completely read the Bible through once a year and the New Testament and Psalms through twice. It only requires reading four chapters a day.

Let’s look at the reading schedule for January 1st. John R.W. Stott calls these readings the “Four Beginnings.” Read Genesis 1 – the beginning of the world. Then read Ezra 1 – the new beginning for Israel, followed by Matthew 1 – the beginning of the Gospel, and finish with Acts 1 – the beginning of the Church. On January 2, read Genesis 2, Ezra 2, Matthew 2, and Acts 2. On January 3, read Genesis 3, Ezra 3, Matthew 3, and Acts 3. Simple! Now notice the beauty of this system.

When people set out to read the Bible, they either begin with Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament, or they begin with Matthew, the first book of the New Testament. If you begin with Genesis intending to read through the entire Bible sequentially, most people give up somewhere in the dense book of Leviticus when we encounter all the rules for the Jewish people. On the other hand, if you begin with Matthew, the first chapter contains the genealogy of Jesus. Just pronouncing the names is a huge challenge for most people and, frankly, not that inspirational so many good intensions are shipwrecked here.[1] M’Cheyne’s plan avoids this problem. He surrounds Matthew 1 with the story of the creation of the world in Genesis 1, Ezra’s amazing story in Ezra 1, and the inspiring story of the beginning of the Church in Acts chapter 1 and so it is for the rest of the Bible. Brilliant!

In our next article, we’ll try to answer the question, “Why read such an old book?” Meanwhile, here is M’Cheyne’s plan for January:

Daily Bible Reading for January

Daily Bible Reading for January

[1] Although time spent studying this text is truly rewarding! See my articles, “Count Down to Christmas,” parts 1, 2, and 3.

Heaven, We Have a Problem

25 Dec

john-with-bibleAccording to Pew Research, America has a literacy problem. “When was the last time you read a book? For almost 1 in 4 of us, it was more than a year ago, according to Pew Research. That’s three times the number who didn’t read a book in 1978.” [1] The problem is even worse than that because, although Christians claim to believe the Bible is the Word of God, we aren’t reading it.

“A recent LifeWay Research study found only 45 percent of those who regularly attend church read the Bible more than once a week. Over 40 percent of the people attending read their Bible occasionally, maybe once or twice a month. Almost 1 in 5 churchgoers say they never read the Bible—essentially the same number who read it every day.”

What about in Great Britain? The United Kingdom Bible Society surveyed British children and found many couldn’t identify common Bible stories. When given a list of Bible stories, a staggering 59% didn’t know the story of Jonah came from the Bible and almost 1 in 3 didn’t know the story of the birth of Jesus was in the Bible! Parents didn’t fare much better. Around 30 percent didn’t know the stories of Adam and Eve, David and Goliath, or the Good Samaritan are in the Bible! Worse, 27% think the story of Superman is in the Bible. 1 in 3 believes Harry Potter is a Bible story and more than half (54%) believe The Hunger Games is or might be a story from the Bible!

It shouldn’t be this way! Nine out of ten American homes (Christian or not) have at least one Bible in them. The average American (Christian or not) owns at least three Bibles.

What can we do?

  1. We need to confess our lack of study and ask God for forgiveness.
  2. Set aside a regular time – even five minutes a day – to read the Bible.
  3. Use a Daily Bible Reading plan to guide you. I highly recommend Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s.
  4. Join one a small group to help you study. A recent study “shows that as Christians increase their participation in small groups, their Bible engagement scores go up.”

Where should I start?

In my next blog, I will introduce my favorite Daily Bible Reading plan. It was written by a Church of Scotland minister over 200 years ago and it still blesses my life.

[1] All of the quotations used in this article were downloaded from http://www.smallgroups.com/articles/2015/epidemic-of-bible-illiteracy-in-our-churches.html?paging=off published by Christianity Today.

