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Chapter 34 in a Series

 

matthew 2Ready or not here, He comes!  The account of Jesus.  And nothing has been the same since.  The first four narratives, the Gospels per Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John of the New Testament, are biographical profiles on Jesus, each written from the author’s accounts and perspective of first-century believers whose life had been made new by the His life, death, burial, and resurrection.

Jesus Christ is a compound name of the savior of the world.  Jesus is the son of man, with the name similar to the meaning of Josuha ( Jehovah saves) and Christ is Greek for the anointed one.

About one-third of Matthew and Mark, one-fourth of Luke and one-half of John Focus on the last hours of Jesus.  The first three Gospels are called synoptic, offering a comparison with each other.  All the Gospels have a literary relation to one another.  John is written more different than the first three Gospels.  Some argue the Gospels contradict each other, but taking into account of the personalities of the writers, their styles and who their audience is, the harmony comes forth.  Over half the words in all the Gospels are the words of Christ.

Matthew writes to show the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies.  Technically the author (Matthew a.k.a Levi) gives his eyewitness account written specifically with the Jewish audience in mind.  His theme is to show the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies.  Technically the author is not mentioned except the reference to  Levi the tax collector whom Jesus later renames  Matthew.  The name means a gift of the Lord.   Matthew was not favored by many because he was just that, a Jew who worked as a Roman tax collector.

There is much debate (to get it right) about when the Gospels were written and for that matter the New Testament.  Except for the books by John, it is assumed the New Testament was written before AD 70  when the temple was destroyed in Jerusalem.  Scholarly scrutiny for scripture to be part of the canon of the New Testament include whether the writers had a direct association or eyewitness accounts with Jesus, it produced during His era, how widely used (at first orally) it was in the early church and if it conforms to the rules of faith.  It is suggested the book of Matthew was written after the book of Mark.  My guess is Matthew was placed first in this second part of the Bible to bridge the two eras together (O.T. and N.T), to show Jesus came as the fulfillment for the Jewish saving Messiah.  Four hundred years have passed during the intertestamental period or what is known as the second temple period.

Early philosopher (AD 328) and theologian St. Augustine is attributed as saying,  “In the Old Testament, the New is concealed, in the New, the Old is revealed.” Bible reading is to be done in a circular motion back and forth between the two testaments.  Even though these first four books are not to the same audience or contain the same details, their stories harmonize.

Jesus’s story is the hope of the universe which rests on his shoulders, a first-century Middle Eastern man, conceived by a teenage virgin, born in an obscure town, who hung out with the nonreligious and for the most part, was unimpressive to others until He spoke. Jesus’s adult life is spent with no predictable place to lay His head, and He died by crucifixion between two thugs on top of a trash heap. Basically, He would be what we call homeless. These details about Jesus’ life don’t exactly scream “the hope of the universe” or “savior of the world” when He started out his three-year ministry at thirty years old.  In Matthew 24:21-29, Jesus predicts His second coming after his resurrection.

Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, commonly known as the Beatitudes, is recorded in chapters 5 through 7.  It is spoken not only to the original twelve disciples but to others who came to hear Jesus speak.  The meaning of blessed, a word He used often, is blurred today because it’s definition is used differently in this era.  It is now used in such a way that it is disguised as if bragging versus used humbly (a topic to be taken up in a later chapter)as intended. The Sermon on the Mount is not about how to get into the kingdom of God (heaven ) but how we already have a step in the kingdom here in this life on earth when joining in on the mission of Christ. The sermon is a description of a Jesus like character with each beatitude or blessing presented in a progressive order of steps with the first: poverty of spirit.

Brooks, in his book The Road to Character, retells a story from a rabbi about the first Adam (in Genesis) being more focused on what his resume says about him versus another, a second Adam (in the Gospels), focused more on his eulogy.  It made me think of this conversation pattern that developed with a friend.  When sharing a story about someone, he made sure he sandwiched in that person’s accomplishments (found in a resume) as part of the discussion. I guess it was said so I could fully appreciate the importance or significance of that person by his credentials. I also think, the teller, was trying to impress his listeners with whose important shoulders he was rubbing up against.

The definition of disciples is comparable to being an apprentice.  Apprentices however usually chose their master or teacher, not the other way around as was the case with Jesus who chose them.  A fictitious mock evaluation committee was once circulated that makes the point on the differences of value versus what God sees.  This search committee came up with this report:

  • Peter is declared emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper.
  • Andrew has no qualities of leadership.
  • The two brothers, James and John, sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty.
  • Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale.
  • Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau blacklists Matthew.
  • James and Thaddeus ( a.k.a. Jude) have radical learnings and register high scores on the manic-depressive scale.
  • One disciple, however, shows to be highly motivated and ambitious and innovative, has the ability, is resourceful, networks with people in high places and is business minded: Judas.

Comparing a resume to a eulogy, the Beatitudes tell me Jesus wasn’t interested if I stood with the great but instead if I sat with the broken.  St. Mother Teresa sat with the broken in India.  Then what better way to shine a light on her ministry than when she sat with world dignitaries and celebrities who held public esteem, titles, influence, and prominence who helped gain exposure from it.  Bill Bennot, church planner, said how we walk with the broken speaks louder that how we sit with the great.

The Sermon on the Mount launches Jesus’s ministry. It occurs right after the arrest of John the Baptist, his cousin.  His cousin inaugurates Jesus’s ministry by baptizing Him just before this sermon.

John the Baptist was the last of his kind as a prophet, echoing the Old Testament warnings.   When the time came, he was hesitant to baptize Jesus knowing Jesus’s divine identity and authority.  Jesus didn’t need the rebirth through the cleansing of baptism. When John reminded him of this, he was told by Jesus that it must be done to fulfill scripture.  After the baptism, God said, with a symbolic dove similar to the one for new creation on Noah’s ark,  “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17).

God had said He was “well pleased” before Jesus’ ministry had yet to begin. He had not yet healed anyone, preached any sermons of note, did little accomplishment to be recorded in the Scriptures (notwithstanding his miraculous birth ). But still, God, the Father, expresses his approval.  It showed how a father’s love and approval is not based on accomplishment.

The longest genealogy that points to Jesus is in Matthew.  It indicates, by those listed, he was writing to a Jewish audience to show the realization of the line coming from Abraham. Jesus’s family tree includes women (seldom mentioned in biblical genealogies): Judah, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba.  They have been mentioned previously, their more redeeming parts, only alluding to their discretions.  Their backstory includes sex with a father in law who thought she was a prostitute; a Gentile who bore two sons out of incest, a Canaanite prostitute, and a Moabite lineage that began with from the incest between Lot and his daughter.  Jesus was not ashamed of His family tree nor did He hide it.

I have struggled with an underlying burden of shame and guilt, sometimes irrational guilt, of unworthiness.  Somewhere along the way, my guilt morphed into the most defining aspects of shame. My shame came from the actions of my birth family, the things they did and still do today to themselves and other members, and even the neglect of preserving the reputation of our family name has been particularly burdensome for me. I have a sense of shame of not having the kind of birth family that grows together, one that takes care of each other, shows love and support to and for each other.  There is no perfect family.  But I do admire the ones that stick together regardless instead of going their separate ways in adult life.  I feel the shame of my situation of being a divorced grandparent,  I had hoped to represent something different for my grandchildren.

I can almost pinpoint the exact moment shame raised its ugly head in my life.  It was when I received my first-grade report card.  I had just begun school, so my “first grades” were averaged out and was reflected in one grade which the teacher explained to parents.  I received the grade of C (for average).  My dad was disappointed and, quietly and calmly, while sitting on his lap, he let me know.

It was an impetus for me to eventually be the first female in my immediate family to get an undergraduate and master’s degree, the latter of which broke a glass ceiling for my girls.  Now my one of my children has outpaced me in their academic accomplishments and feats. Sadly, my experience of not measuring up to dad’s expectations since that day sitting on his lap is firmly fid in my memory. For years, I sought to overcome the stigma of being average. While Growing up it lead me to try and excel in school, to be the good girl, to win approval or any acknowledgment for accomplishments from others to fill my perceived disappointment f not measuring up.  This behavior followed me into my married and professional life.

Finally, I recognized what I was doing to myself and began to stop basing my success on other’s approval.   Shame for what it is, a feeling of worthlessness, after rejection, of being cast out. Guilt is concerned with doing something wrong whereas the definition of shame is believing that somehow you are bad by association.   It carries with it the sense that there is nothing to be done to purge its burdensome and toxic presence.  This shame usually raises its head when my relationships do not work out because the other decides I am not the “one” hence leaves.  I would spiral downward with other abandonment issues. There is also the confusion between shame and guilt in my thinking of it.  My self-incriminations at times, still haunt me, but as I grow older, I am learning to discipline those thoughts by differentiating between the wheat (guilt) from the chaff (shame).   If the first beatitude is about the poverty of spirit, I wonder if that doesn’t define shame?

The Beatitudes (only listed in the book of Matthew in its entirety) are a study in the paradox or mystery of Jesus’s teachings.  It depicts the epitome of an attitude of service and humility. Pastor Kyle Idleman says that, in the first Beatitude, “Jesus says there is a blessing that comes when you reach the end of yourself. That’s what it means to be poor in spirit. You reach a place where you are broken, and you do not have what it takes.”

Because of my previous flawed thinking, I thought my achievements were supposed to pave the way for approval.  Later, I became very sensitized in identifying my kids thinking the same thing to get parental attention.  I conveyed to them they were important and worthy because of who they were and not by their performance to win affection or gain attention.  My parental love came regardless of their outcomes.  There were some mixed messages sent out to them but hopefully, the love and acceptance overrule it and carries the day.  To bestow love or acceptance on someone’s success is an act of conditional love.

