Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Struggling with Scripture

In Sunday School we have been studying the Old Testament for the last several months, and at times it can be daunting.  

The stories aren't particularly difficult, but extracting meaning about God can feel like trying to squeeze water from a rock.  In a moment of honesty, a classmate asked the question we all think, but are afraid to ask in polite Christian company: "Why does the Bible have to be so hard?"  

My immediate reaction is to fall back onto Mark Twain's maxim: "“It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”  It's so much easier to fret over the identity of the third horn of the beast of the Apocalypse than work out "love your neighbor" in everyday life.  

Yet there's still a lot of text, and laws, and sacrifices, and rituals, and stories, and images that become hard to ignore.  After encountering the God of the Bible, it is hard to walk away contented, sensing that just below the crust of words there might be gold; gold to give meaning, bring relief, offer hope, and grant transformation.  

Here are three reasons, why I believe reading Scripture is a struggle (and that's a good thing):

1.  Read in Community.  We don't read by ourselves as if stranded on a desert island with a leather bound book as our only companion.  It is not our task to conquer the text by ourselves.  In Acts, Philip encounters the Ethiopian eunuch struggling over the text of Isaiah the prophet, exasperated by the meaning, begging Philip for help for he was inadequate on his own.  St. Peter warns us that no prophecy of Scripture is understood by private interpretation.  We need each, we need the Church, not only those in your community, but the whole Church, from the books of Acts onward.  

2.  A Book for A Lifetime.   We do live in a microwave culture where everything is instant, and this has to contribute to the frustration we feel when a reading or two of the Bible does not immediately open up the gates of understanding.  Scripture was written over a period of 1500 years, with each portion building upon itself.  The Pentateuch serves as the core of the OT with the remainder being a commentary and application of those first five books, and then Gospel provides the fulfillment of those ancient texts, with the epistles being the commentary on the Four Evangelists.  Ink has poured out over the centuries as holy men and women have read and absorbed the meaning of the Bible.  It is a book for a lifetime, and not a short term commitment.  

3.  A Wrestling Match.  Encounters with God in Scripture entail struggle and wrestling.  Our veneer of pride must be stripped down revealing our weakness and inability before our Creator.  Jacob found this to be true when he wrestled with God Himself.  

What is true of the men and women within the pages of Scripture is no less true of us when we enter the book for ourselves.  We read to be stripped of our own idols about God to discover a Person much different than the box of comfort we keep close.  

Reading Scripture is the way of the cross.  We come and find ourselves crucified as our struggle changes who we think God is and what we believe about ourselves.  The reading itself is journey toward resurrection, but the road leads through Calvary.  

Why do you believe reading the Bible can be a struggle?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Pearl 2:2 -A Suffering Savior, A Suffering Faith

Hymn 2:2 of St. Ephrem's The Pearl

Shadowed forth in thy beauty is the beauty of the Son,
Who clothed Himself with suffering when the nails passed through Him.
The awl passed in thee since they handled thee roughly,
As they did His hands;
And because He suffered He reigned,
As by the sufferings thy beauty increased.
And if they showed no pity upon thee,
Neither did they love thee:
Still suffer as thou mightest,
Thou has come to reign!
Simon Peter showed pity on the Rock;
Whoso hath smitten it, is himself thereby overcome;
It is by reason of Its suffering
That Its beauty hath adorned the height and the depth.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Forge 11.23.2011

Baptists heading for Constantinople?

Here's a nice article by Clark Carlton on how salvation works

and now for the Geek Orthodox:

My eldest has this as his cell phone Christ is in our Midst

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

God Behaving Badly? (the resources)

I hope you enjoyed this series of post.  They were not designed to be airtight arguments against challenges to faith, but various ways to wrestle with our life in God.  

The title of the posts is taken from Evangelical Bible professor Dr. David Lamb's, God Behaving Badly, and here is an interview with Dr. Lamb

Here is part 1part 2part 3, part 4, and part 5.

