Sounds Like God

Eleven words and my focus was set.  Eleven words that showed up in the middle of our I Thessalonians passage that wrapped the message of the entire reading, and most of the book, into one thing – sincere lives that are genuinely noticed.

And, in those 11 words one of those words pulled me in by the collar and yelled at me ‘LOOK AT THIS!’

The word is exēchētai. We only see this word, in this form, used in this verse.

In most of our translations, this word is transcribed as our word ‘SOUND’ or ‘SOUNDED’ 

and in this particular greek word means ‘TO SOUND FORTH’.

The basic meaning can be referring to the volume or level of the sound itself, such as ‘It is loud,’ however, more often, it is used to described something that is that is very clear and precise – ‘Oh, that was really understandable’.  It is not referring to words or speaking, it is in fact our sound. It is the sound of our life that reveals our hearts.  It is the sound of our life that comes across clean and precise to which the world can say, ‘Oh, I get it.’ It is the sound that is heard long before words are spoken or actions are undertaken.

Much like a parade – you stand at your location as the participants walk, drive, or roll by. While you stand there looking at what is in front of you, you are always aware that there is a marching band in the parade and it is coming your way. You are unable to see it but you hear it, and then, after the band passes by, the sound lingers, and you continue to hear it even after it is once again out of sight.

In the instance of the Thessalonians, that sound that you are aware of before and even after – sounds like God

Silence my soul, these trees are prayers. I asked the tree, “Tell me about God;” then it blossomed.

Rabindranath Tagore

The believers in Thessalonica had blossomed, they had an amazing sound.  Their words, and more importantly, their actions of joy in the midst of persecution, hospitality to all persons, their unity even in disagreement, and their passion in serving God and serving all others. It was a sound that could not be dismissed – it came before them and stuck around after they left.  People were surprised, the Apostle Paul was amazed.

One of the regrettable circumstances of the modern evangelical movement is that words have taken priority over all else, more than actions of kindness and love, and presence – words, whether personal or scripted, have become the sound.  Without the sound of God, there is little that we hear that lasts.  Apart from God, our awkward or powerful words, our charm or pushy speech, all eventually fall short.

‘For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God and to wait for his Son from heaven,’

I Thessalonians 1:8-10a (NRSV)

Or, listen to vivid account from the paraphrase, The Message:

‘Do you know that all over the provinces of both Macedonia and Achaia believers look up to you? The word has gotten around. Your lives are echoing the Master’s Word, not only in the provinces but all over the place. The news of your faith in God is out. We don’t even have to say anything anymore—you’re the message! People come up and tell us how you received us with open arms, how you deserted the dead idols of your old life so you could embrace and serve God, the true God. They marvel at how expectantly you await the arrival of his Son,’

I Thessalonians 1:8-10a (MSG)

‘Your lives are echoing the Master’s Word’.  Imagine being told that, imagine your day to day life being described in that manner.  ‘Your lives are echoing the Master’s Word’. ‘Your are bringing the sound of God wherever you go.’

Surely they were beaming when they read Paul’s letter.

Paul is telling the believers in Thessalonica that God’s truth is being ‘Sounded’ by the them, sounded through words but even more through their presence, it was their sound. Their sound had created a life of its own. Their sound was attractive – their actions were contagious, their words were credible.   

Paul tells the believers that they are doing his job, they are doing what he came to do.  All the more amazing is that Paul is finding his own story now not being told to him instead of by him. Anything Paul tells the people, the listeners have already heard.  Paul is obsolete, they are telling HIM the truth.

Paul precedes his praise by giving an explanation of how the Spirit has done this work among the Thessalonians. We often view the work of the Spirit as being entirely ‘other worldly’, that the Spirit overtakes us and does what we have been unable or unwilling to do on our own. We see it as magical and apart from ourself – almost as if we are receiving a reboot and better software is downloaded into us to make us work better.

Paul points out pertinent elements to the Thessalonians transformation.

‘And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joyinspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.’

I Thessalonians 1:6-7

‘Became imitators of us and of the Lord’ -The people, entrenched in their life habits, beliefs, religious practices, view of God or gods, did not really know where to start, the Spirit pointed to Paul and his companions and to God. They watched and learned from their examples.

‘In spite’ – even though they were persecuted and their faith could endanger their lives, they still found a way to express truth in a subtle and quieter manner.  They found ways to ‘sound’ like Jesus, even though their ‘sound’ often had to remain silent. Their sound was amazingly effective.

‘Received’ – receiving the Spirit was a choice, in choosing they were aware that there would surely be things that they would have to reject, ways and practices of their lives that were not able to share space with the Spirit.  They ‘received’ without any guarantees of what they would look like in the future.

‘With joy inspired’ – This choice a ‘choice’ that could upend their ways of life, it could make enemies out of friends, it could threaten vocations, reputation, and position.  They chose regardless, this was their state of mind, they made a choice out of joy.

So that you became an example to all the believers – this is self explanatory, their joyful choice permitted them to not only become a visual image for others to follow, but it also gave credence to their words – to believers and non believers.

Paul also addresses the foundational factor in their witness as he says, 

‘Our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake.’

I Thessalonians 1:5b

The Thessalonians had not listened to Paul and his companions because of their eloquence or their charisma, it was not because of their status or their position, it was not because of the orchestrated emotion of the moment, nor was it due to a fear of the consequences.  They listened, and they followed, because they could see the ‘sound’ of these men’s lives. 

Their real, raw, and vulnerable sound.

Based on their experience with Paul and his companions, the believers chose to listen, they chose to follow, they chose to receive the Spirit, they mindfully chose to imitate these who genuinely pointed to God.  Their imitation of Paul landed them at the feet of God in the flesh, Jesus, who they then followed – much like the disciples of John the baptizer who ultimately followed Jesus.

We must recognize this process of trusting before listening and then listening before following took an extended period of time. Paul speaks of the delicate balance practiced in order to not be a burden to the church.  Paul made a choice to trust the intentional work of the Spirit, regardless of how long it took. Paul made a choice of personal vulnerability permitting the believers to hear his honest sound.  The Thessalonians soon hungered to have the same sound.

One other dynamic must be noticed in this story.  A culminating lesson for all believers, for all of us. The sound of the Thessalonians was not due to one individual, or even a small group of individuals, it was the result of all the individuals who together were the church at Thessalonica. Their combined sounds became the sound of the church at Thesslonica.

Michael Joseph Brown, President of Payne Theological Seminary, sums it up by saying.

‘If anything, [I Thessalonians] is about relationship and imitation. Paul makes this clear from the beginning. He says, “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution, you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit”. The apostle reminds us indirectly that human beings can only experience the fullness of their humanity when they are in deep, trusting relationship with one another. Even more, this relationship has more depth when it is experienced along with God. In addition, imitation becomes an outgrowth of this strong relationship.’

Michael Joseph Brown

This huge impression made by the Thessalonian church on other believers and non-believers alike, was as much about the whole as it was the individual. Those watching the sound of the individual believers at Thessalonica, which then became the sound of the church at Thessalonica was a sound that could not be dismissed.  People noticed the Thessalonians by their real, raw, and vulnerable sound.  

The outsiders saw the new sound that the Spirit created. In the midst of the believer’s trials – the community saw the Thessalonians at their most vulnerable – they saw that this sound could not be mitigated, even as politicians and the religious establishment sought to turn their sound off. Even inner disagreement of the church did not quiet their sound, in fact, the manner in which they worked through those disagreements made their sound even stronger.

It is the questions all churches must ask, it is the question we must ask.

Does our actual sound match the definition we have given to our sound? 

Do we seek, search, and stand on truth?

Are we actively searching for truth in all aspects of our life, in the way we live, in the way we respond to the world around us, in the way of our politics, in our presence, in our sound?

Do we meet the world with the embrace of Jesus?

Are we committed to seeing all humans as humans created by the same God who loves us all? Are we ready to embrace, without judgement and agenda, those who are of a different skin color, different religion, different nationality, those of a different political persuasion, those who are LGTBQI, the rejected, the despised, the alienated, those who make us uncomfortable?

Do we trust the affirming work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and the lives of others?

Are we committed to letting the Spirit decided the work that need to be done in each life or are we stuck with our own judgments and own ideas and agenda for other people, do we trust the change the Spirit wants to work in them and each of us?

What is the real, raw, and vulnerable sound of Grace Fellowship?

At 2:45pm, on a cold day mid December 2001, I stood with other parents on the ramp to Mrs. Cook’s pre K class at Monroe elementary school.  We were waiting until the bell would ring and our children would be match up with us and released.  As we stood waiting, we visited.  Most conversation, including mine on that day, did not end once the door opened and the matching process began.  As my child was match with me and released she ran to me with an undeniable sound that could not be ignored. I know this because I attempted to ignore the sound in order to finish my conversation.  Her sound was persistent however, and eventually the teacher’s aid got my attention and summoned me to take notice of my child’s sound.  The aide had a sound of her own which was communicated by the look on her face.  I took notice of Hannah’s sound. Santa Clause had visited the class that day and Hannah, as promised in her sound, was about to bust by her need to share all that she had learned about Santa and Mrs. Clause, about the reindeer and life at the North Pole, about the fact that Santa was trying to lose weight because he had not been eating right or exercising, although Christmas Eve did always manage to take a few pounds off him which delighted Mrs. Clause who was in much better shape and didn’t eat as much sugar, however, the most important thing, the thing that probably had the most influence on the sound of my daughter was that Santa Clause needed to quit eating so many cookies, it was very repetitive, and also not very healthy.  So, ironically, the children had suggested that they might leave pizza instead, an idea that seemed to greatly please Santa.  The sound of Hannah continued through Christmas Eve when we, in fact put out the much more healthy pepperoni pizza than the unhealthy sugar cookies, and then through Christmas morning when Hannah glowed at the note from Santa thanking her for remembering the pizza instead of the cookies.

What is the sound of your life?

What the sound of our life?

High Risk

On Saturday, March 4, 1933, Americans were nearing the end of the Great Depression. This had been brutal period of almost four years as the nation experienced upwards of a quarter of the population unemployed while many had lost everything. It was a truly depressing and fearful time for  society.  This newly elected president Franklin D. Roosevelt, stood on the east portico of the capital building facing Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes.  Roosevelt’s hand rested on his family 1686 Dutch Bible – opened to I Corinthians 13.   After Chief Justice Hughes administered the oath of office, Roosevelt remained at the podium to address the American pubic in what is considered, by many experts to be the best of all presidential inauguration speeches.

‘In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.’

Roosevelt was calling the people to a same mindedness, to a determination of will with a unified goal of bringing the United States back from the brink.  The President knew that the nation could not survive if division prevailed, fear controlled, and hatred ruled.

The remainder of the speech frankly outlined the problems and difficult solutions, but it was actually his introductory words that have stuck with us even to today.

‘So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.’

Later, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, suggested that the famous phrase was adapted from a 1851 journal entry of Henry David Thoreau in which he had written,

‘Nothing is so much to be feared as fear.’

In these words, Thoreau, followed by Roosevelt put their finger on the root cause of the problems the nation faced, and the problems our nation still faces  – fear.  The fear of poverty, the fear of war, the fear of famine, the fear of inadequate healthcare, the fear of not getting more than others, the fear of those that look different than us, the fear of those who live differently than us, the fear of those who worship differently than us, the fear of those who speak differently than us, the fear of those that come from other countries, those that have a different pigmentation, those that those who have a diet different than us, that drive differently than us, those that dress differently than us, those who values and beliefs are different than us, we fear sickness and death, we fear different political systems, we fear the unknown.

Fear divides us, fear depletes us, fear consumes us, fear paralyzes us, fear pushes us onto the wrong path, fear leads us to run back to our fantasy of past, fear erases our memories, fear capitalizes on our doubts, fear pits us against each other, fear keeps us from noticing others, fear keep us from truth, fear causes us to hate, to react, to label, fear leads us to lay aside the  example of Jesus, fear leads us to forget the sacrifice the Son.

Fear perilously puts us at high risk.

Christ came to conquer fear. 

Fear seeks to stop life. 

Christ came to give life.

God invited Moses to join him on Mount Sinai to discuss life, primarily how to live life.  The talk is referred to as the ‘Law’, but the word ‘Law’ does not translate well – our idea of ‘Law’ elicits a response of ‘how do I get around this?’ or a ‘let’s look for the loopholes?’, but this ‘Law’ was, and is, a gift.  The discussion wasn’t a ‘get your life in order’ talk or a ‘get these people in line’ lecture but a constructive and positive, ‘this is how to live in this creation’ given by the creator himself. An exclusive discussion between Moses and God the creator – giving the ‘how’ to live in his creation.  It was obvious to Moses, and probably all humans, that up to this point, they have failed miserably at their attempts to figure it out on their own. It was a gift to be invited to this discussion with the creator, Moses knew this, the people he was leading did not.

Moses sat with God on Mount Sinai as the two were discussing life. Not in metaphysical way, but in a ‘Here is how you do it’, way for a humanity that really had no idea how to do anything except to survive. See, God was moving the people to a ‘Get up and walk in peace,’ way of life.

While the 2 sat up on the mountain, down below the people returned to fear.  They had spent their entire lives justifiably living in fear, their parents and grandparents had known no other existence, it was passed down generation to generation without a second thought.  Now, free and delivered from slavery, when they could no longer visually see their human leader Moses,  they automatically to their fear.

Fear is often the most comfortable place to which we can run.  

Fear is always the quickest path back to chaos, disorder, and whatever else defines the opposite of peace.  

There truly is ‘nothing to fear but fear itself.’ 

God interrupted their conversation to let Moses know what was going on at the bottom of the mountain.

‘You’ve been gone for forty days, Moses,’ God said, ‘in your absence, the people have returned to fear and all the emotions and actions that accompany fear.  They have taken the gold which was given to them by the fearful Egyptians and wasted it on the gods of the Egyptians. Aaron has molded a calf out of the gold – since that is what they knew in Egypt.  In looking at the golden calf they began to talk about their old, comfortable gods they had in slavery, the gods they could see, – Aaron recognized the mistake and declared that they were to worship the one true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but it was too late, the damage was done. They were back in fear mode, they had returned to worshipping a false god.  This has avalanched into a full fledged orgy.’

God was disgusted, he was done with the people, Moses managed to talk God back from destruction.  Moses reminded God that they people were immature, they were not accustomed to freedom, that they had no clue about the peace God had for them, Moses reminded God that these were his people…..and yes, he probably told God that the people ‘are idiots, an ignorance that only God cure.’

Moses went down, the people did not get to receive God’s gift of ‘how to have peace and life’ – but they would later, when they were a little less ‘idiot’ inclined. 

For now, though, the people needed to be pulled back from the brink of disaster, the people needed their leader to help them deal with their very comfortable fear.

Moses came down the mountain surely uttering many words of disgust. 

The only thing that can unite a divided group of people is an irrational fear that throws all truth out the window.  People of faith quickly forget the ‘why’ of their faith and exchange it for truth for fear, fear then unifies  – it exchanges their same minded unity for mindless mob minded division and chaos.

Fear urgently brings chaos – chaos perverts our recognition of value, it diminishes rationale and distorts hope, it fogs our view of God.  It prompts us to throw away the gold of God’s deliverance, it leads us to devaluing of God’s creation and his created – respect, honor, and dignity are replaced with disrespect, hatred, impulsiveness, and  ultimately, lasciviousness and wantonness.  

Fear urgently ushers in chaos. 

Fear is a favorite tool of politicians, religious leaders, your  friends on facebook, the pundits on your favorite cable network, the guy next door, and sometimes even those living in your house. 

Fear is the easiest, and most used, tool in Satan’s toolbox, it is the quickest and most efficient way to divide and conquer.  It destroys nations, organizations, relationships, families, individuals, and churches.  

The only tool of Jesus – was love that accepts and embraces.  Love brings about peace and order.

While fear places us in the category of ‘High Risk’ – peace and order place us in a place of patience, love, faith, hope, and unity.

Peace and order permit us to be of the same mind in what genuinely unifies us. They pave the way for us to be agents of calm, confidence, trust, and hope. They pave the way for others to catch a true hint of Jesus.

This is what is the apostle Paul was addressing in the church of Philippi. He had surmised that the church was at high risk. Two, hardworking, long proven, workers in the church are divided. The issue, for Paul, was that this division would threaten the entire church, they were at high risk of choosing sides, of dividing up, of losing their mind – their ‘same mindedness’.  We are not told what has caused these two individuals to split, only that they have also lost their same mindedness, we don’t need to know, we just know the solution – ‘be of the same mind.’

Two very different mindedness options, two extreme opposites states of life, same mindedness and mob mindedness.  One is guided by the common belief held in the heart and the mind – the other is guided by selfish agendas, raw emotions, disregard for others, vitriol, hatred, and a settling into hopelessness.

Same mindedness reminds us that we are actually attempting to head toward the same goal even when we are set on different avenues of getting there. We can peaceably disagree when we are of the same mind.

The destructive impact of the absence of same mindedness among the two warring individuals in the faith community of Philippi was that it could move the group of believers into mob mindedness.  Taking sides, fighting over stances, adopting the negative feelings of the original two were the exact things that would lead the entire faith community to fear – fear that my side will lose, pride that I am right even if this is not really my fight or my concern, fear that doesn’t need a rationale reason.

Paul speaks of ‘having the same mind’ often in his letter to his friends in Philippi. It can, at times, even sound somewhat cult like, an attempt to make everyone think the same and an effort to hinder the actual thinking of each individual.

As Mitch led our Tuesday Night Bible Project, he illustrated this ‘same mind’ concept in a manner that really allows us, in our time to understand.  He shared that on an American football team, each team has 11 players on the field during play. Off the field, each of these players assuredly have different opinions, disagreements, life practices, background, etc, than each other.  However, once they are on the field, in the playing of the game, they have the same mind – to get the ball, or keep the other team from getting the ball, across the goal line. To be effective, they can give their opinions to a point, but, eventually, one person will have to make the call and the others, to be successful, will work together to move the ball down the field.  If personal selfish, ‘non-same minded’ agendas interrupt, or if disagreements emerge, the game will be lost.  This is same mindedness.

Paul, as he speaks of having the same mind is speaking to, and about, having the same goal line.  In chapter 3, verse 15, he calls on those who are mature.  This word mature is not speaking to an accomplished and completed believer, one who is perfect, but, instead to those who are on the field, permitting the righteousness of Christ to transform them.  It is not a haughty or arrogant position, but a state of ‘becoming’. 

Paul explains, ‘I have not already obtained this nor have I already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.’

Philippians 3:12-14

Much like the coach’s half time speech to the team about working and striving together, not addressing their decisions and opinions – that – will take place after the game, the coach is talking about now, as the team returns back to the field, the team same mindedness.

Same mind – get the ball down the field.  Same mind – keep the other team from getting the ball down the field.

Paul then coaches the Philippians, and us, in practices aimed at strengthening ‘same mindedness’ as he says – 

‘Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Philippians 4:8

Rubbish

The apostle Paul is an interesting study one that is still very pertinent to each of us two thousand years later. He is responsible for at least thirteen of the  books in the Bible, most of the New Testament epistles are ascribed to him, however, it is in is life and journey that we see even greater correlations between his life and our lives. 

He is a an extremely unlikely prospect in our eyes, and ill suited, to become a leader in the New Testament church that he becomes – yet he does.  He seems to be among the last people who would be chosen by God to extend God’s truth of love and mercy – yet he was.  Paul seemed to be going in a strange direction to grow the church – yet it was the exact direction, and the exact place, where God was waiting to focus this one man’s truth seeking journey.

His resume was impressive, full of all the credentials Jewish religious leaders ascribed to but seldom achieved.  Credentials that opened most any door to him by the time he was in his mid twenties.  He was just 27 years old when we first meet him, he was already a Pharisee, he was holding the coats of those hurling the stones at Stephen. Then, by the very next year he was on an official mission of the religious institution to take care of the Jesus problem – to stop the growing underground followers of Christ.

The followers of Christ feared Paul very early on their faith movement.  He was on no one’s radar to become their leader – yet he was God’s choice and he would become a passionate leader of the Christians.

He had all the credentials and accomplishments one would imagine for a person on the fast track to authority and power.  He laid out his resume as he was communicating with the church at Philippi.

‘If anyone has reason to be confident in their own abilities and accomplishments, I assure you that I have more: I was circumcised on the eighth day after birth, I am a member of the people of Israel and of the tribe of Benjamin, I am a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the obeying and known the law, I was a Pharisee; and I had zeal, enough zeal that I was made a persecutor of the church of Jesus; and mostly if you are looking at my life as to being righteousness under the law, I am blameless.’

Philippians 3:4-6

Paul’s determination and genuinely sincere passion had thrust him before the eyes of the religious institution as well as the regional Roman governing authorities.   He was a young man, just short of 30 years old, as he traveled to Damascus to pursue his passion, to stop what would become known as Christianity.

The thing about Paul is that for him, all of his accomplishments were not about gaining power just for power’s sake, nor were they about achieving more accolades and bullet points for his resume.  What he did, he did out of a sincere pursuit of truth, and ridding Judaism of those people and teachings that would dilute the truth and harm their faith was at the top of his list.  He believed what he fought for, – there was a genuineness at the core of his being.

This answers the first question – Why did God choose Paul? God was looking for a purity in passion, a person who recognized the value and necessity of truth, one that had an unstoppable pursuit of truth, and a human to whom a truth formed challenge to his faith and politics would not cause them to abandon their journey.  A person that, when finding truth, would see it as the next step, not a roadblock that had to be avoided and dismissed or plowed through. He did not respond with hostility or defensiveness when truth made him uncomfortable about his religious or political stances. In that time, when  politics often dictated to faith, when the religion and governmental leaders used and abused each other, a time when to hold one political stance you had to conform your faith to that stance – it that time, he let his faith be his guide.

God looks for individuals who will not be threatened when their perceptions and beliefs are challenged and when change is essential. God is looking for those who recognize that they have much further to travel in their faith journey.

As Paul traveled to Damascus, it was in his passionate quest to maintain a purity of doctrine.  This ‘Jesus’ movement, in his mind, was perverting truth and therefore would diminish the Jews’ preparation for the coming Messiah.

Jesus was the last person he expected to encounter on the road – but – Jesus was the exact person he expected to encounter on that road.  He had been looking for Jesus his entire life, but it was not until this day, blinded by the light, he saw the Messiah that he had been seeking.  It was Jesus, this was the truth that he had been seeking, and this was the Messiah his faith had led him to with for with all his might.

This was not a bump in the road, it was not a halt to his journey, it was not a controversial challenge, it was actually his next step.  He had found the one he was looking for, he was surely surprised to discover it was Jesus – but it was Jesus.

If Paul had been any less passionate in his pursuit of truth, when he was blinded he would have scoffed at the idea of going to Damascus, there were renown experts and physicians back in Jerusalem to restore his sight.  If Paul had been motivated to stop Christianity more than he was devoted to finding the truth – he would have never agreed to go to the house of a nobody named Ananias.  If he had been primarily set on pleasing the religious institution and in keeping his good name before the Roman political establishment – he would not have asked for help from a follower of Jesus.

But he was a true seeker of truth – and he knew that he had blindly found that truth exactly where it was waiting for him. In this blindness, he was beginning to see.

Why did God choose Paul, because Paul was the one who was looking for God. Notice that God did not alter the direction that Paul was going, he still sent him on to Damascus, his original destination, however, now he saw things differently, now he saw the truth that didn’t match up with his mission, his mission changed but his journey had just gotten on the right course.

Blindness didn’t halt Paul’s mission, it just refined it, it filled in the gaps, he was beginning to see better than he had ever seen before. He was not going to stop this new Jesus movement, he was going to be a part of this movement.

On this day, on this road, this man who sought truth, was blinded by God in order that he could see. On this day, on this journey, Paul eyes could no longer see any truth in the things he had accepted through his religion and in his politics.  Suddenly, he began to notice the earthly afflictions of his people, he began to experience the incongruency of the collusion between his religious institution and the Romans politicians, he saw the contrast between those teachings and his God who he now saw.

About 3 decades after Paul met Jesus on that road to Damascus, he writes a letter to his dear friends, the believers in Philippi. In this letter we see Paul reminding the believers of his achievements as well as the proof of his faithful to God that has been evidenced in his life. 

‘Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.’

Philippians 3:7-9

Paul is not calling his Jewish faith as rubbish, nor is he saying that his achievements and accomplishments were a waste of time – instead, he is proclaiming that it is not about him, it is about Christ. While there was a time when he thought his acts of persecution done for the cause of stopping the Jesus movement were holy, now he realizes that it was not, now he is grateful that his search for truth changed that pursuit. Looking ahead he says,

‘I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.”

Philippians 3:10-14

Let’s look at a few basic from the example of Paul, basics that are very pertinent to us.

  • Paul was chosen by God because he was willingly available to God.  He was not only a truth seeker, but he when he discovered truth he permitted it to make the changes and refinements that needed to be made in order to continue to be usable.
  • Paul’s pursuit of truth resulted in truth being applied to every area of his life, regardless of the risk.  When he met Jesus on the road, this discovered truth became the filter that guided his life and his passions.  With this he was able to see how the practices of his religious institution and the impact of his politics were not aligned with truth.  As he began to see the suffering of an oppressed people, his eyes were opened to the inconsistencies of the message of God and the message of religion and politics.  Honoring truth over his earthly pursuits, opinions, views, politics, and religion caused him to lose friends, power, position, security, and more. This loss, however how hurtful it must have been, was nothing in comparison to the truth he found in Jesus Christ.
  • Paul genuinely felt that following Christ was a natural next step in his faith, and truth, journey.  It seemed to be the most honest way.  As we saw in our look at Romans 9-11, he was genuinely shocked and disappointed that his own people, the Jews, had rejected Jesus.  In the end, he admitted that he did not understand that rejection and, at the same time the choseness of the Jews, he knew that all that God had done in the Jewish history was from God for this people and that God would still keep his promises to the Jews even though it was an almost overwhelming mystery to Paul.
  • Paul lived in the ‘in-between.’            

Paul considers himself to be living in a state of in-between-ness. He is trapped or suspended in the middle of a journey. The longing for arrival is strong, but what he has in front of him is the journey. The arche (beginning) of this journey is Paul’s Judaic background, the telos (goal/aim/end) is his new Christian identity. Paul clearly shows his deep embeddedness in a Jewish tradition. He is from a Benjamite tribe, his is a Pharisee, he is passionately zealous about his Judaic identity, and so on. He describes himself as the best of the best. Abandoning this Jewish identity should be unthinkable to him. To be clear, it is not his Jewishness that he considers as “rubbish”- it is the idea that he can be considered blameless, that he has achieved his goal, that he has arrived, that is what is rubbish. He says that he has not reached the goal of being perfect. In other words, Paul argues that he has not achieved the telos, the goal, the end, the perfection. Paul seems to understand himself and his life as an ongoing process – His existence is in between “what lies behind” and “what lies ahead”.  Paul’s outlook is that to know Christ is to to realize that no one has arrived yet. Everyone is on a journey, in the process of making.

Ekaputra Tupamahu

Paul continued to be a seeker of truth until his death.  He continued to face the challenges of his journey with genuine consideration, he continued to give that truth the freedom to confront every area of this life. On this earth, he knew his journey would not ever end.

May we allow this holy journey of Paul, a journey to know Jesus more every day, may that journey be an example to us in our journey as we work out our salvation. 

Honest to God

While the Hebrews sat through the nine plagues – they had to have had a thought, at least a time or two, “What the heck?!” In a time span of 2 or 3 months up to a year max, the people had endured, along with the Egyptians, water turning to blood, frogs, lice, flies, livestock pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness – honestly, it sounds a little like our last 6 months, although ‘what the heck’ is assuredly the ‘G’ version of many of our comments. 

As we consider the plight of the Hebrews during this time, we have to keep a couple of things in mind.

1. The Hebrews were slaves, subservients, and oppressed by the Egyptians. 

2. The Hebrews were foreigners in the land of Egypt and treated as such.  Even though they knew of no other home, they were still ‘away from their home.’

3. The Hebrews knew very little of their God.  They were immersed in the gods of Egypt.  To them, their God was a very distant being. Primarily, they knew enough about God to cry out to him when they had no one, and no where else, to cry out to. 

4. Even before ‘The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them’ (Exodus 2:23-25).  God had already heard and answered their cries, Moses, the answer to their cries, was already living in the Pharoah’s palace.

The Hebrews had suffered their own afflictions during the first nine plagues, plus more placed on them by a vindictive Pharoah, but they were spared the tenth plague, the plague of death.  Following this plague, the Egyptians were ready for the Hebrews to leave.

The Hebrews had to have been in a state of wide eyes and wide open mouths as they left Egypt.  The wonder of leaving, the wonder of freedom, the wonder of deliverance had to have been overwhelming and unfathomable.  They looked ahead with excitement and back in shock.

Their eyes got a little wider, soon they were on the run.  Pharoah was after them and they were in need of God again.

“What the Heck, God?” What the Heck, Moses?” They screamed.

God heard their cries and rescued them by parting the waters.  Then they were hungry

“What the Heck, God?” What the Heck, Moses?” they screamed. “We are hungry,” they complained.

God gave them food…for every day. Then they were thirsty,

“What the Heck, God?” What the Heck, Moses?” They screamed.

And, God gave them water.

Then, they had to battle Amalek and his people.

“What the Heck, God?” What the Heck, Moses?” They screamed.

And God gave Moses his staff, the staff that had turned the water, and now, he gave the people the mission of helping Moses hold up the staff during the battle.

God gave them victory.

God took a people who did not know him, therefore could not trust him, and he grew them up.  He heard their cries, his rescue of them was in place before they recognized their need, he strengthened them in struggle, and along that way he introduced himself.

He taught little by little as they were ready to hear, ready to receive, ready to apply.

He did this as the lessons were appropriate, as the people were ready to hear.  He said things through Moses like: 

“If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in his sight, and give heed to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians; for I am the Lord who heals you.”

Exodus 15:26

When our oldest son, Caleb, was around 3 years old, one afternoon he purposely threw a toy at his sister Grace, hitting her on the head.  It hurt and as she was crying Caleb was asked if there is anything he wanted to say to his sister.  Without a moments thought he looked at Grace and said, ‘Catch the ball next time Grace.’ We realized that question was probably not going to work with him so we switched the question to ‘Was that a good choice?’ 

It is a very simple question for a little person who was just learning about choices.  Over the years since, we have asked that question in progressively more complex forms, as he grew in his maturity enough to consider the nuanced complexities.  Those increasingly difficult questions were finalized a couple of weeks ago, when I, on the final time I would ask that question with any authority, asked ‘Do you take this woman….’

He was ready for that question, he was ready to answer.

God is working this way with the Hebrews, accepting them where they are and growing them up.  They will not always be successful, they will not always listen, they will not always follow, regardless, God still starts where they are.

It all begins with us being honest before God, it is that same honesty through out our life that permits God to continue leading with us from where we are taking us where he needs us to be next.

Oddly, it was the honesty of the Hebrews before God that produced their complaining. They had no pretense before God, their complaining was truly honest. 

That complaining place soon, after they learn and grow,  will not be an honest place, however, right now, right there, it was.

Soon, they will understand their choices and God will begin asking, “Is that a good choice?”

Later, complaining is not going to be a good choice because it will not longer come from a place of honesty. The complaining will instead come from laziness, from self inflicted ignorance, from disobedience. It will no longer be honest.

But for now it is honest, for now this was an honest place for them to be, for now it was exactly where God was able to meet them.

This is the grace we spoke of last week, it is God’s ‘patience through the complaining’, it is a ‘multiple chances’ mindset, it is a ‘as long as you can be pursued, I will pursue’ determination of God, it is the honest state of the character and nature of God. It flows through God’s love and bathes us in his mercy as long as we are willing to be in the tub.

Thousands of years later, during the week of the cross, Jesus is in the Temple square teaching his followers and other interested bystanders.  This was not an unusual situation, it was a very typical ordinary sight.  After all, it was a very Holy Week.  It was the week that many Jewish pilgrims would make their way to Jerusalem for the week long festival of Pesach, or Passover, commemorating the Jewish deliverance from bondage in Egypt.

The streets, and the Temple Square, were packed.  Rabbis would be in the different areas of the square teaching there followers and others, just as Jesus was doing.  However, the presence of Jesus was of particular interest on this day to everyone, including the High Priests and other religious leaders.

These leaders in Jerusalem, as opposed to the Pharisees and others leaders that we have seen conflict with Jesus up to this point, these leaders had a much more powerful responsibilities and authority.  It would not have been uncommon for them to be listening to the various lectures being given by the teachers and rabbis, checking for accuracy and attempting to weed out any false teaching and heretics.  They also had actually authority and power to confront and remove heretics if needed, in extreme cases they had the authority to discipline or turn over to the Roman government for punishment.

On this day, Jesus was teaching, and there was a lot of interest.

“By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” The leaders asked Jesus.

Jesus heard their question, it was not a bad or inappropriate question to be asking, it was their job.  The problem, however, was their heart.  Jesus knew that this was not an honest question, they, in asking, were not being genuine.  Their goal was not about authority, their goal was to discredit Jesus’ actions and words. Jesus answered their hearts instead of their words.

“Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?”

Jesus, in looking at their dishonest hearts, knew that they wanted to get rid of this ‘Jesus Problem.’ He had entered the city to the cheers of the people, and when these leaders had requested that he calm the people  down before they get out of control, Jesus’ response had been,

“If I quiet them then the rocks will start to scream and shake.”

Jesus was a problem, the leaders were hoping to squelch the problem right now. However, now their dishonesty was seen by Jesus.  They had known that Jesus would ascribe his authority to the Father, and would back it up scripturally – however, they had also known that the crowd would be easy to manipulate.  If the leaders could fashion their words just right, they could easily appear to be the ‘real spiritual authority’ to these ‘mindless’ followers of Jesus.  The leaders, like many political and religious leaders before and after them, felt certain that a few key vague words and ambiguous accusations would easily manipulate the crowd.  Which, by the end of the week, they did.

Now, however, Jesus saw their dishonesty, he answered their hearts not their manipulative words.

Jesus asked again “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” 

The leaders huddled up.  The usual deceitful tactics of calling Jesus a ‘liberal’ or saying that he ‘was not really Jewish’ were not going to work, at least not now.  Jesus, in front of the crowd, had placed the leaders in a corner where their dishonesty was on display

This crowd still loved John the Baptizer and to say he was not from God would make the crowd upset. If they said that John’s authority was from God, they would be affirming the authority of Jesus.

It was a lose-lose situation.  Either way, they were not going to walk away winners, and either way, they were going to walk away in a mess of trouble.

Finally, they dishonestly said, “We don’t know.”

To this, Jesus responds with a parable of two sons asked by their father to work in the vineyard. One of the sons says that he will work but does not, the other says that he will not work but does.

One had dishonestly said ‘yes’, the other had honestly answered ‘no’.  The dishonest son was not pursuable, he had no intention to work, so he used deceptive words to hide his heart.  The other had no intention to work, was honest about it, and then, was open to change.  He was pursuable. He worked in the vineyard.

Jesus was comparing the religious leaders to the dishonest son.  They knew God, they had the avenue to read the prophets, they had the ability to recognize Jesus.  In accepting their roles as leaders they had said that they would look for the Messiah, now, when it was time to do the hard work, they rolled over and went back to sleep.

It was an odd comparison, the crowds probably didn’t realize what was happening except that it was uncomfortable, but these leaders did.  They had made the choice to not be pursuable by God, so they rolled back over and looked for an easier way to rid themself of this ‘Jesus problem’.

