Isaiah’s Version of the Virgin, Part 1

The famous American painter, Robert Rauschenberg once said, “An empty canvas is full.” I think he was crazy, but I am not a big fan of minimalism. But even though I am not now nor ever have been a member of the minimalist art movement, I am a huge fan of a minimalist experiment conducted by Bell Labs in the 1970’s.  In 1971, Leon Harmon wanted to identify the least amount of visual information a picture may contain and still be recognizable.  Harmon took a picture of Abraham Lincoln and divided it into 200 squares with each square shaded a different intensity of gray. The picture is very blurry, very gray with a few darker blobs and consists entirely of blocks; but as soon as you see it, you know that’s Lincoln.  Honestly, it is shocking how little information one needs to identify someone in a picture.  Here’s today’s question:

An Eye for an Eye, Part 2

Here’s what I think: Every once in a while, you need a good palindrome. Not because they are the funniest thing on the internet, but because we need to be reminded that sometimes looking at things backwards makes the most sense (or at least in the case of palindromes, the same sense). So here are ten great palindromes. Feel free to read them forwards or backwards. After all, it really doesn’t matter. Step on no pets. Never odd or even. No lemon, no melon Madam in Eden, I'm Adam. Dennis and Edna sinned. A man, a plan, a canal: Panama. Eva, can I stab bats in a cave? Golf? No sir, prefer prison-flog. Marge lets Norah see Sharon's telegram. Tarzan raised Desi Arnaz' rat. Last week, we began looking at the so-called antitheses in Matthew 5 where Jesus refers back to the Old Testament law and refutes it by saying, “But

An Eye for an Eye, Part 1

Samuel Goldwyn was Hollywood’s answer to Yogi Berra (even though Goldwyn was born first).  As a movie producer, he was very, very successful; but as a speaker, few people were better at being more incomprehensible. So, if you are looking for a good oxymoron, look no further. Goldwyn is reported to have said the following: "Include me out." "Anyone who goes to a psychiatrist ought to have his head examined." "If I could drop dead right now, I’d be the happiest man alive!" "Spare no expense to save money on this one." "We’re overpaying him, but he’s worth it." "I read part of it all the way through." “I don't want any yes-men around me. I want everybody to tell me the truth even if it costs them their job.” Scholars have called the list of sayings in Matthew 5 the antitheses (also called “the oppositions”). Six times, Jesus says

Let Us (Part 2)

“The world may never know.” That’s how the classic Tootsie Roll Pop commercial ended. It was a heart-breaking answer. A boy obviously caught up in the existential dread that is unknowing, runs to a turtle and asks him, “How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Roll Pop?” The turtle, beaten down by years and failures, confesses his failure. He may start out licking, but in the end the temptation is too great. He bites down.  He suggests the boy asks the owl. The boy, hopeful that his unknowing will be turned into knowing, runs to the wise owl and asks him. The owl takes the Tootsie Roll Pop and says, “Let’s see.” And with that he begins to lick, “One, two, three. . . .” But on the third lick, he bites down. Hence, the reason we may never know. No

Let Us (Part 1)

How do we use the word, “we?” We count the ways.  There is the “royal we” (aka, the majestic plural) where kings and queens speak of themselves in the plural.  Apparently, King Henry II, having all power, wanted to insure people obeyed his every whim; and so, he often spoke of himself in the plural to remind people that he was God’s appointed king and that failure to obey him would most certainly result in eternal damnation. I believe another “royal” expression also originated during the reign of Henry, expressing that the king was a “royal pain.” Today, the “royal we” is seldom used; and if it is, it is not in reference to divine right, but to note that the person is not speaking merely as an individual, but in their official capacity. There is also the “judicial we,” where judges speak for the court and the “editorial we”

Starting Points

Roger Ebert once said, “It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it.” Well, this is how it is. Few movies in my childhood affected me more than the classic, The Incredible Shrinking Man. You will never guess what it is about! While out on a boat, a man gets drenched by a mysterious sea mist; and then, as (bad) luck would have it, a few days later he gets sprayed by some insecticide. As a result, he starts shrinking . . .  incredibly. First, his clothes don’t fit; then, he is living in a dollhouse; then, he ends up in an epic life-and-death duel with a spider (he ends up stabbing it with a pin that he uses as a sword). And in the end, he shrinks into nothingness. But even as he shrunk into oblivion, he had a religious epiphany. The quote of the

No Easy Task

For my birthday last year, Jo gave me a great gift. She volunteered me to help Sherlock Holmes, which I gladly did. And you can, too. When you subscribe to “,” Sherlock will send you a letter each week from someone in need. Your job is to find the clues in the correspondence and solve the mystery. At the end of every month, Sherlock himself writes to the victim and reveals who did what and why so that you can check your suspicions. I solved three cases. I caught the vacuum cleaner crook, closed the case of the abducted attaché case, and discovered why desperadoes were digging in the dining room. It was great fun, but I like deciphering what clues mean, solving problems and understanding how things fit together. Perhaps, that is why I am so driven to talk about how to interpret and “piece together” the Bible’s meaning.

Sola Scriptura

Today’s topic: things that sounded great until afterwards. Here are some actual newspaper headlines that meant well, but went badly. Diana Was Still Alive Hours Before She Died Police Say Man with No Arms and No Legs is Armed and on the Run Bugs Flying Around with Wings are Flying Bugs Homicide Victims Rarely Talk to Police Statistics Show that Teen Pregnancy Drops off Significantly After Age 25 Federal Agents Raid Gun Shop, Find Weapons One of the great doctrines of the Reformation was Sola Scriptura. It sounded like such a good doctrine, but then something went askew. Sola Scriptura says that we are bound, not to councils, traditions or any opinions of men, but only to Scripture. Hence, Sola Scriptura, Scripture Alone. The Westminster Confession of Faith (1:6) says it this way (I’ve underlines the important parts): The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own

Perspicuity Could Be Clearer

Let me be clear, comedian Steven Wright is either very clear or very confusing. At least, I think so. But maybe you better decide for yourself. Here are some well-known Steven Wright questions/queries that I think are clearly important. For instance: “Why isn’t the word ‘phonetically’ spelled with an ‘F’?” “What’s another word for ‘Thesaurus’?” “If people from Poland are called Poles, why aren’t people from Holland called Holes?” “Do Lipton employees take coffee breaks?” “Why are there five syllables in the word monosyllabic?” “How come abbreviated is such a long word?” Let me be clear, The Westminster Confession of Faith’s doctrine of Scripture is either very clear or very confusing. You decide. Here is the Confession’s statement in 1:7: “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all. Yet, those things that are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are

O Come, All Ye Faithful

Let’s start off with a quiz.  What one word ties all eight of these Christmas carols together? And while the obvious answer (and the best guess) might be one of the words, Christmas, Jesus, Christ, God or O, none of these is the word for which I am looking (sorry). Here are the eight carols: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates It Came Upon the Midnight Clear O Little Town of Bethlehem Angels We Have Heard on High Angels, from the Realms of Glory O Come, All Ye Faithful Okay, I’ll admit it. This was a bad quiz, but sometimes bad quizzes make good points (and I hope that is the situation here). In any case, I was struck by the importance of the word “come” in all of these carols. Take a look: In “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,”

Psalm 98

It was a mistake. A naval engineer named Richard Jones was trying to make a large meter that would monitor electrical power on naval ships. As he was working with some tension springs, one of them fell to the ground. It bounced weirdly, first on this end and then on the other, almost as if it was trying to walk. It was a mistake; but as a result, the Slinky was born. It was a mistake. Ruth Wakefield was mixing a batch of cookies when she discovered she was out of baker’s chocolate. As a replacement, she broke sweetened chocolate into pieces and added them to the cookie dough. She thought the chocolate would melt and she would soon be snacking on chocolate cookies; but instead, the pieces remained whole. It was a mistake; but as a result, the chocolate chip cookie was born. It was a mistake. An engineer

Brightest and Best

Let’s play Ranker! Here are ten items. They all describe horrible things that could wake someone up. Rank them from bad (#10) to the very worst (#1): ___ a crying baby ___ an airhorn ___ gun shots ___ the fire alarm ___ kids fighting ___ neighbor mowing their lawn ___ cat coughing up hairballs ___ someone knocking on the front door ___ a neighbor’s car alarm ___ someone vomiting Ranker is a great website, not because they do great journalistic work (because they don’t do anything close to what anyone would call reporting), but because they create controversy. That’s right. Their whole business model is to make statements so that people can fight over it. See, I would argue that a fire alarm is the worst interruption to sleep imaginable, followed closely by someone knocking on the front door. Now, parents, for no good reason whatsoever, would probably argue that

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

You’ve seen all of these, but they are still funny. These are actual signs posted in store windows. In a dry cleaner's emporium: "Drop your pants here." On the side of a garbage truck: "We've got what it takes to take what you've got." On a display of 'You are my one and only' Valentine cards’: "Now available in multi-packs" In a Florida maternity ward: "No children allowed" In the offices of a loan company: "Ask about our plans for owning your home." On a New York convalescent home: "For the sick and tired of the Episcopal Church" Every year, we sing the same Christmas carols; and every year, they’re great!  In fact, some people look forward to the coming of Christmas just because of the Christmas carols. And why not? Christmas carols fill us with feelings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy (and maybe some anticipation and hope

