Learning to Read the “Creature”

I’m learning to read all over again. Phonics, syllabification, accenting – the whole nine yards. For my purposes, learning the Greek language means, primarily, learning to read the Greek language. That’s because I don’t plan on having casual conversations in outdated Koine Greek. Rather, I’m learning Greek in order to read that collection of New Testament books originally written in Greek.

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And so, I practice my reading. Slowly, clumsily, I sound out my words. I feel like a little child. Whatever proficiency I have in reading English seems to have courteously stepped aside in silence, leaving me to engage this unfamiliar “Creature” alone. And the Creature appears to me massive, while full of intricacies: like a living basilica. It is always making sounds, and somehow, though slightly intimidating, the sounds are inviting. They are distinguishable and always attended by a sense of intentionality, but I only partly understand their meanings. I already know enough of the Creature to know it doesn’t mind my current ignorance. It seems happy that I’ve decided to stay and listen.

A friend in my Greek class on Monday told me that he finds such joy in his Greek homework because “it’s the language of the Bible.” He said this with such a sense of wonder, that my inward skeptic, perhaps from nervousness, chuckled a little at what bore the semblance of superstition. But ultimately, his eagerness warmed my heart and drove me to ask myself, “Well, why am I learning this language?” Do I not also believe that there is great value in entering into the original language of the God-breathed text? While meaning can be translated and English Bibles are in a large sense just as much God’s Word, do I not also desire nearer and fresher insights into the minds of the biblical authors by way of the unique flavor of the words in which they penned their inspired thoughts?* Of course I do. And isn’t this vision enough to stir in my heart joyful anticipation as I study vocabulary and countless paradigms? Of course it is. My classmate’s wonder is in fact the very thing I must sustain in myself if I am to succeed in learning Greek this year. Oh Lord, please help me to do so.

The Creature is wild, and largely unknown. But there is nothing to fear. I am loved by the One who spoke it into existence, and though He uses it to speak of His fullness, He is much, much bigger than it.

*I’m still working toward a solid understanding of the doctrine of Scripture (inspiration, infallibility, inerrancy, sufficiency, etc.), especially as it relates to later manuscripts and translations of the Bible. I am aware that my articulation of it here is somewhat vague. I have tried my best to at least keep it from being misleading.

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How Big Is God?

I’ve been helping with a kids choir at my church this summer, and one of the songs we’re currently learning begins with these words: “God is so big, God is so small: He’s big enough to rule the universe, He’s small enough to live in my heart.” Taken aback a little by the phrase, “God is so small,” I asked myself the question, “What do they really mean when they say God is small?” Below are my thoughts.

The song is driving at the inexplicable nature of God’s omnipresence. Even though all of God exists everywhere, His presence can be experienced by us in different ways. Think about this: God isn’t necessarily big or small as far as physical dimensions go. You can’t measure Him with a ruler or fit Him in a box of any size. Why not? Because God is spirit (John 4:24). But even though God is spirit, He can still be said to exist in certain physical locations. In Isaiah 66:1, God declares that heaven is His throne and earth is His footstool. When my choir kids sing, God is “big enough to rule the universe,” they’re singing about God as King, who sits on all of heaven like a monarch sits on his throne and who plops His feet down on all of earth like a tired man plops his feet on a footstool. But the Bible also says that God puts His Spirit within us when we are born again (Ezekiel 36:27). When the kids sing, God is “small enough to live in my heart,” they’re singing about the Holy Spirit (who is God) who dwells within us to rule, teach, comfort and delight.

In our human minds, if God can use the earth like a footstool, He must be REALLY big, and if His Spirit can actually live in an individual believer, He must be REALLY small. We can talk this way – we can say that God is both big and small – because the Bible leads us to talk this way. That is, the Bible expects us to be able to look at things and describe them from different angles. I think that’s awesome (it’s certainly a lot of fun). And, I think the kids’ choir song is alright, after-all. =)

Labeled: “The Wind and I” (Part Two)

I have two wonderful grandmothers. One lives in northern Minnesota on a beautiful little lake on a bay covered with lily pads. The other, my namesake, passed away over a year and a half ago. She, Grandma Faye, was the sort of woman who could do anything she set her mind to. When I was young, I slept under the quilt she made for me, a quilt covered with brightly-colored stars. She baked and knitted, sewed and beaded, went camping and downhill skied. She told us stories of her nursing days as a young woman and of learning to dance on her dad’s wood floor as an even younger woman. And whatever projects she had underway when we were around, she shared them with us. We got to be part of her world, and a colorful world it was.

Only a handful of years before she died, Grandma Faye decided she wanted to try her hand at poetry. I remember listening to her read her first short poems to us. Anyone could tell she was proud of her work and excited to share it. One poem was about a dog; another, about going for a walk. The poems were story-like, with familiar content told in her own sing-song way. And, though she never explained exactly why, she always signed her poems, “The Wind and I.” I liked that my 80-year-old grandmother had a slightly mysterious side to her.

As a Christian, Grandma Faye pursued God with her characteristic vigor. But God was not just another one of her “projects.” She loved studying the Bible and memorizing verses, especially God’s promises (I remember printing off Bible verses in large print for her when she began to lose her eyesight later in life), but Grandma Faye was only able to walk by faith in God because she had been born of the Spirit of God. The Greek word for “spirit” is pneuma and can also be translated “wind.” I like to think that her signature, “The Wind and I,” was her self-conscious witness to the work of God in her life. In John 3:8, Jesus says…

“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Just before Grandma Faye died in February of 2011, I wrote her a poem for her 87th birthday and called it “At Grandma’s House.” It was an attempt to capture my childhood perspective of this wonderful woman.

Even though I can’t bake dinner rolls with Grandma Faye anymore, she still lives, and she lives as much more than a shadow in my memory. Heaven is not just a “nice idea” to help people cope with losing their loved ones. Hell is just as real, and eternal life with God is secure only for those who have been “born of the Spirit” and walk by faith in the sure promises of God.

“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling … so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.”

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Grandma Faye with me and Jessimine

“Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him” (2 Corinthians 5:1-2, 4-9).

And that is the story behind the label for my poetry posts here.

Making it my aim to please Him, just like Grandma Faye did,

Christina Faye