May 31, 2023
One of the things we take for granted in our lifetime is the ready availability of the Bible. Imagine how few of us would have a copy, if we had to wait until someone hand copied all 1200 pages. If my plumber did the copying at the current rate of $100 an hour, I probably would not have a personal copy of even the New Testament, let alone the whole thing. And that, of course, begs an equally important question of what language it was in? For, when we read Jesus' words in our English red-letter edition, they may say what He meant, but we all know the actual spoken words were definitely not English, but something else entirely. The process, by which the original spoken words were translated one or more times to be rendered in a language we understand, is another non-trivial undertaking.
I got a glimpse into this process once, when I met a young man, who had spent a summer interning with a language team in Papua New Guinea. Their task was to live with a remote tribe, study and learn their language, and then create a written form of that language - both spelling, tense, concepts and grammar. All of this was in preparation for beginning the daunting task of translating the Bible into their native language. And this was only one of the 839 known languages in this small country. While some peoples of Papua New Guinea are still waiting for their very first understandable Bible to arrive, we, who are English-speaking, have multiple versions to choose from. Some attempt to render a more faithful translation from the original into the current usage and norms of our language. Others opt to try to make key concepts more understandable and easier to read; some reorganize it completely, to make it more chronological; one makes it read like one big novel; while still others amplify it, or fill it with study guides or application notes. And, of course, now you can get an app on your smart phone, that enables you to instantly access 71 different English versions and even have them read to you - you no longer have to guess how to pronounce Aholibamah, Joiarib, Peulethai, or Sibbechai. With all these choices, what is your favorite? In my case, I would say that my answer would be situational. If I had to read from it publicly, these days it would most assuredly be my Large Print Edition, my eyes having weakened to the point, some of my smaller Bibles might as well be in the original Greek. If I have to find a verse, it will definitely be the King James Version, since its poetry is what is locked away in my memory from my younger days. For hints at how to apply a set of verses, or understand the context in which they were written, it has to be my Life Application Bible for its margin notes and index. On the other hand, if I have to lead a Bible study, then I want my Serendipity Bible for Small Groups, which has discussion questions for every verse in every book. I had a friend who loved her Amplified Bible, but it always felt like reading from a thesaurus to me. One of the most intriguing versions, however, has to be the so-called, Wordless Book. As the title suggests, it has no words, just five colors. It is said that it was first used by Charles Spurgeon in 1866, and is still in use today by Child Evangelism Fellowship and others, to explain the plan of salvation to children. One popular version begins with a GOLD page, representing heaven, God's home, if you will. The next page is BLACK (or dark), representing sin - those things that separate us from God. The third page is RED, representing the blood of Jesus, the means by which our hearts can be cleansed of those things that separate us from God. The fourth page is WHITE, representing our cleansed state after having been forgiven for our sins. On the fifth page, we come back to another GOLD page, representing a renewed relationship with God. And lastly, we are back to the GREEN cover, reminding us to grow in our faith and relationship with God. The whole story in a wordless book. While we spend a good part of our life communicating with words, it is sometimes useful to understand, that it is not the only mode of communication available to us. Just as the Wordless Book uses simple blocks of color, those same colors can be reorganized into more complex images, telling rich and deep stories. After I retired from my corporate career, I began a venture as a photographer of people. I learned to tell stories of people and the relationships between them in images. And as every photographer learns sooner or later, a photographic image is quite simply a piece of the story, etched on the emulsion of a sheet of film, or pixels of a digital sensor, by the light reflected from the people, whose story it tells. The light communicates a rich and detailed story, and yet, not a single word can be found in its tale. And in spite of the complete absence of anything we might call language, it is traditionally agreed, that a single frame of light's story is worth a thousand words. And if you meditate on this idea for any length of time, you will recall that,
I John 1: 5 God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.
And if God is light, as the apostle tells us, it suggests that God has the ability to communicate in a mode, that is 1000 times deeper and more powerful than mere words - unbound, if you will, by the boxes and limitations language sometimes places on our communicated ideas.
And, while we may think that our primary mode of communication with God is in the words of our prayers, I suspect, it is in the pictures we are continuously sending Him, that the real message "heard" is delivered. Consider that when a speaker's talk does not match his walk; it is the walk, not the talk, that we remember.
