The Word of Life (1 John 1:1-4)

January 17, 2017

1 John is organized around two central truths: “God is light” and “God is love.” Both are known through the manifestation of the “Word of Life,” which is the central message of the Christian Faith.

This is the message (aggelia): God is light (1 John 1:5).

This is the message (aggelia): God is love (1 John 3:11; 4:8, 16).

This is what we proclaim (apaggellomen): the Word of Life (1 John 1:1-3)

God is light; therefore believers walk in the light. God is love; therefore believers love each other. And we know God is light and God is love because “the Word of Life” was revealed those truths in the enfleshed life of the Son of God, who is Jesus the Messiah.

1 John 1:1-3 is a single sentence in Greek (as well as many English translations). The main sentence is this: “That which we have. . .we proclaim to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us.” The object is the “what,” the action is the act of proclaiming or announcing, and the purpose is fellowship or communion (koinonia). In other words, John writes this is what we proclaim so that you might enjoy the fellowship we enjoy, and, importantly, our fellowship is with the Father and the Son!

What is the what?

What was from the beginning,

            what we have heard,

            what we have seen with our eyes,

            what we have beheld, and

            what we have touch with our hands,

                        that is, the Word (logos) of Life!

What we proclaim is “from the beginning,” and “it” has entered creation and participates in the empirical reality of creation itself. That which is “from the beginning”—from the beginning of creation itself or from the beginning of the Christian movement—is part of creation and shares in its creatureliness. Humanity heard “it,” saw “it” with its physical eyes, and touched “it” with its hands. “It” was tangible; it was really here, both seen and touched. And it was not momentary. We “beheld” it, that is, we took in its presence with long gazes. This was no blimp on a screen; it was a presence within the creation that we saw, heard, touched, and over which we lingered.

What is “it”? It is the “Word of Life;” it is the Logos, which is the same language we find in John 1:1 as well as John 1:14 which describes how humanity “beheld (gazed upon) the glory” of the enfleshed Logos.

The “it” is the incarnation of the Logos (Word), who is Life, the life of God or “eternal life” (1 John 1:2). This i the central proclamation of the Christian Faith. God has come in the flesh; the Word became flesh.

This is such an astounding claim that John interrupts his sentence in order to elaborate what he means by the “Word of Life.” When Word becomes flesh (what we saw, heard, and touched), “eternal life” was revealed. The incarnation is the revelation of God’s own life within the creation as a creature.

This “eternal life” was “with (pros) the Father. This statement echoes John 1:1, which describes the Word as “with (pros) God.” When the Gospel of John affirms the Word was “with God,” it means the Word was “with the Father,” as 1 John 1:2 states.

Significantly, the word “pros” (with) reflects an important aspect of divine life. The One God—the Word is God just as the Father is God, according to John 1:1-18—includes a relationship where the Son (Word) is pros the Father. Pros involves movement; it is not about spatial proximity in the sense of “alongside of” but relationality. The Father and the Son are “with” each other, that is, they are engaged in dynamic movement toward each other. In other words, they share a fellowship or communion, a koinonia.

This one, whom we saw, heard, and touched and who was “with the Father” from the beginning, is “eternal life.” This is a clear statement of the eternal nature of the Son, and that the shared life between the Father and the Son is an eternal one, which now the Father and Son share with humanity. Their communion (koinonia) is eternal.

The central message of the Christian Faith is that the One who shared life with the Father became flesh—what we could see, hear, and touch—so that we might participate in the fellowship of the Father and the Son, which was “from the beginning.” God became flesh so that we might participate in the eternal life of God. God became flesh so that we might share in the fellowship of the Father and Son.

The incarnation of the “Word of Life” reveals the truths that “God is light” and “God is love.” Because God became flesh as Jesus the Messiah, we understand what it means to walk with God who is light. Because God became flesh as Jesus the Messiah, we understand what it means to love one another as God has loved us.

The incarnation, then, is the foundational and fundamental revelation of God; particularly, “God is light” and “God is love.” Because we believe God became flesh as Jesus the Messiah, we love as God loves and we walk as God walks because Jesus showed us how God walks and how God loves.

In this way, when we walk in the light and love as God loves, we know authentic joy.

