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The Christian History of a Thing Called a “Book”

December 5, 2015
'Book of Books' Exhibition Opens In Jerusalem

An original handwritten Facsimilia of Khabouris Codex complete New Testament in Syriac from the 11th century (Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

I take delight in books. I even married a librarian. If we ever move I think the foundation of our house will rise when we box up the books. This format, where leafs (or pages) are bound on one side, was propagated by early Christians. Prior to that scrolls were the common choice for documents. Sacred texts like the Old Testament were a collection of scrolls kept in urns. The Jewish community continued using scrolls. And even to this day they are used in the synagogue liturgical readings. But the codex (the early concept of what we call books) was an innovation used extensively by the early church and became so popular that the use of scrolls in the secular world followed suit.

muse_reading_louvre_ca2220_cropped1One question we should have with the above information is, “Why?” I mean the Romans used scrolls. So did the Greeks, the Arabs, and the Jews. All religious writings in Europe, Western Asia, and the Middle East used scrolls excluding the Early Church. This made us very unique, “people of the book.” One prominent reason was the study of the Old Testament.

The Advent Season reminds us that Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy. The sermons of Peter and Paul in Acts all cite the Hebrew Bible concerning the Messiah. The Gospel was foretold throughout the Old Testament. These scriptures are the foundation of the New Testament and its theology. Just think, 1,071 verses of Matthew are quotes and passing references to the Old Testament. 1 Peter, Jude, and Hebrews individually are about 69% from the Hebrew Bible. Roughly 2,600 of the 8,000 verses of the NT are from the OT with 343 direct quotes of passages and 2,309 paraphrases.

In order to facilitate the reading and understanding of the Gospels and Letters of the New Testament it was helpful to place the pages in a stack so one could flip back and forth to the Old Testament references in the same binding. Often the allusion or quote was meant to express a larger context than just the verse mentioned. IMG_1992.JPGA scroll was cumbersome to unravel in order to find a passage and had no easy way to save your place as you rolled over the original passage. Thus, a book was created so Jews (who knew their Scriptures could then verify the Gospel), and Gentiles (who were not so familiar) could keep their finger in the New and look up the source in the Old.

Every time I look at a book I think of the ingenuity of the Early Church creating an easier way to get the most from one’s devotionals. 004580_w185I’m also reminded that our faith is a reasoned one based on thousands of years of prophetic literature. The Old is important in amplifying the New. Paul used a “Soul-Winner’s Old Testament” to evangelize; could we? Let us embrace the Christian history behind “the book.” And let us use it as intended by Paul who exhorts us to read, “The full councel of God.”

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The Lasting Name

July 4, 2015

Fifty-six commoners signed the Declaration of Independence in the summer of 1776. These gentlemen knowingly placed their lives in harm’s way by simply making their mark. It is said that after the signing the President of Congress, John Hancock, bemused that they, “All hang together” to which Benjamin Franklin retorted, Or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

Of these men five became POWs, twelve had their homes looted, two lost sons in the war, and nine took up arms. They were lawyers, merchants, and farmers who pledged, “their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.” Their common names became noble.

Fourscore and seven years later President Abraham Lincoln acknowledged the ground consecrated by the sacrifice of citizen soldiers who held Gettysburg during the week of July 4th, 1863. Though the names of the 7,863 who died are not all known a trend began to commemorate soldier’s names from Generals to privates. Prior to the mid-19th century only the names of great military leaders where kept. All soldiers were unknown soldiers. Henceforth casualties of every rank were engraved on monuments from town squares to Washington, D.C. And even the unidentified are memorialized at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They are named; their loss is reverently noted. From the Great War, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and the War on Terror we honor them by name.

As evil again rises in the East we see a new brutal trend. Untold numbers of Christians and non-Muslim secularists are perishing at the whim of Islamic terrorists. Nameless men are in orange attire are beheaded for their faith. These proud men silently and unwaveringly tender their lives for their Lord. No gravestone bears their name. No monument erected. Not even a parchment contains their John Hancock. And yet their anonymous sacrifice speaks loudly of the Name for whom they died. The thing is, their name may not be known and immortalized on this earth but their name is written in the imperishable Lamb’s Book of Life. Parchments will fade and stones will weather but the most important document known to any human is in the hand of the Divine.

