Ojichan and O bachan (Gramps and Grams)

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Grandbabies

“Papaw/Memaw”, “Grandpa/Grandma”, “Nana/Papa”, “Earl/Ethel”…by whatever name you called them, many have memories of going to Grandma’s house or fishing with Grandpa.  They were there for wisdom and guidance, to spoil their grandkids, and provide a stable market for overalls and aprons. One thing to be said for Grandparents though, they are timeless.  They will always do a few things.

They always protect and admonish.  There is a chapter in David’s life that is particularly troubling.  His family is in shambles.  His eldest son Amnon (his mother was Ahinoam [2 Sam. 3.2]) raped his half-sister Tamar [2 Sam. 13].  It is not a high point in Scripture.  Absolam (his mother was Maakah [2 Sam. 3.3]) hears of this act by his half-brother upon his sister and is outraged.  He conspires a plan and waits.  Two years later (2 Sam. 13.23), Absalom killed Amnon in retribution.  David was furious over Amnon’s sin (2 Sam. 13.21) but he wept bitterly at the news that Amnon was dead and mourned for many days (13.36-37).  Absalom unsure of how his father, the King, would react, fled.  Who did he run too?  Talmai, son of Ammihud, the king of Geshur.  For three years, stayed in Geshur.  This is relevant to the conversation because of his mother’s heritage.  She had been the princess of Geshur, the daughter of Talmai.  He fled to his Grandpa.  Parents are the enforcers and discipliners; Grandparents keep Suzy-Q’s and Pepsi’s in the fridge.  Parent’s send you to your room and tell you to close your door; Grandparent’s keep the door open just to welcome you in.  Absolam proves one timeless fact about Grandparent’s: an unwavering belief that their grand-child is truly the best (as pointed out by their monogramed sweatshirts).

They have no expiration date.  Proverbs 17.6 reads: “Children’s children are a crown to the aged”  Crown [hb. ‘ataret] is actually the first word of the Hebrew sentence.  Hebrew isn’t as locked into sentence structure, especially in the Wisdom Books, as the English language is.  There is much more fluidity to be had in where words are placed in a sentence.  To emphasize the importance of a word, “crown” in this case, the writer will place it first in the thought.  Crowns are important.  The crown of the book of Proverbs displays its significance.  It is wisdom. Proverbs 4.7-9:

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.

Though it cost all you have, get understanding.

Cherish her, and she will exalt you;

embrace her, and she will honor you.

She will give you a garland to grace your head

and present you with a glorious crown.”

Since the purpose of the entire book is to “gain wisdom and understanding” (Proverbs 1.2), the importance of the crown is easily understood.  There is the “woman of noble character” in Proverbs.  She is a “crown”.  Proverbs 12.4:

“A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown,

but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones.”

Her worth is beyond compare in Proverbs.  There is wealth.  Again Solomon uses “crown” to start off this wisdom.  Crown begins the sentence that reads:

“The wealth of the wise is their crown,

but the folly of fools yields folly.” (Proverbs 14.24)

Wealth is the display of those who possess wisdom.  Crowns are gold. They’re precious. They’re valuable.  Literally, wealth.  Finally, that grey hair that adorns the elderly; it’s a crown.  Again Solomon starts the Proverb with the word “crown” as he writes:

“Gray hair is a crown of splendor;

it is attained in the way of righteousness.” (Proverbs 16.31)

Gray hair is a sign of wisdom.  A crown of survival.  Living long enough to attain a full head of gray hair, should be celebrated.

The importance of the crown motif in Proverbs can’t be undersold.  It’s a display of life well lived.  Which is why they put their Grandkids on display.  Before some guy in Japan decided to put a camera in his phone in 2000, every person born before then was subjected to a Grandmother who took way-to-many-pictures, with way-to-big-of-flash, with a zoom lens that may or may not be in focus.  But she was Grandma.  She was going to show off her grandkids.  My mother cherished pictures of her grandkids and would show them to any and everyone.  They were Her and Dad’s good life on display.  One of my greatest regrets and disappointments in life is that I couldn’t give them any.  I am the 4th generation “Gail” in the Long family and it will end with me.  They are crowned “grandparents” forever with Micaiah, Mia, Macy Jo, and Matthew because crowns don’t have expiration dates.

