Thursday, March 26, 2009

Freedom and Forgiveness

At the risk of a little heresy, I want to suggest that the cross of Jesus has more to do with freedom than with forgiveness. Bear with me for a second while I try my best to explain.

Jesus came announcing that the Kingdom of God was at hand, i.e. that God had forgiven Israel of her sins and that he was returning to be her King and her God. Furthermore, this forgiveness was not just for Israel and her sins but for the sins of the whole world. This forgiveness was a precursor to coming of the Kingdom, not a result of its coming. Every Jew of Jesus’ day knew that the Exile would not, could not ever end until God decided to forgive Israel of the unfaithfulness that led to the Exile in the first place. Once God had decided to forgive, he would return to Israel, restore his people, and establish (or re-establish to be more exact) his kingdom.

So when Jesus came proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was “at hand,” he was saying that all the above had occurred: God had forgiven them of their sins, he was now beginning the process of restoring his people and returning to Jerusalem. That’s why Jesus ate with tax collectors, prostitutes, and others classified under the general heading of “sinners.” There was no longer any need to exclude “sinners” from mainstream religious society; God had forgiven them and was restoring them to himself and his people. It’s why Jesus, when some men brought him a paralyzed man, said to him, “Your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2) Present tense, denoting current status. Not future tense: “You sins will be forgiven when I die on the cross and am raised from the dead.” Present tense. Right now, your sins are forgiven.

Similarly, when a woman who was called “a sinner” cleaned Jesus’ feet with her hair and tears and anointed them with ointment, Jesus told his Pharisee host that her sins had been forgiven (past tense), and said to her, “Your sins are forgiven,” (present tense, current status) (Luke 7:48)

God had forgiven, just like he had done so many times before. The book of Judges records a repeated pattern of sin/judgment/repentance/forgiveness. So the issue isn’t so much forgiveness as breaking the cycle. Sin had a power over humanity that seemingly couldn’t be broken. As Paul puts it, we were slaves to sin, which leads to death (Romans 6:16).

The cross was Jesus subjecting himself to the forces of sin and death—the domination systems of our world which use violence, cruelty, and torture to lead people into lifelong subjection. These domination systems—in Jesus’ day the Roman Empire, Herod’s complicity with the Romans, and the corrupt Temple cult—use the language of religion, peace, and divine rights, but are really forces of hatred, violence, and enslavement.

At the cross, Jesus exposed these forces for who they really are, and also exposed their impotence in the face of a loving, merciful, and forgiving Father. The cross defeated the forces of sin, and the resurrection defeated the forces of death. In their defeat, we became free. Forgiven, yes, but not just forgiven from sin, but freed from the power of sin and death. Once again, as Paul puts it, “But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” (Romans 6:17-18)

We sin still, and God forgives us, but the cross broke the power that sin and death had over us. To paraphrase author/speaker Shane Claiborne, Jesus didn’t come so much to make bad people good as to make dead people alive.

To make dead people alive. That is the power of the cross.

© 2009 by Larry L. Eubanks

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Biblical Languages Pt. 2

OK, decided to translate Matthew. I had already done all of Mark, most of Romans, and all of Philippians. So, you know, start at the beginning, right?

So the difference between Hebrew and Greek: it took me about 10 minutes to translate the first verse of Joshua, "After the death of Moses the servant of Yahweh, Yahweh began to speak to Joshua son of Nun, minister to Moses, saying,"

Took thirty seconds to translate Matthew 1:1, without cracking open the lexicon: "The book of the generations of Jesus the Messiah, son of David, son of Abraham."

OK, familiar names, easy words. But this is how it is going to be. Hebrew is just different.

But I also forgot that Matthew opens up with a genealogy. No challenge there, but rather tedious. Got through six verses in 10 minutes, from Abraham to David. (Matthew starts his genealogy with Abraham, whereas Luke starts his with Adam, but that's because Matthew's gospel seeks to establish that Jesus is the true king of the Jews, the true messiah--which are two ways of saying the same thing. So he starts with Abraham, the father of the Jews, and goes through David, the father of the true kings of Israel.)

Anyway, my rate will be one Hebrew verse a day, and multiple Greek verses a day, but equal time given to each.