Independence is willing to stake your name against the tide of this secular world. Christians must unite under the Name by whom we are identified. Declaring our allegiance to that name may forfeit ours in this world. We owe it to those who gave their lives for our freedom to put ours on the line. As Lincoln said, “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”

Christian Ethics in the Ancient Marketplace

April 2, 2015

There has been much dialogue as of late concerning the rights and privileges of individuals to receive products and services without undo discrimination and the right for businesses to withhold products and services with warranted concern on the usage of said merchandise. It contorts the adage, “the customer is always right.”

We are not always in control of how our products are used and any crafty person would know that Pinterest offers a wide variety of DIY projects repurposing things clearly intended for an entirely other use. Nor are we in control of who may have been used in the process of a product we receive and wether or not all those involved share our standards and beliefs.

There is also a protocol of discrimination not based on ethics as much as courtesy often found in the signs posted on storefront doors requiring the patrons to don shirts and shoes. It is found in the wallets of those behind the wheel who have passed the requirements to reduce the amount of risk and recklessness on the roads. Banks discriminate how much they will lend and at what percentage due to the assets and liabilities of their clients. Et cetera.

Currently some businesses in America are under attack because their personal convictions dictate their discriminations of those receiving their goods and services. We are outraged on both sides of the argument because those who are being judged as unacceptable for certain products and those who are being judged as too discriminatory in their practices.

Let us think of this from a time period where the Christian businessman was a minority. Let us ponder their response on the other side of the coin.

In the ancient heathen world much of society was not atheist but polytheistic. And much of the political and social world revolved around pagan worship and festivals. Imagine the most lucrative job options at the time. The money was in temples and the politicians knew they could take advantage of this as a profitable tax option with little backlash from the loyal temple worshippers. Government grants and private monies funded elaborate temple construction and on going uses. Perfumers, tailors, masons, oil makers and small flock herdsmen could find ample work and a steady income to supply incense, vestments, construction, lighting and sacrificial animals.

A tailor for a priest would have a tedious but well paid job in vestment work over the simple frocks for peasants. You may buy your wife a small vile of fragrance, but the temple would buy it by the vat. You could build a toll booth and be done in a week or work on a massive temple and be employed for years.

So you are a perfumer, tailor, mason, oil maker, or herdsman for instance. You become a follow of Jesus the Son of God and believe in the One True God and Father Almighty. Maybe you are a most talented tailor and have previously been employed to make luxurious garments for the temple staff. Now what are you to do? You belong to the local mason guild (the ancient union) and are contracted to build a temple to a pagan god. What if you refuse and lose your license? There is no social welfare programs and your family survives on your choices. There are not secular choices that are not sacred at the same time.

How many honorable people left their professions for the greater glory of following their Lord, Jesus? How many were scorned for their odd choice to only worship one god? How many had to take lower paying opportunities and immediate change in their revenues from loss of clientele and the chain reaction of other lost opportunities because all of a sudden you became a nice guy that was too hard to work with.

Socially, you couldn’t go to a wedding of a family member because it was in the temple or the banquet was in the temple with meat sacrificed to that god. How do you save face among friends and family? If you want to have a public gathering you cannot rent the local hall or attend college enrichment courses in your trade because the only halls for that were in temple complexes and the dues and anything used in the facility went to their coffers. The local gym was off limits and so was much of the available public entertainment.

To be a Christian was a lonely enterprise. Today we speak of such a small discrimination in comparison to our early brethren. To take a stand with convictions demands perseverance. Those who were on the fringes became center stage. But now it seems the bottom of the wheel is making its way to the top. Remember the revolution of life and in it find compassion and conviction using discrimination wisely even if you find discrimination used against you wickedly.

