December 19, 2014

A Smart-Mouth or Smart Mouths

Smart-mouth (noun): An ability or tendency to make impertinent retorts; impudence.
Smart (adj.): Good at learning about things. Shows intelligence or good judgment.
Mouth (noun): The oral opening or cavity considered as the source of vocal utterance.
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The Proverbs in Proverbs, Chapter 10 has a multitude of statements about people’s mouths, talking or words. All of these point back to a heart and brain condition. The contrast between the righteous and wicked mouth is shown in these verses. They are called antithetical parallels.

Proverbs 10:6 ~Blessings are on the head of the righteous, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.

Proverbs 10:11 ~ The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.

Violence comes from a wicked mouth. In both verses 6 and 11 the righteous are associated with blessing and life, the wicked with violence that cuts life short. It is interesting to note that essentially the same verse is repeated 5 verses apart. In between we see two other verses about people that talk too much. It appears to bookend the wicked and their chattiness. It also appears to be a chiastic ("x" shape) for emphasis. There is a mirroring of not only text but harsh reality mindlessly jabbering people.

Proverbs 10:8 ~ The wise of heart will receive commandments, but a babbling fool will come to ruin.

Proverbs 10:10 ~ Whoever winks the eye causes trouble, and a babbling fool will come to ruin.

Regardless, the structure draws our attention to the importance of speech. There is life in proper speech. This is especially true when it comes to the word of the Bible and the Gospel itself. Verse 8 is the contrast between the “wise of heart” and the “babbling fool” or literally “fool’s lips” in Hebrew. There is the attitude of speaking and listening here. The wise remain silent and absorb a situation. They are clinical and exact in word use without an excess of wordage. A fool rambles on about nothing, but the wise heart listens and learns. A wise heart is open to being taught but a fool remains a fool because he refuses to listen to learn anything.

Proverbs 10:13 ~ On the lips of him who has understanding, wisdom is found, but a rod is for the back of him who lacks sense.

Proverbs 10:14 ~ The wise lay up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool brings ruin near.

Verses 13 and 14 tells us of people who benefit from wisdom and consequences for the idiotic chatterbox. A person of discernment has wisdom to give from a heart that has stored up knowledge. The person who’s lacking in heart has nothing to give but only receives punishment and ruin. Perhaps the contrast also means to show that the wise understand sound speech while fools only understand punishment which is often the end result of their own stubbornness and stupidity.

Proverbs 10:18 ~ The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool.

Proverbs 10:19 ~ When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.

Proverbs 10:20 ~ The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the heart of the wicked is of little worth.

Proverbs 10:21 ~ The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense.

Every verse from Proverbs 10:18 to 10:21 have to do with correct or righteous speaking. What do they tell us? Verse 18 says that the difference between hiding hatred and spreading it through slander is an issue of action, not intent. Both are forms of deceit that have the potential to be equally destructive. Concealed hatred is deadly but slander or murder of someone’s character…is still murder. The first scenario murders the one who contains the vitriol of hatred and the other assassinates the personality of a person through words.

Verse 19 warns against the dangers of slander from another angle. The second line literally reads, “The one who restrains lips” It appears connected with “lying lips” in verse 18. This points to a time when concealing or holding back speech can be a good thing. It is a comparison/contrast. Words are like sheep; the more there are, the better the chances that some will go rogue.

Verse 20 compares the wicked and the righteous mouth with a monetary value. Verse 21 speaks of feeding people with words.  It is an image of the person who can feed his family and his animals and this is placed in contrasted with the fool who cannot even feed himself. It is as if righteous speech gives a two-fold blessing. The same theme we see throughout the entire chapter 10 and all its mentions and contrast between the speech of the wise and the babbling of the foolish.

Finally at the end of chapter 10 we see verse 32.

Proverbs 10:32 ~ The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked, what is perverse.

The word used for “acceptable” (raṣon) is typically used for favor, particularly the favor of God. Please note the contrast of favor and perversity— the latter on the nature of the speech, the former on the response it brings. This final verse puts profound stress on using words that bear fruit as opposed to words that bring destruction.

So what do all these verse really mean at their core? Well, for starters they tell us that talking and words are powerful things. Our words and mouth have the power of life and death. They can also be used to bring glory to God or shame. There are prices to pay for idle words…so a prudent man picks and chooses his words carefully. There are some pretty profound character mirrors in these verses too. The themes are laziness versus diligence, shame versus honor, poverty versus wealth, wise speech versus destructive speech and righteousness versus wickedness that underlie all the others.

These Proverbs scattered throughout the chapter show that the wise man knows how to use the gift of communication for the benefit of others, not just himself. In truth, wise speaking is accompanied with wise thinking. Wise thinking is accompanied with a wise heart. Wise thinking and wise heart lead to wise actions that benefit everyone.

December 17, 2014

December 16, 2014

In Their Own Words XXIV: Wisdom Tooth

As I’ve written this series it has morphed and taken on different shapes and characteristics. At first it was intended to point out the absurd religious comments of godless men. It was originally to be an ongoing series of posts of quotes from atheists, skeptics, naturalists, methodological naturalists, empiricists and ungodly existentialists. It was to show the flawed end to their logic when they made anti-theistic comments. It was also to show the obvious disdain in their anti-biblical vitriol that spewed forth from their thinking. 

