“The Three Tables: A Proposal for the Organization of Deacon Bodies”

Just a little note that I have contributed an article entitled “The Three Tables: A Proposal for the Organization of Deacon Bodies” to the Fall 2020 issue (the 50th anniversary issue as it turns out) of Deacon Magazine. In it, I write about how the Central Baptist deacon body adopted and adapted the earlier Baptist model of “the three tables” and argue that this is a viable model for churches today. I believe the issue will be made available free in its entirety at the Deacon Magazine site in the near future (or it seems like they normally do that anyway).

Genesis 35:1-15

genesis-title-1-Wide 16x9

Genesis 35

1 God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears. Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem. And as they journeyed, a terror from God fell upon the cities that were around them, so that they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. And Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him, and there he built an altar and called the place El-bethel, because there God had revealed himself to him when he fled from his brother. And Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died, and she was buried under an oak below Bethel. So he called its name Allon-bacuth. God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan-aram, and blessed him. 10 And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. 11 And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. 12 The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” 13 Then God went up from him in the place where he had spoken with him. 14 And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he had spoken with him, a pillar of stone. He poured out a drink offering on it and poured oil on it. 15 So Jacob called the name of the place where God had spoken with him Bethel.

In Thomas Wolfe’s novel, You Can’t Go Home Again, he writes:

You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood…back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame…back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.[1]

If you have ever moved away from home for a prolonged period of time you will understand that sentiment, even if you do not necessarily agree completely with it. It can be hard going home again when you have been away for a long, long time. That is true with family. It can also be true with God. Jacob experienced that after his sojourn in Shechem. His foray into this ill-advised placed had been disastrous for him and for his family. That is what Genesis 34 is about. In Genesis 35, however, the Lord calls him home.

How does one go about such a thing? How do we go back home to God when we have been away from Him? I wonder if any of you are maybe struggling with that question today? Genesis 35 shows us the way.

Continue reading

Matthew 8:28-34

the_gospel_of_matthew-title-1-Wide 16x9 copy 2

Matthew 8

28 And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. 29 And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” 30 Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. 31 And the demons begged him, saying, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.” 32 And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters. 33 The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.

Allow me to share with you a number of headlines I have selected from the last twelve months:

Woman killed during exorcism (August 19, 2019)

Was There Really an Exorcism at Fort Bragg? (October 2, 2019)

Priest mercilessly whips ‘devil-possessed’ woman before she faints during exorcism (October 18, 2019)

‘I could see the demons’: An exorcism in Arkansas (October 30, 2019)

‘I Was Possessed’: How One Man Was Freed From Satanic Possession (November 19, 2019)

The priest who had the number of the beast: As the Vatican’s chief exorcist for 30 years, Father Gabriel Amorth claimed to have dealt with the devil 60,000 times. Now a new book tells his head-spinning story (April 8, 2020)

Abp Viganò asks bishops, priests to pray Exorcism ‘against Satan’ on Holy Saturday (April 9, 2020)

San Francisco Archbishop Holds Exorcism At Golden Gate Park Site Where Serra Statue Was Toppled (June 30, 2020)[1]

The common theme should be obvious: exorcism. I do not know, of course, that every situation described in these articles are examples of legitimate demonic possession and exorcism. I only mention these to show that the issue has staying power and is very much alive and well. As a Christian who believes in the existence of the devil and demons, I obviously do not discount the above headlines out of hand, though I am cautious. Why? Because there is a lot of weirdness advanced by those who seem unhealthily preoccupied with these issues. One must be careful! On the other hand, again, the devil and demons and possession and exorcism are realities.

How, then, do we navigate these issues? How do we know what to think about demonic possession? Well, we go to the standard, to the source: the scriptures. And, at the end of Matthew 8, we see one of the classic instances of demonic possession. But the point of this passage is not merely about demons. It is moreso about Jesus. It ultimately touches on a number of issues: demonology, anthropology, sociology, and Christology.

Let us consider our text closely so that we will be able to discern truth from error.