Also here are several posts, videos, and podcasts that I found extremely helpful in sorting some of this out for myself:

Fr. Thomas Hopko addresses this question in 4 parts on his AFR podcast:

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Pearl 2:1 - The Faith: A Reflection of the Only-Begotten

The Pearl 2:1 - The Faith: A Reflection of the Only-Begotten

Hymn 2:1 of St. Ephrem's The Pearl 

Whereunto art thou like?
Let thy stillness speak to one that hears;
With silent mouth speak with us:
For whoso hears the stammerings of thy silence,
     to him thy type utters its silent cry concerning our Redeemer.

Thy mother is a virgin of the sea, though he took her not:
She fell into his bosom, though he knew her not;
She conceived thee near him, though he did not know her.
Do thou, that art a type, reproach the Jewish women
That have thee hung upon them.

Thou art the only progeny of all forms.
Which art like to the Word on High,
Whom singly the Most High begot.
The engraven forms seem to be the type of created things above.
This visible offspring of the invisible womb
Is a type of great things.

Thy goodly conception was without seed,
And without wedlock was thy pure generation,
And without brethren was thy single birth.
Our Lord had brethren and yet not brethren,
Since He was an Only-Begotten.
O solitary one, thou type exact of the Only-Begotten!

There is a type of thine in the crown of kings,
Wherein thou hast brothers and sisters.
Goodly gems are thy brethren,
With beryls and unions as thy companions:
May gold be as it were thy kinsman,
May there be unto the King of kings
A crown from thy well-beloved ones!
When thou camest up from the sea, that living tomb,
Thou didst cry out,
Let me have a goodly assemblage of brethren, relatives and kinsmen.
As the wheat is in the stalk,
So thou art in the crown with princes:
And it is a just restoration to thee, as if of a pledge,
That from the depth thou shouldest be exalted to a goodly eminence.

Wheat the stalk bears in the field;
Thee the head of the king upon his chariot carries about.
O daughter of the water,
Who hast left the sea, wherein thou wert born,
And art gone up to the dry land, wherein thou art beloved:
For men have loved and seized and adorned themselves with thee,
Like as they did that Offspring Whom the Gentiles loved
And crowned themselves withal.
It is by the mystery of truth that Leviathan is trodden down of mortals:
The divers put him off, and put on Christ.
In the sacrament of oil did the Apostles steal Thee away, and came up.
They snatched their souls from his mouth, bitter as it was.
Thy Nature is like a silent lamb in its sweetness,
Of which if a man is to lay hold,
He lifts it in a crucial form by its ears, as it was on Golgotha.
He cast out abundantly all His gleams upon them that looked upon Him.

Friday, November 18, 2011

God Behaving Badly? (part 5)

In response to questions about violence in the OT, here is a continuing series of several thoughts I have compiled.  The title of the posts is taken from Evangelical Bible professor Dr. David Lamb's, God Behaving Badly.  Here is part 1part 2, part 3, and part 4

8.  Christ died for the Amorite.  Not long after Joshua’s covenant with the Gibeonites, five Canaanite kings conspired to join forces and fight against Gibeon, perhaps to dissuade other tribes from covenanting with Israel or to test Israel’s solidarity with their new found allies.  

Gibeon, under attack and facing certain destruction, calls out to Joshua for salvation.  Joshua rallies his men to defend the defenseless and uphold covenant he made Gibeon.  Like the battles before, Joshua engages the enemy, and the God of Israel works wonders to extend the battle, defeating the armies of the five kings.  In the midst of battle, the kings fled into a cave for safety till the battle was over.  The warriors of Israel discovered their hiding place, sealed the cave by rolling a stone over the mouth, guarding this unintended prison until a decision could be made as to their fate.    

After the battle had waned and victory was assured, Joshua removed the kings, hung them on a tree, and before sunset lowered their bodies, entombing them in the caves where they had sought refuge.  

