Reflecting Resolution for the New Year

January 2, 2016

I don’t mean to brag but I am known for my brain power. When it comes to interesting biblical tidbits particularly in grammar, history, and culture I’m rather sharp. But when it comes to remembering personal life events or names and such things I suffer from Teflon-of-the-Brain; it just doesn’t stick.

Every Thanksgiving when I was growing up my mother had a tradition to encourage us to be grateful. She would take dried Indian corn kernels and divvy them up between the family members. We took turns sharing one memory at a time from the past year and placing the kernel in the dish. It was a lovely tradition. I hated it. I would furrow my brow all day thinking, reflecting, and trying to conjure up memories to share that evening at dinner, hoping mom had dropped a few kernels before they got to the table. It isn’t that I am not grateful, I just have a difficult time remembering.

The Psalms are filled with history lessons. Some are Laments where the writer remembers when God came to their aid in the past and look to God’s faithful help again. Others are Thanksgiving Psalms that recount the heroic deeds of God for his people that helped define a nation and a religion. Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” I’d adjust it to say, “a life without reflection wasn’t one.”

When we come to New Years it is good to reflect upon the past year recounting the blessings and losses, the trials and triumphs, both great and small. It is important to remember those moments where God felt close and those times he silently led us through shadow-covered valleys. But if you are like me sometimes it is hard to keep track of such things and the end of the year seems like just another revolution around thus sun – different year with the same view.

So, this year I’m going to try something new and thought I would share with any of you who may also suffer from Cranium Teflonitus. I’m not one for keeping a personal journal so I’m going to keep a jar with a pen and post-it note pad or maybe use the unused Reminders app on my phone. When something happens (be it a prayer answered, a personal moment of blessing or loss, etc.) I am going to jot down the date and brief description. Now I know I will not be good at keeping a daily resolution but my goal is a couple random notes a week and forcing myself to think of at least one from the past week every Sunday. Then come next December I’ll have hopefully 50-100 or so memories to read under the glow of the Christmas lights with my wife and children. And, if my mom brings those pesky corn kernels, I can impress her too. But mostly it’s for me to know that through gain and loss God was with me yesterday and will be again tomorrow.

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.”

Innovation needs Righteousness

November 7, 2015

I find it interesting that the Bible records two men named Lamech who have inspiring, imaginative, and innovative children. One son, Jabal, began the first communities and commerce by creating settlements and domesticating herds. His brother Jubal gave us culture by inventing musical instruments. Their other brother Tubal-cain gave us technology with the process for creating bronze. At the same time there was another Lamech whose son was a farmer. His only other description was that he was a righteous man. And only that son, Noah, was saved through the flood. I see the pattern reemerging with the new innovators and inspirational people disassociated with and ridiculing the righteous.

When Israel first became a nation their neighbors had far more advanced metallurgy. The Philistines had moved from bronze to iron unlike the Israelites. Only two people had these new and improved swords – King Saul and his son Jonathan. After David and his band of righteous men lived among the Philistines they were able to acquire the new smithing technology. David may have started with sling and stone but reigned with iron in his fist.

Technology and innovation are not bad but they are best used in tandem with righteousness. Did you know that hospitals in the West began because of Christians taking care of the discarded sick along the roads of the Roman Empire? The arts and culture appeared on the walls and ceilings, and in the music-filled halls of the churches before museums and theaters were created. New technology and the first major use of print media empowered the Reformation under people like Martin Luther and the printing press. Public education began in the 1780’s as an ecumenical movement to create what they dubbed Sunday Schools where children for the first time could learn reading, writing, arithmetic, and biblical comprehension no matter their economic status. Before foster care and nursing homes there were church-funded orphanages and convalescence homes. All of these were publically funded by generous donations and not underwritten by the government.

Some people say that the culture of America started to decline the moment prayer was taken out of school. I think it was earlier than that. It was when the church allowed all of these institutions to be run apart from the church. Our local schools are suffering because of an impasse on the state budget. Healthcare is extraordinarily expensive now that the government is managing it. Hospitals are ending chaplaincies. The red tape for honorable foster parents is both headache and heartache. The media even attacks Christians suggesting that just by being religious disqualifies one for even the office of the president.

Genesis reminds us that a nation filled with community, commerce, culture, and technology apart from God is no match for the Flood. I believe we are called to be innovators and simultaneously proclaim our righteousness through our work. Join me in reclaiming our part in the public to create a just society based firstly on Christian compassion.

Don’t Just Let the Rocks Cry Out

October 10, 2015

Recently two public displays of the Ten Commandments have been removed from the public square. One located in Connellsville, PA, the other in Oklahoma. Both were removed because the defendants would not justify the cost of the lawsuit, acquiescing to the better-funded minority voice. These are part of a larger trend to distance Judeo-Christian ethical influences on society.

The Decalogue expresses the central tenets of civility. It identifies the universal truths of the selfishness of mankind and provides the guidelines for a better society. The world needs to be reminded of dignity, courtesy, honor, and respect for all life.

The Commandments are not laws but they are the principle themes from which law is derived. Let me enumerate briefly the base values of civil law from a non-religious reading of these stones.

It begins with the principle of deference. Each person must not be self-serving. We must submit to an ideal beyond ourselves (for Christians that is the Trinitarian God). Where Maslow says our greatest need is self-actualization, we say a just society begins with self-sacrifice.

Idols are forbidden which speaks to the heart of how we bond in our society. We have a need to set up false securities, create propaganda, and feel the illusion of control. Idols are used to manipulate powers to work on our behalf. We must accept that we cannot control as much as we desire.

The overuse of the divine name causes devaluation. The proliferation of anything causes desensitization. Desensitizing increases apathy. The more we see the less it impacts us for change. Just take the 24-hour news cycle, or violent shows and games for examples.

Sabbath demands we value all our resources. It speaks of earthly ecology humane treatment of organisms and dignity towards all persons. It expects us to work, to be compensated and to not be enslaved.

Honor and respect of parents, elders, and leaders (who are most likely appointed over us rather than chosen by us) is another central tenet in need of reinforcement by our society.

The preservation of life in any known stage of development or regression is expressed in the term murder. It is the proactive stance to aid, sustain, and nourish persons whether family, friend, or foe.

Adultery and stealing cover the rights of an individual and their property from physical or psychological abuses.

Lying sets the fundamental principle of truth. And coveting says our problems are primarily internal mindsets over external actions. Greed allows us to read the facts in our own way and use a version of the truth to expedite our own agenda.

But now we cannot rely on these stones to persuade society. The stones have been rolled away. Good. Instead of relying on silent stones the Church must enter the public forums and proclaim them loudly by our belief in action. It is our responsibility. Don’t let the rocks cry out for us. Be the Church acting out our faith in the public forum to change, challenge, and christen the culture.

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.

God’s Use of Limitations

September 30, 2014

I’m in the middle on a horticultural experiment at my home. It might be more rightly called a lackadaisical attitude concerning gardening. I like plants; I don’t like tending them. I’m not sure I’d even dust silk ones. If an inventor created affordable, authentic looking, dust repelling, fade resisting plant replicas then I would probably buy them. But I digress. Outside my back porch railing is a wild rose bush. I allow it to grow, wildly that is. The growth of this rosy beast is impressive as it weaves onto the lattice of my porch railing. One of the great stalks has split into a beautiful three headed green dragon-esque shoot worthy of being cast in the next DreamWorks animation. The weather has been great for growing these mighty tendrils. However, these leafy verdantly vibrant vines are missing a critical element: rose buds. In its effort to reach the second story of our porch it exhausted its resources on infrastructure having nothing left for the beautification. And therein lies my proverb, “limitation allows one to flourish.” The not-so-secret art of rose tending is to prune. I think the not-so-secret art of life is quite similar. we speak of God and his attributes we undoubtedly begin with his immeasurable qualities: omnipotent, omnipresent, eternal. But in the Bible God often reveals himself through his work of limitation and boundaries. The creation fiat is basically God’s imposition of limits. Eternity now includes time. Time is measured by day and night. The earth is the epitome of boundaries with firmament, land and sea. Before the creation of the things populating the earth God begins with the rules and the boundaries. In order for all things to flourish in symbiosis boundaries and limits must be imposed.

And God continues to use limit as a way of expression for himself and of his followers. God often appears veiled in clouds. The ultimate appearing of the all-powerful deity is within the limitations of our human frailty as Jesus. And for us his followers the imposition of limitation is the very gateway to our destination in a closer walk with God. Don’t eat of the tree of knowledge. Don’t work every day. Live within moral, ethical, and spiritual boundaries. The very word “holy” simply means “to set apart” or more directly, “be different” and God declares, “be holy as I am holy.”

Have you ever thought of the power of limits in one’s ability to flourish? Procrastination reminds us we have a deadline. The patient given terminal news makes the most of the days left. God asks us to prune in order that we flourish. The farmer limits a field to one crop for a better harvest. My neighbors do not admire my thorny bud-less vines. So maybe it’s time to recognize the God who beautifies within boundaries. Monogamy, work/Sabbath, extracurricular activities, media, clutter, etc. Live vibrantly in moderation. So then, where is God asking you to prune and in so doing find yourself full?

Why the Trinity Matters

July 19, 2014

Trinity     The crown of Christian theology is the Trinity. Being trinitarian matters. We Christians are not shaped by our worldview, morals, and geopolitical leanings rather these are shaped by our God-view. The Trinity matters. Sadly this doctrine is not often well articulated by the common Christian or applied to why and how we live. Let me briefly explain why the Trinity matters and how this doctrine influences us in two ways.
     Trinity does not mean multiple deities. God cannot be omnipotent if there is more than one; that would make him some-powerful and who wants to worship someone who is only influential in some areas? Read the rest of this entry »

His Cost on Passover, Our Cost on Pentecost

June 8, 2014

Today is Pentecost Sunday the 50th day after Easter/Passover. One of the first holidays from the Bible “Shavuoth” (in Hebrew) is translated “week” (literally, “a period of sevens”). That is why many modern translations call this holiday the Feast of Weeks.

9001951_origThe root, Shava, is translated as both “seven” and “oath.” Shavuoth fits both definitions. Firstly, it is the day after the seventh week after Passover, thus on the 50th day (Pentecost in Greek). Secondly, it is the day they swore an oath to learn and obey the Torah they had presently received at Mount Sinai. Read the rest of this entry »

Insight from a Pastor’s Installation

March 24, 2014

A very close friend of mine with a great deal of pastoral experience has recently come out of retirement. I am delighted for him and the congregation he has been called to serve in Christ. May they all be blessed in our Lord’s grace and mercy. I am also glad to see him back in the role of Pastor, for I know he is like me and will not “really” retire because this is a vocation, not a job in the strictest sense.

Rev. Truffin's Installation Service

Rev. Truffin’s Installation Service

He took a picture at his installation service (which I am using without permission! Ha – love Facebook) of the communion table decorated for the occasion. Now, usually I am not one for a decorated communion – I don’t want to detract from the meaning of the table or confuse people with the words underneath the decorations, but on this day I make an exception. I feel that this table is a great representation of the pastoral calling. And so I dedicate this post to my dear friend, Rev. Terry, since I could not attend the installation service.

The table with the words “This Do In Remembrance Of Me” contains the symbols of our high calling in Christ Jesus. Read the rest of this entry »

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