In Defense of “I’ll Fly Away”

February 24, 2016

This past weekend, on February 20, I was honored to participate in the memorial service of a godly woman in Colonial Heights, Virginia.

Rose Marie Paden–the beloved mother of the Paden boys and girls, and the second mother of the Hicks boys and girl–passed from this life on February 12, 2016. In 1953, Rose Marie and her husband Lowell Paden, along with their three boys at the time (L. V., Mike, and Dan), joined the Hicks family in Colonial Heights, Virginia, to assist in the nurture of a new church plant. The Padens and Hicks were extended families for each other as both were so far from their West Texas roots, and we shared many occasions but especially every Thanksgiving where we would play games, sing songs, and eat together. Rose Marie was a pillar for the church in Colonial Heights for over sixty years! Her works will follow her (Revelation 14:13).

The most moving moment in the memorial service was singing some of her favorite hymns as a congregation, led by three of her grandsons. Those hymns opened our hearts and minds to her faith, and we wept and were comforted.

One of the songs was, “I’ll Fly Away.”

Some glad morning when this life is o’er,
I’ll fly away;
To a home on God’s celestial shore,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away).

I’ll fly away, fly away, Oh Glory
I’ll fly away; (in the morning)
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away).

When the shadows of this life have gone,
I’ll fly away;
Like a bird from prison bars has flown,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away)

Oh. How glad and happy when we meet
I’ll fly away
No more cold iron shackles on my feet
I’ll fly away

Just a few more weary days and then,
I’ll fly away;
To a land where joy shall never end,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away)

I have been known, at times, to chuckle about this song and sometimes to oppose it. There are several reasons the song makes me a bit uncomfortable.

For example, I believe our final resting place is the new heavens and new earth, when heaven and earth become one. Then God will dwell with the redeemed on a renewed earth, fitted for eternal habitation. I don’t believe our final state is some celestial home outside of the present cosmos beyond the lenses of the Hubble telescope.

Another reason for discomfort is the implied assumption that “flying away” is the final journey or goal. This tends to say something like, “When I die, I go to heaven, and that is all I desire.” This leaves out the resurrection from the dead, which is the hope of the Christian faith, and it lends itself to a dualistic understanding of the human being as the physical (material) is laid aside to inherit a wholly “spiritual” (immaterial) realm.

But in this moment I want to offer a defense of the song.

It expresses a deep faith in God’s victory over death.  In other words, death does not win, though it may appear to do so. Human identity does not cease. We are carried away into the bosom of Abraham. Rose Marie flew away into the arms of God. It is her home…for now.

It expresses a deep sense of the chaos in this present world. As the writer of Ecclesiastes says, “everything is hebel” (or absurd, enigma, a breath, vanity). This present cosmos is enslaved and shackled, and the creation itself longs for redemption and renewal, according to Romans 8. The song expresses joy of release from this present bondage to a place where Rose Marie awaits the full redemption of the cosmos, including her own resurrection.

It also expresses a truth about the state of the dead, which is dear to my heart. While death destroys the unity of the human person–separating body and spirit–human identity remains (“I’ll fly away”), and human persons, despite death, escape to a place of joy without end in the presence of God. It goes to the question, “Where are the Dead?” (A question I addressed in a series of blogs, which you can find in my serial index; here is the link to the first one.) In particular, I regard Revelation 7 a fairly clear statement about those who were once upon the earth but have now crossed over into the throne room of God where every tear is wiped away (see my blog on this text). I believe when we die, though we are absent from the body, we are present with the Lord. In some sense we are at home, sheltered by God and the Lamb. And there we wait with the whole creation for the redemption of both the cosmos and our bodies. While we wait, however, we enjoy God’s presence and join the chorus around God’s throne.

I don’t imagine that most people think about all this when they sing the song. Most likely many (if not most) simply think about going home to heaven and never returning to the earth or they don’t think about the resurrection of the dead.

But on February 20th, I sang “I’ll Fly Away” with gusto because it expressed what I knew was true about Rose Marie Paden.

And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this down: Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, they are blessed indeed, for they will rest from their hard work; for their good deeds follow them!”

Amen, and Amen.  Rest in peace, Rose Marie.  Say “Hello” to Lowell for me.

