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Archive for April, 2010

In the previous post I made the point that one of the ways to “get something” out of a passage like the construction of the Tabernacle, we must learn to read passages in the context of the whole Bible.

Many Christians know that for a difficult passage like the construction of the Tabernacle in the last half of Exodus, we should read forward to the New Testament.  But we must also read backward; and if we go back to Genesis, we find some really beautiful things. 

The tabernacle construction echoes God’s first sanctuary, Eden and its garden.  The doors to Eden and the Tabernacle both face east.  The ark was guarded by two cherubim, just as Eden was guarded by Angels (Gen 3:24; Exod 25:18ff).  Adam and Eve’s role in Eden as workers in God’s park (the verbs would be literally translated “serve and guard”, and in fact are elsewhere in the OT) is mirrored in the priests’ role in the Tabernacle and Temple.   God’s Spirit fills the team who work with wood and stone and jewels and linen to create the Tabernacle and its furnishings, just as God’s Spirit filled the original team in the garden made to work that place with what God had given them.

Above all, God’s holy, royal presence with his people in Eden is similar to his presence with his people in the Tabernacle and Temple.

The adornment of the Tabernacle and especially the Temple are very much “garden-like”.  Observers going back to Josephus (a priest himself) in the first century and beyond have noted the association between creation/Eden and the Tabernacle/Temple:

The colors and lights of the heavens are reflected in the lights of the Tabernacle:  Exodus 25:37, there are seven lights on the lampstand, linked to five visible planets, sun, and moon, the seven moving objects in the sky.

The colors of the Tabernacle linens –blue, crimson, and scarlet—are like the richest colors of the sky.

There is a great “sea”, a large bronze basin full of water, representing God’s work in creating and taming the waters.

What does all this have to do with Christians?  More soon, but for now, God wants to reign and dwell here.  On earth.  Around beautiful stuff that we’ve made from the beautiful stuff he gave us.

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In a recent article on the church and mercy ministry byFaith magazine used Second Presbyterian as an illustration. There are a lot of great quotes like this one:

“To spread the kingdom is more than simply winning people to Christ. It is also working for the healing of persons, families, relationships, and nations; it is doing deeds of mercy and seeking justice.”

And it is pretty cool to read what the Lord is stirring through some non-urban churches. The article is worth reading and Eddie, Scott, and Kim are worth thanking for their leadership in this area. Thanks be to God! More Mercy!

You can read the byFaith article here.

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In the conclusion of a great book, Gospel and Kingdom, Graham Goldsworthy talks about “bad habits” for Bible reading:

Evangelicals have had a reputation for taking the Bible seriously.  But even they have traditionally propagated the idea of the short devotional reading from which a “blessing from the Lord” must be wrested.  Failure to gain this undefined blessing is usually seen to be a function of the spiritual state of the reader rather than of the nature of the text itself.  This mentality is almost paralysed by such phenomena as the genealogies of the Bible.  Consequently one is unlikely to find genealogical texts included in daily devotional selections!

It’s also paralyzed by sections like the tabernacle construction chapters of Exodus.  I’ve just tried to read through the latter chapters of Exodus.  If I only have a “blessing from the Lord” mindset that revolves around what one passage, all by itself, can show me, I’ll be paralyzed by sections like the tabernacle and Temple construction.  Am I really supposed to get quiet time jollies reading this stuff?  If I don’t get fired up reading about what they did with gold and onyx and blue thread, is there something wrong with me?

(I once had an African-American friend who would mockingly read through a passage like this, stop at completely random moments, and say “Yes Lord. Oh YEEESSSS LOOOOORD.”  I think he was mocking the African-American tradition of responding while Scripture is being read, but the same phenomena works here.)

I do think we can get fired up about the Tabernacle.  But it may take more reflection–or a different sort of reflection–than reading Psalm 23 or seeing David execute a fearsome enemy.  Part of the solution, I think, is trying to see the big picture of Scripture.  Not just the verse, not just the historical context, not even the bigger passage or book or section of Scripture.  But lining up what a passage has to say in light of the whole Bible.  More on how we might do that next time…

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In a previous post, I began a conversation about the relationship between art and faith. One of the most thoughtful voices in this discussion is Makoto Fujimura. His artwork is a fusion of abstract expressionism and the traditional Japanese art of Nihonga. I won’t pretend to know exactly what that means, except to say he paints using a mixture of traditional pigments and minerals like gold and silver, and makes some staggeringly beautiful paintings. But he is not only a great painter, he is a great writer and speaker as well. His essays on art and faith are as penetrating and filled with beauty and light as his paintings. Below are excerpts from a recent post on his blog, Refractions, with his thoughts on the relationship between the artist and the Creator-

When I meet someone on the plane, and tell them I am an artist, I have to go into my “explaining” mode.  What kind of art?  Why do you do it?  Can you make a living?

If I said I was an electrical engineer, explaining would not be necessary.  When I tell Christians that I am an artist,  it seems that you automatically come under all sorts of suspicion; “You don’t paint nudes, do you?”  “I don’t understand art”  “You do that weird stuff,” etc.

