Last week Major League Baseball pitchers and catchers started reporting for Spring Training. Spring Training, of course, takes place in Florida and Arizona. Red Sox pitchers and catchers reported last Friday in Fort Myers, Florida, where it will be in the 60s, 70s, and 80s all this week.
On the one hand, Spring Training team standings don’t mean much. How a team does in Spring Training is often not a predictor of how they’ll do in the regular season. Last year, for example, there were 21 teams with better Spring Training records than the Kansas City Royals, who very nearly won the World Series. But this 40-odd day period of preparation, exercise, and deliberate conditioning is essential to summer success in Major League Baseball.
Lent: Spring Training for Christians
We Christians actually invented Spring Training: except we call it Lent. There’s no Cactus League or Grapefruit League for us… more of a Penance League and a Snowstorm League.
Lent is the period of 40 days, plus Sundays, leading up to Easter—Resurrection Sunday—the most important date on the calendar for followers of Jesus, more important, even, than Opening Day.
Lent in 2015 at our church will allow us some opportunities to more deeply cultivate our sense of Christian identity, both as individuals and as a church. We’ll explore five key disciplines for those who walk with Jesus.
Each Sunday in church I’ll preach on one of the five practices. Then, the week following, we’ll read that corresponding chapter.
Here are the Five Practices:
• Radical Hospitality (“Receiving God’s Love”)
• Passionate Worship (“Loving God in Return”)
• Intentional Faith Development (“Growing in Grace”)
• Risk-Taking Mission and Service (“Loving and Serving Others”)
• Extravagant Generosity (“The Grace of Giving”)
Today’s focus is Radical Hospitality, our hospitality and receptivity to God’s grace toward us. This discipline is all about how we receive God’s love. I think you’ll really appreciate this chapter if you make time to read it this week.
Receiving God’s Love
God is many things, but Love is God’s most fundamental characteristic.
“The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love”—a sort of mantra of the Old Testament that finds expression in books as diverse as Exodus, Nehemiah, Joel, and the Psalms.
“God is love,” John says, multiple times in 1 John 4.
And any love we experience or share is rooted in God’s love for us: “We love because he first loved us.” “God is love.”
God declared his love for Jesus at Jesus’ baptism: “You are my Son, whom I love. With you I am well-pleased.” Through our baptism and faith we are adopted into God’s family. Not only do we call God Father, but we call Jesus brother, and share in his inheritance of the Father’s love and good pleasure.
The love that God declared for Jesus has been bestowed on us, lavished on us, 1 John says. “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”
We are God’s children, whom he loves.
That God is love and that we are loved by God is the most foundational aspect of reality, what philosophers have for thousands of years sought after as “the really real.”
How do we know God loves us? Here’s 1 John again:
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
And so I appreciate that the first of these five disciplines that Robert Schnase suggests is not so much a habit to take on or a practice to engage, but just plain love to receive.
Of course we don’t hoard it or keep it to ourselves, so the other practices of Christian faith include loving God back and serving others in this great love.
But it’s worth stopping just to ask: Am I receiving God’s love? Am I carving out space in my life where I can listen, call to mind, welcome, and accept God’s lavish love for me?
Each year I’m usually pretty consistent about taking on a couple of Lenten disciplines. I especially like pairing the practice of “giving up” something—a distraction that keeps me from awareness of God—with “taking on” something—a new practice or renewed effort to keep God’s presence more top of mind.
This year, however, I’m still catching up on my New Year’s resolutions, so it’s been hard to think about starting a new Lenten discipline.
If you’re in the same boat, or if you didn’t realize until today that we’re already 4 days into Lent, and you want to do something, I encourage you to think just in terms of this coming week, and to carve out some time and space to receive God’s love. Make space to receive God’s love.
One of my New Year’s resolutions I fell behind on the second week of January was reading the Bible all the way through in a year. I’m not giving up, though. This week, as I was supposed to be wrapping up Leviticus, I read Exodus 25. God has raised up Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, and led this new covenant people out of miserable slavery in Egypt. They’re on their way to the promised land.
After God gives Moses and the people the 10 Commandments and many other instructions, there comes this beautiful pivot point in Exodus 25 that sets up so much of Israel’s wilderness journey: God says, “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”
See, God can dwell wherever and whenever and however he chooses, but he calls his people from the very beginning to carve out a space for him, where they can honor his presence and receive his love. Hospitality toward God is all about making room for God. Hospitality toward God is about receptivity, open hands, a willing heart. As our author will put it, it’s about saying, “Yes” to God.
