God Creates the Cosmos

September 29, 2022

Days 2-4 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days

Texts: John 17:24-26; Isaiah 66:1-2; Genesis 1:1-2, 31

Why did God create the world?

I think it is for the same reason God sent the Son into the world. And it is this: to include humanity in the communion of God’s own love. That perhaps offers some perspective on why God created humanity.

But why did God create the material cosmos?

God created the material cosmos as a place where God would dwell with humanity and share life with them. The cosmos is like a temple in which God choses to dwell, and God made a temple for God’s own dwelling. Importantly, God did not built a house for solitude but to live with humanity in the good creation. God invites us to live in the house God built where we enjoy God, commune with God, and fill the cosmos with God’s love. The transcendent and unapproachable God graciously accommodates our finitude by creating a realty in which we, as finite creatures, might dwell with God.

Then what did God create?

God’s act of creation was a dynamic process that began with a chaotic mess and yielded a good, very good, world filled with diverse geography, diverse plants and animals, and a humanity invested with responsibility for the creation.

When God finished the work, it was good but incomplete. The creation had not reached its potential by the seventh day. It was only the beginning. The initial work was finished, that is, God created the space and filled it with the resources for its future growth and development.

Humanity was charged with filling the earth, which—at least—includes having children. The creation was designed to develop, change, and emerge into something more beautiful, more diverse, and more enriching. God has a goal for the creation. It was created to become more than what it was at its beginning. The story of creation is the story of God at work, in partnership with humanity, to bring the

Introduction to the Story of God

September 26, 2022

Day One in Around the Bible in Eighty Days

Texts: Romans 16:25-27; Luke 24:44-49

The message is called gospel (good news) and the announcement (heralding) of Jesus the Messiah. Like an imperial proclamation of good news for the Empire, God announces good news for both Israel and the nations. Before this revelation of the work of God in Jesus by the Spirit, it was a mystery. This does not mean mysterious but unknown. Now, however, it has been revealed–it is now known.

This revelation comes through the appearance of Jesus the Messiah. At the same time, it is also made know through an exposition of the prophetic Scriptures. The prophets anticipated this moment, and we read the Scriptures in order to understand the outworking of this mystery in Christ.

God’s eternal purpose is to generate an obedient faith among the Gentiles. Paul heralds this good news about Jesus for the sake of bringing the salvation of God revealed to Israel to the ends of the earth and strengthening the faith of the disciples of Jesus. For this work, among many other things, God is worthy of praise.

The commission at the end of the Gospel of Luke affirms that the Scriptures—the Torah, the prophets, and the Psalms—tell this story, and we ought to search those texts for an understanding of how what was revealed there came to its fullness in the life, ministry, death, resurrection, and enthronement of Jesus of Nazareth. We listen to the story of Scripture to hear a word about God’s Messiah and the salvation God’s servant brings.

This salvation begins with the proclamation of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and in the name of Jesus, it produces repentance and the forgiveness of sins for all nations. The story of Israel is not confined to the Scriptures of Israel but continues in the work of heralding the coming of the Messiah and God’s salvation. That work continues in a community, first gathered at Jerusalem, scattered among the nations empowered by the coming of the Holy Spirit. The story continues through the witness of the church.

When we read Scripture, we are looking for that story. It is the main plot in Scripture. While we may become interested and even distracted by many particulars in the story, the main thrust of the story is the revelation of God’s mighty acts of redemption and salvation, which are first present in Israel, then fulfilled in Christ, and proclaimed by the church.

It is a drama on the world stage. It began in creation, was entrusted to Israel, climaxed in Jesus, is embodied by the church, and will be restored in new creation. These are the five acts of the drama: Creation, Israel, Christ, Church, and New Creation. I call it a theodrama because the main plot is the work of God, that is, what God is doing for the sake of the creation. God creates. God choses Israel. God becomes human in Jesus. God dwells in the church. God renews creation as a new heaven and new earth.

That is the story Around the Bible in 80 Days seeks to unfold. But the goal is not only for information but for formation into the image of God and participation in the mission of God.

Day One is the first step in the journey.

Hebel Happens: A Sermon on September 11, 2022

September 12, 2022

This sermon was delivered at the Well House Church in Nashville, TN. The sermon begins at about 44 minutes.

Hebel happens.

9-11 happened.

Hebel is the word the preacher in Ecclesiastes uses thirty-seven times to describe a world soaked in death.

Life is brief, a vapor. It is absurd and an enigma. It is unfathomable; we can’t make sense of the world as it now exists.