Failure Isn’t Final

19 Dec

boatyardOnce Jesus told a story about a rich man who took a journey to a faraway land. Before he left, the rich man entrusted his money to three men. To one man he gave five bags of gold. To another he gave two bags of gold and to the third man, he gave a single bag of gold. It was more money that the poor man had ever seen before. Can you imagine him holding the bag? Looking inside? Weighing and worrying about so much money? Worse, the wealthy man expected his three servants to put the money to work. The first two did so and reaped enormous profits. They doubled his wealth. Five became ten and two became four, but the man with a single bag of gold was so frightened he buried the money and waited for the rich man to return. Let’s listen to the conversation:

“Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.” But his master answered him, “You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 25:24–30). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

I’ve often wondered what the Master would have said if the fearful man would have tried and failed? “Master I did my best, but I failed.”

Have you ever considered the virtues of failure? Failure should be a learning experience. I’ve been told Edison burned up hundreds of filaments as he was trying to invent a practical light bulb. When asked about his failures, he objected strongly. We haven’t failed! We’ve just learned another material isn’t suitable. There is a true story about a project manager at IBM who lost the company 10 million dollars. Dejectedly, he walked into the president’s office and said, “I’m sorry. I’m sure you’ll want my resignation. I’ll be gone by the end of the day.”           The president’s response showed his understanding of the value of failure. He said, “Are you kidding? We’ve just invested 10 million dollars in your education. We’re not about to let you go. Now get back to work.”

Consider what these great men have said about failure:

  • Admiral Hyman G. Rickover said, “Success teaches us nothing; only failure teaches.”
  • Thomas Watson, the founder of IBM, promised, “Success is on the far side of failure.” He also observed, “If you want to double your success rate, double your failure rate.”
  • Winston Churchill said, “Success is never final. Failure is never final. It is courage that counts.”
  • D. Mattiesen observed, “Failure is the true test of greatness.”

Perhaps one man illustrates the failure principle best:

  • 1831 He failed in business
  • 1832 He was defeated in legislature
  • 1833   He again failed in business
  • 1834   He was elected to the legislature
  • 1835   His wife to be died.
  • 1836   He had a nervous breakdown
  • 1838   He was defeated for Speaker of the House
  • 1840   He was defeated for Elector
  • 1850   A son died
  • 1855   He was defeated for the Senate
  • 1856   He was defeated for Vice President
  • 1858   He was defeated for the Senate
  • 1860   This man, Abraham Lincoln, was elected President.

So, while we don’t know for sure what the Master would have said to the one talent man if he would have tried and failed, I suspect this adage would have applied: “A friend is someone who, when you fail, doesn’t think it’s a permanent condition.”

Alan Loy McGinnis, in his book, Bringing Out the Best in People, wrote: “strong people make as many and as ghastly mistakes as weak people. The difference is that strong people admit them, laugh at them, learn from them. That is how they become strong.”

Philip C. Brewer composed these, “Paradoxes of a Man of God:”

 Strong enough to be weak;
Successful enough to fail;
Busy enough to take time;
Wise enough to say, “I don’t know”;
Serious enough to laugh;
Rich enough to be poor;
Right enough to say, “I’m wrong”‘
Compassionate enough to discipline;
Conservative enough to give freely;
Mature enough to be childlike;
Righteous enough to be a sinner;
Important enough to be last;
Courageous enough to fear God;
Planned enough to be spontaneous;
Controlled enough to be flexible;
Free enough to endure captivity;
Knowledgeable enough to ask questions;
Loving enough to be angry;
Great enough to be anonymous;
Responsible enough to play;
Assured enough to be rejected;
Stable enough to cry;
Victorious enough to lose;
Industrious enough to relax;
Leading enough to serve.

Finally, Emilie Griffin believes, “The Lord loves us — perhaps most of all — when we fail and try again.”

 

Leadership Paradoxes

15 Dec

John McKeelOver the years, I’ve accumulated a few scars. Some of them are expected. Once I received a phone call from a counselor warning me his client had made a credible threat against my life for helping his wife escape to a safe house rather than being repeatedly abused. Another time my Army training helped me protect a teen girl who was escaping her pimp, but those are expected wounds. Those are the scars you can point to with pride. But there are other scars – lasting wounds that will never fully heal. Those are the scars that come from people claiming to be brothers and sisters in Christ.

