Friday, January 29, 2010

Comfort One Another With These Words

For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we be ever with the Lord.
Wherefore comfort one another with these words. I Thess. 4 16,17

I don’t believe any of us at the Oak Street Bible Shop could remember seeing Glen in a suit. But on this day he entered wearing a rather nice blue suit, white shirt and a gray and black striped necktie. His ‘dress’ navy shoes, as he called them, were nicely shined and his sandy-gray hair was neatly brushed.

He gave us a little wave of the hand and went directly to the little table with the coffee urn and poured a little styrofoam cup of coffee and sat down on the folding chair.

This was unusual behavior for our old friend. Glen may have had his dark days, but if he did he kept to himself until they passed. He was legendary for his even disposition. We all exchanged looks but said nothing until Glen spoke up.

“Excuse my manners”, he said in a low voice. “Or should I say lack of manners?”

“What’s the occasion, Glen” said Joy, trying to bring him out a little, “Are you going to teach at an Episcopalian church or something.?”

“Oh, no, nothing like that” he said dismissively. “I don’t dress up to teach, anyway. Nobody cares what I look like, or at least I hope they don’t.”

Sue was gazing at him intensely. She had never seen him so well dressed. The only thing she would change about his apparel, she once told us, was his “dumb shoes”. “So plain!” she would say.

Glen rose from his chair and joined us in the front room. He had removed his tie and stuffed it into one of his coat pockets.

“I’ve been to a funeral of a friend. He was driving along minding his business, when a pickup crossed the center line and hit him head on. The driver of the truck, local guy, had been drinking. He’ll be ok, but my friend is dead.”

“I guess you’ll really miss him?” inquired Sue, sympathetically.

“Oh sure,” Glen said, with resignation. “But that is not what bothers me right now. I overheard something that really has me feeling sad and upset at the same time. My friend’s youngest child is a seven year old boy. You can imagine the shock he is experiencing. Before the service started, when this little boy was brought in, he said, “Why did my Daddy have to die?”

One of the older family members, maybe an uncle or something, comes over to the boy and says “God took him to be with Him”.

Gary reacted with disgust, but said nothing. “Oh I wish people wouldn’t say things like that!” said Joy.

Glen showed his anger and sorrow as he went on. “The poor kid hears this and says “I hate God”. “How can a seven year old handle something like that! God took him!”

Sue broke her silence, “People think they are helping and they only make things worse. It’s better to say nothing than to make up stories like that.”

Glen looked towards Sue with appreciation in his eyes. “You’re absolutely right, Sue, better to say nothing.”

Joy was obviously moved by this story “How can you ever straighten this out? The little boy sees his father lying there, then someone says “God took him.” That’s what he will always remember.”

Gary added.”I’ve heard people say things like ‘God was lonely and he wanted such a person to be with him, to cheer him up. Stuff like that.”

“Yeah,” said Glen, “I guess we’ve all heard ‘em. Awful isn’t it?”

“I took a course in child psychology at Xavier” said Gary. “The teacher explained that when you have something deep to discuss with a child, start with the most simple and direct explanation. Children need something concrete to understand. Then you can add the complicated stuff later on.”

“”Sounds like a good way to teach the Bible too.” said Glen.

“Why did you take a course in child psychology? asked Joy.

“I figure I’ll have children some day and I want to be prepared” said Gary.

“So what is the simple, direct thing we should say to children?” Joy inquired.. “I know I’m putting my foot into it, but what do you say to a child to explain death. We always say a person is asleep.”

“I know of a child who was told that when her friend died, said Sue. This poor kid was afraid to go to sleep. She was afraid they would bury her, too.”

“I’ve never heard of that!” said Joy disdainfully.

“It’s true though”.

Gary changed directions “I haven’t heard anyone say “What is the Bible way to explain death?”

“Oh, now you’ve done it,” groaned Joy. “We’re in for it now!”

Glen realized this was directed at him.

“ I like Gary’s idea!” He said with enthusiasm.

“My teacher’s, actually”, added Gary.

“Well, it’s a good one. Why can’t you just say a person is dead because a truck hit his car. Then tell them that someday they will see him again in the resurrection?”

“A child doesn’t understand the resurrection, though”. Said Joy.

“Well, said Glen, “I don’t understand it either, but I know it is true. I can tell you this, I wish someone had answered my questions when I was little, by reading to me from the Bible. Even if I didn’t understand it. It shows a child that there is an answer and it is in the Bible. Kids know, deep down when you are lying to them. Or they will figure it out soon enough.”

“Like Santa Clause” quipped Gary.

“Good point” said Glen, “kids start expecting people to lie to them, if they always have. Why can’t we give them straight Bible truth?”

Joy’s question was “But even good Christian people, who try to tell it like it is. disagree. How can anyone say they have the absolute truth about life after death? You and I don’t agree”.

Gen hesitated. He did not want to insult Joy, but he did want to tell her he thought she was wrong. “I think, that in your case, Joy, you know what the Bible says, I know you do. But you go beyond what the Bible says. We all have a background we come from that makes us believe stuff that isn’t in the Bible. We don’t dis-believe the Bible, but we add to it. I say “we” because I have to fight it in myself too. Please don’t take it the wrong way, but your Catholic church is full of Babylonian religion.”

Joy broke in “What do you mean ‘my’ Catholic church? I’m a Baptist now and you know it.”

“Yes Joy, but some of that old religion still clings to you, like it or not.”

“And what is it you are saying clings to me, Glen?”

“Oh, the world religion, what everybody believes but doesn’t really look into it. It says we are all naturally immortal. It says we don’t die, just the body, like that’s no big deal. Satan said it in Eden, “Thou shalt not surely die.”

Joy had heard Glen say this all before.

He could see her face had that stubborn expression, but he continued. “When we try to comfort those who have lost some one through death, why can’t we use words that the Bible tells us to use. Where in the Bible does it say that the dead are in a better place? never says it. When Paul wanted to give comfort in this matter, and he did it at several times, it was always the hope that our dead would be resurrected. The Bible says “hope”, because it was a future event. It’s a sure thing, but it just hasn’t happened yet. If our dead are already in heaven, why does the Bible say “hope”? We have all heard this immortality thing so long we have accepted it as true. We’ve allowed ourselves to be taken in by these Thomas Edison theologians!”

