The Jewish Annotated New Testament

I picked up The Jewish Annotated New Testament on a recommendation because of the essays at the end of the book. The main part of the book itself is simply a New Testament in the NRSV with notes from a (messianic) Jewish perspective. On most pages fully half of the text is sidebars, notes, maps and charts. It really is a study bible for the New Testament that focuses on the cultural context of the New Testament as it was being written.

This makes it an amazing version of the Bible for people to read and understand more of the original meaning and intent of the Scripture. The further away we get from the ancient near east, in time, distance, culture and technology, the more difficult it is to rightly interpret and apply the Scripture. The study helps in this publication of the Bible are so helpful in that way.

The final 55 pages of the book are essays about the history and society of the Jewish people contemporary to the New Testament. These get a little technical, but for pastors and those interested in deeper background information about things like the role of the synagogue in the community or early thoughts on the afterlife and resurrection or the “Jewish Miracle Workers in the Late Second Temple Period” (this is what I mean by ‘technical’), these essays are golden.

Here’s some quotes just for the love of technical theological writing:

  • p.502, “…the election of Israel is based on grace, not merit or works. Jews do not follow Torah in order to ‘earn’ divine love or salvation…”
  • p.502, “…numerous commentators explain that the priest and the Levite of the parable of the good Samaritan (Lk 10.30-37) bypass a wounded traveler because they are commanded by Jewish law to avoid touching a corpse. The parable, however, does not give this as the rational for the priest and the Levite’s behavior. Indeed, it could not have been the rationale, since the  priest is ‘going down’ from Jerusalem (Lk 10.31), not ‘up’ to it, where purity in the Temple would have been an issue. Although Lev 21.1-2 forbids priests from contact with corpses save for those of near relatives, no such injunction applies to the Levites. In rabbinic literature, the responsibility to save a life supersedes other commandments (e.g.,b.Yoma 846). Next, Samaritans had the same purity laws as did Jews. …Jews would have expected the priest and the Levite to provide care, and part of the shock of the parable is that they do not. The parable mentions priest and Levite for rhetorical, not legal reasons: it leads listeners to expect to hear ‘Israelite,’ the typical third member of the priest-Levite-Israelite trio, thus listeners are shocked again when the third person is revealed to be a Samaritan.”
  • p.504, “…’den of robbers’ is a quotation from the Hebrew Bible, from Jer 7.11, and it refers not to where people steal but where thieves go to feel safe.”
  • p.523, “On a ship lost at sea, Paul takes bread form the ship’s provisions, gives thanks, and breaks bread with his fellow 276 passengers (27.3-37). Paul’s actions allude to those of Jesus, who fed the multitudes in the same manner (Lk 9.16); unlike Jesus, however, Paul breaks bread with – and spreads the gospel to – Gentiles.”
  • p.544, “This angel [in Exodus 23.20-21] bears God’s essence, his name, and even though he is distinct from God he possesses divine authority. The later pseudepigraphic Apocalypse of Abraham (perhaps first-century CE) names this angel Yahoel; in early Jewish mystical literature he is called Metatron.”
  • p.549, “Only from John 1.14, which announces that the ‘Word became flesh,’ does the Christian narrative begin (sic) to diverge from synagogue teaching. Until v.14, the Johannine prologue is a piece of perfectly unexceptional non-Christian Jewish thought that has been seamlessly woven into the Christological narrative of the Jahannine community.”

Catmull, Creativity Inc.

Pixar is easily seen as one of the most creative companies in the world, so any time they 2013-06-28-pixar_header-533x294produce material to help others be creative you would do well to pick it up.In this case, Ed Catmul, the President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation wrote a book that is part history and part inspiration, Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration. It’s an incredible book that talks about the difficult (and relational) work of creativity and how to shape a culture which can produce incredible cultural progression in art and science.

Many people do not think that creativity is something churches think about, which is probably why so many people describe their experience of church as boring! At The Grove we are constantly thinking about how we can create novel designs in our systems and presentations that creatively integrate with our cultural moment. In order to speak the gospel to people in a meaningful way, we work hard to create remarkable meaning and beauty in our church.

