My Sermon This Morning: The Light Shines in Our Hearts

It’s been a while since I posted one of my Sunday sermons here. Below is what I preached this morning, the Second Sunday of Advent, on 2 Corinthians 4:1-6.


 

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This photo taken at 4:14 p.m.

Until recently I’d forgotten that the sun could even set before 5:00. Last night the sunset was at 4:08 p.m. 4:08! 

My six-year-old asked me this week if it was true that there were only four hours of daylight each day in December. 

Not quite, but it feels like it. 

These short, dark, cold days seem to linger on. We await a later sunset, the buds of spring, and warmer days. 

What are we to do with all of this in-between time? 

That’s the question of Advent. Christ has broken into our world, but so much remains untransformed by his power. We are waiting. We are hoping. We are longing for Jesus to come again and make everything right.

The stand-up comic Mitch Hedberg once disparaged instant oatmeal. He said:

I get up in the morning, and I make myself a bowl of instant oatmeal, and then I don’t do anything for an hour… which makes me wonder why I need the instant oatmeal… I could get the regular oatmeal and feel productive!

Advent calls for our patience in dark days where God’s kingdom (still) isn’t here. It doesn’t come in an instant. 

But it’s not a passive waiting that we do. And there’s nothing hopeless about Advent. It’s not a season where we throw up our hands and say, “Welp, I guess we just hang out until Jesus comes back.” 

On the contrary, in Advent we remember and re-activate that hope within us that believes—that knows—Christ will come again. We proclaim with Zechariah:

Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.

In these dark, cold, in-between days, “the light shines in the darkness.”

And the light shines right into our inmost beings.

That’s what Paul says to the Christians in the city of Corinth: 

The [same] 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.

There’s the miracle of God’s love… the all-powerful creator of the universe who could bring light from darkness, has sent his light right into our hearts, so that we could know Jesus. The one who created worlds could be bothered to shine light into my dark heart, and yours. God even delights in shining light into our hearts. 

 

What does the light do?

The light shines in the darkness, and that includes the darkness of our inner world. 

I think Paul has something in common with us. None of us wants to just talk in platitudes or generalities. The light shines in our hearts, yes, so now we want to know: what exactly is the light doing in us? What does the light-of-Christ-in-our-hearts do?

Paul suggests a few things. As it shines in your heart, here is what the light does. 

First, he says, the light illuminates what is hidden. 

Here is the first part of verse 2: “We have renounced the shameful things that one hides.”

That’s because Paul and his fellow believers have the light of Christ in their hearts. That light has illuminated what is hidden—shameful things. 

Paul models a response to the shameful things the light has shown him in his heart. “I renounce them.” 

It’s a line you’ll hear in the baptismal liturgy: “I renounce them.” The light illuminates my hidden, shameful things, shows me what and where they are… and I renounce them.

evolving_google_identity_shareI’ve always been glad no technology exists to Google our brains. Think about what that would be like. All our memories, experiences, hopes, wayward desires, and hurts. Your search for envious thoughts toward others returned 13,849 results.

Thank God we can’t Google our brains. But in a sense, that’s what the light of Jesus does. As the Psalmist David put it, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. 

The light of Christ in us illuminates what is hidden.

Second, Paul says the light of Jesus is a floodlight on lies. The light of Christ shows lies for what they are. 

After verse 2 says, “We have renounced the shameful things that one hides,” it goes on: “we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word.” 

Because the light of Christ shines in his inmost being, Paul and his co-laborers in ministry commit to be truthful, especially when it comes to the revealed word of God. “We refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word.” 

The light shines on lies in the darkness. It points at them and calls them what they are. Where the light of Christ shines, there can be no lies. 

 

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TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

 

I’m reading a book right now by James Clear called Atomic Habits. The author describes a process that train conductors in Tokyo practice. It’s called “Pointing-and-Calling.” He says:

As each operator runs the train, they proceed through a ritual of pointing at different objects and calling out commands. When the train approaches a signal, the operator will point at it and say, “Signal is green.” As the train pulls into and out of each station, the operator will point at the speedometer and call out the exact speed. When it’s time to leave, the operator will point at the timetable and state the time. Out on the platform, other employees are performing similar actions. Before each train departs, staff members will point along the edge of the platform and declare, “All clear!” Every detail is identified, pointed at, and named aloud.

