Category: Heaven

How to Mark Up Your Bible

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I’ve really tried to love Bible study apps like Youversion but I end up feeling like I’m trying to view the scope of history through a keyhole. Bible study seems to be richer and more effective when I use an old-fashioned paper Bible and mark the pages as I go.

Some people take the process of marking a Bible quite seriously, using particular colors and notations for particular things. I tried that for a while but it got confusing. That said, there are a few tips that might be helpful for your study.

Jeff Cavins gives some tips on type of Bible for study, what kind of pens to use and how to start marking.

Randy Brown gives a bunch of tips on using colors, marking definitions, and starting chain references.

If you want to go full Technicolor, Wes McAdams shares keys on how to color-code your Bible for study.

Was Christ Really Born on Christmas?

Photo by Martin Jernberg on Unsplash

Christ was born on Christmas Day, or so goes the 14th century hymn translated by John Mason Neale. But December 25th hasn’t always been the date when Christ’s birth was celebrated by the church. The questions surrounding the date of Christmas Day are fascinating and involve a great deal more history, tradition and detective work than you might imagine.

Here are a few of the arguments pro and con a December 25 date for Jesus’ birthday:

Philocalian Calendar

The first recorded date for the celebration of Christ’s birth on December 25 comes from a small book sometimes known as the Chronography of 354. This book lists births and deaths of various bishops and martyrs and as the traditional date for Christmas marked as December 25.

Saturnalia

One popular revisionist take on Christmas is that the holiday was based on the Roman holiday of Saturnalia. This was a harvest festival traditionally celebrated for seven days starting on December 17. The celebration involved festive attire, giving small gifts like dolls and candles, and acts of goodwill such as a landowner paying the rent of poor tenants. While all of this does indeed sound pretty Christmas-y, some historians think Saturnalia was a kind of fringe celebration by the time the Church adopted the December date.

Birth of the Sun God

Saturnalia was bumped from the Roman calendar of festival days by the Mithraic celebration of Sol Invictus. By the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, The Sun God had supplanted the position of Jupiter as the head of the Roman Pantheon. The birth of the Sun God was celebrated on December 25, the date of the winter solstice.

The Roman emperor Constantine was brought up in the Sol traditions and was a worshipper of Sol Invictus . The fact that Constantine eventually became a Christian and made Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire provides some circumstantial evidence behind Sol Invictus as the origin of Christmas.

Shepherd and Their Flocks

The Bible itself seems to give us evidence that December 25 was unlikely to be Christ’s true birthday. Some scholars settle on mid-September for the most likely birthday for Jesus. The argument goes like this:

1) Shepherds would not have been tending their flocks in the fields at night any later than October. Cold winter weather would have required them to move the sheep to pens closer to town.

2) Jesus was born six months after his cousin John the Baptist. It can be determined from the biblical text when John’s father Zechariah served as a priest, roughly from May to June. A little middle-school level math gives you a September-ish date for Christ’s birth.

3) Herod wouldn’t have likely put the census during Chanuka. A known hater of the Hasmoneans, Herod was not a big fan of the Feast of Lights. Some scholars think it more likely that he would have chosen September’s celebration of Sukot for the census that brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem.

Backdating from Jesus Death

There’s an interesting argument that establishes Christ’s birth on December 25 well before the time of Constantine, suggesting that the traditional date was in place before pagan influences put the date on the calendar.

1) Creation of the world. Traditions put the date as March 25, the date of the vernal equinox.

2) Date of Christ’s conception. The traditional date for the Feast of the Annunciation (and thereby the date Christ was conceived) is March 25.

3) Date of Christ’s death. While there is also some controversy over the exact date of Christ’s death, the traditional date is March 25.

4) Some traditions believe that prophets tend to die on the exact date that they were conceived. Thus they exit the world at the same time they entered it.

So there we have it, early traditions had a number of ways to establish March 25 as the date Jesus was conceived. Nine months later you get…Christmas Day on December 25.

Conspiracy of Meaning

Until we invent a time machine there is no way to know for certain what calendar date marks the true birth date of Jesus of Nazareth. But all of these theories and speculations provide a lot of food for thought. Follow any of these rabbit trails and you start learning a lot of amazing things about early Church history and the depth of thought of early Church founders.