Continue reading

Genesis 34

genesis-title-1-Wide 16x9

Genesis 34

1 Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the land. And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her. And his soul was drawn to Dinah the daughter of Jacob. He loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her. So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, “Get me this girl for my wife.” Now Jacob heard that he had defiled his daughter Dinah. But his sons were with his livestock in the field, so Jacob held his peace until they came. And Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him. The sons of Jacob had come in from the field as soon as they heard of it, and the men were indignant and very angry, because he had done an outrageous thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing must not be done. But Hamor spoke with them, saying, “The soul of my son Shechem longs for your daughter. Please give her to him to be his wife. Make marriages with us. Give your daughters to us, and take our daughters for yourselves. 10 You shall dwell with us, and the land shall be open to you. Dwell and trade in it, and get property in it.” 11 Shechem also said to her father and to her brothers, “Let me find favor in your eyes, and whatever you say to me I will give. 12 Ask me for as great a bride-price and gift as you will, and I will give whatever you say to me. Only give me the young woman to be my wife.” 13 The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah. 14 They said to them, “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. 15 Only on this condition will we agree with you—that you will become as we are by every male among you being circumcised. 16 Then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters to ourselves, and we will dwell with you and become one people. 17 But if you will not listen to us and be circumcised, then we will take our daughter, and we will be gone.” 18 Their words pleased Hamor and Hamor’s son Shechem.19 And the young man did not delay to do the thing, because he delighted in Jacob’s daughter. Now he was the most honored of all his father’s house. 20 So Hamor and his son Shechem came to the gate of their city and spoke to the men of their city, saying, 21 “These men are at peace with us; let them dwell in the land and trade in it, for behold, the land is large enough for them. Let us take their daughters as wives, and let us give them our daughters. 22 Only on this condition will the men agree to dwell with us to become one people—when every male among us is circumcised as they are circumcised. 23 Will not their livestock, their property and all their beasts be ours? Only let us agree with them, and they will dwell with us.” 24 And all who went out of the gate of his city listened to Hamor and his son Shechem, and every male was circumcised, all who went out of the gate of his city. 25 On the third day, when they were sore, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males. 26 They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house and went away. 27 The sons of Jacob came upon the slain and plundered the city, because they had defiled their sister. 28 They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. 29 All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered. 30 Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.” 31 But they said, “Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?”

In Proverbs 4, a father gives advice to his son. There is one portion of this advice I would like for us to consider especially:

25 Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. 26 Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. 27 Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.

It is sobering to think of how much trouble and mischief and pain could be avoided if we would simply follow this advice: look straight ahead, head to where you are supposed to be, and do not step off of the path. In truth, there are few clearer cautionary tales about the danger of not doing this than Genesis 34.

Simply put, Jacob, said goodbye to Esau after their reunion, and should have head straight to Bethel. Why? Because of the vision God had given him there and because of what God said to Jacob and what Jacob said as a result in Genesis 28.

15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

God said He would bring Jacob back to “this land.” Jacob proclaimed that “the Lord is in this place” and “How awesome is this place!” and “This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

Yes, Jacob should have gone straight to Bethel with his family. Instead, at the end of the last chapter, Genesis 33, we read:

18 And Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, on his way from Paddan-aram, and he camped before the city. 19 And from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, he bought for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land on which he had pitched his tent. 20 There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel.

He turned his foot off the path before going on to Bethel. Why? Because Shechem, The IVP Bible Background Commentary tells us, was an “important” and “strategic city on the highway network running north from Egypt through Beersheba, Jerusalem and on to Damascus.” What is more, Shechem had “fertile soil” that “promoted agriculture as well as good grazing.”[1]

And why does this matter? Think of it: Jacob had just given Esau an enormous number of his animals. He had given him, in other words, a lavish peace offering. What could make more sense, then, from a human perspective, than taking a detour off the path to Bethel to recoup financially in Shechem. Derek Kidner writes:

[Jacob’s] summons was to Beth-el; but Shechem, about a day’s journey short of it, stood attractively at the crossroads of trade. He was called to be a stranger and pilgrim; but while buying his own plot of land there (33:19) he could argue that it was within his promised borders. It was disobedience nonetheless, and his pious act of rearing an altar and claiming his new name of Israel (20) could not disguise the fact.

Chapter 34 shows the cost of it, paid in rape, treachery and massacre, a chain of evil that proceeded logically enough from the unequal partnership with the Canaanite community…By halting his own pilgrimage Jacob was endangering others more vulnerable than himself.[2]

Yes, it is a dangerous thing to linger in Shechem, and this exit ramp was truly a journey in pain and misery for Jacob and his family. Let us consider the danger of lingering in Shechem.

Continue reading

J. Scott Duvall’s The Heart of Revelation: Understanding the 10 Essential Themes of the Bible’s Final Book

418NCHN4J5L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_In The Heart of Revelation, Scott Duvall offers a thematic interpretation of the book of Revelation. If you are looking for a traditional linear commentary, this is not it. Duvall has written that work in his Revelation volume in Baker’s Teach the Text series. Here, however, Duvall extracts ten themes from the final book of the Bible, shows how the themes fit in book of Revelation, and then offers inspiring and accessible considerations of how these themes can equip and strengthen Christians today. The feel of the book is more devotional than commentary, though, in his unpacking of the themes, Duvall does address here and there certain technical questions concerning the book of Revelation and the eschatological proposals often put forward by readers of it. But these moments are the exception and not the rule in this particular work.

