Bags of Bran

The Ark
June 29, 2019, 11:50 am
Filed under: Bible, Biography

I’ve been preaching through the book of Exodus and just got into ch. 25 where God is giving Moses instructions on how to build the various furniture for the tent of meeting.

One point that had never been completely clear to me was the function of the Mercy Seat. I saw the word “Seat” and I thought “someone is going to sit there. Hmm, won’t be me.” But if you think about it, there are gold cherubim guarding it just like cherubim are depicted as guarding the presence of God elsewhere (Genesis 3; Ezekiel 10; etc), so there’s no place to sit.  While I was studying I searched for passages where God was “enthroned above the cherubim.” Psalm 99 (which will be our Psalm for Sunday) came up:

Psalm 99:1–5 (NASB95)

1 The Lord reigns, let the peoples tremble; He is enthroned above the cherubim, let the earth shake!

2 The Lord is great in Zion, And He is exalted above all the peoples.

3 Let them praise Your great and awesome name; Holy is He.

4 The strength of the King loves justice; You have established equity; You have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.

5 Exalt the Lord our God And worship at His footstool; Holy is He.

I saw v. 5 and the word “footstool” and did another search. This time, I came up with Psalm 132:7.

Psalm 132:6–9 (NASB95)

6 Behold, we heard of it in Ephrathah, We found it in the field of Jaar.

7 Let us go into His dwelling place; Let us worship at His footstool.

8 Arise, O Lord, to Your resting place, You and the ark of Your strength.

9 Let Your priests be clothed with righteousness, And let Your godly ones sing for joy.

Here the Ark is more clearly called God’s footstool and the Tabernacle His resting place.

From Your Perspective
June 27, 2018, 1:49 pm
Filed under: Bible, Biography

Job’s words in Job 26:5-14 reflect a man confronted with “the fringes of His ways” (14). Here we see serpents pierced, Rahab shattered, the moon obscured, the north stretched over empty space. Clearly, for Job, there is a numinous quality to nature: it is, in some ways, as frightening and mysterious as nature’s God.

But when we consider Job’s relationship to this God at this point in the narrative, it makes sense. Let’s assume that you believe, as Gerard Manley Hopkins put it, that “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” Now, put yourself in Job’s position: The God that he feared and served and loved had, by all appearances, done him dead wrong. Job’s relationship with God was embittered. Back to this passage: when you know that God is all-powerful and all-knowing and everywhere-present, but you aren’t sure of your standing before Him, this is what nature looks like to you. It is a terrifying place.

Compare Job 26 with Psalm 8, where the author sings of God’s creation from an entirely different perspective. God’s presence in and behind the forces of nature are no longer uncanny and hostile: His name is majestic in all the earth! No longer are the signs in the heavens portents of divine wrath: they are splendid! Why?

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, All sheep and oxen, And also the beasts of the field, The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, Whatever passes through the paths of the seas.” (Psalm 8:3–8, NASB95)

Here is the difference: David was certain of God’s love for him. These two men could look on the same set of phenomena and come away with very different impressions based on the status of their relationship to the Creator.

1 Timothy Resources
March 2, 2018, 9:18 pm
Filed under: Bible, Pastor Stuff

A while ago (a Sunday back in January) I finished preaching through 1 Timothy. Paul addresses Timothy’s situation with immediacy and timelessness, and making the jump from the first to the twenty-first century was little strain on the imagination. This letter speaks to our cheapening age with a rebuke like the voice of many waters.

Another while ago (still back in January) I mused aloud about giving my opinion on the resources I used to prepare sermons from 1 Timothy. They varied somewhat from week to week, especially over the eight weeks I spent on 1 Timothy 3:16 alone. But I have some general opinions that may be of use to you, especially since 1) I actually preached through the book; and 2) I am not selling anything.


Marshall, I. Howard, and Philip H. Towner. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles. ICC 2004 (LOGOS edition)

I. Howard Marshall really did a good job for me. He seemed to anticipate where I would have questions with the text and give most of the possible explanations. I consulted this lucid, pithy volume every week. He accomplished this without atomizing the text: he was concerned to preserve the thread through the text and made connection to other passages within the Pastoral Epistles regularly.