Jonah 1:2-3 – We are all Jonah

October 22, 2015

When Jonah, a prophet who stands before the face of Yahweh, is commissioned to cry out against the evil in Nineveh ascending before the face of Yahweh, Jonah flees from the face of Yahweh to Tarshish,  the opposite direction.

Divine Commission

Kevin Youngblood (Jonah: God’s Scandalous Mercy) correctly suggests Jonah 1 is a commission narrative.

Probably the most famous commission narratives in the Hebrew Bible are Moses in Exodus 3, Isaiah in Isaiah 6, or Jeremiah in Jeremiah 1. The typical pattern of such narratives is something like this: God calls people, they object or resist in some way, God renews their call with assurances, and, finally, they accept the call. This happens with Jonah except his resistance takes the form of flight rather than fight. Nevertheless, God pursues Jonah as a kind of commission renewal until Jonah accepts the call.

Instead of zapping Jonah for his refusal to obey, God pursues Jonah with disciplinary mercy.

The prophetic “word of Yahweh” comes to Jonah (Jonah 1:1), which is a standard way to talk about Hebrew prophets to whom God has given a message. The commission itself comes in the form of three imperatives:

  • Arise! or Get up!
  • Go!
  • Cry Out!

Translations often merge the first two into something like, “Go at once” (NRSV). It is an earnest call–clear, urgent, and emphatic. God is sending Jonah to Nineveh, and Jonah should go immediately. Jonah is invited into God’s mission for Nineveh. And this is more than an invitation, it is command (three imperative verbs). Jonah is commissioned as Yahweh’s representative to Nineveh.

Nineveh is not the administrative or capital city of the Empire in Jonah’s day. It would only become such under Sennacherib (704-681 B.C.E.). While this is anachronistic for post-exilic readers (a likely date for the literary work), it identifies Assyria with its most historic and prominent city within memory. Nineveh, in effect, stands for Assyria, which stands for the nations in general. Within Israel’s living memory, Nineveh is the first great city of Assyria (Genesis 10:11).

The occasion for this mission is the “evil” that ascends, like smoke from a fire, before the face (presence) of God. This evil, apparently, has become so great it demands Yahweh’s proactive attention. Jonah is sent because Yahweh’s permission of evil has limits. God permits but also eradicates evil. Yahweh had decided—with some urgency—now is the time for Nineveh to “face” Yahweh and give account of its evil.

At the same time, Nineveh—as a “great city” within the Assyrian Empire—represents all the nations. In the same way, Nineveh’s evil represents the wickedness with which the nations are saturated. And, also, Jonah’s resistance represents Israel’s own unwillingness to share God’s light with the nations.

Jonah’s Resistance

While evil “ascends” before Yahweh’s face, Jonah “descends” away from Yahweh’s face.

When God commands, we expect to see an obedient response. But here the opposite is the case. God said, “Arise!” and Jonah “arose” (the Hebrew uses the same verb), but Jonah arose to “flee to Tarshish” rather than to “go to Nineveh.” Jonah disobeys the call and refuses the commission. Jonah concretely resists God’s call.

Quite vividly, the narrative chronicles Jonah’s flight as a descent (using the same Hebrew verb).

  • He descended to Joppa (1:2).
  • He descended onto the ship (1:3)
  • He descended into the bowels of the ship (1:5)
  • He descended into the belly of a fish (2:7)

Jonah’s flight is a downward movement. Rather than arising and ascending to the task God gave him, he descends away from God’s presence.

Why does flee to Tarshsish? The first descending step was to go to Joppa, which is movement into non-Jewish territory at the time (king of Ashkelon), and he hired a boat (he did not simply pay a fare) with a non-Jewish crew for his trip to Tarshish. Jonah is escaping from everything Jewish, including the God of Israel, Yahweh.

Tarshish (whether it is modern Gibraltar or Sicily) lies in the opposite direction of Nineveh, and it is quite a distance, perhaps a three year round trip (2 Chronicles 9:21). Whatever its exact location, it is far west (Isaiah 23:6, 10; Psalm 72:10; 48:7). Some have suggested Tarshish may have been a paradise or utopia of some kind, but I don’t think that is the point.

Rather, perhaps Jonah thought he might escape God’s presence on the sea since in Canaanite (Baal) literature Yam is the chaotic Sea god who opposes Baal. Consequently, if Jonah takes flight on the sea perhaps he escapes Yahweh’s sovereign jurisdiction.

