Thursday, March 31, 2011

Paraphrase of 2 Timothy 2:11-13

2 TIMOTHY 2:11-13

TRUSTWORTHY IS THE WORD,           (See 1 Tim. 3:1; Titus 3:8)
“faithful”            Greek “logos”        (Cf. 1 Tim. 1:15; 4:9)

                past tense (punctiliar)                future tense

         present tense          future tense

         future tense              future tense

         present tense              present tense

             present tense      past tense (punctiliar)


Trustworthy is the Word, for if at sometime in the past we have died together with him, we also will live together with him. If we are persevering now, we also will reign together with him. If we deny him in the future, he also will deny us. If we are being unfaithful, he will remain faithful—for he is not able to contradict (disavow or abnegate) himself.

Italics indicate words added to the Greek text as part of the translator's interpretation. "Him" seems to be necessary to connect the Greek "hymn" or "poem" with "in Christ Jesus" in verse 10.

Monday, March 28, 2011

“Journey” as Metaphor (Part 3)

If the spiritual journeys of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have special significance, you might expect that the experiences of Joseph would bear even more significance. In some ways Joseph overshadowed his predecessors in the Book of Genesis, primarily because of the highly significant office he attained in the Egyptian court of Pharaoh. While that prominence might be somewhat true in Genesis, it does not hold with the New Testament’s assessments of these patriarchs.

Abraham became the dominant character in the Genesis narrative beginning in Genesis 11:26. Isaac’s birth was recorded in Genesis 21:3 (10 chapters later); and he shared the stage with Abraham until Genesis 25:8, where Abraham’s death is recorded. Genesis devoted about 14 chapters to Abraham’s story.

Jacob’s birth was recorded in Genesis 25:26 (only four chapters after the reference to Isaac’s birth and 18 verses after Abraham’s death); and Isaac shared the stage with Jacob until Genesis 35:29. Genesis also devoted 14 chapters to Isaac’s story, but most of that story was shared with Abraham and Jacob.

Joseph’s birth was recorded in Genesis 30:24 (only five chapters after the reference to Jacob’s birth and prior to Isaac’s death); and Isaac and Joseph shared the stage with Jacob until the record of his death in Genesis 49:33. While Genesis devoted 24 chapters to Jacob’s story, nineteen of those chapters really are more Joseph’s story than Jacob’s.

Joseph’s story stretches from Genesis 30:24 to 50:26; and while Jacob is in the picture until 49:33, he is most often far away from the true action in Egypt. I think we can comfortably conclude that in terms of the narrative and its interest, Joseph’s story of how Israel found itself in Egypt really is the pinnacle of the Genesis narrative and sets the stage for the story of Moses and the Exodus. We have in view in Genesis spiritual journeys for both Joseph and the entire people of Israel.

From the perspective of the New Testament, however, Joseph’s impact is far less significant. The name Joseph is used 34 times in the New Testament, but only 11 of those are references to the Old Testament son of Jacob—and six of those references are included in the one address Stephen made before the Sanhedrin in Acts 7. Even Isaac is referenced 20 times in the New Testament, and Jacob is mentioned 27 times. As you might expect, Abraham became the classic focus among the patriarchs, amassing 73 references in the New Testament. Abraham certainly wins in terms of overall spiritual impact.

In spite of all this data, I think the journey of Joseph may be more relevant to our understanding of spiritual development than any of his fellow patriarchs. We see him in the throes of adolescence. We see him in failure and success, in highs and lows. We see him betrayed and rewarded. We see him under the tutelage of a doting father, the training of a high military official, the encouragement of prison guards, the support of fellow prisoners, and the embrace of the all-powerful Pharaoh. We see him is tension with feckless brothers and in forgiveness with those who sold him into slavery. What a story Joseph had! Let’s look at it in greater detail in future posts.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Thank You, CUS

I have just returned from participating in the 139th annual meeting of the Committee on the Uniform Series (CUS) in Orlando, FL. CUS is the group that through the years has produced the guidelines for a wide variety of denominations and groups to produce Bible study curriculum based on common Scripture passages and themes. CUS is the finest representation of the Christian spirit of unity in the body of Christ that I have experienced in all my years of ministry.

