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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.”

 

Chapter 24 in a Series

 

Amos.jpgThe book of Amos is written by a shepherd who got angry.  He had something to say from God even though he was uneducated and from a humble habitat.  A contemporary of Hosea, Amos penned this book to be directed to the northern kingdom, though he lived in the south, near Jerusalem. The book is written before the destruction of the temple in 586 BC.

God’s message through Amos, probably more than any other book in the OT, was specifically about the ill treatment of people who were not part of the privileged class. Often this route taken was at the disadvantage of others for them to be in this elite class.  Amos hit an emotional boiling point when he saw the Israelites behaving as bad as the other nations, particularly because she knew better. She had been given the law, while the Gentiles had not.

Amos and Jesus have a lot in common; both carried a burden from God, came from a humble background,  and resisted by the Israelite priests.  And Amos 8:8-9 foretells of the day’s episode during Jesus’s  crucifixion.  Amos lacked the credentials that still today we rely on as an audience before deciding whether to listen to someone or not.

Amos was that kind of guy. His references would be from God.  He was worried no one would listen to him.  Typically, much emphasis is on academic credentials, resumes, accomplishments due before earning the right to voice an opinion.  Amos’s outrage and concern were greater, though than his worry on human dictated credentials.  Besides, even if any of those credentials are held, there is no guarantee it opens doors for people to listen.

He eventually traveled to the northern kingdom to share his message about these horizontal sins by man toward others.  His message was unpopular due to its content, as well as he is an outsider coming in to tell them what they were doing wrong.

The message from Amos insists God’s relationship with people is meant to be played out in our lives on how we treat each other. The covenant provides us with that information.  God loves people, but still, it provokes Him when people are intentionally the cause of others suffering.

Chuck Swindoll once shared something he read that falls under a lesson learned from taverns, “The neighborhood bar is possibly the best counterfeit that there is to the fellowship Christ wants to give his church.  It is an imitation, dispensing liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality – but it is permissive, accepting and an inclusive fellowship.  It is unshockable.  It is democratic.  You can tell people secrets, and they usually do not tell others or even want to.  The bar flourishes not because most people are alcoholics, but because God has put into the human heart the desire to know and be known, to love and be loved, and so many see a counterfeit at the price of a few beers.  With all my heart,” Swindoll concludes, “I believe that Christ wants his church to be unshockable, a fellowship where people can come in and say, ‘I’m sunk, I’m beaten, and I’ve had it.’  Alcoholic Anonymous has that quality – our churches too often miss it.”

Swindoll makes the following observations about going to a tavern or bar:

  • People go because they want to be there, not out of duty or obligation.
  • People seek companionship, not to sit alone.
  • Guests do not feel ostracized (formally or informally) if their family is not the traditional one, or if they are widowed, divorced, or unmarried.
  • Singing is celebratory and sometimes therapeutic.
  • Greetings are heartfelt and welcoming, not only done by people wearing a name tag.
  • People are not over-welcomed by the other patrons or by the bartender.
  • There is no welcome gift given to try to entice or bribe the patron to come back.
  • If there isn’t room for seating, seats are offered up, tables shared.
  • People notice when they stop showing up and do not get chastised when returning.
  • Nobody puts on “airs” and when they do, they get called on it.
  • They aren’t judged as harshly when a story is shared on some crisis, problem or bad decision.  Nobody expects anybody to be perfect, and nobody pretends otherwise.
  • If they make a mistake, they expect to be called on it.
  • If admitting a mistake, they tell their story even if not victorious over it yet they get the sense it is forgiven and then forgotten.
  • It is a place to go when feeling lonely.
  • It fills the social gap.
  • It is a place to go when feeling down or feeling up.

In light of current politics and leaders, I see the advantage of experience and credentials.  However, why is obtaining one seems to be at the loss of other basic relational skills of accepting people.  Some churches have managed to make themselves inclusive and unwelcoming.  My paradigm in America is that there is room enough for all as our churches should be. But human nature continues to put up barriers. 

Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”  And Proverbs 3:27 says, “Do not withhold good from those to whom to whom it is due.”

One of St. Benedict’s rules of order sums it up as well: “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ.”

One of my children, when around six years old, said he thought he might want to become a pastor.  I already knew his heart to be more caring, gentle, humble, and selfless than usual.  It continues to play out in his life today.  He, with the true heart of a servant, didn’t go into the ministry.  Instead, he (and his wife) works in the hospitality industry.  Actor Bill Murray, whose son is also in the restaurant business, salutes his son on his chosen occupation:  “He has taken the joy of the family – to have a drink, to have a meal and have friends together – and made it his life’s work.” There are few things that surpass the goodness, fellowship, and pleasure of breaking bread together with friends in a warm, inclusive environment.

On the north wall of the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial in Washington D.C. is an engraved quote from Amos 5:24, paraphrased.  It reads, “We are determined here to work and fight until justice runs down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Chapter 23 in a Series

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The book of Joel is one of the first descriptions of how God is going to adjudicate enemies, and even His own people, after much patience and warnings on His part.

Joel, the writer, is thought to be one of the Bible’s first prophets (making him one of the oldest).  He is thought to be a contemporary of Elisha putting the former during 835-796 BC.   Mention of royalty, countries, or cities of an era contribute to commentators determining dates of prophecy.  One deciding factor here is there is no mention of the Assyrians.  Other topics covered in this book (rituals, temple, locusts) align it to an earlier era then where in the biblical chronology it is listed.

A devastating drought and locust plague is the object lesson warning of a future invasion on the Israelites in “The Day of the Lord.”  This expression, means its the day when God will deal with the wickedness of man directly and in judgment.  In the Old Testament, it means to adjudicate the people and is referenced with over eighteen times in the Bible.

It means something different in the New Testament which will be covered then.  In some instances, just the use of the word “On the Day” is used.  And as seen, this can also refer to the Israelites.  Often “the Day of the Lord” points to a future event with the ultimate one described in the book of Revelation, revealing Jesus who finally takes care of the evil men.

