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Leviticus 11: A Caveat to the Called? July 22, 2014

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I have a lot of questions after my reading in Leviticus this weekend. I read the first 11 chapters of Leviticus. I have heard and read before about the death of Nadab and Abihu, but in my crisis of faith moment I am reading with quite a different perspective. Hence the questions, be they presumptuous or not. If they are presumptuous, I ask them at the very peril of my life, apparently. So, I pray for advance forgiveness before writing this out. If I’m not forgiven and grace isn’t offered, there will be no future posts on this blog. Or if WordPress crashes and doesn’t allow me to add posts. You won’t know, so my advise to you is to err on the conservative side before venturing into any kind of blasphemies yourselves.

Firstly, as Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu were in line to inherit the priesthood, if they weren’t serving already. Didn’t they know Aaron’s routines and how to do the fire and incense correctly? As a seminary graduate, this intrigues me and also scares me half to death. He judges justly, so what did they do wrong? Did they miss some required purification ritual? Did they forget and get the fire for the incense from someplace other than where they were supposed to get it? “Ash Zre,” transliterated “Fire Alien,” and then you reverse it because it’s Hebrew. So we get that somehow Nadab and Abihu offered alien fire before God, and it cost them their lives instantly, as if they were supposed to know better. Some commentaries I read suggested that because Aaron had been commanded by God through Moses to offer the sacrifices, it was Aaron alone who was authorized to do that, and not Nadab and Abihu. However, in the cases of Nadab and Abihu, the judgement of God was immediate. In the case of King Saul, for doing basically the same thing, he didn’t die instantly. Samuel did prophecy that he would die, and die he did, and that as a consequence for his actions his kingdom would be removed from him and from his family line. See I Samuel 13. However, I Samuel 13:1 says he started reigning at 30 years old, and reigned 42 years. The math says he died at 72 in battle. Historical Critical method argues his age, of course, looking for any possible discrepancy. There are answers, including having a son born in the year he took the throne, and the facts of him ruling through the terms of three high priests, making the arguments immaterial or spurious. But his sins, starting with offering the sacrifice presumptuously in place of Samuel and culminating with consulting a witch after Samuel was dead, did cost him the throne.

Nadab and Abihu make me ask myself: Do I really want a pastorate? What if I mess up something important? What if I’ve already messed up? But I do feel a sense of calling. From the Exodus passage from the last time our assistant pastor started to preach, about the modern church finding itself in an unseen Egyptian slavery, to another passage in Micah 7 about shepherding my own flock. Every time I read them I look for a pastorate and think about sending my resume out. I have sent it once recently, only to be sent a nice letter saying they are not considering hiring me. After all, I don’t have the kind of experience or credentials they are looking for. So why do I have a sense of a calling without an opportunity? I don’t have an answer for that question. So I wait.

The other questions, and here’s where I start treading delicately, start with, why did God judge Nadab and Abihu so harshly and yet allow the high priest and religious leaders in Jesus’ day to authorize the crucifixion without so much as a stomach virus? And they end with, if you’re going to kill Nadab and Abihu for the alien fire, why not deal with the current Catholic priests who have abused altar boys and committed who knows what other sinful acts under the cover of priestly robes, in a similar way?

Facetiously I’d say, if He did judge with that kind of swift action, firstly, there might be a job opening for those seeking pastorates a little quicker than the years I have bothered trying to find one, but then, I’d think twice about my own sins before I applied.

And with that, I’ll just ask you to say a prayer for me, of any kind. And I’ll say one for the readers as well.

Blessings.

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June 6, 2014

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I was at the workplace for my part time job, and had just clocked in.  If you clock in early they fix the punch so you’re in at your appointed time.  But in fairness to them, if you clock out early they bump it forward to your appointed ending time, as long as their 7 minute window isn’t breached.  And, if you run out of work to do near the end of the shift, they pay you for a full day because you showed up.  It’s hourly, but they sometimes run out of work to do because the support staff behind our production team hasn’t fed the work to our system yet.  I was a little early and noticed a little button that said something like “view user information,” I had never clicked before.  So being as impetuous as I sometimes always am, I clicked it.

It showed my information, from the time I started working there until now.  But the verbiage used by the system was…  Well I’m not sure if it was hilarious or disturbing.  Maybe strange is the word I’m floundering for.  I’ll let you be the judge as I am still reflecting on what it means.

It said my start date but proclaimed it “The Beginning of Time.”  I swear I am not making this up.  Apparently the earth is younger than you all thought, as the “Beginning of Time” is somewhere in the latter part of 2006.  Take that, Old Earth-ers.  Not Millions and Millions as Carl Sagan estimated. Carl Sagan approximates the forming of the earth at about 4,142,465,753.42466 years ago – which puts the beginning of earth on about June 4 (http://peace.saumag.edu/faculty/kardas/Courses/HP/Lectures/sagan.html ).  Not spun into motion 6017 years ago, in October 4004 BC (James Ussher, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ussher_chronology).  Take that, Young Earth-ers. Nope.  My computer said “The Beginning of Time” was September 2006.  If it’s right because it’s on the internet, surely it’s just as right because my computer said it.  If life begins in the beginning, unless you were born after 2006, you, friends, are only 7 years old.

