Love

Sheri Morris died of a disease that crippled her so severely that in the last 5 years of her life, she could not do for herself. She could breathe, but she could not speak, or walk, or feed herself. She yawned incessantly, and every time she did, her jaw would lock, freezing her mouth in a permanent yawn. She was totally incapacitated. Everything had to be done for her.
Dan Morris, her husband, married her knowing she had Friedreich’s Ataxia, a disease that causes progressive damage to the nervous system (Wikipedia). But he could not resist his attraction to one of the sweetest and most innocent young women he had ever met.
Dan and Sheri were close friends of my family, so we saw the slow but steady decline in her ability to stand, or walk, or talk. On several occasions, I was invited to stay with them in their home. I watched Dan care for Sheri’s every need. He would feed her, wash her, massage her feet, comb out her long brown hair, talk to her, joke with her, and unlock her jaw dozens of times every day and night.
Dan worked from home when Sheri could no longer be left alone. And when he went anywhere, he would load her up in a wheel chair. Sheri was not a heavy built woman by any means, but she was not tiny. Dan would lift her from her hospital bed located in their front room and place her in a wheel chair. He would lift her again and secure her in the car. She went everywhere he went. Dan is a preacher. On Sundays, while he was preaching or teaching, several of the good sisters at the Galt Church of Christ would tend to her.
Dan remembers Sheri asking, “Are you my husband?” and feeling very alone at night, waking occasionally, to unlock Sheri’s jaw. He also remembers asking the perennial and very human question, “Why?”
Dan cared for her till the very end.
* * * * *
Genuine love, according to the Bible and centuries of Western thought, is characterized as benevolent. Love is motivated by a desire to do what is in another person’s best interest without being poisoned by ulterior motives. Shakespeare argues that even when the one loved may have changed (even for the worse) your desire to do what is in their best interest remains on course. “Love is not love/Which alters when it alteration finds,” and “It is an ever-fixed mark/That looks on tempests and is never shaken;/It is the star to every wandering bark…” (Shakespeare, Sonnet 116). Genuine love is also characterized by the desire to be with the beloved.

When I think of love as defined by the Bible in passages like 1 Corinthians 13, I think, first and foremost, of Jesus of Nazareth and the love God commended toward us while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:8). But I also think of Dan and others like him who have acted out the very meaning of love.
Dan still preaches in Galt, CA and is married to a sweet and supportive wife, Bethel. They have a son named “Morro”. The Lord continues blessing his latter days. Thank you Dan.


What is the Time?

Someone once compared the way people read the Bible with three kinds of home plate umpires. One kind of umpire calls them the way he sees them. Another sees them the way he calls them. And a third kind calls them the way they are. Some people interpret the Bible the way they see it. Another Bible reader reads it the way they call it. And a third kind interprets it the way it is. I have met Bible readers from all three camps. I have probably spent some time in each camp myself, truth be told.

The first two ways of reading the Bible are highly subjective. The first way begins and ends with me. Everything, including reading the Bible, is interpreted through my own set of lenses. The second way of reading the Bible begins and ends with the self also. The problem with this kind of reader is that reading the Bible is always done through their own preconceived interpretive lenses. Reading the Bible changes nothing for this kind of reader. They are not transformed by the word, the word is transformed by them.

The difference between the first two ways of reading the Bible and the third is this: while all three may begin with where we are at the time we begin reading the Bible, the third way leads us out of our prejudices and preconceived notions to see life the way it really is. (Another challenge we face is believing we are reading the Bible the way it is written while all along calling it the way we see it or seeing it the way we call it.)
I hope you are persuaded that the third way of reading the Bible is the way to be sought. The writers of Scripture, moved by the Spirit of God, wrote with intention, and our role as readers is to discover what that intention was and is for today.

I recently picked up a book written by Graham Greene titled, “The Tenth Man.” The setting is wartime occupied France. Ten men have been taken hostage by the Germans and placed in a Gestapo prison. The first chapter centers on scarcity of clocks and watches owned by the prisoners. All but one of these time pieces have been confiscated. One of the prisoners, a lawyer, asks the owner of the only watch, “What is the time?” The mayor answers, “Twenty-five minutes past five.” The lawyer says, “I had imagined it was later.” The mayor responds sharply, “That is my time.” Graham Greene writes, “It was indeed his time: from now on he couldn’t recognize even the faintest possibility of error—his time could not be wrong because he had invented it.”

Having read the Bible for the past 35 years, I have discovered that understanding the Bible is a lifetime pursuit. It is not something I have been able to do without great effort. We should all begin by reading the Bible immediately, and should continue doing so routinely throughout our life. Along the way various prejudices, misunderstandings, and misinterpretations, etc. will be exposed. The very reason they can be exposed is because the truth it reveals is objective.


A Different Light


Figure by Pegaso Miniatures, Painted by Andrea Terzolo

I paint historical miniature figures. I decided to take one to my mentor for critique. Satisfied with what I had done so far, I took the figure to my car. Between the house and the car I put my glasses on to see what it looked like in the bright light of the sun. Words escape describing how disappointed I was. It looked absolutely horrible. I was shocked. I had trouble accounting for the difference in appearance until I recalled all the literature I had read on lighting.

How could different kinds of light make the same thing appear so many different ways? Could light be that important?

In the light of my mentor’s shop, it looked great again. He was very complementary. When I told him what I had experienced he just laughed it off. He told me that competitive painters usually try to paint their figures in the same light by which the figure will be judged in competition.

Things look different under different kinds of light. We have two lamps in our bedroom. They both give off different kinds of light. That’s because two different kinds of bulbs are in those lamps. I never noticed the difference before, but I see it now. It never mattered before. It matters now.

So, under what kind of light should you paint? The answer varies from painter to painter. But if you are entering a competition, you had best paint your figure under the same kind of light it will be judged under.

Our lives are like the miniatures I paint. Under one light, the light of the world say, we may look very respectable, but under the light that comes from the Lord, we may look very different. Then again, if we shape our life by the light of the Word of God, we may look very different when assessed by the world’s light, or lack thereof.

The Scriptures, in particular John’s Gospel, do not contrast different kinds of light. The contrast there is between light and no light, or darkness (e.g. John 1:1-5; 12:35, 36). The world abides in darkness. The source of light is God and His Son. Jesus Christ is the light of the world (Jn. 8:12).

My point is this: while there are different kinds light that produce varying results, there is only one light by which we will be judged. It is under that light we must view, weigh, and assess our lives because it is by that light our lives will be judged (Jn 12:48).


The DaVinci Code: Just a Novel?

Some have unknowingly brushed aside the ramifications of “The DaVinci Code” by saying things like, “Even Dan Brown admits it is just a work of fiction!” But that is where they are wrong. Dan Brown does not admit that his book is “just a work of fiction.”

In an interview conducted on the Today Show, Matt Lauer asked Mr. Brown the question, “How much of this is based on reality in terms of things that actually occurred? I know you did a lot of research for the book.” To which Mr. Brown replied, “Absolutely all of it. Obviously, there are–Robert Langdon is fictional, but all of the art, architecture, secret rituals, secret societies, all of that is historical fact.”

If it were strictly a work of fiction, it could be used hypothetically to help believers consider what such an alternative approach to history would imply concerning their very lives (see 1 Cor. 15:12-19). After summarizing the book, we could entertain questions like, “If such were true, what would this make of the story told in the New Testament?” and “What difference does it make?”

T. S. Eiot observed, concerning works of fiction, that people have a tendency to let their guard down precisely because what they are reading is considered “fiction.”

N.T. Wright is recognized as one of the leading scholars of the New Testament in the world today. In an address he delivered at Seattle Pacific University concerning the The Da Vinci Code, he begins by arguing,

“The task of engaging the culture with the Christian gospel and so working to transform the world always includes three elements. First, we must speak truthfully about Jesus of Nazareth, and explain how it is what we discover who God is by looking at him. Second, we must do so in full engagement with the world of our own day, understanding its ebbs and flows, its fashions and follies, the places where it has got things gloriously right and the places where it has got things gloriously wrong. Third, we must be prepared to refute — that is, to give a reasoned rebuttal of, not simply to say we disagree with — popular misconceptions which leave people with muddled and misguided ideas about Jesus and the nature of Christian faith. And the point about The Da Vinci Code is that it raises all these issues simultaneously.”

Another recognized scholar of New Testament studies writes, “While many traditional Christians might be tempted to scoff at and discmiss such books as either mere fiction or the opinions of a few fringe scholars, this would be a serious mistake. We are facing a serious revolution regarding some of the long-held truths about Jesus, early Christianity and the Bible” (Ben Witherington, “The Gospel Code,” p.11).

More on this later.


Praising God

The following four statements have something in common.

“Of a truth your God is the God of gods, and the Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou hast been able to reveal this secret. Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king’s word, and have yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God.”

“Therefore I make a decree, that every people, nation, and language, which speak anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill; because there is no other god that is able to deliver after this sort.”

“I blessed the Most High, and I praised and honored him that liveth for ever; for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom from generation to generation And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? … Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven; for all his works are truth, and his ways justice; and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.”

“I make a decree, that in all the dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel; for he is the living God, and stedfast for ever, And his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed; and his dominion shall be even unto the end. He delivereth and rescueth, and he worketh signs and wonders in heaven and in earth, who hath delivered from the power of the lions.”