On a personal level, this book helped me in two ways: First, it was helpful in the formation and structure of my sermons, which is a strength I am constantly working to improve. img_0568I want to make the very best sermon experience ever – every single week. That seems like a ridiculous goal, but you wouldn’t be the first person to think that I am ridiculous. Secondly, Creativity Inc. helped me to be able to best shape and share the story of The Grove as an event that unifies and inspires people – both those inside and outside of The Grove itself. Our story, told in (again) meaningful and beautiful ways, is what God is doing and will be doing soon in us and through us within our city and our world.

The amount of learning I did in this text forced me to start putting one img_0569sentence chapter summaries on the front cover just to get a handle on how much I was processing. Still, here’s some creative wordings that give a taste of how helpful this book was,

  • p.x, “The point is, we value self-expression here.”
  • p.x, “What makes Pixar special is that we acknowledge we will always have problems, many of them hidden from our view; that we work hard to uncover these problems, even if doing so means making ourselves uncomfortable; and that, when we come across a problem, we marshal all of our energies to solve it.”
  • p.xv, “My aim at Pixar… has been to enable our people to do their best work. …my job as manager is to create a fertile environment, keep it healthy, and watch for the things that undermine it.”
  • p.12, “Basically, they welcomed us to the program, gave us work-space and access to computers, and then let us pursue whatever turned us on.”
  • p.74, “If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better… Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the ideas right.”
  • p.77, “Supporting your employees means encouraging them to strike a balance not merely by saying, “Be balanced!” but also by making it easier for them to achieve balance. (Having a swimming pool, a volleyball court, and a soccer field on-site tells our workers that we value exercise and a life beyond the desk.) But leadership also means paying close attention to ever-changing dynamics in the workplace. For example, when our younger employees – those without families – work longer hours than those who are parents, we must be careful not to compare the output of these two groups without being mindful of the context. I’m not talking just about the health of employees here; I’m talking about their long-term productivity and happiness. Investing int his stuff pays dividends down the line.”
  • p.94, “Michael Arndt, who wrote Toy Story 3, says he thinks to make a great film, its makers must pivot, at some point, from creating the story for themselves to creating it for others.”
  • p.105, “Every creative person, no matter the field, can draft into service those around them who exhibit the right mixture of intelligence, insight, and grace. ‘You can and should make your own solution group,’ Andrew Stanton says, …’Here are the qualifications required: The people you chose must (a) make you think smarter and (b) put lots of solutions on the table in a short amount of time. I don’t care who it is, the janitor or the intern or one of your most trusted lieutenants: If they can help you do that, they should be at the table.”
  • p.119, “When a director stands up in a meeting and says, ‘I realize this scene isn’t working, I don’t yet know how to fix it, but I’m figuring it out. Keep going!’ – a crew will follow him or her to the ends of the earth. But when a problem is festering and everyone seems to be looking the other way or when people are sitting around waiting to be told what to do, the crew gets antsy.”
  • p.191, “as more people are added to any group, there is an inexorable drift toward inflexibility.”

Giglio, The Comeback

Louie Giglio is a pastor, massive event speaker and owns a record label. He started an “insta-mega” church in Atlanta with thousands of young people who came to his Passion events and his world-famous worship leaders. It’s a model all church planters can be jealous of.

He has written a few books and I picked this one up because I heard a podcast with Giglio about his personal struggles under the pressure and conviction of his calling and his incredible success. Any time a leader is honest about the hard stuff, I want to give him my 10 bucks and hear his story.

The personal story is really helpful, but it is just like the first chapter only. For reals – the whole rest of the book doesn’t even mention it. It’s actually an incredible first chapter and then 11 generic sermons made into book chapters. I think the book was intended for a different audience than me, so people who don’t feel like God can still work in their life probably love the whole book, but it wasn’t what I was looking for.