  • Big fish in little ponds have no interest in expanding their world.
  • You are often treated like a “hireling” by people who should know the difference between your ministry being “just a job” or a divine calling.
  • Some people believe just because you are a minister, they can say anything they like about you or your family or the people you care about. You’re a safe target. You won’t strike back.
  • It doesn’t matter that you have 12 years of education, know five languages, and have 40 years of experience, your answers mean nothing if they don’t happen to agree with their opinions or translation or favorite preacher.
  • Worst of all is the gossip, but of course Christians don’t gossip. They just share prayer requests.

At times like that, I fanaticize about becoming a parking lot attendant, but I can’t give it up. There is a fire in my bones that I can’t explain. So, I weep in the middle of the night. I spend more time in prayer and I reach into my “Bad Day File.” There I’ve saved letters and cards to show me my ministry has made a difference. There I keep inspirational tidbits that remind me why I am doing what I am doing.

I’ve lost the original source for this list of “Leadership Paradoxes,” but they have been a great comfort to me over the years and I hope they will inspire you not to give up either!

Leadership Paradoxes

  1. People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
  2. If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
  3. If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
  4. The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
  5. Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
  6. The biggest men with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men with the smallest ideas. Think big anyway.
  7. People favor underdogs, but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
  8. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
  9. People really need help, but may attack you if you do help them. Help them anyway.
  10. Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best anyway.

The value in an action lies, not in the response it will receive, but in the quality of the action itself. Doing what is right, because it is right and honors God, is abundantly worthwhile, whether or not it is understood, appreciated, or reciprocated.

Cruel Christmas

3 Dec
Christmas Shopping

Christmas Shopping

There is a cruel side to Christmas. There it was under the tree: A Laser Blaster 2000! Nothing else mattered. You raced around the house gleefully saving the world from bug-eyed monsters from outer space, but then came that awful moment Christmas afternoon when you met your friends. You triumphantly held up your prize and pride, the Laser Blaster 2000 only to discover Billy got the Laser Blaster 3000 with battery powered sights and sound. The joy you had felt a moment before was snuffed out and you began to feel – perhaps for the first time – the spark of envy.

By the time we become adults that little spark has become the raging fire of “conspicuous consumption.” We begin buying things we don’t need to impress people we don’t know. The desire to be the envy of others often leads to overspending and consequent marital conflicts. (Arguments over money and spending is listed as one of the greatest causes of divorce in America.)  “A convincing case can be make that the entire free enterprise system is fueled by envy,” Harry Stein writes in his book, Ethics and Other Liabilities.

Envy isn’t just about material things. We envy successful people. We envy beautiful people. We envy powerful people and have you noticed the irony of it all? Envying someone causes them no inconvenience whatsoever. In fact, the object of our envy is likely to enjoy the envy of others! Stein continues, “No emotion is so corrosive of the system and the soul as acute envy” because, unlike hatred or lust or violent anger, it is internalized and there is nothing therapeutic about it. Envy can be debilitating to the point of paralysis and then there is the ugliness factor. It is nearly impossible to envy with style. Invariably we end up looking as small as we feel. In fact, at its base, envy is largely a matter of self-contempt – an intense dissatisfaction with what we are.

Anthony Campolo (The Seven Deadly Sins) observes, “Envy diminishes people’s enjoyment of life because they cannot be content with what they possess.” A man who covets another man’s wife becomes discontented with his own. A woman who envies another woman’s sexy appearance becomes a supporter of a cultural system which diminishes her own value and encourages her own unhappiness.

Envy isn’t just a sin of the world; I’ve seen it within the church. One minister is jealous of another staff member’s success and his envy leads him to say and do all kinds of horrible and hurtful things. The story is told of the devil. Once Satan was crossing the desert and came across some of his minions trying unsuccessfully to tempt a poor Christian pilgrim. They were trying every trick they knew – temptations of the flesh, doubts, fears – all to no avail. Satan smiled and asked them for a turn. The devil bent down and whispered in the man’s ear, “Your brother has just been made the Bishop of Alexandria.” The serene face of the pilgrim twisted into a scowl fueled by the fires of envy and jealousy.

So what can we do about envy? An attitude of gratitude can shield us. I like the wise observation, “If you think that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, it is probably because you are not properly caring for the grass on your own side.” When we count our blessings and are grateful for what God has given us, we are protected from envy. Likewise, learning to be happy for others is a mark of wisdom. Christians are urged to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep,” (Romans 12:15). It’s all part of learning to live unselfishly. Third, we need to “learn to let go.” One of the greatest joys – and perhaps one of the hardest challenges – is to give things away. How much do we really need to be happy? Finally, we need to commit to the common cause. The war we face is not with each other! We are in this world together.