Sue had so much admiration for Glen, but sometimes his meaning eluded her. “Glen, what do you mean Thomas Edison theologians?” she asked.

“Oh, I just mean guys that are always inventing things.

Look, I have to get home, I want to get out of this suit.”

Sue took two step towards him. She gently stroked the fabric of his lapel. “This suit really looks nice on you” she said.

“Thank you” he said. “But it’ll look better hanging in the closet.”

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Missing Piece of the Puzzle

A long time ago, when I was a kid, we found it very entertaining to assemble jigsaw puzzles. No moving parts, no batteries required, silent, and very boring by modern standards, I suppose. Do they even sell them any more? In many closets in the USA you can find boxes containing such puzzles, once carefully assembled by people, many of whom are now long dead. But we liked them. We would look for an appealing picture on the cover of the box, buy them and bring them home. You would carefully pour the picture pieces out onto the dining room table or maybe onto a card table in the living room. Then family members would gather around and start turning the pieces face side up and the process of assembly would begin.

In really fanatical families two puzzles were being worked on at the same time. Some people were very methodical, they would start organizing the outside of the puzzle, the frame so to speak. I tended more towards trying to find something recognizable in the picture, like the face of a kitten. I would work to gather all the kitten pieces and when I had formed the kitten, slide it carefully into place in relation to the frame. We would work for hours at this task, both frustrating and yet at the same time relaxing. Soon nothing mattered but how the puzzle was coming along. It is an old joke among jigsaw puzzle workers, that towards the end you would get the sinking feeling that there were missing pieces, that there were not enough to complete the picture. I never heard of this happening, the pieces were always there, you just had to keep on trying.

I suppose at the puzzle factory, if a puzzle piece was found after all of them were boxed up and shipped away, somebody was in big trouble. But there were times when a piece was seemed to be missing, it was lost after the box was opened. In hot weather it might stick to someone's arm when they walked away from the table. In cold weather a piece could be brushed off the table by the cuff of a shirt or sweater.

But they were almost always found. Though I have seen old boxes marked "piece missing" as a warning to the next ones to try to assemble it. Such a missing piece was the cause of consternation one fall day many years ago. We had completed a winter scene of a New England church surrounded by snow and pine trees. Every piece was in place except here was a blank place at the top of the church's steeple. Where the gold ball at the top of the steeple should have been, the wood of our dining room table showed through. We went to great lengths to find this missing piece. We used a flashlight to look under table and chairs. Someone took the grill off of the hot air register and looked down there. They found a hair pin and a couple of my marbles, but not the missing piece. We were determined to find this gold dome piece.

My sister suggested we empty out the contents of the vacuum sweeper bag on some newspapers, maybe it was there. Then, during a pause, when all was quiet, we heard the slurping sound of our Cocker Spaniel slowly chewing on something. I remember getting down on the floor and looking at her.

"Garters, what are you chewing on?" She was very gentle and allowed me to open her mouth. There, on her tongue, was the missing piece. It was soggy with saliva, it had tooth marks on it, but it was still recognizable as the golden dome. We gave Garters reward for surrendering it, a piece of a chocolate doughnut, if I remember right, then held the puzzle piece under the faucet to wash it off. The missing dome eventually dried out. It was a little rough and not shaped quite right, but we managed to press it into place. The picture of the church was now complete.

There is another picture being assembled today, as you read this. It has been in the process of completion for almost two thousand years. All kinds of people have been working on it, gathering the pieces. These pieces didn't come in a neat box. They were scattered through time and space, all over the earth, in fact. The pieces are people, the people who are The Church, the Bride of Christ. They are not His only people, but they are the ones who make up his Bride. If any piece is missing, the picture is not complete. If any person who comprises the bride is not in the picture, the church is not complete.

The One who directs the assembly is God. He is patient, which is very fortunate for us. Because it has taken centuries for those who comprise this picture to appear, to be born. He waits for them to be born and to be drawn to him.

Sometimes when one of the puzzles was so complex and so beautiful, people would save them. They would very carefully slide the completed picture onto a piece of cardboard or wood and coat it with varnish, to be saved for all time.

We are such a picture to God. It is often asked, why doesn't God take His church, now? People mock those who wait for Him. In Peter's day they taunted Christians who awaited the Lord's return. But he knew the picture was not complete, many of its members were yet to be born. So the Lord was waiting. He was "long suffering", meaning "patient".

That is the meaning of the words in 2 Peter 3:9;

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness, but is long-suffering to toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

When will the puzzle be completed? When the last piece has been put into place. It is a puzzle only to us.

God has known what the picture will look like from the beginning.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Are You an Unbalanced Christian? I Hope So.

“If I spend any more time here at the Oak Street Bible Shop I’ll need to sleep here too”, said Glen. He really did put in a lot of time there.

“Just keep buying books and I’ll put in a cot for you”, said Joy.

“I’ll keep buying and I’ll keep sending people here too. I tell them what great books you have. Have any of them come in? He asked.

“We had a lady the other day” said Gary,”She mentioned your name, but she wasn’t too complimentary”, he added.

“So what did she say, did she call me a prophecy nut?"

“Well not exactly, she said you did have a lot of knowledge, but, but that you were not a balanced Christian.”

“Sounds like a circus act” said Sue in a rare touch of humor. Joy spoke up, “There is a lot of emphasis on being well balanced these days”, she said, I heard Chuck Swindoll give a sermon where he said he hoped , above all, he was a well balanced Christian.