Living Leviticus Podcast

March 15, 2014

 

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I am excited to bring you a new podcast named Living Leviticus (available on iTunes and at the RSS Feed). Leviticus is one of my personal favorite books of the Bible but often gets short shrift by many preachers Sunday mornings. I mean, how can sacrifice and God’s killing of priests while serving in the Temple and prohibitions on poly-blend garments and bacon good for the modern church? Well, that’s exactly what I want to talk about!

This biblical book is a boon of theology concerning how to live out holiness in all aspects of one’s life from the sanctuary, under the sheets, on the streets and at supper. This book is the first one digested by young Jewish minds on purpose. Often people ask where to start reading in the Bible when they become new Christians and I always suggest staying away from Genesis. People like to start at the beginning, but the beginning is all about family fighting, rape, genocide, faithlessness, conniving and the like. Instead of learning about the ways of mankind, let us begin with how to show love, respect and honor to the God to whom you now want to serve with all your heart. The book of Leviticus is the book of the Bible that highlights what God likes in the way of worship and what he expects of his children in living their life before others and with others in the world.

I encourage you to join me on this journey of faith and holiness as we read an ancient books with vast implications for the modern reader. Each podcast will be approximately 10 minutes long. I look forward to this journey through the text and hope you do as well.

Feel free to email any comments of questions you may have or topics in Leviticus you may like to be go deeper on. And sincerely, thank you for listening.

The 3 Venue Church

February 6, 2014

I believe that Christ and the Early Church set a great example of how worship should look like for the modern church. Many streams of thought in the post-modern era have focused on music, architecture and church ambiance. Some churches are about music, some focus on doing away with pews in order to facilitate a coffee house atmosphere. Many new churches are built without the traditional symbols of sanctuary and creating auditoriums with stages without many liturgical furnishings. The issue we face in honorable worship is the need to cover three needs: a sense of community and fellowship, a reverent God-centered act of divine reconciliation, and biblical teaching. Most churches try to bring all three under one roof for 90 minutes a week. While the intentions are well and good I am not sure that tweaking one building for one service will fulfill the problem that a fully faceted worship requires. I think that there are three types of church meeting venues in the Early Church and thus, three separate styles at play which combine all the aspects of traditional church and post-modern desire for intimate fellowship but in separate veins without distorting either one. These venues were Temple, Synagogue and House. (more…)

The Embodied Soul in danger to the Agnostic Science & Physician

January 20, 2014

This Sunday celebrates the Sanctity of Life. Sanctity means that life is a God given gift. But modern pragmatism and the rise of natural sciences over philosophy and theology means that there are some endangered human lives. Let me give a quick overview of the issue.

Life is the dual parts of body and soul. The modern agnostic scientist or physician says we are a body with a soul whereas the theologian says we are an embodied soul. These two starting points effect the value of a human life.

Our Greco-Roman culture elevates the body. You are valuable because you contribute, produce or achieve. Science proclaims that the strong survive; the weak are culled from the herd. Our children learn it passively from shows like Thomas & Friends who are reminded to be “useful little engines” or be scrapped. We become “human doings” rather than “human beings.”

It pervades the understanding of God. We fixate on what he does; his attributes of power (omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, etc).

In contrast the Bible begins with the soul. The lifeless body receives the in-breathed spirit. And Exodus 34:5-7 describes God by his character (merciful, slow to anger, faithful, judicious, etc.).

If we begin with the body then we only utilize the soul and its passions to drive our physical pursuits. But what happens when the body can no longer functions well, when the career no longer defines you, or your body reaches its peak and then declines? It is then useless? The pragmatist says it should be eliminated.

This leads me back to the three categories of endangered human beings: the unborn and infant, the disabled or infirm, and the elderly. Why? Because they do not contribute to society from the perspective of the body. We see their plight through abortion, neglect, institutionalism and euthanasia. But their spirit teaches us the virtues of life thus we should use the body to invigorate the soul and give us meaning.

From the young we learn of the miracle of choice; God wants you, loves you, is invested in you and desires to offer you a meaningful life. From the mouths of babes and their wonderment we see love manifest.

From the disabled and infirm we receive the gifts of faith through perseverance and resilience. They remind us character is greater than any physical limitation.

