Notice: I've taken a part-time job, and it's definitely affecting my blogging time. I'll continue to add content here as often as possible.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Hound of Heaven

Francis Thompson
Francis Thompson

This post isn't going to be for everyone. Not many people will have the fortitude to read this entire poem, I'm pretty sure. But I was raised on a lot of famous poetry, and some phrases of this poem have been "hounding" me this fall.

I've been trying to deal with a big disappointment, where I believe that I was seriously wronged. To the point where I have considered taking legal action if I thought I could prove anything. Of course, this isn't the kind of person I want to be. I'm just trying to convey how upset and angry I've been.

Although this poem was written with the idea of God chasing down someone who has turned away from Him, it still resonates. Every time I felt so angry, I also felt that God's principles- the ones I want to live by- have been chasing me. For example:
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
     But with unhurrying chase,
     And unperturbèd pace,
     Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
     They beat--and a Voice beat
     More instant than the Feet--
     "All things betray thee, who betrayest Me."


And now my heart is a broken fount,
Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
     From the dank thoughts that shiver
Upon the sighful branches of my mind.
     Such is; what is to be?

So, I present to you the entire poem, The Hound of Heaven, by Francis Thompson, 1893. Read on, if you are brave:

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
     Up vistaed hopes I sped;
     And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
     But with unhurrying chase,
     And unperturbèd pace,
     Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
     They beat--and a Voice beat
     More instant than the Feet--
     "All things betray thee, who betrayest Me."

     I pleaded, outlaw-wise,
By many a hearted casement, curtained red,
Trellised with intertwining charities
(For, though I knew His love Who followed,
     Yet was I sore adread
Lest having Him, I must have naught beside);
But if one little casement parted wide,
The gust of His approach would clash it to.
Fear wist not to evade, as Love wist to pursue.
Across the margent of the world I fled,
And troubled the gold gateways of the stars,
Smiting for shelter on their clanged bars;
     Fretted to dulcet jars
And silvern chatter the pale ports o' the moon.
I said to dawn, Be sudden; to eve, Be soon;
With thy young skyey blossoms heap me over
     From this tremendous Lover!
Float thy vague veil about me, lest He see!
I tempted all His servitors, but to find
My own betrayal in their constancy,
In faith to Him their fickleness to me,
Their traitorous trueness, and their loyal deceit.
To all swift things for swiftness did I sue;
Clung to the whistling mane of every wind.
     But whether they swept, smoothly fleet,
     The long savannahs of the blue;
     Or whether, Thunder-driven,
     They clanged his chariot 'thwart a heaven
Plashy with flying lightnings round the spurn o' their feet--
     Still with unhurrying chase,
     And unperturbèd pace,
     Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
     Came on the following Feet,
     And a Voice above their beat--
     "Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me."

I sought no more that after which I strayed
     In face of man or maid;
But still within the little children's eyes
     Seems something, something that replies;
They at least are for me, surely for me!
I turned me to them very wistfully;
But, just as their young eyes grew sudden fair
     With dawning answers there,
Their angel plucked them from me by the hair.
"Come then, ye other children, Nature's--share
With me," said I, "your delicate fellowship;
     Let me greet you lip to lip,
     Let me twine with you caresses,
     With our Lady-Mother's vagrant tresses'
     With her in her wind-walled palace,
     Underneath her azured daïs,
     Quaffing, as your taintless way is,
     From a chalice
Lucent-weeping out of the dayspring."
     So it was done;
I in their delicate fellowship was one--
Drew the bolt of Nature's secrecies.
     I knew all the swift importings
     On the wilful face of skies;
     I knew how the clouds arise
     Spumèd of the wild sea-snortings;
     All that's born or dies
     Rose and drooped with--made them shapers
Of mine own moods, or wailful or divine--
     With them joyed and was bereaven.
     I was heavy with the even,
     When she lit her glimmering tapers
     Round the day's dead sanctities.
     I laughed in the morning's eyes.
I triumphed and I saddened with all weather,
     Heaven and I wept together,
And its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine;
Against the red throb of its sunset-heart
     I laid my own to beat,
     And share commingling heat;
But not by that, by that, was eased my human smart.
In vain my tears were wet on Heaven's gray cheek.
For ah! we know not what each other says,
     These things and I; in sound I speak--
Their sound is but their stir, they speak by silences.
Nature, poor stepdame, cannot slake my drouth;
     Let her, if she would owe me,
Drop yon blue bosom-veil of sky, and show me
     The breasts of her tenderness;
Never did any milk of hers once bless
     My thirsting mouth.
     Nigh and nigh draws the chase,
     With unperturbèd pace,
     Deliberate speed, majestic instancy;
     And past those noisèd Feet
     A voice comes yet more fleet--
"Lo naught contents thee, who content'st not Me."

Naked I wait Thy love's uplifted stroke!
My harness piece by piece Thou hast hewn from me,
     And smitten me to my knee;
     I am defenseless utterly.
     I slept, methinks, and woke,
And, slowly gazing, find me stripped in sleep.
In the rash lustihead of my young powers,
     I shook the pillaring hours
And pulled my life upon me; grimed with smears,
I stand amid the dust o' the mounded years--
My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.
     Yea, faileth now even dream
The dreamer, and the lute the lutanist;
Even the linked fantasies, in whose blossomy twist
I swung the earth a trinket at my wrist,
Are yielding; cords of all too weak account
For earth with heavy griefs so overplussed.
     Ah! is Thy love indeed
A weed, albeit amaranthine weed,
Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?
     Ah! must--
     Designer infinite!--
Ah! must Thou char the wood ere Thou canst limn with it?
My freshness spent its wavering shower i' the dust;
And now my heart is a broken fount,
Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
     From the dank thoughts that shiver
Upon the sighful branches of my mind.
     Such is; what is to be?
The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind?
I dimly guess what Time in mist confounds;
Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of Eternity;
Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then
Round the half-glimpsed turrets slowly wash again.
     But not ere him who summoneth
     I first have seen, enwound
With blooming robes, purpureal, cypress-crowned;
is name I know, and what his trumpet saith.
Whether man's heart or life it be which yields
     Thee harvest, must Thy harvest fields
     Be dunged with rotten death?

     Now of that long pursuit
     Comes on at hand the bruit;
     That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
      "And is thy earth so marred,
     Shattered in shard on shard?
     Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!
     Strange, piteous, futile thing,
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught," He said,
"And human love needs human meriting,
     How hast thou merited--
Of all man's clotted clay rhe dingiest clot?
     Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee
     Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
     Not for thy harms.
But just that thou might'st seek it in my arms.
     All which thy child's mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home;
     Rise, clasp My hand, and come!"

