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Sunday, December 31, 2017

A New Folder - An Illustration of Faith

The image above is an illustration of faith. It's a reminder of how in one way I've expressed my faith...faithfully. It's evidence of my confident expectation that I'll continue to express my faith next year.

Today is December 31, 2017. It's about 9:00 am. I'm not feeling especially well now...struggling with symptoms of a head and chest cold...head heavy, runny nose, tired, sneezing and coughing.

But I'm working on next Sunday's podcast. I've recorded and posted an audio podcast weekly (nearly weekly...life sometimes happens and I've skipped a few weeks here and there). It's a podcast of me reading aloud four different passages from The Holy Bible, based on the Common Revised Lectionary.

I started the podcast in 2016. My first post to SoundCloud was for Sunday, March 6, 2016. It's no longer available on SoundCloud because I have only the free account, which limits my posts. So, when my account gets filled, I delete a couple, making room for a couple more uploads.

The podcast started selfishly.

I wanted to listen to the weekly passages as I drove to work. I had about a 25 minute commute. I tried out several apps for my phone, several audiobook versions, but none fit my needs. I wanted to listen to only those four passages, daily and repeatedly. I wanted to listen to them while driving. I wanted to listen to them while working. I wanted to listen to them repeatedly because my work causes my attention to shift focus often, and I lose track of what I was listening to. If it's on a loop, I eventually, through the course of the day, would hear, meditate and consider most of what the passages were saying.

None of the apps and audiobooks allowed this.

So, I recorded myself and used an MP3 app on my phone to play back the recording repeatedly, on a loop, without fuss or expertise. I use MusiCloud, but there are lots of apps that can do the same.

It worked.

It worked well.

I use my phone to record myself (Voice Record, the free version.

I use NoteTab Lite to draft my script.

I then wanted to share the recordings with those at church. We were all reading the same passages weekly, we were all hearing a sermon weekly based upon those passages. I thought there had to be others who would want to listen to an audio version on the way to their work.

I mix my recordings with music using Audacity, and post the podcast to SoundCloud with a cover image found on Flickr using CC Search.

Oh! Almost forgot..I also use Jamendo to find music.

Because I speak a little Spanish, I thought I could also try recording the passages in EspaƱol. That didn't work. My pronunciation is inaccurate, my pacing is erratic. It was painful to read it aloud, and worse to hear it.

But I had a friend, a co-worker. Born in Mexico, raised in the United States, fluent in both languages, devout Christian. He instantly agreed to help. I'm so glad! Now I can listen to the passages weekly, in English and Spanish, helping my faith and language skills to grow.

Thank you, my friend!

But, back to the original thread of this post.

"The image above is an illustration of faith. It's a reminder of how in one way I've expressed my faith...faithfully. It's evidence of my confident expectation that I'll continue to express my faith next year."

Today's the 31st of December, now about 9:43 am, and I'm looking at a newly created folder in my Raw Audio folder: 2018.

It's not 2018 yet, but I confidently expect that I'll have a post to upload for the first Sunday in 2018. I've got three folders worth of podcasts, spanning from March 6, 2016 to December 31, 2017, mostly every week included.

What makes me confident? Am I simply ignoring all the potential circumstances that could bring this podcast to a sudden end? Because I have 612 podcasts, requiring 36.7 GB of storage on my computer, do I believe a sovereign, almighty God really likes me and will divinely support my work? Or is hope simply an emotion based upon statistics and historical trends?

What creates "hope"? What is the true, physiological basis for faith? Is my faith in another year of podcasting the same as my faith in a resurrected Savior?

I can't see what will happen tomorrow. I'm not a prophet, I've never felt that I've been given a divine revelation of the immediate future. The best I'm able to do at prognostication is to look back where I've been and compare it to where I'm at now. A lot of similarities and common trends indicate a strong possibility of the same tomorrow.

Perhaps that's what I do with my weekly podcast...as well as with my faith in Christ. Reading The Holy Bible is a way of looking back. Watching my children grow up, my jobs change, my home move, my friends change...they all form a pattern of the past that I can compare with my present circumstance.

I'm not sure about that. I don't think that's the faith that Jesus died for.

Faith is a deliberate decision to act upon something told you, regardless of circumstances that appear to contradict the wisdom of that decision.

"Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood." (Hebrews 12:2-4 ESV)

The Message puts it more dramatically:

"Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed — that exhilarating finish in and with God — he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now he's there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! In this all-out match against sin, others have suffered far worse than you, to say nothing of what Jesus went through — all that bloodshed!" (Hebrews 12:2-4 MSG)

Faith, biblically, is based upon what you're told, and who told it to you. In this instance, we choose to do all we can to resist sin because Jesus told us that was a way to joy, a way to God.

Biblical faith, for me, means that I confidently expect to continue recording and uploading my weekly podcast because I've decided that The Holy Bible is a faithful record of what God has spoken to us through Jesus Christ. Reading, recording and listening to passages from The Holy Bible is a way - not the only way, but it is one way - of experiencing joy in the midst of trouble. It reminds me of what I regard as true and long-lasting. It transforms my heart and mind toward that of God's image with which I was created.

