Revising Theology—At Age 6 and Beyond

When I was about six, I constructed a theology of Sundays. I knew that Sundays were a celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus. I knew that “Sunday” had the words “Sun” and “day” in it. I surmised that God had ordained it that Sundays would be always sunny in honor of that most wonderful of miracles. I recalled that all the Sundays in my memory (at that time, perhaps as far back as a month) were, indeed, sunny.

And so this became an article of faith. My faith was confirmed for a number of Sundays thereafter.

And then, we had a cloudy, grey Sunday.

I revised my theology: God just made sure it didn’t actually rain on Sundays.

Then we had a drizzly Sunday. I reasoned that God had held back a larger storm. Then, rain that even I couldn’t explain away.

What to do? This could have shaken my faith in God, as happens to people when their faulty theology is exposed. I could have kept revising reality to fit my theology: people do this all the time. Or I could have concluded, as even at six I did, that my theology was wrong.

Theology is a human endeavor. Like that other human endeavor, science, we need to write our theology in pencil. That is what my professors at Gordon taught me.

Ciphers in the Bible

Found an interesting tidbit in a children’s book I have: The First Book of Codes and Ciphers by Sam and Beryl Epstein.

The First Book of Codes and Ciphers
The First Book of Codes and Ciphers, Sam and Beryl Epstein

And all the kings of the north, far and near, one with another, and all the kingdoms of the world, which are upon the face of the earth: and the king of Sheshach shall drink after them. (Jeremiah 25:26)

SHESHACH in Jeremiah 25:26, and elsewhere, is a Hebrew backward alphabet cipher called ATHBASH (the English equivalent of which would be AZBY, although we would transliterate it as ATBASH). SHESHACH means BABYLON (or BABEL).

The same type of cipher is used in Jeremiah 51:1 and 51:41.


Living to Die

It is the 5th of July. Despite only a 3-hour flight, I’ve devoted most of the day to travel. Finally, after almost 12 hours of driving/waiting/flying/waiting/driving, I make it to Hospice House. Surprisingly, this is my first time visiting a hospice location. Although hospice was very helpful with my father’s last weeks, that situation was very different.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4, ESV)

Main sign for Hospice House

The lobby is beautiful. With fireplaces and chairs, it reminds me more of a relaxed hotel than a hospital setting. There is a tiny chapel off to one side, and a beautiful stone list of donors, decorated splendidly with a carving of a great blue heron in flight. But, I barely notice it.

Hospice of Citrus County Donors Mural

I make my way, of course, to the wrong end of the hall. It is relatively late, although not at all dark, yet, and very quiet. When I get to the other end, I quietly inquire for my mother’s room number, describing the various ways she might be named. Addie Wilcox? Rachel Wilcox? Wilcox-Fortini? Mom’s legal name is Rachel Adeline Wilcox, but she never liked her first name, so she was Addie to nearly everyone.

Room 12. Give us a few minutes, we’re getting her cleaned up. So, I wait a few minutes for the nurses to finish. Finally, I get to see Mom.

“Oh!” she greets strongly, “My ugly son!”

“Ugly?” I exclaim in disbelief, “Compared to Paul or Aaron? I don’t think so!”

I last saw Mom in October, when Sarah and I had a long-weekend visit because, as Sarah insisted, “Your mother is not going to be alive forever. We should see her while she is well.”

A motley crew at Charlie's Fish House, October 2016
A motley crew at Charlie’s Fish House, October 2016. Yes, that is how my mother smiles, a genetic gift from her own father.

Now, not much later, Mom is markedly older. She looks tired. She is painfully thin, massing definitely under 45 kg. Her speech is slow, but clear. I also discover she can’t hear me unless I speak very loudly. She’s good at covering this, but her responses to questions she pretends to hear are often non sequiturs. (Later in my stay I will tackle this problem and diagnose a bad hearing aid, and come up with a good-enough-for-this-lifetime solution.) However, she is “all there.” Her mind and memory are, for the most part, intact. This is something of a disappointment to me, as I was hoping to be able to re-frame a few minor incidents from my childhood. This won’t be the case.

Mom watching a video of her favorite grandchild
Mom watching a video of her favorite grandchild

I know, given the hour, that Mom will be tired, soon, so this visit will be short. There is one complaint Mom mentions at least once a day, and today is no exception: “I don’t know why the Lord still has me here, but He must have some purpose. I just wish I knew what it was.”

I understand her impatience to meet the Savior. She knows the time is soon. She is nearly 91. In less than a year, she has gone from driving interstate, living alone in her own home, and being in near perfect health, to having trouble walking, needing in-home care, and frequently visiting the hospital. The past two months have been particularly difficult.

My children often claim that Grandma will outlive them. This joke, which we have enjoyed for years, doesn’t seem as funny this week. I can’t keep a few lines from a song in The Muppets Take Manhattan, out of my head: “Saying goodbye, why is it sad? / Makes us remember the good times we’ve had.” The brain does strange things at times, as I will discover tomorrow.