Halts by me that footfall;
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstreched caressingly?
"Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me."

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Lyrics- O Little Town of Bethlehem

Every Sunday the lyrics from some great piece of Christian music will be featured. It's not that I want worship to revert to using all hymns, it's just that many modern Christian songs don't SAY anything. I really miss some deeper meaning. So I'm going to remind us of some great words.

O Little Town of Bethlehem
Phill­ips Brooks, 1867

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth!

How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.

Where children pure and happy pray to the blessèd Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee, Son of the mother mild;
Where charity stands watching and faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more.

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!

This is the first American Christmas Carol. Phillips Brooks was inspired to write the words as he visited the Holy Land, and was looking down on the village of Bethlehem. For more about it's origins, see The Most Famous American Christmas Carol. I chose a version sung by Nat King Cole- another classic American favorite.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Christmas Story- Geneva Bible

A few years ago I was able to find an inexpensive copy of the Geneva Bible, published in 1560. This is the translation that the Pilgrims brought with them to the New World. I like to read familiar passages from less familiar translations. This often makes me think more about the words and their meanings.

You won't find this much different from the King James Bible, but I like it anyway. This is also my first entry in an occasional video series of Bible readings.

So, from someone known to be an old Scrooge when it comes to Christmas fol-de-rol, I invite you to contemplate the reason for Christmas, the celebration of Christ, in the first place.

Answer to Laddergram

Since Jesus was born in a stable, two likely visitors were SHEEP and DOVES.

The words of the laddergram are:
3. AIR
6. SOT
9. TEN
11. EIRE
12. IRE
14. ELSE
15. EEL

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday Fun - Laddergram

Are you familiar with Laddergrams? Answer the clues for each numbered space. Answer 2 is made from answer 1 with one letter removed, and the rest (usually) rearranged. Put the discarded letter in the left hand square. Answer 3 is made from answer 2 the same way. Put that discarded letter in the right hand square. Start over with clues 4-6, 7-9, etc. When you are done the discarded letters will vertically spell the answer to the puzzle.

Note that there is a clue that can help you solve the puzzle, too.

laddergram example

The clue for this puzzle is: Two likely visitors at Jesus' birth


You can right click and choose view image to see the puzzle larger.

Monday, December 13, 2010

An Unexpected Lesson from the Garden

Jesus prays in the Garden

I know it’s not the Easter season, but I just thought of this lesson this week. We always are reminded that Jesus actually won the battle in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he submitted to the will of God, no matter how painful. His personal suffering is often used as an example of his humanity.

So, it occurred to me that it also illustrates the point that acceptance of difficult, even hurtful situations in our lives is a process.

Jesus knew what his mission was on earth. He knew what was the right thing to do. He wanted to do the right thing– had planned all along to do the right thing. And yet, when the reality of facing the cross was imminent, even Jesus had to go through a process of acceptance. He was sorrowful and troubled, and he wanted people (James and John) to be near him and share his burden in a small way.

Jesus may have known all along that in the end he would accept the terrible events he had to face, but he, our perfect example, couldn’t arrive at that point instantly.

Perhaps there is some physiological reason that the human body can’t (usually) immediately take bad news and leap into positive acceptance of it, no matter how spiritual a person may be.

We’ve been taught to recognize the stages of grief. We need friends to talk to when troubling things happen. And yet, we sometimes say to suffering people, “Get over it!”

Jesus, our perfect example, spent the difficult time in prayer. And yet, it took even God in human form several hours to reach the point where he could hold up his head and say, “I’m ready to face this.”

Now, there are those who insist on lingering in their sorrow, or refuse to move along the process of recovery. Some people refuse to accept the truth, or God’s will. We do need to be moving toward acceptance. We need to be seeking God’s will for our lives. This can take a while, in the face of major changes in our situation. And none of us are facing such a serious crisis as Jesus was.

But, we need to have patience with ourselves and others when troubling situations arise.

Perhaps when Jesus told the disciples, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” he was speaking of his own flesh, as well as theirs.

Matthew 26

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Lyrics- Give Them All to Jesus

Every Sunday the lyrics from some great piece of Christian music will be featured. It's not that I want worship to revert to using all hymns, it's just that many modern Christian songs don't SAY anything. I really miss some deeper meaning. So I'm going to remind us of some great words.

Give Them All to Jesus
written by Phil Johnson and Bob Benson Sr., 1975

Are you tried of chasing pretty rainbows
Are you tired of spinning round and round
Wrap up all the shattered dreams of your life
And at the feet of Jesus lay them down

Give them all give them all give them all to Jesus
Shattered dreams wounded hearts broken toys
Give them all give them all give them all to Jesus
And He will turn your sorrow into joy

He never said you would only see sunshine
He never said there would be no rain
He only promised us a heart full of singing
At the very thing that once brought pain

There have been a number of times in my life when this song brought a lot of comfort to me. It was amazing how many terrible recordings of it are on YouTube. I found one with images that I thought really illustrated the song, but the vocal wasn't too good. I found a couple of professional voice recordings. But they really caused you to focus on the singer, and not the words. This one may too... but I appreciated the "real-ness" of this guy- this song is nothing if not real, where it hurts (and he can sing on key!).

Answers to Quiz Yourself

Answers to yesterday's matching game: You had to take the people from the first column and match them to a sibling in the second column.

1. Moses and Miriam: Miriam was Moses' older sister who watched his basket in the Nile river, and became a co-leader of the Israelites. Numbers 26:59

2. Martha and Lazarus: Martha (and Mary) were the sisters of Lazarus. He died, and was raised to life again by Jesus. John 11

3. Reuben and Dinah: These were two of the children of Jacob. Reuben was one of the twelve brothers who became the fathers of the twelve tribes. Dinah is noted because she was loved by a man of Shechem, and raped. The brothers avenged her. Genesis 34

4. David and Abinadab: Abinidab was the second oldest of Jesse's sons, and when Samuel came to choose the king of Israel, everyone was shocked that the elder sons were not chosen, but that the youngest (David) was. I Samuel 16

5. James and John: Two of Jesus' disciples, the sons of Zebedee. Matthew 4:21

6. Abraham and Sarah: Yes, they were husband and wife, but they were also half-siblings. When Abraham told Pharoah she was his sister, it wasn't exactly a lie, but it wasn't the whole truth either! Genesis 20:12

7. Rachel and Leah: These were the daughters of Laban, whom Jacob worked for 14 years to earn as his wives. Genesis 29

8. Shem and Japheth: These are two of the three sons of Noah. Genesis 5:32

9. Mahlon and Kilion: These are the two sons of Elimalek, who died, leaving their better-known wives, Ruth and Orphah with his wife, Naomi. Ruth 1

10. Jacob and Esau: certainly one of the most famous sets of twins in the world. Two nations struggling together in the womb. Genesis 25

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday Fun- Quiz Yourself

Every Friday there will be a Bible game of some kind to play. The answers will be posted on Saturday morning. Today, it's a matching quiz. The theme is Siblings. Match the person in the first column with a sibling of theirs from the second column.