I could refuse to spend the time required to prepare this podcast. I could decide that it would be more worthwhile to spend that time preparing for potential events and circumstances that would harm me. I could decide to spend that time doing things that please me temporarily, despite harm done in the end.

But my eyes are on the finish line - the joy that awaits after this life of trouble and death.

"Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that—heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them." (Hebrews 11:13-16 MSG)

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls." (1 Peter 1:3-9 ESV)

"Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God. The best invitation we ever received! We were also given absolutely terrific promises to pass on to you—your tickets to participation in the life of God after you turned your back on a world corrupted by lust. So don't lose a minute in building on what you've been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can't see what's right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books. So, friends, confirm God's invitation to you, his choice of you. Don't put it off; do it now. Do this, and you'll have your life on a firm footing, the streets paved and the way wide open into the eternal kingdom of our Master and Savior, Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 1:3-11 MSG)

I know...my computer's hard drive may crash. The internet may become dark and fenced off. My cold may turn into pneumonia. I may lose my job. The extremists may take over. The sun may fail and the stars may fall.

But all of that is maybe. Now, this moment, is what I have. I'm going to create a new folder for a new year and keep on keeping on, trusting in what I've been told by Someone I trust.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Happy Rejoicing

Peter and the apostles had been imprisoned, interrogated, slandered, disbelieved, minimized, oppressed and beaten by the Jewish High Priest and council of religious rulers.

And the apostles left happy.

They left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

Acts 5:41-42 (ESV)

"Rejoice" is a good way to translate the Greek word that describes the emotion felt by the apostles after severe mistreatment. The English word derives from the Latin, gaudere (to give joy, to gladden). "Joy" is from the same word, meaning the emotion resulting from the acquisition or expectation of good; gladness or delight. The definition of "joy" includes happiness, bliss and gaiety.

Some try to distinguish between joy and happiness, exalting joy and denigrating happiness.

"Happiness" is a debatable issue for Christians. Some feel that happiness means the enjoyment of earthly, temporary, often self-indulgent pleasures. For many, to seek happiness seems a simplistic, child-like goal that betrays altruistic service and good works. Happiness for some is viewed even as a sinful pursuit.

"Joy" has a solid place of honor on the shelf of Christian pursuits. "Joy" seems to convey the pleasureable contentment felt when experiencing, or hoping to experience, good things that are eternal and heavenly.

"Happiness", on the other hand, has connotations of cheap worldliness, or fleeting fancifulness.

Does the Bible say that Christians should seek happiness? What does "happiness" mean? Is it something less than "joy"? Does the Bible exalt joy over happiness?

"Hap" is an old-fashioned English word that simply means an event or incident. To be "happy" means to regard an event or incident as good or fortunate. "Happiness" is an experience that one considers to be favorable, pleasureable, or good. Because experience is closely followed by emotion, happiness has come to mean the feeling that is triggered by favorable experiences.

Compare the definitions. The distinction is small between "happy" (the experiencing of good) and "joy" (the emotion excited by good). It is entirely acceptable to use the two words interchangeably.

Is "happiness" or "happy" in the Bible? It depends upon the translation!

The King James Version has 28 different instances of "happy". The English Standard Version has only 11, with two additional instances of "happiness".

Regardless of how the Bible is translated, what about the original language? What Hebrew and Greek words does the Bible use that are close to the meaning of the English words, "happy" or "happiness"?

Perhaps the closest equivalent to "happy" is the word used in Psalms: esher. This Hebrew word is translated differently by the King James Version (KJV) and the English Standard Version (ESV).

"Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God."

Psalms 146:5 (KJV)

"Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God."

Psalms 146:5 (ESV)

The same Hebrew word, esher, is translated differently by KJV and ESV.

"Esher" is used 45 different times in the Old Testament. The King James Version translates it as "blessed" in some instances and as "happy" in others. Why the inconsistency?

Psalm 128:1 translates esher as "blessed":

"Blessed is every one that feareth the Lord; that walketh in his ways."

Psalms 128:1 (KJV)

In the very next verse, esher is translated as "happy":

"For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee."

Psalms 128:2 (KJV)

The same Hebrew word, translated differently!

The translators seem to have used "blessed" to describe someone receiving a benefit from God. "Happy" seems to have been used to describe a person's emotional response to a benefit from God.

However, they are translating the SAME word!

The New Testament poses the same situation: "Happy" occurs 6 times in the King James Version of the New Testament. The English Standard Version of the New Testament has no instance of "happy" or "happiness".

The Greek word that KJV translates as "happy" is makarios, as used in John:

"I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them."

John 13:15-17 (KJV)

"I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them."

John 13:15-17 (ESV)

The KJV translates makarios as "happy" while the ESV translates the same word as "blessed".

How often does "makarios" occur in the New Testament? 50 times!

There are other words used in the Bible that are similar to what we mean when we say "happy":

"Chairo" is used 77 times in the New Testament! In the KJV it is translated variously: farewell, be glad, God speed, greeting, hail, joy, joyfully and rejoice.

"Cheerfulness" is so closely related to "happiness" that the distinction is negligible.

The point of all this is to highlight the frequency with which the Bible speaks of happiness. Whether we call it being "glad" or "rejoicing" or "joyful", the distinctions between the words are very small. All of the words describe an emotional response to something good.

