Sanctity and Inviolability

Often during my devotions I am struck by a simple passage, seemingly out of context but dramatically revealing of the nature of God. This morning it was from Exodus 34:26b (NIV): “Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.”

Smack dab in the middle of a conversation between God and Moses, at least in the scribe’s narrative, God’s true nature is revealed; perhaps somewhat contrary to the language found in the surrounding text. Am I reading too much into the text? I don’t think so.

Just above this passage a record of God’s nature is more clearly outlined, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” Then almost as if Moses cannot leave it at that, he closes with “Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” Exodus 34: 6-7 NIV.

I find such a contrast even in this one passage, almost resembling the great mercy gap between the God of Israel and the Christ of God. Isaiah described this God who would become flesh and dwell among us, as a lamb, and though led to slaughter did not open His mouth… “pouring out his life unto death, bearing the sins of many and making intercession for the transgressors.”

While Moses is focused on laying down the laws of God for a second time, The Holy Spirit mysteriously slips into this early religious script a snapshot of the God that perhaps Moses is missing? “Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.” There are some things too precious for God to allow religion to cover over or violate.

Before you balk at my thoughts, consider the Babe of Bethlehem, how and when He came on the scene. Israel had everything figured out, the Temple, the sacrifices, the Levitical priesthood, it just was not working. The enemies of truth had developed an empire that threatened righteousness and even the religious destroyed the lives of those who might dare speak out to the contrary. That always seems to be the way of the religion.

Fortunately God is not religious and there are some things too important to be ignored or treated with disrespect, even when we are making our best attempts to explain God to men. That is what religion is you know: man’s attempt at explaining God! Relationship and sanctity however are the true essence of God. God is love, period.

When religion hardens itself to any possibilities beyond its own tradition, sovereign intervention occurs. Prophets speak out, nature cries out and the true hearts of leaders are revealed.

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The Balance of Leadership

Reading through Exodus with the full intent of capturing what lies hidden within the “white space” of the text, I was struck by Moses apparent and rapid transition from thanksgiving to vision just beyond the parting of the seas!

In the Song of Moses, there is no little exhalation going on, as he moves the hordes of fickle Israelites away from their awesome Red Sea moment. He seems to be discipling this privileged people in the art of gratitude given what has just happened: “Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he has hurled into the sea.” (Ex. 15:4a NIV).

Yet, in the middle of this “song of praise” his thoughts turn toward what this vast multitude will be facing just days ahead. Barely on the heels of this great victory, he is already processing their future; long before the average Joe or Jill in the crowd.

“In your unfailing love you will lead
the people you have redeemed.
In your strength you will guide them
to your holy dwelling.

The nations will hear and tremble;
anguish will grip the people of Philistia.

The chiefs of Edom will be terrified,
the leaders of Moab will be seized with trembling,
the people of Canaan will melt away;

terror and dread will fall on them.
By the power of your arm
they will be as still as a stone—
until your people pass by, Lord,
until the people you bought pass by.” (15:13-16)

Leadership is grateful, humble but visionary. Vision is an in the moment thing, as timing is most critical for those less visionary.

Moses knows all too well that the reality of conquest and the pain of change will again raise its often ugly head. So he transitions their song of praise to include a word of prophetic protection, even naming the enemies that most have not even thought of! The people of Philistia, the chiefs of Edom, the leaders of Moab, the people of Canaan are his focus, no longer the Pharaohs!

As a leader, he captures their moment of victorious and exhilarating praise to further season their hearts for what would lie ahead. Though grateful to witness what always happens when one dares to trust an unseen God, he has not become lost in their moment of victory. As a leader he is already processing the challenges that lie ahead. He has not underestimated the mighty foes that stood between them and the promise, the ideal!

That’s what leaders do!

“You will bring them in and plant them
on the mountain of your inheritance—
the place, Lord, you made for your dwelling,
the sanctuary, Lord, your hands established.

“The Lord reigns
for ever and ever.” (15:17-18 NIV)

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Spiritual Value & Community

I am amazed at the layered truths within the Word of God. This mysterious book is so easily read only for its ancient narrative. However, it is laden with relevant guidance for today.

This morning while reading through the saga of the Exodus, made so real by Charlton Heston and the movie The Ten Commandments, I was struck by the clarion, contemporary message contained in Exodus Chapter 12, verses 1-11. Tucked away perhaps for this very moment in my life, was a prescription, a reminder of my responsibility as a member of the community.