This idea came home to me a few years ago in a most unexpected way.
Several years ago - and this is where I am convinced God has a sense of humor in the way He chooses to teach us some things - my wife and I decided to adopt our first puppy. As a result we brought home a 12-week old Bichon Frise - a solid white cotton ball of a dog, whose full grown weight topped out at about 20 pounds.
In spite of his diminutive stature, we gave him the weighty name, "Jeremiah 29:11" after my wife's favorite verse.
Jeremiah 29: 11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
I, who had never had a puppy before, thought we would teach Jeremiah many things.
Top among the things I learned from him, however, is that maybe there is a reason "dog" is spelled the exact reverse of "God." Maybe, just maybe, our relationship with our dog poses a very informative metaphor in reverse of what our relationship with God ought to be.
Putting it another way, maybe the way our dog responds to us, can show us many aspects worth emulating, in the way we should respond to God.
Our dog, Jeremiah, did not own a single thing and was completely dependent on us, and was actually pretty happy about it.
Matthew 5: 3 Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Our dog, Jeremiah, wanted to be in our presence at all times. If we left the room for 5 minutes, or 5 hours, he missed us and greeted us enthusiastically on our return.
Matthew 5: 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Our dog, Jeremiah, hungered and thirsted for our attention. In spite of the fact that our retiree status allowed us to be with him around the clock, he never seemed to tire of our attention in one form or another.
Matthew 5: 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
A surprise to us was the fact that our dog, Jeremiah, would not settle down in the evening after supper until both of us were in the same room with him.
Matthew 5: 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.
And when a dark stranger (well over 8 times times Jeremiah's weight) entered our house on a cold winter's night, our dog rose to our defense and did everything in his power to drive him away
Luke 6: 22 Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil because of the Son of Man
In spite of the fact that I did not know how to communicate to Jeremiah, that the stranger was not an enemy, but had actually been invited by me to come and repair my furnace, I have found that there are a great many things, that we have learned to communicate to each other.
The biggest revelation, however, was not WHAT was learned, but rather, HOW that learning took place.
In every instance, our dog's learning began with an act of obedience. It is how you train a dog - rewarding obedience - it is the cornerstone of positive reinforcement.
Let me repeat that. In every instance, our dog's learning began with an act of obedience. The surprising revelation for me, was the dawning realization, that maybe, it is also true, that in every instance, OUR learning (from God) begins with an act of our obedience.
In every instance, our learning begins with an act of obedience to God. Maybe this is why Jesus told us,
John 14: 15 If you love me, you will obey what I command.
Maybe He was trying to tell us, that only through such obedience, would we ever hope to learn the non-verbal language, by which He would communicate with us after He returned to heaven.
Do you get the picture?
Another interesting thing, I learned from my dog about communicating with God, is that sometimes the real message is not in the words - it is in the tone, the context, the body language and the whole picture in which the words are framed.
There is perhaps no better illustration than how I called our first dog. Over the first couple of years of having our dog, I took to calling our dog by name in a peculiar way: "Jere ... Mi ... ah."
One day, it dawned on me that it sounded a little like the old throat lozenge commercial on TV. So, as a joke, I called our dog in the same exact way I always did.... every thing was the same, except I called "Ri ... Co ... La!"
What do you think happened? He came running full speed ... as usual. He got the message through all the non-verbal cues, even though the actual words were all wrong.
Do you get the picture?
It was then, that I began to understand, that sometimes, when Jesus communicates with us, the most important message is not in the individual words, but more in the overall picture they paint.
This point was driven home even more clearly recently. A man was asked what his favorite Bible was? His answer was, that his favorite Bible was his father's. What he meant by that, was not the old repository of family history, but the way God's words were lived out in the life of his father; the way his father's life was one of daily obedience to his heavenly Father. That life lived out made more of an impact on this man, than any mere words ever could.
Colossians 3: 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom
May this be our prayer for our lives this week. Amen. Your Brother in Christ, Warren Please feel free to share this DeacoNote with a friend. In addition, I invite you to post a related thought of your own in the Comments section below. Warren J. Ayer, Jr. Chairperson, Board Of Deacons, United Church of Colchester