Too Much Talking

“He made all the stars– the Bear and Orion…” Job 9:9

Astrology is the most ancient, universal, and historically persistent form of occultism.

There are two standard reasons to chart the sky— navigation and divination.

Ancient Mesopotamians were “sea-faring”— actually they fished and did trade on two rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates. They contributed sail-boats to nautical history. However by all accounts they did not use sophisticated navigation— mostly just down-the-river and up-the-river.

There is a gap in the historical record of just how much they may have developed navigation systems. The gap, to me, could of course mean that they didn’t use it at all. It is solidly believed that whether or not they had any form of navigation, they did not chart the stars for maritime purposes.

Job 9:9 names two constellations and a star cluster. We will have to rule out his familiarity with constellations as practical and equate this reference to a familiarity with divination.

So, Job, righteous Job, was familiar— and apparently not weirded out by horoscopes. Was he familiar with the occult in general?

Well, of course. He had to have been. There was no Abrahamic religion to divide for him the sacred from the profane. There was no law by which to create parameters around Yahwist worshippers to help them separate what pleases God from what doesn’t. 

The Lord had been forgotten. Yes, at one time knowledge of Him would have permeated out from Eden, but over a quick span of time He was forgotten and idolatry prevailed.

From Genesis 5 on, we see a pattern of forgetfulness and remembrance of the Lord. 

It starts with one or two or three scattered people with a spark of awareness of the Lord making their best guesses toward obedience with varying degrees of personal revelation.

You notice the early accounts of the righteous– Noah for instance–  they were alone. There was no corporate worship, common prayers, or accepted cannon. They were each lone reeds of true religion sticking up from the sea of the contemporary idolatry of their time.

Acts 17:22-31 tells us that the Athenians worshipped every known god, including a shrine to the “Unknown God.” Paul told them that YHWH was their Unknown God and that He sent Jesus because He wanted to reveal Himself again— like in Eden— to the whole world rather than to continue the old system of people just “feeling their way to Him.” 

I have been very uncomfortably exploring this concept of syncretism in Judeo-Christianity— even when obvious in biblical accounts it feels weird to acknowledge that Christianity, and Judaism before it, while being sanctified from the world has not ever really been sanitized from it.

It’s strange to navigate this idea that Christianity is constantly being fished out from paganism. 

From the Genesis account, we know that God is the First, and Revelation tells us, the Last. He is the only living and eternal God. Jesus was the Lamb slain from the foundations of the world. Before the world, there was salvation through Christ alone.

So, it is instinctual to read the Bible seeing only the primacy, preeminence, and preexistence of Christianity. We read the inherent preeminence of Christian faith as meaning: before there was any false religion there was true religion. 

But that does not appear to be so.

Really knowledge of the one true God, as well as individual and sparse worship of the one true God, predates false religion, yes. 

But post-Eden human forgetfulness caused rapid and definitive decline into idolatry that predates any communal, organized worship of YHWH. 

This is what makes Israel so special: God entrusted His law to them. He entrusted to them a systematic, cyclical, sacramental, liturgical, structure of life with every intention of scooping them out of idolatry, cleaning them off from profanity, and wedging open the steel trap of human stubbornness to a slowly dawning recollection of our Master.

And the point of gifting to the Israelites the “knowledge of God” was so that everyone that came into contact with them would have a momentary, life-altering encounter with God’s presence that would either: 1) offend them to the point of escalated idol worship or 2) would move them to rush into the arms of the God of the Israelites evidenced in how they would beg to be allowed to live in the camp of God’s people (ie, Rahab, Ruth, and “a mixed multitude” from Egypt during the Exodus.)

I think what we all struggle to assimilate is the depth of spiritual darkness that prevailed between Adam and Abraham. And we read the Bible as if the earth’s population between Abraham and Moses had the Bible!

They didn’t. They had no law, no scripture, no priests, no fellow believers. They didn’t have apostles or teachers or fishers of men. Maybe every once in awhile an oral tradition about Enoch or Noah floated through the co-mingled accounts of Gilgmesh and Endiku. They had to sift and wade through folktales and cling to scraps of memory.

They had scattered encounters with angels, occasional direct revelation from God, one or two miracles to stoke a lifetime of lone faithfulness. Not to downplay those things– but would even those few miracles be enough for you go alone unwavering in belief, obedience, righteousness, and separatism for decades of your life? Abraham bumped into a fellow-worshipper— Melchizedek— once in his lifetime! Other than that he had no fellowship and a life-time of living in an exclusively pagan world. 

