Monday, March 31, 2014

Judges: zero separation between physical and spiritual

As I read through the book of Judges, there are moments when I wonder why all of this is in the Bible. It is rapid-fire storytelling that jumps from one battle to the next. It seems to not have much to do with following God - until you catch the little lines that connect the battle scenes.

The phrase "again Israel did evil" is like a hook that latches each story together. Following deliverance there is peace. Once the leader dies, Israel abandons God. This leads to Israel being handed over to another power and the cycle starts anew.

We can choose to get lost in the battles or look more intently behind the scenes to see the real battle for the heart. As long as the human heart is not inclined to follow the Father, there is no peace. Some of us accept that on a personal level but often forget that it applies to a societal level as well. This life will never be a life of peace and rest until we decide to rest in the will of the one who designed life in the first place. As St. Augustine said in his Confessions, "Are hearts are restless until they find rest in you."

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Joshua: Always "us"; never "me"

As an individualistic North America its hard to think about community. In my city, young teens rarely have curfews because parents don't want to infringe on their rights. Students at my university miss meetings routinely because of how they feel. Small groups rarely stay together for long. Its hard to think about the effect we have on others when we are so focused on self.

Yet an obscure story in Joshua reminded me that this is not the norm nor is it the way that the Father thinks. In Joshua 22, when a couple of tribes built an altar that others interpreted falsely as pagan worship, the leaders of Israel implored the supposed offenders to repent because of the consequences it would have for the nation. They never spoke of consequences for the offenders only. They cited historical references where the entire nation suffered due to the poor decisions of a few.  Maybe they were not considered guilty for the decisions of others but the consequences overflowed. A child might not be guilty of his father's drunkenness but he definitely suffers from the consequences.

So what does that look like today? How many consequences do I bring into the lives of others because of the decisions I make? What does it imply for family, small groups and my working environment? And what does it imply about those bad days when nothing seems to go right in the family, group or work? Maybe my individualism interprets the consequences I suffer from the decisions of others as the results of my actions rather than theirs? Maybe I don
't even understand suffering because of my selfish individualism?

Its a thought that we don't entertain much as North Americans where we believe everyone is an island. Yet the worldview I see in scripture is less island culture and more village culture. We are intricately intertwined.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Deuteronomy: Trust

As Deuteronomy moves to a close, there is a long section of blessings and curses. This was common in ancient suzerain covenants and serves as a "wrap up" for the Torah. Basically, it's a recognition of "do X get Y" at the hands of God. Yet, it is such a staggering summary of life choices, international powers shifts and natural phenomena that to reduce the Torah to a linear equation of "do X get Y" seems totally preposterous.

That is why 29:29 jumps off the page at me. "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law."

So much of life is out of my control. I have little to no influence over much that shapes my life. Yet there are things that I can choose. I can choose where to put my trust, how I will react to injustice, and how to express compassion. That which originates within
my heart and mind, I can control. These choices belong to me - and for those choices the Father revealed his will. For the rest of life that I can't control, there is trust. That portion of life with its "secret things belong[s] to the Lord our God".

Perhaps the great task of life is recognizing into which category each decision falls - within my realm of control and therefore guided by the revealed will of God or outside of my realm of control and therefore to be trusted in the hands of the Father.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Deuteronomy: Poverty

It's a cultural buzz these days to focus on the elimination of poverty. Since I am at a Christian based university, my students call it the "Christian thing to do". To be honest, it probably originates from both cultural and Christian sources for them. If you think of the major issues being addressed in Christian circles today, it seems that they are the same issues of culture - LGBT community, gender equality, environmental concerns. That's not a bad thing - a Christianity that does not connect with culture is not reflecting the values of Christ - though hopefully its not the only source of motivation for Christians.

Which brings me back to poverty in the Torah. I find Deuteronomy to be insightful. In one chapter, the text makes these three statements.
15:4  However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you . . .
15:7 If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites . . .
15:11 There will always be poor people in the land. 

Some might read these as contradictory but I think there is more to it. The entire Torah is written to reveal God to us. If we begin with that concept in mind, then what the text is telling us is that the Father will supply his people with enough resources so that everyone will have plenty. He is generous and calls us to be the same. However, being fallen humans, we tend to be selfish not self-less. We accumulate resources for the good of self rather than administrate them for the good of others. Therefore, poverty will always be present not due to a lack of resources but due to the fallen nature of those of us who administrate the resources.

So it seems to me that we can continue LBJ's "war on poverty" at many different levels; but if the human heart is not addressed, all other corrections are doomed to fail.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Numbers: Sin of Moses - sin of Ministers, Missionaries and most Christians wanting to do something good

In Numbers 20, Moses and Aaron are commanded to speak to the rock and water would flow. Instead, Moses struck the rock twice and water flowed. The people were happy but the Father was not.

All my life I was taught that his sin was simple disobedience - he struck the rock instead of speaking to it. Yet the sentence that precedes the blow (20:10) indicates more was transpiring. “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Psalm 106:32 adds, "rash words came from Moses' lips." Why did Moses say "we"? Who was really doing this work? Perhaps the change from speaking to striking as no big deal for Moses if he was convinced in his heart that he was the one doing the action anyway. Thus it seems the real sin was not simple disobedience but rather a deep pride that claimed credit for God's work. 

Yet what fascinates me is not that Moses sinned nor the miracle per se but rather that God sent the miracle in spite of Moses' failure. God stayed faithful even though Moses stole the credit and failed to obey.

I ask myself just how many times has God done the same thing for me? How often do we believe the ends justifies the means and so we ignore deeper principles? How many times do we take credit for simply being the instrument through whom God worked? How many times has the Father been offended by my pride but at the same time not abandoned me in ministry? How many times have I committed the sin of Moses?