These statements were made by pagan kings about YHWH. All are found in the book of Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, made the first three (2:47; 3:28, 29; 4:34-37). Darius, king of the Medes, made the last one (6:26, 27). See also chapter 1:20 and 5:11, 12.

The first six chapters of Daniel are hero stories. They all end with pagan kings praising the God of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. The lesson these pagan kings learned was one Israel desparately need to learn themselves.

“Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16).


Wisdom and Folly

The interplay between the images of wisdom and folly are fascinating in Scripture. One’s self-assessment, we learn, is not always accurate. For example, Paul writes of the Gentiles, “Claiming to be wise they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (Rom. 1:22, 23).

In the 1 Corinthian letter, Paul writes, “for the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1:25). And, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise” (1:27). Of course, the ones Paul sometimes refers to as “wise” are so only in their own conceits. They think more highly of themselves than they ought to think (Rom. 12:3).

The point of 1 Corinthians 1 & 2 is that the world through its wisdom could have never conceived what God had in mind where the scheme of redemption is concerned. His plan to save man is described as the wisdom of God, “not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age” (2:6). God’s plan fits into the category of things “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagine, what God has prepared for those who love Him” (2:9).

Solomon warns his son, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Prov 3:5). He tells him that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and it is the fool who despises wisdom and instruction (1:7). “Get wisdom” he tells his son, for it is the principle thing (4:7).

It is no wonder why the value of wisdom is extolled as worth more than silver, gold or precious jewels or anything to which you can compare it. This world is filled with booby traps for the high minded, those wise in their own conceits. George MacDonald, writes, “…indeed the business of the universe is to make such a fool of you that you will know yourself for one, and so begin to be wise!” (Lillith, p. 38).


The Ministry of Pain

Two high-minded young ladies meet a Scottish chieftain who represents the last of a less sophisticated but noble way of life in George MacDonald’s book, “What’s Mine’s Mine.” They see him plowing a field with two stubborn oxen that require some manhandling. The young women are disturbed by the chieftain’s use of force and make a snide remark or two about his treatment of the oxen.

When the beasts of burden try to gore one another with their massive horns, Alister, the chieftain, drops a rein to handle the matter. “In a moment the plough was out of the furrow, and the bulls were straining every muscle, each to send the other into the wilds of the unseen creation. Alister sprang to their heads, and taking them by their noses forced them back into the line of the furrow.” He then administered a blow to each animal, and made them stand still. The girls are repulsed.

George MacDonald then comments, “There are tender-hearted people who virtually object to the whole scheme of creation; they would neither have force used nor pain suffered; they talk as if kindness could do everything, even where it is not felt. Millions of human beings but for suffering would never develop an atom of affection. The man who would spare due suffering is not wise. It is folly to conclude a thing ought not to be done because it hurts. There are powers to be born, creations to be perfected, sinners to be redeemed, through the ministry of pain, that could be born, perfected, redeemed, in no other way.”

Paul wrote of the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18, 19); Hosea, “the ministry of the prophets” (Hosea 12:10); and Luke, “the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). MacDonald writes of the “ministry of pain.” I am not prepared to say that all pain is good, but some is. I am persuaded that the only lessons some people will ever learn are taught by Mr. Pain. (He’s taught me a lesson or two—or three or four.)

Consider the painful circumstances that have taught others the lesson they needed to learn: Israel in captivity, Paul’s thorn in the flesh, Paul’s public rebuke of Peter, the death of David and Bathsheba’s son, Nebuchadnezzar’s beastly experience. The Psalmist wrote, “Before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now I observe thy word” (Ps 119:67).

Mr. MacDonald is right, “There are powers to be born, creations to be perfected, sinners to be redeemed, through the ministry of pain, that could be born, perfected, redeemed, in no other way.


“The Da Vinci Code”

A runaway best seller, with over 8 million copies in print, and soon to be major motion picture, is Dan Brown’s novel, “The Da Vinci Code.” This thriller hooks the reader from the very beginning. It is a book about secret societies and code words and religion—in particular Christianity.

The protagonist, Robert Langdon, is forced into a life-threatening quest for the Holy Grail. But the Holy Grail in this story is not what it is traditionally believed to be—the chalice from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper. The Holy Grail is the body of Mary Magdalene. Jesus and Mary were married and gave birth to a daughter they named Sarah. After Jesus’ death, Mary fled to Gaul, and then, under the protection of secret societies throughout the centuries, the seed line from Christ was preserved. There is no resurrection in this story, just a dead Jesus of Nazareth. What makes Jesus important is not his deity, which is denied in the book. It is the fact that he came from a royal line, the line of David. This is the justification given in the book for the preservation of his descendents. It is purported that the works of Leonardo Da Vinci left clues for what the books claims to be true.

