Friday, September 30, 2011

Dead Sea Scrolls Online

The grass withers, the flower fades,
When the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever
(Isa 40:7-8).

One of the most enjoyable moments of life thus far has been visiting Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the late 1940's. The Dead Sea Scrolls, contrary to speculations from 19th century historical critics, confirmed our Masoretic Text (the Hebrew manuscripts from which your English Old Testament was translated) as reliable and therefore God's Word as accurately preserved through the centuries. It was no small find!

The year following our visit to Qumran, we were able to actually view the Dead Sea Scrolls on display in San Diego - ever the romantic, I took my wife to stare for hours at dusty old papyri and to discuss advances in biblical archaeology (she was overcome with excitement, as you can imagine).

Now, the Israel Museum (in Jerusalem) and Google have collaborated to make such an experience much easier - searchable, high-resolution images of the Dead Sea Scrolls online in The Digital Dead Sea Scrolls Project!

Currently including the largest and most-known scrolls, such as the Great Isaiah Scroll (see below) and the Habakkuk pesher (i.e., Commentary on Habakkuk), this project will eventually include all the scrolls.

Even more exciting are some of the features, like searching the Isaiah Scroll which can be searched verse by verse, with an English translation just a mouse-click away! (Even if it's all Hebrew to you, scrolling through Isaiah is just plain fun).

Even though Google is slowly eating-away our brains (see here), the accessibility and usability of this resource is a real gift. And just one more testimony that the "word of our God stands forever (Isa 40:8).


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The New and Cooler Pharisee

For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:20).

After recently finishing lessons on the Sermon on the Mount, the subtle self-righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees are often on my mind. Hypocritical (6:1), dividing between those they must love and those they may hate (5:41), and seeking the things of this world, under the guise of religious devotion (6:32; cf. 23:6-7).

The term "Pharisee," however has been spun in our modern culture in a very, well, pharisacial way. Jared Wilson explains in The "Religious People Boogeyman":
“Pharisee,” “legalist,” “religious person” is the church version of racist or Nazi. It is the rhetorical nuclear option specifically designed to shut up anyone with questions and paint them among their brothers and sisters as graceless jerks. But I think it actually works the other way around:

Employing the “religious people” boogeyman ironically indulges in what it professes to decry. It is a great way to pray along with the self-justified pharisee, “I thank you God that I’m not like those religious people.”

If you’ve got real legalists in your church—and you do—the only way to intentionally offend them is by preaching the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ. Everything else is just vain posturing and prideful provocation.
Read his entire post. "Pharisees" are still hypocritical, unloving, and fundamentally worldly... they're just not always who you think they are. In fact, the Pharisee in the pew is probably not even the guy in the suit. He may actually be the "coolest" guy in your church.

And Jesus says - in sober warning - the self-righteous, unloving, and the hypocritical, however influential and hip, will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven without repenting.


Monday, September 26, 2011

On Asterisks for Celebrity "Pastors"

As I had considered this very issue earlier this morning, I was pleased with the providential reading of Ed Stetzer's post, Should 'Broader Interests' Preclude Pastoring? (HT: Challies). I am grateful for Stetzer's three reasons on why Christian speakers and writers must stay close to the local church:
  1. I love the church
  2. I need the church
  3. I'm committed to serve
And he concludes with this perceptive statement:
Reality means accountability to some kind of leadership structure in the church and to body as a whole. Rick Warren alluded to this problem in a tweet that followed the Rob Bell announcement: "Speaking tours feed the ego = All applause & no responsibility. It's an unreal world. A church gives accountability & validity" The last thing anyone needs is more to feed out selfish egos, but that is precisely part of the challenge associated with the speaking circuit (emphasis added).
Read his entire post.

We do not often gel with the views of Rick Warren, but he could not be more right on this one. Pastors and teachers who leave local churches for the speaking and/or writing circuit, have departed reality for a manufactured environment without real accountability. And it is that last aspect which is especially troubling.

It is all the more troubling because their move from accountability is a move into greater influence before the eyes and ears of impressionable Christians. Such influence is guaranteed by retaining the privilege and prerogative of the title, "Pastor."

God intended the local church to be the auspices under which teaching, speaking, and writing was to be conducted. Any author or speaker who is not under accountability, has no credibility. This is to say that even our best-selling authors - irrespective of how crazy their love - simply lack credibility as representatives (much less as leaders!) of Christian faith and life.

Now, here's what I'm thinking and proposing. If we are concerned to inform impressionable young boys to hold their admiration because that athlete was "juiced-up," should we not tell Christians that the water-treading faith of their favorite speaker or author is worth questioning? And why not use the same asterisk?

