The Groomsman’s Joy

A groom considers his groomsmen to be among his most faithful friends and supporters.  How would you feel if you heard about a best man running off with the bride a week before the wedding?  You’d feel disgusted.  The whole scenario seems like a vile betrayal.  However, a much deeper betrayal can be committed by ministers of the gospel.  In John 3:22-30, some of John the Baptizer’s disciples are concerned because Jesus is receiving more attention than John.  Without hesitating, John reminds them of his role as a witness to the Messiah and his joy over Jesus’ growing influence and his own fading influence.  He reminds his audience that he is but a groomsman who wants all the attention to be focused upon the groom and his bride.

It is so easy for those who minister in the limelight to begin to bask in the attention that they receive.  It is easy for those who speak of Christ to inadvertently take the attention that belongs alone to Him.  Christ is not interested in sharing the glory that belongs alone to Him.  We must be vigilant not to steal the attention of which He alone is worthy.  May our joy be that people’s focus on Him increases as their focus on us fades.  After all, we are but groomsmen, privileged to know and love the Groom.

 

A Reflection on Hunger and Thirst

When your stomach is empty or your mouth is parched, it’s hard to think of anything but food or water.  In John 4, Jesus and his disciples have been traveling for hours.  Around the noon hour they come to a well near Sychar in Samaria.  As you can imagine, they are all thirsty and hungry.  Therefore, Jesus sends his disciples to get some food.  While waiting, a Samaritan woman approaches to get some water from the well.  Naturally, Jesus asks for a drink of water.  Thus, the story begins with Jesus being thirsty and hungry. 

What’s intriguing in the story is that John never tells us that Jesus drank and ate in Sychar.  It’s not because He didn’t; it’s because John focuses on another appetite, which eclipses physical appetites.  Jesus was more concerned that the Samaritan woman would yearn for the water of eternal life than for a physical fountain of youth.  Unlike His disciples, Jesus was more concerned with obeying His Father’s will than with eating bread.  He models for the characters in the story the priority of spiritual necessities over physical necessities.  In our own lives, our physical needs are crucial.  However, our greatest needs are spiritual.  Above all, may we thirst to know Him and hunger to do His will in furthering His gospel in the world.   Along the way, remember the promise of Jesus, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”

When Vice Sounds Nice

In our market-driven culture, slogans help make the world go around. We hear them on our radios and iPods. We see them on our TV and computer screens. Some of the slogans seem innocuous– “Think outside the bun” (Taco Bell) or “Like a Good Neighbor” (State Farm).  Other slogans could become problematic if they are applied too broadly– “Obey Your thirst” (Sprite) or “Have it your way” (Burger King). Unfortunately, some are morally insidious. Two billboards that I have seen alongside the road come to mind. One was advertising a gentlemen’s club (an oxymoron in itself)– “Feed your curiosity” and the other an adult bookstore–“Mature Fantasy.” Of course, it would have been more accurate to say, “Indulge your lust” and “Base perversity.”

What is a Christian to do? It is very difficult to avoid a world of slogans. Rather, God has called us to be in the world without being like the world. This is no easy task. One way forward, though, is to actively think. This was Paul’s advice to a Christian community in Philippi living in an unfriendly world. Paul does not prescribe isolation but rather insulation. He argues that God has called us to critically evaluate the mixed messages around us through the lens of Scripture and then to dwell on what pleases God (Phil. 4:8). Working in tandem with such discernment, Paul argues that we actively pursue the teachings from the Bible, which we know please God (Phil. 4:9). It is a call to be proactive rather than reactive or undiscriminating. If Paul were living today, perhaps he would say, “Just do it.”

Doug Finkbeiner

Resting or Rooting

God has graciously allowed Sheri and I to rear six wonderful children. My wife has nursed each one of them. Thus, I have been able to observe the nursing process up close. When our child was hungry for his/her mother’s milk, nothing else would do. When my wife or I would hold them, they would not settle down, but would be actively rooting. They did not want to be comforted or cradled. They were often cranky and flailing until they got what they wanted.  Conversely, after they were weaned they would readily crawl up into our laps and seek to be cradled, especially when they were sick. Our arms were a refuge rather than a refilling station.