“He can be so balanced he’s boring”, added Gary. Glen put the book he had been looking at, back on the shelf. “I don’t understand Chuck” he said with exasperation. “Chuck can rightly divide the word of truth with the best of them, even in prophecy.” This was a high compliment, coming from Glen. “But he’s taking some kind of social criterion or psychological idea and trying to apply it to individual Christians, and the scriptures won’t bear him out. I mean, was John the Baptist well balanced? Did he like to go to the beach with his wife and kids” Did he grill out? Hell,” he said, and Joy winced when he strayed into the language he once used, “When the people of power and authority saw John coming, they cringed with fear. John just would not compromise, like they all did, including the religious leaders.”

“Especially the religious leaders”, said Sue, with emphasis.

“He knew the truth and he said it, to anyone and everyone. He was set apart from conception to be a prophet and he was a prophet right up until the day they killed him. Is that well balanced? Was Ezekiel well balanced, was Jeremiah? Ezekiel was commanded to lie in the street of Jerusalem on his side for forty days, meanwhile acting out a pantomime of the coming siege of the city and cooking his food with “the dung that cometh out of man, human shit”.

Joy winced again, but said nothing. No one else was in the store and Glen did know what he was talking about.

Sue intervened, “God relented and let him use animal dung” she said,”That’s in Ezekiel chapter four.”

“Okay” Glen said, but that was not God’s original instruction. He wanted him to do something shocking to wake people up. Anyway, manure is manure, and his performance was bizarre, not balanced. God told Jeremiah not to weep when his wife died, not one tear.”

“That was Ezekiel too”, said Gary”, his Bible open to Ezekiel 24:16.

“Yeah, you’re right” said Glen, “I get excited sometimes”. They all looked at him with sympathy, he was speaking of things that they knew meant a lot to him.

“They castrated Daniel when he was a young boy, the Babylonians did. You never see a picture of Daniel with a beard. There was no little Daniel Jr. But look at the visions that God gave to him. All I’m saying is, sure there is plenty of room for regular normal people, I guess.” Glen said this almost grudgingly. “But God still needs so-called extremists, people who specialize, man. They specialize and they know what they are talking about.”

“And what they are doing, too,” added Gary. “It’s not all knowledge, you know.”

“There is a wonderful woman who comes in here” said Sue. “She is a widow and she takes care of women whose husbands have died. She gives them things to read that have helped her. She visits them and prays for them. And what is so neat, she doesn’t do all this and then drop them. She hangs in with them, year after year.”

“She’s a specialist too” said Glen, with quiet admiration. “I wouldn’t have any idea how to help people like that.”

“We all have our callings”, said Joy. ‘God made us to do different things.”

“And” added Sue, “The Holy Spirit gives us different gifts to serve God with. He not only puts the desire into your heart to do some certain thing, he shows you how to do it.”

At this point, a teen aged boy came out of the back room. He was wearing his hat backwards and had three rings in his right ear. We were startled because we didn’t know he was there. He paused with his hand on the brass door knob, and looked back.

“You people are weird”, he said.

Joy spoke up, “We’re weird all right,” she laughed. “We’re so weird we’re unbalanced!”

For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it not therefore of the body? I Cor. 12:15

Monday, January 18, 2010

So Many Contradictions!

God is not the author of confusion....1 Corinthians 14:3

Over the years I have seen a wide variety of people come into the Oak Street Bible Shop. I’m speaking of customers, mainly. Most of these are people looking for Bibles and Christian books of a wide range. Some seek doctrinal help, and others seem to come for no other reason than to cause trouble.

The young man I have in mind now, was definitely of this latter category. He was of medium height, with dark blond hair and ice blue eyes. Our first impression was of his nervous disposition, he came through the door, said nothing, and paced along the shelves, carelessly glancing about, but not really reading the titles of the books he walked by.

Joy told me later, he looked like he was casing the place, not really looking to buy. “Can I help you with anything in particular?” she asked.

“Oh, I’m wondering if you have anything on Biblical contradictions?” he answered.

Joy slid from her stool by the doorway and walked to a shelf of books by M.R. De Haan. “A lot of people like this one, 508 Answers to Bible Questions With Answers to Seeming Contradictions.”

“Seeming contradictions?” said the young man, with scorn in his voice. Sue, at the window, began to furiously polish the already clean window. She sensed that the storm warnings were up and she hated conflict, especially of a doctrinal nature. She always wished Glen was here when things like this came up. She felt better when he talked to people like this, he never was ruffled by such encounters, maybe because he had come out on top of every one she had witnessed.

Gary, spoke up from behind the counter. “De Haan believed the Bible is infallible” he said, “so to him all claims of contradictions just seemed to be valid.” The young man turned to look at Gary, “Oh, thank you” he said, “that explains why he used the term seeming”. Gary, always courteous, felt the insult in this reply. The three of them tensed as they realized this man was not here to buy a book.

Once in awhile such persons came into the shop. Before Gary and Sue worked here, Joy and Dave had called the police to remove a man who became unruly. But this one was different. He had the calm of someone who believed himself infinitely superior to those around him He was not hostile, just toying with them.

The man reached out and lightly tapped the book spine. “Is this De Haan character some kind of preacher or something?”

“He was a physician who retired from medicine to pursue Bible studies and to write,” said Joy.

“Oh, I see, then he wasn’t really what you could call a Bible expert?” said the young skeptic.

“I could” said Gary, with deep conviction.

“And what are your qualifications for determining who is an expert?” said the man with rising inflection.

Joy felt things were getting out of hand. She knew that Gary could be pushed only so far before he felt his manhood challenged and might try something. But Gary was just not up to anything physical with a larger man, though he might be tempted to try.

Sue gripped her Windex bottle tightly with both hands. There was a loud thud from outside as Glen slammed his van door shut. We all knew that this was a sign that Glen was in a good mood. When he was upset, he closed it carefully. One of his contradictions, self-control, he called it. Soon he was bounding up the steps and swinging the door open, almost hitting the man who had his back turned. “Excuse me, sir!” said Glen cheerfully. “Didn’t see you there.”

“Obviously” said the skeptical young man.

Glen read the tone of the man’s voice and had a quick impression of who they were dealing with. He saw the pained expression on Joy’s face and Sue tensely gripping her Windex bottle. Gary was stiff with controlled rage.

