Thursday, September 27, 2007

Friday Five: the Bridegroom

My mind has been on the Bridegroom this week.

At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.

Matt 25:1

How delightful is your love, my sister, my bride!
How much more pleasing is your love than wine,
and the fragrance of your perfume than any spice!

Song 4:10

Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my lover among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my taste.

Song 2:3

I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign LORD, and you became mine.

Ezek 16:8

How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.

Matt 9:15


I'll be out of town this weekend but hope to tweak my weekly blog schedule next week. I'll be moving Dive In to Mondays, which will allow me three days for possible series articles. I'll check in when we get home Sunday evening.

Breaking a contract, part 2

Most women love the lure of flowers, the attention of a suitor. There’s a thrill to a telephone call or an evening stroll in the park.

If you’ll read yesterday’s account, you’ll know I deserved no courtship. I had chosen a silent separation and had earned no suitor’s pursuit. The covenant had been broken in my reckoning; my Bridegroom had not done his part.

But on a summer camping trip, with a time for quiet and reflection, my heart begin to expand. I missed my Lord. I felt his warm breath as he called my name. I opened my Bible and began a slow climb out of a black hole.

The miscarriage happened in March and by October I was passionately in love with my Savior. I did not understand my loss but what mattered to me was that I was loved by the Creator of the universe.

I was scheduled to speak at our church’s Christmas tea in early December, now a delightful task. And the joy was expanded when I discovered I was pregnant again. I felt certain that God was restoring what had been lost.

My speech-writing tasks were easy and the outline pulsed with life and vitality.

But lightning crashed again. This baby, too, was lost. I gave the long-anticipated speech knowing that life was draining away.

Things were different. I was desperate not to lose the relationship I had just re-gained. My cry that weekend was that I not lose hope in my King.

And this time, as I sat in a hospital bed facing a surgeon once again, there surged in me a certainty I could never explain apart from my Lord. I told the doctor that there had to be a cause for this. He told me I might never know a reason.

But I knew that I knew that I knew that I would find cause. A specialist informed us, after a month of embarrassing interviews and tests, that I had a progesterone inadequacy.

Daily shots, mood swings, fear blurred the new few weeks. This pregnancy didn't start with the joy and anticipation that it should have had. My thoughts were simple: “I don’t know if I can go through this again.”

A thin little heartbeat thumped on a 6-week ultrasound, while I was still getting twice a week shots to stave off yet another miscarriage. A tiny being moved strongly in the 10-week ultrasound. Joy mingled with cold fear gripped me.

Our son was born on Nov. 7. The first baby lost had been due on Nov. 7.

I had once hoped that my friends or family would comfort me during the one-two punch of miscarriage. But what’s more important is that the Bridegroom never left my side. In the humiliation of loss and the agony of inadequacy, he whispered my name and drew me back. He kept his part of the covenant in the face of my accusations and my silence. He never left me.

The prophet Joel speaks well for me:

I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten… You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
and you will praise the name of the LORD your God,
who has worked wonders for you.

Joel 2:25-26

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Breaking a contract, part 1

With a long hug and a gentle kiss on the forehead, I finished tucking my three-year-old in bed. We’d read, sang, prayed, lingered. Now I moved on, ready to do my nightly exercises.

I would have called myself content, full, confident. I should have used words like smug, naïve, proud. The wheels were about to come off and I was powerless to stop it.

That evening I opened a door to a blackness I would not leave for several months. That night a baby, only a few short weeks from conception, died without ever feeling the warmth of his mother’s arms.

The funny thing about miscarriages is that few know how to respond. There was something wrong with the baby and this is for the best, one older woman told me. Another said that her sister had had one. You know that you’re getting older, another almost scolded me. You can’t expect much.

I wanted to hold my baby. I wanted someone to hold me and kiss my forehead and cry out, I’m so sorry.

Four days later, after minor surgery to complete the loss, I stood at a window while the world marched on. The horror of what I could not prevent pushed me into a numb world of shadows. Where I should have mourned, I hid.

I kept the paint touched up on the outside, but the inside was as empty as my womb. No one knew, or no one commented.

