Marcus The Impressionist : This Dude's Hilarious

So, I'm a fan of the TV show Last Comic Standing. It does get on my nerves, however, that they waste so much time showing bad comedians; show all of the good ones that will make us laugh! Anyway, my favorite comedian so far (and a prime candidate to take the title of Last Comic Standing) is the single-named impressionist Marcus. Seriously, this guy is incredible! His Gilbert Gottfried and Bobcat Goldtwaith impressions are unreal. Check out this clip (it's only a minute long):


62 Studies in Mark: The List Thus Far

Below are sixty-two posts from my "Studies in Mark" series. Hope you've enjoyed reading them as much as I have enjoyed writing them. (Feel free to engage past posts any time and I will readily respond.)

*A Markan Precursor - Did Jesus own a home?

#1 - Did the Disciples Know Jesus Before He "Called" Them?

#16 - The Feeding and Teaching of the 5,000...Zealots

#17 - Jesus the Prophet?

#18 - Why the Zealots Wanted Jesus to be Their Leader

#19 - Jesus Walked On Water...And Almost Went Too Far

#20 -There Is No Messianic Secret

#21 - Jesus the Priest

#22 - How the Gallio Inscription Helps Us Date Mark's Gospel

#23 - Did Jesus Use Protection?

#24 - What Comes Out of You Is What Defiles You

#25 - The Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek & Latin Contour of Mark's Gospel

#26 - The Mes-Sigh-ah

#27 - Miracles or Mere Distractions?

#28 - Why and How God Hardens Hearts

#29 - The Quest for the Questioning Jesus

#30 - Did the Disciples Believe in Ghosts?

#31 - Faith Comes By Reading

#32 - Rebuking the Idea of Resurrection

#33 - Jesus Got It All Wrong

#34 - Abiathar Again

#35 - Down “Abi” Road Again

#36 - Did John Eat Pancakes or Torillias?

#37 - Chronology in Mk.

#38 - Mark Translations

#39 - Markan Use of “rb”

#40 - Timelines After the Transfiguration

#41 - Gay Love in Mark’s Gospel?

#42 - Mark & Maximalist Historians

#43 - Tyndale on Mark’s Gospel

#44 - Jesus Didn’t Predict His Death

#45 - The Emotional Jesus

#46 - A Colorful Greek Reading of Mk. 1.1-8

#47 - Why Did the Spirit Exorcise Jesus?

#48 - The Geography of Mark’s Gospel

#49 - Performing Mk. 1.21-8 in Greek

#50 - The Kleptomanic Christ

#51 - You Are Not Far From the Kingdom of God

#52 - Show Me the Money

#53 - Did Jesus Redefine Kinship

#54 - Speaking in the Spirit

#55 - Was Jesus Both Lord and Son of David?

#56 - Blessed Are The Barren

#57 - Mark’s Text, Audiences & Identity

#58 - Was Jesus’ Eschatalogical Clock Out-Of-Sync?

#59 - A 5-Man Conversation Pregnant With Meaning

#60 - Rethinking Jesus’ Suffering

#61 - Was Jesus an Animal Lover?


Was Jesus An Animal Lover? Studies in Mark, Pt. 61

To read Mark’s Gospel is, in some ways, to meet an interesting cast of creaturely characters. In chapter one there is mention of camels, locusts, wild beasts, snakes and fish (which are mentioned at a few other points in the narrative). In chapter four birds are focused on. In chapter five, the reader encounters pigs and one chapter later there is mention of sheep. The seventh chapter claims mention of a dog, the ninth a worm, the eleventh both a colt and a dove and the thirteenth a rooster. In chapter 14, a lamb is spoken of and once again a rooster. In chapter 16, we find the last mention of an animal, which is a snake.

Perhaps PETA could try to make some kind of case from all of this that Jesus was an animal lover (although he did send some pigs over the cliff—but then again, some pigs can swim!). Anyway, this has all led me to ponder a bit more deeply, Jesus’ statement to the Syro-Phoenician woman in 7.27 who interrupted Jesus (probably while eating) and begged Him to drive a demon out of her child. There, Jesus remarks: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” She replies, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Now, I must admit, the portrayal of the dog in this episode seems quite negative; it is under the table, it only gets fed scraps, it is below even the children, etc. The interesting thing to me, however, is that the dog is in the house and under the table in the first place. Is it possible, then, that this is something positive rather than negative?

Every scholar I’ve read is in consensus on this passage: Jesus’ negative portrayal of the dog, a lower-class being, is representative of the Gentiles who, in Jewish thought, were lower-class beings as well. But is there reason to pause and look again? I think so. In the end, Jesus fulfills the woman’s request and even more, in a most miraculous way—from a distance (how far, we do not know). Further, given the very fact that Jesus let His meal be interrupted for this woman seems to suggest that He Himself considered her to be just as human as anyone else (see also Mk. 2 where Jesus eats with Levi and the “sinners”—probably Gentiles).

It could be that Jesus is just testing the woman to see if she will stick up for herself. Or, it could be that He is engaging her in a sort of joking manner (e.g. “You dog you, you’re interrupting my meal”…“I know it but you’re letting that dog eat with you…so, I don’t want to hear it Mr.”). I think tone-of-voice could influence one’s interpretation here. But I also think that owning up to the fact that in antiquity, as G. Miller has pointed out, dogs were not really seen as the parasites they have typically been made out to be.

In the ancient world, there are pottery chards that have children playing with dogs, riding dogs and dogs pulling carts. There were also guard dogs. In the Phoenician city of Ashkelon, a massive canine burial site has been uncovered (it is believed to contain over 1,000 dogs). Some dogs were even used in healing rituals (recall the passage in the NT about licking sores!); they are not mentioned in the laundry list of unclean animals in Dt. 14 either!. If such things do not show an affinity for dogs, I’m not sure what does! Of course, there are some OT passages that speak badly of dogs (I’m thinking Jezebel’s death here and/or the psalmists characterization of evildoers as dogs). Job, on the other hand, seemed to like dogs for their sheep-herding abilities (something I repeatedly saw firsthand as I traveled all over the Mediterranean last year).

The image of Jesus rounding up the “sheep without a shepherd” in Mk. 8 might even portray Jesus Himself as a dog (although, if we’re looking for a metaphor there, it is probably more correct to think of a commander). Taking into consideration that dogs weren’t seen as scoundrels and parasites throughout the Mediterranean, I propose that when we read Mk. 7, we read the “dog” analogy as a positive one. I think that it is possible that the Syro-Phoenician woman was one who remained a follower of Jesus throughout the rest of His ministry (see: Mk. 15.41).

As I pointed out, it is worth noting that the dog is 1) in the house, 2) under the table, 3) getting scraps and 4) in close proximity to Jesus and others during mealtime. I don’t know that we should read everything in the dialogue as metaphorical here (e.g. the reference to “food” as a reference to “the Gospel” or the mention of “dogs” as representative of the Gentiles and the same with the “children” and “Israel”). Perhaps scholars have reached too far here.

I wonder if, when the woman came up to the door, the dog got up to come see who was there and that’s how she saw it? Or, what if Jesus was looking at the dog that, during the conversation, had recovered a scrap? Or, what if one of the kids threw it a scrap and Jesus saw it? Did He try to use that to make a point? Was He teasing or being funny? Maybe Jesus thought it rude to leave the place where He had been invited to eat, before everyone finished. So, He implores the woman, “Let’s let the children eat all they want and then I’ll come.” Just then, He sees the child throw a scrap down. He looks at the lady again, her having seen it too, and says: “That’s not right what that child just did; he’s wasting food that his parents worked hard for.” The lady responds, “And while they’re wasting food feeding the dogs, I’m wasting time waiting on them because my child is sick. So, could you please come now; they’re not going to eat anyway.” And in the end, Jesus takes her point well and heals the child from a distance.

Was Jesus an animal lover? I have no idea. He doesn’t seem adverse to animals though. In the Markan story I focused on above, it appears to me that dogs aren’t viewed negative (although many people read the story that way!). It appears that Jesus sees children feeding the dog, concedes to the woman’s point and then fulfils her request. Thus, she could return home to “find her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone” (7.30).


Rethinking Jesus’ Suffering: Studies in Mark, Pt. 60

So, this is my 60th “study” on Mark. I think that’s pretty cool. I’ve enjoyed writing on Mark’s Gospel so far and hopefully there will be many, many more posts on it.