Let’s go back and change that Christmas afternoon scenario. “Billy that Blaster 3000 is great! I am so happy for you. Now let’s go save the world from bug-eyed aliens together!”

Count Down to Christmas — Part 3

12 Nov

Matthew 1:1-17

Sunrise in Jerusalem

Sunrise in Jerusalem

It would be easy to dismiss the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke as so much trivia. Why do we need to know who the great, great, great, great grandfather of Jesus was? Do we need to memorize those genealogies to get into heaven? (No!) So why are they important? By studying them, we can catch a glimpse of what the Holy Spirit was trying to teach us when he inspired Matthew and Luke to write the first and third gospels in our Bible. I believe the genealogies are more than just a documentary footnote to the gospels. A careful study of them will show us Matthew and Luke’s purpose.

We’ve already seen how Matthew used the genealogy of Jesus to emphasize that the Christ was the son of David (Count Down to Christmas – part 1), and we’ve discovered another rich lesson tucked away in Matthew’s account when we looked at the five women included in Matthew’s genealogy (Count Down to Christmas – part 2). In this final lesson in the series, let’s look closely at the differences between the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew (1:1-17) and the genealogy of Jesus in Luke (3:23-38). Some teachers have tried to legitimize the differences between Matthew and Luke’s accounts by linking Matthew’s genealogy to Joseph and Luke’s genealogy to Mary. That may be true and partially solve the mystery, but the primary point of recounting the lineage of Jesus is not to provide an accurate family record. The point is to prove the story of Jesus is Gospel: Good News.

Let’s begin by observing the differences between the two accounts. The first contrast is, Matthew begins with Abraham and moves forward to Joseph, while Luke begins with Joseph and moves all the way back to Adam. Thus to compare the two, we need to begin with the end of Luke’s account and work backwards so we can lay the records side by side. (Note: this part can become tedious, but we need to sift though the names and the differences to find the jewels.)

In the series from Abraham to David (Matthew’s first grouping of 14), both lists line up fairly well:

Matthew

Abraham

Isaac

Jacob

Judah

Perez

Hezron

Ram

 

Amminadab

Nahshon

Salmon

Boaz

Obed

Jesse

David

Luke

Abraham

Isaac

Jacob

Judah

Perez

Hezron

Arni[1]

Admin

Amminadab

Nahshon

Sala[2]

Boaz

Obed

Jesse

David

Notes

Ge 46:8 Now these are the names of the descendants of [Jacob], who came into Egypt, Jacob and his sons. … 12 The sons of Judah: Er, Onan, Shelah, Perez, and Zerah (but Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan); and the sons of Perez were Hezron and Hamul.

 

Ruth 4:18 Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron, 19 Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab, 20 Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, 21 Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, 22 Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David.

Matthew lists “Ram” as the son of Hezron and Ram is the father of Amminadab. Ruth confirms this order, but Luke says Arni is the son of Hezron and Admin is the son of Arni. Neither Arni or Admin are mentioned elsewhere. The only other variation is between Nahshon and Boaz where Matthew reads “Salmon” and Luke reads “Sala.” Of course this could simply be a matter of spelling for the same man and should present no major problem.

The first major differences comes between David and Shealtiel. Matthew lists 14 individuals and Luke lists 20 and there are no matches between Matthew and Luke at this point. Note Matthew leaves out Joash, Amaziah and Azariah (see 1 Chronicles 3:11, 12). Matthew also leaves Jehoiakim off of the list and jumps to Jechoniah (a variation in spelling for Jehoiachin).

