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.

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.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Name Game - Job

Job covered with boils
Job covered with boils,
from Roadside America

With the exception of Jesus’ resurrection, and the details of creation, perhaps no other Scriptural story is debated as much as the meaning of the book of Job. But who was this man at the center of such a timeless story?

Surprisingly, most scholars agree that Job was a real person. He probably lived at the time of the patriarchs, and one legend says that he was a grand-nephew of Abraham. The book of Job may be the oldest portion of Scripture. That said, no one knows who wrote it, exactly where Uz (Job’s hometown) was, if the entire story is literal or a parable, or much of anything else.

That said, the book itself is full of clues. First, let’s assume that Job was an actual historical figure. The book is written in the style of a logical poem, typical of Wisdom Literature. This alone isn’t a good reason to assume that the characters are fictional. The writer of the book talked about a lot of things that tell us about Job, through his monologues, and conversations with his friends, and God.

Job speaks of hippos and crocodiles. He seems to describe Egyptian boats. He understands the weather, and travel by caravan. He speaks of familiar constellations. We have to assume that Job was intelligent and well-traveled. The book has been credited with containing the most detailed description of mining in Scripture. Job was not your average Joe.

The story, briefly (for anyone who might not know it), is that Job was a wealthy man who served God. But Satan came to God and suggested that if Job were tested by losing the things that were precious to him, that he would renounce God. God granted Satan permission to take anything except Job’s life. So, one by one, Job loses his children, his animals, his land, and even his health. In the middle of the story, three friends come to confront Job about his situation, claiming that he must have sinned to be punished so severely. Job insists that he has not sinned, but that no matter what happens he is never going to renounce his belief in God, and the goodness of God. He gets pretty angry about it all, and begins to sound a little pompous in his insistence of his personal righteousness.

Then God shows up! Confronted with the complete goodness of the Almighty, Job is humbled. After all of the questions as to, “Why did this happen? there is still no answer forthcoming. God simply declares who He is. Job agrees that his own righteousness is nothing, compared to God.

In the end, Job’s wealth is restored, and he is blessed with more children.

This is a brief biography, not an explanation of the meaning of Job’s story. But it is probably safe to say that Job was a man who loved God, and stood firm in his trust in the goodness of God. Yet, when he was confronted with the reality of absolute Righteousness, he recognized his own imperfection, whether or not he had purposely sinned. One author has said that the point of Job’s story is, “it is better to know God than to know answers.”

Job’s most famous one-liner is, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” When life gets tough, whom do we trust?

Job 13:15

Answers to Quiz Yourself

1. OK, this was tricky. We don't hear much about the oldest son of David, but his name was Amnon. II Samuel 3

2. Jonah complained when Ninevah repented and God spared the city. Jonah 4

3. A dove. At first the dove couldn't find any dry land, but it finally returned to Noah with an olive branch in its beak. Genesis 8

4. The legs of a statue were made of iron in Nebuchadnezzar's dream. Daniel 2

5. Bildad was one of Job’s friends who questioned him when he was tested by God. Job 2

6. David slew Goliath in the Valley of Elah. I Samuel 17

7. Lydia sold purple cloth. Acts 16

8. People from the streets were welcomed to the wedding when the invited guests did not come. Matthew 22

9. Nehemiah was a cupbearer for Artaxerxes, King of Persia. Nehemiah 1

10. James is written to the twelve scattered tribes. James 1

Friday, October 22, 2010

Friday Fun- Quiz Yourself

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

1. What is the name of David’s oldest son?

2. Who whined when Ninevah repented?

3. What was the last animal released from Noah’s Ark, before the doors were opened?

4. In King Nebuchadnezar’s dream, what was made of iron?

5. Who was Bildad?

6. Where did David slay Goliath?

7. What woman was a merchant of purple cloth?

8. In the parable of the wedding banquet, what happened when the invited guests did not come?

9. What prophet was a king’s cupbearer?

10. Which epistle is written to the twelve tribes of Israel?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Eco Day- Problems and Misunderstandings

The overall topic of Christians and the Environment really needs to be approached in a logical progression of articles/ chapters that build on each other. However, that isn’t the way a blog works. Readers are unlikely to search back to earlier entries to see how I got to a certain point. So I’m going to try to create entries that stand on their own, while staying true to the topic.
Gaia by Oberon Zell
Gaia, by Oberon Zell

Christians are often perceived as people who don’t care about the environment. Secular environmentalists blame at least part, if not all, of the historical problem of resource abuse on Christian thinking.

