Thursday, August 31, 2006


In one of Madeline L'Engle's books, a young person asks why God did (or didn't do) thus and such. An older friend doesn't answer the question, but makes the observation that "When I ask God 'why', what I usually mean is 'I want you to do it my way.'" I guess that's usually what I mean, too. Sometimes, though, I just wonder how it was that I got so lucky. I guess the correct word is "blessed" but in any case, I have eyes that see, a body that moves, a loving family, satisfying and meaningful work to do, food to eat, a sense of who I am and what I'm doing here, and when I die, the promise of sharing eternity with a loving living God. How did it happen? Why did this come to me? It's certainly not because I deserve it.

But most of the time, for me and for most of us, "Why" means we're not satisfied with how God is running the world.

For the past several days, the Old Testament readings in the One Year Bible have included some chapters from Job. The book of Job has magnificent poetry and beautiful imagery. It also has some ugly, pious-sounding nonsense from Job's three friends, who basically blame Job for his suffering. Job wants to meet God face to face to make his complaints. Then Elihu speaks up and tells Job this is impossible: "Now no one can look at the sun" (Job 37.21)

Elihu says a little more, and then in chapter 38, God appears:
"Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.

"Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? ..."

Job 38.2-5
So I guess the point is that we are not qualified to judge how God is running things because we don't even understand the physical universe; it's not under our control.

We understand a lot more about the universe today than we did, say, in the 1970s, and technology has advanced astonishingly. But we are still impotent in the face of earthquakes and tsunamis and hurricanes. We like to think that we're in control, master of our own fates, captains of our own souls. But this is, as Henry Ford said, "bunk."

Which is a humbling thing. I want to feel like I know where I'm going, and why I think and feel the way I do.

In fact I don't know any of that, but I do know someone who does. Not only does he know, he also cares deeply. And, like the song says, "He's got the whole world in his hands."

And that's good news for me today.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Mixed motives; ideals

This morning, I missed my train by about 15 seconds. That is, if the car in front of me had gotten to the intersection 15 seconds earlier, it would not have stopped for the crossing-gate arm (is that what we call "kai-satsu guchi" in Japan, or was that the word for "wicket"?) and I would have boarded the earlier train. Instead, I had a few extra minutes to pick up the paper (hey, my letter to the editor was printed this morning!) and write a few extra paragraphs here.

Today's reading in 2 Corinthians 4 has this great verse, which I have a hard time implementing consistently in my life:
We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. (2 Corinthians 4.5)
If you know me and think I'm a helpful and generous guy, you might be surprised by this confession. So yeah, I want to be helpful and generous, I want to serve, I want to give glory to God. But I also want to be liked and respected, I want to be seen as being helpful and generous and spiritual, and so on.

Because I have mixed motives, it's sometimes hard for me to tell why I'm doing any particular thing. It may actually be impossible in the general case, because my motives are probably mixed most if not all of the time.

What can I do about it? Try to follow God, I guess, and ask him to help me to do the right things for the right reasons.

A couple of verses later, Paul gives us the "clay pot" analogy. I think Ray Stedman preached a sermon on this passage titled "Your Pot - His Power" or something like this. The treasure he's talking about here is the light of God shining in our hearts:
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. (2 Corinthians 4.7-10)
A few days ago I wrote about the idea of rejoicing always, and always abounding in the Lord's work (both are quotes from Paul by the way), etc. How can we combine those ideas with the reality described here? Haven't you felt like this at times -- hard pressed, perplexed, etc.?

So here's a thought. I don't know if it's right, and I hope this doesn't get me excommunicated or burned at the stake or whatever. I think that when Paul says "Rejoice in the Lord always" I think he's giving us something to aim for. By aiming at it, we'll get closer than if we didn't aim at it.

This brings to mind something Jim Fallows said in More Like Us: that in the US we have myths: racial equality, fairness and integrity of the court system, anybody can grow up to become President, this sort of thing. And that because we think these should be true, these are closer to actually being true than they would be otherwise. And maybe these are closer to being true here in the US than they are anywhere in the world.

But unlike American myths, the ideal Paul describes here has a guarantee behind it. From chapter 1:
Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (2 Corinthians 1.21-22)
A guarantee from God himself. I like it.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Transformation - sounds good!

Today's reading, from 2 Corinthians 3, is a great promise for those of us who belong to Jesus. Paul has just described how, in spite of disappointments, he is "the fragrance of life" among those being saved, and that the lives and hearts of the Corinthians are in effect "a letter from Christ," showing the results of Paul's ministry to them. Sounds pretty bold, doesn't it?
Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant--not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
2 Corinthians 3.4-6
The bold claim, in other words, is because the power of God has made him competent (or "adequate" as another translation puts it) for his role, his position in the kingdom.

Paul also talks about "the letter" i.e., the letter of the law. Paul was an expert in the minutiae of the Jewish Law. He had spent his life studying it and becoming an authority on all those details. And yet in Acts 9 we saw how he made a complete turnaround, which I think is a wonderful thing. Although there can be great resistance to changing one's path in life -- after such a huge investment! -- there is yet the possibility that God will overcome that resistance and work a miracle. Some people find Christ, or rather are found by him, in their 70s or later. And that's very good news.

And what's this about the letter killing? Here is what I think it means. If I focus my attention on minutiae, on following this or that practice exactly, there'll be a great temptation to feel good about myself -- and to think that God loves and approves of me -- just because of the accuracy, the completeness of my adherence "to the letter." And if I think God approves of me based on that sort of action, well, there's a kind of death in that. My ability to respond with mercy could be impaired; I'll be somewhat deadened (if not dead altogether) to compassion and kindness, because of obsessing on the letter.

This is something that we have to watch out for even today. If I feel good about myself, if I believe God thinks I'm OK because I read the Bible regularly, or pray or whatever, then I'm indulging in deathly thoughts, killing thoughts.

When he says that the Spirit gives life, what does that mean but that the Spirit gives us the antidote to this deadly way of thinking? The Spirit is himself the antidote because he lives inside us, and the Spirit also tells us when we need to think differently.

So, do we forget about studying the Bible and just listen to the Spirit? How do we know we're not just listening to our own thoughts, or to some other spirit?

The answers are No; and It's hard to tell.

The problem isn't in studying the Bible -- even the Law. The problem rather is in focusing on procedures and minutiae. So if as we study the Bible, we keep in view the thought that God wants to transform us, and that any actions are only tools in service of that goal, then I think we'll do well. And we can ask the Spirit to help us stay on track, to show us how God wants to transform us, and to remind us that it's all about how God transforms and uses me, not about how I earn something.

As far as how we know we're not just listening to our own thoughts -- well, a good first step would be to check out what we think we hear vs what the Bible says - hence we need at least some knowledge of the Bible. I hesitate to mention this, because it seems so obvious -- yet I have heard of people who say the Spirit told them to get a divorce and move to another city to pursue a better career, and who went ahead and did it!

So we need some knowledge of the Bible, but we mustn't think we're better than someone else if we know more about it (or vice versa). We need to be transformed by God, and some of that is through the Bible and through the Spirit. And when we turn to the Lord (3.16) things become clearer and we can get closer to God.

Sounds pretty good to me! Amen?

Monday, August 28, 2006


You know how once in a while you see a typo that may contain a bit of truth - Freudian in other words? Well, here's one from the cover of Communications of the ACM. ACM is the Association for Computing Machinery.

Global Sotware Piracy image, 6/2006 cover

I sent a short letter to the ACM folks, including this paragraph:
It brought to mind the thought that some users may curse software developers, calling them a bunch of drunken addled sots (to which some might reply, "I am NOT addled!"), [but] I have to think this was unintentional....
Well, you already knew I was a smart-aleck, didn't you?

Paul's feelings aren't mathematical...

When you think of the Apostle Paul, what words come to mind? Zeal? Authority? Energy? That's what usually comes to my mind. But how about "love"?

In a seminar I attended some years ago, the speaker said that Paul was the apostle characterized by his great love. Or something like that. That came to mind when I read this from 2 Corinthians this morning:
Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said good-by to them and went on to Macedonia.
2 Corinthians 2.12-13
Does that strike you as surprising? Here's the great preacher of the gospel, coming into Troas to preach the gospel.

He finds that "the Lord had opened a door" for him.

Then he takes off for Macedonia! But why? Because he can't find his buddy Titus!

Why didn't he just entrust Titus to God, and take advantage of the door the Lord had opened? Doesn't he know that these people need to hear about Jesus? Is this the same guy who wrote "But how will they hear unless someone preaches to them"?

Here's what I think: Paul was a human being, not a gospel-preaching machine. He had feelings -- real feelings, not just feelings he put on in order to convince people to to be reconciled to Christ. And those feelings weren't mathematical; just because there were hundreds here versus thousands there, that didn't mean that he would necessarily feel more about the thousands.

In this case, we have hundreds or thousands in Troas, versus "my brother Titus", and his desire to find Titus won out.

Is this bad? I don't think so.

Feelings aren't mathematical. Somehow I get the feeling God isn't mathematical in this way either.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

But that doesn't mean the verse is wrong....

Interpreting the Bible is, as my friend Carl says, "not for sissies." (He was talking about something else at the time, but I loved his phrase so I stole it.) Today's reading from the Proverbs gives us, well, an interesting example. Chapter 22, verse 6 reads:
Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.
About this time last year, a conference speaker asked us "How many of you know of a child that was trained up in the way he should go, but who did depart from it?" It wasn't just a few hands that went up.

I heard of a couple who raised her children in the church, and they didn't turn out as hoped. This doesn't mean the verse is wrong. The first thing of course is that this is a proverb, not a theorem. It's not mathematical; it describes some general principles that work out to be true a lot of the time. In other words, the race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but that is the smart way to bet. So this is a general principle or trend, not an iron-clad guarantee.

The other thing is: how were the kids raised, really? Were they raised to glorify God and enjoy him forever, as the Westminster shorter catechism says? Was this modeled for them? In other words, did the parents' lives reflect that? Did they have generous spirits like Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 9? Did they rejoice in God's abundant goodness as so many characters in the Bible did? Did they smile at the future like the wife of noble character in Proverbs 31? Did they abound in the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15)?

I know, I know, nobody does that 100% of the time, but what were they like most of the time?

Well, this line of thinking was completely alien to them. They lived through the great depression, which profoundly affected their views about money. Their vocabulary was about duty and prudence, rather than about abundance and joy.

Do I blame them for being that way? Well, a little. And I empathize with their perplexity about how their offspring turned out.

But I can't say the outcome was surprising.

... and something from my past

Another verse from today's reading (and I've been writing almost an hour now so I'm going to make this short): Job 23.12. "I have not departed from the command of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my necessary food."

At one point, inspired by this verse and by the example of a guy who discipled me, I decided that I should read the Bible before eating breakfast. Now the verse doesn't command that; it probably doesn't even mean that. But deciding to read before eating could be one way of applying it.

Some time later, I changed my mind about this. These days, in fact, I usually eat before reading. If I ride my bicycle to the train station, then it's a pain to eat breakfast on the train. But it's no problem to read on the train and write a few notes in my journal.

So I hope you don't think I'm a complete apostate for eating breakfast before reading the Bible, but that's what I do these days. It works well for me.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

"the sentence of death": to be avoided?

So the Apostle Paul writes about tough times in 2 Corinthians.
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.
2 Corinthians 1.8-9
When I read this passage, I have two thoughts. One is that it's really good to rely on God rather than ourselves. Don't the proverbs say, He who trusts in himself is a fool?

But the other one is this: for Paul and Timothy (see 1.1) to make this change - viz., from relying on themselves to relying upon God instead - they had to suffer hardships. And I'm not really into hardships. I mean, this "sentence of death" thing doesn't sound so good. I don't like the sound of "far beyond our ability to endure," and "despaired even of life." Where do I opt out of that?

OK, I'm not 100% serious. I mean, given the choice of a long, meaningless life where I fade into oblivion, versus a shorter life, albeit one filled with adventure and learning and greatness -- it's obvious which is the better option, isn't it?

Or is it? How do I arrange my life? I have car insurance, life insurance, homeowners insurance, earthquake insurance, a 401(k) account, an IRA, 529 college savings accounts for the kids. Our cars have airbags and we always wear our seatbelts.

As you can tell, I have some cognitive dissonance between what I say I think is important versus how I live. I'm a little concerned about this. I don't feel in dire straits, though, because we serve and give and pray and worship and fellowship.

It's a hard thing to figure out, because at my age I often feel that lifestyle is all about sustainability. Some guys work out 30-60-90 minutes... and quit after a month. So I swim once a week, ride my bike sometimes, and work out 10 minutes 2-3 times a week. It's not as much as some people say we should do, but I can keep on doing this for years.

Because I don't want to quit. In the words of the song,
O let me never never
Outlive my love for thee
from O Sacred Head, now Wounded
Many have quit over the years -- starting at least in John 6, as Dr. Dan writes on his site

So it's not easy. I don't think it's totally silly to think in terms of sustainable discipleship, but I don't want to end up pursuing the "long but meaningless" life I mentioned above.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Pass the Plate?

What do you think of the business of taking collections weekly at worship services? Today's reading doesn't exactly say, "Don't do it," but it certainly suggests another model:
Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.
1 Corinthians 16:1-2
Paul seems to recommend that each individual set aside some amount of money and then offering it for special needs; he doesn't seem to be addressing regular, ongoing support of religious professionals. Jesus Christ himself said, "the laborer is worthy of his wages" (Luke 10) and Paul said, "those who preach the gospel should receive a living from the gospel" (1 Corinthians 9).

But notice how practical Paul is: set aside something from your income each week. I'm going to guess (I'm on the train and not near any reference materials) that many people were paid weekly -- or maybe daily -- in those days. These days, many of us are paid monthly, semimonthly, or biweekly -- but it's eminently practical to set aside some money from the paycheck to give. Whether to a local congregation to support the staff (pastors, faciities people, secretaries, et al), to missions, to relief and development in the name of Jesus -- it's a good idea.

I don't know how it is for you, but for me, the best thing to do after setting aside that money is to give it away before it burns a hole in my bank account and I spend it on something. We have a regular giving plan, which our bank makes very convenient. For example, there's a standing order to send some money to our local church after every paycheck and it just happens; we don't have to remember to write a check, find an envelope, etc. One mission agency just pulls money from our account monthly.

This plan isn't for everyone -- if these things feel like just another pile of bills, then you don't get the experience of giving, you may not remember to pray for them, etc.

But for me, it's very important that the money get to the church and to mission and relief and development workers around the world. The way I figure it, it's better to pay very regularly and pray sporadically than to pay irregularly and pray somewhat less sporadically. Because let's face it, if I had to write a check, find a stamp and envelope and the little forms they always ask you to send to them (etc), that wouldn't guarantee that I'd pray more for these guys.

Is that my lack of faith, an unhealthy preoccupation with the practical? Or is it rather an acknowledgement of my own limitations (as the theologian/philosopher Clint Eastwood said, "A man's gotta know his own limitations")? I like to think it's the latter, but I know my heart is deceitful.

It's good to depend on God. It's good to have the experience of giving, and for it not to feel like another bunch of bills. But it's also good for missionaries (some of whom I know personally) to get a regular paycheck.

Imperfect world, imperfect solutions. May the Lord lead each of us to a way that's good and that pleases Him.

actually posted 2007-07-31

Making donations

So today's readings include 1 Corinthians 16, which opens with this advice on giving:
Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem.
1 Corinthians 16.1-3
I don't know how many times I've read these verses, yet this morning I saw something new. (Or maybe I saw it before and just forgot -- an advantage of getting older?)

Here it is. Paul is not talking about giving to our local congregations. This is talking about getting together a pot of money to send to Jerusalem, so they won't have to "pass the hat" when Paul comes to visit. Paul volunteers to go with them "[i]f it seems advisable."

In other words, this is talking about regular giving for relief and missions.

So at the bottom of this posting I'll write something about why giving is so important, but if you already believe in giving, here's something practical that we have done at our house. What we've found is that any money left in the checkbook will get spent. It just disappears. In other words, ff I think we'll give what's left at the end of the pay period, we won't give anything.

So what we do instead is this: we have automatic donations.
We've authorized some mission agencies to automatically take a fixed amount from our checking account monthly. These are scheduled in Quicken® so they don't come as a surprise. The checkbook balance reflects the withdrawls, so for most purposes the money is "already gone" so we don't spend it. Some of our giving is via credit card. Why is that? Maybe because it's easier to keep track of that way. And for some other charities, we have our bank send a check every pay period (they don't charge us for this).

So this scheme has both pluses and minuses. The plus side is we plan our giving and we can tell at the beginning of the year how much we're giving to whom. We don't forget to send checks, so that relief agencies, missionaries, etc., aren't subjected to our forgetfulness.

The minus side is that with giving on autopilot, we don't have the same experience of giving on a regular basis -- reading about some situation somewhere, for example, and deciding to send a special gift. Well, we do sometimes, but it's "special" and so by definition it's not usual or regular.

About the "why" of giving

Why is giving important? Of course it's important for whoever is receiving it -- whether it's
  • a starving child or
  • a spiritual mentor trying to help leaders grow while feeding a family or
  • a missionary on a shoestring budget or
  • a village drilling a well or
  • a church planter trying to feed the family while starting a church.
But it's also important for the giver.

The problem that I have, anyway, is that I feel money has too much power in my life. I worry too much about it. It's like an idol, or would become one if I let it.

How to break the power of the idol? How were physical idols broken in Old Testament (pre-exile) times? They would physically break them into pieces, grind them into powder, burn them, scatter their ashes, etc., thus rendering worship impossible. To break the power of money today, we can assert our power over it by giving it away and using it for the kinds of things God is concerned about (the above is just a partial list of course).

Thursday, August 24, 2006

I'd rather die first

I don't know what to make of this:
Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?
1 Corinthians 15.28-29
This idea of being baptized for the dead is mentioned nowhere else in the New Testament. The idea means something; it doesn't mean nothing. But what that something is... well, I sure don't know.

But some groups claim to know. One such group, a respectable cult, says that if someone -- an ancestor, say -- dies without joining their religion, then you can be baptized for the ancestor later, after they're dead, and it will be as if that ancestor did join their religion.

One day, people from this cult came to my friend's door. He asked them about this idea of joining their religion after he was dead. Yes, these "evangelists" said, his descendants could later be baptized for him, and it would be as if he had joined up with them now. He then told them that he'd prefer to join their religion after he was dead, or, more colorfully, "I'd rather die first."

But, kidding aside, I wonder if we christians, like some of these cults, put too much emphasis on what happens after we die. Jesus didn't talk all that much about that; most of what he said had to do with how to live here and now. I took another look at Donald Miller's Searching for God Knows What last night, and read the part where he summarizes the gospel. He points out that becoming a Christian is more like getting married than it is like baking cookies. (Take a look at a typical gospel tract from the late 20th century -- it has 4 or 5 theological points, and a 2- or 3-step action plan.)

Of course any old cult can take a cookie recipe and tweak it -- which is part of why cults have been so successful in the past 50 years. Think "spiritual counterfeits".

What's the alternative? I'm working on it.

Meanwhile, though, I need to follow Jesus while I'm still alive, here and now.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Good news, then and now

The Apostle Paul kicks off 1 Corinthians 15 by reminding them of "the gospel I preached to you," and that this is the good news by which they were saved. (By the way, "gospel" simply means "good news.")
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the twelve. After that, he appeared to more than 500 of the brothers at the same time.... Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also....
1 Corinthians 15.3-8
I find this really interesting but also a little puzzling. It's interesting because to me it's very good news that Jesus rose from the dead and was seen by 500 people and by the twelve, etc. As a 20th century kind of guy, it's important to me to have a solid starting point -- the resurrected Christ -- upon which everything else stands. Because if Jesus indeed rose from the dead on the 3rd day (that is, the first Easter) as he predicted, then everything else he said pretty much has to be true. I mean, it would be just dumb in my view not to believe him. He predicted his death and resurrection and that all came true, so everything else he said is more trustworthy than anything any college professor ever said.

So that's why the resurrection, and its witnesses, are good news to me. But they're not the essence of what I consider the good news to be. The resurrection provides evidence that backs up what I consider the real good news, which Jesus summarized like this in Mark chapter 1: "The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand." (Mark 1.15) Our long wait is over, and the kingdom of God, a kingdom of kindness and justice and righteousness, is coming into this sorry, dark world. And not just into the world out there, but also into your life and mine.

So as a 20th century kind of guy (yes, I know we're in the 21st century, but most of my life was lived in the 20th) the resurrection is very important. But why would it be important to these 1st-century Corinthians? Were they a lot more focused upon the resurrection, on the question of "What happens to me after I die?" than we are today?

Let me read a little further... ah-HA! Now I see it: ... how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? (15.12). Okay, so some were saying there wasn't a resurrection. And, Paul goes on, if there's no resurrection, then not even Christ was resurrected, and so Paul and the others have been lying. And if they were lying about that, then couldn't everything else be a lie too?

I guess this is why Paul says in verse 19, "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are above all men to be pitied." Not by the fact itself, but because of the implications -- viz., that the whole gospel is suspect.

OK, I guess that makes sense. Because many people today might turn verse 19 on its head:
If Jesus only makes a difference after I die, why is it good news before I die?
21st century people are interested in the here and now, and after reading this I think the Corinthians weren't necessarily different. The good news of Mark 1.15 isn't fundamentally different to the Corinthians in the 1st century or to us in the 21st, but the things we focus on to get there, to invite people to consider the gospel, are probably different.

What should those things be? When I figure it out, I'll let you know.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Languages of men or of angels... and what they're good for

The first time I can recall hearing about "tongues" was an article in Psychology Today talking about glossolalia, which at the time I found odd.

Then some years later, after meeting Jesus and starting to follow him, I read about the concept of "tongues" in Acts 2, 1 Corinthians 14, etc., but I didn't get the point of it. Then one day I went to a worship service where a bunch of people started talking at once, and I couldn't understand what they were saying. They seemed to me to be babbling. Or, as Paul says, Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. (1 Corinthians 14.9)

Later on in that same chapter, Paul says
What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two--or at the most three--should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.
1 Corinthians 14.26-28
I don't have much experience with "tongues" -- I've only heard "tongues" once, and I've never heard them interpreted, as Paul prescribes. My experience and initial thought was like this:
So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?
1 Corinthians 14.23
I wasn't an unbeliever, but I didn't understand what these people were saying. I don't think they were out of their minds, but it does seem to me that they were not obeying verse 28: If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet....

Speaking of keeping quiet, today's Old Testament reading, from the book of Job, shows one guy who should have thought some more before speaking. In yesterday's posting I mentioned that Satan had attacked Job, destroying his property, killing his children, and ruining his health. Job's three friends visited him and heard his lament. In chapter 4, Eliphaz says to him:
"Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed? As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it.
Job 4.7
What a thing to say! Why do people say things like that? "You've been plowing evil and sowing trouble -- that's why you're in trouble now."

Okay, so sometimes people sow evil and reap it, like the guy who held up a convenience store and then demanded a carton of cigarettes from behind the counter. The cashier said, "I gotta see some ID before I give you any cigarettes, man," then memorized the criminal's name and address before handing him the cigarettes.

But that's only sometimes! A boy and girl meet in Bible school, for goodness's sake, seek counsel, pray, get married, have children, and then one day one of them leaves the family, moves in with a same-sex lover, and some months later commits suicide. The children and ex-spouse are devastated. Who sowed trouble or plowed evil? Nobody did!

The truth is that life is unpredictable, and not one of is adequate to meet its challenges without God.

Monday, August 21, 2006

A strange battle

The book of Job begins with a description of a very strange conversation between God and Satan. God brags about his servant Job, who he says is "blameless and upright, fearing God and turning away from evil." Now there's a characterization I'd love to be worthy of myself. Wouldn't you? Imagine God talking about you, telling someone that you're blameless and upright, fearing God and turning away from evil. How cool would that be? Job certainly seems to fit into the "example to follow" category!

But the trouble for Job is that God then gives Satan permission to attack Job's riches -- and this includes killing his children! This is a heck of a way to settle the argument they're having.

There's another cycle, where Satan gets permission to attack Job bodily (but not as far as killing him). Job is afflicted "with painful sores from the soles of his feeet to the top of his head." This is too much for Job's wife.
His wife said to him, "Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!"

He replied, "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept god from God, and not trouble?"

In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

Job 2.9-10
What a frustrating and painful time this must have been for her, to say something like that! Maybe it was worse for her than it was for him.

Job is clearly annoyed, but he doesn't say she's silly. He says she's talking "like a foolish woman." He strikes me as a careful man.

an example to follow indeed.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Love bears all things, believes all things, ...

A man was accused of committing a violent crime, and everybody said he did it. Everybody except the man and his sister. (Even his mother believed the police, instead of believing her son.) This was in a movie, but I could easily imagine its happening in reality. In the movie, the truth comes out, the man is exonerated, his sister is vindicated, etc.

That movie was an example to me of the kind of love the Apostle Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 13. Unfortunately, the wording in the Revised Standard Version isn't all that clear:
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1 Corinthians 13.7 (RSV)
Some years ago I had the good fortune to discover The New Testament in Modern English by J.B. Phillips (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1960), which renders this verse
Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything.
I think it was after I read Phillips's version that I was able to make sense of "believes all things" -- and to tie it into that movie I saw however many years ago.

Thus, even a made-for-TV movie can illustrate a point from the Bible. I think that's pretty cool.

But all this up a question: How do you decide who to love, who to trust, who to believe? Children and parents for example -- a child is accused of something, or a child "discovers" a secret about his parents. How can the parent, or the child, decide whether to hope...? If a parent believes the teacher or the police report instead of the child, does that mean there's no love, or not enough? If a child believes the newspaper or the police report instead of his parents, does that mean he's not loving them?

A woman sees evidence suggesting that her husband is having an affair. What does it mean? How can she decide what the truth is? In Shall We Dance? she hires a private detective. In one of those Tom Clancy novels (was it The Sum of all Fears?) she finds out some other way. In those cases, the guy is innocent of any wrongdoing, but he is keeping secrets. But in the general case, what do we do?

Here's what I think. I think I have to pray, I have to ask myself what I know about my loved one, and I have to believe one way or the other.

My belief may turn out to be correct or mistaken, but the good news is that the world won't come to an end if I'm mistaken. God knows the truth, and he's not surprised or shocked by what I believe (or don't). Go with it, and go from there, I guess.

But if I usually believe the "evidence", or believe others, instead of believing my loved one, that may be some indication of how much I love (or don't love) them.

Here's something else I think: God believes in me, and he believes in you. He believes that we can repent of some dangerous or disastrous path we've embarked on, that we can choose to follow him, that we can grow, that we can do good. And we should believe that if we seek him we'll find him.

'cause that's the truth.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

No mystery here...

I seem to remember hearing that somebody objected to including the book of Esther in the Bible, because nowhere in the text do we see "God" or "the Lord". But today's reading shows God in action more clearly than a simple mention of his name ever would.

Here's the setting. At the request of Haman (his chief of staff), King Xerxes has authorized the destruction of the Jews throughout his kingdom, and Esther's cousin Mordecai tells her to go to the king to plead for their future. This is against the law, and unless the king extends his scepter, Esther is subject to the death penalty. So she tells Mordecai:
"Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish."
Esther 4.16
She goes to the king, and he extends the scepter.

There's an answer to prayer if I ever saw one. The text says "fast" but obviously the element of prayer is there as well. And here's another sign of God's involvement here. Back in chapter 2...
During the time Mordecai was sitting at the king's gate, Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king's officers who guarded the doorway, became angry and conspired to assassinate King Xerxes. But Mordecai found out about the plot and told Queen Esther, who in turn reported it to the king, giving credit to Mordecai. And when the report was investigated and found to be true, the two officials were hanged on a gallows. All this was recorded in the book of the annals in the presence of the king.
Esther 2.21-23
Fast forward now to the day the king extends the scepter to Esther.

Haman wants to hang Mordecai, so he has a gallows built, 75 feet high. He plans to ask the king the next morning for permission to hang Mordecai on it. But unbeknownst to Haman...
That night the king could not sleep; so he ordered the book of the chronicles, the record of his reign, to be brought in and read to him. It was found recorded there that Mordecai had exposed Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king's officers who guarded the doorway, who had conspired to assassinate King Xerxes. "What honor and recognition has Mordecai received for this?" the king asked.

"Nothing has been done for him," his attendants answered.

Esther 6.1-3
Then, as Haman is coming in to ask the king's permission, the king orders him to honor Mordecai.

Now how could this have been a coincidence? The king hears about the incident (where Mordecai saved his life) on the very night before Haman wants to hang Mordecai -- but not on any nights before that. To most of this book's readers throughout history, the message would have been obvious: This is no random coincidence, but there is Someone pulling strings and making things happen.

The rest of the story? You can guess that God manages to save the Jewish people - but that's not in today's reading.

So there's no mystery here really -- God is definitely there. I may have read that once, but now I see it for myself....

Friday, August 18, 2006

Errors to avoid...

The book of Esther begins with a banquet given by a powerful king, Xerxes, who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush (Egypt) (Esther 1.1). This banquet was for military leaders, princes, etc. For a full 180 days he displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty. When these days were over, the king gave a banquet, lasting seven days, in the enclosed garden of the king's palace, for all the people from the least to the greatest, who were in the citadel of Susa. (Esther 1.4-5)

The chronicler goes on to describe the excesses of this banquet, one of several Errors made by this king, which we do well to avoid.

OK, I don't know if I mentioned this earlier, but some years ago there was a message about five things to look for when reading a Bible passage. I don't remember the original order of the five things, because I immediately reordered them so I could remember 'em using the acronym SCENE. OK, so is there:
  • a Sin to forsake,
  • a Command to obey,
  • an Example to follow,
  • a New thought about God himself, or
  • an Error to avoid?
Even a guy like me, with no poetic sense at all, can tell that's not in the right order, but the main thing is to look for some of these things.

Anyway, chapter 1 of Esther is full of these errors. The first is the error of excess:
There were couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl and other costly stones. Wine was served in goblets of gold, each one different from the other, and the royal wine was abundant, in keeping with the king's liberality. By the king's command each guest was allowed to drink in his own way, [i.e., drink as much as he wanted -collin] for the king instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man what he wished.
Esther 1.6-8
Now that is excessive.

Today, though, we don't have things like that. Or do we? There were some lavish employee parties here in Silicon Valley during the tech bubble. And sometimes we hear about lavish birthday parties for kids, with professional entertainers and this sort of thing. What's that about? Here's my shot at it: the king (the CEO, the parent) wants to show off how rich and powerful he is. "My kingdom (company, kid) is better than yours is." Vanity and conceit, in other words.

At the end of the banquet, the king summons Queen Vashti to this gathering of rowdy, drunken men. This is another error committed by the king: Trying to exercise power while drunk.

What's this mean today? Driving while under the influence: very bad idea. Coding while under the influence: Also bad, but probably not that bad. Composing email or sending text messages while...: Almost as bad as coding while under the influence. Just a bad idea.

Next, the king decides to banish the queen. Gaaaa! Whether under the influence or not, this is just dumb. And for no good reason! It's about 4 years later when Esther is chosen as the new queen. Blech!

Now let me switch to Haman, the king's chief of staff, who we meet in chapter 3.
All the royal officials at the king's gate knelt down and paid honor to Haman, for the king had commanded this concerning him. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor.
When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor, he was enraged. Yet having learned who Mordecai's people were, he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai's people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes.
Esther 3.2, 5-6
On one hand, I feel like this guy is just beyond stooopid. And really he is, for demanding that people kneel down, and for wanting to commit genocide.

But when people don't show me the respect I think I'm due... does that bother me? A little, maybe. More than it should.

May God help me to take less offense at that.

posted 8/19

Thursday, August 17, 2006

what the commentaries said about hair

So I looked at the Wycliffe Bible Commentary and the New Bible Commentary Revised, and they basically said that women have longer hair. Thus the nature of things is... for women to accept this added hair length as the nature of things.


Was I ever surprised to read this...

It was over 20 years ago that one of my then-roommates told me that Nehemiah ...rebuked them and called curses down on them. I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair. (Nehemiah 13.25)

I'm not sure that this is a good example to you and me to follow today, but it certainly showed the man's zeal. This was a guy who, as cupbearer (or wine-taster) to the king, asked the king to change his foreign policy regarding Jerusalem, to send Nehemiah to carry out this change, to pay for supplies to reconstruct the walls, etc. (Nehemiah 2.3-2.8)

Later, when he goes to Jerusalem and finds that some of his fellow Jews have exacted usury from other fellow Jews, he rebukes them (presumably without cursing and beating and hair-pulling):
I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, "You are exacting usury from your own countrymen!" So I called together a large meeting to deal with them and said: "As far as possible, we have bought back our Jewish brothers who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your brothers, only for them to be sold back to us!" They kept quiet, because they could find nothing to say. So I continued, "What you are doing is not right. Shouldn't you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let the exacting of usury stop! Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the usury you are charging them--the hundredth part of the money, grain, new wine and oil."

"We will give it back," they said. "And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say."

Nehemiah 5.7-12
Although the hair-pulling is probably not to be emulated today, I have to admire the man's persuasiveness.

A recent sermon on Nehemiah pointed out that Nehemiah was sold-out to a cause bigger than himself. Such a man is hard to resist, because so few care about anything besides themselves. It reminds me of a song by Steely Dan from the... '70s? about
Show business kids making movies of themselves
You know they don't give a $&#* about anybody else
Returning to the subject of hair for a moment (I'm fascinated by hair, probably because I'm losing some of mine), the New Testament reading for today is from 1 Corinthians 11. Ray Stedman said this chapter was about whether women should wear hats in church (somewhat tongue in cheek), but anyway it includes this puzzling section:
Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.
1 Corinthians 11.13-15
Does the nature of things teach me about hair? Sorry, but I don't get it.

But, as Sarah Sumner says in her excellent book on Men and Women in the Church (amazon), the verse means something; it doesn't mean nothing. I'm not yet sure what that is. Maybe I'll check out some commentaries. If I find out I'll let you know.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Near to the broken-hearted

Today's reading includes one of my favorite psalms. Here's an excerpt:
The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
  he delivers them from all their troubles.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
  and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
A righteous man may have many troubles,
  but the Lord delivers him from them all...
The Lord redeems his servants;
  no one will be condemned who takes refuge in him.
Psalm 34.17-19,22
The lovely Carol was reading this to me as I drove us to the "Y" this morning, and I asked her if she thought God was near the brokenhearted because they were calling out to him, or because he had pity on them and took the initiative himself.

She noticed that the part containing "brokenhearted" and "crushed in spirit" is surrounded by lines talking about the "righteous." Probably, she said, this parallelism means that he's talking about the righteous who are brokenhearted.

Good point. It's important to remember that the Bible has poetry in it, and Hebrew poetry at that. It doesn't seem to be mathematical.

Anyway, in answer to my question, I'm going to guess it's both, particularly after seeing the last line in the psalm -- that's the line that mentions those "who take refuge in him." Those who call on him, in other words.

But this makes me think about something in a George MacDonald novel -- I can't remember which one -- where a little girl is worried about her salvation. Her grandfather asks something like, "Didn't the preacher say that whoever calls on the Lord will be saved?"

And the little girl answers, "Aye, for the elect!" or something like this -- with the clear implication that she might not be. This makes the grandfather wonder about the Scottish theology he was raised with.

What the little girl didn't know, and what her grandfather didn't know how to explain, is that calling on the Lord is the proof that you are indeed among the "elect." Because calling on the Lord, calling him Lord, believing things about his character, aligning yourself with his purposes -- those are all parts of what it means to be righteous, to be in the elect.

And as for this particular psalm, I don't think I'm too far off to say that it applies here as well. If he truly is my Lord - Lord of my heart (in the words of the song), if I care about what he cares about (and care more and more about the things he cares about), if I believe in his goodness and put my life in his hands, if I call on him as Lord... then as the Bible says all over the place, I will be counted among the righteous and can claim their promises.

As can anyone.

Provided, of course, that they're among the elect. ← JUST KIDDING!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A little good news today

Shortly after meeting Jesus, I started memorizing Scripture verses. Some of the first ones I memorized were the "Beginning with Christ" pack, published by the Navigators. This was a set of five passages with titles like "Assurance of Answered Prayer" and so on. Today's readings included one of these verses, 1 Corinthians 10.13:
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
The title at the top of the card was "Assurance of Victory" if I recall correctly.

What does this say? I could read it as an accusation: whenever I've been tempted in the past and failed, I have no one to blame but myself. Or I could read it as a promise, as good news: Any future temptation need not be yielded to. It's God's promise, in other words, to look out for me and provide a way of escape -- and he'll show it to me if I but look.

Here's something important that I need to remember. The voice of the Lord is not filled with accusation leading to condemnation. There may be a reproof -- to help me grow, to train me in righteousness, to better equip me for the work he has prepared for me. But never a finger-wagging accusing condemnation. So we can take this verse as correcting any misapprehensions about "the devil made me do it" or "the temptation was too much to resist" -- but otherwise the way to think of this is as a promise for the future. The way of escape will be there -- guaranteed by God.

This is good news. Here's another piece of good news, from the psalms:
I sought the Lord , and he answered me; he delivered me from my fears.... This poor man called, and the Lord heard him, and delivered him out of all his troubles
Psalm 34.4,6
What's the requirement to be delivered from fears and troubles? Do we have to be perfect? No, but we do need to seek him and call to him.

Many can testify that calling and seeking don't mean that all troubles instantly vanish. So what does this passage mean? I think the key message is that the Lord knows and cares.

And a life spent knowing the Lord's care brings more consolation than a meaningless (if trouble-free) existence without him.

Monday, August 14, 2006

I'm not an evangelist, but sometimes I play one on TV...

This morning I was reading in 1 Corinthians 9 about the Apostle Paul:
And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast. Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.
1 Corinthians 9.14-17
I said to myself, "this man had the gift of evangelism" -- which is not my gift. I mean, I read this passage and I think, "That's not me at all."

On the other hand, if someone comes and asks, then I love talking about these things. And to tell the truth, sometimes I try to create that kind of situation. Some friends were deploring the idea of treating human beings as purely economic units. I had to ask -- what's the basis for saying that's wrong? I mean, I know why I say it's wrong, but why do you say it's wrong?

They didn't have much besides their feelings, and they asked my opinion. I told them that because we are created in God's image, we have infinite worth, so it's profane to treat humans in purely economic terms. That led to other things, like "On what do you base your expectations for your reward in the next life?" It was great.

But compelled? No. And I wasn't exactly preaching. Another time, some years earlier, I got roped into making some sort of presentation about our marriage relationship. Someone asked a very provocative question -- like whether the husband's role resembled God's role or something -- which led to a Bible study in our home. That was also great. I remember after one of our very enjoyable discussions, I said, "Makes me want to be a missionary!"

To which the older teen (who probably wasn't even a teen-ager at that point) said, "You are a missionary!"

But not an evangelist... though I play one at times.

Today, as I think about the apostle Paul and his gifts, and how different they are from mine, it strikes me what a wonderful thing it is that God made us all different, and that he uses us in different ways to expand his kingdom in this world.

posted 8/15

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Crisis? What crisis?

Today's reading, from 1 Corinthians 7, talks about living in "the present crisis," (7.26) and is based on insightful comments from the lovely Carol. But before that, I want to debunk something I've read many times about the word crisis.

According to various books and articles, the Chinese word for crisis consists of two ideographs, one meaning "danger" and the other meaning "opportunity". The author/consultant/guru typically interprets this as meaning there's danger but there's also an opportunity to do something Good. It's a place where you might create an inflection point or something, they say.

This all seemed reasonable to me until something happened: I moved to Japan and learned Japanese, and then one day I actually saw this word. Here it is: 危機. Sure enough, the first ideograph roughly means "danger" and the second word roughly means "opportunity" (or "machine," which is the first sense I had of the word).

But the plain and obvious meaning of this combination of "kanji" (as we say in Japan) is "chance of danger." It does not obviously say to me, "opportunity for an inflection point in a time of danger".

Allowing for the possibility that Chinese words or Chinese sensibilities may differ completely from their Japanese counterparts, my opinion is that some English-speaking author/guru/consultant simply misinterpreted the Asian word. This mistake was copied by others, and those copies were copied, and so on, in what my World Civ professor called "standardization of error" back in the 1970s. ("I wish you would remember that," he often said, and sure enough I did.)

OK, I just wanted to get that off my chest. Paul is talking about single young people:
Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for you to remain as you are. Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife.
1 Corinthians 7.26-27
Since trying to change your situation brings a lot of overhead, the overhead is best avoided. This next part is really interesting:
What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.
1 Corinthians 7.29-31
I asked the lovely and brilliant Carol what she made of this passage. Her take, roughly, was that we should keep in mind that any day could be our last.

Live, in other words, like we're aliens here on Earth (as in 1 Peter 2) because we're citizens of heaven (as in Philippians 3).

I'm not quite sure what to make of the list of particulars -- to live as though having no wife, as not mourning or rejoicing, etc., but here's one story that comes to mind:
Some couples, when they've made it financially, have their "dream house" built. According to one builder, these homes are on the whole a waste of time and money because the couples can't enjoy them; they get divorced instead.
I'm not quite sure why that story came to mind, but anyway there it was. I don't think Paul could be saying "Never rejoice or mourn!" because he says in Romans 12 to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep; in Philippians 4 and 1 Thessalonians 5 he says to rejoice (or be joyful) always.

