Saturday, July 30, 2011

Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb

Ecclesiastes 5:10-20 TNIV

Those who love money never have enough;

those who love wealth are never satisfied with their income.

This too is meaningless.

As goods increase,

so do those who consume them.

And what benefit are they to the owners

except to feast their eyes on them?

The sleep of laborers is sweet,

whether they eat little or much,

but the abundance of the rich

permits them no sleep.

I have seen a grievous evil under the sun:

wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners,

or wealth lost through some misfortune,

so that when they have children

there is nothing left for them to inherit.

Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb,

and as everyone comes, so they depart.

They take nothing from their toil

that they can carry in their hands.

This too is a grievous evil:

As everyone comes, so they depart,

and what do they gain,

since they toil for the wind?

All their days they eat in darkness,

with great frustration, affliction and anger.

This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for people to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives people wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their lives, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.

My thoughts -

We've got a lot going on in our lives right now, my family and I. I guess you could say we're in transition. My wife quit her job a few years ago to go back to school. This cut our family income in half. I was surprised to learn then how much we could live without. Now she is nearing graduation and will be looking for a new job and it will be my turn to go back.

But what kind of job will she get? Will I try to continue to work while pursuing the degree I should have finished ages ago? How much do we need to make to live how we want to? These are all questions that shape our lives now and in the immediate future. But it all comes down to this. What is important to us? What is the meaning of life? Our lives?

Scholars don't agree on the authorship of Ecclesiastes but I like the idea that Solomon wrote it. If it wasn't Solomon (and the argument against comes down to language and terminology used in it not necessarily being from the period Solomon lived in, which is well beyond my knowledge) it was someone like Solomon.

This is a wise, wealthy, and powerful man looking back on his life and reflecting. Rather disturbing then that he declares all things as "meaningless" or "vanities". Everything he worked for, all of his labor, all of his knowledge and wisdom, all of it is meaningless, all acquired in vain.

Here he describes something I think a lot of us observe. Those who love money don't seem to enjoy it. They always want more. As their wealth increases they consume (and it consumes them) more. And what do they have to show for it? Just more stuff to look at.

We have a disease of stuff. We want more stuff, new stuff, shiny stuff. Stuff that distracts us. Stuff that amuses us. Stuff that fills our lives with satisfaction, at least for a while. And when it fails to do that we replace it with more stuff.

We are never content. Never satisfied. We never have enough. Once we allow wealth, status, and stuff to define us then we can only desire it more. We are worth what we are worth, financially. And who doesn't always want to be worth more?

I can't dissect all of this as much as I'd like. That would take forever. I may have to come back to this and do a series of posts on Ecclesiastes. But Solomon (or a Solomon-like author) goes on to say that the sleep of a laborer is sweet. This is true no matter how much he has. Those who can take satisfaction in their work, in their lot in life, and in what God has given them are far better off than the rich who do not enjoy what they have been blessed with.

This is a consideration for my family as we are in this time of transition. If we blindly set our goal to acquire more wealth and status we may well enter into a cycle of dissatisfaction. We don't need a lot to live on. We are happy how we are. We have been blessed with wonderful lives, a wonderful family, three wonderful children. We don't have a perfect life. That's not available here. But we have enough.

God has blessed us beyond measure and we need to be (and are) satisfied with what we have been blessed with. We are worth so much more than our bottom line. We are loved by God. That makes us priceless. And we find satisfaction in that blessing.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Be careful with love

Song of Solomon 8:4-7 TNIV

Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you:

Do not arouse or awaken love

until it so desires.

Who is this coming up from the wilderness

leaning on her beloved?

Under the apple tree I roused you;

there your mother conceived you,

there she who was in labor gave you birth.

Place me like a seal over your heart,

like a seal on your arm;

for love is as strong as death,

its jealousy unyielding as the grave.

It burns like blazing fire,

like a mighty flame.

Many waters cannot quench love;

rivers cannot sweep it away.

If one were to give

all the wealth of one’s house for love,

it would be utterly scorned.

My thoughts -

Song of Solomon. Wow. I never thought I'd try to blog this one. This is one of those books that has always given me something of an "approach with caution" kind of vibe. But then this passage just jumped out and slapped me across the face. I must engage it.

I'm not going to deal with the book as a whole. That's dangerous territory. Why is this book part of our cannon? Is it allegory? Is it just a tale of two young lovers? Can we read God's love for His chosen people into it? Can we read Jesus and his relationship to the church into it? These are questions for smarter people than me.

But this passage, what to make of it? First we read something of a warning.

"Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires."

This thing, love, is a powerful thing. Approach it with caution. If you're not careful it can consume you.

"For love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away."

It is stronger than death and the grave. There's no going back after death. The grave doesn't give things back to us, it only takes. There is a mystery to death, but a powerful, all consuming one. Death is a road we all must travel and may be nothing to fear and yet we approach with caution and respect. There is no ignoring the power of death.

And so it is with love. The author here (probably not Solomon but that's for minds far greater than mine to debate) cautions us against love. Or at least offers that love's power needs to be respected. Love is not some idle fancy. It is a fire that won't stop burning. A thirst that can't be quenched. It has a grip that is tighter than the grave and it has as much power as death, maybe more.

We use the word love so lightly. We are always falling in and out of love. We love bacon cheeseburgers and women and men with an equal consumption driven mentality. Here we see love as the consumer, not the consumed. Here we see love as no flighty, trivial thing. Here we see love as powerful, and worth more than all we will ever have.

"If one were to give all the wealth of one’s house for love, it would be utterly scorned."

If you gave everything you own for love, the scales are still balanced towards love. It would not be a fair bargain. Love is worth more by far.

Do not enter lightly into love. It is a powerful thing whose power you can't understand or master. It is a fire that will not stop burning. It is worth more than all you will ever have. It has a grip on you tighter than that of death. Once you love you cannot unlove. Once its grip gets a hold on you it will never let go.

Love is not a bad thing. Quite the opposite. But it has a power we need to respect.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Ruth clung to her

Ruth 1:11-17 NASB

But Naomi said, "Return, my daughters. Why should you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands?  "Return, my daughters! Go, for I am too old to have a husband. If I said I have hope, if I should even have a husband tonight and also bear sons,  would you therefore wait until they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters; for it is harder for me than for you, for the hand of the Lord has gone forth against me."  And they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
  Then she said, "Behold, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods; return after your sister-in-law."  But Ruth said, "Do not urge me to leave you  or  turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people  shall be  my people, and your God, my God.  "Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse, if  anything but  death parts you and me."

My thoughts -

Naomi had nothing to offer. She told Ruth and Orpah as much. Naomi had lost her husband and her sons, to whom Ruth and Orpah had been married. She told her daughters-in-law that she had nothing to offer. She begged them to leave her, to return home to their families, and to find themselves new husbands and new lives.

You can tell these women's hearts were breaking. All were widowed. All were despondent. It was a horrible situation. Orpah wept for Naomi and for herself as she did the only thing she could do. She left. It pained her but Naomi was right. This was the only way.

