Amplified Echoes 2014 now available

Revised_cover“Amplified Echoes” is now available in PDF format.

This 60-page compilation of 2014 Literate Lyoness blog posts are formatted to be read in Adobe Acrobat Reader’s 2-page view. Enjoy!

Possibly coming in 2015: “My Favorite Prophet Ezekiel.”  Subscribe to this blog to get updates. In the meantime, you can contact me at thelyoness@literatelyoness.com.

Discrepant Events

Lazarus of Bethany icon

Christ Raising Lazarus, Athens, 12-13th century icon.

From atop the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Galileo simultaneously dropped a massive canon ball alongside a much smaller musket ball. As they struck the the ground below with a single thud (more or less), a commonly held misconception was shattered. Shockingly, the erudite Aristotle had been erroneous in his assumption that two objects of different weights would drop at different rates. A simple demonstration to the contrary shook loose this faulty notion and plunged thinking minds forward into a new understanding of the natural world.

In the field of science education, such occasions are called “discrepant events.” Simple observations that fly in the face of what we expect, thereby necessitating the development of new explanations to make sense of it all.  Unnoticed weeds that have spread their roots through our minds are suddenly spotted and uprooted from our cognitive landscape — leaving a place for new ideas to grow.

In the New Testament we find that Jesus was often addressed as “Teacher.” And that he was. Scripture records his skillful questioning techniques, powerful illustrations, instructive metaphors and, yes, perfectly timed discrepant events. Perhaps no story better displays Jesus’ pedagogical prowess in the use of this particular technique than the story of Lazarus  in John 11.

In this well known account, Jesus is notified that his beloved friend Lazarus is sick. Nevertheless, he waits for a couple of days before going to visit. When he finally arrives, Lazarus has died and Jesus is met by the grieving sisters, Mary and Martha. Each sister approaches Jesus with the same faulty “if, then” statement: “If you have been here, then our brother would not have died.” Their hypothesis revealed misconceptions that would need to be unlearned before relearning could take place. They knew Jesus had healed others who were complete strangers, so why now did he not rush to the aid of his close friends? Why had he lingered with the Twelve, speaking in puzzling metaphors?

Jesus had tried to prepare his disciples in advance, but this lesson was going to be beyond words. It would need to permeate through them, beyond their minds and into their hearts and souls. And this discrepant event would not only generate cognitive dissonance, but emotional dissonance. The fabric of Mary and Martha’s thoughts and feelings would unravel into a mass of confused and disparate strands in order to be rewoven into a new garment of praise. (Isaiah 61:3) His precious  friends would be devastated, though only temporarily. But Jesus was himself so embedded into their lives that he entered into their grief with them. Alongside them, he wept.

Throughout the Gospels we find that Jesus met people where they they were before taking them where he knew they could be. For instance, the centurion already understood that time and space were not problematic for one with the authority and power to heal. (Matt. 8: 13) In that case, Jesus confirmed the man’s faith and moved on. But not in this case. Jesus didn’t answer questions directly and didn’t act immediately. Rather, he disoriented these folks enough that they started to reframe their questions.

And this Instructor had skillfully used proofs before. At least a few of his skeptics had learned not to challenge him about his ability to forgive sin. (Matt. 9:1-8) Now he extended his claims further and provided a sufficient miracle to back it up. With this event, he would declare that he was the Resurrection and the Life. By bringing Lazarus back to temporal life, he would prepare his friends and followers to understand something of eternal life.

Eventually Christ’s own resurrection would be declared a non-negotiable tenet of the Christian faith as spoken by believers throughout the world in the Apostles Creed:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Amen.

When recited, the Creed sounds quite reverent and dignified. But make no mistake. The Father’s kingdom belongs to those of simple, child-like faith. (Matt. 18:1-6) Perhaps the most fundamental creed of every Christ-follower is captured in this most recognizable of songs:

Jesus loves me, this I know
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to him belong
They are weak but He is strong

trackMake your own tracks…Carefully examine Jesus’ instructional techniques as he speaks with both a rich, young man (Matt. 19:16-26) and a rich, old man (John 3:1-21) about how to obtain eternal life.

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

Amplified Echoes

image“An echo is a reflection of sound, arriving at the listener some time after the direct sound.” (Wikipedia, June 16, 2014)

I plan to soon complete a post that will conclude a compilation titled “Amplified Echoes.” The title of the work reflects its intent: to speak again with clarity the words and ideas of ancient, holy scriptures — hopefully in ways that are fresh and compelling to contemporary readers. Featured icons, quotes, and lyrics are intended to evoke thankful reflection on the influence and work of saints around us, as well as those who have gone before.

“Amplified Echoes” will be dedicated to (at least) two saints influential in my own life, both who have recently completed their earthly journeys:

Virginia Ruth Fagan Lyon • January 20, 1936 – June 11, 2013

Carl C. Waggoner, Jr. • July 19, 1942 – July 30, 2013

They now are part of the “great cloud of witnesses” that cheer us on to the end of our own race. (Hebrews 12:1-3) May the Author who penned Bible stories through his servants of old continue to tell new stories of his greatness through our lives as we seek to follow Christ today.

***

“I’m an empty page;
I’m an open book.
Write Your story on my heart;
Come on and make Your mark!”

“Author of my hope.
Maker of the stars,
let me be Your work of art!
Won’t You write Your story on my heart?”*

*From “Write Your Story,” on the album If We’re Honest.
Written by Battistelli, Francesca; Garcia, David; Glover, Benjamin Michael.

***

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

Your Place in History

One of my favorite speakers and authors, Ravi Zacharias, often quotes Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-1990). Muggeridge was an English journalist as well as a soldier and spy during World War II. It was later in life that he began to write about Christianity and his personal faith.  His fascinating life story is summarized on Wikipedia, but his own synopsis of the times is provided below. As we consider his words, may we also consider our own place in history.

“We look back upon history and what do we see? Empires rising and falling, revolutions and counter-revolutions, wealth accumulating and wealth dispersed, one nation dominant and then another. Shakespeare speaks of ‘the rise and fall of great ones that ebb and flow with the moon.’”

“I look back on my own fellow countrymen ruling over a quarter of the world, the great majority of them convinced, in the words of what is still a favorite song, that, ‘God who’s made the mighty would make them mightier yet.’ I’ve heard a crazed, cracked Austrian announce to the world the establishment of a German Reich that would last a thousand years; an Italian clown announce that he would restart the calendar to begin his own ascension to power. I’ve heard a murderous Georgian brigand in the Kremlin acclaimed by the intellectual elite of the world as a wiser than Solomon, more humane than Marcus Aurelius, more enlightened than Ashoka. I’ve seen America wealthier and in terms of weaponry, more powerful than the rest of the world put together, so that had the American people wished, could have outdone an Alexander or a Julius Caesar in the range and scale of their conquests.”

“All in one lifetime. All in one lifetime. All gone with the wind. England part of a tiny island off the coast of Europe, threatened with dismemberment and even bankruptcy. Hitler and Mussolini dead, remembered only in infamy. Stalin a forbidden name in the regime he helped found and dominate for some three decades. America haunted by fears of running out of those precious fluids that keep her motorways roaring, and the smog settling, with troubled memories of a disastrous campaign in Vietnam, and the victories of the Don Quixotes of the media as they charged the windmills of Watergate.”

“All in one lifetime, all gone. Gone with the wind.”

–Malcolm Muggeridge, 1980*

Zacharias seamlessly appends this quote with the following words:

“Behind the debris of these self-styled, sullen supermen and imperial diplomatists, there stands the gigantic figure of one person, because of whom, by whom, in whom, and through whom alone mankind might still have hope. The person of Jesus Christ…The more I look at the saviors of man, the more beautiful the Lamb of God looks to me.”**

*Malcom Muggeridge, “But Not of Christ,” Seeing Through the Eye: Malcolm Muggeridge on Faith, ed. Cecil Kuhne (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), 29-30.

**Ravi Zacharias, Let My People Think, “Absolute Truth in Relative Terms.”

Unholy Traffic

490px-Traffic_Jam,1953The roadways of the U.S. transportation system are a marvel of the modern, industrialized world. In a simple, pragmatic elegance, individuals daily execute complex patterns of motion to maintain their own particular life rhythms, operating their vehicles as part of a larger and interconnected symphony of mass motoring. To achieve this phenomenon, numerous factors have been carefully considered: mapping of routes, paving of roads, posting of signs and symbols, timing of traffic lights, manufacturing of vehicles to meet specifications, fueling of vehicles, allocation of parking, testing of drivers, lighting of thoroughfares, and the list goes on. And it all works beautifully…when it works. But when it doesn’t, an ordinary day can turn into a frustrating or even tragic day at a moment’s notice. For even in this most precisely planned of systems, there are variables. They are called drivers. Some drivers are largely ignorant of how the system is intended to work. Some drivers think the rules don’t really matter or just don’t apply to them. Others are distracted and oblivious to what is going on around them. Regardless of their state of mind, however, all these folks are wielding powerful machines and can easily become dangerous to themselves or others.

And so it is with sin. Sin creates traffic snarls in the patterns of our lives and those around us. God acts as a transcendent civil engineer to specify patterns that optimize movement. Not only with physical safety in mind, but with concern for our emotional and spiritual health as well. And his  prescribed patterns for safe travel on life’s journeys are born out of holiness, a divine trait foreign to mere mortals.

Holiness is different than goodness. Sometimes a term is best understood by learning what it is not. For example, “clean” can be described as “not dirty”; “dry” can be described as “not wet.” Some ideas are difficult to grasp without referencing a contrasting state that has been experienced by the reader. We have not experienced holiness, at least not in its fullness. This is a significant limitation, for the pure and unadulterated nature of the trait must be conveyed to comprehend the term. We have, however, experienced what it is not. We have experienced its generalized absence as “falleness” and its corruption or violation as “sin.”

Much like Jude (v. 3-4), I wish that I could only discuss pleasant concepts and beautiful thoughts, yet the bitter topic of sin must be addressed to remain true to the goal of promoting biblical literacy. And to be true to harsher realities that we all experience. It must especially be addressed during this time of year. For there is no spring without winter. There is no Easter without Good Friday. Yep, I just had to bring up the “s” word. And as soon as a Christian does so, non-Christians immediately begin to cry “hypocrite.” And indeed, there are hypocrites. And even if we are not deserving of the label, we probably at least sporadically demonstrate the characteristic of hypocrisy. But an accurate view of sin and holiness does not naturally lead to this end. Rather, it leads to humility. Authentic Christ-followers know that they are not devoid of sin, but are being saved from it. (1 John 1:8) Faith and obedience then follow out of love and gratitude rather than an effort to achieve a state of sinlessness.

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.*

Like Paul, we find that it is better not to kick against the goads. (Acts 26:12-18) Or perhaps you more closely identify with barnyard animals…

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.” (Psalm 32:8-9)

Try as we might, we don’t get to redefine holiness based on what we believe that we might be able to achieve. We are better off to just go ahead and confess what we might prefer to deny. When you are lost, stop and ask for directions. Get into the flow of traffic with corrected navigation and discover your part in the grand redemptive score — a holiness remix. (1 John 1:9)

*From lyrics at­trib­ut­ed to Ber­nard of Clair­vaux, 1153 (Sal­ve ca­put cru­en­ta­tum); trans­lat­ed from La­tin to Ger­man by Paul Ger­hardt, 1656 (O Haupt voll Blut und Wund­en), and from La­tin to Eng­lish James W. Al­ex­and­er, 1830.

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

trackMake your own tracks…Arrangement of choice for this week is “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” on Beginnings by Fernando Ortega.

Hungry Royals

EstherMany Christians around the world are currently observing Lent. I rarely do. Left to my own devices, I tend to feel that life produces enough hardship to make additional self-imposed suffering or discomfort seem unnecessary. Just being honest. But fasting is a spiritual discipline mentioned sporadically throughout Holy Scripture, and it is particularly evident in Esther — the only book of the Bible where God’s presence is made conspicuous by the absence of any direct reference to him. Beyond fasting, the more prominently featured characters carry out some other activities that seem bizarre to those of us who live in a different time, culture, and hemisphere. We read that Queen Esther, Mordecai, and the Jews in Persia do things like tear their clothes, wear burlap-like rags, cover themselves in ashes, and wail aloud. All these acts fervently externalize the grief and terror within as they face the prospect of annihilation. The twists and turns of interwoven plot strands contained in this little book all come together to fashion one of the most fascinating and compelling narratives ever told. A story complete with wild parties, seduction and romance, an assassination  plot, a genocidal maniac, a temperamental king, an orphan turned queen, a short war, the pronouncement of a new holiday celebration (still observed to this day), and some very satisfying poetic justice. Even some divinely ordained insomnia.

But back to fasting…why would anyone do it? In the case of Esther, it appears to be a physical manifestation of weakness and unworthiness in approaching God during a time of dire need. But I think there must be more to it. I found that John Piper offers some noteworthy commentary in his book “A Hunger for God”:

Bread magnifies Christ in two ways: by being eaten with gratitude for his goodness, and by being forfeited out of hunger for God himself…

In the heart of the saint both eating and fasting are worship…Each has it’s appointed place and each has it’s danger. The danger of eating is that we fall in love with the gift; the danger of fasting is that we belittle the gift and glory in our willpower…

[Fasting] is an intensifier of spiritual desire. It is a faithful enemy of fatal bondage to innocent things. It is the physical exclamation point at the end of the sentence: “This much, O God, I long for You and for the manifestation of Your glory in the world!”

At the end of Esther’s story we find that God indeed honors the prayers and fasting of the Jewish people. Fasting finally leads to feasting. And Queen Esther has played more than just a royal role. She has intervened on behalf of her people to save them from destruction. As Beth Moore points out in her women’s study on Esther, in a sense, this Jewish queen has also served a priestly role.

The book of Esther begins with Queen Vashti, who does not come before the king when summoned. But then enters Queen Esther, who risks her life by approaching the king though she has not been summoned. In doing so, she reconciles the Jewish people to the king and people of a foreign land. Likewise, we find in 1 Peter 2:9 that we to are to serve as royal priests (and priestesses), interceding and intervening for those around us in efforts to reconcile them to our Bridegroom and King. But unlike Esther, we are ever entreated to approach his throne with confidence. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

trackMake your own tracks…This week’s music pick is “Dance with the King” on Joy by Beckah Shae. Enjoy!

Reverent Roars

Little Drummer Boy_revised

A random search yielded this week’s image and the recommended song arrangement provided in Make Your Own Tracks. Both were found on a homeschool mom’s blog. Click the photo to visit her site.

Then I (Ezra) set apart twelve of the leading priests, together with Sherebiah, Hashabiah and ten of their brothers, and I weighed out to them the offering of silver and gold and the articles that the king, his advisers, his officials and all Israel present there had donated for the house of our God.  I weighed out to them 650 talents of silver, silver articles weighing 100 talents, 100 talents of gold, 20 bowls of gold valued at 1,000 darics, and 2 fine articles of polished bronze, as precious as gold. I said to them, “You, as well as these articles, are consecrated to the LORD.” Ezra 8:24-28

she-cub69:  Today I stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what He will say to me. (Habakkuk 2:1)  O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch. (Psalm 5:3) Yet, what can this poor, wounded soul give to a mighty King? Can He who holds the world in place have anything of need?*

LoJαΩ:  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, [I] will not despise. (Psalm 51:17) For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.’ (Isaiah 57:15)  For my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

she-cub69:  I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of [this]…But I strain toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to which [You have] called me. (Philippians 3:12-14) For [you say] our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (2 Corinthians 4:17)

LoJαΩ:  [Yes,] “this is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it, not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.” (C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce)

she-cub69: So this is why you often don’t answer “why”? For even if you tried to explain, in ignorance we might conclude that your desired outcome is not worth the cost of the plan to achieve it?

LoJαΩ:  And that would break my heart. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:30) I have shown you what is good and what I require of you: to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

she-cub69:  [So let] my soul [now] never cease to offer gifts of praise; I kneel in Spirit at your feet, a sinner saved by grace.*

And when [the Lamb] had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before [Him], each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth. (Revelation 5:8-10)

*Lyrics from “Hosanna,” Beyond Imagination, a youth song collection. Additional reference information to be added, as possible.

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

trackMake your own tracks…A modern arrangement of “Little Drummer Boy” by Pentatonix can be experienced on YouTube. According to the lyrics of the song, what did the young musician learn about bringing gifts to a king? If you prefer a retro arrangement, check out “Little Drummer Boy,” by 4Him, Season of Love, 1993. 

Sheep and Wave-Particle Duality

image

Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling. Kiss his Son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
Psalm 2:10-12

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” Genesis 1:1-3

The presence or absence of light seems pretty simplistic. With no conscious effort, we flip light switches on and off 24/7, as needed. But light is anything but simple. In fact, the nature of light has baffled the most brilliant scientists for decades. The conundrum lies in that light exhibits two seemingly different natures simultaneously. For lack of a single term to characterize it, light is said to have “wave-particle duality.” This means that light sometimes appears to behave like a propagating energy wave (with no mass). But then change the experimental set up, and as if on a whim, light taunts the watching and waiting investigators of the natural world by acting like a particulate. Particles typically have mass, but light does not. This paradox is vexing and perplexing enough that it can’t just be ignored. Terms that once seemed quite basic…”matter,” “energy,” “particle,” “wave”…now must be continually redefined to try to make sense of it. It’s kind of a big deal because the properties of light are key to understanding the cosmos. Every equation relating to general relativity (that I can remember from college physics, anyway) includes the constant “c,” which represents “the speed of light.” Yet at the beginning of the 21st century, we still lack illumination regarding exactly what this radical radiation is like. Fascinating though…in the ancient book of Genesis, even before the Sun could be seen in Earth’s sky (vs. 14-18), light already defined universal boundaries yet to be discovered.

And then, as I’ve mentioned before, there were creatures. And among them were sheep. Sheep do not know about the boundaries of the universe. It’s my understanding that they are not really that sure about how to find grass. This said, you may be insulted to learn that God often describes his followers as sheep. No one likes the idea of being helpless and dependent, even if they are. But when the frailty of the human condition becomes unavoidably apparent at a funeral, it is Psalm 23 that is commonly read to bring comfort. A psalm written from the perspective of a sheep, albeit a well-cared-for one. It is a well-known wellspring of words that flowed from the heart of God through David, a man who guided and protected the flock in his father’s pasture long before ruling the nation of Israel.