“This man is interested in a book on Bible contradictions” said Joy. “I was just showing him this book by M.R. De Haan on answers to Bible questions.”

Glen pulled it off the shelf and viewed the cover. “I must have missed this one”, he said with enthusiasm. What a wonderful Christian writer he was.”

“I’m almost tempted to read this” said the skeptic, “It might be amusing.”

Glen looked at him in a friendly manner, “If you think De Haan’s book might be amusing you should read Madlyn O’Hare’s book on Biblical contradictions. It’s the pure stuff! All contradictions, but no answers, just like the lady herself.”

“Oh, really”, said the skeptic. “And how many contradictions did she find.”

Glen reflected, “You know, I’m not exactly sure! But I do know it wasn’t enough. I mean just from looking at it, it seems she wrote it on the run, very sloppy! A sincere student of the Bible can find more contradictions than you think. I keep finding them all the time and I’ve been at this for quite some time”

The skeptic appeared startled at this admission. Could this admirer of De Haan, be admitting the Bible was filled with contradictions? Glen continued while looking the young man in the eye. Gary once said that because of his intensity, ‘Glen always seemed to be standing closer to you than he really was’, a good description.

“Tell me, sir, are you a student of the Bible? I mean, have you really looked into it over a period of years?”

The skeptic drew himself up disdainfully. “Hardly!” he exclaimed.

Glen let his arms hang down. He seemed to wilt. “Oh gosh!” he said with feigned sorrow. “I am so sorry you are not a systematic student of the Bible! Because, sir, unless the Bible is different than every other field of knowledge, that means you don’t know what the hell you are talking about. Wouldn’t you agree? I mean, do you know of any other area where a person who has not really studied it has the ability to say it is filled with contradictions?”

The skeptic stared at Glen, trying to gauge just who he was dealing with.

“But since you, not knowing the Bible, are at a disadvantage, let me see if I can find one for you.”

Glen reached inside his field jacket for his little Bible. He found Job 40:2,

Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him? He that reproveth God, let him answer it.

“Here’s a contradiction, for you, A man who thinks he can go one on one with the Almighty God and win. Because when you go up against this book”, Glen held up his Bible, “you are going up against Him. You can explain one thing to me, so I can better understand where you are coming from. Do you have a ‘daddy” problem.? If you do, it would explain a whole lot. Lots of guys resent their fathers, maybe they could never impress their dads, or were mistreated by them. They transfer this attitude to God himself. None of my business, of course. But one of these days you will face God, and all your hostile attitude will be gone. Then it will be his turn to question you. How do you think you will do then?”

The skeptic remained silent as Glen continued. “But let’s get away from the Bible for a moment. Here’s a contradiction for you from way back, around the time that Malachi was written. Zeno, or was it Heraclitis?, said you can never walk through a door. Have you heard this one? Glen turned the man’s shoulders so he faced the door. “I believe it was Heraclitis, the Riddler, they called him, who said the reason you can’t walk through a door is because before you get to the door, you have to go half way to the door.” Glen pushed him towards the door. “But now that you get to the halfway point, you still have to get to the next halfway point.” Glen moved him another half way. “You always have to get past this half way point before you can get to the door, so you can never go through the door.”

The young man reached for the doorknob and quickly exited.

Then suddenly Glen swung the door open again and caught up with him, grasping his arm. Sue put her Windex bottle on the window sill and clasped her hands in excitement. “I wonder if Glen is going to waste him!” she said.

The young man’s back was against the porch railing as Glen shook his hand vigorously. Then Glen turned away and re-entered the shop.

“What was that about?” Joy asked.

“Oh, I was just congratulating him for overcoming the contradiction of Heraclitus and making it through the door. I told him that other contradictions could be overcome too, if he applied himself.”

Glen’s patted his coat pocket. “I’ve got a grilled cheese sandwich . I hope it’s still warm.” He sat down at the coffee urn table and began to eat it. Then he returned, sandwich in hand, to look at the De Haan book. “I’ll bet this is good” he said, “I’d like to buy it.”

Joy turned to see Sue holding the paper Glen’s sandwich had been wrapped in. She held it taut between her hands and was licking the cheese that had stuck to it.

“Oh, Sue!” Joy said, “You nut!”

Friday, January 15, 2010

Which Bible Translation?

I knew this topic would cause controversy when I brought it up at the Oak Street Bible Shop. I didn’t want controversy, but I respected the beliefs and knowledge of everyone there and their experiences too. I wanted to hear what they all had to say.

Gary, the resident Bible man, usually stood behind his counter, surrounded by rows of Bibles. When anyone came in to look or to inquire, he would ask a few questions, “Who is it for? What use do you have in mind? Do you want a small Bible to carry with you? Do you need a study Bible?" And so forth. He really preferred that Joy was not hovering nearby, which she usually was.

Joy would get so tense sometimes. She thought the only Bible worthy of the name was the King James Bible, or as some people call it, the Authorised Version. As for study Bibles, she liked the Scofield, as do I, but got very upset when anyone asked for the New Scofield as I did the first day I was ever in her shop. Gary liked to give people some latitude, let them choose and be happy. He once told me that if a person was happy with their shopping experience there was a good chance they would return. There might well be other days to talk about which Bible was best. Gary took the long range view. Most of all he wanted a happy customer and I had to agree with him on that.

Sue stayed out of controversies with customers whenever possible, but could be very persuasive, one on one, away from the shop. She had her own ideas and they were based on personal experience.

I introduced the topic brought up by my friend Carl, though I had already advised him to get a New Scofield as a study Bible and an NIV for Helga and him to read together.

Joy looked at me with her big dark eyes. “I remember when you first came in here” she said to me, from her position on her stool. “Dave was still working here. That’s before we had you.” she said to Gary. “We tried to steer you to the original Scofield, but you chose the New.” I remembered the day well, long ago, how tense they both appeared when I made my decision, as if life and death depended upon which one I chose.

