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Showing posts from July, 2014

Isaiah 13-16

How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low!   You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit on the mount of assembly on the heights of Zaphon;   I will ascend to the tops of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High.” Isaiah 14:12-14 (NRSV) Out of today’s reading, these verses are the most intriguing to me. As I point out in my book, Mere Theology , the Genesis account never makes any connection between Satan and the serpent in the garden. For this connection we must turn to Revelation 12:9. Though Isaiah 14:12 was thought to refer to Satan’s fall by the translators of the Vulgate and the King James Version, it is now thought that it refers to Nebuchadnezzar. Thus, Revelation 12:7-9 may be the only Scripture that tells us anything about the fall of Satan. However, various interpretations of

Isaiah 9-12

As I read over these chapters this morning, I was struck by the fact that we have here, in close succession, two passages that are often preached during Advent and Christmas. The one from Isaiah 9 and the other from Isaiah 11. Therefore, I thought I would offer something different for today’s blog. Clicking on the links below will take you to audio versions of two messages I delivered during Advent and Christmas seasons past.... Isaiah 9 Isaiah 11 A couple of years ago, I turned a number of messages I have preached during Advent into a devotional book. I realize most people are not thinking of Advent at the end of July. However, you might want to think ahead and order this book as an Advent present for yourself or for a friend or family member. You can learn more about the book here.... Open Before Christmas

Isaiah 5-8

Of all the scenes, word pictures, and images in the book of Isaiah, the call of the prophet in chapter six is the most vivid to me. In his vision, the prophet sees the Lord seated on a throne, high and lifted up. The Lord is so large that the simple hem of his robe fills the earthly Temple that was still standing in Jerusalem when Isaiah had his vision. In Isaiah’s vision, seraphs are in attendance above the Lord. A seraph is “ an angelic being, regarded in traditional Christian angelology as belonging to the highest order of the nine-fold celestial hierarchy, associated with light, ardor, and purity.” Each of the seraphs has six wings. With two wings, they cover their faces, presumably because they cannot look on the holiness of God. With two wings, they cover their feet. “Feet” are a euphemism for genitals. Again, there seems to be the suggestion that the Lord is so holy that even the angels cannot appear naked before him, or they are afraid to so appear before him.

Isaiah 1-4

Isaiah, who experienced a vision and call from God in the year that King Uzziah died (740 BC), has provided us with many of the most memorable images in the Hebrew Scriptures. The first one comes in Isaiah 1:18.  Barry Webb writes of this passage… This is deservedly one of the most famous expressions of the grace of God in the Bible. The theme of rebellion has been progressively developed through verses 2-17. The guilt of the accused has been amply established, and they are reminded of it here in vivid language: their sins are scarlet , red as crimson , the colour of blood ( cf. 15b). We have reached a point of crisis. But at the very point when judgment is expected, grace intervenes. The divine judge reasons with the accused, and makes an offer which is truly amazing in its generosity: nothing less than total pardon (18)! What they had wrongly tried to achieve by cultic manipulation is now offered to them freely, on the one condition that they cease their r

Song of Songs 5-8

As we consider the various dimensions of human love expressed in the Song of Songs, I think it is good to keep in mind these words from C. S. Lewis and his book, Mere Christianity …. What we call “being in love” is a glorious state, and, in several ways, good for us. It helps to make us generous and courageous, it opens our eyes not only to the beauty of the beloved but to all beauty, and it subordinates (especially at first) our merely animal sexuality; in that sense, love is the great conqueror of lust. No one in his senses would deny that being in love is far better than either common sensuality or cold self-centredness. But, as I said before, “the most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of our own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs.” Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. I

Song of Songs 1-4

Lawrence Boadt provides this excellent, though brief, introduction to the Song of Songs: The third book attributed to Solomon is the Song of Songs, mainly because his name is mentioned in chapters 3 and 8. In both cases he seems more of a model to follow than an author, and we can safely say that the famous king did not write these songs. Like so many other wisdom books, The Song of Songs shows signs of being worked and reworked through many centuries. At the oldest level are love poems, perhaps wedding songs, many of which could go back to the time of Solomon. At the latest level are Persian and Greek phrases that indicate additions made after the exile. There seem to be hints of a dialogue between a young lover and his beloved (bride?), and perhaps even a chorus of the daughters of Jerusalem. At least the tradition identifying different speakers goes back to the Greek translations before the time of Christ. But there is not enough unity among the different so

Ecclesiastes 9-12

“Of making many books there is no end…” Ecclesiastes 12:12 Ecclesiastes reminds us, with its unique message, that the Bible is a library of books containing many voices. The author of this book, whoever he was, offers one voice among many. If we take this voice as an example of absolute truth then it certainly contradicts other voices within the Bible with its level of pessimism. However, if we regard it as just one voice, then, if we are wise, we will also understand that this book contains a voice we need to hear from time to time. C. S. Lewis says about this book: Nor would I (now) willingly spare from my Bible something in itself so anti-religious as the nihilism of Ecclesiastes . We get there a clear, cold picture of man’s life without God. That statement is itself part of God’s word. We need to have heard it. Even to have assimilated Ecclesiastes and no other book in the Bible would be to have advanced further towards truth than some men do. ( Re