I don’t know, of course, if this will be my last visit with this woman of many children: Four biological, three adopted, 87 (we think) fostered. I wonder if, sometime between my leaving this night and returning in the morning, my mother will go from seeing the object of her faith “in a mirror, dimly,” to “face to face.”

All too soon, Mom slips into a quiet sleep, and I drive the rest of the way to her house, navigating through tears, to where my sister Cindy is “holding down the fort,” as Mom would say.

Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:8, ESV) 

To be continued …

What Is Wrong with These People?

On the eve of the nomination of Donald Trump as President of the United States:

My biggest complaint* of the past year has been this: White “Evangelicals” ignored virtually all of Scripture to support a man who represents a near perfect antithesis of Christianity.

I have watched those on the fringes and outside of Christianity shake their heads, and wonder what is possibly going on in the minds of these Christians, and determine that they never, ever want to embrace a religion with such obvious hypocrisy. The Evangelical swell of blind support for a preacher of hate, lust, greed, lies, and ignorance has done more to harm the cause of Christ than anything else I have seen in my lifetime.

But I remind myself of this: Paul explained we should pray for our leaders—and I shall. Paul did this under perhaps the most corrupt government ever seen on earth, where his brothers were routinely murdered for sport.

So I will pray for (as of tomorrow) President Trump. I will also pray that we are spared from the horrors he has promised. I will also pray that the binding of extremism and near-insanity of the Republican Party to White Christianity is revealed for the disaster it is and forever abandoned. I will also pray for the healing of a nation terribly divided—while I, as promised and commanded, pray for the one who most wanted to divide it for his own gain.

1First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man[a] Christ Jesus, 6who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 7For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. (1 Timothy 2:1–7, ESV)

*This complaint is probably tied for first place with the practice of those same people chain-posting completely fraudulent and easily refutable propaganda. (No, that’s the Black Speech from Lord of the Rings, not a school distributing donuts with verses from the Qu’ran.)

The Lord YOUR God

But Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?” He answered, “Because the LORD your God granted me success.” (Gen 27:20, ESV)

(Image: Isaac Blessing Jacob, Govert Flinck, oil on canvas, 1638, currently in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.)
(Image: Isaac Blessing Jacob, Govert Flinck, oil on canvas, 1638, currently in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.)

I find the specific choice of words, “the LORD your God” to be troubling, especially as a parent.

I want my children to have a personal faith of their own. I don’t want them to think of the Lord as “That God my dad worships.”

Actually, I want them to have a more real, personal faith than I had at their ages—living and tempered by both love and righteousness, by faith and reason.

It would be quite a long time before Jacob could truly call the Lord his own God, not merely that of his father.

God Is Born

Around Christmas, I always think about my favorite Christmas hymn: “God is Born” (“Bóg się rodzi”). I’ve only got one recording of it in English, on an old cassette entitled “An English Christmas.” It is the National Christmas Hymn in Poland, where it originated. Here’s what I’ve been able to transcribe from the English version I have:

“God is Born”

God is born and night is shaken
He the Heaven’s King lies naked.
The living Word knows brightness darkened,
He the Limitless takes limit.
Born disdained yet worship given,
Mortal, yet the Lord eternal.
Now indeed the Word made flesh
Has come on earth to dwell among us.

What hast thou, O Heaven better,
God abandoned thy perfection?
Here to share the trial and sorrow
Of His poor, beloved people.
Suffered much and suffered dearly,
For we all were guilty sinners,
Now indeed the Word made flesh
Has come on earth to dwell among us.

Born into a common stable,
He is cradled in a manager.
How then tell me what surrounds you
Hay and peace and simple shepherds.
You were ones who had the honor
Him to greet, and kings came bowing.
Now indeed the Word made flesh
Has come on earth to dwell among us.

I love the old hymns that are filled with such great doctrine. (So much of our modern popular and sacred music is vacuous—or at best superficial—by comparison.) Here the subject is the Incarnation: God the Son lowering Himself to become one of us. Wow!

Have a listen:

Wanted: 597 Ghanian Cedis ($409)

Originally Posted on August 31, 2009:

Quite some time ago, I started corresponding electronically with a young man in Tamale, Ghana, who wanted to expand his horizons and get to know people from around the world. This was possible via a computer center that the local embassy provides.

A high school graduate with decent grades, Amin desperately wanted to attend university. However, financially, this was out of the question for his family. A less attractive but still reasonable option was the Tamale Polytechnic school. Several months after we’d started communicating, he asked if I could help pay the tuition for the polytechnic, which costs about $650 for the three-year program. Tuition has to be paid up front.

Amin Issah, Ghana
Amin Issah, Ghana

There are a couple of things to bear in mind here: Americans have the reputation for being extremely wealthy the world over. In Mexico, for example, we are often stereotyped as having montañas de oro (mountains of gold). The other thing to remember is that Ghana is well known as one of the centers of internet fraud, especially so called “friendship” scams. I did a lot of investigation to see if everything was on the up-and-up, which is difficult in a developing country. I quickly came to learn how much I depend on the Internet for verifying just about everything, and this was impossible for much of Ghana’s infrastructure. I even called to see if I could pay the school directly, and it cannot be done.

