Total Pageviews

Friday, February 27, 2015

Cannot Do It

The call of Jeremiah, found in the first chapter, serves as a potent reminder that no great hero of the faith is spared the human condition. Following a brief chronological note, the first words of the prophet refer to God's message to him: before I formed you in the womb, I knew you...I consecrated you...I appointed you.

This special call is not for all of us. In our more democratic times we might be offended by the idea of a special calling. We have grown up being told that "everyone is special" and probably everyone is, but we are not all alike. And some differences are more note worthy than others. No, we are not Jeremiah, but we do share in the call to be prophetic in our own ways.

The call of the young priest Jeremiah is a reminder that God intervenes in our world, this one, and His communication meets with resistance. Jeremiah responds, "I am too young!" Nor is this the only time this sort of thing happens. Moses says, "but I stutter!" Long before that, Abraham doubted God's promise to His face--"we are too old for a baby." And Sarah laughed (in a derisive way) when she overheard the same promise from the Three Visitors. We do well to consider our own "excuses" for unbelief, our own reasons to reject our vocation. No doubt they are very reasonable, but then, God is not so limited as we.

Jeremiah's work as a prophet to the nations catches my eye (but not the commentaries I looked at). Nations refers to Gentiles, the goyim, as differentiated from Jews. It is a universal audience which Jeremiah is to address. Other prophets do the same, but in Jeremiah it is emphasized from the beginning. There is no "outsider" to God's view and concern. Granted that Jeremiah will have a message which is predominantly negative judgments and threats, the fact still remains that the God of Israel concerns Himself with all the peoples of the earth.

Jeremiah's career is a reminder that special calls are not always a blessing. It is fair to say that Jeremiah suffered greatly for his Lord, and probably battled depression. He (like Elijah, Jonah and Moses) asked to die rather than continue with his work. God would prove to be a stern, demanding figure. It was a time of extreme crisis and in such times "coddling" is not possible.

Jeremiah is clearly a type of Christ and the remarkable similarities between his time and the time of Jesus find their fullness in the destruction of the Temple (I&II) when the people of God failed to heed the message of God.

We are all called, perhaps we have buried that vocation. Maybe our reluctance reached the level of outright resistance. Maybe our "I cannot do it" grew and came to fruition in the words "I will not do it."

Every age has its own heresies, its own apostasies, and its own infidelities. Individually and corporately, we are called to seek out "God's Word" and proclaim that to the world. At times it is a threat and challenge and at other times it is a healing balm and word of hope. The authenticity of the message is borne out by the events which follow.

To be discourage or afraid is a common response to God and the work of the church (literally, the "ones called out"). In recent days the church seems intent on selling out to the wider culture (whether liberal or conservative expressions of that culture). We take our cues from spirits which are not The Holy Spirit. As a result, our "Temple" is always at risk. The center of our identity and the source of our confidence (whatever the particular expression of the temple is in our culture), the temple can be a sacrament to encounter God or a blasphemous idol to replace Him, the temple can be a sign of God's promise to be among us, or the religion which mixes all manner of falsehoods to appease the crowds. Jeremiah died in exile times. Our fate is yet to be revealed, but we do well to hear his words and encounter God's Word in them. We do well to respond to God and live the vocation to which He calls us (corporately and individually). The time is ripe: will we repent and experience deliverance, or will hard hearts and stiff necks reap doom?  

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Choosing Matters

Reading from John's Gospel for Morning Prayer. Today was John 3:16-21. In some ways I find John 3:17 more interesting, "For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn (krino) the world, but that the world might be saved through Him."

The Greek word "krino" means many things, among them "to judge." It appears 123 times (in 99 verses) of the New Testament. Paul likes to use it (Romans 14x, 1 Corinthians 15x) and it is in Acts (21x) the most because of all the narrative on Paul's arrests.

I was surprised that Mark never uses the word, while Matthew (3x) and Luke (5x) use it a combined total of eight. John almost doubles that with fourteen uses. This gives you an insight into the reality of the author's vocabulary.

One challenge with the biblical writings is the lack of punctuation. There are no parentheses, commas, or dashes to set off ideas. There are no quotation marks to indicate the speaker. In the Fourth Gospel this means that at times it is hard to know who is speaking. Is it Jesus talking about Himself in the third person or is the author talking about Jesus? Perhaps this question is a modern one, in ancient times such a concern did not exist, even so, some of the unevenness in reading may be attributable to the author's commentary. (It is still Scripture either way)

The fundamental issue in John 3:17 is God's intent. His goal is salvation, rescue, redemption. Those who do not believe in Jesus perish, unfortunately. Faith, as I have tried to illustrate the last few days, is not merely a thought or feeling. It includes behavioral response. [Today in Hebrews 4:1-10 that was again presented: For Good News came to us just as to them (Israel); but the message they heard did not benefit them, because it did not meet with faith in the hearers. For we who have believed enter that rest...Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the Good News failed to enter because of disobedience... Once more the parallel of faith//obedience.]

Jesus provides the way (trusting relationship, obedient discipleship) to life, that is God's offer. Yet, because "men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil"  we find that many walk away from God's offer.

Our gift is potentially life, but we can choose to walk away and reject the cure. In Lent, we are called to those disciplines and practices which allow us to redirect our life to Christ. God's desire is that we embrace His offer; Jesus waits. Each must make he changes needed so God's saving work can be effective in our lives.

In prayerful reflection on John 3:17 I daresay we can understand the goodness and mercy of God, and also come to see that His offer (Gospel) can be refused. Busy and distracted lives are no less deadly than outright sin and evil. In a sense, the greater tragedy is to miss boat doing "good" things; because the reason you miss the boat pales before the horror of seeing it sail off into the horizon and know the Captain mourns at your absence...  

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

More faith, grace and salvation

Our daily lectionary this week is Deuteronomy  8-11; Hebrews 2-5 and John 2-4. I am focused on Deuteronomy and once more encountered notice of grace and faith in the Jewish Bible.

As we said earlier this week, God saves the Jews through unmerited grace, this comes home several times again this week e.g. 8:18-19 (God gives you power to get wealth in fulfillment of the covenant that He made on oath with your Fathers), 9:4-5 (say NOT "the Lord has enabled us to possess this land because of our righteousness [this Hebrew verb is translated by the Greek word Paul uses over and over]... it is not because of your righteousness and uprightness." Not because of what you have done are you blessed, but because of God's gracious faithfulness!

The Israelites are charged by Moses, again and again, as being stiff necked and disobedient---this is before they even enter the land! Stiff-necked may refer to the refusal to prostrate one's self and bow one's head in a sign of submission. The connection of faith and obedience is heard in 9:23 (you flouted the command of the Lord your God and did not put your trust (faith) in Him and did not obey Him.)  He finished with this harsh assessment: "as long as I have known you you have been defiant toward the Lord." Yet recall, God faithfully saves them, over and over, and is very patient for a long, long time.

The New Testament Hebrews reading emphasizes the superiority of Jesus (Son) over Moses (servant). "We, the author writes, are His house." However, in speaking to Christians about their vocation, he uses Psalm 95. 95:7 "if today you hear His voice" (The Hebrew root, 'shema'--listen, hear, hearken-- occurs 75x in Deuteronomy, several times as a command) "harden not your hearts" Hebrews applies this psalm command to Jews to Christians, many of whom are Gentiles. His warning continues "take care that none of you has an evil and unbelieving heart." He continues to illustrate "those who sinned," "those who were disobedient," and "so see that they were unable to enter because of their unbelief." His parallel of Jew and Gentile expresses the continuation of the covenant (although he states the new in Jesus is superior) and the continuity, to some extent, of Christianity and Judaism.

Lent is a time to rekindle that flame of faith, to cry out to God for saving deliverance and ask Him for the gift of faith within us to be renewed. Faith is a gift and faith is a struggle. Believing in God is a cognitive challenge. Logic can give us some comfort because it is reasonable to believe there is a God. However, faith, believing in the God and Father of Jesus Christ, believing in the God revealed in Scripture, is more than an intellectual exercise. If I "believe in" this God that includes not only a mental assent, but also an assent of the will (I receive Him and give myself to Him-- faith here means trust). To trust God is also to obey Him. We cannot say we believe and disobey. Obedience is the firm content of faith/trust.

Our lives matter to God. He remembers His promise (covenant oath) and He is faithful. If He is "angry" with us (judgment is also a recurring theme in Deuteronomy, Hebrews and in the John section which we did not discuss) it is because He loves us so. But we do well to recall the ratio: judgment on three to four generations for unfaithfulness versus blessings for a thousand generations for faithfulness. The blessings are 250 to 333 times as great as the curse!
So fear not, beloved child of God, He means you well. Trust Him and be trustworthy and obedient...

Monday, February 23, 2015

Saved by Grace in the Jewish Bible

Sunday Office lectionary readings are Deuteronomy 8:1-10; 1 Corinthians 1:17-31; Mark 2:18-22

A reflection on Deuteronomy 8 begins with the declaration that the God of Deuteronomy is the Father of Jesus Christ. There is not a new God in the New Testament. Few places are the continuity of God more apparent than in this book. What follows are the word of God with my comment.

Dtn 1 29I said to you, ‘Have no dread or fear of them. 30The Lord your God, who goes before you, is the one who will fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your very eyes, 31and in the wilderness, where you saw how the Lord your God carried you, just as one carries a child, all the way that you travelled until you reached this place. 32But in spite of this, you have no trust in the Lord your God...

The parental love of God is the heart of grace. He carries us. And the sin of Israel is a lack of faith: "you have no trust." In both Testaments, we are saved by faith and our salvation is an unwarranted grace. 

Dtn 4 So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you...5 See, just as the Lord my God has charged me, I now teach you statutes and ordinances for you to observe in the land that you are about to enter and occupy. 6You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!’ 7For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? 8And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today

The focus and concern of the Bible is NOT heaven. No where do we hear the question, "If you die tonight where will you spend eternity?" While that is THE question which has preoccupied me my whole life and which is central to the religious world in which I live, the Bible is not terribly interested in disembodied existence in heaven. It is very interested in God reigning as King on earth. This worldly focus is apparent in the connection between "being blessed while living in the land" with obedience to God's expectations. "Give heed" "so that" is a conditional. It is another way of saying "if...then." And the focus is on the Promised Land in this world.
Dtn 76For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession. 7 It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you—for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8It was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt…..Blessings for Obedience

12 If you heed these ordinances, by diligently observing them, [Then] the Lord your God will maintain with you the covenant loyalty that he swore to your ancestors; 13he will love you, bless you, and multiply you; he will bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock, in the land that he swore to your ancestors to give you. 14You shall be the most blessed of peoples, with neither sterility nor barrenness among you or your livestock. 15The Lord will turn away from you every illness…. 

God chose His people out of love, they did not earn it. They did not warrant it. It is a grace. Total, unmerited grace. It is based on love not Law. If you read Paul, understand that his complaint with the Jews of his day are based on this theology found in the Jewish Bible. God saves in grace. However, the love is unconditional, not the covenant. Like our own spouses who love us for free but expect us to be faithful, God expects fidelity. He expects His children to treat each other well. In the Kingdom there cannot be disobedience (because the Kingdom is the New Eden---unmerited gift to enter and conditional to remain). Notice the blessings for fidelity are this worldly. Perhaps we need to think of the after life in those terms. When "Jesus comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead" He plans to stay here. Here is where the New Jerusalem comes. Here.

Matthew 5 The Beatitudes

 Jesus … taught them, saying: 3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (God),4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth….Salt and Light

13 ‘You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?....4 ‘You are the light of the world….let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.The Law and the Prophets

17 ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill….19Therefore, whoever breaks* one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 

We see this echoed in Jesus' words. I often wondered why the meek inherited the earth when we were going to heaven? Now I know, heaven is coming here, God is going to reign on earth (a New Earth). Jesus reminds the Jews of their vocation: to be God's people. The vocation to serve as Salt and Light are the meaning of God's choice of Israel as His People: to be chosen is a mission as well as status. Obedience to Torah is NOT for salvation, it is for blessings. That is the key. Torah obedience does not earn salvation, God's grace provides salvation, Torah obedience is the expression of faith, gratitude and holiness--it is complying with God's expectations. Neither Jesus, nor Paul nor any New Testament writer divorces faith from faithfulness. Once again, Jesus Believers who are not Jews (Gentiles) are not responding to God within the confines of the Jewish Torah Covenant through Moses. We are not Jews. We are, however, bound to the Jesus Torah (Instruction). Paul calls it the Law of Christ. The "content" of that "Torah" (teaching/instruction/expectation) is found in the words of Jesus as well as the other New Testament writers. Just as the 'commandments' of Deuteronomy replace or change "laws" found in previous books (like Exodus), so the Jesus "Law" also expands on and in places changes or replaces the Laws of the Moses' Covenant People.

Dtn 8 you shall faithfully observe all the instruction [mitzvah; 1st use, see Genesis 26:5 Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge: my commandments (mitzvah), My laws (chuqqa), and My teachings (torah)] that you may thrive and increase and be able to possess the land…Remember the long way that the Lord your God has made you travel in the wilderness these past forty years that He might TEST you by hardships TO LEARN WHAT WAS IN YOUR HEARTS…He subjected you to hardship of hunger and then gave you manna…to TEACH you that Man does not live by bread alone, but that man may live on everything that PROCEEDS from the Mouth of the Lord

God disciplines you just as a man disciplines his son. Therefore keep the commandments of the Lord your God: walk in His ways and revere Him

The Bible sometimes writes about a God who changes His mind and does not know the future. I have addressed that elsewhere. Here God says the struggles in the wilderness were a way for God to learn what is in their hearts. God wanted to find out! Paul says, in Romans, that Abraham received the promise before the law of Moses was received. Yet in Genesis 26:5 above we see that Abraham did obey God's "laws and commandments" (mizvah and torah are two of the words). Like Abraham, we are not submissive to Moses, he predates Moses, we are outside of Moses. But we do well to assume there are still "mizvah and torah" which apply to us. Grace demands obedience, not to earn the gift, but to grow into the Life of the gifted. I repeat: not to earn the gift but to grow into the fullness of the life of the Gift Giver and the fullness of the gift(s)!!!

We return full circle in the end, the God who saves Israel and carries her as a child is the same Father who disciplines His child. To be a disciple is to follow discipline. To be a disciple is to live in the fullness of being His child. His child. His child....Obedience is the way of freedom and peace. God is consistent. The New builds on the Old (one might better say Olds; because the text has numerous covenants--Adam, Noah, Moses, David; and if you accept the scholarly insights, within the Moses covenant there are several layers over many hundreds of years as it was reinterpreted and reshaped for new situations in new times and places) This world matters. salvation is a grace. Life in relationship with God requires obedience.
Heaven is coming to earth, it already has, and heaven plans to make the earth new. A new place where all will live in joy and peace, in obedience to God's expectations---and no one will consider obedience a burden, but another grace and blessing. For the One who loves us so would only expect us to do what blesses us!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Practical insights for daily life?

The Readings from Deuteronomy this week are from chapters 6&7. One key thing to keep in mind is that the first generation, those rescued from slavery out of Egypt, all perished in the desert. What generated their failure? In the end, they remained enslaved "mentally" even if they had escaped the hands of Pharaoh. Reading Deuteronomy spiritually and metaphorically makes it more applicable to our own lives. [NB, this is an approach to literature and interpretation, not a denial that the events happened. It is a question of what they can mean to us, today, at a deeper level]

There is an expression "a sober drunk" and it refers to the same thing. Our hearts can be wrong even if our outward appearance seems right. Out of the heart, says Jesus, springs forth what makes us unclean. The language of Deuteronomy, speaking of God carrying them like a father carries a child and God's promise to protect and deliver them in the future as He had in the past is juxtaposed with the Israelites' insecurities and failure to act on their faith. In the end, they were still emotionally unable to trust God for more.

Summarizing these chapters one hears several themes., First, there is a close connection between obedience and abundance. The "prosperity gospel" has always bothered me, the Crucified One dealing out Cadillacs seems offensive at some level. Yet, there is a correlation between blessings and behaviors.(Perhaps, the key is luxuries vs. needs.) At any rate, the offer of blessing is accompanied by a warning of wrath. Herein we see one of Deuteronomy's major teaching points. Do not forget God or you will pay the price. My guess is this is organic. Somehow, the problems of living outside the Reign of God are multiplied because God is excluded. If He is rejected and if He goes away then the rulers who fill the void (world, flesh, devil) are bent on destruction. If you reject love the remaining option are counterfeit love, indifference and hate.

The centrality of the land in all this cannot be overlooked. We Christians tend to talk "spiritually" (an influence of Greek philosophy and Gnostic heresy). Ironically, while we sound other worldly, most of us live with an abundance unparalleled in the history of the world. The needs of people of the land, i.e. those who work for their daily bread, leads to a focus on God the provider of our needs. We do well to remember that this land, this earth, this world is the place of blessings promised in the Jewish Bible (and in much of Jesus, too)

7:6 reminds us that grace is not a NT invention. YHWH your God chose you to become a treasured people to Him out of all the people who are on the face of the earth. It wasn't because of your being more numerous than all the people that YHWH was attracted to you so that He chose you, because you are the smallest of all people. But because of YHWH's loving you and because of His keeping the oath He swore to your fathers... (imagine God speaking that to you, especially on days when you feel small, weak and insignificant)

In other words, we cannot earn it, or cause it, or make it happen---it is the love of God for His people which motivates His choice. Now it is a mistake to think that unmerited love is "unconditional"; love is unconditional, but a relationship is not. God always loves His people, but He makes clear that there are limits to His patience. He gives us the freedom to reject Him. And remember that the chosen people are set aside for mission. God promised the Fathers (Abraham) that He would bless the world through them and their offspring. The painfilled history of the Jewish people (summed up in the Crucified) is a bitter reminder that to be God's precious one is no easy task. Do not be envious of the Jews special status. The cost is great. Every bit as great as following Jesus as a true disciple.

The words of Deuteronomy have a secondary or derived application to the church. We do well to understand the wisdom we can take from them, about who God is and how He acts. Greater minds then mine have debated the place of the Jews and the place of God's instruction since Jesus. We each must make a choice of what to do with these words. But I believe it is God's Word, and therefore it is inspired and useful for instruction. And that is why I love reading Deuteronomy.

Believe This, Then Live

In the early second century an explanation of salvation was provided based on the concept of "recapitulation" (which means to sum up, especially as in the  lawyers final argument). In a sense, we can say that Jesus' life is a "re-do" of human history and, in particular, Israel's history. Jesus gets right what we and they got wrong. This is why the Jewish Scriptures are vital to understand the Christian Testament.

Mark 1:19-35 briefly tells us that Jesus came and was baptized by John. As He comes out of the water the heavens were torn apart and the Spirit descended on Him like a dove. This reminds me of Isaiah 64:1 ("O that you would tear open the heavens and come down..."). The plea for God's salvation the heart of all human longing. Come down O Lord! And suddenly there He is.

The Spirit hovers over the waters, just as it does in Genesis 1 at creation and in Genesis 8:8-11 at the "re-creation" after Noah's flood. The recapitulation of creation/salvation is manifest in Jesus, through Whom all things came to be, will redeem the world, He is the New Creation.

The voice from heaven declares Jesus to be, "My Son, the Beloved" echoing the Genesis 22 account when Abraham is told to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac. Jesus (recapitulates) completes that story in the perfect sacrifice of His life.

Now, Jesus is driven into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. The wilderness, of course, is where Israel sojourned for forty years. It is a time of trial and testing. In Exodus 23:20ff we read that God sent an angel ahead of the people to guard them. The presence of angels with Jesus confirms the recapitulation of Israel's wilderness experience. Some think that the presence of the wild animals may be a reference to the Garden of Eden, a connection to Jesus the New Adam. Jesus recapitulates the two stories in His perfected obedience as New Israel, New Adam and true King.

Though not in Mark, we know that Jesus fasts for forty days (recapitulating and) perfecting Israel's experience. Recall, they complained (murmured) about food (bread and meat) and water, producing a wrathful response from God. Jesus willingly embraces no food. He knows that man does not live by bread alone (something found in the parallel accounts of Matthew and Luke).

It is that fasting in the Wilderness which I would like to spend a moment reflecting on now.

If Jesus recapitulates Israel's history, it is also true that you and I 'recapitulate' the Jesus story in our lives. Like Him, we are baptized, like Him we are become beloved children of God. (and here is where it breaks down. We cannot believe we are beloved children with whom God is pleased. We cannot imagine that He delights in us and treasures us. Yet what parent disowns their child? We love them in spite of their mistakes and errors. We lover them even if disappointed. If so for us, even more so for God!)

 And like Him, we are in our own time of struggle in our own wildernesses. Like Him we are called to face our choice: to be God's or to belong to another master?  

Jesus is our Messiah King. He represents His people and takes upon Himself all that is needed to make us whole. Our relationship to Him is central to everything. God calls us to 'come home' to Him. Repentance is at core turning back around and walking to Him. For so much of my life I have worried and fretted about what God wants from me. What am I supposed to do? In the readings this week it is stunningly clear. What God wants from me is me. He does not want me to do anything. He wants me to be His son....

Once we believe His words: my beloved child (son or daughter) then the process of testing takes place. In the desert God learns if we love Him. In the desert we become what we are, His beloved children. The forty years is a lifespan in the ancient world. Few lived much longer than two generations. You and I must see Lent as a special time of being proved and perfected. It is a time to fast and be purified. It is a time to connect with the deeper hunger underneath physical hunger. It is a time to actively pursue God through embracing self-negation (the Cross, love, self gift) and seeking communion with God. One-with-God.

Today is the first Sunday of Lent, it is time to be deeply involved in your own practice of cleansing your life (of sin and death: the world, the flesh, the devil) and of loving your Lord. The paradox is that to reach the Promised Land we must first be nomads in the desert. Desert conditions can be brutal and difficult, but we know God is with us. God is with us because He wants us to trust Him for everything.

Believe you are His child. Believe the desert is a place of transformation. Live!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday

Today begins Lent. The season of Lent is a time of renewed repentance and conversion. Our readings hammer home that theme effectively, just slowly read and ponder them.
[Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21]

Some key verses:
"Return to Me [the Lord] with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, with mourning, rend your hearts not your garments"

"We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled with God."

"When you give alms/fast/pray do not do it for praise, do it secretly for God... Where your treasure is, there your heart will be."

At some point we realize that inputs are not what matter, outcomes do. Do not brush your teeth, clean them. Do not study, learn the material. How often do we go through the motions and not achieve a thing because, well, we are going through the motions?

"Being good" or "being religious" is not the goal; returning to the Lord is. True reconciliation with God in Christ is the goal, not saying sinners prayers or identifying some point when we "got saved." Engaging in a faithful life of discipleship should be our focus, not piling up works, Bible reading, and saying prayers. Now, all those other things are important, but the heart is what matters most. You cannot have your heart centered and fail to do those things, but you can do those things and not have your heart centered. Lent is a time to remind ourselves that outcomes matter. If you are not alive in Christ then all you are doing is pretty much a waste of time (but one does not get alive in Christ by doing nothing--the tricky line we walk).

What is "the one thing" that you must do this Lent to make it possible to celebrate Good Friday and Easter Sunday with integrity?

"Fasting" is the exercise/discipline of emptying. Gluttony and Lust (any sins of appetites and desires) are distractions from God. The focus on what I want makes "me" the Captain of the ship. Lent is a time to clean those out and make room. I re-emphasize what I wrote on recently:

Renounce satan each day. Break every covenant which you have made with the world, the flesh and the devil. Declare them null and void and speak the Name of Jesus over them. Fasting is the process that follows, I use words to clean out my 'soul/heart' and then stop engaging in negative behaviors which poison me. I empty out the noise and distractions, the endless treats for myself, the constant focus on my wants and needs. I do it to get free. I tell food, drink, and "stuff" that Jesus is Lord, not them.

Next, open to God to be filled up! Embrace the Word and the prayer of silence. Listen. Be with God. Be there, open, even if it seems like a waste of time. God is there, it is no waste of time. Your "pointless" prayer (pointless in the sense that it is not pragmatically focused on asking for things and achieving 'results') is a gift of self to God. Thank and praise more (God centered) and nurture a spirit of gratitude and trusting faith. And tell the Lord you love Him, over and over.

On my answer machine I ask callers for two things: your name and your number. I will call you back. So often they leave a long message explaining what they want to talk about. Then they say their phone number so fast (and indistinctly) that I cannot make it out. Or they get cut off because the message is too long. Or they do not give me their number. This is missing the point. I need to know who called and how to get back to them. When I call back, then we can discuss the situation. If you want me to call you back, then focus on what I need to do it: your name and your number, period.

Same with Lent, same with God: we can miss the point. It is a sacred time of forty days, set apart for us to turn from (world, flesh, devil) and to turn to (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). It is a time to make the center the center, to reconcile with God and walk in His ways.

Some say, we do not need Lent, we should do this all the time. Truth be told, humans have a need to alternate intensity in order to improve. It is called periodization. Lent is a period of time to intensify more consciously the repentance of discipleship. There is more to Christianity than that though, and other seasons focus on other things (like joy or hope). Focusing deeply on one thing at a time makes better sense. Multi-tasking is a proven way to do lots of things not so well. Now is the time to get free of sin and death. What has a hold on you? Focus on rooting out and opening up.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Second Law

Today and most of this week, we will read from Deuteronomy in our Morning Prayer readings. It is hard to know what to do with the Jewish Bible. The concept of "Old Testament" implies, for many, "Former Covenant." I have seen a pocket New Testament (sometimes with Psalms) which only reinforces the idea of 'former' things.

Paradoxically, there are many who would not see much value in the "Old" Testament who are also pretty adamant that it is the divinely inspired Word of God. This means it is inerrant. There is some difficulty, for me, in holding those two ideas in close proximity. One is tempted to ask questions, not to reject its authority or truth but to figure out what exactly it is we think and mean.

Some believe that "times" is the answer, in former times when God spoke this particular inerrant Word it was applicable, but it no longer is because we are in a new age (post-Jesus). Certainly, the Christ has filled up the Scriptures, but this approach does not seem to do complete justice to the question, "What then to do with these writings?"

I prefer, for now, to simply read them and ask, "What do I learn of our God here?" The texts are meant to convey an encounter. This is especially true of Deuteronomy. And if modern scholarship is correct, then that is arguably the purpose of the writing(s) in an intentional way.

The first question one might ask of the text is does the author appear to be the main character? In other words, the idea that Moses wrote Deuteronomy does not feel congruent. It sounds like there is a distance (first person vs third person). Now maybe Moses wrote this way on purpose, but we know Paul's first person, personal accounts (or the "we" sections of Acts) show that the Bible does not require such an approach.

In my schooling, the concept of authorship was explained as deeper and broader in ancient thought. Moses is "the authority" behind the stories and tradition, hence, he is the name associated with the Torah (first five books). Deuteronomy is thought to be a school which produced this particular book and much of the proceeding "historical" accounts (Samuel and Kings. I would hasten to add that these works are called "prophetic" writings in the Jewish canon of Scripture). The style and vocabulary is consistent throughout and different from Genesis or Leviticus. Some of that is even apparent in the English translations, though we tend to not pay attention to such things. It is helpful to know that Hebrew, like English developed over time. If we were to combine sections of the King James Version and then the Good News Bible, most of the time it would be apparent to us that there are two sources. What then, are we to think of Deuteronomy?

Deuteronomy is written as a series of sermons. The materials are ancient, but sometimes the laws are different from other books in the Torah. The setting is changed which means laws need to adjust to new circumstances (this is true today as well). Recall, the nomadic Hebrews become the Kingdom of Israel, and then the exiled Jews. Deuteronomy seems to be written for those exiled Jews, it is an explanation of who they are, their roots, and what they were/are/shall be called to do in response to God. Deuteronomy makes very explicit the covenant requirements and the consequences for infidelity. This makes sense as an explanation for the exiled Jews trying to make sense of their situation. In addition, as Cyrus allowed them to return, that return was a new "exodus" experience. So, the text looks back into the past, but it is written with an eye to the present and future.

Suddenly, the catechetical value of the book is clear. It provides a brief history of the Exodus, but early on we already see that editing takes place (not unlike the differences in Matthew, Mark, and Luke). In 1:9ff Moses said that he was overwhelmed by the numbers of people so he decided to choose leaders for the tribes (compare to Jethro in Exodus 18). In Dtn 3 Moses blames God's anger (Moses can not go into the land) on the Israelites, not his faltering faith in striking the rock. We also see that Mount Sinai is now called Horeb. These little differences all reflect the different situation from which the book is written and composed. The "Ten Commandments" (or Ten Words) is is even found to have some differences in order and explanations. Once again, there are no earth shattering contradictions, but there are noticable differences which point to a different hand at work.

If the purpose of the book was to re-present the faith to the Jews, with some reshaping of the materials to fit a new time and place, then we have internal evidence, in the Jewish Bible, that revelation is an ongoing process. This means that the Christian Scriptures can be considered in continuation with the Jewish Bible, even if they make some shifts and changes as well.

Hundreds of years before Jesus, Jewish men and women were confronted with their story of faith. God's promises and warnings, fulfilled in the past, were now presented to them afresh. "What shall we do as we stand on the cusp of a new exodus?" those ancients asked. And the question is answered in what follows. Trust in God, do what He commands. If the understanding of all that entailed had grown and developed in the new setting (principles and their applications are notoriously tricky), so we know that our own day, with its radically different (yet fundamentally similar) set of circumstances, calls us to hear the Word anew. We just do not live 'back then', and much of the text, (whether one thinks it inerrant in the strongest sense or inspired in a more nuanced way) is foreign to us (who do not tend sheep or have slaves). What is not foreign is the God who encounters them and encounters us. So then, we must read, first of all, what is there and let our ears hear.

Deuteronomy, after all, uses the word shema (listen, hear, and obey) some eighty times. It is a book for listeners!