My life had largely been self-powered. I knew God and I knew I was a good disciple, living a clean life and following the church code well. I was a good addition to his flock and he, apparently, had always honored my commitment by blessing me.

But this was no blessing, I cried out. I had prayed desperate prayers of exchange: “save this child and I’ll….” No rescue had ensued.

I didn’t know then what I know now. The rest of that statement would have been, “and I’ll return to our previous agreement.”

We had a deal, in my mind, and he hadn’t kept his part. I left for awhile. He apparently was moody and whimsical, unlike myself, and couldn’t be counted on in a crisis.

Hosea summarized my position in his warning to Israel: “But even if we had a king, what could he do for us?” (Hosea 10:3)

That was my point. In the crunch, what had God done for me? I trusted my own viewpoint. God had failed me and so I withdrew.

It was months before God’s persistent wooing caught my ear. Sitting at a campfire, conversation pulsing around my silence, I realized I missed him.

He sang to me:

It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
it was I who healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with ties of love;
I lifted the yoke from their neck
and bent down to feed them.

Hosea 11:3-4

In my worldview, God and I were in a legal separation. But not in his. I might have declared the covenant dissolved, but he did not. His contract could never be broken. He just wouldn’t leave me or forsake me.

Tomorrow: the next crash

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Dive In: The Audience

The teenagers almost whispered their distress: “In our spare time, we even pulled weeds to help them.”

They had returned from a week-long trip to a different culture, full of love for the children there and also annoyed with the adults who displayed none of the initiative the teens expected.

They couldn’t even pull their own weeds.

That culture did not value landscaping as we do. Their time was better spent carrying soup to the elderly, playing games with the babies, painting vibrant colors on pottery.

In not examining the culture of the people, the teens missed the values of the village. Where they might have seen beauty, they saw laziness.

In examining biblical texts, we must tread carefully. We read through our 21st century western eyes what was written to ancient eastern people.

Last week, we discussed the author’s intent in writing. Today, we look at the intended audience.

For example, the book of Psalms is a beautiful collection of Hebrew songs. We are certain, however, that an editor gathered many poems and songs into the equivalent of a hymnal, a book to be used in worship.

There are many signs of this editor’s work. Several weeks ago we looked at the beginning of Psalm 23, where David is identified as the author. It’s probable that David did not write that about his own poem, but it was added later by an editor. Editing does not diminish the inspiration of the text. In fact, if we can accept the concept of inspiration in the writing, surely we can embrace inspiration in editing as well.

But this final text of Psalms was probably completed a couple of hundred years before Jesus’ birth. By this time, Jews had been scattered throughout the civilized world. Where once the Hebrews had worshipped as one in the temple, now they had a series of synagogues in the faraway places where they lived.

Once, the priest addressed the people in one place during festivals and ceremonies. Now, many could not return to the temple easily and instead worshipped in many places.

The Psalms were collected to provide instruction in theology and worship in the synagogues.

So the editor of the Psalms brought the poems together in five books which paralleled the five books of Moses (the Torah). In doing that, the editor communicated that this book was like the Torah, a new book to instruct the people. The Torah dealt with the law, the Psalms dealt with God’s nature.

The poems were probably not changed but their purpose was tweaked. They became part of a brilliant teaching effort. The people, many far separated from the temple and its festivals, could still learn about God’s nature – from a book rather than a priest’s lips.

Psalms was copied and distributed to many synagogues. That book helped Jews learn God’s nature and worship him with wisdom.

Knowing the original audience helps us understand the intent of the work.

Once we identify the author’s idea for his intended audience, we can make application to our own life.

When we understand that the purpose of Psalms is to introduce wisdom (notice the scope of Psalm 1 as the foreword to the entire collection), we read the psalms in a new way. We can connect worship and wisdom. If we know God’s nature, we can worship more effectively.

The Psalms were written to help early Jews worship God out of knowledge and understanding. Psalms instructs. We can take the same idea and use it in our own lives.

Part of provenance is identifying the author and the culture. Another part is recognizing the needs of the original audience. How they received the text helps us understand the ideas which may also affect our lives.

We can’t read biblical texts assuming they were written by modern authors to modern audiences. Their setting was different from ours and part of the challenge is to identify that situation.

Meaning is richer when we discover it by looking through the original lens.

Monday, September 24, 2007


Jesus seemed rude to his mother and that troubled me for a long time. If you’ve read John 2, where Jesus eventually rescues a wedding feast by transforming ceremonial water to drinkable wine, maybe his response to his mother has bothered you as well.

I tried to apply human reason: he was having a bad day. His feet hurt. He wasn’t yet good with words.

Truth is, he spoke a Jewish idiom, words of separation. The time had come to part.

They were at a wedding. In those days, the celebration ran on for up to a week, with food and drink stocked for the entire party. To run out of wine was embarrassing and Mary wanted to help.

That’s when Jesus responded with words that appear disrespectful. He used a Jewish saying: leave me alone. Today those are fighting words. But not then: notice how his mother responded. She was not insulted but appeared encouraged.

She turned to the servants, “do whatever he tells you.”

Jesus separated himself from his mother’s authority in this narrative. He no longer did what his mother said, but only what his Father told him to do. In the ensuing chapters of John, that point is highlighted repeatedly. Jesus obeyed only his Father, unconcerned with human influence or opinion.

Mary’s actions are fascinating. When a problem arose, she turned to her son. She informed him of her concerns. Unlike most of us, she did not suggest the solution. She simply laid the problem before him. Having done that, she prepared for obedience. She understood the separation. She had nurtured him as a child but now, as a man, he followed his Father. Her role shifted to following.

Although Jesus’ idiom appears harsh, he was really laying the foundation for his ministry. He did not answer to human authority – not even his mother. He answered only to his Heavenly Father.

And Mary responded as a follower should: with trust and with obedience.

Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

John 2:11

Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday Five: Front and center

Fasting can cleanse our thoughts, our bodies, our souls. We know about fasting from food, but others suggest fasting from media (TV, radio, recorded music) or from digital connections (internet, email).

The point is not the denial but the focus. Where do we place the spotlight of our life? If food is our god, then focus elsewhere. If email threatens to own us, then push it back onto tamer ground. What claims our mind when the storm clouds of challenge threaten? That often reveals our gods, the places we go for comfort.

On fasting….

So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.

Dan 9:3

'Even now,' declares the LORD,
'return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.'

Joel 2:12

But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matt 6:17-18

Jesus answered, "How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.

Matt 9:15

When I weep and fast,
I must endure scorn;

Psalms 69:10

So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

Acts 13:3

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Reading too much and too little

Douglas Groothius suggests that we read too much and not enough in this country. His point is an excellent one: we often choose to feast on marshmallows and disdain broccoli.

I’ve been seeking out some vegetables lately and want to share a few articles that I’ve found. Like a good eating plan, however, you won’t find yourself hungry again at 10 am. These will challenge your mind and fill your soul:

Ben Witherington, considered one of the top evangelical biblical scholars in the country, examines a news report about God getting sued. His style is approachable and insightful.

Sarah Scott exposes biases she experiences as a student at Colorado State University while a follower of Jesus.

At Conservative Reformed Media, a group of bloggers revel in their name – a label thrown at them by some more liberal groups. They tag-team when writing topics, and this recent one about analogies and eastern religions is interesting.

Scott McKnight is featuring a series on Colossians at his Jesus Creed site.

Try some vegetables today!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Out-there lures

Daisy broke out Sunday morning and I learned in the adventure.

You need to know that Daisy was a wild child who wanted her own way and was leery of authority. I won’t describe the wrestling match involved in starting the tethering process.

But the break seemed to come. She lowered her head in obedience.

We weren’t satisfied with obedience, however. We wanted trust and began a long process of wooing her to us. We started with obedience but we really wanted love.

So when she escaped Sunday morning, I was anxious that the out-there might snag her attention. But her eyes were on me. After she saw me, she walked up calmly and began to follow me.

Daisy is a two-year-old filly that we saw transformed from an over-the-fence kind of baby into a gentle horse willing to trade the wide-open spaces for my hand and protection.

But Daisy is my teenage daughter and my pre-teen son, too. How the freedom can beckon! Many horses (and teens) are hungry for the green grass on the other side of the fence, not knowing the harm mixed with the pleasure.

