The Public Death of A Third Place Bible Drill Girl

I was probably ten years old.

A blond-haired bowl cut chunk of boy.

She was probably 13 years old. I didn’t know her name. She didn’t know mine.

I sat in the back. Safe. Bored.

She stood on stage. Vulnerable. Nervous.

A Nice Public Flogging

It was a Sunday night church Bible Drill Competition. The sanctuary seemed uncharacteristically packed. Deacons, rubbernecks, parents, peers, everyone accounted for. Her competition was two boys.

The final three.

The first reference was called and the frenzied rustling of pages began. The first person to get there lunged forward and proudly recited it for the whole auditorium to hear. The next was called. And the next.

2 Chronicles 7:14!

Psalm 23:4!

James 5:16!

Ancient renderings from Nehemiah the adults in the audience had never heard. An interesting subplot was taking center stage. The two boys were running away with the competition. The poor girl fumbled her way through every challenge.

Not once.

Not once did she step forward.

Her older brother was sitting in the pew in front of me with a group of friends. His peers snickered as every squandered verse ran through her fingertips. At one point in hushed brotherly rage he whispered, “Shut Up!”

As the debacle unfolded her shoulders drooped. Defeat washed over her countenance. I could feel the white-hot embarrassment emanate off of her. She likely felt every eye from the faceless shadows peered at her; the spotlight on her ineptitude.

bible drill

At the time I didn’t know what to think; except how bad I felt for her. Now I think:

What a Stupid Petty Tradition

What did this competition teach that girl? That drive by knowledge of a reference and using the Bible as a silly sports ploy is what church is about? That the Christian life is namely about performance?

That night I learned I sure as heck wasn’t going to be a part of any such game. If I felt that much anguish from the back row I can’t imagine what she felt.

Children should be taught not to drill the word but to dwell in it (Colossians 3:16). If anything they should be led to handle what they hold with care and reverence, not rip through it as some recreational means to an end.

The Pharisees were the “Bible Drill” Champions of Ancient Israel. They flaunted their knowledge of the Law with brash eloquence. They wielded their Scripture swords like a drunk pirate, always lazily pointing outwards, never inwards to their own black heart.

Scripture was just a means to an end for them.

I’m informed by generally good scholarship that these teachers of law had the whole Pentateuch memorized by the time they were this girls age…thirteen. The only claim to memorization I had at that age was Blues Traveler’s mildly popular song “Hook”: “Suck it in, Suck it in, Suck it in, if you’re Rin Tin Tin or Anne Boleyn…..”

Pharisees and Bible drill

The Verse That Powns Pharisees

This all brings me to one of my favorite verses in the bible. It’s Jesus’s words to the Pharisees:

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life;
it is these that testify about Me; (John 5:39)

From Genesis to Maps. Every Jot. Every tittle. Everything in Scripture points to Jesus Christ. The eviscerated goats on the altar. The weeping prophets. The immaculate temple. The lovesick king in Songs of Songs. The unlikely shepherd boy who slayed a giant for his people.

The Bible is a progressive unfolding of the person and work of Jesus. The Old Testament had veils and shadows, we have the substance: Christ! If we study the Bible and miss Him we miss everything. That’s why I shake my head when I see a preacher endeavor to open the word, open his mouth and a few quaint stories, funny jokes, principles only, and practical vignettes come out.

People don’t need a little humor and new laws, they need Jesus. Period.

The grace He freely gives will both humble the proud Pharisee, and lift up the perplexed Bible drill loser.

I don’t know where that girl is today. She may not even remember that night as vividly as I do.

I do know this:

She won’t have to find Jesus in a fit of staged performance anxiety.

The Jesus the Bible testifies of can find her just fine. Right where she is. He already won the only victory that matters in her life.

Bible drills be damned.

What “unique” traditions did your childhood stream have growing up?

