Reflections on Tweeting through Isaiah 1–12

Yesterday I tried a little experiment. As I was studying Isaiah I thought I would tweet through the first 12 chapters over the course of the day. Here are some reflections on tweeting through a book and then on the content of the book itself.

Reflections on Tweeting

I posted a new tweet every 5-10 minutes. I probably annoyed anyone who doesn’t follow many people on twitter since I would be the only person showing up all day. For those that follow a substantial number of people the tweets would have looked staggered (somewhat).

Tweeting through Isaiah 1–12 was helpful to me as I had to think about how to communicate the message of those chapters in so few characters. If I were to do it again I would have done more summary of the content interspersed with quotations from Isaiah.

Reflections on Isaiah 1–12

What a magnificent passage of Scripture! Scary, but magnificent. God’s judgment is cast in pretty strong language. The vineyard imagery of chapter 5 is one such example. Justice appears to be a major theme of the section as Judah is condemned for their lack of having justice on the oppressed.

But the passage is also filled with hope. We see that God’s judgment of Judah is not the last word. Yes they will go into exile as part of God’s judgment for their rebellion, but then God will turn and judge Assyria (conquerers of Judah).

Even more than this, there are beautiful moments of hope for the future. Chapter 4 shares the Branch of the Lord and tells of a time when the Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion and cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem. The end of chapter 8 and into chapter 9 speaks of a great light that is to shine in the darkness. It then talks of the child to be born, the son to be given. It gives him divine names like, “Mighty God,” and talks about him as the coming Davidic king who will rule forever. Chapter 11 talks about the coming Messiah again in terms of the shoot coming up out of the stump. Judah is leveled but a stump remains and out of this stump (read, remnant) the messiah will come who will have the Spirit of the Lord resting on him. Then it talks about how the nations will rally to him. There is no racism and no ethnic boundary! Chapter 12 concludes this section with wonderful praise to God and the call to proclaim his greatness to the nations.

With respect to the sign given to Ahaz in chapter 7, Immanuel (God With Us), I do see it as a judgment on Ahaz. Where it is picked up in Matthew 1 it is often seen without any sense of judgment. One writer has suggested Matthew uses Immanuel with the notion of judgment there too. It’s something I need to follow up on. I’m not sure yet.

Being more familiar with John’s Gospel, and the New Testament in general, I’m starting to see the thematic connections between Isaiah and those books much more intimately. I’m looking forward to tracing them out more fully!The above came more from my own study throughout the day rather than through the process of tweeting. But, the tweeting did help me solidify what I was learning by trying to decide how to present it on twitter and through the process of writing those things out. I think I will do something similar again but just not with so many tweets.

God’s Dwelling with Us

I’m thankful to God that I had enough energy and was not sick these past two weeks so that I could preach this past Sunday. It was my first time speaking in front of people since before I was diagnosed with Leukemia in December.

I had spent a couple weeks working on the sermon as I was able (hence why this blog space has been kind of quiet) but then I sensed that the sermon needed to go in a bit of a different direction on Friday afternoon so I wrote a new sermon (incorporating one previous section) on Friday/Saturday.

I have received feedback on the sermon (content/form) for which I’m thankful but I haven’t yet dialogued with anyone on the content.

My argument was that the Bible shows us that our greatest need is not money, pleasure, meaning in work, acceptance or love, etc., and in a certain sense not even in forgiveness of sins, but the presence of God.

I don’t mean to denigrate forgiveness of sins by any stretch of the imagination. It was sin that broke the relationship with God and so the sin issue has to be dealt with. And it was. Jesus paid for our sin on the cross. But, not just for sin’s sake. It was for the sake of bringing us back into relationship with God.

So, I started the sermon by raising the question of our greatest need and then went to the story of the golden calf in Exodus 32–34 to show God’s judgment, mercy and grace. The people deserved death for their wicked rebellion. God has mercy on them by forgiving them. But further, he has grace by giving them the gift of his presence. Moses knew that only this would sustain them (cf. Ex. 33 & 34).

I then took the entire Bible as my text to walk through a biblical theology of God’s dwelling with us to show how it occurs in the Bible. It began in the garden as a pure and whole relationship between God and his people. Sin broke that relationship. But God continued to act in history to provide us with what we most need, his presence. He did it through the tabernacle. This takes us from Sinai to Solomon. He then provides his presence on earth in the temple. This takes us from Solomon all the way to the 1st c. A.D. (with of course the proper noting of the 2nd Temple and all that). I noted along the way that there was still a sense that God had not fulfilled his promises to come back to dwell among his people at the temple, however. So there was a great expectation for its fulfillment.