The last timeless aspect of grandparents is their spiritual leadership.  It was my Grandmothers who took me to Church when I was younger: East Borough Presbyterian Church and Assumption Catholic Church.  Before my family began attending a Church regularly in 6th grade, it was my Great-Grandfather who diligently prayed for our family for many years.  Who would have thought that Dad is serving in leadership of a Church, Mom knew Jesus intimately before her passing, Steph is a Church planter in Japan, and I write these words with a placard on my door that reads: “Pastor”.  All thanks to a praying Grandpa Gail.  Psalm 128 is a song that is meant to be sung on the way to worship.  Jerusalem sat on the top of a hill.  Everyone was continually “going up” to Jerusalem to go to the Temple.  As they walked, they sang.

Blessed are all who fear the Lord,

who walk in obedience to him.

You will eat the fruit of your labor;

blessings and prosperity will be yours.

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house;

your children will be like olive shoots around your table.

Yes, this will be the blessing for the man who fears the Lord.

May the Lord bless you from Zion;

may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.

May you live to see your children’s children—peace be on Israel.

When leadership, especially spiritual leadership, was needed, it was the Grandparents who led the way.  During celebrations, like Passover, it was the Oldest male in the household that led the worship.  Psalm 128 shows that worship starts on the way to the Temple.  It depicts 3 generations: Mom and Pop (1-3); children (3); children’s children (8).  Whether the grandkids are on the scene or not is not clear, but they are definitely in the picture.  The moment my sister said “yes” to her husband, my mother and father began preparing for grandkids.

By whatever name they go by they are certainly vital to the lives of our families.

A Man after God’s Heart: The Women who Make the Man

 

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Three generations of women in my life.  Miss you Mom!

“Behind every successful rancher is a woman who works in town.”

One area in which our culture is at war is in the role of women in business, entertainment, leadership, and by proxy and spill-over, the church.  I am convinced that as long as you have leaders, women will have always have assumed a leadership role.

The greatest leader in the history of Israel was David.  He was the man, the leader, that all others would be measured against.  Despite his failures and short comings, Bathsheba and the Census, David would be the one every other king would be in the shadow of.  So much of David’s leadership can be looked at in view of the women in his life.  Sure there were more important people in his ministry who played much larger roles, but the women were a fascinating group.

His Great-Grandmother, Ruth was a widower.  She was not a prim and proper woman.  She was powerful and dangerous.  She knew what needed to be done and took initiative to do it.  It was Boaz job as the Kinsman redeemer to look after the family of which she was a part.  He wasn’t doing his job, so she arranged a circumstance in which he would take his rightful role in the family.  She did what she had to do, to get him to do what he was supposed to do.  Women, in today’s world, are too busy trying to be men, that they quit asking men to be men.  It’s not just a “today problem”.  In 1821, Sojourner Truth spoke these words: “…”  It was taken from a speech that argued that she was a powerful woman who was equal to any man.  She was tuff and she was strong.  She was powerful.  But she wasn’t a man.  Women have this power to bring out the best in men.  Some may do it with a challenge like Deborah (Judges 4-5).  Some may do it with seduction (Ruth).  Some may do it with service (Abigale in 1 Samuel 25).  Some may do it with beauty and intelligence (Esther).  The point is that as many different women as there are in this world, men will do that many different things to gain the respect of women.  Ruth was a challenger of Boaz and became the Great-grandmother of the King of Israel that the Jews still honor.  She is referred to by her husband as an “isha-chayil”, “a woman of noble character”.

His Mother was a believer.  There is no mention of her in any of the Annals of Israel; none in Samuel or Chronicles.  We know his father’s name was Jesse.  He is mentioned numerous times, but his mother is not.  I just assumed she was absentee.  But as I read through Psalms, she is mentioned.  She is not named.  Who exactly she was is a debate and study for another time.  Regardless, she is mentioned briefly in Psalms 86 and 116.  Each time it is the same wording.  She is known to have worshipped the Lord in faithfulness.  She worshipped the same “compassionate and gracious God that is slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness” that Moses did.  (Psalm 86.15-16)  Literally, ‘I am your servant, the son of your mother…” (Psalm 86.16; 116.16).  “Just as” in the most recent translation of the NIV, is added in for translation ease.  I do believe it is necessary and faithful to the text.  David’s mother was a follower of Yahweh.

His Wife, Abigail, was a righteous woman.  Prior to her relationship with David, she served both him and her husband with honor.  She was faithful in her service.  When David and his men needed sustenance, her husband, Nabal, refused to help.  She took it upon herself to serve and help David in his time of despair.  He needed sustenance and she cooked.  He needed reminding of God’s plan and she guided.  He needed a woman, she was there.  Eventually it all worked in accordance with God’s plan and they ended up married after Nabal’s death. (1 Samuel 25) Proverbs 11.16 says:

A kindhearted woman gains honor, but ruthless men gain only wealth.”

His Wife, Bathsheba, bore him a child named Solomon. Though David and Bathsheba’s time began in “not-so-good-circumstances”, they would finish well. She would be one of the five women that Matthew mentions in his genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1.6).  She isn’t named, but she is still there as “Uriah’s wife”.  That has to say something about her importance.  Solomon would become the wisest king to have ruled Israel.  He would be just and fair.  Eventually he would succumb to greed, idol worship, and other sins.  He took many foreign wives and concubines. His sin was numerous, but he would still author many great proverbs of wisdom.

His daughter Tamar, whose mother was Maakah, the princess of Geshur, is the only one of David’s daughters to be mentioned in the Bible.  She has two words that describer in her short story: beautiful and desolate. Her story is tragic; but, culturally relevant today.  She was raped by her half-brother Amnon (2 Samuel 13.26).  Amnon refused to marry her and sent her away with extreme hatred.  She moved in with her full brother Absalom, despite his poor advice: “Don’t take this to heart” (2 Samuel 13.20)  In a world where 1 in 2 women will be sexually abused in their lifetime and only 31% get reported, Tamar has a familiar story.  When David hears of this, he is furious.  The Hebrew is charah meod.  “Very angry” is how it is most often translated.  Charah is anger ready to act.  I have written about it elsewhere, so there is no reason to dwell on it here; but, I will point out that these two words are paired together only 6 times in the Bible.  They are found in Genesis 4.5, Genesis 34.7, 1 Samuel 11.6, 2 Sam 12.5, 2 Samuel 13.21, and 2 Chron 25.10.  For a moment I would like to look at 2 of these from 2 Samuel.  The second on is found in this story of Tamar.  The first is found in Nathan’s confrontation.  David sinned with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11).  Nine months later, Nathan confronts him about his sin by telling him a story of two shepherds.  One has great flocks and herds; the other only has one lamb.  This little lamb was “like a daughter to him” (2 Samuel 12.3).  When a traveler came to the rich man he took the sheep from the poor man to feed him.  “David burned with anger [charah + meod]” (2 Samuel 12.5) and pronounced a sentence upon the rich man.  Then Nathan turned the story on him: “You are that man!” (2 Samuel 12.7) Literally the Hebrew reads: “You the man [‘attah hais’]”  So David is the man who has take what is not his.  He has taken someone’s daughter.  Now in 2 Samuel 13, his own daughter has been taken.  David is “furious [charah meod]” (2 Samuel 13.21).  He feels the same emotion as he did towards the rich man in the previous chapter.

Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Grand-daughter Jehosheba, faced a crisis.  Her brother, Ahaziah the King of Judah was murdered by Jehu (2 Kings 9.27ff.).  Athaliah, Amaziah’s mother, upon hearing of Ahaziah’s death, assumed the role of King of Judah.  In doing so she tried to destroy the royal family (2 Samuel 11.1)  Jehosheba thwarted her plan by taking Ahaziah’s son, Joash, and hiding him in the Temple for 6 years, away from Athaliah’s wrath (2 Kings 11.3).  He would be crowned King (2 Kings 11.12) and Athaliah killed (2 Kings 11.16), all at the ripe old age of 7, because of Jehosheba.

Finally, his Great42-grand-daughter, Mary, would be the one who would fulfill God’s promise to this world (Luke 1.26-38).  She carried Jesus in her womb for 9 months and brought the Messiah into this world (Matthew 1.18ff.; Luke 2).  She was just another generation of women in David’s lineage who played a central role in God’s promise.

Women are often maligned in church today.  They are pushed to the side or shoved into a corner.  Their gifts are over shadowed, and their service is unappreciated.  David’s kingdom and his legacy was greatly influenced by women.   To eliminate or ignore them from David’s story would eliminate David.  Had Ruth not taken initiative, there would be no David.  Had there been no Bathsheba, there would be no Solomon and the outrage over Tamar probably not as severe.

Thank God for the women in life that make men.  Grandmothers, mothers, daughters, and wives…you are needed, powerful, and gifted.  Thank you.

Miss you Mom!

Exhaustion

My favorite pictue from my cross-country career isn’t even of me. It’s of my best friend Tyler.  He is coming directly towards the camera at full stride.  He is 3 miles into a 3.1 mile race and you can see it on his face.  It’s the longest race on the toughest course, Rim Rock, and it has taken a toll on the man.

That is exhaustion.