  1. Tell the whole community (NIV): Share what you have heard.
  2. Take a lamb for your family: Have your house in order.
  3. One for each household: Other families also matter.
  4. If any household is too small, share: Families should matter to each other.
  5. Share with your nearest neighbor: Proximity brings added responsibility.
  6. Determine the amount of lamb needed per person: Individuality matters.
  7. Choose animals without defect: Offer your best to your neighbors.
  8. Take care of the sacrifice until the time of offering: Engage from the heart.
  9. Place blood on the tops, sides of each house: Follow through with your love.
  10. Eat the meat, along with herbs, and bread: Send a clear and caring message.
  11. Eat it with cloak tucked in, sandals on and staff in hand: Demonstrate expectation.

I must wonder how much my neighbors gain by living beside me. Is my neighborhood a better place because of my presence? How much does my life matter in the greater community? Is my life truly a value add?

So much wisdom between each sentence within God’s Word, a lamp unto our feet and a light to our world, if we will but follow.

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Reflections on Words from 2009

“More than 800,000 properties received foreclosure filings
in the first quarter of 2009. This is the highest number in history and is likely due
to many bank moratoriums coming to an end.”
RealtyTrac

“Maybe I’m just a little anxious given the (2008) economy and my focus on foreclosures; perhaps this is nothing more than subliminal impressions given that I am a licensed realtor? I’ll let the reader be the judge. However, this could just as well be a demonstration of God’s sovereignty in my life.”

“I have been working on my first book since retreating from my position as Executive Associate at a large church in my hometown in 1997. About that time I became aware that even a large church could be no more successful at reaching a city than numerous small churches, (even if on every corner), unless those congregants were individually engaged in serving that city. In my passion to truly be a Christ follower, I resigned what had become my second life career (my first as an public school educator) to engage in intentional prayer over our city. Opening an office on the 24th floor of our tallest downtown commercial building, I began a life changing season of prayer. My personal needs then led me to form a small consulting company and later become a realtor. Was that vocational morphing more about preparing my mind for this book than creating income? Is there evidence in the Church of pending foreclosure?”

“My years as a realtor have afforded numerous observations of similarities evident among most homes in foreclosure. A majority of those homes seemed to have been totally neglected, if not partially destroyed by their previous owners. This intentional destructive behavior portends foreclosure as symptomatic of some deeper viral-like infection that eventually overcomes those who experiment with a life of unhealthy, high risk debt, as opposed to living within the principles of financial discipline and patient accumulation of resources. Somewhere in that “gambler” approach to life, begins a deterioration of self will, a growing sense of entitlement, often followed by the psychological pressures of debt, abandonment of hope, bitterness at life and other ensuing spiritual repercussions. Fear, anger, blame then surface in these victims of their own lusts, as they are swallowed up by a life lived well beyond their means.”

50% of all adults now contend that Christianity is just one of many options that Americans choose from and that a huge majority of adults pick and choose what they believe rather than adopt a church or denomination’s slate of beliefs.”- George Barna, August 2008 survey.


“When this (non-attendance) slide started in 1964 as baby boomers began graduating from high school, many church leaders didn’t even acknowledge it. For years, they kept counting the absent as present. Then, when the losses couldn’t be ignored, they blamed them on whatever hot-button issues were roiling the religious establishment, as if new liturgies, women in leadership, and liberals (or conservatives, take your pick) had driven people away.  The problem is Christianity’s delivery system. We are stuck in trying to lure people to physical locations at a time of our choosing, to do what we think they ought to do, and to be loyal in paying for it. It is time that we looked beyond the paradigm of Sunday church.”
-Tom Ehrich

“Though my formal training and career track was in public education, my life began changing when in 1978 I first heard the Lord’s promise “Wherever I send you, seek that city, if not this one, the next, I will give you a city.” Since that time my life ambition has been about reaching cities for Christ. You can see that I am somewhat the dreamer, who expects no small things of a life devoted to Christ!”

“The majority of my fulltime pastoral experience would be in service to a large church, “mega” in the eyes of those who watched it grow, from thirteen members in a basement to a peak of about 3500, on a campus adjoining one of the nation’s premier universities.”

“However, it would require only six years in a full time pastoral role, for me to realize that what had been recommended to me by denominational leaders as a means of reaching cities, a large church no longer seemed to be the tool that God would use to fulfill my life ambition…but rather a lifestyle that is more about the Kingdom than either income production or church based ministry.”

“With church attendance in decline, first in the Northwest and now slowly creeping toward the Bible Belt, churches have little excuse for being caught off guard. Years of diminishing freedom of Christian expression within our nation and the rapid moral decline now impacting even our economy, should have warned discerning leadership of the churches ineffectiveness, just as notices from creditors forewarn the homeowner of impending peril and foreclosure. The emotional struggles within congregations, between denominations, even the daily stressful challenges of pastoral leadership should cause us pause and create a need to reexamine our spiritual households, before the final summons is delivered to our door.”

