Happy Reformation Day

On Halloween, 1517, Martin Luther changed the world.

Actually, that’s a pretty silly sentence. World-changing powers do not rely upon one person or one event (aside from the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ). What Luther did on October 31, 1517, was one step in the reformation of the Christian Church in western Europe, a reformation that would have enormous consequences in the Americas, in Africa, and in many parts of Asia and of the Pacific Ocean lands. His action that day was a response to a long-standing misunderstanding in European Christianity about God’s forgiveness. To explain that misunderstanding–involving repentance, penance, purgatory, and indulgences–would stretch this post far beyond one thousand words.

But Luther wanted to talk about forgiveness. As a university professor and an Augustinian monk, Luther wanted to bring about a debate among the scholars of the Church. He wrote ninety-five sentences (usually called “theses”) and posted them on the chapel door of the University of Wittenberg, where Luther taught theology. The ensuing discussion would bring about Luther’s excommunication (kicking him out of the Roman Catholic Church–in the opinion of the Roman Catholics, denying that Luther was a Christian) and his condemnation as a heretic and an outlaw. Those who agreed with Luther–labeled “Lutherans,” although Luther preferred the label “evangelical”–had sufficient strength in numbers and in political power, to survive these accusations of heresy. They presented a description and defense of their beliefs to the Emperor, Charles V, in 1530. Over the next century they survived two major wars which ended in treaties which allowed them to remain in the Empire (although, once again, the details of these wars and these treaties would stretch this post to unwieldly length).

Why did Luther choose to post his ninety-five sentences on Halloween? All Hallows Eve came just before All Saints’ Day, a day when many people would visit the chapel in Wittenberg to view the relics collected by the Elector, Frederick of Saxony. Viewing these holy items (which were said to include a twig from the burning bush wherein God spoke to Moses, a scrap from the clothes in which the newborn Jesus was swaddled and a wisp of straw from the manger, thirty-five fragments of the cross on which Jesus was crucified and one of the nails which held him to the cross, a thumb of Saint Anne the mother of Mary, a tooth of Saint Jerome, and numerous parts of other saints and mementos of other Biblical events) was said to reduce the time a Christian would spend in purgatory before rising to Paradise. Luther’s challenge to the system of penance and indulgences was timed to gather much attention to his ninety-five sentences for debate.

Luther began, “When our Lord Jesus Christ said ‘repent,’ he willed that the entire life of believers was to be one of repentance.” Luther thus distinguished between true repentance and acts of penance. Luther assumed that the pope, Leo X, would be shocked by the outrageous claims of the sellers of indulgences. Yet Luther’s sentences involved further shocking remarks, such as Number 82: “Why does the pope not empty purgatory for the sake of holy love and the dire need of the souls that are there” rather than “for the sake of miserable money with which to build a church?”

Western European Christianity was ready for these kinds of challenges. Growing nationalism caused resentment against the political claims of the pope and of the Holy Roman Emperor. Preachers who were Biblically illiterate left their hearers hungry for the truth of God’s Word. Then as now, many Christians resented the appearance that the Christian Church was focused more on money and on political power than on rescuing sinners, healing broken lives, and establishing a genuine connection between God and his people. Luther cared little for the political implications of his sentences. He deeply cared about sinners who were being pushed away from God’s grace by the Church rather than reconciled to God through the Gospel.

Luther himself had faced turmoil in his earlier years. He hated God, thinking of God as a cruel judge who wanted to torture sinners and who demanded good deeds to pay for sins. Luther became an Augustinian monk because of his fear of God’s judgment and his hope to perform enough good deeds to please God. His superior in the Augustinian order, Johann von Staupitz, encouraged Luther to believe the Bible’s message of God’s love and mercy. Staupitz wanted Luther to find comfort in the promise of salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Knowing that we learn best the things we need to know by teaching others, Staupitz arranged for Luther to teach classes on the Bible. Had Staupitz been more open about his convictions, today there would be Staupitzian congregations instead of Lutheran congregations. Yet Staupitz was content to deal one-on-one with desperate men like Martin Luther. Luther was bold enough to challenge the authorities and the system for the good of the Church and for its eventual reformation.

Luther could have been killed for his beliefs. Other men were killed for preaching the same message they had learned from Luther. But Luther lived until 1546. He married a former nun, and they had six children. Luther wrote hymns that are still sung today, and he wrote teaching materials for children and for adults that are still used today. He wrote many significant theological essays during his career, and the notes of his university students have been preserved and published, as well as many of Luther’s sermons. Even though Luther is best remembered for ninety-five sentences, his bold action one Halloween pales in comparison to Luther’s entire contribution to Christianity. J.

