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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Day 59: Complain, Complain

Today's Reading: Numbers 11-13

Ah....church conflict.

The best time to talk about church conflict is when there is peace...to prepare ourselves before the storm hits, so to speak. I think the hardest thing about conflict in the church is that we don't expect conflict to occur between kind, loving, thoughtful Christians. It seems so out of place. It hits us blindsighted. And yet, there is not a single group of faithful people who worship together who at one time or another have not experienced some level of conflict.

Today we hear Moses and the Israelites had the same experience.

In the previous chapters, Moses has been arranging the camp by tribes as the Lord directed him. The Levites were chosen from the tribes to serve in the tabernacle. The group was told they would move as God directed them according to the sign of the cloud which covered their camp.

As we enter Numbers 11, the people are complaining...murmuring.

Perhaps some didn't like their tent assignment.
Perhaps some thought they should have been chosen to work in the tabernacle.
Perhaps some who were chosen to work in the tabernacle wanted to tend the flocks instead.
Perhaps some thought moving when the cloud moved was stupid.
Some might have liked where the camp was and didn't want to leave.
Some might have wanted to get to the promised land and felt the group wasn't moving fast enough toward the goal.

Then the rabble, the non-Israelites (v.4), starts complaining and wants meat to eat. Manna just isn't good enough for them. Back in the good old days, meat was available. Wouldn't it be nice to have cucumbers, melons, onions and leeks like other people?

Moses is fed up with all the complaining, so he complains to God. He basically says, "I didn't want this job in the first place. These are your people. I'm tired of taking care of them. Just let me curl up and die."

Complaining and murmuring have a ripple effect, don't they. Complaints sap energy in a way few other things can. It is hard to hear the complaints without taking them personally. People get frustrated, leaders get anxious, all of a sudden the problem is personal.

Complaining effects God. God gets angry when all the complaining occurs. First God sends down fire against the complainers. Then God sends meat...but states, "I'm sending you so much meat it will make you sick."

Moses decides he's carrying too much, so the LORD tells Moses to gather 70 elders to help with all the needs. But even the elders start complaining. And what is their issue? Some elders have gone on a prophesying mission by themselves! How dare they!

The upset elders tattle to Moses who says, "Are you jealous? They're doing what they are supposed to be doing. I wish all of you would prophesy!"

Then, Moses' co-pastors begin to challenge his integrity and authority. Aaron amd Miriam begin speaking against Moses because he can't perfectly keep the law. They get real snippy and ask, "just who does he think he is? Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? has he not spoken though us also?"

In one short passage, we have a faith community run amuck. It's easy to spot looking from the outside in. So how are we to deal with conflict in the church.

I don't think our job is to avoid conflict. Jesus didn't. But perhaps we can listen to this story and learn something from the Israelites mistakes.

Here's what I've been thinking.

1. Complaining is dangerous. We need to learn how to express our needs and desires with one another without attacking. We will not always get our way or be pleased with everything that occurs, inside or outside the church. We need to choose wisely what we complain about, and when we complain, we need to be willing to be a part of the solution. There needs to be cooperation, give and take.

2. Comparing is dangerous. Working together with skill, imagination and creativity are important. God might be working in one group's life in a different way than God is working with us. We need to be discerning.

3. Jealousy is dangerous. We are all a part of the body of Christ. When one person or one group is honored and experiences success, we should all rejoice. We're all on the same team!

4. Meanness is not allowed. Dealing with an issue is one thing. Attacking a person is another. There is no room for gossip, especially when there is a conflict. Boundaries and confidentiality are essential.

Lord, today we pray for every group experiencing strife. May they reconcile quickly, forgiving and being honest with one another in love.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Day 58: Cloud Watching

Today's Reading: Numbers 8-10

"At the command of the LORD they camped, and at the command of the LORD they set out; they kept the LORD's charge..."
Numbers 9:23

When I was a child, Mother and Dad would plan our family vacations. We would see them pouring over maps and travel guides at the kitchen table. The night before we were to go, they would hand each of us a paper bag with a list of clothing we were to pack inside. If we packed well, we could add a toy or book on top for the journey.

We were told to be up and ready at a certain time. Dad drove, Mother navigated and we went along for the ride. When Mother said it was time to eat, we would stop at a rest stop and have a picnic. When Dad said it was time to stop the day's journey, we would pull into a hotel or motel, unpack and either jump into the pool, get supper or see the sights.

It was a very easy and relaxing journey, if you could discount the arguing over space in the back seat! Most of the journey was filled with games or singing to occupy our time on the road. But as a child, I did not have a say in where or when we were going. And to tell you the truth, it was quite nice.

The Israelites had the LORD's cloud as their tour guide. When the cloud moved, the Israelites moved. When the cloud hovered over a spot, the Israelites rested. Sometimes the movement of the journey was like a marathon. Sometimes the cloud guide instructed the camp to stay put.

"Whether it was two days or a month or a year that the cloud lingered over the tabernacle, staying above it, the Israelites remained camped and did not set out; but when it was lifted, they did set out."
Numbers 9:22

There are lessons in these verses.

God's people are a people on the move. They are nomads. They do not stay in one spot, stagnant or rigid.

God's people are always ready to move at a moment's notice. They travel lightly and do not necessarily sink roots in deeply.

God's people move at God's initiative. They watch and wait. When they see God moving, they pick up and join.

God's people never venture forth without God traveling with them. Whether God leads the pack or dwells in the midst of the pack, God is always present with them.

God's people must sometimes wait a long time. Sometimes it takes a year of rest before the camp breaks and sets out again.

God's people go where God charges them to go. Movement is in the direction God chooses.

Whether we hear this story literally and physically, or metaphorically and spiritually, or both, I think the lessons can either be comforting or disconcerting.

The comfort is for those who trust God and want to go along for the ride. The comfort is there for those who are willing to just pack their bags and get on board.

It would be disconcerting, though, for those who either are restless and want to move ahead of God's leading, or for those who get comfortable and want to stay in one place.

Perhaps each of us is neither one way or the other, but a combination of both, depending upon the camp we are in or our experience on the road.

Perhaps the key is who is watching the cloud. It seemed very apparent to the Israelites when to move and when to set up camp. The sign seemed obvious.

How does one learn the art of "cloud" watching?

Who are the "cloud watchers" in my community of faith?

How do I discern the movement of the "cloud" in my life and in our lives together?

"Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer`s day, listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time."
John Lubbock

Friday, February 26, 2010

Day 57: Holy Things Carried

Today's Reading: Numbers 7

"The sons of Kohath did not receive any carts or oxen because theirs was the service of the holy objects, which they carried on the shoulder."
Numbers 7:9

There is a saying, "He's carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders."

At one time or another, many of us find ourselves in this situation. We are carrying either our own loads from this life or the burdens of others. We usually feel the tension of this task in our necks and shoulders. They become stiff and sore with the stress of it all.

Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30:
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

There is a great need for discernment in our everyday life as to what we should take on our shoulders and what we should leave for others to transport in carts. Numbers 7 gives us a huge insight into what is ours to carry--holy things.

I have a tendency to carry worry, insults, complaints or wounded pride on my shoulders. These things make me weary and burdened. They are unholy things that demand full attention and leave no room for rest. As a priest in the priesthood of all believers, I need to throw these things into the carts and let oxen bear their burden, not my shoulders.

One of the interesting parts of Jesus saying is this: "Learn from me..." What is it we are to learn? Could the clue be in the very next statement? "for I am gentle and humble in heart."

Often what I take on is because I am stubborn, controlling and prideful of heart. Worry implies my lack of trust in God. Insults, complaints and wounded pride show me that I am self centered and ego protecting, often more concerned with what others think of me, rather than what God thinks of me. Resting in what God has already done and God's sovereign will and purposes is the key. But how do we answer this call?

Our shoulders were created to wear the yoke of Christ, perfectly fitted to our bodies to carry the cross, the will of God, given to us by the Holy Spirit. These burdens, when properly discerned, are promised by Jesus to be light.

The sons of Kohath bore the holy objects of the tabernacle, carrying them on poles upon their shoulders. The task was a shared one. Their job was simply to carry what was holy from one place to another.

I think there is a lot of wisdom in this small verse in numbers.

Lord, let me hear your word and act upon it.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Day 56: Sotah

Today's Reading: Numbers 5-6

In chapter 5 of Numbers, we see an interesting ceremony involving a jealous husband who is suspicious of his wife, an unusual marital counseling (by today's standards), and the drinking of bitter water to prove or disprove faithfulness.

The wife involved in this test is called the Sotah, which comes from the Hebrew verb satah which means to turn aside or go astray. The Talmud, the Hebrew commentary on the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament), shares that this ritual points heavily to God's importance in purity in marriage. Though, to the modern ear this ritual might seem sexist, there are some very beautiful truths beneath the surface.

First of all, this is the only commandment of the 613 laws in which God is willing to have his name erased in order to bring about truth. The Lord puts his name on the line, so to speak. The curse, which contains God's name, is written upon a scroll and then dissolved along with tabernacle floor dirt in water from the basin of purification. It is then to be drunk voluntarily by the one who is being accused to prove innocence or guilt. Scientifically, drinking a drink of dirty water which contains some dye from ink might cause some stomach upset, but would not likely cause a bloating of the stomach and the wasting away of the thigh.

More interestingly to me is the symbolic and theological aspects of this part of scripture. As I thought about other places where there was 'bitter water' or the drinking of a 'bitter cup' and 'adultery' I could not help but think of four passages.

Right after the crossing of the Red Sea in Exodus 15:22-27, we read the Israelites came to Marah (bitterness) which had water they could not drink because of its bitterness. Think of it. The people have been enslaved to the Egyptians (and their gods,) God has freed them and made a covenant with them, and now comes the test of bitter waters. The LORD, their new husband so to speak, does not insist they drink the water of past adultery, perhaps, but shows Moses a piece of wood which allows the waters to be sweet.