Maybe Christian publishers could agree on some standardized warning that the asterisk would indicate:
* This author has removed himself from the accountability of the local church, which is the normal community for every Christian and is probably assumed by you. In other words, this author is mostly accountable to the dictates of his personal ambitions, along with those of his agent, who profits monetarily by any increase in popularity. Please read this book with that in mind. Any self-reference as "Pastor" should be read with suspicion.
It may be unrealistic, but I like the idea of asterisks for celebrity "pastors."

The point is that if you find the other-worldly spirituality of such men unbelievable, you are right. It is unbelievable because they are unaccountable. The spirituality of the Christian speaking and writing circuit is not a spiritual reality.

Is everything such writers say unhelpful, unedifying or even unbiblical? Of course not.

But all their books are followed by a *

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Reformation Commentary Series

This is a brief note on what may be a helpful resource for those of us who cherish the insights of the Reformers, but who lack the time to hunt down all their works. Can we read and reflect on commentators of the Reformation other than Calvin?

It looks like it! The forthcoming commentary series, The Reformation Commentary on Scripture, ed. Timothy George., is hot off the press of IVP, this month.

The first volume - Galatians, Ephesians - and the companion introduction by Timothy George, Reading Scripture with the Reformers, is available.

If you sign-up for the service through IVP, you save 80% on Galatians, Ephesians and also receive George's introductory volume for free (I believe that each subsequent volume is 40% off). I joined the service in July and look forward to receiving these volumes (maybe a brief review will show-up on this blog?).

Anyway, now you know, so you may plan accordingly.

Semper reformanda


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Our Holy Husband

...the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the north gate of the inner court, where the seat of the idol of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy, was located. And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there... (Ezek 8:3-4)

John Calvin aptly described the faithful jealousy of our God and how it speaks of His love for His people:
The more holy and chaste a husband is, the more wrathful he becomes if he sees his wife inclining her heart to a rival.

In like manner, the Lord, who has wedded us to himself in truth, manifests the most burning jealousy whenever we, neglecting the purity and his holy marriage, become polluted with wicked lusts.

- Institutes of the Christian Religion, I.VIII.18.
Any husband who met his bride's adultery with indifference would be unloving and rightly described as unfaithful himself! And our Lord is the holiest of husbands. His jealousy is His holiness, faithfulness, and love expressed against the sin of His bride.

It is in glory that He is provoked to jealousy in faithfulness and in love for His bride - redeemed by Him, called by His name, and covenanted to Him in love. We are His Temple, "bought with a price" (1 Cor 6:19-20). We are His Bride, for whom He died in His love "that He might sanctify here... that she would be holy and blameless" (Eph 5:25-27).

So wedded to the Lord by the blood of Jesus His Son and by the bond of the New Covenant, we are instructed to flee immorality. Our husband loves us faithfully. Let us seek His glory in purity until we recline at His side forever at the marriage supper of the Lamb.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The One Thing That Matters

Ask, and it will be given to you... (Matt 7:7)

That great and assuring promise of Christ, as explained by the Doctor:
Abraham was like the Lord Jesus Christ Himself who, under the shadow of the cross, and knowing that even His most trusted disciples were suddenly going to leave Him and forsake Him in their fear and concern about saving their own lives, nevertheless was able to say this: 'The hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me' (John 16:32).

According to the Bible, that is the one thing that matters. Our Lord does not promise to change life for us; He does not promise to remove difficulties and trials and problems and tribulations; He does not say that He is going to cut out all the thorns and leave the roses with their wonderful perfume. No; He faces life realistically, and tells us that these are things to which the flesh is her, and which are bound to come. But He assures us that we can so know Him that, whatever happens, we need never be frightened, we need never be alarmed. He puts all that in this great and comprehensive promise: 'Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.'

- Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, p. 457

There are many things He does not promise. But, the one thing He does is the only thing that actually matters.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Luther on Multi-Roled Ministry

...making the most of your time, because the days are evil (Eph 5:16).

The most encouraging thing I have read this week from Martin Luther:
I have need almost continually of two secretaries, for I do scarce any thing else all day long than write letters. I am preacher to the Convent, reader of prayers at table, pastor and parish minister, director of studies, vicar of the priory, (that is to say, prior ten times over,) inspector of the fish ponds of Litzkau, council to the inns of Herzberg at Torgau, lecturer on St. Paul, and commentator on the psalms.

Seldom have I time to say my prayers, or to sing a hymn; not to mention my struggle with flesh and blood, the devil and the world. See what an idle man I am!

HT: What's Best Next
I have no idea how to inspect a fish pond, but my days often feel (and smell) like I imagine it. And two secretaries, indeed, would be a luxury!

Of course, herein is a hint at why there have been no new posts at TPC. Weary in the work, but not of it; continually pressing against "idleness."

Me too, brother Martin, me too!