If you are a pastor/leader of something significant – and by that I am not referring to size, church significance has nothing to do with church size – then I would recommend reading the first chapter for free through amazon. It’s incredible, encouraging and a blessing all the way through.

If you are struggling to believe that God can work a miracle in your life and bring you back to Himself and his dreams for your life – buy the book and start on chapter two. I think it will stir hope and encouragement in you and, like we always need to pray to Jesus, ‘help me with my unbelief.’

I’m not going to post quotes like I usually do. It’s not really that kind of writing – and the quotes I did underline were referring to questions I want to ponder that I think will turn into material for sermons🙂


Coaching and Peripheral Vision

The point of coaching is to draw a greater performance out of the athlete than they  would be capable of otherwise. It is to take the drive that is inside a person and, in a team environment, create a performance that is better than would be expected. Coaching is a primal form of leadership because there is a direct and measurable result that can be employed to gauge effectiveness. Great coaches win, poor coaches lose and get fired.

Demonstrative and negative coaches get a lot of attention; demonstrative and negative pastors get a lot of attention. When seeing a picture of Bobby Knight in a red sweater every sports fan over 30 will immediately think of the time he threw a red chair across the court. He was negative and very demonstrative and we remember it. From this memory we create a perception of his coaching abilities, either good or bad. What no one actually remembers is what happened in the particular game. We don’t know any of the players or how they were performing during that game. The negativity takes, in fact, all of the attention and they game itself becomes secondary. This happens every time a baseball manager abandons all control and begins throwing bases. We couldn’t even tell you the score of the game in that moment because this incredible negativity has taken all of the attention.

And coaches aren’t the only ones! As a frequent youth sports coach, I can attest to both positive and negative emotional pleas from parents. It’s the negative ones that get noticed, and steal the attention from the game and the kids.

Negative emotions from a coach actually have a negative effect on a coached person’s team attitude, loyalty and personal development. Dr. Barbara Fredrickson (author of Positivity: The Upward Spiral that Will Change Your Life) has research that shows positive emotions actually expand a player’s awareness and reception of information, making them more resilient and creative in their actions.

Fredrickson goes on to say (quoting from Sept.28, 2015 Sports Illustrated), “Positive emotions are especially contagious…and a leader’s positive emotions are more contagious than anyone else’s.” The positive attitude of coaches and parents for an athlete actually improve a player’s physical performance. Athletes who feel better about their playing environment will win more.There is credible research done by Fredrickson’s University (UNC) pointing to an increase in peripheral vision when they are experiencing positive emotions.

So, when you are angrily yelling at that player for not seeing the open teammate on the wing you are ensuring that it will happen again.

Here’s what this means:

  • When you are coaching and/or observing youth sports/arts/performance, your contribution to positive emotions actually improves their physical abilities
  • When you angrily respond to player performance you are actually decreasing their physical ability and increasing the probability of a negative result being repeated.

This, of course, goes beyond youth and sports (though it makes the biggest difference in this arena). A leader/coach in an educational, employment and/or religious environment can expect to have similar results according to the positive or negative environment they create through their coaching style.

So, before your player heads out onto the field next game, take a moment and create some positive emotions so they can enjoy an even better game.


Morse, Making Room for Leadership

Servant leadership is the goal for those who serve in Christian organizations and churches. We believe that serving the least of these is the way of Jesus. We desire to have less of ourselves and more of God working in and through us. It’s a narrow way and a difficult way to live.

The difficulty increases when a person has obvious, strong and charismatic gifts of leadership. Those who are created to lead others (from the front) can end up thinking their gifts are less desirable, and attempt to downplay their abilities so that they can stay out of sight. The problem is that their God-given influence is negated from being a positive contribution to the kingdom of God.

Enter MaryKate Morse, professor at George Fox Seminary, who has written, “Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space and Influence.” In this relatively short book, Morse contends that power can be used for God’s glory and, in fact, should be. The social and physical influences of your position, gifts and presence are seen, by Morse, as gifts from God and can be used for His glory.

