Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Salted With Fire?

Ever wonder what types of confusion can be created because the Bible was written in one language (actually, several), written down in others, and translated and now read into many more?

Here's an interesting example (the following is from Aramaic Thoughts with Benjamin Shaw and the web address is below):

The Gospel of Mark has a curious saying of Jesus that is not found in the other gospels. In 9:38-50, John tells Jesus of his attempt to silence an exorcist who was using Jesus' name. John's rationale was that this man was not traveling with them. John's comment provoked a short address from Jesus about discipleship. It ends with the statement, "[49] For everyone will be salted with fire. [50] Salt is good, but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."

This statement has usually provoked extended discussion from the commentators. There are two elements to the discussion. The first has to do with the relation of verse 50 to verse 49. Some have been of the opinion that the two verses have been conjoined in a "sayings of Jesus" list on the basis of the "catchword" principle. That is, in this view, Mark has adapted this material from a collection of Jesus' sayings. Originally, these sayings (verse 49 and verse 50 are, in this view, considered two separate sayings) were probably not related, but because both contain the word "salt," they were connected on that basis by the collector of the sayings.

While that view is certainly clear enough, it fails to recognize first that Jesus' words as Mark records them follow a logical progression. Jesus begins where John's comment started: with divisions among disciples and calls for judgment. He then moves on to real causes for judgment and the reality of judgment before moving back to the issue of peace among disciples. On a second level, it fails to recognize that the sort of wordplay reflected in this passage is characteristic of Semitic literature, and does show merely a mechanical conjoining of two sayings sharing the same vocabulary.

The second element in the discussion has to with the meaning of verse 49: for everyone will be salted with fire. The combination of salt and fire seems odd, to say the least. William Lane (Mark, New International Commentary, p.349) argues that there is a move from the fire of judgment (vss. 43-47) to the fire of persecution. This is based on the connection of salt with the Old Testament sacrifices (Leviticus 2:13). He comments, "The salt-sacrifice metaphor is appropriate to a situation of suffering and trial … The disciples must be seasoned with salt, like the sacrifice." There is one other interesting possibility. The Hebrew/Aramaic word for salt is malach. It has a homonym which means "to be dispersed, dissipated, torn into fragments" (see Isaiah 51:6, "the sky will vanish [malach] like smoke). It is possible that Jesus was playing on these homonyms in his statement, thus tying the themes of judgment, sacrifice, and discipleship together. This play on words then cannot be retained when placing the saying into Greek. Interestingly, the Greek verb "to salt" (halizo) has a homonym that means "to gather, assemble." Hence, even in the Greek text, there could be a play on words, subtly indicating that all will be gathered for judgment.

Finally, here is some bibliography with regard to camels and needles' eyes for those interested in further study. The best place to start is with Craig S. Keener's commentary on Mark, published by Eerdmans in 1999, pp. 477-78. A second source is Darrell L. Bock's commentary on Luke, published in the Baker Exegetical Commentary series in 1996, vol. 2, pp. 1485-86. Both of these will lead the interested reader into other resources on the issue.

Grace & peace

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Give Me Watcha Got

- Walking on the water

- Feeding 5,000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish

These are two of Jesus' most famous miracles and they happen, back-to-back, in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 6.

Can you imagine being told that you're supposed to whip something up for 5,000 guys and their families who dropped in? How long would it take? How much would that cost?

Jesus' followers had done the math. They figured it would cost 8 months wages!

The crowd was large. The time was getting late. The location was far from any food source. People were getting hungry. The disciples were getting nervous.

So Jesus asks a seemingly unimportant question: "How much food do you have?"

You could page Rachel Ray, Martha Stewart, Emeril, Alton Brown, and all of the other Food Network Stars, AND IT WOULDN'T BE ENOUGH!

5 loaves & 2 fish came the report.

You could visit Gordon's Food Service or Sam's Club Warehouse and you STILL might not have enough to feed all these people.