1. Moses

2. Martha

3. Reuben

4. David

5. James

6. Abraham

7. Rachel

8. Shem

9. Mahlon

10. Jacob

A. Esau

B. Sarah

C. Abinadab

D. John

E. Dinah

F. Kilion

G. Japheth

H. Miriam

I. Lazarus

J. Leah

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What is the Good God Has Promised?

the word GOOD

As an extension of what I wrote on Monday, there is the huge question of “what is good.” The verse, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose,” is quoted so often that I almost hate to bring it up. (Romans 8:28)

But this verse is central to the question of moving God to act on our behalf through faith. Consider the idea of receiving healing for a physical problem. Some people firmly believe that God wants perfect health for everyone here on earth, because that is good.

In fact, there is a currently popular Christian song which says, “You make all things work together for my good.” But is that what Romans 8:28, quoted above, says? No, it is not.

There can be a huge difference between what I would consider “my good,” and “absolute good.” Going back to the health example, if it is always good for me to be healthy, then I would have to conclude that if I have perfect faith, I will have perfect health until at some point when God says, “time’s up,” I would drop dead with a smile on my face. It would mean that babies would never be born with defects, and that handicapping injuries would never happen to those who have perfect faith. But life doesn’t work this way.

John Bunyan spent years starving in prison- probably not what he would have defined as “good,” and yet the world was given Pilgrim’s Progress. Joel Sonnenberg was burned over 85% of his body as a toddler (certainly not because of his lack of faith), and his parents triumphed in God’s sovereign goodness, and Joel is now a Christian motivational speaker. Amy Carmichael broke her ankle before she thought that her work in India was complete, and discovered that God was moving her to the ranks of the prayer warriors, rather than to continue as a “soldier” on the front lines of working with people. We like to remember the faith of the men thrown into the fiery furnace who were not burned, but what of those heroes of faith from Hebrews 11 who were "stoned, sawn asunder, and killed with the sword?" They had the faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who said that they didn't know if God would spare them, but he was able, whether he did or not. We are cheered by the physically saving faith of the men in the fire, but not so much by the faith of those who were sawn in two.

James 4:3 says, “You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your lusts.”

Sometimes, our definition of “goodness” is just another form of lust. We want to be healthy, sheltered in reasonable comfort, have loving family and friends around us, and feel God’s presence in our lives. We believe that God wants these things for us. Yet, sometimes God calls people to be ill, injured, cold and hungry, even alone. He wants us to trust him, whether we can feel that He is there or not. He wants us to stand with Job and say, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.”

Our definition of good has to be aligned with God’s definition of good. This can be a difficult coordination problem, but this is the issue to which we should apply our faith.

Race For Life: The Joel Sonnenberg Story

Joel Sonnenberg's web site

Would You Dare?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Can Faith Accomplish Everything?

reflected candle

This week, I was in a discussion about faith with someone. Her church is studying a book that proposes that every lack in our lives is due to the fact that we don’t have enough faith. This includes the lack of money, being depressed, having poor health, etc.

I took issue with this idea. Two examples from Scripture just leapt to mind. Job was tested simply because he was the most righteous man on earth, and Satan challenged God that he could be broken. Job lost everything except his wife and his life. But was it because of his lack of faith? I don’t believe so. My friend, who really does believe that anything can be accomplished with enough faith, quoted Job 3:25, where Job says, “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.” This verse supposedly indicates that Job’s faith wasn’t perfect, that he had fears. But, I think this begs the question of the chain of events as reported. It was more due to Job’s great faith that the “bad” things happened to him, rather than a lack of faith. In fact, he refused to give up on God. His wife advised him to “curse God and die,” yet Job was steadfast and said he would trust God even if God killed him.

Another good example is the man who was born blind. John 9 tells that Jesus healed him, and then the disciples asked, “Who sinned, this man, or his parents?” They believed that the lack of health had to be the result of sin. Jesus didn’t answer in riddles, for a change. He clearly said that no one sinned, but that the man was born blind simply so that the works of God could be displayed.

We don’t know how old this man was, but if it’s a fact that sufficient faith fixes everything, then for all the years before the man met Jesus he could have been accurately criticized for not having enough faith. The reality is that he had plenty of faith, because he was healed. However, the timing also had to be right.

The book the group is studying does pose the question, “Does the sovereignty of God take precedence over faith?” In other words, if God has some overriding plan, can he be forced to change that plan by someone who prays with enough faith?

One school of thought says, “Yes, God has to respond to a prayer of sufficient faith.”

I say that there are lots of examples throughout history of people who were asked to suffer physically, emotionally, or spiritually for various reasons having nothing to do with the amount of faith they had.

What do you think?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Lyrics- Work For the Night is Coming

Every Sunday the lyrics from some great piece of Christian music will be featured. It's not that I want worship to revert to using all hymns, it's just that many modern Christian songs don't SAY anything. I really miss some deeper meaning. So I'm going to remind us of some great words.

Work For the Night is Coming
Anna Coghill, 1854

Work, for the night is coming,
Work through the morning hours;
Work while the dew is sparkling,
Work ’mid springing flowers;
Work when the day grows brighter,
Work in the glowing sun;
Work, for the night is coming,
When man’s work is done.

Work, for the night is coming,
Work through the sunny noon;
Fill brightest hours with labor,
Rest comes sure and soon.
Give every flying minute,
Something to keep in store;
Work, for the night is coming,
When man works no more.

Work, for the night is coming,
Under the sunset skies;
While their bright tints are glowing,
Work, for daylight flies.
Work till the last beam fadeth,
Fadeth to shine no more;
Work, while the night is darkening,
When man’s work is o’er.

