What Are You Thinking?

My friends in Topeka, Kansas, tell me they have seen a bumper sticker that quotes Psalm 109 in reference to president Obama.  It’s not funny.

Maybe I’m sensitive because of where I live.

I sometimes have coffee in Aggieville and wonder if the ghost of Timothy McVeigh is lurking in the shadows.  Aggieville was the first place America’s worst domestic terrorist was arrested.  It was just a bar room fight when he was a soldier stationed at nearby Fort Riley, but he went on to worse things.

A few years after that incident, McVeigh and his accomplice rented a big white truck and filled up with gas in Riley County  before they drove it to Oklahoma City and killed 19 children at America’s Kid’s Daycare Center, along with 150 adults.

During the nineties fanatics were speaking in apocalyptic terms about the evils of Bill Clinton and his wife.  They were talking about concentration camps in the Southwest and Blackhawk helicopters.  They were painting David Koresh as an innocent victim whose righteous blood called for vengeance.  For most it was just talk.  But Tim McVeigh was listening.

Or maybe it’s the hideous figure of America’s worst living hatemonger, Fred Phelps, whom I sometimes have to drive past.  Fred and family give hate speech a bad name.  In February I attended a conference on the Dead Sea Scrolls at Midwestern Baptist Seminary.  One of the seminary’s graduates had been murdered in church, and Fred and his pitiful band of followers came to picket.

After fifteen years of hate speech directed at physician George Tiller–someone finally listened.  The doctor who performed late-term abortions in Wichita was finally murdered.  It happened on a Sunday morning as he was serving as an usher at his church.

Late term abortion is a gruesome and traumatic procedure–and sometimes a tragic necessity.  Under Kansas law at the time Dr. Tiller was murdered, it was legal only when the mother’s health was endangered.  The law was not strict enough for some, but too strict for others.  But my point is this–murder was not the answer; but people kept chanting “Tiller the Killer” until someone took it seriously.

We have a peaceful way of changing national leaders every four years.  In the meantime, the Bible tells us to pray for our leaders–it doesn’t tell us to take a curse out of context and pray it.  You are entitled to your political opinions–but think about the effects of hate speech:

  1. It may set off an unbalanced person.
  2. It reflects on all Christians and makes us look like ignorant bigots.

In Romans 2:24 Paul quotes from Isaiah, in a passage referring to the people God chose to represent his love and goodness to the world–

God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.

How about that for a bumper sticker?

The Bible in the City of New Orleans

The annual conference of the Society of Biblical Literature is winding down.  I have had a great time, but I am ready to move on.  In the wee hours of the morning I will fly back to Kansas City and spend some time with my grandchildren before driving down to Arkansas to spend the Thanksgiving Holiday with Sonja and her mother.  It seems like it would be more efficient if they would just give me a parachute and drop me off as we fly over.

One of the first sessions I attended featured Robert Jewett, who in addition to writing a book on Captain America is a leading student of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.  He spoke on the wrath of God in Romans 1:18 and concluded that we are all under the wrath of God–and all under his mercy.  God judges us for the way we spurn his will, frustrate his purposes, hurt each other, and damage ourselves–because he loves us.  Professor Jewett said Paul was convinced that ultimately God’s love will win out over his judgment–but not until we respond to his love as he manifested it by sending his Son for us.

That is a brief summary of twenty years of work.

I also attended several sessions dealing with hard-core philology, the study of ancient writings from the laws of Hammurabi to amulets consisting of verses from the Bible that people wore for good luck.

It has been a challenging and rewarding time.  I have enough new ideas to ponder and leads to follow up on to keep me busy for at least the next year.

I also enjoyed meeting some old and new friends from exotic places like Australia, South Africa, London, Germany, Kentucky, and New Orleans itself.

I came a day early and spent some time with my friend Archie England, Professor of OT and Hebrew at New Orleans Baptist Seminary.  Archie and his colleagues survived Katrina and it took a toll on them.  He should me some of the damaged areas that still have not been rebuilt.  Last night I also saw a very moving film about Katrina called Trouble the Water–it was about the world’s neglect and one woman’s faith and work to help herself and others recover.

Religious Extremists Burn Holy Books

On Halloween the spiritual adviser of a neo-traditionalist sect in Georgia invited his followers to join him in a book burning (the group’s website is here).  In addition to burning recording of “Satan’s Music” (country, Jazz, Gospel, etc.) the group took special pride in burning the holy books of adherents of another religion, books considered holy, or the Word of God by those who read them.

You may recall that during the abuses at Abu Ghraib there were reports of copies of the Qur’an being defaced.  The outrage led to several attacks on innocent people.  Police in Georgia, however, are not expecting any retaliation.  The people whose holy books are being burned are followers of an ancient faith whose founder taught nonviolence.  He taught them to bless those who persecute them, to turn the other cheek, and to pray for those who insult them.

What is Salvation?

I’m working my way backwards through Romans chapter one.  Paul says the Gospel is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe.  I remember a song from back in the 90’s–when her career was just taking off and before Lance Armstrong broke her heart, Sheryl Crow sang,

I took the I-95 down to Pensacola,

All I found was a bunch of holy rollers,

They don’t know nothing ’bout saving me.

I think she was referring to a revival going on down there where people were getting slain in the Spirit–falling down backwards during the services.  This was about the same time people up north in Toronto were receiving the Toronto Blessing of uncontrolled laughter.

If you look on the map you’ll find that I-95 doesn’t go to Pensacola.  But maybe Sheryl had a point–you can’t get there from here.

What is salvation all about anyway?  It doesn’t matter whether you are a holy roller, a stone-cold Lake Wobegon Lutheran, a frozen and chosen Presbyterian–or something in between.  Christians often speak glibly about salvation, but what does it mean?

Very simply it means, in the first place peace with God.  There is a peace that comes simply from the confidence that there is a God.  Everything fits together; there is a purpose for the universe, and I have a place in it.  What we do on earth matters; there will at least be someone who will remember it.

Of course Christian faith is more than that.  It means believing that God loves me and that God accepts me.  It may be a cliche, but it is still true–God loves me just the way I am–but he loves me too much to leave me the way I am.

Second, salvation means I will have a place in what Judaism calls “the world to come.”  Salvation is bigger than me.  It is what God has planned for all of creation.  One of my colleagues says God’s eternal purpose has always been to have a people for himself, a people who will receive and respond to his love in praise and obedience.

I think God’s purpose is bigger than that.  In the short term, God is content to have a remnant, a few people who will faithful serve him and receive his blessings.  But a remnant is not the ultimate goal.  The ultimate goal is the redemption of the whole world.  The world to come is a world where peace reigns, where all of creation is perfected, where we share in and reflect God’s glory.  Salvation means that we have the hope of participating in that world.

The third aspect of salvation is that God is getting us ready to participate in the world to come.  That means he is renovating us from the inside out.

My son just bought a house at a great bargain.  It was a renovation project that someone else gave up on.  It was too much work.

But Eric knows how to do the work, and he has friends to help him.  I was there with him this past weekend, along with his son and my grandson Elijah.  All three of us can see the work left to be done–but we can also visualize the results.

Those of us who are now experiencing God’s salvation know that we are a major renovation project.  But God can visualize the results and he is not going to give up.

Meaghan Smith and Ethiopia

Meaghan Smith is another of my students (now an alumna) who loves the people of Ethiopia.  Meaghan leaves tomorrow, Tuesday Nov 3, 2009, for a four-year term in Addis Ababa.  She has completed her advanced training in linguistics and will be working with a team from Wycliffe Bible translators.

In addition to her linguistic talents, Meaghan for two years held the important office of Hostess of the annual Tamale Party that Sonja and I provide at our house for our students.

Here is an excerpt from one of her Newsletters:


Ethiopia, nearly twice the size of Texas, is home to about 80 million people and 85 languages. My first year in Ethiopia will be spent learning Amharic, the national  language. On weekdays I will be in language school about five hours a day, and outside of the classroom I will have plenty of opportunities to practice as I live in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital city.

Amharic is spoken by about 17.5 million people and is the primary language used in education throughout Ethiopia. It is also the language I will be using the most at the outset of my work with the translation team in Mizan-Teferi.

Amharic is a Semitic language, which means it is related to Hebrew and Arabic. My studies of Hebrew and Amharic should complement one another, as they have similar grammatical structures and some similar vocabulary.  Amharic uses a syllabary system with 268 characters. Instead of an alphabet with separate consonants and vowels, each symbol represents a combination of a consonant and a vowel.

If you would like to learn more about Meaghan’s upcoming work in Ethiopia, e-mail her and ask to added to her newsletter email list (meaghan_smith@wycliffe.org).  You can learn more about Wycliffe at www.wycliffe.org.