But things get clearer when he talks about buying things and using the things of this world. We should keep in mind that whatever we've got, we've only got it for a short time; we're not taking it with us. Our pastor mentioned some weeks ago that when you're on vacation, staying in a rented room, you don't spend a lot of money decorating and improving it. The room isn't yours to keep; it's just temporary.

I'm not sure exactly what the crisis is, but the application is clear: to number our days, to face the fact that we're here for only a finite time -- a few decades more -- and to use those days well for things that we'll be happy about when we come to the end of them.

posted 8/14

Friday, August 11, 2006

What do I care what other people think? Well, I do care...

One of the reasons I love the Bible is that it is so realistic. Although we shouldn't care too much about what other people think and see, the Bible recognizes that we can't stop caring at least a little:

How great is your goodness,
which you have stored up for those who fear you,
which you bestow in the sight of men
on those who take refuge in you.

Psalm 31.19

Here is King David talking about the mountains of blessings God has in store for us, and how he blesses us with them "in the sight of men." So, why does David say that? And why does God do that?

Here's what I think. David says this because it's a nice thing to be vindicated by God in front of others. It was a great blessing in his life when God lifted him up, preserved his life, and made him famous in Israel. And he knows it'll be a comfort to generations yet unborn that God blesses his beloved (that's us) in front of others. David's faith is not a secret, private thing, but something that brings him blessing in a way others can see.

And I think God does that both because he wants us to also enjoy the blessing of receiving [other] blessings in front of others, and also because he likes showing his generosity and his blessings to humanity. In other words, it brings glory to God to bless us in front of others.

And luckily for me, God does not require someone to be strong or wise or perfect in order to bless him: But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (1 Corinthians 1.27)

Now what about the condition? He says he bestows these blessings "on those who take refuge in you." What does that mean? Here's my take on it. When we're in trouble, where do we seek comfort and reassurance? I'm sure you know of people who distract themselves with media or entertainment. You may know of people who glory in their past accomplishments or rejoice in their bank accounts (either literal or figurative). But if instead I rejoice in knowing that I'm a child of God, if I take comfort in knowing that my life is in the hands of a merciful and trustworthy and loving and just God, that his grace is sufficient for me... that's taking refuge in God. That brings glory to him too, especially when I can do it in the presence of others.

Which reminds me... there's another translation, probably the New American Standard Bible (NASB), which renders that verse
...which You bestow on those who take refuge in you in the sight of men.
I'm not sure it's better than the NIV, but it does provide that other slant.

And if I'm not willing to show others my faith, my identity as a child of God, it probably means there's something I need to change -- something I probably need help from God to do.

posted 8/14

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Missing the Point

About 11 o'clock this morning, the elder teen and I started a 3200-foot climb up Yosemite's "Four Mile Trail," and as we walked, we discussed a much more strenuous exercise -- that of updating the way we think about the gospel. What is the gospel, fundamentally? When I think about preaching it, one of the first things that comes to mind is the illustration that the Navigators call the "Bridge to Life" or the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association calls "Steps to Peace with God."

Perhaps you've seen it. There are minor variations, but essentially we have humanity on the left side of the page, God on the right, and between them is a chasm, representing the separation we experience from God because of our sin. The solution to this separation is Jesus Christ, who paid the penalty for our sin, and as a consequence, we can have eternity with God instead of spending it in hell.

I believe and agree with every statement there, but someone listening to the explanation might think that the main point of the gospel is that "You, too, can meet the minimum entrance requirements for heaven."

Now that is one point of the gospel, but it is not the main point of the gospel. It never has been the main point of the gospel, but I think for an earlier generation it was a point of great interest -- and so God used that interest to draw people's attention to the good news. I mean, the rest of the good news. Because it is good news to me to know where I'm going after I die.

But what about the rest? If life is hard, then you die, but then you get to go to heaven, the last part isn't exactly bad news -- but when Jesus talked about living the abundant life, I don't think he meant primarily "after you're dead."

I'll come back to this issue of focus in a minute, but let's take a look at 1 Corinthians 6, where the Apostle Paul takes on two significant issues with the church (i.e., the first century church at Corinth -- but it could just as well be the church in North America today). First, Paul doesn't think Christians should be suing each other:
If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? ...

The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?

1 Corinthians 6.1,7
Second, Paul is very concerned about sexual immorality in the church. He begins this by apparently quoting something they wrote him, and responding to it.
"Everything is permissible for me" -- but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible for me" -- but I will not be mastered by anything....

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.

1 Corinthians 6.12,18
Until a few minutes ago, it hadn't struck me how these were related, why they're presented together here in 1 Corinthians 6.

And then it hit me: I could have either of these problems easily, if I think the main point of the gospel is to keep me out of hell when I die (regardless of how I live before I die). Put another way, if I think the gospel is irrelevant until I'm actually dead, then it won't have much effect on my life.

If I have a dispute with a brother, why would I sue rather than settle? Well, if I thought the man really was a brother in Christ, it would mean, as Paul said, that we're defeated already because we're treating money as a higher priority than fellowship and grace. It would mean that being a member of the body of Christ didn't actually transform my life and attitudes.

How about the other issue? If my excuse for sexual misbehavior is that it's permissible (i.e., God won't strike me dead or send me to hell because of it), that shows that my attitudes haven't changed. My life hasn't been, as some consultants say, "repurposed" for Christ.

What's the cure? Let me take them in reverse order. First, for sexual immorality, we need to consider this:
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
1 Corinthians 6.19
Basically, part of the package of becoming a Christian is to say, "My life isn't my own; I belong to God" and to orient our lives that way. This is one of those things where God is easily pleased but never satisfied. You or I can make a good start in a few weeks or months, but it's taken me decades so far and I still need help from God every day.

And for lawsuits, Paul tells us basically to submit to binding arbitration. Basically, we (the saints) will judge the world, and this includes judging angels.
Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church!
1 Corinthians 6.4
To tell you the truth, I don't know how well this would work. Are we defeated already? May it not be!

posted 8/14

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Religion and Politics?

In 1 Corinthians 5, the apostle Paul writes:
What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? ... God will judge those outside [the church].
from 1 Corinthians 5.12-13
Here is one difference between Paul and any number of "Moral Majority" types, who want to reform society according to their religious preferences, whether Calvin in Geneva or the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Wait, Calvin? Yes, the author of The Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin, made it a crime in Geneva for a while to dance "wildly". I wonder what he would have thought about King David's dancing in 2 Samuel 6:16 ...when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.
Or, if you prefer, the difference between Jesus Christ and the theocratic (or despotic) impulses of fallen man.

Jesus himself said, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18.36), which stands in stark contrast to Muslim theology -- as shown not only by recent history (the aforementioned Taliban) and also some friends who have worked in the Muslim world for some decades.

Here's the thing. As it was explained to me, Islam teaches that perfection is possible in this world. All you have to do is remove all sources of temptation from before the eyes of man (and woman), and poof! No more sin!

It apparently makes no difference that this idea has never worked; there is no limit to man's stubbornness. Just ask the Pharoah who opposed Moses in Exodus.

Yet we pray, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." How do we reconcile that with "My kingdom is not of this world"?

Here's my take on it, which you've probably guessed by now.

As an American, I have opinions about what's good for the country long-term. Divorce tends to have disastrous impacts on the children. They tend to drop out from high school more than their peers do, their job choices are more limited, they have a higher incarceration rate, and so on -- all of which is bad for the long-term future of our country.

And the negative economic effects of divorce fall disproportionately on women, and since I have two sisters and two daughters I'm sensitive about that, too.

So as an American, I have big problems with a high divorce rate in our country, and hence with things I believe promote divorce.

So what do we do? Should we outlaw "Murphy Brown" or make divorce a crime? I don't think that's wise.

Instead, we work to strengthen marriages in our churches, we reach out to those in the community (you know they're hurting). And we pray that the Lord would bring his kingdom to earth, and show us how to be part of that.


posted 8/14

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Pagan king recognizes God of Israel - film at eleven

I always find it interesting when someone who's not an Israelite, someone without the stories of the patriarchs, of the Exodus, of King David, etc., yet somehow manages to faith in the God of Israel. In Ezra chapter 6, we see an example of this in Darius king of Persia.

