Swimming with the Elephants

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Leon Morris begins his commentary on John with the statement, “I like the comparison of John’s Gospel to a pool in which a child may wade and an elephant can swim. It is both simple and profound” (NICNT, p. 3).

Similar quotations introduce many commentaries and sermon series on John’s gospel. The illustration draws a wonderful word picture and has been used for over fourteen hundred years.

The quotation dates back to Gregory the Great (AD 540-604) and his commentary on Job. Gregory writes, “Scripture is like a river again, broad and deep, shallow enough here for the lamb to go wading, but deep enough there for the elephant to swim” (Moralia 4). It is sometimes mistakenly attributed to John Owen, who uses the quotation in his commentary on Hebrews (Works 20:165). Augustine is also sometimes cited as the source of this quotation, apparently due to an editorial footnote in Hutchings’ translation of Augustine’s Confessions (1883, p. 136). Some claim the quotation goes back as far as Clement of Alexandria (AD 150-215), but I have never seen this documented. More often than not, the elephants swimming quote is cited as being anonymous, but we can be pretty sure that Gregory the Great is where it first originated.

If you are ever looking for a good illustration to begin a sermon series, I would suggest you consider talking about children wading where elephants swim. The illustration is most often used to introduce John’s gospel for some reason, but it would be applicable to any exegetical book study. It helps to start a difficult study off on a encouraging note.

Here’s a video of elephants swimming.

Everybody’s Wearing Blue Pants

blue jeansClothing styles are among the most noticeable elements of any culture. Whenever one encounters a new culture, it is easy assume that others are less intelligent due to their clothing styles. How bright can these people be if they dress so dumb?

Clothing differences surely helped form the colonial attitudes so unfortunately prevalent in nineteenth-century missions. Missionaries frequently required converts to adopt Western clothing styles in addition to the gospel message.

However, people don’t have to go traipsing about in loincloths in order to arouse our condemnation. All a culture has to do is wear our own clothing styles slightly differently. We see people wearing t-shirts with misspelled or nonsensical English, and we assume that we’re much smarter because we understand a language that they obviously don’t. Meanwhile, they are feeling superior because our t-shirts betray the fact that we have no idea how to read Chinese or Japanese.

Imagine going to a mall or fast food restaurant with a couple who has never had any interaction with Western culture. The first thing they might wonder is “why is everyone wearing blue pants?” Imagine if you went somewhere and everyone was wearing green or red pants. It would seem odd. However, our culture has conditioned us to expect the majority of casually-attired people to be wearing blue pants.

Culture sets our expectations and helps us draw impressions. When we’re outside our own cultures, we need to be constantly mindful of potential cultural differences and conscientiously withhold judgment. Don’t start making assumptions about people who just don’t wear blue pants.

180-Degree Reactions

no u turnChristians tend to over-correct for the sin of their cultures. When confronted with error, Christians often counter with a 180-degree response. Entire entertainment media are labeled sinful. Liberal social agendas are condemned in whole. Fields such as science, psychology, and even sometimes medicine are rejected as having no value for the Christian. Truth becomes defined as the opposite of error.

Unfortunately, sin rarely appears in it purest form. The most dangerous errors are those which contain large amounts of truth. Christians who take stands in reaction to error often embrace error in the process. Ron Horton put it this way,

“Responses to error can go awry because of counterrelational thinking. The earnest Christian, intent on taking a stand against a dangerous belief or practice, stakes out his position directly opposite the error, forgetting that error is not always 180 degrees from the truth. Error may lie 90 degrees off the truth or even be sitting on truth’s borders. If truth, let us say, is north by the compass, error is not always due south. Error may be east or west, even northwest, and even in not so rare instances northnorthwest. Instead of forming his position directly from Scripture, the zealous contender takes his bearings from the error, distorting the position he means to defend” (“A Balanced Response to Error,” Voice of the Alumni 77.5 [2004]:6).