That is the word that I finally was able to attach to my situation in life.  I am exhausted.  It seems like since Mom fell in September and went back in the hospital, life has been hectic.  She wouldn’t ever really leave the hospital.  My foot has been broke and I moved.  Now all this hospital stuff and the question is offered: when will it all end? And what was I supposed to learn?

  1. There is more to life than accomplishment.  I will work along time to pay off some medical bills and I thank God for the insurance payment i do make every month.  Still if that was the end game I think I would go insane.
  2. It’s ok to show some emotion.  At 24 I was physically unable to cry.  Since Labor Day weekend, Mom’s entrance into the hospital, simple thing will bring me to tears.   I just teared up at a text my cousin sent.  I’m a mess.
  3. Everything is permissible, but not beneficial.  In times of exhaustion, some will give great advice, others not so much.  Learning to ignore the bad advice or support really takes the pressure off.
  4. Finally, knowing where your good support lies is invaluable.  Not all support is good support.  Some will force themselves into your crisis, ignoring boundaries and your wishes, and they will only add stress and add to your exhaustion.  Others will simply set with you seven days and say nothing, just to be supportive.

Still learning and the list will continue to grow…

The Self-disclosure of God (Part 2)

thNRXMC1ZVWe usually didn’t pray when Mom tucked us in at night growing up, but we started in January of 1991.  I was in 1st grade.  It was the first war that live video was fed from the front lines.  I sat in the living room and watched CNN as scud missiles flew through the night sky and that night Mom led my sister and I in prayer for the troops over there.

I was in 5th grade when Timothy McVeigh blew up the Federal building in Oklahoma City.  I first heard about it as we were exiting the classroom to go to lunch.  I remember seeing the pictures on TV of the building with a crater in the side of it.

Sophomore year of High School, I sat in Mr. Switzky’s Human Anatomy class.  We were just a few minutes into the class when a school secretary walked into the room.  She made her way to the front of the room.  She whispered something to him and exited the same way she entered.  He sat silently for a moment and then reached up and turned on the T.V. mounted above and behind him.  CNN came on the screen with a smoking tower centered in the picture.  Minutes later, a second plane hit the towers.  Just before we dismissed for the next class (mine was wood shop), the Pentagon was hit.  Then Flight 93 crashed.  I watched, in the woodshop, the Towers fall.  At noon, the TV’s were still on in Ms. Scarborogh’s Mythology class.  By the end of the day, Bloomfield’s Construction Science class, we weren’t watching.  Just before Cross Country practice rumors of $4.00 gallons of gas and draft rumors were swirling…I knew where I was.

Every generation has those moments: Bombing of Pearl Harbor, the JFK assassination, the ’66 tornado, Columbine.  People knew what they were doing, where they were, and when it happened.

What does one say to a community in crisis?  What is the word that is needed for a nation suffering?

That is what Joel was commissioned to address.  He confronts the issue with this statement:

Rend your heart
    and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
    and he relents from sending calamity. (Joel 2.13)

It’s comforting.  The people walked away from God.  Verse 12 makes it abundantly clear that their worship and their hearts are not where they should be.  There is a crisis in the land as well.  Locusts have invaded.

What the locust swarm has left
    the great locusts have eaten;
what the great locusts have left
    the young locusts have eaten;
what the young locusts have left
    other locusts have eaten. (Joel 1.3)

The identity of the locusts has been debated; whether they were the insects or an invading army.  I think they are best understood as the insect for reasons that are irrelevant here.  Moses alludes to this at the end of Deuteronomy.  The people are getting ready to enter the promised land and God gives Moses a message for the people.  Their first instruction upon entering the land is to have half the tribes on Mt. Gerizim reading blessings for obedience and the other half of the people on Mt. Ebal pronouncing curses for disobedience.  One of the curses reads:

You will sow much seed in the field but you will harvest little, because locusts will devour it. You will plant vineyards and cultivate them but you will not drink the wine or gather the grapes, because worms will eat them. (Deuteronomy 28.38-39)

The locusts came and devoured all the grain because of the sins of the people.  So what do you say to a nation in chaos?  What do you say to a person in crisis? (I understand that not all crisis’ come because of sin, but we do live in a fallen world)

Message 1: Return to God.

“Even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

Rend your heart
    and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God. (Joel 2.12-13)

The people need to turn back their hearts through confession and repentance.  If comfort and peace can be brought back to a people, to a person, the first step is to return to God.  People are never at rest if distance from God remains.  When crisis comes, it often reveals our distance and our independence from God.  To save our churches, our nations, our families, and our communities, the first thing that needs to happen is a returning to God.  The first word in verse 13, translated as “rend” by the NIV, is the Hebrew word, qara’.  Most often it is translated as “tear”.  It was an act of confession, repentance, and worship.  “Tear open your hearts to God” is the first message gives to the afflicted.