Bryan Daniels

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Sister Wives?! Some Men Are Gluttons For Punishment…

Kody Brown, of the reality TV show “Sister Wives,” (on its fourth season) is a glutton for punishment. Most men have a hard enough time keeping one woman pleased. But estrogenic attacks, menopausal mercilessness, and wedding dress drama are multiplied by four for Brown.

Kody Brown of Sister Wives
With those golden locks, this dude could have Four-HUNDRED sister wives…

You’re the One…er…Two…No…Three..Uh..Four for me!

The TLC hit show “Sister Wives”, about a polygamous family living in Utah, is a bit of a cultural phenomenon. Along with four sister wives, the family boasts 16 total children. This show is unique because it quickly brings into public focus some pertinent Biblical questions.

The Browns are fundamentalist Mormons. Though the mainstream modern Mormon Church formally rejects the polygamous lifestyle, it is a matter of record that the founding patriarchs and early followers of the LDS church were polygamous. Joseph Smith and his followers exercised what they considered their religious freedom.

I am ill equipped to have a “legal” opinion on polygamy laws in Utah. So I won’t.

But

When personal revelations (supposedly aided by heaven-sent golden goggles and golden tablets) become the standard for interpreting the bible…weirdness is likely to prevail. Remember, everyone has a theology, so everyone should care about thoughtful exegesis of the biblical text.

And before we make an obvious allusion to Old Testament Patriarch polygamy let me say this:

Just because the Bible mentions a sin does not mean it permits it.

The Bible is a very frank historical record of the total spectrum of human sinfulness. Adultery, homosexuality, greed, pride and a litany of sins are shown in Scripture through many living illustrations.

It gives me comfort that a lion/giant slaying king like David was a bit of a scumbag and needed grace as much as I do (read Psalm 51).

All of these stark realities are simply descriptive of life as it is, not prescriptive, or commanded, ways of living.

In the bible, polygamy is never shown in a positive light. In the very beginning, we see one man (Adam) and one woman (Eve) as the pre-eminent model for mankind (Genesis 2:18).

The first biblical character to be a polygamist, Lamech, was considered to be an evil man (Genesis 4:19-24). A host of “Sister Wives” was the beginning of the end of wise Solomon’s reign (1 Kings 11:4). The disaster of polygamy is illustrated by Lamech and Adah and Zillah in Genesis 4:19–24, Esau and Mahalath and other wives in Genesis 28:6–9, and Jacob and Leah and Rachel in Genesis 29:15–30. Even though some godly patriarchs took on polygamous lifestyles, never once was their decision considered good or godly.

In the New Testament, godly leaders must be men who are committed to only one woman in marriage (1 Timothy 3:2, 12).

The Tragic effect on “Sister Wives” (IMHO)*

Women of Scripture who are involved in polygamous marriages are frequently shown to feel insecure, jealous, and untrusting in their relationships. This was the tragic case with Abram, Sarai and Hagaar. We also witness this in Jacob, Leah and Rachel (Genesis 29:15-30).

In the show, this seems to be the case with Meri, who was the first and is the only legally married wife to Kody Brown. Meri is honest about her misgivings and struggles with the “plural” lifestyle. Throughout the first season she is a tumultuous bundle of conflicting emotions. She takes the marriage of Kody to Robyn harder than any of the other wives, even though she was the driving force in setting the two up.

Even after living roughly twenty years within the plural marriage she signed up for, she is still wounded afresh by Kody’s insistence of adding to their family. She feels insufficient and abandoned as Kody goes through a new butterfly Honeymooning stage with a different woman.

The other wives joke they are glad that Kody finally got himself a younger “trophy wife” in Robyn. The nervous laughter betrays their angst. Robyn is younger, prettier and skinnier than the other older wives. Instead of the man being ashamed of his mistress, this kind of polygamy brings her home and makes her a part of the family.

This is a nice family

I’m genuinely impressed with how they make this touchy situation work.

