Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Dive In: Textual Error?

Someone just handed you a sheet of paper with 10 sentences on it. Here’s the first:

The flowers are red and blooming in my front lard.

Here’s the second:

The flowers are fed and blooming in my front yard.

And the third:

Rhe flowers are red and blooming in my front yard.

Do you think you could come up with the correct sentence even though every one of the 10 sentences was different? I'm think this is easy pie.

We rest our defense of God on his errant, inspired Word, so you should be aware of arguments that may be thrown in your face:

  • We do not have any original texts of biblical writings.
  • Many of the copies of the original texts have mistakes.

Both of those statements are true. However, we have roughly 5000 copies of the original texts. That’s bushel baskets more than any other historical writing. Scholars would love to have five copies of some of the ancient Greek poems.

Let’s go back to our example at the beginning. The mistakes in the biblical copies are those kinds of mistakes. The original texts were copied by scholars who used scrupulous methods. One technique had a teacher to read a text to 10 or 20 scribes. Their job was to write down exactly what he said. They provided a safeguard for his possible slip of tongue plus they could compare with each other.

They worked very hard to get every mark exactly right, but sometimes “typos” happened. A letter was forgotten or two words run together. Maybe a scribe did what we sometimes do. Ever quoted a Bible verse and added “The Lord Jesus Christ” when that particular verse said, “The Lord”? Those kinds of errors happened, too. A scribe may have added a phrase from common usage, even if it wasn’t in that particular verse. He may have forgotten a mark that changed a letter.

The discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls underlined the overall accuracy of the copy system. Many very early copies were discovered. The closer the copy is to the original text, the more accurate it is assumed to be. So biblical scholars were anxious to compare more recent copies to the old copies discovered with the Dead Sea collection. What they discovered were that very few mistakes had been made.

The newer texts were extremely accurate, and many of the errors were of the sort we’ve discussed – easily recognized and understandable.

I’m discussing the area of textual criticism. (Don't think of criticism as disapproval but as serious examination of a subject.) There are many resources available but one I’d recommend is James White’s The King James Controversy. It has several excellent chapters that explain textual criticism in non-scholastic terms.

This is an important area for us as we dive in to the text, because many bash the Bible as error-filled. Although written texts can have errors, the ideas contained there are inerrant. Today, a typo in a Bible does not diminish its value as the inspired word of God and the same principle applies to the texts carried forward over the centuries.

God’s Word is not limited by ink and frail human hands, but has been protected from ancient times to today. We can trust His Word and can defend it against charges of error.

If you comment on today’s lesson on your blog, would you link to it below? We’d all enjoy gaining your insights and/or questions on the subject.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The wind of prayer

Ours is a different love story. He was a widower with four children and I was a long-time career gal. We had known each other for several years through our church. I’d worked on committees with his wife. We’d been in Bible studies together and I’d taught his kids in Sunday school. After his wife's tragic death in a car accident, we discovered we shared many values and we wanted to sail to the same destination.

For quite a while, I’d sometimes wake up in the morning and think, I’m married to him? Always before, he had been someone’s husband.

We came home from our honeymoon to four children, ages 4 to 15. Keep in mind that I had left single life – and my house – behind while he had suffered the loss of his wife in a tragic car accident. Then, three months later, I got pregnant. Shortly after that, the older kids decided it wasn’t all that fun to have a step-mother and could we just unwind everything? Sometimes it felt like a blizzard of emotions.

The teenager was testing her wings while the youngest just wanted a mommy and I would do, even if I didn’t have any training. I quit my job so I could be home with him and learn how to be a mommy before the baby came. Hormones were like wind to my sails, tossing me on the waves.

We survived that first year of marriage. I’ll tell you why. God brought us together and covered us with the prayers of our friends and family. I have never been as clear on God’s leading as I was in accepting Matt’s proposal. And, when things got hard and I didn’t understand, I clung to that word from God, his answer to my specific prayers.

We knew that our church family prayed for us daily. Those prayers were like a gentle breeze correcting our ship day to day. The winds of conflict were intense but not as regular as the daily breath of communion with God.

Lessons we learned? Pray in marriage and pray for marriages. Matt insisted we prayed before he left for work and before we fell asleep at night. I suspect that when we earnestly pray, we are less willing to let go.

We celebrated 17 years of marriage in May. We're still sailing to the same destination. We still start and end each day in prayer and we still ask God to make this a union of three. And we know that he is faithful.

He has taken me to the banquet hall,
and his banner over me is love.

Song 2:4 (NIV)

Friday, July 27, 2007

The royal service

The next time you see an elegant, white-robed minister standing before a professional-quality choir, be sure to thank (or blame) Constantine.

Constantine was emperor of the Roman Empire in the fourth century, coming to power after having a vision or dream where heard a command, “by this sign, you will win.” He put the sign of Christ on the shields of his army, and proceeded to beat back the opposition.

It was under his reign that Christianity changed from a persecuted religious sect to a state-endorsed religion.

Before Constantine, most church gatherings were simple meetings in homes. But a religion worthy of an emperor needed the pomp of an emperor.

Constantine financed the building of many imposing basilicas and instituted ornate robes for the ministers. He paid for professional choirs and introduced incense, grand gestures, and special signs. Processionals, just like the royal processional to the throne, now began the worship time.

Congregations transitioned. Where once they participated, now they became the audience.

The Christian church structure changed. We can debate the effects of state approval on church services, but we must remember one thing: many of our common traditions today come not from a biblical directive, but from Constantine’s hunger for style.

Tradition is not wrong unless it shields us from God’s commands. The challenge for the church throughout history is to focus on God's commands. The church must mandate what God mandates – nothing more and nothing less.

Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Acts 2:46-47

Spiritual understanding

The golden rule for understanding spiritually is not intellect, but obedience.
—My Utmost For His Highest

Friday Five: God’s joy

(Taken from The Message, just for a new breeze of thought.)

'Oh how I'll rejoice in them! Oh how I'll delight in doing good things for them!

Jer 32:41

Count on it— there's more joy in heaven over one sinner's rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.

Luke 15:7

This day is holy to God. Don't feel bad. The joy of God is your strength!

Neh 8:10

The life-maps of God are right, showing the way to joy.

Psalms 19:8

God sent me to announce the year of his grace— a celebration of God's destruction of our enemies— and to comfort all who mourn, To care for the needs of all who mourn in Zion, give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes, Messages of joy instead of news of doom, a praising heart instead of a languid spirit.

Isaiah 61:2-3 (MSG)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Our culture

Here's an interesting analysis of our internet culture and its impact on life beyond cyberspace:

End of Politics as we know it

No separation

Takato flew halfway around the world to spend his 30 days of summer vacation with our family. We met this 13-year-old Japanese boy through the Colorado 4-H exchange program.

Takato speaks a little English and we speak less Japanese. So the start of the trip home after meeting Takato was a little quiet as our 11-year-old son tried to start conversations. Takato would shake his head because he didn’t understand.

But before long, I heard growling from the back seat. Then roars and an odd exchange began. One would bark and the other would imitate. Then they’d giggle before starting a new round of noises.

I leaned over to my daughter, “They don’t need to know Japanese or English because they speak ‘boy.’”

They’ve had fake kick-boxing matches on the trampoline and I caught Takato sitting on the roof of our garage catching basketballs from Toby and dropping them through the hoop.

They speak boy.

Now you’re probably wondering how I’m going to give this some kind of spiritual twist. Me, too.

I think God delights in watching two boys, on the cusp of manhood, playing with noises and conquests. He designed them and enables them. I don’t want to live in a world that is divided between spiritual and material.

It’s all God’s world and we can enjoy it with him!

I'll live right there with them. I'll be their God! They'll be my people!

Ezek 37:27

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Blogger Reflection Award

Maxine at Scraps of Glory just bestowed the Blogger Reflection award on me. What an incredible honor – and another encouragement from a woman who has been an encouragement to me from the beginning of my blog, some 150 posts ago.

I am honored and I praise God. He prompted me to write for him a few years ago. I did…but I didn’t. To be honest, writing is a passion in my life and I thought, what if I fail? There are more original reasons to refuse God’s call, but that was mine.

But the day came when I realized that failure, if it came, would be by my standard. I had decided what failure looked like- and I had decided it was linked to a lack of sales. In other words, what if I wrote and couldn’t sell my stuff? I learned that success was doing what God whispered in my ear.

So here I am, giving my stuff away and feeling good about it. I’d love someday to have something I’ve written accepted by a publisher, but it doesn’t matter so much anymore. God gives me things to write and I try to write them the best I can.

Having said all that, I want to pass on this award. I have selected 5 sites that are excellent to me, both in content and in encouragement.

Kate at The Small Scribbler. I like her humor and her insights and her dedication to the Lord. You’ll find compassion and wisdom in her articles. I wish I could sit down at her breakfast table and discuss God’s Word with her and her children, to hear her perceptive ideas. Kate, you’ve encouraged me many times and I hope this encourages you to keep writing, keep praying, keep studying, keep loving those people God puts in your path!

You’ll find beauty and rich history at Maxine’s SG Notebook. She writes three lovely blogs, but I chose this one because it illustrates her fierce commitment to church history and persecuted Christians. She provides excellent reminder to remember our Christian heritage – and support our persecuted brothers and sisters. Maxine, you are a wonderful encourager and I think we’d have a delightful time with tea and scones.

I want to honor Angela at Refresh My Soul. I truly appreciate her commitment to ministry, which shows up in her blog and in her website. Both are focused on loving others to Jesus. She’s another with the gift of encouragement, shining as a beacon of light to a lost world. In Luke 2:10, Jesus instructs to pray for harvesters because the fields are white. Angela is one who has answered the call. Keep on shining, Angela!

