The Summing Junction

 

We first meet Saul of Tarsus in Dr. Luke’s historical account The Acts of the Apostles.

 

But they yelled at [Stephen] at the tops of their voices, blocked their ears, and made a concerted dash at him. They bundled him out of the city and stoned him. The witnesses laid their cloaks down at the feet of a young man named Saul.

Now Saul was giving his consent to Stephen’s death.

That very day a great persecution was started against the church in Jerusalem…

-Acts of the Apostles, chapter 7 vs. 58 and chapter 8 vs.1.

 

The young man named Saul, born sometime 9-15 years after the birth of Jesus, lived in a first century milieu of Jewish tradition and Torah, of covenants and commemorating, of prayers and psalms and, of Sabbaths and synagogues. In such an environment Saul learned early on that it was God’s people against the goyim – the rest of the world (e.g., David vs. Goliath).

The Jews looked for and prepared themselves for the return of the Messiah who would save his people from world rulers – Rome in the immediate- and bring justice and restore God’s Temple presence among his people. Zealous for God and Torah, the Jews of Saul’s day were resolute in their desire to see this happen. Some of the zealous were “using force against force” zealous, recalling the zealous acts of Judas Maccabeus against the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus Epiphanes 200 years before. Jewish revolutionaries wanted to force change against Roman rule. Others, like Saul, sought to live pious lives in expectation of the salvation to come. They kept their simmering violent zealousness under lid until such time as needed.

Saul studied the Torah, every jot and tittle, under the Rabbi Gamaliel. Politically, Gamaliel was not eager to push an agenda. The Rabbi was more “live and let live” towards Rome. Young Saul was more how can one go on living like this when one knows these things?

We recognize Saul’s Rabbinic training from his letters written to new churches. As mentioned above, we first meet Saul of Tarsus at the onset of persecution of the truly revolutionary – the Christian. I find it interesting to wonder about what we don’t know about Saul in those times.

Before the stoning, did Saul hear Stephen speak as he stood before the religious council? (Acts 7) Did he hear Stephen recount Israel’s history as the people of God and God’s dealing with them, a stiff-necked people? Did Saul sneer when he heard those words? Did Saul hear Stephen proclaim, “Look! I can see the heaven opened, and the son of man standing at God’s right hand!” Did Saul gnash his teeth at such a claim? Was Saul one of the men who dragged Stephen out the door to the stone pit? We know from Dr. Luke’s account that Saul was the moral vestment check at the scene of Stephen’s stoning.

Where was Saul when Jesus was crucified? I would have little doubt that Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee, had heard about the sky darkening and about the Temple curtain being rent in two. Both ominous events were sure to alarm any pious Jew.

Where was Saul when Jesus was resurrected? I have no doubt that Saul had heard the reports from all quarters of Jerusalem. This news must have been unsettling for someone who knew the Law and the Prophets and wasn’t able to see such a scenario depicted in the Torah. Even more unsettling, Jesus declared himself equal with God and Stephen claimed he saw Jesus as equal with God, standing at God’s right hand!

And, where was Saul on the day of Pentecost when God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven heard Galileans speaking words from the prophet Joel in their native tongue? (Acts 2) Such things do not go unnoticed by Rabbis.

From Acts, we know where Saul was on the day he encountered Jesus. Paul was riding a donkey on his way to Damascus. He was sent to silence the Followers of the Way forever. No Messiah, he was taught, would be crucified, die and rise again! And, certainly God would not be crucified, die and rise again!

I would consider it very likely that Saul, with a lot of time on his hands riding at 3.5 mph, thought about the events in Jerusalem. He would recall Jesus entering the city on a donkey. He would recall Jesus overturning the money-changers tables in the Temple yard and calling the Temple his Father’s house.

I ‘m sure with Saul’s’ connections that he had heard about Jesus standing before Pilate. And, about the Pharisee-swayed crowd trying to influence Pilate. Jesus had been given a thumb down by many of the same Palm Sunday crowd who waved Palm branches days before. Barabbas, a revolutionary and murderer, was given a thumb up. Jesus would be sentenced in his place. Jesus is crucified. Revolution squashed. But suddenly, there was news of the buried Jesus now walking the streets.

It is also very likely that Saul was also praying and meditating on scripture, perhaps on the visions of the prophet Ezekiel. Almost certainly Saul meditated on the Temple and the return of God’s presence to Israel. Like all “zealous” Jews, Saul was very much tuned into the Temple prophecies and eschatology. Could he have also been meditating on 2 Kings (vs. 11)? 

As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.

For Saul the Damascus road event wasn’t a conversion experience as Evangelicals would describe it today. And, it wasn’t a turn from Judaism towards Christianity or from the Law towards love. Rather, it was a game-changing, name-changing encounter with a new reality input into his life. I would call this encounter and its result “a summing junction”. Saul met the living Lord on the road that day and came out of that encounter a new creation.

Saul’s zeal for God, Torah and the Temple was ‘summed up’ with the resurrected Jesus. Saul’s hopes for a Messiah to return and bring change was summed up in Jesus. Saul’s prayers for the salvation of the Lord were summed up in Jesus. The sum of charges God could bring against Paul, the Persecutor, were summed against the work of the cross. Paul came out forgiven. His record, once scarlet, was now white as snow.