Stuff happens; and it is hebel—enigmatic, transitory, and futile.

COVID-19 happens. Job losses happen. Violence happens. Abuse happens. Cancer happens. Death happens. It is hebel.

How do we respond to hebel?

We lament, question, and protest.

We need to sit there for a time. We should neither escape lament nor rush it. Let it happen. It is a healthy response to hebel.

How do we respond to hebel? We lament. But that is not all.

We open our eyes to see the beauty in the world. We embrace the goodness of creation and its joys.

Even the preacher said, “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart . . . Let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the [spouse] whom you love.”

Without diminishing the pain of our lament, we affirm the goodness of creation: the joy of food, wine, companionship, vocation, children, and life.

There is hebel, and there is good. Something is wrong with this world, and there is also something good about it.

Today, we lament the evil, and affirm the good.

We lament 9-11, and we also give thanks for the good in our lives.

We lament the pandemic, and we also gratefully enjoy family, food, friends, and faith.

Reading Scripture In Five Acts: A Summary

September 9, 2022

Reading the Bible as a Five Act Drama for Embodying the Gospel in the 21st Century.

I recorded this video for a student of mine at his request. Perhaps some might find it helpful. Grace and peace, my friends.

Searching for the Pattern: Kyle Spears Interviews John Mark Hicks

September 6, 2022

Kyle Spears introduces the interview with this description: Is there a New Testament blueprint that marks who the true church is? Is there a pattern of New Testament culture that we are to imitate or is there more to the story? Every congregation wants to align themselves with the New Testament examples seen in scripture, but have we missed the story of God in the process? John Mark Hicks is a notable scholar in the Restoration Movement and joins the discussion as we discuss his book “Searching for the Pattern”.

Wise and Foolish Builders: Matthew 7:24-29

August 29, 2022

A sermon on the wise and foolish builders in the parable of Jesus at the end of the Sermon on the Mount.

Suffrage, Tennessee, and Churches of Christ.

August 18, 2022

Today is its 102nd anniversary.

In 1919, Congress passed the nineteenth amendment. Tennessee ratified the amendment on August 18, 1920 by two votes. That vote made it constitutional law. Harry Burn was a 24-year old representative up for re-election that Fall. He wore a red rose into the chamber which symbolized his “No” vote. His vote would’ve ensured defeat for the amendment. But he had a letter from his mother in his pocket next to his heart. That note changed his vote. “Hurrah, vote for suffrage!” Phoebe Burn wrote, “be a good boy and help Mrs. [Carrie Chapman] Catt put the ‘rat’ in ratification.” The amendment became constitutional law.

In contrast to Phoebe and Harry Burn, several ministers of the churches of Christ signed a petition, published in the Nashville Banner on August 20, 1920. It opposed suffrage because it would “revolutionize our entire mode of life and will in our opinion have an evil effect not only in our homes, our churches and our families, but will affect the whole social fabric of our present generation and of generations yet unborn.” Some teachers at David Lipscomb College (J. W. Grant, S. P. Pittman, and H. S. Lipscomb) and several ministers (F. B. Srygley, J. C. McQuiddy, and James E. Scobey) signed it.

J. C. McQuiddy, the editor of the Gospel Advocate, opposed suffrage and wrote several articles in opposition to the vote to ratify the amendment. Only July 22, 1920, after quoting Genesis 3:16-19, he wrote: “Thus, just after the fall, we find that God placed woman in the home and made it her duty to bring forth children, with the understanding that ‘thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.’ If any are disposed to find fault with this position, they are disposed to complain of the will of God Almighty, and not of the will of man. . . As the modern woman is demanding not only suffrage, but also political equality, it is clear that she cannot hold office and perform the duties of politics and remain at home at the same time.” “Woman Suffrage,” Gospel Advocate, July 22, 1920, pp. 715-716.

The opposition to suffrage ran deep, and it is was based on (1) Genesis 3:16 places a woman (wife) under the rule of men (husband); (2) 1 Timothy 2:12 means no woman can have authority over a man, whether in church, home, or society, (3) women must exercise their influence through a man, and (4) if women subvert the divinely created order in society, then it should not apply to the home or church either since creation is the basis for both.

1) “From the time that sin entered into the world, and entered through woman, she has been placed in a retiring, dependent, and quiet position, and never has been put forward as a leader among men in any public capacity from the garden of Eden till now…This seems to have been a general decree for all time, for God has never varied from it an any age or dispensation….’Thy desire shall be to thy husband,’ is indicative of dependence—not in any slavish sense, but in the sense that she is to look to man as a leader and protector, and, in certain measure, supporter and provider….God himself never changed this decree, and does not allow man to change it.” (E. G. Sewell, Gospel Advocate [1897] 432.)