Pennant? Yes. Championship? Probably not.

I’m sure every American has heard these numbers repeatedly, for what seems like thousands of times: until this month the Chicago Cubs have not won the National League pennant since 1945—that is 71 years—and they have not won the championship in the World Series since 1908—that is 108 years. No other professional sports team in the United States has existed for one hundred years or more without winning a championship. Those teams that have never won a championship have existed for only a few decades or less.

I am a Cubs fan. I have been watching every game they played in the play-offs this month, although I had to join some games late because of classes I teach. I have been wearing blue every day this month. The Cubs and baseball have been on my mind day and night, yet I have not written a word about them to anyone—not on this blog, not on Facebook, not even in an email to family or friends. Why this silence? I have not written about the Cubs because of a personal superstition.

I am not normally a superstitious person. I share my house with a black cat and we cross paths often. I treat Friday the 13th like any other Friday. Yet as a baseball fan, I do follow certain superstitions, and one of those involves the fact that, whenever I write something about the Cubs, they immediately begin losing.

Now superstitions are the scientific method gone wrong. The scientific method is observation, interpretation, and testing the interpretation with predictions. Biologists and chemists and sociologists all use this method to learn about what they are studying. Why did something happen? Can we observe it happening, interpret its cause, and make predictions based on that interpretation? If the predictions come to be, we believe that our interpretation is valid. Every superstition involves some sense of cause and effect that is mistaken. Superstitious people do certain things expecting certain results, but other observers can see no connection between the actions and the results.

Not every tradition or custom is a superstition. When driving on the highway, I always look over my shoulder before changing lanes. A person who knew nothing about traffic might call that action a superstition, but I know that looking over my shoulder reduces the chance that my car will collide with another car.

Baseball superstitions are based on observations that appear to be cause and effect. Two friends are attending a game and their favored team is losing. Late in the game they exchange seats, and their team pulls ahead and wins the game. If this happens a second time, they will probably exchange seats every time they are at a game and their team is losing.

It is considered bad luck to mention that the pitcher is pitching a no-hitter. Many announcers scorn this superstition because they believe that they have a duty to keep their audience informed. Many fans groan when an announcer mentions the no-hitter, because often the other team gets a hit right after the no-hitter is mentioned. My father says it is bad luck for a pitcher to strike out the first hitter of the game. I have heard no one else mention this superstition, but I have observed that the prediction came true twice this month for the Cubs—both times the pitcher for the Cubs struck out the first batter of the game, the Cubs lost that game.

Whenever I write about the Cubs, they begin losing. Therefore, I have not written about the Cubs all this year. They won 103 games, which is a very good record for the regular season. They beat the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers to earn the National League pennant. Now they are in the World Series against the Cleveland Indians. But the Indians have won three of the four games played so far; to win the championship, the Cubs need to win three more games. If they lose just one more game, the World Series is over and the Indians have won.

A sage has said, “It’s bad luck to be superstitious.” Like fans who exchange seats to try to reverse the luck of their team, I’ve tried to reverse the Cubs fortune. If I fly a Cubs flag and they win, I fly it again for the next game; but if they lose, I put it away. If they lose while the flag is away, I fly it again for the next game.

Researchers say that sports superstitions serve a purpose: they allow fans to feel as though they take part in the teams’ successes. Superstitions allow fans to say “we won!” instead of “they won!” after a game. Obviously, the reverse is true: when a team loses, the team’s fans might blame themselves. This is why it is also healthy for fans to remind themselves, “It’s only a game.” Fans root for their team, they celebrate the wins, and life goes on in spite of the losses.

My name is Salvageable, and I am a Cubs fan. J.

Christ in Genesis: the Tower of Babel

Like the account of Noah, the account of the Tower of Babel seems at first glance to indicate nothing more than God’s wrath and punishment. Yet Christ is present even in this short section of the Bible. We perceive the wisdom of God’s judgment, and we also pick up a clue about the final reconciliation of the world to God through Jesus Christ from this account.

The descendants of Noah gathered on the plain of Shinar, which is now in modern Iraq. Here they decided to bake bricks and build a city which would include a tower with its top in the heavens. These actions violated no specific commands of God, nor does God frown on our modern cities with their many towers and skyscrapers. The purpose of the builders, however, contradicted the will of God. They said, “Let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” God had said, “You, be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it” (Genesis 9:7).