Much of the criticism of large and charismatic leaders comes from their up-front ways and strong influence being seen as overpowering and pushing out the Spirit. To be sure, some of the criticism of major Christian pastors comes from insecure pastors of smaller churches and since 60% of churches in USAmerica are under 100 people, that’s a large and noisy group. The claim most often heard is that they will not be able to handle the temptation that comes with fame and so they should avoid it at all costs. For me, this reasoning is faulty. Would we similarly say all people should avoid any success because success only sets us up for more failure (cue Latrell Sprewell)? Of course not – but in Christian leadership circles it’s acceptable to give a negative assessment of a person who is a dynamic and even famous leader/pastor just because of their success and influence.

Morse’s book actually takes a biblical and social look at power and it’s use in our lives. She considers Jesus’ own use of presence and power in his ministry and describes a way forward for gifted Christian leaders. There is even a couple practical chapters for emerging leaders navigating large meetings that include ways of speaking and even strategic places to sit around a board room table.

In her own words, here’s what you need to know:

  • p.17, “When I felt powerless, I wondered if that was how to be a servant. Then when I felt powerful, I struggled with the impact I had on playing the game and whether or not that impact was Christlike.// I couldn’t find the balance between being myself while holding Christ at the center and taking up space to accomplish God’s purposes.”
  • p.26, “[People in the organization] were comfortable with his [domineering] style because it created a sense of security among them.”
  • p.55, (about Luke 7) “A true prophet would not contaminate himself by allowing a woman to touch him in public. Simon’s inward attitude about Jesus might suggest his uncertainty on how to proceed with the meal because of the embarrassing event occurring in his house.”
  • p.58, “Power is a gift. Powerlessness is not a virtue; rather, using power to help the powerless is.”
  • p.85, “charismatic leaders influence through emotional appeals based in self-confidence that stems from an unshakable conviction in the rightness, even righteousness, of their beliefs… Charismatic leaders create meaning for others.”
  • p.125, “Even thought we value servant leadership, which has a lot to do with the use of power, we usually aren’t mindful of the stewardship of power. We tend to equate servant leadership with spiritual, internal character qualities manifested in the leader’s public behaviors… Everything about the leader, from the first hellow to the final decision, is a reflection of his or her stewardship of power – either for service or personal gain.”

The Armor of Light

Rob Schenk is a minister and pro-life activist that works in Washington. He is a leader with the ministry Faith and Action, which shares the gospel with people at the top levels of American government. They seem to me to be very conservative and demonstrative in their ministry methods. Still, to me this is a really interesting demographic to share Jesus with, not for political gain and influence but for the real eternal life and death consequences for political leaders and their staffs. I do not know the motivations behind the ministry or what drives Rob Schenk. The reason I find Rob Schenk interesting is because he is known as a pro-life activist, but he has a controversial stance because he is also in favor of gun control. For those who do not know because they live outside of USAmerica, the political right has traditionally been pro-life and against gun control while the political left is pro-choice and promotes increasing gun controls.

I am not personally interested in his particular stand on these issues, but on his willingness to hold to some things but not others. He doesn’t fit into the right or into the left. The result of this is usually seen in a negative light because if you don’t choose to compromise and join one of the large parties your voice will have no impact. If any dissenter actually gains any measure of influence they are seen as hurting a particular party, which is even worse than having no voice at all.

Yet, in our culture more and more people are insisting on their own personal views, not the views the party wants them to have. The easy example of this is the political success of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, both have large deviations from their standard party line and have garnered large followers who also don’t want to fit into a standard mold.

So, tonight (May 10) on PBS, at 10pm in Oregon, Rob Schenk is the subject of a documentary on the show Independent Lens. The documentary is called Armor of Light and is going to be examining the controversy experienced as he takes a unique position and attempts to maintain relationships in the political and religious communities. I have it set on the DVR.

