Monday, April 27, 2015

The Bible, Sanitized

Sunday in Children’s Church we each colored and cut out seven fat cows and seven skinny cows after reading about Joseph’s stint in prison and his release to interpret Pharaoh’s famine dreams. The previous Sunday we each gave Joseph a psychedelic tie-dyed coat, because I found a square of felt colored like that at Wal-Mart. The Beginner’s Bible, marketed for children six years old and younger, has three chapters about Joseph. I wonder what I’ll find to do next week when Joseph saves his family from famine.

Our church bought multiple copies of the book several months ago, and we’ve been pleased with how well the kids like it. Some of our kids are at the book’s exact reading level and they take turns reading out loud. They are much more attentive than they were when I was telling them a story. I’ve noticed over the months that it’s not just the reading level that’s age appropriate, but also the content, which is just what you’d want with preschool and K kids. 

But I do notice what’s missing from Genesis. I used to tell my Old Testament Tour teenage students, “If Genesis were a movie, your parents wouldn’t let you see it.” (I hoped that would inspire them to do their reading homework.)

There’s a lot of Genesis missing from the Beginner’s Bible, happily rated G.

Abraham and Sarah’s story skips right to Isaac’s birth without the Hagar and Ishmael incident. When twin brother rivals Jacob and Esau reconcile, five of Jacob’s sons are pictured (and a cute little lamb) but the four polygamist moms involved must be camera shy. Joseph goes right to prison when brought to Egypt without serving Potiphar. Because who wants to explain to a four-year-old about MRS. Potiphar? 

Genesis 38—Judah and Tamar?—forget about it!

So on Sunday mornings I protect little children from too much biblical knowledge, while on weekday mornings I attempt to protect much older kids from biblical ignorance. 

I hope I never get mixed up.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Where does Jesus shop?

I never knew I wanted a Keurig coffeemaker. I’d played with one in the orthodontist’s office over the years, always treating myself to a free cup to compensate for the thousands of dollars invested beautifying the teeth of my four sons. But I was never willing to get a second mortgage to own a Keruig.
A quick Google search has prices ranging from $129.99 at Bed, Bath, and Beyond to $61.99 at…Tonerworld? I’m not sure I want to drink coffee associated with toner.
Then one day a few years ago my son Kevin procured a malfunctioning $5.00 Keurig from a thrift store and fixed it. I quickly became an addict of the high-priced, wasteful little K-cups, which I buy much cheaper, but just as wasteful, at the Surplus Outlet, which is blessedly close to my new job.
Anyone want to diagram that last sentence? No, me neither.
A few weeks ago, we thought Old K had brewed its last, but Young K whipped out his smart phone and ordered a replacement part, which arrived from Rhode Island by way of San Diego while we waited most impatiently.
This blog post is not really about coffeemakers, but when my pastor used a two-dollah-and-fitty-cent theological word at our Maundy Thursday service, I thought of my Keurig.
If you don’t like theology, skip these paragraphs.
The word is R-E-D-E-M-P-T-I-O-N, a noun, and the verb is “to redeem.” offers these definitions for redeem:  1. to buy or pay off; clear by payment: to redeem a mortgage. 2. to buy back, as after a tax sale or a mortgage foreclosure. 3. to recover (something pledged or mortgaged) by payment or other satisfaction: to redeem a pawned watch.
Redemption happens to us humans; we are the pawned watches that need to be recovered. God is the one who buys us and the price he pays is the blood of Jesus.
To my surprise, the website included a long paragraph from Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary: 
There are many passages in the New Testament which represent Christ's sufferings under the idea of a ransom or price, and the result thereby secured is a purchase or redemption…The idea running through all these texts, however various their reference, is that of payment made for our redemption. The debt against us is not viewed as simply cancelled, but is fully paid.
(redemption. Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary. (accessed: April 05, 2015).
Okay, come back now.
Hoping to make my point less muddy than three day old coffee, I want to answer my own question, “Where does Jesus shop?” Where does he shop for followers, for converts, for disciples, for younger siblings to join his family?
He shops at thrift stores, secondhand stores, yard sales, and flea markets. He even picks through the garbage dump. He doesn’t go to Macy’s to look for perfectly functioning people in their original boxes, because there aren’t any anyway. He picks up rusty, crusty, broken people, pays for them with his own life and takes them home and fixes them up.
Jesus shops at the Salvation Army. Bask in the irony.
You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
1 Corinthians 6:19b – 20, NIV

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Will your shields hold in the soloton wave?

In “New Ground,” a season five episode of Star Trek the Next Generation, the Enterprise has to travel through a soloton wave to keep another ship from crashing into a star…or a planet…or something or other. At any rate, it all rests on the strength of the ship’s shields. 

That’s a common Star Trek occurrence. Whether it’s enemy photon fire or the Crystalline Entity or a weird space anomaly, you can count on deteriorating shield performance for an exciting plot device.

“Report, Mr. Worf,” the French-born Picard says in Patrick Stewart’s British accent.

“Shields holding at 78 percent, Captain,” Worf proclaims in his calm Klingon voice…


“Shields down to 33 percent!” Worf shouts in his “Today-is-a-good-day-to-die” Klingon voice.

The shields are holding...barely.

Of course it’s all resolved in less than an hour, and even if the shields fail and the Enterprise blows up in a magnificent inferno, the main characters survive and Star Fleet’s flagship is rebuilt.

So when I hear or see the word “shield,” I first think of Star Trek’s mysterious, invisible protection, but I realize shields existed for millennia before Gene Roddenberry got this great idea for a space western. I’ve had students well versed in warfare and weapons, and they have educated me about shield history and pointed out inaccuracies of shield depictions in movies. 

(I do like that scene in one of the Lord of the Rings movies where they hold the shields over their heads and it’s like one giant shield.)

The word “shield” appears many times in the Bible. I would need a Mailleue brother to describe what shields looked like when David was king or to explain the differences between Assyrian and Babylonian shields. But I get the concept:  The shield is the thing you hold in front of you to keep from being injured by the enemy’s arrows or swords.

Many times the Bible identifies God as a shield. Here are a few places:

Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward. Genesis 15:1

Blessed are you, Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword.

“As for God, his way is perfect: The Lord’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him.” 2 Samuel 22:36

But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. Psalm 3:3

Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield. Psalm 5:12

I especially like the Psalms references. They portray God not as an ancient shield that only protects me on one side, but as a Star Trek type shield that surrounds me. Unlike the Enterprise’s shields which lose power when battered, God is always at 100 percent. 

If God is your shield, he will keep you safe in the soloton wave or whatever other dangers or enemies you face.

Here are some more shield references for you to look up:

Psalm 7:10, Psalm 18:2, Psalm 18:30, Psalm 18:35, Psalm 28:7, Psalm 33:20, Psalm 35:2, Psalm 59:11, Psalm 84:11, Psalm 91:4, Psalm 115:9, Psalm 119:114, Psalm 144:2, Proverbs 2:7, Isaiah 31:5, Zechariah 9:15, 1 Peter 1:5

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Late one Night on the Subway

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me…” Psalm 23:4
The pastor talked about fear this morning in church. He said living in a state or spirit of fear is ill-advised (See 2 Timothy 1:7), but sometimes it’s wise to be scared, like when a bear is chasing you. The sermon made me remember a time I was afraid (one of many) and how I handled it.
            During my Bible college days, a date for freshmen or sophomores meant a double date or a chaperoned date, and that’s how I found myself taking a bus into New York City with Bob and his roommate, Israel. We were going to the best concert ever at Madison Square Garden:  Jay and the Americans! I so desperately wanted to go to this concert that when Bob’s first choice turned him down, I suggested he take me. He must have been feeling fairly desperate himself, because he agreed. Israel was our appointed chaperone.
What I remember most forty some years later about the concert itself is that girls we didn’t know kept trying to get Israel to dance with them. He couldn’t comply. Dancing was another no-no for Bible college kids.
So after experiencing this fabulous performance, we discovered we had missed the last bus back to our college in northern New Jersey. Not only would we miss curfew (yet another no-no) we were stranded in the city. Israel came up with a solution:  We would ride the subway train to his parents’ home in Brooklyn, and borrow their car to drive back to school. I had not realized until that night that Israel was a tough, street-smart, inner city preacher’s kid.
No, I didn't see anyone this scary on the subway.
No, he's not Bob or Israel.

            Descending the stairs into the tunnel unnerved this small-town Jersey girl. Even forty years ago the subway appeared in movies, television dramas, and news stories as a setting for violent crime. The late hour and moving train soon lulled Bob to sleep, so I abandoned my date and moved closer to Israel. Though I didn’t want to be taking this ride at all, his presence made the train a less frightening place. I figured nobody would mess with me if it looked like I was with Israel.
            Like the psalmist, I affirm, “The Lord is my shepherd.” I prefer green pastures, quiet waters, and an overflowing cup, but when I have to walk in the shadowy valley—or ride the subway, or sub fifth grade, or face any number of irrational and rational fears—God’s presence makes it a less frightening place.
            And it doesn’t hurt to have a tough friend by my side as well.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell[a] in the house of the Lord
Psalm 23, NKJV via

Thursday, March 12, 2015

What did the sheep say to the Good Shepherd?

            A student can earn a bonus point on my quiz or test by drawing a picture related to the questions or the material studied. Being the antonym of “artist” myself, I’m very generous in my definition of “picture.” I’m stuck in Stick Figures 101, so I expect and accept them and I’m impressed when I get something better. Some students still haven’t received their quizzes back because I’m saving their artwork in case they become famous.
            Over the last sixteen years, I’ve awarded these bonus points in Bible, U.S. History, English Literature, and even vocabulary. I’m possibly the only teacher you may hear laughing while grading tests. Last year a talented student drew a picture of an explorer with a beautiful woman on each arm; the caption read:  Columbus, Nina, and Santa Maria.
            My juniors at SCA are studying the Gospel of John. (Well, to be realistic, I’m teaching it and some of them are studying it.) They recently took a quiz on my outline of John and were, as usual, invited to sketch for a bonus point. A significant feature of John’s Gospel is the list of “I am” metaphors Jesus uses. One girl drew a stick figure shepherd saying, “I am the good shepherd,” and a tiny stick lamb responding, “Baa.”
I liked it. And then I started thinking more deeply about baa. Being a word-ist in inverse proportion to being an artist, spelling is a concern of mine. (Well, to be honest, spelling is more of an obsession than a concern.) Don’t get me started or I will gleefully tell you about the famous Christian author who mixes up reign, rain, and rein in her best-selling fiction.
So I started thinking of baa’s homophone, bah. A homophone, you surely remember, is “a word pronounced the same as another but differing in meaning, whether spelled the same way or not, as heir and air.” * I visited to be sure I understood the difference before posting the information on a blog that could go viral. Here’s what I found:
verb (used without object), baaed, baaing.
1. to make the sound of a sheep; bleat.
2. the bleating cry of a sheep. *

1. an expression of contempt or disgust*
            Then I started thinking even more deeply about baa and bah.
            What did the sheep say to the Good Shepherd? Did the animal cry out with a bleat, which might be interpreted to mean, “I need a shepherd to lead me and feed me. I will follow you”? Or did he dismiss the shepherd with a contemptuous “bah!” which might be interpreted to mean, “I don’t need you. I can do life on my own”?
            How do I respond to the Good Shepherd? With baa or bah? How about you?