Starting Over with a Clean Sheet: A Meditation on Wholeness

clean sheet of paper

A clean sheet of paper contains the set of all possibilities. The blank page can become a picture, a story, a poem. Anything that can be imagined can be represented on this blank sheet of paper.

Because there are no limits to the possibilities that can be contained on a single sheet of paper, this page is a good metaphor for the Whole. You can think of the Whole as that which contains all other things in the Universe.

Without getting too philosophical about it I find it interesting and helpful from time to time to imagine an empty sheet of paper and empty the contents of my thoughts onto this imaginary paper. Let’s say that I want to make a sandwich but I’ve run out of bread and I don’t want to go to the store.

I consider this situation – imagining it written or drawn or otherwise represented on my blank sheet of paper. For instance I might imagine the empty space in the fridge where the bread should be or I might picture the store where more bread can be found. Then I ask myself *what else is there?* I might picture a can of soup. If I’m thinking about the store I might picture a park near the store. If I ask again *what else is there?* I might think of last night’s leftover lasagna or fountain near the park that I’ve been wanting to sketch.

Suddenly, by expanding my understanding of what was previously on my mind – the lack of bread with which to make a sandwich – I suddenly have a new range of possibilities. While I really didn’t want to make a trip to the store I do kind of want to go the park and sketch that fountain, so why not pick up some bread on the way home?

In this way a clean sheet of paper can help me take a broader view of life by helping me to think about Wholeness.

Boethius: Getting Your Mind Right

Medieval View of Fortune's Wheel

Medieval View of Fortune’s Wheel

We’ve all been there. We’ve been passed up for a promotion because the nephew of the CEO came on board. Or we came down with the flu the day before we leave on our dream vacation. Something goes wrong in the universe and we are dealt a really bad hand. Life feels like it’s all gone to crap.

Anicius Boethius had one of these days. He was a highly respected Roman patrician and philosopher – considered by some as the last classical Roman. Some of his rivals, however, convinced the king that Boethius was plotting a coup. And also that he practiced astrology.

Sentenced to death, Boethius found himself really hating life. Fortunately (for us) he had enough time on his hands to write a compelling philosophical treatise – The Consolation of Philosophy
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In his book Boethius imagines himself visited by a woman who personifies Philosophy. She diagnoses Boethius as suffering from a disordered mind. But there’s hope…she will show him a series of steps he can take to get his mind right.

At the risk of oversimplifying, Philosophy gives Boethius this framework to improve his thinking:

  1. God is good
  2. God’s plan is for man to find happiness
  3. Happiness can’t be found in Fate or Fortune, because these are fickle
  4. Happiness can only be found by pursuing Virtue
  5. Virtue can be discovered even when life really, really sucks
  6. There is no reason, even in the middle of a lousy situation, to think you are separated from God’s goodness and by extension that true happiness eludes you.

Following this logic is equally comforting on a bad day or good. Boethius’ prescription for getting your mind straight has a lot in common with modern psychotherapy. The Consolation of Philosophy enjoyed a lot of popularity during the middle ages but kind of disappeared from shelves in recent times. C. S. Lewis put Boethius at the top of his list of authors who deserve a comeback.

Stabat Mater – Soundtrack for Good Friday

The Stabat Mater is an 18th century hymn to Mary, the mother of Jesus. The text was put to music by a number of composers but Pergolesi’s treatment has the right mixture of sorrow and lyricality to be absolutely transcendent. The duets for soprano and alto just give you the chills – they scratch an itch somewhere between your grief-bone and your ohgodyesyesyes-bone.

For more about Pergolesi read Micheline Walker’s wonderful post. Visit Wikipedia for text and translation of the Stabat Mater.

Jason Isbell – Songs Like Dawn’s First Light after a Really Rough Night

Sometimes it’s nice to have a little road music on the way to the trailhead. For my money you can’t find much better than Jason Isbell. Reviewers like to talk about how dark his songs can be, but what floors me is how much gratitude they express. Listening to a few of these songs – and I mean really listening – does a lot to clear out the old heart valves.

Hail to the working man like Pop
Never saw him drink a drop
He knew what i was up to, but he never called the cops

Hail to the Working Man on high
Give us plenty fish to fry
He might judge you but He’ll never make you stop

From God is a Working Man, by Jason Isbell