“Be still and know” is no call to contemplation!

Any student of church history or hymnody knows the lengths to which Martin Luther enjoyed Psalm 46.  After all, one of the stalwarts of any hymnbook is his masterful hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” which was based off of Psalm 46.  I have been fortunate to have been a part of some fantastic renditions of the hymn, and utterly blessed to have sung a modern setting of the psalm at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia.  Of all the words and phrases to be studied, meditated upon, and breathed in, my attention usually is drawn at some point to the phrase the NASB translates “cease striving, and know that I am God.”

It’s commonly quoted in the manner the KJV initiated: “Be still, and know that I am God.”  (See also ESV, NIV, NLT.)  In a similar vein as the NASB, the HCSB translates it as “stop your fighting.”  This is a pretty big difference in translation, which leads to a pretty big distinction in interpretation!  On the one hand (KJV, et al), we have a call to contemplative meditation on the sovereignty of God.

But NASB and HCSB give us a much different picture!  Think of it in context:

  • v. 2 – the earth changing, the mountains slipping into the sea
  • v. 3 – the waters roaring and foaming the mountains quaking
  • v. 6 – the nations uproaring, kingdoms tottering, the earth melting

Yet, the city of God will not be moved (v. 5).  Yahweh of Hosts is with them, and the God of Jacob is their stronghold (v. 7)!  In His time, He brings about utter destruction of all Israel’s enemies when He makes wars to cease, rendering bows and spears and chariots ineffective to their designed end.  (Sidenote: How great would it be to see this applied in our constant state of war?)

With all the commotion going on in Psalm 46, is this the time for a faint whisper in our ear, encouraging us to sit down quietly and ponder?  No!  Anything but!  The call to cease striving and be still is the command of a King standing to reclaim what is His, slamming His scepter on the ground with authority, and issuing one loud decree: That’s enough!  I. am. God.  I am the high and exalted One!  It is time for them to know and understand this!

I wonder if there is any correlation between this concept and what we find in Mark 4 when Jesus calms the storm with just one word.  The Greek word is phimoo, and it means “to muzzle, silence.”  With the sea in tumult, and the disciples fearing, Jesus speaks but one word (two in English):  Be still.  Or, to use the vernacular: Shut up!  (Although we were never allowed to say such a word growing up, and I still don’t care for it.)  And just like that, the storm subsides.

Turns out I’m not alone in this interpretation.  James Montgomery Boice writes:

[I]n this setting, “be still and know that I am God” is not advice to us to lead a contemplative life, however important that may be. It means rather, “Lay down your arms.  Surrender, and acknowledge that I am the one and only victorious God.”  No one can hope to resist Him.  (Psalms, Volume 2, p. 392)

How awesome of a picture does this paint in your mind?!  God will not tarry forever.  When He returns to “restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6), He will not do so as He came the first time — meek and mild, as a babe.  He will come riding on a white horse, ready to lay waste to all who have not believed in Him (Rev 19:11-21).  Now there is something to meditate on!


on circumcision…

Disclaimer #1 — Yes, this is a post on circumcision.  Yes, I will be talking about the penis.

Disclaimer #2 — This is in no way a response or critique of those that have decided to have their sons circumcised.  It is a personal decision that is deserving of mutual respect and annihilation of ignorance.

When you find out that you’re going to be a father, you realize that there are a myriad of decisions that need to be made, some major, some incidental.  I already posted on one of those decisions — vaccines.  Laura and I also mutually decided that we would want to homeschool, even though I had never, ever, thought I would want to, having been a product of an excellent public school education.  On January 19, 2011, when we found out that we would be having a son, another decision we had to make was whether or not to have him circumcised.

At first, Laura wasn’t sure why I would want to leave him intact; after all, it has become the “norm” to have boys circumcised.  We discussed it, I researched it, and sure enough, one of the first questions the nurse asked (even before Laura was out of recovery) was whether or not he’d be circumcised.  And I said “no.”  Over the next few days, as people visited, some even asked, “Has he been circumcised yet?”  Or, “When does he get circumcised?”  One curious friend (one of my best, I might add) called a few weeks before and bluntly asked, “Tell me you’re gonna have him circumcised, right?”

It was at that point that I laid out my reasoning to him why, in fact, we would leave him intact.  For those of you that are curious yourself, or have already given Laura an earful, or think that I’m crazy, I’d like to give you my thoughts on the matter, arguing from the perspective of the reasons people give for circumcising.

First, the argument from religion: “God commands it.”  Actually, no.  In the beginning, God created man with a foreskin.  It was a part of His original design.  It wasn’t until Gen 17:9-14 that God commands Abraham and his male descendants to be circumcised as sign of the covenant between Himself and Abraham.  Circumcision was there to remind the nation of Israel that if they do not follow God’s Law, they will be cut off from the blessings of God’s people just as their foreskin was cut off.  Talk about a vivid illustration!  Today, ever since the death of the Son and the giving of the Spirit, Israel is no longer God’s premier entity on Earth, the Church is.  The Church does not have the same relationship to God as Israel did, nor do we have the same set of rules — which includes circumcision.  In fact, Paul goes to great, extensive lengths to deny the necessity of circumcision (1 Cor 7:18-19; Gal 2:3-5).  Now Paul talks about the inward circumcision of the heart (Rom 2:29).  Paul goes toe to toe with Peter in Acts 15 to discuss the matter, an argument Paul ends up winning.  To say that we should be circumcising today based upon the Bible is, quite frankly, to be ignorant of Scripture.

Second, the argument for hygiene:  “Do you know how dirty the foreskin is?”  I’d imagine that it does indeed get dirty.  So does the circumcised penis.  Do we cut our ears off because they get crusty behind them?  Do we pull out our teeth because they have many cracks and crevices for bacteria to grow?  No!  We wash behind our ears.  We floss and brush our teeth.  Regardless of whether a guy is intact or circumcised, they are going to have to clean their penis.  Either way, if it is not regularly washed, it’s going to smell, just like every other body part.  I think a better case can be made that it is more hygienic to be intact.  The foreskin is meant to protect the glans and, for the first ten years (on average), is fused to it.  Parents don’t have to worry about feces getting in contact with the glans as circumcised boys do.

I’ve also been told horror stories by friends who had other friends whose mothers would forcibly retract their foreskin and scrub it so hard it hurt.  But how is this an argument against circumcision?  Let me be clear: I have no plans of ever retracting my son’s foreskin.  He will be the first one to do so, and he will be the only one to do so.  I will instruct him as to proper care, just as we will with brushing his teeth, washing between his toes, and wiping his butt after he goes to the bathroom.  There is no hygienic difference.*  In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics has come out and said there is absolutely no medical reason to circumcise.  (Although they still see no problem with injecting our babies with toxic and animal products.)

Third, the argument from societal pressure:  “Don’t you want him to look like every other boy/you?”  Actually, the rate of leaving boys intact in the United States has risen dramatically the past two decades.  We’re one of the few countries in the world that still has a high circumcision rate.  In addition, I don’t know how often my son will see other men’s penises.  I would hope it would not be a regular occurrence that other men are noticing, especially since we’ll be homeschooling (let alone kids haven’t showered after gym class for decades now).  I plan on educating my son that it’s nothing to be ashamed of; indeed, he’s the way God originally created man.  If anything, it’s up to other men to teach their sons that there is nothing wrong with their friend who still has his foreskin, and to not perpetuate the ignorance that they themselves have.

Fourth, the argument from its resurgence in America.  When the pediatrician came to the hospital to examine Daniel, he had asked us about circumcision, as well.  When we told him that we were going to leave him intact, he breathed a sigh of relief and said, “Oh good.  The whole reason why it became popular in America, anyway, was to curb masturbation.”  I got a good chuckle out of that one.  Not to be crass, but ask any circumcised guy if it curbed his desire to masturbate.  Between that and his support of our vaccine decision, we would have so gone to Dr. O’Croinin with the Pediatric Group if Kaiser accepted them.  We loved Dr. O’Croinin.

Fifth, it’s not my body.  I will not make that decision for my son.  Yes, by the time he is old enough to make that decision, the procedure would be far more painful and recovery time far longer.  But it’s not my decision.  I’ve had friends that have had their sons circumcised, but they couldn’t bear to watch the procedure.  For me, if I can’t watch a medically unnecessary procedure because of the empathetic pain, perhaps it isn’t necessary.