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Chapter 33 in Series

malachi

Malachi, this final book of the Old Testament, helps to set the stage for the promised message of the Messiah and citing the city of Bethlehem as the birthplace of a ruler greater than King David.    His advent is predicted in chapter 3.

Malachi reiterates familiar OT guidelines and warning on how to live despite the prevailing evil of those around the Israelites but with a different slant.  Like other Hebrew books, the title translation means “my messenger.”  God’s love is not much unlike how we express affection for others.  We do not win their affections or any reciprocal response by showing love instead it’s a deliberate show of love without any expectations attached love that comes from a place of personal desire to care and honor someone.

During one a period of life, I was applying for jobs at para-churches.  Part of the application process included faith statements  (1Pt. 3:15) to confirm I adhered to certain moral foundations consistent with a faith-based business.  Over dinner one night with a couple, I was asked how I could sign or agree to such statements just to get a job.  They thought it was invasive of privacy and none of the company’s business.  I saw how they didn’t extrapolate that by default whoever our employers are, if we work for them, then we are signing up for what that company believes.  I let the querying couple know it didn’t offend or bother me to provide a statement of faith, as I already believed in those things.

Malachi wanted the people to take and practice their faith  more seriously.  In chapter 3 verse 10, it’s written, “Bring all your tithes into the storehouse that there may be food in my house.  Test me in this, says the Lord Almighty and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven  and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” (Jn. 14:2)

There are those who take that verse in earnest, applying a satisfaction guarantee aspect to it.  Participants will sign a commitment to give 10 percent of their income or more to the church.   They say to test God and see if He does not hold true to His promises of blessings’ after three months.  If not, they can request their money back from the worship organization—no questions asked.  I am not of the temperament nor bold enough to test God. In Luke 4:12 and Deuteronomy 6:16, it says to not test the Lord. The Luke verse is when Jesus is talking to the devil while the evil one is trying to make a deal with Jesus.

Tithes not only include our money (which underwrites the running of a church, the salaries, supplies, and logistics), I see tithing also as time, talents (to include spiritual gifts with monetary ones) and our testimony as part of our tithe.

The Malachi verse mentioned is a key one in the prosperity of success gospel.  Prosperity gospel gets its’ name by the charlatans proclaiming God grants better health and wealth to those who contribute back to ministry work.  What adds to the confusion, is people picking and choosing scripture to apply as if custom ordering it to suit their life without verifying it with other verses or the context, it is written.  Malachi 3:10 is taken out of context when not taking into consideration the storage provisions for the running of the temples and to help the poor.  I interpret this verse more along the lines of forthtelling (a message for the current time) versus foretelling (a future prophecy).

The message of God, through Jesus, is available to everyone, everywhere.  What gets my dander up is when Scripture is presented in a light that doesn’t work for everyone. Specifically, prosperity gospel seems to be more attainable in the Western countries, particularly when the monetary guidelines of how much money to tithe is espoused. Second Corinthians 9:7 explains, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” It’s not to give under threat or to test God’s blessings.

Another interpretation of prosperity gospel can fall under the term of indulgences, abuses in the propaganda of influencing financial donations in exchange for a payoff of the investment with blessings in health, or success, etc.

America’s idea of private enterprise and entrepreneurialism does not work in other places of the world due to differing governing and economic process.  To try to contextualize blessings based on giving in second or third world countries seems out of reach for people when tied to the message of Christ.  Jesus was not rich in the way the world measures wealth.  His riches were the inner knowledge as the Son of God.  He became poor by voluntarily stepping into humanity as a man.  He seldom had carried provisions for the next days’ travels.  He advised His disciples to take nothing with them when He sent them out to spread the Good News (Mk. 6: 8-9).

Another interpretation of prosperity gospel can fall under the term of indulgences, abuses of influencing financial donations in exchange for a payoff of the investment with blessings in health, or success, etc.

Biblical Christianity does not promise material prosperity, minimize the consequences of sin, nor condone self-righteousness.   Some have compared scripture to the great “secret” of believing yourself into wealth and health.  It is another way of saying if you name it you can claim it by praying mantras such as “expand my tents” (1Chr. 4:10). There are many verses that indeed inspire and are capitalized on in prosperity teachings.  I have nothing against prosperity, financial riches or good health.  I kind of like those things.  Unfortunately, scripture is being used in a sub-biblical way to extrapolate these verses for self-edification.  The prosperity gospel has been typecast as a baptism in capitalism.  And unfortunately, the current mega-churches, with their televised services, and pastor’s published books often are theses prosperity pastors perpetuating this gospel.

In an article about St. Mother Teresa’s  teachings, she stated three types of poverty: material, spiritual and the virtue of poverty.  It says Christians are meant to take Christ as their pattern in all things.  They should consider God chose to be born (through the incarnate Jesus) abjectly poor, and that he remained completely detached from material things, owning nothing and seeking to own nothing. He is the ultimate paradox of what type of man would be to save the world.

Truth:  Some people are so poor, all they have is money.  Inappropriately quoted as            being said by many different people, the point is still valid: man sacrifices his health to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

The work of His kingdom on earth is to bring about what God has already promised to do in the kingdom to come (heaven).  But it is not to attain the kind of affluence being advocated from prosperity pulpits, books or the world’s pursuit of self-reward and gratification beyond our desire for spiritual salvation.

As Malachi marks the end of the Old Testament all the while pointing to the New, he writes about grace and mercy more forceful than what’s already been done. He writes about another Elijah-like messenger proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah.

The simplest definition of mercy and grace I know is that mercy is what we do not get that we deserve and grace is we what we do get that we don’t deserve.

I can wrap my head and heart around the concept of mercy easier than grace. I don’t disregard grace and know it is going on in my life. Both divine gifts are a form of forgiveness but grace is harder to observe consciously.  Grace is accepting the unexpected, undeserved gift.  It is unmerited. It is very humbling to receive. You forget who the giver is.   It is God’s sufficiency or fullness in the life of a believer.  God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2Cor. 12:9).

We are saved by this grace of God. Simultaneously, we serve God and live the Christian life through this unearned grace.   It’s needed first for salvation. Without the grace of God, we cannot have eternal life. It is needed in the daily walk with God because undeniably we are weak and prone to stray.  Jesus told us that we can do nothing without Him  (Jn. 15:5).

Grace is so mysteriously profound that even though I know it is going on in my life, I cannot always identify it.  It is so undeserved; perhaps the closest thing I can compare it to is winning the lottery, although that is somewhat inadequate and ironic considering the above on prosperity teaching.

When returning from living abroad in Korea for two years, we resided in a long-term stay hotel while waiting for household goods to reach mainland America.  With the size of our family, we needed separate rooms and not just for our sanity.  Fire code stipulated four to be the maximum allowed in one room.  It ended up parents in one room and kids in another with a patch of ground between us.  My rule was the doors between our rooms were to be left open for the most part during the day while we were in our rooms. For some reason, open doors meant exposure, and I felt secure that this prevented any kid mischief.

While at the hotel, one of my boys came running over excited after binging on television shows and their commercials.  Exasperatedly, he asked if I had heard of this lottery deal. Then he went on to explain what it was and his deep concern as to why haven’t I bought a ticket.  I smiled and gave him an explanation about the odds of winning, etc.  It helped calm him down, a bit.

If ever I won a lottery in my life, it would be the country and era of my birth and the family into which I was born.   When I was born, I was given this ticket from God to go anywhere I choose.

In another poem, Jeanne Lohmann:  puts it nicely in her poem At Birth, I Was Handed a Ticket.  The last stanza is about the end of life: “Nobody told me when I’ll have to get off this train, nobody handed me a schedule.  But I’d like to be ready when the conductor signals my stop.  I’d like to be willing to surrender my one-way ticket and go down the aisle to the opening door, take the steps leading to the ground, leave all my baggage behind.”

The metaphor of the emotional baggage we carry, if not repacked or gone through periodically, weighs us down, burdens us.  In my limited understanding in working with geriatrics, often the unpacked traumatic or confusing events are stuffed away unattended, unresolved, hauntingly creeping back with the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s. It seems to come on in a continual loop of a rerun movie within a mind that has decreased cognitive ability to resolve.

I am biased about my home country just as another believer in another place would say the same thing about their country.  Conversely, there are those born in this country who do not think it is be-all and end-all.  I would not change  God’s ordained plan for my life or the who, what where, when, and how of it. The freedom I have and can choose from is an example.  Part of that choice is to choose whether to accept any prejudices against me because of my skin color, age, or gender.  Some people, equal to me in those areas mentioned vulnerable to prejudice, live in other places of the world, have a different context to live in than I.

But I often wondered why those within the same environment (like a home) and raised in relatively the same ways turn out so different, i.e. twins where one is an achiever and the other isn’t?  The social sciences have lots of explanations for why some choose one path over another attributing to the varying degrees of levels of a person’s character, growth mindset, their soft skills, grit, resilience, executive functioning and agency within a person.  Fortunately, if not innate, all of these things can be learned from history and the Bible (King David, Jonathan, Esther, or Ruth),

I wrongly thought that those who are predestined folk (cf. Rom. 8:29-30, Eph. 1:4, 11) as those who were the select, the elected by God in the eternal past to do something really significant for Him (like Martin Luther, Billy Graham).  But predestination means all who are to be called by God. I am part of the fold of those whom God wants to be saved, me having come to the knowledge of the truth  (1Tim. 2:4).  I believe faith is through grace alone (Eph.  2:8-9).  In the scope of things, I am but a tiny part of the world, but my soul is as large as anyone else, and it will transcend me.  Guess you could say my heavenly adoption papers have been accepted.

A verse (23:23) in Matthew is pertinent to Malachi.  It describes prosperity preaching: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But have neglected the most important matters of the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness.  You should have practiced the latter, without neglect of the former.”

 

Chapter 32 in a Series

zechariah

Staying in line with his family business, this book bears the name of its author the priest-prophet Zechariah.  It begins with a heartwarming story you can almost visualize of his grandfather returning to Jerusalem after exile with his little grandson, Zechariah, in tow at his side.

A co-grandparent (from the side of one of my bonus sons) shares this story about our mutual progeny.  The subject of the story is the first generational grandson and first grandbaby to either side of the family.

“R and I had spent the day together watching a cartoon movie in the morning and then went to the Cog Railway in Colorado Springs to take the train up to Pikes Peak.  I purchased box lunches to eat on the train, which of course included a prize in his.  As (the train was) climbing the mountain, I got a pair of binoculars from my pack and gave them to him to keep when the ride was over.  I had also brought a package of candies M&M’s, which was sparingly distributed a few at a time during the trip.  At some point during the ride, R turned to me and said, “Grandpa, when I grow up, I want to be a grandpa.”

That same little tyke told me once when I asked him what he wanted to be, anticipating the answer would be some profession, he wanted to be a daddy.  He is set for life if he already knows his most important role is with family.  There is truth in what the sage Confucius says, “The family unit is the basis for ideal government.  If we can get our priorities right in the family unit, we can get the world right.”

One of the most self-nurturing things for me was what my children gave me, particularly when they were little. The love and acceptance they bestowed (whether I had bad hair or breath, whether I was grumpy or unpleasant) was the closest thing I consciously can remember of unconditional love. I re-nurtured myself during their early years through the general course of mothering them, if that makes sense. Then that same expression of love happened again years later. It was when I was going through a period of feeling lonelier than usual and I had a sleepover with the coolest two and a half-year-old granddaughter who slept in my bed with me. She was a mover at night, periodically flaying her arms, murmuring words in her sleep and settled herself in the middle spot on the bed.  Then I noticed while she sleep that she was a cuddler and through the night would hug or be up against me.  It was pure bliss. It fulfilled a sorely desired felt need in me.

I don’t think we ever stop parenting, we are always accountable to our children (even when they are adults) to set an example.  As parents, how we model and project our being a parent to our sons and daughters may influence their desire as to whether they have children. I would hear a neighbor who criticized and berated her husband, putting their relationship down in front of her kids with her now appearing clueless when she bemoans why her adult children aren’t married nor given her grandchildren.  He ended up having an affair and left her.

Zechariah’s name means “Yahweh (the Hebrew name of God used by the Jews) remembers.”  He was young compared to his contemporary Haggai.  Both prophets had different styles of approach but the same message.  It’s a great example of how the presentation in style of the church’s message can change but not the substance. Where Haggai was direct and clear in his approach in communicating Zechariah was visionary.

This book contains some of the clearest and largest numbers of Messianic passages among all the minor prophets.  With that in mind, it’s possible to think of the book of Zechariah as a kind of miniature book of Isaiah. In total, there are eight prophetic oracles derived from dreams or  “night visions” in this book.  To not know the fulfillment of the story of Jesus from this side of the cross, understanding who the final oracle is proclaiming in Zechariah 9 to 14 is shrouded in mystery.

It’s easy to get caught up in the dailies of living and lose perspective to live like people without hope. The book of Zechariah gives us an antidote for that tendency by telling us he is a prisoner of hope (9:12).

Zechariah, five hundred years before the event, spoke about the judgment and salvation of God and the coming of Jesus who would be a priest, governor, humble king and afflicted shepherd in Chapter 9-14.  The branch mentioned in chapter 6 verse 12 is Jesus.  He even talks about His return after his atoning death to rescue repentant people (12:10-14) There will be a new King (Jesus) and a new kingdom.

The people did not listen and turned away (Zec. 7:11).  It invites the question that even today you knew the things that make for peace (Lk. 19:42) it would be hidden from your eyes (because you would not listen).

The world at peace, with no war, is a universal prayer.  I have dealt first-hand with the paradoxical notion of peace through military strength what with many family members serving their country in the military.  The world has only seen 268 years free of war out of the last 3350 years.  Now many countries are engaged in the War on Terror.   Currently, America is serving in the longest war (sixteen years) at this writing.

I became keenly aware of a difference of perspective and training in a seemly innocent conversation a decade ago while watching a random movie about of an American cowboy who entered a horse race across the Arabian Desert (the movie was Hidalgo).  A comment was made during a scene when a Muslim character was ranting his bravado, saying that is the way it is with all of them.  It could have been made easy for anyone from any country to boast in a competitive or combatant scenario.  At the time, I was in the thick of studying theology and comparative religions of the world.  The company, watching the movie with me, was frustrated when I called him down on his remarks.  I judged it as a racist and defamatory remark toward all Muslims.  We still train the warrior this way, although not quite as openly in the press or general public.  If not careful it breeds xenophobia, as it did with my friend.  I think it is one of the reasons for long-running racism in America today.  We seldom untrain the indoctrinated.  Why does national pride have to be defended by attempts to show superiority?

I was struck by the difference between our worldviews of mine in the mission field compared to his military one of preparing for battle.  The different viewpoints partly could be explained by differing outlooks in psychology versus anthropology. Earlier in my undergraduate study, when I realized I was short an elective to graduate, I took a course called “War and the Warrior.”  It discussed how a warrior is trained for war.  Intellectually, I grasp what we do to prepare minds for battle, but my heart breaks when I think about it.  Christian author Philip Yancey in his book What’s So Amazing About Grace writes, “Politics draws lines between people; in contrast, Jesus’ love cuts across those lines and dispenses grace. That does not mean, of course, that Christians should not involve themselves in politics. It simply means that as we do so, we must not let the rules of power displace the command to love…”

In the Bible, God’s peace treaty covers actual warfare to include personal internal conflict.  Of course, when parts of the peace treaty are rejected then the treaty is elusive.  It is hidden from our lives.  It is a consequence of what happens when God moves in our life yet eyes do not see, ears do not hear (1Cor. 2:9).

Chapter 31 in a series

haggai

In the book of Haggai, another tactic was tried to denounce the ongoing idolatry.  He pointed out that holiness is not contagious, however, evil is (Hg. 2:10-19). He compared his viewpoint to a healthy person whose well-being cannot be caught by touching him whereas a cold, more easily transmittable, of a sick man, can. Evil lends itself to be more transmittable or infectious (i.e., today’s over coverage of “bad” news versus good by media outlets or of the copycat crimes, people who are perpetually negative). How often do we hear of a breaking story, then see another similar one then another and wonder has this epidemic always been going on?

These last three books of the Old Testament although not written at the same time continue to point to the future Jesus.  They wrap up the Jewish era.

To recapture the prophets and their audience:

  • Jonah, Amos, and Hosea writes to the northern kingdom, with Obadiah, Joel, Isaiah, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, and Habakkuk writing to Judah;
  • the exile prophets (after the siege of Jerusalem in 597 BC) were Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel; followed by
  • the post-exilic prophets, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, who returned to Jerusalem to prophesy.

It’s significant to point out, and can’t be said with enough emphasis, that the exile period and then the return to Jerusalem was the greatest challenge for the Israelites.  It shaped them to who they are today.  It’s been seventy years without their temple and they no longer living in their home country as a chosen people

This book is a goldmine of inspiration whenever going through a hard period that sucks all the passion out of your life.  It’s for one of those times when you have to keep on living but instead, you are just existing, unsure which way to turn.   God assurances for us to move beyond our past with a renewed perspective, for us to give careful thought to our ways, that he is with us (Hg 2:1-9) then reminds us that he promises to be with us always, (1:13), not to be afraid (2:5), His spirit remains with us, He will bless us (2:19) and His reminder that He will take and make   us for He has chosen us (2:28).

Haggai 2:6-7 links a context of Jesus to the temple they rebuilt as it restored them back symbolically to their worship.  It foretells of how God will shake up all the nations with and through the acts of Jesus.  The period of the writing for Haggai (and the next book Zechariah) is during the rebuilding of the temple, a stop-and-go process with it ending up taking additional fifteen years to complete.  The work resumed through the inspirational efforts of Haggai and Zechariah (Ezr. 6:14), who roused the people from their lethargy through the encouragement from God depicted by the favorable governing policy of the Persian.

Haggai’s prophecies are in four discourses each respectively written consecutively given in a four-month span.  He prophesied that to be selfish is stupid (his first discourse dated supposedly in the month September) to how being generous brings many benefits shared the following month.  November’s missive is on how a bad model of behavior is dangerously copied by others with his final prophecy to not to forget about the future that he wrote in December. If the writing sequence is indeed the months mentioned above, I find it coincidental that December is the month we recognized as the advent of expectant, waiting for the upcoming Savior’s birth.

Haggai was fortunate to see the completion of his temple rebuilding mission. Many of the prophets (for that matter many in ministry in general) don’t always see the results of their God-breathed endeavors.

Periodically I am fortunate to see the immediate outcome of efforts of ministry when I am in the right place at the right time when opportunity and preparedness meet.  For a few summers, I coordinated the classic Vacation Bible School that uniquely carried out off-site of the church at a Housing and Urban Development (HUD) apartment complex.  In the 1950s this church was designated as the sponsoring organization for this HUD project thus allowing the event on government property.  I helped to host this VBS for about four years, and it was laborious, to say the least, but the kind of soul filling labor of love.  All the supplies and curriculum, along with tables, chairs, sound systems, and tents were brought in for this outdoor event held under tent top – come rain or shine. Each night we would pack up the supplies and props in a vacant apartment for security, with instruction to the attending children of the complex to watch over the tents diligently.  One summer we had to evacuate the night’s session because of a tornado that had touched down nearby in the county.