Message 2: Trust God’s Character

As discussed previously, God has made himself known.  He has declared His identity.  In fact, that is what Joel’s name means.  Jo-el means “Yahweh is God”.  And there is the description:

…he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. (Joel 2.13)

The key verse in the entire book by the man whose name means “Yahweh is God” is a vivid description of His character.  When I was going through a particularly dark time, alcohol became the sedative.  It easy the pain, or so I thought.  At least it erased the memories and I could sleep.  During that time the question was posed: “Do you think God wants good things for you?”  My answer was a resounding “NO!”.  Then I began this study.  There are still times where I question whether God does want good for me.  Mom’s passing has been hard.  The foot thing is inconvenient.  There were some reopened ministry wounds and some fresh ones that began last summer.  But restoration can only come if we as a community, a people, a nation, or a person trust in the character and integrity of the Lord.

Message 3: Remember God’s Promises

With God, a promise given is the same as a promise kept.  He has promised to take care of us.  He has promised to be with us.

19 The Lord replied to them:

“I am sending you grain, new wine and olive oil,
    enough to satisfy you fully;
never again will I make you
    an object of scorn to the nations.

20“I will drive the northern horde far from you,

    pushing it into a parched and barren land;
    its eastern ranks will drown in the Dead Sea
    and its western ranks in the Mediterranean Sea.
And its stench will go up;
    its smell will rise.”

      Surely he has done great things!
21 Do not be afraid, land of Judah;
           be glad and rejoice.
    Surely the Lord has done great things!
22 Do not be afraid, you wild animals,
          for the pastures in the wilderness are becoming green.
    The trees are bearing their fruit;
          the fig tree and the vine yield their riches. (Joel 2.19-22)

He promises restoration and then provides restoration.  Once the character of God can be counted on; His promises can be remember.  A promise is only as reliable as the person making it.  God has proved over and over that He can overcome whatever comes our way.  For “it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (Acts 2.24)  He is sending new grain, new wine, satisfaction and protection.  How does one respond: “Surely he has done great things!” (2.20)  He has/is/will bring: rain, abundance, new wine, oil, grain, full-bellies, and repayment for the locusts (23-26).  Joel is switching back and forth in verb tense because with God a promise made is a promise already kept.  To what end:

…and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has worked wonders for you;
    never again will my people be shamed.
27 Then you will know that I am in Israel,
    that I am the Lord your God,
    and that there is no other;…(2.26-27)

Once God’s character is on display, His faithfulness carries eternal significance.  How do you respond to that: “Surely He has done great things!”…to be continued…

The Self-disclosure of God (Part 1)

untitledSelf-disclosure is one of God’s favorite things in the Old Testament.

Moses is shown “the Glory of the Lord” on Mt. Sinai. (Exodus 33.12ff.)  He is watching the power of God, the goodness of God, the glow of God.  He walked away radiated, with a glowing face. (Exodus 34.29)  What is most striking, is how God narrates the event.  God describes Himself like this:

The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…(Exodus 34.6)

This proclamation of identity would stick with God throughout the Old Testament.  I had an identity once.  At a birthday party in 4th grade (I don’t even remember who it was for), I was reaching for something in the pool at a hotel.  The party was at ice cream and cake phase so I had already changed out of my swimming suit.  I fell into the pool with all my clothes on.  I never lived it down.  It came up in 2 different graduation speechs, favorite memories from school portions of yearbooks and school news papers, and one reunion.  I will always be the guy who fell in the pool with his clothes on.  God will carry this identity through all his dealings with man.

It’s fascinating, however, how this phrase is used.

It’s worshipful.  Psalm 145 uses this phrase like a link in a chain.  Each link is a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  Verse 1 begins with aleph.  Verse 2, with a bet and so on until verse 8 when chet is the letter that is the letter of focus.  The verse begins with the word “gracious” (chanoon).  It’s just another link in the chain of attributes describing God in this Psalm.  Count the “God is…” statements:

  • “Great is the Lord…” (3)
  • “The Lord is good to all…”(9)
  • “The Lord is trustworthy…” (13)
  • “The Lord is righteous…and faithful…”(17)
  • “The Lord is near…” (18)

David will extol and praise the Lord for all that He is. (145.2)  But it’s a bigger chain than that.  Psalm 145 is also a part of a chain that ends the book of Psalms. The last 5 Psalms all begin with the word “Praise” (hb. hallel).  In the Hebrew text, the Psalm titles are considered the first verse of the Psalm.  So Psalm 145 begins like this: hallelujah.  which translates to: “Praise the Lord”.

David loves this word.  Back in Psalm 103, he writes:

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. (Psalm 103.8)

Here he attributes it to Moses, but until he makes his own purposes for the verse known.  Six times in Psalm 103 he begins a sentence with hallelujah.  I guess if you get stuck on repeat, that’s a great word to get stuck on.  Both are Psalms of Praise.

There is another type of Psalm that David wrote.  It’s called a Psalm of Lament.  These are Psalms that are written from deep despair and anguish.  They deal with the dirty issues of life.  He writes in Psalm 86:

But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
    slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. (Psalm 86.15)

It’s honest.  David is piecing together a prayer of quotations from other places: Exodus 34, Psalms 25, 26, 27, and others.  He is lamenting his current predicament.  Which predicament that is exactly is undetermined.  Is it the pursuit of Saul?  Is it the isolation?  Is it the Philistines?  Time and location aside, David prays and worships.  This is the prayer of a desperate man.  The Psalm begins:

Hear me, Lord, and answer me,

   for I am poor and needy.

Guard my life, for I am faithful to you;

   save your servant who trusts in you.

You are my God; have mercy on me, Lord,

   for I call to you all day long. (Psalm 86.1-3)

and ends with this:

Turn to me and have mercy on me;

   show your strength in behalf of your servant;

save me, because I serve

   you just as my mother did.

Give me a sign of your goodness,

   that my enemies may see it and be put to shame,

   for you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me. (Psalm 86.16-17)

David is struggling to put together a few concepts and ideas.  The beginning and end of the Psalm is works-oriented: “save me because I served” (17), “guard me for I trust in you” (1).  In the middle, the Lord is a “gracious” and “compassionate” God.  It’s a question of justice.  Why are bad things happening to a good person?  He’s served and trusted, why are things going badly.  It is the exact opposite question posed in Jonah’s prayer.

Jonah 4 begins with Jonah in a bad place.  Verse 5 let’s the reader know that he went east of the city.  That’s code for “bad times”.  Anyone going east in the Bible is not having a good day.  So he is east.  And when he is east, he prays.

Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home?  That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish.   I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4.2-3)

God did not destroy Nineveh for their sins and Jonah is upset.  It’s not that he has been tremendously faithful to God either; but it’s always easier to see the sin in others than in yourself.  Jonah laments about God’s justice.  Why do good things happen to bad people?  Jonah wants the Lord to know that he knew all along that this was going to happen.  So, in what I imagine would be a mocking tone, Jonah quotes Exodus 34.6 and part of verse 7.  Why is it mocking you may wonder?  Notice what Jonah leaves out at the junction of 6 and 7?  The “faithfulness” (’emet) of God.  In Jonah’s thinking: if God is for the Ninevites, He can be for Jonah/Israel.  Jonah is putting God perjury alert.  He is questioning God’s honesty…to be continued…

The Next Step

The next step is always the scariest.  The next step could be the one where the earth falls from beneath you.

Genesis 15 records a conversation between Abram and God.  Abram is getting up there in years.  He is somewhere between 75 and 86 years old (Gen. 12.4; 16.16) and he has been on a journey.  He has been given the promise that his descendants would be “a great nation”, but that was many years back.  Is there an expiration date on the promises of God?  That would have been in the back of my mind.  But Abram now gets told that he will have a son, from his own lineage. (Gen. 15.4-5)

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Gen. 15.6)

Abram “believed” is in the Hebrew Hiphil tense meaning “caused to believe”.  Abram was convinced.  He seems like a man who can think differently about situations.  Later his name would be changed to Abraham (this is how he will be referred to from now on). This is how I reconcile the strange verse in Hebrews 11.17-19:

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice.  He who embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”  Abraham reasoned [gk. logizomai] that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from the dead.

The idea of bodily resurrection, let alone individual resurrection, would have been a revolutionary concept.  Abraham is an outside the box thinker.  He has convinced himself of God’s faithfulness to his promises.  Abraham takes the first step out of Ur on faith.  The next step is into the nursery with his son Isaac.  The next one is the first step to ascend the Mountain to kill the one walking behind him.

So what’s the next step on the journey?