“Sister Wives” brings to light some incredibly provocative relational dynamics. And to the family’s credit, they handle most of it with a spirit of cordiality and sensitivity to one another. These are caring people who have chosen to put themselves into an untenable circumstance for the sake of their religious tradition.

For me, “Sister Wives” should evoke sympathy from watchers much more than condemnation.

But though the Browns seem like a nice Christian family; in the end, polygamy is neither nice to women nor is it a real “Christian” choice for marriage.

I could also make a compelling case for polygamy being cruel to men. But some men, like that lovable Kody Brown, are just gluttons for punishment.

 Does any of my “Sister” Readership have an opinion?

Bryan Daniels

*addendum: broken monogamies are a much greater scourge on the sanctity of marriage in our society than polygamy will ever be.

Five Songs I’d Be Bummed If You Never Heard

Josh Garrels-Ulysses

I hear a brooding lovesick Bridegroom in this song. And one of the most underrated singer/songwriters in America.

John Mark McMillian-Love You Swore

Singing seems like such strain to that deep raw voice of John Mark McMillian. Johnny Cash-esque if you will. With lyrics every bit as penetrating.

The Civil Wars-Poison & Wine

Marriage covenant. In a song. Other worldly beautiful.

Gregory Alan Isakov- The Stable Song

This is an adult bedtime lullaby with spellbinding lyrics. Love an old banjo too.

Head and Heart-Down In The Valley

“Wish I was a slave, to an age old trade…” Don’t know why, this song had me hooked with that opening lyric. The snazzy little harmonies probably helped too.

Hope you enjoy.

And

Do you have any favorite musical gems you’d be bummed if others never heard?

Bryan Daniels

 

Hug, Don’t Hate, The Pharisees In Your Life

There are some modern groups in which it is still politically correct to hate. For instance:

Westboro Baptist Church.

Dallas Cowboys.

The Kardashians.

Nickelback.

In Christian culture there is one biblical group in particular that gets our self-righteous blood boiling more than any other:

The Pharisees

They were the most religious, prestigious and openly critical Jewish sect towards Christ’s brief public ministry. They wielded their knowledge of the Law like a battle-axe. They held people captive and enslaved under the crushing weight of the meticulous ceremonial law. They would hold immaculate banquets to honor their own religious devotion before Israel’s upper crust, while locking out the broken, poor and unclean from their sight.

Ancient Jewish religious culture was married to the political establishment. Pharisees weren’t just the religious elite. They were the social elite. Political elite. Educational elite.

Jesus definitely had hard words for this particular religious opponent: They were called bleached tombs housing rotting corpses on one occasion (Matthew 23:27); on another, he accused their mothers of shagging the devil (John 8:44).

Everyone ELSE is a Pharisee

Some modern Christian groups commonly get compared to those ancient hypocrites: The red faced Fundamentalist who shuns sex, drugs and rock & roll. The Theological nitpicks and watchdogs, who commonly accuse other Christian groups of heresy. Any pastor who may say any word of exhortation on the matter of homosexuality, abortion, or anything deemed a political issue.

We love to hate on the Pharisees. And we love to ascribe that title to every other group but the one we happen to identify with. It may sound like this:

“Sure, grace is for tax collectors, prostitutes, gang bangers, drug addicts, etc….But don’t get me started on that old fart deacon who gave my wife an ugly look when she raised her hands during worship…I can’t stand that guy!”

Do we really think we’re gonna reach that crazy dude with the megaphone, who is thumping nothing but the law to deaf masses, by shouting “SHUT UP!” out our window as we screech by in our car?

Modern pharisees need grace as much as the anguished teenager considering an abortion.

I know this because they are human. And we all happen to be in the same sinking ship by nature (Romans 3:23).