Job lived before Moses, before Mt.Sinai. He had none of the benefits of the Caananites, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, or Romans. Each of those fortunate empires came into contact— not with the Hebrews, Israelites, or the Jews— but rather the religion, revelation, and Redeemer of the Hebrews, Israelites and the Jews. 

It is completely reasonable to believe that Job was very familiar with how occultism worked and with His acknowledgement that God created the zodiac, it’s probably not unrealistic to think that divination— soothsaying, fortune-telling, witchcraft— might have even been an ignorantly incorporated part of his self-righteous practice.

After all, the entire conversation of the Book of Job is divination. 

Have you ever considered that in times of strife, when we go round and round the question, “why is this happening,” that we might be engaging in the act of trying to divine God’s heart? 

How is contemplating “why is” different from trying to soothsay “what will” God do in the future? 

Aren’t both a process of looking at God ritualistically as though He moves in discernible, patterns in response to specific, repeatable prompts? 

People practice divination to insulate themselves from things outside of their control. The stars are always the same, so we feel secure and in control when we interpret them.

It is possible that many of us in our anxious natures try to use our knowledge of God, as a way of tea-leafing our way through the angst of uncertainty. We try to navigate any possible land-mines in God’s character. 

You cannot know enough about God to predict what He “would or wouldn’t do.” He is not a constellation moving through a night sky favoring those born under certain stars.

God handedly smashes such charting of His divine nature as utter foolishness in Job chapters 38-41. In fact He uses Job’s own zodiac reference to help make His point:

Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades?

    Can you loosen Orion’s belt?

 Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons

    or lead out the Bear with its cubs?

 Do you know the laws of the heavens?

    Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth? 

Job 38:31

God’s whole rebuke of Job is basically this:

  1. Who do you think you are?
  2. What do you think you know?
  3. Do you think I need your council?
  4. Do you find fault in how I am doing my job as Master of the Universe?”

His rebuke is this: “Do you think you can deal with me the way you would with those puny idols man is so preoccupied with; is manipulating Me the end game of your religion?”

This is the process of human forgetfulness. It is being agitated by things we can’t understand to the point of inappropriate attempts at controlling our environment, our “god,” and our wellbeing through our piety. 

We set up structures and strictures so that everything and everyone is easy to understand and maneuver.

We decide that this is also how God sees and understands everything. We decide that if you abide by these constraints that God will keep all bad things— ranging from calamity to His own wrath— away from us. 

Hardship befalls a friend. Fallenness is revealed in the saved. A flood or a fire rains down. 

So we get out from the closet the old bag of feathers, sticks and tea leaves, gossip, and subpar theology and shake ‘em up, scatter them across the floor trying to figure out what these people did so wrong that God would send evil things their way. 

And immediately we are looking at God as though He operated the way those other “gods” operate. And in such, we have again forgotten the one true God. 

If you read Numbers and Leviticus, you’ll notice that every holiday on the sabbatical calendar was initiated by God with the admonition “do this to remember me.” And Jesus, likewise initiated the practice of communion, “in remembrance” of Him. 

Being fished out of a sea of idolatries requires remembrance. If we fail to remind ourselves of God’s incomprehensible heart that sees every man’s heart, we will flounder around in synchronistic Christianity that never fully gives up that witchy itch for control of our fate.

Without remembrance we won’t release ourselves into full-fledged dependence on God’s mercy. 

We will continue to have a preoccupation with the theoretical dynamics of sin rather than a practical abandonment to God’s assurance of salvation. 

“I know that my Redeemer lives!”

Fall Feasts

“I made their ancestors live in shelters.” Leviticus 23:43

The Feast of Tabernacles is instituted in Leviticus 23 as the fever pitch of the Fall Feasts.

”For seven days you must live outside in little shelters. All native born Israelites must live in shelters. This will remind each new generation of Israelites that I made their ancestors live in shelters when I rescued them from the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 23:42-43.

It is striking to me that God gives the Israelites the decree to celebrate and commemorate the time that He “made them live in shelters” while they were still living in those shelters!

The Lord commanded them to remember His faithfulness to them in the wilderness even before the wilderness was behind them.

This is not the first time we see this happening. In Exodus 12, God not only commands the Israelites concerning what they have to do to be saved from the angel of death on the first Passover, He simultaneously scripts out the ordinances for celebrating the Passover as “a day to remember” forever.

The Lord calls us to remember His faithfulness to us now, even while we a still in the midst of our trial.

The Feast of Tabernacles in modernity is called Sukkot or Succoth.

In Exodus 12:37, when the Israelites had just experienced the first Passover, Pharaoh begs for them to leave Egypt, and they head for a place called “Succoth.”

Succoth is a borderland. Exodus 13:20 says, “the Israelites left Succoth and camped at Etham on the edge of the wilderness.”

Interestly, even though Sukkot/Feast of Tabernacles was established in the wilderness at Mt. Sinai, it is again given attention in Numbers when the Israelites are on the border of the promise land. Numbers 27 sees Joshua taking over leadership and Numbers 28 finds God commanding Moses to reiterate how the feasts and festivals are to be celebrated.

There on the edge of the wilderness, again, God commands “remember me” before He commands “go forth.”

To celebrate being housed while you are still homeless is an act of faith.

Have them celebrate to remember when— but Lord we’re still here in these tents!

The Feast of Tabernacles/Sukkot calls to remembrance God’s faithfulness in the trial.

The establishment of Sukkot at the “borderland,” reminds us that God wants our praise in the midst of the prayer, not just after it’s answered.

He is just as faithful in the wilderness as He is in the borderlands as He is in the promised land. 

Regardless of the changes in your circumstances, He is still the same.

We worship Him for His ability  to act, just as much as we praise Him for acting on our behalf.

 

 

“I go to prepare a place for you.”  – Jesus

 

 

Testimony

Who’s afraid of Yom Kippur? My devotional journey as a Wilderness Christian.

This devotional is a repost from last year’s Fall Feasts series. It gives both background on Yom Kippur and my personal relationship with “the Old Covenant.” This year during Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot I will be diving deeper into the Sabbatical calendar as a meta-narrative of the Bible. As Chuck Missler says, “for Jews their calendar is their catechism.” This fall I would like to attempt to use the Hebrew Calendar as an inspiration to look deeply at: the salvation plan, the gospel, the kingdom, the Trinity, and discipleship. Rosh Hashanah kicks off the Fall Feasts on September 29 this year. Please look forward to the 2019 Fall Feasts series entitled, “Salvation on our Heads, the Gospel on our Feet.”

I have been a little stumped on what to write about for Yom Kippur. My week got hijacked by a burning need to understand covenant theologies vs. dispensational theologies and all the “progressive” versions of those theologies in between.

It wasn’t a completely unrelated pursuit.

Christians are often curious about how the Old Testament figures into salvation by grace through faith. This definitely raises the question of why I would be interested in writing about the Fall Feasts as someone saved under the New Covenant of grace, not justified by the law?

To be fair, I am going to write about the liturgical holidays too. Perhaps I have more of a thing for calendars than I do Levitical law!—and a thing for celebrating as many holidays as possible!

I do have a pretty interesting background theologically that gives me a peculiar love for both the Old and New Covenants.

I was born into a Portuguese Catholic family that converted to Pentecostalism. Yes, conversion is the appropriate word, just for information’s sake, because evangelicals of all denominations believe in a personal conversion moment where one is born again in Christ, which Catholics absolutely do not.

From Pentecostalism, my mother lead the charge as we journeyed into Messianic teachings, then into the fundamentals of Calvary Chapel born from the Jesus Movement, then into a charismatic inner healing ministry with prosperity doctrines as incidentals, then I personally branched out as a teenager to attend a Presbyterian church where I was first exposed to post-modern mysticism and spiritual formation disciplines. I also spent a lot of time singing at a Lutheran church in high school with all the High Church formalities and completed my “theological confusion studies” at Azusa Pacific University which in 2004 was just flirting with ecumenical and inclusive theologies where I visited the seeker-sensitive and emergent meccas– Saddleback and Mosaic– albeit unimpressed. I was impressed by the Billy Graham crusade that I went to as a freshman in college— I only went because Jars of Clay was playing at it. Witnessing one of Graham’s crusades kept the revivalist ember alive somewhere in my soul.

I also got to see Francis Chan an abundance of times in Azusa’s compulsary chapels. In reality he may as well have been my pastor in terms of percentage of sermons I sat under in my college years.

So what does all this have to do with Yom Kippur? I don’t know, maybe nothing!