For a Christian, nothing happens accidentally or randomly...all things are given by God for our good. Even the hard things, the painful things, the "crosses" in our life...all things are given by God for our ultimate good.

Does the Bible encourage Christians to seek happiness?

Yes!

God wants His people to seek happiness...in Him!

Use a Bible reference book and look up the verses that mention the Hebrew word "esher" and the Greek word "makarios". God's Word uses happiness to encourage His people. God presents happiness as something that should motivate us to obedience and worship. God exalts happiness as an incentive and a reward...a promise given to us of the glad consequences of making Him our Treasure.

Remember, "esher" and "makarios" are translated inconsistently. Regardless of how it is translated into English, the original word is the same!

In the following examples, the word shown in bold type is "esher" (Old Testament) or "makarios" (New Testament):

"Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty: For he maketh sore, and bindeth up: he woundeth, and his hands make whole."

Job 5:17-18 (KJV)

"Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night."

Psalms 1:1-2 (KJV)

"Happy is that people, that is in such a case: yea, happy is that people, whose God is the Lord."

Psalms 144:15 (KJV)

"Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding."

Proverbs 3:13 (KJV)

"Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed."

John 20:29 (KJV)

"According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust."

1 Timothy 1:11 (KJV)

Amazing! Literally, this verse points to the Lord as the "happy God!"

The Bible is full of "happy" references to happiness. Translators may use different English words to communicate slight shades of implied meaning, but the basic original words remain constant.

"Happiness" has lately gotten a bad reputation. The value of happiness should not depend upon different levels of emotion or ectasy. The difference between joy and happiness is not measured by time or depth of feeling. Joy, rejoicing, blessing, blessed, gladness, contentment and satisfaction...all of these words communicate the basic emotion that is a consequence of regarding current events as good and favorable: in a word, happiness!

I believe that "happiness" is often denigrated because our fallen human condition tends toward seeking happiness from people and things that at best are only temporary, and at worst they are harmful and ultimately destructive.

We tend to reserve the word "joy" for emotion we feel when contemplating people and things that are longlasting or ultimately good and healthy.

However, in exalting "joy" over "happiness", we are falsely accusing the word "happy" of being cheap or tawdry. It is not.

"Happiness" deserves to be revived as a word that describes what God ultimately promises us: Life with Jesus will ultimately be good...very good!

And that hope makes us happy, right now!

Let's end this with a look back at the verse with which we began:

"They left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ."

Acts 5:41-42 (ESV)

It would be insane to pretend that they were rejoicing happily over their bleeding backs and bruised skin. Our own experience shows us that pain and loss in themselves never bring happiness. Rejoicing in bad experiences comes only when the pain leads to something good beyond the bad. What good thing caused genuine, happy rejoicing for the apostles?

They were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for Jesus.

Suffering dishonor did not bring the apostles happiness, but the dishonor led them to realize that Jesus counted them worthy to suffer on His behalf. What joy! To have the Creator and Redeemer of the world regard me as worthy of suffering for Him! This intense experience of good sprang directly from an intense experience of bad.

And the good trumped the bad!

What Do You Think?

When have you had a bad experience in which you see now led directly to a good experience? Does your life story reflect the truth that happy joy can result from an initially bad experience? Is it fair in your opinion, to equate "happiness" with "joy"?

Thanks!

Quinn Dombrowski / https://www.flickr.com/photos/quinnanya / "Happy baby" / https://flic.kr/p/8WYCSS / CC BY-SA 2.0 / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Established Forever!

Established Forever!

I don't long to be ruled by a king.

In my social studies class in high school, I was never drawn to the idea of a monarchy or an empire. I considered such forms of government to be oppressive, impractical, and impersonal.

My first year of college brought me into close contact with people much different than I...different skin color, different social rules, different spiritual journeys. The only constant preference that drew us together was the fervent belief in democracy, in representative government, in collaboration and the right of the individual.

I became a Christian during that first year of college. It was an inexplicable change of heart and mind that I often wonder at even today. The foundational truths of this new faith were to be found in The Holy Bible, which often referred to God as "King of kings, Lord of lords."

"I charge you in the presence of God...he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion." (1 Timothy 6:13-16 ESV)

I believe this, mentally, but I have little emotional connection to the concept of having a King. I've never experienced life as a subject of a monarch. I've seen examples from afar, examples of miserably ineffective and abusive kings...kings far removed from the people over whom they ruled...kings who used power and force as we may use toilet paper and plastic credit cards.

Our passages this week connect the earthly reign of David as king over Israel, with the universally everlasting reign of Jesus Christ as King over all nations and all generations.

How does knowing God as King affect your daily life? How can 20th century, democratic North Americans living in a republic connect with God as King?

God appointed David to reign over his people. Every incident and circumstance worked together to bring David to the throne.

God promised that the house of David would last forever. The eternal reign over God's people would be held by a descendent of David.

No enemy will triumph over the reign of David's eternal descendent.

No place on earth, no nation of people, will not be under the rule of David's eternal descendent.

Jesus, born of Mary, Jesus Christ the Son of the Most High, is that descendent. Of his kingdom there will be no end.

Jesus our King is merciful to those who fear him. He is strong. He scatters the proud and brings down the mighty. He exalts those who are low, and he fills the hungry with good things.