One VBS theme done included the story of Noah’s Ark.  In addition to being the coordinator, I was the daily storyteller.  It was a drizzly, overcast day as I told the story about the God’s watery wrath.  I remember looking at the forty-some kids, ages five to eleven, attending with the teaching volunteers standing behind them.  It was one of those moments when all eyes were on me, an encouragement that made me more animated.  I ended with the finale of the rainbow representing God’s promise that He would never destroy the world again by rain.  When I was done, I asked if anyone had questions.  After a pregnant pause, with everyone staring even more wide-eyed, I became aware something else was going on.

Finally, a little one raised his hand and asked how I did that.  Still clueless I respond, “How did I do what?” when one of the teachers said, “Turn around.”   Behind me was a break in the clouds and a brilliant double rainbow. Apparently, it appeared right on cue at the end of the story.  I told the kids I didn’t do that; God did.  It was the only time I told a Bible story that ever got an applause.

That summer and the others, kids more readily came forward to learn about Jesus one on one with a volunteer personally. It was a watershed event for the child but also for the volunteer to witness.  I was fortunate to have the same returning volunteers each year who knew the propensity was real to see the fruit of their labor a blessing not to miss.   We also had a group of kids who regularly attended our church come to the VBS to participate.  It was pure joy to watch them peer mentor their new friends from different ethnic and economic backgrounds.  It’s said that it takes a person six times to hear an invitation to Christianity before venturing out forth in faith. I will never know the fullness from the harvest of seeds planted.  I do not know where the youth were in their sequence of hearing the message (seeds), but the message was planted, and hopefully took root for blooms to appeared.  All anyone can do is plant the seeds to bring people closer to belief. Only the Holy Spirit can water them.

Chapter 30 in a Series

Zeph

“No hotter book lies in all the Old Testament. Neither dew nor grass nor tree nor any blossom lives in it, but it is everywhere fire, smoke, and darkness, drifting chaff, ruins, nettles, salt pits, and owls and ravens looking from windows of desolate places.” so writes Scottish theologian George Adam Smith describing the book of Zephaniah.

The picture of what the “The Day of the Lord”  will be like is further enhanced for a better description.  Here it is a little different than that found in the book of Joel.  This prophecy is about the day of terror that will fall upon all creation in judgment for sin. It is a grim picture of destruction, but out of it will come a remnant of people. Zephaniah is compared to being the Revelation of the Old Testament, with its description of the apocalypse (the complete final destruction, with the word’s etymology, also including another meaning, to reveal something, unveil it).  The variance with this writing is that the state of Israel is in the foreground and the Gentile nations in the background.  The reverse is found in Revelation, where the Gentile nations are in the foreground.

Through God’s inspiration, Zephaniah records the future dramatic changes that will occur at Christ’s  coming in chapter 3.  It can’t be reiterated enough, God’s ways are not our ways.  His packaging of promises, found in unique ways, ultimately shows His’s love at the core of his being as a continuing one, that never gives up to find a way to reconcile us to Him.

Zeph’s ministry overlaps Jeremiah’s.  It uniquely traces his personal genealogy with the beginning point at Hezekiah (assumed to be King Hezekiah). He is presumed to be the great-great-grandson of a king, giving Zephaniah the distinction of a prophet with royal blood. He apparently ministered primarily to the upper crusts of society rather than to the average Israelites, as evidenced by his references to the princes, judges, prophets, and priests (Zep. 1:8-9; 3:3-4).

He writes of apathy and indifference as more responsible for a nation’s moral collapse than those who are engaged in evil ways. Irish statesman from the 1700’s, Edmund Burke wrote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”  If no other wisdom comes from the review of history, shown through the cyclical pattern throughout the OT prophetic warnings, it’s that humanity’s pattern of not heeding God’s truth doesn’t stop.  Elie Wiesel, who spent the remainder of his life as an activist for humanitarian efforts after his imprisonment at Auschwitz and Buchenwald, took this to heart.  He was one of the great moral voices of our time, and, in many ways, the conscience of the world.  He never forgot the atrocities of World War II, and he wouldn’t let his message be forgotten, always reminded by the indelible concentration camp tattoo A-7713, his identification number, on his wrist to give voice to this horrific period in our history.

No one can predict the exact dates of the apocalypse (cf. 1Thes. 5:2, Mk. 13:32).  God warns us and gives clues predicting what will come to pass or indeed are currently happening.  Y2K (abbreviation for the dawn of the new millennial year 2000) is probably the closest I came to think it might happen sooner rather than later.  It was speculated that when the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve 1999, the global computer system, which runs infrastructure, would crash.  I got caught up in it just as our ancestors did with Premillennialism of when the clock struck twelve after the first millennium.

The uproar originated over the data number code that operates in computers, which can be viewed the same as calendar time.  The questionable glitch was would the computer recognize the annual date by the last two digits of the year instead of the four?  Would 2000 be recognized as “00”, which might communicate to the computer to shut down?  The Y2K computer bug, as it became known, was predicted to cause global problems, including the disruption or shutdown of electricity, water services, banking, and transportation.  I did not get too caught up in the end time evangelists’ interpretation of what was going on so much as the possible challenge in our dependence on technology.  Society’s infrastructure has come to rely on it such that if it were to stop, what would be the backup?  There are enough “old timers” (myself probably included) and survivalists who know how we subsisted before the current demand for technology.  If the moral foundation of how to live and survive (both spiritually and physically) isn’t in place, then when emotional panic inevitably raises its head there may not be solid enough footing to stand upon.  It’s when you have a sure foundation to stand on while everything is ever changing.  Singer Natalie Grant has this line I resonate with at many levels from her song In Better Hands Now, with the lyrics “It’s hard to stand on shifting sand.”

This Y2K doomsday conspiracy made me look at life differently. I was becoming disgruntled in general during this period, losing a level of control and things were moving at too fast of a rate.  Dependence on technology for better or for worse was high. I secretly was wishing for a wake-up call for society, an interruption of technology. Perhaps going cold turkey without it temporarily would slow down our dependence on technology. Maybe traditional values in relationship tending could be re-established.  Remembering the Y2K saga of a technological infrastructure collapse probably reads foolish today, and obviously, it was a false alarm.  There wasn’t a digital shut down, the computers took the new year numerical date of 00 for 2000.  Y2K, the engraved Mayan calendar stone, and the mysterious seer Nostradamus prophecies did not come to pass. Jesus said, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.” (Matt. 24:6).

In the mid-1980s, the idea intrigued me during the rise of the use of the Internet and personal computers whether a person could live and run their household and life from their computers without ever leaving home was fodder for articles.   One writer took the took the theory and lived it out their life (in Nellie Bly style) of not leaving their home for a month, completely relying on technology (before the advent of the mobile phone) for all their day to day needs.  It was accomplished minus the time efficient methods we have today (faster delivery, more variety, to do the same.  Also during this period, there was another advertisement showing a person working on a laptop in a beach setting, presumably while on vacation. It was a foreshadowing that turned into actualization for too many of us. Be careful what you wish for.

The paradox is, I am now guilty of actualizing through technology as much as I can from a home office to run my life and do my profession. My phone prompts notify me about my employment gigs. My favorite commute is to the office in my house.  Ironically, I realized that my new “intrigue” now is to learn how to unplug from technology.

The advent of the Internet and social media outlets are barely twenty years old at this writing. It is still new enough that the verdict isn’t out on the pros and cons of it.  The jury, still out, reviews whether being digital connected leads to social isolation or do the lonely seek solace in social media? One thing for sure social media is here to stay.  My children grew up with it; my g-kids were born into it.

In this season of empty nest, when I find myself with too much solitude, I turn to social media, checking in on my kids and others, then (at my worst) go off on the bunny trails clicking links that pull me away from my original intent of research, indulging in mindless, mind-numbing reading on the internet. I have experienced the monitor’s blue light (also in digital readers, television screens, and alarm clocks) that radiates from the screen into my mind’s eye which in turn disrupts my sleep hormone if I’ve had nighttime exposure too close to bedtime.

I do appreciate how technology has enabled easier communications particularly with my kids living in the direction of the four winds.   Essayist Rebecca Solnit comments that modern noncommunication is changing experiences of time, solitude and communion with others. She says it is painfully convenient to use these venues and humans get addicted to its fast service.  It has become ubiquitous now, this virtual living, this never-stopping, always-updating, checking in. As Solnit admits, and guilty as I write, that each generation broods over disruptive new technologies and chatter as if it is some techno-dystopian world. Since the invention of the printing press, every new revolution in information technology has prompted similar apocalyptic fears.

Conversely, Rick Warren says, “To use only the Gutenberg (press) in the age of Google would be unfaithful to the Great Commission.”   I use the digital venue, thinking of it as only dabbling with a social media page in a chosen area of interest, and yet still the strong pull of the Internet what with curating, posting, getting an image, double checking, etc. is addicting.  Now with digital publishing, I see some benefits.   I can unplug, so it’s not too bad however digital detox centers, beginning in China and now throughout the United States for addicted digital users of gadgets in exchange for an off-the-grid experience of growth, reflection, mindfulness, creativity, community and (dis)connection are popping up to help people.