Hugs Not Drugs….Or Hate

I also know this: The apostle formerly known as Saul was a Pharisee (Acts 23:6). And a dang good one. Before Christ knocked him off his donkey, Paul was notorious for his ability to hunt down men and women of “The Way” and see to it they were murdered for their faith (Acts 7:54-60). The blood of the saints was all over his hands, and he was quite proud of it (Acts 22:4)

A Pharisee of Pharisees
Paul, a “Pharisee of Pharisees” murdered Christians

Think:

The next modern-day apostle Paul may, at the moment, be murdering Christians in Sudan.

Maybe more shocking to you:

The next modern-day apostle Paul may, at the moment, be the church deacon you’re cursing underneath your breath.

If we have any reservations over those statements it is because we don’t believe in invincible grace. One thing is for sure: The only force that changes the heart of a murderous or judgmental Pharisee, is the grace of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Next time you’re shocked by their critical spirit and blind religious hubris: stop, take some deep breaths, smile and say something like:

“Is there anything I can pray for you about?”

“You wanna go for coffee some time?”

“Tell me your story.”

or even, God willing:

“Can I give you a hug?”

If God’s kindness brought Pharisees like us to repentance (Romans 2:4), you never know what similar grace will do to the hearts of those bound in legalism now.

Stop the hate. Try a hug instead.

What are some ways you could express greater grace towards the “Pharisees” in your circle?

Bryan Daniels

What The Heck Does “Chief of The Least” Mean?

The apostle Paul never appreciated the suped up title of “super-apostle.” That doesn’t stop us from putting him on that pedestal today. But if we read the NT carefully it’s plainly apparent:

Paul wasn’t all that impressed with himself

We praise him for his perseverance in mind-boggling persecution: stoned, five times whipped, shipwrecked thrice, beaten and imprisoned mercilessly and more (2 Cor 11:23-29). Paul said it wasn’t his true grit, but Christ alone who strengthened him in these things (Phil 4:11-13)

We hold studies searching for the nature of Paul’s notorious “thorn in the flesh.” Was it poor eyesight? Ugly face? Lingering torture wounds? Celibate life? Bad case of hemorrhoids? Paul didn’t point to the nature of the thorn, but rather the nature of sufficient grace was the focal point of the story (2 Cor 12:9).

Some pastors call Paul the most brilliant Christian mind in the church era. He had the modern equivalent of three Ph. Ds and oratorical powers that made peasants in Lystra call him a Roman god (Acts 14:12). Paul calls all of his extensive formal educational training a big steaming “pile of s—” (literally in the Greek) compared to the knowledge of Christ (Philippians 3:8).

What Spiritual Progress is For a Chief

We shouldn’t be surprised when Paul turns our view of Christian maturity on its head.

Indian Chief
Not that kind of Chief, guys.

We hope maturity in faith and sanctification would mean grappling less with the pet sins and shortcomings that rack our conscience daily. It may mean some of that. “Progress” is a nice clean catchword for politics and spirituality. But watch how Paul views progress in his Christian walk (Chief of the Least comes in here):

In the beginning of Paul’s ministry he called himself (1 Cor 15:9)

“the least of the apostles”

The least of the small select group of New Covenant Church founders. In the middle of Paul’s ministry, he called himself (Eph 3:8):

“the least of the saints.”

The least member of the growing New Covenant Church. In the end of Paul’s ministry, in his letter to his spiritual son Timothy, he called himself (1 Tim 1:15):

“Chief of Sinners”

The guiltiest and greatest sinner in the Whole. Wide. World.

This is what progress in holiness looks like: As we mature in our faith we become more humble and more broken over the sin still latent within us. As we realize we are seated with Christ in the heavenlies our faces are brought lower than dirt in servant gratitude. Paul wasn’t the greatest sinner in the world compared to other Roman dictators and miscreants.

True.

Paul was convinced He was the greatest sinner because he was in a prime position to be more aware of his own sin than others. One of the greatest works of the Holy Spirit is to reveal to us the depths of our own sin, not the sins of others.