More likely—though not excluding the above point—Jonah fled to Tarshish because, according to Isaiah 66:19, no one has yet heard a word from Yahweh there and Yahweh’s glory is unknown there.  In others, he fled to a place where Yahweh is not, or at least where the “word of Yahweh” would not come to him. To put it another way, he fled to a place where the commission would not be renewed, so he might have thought.

Why Did Jonah Resist?

This is quite curious, isn’t it? Jonah, a prophet of Yahweh, refuses Yahweh’s commission. The contrast between Yahweh’s command, “Arise and go,” and Jonah’s response, “He arose and fled,” is quite startling, even astounding.

The reasons are probably quite complex. Whatever those reasons are, Jonah thinks they are compelling. He would rather flee Yahweh and die in a foreign land—even die on the sea—than to participate in God’s mission to Nineveh. That mission, to Jonah, was anathema; it was the opposite of his heart’s desire.

Later in the book, Jonah does tell us why he fled to Tarshish (4:2a):

“O Yahweh! Is not this what I said while I was still in my country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful.”

Jonah did not want God to show mercy to Nineveh. But why is Jonah opposed to mercy for the Assyrians (or the nations, for that matter)?

  • Perhaps he was concerned about reputation—would Jonah be counted a traitor for helping Assyrians who previously oppressed Israel?
  • Perhaps he feared retribution from his own people when he returned to Israel after visiting Nineveh.
  • Perhaps he was concerned about a renewed rise of power among the Assyrians, which would result in renewed oppression of Israel.
  • Perhaps he thought Assyria did not deserve mercy because they were a brutal and violent nation (from crucifixions to decapitations, enslavement of peoples, etc.).

Whatever the case, “No mercy for Nineveh!” is Jonah’s slogan. The commission exposes the heart beating in Jonah’s breast. That heart beats in many of us who feel, “he does not deserve mercy,” or “she is not worthy,” or “they must be punished!” We have all felt revenge rather than reconciliation, and sometimes prioritized retribution over mercy.

Sinclair Ferguson (Man Overboard! The Story of Jonah, 13) suggests the call is a form of divine heart surgery, to which we are all exposed when we hear God’s call on our lives.

We might wonder whether God was deliberately shining the spotlight of his Word into an area of Jonah’s life that had never been put to the test before, exposing a nerve, and then touching it to discover what response there might be….Like an instrument which can detect microscopic differences, it can penetrate in our consciences between the limits of our willingness to obey and the point at which we may turn from God’s commands.

We are all Jonah!

1 Peter 1:6-9 — Joy in the Midst of Suffering

May 31, 2015

“Joy” and “suffering” are not two words that often belong in the same sentence, much less a blog title. Yet, this is exactly the case as Peter digresses from doxology (begun in 1 Peter 1:3) to commentary on his reader’s present circumstances (1 Peter 1:6-9).

1 Peter 1:3-12 is a single sentence in the Greek text. Peter begins with doxology (1:3-5), digresses into proclamation (1:6-9), and ends with wonder (3:10-12). Peter blesses God because the Father has rebirthed us, continues to preserve us, and will in the last time rescue us (1:3-5). This “salvation,” which is already present though not yet fully revealed, provides the ground for joy in the midst of suffering.

Joy arises out of the salvation rather than from the suffering. We do not rejoice because we are suffering, but our suffering is soaked with joy because of God’s saving work. This does not mean that we forsake grieving or tears. On the contrary, we weep, lament, and cry out to God because we suffer. What it does mean, however, even as our suffering is for a little while and for limited purposes, God is at work among us for our salvation. This is our living hope, and it will carry us through our darkest times.

This salvation, which is the subject of Peter’s doxology, is the reason why believers rejoice even as they “suffer various trials.” Peter lays out the reality of salvation first, and then situates suffering in the context of that salvation. As Peter illustrates, suffering is best framed by God’s narrative, by the story of God’s saving work among us. Despite the suffering, but because of our salvation, we rejoice in the midst of suffering, trust in Jesus, and love Jesus even though we have not see him.

In this brief digression, Peter offers some perspectives on suffering, which we might summarize in a few points.

Suffering is varied and brief.