God had listened to the hearts of the freed Hebrews as they entered the unknown and learned to relate to an unfamiliar God.  God listened to the hearts of the religious leaders in the Temple Square.  God listens to our hearts.

Midway between the Hebrews deliverance and the moment of Jesus in the temple, we have another applicable moment.  Isaiah and Jeremiah were working to bring the people back to God before the destruction and exile took place. God called the religious practices of the people phony, he called their personal faith insincere, he called the religious establishment corrupt and in collusion with the politicians. He called them dishonest.

God listens to our hearts; God responds to the cries, our questions, our struggles; God takes our hearts where they are and, with our honesty, takes us to where we are ready to be. This is the outflow of love that  carries God’s grace.

The constant question for us is – 

What is your heart honestly screaming out to God?

In our epistle reading this week we returned to the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  The church at Philippi had a special place in Paul’s heart, he had a special affinity for the the folks at Philippi.  I will be honest, the manner in which he writes to this group has always been difficult for me to justify.  He tells the church that they are to have the same love, the same mind, that they are to always agree – but then, at the same time he says to them ‘Work out your own salvation.’ It would seem that he was saying be the same and, recognize your personal individuality.  He is calling the church to do two opposing things at the same time.

Be the same, and be different.

Aristotelian thought was very common at the time, it emphasized the importance of the whole, of the group.  The processing of this train of thought was that the health of the group is more important that the views of the individual.  So, if you thought differently than your group you were to acquiesce, to just accept the group think and rid yourself of your thoughts and views.  This meant that if you had a problem with the thinking or actions of the group it was best to go along, if you struggled with something the group had made a definitive decision on you were to go along and not ever let the group know of your struggle, if you were to feel a need to stick with your views, if you needed to share about your struggles, if you couldn’t agree entirely with the group, you needed to leave the group if you couldn’t change.

This thought process has been mastered by the church, especially since the American evangelical movement begin in the 1940s.  It was also having a potentially devastating impact on the church at Philippi. We will learn in chapter four that there is a battle going on within the church between two individuals.  The rest of the church is being forced to take a side, to agree with one or the other of these disgruntled individuals.  It was not permissible to be objective, you could only love both sides if it was conditional and at a distance.

So, Paul said ‘be of the same mind, be of the same love, agree.’

How was this a solution? It would seem to affirm their Aristotelian leanings! I was still struggling with this as I woke up this morning.

Then, we found that our Presidential campaign sign had been removed from our yard overnight.  As we went out to look, we saw that everyone who was supporting the same candidate as us was also missing their campaign signs.  Our street is a political anomaly for Oklahoma, our yard signs consistently support the ultimate loser of the race.

In many ways, Norman as a whole has that reputation.  We are, at least, more diverse as a population than most of the state.

That is not to say we don’t disagree.  This past year this has become obvious as a group has made a very strong backdoor effort to take control and change our city codes, our education system, and more. This group has used the word ‘unite’ for their identity.  However, as they have progressed their ‘unite’ has not been very unifying.  As I considered our missing sign, the evidence that it was a problem for someone that our opinion was different that their opinion, God brought Paul’s plea to the Philippians to my mind and my heart. Paul was not saying they all had to be the same, but that the core of their thinking, the strength of their love, their fellowship, their mercy, their compassion was to be the same regardless of their own particular journey of salvation. Christ was their center, their journey was guided by him. It would not always look the same however.

When our political agenda, our economic strategies, our income, our education, our money, our poverty, our individual journeys begins to divide us within our faith – when we easily accept someone called a ‘liberal’ as bad, a ‘radical’ as too extreme, oddly, both of these words were used to describe Jesus, when we quickly accept, we have left Jesus for the group.

The church is called to called to be a place where individuals can be honest with each other and honest before God.  Not judged or condemmed. The church is called to be a place where everyone is permitted their honest struggles and questions.  If people cannot be  honest the church can never encourage each person in their salvation journey.

Paul, said that if we can grasp this Godly form of unity, of honesty, we will show your love for each other. You will be united in your goals and in the way you think.You will not let selfishness or pride be your guide. You will be humble, and honor others more than yourselves. You will not be interested only in your own life, but you will care about the lives of others too.

It is a picture of a people who love God and others, all others. It is a people who are honest before God.

The Principle of Provision

On the evening of February 19, 1982, CBS Evening News correspondent, Bob Schieffer, reported many important stories of the day including President Reagan’s budget, the Polish Solidarity movement, human atrocities in El Salvador, and a nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island.  However, a different story seemed to attract as much attention as any of these other stories.

“After a lot of hoopla and millions of tax dollars spent on commercials and other things to tell us why we needed to go metric, it is the metric system that’s about to go,” 

Schieffer said the dismantling of the Metric Board, a board set up to guide America to changing their form of measurement to match the accepted system of most other nations..

You may remember that attempt to change the way we measure things in the early 1980s, or you may remember it from another attempt in the early 1960s, as well as many other moments in our nation’s history.  The switch from a measurement of halves and quarters, and even thirds, is so engrained in our thinking that switching to a measurement system that uses tens to measure is just a too big of leap to make.  The United States, along with Liberia and Myanmar are the only three nations in the world that still do not use the metric system of measurement.

Despite many business that have made the addition of the metric system to assist in their global trade and some remaining traces of our attempts to switch systems – such as the section of Interstate 19 connecting Tucson to Mexico – the only highway in the US to have distance signs in kilometers – we remain a nation that measures differently than most of the world. 

While there was surely a measure of nationalistic pride at stake in the public’s refusal to make the switch, it was mainly because it is next to impossible, as human beings, to switch our ways of thinking.  I admit, I am one of those humans, while I could adapt to seeing Coca Cola measured in liters, I found it impossible to make the switch to metrics when helping my kids with their third grade math. There could not be enough cheat sheets for me to be able to figure out the number of kilometers Joe was going to have to travel if his trip from Denver to Albuquerque was 449 miles. 

As the close of Jesus earthly ministry was coming to a crescendo, and he was beginning to recognize the shadow of the cross looming a short distance ahead, he began to urgently focus on the things his disciples needed to fully understand.  They were going to be the ones to lead the believers and there were certain things they needed grasp. Things like forgiveness and trust, things that would be essential elements of their teaching and leading, but even more, things that they would need to persevere and survive as leaders.

Grace was at the top of that list.  

You may remember singing ‘Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace, grace that will pardon and cleanse within.  Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that is greater than all our sin.’ Even as we would sing it, a full understanding of Grace was, and is, a difficult concept to fully grasp.  It is even a greater trait for us to absorb and practice.

The precipitating moment that led Jesus to share the parable about grace in our gospel passage for today, was a discussion with his disciples who inquired ‘What are we going to get for giving up everything to follow you?’

It was an extraordinarily blunt, and, I would think, inappropriate, question, yet it was met with no resistance from Jesus, he seemed to understand the measurement system these men automatically defaulted to.  He understood it was difficult to change the measurement systems of our expectations.

He began, and ended, his response with a very odd and difficult to swallow, statement:

‘The first shall be last and the last shall be first.’

A statement that I am sure solicited the same response it would receive today, 

‘Well, that’s not fair!’

If we are the first in line, we expect to be the first to enter.

If we are the first to work, we expect to be the first to be noticed.

If we are the first to raise our hand, we expect to be the first to receive praise.

If we are the first to be born, we expect to be the first to be blessed.

If we are the first, we do not expect to be last.

Even more, if we are last, we are not expecting to be first.

Let’s face it, it is a crazy system of measurement. It may work in heaven but it is preposterous here on earth. But still, it is the measurement system that God uses because it is the driving characteristic of God, it is his undeniable nature.

Grace.

Jesus explained Grace by telling his disciple a parable.  A parable of a system of measurement that was totally foreign to any system on earth.  It was a system designed in heaven, for heaven.

The fact that this alien system was now being used on earth only made sense if you remember that Jesus told his disciples to pray that God’s will would be done on earth as it is the standard in heaven.

This is why it was essential that these men, who would be the leaders of Jesus’ followers, understood, it was their calling – they were to switch their system of measurement.  They had to understand!

In this parable there was a farmer that had a field that was ready for workers.  The farmer went to the community market square where workers who needed a field were waiting.  The farmer found out the need of the workers, agreed on the measurement of addressing their need and took them to his field.  Later that morning, the farmer recognized that his field had room for more workers so he returned to the market square where he loaded more workers needing a field, in the afternoon, he once again did the same. At five o clock in the afternoon, basically almost quitting time, as we was in the marketplace again, he noticed more workers standing in the square.

‘Why are you not working?’ He asked them.

“Because no one will hire us,’ they said.

He looked at them, this was not an uncommon collection of people to still be looking for work. They were seldom taken to a field.  For all sorts of reasons, these people could never get to a field. Some talked to much while some didn’t talk at all, some didn’t understand, some couldn’t be understood, some looked weird, some were not from around there, some smelled bad, some were just plain odd, some were the wrong gender, while the gender of some was not identifiable, some didn’t fit in, some were trying too hard to fit in, none of these workers met the measurements of the hiring system for being taken to the fields.

This farmer used a different system. These people wanted to go to a field, that was his measurement criteria, so this farmer loaded them up and took them to his field.

At the end of the day, the farmer paid the workers.  As the original workers watched the system of payment, they were liking this system, it surely meant that they were going to be paid more than they had been promised.  They saw that these undesirable workers were paid what they had expected to be paid.  These all day, original workers were shocked, then, at the injustice when they discovered that they were being paid the same as the five pm workers.

“That is not fair, that is not just!’ They loudly complained.

“Are you upset because I am generous?’ The farmer asked, ‘Have I not paid you exactly what I promised?’

Quite honestly, the workers were correct, according to our earthy forms of measurement, the system of this farmer was unjust, it was unfair.

This was Jesus’ explanation of grace. This was the heavenly measurement that was demanded by grace.  A measurement that was not dependent on an amount, a numerical figure, it was about entry into the field.  It was about the need to be in the field.

Much like when Peter wanted to know a number for forgiveness, numbers are our system of measurement.  Now, once again, Jesus is teaching a system that does not depend on numbers, it cannot even be calculated through addition or subtraction.

When the Hebrews were liberated from slavery, they were heading to their field – the field they had been promised through Abraham.  They had been enslaved subtly over generations until the ever increasing brutality of their existence had become their normal.  They did not recognize life outside of Egypt, they didn’t expect freedom to be so difficult, they never imagined that they would think fondly on their lives in slavery, they had not realized that they didn’t really know their God, the God of Joseph, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham.  

Outside of Egypt, however, they were getting a crash course in ‘God’.  They saw his power as he parted the waters for them to escape Pharoah and his armies.  They began to see God, to really know God, not in his power, but in his grace.  It was in God’s grace that he became personal – he began to be known. 

This is the principle of provision, it is not in God’s power that we know & trust him, it is in his grace.

Oddly, it was because of their complaining that they became acutely aware of God’s presence daily. It was in his response to their complaining about him that he revealed himself to them.

God met them where they had to be met, where they were able to see their need.  Only there would they be able to begin to receive. Only then, could they be able to begin their journey of knowing him.

Grace is a singular trait that governs from within. Grace and pride cannot mutually exist.  Grace fuels God’s pursuit of us as long as we are pursuable. 

‘We are hungry, at least in Egypt we had food. We are tired, at least in Egypt we had rest.  We don’t know what to expect, at least in Egypt we knew what was happening. We are afraid the unknown ahead, at least in Egypt we knew what we had to fear.”

Moses was frustrated, Aaron was tired of dealing with their complaining, God, however, showed his grace through his patience and provision.  He provided them what they needed while giving them a lesson in who he is. Everyday, their food would be there for them, enough for that day. It would be there again the next day, and on weekends, he would give them enough on Friday for two days, to cover the Sabbath, on that day he would give them rest.

This was God’s way of measuring out his provision. God didn’t have a set template of how to respond to needs, nor did he have a set pattern of how to deal with those who were ungrateful.  He didn’t respond with a earthly system of screaming, “I delivered you, I gave you freedom, I welcomed you into the field, I protected you…and still, you are complaining. I am washing my hands of you ingrates!”