The author concludes: 

Pointing-and-Calling is so effective because it raises the level of awareness from a nonconscious habit to a more conscious level. Because the train operators must use their eyes, hands, mouth, and ears, they are more likely to notice problems before something goes wrong. 

This is great for habit development. But good habits aside, here is the light of Christ, practicing the same method of Pointing-and-Calling in us! That’s what the light of Jesus does!

The light of Christ illuminates what is hidden, even shameful things. And it’s a floodlight that shows lies for what they are. The light of Jesus points-and-calls in our hearts.

Eugene Peterson translates verse 2 this way:

We refuse to wear masks and play games. We don’t maneuver and manipulate behind the scenes. And we don’t twist God’s Word to suit ourselves. Rather, we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display, so that those who want to can see and judge for themselves in the presence of God.

Paul also says more generally: the light of Jesus guides our inner life. 

The word Paul uses for light is more expansively defined as “illumination for the inner life.”

Are you confused, or torn up inside? The light of Christ can guide you. 

Are you anxious, scared, uncertain of what the coming days and weeks will hold? The light of Christ doesn’t make all your problems go away, but it will illuminate your inner thought life, as you try to make sense of it all. 

Things become more visible, clearer by the light God gives us. 

The light of Jesus guides our inner life. 

Finally, and most important, the light that God shines in our hearts reveals “God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

This is more than just your run-of-the-mill illumination. Verse 4 says it’s the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. Verse 6 says the light God shines in our hearts is the light of the knowledge of his glory. 

Paul is not talking about “the light within” or whatever light or goodness or hope you can generate yourself. 

There may be a place for that, but it will only take you so far. 

The Episcopal preacher Fleming Rutledge says, “(I)f Christian faith is going to have any guts, it simply cannot be satisfied with exclusively human hope.” 

This isn’t just any light. It’s Jesus light. 

One poet put it like this: 

It gets so dark it stays dark,
Even when I turn on the light.

We need more than ourselves to turn on the light. We’re prone to error, prone to despair, prone to exhaustion if we try to face and fight the darkness all on our own. 

Thank God, we don’t have to. 

The [same] 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.

For light to truly shine in our hearts and illuminate our paths, it needs to come from an external, inexhaustible source. 

That light source is Jesus. “In him was life, and that life was the light of all people.”

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer waited in prison for a release that would never come, he wrote, “Only the coming Lord can prepare the way… the end (goal) of all preparing the way for Christ must be the recognition that we ourselves can never prepare the way.” 

To that let’s add: we ourselves never shine enough light to dispel the darkness.

 

The light persists

Paul begins this passage thus: “Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.”

Paul and company knew deep in their bones that the mercy and love of God were essential to their doing ministry. 

We show mercy, he would say, “just as we have received mercy.” 

And that’s how the light works—it’s received, it’s given, just like grace. It’s not all up to you to do the shining.

You know that your light alone, will burn out. Maybe it already has. 

Your batteries will expire. 

The flame will extinguish. 

The wick will run out. 

And you’re not just contending with yourself here: Satan will try to keep you from living in the light. 

But as Paul says, “the god of this world” may try to keep people from “seeing the light of the gospel,” but he can’t actually touch the light itself. The so-called god of this world can’t stop or prevent or even reduce the shining of the light of Jesus. 

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_4012Jesus’s light is eternal… limitless; it forever burns bright. 

And that light is yours. It’s ours. 

So with the beleaguered apostle Paul, “we do not lose heart.” We wait in hope; we wait in power. 

We have the light of Christ already in part, and lean forward, eagerly awaiting the day when we’ll have Christ’s light in full. 

God has shined the light of Christ in us. 

NOTHING can darken the light of Christ. 

May God shine that light, brighter and stronger and warmer, in our hearts this Advent season.

Accordance’s Picture the NT: A PhotoCommentary of the New Testament

One of the draws of Accordance Bible Software is its graphics tools. Not only does it render existing graphic resources well (Sacred Bridge, for example), but it has its own growing suite of resources: its PhotoGuide, Bible Times PhotoMuseum, and now its newly released Picture the New Testament: A PhotoCommentary of the New Testament.

While you can search Accordance’s existing photo resources by Scripture reference already, this is their first graphics tool that is designed to specifically open parallel to your Bible, verse by verse. It’s organized, in other words, by canonical reference.

I’ve already found this helpful for lectionary-based preaching. Simply open a Bible, click on “Add Parallel,” and open Picture the NT next to your Bible of choice (and any other parallel panes). Like so:

 

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Images are high resolution. My understanding is that most of these images are original to this resource and don’t merely reproduce images available elsewhere.

 

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In addition to images, there are maps:

 

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Not every single verse of the NT is covered. John 1:1-3, for example, has no images, but it’s hard to imagine any images that would go with those verses anyway.

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Search fields

Even though Picture the NT functions as a verse-by-verse commentary, opening the tool in its own zone allows you to search the module through other search fields, so that you could hone in on a particular topic, for example, no matter its canonical location.

Accordance has cleverly designed the module with internal cross-references, so that if a verse would have re-used a photo elsewhere, it just hyperlinks to that other location and takes you right there.

Picture the NT currently contains the Gospels, Acts, and 1-2 Peter, with more NT pictures projected to be “added with free future updates.” It’s currently on sale; you can find it here.

 


 

Thanks to Accordance for the review copy, given to me for the purposes of this review but with no expectation as to its content.

 

Now Available in Accordance: Discovering the Septuagint: A Guided Reader (Jobes)

Discovering the LXX

 

The last two years have seen the appearance of two significant resources for Septuagint reading: the recently released reader’s Septuagint and Karen Jobes’s Discovering the Septuagint: A Guided Reader (Kregel, 2016). I reviewed Jobes’s volume here when it came out. Today Accordance Bible Software has released its edition.

A couple of quick notes: (1) Accordance set me up with a review copy so I could write about it and (2) much of the below draws on or quotes my review of the print edition, albeit with an eye toward the use of the Guided Reader in Accordance specifically.

Short, one-sentence version: Accordance takes an already good (and long-awaited) resource and significantly enhances its usability for readers of the Septuagint.

Below is a longer review of the resource, in Q & A format.

 


 

What books of the LXX are covered?

There are ten readings, meant to “give readers a taste of different genres, an experience of distinctive Septuagintal elements, and a sampling of texts later used by writers of the New Testament” (9). Discovering the Septuagint treats nearly 700 verses from:

  1. Genesis (80 verses)
  2. Exodus (79 verses)
  3. Exodus 20:1–21 // Deuteronomy 5:6–21 (The 10 Commandments)
  4. Ruth (85 verses)
  5. Additions to Greek Esther (73 verses)
  6. Psalms (67 verses)
  7. Hosea (56 verses)
  8. Jonah (48 verses)
  9. Malachi (55 verses)
  10. Isaiah (81 verses)

 

For whom is this book?

Jobes says it “contains everything needed for any reader with three semesters of koine Greek to succeed in expanding their horizons to the Septuagint” (8). This felt right as I worked through the resource. I found the book easy to understand (though I’ve had more than three semesters of Greek).

 

How is the book structured?

Each LXX book has a short introduction followed by a selected bibliography. Here, for example, is the intro to Jonah, shown on the Mac version of Accordance:

 

(tap or click to enlarge image)

 

Next there is the passage itself, verse by verse, with the Greek text re-printed in full. Under each verse are word-by-word and phrase-by-phrase comments on the vocabulary, usage, syntax, translation from Hebrew (the book is strong here), and so on. Following each passage is the NETS (English translation) and mention of any NT use (if applicable) of the LXX passage.

The end of the book has a three-page, 33-term glossary and a two-page “Index of New Testament LXX Citations” for the books included in the reader.

 

What does a sample entry look like?