In Psalm 131:2, David picks up on this imagery as he describes his relationship with God– “But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother: like a weaned child is my soul within me.” (ESV) Rather than crawling up into the lap of my loving Father and quietly resting, I often flail and fight as I demand to understand things that are beyond me or relentlessly pursue my own dreams (131:1– “I do not have great aspirations, or concern myself with things that are beyond me.” [NET]). We have to learn to live with our limitations as we rest in the arms of our faithful God. The life of faith must accept the mystery of God’s ways and the disappointments of personal expectations. David ends the psalm in verse three with a call to his fellow Jews to rest in God as a way of life – “O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.” At the end of the day, the only way to live with our limitations in understanding and accomplishments is to rest in our limitless God.

Doug Finkbeiner

The Heart of Giving

The story is told of a fledgling ministry with a significant number of parishioners. The leadership was convinced that God wanted the ministry to enter into a building program. In their case, land wasn’t a problem. They decided to build without taking out a loan and to do all the work in-house. After laying the burden before the people, the people responded by contributing their time, their treasures, and their talents to the building program. Very quickly all of the raw material was financially provided and all of the craftsmen were in place. The leadership actually had to tell the people to stop giving to the building program because they had all that they needed. Within a short period of time, the building was completed – debt free.

Does this story sound like pie in the sky? Although it seems incredible, it is not impossible.  Actually, it serves as a modern day analogy for the account in Exodus 35-40 of the building of the Tabernacle. In Exodus 35:4-19, Moses appeals to the Israelites to provide physical resources and personal skill for the construction of the Tabernacle. The people respond with such an outpouring of giving of their physical resources that Moses had to ask them to stop giving (35:20-29; 36:3-7). God also enabled a select number of craftsmen to construct the Tabernacle and its furnishings (35:30-39:43). Following the purification of the Tabernacle, the glory of God settled upon it (40:1-38).

What was the source of giving? Moses makes it quite clear by repeating the same concept in chapters 35 and 36 – “Whoever is of a generous heart” (35:5), “everyone whose heart stirred him” (35:21), “All who were of a willing heart” (35:22), “All the women whose heart stirred them (35:26), “the people of Israel, whose heart moved them” (35:29), “whose heart stirred him up” (36:2). God-honoring giving always begins in the heart. Therefore, that is where any discussion of giving should begin.

Doug Finkbeiner

A Call for Humility in the Debates over Divine and Human Agency

Convictions about interpretations of biblical texts are necessary in a post-modern world that often encourages indecisiveness. However, some convictions need to be tempered with humility in light of ongoing debates between believers who are committed to the authority of the Scripture. One such debate is the nexus between divine and human agency. The Christian church has debated the topic for two millennia. Positions have been catalogued along a continuum from determinism, to compatibilism, to Molinism, to libertarianism. Such debates have spawned theological systems such as Calvinism and Arminianism. Of course, extreme positions such as Open Theism have rightly been rejected by orthodoxy.

What’s not always considered, though, is that these debates concerning divine and human agency predate Christianity. For instance, Cicero, the Roman philosopher and statesman of the 1st B.C., described such a disputation between ancient philosophers in his work On Fate (e.g. 39). In addition, Josephus, the ancient Jewish apologist who wrote from Flavian Rome in the aftermath of the Jewish war of A.D. 70, describes divergent views on the issue among the mainstream schools of Judaism (i.e. Essenes, Pharisees, Sadducees). His portrayal of the sects ranges from determinism to libertarianism (e.g. Antiquities 13.171-173). In particular, his portrait of the Pharisees ranges from compatibilism (Jewish War 2.162-163; Antiquities 18.13) to mild libertarianism (Antiquities 13.172). If this scenario reflects historical reality, it would shed some light on the likely theology of Saul of Tarsus, who later becomes Paul the Apostle.

I am not arguing that we should not seek to discern the Biblical teaching on divine and human agency. Rather, I am saying that we should enter the debate with a recognition that the tension between divine and human agency has been deliberated for a very long time. Develop interpretive convictions, but do so out of a spirit of humility in the presence of mystery.

Doug Finkbeiner

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