Working the Biblical Languages

For one of the few times since I finished school I've pulled out all my language reference books and have started translating from the original Hebrew and Greek.

The life of a pastor doesn't afford as much study time as most people think. It's enough to deal with a biblical text with an English translation. If I have questions about a translation I have enough knowledge to look it up using my Bible software, so there has been little inclination to go through the somewhat tedious process of getting out the Hebrew and Greek Bibles, looking up words in the lexicons, deciding on the proper nuances of translation, etc.

(Some might think that because both Greek and Hebrew were part of my Ph.D. studies that I would be somewhat fluent in each, but that is not the case. It takes a lot more than just four years of study to get to the point where you can sight-read two different foreign--and archaic--languages. Besides, the focus of my doctoral work, and the area in which I wrote my dissertation, was biblical literature.)

But after more than twenty years, some of the finer points of the biblical languages have become a little fuzzy, and I need to reacquaint myself with pronominal suffixes, verb declensions, and such. You know, use it or lose it.

It may seem somewhat esoteric, and I guess it somewhat is, but I always enjoyed the work of translation.

Besides, the discipline will be good for me. One verse of Hebrew and one of Greek, every day. I've started with Joshua, for no particular reason other than I've already done most of Genesis, a good bit of Exodus, don't feel like dealing with the law sections of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, and prefer to work with a narrative rather than the poetic books, which contain a lot of words that are only used once in Scripture and therefore are harder to look up.

So, Joshua it is. Haven't decided yet which NT book I'll work on. That will go faster, just because, IMHO, Greek is an easier language to translate than Hebrew, though it is also less entertaining.

So, two verses a day. Shouldn't take too much time, but it will be good for me.

(Hendrix just came on the stereo. Translating Hebrew to Hendrix ought to be interesting.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


It was 24 degrees when I got up this morning at 6:30.

The only way you can tell it's spring is by the calendar.

And that the Orioles are tied with the Red Sox, Blue Jays, and The Evil Empire for first place. (Something that only occurs in the spring.)

There's wood in the garage waiting to become Eubanks Guitars #003, but nothing can happen until the garage warms up. (And I have to paint the den. Promised Pam I would do it before I start working on another guitar.)

I hate cold weather!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Earning His Meal

Pam has a couple of bird-feeders out on the back deck. She loves looking at the doves, cardinals, finches, and other assorted birds who make their way to our back yard.

And she can't stand the squirrels. Neither can Kobi the Beagle. He goes nuts when he sees a squirrel out back. When one is on the deck trying to get to the bird seed, we'll open the patio door as quickly as possible and let Kobi have at it. Man, you should see the squirrels scamper when the beagle is on the loose.

It's great sport.

People do all kinds of things to keep squirrels out of their bird feeders. The seed is for the birds, not the squirrels.

A couple of weeks ago, on the day of the (hopefully) last snow of the year, I looked out back and there was a squirrel, hanging upside down on the bird feeder, his body contorted. My first reaction was to call Kobi, but instead I watched this guy.

I have to admit, I kind of admired him. It's not easy climbing up a metal pole on a cold day, then finding a way to grab hold of something and hanging upside down, all the while not knowing if the beagle was going to show up.

I mean, this guy had to work to get his meal.

The birds, they don't do a thing. Just land, eat, fly away. They aren't even that concerned about Kobi, and won't be until beagles learn to fly. But work for their meal? Naw.

The squirrel, he took risks and put real effort to get his seeds.

So I left him alone and let him eat in peace. I figured he had earned it.

But don't tell Pam.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Unmistakable and Irreplaceable Presence

A church can choose its reputation, or it can just let it happen.

In talking to people in the community about our church, they often say, “Oh, you’re that church up on the mountain,” or “You guys just built that new church up on the mountain.” It’s nice that we have a visible location that instantly identifies us, but is that really how we want to be known, as “that church on the mountain”? Is that what we mean by “Light Unleashed,” that we shine some lights on our steeple?

That’s been bugging me for the last few weeks, and as I’ve thought and prayed about it, two words keep coming to mind: “unmistakable” and “irreplaceable.” If Light Unleashed is to mean anything close to what Jesus meant when he said, “…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven,” it must mean that our presence in the community must be unmistakable and irreplaceable.

By “unmistakable” I obviously mean that our presence can’t be missed by the vast majority of people in the Frederick community, and I contend that in order for that to happen, much if not most of our ministry must occur off campus and in the community. Let’s face it, if people have to come here to see our ministry, then the percentage of the Frederick Countians who will ever see it will always be low. Our work must be out in the community, it must be where people live and work and play. It must be where people hurt, struggle, try to cope. “Unmistakable” means that our ministry must be pervasive in the community, either by a lot of little things that we are doing throughout the area, or through one or two really significant ministries that are hard to miss.

This is where “unmistakable” leads to “irreplaceable.” “Irreplaceable” is one of those words, like “inflammable” and “flammable”, where the prefix doesn’t change the definition, at least in the way that I’m using it. “Irreplaceable” means that something is so valuable and so significant that it is not easily replaced but that it must be replaced. Therefore our ministry must have a significant impact on our community. It must make a real impact on people’s lives and on the quality of life in Frederick County. Instead of evoking a comment of “Oh, that’s nice,” it should evoke an, “Oh, wow, that’s really needed.”

“Irreplaceable” also refers to a quality of uniqueness. Why duplicate what is already being done by other churches or agencies when there are needs being unmet by anyone. We need to look for the gaps that need filling, not adding more to the gaps that are already being filled. This leads to the test of whether or not a ministry is irreplaceable: if the ministry were to disappear, would anybody notice? Would anybody care?

I’m stating right up front that I don’t have answers to what an unmistakable and irreplaceable presence would look like. In fact, there’s probably not a single person among us who can tell us, but I’m counting on the fact that in discussing and brainstorming this with one another, we can begin to figure it out and it can begin to put flesh on these bones.

So we need to talk and listen to each other. Here’s what I’m suggesting. First, that in your groups, your Sunday School classes, your hallway conversations, you begin talking about it. Come up with some ideas, and be ready to share them or, even better, act on them. Second, since not everyone is in a group, I’ve scheduled two times for people to get together with me and we’ll talk and brainstorm: Sunday, April 5th at 2:00 p.m., and Sunday, April 26th at 5:00 p.m. We may schedule some other times, but this is a start. Third, I've set up a couple of online discussion forums so that we can share ideas with each other. One is on the church website, Just log in, and click on Groups, then on the First Baptist Church Group, and under messages you'll see one about Unmistakable and Irreplaceable. Click on that and you'll be able to read any previous posts and leave one of your own.

The other discussion forum is on Google Groups, and you don't have to be a member or in any way associated with FBC Frederick to enter the discussion, although I will moderate all comments before posting. There's a new link to that discussion here on the left, so go for it.

We can't afford to just talk about this, we need to act; but talking is a necessary first step to acting. We can get better ideas, we can improve on each other's ideas, and we can connect with others who share a passion for the same causes or needs. So, go!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Jesus Conversation Redux

For the last year I have been leading a class on Wednesday nights formally called "Knowing Jesus: A Conversation About Our Founder." I envisioned it as truly a conversation in which we would come together and enter into dialogue about Jesus, with a lot of back-and-forth sharing of ideas, insights, opinions, and questions. I really didn't want it to be a lecture in which I provided the answers and everyone else soaked it all in. I'm a student of Jesus myself, and I have as many questions as answers.

It didn't quite turn out that way. Part of it may be the natural deference that people give to a pastor when discussing things biblical and theological, but at the core I think it was something else altogether. We aren't used to talking about Jesus the man. We are used to talking about Jesus the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, the Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End, Savior of the World.

We don't know much about Jesus the 1st century Jewish peasant who lived in the Roman province of Judea ruled by a Caesar who claimed to be one god among many gods, surrounded by a corrupt religious system and a revolutionary fervor that would erupt within a generation of his execution.

I mean, we've heard that stuff, but it's deep background and we don't give it much consideration when we listen to his words and watch his actions. So "Blessed are the peacemakers" becomes a general rule about personal relationships rather than a political statement aimed not only at the zealots who advocated the violent overthrow of Israel's Roman occupiers but also at the Romans and their so-called Pax Romana or "Roman Peace," a peace which came when all opponents either acquiesced or died resisting.

And that's just one example of how our de-historicizing of Jesus has led to our missing the full import of his sayings and actions. The Prodigal Son becomes a nice story about personal repentance and salvation rather than the re-casting of Israel's history of Exile and hoped-for restoration. The Good Samaritan becomes a nice story about how we should stop and help a stranger change a flat tire rather than a radical challenge to Israel's racism, nationalism, and religious arrogance.

These weren't just nice stories. In Jesus' day they were the kinds of stories that would get you in trouble. And they did get Jesus in trouble.

So for the last year I spent a lot of time talking, teaching, and challenging people's comfortable but inadequate views of Jesus. I'm still doing the later, but the last few weeks it's been less of a lecture and more of a conversation. New people have joined into the discussion, and the veterans are helping to bring them along even as they continue to learn new insights.

It's a lot of fun. If you're into that kind of thing, that is.

So if you're in Frederick and want to join us, please do. But if you aren't and can't, or are and can't, then let me invite you to join in the conversation right here. Post a comment or question, and let's get into it.

It could get interesting.

This is an important conversation. After all, if we get Jesus wrong, nothing else truly fits.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Daughter Blog

One of the great things about having Angela living with us after college is that every once in a while we get her to cook supper for us, and when she does, it's always something great. No mac and cheese with franks (one of the meals Pam and I used to cook when we were newlyweds in seminary and poor). We're talking Chicken Parmigiana and stuff like that.


She's a good cookerer.

She likes to bake as well, although we don't get to see the fruits of that as often. But she's good at it.

All this to say that she has started a blog on baking. So if you're looking for some good recipes and ideas, check out "Confessions of a Wanna-Be Baker"

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Experiencing Scripture

I just read an interview with Eugene Peterson, retired pastor and professor, translator of The Message, author of many books (A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places) in which he discusses how he learned to read Scripture contemplatively.

"In high school I was very much involved in poetry. You cannot read a poem quickly. There's too much going on there. There are rhythms and alliteration. You have to read poetry slow, slow, slow to absorb it all. That's how I began reading and praying psalms as a student, because I realized they were poems....The first time you read a poem, you usually don't understand it. You've got to read it ten times or more. You've got to listen to it. (Emphasis mine)

I know I wasn't trained to listen to a text the way Peterson is talking about. I was taught to read for content and comprehension, information and insight, facts and figures. I can't even say that I was taught to read poetry any differently. "What is the writer saying?" Get the point, then move on. No one ever suggested that I read a poem ten times or more, and I never did. If I didn't get it after a few readings I was either too dull or it was too obscure. (Usually I concluded it was some combination of the two.)

But Peterson is suggesting that a poem is not to be excavated as much as it is to be experienced. If that seems too esoteric, let me put it another way: good poetry is a filet, it's not oatmeal. Pam regularly makes steel-cut oatmeal for us to eat for breakfast, and I don't savor a single bite. I add fruit to give it some flavor, but I don't eat it for the taste or the experience, I eat it because it is healthy and will help clear out my coronary arteries.

But a good filet, grilled to perfection with just the right amount of pepper and garlic salt--ah, you don't rush through that. It's not about nutrition, it's about a sensory experience.

Peterson is saying that we need to approach Scripture similarly, and not just the poetry in the Bible. There is a time and a place for reading for comprehension, for getting the biblical facts straight. It's important to understand the events that led to the Babylonian Exile.

But if that's all that we do, we miss the Bible as a living text, as Wisdom and Spirit and Logos and Two-Edged Sword.

Just as savoring a bite requires slowing down, so also does savoring Scripture, and that is probably our biggest obstacle: we are all in too big of a hurry. And we are noisy. And we're too verbal. And that makes us really, really bad listeners. When a person really wants to listen, they stop what they are doing, they eliminate distracting noises, they speak little or not at all, and they devote as much time as it takes.

When do we really do that? With Scripture? With prayer? With God? With each other?

I know I don't, not nearly enough. I'm not sure I really even know how. But I know I better learn.

Because what does it profit a man if he knows that the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C. but loses his soul?

Hello, It's Me

I'm back.

Sick all last week, didn't feel much like doing anything.

Even reading. Which I did a lot of, but after a couple of days even that started to make me feel blah.

Didn't feel like doing much writing, though.

If you noticed, sorry.

If you didn't...c'mon.

Anyway, I'll try to catch up.