Well, it comes. And it comes in the person of Jesus. He shows up at the Temple in John 2:19 and says, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” He was talking about his body. And John 1:14 says that the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. God dwelt with his people in the person of Jesus Christ. What grace!

Following Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, the body of Christ, the church, becomes God’s presence on earth. 1 Cor. 3:16-17 talks about us being the temple of God. God’s Spirit dwells within us and we now mediate God to a broken and lost world.

Finally, all of this is heading somewhere. It will end the way it began: in the garden. But this garden is a restored garden and we will never go astray again. We will dwell in the holy of holies. Revelation 21 paints a beautiful picture of our forever being in the presence of our God. He will dwell among us and we will be his people! Revelation 22 depicts the restored garden. There are bookends to our Bible. We start in the garden and we finish in a garden, made possible by the Lamb (Jesus) dying for our sins. And again, not for sin in itself, but to bring us into relationship with God. To give us what we most need: his presence.

I may post the audio at a later time but I’m also working to expand it in written form.

Exposing my Environmental Sins

I’ve heard N.T. Wright say (I think quoting someone else anyway) that probably 30% of his theology is wrong, he just doesn’t know which 30%! That number may vary depending on training and other factors, but certainly for all of us, some amount of our theology is wrong and we just don’t know which part.

The same holds true for me and I think that I’ve made progress in one area this summer. A contradiction used to exist in my thinking on the issue of stewardship of the environment.

On the one hand I believed that we should respect the earth. I knew that God had created this earth and even though it was corrupted by us, it was still something to not spit upon. After all, it was God’s and his commands in Scripture are to be good stewards, not corrupt it.

On the other hand I didn’t want to overreact to environmental causes that often idolize nature and put their cause above that of humans. But I also didn’t have it right. In the back of my mind I felt okay with being neutral with respect to the environment and nature. I didn’t have to go out of my way to pick up a piece of trash or minimize my use of paper towels and all the rest. I didn’t see any need to cut back on my water bottle consumption by obtaining a reusable drink container. These are some of my ‘environmental sins,’ as I’ll call them.

But these things ran contradictory to each other and I think that deep down I knew it but didn’t want to admit it.

Until now.

My eyes started to become open to this contradiction when I first started reading N.T. Wright a couple of months ago. He helped give me a greater appreciation of ‘creation theology’ and I started to think more deeply about God’s initial creation and his good purposes for it. The Fall occurs, yes. But by only thinking of the Bible’s story in terms of saved and lost (with respect to people) I was forgetting the larger storyline in which the saved/lost categories only make sense.

But my understanding and revelation fully hit home while sitting in an Old Testament theology class a couple weeks ago. We were talking through ‘creation theology’ from Genesis 1 and 2 primarily. God’s good purposes for the creation were hashed out and I really started to think about how we are to be image bearers of God. In the Ancient Near East, an image was a functional one. So, for example, in the Scriptures you will find Ba’al represented by a calf. That’s not because he looks like one or has some similar attributes but because the function of the calf represents what the Ba’al worshipers thought of Ba’al. He was an important provider in fertility and nutrition. They were wrong, but that’s besides the point.

So, us being made in the image of God means that we reflect his glory by acting as he does: filling the earth and having dominion over it as stewards. This separates us from all other creatures. It is not genes (we share an incredibly high percentage with apes! not to mention other species) and it is not language (ours may be considered advanced but it is not unique). Our function as human beings, made male and female, is to be image bearers of God. This ideal function didn’t change at the Fall. It got corrupted and so we seek to be restored. We are restored to fellowship with God and to be image bearers of him through Jesus’ death on the cross. I think this storyline needs to be kept in mind or else our evangelism and efforts in the world turn into the way I was approaching them: there are lost people that need saving from hell out there and that’s that. But that’s not that. It is part of a bigger creation/re-creation narrative.

Dare I now step on some toes (lightly though for today) and say that North American evangelicalism has bred this sort of thinking? That’s where I learned it. I learned that humans are sinful, we need a saviour for our sins, Jesus paid for our sins, we go to heaven. Not every ‘gospel presentation’ is so simple or so naive, but this captures something of it.

I think there are at least two big failures to highlight here: (1) failure to connect salvation to the larger storyline of the Bible, and (2) a wrong view of eschatology.

1) I hit on this one above and I don’t need to say too much more right now. But only thinking in the categories of saved/lost doesn’t appear to me to be as helpful as I once thought it to be. It meant that my motivations were slightly off and in the case of my environmental sins, as I’ve called them, it meant I had no way to properly understand how they went against God’s plan for us in the world. That made them easy to commit.

2) Eschatology, eschatology, eschatology. What has had the most influence on North American eschatology (the study of last things) in recent years? I would like to say the Bible but I think the “Left Behind” movie/book series has captured Americans’s imaginations more than the Bible. The “Left Behind” eschatology is essentially one of Christians being removed from the earth (often called the rapture) while tribulation occurs and chaos ensues, God destroys the earth and then we live forever with Jesus in heaven. It’s not the time to completely deal with the issue of the rapture (I don’t think it happens – I think many have misunderstood Paul in 1 Thessalonians) but this idea of removal and destruction, at least in my case, led me to think, “I doesn’t matter too much what I do with respect to the earth since God is going to destroy it soon anyway.” We may not all be that crass about it but I see it out there.

Rather, the earth in Scripture is groaning to be put back aright and God will one day remake the earth when he brings heaven and earth together. Creation theology helps us see that God is on a trajectory with his work. We messed it up but God is going to restore his beautiful work. The earth is heading toward that restoration. Therefore our work to act as image bearers of God now in the earth is honouring to God as we seek to fulfil, thanks to the death of our Lord Jesus, what we were first created for: bringing glory to God by bearing his image.

The last thing to say here is that I don’t want to limit the creation theology to how we deal with nature. The point of creation theology is to see that there is a hierarchy with people above nature but one of dominion and stewardship, not domination and destruction. It also means that social justice should be of grave concern to us as well. And all of this because the gospel restores broken humanity into relationship with God and the world.

Yes to evangelism for the sake of restoring the broken relationship with God. That’s huge. But yes also to social justice and environmental care.

So, I’m starting small. I’m looking for opportunities to use less paper towel, to run my car less constantly, to use reusable drinking containers rather than buying bottled water.

So, what do you think? Are we Western Christians doing a very good job with respect to the environment? Does it matter?

Following Up ‘Suffering as a Gift’ – The Gifts

Upon writing the post, Suffering as a Gift, I realized I hadn’t spent a lot of time talking exactly about how suffering was a gift, which really should have been the case since that was the title. I spent more time talking about how my theology prepared me to suffer well as a precursor to seeing it as a gift. Thanks to a helpful commenter, I’m reminded to address more specifically exactly how I have seen suffering to be a gift. The other thing I want to tackle is how it can even be appropriate to talk about it as a gift and whether, as the commenter objected to, that view means we do nothing to allieviate suffering. It’s a reasonable objection but one that I think doesn’t hold. I’ll address that in a subsequent post.

In this post I want to quickly highlight exactly how I’ve seen my “suffering” with cancer to be a gift. I list them here in 5 points with short commentary.

1) In my marriage.

A proper perspective is key and my wife and I have been drawn closer together through this time. It is easy to drift in life but when you get news that one of you has cancer and may die, you appreciate each other differently, I think. We had a great marriage as a foundation prior to my diagnosis in December, but our bond to each other has been driven so much deeper and has caused us to have to rely on God’s grace and mercy in new and deeper ways. Will my wife be okay if I die? I know she will be greatly grieved, but she has an even greater hope that will sustain her. And I have to trust that she will be okay because she is in Christ.

2) In my parenting.

Again this comes down to perspective. Not knowing whether or not my son will grow up with a dad has helped me to be more intentional about spending time with him and thinking through what I want to leave to him should I pass away. Primarily what I want to leave to him is intangible but I’m working on it now: knowing that he had a father who loved him and walked faithfully with God as a pointer to an even greater Father, God himself. More tangibly I’m going to write a letter that exhorts him to pursue Christ and shares whatever wisdom I have gleaned in my life thus far. I’ve also taken a few more opportunities to get my books signed by the authors/scholars that wrote them to pass on to my son!

3) In my community.

The church community around us has been amazing to our family through this trial. They have walked with us the whole way and ensured that we would be supported in any way we needed. It has taught us about grace, mercy, compassion and community in amazing ways that I’m so thankful for. It has helped me to become less selfish as a result.

4) Hope in resurrection made more vivid.

Death used to seem so far off in many ways. Any one of us is deceived if we think it certainly is since none of us knows how long we have to live. But being faced with it in tangible ways has brought to light a deeper hope in the resurrection, or, as N.T. Wright says, in life after life after death (not a typo). Our ultimate home is not an ethereal place of clouds and harp music. It is a tangible remade earth where we will forever be in the presence of our God and King. Knock on the desk or the computer in front of you. Hit your feet on the ground. Look out at the clouds in the sky. It will be more real and certainly nothing less than what you just perceived with your senses in this exercise. Thinking through the realistic nature of the future heavens/earth helps my excitement for it and hope in the midst of this current cursed earth.