Dr. Sears has an EXCELLENT little blog on the matter.  Some are the same reasons I gave here.  You can find it here.  If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask me and we can talk about it.  It was ultimately my decision, as Laura deferred to my judgment on the matter since I’m the father.  I’m not on a crusade to convince fathers otherwise, but to shed light on the issue so that we aren’t circumcising our sons “just because.”

*Perhaps the case could be made that God commanded it because it was hygienic — that it was part of the laws of cleanliness, and not part of the ceremonial law.  The Bible does not say either way, but I felt it worth noting so that the charge could not be leveled against me that I didn’t take that under consideration.  I did.  Thanks.

on Bible versions…

In November, a new magazine began publication: “Bible Study Magazine,” which I’d imagine it has been underwritten by Logos, as every article is a shameless plug for the software.  Anyway, there was a whole stack of them at WBC today.  I wasn’t going to pick one up until I saw there was an article by Dan Wallace entitled “Choosing a Bible Translation.”  I eagerly checked it out and read it.  And I was greatly disappointed.

Concerning the KJV/NKJV, he writes: “Lest anyone wishes to revere it because it was ‘good enough for Jesus,’ or some such nonsense, we must remember that the KJV of today is not the KJV of 1611.  It has undergone three revisions, incorporating more than 100,000 changes.  Even with all these changes, much of the evidence from new manuscript discoveries has not been incorporated.  The KJV was translated from later manuscripts that are less accurate to the original text of the Bible.”

I am not a KJV/NKJV guy because it’s the KJV/NKJV.  I like the translation because it is the only one based upon the truer text of the NT, a text which Wallace believes is less accurate.  Read his last statement: “The KJV was translated from later manuscripts that are less accurate to the original text of the Bible.”  You could simply reword it to show how subjective this claim is: “The KJV was translated from the vast majority of agreeing manuscripts that better attest to the original text of the Bible” (a statement I heartily agree with).

That being said, if there were another available translation that used the overwhelming majority of Greek texts, I would probably prefer that one.  The NKJV only updated the language of the KJV, and only changed content where it blatantly needed changing.  So, yeh.  I hope to translate the NT at some point using the Majority Text.

The other translation that he pointed out that I wanted to mention is the NET Bible: “The NET Bible was published in 2005.  The NET has all the earmarks of a great translation.  At times, it is more accurate than the NASB, more readable than the NIV, and more elegant than either.  It is clear and eloquent, while maintaining the meaning of the original.  In addition, the notes are a genuine gold mine of information…”  Well, that’s all well and good until you realize two things.  First off, the NET Bible is basically the Bible translated by the faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary, of which Wallace is a part.  Second, this translation was done by individuals, not a committee, as every other translation is.  This leads to ZERO oversight, and ZERO consistency between books.

Wallace recommends that every English-speaking believer own three translations: the RSV, NIV, and NET.

So, where do we go from here?  In translating, there is a tension that must be dealt with: do we go word for word aiming for accuracy, or do we go for meaning aiming for clarity?  Translations such as KJV, NKJV, and NASB go for the former, while the NIV and NLT go for the latter.  Some, such as the HCSB, are more balanced.  I would recommend three versions, as well; but contrary to Wallace, they would be: the NKJV, NASB, and HCSB.

NKJV – This is the best translation available using the most accurate Greek texts, but it still leaves a lot to be desired as it depends too much on the KJV.

NASB – Even though it is “wooden,” it is simply the most accurate, and is probably the best one to do serious study from (until a new Majority Text Bible is translated, in which case the NKJV and NASB can both be scratched).

HCSB – This ten-year-old version is the product of the Southern Baptist’s desire to own a Bible translation that they don’t need to pay royalties for.  It strikes a good balance between word-for-word and thought-for-thought.  It is decidedly better than the NIV (I really loathe the NIV, in case you can’t tell – read The NIV Reconsidered by Zane Hodges to better understand why).  Though, to be fair, just as Wallace is biased of the NET, so also am I of the HCSB.  One of my Greek professors served as translator and editor of the NT (and translator of the OT), while one of my Hebrew professors served as translator and editor of the OT.

If you don’t know Greek, Hebrew, and Aramic, it is good to consult several translations in your studies.  Now you know my two cents.

be careful what you ask for!

I apologize to all two or three of you about the dearth of James the past couple days.  A segment of my thesis was due today, and I’ve been working on that.  Regular programming will resume soon!  But for now, a little election day story.