"Bring it to me" was Jesus' reply.

I wonder if anyone was tempted to argue. I wonder if people thought Jesus was simply gathering enough food for himself. I wonder if they thought, "THIS is a waste of my time." Or "Somebody should have planned ahead."

Whatever they thought, they brought the food to Jesus. He blessed it and started passing the food out. The next thing you know, everyone has more than enough to eat. There are actually 12 baskets of leftovers.

Immediately, Jesus shuffles his followers into a boat and they sail off without him. But late in the night, while on the sea, they see someone walking toward them.

They do what you or I would do if we saw someone walking toward our boat WHILE IT IS SAILING: they freak out!

"Don't be afraid" Jesus tells them. "It is I." Or as some have translated it, "I AM." Which might not seem like a lot to you or me. But if you read the Exodus account where God introduces Himself to Moses, He uses those exact same words. "I AM".

I wonder. What do you think Jesus was saying? Do you think he was telling the 12 scaredy cats on the boat that God was with them, in their midst, in the person of Jesus? Do you think he was saying that the same God who was with Moses was the same one who fed 5,000 people just a few hours ago? Do you think he was telling them that just as Jesus is Boss of the sea, he's boss of any other problem they'll come up against? Do you think he was saying, "I know you don't have enough. But I'm calling you to give me the little you DO have and let me make up the difference?"

What might Jesus be saying to you in these two stories?

Friday, February 23, 2007


I'm sitting in my favorite reading chair. The sun is pouring in through our huge window at about 8AM. No one else is around. I'm listening to the song "100 Years" by Five for Fighting, thinking about how quickly life goes by, and the amount of time I still might have to live. At this moment, I'm locked in on how great life is, really aware of what a gift this second of clarity might truly be.

While I'm listening to the music and the words, I'm reading about a guy who squandered a lot of his years.

He had it all. He was the king of the nation. He had a great home. He had a house full of kids. He had the respect of everyone in his kingdom and the fear of those outside his kingdom. What a great start to a great life.

But it wasn't enough.

One day as he looked over the fence, he saw a beautiful woman. It was his neighbor's wife. He wanted her too. So he did what he had always done. He took.

You can read the full story in 2 Samuel 11 and the consequences for King David's actions in the chapters that follow.

He started strong. He had been given all he needed to finish strong. But he didn't. He crashed and burned.

And because he crashed and burned, so did his family. And because his family crashed and burned, so did his kingdom.

The books of 1st and 2nd Samuel are full of strong starters who crashed and burned along the way.

Saul had been made king out of obscurity, much like David. And much like David, somewhere along the way, he didn't do what he knew he was told to do. And he paid for it. And so did his family. And so did his kingdom.

Eli & Samuel were given the great privilege of discerning God's will for the leaders, kings, and the nation of Israel. They were given the gift of being in on the secret things of God.

But they were failures in the home. And their families paid for it. And so did everyone else who lived around them.

How 'bout you? If you've only got "100 years to live", what have you got to show for it? And what are you going to do with the time that's left? 15, 22, 33...they've all passed so quickly. 45 is on the horizon for me. 67, Lord willing, will jump up faster than anyone could have expected.

So why not make a decision, right now, that you're going to make sure the finish is strong. That the end of your life will be devoted to what matters, to what will last, to the things that will make a difference in your life and the lives of those around you.

Grace & peace

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

My Favorite Story Ever?

I LOVE stories. I collect them. I retell them.

Stories help me to make sense of the world in which we live.

So deciding which 1 is my favorite would be difficult, if not impossible.

But if you held a gun to my head and made me choose, this one just might be it.

Imagine a young boy spending the night at his grandparents' house. After he has gone to bed, the boy, Samuel, hears someone calling his name. He goes into the living room where grandpa is reading by the fire.

"What is it, grandpa?"

"I didn't say anything."

"Oh. OK" Samuel replies and heads back to bed.

A few minutes later it happens again.