Glen spoke up from the coffee urn table. He patted the pocket of his field jacket, and finding it empty, finished off the rest of his coffee. “The man made a good decision, Joy.” he said. “I know, we owe a lot to the original Scofield, with its great dispensational notes. But the old Scofield promotes the “harrowing of hell” idea, that Jesus descended into hell in his soulish form during the three days his body was in the tomb. He preached to the souls in hell and then led the ones who believed up to heaven. He then returned, or his soul did, and got back into his body and was resurrected.”

Joy was “inspecting the ceiling” as Glen talked. She had heard this before and was trying to restrain herself.

“I mean, Joy," said Glen, "do you still believe that?”

“Why do you say “still”? She replied. “As long as Ephesians 4 says that Jesus descended into the lowest parts of the earth I guess I’ll keep on saying Jesus descended into hell. It’s the same thing as far as I can see.”

“I looked up that term, “lower parts of the earth” said Glen, “and I see a parallel with what David said concerning how he was formed as a baby . David says that he was “curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth”, Psalm 139:15, curiously, meaning intricately. But he says he was in the lowest parts of the earth. David sure isn’t saying he was in hell, is he?”

“All I know is it says, right there in the Psalm “lowest parts of the earth”.

“Well, I looked around to see what some other translations say and I found one which I think agrees with the idea of where a baby is formed. Gary, do you have The Message Bible handy?”

“Oh that hippy dippy thing!” said Joy. “We don’t even sell them. What will quoting from “the Message” prove, anyway?”

Gary took his copy off the shelf, found the passage and began to read;

Oh yes, you shaped me first, inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God-you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration-what a creation!
You know me inside out,
You know every bone in my body!

Sue clapped her hands together, "I worship in adoration-what a creation!"
She recited, “That is so good!”

Glen smiled at her enthusiasm. “Doesn’t “my mother’s womb” express where David was formed better than the lowest parts of the earth?”

“But that is David” objected Joy. “We were talking about Jesus descending into hell.”

“Actually” said Glen, “You were talking about it, or maintaining it. I said the Old Scofield held to that interpretation, but the New Scofield does not.”

“But what has being formed in a mother’s womb got to do with “descending?” said Joy.

"Jesus was with the Father. For him to come down to become a baby, was descending.” said Glen. “In John chapter 17, Jesus prayed ...glorify me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made, verse five. Concerning Psalm 139, I feel The Message captures the true meaning very well.”

Joy turned to Gary, “We don’t sell The Message do we, Gary?”

Gary held up the volume, “This is my copy” he said. “Sometimes people just can’t find a reading that connects with them. Then I show them The Message and I tell them I can order one for them.”

“All this is a bit much for me” said Joy.”I’ll stay with my King James Bible until the end, but if another translation helps people, who am I to hinder them?”

Sue brightened up at this. “I know The Living Bible is only a paraphrase, but I know someone who got saved from reading it.”

“One thing is sure true about all these Bibles,” said Glen, “The devil hates every one of them”.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Talking Back to Moses

Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me. Exodus 4:25

Of the four people who I regularly picture at the Oak Street Bible Shop, only one was married. Glen was a widower, Joy was married with a 15 year old daughter. Sue had never been married and was in her late twenties. Gary was a bachelor, and, I believe 24 years old.

Joy held forth on the happiness and the pitfalls of married life, although she admitted occasionally that her daughter was a real handful, empty headed and more than slightly boy crazy.

Today she was complaining that Dave, her husband could be so un-romantic, as she put it. “Last night” she said ,”I was in a very loving mood, but Dave was being very thorough with some garbage bags out in the kitchen.” She stood in the doorway to the backroom and demonstrated her come hither look, one arm up and hand on the woodwork like a dance hall girl in an old Western. “I was trying to send romantic signals” she said, “but Dave was double bagging all the garbage bags and taping them shut. I asked him why he was taking so long and he said he was trying to make the bags more dog-proof or something like that . Love took second place to garbage bags,” she said with sad irony in her voice.

Sue was listening to her boss lady with only partially concealed amusement. She had never heard Joy reveal her feeling about her home life like this before.

Behind his counter Gary stood straight and tall and his face showed mild contempt. He did not like what he considered the masculine role criticized in any way. Glen’s face wore a soft and sentimental look as if he was reminiscing over his own happy marriage. There was a brief silence before Sue began. “I wonder what the lives of the old time Bible people were like”, she said with her dreamy little girl voice.”

“I’ll bet women treated their husbands with respect in those days” said Gary, still affronted by Joy’s mild criticism of Dave. “Too bad it can’t be that way today.” Joy didn’t miss his meaning, but just smiled indulgently at his naive ideas. “Abraham had a handful with Sarah, that’s for sure” she said. He yielded to her on at least one occasion.”

“She probably nagged him to death over having to listen to her Egyptian maid mock her for being childless. If Abraham had stood his ground there probably would be peace in the Middle East today” said Gary sternly.

“You mean there would be no Arabs?” Said Sue. “But what about Arabs that are Christians? They had to be born, didn’t they? I mean weren’t they pre-destined to be part of God’s people?” She had become a good Calvinist from listening to Glen.

Glen was taking this all in with great interest. It was at times like these that he learned so much about these people he loved.

“Oh, the Jews had plenty of trouble before Ishmael became a force in the world. They slugged it out with about every great nation there was and had internal fights too. The Arabs are just the latest in their history of enemies. As far as I’m concerned they are the ones making the trouble over there right now, not the Arabs.. The Jews have a long history of not being able to wait for God.”

“Their prayer is, Give us patience, right now!” said Gary bringing his fist down on the counter. He was unwinding a little. “But as to the subject of Bible wives and husbands, maybe we look at them through modern eyes, and not with a Biblical perspective? It is true that there was a climate of power in the reign of husbands and wives. Wives were put to death at times, when they offended their husbands or other men.”

“Men were the head of the family in those days” said Gary, as if he knew all about it. “Gary, did you ever see the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”? said Sue with a sidelong glance. “The old -world Greek father is always saying that, “Men are the head, men are the head.”. But his wife tells her daughters “Yes, men are the head alright, but we women are the neck. We turn the head!”

Gary was not too happy about this.
Sue had used a movie he had not seen to one up him, but the rest of us appreciated her humor and her point. Glen began to cite Bible examples of women who stood up to men, when the occasion called for it. “Sarah was a good example, as you mentioned. And we have classic cases of women who could be submissive, and yet when the occasion called for it be confrontational too. Zipporah comes to mind. We don’t hear much about her, but there is a clue to what she must have been like in Exodus 4.”Gary found Exodus 4 and read silently for awhile. Then he spoke”This is really a weird passage! God meets Moses at an inn and wanted to kill him! Like to hear somebody make a sermon on that!”

“It could be done” said Glen,

“There is Moses returning to Egypt from Midian, with his wife Zipporah.. They have their baby son with them. God has told Moses he is to go before Pharaoh and warn him about the coming judgement if he doesn’t let the Israelites go. Then God wants to kill Moses.

People today, Bible commentators, stumble all over trying to figure it out.
But Zipporah understands! Here is Moses, getting ready for his great mission to free his people, and he has forgotten to circumcise his own son!”

“What I don’t get, is the law had not yet been given, Israel hasn’t even left Egypt” said Gary. “They haven’t been to Mount Sinai to receive the law and God wants to kill Moses for breaking one of them!”

“But circumcision was instituted long before Sinai” said Glen. “God made a covenant with Abraham to circumcise all the males eight days and older. Moses was part of that covenant community and had failed to keep the covenant by circumcising his own son.”

“Too bad they didn’t have little stick-on notes like “Things to Do Today”, Circumcise my son” said Sue.

Joy stared at her in disbelief, What a thing to say!

Glen ignored all this. "Zipporah intervened. Sometimes we men will forget to do the most basic things if our women do not forcefully remind us. Zipporah didn’t forget. She tells Moses violently, in effect,“You almost got yourself killed, you bloody husband!” She takes a sharp stone and does it herself, flinging the severed foreskin at the feet of Moses. It is quite a scene, they are staying at an inn, so she uses a sharp stone. It had to be a bad day for Moses, but thanks to Zipporah, he survived it.”

“Then there is the example, quite often overlooked, of Abigail and her husband Nabal.” “I love this story” said Sue, “What a way to get a husband!”

“And what a way to get rid of your old one.” said Joy, out of the blue.
Gary, caught in the crossfire, said nothing..

Glen continued, “We need to understand David’s life at this time. He wasn’t king yet. He and his men were living in caves as unofficial guardians of those keeping flocks. They staved off raiders and lived off the land. They knew every hill and valley, which helped make David the greatest battlefield general in history. They barely had enough to eat and when they asked for provisions from Nabal, he refused them rudely. This was in the days before David developed his legendary patience and humility. You messed with David once and he killed you, in those early days.

Gary began reading in verse 13:
And David said unto his men, Gird ye on every man his sword. And they girded on every man his sword; and David also girded on his sword: and there went up after David about four hundred men; and two hundred abode by the stuff. I Sam. 25:13

“Now it was a good thing that one of the young men told Nabal’s wife, Abigail, that David was on his way to kill Nabal and all his men. She hurried to load up provisions of bread, wine, raisins, and five dressed sheep, among other food and put it on pack animals to take to David. She did not tell her husband she was doing this. Now here is the submissive part” said Glen, “She lay on her face before David and made her plea. She said her husband’s name meant “fool” and he lived up to it! She averted David’s anger and he relented.”

“Here comes the good part!” said Sue.

Gary read from verse 33, Blessed be thy advice, and blessed be thou...

Glen interrupted his reading “Isn’t that a wonderful thing for David to say! “Blessed be thy advice”. This is 3,000 years ago, in a patriarchal time, and here is this young hotheaded warrior saying “Blessed be thy advice” to a lowly woman. The wisest men listen to women, they are not too proud to take good advice.”

Gary recalled a Ronald Reagan movie where the American hero is in a war torn Asiatic country, bullets flying everywhere, people starving in the streets. The hero’s girlfriend tells him something and he takes her advice. One of the orientals says to the hero,”In my country men don’t let women tell them what to do.” The American asks him, “How’s your country doing?”

“Later on, continued Glen, “Nabal is at a drunken feast, so Abigail doesn’t tell him what she has done for David. In the morning, after he sobers up she does tell him...”

Sue broke in “and he turned to stone!” she clapped her hands together. For some reason this really appealed to Sue.

Glen finished the story , with Gary’s help:

And it came to pass about ten days after, that the Lord smote Nabal, that he died. V.38

Sounds like a stroke, doesn’t it,” said Joy, matter of factly.

Read the part where they get married!” said Sue.

And David sent and communed with Abigail, to take her to him to wife. V.39

“David was really smart wasn’t he,”said Sue. ‘If a woman gives you good advice, take it, and marry her!”

This was too much for Gary, the whole idea of men listening to women seemed to trouble him. I stepped into the back room to see if there was any coffee, so I missed part of what he was saying. But I did hear him say that there was no way he was going to be bossed around by anyone, much less a woman, and so forth.

”You should be so lucky” quipped Sue.

This brought on more tirades from Gary until Joy had heard enough. She slipped off her stool and faced him, hands on her hips. “Gary, I wish you’d get married!”

“Yeah,” said Glen, ‘That oughta take the starch out of him.”

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Message from God

You may not be looking for an angel from heaven, or a heavenly voice to guide you. I know I don't. But think of the people you have met, or even heard on the radio who have helped you with God's truth.

I am an old man now, and I have never had a human , in person mentor. I had to find my own way. You can do it, with your Bible, books, radio broadcasts, good preachers and teachers.

For me, books have been my best friends. Besides the sixty six in the Bible, there have been countless ones that have helped me to learn and even changed my life. I'd like to tell you about a tiny little booklet that rocked my boat and set me straight many years ago.

I used to relieve a second shift guard in a large printing plant for Christian literature. He only worked weekends so I didn't see him often and we did not talk much.

On this particular night when he had gathered up his lunch box and thermos, he extended his hand and held out a little booklet to me.

"I won't see you again", he said, "My wife and I are moving to Colorado. I've noticed you bring your Bible to work and I thought you might enjoy reading this little book."

I thanked him and put the book on my desk. He put on his jacket and lit his pipe. I closed the big sliding gate and padlocked it. I watched him walk away, leaving a trail of smoke from his pipe. He turned and smiled at me, waving goodbye one last time. I watched as he started his car and slowly drove down the long drive.

He was a small man, almost elf like and very quiet. I knew almost nothing about him except his name was Arnie.

I made my first key round. I was all alone in this huge plant. I walked past printing presses and composing rooms and through a huge warehouse filled with stacks of giant paper rolls.

When I had completed my round and returned to my desk, I tool out a book I intended to study that night. It was a study on the Book of Revelation. Then I looked at the little booklet Arnie had given me. It had a paper cover attached with two staples. On the cover it said "For Whom Did Christ Die?".

Even though I had intended to study my Revelation book, I opened Arnie's book and began to read. From the beginning I did not like what I saw. I was offended by it. I did not realize at that time, but I was being introduced to the doctrine of limited atonement.

How idiotic, I thought. Everyone knows that Jesus died to save every man, woman and child in the world. What kind of mis guided cultic literature can this be? And Arnie seemed like such a nice guy too!

I could not enjoy my Revelation book until I had disposed of this booklet! I had an eight hour shift and I intended to demolish it. First I ran down each quote cited, to be sure they were not taken out of context. This is a reasonable precaution. No problem there. I pushed on, but the author seemed to know what my objections were, he was way ahead of me. He countered my every objection.

I made more rounds, thinking about the book as I walked. All thought of the book I had brought to study left me. I had to solve the puzzle of this little book first.

Well, I never did find how to disprove this book. I can't disprove it this day, many years later. Only now, instead of consternation, I have peace. I delight in this doctrine. The author was right and I was wrong.

It can be very humbling to find that your long held belief is not Biblical. Many refuse to accept such a fact. They cling to an idea because that is what a parent has taught them. It could be that it is a church teaching, perhaps from their childhood days. Or, very likely, it could just be their human nature hanging on and resisting both God and his Word.

The argument is between the idea that God loves everyone, and opposed to this, that He loves his people and in an intimate way. It is so intimate that his people are said to be betrothed, or engaged to him.

Let us look at this idea in a purely human way. Suppose a man works on a job where there are a number of young, unmarried women. He sees them at work every day. But despite the fact that he is in the midst of all these women, from his very first day there, he is attracted to only one woman. She is not more beautiful than the others, at least to an outsider. There is nothing about her that marks her as special, except to him. Something inside him says, "She is the woman for me".

They meet and he introduces himself to her. Later they begin to have lunch together in the lunchroom. The day arrives when he decides to ask her out on a date. She gives him her phone number and asks him to call her. A few days pass and he calls. He tells her how he is attracted to her and enjoys being with her. Would she like to go out for dinner and a show?

But her reply shocks him. She refuses. She tells him she has lost all respect for him. He begs her to tell him why. What has he done wrong?

Well, she begins, I have been doing a little checking among my girlfriends and I find you have never asked any of them out on a date! They tell me you don't even notice them, all you do is look at me. What kind of guy are you, anyway? Don't you love all the other girls as much as you love me?

Now I have made this as absurd as I know how. But is this not exactly what a number of us say we feel about a Savior who has selected a bride out of the world to the exclusion of all others? Often the charge is, "It isn't fair!" No, it isn't fair, it is gracious, it is love beyond fairness.

You may say, But what of the Old Testament saints, Abel, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Doesn't he love them too? And you would be completely right. He does love them. But they are not his bride. And there are others, not yet born, whom he will love after
he takes his bride to heaven. But neither are they the bride.

At this point you could well say I have strayed from the subject matter of the little book. Did not Christ die for all? Then, some of us choose him and become the
bride. The offer is out there, but some choose not to accept it. It is their choice not his. I have even heard a preacher say that the great creator of the universe is helpless before the will of one puny man. People like to hear this, it says they have power over God.

The Bible teaches we were once under a ransom because of sin. Jesus paid that price.

Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. Matt.20:28

We, who have been chosen by God, are among that "many".

In the book of Acts we see a limited company, called out by God, being formed.

And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord; and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. Acts 13.48.

Notice that "ordained" precedes "believed"

After this little book persuaded me, I sought out others books and continued to study this doctrine. I never forgot the original book,though. I called the author at the number stamped on the inside cover. I found he was a preacher ousted from his church for teaching this doctrine. I went to his home. He said he might have one or two books left. He found one in a desk and gave it to me. He was holding church in
his own home, I saw folding chairs set up.

I returned to my study of Revelation and began to teach it. But I never forgot how I came upon my new found knowledge concerning God's choice of his people. God sent me Arnie and that little book.

God has all kinds of messengers. Some of them are small and smoke pipes.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Joy's Story

I've tried to let you know about my good friends at the Oak Street Bible Shop as their conversations reveal their characters and beliefs. But Joy has been a mystery to me, revealing less of herself than the others, even Sue.

But this changed when I had a chance to hear her out just a few days ago. I often cut down Oak on my way home even though it is a little out of my way. I like to look in and think of the good conversations we have had over the years.

I looked in one Saturday afternoon after closing hour and saw that the shop was all lit up, and decided to at least look in the window. I found a parking spot and when I walked up on the porch and looked through the front window, I saw Joy with a small brush in her hand apparently painting a shelf. I knocked on the glass and she looked up at me, then walked over to unlock the door. She was a little surprized and asked to what she owed the honor of my presence at this unusual hour.

I was not sure how to answer. "Just a hunch", I told her."You know I can't drive by without looking in, or coming in if you're open".

Joy is a formidable woman, tall and with a powerful gaze, as if she is always on the verge of confrontation. But I know she is a deeply committed Christian and capable of warmth if approached within that framework.

She had emptied a shelf of books and was applying varnish to the already varnished surface. Her shop is the most painted and varnished place I have ever seen. Every surface glistens as if it was still wet. I had the feeling she enjoyed lavishing care on her shop, even if it was not really needed.

"I have an order for you, but the cash register has been cleared", she said.

"I'll bet the Walvoord's are in?", I asked, and she nodded. "Actually Joy, I need to confess something to you privately. I have been feeling guilty about laughing at the joke Gary made, about you stepping on bugs and pretending they were Catholics. I know you don't feel that way at all."

"Oh, that's all right", she reassured me. "I laughed myself, Gary can really catch you off guard, with his spontaneous humor. But you are right about how I feel about Catholics. I consider Catholic people my brothers and sisters. They are where I was, and believe me I understand how they feel, because I was raised in that religion. But the Roman church really is corrupt, and I can't love that system".

"I have two things in my background that I really grieve over. First all the years I spent in that corrupt system. I mean I went the whole rout, with the adoration of Mary, confessing to priests. I wore the scapular, do you know what that is?"

I told her I did not. She continued "Well it's not important now, but I was really into the whole thing, from childhood on. My mother saw to that. But as I grew older I kind of looked at it and my enthusiasm cooled, you know."

This is more than Joy had said to me in all the years I had known her. I suppose she opened up because we were alone, and I was flattered that she trusted me to keep her confidence.

"The other thing is, my father used to run a saloon, and when I was old enough I tended bar there. Can you see me as a barmaid?" She looked right at me and raised her eyebrows as she asked this question.

"Actually, no", I fibbed. "But we all have done things that might seem improbable to others, I am sure."

"Well I helped send a lot of people to hell through drink and I can't get it off my mind." She put the brush into a little jar of thinner and put the lid back on the can of varnish. "So what changed things in your life so drastically, that you are no
longer a Roman Catholic and hate alcohol so much?"

"As for leaving the Catholic church, I told you I was already changing in my devotion to religion in general. I didn't know why at the time, but I was drifting away. It left me with an empty feeling. I could never be good enough for one thing. They heap a lot of guilt on you and you are always in doubt about where you stand".

Joy gathered up the newspapers she had spread on the floor and stuffed them into a wastebasket. Then she sat in her customary high stool as if it was a regular business day. "Do you want a chair" she asked. I told her I was happy standing and felt maybe I shouldn't stay too much longer anyway. But she wanted to talk.

"A friend of mine, an older woman had left the church and when we were talking one day she said, 'Do you want to know why I left the church, Joy'? I said nothing and she told me it was a book someone had given her. 'I'll give you my copy, Joy,
if you promise to read it and not put it down until you get the message'.

"The name of that little book was "The Two Babylons", by Alexander Hislop, and just like my friend said, it changed my life. A relative gave it to my friend. He had become a Baptist, like I am now."

Joy pointed to a shelf at eye level behind me. "There they are", she smiled as she pointed to them. Her books were like her children and she was proud of them. "I know that that little book offends people. I didn't believe it when I first read it, but I couldn't get it out of my mind. The illustrations really got my attention. Why would a church that says it is Christian adopt the same clothing and imagery of ancient Babylon, and why haven't people noticed it? It is so pagan you can't
miss it!"

"It took awhile, but I did go to a Baptist church. I felt it was as far away as I could get from Catholicism. It took a lot of adjusting for me, their whole language is different and their way of life. From the Baptists I learned just how evil alcohol is and how much the Bible condemns it."

What could I say to Joy? I was glad she got out of a system she no longer believed in and had become such a Bible believing Christian. But, I am a teacher and I just can't let things alone, when I feel people have gone to extremes in their beliefs. I go too far, farther than I should, I suppose. Maybe that is why I have so few friends. I offend people, even very good people, like Joy.

Joy looked at me with misgivings as I began my little contribution to her statement of belief. "I am glad you got out, Joy. I had to get out too, from a Methodist Church that did not teach the Bible and a Presbyterian Church that forbade teaching the whole Bible. My best friend left a prominent Presbyterian church because of their open paganism.

"And when we leave we all have a tendency to believe that what we have left is totally evil and what we have gone to is totally good. But after long reflection I feel that though some churches are far more corrupt than others, they all have enough evil within them to occupy their members in continual reform just looking into themselves."

When you get to the top most churches have plenty of corruption and error, if only in their Pharisaic attitude."

Joy did not like what I was saying and it showed in her face, but she has an incredible grace in her makeup. Joy is sensitive to the Word. If you can show her scripture, she may not agree with you right away, but she does take it to heart.

"Did you ever think how many ways you Baptists are like the Catholic church you left?" These were fighting words, I knew, but she said nothing. "Let me give you some ways; First you both teach you are the one true church, right?”

Second, you both believe that one man has the sole right to interpret the scripture. For the Catholics it is the Pope and for the Baptists it is the preacher, your dictator."Third, you both have a tradition of hell preaching, you love the
doctrine of a fiery hell".

"Jesus preached more about hell than anyone, Joy said. "Look up how many times he mentions hell".

"Yes, and look up how many times Paul mentions hell in his church epistles," I countered.

"Paul never mentions hell at all". It is not that Jesus and Paul are at odds with one another, but before we spout off shouldn't we look into what we are talking about?"

"And, Joy, the Bible does not condemn alcohol, but it does absolutely condemn drunkeness, on that we are agreed."

Through all this Joy had been far more patient with me than I deserved. Her forbearance made me feel really guilty. I had interrupted her while she was working and started arguing without any justification.

"Please forgive me, Joy, I interfered with you when you had a little time alone and I really am sorry. And thanks for telling me your story, it makes me respect you even more."

"It's okay" she said with a wry smile, "It's just your way, I suppose. But you know, Gerald, you really are an odd duck, do you know it? I mean what do you believe anyway?"

"I'm a Bible Christian, that's what I try to be. And sometimes religion gets in the way that's all."

"Well", Joy said, "I remember what you said about the ancient Greeks, They were born neither to rest nor to give anyone else rest.I guess that's the way you are too".