The next passage about a bitter drink is right after God delivers the law to Moses on Sinai, speaking in the first commandment that He (God) is a jealous God and is not willing to share the loyalty of the people with any other God. Does this sound like marriage? I think so. But as the law is being delivered, the people are worshipping a golden calf. What does Moses do? He grinds the calf into powder, scatters the powder on the water and makes the people drink it. (Exodus 32:20) Could this be part of the development of this idea of Sotah, faithfulness and testing?

In the New Testament, we have the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11. In light of this sotah custom, isn't it interesting that the teachers of the law and the Pharisees bring this woman to Jesus? Are they expecting him to act as priest? It is interesting to me that Jesus begins writing in the dirt. Is this space where he is standing the new temple, the tabernacle floor? Is he writing the sotah curse in the dirt? And when he asks the question about sin, is he offering the curse drink to all present? Is he posing as the husband, questioning the faithfulness of the very people who claim to be in covenant with God, the teachers of the law and the Pharisees? Hmmm.....

And then, at the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26, Mark 14), we find Jesus asking not to drink the bitter cup, that it be removed from him. Is this a test of faithfulness? When the sin of all the world, the guilt of all the world is placed upon Jesus and he drinks the bitter cup, does the curse cup kill him?

Yes, it does.

But interestingly, God provides a piece of wood that removes the bitterness and turns it into a sweet drink. That piece of wood is the cross. Christ's bitter cup is turned into the sweet cup of salvation for all of us.

It is said in 2 Timothy 3:16:

"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that God's people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."

Even an obscure passage in Numbers 5 about the Sotah.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Day 55: Setting up the board

Today's Reading: Numbers 3-4

I was young when I was taught to play chess. The first thing any child learns about chess is how to place the board and its pieces. The most important piece is the king who stands back and right center so as to be protected by all the other pieces. To the left of the king is the most powerful piece, the queen, who stands on the king's left.

As one sketches the assignments of the camp arrangement of Israel's tribes, it is interesting to note that the tabernacle, the meeting place of God, stands in the center of the camp. To the right of the tabernacle (east) are the tents of Moses and Aaron and family. South, west and north are the sons of Levi, standing guard and serving the tabernacle. Then, in rows consisting of three tribes each, the other tribes of Israel are placed, with Judah leading those on the east, Reuben leading those on the south, Ephraim in charge of those on the west (along with all the descendants of Joseph and Benjamin) and Dan leading the tribes on the north. Thus we not only see the formation of the encampment, but most likely the formation for battle. The tabernacle, the priests and those who serve, tend and carry the tabernacle are able to break out to the front to lead in any direction but are protected in the center from any attack.

All the tabernacle poles, veils and sacred furnishings are neatly tended to. They are wrapped in the sacred colored fabrics and covered with porpoise skin (in order to keep them dry when marching) and carried on poles so as never to be touched by human hands, other than those of sanctified priests. They also are to never touch the ground. An entire tribe is set aside from war and its duties, in order to tend to the things of God.

All of this detail in Numbers sifts down to this question for me:
Where is God placed on the board of my life?

And where am I in relationship to God? How do the activities, relationships and other aspects of my life stand in formation in relation to God's position?

How much of my time, energy and treasure is set aside to tend the things of God? To serve Him? To perform the duties for Him and for the whole congregation? and to do the service of the house of God? (Numbers 3:6-7)

Are the precious things of God protected or left to be ravaged by the other time commitments, energy users and treasure spending aspects of my life?

And as I move about in the world, how do I prepare the things of God to travel with me? Do I treat them with great care and holiness, or do I carelessly toss them into my push cart?

Does God even go with me where I am going?

And who leads the way? God? or me?

Each one of us must learn to set up our lives, to order them, to place all our pieces properly. Perhaps, this is necessary before we even begin to try to play the game...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Day 54: The Census

Today's Reading: Numbers 1-2

During World War II, my dad was in seminary. Because of his preparation for ministry, he, like the Levites of old, was excused from the military draft. Dad shared with me that as he walked down the streets, he was berated and shamed for not wearing a uniform and serving his country. His country was in a patriot fury. All able bodied men were to be serving to "stop Hitler" or "kill the Japs." Being a hot blooded young man who wanted to prove his mettle, he volunteered in the Merchant Marines, becoming a part of the group who shuttled supplies to the troops. He didn't want anyone to think him the coward.

One cannot read the first chapter of Numbers and miss the repeated line in the census:

"every male from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go out to war."

To me, this speaks of the reality and the deep tragedy of human history. A history that numbers its people for the purpose of war, commerce or taxation.

Numbers are very useful in keeping track of things. Bar codes have changed commerce. Accounting and numerical assignments help organize our tasks. "Crushing figures" and "just the facts, mam" have allowed us to control and understand our lives in many ways.

But there is something inside me that recoils when we begin to number people.

As a nurse, I saw the reality of technological numeration trumping humanitarianism. People--real, living people--with talents, stories, loves, and lives, were reduce to the number of their assigned room, the figures on their lab sheets, and the dosage amounts of their medications.

And to number people for the act of war, as if war trumps family relationships, talents, dreams and futures, scares me. What a way to define people! What a way to define a community! I am appalled and deeply grieved.

This year is a census year in our country. We are told in the commercials that we are trying to get "a picture of America." I understand statistics are helpful and necessary at some level, but woe to us if we see people as only a statistic or a number to manipulate for commerce and, God forbid, war.

I guess these musings are those of a female who in my culture has never had to face the possibility that I would be drafted to bear arms against another human being. Perhaps I am extremely naive, but war seems like such a ridiculous way to solve any problem, though I know it has been seen throughout history as a necessary reality.

I'm wondering if God really orders war, or if our forefathers just heard wrong...

It is disturbing to me to think this is our only option.

I guess I'm going to struggle with the book of numbers if this is the direction it is going to take me.

Census taking in the Bible does not have a good rap, so to speak. Necessary? Yes. It took a census to move Mary and Joseph out of Nazareth so Jesus could be born in Bethlehem as the prophets foretold. But what a mess that turned out to be. Thousands of young male babies met the sword.

How long will daughters of Ramah mourn for their children, especially their sons, while the almighty power of the sword destroys their flesh and their futures?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Day 53: Idols

Today's Reading: Leviticus 26-27

One does not often walk down the street of Everyday Town, USA and see people on their hands and knees worshiping a statue or a totem, images made from stone or wood. We do not see this kind of idolatry in the land, and so many of us think the worship of idols is non-existent.

Our culture likes to play with the concept of idolatry. We have a television program called "American Idol" which looks for America's favorite budding musician. Young teens especially rush home to watch this show or make sure it is recorded on their DVR. When big games are to be aired, we cut other things in our lives short to make sure we can watch them. Each of us has a favorite TV show or activity which take precedence over anything else in our lives. Are these idols?

My idol is not made of stone or wood, or even sound bytes and digital pixels, but of flesh and blood. Often, my idol is my self. I highly value my comfort, my ease, my pleasure, my status, my reputation and my security. These are the things that push to the fore and claim "shot gun," the privileged place in my life. These are subtle idols that can be masked in all sorts of charades of good intentions, honorable notions and practicalities.

Bottom line, idolatry is always a substitute for the real thing. We substitute something that is easier, more accessible or something over which we have control. As long as I value myself over God, I will never comprehend God's love or holiness. I will never know my Lord.

God continues to warn, but even more so, call to us.

Do not make idols.

Don't substitue something fake for the real thing.

I don't think the command is in support of God's ego.

I think the command is a command of love...

...for our good.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Day 52: A Living Jubilee

Today's Reading: Leviticus 24-25

Today's scripture reading speaks of a year of Jubilee every 50 years after 7 rounds of 7 years (7X7=49.) This year marks a time when all is set right again. Slaves are set free to return home, precious land which was sold to pay off debt returns to the original owners for their future generations, and all debts are canceled.

The Jubilee was announced with the blasting of the same horn which was used to announce a victory in battle. Interesting, yes? This unites the concept of freedom and restoration with the concept of victory.

So let's see...Humans live on average 39.5 years in Swaziland, 78 years in the USA and 81 years in Japan, according to 2008 statistics. If one was blessed with a long life, one might experience a Jubilee once in one's life time. Is that often enough?

When asked how often he was expected to forgive some one, Peter asked Jesus, "Seven times seven?" Am I to forgive as often as the Levitical law requires? Am I to give a jubilee to my enemy, to cancel their debt toward me, at least as often as I let myself celebrate sabbath, let the land have a year of restoration, and the community experience the return to the land?

How often should I let those who owe me something have the debt forgiven? How often should I welcome home the prodigal who sold himself into the slavery of squalor? How often should I give back what is rightfully mine after helping someone out?

The Year of Jubilee was a joy for those who were in debt. But how did the deed holder, the banker and the slave owner feel about the year? It was extremely costly for them, don't you think?

Jesus pronounces, "Seven times seven? No, seventy times seven!" Don't limit your generosity in forgiveness to such narrow limits. "Don't let the sun go down on your anger."

And what about giving up what is legally mine because of another's foolishness or bad management? Jesus says, "Do for others what you would want them to do for you." Would any of us like to be in debt? Would any of us want to be slaves? Would we choose to be homeless and without a community of love?

Jesus' love and life are a living jubilee. Each day, he calls us to live as though no one owes us anything. Each day, he calls us to live as freely restored individuals. Each day, he calls us to live with the total recognition that because of him, we are debt free and thus, should extend that grace to others.

I wonder if the Year of Jubilee was ever actually celebrated in the days of the Old Testament. We have no documentation that it ever occurred. Was it just a dream, a vision,... a hope?

I want to be a living jubilee.