I don’t know if the show will be any good or not, if it is propaganda or entertainment, but I hope it is an interesting look at what seems to be a future trend in USAmerican politics, especially in relation to its moral, ethical and religious trends. More and more people seem to want a more personalized political experience, but getting there is going to get messy as people increasingly refuse to compromise on issues but will compromise on influence. Dealing with the mess, I think, will define this generation politically and either increase the difficulty of politics for future generations or create a space that will work for the way that politics seem to be working now and will work in the future. So, to that end, I hope this documentary is both revelatory to the tension we need to hold and informative to a healthy path forward.

3 thoughts on Gender in Oregon

The Oregon Department of Education has laid out 15 pages of controversial suggestions for schools and teachers in the area of sexuality, gender and identification. In short, the linked article says they are calling for students to be able to use the bathrooms and locker rooms they want, and the names and gender pronouns they desire also. Please go ahead and read the linked article, the suggested guidelines are detailed there.

I am only going to put a few thoughts here, because there are three striking problems with this policy Oregon is creating. I am a theologically conservative evangelical Christian. I have well thought out ideas about gender, sexuality, identity, and Jesus. This quick blog is not a complete treatment of current issues, it is only 3 short remarks.

Here are the three observations I throw out on the internet, the best place on earth for well thought discussions about ideas.

1. Students in Oregon public schools will be able to self identify as a gender of choice and a name of choice, keeping legal names and genders confidential. If the sole requirement of this is self determination, it creates a problem of timing. A student could self-determine a new name each day or each hour of class, creating an unstable learning environment, and if the teacher doesn’t comply they would be liable in a lawsuit? Self determination of gender and identity, with no time limits or boundaries creates some real potential problems. Of course, if a time-limited change is instituted, that would be violating the spirit of this law. The same is true if self-determination was deemed insufficient for change in status.

2. The whole discussion of this seems to be limiting the conversation to a binary gender understanding – meaning there are two genders. What I believe is actually happening is a deconstruction of gender so that there is not a recognition of a binary system. If a person is able to self-determine gender, then a person is also able to contextualize that self-determination to their immediate context. For instance, a person who is able to self-determine as one or the other gender, will be allowed to be a particular gender in one context and another gender in a different context. Yet, this could still be binary. True gender deconstruction will allow for an individual to be somewhere in between the two genders or, and I find it remarkable that this conversation isn’t happening, self-determining a gender identity of a completely new classification as each individual would be able to create a novel gender for themselves, independent of male and/or female.

3. The linked article claims that the Oregon Department of Education, “also says transgender students should not be barred from participating in any activities, physical education or sports. If a student tells the principal that she identifies as female, she should be able to play female sports. ” This has issues for youth sports regardless of gender. Biologically, females tend to grow earlier and are taller in elementary grades, which gives them a sporting advantage. Biological males tend to have increased levels of testosterone, which creates larger muscles, and gives a sporting advantage to post-pubescent males. According to this quote a local high school would be able to field a team of high testosterone individuals (i.e. biological males) to a sporting competition which had previously been reserved to those with a low testosterone biological design (i.e. biological females). Of course, this argument is facetious (and similar to ones heard in the bathroom discussions), until my daughter is forced out of sports because all the spots are taken by those with biological advantages. Sports in our culture are very much expressions of capitalism and any advantage that aids winning is expected to be taken. If the only way of knowing gender is self-determination, then the officials in the sporting world have no standing regarding fair and competitive play at an amateur level. In this sense, this law becomes anti-feminist as it takes away opportunities for those who are female cisgender. This would also result in a Title IX lawsuit, in which the cisgender female students would seem to have a case against the department of education.

Again, my agenda in bringing up these three issues is to show the intricacies of the issues of gender, sexuality and identity. I do believe that my observations could become real challenges ahead and the solutions I am seeing (from both liberal and conservative sources) seem to favor the loud, rather than the wise. If we think that our only options in these areas are the extreme far right and/or the extreme far left we will not create progress, we will only exchange our current set of challenges and problems for new ones. Oregon Department of Education, and our culture in general, is making a quick (and reactionary) move in a particular direction, inferring that they have an understanding of the ramifications of their choices, but they have not developed strategies for dealing with increased complexities created by their own policies.