Had Daisy bolted from me, she faced a field of ripe alfalfa – a sure death-trap for a greedy and hungry horse. She faced a highway with trucks rolling at 60 mph. She faced an irrigation ditch filled with rushing water and steep sides. Dangers crouched where she could not see.

I want our children to find a safe path, to look at our lead and follow.

And, it occurred to me as I brushed down Daisy Sunday, that our Father wants the same thing from us. He is willing to wrestle with us as he did with Jacob, to teach us obedience.

But the ultimate goal is, when the gate is open and the out-there whispers, that we search out his eye and follow him.

If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love.

John 15:10

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Dive In: Author's intent

Water pours (pun intended) through the book of John. I’ll illustrate shortly. Diving into a text means that we notice the author’s design, and use those elements to lay open deeper meanings.

The author’s point is key. We cannot look at a text and lay our design on it. Our first step must be to discover the author’s meaning. If we believe in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, then the author’s intent reflects the intent of God as well.

It should not be compromised by the all-to-common “this what the text means to me.”

But let’s go back to John for illustration.

Reading should always be done both with a microscope and a wide-angle lens. If you look at the first four chapters of John (that’s the wide-angle approach), you’ll see water imagery. Notice:

  • John the Baptist uses water to baptize many in John 1. We know from Acts that this was referred to as a baptism of repentance.
  • In John 2, we have water turned to wine. Large jars that usually held water for ceremonial cleansing were instead filled with water then transformed into wine for drinking.
  • Although Jesus, in the latter part of John 2, does not specifically use water, he cleanses the temple in Jerusalem.
  • When Jesus counsels Nicodemus, he explains the idea of being born of water and of the spirit. (John 3:5)
  • In the latter verses of John 3, our focus returns to John baptizing. He wants nothing of the spotlight, however, taking a dispute about purification (cleansing?) as an opportunity to point to Jesus.
  • John 4 is obvious: Jesus meets the woman at a well and discusses living water.
  • The healing of the nobleman’s son happens at the end of John 4.. Although water is not obviously a key factor, our author points out to us that this miracle happened at Cana, the same town were water was turned to wine.
  • In John 5:1-15, we read about the cripple at the pool of Bethsaida, hoping the water would heal him but instead Jesus did.

I have some thoughts on the author’s intent here but I’d like to hear something of yours. Would you share a comment about something you think the author was trying to communicate? Don’t feel you need a lengthy discussion. We can build an interesting discussion through several insights.

Remember, the idea is to share a thought on what the author may have been trying to communicate. I’m anxious to hear what you notice.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The light of justice

Sherry injured her back on the ice and then lost her job because she couldn’t work. Disability pay wasn’t enough to cover the bills but if she got a part-time job she could handle, she lost the disability check. It wasn’t fair.

Mike and Jill knew their second child was probably doomed at birth. The doctors said so and advised termination. But the couple finished out the pregnancy, held their baby as it died in their arms, and then endured horrible complications resulting in a complete hysterectomy. It wasn’t fair.

Jeff had been upbeat in his cancer fight and saw the treatments work. Coupled with good food choices and healthy living, he was restored. Then six years later, leukemia struck him down like a blitzkrieg. It wasn’t fair.

Unfairness may separate more people from God than anything else. Once the label is stuck on God, people drift away. If God is unfair, goes the thought, how can I follow him?

But maybe we have confused fairness for justice. God is just. Fairness may be our construction and expectation.

The words just, justice and justly appear nearly a hundred times in the Bible, mostly in the OT. What can we say about God’s justice?

“He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.” Deut 32:4

When we consider fairness, is that what we really want? It stems from an idea that we are worthy of something, that we deserve equality. Yet we live in a world of darkness. Left in the shadows, we serve our own plans and our own appetites. We champion our own defense and swing a sword for our own rights.

What, then, is fair? Getting what I have earned? Receiving what I deserve?

The outcry is often why me? But our question should really be, why not me? How have I earned better?

The Rock brings justice. Justice means to do what is right. God is eternal justice, always faithful and always reliable. Justice may bring discipling and it may bring mercy, but it is always right, always directed at our good.

Fairness is based on what I expect, but justice is based on what is eternally right. We can stand on the Rock.

My justice will become a light to the nations.

Isaiah 51:4

Friday, September 14, 2007

Friday Five: Speaking of God's Peace...

The promise of peace:

Though the mountains be shaken
and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
nor my covenant of peace be removed,"
says the LORD, who has compassion on you.

Isaiah 54:10

And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.

Isaiah 55:12

I will make a covenant of peace with them

Ezek 34:25

'The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,' says the LORD Almighty. 'And in this place I will grant peace,' declares the LORD Almighty."

Hag 2:9

And the promise kept:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

John 14:27

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ

Romans 5:1

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking,

but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,

Romans 14:17

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations.

Eph 2:14-15

…through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Col 1:20

Prayer Log

I hope you'll keep an eye on the prayer log and pray for the items listed there. Also, if you've posted there, would you give us updates when you have them? Thanks for your compassionate hearts, for they reveal the King.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Rejoicing in the bridegroom

Anticipation and joy were clearly etched on Matt’s face in the photo. A friend gave us the picture after our wedding. She’d captured Matt’s expression as he walked down the aisle after the ceremony and I treasure that snapshot.

A bridegroom celebrates his bride and rejoices in the marriage.

Yesterday, we talked about the Samaritan woman as a bride of Christ. I want to point out some other interesting parallels in the early part of the book of John.

Jesus’ first miracle, the famous turning water into wine at Cana, happened at a wedding. In the midst of the celebration, the wine ran out. The festivities were about to end on a lack of planning but Jesus supplied abundant excellence, allowing the celebrating to continue. There are many other images in the story, but this wedding thread is an interesting one.

And the thread works its way into the next chapter, where John the Baptist describes Jesus as the bridegroom. John the Baptist understands his own role, as a friend of the groom celebrating the marriage.

He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. (John 3:29)

Finally, the thread continues into John 4. In John 2, we see Jesus as an outsider blessing a wedding celebration with abundance and new life. In John 3, John the Baptist describes Jesus as the bridegroom. It’s in this context that John expresses his need to decrease while Jesus increases.

That increase fully blossoms with the encounter at the Samaritan well. Jesus is no longer onlooker but bridegroom.

This marriage imagery is no accident. The author, John, weaves a rich fabric using such threads. We are drawn to the wedding metaphor. Imagine Jesus as the bridegroom beaming with joy and anticipation.

From the Cana wedding to the Samaritan revival, John has shown how Jesus’ ministry is about life. And the description escalates: not just the life of a wedding celebration, but about eternal life.

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life. (John 3:36)

Even the knowing has escalated. Where the Cana wedding miracle was done in sight of a few servants, the Samaritan woman proclaimed Jesus to her community. Many followed him as their divine bridegroom.

The Bridegroom rejoices in us. Many are the gifts he showers on us. How does the bride respond?

May your day be filled with joy and with John’s declaration:

“That joy is mine, and it is now complete.”

John 3:29

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

At the well

In a hot, dry country, a well which sinks into the earth and delivers fresh water for life is precious. People gathered to a well for community and for sustenance.

Eliezer stood at the well outside of Nahor, asking God for help. When Rebekah came to the well, this trusted servant of Abraham asked for a drink. Her response confirmed that she was the chosen one, the bride of Isaac.

A few years later, Jacob stood at a well wondering aloud why the sheep were being brought in to water in mid-day. It was there he met Rachel, his future bride.

When Moses fled Egypt, he came to a well and watched the daughters of the priest of Midian come to draw water for their flocks. He defended them against other shepherds, not realizing that his future wife was among those daughters.

Jesus came to the well at Sychar in Samaria, tired and thirsty. When a woman approached at mid-day to draw water, he asked for a drink.

Probably you know the story. A revival began in Samaria as a result of an interchange between the divine and a stained lowly woman.

This woman had gone through five husbands and was currently living with a man who was not her husband. She drew water at noon to avoid the morning crowd and its cold shoulder. Even though marital relations had not gone well for her, she had not abandoned male companionship. She obviously enjoyed a man’s presence and was willing to defy convention for one.

Jesus approached her.