The Constructive Curmudgeon writes some scholarly, insightful material and I check with him a lot to see what’s on his mind. He’s intelligent, well-read, and thoughtful about culture’s footsteps on the Christian faith. His blog is often witty but humble, broad yet focused.

I’d like to invite you all to check out my fifth choice. This one is brand new and belongs to my sister the artist. Both of us have been wrestling with some of the images in Genesis. I’ve grappled using words, she with color and design. She has posted a series of paintings dealing with Genesis. Most blogs communicate with words but this one communicates with images. It’s unique and I invite you to take a look.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Dive In: Beginning

“What are the first words of the 23rd Psalm?” asked our Old Testament professor one day.

This sounded like a trick question and we were slow to bite. He had us open our Bibles and take a look, where we found he was using a little trickery. The first words are: “A Psalm of David.” Now, your translation may have something like “A Davidic Psalm” but you get the idea. It’s not “The Lord is my shepherd” like we assume.

As we dive into the design of Bible passages, we have to look at the beginning. In the case of the 23rd Psalm, we learn the genre: a Psalm (also known as a song or a poem. The book of Psalms was the hymnbook for the Jews.)

We need to know the genre. It makes a difference in our understanding if we realize we’re reading a poem or a genealogy, a narrative or law. There are many kinds of genre in the Bible and we analyze the text differently depending on the genre.

A quick note: a book is not necessarily only one genre. Look at Ruth, which is mostly a narrative with a genealogy at the end. (Some suggest that the genealogy was added later but I would suggest that it is vital to the meaning of the book. I will discuss that with you at some point.)

But let us return to Psalm 23. Because we know this writing is a poem rather than a genealogy, we analyze the design of the material in that light. We want to look for repeated words, phrases, images because Hebrew poems used those extensively.

You might want to print out a copy of the Psalm, so that you can underline and mark it.

  • Underline all the first person pronouns: me/my/I, etc.
  • Now circle “Lord” and “he.”
  • Now draw a box around the second person pronouns: “you.”

We want to notice the location of these repetitions in the Psalm. Do you see how the “self” pronouns are scattered throughout the Psalm while “Lord” and “he” are in the first part only? “You” is used in the second half of the Psalm.

We quickly see a transition from referring to God as “he” to addressing God personally: “you.”

We learn that through the repetition of the pronouns, noticing what kind of pronouns they are. David writes about God in the first half of the Psalm and writes to God in the second half.

Is that important?

I’m going to go through this quickly for now – although it deserves a much richer study at some point. In the first half of the Psalm, notice that the imagery is of shepherds, fields, grass, valleys. There’s a strong agricultural motif to those verses.

Hospitality is more of the theme in the last half of Psalm. We see a table, anointing, a cup, a house. Our scene has moved from the field to the home.

That may imply a change in relationship, moving into closer intimacy as we move from an outside scene to one inside the home.

Notice the very middle line of the Psalm. Count the lines (don’t count “A Psalm by David”) and you’ll see there are 19 lines. In Hebrew writing, often the very middle of a text is very significant. For example, if you look at the exact middle of Exodus, you’ll find the 10 commandments.

Here, the very middle is the point of the Psalm: “for you are with me…”

That’s the point of the 23rd Psalm: God, you are with me. You protect me and comfort me because you are with me.

This week, I would like you to begin to examine the design of a poem or a song. Psalms is a good place or you might look at other songs, such as Miriam’s song or Hannah’s song. There are many.

We’ve studied three steps so far and I want you to experiment with them on your text, to see if that opens some meaning.

The steps of design we studied today:

1. Start at the beginning. Read carefully. What can you learn from the beginning?

2. Search for repetition. Do you see an image, a word, a pronoun repeated? Do you see a motif – like the pasture setting in Psalm 23?

3. Check the very middle of the text. Is there anything significant there?

If you choose to share your findings on your own blog, please enter the specific blog post below so that others can share. We’ll look more at design next time.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Skunks around

A cool night breeze floated into the room, giving the candle a little dance. Notes from Josh Groban filled the air and we tipped glasses of sparkling cider to each other. He looked deep into my eyes and gently said, “I smell skunk.”

I did too, actually.

We gave each other a quick accusing look but moved on. I wondered if the candle had gone bad. He raced to the window to see what the dogs had drug up.

And I got the giggles, thinking of what an amazing analogy for marriage this was.

Often we enter marriage expecting a steady flow of candles and sparkling cider when sometimes what we get is skunk. The mark of a marriage is how we deal with imperfection.

The only thing about creation that was “not good” was Adam’s aloneness. And the only time creation was “very good” was after people received the breath of life.

God honors marriage. Among other things, it is a picture of his covenant with us. The commitment required to walk together through disappointment, misunderstanding, grief – and skunk – gives us an idea of his faithfulness to us.

It amazes me how God works through imperfect people – and we see it clearly in the marriage commitment. Somehow two flawed individuals come together as one with God knitting the two into a unity that is better than its parts.

If you’re married, celebrate what God is teaching you about his commitment through your marriage. If you’re not, celebrate the covenant that God has made to you.

Either way, you see how God values promises. Even when the aroma of the moment is a little unpleasant.

Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm;
for love is strong as death,
passion fierce as the grave.

Song 8:6

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Making a name

“Let’s make bricks,” they said to one another. That wasn’t their downfall but a window into their hearts.

These were the men of Nimrod, men who had followed his kingdom march eastward to Babylon. Nimrod was known as a mighty warrior. He built many cities and established an emperor in his day.

These men had shown the prowess of their weapons and experienced victory at every turn. It was time to settle down.

It’s an strange thing: their desire to build a tower to make a name for themselves. They had a name, given to them by God. That apparently didn’t satisfy them. They didn’t want his name or his help.

They didn’t choose stones to erect this tower. They chose building material of their own design, plans of their own purpose. Instead of the stone and mortar commonly used in their day, they selected bricks and tar. Even today we know that bricks and tar will never hold like stone and mortar.

Their odd choice revealed their intentions: this tower was not to illustrate God’s creation (by using stones) but their own. They baked the bricks; they stirred the tar. They thought this tower would illustrate their own might.

Instead, they were reduced to a confused sodden group, their weapons wilting in the mish-mash of languages. They were scattered throughout the world because they could no longer communicate.

Our hearts, like theirs, long for a name, for recognition. Do we rush to our own creation? Do we devise our own strategies? Do we bake up our own plans like these men baked bricks?

These men, unfortunately, did make a name for themselves. But we don't call them powerful and strong. We call them foolish.

That is why it was called Babel --because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

Gen 11:9

Friday, July 20, 2007

Friday Five: Our Access to God

What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him?

Deut 4:7

The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.

Psalms 145:18

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.

John 10:9

In him and through faith in him

we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

Eph 3:12

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence,

so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Heb 4:16

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Setting the belonging bar

On my latest incursion through the book of Romans, I found a mirror lurking in the second chapter. The first chapter of Romans flails the decadent element of the first century. You can stand in the checkout line of Wal-Mart and see the modern-day version of that on the covers of the magazines.

Ever get really satisfied seeing the wicked get theirs? The end of Romans 1 methodically dissects their lives and promises their end.

However, I turned the page: You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else. (Romans 2:1)

If you haven’t in a while, journey through Romans 2. Where Paul refers to the Jew, put “church-goer” in there. Maybe it’s you. Maybe it is me. Replace “Gentiles” with “nonbelievers.” That’s them.

Do I “rely on the law and brag about [my] relationship to God”? (Romans 2:17) What do I do that makes me special?

Ever heard this: “He’s such a nice person that he must be a Christian!” Or this: “She’s so good that if she’s not a Christian, she will be soon!”

A man's praise is not from men, but from God. (Romans 2:29)

Irony drips in many of our churches. We proclaim a “saved by grace” gospel while enabling our doorkeepers to identify the nice people for admittance. We read Romans 1 with vengeance, pointing out the failures of the world around us. Surely if the world only sees our love for one another (contrasted with their evil ways), they will rush into our buildings.

Here’s our philosophy: behave, then believe, then we’ll let you belong.

I have a friend who sends me regular e-mails about God’s protection and the need for prayer. I don’t know for sure if she follows Jesus although I tend to think not. However, I allow her to belong. I tell her about people who are praying for our family. I tell her about God’s work in our lives and how I’ve submitted my heart to Jesus. I tell her I’m praying for her.

My philosophy is this: let her belong, give her time to believe, and then let the Spirit teach her to behave.

When Jesus called Matthew, he didn’t ask the tax collector to quit swearing, stop smoking, skin off the tattoo, and buy a suit. He said, “Follow me,” and went to Matthew’s house for supper, earning the scorn of the religious leaders. He embraced Matthew as he was and Matthew was overwhelmed by his presence.

What rules do we have in place? Where have we set the bar for joining? What do we see in the mirror?

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

Mark 2:17

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Judah and Tamar

Yesterday I promised a discussion of Judah and Tamar, as found in Gen 38. Their story seems to interrupt the Joseph pericope but I want to suggest why we can’t discount it as a random distraction.

I am assuming you are somewhat familiar with the story. If not, scan Gen 37-50.

In Genesis 37:33, we see a key word: recognize. When the brothers brought the blood-stained robe to Jacob, he recognized the robe at Joseph’s and grieved for him. In Gen 38:26, Judah, who was about to have his daughter-in-law killed for prostitution, recognized the seal, cord and staff she held as his own and repented. In Gen 42:7, Joseph recognized his brothers in Egypt, although they did not yet recognize him.

The word recognize is key to three different events in the Joseph pericope, including the narrative of Judah and Tamar. The word was a turning point.

Other things to notice:

  • Because Judah was the brother who proposed selling Joseph into slavery rather than killing him, he was likely the leader of the brothers. This carried forward in Israelite history, with the tribe of Judah being the largest and strongest.
  • Judah’s line was the line of King David and also of Jesus. Thus, Judah carried the hopes of Abraham’s children.
  • Just as Jacob was tricked by the bloodstained robe, Judah was tricked by Tamar. His poor treatment of his daughter-in-law (for he owed her a husband and child but had refused to take care of her in that regard) was revealed through her deception.
  • When Judah recognized his seal, he acknowledged that she was more righteous than he. He had been broken by his encounter with Tamar, and he recognized his own failing. This was the turning point of Judah’s moral education.
  • Judah’s sexual failures in Gen 38 immediately precede Joseph’s triumph when presented with sexual temptation by Potiphar’s wife in Gen 39.
  • Later, when Joseph tried to imprison Benjamin (Gen. 44), it was Judah who came forward to take Benjamin’s place. Judah was willing to be enslaved to let Benjamin return home to their father.

The story of Joseph reveals God’s faithfulness to his people. Joseph’s trust in God’s provision protected Jacob’s family. They would probably have perished in the famine except for Joseph’s presence in Egypt. Instead, the family moved to Egypt and grew into a nation in the following 400 years.

Joseph’s story isn’t so much about a young man’s faithfulness as the history of a family growing into a nation, and how the leaders were grown and changed by God. It's about God's hand at work.

The tribe of Judah would lead the nation – into battle, into the Promised Land, and through the kingly line of David.

Judah was transformed from a deceptive, jealous young man into a brother willing to give his life in ransom for another. Surely much of that change came because he recognized his wickedness at the hands of Tamar. It came because he recognized his true nature and repented. His life was pivotal to the future of the nation of Israel – and the coming Messiah.

Judah recognized them and said, "She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn't give her to my son Shelah."

Gen 38:26

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Dive In: Design's Pericope

We’re transferring our old VHS-format home movies to DVD’s this summer. One of the biggest reasons is so that we can edit them.

You know how it is with home movies: 20 minutes of ho-hum scanning the crowd for the one minute of hilarious footage of that precious one-year-old digging into the birthday cake.

Although we’ll keep the raw film somewhere, we’re hoping to edit out the boring stuff and make an interesting movie to give to the kids someday.

Not everything that happened is going to be in that movie. We’ll pull out the important, interesting things and put them in a relevant order. In other words, this movie should eventually show signs of design.

The Bible is a beautiful book – the most magnificent piece of literary work I’ve ever read. Please note that literary does not mean fictional. It means a written work with a design and purpose. The Bible contains every evidence of design.

So our job as readers is utilize that design to help us gain meaning.

I will be posting words at the Sumballa-Dive In site that help us to get deeper into the Word. Today’s word is pericope.

It is a Greek word (pa-RIH-kōp-ee) that means “cutting around.” It’s used in Biblical texts to indicate a complete literary unit. For example, Mark 3:1-6 contains the story of Jesus healing a man’s withered hand.

How do we know this is a complete unit? It begins with Jesus entering the synagogue in v 1 and ends with him leaving to go to a lake in v 7. The location, in this unit, indicates it is complete.

We have to be alert to word choices or action that indicates the completion of a pericope. Don’t trust chapter or verse division (or subtitles, for that matter). A pericope can be short, like this one in Mark, or several chapters.

Another pericope, for example, is the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50. The account must be read as a whole to understand the point. The story of how God brought the family of Jacob to Egypt is revealed through the life of Joseph. We wouldn’t want to limit our study to one chapter and think we’ve gotten the story.

An interesting twist on that is the story of Judah and Tamar in Gen 38. We’re just getting rolling on Joseph’s life when we seem to take an irrelevant detour into this strange incestuous account of Judah. Yet the design tells us that this story is part of the understanding of this pericope. (I’ll be talking more about this tomorrow.)

Once we identify a pericope, then we look for clues in the design. It’s more than “this is what happened.” Our hoped-for family movie won’t include all that happened but what’s significant. The pericope includes what’s important, what makes a point. Our job is to begin digging for that point. We’ll continue adding “digging” tools next week.

Here’s your assignment for the next week:

1. Locate a pericope. It’s fine to use something you’ve read (or are reading) from your daily Bible reading.

2. Read the entire pericope in one sitting.

3. Identify what indicated the start and end of your pericope.

4. Had you seen this pericope as a complete unit before? Do you have questions about events included in the pericope?

I will examine the Judah-Tamar story tomorrow to show why it should be included in the pericope of Joseph, and how that affects the purpose of the pericope.

If you would like, include a post on your blog about your findings regarding your pericope. You could also include a report on your week of daily Bible reading. I’ve included a form below where you can share your blog entry (put the specific address in the form) with the rest of us as we journey together.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Grace in the flood

When you read the account of Noah’s flood, does it fill you with terror?

It didn’t me, either, until this time around. I generally saw it with Sunday school eyes: cute animals going in two by two, the rain came down and the flood came up, Noah trying to keep everybody happy.

But if you take a look at Genesis 6, terror lurks at every turn. The world of Noah was a world dripping with evil, marinated with self-indulgence, soaked in violence. God grieved at the chaos.

During creation, the earth was formless and void, water and land intermingled in chaos. Now, with the flood, the same picture emerges. Where God had brought order and life during creation, he now allows the churning waters to destroy life. There is a return of sorts to the first day of creation, where darkness and chaos ruled.

God’s presence brings order. When he withdrew his protection, chaos destroyed.

But the good news in the horrific flood scene was the ark, bearing the precious seeds of life. In the deep water, which for the ancient Hebrew represented the terrors of the unknown, the ark protected Noah, his family, and the animals. God protected a remnant. His commitment remained.

God had put Adam in the garden – that place of incredible fruitfulness, abundance, and presence – to work it and take care of it. The sons of Adam had rejected their part. God kept his part of the promise but people failed in their part.

Only Noah found favor in God’s sight and only Noah and his family were preserved.

A new covenant was formed: God would never again destroy life in such a terror-filled way. People from that time forward could understand God’s power and his purity for it had been clearly displayed.

There’s a simple lesson here: God hates wickedness and he keeps his promises. His work is always to preserve those who seek to escape its grip. Is there terror – or hope – in that truth?

The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: "Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

Gen 8:21

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The testimony of the second strike

The woman left my office red-faced and out of breath after accusing me of dishonesty, lying, and theft. I may have also sullied the name of her firstborn but I can’t remember for sure. I had made a mistake on an ad for her business (this was in my weekly newspaper days) and she had exploded with messy words everywhere. I was furious. Contained, but furious.

God then told me to pray for her. It took hours for me to spit out a weak mushball of a prayer and it tasted like sawdust. The next day, he told me to pray for her again. Another sawdust prayer finally came out. But by day three, the anger melted and I prayed with God’s sweetness, seeing suddenly how miserable it would be to live in her skin, with her ugly accusations and assumptions.
This turning-the-cheek stuff challenges me. I may not strike back, but I want to intercept that striking hand.

I am fairly good at defending my boundaries. However, Oswald Chambers stepped on them this morning: To the saint, personal insult becomes the occasion of revealing the incredible sweetness of the Lord Jesus.

That rocks me in my steps. I want to swing a sword in the face of unfairness. I want to stop the attack in its tracks. I’m not a trading-insults sort of person, but I can often stop assaults with stern limits.

But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. Matt 5:39

I can take the first strike but turn the cheek for the second? Why would I do that? Because that reveals the incredible sweetness of Jesus. I have a responsibility to testify to God’s character. I can do that with words but my responses are richer testimony. I reveal Jesus’ nature if I respond as he did.

My task here is not to defend my boundaries or protect my honor. I am not to draw a sword in the name of personal justice or private ambition. My task is to give testimony to God’s character.

I can relish that second strike as a way to reveal the personality of the King of kings. Responding with grace reveals the incredible sweetness of the Lord Jesus. Hard to beat that.

Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God's grace.
2 Cor 1:12

Friday, July 13, 2007

Friday Five: God's colors

Five common colors from the Bible:

Black: a symbol of affliction and calamity

He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death [or black]
And broke their bands apart.

Psalms 107:14

Blue: the symbol of deity

[They] saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire [blue], clear as the sky itself.

Ex 24:10

When the camp is to set out, Aaron and his sons shall go in and take down the screening curtain, and cover the ark of the covenant with it; then they shall put on it a covering of fine leather, and spread over that a cloth all of blue, and shall put its poles in place.

Num 4:5-6

Crimson: the symbol of iniquity

Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.

Isaiah 1:18

White: the symbol of holiness

He [Aaron] is to put on the sacred linen [white] tunic, with linen [white] undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen [white] turban.

Lev 16:4

Purple: the symbol of royalty

Daniel was clothed in purple, a gold chain was placed around his neck, and he was proclaimed the third highest ruler in the kingdom.

Dan 5:29

They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Pouring out living water

The day was probably hot and dry by midday. The woman was thirsty, coming to the well to fetch water.

We know some things about her: she was a foreigner, confused about her religious beliefs even as she clung to the tradition in them, feeling shame and the disapproval of her community. Why else would she have been drawing water at noon when all the women drew water in the morning? She came to avoid the disapproving tongues.

Jesus chose to enter her domain. Most people shunned this woman. While most Jews made a special point of avoiding Samaria – going out of their way to stay out of the hated land – Jesus went out of his way to talk to this woman.

He offered her water that never ran out – the answer to her problems. But while her mind probably flew to the condemnation of her village, Jesus talked about forgiveness and restoration.

Yesterday I raised the topic of Muslim prayer in our town. Should the school board allow Muslims to leave class for regular prayer? How should the Christians respond?

Jesus didn’t boycott the Samaritan religion or condemn it. He jumped right in with both feet, meeting this woman on her turf and talking about life in terms she understood. By the time he was done, this woman and her village had found the Messiah. Revival broke out in a Samaritan town that had been infiltrated by a Jewish rabbi.

I’m still putting the pieces together but I’m looking at Jesus’ life. How would he respond to Muslims praying in a school setting? How did he respond to a Samaritan woman with a skewed religion? He loved her, talked her language, and directed her to the truth.

I think there’s something in that I need to learn.

Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

John 4:14

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Which stand?

A small group of refugees have moved into our little farm town, bringing their Islamic beliefs with them. I heard just this week that they are hoping to build a mosque south of the tracks and have petitioned the school board to allow their youth to take moments out of class during the day for their regular pray times.

It’s a stretching sort of challenge and it made me think of Thomas Helwys. Thomas was a 17th century Englishman at the forefront of the resistance that later birthed the Pilgrims and Puritans.

Thomas wrote a treatise for King James (yes, the one who commissioned the famous Bible translation) entitled A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity, which detailed his stand on religious freedom, the right of the individual (as opposed to the state) to interpret the Bible for himself, and the separation of church and state. In those days, the king saw himself as the head of the church and freely made laws affecting individual piety. Tithing and even the version of prayer book were dictated by the state.

You could go to prison for withholding from the offering plate or using the wrong hymnal.

Thomas died for religious freedom. King James offered to set him free the moment he recanted, but Thomas refused. He died in Newcastle Prison, passionate to the end for the right to worship without state control.

As I think about this Muslim group who wishes to take their religion into our school system, I am torn. Many in our community are angry – not a bad thing. In some cases, they are being forced to make a religious stand.

I know that, if the Muslims are allowed to disrupt class time for prayer time, that the Christians in our community will queue behind with requests for noontime Bible studies and permission to prayer walk the halls.

It’s an interesting can of worms. As followers of Jesus, we need to know something of our own history. Helwys and others died for religious freedom – for all religions. Helwys was wise enough to know that when we give the state permission to deny one, we have opened the floodgates for the state to regulate all.

What say you? Is our stand to deny other religions? Or to use the freedoms they demand for our own gain?

From my heart

Ever ran a long race and, as you turned a corner, met a vibrant sideline that knew your name and cheered you on? New energy may have surged into your legs and the air in your lungs was just a little sweeter. Encouragement is like that.

Thank you for your support as I write. I am overwhelmed with your enthusiasm and appreciate your help. Some of you have even invited others to Dive In and I think we’ll have a fun time together getting into God’s Word.

I have begun praying for you. I believe God is using the Internet technology to stir work in his kingdom and blogging is a little bit of that. (If you’d like more on that, e-mail me and I’ll send you research I did a couple of years ago on Internet evangelism.)

If you have given me a comment or contacted me in some way, you’re on my prayer list. If you’d like to be added, let me know.

I’d also like to thank my sister, Ann, who is a talented photographer and artist. She did the major work in getting the Dive In logo developed. Please excuse us as we keep tinkering with it. We’re still trying to find the right size to use and also how to attach a link to the log. (And how to make that html code available to you as well. We’re bumbling techies, figuring out just enough to get along but knowing that we don’t know much! If you know more, let me know.)

God bless you for your support and friendship! I appreciate you more than I can write.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Dive In: Joyful Reading

It took me two hours to make my selection at the bookstore because I searched every shelf and every aisle. I was newly stirred in my faith and hunted in this Christian bookstore for the magic key to the Bible.

I knew there was a book that would pry the meaning out and give me the wisdom I longed for. I bought a book that day but I could have saved my money. I had what I needed at home – in quadruplicate.

It was my Bible, in several translations.

The first secret to diving deeper into God’s word is to read it. I wanted to ferret out all the deep truths but I didn’t want to do the work of digging. I thought if I found a trusty guide, I didn’t need to read the Bible much.

I wanted to do a little verse pulling, assuming that would make me wise and knowing. The chapter-verse breakdown of the Bible is not inspired but was established a few hundred years ago to make things easier as we studied. Chapter and verse markings are handy but they can also cripple us.

We sometimes pull a verse out and assume it is a complete unit because it is a complete verse. No. A verse always has to be read in context of the verses – and often the chapters – around it. That means that verse pulling – reading a single verse as my daily devotion – largely misses the meaning of the text. We have to read larger units and read carefully.

I want to challenge you this week to establish a daily reading plan. Think of it as Joyful Reading, rather than bland busywork. Reading God’s love letters is joyful and life-bearing work.

You choose your plan. If you want to read the Bible in a year, there are many plans available (and I will be happy to point you to some if that’s what you want to do.) Maybe your idea is to read a chapter a day. Maybe simply read for 30 minutes (or 20 or 10 or 60!). Maybe you want to alternate between the Old Testament and New Testament. I once used a Bible that incorporated an Old Testament and New Testament text for each daily reading. It was amazing to see parallels!

You may use different tactics for different seasons in your life. It can be changed as you go, but you need to start a daily strategy.

Please pray this week and select a plan.

Also select a time. I used to complain that I couldn’t get up any earlier in the morning or I was exhausted all day. But God clipped my wings. At a teen conference as a sponsor, I heard the speaker address the topic of daily devotions. He challenged the teens to get up at 5 am to meet with the Lord there at the conference.

In a moment of conference giddiness, I told God that I’d do the same if he got me up. (God, not the speaker.) I don’t wake up at 5 am on my own and I didn’t set an alarm clock so I thought I was pretty safe.

You guessed right. The next morning, I was awake at 5 am. After arguing with myself and trying to craft an excuse, I crawled out of bed and had the most amazing time with the Lord I’ve had in years.

Ask God to help you select a time. Get out a Bible and a notebook, read and write. As God reveals insights or questions, write them down. Date this journal and keep it. I do my devotions on my computer and write prayer requests, spiritual insights, questions in a Word document. Some love the feel of fine paper and a nice pen to do their journaling. Ask God to show you what will work for you. And you will probably adjust as you go along.

The important thing is to start.

This is the first step in diving into God’s word. You have to read it to recognize the patterns and the parallels in texts. Today could be the first day in a rest-of-your-life joyful reading of God’s love letters.

If you’d like some accountability on your Joyful Reading Plan, I’ve included a form below where you can log on your own blog what your strategy is. If you’d like, enter your blog url and others can visit your blog.

Dive In with a reading plan.

Next time, we’ll start the discussion on observing the design of a text.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Five Things I Dig About Jesus

I was tagged by Angela at Refresh my Soul and so I’m plunging into the refreshing text of the gospels. What do I respect about Jesus? Here’s my list:

His prayers. I love how he prioritized prayer.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Mark 1:35

I love how he prayed for his own disciples and for future believers.

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message. John 17:20

I love how he’s interceding for me right now.

Because he always lives to intercede for them... Heb 7:25

His touch. He touched little children, the unclean (dead, sick, handicapped), and his followers. He encouraged touch. He understood our incredible need for connection and he touched.

The people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all. Luke 6:19

Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have." Luke 24:39

His humility. He came to serve. He gave up the grandeur of heaven, the intimacy of the Father, the purity of paradise to wash feet!

But I am among you as one who serves. Luke 22:27

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor. (2 Cor 8:9)

But made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…(Phil 2:7)

His death. It’s a cliché, but Jesus came to die. He willingly endured the suffering and the death to pay my debt. He fulfilled the Father’s plan and bought my freedom.

The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life…John 10:17

And became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! Phil 2:8

His resurrection. But death could not hold him! I love the power of the resurrection. Evil is no longer king but there is hope and life.

He has risen! He is not here. Mark 16:6

Three days later he will rise. Mark 10:34

Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. John 16:22

Thanks, Angela! This was a fun morning exercise. Now I’ll tag Ann, Millie Jo and Maxine (but only if you have time!)

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth,
sing praise to the Lord,
to him who rides the ancient skies above,
who thunders with mighty voice.

Psalms 68:32-33

Saturday, July 7, 2007

The always of joy

Her eyes sparked with anger and we were all too young and wide-eyed to have a response. “God can’t expect us to be joyful all the time. That’s not possible. Do you think a girl who has been raped and beaten is joyful? NO! This can’t be true.”

We were studying Philippians, and had zeroed in on the fourth verse of chapter 4: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Having no answer for her, we slunk home and wondered just what Paul meant, anyway.

Today, I might point her to James. He talked about joy, too, and he coupled it to difficulties: Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds. (James 1:2)

Why? To develop perseverance. To develop character. To become mature and complete. (See James 1:3-4)

God tests us but he never tempts us. James assures us of that a few verses later (1:13). On the front side, an event can look like either a test or temptation. But God always uses tests to make us better. Temptation comes to tear us down, to pull us into destruction. Our response will either draw us closer to God, or we will push him away.

My goal in following Jesus is to look more and more like him, to become more molded to his character. Any test that helps me grow closer to him and toward maturity is a good thing.

God births maturity in us, often through tests. The pain of childbirth evaporates with that first newborn cry. I can welcome a test, knowing what will emerge at the end: maturity.

Joy is not a happy-happy lack of difficulty. Joy is the awareness of God’s grace maturing me in the midst of difficulties. It is the resting in his presence, knowing his hand is molding me and sculpting me like soft clay. I am always changed by tests. Rejoice always that God intends it for my good.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Heb 12:2

Friday, July 6, 2007

Techie update

I think I have solved the e-mail dilemma. Notice the e-mail logo at the right, which, when clicked, should start you on the e-mail process. It's more complicated than I expected, and here's where I got started on the process: http://blogger-tricks.blogspot.com/2006/12/how-to-put-clickable-picture-in.html

His instructions aren't perfect but I figured them out and if you get stuck, e-mail me and I'll try to share more specifically what I did.

Friday Five: the Compassion of Jesus

Five instances of Jesus' tenderness to people:

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Matt 9:36

Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.

Matt 20:34

Jesus wept.

Then the Jews said,

"See how he loved him!"

John 11:35-36

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

2 Cor 8:9

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin.

Heb 4:15