 This is one of many summing junctions that are recorded in Scripture. As I read again Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road I thought of Jacob. Jacob at one time was going in the opposite direction from his father’s God with his life and plans. At the river Jabbok Jacob encounters the angel of the Lord and Jacob puts up resistance. Jacob wrestles with the angel. In the morning the sum of his encounter is a blessing.

Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”

Here’s what happened to Saul when he encountered a greater resistance, as told to King Agrippa:

“While I was busy on this work [of persecution],” Paul continued, “I was traveling to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests. Around midday, while I was on the road, O King, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the light of the sun, and shining all around me and my companions on the road. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice speaking to me in Aramaic.

“’Saul, Saul,’ he said, ‘why are you persecuting me? It’s hard for you this kicking against the goads.’

“’Who are you, Lord? I said.

“’I am Jesus,’ said the Lord, ‘and you are persecuting me. But get up and stand on your feet. I’m going to tell you why I have appeared to you. I am going to establish you as a servant, as a witness both of the things you have already seen and of the occasions I will appear to you in the future. I will rescue you from the people, and from the nations to whom I am going to send you so that you can open their eyes to enable to turn from darkness to light, and from power of the satan to God –so that they can have forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among those who are made holy by their faith in me.’” (Acts 26)

After each summing junction encounter with the Lord, whether Jacob’s or Saul’s, lives were forever changed. Jacob is given a new name: Israel. Saul is renamed Paul.

I wonder. Does the summing junction encounter happen at the point of a person’s most resistance to God?

Paul of earth was ‘summed’ with Jesus of heaven so that the riches of God’s love and grace would be declared to all of his creation, which meant beyond the Jews. Now, instead of avoiding the Gentiles and being at odds with them Paul was sent to minister to them.

In the king, and through his blood, we have deliverance—that is, our sins have been forgiven—through the wealth of his grace which he lavished on us. Yes, with all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the secret of his purpose, just as he wanted it to be and set it forward in him as a blueprint for when the time was ripe. His plan was to sum up the whole cosmos in the king—yes, everything in heaven and on earth, in him.  The Apostle Paul, to the Ephesian churches, 1: 7-10

The cross is the ultimate summing junction. The Holy One of God took upon himself all of the world’s use of force against him and all of the powers of darkness. The outcome became multifaceted: Jesus gave us a new definition of power- dying to self; Jesus claimed victory over evil, Jesus’ resurrection claimed victory over death; there is a turning from darkness to light; we are forgiven our sins and are now able to forgive others. And, the Divine presence now fills temples of His creation.

While we are walking around on resurrection ground, we, like Paul, are to be witnesses of our own “summing junction”, both of the things we have already seen and of the occasions when Jesus will appear to us in the future. With a new name comes a new vocation.