In this post, I’ll cover half of this topic- problems with what non-Christians believe. This is much too long of a topic for one blog post. See the other side of the coin at Problems and Misconceptions, part 1.

1. Deep ecologists believe that the earth itself is a living being. This is popularly called the Gaia hypothesis, and was reintroduced to modern thinkers by James Lovelock in a scathing thesis that blames all of the woes of the planet on Christians. Not all environmentalists go this far, but every movement has it’s extremists. Whether secular environmentalists think they believe this or not, they often act as if it is true.

I say this because it is the basis for the value system which treats all living things as if they have equal value. This belief, at its core, proposes that humans are simply a different, but similar, life form. We are part of the sequence of organisms, but without basis for being a rational and distinct entity apart from the rest of nature.

This is a fundamental difference between Christian and secular environmentalists. It is insurmountable. But it does not mean that there is not a Christian reason for, and responsibility to, care for that earth.

2. Many people do, at least partially, blame Christianity for environmental problems. They cite the King James Bible, Genesis 1:28, where Adam was told to subdue and have dominion over the earth, as proof that we have acted for over 4000 years in a way that dominated the earth, rather than living in harmony with it. Their “proof” is the cutting of forests, coal mining, dumping of toxic wastes, whatever... The fallacy here is that they are equating Christianity with Western Civilization. Not all, probably not even most, of the Europeans and emigrants to North America were or are actually Christian. Non-believers participated equally in these activities.

But, Christians will have to accept some guilt on this point. Christians, along with many other cultures, have failed throughout the centuries to recognize our relationship with the natural world. This is not a good reason to abandon Christianity and embrace other religions.

3. Some secular environmentalists are coming from a position of believing that Christianity does not have anything to do with the environment. For example, a Deist who believes that there is a God, but that he his separate from creation (he set it in motion, but now ignores it), will reject the idea that a sincere Christian has any reason to care about the world.

4. Those environmentalists who have consciously chosen to reject Christ as Lord are not going to be interested in any alternative reasons for caring about the environment, which are based on Scripture.

There are a couple of things that secular environmentalists get right.

1. They are looking for meaning and purpose in the world. Philosophically speaking, most people today say that there is no meaning. So those who seek a reason to care at all are one step closer to a Christian world view, which also states that the world has meaning.

2. Directly emerging from point one is the corollary that the natural world does have value. Both secular environmentalists and the Scriptures teach this, but they find a different source for that meaning.

Spelling out these problems and differences is leading to a point- why it is that Christians should care about the environment. Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Lyrics- Let All Things Now Living

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.

Let All Things Now Living
Katherine K. Davis, 1939

Let all things now living a song of thanksgiving
To God the creator triumphantly raise.
Who fashioned and made us, protected and stayed us,
Who still guides us on to the end of our days.
God's banners are o'er us, His light goes before us,
A pillar of fire shining forth in the night.
Till shadows have vanished and darkness is banished
As forward we travel from light into light.

His law he enforces, the stars in their courses
And sun in its orbit obediently shine;
The hills and the mountains, the rivers and fountains,
The deeps of the ocean proclaim him divine.
We too should be voicing our love and rejoicing;
With glad adoration a Song let us raise
Till all things now living unite in thanksgiving:
"To God in the highest, Hosanna and praise!"

