Tuesday, February 26, 2013


My sister Thelma went to be with Jesus this past Friday.  She was my only sibling and was three years older than me.
Her passing has raised many emotions in me which can't simply be summed up under one label.  I felt that I needed to attempt to put some of them down.  Please excuse me while I ramble; I'm trying to be as honest and open as possible.  This is very personal.

Perhaps the first feeling I had when I received the news was one of relief.  I and her family had in a sense been grieving for her for a long time.  Thelma had been deteriorating in health for many years. As a young pregnant teenager she had suffered from polio.  And though she recovered fully, in later life she suffered from what's known as post-polio syndrome.  Then she was partially crippled by what doctors finally determined to be multiple sclerosis.  In her last years she was diagnosed with COPD, which was determined to be the ultimate cause of her death.  But what was saddest was that in the last years of her life she had been sinking deeper into dementia, which showed up after the death of her husband Jim, 11 years earlier, though there had been early indicators.  Jim, as many faithful spouses do, had been covering for her.

I also felt the loss of a friend and regrets that our friendship had not been deeper.  As children, we were not close.  There was a  three year difference in our ages and we differed greatly in personality.  She was gregarious like our father and never lacked friends of both sexes, while I was shy and bookish.  She struggled with school, while I was an A student with little effort.  (I remember many times hearing her say, "You think school is easy, but just wait till you're in ___ grade!")

Thelma dropped out of high school and got married young (while I was still in my early teens) and began having children right away.  She and our mother had what seemed to me an overly close relationship at this time.

Religiously, we differed as well.  Though we did not have much religious upbringing in our home, Thelma seemed to favor our mother's and grandmother's Catholicism (Christmas and Easter mass).  We both had other exposure in this area and I recall discussing our mutual faith in Christ with her as we grew older.  I followed my faith and became involved in a rigid Baptist church while she and Jim re-converted to Catholicism.

Thelma was a stay-at-home Mom, birthing and raising seven kids, never working outside the home, never learning to drive, dependent to a great extent on our Mom.  Then it seems that at about the age of 40, she went through a great change -- perhaps a mid-life crisis?  She learned to drive, finished high school and went to work as a cook in a juvenile detention center, a job she loved and worked at for many years.  (She used to say that she cooked for the bad kids all day and then came home and cooked for her own bad kids.)

It was after this that our friendship blossomed, though we now lived over 1,000 miles apart.  Some summers Uni and I would stay at Thelma and Jim's home for a week or two while visiting our home town, family and friends.

After Jim passed, her dementia became more and more of a problem and soon she was placed in an assisted living facility.  As Uni and I would usually only get to our home town once a year, the changes we'd see would be striking.  The deterioration in Thelma's memory continued to progress.  There were, however, many bright spots and good times.  The losses in her short-term memory seemed to sharpen her long-term memory.  One day we took her for a ride through the old neighborhood where we had grown up.  Uni and I were amazed as Thelma pointed out the homes of friends and neighbors whom I had long forgotten.  While it took me a while to dig out these old memories, it seemed that to her they were as fresh as yesterday.  Uni rolled with laughter in the back seat as Thelma and I swapped stories of our childhood and engaged in arguments over details -- which Thelma usually won.  However, a few years later those memories too began to disappear.

Thelma did not live an easy life; the last years were very hard, but I believe she lived a good life and a happy one.  She knew love and she showed love.  I believe that today she's celebrating with her Savior and her departed loved ones.

Music somehow ministers to us in our grief.  An old gospel song came to mind as I sat the first couple of days just thinking of my sister -- her life and her passing -- The Wayfaring Stranger.

I'll see you over there Sis!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


My favorite TV sitcom is The Big Bang Theory.  I crack up every time I watch the show, which I do religiously (i.e., once a week).  Also, if there's nothing else on TV, one can usually find a Big Bang rerun somewhere.  Big Bang reruns are even easier to find than MASH, Seinfeld or Cheers.

For those few who are uninformed, the program is about the escapades of four brilliant young scientists who are seemingly clueless about "real life."  (Think:  The Three Stooges plus one, with Ph. D's.)  Across the hall from two of them lives their foil, Penny, a beautiful blond who is as clueless about their interests as they are about hers.  Throw in a growing cast of fellow geeks and nerds of both sexes.
[Disclaimer:  I am not recommending this show to anyone who might take offense at the constant sexual and scatological references.]

I do have to ask myself, however, why I enjoy this show so much.  I've come up with a couple of possible answers to this question.