When I read the Bible as an artist, though, it really makes sense.  If the Bible is a book about the Creator God, who desires to create through broken, lost creative people of God, then the beginning and the end would have to be otherworldly, humbling and spectacular.  Artists do all sorts of strange things to communicate.  If God were an artist, he would do the same.  Artists create language to describe the indescribable. God, coming from outside of Time and Space, would have to, in order to invade into ours, do things upside down.

He talks about Jesus’ use of story, like the parable of the Lost Son

As Jesus is telling this story, he turns to the religious authorities of his day, insinuating them, and us,  to be that elder brother who do not understand God the Father’s frivolous love for us wayward people.  We are both legalistic and wayward; and Jesus speaks to both sides at the same time.  We are anxious people, who cannot stop to appreciate beauty, or hear music in the spheres of our world.

Who is this Jesus?  What did he come to do? He is a MYSTERY to us, a mystery that is still being revealed.  The best place to start journeying with this mystery, and to know this artist named Jesus, is by creating generatively in response to what he says and to who he is.  You don’t need to be a respectable “Christian” to do so: in fact, it’s best if you are not.  It’s better for you to be able to honestly wrestle with the deeper realities of your journey, confront your brokenness, and let your life’s experience become the materials for your craft, to articulate that deep mystery within you; rather than try to explain it away.

The church needs artists, because their questions are far more important than our answers.  Jesus spoke like an artist; his questions were enigmatic and clear at the same time.  He encouraged but challenged at the same time.  He told his disciples many times what was to come: even though they failed miserably to understand, he still chose to give them authority.  He gave them “author”ity. As authors, to write the story of Jesus, to write through them the mystery of redemption. He made them authors into this new reality; in other words, he made them into artists. 

Jesus can write and paint through us.  The Greatest Artist can create through us little artists. We are all little artists, whether we use a brush, bronze or ride on a garbage truck.  Our stories, infused with the Great Artist, can become the greatest journey, a wide open adventure, inviting shepherds and Magi to take note: a Greatest Story Ever Told.

I’ll confess that while I always find his work beautiful, I don’t always understand it. But that is my shortcoming, not his. I know that both his paintings and his writing always make me think, and they always point me to the Great Artist.

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https://www.noisetrade.com/joshuasmith .  Turns out the best musician in our state is not in Nashville.  He’s a little too intelligent sometimes for my taste (Isolde?  Really?!), but what do you do.  Check out the first and ninth tracks.  (A higher quality version of the ninth track is the soundtrack here:  http://vimeo.com/9313482.)

My favorite non-Tennessee song, which Josh will be doing at CUMC (9:31 edition) in the near future, can be streamed for free:  http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2010/03/31/only-your-blood-is-enough/.  Absolutely wearing this song out on Itunes; top notch lyrics adapted from an Isaac Watts hymn.

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Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be

[[[keep the guesses coming on the previous post!]]

That’s the title of a great book on sin by Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.  There’s a short summary of this book in PDF form, 22 pages or so.

Loads of things to reflect on in this pdf.  But here’s one interesting, provocative thought (not one of his best BTW, lots more that is more clear-cut):

a corrupted person turns God’s gifts away from their intended purpose. She perverts these gifts. For example, she might use her excellent mind and first-class education not to extend the reach of God’s kingdom, but just to get rich. She wants to get rich not in order to support terrific projects in the world, but just to move up the social ladder. We ordinarily think of a prostitute as someone who rents her body. But a person can also rent her mind for a high hourly rate, and she perverts it if she rents it because she wants to feel superior to the people who bag her groceries and park her car.

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Quiz time

It’s a three part question.  (1)  Where was this said?  (2)  Who said this?  (3)  What passage of Scripture was being preached/taught on?  The first one with all three answers wins some of the extra-credit merits that Matt Terhune has in his heavenly bank account for being an elder.

“Most in this city are simply trying to figure out where they can get their half-acre, 500,000 dollar home, with their wall, and their gate, locked, so that nobody can get in and steal their stuff.  That’s what they’re thinking about with [[[insert city/region name here]]].  They’re not thinking about, “How do I get down there where people don’t even have a half of a half of an acre, and don’t have anything to put in their house and give something to them?!”  I’m telling you, that is WICKED!  IT’S MORE WICKED THAN THE STRIP JOINTS IN OUR CITY!   People simply trying to suck the city for all they can get out of it, and then get as far away from it as they can, with all its corruptions.”

“And most of the rest of the people are just complicit partners, who want to claim that by being passive, they haven’t done anything evil.  If you are passive, you WILL do evil!  Because we’re seeing here [in this passage], with this light shed on the world order, IT IS EVIL!  IT’S ALWAYS BEEN EVIL!  And it takes just men who will stand up constantly, not in just one great heroic moment, but CONSTANTLY standing up, checking things to see if they be right…see if they are fair and equitable and merciful.  And reversing the order, and always CHALLENGING IT.  And of course, always making people angry…”

“…the people of God are not so.  They are always the people who challenge the status quo when the status quo is built upon an evil system.  And there’s a lot of evil that you’re working with today, and I’m working with.  And the light of the Scripture is meant to come and shine light on it, and blow its cover….it blows the cover of all these underlying and sometimes very sophisticated evils.

So Babylon ensnares the nations.  This is how she destroys them..she takes them over, because no one rises up, because most of them are being paid off through her system….don’t go down with her.”

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