Text Tuesday: (Be, Make) Heavy

On Tuesdays, I scour Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament words to find some extra insight into the biblical text. Today’s word is “heavy,” or “to be/to make something heavy.”

In the Hebrew Old Testament text, “heavy” (kabed) means “to honor.” This is an interesting Jewish idiom that we use today. When someone powerful or important speaks we often say, “Her words carry a lot of weight.”

In the Greek New Testament, “to be made heavy” (lype) has a different meaning. It carries the idea of grief or sorrow, a person experiencing a heaviness because of a loss of a loved one. The action of grief exhausts someone and they feel heavy because of it.

The two, distinct meanings in the two languages reminds us that reading the Bible is complex, for the same word “heavy” in English has two different meanings in the text. We get to do the tough work of hearing the ancient voices in order to understand the text.

 

Technique Thursday: Work + Rest

I saw this talk over the relationship between work + rest that I have been trying to implement into my work routine. I thought I’d share the gist on Technique Thursday.

This technique simply tries to get the most out of our work by planning rest periods. I try to follow this basic formula: Stress + Rest = Growth

If we could see work and rest on a wavelength, we can see how a daily work period might be planned:

Without planned rest, we are tempted to try to have a flat line of production, sporadic work/rest or even to try to keep our production at a high level until we exhaust:

Instead, try to build a rhythm or ratio for work and rest. The one I’m working with is 90 minutes of work followed by 20 minutes of rest.

During the 90 minutes, I try to leave my phone away from my desk so I can concentrate on the task list that I have.

When I rest for 20 minutes, I usually get up and away from the desk so I can fully rest.

Give it a shot. Let me know what you think.

Wright or Willard Wednesday: Jesus’ Appearing

Each Wednesday, I’ll try to offer a short thought from a couple of my favorite sages: NT Wright and Dallas Willard. Today, a long quotation from Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy. In this quotation, Willard reveals how it was God’s plan to arrive among us through ordinary means:

He slipped into our world through the backroads and outlying districts of one of the least important places on earth and has allowed his program for human history to unfold ever so slowly through the centuries.

He lived for thirty years among socially insignificant members of a negligible nation – though one with rich tradition of divine covenant and interaction. He grew up in the home of the carpenter for the little Middle-Eastern village of Nazareth. After his father, Joseph, died, he became ‘the man of the house’ and helped his mother raise the rest of the family. He was an ordinary workman: a ‘blue-collar’ worker.

He did all this to be with us, to be one of us, to ‘arrange for the delivery’ of his life to us. It must be no simple thing to make it possible for human beings to receive the eternal kind of life. But, as F.W. Faber opens one of his profound works, now ‘Jesus belongs to us. He vouchsafes to put Himself at our disposal. He communicates to us everything of His which we are capable of receiving.’

If he were to come today as he did then, he could carry out his mission through most any decent and useful occupation. He could be a clerk or accountant in a hardware store, a computer repairman, a banker, an editor, doctor, waiter, teacher, farmhand, lab technician, or construction worker. He could run a housecleaning service or repair automobiles.

In other words, if he were to come today he could very well do what you do. He could very well live in your apartment or house, hold down your job, have your education and life prospects, and live within your family, surroundings, and time. None of this world be the least hindrance to the eternal kind of life that was his by nature and becomes available to us through him. Our human life, it turns out, is not destroyed by God’s life but is fulfilled in it and in it alone.

Text Tuesday: Enemy

Each Tuesday, I’ll try to text a word found in the Bible and draw some insight from it through some Hebrew and Greek study, using Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.

Today’s word: Enemy

Both Old Testament words for enemy: verb (oyeeb) and noun (sar) give an underlying idea of “hate” or “hostility” or “adversary.” It’s worth noting, that Satan is never described by either of these words in the OT. A famous enemy character in the OT is Haman in Esther who was hell-bent on the destruction of the Jews while they were in Persian captivity.

The New Testament Greek word (echthros) carries a similar idea. An enemy is one who opposes you. Mounce makes a theological statement about the use of enemy in the NT, “A child of God may have enemies but is not to be an enemy toward another person.” In contrast, “enemy” is used to describe both Satan and death in the NT.