 

~~~

A summing junction symbol:

Here is Our King!

 

 Lord, save us!
Lord, grant us success!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
From the house of the Lord we bless you

Psalm 118:25, 26

 

When he came to the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began to celebrate and praise God at the tops of their voices for all the powerful deeds they had seen

“Welcome, welcome, welcome with a blessing,”

They sang.

Welcome to the king in the name of the Lord!

Peace in heaven and glory on high!”

Some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to Jesus, “teacher, tell your disciples to stop that.”

“Let me tell you,” replied Jesus, “if they stayed silent, the stones would be shouting out!”

Luke 19: 37-40

“Save Eternal King!”

 

 

Let’s start with some extreme telescoping of history: Long before Palm Sunday there was the Big Bang and the creation of the cosmos over billions of years. A people were later chosen by God. Those people wanted a king. First came Saul, then came David.

Do you remember the Davidic covenant made by God?

“The provisions of the Davidic covenant include, then, the following items: (1) David is to have a child, yet to be born, who shall succeed him and establish his kingdom. (2) This son (Solomon) shall build the temple instead of David. (3) The throne of his kingdom shall be established forever. (4) The throne will not be taken away from him (Solomon) even though his sins justify chastisement. (5) David’s house, throne, and kingdom shall be established forever.”  The Fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant

Our God was faithful and fulfilled this covenant. A descendent of King David – Mary – gave birth to a King who would reign over the house of David, and over all nations and, would rule forever. Do you remember David’s desire?

King David wanted to build a Temple for the presence of the Lord. He wasn’t allowed to do so. But his son King Solomon did build an impressive temporary one. It was later destroyed in ~586 BCE by the Babylonians. But God’s plan to dwell with man would not be thwarted. So, not only did Jesus become King forever, but Jesus would become a High Priest forever in a ‘forever’ Temple built to unite heaven and earth as one.

“[The Father’s] plan was to sum up the whole cosmos in the king –yes, everything in heaven and earth in him.” Eph. 1: 10

 

Now we turn the telescope around.

Great news! “For unto you is born this Day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” A King was born in Bethlehem! A star created billions of years before guided wise men from the east to the place where the King stayed. These wise men brought gifts to the new King. Years later and a week before Passover, the crowd assembled along a road up to Jerusalem would honor King Jesus with palm branches and blessings.

King Solomon once rode into Jerusalem on his coronation day (1 Kings 1:28-40). The prophet Zechariah prophesied that the King of the Jews would do the same(Zechariah 9:9) 

Rejoice heart and soul, daughter of Zion!  Shout for joy, daughter of Jerusalem!  Look, your king is approaching, he is vindicated and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  Zechariah 9:9

The cheering crowd had witnessed signs of the King’s authority over his creation: water had been turned into wine; a blind man’s sight was restored; a lame man was able to walk, food was multiplied to feed thousands; a storm at sea was calmed by his words; Lazarus was raised form the dead, and a man was forgiven of his sins. That Palm Sunday was the royal appearing of the Son of Man, Lord of Creation and King. “Save Eternal King!”

 

 

At Christmas time we sing, “Joy to the world”. I say, let’s make this hymn a Palm Sunday hymn and throw ourselves down before Him right here and now! I’m guessing that stones would do so even if we didn’t!

 

Joy to the World, the Lord has come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing

Jake’s Midnight Dust Up

 

The last day of 2017 found Jake alone in the empty house. The movers had come and gone. Earlier that day Jake sent his wife Rachel off with their two kids to their new home in another state. Jake stayed behind to clean up the house for the new owners. The house belonged to them at midnight.

Rachel was Jake’s second wife. His first wife Leah divorced him after she found out about Jake’s cheating. And, so that there was no more cheating, child support for Jake’s and Leah’s six sons and daughter was deducted from his paycheck. Jake wasn’t proud of what he had done but he was a survivor.

His mother, though, who had taught Jake from his childhood to “get what is yours”, was proud of him. So was Jake’s manager Aram Fields. Aram liked Jake. Jake’s sales record chart was given pride of place in the break room – on an easel next to the water cooler. During the twenty years Jake had worked for Aram, he became Fields Pre-Driven Cars’ top salesman seven years in a row. Jake became family when he married Rachel, Aram’s daughter.

Jake could pitch like no other salesman Aram knew. And, Jake’s mark-up-the-interest-rate-2-or-3 % financing was his specialty. Jake also knew each car’s history and could promote each one as “slightly used but highly prized by its previous owner”. Jake had a way of convincing people to “get what is yours”.

 

Well, that night, while Jake was in the kitchen cleaning the oven, there was a knock on the front door. When Jake opened the door, there stood a man with a tool carrier.

“Hi…uh…I didn’t call you. I…what are you here for?’

“What is your name?”

“Jake.”

“I’m at the right place.”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Yes, I am.

“No. I didn’t call anyone. This is still my house.”

“Your house?”

“Yes! Now I have to get back to work. Goodbye…” Jake tried to close the door but the man put his foot in the doorway.

“Hey! Now you are making me mad! Get out!”

“I’m here to fix what is broken.”

“What?! What is broken?”

“Are you sure you didn’t call me?”

“I would know if I called you, wouldn’t I?”

“I have the tools. Let me in.”

“I have my own tools. And, I have what it takes to fix things in my own house.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Hey you! You know what?! My manager Aram thinks I have what it takes. He pays me pretty good to make things happen.”

“You like to be rewarded for your efforts?”

“Yes, of course!”

“I am here to reward you for your efforts.”

“Huh?”

“I can fix what is broken.”

“What?! What is broken?”

“Are you sure you didn’t call me?”

“I would know if I called you, wouldn’t I?”

“I have the tools. Let me in.”

“I have my own tools. And, I’ve been fixing things all my life.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Hey! We just went through all this before. You are wasting my time.”

“I did offer to help.”

“I don’t need help. I am my own man. I’m not just another senior citizen you can manipulate. I’ve been around the block.”

“Look, you bicker with me and you bicker with others. You’re good at bickering to “get yours” and at getting other people ‘theirs’. Tell me your name again.”

“Jake! I told you!”

“I’m at the right place.”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Yes, I am.

The back and forth between Jake and the man went on for what seemed like hours. Neither Jake or the man gave in. Jake, at last, became exasperated.

“Listen. I didn’t call anyone. This is still my house. I’m in charge”

“Your house? What time is it?

“Time for you to leave! Get outta here!” Jake pushed the door against the man’s foot.

When the man saw that Jake was not going to let him in he grabbed an envelope from the tool carrier and handed it to Jake. Then he asked, “You are Jake Houseman? You purchased 763 Peniel?”

“Yes.”

“Your new property…this is what the bank came back with. You purchased the foreclosure with cash but there is a property tax lien against it.

Jake opened it and saw the notice of notice of lien on his new property. His face wrenched.

“Hey, hold on!” Jake grabbed the man by the arm as he tried to leave. “We’ve got to work this out!”

The man said, “Let me go. I have to be on my way.”

“No way. You are staying until we get this business sorted out!”

“I will work it out. You have my word.” Jake loosened his grip and let go.

“Besides,” the man said, “you are no longer Jake Houseman. You are now Jake Newhouse.” The man winked and then turned and left.

“Hey, what’s your name?”

“I knew your father and your grandfather,” the man called back from across the yard.

The man walked past the neighbor’s house and was then out of sight.

Jake stood in the doorway. The rising sun cast his long shadow onto the floor of the empty house behind him. Jake stood there stunned and tired and hurting. After several minutes of looking at the lien and rubbing his forehead, Jake went back inside. He picked up his tools and cleaning supplies. He placed the extra set of house keys on the kitchen table, walked out the front door and then over to his car.

At the sidewalk, Jake, with his face still wrenched, turned to look back at the house.

“I bought someone else’s lemon. What a ball-breaker that guy is! But, I’ll live. Lesson learned. Goodbye house on Jabbok.”

And so Jake saw the sun rise on another year.

 

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved

~~~

Chagall – Jacob Wrestling with God

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Schoenberg: Die Jakobsleiter: Friede auf Erden, Op. 13. Orchestral version

What Risk is This?

