Friday Fun: It’s Harder to Be the Straight Man

I would hate to be:

  • Harvey Korman playing opposite Tim Conway;
  • Bud Abbott playing opposite Lou Costello;
  • Dean Martin playing opposite Jerry Lewis;
  • Kelsey Grammer playing opposite David Hyde Pierce;
  • Jerry Seinfeld playing opposite Michael Richards;
  • Johnny Galecki playing opposite Jim Parsons; or
  • Anybody playing opposite Bob Newhart.

I would never be able to keep a straight face. Dean Martin gives it a whirl in this old skit from 1965, and he fails miserably. Bob Newhart is just too much for him. That’s part of the fun of it. I dare you to watch it and try not to laugh.

As another weekend approaches in this crazy year called 2020, try to enjoy the intoxicating beauty of fall. As George Eliot once said, “Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird, I would fly about the Earth seeking the successive autumns.”

Be blessed!

An Overlooked Dietary Restriction in the Old Testament

Old Testament scholars are hard pressed to find an underlying rationale for the myriad dietary restrictions in the Mosaic law. It’s a good and important question, but not one I’ve thought about too terribly much over the years. I’m just glad the highlighted Hebrew word below is pronounced, “NO KALE.”

Truly, that’s how it’s pronounced, though it has nothing to do with kale. (My apologies if you thought this was a serious post. I’m just having way too much fun today—which is a good thing since the vacation ends tomorrow.)

Random Thoughts from Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina

Spent a lovely day at Wrightsville Beach today, reading and relaxing one last time before the next dissertation “push” consumes my life. The crisp, gentle breeze and bright sunshine made for a lovely outing. Here are some random ruminations with no rhyme or reason—just some nuggets that wafted in and out, sort of like the waves at my feet.

1.  Walking on the sand always reminds me of God’s promise to Abraham, “So shall your descendants be.” That metaphor was all around me today. He is faithful as far as the eye could see—and then beyond. I may have to do some stargazing tonight and celebrate the same truth (cf. Gen 15:5, 22:17, 26:4, etc.). Apparently there are more stars in the universe than grains of sand (roughly 7.5 x 1018 vs. 1 x 1022). Either way, the message is clear: “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it” (1 Thess 5:24).

2.  Scrunching my toes in the sand reminded me of those swimming training trips we used to take in college. Whether it was in Florida or St. Croix, our days consisted of triple sessions, with the middle block of agony featuring long runs on the beach. Running on the sand is a lot more difficult than running on hard surfaces. Those jaunts were grueling, and I don’t miss them. Then again, I do miss having chiseled calves.

3.  I also miss those days when the media were (mostly) honest and evenhanded. Indeed, there was a time when our national news outlets were content to be our eyes and ears on the events of the day. Now they try to be our brains, too, telling us what to think. No thank you. We can do that ourselves. Who do you think you are? You’ve done more to polarize our country than any politician. And now you’re playing censorship games to aid and abet certain candidates. This is a flagrant corruption of journalism. Knock it off.

4.  The undulating waves reminded me of Enya’s song, “The Humming,” a clever musical reflection on the cycles of the universe. The ending (“Then all of this begins again”) makes me think of the references to nature in Ecclesiastes chapter 1. There’s a rhythm to the cosmos. A pulse. And, more importantly, a story. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” said King David. As Max Lucado put it, “Nature is God’s first missionary.”

5.  I started re-reading Michael Heiser’s The Unseen Realm, which is a good and necessary corrective to those branches of the faith that have been so modernized as to be devoid of anything supernatural. Kudos to him for helping the church rediscover, as Hamlet put it, “There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” 

6.  I polished off a bag of Mint Milanos, my favorite non-homemade cookie. I mentioned that fact in class two weeks ago—just in passing—and this past week a bag magically appeared in my classroom. How kind of that particular student. (She’s an auditor, so there’s no possibility of grade inflation in this case!) And how kind of the Lord to give us taste buds, especially when flavors like chocolate and mint can swirl together inside a cookie. And then inside my mouth.

7.  Speaking of cookies, it’s probably time to mortify the flesh a bit. Chiseled calves don’t come easily. Likewise, I should probably finish my Alias binge this weekend, too. Dissertations don’t write themselves. The road ahead is long and lonely. I trust it will also be rewarding.

Enjoy the journey!