What kind of suffering is Peter describing? It certainly involves the sort of suffering later described in the book, including what slaves suffer from their masters, how Christians are treated by Roman culture, and potential imprisonment on the part of political authority. In other words, Peter is primarily focused on suffering as persecution in one form or another.

But should we limit what Peter says about suffering to only persecution? I don’t think so.

It is important to remember 1 Peter is soaked with the theology, imagery, and language of the Hebrew Scriptures. Peter addresses the “elect exiles of the Disapora” (1:1)—they are the people of God scattered across what is now modern Turkey. They are God’s “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9).

When 1 Peter describes the suffering of the exiles as “trials” or “testing,” this evokes diverse images from the Hebrew Scriptures. Israel endured various trials throughout its history—from persecution to wilderness wanderings. When Peter evokes the image of “trial,” he is drawing on the theology of Israel’s Scriptures. For example, Deuteronomy 8:1-4 characterizes the wilderness wandering by the children of the rebellious generation as a “testing” (trial), which becomes a type of Jesus own “testing” in the wilderness in Matthew 4 (Luke 3).

“Various trials,” I think, has a broad meaning, just as “salvation” is broadly considered as well (past, present, and future). The term “varied” itself gives the impression of different kinds of suffering or suffering that comes in many different forms, just as grace comes in many forms (“manifold grace” in 1 Peter 4:10—using the same term). Peter’s language is not restricted to persecutions but to all forms of suffering.

This suffering, however, is brief. It is for “ a little while.” Peter contrasts our unfading inheritance with the brevity of our suffering (similar to Paul in Romans 8:18ff). Suffering is limited; it will not last forever.

Suffering is necessary and meaningful.

Peter is quite explicit about this. Believers “have had (deon) to suffer various trials so that (hina) the genuineness of [their] faith…may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7).

Deon, a form of dei, entails necessary. We might translate this as, “it was necessary to suffer…” Of course, this is not an absolute statement about suffering but a relative one. It is necessary relative to the meaning or purpose of suffering. In other words, the significance of suffering is not arbitrary or chaotic; it is purposeful and significant.

The hina expresses purpose, and the specified purpose is testing, which bears fruit as believers are praised, glorified, and honored when Christ is revealed in the eschaton (or “last time”).

Suffering tests faith; suffering is a trial. It refines faith just as gold is refined by fire, and it demonstrates its authenticity or proves its worth. Suffering functions like a smelter where what is pure, good, and authentic emerges on the other side. As God preserves us through the fire, our faith emerges stronger and more deeply rooted in God’s own work in our lives.

“Testing” is a theme that reverberates throughout Israel’s story. God “tested” Abraham (Genesis 22:1), Israel in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 8:1-5), and Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 32:31). The Psalmists invite this testing (Psalms 26:2; 139:23), assume it (Psalms 7:9; 11:4-5), and recognize it in their own history (Psalm 66:10). Israel’s wisdom literature employs it (Proverbs 17:3). The prophet Jeremiah pictures God as one who tests hearts (Jeremiah 11:20; 12:3; 17:10; 20:12; cf. Zechariah 13:9). We might see “testing” as a core motif in God’s relationship with Israel and with humanity (as the example of Job illustrates as well; cf. Job 23:10).

The exiled elect of the Christian Disapora are also tested, and this is consistent with the story of Jesus and the early church (James 1:2-3, 12). Jesus himself is tested. Hebrews, quoting Psalm 95, situates Christians in the wilderness testing (Hebrews 3:8). God tests hearts (1 Thessalonians 2:4). Indeed, the whole world is tested in the crucible of the conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan (Revelation 3:10).

Given the pervasive nature of this testing motif, the identification of followers of Jesus with Israel’s story, and the function of testing in God’s narrative, suffering has meaning. It is a refining fire and authenticator, and this is the reason—at least in 1 Peter—that suffering is necessary. Faith must be tested.

The result of a genuine faith is eschatological “praise, glory and honor.” Coming through the fire, we will emerge as refined gold, and God’s response to this is to praise us (e.g., “well done”—the applause of heaven, as one of Lucado’s books is entitled), glorify us (with a “crown of glory” in 1 Peter 5:4), and honor us. “Well done” are the words of Jesus in Matthew 25. In other words, through suffering, we are renewed and restored to the original vision of God for humanity whom God crowned with glory and honor (Psalm 8). God will exalt those who have been humbled in their suffering.