Once I attended a woman’s retreat, they took our watches away.  We slept at the center during the three-day event.  They rang bells for meals and sessions.  I remember losing track of time once I lost the ability to constantly check my watch.  Sounds archaic now, but double dare you to get rid of your time mechanism (better yet designate a day to unplug) and see the results.

Author and news show commentator David Brooks writes, “There are many things big data (digital output) does poorly.  The quest for knowledge may be pursued at higher speeds with smarter tools today, but wisdom is found no more readily than it was three millenniums ago in King Solomon’s court.  Our generation is bloated with information and starving for wisdom.”  Co-founder of the Huffington Post (one of the first digital news aggregator) Arianna Huffington calls it the iParadox: The smartphone isn’t making us wiser.” (iParadox is like the trademark names of iPhone, iPad, iGeneration. It infers that those who have Internet technology with a capital “I” are is prevalent in life than in previously known. The use of “I” also is a play on the pronoun how “It’s all about me”). 

While working with a school principal who disapproved my request to try and resuscitate our little school library.  The library had been demoted to the abandoned sports locker room (the aroma negated that wonderful smell of books).  He told me libraries and their books will become obsolete due to the demand for immediate access to information at our fingertips.

We are beginning to contend with more details than we can absorb and handle in our emotional development, and it produces a sort of low-grade anxiety, never detected before, that partners with the stress from the rest of life along with unfulfillment.

The commute on the information super highway is a tough one.  It’s the new version of the road warrior than previously known.  And we’ve only started down this road, what with the multiple technological gadgets.  We have become Pavlovian reactors to each personalized ringtone, audible ping, and beep indicating a message has come in from our devices. We haven’t figured out how to use it in the balance with the rest of our lives.  I have sat with an extended family who gathered, from a great distance, to be together only to see everyone plugged in and phubbing on their omnipresent digital devices.  My daughter sat with this group, so I sent her a text asking her how she was doing today.  She sheepishly smiled realizing the point I was trying to make and put her phone away. Whyte describes it as even though dominated by the electronic gadgets and social media platforms that are supposed to facilitate communication, none us (are nor) have been having a real conversation.

Writer Henry Beston wrote seventy years ago, at another time from another generation, for a call to relearn the art of presence.

It took great effort on my part while training for a caring ministry to learn how to be present in a telephone conversation. In other words: no multitasking while on the phone.   Previously, for years I was convinced that the only way to survive and get things done was to multitask while being a mother and wife to four kids and their father, whose job took him on the road more than not leaving me to solo parent.  That training caught up with me.  I have allowed, as Solnit says, to assuage my fears of loneliness I am at risk of having any real connection with my kids by plugging into social media outlets to see what they are up to or ignoring the multitasking they are doing when we are in conversation. But I still call them and use social media information for an awareness to what they are up to.  I hate being aware that they (and others for that matter that I talk to on the phone) are not totally present in our conversation. Occasionally, it’s okay to be distracted but to do it all the time gets old. I miss the uninterrupted communication between two people. I yearn for the caller to do one thing exclusively when they call and that is to converse instead of using the phone while driving, or shopping or while ordering through the drive-through window at coffee shops. Solnit mentions multi-taskers walking in front of cars against the green light, or into street poles or fountains while looking down at their phones, totally absorbed.

To interject some levity on my plight the following could be applicable to me: “Last night, my kids and I were sitting in the living room, and I said to them, ‘I never want it to live in a vegetative state, dependent on some machine and fluids from a bottle. If that ever happens, just pull the plug.’ They got up, unplugged the computer and threw out the wine.”

I have a love-hate relationship with technology.   Once a couple of my kids threw me a birthday dinner and included my other two kids, each who lived on the opposite sides of the continent, to “face time” into the party on their computer tablets.  Initially, it seemed surreal but then became fun to have them all present, us acting silly, telling jokes and laughing with each other.  I appreciated the gesture to try and get all of us together to celebrate my birthday. But it was a little eerie and a bit foreshadowing of how slowly we are adapting to the lack of physicality of a human face to face communication.   Then there was the time one of my bonus sons witnessed his daughter’s birth over live stream via the Internet when he was deployed overseas.

I am not becoming a technology luddite. But I am aware it will be a just a matter of time though  when I can’t afford much less keep up with all the wiz bang new technology, therefore, won’t be as sufficient (i.e., finding telephone numbers without the internet today is almost impossible) or independent without family help or a close companion.  There are benefits of information technology. It’s only that we jump into an entertainment venue or use of technology without thinking about what’s happening to our soul out there in cyberspace.  How do we help people not feel obsolete just because they don’t know, or can afford, the latest so called advancement? The name Zephaniah means “hidden of the Eternal.”  I am left reflecting on the verses “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10) and “Come near to God, and He will come near to you.” (Jas. 4:8).  God doesn’t leave us; we leave Him in many ways. One way of leaving Him is by substituting our technological advancements to such an extreme unparallel to the way people once related to each other in the past. God always loves; it’s us not showing Him our love.

Dr. Carl Jung carved onto the doorpost of his “castle” home: “Bidden or not bidden, God is present.”, a good thing to heed during any apocalypse imagined or real.

Chapter 29 in Series

habakkuk

The book of Habakkuk goes from worry to worship, he starts out in fear and ends in faith. Habakkuk’s name means to “embrace” or “wrestle.”  God welcomes honest inquiries.  Wrestling with God puts Habakkuk in the good company of others biblical wrestlers like  David, Joseph, and Jacob who took up their issues with God (Hab. 1:1-11).  Habakkuk was a contemporary of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zephaniah and wrote at the beginning of Babylonian world domination.

When life crumbles all around us, we need not despair (Hab. 3:16-18). All these deliverances and provisions foreshadow the coming of Christ. Habakkuk shows the authentic part of worrying about the “what ifs.” Freelance writer Vaneetha Risner points out a reframing for the “what ifs.” Though Habakkuk pleaded with God to save his people, he closes his book with this exquisite “even if” approach to replacing the “what ifs”:

“(Even if) the fig tree does not bloom and the vines have no grapes,
(even if) the olive tree fails to produce
and the fields yield no food,
(even if) the sheep pen is empty
and the stalls have no cattle—Yet I will rejoice in the Lord.
I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Hab. 3:17-18)

This book is a testimony that when things do not go as hoped and dreamed, it should not stop anyone from worshipping and putting their faith in Him.   Habakkuk provides this remarkable section in Scripture as an extended dialogue between himself and God. The prophet initiates the conversation based on his impatience about God’s “inaction” in the world. He wants to see God do more, particularly adjudicating the evildoers. Habakkuk 2:2-4 has been loosely translated as “Life sucks, and then you die.” His is a picture of a frustrated prophet. The difference between Jonah and Habakkuk is one channels his frustration into prayers and eventual praise to God, rather than trying to run away.

There is a saying that the only predictable thing is change.  That’s true in the world but certainly not when dealing with God.  Habakkuk asked God the kind of questions echoed today, “Why do you force me to look at evil, I stare trouble in the face day after day” (Hab. 1:3)?  With God, no place is too dark, no wall too thick for God’s grace to penetrate in a powerful and life-affirming way.

Who hasn’t asked “Why God why?” as Habakkuk does pleading for God to do more in a situation that we think merits His intervention.  Just as His actions are predicted in the book of Nahum, in God’s time, His intervenes in situations.  It is a blessing in disguise that God does not act impulsively to our pleas.

Habakkuk begins in verse 12 claiming that God is eternal. It’s an important clue because it means God keeps His promises because He’s in it for forever.  God has a perspective we can only fathom in the grand scheme of things. He knows that God will not destroy the Israelites because of His covenantal promises.  It explains what Habakkuk says: “We will not die” (Hab. 1:12).

The challenge for Habakkuk is the injustice troubling him becomes more and more acute.  He questioned his experiences, based on earlier prophets’ teachings of the calamities of punishment that fall on nations.  To him, the strong, powerful nations were not any more righteous than the ones that were subservient to them.  To him, it seemed, the honest and moral person suffers the unjust treatment, while the wicked enjoy comforts and prosperity.  God doesn’t justify or rationalize His ways, and no immediate answer is given to Habakkuk’s questions, yet a rallying call came from Him that “the righteous person will live by his faithfulness” (Hab. 2:4).

During a therapy session of mine, the subject of “worldly lies” was brought up. The therapist and I laughed afterward when he said that based on his knowledge of my background and studies, he felt I knew better, but still I answered from the heart.  Ingrained thoughts and habits are hard to break but of worthy effort.  Some of those lies taken are from The Lies We Believe, written by Dr. Chris Thurman:

I must be perfect.

I must have everyone’s love and approval.

It’s easier to avoid problems than to face them.

I can’t be happy unless things go my way.

My unhappiness is someone else’s fault.

You can have it all.

My worth is determined by my performance.

Life should be easy.

I shouldn’t have to wait for what I want.

People are basically good.

All my marital problems are my spouse’s fault.

If my marriage takes hard work, my spouse and I must not be right for

each other.

My spouse can and should meet all my emotional needs.

My spouse owes me for what I have done for her/him.

My spouse should be like me.

 Things are black or white.

The past predicts the future.

I often reason things out with my feelings rather than the facts.

God’s love must be earned.

Because I’m a Christian, God will protect me from pain and suffering.

All my problems are because of my sins

It is my Christian duty to meet all the needs of others.

A Christian doesn’t feel angry, anxious or depressed.

God can’t use me unless I’m spiritually strong.

