Sundays with Dad

 

As I watch the U.S. Open Championship rounds at Pebble Beach, Calif. I can’t help but think of Sundays with dad. After a delicious home-cooked meal prepared by my mother, I would find dad on the couch watching golf. He wasn’t a golfer, but he must have found watching golf relaxing after a week of working, sometimes at two jobs. I would sit with him a bit trying to understand his interest in the game but after a short while my restive teenage nature would have me ask for the car keys.

Now, as I watch the U.S. Open I wish dad were sitting next to me. I can only envisage dad in my spirit – he went to be with the Lord a few years ago. What I see in my mind’s eye is dad watching the peaceful almost monotonous game of golf and him listening to the whispering monotone commentators while shaking his knee furiously. He was restless too.

Often on Sundays, dad and mom would have guests over for Sunday dinner after church. Those invited included professors from Trinity Divinity School, missionaries from Africa, Bolivia, New Guinea, Japan, and other countries, as well as, church members. Dad would converse with them about the world they cared about. I sat and listened to learn about the world from his conversations. He would joke and kid his friends and also prayed for those who were hurting. Hospitality was characteristic of both mom and dad, as was giving.

Dad was a strong proponent of the tithe. And he not only gave of his hard-earned money on Sundays but also of his time to support the kingdom of God. He taught classes, preparing for them on Saturdays. He was chairman of the church and at one point became a village trustee and, later, mayor of our town. And he prepared meals during the week.

Dad would cook supper and give my mom, who also worked, some time out of the kitchen. Of those many meals, he prepared cream chip beef with peas on toast (“Nooo! Not again!) and sometimes liver and onions (my favorite). On Saturday mornings dad would prepare pancakes as my mon slept in. He would call us to grab a plate as we watched the Saturday morning fare: Keystone Kops, Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers and the Three Stooges.

Another highlight of my Sunday memories of dad is his eating red-dyed pistachios as he watched golf. His fingers and mouth would be covered with the red dye. Guess what I got dad on Father’s Day.

I couldn’t have asked for a better dad. He could have asked for a better child, though. I was often a nuisance, like the time I stepped in the wet cement he just poured and let to set. And, I was a teenager in the sixties, so mischief was to be had regardless of Scriptural warnings (Proverbs read after evening meals) and dad’s Christ-like example. At times, I would also become an embarrassment to him, a respected church and civic leader. Yet, I received no reproach from my dad. Though his father was a something of a gruff truck driver who would angrily lash out at his kids after several drinks, that was not my father’s way. One of his dad’s Reform Church sayings was “everything done decently and in order.” Disorderly children were to be handled and reproached. Those words and their negative application had become embedded into my dad. But my dad would not use them as a reproach but as a quip to signify, at least in my mind, that he had moved on from his father’s ways. He could handle some disorder. Mine in fact. Dad, as grace personified, waited patiently for me to change my ways.

Perhaps for dad, watching the slow-paced and peaceful game of golf took the edge off of some of my painfully jarring ways. Golf is, after all, a game played “decently and in order”. And perhaps dad shaking his knee as I sat with him on Sundays was his way of dealing with my ups and downs. Grace meted out?

The spirit of my father and his amazing grace sit with me today as I watch the U.S. Open – golf. (And, I did change my ways!)

Dad & mom

 

 

Are You Witnesses of All This?

 

Over the last several posts I’ve written about philosophers (Epicurus in particular and Protagoras) and philosophies (Epicureanism and Stoicism). Taken together they state, among other things I described earlier, that this life is all there is. There would be no hereafter in that way of thinking. During the first century the Apostle Paul, the “the apostle of the Gentiles”, encountered those worldviews on the streets where he sold his tents and in the early churches where he taught.

Writing to those in the Corinthian church whose Gentile members denied a resurrection of the dead, Paul responded in a rather taunting manner to their philosophical take on death as final. The gospel he proclaimed – Jesus is Lord, forgiveness of sins, new creation, the kingdom of God on earth has been launched – all hinged on the resurrection of Jesus.