This past week, while there were no posts here, I was working for a friend. It was hard, physical labor, which can be very satisfying. This song reminds us of that wonderful aspect of being human, and also that our time here on earth is brief. We should work hard, both for the accomplishments, and for the kingdom ahead. I'm having a hard time finding a video I like for this song, so I made one!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Lyrics- We Gather Together

Every Sunday the lyrics from some great piece of Christian music will be featured. It's not that I want worship to revert to using all hymns, it's just that many modern Christian songs don't SAY anything. I really miss some deeper meaning. So I'm going to remind us of some great words.

We Gather Together
Dutch Hymn written in 1597 by person unknown

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known.
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
Ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine;
So from the beginning the fight we were winning;
Thou, Lord, were at our side, all glory be Thine!

We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant,
And pray that Thou still our Defender will be.
Let Thy congregation escape tribulation;
Thy Name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!

This is probably the most "authentic" Thanksgiving hymn there is. It was probably sung at the very first Thanksgiving, as it was certainly known to the Pilgrims. Much to my surprise, I had a hard time finding a good video. The words seem to insist on a group rendition rather than a solo, but many non-professional groups don't sing all that well. I found two audio versions I liked, but with boring graphics. So, I have settled on this one, which, at least, shows people gathering together to ask the Lord's blessing!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Answer to Cryptogram

The answer to yesterday's cryptogram is Psalm 35:18 (NIV)


Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday Fun- Cryptogram

Every Friday there will be a Bible game of some kind to play. The answers will be posted on Saturday morning. This time it's a simple cryptogram. Each letter you see has been substituted for another letter of the alphabet. For example, if A is represented by D, then every D in the puzzle would be an A (but this is just an example- not the case in this puzzle). Hint- it's a Bible verse.


Have Fun!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Gospel Enigmas - Which Commandments?

I find that many of the things Jesus did are perplexing. They make me think, and sometimes I have no conclusions. I'll pose questions and only share my opinion as to meaning after a day or so. Interact!

rich young ruler and Jesus

Jesus answered the scribe’s question of which is the greatest commandment: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

This wasn’t some newly created distillation of the ten commandments. Jesus was quoting Deuteronomy and Leviticus. By using these phrases he not only demonstrated his knowledge of Scripture, but validated the authority of the law. This all makes sense.

Then we come to Jesus’ meeting with the young rich man. This man chases Jesus down... literally. He runs down the road to catch up with him. He kneels and calls Jesus “Good Teacher.” Then he asks what he should do to inherit eternal life. Jesus answer is almost coy. He starts with a question, “Why do you call me good? No man is good.”

He continues by telling the man to obey the commandments, and lists them. Well, sort of... Jesus lists five of the ten commandments. And not the first five. Actually the decalogue breaks into sections of four and six. The first four deal with our relationship with God, the “love the Lord” part. The final six cover “love your neighbor.”

Jesus seems to be playing a game with the young man. He tells him not to commit adultery, murder, or lie, and that he should honor his father and mother.

This seems like all the wrong answers. It’s as if Jesus is saying that one can attain heaven by doing certain things, when the entire premise of the New Testament is that we gain eternal life by faith in God... more in line with the first four of the commandments.

What do you think Jesus was doing? read more

See Mark 12
See Mark 10

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Lyrics- There is a Quiet Place

Every Sunday the lyrics from some great piece of Christian music will be featured. It's not that I want worship to revert to using all hymns, it's just that many modern Christian songs don't SAY anything. I really miss some deeper meaning. So I'm going to remind us of some great words.

There is a Quiet Place
by Ralph Carmichael, 1967

There is a quiet place
Far from the rapid pace
Where God can soothe my troubled mind

Sheltered by tree and flow'r
There in my quiet hour
With Him my cares are left behind

Whether a garden small
Or on a mountain tall
New strength and courage there I find

Then from this quiet place
I go prepared to face
A new day with love for all mankind

This song is on one of my favorite albums of all time, "Creature Praise," which has never been released on DVD. What brought this song to mind this week was a windy day stoll. You can read about it at A Quiet Place

This version, by the Heritage Singers, is very similar to the one on the album.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Name Game - Barnabas

St. Barnabas in stained glass

Sometimes nicknames outlast our given names, particularly if they tell something about us. We’ve all known people “named” Tex, or Slim, or maybe even Grumpy or Smiley. If the nickname fits, it’s likely to stick. And that’s exactly what happened to a man named Joses. In fact, we hardly ever remember his given name.

Joses was one of the first believers to sell land, giving the money to the church for distribution to people who were in need. He was living in Jerusalem, but came originally from the island of Cyprus. He was a Levite, which tells us that he was of the priestly line of Jews.

We are also told that he already had the nickname of Barnabas. And how did he get that name? It’s just a word to us, but it means “son of encouragement.” He must have been such a positive thinker, and so eager to cheer up and help others that he came to be called “The Encourager.” Think of how strong that theme must have been in his life, to result in being dubbed as a result of the quality.

If it hadn’t been for Barnabas, we might never have had the writings of Paul. After Saul’s conversion, he came to Jerusalem to convince the church people that he was now on their side. Naturally, they thought it was a trick to get more names of people that he could kill. The Christians at Damascus had tried to kill Saul, and he had to sneak out of the city by climbing over the wall. If word of that escapade had reached Jerusalem, it probably didn’t inspire confidence. Guilty men don’t run, right?

Barnabas, alone, went to meet with Saul (Paul), and brought him back to the rest of the believers, telling them that he believed the conversion was genuine, and that he had preached the Gospel in Damascus.

When Paul left on his first missionary journey, Barnabas went with him. As often happens with two strong leaders, they had a disagreement. John Mark had traveled with them, but returned home after only part of the tour was finished. Later, when Barnabas wanted to bring Mark along again, Paul refused to let him. So the two men parted ways. As a result, two teams were formed, Paul and Silas, and Barnabas and Mark. The Gospel was spread even further because of this. The two men later reconciled.

Luke says that Barnabas was sent to Antioch. Some of the believers fled there after Stephen was killed. They were some of the first to convince Greeks to believe in Jesus. It’s noted that these were mostly men from Cyprus and Cyrene. Since Barnabas was a Cypriot (and probably spoke Greek), perhaps that is why he was sent. We are told that he was glad to see what God had done at Antioch (in modern Turkey), and encouraged the believers. This surely gave credibility to the new concept that the Gospel was for everyone, not just Jews. And it was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians.

