Monday, August 29, 2005

Matthew 4

I received an indirect challenge from a friend recently when he said that he was trying to read a chapter per day in the Bible and recording an idea. I often jump around Scripture during my times of meditation and journaling but I haven't walked through a book in a long time. I decided to select two sections of Scripture as the focus of my meditations - Matthew and Psalm 119.

Today's meditation is from Matthew 4. The short version (for blog scanners) is the direct annd indirect references to Jesus as the true Moses and the true Elijah point to Jesus as the fulfillment of the law and the prophets as the true Israel (Son of God).

Matthew 4

Three verses, different ones than normal, jumped out at me.
Matthew 4:1 - Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.
Matthew 4:12 - When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee
Matthew 4:17 - From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."

Matthew 4 is the classic temptation text where Jesus responds to Satan's three tests. Jesus' use of Scripture, references to Deuteronomy 8:3, 6:16, and 6:13, to combat the devil's temptation is well documented and I won't take time to analyze it here. The one detail that I have overlooked in the past is that all three of Jesus' uses of Scripture are from Deuteronomy, the great book of the Law.

The three short descriptions of Jesus' movements and actions caught my attention this time. These descriptions point to Jesus as the fulfillment of the law and the prophets as the true Israel. Jesus is the tried and true Son of God who is capable to be a blessing and light to all peoples, first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles.

Jesus is led into the desert by the Spirit to be tested. Unlike Moses who disobeyed God by striking the rock to produce water (Numbers 20:9-13), Jesus obeyed God by not giving in to Satan. Furthermore, Jesus refers to Deuteronomy, the great book of the law, for his responses. Moses' disobedience and the grumbling of the hungry, thirsty, and tired Israelites kept them in the desert 40 years. Jesus was done in 40 days.

The next two narrative descriptions that I mentioned above show the beginning of how Jesus fulfilled the prophets. John came before Jesus preaching, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Matthew 3:2). Jesus, up to this point, had not preached. He had only been baptized. Jesus returns to Galilee when John is put in prison and he began to preach the same message (exact same words in Matthew 4:17). Jesus takes over and fulfills the ministry of John.

Jesus points out that John's ministry was Elijah coming first in Matthew 17:10-13. Elijah was a great prophet. In taking over John's ministry, Jesus is fulfilling the ministry of Elijah whose call was to call people back to the one true God, Yahweh.

Jesus said that he did not come to abolish the law and the prophets but that he came to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17). Jesus' 40 days and 40 nights of obedience and Jesus' preaching of John's message reveal Jesus as the fulfillment of the ministry of Moses as law and Elijah as prophet. Later on, Jesus is revealed in the transfiguration with Moses and Elijah in his presence (Matthew 17:1-9). Matthew 4 continues to build the case that Jesus is th true Israel by showing him as the true Moses (law) and true Elijah (prophet) as the fulfillment of the law and prophets as the true Israel (Son of God).

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The wisest man in Athens...

Socrates realized something that every person should consider...

I have been reading a book written by a former Princeton Seminary professor Diogenes Allen titled Philosophy for Understanding Theology. The book provides a very helpful descriptions of specific examples of philosophy that have informed theology throughout church history. I have always avoided philosophy but I have come to the realization that the study of philosophy opens doors of interpretation of the Bible, especially the letters of the Apostle Paul.

In the second chapter, Allen describes how the oracle of Delphi ( had said that Socrates was the wisest man in Athens. Socrates did not believe this assertion until he started to question his fellow citizens concerning the nature of virtue. The answers included contradictions and Socrates determineded that they did not know. Socrates concluded that the oracle of Delphi was correct.

Allen describes his conclusion as "he was the wisest man in Athens, for he knew that he knew nothing, whereas his fellow citizens thought that they knew but they did not." (Philosophy for Understanding Theology, 40)

In many ways, I feel like this provides a window into my first year at Princeton Seminary. I am not saying that I am the wisest man in Princeton but I am saying that I feel like I interact with individuals every day who think that they know but they do not. I am one of many who does not know. I do not know theology. I cannot even begin to say that I have "figured it out."

I constantly see how individuals here put on a facade that they are figuring it out when they are just as confused as everyone else. The reality is that most individuals talk past each other without truly interacting. Individuals are in their own silo of thinking because they are scared to appear stupid. The reality is that we are all theological adolescents who have cracking voices when we share our ideas that are far from being finalized.

My sense is that we would learn a lot more from each other and from the individuals teaching us if we were as humble as Socrates and admitted what he admitted. I am not sure what will happen during my second year but I definitely will be looking for others who admit that they do not have it all figured out. From there, we can then more humbly share what we are learning together as opposed to trying to figure it out all by ourselves.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Positive competition?

Is there ever anything positive about competition?

I participate in a wide variety of competitions and I still do not have a final answer to this question. Trash talking is a key component to any male friendship. I often enjoy poking fun at friends and they do not withhold their vitriolic responses. My earliest memories of talking trash go back to my elementary school days when I used to fight off Yankee fans all the time (shhh... I am a Mets fan). I once started a massive food fight in school due to my inability to control my emotions about a comment regarding the inferiority of the Mets!

I have supposedly grown up but now I have the pleasure of owning my own baseball team in the form of a fantasy baseball team. In fact, I own two teams in different leagues. I have been a part of one league for over 7 years and the rivalries are fierce. I haven't won a league championship and, in fact, I haven't come close. The pride of each individual member of the league is very evident in the message board posts and other conversations surrounding the league.

