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, 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, bless├Ęd 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.