One possible reason is that I, along with many other fans take a sort of sadistic delight in seeing brilliant people do and say stupid things.  I suppose that many, maybe most of us have this deep underlying suspicion of the "experts" -- those who are regarded as so much more intelligent and learned than we are.  We like to think that they're really not, and this program confirms our suspicion:  we're really smarter than they are!
Another possible reason is that this program speaks to my own inner geek.  As a kid I was always the bookish type with little interest in sports (still am).  I can identify with these guys to some extent, except that I wasn't bullied as much as they were as kids.  If you're a geek it helps to be big.  And as they do, I tend to over-think many situations -- why else would I even be writing this post? 

Anyway, a while back, while discussing a group of guys who got together to study, discuss and debate theology, I referred to them as "theologeeks."  I  didn't know where the term came from.  I didn't intend for it to be a derogatory term and I suppose that there are some who would place me in that category.
Though I thought at first that I had coined an original term, I decided to Google "theologeek" and lo, I found 61 results.  One site defined it as:  "Someone who sees theology as an end in itself rather than as a way of growing in treasuring God for ourselves and others."

I didn't like that definition, though I believe it could be descriptive of many in that group.  So I decided to come up with my own and started by looking up the word "geek" in my Webster's (11th Collegiate).  I found three definitions:
      1.  (1914) a carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken or snake.
      2.  a person often of an intellectual bent who is disliked.
      3.  an enthusiast or expert especially in a technological field or activity.
As I have never met anyone of a theological bent who was known to bite the heads off of chickens or snakes, I eliminated definition number 1.  (I'd suppose that those involved in such activities today would be known as musicians.)  And as I do not necessarily dislike those with theological interests, I decided to use definition number 3 (with a little bit of definition number 2 thrown in), as a basis for my definition of a theologeek as:  "A person of an intellectual bent who is an enthusiast or expert in the field of theology."
I have stated elsewhere that I believe that we are all theologians, that everyone has their own concept of God or reality which colors all of their thinking.  A theologeek then would simply be one who went beyond the norm, perhaps even a professional in their field.
Those of us who laugh at the social blunders of the characters on the Big Bang may forget that geeks perform useful, even necessary functions in society, and that without these brilliant people our lives would be the lesser.
And so it is with our theologeeks.  Our concepts of God and His work, while not requiring the input of experts would without those, be extremely limited and would also be much more easily subject to error.  Perhaps theologeeks are those who have what Paul refers to as "the word of wisdom" and/or "the word of knowledge."  Nearly 2000 years of theologeekdom has brought us where we are today in our theological understanding.
But theologeeks, like those geeks on TV are I believe, in danger of being so wrapped up in their field of expertise, of becoming so involved in the study of theological minutiae that they have no "street smarts."  Perhaps this is not as grave a danger in physics or biology as it is in theology.
We must study theology, not as an end in itself, nor simply as an arena for debate.  Rather, we must study theology so we can better know about God, and study to know about God so that we can better know Him.  Geekery that just studies truths and theories about God without coming to an intimate relationship with Him is just that -- geekery.

And Christianity is all about communication.  We must not only know Him, we must be able to relate these truths to "real life."  And to those non-geeks around us.


Thursday, February 14, 2013


When I taught a class called Bible Study Methods at the College of Biblical Studies in Houston, I taught three steps:  observation, interpretation and application and that these steps must be followed in that order.  My usual introductory spiel went something like this (abbreviated):  "The first question we usually ask of a passage of Scripture is, 'What does this mean to me?'  But we have no business asking this question without first asking (and determining) 'What does this mean?'  And we have no business asking 'What does this mean? until we have asked (and determined) 'What does this say?'"

We would spend a great part of the semester doing exercises in observation -- grammar, context, figures of speech, etc. -- attempting to observe what various texts were saying.  After this we would do more exercises in interpretation, attempting to determine as closely as possible the meaning of the text in its context and to its original readers and/or hearers.

It was only after they had gone through all this labor and toil that the students were allowed to do application -- to take the principles learned from their studies and place them in their own contexts -- into their personal situations.  The results were often amazing, frequently bringing tears as these were read in class.

A big problem that kept recurring in this process was that of keeping one's present context out of the first two steps and saving it for the third step.  To a great extent this was impossible.  The students did not arrive in college as blank slates.  Most had some background of biblical knowledge, of psychology and of history.  Much of this was helpful, although much simply got in the way, keeping the students from seeing the Scripture afresh.  I noticed that sometimes those who were relatively ignorant of Scripture were often able to grasp biblical meanings more quickly.

