Friday, February 15, 2019

"Jesus is Not Pharaoh"

Leviticus 26.13

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves;… “I have broken the bands of your yoke and made you walk upright.” NKJV

“I broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect.” NASU

“I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.” NIV

An oxen’s yoke pulls a plow for tilling hard soil in a muddy field. It is too heavy for a man of any size and strength. If he tries to carry the yoke, he will soon fall with his face in the dirt.

Harnessed to Pharaoh’s yoke, the Israelites suffered as slaves under the cruel control of Egyptian taskmasters. It was impossible for the children of God to “walk upright” with “heads held high.” The yoke was too hard and the burden was too heavy. The children of Israel in the time of Moses were without options. They were in bondage. 

The opposite condition may also produce similar form of bondage. Too many options restrict, rather than expand, freedom. Like an only child of rich parents on Christmas day, we are dazed by the number of gifts we can never fully appreciate. The popular notion that all ‘spiritual paths’ lead to God is an example of options overload. We have no idea which path to take. In desperation, we adopt the hope that each of them is equally as good as any other. We are so overwhelmed by religious choices we don’t know where to begin. We are crushed under the weight of options and miss the simple and easy truth altogether. Jesus alone can set us free.

God brought you out of the land of slavery. He set you free. He “broke the bars of your yoke” and “made you walk upright” with “heads held high.” Don’t impose upon yourself a new kind of servitude. Learn to “walk erect” with “heads held high” under the lordship of Jesus Christ. Jesus is not Pharaoh. He can be trusted with your future. You may confidently accept the claim of Christ upon your life and destiny. His yoke is easy and burden light.

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

________________________________

"A Long Journey with Heavy Burden" is a photo of a 2003 carving by Ye Fa-yuan at the Office of the President Republic of China Taiwan at their website (http://www.president.gov.tw).

Thursday, February 14, 2019

"Placing Thoughts in Custody"

Leviticus 24.12 NIV

“They put him in custody until the will of the LORD should be made clear to them.”
  
It’s easy to judge. We must be warned against doing it, or we will fall easily into its practice, and then get the judgment we pass.

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged.
For in the way you judge, you will be judged”.
Jesus, Matthew 7.1-2a NASU

I was heading east in the right lane on Scholls Ferry Road when I noticed a Tri-Met bus parked at a bus stop. When I was adjacent to the bus, the driver pulled into traffic without warning. I was forced to swerve into the left lane to avoid sideswiping the bus. I became instantly angry and honked to vent my wrath. I assumed the bus driver saw me and did not care. I judged him as careless and negligent and called him a couple of bad words in the privacy of my car. I considered writing down his license plate number and making a report to TriMet (the Tri-County Metropolotin Transportation District of Orgeon).  

Instead, I took a deep breath and wrestled my anger under control. I decided to let the whole thing go. No harm done. I’ve made plenty of mistakes myself. I extended little grace and tried forget the matter. That’s what “the Lord... made clear” to me after I had a little time to cool off and think clear-headedly.

When the son of an Israelite woman “blasphemed the Name with a curse,” the offender was brought to Moses. “They put him in custody until the will of the LORD should be made clear to them.” It was soon “made clear” and the matter was handled.

Judgment is a premature action of the heart. When I want to judge another person, I should try to capture that thought and place it in temporary custody “until the will of the LORD should be made clear.” The matter will be handled. God will bring justice to pass. Hasty and reactionary decisions based on hostile instincts will inevitably lead to regrettable actions that are hard to undo.

“…be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for
the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”
James 1.19b-20 NASU

“…take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
2nd Corinthians 10.5c NIV

I should think the best about people. Any fool can make snap judgments. Placing judgmental thoughts “in custody until the will of the LORD should be made clear” is a discipline that can only benefit me and everyone around me.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

"Cat's in the Cradle"

Leviticus 19.9-10 “The Message”

“When you harvest your land, don’t harvest right up to the edges of your field or gather the gleanings from the harvest. Don’t strip your vineyard bare or go back and pick up the fallen grapes. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am GOD, your God.”


While my capacity to receive and give love is presumably ever-expanding, there are limits. I can love more and better as I grow in Christ, but I cannot specifically and personally love everyone. The world is too large for that. I can, however, love everyone in my small part of the world; that is, the people God graciously placed in my life, starting with my immediate family.

I would like to be a force for positive change and leave the world a better place than I found it. But the world’s a big place. Understanding the limits of my influence may equip me to do a better job of loving those closest to me. They certainly deserve that.

Agriculture was the main economy of the ancient world of the Bible. Moses insisted that farmers were not to “harvest right up to the edges” of their fields or “gather gleanings from the harvest.” They were to demonstrate God’s love by allowing those who lived close by to “pick up the fallen grapes.” A farmer could make more money and elevate his financial position if he stripped his “vineyard bare.” but leaving some fruit on the trees and ground was evidence of his obedience to God. The farmer’s harvest leftovers benefited those in closest proximity to him and proved his love for the whole community. A land owner could not help everyone in the entire known world, but he could certainly assist his immediate neighbors, those who were geographically near.

I sometimes become so focused on my harvest work that I forget to reserve even the leftovers for those I love the most. I am a blessed man with a wonderful family. I must not “harvest right up to the edges” of my available energy. Rather, I should leave some for my family. If my son wants to shoot some baskets or play catch, I’ll find the time. There’s no need to strip the “vineyard” of my schedule “bare” or “go back and pick up” one last phone call or email. At the very least, my dear children deserve “the [daily] gleanings” and “fallen grapes” of my love and attention.

The application of this verse reminds me of an old song...

Cat’s in the Cradle

by Sandy and Harry Chapin from the 1974 album Verities & Balderdash

My child arrived just the other day,
He came to the world in the usual way.
But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay.
He learned to walk while I was away.
And he was talking 'fore I knew it,
And as he grew, he'd say,
"I'm gonna be like you, dad.
You know I'm gonna be like you."

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"When you coming home, dad?"
"I don't know when,
But we'll get together then.
You know we'll have a good time then."

My son turned ten just the other day.
He said, "Thanks for the ball, dad, come on let's play.
Can you teach me to throw?"
I said, "Not today, I got a lot to do."
He said, "That's ok."
And he walked away, but his smile never dimmmed,
Said, "I'm gonna be like him, yeah.
You know I'm gonna be like him."

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"When you coming home, dad?"
"I don't know when,
But we'll get together then.
You know we'll have a good time then."

Well, he came from college just the other day,
So much like a man I just had to say,
"Son, I'm proud of you. Can you sit for a while?
"He shook his head, and he said with a smile,
"What I'd really like, dad, is to borrow the car keys.
See you later. Can I have them please?"

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"When you coming home, son?"
"I don't know when, But we'll get together then, dad.
You know we'll have a good time then."

I've long since retired and my son's moved away.
I called him up just the other day.
I said, "I'd like to see you if you don't mind.
"He said, "I'd love to, dad, if I could find the time.
You see, my new job's a hassle, and the kid's got the flu,
But it's sure nice talking to you, dad.
It's been sure nice talking to you.
"And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me,
He'd grown up just like me.
My boy was just like me.

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
"When you coming home, son?"
"I don't know when,
But we'll get together then, dad.
You know we'll have a good time then."
_________________________

The painting above is called Les Glaneuses (The Gleaners, 1857) by Jean-Fran├žois Millet who was part of the Realism Movement that began in France in the 1850's.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

"Yom Kippur"

Lev 16:10, 21 NASU

“But the goat on which the lot for the scapegoat fell shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, to send it into the wilderness as the scapegoat. “Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and he shall lay them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who stands in readiness.”


Scapegoating is a useful and incredibly powerful tool for shifting blame and advancing a mission. While unethical and destructive, the practice provides solidarity when a group is struggling for survival. The scapegoat is seen as the reason for everyone’s misfortune and sacrificed at the altar of the greater good by those in a position of power who think they know best. It becomes generally accepted that scapegoats deserve what they get no matter how horrible the punishment. The collective campaign to eliminate a rival, oust a co-worker, or crush a competitor breaths new negative life into the organization. Impassioned by a sense of righteous indignation, witch hunters are blinded by their own propaganda and will rest only after someone burns at the stake.