I love these words! They speak of a creation that is always telling the glory of God. That's hard to miss when I am surrounded by wonderful autumn colors. I had a hard time choosing a video for this one. There was a wonderful alto recorder and piano version that really fits the tune, which is at least 300 years old. Then there was a harpist playing with videos of flowers in the wind. Lovely! I found a choir (that was singing on key) that features the beautiful descant part that accompanies this tune. But in the end, I chose this one. It's a little off-beat, both traditional and modern at the same time. Music only. Hope you enjoy.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Name Game - Herod the Great

Herod the Great
Herod the Great

Herod may have been set in a position of power by the Romans, but he proved himself to be a very small man. His title, “King of the Jews,” was given to him by the secular, political rulers. But the Jewish people only partially accepted his authority. He was not of the Davidic kingly line. He wasn’t even half Jewish.

He was appointed to rule over Galilee by Mark Anthony. The saga is Shakespearean. Herod’s father, Antipater, was something of a chief of staff to Hyrcanus, one of two men who were trying to seize control of the Judean region. After Caesar was assassinated, in 44 BC, by Brutus and Cassius, the murderers fled to the East and Mark Anthony raised taxes to fund the effort to apprehend the fugitives. Antipater managed to get the 15,000 kg of silver required from Judea, but his collection methods were so harsh that he too was murdered.

Herod enlisted the help of other Romans and avenged his father’s murder. He then defeated Hyrcanus’ nephew, and married Hyrcanus’ daughter, Mariamne, in a bold political move to officially become part of the right family. By 42 BC, Mark Anthony had dealt with Brutus and Cassius. Herod convinced the ruler that his father had not supported the murder of Caesar. He was rewarded with the title “tetrarch of Galilee.”

The story goes on and on with political twists and turns that sound too strange to be true, but all marked by violence. Herod’s main goal was to impress everyone who might help him and destroy anyone who might dethrone him. He eventually murdered his father-in-law, Hyrcanus, his wife, his mother-in-law, two brothers-in-law... can you spell dysfunctional homicidal maniac? It just seems to be ok if you are the “king.”

In order to please the Jews he took on several huge building projects. He repaired the wall of Jerusalem, and built a citadel to guard the Temple. But he named it Antonia, in honor of Mark Anthony. He minted coins bearing his own name. Following an earthquake in 31 BC, he rebuilt markets, theatres, and a palace.

He conceived and built the huge seaport of Caesarea, named for the Emperor. It was a planned city, with a Grecian-style grid of streets, piers, baths, aqueducts, a circus, and pagan temples. Herod was willing to support any religious group that exalted him. To fund all his projects, he imposed taxes approaching 18%, which was extremely high in a pre-industrial society.

In 20 BC, he began the Jewish Temple which bears his name. Yet, he had an eagle, the symbol of Rome, placed over the Temple gate as a reminder that Rome ruled Judea. Despite all his scheming and grand accomplishments, he was not loved by anyone.

Now, we see Herod as he enters Biblical history. Here come the magi, undoubtedly with a huge support caravan, looking for someone whom they believe is the “King of the Jews,” and whom they want to worship. Herod wasn’t about to let this situation pass! He says that he doesn’t know of this person, but tells the magi to be sure to let him know if they find the baby they are seeking. He has cunningly appeared to show interest in the age of this infant king.

We know that he certainly was interested, but not because he wanted to worship the new king, as he claimed. Instead he set out to kill all the boys who were two years old and under, just in case one of them might have a legitimate claim to his position.

The familiar story unfolds- The magi do find Jesus and present their gifts. Mary and Joseph are warned by God to take baby Jesus and go to Egypt to avoid the Herodian slaughter, and God warns the magi to skip a return visit with Herod.

Herod the Great’s death in 4 BC is one of the key elements of dating the birth of Jesus at about 6 BC. (Calendar errors have nothing to do with Biblical accuracy.) He possibly died of the same disease as his grandson, Herod Antipater, whose death is described in Acts 12:23, as being “eaten by worms.” It is speculated that they both died of Fournier’s gangrene, a condition in which bacteria infect the urinary tract and prostate, causing gangrene, and tissue necrosis. Not a pleasant way to go.

It’s quite likely that Herod the Great was not much missed.

