Abandoning the LORD and idol or idle worship
…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: Deuteronomy 26:1—30:20
“But if you will not obey the LORD your God…then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you… Because you did not serve the LORD your God joyfully and with gladness of heart for the abundance of everything.” (Deuteronomy 28:15, 45-47)
I proceed with my reading through the Book of Deuteronomy and find the words in chapter twenty-eight absolutely chilling. The chapter begins with God reestablishing His covenant promises with the people of Israel and declaring a blanket of blessing over their lives and livelihoods. All the people of Israel need do is enter into faithful relationship with God and follow the righteous path for living he has instructed for them. The way of blessing is fairly straight-forward, so God’s instructions continue with an explanation for what happens to the people who fail to enter into faithful relationship Him.
It is difficult to fathom the depth and breadth of the curses God announces to the Israelites, but there is something I have considered as I’ve thought about this narrative account. I wonder how much the curses were actual peals of punishment upon the disobedient as opposed to the promised, and natural, fruit of their sin and disobedience. I think the answer might be in-between, but I also lean toward these being natural (according to the rule of God’s righteousness) occurrences based on the legacy of disobedience and selfish promotion.
Several additional readings have been strongly influencing my reflections and meditations. These readings are from Oswald Chambers (The Relinquished Life), Thomas `a Kempis (The Royal Road), and various excerpted writings from Henri Nouwen. The common theme with all these writings is the desire for utmost devotion from us toward our LORD and God.
“There will always be many who love Christ’s heavenly kingdom, but few who will bear his cross. Jesus has many who desire consolation, but few who care for adversity. He finds many to share his table, but few who will join him in fasting. Many are eager to be happy with him; few wish to suffer anything for him. Many will follow him as far as the breaking of bread, but few will remain to drink from his passion. Many are awed by his miracles, few accept the shame of his cross.” -Thomas `a Kempis
Total and complete devotion is what God desires in us. We will be the victims and bearers of our own sin, if we are unwilling to deny self and follow Christ.
Most holy God of heaven, you who paint the shining center of the sky with the brightness of fire, illumine our hearts, banish sordid things,, release the chain of guilt, and make void our crimes. O God, hear my cry! From the end of the earth I call. Let me dwell in you tent for ever. For You, O God, hear my prayer. I will always praise your Name.
+ In the name of the Father, and in the name of the Son, and in the name of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Putting Jesus in the Friend Zone
Readings: Exodus 12:30—27:21
As I continue reading through the Bible and the Book of Exodus, a picture has emerged in my mind as I reflect and consider the passages I’ve read in parallel with life and culture. I would caution about reading too much into my metaphor of “Friend Zone,” but it seems an accurate assessment if not taken too literally. #enddisclaimer
One theme I know is true, but never seem to remember how boldly it is proclaimed is God’s call for purity, fidelity, focus, and detail with the scope of relationship between God and man. God establishes laws, boundaries, and instructions for every aspect of living in community with Him and even extends the same measure of detail for living and relationships for the community itself. Essentially, after freeing the covenant peoples of Israel, God defines the relationship; He dictates the conditions to Moses and Moses reads them aloud in painstaking detail to the people.
“Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people: and they said, ‘All that the LORD as spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.’”(Exodus 24:7)
Even with the oath and proclamation of obedience by the people, God knows in advance they will not “be perfect as He is perfect.” He establishes a means of forgiveness and cleansing for the sins of the people in the system of sacrifices and offerings; therefore, when the people fail to follow the rules of relationship, there is a means of reconciliation in place to prevent fracture and break-up and provide restoration.
As the years pass, so does the honeymoon stage of the relationship between the covenant people and God. The relationship itself is taken for granted by the people and the sacrificial system becomes a justifying means to an end. The attitudes of the people become apathetic, non-committal, and adulterous toward their God. The sacrifices necessary for redemption, reconciliation, and restoration of the people mean nothing to those who offer the sacrifices and ultimately mean nothing to God (Isaiah 1:11-12; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21).
I hope I’m not reading too much into what I’ve perceived, but it seems to me that the trajectory of the relationship was something like this: God establishes and defines the relationship between He and the Israelites; the Israelites agree to the lifestyle of purity, civility, and fidelity God defines; God provides a means for the Israelites restoration when they fail their commitment. As the timeline continues and the commitment made by the Israelites is diluted through their generations, the people move from offering sacrifices for their failures to not recognizing their failures at all. In effect, the people, by the association of their actions, redefine the relationship with their God. What God calls sin, the people fail or rarely recognize as such. The people boldly engage in worship of false gods, mistreat their fellow human beings, lie, cheat, and steal from one another…and more, all of which were clearly defined as abhorrent and unacceptable to God. It appears a combination of things occurred in the hearts and minds of this former covenant keeping people; one is that they stopped caring about the Creator God who had rescued and provided for them all the years of their existence, and another is that it appeared they no longer considered many of their actions sin.
