Interlude I went out walking Late at night The moonlight Was so bright My shadow walked beside me. I needed time for thinking And I sought A good spot But I could not Make out the stars above me. Too many lights glowing Mankind's tries To lighten skies Blinding my eyes To the beauty I might see. It set me wondering Of thoughts enshrined By a Darkened Mind In attempt to find An image of who we might be.
If You're a sun burning Living Fire We can desire But would expire If we dared to approach You; Are we the moon hanging High overhead Utterly dead Our light instead One that is endued? Or are we stars shining Containers of light Pinpricks in the night Scattered but bright Each with our own hue?
I see the day dawning No more night To our sight You the light The only one we can see. A glimmer of understanding What is true Us made anew An image of You Our light born in unity.
Haste this Day's coming With all restored In one accord And You adored O, Great Father of lights!
I began a word study on John 3:16 over the weekend because I have been thinking about the phrase “familiarity breeds contempt”. While I don’t feel contempt for scripture-far from it!-I have been thinking about certain verses and how familiarity with them can definitely breed complacency. This is especially true with John 3:16. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard it quoted and have quoted it myself. It can be found on t-shirts, hats…it is one of the most widely known verses in the Bible. With this in mind, I asked myself: am I sure I know what this verse is saying? Can I be certain I know what it means? That answer is, of course, no: the Holy Spirit always has something more to reveal. And so, I started a word study on John 3:16.
I begin any study on scripture with a prayer to the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of my understanding and then I open my Comparative Study Bible and reference books. I use many references when doing a word study. I want to know as much as I can about how the word I’m looking at was used elsewhere in scripture, how was it used in the vernacular of the day, and what interpretations there have been by other teachers past and present. I started with looking up the words in both the Strong’s and Young’s concordances and then took a look at the commentaries I have. While I did find a few interesting things I hope to share at a later time, my attention was diverted off my selected verse. I’d prayed about John 3:16 but the Holy Spirit turned my attention to a word study I’d done a few months ago on baptism. The teacher during Sunday morning’s Zoom church message spoke about the beauty of baptism which made me realize I needed to take a second look at that previous study. Thus, this post will not be about John 3:16 but rather John 3:5. Again, I expected one answer from God and He pointed me toward something else.
I’d first done the study on John 3:5 because of a social media post I’d seen talking about the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist. I didn’t disagree with anything the post had said about the importance of baptism and the Eucharist but I wasn’t sure I agreed that baptism was the subject of John 3:5. Curious, I did a word study, made some notes, and then put them aside until last night when I picked up one of my reference books. Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament said “That water points definitely to the rite of baptism and that with a twofold reference-to the past and to the future. Water naturally suggested to Nicodemus the baptism of John which was then awakening such profound and general interest; and, with this, the symbolical purifications of the Jews, and the Old Testament use of washing as the figure of purifying from sins”. The scriptures listed by Dr. Vincent for reference are Psalms 51:2&7, Ezekiel 36:25, and Zechariah 13:11.
Psalms 51:2 states “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin” while verse 7 says “Purge me with hyssop that I shall be clean: wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.” Zechariah 13:1: In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness.” The Amplified Bible has Ezekiel 36:25-27 as a reference scripture for John 3:5 so I’m including the passage in its entirety rather than merely verse 25: “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness: and from all your idols will I cleanse you. A new heart will I give you and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you shall heed My ordinances and do them.”
I wholeheartedly agree these scriptures speak of a cleansing that comes from the hand of God; a washing for which immersion was symbolic. I also wholeheartedly agree Nicodemus was aware of John the Baptizer. Doctor Vincent says as much and references the sending of priests and Levites to question him as related in John 1:19-282. The statement I question is “water naturally suggested to Nicodemus the baptism of John”. Dr. Vincent says “Jesus’ words opened to Nicodemus a new and more spiritual significance in both the ceremonial purifications and the baptism of John which the Pharisees had rejected (Luke 7:30) John’s rite had a real and legitimate relation to the kingdom of God which Nicodemus must accept3.”
Very well. That sounds plausible. Except, Nicodemus is still confused. He asks in John 3:9, “how can all this be possible?” Nicodemus was missing something and I seem to be missing it too. It got me wondering: if Jesus meant baptism, why didn’t he say baptism?
Turning to the Greek words, “Water” in John 3:5 does mean “water”(Strong’s reference G5204) and “born” carries the definition of “to procreate, regenerate, be born, bring forth (G1080). There is nothing here about baptism. The word translated baptize in other scriptures does not appear anywhere in the chapter and is not, in fact, a word that has been translated at all. The Strong’s reference number is G907 and the word is baptizo. It would have been very simple for this passage to clearly say baptism if indeed baptism is what Jesus meant.