The ten themes are:

  • God: “The Almighty”
  • Worship: “You are Worthy”
  • The People of God: “His Called, Chosen and Faithful Followers”
  • The Holy Spirit: “The Seven Spirits before His Throne”
  • Our Enemies: “The Dragon Stood on the Shore of the Sea”
  • The Mission: “My Two Witnesses”
  • Jesus Christ: “The Lamb Who Was Slain”
  • Judgment: “How Long, Sovereign Lord”
  • The New Creation: “I Saw ‘a New Heaven and a New Earth'”
  • Perseverance: “To the One Who is Victorious”

Duvall’s approach to Revelation as reflected in this work is careful and sober-minded. For instance, he clearly believes that, yes, there are strong futuristic elements in Revelation. However, he helpfully shows that the book had real-life implications both for the original recipients of the letter as well as for the church today that go well beyond mere speculation about future events. In his call for perseverance in the midst of difficult times, Duvall seems to push against the popular notion of a pre-trib rapture (though he does not, as I recall, use that terminology), arguing instead that God is able to keep his church in the midst of and through the difficult times she will face. What is more, Duvall is perhaps a bit countercultural in showing how the book advances a profoundly sobering and frightening picture of the wrath of God against wickedness. I say this is “countercultural” simply because God’s wrath and judgment certainly are not present in any meaningful way in much modern Evangelical writing. I found his proposal that the two witnesses are symbolic of the proclaiming church interesting and look forward to seeing how his actual commentary handles that particular idea in more detail. I also really appreciated his helpful consideration of the “new heaven and new earth.”

Here are a few quotes from the book that struck me as noteworthy. They should help give a sense of the feel and approach of the book:

Rather than giving all our energy to speculating about the end-time battle and when and where it might occur, we need to be faithful in fighting the personal battles that come our way every day. This is what it means to stay awake and alert. To remain watchful means to remain faithful to Jesus. Simple obedience may not be as exciting as solving an apocalyptic puzzle, but it’s much more important. (p. 96)

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild? Not always. He is not only the Savior; he is also the Judge. He’s not only the Suffering Servant; he’s also the Warrior Christ. He is the Lamb of God, who was slain for our sins, but also a Ram with seven horns and seven eyes, symbolic of his perfect strength and penetrating insight (5:6). The Lamb is also the Lord of lords and the King of kings (17:14). While it’s tempting to create Jesus in our own image so that he’s under our control, the biblical Jesus refuses to be tamed. (p. 150)

But I don’t think Christians will stand before God at the great white throne judgment of Revelation 20. God has already judged the eternal destiny of his people by virtue of their resurrection (19:14; 20:4–6). God would not raise a person from the dead, give him a brand-new resurrection body prepared for life in the new heaven and new earth, and then condemn him to hell. And this final judgment occurs after God’s people have been resurrected.

The great white throne judgment is a destiny judgment for the unrighteous. The wicked are held accountable for their ungodly actions. These actions are confirmed by their names not being included in the “book of life” (13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15), the heavenly register of all true believers—those who have been granted heavenly citizenship. Since wicked human beings have rejected Christ and rebelled against God, they will join the unholy trinity in the fiery lake. (p. 154)

I once said to grieving people at a funeral that God will one day tell death to go to hell. It’s true. He will. (pp. 154-155)

The temptation to compromise with the pagan world isn’t just a first-century problem. Today’s world also tries to squeeze us into its mold. I’ve just lived through another Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping frenzy connected to the Christmas season, and Christians seem just as caught up in the materialism and consumerism as non-Christians. Money seems to drive just about everything these days. We also feel the pressure to water down biblical truth in order to conform to the prevailing view on particular ethical issues. Movies and music often influence our thinking more than the Bible. The lure of power tempts us to lies and deception and cover-up. The enticement of pornography abounds. The temptation to compromise is alive and well today. We’re in a real spiritual war, and the threat can be summed up in two words: immorality and idolatry. (p. 183)

I found this book to be frequently inspiring and a good overview of the major themes of the last book of the Bible. It seems to me that this would be a helpful work to orient the reader before he/she gets too lost in any particular eschatological controversy surrounding the book. In other words, Duvall has given us a fly-over of the forest. Other works, including his own, can help you examine more closely the individual trees.