The people who wanted to make a name for themselves said, “Come, let us build.” God said, “Come, let us go down.” Father, Son, and Holy Spirit investigated the city and the tower and the hearts of the builders. God said, “Nothing they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” In my opinion, this statement of God was meant as irony. He was echoing what the builders believed, not what God knew to be true.

God’s response to their pride was to cause them to speak a variety of languages so they could no longer understand each other. Not only did each of them hear the others speaking other languages; each of them was convinced that he or she was speaking the right language while the others were speaking the wrong languages. Humble people learn how to communicate with one another in spite of language barriers. Proud people, even today, insist that they are speaking the right language; they say that other people should learn their language if they have anything to say to them. Because these people were proud, they were unable to work together. They abandoned the city and the tower and were dispersed over the face of the earth. This dispersal was exactly what God had wanted, and it was exactly what the builders had hoped to avoid.

Judgment and punishment are one answer to sin. Forgiveness and reconciliation are another answer to sin. God prefers the second answer. Therefore he sent his Son, the Word made flesh, to atone for sin and to reconcile the world to God. When the time was right, Jesus offered his body as a sacrifice. He died and was buried. On the third day he rose again from the dead. He spent time with his disciples, explaining what he had done and why. Then, forty days after his resurrection, he ascended into heaven to fill the universe in every way.

Fifty days after his resurrection, Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit on his Church. Everyone in the city heard the sound of a rushing wind—a signature event, since in the Biblical languages (Hebrew and Greek) the same word means both wind and spirit. Those who believed in Jesus were marked with tongues of fire. They began to talk about Jesus, and the various people from various parts of the world all heard the Christians sharing the good news of Jesus in different languages—each listener heard the Gospel in his or her own language.

With this miracle, God showed that sins were forgiven and reconciliation had happened. The results of sin—including the judgment which resulted in many languages—were reversed by the work of Jesus. God dispersed the many nations, but from those many nations he has assembled one Kingdom, which is the Holy Christian Church. In this Church, the work of Jesus and of the Holy Spirit continues to be accomplished all over the world. When God gathers his people, they come from every tribe and nation and language, united by one Savior and by one Holy Spirit. J.

A creek ran past it

A creek formed the northern boundary of the property where I spent my childhood. Years before I was born, the creek had been fed by springs, but the growth of the village led to increased use of well-water, so the water had dropped and the springs disappeared.

Of course when I was little I was not supposed to play in or near the creek, and of course I did. When water was flowing down the creek, my friends and I would launch large leaves or slabs of bark in the creek, then pelt them with small stones from the shore, trying to sink or destroy our toy ships. Many summers the creek bed became dry, forming an irresistible playground. I gathered aluminum cans other people had tossed into the creek and built cities from them, then attacked the cities with rocks. Those rocks had originally been placed on the banks of the creek to prevent erosion, but many of them had tumbled or been pushed into the creek bed. One year I thought that I would pull the rocks out of the creek and build a fort, but the walls of the fort never grew more than two layers high. When I was older, I spent several afternoons of one summer rebuilding the stone reinforcement of the banks.

In the winter the creek usually froze. Generally the water level dropped during the gradual freezing process. Schoolchildren found endless satisfaction breaking the shelves of ice on the banks of the creek on their way home from school. They used their feet to break the ice or threw rocks at shelves on the other side. During the spring thaws, children again attacked the ice in the creek. When conditions were right, the creek would freeze into a smooth surface suitable for ice skating. I owned a pair of skates and would go out on the creek on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon for an hour or two of exercise. I never had the ability or the room to learn any skills other than skating forward, but I enjoyed the time spent outdoors all the same.

Sometimes in the springtime fish would swim upstream in the creek. Some of the neighborhood children attempted spear fishing, but they had no success. The creek also attracted mallard ducks, and–two years–a large snapping turtle. When the water was low, crayfish could be found under the rocks. My friends and I captured them and released them; it never occurred to us that people might cook and eat crayfish. Trees lined the bank of the river, mostly boxelder and mulberry trees. Phlox and other wildflowers bloomed in the spring. When I was in the fourth grade, I picked a handful of phlox to give to the new girl at school, because I thought she was nice.

Floods from the creek several times covered the property and entered the basement. My father believes that the flooding increased because of construction in the area that reduced natural drainage into the ground. A few years ago, he successfully led a battle of village residents to deny rezoning that would have allowed construction of a megastore (with a large parking lot, of course) next to the creek about a mile upstream. That one victory did not prevent the eventual razing of the house because of its location in the floodplain. J.

Noah, the ark, and the Flood

Noah, the ark, and the Flood are familiar to almost every person living in western culture. Efforts to recreate this account for movies inevitably bring new details into the story; the description in the Bible does not provide nearly enough material for a feature-length movie. Many people probably think that they know about Noah, the ark, and the Flood, but much of what they know might be fiction that has been added to the Bible’s account.

Noah is easily seen as a picture of Jesus. Noah is a savior, obeying the commands of God and—through his obedience—rescuing and preserving lives from God’s wrath and judgment. From the time Noah began building the ark until the time rain began to fall, 120 years passed, according to the usual understanding of Genesis 6:3. During this time, by his words and by his actions, Noah was able to warn his neighbors of the coming destruction, warning them to repent before it was too late. By the same token, Jesus spent about three years teaching in Galilee and Judea and the surrounding area, calling upon people to “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). The structure which Noah built to save lives was made of wood; the cross where Jesus suffered and died to bestow eternal life was also made of wood. Those who were to be saved entered the ark through an opening in its side, faintly echoing the Bride of Christ coming from his side as Eve came from the rib of Adam.

Those who accept the premise, based on John 1:18, that God the Father is revealed only through Jesus—and that, when God speaks or is seen in Genesis, Jesus is present among his people—will picture Jesus visiting Noah and giving him detailed instructions about how to build the ark. We are told that Noah was righteous and blameless, but we also know that only Jesus is without sin. Noah was made righteous and blameless through his faith in the promised Savior. All believers, from Adam and Eve until the glorious appearing of Christ, are saved in the same way—by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus.

Often the Flood is seen only as an act of wrath, God’s judgment on a sinful world. The water of the Flood also had a cleansing action, washing away sinners and the consequences of their sins. The apostle Peter wrote about the time “when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you….” (I Peter 3:20-21). The water of the Flood lifted Noah and his family out of a sinful world and carried them safely in the ark until they landed in a new world, a world which had been washed clean by water. Likewise, Christians are carried through this sinful world by the work of Jesus and of the Holy Spirit until we land safely in the new world God has promised us—a world won for us by the work of Christ.

Peter stresses that eight persons were saved by the Flood and by the ark. He stresses this number, so it must be significant. God created the world in seven days, establishing the length of the week. Sets of seven in the Bible often represent completeness. The eighth day is the beginning of a new week. Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday and ends on the eighth day, Easter Sunday—the day that Jesus rose from the dead to demonstrate his victory over sin and death, the day that promises his people new life in a new creation. Like Peter, early Christian writers often associated the number eight with a new beginning, as they also associated Baptism with a new beginning. The apostle Paul wrote, ”Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by Baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).

When Noah and his family exited the ark, Noah offered sacrifices to God, continuing the tradition of “pre-enacting” the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Afterward, he planted a garden. This garden is no minor detail; it reinforces the concept of a new beginning, since Adam and Eve began in a garden. Yet, as Adam and Eve sinned and were driven from the garden, so Noah’s garden also became his downfall.  He drank wine, made from the grapes of his vineyard, became drunk, and lay naked, uncovered in his tent. In spite of his new beginning, Noah was no longer clothed in righteousness. One son laughed at Noah’s nakedness, bringing trouble upon himself and his family. The other two sons covered Noah’s nakedness, bringing blessing upon themselves and their families. In the same way, Christians today should not rejoice in the wrongdoing of others, but instead should seek to share the good news of Jesus with sinners, hoping to clothe them in his righteousness by the power of his Word. We do not desire to humiliate them over their sins or condemn them, but we hope instead to call them to repentance and faith.

God promised Noah that he would never again flood the world to destroy it. He established the rainbow as a sign of that promise—a reminder to God of the promise he had made. Rainbows mean different things to different people today, but they remain to God a reminder of his mercy upon his creation. Light shines through the clouds, and through the drops of water they produce, to display a rainbow upon the earth. God’s light comes through water to his people to display God’s promise of new and eternal life for all those who trust his promises.

 

Neighborhood games

Those who read my previous post about playing outside may have assumed that I always played alone. It is true that I often played alone–from solo baseball to solo croquet–but I was also part of a neighborhood cadre of eight children, from three families, who played together. Often our group expanded to include children from other families further down the street.

Our favorite game was “kick the can.” For the can we used a plastic ball filled with air. One player (who was It) guarded the can while the rest of us tried to kick the can. Those of us who were not It had to be hidden, though, because when we were spotted, It would touch the can and announce, “one-two-three on [name] who is hiding [location].” If the person who was It could spot the rest of us before any of us kicked the can, he or she remained It for another round. If one of us did manage to kick the can, he or she would then be It for the next round. No cumulative score was kept; each round counted as its own game. Success required darting from one hiding place to another, approaching the can; it often involved teamwork to approach from different sides, forcing It to choose which side to guard. It could wander anywhere to discover hidden players, but if It strayed too far from the can, one of the players was sure to kick the can and end the round.

We also played a game we called Army, which essentially involved splitting into two teams and reenacting unspecified military events from World War II. Half of us would be Germans and the other half Americans. Most of our loose scripting was based on what we had learned about the war from television shows and movies. Each of us carried a stick to represent a rifle. In this game also, the goal was to remain hidden from the opposite side while trying to sneak up upon them to shoot them. A clear sight of someone on the other team led to raising and aiming the stick and shouting “bang,” or, sometimes, “I got you.” A certain amount of honor was involved in agreeing to be shot and to die upon these announcements. If someone insisted, “you missed,” or, “you only got me in the leg,” the game was effectively over. Unlike kick the can, our desire in Army was to prolong the game and enjoy the maneuvers. I remember that the game fizzled, though, once one boy from down the street brought a new plastic replica of a gun that even produced sound effects when used.

I cannot remember ever playing Cowboys and Indians. Once we were all accomplished bicyclists one summer came to pass in which we designed a Cops and Robbers game, but I no longer remember the rules to that game. We did not try to split into teams for sports such as baseball or basketball. One boy in the group, who was in Little League, introduced us to a baseball-based game he had learned called Stealing Bases. There were two bases, fifty to sixty feet apart, and two fielders with mitts. They threw the ball back and forth. The rest of us (generally five or six, as I recall) would be on-base until someone thought that the throwing and catching might be challenged by a sprint. The hope was to inspire an off-target throw or a dropped ball, since a thrown ball is much faster than a human runner. I was more daring than the others, but I was also tagged out more often than the others.

Most of these games were played in the summer when school was out. Eventually we became too busy even to play in the summer, by which time we had friends at school who outranked our neighborhood friendships. I do not know the location of any of these childhood playmates. I doubt we would recognize each other any more if two of us happened to be in the same room (aside, of course, those who were siblings). As with the house in which I lived, all that remains of those times are memories. J.

Sunshine blogger award, part two

The Sunshine Blogger Award is given to “bloggers who are positive and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere”. Or so I’m told. The awesome, amazing, astounding, and always adorable “Authentically Aurora” nominated me for this award a few days ago, and I am pleased to accept. Thank you, Aurora, from the bottom of my heart.

Here are the rules:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you
  2. Answer the questions from the person who has nominated you
  3. Nominate 11 other bloggers for this award
  4. Write the same number of questions for the bloggers you have nominated
  5. Notify the bloggers you nominated

On Sunday I accepted the award, thanked Aurora (as I have just done again), and answered her eleven questions. Today I am going to nominate eight bloggers. I wanted to recognize other bloggers than those I recently nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award, although each of them is worthy of the Sunshine Blogger Award as well.

Here are my nominees:

https://depressionistheenemy.com/ who has many thoughtful posts on a number of topics (including mental health issues, as the name suggests);

Tricia at https://freedomthroughempowerment.wordpress.com/ who also has great insight into life;

SLIMJIM at https://veritasdomain.wordpress.com/ whose posts on the Bible and Christian living are both readable and helpful;

Mary O Green at https://threemeangreens.com/ who hasn’t posted in a few months—I hope she will start again soon!;

Sweet aroma at https://onetahayes.com/ who is recovering from a bad fall (literally and figuratively) and I hope she gets better quickly;

A Christian Worldview of Fiction at https://rebeccaluellamiller.wordpress.com/ which includes far more than you might expect from the title;

Citizen Tom at https://citizentom.com/ whose political insights are always valuable;

and Makayla at https://scrubsandstuff.wordpress.com/ who posts a reading each day from “The Message,” a broad paraphrase of the Bible. I don’t recommend such paraphrases for serious Bible study, but it is fascinating to see a new spin on familiar verses. I recommend this blog to all of you.

And here are eight questions for each of you (although I would welcome answers to these questions from any other readers as well):

Why did you decide to create your blog?

What kind of reader are you imagining as you write a post?

Which of your posts is your favorite?

For what are you most thankful?