This eschatological glory is, in fact, the “salvation of [our] souls” (1 Peter 3:9). Unfortunately, “souls” is sometimes misunderstood to refer only to the inner person, but this is too limited. Our living hope is both a resurrection and a landed inheritance (the meek shall inherit the earth, Matthew 5:5). “Soul” includes both the inner and outer person, both the spirit and body (in resurrection), just as eight “souls” were saved in Noah’s ark. “Soul” refers to the whole person, and it is the whole person who will be saved.

But this salvation is not simply future. While its full revelation awaits the “last time” (1 Peter 1:5), it is already received now by faith. The verb “receiving” in 1 Peter 1:9 is present tense; it is something located in the here and now. Our salvation is something we already experience through new birth and divine perseverance even though it is not yet fully realized, that comes when God grants our inheritance in the “last time.”

We endure suffering through love, faith, and joy.

Clearly Peter does not believe the Christian life is a bed of roses. It is filled with “various trials.” Suffering is part of the path that Christians tread.

Suffering correlates with the reality that we do not now “see” Jesus. Jesus is, in one sense, absent as he sits at the right hand of God. He is located in heaven with our inheritance. Suffering, then, entails a kind of blindness, even darkness. We do not see, but yet we endure. Suffering can often darken our horizons, and it creates a fog that blinds us. Yet, nevertheless we endure by the power of God.

Peter describes this endurance with three verbs (as translated by NRSV):

  • You love him
  • You believe in him
  • You rejoice with indescribable and glorious joy

Love, faith, and joy.

These are possible, in part, because even now we are receiving the telos (goal, end, or outcome) of our life with God. Through love, faith, and joy we experience the future in the present.

So, suffering does not destroy us. On the contrary, it strengthens and refines us. We love God—not for profit or reward but because God has loved us. We trust in God’s work within and among us because of Jesus—even in the midst of suffering. And, further, we do not despair, but we rejoice in our living hope.

Suffering—as difficult as it is to see in those dark times—refines us so that through love and faith we might rejoice in God’s work in and for us.

The Opening Psalm (Psalm 1)

January 31, 2015

Psalm 1, perhaps also Psalm 2, serves as a preface or introduction to the Psalter. It says something important about how we should read, sing, pray, and meditate on Psalms.

There is some text-critical evidence (variant readings) that Acts 13:33 calls Psalm 2 the “first Psalm,” and some medieval manuscripts write the first psalm in red. This suggests that some believed Psalm 1 introduces the whole book of Psalms. So the question is: how does Psalm 1 orient us to the practice of praying and singing the Psalms? That can only be answered by a close reading and focused understanding of the psalm.

Psalm 1 is neither a prayer nor a song. Rather, it is a teaching. Often classified as a Torah Psalm (that is, a Psalm that intends to teach, instruct, or guide in reflection of what Yahweh has revealed to Israel), it also serves as a Wisdom Psalm (that is, offering a general perspective on life), and both genres orient the worshiper who uses Psalms. The psalms become a way of life; they provide guidance in how to pray, what language to use about God, how to think about life in communion with God, and how to live with God in the midst of life. Psalms teaches people how to praise, pray (event protest), and give thanks (testify).

Psalm 1 is deeply rooted in both Torah and Wisdom as both teach there are two ways.  The righteous and the wicked take different paths. This kind of language is common throughout the Torah (obediently following God and refusing to obey God) and Wisdom (wise people and foolish people). Jesus reflects this same vision of “paths” in Matthew 7:13-14.  There is a path that leads to destruction (even self-destruction) and there is a path that leads to life (even the abundant life). The wise choose the latter while the foolish choose the former (Matthew 7:24-27). Can you sing the song? Upon what did are we building our houses–rock (wise) or sand (fools)?

As one student helpfully suggested, this sounds like “us versus them” thinking, or at least it sounds like a kind of arrogant “we are righteous” and “you are sinners” kind of thing. Certainly some might use Psalm 1 to reinforce their hostile and antagonistic attitudes towards others they believe are “sinners” (even if they are not). Clearly we neither want to claim any kind of sinless status, nor do we want to treat people with hostility in an “us versus them” sort of way.

However, I don’t think that is the picture here. Indeed, Jesus ate with sinners, and he loved sinners. We are all sinners in some sense. At the same time, Jesus also prayed the psalms (often quoting them) and recognized the distinction between the foolish and the wise.

So, what is the point of the Psalm 1? It is about the direction in which our life is oriented and the path we have chosen to take. Do we seek to live under God’s guidance, or do we choose the advice of those who live self-destructive lives? Do we choose to live out God’s story for our lives, or do we create our own story? We have a choice, and the crux of the decision is to choose whether we will humbly submit to God’s Torah (guidance, instruction, or story) or whether we will arrogantly create our own path. This is the choice Psalm 1 sets before us.

One path leads to death or destruction, even self-destruction. This path is like chaff in the wind. It leads nowhere and is blown away by the wind.  The path ultimately means that they cannot withstand the close scrutiny of life, that is, their life is ultimately empty and without substance. That path has no goal, and it ultimately has no place to stand. It is blown about by the winds of life.

The other path leads to life. It is a fruitful and productive life. Deeply rooted, it is stable. Planted by water, it is constantly refreshed and nourished. The path of wisdom results in a centered-life, and one that prospers.

But does the wise path always prosper? Surely we all know people, even the best of people, who suffer greatly despite their wise choices.

It is good to remember that we are reading poetry, and it is a wisdom poem at that. The psalm speaks in general terms. Within God’s good creation, a wise path tends toward life, while a foolish path tends towards self-destruction, which is the whole point of Proverbs 1-9.  But there are exceptions (Job is a memorable one within the canon), and the Psalter will remind us that they exist. In fact, the biblical psalms include the prayers of righteous sufferers, diseased devotees, and dying believers. The Psalter is not naive, and neither is Psalm 1.

Nevertheless, wisdom teaches that which we path we choose entails blessings or consequences. It says something about how life works within God’s created order. There are practices and habits that bring death, and there are those that bring life.

If we….

  • live (walk) by the advice (counsel) of the foolish (wicked),
  • choose (stand) the path of those who reject God’s Torah (sinners), and
  • participate (sit) in or join in the planning (assembly) of mockers hostile to God,

then we have chosen a path that leads to destruction.

The Psalmist has chosen a different path; he sits in the assembly of the righteous (disciples of God’s Torah) rather than in the assembly of the mockers.

The wise…

  • delight, love, and embrace the teaching (story, narrative) of Yahweh and
  • immerse themselves in that narrative through prayer, reflection, and worship

As we read, sing, and pray the psalms, we have a choice.  We may either submit our hearts and lives to the language, values, and story of Yahweh’s teaching through Psalms, or we may create our own language, values, and story by ignoring or rejecting Psalms.

Psalm 1 invites us to decide how we will approach the Psalter. Will we read in humility seeking to learn how to praise, pray, and give thanks, or will we read them in arrogant dismissal? Psalm 1 prepares us for a journey through the Psalter, and it recommends humble submission. Psalm 1, introducing the five books of the Psalms (which mirrors the five books of the Torah), invites us to worship and commune with God within the narrative that God has created.

Those who accept that invitation are “blessed.”  They are not simply “happy” like some kind of satisfied, consumerist state of consciousness. Rather, they are “blessed.” God has invested in their lives and provided a sense of “blessedness.” As they walk in the path of God’s story, God is actively shaping and transforming them so that they are trees planted by water yielding their fruit in every season of life. Blessedness is a divine act, and God gives it to those who walk wisely in the fear of the Lord.

Mercy Over Sacrifice: The Missing Principle in Muscle & a Shovel

December 2, 2014

I recently published a new article at  You can access it here.

K. C. Moser as Advocate for Grace

September 8, 2014

On August 13, 2014 I facilitated the 2014 Carroll B. Ellis Symposium on Restoration Preaching on the topic of Kenneth Carl Moser (or, K. C. Moser).

I have uploaded my handout for that day to my “General” page and you may access it here.

This is the table of contents:

General Chronology

A Theological Shift: What Changed Moser?

An Agent of Grace: Revisioning the “Way of Salvation”

Public Impact: Moser Leads a New Generation in the 1960s


Foy E. Wallace on Moser              


A Sacramental Journey

September 3, 2014

Creation is good, but new creation is better. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper on the journey

David Lipscomb: South Nashville Churches of Christ (1906)

May 10, 2014

While doing some research in Nashville newspapers, I encountered this piece by David Lipscomb:  “South Nashville Church of Christ,” Daily American (January 17, 1906), p. 8.

I thought it was interesting for several reasons.

1.  It illustrates that Lipscomb thought church planting was the way to grow the kingdom.

2. It illustrates the use of tent meetings in the planting of churches, and how other churches supported the planting of those communities.

3. It illustrates the use of “lay” (my term) preachers, that is, bi-vocational ministers, in the growth and maturing of congregations.

4. It illustrates why Nashville has so many Churches of Christ. Lipscomb promoted the planting of many small congregations who managed their own affairs (did their own teaching, missions, evangelism, etc.) rather than consolidating into large congregations. Small but many was better than few but large, according to Lipscomb.

Here is the piece in full:

“South Nashville Church of Christ


To the Editor of the American:

An item in The American, Monday morning, concerning the South Nashville Church of Christ and its work, is so full of mistakes that it is easier to write a new account than to correct it.

The South  College-street Church was first organized in its present house of worship eighteen years ago. After a few years of successful work, the Green Street, the Carroll Street, and the Flat Rock churches were begun by a number withdrawing from this church to do so. The old Bible School  Church, Highland avenue and West Nashville churches were formed largely by members from this church.

Since the formation of the church eighteen years ago nine or ten preachers have been developed in the church. Tents have been greatly used by the congregation in its work in reaching the non-church going and the people generally. A tent is sent, with a preacher, to hold a meeting, receive what contributions are offered, without asking any, report to the church, and what is lacking in these contributions to sustain the work is supplemented by the churches engaged in the work. Oftentimes the sending of the preacher and tent a few times will arouse such an interest in the place or in some neighboring church that they will support the meeting without cost to those sending, except for the use of the tent. Yet, if the tent had not been sent it is most probable nothing would have been done.

The first tent meeting was held in South Nashville by J. A. Haring, principal of Potter Bible College, of Bowling Green, Ky. He also held very successful meetings in East Nashville, out of which grew largely Foster-street Church.

For  four or five years past the South College-street Church, the old Bible School, the Tenth, West Nashville and Green-street churches have kept two or three tents at work. One has been kept almost constantly at work in and around Nashville. A church has been established on the Dickerson pike, and one at the New Shops within the last year. Churches have been established by the use of these tents at Monterey, Baxter, Erin, Dayton, Graysville, with others in Rutherford, Cannon, Warren and Montgomery counties, Tennessee; Trion and Atlanta, Ga.; Huntsville and Wilsonville, Ala.

Counting the churches formed out of the South Nashville Church, we count thirty-five congregations planted by this work, two of which have dissolved and united with other contiguous churches. There are eight or ten other mission points that promise churches at an early day. During the past summer over 500 persons were baptized through this work. During the last few years as many as 2,000 have been baptized.

Elder E. A. Moore, of South Nashville, has looked after the collecting and disbursing of funds. S. W. Morrow, of the old Bible School Church, has largely done the purchasing and managing of the tents. A number of churches established by the tent work have purchased tents, and become centers of operation for doing similar work around them. Dayton, East Tenn., and Trion, Ga., are examples of this. Other churches in West Tennessee, Arkansas, Canada and California have been moved by the example of this work to do likewise. Much of this work has been done by working men, who have, by conducting the worship, looking after the affairs of the church and studying the Bible, become good, efficient teachers of the word, while following their ordinary avocations for a living. They can more effectively reach their fellow-workmen than can those who rely on preaching as a  means of support. When a preacher can say to his congregation: “I know you are all tired with your day’s work, as I am and I will try to not weary you,” he touches a chord of sympathy in that audience that is worth more than learning, to lead them to good.

With the hours of labor per day the earnest working man can find time for study, and preparation, that will enable him to appear with credit before any audience. There are a number of such preachers in Nashville. It has not been the policy of the South College-street Church to encourage the collecting of a large membership in one body. This with a fine house may flatter the preacher and attract numbers, but to scatter the large congregations into a number of worshipping bodies and leave them greatly to depend on themselves, will call out the activities, develop the talent, give practical experience to the religious lives of the masses of the people, and give the most reliable class of religious people to be found in any community.