-excerpts from “The Church in Foreclosure”

Reading back over the booklet, REPO, published in 2009.  It was a bold step on my part, but now seems so relevant!  What a journey this has been!

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Jonah Gets a Bum Rap

I was drawn off sequence in my reading yesterday by a young pastor who spoke from the book of Jonah. His take was to challenge the church to be more inclusive, Jonah’s hesitancy. He did this in a way so as not to throw Jonah under the bus, for it was Jonah who well knew of God’s love. That very understanding was behind his hesitancy to go to the wicked city of Nineveh. He was culturally addicted by the thought that Hebrews alone deserved God’s love.

However, he was spiritually mature enough to hear the call from a God that loved all people, not just his small network. You would think that 2000 years after Jesus, the Church would get this. It seems we are suffering from the same challenge as the Hebrews.

Jonah then makes a random selection of a vessel bound for Tarshish out of Joppa. He would find safe harbor from God with these folk, whom he believes have forsaken their pursuit of God. Unfortunately he finds himself in a fierce storm.

Ironically it was these people, hardened sailors, who recognized their problem as spiritual and not just your ordinary storm. They discerned this while Jonah was asleep in the hull! Hello Church!

“So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” (Jonah 1:8, NIV).

My struggle this a.m. is with logic. If we serve the same God, One equally as powerful today as then, and in fact by way of the Spirit, now lives within us, why does our presence not create the same response, when our world is in a life crisis?

I find it ironic that in a time when the Church is crying out, swirling in its own seaweed like predicament, Nineveh is back in the news. Double that irony, in that it is due to a radical sect from the world’s third Abrahamic religion, Islam.

CNN(1) on Fri July 25, 2014 reported that ISIS, the Islamist group that has established a “caliphate” in parts of Syria and Iraq, had destroyed the centuries-old Tomb of Jonah in Mosul, Iraq. Present-day Mosul encompasses the site of the ancient Assyrian capital of Nineveh, where, the Bible teaches, the Prophet Jonah preached. Although this is disputed, a tradition holds that Jonah was buried within the city, on Tell Nebi Yunus, or Hill of the Prophet Jonah. An Assyrian church stood over the tomb for centuries. After the Muslim conquest, the church became a mosque; the structure that ISIS destroyed last week dated to the 14th century.”2

Perhaps the Church is running from the same God, thus the condition of our world! Maybe all three religions are being confronted in that they all profess to be of the seed of Abraham but all suffering from the same bias. Rather than surrender that cultural bias, which blinds us to the Truth of Love, we have attempted to escape the Call and jumped on board the ship of religion. Now overboard, perhaps if we cry out, Nineveh might have a chance?

The answer is not a wake up call for the world but rather the Church.
“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” II Chronicles 7:14

1 http://www.cnn.com/2014/07/24/world/iraq-violence/
2 http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2014/07/why-did-isis-destroy-the-tomb-of-jonah

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What Good Would It Do

This morning is one of those days when I arise early and have little scheduled for the morning. That always makes for a more relaxed read through scriptures and reflection on what I have learned over time.

I am now once more in the Book of Genesis, as I continue my 40 year discipline of annual, sequential reading through the scriptures. Is this Book of books we call the Bible inspired by God? One must admit that the story line does read remarkably seamless, though written by individuals that lived in different centuries, even different continents. I put some stock in my approach. This is not to say that I don’t use a myriad of complimentary reading materials while cross referencing the various books in the text.

Now into the second half of my sixth decade, what good would it do, if I studied the scriptures, remained active in both church and community, listened to hundreds of scholars and preachers and never formed my own general opinion of the faith? What benefit would I bring, if I then never fully declared what I had learned? That is the purpose of this blog, this ongoing, high risk public journaling of my faith.

The Bible has always been presented to me as the Word of God and has always served me well in times of crisis. However, I must admit to the mystery of how the Holy Spirit has used this great book in my life. This God breathed tool, with its text captured by some of the best of God-followers, seems to have such margin for interpretation and yet, is so easily understood at times. The difference in those who struggle and those who find it beneficial may be the reality of the Spirit of God; Christ in us, the hope of glory?

The challenge arises when men are involved. My personal experience with failure and my observation of the potholes observed in the best of God’s servants, regardless of religious persuasion, gives me pause when anyone declares some certain revelation. We are “earthen vessels” or as someone has added, “cracked pots” at best. It is not the lamp that burns and gives light but the oil in the lamp!