As I have written this blog my walk has become closer with God. I am now trying to see more of the positives in people. This series is changing in accordance with that shift and has now grown to include exceptionally profound quotes from men and women that had it right all along because they kept their faith, and thinking rooted in the Bible. The theme for the series expanded because some of the insightful and profound things that come out of believer’s mouths are hard to ignore and sometimes warrant mentioning more than once. With this precept in mind I present William Jennings Bryan, a Christian and former Democratic presidential candidate of the United States in 1896, 1900 and 1908. 

Why, these men would destroy the Bible on evidence that would not convict a habitual criminal of a misdemeanor. They found a tooth in a sand pit in Nebraska with no other bones about it, and from that one tooth decided that it was the remains of the missing link. They have queer ideas about age too. They find a fossil and when they are asked how old it is they say they can't tell without knowing what rock it was in, and when they are asked how old the rock is they say they can't tell unless they know how old the fossil is. ~ William Jennings Bryan

It should be noted right from the beginning that William Jennings Bryan was a leading American politician from the 1890s until his death in 1925. He was a dominant force in the Democratic Party until his death. He was an opponent of Darwinism on religious and humanitarian grounds. He was known for his avid opposition to the theory of evolution and was the key prosecution witness speaking against it at the Scopes Monkey Trial which pretty much set the stage for permanently putting evolution in schools and precluding Creationism from society as a valid explanation of human beginnings. What we also see in the Scopes Monkey Trial is the US court system being used to undermine the validity of the Scriptures and biblical inerrancy by arrogant godless men.

William Jennings Bryan of course is referring above to the infamous tooth in the Nebraska Man debacle by evolutionists back in the 1920’s. A single solitary tooth was described by Henry Fairfield Osborn in 1922, on the basis of a tooth that rancher and geologist Harold Cook found in Nebraska in 1917. An entire transitional species was created based on the existence of this single tooth. It turns out the tooth was misidentified as anthropoid (a higher primate) by Osborn, who over-zealously proposed the idea of a transitional Nebraska Man in 1922. This tooth was soon found to be that of a peccary more commonly known as a feral pig when further bones were found. A retraction was made necessary by 1927 to correct the scientific blunder. From this one little tooth we gained quite a bit of wisdom and insight into the scientific method of the time and perhaps even now. We see that, like other science theories and methods, they are not immune to error.

His comment above is interesting because of the irony it presents about science, the draconian measures by which evolution was instituted in the American educational system and the Machiavellian manipulative effects it has on our government and cultural systems. All were dangers Bryan was well aware of and that is exactly why he opposed them at the turn of the 20th century. He makes these statements about the fossil record used to support evolution and how sporadic and riddled with lack of evidence it is. It virtually has no leg to stand on to support its argument because it is nearly empty of transitional lifeforms or transitions between species. He makes a further dig at the evidence by making another valid statement. The evidence science uses to support its evolutionary claims is subject to interpretation and often, the interpretation is victim to horrendous error and mistakes as in the case of Nebraska Man. If this was the case with Nebraska Man, how many other theories or ideas based on weakly-supported theories has modern science (therefore society) fallen victim to?

So, although Nebraska Man was not a deliberate hoax, the classification proved to be a rather substantial mistake. It exposed a gaping hole in the scientific method/process. How many so-called scientific evidences passed off as fact are in actuality, merely misinterpreted data or misunderstood information? This further begs the following question: How many of modern theories and identification sciences are prone to serious flaw and error due to presupposition and interpretation errors? 

Based on this one incident alone it should be considered highly probable that all hastily arrived at theories and scientific decisions should be looked at with a jaundiced eye. When we add to this blunder things like the study of Phrenology, Eugenics, Social Darwinism, Darwin’s notions of heredity, Einstein's cosmological constant, Linus Pauling’s Triple Helix and finally Piltdown man, we see that things can quickly get ugly…even for people that are held in high esteem at the pinnacle of science. As a matter of fact, there is now evidence to possibly prove that things do indeed travel faster than the speed of light.

Sadly, since the time of Nebraska Man and the Scopes Monkey Trial, science as a know-all and tell-all for man’s origins and truth as gained a death grip on our educational system, our government and society at large. So much so that modern society has no room for any form of Creationism, God or the Bible except as an afterthought or worn-out overused myth.

After the Scopes Monkey Trial, Bryan would end up writing a summation he had intended to use. As an excellent biblical and moral thinker he would hit on further valid points that should sound a bell in the head of believers but will ring hollow in a modern non-believer. Bryan realizing that science and faith can exist side-by-side did not malign science outright but rather painted them as awkward but viable companions.

Science is a magnificent force, but it is not a teacher of morals. It can perfect machinery, but it adds no moral restraints to protect society from the misuse of the machine. It can also build gigantic intellectual ships, but it constructs no moral rudders for the control of storm tossed human vessel. It not only fails to supply the spiritual element needed but some of its unproven hypotheses rob the ship of its compass and thus endangers its cargo. ~ William Jennings Bryan

Very well said Mr. Bryan, very well said.

