Christ, My Strength and Portion

This is a song I composed on the piano about a year ago (July 2018). One day, when I have time, I’ll upload a recording:
Christ My Strength and Portion
Num. 23:19; Pss. 3:2-3; 55:12-13; 57:1; 71:5; 73:25-26; Mark 10:45; John 2:24-25; 17:17; Phil. 1:21; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; 1 Pet. 1:18-19
Verse 1
       C                  G                Am
The slander and flattery of man may deceive
             F                G             C
But my LORD, His Word is Truth
    F                 G                C G/B Am
To Him the unchanging God I cleave
     F               G                        C
My hope and trust from my youth
Verse 2
             C                  G                      Am
Though foes may revile and close friends betray
            F                 G        C
But my LORD, He is my shield
          F                 G                   C    G/B Am
In the shadow of His mighty wings I stay
              F               G                  C
He’s my glory, the lifter of my head
Chorus
                             F
Whom have I in heaven but You?
                                        G
And earth has nothing for me but You
                                  Am
My weary flesh and heart may yet fail
                                  F                      G                 C
But Christ is all my strength and portion forever
Verse 3
The Lord gave Himself as my ransom price
Let all I do, His love constrain
Bought with the precious blood of Christ
Now to live is Christ, die is gain

Poems & Songs

I love to create music and compose verses. Here you can find my original songs and poems that are scattered throughout my blog:

Double Spout
Empty Pews
Glory After All
Pressed Grapes
Scarlet Yarn

Double Spout

(This poem is a tribute to my patient wife in blues form, which has roots in the African-American oral tradition and typically expresses, per Ralph Ellison, “the agony of life and the possibility of conquering it through sheer toughness of spirit.”)

Your water can’s got a double spout
Drippin’ sad tears to make me sprout
Your water can’s got a double spout
Cryin’ sorry drops to make me sprout
‘Cause you bin waitin’ it’s overdue

To break my harsh and arid pout
And moisten dry and hardened flout
To break my harsh and arid pout
And soften mean and stubborn flout
Baby keep goin’ and don’t you rue

When you’s over and under, done bottomed out
Your can’s got nothin’ but airs of doubt
When you’s over and under, done bottomed out
Your can’s bin emptied and full of doubt
Mix your drops with heaven’s dew

-ssw (11/20/2015)

Pressed Grapes

From South of the vineyard, leaks
three drops, pressed from precious grapes that never felt the
swaddling cloth.

From East of the garden, he bleeds
for three days, trampled in the winepress of wrath, groaning in the pangs of
childbirth.

The Best Children’s Bibles

In the process of identifying the best Bible for teaching the children at my church, I looked through 20 different children’s Bibles (CB). I first determined the appropriate age group of the Bibles, then pinned them on the scale of dynamic (sense for sense) or formal (word for word) equivalence:

D2 (Most dynamically equivalent, a rather “free” translation with creative license)
D1 (More dynamically equivalent)
N (Neutral, somewhat dynamic and somewhat formal)
F1 (More formally equivalent)
F2 (Most formally equivalent, a rather “rigid” translation with little variance from the original text)

Then, I used the following criteria to judge the usefulness of the Bibles:

Scriptural Fidelity: Does the CB accurately convey the message of the original text of Scripture without adding extraneous details or subtracting essential details?

Theology: Does the CB feature orthodox and appropriate theological interpretation that highlight the main idea and purpose of the text? Does it look ahead to Jesus Christ who fulfills the whole Scripture (Matthew 5:17-20)?

Comprehensiveness: Does the CB include most of the stories from the original text of Scripture?

Storytelling: Is the narrative flow of the CB fluent, clear, engaging, and inspiring?

Illustration: Are the accompanying illustrations in the CB colorful, beautiful, imaginative, intelligible, and faithful to the cultural context and the original text of Scripture?

Interactiveness: Does the CB involve the reader in dialogue? Does it include questions, summaries, and other interactive features that facilitate understanding and encourage personal response?

I scored them on a five point scale (1-Very Bad; 2-Bad; 3-Okay; 4-Good; 5-Very Good) and then calculated their averages. They are listed below from best to worst for Preschool, Kindergarten, and Primary/Elementary levels, respectively.