2) “[I]t is wrong for her so to usurp authority anywhere…the same principles that prevent her from teaching in the church, prevail in the schoolroom or anywhere else; it is a question of women usurping authority over men and becoming leaders of them.” (James A. Harding from The Way [March 5, 1903]).

3) The negative impact of suffrage, James A. Allen wrote in the Gospel Advocate, December 19, 1907 (p. 812), would subvert “the law of nature, and the law of God, that the influence of woman must be exercised through man.”

4) D. G. Porter concluded that women do not have the right to vote “unless, indeed, it is proposed to proceed upon what seems the absurdest of all principles; namely, subordination at home and in the Church, but independence and equality abroad. We call this proposition absurd, because it would seem that if woman can be equal to man in authority anywhere, it must be at home and in the Church; and that her equality here, if indeed that ought to be her position, must be the foundation of her equality in external affairs.” (Christian Quarterly [October 1874] 489-90)

Interestingly, few, if any, apply these texts in this way today. Perhaps we have learned something over the past 100 years, and we have more to learn yet.

May God have mercy.

Encountering Jesus at Table: The Emmaus Road Narrative (Luke 24:13-35)

July 21, 2022

Why do we eat at the Lord’s table like it is still Friday when it is Sunday, resurrection day?

A Podcast Discussion: New Heavens and a New Earth

July 13, 2022

Obadiah, the Day of the Lord, and Juneteenth

June 18, 2022

[A Version of What was Delivered at Woodmont Hills Church of Christ, Nashville, TN, on June 19, 2020.]

Continuing a series on the “Day of the Lord” in the Hebrew prophets, the text selected for this morning is Obadiah, and today is June 19, historically regarded as Jubilee Day or Emancipation Day in African American communities for over a century. To my mind, there is a connection. But first, we turn to Obadiah.

It is only a single chapter, twenty-one verses. It is the shortest book in the Hebrew Bible. It is often forgotten, and it doesn’t even appear in the lectionary cycle of the liturgical churches. It is, to say the least, a neglected book.

However, it is not only its brevity that accounts for this. It is also its topic. It has been received as a word of judgment against the nation of Edom, the nation who descended from Esau. As a word of judgment against a specific nation that had a specific history with the nation of Israel, it might seem a bit irrelevant to us. What does contemporary life have to do with the destruction of Edom over 2500 years ago?

This is where the theme of the Day of the Lord becomes important because that theme establishes contemporary relevance. The Day of the Lord does not only come to Edom, but the prophet Obadiah also tells us it comes for “all nations.” What happened to Edom—and the reasons it happened to Edom—lies in store for “all nations” (v. 15).

So, what happened to Edom? What happened to Edom is what happened to Judah at the hands of Edom. The rivalry between the nations of Israel and Edom go back to their ancestors Jacob and Esau. Though those two reconciled, the rivalry deepened and turned to hostility. When Israel wanted to pass through the land of Edom on the way to the promised land, Edom refused. Even when Israel promised to pay for any water or food they used along the way, Edom refused. At times, the nations warred with each other. Israel subjugated Edom during the reign of David, and Edom invaded Judah at other times. Sometimes they were allies but never friends. Finally, when the Babylonian empire invaded Judah three times over a period of 20 years and laid siege to Jerusalem three times, finally destroying the city in 586 BCE, Edom joined forces with Babylon to humiliate Judah.

Edom cooperated with Babylon, assisted them, and took advantage of Judah’s subjugation. As a consequence, on “that day”—the day of the Lord—the wise in Edom were destroyed, her warriors shattered, and everyone was cut off from Mount Esau (vv. 8-9). The day of the Lord came to Edom as judgment, destruction, and exclusion from God’s future story.

Why did it happen to Edom? Fundamentally, Edom mistreated his brother (vv. 10-14).

  • Edom stood aside and watched Jerusalem robbed and subjugated without helping or showing pity.
  • Edom gloated over the misfortune of Judah and rejoiced over their ruin.
  • Edom boasted about their own security and power on the day of Judah’s distress.
  • Edom participated in the calamity of Judah by entering its cities, including Jerusalem, and violently subduing the city and its land.
  • Edom prevented the escape of refugees and handed over survivors to the ruling power, the Babylonians.

