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Posts Tagged ‘Bible’

New JerusalemI have read (Bible Study Tools on Jerusalem) that there was a time that Jerusalem was invincible. I can certainly understand how that could happen, just thinking of the miraculous creation of the temple and the tangible presence of God there, how could any enemy prevail?

Jerusalem is built like a city joined together in unity . . . It is the law for Israel to give thanks there . . . Pray that Jerusalem has peace: “Let those who love you have rest. Let there be peace on your walls; let there be rest on your fortifications.” [Psalm 122:3, 4b, 6-7, CEB]

But not unlike the confidence in the Titanic, the unsinkable ship of wonder and power, people abused the vessel itself. The Temple was the core of Jerusalem, it’s lifeblood issued from its center, but the leaders and kings continued to misunderstand its role, the basic requirements of worship and faithfulness. As a result, they began to undercut its effectiveness. So it was with the great ship whose design was flawed and never fully tested, whose strength was challenged by boasting and unnecessary risk. Both Jerusalem and the Titanic suffered due to the pride of its caretakers.

And I wonder, are we doing the same thing with our religion? Are we borrowing from the texts the parts we want to use as a hammer against others and setting aside the words that condemn our own actions? Are we elevating our own understanding above the understanding of others? Are we so sure in the details?

And what about the Church itself? Have denominations and preferences become silos from which we are no longer able to see clearly? Now we have a myriad of “Jerusalems” into which we are endowing superiority and funds for the sake of our structures and mindsets.

God promises the earth, the peoples of this earth, a “New Jerusalem.” I do not believe that this is necessarily a humongous cube that will drop down out of space (the heavens) and we’ll all take a ride. Instead, I see it as a unified peoples, living for the sake of others, honoring humanity and the God who made us. The New Jerusalem comes at a cost, the paradox of letting go and surrendering to a different way of living and thinking.

Jesus was on a mission to bring us closer to the New Jerusalem. We’re not there yet. We may have to sink the ship a few more times before we are able to build a structure that can be inhabited by Truth.

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holy objects TabernacleBack in the day, they had some seriously sacred and holy objects. Everything in the Tabernacle (tent of meeting) was holy and could only be handled, touched, or carried by certain people and in a certain way. Any deviation could mean death. Does anything in our contemporary world compare?

They [Kohathites clan] are the ones who shall deal with the most sacred objects associated with the congregation tent. . . . When Aaron and his sons are done covering all the holy objects and furnishings, then and only then (so that they don’t touch the sacred things and die), the Kohathites can approach. They are the ones who shall transport these items of the congregation tent. [Numbers 4:4, 15]

There are religions around the world that do have sacred objects and although none have the death penalty, they do carry severe holy eucharistpenalties. In Western culture, mostly it’s the high church denominations such as Catholicism and Orthodox who revere things, be it the Eucharist (sacramental bread), icons, relics, or specific objects that have been blessed or designated for holy use. In Muslim culture, it’s my understanding that the Quran (book itself) should never touch the floor or have anything laid on top of it and believers should not touch its pages without formal ablutions.

But the idea of holiness in our midst, whether in objects or places, has been lost, in large degree, by the vast numbers of believers who have embraced a friendlier God whose grace extends to jeans, casual environments, electronic texts, and handy communion elements. I am not condemning the practice per se; after all, I attend such a church myself. It’s modern and relevant and loud; it appeals to a broad range of people and is designed to be accessible to both believers and non-believers alike.

cross and rosaryIn Christianity, the cross, the instrument of torture used by the Romans to execute criminals has become so ubiquitous that both believers and non-believers can be seen wearing t-shirts, earrings, and tattoos with the cross prominently displayed. Go figure.

What is holy in my own life? I find myself hungering sometimes for the holy or sacred experience. In new cities, I love finding older church buildings and sitting in the quiet spaciousness of the place. I love to listen to sacred music alone or practice the praying of the hours. There is a respect for the time and the place that feels different, that engages me spiritually in a way that other things do not. Don’t get me wrong, I love contemporary worship with its upbeat sound, waving hands, and corporate experience. But it does not speak of holiness. It’s praise and adoration of a type, but I would never assign the word holiness to it.