1400 years later and 20 miles north of that burial cave, the tables have turned.  A carpenter’s son turned prophet, preacher, miracle worker, has been hunted down, betrayed, and taken into custody, sequestered away to be beaten, mocked, he awaits his fate.  The decision is made, he is to be hung on tree, not like those 5 kings of old, but in the new Roman style, nailed to a tree with his arms outstretched, enduring humiliation from his accusers and suffering an agonizing death.  Slowly he dies, and before sunset friends lower his body, entombing him in a cave where another had planned his own final resting place.  

In this story all mankind is the enemy, pouring out anger, hate, and sin upon the Creator of all things.  Rather than turn upon Creation in wrath, He becomes the fugitive king, hung on tree, taking all the violence of mankind upon Himself.  The burial cave becomes his doorway to a different battle with Death, an ancient enemy, who has been lurking behind every enemy since Paradise was closed.  Dispensing wrath to defeat this slavemaster of mankind, he bound Death, releasing the captives and bringing true freedom to all mankind.  

Christ died not only for Israel but for those Amorite kings, for every Canaanite, and Hittite, and Jebusite.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Forge 11.16.2011

Please keep praying for the Christians of Egypt.  The Arab spring has felt more like a nuclear winter to the Christians in the region.

Blogger and Author, Melinda Johnson, continues her Orthodox Artist series.  This link is just one in a number of great posts.  Read and Subscribe.

Another great article on Orthodoxy and Scripture.

Greeks claims to have the tomb of Alexander the Great and the Ark of the Ethiopian friends might take issue with the discovery. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

God Behaving Badly? (part 4)

In response to questions about violence in the OT, here is a continuing series of several thoughts I have compiled.  The title of the posts is taken from Evangelical Bible professor Dr. David Lamb's, God Behaving Badly.  Here is part 1part 2, and part 3.

7.  A conflict between the God of Israel and the pagan gods.  

During ancient times, every god was a local one.  The superiority of your god above those of your neighbor was your god's ability to defend you and help you conquer territory.  A god who could not defend his people or conquer their enemies was no god worth worshipping. 

We see this when we read the book of Exodus in the plagues of Egypt.  The plagues are often seen as a judgment upon Pharaoh, and they were, but they were ultimately a demonstration of God’s superiority over the Egyptian deities.  Each plague struck at the various realms of the Egyptian pantheon: the Nile, the sky, the earth, the cattle, etc.  Even the final plague against the first-born struck at Egypt's living deity—the Pharaoh, proving that the God of Moses was superior to the gods of the Egyptians. 

Joshua’s defeat of Canaan was a not only a military conquest between ancient tribes, but a victory of God above all the pagan gods.  Why did Rahab and Gibeon turn from their heritage and embrace Israel?  Both knew of the previous victories of Israel against Egypt and all those who came against them in the wilderness, and were persuaded that the God of Israel must be true and more powerful than their local deities.  He was to be worshipped because He could defend His people and conquer the gods of Egypt and their neighbors. 

In every battle that Joshua fights, divine aid is always present, subtly present in some battles, dramatically evident in others.  No warrior of Israel, no defeated opponent, no reader of these ancient stories, can escape the hand of God in every victory.  

It is God's presence that establishes His superiority in the hearts of Israel, during the conquest and the generations to come, and in the midst of the inhabitants of Canaan, shattering the confidence they place in their own tribal gods.  

to be continued...

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Pearl 1:4 - Prayer & Prying from One Mouth

Hymn 1:4 of St. Ephrem's The Pearl

"Searching is mingled with thanksgiving,
And whether of the two will prevail?
From the tongue
The incense of praise riseth
Along with the fume of disputation
And unto which shall we hearken?
Prayer and prying from one mouth,
And which shall we listen to?

"For three days was Jonah a neighbour in the sea:
The living things that were in the sea were affrighted,
Saying, 'Who shall flee from God?
Jonah fled,
And ye are obstinate at your scrutiny of Him!'"

