Preaching the Word: Why Bother?

 

The dictionary says that to preach is “to publicly proclaim or teach (a religious message or belief)” or to “earnestly advocate (a belief or course of action).” This earnest proclamation of religious teaching has been a central approach to spreading the Christian message ever since Jesus sent out his disciples in Luke 9:2-3. They were charged spreading the word of the kingdom of God, and they were to do it not seeking the luxury of life, but as a commitment to the task itself.

Paul later encourages the young Timothy to “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear (2 Timothy 4: 2-3).”

Why preach? Go into to the world without purse or second coat, to be ignored by those who you address. Put your own credibility, and maybe even life on the line, so that people will not put up with you, but seek after a more edifying and convenient message than your own.  Why?

Because we are called to.  Jesus said to go into all the world and make disciples.  The message of that call in found in Romans 10, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (verse 13).” But Paul builds on this, and Jesus’ imperative “to go.” He writes, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? (vs. 14 -15b)”

Paul has developed this well.  The world is trapped by sin, but if it turns to God, they will be saved.  But they need the message sent. They need preachers. Paul goes so far as to say, that preaching is not just ordered, but is “compelled.” He writes, “For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16)”

We proclaim as an act of love.  We preach in order for others to hear, and in hearing to respond.  We are to always be prepared to share the message, “in season, and out of season.” We are to rebuke and correct (as sin is real), but also we are to build up and encourage. We may be ridiculed by some, and ignored by others.  But we are to persist, woe unto us if we do not.  And our rewards will be not only from above, but there will be those who do listen and respond, and to them our labours will be seen as lovely, “As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news! (Romans 10:15b)”

Padre

 

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Why Holiday Celebrations?

 

 

 

One of my students asked recently why we observe Christmas, which is not mentioned (or at least sanctioned) in the scriptures, but not Purim and Passover, which are actually mandated.  Okay, fairly deep question and one with several angles for consideration.

On one level we have the idea of the keeping of “days.”  Paul in his letter to the Galatians concludes chapter 3 with a discussion on how the coming of Jesus and that subsequently He and His sacrifice led to an adoption into the family of God, separate from the “Law.”  As such the “letter of the law” (if not its principles) has passed away.  He writes,  in chapter 4, “But when the set time had fully come,God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts,the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir (verse 2-7).”

He goes on to note that some in Galacia had turned to things (false gods) that bound them. He writes, “Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?  You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!  I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you (verse 9-11).”

Paul is suggesting that the Law of the Old Testament, and the god’s of pagan society both enslaved.  In keeping the strict calendar of observances people were binding themselves to functions and forms.

It can be argued, however, that Jesus Himself kept these days.  In fact, He also kept Hanukkah which was not biblically commanded (John 10:22).  While this is true, Jesus commented,  “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17).”  Until His words on the cross, “It is finished,” that fulfillment would not yet be complete.  Thus He kept the festivals of the Law that “all righteousness might be fulfilled.”

Does this mean that observing Purim, Passover, or Sabbath (for that matter) is wrong?  This question, in part, has been explored by a fellow blogger Pastor Mike which makes a thought provoking read.  But on a ride the fence (and simple) note, it all depends.  Are we marking these days as obligation?  Are we binding them on ourselves as law? If so, Paul’s concern of Galatians 4:11 seems to apply.

However, are we doing them as activities of praise and remembrance?  This seems to open a different aspect of consideration.  Jesus said, when we take the bread and fruit of the vine, we should do so in remembrance of Him.  In the Book of Acts and in Paul’s own writings (I Corn. 16:2) this was done on “the first day of the week.”  Is this “day” a “new obligation?” No. The remembrance is, but the day is not.  First Corinthians 11:25 notes it is “as often as you do it.”

Here we can approach the Christmas question.  We do it to celebrate the coming of Messiah.  It is, like the Lord’s Day, a remembrance.  And, for many Christians through the ages, it has been questioned.   Yes, it’s celebration is not scripturely commanded. In fact, some Protestants, and especially Puritans, even outlawed it (Cromwell’s England, and the Massachusetts Colony).   This may have been because the idea of “days of obligation” had come into many “high church” calendars, or merely because it was not found in the Bible.  In either case, they saw it too much like the Galatians’ keeping of days.