There was no end date or projected end date.  Instead it declared my end date as “Forever.”  No kidding.  If this is forever, I must have died and gone to heaven by now.  Wait.  Um…

http://img.izismile.com/img/img4/20111025/640/morning_picdump_640_high_18.jpg

Yeah, I’m doing it for my family and also for me.  And it isn’t paradise, but it isn’t hell either.

How old are you?  How old do you feel?  Friends of mine comment on my childlike impetuousity, some in less than flattering ways.  I’ve been described as an “old soul,” when tapped for wisdom, but if any wisdom I share actually works, I stole that from the Bible.  I’ve been described as “foolish,” even “childish.”  That’s the cold stinging truth, although it’d be nice if you toned that down and said I was “refreshingly childlike, with an irrepressible, youthful mind.”   And in life and marriage I’ll assert, I only feel 23.  That is to say, old enough to be legal and young enough everything is still good.  But this darn white hair growing in my beard…  and the silver threads creeping onto my head…  must be lying. When my back is sore, or my feet are tired, unless I am resting I feel about 65, which is telling me it’s time to retire and rest from whatever labor I’m involved in that’s making me so tired.  (For the record I am somewhere in the low middle in between those two ages.) 

∞ – that little math symbol means “infinity.”  I’m only awake from just before 7AM to just after 12:30 or 1AM, working the 8 hours in the morning and the 4 and a half part time at night.  I’ve been at this two job thing for a while, but it’s starting to feel like infinity.  Thank God it’s Friday. Sadly, I feel like I’m on a wheel trying to revolve it from need to pay the bills to paid the bills, and I’m afraid I’m actually on a Möebius strip, getting nowhere but back to the same side.  Same thing with arguments about certain things, they go nowhere.

I wasn’t here at the beginning of Earth-time.  I wasn’t here at the beginning of Creation or Big Bang or whatever flips your trigger.  Neither was Carl Sagan and neither were you.  Carl took what he thought to be an educated guess, it’s a theory, not something we can go back and prove.  Ussher did his calculations and took an educated guess, but he wasn’t there either and we can’t go back and see it happen so we can’t prove that either.  Does it make a huge difference to you if the earth is 4 billion, 140 million years old and started on June 4, or 6,017 and started sometime in October?  Scientific theory that wants to edge God out asserts they can prove theirs.  Scientific theory that wants to shove God in asserts they can prove theirs.  At the risk of having stepped in it, I actually believe the Bible tells it right, but I’m not as precise feeling about it as Ussher.  Speaking as a fan of Dr Who, maybe it’s one of those wibblywobbly things that, surprisingly, I don’t believe requires a precise answer.  It goes to show how people can take what they want and pay their money, and make their choices, no matter how foolish those choices may or may not turn out to be.  Whole religious movements started out because someone made a calculation, made a prediction, and the blind led the blind until they all fell into a pit.  Or someone said they found an ancient manuscript, but they don’t have it any more, because the hobgoblins took it to the mountain.  Or someone wrote a pretty good story with an intriguing philosophical viewpoint.  But that doesn’t make them right.  It doesn’t make what they wrote somehow holy, especially when the details are so paradoxically different from things like manuscripts and books they claim are also true.  Nor do the guesses of Jimmy or Carl, however educated, make them right.  God asked Job, near the end of his trials, if he (Job) was there when He (God) made the earth.  He stammered and fumbled.  Some actually take that verse and think God wasn’t being hyperbolic.  They actually believe he (Job) was there.  Well if he was there, he should have been able to answer.  In my humble opinion, none of us were there, so we don’t know.  Maybe God asked him by way of saying, if it’s My plan perhaps it’s outside the scope of your understanding, so hush and I’ll take care of things.  Or perhaps it’s the same as in Romans 9, where Paul talks about some vessels being created unto honor and some being created unto wrath.

Paul told both Peter and Titus (Titus 3, II Timothy 2) to steer clear of genealogies, and of probing the infinite depths of idiotic questions because they just start fights.  Whose family is better, yours or mine or theirs?  Well my ancestor was a President.  Well his ancestor was a bank robber.  Well your ancestor was famous.  Well his ancestor was a drunk. Well, well, well.  What have they done for me lately?  Is my life better because they did whatever they did?  Does not matter.  They aren’t here, they’re dead.  It means nothing to me, it affects nothing in my life.  When did the Earth get created, or form because cosmic particles coalesced and cooled in just the right random coincidental way?  Doesn’t matter.  I wasn’t there and neither were you.  Those answers mean nothing to me, and affect nothing in my life.  We’re here now.  What have we done lately to help another person or make things better?