 

Logically, I know these are lies, but years of worldly conditioning still, at times, has a hold of me at times, particularly when I grow weary.   If we are, say good enough or pretty enough then we will be worth for someone to fall in love with us.  That is part of the same trap of thinking God rewards us for behavior or appearances.  It’s not God who puts these thoughts into our minds but Satan lying, “Worship me and I’ll give it (whatever what lie consider) to you” (Lk. 4:7-8).  Another snare is reaching that certain point in life, you become susceptible to adding the “should’ves, would’ves, could’ves” to that list.

The Apostle Paul said, “All scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2Tim. 3:1617).

Prophecy is not gee-whiz information designed to tell us exactly and when something is going to happen in the future.  There is wisdom in what Canadian clergyman Carey Nieuwhof says “It’s okay to doubt your doubts. Live like God loves you and everything you read in the Bible is true.”

 

Chapter 28 in a Series

34Nahum

Welcome back to Nineveh.   Nahum’s divinely appointed task in his book is to reveal the anger of the long-suffering God.  He is angry, and this is no ordinary temper tantrum. It’s impossible to read this prophecy without sensing the gravity of it.  There is nothing capricious about it. There is nothing selfish about it. It is a controlled but terrible rage.  The words used to describe it are jealousy, vengeance, wrath, anger, indignation, fierceness, and fury. This book is also a foretelling  (Nah. 1:2) of the punishment and defeat of nations crushing the Israelites to include Babylon, Persia, then later Greece, and Rome.

Ironically, the Lord’s willingness to send Nahum, whose name means “comfort,” into such a hopeless situation as Nineveh shows how He is more confident in us than we are in ourselves (Nah. 1:7).   The book is about God’s anger yet using a prophet whose name means comfort shows God true heart.    The metropolitan area of Houston was impacted by flood waters from Hurricane Harvey, that covered a space of 10,000 square miles,  equal to almost the same space as the entire state of Massachusetts, comparable to an area that could encompass Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Detroit, and it recently made the history books.  Last recorded flood of this magnitude was 100 years ago when hurricanes weren’t named.  This one rained fifteen trillion gallons in the area.  I write this to tell of the outpouring of help and rescue by people (voluntarily) for others in harm’s way was nothing short of inspiring.  It was one of those moments when people were at their best when things got worst.  That is an example the refuge God provides, and it comes from the best part of man as He so intends.   Scripture says  “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (c. f Matt. 5:45).

An image of the same is in Jesus in Micah 4:1-5, also illustrated in  Nah 1:15,  as one who is visible on the horizon.  He is the avenger of God’s elect.

Nineveh, a city of Assyria, was a brutal imperialism that was a curse to the lands of the Middle East for a couple of centuries in the Old Testament.  It was located in northern Iraq, near on the outskirts of the city of Mosul. Many believe that the hanging gardens of the seven wonders of the world were actually in Nineveh.  Their policy was of westward conquest and world domination. They were known as being one of the most aggressive, brutal, cruel, and wicked nations on earth. Nineveh, the capital, saw men and nations as tools to be exploited to gratify the lust of conquest and commercialism. Assyria existed to render no service to mankind only to its rulers.

Nahum wrote this before the fall of Nineveh in 612 BC.  He preached God’s judgment for a second time to Nineveh with the book Jonah being the first warning 120 years earlier.  Within fifty years of Nahum predictions, Nineveh was utterly wiped off from the face of the earth by floods.  The prophecies of Isaiah, Zephaniah, and Jonah are the back stories to Nahum’s prophecy.

It is easy to understand why God is a jealous God when looking at jealousy as love in action.  God refuses to share the human heart with any rival, not because He is selfish and wants us all for himself because He knows that loyalty to Him depends on how morally life is lived.  He is not jealous of us, He is jealous for us.

Part of the job description for the prophet’s message is to reveal the character of God. The prophets unfold the divine attributes and each sees God in a different light telling it from a variety of differing perspective.   The Ten Commandments reveal the most complete list about God’s character.  And then there is the cornucopia of Scripture references for Jesus like the way, the truth, the light, the morning star, Lamb of God, Bread of Life just to name a few along with the other descriptors used in this book from the Bible.

There is a story of the agnostic who teased a Christian farmer who refused to work his fields on Sunday. The agnostic went out each Sunday to work in his fields, and at the end of the year he came to his Christian neighbor and taunted him. He said, “Look, you are a Christian, and you do not work on Sunday. You have had a fairly good crop.  Look at the way God blessed me. I have worked every Sunday, and look at the abundance of grain that I have. Why this has been one of the richest October harvests that I have ever had.” The Christian farmer turned to him and said, “Yes, but God does not always settle his accounts in October.”

When a long-suffering God begins to move, nothing escapes His grasp.  We have no choice but to accept the consequences from a God who forewarns repeatedly that if His grace is thwarted, He will rise in judgment at the last vengeance.

I remember years ago, one of my kids did something wrong resulting in a spanking. Parents typically pause and have the child wait for the punishment to contemplate what they did wrong and also for the parent not to respond in anger.  This child wailed dramatically but still seemed unrepentant. Then suddenly she turned and threw her arms around my neck. Now, what was I to do?  Continue to spank? No, I couldn’t, because she grasped what she had done and took refuge in me.

Fortunately, the majority of parents don’t resort to just physical punishment today to reprimand or work through a challenge with their children as often as was done in bygone eras.  My dad fell into the latter mold of not sparing the rod.  My oldest sister used to receive the brunt of discipline (Dad reasoned she was watching us so she got punished for her siblings,  we saw what was happening, obeyed her when she said something because we knew, in the future, who would bear the punishment).  Once I was heavily teased by my sibs for never getting a spanking.  I was accused of being a“spoilt brat” which was an accusation of severe charge amongst us. Consequently, I intentionally tipped the scales and did not do my chores that weekend knowing I would get a spanking.

So when my time came to receive the punishment. to vindicate myself from being accused of being a spoiled brat, I was ready for the spanking as I ever could be.  My youngest brother at times was spanked but he stubbornly would not cry. This evoked great respect within the ranks of my siblings I asked him how he did it.  He said he held his breath.

When Dad came in to do the deed (and my siblings were sitting outside, below the window sill of the room as official witnesses), Dad asked if I was ready.  I said yes but one moment then I  would signal when.  I took this deep breath, my cheeks bloated out like a blowfish with my holding my breath then signaled him to commence.  He looked at me and laughed quietly then asked me what I was doing.  I explained everything.  He said ok here’s what we would do instead. He would spank the bed I  was leaning over (in the ready position with my bottom available) and I would wail after each blow to the bed as if it struck me.  I did.  And it sufficed.  My honor was in tack. A silly story of how children grow up in spite of their parent’s ways as who were learning to grow up as well.  Kids…they grow up in spite of their parents, some more than others.

God knows who seek refuge in Him and for those, His heart of love is always open. They will never know his wrath.  Jesus put it this way: “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life”  (cf. Jn. 5:24).

The book of Nahum, which describes the fall of the city of Nineveh, contains no lofty religious sentiments. Its inclusion in the Old Testament has led to various interpretations of the imagery used in the poem. With these symbolic expressions used, it is possible to read the poem whatever one wishes to find. Interpretations of this kind are legitimate only when the context indicated by the writer is comprehended. Nahum’s poem does not indicate that he is describing anything but the destruction of a representative city responsible for many woes inflicted on the Hebrews and others.

Another incident on this issue came when chastisement was due for another one of my kids, who was a teenager.  When told the consequences of his actions, he was quick to say he didn’t realize what the repercussions for the offense and so the punishment wasn’t fair in execution.  He said if he had known he would have thought twice before doing it. That was fair enough. I suspended the punishment because I never gave him a warning of the consequences for the grievance he did.   God, in his long suffering always gives us warnings of the repercussions first.

 

Chapter 27 in a Series

Micah-470x200

The majority do not wake up in the morning intentionally deciding who they are going to make miserable that day or to find ways to carry out an injustice. The book of Micah’s theme rebukes the criticism or apathy that seems to be on autopilot to instead extending justice and kindness to others. His theme is summed up in 6:6–8, “To act justly, to embrace mercy for others and to walk humbly with your God.”  Micah’s name means “Who is like the Lord?” He understands God’s desire for the moral qualities (provided in the covenant) on the part of His worshipers rather than just sacrifices and burnt offerings.

Micah writes to both capitals of the northern and southern kingdoms: Samaria and Jerusalem. His prophecy stems from his sensitivity to the cruelness and social ills especially occurring in the small towns/villages. Micah is from a small town like Amos, as well as a contemporary of Isaiah.  In this prophetic book, the Messiah’s birthplace is cited to be in Bethlehem.  In the later part of Micah 3:11, the prosperous are accused, “Yet they look for the Lord’s support, and say ‘Is not the Lord among us? No disaster will come upon us.’”

Once upon a time, living in America assumed one lived in a Judeo- Christian nation.  Our country started out in that direction, now religions are more diverse, and respect and tolerance are given to that freedom of expression. To the point that Christianity has gotten marginalized while upholding others First Amendment rights.  I think we claim the distinction as a “Christian nation,” but slip into avoiding the consequences of our actions (or lack there of)  assuming we are guaranteed to be blessed, as a country its claim to it.

A young girl I was mentoring in an after-school program wanted to go home with me, spend the night at my house.  I said no, that was against the rules and besides how did she know I was a good person?  She said it was because she knew I was a Christian.   Her youthful innocence and trust, to say the least, frightened me.  I asked, “If a man said he was a Christian and offered a ride home, would you go with him?”  She understood my comparison.  However, being young, she was embarrassed by probably what she perceived as rejection and left abruptly in tears. I wondered, how many children think someone is okay to trust someone with claims of being a Christian?  Years later, this same young girl, now a teenager, was walking in front of my house.  I was sitting on the front porch, and she smiled at me.  I recognized her beautiful smile and said hi, but her friends called her down for acknowledging me.  She didn’t respond to me verbally, but as I watched her walk away, she shyly and sweetly flipped her arm behind her back, so her friends couldn’t see, and waved her hello.  I saw how she was working her way through the pressures of her life and trying to be true to herself.