Answers to Before and After

King Saul of Tarsus
I Samuel 10
Acts 9:11

Noah's Ark of the Covenant
Genesis 7
Exodus 25

Virgin Mary Magdalene
Luke 1:27
Luke 8:2

The horns of the altar of 12 stones
I Kings 2:28
I Kings 18:31,32

Young Lion of Judah
Judges 14:4-6
Revelation 5:5

Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday Fun- Before and After

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

These are "before and after" puzzles. They combine two phrases into one by overlapping the middle. For example: "Peter Pan's nemesis who was an efficient angler" would be Captain Hook line and sinker. Now you try it!

The first monarch of Israel who became a missionary from a busy port city.

The largest ship in the Bible that was a gold covered box with cherubim for decorations.

The mother of Jesus who had seven demons driven out of her.

What Joab grabbed when accused of treachery that was built at Mt. Carmel for Elijah

Samson tore this animal in two with his bare hands from Jesus' tribe.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Rabbi, Eat Something!

woman at the well

In John 4 we have the account of Jesus meeting the woman at the well, but did you ever pay attention to how the disciples act at the end of the story? We probably subconsciously block this out because they are all too much like we are!

They return from town and find the Teacher speaking with a vile Samaritan, and worse yet, a woman. John is careful to tell us that they DID NOT ask any questions about this strange situation. Instead they proceed into a classic ethnic chicken-soup joke, "Rabbi, eat something," they say. We can only speculate on their motivation, but there are plenty of familiar choices available. Politcal correctness? Avoidance of controversial topics? Embarrassment? Timidity or fear? Feelings that it was none of their business? Apathy? Avoidance of what was sure to be a serious conversation? More interest in their own physical hunger than anything else? Failure to recognize that a spiritual event was occurring?

Since the incident is recorded, at least John eventually asked or was told about the interview. But how often are we like the disciples, avoiding interaction with the Lord for any one of a market-basket-full of appetizing excuses?

John 4

Monday, October 11, 2010

Eco Day- Problems and Misconceptions

The overall topic of Christians and the Environment really needs to be approached in a logical progression of articles/ chapters that build on each other. However, that isn’t the way a blog works. Readers are unlikely to search back to earlier entries to see how I got to a certain point. So I’m going to try to create entries that stand on their own, while staying true to the topic.

Adam names animals

Christians are often perceived as people who don’t care about the environment. Sometimes this is true. Some Christians have a vague, nagging feeling that they should care, but they don’t exactly know why. They definitely don’t want to align themselves with New Age philosophies which seem to drive the environmental movement, but they think that the Bible is silent on environmental issues.

In this post, I’ll cover half of this topic- problems with what Christians believe. This is much too long of a topic for one blog post. Consider this a teaser of articles to come.

1. Christians may assume that there is no way to care about the environment without accepting a pantheistic world view. Most of the basis of secular environmental philosophy is that all life has equal value. Since Christians reject this idea, we assume that we can’t be environmentalists, because of this fundamental difference in philosophy. The simple, and fundamental, answer to this dilemma is that there is a Scriptural reason to care about the environment. In Genesis 1:28 and 2:15, before sin entered the world, humans were commanded by God to rule and care for the earth.

2. Christians may reject the entire environmental movement on the basis of misplaced priorities. I partially addressed this question in “Who Are We?” The basis of this argument is succinctly summed up in the bumper sticker, “Forget the Whales, Save the Babies.” Of course, if we are faced with a clear-cut, immediate choice of saving a baby or a whale, but only one, people would choose, almost universally, to save the baby. But the problem with this argument is that life choices are seldom all or nothing. We all take on causes that aren’t critical choices. No one can live at the critical-choice emotional level all the time. We watch the kids’ soccer games. We support the Scouts. We enjoy our favorite music. Similarly, we don’t have to disregard all efforts to correct environmental problems just because it’s not the highest priority.

3. Christians may mistakenly believe that since all creation, other than human beings, does not have spirit that it also does not have value. They conclude that the environment is not important as regards our actions and our Christian life. This is a variation on the theme that the only valid professions are preachers and missionaries (and presumably their support staff). The church has grown fairly well beyond that theme as regards careers, but many people still apply the same logic to other aspects of their lives. The answer is the same as in point 1. We are charged in Scripture with being stewards of the earth, and it’s always a good idea to do things that we have been told to do.