What is your favorite memory from childhood?

If you could enroll in exactly one class for the next year, what would you choose to study?

If you won or inherited millions of dollars, what is the first thing you would buy?

What do you hope you will be doing ten years from today?

I am looking forward to reading your answers. J.

 

sunshine-blogger-award

Playing outdoors

When my parents had their house built, they asked the builders to be careful not to hurt the two old juniper trees in the front yard. When construction was finished, the trees beautifully framed the house as seen from the street. I hope that the crew that demolished the house this year was careful to leave the trees there. It’s odd, though, to think that those trees could outlive the entire history of the house.

Juniper trees drop clusters of short, sharp needles, so the front lawn was not a place to walk with bare feet. The grass in the back yard was soft and hazard free, perfect for bare feet, but when a family member forgot that the front lawn was different, he or she received a rude reminder. The needles didn’t shake out, either–one had to sit down and pull them out of one’s feet.

My parents raised an oak tree from an acorn in front of the house, closer to the street. Nearer the house, they planted a spruce tree. In December, my father would string Christmas lights on the spruce tree. Some years I would make ornaments for the tree from the Styrofoam trays that came under meat from the grocery store. I would trace around my mother’s cookie cutters, cut the ornaments from the Styrofoam, and color them with crayons. My mother helped me to string yarn through each ornament so I could hang it on the tree. I remember December afternoons when I sat at the dining room table to trace and cut and color while she made Christmas cookies or other holiday treats in the kitchen, accompanied by Christmas songs on the record player. I think the making of outdoor ornaments was a ruse to keep me quiet while she did her baking.

The two junipers, the oak, and the spruce made a perfect baseball diamond for my summers. I had a plastic ball and a plastic bat. I would toss the ball in the air, swing the bat, and run the bases. The trees represented not only bases, but also fielders. Later, when I was bigger and stronger, the storm drain became first base and the second juniper became third base, while the oak tree switched from first baseman to pitcher. Of course all of right field was now across the street, so I learned to pull the ball to left field. Any ball that landed on my grandparents’ property was a home run.

Mowing the grass and raking the leaves became my chore at my parents’ home and at my grandparents’ home. I liked mowing for my grandparents better because they let me use their mower, which had an electric starter instead of a rope to pull. My parents did not burn autumn leaves, nor did they bag them to be taken to the landfill. They used the leaves as mulch in their flowerbeds and strawberry patch. Raking, then, meant creating leaf piles, loading them into a wheelbarrow, taking them behind the house, and dumping them where they belonged for the winter.

Aside from baseball, I did not play much in the front yard. In addition to having softer grass, the back yard was more sheltered. My father built a sandbox for me, bringing in new sand every spring. He also erected a metal swing set. Some years he would install a wading pool for the summer. My family had a croquet set; some days I would set up a course and play all four colors on my own.

On laundry day, my mother liked to dry clothes and bedsheets in the back yard when the weather permitted. At first we had a standard clothes line strung between two poles. Later, my father bought a clothes line that attached to the side of the garage. It retracted into a case, and the pole for the opposite end could be pulled out of its hole and put in the garage. My mother often sent me outside on laundry day to set up the clothesline while she began the first load of washing.

A large church two blocks away provided a soundtrack for my summers outdoors. The church had a three-bell carillon which I can still hear in my imagination. Because they rang at different speeds, they created a tune which went something like this: ding, dang, dong, ding-dang, dong-ding, ding-dong (repeats).  The “dong” was the tonic (or “do”), the “dang” was the third (or “mi”), and the ding was the fifth (or “sol”).

I learned to love some summer insects, such as cicadas that sang in the trees, and fireflies that entertained during summer evenings. I did not, however, like wasps and bees. In my childhood, I was stung about once per summer. Although the reaction was mild–pain and swelling the day of the sting, itching for two or three days afterward–I had a fear of stinging insects that bordered on phobia. If I could see a wasp or a bee, or if I could hear an insect buzzing, I was very much afraid.

Aside from that, most of my childhood memories are pleasant. I loved to ride my bicycle around the neighborhood, or swing on the swing set, or create new worlds in the sandbox (often using twigs and pine cones to create forests, or using toy trucks to build roads and excavate hills). In the winters I built snowmen and snow forts. On very cold winter days, I put on all my winter clothing–knit stocking cap, hooded coat, scarf, knit mittens, and boots–and explored the yard as if I were an astronaut on the moon. Playing outdoors allowed me to exercise imagination and creativity, as well as benefiting from fresh air and sunshine. J.

Sunshine Blogger Award

The Sunshine Blogger Award is given to “bloggers who are positive and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere”. Or so I’m told. The awesome, amazing, astounding, and always adorable “Authentically Aurora” nominated me for this award a few days ago, and I am pleased to accept. Thank you, Aurora, from the bottom of my heart.

Here are the rules:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you
  2. Answer the questions from the person who has nominated you
  3. Nominate 11 other bloggers for this award
  4. Write the same number of questions for the bloggers you have nominated
  5. Notify the bloggers you nominated

 

Having already thanked AA, I will now comply with rule number two. The final three steps will have to wait until the end of the week, but I am working on it, I promise.

And, by the way, this happens to be post number 300 on Salvageable.

What is your biggest dream?

My biggest dream is to be a successful writer. By successful, I do not mean rich and famous. I want the things I write to be meaningful and helpful to readers. I would like to believe that at least one thing I have written will have enduring value—that it will be meaningful and helpful even after I have long shuffled off this mortal coil.

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?

My first inclination is to say that I would like to return to my childhood home. Readers of last week’s posts will know that such a visit is no longer possible. I have no burning desire to visit any one place, but I would like some day to see the major sites of Europe, west Asia, and Egypt. On the other hand, China and Japan also interest me. And India….

Do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert?

Undoubtedly an introvert. On a scale of one to ten, where one is totally introverted, ten is totally extraverted, and five is purely ambiverted, I would probably score a two. Maybe one and three quarters.

Is what you’re doing now what you always wanted to do growing up?

“Always” is a big word. As a boy, I dreamed of being an astronaut, a preacher, a police officer, a professional baseball player, and an author. As I grew older, author became the main dream. Then I realized that, whatever I did, I wanted to do for Christ and the Church. I received a proper education and began full-time work in the church. After two moves, I realized that what I was doing was not what I really wanted to do. Mid-life crisis? Near nervous breakdown? I’m not entirely sure. I found a different full-time job in the secular world, one that sometimes involves writing but is not focused on writing. I also have two part-time jobs, which keeps me busy. Having the opportunity to write, to teach, and to share the Word of God, I think I am doing what I was meant to do, and that’s good enough for me.

Do you usually follow your heart or your head?

My head. I am Mr. Spock in human flesh. Even my career change, mentioned above, was carefully calculated, not an impulse or a whim.

What are you most thankful for? 

I am most thankful for redemption through Jesus Christ. Without his saving work, nothing I have and nothing I do would have any value.

What’s on your bucket list this year?

I am not a bucket-list kind of person. I tend to live more I the moment, one day at a time. That said, I will have the chance next summer to see something I have always wanted to see—a total eclipse of the sun. Missing that would be an enormous disappointment, so I hope the sky is clear that day.

What’s your favorite food ever?

That depends upon a great many things. At this moment, I am going to say a traditional German dinner of sauerbraten and several sides. The best German food I’ve ever eaten was in the Amana Colonies in Iowa, not far from Iowa City. Over the years, I have learned how to make a respectable sauerbraten in my slow-cooker. In fact, I made some last Sunday.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?

When I was preparing to go to college, heading towards a career in the Church, my father said, “J., don’t go to a Christian college. Go to a school where you will learn about the world and about how people think in the world outside the Church.” I took his advice. In religion classes I learned about the historical-critical method of studying the Bible, and in other classes I was exposed to a wide variety of thoughts and attitudes. I also learned how to defend the Christian faith in a hostile environment. As a result, when I began graduate school, I knew what the professors were talking about when they warned us against those things. And I have known how to discuss these things with more light and less heat than happens among many Christian apologists.

Which of the places you’ve traveled to inspired you the most, and why?

When I was in high school, my grandparents gave money at Christmas to my parents so the three of us could have a nice vacation in the summer. We went twice to the Grand Tetons near Yellowstone National Park and twice to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, staying on guest ranches each vacation. Being up in those mountains was truly inspiring, and I have enduring memories of those trips.

 

My job is not complete until I have nominated other bloggers for this award, but I am done writing for today. More will come later in the week. J.

sunshine-blogger-award

Christ in Genesis: Raising Cain, Raising Abel

Because of their sin, Adam and Eve were removed from the Garden of Eden and were not allowed to return. Yet they left with a promise that they would be rescued by a descendant of Eve who would crush the serpent’s head and would reconcile them to God. Adam and Eve’s children faced the same burden of sin that their parents had brought into the world, but they also inherited the same promise of forgiveness and reconciliation.