______________________________________________________________
PRESCHOOL LEVEL

The Big Picture Story Bible
Edited by David Helm and Illustrated by Gail Schoonmaker
Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois, 2004 ($21.20)

Preschool; D2
Scriptural Fidelity: 5 of 5
Theology: 5 of 5
Comprehensiveness: 2 of 5 (26 stories)
Storytelling: 5 of 5
Illustration: 4 of 5
Interactiveness: 3 of 5
Total Score: 4.0

Comment: This is the best CB for the Preschool age group, and it’s the only one that comments on the protoevangelion, or the first proclamation of the gospel, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15). This, of course, predicts Jesus’s atonement and ultimate victory over Satan. The Big Picture Story Bible traces the redemptive narrative of Christ through all of its stories. Unfortunately, it only has twenty-six stories.

100 Bible Stories 100 Bible Songs
Created by Stephen Elkins and Illustrated by Tim O’Connor
Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 2004 ($17.09)

Preschool; D1
Scriptural Fidelity: 4 of 5
Theology: 3 of 5
Comprehensiveness: 4 of 5 (100 stories)
Storytelling: 3 of 5
Illustration: 4 of 5
Interactiveness: 5 of 5
Total: 3.8

Comment: 100 Bible Stories 100 Bible Songs includes 2 CDs that contain 100 songs that accompany each of the stories. They are memorable and fun. The stories themselves are interesting and fluid, and the illustrations are colorful and pleasant. It euphemizes certain aspects of the stories. For example, God says to Abraham, “take Isaac and give him back to me” (26), instead of telling him to sacrifice Isaac. At the end of each story, there’s a summary observation, an interpretive statement, and an application statement.

The New Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes
Edited by Kenneth N. Taylor and Illustrated by Annabel Spenceley
Moody Press, Chicago, 2002 ($13.67)

Preschool; D2
Scriptural Fidelity: 3 of 5
Theology: 3 of 5
Comprehensiveness: 4 of 5 (184 stories)
Storytelling: 4 of 5
Illustration: 3 of 5
Interactiveness: 5 of 5
Total: 3.7

Comment: The New Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes has little theological interpretation. The stories are minimalistic and sometimes missing crucial details. For example, why is God sending a flood? It is not explained. It only mentions that God tells Noah to build a boat in order to save him. The illustrations are colorful, but pretty pedestrian. In the story of the Fall, a raccoon is pictured instead of a snake for some unknown reason. Satan is not even mentioned. At the end of each story, there are 2-3 questions that summarize the narrative details. It also features a short prayer at the end of each story (e.g. “Lord, I want to be like Noah and do just what You tell me to do” (24).

A Child’s First Bible
Edited by Kenneth N. Taylor and illustrated by Nadine Wickenden and Diana Catchpole
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois, 2000 ($7.34)

Preschool; D2
Scriptural Fidelity: 3 of 5
Theology: 3 of 5
Comprehensiveness: 4 of 5 (125 stories)
Storytelling: 3 of 5
Illustration: 3 of 5
Interactiveness: 4 of 5
Total: 3.3

Comment: The stories are very abbreviated and require a lot of supplementary explanation. For example, in the story of the Fall, it simply says that Adam and Eve did not obey God. It neither mentions the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil nor Satan. It does recapitulate every story at the end of each section, and encourages readers to respond to the content.

My First Bible in Pictures
Edited by Kenneth N. Taylor and Illustrated by Richard and Frances Hook
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois, 1989 ($8.99)

Prechool; D2
Scriptural Fidelity: 3 of 5
Theology: 2 of 5
Comprehensiveness: 4 of 5 (125 stories)
Storytelling: 2 of 5
Illustration: 2 of 5
Interactiveness: 2 of 5
Total: 2.5

Comment: The brusque storytelling and minimalistic detail of My First Bible in Pictures make it liable to misunderstanding. It omits crucial details, such as, why God is sending a flood, and why God doesn’t want people to build the Tower of Babel. Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden simply because they “did something God told them not to do,” which begs the question, “what exactly did God tell Adam and Eve not to do?” Also, the illustrations are boring and unimaginative. An overwhelming majority of them have a dreary, yellow hue. The Bible does include a question at the end of each story, but most of the time they simply miss the point, e.g. “What was Elijah’s horses made of?” Fiery horses are great but that’s really not the point of the story.

______________________________________________________________
KINDERGARTEN LEVEL

The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name
Edited by Sally Lloyd-Jones and Illustrated by Jago
Zonderkidz, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2007 ($10.50)

Kindergarten; D2
Scriptural Fidelity: 4 of 5
Theology: 5 of 5
Comprehensiveness: 3 of 5 (44 stories)
Storytelling: 5 of 5
Illustration: 5 of 5
Interactiveness: 3 of 5
Total: 4.2

Comment: The Jesus Storybook Bible takes the top prize for the Kindergarten age group. It should be noted, however, that it is a Storybook, which means that it does, on rare occasions, take creative license to enhance the storytelling. For example, when Jesus multiplies the loaves of bread and fish, he “wink[s] at the little boy and whisper[s] to his ear, ‘Watch!’” before performing the miracle (246). It has minor inaccuracies, such as Jacob having to work another seven years to marry Rachel (72), when, in reality, he gets to marry Rachel one week after marrying Leah, even though he is obligated to stay and work another seven years. I’m being nitpicky here because the book is so good overall. The illustrations are fun, colorful and imaginative. They are more cartoonish than realistic, but they are beautiful. The most important aspect of this CB is that it comments on how every story from the beginning to the end points to Jesus. It highlights the redemptive narrative and tells the story very well. At certain points, I was moved to tears by the compelling narrative. It has no additional features intended to facilitate reader engagement, but the narrative dialogues with the reader.

Adventure Bible Storybook
Edited by Catherine DeVries and Illustrated by Jim Madsen
Zonderkidz, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2009 ($14.52)

Kindergarten; D2
Scriptural Fidelity: 3 of 5
Theology: 3 of 5
Comprehensiveness: 3 of 5 (51 stories)
Storytelling: 4 of 5
Illustration: 5 of 5
Interactiveness: 5 of 5
Total: 3.8

Comment: The Adventure Bible Storybook adds extraneous details such as Noah’s wife accidentally bumping into Noah and saying “Oops, sorry” (19). It also subtly rationalizes certain miracles, for example, by randomly noting that “it probably took eight to twelve hours for the [Red Sea] to part” (57). On a better note, it does emphasize God’s love weaving the entire Biblical narrative together. The storytelling is engaging, and the illustrations are very detailed and realistic. At the end of each story, it follows its “Adventure” theme and includes an “Adventure Discovery,” which recaps the story, and “Words to Treasure,” which is a relevant memory verse.

Read and Learn Bible: Stories from the Old and New Testaments
Edited by Eva Moore and Illustrated by Duendes del Sur and Walter Carzon
Scholastic, Inc., New York, American Bible Society, 2011 ($10.79)

Kindergarten; F1
Scriptural Fidelity: 5 of 5
Theology: 3 of 5
Comprehensiveness: 4 of 5 (102 Stories)
Storytelling: 3 of 5
Illustration: 4 of 5
Interactiveness: 3 of 5
Total: 3.7

Comment: The Read and Learn Bible sticks pretty closely to the original text of Scripture with little additional theological interpretation. However, it has helpful study notes interspersed throughout the stories. For example, a study note explains that “The Hebrew word for Adam means ‘of the ground’ or ‘from the red earth’ and is also used as a general word for ‘humankind’ or ‘people'” (15). Other times, there are unhelpful implications, e.g. a study note asks the question, “How does Jesus heal today?” and answers: a) doctors and nurses b) hugs from parents and friends c) love and care from parents and grandparents, but does not suggest that Jesus heals miraculously today (5). The illustrations are colorful and beautiful, but most characters have staid expressions.

Read with Me Bible (NIrV Bible Storybook)
Edited by Doris Rikkers and Jean E. Syswerda and Illustrated by Dennis Jones
Zonderkidz, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2000 ($13.48)

Kindergarten; F1
Scriptural Fidelity: 5 of 5
Theology: 3 of 5
Comprehensiveness: 4 of 5 (105 stories)
Storytelling: 3 of 5
Illustration: 5 of 5
Interactiveness: 1 of 5
Total: 3.5

Comment: This is basically New International Reader’s Version with illustrations.