Friday, November 11, 2011

God Behaving Badly? (part 3)

In response to questions about violence in the OT, I have posted several thoughts I have compiled.  The title of the posts is taken from Evangelical Bible professor Dr. David Lamb's, God Behaving Badly.  Here is part 1 and part 2.

4.  Hyperbole:  I am sure you have used hyperbole in your speech this week.  Your football team killed their opponent this past weekend.  Maybe it rained cats and dogs at your house. Or perhaps you almost died laughing at the antics of your six year old, at least you weren’t hopping mad.  

Some Bible scholars believe that may be what is going on with some of the extreme sounding language present to us in these OT books.  The phrases “destroy all that breathed” and "they utterly destroyed" have counterparts in other Ancient Near Eastern languages of the same period.  It was common to use this as a figure of speech indicating total victory and conquest of another group. 

To defend this position, you only have to look at the results of the Israelite conquest.  The peoples that Israel was said to have destroyed completely were never destroyed completely. They continue to populate the area in smaller numbers, but are never completely gone. 

5.  Act of Judgment upon the Canaanites:  Each one of our sins has consequences, and will eventually lead to death.  Society’s sins have consequences leading to death.  The form this takes is unknown to us, but consequences can not be escaped forever, they are a natural result of continued abuse.  If I willingly took poison into my body on a daily, the consequence of an early demise would be certain.

In Gen 15:16, Abraham is given the Promised Land, yet God tells him that he can not take direct possession of the land because the sin of the Amorite is not complete.  God is merciful, and longsuffering, and increases the time of the Canaanites to find Him and repent of their lifestyle. 

 From Abraham to Joshua is about 500 years, and rather than turn toward the true and living God during this period of 15 generations, the people of land grew increasingly wicked. 

We get a sense of their sins, based on the list of actions that God warns Israel about in the Torah such as bestiality, incest, child sacrifice, etc. 

As harsh as it may seem to us, by using Joshua’s conquest to conquer these people ended the spread of their evil before it further destroyed themselves and the peoples around them. 

6.  Protection of the holiness of Israel:  The protection of the holiness of Israel is the opposite side of the coin of the judgment on the sins of the Canaanites.  The theme of holiness is consistent throughout the Pentateuch.  God people are to be separate, different, consecrated to Him.  Israel was entering a land of pollution, temptation, and strange deities.  Regardless of their future actions, they needed a clean start in this new land to build a nation dedicated to God with no hindrance to holiness. 

The Law itself was designed to safeguard that holiness, and display God’s mercy and grace throughout the world.  God’s ultimate intent and plan is to prepare mankind for the coming of Christ.  Israel was chosen as the nation that would bring the light of Christ into the world, yet Christ would not come from an impure people. 

Holiness within Israel must be sustained and grown until a young virgin, the endpoint of that progress toward holiness, was born into the world to be chosen as the holy vessel whereby God could take flesh and enter humanity. be continued.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Forge 11.9.2011

Persecution of Christians in Muslim countries remains high, but news like this is encouraging: Moslem Armenians convert back to Christianity

Over at Glory to God for All Things, Fr. Stephen has posted a refreshing post on Orthodoxy and the Bible

Here's a nice challenge to parents about instilling their kids with knowledge of Scripture.  We can't expect 36-52 hours/year at Sunday School to be enough.

And more shameless plugs for my book.  It is now available at Barnes and Noble in the Nook format.  What is really nice, is that you can download a sample to your nook or PC.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Fear Leading to Faith

At 40, he was chosen to be a spy.  His sole job was to scout the enemy, determine their strengths, calculate their weaknesses, and report back his decision whether to begin a military strike.  His band of brothers consisted of 11 other men who had lived in the same world as he, suffered the same humiliation in slavery, and experienced the same miraculous deliverance into freedom.   

