Are you kidding me???

My name is Gary, and I am a recovering compulsive kidder. Yes, it’s true. No fooling, I mean it.

Probably my ultimate attempt at “pranking” took place at the university. See, what happened is, I managed to get my hands on some official college stationary. I didn’t boost it, by the way! It seems to me that we found it in the trash. Anyway, I used it to write a fake letter to a student who had previously pranked me; in the letter, the department told him he might be getting suspended for being so immature.

Just kidding!

Just kidding meme

Another incident: years back I plotted out what would have been my definitive prank. A nearby Christian ministry was thinking of buying a piece of land, and it got me thinking: I started designing a mock-up for an “old newspaper article”, which was to recount how the property was the site of an old Indian burial ground and that, well, there was a long history of spectral appearances. I was going to stain it with some tea to age it, and then “discover” and share it with the purchasers at some point during the negotiations. And shortly afterward, of course, reveal it as a gag. But, I decided to wave it off. The Indian Burial Ground Prank was, I realized, beyond the pale even for me – I had finally found my limit. Or perhaps hit bottom. There are other anecdotes, but I think I’ll just hold off on telling them.

But those were years ago. Really, I don’t do that stuff anymore. Still, long after I stopped launching these weapons-grade pranks, I was still known as a “kidder”, and this is the gist of my confession here. Mind you, I’m not talking about the guy who makes some horrific racist statement and then tries to squeeze out with a “Hey, I was only kidding! Can’t you take a joke?” I’m talking about actual wit.

The kidder is not limited to any region, but New England seems to be especially rich in this personality type. This is because we have deep roots in English humor, which tends to be subtle and underplayed, in a word, dry. “What New England is, is a state of mind, a place where dry humor and perpetual disappointment blend to produce an ironic pessimism that folks from away find most perplexing.” (from humorist Willem Lange).

A favorite Yankee joke reveals the dryness and the ironic pessimism:

I had to shoot my dog.
Was he mad?
I guess he weren’t so darn pleased about it.

If Yankee wit is dry, then “kidding” is the pellet of desiccant that protects the rest of our wit from the damp. And clever joshing is not designed to amuse others, but to amuse and maybe flatter ourselves. And if once in a while some New Englander manages to move abroad (i. e., west of the Hudson), he or she discovers that those “folks from away” or as we Rhode Islanders call them, “outta-statuhs”, lack the sensory equipment to detect our dry-as-dust humor. We seem to pick up Kryptonian comic super-powers in the light of the yellow sun; and therein lies danger.

The tightly-managed straight face, the just-this-side-of-plausible statement, given without a wink, and of course, meticulous timing. These are the tools of the “kidder”.

Example:

“I got mugged today,” I once told an audience, for some reason I now barely remember.
Really???
“Juuuuust kidding.”

Once I gave a speech to “roast” a fellow-worker. Into his biography I inserted such fascinating nuggets as: “It was he who, as a child, popularized the children’s counting rhyme ‘one potato, two potato’”. I also revealed that he had auditioned for the role of William Wallace in the movie Braveheart, but narrowly lost out to Mel Gibson. Stuff like that. Of course, in this case, I let the audience know up front that there would be “stretched” truths in my talk.

A short while ago some people from our mission borrowed our house for a meeting with some folks who didn’t know me. When I came home, I broke into the living room and shouted, “Who are you people, and whaddya doing in my house?” Good clean fun, no-one was hurt. Sometimes I invent funny new Greek words and try to pass them off to my students. Again, pretty harmless.

What broke me of my two-pack-a day joshing habit? Or if not stopped me cold, what made me cut way back?

Two things. First, a woman whom I often kidded – and O!, dear reader, she was such an easy target – hit me between the eyes with this one: I had just mentioned a sad, and true, part of my history, and she responded: “Gary, are you kidding me?” I answered No. She responded: “You know, I can never tell if you’re kidding or telling the truth.”

Is that how I appear to others? I asked myself.

Another rebuke came to me from the play Love’s Labours Lost. In the concluding scene, Rosaline says to her would-be suitor Biron: “Oft have I heard of you, my Lord Biron, before I saw you; and the world’s large tongue proclaims you for a man replete with mocks…” She promises him a shot at romance, but only if he will use his prodigious gift for humor, cheering up sick people in the hospital for the next 12 months. Biron reluctantly accepts: “A twelvemonth! Well; befall what will befall, I’ll jest a twelvemonth in an hospital.”