Jerusalem was sacked and the temple was destroyed, and now, several decades later, some of the Jews are starting to rebuild it. At this point Israel is under foreign rule, ultimately under Darius king of Persia. (Well, penultimately under Darius king of Persia, but I'm getting ahead of myself.) The governor wrote to Darius, reporting on this temple reconstruction, and the king replied with these orders to the governor and the local officials:
  • Don't interfere with the reconstruction (6.7)
  • Let the governor of the Jews and the Jewish elders rebuild the temple (6.7)
  • Pay their expenses from the royal treasure and the revenues of Trans-Euphrates (6.8)
  • Provide offerings: livestock, wheat, salt, etc., for the priests in Jerusalem every day without fail (6.9)
  • Do all this so that the priests can offer sacrifices pleasing to God, and pray for the king and his sons
In other words, this king recognizes the God of Israel as the God of heaven (6.9,10), and as a source of blessings for him and his dynasty.

The lovely Carol was reading this part and was very impressed that the king knew about Jewish worship customs of the day. Perhaps someone went way out on a limb to tell the king about those customs. How much courage did that take?

But the thing that impresses me is that Darius somehow understands as much as he does. He evidently had more faith in, and more knowledge of, God than some of the kings of Judah.

And what this means for me today is that, since everyone (including me) has blind spots, the truth -- even some truth about God himself -- may come from someone outside my own faith. So I need to pay attention, because truth can come from anywhere.

posted 8/13

Monday, August 07, 2006

the brotherhood of all believers

Today's reading is from 1 Corinthians 3.
Don't you know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him, for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple.
1 Corinthians 3.16-17
One of the Corinthians' issues was divisions or factions in the church. Back in chapter 1, Paul wrote
My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?
1 Corinthians 1.11-13
and Paul picks this up in chapter 3: What, after all is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants.... I planted the seed, Apollos watered, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. (3.5-7) Paul wants the Corinthians (and us) to understand dthat the church, and all who are in it, belong to God. It's a Bad Idea, in other words, to obsess with being allied to a particular faction in the church.

Does this mean that it's wrong to talk about Saddleback as "Rick Warren's church" or to Willow Creek as Bill Hybels's? Not necessarily. When I talk to members of other congregations, it's quite natural to ask about service projects or whatever "at your church" for example.

The issue, I think, is when we indulge our competitive urges or try to accentuate differences.

Which reminds me of a Christian student organization I was involved with some years back, and a student wo asked about the differences between the groups. At the time, this particular campus had at least five Christian groups. The staff guy in this one group declined to say how his group's emphases differed from those of the other groups. "No matter what I say," he remarked, "it'll sound like 'we're doing the job, and they aren't.'"

I had wanted to give the kids something by by way of comparison so they could have some idea of how to pick a group to get involved with, but I later saw the wisdom of Jon's words.

One more comment on this chapter. I once heard a Bible teacher apply 3.16-17 (at the top of today's entry) to sexual purity. He was using a translation that rendered this verse ambiguously (the NIV rendering is clearer: "Do you not know that you yourselves are God's temple...?"), but his sermon still surprises me, because in the context it's clear that he's talking about the church, divisions within the church, the health of the church, testing of the church.

The NIV editors think this way, as do the the authorities in the New Bible Commentary Revised, and the Wycliffe Bible Commentary.

Why did I tell you about that? I buess because I'd like for you to look at the text and interpret it yourself -- not to accept something as gospel truth (!) just because a famour Bible teacher (or an infamous computer engineer) tells you that's what a passage means. Bible teachers aren't a bad place to start, but we all make mistakes, so I hope that you and I will read and try to understand the text for ourselves, and not rely completely on others to interpret it for us.

Because it really is God's loving communication to us, and we do well to hear his words afresh.

I wrote most of that on August 7th, but looking at it now (8/13) I think I should add something. Since (as we see from the above) God loves the church and won't stand for its being attacked (whether by false teaching or gratuitous divisions), I need to be very careful about how I discuss the ministry of our church. I may not agree with the way things are done, with certain emphases or ministry philosophies, but as I read somewhere "If you like what you see, tell your friends; if you don't like what you see, tell them!"

May God help us to support our pastors and leaders, and to work for unity in our churches. Amen.

posted 8/13

Sunday, August 06, 2006

I don't get me...

Today's reading relates to control theory.
A man's steps are directed by the Lord
How then can anyone understand his own way?
Proverbs 20.24
Upon reading this verse, a number of things sprang to my mind:
  • The principle of control theory that says an order(N) device needs an order(N+1 or higher) device to control it. (I'm sure I don't have the words right, but you get the idea)
  • The part in Exodus where we read that the Lord hardened Pharoah's heart, then Pharoah makes some really bad decisions (not understanding why), leading to his downfall
  • Come to think of it, any number of other places in the Bible where the Lord determines to do something (usually bad) to someone, and that person makes some really bad decisions (not understanding why), etc.
  • Any number of stupid or bad things I've done in my life, although I'm not sure if those were because the Lord was trying to teach me something, or because of my own folly.
In particular I remember an incident from my childhood, when I was looking at a chalk-line. This is a retractable length of string in a container filled with chalk dust -- you stretch it out on a board or something and "snap" it, and the chalk makes a straight line on the board.

Anyway, the filler cap (for when you run out of chalk) said "turn counterclockwise to open" so I asked my father, "What's counterclockwise?" He didn't want to tell me because he was sure I'd open it and spill chalk dust all over the place. I protested that I wouldn't, so he told me it was opposite of the way the clock went. Immediately (I have no idea why) I ran over to the clock to see which way was clockwise, and began to unscrew the chalk filler.

He stopped me immediately, and in the next moment I realized what I had done. I still had no idea why. (In fact, I still have no idea why.) I think we laughed about it. But anyway, my father knew what I was going to do -- well, he was pretty sure -- before I did it.

So that verse, and those experiences, underline for me that man often has no idea of his own motives. Why did Pharoah make those bad decisions that ruined his country? Why did I want to unscrew the chalk-line filler?

Even today, I can identify only some of my motivations, and even those I'm not 100% sure of. In The Blank Slate, Pinker refers to some fanciful explanations given by a fellow whose corpus callosum has been severed (chapter 3, p.43). He thinks he knows his motivations, but in fact he's clueless.

Looking at the verse again, it occurs to me that I know the answer to the rhetorical question: How then can anyone understand his own way? Ask someone who knows, of course!

Because I think the split-brained fellow could have understood his motivations. Had he been willing to ask, the scientists could have told him: "Well, sir, I played a little trick on you, by showing you different pictures in each eye. Here is the picture I showed to your left eye, and here is the picture you saw with your right." The psychologist could have gone on to explain how one side of the brain mostly deals with language and the other side plans the next step (like standing up to walk into the next room).

Applying that to our life with God, I guess I can understand my own way by seeking the Lord. I have to give up any illusion that I can ultimately figure it out by myself, and ask God to search me, as the psalmist said
Search me, O God, and know my thoughts.
Test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me
and lead me in the way everlasting
Psalm 139.23-24

posted 8/13

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Collin and Jenny went up the hill to share a Gatorade® and a cookie...

So this morning the older teen and I bicycled from our home into the hills, reaching the "summit" (well, more like a pass, really, a saddle point in the hills) in a couple of hours. Our route took us from Redwood City through Atherton and Menlo Park to Sand Hill Road. We took a right onto Portola Road, which took us to Woodside Road -- and up to Skyline Blvd. You can see a picture here courtesy of Google maps, as if you couldn't tell. (The large white rectangles are to save storage space and reduce network traffic.) The green arrows show the outbound direction, and the dark green Google arrow shows our destination on Skyline Blvd. We had a snack and took the much faster trip down Woodside/La Honda Road all the way (magenta arrows) to the Alameda -- then through Atherton back home.

We felt very accomplished -- especially me, pedaling up that hill at my age.

Pretty soon it was time to go. Jenny got about 10" of hair cut off, to donate to "Locks of Love." I went to the office to turn my computer back on (there had been a site-wide power shutoff).

Then off to the airport to pick up the younger teen -- back from two weeks at art camp, where she learned a lot of stuff and had a great time. It was a joyful reunion.

Tomorrow, the lovely Carol returns from a week at a writers' workshop. Then I will go to sleep at a decent hour. It is a great thing to have her in bed with me, and not just for the reason you think.

How [not] to convince someone about the Gospel

In the late 1970s, I was trying to decide whether the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, made any sense to me. I knew there was something important to it, but it didn't make any sense, and I kept fighting it. One day, somehow God got through to me, and I remember thinking afterwards that I had wasted some years trying to make life work without considering the gospel and without knowing God. And the thought came to me, "Well, if I could go back in time and just explain this and this to myself back then..."

But then I realized that all I could think of -- others actually had said to me, and somehow I couldn't grasp it. That's what I thought of this morning when I saw this verse:
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
1 Corinthians 1.18
... which explains why I couldn't get it earlier -- I was lost! But I'm thankful that people prayed for me and that God was reaching out to me.

A little later in 1 Corinthians is this part:
My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.
1 Corinthians 2.4-5
... which tells me that if somebody is lost, like I was, no amount of clever and persuasive speech will convince him. Not that we have to be anti-intellectual, but we must remember that power to persuade comes from the Spirit of God, not from rhetorical brilliance.

So let's pray for the lost, by all means share our lives and answer their questions, but let's not worry about finding some magic key to "make them see the truth" -- we can bring water to a horse, but only God can make him drink.

Friday, August 04, 2006


So one of my favorite verses from the Proverbs turned up in today's reading:
An inheritance may be gained hastily at the beginning
but the ending thereof shall not be blessed (Proverbs 20.21)
Is this why I never buy lottery tickets? Well, no -- I never buy 'em because lottery tickets are a bad risk. But I think this verse is warning us about coveting material riches.

How about coveting spiritual riches? Have you ever heard someone talking about his dreams or ideas, and thought, "I wish I could have thought of that"? Do you sometimes you had faith like George Müller, compassion like Mother Theresa, vision and focus like Bill Bright, or spiritual creativity like Sara Groves? I sometimes do -- not those in particular and not all of those. In other words, I have sometimes coveted spiritual riches.

So that's what I was thinking of when I came across this:
Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed (1 Corinthians 1.7)
Sorry, I cheated there; I gave you "Therefore" at the beginning of a sentence. Here's what comes before it:
I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way--in all your speaking and in all your knowledge -- because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift...
1 Corinthians 1.4-7
And that part looks pretty good too, now that I look at it. Enriched in every way because Paul's testimony about Christ was confirmed in them.

Doesn't that apply to us, particularly to you and to me, too? Sure it does, if we want to follow Christ! True, we aren't the Corinthians, and we might wonder if maybe the Corinthians had their act together in a way we do not. As we continue in Corinthians, we'll see some of their problems, and then we can decide whether they were a lot more mature (or whatever) than we are.

But indulge me here for a minute and let's say that Paul's comment applies to us too. Enriched in every way, in speaking and knowledge, and not lacking in any spiritual gift -- that sounds pretty good. Are you hesitating to take some spiritual step because you don't think you've got what it takes -- in speaking, in knowledge, in spiritual gifts? Am I?

started yesterday, posted Saturday morning 8/5

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Staying the course

Vindicate me, O Lord,
    for I have led a blameless life;
I have trusted in the Lord
    without wavering
Psalm 26.1
How many of us could say that? Maybe not many.

How many of us would want to be able to say that? Sign me up! What does it take to get there from here? Well, to follow the psalmist's example, here's what I could do.
  • Ask the Lord to "test me" and examine me (26.2)
  • Walk in his ways, being aware of his ever-present love (26.3)
  • Avoid hypocrites and the wicked (26.4-5)
    yes, even if they're rich or famous or could help my career
  • Participate regularly in praise and worship and fellowship (26.6-8,12)
  • Trust God (not only in airbags and seat belts) for protection and safety
That doesn't seem too hard. I think for me the thing is to sustain my motivation, and to not be distracted.

Some years ago, as I read to the kids from the Bible, one of them asked me why it was that people today don't seem so interested or conscious of spiritual forces: "Is it because we have a lot of TVs and stuff?" I think it is. I read recently about a survey that showed young people spending more time surfing the internet than watching TV. Regardless which you consider to be a bigger waste of time, both have the ability to distract us.

And by distraction I mean two things: First, to get us thinking about celebrities and beauty and action and buying stuff -- arguably a set of thoughts that take our attention off our spiritual lives -- but also by the nature of the medium (and this especially because of a web browser's interactive paradigm), which reinforces the illusion that we are in control of our experiences and our world.

This second kind of distraction I find troubling, because even as I post these messages, which I hope are edifying rather than distracting, I'm aware that the medium detracts from spirituality.

That said, the Lord can bring good out of anything. May this be so in your web browser and in mine.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

"Turn to me and be gracious to me" -- what kind of man writes that?

Turn to me and be gracious to me
    for I am lonely and afflicted
Psalm 25.16
Looking at this verse, I asked myself, "What does he mean? Why would he write that? What is he thinking and feeling? How can I be more like him?" Here are a few thoughts on that.

He writes this because he's lonely and afflicted. He calls upon God because he thinks that God is not only willing and able to help him, but also because he thinks God is the source of the best, most likely help for him.

I noticed this parallel pattern
 Turn to me     and    be gracious to me
I am lonely and afflicted
and that gives me pause. When I was single and lonely, I asked God to send me a wife. Well, I actually I asked him to either send me a wife or to make me less lonely (or more satisfied with him). But when I'm lonely, this kind of prayer ("Turn to me," I mean) isn't the first thing that comes to mind; I tend to first look for something more tangible.

And he's afflicted. How is he afflicted? He's got enemies, for one thing. But he says something else interesting a little further on down:
Look upon my affliction and my distress
    and take away all my sins
Psalm 25.18
So he knows he's got sins. He's not in distress only because he's aware of his sins, but the sin certainly doesn't help.

But hold on a second. I wonder... I wonder if, when lonely and surrounded by enemies, he starts thinking "Why" and at that point becomes aware of his own sin? I wonder if that's what's behind Psalm 119.71: It was good for me to be afflicted / so that I might learn your decrees.

Not to say that being afflicted is always for that purpose, but whenever I am afflicted, I can certainly try to use it that way, to lean into God. And the good news is that, as the psalmist clearly believes, God is trustworthy; he's our best hope to counteract alienation and affliction, and to find forgiveness for our sins.

Sounds like good news to me.
posted 8/3

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Old vs New Testament? What's the difference?

Perhaps you've heard the myth that the Old Testament shows a vengeful, exacting God, so different from the merciful picture we see in Jesus in the New Testament. Or the idea that Gentiles aren't included in God's good graces until Acts chapter 10. Today's readings give the lie to both those myths.

First, let's take a look at Psalm 25. In verse 8, he says this:
Good and upright is the Lord;
      therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
OK, reading quiz time: who does God instruct in his ways? The upright? The perfect? Whoa, this verse says he instructs sinners. Doesn't sound real legalistic or exacting to me. OK, so I've taken it out of context, but read the whole psalm and you'll see that it says he's patient and kind, he instructs the meek and the sinner.

Next, let's take a look at 2 Chronicles 30, where Hezekiah leads a revival and celebrates the Passover:
Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, "May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God -- the Lord, the God of his fathers -- even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary." And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.
2 Chronicles 30.18-20
OK, so there are these rules. The rules are the rules and have been for some centuries. Everybody knows the rules. These people broke the rules.

But here's Hezekiah king of Judah praying for these people, and God hears him. Looks like God is more interested in whether the people seek him, and less on just Following The Rules. Yes, this is most definitely still in the Old Testament. Mercy and compassion and looking at the heart rather than majoring on Rule Enforcement -- that's what comes through loud and clear here. This does not sound very legalistic or exacting to me either.

In fact, though I hate to admit it, I'm more of a rule-monger than God is. God never intended rules to be the major thing -- several of the Old Testament prophets comment on this; Jesus
certainly did, too. And the apostle Paul. We like rules because then we can figure out when we've done enough, but God doesn't seem to want performance -- he wants all of me. And all of all of us. Which brings me to the issue of the Gentiles.

Did God only start caring about the Gentiles (or "the nations") in the New Testament, in Acts chapter 10? Nope! In Romans chapter 15 (yes, I know that's in the New Testament, but work with me here), Paul quotes a number of passages from the Old Testament showing God welcoming the Gentiles, or the (non-Jewish) "nations":
  • as it is written: "Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;I will sing hymns to your name." (15.9, quoting Psalm 16)
  • Again, it says, "Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people." (15.10, quoting Deuteronomy 32.43)
  • And again, "Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and sing praises to him, all you peoples." (15.11, quoting Psalm 117)
  • And again, Isaiah says,"The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him." (15.12, quoting Isaiah 11.10)
Paul shows us here that God is talking about "the nations" at least as early as Deuteronomy, as well as the Psalms and of course by the prophet Isaiah.

So much for the Old Testament being only about the Jewish people.

No, God is inclusive and compassionate and merciful -- from before the creation of the Earth until long after it's all over. He does not change (Malachi 3.6), and that's good news, too.

posted 8/3