Upon crossing into enemy territory, he and another spy, later to become his greatest ally, fellow leader, and lifelong friend, saw nothing but the bounty they had been promised.  The residents were healthy and strong, the land fertile and rich, the cattle well-fed, and the harvest was beyond anything they had seen before, seeming like something from a starving child's dreamworld.  

He could taste the victory, and feel himself building a home where he could settle with his family, and watch his children grow, bearing grandchildren who would play in the green grass and fertile fields.  Yet as soon as the warmth and hope of this vision filled his heart, it was torn away by fear, fear from his fellow spies.  

Although both he and the men had been freed from oppression, the other men still lived as slaves.  Upon seeing the riches of the land, they could feel the slavemaster whip their backs, driving them to produce for the comfort of these wealthy few, and they fled, convincing their people to forgo the blessings of a promised land for the imagined safety of a nomadic existence.  

The majority got their wish, and were sentenced to forty years of desert living, while just over the horizon, just over that river to the west, the reason for their freedom lay out of reach.  

Not till 40 years later, after that fearful band of spies had been buried in the sands, did Caleb and his new commander Joshua, enter that Promised Land.  At 80, he was just as vigorous as the former spy of his middle age.  For the next 5 years he fought alongside his friend Joshua as they conquered the land of milk and honey, then at the ripe old age of 85 he claimed his inheritance with one final battle against the giants of the land.  

St. Ambrose commenting on the faith of Caleb (and the fear of the other spies) says:

"he preferred glory to safety; the worse part safety to virtue.  The Divine judgment approved those who thought virtue was above what is useful while it condemned those who preferred what seemed more in accordance with safety than with what is virtuous." 

A commentator summarizes this with the following exhortation:

"God rewards those who prefer the virtue of obedience over the safety of inaction." 

Fear may be an indicator toward obedience.  God does not call us to comfort but a cross. Fear is the natural reaction to our own crucifixion, yet on the other side is the Promised Land.  

What is risky about the virtuous life?  What scares you about obedience?

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Faith: A Dangerous Prospect - The Pearl 1:3

Hymn 1, Section 2 of St. Ephrem's The Pearl 

It answered me and said,
"The daughter of the sea am I, the illimitable sea!
And from that sea whence I came up it is
That there is a mighty treasury of mysteries in my bosom!

Search thou out the sea, but search not out the Lord of the sea!
"I have seen the divers who came down after me, when astonished,
So that from the midst of the sea they returned to the dry ground;
For a few moments they sustained it not.
Who would linger and be searching on into the depths of the Godhead?
"The waves of the Son are full of blessing,
And with mischiefs too.
Have ye not seen, then, the waves of the sea,
Which if a ship should struggle with them would break her to pieces,
And if she yield herself to them, and rebel not against them,
Then she is preserved?
In the sea all the Egyptians were choked, though they scrutinised it not,
And, without prying, the Hebrews too were overcome upon the dry land,
And how shall ye be kept alive?
And the men of Sodom were licked up by the fire,
And how shall ye prevail?
"At these uproars the fish in the sea were moved,
And Leviathan also.
Have ye then a heart of stone
That ye read these things and run into these errors?
O great fear that justice also should be so long silent!"

Thursday, November 03, 2011

God Behaving Badly? (part 2)

This is part two of a previous post that seeks to understand the nature of the violence of the OT and how we as Christians should understand these often troubling stories.  Two points were covered and in this post point three regarding the charge of genocide is addressed.  

3.  Genocide:  

Genocide is the charge pinned upon God and Israel by skeptics.  Genocide is the total destruction of a people group solely based on race, and certainly it feels as if this may be happening in the book of Joshua.  But do we really see people groups completely destroyed in acts of total warfare?  No, we don’t.  As seen in the previous point, justice and mercy were given upon the foreigner again and again throughout the Old Testament.  We find evidence of this at the first battle in the Promised Land.  

The important city of Jericho is scouted by spies before a battle plan is drawn.  In order to hide from the authorities the Hebrew spies duck into the house of Rahab the prostitute.  While there, Rahab saves the men from the wandering eyes of the Jericho law, and to return her life-saving favor the men promise salvation for her and those within her household on the future date that Joshua wages war upon the city.  

The protection given is not for Rahab alone, but all who are in her house, ethnicity notwithstanding.  Rahab could go throughout the streets of Jericho promising refuge from the coming storm of war, for all who entered her dwelling would be saved.  We do not know how many were saved in the house of Rahab, but Joshua keeps his word and they are saved.  Rahab and her people were assimilated into the nation of Israel, she eventually becomes an ancestor of Christ Himself.  

Exhibit 2 are the Gibeonites.  The Gibeonites were Canaanites who disguised themselves as wandering bedouins seeking safety from the might of Israel.  Without enquiring of God, Israel rashly enters into covenant with them, promising protection and favor in the Promised Land.  Shortly after the ink dries on the newly drawn covenant, the people discover the deception of Gibeon.  Not only were they not travel-weary refugees, they were neighbors dressed to deceive and escape from the wrath to come.  Of course, Israel was enraged, intending to commit genocide on these reprobrate liars, but Joshua said “No!”.  The lives of the Gibeonites were spared, becoming servants in the worship of Israel, pagans transformed into the people of God, integral to the liturgical life of the nation.  

Gibeon is saved from destruction, but opportunity for Israel’s revenge was on the horizon.  Five Canaanites kings attack the defected Gibeonites.  Gibeon runs to Joshua for safety, testing the deceptive covenant.  Israel could technically hold to their end of the bargain by letting a foreign power dirty their hands with genocide, instead they fight on behalf of Gibeon, miraculously routing the enemy.  

Gibeon’s story does not end with Joshua.  They continue to be protected until the troubled King Saul wars with Gibeon, and Israel is cursed with famine, providing protection for Gibeon and reminding Israel of the ancient covenant.  As time progresses, Gibeon slowly dissapears from the pages of history as a separate people, because they are assimilated in the people of God.  

War, violence, and destruction can not be denied in the pages of the OT.  No exegetical acrobatics can wash away the stain of battle, but genocide is most definitely a false charge.  

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Forge 11.2.2011

Here's the second installment of the Forge"

Evangelical author Don Miller is becoming a favorite author of mine, and his blog always has thought provoking essays.  His insistence on salvation as a mystery and relationship, rather than a business transaction or legal declaration, begins to come closer to Orthodox approach: Mysterious Relationship  

A Russian bishop details an approach to evangelism that is Orthodox and one we should all be practicing daily (blogger included).  Here is the text of the speech:  Orthodox Evangelism.  Orthodoxy is thriving in the former Soviet Union, and it seems I am daily reading of mass baptisms and revival-like movements throughout the region, like the following: 
"In 1991, the Russian Orthodox Church had 12,000 parishes, 117 monasteries and convents, two theologian academies, seven theologian seminaries, 16 theologian colleges and four schools. In 2011, we have 30,675 parishes, 29,324 priests, 3,850 deacons and 805 monasteries and convents. The number of theologian educational establishments has increased, too," Vladimir Legoida, the head of the Synodal Information Department, said at a news conference at Interfax on Monday.

This is just a shameless plug of my book.  Thanks to "Iarfhlaith Benjamin" kind review:  Rest of the Bible Amazon Review

If you question taking your kids to church, and are afraid they will get bored or resist, fear no more, here is a great study from Baylor University:  Take the Kids to Church

Finally, archaeologicalists found a 1400 year devotional pocket icon that was once carried by a Christian believer:

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Top Posts for October 2011

Here are the top 6 posts for October 2011.  Thank you to all readers and commenters.  

Jul 11, 2011

Mar 31, 2011

Oct 20, 2011

Oct 4, 2011

Oct 31, 2011

Oct 7, 2011


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