4. Some Christians believe that it is our God-given directive to dominate and subdue the earth. They believe that plants, animals, and minerals are simply resources to be used in any way we want for our own benefit. A careful study of the Bible reveals this view to be just plain wrong. The short answer is that Christians are never allowed to mistreat anything or anyone just for personal gain. The long answer is the sum total of all that I hope to share over the life of this blog.

5. Some Christians dismiss caring for the earth because we are citizens of heaven, and should therefore have no concerns with the earth. They add that we’ll be leaving the planet soon! These same people usually realize how silly cults appear when they renounce all earthly responsibilities and go to some mountaintop to await the coming of Christ. But they don’t recognize that their attitude toward environmentalism is the same sort of thinking.

The other half of this topic- problems with what secular environmentalist believe, will be the subject of the next Eco Day post.

All of these misconceptions are leading to an eventual point- why it is that Christians should care about the environment, beyond those initial commands in Genesis. Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Lyrics- May All Who Come Behind Us Find Us Faithful

Every Sunday the lyrics from some great piece of Christian music will be featured. Today it's not an old hymn, but a newer song with some great words.

Find Us Faithful
by Jon Mohr, 1987

We're pilgrims on the journey
Of the narrow road
And those who've gone before us line the way
Cheering on the faithful,
encouraging the weary
Their lives a stirring testament to God's sustaining grace

Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses
Let us run the race not only for the prize
But as those who've gone before us
Let us leave to those behind us
The heritage of faithfulness passed on through godly lives

Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
May the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave
Lead them to believe
And the lives we live inspire them to obey
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful

After all our hopes and dreams have come and gone
And our children sift though all we've left behind
May the clues that they discover and the memories they uncover
Become the light that leads them to the road we each must find


This is a fairly recent Christian song, made popular by Steve Green. It's one of my favorites-- probably wrapped up in my love of hiking, and for the Longfellow poem, "A Psalm of Life," which ends, "and departing, leave behind us footprints, in the sands of time." I looked at a lot of videos of this song, and chose this one to share. The quality of the images isn't as crisp as I'd like, but the selection spoke to me the most. Hope you enjoy!

Find Us Faithful (Find Us Faithful Album Version)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Name Game - Miriam

Miriam dances
Miriam, from a painting by Tissot

Sibling rivalry isn’t a new phenomenon. Miriam is the well-known sister of Moses, who guarded his baby basket, set afloat on the Nile. She managed to have their own mother appointed as his nurse, after he was taken into Pharoah’s house. Even at a young age, she could make important decisions, quickly and act on them.

And yet, when Moses grew to manhood, and was God’s chosen leader for the Hebrews, Miriam, along with their brother Aaron, was not so pleased. In essence, they complained that Moses was getting all the attention, adding in a catty fashion, “After all, he didn’t marry anyone special... just a Cushite.” They demanded their right to be heard, stating that God had spoken through them, too.

God actually called the three of them out of the camp, to the cloud in which he appeared during the Exodus. He rebuked Miriam, explaining that Moses was more special than any prophet, and that they should have recognized that. Then God afflicted Miriam with a deadly skin disease. Moses was shocked, and begged for her to be healed. God listened to the plea, and did so. Her much-reduced punishment was banishment from the camp for seven days. After this, Miriam was again a staunch supporter of her younger brother.

Miriam is one of the first strong women leaders mentioned in the Bible. She is called a prophetess, and she led the women in dancing and singing praises after the crossing of the Red Sea. The death and burial of few women are recorded, yet when Miriam died at Kadesh-Barnea (still in the Sinai Peninsula) we are given that information.

Later, the prophet Micah also recalls her leadership, naming her with Aaron and Moses as the leaders of God’s people in the wilderness.

Sometimes, leadership roles don’t place us “in front of the microphone.” Many of the support people who surround a primary leader have to be leaders in their own right. In one sense, their task is more delicate; they must know when to follow and when to lead others along a path chosen by someone else.