My first experience in CUS was in 1982, when I became manager of the Youth Curriculum Section at the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (now called “LifeWay Christian Resources”). The Uniform Series for youth was one of the curriculum series assigned to that section, and I attended my first meeting as a representative of Southern Baptists (who incidentally had been part of CUS almost from its beginning and who still hold the position of the denomination with the most years in which a representative of a single denomination has served as Chair of the committee). After a break of almost 10 years (when I managed an Adult curriculum section that did not deal with the Uniform Series), I returned to CUS in 1993 as a Southern Baptist representative in my role as a coordinator of curriculum development, first for the Sunday School Department and then for the Church Resources Group. I continued to serve on CUS until Southern Baptists pulled out of the Committee in an ill-considered drive for theological purity. In my last two years in CUS, I was chairing a special development group that was re-visioning the processes and direction for CUS in the 21st Century. I was forced out of that role mid-stream with Southern Baptists’ repudiation of ecumenical engagement. After my retirement from LifeWay in 2003, CUS invited me back as a consultant, trainer, evaluator, and developer of the Home Daily Bible Readings and Devotional Readings that support the CUS study plans. For five of the last seven years I have attended the annual meeting of CUS. This year marked my final year as I “retire” again and pass on the mantle to others.

In CUS, I have enjoyed an enriched fellowship with my fellow Baptists—from American Baptists to Seventh-Day Baptists to a rich variety of Black Baptist denominations. I also have developed deep friendships and appreciation for Christians from a wide host of other denominations (AME; AME Zion; Church of the Brethren; Church of God, Anderson, IN; CME; Cumberland Presbyterians; Mennonites; Presbyterian Church USA; United Church of Christ; United Methodists; and others). In recent years, independent publishers like Standard Publishing, Smyth & Helwys, and Urban Ministries have joined the mix. In every case, the people with whom I have worked have been devoted disciples of Jesus, passionate and compassionate people, and loving and affirming friends. I have been blessed by these friends, and I pray for their future efforts to fulfill their objectives.

I could not close these reflections without commenting on the approaching retirement of the Rev. Barbara Tilley, the administrator of CUS. Barbara had been my guide and supporter in undergirding and advancing the CUS re-visioning process. She also was instrumental is enlisting me to re-engage with CUS after my retirement. Her name along with many others (I dare not start to name them individually lest I accidentally overlook even one) have been written on my heart. They are friends. They are encouragers. They are brothers and sisters in Christ. Thank you, Barbara! Thank you, CUS! Thank you all, who have been part of my journey in the Church (with a capital C) of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

“Journey” as Metaphor (Part 2)

God’s directions to the first three patriarchs are interesting in their stark differences. To Abraham, God said, “Go.” To Isaac, God said, “Stay.” To Jacob, the command was “Go back” (Genesis 31:3). The reality is that, at different moments in our lives and in different circumstances, each of us may find our journeys moving us in directions that are remarkably diverse. Going somewhere new has the attractive draw of shedding the past and beginning some new adventure. Who of us at times does not wish that we could make a clean break from the pain, trouble, and mistakes of the past and have a fresh start?

Paul certainly focused on the faith of Abraham as a paradigm for believers, but few models fit every situation. “Go” also can represent escape, avoidance of responsibility, and refusal to accept the consequences of our actions. “Go” can overlook the need for repentance and forgiveness. “Go” sometimes is equivalent to “run away,” and that is why any single metaphor for our spiritual journeys must be weighed carefully. On occasion, staying put may be a much more demanding expression of discipleship than going. Facing tough situations, dealing with the consequences of our bad decisions, or handling the shattered fragments of poor choices often means that staying is a much more important expression of discipleship than going. I have known far too many pastors and other committed disciples who have felt “the call” to move to another place of service simply because escape seemed far easier than trying to deal with their own failures, their damaged relationships, or the frustrating obstacles to their own personal agendas.

Jacob’s commission to “go back” may come closer to the change of direction we often need, and it is a close associate to repentance. If every spiritual journey is going straight ahead to new destinations, we will leave in our wakes the bitter memories of our failures, the uncomfortable consequences of our mistakes, and the shattered fragments of our integrity. We want Jesus to “pay it all” in dealing with our sins, but we cannot fully escape the times when God calls us to “go back” and seek forgiveness, to return and seek restoration, to face the music and reclaim a humbled spirit. "Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matt. 5:23-24, NASB).

Our journeys will be as diverse as our personalities. They will carry us as far as God’s purposes, but they will not release us from the demand for integrity. If we are to be disciples of Jesus, we cannot run and hide from our past. We cannot escape to some idyllic future. We cannot shake off the sin that weighs us down without seeking repentance and forgiveness. In some ways we all will need a journey within, a journey back, and a journey beyond. At times our journeys will take on aspects of those of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God grant us the wisdom to know which of those is the journey of this present moment.

Monday, March 14, 2011

“Journey” as a Metaphor for Spiritual Growth and Development

I am serving currently on the Coordinating Council for the Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. This past Saturday was the second meeting of the Council that I have attended. Terry Maples, the CBF Field Coordinator in Tennessee, had asked me to open the meeting with a devotional time. He suggested that I might want address our TCBF journey into the future with God and in faith.

I have always thought that the journey metaphor offered a helpful way of speaking about the way we live our lives in faith. Life, like time, is constantly on the move; but life, like time, in order to be productive and fulfilling must also have some sense of direction. In turn, direction implies some goal or orientation that serves as a compass for our living, our expenditure of time and energy, our search for meaningful and purposeful existence. In my next few posts I would like to “spin off” some of the issues that I worked through in preparing for the TCBF devotional time and focus more intently on the journey motif than I was able to do at the meeting.

My first thoughts in relation to journey were in the context of the biblical characters who engaged in actual journeys. Noah, Abraham, and Joseph immediately came to mind. As I brain stormed about the journey motif, however, I began to recognize that every biblical character had a journey of one sort or another. Adam and Eve, though perhaps intended as permanent residents of the Garden of Eden, found themselves on a journey that led then from Eden to east of Eden. That certainly was a challenging transition in almost every way. Abel took a short journey into the field with his brother, and the potential dangers of journeys even with your closest relative certainly emerged as a consequence. Noah started out somewhere east of Eden on a journey that took him in a direction and to a destination that he did not choose. Mount Ararat happened to be the place where his ark landed. Terah, Abram’s father, had a compulsion to go to Canaan; but he only made it about halfway when he stopped at Haran after leaving Ur of the Chaldeans. Abram received a command to “go” to a land that God would show him; and his intended destination proved to be the same as that of his father, but this time under the direct intention of God.

Interestingly, in the face of a famine Isaac received a command from God to “stay” (Gen. 26:2-6); but that did not mean that he was journey-less. Not only did he experience the spiritual journey into a renewed covenant with the Lord, but he also experienced that difficult journey of an old age darkened both by blindness and the competitive nature of his two sons. Changes in circumstance and the events surrounding us often turn staying in our current places into journeys that are more difficult than moving to a distant land.
(To be continued)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Perspective on the “Worship Wars”

I teach in English a Sunday School class of international students (mostly from Korea). We have been studying together the International Sunday School Lessons prepared by the Committee on the Uniform Series (CUS), an inter-denominational group with which I worked for many years while I was at LifeWay Christian Resources (formerly the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention). Since retirement I have done contract work with CUS.

Because of my connections with CUS, the United Methodists have invited me to write occasionally for their Uniform Series annual publication, The New International Lesson Annual. Although published by the Methodists, this publication is quite ecumenical. Of the writers for the current Annual, two are Presbyterian, one is a member of the United Church of Christ, and I am a Baptist. The editor of the Annual and writer of the teaching suggestions is the very talented Nan Duerling. Halfway through the current year, Amazon has this $18 resource available on sale for as low as $11.43. I’m plugging it here because I was the writer of the Bible exposition and application for the June-August 2011 quarter. Some of you might be interested in my lessons on Joshua, Judges, and Ruth. They could be used anytime, not just during the summer. Next year’s Annual will be available in May and is currently offered at a sizeable discount on Amazon. The next set of lessons that I have written will appear in the fall quarter of the 2012-13 Annual.

