Chapters

Genesis

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 The Books by Moses

To begin with (which is the meaning of Genesis: beginning), this first book is epic in the depth of what it reveals on the qualities of God and Man. By epic, I mean it in the slang sense of the word being beyond perfect in presenting a prologue to the rest of the Bible, not however in the definition as in poetic epics of mythical stories used to explain life origins. This book begins to show the raison d’etre of God.  It lays the foundation for reading the rest of the shared testaments (Old or First Testament and the New) of the Bible.

The biblical books, what in current writings are thought of as chapters or letters, are broken down into segments known as chapters within each book of the Bible.  Each is numbered followed by their sentences being numbered for clarity and reference sake.  I initially had trouble with the chronology of the Bible; it’s not presented sequentially.  It is divided up in according to genres of instruction (the Torah or Pentateuch) history, poetry, wisdom, prophecy, biographies, and letters.  Genesis is the beginning of the history of the world as well as the basic foundation for theology that exists today.  Forty percent of the First Testament is history.

It is held that Moses wrote this book and the four following. He is the most prominent Hebrew leader and prophet in Judaism and is part of the Christian heritage.  Obviously, he wasn’t there at the beginning of creation or during the initial, subsequent time of man’s degeneration.  It was revealed to him to write this by God’s inspiration. He penned the books while living in the desert after the Hebrews were freed from Egyptian enslavement, recorded in the following four books. Remember he had the benefits also of the best education the times could provide while living in the courts of Pharaoh. Rumor has it the priest and scribe Ezra had his editorial hand organizing the narratives, but that’s getting ahead of myself.

The theme of Genesis is creation and God calling out a particular group to be His people.  Whenever reading scripture, the first rule of thumb to interpreting and understanding it is to consider it from the original intent of the author to the initial recipients.

God’s sovereignty, his nature, his redeeming character is depicted in these 2.5 thousand years that span from Genesis into Exodus.  Ten generations are listed in this book alone of the chosen people. That’s a lot to take in.  There is also the disparity of characters pitted against each other as a lesson in learning between Cain and Abel (the first martyr), Abraham and Lot, Isaac and Ishmael (who became the leader of the Arab nation), Jacob and Esau, and Joseph and his brothers.

A well-known nursery rhythm is Humpty Dumpty.  He sat on a wall, had a great fall and all the king’s horses, and all the king’s men (soldiers) couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.  Notice in that ditty that there is never a mention of an egg?  It does teach a spiritual truth whose origins are found in Genesis.  When Man committed the first sin of disobeying God’s command not to eat the fruit of a specific tree, things for humanity have never been the same.  The nursery rhythm is not talking about an egg; it is talking about man’s fall.  All the king’s horses and men couldn’t put man back together again after the loss of fellowship with God when he fell.

From the biblical account of the first (Adam and Eve) couple’s fall, it’s discernible that evil is in the world.  Where did that come from when God explained everything was very good?  To be discussed later, the basic answer is evil comes from the angels that were cast out of heaven with their leader Satan, the instigator.  His character also starts to reveal himself in Genesis initiated with his favorite trait: lying.

From man’s fall, it shows humans have free will as a moral agent to make choices outside the will of God.  Why did God allow that?  In His wisdom, He wanted a relationship that is based on love and longing, not programmable robots.

To borrow from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, man’s fall (a stumble, by the way, that will be redeemed) is followed by worldly consequences, both good and bad.  Milton calls this a fortunate fall.  It means when good comes out of evil, it’s God’s mercy and grace that leaves us in a better place.  There is the opportunity of a greater good that would have been impossible without the fall.  God knows of evil, but he does not do evil.    Prior to Milton’s poetic explanation, St. Augustine explains evil as a privation on good, not a substance in and of itself but rather something attaching itself to good, like a parasite. Good does not attach itself to evil.  God takes evil and works good back into dominance, turning it into a greater good (like Jesus’s sacrificial atoning death).

God is all-knowing (omniscient), and He is just.  The consequences of man’s sin were the resulting hardening of the toiling the land, pain in childbirth for the woman and the ultimate destruction of the serpent (depicted by Satan).  The fall affected all of creation, like the wild and ferocious animals we experience and the hard ground to plant with its suffocating weeds and vegetation overgrowth to subdue. A Rabbi, who accepts Yeshua (Hebrew for Jesus) as Messiah, says when he reads the first five books of the Bible he wants to put a yellow crime scene tape around it because sin was now in the world.  Humans must endure the outcome of turning toward evil and its consequences, but evil will not have the last word.

Meanwhile, Man now lives within the tension of absurdity or contradictions only to find the human condition wrapped up in paradoxes.  A paradox uses self-conflicting situations that are actually in unity.  Where it gets confusing is if it’s an antinomy (a real apparent incompatibility of two natural or human laws) masquerading as a paradox. The Asian philosophy of the yin and yang symbol was designed as a reminder of the tension of this duality (a situation that has two states that are both complementary and opposed to each other). We seem to live in the best of times and the worst of times concurrently.

To the mention of learning lessons, the Bible tells how to live life throughout the ongoing circumstances of its Holy narrative.  We have a paradoxical faith (“Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” Matt. 10:39). Paradoxes are not limited to the Bible though.  View living life from an existential, Taoist or secular worldview, paradoxes abound just as well.  Things like being impatient to grow up only to desire to be a child again or losing your health to make money only to lose your money to restore your health are a couple of illustrations.  There is some truth found in “less is more” or “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”  Use of a paradox is one way to show truth can exist in tension.  In living a spiritual life, the path to choose to be a part of an Indivisible Whole; it’s what India’s preeminent leader of independence Mahatma Gandhi defined as all activities running into each other.  Author Sue Monk Kidd contributes to this topic by asking what if knowing who I am now is incomplete without knowing who I was?

I never really had a struggle reading the Bible narratives, not its the language references of ancient times or their cultural or geography of that historical era.   My challenge was its chronology which dealt with time or its timing. Yet there is history in the biblical narrative to eras, places and even specific times no matter what the dissatisfaction for the modern-day historicity and scientists.

In a similar vein of not being in chronological order, the sequence of personal applications and commentary to be found in each book aren’t in a sequential order of my life. If this book is read to completion, those stories come together just as the Bible’s message does. I liken it to traveling on a möbius strip, looping the journey back to the beginning.  There is an argument about quoting the Bible to prove the Bible; it assumes the Bible is true.  This type of defense is circular reasoning when something proves itself by quoting itself. The physical evidence, numerous manuscripts, archeological finds, surrounding confirmations of the  history of eras, the consistency of theological message written by forty different authors from diverse backgrounds (formally and informally educated0 in 1600 years from  regions like Africa, the Middle East,  and Europe makes it too compelling for the Bible not to be true.

As I see it, Bible is written circularly and so goes my thought patterns.  An example of one biblical circular motif is found in God who began a relationship with the man in a garden. Fittingly, at the site of the resurrected Jesus empty tomb, Mary sees someone she thinks is the gardener and states “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him?” (Jn. 20:14).  Not recognizing the landscaper to be Jesus, the master gardener who appears on site as he did in Genesis, responded to her “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”  The garden of Eden (Gen 2:8) is what the God’s Kingdom was to look like before the disobedience.  Jesus, on this side of Eden, is the first steps to the Kingdom come.

Another motif I look up is biblical names and their meanings which gives clues to the person’s character and points prophetically to what’s in store.  This genealogy (spanning about 1100 years) of who, begot whom (Gen. 5)   from the aspect of their name meaning is as  follows:

Adam = man

Seth = appointed

Enosh = mortal

Kenan = sorrow

Mahalalel = blessed God

Jared = teaching

Enoch = dedicated

Mathusia – his death shall bring

Lamech = despair

Noah = grace and comfort

Put the meanings together in a paragraph and it reads: Mortal man appointed to sorrow, but the blessed God shall come down teaching the dedicated.  His death shall be despairing grace and comfort.  This meaning points to the coming Messiah: Jesus.  To me that is a foretelling of the rescue from our human dilemma, God designs and has redemptive plans to rescue us from ourselves.

There is a glimpse of Jesus, his character, his nature seen in Genesis.   It is the parallel life of Jesus and Joseph, both beloved sons.  Joseph, like Jesus, was also betrayed for silver coins, falsely accused, eventually exalted, and was unrecognizable to his brothers (as compared to the resurrected Jesus at the tomb and then for the Jews as the longed-for Messiah). Joseph (foreshadowing Jesus) saved the people of that era from a major famine. Ultimately an example of God’s redemptive will (“What you meant evil…God meant it for good.” Gen. 50:20). The stories of Noah, Abraham, and Isaac (Joseph’s father) are also a sign of God’s redemption.

Joseph’s narrative teaches how to view perceived past hurts of a birth family.  Fast forward through twenty-two years after the betrayal of his brothers; One experience of the hand of God in Joseph’s life is by His revealing the future severe famine of Egypt. After being betrayed and sold into slavery, Joseph forgave his brothers who came begging for provisions of food so that they could survive. Joseph wept over them and the brokenness of his past. As an adult, with decades-old wounds that still hurt him, he experienced God’s healing.  What man meant for harm or evil, God meant for good saving many lives (50:20), a key verse in Genesis.

I came to a level of peace with my childhood hurts by re-nurturing myself through my children.  Joseph extends to his brothers a grace they have never extended to him. He sidesteps any notion of revenge.   My family hurts, lingering into adulthood, are still in the process of redemption.  Danish philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard suggests how to handle any unhappy thoughts concerning the past.  It’s to think of them as a memory and as a part of a hope to be out of it which keeps you in the present.

One of my first big steps of faith in reading the Bible is about time..  I initially came to my faith when I was a young girl, but when starting college, I intellectually struggled with the concept of only seven days in the creation narrative.  To believe that I  thought would mean intellectual suicide.  It doesn’t.  My faith progressively grows from experiences that God  gives granting me comprehension.  God is a God of knowledge, not chaos.  He is orderly in His ways but first by showing this in the order of creation.  He is not a God of chaos.  Little did I know my ongoing fascination for the rest of my life with the concept of time.

My intellectual bent is not toward math or science; my head hurts when I abide too much to left brain thinking. So of course, I barely can grasp the concept of infinity.  I approach it more from the notion (from the right side of the brain) and start by trying to understand the concept of no beginning and no end, of God.  He is a constant being. One of the key things negating the fact that the Bible is not a myth (folklore or fairy tale) is because God is transient (otherworldly) and immanent (in addition to being imminent as well) in all time.   He’s everywhere for all time, outside of the cosmos conditions.  Myths aren’t.  Particularly seen in characteristics of mythical gods, who usually lived in the cosmos and prey on their subjects, moving them around on a game board,   while remaining separated from them and uncommunicative with them.

As my children were growing up, I seem always to be saying no to their requests to do or ask for something (because it wasn’t convenient at the time, or it was just one of many times I refused them the unhealthy snacks).  I would try to use other words: “maybe,” “let’s wait and see,” “next time” or “perhaps tomorrow” hoping to redirect them from their spontaneous request of the moment.  After a while, they figured out I was saying no.  Early one morning, my toddler, with bedhead, waddled up to my side of the bed waking me with the question: “Is today yesterday’s tomorrow?” anticipating today just might be the day I give in to her request.  Thinking back on it, I see a parallel with Elizabeth Browning’s quote “Light tomorrow with today.”  Was that at the core of my daughter’s innocent hope?

There are other instances of the concept of time that made its way into my life and have stuck with me.   A guest, a bachelor gave a plaque as a wedding gift (that I still have) with a poem, by Henry Van Dyke, printed on it.  It read:

“Time is too slow for those that wait;

Too swift for those who fear;

Too long for those who grieve;

Too short for those who rejoice; But for those you love, time is not.”

Once, in a romantic note, I received the inscription “You and I, together, like time, are eternal.”  I discovered, humanly speaking, that that eternal love declaration proves only to be from God. The ancients saw time as a wheel, repeating in cycles.  In Confucianism the passage of time is like flow of a river’s stream. For some, time is an illusion and for others a rigid scaffolding erected by God.

The Word of God, the Bible, is the first of a  framework written from the aspect of Chronos and Kairos time.  More importantly only He can cross over into either time.  There are two kinds of time: Chronos (clock or human time) and Kairos (God’s eternal, transcendent time).  God exists before time as we know it, in the cosmos. There are hints, seen clearly from this side of the cross, of a triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) by the references to “we” and “us” all being present (Gen. 1:26). One of the names of God, Elohim, is plural for deity and is a further clue to the preexistence of Jesus in God’s eternity.  The Israelites see the second plural pronoun as the divine council made up of angels (even Satan) and the seraphim. In their perspective from their side of the cross, there is no concept, belief or idea of a triune God much less a Holy Spirit.

I will note more of my idiosyncratic “sightings” in the First Testament in future chapters but keep in mind the primary meaning of the scriptural text, inspired by God, in this case to Moses to tell and write to this original audience is in keeping the main thing the main thing.  Scripture should first always be read literally unless its context (like the genre or style) dictates otherwise.

God is not bound by the moments in time we associate with throughout earth’s seasons from the movement of the sun, moon, and earth. Measuring the lapses of time through weather seasons is Chronos time because the concept of time began and occurred in a garden.  The creation narrative reveals when God created Chronos time.  It was on the first day; He created light and darkness (the sun wasn’t created until verse 14, a light that creates heat).  This was when God created time as humanity knows it. A cycle of day and night was created.  To the first recipients of this book, the text literally reads a 24 hour day.  On day one, God created the heavens and a formless the earth.  On day two, He sets up the basics for weather (separating the waters from waters with the above expanse over it).  This was in preparation for the third day when dry land was developed, and vegetation was brought forth from this water source, soil, etc. for the provision of food. Some speculate the expanse created a hothouse effect providing an even temperature and filtering out ultraviolet rays to extend the growths life cycle.

Now with Internet technology, the idea of time further can be challenging to grasp as we experience global events in “real time.”   My kids live in the direction of the four winds that blow away from me and the place they grew up.  For a while I had four clocks hung on the wall with their time (sometimes international) zone they lived. I keep a desktop icon weather application of their regions on my computer screen.  All this helps me keep in sync with what they might be doing at that moment day (or night).  With them in their four directions, I went to the remaining three directions left:  I re-familiarized with the me, myself and I at my center, went above for spiritual direction yet tried to stay engaged below which is on this earth, the here and now.  They are scary, challenging, enriching and fulfilling places.

In Chronos time, the church calendar follows a liturgical year.  It begins with Advent season (a season about anticipation), to Christmas then on to the Day of Epiphany, followed by a period that is called ordinary time, then the Lenten season and Easter through to Pentecost, another period of ordinary time then back to Advent. Regular periods of time have its fair share of secular holidays (Valentines’ Day, St Patrick’s Day, All Saints Day or Halloween), many originally based on church leaders or events.  People enjoy annual holidays but underestimate the importance of ordinary, how common time shows ways of the daily living with a model presented by Jesus for us on how to be Christ-like in our actions. Each year, the liturgical calendar cycle is celebrated over again beginning with the annual (and appropriate) Thanksgiving holiday which is about giving thanks and not a mark on the wall for consumerism.  And yet not celebrated over again the same way as I find I react to events slightly different being a slightly different person from the previous year.  German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “It is only because He became like us that we can become like Him.”

Sister Joan Chittister says in her book, The Liturgical Year, the Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life, remembrance of the past and recognition of its ongoing presence in our lives, reminds us once again that death is not the end.  Rebirth of the spirit is always possible if willing to go back again one more time into the life of Jesus.

In the late Father Edward Hays words from his passion play, Pilate’s Prisoner on life after death reminds me of the lingering love for someone who has died.  He wrote “The source of my belief that there is life after death is that love is stronger than death. The more you love someone, the more you never desire ever to be separated from her or him, even by death. While there are many things I doubt, I do not doubt that God is love.”

And through His love, God is relentlessly Holy, righteous and just.

Truth:  God’s presence does not mean He is not there when I don’t sense him.  When peace and contentment come over me while gazing at a view, hearing a song, an unexpected outcome or listening in my solitude, I attribute it to His omnipresence.  He is also there when I am wrapped up in my misery, sadness, hurried or in the grips of sorrow and pain if only I would acknowledge him. His presence isn’t synonymous with my ability to detect it.

The commitment of daily regeneration for the better in the present, the reframing the past, alters the future. There is a hint, a biblical warning, about looking back at the past. It’s when Lot’s wife looked back when fleeing and turned into a pillar of salt (Gen. 19:15-26).  To note the geographical position of the image of Lot’s wife, standing watch, which overlooks the Dead Sea area, is interesting. The Dead Sea is a body of water where no life can exist. She looks back (analogous to the past?) meanwhile had been warned not to look or turn back. I get stuck when I mentally think about the past too much.   The Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee, both in the same region, are fed by the River Jordan.  One cannot sustain life, yet the other is plentiful with both feed by the same source.  The difference is that the Sea of Galilee has an outlet that gives out water while the other (the Dead Sea) has no outlet and just stays within its the boundaries of the shores.  Living in the past, looking to the past is analogous to the Dead Sea not sustaining life for humans as well.

Kierkegaard said that life could only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward.   When trying to control time, it isn’t about the quantity of time, but it is more about the highest quality of time. The quality time I experience depends on what I am doing with my time; it’s usually when the clock slows down.  Allowing the quiet to enter into life seems to change the flow of the movement of time and make it larger.  I am entering a slower pace now versus the craziness of before (which I wouldn’t have changed) of before by juggling multiple family schedules, activities, and obligations.  I was lucky to “get’er done” when it came down to it, frustrated by not always being able to put the finishing or special touches on personal things as time wouldn’t allow me (or there would be sleepless nights).  Now that craziness is when I overcommit myself on my own projects.

A way to relook annual celebratory events is to consider the holidays as Holy-days.  The perspective keeps the holiday frenzy at bay.  Rabbi Sidney Greenberg wrote “On holidays we run away from duties.  On Holy-days, we face them.  On holidays, we let ourselves go, on Holy-Days we try to bring ourselves under control.  On Holidays, we try to empty our mind.  On Holy-days, we attempt to replenish our spirits.  On holidays, we reach out for the things we want.  On Holy-days, we reach up for things we need.  Holidays bring a change of scene.  Holy-days a changed heart.”

It was years after my initial struggle with the world created in seven days (a young world creation) when God showed me through a Bible Study Fellowship program of studying Genesis for a year and how science came along to agree in part.  It was the sequence of the science behind the seven days.  In the first three days, God created the realms (note light and dark came before the Sun, the moon, and stars which stand to reason).  The last four days, He filled the realm with inhabitants. Kierkegaard defines the creator well: “God creates out of nothing.”

The Bible’s theme isn’t written to explain things scientifically, but instead, it is focused the message of a relationship with God.  Scientists say faith is not built on knowledge, yet I find it interesting that as time marches on science comes alongside revelations found in the Bible to try and illuminate it further.   Science is great for explaining how but no so much when it comes to why.  Science is good at saying what is, but it can never tell what ought to be. I believe God can reveal his works through science when we are ready to absorb and understand it.   I don’t need science to convince me though it’s nice when the scientific community comes alongside the spiritual.

I explore the meaning of Hebrew words, the original text of the First Testament.    Hebrew is known as a language of the heart whereas Greek is of the mind.  In Asia, there is one word for both mind and heart.  It is “xin” (pronounced sheen). I appreciate how the two words are intrinsically woven.   It allows me to conjecture that answers don’t just come from one or the other. I want my heart and mind to be xin, collaborating in making life decisions.  I do not want a divided 12” chasm within me between mindfulness thinking and heart empathy or sensitive understanding.

To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, a man who lends intellectual credibility of  his Christian faith on how to view the world,  “I believe in God like I believe in the sun not because I see it, but because by it all things are seen.”

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Exodus

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After 400 years of captivity as slaves is the momentous narrative the great exodus of the Israelites, called out of Egypt to their promised land.   It is the beginning of a long road where God consecrates them. To consecrate means to set apart, to be made holy.

To become holy is humanly impossible to do yet we are to strive for it.  Only God is holy.  He also is the Master Redeemer and the one who in the end rescues us from ourselves. He redeems Israel from over 400 years of Egyptian bondage with  6:6-7 as a key verse in the book.  Before the Jewish exodus from Egypt, a safeguard from the final calamity to Pharaoh and his people, the Hebrews were instructed to put the mark of lamb’s blood above their doors to identify the Israelites then the spirit would pass over them.  This would protect the Hebrews with the promise that it would “not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.” (Ex. 12:23). This Passover lamb’s blood is one of the descriptions that point to the future Jesus’ as an atoning symbol of the lamb at His crucifixion.

Being on an exodus is not always a fun journey.  Not knowing where to go plus the uncertainty about life’s provisions is a hard- place to wander.  An exodus can be the start of our personal reformation.  Sooner or later in life, all face the dilemma of leaving behind the enslavement to various self-serving passions and pleasure.  It may not be like the account of trekking around in circles in a desert for forty years but still, the journey usually is circuitous, indirect and complicated.  Exodus assures us of Gods promises (four main ones are found in 6:2-5, 6-8).

All parents fear the possibility of the dreaded call about their child being in a car accident.  Our parental nightmare came when one of the children was driving on a back road in the county, going too fast around a curve while leaning down to pick up an object from the passenger side floorboard of his jeep.  He hit the edge of the road which had a small drop off to the ground, lost control and the vehicle turned onto a culvert along the side of the road, flipping three times.  The removable hard top popped off the Jeep as the vehicle rolled. There was no other car involved or other passengers.  The driver was not wearing a seatbelt.

Driving a car length behind were his siblings. When they drove up on the accident, they got to a neighboring house, called for medical help and notified us.  He survived with a right arm compound fracture from his holding on to the steering wheel while his body thrown and twisted around inside the car but thankfully not out of the car.

He survived a severely broken right ankle which put his college running scholarship at risk as well as any future in the sport professionally or for leisure.  He survived a concussion and head lacerations.  It took three surgeries over a year’s period to repair the injuries, mainly on the ankle.  Doctors said to forget about him competitively running.  Long story short, and not to minimize the work involved, my son retrained his body, is a competitive runner today and has rebuilt his strength and endurance. The style of his running gait is a bit unusual, but he makes it work. I remember the attending orthopedic doctor said that everyone gets hit by a train in life; the trick is how young someone is regarding the recovery time.  His age at his recuperation confirms this.  As the manufacturer’s warranty expiration date on my physical body comes closer on this road to ageism, my resilience and rebound from things take longer.  Thank God for doctors, but they don’t know everything.  As parents, we withheld the doctor’s opinion from him not being able to run as before.   I’m sure the doc knew that and told him anyway. After a years’ worth of surgeries and recovery, my son tried to resume competitive running.  It was his “exodus” to come out of that situation, to learn about himself, his limits and with God’s help, what he was made of and could do.

One of my first “exodus’s” also could fall under my version of experiencing an “Ecclesiastes.”  Not as physically demanding as my son’s exodus, I instead was in a lingering place of uncertainty with no clear sense of direction for myself outside of being a wife and mother.   I counseled with my Pastor about it, voicing that I was seeking some validation of who I was and my purpose.  It has been said about  and to me that there isn’t a personality test or other assessment I didn’t like. I have gone on to learn personality can change particularly through trauma in life but basically, my temperament is akin to a golden retriever and a beaver (to borrow from John Trent and Gary Smalley’s book The Treasure Tree) and I have a complex personality type. This analysis was helpful in figuring some things out about myself when I read a devotional that posed a question to stop instead and ask God what he thinks about me? Who does He say I am?

There was a spiritual gift workshop being held in a nearby city that Pastor recommended I attend.  I found each workshop segment was sandwiched in prayer. Some prayer was in community prayer others in a silent prayer offered up in-between each of the spiritual gift assessments and discussion.  During one of the silent prayer time scheduled, I had a version of a theophany.  God spoke to me (inaudible to others) in my prayer.  In this sense, when God communicates, it isn’t always through human language as such, but instead, it is through His incarnate words  (in a still small voice [cf. 1Kings 19:11-13]) to the soul.  In this case, during prayer, a loving thread weaved itself through my life’s tapestry up to that point, connecting past circumstances and events in a congruent way when an opening appeared before me.  I sensed it was an opening to my future.  It was as if I was given the opportunity to see myself in the future.  I interpreted it as God opening this door, beckoning me through.  To go through it, would be to go into my projected future.  Seeing the future was an overwhelming thought to contemplate.  As was my fearful (respectful) humility about being in such proximity to God’s Holiness.   Humility, a word the world would have us believe is thinking lowly about self rather than a healthier way to look at it is as a radical self-awareness from a distance outside of self. C. S. Lewis says humility is thinking of yourself less (and more about others).

Then I remembered the story of Moses in Exodus 33:22. Moses is mediating between God and Israel after a particularly sinful period of the Israelites.  God favored Moses effort and gave him some signs and wonders for the nation to see.  At one point, Moses asks God if he could personally look on His face to see his Glory.  God said no because first humans aren’t Holy and to view Him would overpower and overwhelm the faculties of mortal man.  Yet Moses was near enough to this glory that he veiled his face to prevent the Israelites from being destroyed by the mere reflection of the divine glory (Ex. 34:29–35).   Theologian philosopher G. K.  Chesterton (1874-1936) compares it in relation to the sun:  “The one created thing which we cannot look at is the one thing in the light of which we look at everything.”    It was (and is) believed no one while still sinful (in human form) could grasp the sight of God’s essential, glorious unmasked holiness and live.  I stopped the theophany and didn’t go through the opening. I felt like the invitation positioned me too close to God (as crazy as that sounds) to see my future. It was more than I could handle spiritually.  Perhaps I felt a bit like King Saul who hid ( cf. 1Sam. 10:22) when he was first called by God to this new course in life.  I was thinking out of the context of who God is and his power and only of my strength and whether it was enough to see what lie in the future?

I left the conference that day with a clearer measure of understanding of who I was.  I recalled Moses petition: “If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.” (Ex. 33:13).  My personal discovery left such an impression on me that I really got into studying personality and spiritual gifts, ending up using it in a capstone thesis and used it professionally in my work environments.  The slippery slope with Spiritual gifts is it can go to experiential feeling of faith and become works oriented. The balance is to remember who gives the gifts of grace and what He has done to secure salvation. That is more important than making faith as human(as in self) centered.

It is interesting to think about those in the Old Testament who did see the face of God.  There are around twenty-five or so who did.  Whenever anyone considers the face or speaks with an angel, they saw the face of God as being the face of Jesus.  In many of these cases, the person didn’t ask to see the face of God. The heavenly being came to them.  In the New Testament, people saw the face of God when they looked upon Jesus.

As I have gotten older I do not always want to know about my future except to know that near-term the provisions for my kids, our health and necessities are met.  I went into a gift discovery conference wanting to learn about myself and what I could be.  But wanting to know was not just an isolated desire.

At the risk of this sounding narcissistic, being so absorbed in “about me”, a French monk Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) writings come to my rescue for reflection.  He wrote on the degrees of love.  There is a love of self for self’s sake (selfish love), love of God for self’s sake (dependence on God), love of God for God’s sake (intimacy with God) and love of self for God’s sake (being united with God’s love).  I can’t wait till I attain the fourth love.

If I had access to my future, it would create all sorts of questions of what would I do if I saw my life play out not as I thought would happen?  Would I not get married knowing we would part ways? If I decide not to get married, would I have missed out on the legacy of my children (They are my magnum opus.) and grandchildren that I have now?  What could possibly replace that?  They are my magnum opus.   Those are frustrating types of hypothetical questions that are speculative at best.

When I was nine or ten, I participated in a school talent contest.  I pantomimed a Doris Day recording of “Que Sera, Sera” (Spanish for Whatever will be, will be). The first line of the song that I lipped sync to was “When I was just a little girl, I ask my mother what would I be?” It was the theme song that played out most of my life.   I have always thought women could have it all (love, family, career) just not all at the same time. Some say men have it all, family and career.  I beg to differ, most men are working so hard they miss living out the family life of ups and downs.  Either they are there to put out the fires or show up for the trophy kids events where a camera shots are always readied.  The risk of not pushing yourself to do as much as possible during a given time is in the danger of spending majority of your life not doing what you dreamed, its the gamble that you can find the time and freedom to do it later.  I wonder if living life is supposed to be inchoate, partly living the full experience f existence at any given time? None of us know what the future can bring relationship wise, health or financially although we can try to keep an account on these things and manage those investments for opportunity meet preparedness.

Truth: The evil one (Satan) is a liar, a master of deception: the bluff is his greatest weapon (from the book The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis outlines the liar’s most potent arsenal).  His first lie was telling Eve that man would not die (cf. Gen.  3:4) if they ate the fruit. It isn’t enough that Satan lies and plays games with us in the present. He will pickpocket our past mistakes and the unknown worries of the future to mess and undermined us now. He encourages us to question God’s truths in hopes we may be disappointed by not getting the answer we want.  Satan is the epitome of fake news as opposed to the Good News.

Sadly, Satan’s greatest ambassadors can be pastors who preach a perversion of God’s truth.  We have an omnipresent, omnibenevolent God. Our victory through Jesus is already won but we must be alert to what tools the enemy uses to undermine us.

Irish poet David Whyte compares in his book Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Word to how living fully matured is the most youthful ability of all. It’s accomplished by living courageously in the past, the present and the future all at once.  Our part is in the maturity to recognize our refusal to the discipline to choose between or isolate these three  dynamics that we let influence the shape of our identity:  what has happened, what is happening now and what is about to happen.  Immaturity is to make the wrong choice and only live in one or two of the three. Maturity is not static, you never arrive.  It’s living on the frontier between these three segments of time despite the constant beckoning of immaturity.  These can be powerful shapers but in the end our identity is not in what we do, it is not in our appearance nor in our sexuality.  That is not who we are if  a child of God. Our identity is in him.

Most of my exoduses are done in a step by step towards personal healing or self-discovery (Luke 4:23).    Case in point, I made a dumb accounting error which took a while to discover.  My using the wrong version of software became apparent when I went in to correct my mistake.  I, with the help of tech support, got the right software that met my needs.  In my gladness when discovering my mistake, I giggled at the surprising thought of how grateful I was to be the sole driver in my life.  My own self-incrimination over the incident wouldn’t have been the only ones if I had a passenger, worse yet backseat driver. I felt this unusual contentment, not previously felt in my autonomy. A healing kind of disenchantment was wrapping itself around me where an illusion once was.

Another step towards my healing is when I started to sleep in the center of my bed instead of only on my side.  For years, I shared a full-size bed that was passed down to us in my marriage.  We had it (and the mattress) for so long that the mattress had a center indentation where we eventually ended up cuddling and making love.  Finally, a new bed, a queen sized dark mahogany canopy replaced it.  Our sleep patterns had changed some by then, among other things,  what with me being starting to experience sleep deprivation from being a light sleeper and managing nocturnal aches and pains, his snoring and bouts of sleep apnea; we didn’t share the entire night in that bed together, with one of us leaving so not to disturb the other’s sleep.  Eventually, after our marriage dissolved, I moved to sleeping in the center of the bed, initially with all sorts of pillows surrounding me.  Now I contend with nudging my small dog from the middle of the mattress when he sleeps with me at night reminding him it is not his spot.

There are many variables in life that are out of control, so worrying is futile.  The Dalai Lama says: “There are two days in the year that nothing can be done.  One is called yesterday, and the other is called tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe, do, and most of all live.”  And who can add a day to their life through worrying (Lk. 12:25)?

Switching to mindfulness living is a challenge.  Impossible almost.  The following poem/lyrics of “Holy as A Day is Spent,” by Carrie Newcomer, encourages to do “Holy” in small steps by using the everyday reality (cultivating secular sanctity) that is fuel for an ideal world.  She wrote:

“Holy is the dish and drain, the soap and sink, the cup and plate and the warm wool socks, and the cold white tile showerheads and good dry towels.

And frying eggs sound like a psalm, with a bit of salt measured in my palm, it’s all a part of a sacrament, as Holy as a day is spent.

Holy is the busy street and cars that boom with passion’s beat, and the checkout girl, Counting change. And the hands that shook my hands today.

Hymns of geese fly overhead and stretch their wings like their parents did blessed be the dog that runs in her sleep, the catch that wild and elusive thing.

Holy is a familiar room and the quiet moments in the afternoon and folding sheets like folding hands to as only laundry can.

I’m letting go of all I fear, like autumn leaves of earth and air, for Summer came, and Summer went; as Holy as a day is spent.

Holy is the place I stand, to give whatever small good I can, the empty page, the open book redemption everywhere I look.

Unknowingly we slow our pace, In the shade of unexpected grace, with grateful smiles and sad lament, as Holy as a day is spent.

And morning light sings ‘providence,’ As Holy as a day is spent.”

The story of Exodus lives on and repeats itself with the promise “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to stand still.” (Ex. 14:14).

Leviticus

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If ever there is a book in the Bible comparable to reading something like how to annotate references and footnotes in a paper, it would be like reading the book of Leviticus.  There are a lot of rules and instruction. But by adjusting our thought process a bit to the original audience then how it applies to now,  there is a discovery that morally instructs.  Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy are basically like a constitution given by God to the first audience: the Hebrews of the exodus out of Egypt.  It consists of and instructs civil, ceremonial and moral laws.  This book is a manual of priestly obligations, procedures and for the rest of us, guidelines for moral living and cleanliness, not Levitical minutiae of a bygone era.  After 400 years of pagan Egyptian captivity, the Israelite’s concept of God had gotten totally distorted. Granted a lot of the priestly instructions are not done today because we are not under the first covenant but the spirit of the law can be edifying for today.   We are under the newer covenant of the New Testament. The references made here help the rest of the Bible make sense not to mention the explanation of symbolism today (2Tim. 3:16). The key word in this book is “Holiness” and the ways to reach a higher calling, a separateness from the world.  A key verse is Lev. 11:45.

This book may be the last one in the Bible read by a Christian, but it was the first one a Jewish child read.   Understanding the context of Leviticus helps me want to read it. What God does is set before the Hebrews ways to pursue holiness and lays a foundation for life. It is about obedience toward holiness and to have a better way of life. That helps make reading it more inviting and holds some universal principles for society.  It’s meant to show how to live vertically (in a relationship with God) and horizontally (in relationships with each other) all the while working internally on ourselves.  It is the outside of a window that would reflect on the inside of the pane. Living a life with God is not just going through the motions.  It’s transformational.

To not read Leviticus invites the question of how to grasp the theological understanding of the atoning death and sacrifice of Jesus? Could I connect what the meaning was behind  Jesus when he first presented Himself to John the Baptist with the latter proclaiming “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”?  My working definition of the word sin is the outer symptoms of a deep virus within man that separates him from God.  Jesus is the culminating consummation of the Old Testament sacrificial system, which is one of the main themes in Leviticus. Jesus is what you find when you come to the end of the Law.  He fulfills every sacrificial need of  First Testament law.  The current society may associate these laws with are hygienic and understand about clean food and healthy ways to live.  Now the uncleanliness comes not from the outside, but from the inside of Man.

Leviticus has been called the bloody book based on the explanation of all the animal sacrifices made to atone or cover a variety of different sins,  different animals or other offerings and their ritual procedures depending on the sin. It is almost inconceivable to think the Israeli’s thought these sacrifices actually atoned for sins only to have to do them again, again, almost on a daily basis.   It’s like the sacrifices had a short-term life expectancy on atonement.  But if put into another context, the thought of the benefits to them are just as real as compared to clothing purchased on a credit card today where the account is never paid.  Yet the clothing is covering us temporarily.  Often times the clothing wears out before we have paid the credit purchase off.

Or as Charles Spurgeon puts it, “repentance of an evil act (a sin) and not the evil heart, is like men pumping water out of a leaky vessel but forgetting to stop the leak.  Some would dam up the stream, but leave the fountain still flowing, not removing the eruption.  This could be like an eruption from the skin, but leave the disease in the flesh.”  Some doing the sacrifices didn’t equate it to a personal regeneration.

A gem found in Leviticus is at the address of 27:30 of this book: “A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord.” He asks you to offer the first fruit or the best you have.  Attributed to St. Mother Teresa  the following reminder is the potential outcome of our fruitfulness:

“The fruit of silence is prayer.

  The fruit of prayer is faith.

  The fruit of faith is love.

  The fruit of love is service.

  The fruit of service is peace.”

First fruit means to give God your very best initially.  Don’t save your time talent and treasure for only when you go to church or when there is spare or discovered time during the week.  The life God has given you is a gift and what you do with it is a gift back to God.  We all have time, talent and treasure to give back to God and his purposes.

Giving our treasure back to God is usually understood as our tithes or financial offerings.  Our time and talent (our treasured commodities) can be offered in service to humankind in the community. I like to add a fourth element to our giving and that is our testimony or witness. These gifts are not to earn His love or pay it forward as a gratuity. Nor is it an investment towards earning salvation.  It’s because the world needs everyone to give back and not just be takers in life.  Our spiritual endowments cannot be viable by clinging to them but instead, they are meant to be given away in the arts, hospitality, education or towards the science of wellness for others.   Pastor and apologist Tim Keller differentiates it further: “Religion says ‘I obey therefore God accepts me.’ The Gospel says, ‘I am accepted by God through Christ therefore I obey.”  Salvation does not result in good works instead good works come from salvation.

Once a member of my birth family asked if my volunteering in community service to ministry activities was I was trying to soothe my guilt for some wrongdoing (Mk. 6:4). I was taken aback and wondered how did the world get the meaning of altruistic service so skewed? There is a term for giving back without needing anything in return:  generativity.

If not carefully presented, a message sent from the pulpit can be misunderstood and misinterpreted that God will love us if we change whereas the Gospel says God’s love changes us. This debate has been going on since the time fourth century between St. Augustine and Pelagius’ time.  When is trying to help perceived as a selfish, ulterior motive other than showing Christ-like love and kindness? Some argue the modern-day quest in the world for autonomy and independence has been attributed to this outlook lacking in compassion for others.

Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep gaining what he cannot lose.”  In the end, that is the final reward of life, not the public applause.

I want to mention one of the side effects of those trying to be good enough, a misguided human quest to please God by self-effort (cf. Jn. 6:29).  One day, I was approached three different times by individuals asking for prayer.  It was Sunday morning and I was wearing my hat as the Sunday School Superintendent.   I was making supply trips back and forth to the classrooms, located across the street from the church.   Two separate people walking on the sidewalk, at different times, whose destinations weren’t church. I said, “good morning” stopping just enough to make eye contact and acknowledge them.  Astoundingly they each asked me to pray for them.  What are the odds of that?  And each said something similar along the line of “they weren’t right with the Lord” and felt He wouldn’t hear them, but they thought maybe He’d hear me (I guess because I went to church?).

Later that day, my late sister telephoned from out of state and after a bit of catching up, asked for prayer saying that she was sure God would hear me and not her!  Ok so God got my attention on prayer and not doing it as much as I should for others.

I tried, in vain, to tell all of them that God isn’t waiting for them to get everything right or to be perfect.  Instead, He wanted to hear from them as well, right where they are, right now.  God already knows their backstory, he cares for the individual but does not care about this  (remember Job or any of the less than perfect heroes he used in the Bible?). The looks I received (or silence on the other end of the telephone line) revealed their skepticism.  I should have prayed for them on the spot, but I didn’t.   I remember my kids were with me during the morning encounters, watching nervously.  I could kick myself now because it was three strikes against me for not praying on the spot for the inquiries and not any better me not setting an example for my young ones.  I did pray for them later, privately, and still do when they come to my mind and heart. But I missed a great opportunity at the moment.

I said something rather flippant about the way prayer works and that is for me to pray for someone is good but as equally important was for them to personally pray simultaneously. God wants to hear from them.   Somewhere along the way confusion has set in for many about trying to be or do good enough, for God to hear us and then hopefully honor our requests.  His agape love is not based on performance.  Not going to Him until we get our life cleaned up imitates waiting to go to the emergency room when you stop bleeding.  He loves us as we are now not some future version.

It is interesting how people view prayer, both believers and nonbelievers.  There is something recognized about the specialness of prayer by people.  To me, it shows the general state of a man’s heart (Eccl. 3:11).  Seldom will someone turn down an offer for prayer.

If not careful, religion can seem to put too much emphasis on outward appearance, instead of what is going on in a person’s soul.  Religion or church can come across as keeping rules and following rituals, instead of a relationship with God.  That’s where the internal work is done.   Jesus doesn’t care what condition we are in, He just wants us to come into a relationship with him. Internally things will begin to sort out as we desire to honor him.

Some consider depending on God’s response to our prayers that He can’t hear the petitions because there is so much unconfessed sin our life. (cf. Ps. 66: 16-20Isa.  5:7). “Coram Deo,” Latin for “in the presence of God” is the idea of believers living alongside, under the authority of, honor and glory of God.  This is living the indivisible whole according to Thomas Merton. Living in His presence should transcend into all parts of our life, not segued into only parts of it.  It should be a vital part of our outlook, as in the constant flow of a möbius strip, never-ending.  I disagree on the point of not entering prayer because of whatever our state of brokenness.  His Word says “Ask, it will be given; seek, and we will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.” (cf. Matt. 7:7, Rev. 3:20).

The burden of our transgressions is so crushing and heavy at times that shame and guilt prevent us from feeling worthy enough to pray.  Or how an over-identification with a sin and brokenness is so great; believing we are our sin (for example being an alcoholic).  It has become too comfortable or familiar to let go of the brokenness.

We no longer fight but instead give in to the brokenness. We become that brokenness.  It’s as if our sin has become are frenemy (friend and enemy simultaneously).  If we give up that identity, turn away from it to follow the identity God’s intends for our life, where will it lead us?  That uncertainty can hold people back because they think they will lose themselves in the process which couldn’t be further from the truth.  Actually an identity in God makes you a better version of you.

There is a Jewish parable: each person has their troubles in a brown paper bag, they set it on the floor amongst other people’s brown bags, each filled with troubles unique to them.  The option is given to take any of the bags when it’s time to leave; it doesn’t have to be the one you brought.  In the end, everyone took their original brown sack they came with because as the saying goes: better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.   It seems better to deal with someone or a habit of familiarity, if not ideal, rather than take a risk with an unknown person or future.  It is more than difficult to get out of a comfort zone even if there is little comfort in it.

Few realize how trapped we become an identity we create.  I almost pigeonholed myself when I thought the two dominant roles of my life as wife and mother were gone or diminished consequently I forgot there was more to me than that.  Leo Tolstoy paraphrasing Mark 10:27 wrote: “Once we’ve thrown off our habitual paths, we think all is lost; but it’s only here that the new and the good begins.”

“The Beggars’ Rags”, a eulogy I read at a close family member’s memorial tells a similar narrative:

A beggar lived near the king’s palace. One day he saw a proclamation posted outside the palace gate. The king was giving a great dinner. Anyone dressed in royal garments was invited to the party

The beggar went on his way. He looked at the rags he was wearing and sighed. Surely only kings and their families wore royal robes, he thought. Slowly an idea crept into his mind. The audacity of it made him tremble. Would he dare?

He made his way back to the palace. He approached the guard at the gate. “Please, sire, I would like to speak to the king.”

“Wait here,” the guard replied. In a few minutes, he was back. “His Majesty will see you,” he said and led the beggar in.

“You wish to see me?” asked the king. “Yes, your majesty. I want so much to attend the banquet, but I have no royal robes to wear. Please, sir, if I may be so bold, may I have one of your old garments so that I, too, may come to the banquet?”

The beggar shook so hard that he could not see the faint smile that was on the king’s face. “You have been wise in coming to me,” the King said. He called to his son, the young prince. “Take this man to your room and array him in some of your clothes.”

The prince did as he was told and soon the beggar was standing before a mirror, clothed in garments that he had never dared hope for. “You are now eligible to attend the king’s banquet tomorrow night,” said the prince. “But even more important, you will never need any other clothes. These garments will last forever.”

The beggar dropped to his knees. “Oh, thank you,” he cried.

But as he started to leave, he looked back at his pile of dirty rags on the floor. He hesitated. What if the prince was wrong? What if he would need his old clothes again? Quickly he gathered them up.

The banquet was far greater than he had ever imagined, but he could not enjoy himself as he should. He had made a small bundle of his old rags, and it kept falling off his lap. The food was passed quickly, and the beggar missed some of the greatest delicacies.

Time proved that the prince was right. The clothes lasted forever. Still, the poor beggar grew fonder and fonder of his old rags. As time passed, to him it seemed people forgot who he was now overlooking the royal robes he was wearing. He thought they saw only the little bundle of filthy rags that he clung to wherever he went. They spoke of him as the old man with the rags.

One day as he lay dying, the king visited him. The beggar saw the sad look on the king’s face when he looked at the bundle of rags by the bed. Suddenly the beggar remembered the prince’s words and he realized that his bundle of rags had cost him a lifetime of true royalty. He wept bitterly at his folly.

The king wept with him.

*graphic is from the  Bible Project

Numbers

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Two censuses are recorded in the Numbers, at the beginning and the end in the fourth book.  These numbers are gathered to counting the Israelites (of the Exodus or the exiting generation from Egypt and on the new or entering generation into the promised land).  Throughout the Bible, a census or genealogy show the importance of who was God’s chosen line of people.  The intent is the separation of this people group from surrounding pagan ones of that era and to show from who the Messiah will come.

The original people who initially crossed the Red Sea when escaping the bondage of Egypt had forgetful memories.  They forgot they were rescued by God (not by man) out of four centuries of slavery, then given God’s covenant law and guidance to help them, and the provision of divine delivery of daily food to survive. Paul compares the Israelites as being baptized with Moses in the cloud and in the sea.  When they went through the Red Sea, surrounded by water.   They were, in a sense, immersed as God began their deliverance, just as disciples of Christ are immersed immediately after their conversion (1Cor. 10:1-5).

Rather than faith and gratitude, they instead submitted to their worried lack of provisions and repeated acts of insurgency, particularly when it came to entering the promised land of Canaan.  In a spiritual amnesia, they forgot what God had done for them, the people at one point submitted to a sorcerer and magician who tried to manipulate God. The title of the book is creative as it’s not a book of math calculations, but instead, it shows a different count of the populace in the full of history encompassing several people over a period of forty years of wandering (and wondering).  Most of those poor folks turned their exodus into a forty-year jaunt roaming the desert in circles (what was a two-hundred-mile journey that should have taken fifteen days allowing for the size and logistics of the group) and never entered the land of Canaan. Numbers 14:3 sums it up well.   Instead, their children were the ones who entered this promised land. There’s a saying that it took only three days for Israelites to get out of Egypt, but it took forty years to get the “Egypt” out of them.  Truth be told it took a lot longer than forty years as the rest of the Bible contests.

Water is a symbolic representation of Jesus in this book with the ritual cleansing and purification beyond the physical aspects of it.  It’s through Him we can purify ourselves in daily sanctification.  Plus, there is the aspect of unlimited water to quench our thirst with Jesus being the “spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (Jn. 4:14).

Moses did not enter the promised land now.  He was forbidden because he didn’t follow God’s instruction about the miracle of speaking water into existence from a rock (to reveal God’s glory) as opposed to what Moses did do by striking the rock with a staff (Nm. 20:10-12).  This is referred to his sin of impatience.  Moses did eventually, though, get to the promised land. It was on a mountain in the New Testament, Matthew (17:2-3) with Jesus “he was transfigured in front of his three disciples, his face shining as the sun, and his garments became white as the light.” At that point, the prophets Elijah and Moses appear, and Jesus talks with them. This is a testimony to me that Moses did make it to the promised land. God didn’t forget his promise to him.

Numerals have significant meaning in the Bible as did names (as shown in the example in the Genesis Chapter).  Three, God’s trifecta, depicts completeness (found in the Trinity, the number of gifts from the Magi to baby Jesus, the angels mentioned by name in the Bible:  Gabriel (the messenger), Michael (the archangel), and Lucifer, the fallen angel (cf. Isa. 14: 12-14, Ezk. 28:14-18) aka Satan. Seven is the number representing completeness and perfection (tied to God’s creation of all things), both physically and spiritually, like the seven days of creation, seven parables, seven churches in the book of Revelation.   And the number forty symbolizes testing, trail or probationary period (for example Israel desert wanderings, the days Noah’s ark was adrift and the temptation of Jesus in the desert).  Be leery of those calling themselves Christian numerologist, a nonexistent title in Christian circles and usually discounted.  Most particularly, best to dismiss biblical number enthusiast theorizing on so called biblical codes in scripture to try and predict end times (Col. 2:8).

Just as there are sixty-six books in the Bible to find spiritual nourishment; in the sixty-sixth chapter of Exodus (chapter 16) is the manna provided from heaven.  I acknowledge the Bible warns about adding or subtracting anything more to Scripture than what is there (cf. Dt. 4:1-2, Rev. 22:18-19). The consistent coincidence in the use of numbers and the repeated use of them in the different eras shows a pattern the scholars acknowledge in importance.

I, much to the chagrin of my children and in the process to me, changed my name after my nest emptied.  I considered the biblical meaning of the number three:  completeness.  When I changed my name, legally, for the second time (having had three names first my given name, my married one with this being my third) I thought I am going to have to live up to this name as it is going to be with me for the rest of my remaining days.  I chose a one-word moniker.  (Bet you thought the name of the author of this was a nom de plume.)  It was pure crazy foolishness I admit, but I wanted a new name to launch this last era of my life.  The hassles I have given myself with a one-word moniker are ongoing. There are consequences  I pay for this pretentiousness.   The list of pseudonyms and alias I have now when business, academic, and entities of government issuing organizations try and make sense of my name are interesting, to say the least as they try to make it fit into their standardized forms.   When I introduce myself to a class of students, I tell this antidote of a single moniker with its associated complications (particularly when it comes to filling out digitized forms requiring a first and a last name) to make a teaching point. If anything, the students remember my name when I substitute in that school again in the future and it definitely delineates another chapter in my life.

Just as numbers have meaning in the Bible so do names (as shown in the example in the Genesis chapter).  These meanings help readers to further understand the theme of the books of the Bible which is why I try to include the meaning of biblical author’s name. In life today, picking names for children and g-kids, I still look up their biblical meaning (yeah it’s a bit of a fetish with me).

I am stuck with my name.  I still like it.   I remind myself of the meaning of my third name change and I am damned and determined to end well.  The administrative challenges my name causes is a foreshadowing that this “completion” deal, in general, is not going to be easy.

“Every saint has a past. And every sinner has a future” says Oscar Wilde, who probably knew more than a little about this subject than most.  How could the people of Israel go so off course, literally and figuratively?  Why does God use imperfect people for his perfect plan?   We can be asked the same today.

Consider the roll call of God’s flawed heroes: a talent pool that has always been thin when it comes to moral perfection:

Noah got drunk.

Abraham lied about his wife.

Jacob was another liar.

Moses was hot-tempered and a murderer.

Rehab was a prostitute.

Samson had serious problems with lust and anger.

David, an adulterer.

The disciples were of low repute

Peter denied Christ.

Paul persecuted the church.

It’s our brokenness. Yet we are still used by God. That builds more of a bridge for people of the ages more than pretending wholeness (holiness) ever does.  If the heroes mentioned attained any status (and they did), it’s not because of its rooted in their moral perfection but more in their uncompromising dedication to the will of God. It’s their rugged trust in His promises rather than lapsing into the continual idolatry of the earthly habits of their neighbors.

One of the most confounding, yet wonderfully reassuring, things about God is His ways are not our ways.  In 1Corinthians 1:27 state “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; He chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”   Whatever the accomplishments of a life that occur are only through Him.  When you work toward a goal, uncertain if you will do well or accomplish it, then unbeknownst and totally unperceivable goodness comes of it, rest assured you are working in a place that God is blessing.  Christian pastor and author Rick Warren says, “God always uses imperfect people in imperfect situations to accomplish his perfect will.”

Gratitude helps put things in perspective when times are difficult something the older generation of the Exodus had difficulty comprehending and it cost them.  One of the things about getting older (if not wiser) is forgetting how often we got through times that we thought were dreadful particularly when we encounter another one.

Moses sends twelve spies to do a reconnaissance during the final part of their journey, which meant going through the plains of Moab before the Israelites army’s set out to seize the land of Canaan.  Joshua and Caleb, two of the twelve, stand alone in encouraging Israel to take possession of the land (cf. Nm. 13:17-21Jos. 14:7). The remaining ten spies said defeat was for certain and not to try it.  Joshua and Caleb looked at the good things that could result in the attainment and wanted to go for it.  They knew God would be present with them.   The rest could only see their weakness against the numbers and strength of the enemy.  The older “Exodus” generation forgot their victories and provisions provided previously by God.  This attitude ended up costing them 38 more years and them never reaching the promised land.

It’s a lesson to remember when we think by default being the elder makes us right. Being grateful for remembering is not fluff or some positive mental attitude hype to get through life when you remember and realize God is on your side.

There are many promises in the Bible on how God is always with us. Still, confusion and forgetfulness set in about what God can do.  He never promised to keep us away from trouble, to take us around, up and over them.  He does promise to go through them with us (cf.   Ps. 23:4, Matt. 28:20). Recounting the memories of acknowledging it was only through His provision, not by man’s hand, softens the blunt force of hard situations.  I play my part in the execution.

A character from Virginia Woolf’s book To the Lighthouse said, “A light here requires a shadow there.”

Deuteronomy

deuteronomy

 

Moses has his final words of remembrance and leaves his last testimony in Deuteronomy.  The book’s name means a repetition of God’s instruction.  His dying is noted in chapter and verse 34:5, ending this section of the Bible.   The year is 1406 AD. He bequeaths his leadership of the nation of Israel to Joshua who is assumed finished the writing this book.

Moses was the mediator of the covenant between God and his chosen people at Mt. Sinai.   It won’t be until the coming of Jesus that the same standard God set for people to live by yet never could attain previously, would finally be achieved.  Moses foretold of the one (Jesus) who would come that would be greater than he (Dt. 18:15). Later in Deuteronomy 21:22-23, it says God would curse any man, executing them for breaking God’s commands. The punishment is hanging a dead body on a pole for public display of judgment. This verse refers to Jesus who took on a curse meant for all of humanity.

Of all the books in the Pentateuch, this one is most debated over whether Moses ascribed it or not.  Mainly the debate is over the rewording of the laws presented previously and some of the organization of the book does not make sense.     A commentary on the side is helpful with this book.  As mentioned earlier about the old covenant,  biblical laws were presented to an original audience where they are at rather than those in the future however the spirit of the law, as addressed in Deuteronomy, presupposes a future.    This may account for some of the subtle changes.  Deuteronomy is one of two places to find the Ten Commandments (Dt. 5:6-21).  This one, after the one in Exodus (Ex. 20:1-17) could be a reaffirmation.  This new generation going into the promises land had never experienced the Red Sea departing nor the original presentation of the commandments.   If you want to organize or make sense of the additional laws, it’s been recommended to put the Ten Commandments each in their own cubby hole, for a total of ten. Then take each additional law and it will fit accordingly within one of the Ten Commandments.

One of the fun things (okay maybe not for everyone) is to figure out the euphuisms of some of the law versus tackling sensitive subjects written to the original audience.   Like lawful and unlawful relations in Chapter 22 is basically about chastity and advice on not being equally yoked.  Early on we see the reasons for graffiti, examples of perhaps when corporate punishment began, and explanations of the levirate marriage customs and refuge cities.

Most people read the Ten Commandments as a list of do’s and don’ts.  The first four commandments are about a relationship with God, the remaining six are concerning relationships with others.

Presenting the commandments another way,  they say:

  1. worship God alone;
  2. to not make our own pretend gods or let anything take God’s place;
  3. use our words to praise and honor God;
  4. save one day a week for rest and worship;
  5. listen to our parents, no matter what the age;
  6. avoid hating people or hurting others with our words and actions;
  7. respect our bodies and the bodies of other people;
  8. keep your hands off things that don’t belong to you;
  9. be truthful; and
  10. to be thankful for God’s good gifts to us.

The above list is presented in more of a positive slant on how to live life (a paraphrased account copied from Ten Commandments for Kids by Ben Van Arragon).   The Law of Moses, the law for the nation of Israel, is God inspired.  It has the added bonus of a royal grant (one that never ends)  within it, in contrast, to solely a constitution (and its amendment process) or what they called a suzerainty treaty of that era (a vassal for the people with their King).     Deuteronomy 4:2, a key verse, shows the determined resolution of God.

Contracts tend to be broken. The covenant (firmly established in the royal grant) shows God’s promise will be honored, His word will be fulfilled if not through one person than through another down the line.  It was consummated for us with Jesus Christ. By discovering who God is through the Ten Commandments is the beginning of a relationship.  It’s a marked display of what other gods (of that era and now) don’t do, leaving their believers confused and bewildered on how to respond and act.

Record of the  Commandments once could be easily found on display in most courthouses, public schools, and government buildings.  We no longer see the commandments as often displayed since the Supreme Court decision in 2005 (and from an earlier one in 1980 forbidding display in public schools) ruling to such on these properties.  There is a legal qualifier, though (which seems to be overlooked after the ten commandments were taken down from display); the biblical laws can be exhibited for display if done in a historical context, with the court claiming first amendment rights. It’s noted in this qualifier that the posting the first four commandments, dealing with honoring God and the Sabbath does not favor one faith over another or adherence to religion.  The part of the first amendment rights here particularly address the clauses on the establishment of religion (by a government) and prohibiting the free exercise of expressing faith on government property (particularly in the situation of military chaplains).

My children went to a parochial school through up to the 8th grade.  One year, due to personal financial constraints, we enrolled them in them in public school.  It happened to be an election year and as parents, we vocalized our concerns around “little” ears in the home during our political conversations.  On the first day of school, my daughter (who is a teacher now in public school and provides a ministry of presence for her students) at the time was apprehensive about attending the first day of school (trust me this one loves the anticipation of the first day of school!).  I asked her why she was scared, and she said because God wasn’t there and that she had heard us talking about it.  Wow, I was caught short. I said something flippant like God and prayer would always be in school as long as there were tests then sent her off.  Well, she came home that day all excited because “God is there,” she exclaimed, “We said his name in the pledge of alliance!”

From her statement earlier in the morning, I was convicted for the rest of the year to do a bible study with the kids before school to start their day, something I should have been doing anyhow and not rely on the parochial school to give them religious instructions.  That was my job.  Later I learned from her teacher (in congenial tones) at conferences that she observed my daughter announcing at lunch “Let us pray” and grab the hands of the girls on either side.   A classmate then asked, “Why do we pray before we eat?”  The teacher said my daughter answered because it makes the food taste better.

Deuteronomy 6:7 says to take the law and impress it on your children.  To do this, it’s recommended to talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk (walking also meant as a show of behavior in our daily living) along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Following on the coat tails of that scripture is: “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” (Prv. 22:6).

There was an informal gathering at my sister’s house that included my niece, brother-in-law, my kids, and my mom, the conversation turned to parents exposing children to worship, church, and God’s teachings.  My brother in law said he wanted his daughter to make her own decisions about God when she was old enough to understand and grasp it, not to force feed it to her at a younger impressionable age.  Before I could contain myself, I blurted out: “Who decides when she should go to the doctors, you or her?”   I then went on to ask if he thought she had a soul who needs as much tending to as her health.   I compared it to the boundaries parents set for our kids to safely play or about sending them to school for an education for their own good.  Do we allow children to decide when to go to the doctor or when to go to school?   For complete wholeness, its ideal if these compartments of life (mental, physical, spiritual) are nurtured congruently. But more importantly, a child doesn’t need a theological debate but instead a nurturing of the soul.   Unconditional love is part of that nurturing.

There is a story about a fellow who was having trouble recalling the preaching topic at church services a few weeks prior.  He surmised if he couldn’t remember then maybe it wasn’t that important or even still maybe going to church isn’t either.  He approached his pastor about it.  The pastor responded by asking if the man remembered what he had for dinner the night before.  The man said yes and told him what it was. Then the pastor asked what was for dinner last Tuesday?  The man stopped for a moment then remembered and responded.

The pastor continued to quiz him on his meals on other days which eventually the fellow couldn’t remember.  The pastor asked if the food nourished him and added strength and endurance even if he now can’t remember what he ate?  That answer is the same reason as to what worship and bible study does to refresh and strength our souls.

The soul work of a child falls in the same category as medical help which begins at birth.   If I don’t share my spiritual beliefs and understanding with my child, then I am going to leave a blank slate for someone else to fill.  One way or another the soul will seek out needed sustenance.   Otherwise, it will become anorexic and emaciated.

There’s the rebuttal that I am teaching my child about my God.  My life experience shows and the Word assures me that later (referring to Prv. 22:6) if my child indeed follows my God when he is young then eventually, as he gets older, he seeks out a personal relationship with God, making Him as his own God.

Once, my one of my other daughters, at around age five, asked the Pastor as we made our way out of Sunday morning worship, “What does God want from me?”

Without hesitation, he answered, “He wants a relationship with you.”

A recent definition of vulnerability I read said relationships underlies our natural state because humans are meant to belong.  Social work professor and scholar Brené Brown said that through her research she found vulnerability is the glue that holds relationships together.

Once during a dark night of my soul  (taken from the title of a poem by St. John of the Cross ), I began to question my precepts of life when it took an alternate route, abrupt detour from where I thought I was headed.    Aristotle wrote in Metaphysics that man by nature desires to know.  In my existential quandary, I wanted to know if what I believe is true. I wanted to not only know what I believed but why I believed it.  I eventually went back to the basic: the ten rules for living.  A proven guarantee to not let me down, it is one of my go-to places to align and realign my moral compass.  Jesus boils it down further in the New Testament when he gave a new covenant/promise (love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself).   I also went back for a second master’s degree in Theology from a divinity school.  That’s a little extreme I know, but I made it work for me.

God has not changed  (Mal 3:6) since he gave Moses this template on how to live life. And humanity has not changed much since then either. We still mess up.  God’s primary message through Moses is love.

When Soren Kierkegaard says “That God is love means that He will do everything to help you love Him that is to change you into His likeness.  He knows well how infinite painful this change is for you, and so is willing to suffer with you.  He suffers more in love than you, suffers all the heartache of being misunderstood but He is not altered.”

German writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said we must always change, renew, and rejuvenate ourselves otherwise we harden our hearts and minds. Change is a constant, unavoidable. But not when it comes to God and his Holy word.   Emotionally immature Christians who are anxious about this truth, resist it. Usually, the underlying reasons to this resistance, are fear, pride and control. And the more unpredictable their world becomes, the more they clamp down on controlling, usually the things and people closest to them.

Joshua

06-Joshua-2_Jim-LePage

When you hear the phrase: “Joshua Come Blow Your Horn,” who do you think about?  Do you think of a slave, a spy, an optimist, a warrior, humility, submissiveness, courage, a leader, obedience, piety?  Or all those traits?  That is the Joshua of the Bible.

This next literary section of the Bible is on Christianity’s historical legacy found in the Old Testament, to me the two are a shared testament (both O.T.  and N.T.) of Christianity’s collective roots.   In this book is the fulfillment of God’s promise of Israel entering the Promised Land.   The land is also enemy territory. The Hebrew name Joshua is Yeshua, whose name means “God is salvation” and is the Greek word for Jesus.  The name foreshadows traits of Christ as the commander of the Lord’s army.

Joshua was born into Egyptian slavery.  As Moses’ understudy, he witnessed the miraculous wonders of the Red Sea Crossing, wandered 40 years in the desert wilderness with a divine provision of daily food (manna and quail) eventually rising to the God-appointed role to lead Israel into the Land of Canaan.  He was known as a strong military leader with experience in espionage. God used Joshua to performed miracles: the parting of the Jordan River and the fall of Jericho’s walls among others.  When he stepped up to fill Moses shoe’s, Joshua was around fifty-five.  Up until then, he is a strong testimony of mentoring with Moses.  It took seven years to complete  twelve conquests to acquire the land of Canaan.   The epitaph on Joshua at the end of this book reads he was the servant of the Lord. Before he died the people renewed their covenant  with God but the ways of the people who were not driven out of the land were underestimated and is shown in the downfall of the period of Judges.

While in the land of Canaan, the people again go through the parting of waters of the Jordan River.  Beneath the waters of the river are 12 stones (representing the twelve tribes of Israel).  Joshua left the stones as a designated altar to remember what happened here.  This is the same river of Jesus’s baptism.  Joshua’s life reflects the journey of a Christian. Joshua went from slavery (our enslavement is to our sins) in Egypt to freedom in the desert and then to the promised land.   We are born and live in the slavery of our selfishness until we put our faith in Jesus. We then live in newness of life as Christians in this world, a place that is not our home.  Our promised land is the afterlife in heaven (1 Cor. 15:50-54).

In Joshua, is the account of Rahab.  She saw God was with the Jewish people who were invading her country. She wanted to be remembered, along with her relations, as aiding them with a request, in turn, to spare her and her household during the invasion of Jericho. Rahab was a prostitute, a deviant, a woman of the worst order who came to believe in God, so much she put her life on the line for Israelite spies by giving them hidden refuge.   God wanted them there too because here was a woman who had a ready heart to receive the truth.  The spies sent by Joshua found a place of safety from the enemy and in turn, so did she.  The promise to spare Rahab and her household during the attack by the Israelites were honored.  Rahab later went on to become the wife of Salmon, (some think she was the mother of Boaz) and the great-great-grandmother of King David, and in turn an ancestor of Jesus.

It’s worth noting that Jews do not proselytize or evangelize, then or now, as a practice of their faith. The idea and appearance of Judaism as unique and spiritually satisfying for those not born into the faith and was a portal that many came through in their conversion.

The twenty-five thousand or so Hebrews are going into a Holy war in enemy territory.  Israelite military intelligence discovered the most dangerous spot in Jericho.   It was a 9 ½ mile walk around the city of Jericho. Rehab’s house was on that wall.  This wall came down when Joshua ordered his priests to blow their horn, and the walls came down. The walls can also metaphorically represent both a physical impediment as well as an unseen obstacle.  This wall, or barrier, or whatever the impediment, is a symbolic awareness of the paradox of tension followers of Jesus live.    The tension comes from the evil that is in direct opposition to the nature of God.  Entering into a relationship with God is to be a part of this world yet apart from it at the same time. (Jn.17:16). We live in a world that is under the influence of this evil.

When everyone in my family flew the coop, emptying my nest at a culminating point, I discovered new chores I previously didn’t have to do.  One such was getting the trash out to the curb for the scheduled refuse pick up.  I would get it out of the house during the week to its holding place, still not making it to the curb.  I was living in an area that had nocturnal animals from the bluff across the street from my house; my trash bags would be an open invitation for dinner resulting in a bigger mess thanks to the hungry varmints.  I went so far as to buy a small storage unit container, another holding place to store the trash postponing the inevitable of getting the garbage out for pick up day.  Then as trash will do, the smell got stronger and grosser day by day.  I am embarrassed to say how long it took me to get into the routine of getting my trash out for pickup.   To me, this is a vivid foreshadowing of unconfessed sin.  It piles up.  Then it turns into baggage.  I move mine around to a holding place.   Thankfully I eventually figured out I need to get rid of it by confessing it, letting it go and not repeating the offense.

Now, I am diligent about my getting my garbage out, to the point I wash out my garbage containers and recycle, with the latter not mandated in my area.  Serendipity for me now is my neighbor who kindly and independently volunteers to bring my empty trash container back to their place near the house after the pickup.  That too is a foreshadowing of God’s love, how he works in handling my garbage (symbolizing my transgressions) knowing there will be more in the future so here’s the empty container to dump it all in to be taken away.  I wonder if my holding on to my “garbage” is the thought of God taking on my trash is a difficult request to ask the Almighty. The point is He is happy to do it.

In Announcing the Kingdom: The Story of God’s Mission in the Bible (by writers Engen, Gilliland, Glasser, and Redford), is found the perfect definition of the kingdom. Some say the unifying biblical theme is the “Kingdom”. I read “Kingdom” and “Jesus”  as synonymous.    It’s the knowledge that the kingdom is now (while living on earth) as part of the eternal kingdom as well. Eternity means forever, not later. Forever includes this nanosecond (in the grand scheme of eternal time ) moment known as “right now” and what’s left of earthly life. Through and in Jesus comes an introduction of the yielding to a new order reflecting “redemption accomplished.”  It points to the already present; it proves to be the enjoyment of tomorrow today; it encompasses those good things Jesus provides (our identity, forgiveness of sins, to enter one on one prayer in his presence, acquiring peace of mind that goes beyond understanding).  It demands a willingness to live consciously and experiencing the ups and downs of life, taking the suffering with the joy.  Life on earth is full of paradox when choosing to live in God’s Kingdom.   We live in the valleys of mundane and on mountain tops of spiritual ecstasy.  It does become easier over time when yielding to God’s leading.  It becomes easier to yield if we can trust what He is doing in real time and be willing to follow Him wherever He leads us.  Listening and watching for this can be difficult especially when we want the certainty of the outcome beforehand of what God’s doing.   He breaks our hearts first then calls us to be a part of the restorative work he’s doing.  It is in this brokenness of my heart, explained in other accounts from my life recorded here, that he ended up using me.

The Kingdom is in consummation today, on earth, with the final event still to come.  Some of those moments of what life ecstasy with others can indeed mean, not to mention our periods of healing, or the growth in our spiritual awareness, as a tiny foretaste of what is to come.  Believers can live in the kingdom now; not an event to postpone.  It’s in living life between the already and the not yet.

As I write the above, it is on the church calendar day of celebrating the Reformation. The song commemorating it  A Mighty Fortress is Our God by Martin Luther.

“And though this world, with devils filled,

Should threaten to undo us,

We will not fear, for God hath willed

His truth to triumph through us:

The Prince of Darkness grim,

We tremble not for him;

His rage we can endure,

For lo! His doom is sure;

One little word shall fell him.”

Many think liar is the “one little word shall fell him”, an accusation that stops Satan in his tracks.

Four hundred and fifty years (cf. Gen. 15:13, Ex. 12:40) years have passed by the time of the end of this book before God honors His promise of entrance into Canaan.   Not only did Joshua contend with the conquering the land, but also for twenty-five more years he grappled with lingering spiritual warfare.

Spiritual warfare may come across sounding like a category in science fiction.  Often new believers think once converted that everything is going to go smoothly forward in their life.  I was part of a difficult scenario once within a group who laid hands on someone praying for their physical healing.  I struggled with it because first I don’t, nor do many others, have the miraculous gift of curing people that way.  However, in this public setting, I succumbed to participating, praying for God to be glorified.   I didn’t want to put limits on God and how he works.  I have heard of miraculous healings but have never personally witnessed it.  I wondered when these kinds of prayer seem to go unanswered, what is the reaction or interpretation of the recipient who received such an outcome?  And what about those that fervently but didn’t get the job, their mom died of cancer, their child was stillborn, or they ended up in a car crash that left them permanently disabled?

Once Pastor told me after taking the spiritual gift assessment, that he answered that he had experienced the gifts of miracles from his witness of medical healing through prayer, that medically was unexplainable.

Our desired outcome for prayer doesn’t determine if it was successful or not.  Response to prayer is a supernatural one when we often lift prayers that we have no way of grasping the consequences or impact it might have on if it is granted.

Theologian and author in the Quaker tradition Richard Foster says “For those explorers in the frontiers of faith, prayer was no little habit tacked on to the periphery of their lives; it was their lives. It was the most serious work of their most productive years. Prayer—nothing draws us closer to the heart of God.”

Would those praying experience unworthiness if healing doesn’t occur? Would the thing that should provide unshakable confidence, that should strengthen our faith in Christ, become a source of shame if our faith isn’t “strong enough” to beat the illness?  Could dysphoria set in about not being good enough for a miracle to occur?  God’s ways are not our ways (Isa. 55:8).

For me it’s not a case of a lack of information but a lack of meaning. I wonder about many questions, although God isn’t always inclined to answer them.  Rabbi Harold Kushner  says one way to get over some of the humps of unanswered questions is to change the adverb “why” to the pronoun “what.”  What should I do in this situation instead of why this situation?

Faith is a restless form of knowledge (Anselm, ca. 1053-1109).  Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel told his college students: “I still have questions for God and I still have problems with God, absolutely.  But it is within faith, not outside faith, and surely not opposed to faith.”  In  Luther’s words, believers have never become but are always becoming (through sanctification, regeneration, renewal, and discipleship).

God is more interested in my transformation. My salvation is not based on this transformation.  It is an unconditional gift is unearned.  God always answers prayer.  I’ve found the perfect intervention to pray is “Thy will be done.”  His answers are either no, yes or wait for his perfect timing.  Another prayer dialogue is to ask to make whatever the situation is to count for his glory as Rahab did.  Author Wayne Dyer says we pray not to influence God granting personal favors but rather as a reminder that we are always connected to God.

C. S. Lewis summarizes that if you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: consider it instead as a place of training and correction.  It’s as if believers are in exile for a short period of our life here on earth; we are heaven bound refugees, like the Jewish Diaspora of the Old Testament.

Judges

 

judges

Imagine if everyone did as they saw fit, and that was how history reflected the era you lived?  Sounds a little too familiar with contemporary history.  It is how this next 410 years in the Bible is described. A nineteenth-century philosopher, G. W.F. Hegel once said, “The only thing we learn from history is that we have learned nothing from history.” Mark Twain said history doesn’t change it rhythms with itself.  Bottom line is human nature does not change. If a spiraling downward pattern to old ways is indicative it is in this book.

The idea of God providing salvation for his people parallels the Gospel message.  The book spans 300 years, or seven generations, between the entry into the land of Canaan (described in Joshua) and the rise of the first monarchy in the Bible (1Samuel).  It is often cited as being written by one referred to as the last judge and, who some would say, is also the first prophet: Samuel.

The reference to the word Judges is not the same in translation as current day.  Then it referred to rulers, usually with a show of military might.  After the 13 campaigns in Joshua (counting the Southern and Northern confederacy as one each), the symbolic numbers meaning of rebellion (not obeying all of God’s command to drive out the evil of the promised land) and the now there is the consequences of the lawlessness in the period of judges.   Twelve judges are presented here however if we add Samuel it equals thirteen. Jesus mentions 13 things that defile people in Mark 7:20-23 (adultery, fornications, evil thoughts, murders, covetousness, thefts, wickedness, licentiousness, slyness in a charming way or guile, blasphemy, foolishness, pride, and envy) which could be some of the themes of Judges.

Six of the judges are major enough to have sections written about them.  And within these six, they go from being pretty good (the first three) to bad, bad and worst.  They are not shown to give us moral examples but to reveal that God is at work in history,  at a certain time, judging or redeeming his people.

As a populace, its proven there is nothing that is good that we humans can’t mess up.  If you fast forward to the end of the book it concludes with the verse: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” (Jgs. 21:25).  God delivers his people from a mess created by their hand.

People did not choose the Judges of this era God did except for one, Jephthah who connivingly got the people to choose him.  A Canaanite, it is no wonder he ended up giving his daughter up in sacrifice (a tradition among his people) to God.    The record shows they continually and repeatedly reverted to their desires, suffering the consequences of their choices.   His patience and (to use old terminology) His long-suffering is particularly exemplified here.

As mentioned before, imperfect people were used to achieve God’s desired outcomes, with the Judges further example of unlikely heroes.  There are two such stories here ranging in extremes of being perhaps initially too weak (Gideon) to too strong (Samson). Both men redeemed themselves with Gideon known as the priest, who went into battle.

A look at the man Gideon (a name adopted now by the Bible distribution group whose ministry places free Bibles in hotel rooms and for the time being in public school classrooms) is reminiscent of Moses.  Both were humble men.  Gideon asked God (referred here as Jehova-Shalom [peace]) multiple times for signs to make sure this calling was from Him. This denotes the source of peace granted in moments of fear, worry, and weakness.  It’s the kind of peace that the apostle Paul speaks about in Philippians 4:7: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

A divinely given peace not based on the world’s idea of peace; it’s peace that transcends our understanding.  It does not seem reasonable that such peace could exist during the problems and troubles people go through.

I have found a way to gain a large measure of peace during panic attacks which for me began a few years ago.  When my panic attacks happened, I used to fold myself up into a ball, hug and rock myself. Once, I went so far as hiding under a desk and then another in the corner of the room as if somehow the attack couldn’t find me.  Initially, the remedy to combat the attacks was prescription drugs.  After a period, I had become too druggy from the meds. I was sleepwalking through life.  I stopped taking them, cold turkey which I don’t recommend.  I, through trial and error, came up with another remedial care plan to ground me.  I turned to God’s promises as my prescription at the onset of an attack. I typed them out on a piece of paper and would read them when afraid in court as acting as a pro se.  In a book from my personal library on God’s promises, I turned to His assurances in seeking peace.  Peace isn’t the absence of conflict.  It’s the presence of God. I count my blessings recalling how God brought me through events that I thought were insurmountable.  The first reminder is what Jesus did on the cross for me.

When I would ask God to change what was going on in my life without realizing He put me in that place, so I could change.  I came to a better understanding when I realized birds do not fly themselves as much as they are flying with the help of the wind and fish do not swim as such as they are guiding off the currents. They adapted to the change around them.

St. Mother Teresa was quoted as saying: “I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or that, but now I pray that he will guide me to do whatever I’m supposed to do, what I can do.  I used to for answers, but now I’m praying for strength.  I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and how we see things.”

I once got caught up in positive mental attitude (P.M.A.) fad.  I don’t think to claim God’s promises fall into that category.  The latter is more to remember this too shall pass.  Gratitude seemed to me to be more potent then P.M.A.

There is a time and a place for intervention with medication and professional therapy when dealing with depression.  Occasionally, extreme sadness visits in a season. I discovered most of my fears aren’t real in the way I think they are. As the saying goes: “My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.” They’re just a story I tell myself, and I can choose to stop repeating and listening to it.  Instead of listening to myself I counter with talk to myself about the real facts of grace in my life.

Gideon (in chapters 6-8) didn’t have panic attacks, he did take things step by step with God.  He didn’t listen to himself. Instead, he humbly asked for signs from God at different intervals as he built up his courage. Before this, he is so unassuming and tentative, Gideon at one point tries to hide from God’s requests. There was a season in my younger adult life when the course of action was to outrun or intentionally become frenzied or too busy with something than to address problems.  It was a way to postpone or naively hope things wouldn’t catch up with me.  It was easier to change environments (move) then it was to make personal changes.  Challenges eventually catch up though if not resolved.  After more similar episodic times, once when I almost went into hiding to get away from what I perceived was intentional persecution, I realized that what really needed to be done is to go headfirst into life’s hurdles and use it as kindling to start a fire within to motivate me forward.

Another huge leap of faith for Gideon came in trusting God when he is asked to take three hundred soldiers out of the thirty-two thousand he recruited to defeat the enemy.  He obeyed, and God delivered Gideon and the people to victory over the enemy. The people wanted to reward Gideon by making him a King.  He refused because the Lord deserved the credit of victory and was the true King. Sadly in the end, he showed acts of idol worship.

Samson, on the other hand, is a lesson of major downfall, his moral compromises with his temptation of flesh with Delilah, his foreign love interest, depicts him at his lowest.   Samson, a Nazarite, was chosen to be the deliverer of Israel from oppression at the hands of Philistines.  In the process, he lost sight of God as the real source of his strength (not his uncut hair). Samson, unfortunately, didn’t totally embrace the true purpose of what he was doing by not following the Nazarite ideals of not cutting their hair, abstaining from wine and that of touching a dead body.  His is an example of the slippery slope once given in to sin.  He had the ability to do God’s work, but he was vulnerable to his temptation and the consequences of acting on by whim.

Sometimes I spend too much time wondering and praying about if someone is truly saved and will go to heaven.  It has recently been pressed upon me that yes if someone believes and accepts God and also Jesus in their hearts and lives, they are saved.  There is no chance of ever not being saved once it is sincerely done.   All believers will go to that place we call heaven when we die. (Rev. 3:12)   There are two types of believers: the church believers and Jewish believers.  There will be this final judgment (2Cor. 5:10) for both in heaven.  We will not be judged for our sins, Jesus took care of that judgment for us.  But we will be judged for our faithfulness while on earth. (Matt. 25:23).   In heaven, our rewards will be based on that faithfulness.

Remembering our past, our victory (or not) in situations, teaches many lessons on how to live through “today’s” drama.  If we don’t try to understand the lesson, push it aside, then a do-over will happen until we do get it.  The Israelites did their version of this when they forgot from where their strength came, particularly during the forty years in the desert. They ignored the miraculous events that brought them to their land or the covenant that united them to their God. But God did not forget them or His covenant—and because of His great love for them, he brought them back to him.

There was this dear elderly man in my church who pulled me aside during a meeting where the topic discussed included worship music style and songs, traditional versus contemporary.  He began by admitting he is a diagnosed epileptic.  When he had seizures as a young boy, his mother would hold him just enough so that he wouldn’t harm himself.  She also would sing to him the chorus refrains of old hymns.  Now he says when he has seizures the echo of her singing voice, and the lyrics from the traditional hymns are in his head still sooth him.  He asked to please not throw the baby (the traditional songs) out with the bathwater in going to only one type of genre of Christian music.

Ruth

 

ruth wheat

In God’s sacred book, there is a bright spark of light shining on goodness and kindness in the book of Ruth, it takes about fifteen minutes to read.    This book is probably one of the most favorite and noted narratives.   It is written during the same time as the moral degeneration of the people shown in Judges.  Samuel is considered the book’s author.  He wrote it partly to show the genealogy of  David, people who still had exceptional faith and a sense of responsibility to God’s law.  The book of Ruth is a bridge of hope paving the way to David from the book of Judges.

In contrast to the 33 books in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible, the Hebrew Bible consists of 24 books.  Ruth is found there in one of their three sections called the Writings, the other two are Teaching (what we know as the Pentateuch) and the Prophets.   Originally part of that dark book, Judges, it was a respite to read about good people.  Later Ruth was placed in the Writings or wisdom section of the Hebrew canon after Proverbs.  It’s speculated that she is the Proverbs 31 woman.

Because sweet, loyal Ruth is listed in the genealogy of King David,  subsequently she is listed in Jesus’s.  Ruth is the great-grandmother of David (Ru. 4:16-17).  According to Jewish legend, King David was born and died on the same day of the Jewish festival that is fifty days after Passover, near to the date of what Christians call Pentecost.

The book is about a practical life that points to Jesus as our kinsman, love, and redeemer.  Boaz is the symbolic character representing Jesus (Ru. 4:14 ESV), who redeems Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi.  The themes of loyalty, love, kindness, the value of people and the need to understand one another is what stands out in this book. It’s about the life of a refugee who converts to God as her God.  This book tells us that no matter how bad things may be, goodness can exist if we are willing to make an effort.  It depicts Jesus’ guidance and providence (Ru. 2:20).  This book is a contrast between hopelessness and faith. It shows how a life, anyones for that matter, can become more extraordinary in its ordinary when living according to God’s will.

Ruth is probably the most famous person of the Moab race because of this narrative.  Ancient poet Aurelius Prudentius Clemens sums up the book of Ruth this way:

“Behold herein a sign of our free will,

By which God wished to make us understand

The path we tread depends on us alone,

And we are free to follow either way.

Two were enjoined to flee from Sodom’s walls;

One goes with hast, the other hesitates;

Each has free will, but each diversely wills.

Each by (their) choice is drawn in opposite ways

Examples can be found in Holy Writ

Mark Ruth and Orpah of the Moab race!

One follows Naomi with trusting love,

The other leaves her.  Then no longer bound

By wedlock and the Hebrew marriage rites,

They now were free, but Orpah’s ancient faith

Led her to choose a Gentile mate and rear

The stock from which the fierce Goliath sprang.

Ruth, gleaning in the sunny fields, the hand of Boaz won

And in a wedlock chaste

Brought forth the race of Christ, King David’s line

And linked her mortal progeny with God.”

I come from a military family background, and one of my daughters is married to an Army officer.  Ruth ’s declaration of devotion to her mother in law is part of my daughter’s mantra: “…Where you go, I will go, and where you stay I will stay…” (Ru 1:16 a key verse that shows Ruth spiritual confession).

My daughter has learned, like a perennial, to bloom then rebloom where she lands what with her husband’s assignments.  The sacrifices a military family endures with the endless moves, separations, and deployments particularly when raising children is hard to understand by the civilian world.  My daughter and her family, in their marriage, thus far have faced three overseas military deployments.  I remember my dad’s deployments and have raised a family alone due to husbands extensive travel.

A missionary Jim Elliot was killed while in ministry with a remote American tribe.  His wife was serving alongside him.   She, Elisabeth Elliot said, “The will of God is never exactly what you expect it to be.”

This same daughter began her own life when her father’s work took him away from home for long periods.  Ironically the same thing occurred to her during her high school years when not only did her father’s traveling increase but all her older sibs at this point were off in college or on military assignments.  It was just she and me at home. She would joke about who was going to clean the house now that everyone was gone.  I said we would get outside help.  She then said for me not to worry about me becoming bored what with the other kids gone; she would keep me busy.  I told her to thank you but I  had a  life.

Many aspects in each of our lives shape us as we grow up.  There are our education level and our health in developing our social makeup.  If one person in the relationship is not as educated or has health issues that the other doesn’t have it takes adjustment.  Or perhaps one is more traveled, having more experiences/exposure to different cultures than the other can also have an impact.  Social interests could be different such as one prefers active outdoor pursuits and the other not so much. Another dimension needs to be taken into account, like spiritual beliefs.  I group these kinds of things under being equally yoked.  As my kids approached their marriages, I tried to help them consider these things about their future spouse to consider these differing circumstances beforehand as they will eventually surface in their marriages. I have observed that when both partners are in the same spiritual circle (and good ongoing communication), it trumps all of these considerations.  Henri Nouwen says marriage is a call for two people to witness together God’s love.

As the 1960’s pop song I Got You Babe goes “They say our love won’t pay the rent. Before it’s earned, our money’s all been spent.  I guess that’s, so we don’t have a plot.  But at least I’m sure of all the things we got.”  That could describe the start of my other daughter’s marriage.  It is a pure testimony when love, believing in one another, and being in the same spiritual circle can carry a relationship through the hard times.  They got married before things (completed education, economic means, even a job) were in place.   As parents, we voiced our concern about not being able to support themselves, but they were determined and of legal age.   It wasn’t the best of marriage celebration sendoff as I would have wanted for her from me.  I think as parents we may have counseled with their officiating pastor more than they did.   Then a baby was conceived at the end of that first year.   Through their commitment and determination, all our fears were for naught.  They look to have won the hard win with their marriage commitment and determination now over 13 years.

As a mother, I have had concerns (minor in the scheme of things) on how one daughter would adapt with daily common health issues (food allergies and asthma) that my bonus son has but not one associated with my family.  She has totally changed her way of cooking to adapt as well as where they live. It was a blessing in disguise that it was her mother-in-law that ended up probably teaching her the most about cooking.  As a parent I would be dishonest if I didn’t say I wondered (and prayed) over each child’s marital relationship, how it’s working out, are they able to yoke with each other in the most important area to sustain them?

I have come to an appreciation from the book of Ruth about this season of my life as I continue to master the art of letting go of my kids (again) and letting God.  Both my sons have married women who happen to be the only child of mothers who live alone, as do I.   One son, in particular, mentioned the intentional forethought and discussion with his intended before their marriage that his mother-in-law would always be cared for.  The other son lives that out as well. It touches me to see them opening their hearts like that.  In addition to the emotional support of my sons, I also have two daughters,  worthy of seven (meaning perfection) sons (Ru. 4:15),  so I  hardly ever get to a point of feeling neglected.   Perhaps their sense of responsibility also comes from when they saw their granny living with us periodically when she was in transition than when I cared for my mother at the end of her life like I saw her do for her mother.  It almost goes without saying but not all family take care of their own.

In the book of Ruth, God shows He is not beyond making Himself intimately available in what may seem like the small things in ordinary lives compared to the big moments of history.  God nudges, lures and opens a redemptive future in the ongoing drama of everyday joys and sorrows in human history of ordinary time. God has the power to turn desperate situations around and use them for good particularly when accountability and responsibility by people to his precepts are observed.

1 & 2 Samuel

1_2_samuel

“Be Careful What You Ask For” could be the title for this history lesson found in the two books of Samuel.  Here, the people made demands for a King to rule over them, consequently making a premature selection (by casting lots).  God chose Saul as the first contender, but Saul couldn’t keep his eyes or heart on God. The books of Samuel are a biography of its namesake with the main theme around King David.

Samuel didn’t write both these books based on the notice of his death (1Sam 25:1) however whoever (some think the following prophet Nathan) took up the quill to finish it wrote it in the same spirit as Samuel.

The first book of Samuel is a transitional book between the era of Judges to the establishment of a human kingdom.  It shows Samuel as a high priest, prophet, an anointer of the first two kings, and even Samuel as a ghost (1Sam, 28:13-15).  Samuel is a personification of Jesus who possessed all the traits in one: Prophet, Priest, and King. Samuel’s name means “asked of God.” There is a harmony in the theme between these books and those of Kings and Chronicles.

Speaking of names, the name Ebenezer, meaning a stone of help (1Sam. 7:12),  is recorded by Samuel as he the place he commemorates a victory over the Philistines.  Most recognize the name from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol with Ebenezer being Scrooge’s first name.  Like the possible regeneration in defeating the Philistines, Scrooge’s name hints at the regeneration of his heart by story’s end.

The Israelite people desired a king, imitating the governments of the nations around them. God heard the people and gave them a king with all the caveats revealed to them (like upcoming taxes) beforehand.  They persisted in their desire. The king was the people’s representative to God, as the king went spiritually so did the consequences fall on the people he ruled. The Samuel books start with Saul and end of David’s reign.  The book points to the next King Solomon.  Each reign of these kings was for about forty years.

While the people cried out for a king, Hannah, Samuel’s mother, cried out for a child.  She was cruelly being ridiculed and accused as unworthy by other women due to her barrenness. Hannah’s life shows a trust not misplaced for a God who knows our stories from beginning to end; everything has a purpose. God answers her prayers.   Samuel was a miracle child, resembling Jesus’s birth.  He is only one of six births significant enough to be recorded in the Bible.

We read of Samuel’s calling, then, in turn, him doing likewise with the first then the second king (Saul and David respectively). The last Nazarite in Judges (Samson) is a contrast to Samuel, also a Nazarite who took to God’s ways in his calling. When Saul stop focusing his governing under the authority of the Lord’s kingship, David was anointed and called to be the next royal instrument of the God’s to rule over Israel.  It will still be several years after the anointing though before David takes the throne.

Through Hannah’s prayers to serve the Lord, and promised Him to give her son back to Him.  Hannah ’s recorded song of thanksgiving to answered prayer is prophetic, as she mentions the future coming of the “anointed” Messiah for the first time in verse 2:10. After desperately wanting a child, she gives Samuel up to apprentice in ministry under the priest Eli.

It’s unimaginable what it must have been like to give away such a wanted child; to not be able to raise him and experience the rewards of motherhood.  Giving a child roots in life, turns out, is the easy part. The part where wings develop, and they fly away is tough. No one ever mentions the most challenging part of motherhood is when they grow up and leave.  The time comes when they fill in the rest of their life story by striking out on their own.  It’s a parent’s job to rear their children to be self-sufficient.  Damn it, though, if my children didn’t grow up to be almost too independent of me.  Rumi says, “Life is a balance between holding on and letting go.”

While being mentored by Eli, 12-year-old Samuel was awakened one night hearing his name called out.  Thinking it was Eli, Samuel went to him saying “Here I am, did you called me?” It wasn’t Eli calling him, and Samuel was sent back to bed.  It happened two more with Samuel arousing Eli from his slumber.   Eli discerned it was God calling Samuel.  He told Samuel that next time he heard his name called to respond, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”

Samuel obeyed his mentor.  Unfortunately for Eli, what Samuel heard was God’s message about Eli’s son’s disobedience.  Even though Eli now had this knowledge, he didn’t or wouldn’t restrain them.   Samuel’s absolute allegiance was to God as the chief overseer.   A human overseer’s authority can be intimidating, but, as Samuel proves: God is the primary overseer.  This prioritization presents the world’s, or the loved ones to whom we are closest, possible cynicism about our faith.  Even if there is a relationship fall out with others because of one’s faith, Samuel remains steadfast throughout his life.

One day in chapel while attending grad school, there was a commissioning, a send-off ceremony for classmates going into seminary or the mission field.  The marching song usually sung during these kinds of services is “Here I am Lord” written by Dan Schutte.  The refrain is:

“Here I am Lord; is it I Lord?

I have heard You calling in the night.

I will go, Lord if You lead me.

I will hold Your people in my heart.”

It was during this service when I had the nagging awareness of being an outlier from my classmates and even my family.  During the chapel message, current trends were cited for the upcoming weekend for the majority of Americans as opposed to that of the commissioning.  What struck so close to home for me was the predicted trends (the purchase of a gas grill and refinance mortgages).  Both were on the agenda back home.  There is nothing wrong with those plans except it, at that moment, I wanted to be detached from worldly acquisitions (and influence!); to be a part of an endeavor outside myself and personal wants. I was in the world, with the all the stuff happening in it, but my heart and hope were longing for something else more substantial (Jn. 17:14-16).  I felt this chasm between the two parts of my life.  I had reconciled myself that the mission field I identified to serve, that fit within my role in the family, was the mission field outside my local door (Rom. 15:2Eph. 4:25).

Harvard School of Business defines the use of three words:“…that tend to be used interchangeably and shouldn’t be. They are vocation, career, and job. Vocation is the most profound of the three, and it should do with a calling. It’s what you’re doing in life that makes a difference for you; that builds meaning for you, that you can look back on in your later years to see the impact you’ve made in the world. A calling is heard in your heart and mind.  You don’t hear it once and then immediately recognize it. You’ve got to attune yourself to the message.”   The word vocation has the Latin root of “voice,” literally meaning “to call.”

A calling is so instinctive that the person would do it regardless, and often without adequate financial compensation.  We, for the most part, associate the word “calling” with religious service.  The positions of teaching, soldiering, working in the nonprofit sector come to mind as other examples of callings in this country.  Many people pursue their passions outside of their traditional job because of the lack of adequate financial provision from their passion. There are a lot of bi-vocational pastors because of this.

Depending on the generation you are born into, the viewpoint of a person’s identity is usually wrapped up in that era’s dominant story.  Canadian writer F.S. Michaels explains hypothesizes that the governing pattern of a given culture is their master story, one narrative in society that dominates others, forming a monoculture. When living in a master story of a given period in history, she says the tendency is to accept its definition of reality.  The power of the monoculture; is its ability to direct and influence actions without being aware (subliminal).  Life marches on, and another monoculture develops replacing the old for a new generation.  Reflect on the last 50 years and what the dominant themes of the decades were.  For example, (and by no means a conclusive list):

In the 1960’s birth control pills were introduced, the space program launched, Martin Luther King ’s historically reverberating speech: “I have a dream speech and civil rights legislation.

The 1970’s ushered in Watergate and disengagement in the war of Vietnam, both resulting in distrust of the U.S. government.

The 1980’s saw the introduction of the worldwide web, the aids epidemic, and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall signifying the end of the cold war after World War II between the east and the west.

The Soviet Union dissolves in the 1990’s, and Google and Amazon came onto the Internet scene as did the portable mobile phones.

The decade of 2000 brought attention to global terrorism after 9 11 forever changing life in the United States, the entry, after 30 years, into still long-standing war, and Facebook enters the social media scene.

I fall under the sociological group categorized as the Boomer Generation (those born between the approximate years of 1946 to 1964).   This generation profoundly identified themselves by what their professional occupation. Consequently, we get wrapped up in the tyrannical notion of work/life balance.  Leisure is not as essential to the human spirit but considered as a self-indulgent luxury reserved for the privileged or, at its worse, the deplorable thought of idleness reserved for the lazy.  We were the largest generation of my children’s generation just recently passing us in numbers, but then we did birth them.  I share these sociological and historical markers because it all shapes a person.  The shifting sand of time and change can make it hard to get a footing without a  supporting firm spiritual foundation.

Now experiencing a gift of more time in this season of my life that previously was taken up with my role of a mother, slowly I appreciate the transition away from the demands of always going, going, going almost to the point of leaving myself behind. Thoughts still creep in that I am not doing enough, at worse, am lazy while I attempt to live this truism of life: nothing overmuch.  It’s advice for advocating to create margins, or boundaries, of unscheduled downtime into life’s calendar.

An error in my thinking while pursuing my first advanced degree was that being credentialed with a degree would open doors of opportunity easier or quicker than what I was previously doing.  Before my volunteering (which meant for me as building credibility or working my way up through the rank and structure) for 4 or 5 years in a given area built up my credibility in qualifications and reliability.  When I mentioned this to a college colleague, she insisted a degree or position did not indicate a calling.  Her mantra is that when called to do something, a person would do it. No. Matter. What.  I eventually went on to finish the higher degree.  She did not but continues great works in ministry. Who took the correct path?  Both paths are probably correct.  The confusion sets in when I judge myself against the world’s want of a known job title to identify myself not to forget to mention my economic status. David Whyte said at one of his poetry readings that to name things is a way to control something. It’s gotten so skewed that having a credit card is now a form of credibility into today’s society.

It was not so much about what I do rather it was a conundrum to try to identify myself when asked the dreaded inquiry “What do you do?” I yearn for a pithy way to describe all I do and want to do.  The kind of life endeavor I do or exhibit doesn’t fit neatly into a few words. The term used now that is close to describing it is “gig” economy, that of wearing a few different professional hats (which I have always done, once we called it freelancing). “Every human person is inevitably involved with two worlds: the world they carry within them and the world that is on the outside… no one but you knows what your inner world is actually like, and no one can force you to reveal it until you actually tell them about it. There” says Irish Poet John O’Donahue (1956-2008), “are so many people frightened by the wonder of their presence. They are dying to tie themselves into a system, a role, or to an image, or to a predetermined identity that other people have actually settled on them.”

The closest I have come to describing my calling (inclusive for both ministry and secular vocations) is as an advocate for something or someone that contributes to society. I use that as my mission statement.

This identity thing keeps creeping its head up in my life.  I push it back telling myself I am not my professional title.  My worth is not there. The lifestyle, which our employment positions help support financially, is the manner of living that reflects a person’s values and attitude.  Mentioned a few times earlier in this narrative, believers are not their professional title, their skin color, their age, their sexuality.  Believer identity is in God and our entire life should reflect that.

Frederick Buckner captures one of my go-to ideas of what a calling is: “The place God calls you to be is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

To know you are in that place of calling takes prayer.  Samuel’s life pattern is bathed in prayer.  He prayed when he had reservations about the people (1Sam. 8:6-7), and as Samuel became aware of the evil in Saul’s life, he never stopped praying (12:22) for him.  This trait in Samuel’s personality preceded him.  The people knew him to be a great man of prayer and respected him for it (1Sam. 12:19).

How does God speak to us?  He speaks from His Word (The Bible), prayer, fellowship with like-minded, through circumstances (or providence), and through the shepherding of a worship leader.  God called Samuel initially through dreams and visions.  Some say since Jesus left us the Holy Spirit, His advocate to help us (Jn. 14:15-31); God no longer uses dreams to communicate with us.  In the book of Acts, however, we discover that both God the Father and God the Holy Spirit also still offers guidance through dreams and visions to specific people.

One of the Jewish beliefs of their coming Messiah is that he would rule from Jerusalem, bringing peace and security to Israel. To them, Jesus didn’t bring this peace to Israel, which history to current day events reveals so He cannot be the Messiah. The Jews are still waiting for the Messiah to come.  It amounts to a tale of two Kings.

Analogist to who Jesus is can be found in perennial plants. In the first year, their flowers are small. It takes some years of the plant maturing to reach another full flower bloom after the initial burst, yet the full flower is present, in embryo, in the original plant.  Continuity and development of the flower are present, not a contradiction. The full flower was what the first flower was always intended to be (think of Adam in Genesis and Jesus as the second Adam). There are this indwelling peace and security Christians have in their belief in Jesus amidst the turmoil of this world.  Couldn’t this be the type of peace that God intended packaged differently, then what the peace Jews seek for Israel?  A parallel can be made to Jesus as a warrior king when you think about Him defeating death.

David is appealing to many because despite him being a man of contrasts, he continually strove to be a man after God’s heart as Samuel called him (1Sam. 13:14Acts 13:22).  He was a warrior songwriter poet.  David starts out as a lowly shepherd boy tending sheep, is anointed as a future king, then welcomed into Saul’s household to play his soothing harp for a distraught king.  He kills a giant against enormous odds.  Then with jealousy overwhelming the king, David became a fugitive to save his life from the attacking Saul for thirteen years before he becoming Israel’s most famous King.

I can almost hear David, a nomadic fugitive with a lot of hurry up and wait time,  hiding in caves and desert camps composing his songs and prayers.  The Psalms attributed to David authorship reflect his life choices and circumstances.  We may not have the same problems he had, but the prayers are written in such a universal voice that they can be offered up in most any time of trouble.

Initially, I was startled when a friend once said she thought I was a woman after God’s heart.   The context of our conversation was about struggling with the Q&A’s surrounding faith, yet still, maintaining a belief in faith.   David, like all of us, sinned.  He confessed his sins.  God saw him as a man of war so the promise of the building of the temple went to his son Solomon.  In turn, Solomon at the temple dedication remembered David.  It reminds me of one of my life verses: “I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” (Rev. 3:8).    Like Thomas Merton says, I have come to believe the desire to please God does indeed please God, whether that desire is fulfilled or not in my lifetime.

Pastor and writer Chuck Swindoll defines a person after God’s heart as a person of integrity.  It’s who you are when on one is looking. Meanwhile, we live in a world that still echoes the old phrase “fake it ‘til you make it.”  I get that, for the most part, we are uncertain at times on what to do in the public arena consequently put on a public persona of showing confidence. It is easy to find on MyFace, and SpaceBook (a play on words on the names of prominent social media sites) gives many examples of folks presenting their ideal self to the world.  Most post on social media is projected view of how they want to be seen. You can’t fake it with God though.  He focuses on inward qualities that lie in the character of the heart, and he knows us.

Abraham Lincoln said nearly all men can stand adversity but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.  The next three sections of the monarchy show this to be true. All of us have some level of power.  It comes from many things:  fame, money, charisma, connections, inner strength and beauty, knowledge, wisdom, self-control, faith or hope just to name a few.  Amid those things, and how you act when no one is looking, defines you.  A quick soul check is living a life that is congruent in every role rather than segregated your persona to suit the environment you find yourself.  As humans, we are identified or recognized as to who we are by connecting what we do with how we act. That’s the sweet spot of finding peace.  A persona shouldn’t change once walked through the door of a home, church or office.  Unfortunately using power for selfish aims can reach levels of perverted peace particularly when consistently living out power by controlling another person’s life other than your own.  It’s a slippery slope when we start putting the endowment of talents and personality received from God above the gift Giver.  Literary stories give us an idea of the outcomes of trading our soul with the Faustian bargaining for knowledge and power or in the case of Dorian Gray’s narcissism.

We can relate to King David, a hero of flesh and blood because he had power mixed in with human moments of weakness of selfish gain.  Once it was apparent to David that God knew what he had done, he acknowledged his sinfulness (2Sam. 12:13).  I am sure David would have turned back the hands of time to undo this wrong if he could. Second Samuel describes the recompenses David lived through (the horrible death, violation, and strife in his family) due to his wrongdoings.   But that’s impossible after the deed is done, then and now.  We can learn from mistakes; which David did.  We repent and make amends the best way we can.

As believers, we don’t run up a massive debt on a sin card and expect a Divine Daddy to bail us out.  It doesn’t work that way.  But the consequences of our actions are enveloped in forgiveness. The healing of the wound caused by sin does not always erase the scar.  David reaped what he had sown, as does everyone else reap, it seems later rather than sooner, who exercises a self-achieving will. I don’t see those consequences as punishment from a mean God.  It is the direct cause and effect of a given a choice.  I know I am forgiven, but it doesn’t wipe away the after effects of my offense or the recompenses due.

 

 

1 & 2 Kings

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In continuation of the tale of the first two biblical royals, with this context center more around their humanness, are the two books entitled Kings.  The nation’s stabilization is retold after the death ofKing David to the nation’s glorification during  Solomon’s reign. Then what follows is the great divorce of the nation (1Kgs. 12) into the northern Kingdom made up of 10 tribes (Israel) and the two southern tribes (Judah).  Solomon’s sons, Rehoboam and Jeroboam are responsible for dissolving the kingdoms from a unified monarchy to a divided one after the death of their father. Jeroboam started the northern tribe, Rehoboam the southern. Originally the books of Kings were one large book (to include the Samuels) but was divided up later into four separate books.

The Samuels and Kings narratives, to be followed by the Chronicles, all intertwine and harmonize with each other.  These books reflect history from a different viewpoint.   In Kings, the prophet Elijah and his successor, Elisha enter the narrative.  Who John was to Peter, Mary to Martha, Melanchthon to Luther, that was Elisha the Prophet of Peace to Elijah the Desert or Fire Prophet.  Elisha can be compared to the gentler John, the beloved, with Elijah as John the Baptist.   There is no record of Elijah dying, him soaring to heaven in a fiery chariot (Enoch in the book of Genesis is the only other one who did not leave this earth by death).  Both are compared to be taken up like described in rapture after Jesus second coming  (1Thes. 4:13-18)  to God.

None of the 20 kings of the northern tribe (aka Israel) turned out well.  At. All. The nineteen kings of the southern tribe (Judah) can’t boast any better except for about five who were godly kings (Asa, Jehoshaphat,  Jotham, Hezekiah, Josiah).  Judah’s last leader wasn’t a king but rather a puppet governor. The tales of the two kingdoms span over roughly 416 years.  The books of Kings ends with Israel taken into Assyrian exile and Judah’s exile following about 125 years later to Babylon.  About twelve of the prophets (who have books in the Bible) forewarned these Kings.  There were three prophets during the exile (with some overlapping in pre-exile) and three prophets in the post-exile. To say the least reading from here on out, the rest of the O.T. books overlap. Each fill in on how God worked in many ways to redeem his people. It was through the 16 Judges (counting Samuel), 42 Kings (counting Saul, David and Solomon), over 26 prophets (counting Joshua, Enoch, Nathan, Samuel, Moses plus the 70 Mosses appointed in Numbers 11:17) through an exile to the return to Jerusalem. It wouldn’t be until prophet, priest and king Jesus when humanities anointment of sin would finally be achieved.

When David dies (1Kgs. 2:10), Solomon ascends to the throne. The early years of his reign are considered  the Israelites “glory days.” Its influence, economy and military power enjoyed little opposition with the neighboring countries, posing no substantial military threat.

Solomon is renowned as the wisest man of his day. It should be noted he asked for wisdom and by all accounts is granted extraordinary administrative wisdom. The guy could run a prosperous country thanks be to God.  He enjoys God’s favor, God fulfills his promises to David through Solomon, yet this most recent king tarnishes his legacy by his faithlessness by contradicting God’s commands not for a king not to take so many multiple wives (Dt. 17:17) much less certain foreign ones. His numerous marriages (700) and large harem (300) are the stuff of historical legends. His matrimonies were one of the ancient ways to increase dominance over kingdoms and land. The 1 Kings verse laments: “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God.” (11:4). He relies on his fortune, his military might, and his political alliances at the end instead of God. I read once he had profit but not a prophet.  Solomon had no human accountability prophet during his reign to help keep him in check.

The trappings of the world are viewed as a measure of success.  At the end of my marriage, I, unfortunately, came across a document showing a life insurance of the children’s father changed to only his new prospective wife.  In my brooding, I felt everything I had worked toward in life, contributing to his and others success was at the expense of my own and was being given away to someone else. I ashamedly and almost hesitantly share this same self-serving tightfistedness also extends to the instant bequeathing of family ties minus the history and labor of love, of being called mom, grandmother, grandfather, auntie or uncle in a blended family of second, third or fourth marriages.

In remorse about such thoughts, I am reminded of the poem by Rev. Bill Britton:

Dying to Self

When you feel forgotten, neglected, or purposely set at naught, and you don’t sting or hurt with the oversight, but your heart is happy being counted worthy to suffer for Christ;

That is dying to self.

When your good is spoken as evil when your wishes are crossed, your advice disregarded, your opinion ridiculed, and you refuse to let anger rise in your heart or even defend you, but take it all in patience, and loving silence;

That is dying to self.

When you lovingly and patiently bear any disorder, any irregularity, any annoyance; when you can stand face to face with waste, folly, extravagance, spiritual insensibility, and look it as Jesus did;

That is dying to self.

When you are content with any food, and offering, any raiment, any climate, any society, any solitude, any interruption by the will of God;

That is dying to self.

When you never care to refer to yourself in conversation or record your own good works after commendation, when you can truly love to be unknown;

That is dying to self.

When you can see your brother prosper and have his needs met, then can honestly rejoice with him in spirit and feel no envy, nor question God, while your needs are far greater and you are in desperate circumstances;

That is dying to self.

When you can receive correction and reproof from one of less stature than yourself and can humbly submit, inwardly as well as outwardly, finding no rebellion or resentment rising in your heart;

That is dying to self.”

The poem doesn’t dishearten me as an impossible ideal.   It does set the bar though on if whether selfishness is at the root of my thoughts or not. It is a paradox that life is hidden in dying, a common motif in the Bible.

Author Donald Miller, in his book Blue Like Jazz, rephrases the scripture meaning “…to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21) with “There is an art to dying to self without giving death to your soul as well.  Dying for something is easy because it is associated with glory.  Living for something extends beyond fashion, fame, or recognition. We live for what we believe.”

Slowly I die to self.  I, fortunately, hit the nadir when recognizing seeds of bitterness developing within me; when realizing I was doing was getting caught up in measuring my life’s value against a temporal and shallow caste system of the greater income or higher-ranking position. Creator and host for 33 years of an educational preschool television series and an ordained minister, Fred Rogers said, “deep and simple is better than shallow and complex.” Psalm 127:3 says children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.  There is the measure of the best gift I have when all said and done.

In the second book of Kings, the Jews are taken captive by the Babylonians.  Ironically Abraham was born in the same area that was to be the destination of the exile.  It suggests a form of reverse migration for the Jewish people who would be in 70 years of captivity.

Biblically, the number seventy consists of the factors of two perfect numbers, with seven meaning perfection, and ten representing completeness through God’s law. As such, it symbolizes perfect spiritual order carried out with all power. It can also denote a period of judgment.

Two hundred years after a national division of Kingdoms, the northern ten tribes were in a terminal state of widespread idolatry and pagan religious practices derived from living in the surrounding cultures.  God’s prophets warned of Israel’s destruction and subjugation but were ignored, mocked, or killed.   Second Kings shows a case of willful sin to a woeful end.

For historical context, after the death of Solomon, with splitting off into two separate kingdoms; the northern ten tribes retained the name Israel, establishing their capital at Samaria. The southern tribes, Judah and Benjamin, along with part of the tribe of Levi, became known as Judah. This tribe continues the royal line of David with Jerusalem as their capital city.

I happened upon a book’s title The Necessity of an Enemy by Ron Carpenter intrigued me.  Who wants to seek out or confront enemies or in this case our personal demons? Can’t we just hide from them, ignore them or deal with them it our own discretion and time?   I preferred to shy away from pain.  Perhaps it’s because daily I contend with a syndrome causing me to deal with pain management, almost to the point of accepting it as part of my daily norm. In in my mental weariness, I find I subconsciously avoid taken on additional types of pain.  A doctor once told me my adrenal gland was almost exhausted by the constant shoring up against the muscular pain.  I will tackle the confrontation of life demands, but the best I can do with my ongoing physical pain is endure it.  It wasn’t until another physical ailment crept up (a shoulder muscle impingement) that some insight came. Through the encouragement of my bonus daughter, a physical therapist, I began to see the advantages of how to use pain as a signal when stretching my muscles.  I was directed to push little by little more each day into the pain when exercising through it, to minimize its effects.

Previously I had the attitude that when I go into stretching and exercising, I come out hurting worse.  I was impatient for results. Medication can take away the pain, but then I would inevitably get caught up in my day forgetting to exercise through it to make myself stronger.  This applies to both physical and emotional pain.  If I don’t work through pain, it doesn’t get better.  Reading then blogging on this book, I discovered the necessity of adversary to achieve a benefit.  I have embraced the irony of making pain my frenemy; one that is trying to inform me.

Often “you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.”  A current song by the band Passenger captures it in the song Let Her Go:“Well you only need the light when it’s burning low. Only miss the sun when it starts to snow. Only know you love her when you let her go. Only know you’ve been high when you’re feeling low. Only hate the road when you’re missin’ home. Only know you love her when you let her go”

Writer J. B. Tidwell summarizes what the Jews learned during their exile, and in some case from what they didn’t want:

“A people who became separated from what they knew and didn’t want to become like their neighbors ever again.

They became pure monotheistic, giving up idolatry.

They developed theological literature and renewed interest in the Law of Moses.

They repented of their sins against God.

The synagogues were established during this time as a place of worship centered on God’s Word, prayer, and praise (minus the sacrifices).

Their Judaism (extending later to our Christian beliefs) became personal rather than a formal ritualism of temple worship.

During this time, God placed a longing for the coming of the Messiah in their hearts.

God did not forget his promise to David. God had a remnant of the people and kept the royal line intact so that one day His people could return to their land to await the promised Redeemer .”