Like it or not...understand it or not...emotionally desire it or not...Jesus is and forever will be our Most High King, King of kings and Lord of lords.

The sooner we like it, the sooner we understand it, and the sooner we emotionally desire it, the better. As Mary responded, so should we:

"Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word."

Our texts for this week, the Third Sunday of Advent, December 24, 2017:

  • 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
  • Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26
  • Romans 16:25-27
  • Luke 1:26-38, 46-55

Scriptures are taken from the English Standard Version of The Holy Bible. Readings by Milt Reynolds.


2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

Now when the king lived in his house and the LORD had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, the king said to Nathan the prophet, "See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent."

And Nathan said to the king, "Go, do all that is in your heart, for the LORD is with you."

But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, "Go and tell my servant David, 'Thus says the LORD: Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling.

'In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, "Why have you not built me a house of cedar?"

'Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, 'Thus says the LORD of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.

'And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies.

'Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house...And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.'"

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26

I will sing of the steadfast love of the LORD, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations. For I said, "Steadfast love will be built up forever; in the heavens you will establish your faithfulness."

You have said, "I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant: 'I will establish your offspring forever, and build your throne for all generations.'"

Selah...

Of old you spoke in a vision to your godly one, and said:

"I have granted help to one who is mighty;

I have exalted one chosen from the people.

I have found David, my servant; with my holy oil I have anointed him, so that my hand shall be established with him; my arm also shall strengthen him.

The enemy shall not outwit him; the wicked shall not humble him.

I will crush his foes before him and strike down those who hate him. My faithfulness and my steadfast love shall be with him, and in my name shall his horn be exalted.

I will set his hand on the sea and his right hand on the rivers. He shall cry to me, 'You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.'

Romans 16:25-27

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith - to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ!

Amen.

Luke 1:26-38, 46-55

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary.

And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!"

But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."

And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?"

And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy - the Son of God.

"And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God."

And Mary said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word."

And the angel departed from her...

And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

"And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever."


Thanks!

LifeWay Christian Resources / WORDsearch Basic, free Bible study software / https://www.wordsearchbible.com/basic

English Standard Version, 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers, 2011 edition

Peteris / "Christ the Redeemer statue" / https://flic.kr/p/6goBcr / CC BY 2.0 / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Story of Deborah and Jael, Part Four: A Mother in Anguish

The Story of Deborah and Jael, Part Four: A Mother in Anguish

My Name Does Not Matter

"You do not want to be God's enemy."

I've been asked me to explain why my story is in the Bible, and how it connects with you all.

That's going to be a bit difficult.

For one thing, I do not want to be here. I don't care about you all. I don't care about your God. For that matter, I do not care about anyone's god. All I care about is what I've lost. All I care about is what I feel I deserve, all that's been taken away from me. I was a way more better person than those whimpering, self-absorbed whiners who came waltzing into my country, singing songs about their God and then making cozy with us and our gods when they got fat and sassy.

I lost my son.

I lost the only thing that gave me pride and joy.

I lost the only thing that gave me purpose and protection.

I lost my son.

My attendants tried to comfort me. They assured me that he was on his way, victorious over those "God-of-Jacob" people, those refugees from the god-forsaken East, those on-again, off-again followers of God. They assured me that he was loaded down with red satin fabric and salacious slave women, that the return home was delayed because of all their plunder.

I lost my son.

I lost everything.

So, what can I say to connect my story to yours?

Their God beat my god.

My final words to you? Words from a mother in anguish?

"You do not want to be regarded as an enemy of Deborah's and Jael's God."

Rod Waddington / "Anguish, La Recoleta, Buenos Aires" / https://flic.kr/p/bBR2p7 / CC BY-SA 2.0 / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Story of Deborah and Jael, Part Three: Jael

The Story of Deborah and Jael, Part Three: Jael

My Name is Jael

"Trust God and deal ruthlessly with enemies."

I've been asked to explain why my story is in the Bible, and how it connects with you all.

That's going to be a bit difficult.

I was not blind, and I was not a fool. My name means "wild goat", and I risk much to gain much. I climb heights to reach happiness, mentally, physically and emotionally. I climb to see the big picture, the grand scheme, the way forward.

My husband and I were not Israelites. We were not "God's People". But we were connected, in a way. My people descended from Hobab, the father-in-law of Moses. We hooked up with the Jews and followed them to their "promised land", but we also kept close ties with the ruling culture. The Canannite king Jabin and my people had a deal. You leave us alone, we'll cut you a slice of the pie now and then. For Jabin's commander of the Canaanite army, Sisera, the slice of pie was literal. Sisera knew where we lived, he stopped by often and we spent time together as friends. Perhaps Sisera and I were a bit more than friends...I knew which rug was his favorite, and I knew what his favorite drink was.

But then Deborah raised an army. Out of nowhere! Out of a scattered, rag-tag has-been nation of timid, hypocritical, self-indulgent, comfort-loving idol worshippers she raised an army of 10,000 soldiers! And Sisera's elite army of 10,000 professional killers and 900 tanks were drowned in a flood of sword-wielding, song-singing farmers following Deborah.

And Deborah was following God. The God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob. The God of Moses and Joshua.

Whom was I following?