But, other than due diligence, I had no reason to distrust Amin, and his work for the past six months has completely borne out my trust. I also felt this would be a good way to show the love of Christ in an unexpected and unanticipated way.sowever, I simply couldn’t afford to help him out completely. But he did have an uncle who was willing to foot half the bill, and I had some extra cash I could put into the second half. Amin has completed one semester at T’Poly, as it’s sometimes called, and managed to get all As and Bs. (I told him I expected As next semester.) Partway through I sent enough cash to cover a bicycle so he could get to the school and back for early classes (hitchhiking was unreliable, and the school is about 20km from his house). However, his grades were good enough for him to get chosen for a short, special field program in Navrongo, about 5 hours away by bus.

View Larger Map

His work in the field program was evaluated well enough, and he has been offered an entry into the Land Management and Real Estate baccalaureate program at the University for Development Studies in Tamale.

To do this, he needs 597 GHC (Ghanian Cedis), about $409 by September 1. This isn’t that much money, except when compared to what I actually have at the moment.

Until now, I haven’t even told people about this unusual missions project, opting to see quietly and unobtrusively how God would work. Now I believe it is time to project this to a larger audience, who also might be able to help.

Update (September 3, 2009):

I was finally able to get through by phone to the University office in Tamale … and they confirmed that Amin was on the acceptance list as a Freshman student in the program. (I already had scans of his acceptance letter, so this was just a formality.)

I’ve received a couple of generous donations from our at-work small group Bible study that helped immensely with the money I sent to Amin mid-day yesterday. Ghana is on GMT, so it was nearly closing time when he got to the bank. There were many students there trying to do the same thing … so he was able to get the Western Union transfer and have the bank keep it to avoid carrying around such a large sum of money, but he wasn’t able to pay his tuition until this morning.

Payment Receipt for Amin's Tuition

Amin wanted me to pass this along to you all: GOD help them tooo when they in a bondage like how i was and u all came together and resqued me through the powers of GOD. (His spelling is usually excellent; he obviously in a hurry.)

Amin leaves on Saturday to take up residence at the university in the city of Wa. He’ll complete the on-site admissions process on Monday. After that, he will need to pay his residence fees and medical fees, about another $175.

He is very excited and very grateful for our help.

I am grateful as well—the contributions made so far are a big difference for me. (Of course, I’ll be happy to accept further donations.)

Thoughts on Leading a Small Group Bible Study

Our unnamed west Manchester Thursday evening small group study (a ministry of Heritage Baptist Church) will be starting up again tomorrow, after several weeks in hiatus, and we’ll be studying Francis Chan’s Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God. Below is a brief YouTube introduction with the author.

I suppose if we were to call ourselves anything, it might be “RNA,” or, “Recovering Neofundamentalists Anonymous,” as we try to get out of the “Christian bubble” that many of us (especially me) have spent decades in, and seek to better follow the Savior.

One of our favorite studies in this regard has been Dan Kimball’s They Like Jesus but Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations, which I highly recommend.

We meet at the Gagnon’s house, which is actually in the exact geographic center of our congregation, or was the last time Erik DiVietro plotted it out.

Running a small group Bible study for the past year has been fascinating. Pastor Erik helped train me in running one, which was a challenge, because (by his own admission), he tends to take over all discussions. Nichelle will tell you I have the same tendency, so for me one of the most challenging things as a leader is to just shut up, and allow silences while people ponder the discussion questions, and give them time to come up with answers or further discussion.

Other challenges come up from time to time. One of my more recent decisions was to outlaw political conversation. Not only was this distracting (although we’re quite informal), to be honest I ultimately came to the conclusion that I was too often getting ticked off by the ridiculous nonfactual, counterfactual, and noncontextual statements that seem to flood the political arena, regardless of one’s political preferences. Let’s just say some of our attendees learn far enough right, politically to make me look like a liberal by comparison. (I suppose I should blame all the NPR I listen to.)

Always, I am thrilled by the insights and discussions we’ve had, and find the small group format to be a particularly rewarding way to study the issues and doctrine presented in God’s Word.

The Christian and Government: One Biblical Perspective

Once I spoke in the West and a Christian told me, “I’ve been praying for years that the Communist government in China will collapse, so Christians can live in freedom.” This is not what we pray! We never pray against our government or call down curses on them. Instead, we have learned that God is in control of both our own lives and the government we live under. Isaiah prophesied about Jesus, “The government will be on his shoulders.” Isaiah 9:6.

God has used China’s government for his own purposes, moulding and shaping his children as he sees fit. Instead of focusing our prayers against any political system, we pray that regardless of what happens to us, we will be pleasing to God.

Don’t pray for the persecution to stop! We shouldn’t pray for a lighter load to carry, but a stronger back to endure! Then the world will see that God is with us, empowering us to live in a way that reflects his love and power.

This is true freedom!

The Heavenly Man
From The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun