Archive for August, 2009

August 25, 2009

[Morning Walk] Imagining David and Goliath : 1 Samuel 17

by Joy

Today’s Readings: 1 Samuel 17, Romans 15

David and Goliath are stalwart characters in the our imaginations – used to describe the battle between the noble small and the evil big. David and Goliath are at home in kindergarten Sunday School classrooms and in front of EPSN cameras.

The story is genius. It captures our imagination and subtly evaluates the imaginations of the characters: David, Eliab, and Saul.

David wasn’t the first Israelite that Goliath taunted, but he was the first one with the imagination to see how God’s power could transform the situation. Saul and his army were paralyzed by Goliath because he had worn them down with 40 days of hurled insults and threats. When David hears the Philistine’s jeer, however, he responds with rage and not fear. Although the Israelites tell David about Saul’s generous offer to the man willing to fight, he fails to hear their prattle because he’s incensed over Goliath’s defiance of God.

Eliab, David’s oldest brother, provides a foil to David. David and Eliab are looking at the same facts, but from radically different perspectives and, consequently, drawing radically different conclusions. Goliath’s size and the odds weigh upon Eliab while David is immune to Goliath’s power by God and the right. David infuriates Eliab by his interpretation of the situation. Surely, the older brother is thinking: what a naïve, self-important punk. When in fact, David’s viewpoint is the most humble and unselfconscious.

Then comes the interaction between Saul and David. Because Saul is entrenched in the “reality” of his kingship, he scoffs at David’s inexperience and weapons. But, David imagines himself qualified through his battles with animals – not seeing any difference between Goliath and the beasts. Again, we see that Saul’s imagination is stunted when he tries to dress David in his own armor; he can’t see that this is a different kind of battle.

But, David does have imagination. He – whom the Bible says is a precursor of Jesus – boldly goes before Goliath and says,

You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty … All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.” NIV. (v. 45-47).

Not by sword or spear? David’s imagination is based on God’s power and creativity to save.

Following Jesus demands imagination because God’s ways aren’t ours. Eliab’s ruined imagination overestimates Goliath and underestimates David. Saul’s weak imagination fails to recognize David’s qualifications and talent. David’s faith and obedience fuel his God-saturated reality. And, after all, most of reality is invisible. Sin clouds and narrows our imagination. But, faith in God allows our imagination to explore all that may be possible.

In what is your faith – man or God? Be careful how you answer – for the scope of your imagination depends on it.

(This piece is influenced by Eugene Peterson’s Leap Over a Wall, Chapter 2,and his 1 and 2 Samuel Commentary. There’s no mistaking Peterson’s shaping my interpretation.)

August 25, 2009

[843 acres] IN THE NEWS – 8.24.09

by Bethany
  • Who would have thought that a 17-year-old would have to confront the realities of Mark 10:29-31 (“I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”)? [Time]
  • I thought the US didn’t torture (wink, wink)? [The New York Times]. As long as it’s off-shore, are we not supposed to consider it as sponsored by the US? [The New York Times] So, now that the cat’s out of the bag, what does the Bible say about it? On the one hand, Jesus showed mercy to the woman caught in adultery – despite the fact that adultery was a capital offense under Mosaic law. [John 8:3-11]. But, on the other hand, we are to obey the civil law and to render unto Caesar what is Ceasar’s (i.e., the administration of justice – not the life of a human). [Matthew 22:21, Romans 3:1-5]
  • What’s been good about the recession layoffs? They’ve been causing people to think about what they really want to do and then giving them an opportunity (read: time) to pursue it. Getting laid off can lead to some surprising turns in a person’s life – including the start of a new venture. [The New York Times]. If that’s you, remember Psalm 127:1 (Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain).
August 24, 2009

[843 acres] Become a Fan on Facebook

by Bethany

Our goal: 100 fans in 1 week.
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August 24, 2009

[Morning Walk] Giving Up Freedom for Love : Romans 14

by Bethany

today’s readings: 1 samuel 16romans 14.

Having lived on the East Coast for the past decade, I’ve come to appreciate a good bottle of wine and especially enjoy reading articles in the New York Times about local vineyards. Having grown up in the South and, in particular, at a Southern Baptist Convention (“SBC”) church, however, I was never exposed to wine because alcohol is frowned upon in most SBC churches. This position is often justified with Romans 14 and its emphasis on not engaging in activities, e.g., drinking alcohol, that will cause your brother to stumble (v. 13: ” … make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way …”). As a general matter, I disagree with the SBC’s stance since, after all, Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine. But, the larger point that Paul is making far exceeds my little squabbles with an SBC church.