The Da Vinci Code comes complete with proposed evidence to support its claims. When asked what is true in the book, Mr. Brown affirms that all its history claims are true. Though it is a work of fiction, he argues that the particulars concerning Jesus and the Holy Grail are based on fact.

There are two main issues at stake in the book. One is the reliability of the New Testament documents. The second is the identity of Jesus of Nazareth. If you can destroy the first, you can cast a mighty big shadow over the second. For those whose faith may have been shaken by reading the book, let me recommend a few resources. The first is a book by F. F. Bruce, “Are the New Testament Documents Reliable?” Another book is by Hermann Ridderbos, “Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures.” A third book I would recommend is written by Lee Strobel, “The Case for Christ.” These should help put to rest much that is amiss in this novel. And any Bible bookstore you walk into today will have at least half a dozen books written for the explicit purpose of addressing the preposterous claims of this novel.

One of the characters in the book, an expert on the Grail sums up the impact of the book in this sentence: “What I mean… is that almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false” (The Da Vinci Code, p. 235).

I have written a manuscript concerning “The Da Vinci Code” and have posted it on my web site under Manuscripts at http://www.closerlookbooks.com.


The Life of Pi

Pi begins his life trained in Hinduism. As a young man he embraces a form of Christianity and the Islamic faith. He embraces all three uncritically as if they were equally viable belief systems. The only criticism he has is the exclusiveness of each one. Pi critical of the notion that one must choose between religious options; i.e. Hindu, Christian or Muslim. His defense is, “I just want to love God.” This is a classic case of pluralism. That’s the first part of the story.

In the second part of the story Pi is stranded in a lifeboat for 6 plus months. The reader begins to doubt that Pi will ever be rescued from a lifeboat adrift in the sea—his only companions being a few wild animals that were being transported from a zoo in India to the USA. But when Pi is rescued, insurance agents quiz him concerning the shipwreck in order to settle liability issues. He tells them the fantastic story that the book purports to accurately record. But his auditors refuse to believe him.

The second version he tells the agents does not correspond with what happened on the boat, but is a very dry and uneventful account of what could have happened. After inventing the second scenario he says, “Neither makes a factual difference to you.” The Japanese investigators confess, “That’s true.”

“The world isn’t just the way it is. It is how we understand it, no?” In other words, we superimpose our own subjective ideas on the way things are and “in understanding something, we bring something to it, no?”

Pi says, “So tell me, since it makes no factual difference to you and you can’t prove the question either way, which story do you prefer?” Then he says, “And so it goes with God.”

When you apply this philosophy to the first part of the book, (Pi’s search for God), I think you have this: it should make no factual difference to us whether Hinduism, Christianity, or the Muslim story is true. Pick the one you like: the one that strikes your personal fancy. Either way, you choose God.

When considering the three accounts of the way things are (Hinduism, Christianity, or Muslim), the real question is, does it make a factual difference? Does Jesus’ resurrection from the dead make a difference? Mr. Martel still has Jesus in a grave somewhere in India.

One final point. The author has said that chapters 21 and 22, while short, are at the core of the novel. He refers to them as, “Dry yeastless factuality,” which is a reference to a view of life void of the divine, an idea illustrated at the end of the book by the two versions of the story Pi tells the Japanese investigators. He is asking us, “What story are you going to embrace?”


Moral Authority

The ancients believed in something, for practical purposes, we will call moral authority. By moral authority, I mean a kind of authority that is not derived through appointment, but authority that is obtained by virtue of character. In other words, the individual is respected for their moral integrity without needing to appeal to academic degrees or appointments.

The idea of moral authority was discussed when rhetoric was taught by the ancients. (Rhetoric is the art of persuasion.) Aristotle, for example, wrote a book on rhetoric. In it he argues there are three key ingredients that constitute an effective persuasive speech. They are logos, pathos and ethos.

Logos pertains to the reasonableness of any speech. Is the conclusion supported by the premises given? Pathos pertains to passion. The corresponding question here is, has the speaker sufficiently affected the emotions of the audience? Ethos pertains to the character of the speaker.

Of Ethos, Aristotle writes, “Persuasion is achieved by the speakers’ personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible. We believe good men more fully and more readily that others: This is true generally whatever the question is, and absolutely true when exact certainty is impossible and opinions are divided… his character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion he possesses” (Modern Library, p. 25).

In 1 Thessalonians, Paul appeals to his moral authority. He reminds the church that he did not come to them in word alone, or in vain, or of error, or motivated by uncleanness, or of guile. He did not come pleasing men. He did not use words of flattery, or a cloak of covetousness. He did not seek the glory of men nor preach the word of men. It is here that he writes, “we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (2:6-8).

Who has that kind of authority over you? And over whom could you exercise such authority?