Why is this important to me? Let me share verse 5 in the Amplified Bible: “Jesus answered, I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, unless a man is born of water and (even) the Spirit, he cannot (ever) enter the kingdom of God.” This is a serious statement. It’s of solemn importance I understand what this means. All I know for certain at this time is that small word study I did months ago did not go nearly deep enough.
I will continue this study next week.
Vincent, Marvin R., D.D., Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament Volume II, Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, Gospel of John Chapter 3:5. Born of Water and the Spirit, Page 91
Vincent, Marvin R., D.D.,Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament Volume II, Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, Gospel of John Chapter 3:2. Rabbi, Page 89
Vincent, Marvin R., D.D., Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament Volume II, Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson Publishers, Gospel of John Chapter 3:5. Born of Water and the Spirit, Page 91
This coffee mug was a Christmas gift from my Mother. The phrase on it spoke to me but I was not purchasing things for myself so put it back on the shelf. My mother had seen and surprised me with it. In case you can’t read it (I’ve had the mug for some years and it’s been through many washings), the phrase is “Each new wave rearranges the patterns in the sand so we can pretend our footsteps are the first”. I can’t tell you why this phrase spoke to me the way it did but, as the Holy Spirit has worked in me, opening the eyes of my heart to the truth of who Jesus is in me; I have garnered a deeper understanding of this phrase. Even though the Holy Spirit has been at work in God’s people for over 2,000 years, each revelation is new to me. When my eyes are opened to see, it’s a brand new discovery.
There was a time I used to read Matthew 27:46 where Jesus cries out “My God, My God, Why have You forsaken me?” and thought I understood how He felt. There have been so many times when I’ve walked through such darkness I was certain God had forsaken me. I couldn’t hold that against Him though because He’d forsaken Jesus too so at least Jesus understood how I felt. This is a terrible belief to hold and I thank God He didn’t let me keep it for long. The Holy Spirit led me to Hebrews 13:5 where I read, and the Amplified translation says it best: “Let your character [your moral essence, your inner nature] be free from the love of money [shun greed—be financially ethical], being content with what you have; for He has said, “I will never [under any circumstances] desert you [nor give you up nor leave you without support, nor will I in any degree leave you helpless], nor will I forsake or let you down or relax My hold on you [assuredly not]!” While this passage is more about financial worries, this promise of God appeared to hold true for every aspect of my life especially when the verse 16 says “So we take comfort and are encouraged and confidently say, “The Lord is my Helper [in time of need], I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?”
Here was a thought: If God promised to never leave nor forsake me, was my belief that He had forsaken Jesus mistaken?
I began to read the bible with this question in mind and saw Isaiah 53:4 which states, “surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by Him and afflicted.” This struck me. “Punished by God” is how I saw Jesus’ sufferings and death but this scripture appeared to tell me that wasn’t true. Then the Holy Spirit drew my eyes to 2 Corinthians 5:19 where Paul writes “…God was reconciling the word to Himself in Christ” and Colossians 2:9 which states “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” With these two passages ringing in my mind, I began to question my interpretation of Matthew 27:46. If I were incorrect and The Father had not forsaken His son, what did Jesus’ words mean?
Then came the day when the Holy Spirit answered that question. I was reading Psalm 22. I cannot count how many times I’d read it before and felt David’s pain but had NEVER realized what was going on. The opening lines of this Psalm are exactly Jesus’ words on the cross. I have read the writings of bible teachers who have said that every Jew within earshot would not have needed Jesus to say anything more. They would have known the Psalm in its entirety just hearing the first lines and would know exactly what He was saying. What was He saying?
Even though David wrote this Psalm hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth, this entire Psalm is about Him. As the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to that truth, I read through the Psalm in dawning wonder. Passages leapt out at me. “He trusts in the Lord, they say, let the Lord rescue him” (verse 8) I found paralleled in Matthew 27:43. I discovered the horror and shame of crucifixion in verses 16-18 of the Psalm: “they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display, people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.”
I read David’s words and saw that they mirrored Jesus’ agony. I continued reading and knew for certain God had not forsaken Jesus on the cross for the Psalm itself declares Jesus was not forsaken in verse 24: “He has not hidden His face from him but has listened to his cry for help.”
The Psalm ends on a note of exultation. Verse 31 says, “They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!” The last words of the Psalm, “He has done it”, are exactly Jesus’ words when He cries “It is finished!”