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My First Bible Storybook
Edited by Michael Berghof and Illustrated by Jacob Kramer
Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO, 2011 ($11.05)

Kindergarten; D1
Scriptural Fidelity: 4 of 5
Theology: 4 of 5
Comprehensiveness: 4 of 5 (72 Stories)
Storytelling: 4 of 5
Illustration: 4 of 5
Interactiveness: 1 of 5
Total: 3.5

Comment: My First Bible Storybook is a very average CB. Nothing about it is very impressive, but nothing about it is bad either. The theology is solid, although it gets speculative at some points. For example, it describes God’s original creation as “perfect” and that all the animals got along. Though this is a widely-accepted inference, it is still speculative since Genesis does not mention it. It may be interpolating the Biblical concept of the New Heavens and the New Earth (Isa. 11:6) into the concept of the first Heavens and the Earth. Illustrations are engaging and expressive, but on rare occasions they don’t quite fit the text (e.g. when Adam names the “giraffe, rhinoceros, … [and] kangaroo,” an ostrich, chipmunk, rabbit, and fox are illustrated) (18).

The Beginner’s Bible: Timeless Children’s Stories
Edited by Karyn Henley and Illustrated by Dennas Davis
Zonderkidz, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1997 ($? discontinued)

Kindergarten; N
Scriptural Fidelity: 5 of 5
Theology: 3 of 5
Comprehensiveness: 4 of 5 (95 stories)
Storytelling: 4 of 5
Illustration: 4 of 5
Interactiveness: 1 of 5
Total: 3.5

Comment: The Beginner’s Bible (1997) has no features that facilitate reader response or interaction. However, it is faithful to the original text of Scripture. The storytelling and the illustrations are also solid.

beginner's bible

The Beginner’s Bible: Timeless Children’s Stories
Edited by Kelly Pulley
Zonderkidz, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2005 ($10.50)

Kindergarten; N
Scriptural Fidelity: 4 of 5
Theology: 3 of 5
Comprehensiveness: 4 of 5 (94 stories)
Storytelling: 4 of 5
Illustration: 4 of 5
Interactiveness: 1 of 5
Total: 3.3

Comment: The Beginner’s Bible (2005) is a revision of The Beginner’s Bible (1997) above under the same title and an almost identical cover. However, it has a new author and the illustrations are different, though they have the same style. It has better chapter headings than the original, but the narrative is not as true to the sense of the original text of Scripture. For example, in the original, God says, “I am sorry that I made people. I will start all over again” (30), and then sends the flood. In the newer edition, God sends the flood because “[He] was sad that everyone but Noah forgot about him” (28). In the original, God destroys the Tower of Babel because he sees that men were “selfish and proud” (39), in the newer edition, God destroys the Tower of Babel because He did not like that people “act[ed] … as if they no longer needed him” (36). These shifts make God seem like a tyrant whose feelings are hurt rather than a holy God that demands obedience.

Eager Reader Bible: Bible Stories to Grow On
Edited by Daryl J. Lucas and Illustrated by Daniel J. Hochstatter
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois, 1994 ($12.81)

Kindergarten; D1
Scriptural Fidelity: 5 of 5
Theology: 3 of 5
Comprehensiveness: 4 of 5 (105 stories)
Storytelling: 3 of 5
Illustration: 2 of 5
Interactiveness: 3 of 5
Total: 3.3

Comment: The Eager Reader Bible features average storytelling and average illustrations that are nothing out of the ordinary. Each story ends with a question about a narrative detail in the story, e.g. “What did Noah use to build the ark?” “Who came to Lot’s house?” “Who found baby Moses?” The interaction is good, but these questions do not capture the point of the story.

______________________________________________________________
PRIMARY/ELEMENTARY LEVEL

The Gospel Story Bible: Discovering Jesus in the Old and New Testaments
Edited by Marty Machowski and Illustrated by A.E. Macha
New Growth Press, Greensboro, NC, 2011 ($24.61)

Primary/Elementary School; D1
Scriptural Fidelity: 5 of 5
Theology: 5 of 5
Comprehensiveness: 4 of 5 (156 stories)
Storytelling: 4 of 5
Illustration: 3 of 5
Interactiveness: 5 of 5
Total: 4.3

Comment: The introduction to The Gospel Story Bible suggests that it is suitable for preschoolers. This is hardly true. The writing is too sophisticated, and its theological interpolations are too obscure for preschoolers. Even the illustrations, while beautiful and imaginative, are too abstract to be engaging for the younger children. With that said, this is the best of its kind for children in primary/elementary school. It is rich with theological analyses and every story points ahead to Jesus Christ. Each story concludes with a “Let’s Talk About It” section, which has three questions related to the story.

The Action Bible: God’s Redemptive Story
Edited by Doug Mauss and Illustrated by Sergio Cariello
David C. Cook, Colorado Springs, CO, 2010 ($10.99)

Primary/Elementary; D1
Scriptural Fidelity: 4 of 5
Theology: 3 of 5
Comprehensiveness: 5 of 5 (214 Stories)
Storytelling: 4 of 5
Illustration: 5 of 5
Interactiveness: 3 of 5
Total: 4.0

Comment: The Action Bible is unique in its comic book like features and design, and it’s truly a boon to our highly visual culture (illustration-wise, it probably deserves a ‘6’ on a 5-point scale). The translation is solid, although it does editorialize a bit. For example, in the story where a group of youth jeer at Elisha and consequently get mauled by she-bears, Mauss and Cariello portray the youth as a “gang of young men” threatening to kill Elijah (405). This is clearly an attempt to “vindicate” God by making his punishment more palatable. However, the Bible does not hint at the murderous intent of the youth. Rather, the issue at hand is that “The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward” (Matthew 10:41). Since the prophet is God’s representative, mockery of God’s prophet is mockery of God Himself, so this story showcases God’s irreproachable holiness, not his despotic cruelty.
As for theological content, the Action Bible does not highlight the redemptive aspect of the Bible nearly as much as one might expect, given that it’s subtitled God’s Redemptive Story. It captures the moral of the stories well, but often misses the theological heart of the stories. For example, after nearly getting sacrificed by his father Abraham, Isaac concludes, “From my father I learned the cost of faith–and from God I learned the reward of faith” (63). It’s profound, but it fails to point out that Isaac’s experience foreshadows the work of the only begotten Son of God, who will climb up another mountain, carrying wood on his back, and actually be sacrificed, so that Isaac, you, or I would not have to pay for our sins.

The Children’s Bible in 365 Stories
Edited by Mary Batchelor and Illustrated by John Haysom
David C Cook, Colorado Springs, CO, 1995 ($17.09)

Primary/Elementary; D1
Scriptural Fidelity: 5 of 5
Theology: 3 of 5
Comprehensiveness: 5 of 5 (365 stories)
Storytelling: 5 of 5
Illustration: 5 of 5
Interactiveness: 1 of 5
Total: 4.0

Comment: Overall, The Children’s Bible in 365 Stories is excellent, although it offers little theological interpretation. For example, it does not even mention that the story of the Prodigal Son reveals God’s love for us. It has highly detailed and realistic illustrations. Its scope is comprehensive. Unfortunately, however, it offers no interactive features.

The Golden Children’s Bible: The Old Testament and the New Testament
Edited by Rev. Joseph A. Grispino, Dr. Samuel Terrien, and Rabbi David H. Wice and Illustrated by Jose Miralles
A Golden Book, New York, 1993 ($11.55)

Primary/Elementary; F2
Scriptural Fidelity: 5 of 5
Theology: 3 of 5
Comprehensiveness: 5 of 5 (373 stories)
Storytelling: 3 of 5
Illustration: 4 of 5
Interactiveness: 2 of 5
Total: 3.7

Comment: To its credit, The Golden Children’s Bible is unique in that it was approved by an editorial board of Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish scholars. However, it does not read very much like a children’s Bible. The storytelling is fairly prosaic. The illustrations are highly detailed and realistic. It also features maps and photographs that explicate the historical background of the stories. However, I am docking one point in illustration because of the jarring pictures of Jesus who has blonde hair and blue eyes. These Aryan features are obviously inaccurate and actually quite distracting since everybody else has brown hair and eyes (check pages 359 and 397).