December 15, 2014

The Dark Side Has Cookies, So Should We

Yes, Christianity has the truth but the other side has cookies.

Yes, Christianity has an inerrant holy book but the other side has cookies.

Yes, Christianity says that they have a heart for the true God but the other side has cookies.

Yes, Christianity has doctrine and dogma…but the other side has visitors with cookies and good conversation.

Yes, Christianity can be logically and rationally explained, but the adherents of other beliefs bake you cookies and visit you in the old-age home. How many Christians do that? Many Christians expect you to visit them at their church. Some don't but many do expect it.

Yes, many Christians have money that they are willing to tithe or give to the long as they don't have to see them first-hand or actually get emotionally involved with those suffering. The other side does. 

Even secular humanitarian efforts do as much. How often do you see affluent Christians hitting the slums, crime infested or drug infested areas of the local towns and cities? Christians will give the money to buy the cookies but rarely will they actually bake them and hand deliver them to people that they'll need to learn the names of. 

We have money, they have cookies.

Yes, Christianity has the ideals and principles of Christ but if they are not practiced we have a cold heartless religion.

The other side has warm cookies, kind words and smiles.

The people of the world suspect that Christians know the truth and know God…but they don’t know that you care about them. They don't know until you show them you do. The world usually does not connect the dots to realize that loving God means loving them too, unless you show them you love them. Talk is cheap but cookies are usually free.

You might say you care but the other side shows the world they care. How often can we say we've done that?

We have the truth but they have cookies in gift baskets.

Oven-fresh chocolate chip cookies. We need to have cookies for those we visit too. Visits that we make to show the hurting and the downtrodden that we care enough to bake them cookies, not just care enough to spout religious platitudes and trite clichés at them.

We talk at people about what we believe, the other side talks to them and convinces them through conversation (and cookies). The other side’s compassion and bedside manners show that their ideas are better.

It isn’t what we’re saying to people that causes the effect, it’s how we’re saying it. It isn’t what we’re doing, it’s how we’re doing it. The Gospel needs to be given in a Gospel manner. This means in love, humility and understanding. Cookies never hurt either.

Other religions and worldviews have religions of works but Christianity should be showcased as a relationship whose main fruit is humility, charity and love. Doing little or nothing shows none of these. Our belief is not a religion of works so much as it is a relationship whose main outworking is righteous deeds.

Everyone that wants something from someone knows how to show people love. To actually love someone is another thing altogether. Love is more than lip-service…it is first, a friendly visit with fresh cookies. Then it is prayer, Bible and commitment.

I like chocolate chip cookies, don’t you?

[Take this post for what it is, a tongue-in-cheek look at some painful truths about the Evangelical church that at times, forgets to show its human side. In so doing, false religions and even atheists end up showing their human side better than we do. True faith shows actions to those in need.]

December 13, 2014

A Genealogy of Blockheads

Jesus' ancestry was definitely a lineage of blockheads. When we talk about the birth of Christ at Christmas it is usually good to start with the Genealogies of Matthew or Luke. When we see how great a treasure comes from the lineage of broken and sinful people we should sit back in reverential awe. The lineage of Jesus stretches the limits of imagination and shows once again that God works through the low things of life over long periods of time to make those in lofty places appear foolish.

Abraham was the father of Isaac: The father of the multitude. The first Hebrew patriarch and the primary example of the Jewish faith. Originally known as Abram (father is exalted) but changes to Abraham in Genesis 17:5. His unbelief and unfaithfulness sires Ishmael, his faithfulness and belief sires Isaac.

Isaac the father of Jacob: His name means laughter (Sarah's). The only son of Abraham and Sarah. He is a child of promise born when Abraham is 100 and Sarah 90. Isaac marries Rebekah who bore twins, Esau and Jacob. Isaac is deceived into giving birthright to Jacob over Esau.

Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers: Jacob is the original ancestor of the nation of Israel. His sons are the 12 ancestors of the 12 tribes of Israel. Jacob's earlier conniving and manipulation revisits him in the form of mostly petulant sons, minus Benjamin and Joseph.

Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar: The fourth son of Jacob and progenitor of the tribe of Judah. His mother was Leah. Although his narrative often takes a backseat in Genesis 28 we see the seduction of Judah by his daughter-in-law Tamar. Their union results in the birth of Perez and Zerah. Perez born of an illicit affair is the father of Hezron who is the father of Ram. Ram is the father of Amminadab who is the father of Nahshon the father of Salmon who is the father of Boaz the kinsman-redeemer who marries Ruth a woman that is actually a Moabite which is the line of descendants that came from the incestuous affair between Lot and his daughters.

Boaz the father of Obed the father of Jesse who was the father of the the famous and infamous King David the anointed king of God after Saul failed to live in accordance with the Lord, goes mad and eventually fall on his swords after loosing his sons in battle. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife. Uriah who was killed by David to cover his sin with Bathsheba. Solomon on the other hand is basically given immense wealth and wisdom but it all comes to not because of the 700 wives that eventually lead him astray into idolatry and he lives the remainder of his days in self-made apostasy regretting many of his poor choices.