This past week I boiled over when I discovered over 30 messages in my email account that related to the league. A majority of the messages pointed out that I was an obvious favorite to LOSE. The messages included an in-depth analysis of the points and match-ups in the league. The time and energy spent on generating that analysis was significant. My initial thought was, "How can these guys spend THAT much time crunching data to come to these conclusions?"

I reflected on how I used to work at as a software developer and I would have tons of time every day to do the same analysis. Even moreso, I thought about how I used to be paid a lot of money for doing that. I decided to let my fantasy league "friends" know what I thought about the fact that they are getting paid to do a bunch of nothing! I posted a statement that made sure to let them know what I thought about their analysis.

I haven't talked to any of the league members in days...

Is there anything positive about competition?
Should competition lead to broken friendships?
Does competition feed the fire of pride as opposed to putting it to death?
Does competition have any place in the Christian life?

My initial, knee-jerk response is "NO!" Get rid of competition! Remove yourself from all forms of it. If pride is fed by something, then cut it out of your life!

Is this the mature Christian response? Christians are called to maturity and my interpretation of that reality is a life that is not run by simple rules with the expectation that rule-abiding is the solution or the end game. The God of Christianity is the one who initiated relationship with humanity through the calling of the people Israel and then the incarnation in Jesus Christ and the gift of adoption into the family of God in Christ. Simple rules are for toddlers who need to be shown how to live the basics of life and how to respect authority. Simple rules do not apply to complex situations if the person is solely looking to follow the rule "just because" as opposed to living out the true spirit of the rule or guideline. A mature person lives according to wisdom based on the given guidelines and life experiences. The Bible is the source of the guidelines as well as examples of individuals who have made mature and immature decisions.

How does this relate to fantasy baseball and competition? My response now is that competition can be positive if it keeps friends connected through a means that draws them together. I wouldn't be in close contact with 6-7 friends in Virginia (some going back to my days at UVa) if I wasn't in the league. Competition is negative if I let the results (my losing) control me and my interactions with my friends. Again, I cite the example that I haven't spoken with my friends in days. Each person needs to determine how to live in the tension of competition and friendship.

The apostle Paul addresses the mature Christians approach to gray areas like competition when he writes in 1 Corinthians 6:12 "Everything is permissible for me" - but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible to me" - but I will not be mastered by anything.

Go and decide if competition is positive for you?

I would love to hear a feminine perspective on this subject. Competition comes in many forms.

Friday, August 19, 2005


A friend of mine who blogs at pointed me to what he describes as a pseudo-psychology test that matches you with a leader. The test is located at

I took the full 45 question test and I was matched up with JFK...

The result was very disturbing to me not because it was JFK but because of the side description. I do not put a lot of stock in pseudo-psychological tests but this one definitely has made me think...

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

A True Moment

I have a problem focusing in on the present moment. My mind is often focused on other ideas or plans. I constantly have to resist my tendency to think ahead. The result of this habit is I often am not 100% engaged with the individuals who are right in front of me or the task that I am doing. A break-through moment comes every so often and I have a moment of true clarity and sensitivity of the present.

I had a moment like that last night.

I am currently helping with a small, weekly worship gathering at the seminary ( Each week 20-30 individuals gather near where I live to have a cook-out and a time of prayer and worship. My good friend Alec is the key leader and I am helping with the prayer/worship time.

The focus of this past week's gathering is summarized in Psalm 119:37 which says "Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; give me life in your ways." The prayers, the songs, and the sharing all centered on the action of turning away from anything that gets in the way of us and the Lord.

One of my favorite worship songs is "Give Us Clean Hands" by Charlie Hall. The words are as follows:

We bow our hearts
We bend our knees
Oh Spirit come make us humble
We turn our eyes from evil things
And Oh Lord we cast out our idols

So give us clean hands Give us pure hearts
Let us not lift our souls to another

Oh God let us be a generation that seeks
That seeks your face Oh God of Jacob

This song was the final song in the worship set. Lifting up that song with the group renewed my focus on what is real.

Almost everybody stayed around for 30 minutes or so after the prayer and worship time. I heard laughing. I heard individuals introducing themselves to strangers. I heard strangers become new friends. I heard stories being told. I experienced community. I was not thinking ahead. I was living in the present. I definitely had a true moment.

Breaking bread (or burgers), dedication to the teachings in the Bible, prayer... sound familiar?

Friday, August 05, 2005

pornography makes the transition

what is it about after-school special shows that draws individuals in and doesn't let them go?

i have heard from many how they turn on an after school special on ABC and they can't turn them off. many normally have to do with a person or family who is dealing with a substance abuse issue or a relational abuse problem.

a friend recently shared an observation that pornography was the issue of the day for an after school special on TV. in particular, he noticed how the portrayal of the dad's use of pornography and the resulting marital and overall familial problems was scarily similar to other after-school specials that focused on other addictions.

what does this say about the impact of pornography on the family? in addition, does this show that 'society' is starting to see the negative effects of pornography as it plays out more and more like an addiction instead of a "personal choice" that doesn't hurt anybody?

what does "personal" mean anyway? especially in this example...

Monday, August 01, 2005

open to interruptions?

i heard a description of a servant this weekend that caught my attention. a person described a person who serves as someone who is able to be interrupted.

i have heard this aspect of serving used before but that didn't take away the weight of truth i encountered in the statement. i realized again how much i do not like to be interrupted when i have my plans set. in fact, i get very annoyed when something comes up.

an interruption to my plans just occurred and i already know that i need to be willing to be interrupted in order to truly serve the person who needs my help...