I want to live so generously that I feel no one owes me anything. I want to freely give, because I have been given to so freely. I don't want to grab anything from anyone, but make space on the land and in my life for anyone who needs a place to call home. I want to live a restored life and one which offers restoration to others.

Lord, you have given everything I have to me.
May my stewardship of everything I call my own, be a witness to your jubilee, your joyful victory, in my life.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Day 51: Sabbath

Today's Reading: Leviticus 22-23

Amidst all the rules and regulations in Leviticus, there is one command which seems to jump off the page for me. The command is "Sabbath."

Sabbath, which comes from the word "to cease," was established by God in the creation narrative as a day of rest. Of all the laws and rules in scripture, sabbath takes precedence. It is mentioned more times than even the law of love.

According to tradition, the Jewish sabbath begins on Friday evening at sundown and continues until Saturday evening when one can see the first three stars in the sky. It is a time of rest, relaxation, enjoyment of family and freedom from work.

This rhythm in life is very restorative, not only for the body but for relationships with God, family and friends. Slaves, cattle and aliens all receive rest on this day. Everything stops.

I know in my own life, I need rhythm. I am healthier and happier when I take a day of complete rest every week. It is hard for me when my usual schedule is interrupted with other duties or travel.

Most Christians celebrate the day of resurrection, Sunday, as their sabbath. The Seventh Day Adventists wonder why, as they continue to keep Saturday as their Sabbath. The United States has an interesting custom called "the weekend" which consists of both the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday) and the Christian celebration of resurrection (Sunday).

Many of us, though, fill up our weekends with chores, shopping, entertainment and other work. It is hard for us to slow down and sit still. We feel guilty or bored if we are not doing something.

Perhaps it is time we rest and allow our souls to catch up with our bodies.

After all, God has not suggested sabbath; God has commanded it.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Day 50: Rules

Today's Reading: Leviticus 19-21


Lots of rules.

I understand there are 612 of them according to Jewish tradition.

That is a lot of rules.

And who can keep them all?

From the ones that seem trite (wearing cloth of two different strands) to the ones that seem horrible (rape), all are seen as a holiness code none of us can keep.

The Law is good. The Law is righteous. The Law is pure. The Law is holy.

The Law will accuse us,
cut us off,
condemn us,
kill us.

We can never fulfill the command:
You must be holy for I am holy

Each of us will find rules we find attractive.

I personally like the rule about leaving grain in the field and fruit on the vine for the poor and needy. It is a generous rule. I consider myself generous. So this is an easy rule.

Each of us will find rules we do not like.

These rules we will either disregard and/or break. Perhaps at some point, we will even mock them. But there they are. Rules of God.

The rules we like become swords we wave in the air. We wield them against those who struggle with them. We judge others who have difficulty keeping them. We forget about the ones we ourselves break, discount or ignore.

Bottom line, we're all in the same sinking rule boat.

We will never keep afloat by our own holiness.

We will drown in false self righteousness.

It is true.

It is true what scripture says.

None is righteous; no, not one.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Day 49: For you...

Today's Reading: Leviticus 16-18

"It is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you shall be clean from all your sins before the LORD. It is to be a sabbath of solemn rest for you, that you may humble your souls; it is a permanent statute."
Leviticus 16:30-31

Once again Aaron is making a sacrifice, killing a bull for sin offering and presenting two goats, one to be sacrificed and one to become Azazel, the scape goat or the goat demon.

This is the Atonement, a permanent statute for all the sins once every year. We know it as Yom Kippur, the highest, holiest day for the Jews. Yom Kippur atones only for sins between man and God, not for sins against another person.

Atonement [atone = at + one] is the making of amends or reparation for sin, injury or wrongs; to be reconciled and restored to unity.

Other words used in scripture around this concept of atonement include expiation and propitiation. Expiation is the transfer of one's sin upon another in order that compensation or repayment for damages can be done to reconcile one to another. Propitiation means to eagerly give of one's self in order to pacify the other.

The interesting thing about atonement is this: it must be done for you.

One can not atone one's self; one cannot cleanse one's self. All you can do is sit and wait and watch someone or something else make things right on your behalf. In a world where many of us want to do for ourselves, this is a very hard thing.

The day of Atonement is a sabbath of solemn rest. On this day, a person was not allowed to work at all. This points to the helplessness of an individual. We not only are not allowed to help in our atonement; we are unable to help in our atonement. This is a very humbling experience.

"That you may humble your souls."

When I was very sick from the effects of chemotherapy and radiation, I could not walk by myself, cleanse myself, feed myself, dress myself or get myself anywhere I was to go. Everything had to be done for me.

How very humbling for us whose identity is often in what we can do and how well we can do it!

So how does one get right with God?

"Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world."
1 John 2:2

This is the very humbling experience of Grace. We cannot save ourselves by our own sacrifices, our own good works or payment; we cannot appease or placate God. Atonement is total gift, done on our behalf by Christ who is the high priest, the sacrifice and the scapegoat. Jesus Christ willingly gave his life in place of the life of the offending ones, you and me.

All we can do is watch.

All we can do is wait.

All we can do is rest.

It is a solemn rest.

It is a humbling rest.

It is grace.

For you.

For me.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

48th Day Meditation

Poor goat.
Scape goat.
Scared and bleating.

Men's hands heavy upon your head.
Men's hands heavy upon your back.
Sin placed there.
So many hands.
So much sin.
What a heavy cross to bear.

Poor goat.
Scape goat.
Scarred and bleeding.

Men are beating you with rods.
Men hate you because you are
Now their sin.
So many stripes.
So much flogging.
What pains you suffer for their sake.

Poor goat.
Scape goat.
Scorned and breaking.

Men chase you away despising you.
Men push you outside the city wall.
Nail sin to the yoke.
Rejecting you.
Deserting you.
Now you are left to die alone.

Poor goat
Scape goat
Sacred and blessing.

God separated you from the sheep.
God cast you out because of their sin
On your back.
Man of Sorrows
Acquainted with grief.
Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.

"There is a green hill far away
Outside the city wall
Where the dear Lord was crucified
Who died to safe us all.

O, dearly, dearly has He loved..."

Day 48: Waiting for the eighth day

Today's Reading: Leviticus 14-15

I have always been fascinated by Hebrew numerology. Each letter in the Hebrew alphabet is assigned a number. Each number is assigned a meaning. Today's scripture emphasizes two numbers dealing with days and time: 7 and 8.

The formula for ceremonial cleansing and entrance into worship of God is 7 days, then another 7 days, and then on the eighth day, entrance into the Tent of Meeting occurs.

Seven is the number for wholeness and is associated with creation. Six always points to the creation, seven to perfection. One and three are both numbers for God. Thus 6-6-6 (3 sixes, the symbol of the anti christ) points to the creation trying to be God; whereas 7-7-7 points to God.

Note that there are two rounds of seven.

In the first round, the diseased person comes to the priest and the priest examines him outside the camp.

If the person has been healed, he is cleansed by the priest with dove's blood. The number two represents "witness." Doves represent the Holy Spirit of God. Remember it took the witness of 2 doves for Noah to enter back onto the land after the destruction of the flood. Remember, the second dove was set free, representing the devastation was over and new life had begun. One dove was sacrificed for the cleansing and one was set free. Doves were also used when "cutting a deal" or making a covenant...remember the covenant God made with Abram? Doves were also the sacrifice offering of purification. When Mary came at the time of purification, she offered up two doves. These are two witnesses of the Holy Spirit that healing and cleansing is real. Later in the New Testament, we learn that the pairing of two disciples/witness is necessary as they go to proclaim the gospel and work miracles of healing and restoration on behalf of God.

Clean water was called "living water." It was not stale or stagnant water of the cistern. It was "running water," fresh water. Remember how Jesus tells the Woman at the well he will give her living water. Remember, she was outside the camp, so to speak. She comes to the priest, Jesus, and he brings her into the camp with spiritual healing.

Cedar wood, a known deterrent for moths and other insects, not only stood for physical healing but also spiritual healing and cleansing. The cedar wood was used for palaces and holy places because of this property. Solomon imported cedar wood as it was considered the most expensive. The Psalmist speaks of the Cedars of Lebanon to point to prosperity and the blessing of God.

The scarlet yarn was made from the casing of worms that helped in decomposition of decaying material. The the color scarlet always points to sacrificial blood, salvation and cleansing of death. We will see more of the scarlet thread as we move toward the promised land and hear of a woman named Rahab.

Hyssop is a loofah like plant that when immersed in water becomes soapy. Don't forget Psalm 51: "cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean, wash me and I shall be whiter than snow. Even today at baptisms in the Roman Catholic churches, the priests shake the hyssop branch 7 times and declare, "Remember your baptism."

And then there is the oil of anointing and joy...Joy of returning to the house of the LORD. "I was glad when they said unto me, let US go up to the house of the LORD!" Can we even imagine the joy of returning to worship and community after being banned and isolated because of disease or dis-ease with our LORD?

So, all this symbolism takes place outside the camp for the first 7 days (representing the first creation.) Hair is cut (anyone dealing recently with lice understands this; also hair being shorn represents true repentance.)

After the first round, the healed person comes into the camp but is still outside the tent. Perhaps originally this was an extension of the quarantine. But it also speaks of the 2nd period of creation...the time of sanctification. The cleansed one, the one under the blood of the Lamb, having been cleansed in the water, goes through yet another seven days. The outside has been cleansed. Now there is a cleansing of the inside as the creation of the Holy Spirit takes place.

After worshipping God, now, in Spirit and in truth, on the eighth day, the day of circumcision and the day of resurrection into new life, the cleansed and healed one can finally come into the house of the LORD. This is the time of glorification.

Jesus is our high priest. He is the one who created us, saved us, sanctifies us and one day, we will be glorified by him in eternity.