The Children’s Bible: Illustrated Stories from the Old and New Testaments
Edited by Fiona Tulloch and Illustrated by Q2A Media
Arcturus Publishing Limited, London, UK ($ Varies)

Primary/Elementary; F1
Scriptural Fidelity: 3 of 5
Theology: 2 of 5
Comprehensiveness: 4 of 5 (143 stories)
Storytelling: 3 of 5
Illustration: 4 of 5
Interactiveness: 4 of 5
Total: 3.3

Comment: It does not seem that The Children’s Bible was vetted theologically. In the creation story, it says that “God had finished His creation and needed to rest” (11; italics added), as if he were tired. Furthermore, it resorts to careless, fairy-tale language when it says that Adam and Eve were “banished from the Garden of Eden forever” (13), that God expelled Cain to the “land of Nod to wander the earth forever” (15), and that Noah “served God faithfully every day of his long and happy life” (17). Humanity was not banned from the “Garden of Eden” forever, they can enter into the presence of God in heaven through Jesus Christ. Also, Cain is not still wandering the earth today… In terms of interactive features, The Children’s Bible includes a study note on every other page or so, intended to help children understand the stories better. For example, one such note tells you that “A parable is a simple story that is used to teach people lessons” (130), and another helpful one tells you that “The name Christ comes from the Greek word ‘Christos,’ meaning anointed or chosen one. ‘Messiah’ means the same thing” (175).

The Illustrated Children’s Bible
Edited by Christopher Morris and Illustrated by Bill Farnsworth
Harcourt Brace & Company, Orlando, FL, 1993 ($12.95)

Primary/Elementary; F2
Scriptural Fidelity: 5 of 5
Theology: 3 of 5
Comprehensiveness: 4 of 5 (141 stories)
Storytelling: 2 of 5
Illustration: 3 of 5
Interactiveness: 3 of 5
Total: 3.3

Comment: The Illustrated Children’s Bible is fairly comprehensive with 141 stories and dozens of maps and notes on the historical background. However, it’s a bit dense and prosaic. In fact, in many places, it simply extracts the passages directly from the King James Version and condenses them.

The Doubleday Illustrated Children’s Bible
Edited by Sandol Stoddard and Illustrated by Tony Chen
Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, NY, 1983 ($6.95)

Primary/Elementary; F1
Scriptural Fidelity: 5 of 5
Theology: 3 of 5
Comprehensiveness: 4 of 5 (108 stories)
Storytelling: 3 of 5
Illustration: 3 of 5
Interactiveness: 1 of 5
Total: 3.2

Comment: The Doubleday Illustrated Children’s Bible looks a bit outdated with its drab illustrations. However, the translation is pretty good. It even includes a story of the Maccabean revolt from the Inter-Testamental period, which establishes the setting for the Jewish expectation of the Messiah in the New Testament.

children's illustrated bible

The Children’s Illustrated Bible
Edited by Selina Hastings and Illustrated by Eric Thomas
Dorling Kindersley, London, 2004 ($9.35)

Primary/Elementary; F1
Scriptural Fidelity: 3 of 5
Theology: 1 of 5
Comprehensiveness: 4 of 5 (138 stories)
Storytelling: 3 of 5
Illustration: 5 of 5
Interactiveness: 2 of 5
Total: 3.0

Comment: As the title suggests, The Children’s Illustrated Bible’s strength is illustrations. They are very detailed and realistic. There are even photographs and maps that provide further historical information. The stories and the accompanying notes, however, leave much to be desired. For example, it resorts to naturalistic explanations of clear miracles: “The Hebrew words originally translated as ‘Red Sea’ in fact mean ‘sea of reeds.’ It is possible that the Israelites crossed over a marshy swamp to the north of the Red Sea” (78). If this were true, the greater miracle would be God somehow drowning all those Egyptians in a mere “marshy swamp.” Here’s another example: “Some scholars think that the manna may have come from the hammada shrub, above, which grows in southern Sinai. When insects feed on its branches, it produces a sweet, white liquid. Today, Bedouin people use it as a sweetener” (80). Exodus 16:14 says that manna was a thin flake like frost that appeared on the ground. Even more problematic is its Bultmannesque demythologization: “The death of Jesus is important to Christians because they believe that, in dying, he was showing God’s love for all people. For this reason the cross became the main symbol of Christianity” (207). Yes, God loves us, but what about sin and justification? Here’s another example: “Christians believe, however, that death did not put an end to Jesus, but that his spirit lives on, especially through his followers” (207). Really, just his spirit lives on and not his body? The millions that worship Jesus do so only because he is “alive in their hearts?” As Apostle Paul taught, ‘if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14).

Too Ashamed to Confess

photo credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Claudius_at_Prayer_Hamlet_3-3_Delacroix_1844.JPG

If you have a sin that you’ve been hiding that you dare not confess, then consider the agony of Claudius.
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet play, Claudius is a husband to the widow of the brother he murdered, an uncle to Hamlet whose father he killed, and a king of Denmark who usurped the throne by poisoning his brother to death. Although Claudius longs to set things right and pray for forgiveness, his great guilt militates against confession. What results is a speech that conveys the uniquely, and profoundly, human phenomenon called guilt:

Oh, my offence is rank. It smells to heaven.
It hath the primal eldest curse upon ’t,
A brother’s murder. Pray can I not,
Though inclination be as sharp as will,
My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent,
And, like a man to double business bound,
I stand in pause where I shall first begin,
And both neglect. (Shakespeare, Hamlet,III, iii, 38-45)

The egregious nature of Claudius’s offense is highlighted by its comparison to a foul odor. His offense, like an odor, is invisible yet inconcealable. It “smells to the heavens” and invokes the condemnation not merely of men, but of God. Furthermore, Claudius underscores the gravity of his fratricide by alluding to Cain’s “primal eldest curse.” Like Cain, Claudius was driven by jealousy to murder his own brother. Can you relate to this? Unconfessed sins linger like a foul odor. You know that no one sees it, yet you feel as though everybody somehow “smells” it. Does your sin seem so odious that confessing to God, let alone confessing to other believers, is unthinkable?

“Though inclination be as sharp as will,” Claudius simply cannot bring himself to pray. He has resolved to pray, yet he cannot get himself to pray. The guilt simultaneously impels and impedes his confession. In the end, his guilt is greater than his desire to make restitution, since his “stronger guilt defeats [his] strong intent.” To illustrate this inner conflict, he likens himself to “a man to double business bound.” The chiastic consonance of the ‘b’ and ‘d’ sounds makes the syllables bounce off of each other, mirroring Claudius’s oscillating will and emphasizing the fact that he is “bound.” Immobilized by his clashing emotions, Claudius teeters noncommittally. He “stand[s] in pause” and neglects to act.

Do you ever feel paralyzed by guilt and shame by yourself? Do you want to deal with your sit, but fear people’s judgment and the consequences you might face? As C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity,

“Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”

A forgotten sin is not a forgiven sin, and as Proverbs 28:13 teaches, “whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” The instinct to preserve the status quo, your reputation, your job, whatever it might be, is misleading you.

And don’t fool yourself into thinking that a private confession between you and God is enough. James 5:16 says, “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” As Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in Life Together:

“Sin wants to be alone with people. It takes them away from the community. The more lonely people become, the more destructive the power of sin over them. The more deeply they become entangled in it, the more unholy is their loneliness. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of what is left unsaid sin poisons the whole being of a person. This can happen in the midst of a pious community. In confession the light of the gospel breaks into the darkness and closed isolation of the heart. Sin must be brought into the light. What is unspoken is said openly and confessed. All that is secret and hidden comes to light. It is a hard struggle until the sin crosses one’s lips in confession. But God breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron (Ps. 107:16) Since the confession of sin is made in the presence of another Christian, the last stronghold of self-justification is abandoned. The sinner surrenders, giving up all evil, giving the sinner’s heart to God and finding the forgiveness of all one’s sin in the community of Jesus Christ and other Christians. Sin that has been spoken and confessed has lost all of its power. It has been revealed and judged as sin. It can no longer tear apart the community. … Confession in the presence of another believer is the most profound kind of humiliation. It hurts, makes one feel small; it deals a terrible blow to one’s pride.”

It is that humiliation that makes confession to another believer particularly difficult, but though painful it may be, like the alcohol that stings yet sanitizes one’s wounds, confession is the prelude to healing. Jesus endured the shame of the cross and nailed our guilt upon it, so that we can die to our sin and live. It’s only in His presence, and in the presence of His people who dwell at the foot of the cross, that we can dare to be a sinner. By daring to be a sinner, we open the pathway for God’s grace and true community. Let not your courage fail when confession is needed!