And if the Messiah wasn’t raised, your faith is pointless, and you are still in your sins. 1 Cor. 15:7

After addressing and closing the dead are raised issue with an eye witness defense (1 Cor. 15: 3-8), Paul responds to the heart of the Corinthian objection to resurrection: the nature of future bodies. He mocks their materialist objections using an analogy from nature:

But someone is now going to say, “How are the dead raised? What sort of body will they have when they come back? Stupid! What you sow doesn’t come back to life unless it dies. 1 Cor. 15: 35

No doubt, Paul also heard that Jesus responded in a similar fashion when he rebuked the Sadducees who denied the resurrection (as recorded in Luke 20:38 and below, in Mark 12:

“Where you are going wrong,” replied Jesus, “is that you don’t know the scriptures, or God’s power. When people rise from the dead, they don’t marry, nor do people give them in marriage. They are like angels in heaven.

However, to show that the dead are indeed raised, surely you’ve read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, what God says to Moses? ‘I am Abraham’s God, Isaac’s God, and Jacob’s God’? He isn’t the God of the dead, but of the living. You are completely mistaken.”

In the same letter (1 Cor.15:19), agitated Paul, in talking about people’s motivations in light of their position on the resurrection, recommends Epicurean self-pity if the dead are not raised.

If it’s only in this present life that we have hope in the Messiah, we are the most pitiable members of the human race.

He later quotes a popular Epicurean saying that embraces self-pity and self-indulgence in light off…

…If the dead are not raised,

“Let us eat and drink,

for tomorrow we die.”

1 Cor. 15:32

What was Paul’s background that offered him insight into Greek philosophies? We learn from Acts 21: 37 -39 as he defends himself against highly agitated Jews who clamored for his arrest.  He is brought before a Roman tribune:

“Am I allowed to say something to you??” he asked.

“Well!” replied the tribune. “So you know some Greek, do you? Aren’t you the Egyptian who raised a revolt some while back and led those four thousand ‘assassins’ into the desert?”

“Actually, replied Paul. “I am a Jew! I am from Tarsus in Cilica. That’s not an insignificant place to be a citizen of. Please let me speak to the people.”

Inferring his Roman citizenship, Paul goes on to defend his Jewish background in the face of his Jewish accusers:

“I am a Jew, he continued, “and born in Tarsus in Cilicia. I received my education here in this city, and I studied at the feet of Gamaliel. I was trained in the strictest interpretations of our ancestral laws and became zealous for God, just as all of you today.”

Paul had significant first-hand knowledge of Greek, Roman and Jewish worldviews. Paul was more than able to respond to the Epicurean context of the Gentiles. Paul was more than able to present the gospel in the context of the Jewish worldview, a worldview of monotheism, the Temple, eschatology and …resurrection.

The narrative of the resurrection and an eschatology of the age to come took on great import during the Second Temple Judaism. Other than the words of Moses and some metaphorical allusions to resurrection by Isaiah (Isaiah 26:19) and Ezekiel (37), there isn’t mention of the resurrection in the Old Testament. Those allusions were applied during the Babylonian exile. They refer to the restoration of Israel as a nation and the reoccurring theme of exodus from bondage. The scribe Daniel is the first to mention the resurrection in non-metaphorical terms when he describes the “wise”, the Jewish resistance to Antiochus, not dying in vain (Daniel 11).

It was during the intertestamental period that scribes began writing about the resurrection of the dead, among many other topics of concern during late Second Temple Judaism. The Qumran community kept these writings in clay jars within caves in case the community was taken out by the Romans.

The Jewish religious leaders in Jesus’ time knew these writings, e.g., The Epistle of Enoch and 2 Maccabees. The disciples knew them. Paul knew them. The writings were talked about in the synagogues and on the streets. These writings offered a Messianic hope for the coming day when God would put things right. In the meantime, they stoked courage against the looming threat of Roman authority. It is very likely that Mary and Martha would have known about these writing as well. It appears that Martha had an understanding of them when she confronts Jesus after her brother Lazarus dies.

When Martha heard that Jesus had arrived, she went to meet him. Mary, meanwhile stayed sitting at home.

“Master,” said Martha to Jesus, “if only you’d been here! Then my brother wouldn’t have died! But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask him for.”

“Your brother will rise again,” replied Jesus.

“I know he will rise on the last day.”

(Notice the role reversals from the previous Mary and Martha encounter with Jesus in their home? Martha, the fussbudget homebody, is now interested to hear what Jesus has to say. She goes to meet him. Mary, who doted on Jesus at his feet, stays at home where she grieves and perhaps sulks that Jesus wasn’t there for her brother. She was given another chance at Jesus’ feet.)

Jesus responded to Martha.

“I am the resurrection and the life,” replied Jesus. “Anyone who believes in me will live, even if they die. And anyone who lives and believes in me will never, ever die. Do you believe this?”

“Yes, master,” she said. “This is what I’ve come to believe: that you are the Messiah, the son of God, the one who was to come into the world.”

Jesus responded to Martha’s eschatological understanding with, in effect, “I am revising your understanding with personal present tense knowledge of me”. Jesus then asks for Mary. Proximity to Jesus matters and not only for Mary and Martha’s sake but also for Jesus’ sake. He wants to see for himself the loss, the grief and the pain we feel. He would carry our griefs and sorrows to the cross and then remove the sting of death with his (and then our) resurrection.

When Mary came to where Jesus was, she saw him and fell down at his feet.

“Master!” she said, “If only you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died!”

When Jesus saw her crying, and the Judeans who had come with her crying, he was deeply stirred in his spirit, and very troubled…”

Mary and Martha witnessed the resurrection of their brother Lazarus. The three of them would learn of and perhaps be among the over five-hundred brothers and sisters who saw Jesus alive after his resurrection (1 Cor. 15: 5). All of them were witnesses of the things that came to pass. And what came to pass was not a doctrine or a philosophy or an apparition – a ghost. It was bodily resurrection.

No mere manmade philosophy, ancient or otherwise, could ever revive the dead or comfort the living in their loss with “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” No amount of pleasure reduces the pain we feel. No amount of materialism and its cheerleading proponent Progressivism – a political pandering to self-pity – will provide hope for today. Those philosophical positions are about nursing wounds. Those philosophical positions are ephemera compared to the reality of the bodily Resurrection of Jesus and the new life offered to those who believe.

Only the Resurrection and the Life can reverse the downward spiral of mankind and provide hope that doesn’t pass away with a meal. Live in the present tense Resurrection and Life as Mary and Martha and hundreds of early followers of Jesus did.

Are you witnesses of all this? Of the resurrection? Or, are you witnesses of the Easter bunny? I think that’s what Paul had in mind when he mocked the Corinthians.

Empty tomb

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

The Resurrection is the central theme in every Christian sermon reported in the Acts. The Resurrection, and its consequences were the “gospel” or good news which the Christians brought: what we call the “gospels,” the narratives of Our Lord’s life and death, were composed later for the benefit of those who had already accepted the gospel. They were in no sense the basis of Christianity: they were written for those already converted. The miracle of the Resurrection, and the theology of that miracle, comes first: the biography comes later as a comment on it. Nothing could be more unhistorical than to pick out selected sayings of Christ from the gospels and to regard those as the datum and the rest of the New Testament as a construction upon it. The first fact in the history of Christendom is a number of people who say they have seen the Resurrection.

Miracles, C.S. Lewis

Palm Sunday and the Problem of Evil

 

Just a few centuries before the first Palm Sunday, Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270 B.C.) promoted to his followers the notions of another ancient Greek philosopher, Demetrius (c. 460 – c. 370 B.C.). Demetrius’ had proposed the theory of Atomism to account for nature.

The theory in brief: random, unguided ‘atoms’ (as he called them) smash into each other, thereby creating the world and life as we know it. Such a hypothesis turned philosophy by Epicurus gave Epicurus the ‘means’ to do away with a personally involved god (and human accountability to a god). He went on to tweak Demetrius’ theory. He said that atoms do not always go in straight lives but can “swerve”. As such, his philosophy was then able to avoid atomism’s inherent determinism and to allow for man’s free will.

Epicurus also taught that nothing should be believed, except for that which was tested through direct observation and logical deduction – believed via the sensate and reason. He believed that the ‘gods’ were off angry somewhere upstairs. The gods were distant and uninvolved and therefore unrelated to ‘thinking’ and ‘sensing’ man’s life. Man had to make do with the atoms he had been dealt.

“What was most important in Epicurus’ philosophy of nature was the overall conviction that our life on this earth comes with no strings attached; that there is no Maker whose puppets we are; that there is no script for us to follow and be constrained by; that it is up to us to discover the real constraints which our own nature imposes on us.” ― Epicurus, The Epicurus Reader

Since, per Epicurus’s teaching, “that there is no Maker whose puppets we are“, the problem of evil paradox he posited augmented this teaching:

“The gods can either take away evil from the world and will not, or, being willing to do so cannot; or they neither can nor will, or lastly, they are able and willing. If they have the will to remove evil and cannot, then they are not omnipotent. If they can but will not, then they are not benevolent. If they are neither able nor willing, they are neither omnipotent nor benevolent. Lastly, if they are both able and willing to annihilate evil, why does it exist?” ― Epicurus


 

The Epicurean paradox is answered with another paradox: What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? Psalm 8:4

There was nothing ambiguous or theoretical or abstract about the appearance of Son of man. There was direct observation by his followers. In the fullness of time, including Epicurean times, the Lord of the universe put on human flesh – dust fashioned from the created elements including about 18% carbon – to deal with the problem of evil. Philosophers, before and after Epicurus, pronounced judgement on God for all the evil in the world. Jesus entered flesh and blood, space and time, to pronounce judgement on evil. He did so without equivocation. Jesus did not succumb to the Satan’s temptations, Demons were cast out. Hypocrites were denounced and death itself was overturned. Jesus suffered the full force of evil on the cross, an act of redemption from evil’s ransom.

The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven. – George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce

The King of Glory wept over Jerusalem and his people who so often rejected their reveal-to-the-world-the-one-true-God vocation. Palm Sunday. The King of Glory, emptied of his glory, rides a donkey into Jerusalem to meet evil head on and to put the world right. The “Epicurean Paradox” would be addressed and soundly answered. It was not the dénouement of evil.

Jesus is everything you need to know about God and the problem of evil. Let the King of Glory come into your life to deal with the problem of evil.

 

‘Tis the Season to Celebrate Your Findings

 

Throughout the gospel accounts there are people who are finding things. Some of the things found were totally unexpected. And some things were lost and then found. Jesus lets us know that there are things meant to be found. We also learn from him that heaven is tuned into the findings. Joyous celebration all around is the natural response.

Early on we read of shepherds who find “Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a feeding trough.” (Luke 2:16) And later, of wise men who find Mary and the child and of King Herod who finds out about their finding out.

We hear of a man who finds a treasure hidden in a field and a trader who finds a spectacularly valuable pearl and of fishermen who find a bountiful fishing spot. (Matt 13:44-50). With these parables Jesus relates the discovery of the mysterious kingdom of God.

We learn of Jesus finding faith in a Roman Centurion (Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10)

In John’s gospel we read of cascading finds:

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee, where he found Philip.

“Follow me,” he said to him.

Philip came from Bethsaida, the town Peter and Andrew hailed from. Philip found Nathanael.

“We’ve found him!” “The one Moses wrote about in the law!” And the prophets, too! We’ve found him! Its Jesus, Joseph’s son, from Nazareth!”

At the end of Luke’s gospel, we read a report of a most excellent find that isn’t there:

…some of the women have astonished us. They went to the tomb very early this morning, and didn’t find his body. They came back saying they’d seen a vision of angels, who said he is alive. Some of the folk with us went off to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they didn’t see him.

The gospel of Luke chapter 15 is the party chapter. Each of the three lost and found parables relate how what has been lost and then found triggers a reason to celebrate: a lost sheep is found; a lost coin is found; a lost son is found on the horizon. Let’s look at the second parable.

“Or supposing a woman has ten drachmas and loses one of them. What will she do? Why, she’ll light a lamp, and sweep the house, and hunt carefully until she finds it! And when she finds it she’ll call her friends and neighbors in. ‘Come and have a party!’ she’ll say: celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost coin!”

Well, let me tell you: that’s how God’s angels feel when a single sinner repents.”

-Jesus in Luke 15:8-10

As we read this parable, we typically focus on the end result: the sinner’s repentance and heaven’s joy at the sinner’s response. Now take a look at the effort involved in restoring what was lost before the celebration takes place.

Notice that the woman turns on the light to see into the corners. She cleans her house and clears out the clutter. She makes every effort to reclaim what she lost. She didn’t have much to begin with (ten drachmas) and now a portion of it is lost (15 cents).

Here is what I think the parable also emphasizes: we come to a point in our lives when we realize that we have lost something of great value – our identity, the image of God, a piece of our soul. We can’t go on without it. We held on to so little for so long. So, we shed direct light on the situation. We remove all of the extraneous stuff in the way. We search like Oak Island treasure hunters burrowing deep into the dark places of our being. We make every effort to find what we lost.

Success! We find what we’ve lost in a dark corner. It was covered with dust and dirt and dog hair. We rejoice and tell others using the language of joy: “I have found it!” “I have found it!”

Remember the inside of Scrooge’s house via the 1951 black and white movie version of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol ? It is grey and gloomy and tomb-like. It is lifeless and foreboding. Furniture is covered with tarps and dust covers the tarps. Scrooge seems buried alive in the house. A candle is used to move about his dark domain but it is not used to look for what he lost. That illumination comes from four night time specters.

Now, I imagine that past, present and future scenarios flash before the eyes of anyone who has lost something of value. I imagine that for the woman in the parable. In Scrooge’s account those scenarios are personified by three ghosts who are involved in the Scrooge’s rescue operation after the ghost of Marley gives account of his own final hellish state. The ghosts illuminate Scrooge’s life: his losses, his dealing with losses, his hard heart, his isolation, and his future state. All done right where he sleeps.

The scenarios the trinity of spirits impose on Scrooge help him to see what was lost– himself–in a house full of shrouded past.

Scrooge and the woman in the lost coin parable reclaim what was lost where they lived. They both had to look and look hard for what they had lost, Scrooge in his past present and future and the woman in her dwelling place. And when they find what they’ve lost they throw open the shutters, they go out into the streets, and they let the world know.

Let me entwine this post with a scarlet ribbon…

For the prodigal, for the repentant, there is rejoicing and a celebration. They had found themselves wanting. They had found what they lost – the reason to live. When it happened the Search Party was delighted.

“The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which is lost” …and when you find him…

You love him, even though you’ve never seen him. And even though you’ve never seen him, you believe in him, and celebrate with a glorious joy that goes beyond words can say, since you are receiving the proper goal of your faith – namely, the rescue of your lives. 1 Peter 1:8-9

 “I found it!” is the language of joy. And glorious joy is the spirit of Christmas.

When All is Not Bright

 

… a personal reflection

Tampa (AFP) – Life expectancy in the United States dropped yet again as drug overdose deaths continued to climb — taking more than 70,000 lives in 2017 — and suicides rose, a US government report said Thursday.

The drug overdose rate rose 9.6 percent compared to 2016, while suicides climbed 3.7 percent, said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics.

-from Kerry SHERIDAN’s article US life expectancy drops again as overdoses climb

 

As confusion and losses stack up in a person’s life many, now more than ever, begin to seek a way out of their humanness wherein the pain is acutely felt. They will take drugs and medicate in hopes of stopping the screaming in their heads. It is the pain that tells us that we are alive and human.

I can relate. At one point in my life years ago I carried with me the same hurt locker. I had experienced losses caused by my own doing and losses beyond my control. Having been married and divorced, I then lost closeness with my children and years of my life. I lost a son in a tragic car accident. I lost a job when the company I was working for no longer had orders coming in. A truck rear-ended my car as I was on my way to a new job. I received a herniated disc in my neck and a concussion and many painful nerve-affected nights and tons of medical bills. That block of time was crushing. It was also confusing.

Trying to sort out the events, trying to make sense while inside the hurt locker, is well nigh impossible. I tried to mitigate the pain through medication, but the pains in my body and in my heart were overwhelming. There was screaming in my head that would not stop. Couple that pain with the need to continue making ends meet and trying to keep your head above water is…well-nigh impossible. And so, Impossible was the name on my hurt locker. I desperately wanted to remove myself from the locker and go to a place where I didn’t have to think anymore. When you are crying at your desk you know that something had to give. But it wasn’t going to be me. It had to be despair’s grip.

I came to the realization out of my relationship with the Lord that all of my presuppositions where being up ended. The first one to go was that I believed I was strong and could handle whatever came my way. In that dark hour I understood that the Lord had broken into my self-composed life and was making all things new. This all happened the weekend of Easter. And though I had heard the words of Easter proclamations all of my life, I finally understood that the Lord’s resurrection was the means for me to be resurrected to new life here and now. Nothing was impossible. The stone in front of the hurt locker had been removed. I was freed to be human once again. What I had endured became “I do exist, by the grace of God”.

 

It is easy for a Christian, I believe, to think that any bad thing that happens to them is a result of judgment for past sins. With all of the talk of heaven and hell in many churches it is easy to frame events in terms of reward or punishment, in almost Pavlovian ways. And, onlooking Christians are eager to point that out. Read the oldest book of Scripture, Job.

To be sure there are ways in which we dehumanize ourselves and come to believe that there can be no resurrection day and if it happened it would look like today. We live in a culture of dehumanization: abortion, drugs, ‘free’ sex, rife consumerism, and words, rites and traditions emptied of meaning. Christian holidays are paganized. Individual rights that are demanded cut people off from a community of shared human values. When body parts and their redaction become cause célèbre you know the culture is in trouble. When any thought of joy is replaced by the fatuous roose of commercialized store-bought happiness, then you know you are in trouble.

One can drink their reason for life to death. One can sit in isolation and loneliness on the internet arguing points of nihilistic bent. Social media is anything but social. Those who pattern their life after media come up empty and as impersonal as the data bytes that transfer the images to their screen.

To be sure, there are consequences that are derived from one’s sinful behavior. And, that is good to know. One needs to bump up against the wall of one’s own doing to know that there is cause and effect, a principle that even rationalists and atheists embrace.

To finally be sure, we must frame our understanding with redemption. That was the revelation that occurred to me. Resurrection and redemption. The impossible is beyond me and is only doable by the Son of Man Who loved me and gave himself for me.

 

The intent of this post is not to put a happy face on any one’s suffering or losses or pain. You do not see the sunny side of life inside the hurt locker. Rather, this post has been written to provide hope. And it is hope which brings about true-life expectancy – abundant life in this age and the age to come. Hope is born of resurrection and continues with redemption. Suicide says” All is lost. There is no hope if I can’t produce it with within myself”.  You can’t.  Hope is beyond you.

Here is hope: you are known by God. Consider that the announcement of the birth of the Son of Man was to lowly shepherds tending sheep in a field. The announcement they received wasn’t “We bring you tidings of great minimum wage!” No, the angelic message was…

And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

 “Glory to God in the highest,

    And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

Some life-saving suggestions. When I was in high school, I walked many nights through the neighborhoods after supper with my family. I doubt that my siblings knew this. I walked because I needed to resolve all the inputs into my life: my personhood, and the mental, emotional and social goings on around me, including all that the sixties dropped on me, including the Vietnam war. I walked to find resolve to go on.

Some of us have pets. I currently have Henry, my parrolet, to keep me company. I am considering adding finches to my home. I relate to birds.  I placed a bird feeder on my patio. I’ve noticed that birds are flighty when they sense imminent danger but return when they feel safe. Birds remind me of life in the moment. They are fragile beings. They, like me, have open mouths to feed and so they return to the one who feeds them.  I had to return to the One who feeds me daily, in the moment.

 

We are right to cry “Lord have mercy!” And, we also right to cry “I must have mercy on myself and not do those things which bring judgment on me by their very nature! I have sinned, O God, have mercy upon me a sinner!”

 

A prayer:

Father of all mercy, have mercy on me. I am distressed. My heart is like wax. It melts before every fear. I am depressed. I am confused. I am not able to exist except at your pleasure. I am at the bottom of my life. Restore to me humanness. Return to me with Thy salvation. I’ve heard that my Redeemer lives. Redeem my life from destruction. Redeem me from all my transgressions. Restore my soul. Amen.

 

Leech or Lizard?

 

 When you think of Thanksgiving you of think family, food and football. Let me suggest a fourth focus: creature features.

 

The Book of Proverbs, found in the wisdom literature of the Bible, offers insight into the human condition. From my youth on I have asked God for wisdom, knowledge and a good understanding. I have not always used the wisdom, knowledge and understanding given me. Much of my younger life can attest to Proverb’s description of fools and folly.

Proverbs contrasts fools and folly with those who gain wisdom and avoid imprudence. Proverbs gives us examples of what one should not be like and what one should be like. Leeches and lizards are among the examples. Let’s start with leeches.

The leech has two daughters. ‘Give! Give!’ they cry. Prov. 3:15 

How would you characterize a leech? The picture that first comes to mind is that of a bloodsucker that extracts what it wants and then goes on to the next source to extract again. Personified as above, do you see them as never satisfied? As never contented? As always craving more?  Are they greedy and covetous? Are they insatiable in their appetite? Do they see themselves as deserving and therefore warranted in entering your space and presenting their unending demands? What about another space intruder, the lizard?

a lizard can be caught with the hand, yet it is found in kings’ palaces. Prov. 30:28

Lizards, the proverb says, can be easily controlled but they show up in highly respectable places, places like lavish Caribbean hotels. Lizards like to come indoors for a meal. They are attracted by an insect infestation. Due to their small size, tiny gaps or cracks around doors and windows can be enough for geckos to let themselves in. Some owners may allow a few innocuous lizards to come and take care of the greater insect problem. And, insects are not as ‘cute’ as Geckos. The GEICO commercials invite us to let them into our lives to solve insurance problems.

The creeping and crawling Lizards can be held in check but they show up anyway in king’s palaces looking for insects hiding in dark places and likely feasting on the crumbs dropped from the royal table.

The Gospels provide with us with human examples of these creature’s features:

A recent review of a first century survey (Luke 17) found that nine out ten lepers do not give thanks. Apparently, nine lepers saw Jesus, latched on to his presence and demanded ‘Give! Give! And one leper, the out of place Samaritan, saw Jesus, creeped up slowly and waited for the crumbs to fall from the Master’s table. When Jesus healed all ten of the lepers, the nine leeches went on their way feeling they got what they deserved. But the once dried, scaling, atrophic, depigmented-skinned lizard returned and gave thanks for being allowed into the royal court and receiving a new skin on life.

As we learned, one can live their life as a leech: show up, latch on, cry ‘Give! Give!’, take and feel deserving and ungrateful. Or, one can live life as the lowly out of place lizard who shows up in our King’s palace looking for the means to go on.  The latter provides us with a prime example of grace – that easily controlled lowly lizards like us are even allowed a notice and a few bread crumbs that fall from the King’s table. Thanks be to God.

 

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.”