The point of Romans 14 and, I believe, the point that the SBC is trying to make, is that we should not abuse our freedom in such a manner that we are not loving one another. In verse 16, Paul writes, “So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil.” NIV. How does that happen? How does something that you and I may consider to be “good” come to be spoken of as “evil”?

In verse 15, Paul writes, “If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.” NIV. Essentially, Paul is telling the Roman church that they should not use their good faith or good freedom or good, clean food, in such a way that causes a brother to be distressed or destroyed. And, why? Because it means that, to the extent that they distress or destroy their brother, they are not acting in love and, therefore, have essentially missed the entire gospel.

Usually, people talk about how we shouldn’t be too committed to laws or rules because God is full of grace and we cannot earn our way to heaven. This is true. Today, however, the message of Romans 14 is that, just as we should not be too committed to the laws, we should not be too committed to our freedom outside of the rigid rules. The paramount consideration in both cases should be whether we are loving our brothers and sisters, which is one of the most fundamental messages of the Bible (Matthew 22:36-40 – “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”).

Do you regularly seek to love your brothers and sisters – even when it means that you may give up some of your freedom?

August 24, 2009

[843 acres] IN THE NEWS – 8.24.09

by Bethany
  • Is interfaith dialogue possible for religions that claim exclusivity of truth (John 14:6 – Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. NIV)? And, even if we can agree on the high commonalities, is the “devil” really in the details? [BeliefNet] [USA Today
  • Can Christians package up their version of Christianity in a McDonald’s bag and export it for consumption to foreign countries? What does our fulfillment of The Great Commission look like (Matthew 28:19-20 – Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. NIV). Book review: The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith, by the well-known and excellent writer Mark Noll. [The Examiner]
  • Are health tips and caloric intake the most important things to keep in mind when fasting? [The Washington Post] Or, should we not think about loosening the chains of injustice and setting the oppressed free? [Isaiah 58 - worth your time to read].
August 22, 2009

[843 acres] Become a Fan on Facebook

by Bethany

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August 22, 2009

[843 acres] Release of the Lockerbie Bomber: Mercy at the Expense of Justice?

by Bethany

An inquiring mind is asking, Would love to know The Park Forum’s take on the release by Scotland of the Lockerbie bomber. Compassion from suffering? Or suffering heightened by so-called compassion? Both?”

Just four days before Christmas in 1998, a bomb was smuggled onto Pan Am Flight 103, a flight from London-Heathrow to New York-JFK, which exploded and killed 270 people. This event – known as the “Lockerbie Bombing” because the plane crashed in Lockerbie, Scotland – has been called, “Britain’s worst terrorist episode.”

Two Libyans, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah, were accused of the bombing. On January 31, 2001, although Fhimah was found not guilty, Megrahi was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment with a 27-year minimum. On Thursday night, after only having served 8 years, the Scottish government ordered Megrahi’s release “on compassionate grounds,” since he is suffering from terminal prostate cancer and is expected to die within three months. While Megrahi came home to a “jubliant welcome” in Libya, news of his release in the US was met with extreme criticism – Obama calling it, “highly objectionable.”

Returning to the question posed, was this “compassion from suffering” or “suffering heightened by ‘compassion'” or both? In order to answer this question accurately, one must know the motive by which the Scottish government made its decision. Today, The New York Times reports that there may have been at least two motives – one based on compassion and the other based on lucrative oil contracts with Libya. Since these two motives have two fundamentally different responses, let us simply consider the question posed according to theory rather than as applied. Therefore, the question to be considered is: “Would it ever be appropriate to release a convicted mass murderer on the grounds of compassion?”

As a general matter, the Bible is full of praise for God and his merciful compassion. See, e.g., Psalm 31:22, Psalm 40:11, Psalm 51:1. One of the stories in the Old Testament that best illustrates God’s forgiveness is the story of David’s sin against Bathsheba (adultery) and Uriah (murder). 2 Samuel 11-12.  Although David acknowledges that the one who has done such a thing deserves to die (12:5), Nathan ultimately says, “The Lord also has taken away your sin; you shall not die” (12:13). Moreover, God’s mercy is lavish because, not only does He forgive David, He refers to David as a man after His own heart. Acts 13:22, quoting 1 Samuel 13:13-14. Moreover, Jesus himself – during his unjust crucifixion – proclaimed, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34.