This “practice of fruitful living,” we’ll see, drives all the other practices and undergirds them.
But how many obstacles are there that stand between us and God’s love?
For one, we have a dizzying array of technological distractions available to us at any moment.
Or maybe we get our viewing and clicking habits under control, only to find out that the real, live human beings we know have a whole host of demands and expectations of us. Whether co-workers, clients, professors, children, bosses, siblings, or students, we often acutely feel that our time is not our own.
Furthermore, we have been shaped, for better or for worse, by hurts imposed upon us by others, by pain past and present, some things resolved, others unresolved. These can make us guarded, and give us pause when it comes to opening the door of our hearts to God.
And then there’s us. We get in the way of our own receiving of God’s love for us. We undermine our own efforts at radical hospitality toward the grace of God. We do this by neglect, out of fear, due to pride, because of overworking, or just sheer lack of putting forth the effort required to make a space where we can commune with God.
As I’ve thought this week about the many barriers that keep us from more fully embracing God’s love, I’ve found some illumination in a somewhat unlikely place: one of my all-time favorite movies, Good Will Hunting.
Will Hunting—played by Matt Damon—is a genius, a mathematical prodigy who proves an impossible theorem on an MIT chalkboard while he’s mopping the floor as janitor.
He gets into trouble for hitting a police officer, and then is assigned therapy as part of his deal to not have to go to prison.
His therapist, Sean, is played by Robin Williams… an amazing performance by both men.
Sean realizes very early with Will that there are two poles, both of which keep Will from opening himself to receiving—and giving—love.
On the one hand, Will undermines deep relationships by his lack of effort, through willful stubbornness and arrogance.
On the other hand, Will is an orphan; he was abused by his foster dad and the foster system itself. One can hardly blame him for wanting to keep distance from all humanity.
Sean points out, “We get to choose who we let into our weird little worlds,” as he watches Will pursue a love interest while also keeping her at bay.
At their first therapy session, Will pompously tries to psychoanalyze his therapist, Sean, based on the books, pictures, and a single painting in his office.
Next session, Sean leads Will out of his office and to a park bench at the Boston Public Garden.
He points out that Will is really just practicing avoidance. As they sit there in that iconic scene, Sean says,
I can’t learn anything from you, [that] I can’t read in some __ book. Unless you want to talk about you, who you are. Then I’m fascinated. I’m in.
But you don’t want to do that do you sport? You’re terrified of what you might say.
Your move, chief.
He walks away.
We know what it is to be “terrified of what [we] might say,” if we were truly vulnerable in the presence of God. We can also be scared of what we might hear, what God might ask of us, or of getting a reminder of what God has already asked of us, that we’re not doing.
But if Will Hunting’s avoidance is partly his own doing, there is also a sense in which he has been so malformed by his past, that he really doesn’t know how to love, and how to be loved.
One of the culminating scenes in the movie is where the therapist Sean has to turn in a report on Will to the court. (You can watch it here.)
Will says, “So, uh, what is it, like, Will has an attachment disorder? Is it all that stuff?”
Will goes on, “Fear of abandonment? Is that why I broke up with Skylar?”
Sean says, “I didn’t know you had.”
Sean says, “Hey, Will? I don’t know a lot. You see this? All this [stuff]?
He holds the file up and then drops it down on his desk.
Sean says, “It’s not your fault.”
“Yeah, I know that.”
“Look at me, son,” says Sean. “It’s not your fault.”
Will nods, but Sean just keeps repeating that line, “It’s not your fault; it’s not your fault; it’s not your fault,” till finally Will breaks down, sobbing, and reaches out to hug his therapist.
Make Space This Week to Receive God’s Love
Bishop Schnase in his book talks about these two poles Sean identified in Will. He doesn’t talk about Good Will Hunting, but it’s the same dynamic. Schnase calls them “elements of distance, both inherited and willful,” that keep us from receiving God’s love.
Whether “It’s not your fault,” or whether “It’s your move, chief,” a combination of fear, guilt, neglect, deep pain, and disobedience almost actively seeks to prevent us from carving out spaces where God can dwell, and where we can simply bask in his love.
We need more time, more openings, more gaps, and wider margins where we can slowly churn over God’s words that are for us, too:
“You are my child, whom I love. With you I am well-pleased.”
“You are my child, whom I love.”
“You are my child, whom I love.”
Give yourself permission—starting today and tomorrow—to dedicate time and space to gratefully receive God’s love. If you can’t give yourself permission, you’ve got my permission. Consider it the pastor’s equivalent of a doctor’s note—a pastoral exhortation.
“Listen!” Jesus says, “I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and dine with you, and you will dine with me.”
Give yourself permission to do as God’s first people did, to make little sanctuaries of time and space where you can meditate on God’s lavish love for you, and receive his grace.
Not just so you can run off and give it to someone else—that’s next week’s practice…but so that you can know how deep, how strong, how rich, how unrelenting, how comforting, how amazing, how replenishing, how good, and how perfect is the love of Jesus… for you.
The above is adapted from the sermon I preached at my church last Sunday.
Narrative discography, I’ll call it, for lack of a better phrase. Or maybe just sequential listening. At any rate, I just had a fun idea tonight, that I can’t believe I haven’t thought of before.
I’m going to pick a band and, over the course of a week, listen to every one of their recorded albums, from the earliest to the most recent. I know Radiohead’s early stuff so well that I could probably do some of this in my head. But the thought of listening to a band’s collective output from start to finish is intriguing to me.
I’ll let you know if it leads to any interesting observations. First up: The Appleseed Cast.
One thing that continually impresses me about Greek is its preponderance of multisyllabic words.
Much of this has to do with how its verbs are conjugated. The four-syllable verb μεγαλυνω, for example, when inflected in Psalm 19:8 (Psalm 20:7 in English Bibles), becomes a majestic seven-syllable ending to an already beautiful verse:
ουτοι εν αρμασιν και ουτοι εν ιπποις,
ημεις δε εν ονοματι κυριου θεου ημων μεγαλυνθησομεθα.
Here is an English translation:
These ones take pride in chariots, and these ones in horses,
But as for us, we will find glory in the name of the Lord!
Though I’m a week behind on the reading plan, little gems like this make reading the Greek Psalms in a Year well worth the effort.
Now that I can quickly remember which is the Windows button and which is the Power button, I’ve been having a lot of fun testing out a Dell Venue 8 Pro. I come to it from an iPad mini, which is comparable in size, so it’s taken some getting used to.
Here are four things I’ve been impressed by so far.
1. The weather app is awesome.
Yes, this is a small thing, but I’ve found the iOS weather apps (whether native or third-party) to be wanting. The pre-installed weather app in the Venue Pro, however, is really fun:
You can even CHECK THE RADAR. Whoa.
I don’t find myself needing to double-check weather.com. This app offers anything I’d want to know, including warnings and watches issued by the National Weather Service.
2. You can view two open apps at once, side-by-side.
I know, I know. That should be a given for a tablet in 2015. But it’s not available on iPads, so it’s been cool to be able to, say, scroll through a Facebook newsfeed while checking out links in a separate pane:
This is also useful if I want to read a book in Kindle and have a Web browser open. Yes, it’s the first time in many years that I’ve used Internet Explorer (!), but as browsers go, it works fine:
You can resize each of the two apps/panes so that the screen looks how you want it.
3. Speaking of Kindle, that app plays nicely with Windows.
This is a minor thing, too, but the Kindle iOS app does not allow you to purchase Kindle books from within the app. Here you can:
4. It’s a tablet. It’s a computer.
You get the convenience of an app-filled tablet, combined with the power of a full-on computer using Windows 8. Much as I like the iOS version of Accordance, you get to use its full desktop version here on the Venue 8:
When you use the desktop side of the tablet, having a stylus to get at the smaller touch points on the screen is essential.
I’ll post more later. For now, while it hasn’t replaced my iPad mini for daily use, I’m really enjoying the Venue 8 Pro.
The best iPhone time tracker I’ve seen is OfficeTime. It is simple, fast, effective, and easy to get in and out of quickly to start tracking time and get right back to work.
You can set up your Projects and Categories (I use these as two levels of task grouping), and tap on each to see how much time you’ve spent in a certain part of your work. I don’t use the Expenses feature of the app, but if you were a sub-contracting consultant keeping track of work for multiple clients, OfficeTime would be immensely helpful in tracking billing.
Pulling up a new time/task entry is easy:
“Notes” allows you to write more details about what task you’re working on.
Not only can you look at all your time entries in a week by Project and Category, but you can see (as below) a virtual Timesheet of your week.
The iPhone app can sync automatically to the desktop version of OfficeTime, though you have to actually be on the same wireless network to do it. Similarly, the iPad app can sync to a computer (and vice versa), but the data cannot sync automatically between iPad and iPhone apps. That is one of the few drawbacks I’ve found in OfficeTime.
I’ll post more in a future review about the desktop app, and also report back on exporting features.
The lack of a full-bodied sync option hasn’t really stopped me, though, since I can keep all the data on my phone and then sync with my work computer when I’m in the office.
If you are the time tracking sort, and want a full-bodied way to keep track on the go, OfficeTime officially rates the Words on the Word title of AppTastic.
I’ve come to Nahum Sarna’s JPS Torah Commentary on Exodus with high expectations. His Genesis volume in that series is one of the best commentaries I’ve read (on any book of the Bible).
So far, after spending long periods of my last Sabbath with the book, it’s lived up to expectations.
While I work on a review of the full volume, here are a couple compelling sections of Sarna’s commentary on the 10 plagues:
The present narrative is a sophisticated and symmetric literary structure with a pattern of three groups each comprising three plagues. The climactic tenth plague possesses a character all its own. The first two afflictions in each triad are forewarned; the last always strikes suddenly, unannounced. Furthermore, in the case of the first, fourth, and seventh plagues Pharaoh is informed in the morning and Moses is told to “station” himself before the king, whereas in the second of each series Moses is told to “come in before Pharaoh,” that is, to confront him in the palace. Finally, in the first triad of plagues it is always Aaron who is the effective agent; in the third, it is always Moses.
Having this literary outline in mind made me really appreciate the narrative artistry of Exodus in a way I might have otherwise missed.
Not only does Sarna offer expert literary analysis, his writing itself is lucid and reads more like a compelling novel than what you might expect from a technical commentary. That Chaim Potok is the literary editor of the JPS Torah Commentary does not hurt, either! It shows.
Sarna strikes an interesting balance between (a) reading the plagues as God’s using natural events and (b) reading the plagues as purely supernatural. Regardless of how the reader understands the text in this regard, Sarna highlights the theological import of the plagues:
The controlling purpose behind this literary architecture is to emphasize the idea that the nine plagues are not random vicissitudes of nature; although they are natural disasters, they are the deliberate and purposeful acts of divine will–their intent being retributive, coercive, and educative. As God’s judgments on Egypt for the enslavement of the Israelites, they are meant to crush Pharaoh’s resistance to their liberation. They are to demonstrate to Egypt the impotence of its gods and, by contrast, the incomparability of YHVH, God of Israel, as the one supreme sovereign God of Creation, who uses the phenomena of the natural order for His own purposes.
Plague by plague Sarna returns to this theme and draws it out.
I’m 12 chapters in (out of 40) and am appreciating Sarna’s wisdom on Exodus as much as his excellent work on Genesis. More to follow.
Many thanks to the folks at University of Nebraska Press/Jewish Publication Society for sending me the copy of the Exodus commentary for review. The book’s JPS product page is here; you can order it through Nebraska Press here. Find it on Amazon here.
Prefer an electronic edition? Accordance has the JPS Torah Commentary here.
Happy International Septuagint Day!
Read some Septuagint on Sunday, Februrary 8, if you can, in Greek or English. Here’s why I think you need the Septuagint. And here are some more “rarely cited reasons” why the LXX is important, given by James Aitken and noted on Jim West’s blog.
One good monograph to read on the Septuagint is First Bible of the Church. And if you want to get in-depth with the critical edition of the LXX, I have offered reviews of the Göttingen Septuagint in Logos and Accordance softwares. And, perhaps as important, I suggest how one might actually make sense of that critical edition, noted here and here, with an ever-elusive third part of the primer still to come.
I have very recently reviewed the Genesis volume of the Göttingen Septuagint, found here.
Happy LXX Day!
(The above is a slightly modified re-post of my 2014 Happy LXX Day post.)