The biblical idea of enemy is important. It is healthy to acknowledge that there is a category for “enemies” in the life of the believer. The challenging call of Jesus, however, is to not seek their absence from our lives because we are at odds with them. The call of the gospel is to love our enemies, to pray for them, and even to suffer long with them. May God give us the grace to do so.

Technique Thursday: The Flow

I came across an idea worth sharing. It’s helping me calibrate goals and tasks for life and ministry. It’s called “The Flow” and it takes into account the combination of our Skills and our Challenges.

Think of Skills and Challenges on a grid:

A growth flow happens when we are challenged at the same rate as our skills are used:

If our skills outweigh our challenge, we become bored with life or work:

And if our challenge exceeds our skills we have anxiety for our tasks:

Therefore, we should seek to enter the flow, the sweet spot between our skills and challenges.

Wright or Willard on Wednesday: Do Not Be Afraid

NT Wright and Dallas Willard have shaped my Christian life for the majority of my Christian life now. They are sages leading the way ahead for me as a disciple and minister. I’ll share a bit from their work on Wednesdays.

Here is a block quote from an older NT Wright source called Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship from 1994. The book is a series of sermons from his stay at Lichfield Cathedral in England.

And the resurrection of Jesus issues the surprising command: don’t be afraid; because the God who made the world is the God who raised Jesus from the dead, and calls you now to follow him. Believing in the resurrection of Jesus isn’t just a matter of believing that certain things are true about the physical body of Jesus that had been crucified. These truths are vital and nonnegotiable, but they point beyond themselves, to the God who was responsible for them. Believing in this God means believing that it is going to be all right; and this belief is, ultimately, incompatible with fear.

Text Tuesday: Woe

On Tuesdays, I’ll try to provide a bit of background on a biblical word using William Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words.

Today’s word: woe.

In the Old Testament, “woe” (Hebrew hoy) expresses personal pain and anguish because of the dread of a situation. Woe is also used to express anxiety about future troubles, used by the Writing Prophets in the later parts of the Old Testament. (see Isaiah 5:8, 11, 18, for example)

In the New Testament, “woe” (Greek ouai) is an injection at the beginning of a sentence or phrase to suggest pain. Mounce calls “woe” an “onomatopoeic” word where a sound of the word often reveals its meaning. A well-known use of “woe” in the NT is in Matthew 23 where Jesus gives “Seven woes” against his lived-in opponents.

There are also a few references where “woe” is used figuratively. Paul uses the term “woe” in 1 Cor. 9:16 to describe how he’d feel if he did not preach the gospel.

 

Woe is not a word that we use much anymore. We’ve probably subbed it out for related terms. I find it comforting that the Bible gives us room to feel raw emotion. It might even be sacred to have such a raw expression.

Beastie Boys and Discipleship

Yesterday, Ginger took our kids to a bargain store for some shopping and my oldest, Avery (daughter, 10) came home with a Beastie Boys shirt.

And all of heaven and earth rejoiced! And all of God’s people said, “Mmm drop!”

This morning, we were polishing off the typical Saturday morning donuts and listening to some of the great Beastie Boy hits when it hit me… “Uhhh, I need to skip a few of these songs, for now.”

Avery and Ezra’s entry into Beastie Boy songs needed to be slow; just a bit of sampling for now and we will move on to more songs after they realize more about the world around them.

A little bit for now, to get a start. Then more later.

I feel that it is the same way in Christian discipleship. The Christian life is equated to being born again, starting over, unlearning things, etc. One New Testament writer says that new Christians are like newborn babies who need milk in order to grow in their salvation. (see 1 Peter 2:1-3) One of the goals in the early stages of Christian discipleship is developing rhythms of steady growth that promotes sustainability and longevity in the faith.

Different Christian communities have different starting points for their new participants. Some may try to anchor a new believer into a storied tradition while another might emphasize personal Bible Study. Another might lead them to a contemplative life while another a life of social service. Christianity is a big tradition and we should trust that Christ is in the midst of all of it, even among its faults and discrepancies.

This early phase of discipleship is important, a lot of imprinting of what matters most is conceived during this time. We should take great care as we help our young ones with those first, initial steps.

Something to think about: if a brand new believer wanted to learn about Christ from you, what would you want to convey before anything else?

Feel free to comment below. It’d be fun to hear from you.

What Preachers Tell Us, Part 2… Brother Joe

The first pastor I remember was named Joe! Imagine that.

He was a young seminary graduate from Texas who served our family’s American Baptist Church in Norwich, KS. I remember my dad enjoying his thoughtful sermons and sincere approach to talking about the Christian faith.

He ministered at the church at about the time my dad wanted us to consider being baptized. My older brother Matt was baptized at the church. I wasn’t ready to be baptized, though. I was young at the time, so some of the details are a bit fuzzy, but I remember Pastor Joe not pressing the issue. Which I have come to find to be unique for a Baptist (no slight, there… because you Baptists know that you can be a bit aggressive on yearly baptism counts).

He taught me something with his patience: the life of faith has a schedule of its own, that God governs and directs. We can’t make God turn up. Wonky and weird things happen when we try to do so.

There is a tension in the Christian life. On the one hand, we are told to never lack in spiritual zeal. (Romans 12:11) We should be eager to make the most of every opportunity. (Ephesians 5:16) On the other hand, anything that happens in the Christian life is inspired by God’s Spirit, for we cannot even call Jesus “Lord” without the Spirit’s enabling. (1 Cor. 12:3)

Pastor Joe showed me the first example of what it means to be “led by the Spirit,” even if it meant suggesting that it wasn’t my moment for baptism. It was a risky response by Brother Joe: what if it made me feel guilty about “not being ready” for God, leading me to resent faith leaders for their heavy-handed decisions?

One of the hardest things to do as a leader is to say “no” when it is easy to say “yes” in order to placate or to please. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve learned that being a pastor gives me a chance to give people permission to seek healing, hope, change, and transformation. At times, it’s also important to say “no.”

I heard a quotation by Chris Liddell, about what it takes to be a CFO,

Essentially, you need to be miserable, you need to be the sort of person who takes drinks away from people at the end of a party.

To lead, to be a pastor, takes some guts and to have a bit of grace-shaped “misery,” if you will. It’s to learn how to say “no” like an affectionate parent, at times.

That’s what Pastor Joe taught me.

What Preachers Tell Us… Intro

On Podcast episode 660 of NPR’s This American Life, author Shalom Auslander shared a true story called “The Blessing Bee.” As Auslander mentioned peculiar points of reference concerning his rabbinical training, he repeated a refrain that went something like this,

“Rabbi _______ told us,

That the Sages tell us,

That the Torah tells us…”

Auslander repeated this refrain effortlessly each time he retrieved a piece of information from his religious knowledge bank. It was like a stand-in disclaimer to any claim that he sought to make. And I thought it was compelling because it illustrated how a Rabbi is responsible for a vast ecosystem of religious thought and practice. Not only are they asked to be familiar with the Scripture text (Torah), but also with a panorama of thought and commentary about that text (Sages). This is a hyperawareness of religious thought and conversation. And it amazed me to consider it.

Perhaps my infatuation with Auslander’s story is shaped by my own. I’m a minister at a Christian church and am given the task to preach weekly sermons from the Scripture text and I often retrieve ideas from the Sages who have taught on it before me. I’ve been amazed, over the years, at the response from my sermons. I have Auslander’s story in mind when I am called someone’s “preacher.” Sometimes, I get to hear a response to my sermons and find that, on occasion, some folks thank me for some piece of information “in the sermon” that I did not say. I’ve also had people sleep through my sermons and tell me how much they loved it on the way out the door. Whereas Auslander’s rabbinical training required hyperawareness, it seems that the sermon can engender a type of hyperunawareness.

Having been a Christian for 20 years now and a minister for 15 years, I guess I am having one of those moments when I ask, “What is it all worth?” For there will be occasions when a church member of mine will be in a religious discussion, and they might say,

“My Preacher told us,

That the Sages tell us,

That the Bible tells us…”

I guess I’m eager to be more clear on what I’d want my people to say in those moments.

So, for a few blog posts, I want to talk about what each preacher from my life has taught me and then do a series of posts about what I’d like to be clear about for those who might call me their “preacher.”

Especially for Avery and Ezra who will have to juggle twin ideas about me for the rest of their lives: “dad” and “my preacher.”