A Faith That Lives in the Bones

A visitor to the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum was deeply engrossed in looking at the bones of a rather large dinosaur. After spending close to 45 minutes looking at them, she broke away and, not seeing any of the museum’s curators, went over to the guard. “They’re amazing, aren’t they?” she said, “Do you have any idea how old they are?” The guard thought for a moment and then said, “They’re 103 million, two years and three months old.” “Wow!” said the visitor, “That’s very precise. How can the museum be so sure?” The guard replied, “The museum gave me a tour when I first started working here and they told me the bones were 103 million years old and that was two years and three months ago.” So far, we’ve presented five of the six stages of faith; and we’ve done so with exacting precision. I wish it was

Straightforward Isn’t Always So Straight

Headlines should be straightforward. When they are not, there is work to do. Take these headlines, for example. See if you can untangle their intended meanings. March planned for Next August Farmer Bill Dies in House Stolen Painting Found by Tree Complaints about NBA Referees Growing Ugly 2 Sisters Reunited After 18 Years at Check-Out Counter Man Minus Ear Waives Hearing Grandmother of Eight Makes Hole in One Lingerie Shipment Hijacked—Thief Gives Police the Slip Hospitals Are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim Faith should be straightforward. When it is not, there is work to be done. That is what happens in Stage 5. Now, I would guess that most people, if they reach stage 4, remain there. After all, it is quite an accomplishment. They have defined their faith, left the comforts of their own community and set out on a course of unknown waters

When You Can’t Just Mail It In

How much are postage stamps these days? My guess is that they cost less than the greatest honor of your life. Let’s go back to 1848. It’s an election year. The issue of slavery is splitting the nation, and everyone is looking for a candidate who will forge a mediating position. Enter Zachary Taylor. Taylor was the perfect choice. He wasn’t a career politician (always a good thing). In fact, he wasn’t even political (even a better thing!). How can I say such a thing? Two reasons. First, he never once voted in any presidential election. That’s not quite true. He voted in one. He voted in 1848 – for himself. Second, any political opinion he did hold was ill-defined and almost incomprehensibly vague.  He was, however, a war hero. And thanks to his exploits in the war with Mexico (a feat that earned him the nickname, “Old Rough and

Warning: It Happens Fast

Let’s play “Famous Firsts”! I’ll give you 10 questions, and you give me 10 (right) answers (or as many as you can!).  Who was the first African-American Supreme Court Justice? Who was the first runner to break the four-minute mile barrier?  Who was the first actor to speak in a “talking picture”?  Who was the first president to appear on TV?  Who was the person who developed the first diesel engine?  Who was the first person to win two Nobel prizes?  What was the first food ever microwaved?  Who was the person who first reached the South Pole AND the North Pole (that’s right, the same person was the first to reach both poles!)?  Who was the first person to reach the summit of Mount Everest? Who was the first pedestrian hit and killed by a car?* About question 10. . . . You’ll have to excuse me for asking

Of States and Stages

I’ve never been to Idaho, and I’m not sure I ever want to go to Idaho; but ho-ho-ho, you never know.  That’s what good stories do; they change our perspective! Here’s the story. Back in the day, the territory around Denver (called the Pike’s Peak mining area) wanted to become a state. But before they could do that, it needed a name. Now, not just any name would do. It had to be a state-worthy name with a nice ring to it. Thankfully, the dull boys at Pike’s Peak mining area didn’t have to come up with a name. A Congressional committee would do that for them. After weeks of deliberation, the committee narrowed the future name of the state down to two finalists. A lobbyist named George Willing had suggested an old Indian word, "Idaho," which meant, “Gem of the Mountain”; and someone else had proposed an incredibly dull

You Can’t Trust George, But You Can Trust. . . .

Fred looks up and sees his friend George walking down the sidewalk towards him and immediately is overcome with bewilderment. “George,” he says, “I heard you had died!” “Hardly,” says George laughing, “As you can see, I am very much alive.” “Impossible,” says Fred, “The person who told me is way more trustworthy and reliable that you!” Think back when we were very young children. No one was more reliable or more trustworthy than our parents. If they said it, we believed it. In fact, they didn’t even need to say anything, we automatically grew up like them. Yes, they taught us things, but we all know we caught far more than they taught. Children are like that. They absorb all sorts of things, including their parents’ faith. In this series, we are talking about the six stages of faith. Stages are distinguishable periods of growth and development that take

Preschool Wasteland

Excuse me, but I need to rant. Recently, I have become extremely frustrated with the River Kid’s Sunday school curriculum for preschoolers. It is more than frustration. It is close to rage. How hard can it be to teach preschoolers? See, we have a holy charge to teach our kids; but instead of fulfilling our obligation to God and to the parents of these kids, our teachers do nothing but share Bible stories with our kids. That’s not quite true. They also sing cutesy songs to them. When did we give in to the spirit of our age? When did we decide that we needed to dumb down our faith? See, I have looked through our curriculum extensively, and I have yet to see one lesson (no not one!) on divine timelessness, unlimited duration and the foreknowledge of God.  Nor has there been one discussion on Modalism, Docetism, Adoptionism or

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