Although he’s seldom remembered as one of the pillars of the early church, probably because his writings aren’t in the accepted canon of Scripture, he was certainly one of the pivotal people of New Testament times.

What’s your nickname? As a child, my mother often called me “The Little Thundercloud.” I’m glad that one didn’t stick, although I do tend to be too serious. If you were to be renamed based on your character, would you be Happy, Smiley, Encourager, or Dopey, Lazy, Grouchy? Our character will outlast our name, whether we gain an actual nickname or not.

Acts 4
Acts 9
Acts 11

Answers to Quiz Yourself

These are the answers to yesterday’s Bible matching game Hope you had fun!

1. Enoch was the father of Methuselah. Methuselah lived to be 969 years old, the oldest man recorded in the Bible. Genesis 5:27

2. Lois was the mother of Eunice. They were “women of sincere faith, and Eunice was Timothy’s mother. 2 Timothy 1:5

3. Jael was the wife of Heber. Jael was one of the heros of the time of the Judges. Do you remember why? Judges 4:21

4. James and John were brothers, and disciples of Jesus. Matthew 4:21

5. Jemimah was the oldest daughter of Job, born to him after his trials. She was a woman of great beauty. Job 42:14,15

6. Reuben and Simeon were brothers. They were sons of Jacob and Leah, and became the heads of two of the tribes of Israel. Genesis 35:23

7. Elizabeth and Mary, the mother of Jesus, were cousins. Luke 1:36 (NIV only says relatives)

8. Shadrach and Abednego were two of the three friends of Daniel. Along with Meshach, they were thrown in to the fiery furnace and were not burned. Daniel 3:26

9. Paul and Silas went on a missionary journey together. Acts 15:40

10.Ezra and Nehemiah were both prophets associated with the return of the Jews from Babylon to the land of Israel.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Fun- Quiz Yourself

Every Friday there will be a Bible game of some kind to play. The answers will be posted on Saturday morning. Match the person in the left hand column with the best associated person from the right hand column. Give yourself an extra pat on the back if you know what their relationship is.

1. Methuselah

2. Lois

3. Heber

4. James

5. Jemimah

6. Reuben

7. Elizabeth

8. Abednego

9. Paul

10. Ezra

A. Jael

B. Eunice

C. Enoch

D. Mary

E. Nehemiah

F. John

G. Silas

H. Shadrach

I. Simeon

J. Job

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Mind of God - Attitudes of Jesus

washing feet
image from the University of Guelph Christian forum

One of the most straightforward passages about the whole concept of having the mind of God is Philippians 2:5, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” In the New Living Translation it reads, “have the same attitude.”

So, this is a rather compelling reason to examine the attitudes of Jesus. Each of these points needs more coverage than in this introduction, but today I’ll just list a few of the obvious facets of Jesus’ mindset.

The Philippians passage continues that Jesus humbled himself. Humility is certainly one of the attitudes we should seek. The old joke is that as soon as we think we have attained humility, we are no longer humble. Yup.

The next thing Jesus did, after he humbled himself, was to become a servant. We often symbolize Jesus’ servanthood with his washing of the disciple’s feet. In fact, he used that as an object lesson. But, the Philippians reference is to his choosing to give up the rights he had as God the Father’s right hand. He chose to serve humanity in a sweeping servanthood, to “make himself nothing,” that culminated in the cross and resurrection.

Yet, Jesus, although humble was not wishy-washy. In Matthew 7, we are told that after Jesus finished the sermon on the Mount the people were amazed because he spoke with authority. They were apparently used to teachers who didn’t seem to have confidence in what they were saying. We might conclude that when we are certain of being in sync with God’s mind that we can have that confidence too.

Jesus not only referred to himself as “The Truth,” but he unequivocally insisted that the truth mattered. In a long discourse with certain Jews (John 8), he reasoned that even though they were genetically children of Abraham, they were not children of God, or they would recognize who he was. To Jesus, truth matters, not DNA, not friendship, personal gain... just truth. Can we say that?

We are told in Romans that we are to have the same attitude toward other Christians as Jesus had. And that was to accept one another in order to bring praise and glory to God. Sometimes, harmony is a pretty tall order.

Another direct instruction as to taking on Jesus’ attitudes concerns suffering. I Peter 4 says “since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude.” Suffering? That’s not so much fun. We might conceivably accept that the first items on that list would be difficult, but we could hold up our heads in the confidence that we were acting honorably. Suffering isn’t so clear-cut. We may suffer for many reasons, some of them our own fault, and not at all like Jesus’ suffering. Peter says that if we suffer we will put aside sin and learn to live for the will of God. Sounds like a difficult class.

All of these attitudes can be elusive when times get tough. The Romans passage promises that God gives us endurance and encouragement. We’re going to need it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Christian Symbolism- the Apple

Eve with apple and serpent

The apple has come to be a symbol of evil, and immorality. Everyone recognizes the story of Eve, eating the forbidden apple! But was that the fruit she ate?

Probably not, although there is no way to know for sure. It's likely that the idea of an apple was introduced to Christian Scripture through the fact that the Latin words for evil and apple are differentiated by only a vowel sound. We still use words with those roots. "Malus" is the genus for apples, and "mal" is a prefix often connoting bad things: malaise, malady, malefactor, etc.

"Apple," before the days of systematic botany was a general term for any unknown fruit. Potatoes in several languages are "earth apples," and tomatoes were called "love apples." There are numerous other examples.

So, in Christian art, the apple almost always is a symbol of the original sin.
Virgin and Child by Lucas Cranach

There is one big exception. When Jesus is shown holding an apple, as in this painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder, "Virgin with Child," it symbolizes his role as the new Adam (see Romans 5). Sin came into the world through one man (Adam), but through one man (Jesus) many will be made righteous. Jesus Christ has overcome evil.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Lyrics- What a Friend We Have in Jesus

Every Sunday the lyrics from some great piece of Christian music will be featured. It's not that I want worship to revert to using all hymns, it's just that many modern Christian songs don't SAY anything. I really miss some deeper meaning. So I'm going to remind us of some great words.

What a Friend We Have in Jesus
Jo­seph M. Scriv­en, 1855

What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge, take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you? Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield you; you will find a solace there.

Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised Thou wilt all our burdens bear
May we ever, Lord, be bringing all to Thee in earnest prayer.
Soon in glory bright unclouded there will be no need for prayer
Rapture, praise and endless worship will be our sweet portion there.

Much to my surprise, one of the best times of the week for me has become the part where I choose a video of the song for the week. I really enjoy finding a rendition, with images, that I think really captures the song. The selection is certainly colored by how I am feeling in any given week. This was a really hard one... since this is one of the most beloved hymns of all time, there were a lot of videos, and a lot of really good ones, too. I thought it was going to settle on Tennessee Ernie Ford... his voice is amazing, and nearly always moves me. But, there were no images other than an album cover. In the end, I have chosen this version, by Larry Ford (not related to Tennessee Ernie, as far as I know). It gives the story of how this great hymn came to be written. And it includes some vocals by "real" people, making it more than a performance. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Just an update. This has been a difficult and busy week. I'll be back with a song on Sunday, and then hopefully back on schedule after that.

Trying Technorati Claim Code again. JTF9YQFKVVGG

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Lyrics- Whiter than Snow

Every Sunday the lyrics from some great piece of Christian music will be featured. It's not that I want worship to revert to using all hymns, it's just that many modern Christian songs don't SAY anything. I really miss some deeper meaning. So I'm going to remind us of some great words.

Whiter than Snow
James L. Ni­chol­son, 1872

Lord Jesus, I long to be perfectly whole;
I want Thee forever to live in my soul.
Break down every idol, cast out every foe;
Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Whiter than snow, yes, whiter than snow.
Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Lord Jesus, let nothing unholy remain,
Apply Thine own blood and extract ev’ry stain;
To get this blest cleansing, I all things forego—
Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.


Lord Jesus, look down from Thy throne in the skies,
And help me to make a complete sacrifice.
I give up myself, and whatever I know,
Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.


Lord Jesus, for this I most humbly entreat,
I wait, blessèd Lord, at Thy crucified feet.
By faith, for my cleansing, I see Thy blood flow,
Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.


Lord Jesus, Thou seest I patiently wait,
Come now, and within me a new heart create;
To those who have sought Thee, Thou never saidst “No,”
Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.


The blessing by faith, I receive from above;
O glory! my soul is made perfect in love;
My prayer has prevailed, and this moment I know,
The blood is applied, I am whiter than snow.


We had our first snow of the season here on Friday. It brought this song to mind. I've chosen a video with a "country" feel to it. I just liked the way it brought the peace of the setting into the modern world, and the singer seems to be paying attention to the words, too.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Name Game - Oholibamah

Rebecca and the wives of Esau
Rebecca and the wives of Esau, detail from the "Gates of Paradise" by Lorenzo Ghiberti

O-who? Throughout Biblical history, women occasionally show up in prominent places. Although her name is seldom recounted in Sunday School, this is a woman whose simple appearance in a genealogical line commands attention.

She is mentioned in Genesis 26, and 36, as one of the wives of Esau. He was criticized for taking these wives because they were Hittites, not Hebrews. We do know that her name was changed to Judith, which simply means “a Jewess.” Her Hittite name means “a tent in a high place.” There is a good chance that this indicates she was a priestess. “High Places” usually refers to places of idolatrous worship.

She may also have been the daughter of a strong and famous (in her time) woman. Commentators can’t seem to agree on whether her parent, Anah, is a man or a woman. The King James Version implies the feminine in one place and masculine in another (but it’s possible the term “son” could simply indicate that this is the person through whom the line of descendancy is traced.)

It is clear that she was the mother of three sons who became important chiefs: Jeush, Jaalam, and Korah. Their lines continue through Biblical history. We would call them sheiks.

In the desert, it is a descendant of Korah (also named Korah) who led the rebellion against Moses (Numbers 26), although the name of Dathan is usually associated with that fiasco. The people who participated were swallowed up by an earthquake!

It is also a descendant of Oholibamah who found a spring of water in the desert- better than gold!

One thing is certain. Her name is mentioned repeatedly, which is unusual in itself when no particular story is told about a person. This clearly indicates that she was a person of importance.

Some of us will have no other claim to fame than that we raised our children to do great things after us (or notorious things... we don’t have much control over continuing generations!). Oholibamah was one of these people. But that’s a pretty important accomplishment!

Genesis 26
Genesis 36

Answer to Laddergram

In Revelation 1, Jesus appeared to John, wearing a GOLD SASH.

The words of the laddergram are:
9. DIE
11. ASHE
12. SEA

Revelation 1

Friday, November 5, 2010

Friday Fun- Laddergram

Are you familiar with Laddergrams? Answer the clues for each numbered space. Answer 2 is made from answer 1 with one letter removed, and the rest (usually) rearranged. Put the discarded letter in the left hand square. Answer 3 is made from answer 2 the same way. Put that discarded letter in the right hand square. Start over with clues 4-6, 7-9, etc. When you are done the discarded letters will vertically spell the answer to the puzzle.

Note that there is a clue that can help you solve the puzzle, too.

laddergram example

The clue for this puzzle is: What John saw Jesus wearing


You can right click and choose view image to see the puzzle larger.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Mind of God - We Exist In the Mind of God

drawing of imagination
image by a Brentwood, CA first-grader

There is some essential connection between knowing the mind of God and the idea that if God were to stop thinking about the world, it would disappear. This post gets a little mystical, but it can’t be helped, that’s just where the topic goes.

C.S. Lewis said, in Surprised by Joy (his personal journey toward becoming a Christian), “we could not have imagined God. He could only have imagined us.” This was one of his conclusions when trying to logically work out a basis for his newfound faith.

There are always limitations in comparing God to things in the physical universe. But, consider a fantasy world that you create in your daydreams. You might imagine a landscape, and various races of creatures with differing abilities. However, the moment that you stop thinking about that world, it would cease to exist.

God not only has brought our universe into existence from his mind, but he sustains it, and us, in some metaphysical way that we can’t fully grasp with our finite minds. Pretend that you were able to give the creatures in the world you imagined powers to act independently of your thoughts. That would begin to be a bit like the way God has established the creation that we know.

Does this sound too weird? Well, just consider these thoughts in the context of Acts 17:28, where Paul states, “In him [God] we live and move and have our being.” And, Colossians 1:17, “in him [Jesus] all things hold together.”

I have no great conclusions here. I just find this an amazing concept to ponder, and to apply to the problem of how to know the mind of God.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Christian Symbolism- Introduction

manus dei by Olsztynku studio
stained glass by Olsztynku studio

Today is known as All Saints' Day in some Christian denominations. It's no coincidence that it follows All Hallow's Eve. Celebrating the lives of various saints was a tradition from the early church. Many local celebrations were held on various dates, possibly as early as 270 AD. But in 873, Pope Gregory IV made it an official Roman Catholic holiday. The date was probably chosen on purpose to follow the pagan Samhain, or Festival of the Dead.

This post isn't really meant to be a history of All Saints Day. I'm simply going to use it to kick off a new set of posts on this blog. These will focus on Christian symbolism.

Symbols are a common way to represent a truth. The problem with them, particularly religious symbols, is that when their meaning is forgotten they simply become stereotypes. We use symbols all the time. Think of international road signs, logos, pictures on the buttons of your DVD player, school and team mascots, etc. They mean something to us. But consider how silly some of those same symbols might look a thousand years from now. Similarly, we look at paintings of saints and see them adorned with odd items, wearing halos and perhaps holding up two fingers.

It all looks really strange. It's a bit like the satire of the old adages, "Keep your eye on the ball, your shoulder to the wheel, and your nose to the grindstone. Now try to work in that position!"

So, I'm going to occasionally explain what some of those symbols were supposed to mean. They won't always be associated with a saint... I'm just using All Saints' Day to kick off the series.

One of the symbols of All Saints' Day itself is the hand of God with rays coming from it, known as the "Manus Dei." For the first eight centuries of Christian history the hand of God was almost the only symbol used for God the Father. It comes from the many references in Scripture to the "hand of God." Not surprisingly, it represents the fact that God provides for his creation.

The emanating rays stand for God's power, extending to some particular group or person, in this case the saints. Of course, I Corinthians 1:2 (and other references) indicate that all who are Christians are saints.

So whenever you see the Manus Dei, you can think of how much God provides, and the power he has to work in your life.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Lyrics- Ring the Bells of Heaven

Every Sunday the lyrics from some great piece of Christian music will be featured. It's not that I want worship to revert to using all hymns, it's just that many modern Christian songs don't SAY anything. I really miss some deeper meaning. So I'm going to remind us of some great words.

Ring the Bells of Heaven
Will­iam O. Cush­ing, 1866

Ring the bells of Heaven! There is joy today,
For a soul, returning from the wild!
See, the Father meets him out upon the way,
Welcoming His weary, wandering child.


Glory! Glory! How the angels sing:
Glory! Glory! How the loud harps ring!
’Tis the ransomed army, like a mighty sea,
Pealing forth the anthem of the free.

Ring the bells of Heaven! There is joy today,
For the wanderer now is reconciled;
Yes, a soul is rescued from his sinful way,
And is born anew a ransomed child.


Ring the bells of Heaven! Spread the feast today!
Angels, swell the glad triumphant strain!
Tell the joyful tidings, bear it far away!
For a precious soul is born again.


In these days, when it's politically incorrect to try to convince anyone to believe in anything except "whatever works for them," this song may seem strange. Yet, we are told that there IS rejoicing in heaven when even one sinner repents. The video is a 1906 recording (complete with a skip in the record) of the Columbia Quartet singing this song.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Name Game - Nathanael

the martrydom of St. Bartholomew
The Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew
by Boulogne

Nathanael’s most memorable Bible moment would certainly be labeled a tactless faux-pas by some. Yet Jesus compliments him for it.

Philip, already called by Jesus, goes to find his good friend, Nathanael. Philip was so excited that he boldly declared that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, the one spoken of by Moses and the prophets. We don’t know if Philip was a person who typically became exuberant about new causes, or exactly what sparked Nathanael’s response. But, he blurted out, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Nazareth was a small town of no consequence. It was never even mentioned by non-Scriptural historians until the 4th Century AD, and if archaeological finds have correctly located it, it was a farm village defined by silos and olive presses, with one synagogue. Nathanael was scornfully asking something akin to, “Can a world-class champion come from Podunk?”

But Philip is undeterred, and the friends go to find Jesus. Jesus takes one look at Nathanael and says, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.”

Can’t you just picture Nathanael looking over his shoulder to see who else has appeared, while thinking, “Who, me?” But he realizes that Jesus has discerned what he is thinking, and suspiciously counters (can’t you see him squinting his eyes?), “How do you know me?”

Apparently, Jesus reveals some of his divine power in the response, “I saw you under the fig tree, even before Philip started talking to you.”

We can only surmise that Nathanael realized that no human could have seen him in that location, and we are given no clues as to what he was thinking or doing, but he immediately loses his suspicions, and declares, “Teacher, you are the Son of God, You are the king of Israel!” And he becomes one of the twelve disciples of Jesus.

Most scholars believe that Nathanael , spoken of by John, is the same person as Bartholomew, named by Matthew, Mark and Luke. Bar-Tolmai is more of a title, Hebrew for “son of Tolmai,” so his full name might have been Nathanael Bartholomew.

Nathanael is one of the disciples who saw the risen Christ, and if he is the same person as Bartholomew, then he was also present when Jesus returned to heaven from the Mount of Olives.

Early Christian tradition has Nathanael Bartholomew traveling to India, Ethiopia, Turkey, Iran, and eventually Armenia. There he is said to have been skinned alive, and finally beheaded on the order of the Armenian king Astyages.

If you thought that you would be remembered for one, only one, character trait for 2000 or more years, what do you think it would be? Does absolute honesty come to mind in regard to you? And how secure are you in your belief that Jesus is the Son of God? Could you accept a death, such as those experienced by many early Christians, for telling the truth of what you know about Jesus?

These are tough questions that we must each answer in our own heart. But there’s Nathanael Bartholomew, a shining example of one who shows us the way.

John 1

Answers to Quiz Yourself

These are the answers to yesterday’s Bible scrambled word game. Hope you had fun!

These are all parts of the Temple that Ezekiel saw in his vision. See Ezekiel, chapters 41-45











Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday Fun- Quiz Yourself

Every Friday there will be a Bible game of some kind to play. The answers will be posted on Saturday morning.

Unscramble these things Ezekiel saw in his vision of the Temple (King James Version)











Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Re-Making the Right Choices

Jesus' disciples fishing

Reading things chronologically is a fetish of mine. Whenever I re-read the Chronicles of Narnia or the tales of Middle Earth I follow the time-order, not the order in which they were written. I'm also doing the same with my current Bible reading. For the gospels I am following the chronology as suggested in the Life Application Bible notes. (I would also recommend The Life of Christ in Stereo- an interwoven chronology of the gospels.)

At the beginning of the ministry of Christ is his baptism after which he is followed by Simon (renamed Peter) and his brother Andrew (John 1:35-42). No surprises here. So I always assumed that other references to their calling were parallel, but just out of sequence. Not so.