There are times in nature when I have felt a holy presence, but it cannot be re-created at home. And I have had remarkable revelations while reading my Bible and yet, I know I treat the book itself somewhat cavalierly (besides, I must have about twenty different versions all over my house). If I can’t find one, there’s always a back up. It’s not holy or sacred in that other way at all.

Of course, one cbasilicaan ask if holiness or sacred objects are needful in today’s culture? Perhaps not. But I wonder, are we missing something?

My husband’s conversion story includes a moment when he heard the voice of God ask what he would do if Christ appeared to him in the flesh? And Mike’s internal response would be that he would bow down and worship him. For him, a holy moment, no doubt. But we have so few of those moments today. Bowing down as a symbolic gesture of surrender or subservience is foreign to most of us. In the face of foreign “royalty,” Americans tend to bristle a little at the idea of bowing to them. Even the idea of a “king of kings” is honestly unfamiliar. These are merely words, not actual feelings of reverence or awe.

As I think about Lent, I want to search out the holy in my heart as well as my environment. It will be the focal point, I think, to my 40 day journey.

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Photo by IrmBrown

Photo by IrmBrown

God is Spirit and Light and Energy and Good and more. So, how are we to imitate that kind of existence? No one can see God, nor really, feel God or smell God or taste God and despite all the talk, we don’t really hear God either, not literally. Just like we cannot see Light, we see its reflection; so we experience God.

So imitate God. Follow Him like adored children,and live in love as the Anointed One loved you—so much that He gave Himself as a fragrant sacrifice, pleasing God. [Ephesians 5:1-2, The Voice translation]

Over the centuries of the revelation of the One God, there came a moment in time when Christ [Messiah] appeared,  transmuted as a human for our sakes. Besides the need to reconcile human beings to the original covenant, this block of time was an opportunity to have many three-dimensional adventures. But, like everything else in “time,” this was a brief interlude. Now, all we have are Story and Spirit with which to interact, to learn what it means to mirror God and reflect God to the world around us.

The Bible, a compendium of poetry, history, letters, reflections, worship, and imagery, is that Story.  Scriptures talk about the 3-D stuff, the behaviors and thoughts that can help us experience what it means to walk in God, permeated by the Holy Spirit.

To “live in love” is the bottom line of imitating God. And anything else, is a betrayal. It is Judas we become if we know God within, but behave differently.

How can I change? How can I be this reflection successfully? I want to but I grow weary and unsure of myself. I hesitate. I don’t go “all in.” I am not alone, I know. And so, Paul reiterates the call to imitate God and Christ, by imitating him [I Corinthians 11:1]. Paul is not available to me either, but there are other Godly ones among us, even today. When I need a 3-D connection, then I look to that person today whose likeness mimics a soul on fire, a spirit in union with Jesus, a heart beating for God.

 

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Isn’t it peculiar how many people are adamant about the dangers of astrology and “magic,” but wholeheartedly repeat and support the classic story of the “three magi” who supposedly visited the baby Jesus by way of King Herod and left in their wake, three famous gifts for the child: gold, incense, and myrrh? Their “astrological” roots have been overlooked in favor of calling them “wise men.” But is wisdom treated any better?

Matthew 2:7-8,
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

There are so many symbols in ancient storytelling. Some interpretations have carried down through the ages while many more have been adjusted along the way through natural evolutions in the telling. After all, many ancient tales and wisdom narratives were a verbal art form. Even the New Testament was put into writing years after the death of Jesus and although they were based on eyewitness accounts, how many witnesses can agree on anything)? The letters of Paul and other apostolic letters were written and then carried from place to place, and no doubt, ruined along the way and copied from memory or pieced back together. Accurately? Maybe and maybe not.These are just a few of the questions and discoveries of Bible scholars of today.

Now before anyone panics: relax. I’m not setting forth an anti-bible or a particular bias against “scriptura sola” (which means by scripture alone). If anything, my faith is unshaken as I uncover the variations and discoveries  about the Bible: the presence of the Holy Spirit within me is untouched by modern science nor is it enhanced by Biblical narrow-mindedness.