 

People waste so much time arguing over how old God is, how old the Earth is, scientific and other pseudo-scientific and genealogical and genetic and dare I say Law, and other name-your-field inquiries that don’t go anywhere or contribute to the welfare of anyone except the person spending the grant money.  How do I get on that gravy train?  Ask a silly question and make it sound important enough to explore for an answer.  And then publish my findings in the scientific, or pseudoscientific, or legal, or Biblical Studies, journal.  The scientists are looking for God so hard they named a subatomic particle after Him.  Or maybe it’s just that they want God to be small.  It’s fascinating, but does it really contribute to a better world?

How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?  a) You don’t believe in angels, or don’t believe in them the same way I do.  b) I don’t care.  Why would they do something so stupid? c) depends on the size of the angels and the pin.  Get one of each and we’ll measure. Historically that question was asked by way of sarcasm, at people who ask questions like it, trying to disprove the existence of God, or delve into mysteries that are worth less to answer than “Has your (homeless) neighbor eaten today?”  Are there ghosts?  If there are ghosts, why don’t you believe in a God who created souls, and all other things?  What about demons?  Have you read the newspaper? There’s so much evil I don’t even think Satan needs to send them out as he already owns humans who do enough evil in the world, they’re not necessary (call me crazy but I believe demons do exist, since I believe angels and God exist).  Can God make a rock he can’t move?  Someone or someones, actually took the time to write this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omnipotence_paradox .  My head is spinning and I only looked at the first half of all of that.  But then I have my mind on other things so perhaps it’s just that I’m distracted.

In the spirit of jumping onto a gravy train and riding it all the way to the roast beef and mashed potatoes, I think it’d be fun to have one or two of those questions for my very own, with a per diem for my efforts, to ponder, to philosophize, to research, to write, and to publish until I am obscenely wealthy. until the earth is a better place and people are able to be better people because I was on it.

My favorite question reminds me of one of the old “how many fill-in-the-blank does it take to change a light bulb” questions.  It goes:

Q:  How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb?  
A:  One.  But the light bulb has to really want to change.

In that same spirit, here’s my favorite foolish theological question and my own favorite foolish answer:
Q:  Can the Omnipotent God make a rock that He can’t move?  
A:  Yes, it’s called the human heart, or the human spirit.  That has to want to move (change).  See II Chronicles 16:9, “For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.”

Mental Note To Self:  He might strongly support me better if my heart was completely His. Maybe I wouldn’t need the night gig.

And Prayerful Note to God, please change my heart and fix my sights and my heart on You.  I want to see that.

Because God made us with free will, the first man, back at the beginning, had the ability to choose whether to obey or not.  He did the one thing God told him not to do.  He was advised it would cause bad things to happen.  He did it anyway, and then tried to put the blame on Eve.  More recently other legends have been written to explain the problem of evil.  Pandora’s box, a rose which by another name, again, just blames Eve.  Blame the Serpent, AKA Satan.  Blame Shiva, The Destroyer, who says destruction isn’t really a bad thing anyway.  Blame Loki, but he’s just playing a joke.  Blame Ahriman. Blame our strongly held illusions on our mutual path to enlightenment. Blame Voldemort.  Blame the guy who just selfishly and quite ignorantly, cut you off in traffic.  Or, look in a mirror.  Ignore the guy in the car behind you who’s flipping you the “you’re number one!” sign because you cut him off.  

Because we still have a free will, one of those principles which is rarely trumped, is that we have a choice to do things that are good, or do things that are bad, or fritter away our time doing nothing of impact and lasting value.  God doesn’t usually step in there and make us follow Him and do good work.  Just like Adam and the tree of knowledge options, Moses and the burning bush instructions, Noah and the ark blueprints, and Jonah’s ticket to Nineveh offered the choice of whether to do what God wanted or not, so also do we.  And then we live with the consequence of what was, or wasn’t, done.  Don’t get me wrong, God has been very persuasive in the past, so if it really needs to be done He’ll keep asking until someone comes along and does it.

If nothing else, it’ll keep you entertained and working hard in the time between “The Beginning of Time” and “Forever.”  I think those questions people ask like that say something about the position of their hearts, more than the depth of their character on being able to ask some unanswerable question.  The dawn of time, the age of the Earth, they mean nothing to me, and affect nothing in my life.  We’re here now.  What have we done lately to help another person or make things better?  And because we can’t go back to the past, what’s our plan for the future, and for eternity? 

Will we bury ourselves in minutiae and questions that don’t go anywhere?  Will we bury ourselves under mountains of proof of how good our family ancestry was, as if that furnishes some kind of proof of how worthy we are?  Or will we listen and see if God calls us?  And If we hear the call, who will answer?  Why not you?

Why not me?

I believe He calls all of us.  I may have questions and doubts just as Moses.  I may run the other way just as Jonah.  I may disobey just as Adam.  People may call me crazy, like I’m sure they called Noah as he was building the ark.  But I hope my answer is yes, when He calls me.  And I hope your answer is yes, too.