I was told a story within a story about a person with the forethought of committing a future wrongdoing, confessing it to his pastor beforehand yet fully intending on preceding ahead with the transgression.  In this case, the person asked for communion beforehand.  It was a case of taking grace as an occasion to sin., misappropriated and misunderstood. Martin Luther had a comparable parable of a bank robber who was intent on committing his crime the following day yet wanted to take communion for forgiveness beforehand as if somehow that sanctioned or justified it.  Luther refused this man communion as did the pastor telling me his similar story.  The pastor shared Luther’s analogy with the confessor.  When a person continues a course of action that is wrong, thinking they have the justification because of asking for forgiveness beforehand through communion, that is cheap grace.

The term “cheap grace’ was coined by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book The Cost of Discipleship. He defines it as “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is one without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”  Put another way: “I’m not going to change the gospel and the grace afforded to me through Jesus, but I am going to cheapen it because I can.”

In Bonhoeffer’s definition of ‘cheap grace”, he has an emphasis, as well as a de-emphasis on what is important. “The emphasis is the benefits of Christianity without the costs involved; cheap grace seeks to negate the cost of discipleship from people. It seeks to claim that as long as we make a profession of faith, we are saved.”

We are not just saved by our profession of faith. We are not saved by repeating the Sinner’s Prayer. Nor are we saved by signing the attendance card or book in church or walking down the church aisle. These tend to be a doctrinal issue between denominations. Reviewing Hebrews 10:26-31, 1Corinthians 10:11-13 informs me on this. We are saved by living out an active faith (cf. Jas. 2:14-26) and turning away from our sinful nature. It is not a transaction; it’s a transformation.  The Apostle Paul says it best when he wrote, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here” (cf. 2Cor. 5:17). God’s grace for us came at a cost, but not to us. We cannot earn it yet it is provided.

I always hope people don’t withhold themselves from communion because they think they are not currently in a state to receive the reminder of Jesus, the mystical representation in Communion. Communion has been compared, by some, to “the church standing between Christ and a person.” Conversely, others call it “giving Christ His due (in remembrance).” Remembering Him makes us more aware of our brokenness and His forgiveness.  Forgiveness is not the chief purpose of communion, but it is an essential part of it.  One of the mysteries of communion is the sense that it is about the future hope believers share. If the Bible is God’s love letter to us, then holy communion is His hug.

 

Chapter 26 in a Series

jonah

There is an expression: “Jonah Days.” Elijah, Job, and King David experienced them as well.  They are days when you are unable to get a positive perspective on life.  Those days tend to be full of self-pity about how horrible life is treating you.  Unchecked for too long, it becomes self-defeating and leads to melancholy or depression.

In this book, God called on Jonah to give a message of redemption to the evil city Nineveh.  Unwilling Jonah instead chose to sail away in the opposite direction, as if he could hide from God.  Then Jonah got into such a state, so angry at God that he said it would be better if he were dead (Jonah 4:1-9).  I think the reason Jonah rejected this call is he couldn’t equate the mercy he received from God to be given to the unworthy people of Nineveh.  Most of the prophetic books are written by the prophet with this one more on the prophet. Jonah resembles a spoiled, immature person who hopes his pouting will change God’s mind.  This book is full of contrast, other characters responding to situations better than Jonah.  God views sin as just that, a sin. It separates us from the Lord (Rom. 6:23).   That is the moral of the story and a message for us on how we respond when God shows love and forgiveness to our enemy.  This book questions the Jonah character within us.

Here is Fred Buechner in his book Beyond Words, take on the story of Jonah:

“If it was a whale that swallowed Jonah on his voyage to Tarshis, it couldn’t have been the right kind of whale you find in those waters because their gullets aren’t big enough. Maybe it was a sperm whale because they can handle something the size of a prophet without batting an eye. Or maybe, since the Hebrew word means only ‘great fish,’ it wasn’t a whale at all, but a people-eating shark, some of whom attain lengths as great as thirty feet. But whatever it was, this much is certain.

No matter how deep it dove and no matter how dark the inside of its belly, no depth or darkness was enough to drown out the sound of Jonah’s prayer. ‘I am cast out from thy presence. How shall I again look upon thy Holy Temple?’ (Jonah 2:4), the intractable and waterlogged old man called out from sixty fathoms, and Yahweh heard him and answered him, and Jonah’s relief at being delivered from the whale can hardly have been any greater than the whale’s, at being delivered of Jonah.” (what with all his belly aching)

The book of Jonah stands as an important link in the chain of prophecy.  The three days in the pit of despair, in the belly of the fish, foreshadow the same number of days Jesus was on the cross after his crucifixion and before his resurrection with his being spent “in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:39). It gives a glimpse of Christ’s death and resurrection hundreds of years before it happened. To identify   Jesus’ to this prophet at the lowest point of Jonah’s life is echoed in the book of Hebrews (2:17). It says Jesus was made human in every way so that He might become merciful.

At the risk of being misinterpreted when I say depression,  Jonah days seem to end up being selfish days.  Sometimes those who don’t suffer depression can interpret it as someone being self-absorb. If I’m, to be honest, I do not believe we deserve anything, good or bad, in life.  God doesn’t owe us anything.  I’m not entitled to anything.  What I do get is all because of His mercy and grace.  I can work hard toward something, but in the end, the perfect outcome is not from any of my human efforts.  I ask myself when life is an uphill battle, one of those two-steps-forward-three-back kind of a day, why am I grumbling?  Particularly when my necessities are covered, I stop and reflect.  Once I complained about the difficulty in finding someone to hire to clean my house.  I could afford to hire these chores out yet; I was still whining about it.  That is nothing more than entitlement thinking.

One definition of depression is anger turned inward.  Jonah’s depression was a direct outcome of his resentment, ill will, lack of forgiveness and jealousy of God extending his hand to Nineveh.  Not all depression stems from this, but it can be part of the complex package it arrives in.   There is a difference between depression due to chemical imbalances in the brain and what Jonah was going through.   I don’t believe depression is a sin. In the context of Jonah developing his character, it was part of his spiritual lesson to see beyond his selfish desire to what God wanted him to do for the people of Nineveh.

“I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold.  I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me” (Ps. 69:2) describes the spiraling downward effect of depression. So does the  prognosis of turning to God (Ps.40:2,3), “out of the mud and mire, he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”

Truth:  If you want to catch little fish, stay in the shallow water; if you want the bigger fish cast a line in deeper water because deep down the fish are stronger.  Depression often brings tremendous depth to our personal relationship with God as we learn to surrender to His direction while traveling through the dark valley.  Depression is no respecter of man and can cast its shadow over anyone. One trait a person of faith has is to their way to remember God as their refuge of strength (Is. 4:6), the shelter during a storm.  Unfortunately, you can’t ignore depression, as the psalmist says it engulfs you.  The irony is that there can be good found in it.  Serendipity never fails to reveal herself when coming out of the despondency.

From her book, In the Shadow of God’s Wings, Methodist pastor Susan Gregg-Schroeder writes there are (mostly unopened) gifts in depression.

“These gifts are vulnerability, discovering one’s authentic self, patience within a process, living with paradox, creativity, and hope. Despite the exhausting emotional pain, me being all alone tightens my grip to my faith.  New dimensions of prayers came in my solitude, a peace I would acquire when the world is out of control, a goodness and gentleness instead of the lashing out, and a hope was developed that can never be broken eventually came. God does not waste the difficult.  Whether He engineered it or not, He will redeem this circumstance and turn it into a gift.”

Depression is not a sign of mental weakness but occasionally is a sign of being tired from remaining strong for too long.  I never know when melancholy is going to rear its head and over shadow me.  It begins with a self-defeating voice instead of the one that says, yes, you can. Depression is not my daily companion, but it’s friend melancholy visits more often than not.  I cannot “cure” it.  I make it easier on myself, though.   I analyze my melancholy to see if it is not instead disguising as a poor-me-pitiful party because I didn’t get my way.  To me, that is what a Jonah Day means.

(A funny thing happened while editing, spell check changed the spelling of melancholy to melancHoly.  When I stumbled upon this, I thought what a perfect reminder. By being more aware of my “down” moments I can expose myself to what is holy.)

The days outside of the Jonah ones that involve wanting to hide or stand still in the whirlwind around us are a different kind of day.  Then we do need to slow down and think through what we are doing (or not doing) to cause or magnify events to spiral out of control (an example is not putting enough gas in the car, or paying a bill on time).   It is when there is the onset of a shock that is atypical in life (a car accident or the surprise death of someone), which doesn’t allow preemptive time for self-care efforts to head off the shock.  For example, we know there will be a ceremony of a kind after death.  We prepare for it the best way we can emotionally.  But what if you went to a funeral to find it is your loved one and not someone else who had died?  Those are the tough episodes.  Self-care, when going through these crushing bouts, is subjective.  Traditional avenues of care through therapy, medication, and support of loved ones prove to be helpful.

In dealing with this mental health issue, there is no one size fits all fix.  A remedial care approach that works for me is removing the background noise of the world, not to take on or expose myself to all the challenges at once when I am unwittingly spiraling downward.   Referral to medical help is not altogether inappropriate, but I do maintain that in the management of depression there also is the business of tending the spiritual side.

