Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Reviewing Ancient Words In Context

A wise teacher once told me, “All meaning is context dependent.”  That concise 5-word sentence made all the difference in my future understanding of all things printed. 

What is context?  Literally, con means with.  Context is what runs with the words, envelopes the phrases, elongates the sentences.  Context fills the political, social, economic, and historical background of the temporal structure.  Context may describe the author’s background, thoughts, prejudices, or intent.  

When I know the context, the text has meaning I might not derive from my own time, culture, and thoughts.  This is especially true for foreign cultures and ancient times.   And this is where authors can get into trouble.

Of the common types of literature, historical fiction, non-fiction, and speculative fiction all take advantage of context.  The good historical fiction novel recreates the original background of the time.  The speculative fiction novel creates a new world context.  The non-fiction work must validate its theories with facts that provide a true context.

What happens if you remove the context?  For non-fiction, words can then mean whatever you want them to or whatever the reader understands them to mean, which may be two or more completely different meanings. Watch the first section of this the second part of the Oscar winning short film Why Man Creates and you will understand how the viewer or reader perceives the artistic creation or the written word. With little or no context, the viewer brings their own meaning to the artist’s work.

I found myself confronted with mixed contexts as I read a new translation/paraphrase of the Bible, specifically the New Testament.  The Voice New Testament is a thought by thought translation of the New Testament with additions.  What is added makes it different from many other translations. 

First, and most useful is boxed text which provides context.  These context boxes explain the culture or background behind the text.  Whether explaining a custom, a tradition, a practice, or describing the geographic or historic significance, or even asking questions of the reader, these text boxes add much to the reading.  In only a few cases do they leave behind context for judgments that should have been omitted.  Look for the words, “apparently,” “probably,” or “it is clear” and you will be able to stop reading at that point.   

Next, and least useful are italicized words and phrases within the text that have been added for readability, clarification, or whim.  I use the last term because some of these added words seen to be an attempt to add alliteration or other contemporary literary devices.  While a new reader of the Bible might find the style engaging, as a long-time Bible reader I frequently found these italicized words and phrases intrusive and distracting from the original text. 

Maybe, this Bible wasn’t meant for me or other long-time readers.  Although not quite a paraphrase, a paraphrase might better fit the purpose of this The Voice New Testament.  Here is a good quote from The Voice New Testament followed by the same quote from the New International Version, then from The Message, a paraphrase by Eugene Peterson. 

Matthew 11:28-30

Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Put my yoke upon your shoulders—it might appear heavy at first, but it is perfectly fitted to your curves.  Learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. When you are yoked to Me, your weary souls will find rest. For My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.  (The Voice)

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (NIV)

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly.  (The Message.)

As you can see, The Voice New Testament is more readable than the NIV, a straight translation, but not as readable as The Message which puts the entire passage in contemporary language, making it easier for the person who has never read a Bible.  I believe The Voice New Testament could be confusing.  I found myself wondering whether the writers had changed the meaning with their added words.  I consulted two other translations and was satisfied that the translation of The Voice New Testament was reasonably accurate.  However, with the added words it falls between a strict translation and a paraphrase.  I recommend using a strict translation (NIV, NASB, ESV, NKJB, etc.) for study, and The Message paraphrase for easy reading.  If you have already read The Message, by all means read The Voice New Testament for another easy read.

Finally, all direct dialogue in The Voice New Testament is presented in screenplay format, with the speaker’s name on the left and their words on the right.  This manner of separating dialogue from the narrative helps emphasize the dialogue.  I often find myself losing the spoken word in the narrative and I greatly appreciate this format.  I would like all translations to use this method of differentiating narrative from dialogue.

To summarize, this is not a Bible for someone who wants a new translation; this is for the person who wants to casually sit and read the Bible.  If you are opposed to reading a paraphrase like The Message, this is both readable and accurate enough for Bible Study; but like me, long time Bible scholars are going to set The Voice New Testament aside for a good study Bible or a straight translation.



I received The Voice New Testament free from the publisher for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Christmas Time

I wrote this poem about a year ago.  I was walking and observing the Christmas decorations and listening to the music.  I considered how we celebrate Christmas.  As if in a time warp, we confine ourselves to “yon virgin mother and child, Holy infant so tender and mild.”  History intruded on that pretty scene.  Jesus’ family became refugees in Egypt, Herod murdered  the children of Bethlehem (where mother’s sons continue to die), and the once virgin mother’s heart broke at the death of her own son on the Roman cross.  What about the angels?*   What about us?  How will we celebrate Christmas?  Can we truly celebrate the birth without remembering the death?



Papier-mâché lamb so sweet

cuddles with cow and beast and boar.

A child’s hand with warm regard

places the lamb in excelsior


While angels slice through glassy haze

trailing shadowed threads of gloom,

hurling barbs of soot and ash,

bearing neither light nor tune

to suffering children.


And the weak

who— seeming strong—

take up the task of tuneless song;

Those weak who visioned gentler times

leave all comfort, sweetness, light,

for those to come; who now are here.


Whose eyes are blind to angels’ flight;

who listen not for angels’ tread;

nor hear the words that might inspire,

nor dream the dreams that push ahead.


The curtain shreds in silent scream

A mother’s heart is rent asunder.

Jingle, jingle, all the way

Let’s celebrate this Christmas wonder.



*ANGEL SLICES  (My favorite Christmas sweet)

1/2 c. butter
1/4 c. sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/4 c. sifted plain flour
1/8 tsp. salt

Cream butter and sugar. Beat in egg and vanilla. Combine flour and salt. Add dry ingredients in 3 parts to butter mixture. Pat in 9 x 12 inch pan. Bake 15 minutes at 350 degrees.

2 eggs
1 1/2 c. brown sugar
1 1/2 c. chopped pecans
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

Mix and spread on crust. Bake about 25 minutes. Let cool.  Ice with 1 1/2 cups of confectioners sugar mixed with lemon juice.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Dug Down Deep—A Review

As you might notice from the title, this book has no illusions of literary style.  In fact, I found the author’s style sloppy.  However, I had agreed to read the book, so I plowed ahead.  The author of Dug Down Deep is Joshua Harris who also authored the book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye.  Joshua Harris describes Dug Down Deep as follows:

These pages hold the journal entries of my own spiritual journey—a journey that lead to the realization that sound doctrine is at the center of loving Jesus with passion and authenticity.

I would characterize Dug Deep Down as an overview of theology that is designed to awaken the reader to the basic theological beliefs and understandings one must have in order to be called, “Christian.”  But primarily, it stood out to me as a self-indulgent memoir structured around precepts of theology. 

The language is of the sort a youth pastor might use to identify with teenagers.  When I was a teenager, there was no youth pastor.  Instead I sat under a man who had more knowledge of scripture than I may ever possess.  Although difficult for a teenager to understand, his high level explications probably impacted me in ways I do not fully comprehend and helped shape a life of inquiry.

On the other hand, Dug Deep Down assumes that the reader is unwilling to dig and will be satisfied with a superficial explanation of doctrine. The author both underestimates and proves a disservice to all true followers of Jesus.  

This book is at its best when it quotes or references other authors such as J.I. Packer, Wayne Grudem, John Piper, Sally Lloyd-Jones, C.S. Lewis, John Frame, Mark Dever,  Timothy Keller, and the Bible.  In fact, this could have been two smaller books:  the memoir and a summary of the books listed below. 

Unless you are enamored with Joshua Harris, skip Dug Deep Down and begin reading any one of the books below.  In fact, my advice is to bury Dug Deep Down and read everything written by the authors below.  You will soon be challenged to develop a theology that molds you and makes you into a follower of Christ who will be able to withstand the ravages of time, culture, and self. 

   J.I. Packer

God Has Spoken: Revelation and the Bible


Wayne Grudem

Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know
Bible Doctrine

John Piper

Desiring God, Revised Edition: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist

Sally Lloyd-Jones

Jesus Storybook Bible Deluxe Edition

C.S. Lewis

Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics)

John Frame

Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology

J.I Packer and Mark Dever

In My Place Condemned He Stood: Celebrating the Glory of Atonement

Timothy Keller

The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism


I received this book free from the publisher, WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group, for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Novel Background


I am hoping to have my novel (ELI’S SCROLLS) published soon.  If you want more background, here are some books (in addition to various translations of the Bible), in no particular order, that were helpful in my study of Elijah the Prophet, and the times in which he lived.  Keep watching for a prequel!


The Pilgrim’s Progress (Bunyan, 1687)

The Pilgrim's Progress from this world to that which is to come, delivered under the similitude of a dream, by John Bunyan


Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions (Donne, 1624)

Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions

Heritage of Evidence in the British Museum (Masters, 2004)

Heritage of Evidence

Hammond Atlas of the Bible Lands (Hammond, 2007)

Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture (McHugh, 2009)

The Message of the Prophets (Von Rad, 1972)

The Message of the Prophets

Secrets in the Dark (Buechner, 2006)

Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons

Archaeology and the Old Testament (Hoerth, 2009)

Archaeology and the Old Testament

The Pursuit of God (Tozer, 1948)

The Pursuit of God

The Knowledge of the Holy (Tozer, 1961)

The Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God: Their Meaning in the Christian Life

On The Reliability of the Old Testament (Kitchen, 2006)

On the Reliability of the Old Testament

The Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World (Rainey, 2006)

The Sacred Bridge: Carta's Atlas of the Biblical World

Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (2009)

Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary Set: Old Testament

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


(This was sent to my clients in 2004.  Some things bear repeating.)


In 1863, during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln announced a day of Thanksgiving with these words:

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.

So, today, I thank God for our country and our blessings, but also want to thank you for paying me to do what I find so enjoyable, for always be gracious in the midst of computer problems, for allowing me to take as long as I need to fix what needs to be fixed, for putting up with me on those days when the words don't come out clearly, for all that you do that makes my job so much fun:  Thank YOU!!!

And when your computer causes you problems, before I get there, consider this:  Reverend Billy Graham writes of theologian Matthew Henry who at an old age was mugged on the street corner. That night, Henry wrote in his diary, “Let me be thankful first because I was never robbed before; second, although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.” (Billy Graham, Unto the Hills (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996), 411.) In the same spirit, when things go wrong with your computer or the way you use it, be thankful that you have a computer, thankful that this thing does not happen frequently, thankful that a computer is really such a small part of life (it really is!), and thankful that you are not the one who has to fix the problem! 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Time Outside of Time—The White Space of Life


On my recent morning walk, with my IPod cranked to drown out the traffic sounds, I heard greetings in the musical pauses.  Some were planned pauses when I pushed “pause” as someone approached.  Others were pauses in musical phrasing or between songs.  What did I hear?  Nothing of substance.  A “good morning” or “hello” or “hi.” But after the second one, my mind leaped (when I’m caffeinated it roams in leaps and bounds) to a correlation between musical phrasing, marginal white space, and kairos. 

Are you confused yet?  That’s the beauty of a disorganized mind.  Utter confusion.  So I’ll define by example.  What do you hear/see/feel between the notes?  This morning before my walk I had almost finished reading Revelation.  During my walk I listened to this song (here are the words if you don’t want to listen) and it took me to that time and place described in that chapter of Revelation, even though it was not directly related, and suddenly, in the pauses, I was there with the saints and angels around the throne.  Now, that isn’t usually what happens.  Usually, it’s more mundane.  Today was special.

When you read, what do you hear/see/feel between the lines?  I judge books on how well they are written and how well they move between the lines.  I recently read a book which taught me something I didn’t know before.  But what was between the lines?  Nada, nothing.  A book that moves between the lines, strikes you at the heart level.  It makes you sit up and pay attention.  It plants something in your mind that will not leave you.  I rarely read poetry, but the title of this poem and the words that followed struck me in this way:  between the lines.  Every Riven Thing.  Why did it affect me this way.  I think it’s because the poet put so much between the lines.  This poem is not at the beginning of the book with the same name, but in the middle, just as it was an experience of the poet’s in the middle of suffering.  I’m not suffering, but it affected me between the lines.


Every Riven Thing: Poems

What is in this white space of life where we live between the lines and the notes?  That’s where kairos and chronos come in.  These are two Greek words which help us define time.  Chronos is clock time.  Tick-tock, second by second, it passes through our lives.  Kairos is that time outside of clock time where a minute may seem like an hour or an hour may seem like a minute.  It is the aha! moment, the light in the darkness, the explosions of grace and beauty which interrupt our lives.  How do you get it?  You can’t.  It comes unbidden, unexplained, and unexpected.  Your only participation is to be aware of it and to grasp it.  Not a grasp that you would use to catch a grackle, but a tender grasp that shows your awareness of the moment and your willingness to follow.

I thought about titling this “Between the Lines” but that was too visual. I thought about “In the Pauses” but that was too aural.  I thought about “The Kairos and the Chronos” but that was too esoteric.  Time Outside of Time more clearly defines what happens in the musical pauses or the white area of writing where our lives change just a little.  It also describes Kairos, our life spaces where we become most human and most aware as we experience time outside of time.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Today’s Guest Blog: AfterTim

AfterTim is a poet and my guest blogger from Malaysia.  My previous experience with Malaysian guests was a time of learning.  A couple of years ago, I invited  some Malaysian students to celebrate Christmas with us.  I thought I should make them a Malaysian meal, so I spent hours scouring the internet for Malaysian foods that I could make.  I finally settled on one dish.  When they arrived for dinner, I discovered that every one of them was of Chinese ethnicity and they all preferred Chinese food to Malay.   Chinese food is easy for me; I have cooked it for years.  I learned my lesson that day.  Most free counties contain various ethnicities, and I should ask about food preferences before trying something new.

 Winking smileFor sale:  one gently used Sayur Lodeh recipe which I will never cook again.

AfterTim shares his poetry with some old English words no longer in our vocabulary.  Poetry is always best read aloud, so hear his voice speak through his sounds and pictures below. 

IMG_6088 (2)

(Picture taken in Kalimantan, Indonesia)

As I type this short post, I am reminded of my past ventures to various rural areas around the world to share of His Love, places of which the internet—or the intangible world without boundaries—is no more than a wishful wonderment. I stagger at how we share one earth with those people, yet remain worlds apart. A wealthy man I am not; yet, in the light of them who struggle even for basic necessities, my little seems an inexhaustible abundance. For this I am eternally humbled for the abundance I have been bestowed from Above, and also for this privilege to be sharing my heart with all of you here on Diana's page. May God bless you, as you continue to bless others with all that you have been blessed with.


Too much of this world's wealth

Lay in my hands

So curse be upon me

Were I to linger and not amend.


Meek morning, bring thy wake!

Errant evening, my guilt you shan't take!


Lest I be found wanting in my despair,

Lest I be denied at the Gates of Fair.

Imagine....I shan't dare.

AfterTim—an engineer by profession—finds himself constantly expressing his thoughts on life through poetry and creative writings. He believes that anyone who is able to read these words is wealthy beyond measure, and it is our divine responsibility to do everything within our means to share this abundance with those who are far less fortunate. Journey with him at, where he expresses his thoughts uninhibitedly.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011



Johnson & Company Builders

They spotted the sign at the entrance to a subdivision of houses under construction, across from the ice cream store where they had strolled. They were young and in love and she ordered rocky road and he, the mint chocolate chip, and then they crossed the street, laughing and talking as lovers do, their tongues franticly flicking like snakes’ to catch the drops of sugary sweetness sliding down their cones. A light rain began to fall and, clutching hands, they ran across the street between cars and set off jogging down the muddy subdivision road flanked by shells of houses. “Let’s go in,” he said. “Can we?” “Why not? No one’s around.” And so they ran toward a plank where one day concrete steps would stand, balanced themselves like high-wire walkers, and emerged into a skeleton home where they traced paths on the dusty subfloor and tried to imagine the layout of rooms from the skeleton bones. Afterward, they walked back to her apartment. That night, she dreamed of the house she would have someday with just those rooms, and furniture as she liked it, and her man beside her.


Open House

They noticed the sign low along the road as they drove near the place where she had grown up. “Look! Can we stop?” She said. They did and it was love at first sight. Not for him; the garage was too small. But for her, it had an abundance of trees and spring bulbs and shrubs and a stream in the back, everything she had ever wanted. Yes, the kitchen and bathrooms were small but she saw no need to waste space on those little-used rooms. The many windows radiated light and brought color to the hardwood floors and grass cloth wallpaper and striped wallpaper she wouldn’t have chosen on her own, but there it was already hung for her and it was more tasteful than she believed she could ever be. She abandoned him at the apartment that day and returned with a tape measure to make sure it was all she thought it was. A week later they were in contract.



The sign meant the house was theirs. Theirs, not hers, she realized as they dragged their mattress down the hall on that hot August afternoon. “This way to the master bedroom,” he said as he pulled to the left. “No, that’s on the street side,” she said as she pulled to the right. “No, this is the master bedroom,” he said. “No, this one is away from the street and looks over the treetops,” she insisted. “No, this one has the attached bath; It must be the master,” he shouted. “No!” She screamed, —and by this time they were both holding the same end of the mattress, staunchly defending their inviolable choice in that stifling narrow hallway with the mattress sandwiched between them, heaving shouts like cannonballs across the river Styx as its stream flowed down their burning faces and stung their eyes so they could no longer see on that sultry afternoon—“we must use the room with the trees; It has two closets.” “No, the other one’s bigger.” “No, this one is.” They still don’t know who decided to end it, but they did love each other after all, and she conceded that love was more important than bedroom location. They took time out for sandwiches and drinks and she agonized over the shrieking display they had presented to their new neighbors.


For Sale

No, not their house. Never their house. They saw the sign appear across the street and they wondered who would move in. Theirs was a short street and the house had only one previous owner: an older reclusive couple. Not too much later, Bob Gresham moved in and filled the neighborhood with laughter. He was their age, attractive and affable, with two school-age daughters, Christy and Katie, who came to stay on weekends, and a full-time Boxer breed of dog, named Sassy, whom he loved. They watched Bob play Frisbee with Katie and Christy, throw the stick for Sassy, mow his lawn, and wash his shiny blue Mustang convertible. Sassy made friends with the other dogs in the neighborhood and Katie and Christy played with the other children and Bob was everyone’s best friend. On a bright summer’s day, they would see Bob and his girls laughing in his gleaming Mustang convertible with the top down, and Sassy sitting tall and proud in the back. But the girls became teenagers and stopped coming for weekend visits. The company Bob worked for was sold and he was suddenly jobless.



There may have been no sign on Bob’s door (they heard the news from other neighbors and neither of them wanted to risk knowing the truth.) Bob no longer mowed his lawn regularly, and he was rarely seen outside with Sassy; but they did see him, from time to time, driving down the street in his Mustang with the top down and Sassy by his side. If they stopped him along the road as he returned, a glance into the car revealed a liquor-store bag and a fast food bag on the floor with a heap of trash; his clothes stunk of cigarettes and bourbon.


Bank Owned. No Trespassing

That was the red-lettered decal in the window of the south-facing front door that they could view from the street, and as they later learned, was on the north side door into the garage, as well. The day before Bob was under order to leave the house, they helped him move most of his belongings into a storage facility. No one knew where he was going to go; some things he kept secret. The day of the final move, just after dawn, she rang the doorbell and then called her husband when there was no response. He walked to the north side garage door, heard the car’s putter, and tried to look through the window, but it was too dark inside the garage. He tore off his blue-plaid shirt, wrapped it around his hand, and rammed his plaid-covered fist through the sign: “Bank Owned. No Trespassing.” The car rumbled and the glass plinked as his hand broke through. The spikey shards tattooed his arm in jagged crimson sliding onto the gray concrete. He pushed the door open, smearing a ruby swath across the doorway, and jabbed the overhead door button. Sunlight slipped through the door’s enlarging gap, as the murky haze drifted away. The blue Mustang convertible, its top down, sputtered on as Bob lounged on the back seat, Sassy next to him, her head on his lap. Bob’s left hand hung down; his fingertips barely brushed an empty bottle of Scotch. His right hand rested on Sassy. Bob’s skin looked hard like a doll’s and had a bluish pallor; the dog’s lips oozed white froth.

He ran out of the garage and grabbed his wife. Over her shoulder the morning’s toast, eggs, and juice flowered the lawn. She called 911 and wrapped his sacred arm in hers, holding it close. They leaned into each other as they waited, tense and guilt-shrouded, gasping together like fish in search of water, as waves of grief, pain, and terror surrounded them. They stumbled toward the curb carried by the current of approaching sirens and sat on the unyielding surface. Uncomprehending, speechless, and scared, they agreed to pay attention to signs, signals, and symbols, always and forever, amen.