‘The Blessing’: God’s Gracious Character in Action

Once in a while a praise song will grip me so tightly or touch me so deeply, I find myself playing it over and over again. “Knowing You” (Graham Kendrick) was like that when it first came out. So was “No Higher Calling” (Jonathan Butler). It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, this INTJ can get very un-Spocklike, and I start to reach for the tissues.

Lately I find myself repeatedly going back to “The Blessing” as sung by Cody Carnes and Kari Jobe. It was the song of the week last week on This New Life. (I also like Jobe’s inspiring rendition of “Revelation Song” and “Forever.”) Cue the waterworks. 

“Blessing” is one of those words that believers use a lot, perhaps without a whole lot of thought. The Hebrew word for “bless” (bārak) has two general meanings. 

First, it can mean to express one’s gratitude and admiration or praise—normally to a superior, such as to God or a king. That’s the sense in Psalm 103:1a: “Bless the Lord, O my soul (= I would like to express to the Lord my gratitude and praise).”

Second, “bless” can mean to be benevolent to someone, to cause good things to happen to, or to give good gifts—normally to a subordinate. That’s the sense in Psalm 67:1: “May God be gracious to us and bless us (= be benevolent to us) and make his face to shine upon us.”

As Clair Davis writes, “While blessing can refer to human praise and worship to God in acknowledgement of his provision (Gen 24:48; Deut 8:10), a more specific emphasis is on the blessings themselves, the gracious character of God in giving them, and also on the identification of those who receive God’s favor.” 

The Aaronic blessing of Numbers 6:22-27 is one of the more famous blessings, often spoken as a benediction at the end of a worship service. The text reads:

The Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: 

“The Lord bless you 
and keep you; 
the Lord make his face shine upon you 
and be gracious to you; 
the Lord turn his face toward you 
and give you peace.” ’ 

“So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”

Below is Carnes and Jobe in action with this particular text (and a few others). If the waterworks begin for you, too, enjoy the moment. Either way, may you be blessed as you listen.

Image Credit: pexels.com.

Bookends of Grace

It’s interesting to note that David’s name is mentioned in the New Testament, but Shimei’s is not.

Shimei? Who’s that?

Exactly.

Shimei was one of David’s severest critics and verbal tormentors (cf. 2 Samuel 16). He delighted in publicly cursing the man whom God had called and anointed to lead his people. On one occasion he even pelted the king and his men with stones.

david-shimeiShimei was way out of line. Still, the critic had a point. David, of course, had failed miserably a few times, both in his leadership and in his moral life, so Shimei was partly right.

Dead right. (Isn’t it scary that we can sometimes be right in a wrong way?) Amazingly, David brushed him off and went to God for strength. It’s a good thing for Shimei that he did. When given the opportunity to kill the guy, David refused to execute him for his slander, abuse, and hostility.

He even forgave the rascal and granted him amnesty. Who does that?

  • A man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22).
  • A man who had deeply repented of his own sin (Psalm 51).
  • A man who himself had received of God’s free grace (Psalm 32).
  • A man who had a rock-solid faith in God and a hope-filled destiny (Psalm 3).

Maybe that’s why the Holy Spirit ensured that David would be the first and last human name in the New Testament (Matthew 1:1; Revelation 22:16). It’s a phenomenon seemingly rooted in more than just literary happenstance.

The Holy Spirit ensured that David would be the first and last human name in the New Testament.

Outside the names for deity, David’s name opens and closes the New Testament. Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega—the A and the Z—but David is the B and the Y.

Indeed, the literary game Matthew plays with the number 14 in Jesus’ genealogy (Matthew 1:1-17) corresponds to the numerical value of David’s name in Hebrew (D=4 + V=6 + D=4). Matthew’s point is hard to miss: “I give you Jesus, the Messiah, the son of David.” Christ is the long-awaited fulfillment of the Davidic covenant (2 Samuel 7).

But how is it possible for David to receive such an honor given the various ways in whichking-david-bust he had failed the Lord? We may not have any other answer to that question but that God is God. In his infinite wisdom, God chose to bookend the story of Jesus with reminders of a flawed leader for whom Christ also died. The very layout of the New Testament shows us that Jesus is truly “the friend of sinners” (cf. Matt 11:19; Luke 7:34). Jesus, the perfect king, lovingly and literarily envelops his people. That should give all of us hope.

