Thursday, October 23, 2014

Drama in Houston...

A storm of outrage is building against Houston's mayor who, if you believe her story, didn't know that her office had issued subpoenas demanding some area pastors turn over a broad spectrum of communications with their congregations. The subpoenas demand pretty much anything the pastors have written or said concerning gender issues, homosexuality, the mayor herself, or anything to do with the HERO ordinance she recently signed. The new ordinance permits, among other things, trans-gendered individuals to use the opposite sex's public bathrooms, which you might imagine has thrown a whole lot of folks into a tizzy.

I have to admit that I was huffing indignantly along with everyone else. But what has begun to bother me is not the idiocy of permitting biologically male individuals into women's bathrooms and vice versa, but our reaction to the subpoenas. On Facebook alone, the outcry has approached a shrillness one might associate with truly heinous crimes--like the beheading of children in Iraq just a short time ago. Which makes me nervous we could be missing the bigger picture.

Of course we are entitled to the same respect and rights of citizenship as anyone else, and the event in Houston is alarming. But an alarm warns of danger, and we want to correctly identify the danger. Could it be that it's mostly that we're looking in the wrong place for our help? Our government and the majority culture have long been turning away from a Judeo-Christian foundation... we just mostly didn't notice, because they mostly left us alone. And now they're not leaving us alone and we're surprised, and alarmed and angry. But we shouldn't be--Jesus told us it would be like this. (Luke 21:16, John 15:18, 16:2, and others). Our rights as Americans have given us benefits Christians in the rest of the world can only dream of. Perhaps Houston serves as a timely reminder us that we are citizens of Heaven first and America second. Our rights are a blessing, but were never intended to preserve the church. Our rights abrogated by unjust (and ridiculous) laws will not kill the church either, but might help us trust the rule of law less and God's protection more.

By all means we should engage the issue, and remind society at large that the Constitution still applies to Christians. But in addition we might want to reflect on what this latest incident might discern the times by checking Scripture to see where this sort of thing falls on God's timeline. And pray. Our highest, best appeal is to God. We belong to Him and he has the ultimate responsibility for our rights and reputation. And He created and is running the game plan the world is unwittingly playing by. If this infringement of our rights shakes us into asking God what's going on, then Houston's mayor may have done the church in America a great service.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Holding God's Hand

When Josiah was two and wanted to walk everywhere, I insisted he hold my hand when we were outside, and he resented that restriction of his independence. I explained about cars; I explained about strangers; I told him I liked holding his hand; I demanded that he respect Mommy’s wishes. But none of that meant anything to my stubborn toddler. In the end I had to firmly and consistently insist that he hold my hand. There were spankings involved. More than once I pulled a crying child across a parking lot. In the end he realized that he was not going to win and began to automatically hold out his hand so I could take it. He began to feel safe and confident because of his connection to me. He learned to trust me to keep him safe.
I too am learning to hold hands…with God—though I have to say it’s taking me much longer than it took Joey. How sad is it that I am more stubborn than a two year old? Too often I have had to learn obedience the hard way—kicking and screaming. Or worse, gone spiritually boneless--a sullen heap on the ground—daring God to make me go with Him. I know better. There are dangers on every side; but like my former toddler, my confidence I know what I'm doing is often ill founded. I don’t know where the land mines are. Exotic disease, broken economic realities, natural disaster, failing political system, and the intolerant political correctness of tolerance all demand my attention and concern. And we are entering ever deeper into a reality in which self and its ravenous demands are worshipped as the ultimate good; which sadly I find is in me as much as in the world.

But because all these issues shout so loud from every side, I've become suspicious that they are mostly side show. Don't get me wrong, all these things are real, and big, and scary; but for believers they are penultimate only. The ultimate reality must be my need to grow and maintain an intimate relationship with Jesus. I must never stop learning to hear His voice amid all the competing voices around me. I keep forgetting what I must remember…the main event is that Jesus is coming back. Jesus is coming back and the only safe place to be in the midst of all these frightening realities is with Him, holding tight to His hand.

God alone knows thoroughly where the greatest danger lies for me…where I must not step if I don’t want to end up a bloody smear on the side of the road. I don’t always want to, but I want to want to automatically hold out my hand and let the Lord lead me. I am reminding myself that I need to put my trust in the One who not only knows my destination but the safest, best road to get there.

Lord, help me to stay focused on You. Keep fear for my personal safety, outrage at perceived slights or infringements of my ‘rights’ from blinding me from the greater reality that You are in charge and You know what You're doing. Help me to see your hand stretched out to me. And give me the humility to grasp it as if my life depended on it...because it does.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Sukkot Reflections, 2014

The Feast of Tabernacles at first blush seems an archaic event--best relegated to quaint elementary school plays or scholarly examination. Peasants gathering to feast, as an expression of gratitude and relief that the harvest has been completed and there is food aplenty for the winter. Today, most of us are several steps away from growing our own food--or even seeing it grown. And we already celebrate Thanksgiving, so what could this ancient harvest festival have to do with us in the twenty-first century? But Sukkot is so much more than that.

God is wise. He knew we'd find life on earth a challenge. Knew we'd wear down and wear out and forget who and whose we really are. He lovingly set up the annual cycle of feasts like a spiritual maintenance schedule for our souls. These are appointments (the Hebrew moed means appointed time) arranged by God to meet and party with His people. The feasts are breaks from our normal routine scheduled throughout the year--times to gather with friends and refresh by remembering who God is and what He has done. The feasts are designed to remind us to look to our Great King and remember and trust that He has a plan He is working.

And He thoughtfully provided us with the bullet point version of that plan, built right in the cycle. The Spring feasts prophetically pictured Jesus' first appearing and were accurately fulfilled when He walked the earth. The Fall feasts are an annual rehearsal of what remains to be fulfilled--Jesus' return and a wedding party of unimaginable proportions. It's like He left us His Daytimer, so we could not only follow along as he unfolded history, but could actively anticipate what will happen in the future.

When God set up Sukkot, one of the commands was "to rejoice with great rejoicing." I like that. No moping around, complaining about the work it took to get ready or having to have Uncle Moshe to dinner, whom nobody likes. Life is short--get ready, get busy and get happy. When one reads about how the celebrations ran during the Temple period, the mind boggles. Sukkot ran for seven days with two days tacked if once the gratitude train got started it was hard to shut it down.

All adult men (boys twelve and over were included) were required to journey to Jerusalem for this feast, and those who could afford to do so brought the family. There was activity day and night in the Temple compound, which functioned as both church and community center during this Feast. Sacrifices were offered all day, along with prayer and the singing of Psalms, thanking God for what He had done for them, and expressing expectation and longing for the coming of Messiah and His kingdom.

An elaborate water ceremony took place each morning, in which 'living water' was drawn from the spring of Siloam, carried to the Temple and poured out on the altar, accompanied by prayers for rain. Jesus used that ceremony to speak to the people in the Temple about who He was in John 7:37.

Four 75 foot tall candelabras were erected in the Court of the Women and lit each night. Accounts of those who saw them say the entire city was illuminated by the glow of those lamps, leading people to call Jerusalem the light of the world during Tabernacles. Jesus' claim that he was the light of the world in John 8:12 would have resonated deeply with people who had seen the blazing Temple lights chase away the night during the Feast.

And at night, the people would return home to eat and sleep in the distinctive feature of this Feast--a booth. Sukkah means tent, or temporary dwelling. They were to construct a little shack and live in it seven days to commemorate the time after the Exodus, when God led them in the desert, protecting them, feeding them and guiding them with His presence manifested in pillars of cloud and fire.
By the time of Jesus, it was an extravagant, joy-filled week, filled with feasting, singing, praying, and dancing. There were priests in full regalia parading back and forth from the spring near the Temple, priests worshipping with instruments, priests waving tree branches like banners; priests chanting the Psalms of ascent (Ps 120-134)--even priests juggling flaming torches. How exciting must it have been to see those dignified and serious men, exuberantly worshipping the Lord? 

Only five days removed from the solemnity of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), the people would be filled with gratitude that God had covered their sins; that He had sent the rain and filled their barns; that He protected them from their enemies; and for the promise of the coming Messiah. The Scriptures recited during that week rehearsed the testimony that their God was different than the gods of the nations. He was active; He was present; He spoke; He intervened in their lives to make and keep them as His beloved people.

So yes, Sukkot has something to offer even in the twenty-first century. I need encouragement and strengthening every bit as much as my ancient brethren. I too need to be reminded that I belong to a mighty One who loves me and saved me and is fully capable of meeting my needs and keeping me till the end. Though I will encounter many storms, my great Messiah will bring me safely into the harbor of His kingdom. So this morning I'm sitting in my sukkah with my coffee, reflecting on the joy of friends laughing, sharing and enjoying one another just a few nights ago. I am glad that long ago God considered me, and set this time aside to celebrate and remember.

Show, don't Tell

In fiction writing an author's greatest sin is  telling , rather than showing . Explaining plot points in large paragraphs is vastly in...