Is it salvation?  It’s graduation Sunday.  All across Kansas, students will be turning their focus to college by 3 p.m. Sunday.  Thirty-two thousand students will walk across a stage towards a diploma this weekend.  A year from now, 60%, or 19,000 of them will walk away from their faith.

Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Rom. 4.2)

Paul writes in Romans that it was salvation that Abraham stepped into in faith.  It was right-standing with God that Abraham walked into by trusting God.  The question had been posed: “was Abraham justified by works?” (2)  Could he have saved himself?  To that Paul points to the faith of Abraham as he argues in the previous paragraph:

For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. (Rom. 3.28)

Abraham is Paul’s case study for justification by faith.  In a world where love and trust are performance based, the idea of salvation in exchange for faith is a tough sell.  Maybe that is where it should start?

Is it Spirit-led?  Maybe salvation has happened, but “life” isn’t happening.  The Galatian Church was struggling with the same issue that plagued the Roman Church: “What saves a man?”  Was it “faith” or “works”?  Must the faith be followed by action?

Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. (Gal. 3.6)

There is a difference between surviving and living.  That is what living with the Spirit brings.  Paul used Abraham as an example of salvation by faith alone in Romans; in Galatians, Abraham is an example of a Spirit-led/fed life.  He precedes the quote of Genesis with this question: 

So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? (Gal. 3.5)

His answer: Abraham believed.  Great things happened because Abraham had faith.  He pairs this with another Genesis quote a sentence later:

Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you!” (Gal. 3.8 quoting Genesis 12.3)

Being in-step/taking the first step with the Spirit changes lives.  It empowers middle schoolers to raise money to buy freedom for modern day slaves.  It challenges women to serve by making blankets for sex trafficked victims.  It encourages men to step up, step out and lead other men in study.  Is the next step, the same step Abraham took in Galatians; one of believing in a leading Spirit.

Is it disciple-making?  When writing to people scattered all over the Roman world about living as a Christian, one man wrote this in response:

Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. (James 2.23)

It was in the same context as other uses. It was a debate about faith vs. works.  James chimes in from left field.  He brings up Abraham but honors him for his action.  Check out the question he poses in verse 21:

Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did…?(James 2.21)

And you gasp!  Isn’t this the exact opposite of Pauline theology.  In Romans and Galatians, Abraham was righteous because he believed; however, James understood him as righteous because of what he did.

James is a book of activity.  Your faith must be animated, according to James.

  • “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.” (1.22)
  • “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (1.27)
  • “What good is it, my brothers and sisters if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save them? (2.14)
  • “…faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” (2.17-18)
  • “Who is wise and understanding among you?  Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” (3.13)
  • “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” (4.17)

James has an agenda.  While Jesus was on this Earth, he doubted.  Now that Jesus has ascended, he is leading a church and a following of people trying to live like Jesus.  His advice:  live like Abraham.

First things, first:  salvation.  Second things, second:  letting the Spirit sanctify and animate.  Finally, we must discipline (notice the “disciple” in that word) our lives to that of Jesus.  Verse 22 brings the argument together:

You see that his [Abraham] faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete [gk. teleioo] by what he did. (James 2.22)

The greek word translated “made complete” and its cognates aren’t rare in the New Testament.  James, however, only uses the idea 8 times in his book (teleios-1.4 [2x]; 1.17; 1.25; 3.2; teleioo-2.22; teleoo-2.8; telos-5.11).  The idea is that “the goal has been reached.”  It is the ending, not the beginning.  James understands that “what he did” (21) was the goal in mind (22) when the “belief” began (23).  Faith comes first, but isn’t finished until follow through.  Belief is where it all starts but it isn’t done until action takes place.  Do I have to be in church every Sunday?  Do I need to pray every day?  Do I need to study my Bible?  Can I drink alcohol?  Do I have to tithe?  All these questions are questions of works.  They are actions that are to done.  We are saved by faith and faith alone; but, a part of faith is “the doing” of something.

In Hebrews 11, what some have called the Hall of Fame of faith, Abraham is admonished for three things.  Each is preceded with these words: “By faith…” (Hebrews 11.8, 9, 17)  He left Ur and followed.  He stayed and made a home in the Promised land.  He was willing to sacrifice Isaac.  He was commended for all these things.  Rounding out the section on Abraham, the author of Hebrews writes:

Abraham reasoned [gk logizomai]  that God could even raise the dead…(19)

Logizomai is the same word translated “credited” in every one of the passages above.  It was “credited to him as righteousness”.  God counts righteousness to Abraham all because Abraham counted all on God.

Easier said than done right?