Instead, he recognized their cognitive, emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual level of development and began there.  He did not say ‘quit complaining’, instead he said, ‘I am going to help you know me, everyday when your food is there, remember, I gave it to you. That is what I do, that is who I am. I see your needs and will meet them.  Trust me, for you will need to know me in the fields where I am placing you.’

Grace takes a lot of unlearning, and then re-learning, and it takes open eyes to understand.  The disciples were not the only ones that need to understand grace.  It is only when we understand grace that we can then begin to grasp God’s presence in our lives. Understanding life in God’s field is dependent on understanding the grace character and grace nature of God.

Jonah missed the full immersion into God’s grace and therefore missed God while he was measuring who should not be benefactors of grace.  His judgement, born out of hatred of a people, replaced the grace of God in his own life. He missed the joy of being in the field.

God is grace, to not know that grace, to not fully ascribe to that grace, to not seek to live in that grace, to not approve of the moments of that grace, to judge who should be in the field of grace, restricts our own immersion in God’s grace.  

“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace–only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us. I can be received gladly or grudgingly, in big gulps or in tiny tastes, like a deer at the salt.”

Ann Lamont

Imagine the world if we were to see with the grace vision of God.

Don’t miss grace all around you.

The Forgiveness that Precedes Forgiveness

A slave owed his master almost $500,000.00 dollars in todays equivalent.  Since the man could not pay at the requested time, the master did not take what he could from the man to settle a portion of the debt, but the master actually forgave the debt. That same slave, the one who was forgiven his almost half a million dollar debt, went to a fellow slave who owed him less that $50.00.  When this debtor could not repay, the forgiven debtor refused to offer forgiveness and had him thrown into prison.  Now, when the master of these slaves heard about this, he had the first slave thrown into prison until he his original debt was paid, which was an impossibility.

Forgiveness is an ambiguous practice which, as a concept, has a variety of different forms and interpretations.  There are many different, and often opposing, definitions and uses of the word Forgiveness.  As believers in Christ, it has been exampled and explained to us, it has been given to and, in some traditions, it has been taken away, it is an emotional act, an ‘I’ll deal with it later, or I’ll forget or ignore it’ offering, a long awaited gift, and a difficult and overwhelming barrier. 

As a practice, forgiveness is a shot in the dark, seldom do we even understand our own words when we ask for it or give it to another. On some occasions we assume the power to forgive when the option is not ours.  It is, often, the most difficult to give to ourselves and to receive from another.  We may not feel a need to be forgiven yet we, consciously and subconsciously, we are relieved when it has been granted.

Along with prayer, forgiveness may be one of the two most misdefined, misused, abused, and sincerely abandoned concept and practice in our faith.

One of the most bizarre misuses of ‘forgiveness’ took place during the 2016 presidential elections.  The rumors of infidelities that dogged Donald Trump had been quickly dismissed by his supporters until an audio tape presented him boasting of his own sexual prowess. Evangelical supporters were in a quandary to justify their continued support, soon, the celebrity religious leaders, and others, took up the mantra of ‘we have forgiven him.’ This was not a applicable use of the concept of forgiveness.  Trump did not need their ‘forgiveness’, he never asked for it, truth be told his offense had not been against them – any action on their part was judgment, not forgiveness.  Their dilemma was not a problem forgiveness would solve, however, instead of struggling through their decision of support, they chose to hide behind a failed use of forgiveness. Forgiveness was not theirs’ to give.

Basic Truths about Forgiveness

1. Forgiveness is a concept and it is an action, it is difficult, but it is worth the struggle, and essential to harmony and unity.  

2. Forgiveness was not a part of God’s creative process, nor did it need to be, there was no offense, there was no sin. 

3. Forgiveness is a noun and a verb, it is not fully either until it is both. 

4. Forgiveness was born out of human need and perfected by God. 

5. God had no obligation to create anything else.  Love propelled him. God returned to the creator’s bench.

6. Love does that.

Let me briefly explain:

After turning from God humans found themself in a struggle – it was a struggle with their own human offenses. They had been removed from the garden to engage in this struggle.  This struggle would bring them to a realization of their need for God. This is why everything, and almost everyone, in the book of Genesis, is such a mess – it all takes place at the beginning of this human struggle.  As humans attempted to fix their need through might and power, the solution was elusive, they didn’t know where to begin because they were not clear on what they needed – there was no way they could devise a strategy to create it forgiveness. 

Forgiveness is a holy creation, holy creations cannot be created by fallen humans.  We see early attempts at forgiveness, Esau accepts and embraces Jacob, Joseph forgives his brothers – otherwise humans met conflict and offense with a ‘let’s just move on mentality’ which never lasted, or, more often, they just created more offense. Humans cried out to God, they cried out from Babble, they cried out from Ninevah, they cried out from Sodom, they cried out from the home of Jacob, they cried out from deep pit.  There was a need, but the cries of humans were only a shell of their actual need – they needed forgiveness. God still heard their cries – the Father perfected their shell of forgiveness from their need, the son manifested it through his birth, life, death, and resurrection, the Spirit ran with it and made lives whole through forgiveness.  

When mankind chose to turn away from God they, then, turned on each other – the human need for forgiveness was presented. Humans found themselves mentally and physically unable to live with themself and with each other when wrongs done to them, and wrongs done by them, were left to fester inside of them. They also found that this same festering messed, muddled, and mangled their relationships and coexistence with God. Life was difficult at best, and impossible in most situations.

Without forgiveness there cannot be love, without love there cannot be forgiveness – without both of these, there will be no respect. Without respect there cannot not be unity, without unity there cannot be community.

When the early believers began to feel the strain of unforgiveness on their communities of faith, Christ addressed the practice of forgiveness. Peter approached Jesus and asked,

“Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”

Matthew 18:21

Peter was attempting to quantify forgiveness, ‘How many times…..?’ Whether this was a low number for Peter, or, if Peter felt that this was a fully appropriate number – no number would have been correct. 

It is not a question that can be given a number, 

it is incalculable.  

‘Without forgiveness, there is no future.’

Desmond Tutu

As Jesus was speaking to community, how to have, and how to maintain, true community. The type of community where members work together to sustain and grow.  

Community is formed on a common center, a town or city is formed on a geographical commonality, a club or organization is formed on a common interest or belief, a church is a community of those with a common faith.

Jesus was preparing the coming church leaders to lead out with this most essential element of their earthly existence.  It would prove to be the most essential building block of the local communities of faith. It was the blueprint for the church.

Peter knew himself, more importantly, he knew people.  Seven times may not have been a low number, it may not have been a holy number, it is quite possible that, in Peter’s assertion, it was going to be a truly arduous number.

At Peter’s question, Jesus answered with the parable of the two unforgiven slaves, both of whom, in the end, suffered. One suffered because he did not receive forgiveness, the other suffered, because he would not give forgiveness.

As I said in the beginning, Forgiveness is an ambiguous concept and an even more ambiguous intentional action.

The absence of forgiveness is blatantly apparent in the first fifty chapters, or 1,533 verses of the bible. Most of the actions of forgiveness we see in the book of Genesis are centered on just two men.  One is the man Esau, who without petition, forgives his brother Jacob of the horrible transgressions acted out in the destruction of their relationship.  The second is the man Joseph, who faced every brutality up to death from his older brothers. It is in the forgiveness given by Joseph, we see visual of how God takes on this essential concept and practice of the human journey.

It is doubtful that you need a reminder of the sins committed by brothers against Joesph.  Their countless, often quickly calculated acts, culminated with the selling of their brother Joseph into slavery. We do not see much of the brothers following their betrayal of Joseph, nor do we truly know any of the mental and emotional suffering that this memory possibly created in them.  We do, however, see the torment surface when they, along with their people, face true physical crisis that requires they travel to a different nation for their own survival.


‘This is because of what we did to our brother, Joesph,’ they began to whisper to each other. ‘We are being punished for our sin.’

We have read of the life and existence of Joseph up to the point, however.  We have not heard of a dwelling on the pain caused by his brothers, rather we see a man who has carried on, in a tradition of doing right, trough very rough, and some surprisingly good times.  When these journey of these bothers, once again, intersects with the life of Joseph we begin to see his forgiveness journey.

The fact that there is not a documented struggle with forgiveness by Joesph towards his brothers, in the midst of a story that details all the other significant aspects of his story – brings us to a conclusion that he had not carried unforgiveness, hatred, or even resentment.

In our Tuesday bible project a couple of months ago, Mitch said (I paraphrase), ‘Joseph was so focused on God’s leading, and his own calling by God, that unforgiveness was not even a factor, there was no room for that to be given a thought.’ His decision had been made – withholding forgiveness, and instead, holding onto resentment and hatred, would have only held him back from God’s call.

As Joseph observed his bothers during the tests he set up, Joseph was not deciding forgiveness, that had already been given, he was, instead, determining the potential of their relationship from this point forward. ‘Could they be trusted?’ ‘Would it work for him to bring them to Egypt to live out out the drought?’, ‘How were the others in his family, especially his younger brother Benjamin, had they been treated properly?’

He was determining the ‘what’ of his future with his family, during his time of non-disclosure.

Eventually, his love would not permit him to hold back his expression of forgiveness.  He could hold it in no longer, it had to come out, he had to embrace each of these that had treated him so poorly.

When he revealed himself to his brothers and acted by proclaiming his forgiveness to them, this did not happen in that moment.  The forgiveness by Joesph of these undeserving bothers preceded this action.  He had already released the forgiveness and now he was acting in a way that released it in them.  But, the forgiveness was not yet complete.

It is in the final chapter of the story of Joesph that we see a human reality, and full circle of forgiveness.  Joseph’s brothers realize, at the death of their father, that Joseph’s forgiveness of them was surely a deceitful display for their father – probably just to reinforce his position of favorite.  

In their own humanness, they expressed the thoughts they had been suppressing since Joseph revealed himself,  ‘Everything that Joesph had done, all that he had forgiven, was not real, it had been an act, there was no way he could have forgiven……we could’t have done that,’ they were thinking.

They had not fully received the forgiveness of Joseph, not because he had withheld it, but because they were unable to receive it.  They were unable to fully accept the forgiveness from Joseph because they were not able to give forgiveness to others, that is the way it works. When we hold on to unforgiveness, when we cannot release our grasp, our hand is closed tight and therefore unable to open up to receive the forgiveness.

Joseph wept because the forgiveness had abruptly halted without his knowledge.  He wept because his brothers had been living in the unforgiven state of their relationship.  Joseph wept for the unforgiven state his brothers had made their home.

This brings us to a full picture of all the realities of forgiveness.

  1. Forgiveness is our own organic choice to let go or hold on. Holding on takes a lot of work, we have to remember, we have to go through the offense over and over again.  In doing this we permit the offense to ferment and grow, negatively impacting every other area of our life. The resentment, hatred, and vengeance that is a biproduct of unforgiveness is a torture and suffering that it, in a very real sense, a self imposed punishment of imprisonment.
  1. Forgiveness frees us to live, unforgiveness reckons us to death in our life.  Much like Ishmael reports of Captain Ahab’s unforgiving grudge towards the whale Moby Dick, climaxing with the death of Ahab in the vengeful pursuit, unforgiveness wraps its rope around our neck and takes us down. 
  1. Forgiveness is not a naive and dangerous forgetfulness. Joseph, who did not withhold forgiveness from his brothers, also did not set him self up to be thrown, once again, into a pit by his brothers.
  1. Forgiveness is seldom easy to receive.  Although the brothers lived ‘in’ the forgiveness of Joseph for several years, at the father’s death it was obvious they had not been able to fully accept it.  We can only fully accept forgiveness when we have freely given forgiveness.
  1. Forgiveness, when fully received, is a blessing to the giver. Only then can a relationship be fully restored and recognized.
  1. Forgiveness is only complete when we are able to see through and past the offending actions.  Joseph says to his brother, each time he presents them with the forgiveness, ‘You intended evil, but God used [your actions] for good.’

In regard to Forgiveness, what is God saying to you?