I have always wondered when taking certain medication if it blocks the ability to do personal soul work?  I don’t see ever taking medication to enhance spirituality.  Perhaps it’s because I have had heightened spiritual moments when no synthetic chemical high was required.

Parker Palmer writes that being “medicalized,” obscures the spiritual dimension of some forms of depression.    “Although it is the furthest thing from the mind when I am in this state, a helpful meaning can be found in the experience.  Compassion can result when coming out on the other side of it.  When suffering, if viewed this way, according to Palmer, with a supple and open heart, it makes for more empathy toward the suffering of others to develop.

Being a resident from the land of Oz, I resonate with Parker’s poem, Harrowing, which captures the seedbed of depression:

“The plow has savaged this sweet field. Misshapen clods of earth kicked up. Rocks and twisted roots exposed to view. Last year’s growth demolished by the blade. I have plowed my life this way. Turned over a whole history Looking for the roots of what went wrong. Until my face is ravaged, furrowed, scarred. Enough. The job is done. Whatever’s been uprooted, let it be Seedbed for the growing that’s to come. I plowed to unearth last year’s seasons. The farmer plows to plant a greening season.”

Another Parkerism is, “For me, getting lost is not always a bad thing. It forces me to notice, feel, and think things I might otherwise miss. But if I stay lost, I cannot be present for others as I want to be, and eventually, I’ll lose touch with myself (if I stay there too long) …I know I will get lost again, but it is good to know that silence and solitude can help me find my way home…”

Rainer Rilke shares the same thought another way with “Loving the dark hours of my being.”

When I think about God fighting alongside me in my depression/ melancholy, I think there should be a fight song soundtrack.  It would be the 1812 Overture written by the composer Tchaikovsky (to include the cannons).  He also publicly noted his cyclical lapses into depression., undergirded by a dogged dedication to look for beauty and meaning amid the spiritual wreckage.  Blog writer Maria Popova describes bouts of depression as an intimate tango of sadness and radiance that is ultimately what gives music its timeless edge in penetrating the soul.

Listening to music is a form of antidotal therapy for me.  I focus on melody to silence the “noise in my head,” particularly when in my home instead of leaving on or watching television or listening to the news or talk shows.  Also, when I need to concentrate on a specific topic and want to distract what I call my monkey brain antics, I let the music distract that portion of my brain that wonders about, that tends to be emotional so that I can get to the other part of my brain for problem-solving.  It helps me to jump over the invasive negative, distracting, or unproductive voices to be in a mental place I want to dwell.

My preference is to listen to music without lyrics to prevent me from getting too caught up in words. Who has not associated a moment or person with the lyrics of a song?  I enjoy listening to music with the lyrics sung in French or the bossa nova jazz theme because I do not understand the language as well.  The beginning of my habit of listening to music was developed when I was young.  Sunday mornings were not for church going in the home I was reared. Instead, we listened to opera music. The lyrics were in a foreign language, and I couldn’t understand them, so I cued in on the melody and harmony instead.  Occasionally, my parents told the backstory of the opera. I am not particularly gifted in the music department I lean more to being a dilettante about it.

The roots of jazz music is based in sorrow, racism, and eroticism.   Educator and writer John Mark Reynolds says nothing justifies the sinful nature of witnesses to sorrow, but the genius (of jazz) transcends the evil.  Jazz has transcended into a beautiful expression of art.  He compares the roots of Jazz to be both in the church and in “dens of vice.” Musicians of color had a hard time getting work, but God and the devil have always competed for the best music.  The blues (the music genre or emotional melancholy) will endure because, until heaven, sorrow endures. Jazz endures because we are souls embodied, bodies with souls.

Another remedial tool in my self-care kit is I am transitioning to enjoying my solitude and the silence that can come along with it.  Society’s stigma of solitude (as opposed to always stay busy and be productive) is not healthy.   I remember after my mother had died (during the same period of  three weddings, one for each of three remaining unwed children scheduled all within a six-month period of each other right after my own  marital relation dissolved, plus going through a major downsizing move). Pastor said, “Now it  is time for you to take care of you.”  I understood what he was saying (Ps. 46:10), however helping and caring for others nurtures and enhances strength in me.

Sara Maitland, who did a study on solitude shares some of the benefits:

A deeper consciousness of oneself

a deeper attunement to nature

a deeper relationship with the transcendent (the numinous, the divine, the spiritual)

increased creativity, and

an increased sense of freedom.

Contrary to thought, solitude helps us to be better at relating.  It is through traveling in our own interior landscape that can be truly liberating.  Our thoughts are better thought through; we know what we believe to be true about ourselves.

Chapter 25 in the Series

obadiah

Interestingly coincidental, but more than that providential, are when words and events come together at the same time.  This chapter was scheduled in series release to be next only to end up coinciding with the sad human event of tragic racist violence in a protest in Charlottesville, VA.   It comes from not so minor prophetic book Obadiah.

There is this rift not unlike the legendary feud of the Hatfield and McCoy families that holds nothing comparable to this quarrel of biblical proportions that is brought to the theme of Obadiah, the shortest book in the Old Testament. The Israelites had a long-standing angst with Edomites as they refused them passage through their territory during the exodus.  And then, the Edomites joined in with the Babylonians on the assault on Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple.

The theme of the book pronounces judgment on the foreign nation of Edom, making Obadiah one of three prophets (along with Nahum and Habakkuk) who speaks specifically to one nation.  The book contains both curses and blessings. While in other prophetic books, messages contain the judgment against Edom, Obadiah’s focuses on when people remove from or place themselves in opposition to God’s people; they can expect adjudication rather than restoration.

Obadiah is one of the most common names in the Old Testament. Due to this and the scant historical clues in the book by this name, the date and identity of who the exact Obadiah is inspired by God to write this book isn’t agreed upon by commentators.  Theologian’s best guess places the writing around 840 BC, making him an earlier writing prophet and a contemporary of Elisha.

The Edomites, descendants of Esau (from the Genesis era), is this books the main audience.  The Israelites are descendants of his twin brother, Jacob, so they are relatives. God’s long suffering and patience, not to forget his grace, is apparent here.   King Herod of the New Testament was an Edomite. After his reign, the Edomites disappeared from history.  It shows how an example of evil  attached to something good (from God’s people the Israelites, Jesus) and how God used evil as for a greater good.

It is something to think about in how far reaching a quarrel can be when not resolved, in this case between brothers, and its effects on their descendants for over thousands of years.  God fulfills his prophecy to Rebekah that her older child would serve the younger, and the Israelites proved stronger than Edom. There are other biblical brothers whose actions have had historical consequences: Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Joseph and his brothers, and Moses (by informal adoption) and Pharaoh.

Obadiah’s prophecy focuses on the destructive power found in pride gone wrong.  It is about the consequences of living in a self-serving manner, of following only our desires without consideration of the impact on those around us.  Pride has been part of the lives of human beings since the beginning of time at the tragedy of the fall in Eden. Obadiah offers the reminder to place ourselves under God’s authority. This book is the only one in the Old Testament composed of one single chapter.  Full of messianic facts, this story prefigures Jesus as the salvation and deliverance to come (verse 17), the kingdom of the Lord (verse 21) and the presence of holiness (verse 22).  When news of my impending split-up was made known to the children, one bemoaned the scriptural reference about the sins of the father that would continue to the third and fourth generation and how now our family is doomed to repeat.  That stung me.

In Deuteronomy (5:8-10) and Exodus (34:6-7), it says the iniquity of the fathers fall onto the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.   It could happen because after all modern human beings currently living are said to be the descendants of Cain.

Bob Dylan wrote during what is called his “born again” Christian song “Every Grain of Sand”:

“Don’t have the inclination to look back on any mistake

Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break

In the fury of the moment, I can see the Master’s hand

In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand.”

John Piper clarifies confusion about Deuteronomy 5:9, on punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.  The sentence doesn’t end there but often readers stop there.  It ends with the words “of those who hate me.” Judgment and chastisements are reserved for the person who does the wrongdoing (cf. Ex. 18:20; Jer. 31:30).  Jesus is asked in the Gospels: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he would be born blind?”  He answers, “Neither that this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (Jn. 9:2-3).

The dread of thinking about the burden that sin is congenital, and not realizing God’s final redemption for sin is covered by the cross through the sacrificial death of Jesus.  “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:1-2).  It’s the difference between old and new covenant thinking.

Through God’s grace, secured by Christ, we can confess their sins and the sins of our fathers, and be forgiven and accepted by God.

Proverbs 6:16 says, “There are six things which the Lord hates, seven which are an abomination to him.” First listed is “a proud look,” otherwise known as vanity.  And everything else that follows is a variation of pride.   Pride can appear in our lives in ten thousand ways, and it is what deceives us (Ob. 1:3).

The spirit of self-sufficiency is a slippery slope.  I distinctly lost some of my pride when I gave birth and became a mother.  It was overwhelming for me to consider the responsibility of parenthood, of doing the right thing with confidence that it was in the right direction.

After coming out of hard seasons, the  lessons tend to slip from our memory as we try to ease the pain.  Elie Wiesel said in his Nobel Laureate speech:

“Of course, we could try to forget the past. Why not? Is it not natural for a human being to repress what causes him pain, what causes him shame. Like the body, memory protects its wounds. When day breaks after a sleepless night, one’s ghosts must withdraw. The dead are ordered back to their graves. But for the first time in history, we could not bury our dead. We bear their graves within ourselves. For us, forgetting was never an option. Remembering is a noble and necessary act. The call of memory, the call to memory, reaches us from the dawn of history. No commandment figures so frequently, so insistently, in the Bible. It is incumbent upon us to remember the good we have received and the evil we have suffered.”