The Sea

7bfd144ad54db0b909fd94e25812cdd8“For I say there is no other thing that is worse than the sea is for breaking a man, even though he may a very strong one.”― Homer

Odysseus has survived the Trojan war.  Ten years of battles and ten years since he last saw his family.  Just when the reader believes the most dangerous parts of life are behind Odysseus, he begins his journey home.  They sail home becomes more treacherous than battling the Trojans.  He was nearly lured into a ship wreck by the beautiful song of the sirens.  Poseidon sends a storm to punish him for blinding his son the cyclopes.  They safely navigate the whirlpool of Charybdis, but in doing so run into the sea monster Scylla.  it would seem that the sea is trying to kill him more so than the Trojans.

American’s are bombarded with Carnival and Disney cruises.  But on the backside of those commercials, Discovery runs the promotions for Deadliest Catch.  Now there is a show that shows the sea as trying to kill everyone involved.  It’s cold and wet and stormy.  It’s dangerous.  Peter has a similar experience on the sea.

In Matthew 14, the disciples and Jesus (and a lot of other people) have been in the countryside.  They have seen the greatness of Jesus in the 5 loaves and 2 fish; feeding the crowd of five-thousand.  They were surprised by this, but not in awe.  He sends the disciples across the Lake of Gennesaret/Sea of Galilee.  To the crowd; he sends them home.  Jesus head up the mountainside to pray (Matthew 14.22-23).

There are two types of storms this life brings.  The first is physical.  The boat is a “considerable distance from the land” and there wasn’t a whole lot his disciples could do about it because “the wind” was against it.  Storms can arise quickly, especially with the geography of Palestine.  It’s like a bad version of Gilligan’s Island.  A simple trip across the sea, has turned into a battle for survival.  This physical storm is evoking a crisis.  Scripture makes it clear that one battle that we must fight as we traverse this earth, its the physical one.  Bodies break down, thistles grow, pain and suffering abound.  We have to watch loved ones die and struggle.  There is definitely a physical battle.

The second battle is the spiritual one.  In the mean time, Jesus has walked out to them.  After a few words between the disciples and Jesus, Peter speaks up: “Tell me to come to you on the water.” To which Jesus reply’s: “come!”  Peter steps out of the boat.  The water holds him…for a moment.  “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Peter was doing well and then a spiritual storm arises.  He looked around, lost sight of Jesus, saw the power of the storm; and he began to sink.  Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.  “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” was Jesus question.  Doubt had crept in and a storm arose.  Spiritual storms can arise just as fast as physical ones.  People deal with spiritual storms in different ways, but they only get resolved at the feet of Jesus, whether or not they’re in the water.

Jesus is the answer to the storm.  When the disciples first had to deal with the store and the confusion of seeing Jesus, it was the sound of his voice that calms them.  They are “terrified” and “gripped” with fear.  But Jesus calmed their fears: “Take courage! It is I.  Don’t be afraid.” (27)  The greek renders the middle clause, “It is I”, as “I am!”  In the midst of this storm, “I am!” is present with them.  The importance cant be overstated.  The One who parted the waters, enacted the plagues, and walked with His people, is present.  “I am!” is with them.  This is the same book, Matthew that begins with “Emmanuel, God with us.”  And ends with: “Behold, I am with you always to the very end of the age.”  Here in the midst of the storm, Jesus is standing next to us.  When Peter begins to sink, Jesus reaches out his hand and catches him. (31)  “Immediately” it says that Jesus saved him from the storm.  “And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down…”(32)  The physical storm is taken care of.   Jesus has calmed another one.  “Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (33)  Now the spiritual storm is resolved.  

Look back on the storm and worship.  The importance of this story lies in the perspective.  In the midst of everything happening, the focus is on the storm or the reactions.  The focus is on the interactions between the guys and what was going on as the boat is rocking against the waves.  But verse 33 shows that the focus the whole time needed to be Jesus.  It was only when Peter began looking at the storm around him that he began to sink.  But in retrospect, the disciples and Peter are able to look back on their experience and worship.  Some of David’s finest Psalms came when looking back on serious trials.  The greatest speeches in the Bible, with the most passionate language of worship, come at the end of lives, as they look back on years of storms.

The storms that come in life are there to reveal where our focus and where our trust is found.  Peter found out a lot about himself on the sea, just like he found out a lot about Jesus.  In Hemmingway’s book, The Old Man and the Sea, the sea provided a place where the old man was once again asked to learn some things.  Peter is learning on the Sea of Galilee.  He’s learning the why? of worship.