 

“The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.”  Genesis 12:1

“Some time later God tested Abraham, He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

“Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”” Genesis 22:1-2

~~~

An angel appears to Mary and announces Mary’s pregnancy. Mary responds: “Here am I”, said Mary; “I’m the Lord’s servant-girl. Let it happen to me as you’ve said.” Luke 1: 38

~~~

God says “Go,” and Abram, not a perfect man, goes.

Imagine being told to dig up your roots, leave your familiar surroundings and that you will be told later where you are going. Now imagine going with your first-born son, your flesh and blood and a surety of God’s promise to Abraham, to the region of Moriah and being told that your son is the sacrifice to God. Abraham is told, basically, to go outside the box he had contained God in- his hopes in his pride of place and first-born. Abraham with “Here-I-am” -outside-the-box faith obeys God and God blesses Abraham. “Abraham was now very old, and the LORD had blessed him in every way.” Genesis 24:1

God says to Mary, not a perfect woman, that she will be the one to bear the Savior. She responds with her permission. Later, at Zechariah’s house, Elizabeth sees Mary and shouts at the top of her voice: “Of all women, you’re the blessed one!” One could speculate that before the angel’s news, Mary had thought her life was, well, pretty much boxed in.

 

The boxes people put God in are not big enough for God’s blessing. So, instead of stretching the box, God stretches the person so that they come to see that no box can hold all they know about God.

 

Throughout Israel’s and Christianity’s history there are many accounts of where God has said, in effect, “Go to a new place with me” and a personal risk is taken.  Abraham, Jacob, Moses, the disciples, Peter, Paul, to name just a few. You are not alone in the history of risk-taking or in the moving out of safe-spaces.

Imagine if those who were told to go and those who were led by God to go didn’t go? How would your life be different today? Or, did you think that once you arrived on earth nothing had gone on before you arrived that would have any bearing on your life? There are many today who see themselves this way. They have their “history” and their “truth”.

If you have read the Old Testament you found that the history of Israel is the story of God moving his chosen people through space-time. The Israelites moved from country to country, to slavery, to the land of “milk and honey”, to exile and back home again. They are moved to be tested, refined and blessed. They were moved so that they would realize that God is sovereign and omnipresent – there is no place you can go that God isn’t there. They are being moved so that they will realize that God is the beginning and ending of their journey. They are being told to “Go” so that they will find that God is God and that God is good.

 

Risk taking is going, moving and forgetting what is behind.

 

The pattern of risk taking, testing and blessing occurs over and over in Scripture. God says, “Go” and when people go to a new place with God they are both tested and blessed.

Risk takes us places we never thought we’d go. Risk takes us to new places within God’s space-time and to the farthest extent of God’s promises. Risk takes us to new places within God’s character. The risk-taker decides to remove himself from the comfort of his self-storage home and from the false gods he has stored in his mini self-storage so that blessing will be gained.

 

The God who created probabilistic quantum mechanics is going to take you places where you can’t determine your position or the acceleration of your movement at the same time. Because of that you begin to take your eyes off your circumstances and look at the Cosmological Constant. You are being taught that God’s outcome will be good because He is good. There is a 100 percent probability that God is good. You just need to find this out through risk-taking.

Nature has a way of saying “Go”. The wise men, experts in early astronomy and most likely from Persia, took a major risk. They traveled 800-900 miles following “a star coming out of Jacob.” Herod was not happy at all that the wise men left without detailing the location of his greatest fear — a newborn king. So, Herod slaughtered innocent children.

 

“Get up. Go to the place I will show you. The risk is all mine and I am good with that.”

“Here I am.”

Breaking News

Breaking News

By Jennifer Ann Johnson

 

Against a backdrop—indigo and star,

Luminous angels appear before men,

Ancient Wisdom they proclaim near and far,

To shepherds and sheep, to earth and heaven.

 

Luminous angels appear before men,

On a Space-Time night with Tripartite accord,

To shepherds and sheep, to earth and heaven,

“A new and living way” with rights ignored.

 

On a Space-Time night with Tripartite accord,

Emmanuel lay swaddled, veiled in flesh,

“A new and living way” with rights ignored,

In the love of the Father, mankind refreshed.

 

Emmanuel lay swaddled, veiled in flesh,

The babe’s short gasp rouses the dry bones of men,

In the love of the Father, mankind refreshed,

“I, the Lord, will breathe my life into them.”

 

The babe’s short gasp rouses the dry bones of men,

Ancient Wisdom He proclaims near and far,

“I, the Lord, will breathe my life into them,

Like your backdrop—indigo and star.”

