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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Day 31: They will not believe it...

Today's Reading: Exodus 4-6

Today is Sunday.

Today is the day when, across our nation, many men and some women will climb to the pulpit to deliver a sermon; a word from God.

Being a preacher by calling, I can tell you this is a wonderful, mysterious vocation. All week long, we are in the Word of God studying, pondering, praying and interacting with the Creator of the universe. Mysteries are revealed. Truths are imparted. Exhortations are heard.

But as we climb to the pulpit on Sunday morning, the ecstasy of the week can sometimes dwindle with every step. We turn to face our beloved congregations, we begin to open our mouths and we, like Moses, have a gut-wrenching fear.

"What if they will not believe me, or listen to what I say? For they may say, 'The LORD has not appeared to you.'" Exodus 4:1

Let me tell you, it can be a real fear.

Yes, there is real fear in preaching; a fear of others not believing, a fear of being mocked as a fool, a fear of standing alone.

But the deeper fear is the fear that as I speak in the presence of others, I will doubt. I will lose conviction. As all eyes turn to me to hear from the LORD, I will waver.

It is one thing to hear from the LORD as one is in prayer; in the sweet mystic presence of God where nothing seems impossible. The secrets of eternity are whispered. The powers of God's possibilities are seen. The vengeance of God's wrath is spoken. Most preachers will tell you it is a whole different thing when we move from our prayer closets to the public arena.

Moses made excuses: They won't believe me. I am unskilled in speech. Send someone else. They don't know you, LORD.

God gave Moses a few 'tricks' up his sleeve, literally--A staff that turned to a snake, A leprous hand that healed--to boost the confidence of the people...and his.

The people believed!

And yet, as the story goes on, their belief was sorely tested.

Perhaps, the real test is not the sermon at all. It is when each of us walks out the doors on Sunday morning believing, believing in the possibilities of God.

And then each of us is hit with our own sermons to preach. In the inner sanctum of the church, we really do begin to believe in this invisible, mysterious, holy God. We are unable to resist such grace, love and promise. We begin to believe there is another way, another kingdom. We do see ourselves as aliens in a foreign land. We see ourselves as free instead of slaves. We see we have a higher purpose than to spend our days in mediocrity.

Then we hit the pavement of the everyday road, courageous on Sunday, but by Monday, forgetful. The Pharaohs of the land harden their hearts toward us. The labor becomes more difficult. The straw gives out.

Here is where the real sermons are preached.

In the midst of the everday challenges to what the LORD has said, I must keep remembering that it truly was the LORD who said it. It was not a silly dream. It was not an empty hope. It was not the musings of a desperate weakling.

It was the creating, life changing Word from the LORD--spoken to me, spoken to you, received by faith.

It is a Word that cannot be moved. A Word of truth. A Word of the reality unseen.

OK, LORD, I will go. I will stand before your people. I will stand before Pharaoh. I will open my mouth, and I will be praying that you are with me. You must give me the words. You must give me the strength. You must give me the courage.

You must give me the belief in you.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Day 30: Oh yes, it takes a woman...

Today's Reading: Exodus 1-3

"Oh, yes it takes a woman...to bring you the sweet things in life."
from Hello, Dolly
Jerry Hermann

I have read this story many times.

I've heard the Sunday school lessons.

I've seen the movies.

Usually the story focuses on the main character, Moses. But today, I was struck by the supporting actresses who saved the day! Take a look with me.

Pharaoh is trying to wipe out his enemy with slavery and infanticide. Though the Hebrew adult males seem numerous, it seems they are incapable of addressing this horror.

Who saves the day? Two midwives! They refuse to follow the order of a paranoid king. They refuse to do what we today would call a partial birth abortion. They speak up, citing the strength of their sisters, and God blesses them.

"It takes a woman!"

Two descendants of Levi, [the tribe which later becomes the priestly tribe and the ancestors of John the Baptist] marry and have what we call in my family "a double PK." (Preacher's Kid) While Dad is at the "brick yard," Mom, who is so in love with her child, seeks to save him.

"It takes a woman!"

A little ark made of wicker, tar and pitch is set afloat on the chaotic flooding Nile. And who is the guardian of this little one? His sister.

"It takes a woman!"

Another woman, Pharaoh's daughter, rescues the child. Her handmaidens join in the secret plot to save a baby. They know this is a baby of their enemy, but, what can I say!

"It takes a woman!"

Zipporah and her sisters extend hospitality to a stranger who aided them and helped fight off other shepherds who had a hard time sharing water. Instead of despising this immigrant in their land, they bring him into their community.

"It takes a woman!"

These women--the Hebrew midwives, the baby's mother, the baby's sister, the Pharaoh's daughter, the handmaidens, the daughters of Reuel--find a common bond with "the stranger" which leads to peace.

"It takes a woman!"

These three chapters of Exodus are jammed packed with political and psychological implications.

How is it that the women of this story can move beyond the paranoia and competition which comes with power to the unity and cooperation of compassion? Is it because they have no political power and have learned new ways of pushing the existing injustice cooperatively? Is it because they are seen as non persons and thus share the knowledge that they can work together, unseen, behind the scenes? Is it because they know the mystery and the value of a single life?

The Talmud, the Hebrew collective wisdom on the Torah and community life, states:

"To save one life is as if you have saved the world".

As the men in these chapters sit in fear, make demands, enslave each other, beat up on one another, kill each other and cast each other into the deserts of death, the women seem to find a way to keep the birthing waters flowing. They use raging waters of chaos to hide their precious treasure. They allow mother's milk to be shared. They dip into the community well and water the thirsty lambs. They offer a cup of cool water to a stranger at their table.

And at the end of chapter 3, it is the women who are able to ask their neighboring women for supplies for the long journey into the desert.

If you are a woman who is reading this blog today, I would like to encourage you. As you listen to God and your intuition--your gut--my guess is that you have more power to bring about peace, harmony, charity and hospitality than you realize. You, even with "non-power" status, can bring about change that could save a life!

The themes of the scriptures are still the major political themes of today: over population, slavery, injustice, genocide, abortion, adoption, immigration, conflict, anger, paranoia and fear.

Perhaps God is calling one of us or all of us to work behind the scenes; to choose life, to choose cooperation, to choose hospitality, to choose generosity.

One more thing, Exodus 1:17 is a powerful verse. Egypt in scripture is not only a place, but a symbol of the powers of this world which would seek to enslave us. Note what is said about the midwives:

"But, the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them..."

This is a Word for all of us today, female and male alike.

Whom do we fear most, the norms and pressures of the culture or God?

Or to flip the question, to whom do I pledge allegiance? God or Egypt?


Another thing to ponder.

Friday, January 29, 2010

A 29th Day Poem

I sit
I wait

It is in a dark place
That is tossing on the waves
Of chaos
Of destruction
Of judgment

I walk
I tread

It is through a desert
That drains all my water
My fruitfulness
My sanity
My clarity

I huff
I puff

It is up a mountain
That requires my all
My strength
My courage
My sacrifice

I fall
I wail

It is in a pit
That robs my hope
My trust
My comfort
My dignity

And then

A dove brings
An olive branch

A night sky
Is filled with stars

An angel
Stays my hand

A family
Weeps in forgiveness

I remember
I hold on

It seems impossible
Yet I believe
God will bless
God will provide
God will come

Day 29: And all shall be well...

Today's Reading: Genesis 48-50

"You meant it for evil; God meant it for good." Genesis 50:20

All shall
be well,
and all shall
be well,
and all manner
of thing
shall be well.

dame julian of norwich - 14th century - mystic

As January comes to a close, our wanderings through the books of Genesis and Job end. Both books begin with goodness and prosperity. In Genesis, God is pronouncing creation "good." In Job, we see fruitfulness and faithfulness in the first chapter.

But the bulk of these books shares stories of wrath, anger, unfaithfulness, deceit, sorrow and pain. As readers, we have waded slowly through the bog of sin and its results. We've mourned. We've been appalled. We've sat in the ash heap. We've cried. We've wondered if life could get any worse.

Like well crafted novels, though, all the loose ends finally come together in both of these books. Genesis' theme is stated in chapter 50: "You meant it for evil; God meant it for good." Job is able to remain faithful, despite the immense sorrow in his life, and God restores him.

There is great hope in this theology.

Even in a prosperous nation like ours, all of us will face the hard things of life: betrayal, pride, sickness, abuse, misunderstandings, jealousy, violence, abandonment, loss and death.

There will be times when we feel we are wandering aimlessly.

There will be times when we feel we have been greatly wronged.

There will be times we find ourselves in a pit.

There will be times we are imprisoned by false accusations.

There will be times when even our best friends' words will not comfort us.

There will be times when we feel we have waited and waited and waited for hope to come knocking at our door, only to find ourselves old and worn out, with no further possibility of fruitfulness.

This is the common plight of humanity.

But God will always have the final word.

We have learned that God sees, God wreaks vengeance, God provides, God blesses, God flips reality, God brings about the impossible, God goes ahead of his people, God is in control.

So this is yet another word - logos - I am putting in my backpack as I walk upon terra firma. No matter what the circumstances may be, God is meaning it for good. That's an easy theology to embrace when all is well. But hard to hold on to when life is a flood, or a famine, or a grief.

El Roi, Jehovah Jireh, El-Bethel, fill my backpack with your Word that I might always be full, hydrated and prepared for whatever I meet on this pilgrimage.

And all shall be well...and all shall be well...and all shall be well...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Day 28: The eye closer

Today's reading: Genesis 46-47

"Joseph's own hand will close your eyes." Genesis 46:4

Recently, I took care of my mother as she lived the last days of her life. It was a huge comfort for her to have me at her side. There is great comfort, even today, knowing I was with and caring for my mother as she went from this side of life into God's unveiled presence.