Eliezer found a wife for Isaac at a well. Jacob found Rachel at a well. Moses met Zipporah at a well. Brides were sometimes found at a well.

Followers of Jesus are called the bride of Christ. Jesus sought a bride. As the Samaritan woman revealed that she knew of the Messiah, the longed-for bridegroom, Jesus disclosed his true identity: I am he.

Look at the marks this woman had against her. She was a woman, a Samaritan, an adultress. She wasn’t our idea of the bride of Christ. She was stained, lowly, outcast.

The bride of Jesus doesn’t need a clean pedigree or a clean slate. What did Jesus look for in his bride? He wanted one simple thing. He required that his bride would worship in spirit and truth. (John 4:24)

“Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." John 4:14

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Dive In: Commentaries

I was only 17 at the time, so the meetings were welcome. All the Sunday school teachers gathered every other week while our pastor taught us the lesson we were to teach to our children. I had 5-year-olds and didn’t want them infected with wrong doctrine.

Today, my feelings about those meetings are a bit mixed. They were helpful to me as a young teacher but the more experienced teachers refused to do any study on their own. Their preparation consisted of repeating what the pastor told them.

We do the same thing with our Bible study when the first resource we pick up is a commentary. I have challenged you to read-read-read your Bible and to examine with care, noticing detail and also trying to discern the big picture.

A commentary should be one of the last books you pick up as you dive into the text. Commentaries are written by people who, in spite of their labor, cannot help bias and limitation. No commentary can fully capture the meaning of any text.

Add in to that that biblical scholarship continues to develop. New discoveries have added depth to biblical understanding. The Dead Sea Scrolls have added great richness to biblical scholarship, for example, because old texts were discovered, allowing translators to better discern word usage and syntax of first century writings.

For centuries, biblical scholarship tried to explain the lack of archeological evidence for the Assyrian nation. Many assumed it had not existed but then an ancient Nineveh was discovered. Discoveries help us better plumb biblical meaning.

All this to say that older commentaries are somewhat limited. They didn’t have the benefit of the Dead Sea Scrolls and archaeological finds. They worked with the knowledge of their day and they have very helpful insights. But don’t rest your analysis of a text on ancient commentaries alone.

Just like reading different translations of the Bible helps reveal meaning, reading more than one commentary helps produce a balanced presentation.

I will make some recommendations. Please know these are not inexpensive books. You may never own the entire set of them. I try to buy a text as I study a particular book, depending on financial resources. However, these will enrich your study.

My favorite commentary is The New American Commentary from Holman Press. It is evangelical and conservative, scholarly and deeply steeped in Hebrew and Greek research. Each volume is $20-$30 new. I’ve found used volumes for less.

Another suggestion is New Testament Commentary by Baker Press. It is from a Reformed standpoint. It is written by two authors so isn’t quite as consistent as the NAC, but still a valuable commentary.

Some helpful scholarly authors are: F.F. Bruce, Ben Witherington, Howard Marshall, Douglas Moo, Leon Morris, Craig Blomberg, Walter Brueggemann, Brevard Childs. This is a very limited list, but it might give you a foothold into further study.

Often you can find articles on the internet by these authors.

My basic tools for Diving In are several translations of the Bible, the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, a good atlas (we’ll look at those another time), and The New American Commentary.

First, study the details of the biblical text, noticing its design and provenance. Try to discover the author’s point to his original audience and see if that idea still resonates today. THEN dig out commentaries to see if others agree with your analysis. If no one has seen what you’ve seen, maybe you’ve better go back to the text and do some more digging. Use a commentary as sort of a answer sheet to check your work, not the place to begin.

Don’t just repeat what a commentary tells you. Dive in and drink the text for yourself. You’ll be revived and renewed by what you discover.

Limping along...

God gave us two eyes, two ears, two kidneys... oh, you know the drill. In his mercy, he gave us abundance.

So it is with my computer woes this summer. I am limping along with one eye, it feels, but I am thankful for that. We have two computers and so I enjoy the abundance of God's overflowing grace in technology.

Darla, I will be praying for your daughter. I'm glad you posted the information and I hope you'll keep up updated on how she's doing.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Technical difficulties...

Hey ladies... this is Ann, Kathy's sister. She just wanted me to let you know that her internet is down and she is unable to get online to post to her blog. She will be back as soon as possible either later today or tomorrow. Stay tuned! Her "Dive In" article is rip roaring ready to be posted as soon as she has internet again.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Friday Five: Anthropomorphisms

Anthropomorphisms are figures of speech that apply human or earthly traits to God. They help us describe spirit in terms we understand. Here are five:


Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me;
fight against those who fight against me.
Take up shield and buckler;
arise and come to my aid.
Brandish spear and javelin
against those who pursue me.
Say to my soul,
"I am your salvation."

Psalms 35:1-3


I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
until the disaster has passed.

Psalms 57:1


be my rock of refuge,
a strong fortress to save me.

Psalms 31:2


I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.

Lev 26:12


"Come now, let us reason together,"
says the LORD.

Isaiah 1:18

Now add some of your favorites.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Poured out

When Mildred dressed for work yesterday morning, she probably didn’t dream she was doing her daily routine for the very last time.

When Carl drank his morning coffee, he probably didn’t contemplate that his life would change forever.

Our little farm community has been rocked by a horrible tragedy, a harvest accident that took the life of a woman and left a crew of harvesters shaken in horror. There was no fault in this accident, no finger-pointing to be done.

All involved are long-time residents of the area, with family and friends threaded throughout the community. No one is untouched by this tragedy. We feel the ache of loss, the agony of passing.

Mildred’s family has already lost their father and a brother. Now their mother has been snatched from them in an instant.

For Carl, who was driving the machine, we have compassion. His is the suffering of regret, although he could not have prevented the accident.

….like water spilled out on the ground…..*

Life cannot be recovered. The innocence of yesterday is gone.

We’re tempted to ask WHY?

But the answers are not in understanding. Our relief doesn’t come in uncovering a good reason for all this. We don't gain by trying to judge the purpose of a tragedy.

Comfort comes in one place. We must ask the who question. Who is our comfort? We forget that we are tender grass, burned by the heat of the day. Life withers us.

Jesus remembers. He wept before Lazarus’ grave. He healed with compassion. He always lives to make intercession for us.

“You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love “

Jonah 4:2

*2 Sam 14:14

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

In exile

Analogies can be slippery, vibrant yet vague. How to illustrate without misleading, how to reveal and not obstruct….

It wasn’t exactly a cave. Or an ostrich, Or a commune in the mountains.

But I was once a separatist, rejecting all that had the smoky taste of the world. I boycotted movies starring homosexuals. A preacher with a divorce in his history was not worthy of my ear. Music was always suspect, lyrics and motives overlaid on transgressions and rhythms.

I often wondered why God, once I had opened the door to my heart, didn’t whisk me off to heaven so I could escape this soiled place.

Did Daniel, snatched from his homeland and pressed into the king’s inner court, feel the same? He was an alien in a strange world, surrounded by false gods and unhealthy practices. He refused the king’s food because it would defile him. (Dan. 1:8)

But irony of ironies: Daniel’s refusal to be tainted led him deeper into the king’s presence. Noticing Daniel’s wisdom and understanding, the king began consulting him often. He gained greater standing than the magicians and enchanters.

What’s up with that? Daniel didn’t get to go home. He remained in the strange land, surrounded by the scent of opulence and the tinge of idolatry. Superstition and conjuring ruled the king’s mind.

Before Daniel came on the scene, that is.

Daniel didn’t escape Babylon. He spent a lifetime correcting magicians, outdueling enchanters, revealing God’s mysteries, testifying to the power of the one true God.

Daniel was God’s agent to deliver life to Nebuchadnezzar, the powerful king who moved from ignorance to acknowledgement to serving God only. In the battle of two kings, Nebuchadnezzar learned his place as servant of the true King.

By his words, advice, wisdom, choices, prayers, and courage, Daniel served the king of Babylon well. And he served the King of kings even better.

Daniel was no separatist.

Daniel remained at the king's court.

Dan 2:49

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Dive In: Provenance II

We’ve already put our toes in the stream of provenance, discussing the idea that we must know the origins as we dive deeper into biblical texts.

