Living Reflectively

“What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”  (Ps. 8:4)

Anyone who takes the time to think of how much God loves him or her would be amazed by how unfathomable God’s love for him or her is.

Those who live thoughtlessly:  There are people who live thoughtlessly and, therefore, aimlessly.  For them life is a seemingly unending series of trial and errors.  Such people never realize that God is good.  Their lives consist of their making one wrong impulsive decision after another, yet they have the gall to blame God for the consequences of their mistakes.

Those who live in the past:  There are those who live in the past.  Some huge wrong decision in the past had pulled them down and has kept them down, and they never seem to lift up their heads to consider the possible solutions to their problems.

Those who live for the moment:  There are those who live for the moment, the here and now.  Esau is a very good example of this type of people.  The Bible tells us that one day Esau got back home from hunting in the forest, and he was famished.  He saw that his twin brother, Jacob, had prepared a delicious-looking red stew.  Esau asked if Jacob would be kind enough to give him some of his stew.  Jacob responded that he would give Esau the stew only if Esau would sell him his birthright.  Esau, who was focused only on his hunger at that time, would proceed to sell Jacob his birthright for some stew that would satisfy his hunger that one time alone (see Genesis 25:29-34).

Those who live for the moment do not take the time to consider the consequences of their decisions and actions.  Their motto is, “Do it if it will satisfy a need now.”  Continue reading

Forget Not All His Benefits

When we read, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits” (Psalm 103:2), many of us are quick to say that we are in no danger of forgetting our Lord’s blessings. Similarly, we read about how ungrateful the Israelites were to God in their wilderness wanderings and we simply cannot picture ourselves being such ingrates. It is instructive to note that the Hebrew word gemul, that is translated “benefits” in the King James Version, can also be translated “dealings” or “recompenses.” There are actually many ways in which one can forget about God’s blessings, dealings, or recompenses, and it is sobering to realize that almost every one of us is guilty of one or more of them. Here are some to ponder on.

You can forget God’s blessings:

1. When you refuse to remember any of His blessings
2. When you choose to forget all His blessings
3. When you fail to remember His blessings (by omission, just not getting around to it)
4. When you do not remember enough of His blessings
5. When you are pre-occupied with many things [in a way similar to what our Lord scolded Martha for (see Luke 10:41-42)]
6. When you focus on your circumstances, instead of focusing on the God who is bigger than, and who controls, your circumstances
7. When you focus on your job, instead of focusing on the God who gave you that job in the first place
8. When you focus on your achievement, instead of focusing on the God without whom you would have no achievement
9. When you focus on what you have not achieved, instead of focusing on the God whom you need to enable you to achieve those things
10. When you focus on what others have achieved, instead of focusing on the God who has your master plan to prosper you, not to harm you
11. When you keep on living for the next miracle, instead of thanking God for what He has already done for you (the Israelites perfected that in the wilderness!)
12. When you remember God’s blessings but refuse to be thankful
13. When you remember God’s blessings but fail to be thankful
14. When you remember God’s blessings but thank Him only a little
15. When you remember God’s blessings but thank Him only sometimes
16. When you feel that the Lord ought to have done more for you (forgetting that God does not owe you or me anything, for we are the ones who owe Him what we cannot repay)
17. When you do not realize that God recompenses you for your faithfulness.
The way to guard against stumbling in any of these and other ways is to practice what the palmist says in Psalm 34:1: “I will bless the Lord at ALL times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth” (emphases added).

Wonder and Awe from London

My husband and I recently returned from a trip to London. We really loved the city and its atmosphere, even though it rained for a little less than half our time there. As I’m sure many Houstonians can relate, we were a bit saddened when upon return to our city the heat and humidity were already raging!

Westminster Abbey and me!

Westminster Abbey and me!

While in London, we saw a lot of the places that our friends told us were “must-see” places: Windsor Castle, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the British Museum, the British Library, and St. Paul’s Cathedral, to name a few. We had a tour guide, Robert, who was a local Londoner. I could tell that our guide loved the city; especially its architecture and history. He didn’t just tell us facts and scoot us along to the next big thing on the list. Instead, he gave us pointers for how to engage in experiencing each site in a meaningful way. I remember him saying, “As you walk along, have a look at the ceiling, a marvel of architecture and stonework. Pause for a moment and think about what it must have taken to create this great structure.”

A few times, we got to talk with Robert when we were en route to a location. I asked him a question about the people and the culture in the city. I was astounded by the vast history of London and I wondered about the people who currently lived there. Did they appreciate and wonder about all that had happened in their past? Were they fascinated by these same places that tourists visited from all over the world? Continue reading

The “Big Idea” behind N. T. Wright’s Big Book on Paul

Recently I sat down with N. T. Wright, Research Professor for New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St. Andrews.  I asked him a variety of questions regarding his new book, Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Fortress, 2013).

David Capes:

Professor Wright, I tell my students that every good book, every important book has a “big idea.” What is the “big idea” behind your book, Paul and the Faithfulness of God (Fortress 2013)?Paul and Faithfulness of God

Tom Wright:

The big idea is to see how Paul does something which I think he is not usually given credit for, which is that he basically invents something which in hindsight we could call Christian theology.  Now that may seem rather odd, because didn’t the Jews have theology?  Well, they did and they didn’t.  Didn’t the pagans have theology?  Well, not really.  They talked about the gods, but that wasn’t a big topic of analysis.  Paul has this vision that because of who Jesus is, because who the Holy Spirit is, everything that they had known about God from the Jewish Scriptures has to be reworked from top to bottom, particularly for this reason: Paul believes that what has happened through Jesus, his death and resurrection has radically defined the people of God so that the people of God are no longer defined as they were in Israel by circumcision and the Sabbath and the food laws and the things which marked out Jewish people from their non-Jewish neighbors.  So if you are going to have a  single community which is very important for Paul, the unity of the church is very, very important for Paul–not for us and that’s a problem by the way but a topic for another conversation.   If this community is to be united and holy but without those markers to keep it place, how are you going to do that when Paul’s answer is that the whole community needs to be involved in this prayerful, worshipful, Scripture-soaked reflection on who God is, who God’s people are, and what God’s future is for God’s world.  So in a sense this book is about Pauline theology.  In Paul and the Faithfulness of God  I expound all the details of Pauline theology, but back of that is this sense that Pauline theology as a whole is something which he is doing with his congregations because he realizes that without that they are not going to be able to be the people they are called to be.

They way I put it is this.  You know this saying: “Give someone a fish and you feed him for a day.  Teach him to fish and you feed him for life.” Paul isn’t content just to give people dogmas: “Here is a true doctrine which you ought to believe.”  He does that and that will help for a while.  What he wants people to do is to grow up in their thinking, to mature as Christians in their thinking, so that then they will be able to sustain their life and the life of the church in days to come because he won’t always be just to tell them: “believe this, don’t do that, whatever.”  So Paul is concerned to teach people to think Christianly which then emerges as Christian theology.   That is the heart of it.

Goodwill Toward People

by Felisi Sorgwe

When the angels appeared to the shepherds who were watching their flocks on the night that our Savior was born, they sang about goodwill. “Glory to God in the highest,” they sang, “and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14, NKJV). It is interesting to note that the English Standard Version (ESV) renders this verse: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.” Without quibbling about which rendering is a better translation of the Greek original here, the two renderings of the verse prompt two questions. The first question is, does God have goodwill toward all men (people)? The second is, is God’s peace only for those with whom He is pleased? The answer to each question is a resounding yes.

God has goodwill toward all people. This does not mean that God approves of anything and everything anyone does. Continue reading

The Mystery of H₂O

Hello,

I am a substance.  I’m made up of two elements (hydrogen and oxygen). While it may sound as if I am bragging, I know that there is no substance on this earth that is as versatile as I. In my most common state I am a liquid (water).  I make up over 90 percent of the blood of a human being. People drink me to survive, and not having me can kill someone faster than not having food. When people heat up a pot containing me, they can use me to cook food.  When I am that hot, I scald people’s skin, so you have to handle me with care. If a person, house or forest is on fire, I am a must to extinguish the flame. People use me to brush their teeth, to wash their faces, and to bathe. When I am in a large body, such as a pool, lake, river, or sea, people swim in me. If someone does not know how to swim, that person can drown in me.

water drop

When I am in a body that is not only wide but also deep, canoes can be rowed, boats can be ridden, and ships can sail on me. Plants need me to grow. Without me all lawns and farms are parched. Much of the earth’s surface is made up of me. When powerful winds push me in an ocean, I become a tropical storm, a hurricane, or even a tsunami, and I can be very destructive. All of this is just for when I am in the liquid state.
Continue reading

“In pain you shall bring forth children”

I’m now convinced of the obvious: that bringing forth the next generation is the most difficult and most important job on the planet.  

