Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Good Start

I am a horrible project planner--at least at home.  A couple years ago we had the idea to build a closet in some empty space over the garage.  It was my wife's idea and a great one.  

It's been 2 years and it may be finished in a month.  About a day into the project I knew I was in over my head.

2 years later we hired a contractor to finish it but after the basic work and finishing touches it has been a lot more complicated and a lot more costly than we originally anticipated.

Thinking through this, I remembered Jesus' teaching about counting the cost.  His example for this admonition is a man who builds with no plan or thought to the cost of finishing.  King of describes my approach to home improvement.  
Luke 14:25-33 “If one of you wanted to build a tower, wouldn’t you first sit down and calculate the cost, to determine whether you have enough money to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when you have laid the foundation but couldn’t finish the tower, all who see it will begin to belittle you. 30 They will say, ‘Here’s the person who began construction and couldn’t complete it!’ 31 Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down to consider whether his ten thousand soldiers could go up against the twenty thousand coming against him? 32 And if he didn’t think he could win, he would send a representative to discuss terms of peace while his enemy was still a long way off. 33 In the same way, none of you who are unwilling to give up all of your possessions can be my disciple."

Hopefully my poor planning skills aren't reflected in the things that matter. Most things in life are easy to start.  Finishing is another skill set.  

In the Christian journey, the emphasis is so often on the start, but the slog through the middle is often not considered.  The one who finishes is rewarded.  

In this passage, one's possessions and relationships are given as costs that need to be considered.  

What other costs are involved in this path of the cross?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Unveiling the Samaritan - NT Types

On a dusty, lonely stretch of road, a 1st Century Jew walks from Jerusalem to Jericho and it attacked by thieves.  They rob him of his possessions and leave him bloodied and half-conscious on the side of the road.  

Fortunately for him, a priest and Levite travel the same road, but neither offer to help, but use their religion as a pretense for avoiding the man.  

Then a Samaritan comes down the road.  For this man and most Jews, he would seem an unlikely ally.  Samaritan were half-Jews who had corrupted the faith of Abraham.  Their most famous celebrity were the Herods, whose record of benevolence was less than stellar.  

Yet this unclean man stooped down with compassion, bandaged the wounds of the broken Jew, soothing him with oil and wine.  He placed the man on his own animal and carried him down the road to the inn.  He stayed the night watching and caring for the man till morning, then he left paying the bill but leaving a credit if the man needed more care.  

Jesus ends with a rhetorical question: "Who was neighbor to the man?"

This story even though familiar is powerful.  You can imagine how deep it cut the hearts of the original hearers, because it still cuts our hearts today.  This understanding should never be tossed aside or considered less important than a different approach to the story.  

Because this is a story it lends itself to a typological reading.  This sense of meaning sees the images as shadows or reflections of a greater reality.  When reading Scripture, this greater reality is Christ.  

When viewed from this angle, the Good Samaritan is Christ.  Just as he was a mix of Jew and Gentile, Christ is both heavenly and earthly.  We are the traveler walking through life mugged and beaten by death, the devil, and our own flesh.  The OT Law, like the priest and Levite,  was powerless to help.  It could only point out our brokenness. 

Christ sees us and places us upon His own beast of burden--His Body.  He washes us with baptism, gives us the oil of anointing, and fills us with the wine of His own body and blood.

Then He carries us to the inn of the Church where we continue to recover and receive healing.  He leaves us in the care of His appointed ministers and promises one day to return.  

This does not negate the literal meaning of the story, in fact, it deepens it because the mercy of the Samaritan is a reflection of Christ Himself.  

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Track 8 - Offerings

Azariah and his friends have been thrust into a Babylonian furnace and the king, his servants, and the people look on waiting for the men to turn to ash.  Azariah lifts up his voice in song and offers himself to God as a sacrifice.  His prayer for deliverance was answered, and the fire has no effect.  

The king in frustration at the slowness of their consumption commands his servants to stoke the fire hotter.  The youths inside the furnace survive, yet the servants outside are burnt by their own efforts.

Suddenly the king sees a fourth man in the furnace and this man shakes of the "fiery flame of the furnace".  The Lord makes the fire as a "dew-laden breeze".  The young men together cry out with one voice in praise to God.  
"The hymn begins with praise of God, the Creator and Lord of all. God is sitting upon His throne in His heavenly temple, and from there He is praised by all creation. The young men function as priests of creation, offering all that God made back to Him in praise.
This is an essential aspect of man’s nature and is evident in Genesis, when God commands Adam to name the animals and to be a steward of all creation. This priestly function is fulfilled perfectly in the celebration of the Eucharist, when the ordained priest calls out, “Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee, on behalf of all and for all.” The royal priesthood (the laity) then responds, “We hymn Thee, we bless Thee, we give thanks to Thee, o Lord, and we pray to Thee, o our God.” offering creation back to God in thanksgiving and praise is the heart of this hymn.
For after praising God, these men call all creation to offer up praise to God. They begin with the heavenly hosts, then proceed to the sun and moon, all things in the heaven including the weather, then the various parts of the earth, the sea creatures, the birds of the air, and the earthbound animals—just as the days of creation move from the heavens to the earth, the animals, and then man."         excerpt from the The Rest of the Bible
 If worship is a coin with two sides, both this hymn and Azariah's prayer demonstrate both sacrifice and offering.  Only through sacrifice can there be offering.  

Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in the Cross.  On the Cross, Christ has made the ultimate act of worship.  He gives Himself totally to the Father, and in doing so can offer up all of creation in worship to Father.  

The three youths are but a shadow of what Christ does on the Cross.  For on the Cross, the way of worship has made clear, and man like Adam in the Garden can now make offering on behalf of all and for all.  

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

It May Be Bigger Than It Seems - Typology

The doctor heard a knock on his door, but did not want to be bothered.  The last couple days had been particularly hard on him.  It was not work that was hard, it was life.  Tragedy had struck his community.  A man he knew and loved had been arrested on trumped up charges, and without any hesitation the government executed him.  

Grudgingly he walked to his door where another friend stood with eyes that mirrored his own grief.  In a low voice, he told of the next town over, whose doctor had unexpectedly left on a journey, but was in need of temporary assistance.  At first, the doctor balked, but the friend pushed him with the argument that it might be good to get away for a while, and he would accompany him till he could set up shop.  

The doctor agreed, packed a couple essentials and tools, and left.  Along the way, silence dominated the trip, but occasionally a mumble or grunt would break out to recount the events of the last several days.  Rather than heal the wounds, the talk picked away at the sores of their hearts.  

From an offshoot of the main road, another traveler appeared and joined their journey.  The traveler asked of their sadness, which struck them as ignorant considering the dramatic events of the previous days.  Slowly the doctor recounted the story of how their friend and teacher had been wrongly arrested, falsely tried, and unjustly executed in a matter of days. 

Then the traveler surprised the doctor and his friend.  He began talking of ancient Scriptures that were familiar to them all, but this ignorant traveler seem to understand and apply in ways they never expected.  These words predicted the events of the last days.  They not only described the tragedy, but clearly described their friend.  In fact, in hearing these words, they began to understand more than when he was alive.  

Arriving at their destination, they proceeded to a small inn for lodging.  The stranger appeared to move along the road rather than break for rest.  The doctor feeling comforted by his presence called out for him to stop. Night was coming and he could lodge with them and share a meal.  Turning to face the two men, the traveler looked at them with a deeper knowledge and consented.  

After their belongings had been stowed away, the sat together for a light supper of bread and wine.  Feeling more confident in the stranger, the doctor passed him them bread and asked that he offer the blessing.  The traveler lifted the bread high above his head, looked up, and asked that the Father in heaven bless their meal, their time, and the work that they ahead.  Something familiar stirred in the doctor's heart as the words were spoken.  

The traveler broke the bread to share with the doctor and his friend, and though it was a common offering of hospitality, it transformed them.  Suddenly they saw the traveler clearly.  Before they had seen him as if they had been underwater, but now he was their Friend.  He was before them whole, not broken, bloodied, or bruised, but whole.  This was the same Man who had been executed and buried away in a cave just days earlier.  The traveler smiled at them and disappeared.  

Luke and Cleopas sat there with their hearts warmed by the events of the day.  Grief suddenly dissipated because Jesus was with them.  

Luke & Cleopas' experience on the road to Emmaus describes the nature of typology.  This wandering stranger walked them through the OT, revealing the truth of the Messiah through the laws, feasts, sacrifices, stories, prophecies, and songs.  Prior to this lesson these men who were intimately familiar with these texts did not see these truth underneath the surface of the text.

Then in living color, they encounter this truth not just in the text but in the man Himself.  At the act of communion, the breaking of bread, their eyes are opened and the mysterious travelers becomes the Son of God.  

We have the same experience when we read of Moses lifting the bronze serpent and see Christ who is lifted up on the cross destroying death and giving life.  The waters of the Great Flood are revealed as Baptism and Noah's Ark is the Church of Christ.  The ark of the covenant becomes Mary who contained God in her womb.  

Countless examples of truths are revealed just underneath the literal sense.  

Where do you see the New Testament buried in the Old?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Track 7 - Sacrifice

Crack open your Bible to Daniel 3:25-45, and see if you can find it.  It might be missing.  This passage and the next track we will consider are part of the Septuagint version of Daniel, and it missing from any Old Testaments that rely solely on the Hebrew.  

The story behind this song should be a familiar one, if you spent your childhood Sunday mornings in Bible school (o, those flannel graphs).  Daniel had three friends whom we remember as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, but these were there Babylonian names.  Their Hebrew names were Hananiah, Mishael, & Azariah.  Because they refused to bow down before a false idol, the Babylonian king had them thrown into a furnace.  

The furnace was super-heated but the boys were not consumed.  In fact, the king noticed a mysterious fourth man walking around with them in furnace.  The king called them forth from the fire and they walked out unscathed.  

As they were bound and thrust into the flames, one of the youths begins a prayer.  Azariah lifted up his voice and cried out to God for deliverance, yet not as expected.  The prayer was a prayer of deliverance for all the exiled people of Israel.  He takes upon himself the sin of the people, and confesses it as if it were his own.  Even in the midst of this supreme act of faithfulness, he humbly searches his heart to purge it of sin.  

The worship of Israel had been destroyed when the Babylonians razed Jerusalem and her temple.    Sacrifice could not be offered, so Azariah offers himself as a sacrifice.  

     Sacrifice is merely a physical expression of worship. It is an expression of a  person giving his whole being to God in the form of the alms or animal being offered. Here, Azariah is becoming the sacrifice on behalf of those whose sin and situation prevented pure worship. The completeness of this sacrifice is evident in the expression of total commitment to God. In this sacrifice, Azariah and his friends become images of the true sacrifice of pure worship Christ will offer on the Cross on behalf of all mankind. Perhaps it is this total unity with God in worship and sacrifice that prompts the Son of God to manifest Himself in the midst of the young men. Azariah concludes his song of prayer with a request for deliverance. God delivers them, but through the furnace. God still delivers man, but through the Cross.
-excerpted from The Rest of the Bible
Azariah provides us an example of sacrifice that demonstrates that the life in Christ is not a designed to escape sacrifice, but a journey that embraces it.

Do I live sacrificially, or seek to escape?

For another perspective on the see this previous post:  Three Holy Youths

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Poems & Vignettes

One of my oldest friends, fellow Louisvillian (and Georgian), and college roommate has recently started a subscribe worthy blog.  For a while now,  he has been blogging about his own spiritual pilgrimage here, but he has finally turned his opened his journal of poems and stories to the blogging community.  

Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to sample his poetry and have always find them moving.  His short stories are equally wonderful.  Here's a sample:

A constellation of freckles, the fruit of twelve summers, lay across Sarah’s cheeks and nose and brought to mind carefree days spent out of doors. Her large blue eyes were as clear as the cloudless sky and still sparkled with that undimmed mirth and joy of life that commonly abides in the female child before the complexities of adulthood loom large on the horizon.  But that usual light in Sarah’s face was veiled by clouds this night.
Make sure you check out his blog here at Poems & Vignettes.  He is also listed on the sidebar.  

Good luck Todd.  

St. Patrick the Book

Recently I won a book. I rarely win anything, so this was particularly exciting.

Thomas Nelson via Twitter had a drawing for a new book on St. Patrick. I entered and won. To turn a favor for something free, I want to offer up a very positive review.  

First of all, this is a very readable book.  Author Jonathan Rogers creates a compelling historical survey of the times in which St. Patrick was born.  Patrick was born in Roman Britain around 385 AD.  He lived on the edge of two eras.  Roman culture and rule in Britain was beginning to deteriorate, and the "barbarian" populations that would come to dominate were beginning to filter into the country.  He was born to this population of Roman nobility, then suddenly as a young man he was kidnapped by Irish raiders to be sold as a slave in Ireland.  

Eventually, he would escape his captors only to return when he was prodded by the voice of God to bring the faith of Christ to his former slave-masters.  His efforts earned him the title of Apostle to Ireland.  For at the end of his life, Christianity had penetrated much of this island nation.   

Apart from the historical narrative, Rogers includes Patrick's Confession and His Letter as part of the appendix.  This is a nice addition to have primary sources along with the biography.  

Outside of historical curiosity, the life of Patrick is inspirational.  Here are several things that Rogers highlights about Patrick life that inspired me. 

  • Even though Patrick was thoroughly Roman in culture, he brought the Gospel to the Irish and respected their Irishness.  He did not make Roman culture a prerequisite to their acceptance of the Gospel.  This caused some resistance from Church authorities who were fearful of barbarian influence and syncretism within the Church.
  • His enslavement forced upon him solitude.  It was within this solitude that a rich inner life with God developed, and it was that inner life that sustained him throughout greater hardships he would endure.  
  • In spite of charges of syncretism and watering the gospel message for Irish ears, Patrick continual demonstrates in all his writings his doctrinal orthodoxy.  
  • He saw himself as unfit in education and eloquence to bring the Gospel to Ireland, but he did so "by default" because no one else was willing.  He was convinced that his success was only due to Christ working in him.  
  • He was a fierce defender of the defenseless.  It may have been this that inflamed the love of the Irish for him.  
Near the end of the book, Rogers offers this sentence that sums up Patrick's life and reason for his success:  "They saw in Patrick's person-in his very presence among them-that forgiveness was possible, that hardship need not result in bitterness-and that the meek just might inherit the earth after all."

This will be a welcome addition to your library, and you can purchase it here.  The author also maintains a blog at

Friday, September 09, 2011

Mel Gibson Took My Advice

When Ancient Faith Radio interviewed me about my new book, I was asked about my favorites books in this mysterious group of Biblical writings.  I mentioned two, Sirach and the Maccabees.  

My reason for choosing Maccabees is because it is action-packed.  There is fighting, intrigue, and heroism.  Men, women, and children are sacrificing their lives for their faith in God.  Maybe it's a man-thing but it is hard for me not to picture Chuck Norris when reading about the exploits of Judas Maccabeus.  

In an off-hand comment, I mentioned my surprise that these books have never been made into a movie.  I didn't know he was an AFR fan, but Mel must have heard the interview.  Entertainment Weekly reported that Mel has decided to make a movie on the Maccabees.

While Mel has had his problems lately, I welcome a movie.  No doubt, it will be violent and not for the kiddies, but these are stories that need to be known and told on a larger scale.  

Outside the general tenor of excitement, these books inspire one toward a heroic life.  Evil can faced and fought.  A life of sacrifice is possible.  We can look into our hearts, survey the passions that reside there, draw up a battle plan, and with the Cross battle our demons with courage.  

Maybe I should send Mel a copy of the book, before he gets too deep into the script. 

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Let's Take it Literally - The Literal Sense of Scripture

In a previous post, I mentioned 4 senses of Scripture that Christians throughout the centuries have used to better understand the Bible and its impact of their relationship to God and neighbor.  

Today, let's briefly cover the Literal sense of Scripture.  This is probably the best understood, and the approach most conservative Bible readers take when reading and interpreting the text.  On the face, it would seem the easiest to grasp, and it may be but that simple when put into practice.  

To recap:  the literal sense is the plain sense or the meaning that the original audience would have derived from the text on it's surface.  The original audience may have seen implications and applications by what was written, but what is the apparent sense of the text.  

As simple, as this may seem, it still may take more than one reading to find out what is going on in the text.  Here are tips that can help in understanding the literal sense of the passage:

1.  Genre:  Within Scripture there are multiple examples of genre: historical narrative, poetry, apocalyptic lit, gospels, letters, theological treatises, and wisdom lit.  Words will take on different meaning depending on the genre.  For example, poetry is highly expressive and full of metaphors that attempt to make abstract concepts and emotion concrete and meaningful for the reader.  To read poetry as narrative generates silly results, and diminishes the force of the language.  

2.  Context: The surrounding paragraphs and words impact what is begin said.  Jumping from passage to passage can be dangerous.  Bible mash-ups could lead to heresy.  Please don't close your eyes, open the Bible, point and read.  When thinking about context, make sure the surrounding verses and chapters are considered.  Similar literature and language are helpful as well as books by the same author.  

3.  Structure:  Structure could be a subset of context.  Trying to outline a book can often create a birds-eye of themes and purposes that help fit individual stories and passages into a greater context.  This is especially true of the Gospel.  Asking the question, "Why would the writer place this story here, when another writer included it elsewhere?", could help uncover the structure and purpose of the writer.  

4.  Audience:  Who is the author addressing in the book?  What are their issues?  For me, this is helpful reading the prophets.  Many of the prophets contain long diatribes addressing a pagan nation.  These nations didn't care what a crazed mystic from a two-bit nation in the corner of the Middle East think about their actions or destiny.  Israel is still the audience, so why would hearing a lengthy curse of a neighboring tribe benefit them?  There is no doubt the gospels are written to different groups, and figuring that out helps understand the structure and content of what the author is saying.  

Just because it's the plain sense of the text doesn't mean there is no depth.  You may still have to wrestle with the text to squeeze out the literal rather than lift it straight from the page.  

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

4 Senses of Scripture

Scripture is a critical element in the life of a Christian, but it does not take much effort to see the abuse and twisting that the Bible has endured at the hands of well meaning and not-so well meaning people over the centuries.  

To protect against such error, the Bible should be read within the context of the Church.  This means many things but one aspect of context is a particular approach to reading Scripture.  

This approach can be summarized as the Four Senses of Scripture.  From early times times, the faithful approached Scripture this way.  Faithful Jews prior to Christ used this method, and it became incorporated into the life of the Church from the beginning.  

Later in history these 4 Senses were listed and categorized with helpful labels by St. John Cassian (360-435).  The labels stuck and have been used ever since.  

What are they?

  1. Literal:  Another way of stating this is literary.  Obviously not every Scripture is meant literally.  Genre must be considered.  Trees clapping their hands is a poetic metaphor.  However, this sense is the obvious face value meaning of the Scripture.
  2. Typological/Allegorical:  Types are pictures or images that have New Testament meaning, or point to something greater than their literal meaning.  Throughout the Old Testament, multiple people and images are types of Christ because of the role they play.  Their character or action demonstrates an aspect of Christ. A good example is the bronze serpent in Numbers.  The people were dying as a result of venomous snakes invading the camp.  God commands Moses to forge a bronze serpent and lift it up on a pole for all to see.  Those who looked up the serpent were saved from the bites of the snakes.  Jesus himself uses this as a type of himself.  God would lift Him up (on the cross), and all who look upon Him in faith are saved from the sting of death.  
  3. Moral:  The moral sense is the practical application of Scripture on an individual or corporate level.  To see this reading of Scripture in action, read through the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete that is prayed during Lent in the Orthodox Church.  The people and stories of the OT are vehicles to reveal one's own heart and lead to repentance.  
  4. Anagogical/Heavenly/Eschatological:  "Anagog"  comes from Greek meaning to go up.  So this sense looks at how a passage points to the end and fulfillment of all things.  How do the images of a passage point us the Kingdom of Heaven?

Let's take the city of Jerusalem for an example.  Jerusalem is featured throughout Scripture, so how would that city be understood through the four senses.  

  • Literal:  the physical city that we find in the Middle East.
  • Typological:  the Christian Church or the people of God.  
  • Moral:  the faithful Christian
  • Anagogical:  the heavenly Kingdom in all its fullness

In the Middle Ages, a catechetical poem was written to help people remember the senses and is good for us to remember today:
The letter shows us what God and our fathers did; The allegory shows us where our faith is hid; The moral meaning gives us rules of daily life; The anagogy shows us where we end our strife.
Questions:  Are any of these understandings new for you?  Which ones are easier to see than others?  

Friday, September 02, 2011

Top Posts for August

I am always surprised at what posts generate the most traffic.  Many times I think I write something provocative or brilliant and nothing happens.  Then I write something small and spontaneous, and I get a great response.  Too bad, I can't bottle the good stuff, and pour it out in every post.  Here are the top 5 post/pages for August.  #4 was the surprise post of the month for me.   

  1. Track 4 - Unexpected Victory
  2. Track 1 - Deliverance
  3. The Book
  4. Purpose of the Old Testament 
  5. To Be a Father
Thanks to all the readers, sharers, and subscribers.  

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Track 6 - Descent into Hell

Track 6 of the Biblical soundtrack is found in the minor prophet Jonah.  While a small book and a perfect story for Sunday School, the Church has found tremendous comfort and power in Jonah's story and prayer.  

Jonah wanted to escape from God's presence and God gave him the desire of his heart--a glimpse of existence without God.  This was a dark night of the soul or perhaps a more Orthodox phrase: "a descent into hell".  Most spiritual writers express this reality as a necessary stage of spiritual growth.  For some it is imposed by God to purify.  This is the way of the cross and it can not be escaped.  Christ walked down this path for us and will meet us at the bottom.  On the cross, he cries out "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"  This experience of Christ is beyond our understanding, but we can know that no hell we may endure has not been felt by our Savior.  

Familiar to all is David's shepherd psalm, which begins: "the Lord is my shepherd", but soon takes us to "though I walk through the valley of death."  David provides the hope of God's hidden hand in the darkness.

Contemporaries such as St. Siluoan the Athonite writes expressively of the terror the soul endures during this blackness beyond night.  The only hope for the Christian is that Christ has been there, and will be there as the light peels back the darkness into resurrection.  

For Jonah, the darkness is self-imposed.  God came and spoke but God was unbearable to Jonah's heart.  He had to escape what seemed like a burden of presence.  While a spiritual problem, he used his body to remove himself as far as he could from physical and geographical reminders of his God.  God obliged his escape, and Jonah was thrust into darkness.  First, he found the terror of nature and then in the darkness of the belly of a whale hell rose up inside him.  

In the moment of despair, he cries out for God's presence to return.  It was a twofold cry--a cry of repentance and a cry of return.  

Like the Christ that Jonah prefigures, he has descended into Hell to rise again, thrust forth from the heart of the earth three days later.  For in the pit, like a hook, God's mercy latches to his grasping soul and pulls him into the light of resurrection.  

for a previous post on Jonah click here


Popular Posts