But, you know, I think it does. The theologies and pastors I have sat under really all come from a heritage of restorationism in one way or another. Restorationism is that old Puritan desire to return to the biblical basics of the church.

The Restoration movement could ultimately be pinned on Luther and it has taken a multitude of names over the centuries. Now we call it emerging…(not my favorite term.)

We all have a sinking feeling, and perhaps a sincere concern, that we have added so many costumes, preoccupations, and presumptions to our religious practice that we render it void. I think many of us probably fear that our personal devotional lives have gone in the same way of becoming so pretentious that we are pretty useless to the cause of the Gospel.

See, I don’t feel that the Old Testament is the mold for clunky trappings and phony tall hats. I don’t think it’s antithetical to the New Testament. I think the Old Testament and it’s Old Covenant laws is Relationship With God For Dummies.

I have gleaned four core beliefs about God from tagging along on my mother’s spiritual sojourning. The following are unshakable foundations for how I read, interpret, and organize my understanding of the unity of the Bible:

  1. God does not change His mind. (Numbers 23:19)
  2. The physical and the spiritual are one reality, though mercifully, humans have a thin veil separating their perception of the spiritual activity in their physical reality. (Talk to anyone who has done hallucigenics, had a psychotic break, experiences prophetic dreams, has been a missionary, knows a Satanist, has read Genesis 3:7, knows anything about Eastern Orthodox or Catholic beliefs on the spiritual realm, has the unfortunate experience of having seen demons, or just entertains philosophical sytems other than Western scientific rationalism and materialism.) Based on the premise that we live in an equally spiritual and physical reality, I believe that God’s physical laws and promises are in no way separate from His spiritual laws and promises. In other words, Christians are the spiritual children of Abraham and have been grafted into the physical promises of Abraham along with his spiritual promises. My belief in both of these statements is ultimately grounded in that I see no significant difference, in the Old or New Testament, between how the physical and spiritual components of reality are treated.
  3. God is Triune in the Old and New Testaments. He did not become Triune over time, neither in revelation nor in relationship to humans. (Genesis 1, Judges 6, John 1-3.) Therefore, the Levitical laws were as much from the heart of Jesus as from the heart of the Father. (John 12: 44-50)
  4. God has always been more concerned with the heart’s condition than outward disciplines. That concept did not originate in Matthew 5– in fact Jesus turned up the heat on the law, judging the heart he made the law even harder to keep! Laws are to discipline the flesh. The more yielding a heart is the more free a person is from strict disciplines. (1 Samuel 15:22-23, Psalm 40:6, 1 Corinthians 8:1-10:13, and everything written about King David.)

Therefore, celebrating, and I do mean celebrating, any component of the Old Covenant does not automatically make a person a Hebrew Roots legalist. In my case, it’s just something I enjoy.

I don’t depend on the Day of Atonement to give me salvation for just one year. I depend on that atoning Good Friday long ago for my salvation forever.

I neither think that my works please God, nor do I disparage any work I do in pursuit of Him. I know where my eternal rest comes from. I know how it was that I became enrobed in righteousness. And remembering an earthly day of “solemn rest,” 1, 3, 7, or 52 sunsets a year as a foreshadowing of my Eternal Rest does not make me forget one iota that only faith pleases God.

By faith I know that God both demands sacrifice and is the sacrifice; that He simultaniously demands perfection and that He irrationally, literally, by choice sees me as perfect.

And if you choose to read Leviticus 23:26-32, regarding the institution of the Day of Atonement, let me give you the key words/phrases of faithful practice that are as applicable today as they were 3,000 years ago when the Torah was given:

  1. Be careful (1 Corinthians 16:13)
  2. Holy assembly (Hebrews 10:23-25)
  3. Deny yourselves (Matthew 16:24)
  4. Offerings of purification are made for you making you right with God (1 John 2:2)
  5. All who do not deny themselves will be cut off from God (Luke 9:24)

Be free in Jesus name. Even free enough to be unafraid of the Law– because in Jesus, it ain’t got nothing on you! (John 5:45)

 

 

The Proverbs 31 Family

“The midwives feared God…” Exodus 1:21

As we know, the story of Moses begins against the backdrop of an attempted genocide. The Pharaoh of Egypt was attempting to diminish the numbers and influence of the Hebrew people by ordering the Hebrew midwives to kill any male baby born to Hebrew women.

“But because the midwives feared God, they refused to obey the king’s orders,” Exodus 1:17. The defining and valorous characteristic of the midwives was their fear of God. These were two ordinary women doing an ordinary job whose extraordinary fear of the Lord was the frontline defense for protecting the life of Moses– Moses who is arguably the most important figure in the Bible outside of the Son of God. Moses, the recipient and conveyor of the Old Covenant law, the assumed author of the first five books of the Bible (Pentateuch.)

It is notable that the fear of God that these two midwives had earned them the honor of their names being recorded in the book of Exodus. Shiphrah and Puah.

Shiprah and Puah were not the only women, going about their every day, who made an impact on the protection of Moses’ life, and the movement of his course into the precise position that the Lord had for him in his youth– to be an adopted child in the house of Pharaoh.

There are five women identified in 18 verses who made simple decisions within the small sphere of influence they had that steered Moses into God’s will for his life.

The midwives refused to murder him; his mother hid him and then entrusted him to the Lord by releasing him in faith down the Nile; his sister watched after him as he floated away in a basket; the Pharoah’s daughter interrupted her bathing to gather him from the reeds; his clever sister then leapt at the opportunity to recommend their own mother as his wet nurse.

None of these individual actions are all that incredible. These are the actions of women doing what women do.

Midwives bring children into the world, not out of it. Mothers protect their children, and at a point for each of us, we have to release them to the Lord, for His protection is beyond what we can give. Sisters look after their baby siblings. And princesses ignore their daddy’s orders cause at the end of the day they know that “baby gets what baby wants.” Adding to the text with that last one, but honestly, the royal house knew that Moses was a Hebrew child, so somehow the princess got away with defying her father’s edict.

Now, I know how annoying it is to be told as a woman that “your ministry is to your husband and children.” I get a sort of violent gagging sensation when I hear that said. So let’s reframe that in light of the women who “birthed” Moses’ into his calling:

Your ministry is the fear of the Lord.

No matter what your job, what your role, what your position, what your gender– your ministry is living moment to moment with a sensitivity to the Lord’s promptings.

If interrupting a bath out of curiosity over a basket can change the humble status of a Hebrew slave child into striking position to become the greatest influencer of the Old Testament, then there is no action that is beneath impact.

It is true that in the Bible, men get the lion’s share of recognition. They tend to be the one’s doing all the cool stuff and getting positions of power and interesting assignments. That can be frustrating for women who desire to be impactful for the kingdom.

However, the women of Moses’ story: the midwives, his mothers, and big sister Miriam, prove that impact and importance are not the same.

Importance is of little importance to God. But God honors those who fear Him by crafting the mundane actions we take and natural reactions that we have into influential tools for His glory and plans.

Jesus talks extensively in the Gospels about God’s preference for hidden devotion, humble acts of obedience, and the honor stored up for those that are waiting to receive their rewards in heaven.

Women have a privileged position of disadvantage on earth. We are the types Jesus called “blessed” in the Sermon on the Mount. The worst thing we can do is to covet Moses’ mission to the extent of despising our own.

Persist in fearing the Lord. Only He knows what great work you have done that was so normal to you that you overlooked it as being significant.

Our only work is fearing the Lord– no matter where that leads us, and no matter how exciting, interesting, or admirable our path may or may not seem to others, and no matter whether it was a “man’s job” or “women’s work.”

There will be no gender discrimination when Jesus is handing out crowns of righteousness beside the throne of God.

 

Shavuot and Pentecost

“He has revealed God to us.” John 1:18

Jesus is the revelation of God. He is the “‘Aha’ moment” within us concerning the substance of the invisible God.

Each of the Gospels argues a point about the nature of Jesus. That’s why there are four accounts all with only narrowly diverging details and inclusions. Matthew argues Jesus as the Jewish Messiah; Luke argues Jesus as the Savior of the whole world both Jew and Gentile; Mark argues Christ’s divinity as the Son of God; and John– John presents Jesus as the revelation of God to us.

Where Matthew and Luke tell us who Jesus is in relationship to us; Mark and John tell us who Jesus is in relationship to the other persons of the Trinity. Son of God the Father and the revelation of God: the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is the Father and He is the Holy Spirit. Jesus called God, “Father.” Romans 8:15 says that there is a spirit of adoption that allows us to cry out “Abba, Father” to God. Jesus is the Messiah, he is the Savior, and he is also the spirit of adoption. Jesus’s nature as the Spirit does something for us.