It’s quite easy to slip into feelings of jealousy, or even self-pity, when we are called upon to follow behind a star. But if that happens, remember Miriam. God will “call us out,” and remind us of who is in charge (God). If we can learn the lesson, our reward will come at the appointed time.

Exodus 2
Exodus 15
Numbers 12
Micah 6:4

Answer to Word Warp

You had to find the word held in common by the three words in each puzzle in column A. The three solution words will form a puzzle in column B to solve in column C. The + tells you the position and the number by the arrow indicates its length.

ninja +
painted +    --> (6) = turtle +
+ neck

+ suds
+ scum    --> (4) = + soap      --> (4) dove
saddle +

+ rabbit
milk +    --> (9) = + chocolate
+ syrup

the clue for the final answer was: Hosea likened the tribe of Ephraim to this.

Hosea 7:11 "Ephraim is like a dove, easily deceived and senseless"

Friday, October 8, 2010

Friday Fun - Word Warp

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

Find the word held in common by the three words in each puzzle in column A. The three solution words will form a puzzle in column B to solve in column C. The + tells you the position and the number by the arrow indicates its length. For example:
whirly +
+ of prey --> (4) = "bird"
+ brain

the clue for the final answer is: Hosea likened the tribe of Ephraim to this

word warp puzzle

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Lesson from Puppy Chips

gravestone with lion and lamb

I was looking through some old journals this week looking for a poem I seem to have misplaced and came across this entry on June 6, 1993. My beloved Chips was a puppy. He's long gone now, but he left this lesson for us.

When I came home in the afternoon, I happened to reach over the top of Chips' cage, instead of standing in front of it, to open the door. Chips could see me through the side of the cage and was going crazy trying to get out to greet me, but of course, he couldn't get through the wire.

However, the door was wide open in back of him. In fact, he even had one foot and part of his back end hanging out.

It seems to me that this is a lot like people who are all caged up in whatever problems and sins they are facing. They are trying to find peace and love with the same desperation that Chips was trying to reach me for hugs and licks. (I did the hugging, he did the licking.)

But they want to do it in their own way, the impossible way of trying to do it in their own strength: to go through the wire.

The solution is clear, and it's free, and it's already been provided: the door is wide open. But they have to turn around and accept that fact. They have to realize that to accept God's gift of Jesus is the only way out of the cage.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Life Is Not A Malfunction

fern fiddlehead

"Life is not a malfunction." Actually that's a quote from robot Number 5 in the movie Short Circuit. Number 5 discovers that he has somehow become alive, rather than just an assemblage of metal and wire controlled by computer coding. His programmers say, "impossible," and spend the rest of the movie trying to capture and destroy the wayward robot and the girl who has befriended him. (A great movie if you can shut out too much unnecessary foul language.)

Number 5 makes you stop and think about the definition of "life." Am I alive? Are you? We seem to think that we are, because we eat and breathe and create or read web pages. Genesis 2:7 assures us that God breathed into man's nostrils and the first human (who contained in his body both men and women) "became a living being."

"Living:" the plain old garden variety of life, simple vitality, which even plants were given. "Being:" often translated "soul," the emotions, awareness and intellect, which we also share with animals. Surprised? I was. Lots of the verses which relate to life, and which we like to spiritualize, are these same levels of life. John 3:16 for example. That eternal life we are promised when we believe is more than just a spiritual quality, but a real, vital, familiar being-ness. The word is "zoe," that "lowest" level of vitality.

In John 10, Jesus says, as the Good Shepherd, that he will give his life for the sheep. He repeats himself in verses 11 and 15, but not really. In verse 15, he says he will lay down his physical life, this vitality. In verse 11, however, where the English translation says he will give his life, it is his psyche, that he gives.

Our life is in Christ, because he is our life. This truth comes from Colossians 3:4. Again, it's the simple vitality. Examples like this go on and on.

What's my point? I'm definitely not trying to reduce the quality of God's gift of life to something physical and trivial. Rather, I am delighted to know that God is not only concerned about my simple be-ing, but that this part of me is inextricably wound up in Him. These thoughts were generated from reading John 5:26, "For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself." This is again simple vitality, zoe. Whatever life we have, even our physical, "animal" self, is only on loan from God.

Only God has intrinsic life, and since it seems likely that He will not choose to eliminate a facet of His own make-up, I have confidence in a corporeal resurrection and a future life more of substance than ghostly. I find this fact to be re-assuring. Maybe you will too.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Lyrics- Immortal, Invisible

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.

Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise
by Wal­ter C. Smith, 1876

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most bless├Ęd, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great Name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice, like mountains, high soaring above
Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.

To all, life Thou givest, to both great and small;
In all life Thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish—but naught changeth Thee.

Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
But of all Thy rich graces this grace, Lord, impart
Take the veil from our faces, the vile from our heart.

All laud we would render; O help us to see
’Tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee,
And so let Thy glory, Almighty, impart,
Through Christ in His story, Thy Christ to the heart.

This is a hymn that never fails to inspire (well, unless it's sung too poorly!). I've decided to embed the video of choice that goes with the words, but I hope people will still read the words. This time I've chosen an orchestral arrangement, performed by the Spotswood Community Orchestra in Fredericksburg, VA

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Name Game - Thomas

gravestone with lion and lamb
I think that Thomas would have fit right in to the 20th or 21st centuries. He was a no-nonsense kind of guy. He liked the truth, he wanted the facts, and when he knew them he acted on them.

The Bible doesn’t tell us very much about Thomas, and although we can learn a little bit about what happened to him after the resurrection, we know almost nothing about his beginnings.

Of course, he is always remembered as the one who doubted the risen Christ, and is generally presented in a negative light. This is a really unfortunate twist of Christian history, since Thomas’ life is really an example of faith in action.

We like to think that we are very scientific, wanting physical evidence to support every theory. We also tend to believe that people who lived prior to the 1700's were less logical. But people are people, only the theories change. Thomas was quick to state what he thought, and expected answers to questions that bothered him.

In one recorded conversation, Jesus began telling his disciples that he was going to go somewhere and get things ready so that they could come join him. He then told them that they already knew how to get there. Jesus spoke in what seemed like riddles to his followers a lot of the time, and it often looks as if they had a talent for not understanding what was going on. But Thomas was not about to let this riddle go. I can almost see him stamp his foot in exasperation and say, “But we don’t even know where it is you are going, so how is it that you think we know how to get there? You aren’t making any sense.” Of course, the answer is the famous John 14 passage, where Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Another example of Thomas’ boldness is his response to learning that Lazarus had died. Again, the disciples did not understand. Jesus had told them that Lazarus wasn’t going to die, but that his sickness was meant to glorify God. So, when Jesus later told them that Lazarus had died, Thomas spoke up and said, “Let’s go die with him!” I think that what Thomas had in mind was to do more of whatever would bring more glory to God. Of course, we know that no one else died, and in fact, Lazarus was raised from the dead.

The most infamous anecdote arises from the fact that, for some reason, Thomas was not with the other disciples when the risen Christ first appeared to them. Remember that Thomas liked facts. Maybe he had noticed over the years they had spent together that all of their group had a difficult time understanding what was going on. So he declared that he would have to see the wounds in Jesus’ hands, and touch the wound in his side before he was going to believe this resurrection stuff. No rumors for him!

And, Jesus did appear once more. He invited Thomas to touch the wounds. Thomas fell to his knees and said, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus’ response praises those who are able to believe without that physical proof, but he doesn’t even rebuke Thomas, really.

Other early writings (not the Bible) indicate that Thomas took the gospel to India, and that he was martyred there. He was speared to death on the orders of King Misdeus, because members of the royal family had become Christians.

Thomas is an example for us of a man who wanted to be sure that he had the truth in hand, but once he did, he committed his life to that truth.

John 14
John 11
John 20

Answers to Quiz Yourself

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

These are the unscrambled Bible books











Friday, October 1, 2010

Friday Fun- Quiz Yourself

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

Unscramble the names of these Bible books