Solomon is the father of Rehoboam who decides foolishly to reign with and iron fist and oppress his people mercilessly. These actions inevitably divides the kingdom in two between himself and Jeroboam (in the Northern Kingdom (Israel). Rehobaom fathers Abijah who follows in the sins of his father. Abijah the father of Asa who unlike his father is actually a pious man and is one of the few good kings in the Southern Kingdom. He removes foreign Gods and is succeeded by his son Jehoshaphat who in most cases was a faithful follower of Yahweh but is foolish and makes one disastrous decision: An alliance with the evil king Ahab of Israel (Northern Kingdom). His son Jehoram marries the daughter of Ahab, the Evil Queen Athaliah and her influence in Judah is horrific. Jehoram's son Uzziah comes to the throne when he is 16 rather than have King Joash installed as a puppet king who is the infant son of Ahaziah who survived the bloodbath perpetrated by Queen Athaliah.

Uzziah the father of Jotham reigns for 16 years until he contracts leprosy and could not fulfill the needs of his office as royalty. Although he was an effective ruler his rule is taken over by Ahaz who was an extremely evil king and participated in some of the most idolatrous and monstrous practices of Judah/Southern Kingdom. Because of these abominable acts he never gets buried in the royal tombs due to atrocious behavior. Ahaz in turn produces one of the most devout and obedient kings Hezekiah.

Hezekiah the father of Manasseh brought religious reform to Judah, and refused to court favor with Assyrian Kings. He destroyed the bronze serpent of Moses so the people would not worship it. Due to Hezekiah's faithfulness, Sennacherib of Assyria did not prevail against Judah when it was nearly a foregone conclusion that he would.

Manasseh was the longest reigning king of Judah, unfortunately a long and unfaithful reign. The blame for Judah's ultimate destruction and exile is placed on his shoulders (2 Kings 21). Manasseh fathered Amon who followed in his father's footsteps of idolatry and was killed in a palace revolt. Good King Josiah succeeded to his throne at age 8 and at 18 the "Book of the Law" is discovered while doing repairs to the Temple. Josiah's goodness assured God's destruction of Judah would not come during his reign but after Josiah, the Southern Kingdom of Judah does a long slow burn to utter annihilation.

Josiah fathered Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon. After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel the grandson of King Jehoiachin taken to Babylon in the first exile. Daruis the Persian emperor granted the right for the Jews to start rebuilding the temple during this time and then disappears from the Bible but not before fathering Abihud. We then have a long succession of generations without much information: Abihud fathers Eliakim who fathers Azor who fathers Zadok father of Akim who is the father of Elihud father of Eleazar. Eleazar the father of Matthan and Matthan the father of Jacob who is none other than the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Mary is a woman who, by the worldly standards of her time, had conceived under shadowy and mysterious circumstances. From God's and a believer's point of view she conceived in shining and miraculous circumstances. Mary...the mother of Jesus Christ who is called the Messiah. Savior of the World.

Not a very vainglorious family tree to say the least but a perfect example of how God can use the foolish things of the world to shame those that are too high on their horse. All this leads to a child in a stable that probably stank and was filled with flies in the town of Bethlehem two millennium ago. From humble and nearly invisible beginnings we see the birth of the Son of God who would save mankind from their sin and change the course of history forever. Amazing.

"So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” ~Luke 2:4-14

It just goes to show that no matter what the condition of humanity, God can overcome the sin and the negatives of humanityThis family tree literally looks like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. It is only love and the crowning at the top of the tree in Jesus that salvages this thing, otherwise the entire tree is a lost cause. 

Come to think of is only Jesus Christ that salvages us all. Right before we think we are any better than those in Christ's genealogy we need to remember that we too are relatives or coheir in Christ and were purchased for a price so that we could become part of the family and therefore part of the kingdom. It wasn't anything we did to earn it. It was his righteousness that overcame our sins. In terms of sin, we are exactly the same as Jesus' ancestors...we're all sinful blockheads. There is nothing we can do to get ourselves extricated from our sin except to turn to Christ. As Linus would say: 

"That is what Christmas was really all about Charlie Brown."

December 11, 2014

A Settling Mist

Wanderer Above The Sea of Fog
Caspar David Friedrich
"True eloquence does not consist ... in saying great things in a sublime style, but in a simple style; for there is, properly speaking, no such thing as a sublime style, the sublimity lies only in the things; and when they are not so, the language may be turgid, affected, metaphorical, but not affecting." ~Oliver Goldsmith-Of Eloquence, 1759

So I’ve begun to look at one of the gifts the Lord has given me that was not fully there previous to my conversion. I've zeroed in on one in particular and am using it now. It is a gift that I have been told I have by not only people that know me personally but even by those that are complete strangers. Even those that have not liked me or have been enemies have acknowledged something peculiar when it comes to this gift.

It revolves around an ability to communicate exact intent and it has steered me towards other gifts clearly outlined in the Bible. I have been told I have an eloquence with words. At times I have overused this linguistic gift most times by using 10 dollar words where 5 dollar ones work fine but usually I get my point across well enough. I am a careful chooser of words because there is the power of life and death in the spoken and written word.

Ecclesiastes 5:2 ~ “Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.”

Proverbs 10:19 ~ “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.”

This ability allows me to convey ideas succinctly. When I haven't done this it has been detrimental for myself or others. It has been a case of the proverbial, "Loose lips, sink ships." Conversely, with a few carefully chosen words I can pass on ideas that otherwise would’ve remained in the realm of silence or memory alone. This of course makes what one says interesting. In other words, specific carefully chosen words aid in teaching principles, expounding on philosophies and dictating doctrines. In a subtler way it delivers beliefs and expresses attitudes. I do not bring this up to blow my own horn but rather to take a closer look at the artistic use of words like the careful use of colors and hues on a painters palette. Subtleties in hues change images, and changed images change or affect minds. Sometimes it is not a matter what is said, but rather how it is said.

Most that know me from back in the day know I was not a verbal or rhetorical gymnast. As a matter of fact, I was rather vulgar and crude in my use of foul language. To this day I occasionally have my foul outbursts that I later regret and loathe the behavior because I know God has created me for better. So I can only attribute any positive change to the Holy Spirit. It has been the first signs of the Spirit beginning to reshape my life. Things like patience and kindness on the other hand have been another tiresome chore all-together. Sadly because of my sinful nature, those are a topic for another post that will show my haphazard journey towards God and holiness.

So what makes communication just words and what makes communication eloquent? It is clear right from the get-go that eloquence is a matter of aesthetics and perception. It is art as much as science. It is taste down to the nuance of flavor and color and down to variation in hues. I believe part of the understanding of regular communication and eloquent communication is to understand that words bubble from the wellspring of the heart and the soul of people. Words condition the souls of others too. Therefore the words are not what makes the eloquence eloquent, it is the motive and inspiration behind the words. On the other end, the receiver’s heart plays a role to complete the cycle.

I as a speaker or writer can only convey ideas at a given point in time. Are the hearts and souls of others conducive to receiving the words I’ve projected? It is at this point that I realize that God is present in the clear communication, or absent when confusion reigns. It is here I realize that even the gift of putting the words out there is not enough. There is a gift in receiving them to. God might be the impetus behind a person's ability and gift with words but at the same time, for people to understand or recognize the “eloquence” in the communication takes a gift of comprehension. To then also see the beauty or aesthetics of it….takes an ability or grace of God. At the root of beauty lies the grace of others.

All beauty, holistic structure, organization and unity of disparate thought is an ability to comprehend what comes from God. Letters which are merely symbols make words. Words are symbols of things in reality (or not). What these words or symbols represent conjure pictures in our heads that form ideas. What makes these ideas aesthetically pleasing is in the mind of the sender and then in the mind of the receiver.

So eloquence boils down to not only the gift of the communicator but also the abilities given to the receiving party. God used words in the Bible to convey ideas. The Bible to most is just a book with words. It isn’t until the reader of the Bible or the expositor of words from the Bible airs these words and ideas that the Gospel and the power of the Gospel becomes evident. 

Then it hits me again. 

The reason some people have been given this particular gift of words to be able to exposit the words long written down in the pages of Scripture. The word itself is already eloquent but it takes a people trained or able to see this quality in it and use it to teach others. Concerning the eloquence of certain portions of Scripture, John Calvin was once noted for having said…
“Let us pay attention to the style of Isaiah which is not only pure and elegant, but also is ornamented with high art—from which we may learn that eloquence may be of great service to faith.”
In addition the Calvin’s statement we also have this from poet John Donne...
“The Holy Ghost in penning the Scriptures delights himself, not only with a propriety, but with a delicacy, and harmony, and melody of language; with height of Metaphors, and other figures, which may work greater impressions upon the Readers.”

In other words, Donne is saying that there is a beauty and eloquence in the language of Scripture. Because of this there is a residual effect on readers. What makes the words of the Bible so eloquent and effective? It is Christ in the Word itself. It is the very thing that also makes the Gospel offensive to the non-believing reader and listener. It is Christ in the Gospel. These words if taken to heart...change hearts  and therefore lives permanently.

So, although I can communicate in the modern language, vernaculars, colloquialisms, euphemism, similes and metaphors, at the base level I as a human being was constructed to air-out the truth of Scripture. My gift therefore is merely to be a conduit for the broadcast of words. I am a supplier of symbols that represent ideas. Because I have immersed myself in the Word of God in Scripture for so long, it's divine eloquence has become part of me. I take no credit whatsoever for it.

Proverbs 16:23 ~ “A wise man’s heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction”

How many of those ideas remain righteous and of God depends solely on my relationship with God and how much time I marinate and simmer in the God’s word. It is indicative of the time I spend in direct communication with God in prayer. Therefore, those that don’t pray much, really shouldn’t have much to say. Those that don’t base their thoughts in the Scriptures are therefore thinkers of dangerous ideas. It is like making a choice between marinating in bitter herbs or the sweetness of honey.

Eloquence, ideas and the words used to convey ideas are like morning fog. Depending on the density and heaviness of the ideas and words, the rate of absorption varies. Heavy and dense fog often takes very little time to soak into or sink into a receptive cloth or sponge. When words carry more weight, they tend to hit us with a more dramatic impact. They leave a lasting impression. They cover us more completely. They leave a mark. Eloquence with words does the same thing and causes a similar impact but it does it in a gentler manner. A light and unobtrusive fog may often take quite a bit of time to saturate the cloth that lies on the ground but even an elegant and inconspicuous fog can thoroughly saturate and pervade even the thickest cloth if it dwells long enough over the thing that absorbs it. So too the eloquent and ethereal words of Scripture that hang in the air and the minds of attentive listeners during teaching and preaching of God's truth and the Gospel.

[The use of Caspar David Friedrich’s painting is very intentional. I chose this painting of the wanderer because it is as if the painting suggests that the wanderer holds a mastery over a landscape and simultaneously is an insignificant individual within it. This is how I feel when expositing Scripture. Many may see me as an expert when expounding the Word o God but I myself see my role solely as a supporting secondary role. Since no one can see the face (or the heart) of the man except God, it's impossible to know whether the young man is exhilarated, or terrified, or both. This too is the effect on the teacher and preacher o God's word. There is an exhilaration of being given the righteous task of teaching God's word...but it comes at a cost and it is a mighty responsibility few will fully understand. I am usually exhausted days after preaching as it takes a lot out of me. 

Only God therefore is capable of properly conveying the true intent of the man's heart. It is the same way I feel when I think about the gift of words I have been given and the use to which they’ve are being used. I am merely a conduit of words and ideas. I am speaker of biblical truths. I am merely the vessel God chooses to use to expound on his words and principles. The calling has made me what I am, I have added nothing to the calling that God hasn’t already given me. It is both exhilarating...and terrifying.]

December 10, 2014

Voices of Christmas Past

An eclectic download of really old Christmas music recorded 1898 and 1922 called found here:
Voices of Christmas Past
<Yes it's free>

(I love digging for this stuff on the Internet. It's absolutely amazing what can be found.)

1. Santa Claus Hides in the Phonograph (Ernest Hare, recorded 1922)
2. On A Christmas Morning (Prince's Orchestra, recorded 1911)
3. Sleigh Ride Party / Jingle Bells (Edison Male Quartette, recorded 1898)
4. Messiah - And the Glory of the Lord (Victor Mixed Chorus, recorded 1915)
5. Hark the Herald Angels Sing (Henry Burr, recorded 1907)
6. Silent Night, Hallowed Night (Haydn Quartet, recorded 1905)
7. Christmas Time at Pumpkin' Center (Cal Stewart, recorded 1905)
8. Christmas Hymns (Francis J. Lapitino, recorded 1917)
9. When the Christmas Chimes Are Ringing (Lewis James, recorded 1922)
10. The Star of Bethlehem (Harry MacDonough, recorded 1909)
11. Come and Spend Christmas With Me (Byron G. Harlan, recorded 1909)
12. Christmas Morning at Clancey's (Steve Porter, recorded 1922)
13. Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem (Trinity Choir, Recorded 1916)
14. Adeste Fideles (John McCormack and William Reitz, recorded 1915)
15. Night Before Christmas (Ernest Hare, recorded 1920)
16. Nutcracker Ballet (Victor Herbert's Orchestra, recorded 1913)
17. On A Good Old Time Sleigh Ride (Peerless Quartet, recorded 1913)
18. Angels from the Realms of Glory (Trinity Choir, recorded 1916)
19. While Shepherds Watched their Flocks by Night (Trinity Quartet, recorded 1921)
20. Uncle Josh Plays Santa Claus (Cal Stewart, recorded 1907)
21. Christmas in Camp (Anonymous, recorded ca. 1917)
22. Noel (Holy Night) (Venetian Trio, recorded 1916)
23. Auld Lang Syne (Navada Van der Veer, recorded 1921)

December 9, 2014

The Faith of Misfit Believers

[As I do every year since 2010 I will re-post this article. Ironically, every time I post it, it changes a little as I seem to add to it a little as the Lord continues to sanctify me. It seems to hit a familiar note with people and they always seem to like reading it before Christmas. It is long so buckle in for the ride...]

It is about the unlikelihood of our faith from a human perspective. But that isn't what it is really about is it? The human perspective? It is about God's perspective.

Some of the "heroes" of the Scripture read like a list of toys on the "Island of Misfit Toys" from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Misfits one and all from a worldly and secular perspective. The rejects of society, the rejects that the godless world doesn't want. I mean...good grief man! Look at what they did to Jesus. Even our Messiah Jesus Christ was ostracized by his own people who did not recognize Him as the Son of God. Rejected and sentenced deceitfully to death by crucifixion in the greatest miscarriage of justice the world has ever known.

We then have people like David standing in for King Moonracer who has a dysfunctional family an often times rebellious lot. There is also Abraham with his faith and faithlessness the equivalent of Hermey the Misfit Elf who lives a double life as a dentist and one of Santa's helpers. And of course we have the Apostle Paul who reminds me of the big bruiser "Bumble" (abominable snowman) who initially beats the living daylights out of mostly defenseless reindeer and has a thorn in the flesh. Paul who fell off his horse on the road to Damascus and bounced into the annals of Christianity as one of the greats in the Faith.  I could go on with the comparisons but I off we go into the land of misfit and rejected believers...

It is through God's eccentric lot that we truly see the glory and the power of God.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

It is through God's eccentric lot that we see the earth move and the sky catch fire. I sit in bemused amazement after reading the Bible and the stories of the societal rejects God picks to accomplish the amazing tasks we see in the Bible. He has continued to pick the same type of person when he picked you and I to be His disciples and to carry on the Good News. It is the very reason that he picked them (and us) to do His work too. Flawed vessels accomplishing great things in faith by the power of God. The very power that resurrected Christ from the grave.

"For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord!” ~1 Corinthians 1:26-31

"For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." ~2 Corinthians 4:6-7

It was once written by novelist Frederick Buechner that the absolute improbability of the Jewish and then subsequently the Christian faith succeeding based on its followers is astounding. It is exactly this reason though that brings all the glory to our holy God, our wondrous Savior, Jesus Christ.

In what other book besides the Bible would we read the story of the very first pair of people who would violate the only thing forbidden to them? They would eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

"And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” ~ Genesis 2:16-17

That God would select an old man in the middle of the desert where it had never rained before to build a boat the size of a modern-day aircraft carrier. This same man after having been afloat for months on a foul smelling cramped zoo on an inundated world would immediately proceed to plant a vineyard, hit the bottle and pass out stone cold drunk only to be looked upon naked by his son (or possibly violated) to his great embarrassment.

We would see Abraham the father of the nations have his faith accredited to him as righteousness. He would also leave his wife out to dry by basically giving her away to Pharaoh to protect his own skin...Sarah be damned. Very manly and chivalrous I must say [sarcasm intended].

"As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” ~Genesis 12:11-13

 Who could've imagined God would not pick Esau who was generally honest, capable, and a provider over the lying, duplicitous and conniving Jacob who was essentially a snake in the grass?

“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.” ~Malachi 1:2-3

We see that God would pick the line of Judah for His Forever King Jesus to descend from, the same Judah that had a hand in throwing his brother in a well and then selling him into slavery. The same person that ended up sleeping with his daughter-in-law Tamar who he thought was a prostitute...two no-no's. "...but its not as bad as it seems, I only slept with her because she was a prostitute..." Ehhhh?

That God would invariably pick David as a King who would become the archetype of every king that would come after him until the advent of Jesus Christ to surpass him. The same David who was a known adulterer, murderer and for all intensive purposes a polygamist like his son would also be. He was man that really could not keep his house in order because he had been cursed by God for what he had done to Uriah the Hittite. This incident would drive him into exile from his very kingdom by his own son Absalom. David would also take a census of his military strength and not depend on the Lord in faith which would lead to the death of thousands.

Solomon who would be given the riches of a kingdom and wisdom from God that people would come from other lands to witness. Solomon who couldn't seem to put a clamp on what appeared to be a matrimonial obsessive-compulsive disorder. He also couldn't stop collecting horses, overtaxing his subjects and in the end allowed his nutty pagan wives to put a damper on things by introducing their false Gods and idols into the promised land. Solomon who was a perfect example of how a person can have wisdom but unless it is used is worthless.

Then we have Moses, who was a murder and was trying to outrun the homicide rap for clobbering a man on the noggin and killing him in Egypt. If it weren't for a twisted sense of honor he'd have also just as soon thrown his brother Aaron under the bus by letting Aaron go back in his stead to take the heat from the Egyptians.

We see the likes of Rahab whom the Jews well into the New Testament (Hebrews 11:31) viewed as a paragon of faith when she cooperated with the two spies from Shittim sent by Joshua. Rahab who was also a prostitute/harlot who literally lived in a hole in the wall of Jericho. After the walls fell, her and her family were the only survivors.

...and who could forget all those prophets of God both major and minor? The whole lot of which were probably nuttier than fruitcakes based on outward appearances. They wore camel hair shirts, leather belts, and ate bugs dipped in honey. Crazed disheveled men that screamed at the top of their lungs often times with spittle flying out of their mouths in the middle of the desert wilderness at everyone and no one in particular.

Of particular note in the Minor Prophets we should lightheartedly poke at Jonah, the most miserable excuse for a prophet ever seen. Jonah who, other than telling the Ninevites to repent, ended up serving God very little. The only other thing we learn from Jonah is how to serve as a bad example. Jonah, who after having be told to, "Arise, go to Nineveh" gets up and the opposite direction (180 degrees) towards Tarshish. He is a prophet that nearly gets an entire ship of mariners drowned because of his disobedience. A prophet that literally sounds as if he is chronically depressed throughout the book named after him. After telling the Ninevites to repent (and they actually do) he gets angry about it because he wants them to be destroyed. Instead of having mercy on them as God has done he still holds on to pent-up homicidal hostility. Instead he cares more about a vine that gave him shade after it has died. A man that clearly has his priorities mixed up.

