A Good Approach to Reading

“Our curiosity often gets in our way when we try to study and understand those passages that are too difficult for us. We should simply pass over them. If you wish to profit from your reading, read with humility, simplicity and faith, and do not try to impress others with your great learning. Feel free to question, listen in silence to the words of the saints, and do not scoff at what the ancient writers have to say, for it is not offered without a cause” (The Imitation of Christ by Thomas À Kempis).

Rodrigo handled his new Bible uncertainly, but I showed him how to find chapter and verse as well as how to reference the index. Leaving his house that day I was hopeful that he’d follow through on my advice to go ahead and read at least a chapter of the Gospel of John each day. Returning the next week, I asked him how his reading had gone.

“Well…but there were a few things I didn’t understand, so I stopped reading until I could ask you.”

We discussed his questions, then I counselled him to keep reading even when there are things he doesn’t grasp the first time through. He could just make a note of it and ask me later, while reading and learning more.

There are books I’ve had to read more than once to fully appreciate, not least of which is the Bible. It’s just too much information for one reading.

In Bible College I heard about a freshman who told the assistant librarian that he didn’t read the Bible on the daily basis. You see, he had already read it through once, and knew what it said. I’m not kidding, that’s what he told her.

So, just keep reading.

Making a Nest

Derek had a fairly unusual experience. You see, a bird landed on his head in his rather thick, wavy black hair. Rather than wave it away, he simply ignored the little brown sparrow. It hunkered down into his rather thick, wavy black hair and peeked out from time to time. Arriving home, Derek’s wife Debbie noticed the bird immediately.

“Get that thing out of your hair!”

Derek walked passed her and into the living room to watch TV. From time to time the bird flew away, out the open window, then back again with a blade of grass or piece of straw.

“Derek, it’s making a nest! Get rid of that horrid thing!”

Derek only glanced at Debbie vacantly, then looked back to the TV. Debbie shut the window once when the bird flew out the window, but when it flew back and looked forelornly through the glass, Derek went outside and sat on the porch. The bird continued it’s project.

By bedtime, the nest was complete and the bird was settling down for the night.

“You will not sleep in the same bed…or even the same room with me if you have that dirty animal in your hair!”

Derek bedded down on the couch that night.

At work the next day, Derek’s co-workers joked and laughed until the boss noted. His face void of expression as his boss demanded an explanation, he was sent home from work that day. The boss said he didn’t need to come back any more if he was going to have the animal in his hair.

That evening a family friend came by to chat with Derek about the bird, but Derek said only, “It’s not a problem,” and kept silent for the rest of the visit. His mother came the next day and begged him to get rid of the bird, but he simply ignored her. The local vet came by the next day, offering to help him remove the bird with its nest and take care of the bird humanely. Derek had nothing meaningful to contribute to the conversation, and the vet went home empty handed.

Tearfully, Debbie put Derek out of the house. “Come back when you’re clean again.”

The bird had laid eggs, and white bird “doo” was dripping down around his ears and drying unattended. No restaurant would let him inside (it certainly was not hygenic). His money ran out pretty quickly anyway, and he kept himself going on what he found in dumpsters.

By the end of summer, the hatchlings had grown sufficiently to begin flying. The first hard freeze of autumn found Derek shivering in a dry ditch, covered with strips of cardboard for a makeshift blanket. The nest was empty.

Does this sound absurd, unlikely and dubious. Maybe, but the truth is that you could be doing the same thing that Derek did.

…and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:27 NIV).

You can’t keep temptation from coming, but like the bird in Derek’s hair, you don’t have to let it make a nest. And, if it is already nestled in and cozy, you can still remove it. Maybe that seems impossible, but Christ can truly help you to get rid of the sin and clean up.

It could be that you are comfortable physically, but spiritually you are out of control. You have to get rid of it, for your own good.

“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell [Gehenna], where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched. (Mark 9:43-48 NRSV).

Reflections On Turning 31

Only a few years ago while I was living in Brazil someone sent me an e-mail, congratulating me on “living your dream.” Heading home that day I saw a Brazilian flag flying, and with the sound of voices speaking Portuguese filling my ears I thought, this is really it, I am living my dream, thank God.

I suppose that if you would have told me then that I would turn 31 in New Jersey while working for a cell phone company to support my family, I would have either been very angry at the implication, or profoundly depressed. Certainly I expected to be in Brazil with a growing church and successful ministry.

Difficult finances were the primary factor in bringing me back to the States, and in a way it’s just as well. It’s important to me that my father met my wife and children before his sudden passing in early 2005. Had I remained in Brazil, I’d have a serious regret to deal with. Further, one of my supporting churches consenting to continue supporting my brother-in-law Marcelo in his work with the Church in Pacaembu. Had that not happened, the church there would have lost a valuable worker, and I certainly would not have done as well as Marcelo by myself with a fledgling congregation.

So, here I am. In a way, it makes sense as I look back on it. I’m in a state with a major concentration of Brazilian immigrants, one of the few such locations with a Brazilian church of the Restoration Movement already established. The hardships of the past three years that I thought would crush me have actually challenged me to go beyond the limits I had placed upon my faith.

God is in control. I thank Him and look forward to whatever may be ahead.

Crude Blessing

Evolutionists say it comes from dinosaurs and plants killed in a global catastrophe. From what I gather, many Creationists would agree, except that they specify it was the global flood described in Genesis involving Noah and his family that buried so much life under sediment and eventually produced oil.

Either way, we are terribly fortunate to have it, as well as coal and natural gas. Romantics who detest the industrialized world and glorify the past don’t seem to realize how nasty, brutish and short life was without our modern science and industry. They especially don’t realize how essential to our way of life these products are.

Without petroleum, coal and natural gas there would have been no industrial revolution, and as a result we would not have modern medicine, telecommunications and so much more. It simply would have been impossible.

These resources will eventually run out, so we need to make the most of the time we have them to learn to move beyond them to other forms of energy production that we could not have jumped to directly from horse and carriage.

Theists can and should see this as a part of the providential plan of God. It seems likely to me that God planned for us to have these resources, use them then move on.

The shame is that humanity is fallen, and in this state our struggle over these precious resources and the careless way we use them hurt people and damage the earth.

No Passive Observer

The story of Joseph, son of Jacob, reveals something about God and prophecy. Namely, prophecy is not the dualistic “forthtelling” and “foretelling” of classic theology, but simply a “forthtelling” of God’s will.

In traditional Catholic and Protestant theology, prophecy has been understood to at times be a revelation of God’s will, and at other times it is a revelation of future events. This is not how I see it. All of prophecy is a revelation of God’s nature and will. When He reveals something about future events, it is not “I’ve seen the future” prediction, but “This is what I’ll do.” Some prophecies regarding the future are contingent on human obedience or disobedience. God would have destroyed Ninevah, had the entire city not repented at the preaching of reluctant prophet Jonah. Other prophecies of future events are not contingent at all, but declarations of what God will Himself do. The return of Christ in judgment would be an example of an announcement of God’s future acts.

Pharaoh had a dream, and no one could interpret it. Joseph was brought up from the dungeon, washed and shaved, then was hurried in to speak with Pharaoh. Giving the interpretation from God, consider this highlights:

“Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, ‘Pharaoh’s dreams are one and the same; God has revealed to Pharaoh what He is about to do’” (Genesis 41:25 NRSV).

“It is as I told Pharaoh; God has shown to Pharaoh what He is about to do” (Genesis 41:28 NRSV).

This prophetic dream given by God to Pharaoh and interpreted through the gift of God by Joseph was not “seeing the future” as it is commonly understood. Rather, it was seeing God’s plan. More than a mere plan, this was what God was definitely going to do.

Later, after Joseph has revealed himself to his brothers, he calms their fears that he’ll seek vengeance by assuring them that it was God that sent him to Egypt.

“And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5 NRSV).

“God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 45:7-8 NRSV).

Although the brothers of Joseph had betrayed Joseph, sold him into slavery and then lied about his death to their father, Joseph forgave them. It was all in God’s plan, according to him. In fact, God had providentially used their evil to the salvation of many lives.

God was working out a long-range plan for the redemption of the world. This “seed-line” from Abraham was a key part of his strategy, and not even evil could overcome God’s will.

Faithful Alien

For the past couple of days I’ve been reflecting on the life of Joseph, son of Jacob. In this and another post or two, I hope to express a little of what’s been on my mind, and how Joseph’s tale is meaningful to me.

Joseph was faithful, even though he could have been otherwise. Reading from Genesis, it looks like in his early years he was rather puffed up because of his father’s favor (remember the fabled coat of many colors?) and because of the visions from God in which he was honored by his brothers. This all turned his brothers against him, and got him first to the bottom of a pit, and then sold into slavery. His father believed he was dead, killed by a wild animal.

His father or someone must have imparted to him some knowledge of the Lord, because while a slave in Potiphar’s household in Egypt, he did all things well, then refused to give in to adultery with Potiphar’s wife. I doubt that Joseph was the first man besides her husband that the wretched woman had bedded (or the last, for that matter) and technically he could have gotten away with it so far as humans are concerned. Hell hath no fury, though, as a woman scorned, and Potiphar’s wife claimed he had attempted to rape her (Genesis in the New Revised says he went in to “insult” her), and Potiphar had him thrown in jail.

Joseph didn’t decide at the last minute what he would do if propositioned by another man’s wife. I have no doubt he had decided long before what he would do. You see, you have to decide your morality before the heat of the moment strikes. Alone in a bedroom with a woman to whom you are not married is no time to be making profound spiritual and moral decisions. That has to happen well beforehand.

In jail, the Lord grants Joseph favor in the eyes of the jailer, and Joseph faithfully discharges all duties given to him. He gains favor and authority, even though a prisoner. I rather suspect the jail was more like a Turkish prison than a Norwegian minimum security facility. In other words, I’m sure it wasn’t a pleasant environment.

God helped Joseph interpret the dreams of a royal baker and a royal cupbearer. The former was executed, and the latter was restored to his original post and honor. The cupbearer also forgot about Joseph, who continue to languish in jail. If it were me, I would have long given in to hopelessness. But Joseph apparently trusted in the Lord.

Pharaoh dreamed, but these were no ordinary dreams. Only Joseph could be found (finally remembered by the cupbearer) to interpret his dreams. His interpretation was impressive, persuasive and ultimately quite accurate. Pharaoh promoted him to the highest post in Egypt other than that of Pharaoh himself.

Joseph was now a powerful man with an Egyptian wife and children. No longer completely alone, he still did not have his family. He could have turned to Egyptian paganism many times in his life, he could have given in to defeat, he could have looked at his humiliating circumstances and given up. He did none of these things, but rather served God above all else, and was blessed. He was a man who knew his own mind and the will of God, and acted accordingly. Though a stranger and an alien for years, Joseph had a real and vital relationship with the One that really matters.

In time, God used this faithful man to save the lives of many others, including his father, brothers and their families. Joseph was further used in the grander scheme of God to move along the history of redemption.