So we find true progress to be an ever growing cyclical progress in brokenness. In humility. In gratitude.

In more brokenness.

In more humility.

In more gratitude.

A greater awareness of our sin brings an even greater awareness of the gospel that killed its grip in the person of Jesus Christ. “Chief of the Least” is a merging of Paul’s self titles.

I’m applying it to me.

But it is not just for me; It’s for anyone acutely aware of their broken estate on one hand, yet caught up in greater grateful flood for the Savior that utterly repairs and restores it on the other.

We fellow “Chiefs” adhere to this simple lifelong confession:

Yes, I am a great sinner. But I have a much greater Savior in Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Bryan Daniels

A Child Sees “The Moon!” and “The Son!”

Children have a winsome way of instructing adults.

My son, Gideon, not yet two years old, teaches me a lesson about worship and the wonders of God.

If we walk outside right after dusk it’s not very long until he lifts an expectant gaze upward. With an awe-inspiring wonder in his eyes he exclaims, “Moon!” (sometimes pronounced “Boon!”)

It never gets old to him. He sees it near every night, but each time he is caught by complete surprise when earth’s companion reveals itself. He points to the heavens with a tiny index finger, gasps, and exclaims it again with more emphasis, “Moon!” He’ll then look to me to make sure I’m not missing out on this exquisite display of the cosmos. And I can’t help but look up with him and force the amazement in my voice while joining with him,

“Moon!”

When his brother, Josiah, was this age we had the same ritual.

The wonder of a glowing orb perfectly suspended before a pitch black backdrop is a mystery we “refined” adults rarely recognize anymore.

My son knows nothing of Cosmology or Astronomy, tidal forces or Neil Armstrong. But he knows the proper response to divine phenomena when he sees it (Psalm 19).

We should be more like children (Mat 18:3). Sophistication, tradition, materialism, and blatant worship at the altar of fallen reason have left us cold and dead inside. Our blind dedication to theoretical principles has left us passionless and purposeless.

As GK Chesterton once intimated: the problem is not that we are so advanced as a species but that we are so dull. One defining mark of spiritual maturity is when the curious marvel that is a blade of grass or tad pole can bring us to our knees in worship. The splendor of God’s power in those simple things rarely grips us anymore.

 The Halo of God I Took For Granted

A few nights ago there was a great halo around the moon that extended down into our stratosphere with epic brilliance. Around 10:30 my wife woke me up from a near dead sleep so I could go outside and witness it with her. She was as giddy as a schoolgirl about the sight, calling up her dad to awake and see the spectacle too.

ring around the moon
The moon I took for granted.

I was impressed. But standing in my chilly driveway with my boxer shorts on my demeanor was a little more reserved. The killjoy left side of my brain took over as I said:

“It’s just light from the moon refracting off ice crystals…”

And there I was, trying to be more than a child. I would have been much better off if I took notes from my one year old and just pointed up while exclaiming,

“MOON!”

The wonder of the gospel will make us children again (Mat 19:14). May we never view the empty tomb as some abstract historical fact or ecclesial tradition. There is an eternal chasm of difference between assenting to information about God and being ruined by a revelation of God.

The Christian paradox: Be mature in faith yet childlike in trust.

Today: may we look to the gospel of Jesus Christ with childlike astonishment, point to His cross and empty tomb and cry out to God and man, “The Son! The Son! The Son!”

What areas in life do you feel you need to be more “child-like”?

Bryan Daniels

Whoops…

It’s likely your friendly email spam monster ate my last post. Turns out posts that have titles that include “Hit me up” and “Facebook” raise a red flag in the spam bot system.

I guess the scurvy spam bots assumed the post was from some webcam scam based out of the nether-regions of the Eastern bloc.

Blog and learn.

The gist of my last post: Like me up on the “Chief of The Least” Facebook page (sidebar to your right), it would be greatly appreciated.

Thankfully yours,

Bryan Daniels