Then of course we need to look at God's chosen people as a whole. Of all the peoples or races he could have chosen to be His "Nation of Priests" and His holy people, he chose the Jews. As somebody once said, "The Jews who are just like everybody else only more so like everybody else". When they were religious, they were more religious than anybody else and when they were piously hypocritical they were so pious and hypocritical that the term for being too pious and hypocritical is to be "pharisaic". When they were secular, they were secular as if they'd invented being godless."

The people of the Covenant whom God said to them, "And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people" ~Leviticus 26:12. The very same line of descendants of Abraham whom God said, "I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." ~Genesis 12:2-3.

These very people God was speaking His promises to would then apostatize and build idols to worship literally before the last of His commandments had left His mouth and had been delivered to them at the foot of Sinai. A stubborn and stiff-necked lot of misfits.

Jump forward to the New Testament and we have the thick-headed Peter who denies Christ not just once but three times even after denying to Jesus that he would deny Him. The same Peter who is the first to confess Jesus' true identity when Jesus asks him, "Who do you say that I am?" and Peter responds, "You are the Messiah, Son of the living God!" Then almost immediately needs to be yelled at when Jesus tells of his coming death and Peter resists. Jesus' response? "Get behind me Satan!" The bumbling disciple never seems to get it right the first time. Even after Jesus' Resurrection Peter could've waited to until the boat reached shore but impetuously decided to swim instead in his impatience.

Finally, I mention Paul. The great apostle Paul who wrote more books of the Bible that anyone else (13) thirteen, (14) fourteen if we included Hebrews. Paul the expounder of the faith...and a slayer of the brethren. Paul formally known as Saul. Yeah, that Paul.

The list from the Bible could continue for a while, Thomas, Gideon, etc. If we look forward two millennium we now have similar situations in our church. Young idealists decked out in jeans, piercings and tattoos, share the pews with conservative white collar "suits". Teenagers and occasionally spouses tuning out sermons that others are straining to hear from the back of the congregation over top the whine of their children or other's children. Recovered and reformed drug addicts preaching from the pulpits. Former criminals, adulterers, miscreants and generally immoral people that have now become champions of the Faith. Believers gather together methodically and move through a centuries old ritual synchronized as dancers doing a waltz. Other congregations construct close intimate communities and have little or no ritual but tend to migrate together with herd mentality like the social creation they were meant to be. They seem to exist in a perpetual state of koinonia / κοινωνία or fellowship.

I often shake my head in disbelief at what appears to be outward incongruities and the absurdity of it all...but this is the way God has made it and this is the way God wants it. God's power is made perfect in our weaknesses. It has been done by his measure, for His pleasure, by His standards and according to His timeline. The idea that all these misfits and societal rejects could fit together often times near perfectly defies conventional logic. We begin to understand how something this diverse and disparate could be this way when we go back to a simple request from the Son to the Father...

"....Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one." John 17:11

This is the only possible way something this diverse and chaotic could possibly work. It sometimes looks like a zoo put through a blender. When they all sing out of tune it produces a cacophony of sound equal to that of a train wreck carrying cymbals but this is exactly how God planned it and wants it. How else could all these disparate beings become one  in the One? Only in Jesus Christ could these dissimilar cast-offs from society pull this off in unity. We are all to be one in the One, Jesus Christ.

"You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other. “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also." ~John 15:16-20

I will wrap this with the thought about the Church. ekklesia / ἐκκλησία a feminine noun that means "the called-out ones." The bride of Christ. Christ's body. One must consider that more often than not, the world's rejects are God's chosen. He chooses them and "calls them out" specifically because they are the oddballs by the world's measure and because they are rejects of secular worldly society...myself included. We begin to realize that what God values and what people of this world value are two diametrically opposed things. The irony is that we do not stay rejects...oh, no, no!

We become indwelt by the Holy Spirit and we are made new. We become new creations. New like a rewrapped Christmas gift that the world didn't want. But because we come wrapped in the blood of the Lamb we are the perfect gift to the Father. Ironically, it is only through faith that we receive "the gift" of salvation given to us by the One the world rejected as a misfit also...and that gift we accept makes us acceptable to the Father. God works in a joint effort with us to make us more holy. Sure, we'll still be treated like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at a convention for nocturnal photosensitive animals by all the "normal" people. It is because they won't know how to deal with us so they will sit us off in a corner to make fun of us or stare at us warily to see if we implode or spontaneously combust. Who cares? My question is this: How many of them can say that they know Truth by name? Jesus. Jesus Christ. Mr. Jesus Christ to you mister!

If God could use all these offbeat characters this should give us reassurance that He can certainly use us who are the same type of people. Rejects of the world. We will be purified, cleansed and made holy for use by God...all of us misfits together. For this we were made. For this we will be used. Hallelujah!


[All images in post from Rankin/Bass 1964]
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