Over three thousand years ago, Israel began to exist as a nation.  They weren’t like any other nation before that time — not only did God called them out to be His nation, but He wanted to rule over them directly without any mediator.  This did not bode well for the Israelites.  They looked around to every other country and noticed that they lacked a ruler.  Every other country had some tangible person they could go to in order to receive instructions and laws; they did not.  Instead of doing things God’s way, instead of letting the government in place do what it was suppose to do, they asked for a king.  They wanted someone who would judge them, plead their case, and fight their battles (1 Sam 8:19-20).  And God said, “You want a king?  Alright…”

Enter Saul.  By the way, Saul’s name means “the one asked for.”  What is so striking about Saul is the fact that he was an awful king.  He started battles with neighboring countries, he made hasty oaths that adversely affected his people, and he didn’t know when to step down when a new king was appointed.  Israel eventually came to loathe Saul — he drafted their young at an early age, he was an angry bitter man, and he just did not make the good decisions because he (and all of Israel) did not have their eyes set on God.  During this whole debacle of Saul’s awful reign, I can picture the people of Israel pleading with God to fix the situation.  In response, I can picture God shrugging His shoulders and saying, “What do you want Me to do?  You wanted to be like every other nation.  You wanted to have a king.  Well, you asked for him, and you got him!”

Now, lest some of you think that I am equating America with God’s chosen nation here on earth, it couldn’t be further from the truth.  What I’m saying is, today, as well as every other day, we need to be careful what we wish for.  We don’t know what is best for ourselves, but thankfully we know Who we can trust who happens to know just that.  So, whether you are voting for the lesser of two evils today, or you are actually voting your conscience on a third party candidate who actually cares about public service, (1) think about who you are casting your vote for, (2) remember you get what you ask for, (3) God is totally capable of stuffing the ballot box, and (4) in the end, what does it all matter anyway?  In the utter grand scheme of things, it’s not going to matter what America does from January 2009 to January 2013, just like no one is still around writing dissertations on the effects of Saul’s reign on trade in 21st century America.  It will matter that you have to stand before God and answer for everything that you do!

Be careful what you ask for!

proverbs 10

Well, I guess it’s been a while since I’ve done a non-musical post.  And, while I’m disappointed in the Grammys, I’m just going to pretend that they never happened…

Last night in dorm meeting, I looked at Prov 10:12 with my guys, but there is a lot more hidden here than just that verse…

Ill-gotten gains do not profit,
But righteousness delivers from death.
YHWH will not allow the righteous to hunger,
But He will reject the craving of the wicked.
The memory of the righteous is blessed,
But the name of the wicked will rot
The fear of YHWH prolongs life,
But the years of the wicked will be shortened.
The righteous will never be shaken,
But the wicked will not dwell in the land. 
(vv. 2-3, 7, 27, 30)

It always amazes me how often I tell myself that I can do it on my own.  I tell myself that I don’t need God’s wisdom, that I can go it on my own.  And when I do go it on my own, I find that I advance through these “ill-gotten” means.  I will demean, I will lie, I will rationalize, I will criticize myself, I will do whatever it takes, and what good does that do?  Not only do I end up doing more harm than good with which to begin, the Bible is saying that these gains ultimately bring about my demise.

In the past month or so, I’ve found the joy of daily asking God for wisdom, sometimes more than once a day.  Wisdom in many areas whether it is regarding the tests of relationships (platonic or otherwise), self-image, wondering what’s in my future, or why my past the way it was (anything from why I was a music major to past failures).  I can tell you, asking God for wisdom and discernment with these things has just been so comforting to me.  This seeking after righteousness has delivered me from death, and is causing me not to hunger.  While this is spiritual application, I truly believe that there may be some physical correspondence as well.

The other theme in this proverb on which I’d like to touch is that of our speech:

Hatred stirs up strife,
But love covers all transgressions.
On the lips of the discerning, wisdom is found,
But a rod is for the back of him who lacks understanding.
He who conceals hatred has lying lips,
And he who spreads slander is a fool.
When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable,
But he who restrains his lips is wise.
The tongue of the righteous is as choice silver,
The heart of the wicked is worth little.
  (vv. 12-13, 18-20)

One of the things that I’m trying to focus on this semester with the guys is “being the better man.”  Our culture has put out many books on how to be a better man, but I want to look at how to be the better man.  When someone wrongs me, how do I respond?  Do I respond in kind, or do I respond with kindness?  Do I hold animosity towards them, or do I let it go.  Is it any wonder that the author is pointing out our tongue and our speech as the gateway to wisdom and foolishness?  Holding back has never been a forte of mine, and I still have to make the conscious effort to remain silent when I am being wronged, or see someone else being wronged.

The righteous will never be shaken,
But the wicked will not dwell in the land.
  (v. 30)

proverbs 9

The disillusionment that I face never ceases to amaze me.  I’m either above and beyond certain that I am doing what God is calling me to do, or I’m so discouraged by life that I wonder what I’ll really end up doing come June 2009.  There are so many “variables” (in quotes as there are no variables with God) that I’m uncertain about.  I so very much lack the wisdom to have the proper understanding that everything is under control and I don’t need to worry.  But, am I on the right path?  James tells us that if lack wisdom, that all we need to do is ask, and that God will give to us without reviling.

I’ve always liked this phrase, “without reviling,” ever since I studied the book of James indepth over the summer.  God doesn’t expect us to have wisdom apart from Him.  When we ask for it, He isn’t shaking His head wondering why we fail to grasp it on our own once more.  He doesn’t get angry.  He gives it freely.  He wants us to pursue the wise path.

Wisdom is personified in Proverbs 9:

Wisdom has built her house,
She has hewn out her seven pillars…
She has sent out her maidens, she calls
From the tops of the heights of the city:
“Whoever is naive, let him turn in here!”
To him who lacks understanding she says,
“Come, eat of my food
And drink of the wine I have mixed.
Forsake your folly and live,
And proceed in the way of understanding.”
  (vv. 1, 3-6)

She’s there, and she is waiting for us.  But she’s not the only one:

The woman of folly is boisterous,
She is naive and knows nothing.
She sits at the doorway of her house…
Calling to those who pass by,
Who are making their paths straight:
“Whoever is naive, let him turn in here.”
  (vv. 13-16)

This woman is on our case, too.  In fact, she is specifically calling to those who are trying to make their paths straight.  And she is using Wisdom’s line:  “Whoever is naive, let him turn in here.”  No wonder I so oft get confused as to what to do with my life and which direction to turn.  I need to ask God for wisdom far more often, and then rely on that wisdom to govern my steps.  It’s far too complicated otherwise.

May God give us all the wisdom to realize when we are headed to the right house and not pay attention to the folly of falling off of the path.


Off topic, but in the chapter…  God grant me the grace to be more like the latter:

Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you,
Reprove a wise man and he will love you.
Give instruction to a wise man and he will be still wiser,
Teach a righteous man and he will increase his learning.
  (vv. 8-9)

proverbs 8

One would think that since I’m back at school it’d be easier to post on a daily basis.  Oh well.  It’s only the 18th and I’m only up to Prov 8.  So much for one a day =)

This chapter personifies wisdom to the point of being present in the creation of the world.  What strikes me is vv. 22-23:

YHWH possessed me at the beginning of His way,
Before His works of old.
From everlasting I was established,
From the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth

Wisdom is not some fad that changes with time.  The concept that the word stands for is not something that fluctuates, or something is intimidated.  So often in our culture, what we view as acceptable and wise decisions do not necessarily have to be true for everyone.  Although we may not agree with someone, we say that we respect their view, their decision.  We put up with falsehoods for the greater “good” of loving one another.  Wisdom isn’t like that, though.  It is what it is.

And it is what God is.  YHWH has always possessed this absolute truth which is wisdom.  I’d go so far as to say that God is the only place where wisdom can be found.  To find wisdom, we need to search for what God considers wisdom.  Is this something that I do daily?  In reading through Proverbs, I’ve been convicted with a good many things.  I think it’s one of those books that is continually applicable, and everytime I read it, something new will pop out depending on what is transpiring in my life at any given time.

Blessed is the man who listens to me,
Watching daily at my gates,
Waiting at my doorposts.
For he who finds me finds life
And obtains favor from YHWH.
But he who sins against me injures himself;
All those who hate me love death
.  (vv. 34-36)

Pretty straightforward warning there.

In closing, I just had to post this.  Despite being a little scratchy on one of those Ds near the end, this is just one evidence why Kelly Clarkson is one of the finest female singers currently active.  If you’re gonna go for those big notes, you’re gonna hit a wall every now and then.