Ok, here are a few facts and personal observations:

1) Herod (the Great) was actually assigned his role to be King of Judea by the Romans. In many ways, he was a puppet king. And although he built many great buildings during his 34 year reign,  he was considered to be a madman and killed many of his own immediate family. Clearly, he suffered from paranoia. This is later confirmed by his order to murder the boy-children of Bethlehem. (On a side note, I have learned that this genocide of male children is not confined to ancient history, but has been repeated throughout history. One notable example is the story of 20,000 boys and young men displaced in the second Sudanese Civil War of 1983-2005 and beautifully depicted through the documentary, the Lost Boys of Sudan.)

2) The Magi (and really, nowhere does it really say three except through the reference of three gifts), or magicians or astrologers or wise men or astronomers or whatever, made a journey based on their interpretations of the heavens and the prophecies carried through the ages and across nations. They studied, they read, they heard, they watched and then they acted. They made a HUGE journey based on their discoveries. They expended a great deal of time and money to get to where they were going. I’m guessing they figured everyone knew about it already, that is, those who lived near the event. But they didn’t. Herod was caught off guard and so were the “people of Jerusalem” (verse 3). The biggest juncture in Jewish history had happened and they missed it? How could that be? The Messiah was born and nobody knew about it except for a bunch of foreigners?

3) The star was exactly what? Really, a star? Based on our modern day knowledge, a star is a gigantic sun that is really, really far away. It doesn’t just “rise” and hover over a location. I mean, Earth is round (not flat as they imagined it to be back then). You can’t chase a star in the heavens any more than you can chase a rainbow. So, what was it? The shape and its placement in relation to other stars? Perhaps it was a super nova or a comet or some conjunction of the planets Saturn and Jupiter? We’ll never know really. But they saw something. And as a result of what they saw, they packed their bags (which was probably a very large caravan) and took a very long journey (some scholars say up to two years).

So, what do I end  up with? A mad king, three (or more) eccentric soothsayers and a celestial mystery.

What’s my take away? Today, we have quarks, the Higgs Bosun particle, Virgin Galactic (space travel by tourists), and 1,740,330 identified species of invertebrate and vertebrate animals, plants, and others. These things are no less amazing. Our world is full of natural wonders as well as unknowns. How would a primitive describe any one of the things that modern man has discovered or invented?

Will we be any better at recognizing the second coming of the Messiah? Or will we be like the people of Jerusalem? Or will we work really hard to explain away the wonder? Would an appearance in the sky be too much like the latest Sci-Fi movie? Would we miss the point. . . again?

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Don’t worry, I’m not interested in the “blab it & grab it” prayers or the prosperity gospel, and yet, John’s statements must be addressed on one level or another. Key words here for me are “confidence,” “according to his will,” and “we know we have.”

I John 5:14-15
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

Confidence in approaching God implies a consistent and strong faith. It is a wholehearted acceptance that God is God, Christ is Christ, and the Holy Spirit is a gift, a living entity who shares my soul space, by invitation. As our pastor puts it, once we enter this new covenant, we are “under new management” full of grace and mercy.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you [me] free from the law of sin and death. [Romans 8:1-2]

To ask, however, according to God’s will is a little trickier, at least, in my experience. In some areas, biblical text is clear and identifies God’s will (the ten commandments are a strong example). But, unfortunately, the Bible, glorious and complete, beautiful in both poetry and truth, may not be so easily interpreted when it comes to the questions of post-modern society. Oh, there are lots of folks who believe they have the inside certainty of God’s will, but not me. Just parenting three teenagers has been enough to show me how little I know. There are no assurances about learning issues, mood disorders, private vs. public education, and so forth. Instead, my confidence must rest in the more general promises that God makes about his care and love for the children . . .

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. [Julian of Norwich]

But for me, the true key to John’s letter about God’s Will and asking (in prayer), is the timelessness of God. For God, there is no yesterday, today, or tomorrow: it’s all now. And it is in this context that all prayers and answers must be understood.

If I am a believer (and I am), then God hears me and if, in confidence, I have sought and believe my requests are within the realm of God’s loving will, then it is done. . . . not it “will” be done, but it is done. The answer has been given.

We, and no, not just we in general, but “me,” … I get caught up in looking for the manifestation of God’s answers. I believe in a healing God, so I am too often crushed by the continued illness of others. I believe in a saving God, and yet I am sorrowed when Christ is rejected by those in need. I believe in a loving God, but I am caught off guard by the cruelties of human to human, or worse, believer to believer.

But today, I am reminded: what I can see with my human eyes and understanding does not change the facts: God is, God hears, and God answers.

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Mortimer's First Garden

While some folks may focus in on the correct/rebuke others portion of this verse, I’m much more drawn to the idea of talking, sharing with people with “great patience.” With patience as the umbrella, even a correction would be done with utmost concern and gentleness. That makes sense.

II Timothy 4:2
Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.

I hate “sparring” about verses in the Bible. Face it, there are tons of people who know the scriptures a lot better than I do and they have committed themselves to memorizing hunks of useful phrases, ready to debunk (correct/rebuke) and possibly even “expose” me and my understanding or interpretation of the words. I don’t go there anymore.

But I’m thinking today that “preach the Word” may actually mean “preach Jesus” moreso than expound on scriptures. For me, that means to speak about Jesus and his life, to explain the concept of a Christ in this world, to share the impact of Jesus and His Holy Spirit within me, to give the gift of what I personally know. When I add the words from scripture to my personal story, when I share how those words helped me understand the truth of the Christ in my life, then it’s a package of love. I am not a leader/teacher/preacher. I am no Timothy. I am just a follower of that Way.

But, what is preaching? Is it part of my role at all? Is it just proclaiming, teaching, exhorting, advocating, and admonishing or can it be all of these things? When I purposefully add “patience” to any of these definitions, the tenor of the words is much softened. It’s more like explaining or story-telling to a child, spoken with patience and even love. It’s not self-edifying, it’s not deprecating or sanctimonious. It’s not screaming or challenging. It’s not clever. That other kind of preaching/teaching is incompatible with patience, or at least, in my mind, they are not easily partnered together.

Jesus is patient; has been and will be throughout time. God is patient. Love is patient.

The other day, I read a cute story to some kids at the library in which Mortimer the mouse planted a seed and was quite disgruntled the next day when there was nothing to show for it. We all know that seeds take time to sprout. Why aren’t we as loving and patient with the Word?

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Photo by Charles C. Ebbets, 1932

Are there people out there who actually like taking tests? Not me. Conceptually, I understand the reason for them, they inform me and reveal to me what I know. But I have contorted this process into a performance: good score, good girl and vice versa, or worse, pass/fail. That’s not how it works.

I Thessalonians 2:3-4
For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, . . . We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.

It’s unlikely that God’s intent is to grade Paul on his experiences in Thessalonica in the process testing his heart. Bible translations slightly differ on how they interpret the Greek word, dokimazo. The long definition would be “I put to the test, prove, examine; I distinguish by testing, approve after testing; I am fit.” So, in this context, heart testing is a way to reveal what is really there. It’s an authenticity gauge.

Unfortunately, but most of us don’t really know or understand our hearts. Generally, we get a vague idea based on our behaviors, our decisions, and subsequent fall-out. Sometimes, we create a scenario to see inside. I remember how that turned out a long time ago when Mike and I went to a marriage retreat and were instructed to discuss with each other what we would do if either one of us was trapped on a very high beam that was stretched between two skyscrapers. Would we, despite our fear, go out to the middle of the beam to save the other one. This exercise, I suppose, was to show our sacrificial love for one another. Of course, Mike said he wouldn’t come out. “What ifs” are dangerous games.

Bottom line, heart testing has to be the real thing. It’s the only way to exercise an authentic response to a situation. This is where courage and fear wrestle, where practice becomes second nature, where our progress can be reflected, straight out.

When Captain (pilot) Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger successfully “ditched” U.S. Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River with no loss of life, he was sorely tested. And yet, he responded with all the practice and all the experience he had. He assessed his situation, he evaluated all the choices, and he acted.

I must be willing to do the same. I cannot know in advance how I will react in a situation. I can only work on responses and the health of my inner life and relationship with the Christ Spirit within me. I may need to be more conscious now in my choices as a way of building up my heart’s understanding so that I can respond instinctively to the next situation.

Another word for this sanctification.

Test me, O LORD, and try me,
examine my heart and my mind;
for your love is ever before me,
and I walk continually in your truth. [Psalm 26:2-3]

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