Monday, April 14, 2014

Sheep and Goats in Greek

Mountain goats, Roan Mountain, TN
One of the things I am really excited about is learning New Testament Greek. At the end of November, I downloaded an audio Bible of the Textus Receptus read by a Greek guy, and I play it all night in my sleep. That is literally the only time I have to squeeze anything in--but it's actually working!

Then, once every few days, I will put on a chapter (while I am awake) and read along in a Greek New Testament. I also occasionally use the tools in my e-Sword software to look up a word or do further study.

I am up to Luke 15 in my reading along, which contains the parable of the lost sheep. I did a little research, and the layers of symbolism and parallelism simply blew me away.

Hmmm...I wonder what the word for 'sheep' is, I said to myself, and proceeded to look it up.

Properly the neuter of a presumed derivative of G4260; something that walks forward (a quadruped), that is, (specifically) a sheep (literally or figuratively): - sheep ([-fold]).

How curious is that! "Something that walks forward"; a "quadruped." 

In that case, I wondered, how do they know this word means "sheep" and not "cow" or "goat" or "dog" or "camel"? Doesn't everything on four legs walk forward?

It said it was a presumed derivative of G4260, so I looked it up. Maybe that would shed more light. 

From G4253 and the base of G939; to walk forward, that is, advance (literally or in years): - + be of a great age, go farther (on), be well stricken.

Wow, how does getting old have anything to do with being a sheep? I mean, if I was a person in ancient Greece, and I wanted to invent a word for "sheep," and I needed my word to be a little more specific than "that four-legged animal," how would I ever think that "that animal that walks forward" would get someone closer to the idea of "sheep"? 

Perhaps, I thought to myself, this "probaton" way of referring to sheep is a rare and symbolic word, and maybe there's another plain word that means sheep. So I looked up other instances of the word, and of the 43 instances of 'sheep' in the New Testament, 40 use this word, 2 are not in the Greek, and 1 is G4262, 'probatikos,' translated "sheep gate" or "sheep market." So this is the common word for sheep. 

One of the verses I ran into in this part of my study was Matthew 25:33. 

"And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left."

Sheep contrasted to goats. It's interesting that Jesus would choose an animal whose name meant "one who walks forward" as representative of those whom God chooses. The sheep please God and are placed on His right hand. Those who walk forward, those who advance, those who go farther on--these are the sheep. 

During the Ellerslie training, Eric Ludy shares the concept of The Endless Frontier. It was something his voice teacher said to him one time after Eric had been taking lessons and practicing for a year. He asked his voice coach, "How good am I?" The teacher replied, "Eric, singing is an endless frontier. Never pitch your tent." In other words, don't be looking for the moment you've arrived as a singer. Always be pressing on and on, forward, because there is always room to be better. Eric relates that to the Christian walk. Don't settle! Don't let yourself become complacent. Press on! Pull up the tent stakes! There is more of God to be had. Go for more! 

Isn't this the same idea that you get from the Greek word for sheep? Whether or not I think sheep demonstrate this forward progression, the fact is, God chose to pick an animal whose name meant "One who walks forward." The true Christians are going to be the ones who are growing. True faith will manifest itself in action. Genuine love for God will seek out more of God. And if a person who claims to be a believer does not demonstrate this forward movement, is there not space to question whether that person is a sheep at all? 

What about the goats? I wondered. What does their name mean? 

From G2056; a kidling, that is, (generally) goat (symbolically wicked person): - goat. goat just means goat. I was hoping for something a little more symbolic after the word for 'sheep' was so abstract. 

What about that word this is derived from? Maybe that would shed more light. 

Perhaps from the same as G2053 (through the idea of hairiness); a kid or (generally) goat: - goat, kid.

Ohhhh. Now we're getting somewhere. Let's go to G2053. 

Of obscure affinity; wool: - wool.

So the goats are the hairy ones. What does that make you think of? 


Esau was a hairy man. In fact, he was so hairy that it was goat skins that Rebekah put on Jacob's hands and neck when he went before Isaac to get the blessing, posing as Esau (Genesis 27:16). It worked (Genesis 27:21-22). 

What does Esau represent? 

The flesh. 

I could go into detail on what the Bible says about living in the flesh, but that is a whole world in itself. Suffice it to say that it's not a good thing. 

How interesting that when Jesus makes a contrast between sheep and goats, He uses two very similar animals, but he also precisely chooses two words that are strikingly parallel to what the rest of Scripture tells us about the person who pleases or displeases God. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

North Korea and my Tuna Sandwich

Today I watched this video documentary about North Korea.

One quote has stuck with me:

"People might resist the regime with their lives if it was only themselves who might be killed. But it's not only one man being put to death, it's three generations of his family, too." 

The documentary showed people who had been in North Korean prison camps. One woman had entered the camp when she was 13 and had spent 28 years there. Another man got taken when he was 9 and spent 10 years there. In both cases, it was their grandfathers who had upset the regime, and the police took the entire family to prison.

What if we as Christians resisted the regime with our lives so that three generations of North Koreans didn't have to?

I don't mean by invading with military force. I don't mean by sneaking across the border and getting shot.

I mean by spending our lives poured out before the throne of Grace, wrestling in prayer, fasting, pleading with God to put a stop to this evil.

• • •

Another quote that broke me was about the physical hunger in the camps.

"Those who were near death looked like living corpses. This was quite common. If you still have the energy to look for food, then you are fine. But when this energy leaves you, then it becomes a problem. So there were people who lost their mind, who were just waiting for death."

Today for lunch, I opened a 5-oz can of tuna. I dumped it out on a plate and mixed in some mayonnaise, mustard, pickles, honey, olive oil, and salt, just the way I wanted it. I took out two pieces of bread, piled tuna onto the first piece, and ate it. I picked up the second piece of bread. There was still a lot of tuna on my plate. I piled forkful after forkful onto the bread, until the bread was full, and it began to pile up so generously that I knew I was going to have to open my mouth wide to eat it.

I was about to eat a whole can of tuna and two slices of bread, all by myself.

I couldn't help thinking about my brothers and sisters in North Korea, and how a meal like this would be unimaginable riches to them. The video described old men picking corn kernels out of cow's dung. "It was like dogs fighting over small scraps. That's what we'd become."

I was so burdened, I was almost sick to my stomach. Here I was, about to satisfy myself with a delicious lunch, with scarcely a thought of gratitude, when there were people to whom satisfying food is only the stuff of legend, of forgotten memory, and the difference between "fine" and "not fine" is still having the energy to look for food.

How is it that we can know about things like this that are going on, TODAY, in the world that we live in, and not pray?

What if we spent our lives for things that really mattered rather than letting the mundane work of our everyday lives swallow us up?

What if we really allowed ourselves to care about someone like a North Korean prisoner?

What if we cared enough to go to the One who is actually able to do something about it? What if we got on our faces before him? What if we wept? What if we sacrificed our sleep? What if we faithfully, persistently appeared before Him for their cause?

Is anyone doing this?

I haven't been.

I have known in my head that North Korea exists, and that it isn't exactly the best place to be, but I haven't gone any farther than that. Yes, I knew awful things were happening to people there, but I brushed it off. Surely I couldn't be expected to care about every awful thing that was happening in the world, could I? I'm not big enough for that. I have enough to worry about already.

Do I?

Or am I only using an earthly estimation of my capacity to care, to love, to bear the burden of God's heart for the needy, weak, and vulnerable?

If the living God indwells me with His Spirit, is there any limit to how much I can love, how much I can pray, how much I can spend myself?

If God holds out a burden to me, do I accept it gratefully, as if it was a present, a privilege, to carry the burden of His heart? Or do I jerk my shoulder away and reject the burden and say, "No! I'm not carrying that! Give it to someone else!"

Intercession is a mystery. How can I have any part in what the sovereign God is doing in the world? Yet if He invites me to stand in the gap, is there not a cause?

The God who designed intercession has invited me to wrestle. Shall I not accept the opportunity, rather than let doubt influence me into inactivity? All my life, I have longed to get into the fray, be part of what God is doing, be a soldier of the cross. Is the battle any less real for being waged in the heavenly realms? If anything, it is more real.

Let us not be weary.

Let us not live with our first-world tunnel vision that considers our problems of having to eat gluten free and keep up with the laundry and somehow afford to buy new tires as valid reasons to excuse us from worrying about anything else.

Let us let the love of God dwell in us.

May God show us what that looks like.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"No Merimnao" quotes

"God, who has done the greater for us, may be depended upon to do the less. He has, without any care or forecast of our own, given us life and a body, and therefore we may cheerfully leave it to him to provide meat for the support of that life, and raiment for the defence of that body." 
"Your Father knows that you have need of these things, and considers it, and will supply your needs according to his riches in glory; for he is your Father, who made you subject to these necessities, and therefore will suit his compassions to them: your Father, who maintains you, educates you, and designs an inheritance for you, and therefore will take care that you want no good thing."
--Matthew Henry, Commentary on Luke 12:22-40

Monday, April 7, 2014

Deliberately Stepping Out Of Merimnao

Merimnao is a Greek word that means worry, cares, or anxiety.

In the parable of the sower, Jesus says that the thorns choke the word and it becomes unfruitful. In his interpretation of the parable to the disciples, he says that the thorns represent merimnao.

In the story of Mary and Martha, Jesus says, "Martha, Martha, you are careful (merimnao) and troubled about many things, but Mary has chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her."

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, "Take no thought (merimnao) for your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink, or what you shall wear."

Recently I listened to Eric Ludy's message called Hero Training, in which he explores the meaning of the word merimnao and the place it is to have in the believer's life. He gives a ringing cry for establishing one's motto to be "No merimnao!"

Through all this repetition of seeing merimnao everywhere I look, I realized that somewhere along the way, I traded in my pure and simple trust in God's provision for my life and exchanged it for merimnao. Suddenly, I felt I had to be the one to look out for myself, and if I didn't do it, no one would. I withdrew from the willingness to be spent for God's kingdom, and I said to myself, "That was fine when I was in my 20s, but not I have to figure out stuff like my housing and retirement before it's too late."

After successfully evading the rat race for the first 30 years of my life, I decided to sign myself up for it voluntarily. After seeing God provide for me time and time and time again, I suddenly looked at my life from the world's perspective and said to myself, "Wow, my resume looks really bad! I had better get into a decent career and start climbing the ladder!"

The job became so all-consuming that everything else got put on hold as I began to learn how to juggle adding 40 hours of work into the mix. All the things I felt God wanted me to do moved to the back burner. My writing, my friendships, my vision for starting a Bible Study in the local jail, the orderliness of my bedroom--all of this suffered at the expense of the job.

That was fine for the first three months or so, until I got bored. At some point in December, I sort of mentally checked out of my job. I didn't care about it any more. I couldn't bring myself to care. I would pass the time through each day, struggling with unbearable boredom, knowing I was made for more than this, and so tormented by the mind-numbing emptiness of it all that I would go out to my car at the end of the day and literally have to moan out loud three or four times in order to unburden my mind. In August, when I was penniless and didn't have a job, I considered myself to be so happy that I made the statement several times, "If happiness was an Olympic sport, I would get the gold medal." By January or February, the happiness had evaporated little by little, to the point where there have even been days recently where I would ask myself if I was depressed.

It came to a head the other day. I was fed up with being bored and I started asking myself what kind of job I could look for that would be less boring. Retail? Waiting Tables? Nope, I would be bored in three months. Administrative assistant? Nope, I would get bored there, too. Looking back over my life, I see a pattern: Whenever I am doing the world's kind of work (my job at the sporting goods store, for instance), I can stick with it for 3 months to a year, and then I get bored and move on. I have never been challenged enough in a job to keep on growing. Once the training period is over and I know how to do it, I start to shrivel up and die, and I can't stand it. Therefore, my resume looks terrible--a string of one entry-level position after another in a hodge-podge of different fields. My degree doesn't really help, either, because people are not really looking to hire a 30-something for that college grad entry-level communications job. Therefore, I am stuck in a conundrum: All the jobs that I am qualified for would make me bored out of my mind, while all the jobs that would be interesting are out of the picture because I'm not qualified.

"Okay, fine," I said to myself. "I'm just going to go study something interesting like medicine or law or engineering. Fine, I'll just go into debt. Fine--at least I won't be bored and underpaid for the rest of my life!" But as soon as I said it, I realized something: Those fields would ultimately be unfulfilling, too. It might take a little longer before I got there, but sooner or later, I would taste the same emptiness and realize I had wasted my effort for nothing.

Ultimately, the only thing that can satisfy is working for the Lord. I saw it so clearly. I have tasted of being a part of advancing God's kingdom, and it trumps all worldly pursuits. This is the one thing that I want. This is the only thing that can grab my imagination. Yet somehow I had departed from that focus, and when I did, I lost a lot of my joy. I had succumbed to the pull of merimnao, and it was choking me.

This is not to say that my merimnao was necessarily my job's fault, or that I would be opposed to working for my living. I'm not. I am thankful for the income that God has provided for me and the way He has brought this method of provision into my life at this time. However, I cannot allow that to be the source of my trust or the focus of my pursuit. If I am going to spend my life for something, I am going to spend it for what matters. I am not going to shift my focus to a lower sight and start worrying about my down payment or my 401k if it means trading in my singular gaze on the things that are God's priorities.

Therefore, I deliberately and purposely step out of the worry back into trust. God is my provider, and in His sovereign control, He is orchestrating my circumstances in a much more creative and interesting way than I ever could. I trust His leading. In stepping away from merimnao, I am stepping over a line. On one side of the line is worldly wisdom: look out for yourself; make choices that will be in your best interest; make as much money as you can. I cross to the other side of the line, where I serve the weak and vulnerable without regard to myself, and where I am willing to go all the way down to zero if need be, because I know my God is taking care of me and He will provide. I do not make my choices based on whether there will be a pay raise involved. I make my choices based on where God is leading, and I joyfully and obediently say yes.

Goodbye to merimnao. Whew, it feels good not to be choked and pricked with all those thorns.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

How God Provided a Corolla

God continues to be good to me--better than I deserve. He proves to me His ability to provide.

I had the Blazer. It was God's provision of a vehicle. It was a tremendous help at just the right time. However, when I bought it last June, even then, I didn't want an SUV. I was so certain that I didn't want it that I almost didn't buy it. God changed my heart and I did buy it, and it ended up being extremely useful for the purpose of moving out to Colorado. Despite having 186,000 miles on it, it safely towed my heavy little U-haul trailer all the way across the country. Then once I got here, I thought to myself, "I'd better wait and see what winter is like." After all, there must be a reason why nearly all the other vehicles I saw on the road were 4-wheel-drive. Winter came and went, and I used the 4-wheel-drive exactly once, to move forward about two feet, so I thought it was time to get a gas efficient vehicle without regard to 4WD.

My dad trained me to keep records, so I had information from the time I bought the vehicle on each gas fill-up: odometer reading, miles driven, gallons, price per gallon, and total cost to fill up. I entered all this data in Excel and made some calculations. Based on my records of average gas mileage, miles I drove, and amount I had spent in gas, I stood to save $1000 per year if I went to a 30MPG vehicle. Therefore, I figured that if I spent $1000 more on a car than what I sold the Blazer for, I stood to come out even by the end of one year.

Armed with this data, I posted the Blazer on craigslist for $1600. This was only $50 less than I had paid for it. By now, my Blazer had 199,500 miles on it, the air conditioning compressor was leaking, and it was just in a general state of breaking down. Immediately, I got two interested buyers who bid each other up until the second person won out at $1800. Now I was selling it for more than I had paid for it, but here was where the logistical puzzle began: I couldn't sell it until I had found another vehicle to buy for myself, since I had no way to get back and forth to work otherwise. The interested buyer graciously gave me two weeks to find another vehicle.

A Honda with 150,000 miles on it for $1600--a mess!
I looked at a number of vehicles and it was rather disheartening to not be able to find anything like what I was looking for. Cars in my price range would seem to be a good deal, and then I would go to look at them, and they would be badly wrecked all over, or they would have higher miles than my Blazer, or the interior would have a dreadful smoke smell, or some other deal-breaker. I began to wonder if it wasn't better just to keep my Blazer after all, since at least it was a running vehicle with an engine that I trusted would start every time. It seemed like a huge gamble to trade for another old junker. I might get in a worse predicament.

I named it "Ivy."
Then I found a 1997 Corolla on craigslist for $3500 with only 110,000 miles on it. I went to look at it and the people said I was the first person who had expressed any interest in it, even though it had been on craigslist for several days. I thought to myself, "Is everyone else blind, or what?" I had a trusted friend who is a mechanic look it over and he declared, "This is the car you want to buy." The owners were a sweet Christian couple, and as we negotiated, they were willing to come down to $2800. Perfect! Exactly $1000 more than what I was selling the Blazer for! Just what I wanted! So I went and sold the Blazer, and then I met with the owners of the Corolla and we signed the paperwork and I paid them $2800.

This was the unexpected part:

They took a $100 bill off the stack and pushed it back to me and said, "Now, we've prayed about this, and we want you to have this to help with your title & registration fees. We want to be a blessing to you, and this is just our contribution to your ministry work."

Can I say WHOA!!?

Who does that?

So now I am the happy owner of a lovely little zippy Corolla, and I am already feeling the difference at the gas pump. Yay!!

Thank you Jesus! You are so good to me!!

He increased the Blazer by $200 and then decreased the Corolla by $800. I went from a 16MPG 199,500-mile vehicle to a 30MPG 110,000-mile vehicle for only $900 more. Is that amazing, or what?