Stephen Lawhead’s In the Region of the Summer Stars (Eirlandia, Book 1)

51mmZL0BtgL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_I’ve been reading the works of fantasy writer Stephen Lawhead for a number of years. He is a writer who is a Christian (as opposed to a “Christian writer”—a distinction made by C.S. Lewis if I recall), and one that I appreciate greatly. His novel Byzantium remains my favorite of his and one of my favorite of all time. I cannot recommend it highly enough. I personally also truly appreciated the Song of Albion trilogy and the Celtic Crusade trilogy. Again, I am a fan, though I always come away feeling that Lawhead is a good writer but not a great writer. He has great moments, to be sure, and that is why I keep coming back to his work. Also, his historical research and grasp of Celtic and Arthurian lore is evident and skillfully employed in his work.

In In the Region of the Summer Stars Lawhead has given us another solid offering. This is the beginning of a new series, the Eirlandia series. It is focused largely on a young warrior, Conor mac Arden, who is banished from his clan on trumped-up charges and who begins to suspect that Lord Brecan, King of the Brigantes, and the most powerful King in Eirlandia, is involved in a secret alliance with the hated Scalda who occupy the southern realm. Conor, soon joined by two of his warrior comrades who seek him out and believe him to be innocent, clashes with the Scalda, helps free and then befriends some of the faery people—who are being taken hostage by the Scalda who want access to their magic and power—then infiltrates Brecan’s warrior band to see what he can discover.

The first 2/3rds of the book, while interesting and well-written, drags a bit, though it does set the stage well for what is to come. In the last quarter of the book the pace quickens with some truly impressive and exciting descriptions of fighting and action sequences. Furthermore, the story becomes more nuanced and clear. I finished the book with greater anticipation for the second book in the series than I had in the first half of the book (though I hasten to add the first half was interesting as well). Stick with it. It is worth it.

As for the writing, it is vintage Lawhead. It has an epic feel to it and the terminology roots the reader effectively in the realm of druids and warriors and faeries. There are thrones and halls and bowls of ale and torcs and siarcs and swords and horses. If you like that whole scene, you’ll like this! And I’m a sucker for stories like this.

I’m excited to start book 2. This looks to be a promising series. Check it out!


Genesis 33

genesis-title-1-Wide 16x9

Genesis 33

1 And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two female servants. And he put the servants with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. He himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. And when Esau lifted up his eyes and saw the women and children, he said, “Who are these with you?” Jacob said, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.” Then the servants drew near, they and their children, and bowed down. Leah likewise and her children drew near and bowed down. And last Joseph and Rachel drew near, and they bowed down. Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company that I met?” Jacob answered, “To find favor in the sight of my lord.” But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.” 10 Jacob said, “No, please, if I have found favor in your sight, then accept my present from my hand. For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me. 11 Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” Thus he urged him, and he took it. 12 Then Esau said, “Let us journey on our way, and I will go ahead of you.”13 But Jacob said to him, “My lord knows that the children are frail, and that the nursing flocks and herds are a care to me. If they are driven hard for one day, all the flocks will die. 14 Let my lord pass on ahead of his servant, and I will lead on slowly, at the pace of the livestock that are ahead of me and at the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.” 15 So Esau said, “Let me leave with you some of the people who are with me.” But he said, “What need is there? Let me find favor in the sight of my lord.” 16 So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir. 17 But Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built himself a house and made booths for his livestock. Therefore the name of the place is called Succoth. 18 And Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, on his way from Paddan-aram, and he camped before the city. 19 And from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, he bought for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land on which he had pitched his tent. 20 There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel.

In all of life there are few things more beautiful, more touching, and more powerful than genuine reconciliation between aggrieved parties. Psalm 133 captures it so memorably when it says:

1 Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.

God is in reconciliation. God is in the reconciliation business. Jesus comes for precisely this reason. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. When it comes to human reconciliation, it is hard to imagine a sweeter picture than the one we find in Genesis 33: the reconciliation of Jacob and Esau.

Continue reading

Matthew 8:23-27

the_gospel_of_matthew-title-1-Wide 16x9 copy 2

Matthew 8

23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

In 2012 Pepsi Max introduced a commercial that would become a phenomenon and pave the way for a series of commercials then, eventually, a movie. I am talking about the Uncle Drew commercials. In the first commercial, NBA star Kyrie Irving had a professional makeup artist transform him into Uncle Drew, an old man in a grey sweatshirt. He starts playing in a pickup basketball game of young men who are obviously amused by the old man who cannot quite keep up.

Then something happened. Kyrie Irving, still dressed as Uncle Drew, begins to be Kyrie Irving. He talks trash. He hits three pointers. He puts on a stunning dribbling exhibition. He dunks the ball! All the while, the crowd, who was amused earlier, moves from being confused to being impressed to being downright amazed![1]

You can tell what questions they are asking simply by the expression on their faces: Who is this guy?!

It is a brilliant and entertaining concept: a superstar concealed in the guise of a regular old man who decides to give a glimpse of his true skills to the sheer, stunned amazement of the onlookers.

I thought of Uncle Drew while reading Matthew 8:23-27. Here, Jesus, who looked so very ordinary, revealed that there was much more underneath. He gave the disciples a glimpse of His true power which opened the door for amazed questions about His true identity. “What sort of man is this?” the disciples asked when they saw His true abilities.

Let us consider Jesus rebuking the Sea of Galilee. And let us consider in particular how Jesus’ actions in this scene reveal Him as one who is distinct from the rest of humanity.

Continue reading

Genesis 32:13-32

genesis-title-1-Wide 16x9

Genesis 32

13 So he stayed there that night, and from what he had with him he took a present for his brother Esau, 14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15 thirty milking camels and their calves, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. 16 These he handed over to his servants, every drove by itself, and said to his servants, “Pass on ahead of me and put a space between drove and drove.” 17 He instructed the first, “When Esau my brother meets you and asks you, ‘To whom do you belong? Where are you going? And whose are these ahead of you?’ 18 then you shall say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a present sent to my lord Esau. And moreover, he is behind us.’” 19 He likewise instructed the second and the third and all who followed the droves, “You shall say the same thing to Esau when you find him, 20 and you shall say, ‘Moreover, your servant Jacob is behind us.’” For he thought, “I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterward I shall see his face. Perhaps he will accept me.” 21 So the present passed on ahead of him, and he himself stayed that night in the camp. 22 The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and eveything else that he had. 24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip on the sinew of the thigh.

The late B.H. Carroll told a story about being inspired by the tenacious persistence and determination of the Greeks in the Battle of Marathon.

You have heard me state before, and I will restate it now, how that idea of persistence got hold of me when I was four years old. I slept with my eldest brother and he taught me history lessons in child stories. One night he told me the history of the Battle of Marathon, where one hundred thousand Persians were assailed by ten thousand Greeks under Miltiades; how the Greeks broke the ranks of the Persians, and followed them into the sea; how the Persians got into their boats, and the Greeks grabbed the boats with their hands until the Persians cut their hands off; and then how they caught hold with their teeth until the Persians cut their heads off. And when my brother got that far, I jumped up in the bed and yelled out, “Hurrah for the Greeks!” until I woke up the whole house.[1]

Well! That is probably a bit much for a bedtime story for a four-year-old, but apparently it did make an impression. The Greeks simply refused to let the Persians go. They clung to their boats with their hands, then with their teeth, then…well…then they let go.

People love stories about fierce, stubborn, dogged determination against all odds: a refusal to quit, an adamant refusal to let go, an unwilting desire to accomplish some great goal. But of course, this kind of behavior can be for noble or ignoble means. The Greeks showed this when they refused to let the Persians go. But lots of people today demonstrate this kind of tenacity when it comes to pursuing wealth or fame or comfort. However, in Genesis 32, Jacob showed this kind of unrelenting determination with God! He refused to let go of God until God blessed Him!

If the stubborn determination of the Greeks caused little four-year-old B.H. Carroll to hop up and yell, this should inspire us infinitely more. Let us consider what it looks like to take hold of God and refuse to let go.

Continue reading

Matthew 8:18-22

the_gospel_of_matthew-title-1-Wide 16x9 copy 2

Matthew 8

18 Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. 19 And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 20 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 21 Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 22 And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”

Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola have written about a sobering lesson and challenge to the church.

A few years ago a Christian group visited the Soviet Union before the fall of the Berlin wall.  When the guide who was showing the Christians around Leningrad came to a statue of Lenin, the guide paused and said reflectively, “You Christians have a great message, but we Communists will win the world.  Christ means something to you.  Communism means everything to us.”[1]

I wonder if that is so: Christ means something to us whereas other causes mean everything to their adherents. One is hesitant to generalize, but I will say this: that has certainly been true in my life at times and it would appear to be true of the church at large in the United States in certain ways as well.

It is a scandal.

Jesus calls us not to a fickle appreciation but to radical discipleship, to reckless abandon in our following of Jesus. “When Christ calls a man,” Bonhoeffer famously said, “he bids him come and die.” True. But He bids us come to die so that we might live, resurrected and transformed, in Him. This is made abundantly clear in the startling verses of Matthew 8:18-22.

Continue reading