But this is an issue not only for first semester college students, it is a problem for every person who desires to have the Scriptures relevant in his/her life.  It is a constant problem for me, not only in my personal studies, but also in attempting to relate them to the culture around me and to my fellow believers.  I have often seen it in objections raised to things I have written, as well as in my teaching and discussion with students.

Now please don't get me wrong.  I have always appreciated disagreement, even being corrected on faulty reasoning or ignorance on my part (even when my pride gets hurt a bit).  I appreciate listening to other interpretations of Scriptures or theology, or current events.

What bothers me are objections in which, as I see it, the objector inserts his/her own context into the interpretation rather than into the application of Scripture.

A few "for instances" --  (Please pardon me for oversimplifying and forgive me if you feel I'm referring to something you've said.):

First, the argument from experience:  When Jesus commands to "forsake all" and follow Him, that this forsaking is required in order to follow, the reply is given from experience, "But when I chose to follow Jesus, the forsaking came automatically."  Well, maybe so; I can't question your experience; but that's not what Jesus said.  He made an all-or-nothing demand.

Then, there are the hypothetical "what-ifs?"  Jesus says, "...do not resist the evil..."  The question is immediately thrown up, "But what about protecting your family (wife, mother, etc.)?

And, of course, the political or patriotic.  The Bible says to love your neighbor, even the alien.  The reply, "But there are 11 million illegal aliens in this country.  We've got to do something about them."

I'm not saying that these are not legitimate questions; I'm saying they're being asked at the wrong time and place.  These are not interpretation questions, they are application questions.

As those who believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures and claim to believe in the authority of the Scriptures, we are obligated to make every effort to understand the Scripture in its own context.  We must have some understanding of the time and place in which these sayings were made and of the original hearers.  We must seek to clearly determine what Jesus meant when He made these radical demands.  It is only when we have a clear understanding that we can seek how to relate them to our own situation(s).  We dare not insert America, guns, Mom or apple pie into our interpretation of these demands.

But we must insert these demands into our relationship to America, guns, Mom and apple pie.

Sunday, February 10, 2013


Uni and I grew up, dated, married and started our family in Muskegon, a city on the western shore of Michigan.  Muskegon was a seaport on Lake Michigan.  Ocean-going ships would sail  in through a channel from the big lake into Muskegon Lake, a smaller lake with a deep harbor, around which the city was built.

Growing up in this environment we took for granted the sights, sounds and smells of the "sea."  Sitting on the channel walls, fishing for perch or dipping smelt which ran in the early spring.  Hearing the bellow of the foghorn in the early morning as its deep BEE-OOHH sound carried for miles. 

The ship channel ran in an east-west direction.  On its north side sat a large red lighthouse.  South of the channel a breakwater, made of huge rocks and concrete, extended far out into the big lake.  On the far end of the breakwater, perhaps a quarter mile out sat the ugliest lighthouse ever seen.

But to Uni and me it was beautiful.  When we were teenagers we could walk out hand-in-hand on a warm summer day or evening and have a brief few moments alone.  There were times when, of course, we were unable to walk the breakwater, when huge waves went crashing over the top.  In the winter waves would be frozen over it.

We didn't have to go far up or down the shoreline to see other lighthouses, each unique.  Michigan has by far the greatest number of lighthouses -- 129 according to one count.  Some of these date back to the 19th century.
Songs we sang and heard in church -- old gospel songs -- seemed to fit right in with this "seafaring" atmosphere.  We could visualize them and feel the waves crashing as we sang:
"I've anchored my soul in the Haven of Rest.
I'll sail the wild seas no more ..."
"Let the lower lights be burning,
send a gleam across the waves ..." 
"Thank God for the Lighthouse ..."
As I said, we simply took these things for granted.  But having lived the greater part of our lives in Texas and now residing in Oklahoma, lighthouses have a great nostalgic -- even romantic appeal.  So every time Uni and I return to our hometown, we take a break from family and old friends to relive our courting days by visiting "our" lighthouse.

This past September we celebrated our 56th wedding anniversary by "honeymooning" along the Wisconsin and Michigan shores of Lake Michigan, spending much of our time seeking out some of the lighthouses, strolling out on the breakwaters, climbing up into some lighthouses, snapping pictures.  (We thought our 56th anniversary was special because '56 was the year we were married.)