I couldn’t believe it. It was like I’d never read the Psalm before. My entire mind was flooded with revelation and I had an entirely new bible. I also had an entirely new understanding of Jesus’ cry on the cross. I read the Psalm again and then went back to Matthew 27 to read the entire passage. And then I read it again because I finally saw what Matthew’s gospel was saying. Jesus’ cry on the cross was not a cry of agony at being abandoned by God. Rather, it was a shout of triumph. Even when the situation looks as bad as it possibly can, my God shouts His triumph.
This was a brand new discovery for me and the Holy Spirit and I delighted in it together. I felt like I’d been the only one ever to have seen this to be true even though, at the same time, I knew I could not be. Indeed, I am not the first nor will I be the last but it doesn’t matter. I delight in my seeing. Those who have already seen share my delight and I have an equal share in the delight of their having seen. Even though many have walked the shoreline of this particular revelation, the Holy Spirit made the sand smooth so that I felt my footsteps were the first. He makes it smooth again once I’ve passed so that another can discover Him for the first time.
*All scriptures are quoted from the Amplified and NIV translations.
Madeleine L’Engle is one of my favorite authors. I was 9 or 10 when I first read “A Wrinkle in Time” and was thus and forevermore hooked on her writing. Through the years, I’ve moved from her-would they be considered Young Adult books?-to her adult fiction, to her journals, to her essays. A short time ago, I found “Penguins & Golden Calves: Icons and Idols in Antarctica and Other Unexpected Places” and, I must admit, had a knee-jerk reaction to the words “Icons and Idols”. I believe I’ve mentioned before I don’t have an extensive religious background but that doesn’t mean those beliefs haven’t made their way into my mental processes. Aren’t icons wrong? Aren’t icons and idols synonymous? Do I have to stop reading one of my favorite authors?
I had already read the The Genesis Trilogy by Ms. L’Engle and had found them beautiful. My faith had grown reading these books and so, trusting Ms. L’Engle wasn’t about to let me down now, bought this book. I have never been sorry that I did so and, like every other book written by Madeleine L’Engle I have read, this one made me sit down and peruse my own life. Did I have icons in my life? If I did, was that wrong? Did I (gasp) have idols? How could I know? What was the difference?
In my attempts to answer these questions, I first, I looked to the dictionary definitions of icon. My Second College Edition New World Dictionary of the American Language give me: “an image, figure, representation.” The Webster’s New Reference Library: An Encyclopedia of Dictionaries stated “a religious image painted on a panel.” I have seen icons fitting these definitions and appreciated them as art but they’ve never inspired me to pray or worship. There is nothing in those painted images that remind me of the vibrant apostles who were flogged, jailed, stoned, driven from cities and towns, and, in some cases; killed. Neither have I been transfixed by any image of Jesus. How could I possibly be so? What image could ever compare with He who is utter livingness as revealed in Revelation 1: 10-18? The answer then is no: by these definitions, I have no icons.
Madeleine L’Engle has a personal, more extensive definition of Icon. She writes; “What do I mean by icon?…I am not thinking of the classic definition of icons so familiar in the orthodox church, icons of Christ, the Theotokos, saints, painted on wood and often partially covered with silver. My personal definition is much wider, and the simplest way I can put it into words is to affirm that an icon, for me is an open window to God. An icon is something I can look through and get a wider glimpse of God and God’s demands on us, el’s mortal children, than I would otherwise.” (Page 8) And then: “If something does not lead us to God it is not and cannot be an icon.” (Page 10)
By this definition, there are many things I would consider icons. Waterfalls, rivers, oceans, mountains, ravines, the sky overhead…all at one time have revealed some aspect of God to me that sent my heart soaring in worship and praise at the greatness of His love. On a smaller scale, I suppose I would say turtles are an icon. From their shells to their slowness to their determination, I see in turtles something that reveals who God is to me on this spiritual journey. So then yes: considering an icon as an open window to God, I have many such icons in my life.
If I say I have icons, do I then have idols? Just what is an idol? Can an icon become an idol? It seems that yes they can because Madeleine L’Engle also writes, “You may not turn an image into God, because that is to turn an icon into an idol.” (Page 14). Before I can worry about whether or not I’ve been turning my icons into idols, I must understand what an idol is.
Returning to my dictionary, I find the following definitions for Idol: “an image of a god, used as an object or instrument of worship.” It seems to me that, to turn an icon into an idol, the heart of the matter (literally and figuratively) is worship. The Second Commandment says “You shall not make for yourself a carved image-any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall now bow down to them or serve them.” (Exodus 20: 4-5a)
I suppose the fact that I have a turtle pendant would mean I possess a graven image but it was not given to me as such nor do I worship it. I see aspects of God revealed in nature but that doesn’t mean I become an Animist. Do I then believe that, as long as they do not become idols, icons are acceptable? I live in a world I perceive with my senses. How else is an invisible God going to reveal Himself to me except through the works of His hands? Romans 1:20 says “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world.” It is not idolatry to find God in His Creation as long as, I think, I do not stop with the creation but continue to look through that window to Him.
Madeleine L’Engle writes “Jesus should be for us the icon of icons. God sending heaven to earth, ‘Lord of lords in human vesture.’”(Page 93).
Jesus as The Icon. I admit to a bit of knee jerk reaction at that thought as well. And yet, Colossions 1:15 does state, “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God” so perhaps the thought isn’t sacrilegious after all. While it doesn’t hurt to give my life a thorough examining, perhaps I will merely thank Him for revealing Himself to me no matter how He chooses to do so. And, I can thank Him that I don’t have to stop reading one of my favorite authors.
The quotes were taken from “Penguins and Golden Calves: Icons and Idols in Antarctica and Other Unexpected Places” by Madeleine L’Engle published by Shaw Books in 2003.
Hello! Thank you for reading. I have written another post where I have expanded on some of the ideas touched on in this one. If you like, you can read it here.
This is a good thing because, as both an avid reader and a writer, I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about words, studying them, breaking them down, and finding that perfect word that says exactly what I want to say.
Finding that perfect word isn’t always easy because the meanings of words change. Language is as fluid as a river and meanings can change over time or be forgotten and a word is now used to mean one thing when it was, at one time, used to mean the opposite.
Take the word “individual”. I have always believed this word to mean and have used it in my writing to mean: single, separate, distinguishable from others, unique. This is how the word is used almost exclusively today. And, the definition is not wrong: my Webster’s New World Dictionary does offer up “existing as a single, separate thing or being” as the second definition of Individual. And yet, I was reading a teaching by J. Preston Eby where he wrote that Individual meant “not divisible”. I had to look that up and, sure enough, the first definition of Individual is indeed “not divisible; not separable”.
Which is the correct usage? Does the fact that the second definition is used the majority of the time render void the first?
Everything in me revolts against sameness. What do I mean by this? The best fictional example I can think of is in “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle where she shows her readers the planet of Camazotz (which, if you’re interested, is the name of a bat god from Mayan mythology) The people of Ms. L’engle’s Camazotz are ruled by a single mind and are forced to be exactly alike, down the the perfect bouncing of balls during play time. Anyone deviating from what IT has decided is the norm is harshly re-educated. On this world, the first definition of Individual is paramount in every negative sense of the word.
I see this pressure towards sameness in the real world. Why? I get that there is safety in numbers but, historically, it’s the odd man or woman out who makes the discovery, solves the equation, writes the novel, and composes the masterpiece. The Individual is important. While I do not claim brilliance for myself, I am aware that I am unique. There is no one like me. There has never been anyone like me. There will never be anyone like me. I am an Individual and I hold as precious my sense of being a unique being. This being so, do I then believe the second definition is more important than the first?
No. I believe both definitions are equally important because, while I fiercely guard my own individuality, I am aware that every other human being on the face of this earth is also an Individual: as unique as I am. I think J. Preston Eby says it best:
“We speak of ourselves as individuals. Someone says, “I am an individual.” By that he means that he is separate from everyone else. We think, “I’m not like other people. I’m me. I’m something different. I’m special. I’m unique. I’m an individual.” The English word “individual,” however, comes from the Latin word individuus meaning indivisible or not divisible. It’s not that which is separate — it’s that which cannot be separated! It means that if I am an individual I am not separate from the rest of humanity. I am simply a unique expression of everything humanity is! It’s not separation from; it’s identification with!”
Identification with. Not separate from. An Individual yet part of an Individuum. How are these two seemingly opposite definitions reconciled in me? How do I live with my certainty of my own value without feeling threatened by the equal value of my fellow beings?
One of my favorite scriptures is Isaiah 30:15 specifically, “in quiet and confidence shall be your strength.” I have meditated on these words and, while there are many nuances of meaning, I am convinced that these two attributes are essential to my living in peace with myself and with everyone else. When I know that I am an Individual-in the words of J. Preston Eby “a unique expression of the word, of the spirit, of the mind, of the substance, of the totality of the being of our heavenly Father”-I find quietness and confidence. There is no turmoil in my spirit because I know how my heavenly Father sees me and I don’t have to compete with anyone nor assert my individuality. Seeing myself as He sees me gives me a confidence that can’t be shaken by anyone or anything so I don’t have to regard my fellow humans with suspicion.
I guess that, ultimately, the word I’m looking for isn’t Individual after all. It’s Identity.