For, you see, it was my hand which closed the eyes of my mother when she died.

We can only imagine the agony Jacob felt when he heard his beloved son had been lost, perhaps to the jaws of a vicious animal. Every day he probably played over and over in his mind the possibilities and cruelties his son faced in what he thought were his son's final minutes.

Can we imagine the ecstasy Jacob experienced as he heard Joseph was not dead, but alive! After years of grief and trying to accept a tragic death, to suddenly hear of the true reality of his son's presence in Egypt must have threatened Jacob with a heart attack brought on by extreme excitement and joy.

Chapters 46 and 47 heal the final breach of trust for the family of Israel. A father's dashed hope is suddenly rekindled, an exodus from famine into prosperity occurs and Jacob hears from God an amazing promise. "Your son Joseph will be with you at your deathbed."

From the story of Job we learned God is our Creator, Judge and Redeemer.

From the story of Jacob and Joseph we learn God is our Protector, Trail Blazer and Restorer.

I am resting today as I trust God to sort through all the twists, knots and turns in my life.

I am resting today as I trust God to carry me to the end, working for my good and restoration.

I am resting today.

For I know, no matter who is at my bedside when I die---even if no one is there---I am resting today, knowing God's hand opened my eyes at birth and God's hand will close mine at death.

Thank you, dear Eye Closer, for your restoring and comforting plan for my life.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Day 27: The weeping of reconciliation

Today's Reading: Genesis 43-45

These chapters in Genesis are absolutely beautiful, as we see the long overdue scenes that heal a broken family. We also see the great cost of reconciliation; the payment for past wrongs.

After an entire book of unrighteous people and actions, we finally have a Biblical hero we can admire. Joseph seeks reconciliation but is not a push over. He is generous, but is not stupid. He handles his brothers wisely, pushing them to right the wrongs they did to his father, his brother and himself. When Judah finally shows some spiritual maturity, humility and concern for others than himself, Joseph shows his brothers his true identity.

I love Joseph's theology borne from long hard days in prison. Unlike the Count of Monte Cristo, Joseph does not plot vengeance against those who have done him wrong. Instead, he carefully and slowly administrates a reconciliation process. All his sadness, grief and loss are poured out in his weeping, which was held in check all these years. Finally he can embrace his destiny and his enemies, and in doing so, his family and his life are restored to him.

His forgiveness is real. He is able to empathize with those who have done him wrong. "Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves," he soothes. "God sent me ahead of you to preserve you as a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance."

Can we imagine this kind of transformation? Do we hear the impossible possibility of God's wondrous hand, not only for these wayward brothers, but in Joseph's life as well?

Imagine a woman raped or a father whose daughter was killed forgiving the perpetrator of the crime, saying, "God allowed this to happen to me so that, in prison, you could meet Jesus through a prison ministry, so that together, we can share eternal life."

Imagine enemies of war saying, "God allowed this so that one day we could value our friendship and embrace one another."

Imagine Job or any other person who has suffered greatly with physical, mental or emotional pain, saying, "God did this for all our good."

Joseph adds two tag lines to his forgiveness:

1. "I will give you the best of the land of Egypt and you can enjoy the fat of the land." 45:18 Joseph not only forgives his brothers, but gives them tremendous gifts of extravagance!

2. "Don't quarrel on the way!" Joseph warns his brothers to amend their ways, to not fall back into old patterns. A new reality has been born. There is no sense in returning "as a dog returns to his vomit."

It is hard to imagine this kind of reconciliator, one who can so totally forgive and embrace with such abundance.

This story gives us just a small glimpse of the love of the ultimate reconciliator, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

He gives full forgiveness, calls enemies friends, offers his own inheritance to be shared with previous enemies and invites us to live with him forever. That is very amazing!

Imagine the tears he wept as he moves toward reconciliation with each one of us!

O, the deep, deep love of Jesus.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Day 26: It is not I; but God...

Today's Reading: Genesis 41-42

In AD 590, Pope Gregory I detailed an ascending list of seven deadly sins: luxuria (extravagance), gula (gluttony), avaritia (avarice/greed), acedia (acedia/discouragement), ira (wrath), invidia (envy) and superbia (pride).

The original and most serious sin, pride, is "a desire to be more important or attractive than others, failing to acknowledge the good work of others, excessive love of self and especially holding self out of proper position toward God." Dante's definition, from his poem The Divine Comedy , was "love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for one's neighbor."

In today's world, we see pride exhibited in two basic ways which seem to be opposites. The first, which is most easily recognized, is arrogance and self absorption. "It's all about me." "My way or the highway." "I did it my way." This kind of pride demands constant attention and limelight.

The second kind of pride is less discernable. We call it "self consciousness." This pride is so focused on self, it is unable to step into areas of discomfort or dis-ease. "O, I couldn't." "I can't do that." "I'd be too embarrassed." Though some might mistake it for "humility," it is really a form of pride.

In today's reading, we see true humility and trust in God, which are the opposite of pride. Joseph, as he is called to share a spiritual gift, makes it very clear from the beginning that he can take no credit for his special talent. The ability to interpret dreams is not about him, but all about God. This acknowledgment is truly the strength of Joseph and others who exhibit humility. Joseph gives credit where credit is due and then boldly exercises his spiritual gift; all in the context of praising God.

This is what we need in the Body of Christ: people who acknowledge that talent, skill, giftedness, influence, grace--anything worthy of praise--is all from God. We cannot lay claim to anything. At the same time, since it is from God and ultimately belongs to God, it is to be shared openly, honestly and freely, without expecting any thanks or praise for the person sharing the gift.

So how do we learn to do this? When we find ourselves with a gift that can change a situation for good, we need to share it. When someone thanks us for sharing it, we need to point them to God "from whom all blessings flow." We can't get upset if the gift is never acknowledged. Instead, Our own hearts should return thanks to God for allowing us to be instruments of grace. We can never claim any blessing as being self generated. Every gift one has is meant for the good of all, not to be hoarded or doled out sparingly. It must never to be used to puff up one's self.

I love Joseph. He shared his gifts with fellow prisoners and his captor alike. Both times, he pointed the receivers to God.

Some simple words I hope to memorize: It is not I, but God!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Day 25: Wicked!

Today's Reading: Genesis 38-40

[He] was wicked in the LORD's sight; so the LORD put him to death." 38:6,10

Her name was "palm tree." I'm wondering if it was because she was willowy and beautiful or because she was flexible enough to survive the stormy family of Judah?

She survives Mean Husband #1 and Raping Husband's Brother #2 and Prostitute Chasing Father-in-Law #3.

This idea that women are non persons, only profitable and useful to bear children or to relieve men of their sexual appetites, is a wicked, wicked, wicked thing in my sight.

I am appalled at the way women are treated by the men and other women in Genesis: Shoved into harems, used to shield men, given to men without any consent of their own, thrown out into a desert without sustenance, seen as son producing machines, and burned to death if called out as a prostitute.

Is all this part of the curse for picking that forbidden fruit?

Or is there something deeper going on?

Is it a jealousy that men have because women bear children?

Is it a matter of the stronger physically oppressing the weaker?

Is it a need to pump up egos?

Whatever it is, it is wicked.

How can Judah say, "Bring her out and have her burned to death!" [38:24] Is he not the second party in the act of prostitution? Why is the woman burned and the man allowed to laugh about the whole act with a brew in his hand? When did all this start, this double standard? Men are studs who sow their wild oats. Women are whores, and considered "dirty" or "ruined" if they are not virgins.

Why are women still exploited in such situations as "College Girls Gone Wild?" Why are "adult clubs" places where women bare their bodies or dance erotically while men watch? Why is most pornography either the exposure of women, or men and women in brutal acts of sex? Why is most sex traffic the exploitation of women and young boys?

I have more questions than answers today. And the situations and the questions make me madder and madder the more I think about it.

The answer: Wickedness!

And wickedness leads to death!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Day 24: Deja Vu

Today's Reading: Genesis 35-37

I preached this morning on chapter 35...a sacramental chapter, indeed. (I guess you had to be there) But as I read through the whole reading today, I want to reflect upon chapter 37.

Have you ever experienced deja vu? Deja Vu is French for "already seen." It is this wierd phenomenon a person experiences--one feels like they have seen, experienced, or been someplace before.

Reading chapter 37 is a deja vu experience for the Biblically saturated Christian. Joseph is a foreshadowing, a prototype, for Jesus. Check this out:

+ Jesus like Joseph is the favored son. Jesus is called the only begotten son in whom God is "well pleased."

+ Jesus is known as the intercessor of heaven. He, like Joseph, prior to his incarnation, is aware of the "bad report" of us and shares this with the Father.

+ God has given Jesus the expensive garment of righteousness which he alone can wear.

+ Jesus is the one to whom we all will bow one day.

+ God says to Jesus, "Come, and I will send you to your brothers." Jesus says, "I will go." That's called "incarnation."

+ Like the brothers of Joseph, the scribes and pharisees are jealous of Jesus. They, his Jewish brothers, plot to kill Jesus.

+ It is believed that Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimethea, who were Pharisees, tried to save Jesus from crucifixion. They are like Reuben.

+ Just like Joseph, Jesus was stripped, and in death, was thrown into the pit of hell. The Apostle's Creed states, "He descended into hell."

+ Jesus' tunic in most paintings of the crucifixion is scarlet; Joseph's tunic was covered with the blood of a sacrificial goat.

+ Jesus, like Joseph, was sold out by the very ones he came to save.

I wonder why the rulers and scribes and pharisees, who were grounded in God's Word, did not see the connection of Joseph to Jesus.

Were they blinded by God so that Jesus could go ahead to a place and prepare it for us, just as Joseph went ahead to Egypt to ultimately save his family and the rest of the world by preparing it for them?

Which makes me ask the question: M. what are you missing? What are the signs and wonders God has shown you as revelation in God's Word? Will you come upon an experience in your life when all of a sudden you are feeling like you have seen, experienced, or been in this before? Are you catching God's revelation all around you?

Perhaps this is not deja vu. Perhaps this is the definition of revelation, discernment and vision.

Lord, so saturate me in your Word that I might not only KNOW it but COMPREHEND its foreshadowing of your kingdom, that I might recognize the entrance of your reign as it dawns upon me.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

A 23rd day poem: To Jacob and Sons

You bad, bad boys
You cheat, deceive
And then expect
God to receive
Your prayers, your tears
Your beggin cries.
You think others have
Blinded eyes?
They see your bare
You are a stench
Surrounding me.

Day 23: Reconciliation vs Grudge

Today's Reading: Genesis 32-34

Man, O Man! If I ever wanted to read something on how NOT to live with others, I would probably read today's reading. The heroes of the story in these passages are not the "chosen," "followers" of YHWH. They are the unbelievers and the ones that are on the "B team," who previously were "benched" from the game.

First, we have Jacob (the starting quarterback) who is returning to his homeland to face his brother Esau whom he cheated and deceived. I'm impressed with his fear, but most of his prayer seems self serving. (PERSONAL FOUL!)

Then Jacob does something that I think seems downright cowardly. He knows 400 of his brother's men are coming to meet him. Instead of taking the lead and meeting his brother face to face, he cushions his possible blow using his servants and cattle as a shield. He, then, sends his least favorite wife in front of his favorite one. At least at this point he has the guts to go just ahead of them, but honestly, he admits that he puts himself in the rear so he and his wives and children can run if there is a massacre! (UNSPORTSMANLIKE CONDUCT!)

I am impressed with Esau, though. It seems the years have made him the wiser man. He's less hot tempered. He's more generous. He's the one who greets his cheating brother with acceptance, forgiveness and weeping. Good for him! Esau's attitude and God's work in his life on behalf of Jacob (now Israel) opens the door for reconciliation and peace. (50 YARD GAIN!)

But, Jacob/Israel's sin has been passed on to his children.

Granted, a rape is a rape...kind of a hard thing to just "dismiss." But to deceive someone who has honestly tried to reconcile by saying, "If you do such and such, we will be able to be friends," and then to absolutely annihilate this contender while they are weak---this is not honorable in my understanding. I would be ashamed to have such things written about me. (What's the foul for being overly rough?)

I am also disappointed in Jacob's response to his sons. He is not concerned about his raped daughter; we see nothing about him comforting her or defending her himself. And he only enters the picture when he feels his own honor is being threatened. He doesn't chastise his sons for their violence, but instead for making trouble for himself. (BOO--ooooo!)

The lesson I am taking away from this passage is this: M., Disciple of Christ, just because you are saved by grace and have the promise of eternity, don't cheat or cheapen that grace by living in such a displeasing manner as to mock God's gift. Don't run to the altar to be saved or forgiven with no intention of being transformed. God forbid!

Embrace the new life with integrity! Learn to be a natural when it comes to forgiveness and reconciliation. Learn humility. Learn true repentance. And never, ever, ever hold a grudge. (GET IN THE GAME!)

And M., whatever you do, don't deceive and spread violence after violence. There is wisdom in the saying, "Never return evil for evil, but return good." If you're going to proclaim to the angels, "This is God's camp (32:1)," if you're going to say to the world, "I'm a disciple of Jesus Christ," your actions best fit your proclamation.

By the grace of God and the transformation by God's word at work in our hearts, may this be so.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Day 22: Mandrakes, fortune tellers, breeding sticks and household idols

Today's Reading: Genesis 30-31

So this was my morning: My husband's in the hospital with a potentially life threatening blood clot. My daughter's far away at college, very worried about her dad, and has a horrible cough the opening day of her opera. I was to preach a funeral my husband was supposed to preach for a family I didn't know. As I'm heading out the door to meet and comfort this family, my son's school calls to tell me he has already thrown up three times and probably has the flu.

There are days when you wonder, "Why in the world, Lord, did you overbook my page in your daytimer calendar with trouble?"

Today's reading is filled with people who felt desperate and overwhelmed with the trouble of their lives. These are people of faith whose daily routine straw's were breaking a herd of camels' backs. Faithful people who in their desperation, do not turn to God, but instead turn to a whole slew of superstitious mumbo-jumbo.

Two sisters, torn apart by jealousy and competition, end up making a pretty strange deal over some mandrakes. [Now for those of us who have never seen a mandrake, it is a "love potion #9," apple like fruit...an aphrodisiac.] Both want to get pregnant by their shared husband, and instead of waiting for God's word to come true in their lives, turn to superstition, and bargain with and for love.

Their father, who sees his young son-in-law prospering, turns to a fortune teller who shares with him that his "good luck" is totally dependent upon his son-in-law. The two of them start cheating, deceiving and mistrusting one another.

The son gets some sticks, ties them together in some sort of secret breeding trick, places them by the watering hole and claims this puts his rams into some sort of studly state.

And if this isn't enough superstitious conjuring for two chapters, one of the sisters grabs a household idol before she leaves her father's home and sits upon it [as if to hatch some good fortunes of her own.]

We read these chapters in our "Holy Bible" and wonder, "What the heck is the matter with these people!" How can they be so ridiculously silly and trust all this hocus pocus!

But I have known some very faithful people to do some similar very "silly" and drastic things. Though completely appalling to God and banned by God, believers turn to horoscopes, fortune tellers and tarot cards, and practice superstitions which are deeply and culturally generated. We trade the true God and grab our idols, sitting on them, hiding them, and vowing they will keep us safe and sound.

The call to God's followers is faithfulness, even when and especially when times are desperate. When troubles come in threes, fours, or hundreds, we are to remain calm, look up and declare, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

We have some great resources.

Here are my three favorites: Prayer, Scripture and the Body of Christ.

I'm amazed that even the godless call out an "O my God!" or "Jesus!" when they are shocked, surprised or in trouble. Prayer is my first response. Sometimes it is as simple as "Lord!" or "Help!" I find as soon as I turn to God, I am heard and swift help comes. And how does it come? Through Scripture.

Last evening, when my husband called to tell me he was admitted as an emergency patient, the song from the previous night's choir practice came flooding into my mind. It was a scripture song from Isaiah:

"Surely it is God who saves me; I will trust in Him and not be afraid,
For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense,
And He will be my Savior."

As I drove to the hospital, I sang this over and over. The Holy Spirit within me was calming my soul, which was desperate and out of control.

As I tried to think of a sermon for the funeral, I begged God, "Help me!" Immediately, a phrase from God's Word came to mind. I looked up the passage, read it in context and discovered it was the perfect passage for a precious saint of the Lord who died believing in the power of the resurrection.

And what would I do without the Body of Christ?

I telephoned what I call "point people." These are people who know how to spread the need for prayer and who can calmly reassure me of my faith. Soon, a ripple of prayer and support from the Body of Christ joined me in petition to the Lord. Christ's faithful disciples are the people who know how to counsel you, remind you of what you already believe and readily drop everything and say, "how can I help?"

The day which started with desperation is now over. Joy fills my heart for I have been sheltered by the Lord. Before the funeral, my brothers and sisters in Christ lent their aid and their encouragement. On the way to the funeral, my daughter sang, "You'll never walk alone" to me. During the funeral, I met new friends and felt God's Holy Spirit working through me in a way I knew could not be credited to me. And when I came home, my son was resting comfortable. I had the opportunity to delight in the salvation of my Lord who saved me from despair, and instead filled me with rejoicing.

May the Lord never find me hiding some household idol under my skirt or in my jean pocket. Lord, keep me from whatever would be false or idolatrous.

And thank you for the day, Lord...for turning my mourning into dancing.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Day 21: God bless you

Today's Reading: Genesis 27-29

It is the cold season. People all around us are sneezing. We have learned to quickly say, "God bless you," whenever we hear a sneeze.

This practice dates back to 77 AD when some thought the soul was thrown out of the body or one's heart stopped during a sneeze. The blessing was very sincere, believed necessary for revival and survival of the fellow human who was sniffling and sneezing.

Now days, this phrased is used by the religious and the nonreligious alike, and probably with equal insincerity.

In today's reading, however, we see the absolute value, power and irrevocable effects of a blessing: The conniving, the deceit and the lengths to which one will go to secure the blessing; and then the depths of sorrow, the anger and the course setting aspects for future prospects expressed over the loss of the blessing.

This story begs the question: Do I understand this practice of blessing? Have I ever intentionally blessed my children and others whom I love? How much credence do I give to the words of blessing that would come from my mouth? that are expressed by others for me?

The moment of benediction is part of our weekly liturgy. We receive a blessing from God. The one used most frequently in the worshipping community of which I am a part is the Aaronic Benediction from Numbers 6:24-26.

"The LORD bless you, and keep you. The LORD make his face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you. The LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace."

This is not a blessing we want to miss; it is not a time to be checking our watches, looking for keys, cleaning up our space in the pew, or helping our children with their coats.

We are receiving the blessing of the LORD. It is a high and holy time.

And in today's passage, we learn one does not come to the blessing haphazardly. One is called, one prepares, one brings an offering, one converses with the giver of the blessing, a meal is shared---all as a prelude to the benedicting act. [Sounds like an order of worship to me!]

The Word of God states ""All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the children of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." [2 Timothy 3:16, 17]

Today, Lord, teach, rebuke, correct and train me regarding the blessing. Prepare me to live out the blessing you have already given to me. May I rest in your blessing. May I trust in your keeping. May I become fruitful under the shining of your face upon me. May I recognize your graciousness. May I never live in a way which would lower your countenance. May I discern your peace. Thoroughly equip me for every good work to which you are calling me.

"Bless me, even me also, O my Father." 27:34, 38

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Day 20: Fighting over inheritance

Today's Reading: Genesis 25-26

"Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac. But while he was still living, he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them away from his son Isaac to the land of the east." 25:5, 6

"Abraham's sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah near Mamre." 25:9

"Ishmael breathed his last and died." 25:17

"[His descendants) lived in hostility toward all their brothers." 25:18

"Jacob replied, First sell me your birthright." 25:31

"Esau despised his birthright." 25:34

There is nothing like the death of a matriarch or patriarch to disrupt the family system. Though everyone might show up for the burial, the removal of that major person, sometimes unravels the family. Like a set of dominoes, a chain reaction of hostility occurs.

I've seen this happen over and over again.

At the death bed of a parent, adult children dig up offenses against one another. It is as though the flood gates open and pent up anger, jealousy and unforgiveness spill forth.

In the ancient world of Abraham, the oldest son received the birthright and the land. This kept the large tract of land from being divided into small pieces. Large tracts of land were able to sustain whole family communities; smaller ones would have been useless.

This right of birth was great news for the first born, but was obviously a problem for other sons born into the family. Of course, the daughters inherited nothing.

Abraham gives the birthright to his second born son, Isaac, because he was born to the "first" wife, Sarah. Ishmael, the first born son, born to the servant Hagar, was not considered for the birthright. Once again, he is sent away from his father's land to survive on his own.

Can we get into Ishmael's thoughts? Is it no wonder that he despised Isaac? All his life, he must have felt cheated for he was treated as a second class citizen. And I don't care what the tradition is, children sense unfairness when another child is favored above the rest.

It ripped up Abraham's family. It is ripping up Isaac's family. And later, (because I know the story), it will rip up Jacob's family. Three generations of hostility between brothers.

Parents beware. It is natural to have rapport with the child who is easy, who adores you, who matches your personality. But check yourself. Watch out for the root of bitterness in your other children's hearts.

And if you are a parent in a blended family, beware. You will naturally favor your birth children, but stop it. Discipline yourself to see the value, wonder and needs of each child.

The way we deal with our children sets the course for their future. Reconcile before it's too late. When your children fight over an inheritance, they are displaying their true inheritance--an inheritance of jealousy, resentment and bitterness passed down to the next generations.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Day 19: Third Day Seed

Today's Reading: Genesis 22-24

I'm always amazed when God reveals a new insight to me in a story I've read over and over. Today, my brain stuck on a small, seemingly insignificant phrase in Genesis 22 that soon budded into a new understanding.

In Genesis 22:4, we read these words:

"On the third day, Abram raised his eyes and saw the place (of sacrifice) from a distance."

I got stuck on the "on the third day" phrase. Third day, third day, I kept thinking over and over.

I quickly turned back to Genesis and reminded myself that on the third day, God created the first living things: vegetation. And in each plant was seed to reproduce more vegetation after its own kind.

Now, I know from years of instruction, that a true sacrifice is the first fruit of one's life, one's paycheck, one's talents and time. It is the first fruit because of two reasons:

1. The first fruit or harvest is usually the best, the plumpest, the strongest. This is not only true with a harvest of vegetation, but was especially true when children were being born. From modern science, we know it takes 18 months for a woman's body to recover and re-generate all the necessary minerals, electrolytes and blood supply after a birth. In the days prior to birth control, many women became pregnant with their second child within the first year after the first was born. Thus her body did not have all the strength and sustenance available to the second which was present for the first, leaving the second child weaker and more vulnerable than the first.

2. Therefore, sacrificing the first fruit was a huge sign of trust and dependence upon God to provide. The first harvest was usually a sure thing; but a second harvest could be thwarted by weather, fire or drought. Giving the first and best fruit said, "I trust you, Lord, to provide for me, even before I can see the provision."

So, on the third day, the day of the creation of vegetation and seed and first fruits, Abraham climbs the mountain of Moriah [which means "The place chosen by God" or "The place God perceives"] to offer his first fruit, his first born and his only son, as a sacrifice to God.

I can just hear the mantra of Abraham as he treads up that hill: "Jehovah Jireh," "Jehovah Jireh," "The LORD will provide," "The LORD will provide." He must have said this to himself to convince himself of a seeming impossibility. It took a miracle to "harvest the first fruit" of Sarah's womb, and now, with his whole future on the line, on the third day, he turns his most precious son over to God in sacrifice.

We know the rest of the story, the LORD sees Abraham's trust, stays his hand and provides a ram with a crown of thorns. Moreover, look at Genesis 22:17-18. The third day seed of Isaac is multiplied by a three fold blessing:

1. I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens
2. Your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies
3. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed me.

This story is the model and the foreshadowing of yet another father's sacrifice of an only son. This father took his only begotten, beloved son and marched him up a hill of sacrifice called Golgatha. This father fulfilled the words of Abraham in 22:8, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering." And, this sacrifice was "in place of" all the sons and daughters of humanity [22:13] God's hand was not stayed, despite the pleas of the Son. The first born of all creation was given as the substitutionary atonement for all.

But that was not the end of the story. On the third day, Christ rose again from the dead! On the third day!

And if that isn't enough, the day following the Shabat of Passover [Sunday] is the Jewish Festival called the Feast of the Harvest of the First Fruits. Paul, who was schooled and rooted so deeply in the Hebrew tradition, pulls all these branches together, making a victor's wreath of revelation as he proclaims a mystery of our faith:

"Jesus is the first fruits of the resurrected ones" [1 Corinthians 15:20,23]

And then we, become the second fruits, the weaker ones, the seed of our Savior, whom God trusts to sustain the Church and the kingdom...wow! Imagine the confidence the great Lord of the Harvest has as we sow the seed and the Lord provides the growth.

And Jesus gives us a three fold blessing that parallels the blessing given to Isaac:

1. Go and make disciples of all nations...
2. Do not be afraid, for I will be with you always. I will give you words as you speak before even the most powerful of your enemies.
3. You will be able to do even more that I. Disperse to all the nations; sow the seed far and wide; share the blessing of the Good News.

I am always so amazed when all this comes together in an a-ha moment for me. It feels as if I have discovered a treasure that has been sitting right under my nose. It also declares to me the height, depth, breadth and length of God's amazing plan of salvation and love.

And God showed it all to me on this day, this Tuesday, the Third Day of the week...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Day 18: For Mature Audiences Only

Today's Reading: Genesis 19-21

When I was a teenager, I read through the whole Bible for the first time. I remember being shocked and mortified by the Genesis narratives. In the chapters for today, I found stories not included in my Sunday School lessons. My Sunday School primer had titles like "God creates the world," "God makes a promise," "God destroys wickedness" and "A baby is born."

I couldn't imagine a Sunday School curriculum which would insert these stories: "Men of Sodom seek 'relations' with other men," "Lot offers his daughters to be raped," "Drunkenness and Incest in the Lot family," "News Flash: Abram and Sarai are brother and sister," "Abram puts his wife in another man's harem," "Bible hero leaves young woman and child left to die in desert."

I think it is my tendency to pick and choose palatable passages from scripture. I avoid the ones that make me squirm or embarrass me. I tend not to deal with them at all.

It is the same with my own life stories. I point the lime light upon moments of faith and heroism, and try to deeply bury my squirmy, embarrassing stories in the darkness.

Scripture, though, puts "the good, the bad and the ugly" side by side, on the same page. The stories of God's people are so "unedited," their believability is more likely.

What's going on in these stories? Is there anything "redemptive" about them? What can we learn?

Backing up to chapter 18, we hear from God that the "sin is exceedingly grave" in Sodom and Gomorrah. God has decided to destroy the towns. But in mercy, God warns Abraham, sends angels to get Lot and his family out of town, and follows through on the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The descendants of incest, Moab and Ammon, are seen by the Israelites as second class citizens. God, though, redeems a Moabite woman named Ruth and through her, redeems the world. (Ruth is the great grandmother of King David, from whose line, Jesus is born.)

God saves Sarai and Abram from their poor choice with Abimelech, protects and preserves Hagar and Ishmael and allows Abraham to have peace with an enemy.

If I focus on the action of "God's chosen people," I will certainly be disappointed if not appalled. As I focus on the action and integrity of God, I am comforted.

God hates wickedness.
God follows through on God's promises.
God is merciful to the outcast.
God protects and preserves God's people.

Life is for "mature audiences only." I best hear this message and "grow up" in the wisdom, stature and favor of God if I am to face all the squirmy and embarrassing scenarios which will come my way.

If I see only the results of sin, I will be depressed and hopeless.

If I focus on the actions and integrity of God, I will be inspired and full of faith.

As I sojourn through the land of life, teach me LORD, to examine all my stories.
Teach me to focus on your attributes and not on mine.
And may I ever have the faith to call upon your Everlasting name.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Day 17: Multiplication then Division

Today's Reading: Genesis 16-18

So I ask myself. Am I reading Pre-Algebra 101 or Soap Opera 101?

I wonder, if we stepped back from "the Holy Scriptures," "the inspired, authoritative Word of God for faith and practice," would we read these chapters from Genesis and say, "Now really, Sarai, what in the world were you thinking?!"

I can't imagine saying to my husband, "Here, take this other woman, have sex with her, and that will make everything in my life and everything between us better."

Yes, I know, I know. Different time---different culture. But Sarai was so fixated on the multiplication of her family, she had no clue of the division that would follow.

And, Abram in this story, plays either a stupid, hen pecked husband or else something else I don't want to put into words.

Yes, I know, I know. Different time---different culture. But, really! Talk about making a mess!