Each lighthouse is unique in appearance, in structure, in history, but each also has changed with modern times.
Some have ceased to function, having been replaced with simpler, more high-tech (but less romantic) towers.  Of these non-functioning ones some just sit there crumbling, while others have been torn down.
Many of those no longer in use have become private property, perhaps used for a family home, even a bed-and-breakfast.
Others have become museums, giving visitors glimpses of a by-gone era when these structures were absolute necessities for those who sailed, welcome sights for captains and crews.
Those that still function have been updated with more modern, electric and electronic lighting systems; the old kerosene burning lights have long ago been left behind.
Now I'm not writing these things as a lament, a longing for the "good old days."  The past is the past.  But as the old gospel songs expressed, those lighthouses serve as a metaphor for the church -- us -- those who know and follow Jesus Christ.
"You are the light of the word, a city set on a hill cannot be hidden"
said Jesus (Matthew 5:14)
And I can't help but compare and wonder.
Some churches have ceased to function, replaced by something more up-to-date.
Some just sit there crumbling, unaware that their light has gone out.

Some have been torn down.
Some have become private property -- run by some modern day Diotrephes (3 John 9).

Some have become "bed and breakfasts" -- good for a brief visit only.

And some have become museums, still looking back to, and trying to relive the glorious days of the past.

But some churches have been updated, doing their best to keep the light shining.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


When I published my post GOD, GUNS & GUTS, I didn't know what to expect as far as comments.  I supposed that either I would receive a few negative comments or that those who disagree with me would simply ignore it.  When I received only 3 comments (all positive), I assumed the latter.  (I received no death threats.)  But then finally, after nearly a month, I received the following:

"You stated 'What bothers me is men who hold their pro-gun positions claim to be followers of Christ.' This seems judgmental, and also speaking where God does not. Our God Does advocate violence when appropriate. He told his disciples to buy a sword, made sure Peter had one handy (which he did). Old Testament is full of God commanding violence, much of it to protect his people from sin. Violence 4 the sake of pride? No! Violence 2 protect others? He was pretty violent in the temple if you remember. Do you think Jesus would have let his mom b raped & told her don't resist? Is self defense discouraged n the Bible. Remember in the law, if you struck someone in the night when they broke into your home, there was no life for life. It was considered justified. A gun allows the week to protect themselves from the strong IF they choose to."

As it contained a few questions as well as an accusation and much of it involved some misunderstanding of biblical interpretation, I felt I needed to reply to the remarks.

-- First of all the claim that my statement quoted above seems judgmental.  Well yes, I guess it did seem judgmental.  But I followed it with a series of rhetorical questions basically questioning how this could be.  I condemned no one.

--The claim that I was "speaking where God does not" could be used of your comment as well.  I don't presume to speak for God where God hasn't spoken.  But I believe He has.  I believe we find a non-violent, non-retaliatory ethic throughout the New Testament, especially in the words of Jesus.

-- I agree that the "Old Testament is full of God commanding violence."  Violence was even one of the methods for furthering God's Kingdom.  However, as a follower of Jesus Christ, I am not under the Old Covenant and Jesus makes it clear that the Old Covenant is not binding on me.  I have felt uncomfortable with the violence promoted there.

"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye' and 'a tooth for a tooth.'  But I (Jesus) am telling you, don't withstand the evil, but whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him also the other."  (Matthew 5:38, 39)

"...James and John said, 'Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?'  But Jesus turned and rebuked them and said, 'You don't know of what Spirit you are ...'"  (Luke 9:54, 55)

--I admit that the story about Jesus telling His disciples to buy a sword still baffles me, but if we look at the events following, it seems reasonably clear that the sword was not to be used on another human being (and there were only two swords for the whole group, not each one packing).
"And He said to them, 'When I sent you out without bag and purse and sandals, you didn't lack anything did you?'  And they said, 'Nothing.'  And He said to them, but now the one who has a bag should take it, likewise also a purse, and he who doesn't have one should sell his garment and buy a sword.'  ...And they said, 'Lord look, here are two swords.'  And He said to them, 'it's enough!'"  (Luke 22:35, 36, 38)

"Then they (the mob) came and laid hands on Jesus and seized Him.  And one of those with Jesus reached out his hand, drew his sword, struck the servant of the High Priest and severed his ear.  Then Jesus says to him, 'Put your sword back in its place.  For all those who take the sword will perish by the sword.'"  (Matthew 26:50-52)

--Yes, Jesus got pretty violent in the temple when He chased out the money changers.  But I don't read where He did physical harm to anyone, and I don't understand your apparent implication that he did this to protect others.

-- As far as whether "Jesus would have let His mom be raped," that's one of those questions like how would Jesus vote?  (Democrat or Republican?)  Or what would Jesus drive?  (A pickup or a Prius?)  Or would Jesus wear a Rolex on His television show?  Pure speculation.

As I assumed I made clear, I have no quarrel with guns per se.  As far as my own experience with guns, I grew up around guns.  Many in my family and neighborhood hunted or collected guns.  I fired guns many times though I never hunted.  As a Marine (Reservist) the only medal I ever received was when I qualified as a Marksman on the rifle range (which every Marine did or else received a large boot inserted forcefully in his anus).  Of course, the first gun I owned as a boy was my Red Ryder BB gun.

I write as a follower of Jesus Christ; as such I must build my ethics on His teaching  and example, not on the claims of the NRA, nor on the Old Testament Law of Moses, nor on some eclectic arbitrary mix of these and other systems.

I realize that I'm not there yet.  My questions in the post under discussion were based on what I perceive as the incompatibility between a Christian ethic and the pro-gun position.  I'm still awaiting answers from those who claim to hold both positions at the same time.

Monday, February 4, 2013


I have been reading the gospels and to some extent studying them for nearly 60 years and I am continually baffled by the things Jesus said and did which often appeared contradictory.  He could be tender and gentle to the weak and needy, and then make seemingly impossible demands on these and others.

In one place we read of Him saying:  "Come to me all who are worn out and burdened down and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me because I am gentle and humble in heart, and will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is pleasant and my load is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).

This certainly sounds nice and comforting, like the old line about "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild," but in the chapter previous to the one where He makes this claim, we read of Him saying something that seems totally contrary to that image:  "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it!" (Matthew 10:37-39).
What gives?  We see Jesus doing this over and over -- switching back and forth between the "gentle Jesus" to the demanding Jesus -- from the humble to the (apparently) egotistical.  If we were examining Jesus as clinicians, we might diagnose Him as bi-polar or schizophrenic.
When I attended seminary I took a class on personality development, taught by a well-known psychiatrist.  Every student was required to take a personality profile, where we answered hundreds of questions which were used to graph our personality traits and (possible) disorders.  As I recall there were two parallel lines running horizontally through the chart.  We were told that though our graph may go up and down, as long as we stayed between this pair of lines, we were considered "normal" (I recall that I bumped the lines in a few places, though I never crossed them).
Our prof informed us that he decided once to take the test and answer the questions as he thought Jesus would have (admitting that this was a dangerous thing to do).  He felt there were many places where Jesus would have crossed the line and been considered as having personality disorders.
While this may seem bizarre to many and even blasphemous to some, we should remember that Jesus was considered by many in His own day as having some problems.
"The Jews answered and said to Him, 'Aren't we correct in saying you're a Samaritan and you have a demon?'"  (John 8:48).
"When they heard, some of His own family went out to seize Him, because they were saying, 'He's out of his mind!" (Mark 3:21).
As I look over my many years of study, I have come to realize that many of my efforts in study have been to bring Jesus back between those two parallel lines.  And as a matter of fact most of the sermons I've heard (and preached), most of the books I've read, most of the lessons I've heard (and taught) have at least to some extent, been directed toward that goal.
I recognize that much of this effort is legitimate.  We need to attempt to interpret the gospels in ways that we can understand what they say.  We need to use proper exegetical methods.  A few examples:
Jesus used figures of speech, much as we do.  Similes and metaphors were common.  He also used hyperbole.  One task of the interpreter is to distinguish when Jesus is speaking matter-of-factly and when he is exaggerating for the sake of emphasis.
We should also recognize that Jesus had many roles, as the titles given to Him and which He claimed for Himself show.  As a healer he was gentle; as Lord and King he was demanding.  And of course He was both God and Man as He claimed!
And Jesus knew people and their individual needs.  While often He spoke in general terms, there were many times when His words were directed toward a particular individual or group.  He tailored His speech toward the need of those addressed.
And having said all this, having used all the interpretive tools we have, we are still confronted with a Savior who frustrates our efforts to fit Him between the lines.
And yet we can trust Him as the One who loved us enough to die in our place on the cross.
And we can yield to the seemingly impossible demands that He makes as our Lord and Master.
And we can attempt to follow Him as our example.