Then Sisera came stumbling into my tent. Out of breath, bloody, limping, coughing, snot running from his nose and as pale as a death shroud from fear and desperation.

I was immediately faced with a dilemma. Two terrible choices confronted me. Take care of Sisera, remain friends with Jabin the Canaanite king, which would set me up as an enemy of the God of Deborah. Or, treat Sisera as my enemy and put myself at the mercy of a God who could destroy thousands and exalt to heights of glory even the humble.

I'm not blind. I'm not a fool. I'm a wild goat willing to brave the heights in order to truly live free. I risk much to gain much.

I chose humility.

I chose to deal ruthlessly with an enemy, and trust that God would take me as his friend.

As I said, connecting my story to you all is a bit difficult. I have to echo what Deborah says about who your enemies really are. Listen to what she said, then deal ruthlessly with whatever threatens your relationship with God.

I've had to challenge a close friend with a few of his enemies. There are times when he scrolls mindlessly down his internet feed of social posts, pictures, rants and raves. He needs to realize that his desire for worth and purpose, his appetite for pleasure and comfort is being subtly sabotaged by an enemy who loves to distract, tempt, distort and entangle his heart.

My final words to you are the same as I spoke to my friend: Wanna deal ruthlessly with an enemy? An enemy within your own heart?

We'll conclude this mini-series with the story of a woman in anguish, a mother in grief.

Paulo Valdivieso / "sans titre" / https://flic.kr/p/L6ZnM3 / CC BY-SA 2.0 / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Story of Deborah and Jael, Part Two: Deborah

The Story of Deborah and Jael, Part Two

My Name is Deborah

"Follow God and fight for what he fights".

I've been asked to explain why my story is in the Bible, and how it connects with you all.

That's going to be a bit difficult.

I grew up knowing God's promise, that he had chosen us to be his people, and he would settle us in a land of our own, that we would be a blessing for the entire world because we would point to the great grace and mercy of Almighty God, Creator and Sustainer of the world. Yet my people had endured 20 years of oppressive cruelty.

I grew up trusting absolutely in the judgement of God. I never went to God in hopes of being found guilty. Rather, I always went to God with the confident expectation that he would say and do what was right and good, whether it meant for me correction or commendation.

I trusted God as my Judge. And he made me a judge of my people.

They called me The Bee. I was systematic and logical. I saw right and wrong as black and white. I listened to God, I remembered his ways and words, and I allowed his words to completely rule what I said, felt and decided.

In the midst of oppressive cruelty, abandoned farms and roadways, fear and doubt, I became known as The Woman of Splendor. God's people traveled miles to me for judgement, in much the same way as I myself went to God. They never expected a verdict of condemnation. They hoped for God's declaration of rightness. They sought resolution to conflicts and circumstances that threatened their well-being, their contentment and their security.

However, wrong is wrong.

I did not hesitate to rebuke, to reprimand, to restrict. I corrected and condemned according to what God said was right and wrong.

When God finally, after 20 years, told me to wake up, to raise an army, to fight and destroy that which cruelly oppressed us, the people listened. They obeyed, we marched, we fought and we killed 10,000 enemies.

But, how can that connect with you all? Who are the thorns in your sides, the snares that trap, the plunderers which harm and bring distress? Who afflicts and oppresses you? Who feeds on you and consumes you?

Christians, your warfare is not physical! God's apostle Paul taught truth in the Book of 2 Corinthians:

Though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.
2 Corinthians 10:3 (ESV)
We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,
2 Corinthians 10:5 (ESV)

You do not war in the flesh. You war to destroy arguments and opinions and thoughts that put yourselves above God. You force your thoughts to obey Christ. You confront disobedience with obedience.

Your warfare is against sin that dwells in your own heart. Your passions are at war within you, and you too often love yourselves above God Who created, sustains and saves you!

The apostle James wrote to you:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
James 4:1-3 (ESV)
You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, "He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us"?
James 4:4-5 (ESV)

My final words as Deborah, God's judge over you, his people: Follow God and fight for what he fights.

Part 3 will imagine Jael speaking to us directly, attempting to explain why her story is recorded in the Bible, and how it may connect to our modern, American-Christian story.

versionz / "matriarch" / https://flic.kr/p/4wLmvy / CC BY 2.0 / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Story of Deborah and Jael, Part One

The Story of Deborah and Jael, Part One

What if this story were made into a movie?

If the Book of Judges were a movie, this would surely be part of the trailer:

Judges, Chapter Two: (Judges 2:1, 11-15, 16-19)

  • God chose a people and gave them a promise
  • God's people abandoned him
  • God raised up champions and leaders to rescue his people

Judges Chapter Four:

  • Verses 1-3: Twenty years of cruel oppression
  • Verses 4-7: God raised up Deborah, "The Bee", "The Woman of Splendor", to be a judge
  • Verses 14-16: Deborah led an army to victory, killing 10,000 cruel, oppressive enemies
  • Verses 17-20: Jael, "The Wild Goat", faced a dilemma: Sisera - friend or foe?
  • Verses 21-22: Jael makes her choice

Judges Chapter Five:

  • Deborah sings
  • A mother wails in anguish

What are the lessons learned from this story?

