Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Hanukkah Lesson from Murray Menorah

 Tune:  Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

I found Murray at
Murray the Hanukkah menorah
Has a lot of flaming lights,
And to recall a miracle,
Murray burns for eight long nights.

All of the flick’ring candles
Love to tell the story, too,
Of how the Maccabee brothers
Made it safe to be a Jew.

Long ago in Judea
Antiochus proclaimed,
“If you will not pray to Zeus,
Soon you will be maimed!”

Oh how the Maccabees fought him
‘til Jerusalem was free!
Thank you, Menorah Murray,
For teaching us our history.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Ramblings on being a messenger

“Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger
greater than the one who sent him.” (Emphasis mine)
Jesus to his disciples, recorded in John 13:16

The Message is in the ___________________.

If you live in central Pennsylvania and listen to Christian radio, you easily fill in the blank with the word “Music.” I hear that phrase—The Message is in the Music—multiple times each day as I drive to and from my job with my radio tuned to FM 91.3, WGRC. That makes the radio station a messenger and those mysterious, invisible radio waves its chosen medium.

My sister, Taffy Spaloss, designs and constructs quilts which she calls Message Quilts. She explains, “Each quilt is birthed with either a person in mind, or a message that I want to express, or both. Each step of the quilt is then performed with that thought in mind. I get excited when the blocks are sewn together and I begin to see what the finished quilt will look like. And the delivery of that quilt is the grand finale, the delivery of the blessing to the one God desires to bless.” (Emphasis mine) My sister is a messenger and fabric is her chosen medium.

I don’t have to build a radio tower or sew a quilt to be a messenger. If I understand Jesus’ words correctly, I already am a messenger, even on those days I feel more like a mess than a messenger. If I’ve accepted the terms of John 13:13, calling Jesus “Teacher and Lord,” the messenger part logically follows.

(Sorry to keep repeating the word “messenger.” My writers critique group will be horrified.)

For me, sometimes the message has been in the puppetry or the lesson or the writing or the ukelele. In all of these, I have to be careful I’m delivering God's message and not just enjoying the media I’ve chosen to get it across. After all, teaching Bible to high school students is enjoyable (most days) and occasionally hilarious, and I’m easily entertained by the sound of my own voice. 

I occasionally joke about starting my own cult, but seriously, isn’t that how cults get started? By teachers enamored of their own voices and viewpoints and the admiration of their students? At the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. it was frightening to see how Satan's message was delivered to the German nation by an evil, charismatic messenger.

As a messenger, I need to know God's message through and through and admit when I don’t. I need to know the Sender of the message and what media will best reach the intended recipients. Finally, I need to know when to get out of God's way.

            How about you? Which media do you use to deliver God’s message? I’d love to hear about it.
Taffy's Tree of Life Design
See her quilts at

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Shut up, voices!

SOMETIMES you just wake up and say, “Is there anything I haven’t screwed up?”

You don’t say it out loud because someone might answer. He might agree with you, which would make you feel bad. Or he might disagree with you and tell you how wonderful you are, which would make you feel worse.

It’s hard to clearly assess one’s own life. If you compare your achievements to others in your age group, you may feel either sad or smug. I don’t have any grandkids—sad. However, at least I don’t have any incarcerated offspring—smug. 

And why should what my children are and do be my achievement, anyway? Or my fault, for that matter?

(That’s just an example. I don’t obsess about my children all day and all night. I obsess about a variety of things.)

That’s where my thoughts were going when I woke up way too early Sunday morning. I tried to go back to sleep, but the voices in my head wouldn’t shut up. So I took them downstairs and made them a cup of coffee and turned on their favorite early morning TV show.

They still wouldn’t shut up, so I moved to my laptop and went to I went directly to Psalms, a haven for wretched people having bad mornings. 

David was having a very bad week when he wrote Psalm 52. The priest at a town called Nob had supplied him with food and a sword when David had to go into hiding to avoid Saul’s death threats. Within a few days, revenge landed on Nob. Eighty-give priests were executed, along with all the men, women, children, and livestock of the town. (Read 1 Samuel 21 and 22.)

The first part of Psalm 52 is a diatribe against Doeg, the man who carried out the slaughter on Saul’s behalf. 

For the director of music. A maskil of David. When Doeg the Edomite had gone to Saul and told him: “David has gone to the house of Ahimelek.”
Why do you boast of evil, you mighty hero?
    Why do you boast all day long,
    you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God?
You who practice deceit,
    your tongue plots destruction;
    it is like a sharpened razor.
You love evil rather than good,
    falsehood rather than speaking the truth.[c]
You love every harmful word,
    you deceitful tongue!
Surely God will bring you down to everlasting ruin:
    He will snatch you up and pluck you from your tent;
    he will uproot you from the land of the living.
The righteous will see and fear;
    they will laugh at you, saying,
“Here now is the man
    who did not make God his stronghold
but trusted in his great wealth
    and grew strong by destroying others!”

I wonder if David thought, “I really screwed up. If I hadn’t gone to Nob, all those people would still be alive. Because they helped me, their whole town was wiped out.” If he did think that, he didn’t include it in his psalm. Instead the psalm moves from deriding Doeg to describing David’s life in God’s presence. 

But I am like an olive tree
    flourishing in the house of God;
I trust in God’s unfailing love
    for ever and ever.
For what you have done I will always praise you
    in the presence of your faithful people.
And I will hope in your name,
    for your name is good.

The words David used are both soothing and empowering. Even if they weren’t arranged in sentences, they'd be something substantial to grab hold of.

flourishing                   trust                 unfailing love
praise               hope

If the voices taunt me again tomorrow morning, I know what to do. There are 149 more psalms.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Where's that found?

At a Hi-B.A. gathering in the late 1960s—Hi-B.A. is the Christian youth group I attended in northern New Jersey—the speaker quoted a scripture verse, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”

“Where’s that found?” he asked the large room packed with teens.

“In the Bible!” a voice yelled, earning the audience’s laughter and applause and perhaps a bit of irritation from the speaker.

Okay. I confess. C’est moi. I’ve been like this my entire life.

Do you wonder, like I did, what kind of scholar the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews was when he wrote,

For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “On the seventh day God rested from all his works.”

Somewhere? Shouldn’t it be in Genesis, like the first or second chapter? Why didn’t he know this when he wrote? I learned later in my Bible student career that the Bible didn’t have chapters and verses until many centuries after the anonymous Hebrew author wrote. To be specific,

The chapter divisions commonly used today were developed by Stephen Langton, an Archbishop of Canterbury. Langton put the modern chapter divisions into place in around A.D. 1227. The Wycliffe English Bible of 1382 was the first Bible to use this chapter pattern. Since the Wycliffe Bible, nearly all Bible translations have followed Langton's chapter divisions.
The Hebrew Old Testament was divided into verses by a Jewish rabbi by the name of Nathan in A.D. 1448. Robert Estienne, who was also known as Stephanus, was the first to divide the New Testament into standard numbered verses, in 1555. Stephanus essentially used Nathan's verse divisions for the Old Testament. Since that time, beginning with the Geneva Bible, the chapter and verse divisions employed by Stephanus have been accepted into nearly all the Bible versions.

So basically all the Hebrew scripture quoted in Hebrews was rattling around in the author’s head. He was a great scholar.

The other day my fellow Bible teacher at Sunbury Christian Academy instructed her young teen students in the use of Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance. As the students groaned under the weight of the volume, she quipped, “It will make your stronger.”

Strong’s and similar concordances were what we used in the pre-internet era when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Its use is pretty simple:  You look up a word in alphabetical order and the concordance lists every place in the Bible that word appears, and a short segment of the verse. Every place. That’s why it weighs twenty pounds. That’s why you need a page magnifier to read the microscopic type.

How on earth did James Strong compile this book without the internet to search the document? I’m glad you asked.

Dr. James Strong was professor of exegetical theology at Drew Theology Seminary when he supervised a team of 100 scholars in creating this index to the King James Bible. (I imagine he chained them to desks like the monks who copied the New Testament.) The concordance was published in 1890, and the old professor graduated to Glory in 1894. You can read more about his amazing accomplishment and other concordances here:

Now I use, though I suppose there are many Bible search engines online. But when I need to know the Greek or Hebrew word behind the English word, I’m back to Strong’s or Young’s Analytical Concordance. There are what-pass-for-concordances at the back of many Bibles, but don’t bother. They’ll break your heart every time.

Reimagine the scene from my youth:  The Hi-B.A. leader quotes the verse and asks, “Where’s that found?” 

Every teen there whips out a smart phone and within seconds multiple voices call out, “Mark 16:15!”

Except that one girl who exclaims, “OMG! There’s a BOGO sale at Payless Shoes!”

Let me offer a better answer, the best answer, when you quote a Bible verse and someone asks, “Where’s that found?” 

In my heart.

Scroll down for obscure Bible college humor.

Here’s how we characterized concordances in Bible college:
Strong’s for the strong
Young’s for the young
Cruden’s for the crude

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

You might be a pagan if…

What is a pagan, anyway? If you don’t like words and word origins as much as I do, you might want to skip a few paragraphs. offers these definitions, with the warning that points two, three, and five are disparaging and offensive.

1. one of a people or community observing a polytheistic religion, as the ancient Romans and Greeks: no longer in technical use.
2. Disparaging and Offensive. (in historical contexts) a person who is not a Christian, Jew, or Muslim; a heathen.
3. a follower of any of various contemporary religions that are based on the worship of nature or the Earth; a neopagan.
4. Disparaging and Offensive. an irreligious or hedonistic person.
5. Disparaging and Offensive. an uncivilized or unenlightened person.

(pagan. Unabridged. Random House, Inc. (accessed: October 28, 2014).)

The word pagan appears fourteen times in the NIV New Testament; three of those times, it’s Jesus speaking in what’s commonly called the Sermon on the Mount. (I call it Kingdom Torah, but that’s a blog for another day.)

Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:46 – 47

Here the translators used “pagans” to translate telonai, literally tribute collectors. So how come they came right out and said “tax collectors” in verse 46, but used “pagans” in verse 47?

Jesus said, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him”. Matthew 6:6 – 8

Jesus said, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:31 – 33

In both Matthew 6 passages, the translators used “pagans” to translate ethnikos and ethne, which mean “adapted to the genius or customs of a people, peculiar to a people, national suited to the manners or language of foreigners, strange, foreign in the NT savouring of the nature of pagans, alien to the worship of the true God, heathenish of the pagan, the Gentile.” (Love me some British spelling!) (

Non-word lovers, join us here.

All this to say, in first century Israelite usage, the Jews were “the people” and everybody else was “the peoples.” The outsiders. The goyim of the Old Testament. The pagans.

So what would you have to do for Jesus to call you a pagan? Worship multiple gods? (See definition one.) Worship nature or the Earth? (See definition three.) Be an uncivilized and unenlightened clod? (See definition five) No. None of those.

You might be a pagan if…

  • You only love those who love you first.
  • You only say howdy to your own peeps.
  • You babble on in your prayers, telling God what he already knows.
  • You worry about what you’re going to eat, drink, or wear when God has promised to provide all that.
  • You don’t seek God’s kingdom and righteousness before your own concerns.

You might be a pagan. Don’t get mad at me; I didn’t decide the criteria. Jesus did. 

Besides, I might be a pagan, too.