In the end, my (very unimportant) opinion is it comes down to heart.  Why do we celebrate Christmas?  To rejoice and remember the coming of our salvation. Why do (most) Christians not keep the Hebrew festivals? They are part of the old covenant, which the coming of Messiah fulfilled (and with that advent, the requirement to keep them passed away).

Padre

Red and Green Fish (Fish with Beetroot)

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“Red fish” and Asparagus

No it’s not a line from Dr Seuss’ One Fish, Two Fish . . . , but rather an  interesting way to cook “white fish” giving it some colour and a bit more flavour than is often found in cheaper fillets. While not necessarily intended as a seasonal dish, the colours do lend themselves to Christmastide.  So here we go with a recipe for “Foodie Friday.”

Ingredients:

Fish –

  • White Fish (generic white fillets, hake, or pollock) 2 fillets (100-150 g each)
  • Beetroot 4 medium prepared beets (not pickled).  I used store bought last time, but have peeled and boiled fresh beets in the past.
  • Balsamic Vinegar 1-2 Tbs
  • Black Pepper 1 tsp
  • Olive Oil 1 Tbs
  • Salt to taste

Asparagus Tips –

  • Asparagus Tips 8
  • Salt pinch
  • Slivered Almonds 1 tsp
  • Garden Peas (optional)

 

Method:

Place white fish fillets into bowl and add the juice of the prepared beets and a 2 tsp of vinegar (let rest for at least 2 hours). Mash the beetroot into a coarse “mash potato texture” and set aside.

After marinading the fish, place a piece of foil into a baking dish and lightly coat with olive oil.  Pat fish with black pepper, and then lay fillets onto foil.  Heat the beet mash in a pan and spoon onto fish and and drizzle with remaining vinegar and a small amount of beet juice marinade (do not overdo).  Fold foil into tent and place in oven for 20 – 25 minutes at 190 C/ 375 F.  In steamer place asparagus and stream for 6 to 8 minutes till bright green and still a little crisp.

Check fish with a fork to be sure it has gone flaky (beet mix will slow the cooking some). When done, place fish unto plate with a spatula and lay cooked asparagus on tip of beet topping, or serve on the side with cooked peas and sprinkle with almonds.

You may want to adjust both the vinegar and black pepper to your taste, but it is these that bring out the beet flavour in the fish. I like it a bit peppery.

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Beet Topping  with Balsamic

Let me know how you get on.

Padre

 

 

Morocco: Windows, Doors, and Arches

 

 

I am not a great artist, yet I do appreciate things of beauty.  Whether it be natural landscapes, or thoughtful and creative examples of human expression.  There are many wonderful examples of both in Europe, but in style and “exotic” quality, I really found Morocco had a lot to offer.

In today’s travel post, I am going to focus on some of the under appreciated aspects, many going unnoticed in European architecture: the doors and windows. Many of these that I saw in Marrakech were not the standard rectangular parallel posts and lintel construction, but ones that incorporated screening, rounded and peaked arches, and decorative paneling.

 

 

In the labyrinth of narrow allies and passageways in the old city, I was able to use the distinctive features of these designs to navigate along the almost uniformly pink walls. Some of these were augmented by spectacular tile-work, but most were purely identifiable by the patterned screens and arches.

The windows, as well as the doors, offered amazing diversity, and enhanced the arabesque feel of the experience.  Some of these has woven and carved screens, and others various patterns of coloured glass.

 

 

In the close allies and in the courtyards of riads and restaurants there we wonderfully crafted archways, whether as passage entries, or as features of fountains and even as “bathroom” fittings.

These artist expressions are not only beautiful, but practical aspects of the architecture, serving as landmarks and in some cases I am told in regulating the circulation of air to moderate the temperature of the areas.  For me though, they made for a culturally rich North African experience.  [They also make for some great travel photos].

I will blog on the wonderful Moroccan tiles in a future post.

Padre

Honouring Foolishness?

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Do we honour folly?  I am not asking if we avoid shaming foolishness, but rather do we go so far in our attempts to uplift everyone, that we celebrate the lack of wisdom?

In today’s world it is not generally acceptable to shame anyone,  and while I am the first to uphold the idea of the human dignity of all, the Bible does indicate that folly should not be honoured.

The Bible praises wisdom.  This practical application of knowledge, is the ideal the people of God are called to.  Ecclesiastes 12 sums wisdom up simply, “13 Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. “

Much of our current celebrity culture goes in the face of this. “Reality” programming makes “stars” of individuals who for their proverbial 15 minutes of fame, are prepared to air their misdeeds and follies to the world.  Jerry Springer and Jeremy Kyle have made their television careers based on exploiting the vanity of such individuals.  Even the antics of politicians such as Boris Johnson seem to endear them to the public at large, if for no other reason the comic relief of the absurdity of it all. Face it, sage steadfast individuals are seen as “boring.”

But the scriptures make a point of warning against such elevation of foolishness. Proverbs 26 :1 reads, “Like snow in summer or rain in harvest, honor is not fitting for a fool.”  Do you want snow in the growing season, or damp on your drying grain?  Of course not.  So in like manner honour is not fitting for those who show folly.

In fact chapter 26 continues with a warning, when it comes to putting trust in those who lack wisdom. “Sending a message by the hands of a fool is like cutting off one’s feet or drinking poison (verse 6).” 

Verse 8, extends the discussion to the futility of elevating those lacking wisdom. It says it is, “Like tying a stone in a sling, is the giving of honor to a fool.”  

There is a response to folly (and to be fare we all fall into it sometimes).  It is the return to the Ecclesiastes passage cited above.  Fear God, and follow His ways.  And how do we know what those are? Simple: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).”

When we see unwise, self-destructive, or just silly practice we are not to shame.  When we are confronted with it though, we should not promote, encourage or celebrate it either.  We should in a spirit of love seek to instruct in wisdom and point out folly.  Not shame, but correction.  And above all, don’t encourage folly.

Padre

Acapella

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It has struck me that many of the blogs I follow in this advent season have featured clips of musical favourites of the posters.  I have found these enriching and spiritually uplifting.

So, as a deviation from my usual posting style, I will share some of the music of my own spiritual journey and heritage.

A cappella is Italian for “in the manner of the chapel.”  It is a music style in which the singing is without instrumental accompaniment. It has a long history from plain chant, to the sacred harp music of colonial America, and in the non-instrumental worship of many of the churches of the Anabaptist and Restoration Movements.

I have written before of my spiritual heritage being from both Catholic and Restoration traditions.  With this in mind the first piece I would like to share is entitled “The True God,” and is from the plain song chant tradition of the Middle Ages.

I am not a musicologist, nor am I even more than a casual enjoy-er of music, but I find the Gregorian chants rich and spiritually moving.

I have spent much of my adult journey in churches which use shaped-note four and six part harmonies.  These acapello pieces have at times been “sacred harp” style, or non-instrumental settings of more common Protestant hymns.

The following “Sacred Harp” piece is interesting in its complexity.  For those not familiar with the style, the melody and harmony is first song through in just note form, and then repeated with the devotional lyrics.

This worship style has been used by others, notably including the Primitive Baptist churches and the churches of Christ. Acapella worship also found in the Amish and more traditional Mennonite communities of the Anabaptist tradition.

The next piece is really a favourite of mine, and comes from a Primitive Baptist church.

The final piece I came across from a link from fellow Christian blogger Steven Colborne. It is by Christian artists Sounds Like Reign, a couple whose work is well worth getting to know better.

For those of you unfamiliar with the acapello tradition, I hope you found it enjoyable.

Padre

Cranberry Ginger Pie

DSC03466aOne of the festive seasonal treats that I have made over the years is Cranberry Ginger Pie.  This has the the tartness of the berries, a countering sweetness, and a mild bite of ginger to follow.  My family has always been appreciative of it, so here it goes:

Ingredients:

  • Fresh Cranberries (300 grams or 2/3 lb)
  • Sugar (200 grams or 1 cup granulated)
  • Water (250 ml or 1 cup)
  • Ground Ginger (2 tsp)
  • Pie Crust (see recipe)
  • Eggs (4 separated whites)
  • Caster Sugar (150 grams)

Method:

Prepare the pie crust and press into a lightly greased or oiled pie pan.  Set aside.

Rinse berries thoroughly removing any spoiled or damaged fruit.  The in a large pan bring the water and granulated sugar to a low boil and add the ginger spice.  Then stir in the berries and bring to a boil and then reduce waiting for all of the fruit to burst.

Let the berry mixture stand about five minutes and then pour into the pie crust.  Place into a preheated (175 C /350F) oven.  Bake for fifteen to twenty minutes (when crust begins to brown).  While pie is baking, whisk or electric mix the egg whites till they begin to thicken, and gradually add the caster sugar.  Whip until a stiff meringue.