Memorial Day 2014 May 27, 2014

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My son went to a local cemetery this weekend, where, as a service project, he and his fellow Boy Scouts planted hundreds of flags to commemorate American veterans buried there.  This was not a military cemetery, and for a non-military cemetery, to me it seemed like there was a high proportion of military to non-military.  I followed along behind the scouts, finding a few here and there that had been missed by the over-excited scouts as they scattered to carry out their assigned tasks.  The few markers that were missed were small and harder to notice than the bold lettering on the grave markers.  I went to church, too.  It was Memorial Day weekend, so naturally I also watched Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.  And after it cooled down on Monday, I worked in the yard.

At church, our pastor spoke well about wealth and how Christ-Followers ought to handle it.  As I am currently outside of that circle, I confess to have really tried to tune it out.  But what he said, to those with money, was a good message.  He wasn’t deliberately trying to avoid the subject of Memorial Day, but was following the track of preaching through his texts systematically, verse by verse, currently in Matthew 6.  A couple of weeks ago he had spoken about prayer and fasting.  I often wonder what visitors think if they come on holidays, and if they came Sunday, they probably made our church out to be another one of those that always talk about money and how we ought to give more out of our abundance.  But on the contrary, messages about money are pretty rare at this one. He tied it in a little by saying that how we use our money shows our character, and our character tells others how we will be remembered.  Do we leave a godly legacy behind, or a monument to self that is destroyed and stolen?

I thought while I was working in the yard about how people try to fake it through life.  They say one thing, but their lives, and their checkbooks, say something different.  I pulled thistles from my yard, tucked in and hidden in the corners, and I looked at them thinking about how they try to stay inconspicuous until they are huge.  While they are small, they might be mistaken for ordinary dandelions, but when they grow bigger, the thorns become more obvious.  And if allowed to mature, the blue flowers don’t match the sunny yellow dandelion.  This then, was the explanation of another text, where Jesus defends his ministry by teaching “by their fruits you will know them.”  The same Jesus told sinners to turn away from sin, told hypocrites off after He called them out, and once made a whip to redirect the livestock, and flipped over tables in the temple when they were selling grace to people who could afford it at their prices.  He didn’t fake it.  When He loved he loved, and when He didn’t like a behavior He told people to leave it and follow Him.  He called out the hypocrites because they had a counterfeit religion based on fear and power and money, not on love and helping others. 

I keep pulling the weeds of sins- temptations, bitterness, complaining, etc., out of my life, and they keep seeding my lawn like maple samaras, or “helicopter” seeds.  We have two of those trees.  I raked and my wife swept in the cool of the day Monday, and we got a lot.  But there are too many to pull every one of them up from the grass, so if any try to take root, I’ll have to mow them down.

And while the viewing of Revenge of the Sith is not my normal habit on Memorial Day weekend, it did give me something interesting to think about.  We have counterfeit weeds masquerading as dandelions, we have counterfeit lives masquerading as “good people,” and we have counterfeit religions masquerading as the real thing.  In the movie, Emperor Palpatine revealed his evil, powerful nature when pretending to be good and weak were no longer needed.  He was a counterfeit, like so many of us are in real life, pretending to be good and humble, but when given the opportunity our dark, pride-filled hearts are revealed.  Hear Lord Sidious, Emperor Palpatine, tell his “legendary” story of his own Sith master, Darth Plagueis:  “He became so powerful… the only thing he was afraid of was losing his power, which eventually, of course, he did. Unfortunately, he taught his apprentice everything he knew, and then one night, his apprentice killed him in his sleep. It’s ironic that he could save others from death, but not himself.”  

How curiously close to another familiar quote:  “He saved others; but he can’t save himself,” found in Matthew 27, Mark 15, and Luke 23.  The people thought Jesus was starting another counterfeit religion and mocked him in his “powerlessness,” not realizing what was happening around them.  When your religion, or your idol, is power, you pursue that and your life becomes memorialized by your pursuit of power, with all of its’ truth and consequences.  In the end, our pursuit of money and power becomes empty and we are gone, spent on that.  Jesus’ religion on the contrary was about giving up power- Matthew 17:25, Luke 9:24 and Luke 17:33- in order to see how powerful He is.  Because He saved others, and because He returned from death, he was evidently able to not only save others, but also himself.  “Father, Into your hands I commit my spirit,” said Jesus, quoted in Luke 23.  And then He laid it down.  It wasn’t taken from Him; (John 10:17-18) he was in control the whole time.  Strength, real power, isn’t always seen in showy displays, rumbling thunder, lightning, earthquakes like on Sinai in the Exodus wilderness.  Sometimes it’s shown by restraint, and keeping it under control.

With religion, one has to be careful to search it out and compare diligently, to make sure it’s not a counterfeit.  The real one won’t change with the times, and the bending ideologies of humans, if it’s the same God behind it.  The real one won’t have contradictions in teaching.  The real one, if followed, should be applicable to everyone, available to everyone, and make us better for following it. The real one will tell us God loves us, and we should love one another, yes, but will also honestly address and deal with the problem of sin without trying to make us work for salvation.  Because, how would we ever know if we’ve done enough good works or prayed enough prayers?  If the leader says you haven’t done enough, won’t you do more to earn your salvation?  How far will you go with that?  Will you do a bad thing, or sanction a bad thing, because your leader or your peer group said it’s good?  (Isaiah 5:20)  Will you hate other people because they don’t agree with what you believe, instead of loving them and merely hating the sinful behaviors they choose and habituate or endorse?  What about your own (what about my own?) habits that you know are bad?  Aren’t they just as bad if your God is perfect and sinless?  Better for us to adjust to the side of grace, if we’d like to receive grace ourselves.  God changes people, not by external commandment, but from inside, from the heart.  Counterfeit religion is made up by men as they go along, and will reveal impure motives of acquiring money, power or popularity, eventually.  It’ll be exposed.  Some even teach that killing another person, as long as it’s done for God, is all right, when we know from universally accepted standards of right and wrong that, basically, killing other people is bad.  Some have even written their own Bibles or extra “holy books,” or rewritten the one we have, to support their specific claims.  As good as any religion may sound, the origin of true religion that reaches God has to come from God.  If they make, or have made, a prophecy, it must have come true to be of the truth.  If it didn’t, it’s a lie.  Count the religions which predicted Jesus’ return that hasn’t happened yet.  Counterfeit religion also frequently concerns itself with outside appearances, more than on the heart.  Count the religions that say you have to dress and act this way and submit to their authority without question, to get to heaven.  There have been a number of cults that ended very badly by submitting to whatever the leader said to do.  By contrast, the Bereans in Acts searched the scriptures diligently to find out if what Paul was teaching was the truth.

In some ways, money would make it easier to make ourselves look good.  We can give larger sums of money to charity.  We can buy suits or pretty dresses, fancy cars, big houses, have facial surgery to delay the appearance of aging.  We can pay people to say nice things about us that cover over the negative things we’ve done.  In my line of work there is something called a “media search” where companies pay us to search the internet, periodicals, and other media, for comments about people.  Where there is defamatory information, one can pay to have positive things posted to make the negative harder to find.  

In my own life, I could search for myself and find a certain famous Australian singer from American Idol, season 7.  Under cover of his fame, my infamy- my blogs and my online games- are pretty much obscured unless you know what you’re looking for and have a good idea where to find it- but I do like Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook, and Pacxon.  And my blatant faithlessness and other sins against God and family are as secret as my family will keep them, since I couldn’t pay to avoid any blackmail.  If they come out I may as well confess in advance:  it’ll probably all be true.  When I fail, which happens all the time, I ask God for grace and mercy and forgiveness.  I would hope others would know that when we follow in faith, and ask, according to First John 1:9, God is faithful to forgive and clean us up, and start us on the right path again.  Thank God.

I followed behind the young scouts, looking for the less obvious markers on the graves.  I did it with the motive that if a veteran’s family came by, they wouldn’t think poorly of the scouts for having missed the one.  But God’s not really doing anything to make a church look good.  I think God will pay attention to the markers in our lives that are smaller and easier to miss than the grand, showy displays of power, like people who give out of their abundance.  He won’t pay attention to the things we do to draw attention to ourselves.  He will look for people who do what is right when no one is watching, who give in spite of their own needs.  He will look for genuine faith from people who trust and hope and give their all in spite of all the odds.  And He will make sure they are remembered.  And thanks to His efforts and restraint on the cross, my sins are covered and my debt to God is paid in full.  If He remembers nothing of what I have done because it’s been covered, I think it’s fine as long as my feet get on the right side of those pearly gates.

In the sermon, the joke about money was at the expense of the rich miser who didn’t give much at church.  (I had to laugh thinking, did the rich guys at our church listen as I did?)  His mansion was said to be smaller than the maid’s and the butler’s who gave out of their need.  St. Peter quipped of the small heavenly hovel, “we did the best we could with what you sent us.”  And maybe it’s true, the mansion is smaller when the sacrifices made aren’t sacrifices.  I don’t care about the size of any mansion or hovel; I just don’t want to be homeless in eternity, or to have too much heat, all year, if you know what I mean.

While remembering the fallen, laid to rest in their graves, I can’t help but remember that Jesus promised that we would follow where He went.  Then, He showed us death isn’t the end, and following Him means from the grave to the heavens (John 14:3).  

 

I want to follow Jesus, and His way of Love.  So I pray, Lord Jesus, lead the way, and help me follow.

My Mite, His Might May 14, 2014

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On Saturday I witnessed the first communion of my niece and nephew.  As a Protestant I was surprised to feel so very welcomed and included.  And I was pleased with the encouragements being offered to parents and young, new communicants.  The clothes were elegant.  The language in the pew before and behind our family was unmistakeably Polish.  The grandparents and parents beamed with pride, and hope, and love.  The singing was scattered, but led well and played and sung loudly enough one didn’t have to notice if their neighbor didn’t sing.

My Mother-In-Law declined to partake in communion, saying her knees were unfaithful and she was afraid of the trip from pew to altar.  I stayed by her, mercifully pardoned the lonely embarassment of being Protestant in a crowd of Catholics.  Their worship books in the pew have provisions for non-Catholic participation in communion.  It’s done by special written permissions from the higher church authorities.  Or, it’s done by presumptuous people who don’t know you’re supposed to get permission if you haven’t been through their instruction programs.  I know too much to participate with a clear conscience.  But they were so welcoming!  From what the priest said, all were to be included in the special occasion.  I felt that I could have gone right up and received the elements.  It would have been very awkward for me though.

After the celebratory parade of new communicants and the faithful participated in the communion rite, what the priest had to say reduced me to tears.  Not because of what he said.  But because of what it meant to me.  I kind of simultaneously love and hate when God says stuff and seems to aim it directly at my hard, faithless, doubting heart. 

The text was John 6.  When Jesus tried to get away with his disciples just for a chance to break away from healings and other ministries, a crowd followed them and just when they sat down, the crowds were coming in a swarm, almost upon them.  Jesus knew they were coming and knew what he wanted to do all along.  He asked the disciples to figure out how to feed everyone.  They counted the cost, about a half a year’s wages or more, and knew they didn’t have that kind of cash. 

A little boy offered them his lunch.  5 small barley bread loaves and two fish.  The priest asked what the kids thought the disciples were thinking.  They gave various responses.  “It’s not enough.”  “What will the boy eat?”  And the priest only told about the disciple’s response of how much it would cost to feed the crowd. 

I read the text and they joked, I think with not a little sarcasm, amongst themselves, “oh, great.  That’ll go really far!”  But the kid offered it.  It was an offering far too small to meet the need, and it was offered because the innocent boy had faith.

Ever read the story of “the widow’s mite?”  See Mark 12, Luke 21.  That lady gave, down to her last lepton.  I don’t spend a lot of money.  What I earn mostly goes into the checking and out to bills.  But if I ever get any extra, and it isn’t spent on my wife or kids, I think it’s hilarious to empty my wallet (usually a buck or five is all I have) into the offering box.  My son saw me do that once and he was worried.  “DON’T!!  What if you need that?!”  I said “God and I have an arrangement.  I won’t need that.”  And since I don’t go out to eat normally, and rarely need anything for myself, if it makes it into my wallet, chances are, I won’t. Besides, it’s only a tiny mite, and I don’t want anyone to make a big deal about it, because it’s no big deal. No one is blowing trumpets to announce my giving (please).  I once went the whole week with a $20 in my wallet while my wife and kids were away from home.  My gas tank was filled before they left, I cooked my own meals and brought them with me to work and cooked at home, and when they came back I still had the $20.  So I have times when I live like a miser.  But there are other times when money goes like water and I can liquidate a hundred or two.

Like at the gas station, for instance.

The priest never specifically mentioned the faith of the little boy. He never mentioned the sarcasm of the faithless adult disciples, who obviously didn’t know Who they were hanging around with. But to silence their faithless sarcasm, not only did Jesus feed the crowd of 5000 men, not including women and children, he had the disciples go around and collect the leftovers. Not just one basket, but twelve. Not 13, He’s not wasteful. So that meant there was enough for one more meal of fish and bread for the disciples to enjoy.

About eating your words? In your face, faithless sarcasm. God can do anything He wants, even if the offering is far too small. I thought through this. And at that point in my thought process, I wept, right in the middle of my in-law’s first communion, in the Catholic church. My heart is broken, my wallet and my checkbook always only has an offering far too small. Lately, it’s been a harsh, brutal, difficult journey of getting into debt, with creditors now calling several times a day. Where do they get the money to keep up the attacks? We got call tracing on our phone and we don’t answer any more. The debts started accruing when I got a job that doesn’t pay enough and we tried to preserve the value of one of our cars and it ended up needing to be replaced in spite of our repair efforts and our investments toward it. It’s only gotten deeper from there. The interest rate is too high and we’re hardly able to make that, not to mention the principle we borrowed to start with.

So, Jesus, I have what I have, and I earn what I earn, and think in my sarcastic, bitter heart, “Oh great. That’ll cover a lot of the debt. Good luck with that, vultures. I mean bankers.” I don’t have enough. But like the widow and the boy with the single lunch, I need You to feed these vultures at my door and on my phone, and could You leave a few baskets behind for me and the family? I’ll cheerfully eat my sarcasm and bitter faithlessness if You’ll multiply the tiny offerings I have. From my perspective, there are too many details for which money is the answer, and not enough to cover the costs. But from God’s perspective and plan, perhaps the proverbial “lunch” I have to offer can be blessed and multiplied somehow.

Readers, I’ll let you know when He answers. And I’ll let you know what He says, too. Right now He’s pretty quiet. Maybe He’s waiting for them to sit down. Maybe there’s still something I’m supposed to learn. But He can do anything. This I know. My mite is still going to go into the offering, because it’s still ridiculously hilarious. I just pray He covers me, and multiplies my mite with His Might.

Human Strength and Frailty April 17, 2014

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We are so strong. We can endure some amazing things. Listen to older people tell stories of endurance, and I don’t mean the ones where they say they walked uphill 26 miles to school and uphill 26 miles back again. I mean the ones about the heroes who lived through wars and tortures and starvation and poverty and mans inhumanity to his fellow man. I mean the ones where the person worked from sun-up to sun-down and then came home and took care of family and home because no one else cared. There are stories about people saving others from fire, from water, from war, surviving icy exposure, desert heat, bullet holes and concentration camps.

And we are so frail. A little tiny bacteria or virus can kill you, without the correct antibodies or antibiotics or antivirals. A little tiny appendix can kill you without the correct surgery. Your heart may just up and quit one day, or even explode under the pressure of life. Your teeth. A little food particle gets caught in there too long, and you’ve got decay. Your lungs. A little cancer cell starts to multiply in the fertile, smoky environment, and you’re dead. Your liver. A little alcohol, and a little more, and pretty soon that thing is riddled with holes and all you want is a little more and a little more. A little ulcer on the stomach, a little tiny kidney stone, a little corn or heel spur or cold sore or… You get the picture. We’re good, but tiny tiny things will mess us up.

Steel shows similar traits. It’s strong, and if it’s made correctly, can cut through anything. Ginsu, or Sheffield Steel, or Chicago Cutlery, anyone? But let a little water sit on that long enough and it’ll rust. From water. Something as soft and gentle and necessary as water can destroy something so strong and dull something so sharp. Something so small, causes such great destruction.

One of my friends is a preacher, and he’s a dynamo. He’s just good. He can share a message from the Lord, and deliver the fire until your hat’s on fire with blessings, or your tails on fire from knowing what you did. We have the same kind of heart, in fact we’ve talked on several occasions and seen, that although we don’t spend time together, the same spiritual thread is weaving through both of our spirits. We may see one another once a week or two at work in our secular jobs. But something is wrong. Doctors are working on him, trying to figure out how to control epilepsy.

In the New Testament, if it were written in the modern era, they would have called certain demonic fits “epilepsy.” And they would call certain skin and nerve diseases “leprosy,” and others by their medical names In the Old Testament you can read about stuff like this and how the root cause was probably not so much an outer manifestation of the body or the skin, but an outer manifestation of some hidden sin.

I don’t think there’s sin in that man’s life. And yet I know there is because all have sinned. Still, we have medicine, a gift from God, with modern technology, another gift from God, to help us understand where these medical conditions come from and how to treat them. We’ve come leaps and bounds in treating things like AIDS and Parkinson’s and Epilepsy and Influenza and tooth decay. If there’s a bigger sinner, it’s me. All I can do though is pray for him, so the doctors figure out the small thing that’s causing the bigger symptoms to happen, and a way to control that. I love that guy like he was my own brother, and I don’t have any brothers in real life. I think he’s awesome as a husband and father, and as a friend and preacher too. And I think, that like the man who was born blind, the weakness is in him to show off how strong God is.

We are so strong, we have these endurances, and yet, we are so weak. Jesus had the cures back in the day, and he also knew the hearts. I wish we knew what He did, and how He did it. But sadly, most faith healers are either fakers, or flashes in the pan. All we can do is pray for each other. When my friend had a seizure at work, it was pretty scary. He was standing, reeling, lurching, trying to walk around but his body and his mind were failing to work right. All I could do was pray for him to be set free.

And then the most awesome thing happened. Before the seizure released him, his team all stood around him, closely, surrounding him, preventing him from falling and injuring himself. They put themselves at risk because he could have lashed out and hurt one of them. But they protected him from himself until the paramedics arrived to take him to the hospital. And then their gentle, human shield of protective restraint was replaced by straps and a gurney and medical professionals. That is probably the most beautiful and profound demonstration of “community” I have ever seen.

I need friends to surround me, to help me, and to protect me from the little things I can’t see, and can’t fix myself, that are making life spin so out-of-control. And so do we all. I hope we all have a group of that kind of friends, and also friends who will pray for the little things to let go so we can fix whatever’s broken and move on.

Dare We Ask for An Apology from God? April 3, 2014

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The story of Job came to mind yesterday. Certain people have read the book of Job with a less than “religious” devotion, and their take is that God is kind of a prankster who plays with lives like they were toys to amuse himself with, or break, on a whim. I’m sorry if this makes me sacrilegious, but I saw a video on YouTube that played to that perspective and I thought it was hilarious.

Assuming the story of Job is true, and for the record, I do, God allowed Satan to test Job as a test of his character. Temptation is a curious beast. In the New Testament there are all manner of warnings about approaching temptation and our attitude toward God about it. Consider I Corinthians 10. The list of things is perhaps obvious: pursuit of evil things, idolatry, fornication, and murmuring. I get that. Don’t run after things you know are bad. There’s only one true God. Avoid extramarital (that is, anything outside of marriage), um, extracurricular activities. And don’t murmur. Apparently Job’s soliloquies between the awkward jabs from his “friends” were not considered murmuring. But the complaining Israelites in the wilderness “murmured,” which God didn’t like.

I even understand this one. Think, despite their traveling uncertainties, how posh the Israelites had it in the wilderness: fire by night to guide, guard and warm; cloud by day to shelter from the sun and guide; manna, quail, flocks, water coming out of a rock sufficient to sustain EVERYONE, AND, for 40 years their shoes and clothes never wore out. If I were God and I were doing all that for like a million people, and they still complained, I’d be unhappy with them too.

But back to temptation. If I Corinthians 10 is clear, there’s supposed to be a means of escape, to make the temptation bearable, or maybe even avoidable. Despite the story of Job, “when tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me,'” since God doesn’t tempt anyone, he just allows Satan to dangle temptation in front of us (James 1:13). God, on the contrary, only brings “good and perfect gift[s] (James 1:16)” our way. According to the story of Job, and a cross-translational reading and a slightly skewed perspective of Matthew 6:34, God limits the amount of evil that is allowed on any given day. I picture God’s hand on the door of Hell, keeping it almost closed to avoid having “all hell break loose” at once, as the saying goes.

A joke that asserts “Hell is Exothermic” comes to mind. You can read it here: http://www-users.cs.york.ac.uk/susan/joke/exoendo.htm , and follow, for your amusement, the random linkages of my brain.

Surely Job was tempted to follow his wife’s suggestion to just get it over with. (Job 2:9) But no, the book went on for an additional 40 chapters, and through it all Job weathered the storm and came out on top. Well, second to God of course. And Satan lost the challenge. If there’s anything that can be learned from Job’s example I suppose it is that my challenges are not as severe as Job’s and he did well, so therefore, I should strive to do as well under mine. If my trials are light and momentary” (II Corinthians 4:17) I should just grin and bear it, as “it came to pass.” Not to stay.

But wait. Job’s trials were explicitly allowed by God. By extension, our trials are allowed by God, who releases just a little bit of hell on earth every day. Earthquakes, tidal waves, nuclear plant pollution, hurricanes, tidal waves, feet of snow, floods of rain, work stress, home stress, traffic jams, “traffic accidents,” and car-b-que-s, crime, the daily news, stuff breaking, marriage difficulties, bills, plumbers, electrical technicians… “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man…” Which makes me wonder.

When things are stressful and things break, and relationships get into realms where “it’s complicated,” and all manner of hell seems to be breaking loose all over people, it’s not JUST that we have failed, it’s not JUST that Satan and his minions are wreaking the havoc over our lives, it’s that God has ALLOWED it. In the secular realm they have the rainfall just like in the sacred (Matthew 5:45). I’m saying it doesn’t matter if you’re a Christ follower or not, you’re still going to have issues. The secular world says “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” I say yes, but it still leaves scars.

Job didn’t exactly have anywhere to go or any means to escape. Tidal wave victims the same way. And us. “The rain,” that’s kind of a poetic understatement for how bad life just plain sucks sometimes. When I was a kid I kind of blocked out the crap from my childhood illness that affected me like a stroke, and much of the aftermath in the wake of that tidal wave in my life. I didn’t complain about my “special shoes” (think Forrest Gump). And when I was crying after a painful operation in my childhood, the on-duty nurse’s bed-snide manner inspired her to tell me to keep quiet, since I “[didn’t] hurt any more than anyone else in the recovery room.” A gem of a nurse. But it sounds Biblical in a Job-trauma kind of sense. Stuff your feelings. Don’t cry. You’re no worse off than anyone else. It could be worse. It’s your fault it happened, you just brought it on yourself. You ought to be thankful and praise God through the storm. I hate it when people say stuff like that. It’s so unloving. And frightening. I don’t want to think about, if it could be worse, how bad it could be.

When you have no means of escaping whatever life serves up, one possible coping mechanism is, you do stuff your feelings and learn to suppress. I have so much missing childhood, that other people remember vividly. Perhaps that’s God’s mercy for me? But what I remember wasn’t all rose-colored.

When Job went to heaven, and I presume such a heroic figure would ultimately end up there, did God apologize for allowing all that, along with commending Job’s stellar endurance under pressure? And what about us?

The question is, if through our throwing ourselves on God’s mercy and Jesus’ sacrifice for forgiveness of our sins we obtain heaven through the means of our faith, does God ever ask, and expect, us to forgive HIM for allowing our suffering and temptation that there ISN’T a way of escape from? I really don’t have an answer for that.