Today, we’ll get an example of that through a non-biblical text, an 18th century painting by William Hogarth entitled The Graham Children. I want you to look carefully at the painting, noticing any details that might contribute to the artist’s intent.

In examining this painting, you are doing the equivalent of studying the design of a biblical text. If you recall, there are three major steps to understanding a work:

  • Design
  • Provenance
  • Idea (meaning)

In examining the design of this painting, you have probably noticed the four children and their setting. Maybe you noticed the baby’s buggy gilded in gold leaf or the silver basket of fruit. Maybe you noticed the clock in the background or the bird in the cage.

This is Hogarth’s most ambitious painting, a life size portrait of the Graham children. Henrietta, 9, wears a blue dress. Richard, playing a serinette (bird organ) is seven. Anna Marie, 5, wears a flower-printed dress and the baby, Thomas, sits in the buggy.

Hogarth, in his choice of objects, illustrates the lifestyle of the family. They obviously had some wealth.

But something you may not know was that Thomas died before the painting was finished. In the early 18th century, child mortality was high. To symbolize the death of the baby, Hogarth painted a winged cherub with a scythe and an hourglass, mounted on a clock in the background. Two carnations lie beside the child, stalks crossed.

There’s more. Notice the clock on the mantelpiece is decorated with the figure of Cupid holding a scythe and standing beside an hour-glass, symbols of death in that day. We know that the baby was dead when the portrait was painted, and this must account for the sombre references to mortality, at a time when many children died in infancy.

Those items signaled the 18th century viewer of the baby’s death. The viewer of that day understood that the family had lost baby Thomas.

Take a look at the cat in the background. The cat's claws are out, gripping the furniture. His eyes are focused solely on the fluttering goldfinch. The gilded cage could be seen as the rich protector of the innocent, then released into a dangerous world. Hogarth placed an allegory of the child becoming an adult and having to deal with an altogether more dangerous reality. The cord that cuts the corner of the painting and so obviously supporting the suspended cage, is symbolic of the fragility of life and especially of child mortality.

There’s much more in the painting but I think we’ve made my point, that knowing the provenance helps pry loose meaning. This painting would not have been made today. The loss of children does not hang over us as it did in that day.

The symbols of Hogarth’s painting are foreign to us today. We have to do some research to understand their meaning, but in doing so, and understanding the backdrop of the times, Hogarth’s meaning becomes clearer.

Obviously wealth couldn’t shield a family from the realities of life. In that day, the loss of children was the great equalizer. Rich and poor shared in the grief.

In our discussion, provenance is an important key in revealing meaning. Never settle on the author’s intent until you’ve examined his timeframe.

Remember that provenance is determined by the author’s time, not by the time of the story. We will visit provenance again. In the Old Testament, application often pops out when we understand the time of the text.

What insights did you gain from The Graham Children?

Monday, September 3, 2007

Prayer Log

I have added a prayer log in the right column of this blog where you can list people or needs that you'd appreciate prayer for. I will pray for those things and I hope you will, also. Please let us know as those prayers are clearly answered.

Comment Circus: fighting the dragon

This is a simple request: please pray for Donna.

Donna lives in Texas but came to Colorado year ago and again this summer with a mission team from her church, to help us love on our community. She loved children with Jesus’ tenderness and spoke the gospel clearly to young mothers.

More than once, during her time in Colorado, I caught her and her husband sitting in a far corner, hands clasped together, praying fervently for people they’d met that day. Her heart belongs to Jesus and his plans are hers.

Now, cancer has returned. Donna has been in this battle before and hoped never to come back. But the fight is not over.

Although it has spread to her bones, liver, adrenal glands and lymph nodes, she and her family rejoice that there is no cancer in her brain. She starts chemo this week. Eight weeks from now, they’ll evaluate her condition and plan the next step.

At the same time, her adult daughter has to have surgery and so the family is wrestling with a double burden.

Please pray for Donna and her family. Ask Jesus for healing, for strength, for refining. The family has asked for grace to handle the double burden while honoring God for they can see how he has already provided.

Please leave a comment here for Donna. I want to gather them in a week or so and sent them on to her as an encouragement. Please bless her as she has blessed the King.