In this post, I want us to think about a phrase that occurs twice in Mark’s Gospel: “The Son of Man must suffer…” (8.31; 9.12). Typically, this phrase is read through the lens of divine determinism: “God the Father made evil things happen so that Jesus would undergo suffering and redeem humanity.” However, there is another way to think through such passages.

For instance, if we read the Gospel narratives closely, we see that at the beginning of His ministry, Jesus is aware that the religious and political leaders are plotting to take His life (see: Mk. 3.6 and especially, its parallel Mt. 12.14-5). In both Mk. and Mt., Jesus knows that His neck is on the line. Even so, He continues on in His ministry (e.g. teaching, healing, miracles/wonders, etc.). Thus, we might read the passages that say “The Son of Man must suffer” not as divinely determined statements but as socially and historically shaped ones—Jesus was aware that He was being hunted and He also knew that if He continued to do the things He was doing, He was going to suffer and be killed.

What this means is that Jesus chose to endure suffering for the sake of humanity and the sake of the Gospel. He was not “divinely abused” nor was He drawing on some leftover omniscience He had saved up for precisely these moments. Jesus is stating a matter of social fact and historical reality: “If I keep on with this, I’m going to suffer.” And to His followers He’s making the point: “If you keep on with me, you too will suffer.” He’s not attempting to be predictive here; He’s stating a mater of fact.

Two things we can take from this are: 1) Jesus chose to suffer for righteousness sake, and 2) Jesus’ disciples also chose to suffer for righteousness. We might conclude from these to points that in situations of abuse, neglect, mistreatment, etc. today, people are not called, as Christ-followers, to just take the beatings. That is not suffering for righteousness sake; this is not the same type of suffering that a martyr endures! Perhaps it’s time to rethink Jesus’ suffering so that the vicious cycles of violence and hate that are alive and well today, disappear from our lives.


A 5-Man Conversation Pregnant With Meaning: Studies in Mark, Pt. 59

As a male, I would find it incredibly odd if I walked into a room and five of my buddies were talking about how painful giving birth is. For starters, I would wonder what got them talking about it. Then, I would raise the question as to how they know what it is like. Now, if a woman were to walk in on this dialogue, she might have some questions too: 1) Do you guys have a clue what you’re talking about? 2) Do you really think you can understand what it’s like to expel another human from your body? 3) And why do you focus on the pain at the expense of the joy that follows, anyway?

Now, roll back the script about 2,000 years to a scene on Mount Olivet in Jerusalem. In Mark’s Gospel, we are told that Jesus, in a conversation with Peter, James, Andrew and John, talks about birth pains (or “pangs” if you like). As I kept reading chapter 13 over and over, verse 8 kept sticking out like a sore thumb to me. Why did Jesus use the imagery of “pregnancy” and “birth pains” here when talking to a group of men? I mean, could they really understand? Could they really relate? Does this just reveal Jesus’ patriarchal culture, a culture where the suffering of women meant very little to men? What is going on here?

Of course, many Markan commentators gloss over this issue while others say nothing at all. Those who do say something tend to focus on how this is a redacted statement or they focus on its role in rabbinic tradition and interpretation. Gempf, in his study on birth pangs in the NT, makes a convincing suggest that in Mk. 13, Jesus is saying, “Guys, do you know how when a woman goes into labor and she has the first pain and then another, then another, then another, etc. that’s what you’re going to face. When the time to give birth comes, the woman has experienced many escalating hardships. That’s what’s going to happen to you.”

I agree, partially with Gempf’s analysis. However, I don’t think he goes far enough. I think what Jesus is saying in Mk. 13.8 also has to do with what happens after and even as a result of the birth pains: something new. I would argue, unlike any other Markan scholar, that Jesus’ statement is hearkening back to Isaiah 66. In the first few verses of that chapter, Isaiah is talking about how the presence of God is going to move from the temple to a human. As the chapter progresses, a birth pangs analogy is used and so is one about a child feeding from it’s mother’s breasts (thus, correlating with Mk. 13.17). Actually, there are tons of parallels between Mk. 13 and Isa. 66 (I’m not going to list them all here).

I should also note an interesting article by E. C. Webster on Isa. 66. There, he points out that these verses are, in a rhetorical sense, a riddle—and yes, the riddle has an answer. I would contend that something similar is taking place around Mk. 13.8. In Isa. 66 (you can read it for yourself), the answer would be as follows: “In the years of her desolation Zion neither travailed nor brought forth but with the return of the exiles she was inhabited in one day, in one moment. Will not the Lord who brought this about see that her people
increase and prosper?” Now, let me put this together so we can make some sense of out Jesus, a male, using maternal imagery in Mk. 13.8.

What Jesus is saying, in drawing on Isa. 66 is essentially this: “Just as there is an escalation of pains when a woman goes into labor, so too, will you my followers, experience a wave of pains and sufferings. Recall the history of your ancestors: Right in the middle of the pain and suffering, the Lord inhabited Zion and brought forth increase. In the same, way, when the travails come upon you, wave after wave, don’t be caught sleeping, remain awake. For, God, the Holy Spirit, will inhabit you and cause His people to increase. If you endure, you will be saved and not only that, but new life will be brought forth.”

Taking these things into consideration, we see that Jesus wasn’t using the imagery of birth pangs just because it sounded witty or because it seemed like a good analogy. Jesus was drawing on Isaianic tradition; He was comparing God’s inhabiting of Zion with the Spirit’s inhabiting of His followers (e.g. God would leave the Temple and inhabit the people) and just as well, He was imploring His followers to endure, just as their ancestors did. Again, I could say much more about this conversation between 5 guys that is simply pregnant with meaning but for now, I guess I’ll spare you the pain.


Was Jesus' Eschatological Clock Out Of Sync? Studies in Mark, Pt. 58

For those who have even a simple understanding of how to read and interpret the Scriptures, it should go without saying that Mk. 13 is not about the end of the world. Yet, many act as if—and quite persistently—that it is indeed about the end of all things. The truth of the matter is, what Jesus says in Mk. 13 has nothing to do with what would happen thousands of years later (and maybe thousands of years from now). Jesus is not being terribly futuristic here. What is going on in Mk. 13 is that Jesus is talking about what was getting ready to happen to those He was talking to as well as—and this is often overlooked!—to Himself. To be certain—and it seems rather clear to me—everything Jesus says in Mk. 13 is quite temporal and correlates with the rest of Mark’s account, even if rather loosely at some points.

We might insist, as some have done, that Jesus’ predictions were wrong. Many people have argued that Jesus believed the end of the world was immanent (most recentlly Ehrman) but in reality, it wasn’t and thus, Jesus got it all wrong. I disagree with this view (not least because Jesus Himself, in chapter 13, goes on to say that even He does not know specific times!). I don’t disagree with this to try to force some theological presupposition upon Jesus either. I disagree with it because everything Jesus says in Mk. 13 actually plays out, to some degree, in the next three chapters (and this “playing out” is even clearer when the other Gospel accounts and the historical background are accessed; see for example the statements made in Mk. 13.8):

Chapter 13 / Fulfillment
13.5-13.......in.....14.9, 45, 53-72

In 13.2, Jesus speaks of the Temple’s impeding destruction. In 15.38, the Temple curtain (at the heart of the Temple) is destroyed from top to bottom. In 13.9-13, numerous things come to pass. Jesus makes another reference to the Gospel being preached in the world, two of Jesus’ own betray Him, Jesus Himself is brought before the courts and it was denied by the religious leaders (and the people) that Jesus was the Messiah. In 13.26 Jesus speaks about coming on the clouds (=judgment on the wicked/Temple, which plays out in the curtain’s tearing as well as Jesus’ own receiving the kingdom) and in 14.62, Jesus affirms, “I am” and that indeed, He is the one to come on the clouds (this also rails against the “I am” statements of others). In 13.34-5, Jesus tells the disciples to keep watch and not fall asleep as things will happen suddenly; in 14.37-40, the disciples fall asleep, do not keep watch, are not avid gatekeepers and things transpire quite rapidly (in the narrative).

We have to keep in mind that Mark’s account is a story. He does not have every detail of every one of Jesus’ words or every detail of every moment of Jesus’ life. So, where the correlates occur even loosely, they should still be acknowledged. Some, however, are strong fulfillments and give us no reason for pause. The point is: Jesus is speaking of things that were about ready to happen and eventually, they did. So, He didn’t get the end of the world thing wrong because He was never ever trying to talk about the end of the world. By the same token, His eschatalogical clock was not out of sync because it was never really set! What Jesus said, however, according to Mark, He certainly got right as Mark’s story (understood in context) shows us.


How Many Books I Own

The official count is in! After unloading 13 shelves worth of books and packing them into over 50 boxes and after listing/counting all of them, the total number of books that I own is (as of now) 1,716. That's a whole lot of books! I think I have a pretty good personal library. I'm glad I finally got to list all of them (if for no other reason than insurance purposes). The next step is to get all of these added to LibraryThing.


Mark’s Text, Audiences & Identity: Studies in Mark, Pt. 57

First of all, this is post #500 for me, sort of a blogger milestone for most people. That's kind of neat, I guess. Anyway...

Some time ago, I wrote a post that dealt with the Aramaisms, Hebraisms and Latinisms is Mark’s Gospel (to read it click here). I contended there that, Mark’s work was oriented towards a predominantly Gentile/Roman people group; it is likely, in my view, that the beginning stages of the Gospel According to Mark were composed in the city of Rome. I still maintain these views. I do wish, however, to note that while the majority of Mark’s audiences may have been Roman, it seems sensible to suggest that he would have shared his story with Hebrew/Israelite people too.

A question to posit here is: If to Hebrews/Israelites, why, then, would Mark include all of the Hebraisms, Aramaisms, etc. along with explanations of them? Actually, this question leads into my working theory on how Mark’s audiences (and the internal evidence of the text) may help us understand some things about Mark’s identity. The way to answer the question would be as follows: While those things were included in Mark’s text, when he spoke to Hebrew audiences, he glossed over them; they remained in the text but as a speaker, he didn’t have to say them.

It is comparable today to a preacher delivering a message to the younger, more contemporary crowd in the first Sunday morning service. In her message, the preacher shares a story about the Civil Rights movement, which she has to be very detailed about. If she excludes details, the hearers will not understand or even relate. However, in the second service for the more traditional crowd, she uses the same story but doesn’t have to spell-out or explain the nitty-gritty or details of the illustration. Sure, it’s there in the manuscript but it can be glossed over because the audience already understands and doesn’t need the details. This is one explanation to the question I raised above.

I want to build on this, though. Specifically, I want to contend that Mark was akin to a traveling storyteller. Of course, there were rhapsodists, philosophers, teachers, actors, sages, etc. that traveled around promoting their cause and sharing the agenda. Mark may not have fit one of these categories specifically but I would argue that he was a type of traveling storyteller and dramatist. I will not get into primary source comparisons, etc. here but I do think that given the nature of Mark’s work, there is ample evidence to suggest that his story was for multiple audiences. I also think there is evidence to suggest that Mark’s work contains elements of novel, tragedy and drama and thus, able to be performed. It could also be the case that all of the movement lends itself to a monodrama or something of that sort.

It is my contention, then, that the author of the Gospel of Mark was a type of performing storyteller who shared his story with a variety of audiences. If I were to cite primary sources, give textual evidences and make all of my points here, this post would go on forever. These proofs may be something more fitting for a journal article. What I wanted to do here, however, is to put forth my (current) view, since I have yet to do that. Indeed, Mark’s work seems to fit to be performed to a variety of audiences. And while this may tell us about Mark’s identity (e.g. a traveling performing storyteller) it may actually lead us to believe that the Gospel of Mark was performed by various people. I do not think it beyond possibility, even, that the author might have left in some of the different linguistic “isms” and explanations because there were performers whose native tongues might have been Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek or Latin. This last statement is something that quite interests me and could eventually “reshape” my view of Mark and his Gospel account quite dramatically. (For instance, it could rule out the entire notion of Mark having a "community" to which he wrote, among other things!!!) However, such views need time to ferment.


Wings Of Angels Video - The Musical Michael Halcomb, Pt. 5

Here's a video of me about 6 years ago perfoming a song I wrote titled "Wings of Angels"; this was during a Church gathering on a Sunday morning. Fun stuff.


A Prayer For the Chapmans

Some of you may have heard by now that late Wed. night, Stephen Curtis Chapman's daughter Maria was tragically killed by an older brother who accidentally hit her with an SUV. The song in this video, Cinderella, was written for Maria (the gal who was hit) and her sister, both adopted orphans from China. I must say, watching this video in this context is the first time I've ever cried when hearing a Stephen Curtis Chapman song. How tragic! "God, we pray that you would comfort the Chapman family at this time and bathe them in your love. Lord, we thank you for Maria's life and we pray for her brothers and sisters as their hearts are broken and grieving. Be with them Lord, Immanuel, be with them."


Blessed Are The Barren: Studies in Mark, Pt. 56 & Thoughts On Adoption, Pt. 8

At present, I have three growing interests in the field of biblical studies and in this post, two of those have come together: the Gospel of Mark and Barrenness/Infertility issues (from a biblical-theological standpoint). I noted in an earlier post that when one facing sterility/infertility struggles reads the Bible, there seems to be little hope and much condemnation (read this post too). However, as I continue to read Mark’s Gospel, I am beginning to find a lot of hope in some of the images and words that Jesus uses, as well as in His actions. For the barren Christian couple, there is hope.

Take Mk. 13.17-9 for instance, that passage says: “How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that this will not take place in winter, because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again.” We find the parallel to this passage in Luke’s account at verse 23 and following: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming...”

In both of these works, Jesus’ admonition is found in an eschatological discourse. What I mean by “eschatological discourse” here is this: eschatology is the study of the end of something, often thought of as the study of the end of the world (but not always, and certainly not in either of these passage) and discourse is meant to denote a speech or conversation here. So, Jesus is giving a talk here about the end of something, particularly, the end of God’s people being mistreated and taken advantage of by a corrupt political and religious system. Jesus could be looking ahead to the battle that took place in 70 AD that led to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple (and by relation, the sinful practices that were taking place in the Temple).

In Mark’s account, emphasis is placed on Jesus’ statement about mothers who are nursing their children. In Luke’s account, emphasis is placed on women whose breasts are dry or to put it differently, barren women. Jesus is saying that as the fight draws near, women are going to be threatened, mistreated, taken from their homes, forced to flee, etc. It is going to be a tough time. But it is going to be much harder for women who have children than it will women who do not. Why? Because women with children will have to see their children suffer. Women who have no children will not have to deal with that. Thus, as B. Pitre has shown, in an interesting twist, Jesus is saying here that the women without children should consider that a blessing.

That Jesus blessed barren women runs counter to much of the mentality of the Old Testament. There, it appears over and over that barren women are cursed by God and do not have His favor. The psalmist’s admonition that children are a gift from God is true but as Jesus points out, context is crucial. In the impending context, the demise of Jerusalem, it is actually going to seem like a curse for a parent to have to see their child endure such harsh cruelties and realities. So, Jesus blesses the barren women and warns those with child or carrying child.

We are prone to overlooking the fact that Jesus blessed the barren because in our society today, we still act as if women with children are better than those without. For Jesus, this is just not the case. For Jesus, the context of one’s life situation has a lot to do with whether or not the situation of a birth is a blessing or hardship. Certainly, there are many barren women, especially godly barren women, who are much more deserving of a child than others. Certainly there are barren women who are much more fit to raise a child than an irresponsible teenager who can get pregnant and have a child. Certainly there are situations that are good for a child and a parent and there are situations that are not.

The fact remains, however, we must read Jesus’ words here as a qualification of all of those stories in the Hebrew Scriptures where it appears that women who are barren are under a heavy curse. Just as well, we might acknowledge that today, suffering is brought on to children whose parents are not ready to raise them. In other words, instead of helping eradicate the world struggle of starving, homeless and struggling children, many irresponsible people continue to have kids. It seems to me that Jesus might say to such people, “Be warned; woe to you.” It also seems to me that Jesus might say to those who are responsible (and perhaps barren): “Do what you can to fix the situation, to help alleviate the struggle and to ensure that these kids never have to face a day of direness and dread.”

This is where adoption comes to mind. While adoption in antiquity was often done to extend the male’s lineage, it seems to me that there are certainly cases where adoption (even if that particular word wasn’t used to describe the situation) where compassion came into play (e.g. I’m thinking here of Moses’ story, etc.). So, for those of you who are sterile or barren, there is hope for you. Perhaps, while you are struggling with barrenness, you are alleviated from bigger, worse struggles. Perhaps, also, you might begin to think about adoption--choosing to love a child! Either way, remember this: Jesus loves you and indeed, blesses you.


What Good Are We? : Theoetry, Pt. 1

I've written a number of poems on Pisteuomen before but just so I can start categorizing them, I'm going to put them in a series I'm calling "Theoetry" (I just coined a word, I think). Thus, this is poetry about God, faith and things of that nature. Enjoy.

What Good Are We?

What good are eyes to see
If we always look away?
What good are minds to think
If we’re just stuck in our ways?

What good are ears to hear
If we don’t listen when people speak?
What good are hands to serve
If they’re only serving me?

What good are feet to go
If we just sit and never rise?
What good is the heart
If we can never empathize?

What good is the mouth
If it only speaks bad news?
What good is the conscience
If it stays adverse to truth?

What good is the soul
If we reject it’s Godward pull?
What good this life
If it’s not lived to the full?

What good are the emotions
If we only let them run wild?
What good is the body
If it is constantly defiled?

What good is each breath
If we dread our very living?
What good are our gifts
If we’re never giving?

What good is faith
If we never let it flower?
What good is Jesus’ blood
If we ignore it’s saving power?

.: T. Michael W. Halcomb :.


Announcement of Resignation

Yesterday I read my resignation letter to the congregation where I have been serving for the last five years. A number of people were very sad, the gentleman I asked to close the service in prayer couldn't because he was crying (I took over when he had to stop in the middle of his prayer) but it seemed as though all were happy for the family and I as we pursue new things. Some asked us to stay, others told us we'd be great wherever we went and others just hugged us. I'm not sure what's going to happen from here. I could remain at the Church for 3 weeks or 3 months, we'll see.

The best thing is that this didn't end on a negative note. I am at peace with everyone in the congregation and so, that's a very good thing. If you would, please pray that I would end up where I can glorify God the most. Thank you.


Is Genesis 1 & 2 Historical Narrative?

Steven Boyd's research suggests that this is the case. Here's a description of chapter 9 of his latest book:

"Chapter 9 summarizes the results of the new topic added late in the RATE project—the grammatical analysis of poetic and historical texts by Steven Boyd. In analyzing poetic and historical texts, he found that historical texts predominantly use the preterite verb form (one type out of four), while poetic texts hardly use it at all. Boyd’s analysis and research are superb; the difference between historical narrative and poetic texts is stark. Genesis 1–2:3 uses predominantly preterite verbs. So the probability that these verses are historical narrative is in the neighbourhood of 99.99%. Genesis is real history, intended to be read as real history! A larger glossary would have been helpful, since Boyd uses many Hebrew grammatical terms that would be unfamiliar to non-Hebraists."


A New Look For Pisteuomen

Today I changed the banner for Pisteuomen (you can see it to the right). It speaks for itself, I think!

Was Jesus Both Lord & Son of David? Studies of Mark, Pt. 55

One of the trickiest pericopes of Mark’s Gospel (but one of my favorites) is located at 12.35-40. There are a many nuanced interpretations of these verses but for the most part, they can be summed up as follows: 1) Jesus is rejecting the title “Son of David” here (e.g. He is asking the crowds, “Seriously, how do they say the Messiah is David’s Son? that is illogical!”, or 2) Jesus is accepting the designation “Son of David” and proceeds with an explanation.

It is my view that Jesus is accepting the title all the while going on to explain it (even if He does so with another eventual question). As of late, Achtemeier has done a good job defending the other position, however, I do not share his overall view. For instance, he asks of the scene in Mk. 2, Why Jesus doesn’t appeal to His Davidic lineage to support His action? I think, however, that Jesus is, even if indirectly, doing just that. Otherwise, why appeal to that OT scene and why appeal to particularly to David? Jesus could have used any other story or analogy, He could have even appealed to various Jewish laws but He didn’t, He appealed to David with the purpose of aligning Himself with David or placing Himself in David’s stead.

Achtemeier also asks why Jesus, when He is rejected by His hometown in chapter 6, doesn’t appeal to His Davidic heritage? First of all, the scene doesn’t necessitate it. Second of all, I would say that the people reject Jesus there because they are jealous of Him. If He were to argue that He was the “Son of David” that would have fired the people up even more; it would have done no good. Achtemeier also contends that in chapter 11, when Jesus passes by Bartimaeus who is shouting “Son of David” but eventually changes his shout to “Rabbi”, that this is proof that Bartimaeus realized the first title or designation (e.g. Son of David) was wrong and so, went on to correct the problem. I do not share this opinion. Jesus does not rebuke the guy but in fact, after Bartimaeus calls Him “Son of David”, responds positively to Him.

Achtemeier also finds the approach to the Temple, where the crowds are shouting a Davidic designation upon Jesus to be a scene where Jesus rejects the nomenclature by not paying attention to it. This seems to overlook the obvious to me. While this festive moment may have had political overtones, and while Jesus may have been signaling that He was a different kind of Messiah / King than usual (or the expected Davidic one), He certainly is not turned off or angered at it all. He could have hopped off the donkeys, turned them around and left or just told the people to stop. But He didn’t; He kept riding. He embraced the title.

Thus, when we get to 12.35-40, I would argue that He is doing the same: embracing the title. One point He is attempting to make here is: Those who have the Spirit are enabled to speak correctly about the Messiah. (See my earlier post on this by clicking the following link: Speaking in the Spirit.) Thus, David spoke a correct word about the Messiah’s identity. In chapter 13, Jesus says that when the disciples are handed over to be tried and are interrogated about the Messiah’s identity, the Spirit will give them the words to say about that very subject (not just any old subject!).

So, how does this relate to Jesus’ comment/question about the Messiah being both the Lord and descendant/son of David? I think one way to answer this question, which none have yet to do, is to read it through the lens of Jesus’ characterization of Himself, His followers and the Jesus Movement overall. We need only go back a few verses in Mk. to get what I’m referring to. If we go back to 10.42-5, we find Jesus saying (paraphrase): “We are not like the political and religious rulers, lording power/authority over people. Instead, our power comes from above as we serve one another. When you serve, you become great. The first move to last place and the last move to first place. Even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.”

Thus, the Messiah is not a figure who would rule with the iron fist as many expected. Instead, He would rule with the towel and basin. The Messiah can be both over David and under David at once by being a servant of God. Jesus' citation of Psalm 110 allowed Him to make 2 points (with a couple of creative exegetical twists!): 1) The Spirit enables persons to speak truth about the Messiah, and 2) Some who were opposed to Jesus would eventually find themselves at His feet (could this be a reference to feet washing instead of being trampled on, I wonder?). Either way, those who thought they were powerful, will eventually find themselves in a position of lower status and rank!

Interestingly, Jesus beckons the followers of this Messianic vision to make themselves least and last. They are promised to be moved from last to first if they do so. In John’s Gospel and in Paul, they are also promised the name “children (sons and daughters) of God” too. If my thesis here is correct, I think this makes great sense of the next scene where Jesus lays into the scribes, speaks of their impending destruction and points out the corruption of the religio-political system. The goal is not to “lord” power over people, to take advantage of widows, to be deceitful or whatever, it is to serve. However, the Temple has become a place of extortion and evil and it is about to crumble in on itself. If its leaders were doing what they were supposed to, it would not cave in on itself. If it were a house of prayer or servants rather than a den of politics and thieving, it would be okay. But that’s the point—it’s not okay.

The point Jesus is making then, is twofold: 1) The Spirit enables people to speak truth about the Messiah, and 2) One truth is that the Messiah can be both Lord and Son of David at the same time when the Messiah is not a military warrior but a peacemaking servant. No wonder the people were delighted in hearing Jesus speak; it was not the usual religio-political propaganda, it was a message about sharing power and serving one another. May we follow the lead of our Messiah!


Playing the "In God's Time" Card

Okay, something that just gets on my nerves is when people try to play the "In God's Time" card. Seriously, I get so frustrated with it. I don't know, maybe I'm totally off here but the Scriptures suggest that God created time and set time in motion. Moreover, God took on flesh and physically entered that time. God the Spirit and God the Father are notorious for working within the bounds of time as well. So, why in the world do we continue on saying things that make it sound as if God is on a different clock than anyone else? We are not deists who believe that God has nothing to do with this earth or even it's time. Anyway...I feel like I'm droning on about that. To the point...

Recently, someone tried to play this card on me. However, I wasn't hearing or having it. The way it was put to me was in the sense of "God, in His time, will tell me when such and such should happen with your life and then I'll tell you." I'm always suspicious of this type of thing and there's good reason for that. I'm of the mindset that if God is telling someone something about me, He'll be telling me too. I think it is incredibly irrepsonsible and impiously superficial to say things like this to people. I also think it shows a tendancy towards manipulation, coercion and dictatorship. Really, this post is more of a theological rant that anything. I just think it's silly when people act like this. What say you

Uniting For Human Rights: Blog!!!

The purpose of this post is to remind people to use whatever means they have to fight against the injustice that characterizes so many parts of this world. As we look around today, we see so much injustice, suffering, pain, cheating, usury, war, hatred and myriad ills. Really, we can be so overwhelmed by it all that we think "There's nothing I can do to change things". However, there is something you can do: Use your voice.

In addition to speaking out loud, one way to do that is to blog. You can raise awareness of human rights issues through blogging. For me, while I do not use Pisteuomen specifically as a platform for dealing with human rights issues, I do use it to raise awareness of how to think theologically and ethically about numerous human rights and civil issues that confront us.

Lately, I have been blogging about adoption. Certainly, with millions of orphans the world over, this is an issue that needs more attention drawn to it. There are children being raped, abused, sold and just plain used because they are not being rescued through adoption. At the heart of Christian theology lies the fact that God has adopted us. Ethically, it follows that adoption is a godly thing and that God's people should adopt (when able).

So, all I wanted to do today was to encourage you to use your blog as a platform for human rights issues from time to time. If you are a Christian, I encourage you to come at those issues from theological and ethical angles. Bloggers unite for human rights! Use your voice and use your blog!!!


Speaking In The Spirit: Studies in Mark, Pt. 54

One of the most intriguing verses of all of Mark’s Gospel is tucked away in chapter 12. In verse 36, Jesus makes the comment that King David, in Psalm 110.1, spoke “in the Holy Spirit”. Of course, Psalm 110 makes no comment that David is speaking in the Spirit. Just as well, it offers no definition on what is meant by “speaking in the Spirit” here. (Certainly, it is not referring to glossalalia or tongue speaking!)

To understand what Jesus means here, we first have to understand Mark’s view of Jesus’ relationship with the Spirit. In chapter one, what some consider to be a prologue, the Spirit enters “into” Jesus when He arises from the waters of baptism. Just before this, John the Baptizer said that the same would happen to Jesus’ followers (e.g. He would baptize them in the Spirit). So, Jesus gets Spirit-filled and this endows Him with the authority of God the Father (1.27) and the power of God the Spirit (1.21-8).

In 3.1, the religious and political leaders from Jerusalem accuse Jesus of driving out demons by the power of Beelzebul. Jesus accuses them of blaspheming the Holy Spirit when they do this. I should digress here and note that there is a difference between denying the Holy Spirit and blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Denying the Spirit is closer to what we find being spoken of in the Johannine epistles. Blaspheming the Spirit, as is done here in Mk., is connecting He who is Holy (the Spirit) to that which is vain or unholy (Beelzebul/demons). On a smaller scale, that’s what blasphemy is: attaching something holy to something vain (and thereby rendering that which is holy, unholy).

So, in chapters 1-3 of Mk., we see that Jesus is filled with the Spirit, empowered by the Spirit (to defeat satan), endowed with power and authority and intimately connected to the Holy Spirit—not vain spirits, such as demons! In chapter 12, when Jesus is arguing with the Sadducees about resurrection, He accuses them of knowing neither the Scriptures or the “power of God”. Hooker is surely right here that the phrase “power of God” is synonymous with “Holy Spirit”. So, the Sadducees neither know the Scriptures or the Holy Spirit. If they had known the Holy Spirit, according to Jesus, their understanding and interpretation of the Scriptures would be correct.

Now, don’t take that last sentence wrongly. What I mean when I say that is, if they knew the Holy Spirit, they would be able to understand who the Messiah is and what His role is. According to Jesus, the Messiah, the role is to return and raise His own from the grave. It is critical to grasp that point. Therefore, in Mk. 12.36, Jesus is saying that David was full of the Spirit because he made a credible statement about the Messiah: Though the Messiah will be of David’s house, He will be greater than David. So, for Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, speaking “in the Spirit” entails speaking a truthful word about the Messiah—perhaps even a Scriptural word (OT of course).

This is critical for understanding what Jesus says in Mk. 13.10-11: “And the Good News must first be preached to all nations. Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given to you at the time, for you will be speaking in the Holy Spirit.” Notice that the Good News/Gospel and speaking in the Spirit are connected here. What Jesus means in this statement is that when His disciples are standing before the courts, the Spirit will enable them to speak a true, credible word about the Messiah. Moreover, they will be enabled to do this via the Holy Spirit—just like David did. (*Note: This may be why the disciples have so much trouble understanding Jesus and His teachings--they don't have the Spirit "in" them yet. Instead, we see Jesus saying things like "get behind me satan" to Peter.)

Further, notice that in chapter 14 when Jesus is on trial, He is asked numerous questions about the people’s testimonies not adding up. He never answers those questions; He remains silent. The only time He speaks is when He is asked a question about His messianic identity. The reader is meant to take this as Jesus being enabled by the Spirit to speak such truth about the Messiah.

So, from a practical standpoint today, do not read verses like Mk. 13.10-11 as if God will give you words to say when you’re in court for any old reason or like He will just give you words whenever. Jesus’ point is that when you need to say something befitting of the Messiah, the Spirit will provide such words. This is evidence that you have the Spirit working in your life. Just as well, we shouldn’t try to prooftext Mk. 12.36 as a passage that allows us to build a doctrine of inerrancy. The point is not that the OT is inerrant. The point is that in Psalm 110, David was inspired by the Spirit to make a true assertion about the Messiah. Therefore, in the end, speaking in the Spirit according to Mark’s Gospel (and the Jesus in Mark’s Gospel) means something different than what Paul has in mind in 1 Corinthians. What it means is speaking an accurate and honest word about Jesus the Messiah!


Did Jesus Redefine Kinship? Studies in Mark, Pt. 53

I do not find it unusual or surprising that Markan commentaries all say the same thing when it comes to Mk. 3.31-5. It is in those verses that Jesus, before His blood kin, points to the crowds and says, “These are my family” (paraphrase). Every commentator says of these verses, something like: “Here, Jesus is redefining kinship relations.” The same comments are made concerning Mk. 10.29-30. There, Jesus appears to be telling the people “Leave your families and God will bless you.” It is my view that Jesus is not saying that at all (I may do a post on those verses in the future).

But I wonder if we should pause and think through Mk. 3.31-5 a little more? I’m not so sure that Jesus is attempting to redefine kinship there. For starters, I don’t think He’s shunning His blood kin. Secondly, I don’t think He’s relegating them to a lower status. Thirdly, the fact that Peter (ch. 1) and Jesus (ch. 6) both return to their families in Mk. suggests to me that the Jesus Movement was not attempting to avoid or redefine familial relationships.

In Mk. 3.31-5, I think Jesus is attempting to make a point about love, not necessarily kinship. Surely, the people standing there listening to Him (including His blood kin) did not take Him literally; they did not think He was really related (by blood) to all of these people. Just as well, I don’t think they were shocked by what He was saying. If Jesus is in Jewish territory—and He may well have been given the fact that the Jewish leaders come to see Him and He is in a house about to eat—then it is not unthinkable that He could point to a crowd of Jewish people and refer to them as “family” or “kin”. Even if there were Gentiles in the crowd, I’m not so sure that people would have been floored by Jesus’ statement.

Anyway, what Jesus is not doing here is redrawing or redefining kinship. What He is doing, however, is making a point about love. More specifically, He is saying that He is choosing to love these people as if they were His literal family. When He asks the question in 3.33, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” it is more of a point than a question. He is making the point that He is choosing to love these people as if they were His blood kin. Imagine reading this passage through the eyes of an adopted child. When a kid is adopted internationally, for instance, they have no idea while they're growing up, who their blood kin really are; they don’t know them! Thus, they can ask this question that Jesus asks in a very literal sense, “Who are my mother and brothers?”

To the adopted child, “mother” and “brothers” and other family members are those that have chosen to love them; those who have chosen to love them as their own family. I think that’s what Jesus is saying here: Choosing to love is greater than loving because we are forced to. That’s why Jesus ends His teaching session by saying, “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” It is a choice to enter into a reciprocal love relation; God loves us and we love Him—what a beautiful cycle!

Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday to my wonderful, beautiful, talented, gracious, intelligent, caring and super awesome wife. I love you babe!


A "Must See" Movie

If you haven't seen the movie Kite Runner, you need to, it is a "must see" movie. From a socio-political standpoint I think it informs us on a number of issues. The same can be said from an ethical standpoint. Biblical scholars will pick up on Middle Easter themes such as honor/shame, kinship, nationalism and other things. The movie is engaging, running about 2 hours, is beautifully shot, well-written, excellently acted, inspiring and overall just a great film. If you have some free time soon, be sure to watch this movie!


A Limerick On The Lord's Day

(Inspired by Mk. 1.29-34.)

There once was hungry lad named Peter
Whose mother-in-law got a crazy high fever
When she couldn’t make him supper
He had Jesus come touch her
She arose and fired up the egg beater


King of Kings, Foster of Fosters: Thoughts On Adoption, Pt. 7

If Jesus was a foster child then why is He rarely ever spoken of as such? Is it because in the West, a scientific and DNA-driven society, that the prevailing definition of family has to do with biology and as such, the tendency is to consider anything other than biological as less? Or is it because compared to noble nomenclatures like King, Lord, Savior and Messiah, Foster Child seems less dignified? In all reality, there are likely a number of reasons that Jesus’ title as a foster child has been relegated to the metaphorical shadows. The fact remains however: Jesus was a foster child!

Perhaps it is high time to resurrect this powerful image of Jesus. Indeed, it is an image, which, in a world where the fostering and adopting of children is on the increase, can offer helpful and hopeful ways for thinking about and relating to Jesus. For instance, what if we altered the traditional phrase “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” to “King of Kings and Foster of Fosters”? Might persons begin to recognize the awesomeness and beauty of such a title? Might they realize the power of fostering and adopting children? Might their image of fostering and adopting change? Might they be more likely to foster or adopt themselves?

The fact that Joseph fostered Jesus lies at the very heart of Christianity. For sure, Christianity is a faith structured around relationships; the beauty of the doctrine of the Trinity is that God is relational. Flowing from this, we have the teaching of Imago Dei, which says that we are created in God’s image and as such, we are relational too. The foster relationship between Jesus and Joseph teaches us about the choice to be in a relationship. It also teaches about choosing to love someone who may be different than us, who may not be our kin or ethnicity and who may bring challenges to our lives. It teaches us that broken lives and relationships can be cured by a new way of loving—choosing to love.

In my view, that is the most beautiful thing about fostering and adopting: choosing to love. From a biological standpoint, your kin are your kin and you are taught to love them for that reason. “Blood is thicker than water” I've heard. In fostering and adopting such mantras actually hold no water. The choice to love is a powerful thing and speaks volumes (by the same token, the choice not to love does the same).

What if we changed the lyrics to some of our songs to make this point even more potent: “What foster child is this?”, “Joy to the world, the foster child has come” or “O foster child of Bethlehem…Foster child of wonder, child of light”. I think if we began to really hone in on the fact that Jesus was a foster child, our Christologies would shift, our ethics would shift, our view of family would shift and we would see the Church and the world influenced in an amazingly positive way. No longer should we write Christologies without exploring this image of Jesus’ life. I say this not just from a social but also a theological standpoint.

Like this statue in the photo (I took this when entering a hospital recently for a pastoral visit), our Christologies should stand as a testament to the fact that Jesus was a foster child and as such, the whole of our theologies and ethics should be in some way, shaped by that.

17 Stunning Ancient Theaters

When I traveled through Turkey and Greece last year, I had the opportunity to visit many, many theaters. While a lot of them looked the same, they were all quite incredible. Over at ProTraveler, there is a new post on 17 stunning theaters from antiquity. You will see sites in Israsel, Turkey and Greece. Here's the link: 17 Ancient Theaters.


Funeral Theology: Do's & Dont's At Funerals

In my view, funerals are one of the ripest moments for both pastoral ministry and sharing the Gospel. Funerals tend to make people reflect on their own lives and perhaps, their own (impending) deaths. Funerals get people thinking spiritually and often get them asking spiritual or theological questions.

Yet, funerals, at least from all of my experience with them, are often times the place where theology is thoughtless, chucked out the window or just errant. Here are some of the things that you should never, never, never say or do at a funeral:

1. Never say, "God needed an angel so He took so and so." First of all, God needs nothing! Second of all, God doesn't "need" angels in particular. Third of all, God doesn't take people's lives. People die and then God recieves them or not. None of this is sustained by the Scriptures or Christian theology.

2. Never say, "Everything happens for a reason." This is a view from ancient Greek philosophers (e.g. fate) not Christianity. When people say this it is usually code for "Everything that happens, happens beacuse God had a reason for it." This is patently false. Some things just happen, that's life. There are times when we can tell that God had a hand in something and there are times when we know He didn't. Please don't say this to someone at a funeral.

3. Never say, "So and so is an angel now." When Princess Diana died, thousands said this. Again, it is just not true. People do not turn into angels. In the resurrection, they will take on an incorruptible nature as angels have but that doesn't happen at death and they remain human anyway; they don't become angels.

4. Stop telling people, "They're better off in heaven, now." When people die, they do not go to some imaginary planet called heaven. The Bible doesn't teach this. It does teach, however, that when humans die, their souls go into God's protective presence. Then, they will be raised to dwell on the new earth after the resurrection and they will also take on incorruptible bodies. Christianity isn't about heaven, it's about resurrection! And resurrection is about transformation.

5. Never say to someone, "I understand what you're going through." Chances are, you don't understand. You don't know the exact relationship the living had with the deceased and you never will fully know it. Even if you've shared a similar experience, you still don't understand totally what that person is going through. If you want to say something, encourage people or just be in their midst. Sometimes not saying anything is the best thing. Usually, a happy story or good memory is worth sharing. When you tell someone you understand it is not helpful because you're supposed to be supporting them but when you say that, you're bringing it back to you. Really, the grieving people don't care if you understand. At that point, they could care less.

6. Don't tell people that their loved one has assumed a new body. This doesn't happen until the resurrection.

7. Never launch into a theological debate or teaching during a funeral service. That's not the place for it. It is the place, however, for talking about the person's life, the family and the Gospel. Give people hope, not a lecture.

8. Don't tell the grieving that their loved one is watching over them (this is like the angel suggestion above). This is not true. When people die, they die. They do nothing until the resurrection except dwell in God's protective presence.

9. If the deceased wasn't a Christian, don't go condemning them or trying to evangelize everyone. Now, funerals are great places to share the Gospel but they aren't the proper setting for polemicizing. Share the Gospel but do it gently and lovingly.

10. If you're preaching or talking, don't make it all about you. Stay focused on the grieving and the deceased. Nobody came to hear about your life, they came to hear about the life of the one who has passed on. If you didn't know the deceased then talk about things like hope, the family and again, Jesus/the Gospel.

11. If you're preaching or talking, don't use a stock sermon or a sermon you've already used. Every sermon or speech should be unique and totally different. It is a great disservice to do this to someone, please don't. And I beg you, do not use someone else's sermon from the internet or elsewhere. Take the time to write a personalized word of good news to those listening.

Read The Evangelical Manifesto Right Here

Read this doc on Scribd: Evangelical Manifesto


Show Me The Money: Studies in Mark, Pt. 52

Of the sixteen chapters in Mark’s Gospel, chapter 12 is perhaps my favorite. I love how Jesus interacts with the characters He encounters here: Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, Teachers of the Law, Herodians, Disciples, Crowds and even a widow. There are two scenes in chapter 12 that have to do with money or better yet, coins. The first one is where Jesus says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.” He says this as He’s holding up a coin that bears Caesar’s image and inscription. It is my view that since Jesus has been railing against the empire since chapter one, He is not at this point saying “support” or “submit” to Caesar. Instead, He is saying “throw the coin dedicated to Caesar back in Caesar’s face.”

Just before this, Jesus had flipped over the tables in the Jerusalem Temple and had driven out the money changers who were committing extortion (ripping the people off by overcharging them) and banking on people’s religious practices (much like the lying and manipulative TV preachers who sell holy water or prayer cloths today). Jesus is livid about the poor being taken even more advantage of. In chapter 11, He even decides to stay in Bethany (Bet-ani / Hebrew) which means “house of the poor” instead of the Temple courts during Passover. In doing this, He is showing solidarity with the poor. He is doing the same thing when He bids people to throw the coin in Caesar’s face—an act of refusal, not submission.

It is my view that—and as far as I am aware, nobody else has done this—Mk. 12.41-4 needs to be read through the lens of these stories that precede it. Adrian Wright was surely right in saying that Jesus is not praising but rather lamenting the “widow’s mite”. In other words, Jesus is not attempting to point out how great her act of giving two coins was, instead, He’s saying “she has bought into this corrupt system so much that she would literally give everything she has to it, how sad!” Indeed, in the next few lines (the first few verses of chapter 13) Jesus says that the Temple is going to be destroyed. Thus, it makes little sense for Him to praise her act of giving to the Temple and then turn right around and talk about the corrupt Temple being destroyed. It’s like donating to a dead-end cause. There’s nothing honorable about that.

It makes little sense to me that Jesus can in one breath tell people to throw money back in Caesar’s face and in the next turn around and praise the act of tithing to Caesar! Jesus is not happy with what the woman has done instead, He is saddened by the fact that she’s being taken advantage of and that she is just going along with it (not that she could do much; perhaps she had been listening when He told the crowds to throw their money back but did not heed to His advice). Thus, despite all of the commentaries that emphasize this woman’s great deed in contrast to everyone else’s small deed, that is not what this passage is saying. Jesus is not happy that either large or small amounts are being given to the government.

What this passage is getting at is that widows like this woman, who were supposed to be protected by Israelite law, are now being taken advantage of by the religio-political leaders. The poor are too! Jesus is standing with them. At once, He is both bothered with how they are being treated and standing with them, trying to make things better. Given the narrative context of chapters 11-13 and particularly chapter 12, when Jesus is shown the money, He extends a challenge to people: Stop supporting this sick, deceitful religious system and begin doing what’s right—even if it means dying for your principles! That’s often the “cost” of being Jesus' followers, a point which is illustrated by the sacrifice of His own life, a sacrifice not just for the sins of the world but also for true, noble and godly causes and principles!


ExegeTV - Episode 10, Structuring The Sermon

Here's episode #10 of ExegeTV. This episode focuses on how to structure, setup or build a sermon. Enjoy.


ExegeTV - Episode 9, Sermon & Application

Here's the latest episode of ExegeTV. It deals with how preachers can learn to "apply" the ancient text in today's world. Enjoy.


Rest In Peace Reid Family

The fellow who roomed next door to me in college for four years was killed in a car accident a few days ago. Man, when something like that happens memories just come flooding back: the Chicago Bears Starter jacket he wore all of the time, the very "white" rap song he recorded for a spoof rap album I made, his affinity for video games, his remark of "sweet" to just about everything, swiping cards in the cafeteria after chapel, the time he went to grab the pushbar on the door but instead put his hands on the glass and shattered the entire window...man, so many memories. Brian "Slim" Reid was a great guy. He was a goofy, quirky and gentle fella. We'll miss you Slim. I will be traveling to the Reid family funeral (both Slim and his wife were killed in the wreck) this Wednesday. God, be with Brian & Jennifer's families during this time of trauma; Holy Spirit be a balm to their souls.

A Walk In The Park

The fam enjoyed the weather yesterday as we took an afternoon stroll through the park. Here are some pics I took (all but the last one of me and the baby, the wife took that one). I was reminded once again that I have a an incredibly gorgeous wife and such a beautiful baby. What a blessing!!!


Bloggers Unite For Human Rights

You will notice that I have created a new badge for Pisteuomen. Actually, it is more of a banner to raise awareness for the human rights event set up for 5.15.08. You can find out more about this at: http://unite.blogcatalog.com/. In short, this is a call for bloggers everywhere to write about relevant human rights issues (there is a list they offer). I will be doing this from a more biblical/theological perspective. Get the news out and participate. To sign up (officially) visit the addy above.

A Limerick on the Lord's Day

Haven't done one of these in a while, so, I thought I'd give it a go. (Based on Mk. 1).

There once was a baptizin’ gent
With an affinity for the word “repent”
He dipped locusts in honey
His breath smelt funny
And so did his lumberjack scent


Starting The Adoption Process

I recently had a commenter ask me how to get started on the adoption process. So, here's the skinny:

1. The first thing you need to do is decide if you want to adopt domestically (e.g. in the United States, if you live there) or internationally (e.g. from a country you do not live in). There are many factors that go into making this decision. For example, you may have an affinity or heart for a certain part of the world, if so, that may inform your decision. Or you may want to adopt from the place(s) where there orphan crisis is worst (or not). Some places cost just a little bit more than others while some take a little more time than others. Ironically, domestic adoption often takes longer than international. Also, you must be a certain age to adopt from some countries. Other places require that you be married for a specific amount of time. Thus, you must find out where you are eligble to adopt from (typically, if you are over 30 you can adopt from anywhere; I think China's age requirement is right around 30). Therefore, your eligbility and your desires must come together to inform your choice. Personally, my wife has always had a heart for Africa and lately, our eays have increasingly been open to the situation there. In a word, that's how we made our choice. What I did was check out about six websites before we absolutely made our decision; there I read about each country, its situation and its requirements. Here are some of those sites:

2. After you've decided if you want to adopt domestically or internationally, you must choose an Adoption Agency. This decision of ours was informed by both research, the quickness with which the organizations replied to us and our gut feelings. I did a BBB (Better Business Bureau) search on the six adoption agencies we looked at. CWA (Christian World Adoption) had the best track record. They also replied the quickest (e.g. by sending materials via snail-mail, answering questions by email and by phone). In the end, we felt that they were the best choice.

3. After we made our decision about adopting internationally and which Adoption Agency we would go through, we began the application process. This required submitting a small packet of signed papers and a partial payment. Within a week's time, we actually became "official" clients of CWA.

4. While we were waiting to become "official" clients for CWA, we had started what is known as the Home Study process. Basically, the phrase is self explanatory: You hire a social worker (aka "Case Worker") who looks over your physical home and then the emotional, financial and spiritual aspects of your home life. You hire a social worker through an accredited Home Study Agency. We used the same method for choosing a Home Study Agency that we used for deciding the Adoption Agency (research, response time, gut feeling). We intially looked at about 10 agencies and in a day's time, whittled it down to one.

5. Now that you chose where you're going to adopt from, what Adoption Agency (aka Placing Agency) and Home Study Agency you will go through, you will begin the coursework and paperwork processes. Our Adoption Agency required 10 hours of coursework/meetings to be completed and our Home Study Agency required 24 hours of coursework plus 2 home study meetings to take place. This is a great learning process!

6. Once you have completed the courswork you will begin the Dossier process. The Dossier is the paperwork that will be sent to the country which you are adopting from, so, this needs to be thorough. Currently, completing our Dossier along with contacting CIS (Custom Immigration Services - to apply to bring the child home) is where we are at in the process. Once these two steps are completed, we will send in the materials and wait for our referral (e.g. where the adoption agency refers a specific child/children to you). After that, we have to go to court one time and then we will go pick our child up.

In sum, that's the process. It may be a little different depending on which agency you go through. What I have described above has to do with international adoption, which is totally different from domestic adoption. So, much of what I said, you will not find in the domestic process. If anyone has any questions, I am always willing to answer them. Please, if you need any help, contact me and let me know. I'd be more than willing to point you in the right direction. Blessings and I hope that those of you thinking about adoption will follow through.


Fertility, Birth and El Shaddai: Thoughts On Adoption, Pt. 6

It is a widely known fact that antiquity had various gods and goddesses that were revered as fertility deities. Indeed, there were many fertility cults. I think, for instance, of Baal, Inanna & Dumuzi, Min, Isis and others. These sought after deities were not only connected with human fertility but also the fertility of the land; the two were intimately connected actually. This is not hard to understand by any stretch of the imagination; the forces behind nature were thought to be the same forces behind human reproduction.

Little known to some is the fact that fertility deities were both male and female. Often times the rain was associated with a male god “spilling” his seed and the blooming of crops was connected to the female deity giving birth. One thing this suggests to me is that, though the Bible often stresses the woman’s role in infertility, in the larger culture, men may have also sought divine guidance for such issues. But for an Israelite to seek after a false deity such as the ones listed above, this was viewed as disloyalty to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Perhaps this sense of disloyalty was heightened by the fact that not only did Israel have a God who could be part of the pregnancy and birthing process but they also had a specific title for Him when He did take part in this role: Shaddai (or El Shaddai). In Hebrew, this name means “God of the hill or mountain”, which was also a way of saying “God present in times of fertility troubles”. (This is usually rendered "Almighty" in English translations.) Indeed, the “hill” or “mountain” was often representative of the female breast, a believed source of fertility and life.

In many of the passages where “Shaddai” is used, we certainly find fertility issues at play: Gen. 28.3, 35.11, 43.14, 48.3, esp. 49.25; Ru. 1.20-1; 1 Sam. 1.3, 1.11, 4.4, etc. Many more passages could be listed here. It is clear that Israel had many different names for God as they perceived His many different attributes and the many different ways they believed Him to be present in life’s circumstances. Clearly, these implications carry over into our lives today. Adapting this mentality to ours might look a bit different but not too different. While we have fertility clinics (not cults!), fertility doctors, fertility medicines and more, the fact remains today that many couples are just unable to conceive because of such issues.

Still, this should not hinder persons from calling upon El Shaddai. While failure in the reproductive process may lead many to feel like their body has stopped working, that there is something wrong with it or that they’re just not normal, today, Shaddai reminds us that there are other options for growing a family: adoption. In fact, Shaddai may often be more glorified via the adoption process than by the physical birthing process. Thus, as we move from adaptation to application with this, we might recognize that the failure to reproduce is not a process whereby we have to lose our own selves or our own lives in order to make one. The truth is, there are many children in the world today who need a loving family and an opportunity.

It is my belief that Shaddai can bring forth a harvest of love in your heart, that He can reproduce a genuine, sanctified love in you that will allow you to adopt a child in need. He can make fertile the soil of your heart and then bring forth a harvest of love. This renders an even greater understanding of Shaddai than before: no longer is He connected with land or physical birth only but spiritual birth too; again, He is able to birth love in your heart for a child who is just yearning and waiting to be loved by someone, by one of His people!

For other posts in this series, click here: Thoughts On Adoption.

Have You Ever Been Healed Immediately?

About a year and a half or two years ago, I experienced immediate, on-the-spot healing through prayer. I had a crazy, bad, throbbing, pounding headache, a headache like I'd never had before. Despite the headache, I decided to go to class. During prayer time, the professor prayed over me and immediately I was healed. I couldn't believe it. I kept trying to tell myself it was going to come back but it never did. I was healed. I know this isn't as dramatic as some healings but it was dramatic for me. Have you ever experienced immediate healing like this?


"You Are Not Far From the Kingdom of God" : Studies in Mark, Pt. 51

I have complained before that Markan commentaries are notorious for simply reproducing information. You can select just about any major commentary on Mark today, compare it with another, and it undoubtedly, the two will say a lot of the same things. I have a number of problems with this. First, it seems like I have wasted my money. Second, it seems like a number of scholars have wasted their time and mine as well. Thirdly, it suggest to me that many scholars are just writing a book for the sake of publishing; they are not thinking through things or attempting to make significant, new gains.

Don’t get me wrong, certainly, some things are correct and must be passed along as such. We don’t need to try to create new things or theories just for the sake of it, though, in large part, hypothesizing is what helps the field make such great gains. I hope that if I ever have the chance to write a commentary on Mark’s Gospel account, it will say some new things and make some fresh contributions (not just regurgitated ones) to the field and to people’s faith lives. I say all of this because out of over 30 or so works on Mark that I have consulted in the last few days, all of them tended to say the same thing when it comes to Mk. 12.28-34.

This is the story where the “Teacher of the Law” comes and asks Jesus which commandment is greatest. Jesus cites the Shema and a portion of Leviticus so as to say: The first is loving God with your whole being and the second is loving your neighbor. The “Teacher of the Law” affirms what Jesus says, basically repeats it as his own answer (though he does add the comment about loving God and others is more important than burnt offerings and sacrifices) and then, Mark notes that Jesus approved of the man’s reply. In His approval, Jesus tells the man that he is “not far” from the Kingdom of God. After this, nobody asks Jesus any more questions.

Every Markan work I read suggested that Jesus was complimenting the “Teacher of the Law” here and giving him kudos. Personally, though, I’m not buying it. Why? Because from the beginning of Mk, the religious and political officials from Jerusalem have been out to kill Jesus (see 3.6). At this point, Jesus has come to the very place where they’ve been plotting to kill Him—the Jerusalem Temple—and He’s challenged their views and practices. He’s claimed the same (if not greater) authority as them, He’s flipped over tables, He’s run people off and He’s been teaching. Mk. 12.28-34 is the fourth questioning or quizzing attack on Jesus, it is not a friendly discussion.

Look, for instance, at Mk. 12.12. It says, “Then the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders looked for a way to arrest Jesus because they knew He had spoken the parable against them.” So, just before our focal pericope here, Jesus has ticked off the teachers of the law, among others, and their out for vengeance. After this encounter, one of them comes back to Jesus and quizzes Him. Again, it is not a nice rap session. Look also at the following verses. At Mk. 12.38-40, Jesus rails against the “Teachers of the Law” saying, “Watch out for the teachers of the law…These men will be punished most severely.” So, Mk. 12.28-34 is pretty much sandwiched between two stories where there is great tension between Jesus and the Teachers of the Law. They want to kill Him then one challenges Him and then Jesus warns everyone against them and speaks of their impeding judgment.

How, then, can every commentator continue to argue that Jesus is being nice here? Or, how can they argue that the Teacher of the Law is being sincere? Why would there be three back-to-back-to-back challenge questions and the fourth one, which follows the same pattern, not be? Let me add more evidence to my argument. When the man calls Jesus “teacher’, there is no reason to take this as either sincere or as a compliment. In 12.14, the questioners approach Jesus and call Him “teacher” and stroke His ego with the compliment that He “teaches the ways of God”. These are insincere comments just like the one in Mk. 12.32. Notice that the rich young man in Mk. 10.17 says the same thing!

Near the end of the pericope, Mark says that Jesus saw that the man had answered wisely. Just because the man answered wisely does not mean that Jesus thought favorably of him. But then Mark notes that Jesus tells the man, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” Is this meant to be taken in an ethical, intellectual, spiritual, inward, outward or locative sense? Well, it probably depends is meant here by “Kingdom of God”. Interestingly, Mk. 1.15, the point where Jesus begins His formal ministry, has Jesus announcing that the “Kingdom of God is near” to the people. Later, at 4.11, Jesus tells the disciples that the “Kingdom of God has been given to them”. The Kingdom of God is not being spoken of as a virtual palace or place here but rather the presence of God in Jesus. In other words, God has come near in Jesus, God has been given in Jesus and the man is not far from God in Jesus. Thus, the man is not far from God as He is right there in His presence.

The saddest part of this story, perhaps is that the man doesn’t take the next step or ask the next logical question: “If I’m not far, what do I need to do to get there?” Instead, like the rich young man, he seems to just walk away. He asks no more questions. In fact, that is why I think Mark adds that closing line “And from then on no one dared ask Him any more questions” (Mk. 12.34). How can Jesus commend this? Myself, I have to think that Jesus was either frustrated or heartbroken. Unlike the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years in Mk. 5, the woman who grabbed hold of Jesus, this guy does nothing. He appears to walk away. Jesus is not looking favorably on him, again, a few verses later, He’s railing against the “Teachers of the Law”.

I think I’ve made my point. In reading, though, I also wonder if at 12.34 there term “etolma” would be better suited to read “was bold to/towards” instead of “dared to”. If so, the sentence would make a lot of sense in light of the four controversy scenes: “And from then on no one was bold to/towards Him asking any more questions.” (Could it possibly carry the sense of “bold-faced” here?) This would certainly render the man as trying to catch Jesus in His words or to trap Him up. It would also make sense that they no longer approached Him with such boldness that they had been doing because He confounded them all. This seems to make a lot of sense given the overall context of Mk. 12 especially. By the way, the same term is used in Mk. 15.43 when Joseph of Arimathea approaches Pilate “boldly”.

Thus, I suggest that the confrontation between the single Teacher of the Law and Jesus was one full of challenge and tension, especially social tension. For the fourth time in a row, Jesus wins out. Following this, nobody is acting boldly towards Him any more; He has been an arguer par excellence and in doing so, has earned Himself a little more time, but not much!

By the way, when the man replies to Jesus that loving God and others is greater than burnt offerings and sacrifices, I don’t think the guy or Mark are meaning to suggest that the Temple is being succeeded. It is tempting to read it that way but given the sneakiness of the religious and political leaders, I see the man’s comment as an attempt to get Jesus to agree with the statement (thus, the guy is really playing Devil’s advocate) so that Jesus’ head will be on the chopping block. In the end, that’s inevitably what happens! So, maybe this guy knew which card to play to get Jesus to say what he wanted, and it worked. After all, in the next chapter, Jesus does give an explanation about the Temple where He basically reminds the disciples that the Temple is no longer the locus of God’s presence but He is. Thus, the guy is wise because he has played his cards right and in a few days, Jesus will be crucified.