The Measure of Faith

08.23.20

It took five women to change the course of history.  These five women did what had never been done.  Five women who, as far as we know, did not receive direct instruction from God, still, followed God in the midst of their day to day survival.  Five women took extreme personal risks that they didn’t really have to take.  Five women risked their lives, and, along the way, unknowingly changed the world.  Five women did what their gut told them to do even if it was dangerous, not just for them, but dangerous for those closest to them. Five woman saved the Israelites. Five women saved a group of humans, humans that were a fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, a promise of a people, a people we, today, know as the Jews. 

These five women did this extraordinary feat without any fanfare, without any substantial assistance, without any visible concern for their own safety, without support from, or even knowledge by, their community. Five women who simply stepped out and did what needed to be done.  Five women who acted in historic ways, doing so merely out of their daily existence, their daily survival. Five women who were the sounding pistol declaring that the deliverance of the Israelites had begun.  Five women who saved the lineage of Jesus.

Five women in a story that begins with two men. The first, was a newly enthroned ruler, Pharaoh.

This new Pharaoh was on the throne, a ruler who had an Israelite problem, there were simply too many of them, they were like wild animals in the street, and they were multiplying like feral dogs.  This Pharaoh was brutal and had no appreciation for the Israelites.  His ignorance of the history of his own people was staggering, his focus was himself, he was his own god – this was the god that instructed him how to secure his power, how to eliminate threats to his power, how to eliminate ‘problems’ immediately.  His paranoid ‘god syndrome’ fueled existence mandated that he have all the answers needing no assistance, no one could be trusted, no one – anyone could be fired, eliminated, at the drop of a hat, at the hint of unloyalty, at the need of a scapgoat, the only characteristic of a worthy employee was blind acceptance of Pharaoh as ‘god’. His unwillingness to grasp even the most basic aspects of the history of his people led him to act with blatant disregard and reckless abandon.  In a turn from wiser and the more stable rulers before him, he had no appreciation for, or even knowledge of, the Hebrew deliverer Joseph, nor did he have any respect for the God of Joesph and his people the Hebrews, the Israelites. He had no fear of this God who had shown himself in such a mighty way in the history of his people – his fear was of men, not God, a fear of what men could take from him.

The other male, a three month old Hebrew infant, was named Moses.

But, it was five women who were the heroes of this story, they were the first to be called by God, they were the first to take the deliberate and risky actions, they were the first, in this story, and the case could be made that they were the first in all of the Bible stories up to this point, to step out based on a faith conviction that this was actually not really a choice at all – it was life guided by faith. It was their daily life.

Let’s meet these heroes.

We begin with Shiphrah and Puah, two Israelite women, midwives who served their own people, the Hebrews.  They were summoned out of their day to day existence to appear before this Hebrew hating ruler.  Being summoned is seldom a positive for an oppressed person, it is devastating when it come from a brutal powerful ruler.  Pharaoh ordered the midwives to kill all of the male children born of Hebrew women.  These two women who had dedicated themselves to God’s calling to bring life into the world, now were given the order to take that life instead.  However, these women were dedicated to their calling, to life, and more than that, they feared God. They disobeyed, and when summoned again, Pharaoh asked why he is still seeing Hebrew newborn boys. These two women in the work of life were now facing their own death, still, they stood their ground, standing on their faith, blaming the quick labor of the Hebrew women, as the reason for their inability to stop these forbidden births.

Two more Hebrew women, Jochebed, and her daughter Miriam, are the next audacious heroes of this story.  Jochebed had nursed and hidden her son, Moses,  for three months after hearing of Pharoah’s edict to put to these Hebrew boys to death by being thrown into the vicious Nile river.  Ironically, the newborn female infants were allowed to live, they were not a threat – Pharaoh had no clue of the threat of his own misogynistic ingrained prejudices were to his power. Jochebed and Miriam hatched a bizarre plan that would only work if God was a part of the action. Jochebed and Miriam, as ordered by Pharaoh, ‘threw’ their beloved Moses, into the Nile River – however, before ‘throwing’ him into the river, they placed him inside a basket that had been retrofitted to float.  They prepared the basket, they put the infant Moses into the basket, and they let go of it into the river, releasing their control, surrendering it into the hands of a God they didn’t really know a lot about.

Our fifth heroic woman now enters the picture, a woman named Bithiah – an Egyptian, non Israelite, non Hebrew woman who was also the daughter of the brutal and paranoid Pharoah.  She was bathing in the river when she saw a basket floating in the water. Ordering one of her attendants to retrieve the basket she was surprised to find a child neatly tucked into the basket. Bithiah immediately recognized that this was a child of a Hebrew woman, and, presumed that this child had been released into the unpredictable waters of the Nile in order to save the life of this little boy.

It boggles the brain to think of the journey of this outrageous faith engineered plan which called for a mother to save her son by placing him into a basket, then placing the basket into the very river where he was ordered to die, a plan which ended with the child being rescued by the daughter of the very man who ordered the death of this infant, and, ultimately having this child raised in the very palace where this same brutal ruler lived, his own home…..and, all of this, is still decades before this same child, raised in the home of the ruler who sought his death, would deliver the Israelites from the brutally of the following Pharaoh.

We cannot leave this story of these five heroic women without looking at one final act of bravery.  Jochebed, and her daughter Miriam, allowed themselves to be noticed – again, it is best to go under the radar, unnoticed, when you are an oppressed person.  It would be nearly impossible to consider the possibility that Bithiah naively accepted the appearance of Miriam as serendipitous.  In doing this, both of these Hebrews put their own lives, as well as their families and the life of this beloved infant, in jeopardy.  They had allowed themselves to be noticed – this plan of faith required not only risk and release, it required that they place themselves in the crosshairs of a powerful, brutal, and paranoid, ruler.

Five women against a powerful man who was was dismissive and assuredly misogynistic.  Five women who were considered powerless and weak by a ruler that set out to destroy an entire people. Five women who began a movement that resulted in the deliverance of that people. Five women who were guided by faith, five women given the faith to answer the call, five women empowered with the grace to act on the call, five women who changed the world.

Five women whose faith that set the bar for a grown Moses, who, on ten specific occasions would be called upon by God to speak on behalf of God, to confront a man who consider himself to be a god.

So, what is faith? How do we obtain faith? 

We had a family living next to us who had a daughter with a disability from birth.  She was, confined to a wheel chair and, every two years would have to enter the hospital for an extended stay during which she would go through a harrowing physical treatment to attempt to restore her health, as much as possible.  A treatment much like the worst chemotherapy experience that you can imagine.  It was traumatizing for her and her family just to go through this.  She, along with her family, attended a church, where the pastor would often speak of our level of faith being our responsibility, ie. ‘If you are poor it is because you do not have enough faith, if your marriage is failing it is because you do not have enough faith, if your house is too small or you hate your job or your kids are a mess it is because you do not have enough faith,’ and frequently, he would preach in the direct eyesight of this little girl, ‘If you are sick it is because you do not have enough faith’. One Sunday as he began going down the path of this heretical teaching about faith, the siblings of this girl stood up from their seats, and non apologetically moved to the center aisle, turned their sister’s chair around, and pushed her to the exit door.  At the point, the parents, as they shared later, finally realized that they should have done this years before.

When this little girl completed the fifth grade, approaching the summer when it was time for another hospital extended treatment, she explained to her parents that she was ‘done’. She had made the decision to do no more treatments.  When I say ‘ready’ this little girl had a clearer understanding of life and death, of eternity, than probably most adults.  She was truly ‘ready’. The family grieved but understood and honored her decision. By the start of the next school year she had passed away.

This was knowing God enough in life that she was able to trust God in death.  This was having enough faith.

‘Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.’

Hebrews 11:1-2 (NRSV)

Five problematic words made this statement difficult for us to fully grasp in our English language state of mind, and our own tendency toward a selfish theology when interpreting scripture:

Assurance, Things, Hoped, Conviction, Received Approval

While a greek word study of these two verses written to the early Christians who had a Jewish background would give us a clearer understanding of the meaning of this passage – Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, does a superb job of explaining these words through his translation:

“The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.”

Hebrews 11:1-2

Take a moment to look at, and consider, these words again.

“The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.”

Hebrews 11:1-2 (the Message)

It was this firm foundation that allowed the five women to save the life of Moses. It was the fundamental trust they had in the known but unseen God (actually for one of the women, God was unseen and unknown) that permitted them to accept the risk of saving this life.

It was this fundamental faith that had consistently allowed this little girl to trust God with her life, now leading her to trust God with her death.

As the apostle Paul is teaching the believers in Rome how to be ready to live like the five women who saved Moses, and, how to be community at the same time, he says, 

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

Romans 12:3

This brings us to the issue of ‘Enoughness’.

We are not the master, or developers, of our faith.  We do not grow our faith, we do not strengthen our faith, we do not own our faith, we do not determine our faith. 

Faith is what permits us to answer ‘yes’ to God’s call – whether it is to respond with disobedience to a brutal Pharaoh with a god complex, or to let go of a basket into the Nile River in order to save the life of your child, or to painfully accept your Father’s plan to save the world.  


When God calls, or leads, or intentionally places us on the path where he needs us to be, then it is not a question of ‘Enoughness’, it is not ‘do we have enough faith to answer, or to follow, or to trust’ – it is a question of ‘do we trust the God that we know, to give us the exact needed measure of faith to do what he calls us to do?’.

We end up at Jesus question that Jesus poses to his disciples – ‘Who Do You Say That I Am?’

Jesus was not asking this as a test to see if his disciples had been paying attention in class, nor was it reprimand them for their ‘lack of faith.’ He was asking because he was now heading to Jerusalem, he was at a fork in the road where the direction of his physical journey was lining up with his journey to the cross. While this would ultimately be a solitarily journey that Jesus would have to travel alone, he was fully aware, though, that on the way, his disciples would be at his side.  They would be going as far as they were able to go.  To travel with him the distance they were equipped to travel, they would have to be ready to grab ahold of the measure of faith that God was giving them.  To face the pain and struggles ahead, this faith was going to be essential.

To grasp this faith, they needed to be standing on an unshakable foundation, a foundation of truly knowing God.

“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asked.

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Peter

Jesus smiled the smile of the Father, knowing that Peter was ready to face the horror that lie ahead, he would make mistakes, but in the end he would realize that he was standing on a Rock.  Jesus proclaims to Peter, “God has revealed this to you! The father has given you enough faith.”

Our question today is – “Who do you say that Jesus is?”

What Comes Forth

08.16.20

Have you ever been around someone that you never have to guess what they were thinking or feeling?  What they were thinking, their thoughts, dreams, hopes, excitement, emotions, always on display? It is a character trait that is both annoying and endearing? You can bask in who they are, or you dismiss them and try to avoid them.  I think Joseph was one of those people. 

Joseph is one of the most illuminating figures of the bible. We are given not only the historical accounts of his life, which are horrifying, but we also get to see the emotions, the fears, the disappointments, and the joy.

Joesph has multiple meetings with his brothers, were did the unthinkable to him, and are oblivious to his identity. Joesph comes to a point where he cannot hide his joy and excitement anymore.  He has all this joy and happiness inside of him that he can only keep pushed down for so long until he pops. 

For Joseph, faith was faith, and faith was life.  He didn’t have to force it.  His faith was what came forth from his life. The first time we see God even referenced by Joseph is in jail when he explains to other prisoners that dream interpretations come from God then, a second God reference is of the same substance, but for Pharaoh. While there is not much dialogue from Joesph proclaiming God,  his life serves as a megaphone abut God.  God comes forth in the life of Joseph. 

‘God coming forth’, is exactly what Jesus is talking about in the first part of our gospel reading Jesus says.…

As I mentioned in our passage primer this week, there are several aspects of Matthew 15 with which I struggle.  This statement from Jesus, ‘to eat with unwashed hands does not defile,’ is one of them, especially during our current pandemic.  However, what is seen and/or heard immediately from this statement is not what Jesus is saying.  He is not mounting an anti-hygiene protest, nor is he revealing that he has bought into an extremest conspiracy theory.

