Santa in the Bible?

drew-coffman-175709I found Santa Claus in the Bible!

Ok, this blog is a playful way of pointing out a sad reality. It is possible to lift Bible verses out of their intended context and use them to back up most any point you want to make. To demonstrate this, I found out how to make a “biblical” case for Santa! Ready for this? It starts in Zechariah 2 in the King James Version:

Ho, ho, come forth, and flee from the land of the north…” (Zech. 2:6). Can’t you hear the “Ho, Ho, Ho” of Santa as he and his team of reindeer flee the land of the north every December 24?

But it doesn’t end there, check out this verse from Revelation in the English Standard Version:

“…and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents.” (Rev. 11:10)

There you have it — right from the Bible! Ho, Ho, Ho, be merry and exchange presents! It makes perfect sense — except that it doesn’t!

Obviously, neither of these passages has anything to do with Christmas, reindeer, or Jolly Old St. Nicholas. But this is the danger of lifting verses out of context. The interpretive key to understanding God’s Word is always to ask what the original author (and Author) intended for the original readers and how that message applies to us today.

For example, let me show a better Christmas passage of Scripture (Matthew 1:21-23) and notice the clarity of its message:

21 “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). 

In this passage, Joseph is given instruction from an angel in a dream, and then Matthew identifies how this fulfills a prophecy from Isaiah. Jesus will be born, and his birth will fulfill what was promised of old. Many of Matthew’s readers were Jewish, so it was important for him to show that Jesus came in fulfillment of Old Testament promises.

Also, you notice there are two names given for the baby. He is “Jesus” (“Savior”) and “Immanuel” (“God with us”). These names reveal his identity and his purpose. This baby will be “God with us,” the fullness of deity in bodily form, the very presence of the very God. He will be the Word made flesh living among us. And his purpose is to save people from their sins. He is “Jesus,” the one who saves. This reveals his purpose — he came to save people from their sins, which would eventually be accomplished through a rugged cross and an empty tomb.

It is given with such clarity — Jesus would be born as fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. He will be God in the flesh, come to save people from their sins. When God came to be with us, he came to save. Just like he promised in the days of Isaiah.

Scripture is clear. We don’t need to lift things out of context to prove a point. We just need to worship God as he is revealed in his Word.



Christmas in a Barn

Untitled designSometimes, I just need to break the routine. Do something unusual. Gain a new perspective. That can be especially true at Christmas…and I love Christmas! I turn on the Christmas music early. I love Elf. And It’s a Wonderful Life. And The Nativity Story. I use a real tree…and an artificial tree. Get the point? I enjoy Christmas!

In the midst of a busy season, though, it’s easy for the Christmas season to become routine and miss the annual opportunity to think deeply about Immanuel – “God with us.” Several years ago, I found myself at home alone one evening during the Christmas season. I turned on some music, lit up the tree, started a fire, and picked up a small book by Michael Card, Immanuel: Reflections on the Life of Christ. Here’s what I read:

Christmas is a struggle for my wife and me. Our ongoing war with the world seems to intensify as the decorations go up all over town. there is His name, in every window. Sometimes there is even a statue of His sweet infant body, lying in some straw with shepherds and wise men standing around with blank porcelain expressions. (I’ve always thought their faces convey the attitude of the world toward Christmas: blank, dazed, and bewildered.) If people today would just look at the birth of Jesus “straight on,” they would be puzzled that we should celebrate the horrific birth of a baby who was born to die. The contradictions should be more than the world can take. If Christianity could just be seen for what it is — a paradox and a mystery. The beginning in that dirty stable is one of the greatest mysteries: the plainness and greatness of Jesus, the grime and the glory. Wise men with gold in their hands and shepherds with sheep dung on their shoes. A smelly stable below and a shining star above. The birth of a gentle Lamb who was the fiercest Lion.

But the world doesn’t seem to struggle with these contradictions. They join in our season of celebration unruffled and oftentimes more joyful than we.

In an attempt to preserve some of this perspective, it is our family tradition to pile in the car and go to a real working barn, with horses in their stalls and a barn cat on the prowl for its prey amongst the hay bales. Together, we read the Christmas story by candlelight. The odor and the dark seem to press in against the fragile light of our candle. The horses stamp they feet against the cold and look at us sideways, as horses must, as if we were a little “off” for being there in the middle of the night.

The shabbiness of this setting reminds us of that other shabby place Jesus chooses everyday to be born: the human heart, a place more filthy and cold than any stable. All this comes so much closer to reality for us than the singing Christmas trees or the huge services. They may have their place and might become a genuine part of the real celebration, but not without the smell of the straw and the bewildered animals who seem almost about to speak. A baby and a barn. Only with these things can the celebration be truly complete.

It’s been many years since I read those words, and I’ve never made it to the barn. This year will be different. At Venture Church, we were dreaming about how Christmas could be a bit different this year. Out of the routine. Something unusual. A new perspective. A baby and a barn.

So we are making plans for a Christmas Eve gathering in a barn. It will be simple. It will be humble. It won’t smell like pine and cider. But we will gather in a barn to sing carols and read the Christmas story. And I hope some of us leave with a new appreciation of mystery – the grime and the glory – of Immanuel, “God with us.”

On the Way to Damascus

rob-bye-103197Preaching through Acts is an exciting journey! One of the most significant stories in Acts is the story of Saul/Paul’s conversion in Acts 9. It’s told three times in the book of Acts. Some questions arise out of a comparison/contrast of the three accounts, mainly regarding what the other men with Paul experienced. I tend to agree with Witherington’s conclusion that they all saw something and heard something, but not to the full extent of Paul. They saw brightness, but not the blinding glory of the risen Lord Jesus. They heard something, but not the clear, distinguishable voice of Jesus.

As important as these details are, however, they usually don’t play a major role in sermons. There are three observations I had, though, that probably will not be mentioned this Sunday other than a possible brief reference. I find all three interesting, and I hope they are thought provoking for you as well.

Acts 9 and Isaiah 6. If your Bible has headings for passages, Acts 9 is probably labeled “The Conversion of Saul.” That is appropriate, but it is more than a conversion story. It is a commissioning passage as well as a conversion passage. The commissioning is more prominent in the later accounts of Acts 22 and 26, in which Paul’s testimony of his conversion is coupled with a commissioning for ministry. In Acts 9, Jesus tells Ananias of Paul’s mission, but we don’t read of the message being communicated to Saul. This is most likely for literary purposes, and we can safely assume that the words spoken to Ananias would have been passed along to Saul. It is obvious in later passages that Paul connected his commission to take the gospel to the Gentiles as part of his conversion experience.

There are interesting parallels between Acts 9 and one of the more familiar commission passages in the Old Testament, Isaiah 6. In both texts, there is an appearance of God that highlights his glory (God in Is. 6, Jesus in Acts 9). The response of both Isaiah and Saul is one of brokenness. Isaiah acknowledges his sin (Woe is me, I am undone) and Saul is left blind for three days, most likely rethinking his view of Jesus and realizing the sinfulness of persecuting Christ followers. In each case, God sends someone to restore them: an angelic being places a hot coal on Isaiah’s lips and Ananias lays hands on Saul. Both are commissioned to go and proclaim the word of God. Both are warned that suffering will be involved (“How long, O Lord?” Isaiah responded, while Ananias was told, “I will show him how much he must suffer…”).

The comparisons are striking, which lends to the argument that Acts 9 should be viewed as a commissioning passage as well as a conversion passage. This is a clear message to us as readers with a personal application as well: if you have been converted, you have been commissioned. Except for the rare deathbed conversion experience, all Christ followers are called to make disciples (Ok, that part will probably be in the sermon!).

Ananias and Barnabas. Acts is filled with major characters and heroes. Peter and Paul are at the top of that list. But it’s important to notice the role of other characters as well. Ananias is a disciple (not an apostle, “just” a disciple), but he is the one who is called to lay hands on the greatest persecutor of the Church. This is a risky calling, but he obeys immediately. He addresses “Brother Saul,” which communicates complete acceptance into the family of Christ followers. He is brave. He is obedient. And as such, he is a positive example of how “typical” Christ followers should respond to the call of God.

Barnabas shows up later in the passage, as Saul is greeted with fear in Jerusalem. Barnabas (“Son of Encouragement”) comes alongside Saul and builds a bridge between him and the apostles. Saul is then welcomed into the Jerusalem Church.

Ananias and Barnabas have roles in one of the most significant accounts in the New Testament. One shows the importance of obedience, even in the face of risk, and the other shows the power of encouragement. We may not write or preach like Paul, but every Christ follower can live with courageous obedience and encourage those around us.

Paul’s Conversion and His Writing. It is interesting to observe how some of the themes of Paul’s theology are in the shadows of Acts 9. A major theme of Paul’s writing is the union between Christ and the Church (as well as individual Christ followers). At his conversion we read, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” As Saul persecuted the Church, the body of Christ, he was persecuting Jesus himself. There is a deep unity between Jesus and the Christ follower.

Paul would later write, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6) In Acts 9, Paul had first-hand experience of the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

At his conversion/commissioning in Acts 9, Paul realized the error of his thinking and actions. For him to turn to Jesus meant a rejection of his standing as a Pharisee and rising fame as a persecutor of the Church. He had found something (Someone) greater! This is evident in Philippians 3 as he counts all things as loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ. All of his “righteousness” he had worked for was now worthless, especially as he was led helplessly by hand as a blind man into Damascus. Jesus crossed his path on the road, and now nothing else mattered.

The Curious Case of Simon the Sorcerer

michal-lomza-338227Acts 8 introduces us to one of the more colorful and confusing characters in the New Testament: Simon the Magician. We would be better off thinking of him as a sorcerer in our vernacular, his was a dark magic, probably demonic. He performed works of power that amazed people in Samaria. They even attributed divinity to him: “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” People saw his works of magic and were amazed. He made himself to be someone great, performed works of magic (sorcery), and people paid attention to him. They listened carefully to what he had to say.

Simon is a historical figure, as the early church fathers spoke of “Simon Magus.” In their writings, Simon Magus was responsible for many heresies in the early church, and some view him as the father of Gnosticism. He is not presented in this light in the book of Acts, and it’s better to avoid reading these reports back into Luke’s account in Acts 8.

Simon the Magician serves as a contrast to Philip. Simon was well-known throughout Samaria; Philip was unknown. Simon was a powerful man; Philip was fleeing persecution. The greatest contrast, however, was that Simon made himself great so that people were amazed. Philip preached Christ, making Him great, and people were filled with joy. In this passage, joy is a more desirable response than mere amazement.

As Philip preached Christ, men and women throughout the city believed and were baptized. Even Simon! Yes, “The Great, Powerful, and Amazing Simon the Sorcerer” entered the water and was baptized with the Samaritan believers. But was this a true conversion?

We are immediately suspect of the legitimacy of his conversion experience in the following verses. He “continued with Philip” (not a phrase used of discipleship, more like a groupie or fan) and was amazed by his miracles. It sounds like Simon has not experienced much change — he is still enamored by works of power, presumably for making himself great.

As the passage continues, Peter and John make their way from Jerusalem to pray that the Samaritans will receive the Holy Spirit, and as they laid hands on them, the Spirit came upon them with observable manifestations. Simon the Magician again reveals his nature as he tries to purchase the power to dispense the Holy Spirit. Incidentally, the corruption of buying position and authority within the church is known as “simony” — not the best legacy!

Peter gives him a strong rebuke, rendered “To hell with you and your money” by the Philips Translation. He also offers him grace, by inviting him to repent.

But then the story abruptly stops. What happened with Simon? Did he repent? Was he restored? Was his a true conversion? What he just a new believer learning to overcome his past sin? We don’t know from the context of Acts 8. And ultimately, it is not the point of the passage. Simon is not just a literal man, he also serves a literary purpose in Acts 8. There were many people in Samaria. Many stories that could be told. But Luke singles out Simon, and tells his story. He is a literal person in history, but he serves a literary purpose in Luke’s account. I see at least two purposes Simon serves:

Literary Purpose 1: Uniting the Jews and Samaritans Required the Power of God

The main point of this passage is the gospel coming to Samaria. This is the beginning of the Church reaching outside Jerusalem to fulfill the commission of Jesus in Acts 1:8. But it is no easy task to unite Jews and Samaritans. Their animosity spanned centuries of history. This was racial, political, and religious division at its worst. Only the power of God, working through the message of the gospel, could bring them together.

To demonstrate the power of God, Luke includes the story of “The Great, Powerful, and Amazing Simon the Sorcerer.” He was well-known as a powerful man in Samaria. He was “The power of God that is called great.” He made himself great by his magic and all were amazed. They paid attention to this powerful man. But he was no match for the power of God.

Philip’s proclamation of the gospel was confirmed by the miraculous works of God through him. And instead of paying attention to Simon, the people paid attention to Philip. Simon himself was amazed. Simon even believed and was baptized. The great and powerful Simon bowed before the power of God working through the message of the gospel.

Only a God this powerful could accomplish the unthinkable: Jews and Samaritans were filled with joy together, recognizing one God, one Lord, one Spirit, one baptism, and one Church.

Literary Purpose 2: To God Be the Glory

When Simon tried to purchase the authority to give the Holy Spirit to others, his wrongly thought the power resided in the apostles. Instead of recognizing this as a work of God, he saw it as a miraculous ability of Peter and John….and one by which he could make a sizable profit! The selfish nature of his heart was laid bare, and the rebuke from Peter was clear and pointed.

The timing used by Luke is telling. The Holy Spirit has come to the Samaritans. The Jews and Samaritans are filled with joy together at this outpouring from God. And abruptly, we read of Simon’s offer. Against the backdrop of what God just accomplished, his request is offensive and out of place. But it serves a purpose. It’s a reminder that all the glory belongs to God, not to people. How ridiculous to think that Peter and John had authority over the Holy Spirit, that they could command him to come wherever they laid hands on people! To drive this point home, Luke used the request of Simon. His foolish request to purchase this ability highlights that this power belongs only to God. He deserves the glory, not Peter, John, Philip…and certainly not Simon.

And so Simon, who lived to make himself great and amaze people, is used in the book of Acts to highlight the power of God and remind us to give him the glory. God alone could unite Jews and Samaritans through the gospel. This is the theme of Acts 8. It is not a passage about Simon’s conversion, it is about the power and glory of God!

Half a Hundred

IMG_0210I was 10. It was 1977. Star Wars played at the drive in. Atari was born. Elvis died. I played with my brother and sister. I fought with my brother and sister. We all rode bikes, played outside with neighborhood kids, took family vacations, and hiked Fall Creek Falls. We cheered for the Vols. We had Christmas in Tennessee and Thanksgiving in Alabama. I was usually in church, school, or playing basketball. I learned to love Jesus and shoot left-handed lay-ups. I had a great family and a fun childhood. It was 1977. I was 10.

I was 20. It was 1987. Reagan told Gorbachev to tear down the wall. Whitney wanted to dance with somebody. Robin Williams said “Good Morning” to Vietnam. Fox became a network. We were still mourning the space shuttle Challenger. I was a high school graduate and making my way through Liberty University. High school basketball ended in disappointment, but college intramural basketball filled the void. I led a small youth ministry at Staunton Baptist Church and would soon take a summer job at The Master’s Inn Christian Camp. On April 9, I met Jill DeWitt. My life was changed forever. It was 1987. I was 20.

I was 30. It was 1997. We watched the Titanic sink again and tried to get MMMBop out of our heads. Peyton Manning should have won the Heisman, and the Vols were a year away from a National Championship. Mike Tyson bit an ear. Harry Potter was born. Princess Diana died. So did Mother Theresa. And I had said good-bye to my grandfathers. I had finished college and my master’s degree. Jill DeWitt had been Jill Brown since 1991. Miranda was 3, Cassidy was born in October. In between them we grieved our child that was never born. My “summer job” at The Master’s Inn grew into a 10-year ministry but was ending. We packed up and moved to Moline, Illinois to serve with Homewood Free Church. We started a new journey in a new state, new friends, and the coldest weather I had ever experienced. It was 1997. I was 30.

I was 40. It was 2007. The world had changed on 9/11/2001, but we were moving forward. We saw the third Pirate movie, the third Spider-Man movie, and the third Shrek movie. America elected our first African American president. The first iPhone was made. We were now a family of five; Logan was our millennial baby in 2000. We had moved to Southern California, leading a college ministry through Trinity Church. These were the days of Halloween Happenin’, Holland Festivals, Legoland, summer trips to Tennessee and Virginia, and keeping up with three active kids. I no longer played basketball; I coached. My oldest was entering high school and would be off to college in a few years. Life was about to change again. It was 2007. I was 40.

Now I’m 50. It’s 2017. I’d rather listen to Whitney and MMMBop than most of the current music, though Logan introduces me to great bands all the time. It hasn’t been a great year for movies, but Dunkirk was good. I’d rather not comment on politics. I’ve said good-bye to all of my grandparents and some of the best mentors in my life. These are the days of 25th wedding anniversaries in Hawaii and driving to San Diego to visit fully-launched Miranda or Santa Barbara to see college-student Cassidy. It’s enjoying the time with Logan as the only child still at home. It’s sometimes being annoyed by the drums in the house, then realizing how much I’ll miss those drums in a few years. It’s going back to Neyland Stadium for the first time since college. It’s experiencing a painful good-bye from one church melting into a passion for God’s work at Venture Church. It’s still being a student at age 50, with the expectation that “Doc Brown” may one day be a reality. These are the days of being more in love with my wife, more proud of my kids, more excited about ministry, and more aware of my need for the grace of God than ever before. It’s 2017. I’m 50.

A Puritan Prayer for Preaching

As I spent some time in The Valley of Vision, I ran across this prayer from the Puritans entitled “A Minister’s Preaching.” It resonated with a lot of my thoughts and feelings, so I thought I’d pass it along:

“My Master God,

I am desired to preach today, but go weak and needy to my task; Yet I long that people might be edified with divine truth, that an honest testimony might be borne for thee; Give me assistance in preaching and prayer, with heart uplifted for grace and unction.

Present to my view things pertinent to my subject, with fullness of matter and clarity of thought, proper expressions, fluency, fervency, a feeling sense of the things I preach, and grace to apply them to men’s consciences.

Keep me conscious all the while of my defects, and let me not gloat in pride over my performance. Help to offer a testimony for thyself, and to leave sinners inexcusable in neglecting thy mercy.

Give me freedom to open the sorrows of thy people, and to set before them comforting considerations. Attend with power the truth preached, and awaken the attention of my slothful audience.

May thy people be refreshed, melted, convicted, comforted, and help me to use the strongest arguments drawn from Christ’s incarnation and sufferings, that men might be made holy.

I myself need thy support, comfort, strength, holiness, that I might be a pure channel of thy grace, and be able to do something for thee;

Give me then refreshment among thy people, and help me not to treat excellent matter in a defective way, or bear a broken testimony to so worthy a Redeemer, or be harsh in treating of Christ’s death, its design and end, and lack of warmth and fervency.

And keep me in tune with thee as I do this work.”

Note: I struggle a bit with his intention of “slothful audience,” as the Puritans were industrious people. I think the intent is that truth would be preached with power to awaken the spiritually apathetic. Hope this prayer is an encouragement to you.

World and Word: How God Reveals Himself

c333d6yehi0-aaron-burdenUnless God reveals himself, he could never be known. God is completely “other” than us – unapproachable in his holiness and unlimited in his power. But he is also loving. And in his love he has made himself known to us.

In the Bible, we read a song that David wrote that helps us see how God has made himself known to us. We know it simply as Psalm 19, and in it we find the two primary ways God has made himself known.