Embracing the Holy Spirit without fear, skepticism, or incredulity is not about emotional church services, manifestations, or spiritual gifts– it is about realizing that Jesus is the Holy Spirit. You can’t divide God.

And! The Holy Spirit gives us adoption! “The Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father,'” Romans 8:15.

People in the Old Testament rarely referred to God as “Father,” but the Spirit that Jesus had is the Spirit we have been given. We are not simply the Messiah-King’s grateful subjects, we are not just “freed men” saved by a Foreign Liberator, we are sons as he is Son.

“My desire is that you would be one as my Father and I are one.” Jesus desires that we as Christians would be indivisible. And what is that glue that holds together the Father and Son? It is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit united Jesus with His Father and the Holy Spirit unites the Body of Christ together.

 “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all,” Ephesians 4:4-6

I love that Ephesians points out “one baptism.” In the Gospel of John, right at the beginning, there is a story about John the Baptist’s disciples getting angry that Jesus is baptizing more people than they are.

Talk about missing the point. Here they are diligently working baptizing people to prepare them for Jesus, and then they get so caught up in the ministry that they become near-sighted to the point of blindness. They fall flat for two reasons:

  1. They view Jesus’ and John’s ministries as  divided, competing works.
  2. They view the two ministries as divided and competing because they don’t recognize the Spirit.

They didn’t recognize the Spirit in Jesus’ work and they didn’t recognize the Spirit in the person of Jesus either. They didn’t recognize that Jesus was the revelation of what they were doing by faith!

As we move away from the concluded Shavuot/Pentecost season, we will return to the Proverbs 31 Family series. In the series, we will be steering away from dysfunctional faith relationships and into highly effective faith relationships starting with Esther and Mordecai.

As we start to talk about effective faith relationships we will be talking A. L.O.T. about unity. Bear this in mind as we do: There is no unity outside of the Holy Spirit. If you desire God, you desire the Holy Spirit. If you desire Jesus, you desire the Holy Spirit. If you desire unity within the Body of Christ, you desire the Holy Spirit.

Let’s not covet the canonized ministries of remarkable biblical families without it dawning on us that we are a canonized remarkable biblical family! And we have ministries united and coordinated by the Holy Spirit of Adoption.

 

 

Shavuot and Pentecost

“The women represent two covenants.” Galatians 4:24

Where we have landed in the Proverbs 31 Family series— the Patriarchs’ families— is pretty perfect for the timing of the biblical calendar. In May, we’ll be celebrating Shavuot and Pentecost. I’ll be writing exclusively about the holidays for the month, picking The Proverbs 31 Family series back up in June.

Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah to Moses. Christians celebrate Pentecost at this same time, which as we read in the book of Acts was when the Spirit was given as the helper and comforter of Christ’s disciples. The giving of the Law. The giving of the Spirit.

So, what might this have to do with the families we have been reading about? Well, in Galatians 4, you’ll find Hagar and Sarah given as allegories for the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. The analogy hinges on the difference between one of them being a slave and the other being free. Paul emphasizes to the Galatians that in Christ, we are not enslaved to the law but are free. He also comments that Hagar and her children are the “present Jerusalem” and that Sarah and her children of promise are of “the Jerusalem that is above.”

The Jerusalem “that is above” refers to the Kingdom of God. It’s the Jerusalem that we are waiting for. This is the life of faith— it is a life of waiting, anticipation, belief in, and fidelity to something above our comprehension and beyond our field of vision. Sarah is the mother of the children of faith.

Now, as you know, I have painted Sarah in a bit of an unflattering fashion. I have pointed out her prickly habit of unforgiveness toward Abraham, and her unfair treatment of her slave girl. Well, I am going to go ahead and continue on with that description of her.

Sarah is a priceless picture of what unforgiveness looks like in a believer’s life. Sarah exhibits actions and reactions that I believe are systematic of unforgiveness, and are recognizable in the lives of any person or family plagued by a habit of being unforgiving.

My family was discussing unforgiveness at lunch not too long ago, and my aunt asked, “How do I know if I have forgiven someone?”

Believe it or not, secular and spiritual alike, you can find myriad articles on that very question. People regardless of moral, spiritual, and religious persuasion are plagued by unforgiveness; they recognize its affect on their lives, relationships, —and health— and they desperately desire to shake off the shackles of old grudges and wounds that just won’t heal.

“How do I know if I have forgiven someone?” You know that you have forgiven someone when you stop acting like Sarah.