Empty Pews

The white-washed tombs under stained-glass windows
strain out a gnat but swallow a camel;
to the alien, the poor, the widows,
they throw politic and polite trammel.

Mirror balls dazzle beneath the steeples,
but no one kneels before vacant altars.
Gospel beckons lost and lonely peoples,
but neutered and shamed its promise falters.

Voluminous words from preacher’s mouth spew;
coffers ring and a fine career is made.
He indulges thousands, but saves only few,
the cross, the Christ, are only a charade.

From the empty grave like Mt. Hermon’s dew,
O Lord, with your grace fill these empty pews.

Scarlet Yarn

During the time of Moses, priests were instructed to dip scarlet yarn into animal blood and use it to sprinkle, and thus purify, the ritually impure (Leviticus 14:6-7, 49-51). But why scarlet yarn? Why not blue or purple, like the yarns used to weave the curtains of the tabernacle (Exodus 26:1)? After all, blue and purple yarns were the most expensive yarns of the ancient world, symbolizing royalty and nobility… The “scarlet yarn” is a translation from the Hebrew ‏שְׁנִי הַתּוֹלַעַת, which literally means “scarlet worm.” According to the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon (BDB), the etymology of the word “scarlet” suggests the coccus ilicis, a scale insect that attaches itself to oak trees native to the western Mediterranean in order to feed (§8144). So what does this bug have to do with scarlet? When a female attaches itself to an oak and dies, its dried body yields scarlet dye. Its death produces the means of purification–a process that undoubtedly foreshadows Christ, whose death on a tree (Acts 5:30; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24) poured forth the blood that cleanses us from our sins (Hebrews 9:11-28). May every post on this blog, from now ’til its cyber termination, point people to Christ!

While this symbolism is not made explicit in the immediate Biblical context, the use of scarlet yarn in Old Testament purification rites is noted by the author of Hebrews, who argues that the blood of the covenant was fulfilled by Christ with his own blood.

Moreover, scarlet (or red) as a symbol for blood is widely attested throughout the Bible. A red heifer (Num. 19:1-10) is used in the Old Testament for a purification sacrifice, Israel’s “sins … like scarlet” are likened to the bloodstained hands of murderers (Isa. 1:15, 18), and the dragon (Rev. 12:3) and beast (Rev. 17:3) of Revelation are described as “red” to represent the shedding of innocent blood (Rev. 16:6). The moon turns into “blood” to symbolize divine retribution (Joel 2:31; Rev. 6:12), the “red horse” of warfare inflicts God’s judgment upon evil men (Zech. 6:2; Rev. 6:4), and God’s avenging wrath is demonstrated by his “crimsoned garments” with “lifeblood spattered” on them due to his treading in the winepress of wrath (Isa 63:1-6).

Finally, Christ’s atonement is powerfully expressed through the paradoxical image of believers’ robes that are washed “white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. :14), which fulfills Isaiah’s prophesy: “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” A yarn (wool) dyed in scarlet invokes these themes of guilt, atoning bloodshed, and innocence.

Scarlet Yarn

Twined linen, dripping scarlet red
And curtaining his face (Ex. 26:1)
Embroidered on the ephod donned
To enter holy place (Ex. 28:6-8; 39:1-5)

The scarlet yarn unspooled and spilled
To dye the skeins of sin
Flows freely from his naked wounds
To cover my chagrin

With hyssop dipped in gurgling blood
To sprinkle lepers clean (Lev. 14:1-7; Heb. 9:18-22)
Red heifer’s blood, consuming fire
To purify and glean (Num. 19:1-6)

The scarlet yarn unspooled and spilled
To dye the skeins of sin
Flows freely from his naked wounds
To cover my chagrin

Cascading down the Jer’cho wall
To wipe a harlot’s slate (Josh. 2:18-21)
Red robe adorns his bloodied back
It’s my Redeemer’s fate (Mt. 27:27-28)

The scarlet yarn unspooled and spilled
To dye the skeins of sin
Flows freely from his naked wounds
To cover my chagrin