Yes, David endured certain consequences for his sins (some inflicted by the likes of Shimei), but he never lost his kingship, he never lost his calling, he never lost his relationship with God, and he never lost his pen.

While Shimei was out publicly slandering David because of his flaws, David was writing sacred Scripture. Keep that in mind next time you hear that your enemies are gloating over you because of your failures.

While Shimei was out publicly slandering David because of his flaws, David was writing sacred Scripture.

Just keep doing what God told you to do because his judgments are vastly different from man’s judgments.

Shimei who?

God of all grace, thank you for your grace. Grant me the grace to receive your grace, and the grace to be a conduit of it to others. Amen.

The Blood Covenant, Part 4: The Battle Belongs to the Lord (2 Chronicles 20:1-30)

Sometimes the questions of life are so hard, we need divine guidance to answer them. Should I go to college or enter the work force right out of high school? Should I stay in my current job or look for another? Should I move to a new location? If so, where? Should I stay in this toxic relationship? Should I put my declining loved one in a care facility? Should I take my family member off of life support? Indeed, life can sometimes feel like one crisis decision after another, and our own wisdom is not always sufficient to make the call.

In 2 Chronicles 20, King Jehoshaphat faces a major crisis. He’s being attacked by a triple alliance of nations, and he’s not ready for it. In fact, he’s alarmed when he first gets the intelligence report. He doesn’t know what to do, but he knows he’s in covenant with Yahweh—the God of Israel. So, if he’s being attacked, God is being attacked, too. Consequently, the king calls on his covenant partner for help: “O Lord…we don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chronicles 20:6, 12b). In response, God gives him strange instructions, reminding him that the battle belongs to the Lord. 

The same is true today. When you’re afraid and don’t know what to do, pray to the God who does. God knows all about the scary situations we face and and the difficult decisions in front of us, so he puts divine resources at our disposal. When we trust him fully, we may—like Jehoshaphat—find ourselves praising our way to victory.

Sermon Resources:

Awash in Wonder: What Artistic Beauty Tries to Teach Us

Do they not have bones? Does gravity not apply? Are they not even human? The Chinese State Circus performance of Swan Lake is beyond amazing. I have never seen such daunting ballet lifts on stage before. Check out this 4-minute video clip and stand in awe. Then ask why it is you might be standing in awe.

I am awash in wonder every time I see this routine. But why? The German poet Rilke once went to a museum and effused over an ancient statue of Apollo. He was so captivated by the sculpture that when he got home, he wrote in his diary, “I must change my life.”

I find it significant that he didn’t write, “Wow, that was a great aesthetic experience I just had,” though it was. He didn’t write, “I was awestruck by the artistry of that piece,” though he was. No, he wrote, “I must change my life.”

Christian author Tim Keller argues that what Rilke was really saying—and what he went on to write in a poem containing the same expression—was this:

“Anything that really moves you, any great insight you ever get, any experience of beauty that really gets you at your core—it always makes you aware of the fact that you’re just a shadow of what you should be. You’re just a fraction of what you know you ought to be.”

While Rilke may have overstated his point a bit, most of us realize—when we’re completely honest with ourselves—that our lives would benefit by a series of significant changes. In the presence of great art, that realization is highlighted anew. We get a sense that we’re a long way away from what we could be as human beings.

At the same time, we’re not so far away that we can’t recognize flashes of beauty when we see them, or even consider what those flashes of beauty might be trying to teach us. Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch theologian, put it like this:

“If you confess that the world once was beautiful, but by the curse has become undone, and by a final catastrophe is to pass to its full state of glory, excelling even the beautiful of paradise, then art has the mystical task of reminding us in its productions of the beautiful that was lost and of anticipating its perfect coming luster.”

Art’s task, says Kuyper, is to remind people where we came from and where we’re going. Our origin was the creative hand of God, and our destination is a complete and perfect restoration in him through Christ. In the meantime, all of us can enjoy the sheer beauty of a good performance, whatever our theological commitments may be.

With visions of those incredible Swan Lake dance moves in our minds, we can luxuriate in the grace of God that motivated King David to write:

“I will exalt you, O Lord, for you lifted me” (Psalm 30:1).

Surely God’s “lifts” are at least as good as those of the Chinese State Circus.

ICL Old Testament Survey, Class Session 4

Class Resources:

Class video available (for 30 days) upon request.