On holiday, a couple of weeks back, I indulged in a little light reading – Martin Hengel’s short study entitled Crucifixion. It’s only 90 pages and he makes lots of brilliant insights about the ways in which crucifixion was viewed in ancient societies. He certainly helps to show why the cross would have been a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles (1 Cor 1:23). Here’s an interesting possibility he suggests which adds weight to the former; next time I’ll give you one of his observations which supports the latter.
Hengel demonstrates from ancient sources that crucifixion was not invented by the Romans but used by societies long before. Most notably Herodotus cites numerous examples of crucifixion as a form of execution among Persians. For example Darius has 3000 Babylonians crucified (Herodotus, Hist. 3.159). This got me wondering. Could it be that Haman was not impaled or hung in Esther 7:9, but rather crucified. I went and checked the Hebrew which reads (apologies for the transliteration) hinneh-ha-es aser-assah (behold the tree which he made) . . . teluhu alayw (hang him upon it).
Is it just possible that Haman was actually crucified, rather than hung or impaled? It would certainly give further evidence that only the cursed are hung on the tree.
I was preaching yesterday from a tricky little passage – 1 Pet 3:1-7, which begins with “Wives, in the same way, submit to your husbands.” A mate of mine preached that passage recently and managed to make national news – he was pilloried as being a medieval misogynist (unfairly btw). As I tried to explain what leadership and submission looks like in a marriage relationship I used the analogy of ballroom dancing – beautiful dancing is achieved when there is a gentle but firm lead, and a sensitive and responsive follow. After I’d preached a good friend reminded me of C.S.Lewis’ usage of ‘dance’ to illustrate the intra-Trinitarian relationship – ontological equality with functional subordination brought together in the most beautiful dance. The marriage relationship, to some degree, mirrors the relationship of the Trinity. Submission and leadership, far from being abusive, is about serving and bringing out the best in your partner. So men, take your partners, and dance.
The Thomas Kilmann model of conflict is helpful in demonstrating that good teams need people who are focused both on their individual task and the greater good of the team. Leaders don’t need to be “Yes” men – in fact having yes men just means they accede to your every request, which in turn means your overall team is only as good as you. I think many church teams end up competing, compromising, avoiding, or accommodating. Collaboration is the goal. For that to happen you need team players who will assert themselves.
Last week I read (in just over 24 hours) Doug Wilson’s book Wordsmithy which was thoroughly enjoyable. It had some great tips for writers and speakers, and because Wilson himself is an excellent writer it was simply a joy to read. Here are some of my favourite bits:
- Interested people are interesting people – read what you enjoy
- Read until your brain creaks
- Read voraciously, widely, like a reader (not like someone cramming for a test)
- Read like a lover of books (not like someone who wants to be seen as a lover of books)
- Pace yourself (little and often; don’t be afraid of having 20 books on the go at one time)
- Practice – the quality of what you produce will be directly proportional to how much you are willing to throw away
- Listen to critics; don’t be afraid to suck for a while
- Keep a note-book for writing down memorable phrases or quotes
I enjoyed it so much I’ve immediately passed it to a friend to read. I reckon any writer or preacher would benefit from reading this excellent little work. Keep ’em coming Doug.
Yesterday morning one of our church leaders, David Bartlett, spoke powerfully from the end of Mark 1 about Jesus’ compassion on the sick. As a local GP he mentioned the stack of purple forms that sits in his desk drawer. These forms are know as DNAR forms – DNAR standing for Do Not Attempt Resuscitation. These forms are filled out for those patients for whom resuscitation in the event of collapse would not be a beneficial course of action. Often they are very ill, frail, or have a terminal condition. These forms are always filled out with the patient (or their advocate) and are inevitably accompanied by solemnity and painful emotion. Sadly, and much to human frustration, sometimes their is simply nothing more we can do.
But here’s the amazing thing – Jesus has no DNAR forms sat on his desk. There are no futile or hopeless cases. There are no people so sick that Jesus cannot heal. There are no people who Jesus looks at and says, “There’s nothing more I can do.” There are no people whom Jesus does not consider worthy of the effort. His sacrificial death on the cross can bring new full real true magnificent eternal life for all who will come to his clinic. Sola Dei Gloria!
Here is a link to a BBC news story today reporting the banning of prayers at a town council meeting in Bideford, Devon.
The essence of the discussion seems to go something like this:
Plaintiff: I don’t like the council praying – it impinges on my absolute right to freedom from religion
Defendant: We quite like praying – it’s part of our absolute right to exercise our religious freedom
Judge: Council – you may not exercise your freedom because it impinges on his freedom
Defendant: But what about our freedom?
Judge: There’s more of you – it’s not fair
Defendant: But suppose there are now more of those who want to exercise their absolute right to freedom from religion – we’re now in a minority of folks who aren’t allowed to exercise our absolute right to religious freedom. Their absolute right to freedom from religion is impinging our absolute right to religious freedom.
Just finished Don Carson’s excellent biography of his father, Memoirs of An Ordinary Pastor. Here’s a moving quote from the end of the book:
Tom Carson never rose very far in denominational structures, but hundreds of people in the Outaouais and beyond testify how much he loved them. He never wrote a book, but he loved the Book. He was never wealthy or powerful, but he kept growing as a Christian: yesterday’s grace was never enough. He was not a far-sighted visionary, but he looked forward to eternity. He was not a gifted administrator, but there is no text that says, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you are good administrators.” His journals have many, many entries bathed in tears of contrition, but his children and grandchildren remember his laughter. Only rarely did he break through his pattern of reserve and speak deeply and intimately with his children, but he modelled Christian virtues to them. He much preferred to avoid controversy than to stir things up, but his own commitments to historic confessionalism were unyielding, and in ethics he was a man of principle. His own ecclesiastical circles were rather small and narrow, but his reading was correspondingly large and expansive. He was not very good at putting people down, except on his prayer lists. When he died, there were no crowds outside the hospital, no editorial comments in the papers, no announcements on television, no mention in Parliament, no attention paid by the nation. In his hospital room there was no one by his bedside. There was only the quiet hiss of oxygen, vainly venting because he had stopped breathing and would never need it again.
But on the other side all the trumpets sounded. Dad won entrance to the only throne room that matters, not because he was a good man or a great man—he was, after all, a most ordinary pastor—but because he was a forgiven man. And he heard the voice of him whom he longed to hear saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Lord.
May we all be that ‘ordinary’.