Ecclesiastes 5-8

Out of today’s reading, these words from Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 stood out to me the most: Guard your steps when you go to the house of God; to draw near to listen is better than the sacrifice offered by fools; for they do not know how to keep from doing evil. Never be rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be quick to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven, and you upon earth; therefore let your words be few. How much easier it is for me to talk to God than to listen! It is far easier to study the Bible even, than to really hear what the Lord wants to say to me. The cacophony of my own thoughts shuts out that “still small voice” that Elijah heard on the mountain (1 Kings 19:12). Not too long ago, I saw this rendition of Psalm 46:10…. Be still and know that I am God. Be still and know. Be still. Be. Sometimes, the hardest thing for me is simply to be still. It is not hard to still my body, but it is often difficult to still my mind, to empty

Ecclesiastes 1-4

As we begin our study of Ecclesiastes today, Lawrence Boadt, once again, helps us to find our footing…. No one has ever challenged the Book of Ecclesiastes’ right to the title of the most skeptical book in the Bible. Ecclesiastes, also called Qoheleth, has a unified approach to the value of wisdom: pessimism. While Proverbs sought to provide guidelines on what to do and not to do, and confidently summed up the way to wisdom as “fear of the Lord,” Ecclesiastes has its doubts whether such confidence has any basis in human experience. The author’s theme song is sounded at the beginning and again at the end of the book, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity—and a striving after wind” (Eccl 1:2, 14; 12:8). Futility and emptiness result from the constant human search for the meaning of life. He is particularly aware of the useless attempts to understand the mystery of divine purpose behind the order of the world as it is, the tragic finality of death, the reasons for su

Proverbs 29-31

Considering how many negative portraits of women are in the Proverbs (remember Dame Folly), it is interesting to me that the book ends with a very positive portrait of a woman. Yes, it is, in some ways, a traditional portrait of a good wife, a capable wife. However, there are some surprising aspects to this portrait. This wife is compared to merchant ships (Proverbs 31:14). She has a managerial role, overseeing servant-girls (31:15). She purchases property (31:16). She sells merchandise (31:18). She is a philanthropist, opening her hand to the poor (31:20). All of her activities relate back, however, to supporting the good of her household. Writing in the 1950s to a female correspondent, C. S. Lewis had this to say: I think I can understand that feeling about a housewife’s work being like that of Sisyphus (who was the stone rolling gentleman). But it is surely, in reality, the most important work in the world. What do ships, railways, mines, cars, governmen

Proverbs 25-28

Like cold water to a thirsty soul, So is good news from a far country. Proverbs 24:25 This proverb was important enough to C. S. Lewis that he placed it on the title page of the first book he wrote after returning to the Christian faith: The Pilgrim’s Regress . In 1931, after searching for the truth for many years, he finally found cold water for his thirsty soul in the good news of Christ, coming to him from heaven—a far country indeed. In a way, all the rest of Lewis’ works (Narnia, the Cosmic Trilogy, The Great Divorce , etc.) can be viewed as the embodiment of that good news from a far country. Perhaps the most wonderful talk I have ever heard about C. S. Lewis and his work, was given by Lewis’ friend and chaplain, Bishop Simon Barrington Ward, at Holy Trinity Brompton in 2010. Here is the link to that talk. I believe you will find it worth every one of the thirty minutes it takes to listen to it. It will nourish your soul….

Proverbs 21-24

At this moment, there are conflicts raging in many parts of the world, the Middle East and the Ukraine in particular. There are, no doubt, conflicts raging much closer to home as well, perhaps even in our own homes. Therefore, I found these words from Mere Christianity attached to Proverbs 24:17-18 in the C. S. Lewis Bible to be very timely. Proverbs 24:17-18 reads, “Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble, or else the Lord will see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from them.” Lewis writes in Mere Christianity , I imagine somebody will say, “Well, if one is allowed to condemn the enemy’s acts, and punish him, and kill him, what difference is left between Christian morality and the ordinary view?” All the difference in the world. Remember, we Christians think man lives for ever. Therefore, what really matters is those little marks or twists on the central, inside part of the soul which are

Proverbs 17-20

It seems to me that the Proverbs provide especially good Scriptural text for what is called “lectio divina.” Here is a brief introduction to this spiritual practice from Wikipedia…. In Christianity , Lectio Divina ( Latin for divine reading ) is a traditional Benedictine practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer intended to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God's Word . It does not treat Scripture as texts to be studied, but as the Living Word . Traditionally Lectio Divina has 4 separate steps: read , meditate , pray and contemplate . First a passage of Scripture is read, then its meaning is reflected upon. This is followed by prayer and contemplation on the Word of God. The focus of Lectio Divina is not a theological analysis of biblical passages but viewing them with Christ as the key to their meaning. For example, given Jesus’ statement in John 14:27 : “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you” an