Although the Bible teaches compassion, it also teaches justice. As many times as the Psalmists praise God for his mercy, they equally praise Him for his righteous justice. See e.g., Psalm 9:8, Psalm 89:14, Psalm 103:6. Returning to the story of David, Nathan not only tells David that he will not die, he also says, “Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.” 2 Samuel 12:14. Therefore, in spite of forgiveness, some “penalty” for his sin remains. In the New Testament, the writer of Hebrews sternly warns: “For we know him who said, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Hebrews 10:29-30.

So, in terms of whether it would be appropriate to release a convicted felon based on ground of compassion, the answer could go either way. But, no matter which way it does go, we know one thing: on this earth, perfect justice will never be accomplished. We simply lack all the information necessary to make correct decisions and, with the information that we do have, we lack the wisdom to know how to apply it. But, God is a perfect Judge – the perfect balance of compassion and justice with deep wisdom and knowledge – and He will make the right determination at the proper time. And, any human judicial determination will pale in comparison in either its allegedly immense display of compassion or its stern commitment to justice.

August 21, 2009

[843 acres] Praising God for the Recession

by Bethany

From The New York Times:

“Last year, the number of Americans with a net worth of at least $30 million dropped 24 percent, according to CapGemini and Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. Monthly income from stock dividends … has fallen more than 20 percent since last summer, the biggest such decline since the government began keeping records in 1959. Bill Gates, Warren E. Buffett, the heirs to the Wal-Mart Stores fortune, and the founders of Google each lost billions last year, according to Forbes magazine. In one stark example, John McAfee [of the antivirus software company] … is now worth about $4 million, from a peak of more than $100 million.”

So, what has this recession been for? Soul-searching? Identity-building? I have seen friends in NYC get laid off and then forced to consider, for the first time, what their true calling is. I’ve seen friends give financially to others in order to support the body of Christ. I’ve seen volunteers pack into non-profit entities to feed the homeless, help the unemployed, and serve where there are any other needs. Consider 2 Corinthians 1:3-5: 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Have you praised God for the recession recently? Have you seen how suffering has produced compassion?

August 21, 2009

[Morning Walk] The Depth of the Riches : Romans 11

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: 1 Samuel 13, Romans 11

According to an article in yesterday’s New York Times, scientists in the Pacific Ocean have discovered seven new species of deep-sea worms – five of which have little green glow sticks that, when released, produce “a bright green bioluminescence that lasts for many seconds as the worms swim away.” These worms were found at depths of approximately 6,000 to 12,500 feet off the coasts of Mexico, California, Oregon, and the Philippines.

In all likelihood, these are not the last “new” species of deep-sea worms that scientists will discover. After all, the area of the entire ocean is 139 million square miles, its volume is about 310 million cubic miles, and its average depth is 12,400 feet. [Wikipedia]. 

In Romans 11, Paul offers an image in his doxology. He writes,

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! NIV.

But, what does it mean that the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God are “deep”? It means that the riches of His wisdom and knowledge – like the ocean – have an unspeakable hiddenness (a vast array of things unknown), an objective reality (a something down there such that all that has been revealed has not been in vain), and a bottomless foundation (an ability to go layer upon layer of cause or reason of the universe, and when we hit the bottom, we find God).

God is rich because He owns everything. but His wealth does not rely solely only on His ownership. For He made everything out of nothing, which means that He could create more wealth for Himself if He chose to. And, even if He chose not to create one more thing, He would still be the most wealthy person in the universe because He himself is the most valuable thing that exists. In comparison to the depth of the riches of God’s wisdom and knowledge, human wealth is ridiculously minuscule.

So, what does it mean to say, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God,” for you and I? It means that we can trust that God has immeasurably enough of Himself and His riches to go around for all His children, including us. So, there’s no need for envy of others, no need for insecurity in God’s love for us, and no need to distrust what He has in store. But, just like the ocean has a profundity that is still being discovered, God does, too, which means that we have to maintain faith in Him even when we may not fully understand how it all works together.

August 21, 2009

[843 acres] IN THE NEWS – 8.21.09

by Bethany
  • How much artistic license is allowed in portraying the story of the gospels? New York International Fringe Festival brings in a strange (and inaccurate?) solo movie about Jesus called, “The Revolutionary.” [The New York Times]
  • Can a cartoonist use the “equal opportunity” argument in order to poke fun of Catholics and Protestants alike? [The Houston Chronicle]
  • Does the existence of evil disprove the existence of God? [Christian Post]
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