The mention of locusts, one of the ten plagues God used to free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, occurs again. This metaphor, Joel compares the people to be as bad as the Egyptians.  He prophesies (Joel 2:30-31) in the similar description also found in the book of Revelation.  Specific sins of the people are not mentioned or listed here as in other prophetic books. It shows God’s encompassing concern about all sin, not just a few certain types.

The book highlights two major events. One is the invasion of locusts which symbolizes the cleansing out the invading evil of the land. The other event is the outpouring of the Spirit, later recorded in the New Testament.

It was an eye opener for me (like a “future shock”)  when my childhood bubble of world perception popped, causing me to really see and acknowledge evil for the first time.  As mentioned in Genesis, there are two kinds of evil: human evil and natural evil (weather disasters, disease). Human evil is because of the fall of man when disobeying God in the garden of Eden and the fact God made man as a moral free agent to make choices.  Much of the evil of the world comes from man’s hand, and I would dare say some disease and disaster from weather incidents are due to man’s shortsightedness in using advance developments (like chemical fertilizer as one example in regards to disease) without thinking about the consequences, or how he is not taking care of the earth (cf. Gen. 1:28, the creation mandate) consequently causing an imbalance in the environment  or how man stubbornly tries to  bend the laws of science in building in unsuitable and vulnerable places without taking proper precautions and considering the stakes at risk of over development.  Evil comes in many forms.  God takes this evil, created outside of himself, and turns it around into a greater good.  The best examples is him turning Jesus’s death around for our salvation.

I, of course, didn’t know all that truth at the time but never did I think God was punishing man.  I never thought of God that way.  If anything, I turned inward into myself instead of crying out to God.  I have since learned He is omnibenevolent.  And it is within his timing not ours that He makes it right.  Interestingly it was during this time I turned to God for a sense of security, love, forgiveness, grace and mercy that I accepted and professed through his son Jesus’s crucifixion.  Until then I believe, now in hindsight, I was protected by my birth baptism.

My awareness of evil was from accumulated worldly events beginning in 1960s.  During my first year in school, the president John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  Then assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy followed in 1968. I remember the creeping insecurity and confusion as these things transpired to being overwhelming and uncertainty about what the heck was happening in the world when my dad also died in April 1968.  My little brother was murdered in the early 1970s (mention in the chapter on Daniel).

Then there was the upheaval of the then current events.  Not everyone wore lovebeads during the late 1960s of the Vietnam conflict; some wore dog tags.  In 1971, a group of high profile celebrities and performers, to include actress and activist Jane Fonda, came to the town I grew up in to meet at an anti-war revue for the soldiers stationed at the nearby military base.  The U.S. still operated under the mandatory call to military duty before ending the draft call in 1972 (mentioned in the chapter on Daniel).

This group met at this bar, the Oleo Strut, ironically named after a shock absorber for helicopters.  It was commonly known to be a haven for soldiers to express their opinions about the war.  There was no violence; mainly a peaceful protest march in town with hateful words spewed by the high profiles that begot press coverage.  Meanwhile, the rest of American people were disrespecting and ostracizing the troops who were coming home from Vietnam individually (not with their units as is done now).  They were spat upon at airports and in public places, called them baby killers, etc.

My dad was a veteran of WWII and Korea.  The outlook in my home while growing up was respect for military protocol and order.  My childhood understanding was that criticism of the commander-in-chief (president) or any senior government official or military personnel was not said in public.  My parents may not have agreed with the commander in chief but for the sake of the unity of the country and their loyalty to their military oath they did not publicly voice their opinions.  In Matthew 12:25, it is written “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand.”

I grew up in days that are no more.  It was a period when reverence for the flag was prevalent.  When flown, it was always intact, not tattered or torn.  It was a period before the stars and stripes of the flag were worn as apparel.

It was a turbulent time to grow up, and it still holds vibrant images in my mind.  I left the innocent child perspective and began to see what was going on in the world.    As in all paradigms experienced by individuals, it shaped who I am.  Some may call part of my upbringing archaic or maybe backwards.  I can live to tell  how I survived in spite of spankings, lead paint, rusted playground equipment, second- hand smoke from dad’s cigarettes, toy rifles and guns, no seat belts, no safety helmets and I drank water from a hose.  Now it has changed, some for the better, but not all change is for good.  I miss that which was  considered sacred, of expected behavior in the public square and the defining qualities of respect.

Fortunately, now we don’t hate the soldier who goes to war Instead hate and condemn the war.  As a country, we learned from Vietnam, and we are kinder, more caring and understanding of the soldier’s role in the war.  They are not responsible for the war. We again see them as the selfless patriots that they are, as we did back in the days of the World Wars I and II. The philosophical construct of the military is for a purpose, and it is incomparable to anything in the civilian sector.  Part of the military oath is as a binding document that requires obedience to legal military orders of superior officers.

People routinely forsake the sacred and run the gambit by taking God’s name in vain, denouncing Him or teaching selective doctrine at the exclusion of others.  They do evil things to each other in the name of Christianity.  To most, it seems God does nothing about it.  The book of Joel warns that God will respond in His time.

If I hadn’t become part of a church community, I might not have made it through the period mentioned above (and future ones associated with my family life) in the same way.  Participating in religious communal rituals and shared beliefs helps me to cope and connect with a higher being.  I would not have had as many tools sharpened in my foundational moral kit without that community. With each significant trauma that happened to my biological  family, members sought out different ways to make sense of it; trying routes alternate to mine (of the church culture) in attempts to cope.  What difference one letter makes between the word cope and hope. I periodically would venture, briefly, to travel the routes they were on. Doing so I saw the future destination of their journey on my horizon, and it was not healthy. I went back to my coping mechanism.

Revolutionary socialist Karl Marx said, “Religion is the opium of the masses.” He said religion gives people artificial, illusory happiness, and that freeing people from that unrealistic illusion was part of building a better society.  My older siblings would taunt and accuse me of using religion as a crutch.  My curt response was “Well at least I am still standing.”  There are too many strong, logical, scientific, and philosophical arguments for the existence of God.   In the history of humanity, many of the most intellectually brilliant writers and thinkers were theists.

Little did I know that it was also during the 1960s and 1970s that the tide began to turn towards questioning the interpretation of the Bible as being inspired revelation.   It was a turn away from outside authority of all sorts toward individual autonomy.  C. S. Lewis says “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

Do some use religion as a crutch? Sure. Does it mean religious claims are invalid? No. Religion is a natural response to the evidence for the existence of God and the recognition that I have a real tendency to think evil judgmental thoughts of others (if not myself) and need repentance.  The hurt, damage, and duress in the world is apparent. Part of my life advocacy is to make a difference in places while simultaneously working on myself as well.   I come away from reading the book of Joel contemplating the locust that permeates the land to cleanse it knowing it is going to get worse before it gets better and look to the future hope of Jesus who redeems us through His Spirit to His people (cf. Joel 2:28, Acts 2:17).

Chapter 22 in a Series

hosea

Dividing the seventeen prophetic books in the Bible into what commonly are known as the major and minor prophets does not do them justice.  The remaining prophets are not so minor.  The prophetic content of these next twelve books are as compelling as the others but the designation of being minor seems to minimize attention to them. If a piece of literature warrants a place in the Bible after going through all the scrutiny and criteria scholars over the ages put it through  to deem its credibility, be assured there are nuggets there worth mining through.

To start off, this designated section on prophecy is the book of Hosea, the “Prophet of Divine Love.” He is one of two prophets from the northern kingdom.  His name means “deliverance,” and he’s a contemporary of Isaiah.  His is a story of an unconditional, godlike, steadfast love for his unfaithful wife, Gomer. She turned to prostitution after bearing him three children.  In love and at great emotional distress, he eventually accepts his wayward wife back to him after pursuing and forgiving her.  This story is an allegory for Israelites to return to unrelenting love God for them to leave the false gods they were worshiping.  Hosea manifests and exemplifies God’s patience and love.  God is the faithful husband to the adulterous Israelites.  This metaphor exemplifies Jesus   who is shown as the groom of the Church who His bride (Mk. 2:19-20, Jn. 3:29).  Also, there is the foretelling in Hosea 11:1: “Out of Egypt I called my son” (Matt. 2:14).

Hosea links his message around his personal life with his prophetic words flowing out of the life of his family more than any other prophet. He marries a woman with the advanced knowledge from God that she would betray his trust.  He gives his children names of woe to send a message of judgment on the Israelites. The cycle of repentance, redemption, and restoration is exemplified in Hosea’s prophecy about his family (Hos. 1:2, 3:1–3).

For better or for worse, I am a hopelessly hopeful romantic. I am not sure if Hosea was or not.  He may have had the wherewithal to be obedient to God no matter what.

To love is worth the risk of failure, rejection, and hurt. British poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson captures it with his familiar words: “I would rather have loved and lost than not love at all.  In anticipation, I get a glimpse of something larger than the loss itself.”

Courage is part of falling in love and can be identified in  what the twenty sixth president Theodore Roosevelt said,  “…Who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Reframing rejection from negative to positive helps.  Our past is not our prologue,  and rejection opens a door for expectation of something else to look forward to.  Who, in retrospect cannot say they are glad God didn’t say yes to every one of their prayers.  There is a measure of protection from certain people in their rejection of us.

Grief from death, separation or rejection is part of the cost of love.  I’m accused of being too “touchy, feely” because of my sensitive temperament.   Part of that accusation wears people out with my trying to tear down walls, fighting to make something better or understandable.  Sometimes I wear myself out too.

In their school years, my kids would come home at one time or another to share some scenario about their friends who were rude, mean, unfriendly, or inconsiderate towards them.  I would venture a little deeper into the conversation, asking them questions hoping to unwrap the “why” of behavior.  In retrospect, it probably bothered them that I wasn’t more compassionate with how they felt.  Instead, it probably insinuated I was trying to examine the situation and explain it away.

Later in life, one of the children accused me of believing my “lies,” of how I reasoned out conduct to explain my spouse’s behavior (more on lies in the chapter on Habakkuk).   She said I created these lies I believed. Johann Goethe says we are never deceived, we deceive ourselves.  I naively and honestly thought it an unspoken law on how to be a good wife by edifying my spouse, not tearing him down in front of the kids.   I saw the counterfeit life the other was living, the cracks in the veneer.  I might have been at risk of enabling a behavior my accepting something ended up giving too much of my own power away.  I do not mean power in the sense of control or wanting to do things my way. I am referring to  a person’s  power  with regards to their  unique talents and gifts.

The Laughing Bear,  a poem by Katherine Tilton, is about the transformation in relinquishing one’s personal power away.  There is a wolf in the poem who offers to take care of someone whom he figured out was disguised in sheep’s clothing to better fit in with others. There was a catch, though, for the sheep impostor to consent to that protection. What the wolf wanted in return was to take a small bite out of the sheep each day.  In the end, there was be nothing left of the sheep.

With heartache, I see that that kind of thinking falls in line with people who stay in abusive relationships.  The paradox of this kind of love, found in the poem and in life, is we think we’re safe at the cost of acquiescing too much. Before you know it, acquiescing becomes a habit of the heart.

Examining the core of the emotion underlying fear, anger, or happiness is like peeling through the layers of an onion.  Often it involves tears that are equally as pungent as when peeling the real vegetable.  I will never forget a conversation I had with one of my boys who shockingly said he hopes he is dead by fifty.  I immediately asked why, thinking it might have to do with some physical pain he may have to endure the rest of his life. He answered perfectly by leading with the word “what” versus “why” by clarifying his statement with another question: “What happens to men when they turn fifty?  I would rather be dead than do the things I am seeing done!”

His disillusionment cracked my heart a little more that day. He wasn’t only referring to his disillusion of his parents’ impending divorce but also to another’s midlife identity crisis of a man he admired from another family who disappointed him.  Unfortunately, this crisis was exposed by the press.  Cruelly, his wife was a recipient of hate mail and phone calls as if she was the culprit.   She told me she was either shunned or put to such shame that she would shop for groceries after midnight in a nearby town so as not to run into anyone she knew.  Even her priest gave her private communion.

Pushed into a singleton life, I was so confused making my way through the smoke and mirrors of what I thought was my life but now isn’t. One angry disillusion I had was finding myself in the place, so publicly forewarned in society, of being abandoned at midlife and traded in for a newer model. Everything I had thought began to unravel.  My doubts amplified.  I had a crisis in questioning the ultimate truths in life and if they were real. I had trust issues about truth.  Mentally, I inventoried what I previously believed.  I did a deep archaeological dig inside me.  I didn’t lose my faith, but it certainly was shaken.  I read somewhere that if a person is a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in their life they doubt as far as possible all things believed before.

In my rumination, I came across the Proverb (4:7): “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it will cost all you have, get understanding.” Which in execution is a hard win won.

So maybe that contributes to why I jump to what St. Francis of Assisi said in seeking first to understand, not to be understood. Whyte writes that the expectation that (human) love should be perfectly requited often leads to heartbreak.  God’s love, though, is eternal hope and it can endure many things.

Chapter 21 in a Series

bookofdaniel-w830-web-e1499858499448.jpg

The prophet Daniel may have lived in Babylon when it was recognized as one of the seven wonders of the world because of its hanging gardens.  Some argue though that the site of the gardens was in Nineveh, three hundred miles south. This book shows how God’s has a habit of showing up during trouble, not absent as some think.  Jon Acuff says the next time you feel unqualified to be used by God remember He tends to recruit leaders from the pit, not the pedestal.

The book, named after its writer, was a Jewish exile renamed Belteshazzar by the court of Nebuchadnezzar in efforts to have him fit in with his Babylonian colleagues.  We know him as Daniel. He lived in Babylon during the period of the Israelites seventy-year captivity.  He, along with others, was part of the diaspora population.  This included his three friends better known by their Babylonian names, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  Daniel and his friends were all pressed into the king’s service.  Daniel is written bilingually in Hebrew (chapters 1-8) and Aramaic (chapters 2-7).

Living in a pagan court yet still being faithful to their beliefs and customs, Daniel and his friends were singled out by others when they would not adhere to a foreign diet or to praying to the King Nebuchadnezzar as their lord.  Where the world perceives possible failure happening, God sees future.  The first part of this book tells how God was in control of the situation by delivering Daniel’s  friends from being burned alive in a fiery furnace (with the help of an unknown fourth man who appeared in the furnace) and then Daniel’s rescue from being eaten alive in the lion’s den like when God found Gideon in a hole, Joseph in prison, Daniel’s friends and then Daniel in a furnace and in a lion’s den.

Nebuchadnezzar shows to be wise enough to recognize God’s presence and power in Daniel’s life through an interpretation of the king’s dream.  Not only did Daniel must interpret it but he had to know what the dream was without the king telling him. The court’s magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers could not do it and in anger the king ordered their execution.  Then spoken as a true ambassador of God in chapter 2:28, Daniel gives rightful credit by saying his God in heaven  reveals the dreams to him.  Later in verse 47, the king said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.”

The theme of Daniel transitions at chapter 7 by foretelling future events that point to Jesus   and his timeline.  In Daniel 9:24, he uses the word Messiah for the first time in the OT and then goes on to foretell an accurate time line of the day Christ’s death would occur, 483 years in the future (by Georgian calendar count).

Occasionally, I receive an immediate answer to my prayer requests followed by a confirmation. The answer to my prayer about my twelve-year-old brother who died is one example.

He slipped out at night to secretly follow my other brother, a couple of years older than him.  The older brother was accompanied by a friend, during an impromptu sleepover.  My younger brother was caught by the older one only after traveling a few blocks from home and sent back.  Mom didn’t report him missing from home until noon the next day because she thought the dark-haired boy under the blankets (the sleepover) was my brother.  However, he never made it home.  It was during that summer; I had personally bought my first Bible in the newest released translation (the Living Bible). I was determined to read it through from beginning to end.  I was fourteen.  I was in the book of Leviticus chapter 24 when my brother went missing. I had marked that page in my reading with an inscription while praying over my brother when my mother was notified by the legal authorities that his body was found. Ironically Leviticus 24:17 speaks about the murder of another. I inscribed on that page “GBJH” connecting the letters in girlish calligraphy.  My prayer code translates to “God, bring J home.” A local hunter came across my brother’s body on government proper and mom identified his body.  My brother did arrive home but not the earthly one.

The murder, of course, was difficult for the entire family, but I think most particularly for my surviving brother who felt much guilt and for my mother (who was a widow by now).  She was never the same after that.  It was a period when therapeutic intervention wasn’t as quickly advocated or socially acceptable for help in situations as it is now.  I almost grasp why my mother evolved in her later years the way she did by this soliloquy written by Whyte (In What to Remember When Waking: The Disciplines of an Everyday Life).   It describes a response when there is a fierce death:

“Listen, God, if this is how you play the game, then I’m not playing the game. I’m not playing by your rules.  I’m going to manufacture my own little game, and I’m not going to come out of it.  I am going to make my own bubble  draw up the rules, and I’m not going to come out to this frontier of yours.  I want to create insulation, create distance.”

He goes on to say that many people escape this way, staying there for a short period of time to reemerge to life, others don’t.  Mom, for the most part, stayed in the bubble, the world she created based on my observation of her never taking too much interest in her future grandchildren, avoiding getting too close to a child again.  Her grief  was such she barely managed in her role as a provider by going to work each day much less fulfill her role as a mother in watching over us.  She provided for our physical needs, but each night, for about a year, she would come home, go straight to her bedroom until the next day when she got up, and go to work again.

To add further sorrow to her heartache, she couldn’t find solace when she tried to seek out comfort from the church.  She hadn’t been to church since the changes of the Vatican II council in the 1960s took place.  I don’t think she ever thought about what changes took place in her worship community while she was absent.  Unfortunately, when she went to confession, her young confessor focused on why she hadn’t been to church to confess all those years, instead of comforting her in her grief.  It was an honest inquiry on his part, but his timing was awful.  She used to say she believed in God but for her man had a habit of getting in the way.

One my biggest sorrows is when someone (particular one I love) allows the actions of someone else justify their walking away from a faith community. It’s a slippery slope in a faith life leading to a belief without action which is impotent.

Another way I relate to Daniel’s story about dreams. Through the answered prayers of Daniel and his friends, King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was described and interpreted.   The dream Daniel revealed was not a good or easy one to convey to a king.

Once I heard a prominent business leader of a long-standing para-church organization say God does not reveal Himself anymore in dreams now that the Holy Spirit has been left behind to guide Christians after Jesus’s (Jn. 14:16-17) ascension to heaven.  It sounded valid because reading 2Timothy 3:16-17 reveals that all scripture is God breathed and useful for teaching, training up.

I once had a dream where God revealed himself to me. It left an indelible mark on me, and I remember it well.  I was a young adult when I had it.  I know for the most part that night dreams stem from our thoughts while awake (conscious mind). When we sleep, the mind (the unconscious part) is trying to organize, make sense of maybe even archive those thoughts and impressions.

My dream took place in a room, bathed in luminous whiteness, yet I couldn’t see any walls.  It was crowded with people pressed up against each other with restless fidgeting.  I was at peace.  I was there to look for a person who was going to make an appearance.  I just wanted a glimpse.  In my dream, that person turned out to be Jesus.  He entered, and I could see Him although He was surrounded by many, many people.  Then He made eye contact with me and the appearance of people fade somewhat.  I was far from Him, but He looked right at me.  I distinctly remember a message being passed to me from His gaze:  it was telling me He knew who I am and I am significant to Him.

It’s not lost on me how I can look at the face of Jesus in this instance yet I mentioned in an earlier theophany (in the Exodus chapter) about Moses before God’s glory veils of His face not to see it.  I think the reason I could look on Jesus’ face may have something to do with the old covenant in the Hebrew Bible and the new covenant of Jesus.   My paradigm is more to the message of the incarnate Jesus.  The old one was nullified because righteousness could never be achieved from all those rituals and the new one is more about righteousness and life.

My dream, of course, can comes across as self-serving except that I know He acknowledges everyone that way.  I honestly still get humbled and overwhelmed with the thought of God making Himself small enough for me, considering my soul through the meeting of our eyes, letting me know I am worthy.  Revelation 22:4 says, “They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.”

I refuse to limit the triune God on how He relates and conveys His message.  Obviously, He can do it anyway he wants.   Both these stories are “God” things to me.  Incidents and happenstances such as these confirm for me an intimate spiritual anointing for my life (2Cor. 1:21-22, 1Jn. 2:27).

Chapter 20 of the Series

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Martin Luther once said, “The prophetic books have a queer way of talking like people who, instead of proceeding in an orderly manner, ramble off from one thing to the next so that you cannot make heads or tails of them or see what they are getting at.”

The reference to prophetic books is probably because of the unusual  language, images and stories.  The condemnations and warnings is not for the fainthearted.   Ezekiel was a unique prophet and many then, as now, probably thought, using an old euphemism,  he was touched by God.  The reality is he was, grappling with how to reveal the inspiration he had from God. It makes me stop and wonder about someone, who is not quite like others (part of the masses, the hipsters) that sees the world differently and what they have to offer.

It is good to keep in context that the books in this segment were written over a six hundred year span and by prophets who overlapped each other’s timeline.  Reading these books of foresight tells of Jesus’s birth, atonement, and return.   There is some beautiful symbolism, as these prophets were poets in their right.

This book was written the same time as the prophet Jeremiah and Daniel.  Ezekiel was married and lived a relatively free existence before and after the fall of Jerusalem with other exiles.  He, like Jeremiah, saw things unfold as God warned.  Because of the idolatry worship, God left   the temple and allowed for its destruction. When he left however He went with the Jewish exiles into Babylon.  Today, that makes sense that God is with his people, but back then He was thought to reside in the temple. In chapter 11, He removes this hard heart the Jews had developed with a softer (humbler) one.

Two classic stories (out of 22 analogies, images and allegories provided) in Ezekiel are his first vision about the wheels and the other about the valley of dry bones.

The first vision is about wheels turning within wheels evoking a mental image of a gyroscope.  In my mindscape, I can imagine a gyroscope’s three wheels constantly moving as   how God is relentless in our life. This mechanism contains a wheel within a wheel, spinning simultaneously yet there is this base surrounding it that is stable and secure.  I have discovered the gyro is in a double axed gimbal mount so that the force of gravity acts on the wheel’s center of mass with no torque or spinning on the wheel.  Without the torque to change its direction of motion, a spinning gyroscope wheel will ultimately remain pointing in the same direction. In my less than scientific mind, this picture conjures up a symbol of God showing His character trait of omniscience (all knowing) as the spin axis, His omnipresent (at all places at once) as the gyro’s frame, and His being omnipotence (all powerful) are represented by the gimbal.  All the mechanics move simultaneously, adjusting itself to steer life.  I visualize the wheel moving in all these different directions with life events to be balanced out to the will of God.  French polymath (sage in mathematics, physics, inventor and Christian philosopher) Blaise Pascal said God is an infinite sphere whose center is everywhere and circumference is nowhere.

Ecumenical theologian Robert Jenson in his article “Can These Bones Live?”, adds meaning to Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezk. 37) with his description, as the “Turning the death and resurrection of Jesus as the Lord’s answer to Ezekiel vision. Since the dry bones are the whole of the people chosen to be God’s instrument in history, it leads to contemplation of ‘Does death win?’ Many suppose theology itself is a heap of dead bones, and some attention is given to this possibility.”  The vision of the dry bones recalls God’s breath on man in Genesis 2.

Truth: Sometimes you can’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone. This can depict the dry bones.   While living in South Korea, I taught conversational English to the nationals.  It sounds naïve, but this experience was my first-hand discovery in finding similar attributes in foundational things with foreigners such as in loving and providing for family, friendships, concern over health and education just to name a few.  The culture, to say the least, is different than mine. Being a guest in their country I tried to honor their ways. Fortunately, I could experience the joy of celebration with them in their holidays and special events in the hospitality of their homes.

When I returned stateside, I saw with fresh eyes the difference between the two countries, some not so flattering of Americans that I had grown accustomed to.  The main things I saw were what were taken for granted: the abundance and quality of our medicine, clean water, and food.  I saw how consumptive Americans were.  I wish everyone could experience life abroad for perspective about different cultures.  I am willing to bet if they furrow just a little, they will find people are the same everywhere just different in appearances, perhaps languages and spiritual beliefs: but as humans we all have red blood cells and other common denominators and there is nothing to really fear about others from other countries.

As my life includes doing community service and volunteering, it’s humbling to witness those who are destitute, marginalized, and downtrodden.  Some people bring hard situations of life on themselves, but they are the minority of this population.  Most of them are living a life that is the results of things that have spun out of control (through abuse, unforeseen health challenges, economic issues, etc.).  When I would return at night to the sanctuary of my home after my endeavors, I would become aware of my daily provisions (water, food, shelter, health, income, transportation, and someone to love) that I take for granted.  I had the very things that this population was asking in prayer.  I try to daily remember, be grateful and appreciative for these provisions. Most things in life are temporal, can be gone suddenly and without warning.

In Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, his progressive steps indicate the basic steps that need to be met for personal growth.  Meeting the basic needs (food, water, health) come first, followed with safety, love/belonging, and then esteem, ending with the ultimate stage of self-actualization (development of a sense of a mindful life through an action with the goal to live into who we are).   Discernment of these needs is part and parcel in my philosophy when serving a given population to make sure what I am doing is not enabling their plight.  It is difficult for someone be secure or safe if they have a pressing need of hunger or poor health.

Maslow sums up living life well when he says, “In any given moment we have two options:  to step forward into growth or to step back into safety.”

Jesus knew this and healed a blind man before He healed His soul (Jn. 5:8-14).  His grace came before salvation. Grace is a hard practice for Christians to emulate; our human judgment is always biting at the heels of it. When I perceive a prayer of mine is answered to move forward it confirms that I can be part of a service God is blessing. I don’t have to have achieved each step before I can experience the final stage called authenticity. Maslow lists it as helping others or giving back to society altruistically.  It can breathe life into our dry bones.

It is common to hear a person’s first response to what were the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Usually, it’s thought to be sexual sins, a topic that catches the attention.  The sin was impiety and wickedness.  Educator and writer Brian Fikkert points out another.  I first heard of Fikkert from his book When Helping Hurts (co-written with Steve Corbett) recommended by a class member who was  a missionary in South America.

Fikkert includes reasons for part of the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah from Ezekiel 16:49 “Now this was the sins of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, overfed and unconcerned, they did not help the poor and needy.”

Chapter 19 in the Series

Jeremiah-Lamentations

Jeremiah, also known as the Weeping Prophet, had the longest ministry of all the prophets with his forty five years.  He is the God appointed author of the book bearing his name and the book of Lamentations.  He had an eye witness account and preached through and after the Babylonian conquest of the Jews and Jerusalem’s immediate aftermath of that event.

A young Jeremiah began his ministry when he was in his twenties during the downfall of the Jewish nation and the destruction of their temple.  Many believe he dictated his prophecies found in this book to his secretary, Baruch who recorded it for this book. For the most part, Jeremiah based his ministry out of Jerusalem.

Jeremiah was sensitive and inclined to melancholy, to say the least.  This book’s indictment is about the treachery in forsaking God and departing from the covenant.

God tells Jeremiah to forewarn the people of Judah on the Lord’s behalf.  He forewarns him that the people will not listen but to talk to them anyhow.  For those possessing of sensitive temperaments, it’s easy to recognize Jeremiah was deeply pained and distressed by the disobedience around him and the evil he saw.

Fast forward six hundred years into the future and read the same lament of Jesus  from those ignoring His words found in Matthew 23:37-39 who would not listen.

This poor guy Jeremiah was attacked by his brothers, beaten by priests, put into stocks, imprisoned by five different kings, subjected to death threats, thrown into a cistern by Judah’s officials, and opposed by a false  prophet. His was a thankless job.  He preached for forty years, and not once did he see or realize any real success in changing or the softening of hearts and minds of a stubborn, idolatrous people. I know few people who have done one calling, and only one calling all their life with so much commitment.   Jeremiah has the fortitude of a marathon runner with his tenacity at such a hard calling, particularly in not seeing the fruit of his labors. In my mind’s eye, I don’t envision a woe as me kind of a guy, but I do see perhaps him physically stooped over from carrying the burden of his unheard message.  I may be personifying him too much after all he had a specific calling from God as a prophet.  Jeremiah was steadfast to the mission. Eventually, when Nebuchadnezzar seized Jerusalem, he ordered that Jeremiah is freed from prison and treated well.

Taking on change  means movement and movement means there is going to be friction.  German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer says otherwise not to speak is to speak and not to act is to act.  Change comes at every stage of life.  It is usually a catalyst that often pushes an action.  It’s easy to just put your head down and work, confusing activity with productivity that can be an excuse to escape from things not wanting to confront. A living thing is distinguished from a dead thing by the changes taking place within them.  Poet and spiritual philosopher Mark Nepo  says, “To journey without being changed is to be a nomad. To change without journeying is to be a chameleon. To journey and to be transformed by the journey is to be a pilgrim.”

It was one of my heartaches watching Mom as she grew older to give up on living and wait to die. Her wait lasted for about fifteen to twenty years.  She would get angry that she lived so long.  I know depression played its part in her mind-set, the fear of her declining body and mental faculties.  Plus,  she outlived people in her world (husband, son, parents, brother). Still what appeared to me as her giving up as she aged was hard to watch and live through.   I tried to ensure she wasn’t over medicated later in life yet utilized medicine for some quality of life for her. She was adamant that her end of life wishes were for no drugs or medical instruments were to keep her alive.  It was a complicated balancing act for me.

Significantly, the book of Jeremiah also points to a glimpse of the new promise, or covenant a paradigm shift God intended to make with His people.  This new plan to help in the future the restoration of God’s people meant putting His law within them, writing it on hearts rather than on tablets of stone.  It foretold of Jesus.  I think the physical aspect of the law written on the tablets at the temple might have been misconstrued as where to find God by the amount of reference to the Temple other than just pride of its beauty or construction.  Rather than pursuing a relationship with God through a fixed location which can be destroyed, He promised His people would know Him directly, through the person of His Son, Jesus, in a new covenant. (Jer. 31:31–34).

Two transitional prophecies of the truth understood in Jeremiah’s time were him seeing the upcoming overthrow of their national and formal religion; through Divine inspiration he saw and shared that for their faith to survive it must not be a national thing but instead an individual.  This personal task of spiritual conditioning lends itself to a doctrine of individual responsibility as the next spiritual step.  It speaks more toward a spirituality versus religion.

There is much discussion today about being spiritual versus being religious. It seems ambiguity is “in”; dogmatism (religion) is out.  Pithy sayings about spirituality abound. Some say spirituality emanates from the soul whereas religion speaks from the mind.  Spirituals confess religion is someone else’s experience, but they have your own experience. They compare spirituality as more abstract in a bigger box with religion being in a small box.

I don’t have denominational pride nor do I pick a current worship flavor of the month.  I do relate closely with one denomination but not at the risk of throwing the baby (the other denominations) out with the bathwater.

The Bible isn’t a wishing well of promises or a smorgasbord where you pick out a verse here and a verse there that is liked.  Biblical truths presented aren’t fairy dust. In reading the Bible, we assume we are so familiar with the text after reading it once then hearing worship services on them; we stop meditating on them.  Familiarity can breed laziness, and so many of our misunderstandings about the scriptures happen because we think we are familiar enough with the passage not to read it through fresh eyes. If we come to the Word of God without preconceived notions, wanting the holy script to be fresh and new, we would realize our most common interpretations of Scripture don’t make much sense when viewed without the context of the passage.

Jeremiah 29:11 is such a verse. It reads, “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” We write it on congratulatory cards or say it to motivate and inspire people.  We can take that verse out of context to see it as God wanting us only to prosper, no harm will come our way, etc.  Read the mentioned verse in its context (which should be the first intent when reading scripture), and see God is getting specific about a future promise to be fulfilled after the seventy years in exile. He did have a hope and a future for them, but it looked different than what the Israelites expect.  It can lead to some complacency that if prophesied that this prosperity or that success is going to happen.  There is no hard soul work to be done within-no changing outside of our comfort level.  There’s the rub; we can’t allow our own personal bent or bias to breathe our human voice into Scriptures.

It is a fine edged sword when meditating over scripture to see and understand what God is saying to us individually.  Recalling verses are of tremendous comfort and help for me. It is wise, though, to know what the context of the verse is and whether it applies to current situation.

The phrase “What would Jesus do?”  or better known as “WWJD”, is commercially plastered on pretty much anything you can imagine as a reminder to think and do what Jesus would do in any given situation.  Well, we can’t do what Jesus would do because quite frankly we aren’t the Son of God regarding doing the same miracles, or to live as He did in the context of His community.  The better interpretation would be “What would Jesus have me (with my dowry of spiritual gifts and personality) do in this situation?”  Often people get caught up in doing “godly” things but not in the “godly,” or Christ like way.

I keep in mind what French philosopher Voltaire says that “Uncertainty is an uncomfortable position.  But Certainty is an absurd one.”

I memorize scripture verses not for some mantra but for the refinement that this truth will win its way into my life. Mantras, chants and songs, and prayers are fine depending on the motive. Scripture is not to be used to induce a trance or to gain man’s approval by appearing more righteous (Matt. 6:5).  On the other hand, a chant or song and prayers can be given in worship, to express thanks and dependence on Him and to petition Him.  A good example of repeating a verse is when Jesus gave us the Lord’s prayer telling us how to pray.

“How lonely sits the city that was full of people!” sets the scene for the book of Lamentations. The city is Jerusalem after its destruction. Lamentations is like the book of Job. Both books deal with suffering. Job deals with his problem on the personal level. Lamentations deals with suffering at a national level.

Not only does this book’s writer, Jeremiah, witnesses the results of disobedience in the previous book bearing his name; now he sees the culminating effect of its destruction.   Lamentations in Greek means “to cry out.”  Jeremiah parallels a future Jesus who weeps for Jerusalem (Jn. 11:35).

Picture Jeremiah walking through the streets and alleys of the holy city and seeing nothing but pain, suffering, and destruction in the wake of the Babylonian invasion.  In this crucial period of Judah’s existence as a kingdom, he sees the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple, despite his incessant warnings to the people to mend their ways before it was too late.  And when the catastrophe finally happens, he bitterly laments the Israelites terrible fate in the book of Lamentations.  A portion of what he experiences could be survivor’s guilt.

The destruction of Jerusalem is one of the most tragic stories in the Bible. No other book of the Bible is more of an orphan, more overlooked by Christians, or more neglected than Lamentations which teaches us through the cries of grief.   Few want to read about this pain or for that matter re-live grief.

I have never been to war as my sons have. I have seen how it changed them mentally and emotionally when they thankfully returned home.  I have not witnessed utter devastation and appalling suffering, done by human hand. In Lamentations, there was starvation, disease, slaughter, rape, scavenging, looting, and the desecration of holy things. I have, however, witnessed the fallout or outcomes for people who have lived through life’s mayhem only to not rebound to the old self.   Life-wrenching disappointment can sear the soul.  A grief process can shake the soul,  leaving manacled scars that can smother the spirit.