And in the aged we see hope as they ruminate on their life and look for their eternal rest. Though their bodies cannot contribute as effectively to the community, their character speaks volumes to the embodied soul. Where there physical dimension is weak, they teach us that its what’s inside that counts; the body is only the mechanism they use to convey it.

You are valuable, not by what you do but by who and whose you are. And we have no right to deprive you of this life or the lessons you can teach us. We determine to promote the Sanctity of Life.

Gospel of John Podcast Begins

November 30, 2013

Devotional Bible StudyNow available, a podcast that coincides with Franklin Alliance Church’s Wednesday Night Bible Study. These 10 minute devotionals will begin with a study through the Gospel According to John.

Check out the first installment on the metaphors of Jesus. See how Jesus is the exegete of God the Father.

These audio podcasts are designed to be theological in nature but also include uplifting practical take-aways. Follow us each week as week unpack the Gospel of John.

You can find us here. Or you can look up Devotional Bible Study in iTunes.

Reevaluating Church Success

October 5, 2013

For the first time in 21 years the Pittsburgh Pirates are in the playoffs. Success! Well, maybe. Success is relative. This is considered a winning season because the Pirates won 58% of their games. Now, if they were in school their report card would have been an F. Good thing its just a game, right?

I want to talk about our definition of success. We often have lofty goals and expectations for ourselves, and our churches. But do we expect too much? When it comes to sports, a little accomplishment goes a long way. A winning season is just barely a winning season. They by no means dominated baseball with 94 wins and 68 losses. The chances that you watched them win at home this year were about 63%. I mean, if there was a 63% chance of rain you might think twice about a picnic!

How about the players? Andrew McCutchen is their best batter and he is lucky if he gets a hit three out of 10 times at bat. He fails a little over seven times out of 10. This year he batted 583 times. One hundred and one times he struck out and 21 times he homered. Their best pitcher, A.J. Burnett, has lost 11 games and only won 10 and for that he makes $82 million over 5 years! Ok, enough statistics, I think you get my point: success is relative.

That brings me back to our expectations. People expect a high degree of “success” in their church. The pastor better have a lot of strike-outs from the preachers-mound, the worship team ought to have a home run with every song. And the cost of the tickets, err, I mean tithes and offerings, ought to be reasonable. And when the team is in a slump, I often see a migration of the fans, I mean congregants, to other perceived winning teams.

I think we need to redefine a church-win. If it’s evangelism success lets think of Isaiah. He was told success would be people who, “hear but don’t understand; see but don’t perceive.” (Isaiah 6:9)  Maybe success is membership? Well, Jesus started with 12 disciples. By the resurrection there were 11. He then appeared to over 500 but ten days after his ascension only 120 people were awaiting his promised gift at Pentecost.

Church success takes teamwork. And church success often resembles the averages of baseball teams. So don’t neglect your team. The Pirates previously lacked success because they consistently lost their best players to other teams. So stick to your team. Henry Ford said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”

Additionally, stay focused and constant even with bad averages. Nine players win a ballgame; a dozen apostles changed the world. What can your small team accomplish for Christ? Stick with your team-church, encourage your leaders, keep to the vision God has given for the team, obey His Word and you will find godly success.

Pink – the Old Blue

February 10, 2012

When my wife and I were expecting I enjoyed torturing my mother on whether we would be having a girl or a boy. She threatened to camp out at Babies-R-Us® when my wife was to begin labor so that she would be able to buy the correctly colored clothing. I suggested that green was also lovely and that my father’s favorite color is lavender (also reminding my mother that she liked blue), but to no avail. A baby must be outfitted in the appropriate color scheme. And, when friends of ours who were expecting a girl were surprised with a precious boy instead, many a joke was said hoping the newborn liked pink.

Why is there a distinction between pink for girls and blue for boys? I was surprised to find out that for many decades the opposite was true: blue was for girls and pink was for boys! Some scholars inferred that the manliness of red was applied to baby boys in pastel and light colored hues. Whereas blue was the color of little girls in remembrance of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. Then, of course, as it goes with fashion, “one day you’re in, the next you are out” and the trend was reversed.

Another interesting discovery in children’s clothing was made when going through the old family pictures after my grandmother died. She had pictures of babies and toddlers clothed in long white gowns. In previous generations the sex of children was not distinguished by color coding, or even by pants and skirts in the very young. Children instead were distinguished from adults.

I wonder if there is something of importance here for us today. We are so quick to differentiate and segregate ourselves into male and female but it has affected the boundary of adult and child. Parents now are less adult and more peer to their kids. Modern clothing perpetuates this. It is oddly difficult to find a one-piece bathing suit for my four-year-old. Why is that? Why does a preschooler need a bikini? Why do we have Baby Gap® and other mature clothing lines marketed to our young kids? Why are we trying to grow our children up so fast and make them look like a miniature adult? Do not misunderstand my point by what I am not saying. I am still suggesting that a boy is male and a girl is female and they should comprehend that male and female are different. But I am concerned of the overactive effort to mature our children too quickly. Allow their innocence to flourish. Do not allow your teen to influence your buying habits. Be a conscientiously righteous parent. By dressing them like ourselves we should not dismantle the distinction between adult and child; between parent and offspring. Whether pink, blue or white gowns, let us allow children to be free to stay young and innocent and yet keep the distinction between parent and child for their steady and honorable maturation.

Puddle Perspectives

October 22, 2011

Children sometimes view the world from a much different perspective. Take puddles for example. As an adult when I encounter a puddle my first two instincts are to either 1) find a manageable way around it or 2) to tread lightly through the water (if no way of escape is possible). Furthermore, as a parent, when I encounter a puddle while in the company of my children I desire that they too find an alternative route in order that we all might stay clean. However my children have an entirely different perspective: puddles are prospective fun. What I want to avoid they want to jump into. I see a mess; they see bliss.

Bliss… Change the one vowel and now it spells “bless.” I wonder if puddles can be perceived blessings. To me they seem more of a nusance that can cause clammy discomfort, stains, and laundering. I cannot see what it so fancinating with a small pool of cold and dirty water on the sidewalk. There is an obvious disconnect for myself and most adults (Gene Kelly excluded). My children (and most of the children I have observed) seem tickled to their core for an opportunity to splash about in a puddle. My daughters consider it pure joy when they encounter puddles of various kinds. And, after a delightful rain dance and their clothes drenched, they are simply happy. My daughters are not at all concerned by their appreance, nor the least bit uncomfortable with wet clothing. They have bliss. And they feel only blessed that I allowed them the opportunity to experience such joy.

This correlates to our Christian walk. The Christian life is to be one of joy. Jesus begins his great sermon with the Beatitudes (Luke 6:2-23). Some translations choose to translate the Greek word here as “happy” rather than “blessed” and justifiably so. Sadly some of us have distilled “blessed” into a religious expresson and in so doing removed happiness from its core. God has called us and in His first sermon He says we are called to be happy!

As anyone would tell you,  we all encounter various “puddles” on the Way of Life. It is not the puddle but our attitude that steals our joy. To be a Christian is to be a child of God and therefore the puddles should be viewed from their point-of-view. Notice the blessed puddles Jesus mentions. “Happy are you who are poor… who hunger now… who weep now… who are hated, excluded, insulted, rejected and called evil…” These puddles seem to be missing the bliss from our cultural perspective. How is hunger, sadness and rejection a good life? Ah, but from the perspective of a child of God, there is bliss in the puddles for which others fear to tread. We may dance in the rain of this world for we will reign with Him in the world to come. It is all in the perception. Suffering reminds us of what we truly value. Loss gives us the sense of value for what we had.

Join me in puddle jumping. Find the joy of the Christian way which does not skirt the potholes of life but enters into them and finds freedom where others may only see mess. Reexamine some of the difficult times you have experienced and see what valuable lessons, what new found friends, what encouragement, and what strengths were found in those episodes. Next time a puddle lays before you do not take the safe way around but jump in for therein lies a blessing.


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