  • God desires that we fully rely upon what he says
  • God desires that we fully love what God loves, and hate what God hates
  • God desires that we fully live with him

Why should we study the Old Testament?

The Old Testament reveals our sin, and God's hatred of sin. The Old Testament prepares us to receive God's salvation based entirely upon faith. And the Old Testament ultimately points us to Jesus. (Galatians 3)

Three Women: Deborah, Jael and a mother in anguish

If the Book of Judges were a movie, it would star three women.

  • Deborah: "Follow God and fight for what he fights."
  • Jael: "Trust God and deal ruthlessly with enemies."
  • A mother in anguish: "You do not want to be God's enemy."

Conclusion: Faith, Love and Salvation

Faith, Love and Salvation are three essential ways killing enemies, of putting to death the spiritual enemies, the arguments and lofty opinions that minimize God and exalt our own flawed hearts and minds.

  • God desires that we fully rely upon what he says
  • God desires that we fully love what God loves, and hate and what God hates
  • God desires that we fully live with him

The Book of 1 Thessalonians, Chapters 4-5 echoes the lessons learned from the story of Deborah and Jael:

  • 4:14-17 - God has made Jesus to me our Judge, our Rescuer, our Lord!
  • 5:2-6 - It is time to wake up!
  • 5:8-10 - Follow God and fight what he fights!
  • 5:11 - Encourage one another in the fight!

Next week:

Part 2 will imagine Deborah speaking to us directly, attempting to explain why her story is recorded in the Bible, and how it may connect to our modern, American-Christian story.


kynd_draw, for "justice" / https://flic.kr/p/egnoST / CC BY-SA 2.0 / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A Devout Life, Part 5: The Source of Righteousness

A Devout Life: Part 5

The Source of Righteousness

According to 1 Timothy 6:11, righteousness depends upon five sincere, heartfelt, and intentional expressions of the heart, mind and body:

  • Wonder
  • Faith
  • Love
  • Steadiness
  • Courtesy

If Paul uses these five expressions to define godly righteousness, and our lives are to live in a manner that is "equitable", to what or to whom are our lives to be equal? What or Whom forms the standards, or the degrees, by which we are to express righteousness?

Upon What or Whom does righteousness depend?

I'm charging you before the life-giving God and before Christ, who took his stand before Pontius Pilate and didn't give an inch: Keep this command to the letter, and don't slack off. Our Master, Jesus Christ, is on his way. He'll show up right on time, his arrival guaranteed by the Blessed and Undisputed Ruler, High King, High God. He's the only one death can't touch, his light so bright no one can get close. He's never been seen by human eyes—human eyes can't take him in! Honor to him, and eternal rule! Oh, yes. (1 Timothy 6:13-16 MSG)

Our ultimate standard of righteousness is best defined by a Person: Jesus Christ, Master of all creation, immortal, glorious, supernatural, with all honor and power.

Perhaps this is the origin of distorted, perverted, unrighteous human standards of success. I've described previously my own tendency to compare myself with others in order to estimate my own personal worth. Perhaps, I am created with an echo of the image of Jesus stamped upon my soul, embossing my heart with an awareness, dim though it is, of the awesome height of perfection of Jesus.

Perhaps we all are created with this shadow of awareness.

However, if my others-based scale of comparison is ultimately due to God's hand in my creation, why does it fail me? Why would the image of God in me create a system of self-worth that brings despair and frustration?

Why might high standards of success be a negative thing?

This is a great paradox. I am created with the stamp of God's glory, yet my life on earth is one of poverty: I entered the world penniless (without a single shred of personal power or influence), and I will leave it penniless, yet a Rich, Boundless God created me.

Perhaps I so greatly desire the joy of heaven that I tend to seek for it here on earth, an earth that is wracked by sin and mortality; an earth that seems on the verge of self-destruction; an earth that cannot possibly, ultimately, provide the success I long for.

Perhaps I am failing to look in the right direction for success and satisfaction.

Go After God

Tell those rich in this world's wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage— to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they'll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19 MSG)

The phrase, "so full of themselves" is contrasted with the phrase "go after God". Going after God is the opposite of being "so full of themselves".

Those who are rich in this world's wealth, or those who are obsessed with gaining wealth are placing themselves sky high, lofty beyond reason, higher even than their Creator.

The obsessively wealthy, or the compulsive dreamer of wealth, are seeking a Heaven of their own making on earth. They are envisioning themselves living apart from God, higher than their impression of God, a Heaven without a meaningful God. In their minds this world is all there is, or all that counts right now, and they are their own savior.

Paul urges the wealthy or wanna-be-wealthy to seek the opposite of personal loftiness, which would place them lower than God, subordinate to God. The opposite of being full of one's self is to be full of another: God.

We must ask God to transform our desire for earthly wealth (which may take the form of time, strength, influence and property) into a desire for God Himself. We must ask God to incline our hearts toward him, open our eyes to the truth of what's he's done, unite our fragmented hearts with his heart, and satisfy us with his goodness, mercy, grace and power.

We must ask God to pile on all the true riches that he has for us:

  • To do good
  • To be rich in helping others
  • To be extravagantly generous
  • To build a treasury that will last
  • To live a life that is truly life

"To do good" means to act, work or toil as a good effort or occupation.

To be rich in helping others means to become wealthy in good works, especially in things beautiful, good, valuable or virtuous for appearance or use.

To be extravagantly generous means to be good or liberal in imparting or sharing with others, especially in the sense of a community of friends, and especially with common, ordinary-day friends.

To build a treasure that will last means to treasure away, amass or reserve away, again for things beautiful, good, valuable or virtuous for appearance or use. It carries the connotation of something foundational, as in the structure of a building, built with purpose, duty or necessity.

Finally, to live a life that is truly life means to seize life that is perpetual.

God, You are the Source of righteousness. Without Your sacrifice of Your Son on my behalf, I would not be able to even face You, much less hope for eternal life as Your child, forgiven of all sin, cleansed in the guiltless identity of Christ Jesus.

God, this world is breaking up. It's like my heart, torn and fragmented, wanting You yet hiding from You. Please remind me daily that joy and contentment, a devout life that looks upward, inward, outward, downward and all around is a righteous life that brings great wealth, wealth that is measured eternally, with limitless potential.

God, You are my Creator, Master, Savior, Companion, and Lover.

Joy!


Thanks!

Scripture taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Evonne, for "Treasure", https://flic.kr/p/4SpSBW, Creative Commons license, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A Devout Life, Part 4: Right-ness" is not Righteousness

A Devout Life: Part 4

"Right-ness" is not Righteousness

I use the word, "right-ness" to refer to my own personal filter of life, my own sense of what competence or success means. "Right-ness" is wrong, I believe. Instead, I should pursue "Righteousness".

But you, Timothy, man of God: Run for your life from all this. Pursue a righteous life — a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, and courtesy. Run hard and fast in the faith. Seize the eternal life, the life you were called to, the life you so fervently embraced in the presence of so many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:11-12 MSG)

Rather than pursuing a life built upon standards of my own creation, standards which compare myself to others, real or imagined, standards of "right-ness", Paul would have me pursue a life built upon God's standards: "righteousness".

Righteousness is best defined by our word, "equity", the quality of being fair and impartial, from Latin aequus, meaning equal.

Equal to what?

But you, Timothy, man of God: Run for your life from all this. Pursue a righteous life—a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy. (1 Timothy 6:11)

A devout life, a life of righteousness, is one which is "equitable", or equal to something, or someone else. When Paul says that righteousness means "equity", to what, or to whom are we to be equal?

Paul will answer this in verses 13-16, but he first primes us with how he defines "righteousness". He describes five different ways in which righteousness may be expressed...five tangible, real-life definitions of righteousness

  • Wonder
  • Faith
  • Love
  • Steadiness
  • Courtesy

Righteousness, then can be defined by looking at five ways in which God's standards of life can be expressed. Interestingly, each of the five expressions of righteousness could be illustrated by a direction in which a person might look:

  • Upward
  • Inward
  • Outward
  • Downward
  • All around

Let's look at each expression of righteousness, beginning with "wonder".

Wonder

This is the same Greek word translated earlier as "devout".

This first expression of righteousness is focused upward toward God: a sincere worship, a deep respect and a steady trust of God and what he has provided, what he is providing, and what he will provide.

Faith

The next expression of righteousness is faith.

Where wonder, or devotion, looks upward toward God, faith looks inward at one's foundation of life. What do I believe about God, and how does that affect what I see, feel, and do?

To say "I believe", requires only air rushing past vocal cords. To write "This is true" requires nothing but pen, ink and paper. But to act, to do, to live according to what we believe is true is the only valid test of whether or not we have faith in someone or something.

Righteousness is expressed first by the wonder of salvation and the glory of God's character and work. Following wonder is an expression of faith: saying and doing what we deeply believe is true.

Love

The third expression of righteousness is love.

At the heart of love is generosity. Freely giving to another something that is valuable, necessary and good, without condition, without any promise of return or profit.

The early Christians used this word to describe their meals together. They gathered all the food they had, spread the table and invited those who were hungry to eat. No payment was expected, no requirement for pay back or profit.

Love, then, is the expression of righteousness that looks outward, to the people around us, people born little differently than us, people created in the image of God, people in desperate need of contentment and satisfaction.

One critical weakness of humans, one deeply disturbing result of our inborn sinfulness, is that of preferring or trusting other people who look, sound or feel similar to ourselves. We instinctively trust a person, and thus will love a person, who seems most nearly familiar. Sinfully, we will react, often subconsciously, with suspicion and reluctance toward a person who seems different.

We may acknowlege with our intellect that all humans are born naked and needy, but as our cultures diverge, our languages become confused, our skin color changes, our definitions of “good” and “bad” degrade and evolve, we become less and less likely to reach out in genuine, selfless love.

A devout life of genuine love is able to see past the differences and see the most important needs of everyone, regardless of appearance or culture.

Steadiness

The fourth expression of righteousness is steadiness.

This fourth expression of righteousness seems similar to faith. How are the two different?

Where wonder looks upward toward God, and faith looks inward at one's true beliefs, and love looks outward at other people, steadiness looks downward toward the place in which God has placed one’s feet..

When mountain climbers prepare for an ascent, they will look upward, studying the high peak, anticipating the joy of reaching their goal. They will look inward, examining their motives, their reasons for climbing, their trust in their training and equipment. They will look outward, seeing their climbing companions, sharing encouragement, food, equipment and protection.