Here’s Jonah 4:6 in print…

 

jobes-on-jonah-lxx

 

… and in Accordance, which I got to in under a second by setting the search field to “Reference” and typing in “=Jon 4:6”:

 

 

What’s commendable about Discovering the Septuagint?

The very existence of this resource is a boon to Greek readers. There long has existed Conybeare and Stock, as well as some passages in Decker’s Koine Greek Reader, but readers of the Septuagint have far fewer resources than readers of the Greek New Testament.

While the text edition has plenty wide margins for students to jot down their own parsings, translations, and notes, the margins of the Accordance edition give you a plus icon that will allow you to do the same in Accordance.

Notes on the verses are often answers to questions I’ve had as I’ve read the Greek text. In this sense the reader is a great guide. For example, here is a comment from Genesis 1:4:

ἀνὰ μέσον…ἀνὰ μέσον | Idiomatic prep phrase, “between.” This is a Hebraism, so there is no need to translate the second of the pair as NETS does.

And another helpful nugget from Genesis 1:11:

κατὰ γένος | Prep + neut sg acc (3rd dec) noun, γένος, kind. Remember the nom and acc forms are identical in this paradigm. Agrees with and modifies σπέρμα.

Accordance adds hyperlinks to abbreviations, so that you only have to hover over them to see what they stand for.

 

What is lacking? (And how does the Accordance edition make up for it?)

The glued binding didn’t do justice to a book like this, but that’s obviously not an issue here. Plus, portability is high, and you can read your Septuagint passages at night in dark mode on iOS!

 

 

 

As I noted in my review of the print edition, there is a peppering of vague statements like this one on “the image of God” in Genesis 1:26: “See a commentary or study Bible” (31). And the book introductions could have done more to talk about specific Greek issues in that given book. Accordance, however, makes it super-easy to get from this resource to another, whether a study Bible or any other. Just selecting a word, for example, gives you options to search it in another resource. Like this on iOS:

 

 

All in all, Discovering the Septuagint is worth owning, and the Accordance edition significantly increases its value. There is a lot of Greek help to be had here.

Discovering the Septuagint is available in print from Kregel and here from Accordance, where it is currently on sale.

 

 

Today I Read Psalm 1 from… a Reader’s Septuagint!

Today I read Psalm 1 out of the just-released Septuaginta: A Reader’s Edition, and it was just as wonderful as I’ve long imagined it would be!

First and foremost, this is due to the power of Scripture itself. The Psalms are just amazing. And there’s something about reading the Bible in its first languages that fosters (at least for me) a deeper sense of connection to the church throughout time and space.

But until this month, Bible readers and original language students could only read the Septuagint with the aid of a lexicon or Bible software. Other than a few tools with selected passages, there was no edition of the Septuagint with footnoted vocabulary and parsings throughout, so that you could pick up one book and read, with all the help you needed at the bottom of the page.

Readers of this blog are likely aware of the existence of a reader’s Hebrew Bible and a reader’s Greek New Testament. I have pined for a reader’s edition of the Septuagint, and now it exists. Mine arrived in the mail today.

It’s heavy, beautiful, and awesome.

 

What light through yonder Bible breaks?

 

So big (3300+ pages!), it had to be two volumes

 

I fully applaud the decision to make this a two-volume work. (How could it be otherwise?) Included underneath the text is an apparatus:

In order to facilitate natural and seamless reading of the text, every word occurring 100 times or fewer in the Rahlfs-Hanhart text (excluding proper names)—as well as every word that occurs more than 100 times in the Rahlfs-Hanhart text but fewer than 30 times in the Greek New Testament—is accompanied by a footnote that provides a contextual gloss for the word and (for verbs only) full parsing.

For everything else there is a Glossary at the back of each volume.

 

 

Everything is beautifully typeset–much better-looking than the Rahlfs-Hanhart Septuagint text (all due respect to that typesetter!). The font is aesthetically pleasing and easy to read. The pages are cream-colored (which looks great) and not at all the wispy-thin Bible paper I was expecting. AND the binding is sewn. This Septuagint will last a lifetime.