One of the consequences of Adam and Eve eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil–something God directed them not to do–was that “in pain you shall bring forth children” (Genesis 3:16, New American Standard Version).  The passage is complicated, but most of us think we know what that means: that labor and delivery are going to bring immense pain and in some cases death to the mother.  At one level, that certainly seems the interpretation, but there may be more to it.childbirth

 One night we were interviewing Rabbi Harold Kushner on a radio show I co-host, “A Show of Faith” (950 AM KPRC). At the time Kushner was the most famous rabbi in America known best for his book Why Bad Things Happen to Good People?  On this night we were interviewing him about another book he had written, How Good Do We Have to Be?  The topic of conversation turned to the Genesis passage about pain in child-bearing and Kushner made an interesting observation.  In good rabbinic style he said the Hebrew word often translated “pain” in Genesis 3:16 is the same word used in Genesis 6:6 to describe God’s grief and pain over the sorry state of humanity.  You remember: God was so upset he lamented the fact he made humanity in the first place. 

So here was Kushner’s interpretation: the real pain of child-bearing is not the 18 hours of labor (though painful, that pain is soon forgotten in the joy of birth), the real pain comes in the fact that after 18 years of love, teaching, nurturing and raising your children to the best of your ability, they turn against you, disobey you, disappoint you, end up on drugs, end up in prison, etc.  In a sense we share in our Heavenly Father’s pain when we bring forth children who go astray and do not remember us and our sensible teaching.

 Let me add another insight.  Because the two have become one flesh (Genesis 2:24), both man and woman, husband and wife, share the same pain.  The pain of bringing forth the next generation is not unique to women.  Women may experience it more acutely, but men experience it as well.  Medical science, of course, may intervene and lessen the pain experienced by a woman in childbirth, but it is unlikely to be able to stem the tide of pain to fathers AND mothers when children go astray.  Like the other consequences of the first couple’s disobedience (domination, death, work degenerating into toil), both men and women share the same fate.

Most parents will experience significant periods of pain as their beautiful babies become adolescents and adults.  I’ve spent many hours listening to parents whose children have hurt them deeply.  And there are no easy solutions to this.  There’s no perfect strategy to parenting.  Perhaps there is some comfort in knowing that it is a universal experience, and even more, to know that God felt the pain first. 

In The Voice we tried to express this universal, more nuanced aspect of Genesis 3:16.  As we worked through this text, I was interested to note that in the King James Version the Hebrew word is not translated “pain” but “sorrow.”  I think the KJV had it right.  Here is how we rendered it in dynamic translation:

            God (to the woman): As a consequence of your actions,

            I will increase your suffering—the pain of childbirth

            And the sorrow of bringing forth the next generation.

Despite all this, we confess and we believe that children are a gift from God.  We confess and we believe that it is our greatest and most important life’s work.  For a time they are ours to love, to care for, to protect and to teach.  Then, we commend them and their future to the grace and guidance of God.

The Huge Hole in the American Soul

ImageIn the aftermath of the tragic mass murder in the Connecticut elementary school last year, Mike Huckabee made some comments in a television interview that incited considerable controversy and criticism. He was asked where God is in tragedies like this, and his response suggested that question is somewhat ironic, since “we’ve systematically removed God from our schools.” Huckabee was criticized for, among other things, being insensitive to the victims of the shooting and their families by offering that sort of commentary so close on the heels of the tragedy.

Several months have now passed, and it worth asking again whether Huckabee raised important issues even if the timing of his initial comments was questionable. I believe in fact that he did, and that that controversy reflects deeper issues and a profound incoherence at the heart of our culture.

Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: