Jeff’s Journal 18JAN2014
Readings: Psalm 20, 21 ◊ Gen. 6:9-22 ◊ Heb. 4:1-13 ◊ John 2:13-22
I have been reading from the Book of Hebrews for the past several days and this morning while reading, the following words caught my attention:
“Today when you hear his voice, don’t’ harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled.” (Heb. 3:7-8, 15; Heb. 4:7 NLT)
You will notice that I listed three references for this text. Yes, that’s right; there are three times the writer brings attention to these words. Naturally, having the benefit of context is helpful with our interpretation and understanding of these words. You can find the story behind the story in the Old Testament Scriptures from the Book of Exodus, but today I simply wish to share the short version of what I am “hearing” from this reading.
Everywhere—in every place and in every circumstance—God is. And, he is speaking. He speaks to us, waking us and calling us to rise up from the slumber of separation and death. Too many times, we hear “something” and too often, we are prone to ignore that which we hear. The first stage of rebellion is ignorance and ignorance leads to disbelief and disbelief leads to hardening of the heart. Truthfully, we cannot hide or ignore God. All things are naked and exposed before him.
“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable.” (Heb. 4:13 NLT)
O, Wonder of wonders, O merciful God, who is patient and calls us to “Wake up! O sleeper, and enter my rest.”
Nathanael: “How do you know about me?”
Jesus: “I could see you.” (John 1:48 NLT)
Another thought came to me while reading from the Gospel of John. Jesus’ words as he was overturning tables in the temple follow: “Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace” (John 2:16 NLT).
Once again, I understand that context is important and the circumstances of this incident are different than the thoughts that occurred to me; however, I can’t help but ask the question to myself if we are not guilty of turning many of our churches into marketplaces. It seems to me that if we cater to the consumer mindset or create an environment of consumerism, we have committed the same act that infuriated Jesus as written in John’s gospel. We are turning the Father’s house into a marketplace. There is a lot that could be said about this phenomenon, but for now, I will continue to reflect and pray.
After Many Days… [17SEPT2013]
Readings: Philippians 1:6 ◊ Ephesians 6:13 ◊ 1 Kings 18:1; 19:11-13 ◊ Hebrews 12: 1-3
I am thankful for the “great cloud of witnesses” that have gone before me. It is often the counsel of their testimonies that encourages and inspires me to press on in my journey of faith. In my most recent days, I am encouraged and comforted by the testimony of Elijah the Tishbite (Elijah means “my God is Yahweh”).
Elijah first shows up in the Book of First Kings (chapter 17). There isn’t much information about his past or his beginnings and nothing much about his relationship with God prior to his giving a word from the LORD to King Ahab (1 Kings 17:1). An interesting chain of events follows Elijah after he delivers a prophetic message to Ahab. The LORD sends Elijah off into the wilderness…it is unknown if this is for protection or hiding, but God provides for him with food brought to him by ravens and then later from the provisions of a widow woman. There is no way for us to know what happened during this time Elijah was in the wilderness, the story does not provide details. What we do know is that Elijah was in the wilderness and with the widow at least three years or more.
As I mentioned, best I can tell, Elijah didn’t have detailed instructions on what to do with himself during these three plus years. All we know is that the LORD told him to “go to the east and hide by Kerith Brook and drink from it while ravens feed you” (1 Kings 17:2-6). Elijah did this until the brook dried up from the drought, then the LORD gave him new instructions to “go live in the village of Zarephath,” where he would be cared for by a widow woman (1 Kings 17:8-16).
It seems there was a lot of waiting going on. There are no significant reports in the narrative that describe anything else that was happening in Elijah’s life other than being faithful to the last word the LORD had given him. It seems, for the most part, Elijah waited. It is also difficult to tell what inspired him during these days of waiting. It makes sense to me that it may have been a very simple and slow routine. It was, after all, ancient Palestine sometime during the 9th Century B.C. I remember too, Elijah’s first residence was a camp beside the Kerith Brook…one might assume he was living alone for however long it took for the drought to dry the brook. Later, he moves to Zarephath and lives with the widow and her son for however long, but it doesn’t appear that Elijah’s habit changes much… he continues to wait… in obscurity and in relative quiet.
Chapter eighteen of First Kings provides us with some more insight; “After many days, the word of the LORD came to Elijah in the third year” (1 Kings 18:1). Here is what caught my attention: After many days… and In the third year…
After many days, the word of the LORD came to Elijah in the third year…
By my standards, that’s a long time to wait. In relative obscurity. In relative silence, regarding God’s speaking to him. As I go back and read the account of Elijah again, God didn’t give Elijah details regarding the instructions. God said to Elijah “go” and “I will provide for you.” He didn’t tell Elijah how long it would be that he would be gone for. Also, it doesn’t seem that there was constant chatter between Elijah and God during this time he was set aside. It does seem as though Elijah was faithful to God… first, he was obedient to God’s instructions and second, he lived believing faithfully in the provision and power of God. I don’t think Elijah knew what was going to happen. I think he believed and trusted God. Period.
After Elijah receives a new word of instruction from the LORD, he once again acts obediently. This word and Elijah’s obedience to it, leads to a rather dramatic chain of events (1 Kings 18:1-19:18).
“After many days the word of the LORD came to Elijah, in the third year… “
”Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.
…the LORD was not in the wind
…the LORD was not in the earthquake
…the LORD was not in the fire
And after the fires a sound of
Then there came a voice to him…”
There is more I could say about the narrative itself, but I started to consider the parallels in my own life. A few words from my journal follow:
“After many days…” we get scared or at least I do. I feel like I’m in a holding pattern. Waiting. Sitting idle in the wilderness and I begin to wonder. I wonder where I’ve failed and I wonder what “I need to do” in order for God to conform again to my expectations. Sometimes I go “many days” where I do not hear from God according to my preferred way to hear Him speak—and I doubt. I doubt me and I doubt God. I doubt the systems and I doubt the religious exercises. I doubt my direction. I doubt my instructions. I doubt my location and I doubt the state of my provisions.
I remind myself when I am left in a kind of dark unknowing…feeling helpless and shrouded in my doubts—there is still within me a desire to know that which is totally beyond me! It is here that I recognize God’s deep and abiding love for me. Here, in the face of this great Mystery, is the Bridge that joins the great chasm between me and the invisible God. Here, in this Cloud of Unknowing, Jesus rushes in, reaches out, and extends to me a lifeline, saying; “I am with you always!”
- God, who began the good work within me, will continue his work until is complete and perfect. He is faithful to do this.
- When I have done all that I can do and done all that I know to do—then I stand and wait upon the LORD, faithfully trusting His timing and His provision.
- God will always find me in my solitude…there is no where I can hide from Him—He is everywhere.
- God wills me to Himself. I respond to His call with faith.
” A heart that has no other wish but to possess God must attract him to itself, and this secret of love is a very great one, since by this way alone sure faith and firm hope are established in the soul. Then it is that we believe what we cannot see, and expect to possess what we cannot feel.” -Jean-Pierre de Caussade
“God is nearer to me than I am to myself, more intimate to me than my inmost being.” -Augustine
Lord, Open my lips—And my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
I will worship my mighty King and Lord. Revive me now, God, my Helper. Blessed be the Father, the Word, and the Spirit. For these Three are One.
O, Breath of God, Heal me in my mind, my body, and my soul. Because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule my heart, through Jesus Christ my Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and for ever.
Lord, hear my prayer—and let my cry come unto you.
“i”dolatry: What’s a False God?
I was reading from the writings of the prophet Hosea today. It’s pretty interesting that I was directed to this passage of text (Lectionary Readings Cycle C—Proper 12—for Sunday July 27). The past few days I’ve found myself in various conversations discussing the topic of idolatry. It’s curious to me that our definition of idolatry is often very narrow; it is almost comical too that when we think of or discuss idolatry we hardly ever consider ourselves as idolaters or lovers of false gods.
When I revisit the Decalogue or Ten Commandments as given by God through Moses, I notice a founding premise that helps broaden my understanding of what idolatry is. Paraphrasing Exodus 20:1-6, I read the following words:
I am the LORD your God. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself anything that you can imagine that will capture your attention and energy over what is deserved of me. I the LORD your God am a jealous God.
I don’t believe I am subverting the understanding of the original text by assuming this to mean that anything that comes between me and the relationship I have with God is idolatry. Subsequently, I think this expanded understanding of idolatry means many things that I formerly assumed were harmless distractions most likely qualify as idolatry.
I think… we don’t like this quantification. Just like we prefer safe stereotypes (think devil in red tights with tiny horns and pointed tail rather than an “angel of light”), we like to assume false gods (idols) are little statues that we would literally bow before. If I do not do this, I’m not an idolater and do not worship false gods. Right?
Another of the primary precepts and directives from God to humankind reads as follows:
Now this is the commandment— The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Deut. 6:1-6
While I think it may seem obvious, anything less than complete and utter devotion to our God is some form of idolatry. This may sound distorted and harsh, but the reality is that “anything less than” clearly assumes there is something that is getting more attention than the God who has created us. Look again at the foundational commandments and precepts for living in relationship with God… Remember, it is He, who has established the conditions of the relationship, and it is He, who has given the definition through this clarification for what is construed as idolatry. After all, anything not God is a false god, if we elevate it to a position of importance over Him.
There are ways in which we worship false gods. It is possible to be so attached to a thing or a person as to turn it into an idol. Even though you don’t say it with your mouth, you have an object of worship that is not God.
Another way to have a false god is to put your confidence in anything other than God. If you wish you were rich or desire to have a certain friend or supporter, and think that this will bring you happiness and security, you may have taken a false god. The Lord is God alone. Our confidence is to be anchored in him alone.
Think about these false gods as weeds in your garden. Pull them out by the root. Set your heart on nothing that is not God. Love God with your whole heart. Do everything for his sake. And above all, obey God. For if we merely revere, love, and trust—but do not obey—God, we are making God into what we want; we are making him into a false god.
Some greatly fear and believe in the conjunctions and influences of the heavenly planets and bodies in the sky. Others stand in awe of tyrants. Some put their trust in money, and they scratch everywhere for money, not regarding whether they get it by right or by wrong.
There are those who are overly self-confident. They have their merits and good deeds to rely on instead of relying on God. This is the greatest idolatry of all.
Others are servants to their own bellies, forgetting God while they eat and drink. Their stomach is their god.
Some are even able to make an idol of the true and living God. When we imagine the form and shape of God, we have missed God. Be careful not to create an idol in your heart.
–Thomas Cranmer (2 July 1489 – 21 March 1556); Catechismus
All of the above should serve as a warning to us. We should be ever mindful of how creative we are in fashioning idols for ourselves. John Calvin is credited with saying, “The human heart is an idol factory…” We should remember this. We are fond of ourselves and would much rather consider that we are more the suffering saint in the company of Hosea rather than a straying harlot like Gomer. We are not only easily deceived, but we are expert deceivers of ourselves. How often and tragic it is that we convince ourselves that we are given in allegiance to God, but the truth is we are more closely aligned with a god we have fashioned in our own imaginations. We have imagined something we call “God,” but the truth is that we have created a false god. And this might be the most vile and treacherous form of idolatry…When we fashion idols for ourselves out of God Almighty.
We use the Creator of all things as a template to create a god of our own imaginations. It is here that we invariably fashion ourselves as the object of our affections and worship. We make a god we can imagine…and like…and successfully serve on our terms. A god fashioned from our imaginations is akin to the original sin. It is akin to me shaking a fist in defiance at the One True God to say, “I will be like the Most High God!” I say this because a god fashioned from my imagination is ultimately the god of “me.” If we deceive ourselves into believing we understand God well enough to “create” a version of him in our mind—then he is no god at all—He has merely become me and I have appeased my ignorance and curiosity by calling him “god.” Beware. Beware indeed.
Readings: Psalm 30, 97 ◊ John 16:29-33 ◊
O Light, shine on our senses and dispel the sleep of our soul. To you before all else may our voice resound and let us pay our vows to you. O God, shape and renew me until I bear full the image of my Savior Jesus. Hear, O LORD, and be faithful to me; O LORD, be my help. Amen.
“A well-cultivated spiritual life is the best way to find peace and security. Countries in the far north are cold and frozen because they are at a greater distance from the sun. Some Christians are cold and frozen because they live too far from heaven.” –Richard Baxter
Lectio Divina: A Scripture Reading from John 16:29-33
29 His disciples said, ‘Yes, now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.’ 31 Jesus answered them, ‘Do you now believe? 32 The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. 33 I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!’ [NRSV]
As I read these words, several points jump out to me. I consider why they grab my attention and what they are speaking to me.
- “By this we believe you came from God.”
- “Do you now believe?”
- “You will be scattered.”
- “You will leave me alone.”
- “I am not alone / the Father is with me.”
- “I have said this so you may have peace.”
- “You will have trouble, but take courage; I have conquered the world.”
The disciples, now approaching three years or so having been with the company of Jesus, have witnessed countless miracles by his hand. They have seen Jesus command the elements of earth, calm the stormy sea, walk on water, change the molecular structure of water to wine, multiply bread and fish, command human cells to heal themselves, and even raise the dead to life… and now they proclaim; “By this we believe you came from God.” They boldly make this proclamation because Jesus announces that he speaks plainly.
Considering miracles and the challenges that we might face in a lifetime, there might be many occasions when our faith will be called into question. Here, in this particular setting, Jesus even challenges the belief of his own disciples calling their faith into question based on their confession. “Do you now believe?” he asks them. Then he announces to them what he knows about their belief and their heart; he says, “You will be scattered…You will leave me alone.”
I think of the many ways I am “scattered” and a flood of ideas stream into my mind. The context of “scattered” in Jesus’ words refers to the night of Jesus’ arrest and may indirectly follow through to the persecution of the believers in Jerusalem following Jesus’ ascension and Pentecost blessing of the Holy Spirit, but I believe there is more that can be gleaned here on a personal level.
Jesus also tells his followers, “You will leave me alone.” So I ask; “In what ways do I leave Jesus alone and how might I become separated from him?”
I think it might be true to say I “leave Jesus alone” and become “separated” from him whenever I become overwhelmed by the tasks or circumstances from any given day. The noises and voices that can suddenly fill my peace unexpectedly also have the potential to “scatter” and “separate.” In fact, I believe that any moment that my peace is disrupted, I have momentarily become scattered and separated. Now, this is not sin. Jesus did not call it such. What he said was “you will be scattered… and you will leave me alone.” The point in clarifying this is that when I become separated and scattered…leaving Jesus alone… this should not induce guilt.
Let me repeat, This should not induce guilt, but neither should it induce denial.
Two important things come to my mind here. First, there are times we will become scattered and we will leave Jesus “alone.” This does not mean we have been cut off from Jesus or abandoned by the Holy Spirit. What it means is that we have lost our focus and locus (our place of centering). It is for this reason that Jesus speaks very clearly when he follows his challenge to them with these words:
“I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”
I am not alone. The Father is with me. You may have peace. Take courage. I have overcome.
These are good words. Real words. Comforting words. Encouraging words. Especially when I consider that I will have days when my thoughts and even my heart are scattered…and I leave Jesus alone.
There are several notable takeaways here for me. First, as we walk after Jesus and with Jesus—as we are also filled with the Holy Spirit—it is true that we (also like Jesus) are never alone. We are never actually cutoff or separated in a real sense. We are forever connected and joined with the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is always with us. Since this is a promise of Jesus to us, we can have the confidence to know that we may have peace, and this no matter the circumstance. We can have peace.
Jesus advises us to be anxious for nothing and do not worry. Being anxious and overcome by worry are the precursors of scattered and separated. It happens; Jesus knew this and said it to his disciples…and to you and to me. The point to remember is that when we become scattered and we leave Jesus alone, we can easily become reconnected to our peace, Jesus, unscattered and reattached to the Vine. No matter our doubt and no matter our fear, we can “take courage” because Jesus has overcome and because He has, we can overcome too.
I am reminded, as I sit here now, God is gazing on me with love and holding me in being. I pause for a moment and think of this. I need to close out the noise, to rise above the noise. .The noise that interrupts, that separates, the noise that isolates. I need to listen to God again.
Today I just want to be especially sensitive and attentive to your presence. Help me and let my heart respond to your love. (Sacred Space)
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Readings: Psalm 32 ◊ Jeremiah 17:7-8 ◊ Romans 12:9-13 ◊ John 14:7-9 ◊
Reading from Daily NRSV: 1 Samuel 25:1—2 Samuel 7:29
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer. -Romans 12:11
David loved God with absolute abandon; this is how I read the account of his life from the Bible. I see this one thing common about David, remaining constant through the entirety of his life… I see his passion and intensity as the guiding example of his life. In fairness, I think his fervor and force cut both ways, for good and for not-so-good. Passion and intensity… it seems that almost all David did, he did with all his heart, soul, and strength. Could this be one of the reasons God loved and favored him so much despite the fact that David’s zeal led him to make some very poor choices? I don’t believe that David loved God as much with his head as he loved God with all his heart and I think this is a difference maker. We remember the Bible teaches us that God looks upon the heart as he determines the love of a man… “The LORD does not see as mortals see: they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” -1 Samuel 16:7 NRsV
So… zeal and passion can be the catalyst for some pretty bad “cuts and bruises.” This was evident in the life of David and it has been true in my life too; I read that passion and zeal was a characteristic of the apostle Peter too, who was one of Jesus’ closest buds. Oh, and Peter’s zeal got him in some rather tight spots on more than one occasion too, but I think it was what was so endearing to Jesus.
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God… -2 Timothy 1:6
What does it mean? What’s the takeaway? There are times that my passion and zeal have been choked for fear of making a mistake and missing the mark. Exercising caution, being prudent, showing maturity, and being conservative… I think these can all be euphemisms for fear. I’m sure that I’ve missed God opportunities for both being a blessing and being blessed by curtailing my fervor and intensity. I think; after reading this past week on the lives of Saul and David…and remembering Peter, I would rather live a little reckless in my passion and spill my zeal all over the hands and feet of Jesus rather than living a cautious and clean life and risk missing Jesus altogether. It’s obvious that David and Peter were both forgiven for every fail they committed. Maybe this is closer to what Luther meant when he advised to “sin boldly.” I don’t think the sin is intentional, but the wide-open, live-love-large passion and zeal are.
Sometimes some of the greatest plays that make the highlight reels are made by players willing to risk it all, body and limb, diving to make the play with reckless abandon. Sometimes they miss, but sometimes what they do is spectacular. The misses are often quickly forgotten; the spectacular plays rarely are and these players willing to risk it all for the love of the game, often become our favorite players because of their passion and fervor. I think this is how I want to pursue Jesus. I can live large for him, because his grace is large for me. Amen.
A Prayer of Scripture
O LORD, open my lips. And my mouth will proclaim your praise.
Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. I will confess my transgressions to the LORD. It is with clean heart I ask, Lord, grant me the gift of seeing my life through your eyes. Help me to see this time as an integrated part of my life’s journey right now. Teach me to continue my dialogue with your Spirit as I go about my tasks this and every day.
But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.
Glory to you, Source of all being, Eternal Word, and Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever, world without end. Amen.
Reading from Daily NRSV: 1 Samuel 16:1—24:22
The past few days I have been reading from the Book of 1 Samuel, looking into the lives of the Kings Saul and David. Each time I read from these narrative accounts I come away with an equal part of encouragement and “dis—ease.”
All through these ancient stories, I read of many of the men and women in the Bible showing equal parts of “faithful” and “faulty.” There are countless stories depicting deep love of God and then it seems like there comes the counterbalance of fleshly foible revealing the frailty of their humanity (i.e., not one of them lived perfect lives).
“The LORD does not see as mortals see: they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” -1 Samuel 16:7 NRsV
King David is especially notable in this sense, described as a man after God’s heart and arguably one of God’s favorites…and not perfect by a looooong shot. He lied, he stole, he cheated, he adulterated, he murdered, he showed poor parenting skills…and these are just off the top of my head, but even in the midst of these moral failures God loved him, favored him, and blessed him immensely. This is one major example of why I come away from these readings encouraged. It is also for the same reason I come away from this with a heavy conviction of “dis-ease.”
How often am I tempted to redefine obedience so that I am not doing what God requires but what I desire instead?
The reason I feel so uncomfortable with their fleshly failures is not that I think we should live morally perfect lives…even with the Holy Spirit upon or within us, (David had the Holy Spirit upon him and still committed epic failures). No, the reason is much more vainly motivated than that… I feel disturbed and dis-eased because I realize how easy it is for me to justify and excuse my failures and weaknesses in light of God’s forgiving nature toward me and Christ-imputed righteousness to me. This is pretty sobering to think about when I consider that “God looks upon the heart…” What does my heart really look like, when I redefine obedience to fit my desires? Am I really living to deny self, so I might conform fully to the image of Christ? Or, do I slack off from that transformation of character and nature, assuming that God forgives my frailty? I mean… “He knows we are dust” Right?
I don’t particularly like this tension I live in, but I think it is healthy for my soul. These questions and my honest answers keep my running on my knees to the Cross of Christ feeling very poor in spirit. I want to be righteous for the sake of my God, Jesus. I do want to live a morally perfect and Christ-like virtuous life; I do. I think the balance is in setting the bar for my goal as the life Jesus lived. I don’t think I should be satisfied or comfortable with my weaknesses and failures, but I don’t think they should paralyze me either. God the Holy Spirit is with me and has empowered me to succeed and live a life that reflects Christ in me; I know this and should let this be the guiding principle for how I go about my daily living.
I want to live like and leave the legacy of the person the psalmist writes about in Psalm 92.
“The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God. In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap, showing that the LORD is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.” –Psalm 92:12-15
A Prayer of Psalms
O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me. I call out to you, O LORD, with all my heart… answer me, O LORD, and I will obey your decrees. Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. I call out to you; save me and I will keep your statutes, I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word. Come, Creator Spirit, Paraclete, gift of God most high, visit the souls of your people, and fill with supernal grace the hearts which you created. Amen.
“So I forced myself…”
Reading: 1 Samuel 13:1—15:35
As I read about the actions and heart of Saul, I find similarities between his life and my own that I wish I did not. I’m willing to go out on a limb and say I’m probably not the only one, but I won’t project my thoughts on anyone else… at least not today, not in this post.
Reading in chapter thirteen, Saul had been given specific instructions by Samuel. The details of the instructions aren’t critically important, but Saul’s situation was deteriorating as was his patience. Saul felt as if he had to “do something,” so he did. Against Samuel’s instructions.
I think the interesting points I noted as I read this account was the wrestling it seems that Saul went through. It might not be obvious in the written account, but it certainly seems implied. It is evident that Saul knew his instructions because he waited as he had been told. Also, when he was confronted by Samuel, he began to explain himself and offer up an excuse…even to the point of projecting part of the blame on Samuel.
“When I saw that the people were slipping away, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines were mustering…” -1 Samuel 13:11 NRSV
Saul goes on to fully explain himself and then caps his excuse with the words that really caught my attention; “so I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering” (1 Samuel 13:12).
“I forced myself;” says Saul. Some versions read, “I felt compelled…” In either event, what comes across to me is there was a deliberate weighing of a decision to choose against what he knew to do. “I forced myself.” Indeed. As I reflect on the choices of my life, if I am transparent, I have done exactly as Saul did in this account. There have been more than a few occasions when I have known the right thing to do and I deliberately chose a different path. Some of these decisions were not so obviously blatant rebellion against something I was instructed to do, but I think there have been times when I had a strong sense of what God wanted from me… I sensed the Holy Spirit guiding me and I felt “compelled to go a different direction.” Like Saul.
This attitude in itself is bad enough, but when confronted and rebuked by Samuel for his actions of insolence and disobedience, Saul appears to simply shrug off the rebuke and go his way.
“Samuel said to Saul, ‘You have done foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which he commanded you…’ And Samuel left and went on his way…” (1 Samuel 13:13-15)
There are a number of lessons here for consideration, not the least of which is Saul’s continuing downward spiral toward complete self-absorption. Saul continued to “force himself” to make the decisions he wanted to make and then justify his disobedience in words that were couched in religious pontifications. He always did what he did for the glory of God… so he said. Interestingly, every choice he made “for God” was against the instructions and commandments of God.
I think the primary lesson I’m taking from this reading today was how easy it was for Saul to first turn his back to God. I wonder if he had been repentant when first confronted by Samuel if there would have been a different outcome. I also think while this might have been an obvious transgression, there are probably less obvious acts each of us might wrestle with, “feeling compelled” to do what we want to do that ultimately take us in a direction other than where God wished to take us. Perhaps when I “force myself” to do things my way, I don’t turn 180 degrees from God… I just turn 45 degrees away from him. And the slide begins.
I don’t want this to be me, not even a little bit. I’m in a season of seeking God’s direction for a new chapter of life for me and my wife. I don’t want to be second-guessing God and justifying guesses with religious reasoning. I don’t want to pontificate as Saul did that by doing what he did he could glorify God all the more. Samuel responded to Saul’s dogmatic excuses with these words:
“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in obedience to the voice of the Lord? Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is no less a sin than divination, and stubbornness is like iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.” (1 Samuel 15:22-23)
I do not want to take for granted hearing the Word of the Lord to me. When I ask God’s direction, I want to hear Him speak. I want to act in obedience to all He speaks to me. I do not want to reject His Word. I think paying attention to the little decisions and acting with integrity with those choices might be preparations for the bigger decisions. Getting the little decisions right and obedient might be what helps deter me from “forcing myself” to do what I think best instead of choosing to wait and obey God.
Abandoning the LORD and idol or idle worship
Readings: Psalm 9, 139 ◊ Judges 1—21 ◊ Jer. 13:1—17:10 ◊ Matt. 21:43 ◊
…The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and worshiped the Baals; and they abandoned the LORD (Judges 2:11). …The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, forgetting the LORD their God, and worshiping the Baals and Asherahs (Judges 3:7). …As soon as Gideon died, the Israelites relapsed and prostituted themselves with the Baals… The Israelites did not remember the LORD their God, who had rescued them from the hand of all their enemies on every side (Judges 8:33-34).
…The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, worshiping the Baals and Astartes, the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. Thus they abandoned the LORD, and did not worship him (Judges 10: 6).
…In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25).
I think it is easy for us to hold this narrative at arms distance. We might be quick to say; “I don’t worship idols,” or “I do not forget or abandon the LORD.” I’m not entirely sure those arguments would be true for all of us.
It is rather easy to make the ancient Israelites the bad guys of this story, but is not the story ours too? We distance ourselves from the offenses of the Israelites making distinctions between their ancient idols and our contemporary lifestyles. We might not see ourselves worshiping the god Baal, but during the time of the Judges, Baal was known as the god of nature. More particularly, Baal was the rain god, and subsequently the god of fertility since water was the source of life not only for humanity, but crops and livestock as well.
Asherah aka Astartes, was considered the mate of Baal and the highest-ranking female god. Known as the moon-goddess, she was also considered the god of love and war. The practice of Asherah worship was very sensual in nature and often consisted of ritual prostitution.
Personally, I don’t think it is too far of a reach to connect the idolatry of these ancient peoples to twenty-first century citizens. Nature worship, the War Machines and military complex, Sex Industry, Fertility gods (Wall Street, Financial Investment vehicles, Lottery, Gambling, and other get-rich opportunities), and a host of lesser gods (Entertainment industry, sports industry, and other personal hobbies) exist all around us. I think the reality of our situation is that we have not named these other gods of ours and personalized them.
We will push back against this indictment of idolatry saying, “But we have not abandoned the LORD!” Generally speaking, the ancient Israelites did not abandon the LORD either. In every instance that God turned them over to the care of their idols, when the Israelites were distressed enough, they would cry out for relief to the LORD, so they did remember Him. I think; once again, we are not different from those primitive worshipers who knew the LORD Almighty as their God, but chose to add a host of lesser gods to their collection.
What does it look like to us that we would abandon the LORD for other gods? What is the context of this in our contemporary lives? How often are we guilty of not remembering the LORD our God? I think that for many of us, at least those of us who profess Christianity as our faith, the moment we walk out of our local church we forget the LORD. Others of us might keep God in the forefront of our minds even in the context of our home life, but the moment we walk out of the bubble of our homes each day we “forget” Him. Our attentions become directed elsewhere and our focus is realigned on the business of the day…often on the gods of happiness and personal survival who are often disguised versions of those ancient Baals and Asherahs.
The primary covenant command of our God was that we are to love him with all of our heart, all of our soul, and all of our strength. There was to be “no other god” but the LORD Almighty who is One God. Our attention and efforts are to always be “set aside” or sanctified holy unto the LORD our God. While many of us will agree to these covenant stipulations (Israel did too) and believe we are currently living in agreement with them, we will make the distinction that we live in a world that is both secular and sacred. How can this be? We will profess that we embody the Living Spirit of God—the Spirit of God indwells the heart/life of the disciple-believer of Christ. We profess that where God is, that is sacred or holy ground. If then, we embody the Spirit of God, wherever we go and whatever we do as Spirit-filled people, the place we are and the “thing we do” is sacred… or it should be… if we are living as God intended.
Have we become idle worshipers? Is our faith so passive and fragile that we succumb to the lesser gods that society surrounds us with? I think a sad truth is that we have bought into the self-deception that many of these lesser gods are not so bad. As long as we talk with more passion about the LORD that will mean we keep these lesser gods in check. Unfortunately, as is the case with radiation, small doses are just as lethal as the massive doses… one just takes longer to kill than the other.
Another story included in the Book of Judges is the life of a man named Samson (Judges 13:1—16:31). Samson, like us, became an idle worshiper and took his position and his relationship with God for granted. He assumed all was well because he “knew” the LORD. He gambled his very life on this relationship, but he did very little to maintain the health of it. Near the end of Samson’s life a tragic thing happened; he presumed one too many times that God would be with him in spite of his passive relationship (idle worship) with God. What happened follows:
When he [Samson] awoke from his sleep, he thought, “I will go out as at other times, and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had left him (Judges 16:20).
What a tragic statement; “He did not know that the LORD had left him.” Do we deceive ourselves as Samson did? Do we make assumptions about our relationship with God thinking it is healthy when we surround ourselves with lesser gods…even if telling ourselves we do not? How high is the LORD in my priority list of life? Do I truly love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength or do I excuse myself by proclaiming “I’m trying to get there…”? The choices I make each day express my trust and my understanding of God. My faith and what I base my faith in, is made manifest by how I live out my days.
I, Yahweh, search the heart, test the motives, to give each person what his conduct and his actions deserve. (Jer. 17:10)
“I tell you, then, that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” (Matt. 21:43)
The Lenten season is a time to take real inventory of my life and relationship with God. It is a time to turn fully in the direction that takes me toward Him alone. Now is not the time to be an idol worshiper or an idle worshiper. He calls. We answer. What will our answer be?
Yahweh, you examine me and know me, you know when I sit, when I rise, you understand my thoughts from afar. You watch when I walk or lie down, you know every detail of my conduct. God, examine me and know my heart, test me and know my concerns. Make sure that I am not on my way to ruin, and guide me on the road of eternity. (Psalm 139:1-3, 23-24)
Lord, hear my prayer, and let my cry come unto you.
Readings: Psalm 55 ◊ Hebrews 5:1-10 ◊ Joshua 7—17 ◊ John 4:1-26
O LORD, open my lips ~ and my mouth shall declare your praise. Blest be the LORD our God, ruler of the universe ~ Now and always for ever and ever.
Delight in the Lord’s teaching and study it night and day ~ Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.
My heart and flesh cry out for the living God! O LORD Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you.
“I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you… Sanctify yourselves. There are devoted things among you; you will be unable to stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.” -Joshua 7:12-13 NRSV
I suppose there is a need for context here. The story that takes place in this account from Joshua is this; Israel had crossed over the Jordan River into the land of Canaan. God had instructed them to take over by force the towns and nations of the people who occupy the land. One of the instructions to Israel had been to keep the gold and silver for the treasury of God and to destroy (burn up) all other things.
The city and all that is in it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction… As for you, keep away from the things devoted to destruction, so as not to covet and take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel an object for destruction, bringing trouble upon it. But all silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron, are sacred to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord. -Joshua 6:17-19 NRSV
Achan, one of the fighters for Israel, kept some of the booty from the battle of Jericho.
But the Israelites broke faith in regard to the devoted things: Achan son of Carmi son of Zabdi son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things; and the anger of the Lord burned against the Israelites. –Joshua 7:1 NRSV
Now, in this case, I believe the devoted things were the items that had either been set aside for destruction or set aside for the LORD’s treasury—this is how the narrative reads. There is obvious application for us even if we stop here. God had given instruction and there was willful disobedience. Achan had been deceived by the lust of his own eyes and the greed that burned within him led him to succumb to an act that sinned against God. Achan’s sin against God had repercussions that extended beyond just himself; his sin affected the lives of his household and the lives of the people of his entire nation. And there are more applications I’m sure with a literal interpretation, but there were some ideas that came to me beyond a “first look” at Achan’s sin and this is where I started to fixate a bit on the word “devotion.”
When I started doing some exploration into the root meaning and eytomology of the word devotion, I found that it was steeped in pious or religious application. Regarding the use of the word in the original language, Hebrew, (charam) is associated with many religious uses; devotion, ban, exterminate, dedication, consecration, sacred, sanctuary, and temple are just a few of the mentioned applications (click the link for more examples).
Devoted / ha·che·rem from charem / (Hebrew) Strongs 2764a ::: definition—devoted thing; devotion; ban
Early 13c., from Old French devocion ”devotion, piety,” from Latin devotionem (nominative devotio), noun of action from pp. stem of devovere ”dedicate by a vow, sacrifice oneself, promise solemnly,” from de-“down, away” (see de-) + vovere ”to vow,” from votum ”vow” (see vow).
In ancient Latin, “act of consecrating by a vow,” also “loyalty, fealty, allegiance;” in Church Latin, “devotion to God, piety.” This was the original sense in English; the etymological sense, including secular situations, returned 16c. via Italian and French.
Perhaps it is just the way my mind works or maybe it has to do with the way we have incorporated the word (devotion) into our language today, but I started to think about how easily we are distracted by our devotions… And, I’m not talking about those devotions where you sit down for a few minutes to pray or read a short passage of Bible verse. I am considering the other things in our lives that consume our energy and attention, the things and activities that steal our devotion from God. So much of our time, energy, resources, and attention is devoted to making money, purchasing objects, pursuing activities that steal us away from the real object of our devotion, God. We pay homage to Him; perhaps we offer Him a tithe (tenth) of our income (after tax of course) and we give Him a couple of hours on Sunday of our undivided attention (it is undivided isn’t it?), and occasionally we’ll participate in one of the annual community outreach thingies. This counts as devotion doesn’t it? By comparison, a car, house, or credit card payment gets far more devotion from us than does our God… in many case.
The question that I think I’ve been fixated on today is, “Where is my devotion or what is my devotion?” I think we can take a closer look at the first-person application with Achan’s sin and make a comparison that strikes a little closer to home for us. In the case of Achan, he took things that were supposed to be set aside for the use of God and perhaps extended to the community of God’s people. He thought only of his own selfish desire. By thinking only about himself, his actions isolated and excommunicated him from the community… ultimately to the point that it caused his death. Are we guilty of this? Maybe I haven’t stolen God’s gold… or have I? Am I enamored by the “purple robes” I see others wearing? What might those “robes” look like in our contemporary society? I think the application really isn’t as far removed from us as I might have originally thought. Perhaps my fixation is not such an extrapolation or reach after all. I wonder how much we might be devoted to ourselves instead of devoted to God.
When the sin of Achan affected the community, Joshua, as their leader, went before God and fell prostrate before Him. He began to cry out and plead for God’s assistance and mercy. God responded by telling him to “Stand up! Why have you fallen upon your face?” and instructed Joshua to tell the people to “Sanctify yourselves” (Joshua 7:6-12). Perhaps in the midst of our misguided devotions today we need to take a step back from the harried lives we lead and “set ourselves apart” by renewing and realigning our devotion. Sanctify yourselves and your devotion for you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. Devotion.
“I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you… Sanctify yourselves. There are devoted things among you; you will be unable to stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.” -Joshua 7:12-13 NRSV
The only “devoted thing” that belongs in my life is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Any other “devoted thing” will cause Him to be with me no more. Sanctify yourself. Yeah. That’s what he said.
Questions for the 1st Sunday of Lent
Readings: Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16 ◊ Romans 10:8-13 ◊ Deuteronomy 21:1—25:19 ◊ Luke 4:1-13
“Steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD. Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O you righteous, and shout for joy all you upright in heart.” (Psalm 32:10-11)
- 21:9—purge the guilt of innocent blood from your midst
- 21:18—purge the evil from your midst
- 22:21—so you shall purge the evil from your midst
- 22:22—so you shall purge the evil from your midst
- 22:24—so you shall purge the evil from your midst
Not to make the obvious trite, but it seems that God wants to make it abundantly clear that His people are intended to be holy, pure, undefiled. I think the reasons are far more reaching than for this to be for a single purpose, and that primarily for show. While the visible example of purity and holiness is likely one of the purposes, I think an extended reason for this purity is that we need it. We are easily distracted…and what distracts us often corrupts us. We are influenced by what we come in contact by and keep company with. The examples of this are many, but one quick example is the acceptance of violence and sexuality in T.V. programming. Through the course of my life, there has been a major shift in what we permit to come into our homes on the television…in fact, not only is it permitted, for very many it is acceptable and demanded. This illustrates why purity and undefilement may have been so rigorously and unwaveringly demanded by our God.
This begs the question of me; “What compromises do I continue to make in keeping myself holy and undefiled for the purposes of God and the health of our relationship?”
“The Lord your God is the one to whom you must do homage, him alone you must serve.” (Matt. 4:10)
Another set of questions I think are good for me to ponder as I venture through this Lenten season, I found today while reading a book, Small Surrenders by Emilie Griffith. In it she quotes a question from Brennan Manning, who asks; “How is my life unfolding in terms of my primary goal of living with God forever?”
This is a pretty big question and might be difficult to nail down in practical terms, so Emilie unpacks this question with a more specific list that helps us to address the bigger examination of our heart. She asks the following:
- What am I doing with my time?
- What am I doing with life?
- How well am I expressing the imprint of Christ upon my heart?
- How deep is my charity?
- How deep is my love?
- How well am I functioning in the Christian life?
And, the question I completed the list with that “popped” into my head as I pondered these—“Am I becoming all that God desires and has destined for me to become?”
I think I will sit with and revisit these through my Lenten journey…
Our Prayer from Charles de Foucauld
Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you; I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures. I wish no more than this, O Lord. Into your hands I commend my soul; I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands, without reserve and with boundless confidence. For you are my Father.