Having just attempted to discount the validity of any personal interpretation, I will risk some disclosure. This all comes from a lifetime of focus on three people, Joseph, Judah and Ishmael; all having offspring that were children of promise! The third I know will not go unchallenged by the majority of my readers, but please provide some margin for error and remember that this inspired Word did come through the pen of men and their scribes, some who were not always as big picture as God!

All of these men were the descendants of Abraham, and all received some promise of blessing from God. Though Joseph was used mightily to position the children of Israel, he is mentioned minimally after the Exodus. However his second born son, Ephraim, not the first, was commissioned by Jacob upon his death bed, even when challenged by Joseph: “But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.” (Gen 48:19 NIV).

Ephraim begat the lineage of Joshua and eventually became representative of the lost tribes of Israel, after Saul’s demise. David then arose out of the tribe of Judah, another son of Israel representative of a much more colorful life than the former excellence represented by Joseph. All this said, if one studies the Word and assumes it to be inspired, the prophecies eventually require a re-gathering of all of Israel, both the Northern (lost tribes) and the House of David, now seated in present day Israel. “Who has ever heard of such things? Who has ever seen things like this? Can a country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment? Yet no sooner is Zion in labor than she gives birth to her children.” (Isaiah 66:8 NIV).

Not sure what all this holds for America, now positioned as the police state for the world; nor, the American Church, so caught up in prosperity and politics? I shudder when I read the proposed solutions that are now coming from our political leaders, especially those that imply massive weapons of war. It seems that decades of boots on the ground have had little success in the Middle East as well, and may have only exacerbated the world’s problems. I know how I must be sounding but what good would it serve if I studied forty years and then just shared what folk want to hear?

Back to Ishmael, it is no secret that the challenges being offered by radical Islam finds it seed in the offspring of Ishmael. However, the interaction with the God of Abraham and today’s Muslim world is at a crescendo with stories unbelievable in terms of literal appearances of Christ. I have personally heard the stories of most convincing conversions among those devout in their pursuit of the God of Abraham. I have even met one international diplomat who professes both to be Muslim (one who is submitted) and a Christ follower!

Did not God promise Abram and Hagar that he would bless the offspring of Ishmael and make them a great nation as well? “The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.” (Gen. 21:11-13 NIV). Of course later in Genesis 25:18b we read, “And they lived in hostility toward all their brothers.”

One cannot read the Word without awareness of both the love of God for all mankind and what seems to be an unfolding of events that could literally lead to destruction of this globe. The establishment of a New Kingdom seems to be evident and will come either through the return of Christ or by means of brutal conflict or perhaps both. Is Armageddon God’s will or the path set in place by a fallen race bent on their own destruction? Is the Church Triumphant the remedy to prevent this tragedy, by love, forestalling what would otherwise be inevitable? If it is the Church, can she adjust sufficient for the times?

Selah!

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Fierce Love

This morning as I read through the story of Joseph, a Biblical hero of mine, I was struck again by the intense pursuit of God’s love and his sovereign plans; plans that neither man nor institution can thwart.  A love demonstrated so vividly by Christ, as captured by John.  “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13 NIV).  “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” (I Jn. 4:9 NIV).

The Joseph story, a pearl tucked away in Genesis, repeatedly reveals how God unfolds His sovereign will.  The story is foremost about Joseph, but as well, continues to fulfill the promises to Abraham.  Even in the betrayal of Joseph we see mention of both Isaac and Ishmael.  As well, Joseph’s brothers, though worthy of death, will eventually hear from a loving brother, “Even though you planned evil against me, God planned good to come out of it. This was to keep many people alive, as he is doing now.” (Gen. 50:20 Good News Translation).  One of those brothers was even named Judah, from the Hebrew word Yehudah, the Greek word is Judas!  Can you hear the New Story, the good news, already being foretold in History?

Yes, God is at work today, as the very ancestry and the nations these men populated play out a drama in the Middle East that is most improbable, but so fits the story line of the Bible.  It takes great effort to deny the sovereign hand of God, both moving this world toward redemption while guarding His plan against the many that walk in blindness; those who if left alone, would destroy humanity!

As one journeys with God over time, that same fierce love is revealed personally.  How many times He has intervened in my life, as He did with Joseph from pit to prison to palace.  Though none of those exact places have been a part of my journey, there have been moments that resembled each: moments of betrayal, moments of relative opulence, and victories in leadership well beyond my personal capacity.  He has a destiny for my life and for yours!

God has always taken me into waters well over my head; always covered for my failures; and repeatedly rewarded my life with moments of success.  I am grateful beyond words for His fierce love, this Lion of Judah!

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