He gets up a 2nd time, heads into to see what Grandfather wants. But again, Grandfather tells him he didn't call for Samuel.

When this happens a 3rd time, Grandfather finally clues in.

"Next time you hear the voice say this: 'Speak God, for your servant is listening.'"

That's about what happens in the Book of Samuel in the 3rd chapter. In that one conversation, Samuel learns to discern for himself when God is speaking.

I wonder, has anyone ever taught you how to listen for the Voice? I've never heard it audibly. But I've had impressions, thoughts, ideas, and feelings that came from outside of me. They were a sense that Something was happening beyond me.

This one story sums up, to a large degree, why I feel like I was put on the face of the earth for however long I'm here. And it describes why I do what I do. (I collect my check to pastor a church. But my passion is helping people learn to discern God's movement in and around them.)

I'd consider it a privilege to help you do the same.

Grace & peace

Friday, February 9, 2007

What Are These Stones Doing Here!?

You arrive in New York Harbor by boat. You see a towering statue. Without any more description than that, you probably conjure up the image of the Statue of Liberty.

You probably even know the story:
- It was given to us as a gift from France
- It was dedicated by President Grover Cleveland on 10/28/1886
- It was later inscribed with words from the poem "The New Colossus"
("Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore...")

I would argue...

1. It is within the line of sight of people
(Even those of us who live far away from NYC see it on tv or in many other forms of media often)

2. Someone knows the story
We know it has a torch, and we know that it stands as a symbol to freedom, choice, and liberty, at home and abroad.

3. The people who KNOW the story have communicated it to others
We've heard the poem and it stirs within us a great, generous spirit, to share the dream of freedom and liberty.

All this reminds me of another memorial that was built and a question someone asked.

"What are these stones doing here?" (Joshua 22:9-34)

2 and 1/2 tribes were heading back across the Jordan River. They were going home to the land Moses had given them. They had been required to cross the Jordan the first time in order to help the other 9 1/2 tribes conquer the Promised Land. Now that the mission had been accomplished and the war was over, they were allowed to go back to their families and their land.

But before they made the trip, there was one thing left to do. They built an altar.

Initially the other 9 1/2 tribes were perplexed and angry. They saw the construction of this altar as heresy because the minority had not been instructed to build the altar as a place of worship. The majority was getting ready to go to war to wipe out the unruly minority. Until...

...they heard an explanation. This grouping of stones was NOT a place to offer sacrifices or a rebellious act of worship. It was to be a VISIBLE REMINDER.

It would remind future generations on BOTH sides of the Jordan River that they had kinsmen on the other side. It would remind future generations that BOTH groups had a place in the worship of Yahweh. It would remind BOTH groups that they were part of a history larger than themselves.

After hearing this explanation, the leaders of the whole nation "were glad to hear the report and praised God." A collective sigh of relief was breathed, backs were slapped, brows were wiped, and the Visible Reminder was set in place.

Fast forward to today.

You and I may never visit that part of the world.

And if we did, would THAT altar still be there today? And if it were, would every generation have been faithful to communicate to the next generation WHY it was there, and what purpose it served? (It only takes 1 generation that doesn't know the purpose of the altar to decide, "This pile of rocks isn't serving any purpose. Let's tear it down and scatter them around."

The Bible offers us a memorial, a reminder of God's activity in the world with people. But for it to be effective:

1. It must within the line of sight of people
(How are you doing at keeping the history of God's activity in front of your eyes, within earshot of your ears, alive within your heart and mind?)

2. Someone must know the story
(Are you placing yourself under the teaching of people you trust, who know the story and are willing to tell it to you?)

3. The people who KNOW the story must communicate it to others
(To whom are you telling the story? Will the people who come after you know why this Book is here and what it means? Tell them. As the old saint said, "Use words if necessary.")

Grace & peace

Thursday, February 8, 2007

An 85-Year-Old Man's Dream

Imagine an 85-year-old man who has outlived nearly all of his peers. You would think that such a person might feel like if he has any unfulfilled dreams, it is time to let them go.

But if you think that, you don't know Caleb very well.

Four decades ago, Caleb and 11 other men had been sent out by Moses to scout out the Promised Land.

Ten of the other eleven had decided that while the land was spectacular, the risks and obstacles were too great. So they voted to set their sites on something else. But not Caleb.

For 40 years, Caleb dreamed of the day he and his family would inherit the land God had promised them.

40 years. 40 years ago this e-mail and the internet were barely a dream.

40 years ago Ronald Reagan would have had a better chance being recognized as an actor than as a two-term president.

40 years ago I wasn't even born yet. (This is the LAST year I can say that!)

And for 40 years, Caleb nurtured a dream and held onto a promise. Now here he is, still expecting that dream to be fulfilled and that promise to be kept.

"You know what the LORD said to Moses the man of God. I was forty years old when Moses...sent explore the land...(M)y brothers who went up with me made the hearts of the people melt with fear. I, however, followed the LORD my God wholeheartedly. So on that day Moses swore to me, 'The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the LORD my God wholeheartedly.'"

Wholeheartedly he scouted out the land. And wholeheartedly he followed for 40 years.

Are you willing to follow, full-throttle, all-out, wholeheartedly for as long as you need to until you see God's promises fulfilled in your life? Sometimes wholeheartedly seems more like plodding. But no matter. Are you willing to do it, patiently, consistently, for as long as it takes?

Have you had an encounter with God that leaves you that determined? My prayer for you today is that you will have such an encounter if you haven't yet.

Grace & peace

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

In the Face of Danger or Opposition


That's the record of the Hebrew children in their battles in the first 12 chapters of the Book of Joshua. 31 wins. 1 defeat. (You can read about the defeat in chapter 7.) And even that defeat they avenged in chapter 8.

At the beginning of the campaign, they were given an unofficial slogan. "Be strong and courageous."

Now they hear Joshua saying it again, as he has his boot on the neck of kings who came to attack Israel's friends. (10:25) "Be strong and courageous. This is what the LORD will do to all the enemies you're going to fight."

Courage is defined as "That quality of mind or spirit enabling one to meet danger or opposition with fearlessness." (Funk and Wagnall's)

Do you have "danger or opposition" in your life? I bet you do. I think we all do.

For some of us it shows up as the inability to control a habit. (It may be greed, lust, or anger.)

For some of us it shows up as the an attitude that runs part of our life. (It may be unforgiveness or pride because I don't think I have such opposition in MY life.)

For some it is a wayward child.

For some it is a faltering marriage.

For some it is a failing body and broken spirit.

For some it is a fixation with others who are so rude, loud, or generally thoughtless in the things they say and the things they do.

The temptation for a lot of us is to say, "That's just the way I am" and decide we're going to live with it.

To that I say, "Be strong and courageous."

Ask God to help you conquer this enemy within you.

Here's a prayer that might be helpful. Would you consider whispering it to God, right now, right where you're at?

"I need help. This enemy in me has been getting the best of me. I want so desperately to cut it down, chop it up, and get it out of me. But I can't do it. If I'd been able to, it would have been gone by now. So I'm asking you to help me. I'm not dictating to you HOW or WHEN. I'm simply asking you, begging you to step in and give me strength and courage. Thank you."

I'm interested to know if you prayed that prayer. Let me know if you want to. And I'll be praying with you.

Grace & peace

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Weak Heart, Worn-out Faith

It's 3 degrees Fahrenheit outside right now. With the wind chill it feels a lot colder than that! Michigan is not a place to be for the faint of heart today.

A weak heart is trouble.

A weak heart means you should be careful shoveling snow. At the beginning of every winter, all of the stations run stories about how dangerous shoveling a lot of wet, heavy snow can be on a heart.

A weak heart can kill you.

A weak heart can make facing battles in life difficult too.

In the Book of Joshua, a witness reports the following:

"When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below."

The "it" she was referring to was the invasion of the Hebrew wanderers. They were about enter the Promised Land. And the people who currently occupied the land were afraid because they had heard the stories of how the rag-tag group of former slaves were unbeatable because their God was powerful.

Has your heart melted and your courage leaked out of you?

Maybe you need to hear the words God spoke to the leader of the Hebrews, before they became so unstoppable:

"Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them." (1:6)

"Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you...that you may be successful wherever you go." (1:7)

"Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." (1:9)

Do you catch a pattern here? "Be strong and courageous". Because God has promised success. "Be strong and courageous" because as you obey God, He will display His power. "Be strong and courageous" because He will be present in your situation.

If you're suffering from a weak heart, feeling overcome by your circumstances, ask God for strength and courage so you can be strong and courageous. Trust His promise. Depend upon His power. Seek His presence.

Grace & peace

Monday, February 5, 2007

A Woman with Depression

If anyone ever had a reason to be suffering from circumstance-induced depression, it was Naomi:

- There was a famine in the home country.

- She and her husband, sons, and their wives had moved to a foreign country where there was food.

- Her husband died, leaving her a widow. She had no means of taking care of herself, let alone anyone else.

- Her two sons died, leaving their wives as childless widows.

- Naomi was telling her daughters-in-law to go back to their families of origin (which would leave her COMPLETELY alone)

- She changed her name from Naomi (meaning "pleasant") to Mara (meaning "bitter").

- Not even God could be counted upon to help her out. "(T)he LORD's hand has gone out against me...The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me."

The opening of this story makes you want to close the book, crawl back in bed, throw the covers over your head and ask, "What's the use?!"

But I encourage you NOT to stop there. The story, all of which can be read in about the time it takes you to watch a 1/2 hour television show, takes some pretty incredible turns.

God DOES show up. God IS working on Naomi's behalf, even when she thinks He isn't.

Without giving away the ending, God uses someone who is already in Naomi's life to bring GREAT blessing and prosperity. Naomi is so fixated upon her trouble and calamity, she is completely missing the friends she already has.

And in the not too distant future, God will bring another person, Boaz, across her path, to redeem her story and her fortunes, and her future, and her family.

But enough from me. Read this short little drama for yourself in the book of Ruth.

Grace & peace

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Greatest and Strongest

Ever feel like you're up against a greater number of problems in your life than you can handle?

Ever feel like you're up against enemies that are stronger than you?

Ever feel like no matter what you do, how hard you work to make progress in a situation, the foe you're fighting against is greater and stronger than you?

Twice Moses uses the phrase "greater and stronger than you" to describe Israel's foes.

The first time it is a reminder:

(Deuteronomy 4:37-38) Because (God) loved your forefathers and chose their descendants after them, he brought you out of Egypt by his Presence and his great strength, to drive out before you nations greater and stronger than you and to bring you into their land to give it to you for your inheritance, as it is today."

God had liberated the Hebrew slaves from their Egyptian oppressors, busting them out of the country, as the masters loaded them down with gold and valuables, ASKING them to leave! And God had brought the wanderers great victories over other groups that were greater and stronger than the Hebrews.

The second time the phrase is used, it is as a promise:

(Deuteronomy 9:1) Hear, O Israel. You are about to cross the Jordan to go in and dispossess nations greater and stronger than you, with large cities that have walls up to the sky...But be assured that the LORD your God is the one who goes across ahead of you like a devouring fire.

The previous generation had been too fearful of the greater and stronger nations, so they failed to conquer the Promised Land. But now God is promising that HE will be the One who takes care of the greater and stronger nations on behalf of his people.

Do you need the promise of the Greatest and Strongest today in your fight against enemies greater and stronger than you? If so, stop right now and ask for The Greatest and Strongest God to help you fall in on His side and watch as enemies greater and stronger than you begin to fall.

Grace & peace