But Ruth refused. And she offered Naomi one of the most beautiful oaths, found in the above passage. She forged her life to Naomi's. She made a bond. She made a covenant. These vows are not unlike wedding vows.

"Where you go I will go. Where you live I will live. Your people will be my people. Your God will be my God. Where you die I will die and be buried. And may the Lord take my life and even worse if anything but death separates us."

Ruth made this oath over Naomi's protestation. Ruth bound her life to her mother-in-law's knowing that Naomi had nothing to give her. She got nothing out of the deal but to love and care for and live with the woman whom she loved.

But Naomi had a relative, Boaz. Boaz heard what Ruth had done. And Boaz showed Ruth and Naomi kindness. Eventually Boaz married Ruth and she had a child with him. A boy. His name was Obed.

Obed eventually became the father of Jesse. Jesse then became the father of David. That David. King David. A man after God's own heart. Whose line eventually led to Jesus.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Depression is... walk alone along a crowded beach, to see all of the smiling, playful, joyous people, and to know that it is meaningless. feel the cool ocean breeze and the wet sand between your toes and to know that they are meaningless. hear the waves crash and see the majestic surf and to know that they are meaningless. offer a silent prayer with your feet, from the vapor and into the abyss, and to know that it is meaningless.

To live with depression is to accept the meaninglessness without judgement or condemnation, to stop seeking meaning in the meaningless while hoping against all hope for hope that the veil of darkness will lift and some peace can be found in a cold, dark, cruel and empty world.

Ecclesiastes 1:2-9 TNIV

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”

says the Teacher.

“Utterly meaningless!

Everything is meaningless.”

What does anyone gain from all their labors

at which they toil under the sun?

Generations come and generations go,

but the earth remains forever.

The sun rises and the sun sets,

and hurries back to where it rises.

The wind blows to the south

and turns to the north;

round and round it goes,

ever returning on its course.

All streams flow into the sea,

yet the sea is never full.

To the place the streams come from,

there they return again.

All things are wearisome,

more than one can say.

The eye never has enough of seeing,

nor the ear its fill of hearing.

What has been will be again,

what has been done will be done again;

there is nothing new under the sun.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

You meant evil but God meant it for good

Genesis 50:15-21 NASB

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, "What if Joseph bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong which we did to him!"  So they sent  a message  to Joseph, saying, "Your father charged before he died, saying,  ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph, "Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong."’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father." And Joseph wept when they spoke to him.  Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, "Behold, we are your servants."  But Joseph said to them, "Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place?  "As for you, you meant evil against me,  but  God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.  "So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones." So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

My thoughts -

I love these words Joseph speaks to his brothers. While it may seem odd that they would fear their brother after all had done for them, their fear becomes more understandable if you consider their guilt. Their sin against Joseph seems to have stuck with them longer than it has him. When Joseph encountered and briefly imprisoned them as spies when they came to Egypt looking to buy food, although they did not know their captor was their brother, they accepted their punishment. They accepted it as they had done wrong. They knew they would face God's judgement for their sin against Joseph.

Here they seem to still have a guilty conscience all these years later. Decades have passed. I'm sure someone more qualified than I can do the math but I figure it has been at least thirty years from the point that they sold Joseph into slavery until this point. It says that Jacob lived in Egypt for seventeen years, all of which were after Joseph was restored to him. Plus you have all the time that Joseph lived as a slave, then imprisoned, and then in the service of Pharaoh. The point here is that Joseph's brothers have spent decades waiting for the other shoe to drop and knowing they deserve it.

Now that their father Jacob is dead they freak out. They still believe Joseph will have his revenge. They live in guilt and fear. They know they were wrong. And so they do the thing that I would hope we all can learn to do. They admitted their sin and asked to be forgiven. They confessed to the one they harmed their guilt for that harm and they asked to be forgiven. Their attitude this whole time betrays that they believe that they do not deserve this forgiveness. They deserve to be punished. They have it coming. And yet they beg for forgiveness. And, maybe to their surprise but not to ours they receive forgiveness.

Joseph is moved by this apology that is most of his lifetime in the making. Joseph wept when his brothers came to him with their apology. And then he forgave them. He didn't just shrug off their offense. He didn't just say it was no big deal. He didn't say not to worry about it. Joseph admits that his brothers did an evil thing to him. And then, seeing the redemptive work of God that came out of it, he turns the whole thing on its head.

You meant evil, Joseph says, but God turned that evil into good. You meant harm but God turned it into blessing. You meant wrong but God made it right.

God took this horrible, dysfunctional situation and blessed and redeemed it. That's what God does. God takes the mess of our lives and makes it right. God fixes our mistakes. God redeems our failures. God takes our wrongs and rights them.

Joseph sees the work that God has done in this situation and shows it to his brothers. And in doing so he not only forgives them the wrong that they did to him but he releases them from a lifetime of guilt. Their sin isn't glossed over or swept under the rug. It isn't "no big deal". But it is forgiven. It is redeemed. They are restored. And they no longer have to live in fear, shame, and guilt.

They have been set free from their sin.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Joseph and the Count of Monte Cristo

Reflecting further on today's reading it occurred to me that there are a lot of parallels and perpendiculars between the story of Joseph and his brothers and the story of The Count of Monte Cristo. I guess you could say that the story of Joseph and his brothers is something of an anti-The Count of Monte Cristo. Or, really I guess the story of The Count of Monte Cristo is an anti-Joseph, since Joseph came well before.

In The Count of Monte Cristo, the protagonist, Edmond Dantes (sorry, I can't do that cool accent thing over the e - I'm not cool like that), is falsely imprisoned and reported as dead to his loved ones. Through a quirk in the way that he is imprisoned he acquires a great power, in this case a treasure, which he then uses against his enemies to seek vengeance. While restoration to his loved ones is a goal, it is secondary to ruining his enemies and exacting revenge. In fact, the vengeance almost dooms the restoration.

I have always like the Count of Monte Cristo because I can identify with Edmond Dantes and understand what drives him. He has been wronged. A great injustice has been done. And he has a single minded determination to right it and be avenged. I envy Edmond his power to pursue this goal.

When I read stories, especially in the Bible, I ask myself if I would do what the protagonist did. It is easy for me to see Abraham give away his wife not once but twice and say that I would never do that. It is easy for me to see him offer his son as an offering to God and say that I would never do that, audible voice of God or no. It is easy for me to see the dysfunction that comes from Isaac, Rebekah, and even Jacob playing favorites with their sons and say that I would never do that. But when I look at Joseph and how he uses the power that he is given I can also say that I could never use it the way that he did, either. I have too much Dantes in me.

Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers. He is then falsely imprisoned by his master's wife. While imprisoned God is with Joseph and everything that he does. He interprets dreams so well that this gets to Pharaoh, who is in dire need of having a dream interpreted. Joseph correctly interprets a message from God to Pharaoh telling of seven years of plenty and then seven years of famine. Joseph is so wise in this matter that he is given power over Egypt second to only Pharaoh.

With the power that he has through a quirk in the way that events played out in his imprisonment Joseph can do anything. His brothers encounter him and, like Edmond Dantes's enemies not realizing he was the Count, Joseph's brothers have no idea the man they seek the grain they need to live from is their brother whom they have wronged. Joseph literally has the power of life and death over these who should be his enemies. And does he seek vengeance?

No. Joseph seeks restoration. Sure, he messes with them some, but that is in order to get information from them that ultimately leads towards the goal of restoration. So when I ask myself if I could or would use that power that way I can honestly say no.

That is what amazes me about Joseph. It seems as though the universal position would be to seek justice and that justice would come in the form of vengeance. Wrongs must be righted. Lives of those who destroy lives must in turn be destroyed. An eye for an eye.

And yet Joseph, almost foreshadowing Jesus, refuses to do that. He sees the work of God in taking a horrible situation and redeeming it. He sees the work of God in taking broken relationships and restoring them. I need a lot less Edmond Dantes in my life and a lot more Joseph.

Redemption and restoration

Genesis 45:1-20 NASB

Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried, "Have everyone go out from me." So there was no man with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers.  He wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard  it,  and the household of Pharaoh heard  of it.   Then Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?" But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence.
  Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Please come closer to me." And they came closer. And he said, "I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.  "Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.  "For the famine  has been  in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting.  "God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance.  "Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt.  "Hurry and go up to my father, and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, "God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay.  "You shall live in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children and your flocks and your herds and all that you have.  "There I will also provide for you, for there are still five years of famine  to come,  and you and your household and all that you have would be impoverished."’  "Behold, your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin   see,  that it is my mouth which is speaking to you.  "Now you must tell my father of all my splendor in Egypt, and all that you have seen; and you must hurry and bring my father down here."  Then he fell on his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck.  He kissed all his brothers and wept on them, and afterward his brothers talked with him.
  Now when the news was heard in Pharaoh’s house that Joseph’s brothers had come, it pleased Pharaoh and his servants.  Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Say to your brothers, ‘Do this: load your beasts and go to the land of Canaan,  and take your father and your households and come to me, and I will give you the best of the land of Egypt and you will eat the fat of the land.’  "Now you are ordered, ‘Do this: take wagons from the land of Egypt for your little ones and for your wives, and bring your father and come.  ‘Do not concern yourselves with your goods, for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours.’"

My thoughts -

You can't do much worse by your brother than Joseph's brothers did by him. They were jealous. Joseph was his father, Jacob's, favorite. He was the youngest and I am sure they thought of him as a spoiled little brat. When they did poorly Joseph reported their shortcomings back to their father. He was so favored that their father made for him a special colorful cloak. He got the preferential treatment most older brothers assume their little brothers always get.

When Joseph told his brothers and his father about a dream he had in which he ruled over his brothers the older brothers had enough. The next time he was sent out into the field to check up on them they tore off his cloak, threw him into a pit, sold him into slavery, slaughtered a goat, dipped the cloak in blood, and returned it to their father as proof that Joseph had been killed and eaten by wild animals.

Jacob wept, tore his clothes, and mourned the loss of his favorite son. Meanwhile Joseph, very much still alive, was making a good name for himself serving in Egypt.

A long, winding, complicated journey saw Joseph become the head of a household, falsely imprisoned, the head of a prison, the interpreter of dreams, and ultimately through his reputation for wisdom and interpretation the right hand man to the Pharaoh and the second most powerful man in all of Egypt. Not too bad for a Hebrew slave who had been sold by his brothers and imprisoned.

Joseph had correctly interpreted Pharaoh's dream that showed there would be seven years of plenty and then seven years of famine. Under Joseph's leadership grain had been collected during the time of plenty so there would be enough when famine struck. When the famine came Egypt was prepared and eventually Joseph's brothers were sent by their father to buy grain, as everyone came to know that Egypt had plenty of grain left despite the famine that struck all of the land.

Joseph recognized his brothers when they were sent to him and disguised himself so they could not recognize him. He then discovered that his father was still alive and well and that he even had a younger brother whom he had never met. So he hatched a plot to have this reunion.

Joseph had every reason to hate his brothers. In their jealousy they sold him into slavery and reported him dead. While ultimately things worked out well for Joseph they had no reason to suspect that things would turn out this way. They wanted him dead but couldn't muster the nerve to kill him themselves and so they did the next best thing. He was dead to them this way. They even got to make some money on it. That seemed better to them than killing him anyway. They had no concern for Joseph. They just got rid of him. They had the power to do that and so they did.

When they next encounter Joseph he now has the power to do whatever he wishes. The tables have turned. Surely they deserve to be punished for how they treated their brother. Surely he can now get his revenge. And he does mess with them. He accuses them of being spies and has them imprisoned. They fear for their lives and even decide that this may be God's punishment for them for how they treated their brother.

But Joseph does not exact his revenge with his power. He does something with his power that is far more gratifying. He orchestrates reconciliation with it. He arranges to reunite with his father and his brothers and even with the brother that he never knew he had. He blesses them. He recognizes that ultimately, though they did wrong by him, God has redeemed the situation by blessing Joseph and that blessing has enabled his entire family to live.

Keep in mind that this is a severe famine that will last for seven years. By year two things have gotten desperate. There are still five years left. But God has placed Joseph in a position to provide for his entire family through it. And God has place Joseph in a position to guide an entire nation through it.

God took the deplorable actions of Joseph's brothers and used them to work for good. They had power and used it to abuse their brother. God redeemed this. And when Joseph had power, seeing God's redemption, he used his power for reconciliation.

Through God's redemptive power a nation is saved from famine and a dysfunctional family is restored. Praise God.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Genesis 33:1-11 NASB

Then Jacob lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids.  He put the maids and their children in front, and Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph last.  But he himself passed on ahead of them and bowed down to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.
  Then Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.  He lifted his eyes and saw the women and the children, and said, "Who are these with you?" So he said, "The children whom God has graciously given your servant."  Then the maids came near with their children, and they bowed down.  Leah likewise came near with her children, and they bowed down; and afterward Joseph came near with Rachel, and they bowed down.  And he said, "What do you mean by all this company which I have met?" And he said, "To find favor in the sight of my lord."  But Esau said, "I have plenty, my brother; let what you have be your own."  Jacob said, "No, please, if now I have found favor in your sight, then take my present from my hand, for I see your face as one sees the face of God, and you have received me favorably.  "Please take my gift which has been brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me and because I have plenty." Thus he urged him and he took  it.

My thoughts -

It's amazing what a little time and distance can do for healing. When Jacob and Esau last saw each other Esau was plotting to kill Jacob after Jacob had stolen Esau's blessing from their father. Jacob fled in fear and settled in Laban's house where he labored for twenty years.

Jacob had taken both of Laban's daughters as his wives and had amassed a large flock and many servants and children while with Laban. Upon returning to the land of his father Jacob feared his brother would still be angry so he took a portion of his flock and had it driven ahead by his servants to be a gift for his brother.

While twenty years had passed Esau would have every right to be angry with Jacob. In Esau's mind Jacob had stolen both his birthright (Esau despised and sold his birthright, though one could argue Jacob should not have exploited Esau's weakness in this area) and his blessing. While Jacob worked hard for Laban it is also clear that he prospered from the blessing, as God was with him in all that he did. Laban's flock grew exponentially under Jacob's care.

So Jacob returns to his brother. He is successful and wealthy. Twenty years have passed. He desires to be restored to his brother, or at least to be able to live in peace near him. So he gives Esau this gift. Call it a peace offering. Call it restitution. Jacob has wronged Esau, after all. Esau despised his birthright but Jacob did steal the blessing. He lied and manipulated their father and impersonated his brother while Esau was away doing what their father desired in order to be blessed. Esau did all the work and Jacob got the blessing.

So, did Esau's anger still burn after twenty years? We find the answer to that question in the form of a warm embrace. Twenty years can put out the hottest of fires.

"Wow! It's good to see you! How are you doing?" Esau asks. "It's been a long time. Who are all these people with you?"

"I have been blessed." Jacob humbly replies. "And I have a gift for you as well."

Esau doesn't want to take the gift at first but Jacob insists. And with that the two brothers are restored. The hatchet is buried. Time, distance, and some growing up on both sides have healed the wounds of the past. Jacob has worked hard for twenty years for a father in law who lied and cheated him. Esau had also made a life of his own.

Two grown men stand before each other. Twenty years have passed. Childish feuds are behind them. They embrace. It's good to be home.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A family tradition?

Genesis 29:15-30 NASB

Then Laban said to Jacob, "Because you are my relative, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?"  Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.  And Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and face.  Now Jacob loved Rachel, so he said, "I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel."  Laban said, "It is better that I give her to you than to give her to another man; stay with me."  So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her.
  Then Jacob said to Laban, "Give  me  my wife, for my time is completed, that I may go in to her."  Laban gathered all the men of the place and made a feast.  Now in the evening he took his daughter Leah, and brought her to him; and  Jacob  went in to her.  Laban also gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah as a maid.  So it came about in the morning that, behold, it was Leah! And he said to Laban, "What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served with you? Why then have you deceived me?"  But Laban said, "It is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the firstborn.  "Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also for the service which you shall serve with me for another seven years."  Jacob did so and completed her week, and he gave him his daughter Rachel as his wife.  Laban also gave his maid Bilha to his daughter Rachel as her maid.  So  Jacob  went in to Rachel also, and indeed he loved Rachel more than Leah, and he served with Laban for another seven years.

My thoughts -

Jacob benefited from his mother's deception. Isaac and Rebekah had twin sons, Jacob and Esau. Jacob was his mother's favorite but Isaac, the older of the two, was his father's favorite. We read yesterday how Esau despised his birthright and sold it to Jacob for a meal. Esau also lost his father's blessing to Jacob due to a plot to steal it hatched by his mother and executed by Jacob and Rebekah.

Rebekah then feared for her favorite son Jacob's life as Esau, no doubt fed up with his brother's shenanigans, decided upon their father's death that he would console himself in his grief by murdering his brother. So Rebekah sent Jacob to be with her brother Laban, and to take for himself a wife from Laban's daughters.

As soon as Jacob arrives he discovers Rachael and is smitten. Rachel is beautiful. He is so taken with her that he kisses her in their first meeting. As he stays with Laban he works for him and requests as his payment to be married to Rachel. Laban agrees to this if Jacob will work for him for seven years.

The lack of patience displayed in that first encounter must have subsided because Jacob agrees to the terms and works for his soon to be father in law for seven years. Upon completion of that time Laban shows that he is every bit as good at duplicity and deception as his sister Rebekah and gives Jacob his other daughter instead.

Rebekah's deception benefited Jacob. He unjustly received his father's blessing that was intended for Esau. This wasn't like Esau selling his birthright. Esau may have learned from that mistake. He did not intend to let Jacob have the blessing. Jacob, with the help and guidance of his mother, stole it. Esau did that which was required of him to receive the blessing. He did what his father asked. Jacob did not. Jacob lied, impersonated his brother, and stole it. Rebekah's plot was well conceived, well executed, and completely dishonest.

Laban's plot was as well. Jacob desired Rachel so much he was willing to work for Laban for seven years to have her. But Laban had a less desirable daughter whom he needed to get a husband for. So Laban pulled a bait and switch and lovesick Jacob had no choice but to work another seven years for Laban if he wanted Rachel.

Laban got Leah, his older and far less attractive daughter married off and he got fourteen years labor out of Jacob. Laban and Rebekah show here that deception and duplicity must be a family tradition.

Jacob benefited from one act of deception and was taken in by another. And we see throughout all of Genesis that for as long as people have been on the earth they have lied, cheated, and killed each other to get what they want. We are a fallen people, indeed.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Despising birthrights

Genesis 25:27-34 NASB

When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field, but Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents.  Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.  When Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished;  and Esau said to Jacob, "Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished." Therefore his name was called Edom.  But Jacob said, "First sell me your birthright."  Esau said, "Behold, I am about to die; so of what  use  then is the birthright to me?"  And Jacob said, "First swear to me"; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob.  Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

My thoughts -

Sometimes I read about Jacob and Esau and I feel like Jacob did Esau dirty. He took his brother, who was hungry, and refused to feed him until Esau agreed to sell him his birthright. Esau, in this way of thinking it would seem, was in a vulnerable position and was exploited by his rather clever brother.

But this interpretation of these events ignores Esau's actions. Was Esau starving? Really? Was he about to die. Or did he, like my sons too often do, just come in a look to see what was in the fridge, just because.

Sure he thought he was hungry. And maybe he was. But when Esau says "I'm starving" to me at least it rings as empty as my sons' pleas. He's not starving. He just wants what his brother has. Sure, he could be hungry. But this is not a matter of life and death.

This is how Esau despised his birthright. He had something far more valuable than a meal and yet, in his temporary discomfort, how sold low on it for temporary satisfaction. He traded his birthright for a bowl of soup. He sold his inheritance for a meal.

Do we do the same thing? Do we take what is promised to us by God, the things of heaven, and trade them in for temporary satisfaction on earth? Do we forsake God's ways and despise our birthright as children of God and trade it in on what is fleeting here?

Do we act like bored teenaged boys staring at the fridge hoping for leftover pizza to appear, trusting in the fleeting things of this world rather than in the eternal hope we have in the Lord?

Saturday, July 16, 2011


Genesis 21:1-7 NASB

Then the Lord took note of Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had promised.  So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him.  Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac.  Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him.  Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.  Sarah said, "God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me."  And she said, "Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age."

My thoughts -

God made a ridiculous promise to Abraham and Sarah. Though they had no children and had lived well past the age you would expect them to be able to conceive God told Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. As if this were not clear enough God even made a more specific promise. God came near prior to the destruction of Sodom and visited Abraham. Abraham was 99 at the time and God promised He would visit again in a year and they would have a child. This promise, of course, was so ridiculous that Sarah, despite herself, laughed in God's face.

God made this promise, though, and God was faithful. But what of Abraham and Sarah? During the time that God had promised them offspring Sarah and Abraham took matters into their own hands by having Abraham also take Sarah's maid Hagar as his wife. With Hagar Abraham conceived a son Ishmael, but that son was not the fulfillment of God's promise.

Abraham also, not once but amazingly twice, gave his wife to other men to be their wife during this time. This displeased the Lord so much that he cursed those men and their families until Abraham and Sarah were restored to each other. Abraham trusted God enough to leave his home and his entire life behind. Abraham trusted God enough to believe it possible that he could father a child while being nearly 100 years old. But Abraham did not trust God enough to protect him and his wife from harm. And yet God, despite Abraham's lack of faith in this area, did just that while forcing others to restore the relationship that Abraham so foolishly and fearfully tossed away.

God promised that his chosen people would come through Abraham and Sarah. Abraham and Sarah seemed to go out of their way to ensure that this could not happen. And yet God, despite Abraham and Sarah's age and their actions, did what he promised.

God was faithful. Abraham and Sarah were blessed with the child promised to them. They were blessed in spite of the fact that he was 100 and she was 90. They were blessed in spite of the fact that neither were all that faithful to God or to each other. They were blessed in spite of the sheer absurdity of this entire situation.

God is faithful. Humans may fail. But God is faithful.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Trust, fear, and sin

Genesis 12:10-20 NASB

Now there was a famine in the land; so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land.  It came about when he came near to Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, "See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman;  and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live.  "Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you."  It came about when Abram came into Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful.  Pharaoh’s officials saw her and praised her to Pharaoh; and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house.  Therefore he treated Abram well for her sake; and gave him sheep and oxen and donkeys and male and female servants and female donkeys and camels.
  But the Lord struck Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife.  Then Pharaoh called Abram and said, "What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife?  "Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife, take her and go."  Pharaoh commanded  his  men concerning him; and they escorted him away, with his wife and all that belonged to him.

My thoughts -

Abram trusted God enough to leave his family and his country behind to do the will of God. And yet, Abram feared the Egyptians enough to not trust God to protect him. I would say that he didn't trust God enough to protect him and his wife, but I am not sure how much concern he had for his wife. After all, he handed her over to a powerful man to be his wife, too.

Fear makes us do some pretty stupid things. Adam and Eve were afraid in the garden and so, rather than turn to God and confess their sins and repent they hid from God, were eventually found anyway, and received a curse. Peter was afraid after Jesus was arrested and, though he had the promise of being the "rock" upon whom the church would be built, he denied ever knowing God. Sarah was afraid that God would leave her childless and allowed Abraham to take another woman to conceive. And before that happened Abraham (Abram here) was afraid that his wife's beauty would make the Egyptians so passionately jealous they would kill him over it, and so he allowed their king to take Sarah (Sarai here) to be his wife.

It's easy for me to look at this, thousands of years removed, and judge Abram. I can say I would not do this thing. I can say I would trust God enough to not fear the Egyptians. I can say that I would love my wife enough to not hand her over. I can say I would love my integrity enough to not lie. I can say, absent any virtues here, that I am a jealous enough man that I wouldn't let another man marry my wife anyway.

I can say these things from the safety of my living room. I can say them while facing no harm. I can say them while I have no reason to fear. I can trust God when nothing is on the line. My faith is strong in my mind when it faces no challenges. I am not afraid. I have no reason to be.

Abram's fear caused him to sin. That sin brought plagues down on the Egyptians. Peter's fear caused him to deny Christ and then to face all of the doubt, confusion, uncertainty, and shame that came with it. Sarah's fear caused her to give her husband to another woman and set up all kinds of strife for her and her family. Adam and Eve's fear came from their sin but also expanded the distance between them and God that their sin created.

But do we have reason to fear? It is easy to say no. It is easy to say that we can trust God completely. It is easy to say that there is nothing that the world can dish out that its Creator can not handle.

But can we do that while facing hardship, persecution, and death? Can we trust God when we really do have something to lose? I can sit in my living room and judge the heroes of our faith for their shortcomings in the same way that I can judge the NBA player on TV for missing a game winning shot or the NFL quarterback for throwing a drive crippling interception. I am comfortable here. And I have the delusion in my comfort that I could do better.

Abram left everything to follow God. And he made more than a few mistakes along the way. He was human. He had fear. He trusted God but not completely. Has anyone?

God tells us not to be afraid. Pretty much every time you see God send a messenger in the Old Testament the first words out of the messenger's mouth are "do not be afraid". I think there's a pretty good reason for that. We are human. No matter how much we like to think otherwise we can't help but notice that we are mortal. We have a lot to lose. And we are afraid. And that fear causes us to do, at times, some rather unthinkable things. This has always been so.

And, as much as I'd like to think otherwise I am no exception to this.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sin is crouching at the door

Genesis 4:1-10 NASB

Now the man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, "I have gotten a manchild with  the help of  the Lord."  Again, she gave birth to his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.  So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground.  Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering;  but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.  Then the Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?  "If you do well, will not  your countenance  be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it."  Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.
  Then the Lord said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" And he said, "I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?"  He said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground.

My thoughts -

Yesterday we had Adam and Eve. Today we have Cain and Abel, another familiar story of sin.

I can relate to Cain more than I would like to be able to. No, I haven't killed my brother. (As a twin, though, growing up that always seemed like a live option for either of us.) But I am constantly plagued by jealously and insecurity.

Cain and Abel both gave offerings to the Lord. As much as I like things to be egalitarian it is clear in this passage that Abel's offering was better. Cain gave a portion of the fruits of his labor. Abel gave the first and best portion of his. God was pleased with Abel's offering and not with Cain's.

I am sure that stung a bit. No one likes to have their work looked down upon, even and especially if there is reason for it. No one likes to feel inadequate, even and especially of their work is inadequate. Cain got butt hurt. It happens. No one likes to be reprimanded, even and especially if there is a good reason for the reprimand.

So God asks Cain why he is angry. God then rebukes him and offers that if he does well then he will be lifted up. And then God offers Cain this warning. Sin is crouching at the door. Sin wants you. It longs for you. It is desperately seeking you and it's about to have you. Don't let it. You have to master it.

Cain did not get the affirmation he was looking for from God. Instead he goes to his brother. Whatever happened while Cain and Abel were talking, ultimately it led to them being in a field and Cain killing his brother.

I like affirmation. I think we all do. It is good to hear a "well done" every now and then. It is good to have our work praised. It is good to know that we are doing the right thing and we are doing it well. But we are not always doing the right thing. And we do not always do it well. And sometimes others are just plain better than us. It is easy to become jealous. It is easy to let that jealousy enrage us. It is easy to make those people our enemies. It is easy to hate.

I have a hard time sometimes celebrating the success of others, especially if that success seems to come at my expense. This is a natural thing, but not what God desires. This breeds jealousy, bitterness, and hatred. Sin is crouching at the door. I need to be aware when I am jealous and bitter and master them.

No, I'm not likely to kill my brother like Cain did. But Jesus sets a different standard than physically killing. Jesus says that if we hate someone that's the same as murdering them. We dehumanize. In our hearts they are as good as dead. And this is what jealousy leads to. Bitterness, hatred, and death.

Cain would have done well to receive God's rebuke, acknowledge that his offering was inadequate, and done better next time. Cain should have accepted responsibility for his actions, humbled himself, and corrected them. Instead he blamed his problems on his brother, whose offering was well received, and ultimately in a jealous rage murdered him.

If Cain had listened to God's rebuke and the warning against sin he would still have a brother and would live in a reconciled relationship with his brother and with God. Instead he refused to heed God's warning and instead committed and atrocity and received a curse.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It's not my fault!

Genesis 3:1-13 NASB

Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, "Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?"  The woman said to the serpent, "From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat;  but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’"  The serpent said to the woman, "You surely will not die!  "For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."  When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make  one  wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.  Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.
  They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?"  He said, "I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself."  And He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?"  The man said, "The woman whom You gave  to be  with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate."  Then the Lord God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?" And the woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate."

My thoughts -

We all know the story. This is how humans fell. This is the origin of sin. Patient zero, as it were. Adam and Eve walk with God and live in innocence until the serpent convinces Eve to do what the Lord had commanded her not to, and she in turn convinces her husband.

Rather than looking at how they fell, though, I'd like to look at their immediate response to sin. God walks in the garden. This is not a strange event. If God came near today it would be, but Adam and Eve had direct access to God. And yet, though this event is not strange something different happened after they sinned. They were afraid. They hid.

God calls after them. I like that. We have fallen. We hide from God. And God calls after us. God asks why they are hiding and Adam's response reveals his sin. So God confronts him with it.

When God reveals himself to us we become confronted with our own sin. We can not help but, in the face of such goodness and holiness, acknowledge the difference between God and us. Our sin is revealed and we are called to repent and be restored to God.

When faced with his own sin did Adam repent? Did he ask for forgiveness and restoration? No. He blamed his wife. He said "It's not my fault." Not only did he blame his wife but he also, in a round about way, blamed God. He said "The woman You gave me made me do it." There is no repentance here. Just denial and justification. Adam does not hold himself accountable for his actions. He blames others. He does not accept responsibility for his sin. He blames his wife and God.

Eve responds in much the same way. Rather than accept responsibility, repent, and seek reconciliation with God, Eve tries to pass off the blame on the serpent.

Sin has its consequences so Adam and Eve have to leave the garden. Their lives will be much harder. They no longer have direct access to God and they will have to work and toil for everything they need. Life for them and eventually for us will be much, much harder away from the garden. And they will not have access to the tree of life.

But I wonder, when initially confronted with their sin what would have happened if they had acknowledged it and repented? What would have happened if they had taken responsibility for their actions and asked for forgiveness and reconciliation? Could God not have forgiven them? Could God not have restored their relationship?

We will never know but I can't help but wonder what would have happened if instead of saying "It's not my fault!" Adam had said "Forgive me Lord, for I have sinned."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Complicated relationship with Babylon

Revelation 18:9-20 NASB

"And the kings of the earth, who committed  acts of  immorality and lived sensuously with her, will weep and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning,  standing at a distance because of the fear of her torment, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city! For in one hour your judgment has come.’
  "And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, because no one buys their cargoes any more--  cargoes of gold and silver and precious stones and pearls and fine linen and purple and silk and scarlet, and every  kind of  citron wood and every article of ivory and every article  made  from very costly wood and bronze and iron and marble,  and cinnamon and spice and incense and perfume and frankincense and wine and olive oil and fine flour and wheat and cattle and sheep, and  cargoes  of horses and chariots and slaves and human lives.  "The fruit you long for has gone from you, and all things that were luxurious and splendid have passed away from you and  men  will no longer find them.  "The merchants of these things, who became rich from her, will stand at a distance because of the fear of her torment, weeping and mourning,  saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, she who was clothed in fine linen and purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls;  for in one hour such great wealth has been laid waste!’ And every shipmaster and every passenger and sailor, and as many as make their living by the sea, stood at a distance,  and were crying out as they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, ‘What  city  is like the great city?’  "And they threw dust on their heads and were crying out, weeping and mourning, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, in which all who had ships at sea became rich by her wealth, for in one hour she has been laid waste!’  "Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her."

My thoughts -

This was part of my reading yesterday and I wanted to post on it but I couldn't get my thoughts together in any kind of coherent manner. I'm not sure that's changed. I guess the big issue here for me is that I feel like I have, and really maybe we all have a somewhat complicated relationship with Babylon.

First off, in our culture could we really identify Babylon? What is "the great city"? What, here and now, best represents the accomplishments of humans without regard to relationship with God? A lot of Christians in America want to believe that we are something of a New Jerusalem, that we have received God's favor and are God's people and have some kind of a national relationship with God. The rest of the world probably sees us as something closer to Babylon than anything else.

Obviously when John was writing the United States did not exist and I'm sure in writing to the early church he had no reason to anticipate that we ever would. But as I read, as much as it pains me, our consumer driven culture that cares more about the trappings of the "good life" than it cares for the "least of these", feels an awful lot like Babylon. As I drove yesterday out Winchester Road towards the interstate passing strip club after strip club I couldn't help but think of Babylon. While Lexington, where I live, or any other US city, or the US as a whole may not be a perfect match for Babylon here we certainly have a lot of Babylon in us.

And here's the thing: I like it here. I'm comfortable. Sure there's sin. I'm not saying I like the shootings or the sex trade or the desperate poverty or the violence or the unbridgeable gap between the rich and the poor. But I'm comfortable here. I have a life here. I have a living here. It's what I know. It's what I'm used to. It's all I've ever known. And I'm pretty insulated and isolated from most of the worst of it here and in other cities. I live in a nice bubble, a fantasy.

I am like the merchants who sell their goods to Babylon. I become rich off of the "great city" and need it. I weep and mourn in its destruction because I need it. God's justice is far less important to me than my comfortable life and my next meal. The sin ain't so bad from where I'm sitting. Babylon is important, necessary even. I need Babylon to live.

I could never rejoice in the destruction of Babylon. I am compromised by my complicated relationship with it. But, before I kick myself too much over that fact I have to acknowledge that I may not rejoice even absent the complicated relational compromise. God's wrath is a severe thing. As a sinner formerly bound for and deserving of destruction I know that. I know that I am saved from it not because I deserve it but because Christ intervened on my behalf, on behalf of us all. How could we, deserving of destruction ourselves, ever rejoice in the destruction of others? Again, it's complicated.

I never seem to have the answers I think should be readily available. Are we Babylon? Well, yes and no I guess. Are we bound for destruction? All things end. Can we rejoice in God making things right? I think we should be able to but there is no painless way to get there. And I don't like pain, even if it brings with it a promise of better things ahead.

Does that mean I don't trust God enough?

Well maybe.

It's complicated.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

God will wipe every tear from their eyes

Revelation 7:9-17 NASB

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and  all  tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches  were  in their hands;  and they cry out with a loud voice, saying,
"Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb."  And all the angels were standing around the throne and  around  the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God,  saying,
"Amen, blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might,  be  to our God forever and ever. Amen."
  Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, "These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?"  I said to him, "My lord, you know." And he said to me, "These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  "For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them.  "They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat;  for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes."

My thoughts -

Revelation is a scary book. That was my view until a few years ago. In high school when I read the whole Bible I stopped short at Revelation. It was a dangerous place. It was filled with dangerous things. It was dark. It was mysterious. It had deep impenetrable secrets. It was no place to go. It was the place on the medieval map marked "here there be dragons".

Imagine my surprise then when I read Ray Summers' book on Revelation, Worthy is the Lamb, a few years later. Sure, there are frightening images and some pretty terrifying events depicted in Revelation. There are dragons and horsemen and beasts and death and famine and disease and all kinds of horrible, horrible things. But Revelation is a book of comfort. Revelation is a book of worship. Quite frankly that had never really occurred to me before then. But what could be more comforting than today's passage?

Here we have a people who have suffered. They have been oppressed, beaten, and killed for their beliefs. This is a grim, grisly thing. I don't think most of us can understand what it was like for early believers. Our faith has been so ingrained in our culture it can sometimes be difficult to separate the two. We consider it persecution if we are not the dominant voice in the conversation about God.

It would never be a part of our reality that we could be killed by the state for our beliefs. In my world at least that's something that only happens in other places and in other times. Sure, some nut might take offense but where I am we are pretty much the majority. If oppression happens it comes from us, not to us.

But here we see the ones that have come from the great tribulation. They have been oppressed. They have been beaten. They have been killed. They have been burned and crucified. They have suffered things unimaginable to me. And yet here are words of comfort, written to those who live in a time and place where suffering and death for following Jesus was a live option.

They serve Him day and night in his temple.

What could be better for those who would serve Jesus in this life to the point of death? That which you would die for the opportunity to do you get to do for eternity. Nothing, not even death, can separate you from Jesus.

They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat;  for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.

They will find rest and comfort in Jesus. Nothing in this world can bother them any more. They are at peace, led by a Good Shepperd to the springs of the water of life. No hunger, no thirst, no suffering, no pain, no more tears. Nothing else can harm them.

This is something those who suffer greatly for their faith could especially look forward to. But this is also a homecoming we can all look forward to. Peace, comfort, and rest in Christ.

Can you find anything more comforting than this?

Friday, July 8, 2011


Revelation 3:14-22 NASB

"To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:
  ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot.  ‘So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.  ‘Because you say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked,  I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.  ‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.  ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.  ‘He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.  ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’"

My thoughts -

Is there anything worse than being lukewarm? Consider pizza. Pizza is delicious when served piping hot out of the oven. But there are some that prefer cold pizza out of the refrigerator, especially for breakfast. But have you ever heard of anyone who likes pizza best when served a room temperature, cool enough that the cheese is no longer melty but has congealed but not cold enough to be considered "cold pizza"?

Or consider a basketball team. If you want to lose your fan base the best way to go about doing it is to just barely miss the playoffs each season. Your team isn't any good but isn't bad enough to get an impact player in the draft. There's no hope there. Your mired in mediocrity.

Or consider the addict. While painful recovery happens after someone hits rock bottom, when things are bad enough that they have to acknowledge there's a problem. When denial is no longer an option.

Laodicea is in denial. They are described as thinking they are rich (spiritually) while actually being poor. They don't know how bad off they are. They have enough deeds that they can talk themselves into believing that they faithfully serve while not actually doing so.

Here, Jesus through John is leveling his harshest criticism towards any of the seven churches. When reading through this section of Revelation you see a familiar pattern. There will be a list of good things about a church followed by "but this I hold against you". Here the pattern breaks.

The first sentence is an indictment. You are lukewarm. Because of this I spit you out. Both barrels are given right off the bat. No punches are pulled. No holds are barred. They are on the receiving end of a scathing, righteous lecture. Basically Jesus is telling them through John that really if they were anything other than that which they are they'd be a lot better off. And the worst part is they don't know it. They have no idea. They're in denial.

So that's bad news, right? But here's the good news. There is yet hope. They can turn. They can change. Jesus is calling each of these churches to repent. Laodicea can do so as well. Jesus is saying "I am at the door knocking. Let me in and I will eat with you." They can overcome their shortcomings. They can be restored to Jesus. All they have to do is repent.

But that's the thing with being lukewarm, isn't it. To repent you have to acknowledge sin and turn from it. They are still in denial. That is the indictment. They have no idea how bad things have gotten. They still think they're serving Christ.

Could Jesus hold the same thing against us?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

You have left your first love

Revelation 2:1-7 NASB

"To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this:
  ‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false;  and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary.  ‘But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.  ‘Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place--unless you repent.  ‘Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.  ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’

My thoughts -

The church in Ephesus sounds like a pretty intense place. They are known by their deeds. They are known by their perseverance. They are known by their endurance. They are positioned in a culture in which they are a minority religion and yet they take a prophetic stand against that culture and its gods. They call out and expose false prophets. They have no tolerance for other believers who compromise their principles to avoid persecution. Theirs is not a watered down faith. Theirs is not a faith that fears persecution or even death. Theirs is a faith that takes a stand no matter what the cost and refuses to bow down to culture.

There's a lot to be said for that. Though the church in America (and particularly in the Bible Belt) dominates the religious landscape we make concessions to culture all the time. We water things down to have more appeal. You won't find too many pastors demanding that their congregants sell all they have and give to the poor. We'd rather you just give your ten percent. On most issues the church is more than happy to "meet you where you are" and have you feel nice and comfortable so that you're willing to come back next week. We won't challenge you. Not much. We won't challenge culture. Not much. If we make things too challenging then we might not make payroll.

That's obviously a cynical overgeneralization. The point here is that the church in Ephesus had no consideration for cultural concerns and no patience for those who did. I think most churches would envy their freedom in this area, though probably not the level of persecution that would inevitably follow. This is an intense place. This is an intense church. And yet, they're doing it wrong.

How can that be? They are known by their deeds, their perseverance, their endurance, and their inability to.compromise to culture. Theirs is a powerful ministry. It is producing fruit. What could they be doing wrong?

They have left their first love.

What does that mean? It is a pretty open, ambiguous statement. What is their first love and how have they left it?

When asked about what the most important commandment is Jesus responded that it is to love God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength. He followed that up by saying that it is also to love your neighbor as yourself. These two are tied together. They are inseparable. Not even Jesus can separate them. The love of God is the love of neighbor. We show that we love God by loving others.

This is our first love. This is the most important thing that we can be doing. This is what Jesus said all of the law could be summed up as. This is what Paul said that, if we are not doing it we are nothing, no matter how beautiful our prayers and praise, how much faith, how much service, how much sacrifice, how much dedication we have.

Somewhere along the lines this vibrant, important, alive, and uncompromising church left this love behind. And they need to repent or be removed. They need to rekindle this lost love or they are nothing.

We can't compete with this church on works. We can't compete with it on a prophetic witness to a culture that is hostile to the gospel. We can't compete with it on faith, hope, perseverance and endurance in the face of persecution. And yet even this church is not off the hook when it comes to love. They must repent and return to their first love.

May we never forget this and may we never turn from ours. If we do may we repent. May they know we are Christians by our love. Not by our works or our words, though they are important. By our love.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

God is love

1 John 4:7-13 NASB

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.  By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son  to be  the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.  By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.

My thoughts -

I love love. Well, I guess I more love the idea of love. The practice of it is a bit more challenging than one might expect.

That's the rub, isn't it? It is easy and it feels good to affirm that God is love. It is easy and it feels good to affirm that God loves us. It is easy and it feels good to affirm that we must love God and love one another. Nice, happy affirming thing, love.

But what does it mean to love? When Paul tells us in 1Corinthians 13 that love is patient, kind, not envious, boastful, proud rude or selfish can we live up to that? When we hear that love does not delight in evil or in lies but rejoices in the truth can we live up to that? When Jesus tells us that there is no greater love than laying down our lives can we do that? Can we follow the example of our Lord who did that very thing for us?

We hear that God is love and desires love from us and it feels good. Love is a nice warm fuzzy word. But love is a pretty demanding ideal. Love requires sacrifice. Love demands our very best. Love demands that we do not hold on to our petty grudges and selfishness but subvert our own wills and serve others, even people we don't much care for.

Love in its greatest form is the selfless act of Christ who offered himself up to reconcile us to God even though we, at the time God's enemies, did not even desire that reconciliation. Can we reconcile selflessly to our enemies?

We can't see God. Not directly. I wish I had direct access to God but it's just not available to me. But we can see love. We can see it in the selfless acts of each other. And love, in its perfect selfless ideal makes no sense. But in this selfless love we see God.

Can we be this love of God in a world desperate for it?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Do not fear

1 Peter 3:13-17 NASB

Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good?  But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their  intimidation, and do not be troubled,  but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always  being  ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;  and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.  For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.

My thoughts -

My dear friend Aaron Mansfield posted some questions on his blog yesterday after learning of a pastor friend who was severely beaten in India for his faith. He wonders aloud if our zeal for evangelism would hold up to persecution.

I wonder, too if we could endure through persecution. Sure, American Christians (especially in the Bible belt) like to cry persecution every time some cultural issue doesn't go how we want it to (as though all Christians have a like mind on every issue - but that is a conversation for another day). But we are pretty well established in this culture and ultimately Christianity here is in the majority.

It is very difficult to get elected to public office without expressing faith in God, for instance, and that God is almost always described as the one we worship. This is in spite of the fact that our Constitution forbids any religious litmus test for elected office. While the Constitution may not permit it the public demands it. For all the talk of an attack on God and religion here both seem blissfully unaware of any immediate peril.

How would we respond if we really were under attack? How would we respond if we really were being persecuted? How would we respond if we were in an overwhelmed minority and faced ridicule, beatings, and death simply for believing what we believe and living out our faith. This is the world that Mansfield's friend lives in. And this is the world the early church lived in; the people Peter is addressing with this letter.

Peter asks who is there to harm those that do good? In my mind this echoes Paul in his letter to the Romans. ("If God is for us who can be against us?") While some may ridicule, slander, and try to intimidate you, Peter says, they will ultimately be put to shame. It is better to do what is right and suffer for it than it is to not do what is right and also, ultimately, to suffer for that as well.

These seem like odd words of comfort. They concede suffering, either one way or the other. You can do God's will and face hostility from those who seek to prevent you from it, or you can fail to do God's will and take your chances with the wrath of God. Suffering could happen either way. It's better to do what God requires. It is better to do what is right than what is wrong.

So how do we play this forward to today and a culture that seems to tolerate Christianity an awful lot more than the one Peter lived in? Have you tried taking a stand on an issue that "the world" doesn't want you to? Challenge consumerism in this culture and see how far that gets you. Challenge the conflation of God and country that permeates our patriotic ideals and identity and see if there isn't a bit of cultural push back. Hold firm to the gospel above and against pop cultural ideas of what the gospel ought to be and see what happens. Be a little odd, a little weird, a little different, and see how people respond.

The problem I think we have here is that we are awfully comfortable with culture. We have our churches that sit in the suburbs surrounded by the trappings of comfort, security, and affluence, and we in silence support a culture that favors the powerful over the powerless, the rich over the poor, the fat over the hungry.

We, as a nation, do a pretty poor job of caring for our poor. We have a greater interest in protecting the "free speech" of corporations and their "right" to profit from abuse and exploitation than we do in caring for the least, the lost, the broken, the sick, the poor, the imprisoned, and the hungry. We look the other way as our brothers and sisters starve. We believe "shared sacrifice" is ideally concessions from the poor for the rich. Sure, we want to help people, but not if that means the rich have to pay more taxes.

We criminalize addiction and lose generation of the poor and minorities to prison because that is more comfortable for us that treating their medical issues. We wage "war" on ideas, on ideals, on issues, and on our own people. We invade other countries and bomb and kill as many or more innocent civilians as we do military combatants. We do this with no objective. There's a lot of money to be made in it.

Maybe if we the church took a stand against culture on any of these issues (and countless others) we might find what it is like to be persecuted. But we have stopped doing good. We have stopped being a prophetic voice for God against culture. We have assimilated. We are comfortable. We have too much to lose.

Have we learned nothing from scripture. God, no matter how much it may seem otherwise, is still in control. We have nothing to lose in following God. If God is for us who can be against us? We are comfortable and complacent. We don't have the stomach for persecution. We cry persecution any time we don't get our way as though we have an inalienable right to control everything.

And yet controlling culture is not our calling. Being a prophetic witness is; doing what is right is; caring for the poor, the lost, the lonely, the broken, the hurting, the oppressed, the afflicted, the hungry, the imprisoned, the powerless, and the least of these is. And we are not doing our job.

We need to do what is right. We may suffer for it but right now we are suffering for not doing it. And the world is suffering for it as well. And Peter makes clear in this passage that it is far better to suffer doing what is right than it is to suffer not doing so.