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved

What Am I Not Forgetting?

 

“I’m not implying that I’ve already received “resurrection,” or that I’ve already become complete and mature! No: I’m hurrying on, eager to overtake it, because King Jesus has overtaken me. My dear family, I don’t reckon that I have yet over taken it. But this is my one aim: to forget everything that’s behind, and to strain every nerve to go after what’s ahead. I mean to chase on toward the finishing post, where the prize waiting for me is the upward call of God in King Jesus.” -the Apostle Paul, Philippians 3: 12-14  

~~~

“What did I forget?” I’ve asked myself this dozens of times. The question comes up in the grocery store and when I am cooking a meal for the family and when I am getting into the car ready to pull out of the driveway. I have asked this when I am finishing a project at work. “What did I forget?”

In each situation there is something in the back of my head telling me that I am forgetting something. As I mentioned, this happens often. But, thinking about what I need to forget didn’t occur until this past week. I read the above verses in my study of Paul’s letter to the Philippian church.

Oh, yes. I’ve read those verses many times before. And when I did, I glossed over the words as if it made sense at a prosaic level. This time the words nudged me and maybe because I am older now.

During this past week I worked out on the elliptical machine at the local fitness club. There is a TV screen above the machine. I typically watch the business programs which include stock futures (I’m an early bird). When the business program goes to commercial I surf the channels.

That morning there were two other programs that caught my interest. The first was a show about a select group of marines going through extensive training to become recon marines. The second show, What Not to Wear, includes us in a fashion makeover. Typically, a reluctant twenty-something is confronted with her wardrobe and her appearance. Both shows seemed to me to be reality checks before the participants moved on.

The Marine recon show depicted the guys going through intense physical training beyond anything they ever knew they could endure. During the exercise the men ‘forgot’ what they knew and pressed on for the upward call to become recon Marines. Not all of the fifty men who entered the program finished.

As typical for What Not to Wear, the hosts had their ‘client’ try on what she usually wore and then critiqued the outfit with her as all three stand in front several mirrors. During the next step in the fashion transformation, the hosts pull the client’s brought-to-the-program clothes off the rack and throw them into a garbage can before her. They want her to forget about them and move on. Without saying as much, they want her to become mature in her view of herself and how she appears to others. Many of the young women wore sloppy attire or clothes a teenager would wear. The hosts prompt their ‘client’ to take herself and her appearance seriously. They want her to dress age and life situation appropriately.

During the next step, the hosts show their TV ‘client’ a manikin dressed in clothes they consider she would look suitable in. After detailing “why” the clothes would befit her, they send her shopping for a new look. I would say, a “resurrected” look.

Forgetting what you know is not easy. Several marines stopped short of recon transformation. On What Not to Wear, many a ‘client’ grimaced and some wept as their habit-formed clothes were tossed in the can. Not wanting to forget makes going forward even harder.

 

Forgetting. Where do I start?

As I read Paul’s letter to the Philippians, I was reminded that I have done things which are not at all within God’s good graces. I have sinned in God-defying sinful ways. I’m sure I must have gotten God’s attention. And, more than once. But, as with the Pauls’ own admission of not having achieved sinless maturity, I press on. My own recognition and then confession of sin, like Paul’s, moves me forward to the goal of the upward call of God – resurrection, new life, in Him – the Alpha and Omega, the No-beginning and No-end, the Mercy that follows me all the days of my life.

The words of I john 1:9 are critically important to anyone who wants to remove sin’s dead weight and “to strain every nerve to go after what’s ahead”. What John, an eyewitness of Jesus, records is critically important to pressing on and forgetting.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The First Letter of John, 1:9

 

The wonder of advent reminds us of Jesus’ first coming and of his second coming. The Kingdom of God on earth began when Jesus inaugurated it during his first coming. Yet, “sins and sorrows grow” and “thorns infest the ground”. There is much injustice, strife, and wickedness taking place. The Kingdom of God is not mature. It is a work in process. On every groaning level of creation there exists a huge amount of tension between the first coming and the second coming.

The same tension applies to the individual who confesses and renounces their sin and seeks to go on to maturity in Christ. This tension will either makes us or break us.

 

What do I need to forget? Three encumbrances come to mind: status, sentimentality and sin.

Let’s start with status. The world we live in favors world status. Paul reminds the Christian in Philippians 3: 20, “We are citizens of heaven…” Prior to that, at the opening of Philippians 3, Paul warns the church about those who trust in the flesh-the bad works people. Then Paul writes, “Mind you, I have good reason to trust in the flesh…” Paul reminds the readers of his background, a Hebrew of the Hebrews background. He writes, in effect, that his status does not bring him closer to the prize – gaining Jesus. Before stating his forgetting of his status, he reminds us of Someone who ‘forgot’ his status.

In Philippians 2 Paul records an early Christian poem, which contains the words…

Who, though in God’s form, did not

Regard his equality with God

As something to exploit

 

Instead, he emptied himself,

And received the form of a slave,

Being born in the likeness of humans.

 

Sentimentality. The desire–the toxic craving–to relive the past, to re-feel. Ugh. You can’t run a race when you are standing in a tar pit. Paul doesn’t go there, even though his memories were astounding: “…my one aim: to forget everything that’s behind, and to strain every nerve to go after what’s ahead.”

 

Sin. Let’s forget the sin which has so easily beset us. Like the Psalmist, I cry out…

“If you, LORD, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?” Psalm 130.:3

“Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, LORD, are good.”  Psalm 25:7

 

Record keeping. The Evil One and those in sync with him will tell you that are unqualified to run and win any race because you failed before. They will say, “You will never be mature because you were immature before”.

Yes, there are those who keep a record of my sins, for ‘safe keeping’. They believe that by standing on a record of my sins they place themselves on higher ground. It doesn’t. Side line opinions are air and hold no weight unless you give them weight. As far as the east is from the west so far has God removed self-serving opinions from us. Don’t go back to the trash and dig them out.

 

 

“What am I not forgetting?” is a most important question.

One last word:  Consider, that often a lack of forgetting is coupled to a lack of forgiveness. A lack of forgiveness leads to unresolved anger- a root of bitterness. Perhaps a root of bitterness has a grip on both your legs and you are not able to “chase on toward the finishing post, where the prize waiting for me is the upward call of God in King Jesus” let alone stand.

 

Walk On – The Isaacs

 

In Christ Alone – Brian Litterell

The Empty Box

 

What?! Christmas morning?! Ryan raced to the tree. Mom and dad had left the tree lights on.

“Mom and dad!”  Ryan yelled from the living room. He wasn’t going to start without them.

Mom and dad appeared in the hallway. “We’re up. Go ahead, Ryan.”

Well, it didn’t take long for Ryan to rip through the wrapping paper on each package. He got almost everything he had asked for.

After all his presents were opened and he lined them up near the couch, Ryan saw something had hadn’t noticed before. “Hey, what’s this? It’s got my name on it.”

Mom went over and looked at the package. She shook it and looked at Roy.

“Did you put this under the tree Roy?”

“Um, No. I don’t remember a package that size.”

“Well, go ahead and open it Ryan,” Mom handed Ryan the present.

Ryan tore into the wrapping paper. A plain box appeared. It was stamped “Not as Fragile as You Might Think”.

Now mom was curious. Dad came over.

Ryan lifted one of the box lids and then the other. He looked inside. His mouth formed a “Wow!”

“It’s empty, mom, dad!”

Mom looked inside too. “Where did that come from? Did your grandparents put that under the tree last night when they were here? Roy, did your dad put that there?”

Roy called grandpa who was always awake at 6:00 reading the paper.

“Dad, did you and mom put a package under the tree? Ryan opened it and its…empty.”

“Roy, you know I don’t put empty packages under the Christmas tree. Are you sure its empty? Look again.”

Roy looked this time.

“Dad, I don’t see anything.”

“Have Ryan look, too.”

“Ryan, look inside again.”

Ryan picked up the box. This time it was bigger. When he pulled the lids back he thought he heard a loud pop. “Whoa, what was that?

“I didn’t hear anything Ryan, “Mom said.

“Roy, do you think that your parents forgot to put a present in?” Ryan’s mother asked.

“Anything is possible with my dad. C’mon. Let’s eat breakfast”

Ryan then remembered Swedish Pancakes with Lingonberry sauce. It was a Christmas morning treat in the Miller house.

 

 

That night, mom had Ryan pick up his toys and bring them to his room. Ryan filled the empty box and carried it to his bedside. He sat down on his bed. And that’s when Ryan’s eyes closed. And, that’s when the dreams began.

 

 

Dreams. How do you describe them? They are whacky and yet they seem to make sense. Here’s what Ryan told his mom about one dream:

“I was floating. It was all dark. Then there was a Pop!” Ryan used his finger and popped it out of his mouth. “There was a big cloud of dust all over me. I coughed and coughed.

“Then the cloud went thuup! and it was gone! And then things started flying all around me. They looked like tiny balls bouncing everywhere. Some of balls stuck together like they didn’t want to be alone in the dark. They were hissing and crunching and…I became scared when I saw a shadow that was darker than night. But the shadow was tossed away by a hand. Then I felt better.

“Did you know mom that numbers are alive? They all dance together!

Then, mom, the together-balls became dust balls. And they became huge, like bowling balls, like bowling balls of fire. Then they exploded and there were more dust balls. And the dust balls became marbles.

And the marbles became globes with smaller globes going around them. Then there was light coming right at me. It was so bright that I had to turn around. When I did, I saw a planet right behind me. The planet had a mouth.

The planet said, “Come and see.” So, I flew toward the planet. As I did, the planet handed me geodes and fossils and rocks, all kinds of rocks. Some were like the red quartz and Jasper that you and dad gave me for my birthday. Then I saw aquariums full of fish. I saw sharks, whales and guppies and Neons and Tetras and…

I looked down into one aquarium. On the bottom of aquarium, I saw belchers. They looked like what we saw at Yellowstone last summer. They sounded like your Christmas coffee maker. “Ururururhhhh Blup!” Urururururhhhh Blup!”

I saw…I think dad calls it… a ter..rari…um… full of bugs and worms and salamanders and lizards and then a brontosaurus showed up and then a Triceratops and then,…

Then I saw a plate. On the plate was Jell-O. But then the Jell-O was two Jell-Os and then four Jell-Os. There were globs of Jell-O everywhere. Do you know what happened next, mom? The globs of Jell-O became Gummy worms.

There was a lot more that happened mom, but, I can’t remember it… Oh,… yeah,… someone poked me and said, “Ryan, Little King, Come and see.”

Then, I was inside a temple, like the one in the picture you showed me one time, mom. Inside the temple were billions and billions of tiny temples. Inside each tiny temple there was a blue light stick. Crazy, huh, mom?

 

When Ryan’s sixth Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for a rock tumbler. Ryan had begun a rock collection during the family trip out west.

When Ryan’s seventh Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for a microscope. Ryan’s dad was a biology teacher. He brought home slide samples of all kinds of microscopic life.

When Ryan’s eighth Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for a telescope. Not only did he get the telescope but his parents took him to an observatory during Christmas break.

When Ryan’s ninth Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for an atlas, a map of the world and astronomy charts. Ryan’s mom and dad also gave him a barometer, a thermometer, a hygrometer and an anemometer. They did this so that Ryan could build a weather station in their backyard.

When Ryan’s tenth Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for a pair of binoculars and a book about birds. At that time his mother also began to teach Ryan about flora. She showed him how to press flowers into pages of a book.

When Ryan’s eleventh Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for a mobile of the planets. He also asked for a compass and for a pencil and some drawing paper. He wanted to draw everything he saw in his head.

When Ryan’s twelfth Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for a book about the human body and a skeleton. He also asked for a ham radio kit.

When Ryan’s thirteenth Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for a periodic chart of the elements. He also asked for element 82 and for horseshoe magnets.

A Few of My Favorite Things 2

dad’s coffee

When Ryan’s fourteenth Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for a spectroscope. He received a prism, a magnifying glass, a physics book and a box of watercolors. 

When Ryan’s fifteenth Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for a Calculus book. Dad looked at him and said, “Are you sure?” Ryan replied, “I can’t function without it.” Ryan got his book.

When Ryan’s sixteenth Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for a book about genetics and a DNA helix and a set of keys to the family car. His mom and dad gave him the book. They also gave him pipe cleaners and colored beads and instructions how to build a DNA helix model. The car keys were handed to him after his homework and chores were done.

When Ryan’s seventeenth Christmas came around he asked his mom and dad for a chemistry set. Dad said, “I’ll give you the set but do the experiments in the garage”. Ryan moved his science lab to the garage. He also began to pack for college. He filled the “empty” box with as much as it could hold.

 When Ryan’s eighteenth Christmas came around he said to his mom and dad, “Thank you for everything. You know what? The world is not badly made. I’ll see you during Spring Break.”

 

When Ryan’s eighty-fifth Christmas came around he gave his grandson the empty box as a present and said, “Here, Mikey, you won’t be bored.”

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved

 

The Living Bird is Let Loose

 

“And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: “When a man has on the skin of his body a swelling, a scab, or a bright spot, and it becomes on the skin of his body like a leprous sore, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests.  The priest shall examine the sore on the skin of the body; and if the hair on the sore has turned white, and the sore appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is a leprous sore.

The above quote is the opening to The Law Concerning Leprosy as recorded in Leviticus 13.

Leprosy: Chronic skin-disease characterized by ulcerous eruptions and successive desquainations of dead skin.

Jewish Encyclopedia

~~~

In Luke’s gospel account, chapter 17 vs. 11-19, we learn of ten lepers who plead for mercy (“Have pity on us!”) at a distance from the crowd. Keeping a distance from others was in keeping with the law proscribed in Leviticus 13. Any leper who was examined after several specified intervals and then declared unclean was isolated, sent to the outskirts of a city. The “unclean” would be required to yell “Unclean!” to any passersby.

Most of us know from a Sunday School lesson what happens in Luke’s gospel account: ten lepers are completely healed by Jesus. The ten are sent by Jesus, in keeping with the Law, to a priest for examination. Only one of the lepers returns to give thanks to Jesus.

The_Healing_of_Ten_Lepers_(Guérison_de_dix_lépreux)_-_James_Tissot_-_overall

The Healing of Ten Lepers by James Tissot

“Is it really the case that the only one who had the decency to give God the glory was this foreigner?”

The healing occurs as Jesus passes along the borderlands between Samaria and Galilee on his way to Jerusalem. The formerly leprous foreigner, and not the nine formerly leprous Israelites, is the one who returns to Jesus to give thanks. Like the Samaritan women who would gladly eat the crumbs under the master’s table, this foreigner knew that Israel’s God was different from all other gods. How different, this foreigner would come to find out. The difference would make his skin tingle.

Jesus made it clear to his disciples that his mission on earth, his vocation, was to his covenant people, the Jews. The Jews were the people God chose to bring light to the nations. But the Jews failed in their vocation. Rebellion, idolatry, stiff necked obstinacy, you name it. The people resisted their calling even after witnessing the extraordinary events of the Exodus – the Plagues, the Red sea dividing, the cloud by day, fire by night, manna on the ground in the morning and water flowing from a rock. The Covenant people resisted their calling even when given a tutor-personal words from God-to keep themselves from sin and sickness and to bring healing to the nations.

One leper returned to give, “God the glory.” Did those hearing Jesus words to this foreigner think about their vocation? Did God’s covenant people, Israel, presume a right to be an entitled people of God’s goodness. Were God’s people like the nine newly restored lepers with a focus on themselves? (Imagine a people focused on a right to healthcare.)

As one can see, the ten-leper account is an analog of the Israel’s history through the centuries. Leprosy is an analog for sin. Sin is that chronic soul-disease characterized by ulcerous eruptions of wickedness and successive offenses and sins of the walking dead.

Early on, Israel was told to eradicate idols from their lives. They were to be a separate and distinct people from the nations around them. When Israel became like other nations and chose to believe that God is not all that He was proclaimed to be, God sent prophets.

The prophet Isaiah, in the presence of God, declared as “the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” -Isaiah 6:5

In God’s presence, Isaiah was made aware of his and Israel’s’ condition. Isaiah would prophecy against Israel-the Northern Kingdom. Corporately, Israel was rich and prosperous under the rule of Jereboam. But individually, Israel was very corrupt. Israel would be expelled from home. By 621 B.C. Israel would be conquered and carried into captivity by the Assyrians.

In exile, Israel pleaded for mercy (“Have pity on us!”).

 

Let’s return to the ten lepers. After healing them Jesus tells them, “Go show yourselves to the priests.”

The following quote is The Ritual for Cleansing Healed Lepers as recorded in Leviticus 14:

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “This shall be the law of the leper for the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought to the priest.  And the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall examine him; and indeed, if the leprosy is healed in the leper, then the priest shall command to take for him who is to be cleansed two living and clean birds, cedar wood, scarlet, and hyssop.  And the priest shall command that one of the birds be killed in an earthen vessel over running water.  As for the living bird, he shall take it, the cedar wood and the scarlet and the hyssop, and dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water.  And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed from the leprosy, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the living bird loose in the open field. He who is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes, shave off all his hair, and wash himself in water, that he may be clean. After that he shall come into the camp, and shall stay outside his tent seven days. But on the seventh day he shall shave all the hair off his head and his beard and his eyebrows—all his hair he shall shave off. He shall wash his clothes and wash his body in water, and he shall be clean…

“Then the priest shall offer the sin offering, and make atonement for him who is to be cleansed from his uncleanness. Afterward he shall kill the burnt offering. And the priest shall offer the burnt offering and the grain offering on the altar. So the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be clean.”

Do you see any analogs in the above passage? What is it about the two birds? One is killed and the other set free. And, what about that earthen vessel in which one bird is killed?

 

In Leviticus 13, the priests were required to check the skin of the individual who was observed to have an ulcerous skin condition. The priest did this over several prescribed intervals. Each time the priest would examine the individual to determine if…

“If, after the scales of leprosy have spread over nearly the whole body, a bleeding and scaleless ulcer (miḥyah) is observed, the subject is unclean. Similarly, if the scales, having covered almost the whole body, fall off in one place and uncover an old bleeding ulcer, the subject is unclean.”Jewish Encyclopedia

It is interesting to note that in the next verses following the account of the lepers, Luke 17 vs. 20-21, that Jesus refers to what is observed to answer the Pharisees question, a question which was on every Jew’s mind. He reminds them of what you can see with Kingdom eyes:

“The Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God was coming.

“God’s Kingdom,” replied Jesus isn’t the sort of thing you can watch for and see coming. People won’t say, ‘Look, here it is,’ or “Look, over there!” No: God’s kingdom is within your grasp.”

In giving the lepers a renewed humanity and by restoring them to their communities and Synagogues from exile Jesus was doing the work of the Kingdom on earth. He hoped the nine of Israel (and the crowd) would have grasped this. We are told that the only one to “give God the glory” was the foreigner. Do you think he kneeled and grasped Jesus’ feet in thanksgiving?

Father’s Way

I would estimate that, over the years, my father took thousands of photos with film cameras.

My father wasn’t in most of these photos.

Most of what a father is and does is not captured in an image…

Mother’s Day Limerick – Post Modern Partum

 

 

There once was an XX who named itself YY,

(Being gender fluid made her mother cry),

Then YY had a baby,

And was no longer gender hazy,

Mother’s Day and Joy made her cry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved

Mary Cassatt, Young Mother Sewing (1902)

Added 5-16-2017:

 

You won’t find this in a Hallmark card:

Feminist icon Gloria Steinem says lack of abortions caused climate change

“Listen, what causes climate deprivation is population,” she said. “If we had not been systematically forcing women to have children they don’t want or can’t care for over the 500 years of patriarchy, we wouldn’t have the climate problems that we have. That’s the fundamental cause of climate change. Even if the Vatican doesn’t tell us that. In addition to that, because women are the major agricultural workers in the world, and also the carriers of water and the feeders of families and so on, it’s a disproportionate burden.” Steinem (emphasis added)

OK, then. Feminism – Malthusian, barbarous and ungodly – is not for me . God said be fruitful and multiply. Steinem says be abortive to serve Gaia.

Added 5-17-2017: