Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Slaughter of the Innocents--Why, God?

Can you hear them?
Keening in the lonely nights.  Desperate clinging to what is no more.  Sweet, cooling flesh.
God did not stop them, the soldiers who came with swords.

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.  Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, for her children are no more."--Matthew 2:16-18

The children died without having lived, and they haunt us.
And it happens still.
We don't understand--not then, not now.

I don't know why this happens, but I hear the children's cry, the cry quieted forever almost before it is uttered.  And I weep for them, too--for all of them.
But at the same time, I know that they are spared.  They rest in the one place for which I still long.
They died too soon, too soon, but they will never know what we have to live every day--
the yawning separation, and the long, struggling creep back into God's arms.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sin--It's Not Just Evil Anymore

Murder. Adultery. Lies. ---Sin.
I recognize them.  They are evil.  All of them.
God says not to do them.  I get it, and generally, do pretty well at it.
But somehow, in the niggling back of my mind, I knew I wasn't done.

Christ showed me why.
He did it in the desert.  Alone, hungry, weak, and bedeviled:
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.--Matthew 4:1
And how did the Master Tempter beguile Him?
...tell these stones to become bread.
...thrown yourself down.
...all this I will give you.--Matthew 4:4,6,9

Satan tempted Jesus with food, with rescue, and with the power He already possessed.  By itself, none of these things were bad.  Christ, in another situation at another time, could have reached out and taken any one of them without sin. 
But not then.  Not there.

And so it is for us.
Sin does not come only in the footsteps of evil deeds like murder or deception or betrayal.
It comes at the dinner table, at our desk, in our bed.
In perfectly innocent-sounding activities, but ones God has forbidden in that place and time.

We fast by God's command and forsaking a fast is sin.
That donut, or that nap, or that good-looking charitable activity, is not evil by itself, but today, it might be sin.
Even Jesus had to look at something He wanted in His flesh, something He might have the next day or the one after that but right then, He, like we, had to look it in the eye and say,
Away from me, Satan!--Matthew 4:10

The beauty of all this comes when we look away from the thing dangling before us, that temptation, and see what God wanted us to see in the first place, the whole point of the exercise:

And, after we have seen, He sends His angels to minster to us.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What We Should Be

A while back, the US Army ran an ad campaign that urged potential soldiers to "Be all You Can Be."
Good advice, I thought.  And not just for soldiers, but for anyone.
But maybe I was wrong.  At least some of the time.

After all, Jesus wasn't.
Christ Jesus, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross!--Philippians 2:6-8

When He became a man, Jesus was not all He could be.
He is God.  He reached His potential when He created the world, when He defeated Satan, and will do so again when He comes back to finally reclaim this world.
As a man, Jesus was clearly underachieving.

So, in following Jesus' example, are we ever to do the same?
Why did Jesus do it, anyway?
...the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.--John 14:31

And if that meant to lay aside His Godhead and become a man, so be it.
What does that look like for us?
If I love God and He wants me to teach someone how to fish rather than do the fishing myself, I must.
If I love God and He wants me to lay aside my leadership or capability in favor of a husband or an employer, I must.
If I love God and He wants me to let someone fail rather than bail them out, I must.

God gave us all gifts, but we are to exercise them only as God commands.
I not only have to consider what I can do, but must stop to think whether I should.
Perhaps the right slogan should not read "Be All You Can Be" but "Be What the God You Love Wants You to Be."

Sunday, November 18, 2012

What Age Didn't Bring

I am getting older.
So are you, in case you didn't know.

Now, I have expectations for aging.
I know that I will likely lose skin and muscle tone.  I may develop health problems and wrinkles.  I will feel different, look different.
And I also thought that I would have more leisure.

I truly expected to have long hours for contemplation, days in which I could find the kind of peace that allow for sweet silent worship, but it hasn't come.
Instead, the world stirs itself into disorder all around me and while it does, I must live in it, like a chunk of carrot continually bubbling up from the bottom of a furiously boiling pot of soup.
Shut it off, I think.  Shut it off or it will burn.

Little by little, the world is taking on hell's cacophony.

I can find islands of quiet and peace in this world, but all around them, disorder mounts.
I should have expected this, but somehow, well, didn't.  The world disintegrates around my refuge, pressing itself to destruction and, as it does, the people around me need more, draw closer.  The world falls apart as the demand on God's people increase.
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?--Psalm 13:1-2

Still, God is there, whether peace and stillness comes or not.
But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise for he has been good to me.--Psalm 13:5-6

The battle may pause between actions, but no long rest will come.  Not now.
The only rest we will know waits at the end of all things.
My job is not to defeat the enemy.  God has already done that.
My battle is to follow Him to the end.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Rules of Forgiveness

I'm trying to understand the rules of forgiveness.
If the Bible doesn't contradict itself, and it doesn't, then how does this work?
God tells me to
Forgive as the Lord forgave you.--Colossians 3:13

OK. So, how does He forgive?
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins--Colossians 2:13
So, He forgave me before I repented.

But then He says,
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.-1John 1:9
In other words, I must repent to be forgiven. 

So which is it?

Well, it's both.

When Christ went to Calvary, He proclaimed forgiveness and freedom for all men, although most of them did not know Him, had not even acknowledged His godhead, much less repented.
He did it all, all He could do.
But men still have free will, the free will He gave them.
Jesus did all of his part.  Men were forgiven, but their relationship with Him was not yet repaired.
It takes repentance to do that. 
When we acknowledge and repent of sin, we restore our communion with God.

And that is how we must forgive.
We do what we can while the offender is still clueless, still dead in sin.  We forgive him as Christ forgave us.  Without recompense, without expectation.
Then, sooner or later, he may acknowledge and apologize, repenting for his sin.
That is when, as in Christ, are we restored.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Another Blood

The Bible tells us that King David of Israel had a heart for God.  And he did. But he was not weak, nor was he sweet, nor meek.  King David was made and commissioned by God for war.  And he was good at it.

He began his career by killing the giant Goliath and while he reigned, Israel fought enemies on all sides.  King David knew the color of blood, and the smell of it, and the taste of it.  And when he grew old, he tired of it.

By the end of his life, David wanted not to destroy any longer, but to build.  First, though, he decided to assess his kingdom.  He desired to see the scope of what he had done so far.  He had fought so many years; he wanted to find out what he had accomplished, so he commissioned a census.  And he counted his people.

He had built an empire, a far reaching one of more than a million and a half fighting men. 
But God was not pleased with David.

During his life, David had conquered many lands and killed many men at God's command.  And God blessed him for his obedience.  But this counting God neither commanded nor sanctioned.  
Of all the things David had done, this peaceful, seemingly innocuous action angered God.
And David would spill another kind of blood.

Men would die this time, not because David was obedient, but because he had sinned.
So the Lord sent a pestilence in Israel, and seventy thousand men of Israel fell.--1Chronicles 21:14

This new blood left a mark all the other had not.  And David would pay for his disobedience.
Then, only then, after all the love and reverence, after all the songs, after all the years of drawing his sword in God's name, only then did God tell David he had done wrong.
You had shed much blood and have made great wars; you shall not build a Temple in my name for you have shed much blood on the ground before me.--1Chronicles 22:8

This last disobedience, not the years of faithful, if bloody, following, disqualified David from building the Lord's temple.
And so it still does.
The blood of disobedience, of pride, of lust, can never honor God.
But there is a blood of another kind, blood shed by specifically commissioned men according to God's intentional command. That blood leaves another stain, the stain of holy obedience, the stain of sacrifice, the same stain that gathered at the foot of the cross on Calvary.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Pay Attention!

Did you ever hold  wild bird in your hand?
So light, so small, so fleeting...bound to fly away at the slightest flinch.
Its quick, small weight is a rare gift and too soon gone.
I have to pay attention every minute lest it vanishes.

That bird is like God, whose nearness is also a fragile thing.

God--fierce, constant, powerful God--always hovers close by.  He occupies the very air. His love, ethereal and palpable, bears rare,  precious weight.

But it can fly away in an instant of inattention.
Although God, for His part, always loves, always protects, my own wavering drives Him off, just out of reach.

That is why I nurture my closeness to God like a sweet rare bird in the palm of my hand, knowing that, though He never changes, when I succumb to random motion, He will flutter off to a nearby branch and wait there until I am still again.

Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,--Isaiah 54:10

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Works for Me...

Forty years.
Why did God make Moses and his Jews wander around in the desert for forty years?  Why not twenty? Why not fifty?

What happens in forty years. anyway?
People die, that's what.  Two generations die.
In forty years, God knew that virtually none of the people who He rescued from Egypt would still be alive.  None of the ones who worshiped the golden calf.  None of the ones who complained about not having onions.  None of them, not even the babies.

 Your sons shall be shepherds for forty years in the wilderness, and they will suffer for your unfaithfulness, until your corpses lie in the wilderness.--Numbers 14:33

After forty years, none of those Jews still living would have remembered anything about their life in Egypt.  They all would have grown up in the desert.  They would know nothing of lush harvests or emerald rivers.  They would know only sand and sun and manna and God.  And they would be grateful for the promised land.

God thinks in terms of generations. Men do not.
Even Hezekiah, who came to know God and to teach his whole kingdom about Him, didn't get that God does not just care about individuals.  He cares about legacies.

 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord Almighty: The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your fathers have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord. And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”
“The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,” Hezekiah replied. For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my lifetime.”--Isaiah 39:5-8 

In other words, Hezehiah thought, "It may suck to be you, but it works for me..."
God doesn't agree.

What damage does generational faithlessness produce?
Examine your own heritage. 
What did your grandparents do or know that has been lost?
Did a grandparent build or sing or sew or cook something that has disappeared forever?
Did they know how to survive without car or grocery store or telephone?
Does they have a heritage of faith that has dwindled from misuse?

Two generations and it is lost.  Gone, and irretrievable.
Forfeiting what was good from prior generations steals from our children.
We keep the faith of our fathers today not just because it benefits ourselves, but so that we can build an unbroken chain of those who know and love God for the future.

And you shall teach them your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house,
and when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.--Deuteronomy 11:19