Also: Marshall had the best introduction that I read, especially in setting the scene at Ephesus. This guided me all the way through the book: it is imperative to remember that Paul was tasking Timothy with a very unsavory task: reclaim the wayward church at Ephesus. He doesn’t believe that Paul wrote the letters, but believes that Paul had a hand in their composition, which, to me, comes across as fence-straddling.

Towner, Philip H. The Letters to Timothy and Titus. NICNT 2006

Towner is great as well. I don’t normally “read” commentaries, but Towner writes well enough that one can “read” him with profit. His introduction is lean, but he makes up for it with his excurses. This is where he develops key ideas in the letter and compares them within the rest of Paul’s letters. These helped me to avoid saying inaccurate things on more than one occasion!

Johnson, Luke Timothy. The First and Second Letters to Timothy. AB 2001

Normally I like Luke Timothy Johnson, but I felt that this volume was rather flat. It was very unlike his commentary on James. After a few weeks I discovered that Marshall and Towner were addressing everything that Johnson was, only more interestedly. I shelved Johnson early and consulted him seldom.

Fee, Gordon D. 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus. NIBC 1988.

Fee is occasionally helpful, occasionally providing broadly biblical support for his conclusions. But he is most helpful in demonstrating the transitions from one section to another: he shows the continuity and unity of the book.

Mounce, William D. Pastoral Epistles. WBC 2000 (LOGOS edition)

I seldom consulted Mounce because, for the most part, the meaning of 1 Timothy is not mired in difficult grammar. This is where Mounce shines (as any of us who have studied Greek will not be surprised to hear): but my questions (again) rarely related to grammar/syntax so much as tracking with Paul’s argument and Timothy’s charge.


This last resource was profitable for making the connections between the text and the congregation. A friend (thanks, Chuck!) gave me the sound and sage advice to consult John Calvin, and he gave me a link to this. It’s a collection of transcripts from Calvin’s sermons on 1 Timothy, translated into English. It is a marvel of pastoral insight. I didn’t go off about popery as much as Calvin did, but there are plenty of analogues in our day.

That about covers it. I occasionally consulted with the church fathers (mostly Augustine and Chrysostom) using LOGOS searches. I also used Calvin’s commentary, but that was just a summary of what was in his sermons. Invest the time: you’ll not regret it.


I didn’t buy Knight’s volume. I wish I would have bought it instead of Johnson, but no, I was stubborn and foolish.

Hope this helps!

Token Life Update
January 3, 2018, 2:11 pm
Filed under: Biography, Personal Adventures

I’ve been away too long, so many have probably given up on any chance that I’ve been thinking about anything worth writing about. The facts are thus (in no particular order):

  1. I hurt my back in October and have been struggling since.
  2. Prior to that, I had been scrambling around to accomplish summertime things, such as get in shape, because
  3. I was sick for much of the spring with things like strep and influenza.
  4. I have also been lazy, which is what makes 1-3 seem like such valid excuses.

Meanwhile my kids have become bigger and smarter. Man, do I love them! Their personalities can be summed up thus:

In a few days, I and the Mrs will be celebrating the beginning of our 18th year of marriage. To say that she has blossomed since she’s been a pastor’s wife would be criminal understatement. She’s more than just a secretary (not only because she’s been on maternity leave for the past three years from her secretarial duties): she is incredibly thoughtful and reminds me often that so-and-so is having a tough time and  could probably use a word of encouragement. It’s like having an alarm clock for my conscience! Beyond this, our kids are really turning out to be neat little people. They spend just about every waking moment with Lady, so it’s no coincidence.

That’s all for now! Maybe soon I’ll get around to writing about my favorite 1 Timothy commentaries or waxing bike chains or something like that.

The Neglected Resource
September 23, 2017, 9:22 am
Filed under: Biography

The wisdom of Socrates: find an older person who has been where you’re going. Listen.

“There is nothing which for my part I like better, Cephalus, than conversing with aged men; for I regard them as travellers who have gone a journey which I too may have to go, and of whom I ought to inquire, whether the way is smooth and easy, or rugged and difficult.”