Horton concludes, “To be aligned with truth, our positions…must be formed naturally from Scripture, not counterrelationally to the error we mean to combat” (7). Christians must take positive stands for the Bible’s teaching, not reactionary stands against the world.

Ironic Advertizing

Have you heard the series of commercials Nexium is running? The ads have doctors ineptly trying to operate jackhammers and throw baseballs. Then the ads cut to their message:

You wouldn’t want your doctor doing your job, so why ardoctor-jack-hammere you doing his? Only your doctor can determine if your persistent heartburn is something more serious, like acid reflex disease. Over time, stomach acid can damage the lining of your esophagus. For many, prescription Nexium not only provides 24-hour heartburn relief but also can help heal acid-related erosions in the lining of your esophagus. Talk to your doctor…. Let your doctor do his job and you do yours. Ask if Nexium is right for you.

Doesn’t it seem ironic that Nexium is running ads telling you to “let your doctor do his job” in order to get you to pressure him into letting you choose your own medication?

Only Enough Grace for Today

Sunrise over rocksGod promises, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” ( 2 Cor 12:9). God will give you all the grace you need for today. However, Jesus also told his disciples, “Do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matt 6:34).

God will give you all the grace you need to do what must be done today. The weaker you become, the more God will increase your grace. We can have Paul’s confidence that “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10).

When we are weak, however, we still feel weak. Our problems stretch on throughout the foreseeable future with no end in sight. We must remember that God’s mercies are new every morning (Lam 3:22-23), but we only have enough for today. Don’t worry about tomorrow; you have enough to do today. Trust God even when you’re falling apart, and your spirit will be renewed day by day (2 Cor 4:16).

Study Romans with Moo

mooDoug Moo is one of the foremost scholars on the book of Romans. His commentary on Romans in the NICNT is arguably the best ever written. If you have a question on Romans, Moo usually has the right answer and gives a fair representation of the other positions as well.

BiblicalTraining.org is offering free streaming and downloads of a D.Min. seminar Moo taught on Romans this past May at the Carolina School of Divinity.

If you want an in-depth (doctoral level) study of Romans, here you go. Best of all, it’s free.

The World Saw You Celebrate

Back in 2008, a Chinese church did a series of man-on-the-street interviews asking “What is Christmas?” and “Who is Jesus?” The resulting five-minute video is worth taking a look.

If you went to any mall in the US three weeks ago and asked “What does Christmas mean for you?”, I think the answers given would convince you that the Chinese pretty much understand Christmas as it is celebrated in the West. The world sees what we do, not what we say we believe.

The world was watching this holiday season, and I’m not so sure they have stopped looking yet.

Free Audiobook

Compelling InterestChristianAudio.com is giving away free downloads of Roger Resler’s Compelling Interest through the entire month of January.

Roger Resler is an author, media producer and researcher. Roger’s background is in radio and audio production. He has been an announcer, DJ, news, producer, production director, account executive and station manager for several radio stations in three states. He was also an audio editor for Focus On the Family.

From ChristainAudio’s site,

In Compelling Interest, author Roger Resler draws on original sources, including the actual transcripts for oral arguments, the majority and minority opinions, and comments by the lawyers and others involved to take a careful look at the real story behind the historic Roe v. Wade decision.

Resler includes conversations with experts, including sociology professor Dr. William Brennan, the late Dr. Mildred Jefferson and Dr. Carolyn Gerster who co-founded the National Right to Life Committee, prolific author and speaker Randy Alcorn, bioethics professor Dr. Gerard Magill, perinatologist Dr. James Thorp, and photojournalist Michael Clancy.

2012 in Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

This blog was viewed about 110,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

MACP Audio Now Online

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary has now made the audio of this year’s Mid-America Conference on Preaching available for free download.

The conference theme for this year was “The Mystery of Christ: God’s Glory among the Gentiles.” The online resources include MP3 audio files of all general sessions and workshops, along with PDF files of all workshop notes. Presentations cover two primary areas: (1) Dispensational-Theological Issues; and (2) Preaching-Church Ministry Issues. Digital resources from previous conferences are also available online.