The psalm begins with the words, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” The first 6 verses continue to speak of how creation displays aspects of God’s nature. The book of Romans picks up this same idea when Paul writes:

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” 

If you had lived your life on a deserted island, there are certain things you could learn about God if you were thinking deeply. You may think of him as powerful, the One who created the world. You may think of him as faithful, as you notice that the sun rises and sets each day without fail.

This is often known as “general revelation.” God has revealed himself in ways that everyone can see: in creation, through his actions in history, and in his special creation of people. Through general revelation, we can learn about God, but it is through the specific revelation from God that we can know him personally.

As David continues in Psalm 19, verse 7 begins to speak of the law of the Lord, the testimony of the Lord, the precepts of the Lord….he is speaking of Scripture, part of what is known as the “special revelation” of God.

Special revelation includes God’s appearances throughout Scripture, his direct speech through the prophets, the life of Jesus as the exact imprint of the divine nature — and all of this is contained in the Bible.

Think back to life on the deserted island. If you had spent your life without Scripture, there are some things about God you could have learned. But just think if a trunk washed ashore with a Bible that you could read. You would see that this powerful and faithful God has entered covenant relationships with his people, revealing himself as loving, faithful, and forgiving. Even though his people sinned and worshiped other gods, in his great love he gave his only Son to bring about forgiveness to those who would turn to him.

In God’s greatness, he is unknowable. But in his goodness, he has made himself known. Like David, we can look at the world he created and see his glory. And we can look in his Word and see his great love for us.

Through the world and his Word, God has made himself known. And he invites us to know him, to experience his unfailing love.

Guarding Friendships

pexels-photo-42504Good friends are hard to find. In a good friendship, we seek the best for each other and lovingly speak truth to each other. We are there for each other in difficult times. We sharpen each other as iron sharpens iron. This is how the Book of Proverbs describes a good friendship. Not just an acquaintance, but the kind of friend that sticks closer than a brother.

If we are fortunate enough to have a friends like this, we need to guard the friendship and protect it. We should be wise in what we do – and don’t do – to avoid a painful wedge severing a friendship. Three verses in Proverbs give direct advice for guarding friendships:

“Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.” Proverbs 17:9

To cover an offense means to “put a lid on it,” not allowing it to escalate. In doing so we deal with conflict and choose to forgive, with a goal of restored friendship. On the other hand, friendship is devastated by gossip. When offended, guard the friendship by dealing with it graciously, destroy your friendship by gossiping with others about the offense.

“Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor’s house, lest he have his fill of you and hate you.” Proverbs 25:17

We enjoy being with our friends. But if we’re not careful, we can smother them. This proverb challenges us to live with discernment. It’s a delicate balance to spend enough time together to develop the friendship, but also give friends time alone or with others. Appropriate time together is important, but guard your friendships by giving each other space as well.

“Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it’ — when you have it with you.” Proverbs 3:28

Generous people make good friends. If you can help, then do so! Proverbs 6, however, warns against loaning money to friends and neighbors. Doing so can quickly jeopardize a friendship. In other words, the path of wisdom is to give generously to friends, but avoid loaning money to them. Generosity builds friendship, debt can destroy it. We should guard our friendships by giving, not loaning.

I found these to be practical, helpful tips for guarding and protecting friendships: cover offenses instead of gossip, enjoy time together but give each other space, and be quick to give and slow to loan. Quality friendships are a rare treasure — guard them!


Understanding the Book of Proverbs

WALK WITHWe recently began a series on the Book of Proverbs at Venture Church. In the introductory sermon, I gave a couple of insights on how to approach and understand Proverbs. I mentioned that the proverbs are (1) memorable (written to be remembered, not to thoroughly cover the topic), (2) descriptive (they describe the path of wisdom, they are not promises from God), and (3) poetic (often written in Hebrew parallels with vivid imagery).

This short summary captures a bit of the hermeneutics of Proverbs, but there are helpful sources available for a more complete understanding.

Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart give the following parameters in How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth:

  1. Proverbs are often parabolic (i.e., figurative, pointing beyond themselves).
  2. Proverbs are intensely practical, not theoretically theological.
  3. Proverbs are worded to be memorable, not technically precise.
  4. Proverbs are not designed to support selfish behavior — just the opposite!
  5. Proverbs strongly reflecting ancient culture may need sensible “translation” so as not to lose their meaning.
  6. Proverbs are not guarantees from God but poetic guidelines for good behavior.
  7. Proverbs may use highly specific language, exaggeration, or any of a variety of literary techniques to make their point.
  8. Proverbs give good advice for wise approaches to certain aspects of life but are not exhaustive in their coverage.
  9. Wrongly used, proverbs may justify a crass, materialistic lifestyle. Rightly used, proverbs will provide practical advice for daily living.

Another helpful approach is included in Introduction to Biblical Interpretation by Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard. They first remind us that “this literary form’s commands or prohibitions present absolute demands for obedience not tentative suggestions for consideration. Readers must  respond to them with seriousness.” It is easy to lose the force of the commands of Proverbs when appreciating its poetry. These are not just helpful sayings, they are divinely inspired as God’s Word.

They also point out the passion behind the proverbs. “The student must approach wisdom speeches as if listening to a woman passionately pleading with passing crowds to follow her advice. That very passion underscores the seriousness of her advice — how crucial for people to obey it, and how menacing is the danger that stalks those who do not.” They conclude by writing that we can capture the form and content of a proverb by completing this sentence: “This shouting woman urges me to….”

Also, if you’d like to dig a bit deeper, this journal article from Greg Parsons may be helpful.(shared with permission)

One more resource: “Read Scripture” has an informative and entertaining video overview of the Book of Proverbs. I have enjoyed their book overviews and their treatment of Proverbs does not disappoint.

At Venture, we have issued the “Proverbs Challenge.” Since there are 31 days in both July and August, we have encouraged everyone to read a chapter of Proverbs each day for two months. And in the spirit of pursuing wisdom, we are asking everyone to prioritize church attendance, where we will preach wisdom from the Book of Proverbs each Sunday in July and August. I pray God will use his Word in our church, and I invite you to join us on the journey as we “Walk with the Wise” through the Book of Proverbs.

An Unexpected Guest

IMG_1812-1An unexpected guest showed up in our backyard this morning. The dogs were barking like crazy, and a strange hissing sound was coming from our barbecue. Turns out it wasn’t hissing, it was the screech of a baby owl. The owl was somehow separated from his family and was just trying to get a good day’s sleep behind our grill….the dogs were not cooperating.

So we locked the dogs in the house and left the owl alone for an hour or two, hoping he would just fly away on his own accord. He was scared and nervous though, and wasn’t going anywhere. So eventually, we made the call to Animal Control. I pressed the officer to find out what was going to happen to our new friend. Apparently, our city takes animals like him and cares for them in a foster environment for a couple of weeks, then brings them back to the neighborhood to release them into their natural home.

As they picked him up, this frail baby owl spread his wings. At that moment, he looked powerful. He was majestic. He’s young now. He cowers in fear. But when he spreads his wings, you get a glimpse of the strong predator he will become. In a few weeks, he’ll be back in the neighborhood — bigger, stronger, and hunting down all the rodents we’d rather not have prowling around.

But not yet. He needs to be rescued. He needs people like us to keep the barking dogs away. He needs Animal Control officers to care for him and make sure he’s ready to take on the real world. And then he will fly. He’s not meant to hide in my backyard, he’s meant to soar and hunt. Just a little more training, and he’s ready to take on the world.

In a couple of days, my daughter will walk across a stage. We will cheer, and she will be a high school graduate. Today, she is still young. She needs a little guidance. She needs more training. But soon she will take on the world. Don’t get me wrong, I love my “little girl.” She has filled my heart with memories I will treasure forever. It’s going to be hard to drop her off at college. But she was not meant to hide in my backyard, she’s meant to soar.

An owl dropped in and I got a new perspective. They may be wise after all.