You don’t get over grief; you just get through it.  You don’t get past it because you can’t get around it. It doesn’t get better just different.  Each day it is there under the mask we wear with it taking on many faces.  During one episode of personal sorrow, one of my kids recommended I schedule a weekly appointment with myself just to grieve.  She called the appointment good grief.  Part of the way I ended up setting up the appointment with my self is exhuming my old diaries, filling in the context for the emotions expressed.  Now, I have learned to look at the context of things simultaneously when trying to figure out why I am glum and gloomy.  I came across the book with the same title Good Grief by Granger E. Westberg.  He identifies ten threads in the fabric of grief.  Throughout his book, the author is emphatic about grief  being complex and deeply personal and that there is no one right way to grieve.

The closest, physically, I have come to seeing the destruction of a city was from environmental causes.  It was while living in Colorado Springs during an extreme drought.  A fire started west of Highway 25 which ran north and south through the city. My barricade from the fire was that same highway as I lived on the east side of it.  I had this beautiful view of the Rocky Mountains from my condominium.  Then the fire, the dark smoke, the burning smell enveloped the community and home.  I would stand on my rooftop balcony, watching it with heartache, sensitive of the pain of others in the fire’s path.  I was driving on this same highway the following day when there was a culminating fire explosion from the heat of multiple fires. It was difficult and scary to see.    And then to observe the blackened tree line on the mountains north face where homes no longer stood continued the lingering reminder. I remember a conversation between myself and a total stranger whose home and possessions were destroyed by the fires.  Her story came spilling out of her.  I remember the look in her eyes, her sorrow, the dark circles underneath them. Coincidentally, another fire happened a year later the same day, June 21, to the north of Colorado Springs (this time on the west side of the highway).   I lived in the south, so I was never under threat of evacuation as was my daughter’s family during the second fire.  The fire never reached her home.  I can only imagine the depths of despair from what Jeremiah saw in Jerusalem’s desolate condition following Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of the city and the Holy Temple.

Truth: “There but for the grace of God, go I,” says reformer and martyr John Bradford about the humility and reliance on God’s grace rather than basing it on current morality. When disaster strikes, aren’t we all vulnerable to its destruction, some wondering “Why them and not me?”   Rick Warren  is forthtelling when he says, “A lie doesn’t become truth, a wrong doesn’t become right and evil doesn’t become good just because the majority say so.”

Most can tell you where they were and what they were doing on Sept. 11, 2001, between 8:45 and 10:00 a.m. when the two airplanes crashed into New York City’s Twin Towers. Then another plane crashed into the Pentagon building in Washington D.C. followed by another crash near Shanksville, PA., where forty passengers and crew members aboard the later flight died.   The plane over Pennsylvania, assumed to be targeting the White House, was diverted when the passengers became privy to the other flights.  These passengers commandeered the terrorists who took over the plane’s controls with hopes of regaining control of it.  The passengers’ effort instead forced the plane to crash in a field.

For brevity (and as historical reference to that day), the date is normally referred to by saying the numbers separately: 9, then 11.  In America, there is a long standing national emergency procedure in place before this attack.  The instructions were (and still are) to dial 911 (said the same way) when we need emergency, medical, or police help.

This tragedy that took over three thousand lives and wounded six thousand  was my first experience with a disaster at a national level.  Then it was to live through the resulting engagement of long wars fought in far off lands.  It created heightened security in our homeland that created an opposite effect that to me, feels like a violation of our freedom to come and go as we freely want without being searched or detained unfairly.  Up until then, since the Vietnam conflict, America had experienced thirty years of relative peace without war.  For the US, our military engagement in Vietnam ended in 1973.

It was shockingly horrible to watch the news coverage that day as the television replayed over and over the real-time coverage.  At the time, my supervisor was in the area visiting her mother.  Her brother, a firefighter from the Bronx, was one of the first units to reach the Twin Towers, in lower Manhattan.  He gave his life in a hero’s death trying to rescue people out of the buildings when the towers came crumbling down around him and others.  My boss extended her stay in the area to be with her mother and sister in law, checking in telephonically with our office in Kansas day to day during her ordeal.

Americans cocooned at home with family weeks after the disaster.  School and flight institutions shut down for a week as security measures were put in place. I lived near a military base, that had a contingent of Allied officers from ninety countries attending an advanced training course on military strategy.  Security measures were very heightened.   I had two children out of my four away in out of state colleges at the time who opted to come home for Thanksgiving, rather than Christmas that year.  The sooner they could come to the sanctuary of their home, the better.

In the daily office calls from my supervisor, I would hear the firsthand experience of what was happening in New York City:  the search for any survivors, then the search to identify remains.  She told me of hearing the bag pipes play Amazing Grace echoing throughout the city from the many memorials of the fallen first responders and innocent people.

A handwritten note in my Bible at Psalms 9:18-19 noted words of comfort (a foreshadowing) from that verse for the next day’s tragedy.  It was at the monthly meeting of governing church body, this chapter was used in a Bible study the Monday night before the terrorist attacks of 9/11.  It foreshadows how God must have comforted those people trapped in the buildings and planes during the catastrophic next day.  The Psalm verse is about God being our refuge and strength during the attack.

The book of Lamentations (3:22-23) cites a beautiful mercy from God: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassion never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”  I have a reminder of that in the last line my nightly prayer for protection (my adult version of the “Now I lay me down to sleep” children’s prayer) that ends with the words: “At first light, restore me to a renewed life.”

What happened in this event is not the result of God’s discipline as it was in Lamentations.  There is no mistaking, however, God as the central figure in lament in this book.  His character comes through the book from beginning to end showing His sorrow.  Sin and apostasy not only result in inevitable discipline for people (mostly done by their own hand), but it also causes God great pain.

My faith has a major role when working through grief.  Many think faith advocates a religious stoicism.  They may partially quote 1Thessalonians 4:13, “Grieve not” in attempts to console, leaving out the most important part that follows: “As those who have no hope.”