But when mountain climbers actually begin the ascent, when they take the first difficult step, they must look downwards. They must study the rock or snow on which they are placing their next step, the ground upon which their life depends. Each step is an expression of all that they've done previously. Each step is a new expression of their goal, their determination, their reliance upon each other, and their perseverance.

When a Christian looks down, they are seeing the place where God has put them. Or they are seeing the condition of their body in which God has set them. Or they are are seeing the work to which God has sent them. Or they are seeing the problem before which God has placed them.

Steadiness is the expression of righteousness which acknowledges the place, condition or state in which God has placed a person. More than acknowledgement, however, steadiness is the decision to persevere, to endure, to remain under the situation for as long as God desires.

What? Why? How? When? Where?

A Christian does not usually benefit by asking God “What” or "Why?". Actually, the only benefit is that it serves as an expression of faith in the Only One Who can answer the questions. It is an emotional, spiritual relief, almost a joy, to express honest questions toward God.

However, rarely does an immediate answer come. I cannot think of any time when such revelation came to me. No do detailed answers come from asking "How, When, Where?” These questions are entirely in the hand of God, and there are few biblical instances in which God answers such prayer-questions, at least not in a clear, decisive way that is immediately clear. Prophets themselves were given visions and oracles that they did not understand. The understanding came only after the prophecies came true.

Indeed, in a sense already know the answers to these questions, at least in an ultimate, over-arching sense. What will God do? He will glorify himself through his Son, Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit which dwells within those who are in Jesus Christ. Why will God allow or do this? Because he is good, wise, merciful and just.

Always.

How will God do this? When and where will God do this?

Unexpectedly.

God’s ways are mysterious, hidden from human intellect, even when God provides prophecy, the details of why, how, when and where are hidden until God discloses it to the world.

Steadiness is standing or stepping out in trust

This fourth expression of righteousness, steadiness, is seen when a Christian stands or steps out in devout steadiness, without insisting upon immediate, detailed answers to What and Why, or How and When, or Where. A life of devout steadiness may ask God these things, expressing faith that only he can answer them, but will at the same time stand or step out, trusting the One Who Sustains and Saves.

Devout steadiness is an inclination towards God alone, a desire that God would open one's eyes, a longing for all of one's fears and hopes to be united in God's hand, and a hunger for satisfaction and contentment in God's provision.

Steadiness asks God for direction, but does not quaver or turn back when the prayer is not quickly answered. Steadiness assumes that God is rock-solid in control of the situation, that God is supremely good, all the time, and each step up the mountain is in reality a step with God.

Courtesy

We began our expression of righteousness by looking upward with wonder at God's mighty mercy and power. Then we looked inward at our faith, preaching to ourselves that which we deeply believe is true. Next we looked outward with love at our family, friends and neighbors, eager to share our abundance with their need. The fourth expression of righteousness was a downward look of steadiness, seeing our situation clearly, and stepping firmly out with God at our side.

However, Paul's final expression of righteousness seems a bit out of place, at least when it is described as "courtesy".

Courtesy seems far removed from the exaltation of wonder, the boldness of love, the warmth of love and the perseverance of steadiness.

Wonder looks upward, faith looks inward, love looks outward, and steadiness looks downward. To where shall we look for courtesy?

Courtesy is probably best illustrated by a look that encompasses all directions. Courtesy looks all around, upward, downward, inward, outward, and all around.

A Christian looks upward with wonder at God's greatness; looks inward at what is deeply held to be true; looks outward at other people, all in need of contentment and satisfaction; looks downward at the place in which God has set him; and then continues to expressrighteousness by looking all around, showing courtesy to all, speaking and acting gently, with humility.

Righteousness requires courtesy Without courtesy, where would the other expressions of righteous be?

Wonder would cease to consider God worthy of respect and honor. Faith would erode into dogmatic doctrine, controlled by the elite. Love would refuse to look outward, ignoring the needy, clinging to one's own pile of treasure. Steadiness would become a trampling, a stomping, and impatient kicking of rebellion and tyranny.

Courtesy requires righteousness

Courtesy would evaporate if the other expressions of righteousness were absent.

  • Without wonder, courtesy would become superior boasting and intimidation of others, including a secret, subconscious scorn for God.
  • Without faith, courtesy would become inconsistent, weak and vague.
  • Without love, courtesy would become harsh, judgemental punishment.
  • Without steadiness, courtesy would become automatic, thoughtless, and meaningless.

Righteousness, then, depends upon five sincere, heartfelt, and intentional expressions of the heart, mind and body:

  • Wonder
  • Faith
  • Love
  • Steadiness
  • Courtesy

God, You are my Creator, Master, Savior, Companion, and Lover.

God, fill me with Your righteousness. Not the "right-ness" of human tradition or national politics. Not the "right-ness" of safety or convenience. Not the "right-ness" of fear or arrogance. No, God, fill me with Your righteousness. Grant me the gift of wonder, faith, love, steadiness and courtesy.

Every day.

Every moment.


Thanks!

Scripture taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Bob May, for "effacing", https://flic.kr/p/qsyF3w, Creative Commons license,https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/