Admittedly, however, sheep do have one innate capability: voice recognition. Though spread out over wide expanses and mixed together with other herds, they know how to gather when they hear the distinct call of their Good Shepherd. In fact, a sheep might tell you that vision is overrated, for most threats come by night. Better to stay within earshot of the One with the staff that nudges strays, but whacks predators. Lots of animals can see in the daylight, but no matter what the commotion, only ovine ears accurately identify the specific voice signature that matters.

But beyond the typical sheep of the pasture, the Holy Scriptures are replete with references to the rather mysterious, other-worldly-sounding Lamb of God. The Lamb who opened not his mouth as he was led to the slaughter. Who died in submission to the will of the Father, though he had the authority to call upon legions of angels to rescue him. The Lamb who came to dwell among other sheep, but they knew him not. But this Lamb has yet another nature. You see, under the right conditions, he is quickly recognized as a Lion. Lambs may willingly submit to injustices, but lions take charge and call the shots. And this Lion sets things right, not with a wooden staff but with an iron scepter. (Psalm 2:9) You just can’t read the Bible for too long without coming to the conclusion that the Lamb of God who was slain is also the Lion of Judah who will reign.

How can two contrasting natures impossibly coexist? Herein lies the quandary of both theologians and physicists. Examination of unfolding changes in the space-time continuum are likely to elucidate these matters for both in short order.

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

track

Make your own tracks…Enjoy some retro reading from C.S Lewis’ “Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe”:

“Aslan is a lion–the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he–quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” 

And finally, just when you thought it was safe to listen to my music recommendations, take in some retro alternative rock tunes from AudioAdrenaline: “Mighty Good Leader” from Underdog, 1999.

The Triune Trifecta

OT_trinity_sized

Version of “Hospitality of Abraham” by Andrei Rublev. In Eastern Orthodoxy, the three angels represent the three “distinct and unconfused” persons of God that share a single eternal and divine essence. Click image for source info.

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31b) That’s some tough talk from the Apostle Paul. So who exactly is this God he is talking about, and what is he supposed to be doing for me? We don’t even need to leave the chapter to find out.

The Father has adopted us as beloved children and heirs. Keep in mind that if you are adopted, you were chosen. You were not taken in by chance or by accident. And for guilty sinners, it works out really well to be related to the Judge. Though he judges your misdeeds righteously, he has already arranged payment for all penalties you incur so that you can always stand legally justified. And he appoints Christ, the Lover of your Soul, to speak on your behalf when any accusations arise. (Romans 8:32-34) His arguments for you are so passionate and sweet that you are not only cleared of charges, but declared delightful as well.

Icon_of_jesus_baptism

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all represented in this icon of the Baptism of Christ. Click here to learn more about the related Feast of Holy Theophany.
Click image for source info.

“My faith looks up to Thee,
Thou Lamb of Calvary, Savior divine!
Now hear me while I pray, take all my guilt away,
O let me from this day be wholly Thine!”*

But though we look forward to a more permanent experience of the transcendent, we still must deal with the daily, and sometimes tragic, nature of our earthbound existence. You don’t have to live too long to learn that “life” is not the same as “Life.” And sheer existence can at times be unspeakably horrific. There are seasons that can beat us down in such a way that we not only lack answers, but we no longer have questions. But God does not break bruised reeds (Matthew 12:20), nor does he ask them to speak. Rather, he sends a Trauma Counselor to help us in our exhausted incoherance. “For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)

“While life’s dark maze I tread,
And griefs around me spread, be Thou my Guide;
Bid darkness turn to day, wipe sorrow’s tears away,
Nor let me ever stray from Thee aside.”*

According to Merriam-Webster, a trifecta is “a bet in which the person betting forecasts the first three finishers in a race in the correct order.” Three bets in one. According to Saint Paul, you can put your money (as well as your fleeting life and eternal soul) down on these Three. They are a trustworthy wager.

*Lyrics from “My Faith Looks Up to Thee” by Ray Palmer, 1830.

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

trackMake your own tracks…Carefully review all of Romans 8 to learn how this Triune Tag Team seamlessly integrates its activities to make both temporal and eternal provisions for Their own.

A Fair and Balanced Report on the Serpent: Part 2

560px-MosesandSnake-e1394039917559-262x300

Nehushtan was the Hebrew name given to the bronze serpent held up by Moses to bring healing.
Click the image for a better view.

Flip forward to the Book of Numbers, and we find snakes sneaking up on folks again. This time the entire nation of Israel is in transit, and frankly, in sin. So much sin that it’s about to come back and bite them. Literally. God sends snakes to bite them. It’s wholly unpleasant and the body count is rising. But then there is repentance, and a strange but efficacious cure is made available: look at the bronze snake on the pole and live. (Numbers 21:4-9)

I realize this is a very short snake story. Just a single paragraph in one of the least quoted books of the Bible. But as primitive and obscure as this story might seem, it foreshadows the most profound and fundamental of biblical messages. In fact, this earthly imagery prepares us for the overarching metanarrative of all Holy Scripture, and it reappears just prior to one of the most well known verses of all time:

John 3:14-17 (NIV)

14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Thousands of years later, God himself donned the skin of sinful mankind and was raised on a cross, the remedy for the malady of falleness and depravity for those who would see it. The cross was the pivot point upon which the redemption of all the world turned.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood, From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure; Save from wrath and make me pure.”

“Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress; Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly; Wash me, Savior, or I die.”*

It now became evident that God had made a preemptive strike even before the foundation of the Earth. Though He had not created evil itself, He had created the potential for the inception of evil which stood before the world’s inhabitants in the form of a clearly visible tree with a clearly comprehensible commandment. For without at least one Law, there would have been no way to externalize what would fester within. And there could be no repentance without awareness of an infraction. (See Romans 5:12-21 for more detail.) Human beings would have then suffered the same eternal consequences of fallen angels with no recourse.

“Not the labor of my hands Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know, Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone; Thou must save, and Thou alone.”*

Though mankind would indeed gain knowledge of both Good and Evil through their lost innocence, they would also potentially qualify for a benefits plan unavailable to fallen angels. A different system would be put in place this time — a system over which the more “angelic” angels would puzzle, yet rejoice. Indeed they would watch in wonder as the Holy One would reveal yet another facet of his character: that He was merciful and willing to suffer much to make his people aware of it. (Romans 11:32) For He who is incompletely comprehensible is likewise not completely incomprehensible. The glassy barrier now reflective, will one day become transparent. (I Corinthians 13:12)

So, don’t hold the whole Garden incident against the snakes in your backyard. God reclaimed and reframed this creature’s reputation by the fourth book of the Bible. At the same time, the Almighty not only crushed the true enemy’s head, but slapped him in the face as well. For ironically, Lucifer’s deceptive plot only served to advance God’s plan to enable men and women to become like Christ (1 John 3:2) — in a way, the very thing he falsely promised them in the beginning. How ’bout them apples?

