Mark Wilson, Purple Fish

Mark Wilson is a pastor in Wisconsin and he has written Purple Fish: A Heart for Sharing Jesus as a book on evangelism for everyday Christians. Many of us see evangelism as a special gift that only a few people have, but Wilson shows how having a heart for sharing Jesus with others is available to all! How much better do we share the gospel when it comes from a heart passion, rather than a rote training program?

The strange title comes from ancient near eastern fishermen who would search for a rare shellfish that gave a deep purple dye. The metaphor is that Jesus goes to great lengths to reach people because they are so valuable, so we must imitate Jesus, both in his methodology and valuation of humanity.img_0611

Moving evangelism from a pressure and guilt experience to one of practicality and joy is such a gift to the church. If we stop looking at witnessing as a sales pitch, we will be free from the guilt of not meeting our quotas. When Jesus called the disciples who were fishermen, he used their old job to describe their new job; they went from fishing for fish to fishing for men. Fishing was not about pressure and guilt – it was about knowing the water and the fish and being able to respond to the conditions of the sea. While there was no official training program, fishing took a long time to learn to do well, as you worked with and learned from generations ahead of you. I’m ready for a way of sharing my faith that feels like fishing – something that energizes and refreshes my soul.

Here’s some purple quotes:

  • p.19, “There are two great metaphors for sharing the gospel: fishing and treasure hunting. The purple fish combines both.”
  • p.22/23, “…for most Christians, evangelism feels more like a trip to the dentist than a purple fish fishing adventure…And like so many Christians, I abhorred witnessing and felt guilty about it.”
  • p.40, “We cannot share what we do not have. Unless our mission flows from worship and holiness, we’re just hypocrites playing silly religious games.”
  • p.94, “Here’s a great prayer to start the day: ‘Jesus, what are you up to today? Can I join you?’ You’ll be surprised at the divine appointments you will encounter.”
  • p.133, “Most believers are terrified to share their faith because of their own negative personal encounters with obnoxious Christians, and they definitely don’t want to become ‘one of them.’ “
  • p.138, “…net fishing in the New Testament was social rather than solitary: ‘An entire village would fish together and often two boats would work in tandem drag-netting fish in between them.’ “
  • p.148, “Jesus is already present in the lives of everyone around us. Our task is to recognize where he is working, and then follow the divine nudge to help others see it too.”

 

Slaves, Women and Homosexuals

Two things: If I have ever been guilty of using a click bait blog post title, this is it. And, if you ever want to get weird looks at starbucks, bring this book to read with your Strawberry Acai Tea.

William Webb, who is a Seminary professor in Ontario, Canada, wrote the book, Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis, as development of what he has called the Redemptive Movement Hermeneutic. It is, in brief, a way of reading and studying the Bible in the context of God’s redemptive work and relationship with mankind and it’s ultimate goal. The biblical treatment of slavery, women’s rights and homosexuality is in depth and extremely complicated by the cultural context contemporary to the writing of the bible and God’s willingness to speak into and through particular times and people.

In the end, Webb shows how, through the arc of the Scripture, the Bible is progressively eliminating slavery, increasing gender equality (though he allows for a biblical ‘soft patriarchy’) and remaining consistent in it’s regard to homosexuality. The book does a tremendous job at avoiding the normal emotions and hostility surrounding these issues. The cost, however, is that the book is highly technical and a complicated read. Webb explores the entirety of the Bible as it speaks to these three issues and does not leave anything out. For most people, this will become an all year kind of book.

If you are interested in these areas, though, I would suggest spending some time on a google search for the Redemptive Movement Hermeneutic. It’s how I read the Bible, and I think it’s how you should too! Plus, he finishes the book with a chapter called, “What if I am wrong?”, how can you not love a theology book that actually considers the frailty of the author!?!

Here’s the quotes for today:

  • p.21, “Most of us are oblivious to the culture around us. Like the air that we breathe, it is invisible and we simply take it for granted… What awakens us to culture is contrast.”
  • p. 22, “It is necessary for Christians to challenge their culture where it departs from kingdom values; it is equally necessary for them to identify with their culture on all other matters.”
  • p.30, “A sense of the biblical or redemptive spirit can be obtained by listening to how texts compare to the broader cultural milieu within the development of the canon.”
  • p.37, “One might be able to persuade a modern congregation into believing that employees should ‘obey’ and ‘submit to’ their employers based upon the slavery texts. This happens all the time. But the outcome reflects a tragic misunderstanding of Scripture. The rest of the slavery material, beyond the obey/submit instructions, is often left at arm’s length and simply not applied.”
  • p.61, “Jesus’ development of a multilevel ethic in Matthew 19 provides helpful insight into at least three factors that influence the formulation of the biblical message: the hardness of people’s hearts, creative expectations and kingdom service.”
  • p.73, “A component of a text may be culturally bound if Scripture modifies the original cultural norms in such a way that suggests further movement is possible and even advantageous in a subsequent culture.”
  • p.117, “Interestingly, with the animals an explicit statement of hierarchy followed by naming is pre-Fall; with woman the explicit statement of hierarcy and personal naming are ultimately post-Fall. It is a rather curious feature of the text that the man’s name (Gen 1:26, 27, 2:7) does not change after the Fall (he retains his original name), whereas the woman is given a new name. In fact, the names by which we most commonly remember and retell the Eden story today are ‘Adam and Eve.’ Yet, one is pre-Fall and one is post-Fall.”
  • p.201, “When a New Testament text repeals and Old Testament practice, it is almost a certain indication of cultural-component status. In other words, continuity between the Testaments provides inconclusive results, whereas discontinuity offers reasonably conclusive results.”

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.”

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.”

Witherington, A Week in the Life of Corinth

Ben Witherington is a Bible professor at Asbury Seminary and writes incredibly intelligent books and commentaries that have helped me enormously. This book I got through an IVP book club subscription is a fiction novella (a word I stole off the back cover) about living in Corinth in the middle of the first century. It gives the reader an inside look at the culture in which Paul planted the gospel. The church at Corinth was the most adventurous of all the churches Paul began. Their struggles in adopting to life in Christ were definitely firsts and presented their leaders with brand-new, first time ever kinds of problems. I feel like a lot of pastors read 1 and 2 Corinthians just to remind themselves that problems people face today are not the worst thing ever and that Jesus is faithful to work.

The story itself isn’t exactly riveting, it’s much more like a canvas used to display the culture in which the story takes place. Like any recent Cowboys season in Jerry’s new stadium, the setting of the story is better than the story itself. So, if you are looking for a Bible-era story that is going to pull you in, you’d be better off reading Ann Rice (or just watch the movie). I would, however, suggest this as an accessible way for people to learn more about the culture around the very early church. It’s not overly academic and you  will learn without the pain that we have come to associate with learning.

Here’s some fast quotes that painlessly taught me some more:

  • p.7, “Estimates suggest that up to half the population of Rome, the Eternal City, were slaves…some of the most highly educated and brilliant persons of the Roman Empire, and some of its best businessmen, were or had been slaves.”
  • p.15, “In 146 BC the Roman general Mummius destroyed the ancient city of Corinth, leaving only the ancient temple of Apollo standing.”
  • p.39, “Most patron-client relationships were euphemistically called friendships (amicitia). And this is apparently one reason Paul largely avoids using such language in his letters. It would have signaled that Paul and his converts were in a patron-client relationship.”
  • p.158, “All of this raises the interesting question of how a high-status Christian like Erastos managed to function, including helping maintain pagan temples, all the while keeping his new faith.”

And that was Matthew

In Christmas of 2011, I began a 114 sermon series for The Grove. That’s 110 more sermons that I was told should be in a series. Yesterday, we said, to irreverently quote Jesus, ‘It is finished.’

At the end of things we did about 96 sermons in Matthew, our church grew in its discipleship and we are primed for an amazing season ahead.

For me personally, I am moving a load of my study books from the shelf next to my desk to the shelf in the library. It’s going to be so weird to not hear from and read these writers, who have been like a second voice to what I have been saying for almost four years.

I figured it would be good, since I once made a post about what books I was going to be using, to make a post about what books I did use. Maybe this will be helpful to someone else who likes doing 100 sermon long series.

  • ESV Study Bible: I did all my scripture outlines (where I usually write out the entire passage) from this. Then I checked the study notes. They are good, plenty of helpful info. They do make some assumptions that will help their positions so you have to be sure to check other opinions.
  • the Jewish New Testament Commentary by David Stern: Written by a messianic Jewish man, and not a former NBA commish, this is a great commentary for understanding some of the culture surrounding the New Testament and to place emphasis in a place that is true to the original intentions of authors.
  • Jesus the Jewish Theologian by Brad Young: This book isn’t really a commentary at all, but it did have an extensive Scriptural index to help locate useful information related to the text I would be preaching. Unfortunately, this book wasn’t as helpful as I had hoped, which is probably more about how I wanted to use it, and not a judgment on the book itself. I will likely be putting it on the ‘to read’ shelf to go through it all later.
  • The Gospel According to Matthew by Leon Morris (Pillar NT Commentary Series): This commentary has been really useful for me as a preacher to make sure I am true to the original texts, but not much of the material was useful in the pulpit. It was definitely useful to make sure what I did preach was correct, but it has such a depth that it puts it out of reach for most readers (on the back cover it actually says it is for ‘serious readers of the Bible’ – like ‘serious’ is a special badge of honor 🙂
  • Matthew by Stanley Hauerwas (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible Series): This book is like a sunning narrative commentary with a pastoral view. Hauerwaus consistently gives fresh viewpoints. He doesn’t cover every single detail, but the areas he does cover are really interesting and novel.
  • Matthew for Everyone (Volumes I & II) by N.T. Wright: These two books are amazingly practical. Wright has a unique talent to take the complicated and challenging and make it simple but even more challenging to real life. These books are thin and easy to read making them really accessible. These are amazing commentary style books for anyone looking to give in depth Bible study a go.
  • Matthew by Daniel J. Harrington (Sacra Pagina Series): Harrington writes from a Catholic perspective which gives another fresh perspective from the majority of protestant commentaries. It deals with every single verse, giving light background information and a couple pages of commentary on each section. The format is also very easy to navigate so it became a go to text.
  • The Gospel of Matthew by Craig S. Keener (Eerdmans’ Socio-Rhetorical Commentary): This commentary, and the whole series, are favorites of mine. They deal with so much detail and cultural context, while managing deep and complicated issues in a way that makes it helpful for readers and teachers. It always has sidebars to give in depth understanding of people and systems of the time that make extra research a breeze.
  • The Gospel of Matthew  by R.T. France (The New International Commentary on the NT Series):  By far the best word by word commentary that is available on the book of Matthew. If I read this one first I would then read it again in a couple other books because if they didn’t have any idea what to write, the other authors basically copied France. So, this one is basically indispensable and incredibly helpful. Not everything I learned from this commentary made it into a sermon, but it definitely helped to make sure the things I was going to speak about where accurate and true.
  • Matthew by Michael J. Wilkins (The NIV Application Commentary Series): I like the NIV application series for being so practical and having ready made applications. This one wasn’t as useful for me as others from this series have been. It could be the way that Matthew is written or it could just be one that didn’t have much insight for me. I tended to not find this commentary as helpful for me, but others might like it.

2 Days with Rob Bell part 7

This is part seven of a whole series of posts I’m doing on my trip to go hear Rob Bell in February 2014. If you want, you can start at the first post.

 

Apparently every two day event that Rob Bell does has some special guests and late Monday afternoon we had our first, Mike McHargue, who is better known as Science Mike.

Mike grew up as a believer but left the faith to be an atheist and then had a radical conversion experience at a 2 Day event. He speaks quite a bit and did a great presentation for us on the dynamic relationship between our brain and our faith.

Since learning about these things while taking my bachelors and even more in my masters I have been really interested in brain science and it’s impact on our understanding of faith. On the one hand, the brain is just an organ in our bodies. On the other, the brain seems to operate the part of us that is immaterial – our thoughts, our soul, our spirit.

When we have a sick liver and we take liver pills nobody thinks anything of it. Shouldn’t it be the same with our brain? If your brain isn’t working right, people should be able to take the right medicine without shame. The problem arises when we don’t know what ‘working right’ looks like, or what kind of medicines are best for a specific issue in a specific person.

And then we notice that we only use about 10% or our brain.

So, when Science Mike presented on faith and the brain, I was fascinated because I think it’s equally theoretical and practical for faith and ministry.

Mike began be talking about how your conception of God actually affects your brain composition and that reinforces itself creating an asymmetrical brain (which I imagine is true for all sorts of subjects). So, if you think of God as loving, you will see love in the world and in yourself more easily. If you imagine God as angry, you’ll likely be mad.

Mike then talked about spiritual events affecting computers, specifically noticeable through random number generators. This was pretty strange stuff involving quantum operations and global phenomenon. Go ahead and read about Princeton’s research in this area.

He finished his time talking about the actual physically beneficial effects of prayer. Apparently prayer can improve memory, lessen depression and counteract dementia. I wondered if it mattered who you were praying to – because if the same research applies to meditation or to praying to Shango while playing the drums.