“Oft have I heard of you, before I saw you” – is this the reputation that was going ahead of me? “Replete with mocks”?

And of course, the third by authoritative word comes from the Bible. First, Jesus is teaching about “straight talk”. Although he says this in the context of swearing an oath, his statement has a broader application to “kidding”.

All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. Matt 5:37 NIV

Or as the GW translation has it, “Simply say yes or no.”

And Jesus’ teaching is echoed elsewhere:

All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned. (James 5:12 NIV)

This too, I think, applies to kidders.

And Proverbs, as one would guess, has a word about “harmless” joshing:

Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death is one who deceives their neighbor and says, “I was only joking!” (Prov 26:18-19)

A maniac? And the New Jerusalem Bible is pretty sharp on v. 19: “…so is anyone who lies to a companion and then says, ‘Aren’t I amusing?’” Of if the Bible were a tweet, “so is the one who deceives their neighbor and says J/K!”

Roland Murphy says in his Proverbs commentary (WBC):

A trigger-happy madman, who deals out death indiscriminately by his actions, serves as the comparison for the one who recklessly deceives a neighbor, and tries to pass it off as a joke. Such an ‘excuse’ is totally inadequate…

A couple of posts on this blog are spoofs, are “kidding”, but they come with a warning label. (See “Have They Discovered the Lost Prayer Diary of Elijah?”; also “Dear Paul: We are sorry, but you are unqualified to be our apostle…”)

I like joking around with my friends and colleagues. I still play the occasional prank; in fact, I have been planning one for a seminary luncheon that we have scheduled for tomorrow (Shhh! Don’t tell!). But it won’t hold a candle to the ones I used to do. And “kidding” is marked in my mind with a yellow flag, if not a red. Lord, teach me to value and gauge my words, so that people will know that they can expect the straight truth from me.

“Are you kidding me??” by Gary S. Shogren, Ph.D. in New Testament, Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

“The Unglamorous Christian Life” 1 Thess 4:9-12 [Sermon Notes on 1 Thessalonians, Week 11]

Note: These are sermon outlines, not full messages.

For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.

Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10 And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

We continue on in a section where Paul tells the people how to live; and what’s interesting about this letter is that he don’t need to correct them, and least not very much.

Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.

He uses a particular word for love, which is Philadelphia. In this epistle alone, he speaks to the Christians as “brothers and sisters”. In 1:4-5 he said For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. That is, calling them brothers and sisters is not just being friendly, but he means that it’s through the gospel that we are now family. (more…)

“Sex and the Christian Life” 1 Thess 4:1-8 [Sermon Notes on 1 Thessalonians, Week 10]

 

Note: These are sermon outlines, not full messages.

As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.

When I was taught the epistles of the New Testament, they told us – okay, these chapters are the “theology” ones, and then come the “practical” ones. So Romans 1-11 is doctrine, and then 12 to 16 is application. Ephesians 1-3, doctrine, 4-6, practical. Although there is some truth to that, we have to keep this in mind: sound doctrine must lead to holy living; if not, there is a breakdown somewhere.

And today it is popular to preach “here are practical tips for successful living” – but they avoid the underlying truths, the doctrine. (more…)

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“Paul’s Frustrated Travel Plans” 1 Thess 2:17-3:13 [Sermon Notes on 1 Thessalonians, Week 9]

These are notes of a sermon outline, not a full message.

17 But, brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. 18 For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way. 19 For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? 20 Indeed, you are our glory and joy.

3 So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain.

But Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.

11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

INTRO – frustration at travel plans

2:18 – following hard on the first statement is that “Satan blocked” Paul and Silas (2:18c). Paul introduces this event with a bare “and” (καὶ), which seems to be a deliberate understatement on his part. It is an abrupt, harsh description, without elaboration: Satan just shut us down. (more…)

Popular Christian Dance Moves: Be the Life of the Congregation!

You know, back in the day, we wondered if Christians should be dancing at all. There was even a school of thought that said we teens should take a note from home when they pushed back the big curtains that divided boys’ side from the girls’, so they could teach us square dancing. [Gary, note to self: (1) Reference Danny Orlis? (2) Is submitting to The Caller conformity to the world?]

I was stricter on myself than my church ever was, but even I decided that square dancing fell into the category of Good Clean Fun.

But lately it seems like plenty of us Christians are dancing weird steps; yes, even our leaders.

This occurred to me the other day when I saw a “Bible prophecy expert” doing a popular dance which I have taken the liberty to label…

The False Prophet Backpedal

So, this man told me that he had it all figured out: Christ would return on September 13, 2015 [Note to self – remember to email {name omitted} on Sept 14 and see if he’s still with us]. But a little sleuthing on my part, and it turned up that the same guy had already predicted that the End would come in September, 2011 – it was a slam-dunk certainty that time, too. When I pointed this out to him, he did the False Prophet Backpedal: Step 1, “I never said that”; 2, “I may have said that, but it’s not what I meant”; 3, “you are wicked for pointing out that I said that.” My guess is that he will very soon take Step 4: “it was a typo, I meant to say 2017”.

Don’t try this at home, kids, but for purposes of illustration, here are the steps of the FP Backpedal. Cue music:

The False Prophet Backpedal

The False Prophet Backpedal

And suddenly, it seems like everywhere I look, we are trying out new dance steps. For example: (more…)

“Imitating other Believers in Judea” – 1 Thess 2:13-16 [Sermon Notes on 1 Thessalonians, Week 8]

(13) And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe. (14) For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews (15) who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone (16) in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.

Paul here goes back once again to the major theme in 1:2, in his thanksgiving: You Thessalonians didn’t just hear the message, but you accepted it.  When he says word of God in 2:13 he is not speaking of “the Bible” – in this case the Old Testament – but the gospel message.

They accepted it “not as a human word”, in the sense of “not as something that people made up”, but as what it is, the message God spoke. See how he keeps repeating the word “God” (we have underlined it above).

And the gospel message works in them, transforming them from the inside out. This reminds us of a key text from Isa 55:11:

…so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

And now these new believers were responsible to pray for those who were even then hearing the gospel for the first time in Achaia, as we see in Paul’s next letter:

As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. (2 Thess 3:1)

So, the Thessalonians imitated Paul, the Lord Jesus (1:6) and also other churches, especially the churches in Judea. It is interesting that the bulk of new believers in Thessalonica came from paganism (1:9-10), but most Jews did not receive the gospel in that city, nor in Jerusalem and Judea.

Like the Jewish Christians, these Gentile disciples suffer at the hands of their own people, their neighbors, and their local government. Thessalonians suffer at the hands of Thessalonians, while the churches in “Judea” (2:14a) are persecuted by Judeans. When Jews or Gentiles receive Christ, they find themselves cut off from their former people and persecuted by them. The underlying premise is that, if the people of the covenant act this way when their fellow Jews receive Christ, then imagine the reaction of the Gentiles among whom you live.

Some people point to this paragraph, which has very strong language, and they ask whether Paul is anti-Jew, anti-Semitic. But we need to keep in mind that Paul is not speculating about race but is responding to a concrete historical situation: the synagogue wielded great power in Judea and enough power in Macedonia to cause serious persecution to the Christians there.

Ruins of the Ostia synagogue, outside the city of Rome

Ruins of the Ostia synagogue, outside the city of Rome

(more…)

“Be like a child, a mom, a dad!” 1 Thess 2:7-12 [Sermon Notes on 1 Thessalonians, Week 7]

1 Thess 2:6-12 NIV 2011 – We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. 7 Instead, we were like ** young children ** among you. Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. 10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

Instead of “little or young children” (so CEV, NET, NLT) some manuscripts read “gentle”, as in the NKJV, the NIV 1984 version, and most other English versions, because it seems jarring to have “we were like little children” then “we were like mothers”

Thus the NKJV of 2:7 – “But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children.”

Our solution – Paul things of three ideas: little children (not powerful); nurturing and hard—working mothers; wise and caring fathers:

We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. 7a Instead, we were like YOUNG CHILDREN among you.

7b Just as a nursing MOTHER cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. 10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.

11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a FATHER deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

So, Paul and Silas were like little children, like a mother, like a father. That is how they behaved when the evangelized Thessalonica; and if the Thessalonians want to be evangelistic, they should do the same.

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2:7 – Instead, we were like YOUNG CHILDREN (or little ones) among you.

Instead of being bossy adults, they took the role of small children. (more…)

Does John 4:22 say that salvation is just for Jews?

[Note – this is a very live topic in Latin America, and I wrote this for the church there. I also offer it for the English-speaking church].

Every time I write that salvation is for all who believe the gospel; that Gentile believers are not obligated to be circumcised or observe the 613 laws of the Torah; or that we can keep our Gentile names (as Paul, Luke, Silvanus, and so many others did in the early church); or any number of other basic truths of the gospel, someone, inevitably, writes in and says:

But wait! Salvation is of the Jews! It says so in John 4:22!

These people rarely specify what they think this verse means, or proves, or whether it indicates that Gentiles cannot be saved. It seems to be used more as a mantra than as a clear statement of intent.

What do my readers think that Juan 4:22 really means, and why don’t they say so openly and clearly? Why speak indirectly, as does this website: [1]

“Salvation is from the Jews”. As you can observe, salvation does not come from Catholicism, nor does it come from evangelical Christian churches, neither through the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and much less does it come through Muslims, Adventists, or Mormons. The Messiah Himself, Yahshua [sic] [2], tells us that Salvation comes through the Jews.

The author implies that you cannot be saved in the Roman Church, nor in the evangelical churches, but only through…what? Converting to Judaism? In another place they urge Gentiles to return to their “Jewish roots”. It’s all very vague. By the way, I don’t believe that anyone is saved by going to meetings of the Catholics, evangelicals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Adventists, Mormons, nor of Messianic groups.

And note that he switches the terms around: Jesus said that salvation comes from the Jews, but it gets changed somehow to “through” the Jews.

I will suggest that those who say that “salvation is only for the Jews” or “only for those who submit to the messianic rabbis of today” misinterpret the meaning of John 4:22; neglect its historical and theological background in Second Temple Judaism; and also are not informed with regard to the actual teachings of rabbinic Judaism for the past 2000 years.

   1. Many Messianic teachers of today misunderstand John 4:22

The flow of John 4:22

Readers of my blog will know me, but I will also add that I serve as a consultant for an organization that translates the Bible into the world’s languages, and that the gospel of John is one of our current projects; that I have taught the gospel of John for many years, based on my own research; that I teach among other topics Second Temple Judaism on the graduate level. Therefore I provide my own translation of the passage in question. I also wish to point out that I am looking at John 4 in the original language – not in some faked “Hebrew” original that everyone talks about – but which no-one seems able to show us – but the real Bible text as represented in the earliest available manuscripts. [3]

Aerial view - the ruins of the Gerizim temple

Aerial view – the ruins of the Gerizim temple, the “mountain” where the Samaritans worshiped

Why don’t we begin at the beginning, and study precisely what the Messiah told the Samaritan woman? (more…)

“You want to share the gospel? Then do as we do!” 1 Thess 2:1-6 [Sermon Notes on 1 Thessalonians, Week 6]

1 Thess 2:1-6 – You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority.

Paul has spent the first chapter giving thanks for the Thessalonians. His comments were along the lines of: We thank God for his work in you, and here are several pieces of evidence of his presence. At the end of the chapter they are living as healthy functioning Christians, free from idols and living every day in light of Jesus’ second coming. Not that they were setting dates, or trying to identify the antichrist. Rather they lived conscious that, Let us live our lives as if the end were upon us. Paul will mention this again in 2:12 – “we are encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.” In this passage, “kingdom” is the future kingdom, when Christ will return; and “glory” is shorthand for our future resurrection

Now in chapter 2 Paul turns the focus away from the Thessalonians toward the team that had evangelized them, the people he mentioned in 1:1 – “Paul, Silas and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians”.

So in chapter 1, his theme is: “before the presence of God, let’s look at you”

In chapter 2, it becomes: “before the presence of God, let’s look at us”. We can sum this up in v. 10 – “You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was toward you believers”.

A lot is riding on this truth, because if the apostles are phonies (more…)

“The First Task of the Church is to Preach the Word” [Sermon Notes on 1 Thessalonians, Week 5]

Our text for today is:

8 The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia – your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us.

They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

Throughout 1 Thessalonians 1, Paul lists one evidence after another that God is truly working in them. They have faith, hope, love, endurance; they imitate the apostles; they persevere in tribulation; and now finally here is one more piece of evidence, a really extraordinary one: they share the gospel.

Sometimes when Christians are under pressure, they are able to survive, but they turn in on themselves. They are like turtles that pull their heads in until they stop banging on the shell.

The Thessalonians didn’t pull inward; instead they reached out to their neighbors and beyond their neighbors with the gospel message. (more…)

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