Years pass and Jesus steps into the scene. No longer, does man have to live behind the blemished façade of a false self; God comes to dwell amongst men and provide them a means to be wholly reconciled and fully restored to the imago dei (Image of God). Man no longer has to live in sin (hamartia: missing the mark of God), but God in the flesh shows man the way to accurately reflect and embody the divine nature.
Fast Forward Some More
Here we are; today, the world in which we live. It often seems the more things change, the more they stay the same. From ancient middle-eastern culture to modern western society, the attitudes and excuses of living and life seem to spring remarkably from the same headwaters: selfish pride. We enjoy having “God on our side.” We like the benefits of name-dropping; “Yo, me and J.C. are tight.” It is comforting to us to think we have an omnipotent God to turn to when the pressures of life squeeze tight. While we might not say it, we often treat God like our “Ace in the hole” only calling Him out when all our other “cards” fail to produce the winning hand for us. Many of us, calling ourselves Christians, live a dual life—keeping God separate from most of the messier areas of our life—our relationship with God resembles the “pretty room” many of us might remember we or our friends had as kids growing up. You know the one I’m talking about; it’s the room that was perfect that no one was allowed to go in or sit on the furniture and strictly made for looking at…no practical function whatsoever. Yeah, that’s the sum of much Christianity today, except that in reality it is not even pretty to look at if we are truly honest with one another and it certainly doesn’t look like anything passable for the Christianity that is modeled in our Bibles.
What Is Wrong
My opinions are my own, but I would like to offer them for consideration. I think there are several factors that are damaging the cause of spiritual transformation in the image of Christ. The first problem is a theology that has deviated from the Trinitarian example of our Lord Jesus. Many people seem to have abandoned the God of the Old Testament entirely or relegated Him to “mean and angry old God” status, openly thankful that they do not have to deal with that God now that Jesus has “taken over.” This attitude and belief is a form of Marcionism, which was denounced as heresy as early as the mid second century. Interestingly enough, this belief seems as strong and prevalent as it ever may have been if not stronger. Other heresies involving Jesus that have significant impact on how we respond to God and His work of spiritual transformation in us include forms of Docetism and Eutychianism, both of which argue points of Jesus’ nature of being fully man and fully God. The damaging point for us as followers is that embracing these beliefs (even through ignorance) presents challenges that can be almost impossible to overcome. I have heard it said many, many times from believers; “I cannot follow Jesus and be like him. Jesus was God and I am not.” While Jesus is God and I am not is a true statement, the greater truth is that we can follow him. God has imparted the divine nature to be shared in us (2 Peter 1:3-7) for the very reason of walking as Jesus walked (1 John 2:6).
I think the bottom line after accounting for the ignorance of our beliefs and heresies, is that many of us have not “died to self,” which is arguably the first step to becoming a disciple of Christ and becoming transformed into the image of God (Luke 14:25-27). Without this critical first step, we remain in charge of ourselves and constantly redefine the relationships (be that as it may) that we have with the Trinitarian God to suit our own needs at the time whatever they may be. This is not Christianity—it is Meianity and it doesn’t fly with the call of Christ to “Follow Me.”
God Almighty came to this earth setting aside his divine right, so we might become one with the Godhead (Philippians 2:5-7; John 17:20-23). It is the desire of God to share intimately His oneness with us, but there are conditions and distinctives He has given us for that level of relationship to be made true in us. We, listen to the words of God who defines the relationship and become dismayed, but we like Jesus…we just don’t want to marry Him. Jesus wants intimacy and monogamy, we do not want that level of commitment and want to be free to do what we want when we want. So, we respond; “Jesus, can’t we just be friends?” I believe the Bible teaches us that proposition is rejected, at least in the sense that we mean it. Being friends with Jesus inside the marriage relationship is good and “yes.” Trying to be friends with Jesus outside of the covenant of marriage with Him is difficult to impossible and in my opinion an emphatic “no.” Truly, we cannot relegate God to the “Friend Zone” and expect to be a part of His Kingdom. The teaching of the Bible does not support that ideology (Matthew 7:21).
Readings: Exodus 7:14—12:30
“…and we will not know what to use to worship the LORD until we arrive there.” (Ex. 10:26)
These words “jumped” out to me this morning during our morning reading. As I was considering them and asking the Lord why they caught my attention, I started to think there are times I get into routines (I like routine) and I believe that I know how God wants me to worship Him. Like, I’m positive that I know what will please Him each and every time, so I only “bring with me” what I know He wants.
O, presumptuous me.
I think, what I take away from these words today, is that I should bring all of me each time I come to worship the LORD. If God determines it is praise He desires from me, I will have it. If He desires my tears or my laughs, I will have them too. If He wants my adoration or my silence, those I will have brought as well. I bring everything when I bring all of me…all that I have and all that I am.
I’m sensing the point of this Word to me is this: I am all too often caught up in myself, my agendas, and my routines, such that I presume to know all that is in my heart and exactly how God wants me to worship Him with it. I hear God speaking to my spirit today that there are areas of my heart that need uncovered still. He wants those things uncovered and brought into the light as my acceptable worship. I can only presume to know what these things are and how God intends to have me use them as sacrifice and worship before Him. I will; however, know for sure when I “arrive there” with all of me in tow.
“If you want to live a devout life, you are not only required to stop sinning but also to lose your appetite for it.” -Francis de Sales
I am still working on finalizing my personal rule of life for 2013. I don’t know how long it will take me, but I do not feel the need to rush it. I will do my best to remain faithful in the areas I sense the Spirit leading me in now. At the moment, I have shifted my focus and devoting more attention on developing healthy habits—a new diet, exercise, and attention to a few other mind and body details. As a result of this new focus and initiatives, my blogging, reading, and writing habits have been lacking in regularity. I believe this is okay for now, especially while I form new habits and make adjustments to my lifestyle that will reap healthy benefits in my future, God willing and helping me.
Jesus Christ is the light of the world. A light no darkness can extinguish. In You, O LORD, I take refuge. Let me never be put to shame. In Your justice, set me free, hear me and speedily rescue me. Be a rock and a refuge for me, a mighty stronghold to save me, for You are my rock, my stronghold. For Your name’s sake, lead me and guide me that my actions might bring glory and honor to You, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit who reign eternally together. Amen.
Advent: Year C [04DEC12] Theme for week 1—Waiting & Hope
What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? Says the LORD… Trample my courts no more—I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean …cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. If you are willing to be obedient, you shall eat the good of the land. (Isaiah 1:10-20)
God loves you and has chosen you to be his own people. You are looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heaven—Jesus, whom God raised from the dead. He is the one who has rescued us. (1 Thess. 1:4, 10)
Happy are those who delight in the LORD and meditate on his word both day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither… –Psalm 1:1-3
It strikes me, as I read these words, the key to obedience and “leaves that never wither” is a hearty knowledge and intimate relationship with God. “Cease to do evil—learn to do good;” says the LORD. Then the psalmist writes meditate on God’s word day and night; those who do are like the “trees planted along the riverbank.”
But you, O LORD, you are my glory -Psalm 3:3
I remember this past summer traveling to the arid regions of Eastern Washington State. The hills, valleys, and plains were brown and sparsely vegetated. We visited an area around the Columbia River, a town named Wanatchee, where there were acres and acres of orchards—apples, peaches, cherries, and more—all planted along the river and producing hundreds of thousands of bushels of wonderful fruit. The juxtaposition of all the green foliage against the backdrop of dry, brown, terrain was very vivid and still has a very strong imprint in my memory. I think about my relationship with Jesus as I think about those leaves that never wither and those orchards planted along the Columbia River in Wenatchee. I want to be like those trees. I want strong roots that reach deep into the water table. I want to meditate on God’s word day and night….learning what it means to do good and not simply follow religiosity for the sake of being a rule follower. I desire to dance with the Godhead in delight that never grows old, but is fresh every day…like the trees along the riverbank whose leaves never wither.
“We preach not one advent only of Christ, but a second also, far more glorious than the former. For the former gave a view of his patience; but the latter brings with it the crown of a divine kingdom.” St. Cyril of Jerusalem
Today I think about how Advent waiting teaches me the discipline of patience, and I believe patience is as much a discipline of grace as it is a gift of love. Patience is a necessary component of love (1 Cor. 13 “Love is patient”) and must be cultivated in the life of every believer-follower if we are to truly bring forth the type of fruit that lasts, the type of fruit we were chosen for. Waiting teaches us patience and patience bears fruit. I think there is also a certain reciprocity in learning patience too. Waiting teaches me patience, but patience developed helps me to wait with confidence and an air of calm—capable of performing daily tasks and living with purpose even when I am still waiting, looking forward for what is to come. Waiting and patience… two sides of the same coin?
But you, O LORD, you are my glory -Psalm 3:3
As I consider hope today, I consider whether a person can have hope without having patience as well. I do not believe it possible…I don’t think it is plausible for a person to have real (TRUE) hope without having at least a modicum of patience. Hope is seasoned by the grace of patience and learns not to be intemperate or anxious in the throes of waiting. A “patient hope” helps me in the seasons of cold, the dark, and dry to look forward to seasons of fruit-bearing and seasons of harvest. Hope helps me to hang on for days, weeks, and/or months of doubt, because hope is also rooted in patience, sustaining the wait no matter the length of its season.
But you, O LORD, you are my glory -Psalm 3:3
You, O Lord, have promised to come and make all things new, to dwell among us as our God and embrace us as your people, to wipe every tear from our eyes, and remove from us all pain, so that we may live forever in peace and security. Renew in me, O Lord, the hope of the new day and renew in this new day the hope of a new heaven and a new earth where you will reign in light and we will live in peace.
Help me, O God, to learn patience as I rely on you for my daily bread; waiting with hope for your kingdom to come and your will to be done on this present earth as your will is done in heaven. O God, your seed has been planted in me—may it be fully formed, matured and bringing forth the fruit of Christ’s glorious image formed in me while I wait. Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus, come.
Glory be to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
But you, O LORD, you are my glory -Psalm 3:3
A Week (weak) of Reflections & Examinations—Jeff’s Journal
I’ve been reviewing and reflecting on the writings in my journal from the past several days. As we approach this season of Advent, the season of expectant waiting, I notice in my writing the tension of a long period of waiting already. I am not sure if the analogy is an appropriate or “right” one, but it goes something like this. Many of my spiritual days over the past few years have been spent as if I draw in a deep breath, hold it until almost blacking out and then exhale with loud, “wooshing” sigh—feeling tired and almost spent—then deeply drawing in another big breath to hold…starting this exhausting process all over again. I think this sounds something worse than it actually is, but there is a certain “yes” and “not quite” that I experience on the way of my Christian journey that is difficult to explain. I “see and hear” these deep inhales and exhales in my writings…I’ll let them speak for me.
(17NOV12) To whom shall I go, O Lord? You alone have the words of life, and I have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God. Praise be to You, Lord Jesus Christ, King of endless glory. Sometimes though, I admit, I get tired…I get tired of praying, I get tired of waiting, I get tired of looking. But I will keep on praying, watching, looking, and waiting because as Peter said to you, “I have nowhere else to go.” Even as you are God in flesh, Jesus, You know all the sufferings and loneliness that a man will face. You were driven into the desert wilderness, You were rejected by your people as well as your closest friends…and you were also given over to the cross to become an innocent—murdered for the sins of humanity—even my sins.
You are God… Teach me to count my days that I might gain a wise heart. Satisfy me in the morning with your steadfast love, so I might rejoice and be glad all my days. (Ps. 90:2, 12, 14)
(18NOV12) “This is but the beginning of birth pangs.” -Jesus (Mark13:8)
(20NOV12) As I sit here, the beating of my heart, the ebb and flow of my breathing the movements of my mind are all signs of God’s ongoing creation in me. I pause for a moment, and become aware of this presence of God within me and respond with these thoughts… I am the reflection of Your image, O God, as broken and fragile as I am, it is amazing that I still bear the image of the great God who created me. I ask for Your help and Your forgiveness for the many ways I “miss the mark” of Your image and thereby sin against You and Your image. I pray, O Lord, for more of Your presence and more of Your Spirit in my life—a reminder that You are always near—forever with and within me, faithful to complete the good work You have started in me. I pray that I might see all You have planned and foreordained for the people who follow You and proclaim You as their God. Amen.
Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the LORD, is my strength. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
(21NOV12) In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I will ask God’s help, to be free from my own preoccupations and pretensions; I will ask to be open to God in this time of prayer, to come to love and serve Him more. Help me, O Lord, to be ever more conscious of Your presence. Teach me to recognize Your presence in others. Fill my heart with gratitude for the times Your love has been shown to me through the actions and words of others and help me to be aware of the times it is You who works through me. I believe and trust in God the Father Almighty; I believe and trust in Jesus Christ His Son. I believe and trust in the Holy Spirit. I believe and trust in the Three in One.
I will study the way that is blameless. When shall I attain it? (Psalm 101:2)
And this is part of my heart’s cry… I think it is what drives me to the place of mourning my own “unworthiness” of poor in spirit (Matt. 5:3-4). I read the remaining words of the psalmist from Psalm 101 and he asks; “When will I attain the way of blamelessness?” Here follows his list of “ways to walk.” (1) with integrity of heart (2) no evil or wicked thing before his eyes (3) avoid the works of those who are not on-the-way (4) steer clear of perversity and evil (5) no slanderous talk (6) refrain from haughty and arrogant attitudes (7) no quarter given to any lies or deceit (8) seek to eradicate evil and evil doers. I like to tell myself that I am onboard with this list, but every time I take inventory and do a sweep of my heart, I find another pile of this junk. Ugh! Is there no end??? I will study the way that is blameless. When will I attain it?
My eyes fail from watching for your salvation and for the fulfillment of your righteous promise. Deal with your servant according to your steadfast love, and teach me your statutes… My eyes shed streams of tears because your law is not kept. (Especially with me) Psalm 119:123-124, 136
From James (James 3:13-18) come additional words that can be helpful for cleaning crud from my heart. James says; “Show your good life with works done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts do not be boastful and false to the truth… Wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” I pray, O God, You to help me act on these areas you bring notice of in me. Help me to yield and be open to all the areas that need refining within me. Do Your work and help me to partner with You in the ways that are blameless and in some way… through the suffering You endured, attain the righteousness You impute to me. I pray Your help. Amen.
(23NOV12) “Hear my prayer, O LORD: let my cry come to You. Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress. Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call. I do not sleep; I am like a lonely bird on the housetop. (Psalm 102:1-2, 7).
Pray always—and do not lose heart—will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry out to Him day and night? …When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth? (Luke 18:1-8)
James (James 5:7-8) continues his wise counsel to me; “Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord, The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.” I’m learning patience, with fits and starts, stumbles, crumbles, and some successes…I’m learning to wait. Perhaps the tension will always be with me; I don’t know how it will all work out, but I do know that in the tension and with the wait God is near and within me. It is with this knowledge and affirmation of His word that I will persevere. Where else can I go?
Sharing a couple pages from my journal after reading the selections from the Daily Office Year Two (Book of Common Prayer). I started the book of the Prophet Joel and continue reading from the Gospel of Luke. My reflections follow:
“Cleansing the Temple”
A terrible thing has happened… the people of God have failed to live in right relationship with him. We know this because Joel calls the people to repentance; “Turn back to God…” (see Joel 2:12-14). What I read that is most tragic to me is the curse and devastation is so massive and far-reaching that it completely prevents the people from worshiping God in the way they have previously known and the way worship has been prescribed for centuries. There was a certain protocol for worship; there were certain sacrificial offerings for the remittance of sin requiring grain, oil, wine, and specific animals. Because of the devastation that had befallen the people, this form of worship and sin offering was not an option.
8 Weep like a bride dressed in black, mourning the death of her husband. 9 For there is no grain or wine to offer at the Temple of the LORD… 10 The fields are ruined, the land is stripped bare. The grain is destroyed, the grapes have shriveled, and the olive oil is gone. 13 …For there is no grain or wine to offer at the Temple of your God. (Joel 1:8-10, 13)
I am familiar with the Book of Joel, so I know the people are called to repent and turn back to God…and the LORD makes provision to do this despite the people’s inability to follow Temple protocol. The heart-breaking observation here is the realization of how disorienting and disheartening this loss of identity…this stripping away of self must be to the Hebrew people. Not only are their lives disrupted to the point of famine and ruin, but the thing they “know” to do (go to the Temple and offer sacrifices in a show of repentance), they cannot do.
I wonder if this is an example of and call to “die to self?” Is this God helping his people to strip away and remove a false identity? I think it is possible.
The people of God had relied upon their Temple worship as a means of supporting their relationship with God for generations. It seems the relationship that came with sharing the Dwelling Place of God had been taken for granted and was being used as a means to an end. When the people were backed into a corner or they felt “God was angry,” the thing to do was find a priest, offer sacrifices, appease the “angry god,” and move on. It is true that God had been the originator of the rules for Temple worship, but it was the people who had subverted what God had intended for good. In the process of subversion, the people had lost the thing that set them apart from the surrounding nations; they had lost their relationship with God.
I wonder if this might be a foreshadowing of Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple.
…For there is no grain or wine to offer at the Temple of your God.
“Give us this day our daily bread.”
“Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” Exclaims a man who is listening to the teaching of Jesus (Luke 14:15).
Jesus taught his disciples to pray; “Lord give us this day our daily bread…” It seems to me, that one of God’s greatest delights is the communion of fellowship. The unity and fellowship of the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit is (I think) the greatest example of this perfect unity and communion, but God also reveals His passion for relationship and desire for communion with humanity in number of ways. The Bible teaches us about the joy God derives from walking with man as His friend (think Enoch, Abraham, and Moses as a few examples). We are taught about God “dwelling” in the tents of men (Moses and the Tabernacle in the wilderness). God enjoying sharing meals (with Abraham, providing manna for the Israelites for 40 years, Jesus’ delight in sharing food and wine…). Clearly, ours is a God of relationship, One who enjoys creating memories, traditions, a living history and shared heritage—feasts, festivals, dancing and singing with His cherished Creation. There really seems nothing that gives God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit greater joy than to “hang out” with His children… and it seems He also likes to provide “fresh bread” for the most of these gatherings.
“Give us this day our daily bread, we pray”
In the reading of Luke 14:15-24, I see a tragic parallel to our contemporary world. I hear a man exclaim how great it is to “eat and fellowship with God.” This doesn’t seem too far removed from conversations and the words of Christians in our world today. We might find ourselves in a Christian gathering or a church potluck and proclaim how wonderful it is to be in the presence of God, eating and sharing our blessings together, but Jesus offers a raw look into what is all-too-often our real world.
Jesus tells the people at his table about a man (God) who has prepared an elaborate banquet—a great feast—for which he has sent out many invitations. When the time draws near for the date of the banquet, many RSVPs are returned with excuses and reasons for people unable to attend; “They all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’” (Luke 14:18-20).
This parable is some two-thousand years old, but it seems that not much has changed. When I have the opportunity to spend devoted time with God, how often have sent him my RSVP with words like, “I’d love to go to church or read my Bible, but I have to work; I have chores at home; it’s my only day off; I have family obligations…”?
“Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”
God has provided us with a banquet of fellowship fit for a king and unrivaled by anything imagined in the history of humankind. We have unparalleled access to God through the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit and His written Word to us. How can we justify not taking the time or making the time to fellowship with the Creator of All Things?
I think an even greater tragedy is how easy it becomes for us to take for granted this access to God and the “daily bread” He has prepared for us. As the people in the time of Joel took for granted their access to, and relationship with, God, He took that access away from them.
“…For there is no grain or wine to worship in the Temple of God.” Joel 1:13
In Jesus’ parable, so it happens also. If we fail to enter his fellowship… our fellowship, our access to the banquet and Bread of God may result with us being denied entry.
“For none of these I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.” Luke 14:24
May we never take for granted the gift of daily bread from our Heavenly Father. Blessed are those who eat bread in the Kingdom of God. Amen.
Promises – Promises
I’ve had Psalm 119:50 pinned with a post-it note to the screen of my laptop computer for a couple of weeks now. I haven’t wanted to take it down as I continue to receive “comfort” and fresh insight from it.
“This is my comfort in my distress, that your promise gives me life.” Psalm 119:50 NRSV
What are the promises that give me comfort? Well, there are many, to be sure, but in particular, there are two specific promises that have become my anchor. There is one promise that I call the promise of eternity past and another I refer to as the promise of eternity future; eternal promises that give me life today…on this side of eternity, while we wait.
The First Promise
The first promise or what I refer to as a promise is the world as God originally created it. This is the world of Eden as depicted in the early chapters of Genesis (Genesis 1:26-31). This is the world before sin entered. Regardless of whether you accept these passages as literal or metaphorical, the intent of the story is clear; this is a world and humanity that is created in the image of God and in its present state is perfect and able to share complete fellowship with its Creator. I suppose the “state of something” is not technically a promise, but it occurs to me that to know this was God’s intent for His creation is to also accept this as a plan or destiny for all His people, “Be fruitful and multiply…fill the earth…” (Genesis 1:28). The first promise is God’s intention of peace, perfection, and eternal fellowship with the Holy “Us” (Genesis 1:26).
The Second Promise
Promise number two is found in Revelation 21:1-22:7. Again, this is more a state of being than it is a contractual promise. In this account, we are taught that the fulfillment of all things has taken place and a new heaven and new earth have been ordered. “The home of God is now among His people; death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). This is something the Lord promises will happen; He says, “These words are trustworthy and true…” (Rev. 22:6).
“This is my comfort in my distress, that your promise gives me life.”
If these “promises” are my comfort, what is my distress?
My distresses are often petty things like unmet expectations, self-imposed religious rules, and judgmental performance metrics for me and for others who “aren’t like me.” My distresses are sometimes significant and serious things like wondering how to pay a doctor bill when there’s no insurance, trying to figure a way to get a child home for the holidays from college when there’s no money in the bank, and the ever constant battles involved with “denying self” daily. Then there are the tragic distresses that rage daily, broken relationships, sickness, death…deceit, the oppression of people and children, poverty, famine, and war. It can be, and often is, so tiring and overwhelming.
We’re hopeful people though, we Christians. We wake up and try hard to do the right things with expectations that things will get better, but sometimes they don’t. We raise our children in the church with the hopes they will follow the way of Jesus on their own someday… some kids do, while others do not. We hope by “right living” and honoring God that it will go well with us; meaning, we will live prosperous, healthy, and meaningful lives—sometimes this is true for people and other times it is not.
We tell ourselves and try to believe that God is with us. Somewhere deep within, our soul we say, bears a witness that God is with us… “we know that we know that we know” or something like that. When we read or hear God’s Word, there is a resonance that it is True, but God is invisible…except for the tangible things He has provided (air, gravity, water…etc.). Faith is tough and can be the source of distress sometime. Jesus said it was better for Him to leave us, so the Holy Spirit would come to indwell each and every believer. I believe this is true. I believe God indwells me. I believe God directs me, guides me, comforts me, and “speaks” to me. But all of this can be a source of distress to me at times.
I have been created in the form of flesh. I have multiple senses; touch, taste, sight, smell, hearing… God created and God given. So many times though we speak of God in esoteric terms and we act as though Invisible God is the normal way for Christian believers to interact with God and speak of Him. We end up living our lives in some weirded-out metaphor. I think speaking honestly about our state of present being is better than trying to deceive ourselves into believing otherwise. I realize my words sound depressing, but really they are not.
My distresses are real, but so are my joys and so is my hope. My hope and my joy are found in the promises I mentioned earlier where the promise of eternity past and the promise of eternity future are reconciled and joined. In the middle of this time… between the bookends of these promises, I learn to live with an attitude of holy indifference knowing that God is present even if I do not see Him. God loves me even when I do not feel His hug. I learn to look for the presence of Christ in the smells, words, and actions of others; His Spirit, after all, animates them. I learn to accept the down payment of promise of eternity future in the things I can accept today. I live as a kingdom citizen today while I wait for the kingdom of tomorrow. When I grow weary I remember the way things were and the way things will be.
“This is my comfort in my distress, that your promise gives me life.”
Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus, Come.
Jesus for President? Probably not…
Political Post Warning…
I’m feeling frisky, so I thought I’d share some musings on this day, our presidential election, in our United States of America. Since I am unashamedly a follower of Messiah Jesus, I thought I’d post a few thoughts from a Christian perspective.
I’ve seen quite a few thoughts around the web that invoke the idea of “vote for Jesus” or “Jesus for president” and other similar inferences like making the most “informed Christian” vote (that is assuming your or my vote would be most closely aligned with who Jesus would vote for. And this assumes He would vote at all—but that is another conversation).
First, let me say that I voted and I believe in the process, even as flawed as it might be; I’m glad I get to vote on the leadership in this nation.
Now, onto the idea of Jesus for president…
Really? I wonder how long Jesus would last if he were really voted in. Let’s hypothetically assume the United States is a Christian nation, and let’s take it one step further and assume that every United States citizen professes themselves aligned with Christianity as their faith affiliation.
First, it is my opinion that Jesus would not be voted in at all if the things he taught and the things he did were reported through the media as are most other presidential candidates.
If good communication skills are a prerequisite and being able to clearly dictate a position are necessary to win over voters, I don’t think Jesus would have scored very high even though we call him a great orator. He said that he chose to deliberately speak in parables so some people would hear him clearly and others would not (see Luke 8).
According to the gospels, Jesus doesn’t seem to be very keen on capitalism, free market systems, amassing fortunes, or retirement plans. In fact, he once told a story about a man who had raised a bumper crop of wheat. The man figured he’d done well and could retire on his efforts and earnings only to be called a “fool” and have his life taken by God that very night (Luke 12:13-21). Additionally, the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere in the gospels seem to favor Socialism over the Free Market system that fuels most of the American Dream.
Many people like to believe that Jesus is “fair” and universal in his approach toward helping humanity, but the gospels teach differently about this perception as well. Jesus was often in the midst of great crowds, but we’re only told of two accounts where he fed the masses. I’m reasonably sure there were more than three people that he was aware of who died in the places he traveled, but we’re only told of three that he raised from the dead. In the early pages of Mark’s Gospel we read that Jesus healed all that were brought to him in one day, yet on the morning of the next day, he left people who wanted and needed healing with their disease and sickness telling his disciples he had to go to the next city… “this is not the reason I have come” (Mark 1:29-39). Then there was the scene at the pool of Bethseda; where John recounts there were “many invalids there,” yet Jesus chose to heal only one… (John 5:1-13) and this does not even take into account that Jesus broke the law of the land to heal this man by healing him on the Sabbath.
Certainly my words sound somewhat facetious; it is a literary tool to help us consider our own motives and political positions, but in reality Jesus was a radical that not too many people would be happy with as a president. What if he came to you and demanded you sell all your possessions to give to the poor? What if he advised you the only way you could be part of his country/kingdom was to give up all your status and become a servant to all? What if he announced the only way you could keep your life was to sacrifice it for someone who despised you? I think most people would say; “Jesus, you’re out of your flipping mind…” kinda the same way people thought when he told them his body and blood were real food and drink (John 6:22-59).
He tells us if someone asks for our tunic, give it to them and your shirt too. He says if someone asks you to carry their load a mile, carry it two. If someone cracks you on the jaw, turn your cheek and offer it to them so your bruising will be symmetrical. People say Jesus never wants anyone to be a doormat for others, but this is exactly what he made of himself….and still does today. He is the gate and the doormat to the kingdom of God and He invites us to follow Him.
I think it sounds nice and spiritually self-righteous to say “Jesus for President!” I don’t think it is very heartfelt or realistic, unless of course it is some other Jesus that we are talking about that isn’t the Jesus mentioned in the Holy Scriptures.
Oh, and don’t think for a minute, that I’m not talking about myself here too. I’m as guilty as the next person who wants their proverbial “cake and to eat it too.” I want to follow the Jesus in the Scriptures, and I call myself trying, but I also see the enormous chasm between his teachings and my reality. If Jesus were on the ballot, I’m not sure I would be prepared to vote for him…especially after reading his campaign promises in the gospels.
Jesus for president? Let me think on that awhile.
I’ve been sitting on this post for awhile now. I wasn’t sure how to articulate my thoughts; honestly, I’m still not sure I know how. I’ve been thinking a lot lately…about a bunch of things, but especially about sin—the nature, the inner and outer manifestations, the collateral effects—and ultimately, the bottom line of it all
I think that when we talk about sin, we talk about it too broadly and too generically. When we do attempt to focus in on sin, we will often isolate subjective manifestations of sin like vices, behaviors, social maladies, and the like. There are isolated and rare occasions when the topic of “original sin” is discussed where Adam’s disobedience and the subsequent fall of man is cast as the source of humanity’s sin. It is my opinion while there is some validity in all these points, we are still missing the mark…and this, I think, is the real or root problem. We miss the mark.
It is helpful for us to have a working definition of the word “sin” before we proceed. In the Old Testament there are several words that we translate to the English word “sin.” My studies revealed one of the more prominent words, and many derivatives of it, used to describe sin is the Hebrew word “chata,” which means to sin, miss, miss the way, go wrong, incur guilt, forfeit, purify from uncleanness; to miss oneself, lose oneself, wander from the way. I think several of these possible meanings really strike a chord in me; particularly “lose oneself” and “wander from the way.” A second word from the Old Testament and the Hebrew is “râ‛âh.” This word is used more than 600 times and is most often translated as “evil” or “bad” ([Strong's #7451]). While the word “sin” is rarely, if ever, translated from it, it still carries the implication of something that is contrary to God’s nature and I think this is the important piece. Our actions that are translated as “evil” and “bad” are contrary to God’s nature. Finally, there is the New Testament use of the word “sin” translated from the Greek word “hamartia,” which means literally, “to miss the mark.”
What I gleaned from these word studies is that our approach toward understanding sin and our subsequent way of dealing with it might be askew. As I mentioned earlier, generally speaking, we talk about sin in a broadly generic manner. We label sin as things we do, attitudes of the mind and heart, and conditions of life that are other than what we expect in our “best case” ideals. All of these are subjectively interpreted and potential outward manifestations of sin… not sin themselves. I know that statement will get some resistance, but hear me out.
The actual definitions from the primary words for sin in the Hebrew and Greek texts are “missing the way” or “missing the mark.” We might do well to consider what the “way” or the “mark” is that we have missed.
The Bible teaches us from the very beginning that we are created in the Imago Dei or image of God. We are supposed to be reflections of our Creator in all our ways. This was and is the intent of our God, that we would be His image bearer, and anything less than an accurate reflection of Him… His Image, is sin. When we fail to “look like God,” we sin. We miss the mark. I realize that my statements disturb the thinking of people, but this is what the Bible teaches from beginning to end. In the earliest chapters of Genesis, we read that we are imago dei, and then through disbelief and disobedience, Adam (the first man) becomes a broken image of God (missing the mark). Adam and wife, Eve, are expelled from the presence of God to pass on their brokenness to all future generations. The covenant promise of God though, is that God will present humankind with a means of restoring the imago dei through the redemptive work of Messiah Jesus. Ultimately, the promise, for those who will receive it, is complete recovery of the God Image… “we’ll be like he is” (1 John 3:2-3).
I think one of the greatest mistakes we have made in our Christian discipleship efforts is to inaccurately define and describe sin as actions, attitudes, things we do and things we feel. Describing and defining sin as wrong behavior, evil, socially unacceptable acts, vices, alternative lifestyles, etc. are all subjective and judgmental perspectives and lead to performance expectations and measurements. Our incorrect definition creates an incorrect diagnosis of the problem, and with errant diagnosis comes wrong treatment… Our efforts tend to lean toward correcting and managing behavior over recovering the imago dei and becoming Christ-like. Ultimately, wrong treatment begets no change at best and digression at worst.
A Belief Problem
I think many people push back against recovering God’s image as their own, because it seems preposterous to them to believe it is possible or attainable. It seems much more plausible to embark on a self-help or self-healing program to make a better “me” than to become like Jesus…like God, but Scripture is very clear that “becoming like Christ” and recovering our reflection of Him is the goal. The following are just a smattering of Scripture verses pointing to the claim of recovering the imago dei.
- Created in God’s image; Imago Dei (Genesis 1:27-28, 5:1-3)
- Deuteronomy 30:11-14 – This command is not too hard for you to reach
- Ezekiel 36:26 – I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.
- Jeremiah 31:33 – write my commandments on your heart
- Colossians 1:15-16 - the Son is the image of the invisible God…
- 1 John 2:3-6 – we must walk as Jesus walked…
- 1 John 3:2-3 – We’ll be like he is
- 1 John 5:3 – His commands are not burdensome…
I’m still thinking about what all this means to me. I do know this for myself… to think of sin in the terms of what I do (actions and attitude) propels me in a wrong direction where I continue to miss the mark. First, I cannot cure myself. Second, I don’t know what to cure since my diagnosis is based upon my own interpretation of the problem…which is misguided in the first place. If my “mark” is not God, then my mark will be my own ideal or another human, who is likely to be misguided and missing the mark too. Only Christ is my standard. Only Christ can help me to reach that standard.
Will I ever reach the mark? Will I ever not sin? I think in terms of what I strive for, I reach the mark when I start living to attain it. As I follow Jesus, I am reaching for the prize that is the mark of Christ. I stop sinning as I reach for and follow after Christ because I am recovering the imago dei. As I surrender to the Spirit of God who dwells within me, I am living under the Image of the God who Created me and this might even be closer to recovering the imago dei than even I am fully capable of realizing on this side of eternity.
I’m still thinking on this and I’m sure I’ll revisit the post a time or two or three or…