The earliest findings of any types of hygiene guidelines and laws date back to the Exodus when God, through Moses, gave the Israelites instructions on everything from washing their hands, to the disposal of human waste.  These hygienic practices were a religious responsibility. About half a century later, under King David, these practices were expanded from being religious to being a societal practice. 

More than any other people, personal hygiene was a founding principle of the Israelites, and Jesus was not contradicting this.  Jesus was talking about something much deeper, he was addressing what we allow to exist inside of us, that which influences and changes what we put into ourselves.

A couple of weeks ago, I referenced our experience a decade ago with our daughter Grace spending 11 days in the hospital with Steven Johnson’s Syndrome, a severe, often fatal, reaction to medication.  What I did not mention was that she, along with our son Caleb, had been taking the same medicine for the same sickness, for the same amount of time.  Caleb had no problem with the medication and within a very short time was feeling better and back to normal.  However, something in Grace’s system influenced the otherwise ‘okay’ medicine rending it toxic.

This is what Jesus is saying.  Everything in our life is influenced by what is already at our core, what is inside of us.  We put relationships into our life – they can mix with our insides and come out as a healthy lasting relationship, or they can come out as adultery and fornication.  We put communication in, it mixes with our inside, comes out of our mouth as unifying and encouraging words, or it comes out as false witness, gossip,  and slander. Our heart, our core, takes the non defiling things we put into our life and determines if they come out beneficial or harmful. 

It all depends on what we allow to be inside of us.

Jesus is challenging the standard religious thought, especially as established by the institutional leaders.  He is telling them that transformation does not take place by our practices alone, or anything that we think we must, or must not, do to be right with God.  It is much deeper,  it is that which comes forth from us that identifies that our heart, our core, what is our center. 

 When we put someone on a pedestal, because of their religious or political position, or someone who sounds like they know God better than us, or even someone who seems to know the Bible better than us, and fully depend on them to tell us what to believe and how to have faith, how to have God as our center, then, Jesus says that we ‘Make Void the Word of God.’ Think about this, Jesus is saying when our examples, and truth, foundation becomes the examples and truth of man, we have dismissed God.

Let’s get into this a bit deeper by looking at one word, the word that provides the true challenge of Jesus’ message – the word ‘DEFILE.’  The greek, in this context is κοινοwhich means ‘to defile’. The root word, which gives  us clarity of the meaning of ‘defile’ is koinoó , which, in certain context can mean ‘to make unclean, pollute, desecrate’. Now, if we go deeper to the literal meaning of the root word, the word from which these all use in their  particular context, ‘to make common.’

Consider this,We have the choice, we can be common, or we can represent HOLY.  We can stick with everyone else in being the same, having a status quo, common, faith, or, we can represent holy.

As we have witnessed in Matthew’s gospel, when it moves to another story or teaching, as we ‘move on’, ‘moving on’ is never ‘moving away’.  

Jesus now travels to the major Roman port cities of Tyre and Sidon, home to countless pagan temples, populated largely by gentiles but sizable Israelite population resides there as well.

Remember, there is an intentionality of the chronological order in Matthew’s gospel, teaching moments are often followed by an experiential lesson as well.

As Jesus, and his disciples, enter the area, they are immediately confronted by a Canaanite woman who is shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’  Jesus’ response is odd, it is very suspect, it is very ‘un-Jesus’ like. He dismissively ignores the woman, then, as she continues to make a spectacle of herself by screaming, the disciples join in suggesting that Jesus send ‘that shouting woman’ away. Jesus responds to the suggestion by pointing out that ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ She then gets in front of Jesus, kneels, and begs, ‘Lord, help me.’ Jesus responds with the seemingly racist and callous response of  ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ The woman replies to Jesus with, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Now, she has Jesus attention as indicated by his response, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ After this, we are informed that, at that moment, her daughter was healed instantly.

The change in Jesus posture with the woman, as well as a positive and affirming response, signals that something significant has just taken place.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the disciples share a look of confusion with each other.

This interaction just seems to increase in the odd and bizarre factor as this conversation progresses.

Let’s dive in and break this engagement down.

We begin by looking at Jesus’ initial response to the woman – he ignores and dismisses her, while the disciples, thinking they have picked up on a subtle cue meant for them, join in by urging him to get rid of her.  This opening action, or inaction, on the part of Jesus was intentional, it was targeted, it is was a signal that this is going to be a teaching moment aimed at, not the woman, but the followers of Christ. He is using the moment to teach his followers, particularly his disciples, what he had just verbally taught about in the earlier verses. As the woman shouted, what was inside of the disciples, and probably inside the crowd as well, began to take hold, they thought the gate had been open to let their own attitudes come forward,  it could no longer be held back, it all came pouring out out of their mouths, ‘Just send her away, Jesus!’ 

In these brief four words, the disciples revealed a bigotry and a prejudice against the woman, as ‘all her kind.’ They, unconsciously formed a hostile attitude toward the woman because of her nationality, her color, her ancestors, basically ‘who she was.’ In the most blunt of terms, they were revealed that they were racists.  We know that because her requests, and methods, were  nothing new, thousands had come to Jesus doing the same thing for the same reason, probably, many who were also shouting – the disciples didn’t  suggest sending them home, well except for when there were too hungry, when they became a burden.  This time was different, this time it was a pushy Canannite, woman, a gentile.  Sure, the gentile centurion had come to Jesus on behalf of his servant for healing, maybe, the servant was even a gentile. The difference, though, in that gentile situation and this gentile situation was all about presentation (or so they would have claimed), that man, the Centurion, knew how to act, he was respectful, he knew the words to say, it knew how to act right.  He was following the unspoken rules that you follow as a gential and addresses a Israelite. This  Canannite gentile Woman either didn’t know how to act correctly, normally, or she did but just refused to do so. 

So, Jesus echoed the mind and heart bigotry of his disciples and followers, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ While this was true, the promise to Abraham and passed down to Jacob, did declar that all people would be blessed by the Israelites, Jesus coming to heal the  Israelites would, conceptually, enable them, the Jews  to go to the gentiles.  While accurate, it was not true to ‘who’ Jesus was, and they should have known this by now.  Sometimes, it is impossible to even realize what we have allowed to be hidden in the dark places of our heart and mind – especially racism and bigotry.

The disciples did not, and at this point could not, empathize with the woman, something in them did not want to.  So they hated and despised her – Jesus let them see this as he opened the gate for these things to come forth from out of their lives.  He echoed their thoughts, he mirrored their darkness. 

While the disciples only saw a non-Jew, a non-Israelite, and a non-male; what they did not see was that this oppressed and desperate woman was a Canannite, she, like Rahab, Tamar, and Ruth, all shared ancestral connections with Jesus.

Next, we see the woman quickly move ahead of the still walking Jesus, and kneel in front of him, probably in deference bowing her head to the ground, blocking his way so that he has to stop.  The response of Jesus to the woman’s repeated cry for help is to say, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ These words too, are not the mean spirited words they sound to be. The gentiles held a much different attitude towards animals.  While the Israelites may have had animals around as a necessity, the gentiles endeared the animals they had as beloved family pets.  So, the phrase ‘dogs’ would not have been taken as the insult it sounds to us – it was a description of the immense difference in the faith and religion of the Israelites and the scattered and dysfunction of the faith practices of the gentiles. 

Her response is an unveiling of her unbridled faith, as well as of the expansiveness of God’s love and Jesus’ ministry. In saying, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table,’ the woman exposed her understanding of God, God’s love, and of her own belovedness by God. 

She was saying, ‘yes, I know you came for the Israelites, but, I also know that you are enough, and have enough grace, for me and all peoples.’

Jesus is blown away by the heart and core of this woman as he sees what comes forth from her, as evidenced by his response to her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ He sees a faith that empowered by what is inside this woman.

This woman, who didn’t look like one that Jesus had come for, she didn’t wash her hands as part of a religious ritual, she didn’t observe the dietary laws or think certain foods were unclean, she didn’t have the right ‘pure’ bloodline, her nationality did not hold the power her oppressors held, she may have not been the acceptable color, she didn’t live in Jerusalem nor was she allowed in the temple, in all honesty, there are countless ways that she did not fit the proper mold of a faithful follower of Jesus…..unless you were able to see her heart, or if you were to be there, like Jesus was, when what was inside came forth.

Let’s look at this in a practical way, from a historical event, to see how what  is inside comes out, and what comes out positively or negatively impacts all that are in a part of our journey. 

The Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell

On November 14, 1960, a US Marshall’s vehicle pulled up in front of the New Orleans home of Abon and Lucille Bridges to escort their 6 year old daughter to William Franz Elementary School. Little Ruby was wearing new dresses, socks, and shoes and ready for her first day of  school.  

As Ruby, and the Marshalls, arrived at the school, they were met by an angry mob. John Steinbeck, who was there to witness the moment, later wrote about what he had observed, specifically, he wrote  about a group of women at the protest whose picture had been seen nation wide, –  

“No newspaper had printed the words these women shouted. [The newspapers] indicated that they were indelicate, some even said obscene. On television the soundtrack was made to blur or had crowd noises cut in to cover. But, I heard the words, bestial and filthy and degenerate. In [my] long and unprotected life I have seen and heard the vomitings of demoniac humans before. Why then did these screams fill me with a shocked and sickened sorrow?” John Steinbeck

Ruby was one of three children that integrated the public school system in New Orleans in 1960, however, Ruby was by herself at William Franz Elementary School. She spent the year traveling to and from school  in the vehicle with the Marshalls, who in between would go back to her street to protect her house and parents.  Lucille and Abon, her parents, suffered that year as he lost his job as a gas station attendant because of Ruby; their grocery store  would no longer her family shop  there; her sharecropper grandparents in Mississippi were turned off their land. Most parents removed their children from the school the day that Ruby arrived. Ruby, walked in through the screaming mob every morning and every afternoon.  In between, she was alone in a classroom, just her and Barbara Henry, her teacher, brought in from Boston.

”If Charlie [the Marshall] had not done his job, had not answered the call and wasn’t there for me, if the teacher was a different person, I would have had a different life,” she said. “I would have seen [white people] in a different light.” Ruby Bridges

Now, as an adult 60 years later, Ruby shares life lessons she learned from that year, and her subsequent life, how those who didn’t join the hateful mobs made a huge difference in her life, ‘many others in the community, both black and white, showed support in a variety of ways. Some white families continued to send their children to Frantz Elementary despite the protests and danger, a neighbor provided her father with a new job, and local people babysat, watched the house as protectors, and walked behind the federal marshals’ car on the trips to school.’ It was not until Bridges was an adult that she learned that the immaculate clothing she wore to school were donated to her family by a white relative of Dr. Coles,  her volunteer psychiatrist.

Marshall – Charles Burks, Teacher – Barbara Henry, and Ruby Bridges

What is coming forth from us?

What is coming forth from  you?

Are you, are we, settling for ‘common’?

Let’s pray.

Wrestling til’ Daybreak

08.02.20

In seventh grade there was the group of boys who have already become ‘men’ – puberty for them was a thing of the past. Then there was the other half, like me and most of my friends, who were still a decade or two away from puberty.  Then, there was Matt, Matt experienced puberty prior to learning to walk.

No where was this categorization more obvious than in Physical Education class. Everyday, class would begin the same, when seemingly a 1,000 seventh grade boys would cram into the small locker room to change into our required gym clothes.  Not only was this a challenge because of space, but also, because the past puberty seventh grade men would just walk up and rip the lock off their locker, while the pre pubescent seventh grade boys would be in a panic, scrambling to remember their combination – at the end of class, we would all crowd back into the same locker room to take the required shower all together in the no privacy group shower room. It was terrifying.  Coaches would stand at the exit door to make sure everyone had wet hair before leaving. In between the beginning and the end of class, there was the actual class.  Small, beanpole, frightened boys playing games such as Dodge Ball against huge and hairy men. 

While the Friday Seventh Grade Dodge Ball games were enough to send shivers down the spine of a 7th grade boy….we were unaware of the true evil coming our way – until we did, it all began on a late fall Monday, in third hour.

