Friday, May 2, 2014

Good stuff gone bad

As I read through the Old and New Testaments simultaneously, I am sometimes struck by the odd juxtapositioning of verses. Today I read through the dedication of the temple in 1 Kings. What an amazing event where the glory of the Lord filled the temple. From that moment on, Jerusalem and Judaism would never be the same. Then I read Luke 19 where Jesus spoke against the temple’s effects and chapter 21 where Jesus predicted the total destruction of the temple. So was the temple a good thing or a bad thing?

Perhaps the answer is “yes”. There was a time when the temple served a great and noble purpose; it united God’s people in worship as the central theme of his people. Later it served only as a distant reminder of worship while primarily serving as a tool for swindlers and false leaders.

The result on me is that I walk away with two ideas in my head.
1. Rules are not static. As conditions change, rules might change. What the Father calls “good” in one case, he might not call “good” in another. What he knows is a blessing to my neighbor might be a curse for me. The way the Father deals with us is fluid and dynamic, not static.

2. He might take away something I think is still good. Personally, there are many things in my life that I cherish and consider to be a blessing from the Father – health, family, resources, etc. Yet the truth is that over time, I can convert any of those into an idol. Rather than remind me of the Father, they remove me from the Father. When that happens, he might – and hopefully will – remove those former blessings from my life.

I wonder what “good” thing has gone “bad” in my life and is about to cast out next?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

David: we would have kicked him out of church

When David finally brought the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem, he did so with great fanfare. He offered sacrifices during and after the process, was accompanied by a host of people shouting and playing trumpets and danced in an ephod - a sort of one piece linen tunic. He finished the day blessing the people and distributing food in the name of the Lord. It was quite the celebration.

Three sets of onlookers were present. David's wife Michal refers to the slave girls who were watching; no other comment is made about them. Michal herself was watching and had a very negative reaction. She snubbed the worship of David. It was unorthodox and embarrassing. When she confronted David with her cutting remarks about it, he responded vehemently that the worship was never intended for her pleasure but only for the Lord's.

This brings the last onlooker into the conversation - the Lord. He explained that he had not ordered a temple to be built and that David was not the person qualified to build it. Despite both of those objections, he blessed David's intent. He lavished promises onto the one who had gone beyond what was commanded and who had humiliated himself publicly in the Lord's name. Not only that, but the Father apparently closed the womb of Michal (6:23). Childlessness was reason for a loss of face or shame in her day. Michal intended to shame David for his public worship but the Lord shamed Michal for her private thoughts.

David would not fit into most of the churches with which I have been associated. He committed two infractions that fly in the face of most conservative Christians - he publicly worshiped in humiliating ways and went well beyond what was commanded in the first place (orthodoxy). Yet in both cases, he was blessed while those who looked down upon his actions were not. This leads me to question myself.

Do I respond more like David or like Michal when it comes to worship? What do I privately think about those who go beyond orthodoxy? How do I view those who would worship publicly in ways that I consider humiliating?

Honestly, its probably good I was not there that day.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

David: letting God handle it

David amazes me. I admire that a young man would take on a lion and a bear without anyone's help.  I admire that he would take that same courage and confidence into a battle against a skilled warrior. I am amazed that he could move back and forth from the king's household to the sheepfold. Yet I am particularly impressed by his restraint.

When David was offended by Nabal, he almost lost it. He marched against Nabal but then listened to the advice of Abigail. In the end, he thanked God for restraining him from avenging himself. Twice he could have killed Saul but refrained; he explained to his friend that the Lord would strike him but "the Lord forbid that I should lay a hand on the Lord's annointed".

It seems to me that I often start out with great intentions into service, ministries or missions. Somewhere along the line, I become frustrated with those who are less committed to the cause. In those moments, to simply take care of my heart and let the Lord deal with the rest is not easy. Jesus, in his last conversation with Peter on the beach, called him to do the same - take care of his own life while letting the Father deal with others.

For some, that is probably not a hard challenge. For those of us who feel a deep sense of justice, who were raised on "The Pursuit of Excellence" principle and who tend to live in leadership, it can be a great challenge. One which David seemed to handle well; one in which I will try to grow.

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.