When Eve gave birth to her firstborn, a son, she uttered a sentence which consists, in Hebrew, of three words: “I-have-gotten, a-man, the-LORD.” Most translations add helping words to her sentence, rendering it as, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.” Even the Septuagint, the Hebrew Bible translated into Greek more than twenty-two centuries ago, adds the proposition “apo” in front of the Name of the Lord. A few Bible scholars believe that adding words to this sentence is a mistake. For example, Martin Luther taught that Eve had said, “I have gotten a man, the LORD.” Luther believed that Eve understood the promise of her descendant, who would crush the devil’s head, would be God taking on human form, as Jesus took on human form from his mother, Mary. If indeed Eve thought that her firstborn son was the promised Savior, what a dreadful disappointment occurred when Cain instead became history’s first murderer.

When they had grown to manhood, Cain and his brother Abel both offered sacrifices to the Lord. God accepted the sacrifice of Abel but rejected the sacrifice of Cain. Much needless speculation has tried to discover the difference between the two sacrifices. The answer is found in Hebrews 11:4. Abel offered an acceptable sacrifice “by faith.” Cain evidently did not offer his sacrifice by faith. No sacrifice to God has any value if it is not offered by faith.

All the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament were pictures of Jesus suffering and dying on the cross, having his heal bruised as he crushed the head of the serpent. No sacrifice, other than Christ, ever purchased mercy and forgiveness from God. No human act, other than the work of Christ, can purchase God’s forgiveness. God hates the times when people go through the motions of worship or sacrifice apart from faith in him. (See Isaiah 1:14, Amos 5:21-23, and Psalm 50:7-11.) He wants these things to be done by faith. When people do these things without thinking about what they mean, God is displeased. When people do these things thinking that they are earning something from God, putting him in debt to them, God is angered.

The animals that died so Adam and Eve could be clothed were pictures of Jesus. Likewise, the firstborn animal offered by Abel—and the countless animals offered to God by his people over the centuries—were pictures of Jesus. It appears that Cain forgot this important truth. He offered a sacrifice to God, but not by faith. Therefore God did not accept the sacrifice Cain offered. The fact that Cain was angry to have his sacrifice refused shows that he expected to gain something from God by that sacrifice.

Jesus warned Cain of the dangerous temptation lurking in his anger. Cain ignored the warning. Instead, he acted in violence, murdering his brother. He thought that his crime would be secret, but no one keeps secrets from God. As God had given Adam and Eve the opportunity to confess their sin, so Jesus also asked Cain about Abel.

Cain lied to God. He said that he did not know where Abel was. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain asked. The answer to that question is “yes.” We are all commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves, and a brother is a very near neighbor. We are all expected to help one another, to bear each other’s burdens. Obeying God’s commandment not to murder is not as simple as never violently taking another’s life. We are not to hurt or harm our neighbors, but we are to help them and care for them. Neglecting a neighbor in his or her need is sinful, just as violently striking him or her is sinful.

Jesus challenged Cain’s lie. “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground,” Jesus said. Other Bible verses also describe the blood of victims as crying for justice. Because God loves each of us, God is angry when any of us are hurt by a fellow human being. All the blood of all victims in history cries for justice, and God hears those cries. On the Day of the Lord, the justice of God will be revealed. Those who have harmed their neighbors will finally receive what they deserve.

Cain knew what he deserved. He had taken away his brother’s life; now he deserved to be killed. His parents, his other brothers and sisters, his nephews and nieces all had the right to take vengeance on the killer of Abel. Yet God did not give Cain what Cain deserved. Instead, Cain was marked by God so that no one would kill him, even though he deserved to be killed.

The firstborn animal offered by Abel was a picture of Jesus. Abel himself became a picture of Jesus, innocent before God and yet killed by his brother. Jesus was rejected by his own people and sent to his death. Yet the blood of Jesus does not cry for vengeance. Instead, in his death, Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them.” His blood is more powerful than the blood of Abel. Our sins caused the suffering and death of Jesus, but now he washes us in his blood to redeem us as God’s people. Because of the death of Jesus, we will not receive what we deserve on the Day of the Lord. Instead, we will receive what Jesus deserves—eternal life in God’s perfect new creation.

Like Cain, we have been marked by God so we will not receive what we deserve. He has marked us with the blood of Christ; he has marked us with his own Holy Spirit. On the Last Day, Jesus will see that mark on us and claim us as his people. He has already paid to purchase us. Now and forever we belong to him.