Matthew

David

Solomon

Rehoboam

Abijah

Asaph[3]

Jehoshaphat

Joran

Uzziah

[Joash[4]]

[Amaziah]

[Azariah]

Jotham

Ahaz

Hezekiah

Manasseh

Amos

Josiah

Jechoniah

 

 

 

Shealtiel

Zerubbabel

 

Luke

David

Nathan

Mattatha

Menna

Melea

Eliakim

Jonam

Joseph

Judah

Simeon

Levi

Matthat

Jorim

Eliezer

Josehua

Er

Elmadam

Cosam

Addi

Melchi

Neri

Shealtiel

Zerubbabel

 

Notes

1 Chr. 3:10 The son of Solomon was Rehoboam, Abijah his son, Asa his son, Jehoshaphat his son, 11 Joram his son, Ahaziah his son, Joash his son, 12 Amaziah his son, Azariah his son, Jotham his son, 13 Ahaz his son, Hezekiah his son, Manasseh his son, 14 Amon his son, Josiah his son. 15 The sons of Josiah: Johanan the firstborn, the second Jehoiakim, the third Zedekiah, the fourth Shallum. 16 The descendants of Jehoiakim: Jeconiah his son, Zedekiah his son; 17 and the sons of Jeconiah, the captive: Shealtiel his son, 18 Malchiram, Pedaiah, Shenazzar, Jekamiah, Hoshama and Nedabiah; 19 and the sons of Pedaiah: Zerubbabel and Shimei

Then there are matches between both gospels for the next two generations: Shealtiel and Zerubbabel, but then the lists divide again. Matthew lists nine individuals between Zerubbabel and Joseph the stepfather of Jesus, while Luke counts twice as many (18) and none of names are the same in either list.

Matthew

Shealtiel

Zerubbabel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abiud

Eliakim

Azor

Zadok

Achim

Eliud

Eleazar

Matthan

Jacob

Joseph

Luke

Shealtiel

Zerubbabel

Rhesa

Joanan

Joda

Josech

Semein

Mattathias

Maath

Naggai

Esli

Nahum

Amos

Mattathias

Joseph

Jannai

Melchi

Levi

Matthat

Heli

Joseph

As you can see, it all becomes very complicated very quickly. So is there a solution? Some people teach Matthew’s account lists the genealogy of Jesus’s stepfather, Joseph, while Luke’s account gives Jesus’s lineage through Mary his physical mother. That may very well be true, but I think a much more important question is to examine the purpose the genealogies serve in both gospels.

Why don’t Mark or John include a genealogy of Jesus in their books? Because it wasn’t necessary for their purposes. A genealogy wouldn’t have advanced their stories. They are included in Matthew and Luke because the genealogies do support the purposes of their gospels. What is their purpose?

The first purpose for both Gospels is obvious. It seems the critics of Christianity attacked the legitimacy of the faith by attacking the legitimacy of Jesus’s birth (see Origen, Against Celsus, 1.32). For example, the Jews taught Jesus was the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier named “Pandera” or “Panthera” (a pun on the Greek word for virgin, “Parthenos.” See b. Shabbat 104b).  Matthew’s solution is to associate Mary with the four other women who had “tainted” backgrounds (See Countdown to Christmas – part 2). Luke’s solution is to trace the actual lineage of Jesus back to Adam “the son of God.”

Secondly, Matthew wants his readers to see Jesus as the “son of David,” the legitimate heir to the throne and as the Messiah, the promised Christ. Luke is far more interested in showing Jesus as the savior of the world – of all nations and peoples – again by portraying Jesus as the son of Adam, the son of God.

Why is all of this so important? Because nothing in the Bible is trivial. By spending our time studying the genealogies of Jesus we learn three things. First, from Matthew’s “14 generations, 14 generations, 14 generations,” we learn Jesus is the promised son of David, the Messiah. Second from the inclusion of the women in Matthew’s family tree of Jesus, we learn God loves everyone no matter what their background or race or gender. Finally, from the inclusion of the genealogies in the gospels, we can trace God’s eternal plan through each generation, back to the beginning, to the very creation of his first children. God’s eternal desire has been to save us through the gift of his Son and our Savior.

 

 

[1] Arni and Admin are only mentioned in Luke

[2] Is it possible Sala and Salmon are the same man?

[3] Are Asaph (Mt.) and Asa (1 Chr.) the same?

[4] According to 1 Chronicles, Matthew skips Joash, Amaziah, and Azariah between Uzziah (or Ahaziah) and Jotham.

[5] Are Asaph (Mt.) and Asa (1 Chr.) the same?

[6] According to 1 Chronicles, Matthew skips Joash, Amaziah, and Azariah between Uzziah (or Ahaziah) and Jotham.

[7] Arni and Admin are only mentioned in Luke

[8] Is it possible Sala and Salmon are the same man?

Count Down to Christmas — part 2

5 Nov

Matthew 1:1-17

boatyardIt’s easy to let your eye slide right over the genealogy of Jesus — those names are unfamiliar and hard to pronounce – but if you do, you’ll miss some rare jewels! It is common in a patristic society to list only the names of the fathers in a genealogy, so when Matthew includes five women, we should take note.

The first thing we see is that these women are not the sterling mothers of the Bible. Where is Sarah or the great queens of the kingdom? Instead, it’s almost like Matthew has gone out of his way to list the “shady women in the tree.”

The first, Tamar (v. 3), tricked her father-in-law, the patriarch Judah into fathering her son (Genesis 38). The second, Rahab (v. 5), had been a prostitute (Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25). The third, Ruth (v. 5) was a woman of great virtue, but the circumstances of her proposal to Boaz were prone to suspicion (Ruth 3). The fourth woman in the tree, Bathsheba, isn’t even named directly because of the shame of her adulterous affair with David (v. 6; cf. 2 Samuel 11). She is “referred to only as ‘Uriah’s wife,’ perhaps to remind the reader of David’s adulterous and murderous behavior.”[1]

Finally, the fifth woman in the genealogy is Mary the mother of Jesus (v. 16), but what links Mary with the previous four “shady” women in tree? It must have been known that Mary was pregnant when Joseph married her and it was scandalous to become pregnant out of wedlock (Matthew 1:17, 18).

God’s love is not reserved for “perfect people.” He loves even the broken – perhaps especially the broken. David was an adulterer, murderer and many other things besides, but still he was called a “man after God’s own heart.” Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba were hardly perfect, but the Gospel of Matthew links them with Mary the mother of Jesus. Perhaps there’s hope for us!

[1] Blomberg, C. (1992). Matthew (Vol. 22, p. 55). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Count Down to Christmas — part 1

29 Oct

Matthew 1:1-17

DSC_0086With Christmas so near, it is appropriate to re-tell the story again. In Matthew’s Gospel it begins with the genealogy of Jesus. The story fascinates me for three reasons: (1) the numbers don’t make sense to our Western minds, (2) five women are included in the genealogy – something that was very strange in a first century Jewish record, and (3) Matthew and Luke give two very different accounts of the lineage of Jesus. Over the next three articles, we’ll explore these three observations.

First, Matthew plays with the numbers to break the names down into three groups of 14 although the actual numbers he gives are 13, 14, and 13 – and Matthew actually leaves out several people to follow his scheme of 14-14-14. Our western, scientific minds balk at this. The Certified Public Accountant in our American hearts misses the point completely.

A common rabbinic method of interpreting the Bible[1], like numerology, uses the value of the letters of the alphabet to explain the meaning of the text. Each Hebrew letter also has a numeric value. It’s like counting in “Roman Numerals” in English. Don’t you remember doing this in elementary school? The letter “i” equals one. The letter “v” equals five. The letter “x” equals ten and so forth. The great gift of the Arabs were Arabic numerals: 1, 2, 3, 4 …. Before that people used their alphabets to count with. Conversely everyone’s name, when the value of the letters are added up, has a numeric value. In Hebrew (which has no vowels), King David’s name: DVD equals 4 + 6 + 4 which equals the number 14! Matthew goes out of his way to say Jesus is the “son of DaViD (14),” “son of DaViD (14),” “son of DaViD (14).”

In other words, God’s promise to King David is fulfilled in Jesus:

2 Samuel 7:11 the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’ ” 17 In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.

 

 

[1] This method is called “Gematria.” “One of the rabbinic hermeneutic rules for interpreting the OT. It consisted of explaining a word or group of words according to the numerical value of the letters or by substituting and rearranging certain letters according to a set system. By that rule of interpretation, for example, some rabbis have argued that Eliezer (Gn 15:2) was worth all the servants of Abraham put together, for Abraham had 318 servants and Eliezer’s name equaled 318 (Gn 14:14).”

Elwell, W. A., & Comfort, P. W. (2001). In Tyndale Bible dictionary (p. 517). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.