"In this way, the priest will make atonement before the LORD on behalf of the one to be cleansed."
Leviticus 14:30b

Whether you are one who has not yet been healed by the good news of the gospel, or one who is in the 7 days of salvation and purification, or the 7 days of sanctification and testing, hope in the LORD! He will bring you to the eighth day of glorification.

"I will wait for the LORD. I will wait for my salvation.
I was glad when they said unto me, let us go up to the house of the LORD!"

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dat 47: Infection Control

Today's Reading: Leviticus 11-13

Unclean! Unclean!!

We hear these words in the New Testament as Jesus walks down life's road--Lepers, those who have been around the dead, women who are bleeding, certain animals and birds. We hear of hand washing, foot washing, oil anointing...all a part of the religious rituals of the Israeli people.

And why?

"I am the LORD you God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy; for I am holy."
Leviticus 11: 44

People from neighboring tribes and countries feared the Jewish people. Jews were a strong, healthy lot. They seemed to be heartier, less prone to infection and plagues than other surrounding communities.

Modern science has proven that much of this was due to the Hebrews' eating and cleansing codes.

"Eat certain foods in certain ways." Foods which were to be avoided we now know were from scavenging birds and sea creatures, and those which are high in cholesterol. Remember, the fat and the blood from clean animals was God's portion, not eaten by humans.

"Stay away from decaying flesh and isolate people with infection until they are well again." People who care for those who are sick are to stay away from the public also until they have washed their hands thoroughly. People did not enter immediately into the public after an illness was in their home. Incubation periods, though not fully understood, were at some level comprehended.

"Keep women indoors, away from the public sphere, who have just borne children." Though I don't understand why male children were less unclean, it makes sense to give women, who have just gone through labor, time off from household chores, conjugal rights and social engagements.

"Burn clothing that has been on people who have had a devastating illness." Establish a system in which someone, the priest, becomes an expert in disease. Have the priest serve as the health inspector.

Earlier we read male children were to be circumcised on the eighth day. Now we know little boys' clotting factor is not fully developed until the eighth day after their birth.

God's ways, though not always understood, are good ways. Water, oil, salt and vinegar (wine) were precious as they became the medicine cabinet of the day. Fidelity is best to keep STDs under control and to provide protection for women and children. Nutritious eating allows for a healthy bowel system. Resting every seventh day allows the body to recuperate from labor.

Be holy, the LORD declares.

Be healthy!

Take care for your bodies. They are holy to me.

Take care for how you live together. The community is precious to me.

Take care in public arenas so that together you may remain healthy.

The Levitical Code is a marvel.

An early tome on infection control.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A 46th day poem


All that blood.

I'm sure it got all over their clothes.

Those priestly garments.


All that bellowing.

I'm sure it scared the children peeking

Behind mothers' skirts.


All those entrails.

I'm sure noses were held and eyes stung

behind handkerchiefs.


All the sights.

I'm sure my eyes would be hidden

From the cross.

Behold, the Lamb of God

who was slain

for the sin

of the world.

Day 46: Dead Serious

Today's Reading: Leviticus 8-10

There is a nonchalance in our churches and in our worship.

We seem to see God in a familial sort of way. Children run through the sanctuary playing. We chit and chat. We drink coffee. We leave our trash on the pews. We laugh. We talk during the opening music. We check our watches hoping the worship won't last much longer than an hour. We write in our Bibles and doodle on our bulletins. We yawn during hymns. We wear everyday clothes. We pick apart God's word. We feel we have a right to doubt. We are comfortable with God.

We are comfortable with God.

When we read the story of Leviticus, we can't help but notice the difference in worship patterns and protocol.

Moses, especially, was serious about worship. When he called the congregation together for the ordination of Aaron and sons, they came and stood outside. And stood, and stood...eight days they stood. And during this time, all sorts of butchering and baking took place.

Now, I have been to a butchering, and let me tell you, it is not a quick and simple task. Nor is it a clean task. It takes strength, skill and time. According to our reading today, I note bulls, calves, rams, goats, lambs, and oxen all being slaughtered in various numbers, three or four for each priest, not to mention the baskets of bread. There was a lot of blood and oil and fire and water and flour involved, all done in these beautiful new priestly garments.

And these tasks of killing, gutting, anointing, consecrating, mixing, baking and offering of sacrifices were all very specifically carried out. In fact, if the killing, gutting, anointing, consecrating, mixing, baking and offering was done in the wrong way, at the wrong time, or in the wrong place, there were consequences, deadly consequences.

I don't think Moses would have been a popular pastor in today's church. Too obsessive. Too compulsive. Too meticulous. Not very personal. Too serious.

Dead serious.

There was no room for error. You mess up, you die. Simple as that. And those who would want to mourn the errant ones are forbidden to grieve. It would insult God.

Yes, we are comfortable with God.

Perhaps, too comfortable.

Moses believed God was God.




If God said to do something a certain way, he was going to make sure it was done that way. No wiggle room.

Straight and narrow.

Are we more comfortable with God because we are smarter, more advanced, more theologically evolved?

Or are we the foolish ones--actually, the very stupid ones--who do not understand what God's holiness is all about?

I think God is serious.

Serious about who He is.

Serious about who we are.

Serious about what He expects.

Serious about what we lack.

Serious enough to lay Himself on the line.

Serious enough to die for who He is and what He wants for us.

I think God is dead serious.

I think I'm very foolish.

I think I'm too comfortable.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Day 45: With my own hands

Today's Reading: Leviticus 5-7

Valentine's Day always reminds me of my school days. Elementary days were filled with doily, heartshaped Valentines. Everyone in my class gave them; everyone in my class received them. Once we hit Junior High, though, the stakes got higher and the Valentines got fewer but with more intention and meaning.

I had my hopes and my eyes set on one, Dan E., in Junior High. Of course, he didn't know it. I could never tell him myself, that would be way too embarrassing. So I had a mediator, my best friend, Ellen, tell him I liked him for me. Dan and I never had a close encounter. When I passed him in the hall, I was so self conscious that I hid most of the time. I do remember one day when he said, "Hi!" to me. I didn't get over that thrill for weeks!

Later on, though, I had a face to face encounter with true love. It was marvelous to tell my true love I loved him with my own voice and to give him a Valentine with my own hands. No more mediator. I got to kiss my love with my own two lips.

In Leviticus, we hear a lot about sacrifices, all offered up by the priests on behalf of the people while they waited in the courtyard. The people would bring animals to sacrifice, but the priests would mediate for the people. The people stood afar from God, while the priests moved closer to God.

There was one exception, though, and we read about that today. It was the offering of well-being, the peace offering or the thanksgiving offering which people could only offer with their own hands. It is spoken of in chapter 7.

The word translated, "well-being," "peace" or "thanks" offering, is shelem in Hebrew. Its root is the more commonly known Hebrew word shalom. Shalom is the greeting in the middle eastern world which means welcome, peace, hospitality and implies acceptance and reconciliation.

This offering was offered to God with a person's own hands. The person also took part in the meal after the sacrifice which usually was allowed only for the priests.

Paul, in Ephesians, calls Jesus Christ "our peace," our shelem offering. He goes on to say, once we were far off, but because of Christ, we can now come near. In Romans 5:1, Paul also says,

"Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace/shalom with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ."

Many of us still rely on "priests"--other Christians--for our relationship with God. We have others pray for us, instead of coming to God with our own hands. We have others read scripture and interpret for us, instead of reading for ourselves and listening for God's still, small voice. We have others hold in their hands our hope of faith.

Maybe its time to grow up and leave the middle school of faith. Instead of having other people be our priests, we need to lift up to our Lord God our offering of belief in our shelem, our Savior Jesus Christ.

Christ has already become our peace. With our own hands, we need to cling to him and present him on our behalf to God. We do this as we pray in Jesus' name. We do this as we trust in Christ for our all.

I think it is better to experience the kiss and intimacy of Christ for ourselves than to go through others...

At least, that is my experience.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Day 44: Aroma Therapy

Today's Reading: Leviticus 1-4

Many people who attempt to read the Bible from front to back, get stuck in Leviticus. It is a book of details, without a lot of narrative. Not only that, the details are all about sacrifices. Trying to keep track of all the sacrifices, their rituals and what was/wasn't allowed would have kept any group of priests busy.

In our chapters today, we hear about sacrifices for unintentional sins.

For me, these are the trickiest kind.

Many times we offend someone unintentionally, often unknowingly. All of a sudden, someone is mad and we are left in the dark. Everyone else knows our offense but us.

Since this is a common occurrence, can we imagine the obsessive compulsive need to make sacrifice after sacrifice, over and over again? How could one get any thing else done?

We do realize, though, a humble, contrite apology usually soothes the one who has been offended.

The act of sacrifice, despite its multitude of rules and layers of meaning, does have one aspect that intrigues me. Leviticus points often to the "soothing aroma to the LORD."

The aroma therapy of the LORD is not the scent of "vanilla candles." It is cooked meat and baking bread.

God's house, the tabernacle, smelled of roasted lamb, roasted beef, roasted pigeon and baking bread. There was also the smell of frankincense and cinnamon, not to mention the wood burning fire.

I wonder if when God made us in God's image, the LORD gave us nostrils like His. There is nothing more soothing to me than to walk into a house with a pot roast cooking or fresh bread in the oven. If that is the smell of forgiveness, then I want to humbly pull up my chair to the table.

Have you ever noticed how an earnest apology soothes the one who has been offended? It usually changes everything.

Is there an aroma in my life which soothes me?

Is there an aroma in my life which says, "You are welcome here. All is well?"

It is said the olfactory sense bring back memories in a very clear way.

To enter into the presence of God, to smell the aroma of sacrifice, is to be reminded, "I am forgiven. I am God's child. I am Holy unto the LORD."

How restful that aroma is to the soul!

Day 43: And pomegranate fringe...

Today's Reading: Exodus 39-40

Some people might be bored with all the detail of the tabernacle and priestly robes, but I must admit, I am absolutely fascinated! I am a symbol person who loves metaphor. As I read Exodus, I feel like I am on a treasure hunt!

What intrigues me most is the priestly garment. The colors "blue and purple and scarlet," woven with gold which has been hammered, then "cut" into threads is amazing.

The root word for what we translate as "blue" is "fierce lion."

The word we translate "purple" has an obscure meaning that I will have to research further.

The root word for what we translate as "red" is "devour" and "eat up." It comes from a worm whose casing was the main ingredient for the dye used to make the color.

Gold, of course, is a very precious metal.

I have to always remember everything about the tabernacle--the accessories, the furniture and the garments--point to something about the Messiah and God.

I love how the priest carries the names of the Sons of Israel on his shoulders. This is his burden, his yoke.

And then the breast piece, which covers his heart and essential organs, contains all these precious stones, representing each of the sons of Israel.

There is a study by Beth Moore, a wonderful Biblical theologian, which digs into and describes all the meanings of the tabernacle pieces. It is called A Woman's Heart. I hope to get it and study it soon. [I've posted Beth's link on this blog page in case you want to check out her wonderful studies!]

Imagine all the tinkling of the bells on the fringe of the priestly garment. Can you imagine the worship service? All the beautiful sights, the smells of incense and cooking meat, and the bells?

And the pomegranate fringe...

I love this especially because I love pomegranates!

Pomegranates are a deep red jeweled fruit known in the ancient world to represent the ovaries of a fruitful woman. Pomegranates represent fertility, possibility and hope.

It is as if the priest's fringe represents the first commandment in scripture:

Be fruitful and multiply.

Wherever the priests walk, wherever the ones who are "Holy to the LORD" are, fruitfulness exists.

At our baptism, we are pronounced "Holy to the LORD" and enter into the "priesthood of all believers." We are given the priestly garment of the righteousness of Christ. We wear the ephod of the breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of salvation, and all the other "armor of God" which correlates directly with the garment of the priests.

And wherever we walk, the pomegranate life of fruitfulness and the tinkling bells announce the coming of the Kingdom of God!

No wonder Isaiah 52:7 declares,

How Beautiful are the Feet of those who bring good news, proclaim peace, bring glad tidings of good things, proclaim salvation, and proclaim to Zion, "Your God reigns!"

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Day: 42: The Building Committee

Today's Reading: Exodus 36-38

We have a building committee at our church.

Let me start by saying, I'm glad they are the ones making the plans and the decisions. All the details of land, location, sewage, electricity, zoning and code would drive me crazy. The building design alone seems daunting, not to mention the fund raising.

The people of Israel had it made, as far as I'm concerned. They were wandering around in a wilderness where no one was arguing over land. They had direct instruction from God on the design of the tabernacle and all its accessories. God had already given ability and a willingness to some key people. And the best part was this; when Moses asked for gold, silver, etc., it came pouring in at such a rate, they had to tell people,

"Enough already! We have plenty. Take your offerings back!"

But maybe, I need to put this miraculous story in context. After all, Moses, the leader, did spend forty days and forty nights in the presence of the LORD. While Moses was on the mountain, Joshua spent time just a distance away, waiting upon Moses. And the people waited in anticipation too. There sure was a lot of praying going on.

Now, at my church, we certainly have the skilled and willing people on the building committee. They have and are laboring long and hard. They "get" all the rules and regulations; they understand blueprints and utilities, [at least better than I!]

Land and location have been an issue, and maybe that is because we are building a stationery building, not a collapsible tent. Ever since the political system changed from "wandering Arameans" to "we want a king," we have changed our theology from "we'll go where God is going" to "we want God to come where we are."

That flips a lot of things.

And then there's the money.

I truly believe, the God given resources are there. But, as my friend who does the treasury work for our church says, "The issue is that the money is still in some people's pockets."

So, what is my part in all of this?

No matter whether God is building a tabernacle, a temple, a church or the Kingdom, I best be taking some time to listen to where God is leading, pay attention to the design God is intending and join in the means by which God will bring it all to fruition.

In other words, not my plans, but God's.

Not my methods, but God's.

Not my design, but God's.

Not my timing, but God's.

Not my worry, or anxiety, or stress.

For I must truly believe, God will call forth

"every skilled person to whom the LORD has given skill and ability to know how to carry out all the work of constructing the sanctuary."

And, if it is done willingly according to all the LORD has commanded, the sanctuary will truly be a blessing.

I think I'm going to expect with hopeful joy that the resources will be so plentiful, people would need to be told,

"Too much, too much! We have more than we need."

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Day 41: I will go with you

Today's Reading: Exodus 33-35

"If I have found favor in Thy sight, let me know Thy ways, that I may know Thee, so that I may find favor in Thy sight...And the LORD said, My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest."
Exodus 33:13a, 14

When I was a little girl, I would come and visit my Grandma and Grandpa at the homestead. Grandpa had a milking cow, steers and pigs. Grandma had a garden and chickens. Early in the morning, my brother and I would follow my Grandpa to the milking barn. We would slop the pigs after lunch, and would round up the steers from the fields in the evening. At mid-morning, I would go to the garden with my Grandma to weed, hoe and pick vegetables. In the afternoon, I would walk with her to the chicken coop and gather eggs.

I was a city girl tramping around the farm with my grandparents. As long as they went with me, the place seemed like a paradise, "flowing with milk and honey."

One day, my Grandma took me berry picking. She made sure I was clothed appropriately. It was a hot, summer day. The long sleeved shirt, heavy blue jeans and thick gloves seemed bulky, cumbersome and uncomfortable in the heat. When I protested, she assured me they were necessary.

We walked through the hay fields in the hot sun. I was miserable and began to complain. She encouraged me. We walked through brambles. She went ahead of me with a machete, clearing the way.

By the time we came to the wild berry bushes all covered with thorns, I believed the trip was a horrible chore. I plopped down and began to pout. Grandma began picking. She also began singing silly songs to entertain me. We were soon laughing. I got up and began picking. I ate more than I put in my bucket, but Grandma worked steadily to fill three buckets of berries.

I helped her carry the third bucket out of the thicket. When we got home, we stripped down and jumped in the cool lake. She gave me the rest of the day off to play with the kittens. That evening, we had fresh blackberries and cream from Buttercup, the cow.

"Man, these are good, Mable," my Grandpa said to my Grandma.

"Martha and I picked them for you," she replied.

Looking back upon those memories, I realized something today.

My Grandma and my Grandpa were living parables of God.

I could not have gone and faced cows, steers or pigs without my Grandpa going with me. As a six year old, I would have been trampled. But with my Grandpa, I went boldly into the stalls.

I could not have been a part of the berry picking experience without my Grandma, who clothed me for the task, who went ahead of me to clear the way, who cheered me with singing, and who shared the joys of her labors with me.

Moses and the people of Israel were afraid to go forward without God. Even though the LORD originally planned to leave the people to their own ways because of their obstinance, the LORD, for the sake of Moses, went with the people.

God sent an angel to clear the way.

God made sure the priests were clothed properly.

God gave the people rules to live by.

My memories with my Grandparents are some of the most precious of my childhood. Wiggling hands under hens to fetch warm, brown eggs. Learning how to milk a cow and squirt a kitten's mouth with fresh milk. Discovering the delights of fresh, handpicked vegetables.

But even more precious is the fact that as they went with me, and I with them, I became a little "Moses."

I found favor in their sight.

I learned their ways.

I knew them.

I found rest and comfort in their presence.

O LORD, I want to know you. Take me with you. Never forsake me.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Day 40: Incense on the mountain, stench in the camp

Today's Reading: Exodus 30-32

Have you ever been in the mountains? There is something wonderful, being on top of a peak, with the fresh air blowing all around you. Everything seems to be in its right place. Order and wonder are your companions. God seems very near.

On Mount Sinai, Moses is hearing the LORD speaking as if friend to friend. God whispers all the glorious plans, the beautiful plans, for sacred worship. As the fragrant breeze of the mountain flowers waft by Moses, formulas for incense are given. As the crystal clear mountain stream bubble by, Moses hears about the possibility of washing clean the sin and stench of the world in order to have a meeting with the Holy One. The higher Moses climbs, the holier the Words of God become...and the holier life around him becomes.

"You will be most holy, this will be most holy, to Me."

But sooner or later, even Moses must come down from that mountain. One must leave the intimacy of God and face the reality of life.

Often times, after the brightness of the mountain sun, the valley seems much deeper and darker. The dank stench of communal life insults the nostrils. The calf worshiping indulgences of evil appall one after the simplicity and purity of the peak. There is a natural abhorrence, an anger, when we return to our old normal lives.

While Moses was away, leaving Aaron to babysit the children of Israel, the children went wild. Moses returns from his date with God, only to find the living room of the camp defiled, the holy places destroyed and the kids running around in a frenzy.

As parent Moses tries to figure out what went wrong, Aaron, like a teenager, states one of the funniest and saddest excuses in scripture. "You know how kids are. This is what the kids wanted."

They gave me gold, I threw it in the fire and out popped this calf!

So to whom do I relate in this story?

Am I Moses, who hears from the Lord, delighting in the intimacy, yet having to deal with "real life" most of the time?

Am I Aaron, part of a leadership team, who has to deal with the restless natives, exhausted and tired of doing the work on my own and finally giving in to the pressures around me?

Am I the restless child of God, who becomes impatient when I don't see what I need or get what I want, and thus indulge in cheap idolatry as a substitute for true worship?

Life is always so much easier on the mountain.

Life on the streets is tough.

Yet we are called to be a fragrant offering to the LORD in whatever situation we find ourselves.

Most holy to God...

Monday, February 8, 2010

A 39th Day Pondering

For beauty
and for glory
the LORD called
the wise





How foolish we are to
our church
our society
our lives
of beauty
of glory
of wise artists

For the LORD
has endowed
with the
Spirit of Wisdom

Day 39: Earlobe, Thumb, Big Toe

Today's Reading: Exodus 28-29

I've had an interesting morning trying to discover the meaning of the blood anointing of the priests' right earlobe, right thumb and right big toe. [Some might think I should have better things to do, but my office is cold from a broken furnace, so I am at home doing research!] It has been a fascinating morning, believe it or not.

First of all, the anointing was with blood, not oil. Blood represents a sacrifice of purification. Oil represents a second act after purification, that of sanctification. Purification cleanses; sanctification sets one apart.

The right side is the preferred side in Middle Eastern countries. The right hand is used for "clean" work and the left for "unclean" work. One eats with the right hand; one cleanses after defecation with the left hand. One would never offer a guest food or a gift with the left hand as this would be a horrible insult.

This "right privilege" is exercised in our culture also. To sit at the right of the host is the favored position. Proper etiquette is to serve plates from the right and remove from the left.

We've learned from previous readings in Exodus that the earlobe was pierced when a person willingly submitted himself or herself as a slave to a master because of a love relationship. (Ex 21:1-6)

In the book of Judges (chapter 1), we read that the Israelites cut off the thumbs and the big toes of their captured enemies.

The opposable thumb is very important as it allows humans to grasp. Without a thumb, an enemy could no longer use a weapon or use tools easily.

Big toes allow for balance. They are especially needed for walking, stooping, climbing and even standing.

So I started thinking about all this information to try to figure out what is going on in verse 20 of Exodus 29.

Could it be that a priest's right earlobe is purified by blood to stake the claim of God upon the priest's life? It might also be a purification from all the priest has heard in the past. Now, the priest is only to hear for God, take direction from God, follow the commands of God, his new master.

And the right thumb. The priest's former work is removed. He is now to do only work that is the master's work. He is now only to fight the master's battles.

And the right big toe. The priest's former wanderings are over and cleansed. He is now to live a balanced life in the community of faith. He is now only to go where the master sends him.

Ordination, the setting aside of a person to do the work of God, is closely related to baptism in the Christian faith. In baptism, we are cleansed (purified) and set apart (sanctified) as a child of God and a member of the priesthood of all believers. Those denominations that pour or sprinkle water, usually do this ritual cleansing over the head. The same is true with ordination. We lay hands on the head.

I'm wondering if we also need to touch the right earlobe, right thumb and right big toe to purify the work of this born again child of God?

To only listen to God and with the ear of God.

To only do the labors of God, and to only join in God's battles.

To hold fast to God's balance and only go where God directs.

This is a good trinity of directives for the priesthood of believers.

And one more little aside. As I was researching ordination and baptism, I found an ancient ritual--effecta--used by Christian priests as they anointed the newly baptized. They would put oil on the tongue, the nostrils and the ears, and say, "Be opened!" The tongue is loosed to speak for God; the nostrils are opened to recieve the breath of God; and the ear is opened to be able to listen to God.

Since I am one who loves symbolism, this is all very cool to me.

Very cool, indeed!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Day 38: Worthy Sacrifice

Today's Reading: Exodus 25-27

Valentine's Day is right around the corner. This is one of the oldest, Christian holidays recorded. It is a celebration of love and affection between intimate companions. Though it is attributed to an individual, St. Valentine, we have no historical knowledge such a person existed. Instead, "St. Valentine" is most likely a symbol of all the early martyrs in the first four centuries of Christendom. "Valentine" means "worthy sacrifice," and most likely points to those martyrs who gave their lives for the faith, thus living up to this title.

On Valentine's Day, we make a special effort to go above and beyond our daily caring for one another. We search for a "worthy" gift for our loved one(s). For this gift to be a "worthy" gift, it must be prompted from the heart of the giver. It also must be something the receiver truly desires, not just something the giver wants to give. Often, the gift is a gift which requires some sacrifice on behalf of the giver. Engagement rings of high value, which also denote high commitment, are the favorite gift on February 14th.

After God has led the people of Israel--God's beloved, chosen people--out of slavery, and has provided for their daily needs--protection, water, bread, meat, and a community covenant--the LORD speaks to Moses, calling forth, if you will, a Valentine's Day celebration.

"Invite all my beloved ones to run and fetch gifts for me,
but only from those whose hearts are prompted
only from those who are excited to give
only from those who can't wait to give.

And this is what I really, really want..."

The offerings the LORD is inviting are not the every day obligatory tithes. The tithe is comparable to the daily acts of care we give to one another in a household. In our home, here are some of our "tithes." I grocery shop and cook for our family. My husband stokes the furnace and feeds the pets. My son empties the dishwasher and trash cans. These are the expectations we each have one from the other. The "tithe" is the expected 10% of our daily fruitfulness.

The offering mentioned here in Exodus 25 is above and beyond the tithe. It is not the normal fare of soup and sandwich but a steak dinner with wine. It is not just stoking a furnace, but fanning the flames of love with greater affection and caring. It is not just taking out the daily trash but a gift of great humility and sacrifice.

And, the offering is not mandatory, it is purely and generously "gift."

It is interesting to note that this kind of offering brings forth a beautiful result. It creates a space of intimacy and refuge in the relationship. "Have them make me a sanctuary, so that I may dwell among them." [v.8]

A worthy, heartfelt sacrifice generates a deeper intimacy between the giver and the receiver. It becomes the catalyst for a kind of "dwelling together."

This is the foundation of God's palace, God's dwelling place, God's tabernacle--an exchange of worthy sacrifices of love, freely given from the heart--all with the intent of pleasing the receiver.

Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary
Pure and holy
Tried and true
With thanksgiving,
I'll be a living sanctuary for you.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A 37th day poem

I heard a bellowing today
An ox was in a pit
My pit

The ox was a fine specimen
A good stud perhaps

As I gazed into the pit
I noticed its brand--
Not mine

My blood began to boil
As the brand proclaimed
My enemy

How quickly I remember
The evil deed done to me
By my foe

Here is my chance
To get my revenge

I hear the bellowing
Of my own soul in the pit
My stomach

The vengence is a perfect plan
A fruitful seed of evil for my enemy

I could leave it there
To become an instrument of suffering
For my foe

I ponder what to do
I have power to continue
The feud

The maliciousness tastes sweet
My mouth is salivating
The kill

Another bellowing is heard
The cry of the Spirit
My code

"Would you join the ox
In the pit,
My child?"

"Your plan would enslave you
In a place of walls and darkness
With no water."

"Better to dig this ox out
Better to dig this bitterness out
And let it go."

I call my enemy
"Your ox is in my pit.
I'll help."

Perhaps we both can dig it out
Perhaps we can work to save it

And after the ox is safe
I have more digging to do
Bitterness' root

After I help you with your ox
Would you help me

My soul is in your pit
It is bellowing
Help me set it free.

Day 37: An inheritance of Graciousness

Today's Reading: Exodus 22-24

"I am gracious..." Exodus 22:27

Two weeks ago, I was in the home of a friend. On her wall she had a list of things one should follow if one wanted to have a "good life." The last thing on the list was something like "follow the Golden Rule."

Do unto others as you would have them do to you.

Figuring out what is right, good and fair is always easier if we put ourselves in the other person's situation.

Today, our reading is all about moral code. A moral code's purpose is to flesh out how to live peaceably in a community. The rules about oxen and thievery in this moral code in Exodus can all be translated to modern day situations.

Though these codes might seem archaic, I loved reading them. [I had a little trouble with the code about virgins, but that is for another day!]

The piece I loved the best, though, was in the beginning of chapter 23 which dealt with evil crowds, those in poverty and how to treat an enemy. My heart swelled with admiration as I read these words of righteousness. What an amazing inheritance of graciousness!

Do not join yourself to maliciousness.

Do not pervert justice, even for the poor.

Lend a helping hand, even when, and perhaps, especially when, it involves your enemy's misfortune.

Now I must tell you, I love to watch dramatic movies. I am always on the look out for a true hero. For me, a true hero is one who never sacrifices righteous integrity to reach his or her goal. This kind of witness makes my heart swell with admiration.

Each of us has a moral code by which we live. We might not remember from whence it came. We might not even be able to articulate its breadth, but it might be a good exercise to sit down someday and write out a list of values we hold which demonstrate our inheritance of graciousness.

Today, I want to accept my inheritance of grace.

I don't want to ever be found in the midst of a malicious act or crowd, even if it means I must stand alone.

I would hope that I would never be in the position of judge, but if I am, may I not pervert justice because of pity or favoritism.

And LORD, allow me to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me.

Once again, this is enough for me to consider and act upon today.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Day 36: Meeting God

Today's Reading: Exodus 19-21

I always get excited when I read scripture and I start to see a pattern. Today's reading is perhaps the very earliest Order of Worship.

Upon reaching Sinai, God instructs Moses to prepare the people to meet their LORD. Follow this progression with me:

1. There is a recognition of God's initiation toward and salvation of the people (19:4)

2. Obedience to the covenant ensures a purposeful life (kingdom of priests) and a setting apart (holy nation) (19:5-6)

3. The people have a say in the acceptance of God's terms (19:8)

4. God comes to where the people are. (19:9)

5. The people prepare to meet God by cleansing themselves, putting on fresh garments, recognizing their limits and fasting from conjugal rights. (19:10-15)

6. On the third day, smoke, trumpet, fire and quaking announce the presence of God. (19:18-19)

7. The mediators (Moses and Aaron) speak with God and the people remain at a distance. (19:3, 9, 10, 17, 19-25)

8. God's word is shared with the people. (20: 1-17)

9. The people tremble in the presence of God (20:18-19)

10. Moses begins the interpretation of the Ten Commandments of the LORD, by giving specifics about each one. (20:23-21 ff.)

Did you see it? Our present pattern for worship was shaped by the early Israelites' experience. Here are the skeletal bones of the structure that I see. Check this out:

In many of our churches, there is a Call to Worship. This call comes from God. It is God initiation toward us, not ours toward God. We respond in worship when we comprehend what God has done for us! In the Call to Worship, we are also called to a new way of life--a life of obedience and covenant with God.

Before we can enter into deeper fellowship with God, we must respond either by assent to God's invitation or leave the place of worship. This is what the Call to Confession is all about.

Now comes the time of consecration, the cleansing and re-clothing of our bodies and minds. This is baptism and confession. It usually requires time (three days, in the story) and intentionality (no distractions from life's usual activities.)

I think this is usually rushed through. Sometimes I have just drawn the water for my cleansing and we're already on to the next part. Perhaps a lot of the confession needs to happen even before I enter into the place of worship.

As a child, Saturday night was the night of the weekly bath in preparation for Sunday. Our best clothes were laid out the night before.

In some churches, a pool of water greets the worshippers as they enter into the place of worship. In others, a baptismal font filled with water stands as a reminder of one's initial cleansing and the need for daily cleansing.

Now God comes! In some churches, fire and incense enter, the horns sound forth from the organ, the people stand as a mighty army that quakes the earth. There is a sense of wonder and awe!

Next, the priests/elders, set aside by God, share the Word from God. The scriptures are read and then expounded upon, sharing the practical application for the Word. The heart of the message is always the same: this is how to love God; this is how to love neighbor.

How we treat our neighbor is in direct correlation with our relationship to God. In the Gospels, Jesus expands on this theme by saying, "How can say you love God whom you have not seen and despise your brother(sister, neighbor) whom you have seen?"

Good point.

This week, I met God in many places...or should I say, God met me.

As I sat on the doctor's examination table, I realized each day is a gift. The LORD brought me through cancer.

As I came in from a long day's work, I realized the shelter and comfort of my home is a gift. The LORD, through my parents, gave me an inheritance.

As I considered the state of my soul with my spiritual director, I realized my faith, my upbringing, my intellect, my ability to reason, my ability to remain true to the people I love is all gift from God.

As I struggled with my weaknesses and the temptations of life, I realized my need for cleansing and renewal.

As I serve the LORD and God's people, I realized my calling and purpose.

And everyday, as I blog, I am greeted with God's Word and its implications for my life.

Today, these are the lessons, the Word from God to me.

Treat others fairly.

Honor my elders.

Worship God alone.

Get rid of idolatry.

Embrace God's initiation.

I think that's enough for the day.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Day 35: The Wilderness of Sin

Today's Reading: Exodus 16-18

I have always had a fascination with names. It must be my Jewish heritage (my great, great grandmother was Jewish.) When we were naming our children, we made sure we were naming them for the hope we had for them. So when I come to a name in the Bible, I want to look it up and see if there is a "hidden meaning" for the passage.

Today we hear the stories which occurred as the Israelites wandered through the Wilderness of Sin, between Elim and Sinai. As English readers, we would pronounce this wilderness the same way we would pronounce the word which means the acts or state of evil. The true pronunciation of this Hebrew word is seeyn. It means clay and thorn. The name most likely was a description of the wilderness' barrenness--a place of untillable soil and thorny brambles.

This wilderness was located between Elim and Sinai.

Elim, pronounced ay-leem', carries with it a meaning that is hard for us to understand. It means palm and sacrifice. Palm might lead us to believe that the starting off point of the journey was an oasis. Sacrifice might lead us to believe that Elim was the place of worship which launched the journey.

Sinai, pronounced see-nah'-ee, is an extension of the name of the wilderness; it means the place of thorns. It seems the mountains in this region of the world were not like the mountains of America, majestic and snow covered, but instead barren, tumbleweed, prickly places.

Thus the Wilderness of Sin is bordered by a place of refuge and a place that promised more and more desolation.

This is the land to which the LORD called the people of Israel to test them.

At the end of chapter 15, the LORD makes a proclamation and promise to the people of Israel.

If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the LORD your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the LORD, am your healer.

After feeling really good, sated with fresh waters, the Israelites enter the wilderness of dry clay and prickly thorns, a place where water, bread and meat are non existent. Within a few days, the LORD's promises are forgotten as mouths get dry and bellies are empty. The grumbling of the stomachs erupts from the mouths of the people. They begin to murmur discontentment to one another against their leader.

Thus the test begins.

I will test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction. 16:4

I'll send bread, but you must gather it as I instruct.

I'll send quail, but you must recognize my providing hand.

I'll provide for you, but it will be on a day to day basis.

I demand a day of rest.

I'll provide water, but you must receive it according to my instructions.

You will face an enemy army, but the victory will be for my glory not yours.

It is so easy to read the scriptures and judge the people of Israel. Why didn't they just trust God? How could they have experienced the miracle of the Red Sea and in less than one chapter forget all about it?

I'm judgmental, until I find myself in the Wilderness of Sin. It is that place, where after a life of blessing, I find myself in need. My first response is usually my soul response which cries out my discomfort. The questions, "Why is this happening to me?" and "Where is God?" are murmured more often than the confessions, "God will provide" and "I will trust the LORD."

Barren and thorny places are hard places to be. I think we can observe from scripture that these are the very places where we are tested. Will we trust, or will we murmur and grumble? Will we take the next step in the wilderness, perhaps with a thorn in our side, and yet, take the step?

The season of Lent has always been known as a time of poverty and testing. Holy Week is the pinnacle of the passion and test.

I think Exodus' Wilderness of Sin is a foreshadowing of Holy Week. It is that time between the palms and the thorns. A time when we move from the oasis of a victory parade to the cauldron of a brutal crucifixion. The disciples strive to pass the tests and temptations of the week. Their vessels of clay crumble under the pressure and stress of the path toward the mountain of thorns.

Only one is able to pass all the tests, remaining faithful.

He is the one who, despite the discomfort and agony to his flesh of clay, "gives earnest heed to the voice of the LORD" and becomes "the LORD I AM, the healer."

How wise it is for us, when we find ourselves in the wilderness, to continue to "give earnest heed to the voice of the LORD your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes."

One clay foot in front of the other.

Until we truly live into our name.


"A little Christ follower."

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

34th Day Poem: An Israelite...and Peter

I have My armor belted on,
I'm ready for the fight;
I've girded up My loins of strength
I'll battle with My might.

What? Now you choose a longer road
One on the desert way?
But, LORD, it is much harder!
And desolate the day.

I will not change my mind, LORD.
I'll fight for you, I will!
Though others soon forsake you
I'll stand, defend you still!

Wait, what is this I'm hearing?
An army, chariot strong.
Now I begin to wonder
Is God's directive wrong?

Just send me back to Egypt,
I've now just changed my mind.
I'm terrified and crying out
LORD, you have been unkind!

Were there no graves in Egypt?
What have you done to me?
I'd rather serve the Pharaoh
Than die in Desert's sea!

'Don't be afraid, Stand firm, and pray!'
The cloudy pillar moves
'The LORD will now deliver you!
Be still; all doubt remove.'

And now the charge: 'Move on ahead
And I will guard your back.'
A sea ahead, chariots behind
We're fenced in! LORD, the facts!

'The glory will be only mine;
You're call is to observe.
MY mighty hand will make a way
By utterance of MY Word.'

An angel of the LORD I see
With mighty, fiery sword
Is holding back my enemies.
I'm trusting you, O LORD.

With water's chaos to my left
A great wall on my right,
I step in faith upon dry land
To walk the Way of Light.

I reach the banks of Promised Land
And turn to see the sight.
My frightful enemies of past
Are drowned by God's own might.

Lend me a tambourine, my friend,
The dance calls out my name.
I sing the praise of Adonai!
I shout aloud God's fame!

For you did not employ My strength
To execute your will
A single breath from nostrils flared
And all my worries, stilled.

'There is no one like Adonai!'
A mighty crowd now thunders.
Unfailing love will ever lead through
Awesome, holy wonders.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Day 34: Sanctified to Me

Today's Reading: Exodus 13-15

Let's talk about families.

What's your family system like? Any favoritism going on? Any child given special rights, privileges or expectations just because of birth order?

Most "birth order" specialists share certain characteristics and patterns which are common to the first, second, third and fourth born children.

Most first borns are people pleasers who seek approval, especially from the "bread winning" parent; caregivers who are reliable, loyal and conscientious; driven people of action who are natural leaders who struggle with perfectionism; traditionalist who are very conventional; and people who always have things under control and want things their way. They are usually ambitious, logical and enterprising.

Middle children vary depending upon birth order. Child #2 is usually the opposite of child #1, connecting most easily with the "non-bread winning" parent, thus providing equilibrium to the family system. Number two child is usually quiet, sometimes shy; more often impatient and wanting to be alone. Sometimes very competitive, rebellious and attention seeking behaviors are demonstrated, especially during adolescence.

Children #3 and #4 are usually outgoing, loud, laid back, flexible and peacemakers. They like a lot of attention, but quickly learn diplomatic skills to try to get their way at least once in a while. (Older siblings call this "manipulation!")

Last born children, the "babies" of the family, have an idealistic outlook on life. They usually are up for a party and have a good sense of humor. They tend to be risk takers and work hard for what they are passionate about. At times they can act immature, even as an adult, but often feel it is hard to be treated as an "adult" by the rest of their family. They are usually very sensitive and more private and secretive about their lives.

Of course, there are many variables such as twins or other multiple births, only child syndrome and over 4 years between births, but you get the idea...


Ever wonder about the first born son thing?

If you are a first born son, you don't wonder at all; you just receive all the accolades (and pressure) with style (and maybe a lot of stress!)

If you are the first born and you are the daughter, my guess is that you sense the "favoritism" showered on the first born son, but hide it well. (You plot your revenge with a smile on your face!)

If you are the second born son or one of the following sisters, you know good and well that you will have fewer pictures in the family album, wear hand-me-downs, always sit in the back seat of the car and never have the same rights and privileges as the first ones out the shoot! But you also realize that many of your battles have already been fought by the first borns, and so you can sit back and relax in the midst of the conflict swirling around you. You know you have no rights and you're OK with that. (You'll find other ways to get your way!)

So with that little psychology lesson under our belts, how do you feel about the second verse in chapter 13 of Exodus?

"The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 'Sanctify to Me every first-born, the first offspring of every womb among the people of Israel, both human and beast; it belongs to Me.'"

In many religious families in the past, the first born son either became the inheritor of the family fortune or the one dedicated to the service to God.

We've talked before about the whole "first fruit" thing... but I think today, God is demanding a remembrance from the people of Israel.

Imagine what it was like to be the first born child/son on that frightful night of Passover. Can you imagine the screams and mournful cries of the neighbors whose homes' doorposts were not swabbed in blood? Can you imagine coming out into the streets to play with neighbors and finding your tribe of oldest siblings diminished by the thousands? Can you imagine what it felt like to survive that night?

God did not want the parents to forget the salvation of their firstborn child,

and God did not want the child to forget...

For you see, the first born of Israel were not just saved to be saved; they were saved to serve and be the leaders of the work of worship. They personally knew God's salvation in a clear, and oh, so dramatic, way.

And all their descendant were called to remember..."we would not be here were it not for the LORD."

Holy? Sanctified? You best believe it!

The LORD preserved their lives.

The LORD saved their lives.

Their lives were forever indebted to God.

"Sanctify them to Me."

"They belong to me."

They are set apart.

They are holy.

Day 33: The tent of true repentance

Today's Reading: Exodus 10-12

"Pharaoh quickly summoned Moses and Aaron and said, 'I have sinned against the LORD you God and against you. Now forgive my sin once more and pray to the LORD your God to take this deadly plague away from me.'" Exodus 10: 16-17

Have you ever found yourself saying these words:

I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!!!

This is the repeated mantra of those of us who find ourselves dealing with the consequences of our poor choices, greed, selfishness, pride or "prone to accident" behavior--our SIN.

The consequences can lead us to the tent of regret or the tent of true repentance.

Regret is a fairly easy tent to be in. Regret finds itself bunking with self pity and despair. It thinks with 20/20 hindsight about how, perhaps, it could have done something differently. It invites blame to join and lounge around with worry. Regret stems from discomfort with the consequences of sin. Though regret is a fairly easy tent to be in, it is in a camp whose days are long and unproductive.

The tent of true repentance is a whole other place to be. True repentance demands
"conviction of sin, sorrow for sin, confession and renunciation of sin, and longing for grace." [Evangelical Catechism, 1929]

Conviction of sin implies recognition and acceptance of one's part in the sin. It is a heart stabbing realization of the reality of one's own sinfulness.

Sorrow for sin is the deep sadness and mourning over one's participation in something that is against God's will. It is a tearful grieving over the loss of relationship with God and with neighbor.

Confession of sin is agreeing with God; it is the passionate declaration and acceptance of the burden and responsibility for the wrong done or the good left undone.

Renunciation of sin implies a no excuse stance; a crucifying of the evil done, a running away from the sin.

Longing for grace is a position of humility, knowing forgiveness is always a gift, not an entitlement or right. It calls forth a desire to amend one's ways only by the help of the benefactor, the forgiver.

Pharaoh lived in the tent of regret. He was sorry for the destruction around him. It made him uncomfortable and his life miserable. But his regret did not allow him to walk into the tent of true repentance. He still wanted to be in control. He still wanted to bargain. He still wanted to keep some of his power. He still wanted to have his way.

The tent of regret is the tent of the retreating army. There you find excuses, curses, bitterness and resentment. There is a "get even" stench which can become suffocating.

The tent of true repentance is the tent of the sorely wounded, those who realize they are in great need. Only the Great Physician can heal them. They bring nothing to the operating table but their sorrow and grief. They have no money, they have no status, they have no hope, unless...unless Grace nurses them back to life.

The tent of regret stinks with unwashed feet.

The tent of true repentance invites the flinging open of the windows of the heart to let the Holy Wind of the Spirit enter to clear the air.

As the Great Physician wrestles through the night with the Pharaoh, the tent of regret experiences more and more death.

As the Great Physician wrestles through the night with the Pharaoh, the tent of true repentance keeps vigil, eats lamb and unleaven bread and waits...

33rd Day Poem

Hyssop, Blood, Doorpost, Lamb
Hyssop, Blood, Doorpost, Lamb
Hyssop, Blood, Doorpost, Lamb

Hyssop branch, Soapy scrub
Hyssop branch, Soapy scrub
Hyssop branch, Soapy scrub
Cleanse me, LORD, by your love

Scarlet blood, Give me life
Scarlet blood, Give me life
Scarlet blood, Give me life
Mine the joy, Yours the strife

Doorpost marking, Whitewashed sign
Doorpost marking, Whitewashed sign
Doorpost marking, Whitewashed sign
Death protection from Divine

Pascal Lamb, In my place,
Pascal Lamb, In my place,
Pascal Lamb, In my place,
Shelter from my own disgrace.

Hyssop, Blood, Doorpost, Lamb
Hyssop, Blood, Doorpost, Lamb
Hyssop, Blood, Doorpost, Lamb
My LORD, my God, The Great I AM

Monday, February 1, 2010

Day 32: All for a reason

Today's Reading: Exodus 7-9

I know Spring house cleaning is around the corner. It is the time when I pull out furniture to do the behind the scenes vacuuming. I clean out drawers and cabinets, discarding unusable or non used items. Flower and herb beds are cleaned out and perennials are pruned. It's a big job to clean all the debris.

But can we imagine the mess in Egypt after all the plagues? Piles of frogs alone would drive me absolutely crazy, not to mention the damage after the hail storms, the stinky, soiled bandages full of boil pus, and rotting cattle. Pee-ew!

What was the reason for all this mess, pain and suffering?

Whenever I am reading scripture, I have a tendency to get distracted by all the sights, sounds and smells of the story. It's like I have theological ADHD. One way I try to focus is to watch for patterns of words or phrases. Did you find the same ones I did?

Two phrases:

Pharaoh's heart was hardened...Let my people go.

These two tympani drums seemed to keep me on track as I rambled through the garbage yard of Egypt. Today, though I saw something different than I ever had before. I saw God's reason for Pharaoh's stony heart and all the plagues.

Now before I go on, I have to tell you that I used to think the plagues were to soften Pharaoh's heart. I thought the plagues were used by God to make Pharaoh so sick of the Israelites that he would finally let them be freed from slavery.

And I also thought the "Let my people go..." was all about freedom for the Israelites. Their cry to God came up from the brick yards of hard labor. They were unable to enjoy the liberty we in America assume to be our right.

But I was wrong.

Funny how scripture corrects one if one begins reading carefully under the power of the Holy Spirit. It's sort of like reading under the influence of the focusing drug, Ritalin.

There was a reason for the hardened heart of Pharaoh and the letting go of God's people. Did you see it?

Pharaoh's heart was hardened by God in order that God might multiply God's signs in Egypt, and so the Egyptians would know "I am the LORD" when the God's people are finally brought out.

God wanted to display his power and his glory. He wanted everyone to stay, not just for the pre-game entertainment--all the signs which could be mimicked by the magicians in Pharaoh's court--but for the full game plus the fireworks at the end.

It is as if God was saying, I want to settle, once and for all, that I am more powerful than any king or kingdom on earth. I created everything and everyone, and by golly, I'm in charge.

And, by the way, I don't want to keep this a secret. I want everyone to know: I am the LORD! I want them to know, not just tolerate or ascent to this fact, but have their lives flipped over by the reality dawning upon them. I am the LORD!

God wants to be known. In fact, God demands our knowledge of himself. And God wants to be known for who God truly is, not who we think or want God to be. God will go to all sorts of measures to show his glory and to display God's self.

The second thing is this. God said "Let my people go, that they may serve me." The people of Israel were not brought out from Egypt to be masters of their own lives. No! They were brought out from the slavery of Egypt to be enlisted into the service of the most high God.

In some of the Bibles, the Hebrew word 'abad is translated "serve," but other translations use the word "worship." This Hebrew word insinuates both, along with the idea of "tilling the soil."

I have a dear friend who challenges the mentality that the only thing the church needs to do is preach to the gospel to "save" people...make sure people come to the altar, confess their sin and get baptized. But he argues that people are saved, not to just escape the fires of hell, but to serve. Saved to serve!

It is not good enough just to know God. We are also called to serve, worship and tend God's fields. We will be slaves to either the Pharaoh of this world or we will worship and serve the LORD of the universe. We don't really have any rights. We don't really have any power over our own lives. Serve Pharaoh or serve the LORD.

I wonder if the story of Egypt and Pharaoh is really about one slave owner saying to another slave owner, give me my slaves back. They do not belong to you, they are mine.

This might jar our self understanding. Have I ever considered, "I am a slave of the LORD?" In Hebrew, the word for servant and slave are the same. We tend to use servant more frequently, because it sounds nicer on our American ears. But for today, I'm going to ponder this slavery thing.

I am a slave of the LORD. I have been brought out of Egypt and Pharaoh's grasp to worship and serve the LORD. Everything that happens in my life is to convince me of who God is, and to move me from serving Pharaoh to serving the LORD.

It's all for a reason.

That's a lot to think about...