Remove pie from oven at 15-20 minutes (when crust is beginning to brown) and evenly spread meringue onto the top, and return to oven until the meringue begins to brown (approx. 15 minutes).  Remove from oven and allow to cool thoroughly.  I find it best if chilled after cooling.

Let me know how it goes.

Padre

 

 

 

 

“The Author of Evil?”

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My wife recently read a book in which the writer made his chosen translation’s rendering of Isaiah 45: 7,  that God is the creator of  רָ֑ע (evil),  a major theme.  Without going too deeply into his main thesis of ex deo creation (God as the creator “out of himself” view),  such an approach kind of necessitates an “author of evil” theme. But is it true?

I have been asked by students on way too many occasions whether God made evil.  Some students have followed variants of the Epicurean dilemma, and others just go straight to the point.  Champions of such a view of God as the creator of evil find a “proof text” with Isaiah 45.  Or do they?

So far two paragraphs each ending with a question.  So let’s start with the idea of evil.  There are two general categories of “evil:” moral evil, and “natural” evil.  The first are the moral and ethical failings of humanity (sin), and the latter are natural occurrences which the human mind equates to “evil.”

Moral evil has two elements as well.  What we do wrong, and what others do wrong.  There has been much discussion on “free-moral” agency, and the human capacity to commit wrong.  If we grant that we choose to do wrong, we must allow the same to others.  Natural “evils” are things such as earthquakes, storms, fire, and the like.  These are not moral evils, though they can and often do cause human suffering.

When God is cited in Isaiah 45 as saying He is the creator of  רָ֑ע what is He saying?  We here need to read the passage in context of chapter 45 as a whole.  Verse 2 gives us some insight, “I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron.”  In this vein we see the imagery of “natural” and not moral evil.

This is supported by the variant translations of the word רָ֑ע.  It need not be translated with the emotionally charged term “evil, ” but as “calamity,” “adversity,” and “trouble,” as well.  In this light, God in both context and meaning is saying “I am the cause of calamity (such as leveling of mountians),” not “I am the author of moral evil and sin.”

God is a omni-moral being. He is an omnibenevolent -all loving God. Again without entering into the Epicurean argument (I will take this on in a future post), we have God as the loving creator.  He, in His love for us, granted us the freedom to make ill decisions (sin). But in the giving of that ability to us He was not Himself the “author of moral evil.” He has created a world in which natural calamities are also possible, (and at the risk of sounding like Dr. Pangloss) but are not in themselves “evil,” but merely unwelcomed and unwanted to humans.

Evil is a big word, and all too easy to misconstrue in the English tongue.  [Love is similarly difficult in English]. But the bottom line is that, God is not the author of true evil [the absence of good] or moral sin.

Padre

 

What are the Limits of a Promise?

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David and Jonathan made a covenant (promise) of friendship in 1 Samuel 18 and this was reinforced in 1 Samuel 20.  Despite King Saul’s animosity towards David, his son (and daughter) had no such hatred, nor did David hold it towards the House of Saul.

This was demonstrated in 1 Samuel 24 when David, pursed by the angry Saul spares the king’s life. Verse 19 records the result of the encounter. Saul himself comments, “When a person finds an enemy, does he send him away unharmed? The Lord will repay you completely for what you did for me today. 20 Now I know that you certainly will rule as king, and under your guidance the kingdom of Israel will prosper. 21 Swear an oath to the Lord for me that you will not wipe out my descendants or destroy my name in my father’s family.”  A promise and oath David readily makes.

But what are the limits of a promise? We find an answer in the aftermath of the Battle of Gilboa.

1 Chronicles 10:1 “Now the many Philistines fought against Israel. The men of Israel ran away from the Philistines, and were killed on Mount Gilboa. The Philistines went after Saul and his sons. And they killed Jonathan, Abinadab and Malchi-shua, Saul’s sons. The battle was hard for Saul. Those who fought with the bow found him, and hurt him with an arrow. Then Saul said to the one who carried his battle-clothes, “Take your sword and kill me with it. Or these men who have not gone through our religious act will come and make fun of me.” But the one who carried his battle-clothes would not do it. For he was very afraid. So Saul took his sword and fell on it. When the one who carried his battle-clothes saw that Saul was dead, he fell on his sword and died also. So Saul died with his three sons. All those of his house died together.All the men of Israel who were in the valley saw that the army had run away and that Saul and his sons were dead. So they left their cities and ran away. Then the Philistines came and lived in their cities. When the Philistines came the next day to take what had belonged to the dead, they found Saul and his sons dead on Mount Gilboa.”

2 Samuel 4:4 continues the narrative with the words, “(Jonathan son of Saul had a son who was lame in both feet. He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel. His nurse picked him up and fled, but as she hurried to leave, he fell and became disabled. His name was Mephibosheth.)”

At the death of the perceived line of Saul, David is anointed king. It seems the survival of Mephibosheth is kept from the new king in an attempt to protect the boy from precisely the type of “name deleting” which David had sworn not to do.  Okay, such purging of lineage was practiced in the ancient world, but there is  evidence that David would not have stooped to it.  First his vow to Saul made before God, secondly his continued relationship of Michal (even after she rebukes him, though she remains childless).  But ultimately David’s nature, and his integrity is seen some years later in his encounter with Mephibosheth.

2 Samuel 9:1 “David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” Now there was a servant of Saul’s household named Ziba. They summoned him to appear before David, and the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?”“At your service,” he replied.The king asked, “Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?”Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is lame in both feet.”“Where is he?” the king asked. Ziba answered, “He is at the house of Makir son of Ammiel in Lo Debar.”So King David had him brought from Lo Debar, from the house of Makir son of Ammiel.When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honor.David said, “Mephibosheth!”“At your service,” he replied.“Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”Mephibosheth bowed down and said, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?”Then the king summoned Ziba, Saul’s steward, and said to him, “I have given your master’s grandson everything that belonged to Saul and his family. 10 You and your sons and your servants are to farm the land for him and bring in the crops, so that your master’s grandson may be provided for. And Mephibosheth, grandson of your master, will always eat at my table.” (Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.)11 Then Ziba said to the king, “Your servant will do whatever my lord the king commands his servant to do.” So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table like one of the king’s sons.12 Mephibosheth had a young son named Mika, and all the members of Ziba’s household were servants of Mephibosheth. 13 And Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table; he was lame in both feet. 

David not only kept his word to Saul and did not seek to destroy the last in the line of Saul, but cares for him. He, in doing so also honours his promise of love and friendship made to Jonathan.  Twenty years [a figure offered by several commentators based on verse 12] has passed and David is loyal to his word;  a generation on, and the promise is kept.

This is not the only such promise of love and relationship found in scripture.  When Apostle Peter called his audience to turn to Jesus for “the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise belongs to you and to your children and to all who are far off . . .  (Acts 2: 38b-39).” 

How long is our word good for?  What are the limits of a promise? David kept a promise two decades on, Jesus continues to honour His two millennia on. Let that be our standard.

Padre

Beef and Olive Stew (with Ancient and Modern Variations)

 

Let me first acknowledge that sheep and goats seemed a more regular feature of biblical diets, than was beef.  That said beef is a kosher meat (Lev. 11) and is acknowledged as being eaten (I Kings 4:23).  Best of all, this recipe was enjoyed by my wife.

Ingredients:

  • Beef 200 grams (I used chopped organic steak)
  • Olives 6 large firm green (I used Spanish Queen variety)
  • Carrot 1/2 [Used in Roman cookery].
  • Garlic 2 cloves
  • Olive oil (2 Tbs)
  • Oregano 1/2  to 1 tsp depending on taste [Oregano is not mentioned in the Bible but was common in both Greek and Roman cookery].
  • Beef stock 1/2 cup
  • Salt

Sear beef in a pan in a little olive oil and salt.  Oil bottom of a slow cooker dish with oil and add beef.  Dice the carrot and garlic.  Slice pitted olives into rings.  Put carrot, garlic and olives into dish and then sprinkle with oregano.  Pour beef stock over meat and veg and cook on low setting 3 hours.  [It necessary to thicken or as a matter of taste a Tbs of (anachronistic) tomato paste can be stirred in before serving.

An additional non-biblical (non-Roman) ingredient is 1/2 a red pepper diced small and added with the carrot and garlic.  We have tried the recipe both ways, and found it equally nice (just different).

This made one large bowl of stew (as I am pescatarian), so ingredients may need doubling for family fare.

Padre