So here's the soap opera script:
* a barren wife decides to take things into her own hands,
* a marriage is "interrupted" [for lack of better words],
* Hagar starts prancing around the tent with a big belly [probably doing a mocking, sing-songy dance: something like "Nanny, nanny, boo, boo!" {come to think of it, the Nanny did see the boo-boo!--I wonder if that's the origin of that phrase...hmmm}],
* Sarai goes into a crying hysterics,
* Abram washes his hands of the responsibility [Coward!],
* and the division in the family leads to oppression on all sides of the triagulated family system.

After all this is played out, I wonder how the conversation in heaven was scripted as the God who hears ["Ishmael"] and the God who sees ["El Roi"], receives the distress signal on "high definition CNN!" My guess is God's words were something like, "What a mess! Do you all think you could have made a bigger pile of manure if you tried!?"

The fragile relationships of family life have been shattered, divided into little bitty splinters, and God has to come in with the broom and dustpan to clean it all up. "Hagar, submit to your mistress; I'll greatly multiply you if you will just stop the division."

Believe it or not, this same mess repeats itself after Ishmael is born in chapter 21, which goes to prove we rarely learn from our mistakes, but that discussion is for another day.

In between these two stories of division, God continues to fulfill the promise of multiplication.

It seems when God fulfills God's multiplication promises, people are so mystified, so amazed, they begin laughing stupidly in disbelief, as if to say, "Yes, LORD, I know you said this, but I never really believed you'd follow through on such folly, such impossibilities..."

I'm wondering if we who are of the household of faith, who have had our hearts circumcised, carry this dominant family gene of disbelief and stubborn "I'll-do-it-myself" mentality. It must be in our DNA--this fear of being fruitful and multiplying according to God's grace, God's timeline and God's plan instead of by our own puny powerlessness.

I think we are more comfortable with division---making up our own little "cutting" rituals. We use our tongues to slash one another, instead of letting the sword of the Spirit and the Word of God divide and cut us to the quick with repentance and conversion---circumcision of the heart.

So God has to keep dispatching heralds--messengers--to keep reminding us. "My promises are no laughing matter."

"I establish My covenant with [you] for an everlasting covenant..." 17:19

"And life would be so much easier if you'd quit putting the Ishmaels of your own will into the equation of the Isaacs of My Will."

I wonder how long God is going to have to keep cleaning up our messes...

Day 16: Addition and Subtraction

Today's Reading: Genesis 12-15

"So Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him." 12:4

Hearing a clear and direct message from God is something many have experienced and yet, very few share. Some covet this experience. Some avoid this experience. Hearing from God is a privilege and a responsibility.

Here are some things I have learned about hearing from God:

God speaks on God's own terms: One cannot cajole God into a conversation. One can sit and wait and listen, but God speaks when God wants to speak. We are privileged to hear from God.

God speaks calmly and precisely: God is not frantic or "emotional." God's words are not wasted with superlatives. God says what God means, and we are not to add to it or subtract from it. We are responsible to follow through on what God says.

In our passages today, God has five conversations with Abram. Though this might seem like a lot of talking, we must realize these conversations happen over many years. And they really aren't very "conversational." God says, "This is what I am going to do; this is how you are to respond." Straight to the heart of the matter.

The first time God speaks, God says:
1. Go away from all that is familiar to the land I will show you.
2. I will make you a great nation.
3. I will bless you.
4. I will make your name great.
5. I am doing this so you will be a blessing.
6. Blessing will follow those who bless you; cursing will follow those who curse you.
7. In you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

God is going to do a lot for Abram. God commands only one thing from Abram: Go away from all that is familiar to the land I will show you.

Abram almost follows God's instructions, but not quite. He goes forth as the LORD had spoken to him, but, OOPS, Lot goes with him. Abram's nephew tags along.

Now, this might not seem like a big deal, but Abram has not precisely followed God's command; Abram has added to what God has said, and that causes trouble along the way. "Go forth from your country, and from your relatives."

What's the big deal? we might ask. So Abram does a little addition with God's equation. All we have to do is read the chapters that follow and we find that having Lot, a relative, tag along causes all sorts of issues: conflict in the camp, division of the land, a war, a rescue mission.

Abram also has heard from God that God will bless those who bless him; and curse those who curse him. God's arithmetic is promised to be true. And yet, the minute Abram is challenged by famine and enters into Egypt, Abram subtracts God's promise of protection and blessing from the equation. He feels he must take matters into his own hands. Results? He lies, he has others lie, his wife enters the house of another man, plagues occur with great suffering.

God promises descendants and protection; through Abram and his seed all the families of the earth will be blessed. But fear and worry enter Abram's breast when these things don't happen fast enough, or when the promises of God appear to be impossible.

Addition and subtraction mess up the results.

Abram messes up, even after hearing directly and clearly from God. He adds to or subtracts from God's word equation. He gets anxious. He becomes impatient. He takes things into his own hands.

It's hard not to do this. It is hard to take God at God's word.

While God is speaking, we bask in God's presence. We build altars of worship and remembrance. We are confident and secure.

But as we walk away from the presence of God and God's Word, other voices slip into the arithmetic of our lives, raising doubts and compromise. We add our words to God's Word. We subtract what we don't like or don't understand. And all of a sudden, we find ourselves in an "OOPS" situation.

I am like Abram. As a child and teen, I was always adding to or subtracting from what my parents said, and it usually backfired on me. As an adult, I prefer to hear from God what I want to hear, leave out the details I don't like as much or that call for sheer and total obedience, and then wonder why I find myself saying, "OOPS!" The equation of my life gets thrown off balance.

I am grateful for God's patience. I'm grateful that God's will and providence are not dependent upon my complete obedience. But, oh, that I could do exactly what I am told to do and trust God to bless and protect me, no matter what.

I guess I'm a true descendant of Abram: fickle, anxious and distracted.

And yet, God continues to sit by my side, like a patient parent helping with homework. God continues to bless others and me, despite my problems with addition and subtraction.

C'mon, M., your homework is simple. Follow the simple rules, step by step. Here's an eraser. Try again.

Basic arithmetic.

Friday, January 15, 2010

15th Day Poem: An inheritance indeed!

Daughters of Job,
You are named above your brothers
And are the lone heiresses of scripture;
A denouncing slur
To the exalted men and sons before you,
A liberating hope
For the unnamed women who follow you.
"God sees me." [1]
An inheritance indeed!

In your trinity,
We find the wisdom of your father;
A man who has seen the best of times
And the worst.
A man who has lived under God's control
And has been privy to God's counsel.
A naming that creates reality.
"I am a heir of the kingdom." [2]
An inheritance indeed!

"Day by Day,"
Your name, Jemimah,
Declares the secret to life.
Don't run ahead.
Don't regret the past.
Do not worry.
Live in the moment.
"'Today' enter into God's shabat." [3]
An inheritance indeed!

Your name declares
The priceless, sweet smelling spice of holiness
Which when mixed with the myrrh of suffering
Produces the frankincense of worship.
The sacrifice of praise.
Sackcloth is replaced with anointing oil of rejoicing;
"You have turned my mourning into dancing." [4]
An inheritance indeed!

And Keren-happuch,
"Horn of antimony"
An abundance of the metal of co-joining support.
The LORD truly does strengthen the weak mettle;
Provides a shield against the flaming darts
Of one who would destoy us.
"The LORD is my strength and my song.
I trust him with all my heart!" [5]
An inheritance indeed!

And in all the land
There are none so beautiful and fair
So yaphah as you
Whose names and countenance
Declare the abundance
And grace of God given to your father.
The LORD is my God;
"We will serve the LORD." [6]
An inheritance indeed!

[1] Genesis 16:13
[2] Romans 8:17
[3] Romans 4:7-9
[4] Psalm 30:11
[5] Psalm 28:7
[6] Joshua 24:15

Day 15: Behemoth and Leviathon

Today's Reading: Job 40-42

There is an old traditional Scottish Prayer:

"From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!"

Yesterday, Job heard rhetorical, managerial questions from God for which he had no answers. In fact, Job is absolutely embarrassed and tongue-tied: "Well, shut my mouth," he states, as he realizes his foot is lodged in his mouth.

But God is on a roll and is not going to let up. "Now," God says, "Let's talk about all those things that go bump in the day and night...let's talk about who really has power over those things that seem to rule the world, those creatures that evoke fear in your breast."

Two creatures are mentioned in the book of Job that have puzzled readers for centuries: Behemoth and Leviathan.

Behemoth, the plural form of wild beast, which, in its plural form emphasizes in a superlative way the true wild abandonment of this creature. This is king of beasts evokes sheer terror on land. Though some have thought it to be mythological in nature, others believe it to be some dinosaur, extinct now. In any case, this beast exemplifies the land beast of ultimate terror. No one can control it. No one can capture it. No one is its master.

And Leviathon, Behemoth's counterpart, is the king of the sea. This fire breathing dragon of the ocean is untouchable, unbeatable. Lest we quickly believe no fire breathing creature ever existed, we need to look to the bomardier beetle which is able to eject fire from an explosion producing mechanism in its rear to ward off its enemies. Unbelievable? Let's just say, it's complicated. But if there is a fire squirting beetle roaming the earth today, there could have once been a "fire breathing" creature of some sort.

All of which is to say, there were and are terrifying things in this world, over which God says we have no control, but in God's realm are putty in God's hand.

"I'm in control," declares God; "you are not. Once you understand this truth, you have found wisdom--a wisdom which will transform your life."

This is the revelation in the book of Job. God is the one and only creator, sustainer and controller of God's creation. Jesus echos this wisdom in Matthew: God keeps track of the smallest details (hairs on your head are numbered, sparrows are tabulated) and God's sweeping hand provides in the grandest of ways (lilies of the field are robed more glamourously than the richest rulers of the world.)

"So quit your fretting over sorrow and pain. Quit your worrying. Quit trying to analyze your life situation. Be still and know that God is God."

"The Behemoth bullies and the fire breathing Leviathons in your life must answer to God. Their power is limited. God is in control."

I don't know how much comfort this gives...

But once we understand this, the words of Job enter our vocabulary: "I know You can do all things, and none of Your purposes can be thwarted...Therefore, I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know."

"...Instruct me, O God."

"From things that go bump in the night...Good Lord, deliver us."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Day 14: Put in one's place

Today's Reading: Job 38-39

God finally speaks. And it is not the still small voice Elijah heard. It is a rhetorical, almost sarcastic voice of God in the storm. With the smoke and shouting of the curtained Wizard of Oz, God speaks.

I can just see Job, like Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion, shuddering in his boils and sackcloth (he didn't have the prelude treatment the other's had in the Emerald City!) Shaking, hand to mouth, falling on his knees, eyes tightly closed, Job is put in his place. Job has no answer for God who opens the curtain of concealment, not to reveal a small man pretending to be more than he is, but a God curtained because God is way too much for any mortal to bear.

Upon first read, I am overwhelmed with the tone I hear from God. It sets me to trembling. The constant, booming voice of God shrinks me so, that I do not even hear the words. My eyes are closed. I feel like I'm on a scary roller coaster ride and I don't want to see or hear another thing. I just want it all to be over!

But once I recover from the frightfulness and emotion which wells up in me, and can step back from the fear, I see and hear something wonderful: perhaps the most beautifully crafted creation poem in the world!

"Who marked off earth's dimensions?" 38:5 Can't you just see God with a pencil behind the ear and pad in hand, walking, foot over foot, the dimensions of the new dwelling called Earth?

"Who shut up the sea behing doors when it burst forth from the womb?" 38:8 I can just see Dr. God, holding a hand over the earth's pubic area, while grabbing some clouds to cover its nakedness as God's new child, "Sea," comes forth from the womb!

"Do you know where my children 'Light' and 'Dark' live?" 38:19 Do you have their address? You can almost hear God saying, "I know their GPS and I'm the only visitor they've ever had in their home. Heck, I built their home!"

"Would you like a tour of my storehouse of snow?" 38:22 "Have you seen my shelf where I store 'Lightening?'" 38:24 "Have you ever tried to discipline my stars?" 38:31 "How about taking over for just one day and keeping all my animals fed while I go on vacation---do you think you can do that, Job?" 38:39-41

"Check out my birthing stall; I know each due date of every critter!" 39:1-4 "I gave my children 'Donkey' and 'Ox' their strength and their wild nature; they got those traits from me." 39:5-12 "I'm aware that my beautiful daughters, 'Ostrich' and 'Stork,' have regal personalities, but they need some lessons in motherhood." 39:13-18 "And what about 'Horse' and 'Hawk?' Are they not amazing, mysterious, majestic?" 39:19-30

Once I get past God's bark, I find myself on an incredible tour of God's vast domain. My God, who has made everything, keeps everything in order, has everything in its place, shows me the bewildering wonders of God's creation.

You are right, God. I wasn't there. I don't know. I don't even have a clue when it comes to all you've done, all you are, all you manage, all your majesty, wonder, creativity, power, ability, wisdom...the list can go on and on.

I feel put in my place along side all the rest of your creation.

And even though your voice sounds gruff, your words comfort me. For if you manage the storehouse of weather, you certainly can manage the storms of my life. And since you know when the kid of the momma mountain goat is due, certainly each detail of my life is known by you. You know my traits and what growing edges and challenges that lie before me.

Thanks for giving me a place, putting me in my place, and keeping me placed within the shelter of your wisdom.

There's no place like my home with you!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Day 13: Young and Innocent

Today's Reading: Job 35-37

Elihu, the youngest of Job's friends sat listening to his elders a long time before he spoke, but once he got started, man, oh man!

From his young mouth comes the argument that God is so great, what we do or not do does not effect God. "Your wickedness effects only a person like yourself, and your righteousness only the sons of men." 35:8

He also states a truism: People cry out to God when they are feeling oppressed, but rarely cry out to God when things are going well: "No one says, 'Where is God my Maker, who gives songs in the night, who teaches us more to us than to the beasts of the earth and makes us wiser than the birds of the air?'" 35:11

Elihu is the young theologian, who has the outward appearance of the budding pastor, right out of seminary. He is enthusiastic, patient, articulate and speaks a lot of truth. Perhaps his most endearing quality is that he believes he needs to "defend God." 36:2-4 Elihu is a young man of wonderment who is enthralled by the works of the Lord. 37:1, 2 His lips are full of praise and amazement. Elihu could have penned Psalm 8.

Elihu fulfills the meaning of his name: "God is my God."

I must admit I like Elihu. There are only a few things with which I disagree. He has a Tillichian view of God as he speaks of God's "far-off-ness." God is unreachable, unattainable, uninterested and uneffected by what is going on in individual lives, according to Elihu. 37:23

And God certainly does not need to be defended...I think God can stand up for God's self!

This young innocent has not been spattered with the mud of suffering. Or perhaps Elihu was raised in a religious culture where questions and doubts were kept hidden in one's heart, never to be seen by the light of day. His theology is summed up in the phrase: God is God, Humans are humans, and ne'er the twain shall meet.

In tomorrow's chapter, God will finally speak. But until then, here is what I observe about Job and his friends and this book of Wisdom. As each speaks, some of what is said rings true. Each discourse is laced with Truth. And yet, each one's discourse is missing something. Their words sound good but do not necessarily land upon my ears as shalom.

So here is the lesson for me. M., listen deeply to what people are saying. Listen for truth. Pay attention to your gut. Pay attention to the Holy Spirit. Each Word coming to you deserves, begs and must be given discernment. Don't just gobble up what sounds nice and easy; don't just accept what supports your cause. Truly listen for the Holy Spirit's confirmation. Wait.

And perhaps Truth is found laced through the entire community of friends, the entire Church. Each denominational voice has a piece of Truth to share. The trouble is when one believes it holds all the Truth and never analyzes or checks it's own beliefs and traditions against the whole of Scripture.

Elihu, I like you. I think you'll make a fine pastor one day. You need a few more years of honest experience under your belt, but you're off to a good start. May the Lord correct, shape and hone your theology.

And mine.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Twelfth Day Poem: Gift

Good morning, M.
Before you even open your eyes
Feel the warmth of you surroundings--
It's a gift to you.

That person laying beside you...
He, too, is a gift.
He is strong and fragile.
Remember this.

Now open your eyes.
Do you see color? Gift.
Can you make out images? Gift.
Is there anything of beauty in your view? Gift.

Sit on the side of your bed.
Are your muscles and bones working with coordination? Gift.
Are you breathing with ease? Gift.
Is the air unpoluted? Gift.
Can you bear your own weight without pain? Gift.

As you enter the bathroom...
Is there clean water at your disposal? Gift.
Is there plumbing, sewage, hot and cold water? Gift.
What about that lovely smelling soap? Gift.
The ability to eliminate the wastes from your body? Huge gift!

Teeth that can chew without pain?
Food in the refrigerator?
Electricity to brew your coffee?
Coffee beans from another land?
Bible to read?
Computer to use?
Car for work?
Opportunities to be courageous?
Opportunities to be creative?
Opportunities to be gracious?

Gift, gift, gift, gift, gift!

Gifts for you to enjoy.
Gifts for your comfort.
Gifts to challenge and grow you.
Gifts for your employ and stewardship.
Gifts to stir within you the gift of generosity.

Enjoy your gifts.
I chose them just for you.
Some will last a long time.
Some will break and not be replaceable.

But for today,
they are your gifts
from me.

Because I love to give my children
Good gifts.

Day 12: Bottom Line

Today's Reading: Job 32-34

I'm finally understanding my feelings of "craziness" as I read Job.

I was on the debate team in high school and here is the bottom line: No debate can take place without a mutual agreement on the "authorities" from both sides.

My problem with the book of Job is that I disagree not only with the "authorities" (Who are the authorities? Who is refereeing this debate?) but with the two premises presented in the book.

The main premise is stated in 34:11 as well as other places in the book: "God pays a man according to his work." I disagree.

Then there is Job's premise: "Job was righteous in his own eyes." 32:1 I disagree.

I don't care if Job was the nicest, kindest, most upright person in the world; he still was a sinner. According to Genesis, the sin of Adam and Eve and the curses following, follow us all. Paul, later in the book of Romans (3:10) states, "No one is righteous, not one." So even though Job was righteous in his own eyes, I say, who cares. We all see ourselves with rose tinted glasses...just ask those who live with us! And believe it or not, there is nothing in the Bible about grading on a curve. "The wages of sin is death." (Romans 6: 23)

And the main premise of God paying us according to our works is exactly the lie that Jesus came to denounce. If we were paid according to our works, we'd all be in trouble. No one could stand before God, for God is holy and we are not. "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23)

So this debate is a debate that will go nowhere because it is based on, in my opinion, false premises. As a post resurrection Christian (not to mention a child of the reformation and a lover of the book of Romans) I have to stand in "grace alone."

Bottom line, I am totally dependent upon the grace of God. God can do what God wills with me, for if I am saved and given any joy, it is only because of his mercy, kindness and amazing grace.

When I live life this way, every blessing is received as a gift, not an expectation or payment. Life becomes lived in gratitude, not entitlement.

And bottom line, that shift in the premise changes everything for me. I know the authority is God, whether anyone else agrees or not. God created me; God can do as God wills with me.

The fact that God loves me is gift.
The fact that Jesus forgives me is gift.
The fact that the Holy Spirit enlivens me and even cares about me, much less gives me purpose and relationship, is all gift.

It's all a gift.

For me, that is the bottom line.

Job, go read Romans...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Day 11: Carpe diem

Today's Reading: Job 29-31

Today, I plan to visit some of my older friends who are presently in nursing homes or homebound because of the severe winter weather. I have been their companion for quite some time now. Though some who have just met them see them only as frail and helpless, I have heard their stories of days when they rode motorcycles, loved women, partied with friends, were successful in their employment and played with their children.

"Don't grow old, Pastor," they tell me.

They share memories of their childhood: Cheerleading at games, romping in a creek, sharing secrets with girlfriends, hitting a homerun out of the ballpark.

They talk about the days they were courting: Flirting with the boys, getting all "gussied up" to take out their best girl, jitterbugging to Big Band music, proposing to their sweetheart.

They show me pictures: "Here I am, second row, with my basketball team." "I'm the one playing the saxophone." "I was a pilot in WWII." "Here's my husband; wasn't he handsome." "Here we are on the porch of our first home."

All smiles, all beautiful, all strong.

"Oh that I were as in months gone by...I was in the prime of my days, when the friendship of God was over my tent; When the Almighty was yet with me, and my children were around me; when my steps were bathed in butter, and the rock poured out for me streams of oil!" 29:2, 4-6

Back in the days when I was respected, when I was the wise one, when I was the giver to the needy, when I had power to make a difference.

"And now look at me," they say. I have arthritic pains. I have to get up three or four times a night to go to the bathroom. I can't see. What did you say? Could you hand me my cane? I'm lonely. My dentures don't fit. My bowels don't move. I can't remember. My skin is fragile. I have trouble walking. My heart is bad. I miss my wife. My children rarely visit. I'm ready to die.

"And now, my soul is poured out within me; Days of affliction have seized me. At night it pierces my bones within me, and my gnawing pains take no rest." 30:16,17

My young friends on Facebook this morning long for their school days to be over. "Three more years and then I'm done with highschool and get to start college!" "One more semester of college and I'll be able to get a job, I can't wait!"

"Slow down!" I want to scream. Visit some elderly ones and they will tell you, "These are your best days! Carpe diem!" Seize this day and live, love and laugh to your fullest.

I, too, need to hear this wisdom. I need to tuck it into my coat as I head out the door today. Slow down, M. This is a marvelous day to make a wonderful memory. You are in your prime. You have power to help others. Don't miss a single opportunity to do good! Remember you are dust, and one day, to dust you shall return. Seize this day!

O Lord, help me to do so!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Day 10: Treasure Hunt Troublings and Wonder

Today's Reading: Job 24-28

Blessedly for me, in the middle of the book of Job is a "Sabbath" if you will, from the long, troubled ponderings of Job and his friends. Hallelujah for chapter 28--A short discourse on Wisdom!

Knowing that I am reading from what is called "Wisdom literature " in the Old Testatment (Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiates, some Psalms, some of Song of Solomon), my spiritual director gave me a book called, The Wisdom Jesus by Episcopal priest Cynthia Bourgeault.

The wisdom discourse in Job speaks of a great and mysterious treasure hunt for Wisdom--chakam. I immediately thought of Jesus' wisdom about asking, seeking and knocking; his stories about the kingdom of God being like valuable treasure, which all led me to a very interesting passage. The Gospel of Thomas, a manuscript recovered in 1945 amid the Nag Hammadi scrolls, has this version of the familiar ask, seek, knock passage:

If you are searching,
You must not stop until you find.
When you find, however,
You will become troubled.
Your confusion will give way to wonder.
In wonder you will reign over all things.
Your sovereignty will be at rest.

"Seek and you shall find" sounds simple enough, but for those of us who have been disciples for quite some time, this seems like the abridged, Reader's Digest version of a very complex and arguous search.

Bourgeault writes, "Seeking leads to finding, yes, but the result of that finding is often to plunge you into confusion and disorientation as the new information rattles the cage of your old paradigm. Only gradually, as you can make room for what this gospel calls 'wonder,' does a new universe begin to knit itself together around you, and you come to rest on a new foundation. Until the next go around."

This rings true for me in my experience. Wisdom and truth sometimes find me when I'm not seeking them, and send me into a flood not unlike Noah's experience. It takes me to a new place, and after a lot of tossing and turning, lands me on its own Mt. Ararat.

Imagine the troubling thoughts of the religious Jews of Jesus' day. The spirit within them recognized the truth he spoke, but their souls screamed in defiance..."He's changing everything!" Remember the phrases of Jesus? "You've heard it said...but I say..."

Those who allowed their confusion to turn to wonder were transformed. The "blind" who were unable to "see" with their own eyes (Job 28:21) were told to become like a child, be born again/anew, live counter culturally. Love enemies, forgive those who persecute you, feed widows and orphans, live selflessly, don't worry, leave everything and "follow me."

"God understands Wisdom's path,
God knows Wisdom's place...
and to Mortals God said,
'Behold, the fear of the LORD,
that is Wisdom;
And to depart from evil
is understanding.'" 28:28

And when the Wisdom of God, even Jesus Christ himself, lands me upon a solid rock and lowers the anchor of hope to hold me fast in the storm, I do find rest. I do experience the freedom of Sabbath. I do feel once again within my Sovereign's control.

For one day, for one moment. Until the Master calls, "Ok, time to pick up the mat and move on to the next quest, the next lesson, the next treasure hunt."

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Day 9: Bedrock of Wisdom

Today's Reading: Job 21-23

I decided to look at Job this morning as I arose fresh from sleep instead of tired from the day. I'm a little more objective this morning, and what I see is a sandy shore upon which many try to build their homes. If one does not get all tied up in Job's pain and instead looks at Job with the scholar's distancing rod, one can see that Job is packed with philosophical questions that seem to end in a rabbit trail without satisfaction.

Why am I suffering?
Where is God?
Why do the good suffer and the wicked prosper?
What must I do to please God and thereby avoid calamity?
If I please God, will all go right with me?
If God is my judge, what are the rules that I might avoid God's judgment?
Who can comprehend the will of God...it seems senseless to my mind?
If I have tried my best, why am I being punished?
Is life even worth living if we all end up as food for worms?
What is the way to live one's life purposefully and prosperously?
Does God even care about us?

I'm sure I, along with most humans who have gone before me, have asked similar questions, struggling to comprehend and grasp some sort of roadmap, some sort of direction for our lives.

Some would say this quest is what "religion" is all about---getting in good with something or someone greater than one's self in order to be safe and prosperous. Finding a protector, a provider on the playground of life so that the bullies can't cream you at will.

Others would say, forget "religion" and be self sufficient. Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you may die. Go for the gusto. Every "man" for "him"self. Slog through life, grab what you can and let it go at that.

Still others would say, "Go with the flow." Accept the good and the bad...life has both. You are here for a short time. Life makes no sense, and once you've accepted that, you have become wise.

And a fourth option is this: You will never have a good life here on earth, so set your sites and hopes on a future life in another place and time where there will be no sorrow.

All these precepts are played with and lulled over in scripture. Each one is considered in the group of literature called "Wisdom" in scripture. As we read it and the Wisdom literature of other religions, we find these questions are the gristle on which many have chewed.

Now, earlier, I named them "rabbit trails" because, once again, though they are "good" questions, I think they are the "wrong" questions, simply because they are rabbit trails...they lead to an abyss of meaninglessness, naivete, selfishness or purposelessness.

To me, the greatest wisdom is in the two commandments: Love God, Love Neighbor. These two "guides" for life seem to serve me well, even when suffering. Here's what I mean.

You find yourself suffering, perhaps the death of a child, perhaps a painful illness, perhaps imprisonment, perhaps great shame and guilt. If you love and believe in God, can trust God enough to continue to worship and lay your life at God's feet like the OT Joseph, Noah, Esther, Rahab, Ruth, David and the Babylonian captives in the book of Daniel, it seems the "relationship" becomes "enough."

And if, in the midst of suffering, you are able to "see" others around you and offer them love and grace, then even in the pain, there seems to be purpose. Check out Elisabeth, Simon of Cyrene, servants who dare to speak truth to their masters, and of course, Jesus.

In my thinking, my philosophy, my "wisdom," I vote for "love" and relationships instead of trying to figure out all the whys and wherefores. Instead of the previous "why?" questions, the appropriate question seems to me to be "who?"

God asks, "Who do you say I am?" Now that's a question to answer.

God asks, "Who was neighbor to the one suffering?" Now that's a challenge.

And I believe the answer to both is the solid bedrock of wisdom upon which a safe house can be built.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Day 8: Enough already!

Today's Reading: Job 17-20

I must admit, it is late at night and I am just now getting to this blog because I am tired of Job and his friends and all their talk of worms and death and Sheol and yada, yada, yada. Enough already!

Perhaps this comment has more to say about me than Job. Though I am a pastor type and love to nurture and support people, I guess I do not have a lot of long term compassion for the chronic complainer. Job's plea for pity in chapter 19 are very pity-ful indeed, but I am weary of his suffering.

I'm sure this is the plight of those who care for the chronically ill, this weariness of the daily grind of suffering, complaining, pain, sorrow and agony. I am ashamed to admit that I would probably not be the most empathetic.

And have you noticed how verbal Job is? When I am suffering, I really don't want to talk that much. I am like Job in that I have the feeling in the midst of pain that "My spirit is broken" (17:1) and I have also thought at times of shame that "surely, there are mockers about me...since (they) have closed their minds to understanding (my situation.)" 17:2,4 But when pain or sorrow come to me, I turn more inward. Probably because not too many people are good listeners in the first place.

So there it is. We all want compassion and pity in the midst of our suffering, but man oh man, it sure is hard to continue to dish up a daily plate of it to others when they seem to be a bottomless pit.

So Lord, give me compassion...but if it's like that prayer for patience and it means that you will make me practice it, I'm not sure I want to pray this prayer. Forgive me that I am so self centered.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A seventh day poem: The broken record

Over and over and over again
The scratch
The broken place
The damage
Doesn't allow
The LP
To continue the song
The story
To the end

I'm tired of being stuck
In the rut
In the jumbled pixels
That make no sense
That refuse to show me
The resolution
The finale
The consummation
Of my life

O God,
Lift the needle
And finish the song
Press the fast forward button
On the remote
And move me past this
Meaningless mess
To the neat
And ordered end

Where love conquers all
Where villains die
Where truth wins
Where confusion is all sorted out
And peace enters in

I don't want to be a broken record
Replaying, replaying, replaying
Until I have driven myself
And all around me
Into the ditch of insanity

Day 7: Focusing on the wrong thing?

Today's Reading: Job 14-16

I must admit: all this pessimism is downright depressing! Job's talking constantly about the meaninglessness of life and his friends are focusing on "Who sinned that this trouble has come upon us?" (much like the sailors in the book of Jonah who decided to pitch Jonah overboard to calm the sea)

Job reminds me of a woman I once knew named "Torey." When our daughter was born, we were all rejoicing and "goo-goo-gaaing" over her. Torey walked right up to this cute little bundle in my arms and declared, "Born to die. We're all born to die." I was taken back by this proclamation. It is true, we all will die. Though I knew my daughter would one day die, I thought it short sighted to see only gloom and doom. What about the joys, gifts and blessings this child would bring?

"Man, who is born of woman, is short-lived and full of turmoil." 14:1

This kind of nihilism is not the way I want to start my day. Job needs a good dose of Philippian "Rejoice in the Lord always" put in his morning coffee!

True, our days are numbered and we can't add to them (14:5); but we have opportunities daily to bask in God's blessings, even when we are suffering or sorrowful...I really am a Pollyanna, aren't I?

While Job is obsessing on gloom and doom, sitting in his victim's puddle of hate, his friends seem obsessed with the question of guilt.

Eliphaz seems to think that every suffering that comes along is rooted in some personal wrong doing and is thus punishment for disobedience. Now, I know that this is a popular explanation for evil, but I can't swallow this "wisdom" hook, line and sinker either.

True, theologically, suffering and curses are the result of the "fall," but Jesus suffered greatly and was without sin. He suffered abandonment, being misunderstood, and rejected. He lived without a home base, had achy feet, went hungry, saw sorrow and pain, and suffered physically, even death. But he did it all willingly..."I have the power to lay down my life and to pick it up again."

Is Job's main suffering his lack of control over the situation? his being in the dark regarding the purpose of what he is experiencing? Is his soul out of control as it has a "fit?" Does he need someone to sing, "Be still my soul" to him?

I'm embarrassed to say, I find some of Eliphaz's comments more to my thinking than Job's. Even though I know the "friends" are seen historically as the "unfaithful ones," I can't help but embrace some of the phrases that come from their mouths.

My favorite one is this rhetorical question: "Are the consolations of God too small for you, even the word spoken gently with you?" 15:11

Perhaps, I've sung "Count your blessings" too many times and this is my initial response. I pray God will never put me through anything that would challenge that naivete, though.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Day 6: Job--Hated by God?

Today's Reading: Job 10-13

I'm someone who wants to be heard. My guess is most of us are. We want to be understood and we want to understand what is happening around us. St. Francis of Assisi shares in his prayer that it is better to understand someone else than to be understood by them. This is especially true in the midst of conflict. Listening is important. But what if the other party in the conflict is giving you the silent treatment?

Today, we find Job still arguing his self described, "un-win-able" argument. Though he is not "cursing" God, he is going at God in fifth gear! It is as if he is taunting the silent sleeping giant who holds him captive. "Though you have the upper hand and can swat me like a fly, I will speak!"

What tenacity! What courage! Or foolishness! Which one is it?

The three who were about to be thrown into the fiery furnace in Daniel, borrow Job's wisdom but twist it out of context. They say: Though the Lord may not rescue us, we still will not bow down to anything but God. Job says: Though God may slay me, I will hope in Him. Nevertheless, I will argue my ways before Him.

Job, then asks for two things:
Take your hand (of pain) off of me and
Quit scaring me. 13:21

Tell me what I've done wrong!
Why are you treating me like I'm the enemy?
If you tell me, I'll try to respond appropriately.

Job feels like an innocent, condemned and tortured prisoner of God. Job, as his name confesses, feels HATED by God.

His friend, Zophar "sparrow," says: Plead guilty and then accept what is coming to you.

But good ole man of integrity Job says: I haven't done anything wrong!

I am so drenched in the concept that I am LOVED by God, that thinking God would ever HATE me is unthinkable. Of course, I have never suffered to the depth Job has suffered. True, his physical sufferings are overwhelming. But, imagine the suffering a friend of God would bear if that one truly believed God hated him.

Is this the suffering of the martyrs? Is this the suffering of those persecuted for righteousness sake? Is this the suffering Jesus felt on the cross when he bore all our sin?

Today, let us lift up those friends of God who are suffering persecution and are trying to understand their physical, emotional and spiritual pain.

My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Day 5: Kick the dog.

It is a very hard burden to be falsely accused. When another sees you as loathsome and is constantly harsh and angry toward you, when you have done nothing evil toward them...this is a miserable place to find one's self.

How can I not love Job? His souls speaks so clearly of his pain. Life has become for him so meaningless (like eating the white of an egg 6:6) because he cannot figure out how he has offended God.

Bottom line, he has not offended God at all. God is proud of him, sees him as his faithful servant. But of course, Job is not privy to this information.

Job is wrestling with a "strong, silent-type" God and knows he cannot win or even get a hearing. It's as if Job is declaring, "I'm the dog that is being kicked for no reason relating to me."

Job knows he can't get an ear with God, even if his testimony about himself is true.

The power structure is uneven. God holds all the cards and they are all high trumps. God is prosecuting attorney and judge. There's no way Job can get a fair trial. "He is not a man as I am that I may answer Him, that we may go to court together. There is no umpire between us, who may lay his hand upon us both." 9:32,33 The heavenly posse has already thrown the lynching noose around the high branch. Guilty before even having the chance to prove one's innocence. God will not listen to reason.

This truly would be a place "without hope." 7:6

I am sad for Job, but I cannot relate. I have never been in this place...a place of complete hopelessness. Bildad's words reflect more my Pollyanna and Little Orphan Annie mentality: "The sun will come out tomorrow!" 8:20-22

One of the arias from the Messiah is from the book of Job. "I know that my Redeemer lives." Job 19:25-27 With layers of resurrection history, we hear this as a proclamation of Christ's victory over death.

But in Job, it is really an indictment against God. "Somewhere," says Job, "I have a defense attorney who has equal power with you and will plead my case. He will be MY redeemer against the weight of your fines against me."

Having been a child who has never known a day without My Redeemer, I have never known the hopelessness of Job.

But I wonder how many people live under Despair's oppression. How many people feel as though they have been faithful, like dogs to their masters, only to be kicked for no reason and to be silenced by powerlessness?

My Redeemer, teach me to pray. "Teach me, and I will be silent." 6:24

Monday, January 4, 2010

Day 4: Blameless, Upright, Fearing God, Turning from Evil and...Suffering

Today's Reading: Job 1-5

I have to admit, I don't like what I read today. I don't like the image of humans being like chess pieces in a game between the LORD and Satan. This kind of "competition" seems trite to me, not to mention cold and calculating. I guess I need to get past that before I can see what God wants me to see in these chapters.

The first 2 chapters read like an Aesop fable. Lots of repetitive dialogue that makes for good story telling. There is this sparring between God and Satan and interestingly, God is quite certain of his servant Job's integrity.

There are some incredible gems in these 5 chapters...sips of God's word that I want to roll around on my tongue like fine wine...and they seem to come from the mouth of Job.

"Naked I came from my mother's womb,
And naked I shall return there.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the LORD." 1:21

This, of course, became part of the liturgy of the worship of the faithful and was used in times of suffering. It really challenges me. Could I say such a thing if both my children were killed and all my worldly possessions wiped out? And even if I could say it, could I really mean it? Could I still bless the name of the LORD?

And then, in chapter 2, when Job's wife's anger is her reaction to her deep pain and bitterness, Job responds:

"You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?"

Job would be a challenging husband to have, don't you think? At least the Job of the first 2 chapters.

Thank goodness for chapter 3. Now, I can begin to relate to Job. I've had times in my life when pain was great and sorrow overwhelming, and death began to look like a friend. Though Job's words in 3 might not be as "faithful," they certainly seem more authenitic and truthful. "I am not at ease, nor am I quiet, and I am not at rest, but turmoil comes." 3:26

And one more thing, everybody jumps on Job's three friends and criticizes them for what they say, but really! When have three of my friends come when I was distressed, wailed and wept with me, torn their clothing, thrown dust on themselves and then sat IN SILENCE with me for 7 days? (2:12,13) I'd say that's pretty amazing.

Now, Eliphaz does have some sharp things to say:
Job, you've been a wise counselor to others but now that you are suffering, you are impatient and can't heed your own counsel. 4:3-5

(It's true that it is much easier to give counsel from the seat of comfort than to receive even our own counsel while sitting in the chair of despair.)

"Is not your fear of God your confidence, and the integrity of your ways your hope? 4:6...can a human be just before God? Can a human be pure before the Maker?" 4:17

If I were you, says Eliphaz, "I would seek God and would place my cause before God...happy is the one whom God reproves, so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty." 5:17

Wow! Today's reading gives me so much to ponder, it is almost too much to sort out. What would be the faithful response to suffering? Acceptance, silence, submission? or would God like us to wrestle with the incongruities of life? does God like it when we are honest and say, "I really don't understand what you are doing with me at this moment!"

Day four, and already I've hit the hard questions of life...nothing like starting out the year in theological and spiritual overload.