-Plato, Republic

Preaching Was People Work in the 7th Century
August 26, 2017, 11:13 pm
Filed under: Biography, Pastor Stuff

Among the several worthy Gregories from church history is Gregory the Great, perhaps best known as Pope Gregory I, father of Gregorian chant. Now, before you tune out, be aware that John Calvin appreciated Gregory’s writings very much. Remember also that Roman Catholicism was a different beast in the 7th century compared with the 16th.

At any rate, Gregory’s Book of Pastoral Rule turned up in my weekly reading. In it, I unearthed this gem (Part III, chapter 1), in which Gregory addresses the various considerations that will influence the way he approaches his sermon preparation:

Whence every teacher also, that he may edify all in the one virtue of charity, ought to touch the hearts of his hearers out of one doctrine, but not with one and the same exhortation…

Differently to be admonished are these that follow:—

Men and women.
The poor and the rich.
The joyful and the sad.
Prelates and subordinates.
Servants and masters.
The wise of this world and the dull.
The impudent and the bashful.
The forward and the fainthearted.
The impatient and the patient.
The kindly disposed and the envious.
The simple and the insincere.
The whole and the sick.
Those who fear scourges, and therefore live innocently; and those who have grown so hard in iniquity as not to be corrected even by scourges.
The too silent, and those who spend time in much speaking.
The slothful and the hasty.
The meek and the passionate.
The humble and the haughty.
The obstinate and the fickle.
The gluttonous and the abstinent.
Those who mercifully give of their own, and those who would fain seize what belongs to others.
Those who neither seize the things of others nor are bountiful with their own; and those who both give away the things they have, and yet cease not to seize the things of others.
Those that are at variance, and those that are at peace.
Lovers of strifes and peacemakers.
Those that understand not aright the words of sacred law; and those who understand them indeed aright, but speak them without humility.
Those who, though able to preach worthily, are afraid through excessive humility; and those whom imperfection or age debars from preaching, and yet rashness impels to it.
Those who prosper in what they desire in temporal matters; and those who covet indeed the things that are of the world, and yet are wearied with the toils of adversity.
Those who are bound by wedlock, and those who are free from the ties of wedlock.
Those who have had experience of carnal intercourse, and those who are ignorant of it.
Those who deplore sins of deed, and those who deplore sins of thought.
Those who bewail misdeeds, yet forsake them not; and those who forsake them, yet bewail them not.
Those who even praise the unlawful things they do; and those who censure what is wrong, yet avoid it not.
Those who are overcome by sudden passion, and those who are bound in guilt of set purpose.
Those who, though their unlawful deeds are trivial, yet do them frequently; and those who keep themselves from small sins, but are occasionally whelmed in graver ones.
Those who do not even begin what is good, and those who fail entirely to complete the good begun.
Those who do evil secretly and good publicly; and those who conceal the good they do, and yet in some things done publicly allow evil to be thought of them.

He then goes on to develop each distinction in turn throughout Section III.

But of what profit is it for us to run through all these things collected together in a list, unless we also set forth, with all possible brevity, the modes of admonition for each?

That’s an incredibly thoughtful approach.

Getting Christology Right
August 15, 2017, 10:46 am
Filed under: Biography

To everyone who struggles to say meaningful things about Christ succinctly without bumbling into heresy, I offer:

He hungers–but He feeds thousands….

He is wearied, but is the Rest of them that are weary….

He is heavy with sleep, but walks lightly over the sea….

He prays, but He hears prayer.

He weeps, but He causes tears to cease.

He asks where Lazarus was laid, for He was Man; but He raises Lazarus, for He was God.

He is sold, and very cheap, for it is only thirty pieces of silver; but He redeems the world….

As a sheep He is led to the slaughter, but He is the Shepherd of Israel, and now of the whole world also.

As a lamb He is silent, yet He is the Word….

He is…wounded, but He heals every disease….

He dies, but He gives life….

If the one give you a starting point for your error, let the others put an end to it.

Gregory of Nazianzus, Orat. 29.20

Cited in Thomas Oden, Classic Christianity, 312


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\"If I am immoderate, I am immoderate to God.\" - Bengel


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