 

Sewn binding

 

What does the text itself look like, you wonder?

 

One of my favorite passages, for obvious reasons

 

The only thing I have approximating lack of complete satisfaction with these beautiful volumes is the exclusion of the Odes that are in the Rahlfs-Hanhart text. The decision of editors Greg Lanier and Will Ross is in keeping with a more attested LXX text; besides, other than the Prayer of Manasseh, which they include, the other Odes are already present elsewhere in the Septuagint. Best to think of the Odes as a sort of hymnal for the early church, rather than an actual “book” of the LXX. (The New English Translation of the Septuagint says in its introduction that the Odes have “dubious integrity as a literary unit.”) So I’ll be the first to acknowledge that this “critique” has no textual or methodological grounding whatsoever and is solely rooted in my own desire to read through the worshipful Odes with footnoted vocabulary and parsings. 🙂

Of course, if I know the right places to go, I still can read the Odes:

 

One of the “Odes,” here in its original context as Exodus 15

 

Now… about that apparatus! The two columns (rather than continuous lines) make it really easy to move back and forth between the vocab/parsings and the text itself. Again, A+ on typesetting and layout. And I so appreciate that Lanier and Ross have included verb parsings… not every reader’s Bible does. This way readers can work both on their vocabulary and their ability to parse less familiar verbs. Here’s a close-up:

 

 

I can’t begin to express my gratitude for the work Lanier, Ross, and others put in to this project. A major desideratum of Greek reading and Septuagint studies is finally here, and so far, it has far exceeded my expectations.

A full review is coming later. For now, check out this masterpiece here at CBD, where it is available for a totally-worth-it sale price.

 

 


 

Thanks to the awesome people at Hendrickson for the review copy, sent to me with no expectation as to the content of this review.

Word on the Street… the Reader’s Edition of the Septuagint Is Shipping!

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To quote the apostle Paul, “I know a person in Christ” who has received his reader’s edition of the Septuagint. (Whether Paul’s statement was self-referential or not, mine isn’t.) That means it’s now shipping from CBD, where it is also on sale for a great price. Check it out here, and see my previous post about this long-awaited edition here.

BibleWorks Announces Closing

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Image via BibleWorks.com

 

I was surprised and saddened to receive an email the other day announcing that BibleWorks is closing:

BibleWorks has been serving the church for 26 years by providing a suite of professional tools aimed at enabling students of the Word to “rightly divide the word of truth”. But it has become increasingly apparent over the last few years that the need for our services has diminished to the point where we believe the Lord would have us use our gifts in other ways. Accordingly as of June 15, 2018 BibleWorks will cease operation as a provider of Bible software tools. We make this announcement with sadness, but also with gratitude to God and thankfulness to a multitude of faithful users who have stayed with us for a large part of their adult lives. We know that you will have many questions going forward and we will do our best to answer some of them here.

The use of Bible software has been integral to my sermon preparation and teaching and small group leading these last five years. BibleWorks was my first foray into Bible software and always will hold a special place in my heart. One of my very first blog posts was this one on BibleWorks and the Septuagint, followed by a post called “BibleWorks in the Pew?” That led to a six-part review of BibleWorks 9, followed by some posts on BibleWorks 10, the 2015 and most recent release. From there I reviewed Accordance and Logos, culminating in this 2012 comparative review, which is by far the most-visited post at this blog.

The BibleWorks transition to Mac has been a little bumpy, so I haven’t used it nearly as much in the last couple years, although I still remember buying a used PC laptop for the sole purpose of having a machine to run BibleWorks on!

In the meantime, BibleWorks 10 is set to receive support for existing users for the foreseeable future, and until June 15, you can purchase it at $199, by far the lowest price the program has ever been.

There is some ambiguity remaining with the program’s future, although founder Michael Bushell has since elaborated on a forum post here. It looks like either open-sourcing BibleWorks or selling it are not on the table.

BibleWorks has been a big part of my ongoing journey through the Bible via Hebrew and Greek, so like many others, I am sad to see it close. Thanks be to God and to the staff for the many years of ministry and good programming BibleWorks has offered!