Following the time line through familiar events: the wedding in Cana, clearing the temple, Nicodemus' famous dialog, the woman at the well, teaching and healing, we come to Matt 4:18-22 and Mark 1:16-20. Jesus saw Simon and Andrew fishing, and also James and John. He calls them to follow him with the famous "I will make you fishers of men" offer.

Huh? They had apparently wandered off to go fishing for fish after following him earlier. But this time they "immediately left their nets and followed him."

OK, now they must be permanent disciples of Jesus. Wrong. A demon is cast out of a man. Peter's mother-in-law is healed. Jesus preaches and prays throughout Galilee. Then comes that dismal morning when Simon, Andrew, James, and John have had no sleep, and have also caught no fish. They are back to hoping for slimy osteichthyes, not Homo sapiens. Jesus tells them to cast the net one more time, and then they have more fish than they know what to do with. Which is saying something for four guys dedicated to the fishing profession. Luke 5:11 ends the story; "So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him," AGAIN.

I have heard more than one sermon preached with the attempt to inspire people to leave everything for God, and never look back, like the disciples. Seems to me the truth is that they were looking back about as often as I do. Maybe they got hungry, or needed to pay the bills, or just slipped into the habits of a lifetime. Whatever. But instead of being discouraged when my good decisions refuse to stay decided, I can take heart in the fact that I'm in good company.

Jesus loved those fickle guys. He just kept asking them to re-make the right choices. And he keeps asking me to do the same thing... Issues I thought were settled long ago re-surface under new circumstances and demand to be re-examined and settled again. Life is change, and we have incomplete knowledge; God is unchanging and full of all knowledge. We can only make decisions based on as much of reality as we know at any one time. But Jesus calls us to keep following, again and again and again.

I've discovered that another great disciple of Christ experienced this too. In The Road to Daybreak Henri Nouwen says, "It struck me that selling what you own, leaving your family and friends, and following Jesus is not a once-in-a-lifetime event. You must do it many times and in many different ways. And it certainly does not become easier."

You said it, Henri.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Off the Wall- Relics and Miracles

woman with an issue of blood

How many people believe in healings? How many people believe that someone could be healed just by touching something that belonged to a highly spiritual person, a relic? It all seems pretty hokey, doesn’t it?

I’m frankly uncomfortable with “faith healers.” When I was ten years old, our family vacationed in Quebec. We visited St. Anne DeBeaupre, and watched a long line of people waiting to enter the church, hoping to be cured of various ills. I gazed, somewhat scornfully, at thousands of framed coins which had passed harmlessly through the digestive tracts of an equal number of people, with the escapes from death attributed to St. Anne. I had a harder time accounting for displays of crutches left behind, but even then, I wasn’t buying that modern-day miracle stuff.

Now, I’m way past ten years old, my faith in a God who can heal is secure, but I still wonder about the veracity of a number of claims associated with relics.

Throughout Christian history, items which belonged to, or were associated with “saints,” have been venerated. The official definition of “venerated,” is that the relics are valued because they cause us to better “adore him whose martyrs they are” (Saint Jerome). It’s become something of a joke... if all the purported pieces of the cross of Christ were assembled, they would make plenty of crosses. In the 16th century, Erasmus wrote: “There was so much wood from the cross, Christ must have been crucified on a whole forest.”

But, when you put the silliness of humans aside, in their intense desires to experience something better, or even something thrilling, what’s left?

Surprisingly, what’s left are several Scriptural references to miracles associated with relics.

The best known is certainly the instance when the unclean woman touched Jesus robe and was healed. Despite the fact that Jesus was in a crowd, surrounded by people who were probably touching him, he recognized that power had gone out from him, to accomplish this healing. Jesus did, in reality, make his clothing holy! OK, that’s Jesus... he’s a special case, right? And he was wearing the garment when the miracle happened.

Try this one... In Acts 19, this sentence just seems to be eased in “under the radar.” OK, not really, but Baptists (as I was raised) don’t tend to read it out loud. “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.” Not too many fanciful ways to interpret that one and explain it away.

There is also a striking report in the Old Testament. The prophet Elisha (one of the greatest of the prophets) had died and was buried. While some Israelites were burying another man, Moabite raiders attacked. They wanted to get out of there, fast! So they threw the body into Elisha’s grave. When his body touched Elisha’s bones he came to life! Really? That's astonishing, but there it is, in the Bible.

Bones, aprons, napkins, fragments of the cross? Where do we draw the line? Should we be making any of these decisions as to what is a “true relic?” I have no idea, but any true miracle is sure to come from the power of God alone.

Holy Atoms
I Kings 13
Acts 19
Luke 8

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Lyrics- Beneath the Cross of Jesus

Every Sunday the lyrics from some great piece of Christian music will be featured. It's not that I want worship to revert to using all hymns, it's just that many modern Christian songs don't SAY anything. I really miss some deeper meaning. So I'm going to remind us of some great words.

Beneath the Cross of Jesus
Eliz­a­beth C. Cle­phane, 1868

Beneath the cross of Jesus I fain would take my stand,
The shadow of a mighty rock within a weary land;
A home within the wilderness, a rest upon the way,
From the burning of the noontide heat, and the burden of the day.

O safe and happy shelter, O refuge tried and sweet,
O trysting place where Heaven’s love and Heaven’s justice meet!
As to the holy patriarch that wondrous dream was given,
So seems my Savior’s cross to me, a ladder up to heaven.

There lies beneath its shadow but on the further side
The darkness of an awful grave that gapes both deep and wide
And there between us stands the cross two arms outstretched to save
A watchman set to guard the way from that eternal grave.

Upon that cross of Jesus mine eye at times can see
The very dying form of One Who suffered there for me;
And from my stricken heart with tears two wonders I confess;
The wonders of redeeming love and my unworthiness.

I take, O cross, thy shadow for my abiding place;
I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of His face;
Content to let the world go by to know no gain or loss,
My sinful self my only shame, my glory all the cross.

This has been one of my favorite hymns since I was a child. I'm not even sure why. It's always sung very slowly, which seems reverent, of course, but I tend to choose faster songs. It has that funny word, "fain," which means "willingly." That's a plus, since I like odd words. I really can't explain it. Verses 2 and 3 aren't usually printed in hymnals any more. Clephane died at the age of 39, and her hymns were published after her death. She wrote this one when death was very near. I've chosen a very traditional performance.