In the early days of Israel, the High Priest ceremonially imparted the sins of the nation to the scapegoat which annually bore “all their iniquities to a solitary land” (Leviticus 16.22) on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The poor beast was beaten and driven into the wilderness while having its hair plucked out and, according to the Talmud, pushed over the edge of a cliff to its death. This inhumane practice was led by “the hand of a man who stands in readiness.”

When quotas are not met and plans fail, it becomes tempting to find a fall guy. There’s always some eager soul “who stands in readiness” to suggest a scapegoat. We really don’t need scapegoats anymore. Jesus already took the hit for every sin and failure you or I could ever imagine or commit. Jesus is enough. For me, that’s the meaning of Yom Kippur. I can stop blaming myself and others. Jesus is enough.

________________________

Cartoon by Chris Allison (www.toonhole.com).

Monday, February 11, 2019

"Jesus Pushes Back"

Leviticus 13.45-46 NIV

“The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp.”

Loneliness is emotional leprosy. Somewhere in the past, lonely people came to believe they did not have what it takes to attract and keep friends. The erroneous belief evolved into a sturdier reality with each lost relationship opportunity. Another layer of confidence was eroded with each passing day of solitude. Their attire, expressions, and posture adapted to an inner conviction of their own un-lovable-ness. The chronically lonesome learned to scream in silence, “Unclean! Unclean!” and consistently repelled the people they could have loved.

Lonely people conclude they “must live alone.” They resign themselves to “live outside the camp” of happy social interaction. They expect nothing from others and develop an acute sense of abandonment. If you try to love them, they push you away. If you try to help them, they will recite for you their mantra: “It’s too late now,” and you will tend to agree. Their years turn into decades. The pattern of withdrawal deepens as the cycle of isolation worsens. They die old and alone and lonely. Paul and John wrote a song about it fifty-three years ago.

Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name.
Nobody came.

Father McKenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave. No one was saved.

All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong? [1]

When Jesus encountered Simon Peter by the Lake of Gennesaret, He performed a miracle which demonstrated His deity and proved His love. Peter betrayed feelings of fear and isolation. He knew the leprosy of his own soul. Peter tried to push Jesus away.

“Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”
Luke 5.8 NIV

But Jesus pushed back.

“Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.”
Luke 5.10 NIV

Jesus is hope for “all the lonely people.” He heals the leprosy of soul. He fills all the lonely places with divine power and love. He offers purpose for life and a reason to re-join the human race. Jesus pushes back.

_______________

[1] “Eleanor Rigby” from Revolver by the Beatles, 1966.

The pastel at upper right entitled "Eleanor Rigby" is by musician and artist Mary Ann Farley whose work you can view and purchase at http://maryannfarley.com/. It is used here with Mary Ann's permission.

Friday, February 08, 2019

"Don't Stand Too Close to the Power of God"

Leviticus 9.24-10.2 “The Message”

Fire blazed out from GOD and consumed the Whole-Burnt-Offering and the fat pieces on the Altar. When all the people saw it happen they cheered loudly and then fell down, bowing in reverence.

“That same day Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons, took their censers, put hot coals and incense in them, and offered “strange” fire to GOD — something GOD had not commanded. Fire blazed out from GOD and consumed them — they died in GOD’s presence.”

There’s a simple but critical message here. Do what God says; no more, no less. The power of God at the Tabernacle in the wilderness was undeniable and won the applause of millions of viewers. The entire nation “cheered loudly and then fell down bowing in reverence.” The priests, specifically Aaron and his four sons became overnight sensations. These guardians of the Tabernacle were somehow connected to the magical and intoxicating power of God.  

If a small demonstration of His amazing presence was good, more was better; or so thought two sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu. They devised a plan. The young celebrities  would make a repeat performance. Let’s see… the last time they placed an offering on the altar in the sight of the people, stood back and presto! “Fire blazed our from GOD and consumed the Whole-Burnt-Offering.” They may have imagined, “Let’s do it again. This is a pretty cool trick... and a great way to meet girls.” As priests, Aaron and his sons enjoyed instant acclaim. They were on a roll and Nadab and Abihu would keep it going.

Nadab and Abihu threw another offering on the altar in the sight of the people, stood back and presto! It happened again, only this time, with a slight twist... “Fire blazed out from GOD and consumed them.” God’s incendiary path took a slight turn and Nadab and Abihu “died in GOD’s presence.”

When, on occasion, God chooses you through whom to demonstrate His mighty power, try not to gather credit or stage a repeat performance. Remain one of the gang marveling at what He did. That you were central to the amazing event is immaterial. He could have used anyone. Stand back and gaze upon the miraculous with the onlookers. After God uses you, blend back into the crowd. 

Don’t stand too close to the power of God, or you might get burned.
__________________________

The well known photograph of a movie audience is wearing 3-D (3D) glasses was taken by J. R. Eyerman on November 26, 1952 at Paramount Theater in Hollywood, California and later appeared in LIFE magazine. This was the opening night screening of "Bwana Devil," the 1st full length, color 3-D (aka "Natural Vision") motion picture.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

"Burned Entirely"

Leviticus 6.22b-23 NASU

“By a permanent ordinance it [the grain offering] shall be entirely offered up in smoke to the LORD. So every grain offering of the priest shall be burned entirely. It shall not be eaten.”
  
Some sacrificial offerings of the Israelites were placed on the altar, cooked with fire, and eaten by the priests. Not so with the priestly grain offering. It was completely reduced to ash, “entirely offered up in smoke,” and “burned entirely.” Nothing left. Just smoke and ash disappearing in the wind.

This is a picture of all of humanity. We are all grain offerings before the Lord. The apostle Paul challenged readers to “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God” (Romans 12.1). James said, “You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4.14). Jesus compared all human life to a lowly grain of wheat:

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone;
but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it,
and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
John 12.24-25 NKJV

We are meant to be used up.  We should wear out, not rust out. I am a “grain offering” and will one day be “entirely offered up in smoke to the LORD.” I hope my eulogy reads something like this:

He burned with desire to serve Jesus Christ. He burned brightly and he burned hot. When his life on earth was done, he burned out. God used him up and brought him home. He “burned entirely” until the end and that was the end of Dave on earth.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

"Freedom from Guilt?... Priceless!"

Leviticus 5.4 NIV

“Or if a person thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything, whether good or evil — in any matter one might carelessly swear about — even though he is unaware of it, in any case when he learns of it he will be guilty.”

About twelve years ago, I was reading stories to my two youngest children who were then eight and five years old. I miss the happy nightly bedtime ritual. Tired from the end of a long day, I made a business proposal to the children. They could massage my weary feet for a wage of fifty cents each while I read to them. They agreed and readily fulfilled their part of the bargain. When we were done with stories and foot rubs, both kids excitedly asked about their money. I tucked them in bed, kissed them goodnight, and promised to pay them in the morning.

In the morning I forgot all about our little agreement. About a week later, one of them reminded me and I said, “Oh yeah. I’ve got to take care of that. I'll pay you soon.” I was busy, and again forgot.

Another month passed. I was reading the Bible as a part of my daily devotional routine when I stumbled upon these words from Leviticus:

“…if a person thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything,…
in any matter one might carelessly swear about — even though he
is unaware of it,… when he learns of it he will be guilty.”

The Bible nailed me. For some reason, in that moment, I remembered my promise. I immediately felt “guilty” when it dawned on me I forgot to pay my little workers. I instantly located four quarters. At breakfast I announced to my children, “I have something for you.” My eight year old son quickly responded: “I know. You’re going to pay us our fifty cents!” I may have forgotten, but he certainly did not!

The guilt vanished the moment I handed over the money. It felt good to pay my debt. It was definitely worth a buck. Freedom from guilt is worth any amount of money.


_____________

The drawing of the parent reading to a child is used by permission from "First Steps A Parent Information Handbook" produced by Parents, Let's Unite for Kids (PLUK) and staff illustrator Karen Moses.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

"I Can Enter In"

Exodus 40.2b-3; 5c; 8b NASU

“…set up the tabernacle of the tent of meeting. You shall place the ark of the testimony there, and you shall screen the ark with the veil… and set up the veil for the doorway of the tabernacle… and hang up the veil for the gateway of the court.”

The Tabernacle was a mobile worship center for God’s people during the wilderness journey following their mass exodus from Egypt. Moses built the Tabernacle according to the pattern God gave him on Mount Sinai. It covered a space of ground rectangular in shape and approximately ½ the size of a football field. The open air boundaries were established by a heavy linen fence nearly 8 feet high. Only priests from the tribe of Levi were allowed to enter behind the first veil through “the gateway of the court.”

The second veil was set up at “the doorway of the tabernacle,” also called the Tent of Meeting. This was a covered structure erected inside the courtyard and further divided into two spaces: The Holy Place and the Holy of Holies which were separated by a third veil through which only the High Priest could pass once a year on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement described in the sixteenth chapter of the book of Leviticus. In this most holy place a special golden box was kept. It was called the Ark of the Covenant and contained the Ten Commandments.

Why God chose to triple barricade Himself from His creation, I may never fully comprehend or appreciate. But when Jesus died, all barricades came down:

“Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold,
the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” [1]
Matthew 27.50

I am unrestricted. I have full access. I can enter in and meet the living God.

Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud
had settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.”
Exodus 40.35

When Jesus died, the veil between God and me was ripped open and I may now enter into His holy presence. Moses could not enter in. But, I can!
______________

[1] The wilderness Tabernacle was eventually replaced by Solomon’s Temple which was destroyed by the Babylonians and later rebuilt by Zerubbabel around 520 B.C. This new Temple was extensively remodeled by Herod about 20 B.C. It was the veil in Herod’s Temple which was torn at the death of Jesus.

Monday, February 04, 2019

"The 20% of Those Who Do"

Exodus 36.4-7 “The Message”

“All the artisans who were at work making everything involved in constructing the Sanctuary came, one after another, to Moses, saying, ‘The people are bringing more than enough for doing this work that GOD has commanded us to do!’

 
“So Moses sent out orders through the camp: ‘Men! Women! No more offerings for the building of the Sanctuary!’ 

“The people were ordered to stop bringing offerings! There was plenty of material for all the work to be done. Enough and more than enough.”

The 80-20 rule was named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto who, in 1906, noted that 80% of Italy’s income was collected by 20% of Italy’s population. The 80-20 ratio also held true for the distribution of Italy’s property. Pareto found that 20% of the population owned 80% of the country’s land.

That 80% of the consequences stem from 20% of the causes may be demonstrated in almost every people group… families, companies, government, churches, and countries.

Apparently, the children of Israel at the time of the construction of the wilderness Tabernacle never read Pareto. There was no imbalance of distribution among the givers. Everyone contributed substantially until “enough and more than enough” was collected. 

I’ve heard it said that God’s work done in God’s way never lacks God’s provision. My experience, however, validates the Pareto Principle. I’ve heard enough cajoling, pleading, guilt-tripping, and even begging from the pulpit to question whether or not Moses’ principle of “enough and more than enough” really works in today’s church. When it comes to giving time, and talents, and treasures, Pareto’s 80-20 rule well describes the typical parish. I have yet to see a preacher order his parishioners to stop giving. Until then, I will take it on faith that followers of Jesus as a whole can act with the same cooperation, generosity, and obedience of the followers of Moses. But for now, I will hope and strive to be in the 20% of those who do. 

Friday, February 01, 2019

"Blink"

Exodus 32.24b-25a NIV

“Aaron answered,... ‘Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control…”

Aaron failed as a leader. He was embarrassed when Moses caught the people worshiping a golden calf. He made excuses and blamed those he was supposed to be leading. Aaron could have kept his charge from running wild. Moses would have. Moses would have persuaded the people to behave. Instead, Aaron “let them get out of control…” Aaron was responsible for the behavior of his followers. He failed as a leader. Aaron was swayed by public opinion. 

When Moses’ return was delayed, the people cried, “Make us gods.” Aaron considered his options and made a decision... a bad one. His after-the-fact ‘spin’ on the event was ridiculous: “Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, out came this calf.” No calf magically appeared from the blaze; rather, Aaron handcrafted the idol.

“He [Aaron] took what they handed him [the gold Aaron requested]
and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool.”
Exodus 32.4 NIV

Aaron did not trust his own instincts. He over-thought the situation and carefully made the wrong decision. By contrast, Moses’ snap decision was the right one:

“And [Moses] took the calf they had made and burned it in the fire; then he
ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.”
Exodus 32.20 NIV

It took about two seconds for Moses to size up the situation and take action.

In his bestseller Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,[1] Malcolm Gladwell explores the power of the trained mind to make split second decisions. This phenomenon, which the author calls “thin slicing,” can produce decisions as good as – or even better than – carefully planned and considered ones. This is especially true when the decision-maker is well prepared and uncorrupted by prejudices or stereotyping and not overloaded with too much information. You might say ‘less is more’ for the effective leader. In Gladwell’s own words:

“It’s a book about rapid cognition, about the kind of thinking that happens in a blink of an eye. When you meet someone for the first time, or walk into a house you are thinking of buying, or read the first few sentences of a book, your mind takes about two seconds to jump to a series of conclusions. Well, "Blink" is a book about those two seconds, because I think those instant conclusions that we reach are really powerful and really important and, occasionally, really good.”[2]

Moses did not have to think about the right response to golden calf worship. He knew what was right, and he knew to do. We need more leaders like Moses.
______________

[1] Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell, Black Bay Books, 2005. 

[2] From Malcolm Gladwell’s website: http://www.gladwell.com/blink/.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

"Rigor Mortis of the Soul"

Exodus 31.18 NASU

“When He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God.”
  
The problem with hard hearts, stiff necks, and rigid people is… they’re fragile. They break too easily. Like the Ten Commandments inscribed on tablets of stone, they are easily shattered. Paul referred to this problem as “the ministry of death”…

“Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such
glory… will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?”
2nd Corinthians 3.7a, 8 ESV

They call dead people ‘stiffs.’ Hardhearted, rigid people are spiritually dead. They have stiffened with rigor mortis of the soul. The law always creates death. When I ‘lay down the law’ in my house, someone inevitably breaks it. The ‘law of dad’ shatters before my eyes. I am forced (by my own unenforceable rule) to punish the offender. Usually this means grounding a kid. The law, it seems, creates the very sin it condemns.

The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20.2-17) were inscribed on both sides of two stone tablets and carried down by Moses following his encounter with the Lord on Mount Sinai. Upon their first contact with the people at the foot of the mountain, the tablets were destroyed. Three thousand men who were not “for the Lord” died on the spot (Exodus 32.19, 26, 28).

Love demands a better way. The Law of God was inscribed by the finger of God in the cold, hard surface of stone. The Love of God is written by the finger of God in the soft, pliable tissue of a heart open to change. Carving stone is rigorous work and the end product is easily broken. Writing on willing hearts is easy and lasts for eternity.

May the “finger of God” find my heart receptive to the imprint of God’s purpose for my life.

“I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
Jeremiah 31:33b NIV

_________________

The stone tablets pictured above are granite reproductions by HaShem (The Name) Into the World Artwork.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

"Carry Your Family"

Exodus 28.9, 11c-12 NKJV

Then you shall take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel... You shall set them in settings of gold. And you shall put the two stones on the shoulders of the ephod as memorial stones for the sons of Israel.

So Aaron shall bear their names before the LORD on his two shoulders as a memorial.

I am blessed with seven wonderful children. All of them logged in time on my back playing “horsey.” Their favorite request was always, “Can I ride on your shoulders?” This was of particular interest at parades and hikes. I loved those times. All of my children are grown and too big to play “horsey” now. In fact, my older sons could carry me on their shoulders! 

The High Priest Aaron wore an ephod vest of precious jewels in his ritualistic devotional practice at the Tabernacle in the wilderness of Sinai over fourteen hundred years before the birth of Christ. The names of the tribes of Israel were engraved on two onyx stones which were embedded in settings of gold and attached to the shoulder straps of Aaron’s ephod. Aaron bore “their names before the LORD on his two shoulders” whenever he came into the presence of God.

The ancient Hebrew imagery inspires me. I am the spiritual leader of my family. I try to carry my children (and my dear wife, when she was alive) on my shoulders before the throne of God during my morning prayers. That’s what a man of God is supposed to do. Aaron did it. So did Job. Job “had seven sons and three daughters” and “early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them,… This was Job’s regular custom” (Job 1.2, 5 NIV).

They’ll never be too big and I’ll never be too old to carry my kids on my shoulders “before the Lord.”

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

"How Does it Feel?"

Exodus 23.9 NIV

“Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.”

“You… know how it feels” to be one because you were one. Therefore, don’t oppress the alien or stranger. You know what it’s like to be on the outside looking in. This experience should compel you to be compassionate, inclusive, invitational, warm, and welcoming toward outsiders. Your membership in the community of faith is a gift. If you can belong, anyone can. The Church of Jesus Christ is not an exclusive club. You’re no more or less deserving than anyone else. We are ambassadors of love in Jesus’ name. Authentic concern for the welfare of everyone (in or out of the body of Christ) is a hallmark of every true believer.

One may be guilty of active or passive oppression. When we intentionally hurt another person because he’s different, that is active stranger abuse. But withholding our help in a time of need or withdrawing our acts of charity to a visitor is in our midst is just as serious. Unfortunately, passive oppression, even in the church, is commonplace.

Have you ever entered a social group and quickly became aware you didn’t belong. Somehow you knew. Nothing was said. In fact, it was what wasn’t said that made you feel uncomfortable, out of place, unwelcome, and strange. I’m not sure what that place was, but I know what it wasn’t... it wasn’t the Church of Jesus Christ. It may have looked like a church with posted times for Sunday services, padded pews, a weekly bulletin, and choir music. But if you were not welcome, it was not the church. Members of the true Church welcome outsiders.

At the age of twenty-four, Bob Dylan wrote an ode to the disenfranchised. I was only thirteen years old but I well remember his song. It stayed on the U.S. music charts in for nearly three months reaching number two just behind the Beatles “Help.” His indictment of those who consider themselves superior to the ‘down-and-outers’ has always rung true in my soul.

Once upon a time you dressed so fine
You threw the bums a dime in your prime,didn't you?
People'd call, say, "Beware doll, you're bound to fall".
You thought they were all kiddin' you .
You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hangin' out.
Now you don't talk so loud;
Now you don't seem so proud
About having to be scrounging for your next meal. 

How does it feel?
How does it feel?
To be without a home;
Like a complete unknown;
Like a rolling stone?

“You… know how it feels” to be different, don’t you? Since you do, treat outsiders like insiders, strangers like neighbors, aliens like nationals, visitors like members, lonely people like family, and complete unknowns like real friends.

“Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels
to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.”

____________________

The graphic came from an the article "Proudly exclude some people" (8/18/2007) by Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby, the largest online distributor of independent music (http://sivers.org/proudly-exclude-most).

In August 1964, photographer Daniel Kramer arranged a portrait sitting with twenty-three year old Bob Dylan in Woodstock, New York. One of these photos is pictured above. Mr. Kramer is a also an author and film director. His photographic work has been collected and displayed in numerous museums and galleries including Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Monday, January 28, 2019

"A Dog's Life"

Exodus 21.5-6 NIV

“But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’ then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.”

I have a single friend who compares marriage and family life to the plight of a domesticated dog. He thinks of himself as a wolf, free to roam the woods, chase game, and be accountable to no one. He feels pity for his canine friends who are chained to their master’s house and confined to a fenced yard. He takes great pride in his freedom. No leash for my friend. He’s wild and free and proud of it.

Actually, he’s lonely, cold, and hungry. He doesn’t even know what he’s missing. I imagine he looks down from the mountainside on cold wintry nights and yearns to curl up in front of the fire at the feet of the master. With the leash comes the good life… the security of regular food, a warm home, companionship, and love. 

Not every master is a good one and not every marriage was made in heaven. There are certainly times when freedom is better than servitude, and the single life than marital disharmony. “A quarrelsome wife [or husband] is like a constant dripping on a rainy day” (Proverbs 27.15a). However if your master is Jesus, you’d be a fool to “want to go free.” Let Him nail your ear to the door and become His “servant for life.”

Nearly two thousand years ago, in an eternal act of selfless role-reversal, your owner willingly laid his body on the wooden frame of a cross. He “was pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53.5 NIV). He voluntarily gave up His freedom for you and me. Christ “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NKJV). Jesus proved His love by becoming the servant of the humanity He created. He earned the right to own me. He bought me with His blood. Yet, the choice remains mine. I can be a wolf or a dog. A man of God who trusts his Master and loves his family will gladly follow the example of Jesus and forsake his personal liberties.

The life of a wolf may seem glamorous and sexy. But a leash in the hands of a trustworthy master is the good life. I’ll take a dog’s life.

________________________

"Eyes of the Medicine Wolf" is a painting by Native American wildlife artist, Marguerite Fields who seeks to "capture images of a land that once was," and was first posted on my blog http://www.wordtraveler.org/ years ago with the artist's gracious permission. Sadly, Ms. Fields passed away in May 2013. 

Friday, January 25, 2019

"An Omer-ful of Jesus"

Exodus 16.13b-14, 31
NASU

“...and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew evaporated, behold, on the surface of the wilderness there was a fine flake-like thing, fine as the frost on the ground.”

The house of Israel named it manna, and it was like coriander seed, white, and its taste was like wafers with honey.”

Every day for forty years God rained “bread from heaven”  (Exodus 16.4) sustaining His people during their travels in the wilderness. They were instructed to gather just enough “manna” to satisfy their hunger for that day. Except for the morning before weekly Sabbath, when they gathered double the daily portion, the Israelites were allowed an omer-ful each. That’s a little more than 2 quarts per person. It did not work to gather more and store it for a rainy day. Leftovers “got wormy and smelled bad” (Exodus 16.20 “The Message”).

About 1,500 years later Jesus Christ appeared as manna on the barren landscape. He became food for spiritually starved wilderness dwellers. He claimed, “I am the bread that came down from heaven” and “Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever” (John 6.41, 58 NIV). 

Jesus earned a following and taught his disciples to pray, “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed by thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6.9-11 KJV).

“Give us this day”...our daily portion of Bread who is Jesus. That’s how the Lord taught his followers to pray. This morning I am allowed an omer-ful of Jesus. He’s everything I need. Jesus gives me enough strength, peace, love, purpose, joy, patience, and courage to live victoriously for the next twenty-four hours. I am fed with the bread from heaven.

Incidentally, a typical adult human stomach can easily hold about a quart of food.[1] Apparently my daily dosage of one omer (over two quarts) of heaven’s bread is more than enough. No need to store up for tomorrow. I can gather more of Jesus then. But for now, an omer-ful of “the bread that came down from heaven” is all I need.


Give us this day our daily bread.” 

“I am the bread that came down from heaven.”

“...he who feeds on this bread will live forever.”

Jesus, Matthew 6.11; John 6.41, 58

__________________

[1] The stomach is an organ of digestion. Its capacity is about 1 qt (0.94 liters) in an adult. (Source: http://www.mamashealth.com/organs/stomach.asp.)

The famous image of a man offering prayer before a meal is entitled "Grace." It was originally a photograph of Charles Wilden, a saleman who showed up at Eric Enstrom's photographic studio in 1918. In Mr. Enstrom's words: "There was something about the old gentleman's face that immediately impressed me. I saw that he had a kind face... there weren't any harsh lines in it." Enstrom was preparing a portfolio of pictures to take with him to a convention of the Minnesota Photographer's Association. "I wanted to take a picture that would show people that even though they had to do without many things because of the war they still had much to be thankful for." The photo was later copied in oil paint and was designated as Minnesota's state photograph in 2002.

(Sources: "Grace" by Enstrom at https://gracebyenstrom.com/wp/story/ and Minnesota Office of the Revisor of Statutes, chapter 1.1498 "State photograph," 2004 at https://www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/data/revisor/statutes/2004/1/1498.html).-