The current quarter’s theme relates to “Worshipping God,” and John Indermark, the exposition/application writer, has some excellent perspectives on the current struggles related to worship styles. In the introductory article for the quarter’s study, John focused on “The central aspect of worship is the feeling of being at one with God.” He deals forthrightly with the tensions faced in many churches over worship styles.

One phrase in the lesson for today really caught my attention. John said that the liturgy of worship “moves [us] beyond social gathering into the realm of holy encounter.” The “social gathering” is very much about us—our spiritual conditions, our interests, our experiences, our preferences, our needs. The “holy encounter” is very much about God as mystery, presence, holiness, love, compassion, teacher, corrector, redeemer. Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well reminds us that “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23). Spirit engages the emotions and calls for spontaneity, passion, and release. Truth engages the mind and calls for order, thoughtfulness, discipline, and reflection. With all these factors in play, worship styles tend to focus of a few preferences without considering the whole scope. For some, worship is a social gathering. For others, it is a holy encounter. For some, worship is about stirring emotional feelings. For others, it is about deep or lofty thoughts. John Indermark has reminded me that worship involves movement beyond the reality of a social context in which worship is experienced toward a mysterious and sacred encounter with the Wholly Other. It involves transforming time (the Greek word chronos, which focuses on the clock hour of worship) into significant moment (the Greek word kairos, which focuses on the moment that is pregnant with potential for significant encounter and transformation).

Will your social gathering for worship today extend to a holy encounter?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Sharing the Wealth

Open Windows: Southern Baptist Guide for Personal Devotions is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. As part of that celebration, selected daily devotions are being republished from past issues. Today’s devotion (March 5, 2011), for example, is a reprint of a devotion written by Dr. James L. Sullivan in 1947, six years before he became the president of the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (now LifeWay Christian Resources), the publisher of Open Windows.

When I was at Howard College (now Samford University), the Ministerial Association planned a trip every other year or so to visit the Sunday School Board. The Ministerial Association had a school bus that was used to transport budding preachers to “H-Day” preaching events in Alabama Baptist associations, and that bus also was used to transport us on trips like the visit to Nashville and the Sunday School Board.

My senior year (1965), I drove the ministerial students from Birmingham to Nashville on that bus for that visit. (I recall that only stretches of I-65 were completed at that time.) About a dozen of us made the trip that year, but the only aspect of the visit that I remember was personally meeting Dr. Sullivan. I find it remarkable, in retrospect, that the chief executive officer of the largest and most influential institution in the Southern Baptist Convention took time from what must have surely been a busy schedule to meet personally with our group of ministerial students. We were invited into Dr. Sullivan’s office on the 7th floor of the Sullivan Tower (later named after him, I'm sure). He shook hands with each of us, chatted with us leisurely, and then gave us an autographed copy of one of his books published by the Sunday School Board.

That visit became especially significant to me in 1994 when I was in my 17th year as an employee at the Sunday School Board. That year I assumed the position of Curriculum, Editorial, and Resources Coordination Specialist, Office of the Associate Vice President, and my office adjoined the office on the 7th floor of the Sullivan Tower where Dr. Sullivan had visited with those Howard College ministerial students almost 30 years earlier. My office actually had been his secretary’s office, and it had a private door to the old President’s office.

My reminiscences today, however, are prompted more by what Dr. Sullivan wrote in 1947 that what happened in 1965 or 1994. In his republished devotional thought from Open Windows, Dr. Sullivan commented on Luke 3:11, where John the Baptist confronted the crowds who came to him to be baptized. John urged them to produce fruit in keeping with repentance, and then spoke the words on which Dr. Sullivan focused: “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.” On that passage, Dr. Sullivan wrote: “John refused them baptism and demanded outward evidence of an inner change. He asked that the spirit of sharing be demonstrated to prove a change of heart: ‘share the wealth’ voluntarily as evidence that greater riches were already theirs. If this test were put to Christians today, how would we measure up?”

Obviously many Baptists in 1947 had a sensitivity for the poor that somehow has escaped too many of us today. "How would we measure up?" indeed!