5) Perseverance, maturity, completeness.

I quoted James 1:2-4 in my first post. Again it says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (TNIV). Without claiming any attaining of perfection (believe me!) I have found my trust in God to be matured through the perseverance that this trial has produced. If you are currently in Christ, no explanation will be needed as to how wonderful it is to grow in maturity and the knowledge of the Lord. We were made for him. We were made to be his image bearers. Getting caught up in this brings meaning and completeness to our very purpose on this earth.

This is perhaps only a sampling of the gifts.

But I get that these are seen as gifts because of my Christian worldview (And this is at least one portion of an apologetic for the Christian worldview in how it handles suffering unlike so many other worldviews). That was a major point of my first post: it was my theology that prepared me to see the time of trial as a gift. Does this outlook then mean I am complacent about rectifying suffering? By no means. That will be the topic of my next post.

What I’ve Been Up To

I’m becoming slow to update! I’ve been trying to audit two one-week courses at school last week and this week and have learned that I wasn’t yet ready to do that. I finished my last round of chemotherapy only a month ago and I pushed a little too hard these last two weeks. I have a cold now and am missing some time from the current class. Nonetheless, it has been a wonderful two weeks.

Last week’s course was called “On the Road to Emmaus: Motifs in Old Testament Theology.” Wow. It was life-transforming. Whole new avenues for understanding the theology of the OT were opened up to me. The course was taught by Providence Theological Seminary’s President and Professor of Old Testament, August (Gus) Konkel. He was an excellent teacher and example and I’m glad that upon retirement this month, he’ll be moving back to south-western Ontario and will be around MacDiv.

This week’s course is called “The Gospel of Belief: New Ways of Understanding John,” taught by Hans Förster from the University of Vienna in Austria. The time I have so far spent in class has been excellent. I’m also encouraged to try to pick up Coptic! But I’m at home right now trying to sleep and recover.

If you’re in south-western Ontario, I highly recommend watching for MacDiv’s summer offerings next year. They really know how to put on summer courses, including a Monday BBQ and mid-week chapel!

Research and Writing Workflow

It should come as no surprise, but I love to read, research, and write. And to make that reading accessible to me after I’ve first churned it up in my mind, I’m trying to develop a workflow for capturing notes and being able to sync them flawlessly between my iPad and iMac for further research and writing. I should have thought about this sooner but thankfully it’s not too late either.

I wanted to share this website from John Chandler that is proving exceptionally helpful to me in developing a solid workflow.

Why I Shy Away from “Application”

In thinking about and planning for future speaking engagements, whether they be sermons, lectures, or even leading my bible study, I am thinking again about “application.” There seem to be lots of people out there saying that preaching the Word is not enough, it needs to be applied to our lives. There even seem to be many whose sermons are only geared toward the “application of truths to peoples lives,” many times through the popular 3 point sermon where the 3 points use one word all starting with the same letter, e.g., “pursuit, purpose, passion,” or something like that.

Without denying the truthfulness of Scripture needing to be “applied to our lives,” I think many have gone off the deep end in an effort to make everything immediately relevant in a way that people know is immediately relevant to their lives. This approach holds the Word hostage to our immediate needs, making everything person-centered rather than Christ-centered. The result, I believe, is to use the Bible as a personal application book for life’s little problems. However, the Bible is more than this.

The reason I think more needs to be said, and why I often shy away from such application, is that it fails to allow for the Word to shape our worldviews and transform our hearts. Instead it offers us a bunch of do’s and don’ts. “Be like David, he was a good man for the most part. Don’t be like David, however, when he committed adultery, that’s bad.” But if my worldview is me-centered, the command to not commit adultery, while extremely important and to be obeyed because it comes from God, we reason, may not be convenient for me at all times and should be done away with when I deem it “necessary.”

What I’m really on about is speaking against poor application that distorts the Bible and fails to recognize that teaching about Jesus and the good news and the kingdom, etc., really produces change in people so that they will, out of the overflow of their hearts, live as transformed kingdom people. In my opinion, this is good “application.” The application pointers beyond this may be useful, but not in order to short-circuit the true work of worldview transformation. And we could definitely use some worldview transformation rather than trying to fit Jesus into our people-centered worldviews.