Sarah’s unforgiveness, and all of our unforgiveness, goes beyond an attitude or emotion set. Unforgiveness is not invisible. It’s not very sneaky either. It hides behind the sheer vestige of “getting along,” but come on— we see you, Unforgiveness!

Unforgiveness has a palpable agenda and physical pawns. These pawns are called: leverage and collateral. Sarah had leverage from the past and collateral in the present.

Sarah was so eager to blame Hagar’s presence in the camp on Abraham, but she shared some responsibility. Hagar had begged her to come with them away from Egypt. She could have said no. Can I posit for a moment that Sarah might have been happy to bring a living reminder of what Abraham had done wrong in Egypt along with her?

How many of us have been happy to keep a little something from the past with us to use against a loved one? A good failure from someone’s past works wonders in the “getting my way” department.

And while you are keeping the past alive, make sure to double down on the mess “he made” in the present— find a way to grow that past failure into a living, breathing piece of collateral— like Ishmael. “If you don’t…I will.” That’s collateral.

Sarah had cast Ishamael out once while just in his mother’s belly, when Abraham didn’t hop to. You better believe she’d do it again…which she did. And you can’t say that didn’t hurt Abraham, because the bible specifically says that it did.

How do you know if you’ve forgiven? If you have stopped weaponizing the past, you have forgiven. If you’ve stopped insinuating threats, then you have forgiven.

If someone is “on probation,” that’s not forgiveness. If you’re still “always right,” that’s not forgiveness. If you could write the play book for “How to Get Others to Walk on Egg Shells”— that’s not forgiveness!

So many of us, who are called by Christ’s name, feel like we have not been set free. We still feel chained down, fogged in, and like every door is painted shut. We still feel like we are under the law.

If that is the case for you, which it has been for me— God has been revealing my own spiritual baggage, praise Jesus!— you need to recall the Lord’s prayer. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.”

I have often wondered which meaning of “as” that phrase was using. And that’s not a nit-picky, semantic question— it makes a difference. Because of how we use the word “as” in English, this line of the prayer could mean two things.

  1. “Forgive us our sins while we forgive those who have sinned against us.”
  2. “Forgive us our sins like we forgive those who have sinned against us.”

Well, the good news, and very challenging news, is I believe that it is both. The second reading, I interpret, as relating to Jubilee. To forgive like the Jews would have been in the biblical style of Jubilee. I will be touching on this subject this month in the context of Shavuot, and again during Advent.

The first reading of “Forgive us our sins” is the personally challenging reading. Forgive us “while.” That’s a conditional word. It means our ability to forgive has a direct correlation to our being forgiven. I know— of course!— that Jesus paid the penalty of our sins, as our kinsman Redeemer. However, forgiveness is an ongoing process that is dependent on us. Let me put it this way: “Free us while we free others.”

If you want to experience freedom, you’ve got to free others.

Leverage and collateral are actions. They’re not attitudes that we can’t help. Whether or not we use them is within our self-control. They are conscious, active, formulated, weaponized words and non-verbal communication that are meant to keep others enslaved by us.

And, yes, I know those others deserve it! Believe me— mine deserve it!!

Under the law they deserve it. But Jesus makes it clear that we are not under the law, but in the Spirit. And in the Spirit, our freedom depends on our freeing others.

We might think that we need deliverance from some ball and chain that is keeping us down. Well, let me inform you— there are two kinds of ball and chain. One is a shackle that weighs down a prisoner from escaping. The other is a weapon. It’s a medieval weapon called a “flail” or a “ball-mace.” If you’ve seen Braveheart you’ve seen this weapon. It is also a ball and chain— a ball covered in spikes, wielded and swung by a chain.

We are the one’s holding the chain, wielding reckless death to others. The scariest thing about forgiveness is that if we put our ball-mace down, if we stop holding leverage and collateral over other people’s heads, how do we know they won’t hurt us again?

We don’t know that, but life in the Spirit is a life of faith. It is “the Jerusalem that is above.” We put our faith in God not the other person. And we do it imperfectly. We forgive and have faith imperfectly. Thank God, that just like Sarah, who didn’t really by the book deserve to be hailed as faithful or forgiving, we are perceived by God, in the Spirit, as deserving and faithful.

I am so excited for Shavuot and Pentecost as we will look more deeply into forgiveness and faith, the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.

What are we forgiven from?— our failures under the law— Shavuot. And what are we forgiven for?— freedom in the Spirit— Pentecost.