The Wrestling unit.

The coach had quickly educated us on the first move, this was holding down your opponent or freeing yourself from your opponent. Followed by coach pairing us up with our opponent for the entire wrestling unit. His method of choosing partners is best described as ‘sadistic’.  From the beginning pair up, his strategy was painfully obvious – man against boy. The most terrifying of all pairings came at the moment when coach, sporting an evil smirk, yelled, ‘Anthony’, then taking a long pause to build the suspense, his evil smirk gradually widened as we turned and looked at all men waiting to be chosen. There was only one man left, I had been keeping track. He looked at me, and the fear in my eyes, and then turned to Matt and said ‘Matt, you will be Anthony’s partner.’

Coach was now in his happy place.

As Matt and I were called to the wrestling mat, instead of walking to the center of the mat, Matt walked directly to me. He bent his head down to my ear, remember that Matt was a giant, whispering, ‘I will be in thee floor position.’ At this point it was all semantics for me, on the floor or kneeling, the outcome would be the same.  I had resigned myself to a death on a Monday in late fall on the mat in the wrestling room during third hour.

As we took our positions, I unsuccessfully attempted to hide my fear, coach blew the whistle. Matt quickly rolled out of my grasp – exactly the way Coach had instructed, his next move, however, was a bit more unorthodox.  He rolled to his back, pressed his shoulders to the wrestling mat and yelled, ’Anthony pinned me!’

Coach still had the whistle hanging between his teeth, but now his evil smirk had change to a look of pure confusion.  His joy was gone, his sadistic anticipation of a bloody match, had evaporated in an instant.

Matt stood up, looked at coach, and said, ‘I don’t do wrestling.” He then walked away from the center returning to his seat on the edges of the mat.  

It was a surreal moment as coach raised my hand in the air and instructed me to return to my seat.  The next day we coach announced that we had completed the wrestling unit and would be moving on to the second part of the basketball unit.

Matt was now a hero for all the seventh grade prepubescent boys.

Wrestling is probably the world’s oldest sport, dating back to 3,000 BC.  It was introduced into the ancient olympics in the year 708 BC. My, career in wrestling, began, and ended, on a mat in the wrestling room of West Junior High School of Norman, OK, in the year 1973 AD, during third hour on a late fall morning.

The grandson of Abraham, the son of Isaac, the father of Joseph, was a hard and successful worker, but not really a fighter, or a wrestler, he was more of a runner (as in run away), he was a natural manipulator, an even better deceiver, but, he was not a fighter.  However, he was about to face the most epic of all wrestling matches.   

Jacob was on his way home, it had been 20 years since he had run away from a fight at home, a fight, with his brother which he was sure to lose.  During that 20 years he had married 2 sisters, had children by both wives and servants, had amassed a fortune, and realized that he was a good business man. He had also, for the first time, met his match in Laban, his deceptive and manipulative father-in-law….who had warriors to fight for him.

Jacob had weighed the odds of facing his scheming father-in-law, or, facing his brother Esau, who had surely been nursing a very justified grudge for the past 20 years.

As he secretly snuck out of Laban’s house with his wives, children, servants and possessions, he headed home, on the way, Jacob attempted to soften the anger of Esau by sending daily gifts. As he approached the ultimate face to face confrontation, Jacob delayed the inevitable for one more night.  Continually calculating the potential risks, Jacob split up his family, people, and possessions and hid them safely to minimize his losses. Then, after enlisting the use of all of his strategies of manipulations, Jacob went back to the overnight camp and prepared for a night alone.

Even with all of his selfish faults, Jacob was a very determined man.  His very name meant ‘one who holds onto his brother’s heel’ – which is what he was doing at his own birth.  Even in the womb he was determined to get, and be, the most of every category.

Back at camp, as Jacob was alone, there was a man who gave Jacob no option but to engage in the epic wrestling match of a lifetime.  It was dark so Jacob could not see who he was against, but the possibilities were endless. It could have been the ghost of his father, Isaac, who Jacob has deceived, or his bother Esau, who Jacob had deceived, or his father-in-law,  Labah, who Jacob had deceived. That was just the top three most obvious choices.  He did not realize it but he was actually about to engage in an all night wrestling match with God.  If the fight had been during the daylight, Jacob would have never engaged, he would have recognized the odds were definitely not in his favor, Jacob would have employed his most successful maneuver, he would have run away.  It was dark though, and Jacob unknowingly, engaged in an epic struggle.

God, being a father, fought like a father. He withheld his own power to match that of his child Jacob. This was not just a struggle of Jacob with God, it was also a struggle for God against Jacob.  In many aspects, Jacob had been in this wrestling match his entire life.  Battling the powers within himself that were constantly at war with what he knew was right.  Choosing to mistreat and mislead loved ones, leaving them with no choice but to compete with each other for his love and attention; the very ones who should have been able to rest in his love and acceptance, his wives and his own children.  Then there were those who love for Jacob was betrayed by his determination to ‘get more’ – his father and his brother.  This was not Jacob’s first wrestling match, but it was his first honest interaction that mattered, this struggle was pivotal and essential in the life of Jacob.

There is something very different in a wrestling struggle and a mere street fight.  In a fight your goal is to destroy your opponent, to a the point that he cannot even rise up as the fight is over – in a wrestling match, your goal is to prevail, to take inventory of all of all your resources, your strengths and your mind, and then use those resources to out maneuver, to out wit, and to out discern your opponent.  In the dark, when you do not know who your opponent is, reading the situation and the powers against you is much more difficult – all you have is your own resources doing all you can to prevail.  

As a sliver of daylight became visible on the horizon and the two men were still struggling, God,  released his power through a gentle touch.  A touch that displaced Jacob’s hip – a touch that broke Jacob, a touch that reveled to Jacob that this was no ordinary opponent.

Let go of me,’ God said to Jacob.

‘I will not until you bless me,’ Jacob replied.

Jacob was beginning to recognize the fullness of this situation.  While getting a blessing had been the goal of his life, he was fearful yet interested in the possibilities of this moment.  This was a transformative moment for Jacob, his struggle now turned inward, no longer being about prevailing but, instead, it now was about coming to terms with himself.  Understanding that his life was meant to be more than just about Jacob, but, quite possibly his life was about something larger.

The Jewish understanding of the concept of ‘blessing’ was not the self-centered, fortune cookie vision, that we have now. A blessing was given so that the blessed would bless others. God was going to bless Jacob so that, in order with the promise that had passed from his grandfather, to his father, and now to him. 

Understanding the full meaning a blessing, and understanding the cultural and religious understanding of the day, is essential for us to understand the transformation taking place in Jacob. A truly selfless spirit had to exist to receive such a blessing, and, until this struggle with God, Jacob did not have such a spirit. This struggle was the nudge, or push, that connected the dots for Jacob, he had an epiphany as the sun rose that morning. He was finally ready and willing to receive the blessing that he had been seeking his entire life.

Jacob used his greatest power, the power that he had been endowed with in the womb, the power to hold on.  As the night-long exhausting wrestling match depleted Jacob’s strength and power, he held on to this opponent. To which his opponent said,

‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.’

God to Jacob

It was all very fuzzy but Jacob thought he heard the words ‘striven’, ‘God’, ‘humans’ and ‘prevailed.’  Jacob had no problem with the word ‘striven’ that had been the storyline of his life, a constant struggle with someone, but the words ‘God’ and ‘Prevailed?” 

‘Have I just wrestled with God all night? and, did I win?’

Jacob to himself

As Jacob considered the implications of his opponent’s statement, an opponent who had now withdrawn himself, Jacob began to have, as he allowed, an experience of transformation. He could see beyond himself, he realized his role in the course of the world, he was humbled and depleted, he was broken, he was being rebuilt.  He now walked with a limp, but there was also a change in his countenance, no longer was he dependent on his own wits to survive, life was much bigger now. He was not perfect, there would still be a lot of rough edges but this was at least a partial metamorphosed Jacob. As can be seen in the name he gives to this place, ‘Peniel’, meaning ‘I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’ It was a transformation that his life was no longer about prevailing, he wasn’t a prevailer, he was a runner – he had not prevailed, all he had done was to hold onto God, and in the struggle, he had been preserved.

He was now ready to face life, all the unknown, with no guarantees, no assurance of victories or personal gain, no recognition of importance or worth, but now, he was facing life with hope, sustainability, mercy and humility, all grounded on love.

In in order to understand the pertinence of Jacob’s wrestling match with God, to our own lives, let’s jump forward a couple of thousand years.  We end up at a wilderness place with thousands of hungry humans along with an exhausted Jesus and his weary disciples. Jesus has been denied even the shortest of breaks as he has, once again, has seen the oppression, the suffering, and the misery of the people.  His compassion and mercy compelled him to address their needs.  His passion makes it impossible to ignore. His, was a gut response to the needs, it pushed him to release, to heal, to free. There was an everlasting line of needs, one after the other. Jesus lived in the Kingdom of Heaven, even while on earth, a dwelling place that he calls all believers to live in,  a place where the physical needs of others are of priority to address, when the earthly reality is that the Roman Imperial system, as well as the existing religious system, did not see physical needs such as health, hunger, disease, poverty, shelter, abuse, and education as issues of priority.

So, when the disciples suggested that it was getting dark and that it would be best to send the crowds home, Jesus was perplexed.  There were still needs to be met, plus, now the people were hungry.

‘You feed them,’

Jesus to Disciples

‘We do not have anything to give them,’ the confused followers said, ‘we didn’t plan on feeding anyone, let alone a crowd this size.  We don’t have anything! What good can 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread for all these people?’

While what they didn’t have was the earthly focus of the disciples, the kingdom focus of Jesus was on what they did have.  They had a starting point. Jesus took that bread and the fish, and broke it all apart and distributed the small, tiny pieces into the baskets to be passed among the people.

The disciples had to be horrified at the thought of passing these basically empty baskets among the hungry crowd, to a crowd expecting something great to happen. The disciples had to be frustrated.  Jesus needed to rest, the crowds were hungry, the line for help was endless, they were in the middle of no where, it was time to go home.  The disciples were upset, they were struggling, they were in an epic wrestling match.  It was daylight, they could see their opponent, it was the whiny and complaining crowds with all their needs, their suffering, their oppression, their ancestral passing down of this oppression based largely on pigmentation, their nationality, their societal placement, the color of their skin, their enslavement, their poverty, and now their hunger.  They were not prepared and now it was on Jesus, and the disciples to provide.

‘When would this end?’ They questioned.

The more their frustration simmered the more they realized that the crowds were not their opponent, much like Jacob, they were wresting against Jesus, they were wresting against God.

Jesus was the problem, God was the source of this ridiculous situation. If Jesus did not have to stop every time a hurting person appeared this would not have gotten so out of hand.  If only God were to instruct Jesus to dismiss the needs sometimes, if only he would moderate the passionate compassion of Jesus.  Afterall, there were more important and pressing things to get to.

As with all of Jesus miracles, the miracle of creation to this moment of needs and hunger, we do not know the technical details of the abundance of food that filled every person in attendance that day, but we do know that the day ended with an abundance. It could have been a magical moment when the tiny broken pieces strangely multiplied, or it could have been an even more miraculous transformational moment as the people put themselves aside realizing they didn’t have to take more than they needed, or possibly seeing the contribution of the fish and loaves spurred them to realize they also could contribute.  Regardless of the how, the reality is that there was not only enough food there was actually an abundance.

The disciples then realized that their struggle was not with the crowds, nor was it with Jesus, it was with themselves. It was about a struggle with trust that came with living outside of the Kingdom of heaven where earthly things are allowed to hinder us from answering the call of God. Keeping us from addressing issues of injustice, oppression, deep inherited baggage that is more than humans can bear, hunger, sickness, racism, hatred, dismissal, disregard, poverty, and all suffering. All the things that tangle our roots and restrict our sight.

A wrestling match can bring us to transformation if we hold on. A struggle can show us what we have instead of what we do not have.  What is your struggle, what is God bringing into your vision?

With an attitude of willingness to be a part of God’s answer to our prayer, let us pray.