“Be thou for the people to God-ward”

17 Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. 19 Now obey my voice; I will give you advice, and God be with you! You shall represent the people before God and bring their cases to God, 20 and you shall warn them about the statutes and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do. 21 Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. 22 And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. 23 If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.”

-Exodus 18:17-23

In both congregations and seminaries, I’ve heard the name Jethro more than you might guess. Yes, Jethro is only mentioned a few times, way back in Exodus; he’s one of the few “good guys” in Exodus who doesn’t actually take part in the exodus. Nevertheless, Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, is popular these days because he taught Moses to delegate.

Why did Moses need to delegate? Without help, Moses would have worn himself and the people out. What’s wrong with wearing yourself out? What exactly was Moses unable to do alone?

“Represent the people before God,” or, in the KJV, “be thou for the people to God-ward.” Maybe Moses could have continued to clock in every day. Maybe he could have closed every case that came to him. Maybe he could have even kept the society running. Yet, that was not his job. In fact, it was keeping him from his real responsibility.

Moses was the unlikeliest of leaders, but called and used by God. He was not responsible to weigh in on the cases; he was responsible to see that God’s will was done. The society was not formed by the will of the people; it was founded by the God who brought them out of slavery. Thus, the problem was not that Moses couldn’t clock in, close the cases, and keep society going. The problem was that Moses would fail to keep the people before God and God before the people.

We too, are unlikely leaders, called and used by God. We are responsible for God’s will, not ours. The Church is formed by God’s redeeming power. If we are trying to do it alone, it means we’ve forgotten these things. If we are trying to do it alone, we will fail. Fail to keep the people before God and God before the people.

Elders, pastors, seminarians, ask for help. Enlist help so that you can be God-ward for the people. Do not neglect the Logos for logistics. Do not trade “Thy name…Thy kingdom…[and] Thy will” for your email, your calendar, and your to-do list. Who will pray, study the Scriptures, and seek God for this generation? Not those who think they can do it alone. Those who seek people as partners and God as God.

Saying What the Text Says Isn’t Enough

My friend Nick invited me to contribute to his blog, Scribblepreach–you can read today’s post, “Saying What the Text Says Isn’t Enough” here.

Which Truth Will Set Us Free?

31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” 

34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

-John 8:31-36

This phrase often works its way into popular culture. “The truth will set you free.” Which truth? Free from what? “The truth that you didn’t commit this crime…will set you free from prison.” “The truth that coconut oil is great…will set you free from not knowing that coconut oil is great.” If it means everything, does it mean anything?

The people listening to Jesus had a sense that the answer is no. No, this is not a fuzzy maxim to apply to everything; if it were, it  wouldn’t mean anything. So, they wanted to know: Which truth? Free from what?

They say to Jesus: “We have never been enslaved to anyone! How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

Jesus has an answer. You don’t realize it, but the one who took you in made you his slave. Sin said ‘move in with me,’ but he put you in the slave quarters. Sin will not fulfill his promises to you. The sin you tend will never satisfy your appetite. Sin will eat you up and spit out your bones. Sin’s house is no home. 

But Jesus has a counter-offer. In fact, that’s what he started out with. “The truth will set you free.” I will set you free from that house, where you are a slave. The truth is: You’re welcome in this house, where you will be part of the family. The truth is: I conquered sin and death, so you don’t have to stay there. The truth is: You’ll fit in here, because my Spirit will clothe you. The truth is: You’ll be loved here, because my Father loves those who come calling. 

The truth is: “The truth will set you free.”

The Chair and the Desk, 12/11/15

From the chair:

16  On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: 
“Fear not, O Zion; 
let not your hands grow weak. 
17  The Lord your God is in your midst, 
a mighty one who will save; 
he will rejoice over you with gladness; 
he will quiet you by his love; 
he will exult over you with loud singing. 

-Zephaniah 3:16-17

This is not “instrumental” hope; that is, we do not hope for this day thinking that this day will get us something else beside itself. This is our “intrinsic” hope: That God himself would be in our midst, rejoicing over us with gladness, quieting us by his love, exulting over us with loud singing. All our other hopes are simply glimpses of this ultimate promise.


From the desk:

“Practicing as a theologian pastor means becoming expert in translation. That is, we need to translate the big words of our systematic theologies, textbooks, and fancy academic hoopla into the vernacular of everyday. And we need to do it without being patronizing, remembering that technical words usually function as a shorthand. Avoiding technical terminology does not mean you have to say less; it merely means you have to take more time to say it.”

-Josh Moody, “Seven Ways to Theologize as a Pastor,” in The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision by Kevin Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan, p.33

This is a good direction for preachers and a good reminder for congregants: We can understand more than arrogant academics would have us think, and a good pastor is going to help us do so.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

 

 

The Chair and the Desk, 12/10/15

From the chair:

66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

-John 6:66-69

Yes, all of us in the Church do many foolish things. Sometimes we get embarrassed of one another. Sometimes we feel as if we’d be better off alone.

Yet, this is Christ’s body. This is the group of people born again by Christ’s Spirit. This is the community waiting for Christ’s return. To whom shall we go? Jesus Christ has the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that he is the Holy One of God.


From the desk:

“This is what the church as amateur theater lovingly practices: Jesus Christ, the love of God. What the church loves doing is commemorating, celebrating, and communicating Christ. It is God’s love that impels the drama long, and our love for God that compels our participation in it.” 

-Kevin Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine, p.406

Is it love that compels our participation in God’s drama? I can be. God’s love is held out to us, the love that fosters our love for him.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

 

The Chair and the Desk, 12/9/15

From the chair:

25 And when you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. 26 And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’ ” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped. 

-Exodus 12:25-27

This is the first holiday that God commands in the Old Testament, the Passover feast the would yearly commemorate God’s wrath “passing over” the homes of God’s people to deliver them from their oppressors.

 

It’s Christmastime. There are traditions everywhere, some worthwhile, some not so much. However, God exhibits some real parental patience in this passage. It suggests that for multiple years, a child will participate in Passover without understanding, until one year when he or she finally asks–not just ritually, but also really–“What do we mean by this?” Sometimes we do before we understand, and that can be ok. Sometimes our doing before understanding sets us up to understand and feel more deeply once God does reveal his truth to us. Then we can join the generations of saints who have bowed their heads and worshipped.


From the desk:

“Our hope and prayer is that you will go forth from here to fulfill a ministry of astonishment. To preach and teach and minister so that commas are turned back to periods, and question marks into exclamation points. Congregations long to have the thunderbolts brought down from the attic and loosed in their midst. They are starving for a word from God.

Go and astonish a church. Go and astonish the nations. Go and astonish sinners and saints alike. Go and astonish your generation. Go and astonish those who no longer even believe that they can be astonished.

Go and preach as one who has authority. Just remember always that the only true authority for ministry is biblical authority. May we always be mindful that the only authority that matters is God’s authority, and that God’s thunderbolts are what we must fear . . . and what we must seek.”

-Al Mohler, “As One Without Authority,” online here.

Mohler takes the title of this commencement address from the 1971 book by Fred Craddock of the same name. However, Mohler comes to the opposite conclusion: Rather than trading authority for interest (by preaching simply engaging sermons), we must search and preach the word that has authority, which will not only interest the people but also declare the truth of God.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

 

The Chair and the Desk, 12/8/15

From the chair:

Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.

-3 John 5-8

We are not all called to all things, but as the Church, we sometimes get to participate in the things that others lead. We get to be “fellow workers for the truth,” which first sounds like taking credit for someone else’s hard work until we remember that it is all God’s work, that God has done it all, and that being a “fellow worker” is all grace, all the way down.


From the desk:

“It is an unspeakable blessing to know what is truth, and where it may be found. This is the great pursuit. Men seek it here and there, but it is found only in God and his word, in all the senses mentioned.”

-Charles Hodge, “Thy Word is Truth” in Princeton Sermons, p.9.

I think this will be the epigraph for my final paper, no matter where it leads. In the 19th c., the whole seminary would get together on Sunday afternoons to set aside the classroom decorum and roles, to care for the students’ souls rather than brains for a bit. This is from President Charles Hodge’s notes for one of these afternoons, and it still reflects the great hope of many who labor here, many years later.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

 

The Chair and the Desk, 12/7/15

From the chair:

“Let those who fear the Lord say, 
‘His steadfast love endures forever.'”

-Psalm 118:4

God’s love does not end; it does not take a break. It often feels like we’re laboring alone, especially when we lose ourselves in our labor, but God has not left or stopped–God’s steadfast love is with us, is working, and “His steadfast love endures forever.”


From the desk:

“It is easy, from a safe distance, to overlook the fact that in under-cities governed by corruption, where exhausted people vie on scant terrain for very little, it is blisteringly hard to be good. The astonishment is that some people are good, and that many people try to be”

-Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, 254

My mind spent most of the day back in the slums of Mumbai, and revisiting this book helped me to do so. It’s really a remarkable work, a three-year ethnographic study of Annawadi, a slum by the Mumbai airport, that reads more like a novel than anything else. In this quote, Boo shares an insightful observation based on her time in the community.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

 

The Chair, 12/3/15

From the chair:

28 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.

-Mark 10:28-30.

I believe this promise applies both to those who are dropped off at the airport and those who drop them off. God bless you.


 

I read a lot “from the desk” today, in fact, a lot that I liked. I even had a quote all typed it. However, it seems that Scripture is sufficient.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

The Chair and the Desk, 12/2/15

From the chair:

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

-John 3:9-17

Our God is so good to break into our world and help us, forgive us, lead us, and protect us!


From the desk:

“…things change. This is why the church cannot simply repeat what has been said and done in the past. To repeat the same words in a new situation is in fact to say something different. The challenge is not to resist change so much as to change in a way that would be faithful to, even though different from, Christian beginnings.”

-Kevin Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine, p.89

In The Drama of Doctrine, which you can buy here (paper) or here (digital), Kevin Vanhoozer suggests a theater metaphor, in which Scripture is the script, the Triune God is both primary actor and participating audience, and we act out Act 4 with God based on Acts 1-3 that have come before and Act 5, which we await. One of the ways this metaphor really helps is to show how the present must improvise as it remains faithful to what has come before, as an essential part of remaining faithful to what has come before.


“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.