*Lyrics from “Rock of Ages” by Au­gus­tus M. Top­la­dy, 1776.

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

trackMake your own tracks…Discuss what it means to be “shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves” as Jesus commanded his disciples in Matthew 10:16

A Fair and Balanced Report on the Serpent: Part 1

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The Star of Life has become the internationally recognized logo of emergency medical personnel. Yet a snake on a rod seems like a strange symbol for healing and life-saving services. How did this sinister creature have its image so remarkably reframed?

Subtle and crafty, the serpent was to become known as Eden’s infamous interloper and Master Botanical SpinDoctor. He could execute a disinformation campaign convincingly enough to sell ice to Eskimos. Or, fruit to those who lived among fruit trees. Or, dissatisfaction to those experiencing the highest quality-of-life index. He ever so carefully sowed seeds of doubt  using false reasoning and half-truths, drawing Adam and Eve into whimsical delusions of grandeur while simultaneously arousing undue suspicion toward their loving Benefactor.

“Why be satisfied with what you have, when you could be obsessed with what you don’t have?”

“Why enjoy communion with the God of the universe when you could be just like him all on your own?”

Not only did his message effectively stimulate discontent, but the messenger himself was probably quite convincing. Adam and Eve had been tasked with managing the Garden, which included naming the animals that dwelt alongside them. They probably called various creatures to themselves, just as we call to our household pets of today. But this one…he addressed them. He seemed more “evolved” than the others. He could speak. He could reason. And how could he possibly know about the singular prohibition that God had given them? If this animal had found a way to become human-like, then he might actually know the secret of how humans could become God-like. A credible, yet ultimately flawed, conjecture.

So serpentine whispers sown in the wind would reap curious thoughts. Curious thoughts would reap self-aggrandizing temptation. Temptation would finally reap an infraction of the only Law in existence at that time. And, the infraction of that Law would reap a whirlwind that would wreak havoc for millennia to come.

In the short term, however, the beguiled and busted humans were immediately demoted from management to labor positions: manual labor for the man and birthing labor for the woman. And they were cast out of the Garden. As the old saying goes, “Sin takes further than you want to go, keeps you longer than you want to stay, and makes you pay more than you want to pay.” And sadly, sin also has corporate effect. Adam and Eve would not suffer its ill effects alone. The impact of this single act would reverberate throughout the ages and throughout the Creation. What started subtly would not end subtly.

So what was up with this rotten serpent? And why didn’t the Garden Manager (Adam) just smash in his slimy head with a garden hoe right from the beginning?

It all makes more sense if you are familiar with the prequel. This particular serpent was being innervated by a more malevolent being, unlike any ever encountered before by man or beast on Earth. In another time and place, Lucifer had thought himself equal with God. He had gathered a minority contingent of other angelic beings who ultimately failed in their attempts to usurp the power and authority of the Almighty. The consequences were disastrous. They become outcasts from heaven a.k.a fallen angels, a.k.a devils or demons. But Lucifer was as much a victim of faulty thinking patterns as he was a purveyor of them. He conceived that he might still emerge victorious somehow. Maybe a change of venue, maybe a change in species. After all, if you can’t get to Superman, you go after Lois Lane. Right?

trackMake your own tracks…Check out Genesis Chapters 2-3 to read about the initial interaction of mankind with the serpent. Isaiah 14:12-14, Revelation 12:7-9, and Jude 1:6 provide some good material regarding the prequel story. Stay tuned. Next week, the snake is going to make a comeback.

Birds of the Air

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Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible waxes eloquent regarding this biblical scene and provides material far superior to my post. You can click the image to see a far superior icon.

Among Time Magazine’s Top 10 Most Heroic Animals we find a little homing pigeon called Cher Ami. This unlikely conscript saved the lives of nearly 200 American soldiers of the 77th Division’s “Lost Battalion” in France during World War 1. After being shot to the ground, this little bird took flight once again to deliver the critical message that dangled from his bullet-pierced, little leg (that eventually had to be amputated).

Mere pedestrians have long deemed their bipedal experience as merely pedestrian* and coveted the ability to soar. And one can only marvel at the hummingbird’s specialized hovering capabilities. Orville Wright stated that “learning the secret of flight from a bird was a good deal like learning the secret of magic from a magician.” Effortlessly and unknowingly, these tiny creatures employ the laws of physics to incite wonder in the minds of even the most brilliant engineers.

In the Holy Scriptures, we find birds serving in unique capacities due to their much desired gifting. Perhaps they were Cher Ami’s avian ancestors that served as divine couriers to Elijah. The mighty prophet who could invoke fire to fall from heaven (1 King’s 18:37-38) or conversely request that rain cease to fall (James 5:17) with a single prayer from his lips was required to passively sit and await the arrival of his daily bread brought to him by ravens. In Matthew 6:26 we find that birds are exemplary in their reliance upon God for provision, so it appears they were just passing the lesson along.

In “The Art of War,” Chinese military general and philosopher Sun Tzu (~544–496 BC) observed that “birds rising in flight [are] a sign that the enemy is lying in ambush.”  We also find cases of strategic birdwatching in the Bible. Though the historical characters of scripture could not fly, much could be inferred from a “bird’s-eye view.” While adrift on water as far as the human eye could see, Noah deployed a raven and a dove on surveillance and reconnaissance missions to determine if dry land and vegetation had resurfaced. (Genesis 8) Just as birds were used to indicate hope of a new Earth in Noah’s day, they likewise were utilized by Jesus to symbolically describe another time of renewed hope following worldwide calamity as described in Matthew 24:26-30: “Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.” (v. 28) In context, this passage simply indicates that one will not need to travel around looking for Christ’s return; His re-entry will be evident to all who simply look up (Luke 21:28). Perhaps he chose this more ominous bird to foreshadow the ultimate renewal of all things because His appearing will transpire in the midst of great turmoil and wrath. I’m open to hearing other possible explanations.

Doves, ravens, and even vultures get biblical press, but it is probably the sparrow that is most frequently referenced in both Christian sermon and song. Why so many “religious retweets”** regarding sparrows? Because of this encouraging contrast found in Luke 12:6-7:

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

As it turns out, we are the creatures to be envied after all.

*Yep. Pun intended.
**Agreed. That one was awful.

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

trackMake your own tracks...Research the many references to birds in the Bible. What does God tell us about himself through them?

Death by Exposure: Part 2

woman-at-wellTwo thousand years pass. Then from the promised progeny of Abraham and Sarah, yet another son of even more miraculous heritage is born. And his path is about to intersect with that of a woman reminiscent of Hagar in several ways. She is apparently disenfranchised, living on the fringes of accepted society. She, too, arrives at a well, but she purposely travels there in the heat of the day. This unnamed woman seems to be more concerned about a different type of exposure. She has a story, in fact, several. She’s a regular in the tabloids of her day, and at midday, traffic is low around this 1st century water cooler. But also like Hagar, she has a lone Observer who is about to engage her in an unusual conversation.

 John 4

7 Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

17 “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”

She had been exposed. He saw her and knew her. And she was quickly putting together clues regarding his identity, but he certainly challenged some of her assumptions during their interaction. Her particular preconceptions may sound foreign to us, but they can be easily refashioned into similar constructs held by those you know, or even by you. Jesus goes about setting the record straight though, in both word and deed.

The disciples had thought it highly unusual that Jesus would speak one-on-one with a woman. Much less a Samaritan woman. Much less a Samaritan woman of poor reputation. Jesus was already demonstrating what the Apostle Paul would declare to the Galatians:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:28-29)

After all, Abraham’s original promise had concluded with the words,“through your offspring, all nations will be blessed.” (Genesis 22:18) As a Samaritan, the woman’s claims of Abrahamic heritage through Jacob (Abraham and Sarah’s grandson) were probably considered dubious to pedigreed Jews anyway. We see that Jesus quickly diverted her focus from bloodlines and sacred locations. His response to this woman echoed the truth that Hagar had learned. That Abraham’s provisions were only temporal. She was going to need something more substantial. That’s where the well comes in.

Abraham’s blessing for all nations was also described as the Light of the World. Exposure to this Light is wherein expiation lies. For it burns with such great intensity that some who encounter it die immediately, only to be simultaneously refreshed by a peculiar Water that restores them to Life. The Light consumes everything, yet all that is finally lost is dross.

“No man has seen Your face and lived,
and that’s what I’m asking You;
for just one look upon Your face
and I’d be made brand new.”

“Is it easier to forgive sin or to open up my blind eyes?
I want to see you right now;
I need to see you somehow, or I’ll die.”*

The Light is both terminal and transformational. And it burns through figurative fig leaves that are suddenly no longer found to be necessary. Eve was the first woman to find that fig leaves have insufficient SPF.

*Lyrics from “Open Up My Blind Eyes” on Singer Sower by 2nd Chapter of Acts.

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

trackMake your own tracks…At the end of Chapter 11 of “The Great Divorce” by C.S. Lewis, you can read about a ghost with a little pet lizard. Lewis’ friend, J.R.R. Tolkien, might have rewritten the haint to call the little creature “his precious.” See if you can determine how this story relates to the post above.

Death by Exposure: Part 1

Hagar was on the periphery of one of the most pivotal stories of human history. She was servant to Sarah, wife of Abraham. It had been revealed that Abraham and Sarah would miraculously conceive a son in their old age. And through this son, Abraham was to become the father of a nation — not just any nation, but the nation into which the Son of God would be born centuries later.

This glorious promise eventually degraded into a desperately devised work-around, however, as the patience of all parties began to wear thin. To keep the story short and discreet…Years went by, and no baby. Sarah suspects they must not have read the fine print. She wrongly concludes that God must need her strategic planning abilities. So, she offers Hagar as a surrogate. Abraham obliges. Hagar conceives. Sarah is jealous. A cat fight ensues.

Hagar runs away. But in the desert, she happens upon a spring. And at this spring, she meets an “angel,” or messenger. The messenger gives her advice (go back home) and provides some prophetic words about her son. He also tells her the reason for their encounter: “the Lord has heard of your misery.” (Genesis 16: 11) Suddenly, it seems there is a realization:

“You are the God who sees me…I have now seen the One who sees me.” (Genesis 16:13)

She is exposed. But she recognizes her audience. In that moment at the spring, she experiences a brief taste of the life to come when we will know as we are known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

The story continues though. Hagar indeed bears a son. But wait…Sara eventually births the child that was originally promised. Now there are two women, each with a son of Abraham — the patriarch through whom great inheritance and blessing will come. Things are about to get ugly again. Such are the scenarios that keep tabloids in business. But throughout the pages of the Bible we find that God’s plans are far more glorious than the people through whom they are implemented. He therefore continuously works out work-arounds of his own.

Eventually Sarah is ready to be rid of her servant and, interestingly, God assures Abraham that yet another nation will come from Hagar’s boy but that he will need to let them go. Abraham provides some bread and water for their journey, then Hagar and her young son wander into the wilderness. Abraham’s provisions run out, but new provisions are about to be given.

 Genesis 21:15-20

15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob. 17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” 19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. 20 God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer.

Once again, there is One who is watching and listening. There is a moment of revelation, and Hagar’s eyes are opened to a well of water that would restore hope.

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

trackMake your own tracks…Read Genesis 15-17, 21:1-21 for the full biblical backstory on this post. Don’t email me yet though. Part 2 is forthcoming.

In Case of Emergency

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As a young man, Saint Nicholas was traveling by sea and the boat was overtaken by a storm. He prayed and the crew was amazed as the waters quieted. He apparently knew about the emergency procedure.
Commonly known for his good deeds on behalf of the poor, he also became known as the patron saint of sailors and merchants.

What do all of the following characters have in common?

  • One is lost and alone, wandering in the desert. Perhaps due to poor planning, bad directions, or an unexpected detour.
  • One is languishing in prison for crimes committed. He is receiving just penalty for his lawless misdeeds.
  • One is experiencing acute suffering due to irresponsible behavior. Wiser decisions might have kept him from his pain and shame.
  • One is a merchant marine at sea, struggling for survival in a raging storm. He was just doing business and living life, but God brought the storm upon him for unknown reasons.

All the characters described in Psalm 107 are in dire straits, but each has reached his predicament in a different way.  Some just happened upon their distress, and others found trouble on their own.

How would you write the end to each of their stories?  We can all root for the sailor to outlast the storm, emerging triumphant with a tale to tell his children and grandchildren. We can breath a sign of relief when the wanderer sees a city in the distance — finally, a destination where he will receive comfort and relief. But what about the criminal? Would we be satisfied to let him languish in prison? He’s just getting what he deserves, right? What about the foolish character?  He didn’t do anything illegal, but he just should have known better!  Hmmm. Maybe we would allow him to experience a miraculous recovery, but walk with a limp for the rest of his life — as a solemn reminder.

In Psalm 107, however, we find a God who is more ready to help than we might be. We find that he leads wanderers to dwelling places. He stills raging waters and brings weary and battered sailors to port. He rescues and heals the foolish, delivering them out of destruction brought upon themselves. He even brings prisoners out of the shadows and “shatters doors of bronze and cuts in two the bars of iron.” (v. 16)

Do you find it surprising that God graciously, and even enthusiastically, delivers all four men? Despite their apparent disparities in character, they were all able to access God’s mercy, and even his favor. They did have one thing in common as it turns out. They all did one very important thing. They each implemented the all-purpose, emergency response procedure: “they cried out to God in their trouble.” (vs. 6, 13, 19, 28)

Perhaps we don’t write stories with harsher endings for others, but for ourselves.   Maybe we have resolved to suffer. Maybe we even deserve to suffer. Nevertheless, you have no crisis that has taken God by surprise. Follow the prescribed procedure. Then watch and wait. Modes of deliverance often differ as much as the nature of the distress. Sometimes the delivery is by degrees and sometimes it is by sudden emancipation. Sometimes the delivery is not seen; not absent, just not observable to the average onlooker. After all, the mysteries of God cannot be fully disclosed in a single chapter. In fact, the entirety of scripture  does not provide any formulas or decision trees to predict divine acts.  Sorry.

He does reveal a singular motivation for the his actions in all these scenarios, however. Immediately preceding these case studies, we read that “He is good and his love endures forever.” (I know your next question. There are entire books written to address it, so I’m sure it at least warrants its own stand-alone blog posting at a later date.)

And although He keeps the instructions simple in the moment of crisis, there are several follow up procedures. Giving thanks is a repeated theme (vs. 1, 8, 15, 21, 31). Then there is the exhortation “to let the redeemed of The Lord say so.” (v. 2) Finally, we are left pensive in verse 42…”Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of The Lord.”

And, how else will we learn to sing songs of deliverance? (v. 22)

Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Savior, hide, till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide; O receive my soul at last.

Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
Leave, ah! leave me not alone, still support and comfort me.
All my trust on Thee is stayed, all my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenseless head with the shadow of Thy wing.

Wilt Thou not regard my call? Wilt Thou not accept my prayer?
Lo! I sink, I faint, I fall—Lo! on Thee I cast my care;
Reach me out Thy gracious hand! While I of Thy strength receive,
Hoping against hope I stand, dying, and behold, I live.*

*From “Jesus Lover of my Soul” by Charles Wes­ley, Hymns and Sac­red Po­ems, 1740.

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

trackLeave your own tracks…Tell someone about your own stories of deliverance.

The Christ Who Longs

Christ the SaviorAbout 10 years ago, I became a member of a book club, and our first assigned reading was “Love in the Time of Cholera” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In this story, a man named Florentino Ariza is to be wed in his youth to the beautiful Fermina Daza.  But under the pressure and influence of other people and circumstances, she dumps him and marries a rich doctor instead. So Florintino waits in hope for 51 years, 9 months, and 4 days for Fermina’s husband to die so that he can get another shot at marital bliss with this woman.

Though I finished off the book, I was unable to attend the meeting where it was discussed.  I’m guessing, however, that the nature of longing was addressed at length. From where does the desire for relationship, romantic or otherwise, come? I love the answer posed by the well-known author and scholar, C.S. Lewis. He believed the experience of longing or desire to be an internal signpost pointing us towards the God of the Christian faith. Lewis’ conclusion necessitates a belief in a relational God, and indeed, the entirety of biblical scripture is a drama of relationship lost and restored.

The story begins in a Garden where people walk and talk with the One who fashioned them to interact with Himself. But love cannot be forced. So He allows them to supplant relationship with their own ephemeral pursuits.  Man asserts his volition, then furtively loiters among the flora and fauna  where he used to stride in peace and confidence. Ultimately, the story ends in a City where the connectivity between God and man is reestablished, unimpeded by the sinfulness that made a mess of things in between.

Of course between the beginning and the end, there is a lot of hope and longing for the Messiah, or Christ, who would repair the rift between an unholy people and a holy God. In the meantime, humans try to commune with God in their own sin-handicapped sort of way. Catching glimpses of the divine and longing for more.

People like Job, who in while in great suffering declared, “I know my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth…I myself will see him with my own eyes — I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25, 27)

The warrior-poet, David, crafted the verse recorded as Psalm 27:4 saying, or perhaps more likely singing, “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.”

Nevertheless, when Christ finally appeared, he had to remind people who were caught up in rules that the first and foremost rule was one of relationship: to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And that when you love God indeed, you will desire to live life within the parameters of that relationship.

Now it’s one thing to love God; he is perfect in beauty, grandeur, justice, and mercy. He is worthy of longing. But what is more amazing is that He longs for us.

At the end of the biblical narrative, humans once again dwell with their Maker.  The reunion is described as a wedding, with Christ being the bridegroom and his followers throughout all time collectively being called his bride.  Why the use of a bride-groom metaphor rather than a husband-wife metaphor? They would seem to be parallel, but there is a clear distinction. Anticipation. God himself eagerly awaits this divine consummation, revealing that “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” (Isaiah 62:5)

Love divine, all loves excelling,
joy of heaven, to earth come down;
fix in us thy humble dwelling;
all thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus thou art all compassion,
pure, unbounded love thou art;
visit us with thy salvation;
enter every trembling heart.*

In Christ we find a bridegroom who waits for his bride, with even a more perfect expectancy than that of the fictitious Florintino Ariza.

*From “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” by Charles Wesley, 1747.

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

trackLeave your own tracks…The biblical story is concisely summarized in the lyrics of “In the Squalor of a Borrowed Stable” by Stuart Townend, who specifically references the biblical Bride and Her Lover. There are several arrangements of this song that you may want to explore.

Capturing Wisdom

What if you were charged with the task of defining the word “wisdom”?  Really.
Take a moment and think about it…

All the nuances of this term are difficult to capture, at least in a concise way.

  • How is wisdom different than intelligence?
  • What is the role of life experience in the acquisition of wisdom?
  • How is wisdom accessed, and what does it look like when actualized?

Some abstract concepts connote so much meaning that words do not suffice to describe them.  So the Creator gets creative once again, painting pictures with words penned by Solomon.  Together, words and images coalesce to activate the mind, imagination, and experiences of the learner.

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An attempt to capture the concept of Wisdom while reading Proverbs 3:13-20…

Proverbs 3:13-20 (NIV)
13Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding,
14 for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold.
15 She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her.
16 Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.
17 Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace.
18 She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her fast will be blessed.
19 By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the
heavens in place;

20 by his knowledge the watery depths were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew.

Wisdom is nothing if not implemented.  It is never just an idea or philosophy in isolation. “Wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”  (Matthew 11:19)  Wisdom must be acted out by a living agent, so perhaps this is why the literary technique of personification is employed.  And we find that wisdom is to be desired, but not as a purely intellectual pursuit.  More than that, it’s aesthetically pleasing, it’s relationally soothing, it’s physically nourishing.  And even more, we find that it’s the powerful force by which the foundations of the earth were forged.

Who may wield such a powerful force?  Despite its experiential nature, we find that wisdom is not always gained through the accumulation of years.  Nor disseminated through the abundance of words.  Just ask Job.  If you read his story, you find that his aged (and perhaps well-meaning) friends were less than impressive in their attempts to help.  The younger Elihu finally intervened, demonstrating that sometimes wisdom must take initiative — sometimes it must confront.  By it’s very nature, wisdom must somehow be expressed.

Job 32:6-22

So Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite said: “I am young in years, and you are old; that is why I was fearful, not daring to tell you what I know. I thought, ‘Age should speak; advanced years should teach wisdom.’ But it is the spirit[b] in a person, the breath of the Almighty, that gives them understanding. It is not only the old[c] who are wise, not only the aged who understand what is right.

10 “Therefore I say: Listen to me; I too will tell you what I know. 11 I waited while you spoke, I listened to your reasoning; while you were searching for words, 12I gave you my full attention. But not one of you has proved Job wrong; none of you has answered his arguments. 13 Do not say, ‘We have found wisdom; let God, not a man, refute him.’ 14 But Job has not marshaled his words against me, and I will not answer him with your arguments.

15 “They are dismayed and have no more to say; words have failed them. 16 Must I wait, now that they are silent, now that they stand there with no reply? 17 I too will have my say; I too will tell what I know. 18 For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me; 19 inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst. 20 I must speak and find relief; I must open my lips and reply. 21 I will show no partiality, nor will I flatter anyone; 22 for if I were skilled in flattery, my Maker would soon take me away.

Wisdom that remains in the abstract is not wisdom at all.  Maybe we can learn something about its nature, even as we experience it vicariously through imagery.  The best thing about wisdom, however, is that it can be granted upon request as the Spirit of God is infused into its bearer.  (James 1:4-5)

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.*

*From “Be Thou My Vision.” Words: At­trib­ut­ed to Dal­lan For­gaill, 8th Cen­tu­ry (Rob tu mo bhoile, a Com­di cri­de); trans­lat­ed from an­cient Ir­ish to Eng­lish by Ma­ry E. Byrne, in “Eriú,” Jour­nal of the School of Ir­ish Learn­ing, 1905, and versed by El­ea­nor H. Hull, 1912, alt.

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

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Favored in a Fallen World

Archangel_Gabriel“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Luke 1:28

Such a warm pronouncement, yet Mary was “greatly troubled…and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.” (Luke 1:29)  She had been chosen to bear the long-awaited Messiah — a great honor for certain!  And those moved by the Spirit knew it.  Upon seeing Jesus in the temple courts, Simeon praised God for the appearance of a Light that would let those who would see it find their way out of darkness. He then gave Mary a blessing somewhat curious to our ears, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.  And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:35)  Mary was going to experience the bittersweetness of being favored in a fallen world.

So began Mary’s special blessing, but also an onslaught of trials:

  • Her reputation was questioned due to Jesus’ supernatural conception.
  • She endured travel to Bethlehem on a donkey late in her pregnancy.
  • She surely grieved the deaths of the 300 other children born in Bethlehem as Herod sought to kill hers.
  • Her new family was soon displaced after the birth as they fled to Egypt.
  • Her son’s ministry was controversial among the religious leaders of Israel (as Simeon predicted), as well as within her own household.
  • She eventually watched her son be unjustly and cruelly executed.

But  joys, victories, and wondrous miracles were interspersed among these sorrows.  Bittersweet is an apt term to describe the outpouring of Mary’s favor, for her blessings ran counter to the nature of the fallen world around her.  In fact, both “bitter” and “sweet” are terms used to describe the hard prophetic messages given to the prophets Ezekiel and John.  Being commissioned by the God of the universe to deliver a message is certainly both glorious and sweet, but the delivery of the message to a hostile audience can be, well, bitter.  And Jesus’ life bore out the fullness of this reality.

The transcendent, divine love of God and the woe-filled sinfulness of the present age are beautifully juxtaposed in song:

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet?
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?*

Just as Mary knew Christ in his sufferings, however, she also knew him in the glory of his resurrection from the dead.  And, perhaps it was even the bitterness of circumstance that maintained her sweetness.  Much like Paul who found that thorns brought with them humility and a reliance on the grace of God, and his weaknesses showcased the power of Christ.

What bitterness compares to the sweetness of having known and been known, loved and been loved, by the God and Creator of the universe?

*From “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” by Isaac Watts.

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

trackLeave your own tracks…Make a comment or contact me at thelyoness@literatelyoness.com. Also take a look at Star of Bethlehem Documentary 2007 – Rick Larson on YouTube.