The Proverbs 31 Family

“Be careful never to take my son there.” Genesis 24:6

Isaac and Rebekah are mistake repeaters. They didn’t pay attention to the downfalls of the previous generation. They fell right into the same pitfalls as Abraham and Sarah, and so instead of spring boarding off the platform of faith Abraham and Sarah built for them, they had to start the course over.

Though Isaac and Rebekah make the same mistakes as Abraham and Sarah, their personalities are in fact different from their elders. Note– though we think shaping ourselves into people with ideals, hobbies, political beliefs, styles of worship, and theology that differ from our elders will save us from making their mistakes— Isaac and Rebekah show us that that just might not be true.

Isaac is a supporting actor, very different from his father. People tend to make decisions for him: his mom, his dad, his dad’s servant, his wife, his sons. Isaac is kinda pampered. He would not have been one to leave it all behind to follow a God he was unfamiliar with like his father did.

Isaac likes comfort. When Sarah dies, Rebekah comforts him. He loves Esau because Esau makes him yummy food. “Isaac loved Esau because he enjoyed eating the wild game Esau brought home, but Rebekah loved Jacob,” Genesis 25:27.

This love of feeling comfortable is detectable in a glaring omission in the book of Genesis— any mention of Isaac chastising Esau for giving away his birthright in exchange for a cup of lentils. Isaac, the miracle baby, the boy whose family is defined by his being favored above Ishmael, didn’t have anything to say about his eldest’s reproach for his inheritance. After all, we are told that Isaac inherited all of Abraham’s possessions, where his half brothers received only gifts at their fathers passing.

True to the pattern of people who have not experienced conflict—or those who refuse to experience conflict by ignoring it— comfort allows us a naiveté to the real consequences of disobedience and sin, as well as a neglect and mishandling of what is valuable.

Thus, Isaac repeats history in two ways. He makes grave mistakes that he had every bit of information needed to avoid. He gives Rebekah to Abimelech, just like Abraham did to Sarah. He also sends Jacob to Laban. Laban, who had tried to entrap Abraham’s servant through false hospitality (Genesis 24:28-61.) He sends Jacob to the place of which Abraham had said, “be careful never to send my son there.”

Isaac created opposition within his family when he betrayed Rebekah. Her response was to ally with Jacob.* She gained a lot of influence over the family by favoring the winning horse. God had told her while she was pregnant that Jacob would rule over Esau.

Isaac also reinforced opposition outside the family. Esau goes to live with Ishmael. Even the blessing Isaac gives Esau is meager— because Jacob took the blessing of which there is only one! Esau’s blessing is to live by his sword and serve his brother. Very similar to what was prophesied over Ishmael.

Isaac loses ground for the family. He sends Jacob into a trap that Abraham protected Isaac from. He sends Jacob to Laban. Laban keeps Jacob “captive” for fourteen years. Fourteen years that Jacob could have been journeying with the Lord, he was instead under the dictates of a deceitful man in the land of his family’s past rather than of the land of his family’s future.

Now, he did have help making this decision! Ever the eaves-dropper, Rebekah overhears Esau’s plan to kill Jacob. So in order to get Jacob out of dodge, she uses the dysfunctional family dynamic to manipulate Isaac. She complains about Esau’s foreign wives until Isaac agrees to send him to their relatives to find a wife. Isaac has Jacob go to Laban, something he should have known better than to do.

If in our faith, if in our family, if in our fellowships we protect our comfort we will find our legacy unprotected.

Individually and corporately, protecting comfort will produce a passivity that tolerates division, invites spiritual opposition, and yields to our natural inclination to go backward. We return to Laban and the false hospitality of the world. Or worse! We send our kids back to our old family curses and iniquity. We get the next generation stuck for “fourteen years” before they can move forward into God’s plan for them.

“Be careful to never…” When we are comfortable, grow up sheltered, or just are inexperienced with conflict, we end up without urgency. We lose track of what “careful” and “never” mean. We forget the saying “a little leaven.” Even just a little.

Think back to passover. God commands- “keep your shoes on during the meal!” Urgency! We have to have an urgency about obeying God.

The greatest temptation to sin is not intrapersonal but interpersonal.

 

*More on Rebekah’s brand of unforgiveness in the previous post about Sarah, called “This is your fault! Genesis  16:5” It is part 2/10 in The Proverbs 31 Family series.