In other words, Edom used their secure position in relation to Babylonian power to pillage, seize, and abuse their brothers in Judah. Rather than using it to show mercy, assist, and welcome their brothers, they used it to inflict power for their own benefit. Fundamentally, they failed to love their neighbors and honor the common brotherhood of Jacob and Esau as children of Abraham and Isaac.

They used their power—the privilege afforded to them as Babylonian allies—to enrich themselves, secure their own position in relation to that power, and take revenge against Judah for past offenses. And what drove this was a “proud heart” (v. 3). Their arrogance—their seeming invincibility (“who will bring me down to the ground?” in v. 4)—emboldened them, and they stole from and murdered their own brothers as a tool of Babylonian power.

For this reason, the Day of the Lord came upon Edom, and it meany their destruction. God judges the nations for their violence, arrogance, and cruelty. God sent out a messenger among the nations, the prophet Obadiah, to announce that the Lord will do battle against Edom for his sins. The Day of the Lod comes as judgment against Edom.

But not just Edom, and this is how Obadiah’s message about Edom is also relevant for us. Obadiah 15 says, “For the day of the Lord is near against all nations.” The standard of measurement for all nations is their own actions. Just as they have done, it will be done to them, and their “deeds shall return on” their “own head” (v. 15). What nations do to other nations, the Day of the Lord will bring to those nations.

This is a message not only about Edom, but it is a warning and a promise to all nations. When nations do what Edom did, when they gloat over the ruin of others, boast of their own power and standing in the world, mistreat others through violence and enslavement, punish refugees rather than help them, and participate in the calamity of other peoples, then the Day of the Lord will come for them as it did for Edom.

Obadiah’s message, though specifically targeting Edom, also speaks to all nations throughout all history. It speaks to our own nation. Juneteenth reminds us one of our nation’s original sins, the enslavement of people for the enrichment of plantations and the nation. Juneteenth celebrates the moment on June 19, 1865 when Union General Gordon Granger posted and publicly read throughout Galveston, Texas, General Order No. 3 which freed the remaining enslaved people and granted them the rights of a free people.

But before Juneteenth was a version of the Day of the Lord. The Civil War cost this nation over 625,000 lives, one out of every 50 people alive in 1860 died in that war. Abraham Lincoln recognized a divine judgment in his Second Inaugural Address.  It was a nineteenth century “Day of the Lord” for the United States.

“The Almighty has His own purposes. ‘Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.’ If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, H now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether’.”

American slavery did to Africans what Edom did to Judah. When the Day of the Lord comes, it liberates the oppressed and judges the evil that oppressed them.

The Day of the Lord is a recurring event throughout history. It is not simply one day, but many days where the righteous judgment of God moves in history to deliver the oppressed, judge the wicked, and renew the hope of the righteous. Those days are part of history, both biblical and subsequent to the Biblical history. We don’t often see them clearly as we are so bound up in the wickedness and the wounds of this world that we are blinded by our own power and privilege.

I am no prophet, and I cannot discern the movement of God in the world to identify this is that, and that is this. However, we are all called to pay attention to the righteousness, justice, and mercy (e.g., Micah 6:8; Matthew 23:23). We are called to seek the kingdom of God first and God’s righteousness (Matthew 6:33). We pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We judge the nations in the light of the kingdom of God, a kingdom where power humbles itself and privilege serves the other; a kingdom that advocates mercy over sacrifice, love of neighbor over ambition, and empowerment of the power over the enrichment of the wealthy. We seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness–is is our allegiance as disciples of Jesus.

And that day—the day when the kingdom of God comes—is coming and is already here though it has not fully arrived. A day is coming when Mount Edom will belong to the Lord, and all the kingdoms of the earth will become the kingdom of our Lord (v 21).

The Day of the Lord has two edges to it. It will judge the nations for their violence, exploitation, and self-enrichment, and that day will also fill the earth with the righteousness, justice, mercy, and peace. On that day, the eschatological Day of the Lord, the earth will belong the Lord, the meek will inherit the earth, and the glory of God will fill and renew all things as an inheritance for God’s people. Until that day comes when God will set everything right, we continue to pray “Your kingdom come,” and we give ourselves to God as disciples of Jesus who pursue God’s kingdom and become instruments of that kingdom life in the present.

Until that day, perhaps that call of Lincoln in his second inaugural still rings true: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right,” let us pursue righteousness, justice, mercy, and compassion as we bind up the wounds, care for the poor, and seek the kingdom of God above all else.