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Monday, July 30, 2007

Truth in Advertising. . . and Love

In poetry there is a particular style which intimately itemizes a lover's beauty by using hyperbole and simile. It's called "blazon" or "blason". We certainly find a bit of this in Song of Solomon, but it develops into a particular style in the "romances" of the Middle Ages and on into the Renaissance.

Many of you are probably quite familiar with Shakespeare's marvelous sonnets. . . sigh. . . BUT chances are you never came across Sonnet 130, which parodies this "blazon" form of love poetry. I wouldn't recommend sending this to your "beloved", but enjoy the chuckle. . .

"My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red, than her lips red:
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:

And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,
As any she belied with false compare.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

How God's People Handle Despair: Psalm 77

We often have the mistaken notion that the man of God never despairs, never experiences deep pain or anguish, never suffers. So when it inevitably DOES enter our lives, we are shocked. We don't know how to deal with it and, in fact, we feel rather guilty for having experienced it in the first place! But that's a modern concept, NOT one we find in Scripture. Have you ever studied the Individual Psalms of Lament? Let's look at Psalm 77.

vv.1-9 God's People DO Cry Out with Anguish and Doubt

The key point here is that their cry is directed towards God. Asaph, the Psalmist, doesn't HIDE his anguish or DENY its existence. He cries out to God - repeatedly. He writes, "My soul refused to be comforted. When I remember God, then I am disturbed; When I sigh, then my spirit grows faint." In vv.4-6 he talks about his sleepless nights. He tries to muse on better times, but that offers no help. The end result is that his heart unceasingly broods and he sinks deeper and deeper into despair.

In vv.7-9, he asks the BIG QUESTIONS:

Has God rejected and forgotten me?
Has His unfailing love ended and its all anger now?
Have His promises failed?
Where is His mercy/grace?
Does God really care?

The REAL issue at the bottom of his despair is Doubt. Here is my pain. There is my God. This is my voice. Where is His answer?

vv.10-15 God's People Move On to Clarify Their Perspective

God's people cry out in anguish from time to time, but they ALSO move on to clarify their perspective. Verse 10 is the Pivot Point: "THEN I said, "It is my grief, that the right hand of the Most High has changed." Asaph realizes his perspective of grief is skewing his understanding of reality and he makes an appeal to the stability of God, rather than relying upon his own skewed perspective.

What action does he therefore take? "I will REMEMBER the deeds of the LORD... I will REMEMBER Your wonders of old." "I will MEDITATE on all Your work and MUSE on Your deeds." The focus of his thoughts change. No longer is he focusing on his pain and turmoil. Now He is focusing on God. He realizes that relief can only be found by deliberately fighting to remember God - FIRST and FOREMOST.

And what is the result of this change in focus? Notice the change in the pronouns. In vv.1-6 primarily 1st person pronouns are used [I, my] and after v.13 God dominates [You, Your]. Asaph demonstrates the Biblical process by which the believer escapes despair of the soul. He remembers God. He reviews God's works. He worships Him. He adjusts his view to God's eternal perspective.

vv.16-19 God's People Remember Their Redemption

As a result of his now clarified perspective, Asaph remembers God's past actions on behalf of His people [specifically, His deliverance at the Red Sea]. God's past actions on behalf of His people give Asaph HOPE that his own present and future are ALSO in God's hands.

Has God rejected and forgotten me? - No!
What about His love? - It's real!
Has His unfailing love ended and its all anger now? - Don't be silly!
What about His Promises? - They are true!
What about his Mercy? - Depend on it!
Does God really care? - Absolutely!

The pain is still there. The circumstances are still there. But God DOES care and He is NOT powerless. He WILL sustain and deliver. Asaph's immediate problem is DWARFED by a Greater Reality.

v. 20 God's People Express Their Ultimate Confidence

Just as God delivered Israel by the hand of Moses and Aaron, God will ultimately deliver Asaph ... and the man of God. Pain is not the sum total of our journey. "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?... Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?... But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." [Romans 8:31 ff]

So when you find yourself, or a fellow believer, in the "slough of Despond", don't say, "buck up" or "get over it". Christians do not embrace Stoic philosophy. They turn to their God. Go back to Psalm 77 and study it.

[Based upon Rev. Dr. Dorrington Little's outline, Hamilton, MA, 2001]
Related Posts: To the Soul in Despair - "Don't Listen to Your Self" (Psalm 42)

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Disciplined Life: Proverbs 19:16-23

As Christian mothers, we've all heard Prov.19:18 taught, but usually it has been completely excised from it's greater context, and as a result, is less than useful. It's a great idea, but there are no specifics about how to implement it. So instead, many draw from man-centered wisdom to fill that gap of application ... or they just start making things up! Too much teaching tends to jump from Book to Book, verse to verse. There's no connection, other than theme perhaps, and no "big picture". I'm learning to primarily STAY within a particular passage and glean what is being taught in that context.

Read through Prov.19:16-23 a few times and pay attention to the FORM it takes. Recognizing its form helps you get the whole picture. These verses are in the form of a Chiasm (k-eye'-asm), which is significant to Hebrew poetry. Instead of rhyming, as our poetry often does, Hebrew poetry utilizes parallel forms, comparisons/contrasts, repetition of thought, lots of play on words [oooh... I REALLY need to learn Hebrew one of these days!]. A Chiasm is made up of verses mirroring thoughts. Follow the Chiastic pattern with me in this passage, and see if you don't get more out of it...

First note that A (v.16) and A1 (v.23) "bookend" the passage with similar thoughts - These are the KEYS to "The Disciplined Life": Obedience to God (v.16) and Reverent Fear of God (v.23). Now see how the rest fits in - it gives a beautiful illustration of WHAT we teach, HOW we teach and WHY we teach our children "The Disciplined Life".

A (16) Obedience to God's Way of Life Has Eternal Consequences [WHY]
B (17) Teach them to Have Compassion for the Poor, the Needy [WHAT]
C (18) Discipline your Children When They are Young [HOW]
C1 (19) Allow consequences for their actions [HOW]
D (20) Teach them to Submit to Instruction [WHAT]
D1 (21) Teach them to Acknowledge the Providence of God [WHAT]
B1 (22) Teach them Honesty: Better to be poor & honest [WHAT]
A1 (23) Reverent Fear of God Has Eternal Consequences [WHY]

So the Chiastic Pattern is: A - B - C - C1 - D - D1 - B1 - A1. [It would help if this format allowed me to Indent, but it doesn't.] Basically 16 & 23 are a couplet, 17 & 22 are a couplet, 18 & 19 are a couplet and 20 & 21 are a couplet and all are built around the same Theme - The Disciplined Life. Cool, huh?

Now there's passage to build a lesson... and a life around!!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The World of Joel

Today we had the 1st & 2nd graders at our VBS site. I have to share with you one young boy's outlook on the lesson. It helps if you happen to know this child, so apologies to those of you who don't. Let me just say that some day there will be a bestseller entitled "The Sayings of Joel".

In the first half of the class I was teaching the lesson [Luke 5:1-11]. I always try to have the children use their Bibles, so we allowed extra time to make sure everyone had a Bible and that it was open to the correct page. [NOT an easy task with this age group, I might add!] As I told them what happened I would stop and have them read a section out of their Bible and answer my questions. I called on Joel to read and he informed me that he didn't read, so I quickly passed on to another child. During the second half of the class, Sarah St. J. was teaching them the memory verse and had written it out on a large poster. After reading it together a few times Joel eagerly raised his hand, saying, "Excuse me. [note politeness: he has a VERY good mother!] May I say the verse by myself?" He then proceeded to READ the verse from the poster. Sarah looked amazed and said to him, "Joel, I thought you said you didn't read?" To which he replied, "Oh, I can read. I just don't read the Bible. My parents do it for me." [YOU try keeping a straight face after a comment like that!]

At the very end, Sarah called on the kids one at a time to say the verse without reading the poster. Joel did very well...till the end. Instead of saying, "They left everything and followed him", he said, "They left all their stuff and followed him." Now isn't that more memorable phrasing? I'd love to see his translation of the Bible!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

"Great Ideas!"

You may have noticed I've been rather "blog-lax" lately. I've been busy developing two FUN classes - both rather labor intensive. The Lord has handed me my dream on a platter with all the trimmings - I've been hired to teach "Beginning Koine" twice a week to a group of elementary-grade homeschoolers and their Moms, starting this Fall. There's also the possibility of teaching a second group at the HS level. Once my mind was headed in this direction... the ideas began to flood in!

I would like to make the classes interdisciplinary by integrating Ancient Literature, History, Geography, Bible, Archaeology, Creative Writing, Art and my travels along with the language - a little at a time, of course. ;) The beauty is that such knowledge will be infinitely useful. This is learning that can be applied to NT Bible Study! The advantage of teaching the Moms along with their children is that THEY can learn it, which will enable them to practice it with their children the other 3 days of the week. [I'm working on Lesson Plans for them to accompany our Koine lessons.] AND they will be able to learn at a slower, less painful pace. Of course, it is entirely possible that at some point they may want to advance more rapidly...which should just fit in to the time 1st year Koine will again be offered at NSTM. What can I say... it's "win/win"!

The second class I have been working on is based upon another request. Many of the women in our Ladies' classes would like to have a class on how to teach the Bible- from exegesis to application. One advantage of putting this material together is that I will become a better teacher! I've been doing a lot of reading, studying and preparation. This could also take the rest of the summer. I have considered sharing some of the points in this blog as I progress. Such info will be old hat to some, but perhaps useful to others!

So, I am happily working away and should be forgiven my "temporary" laxity in blogging. Just don't give me any more FUN ideas... for a while anyway. ;)