Hagar, That Slave Girl.

Come with me on a journey to about 2500 years ago. We are sitting around a fire in the evening and the milky way is out. Someone in our group mentions that all those stars remind them of God’s promise to Abraham and how lucky we are to have him as our father compared to all those other people living around us. The story teller rises up to meet the challenge of telling Abraham’s story in a way that might bring some new understanding to it. Let’s listen and try to figure out what the story teller is doing. We want to hear how he or she makes the story connect to what has come before and will come in the future. Good story tellers want us to be actively involved in their craft, to listen carefully and then try to figure out why they told the story like they did. Good stories should fill us with questions. Because we are guests and because we do not speak Hebrew, we need some help understanding how the story works.
The story teller in Genesis wants us to read forward but also backwards. In most books there is an introduction and possibly a foreword as well. They tell us what we should expect to find in the rest of the story and maybe even to tell us with what kind of eyes to read, or how to listen to the rest of the story. This is very much the case in Genesis.

In chapters one and two, we have two accounts of creation and each one makes some different points. In chapter one, we have the story of creation of the whole world and then the filling of that world. On the sixth day we have the creation of humans, both male and female. Together they are made in God’s image giving them equal standing in the task of being God’s representatives in this world. In chapter two, the story is much more detailed and there the man is made from the dust of the ground. Later God puts the man into a deep sleep and makes a woman from his side. Most Bibles say that God took a rib, but if the Hebrew word used here means a rib, it is the only place in the Bible where it means that. The idea is that the woman is man’s better half. The woman is to be a helper or helpmate for the man. The word used for a helper is usually used for someone who is stronger, like God, or an equal but never for someone of lower standing. These two chapters point to the ideal of what should be.

In chapter three everything falls apart after they eat the forbidden fruit. The couple is expelled from the garden and they go to the east. Later in the story, the Israelites will leave Egypt and go to the east into the wilderness. And much later they will leave the promised land and be expelled to the east. The story of the fall should prepare us for the expulsion from the promised land.

By the time we come to Abraham, the story is very different than what we find in Genesis chapters one and two. The strife which started between the man and the woman of chapter three is still there. The world has become very patriarchal. Men make the rules and that is just the way it is. This is part of the fall we find in Genesis 3:16 where it says the man will rule over the woman but the woman’s desire will be for her man. This is the result of disobeying God and trying to make it on our own, but it should not be understood as normative.

Abraham has everything to do with the creation being brought back to what it is meant to be in the beginning.

When we come to Abraham’s story in Gen 12, we find that Abraham is to be part of the solution to the fall and the return to the way things had been. When God promises Abraham descendants and a land, it is a very important statement. People should find blessing because of and through Abraham. The first time we hear the word bless in the Bible is on day five when God creates creatures, and the second time is on day six when humans are created in God’s image. The third time is when God blesses the seventh day because now everything is in order. The blessing given to Abraham is the fourth usage of the word. In other words, the blessing that was given to Abraham and which should be given to others through Abraham has everything to do with the creation being brought back to what it is meant to be in the beginning. However for this to happen, it means that Abraham must have children to fulfil the calling and promise which God gave him.

We know the story and how as soon as God gave Abraham his calling and promises, Abraham is down in Egypt selling his wife Sarah to Pharaoh. He got cattle, slaves and more while he was in Egypt, and Pharaoh is afflicted with great plagues. When Pharaoh finds out that Sarah is Abraham’s wife, he kicks Abraham out of Egypt saying, “Take these things and be gone.” These are the same words that a later Pharaoh will say to Moses. This whole story wants us to look back at what was and forward to what will come.

But Sarah can’t have children and by the time we come to this story she is well past the age of having children. So what about God’s promise to Abraham of having offspring and becoming a great nation? Sarah takes things into her own hand, just like Abraham had done when he sold her to Pharaoh. She takes her slave, Hagar, and gives her to Abraham as a wife. Whether she is a slave or some kind of indentured servant seems to make little difference because Hagar has no choice in this matter. She is completely in Sarah’s hands just as she was in Pharaoh’s control when she became Sarah’s slave. The text is very clear that Hagar is now Abraham’s second wife and as such Abraham has certain obligations to her, which he does not seem to fulfil. In 16:3 Sarah takes her slave/maid and gives her to Abraham and he takes her.

Sarah and Abraham become the new man and woman in the garden who take what they should not take.

Now if we stop for a minute and listen carefully, what do we hear? And where have we heard this before? In Genesis 3:6 when the serpent talked the woman into thinking that God is holding out on her, she takes the fruit and gives it to the man beside her. In giving and taking both are equally guilty; Abraham didn’t need to take what Sarah gave. Sarah and Abraham become the new man and woman in the garden who take what they should not take. None of this is Hagar’s fault. She is given the short end of the stick from the very people through whom she should have found blessing. When Hagar becomes Abraham’s second wife, she should be treated the same as the first wife, but neither Sarah nor Abraham ever call her by her name because in their eyes she is someone only to be used and abused. They can do what they please with her. We might also hear in this passage the similar way in which Abraham gave Sarah to Pharaoh, and now Sarah did the same thing to Hagar.

Hagar becomes pregnant and it causes problems between her and Sarah who gave her to Abraham for this very reason. Most of our translations read in such a way that it seems Hagar is to blame for what happens between her and Sarah in the next couple of verses, but more likely Sarah is deeply jealous of Hagar. Maybe Sarah sees herself losing her position of dominance. Whatever happens between the two of them, Sarah accepts no blame; instead she blames Abraham and in 16:5 she asks God to judge between herself and Abraham. However we read this story, we must remember that Abraham and Sarah have a relationship with God and what they do does not stop the outcome of God’s plan.

Abraham’s response shows what he and Sarah think about Hagar. In their conversations about her, they never call her by name. Hagar is just a despised slave girl. Her name means the other, or the sent one, forsaken, or stranger. Abraham says to Sarah she can do with Hagar as she pleases. Sarah deals harshly with Hagar, just like Pharaoh will later deal harshly with the Israelites (Gen 16:5-8). The story teller wants us to know that the tables have been turned. The Egyptian is now treated like the Israelites will be treated later, and the very people whose task it was to bring blessing to the world have become like the Pharaoh who enslaved the Israelites.

Hagar thinks it is safer for her to flee into the wilderness than to stay with the people of promise. The wilderness is a place of death, and without water the chances of making it are very small. Hagar finds a spring with some water in it and stays there. The angel of the Lord comes to meet her there. The angel addresses her by name, “Hagar, slave girl of Sarah, where are you coming from and where are you going?” Hagar only answers the first part of the question. She is running away from her mistress Sarah, but it seems she is lost because she does not answer the second part of the question. The angel of the Lord tells her to return to the very difficult situation of living with Sarah and Abraham. Then the angel gives some of the same promises to Hagar which were given to Abraham. She too will have descendants which will become a great nation (16:10). She is to name the son she will have Ishmael, which means “God hears.” God had been listening to Hagar’s cries when she was abused and afflicted (Gen 16:11 & Ex 3:7). The word that is used here for afflicted is also an exodus word from when the Pharaoh afflicted the Israelites with hard work. In Hagar’s affliction, God comes to speak to her. She is promised that her son will be free; he will not be a slave to the people of promise the way Hagar is.

Hagar is the only person in the O.T. who names God.

Hagar’s response is to name God, El-roi, which means “the God who sees” (Gen 16:13). God has both seen and heard Hagar’s afflictions and comes to her because of them. Hagar is the only person in the O.T. who names God. To name something gives the person some control over the thing being named. What we should never doubt is Hagar and God’s relationship. In God’s eyes, she is not a slave but a person of the same worth as Abraham, the man of promise. God is on the side of the afflicted.

Hagar returns to Sarah and I doubt the relationship improved between the two. In the coming years, God’s promise to Abraham for him to have a child with Sarah comes true. And the day comes when it is time to wean Isaac as we find in chapter 21. Abraham and Sarah put on a great party, because once the child is weaned the chances are good that he will survive. Sarah looks out during this party and sees Ishmael doing something with Isaac. We are not sure what he is doing because the word in Hebrew means “to laugh”. It is what Abraham does when God tells him he will have a son with Sarah, and it is what Sarah does when God tells her she will have a son, and so they call their son Isaac which means “laugher.” So Ishmael is “isaacing” with Isaac, whatever that means. It is also what Isaac will do later with his wife. Whatever Ishmael is doing, Sarah will have none of it. Ishmael will not “isacc” with her Isaac; so again she complains to Abraham and she tells him to cast out this “slave” woman ( Gen 21:10). This is the same language that is used in Exodus 12:39 where Pharaoh cast out the Israelites. Again neither Abraham nor Sarah can call her by name; they only know her as “this slave woman.”

This time Abraham does not want to do it (21:11). He seems to not care about Hagar, but cares because Ishmael is his son and now he has blood in the game. While it may be hard for us to understand, God gives Abraham permission to cast out the slave woman because the promise will find its way through Isaac. Abraham and Sarah’s actions didn’t change the promise even if they hurt many people. The promise which God made to Hagar about her son Ishmael becoming a great nation is repeated to Abraham (21:13). So Abraham gave some bread and water to Hagar and sent her and Ishmael away. The same word is used in Exodus when Pharaoh was to let the Israelites go so they could worship the Lord. When Abraham sends Hagar away, she will never be the slave woman of Sarah again. She will find her freedom in the wilderness, like Israel found their freedom from slavery.

She goes into the wilderness and wanders around, just like the Israelites do when Pharaoh casts them out. Like the Israelites, Hagar runs out of water and thinks she will die. She puts her son under a bush and waits for the end, wailing and crying. But for God’s promise to come true, something has to happen (21:17-21). Again the angel of the Lord comes and says he has heard the boy’s cry. God repeats the promise to Hagar of Ishmael becoming a great nation. And then the God who sees opens Hagar’s eyes so she can see the well that is close by.

I have tried to point out how the story works by making connections to the creation stories and also by looking forward to another creation story, the creation story of Israel as a nation. I think this story wants us to see how Hagar in the wilderness becomes like Israel when she is given her freedom. But when we think of the stories about the wilderness, we should also think of Moses. Moses has to flee into the wilderness to save his life and God meets him there. Moses, instead of naming God, asks God what his name is and God reveals his personal name to Moses. Moses, like Hagar, is sent back to Egypt, but then is sent or cast out of Egypt again which this time brings freedom to the Israelites. It is in the wilderness where Israel becomes a nation.

This story is about a great cultural reversal;

At the end of the story, Hagar finds a wife for Ishmael in Egypt and thus become the head of her family. She is now on the same level as Abraham who later sends his servant to find a wife for Isaac. This story is about a great cultural reversal; Sarah and Abraham become like Egypt, which in the Bible is the place of slavery. The story teller is trying to show us how easy it for us who claim to follow God, to become like those who do not make that claim. Hagar the Egyptian slave girl gains her freedom like Israel, but her status is higher than Israel’s because she names God. Abraham, the chosen one of God, seems to be a weak person in his relationship to Sarah and Hagar.

Does the story teller want us to look at Genesis one and two and consider what it means for both men and women to be made in the image of God, and what it means for the woman to be made as a helper who is man’s equal or greater than the man? Is the story teller using her/his skill to undercut a patriarchal system, one in which women and slaves have no rights? Why do you think the story teller tells the story like this?

How can we live this story out in our lives? Who are the Hagars or slaves in our lives to whom we give no value? They might be our most hated enemies but God gives great value to them because they are made in his image. God is not only working in our lives but in the lives of those who we think of as “the other.” God is the God of the oppressed; but are we for those who are oppressed, or might we be like Abraham and Sarah when they deal with Hagar? Who are we in this story?

What the story teller implies in the way the story is told, Jesus acts out explicitly. We see this best in the meal scenes in Luke. To be invited to a meal meant that you belonged, and the way people sat at a table showed their standing in society. We find Jesus eating with all kinds of people: tax collectors, women, and other sinners. The people Jesus eats with would not have been given a place at the table by other hosts but would have been made to stand outside and look in. At Jesus’ last supper with his 12 disciples, there is a man at the table who will betray him. Jesus gives him the bread and the wine just as he does with the others (Luke 22:14-22) even when he knows what the betrayer will do. This is the opposite of what Abraham and Sarah did. Instead of taking, Jesus gave and it is what we are to do as well.

Remember to chose Life

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Jeremiah and Ukraine

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This winter I taught the book of Jeremiah. It is the longest book in the Bible by word count. Much of it is in narrative. Narrative does a number of things that I like. Narrative invites us into the story and says, “What would you do if this was you?” Good stories ask us to identify with the characters. The other thing narrative does is to invite us to wonder how could this be different. What would have happened if they had done something different? Narrative in some ways is open ended which causes us to think and question about what might be. If we come at life with the question of what might be if we had been done things differently, it opens all kinds of possibilities. I am saying these things because I think we need to renew our sense of imagination so we can look at life in a bigger picture.

Jeremiah has many lessons for us today even if it deals with historical events over five hundred years before the time of Christ. Knowing the historical content helps us understand what Jeremiah is trying to say. For one thing much of the book is not written in chronological order, but is written in such a way that an early Hebrew reader would better understand its very important conclusions.

An overview of the book shows that Babylon was attacking Judah and Jeremiah was calling for the people to repent. The people did not turn to God but rather put their trust in their own strength and thought they would be safe because the temple was there. Their thinking went something like this: In the past during the time of Hezekiah, (whose story you can read in 2 Ki. 16, 2 Chronicles 32 and in Isaiah 36 ff), God saved us. We see how important this story is in how much space it is given in the Bible. Jerusalem was attacked by the Assyrians and when everything seems hopeless, God intervenes and Jerusalem was saved. That story gave the people of Jeremiah’s time great hope, because if God had done it once it must mean he would do it again. However, that is not the way life works. Who are we to tell God what he must or must not do?

Because the people had this misdirected trust, they refused to accept the rule that Babylonians put on them. As soon as Babylon left after putting a puppet ruler in place, Jerusalem would rise up in rebellion. They did this on at least three different times. Each time the conflict with Babylon would get worst and Babylon would take a bunch of people out of the land of Judah and into exile. It is in the middle of all of this that Jeremiah called for a different way of living. He called for the people to come to God in a deep and personal way. The people had the rituals, the offerings, and the temple, but what they were missing was the deep commitment to God that would change how they lived. Jeremiah was looking for justice that would reach beyond the ritual and give freedom to those who were the least of them. You can read about this in chapter 7. We need to understand that during this time, as in much of history, it is impossible to separate politics from the religious order. So more than likely if one part of was corrupt, so was the other part. Both would work together, very much like Putin is doing with the church in Moscow. So when Jeremiah was calling for reform, it was for both political and religious order. This made Jeremiah a very unpopular person with all the leaders.

To understand a bit more of how this worked, when one country would defeat another, they would go to the temple and take the images of the gods found there and take them to their own temples. They would say our gods are stronger than your gods because they called us to attack your country and gave us the victory. So while a war was fought with weapons and political will, the thinking behind it was that the gods gave victory. So what about the side which lost the war? What did they think about their gods after defeat?

They might say we had the wrong gods and therefore we lost. So now we need to rethink who our gods are. Were they as strong as we thought they were? Or should we just accept the gods of our enemy? These are questions that the book of Jeremiah seeks to answer as well. Can you really trust the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob after Babylon defeated Jerusalem and destroyed the temple? It is after Jerusalem was destroyed that the book of Jeremiah was put into the shape that we have it to answer some of those questions.

Towards the end of the book in Jer. 44:17ff there is a group of people who say, “Our lives were going good until we stopped worshiping our god, the queen of heaven.” This is what happened. Just before Babylon attacked Jerusalem, King Josiah had put in many religious reforms, but shortly after everything went bad. So what hope do we have when everything goes bad? And things went from bad to worse. From the records, there was no place that escaped destruction from Babylon the third time they came against Jerusalem. Only a small number of people went into exile and an equally small number were left in the land after the Babylonians were done. Everyone else died, either killed in war or starved.

I covered this in our class in Mexico as Russia was moving into the Ukraine. The thing going through my mind as I was teaching this was what if Jeremiah lived in Ukraine today? What would he say? What Russia is doing to Ukraine is what Babylon did to Judah, destroying everything so the people you are attacking will be so discouraged they will not fight.

So when Jerusalem was being attacked what did Jeremiah have to say to his people? He has two main points which said that the God whom the people were to follow was not defeated even if they were defeated.

The first one I want to address is what Jeremiah wrote in chapters 46-51 describing what happens to each country from Egypt to Babylon. We will only look at a couple of them. Jeremiah starts in Egypt and works his way north going in the opposite direction from which the Babylonians came to conquer their world. All of these nations had things and gods they trusted to keep them safe, but they proved useless in the end. Egypt trusted in horses but as we read in 46:15, Jeremiah asks “why has Apis fled and why did your bull not stand (NRSV)?” Apis the bull was one of Egypt’s main gods and it could not protect them; when trouble came he was useless. In 46:25, we read about another of Egypt’s gods, Amon, which is also known as Amon-ra, and he too is powerless. God destroys the very things Egypt trusted in, just like what happened in Judah.

The Philistines are mentioned in chapter 47. In verse 2 we read about the sea rising and sweeping them away. The Philistines were known as the sea people and the Babylonians would rise like the sea and take them away.

Then comes Moab and in 48:13, we hear about Chemosh their god, and how the people of Moab will be ashamed of it, because Chemosh could not save them even thought they were mighty warriors. One of the things that we should note as we go through this list is that God is called the LORD of Hosts over twenty times in these last chapters. It is the name which means that God is over all the armies both in heaven and on earth. It is he that will pass judgment in the end. No matter how dark things look, God will not be defeated.

Let’s move on to Babylon because they were the main enemy which had become all powerful and destroyed everyone else. What would happen to them? In the end, were their gods all powerful? In order for any of God’s promises for restoration to Israel to be true, Babylon must be dealt with. Babylon came and destroyed Jerusalem and the other nations because their time was up. They had acted in very corrupt manners in the ways they treated those who were least able to help themselves. Instead of protecting the poor, they enslaved them. The rich did well and the poor were abused. This is something that was talked about earlier in the book and a theme of a number of other prophets. They had also trusted in other gods. What Jeremiah is doing is looking at the world with different eyes, what we might call a sanctified imagination.

Waiting to eat.

The first thing that is mentioned about Babylon is about its gods Bel and Merodach. Their images will be destroyed and taken away (50:2). In the next verse we hear about a nation coming out of the north which will destroy Babylon the great, in the same way as when Babylon came to destroy Jerusalem. Everything Babylon did to the other nations would be done to it. It took around seventy years for Babylon to be destroyed but it happened. Judah’s enemy had to be destroyed so the people could once again return to their home land. Evil must be dealt with.

What would Jeremiah say to Ukraine today: I think he would say you are going through a terrible time, but in the end God will make sure that justice will happen. He would say all empires fall. Putin’s Russia will not escape judgment for what it is doing. It may take some time but it will happen. I think he would say don’t give up on God; rather come to him so that he might help you at this very difficult time.

I wonder what hope the people in Ukraine can have when Russia attacks and destroys everything, just like Babylon destroyed everything in Judah? I think they need to have the same hope that Jeremiah gave to his people: God is the ruler over all. It will be very difficult but in the end, the God of Host who rules over all the nations will make sure that justice is done and we need to be on the side of justice. What that might look like reminds to be seen. But like Jeremiah we need to see the world for what it can be and work towards it.

What might Jeremiah say to us about Putin? I think he might say to pray that he has a change of heart or a heart attack so that the bloodshed will stop. If you read the Psalms like 58 or 64, you will find them calling out for the destruction of the enemy so there can be peace.

What might Jeremiah have to say to us in the West? I think he might thank us for listening to the stories coming out of Ukraine. It is when we hear the personal stories that we can start to understand that these are real people who want to live in peace. But at the same time he might ask us why we are not listening to those same stories coming out of the south where people are fleeing their homes going north, like we see in Mexico, and then are stopped by walls, both figuratively and literally? Or why are we not listening to other stories from people who have undergone the same kind of destruction from Russia in Syria and other places like it?

Making sandwiches for 1000 migrants

Jeremiah also points ahead to better times and promises his people that God will bring them back to their land again. It will take time, but it will happen. We find Jeremiah making these promise in chapters 29-33. Here he writes about the return, coming back from exile. During Jeremiah’s time it looked like God had abandoned the people, and didn’t seem to care what happened to them. But in 30:22 he says he will be their God and they will be his people. If you read these chapters, you will find there will be a time of complete restoration. So how is this possible?

Jeremiah talks about a new covenant in 31:31-34; it is a covenant where God’s teaching will be written on people’s hearts. Everybody will know the right thing to do. How can this work? During that time when someone needed guidance, they would butcher an animal and look at its liver to find guidance. I think what Jeremiah has in mind with this new covenant is others will be able to look at God’s people to see how to live. They will not need to ask what they should do, but will see people who are living out this new covenant and see what they should do.

When Jeremiah told the people in chapter 29 who went into exile to build houses, plant gardens and pray for the welfare of the place where they end up, this is what I think he had in mind. The enemy who had destroyed their homes would see that these people had a greater purpose in life then just living for the day, or seeking revenge for what had happened to them. The people who went into exile were called to be an example of what it means that God would be their God and they would be his people.

Jesus also uses these words of a new covenant when he takes the bread and gives it to his disciples and then takes the cup and says this is the new covenant in my blood shed for you (Luke 22:20). Jesus lived in very similar times to Jeremiah; forty years after his death Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed and the people forced into exile. Jesus is giving us a way to live when things are not going well. Instead of a rebellion fought with arms, he laid down his live so that others can find live. He lived out what it means for Jesus to be our God so we can be his people. And then he asks us to follow him and live out this new covenant in our lives so others can see what it means for Jesus to be our God and us to be his people.

This is the new covenant in my blood shed for you Luke 22:20

Choose Life

Written by Jack, edited by Lucy

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Where is Jesus?

Christmas has come and gone for 2021.We have celebrated Jesus’ coming in a number of different ways. Piñatas have been broken and everyone has eaten way too much candy and sweets. We have had a number of Posadas because of what happened over two thousand years ago. It is an event worth celebrating. Not only has Christmas come and gone, so has 2021. For many people 2021 was a hard year, and for others it has been a year in which there started to be hope for a better future. The beginning of a new year is a good time to say, “I hope this year will be better than the old year.” It is a time to reflect on where we have been and where we are going. But as one writer has said, the only way to see in the future is by looking to the past. This writer used the example of driving a car with the front window covered and the side windows are hard to see through. But the mirror looking back can be bright, and should give us some idea of what we might expect to see in the future. We may not be sure exactly what the future holds, but looking back, we can say that God has brought us to here so we should have hope for the future.

When Jesus came on that first Christmas so many years ago, it meant there needed to be a new understanding of what God was doing. This could be best understood after Jesus death and resurrection. The writers of the gospels who tell us about Jesus do so by looking back into their stories, and then use those stories to explain Jesus. If we can learn to hear the stories behind the stories in the Gospels, it will help us understand Jesus better and how we are to live, because of what happened to and through Jesus. Today I want to look at the book of Luke and see how he tells the story of Jesus in the first two chapters.

Luke wants us to know that there is a huge change from the old to the new with Jesus. When he starts his book, in chapter one, Luke tells us of an old priest who does not know what is happening when the angel comes to him in the temple. In contrast there is a young girl who is willing to have a child because she understands the angel’s message. We need to understand that the old priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were righteous and Godly people. Zechariah was in the temple when the angel came to him doing what he should. The goal of the law and sacrifice system was so God could come and live with his people much like he did in the garden of Eden, and this is what the old priest was waiting for. So in the beginning of the book of Luke, the temple is a good place. The temple is important for our understanding of Jesus and his mission because God was to rule from the temple. We remember from the story of the exodus how God came to dwell in the Tabernacle and then later in the temple which Solomon had built because he wanted to be with his people. During Jesus’ time, the people of Israel were again waiting for God to come back in some visible way to the temple.

After Jesus is born, his parents take him to the temple to dedicate him to God as asked to do by the law. We read in Luke 2:23,

“as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord.”” While they are in the temple, Mary and Joseph are met by an old man named Simeon, who is filled with the Holy Spirit. He recognizes Jesus as the one whom they have been waiting for. He says this about Jesus: “”Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. 30 I have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared for all people. 32 He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!””

Lk. 2:29-32 NLT

His words are a confirmation of who Jesus is. But he also says that Jesus will bring division and cause many in Israel to fall. There will be many in Israel who will oppose him and his mother will experience great sorrow because of this.

And while they are there a prophetess named Anna comes and when she sees the baby, talks to everyone about him. She is also very old. I want us to notice a couple of things that Luke is doing up to this point. The priest Zechariah and his wife are old, and so are Simeon and Anna. Everyone in the temple is old, and they are waiting for the new to come. In the same way, we are waiting to see what the new year will bring because we want the new to be better than the old. But Luke tells the story in a way that brings balance between old and new and between men and women. If there is an old man in the temple who sees Jesus, then there is also an old woman. We do not know much about Simeon, the old man, but we are told that the woman, Anna, is a prophetess. When we read the gospel of Luke, we can watch for the way he brings a balance to his stories between men and women. It is the way that God’s kingdom is to work, where everyone is included but also where the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.

In the next story, Luke brings us to the temple for a third time. Mary and her husband, along with many others, traveled each year to Jerusalem for the Passover. By this time Jesus has grown into a young man. He was 12 years old and this was the age when he would have been seen as a young adult. The Passover is when everyone looked back and remembered the whole story of the exodus and how God had freed the Israelites from slavery to serve YHWH, and how he had led them through the desert to the promised land. Along with that part of the story, they would have also remembered God coming down from Mount Sinai and his presence moving into the Tabernacle. It was a great time of rejoicing in what God had done in the past but it also led to a great longing that God would do something similar again. When they were done celebrating the Passover, everyone went home and started to get ready to do it all again next year.

But when Mary and Joseph leave, Jesus stays behind. His mother does not know this because Jesus is now 12 years old and he is seen as a young adult who can travel with others in the group. After traveling a full day, they start to look for him but they couldn’t find him. What do you think went through Mary’s mind? Remember what the old man Simeon in the temple had said about Jesus. He had said that there would be those who opposed Jesus and because of it, she would have great sorrow. I am sure as they made their way back to Jerusalem Mary’s prayer must have been, “Please God, keep him safe until we get there.”

And when they finally find Jesus, he is in the temple, sitting with the teachers asking and answering questions. We need to stop right here and rethink what we know about teachers and students. In our settings, the teacher is in the front and stands while the students sit at their desks. If you read the gospels, you will find that when Jesus teaches, he sits down. During Jesus’ time, very few people had chairs but the teachers sat. When we are told that Jesus is sitting with the other teachers, Luke puts Jesus on the same level as the other teachers. Everyone is amazed, including Mary, and so they should be!

But Mary, Jesus’ mom is also worried about her son and so she says to Jesus,

“Son,” his mother said to him, “why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.” 49 “But why did you need to search?” he asked. “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they didn’t understand what he meant. 51 Then he returned to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. And his mother stored all these things in her heart. 52 Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people.

Lk. 2:48-52 NLT

I want us to think of what Luke is doing, because he is the only one who tells us about Jesus going to the temple, first as a baby, and then as a child. I think Luke wants to draw our attention to some Old Testament stories showing that this is where Jesus belongs because it is his Father’s house. When Mary went to visit Elizabeth in Luke 1:46-55, she sang a song which has very strong echoes to a song which Anna, or Hannah, (in both Greek and Spanish, Hannah is Anna) sang after the birth of her son Samuel. If we remember Anna could not have any children so she prayed and God gave her a son which she gave back to God. Whenever we read about a woman who is unable to have a child and then God gives her one, we should be looking to see what happens next, because God is about to do something unusual. The songs which both Anna and Mary sang call for God to do something new. Both of them ask for the ones with power and riches to have them taken away and the ones who have nothing to be filled. Both of them were praying for an upside down kingdom where the last would be first and the first would be last.

In the story of Jesus in the temple as a baby, we remember the prophetess was called Anna. There is only one other woman in our Bible who has this name, and it is Samuel’s mother. As we look at the story of Samuel, we find that Anna takes him to the temple and leaves him there. She knows that the priests who are in charge of the temple are corrupt, but she must have believed that God would protect her son under care of the old priest Eli. Eli, like Zechariah, had trouble understanding what God was doing.

We remember the story of how Eli and the young boy Samuel are in the temple at night and God calls out Samuel’s name and Samuel thinks it is Eli calling him. Finally Eli figures out God is calling Samuel, and from that day God worked through Samuel to change Israel. Samuel helped Israel leave behind the chaos of the book of Judges. Samuel appointed two kings, Saul and later David. David became the best-known king of Israel. Under Samuel’s leadership Israel longs for God and turns back to him. Samuel brought a new era to Israel. We remember that it is David’s son Solomon who built the temple which was filled with God’s presence.

At the time of Jesus, the people in Israel were looking for a new David. The way Luke tells us these first few stories about Jesus, we too should be looking for someone who could come and take over the throne. The close connection with the temple is important because it was from the temple that God should rule the world. When Jesus said, “I must be in my Father’s house,” it sounds like he is saying, “I am the one you are waiting for.” Luke is asking his readers to look for a new start just like with the story of Samuel. He is asking us to read the rest of the story with our eyes open to see what God will do to bring a new way of living. What will it look like when Jesus as the son of God comes to his people?

So what should life look like when God comes back to his temple? The best way to understand what life should be like if God comes back to be with his people is to look and see what Jesus did. How did he treat people? We see Jesus spent a lot of time with people who were from outside the ruling class. He spent time eating with them because eating together is one of the best images we have of when God comes to be with us. He healed those who needed healing so they could be who they were meant to be. He spent more time with those who were at the bottom of the social ladder than any other group. He worked to make the last first. Jesus also had very strong words for those in authority who used their power against those who were powerless.

As we look ahead to this year, we need to ask ourselves what does Jesus wants us to be and do. I think one thing that we should all be doing is to live like Jesus is here ruling from his temple. I believe that Jesus is here now ruling from his temple because we, those who have decided to follow Jesus, are his temple. But we cannot see him and may not feel his presence. Or let me put it in another way. Maybe we can see him but we fail to recognize him, because when we read Matt 25:34-40, we read these words:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ 37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

Matt 25:34-40 NLT

When we went to give out the gifts to the people at the tracks, not only were we giving gifts to them but if I understand Jesus’ words right, we were giving them to Jesus himself. This is one way that we can see Jesus. The people who we gave gifts to are made in God’s image, the same as we are.

There is something which we need to be aware of. When Jesus returned with his mother, he was obedient to his parents and he grew in wisdom and statute. Samuel did the same thing when God called him in the temple. They grew in wisdom and understanding. We too need to grow in these things. Life is a journey in which we should be growing to be like Jesus.

There is another way that we can see Jesus that I want to touch on today. We have seen the story of when Jesus stayed in Jerusalem and how Mary (I say Mary because only Jesus’ mother is mentioned in this account) did not know where he was until they found him in the temple. At the end of the book of Luke, there is a story of two disciples. Only Cleopas is mentioned by name but it may well have been a couple and the woman’s name might have been Mary. In John 19:25 we find them mentioned as being there when Jesus was crucified. This story is the counter story to the one we find in Luke 2. These two are leaving Jerusalem and they do not know where Jesus is either. They knew he had died and been placed in a tomb but then, when the women went there early in the morning, the tomb was empty. In their journey of eleven kilometers to the village of Emmaus, a stranger comes and joins them. He tells them the long story of the prophets which would have included the story of Samuel. He told them how the Messiah had to suffer and die. The travelers on the road did not know who was walking beside them as he explained the story of the Old Testament. After their long walk they entered their house inviting the stranger to stay the night and share a meal with them. When the stranger sits down and takes the bread and blesses it, their eyes are opened and they see Jesus.

Once they know who he is, he vanishes. Today when we take the Lord’s table, may we catch a glimpse of Jesus. May we be surprised like Mary when she saw Jesus in the temple, that the creator wants to sit with us at this table and eat with us. May we be astonished that Jesus would come to be with us as a human who suffered and died so we can share and understand the love that God has for us and be reconciled with him. May we find Jesus, the God who eats with us, close in 2022.

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A Gift Which Brings Hope.

When I was a child, I had many hopes and dreams for what I would find under the Christmas tree on Christmas morning. As good Canadians, we opened our gifts early on Christmas day. Most of the time it was not exactly what I had been dreaming about. Gifts often work that way; they may be different than what we hoped they might be. If I could ask each of you what you are hoping for, what would you say?

For example, if I had asked you what you wanted for Christmas two years ago, you might have told me about all the hope you had for a future full of friends, peace, and well being. If I had asked you what you hoped for in the middle of the pandemic, your answer might well have been that God would save the life of your friend or family member. Or it might have been that God would spare your own life so that you might see your children and grandchildren and you could be there for them. Or for some, it might just be to go back to what was normal before. One year made a huge difference in what we might hope for.

If we had been living at the time of Jesus, what would we have hoped for? Might we too have been disappointed the first Christmas? To answer these questions we need some context. It is important to know what was happening in Israel around the time that Jesus was born. Different people hoped for different things. Those who were getting rich because they had made an alliance with the Romans wanted things to stay the same. However, the common people were under heavy taxes keeping them very poor and they hoped to get rid of the Romans. And then there was another group of people who thought that the worship in the temple was defiled and the temple should be torn down and rebuilt. The groups wanting change were waiting for God to come in a display of power.

Their hope was that God would come and bring renewal to their lives and systems. What gave them this hope? There are at least two reasons, and there may be many more. Reason number one is that they saw life was not going the way they thought it should. After all, nobody likes to pay taxes, and people like to pay taxes even less when they see their hard earned money leave the country. Think of when Spain controlled Mexico or England controlled the US. Wars were fought to change things.

The second reason is they had stories of how God had worked in the past to deliver them. Think of the stories that you told yourself during the pandemic. They might go like this: We remember when we could go where we wanted, when we wanted and we hope that day will come again. Telling those stories gave a longing for change.


The Jews remembered their stories well. Many of their stories were written in what we know as our Old Testament. One of the main stories which they knew and told over and over again was the story of the exodus. This story told of how God saved the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, then led them through the desert for 40 years and brought them into the promised land. They remembered this story because it was told every year in their homes when they celebrated Passover.

They would have remembered the stories about David who was the youngest of his family and became their most famous king. They remembered that God had promised there would always be one of David’s offspring who would reclaim the throne of David.


They would have remembered the story of the exile when the Babylonians came, destroying Jerusalem and the temple. They would also have heard the promises which the prophets made of God bringing them back to the land, forgiving their sin and God himself coming to live in the temple as he had done in the past.

These stories gave hope, but maybe what they hoped for was not exactly the right thing. They were hoping that when God came to visit his people, he would come with all his force and drive the Romans out, rebuild the temple, and make them the most honoured people of the world. They would be number one to whom everyone would bring their wealth or taxes. They were hoping for some great event that would restore them again and make them powerful.

But was this the point of the stories they remembered and told themselves in their time of need? There is no doubt that they had the right stories and that those stories do bring hope, but could those same stories be heard with a different focus? Today I want us to think about the exodus story. Not just the escape from Egypt and the journey through the desert. Those are very important parts of this story and they give us the context for some of the points which we often miss. The points that we miss are central to the whole story. They are as important for us today as they should have been in the time of Jesus. And they should give us hope.

When we start with the exodus story, we remember how the Israelites became slaves in Egypt and how Pharaoh wanted to kill all the baby boys. We remember how Moses was saved by his mother. Then when Moses was 80 years old God met him in the desert and called him to lead the people out of slavery because God saw their suffering and heard their groaning. God remembered the promise he had made to Abraham, a promise of blessing and a land. The promise of blessing was not only for Abraham and his off spring, it was to be for the whole world.

Moses goes to Pharaoh with the message that God wanted the people to go into the desert to serve him. They would change from being Pharaoh’s slaves to belonging to YHWH. YHWH would be their God and they would be his people. We know the story of how Pharaoh refused to let the people go and how God sent the ten plagues. The last plague was when the angel of death came and Pharaoh’s oldest son died. It was this last plague which made Pharaoh change his mind and let the people go.

We know the story of the crossing of the Red Sea. God led the people around in the desert so that Pharaoh would think they were lost and go to bring them back. It is when the people are facing the sea in front of them and Pharaoh behind them that God parts the sea so the people can cross through on the dry land but Pharaoh gets stuck in the mud. Once the Israelites are across on the other side, the sea closes in on Pharaoh and his army is destroyed. It takes 15 chapters in Exodus to get the people away from Pharaoh and four more chapters to reach Mount Sinai.

At Mount Sinai Israel gets the ten words, or commandments. All forward movement in the book of Exodus stops at this point. The only movement is Moses going up and down the mountain to met with God. We know the story of the ten words, many of us having learnt them as children. They are central in how we relate to each other and to God. We also know the story of the golden calf and how the people grew tired of waiting for Moses to come down the mountain and so they asked Aaron to make a god for them. But I wonder how many of us know the rest of the story in the book of Exodus?

In the book of Exodus, there are 13 chapters that have the instructions for the building of the tabernacle, and then the actual building of the tabernacle. The whole journey of going to the promised land stops at Mount Sinai while this takes place. In between the instructions for the building of the tabernacle and its completion, we have the account of the golden calf (Exod 32). God has just brought the people out of Egypt and slavery and they respond by turning their back on him. It is at this point that God says to Moses that he will not go with them to the promised land but instead he will send an angel to lead them (Exod 32:34), but Moses does not accept this. And in 33:15-16 Moses has this to say:

“If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place. 16 How will anyone know that you look favorably on me– on me and on your people– if you don’t go with us? For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth.”

Exodus 33:15-16

The point is if YHWH does not go with the people, then the promised land will be meaningless. The goal of the exodus was for YHWH to be with the people. In order for this to happen, the sin of the golden calf must be dealt with and forgiven. Moses pleads for this in 32:32. God does forgive so the story can go on. Without forgiveness, the story would have ended here.

As we look at how the exodus story unfolds, it helps us understand what it is all about. First, God frees the people bringing them to Mount Sinai and making a covenant with them there. During this time Moses goes up and down the Mount because the people cannot go to YHWH, because he is holy and the people are not. In the same way YHWH cannot come down to the people like he did in the garden of Eden where he talked to them in the cool of the evening, because if God in his holiness would do that, the people would die.

But when the building of the tabernacle is completed, YHWH can come down from the Mountain and enter the tabernacle as happens in Exodus 40:34-35:

Then the cloud covered the Tabernacle, and the glory of the LORD filled the Tabernacle. 35 Moses could no longer enter the Tabernacle because the cloud had settled down over it, and the glory of the LORD filled the Tabernacle.

Exodus 40:34-35

Now YHWH was in the middle of his people in the tabernacle which was built to represent the garden of Eden. However, as in the garden of Eden after the fall, no human could enter the garden; now Moses could not enter the tabernacle either. If the point of the exodus was for YHWH to come to be with a people so that he could live in their midst, there would need to be a way for the people and God to be able to live together.

That is what the book of Leviticus is about. How can people live with a Holy God in their midst? It is complicated and some of it has to do with how people thought and lived at that time. Everyone made sacrifices at that time. Most of them made sacrifices so the gods they served would give them what they wanted. The sacrifices in Old Testament were different. The sacrifices were to cleanse the people so that God could live with them. They had a range of categories for things ranging from the common to the holy. The goal was to make sure that the common did not come in contact with the holy and die. The goal was to give God his rightful place. These sacrifices were to show on the outside what was happening on the inside. If there was no change on the inside, then all the other things meant nothing.

Maybe something that would help us understand this is celebrations of anniversaries; it helps us to recognize God’s faithfulness. The Israelites took it a step further. They also remembered their failures and need for cleansing by their sacrifices. They did this yearly so the priests could enter the tabernacle going into God’s holy presence.

In all of the sacrifices, the blood was offered to God showing He was the giver of life. In many of the sacrifices, the priest got a part of it, God got the blood and the fat because the good things and life came from him, and the people who brought the sacrifice got the rest. It was like a meal in common where everyone got to eat together with YHWH at the head of the table.

One way of looking at the whole story of the Exodus is as a marriage scene. God rescues his bride and then brings her into the desert to show how he will take care of her. He shows her all the good things that he has for her. More than just taking care of his bride, he wants to be with her and will do whatever it takes. Israel is often described as YHWH’s bride. The whole goal of the exodus was for YHWH to come to be with his people. All the sacrifices and laws are there to help facilitate that. When the laws and sacrifices become an end unto themselves, they become meaningless. The goal was for the people to become holy like God is and to show that holiness to others in the way they lived. If they did, then things would go well between them and God, but they didn’t as we find out in the other stories.

When we come to the time of Jesus, the people are hoping for many things just like we do when it is almost Christmas time. They were hoping that God would come in a great show of strength and drive out the enemy so that they would again be free in their own land. They wanted to do to others as the Romans were doing to them. They wanted the taxes to flow to them so life would be easy. They wanted God to come to the temple and cleanse it so that, once more like in the days of Moses or Solomon, they could see God’s glory in the temple.

They wanted God to do their bidding and make them powerful. They were worried about the outward things. I think they forgot that the stories of the Old Testament, like the one of the exodus, at its core was not only about freeing them from slavery and bringing them to the promised land. The point of all those stories has to do with the garden of Eden, where God met with the humans he had created to enjoy being with them. He wanted to be their God and he wanted them to be his people. God wants people to be able to have that close intimacy as they had in the Garden Of Eden.

So when Jesus came he was not what most of them hoped for. When John spoke of Jesus’ coming, he used words which the people would understand as coming from the exodus story. John says: “So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.” (Jn. 1:14 NLT). The word that John used for making his home among us is the word that in Hebrew means the Tabernacle, or to live in a tent like YHWH lived in the tabernacle during the time of Moses. The goal of the exodus and Jesus coming to earth was so God could be close to us. He has come to us, so how will we respond to him? Is our hope in the things which we want Jesus to do for us or is our hope that Jesus wants to be with us?

Yes we do things differently than during the time of the exodus, but the goal is still the same. We need to make ourselves ready to meet a holy God who came to us as a human so we would not die but find life in him at the first Christmas many years ago. As in the exodus story, Jesus came to deal with the things which separate us from him.

What is your hope for this Christmas? How does that hope change us? How would we live if we could see Jesus here with us? Is our hope found in the words of Matt 1:23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.'”?

Hear the words of Matt 1:18-23.

This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly. 20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: 23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.'”

Remember to Chose Life

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Are We Peacemakers? 

Today our world is at war; maybe not the kind of war that we had with WW1 and 11 but it is at war none the less. Is there any chance for peace? Or must we always be in conflict with each other? Right now the pandemic has stirred up much of the conflict we are experiencing. Many people who claim to follow Jesus are caught up in conflict as well. What did Jesus have to say about conflict and living in difficult times? The Sermon on the Mount is a good place to start and I hope that it might be just a starting point in seeing what Jesus has to say. 

When Matthew writes the Sermon on the Mounthe put it in Chapter 5 for a good reason. It comes at the start of Jesus ministry shortly after his baptism and temptation by Satan. In his final temptation Satan offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would just bow down and worship him. What Satan wanted Jesus to do was to serve him and do it Satan’s way which is very different from the kingdom of Heaven of which Jesus spoke. One is a kingdom for the sake of control and power and the other is a kingdom which serves others but seems weak. God’s kingdom might seem weak but it is actually very strong, because it can change things without using coercion. 

Between Jesus temptation and the Sermon on the Mount, we find Jesus healing the sick and preaching a gospel of repentance. In 4:12-25 we see the two kingdoms in opposition to each other. When John the Baptist confronts Herod about his sins, he is thrown into prison for speaking out. This is how kingdoms of control and power work. Jesus, on the other hand, went about healing those who were sick and demon possessed, the outcasts of society. One kingdom tries to control and the other sets free. 

In the Sermon on the Mount, the first 12 verses are what we call the beatitudes. These lay the foundation of God’s kingdom that Jesus preached. Jesus’ preaching about the kingdom of heaven, as Matthew calls it, was done with more than words. If you follow Jesus’ story as told in all the gospels, he heals the sick and casts out demons and sets people free just like what happens in Matthew 4. 

But there is another side to this story. When Jesus interacted with people, he was very kind to the poor who needed help, but he had harsh things to say to those who were in power. The people in power used their positions for their own benefit. The people who opposed Jesus had a kingdom like the one that Satan offered to Jesus. The role of leadership in the Bible is to protect those who are less fortunate. Jesus has very strong words for those in leadership who misuse their position for their own ends. In the beatitudes, the people are blessed for their actions, but in Matt. 23:13-35, the leaders are warned of sorrows for their way of life. 

Jesus used very harsh words, but if the kingdom that Jesus was bringing is about setting people free, then they should also be set free from others. There are two kinds of kingdoms and they use different methods to achieve their goals. 

Often in Matthew chapter 5, we like to talk about each beatitude as a separate characteristic. They are, but I think it is better to understand them to be working together as a whole. For example, in verse 9 we read about being peacemakers. In my heritage we thought being peacemakers meant not going to war but we paid less attention to the other beatitudes. Not going to war was the one thing that set people in my heritage apart and they were seen as traitors of the state because of it. 

In Canada we have just celebrated Remembrance Day with 2 minutes of silence and remembering those who gave their lives fighting for our country. It is a good thing to remember our history and how we got to have freedom. But for me this is a day with conflicting ideas. I understand that sometimes violence must be used to stop evil, but I think there was a failure to use other methods before the fighting started. 

Jesus gave the sermon on the Mount in a very difficult time. Some in Israel wanted war with the Romans and even within Israel, the people were very divided on many issues. So when Jesus spoke about being peacemakers, he was calling for a new way of living in a very difficult time. 

What Jesus had in mind about being peacemakers goes way beyond not just going to war. When Jesus spoke these words, he was speaking either Hebrew or Aramaic and he would have used the word Shalom. It means peace, but it has a much deeper meaning than just not being at war. Shalom has the idea of completeness, or wholeness. If we have Shalom, everything is the way it should be. A good picture of what Shalom looks like is the Garden of Eden before the serpent entered. The man and the woman met with God when they were naked because they had nothing to hide. There was peace, or better there was shalom between them and everything they needed for life was there. 

In the Sermon on the Mount, the other beatitudes play an important part in being a peacemaker, or better a shalom maker. If peace or shalom is more that the absence of fighting or war, then there must also be things that lead to wholeness and well-being. It is for this reason that Matthew in 5:3-12 gives us this list of characteristics of the kingdom of Heaven that taken together lead to wholeness/Shalom. Maybe we will be better in some than in others, but if we work at them as a group, it gives us the best chance of getting it right. This should lead to not only the person who practices them being blessed, but also in being a blessing to others. 

The first beatitude in 5:3 is a blessing for those who are poor in spirit. What do you think of when you hear the words “poor in spirit?” In the equivalent passage in Luke 6:20 when Jesus talks about the poor, he does not say in spirit, rather he just says the poor will be given the kingdom. The idea of being poor is that you must depend on others. You know you cannot make it on your own. People who are poor in spirit know that they need each other and that God must give them what they need for life. 

In verse 4, the ones who mourn will be comforted. They can look at life and see things are not right. The people who understand that there are problems are also those who can work at bringing change. They are like the poor in spirit and know that there is more to life than what they have. 

The third beatitude in verse 5 says it is the humble ones who will inherit the earth. The word in Greek has a number of meanings and among them is the idea of a gentle person, or one who cares for others. I don’t think any of the beatitudes are passive; rather people who show these characterizes work at them and they are the kind of people we want to be around. 

The fourth one makes a shift in verse 6. It speaks about those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and they will be satisfied. Most of the time this is explained as people who want to be in a right relationship with God. That is true, but if I think about God’s kingdom and the people in it, that is not where it should end. Think of how Jesus acted when he freed others. One of the reasons that he was always in trouble with the leaders was because he wanted others to have their rights given to them. Jesus healed people and set them free from sickness or demons so that they could be who they were meant to be. It is also why he had such harsh words for the leaders, because what they were doing was keeping the common people in bondage by which they gained their wealth.   

This was also what the Old Testament prophets were so concerned about. For example, Jeremiah lived when Jerusalem was being attacked by the Babylonians. He knew what would happen. He understood that Jerusalem would be defeated and many people would die and of those who survived, many would go into captivity. But Jeremiah was more concerned about how those in positions of power treated their people than he was about Babylon. You can read about this in Jeremiah 7:5-11 

This is what all the prophets were concerned about. When the people said they worshiped YHWH but then mistreated the poor people, God was very displeased with them and sent them into exile. Jesus was not saying anything new here. 

The time that Jeremiah lived was similar to Jesus’ time in many ways. During Jeremiah’s time, Jerusalem was under Babylonian control and the temple and the city were about to be destroyed. Shortly after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the temple was again destroyed. In both cases Jesus and Jeremiah were more concerned about what was happening with their people than they were with the forces on the outside. Both Jeremiah and Jesus were concerned with what made for peace. Things that made for peace were not only how the people worshiped, but how they treated others.  

The next two beatitudes in Matt. 5:7&8 speak about those who show mercy and are pure in heart. Those who practice this will receive mercy and see God. It is the merciful that can work at bring lasting peace. After WW1 was over, the Allies made Germany pay for the cost of the war, deeply humiliating them. It led to very hard feelings and 20 years later the same countries were at war again in a much worst way. When WW2 was over, the Allies rebuilt Germany and guess what? Today they are allies. That is how mercy works; it doesn’t try to humiliate others. 

Those who are pure in heart are those who do things with a pure motive. They are working for something greater than themselves. They are the ones who are working for the kingdom of heaven. 

The next beatitude is about the peacemakers in verse 9. If we want to be peacemakers we need all of these beatitudes, not just one. Since no one has a complete measure of the beatitudes but we all have a bit of them, we need to work together. No human I have met in my travels is perfect. Because of this we need to be working together so that people will see that we are indeed peacemakers working for the kingdom of heaven. 

Masks are a good sign of the divisions of our time.

Today as I look at our world, I see a huge need for peacemakers. COVID has shown us how divided we are. Times of stress bring divisions and problems to light. It might be political, social standing, wealth, race, masks or vaccines. It was the same in Jesus’ time. The Romans were not the biggest problem but them being there brought the problems to light. It was the same thing in Jeremiah when the Babylonians helped show where the problems were. Social media has given a voice to people without any accountability and makes things worse. Life is often difficult. But life was not easy for Jesus either. In verse 10, Jesus says that people who are persecuted for righteousness sake are blessed. We can see what happened to Jesus because he lived each one of these beatitudes in his life. He was put to death. He has called us to follow him and work for the shalom of the kingdom of Heaven. 

The results and rewards of the beatitudes go beyond the here and now. Because others have lived out these beatitudes, the Kingdom of Heaven has been made available to us. What will the people who come after us say about us? Did we work at being peacemakers so others can enjoy the peace that the Kingdom brings? Did we choose the kingdom of shalom which brings life, or did we choose the kingdom of power which brings death? 

Choose Life

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THE TEMPLE MIGHT NOT BE WHAT WE THINK!

I grew up in Hermosillo, Sonora, a city with a high percentage of Catholics. But my mother taught us about the LORD, and we attended a congregation called Maranatha Evangelical Church. I have very beautiful memories of the brothers and leaders who left a mark on our family for life; I understand this congregation was one of the first Protestant churches in my city.

When I talked with my childhood friends who belonged to the Catholic church, we had some doctrinal differences but we also had something in common. We understood that in the temples which each of us attended, we were visiting God. And we all used the phrase at some point, “Let’s go visit God.” We even got the idea that God was upstairs, seeing us when we misbehaved in the worship service because we had warnings from adults who told us “Shhh Silence in the house of God”.

But as I think about this today, I can appreciate that what the authors of the Scriptures tell us is different. I think we need to look a little more closely at what the authors are trying to communicate, because it could change the way we understand what the LORD did, is doing, and will do on earth.

IN THE BEGINNING

As you well know, one of my favorite stories is the story of creation, so we will start there. The LORD created everything from disorder in six days, and on the seventh day, He rested (Genesis 2:1-3). Sometimes we understand that resting is sleeping, but in Scripture it is a little different; the idea of resting is of a king sitting on his throne and ruling with authority and thereby keeping everything in order. We also find that in Genesis, the LORD created the Garden in Eden, where the presence of the LORD could be felt very intimately.

Then the LORD God planted a garden in Eden in the east, and there he placed the man he had made. 9 The LORD God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground– trees that were beautiful and that produced delicious fruit. In the middle of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Gen. 2:8 NLT

I believe that the author narrates the story of creation so that we see creation as a temple. On top of a mountain, the LORD put a garden. In this garden, the presence of the LORD interacted with man and all of creation.

Let us not forget that in every ancient temple there were always images of the gods, and the LORD put his image into this temple.

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” 27 So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis.

Genesis 1:26-27 NTL

You may be wondering, “Does Genesis 2 say anything about a temple?” The narrator doesn’t say the word temple literally, but the description does. I believe we could understand that all creation is a temple and the Garden of Eden is a place where the presence of the LORD was felt more intensely (like in the Holy of Holies); if we analyze the garden of Eden, there heaven and earth came together and were one. It was the place where God lived and reigned over all creation.

I think, as we read Genesis, we should understand what the author wants to tell us and see this beautiful garden as the center of the temple. In the temple of Eden, the LORD asked humans to reign over creation. But unfortunately they did what they thought best, and consequently they were expelled from this beautiful orchard.

THE TABERNACLE AND THE TEMPLE

As we saw in the previous posts written by my good friend Jack Vogt, the LORD never left humanity alone. The LORD selected a family to bless all nations. This family later became a great people, and God’s presence was manifested in a mobile temple called the tabernacle; and then later in the temple in Jerusalem. I think these places were designed to represent Eden; in fact, we can observe the same characteristics that describe Eden. For example, priests and Levites were given specific functions of “working and caring for the temple” (Numbers 3:7–8; 18:2–3). Where else do we read of such a job description? In Genesis, of course, we can see that Adam and Eve were given the same task as the priests.

The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it.

Genesis 2:15NLT

So we could say that Adam and Eve were the first priests to reign along with the LORD; but as we all know, there they made a decision by wanting to rule in a different way and they were expelled.

We can say that the priests and Levites represented humans before the LORD. This can be seen as a symbolic representation of Adam and Eve. The temple was a sacred re-creation of the garden, where humanity could live with the LORD in peace.

https://clipart.world/menorah-clipart/free-menorah-clipart-transparent/

Inside the Tabernacle and the Temple, we can find many references to Eden. It was a place with engravings of flowers, golden trees, and representations of animals. I think we should say the tree of life is represented by the Menorah; it had light and fire representing the life-giving presence and blessing of the LORD (Exodus 13:21-23). That is why Aaron had to arrange the lamps so that their light would always illuminate the twelve loaves (representation of the twelve tribes of Israel). It visually represented the intention of the LORD that his people would live continuously in his presence and enjoy the blessing mediated by his priests, just as in the Garden of Eden.

The temple was designed by King David, but built by his son King Solomon. They thought this was the house of the LORD. Many of us think the LORD lives in heaven, but I think the concept that Scripture teaches is that the earthly temple is the place where heaven and earth meet.

Where have we read about this concept before? That’s right, we had observed the same idea in Genesis.

The word temple in Hebrew is hêkal andit is also used for a king’s palace. So a temple is seen as the place from which God reigns and lives with His creation, just as in Genesis. However, even Solomon who built the temple, never thought that a building could contain the complete presence of the LORD of all creation.

“But will God really live on earth among people? Why, even the highest heavens cannot contain you. How much less this Temple I have built! 19 Nevertheless, listen to my prayer and my plea, O LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is making to you. 20 May you watch over this Temple day and night, this place where you have said you would put your name. May you always hear the prayers I make toward this place. (2 Chr. 6:18 NLT).

We can see that the temple is a symbol reflecting the creation of Genesis 1-3 which is the true temple of the LORD because He is present there.

This is what the LORD says: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Could you build me a temple as good as that? Could you build me such a resting place? 2 My hands have made both heaven and earth; they and everything in them are mine. I, the LORD, have spoken! (Isa. 66:1-2 NLT)

The temple is a symbol that makes us look back to God’s presence in Creation and marks the day when people will again be in the divine presence in a renewed creation. But this powerful symbol of future hope did not last. The books of Joshua to 2 Kings tell the story of how Israel entered the promised land, rebelled against their LORD, and dishonored the temple in Jerusalem (just like the early priests, remember them? Yes, I mean Adam and Eve.) And they were expelled from their land, far from the promised land. And although many Israelites eventually returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, they never experienced God’s presence there in the same way as Adam and Eve did.

In fact, that is why the biblical prophets spoke of a future temple in which the Glory of the Lord would return and the king would be among his people in the temple (Ezekiel 40-45) maintaining the relationship between God and all creation.

THE MASTER

It is interesting how Jesus appears in the story just when everything seemed to be lost to corruption. He is presented as the LORD among his people, as a new temple and also as a new priest, although the Master did not work or serve in the earthly temple during this time. In fact, the temple was seen as corrupt because it had been built by Herod who was only a half Jew. But the Gospel of John begins by telling us:

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. (Jn. 1:14 NLT)

The word John uses to describe that he “dwelt/made his home with us” is the Greek for the tabernacle which God commanded Moses to make in Exodus 25. John’s words describe Jesus as the tabernacle and the glory that dwelt in heaven (the divine temple) that became human. Jesus is the reality to which the temple pointed. Again, like in Genesis, heaven and earth came together, but now it is not a building. YES, it is in the Grandmaster, Jesus.

Matthew, another author of the Gospels, quotes Isaiah 7:14:

All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: 23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.'” (Matt. 1:22 NLT)

John and Matthew’s message is clear: Jesus is literally God with his people! And the book of John shows us how the LORD’s plan will be carried out in restoring the relationship we saw in Genesis 1-2 with all creation (John 3:16).

John tells us of the Great Master describing his body as the temple and saying that it will be destroyed but rebuilt in three days.

“All right,” Jesus replied. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 “What!” they exclaimed. “It has taken forty-six years to build this Temple, and you can rebuild it in three days?” 21 But when Jesus said “this temple,” he meant his own body. (Jn. 2:19-21 NLT)

After the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of the Master of life, He told his disciples that they could enjoy God’s presence with them forever.

“If you love me, obey my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. (Jn. 14:15 NLT)

This is how we become part of that great temple, where heaven and earth meet, because the presence of the LORD is with us. We can live in God’s presence just like in the Garden of Eden. Today there is a group of ordinary people who live in God’s presence and are ruled by Him.

The New Testament never mentions a new temple being built until the last book of Revelation. But Peter called the church “living stones” where God dwells and Christ is the foundation of this Temple. Paul called the church the “temple of the LORD” because he is with them and they live for him.

Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? (1 Cor. 3:16 NLT)

NEW TEMPLE

At the end of the Bible, we see a new temple (Revelation 22:22) similar to creation in Genesis; this new heaven and earth does not need a new building for the LORD is resting and reigning over all creation through Jesus.

Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. 2 It flowed down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations. 3 No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him. 4 And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. (Rev. 22:1 NLT)

Often we think that buildings are very important, and I think they can be because they are very expensive. But the Scriptures shows us that the temple of the LORD is where His presence is, in perfect coexistence with His creation. We need to live so others can see that He owns everything. I want to tell you that it is never too late to do this as long as you have life. Let us not forget the story when the Master was on the cross and two more people met him:

We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” 43 And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Lk. 23:41 NLT)

It is interesting that the word paradise in the Greek NT is only used two other times where it refers to the place where God is (2 Cor 12:4 and Rev 2:7). Since the word “paradeiso” for the Jews in the time of the Great Master was identified as the Garden of Eden, this man on the cross with Jesus was able to experience the presence of the LORD at the most distressing moment of his life. He recognized that it was the LORD with whom he spoke and he was not rejected, but received with love into the presence of the LORD.

Many of us think that the coming of the LORD will be after the restoration of the temple because we see this as a sign. However, the scriptures show us that the restoration of the Temple is a sign that the presence of the LORD is with us.

Come! You are invited to be part of this Temple where heaven and earth come together thanks to the Great Master! I hope that in our daily decisions we will choose life and live as priests in the restoration of this world.

Thanks to my wife Rebecca and my friend Jack Vogt for their help by giving instruction. There are eternal things that are worth more than gold.

Written by Hector Nieblas Grijalva who is the husband of a beautiful woman, father of two children, son, brother and friend, who seeks to better understand the Bible.

The Spanish version can be found here https://eligevidahistorias.wordpress.com/2021/08/29/el-templo-no-es-como-lo-creia/

Remember: Choose Life.

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What Purpose do the trees in Eden Have?

This post was written by my very good friend Hector Nieblas Grijalva. Hector is a tall Mexican with a young family of two very active children and a very short wife who is the love of his life. Hector is also an up-and-coming theologian. I thank God for his thoughts and friendship.

I Hector, would like to tell you some of  what we have learned about the Scriptures recently. It all started about 11 years ago, when I met our good friends Jack and Lucy. They come from Canada, mainly to teach the Holy Scriptures in the winter time in my country of Mexico. This has been of great benefit to us. They made the decision to teach what they have learned in their cold country and take it to the city of the sun (Hermosillo).

Hermosillo from the center hill

Hermosillo is the capital of the state of Sonora, and it is one of the hottest cities in Mexico. In the summer temperatures can reach 45 ° C, but Sonora is also one of the states that has a great variety in its ecosystems; here we find mountains, sea and desert.

In our city there is very little water and consequently little vegetation, but even so in this desert area it has been possible to plant and have fruit trees. On one occasion an agronomist told me something very interesting, he said the fruits and seeds produced by trees in desert areas are of the best quality, because they are designed to live in adverse and  unfavorable conditions.

Trees in Eden

In teaching times with my friend Jack, the questions have been increasing about the Bible (thanks for your time friend). One of the themes which influences my life in an ongoing way, is the teaching of the Torah; which was taught in my local church Arbol de Vida. Let me start at the beginning.

Then the LORD God planted a garden in Eden in the east, and there he placed the man he had made. 9 The LORD God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground– trees that were beautiful and that produced delicious fruit. In the middle of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Gen. 2:8-9 NLT

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and the LORD planted a garden in Eden. In this garden man lived constantly with God, and in the central part of this garden is the Tree of Life; but the Tree of Good and Evil is also in there.

The way the author tells the story of creation, one of his purposes is for the garden to be seen as a Temple and with the garden being placed at the top of a mountain (from which all the rivers run). Here we can appreciate the presence of the LORD with much intensity, just like in the most holy place in the Temple; however in the center of the garden, the trees of life and the knowledge of good and evil are also found according to Genesis chapter 2.

But what about these trees? What does the narrator want us to know about them? Before when I read the creation story I always ignored the Tree of Life, I never thought it was relevant to me; in fact, Genesis is often said to be very boring until after chapter twelve.

What I always learned was that the central point was the Tree of Good and Evil or Knowledge, best known as the tree forbidden by God because it would lead to death. But I think what the author wants us to understand, is that both trees are important.

They are found in the central part of this garden where the presence of God is palpable. I think the main goal of the author is to represent the LORD by means of these two trees.

On the one hand, the Tree of Life represents the power of the LORD to create and give life and is within everyone’s reach, remember the context of the story (The LORD creating and giving life); in fact, the Lord’s command to the man is that they can eat from any tree in the garden including the Tree of Life, in short the LORD gave them authority to ingest the life that comes from himself.

But the LORD God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden– 17 except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.”

Gen. 2:16-17 NLT

A few verses later we can see an important statement according to the story you will be what you eat. The fruits of these trees can transform lives of people giving eternal life. According to Genesis 3:22, if they would have eaten from the tree of life, what would have happened? They would have lived forever!

On the other hand, we have the Tree of good and evil or of knowledge, this famously being known as the one that produces the forbidden fruit. I always saw this tree as the villain of the story, but I think in a sense it also represents the LORD, since He knows everything, and it reminds us how dependent we should be on Him, since our mind is finite and we don’t know everything. In this way, by not eating the fruit, humans should totally depend on the knowledge of the LORD, turning to the LORD for guidance in any situation as a son goes to his father for advice.

In the story, depending on the fruit they eat, it transforms their lives, eating the fruit of the Tree of Good and Evil is a direct statement against the LORD, in his own temple; Exclaiming that it is not necessary at all for us since we “know” how to make decisions for our own benefits and this is one of the reasons why this tree brings death. At the same time the LORD exclaims that they cannot now eat of the Tree of Life. In short, believing we will have control of life, as the LORD does, can even be interpreted that the humans believed they would become gods

After the betrayal that occurred in the garden; the humans were thrown out of it, separated from the Tree of Life and their access to it is prohibited by divine fire.

Will we see the Tree of Life again?

Later in the story the author mentions Moses, and how he meets the LORD on top of a mountain, manifesting himself in a desert tree with divine fire which did not consume the tree, the tree could not die. Does this remind us of something previously narrated? I think so, the trees in the desert are very dry and easily consumed by fire, but I think the author wants us to again think about the Tree in the Garden, the Tree of Life. The LORD tells Moses to remove his shoes because he is in a holy place just like in the temple.

When the LORD saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!” “Here I am!” Moses replied. 5 “Do not come any closer,” the LORD warned. “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground.

(Exod. 3:4-5 NLT

Then the LORD asks Moses to guide his people to this mountain to make a covenant with them, he asks them to make a very important decision that would transform their lives leaving their old life, in other words will they follow the LORD of Life or they will follow their customs and continue living for the gods which they created? Unfortunately, the people of Israel repeated the story of the garden as it is found in the Genesis account, acting according to their own reasoning, which they believed was better for them but it led to their death (Exodus 32: 14-28).

This did not end here, as my friend Jack Vogt mentioned in a blog post, Story, Counter Story and Back Story; This was repeated generation after generation, following idols created by human reasoning placing them at the high places of their cities, minds and mountains trying to overturn the place that belongs to the LORD and it led directly to their death.

The problem was never the trees, they represent God and the narrators of the Bible knew this. I am not trying to teach a new idea but rather we can learn together what God has spoken and be able to apply it to our lives.

By wanting to be equal to the LORD, we believe that we can make good decisions for our lives, but the history of creation shows us that this is a total lie that has been taught by human beings, but there is only one Tree of Good and of Evil and one Tree of Life and it is the LORD. King Solomon knew that we are not capable of knowing everything and that knowledge comes from the Lord (Proverbs 1: 7 and 3:15).

Wisdom is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. 16 She offers you long life in her right hand, and riches and honor in her left. 17 She will guide you down delightful paths; all her ways are satisfying. 18 Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her; happy are those who hold her tightly.

Prov. 3:15 NLT

I think it is no coincidence when Solomon mentions in a passage reflecting on the creation story. The LORD has been continually presenting himself as those beautiful trees of Eden which reflect God to us.

The Master of Life

Jesus, like some authors of the Bible, made reference to trees and their fruits which have a connection with the story of Genesis, and announcing that he came from God and was the one that Moses and the prophets had spoken of (John 1:47):

But Jesus, the Great Teacher of Life always announced that the LORD continues to present himself as the Tree of Life for all human beings who want to follow Him.. These great trees of Genesis are represented in the Gospel of John by statements like:

“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener”

Jn. 15:1 NLT

The Master presented himself as Eternal Life in John 17: 3, and invited everyone to follow him, and to be transformed through this fruit; and all those who eat the fruit were able to transform their lives through the knowledge and life of the Great Teacher. But just like in the creation story, he was betrayed by a man in a garden, who believed he was doing what was best for himself.

After saying these things, Jesus crossed the Kidron Valley with his disciples and entered a grove of olive trees. 2 Judas, the betrayer, knew this place, because Jesus had often gone there with his disciples.

Jn. 18:1-2 NLT

Jesus, being killed on a cross, was sacrificed under thoughts far from the wisdom of God. But most amazing of all, they thought they were “done” with this fruit, but remember when seeds of the trees are put in the ground they bring forth life. The man thought that he had finished with the Tree of Life once and for all and forever, but it was not like that, this was seed resurrected on the third day; as he had said.

Jesus replied, “Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory. 24 I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels– a plentiful harvest of new lives. 25 Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. 26 Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me.

Jn. 12:23-26 NLT

This demonstrates again that the LORD continues to be close to us, that death has never been able to stop the Tree of Life, since the story of creation. He was with Moses and the bush, and now he is with  Jesus. He gives us the opportunity, as in Genesis, to be part of a new creation; transforming the lives of the people who eat this fruit.

Hope

The book of Revelation ends the same way the Bible begins in Genesis, with a new garden. The author describes it again as a temple, and the Trees of Life are there; beside the river providing running through the center of the main street of the city, bringing life and healing. On each side of the river are the trees of life, which produces twelve crops a year, one a month; and the leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations. Revelation 22: 2.

Dear reader, I hope we will turn our faces to see and eat of the Tree of Life. By doing this our lives can be transformed and we can take refuge under its shade. My advice is; choose life.

I want to thank my great friend Jack Vogt, for all the time that he has been teaching us from the Word; and Lucy, his dear wife, for those delicious cinnamon rolls, the LORD bless you always.

Thank you Hector/Muchas gracias amigo.

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Story, Counter Story and Back Story.

            To fully understand life and who we are, we must tell stories because it is these stories which give us meaning. How we tell our stories tells others who we think we are, and the stories that we listen to influence who we become.

            Story is also a very important element in the Bible and if we misunderstand the stories, we miss what the Bible is trying to say because too often we only hear the parts that we like and it gives us a wrong view of God and ourselves.

God chose Abraham to make him into a great nation, to give him a land and to make him great.

         THE STORY that we mostly hear and tell says God has chosen us above all others, and therefore we are special. The story goes like this: In Gen 12:1-3, God chose Abraham to make him into a great nation, to give him a land and to make him great. To seal these promises, God made an everlasting convent with him. As we follow this story, we find the descendants of Abraham enslaved in Egypt, but God steps in because they are his people of promise. After many plagues and with a great show of force, God frees them but Pharaoh and the Egyptians are destroyed for not letting God’s chosen people go. When they reach Mount Sinai, the covenant is renewed with YHWH saying he would be their God and they would be his people.

         The book of Joshua is about God keeping his promises and giving the land to the Israelites. Israel only has to march around Jericho for seven days for the walls to fall and the city to be taken. God proved that he keeps his promises and that the Israelites are his special chosen people compared to the Canaanites who are big sinners because they worship false gods.

         In the book of Judges, Israel is in big trouble but, because they are the chosen people, God has a plan to move things forward. Samuel is there to anoint two kings, Saul and David. The enemy has changed from the Canaanites to the Philistines. David, because he is God’s chosen king, defeats them with no problem just like he defeated the giant Goliath with a sling and five stones.

YHWH makes a covenant with David in which he promises to make David and his family great. The promise of the land and kings made to Abraham has been kept.

         After David has defeated everyone, he wants to build a temple for God, but God has different plans. In 2 Sam. 7, YHWH makes a covenant with David in which he promises to make David and his family great. The promise of the land and kings made to Abraham has been kept. Things are looking good. There is this special group of people who God loves and cares for. And if others stand in the way, like the Philistines, Canaanites or Egyptians, God has a way of dealing with them. Whenever Israel gets into trouble, they look to their past to see what God did.

            However, with Jesus’ coming things change a bit. There is a new group of people who also claim the promises made to Abraham, Moses and David. These are the followers of Jesus called Christians who see themselves as very special.

Jesus battled the enemies of sin and death so we Christians can enjoy the fruit of God’s promises made many years ago.

         Jesus gave his life so that they could become the children of promise. Jesus battled the enemies of sin and death so we Christians can enjoy the fruit of God’s promises made many years ago. We read in Eph. 1:14 that we Christians were chosen from before the fountains of the world were laid.  All of the promises that were made to Israel about land and blessings are now transformed by the phrase ‘in Christ’ to Christians. The Apostle Paul says in Eph. 1:13, that we have the Spirit as a promise that all that God spoke before will come to pass. Christians have much to look forward to.

            This is a good and encouraging story giving us great hope. We are special and chosen by God for good works (Eph. 2:10). But if we miss the why of our calling, it can lead us into major problems. We might think we are more special than everyone else. God has called us, chosen us, and has poured out his grace on us. If we forget the why of our calling and think that we are special because God chose us, then what will we think about everyone else? What about the others, like the Egyptians, the Canaanites, or the Philistines? Or in our case, what about those who do not believe exactly like us? Maybe God hates them, because we read in Exodus 22:20 that anyone who worships other gods is slated to destruction. This is what happened in the Exodus, or when Joshua took the land, or when David fought against the Philistines. I believe this kind of thinking is what drives much of the culture wars we see and like all wars, it is hugely destructive. We think we are right and they are wrong. We think we have the Spirit and the others can’t have it. It is a story out of scarcity; God does not have enough grace for other people.

            So what is the counter story? If I have just described what many assume is the major story, then what is the counter story?

God made this beautiful world and placed humans in it, to watch and keep it safe, but the first thing they do is try to take God’s place by eating of the forbidden fruit.

            THE COUNTER STORY: goes like this: God made this beautiful world and placed humans in it, to watch and keep it safe, but the first thing they do is try to take God’s place by eating of the forbidden fruit. We think about Abraham and all the promises that God made to him including the land and the next story is of Abraham going to Egypt where he tries to sell his wife to save his skin.

            When God brought the Israelites out of slavery and Moses is on the mountain getting the ten words, Aaron and the rest of the people are down below worshiping the golden calf.

            As soon as the walls of Jericho fell a man named Achan is there taking the things which God had forbidden, just like the first humans in the garden took the forbidden fruit.

            There is David. God promised to make him famous and the very next story is about how David takes the beautiful woman named Bathsheba and has her husband killed so that no one will find out what he did.

            In the New Testament, it is the chosen people who call for Jesus’ death. In the book of Acts when the church starts to grow, we read the story about Ananias, and Sapphira (Acts 5:1) trying to take honour for more than they did. They repeated the story of Achan in the book of Joshua. The counter story is bigger than just these few examples; it is most of the story. In the counter story, people act as though God is a God of scarcity and cannot be trusted to supply us with what is needed so we must take it for ourselves.

            What might we learn from the counter story? We can see the line that separates us from them is much finer than we like to think. It should make us humble because at any time we might become like those who have failed. As soon as we start to think we are better than others because God loves us, chose us, called us, and saved us, we are in danger of falling into the counter story.

            So what about the the back story? The back story has to do with the outsider, those we like to point the finger at. They are the ones not included in the family line of Abraham.

THE BACK STORY

            I have already told the story of Abraham twice but there is the third line in this story that we need to pay attention to. When Abraham tries to sell Sarah, first to the king of Egypt in Gen. 12 and then later to the king of Gerar in Gen. 20, both of these foreigners are more righteous than Abraham. They know what is morally right. In the case of the King of Gerar (20:3), God speaks directly to him like he does to Abraham. When he finds out that Sarah is Abraham’s wife, he rebukes him for what he has done.

When Tamar proves that Judah is the father, all he can say is that Tamar is more righteous than he was

            In Geneses 38, we come to Judah through whose lineage Jesus comes. He has three sons, but the first one was evil so he dies leaving his wife Tamar childless. The next son’s duty in that culture was to take his brother’s wife and raise up a child which would legally be his older brother’s child. The second son dies because he refused to do what is right. When this happens, Judah sends Tamar away because he is afraid of what will happen to his last son. Here the back story gets very messy. Tamar realizes that Judah has no intention of doing the right thing by giving her to his youngest son so she takes matters into her own hands. She hears that Judah is passing close by where she lives so she dresses up like a prostitute. Judah is happy to take the bait and Tamara becomes pregnant. When Judah finds out Tamar is pregnant, he wants to have her killed; but when Tamar proves that Judah is the father, all he can say is that Tamar is more righteous than he was (Gen 38:26). For all its messiness, Tamar is mentioned in Jesus genealogy.

            In the next back story, the midwives in Exodus 1 disobey Pharaoh’s orders to save the Israelite’s newborn boys from death. Pharaoh is powerless to stop them. When Pharaoh commands that all the baby boys are to be thrown in the Nile, it is Pharaoh’s own daughter who rescues Moses even though she knows who he is (Exod. 2).

Achan, who is an Israelite . . . lives like a Canaanite; but Rahab, the Canaanite Prostitute . . . lives like a true Israelite.

            As we move ahead, we come to the invasion of the land under Joshua. When Joshua sent out the two spies to Jericho, they go to the house of Rahab the prostitute, one of the most public places in the city (Jos. 2). Did you ever stop and think of why they go there? She hides the men on her roof top and saves them because she saw what God had done to free the Israelites and bring them to the promised land. We need to read Rahab’s story in light of Achan. Achan, who is an Israelite with all the promises and covenants of God, lives like a Canaanite; but Rahab, the Canaanite Prostitute who is slated to be destroyed like the rest of the Canaanites, lives like a true Israelite. She too, for all of her checkered past, is in Jesus’ genealogy.

One dark night, by the order of her mother-in-law, we find her climbing into bed with an honorable Israelite man who has had a bit too much to drink.

            Next we come to the time of the Judges and the story of Ruth the Moabite. The Moabites were enemies of Israel. Deuteronomy 23:3 tells us that no Moabite was to enter into the temple. They were outsiders who were as outside as you can get. Ruth was a Moabite widow who had married an Israelite. As you read the book of Ruth, you will find her in a very risky position. One dark night, by the order of her mother-in-law, we find her climbing into bed with an honorable Israelite man who has had a bit too much to drink. What her mother-in-law told her was to go and catch a man. So Ruth goes into the dark night all dressed up and climbs into Boaz’s bed. She is known as an honorable and God fearing woman who obeyed her mother-in-law. Ruth is also a part of Jesus’ line.

We need to see the differences between Bathsheba’s husband Uriah the Hittite and King David.

            Next we come to the story of David right after YHWH made a covenant with him. David has taken Bathsheba and killed her husband. In this story Bathsheba has no voice beyond saying to David, “I am pregnant.” However, we need to see the differences between Bathsheba’s husband Uriah the Hittite and King David. David calls Uriah from the battle and wants him to sleep with Bathsheba so that it will look like Uriah is the father instead of David. Uriah will not go to his house because the ark of the covenant is on the battle field. Uriah says in 2 Sam. 11:11, “How could I sleep in my soft bed with my wife while the ark of God is on the battle field?” We need to see that in comparison to David who did not even go to the battle, but took Uriah’s wife because he could. Bathsheba is also in Jesus’ line and there she is known as the wife of Uriah the Hittite so that we will remember Uriah’s faithfulness.

            And then Jesus tells us the back story of the good Samaritan. Samaritans were hated but the way Jesus tells the story, the Samaritan is the one who does the right thing. He obeys the second greatest command, which is to love your neighbor.

            Each one of the people in these back stories understand that God’s mercy extends to them and God is much more generous than many believe. They understand that God’s mercy cannot be cut short to the rest of his creation (Rom 9:15).

            So why do we have these back stories? These back stories are all about the other, or the un-chosen. They are telling us that if we think we are the only special ones because God has chosen us, we are wrong. It really is not about us; it is about God’s kingdom. Being chosen by God has to do with a calling to reach out to others and to bring God’s grace to them. This is the point of the main story if we read it right, instead of just being about us. The counter story says we are human and can fall at any time. And the back story says God is working and doing great things among those we may look down on. We need to spend way more time on the back stories, because they are there to bring correction to our reading and understanding.

            I want to leave us an example of how this might work out today. We know the horrible story of the residential schools run by the church. This is an example of what can happen if we think that we alone hold the answer and everyone must see it our way. The goal was to destroy the first nations’ culture and language, and it has brought great damage to everyone. The church is dis-credited, whole generations have been destroyed. But then we look and out of those ashes come people like Terry LaBlanc, Cheryl Bear, Gary Quequish, and others like them who are working for reconciliation and healing which should really be our job. We need to listen to their stories so that healing can happen.

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Do I Love my neighbor?

Flag at Half Mask for the 215 children.

In Colossians 3:10 Paul tells us to become more like the image of our creator Jesus Christ. The changes we should see as we grow more into the image of Jesus is relate to others. In Colossians 3, Paul tells to leave behind, sexual immorality, lust, greed, idolatry, anger, slander and dirty talk and the worship of things of this world. These kinds of actions come from the belief that we are not getting our share of the world’s goods. In contrast to what we must leave Paul calls us to a new way of generous living where we have more than we need to be shared with your neighbor.  It is the way of Jesus who is generous with forgiveness and love. It does not matter who you are or who your neighbor is. If Paul was in here in Canada today I think he would say it does not matter if our neighbor is a Jew or a Palestine, First Nation, or a Canadian born to immigrate ancestors, a migrate seeking a better life, or someone born here, young or old, a brother or sister. What counts is Christ and how we follow him.

        We have been made in God’s image and are to live like Jesus who is the perfect image of God. The way we can know if this is happening is by the way we treat our neighbor. Paul says we need to be compassionate, showing mercy, forgiving each other when they do not meet our standards, as the Lord forgives us. The Lord forgives freely without asking for payment because He is generous. What Paul is asking us to do in Colossians chapter three is love our neighbor the way that Jesus loves. When we look at the gospel Jesus spent most of his time with those who were outside of the mainstream of society.

“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18).

        This goes all the way back to the Old Testament where we are told “You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind” (Deut. 6:5). And, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). How can we say we love God if we do not love our neighbor who is made in God’s image the same way as we are?

In Leviticus the command to love one’s neighbor is give in the context of justice.

(Lev 19:15)

       In Leviticus the command to love one’s neighbor is give in the context of justice. “Do not twist justice in legal matters by favoring the poor or being partial to the rich and powerful. Always judge people fairly” (Lev. 19:15 NLT). What do you think, Paul or Moses would say to us in light of what happened at the Indian Residential Schools, and the discover of 215 children in unmarked graves? How will we show neighborly love to those who have suffered these atrocities?  

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Give me Freedom and Give me Autonomy, Recognition, and Power

            When we think of people who we identity with I wonder how many of us think of Jesus. Maybe he is too perfect and humble for us, and I wonder if we would even have liked him if we had been able to meet him in person. While we admire many of his characteristics most of the time, they are not the characteristics that we pursue. We like to have autonomy, recognition and power, but how did Jesus handle the desires of these three characteristics?

            When we look at Jesus’ story, we find out that yes, his birth was humble, as in poor. His mother was away from home when Jesus was born and Mary and Joseph had to flee for their lives when Jesus was still just a baby. But poor is not the same as powerless. By the time Jesus was ready to start his public debut, he spent forty days in the wilderness and there he met one of his adversaries. His adversary’s job was to see what Jesus was really all about, what kind of a character he was when things were not going well.  He did it by putting Jesus to the tests of autonomy, recognition and power.

            Someone asked me the other day if the tests that Jesus faced came at the end of the forty days or if they lasted the whole forty days he was in the desert. That is a very interesting question and one that we can make an assumption about if we read the gospels closely. In good literature the introduction of a story sets the stage for what is to come. The story of Jesus being tested is the same, it should prepare us for what is to follow. If, as I think this first story of Jesus’ testing sets the stage for the rest of his life, then it seems that the tests were ongoing and did not start nor end after the forty days. Rather, they changed into different forms of the same basic elements of autonomy, recognition and power.

            We read the story as in Matthew 4 and Luke 4. Here we are told that Jesus spent forty days in the desert being tested. As we read about the forty days in the desert, we should be thinking about the forty years Israel spent in the desert and failed in all their testing. At the end of Jesus’ forty days the tests were amplified by the devil coming and giving us some concrete examples of Jesus’ testing.

Tombstone

            The devil took Jesus up a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world. He told Jesus these would all be his if only he would bow down to the devil. In the gospels we read all about God’s kingdom which Jesus was bringing. So what is the difference between the kingdom that Jesus was bringing and the one that the devil offered Jesus? Jesus’ kingdom in many ways looks very weak. It is the place where the poor and humble are honoured. It is a place where the last shall be first and the first shall be last. It is a kingdom where Jesus died because he refused to raise an army and pick up a sword to fight his enemies. On the other hand, we can assume that the kingdoms of the world that the devil showed Jesus were kingdoms like the Roman empire of Jesus time. We know that the Roman empire became great by the use of the sword. It was built on what was best for the Romans. As long as the wealth of the world flowed to Rome the kingdom worked. Therefore, Roman rule had everything to do with wealth and power and autonomy. The Ultimate Weapon the Romans used to control the people they ruled was the cross. The cross was a warning for those who thought of rebelling against Rome.  If they tried to rebel the cross was where they would end up.

            For Jesus to have chosen the kingdoms of the world would have been to choose the way of autonomy.  He would have been in charge and would have made all the rules. When Jesus spoke of God’s kingdom he was speaking of a kingdom where even Jesus did not do what he desired, but what God desired. What God wants is best for the whole world instead of what is only best for the elite ruling class. To choose God’s kingdom means submission in contrast to the elite of the world’s kingdoms who make rules that will only benefit themselves. Jesus came to serve instead of to be served and therefore he did not choose the kingdoms of this world. As Carey  Nieuwhof says, “The heart of the Christian faith isn’t about satisfying yourself, it’s about dying to yourself.” If Jesus had chosen the kingdoms of this world, it would have given him the autonomy to do whatever he liked. He would have been his own boss but he would have lost, because the kingdoms of this world in the end are defeated by the one who died on a Roman cross. To choose the kingdoms of this world is to go back to the story of the garden of Eden where the snake asks, “did God really say that?”

            We face this same temptation today. One example of this is, wearing masks. “If I have to wear a mask when I don’t want to I have lost my freedom, and nobody has the right to tell me what to do.” I get this. I don’t like people telling me what I can or cannot do. But if we use Jesus as an example then we will be more concerned about other people’s safety than what we see as our rights. This has been a struggle throughout all of human history. If we place ourselves in the garden beside the first man and woman, we too would have eaten of the forbidden fruit. We as humans like to be in charge of our own kingdom. Just watch a new born baby. When they are hungry or uncomfortable they will let us know what they think about that.

The smaller they are the more they rule

            Another temptation Jesus faced was that of recognition or popularity. The devil took Jesus to the highest point of the temple and asked Jesus to throw himself down. If Jesus would have done this God would have rescued him and all the people would have seen Jesus for what he really was, the Messiah. Jesus would have had acceptance and recognition. This would have given him an instant in. His life would have been easy from there on. Jesus lived in an honour and shame culture. If Jesus had done this he would have been honoured everywhere he went, and that would have been his reward. Instead Jesus chose the opposite route. When Jesus healed people, he told them, “don’t tell anyone that I did this.”  To tell other people what Jesus had done for them seems natural and right for us, but during Jesus time that would have been repayment for what had happened. The point is simple, what Jesus did he did freely and not for the reward it would bring.

            We as humans like to be recognized for who we are. I like people to recognize the gifts that I have. I don’t think that is bad, but when the goal of my actions is to impress others with how gifted I am, then I am doing it for the wrong reason and I have missed the point of imitating Jesus who came to serve instead of being served.

            The final temptation was the turning of stones into bread. At the end of forty days Jesus would have been very hungry and have needed food. For him it would have been a simple thing to turn stones into bread, but he didn’t do that. Again Jesus didn’t use power for his own end. Power used for a one’s own gain works against them in the end. If we look at the political systems that we live in they seem to favour the powerful ones, but that power in the end fails and someone else takes over.

            When we look at Jesus, we see he had power and he used it. We see this in the works he did by giving bread to the five thousand who followed him into the desert. But Jesus did not use his power for his own gain. The natural human tendency is to use power for our own ends, but our calling is to use it for the greater calling of using it for others.

Bread to share

            Right now in our story we can be a part of using the power we have been given to better the lives of those who have been oppressed for years by slavery and racism, or we can oppose the movements, by posting things on Social Media like: it had nothing to do with me, or all lives matter instead of Black Lives Matter (when it is people of colour who are being oppressed), or I worked hard for what I have, why didn’t others work as hard as I did? I am always disappointed when I read statements like this because I know that those people, like me have gained from what has happened in the past. I see those people as fearful of losing the power they have instead of using it to free those who are oppressed.

            All three temptations that Jesus faced of autonomy, recognition and power are closely tied to each other and they are all temptations that we all face in our daily lives. The big question is how will we deal with them? It matters a great deal at this point because our actions in this time of pandemic, and social unrest have the potential to either better and save lives or hasten death and keep others in bondage.

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Who is the Wonder Woman of Proverbs 31?

Today I am honoured to have my niece share a bit about her story and how she has chosen to rethink life.

By Robin-Taine Brownell

About 5 years ago, as I was wandering through the religion section of my local bookstore, I came across a book with a cheerful, bright yellow cover.  A picture of a smiling woman had been photoshopped to look as though she was sitting on the roof of a house. The book description, which told of the author’s yearlong experiment to live out biblical instructions for women in as literal a way possible, sounded crazy in the best possible way.  I dove into “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” as soon as I got home and into the brilliant mind of its author, Rachel Held Evans.  This book did not disappoint.  It was by turns hilarious, challenging, poignant, and in pulling apart scripture and examining it from alternative angles, so beautifully inclusive and instructive that I found myself in tears several times.

https://rachelheldevans.com/biblical-womanhood

The chapter on the Proverbs 31 woman was particularly mind-blowing. https://www.bible.com/bible/116/PRO.31.10-31.NLT The 31st chapter of Proverbs, a book of wisdom, reveals a superwoman.  This woman is up before dawn and not back in bed until long after dark.  She makes killer business deals making her household wealthy.  She is strong.  She tends to the poor.  She is prepared for every eventuality because she is never lazy.  Her husband and children call her blessed.  The Proverbs 31 woman is awe-inspiring. She is the subject of Mother’s Day sermons, the name of women’s ministries and the subject of devotionals and books.  She is often held up as the ultimate example of biblical womanhood.

In her research, Rachel Held Evans discovered that a literal or prescriptive reading of Proverbs 31, a common approach used by many churches and people, me included, is antithetical to the traditional Jewish reading of this passage.  In Jewish tradition, Proverbs 31 is a poem and it is intended for men! It is memorized and recited or sung by men on Sabbath as a blessing on their wives and mothers.  I had never heard of this version of Proverbs 31.  A blessing and not some sort of to-do list?  The 31st chapter in the book of wisdom is meant to be a teaching on, get this, wisdom!  This new approach, this alternative perspective, completely changed the trajectory of Proverbs 31 for me.  I cannot overstate just how jaw-dropping this was.  And I couldn’t help but wonder if other parts of the Bible had been as poorly understood and taught.  I hardly realized it at the time, but a thread in the certainty of my faith tugged loose.  The writings of Rachel Held Evans were to become a catalyst of spiritual change, a disruption, one of several I would experience in the coming years.  Disruptions in my life and faith that would lead me headlong into a full-on faith deconstruction.

Deconstruction is a strange place to be.  To take apart my faith, the anchor point of my life, and re-examine, well, everything.  To tear down the spiritual framework I was raised with.  To figure out what no longer serves my spiritual growth.  To find new ways of understanding God.  It is an expansive journey.  It is challenging and exhilarating, but I admit that I feel completely unqualified, sometimes frightened, and often very lonely.  A wilderness experience of sorts, where everything is both familiar and completely new at the same time. 

I am comforted, though, that disruptive wilderness experiences are nothing new.  The Bible, front to back, is full of them. As a nation, Israel had many disruptive wilderness experiences, from slavery in Egypt, to the Babylonian exile, Israelites over and over are forced to re-examine their understanding of, and relationship with God.  Nearly every major character in the old testament from Abraham to Job had great spiritually disruptive experiences.  The whole New Testament is a disruption, first with Jesus upsetting nearly every religious and cultural establishment of His day, to the book of Acts and beyond where the first generations of Christians had to re-examine everything they’d ever known for sure in order to figure out what direction this new understanding of God would take.  Transformation has always been the language of God.

My favourite disruptive stories are in the gospels when Jesus interacts with women.  Women, who in that steeply patriarchal 1st century culture, had no rights of personhood, were largely uneducated, and were considered both religiously and culturally to be the property of their husbands or fathers.  It is interesting then, that according to Luke 8:1-3, it was women who financially supported Jesus’ ministry.  In Luke 10:38-42 Jesus gives religious and educational equality to Mary and Martha. 

Jesus in Mary and Martha’s house. Copyright free

Women, who were considered too unreliable to give legal testimony in courts of law, were, according to each gospel account, the first witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection.  In one of His earliest public moments, John 4 tells of the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman.  Jesus crossed both racial and cultural divides to speak with her.  This woman who had either been widowed or divorced (keeping in mind that only men at that time could sue for divorce) 5 times, and was likely considered to be a source of bad luck by her community, someone to be avoided, became the first person Jesus commissioned with His good news.  Verse 39 tells us that her witness caused many Samaritans to come to Jesus and believe.  This was totally counter-cultural.  In fact it is Transformational!

The Samaritan woman at the well. Copyright free

Jesus challenged every bit of religious certainty, every cultural norm.  Any line that separated “them” from “us” was a line that Jesus walked right on over.  Jesus was a radical, a subversive.  Dangerous.  But then, God has never played by our rules.  He has always been a disruptor.  As believers who understand that God’s word continues to be alive, we really should not be surprised that the Holy Spirit continues to disrupt our lives today.  We should not be shocked when our religious certainties are shaken up and a wilderness experience looms large.  So, if like myself, you find yourself in a spiritual wilderness, lean into it.  Trust that a transformation experience is waiting.   Trust that God will meet you there because He loves you.  You are a beloved child of God.

 Trust that a transformation experience is waiting.   Trust that God will meet you there because He loves you.  You are a beloved child of God.

Robin-Taine Brownell has been married to Mike for 28 years and they have 5 amazing kids.  She has lived most of her life in Alberta but has also lived in all 4 western Canadian provinces as a child.  She has never gotten over living in the mountains.  Robin’s daily life involves lots of reading and cooking.  Her youngest daughter wants you to know that her mom’s favourite colour is blue and she doodles when she is bored.

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DISTRUST WHAT YOU SEE AND BELIEVE WHAT YOU DO NOT SEE (Or My life as Lot).

undefinedToday’s blog is written by my good friend Hector Nieblas. One of the things we need to do is listen to other voices and I would encourage you to do that here. Hector will tell us a little about who he is below. I am hoping to be able to bring more voices to the table as we talk about our stories in light of the Bible. May we learn to choose life during these interesting times.

When we think of Biblical characters, which one do you identify with? Usually we think of characters who are considered heroes of the faith, those who have done what is right before God. But what about those who were known as not following Him? Have we ever thought about what the Lord is saying through them to our lifetime?

If I had been asked a few weeks ago to choose a character with whom I identify, I most likely would have chosen one of those mentioned in the book of Hebrews, with a perspective that these characters were “victorious and perfect” people.

I was born in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico. I thank the Lord that for as long as I can remember my mother instructed us with Christian teaching. On the other hand, my father has still not met the Lord, but we continue to pray that He will have mercy on my dad and save him. Currently the Lord has given me a beautiful family, my beautiful wife (Rebecca) and two beautiful children who literally every day turn my life into an adventure, almost like a roller coaster ride.

Hector , Rebeca and family


Spending our time together in this quarantine has resulted in some very good changes; this time has helped us to know ourselves better and love each other more sincerely as a family. When we started the quarantine, I felt we were heading towards a ravine on a bullet train at high speed. This happened because of bad decisions I made in my life. Believing myself wise, I became a fool without seeing who it affected.

One character I identified with specifically this week is Lot. Strange, right? I think the Lord wants to show me something very important with Lot. He was a person that, by the mercy of the Lord, had so many possessions that he was not able to live together with Abraham in the same region. This brought and would continue to bring more conflicts over food, water, land, etc. if nothing changed. So, to avoid future conflicts, Abraham and Lot made the decision to separate their families so they could live “without conflict.” The Scriptures say:

Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt. (This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) 11 So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: 12 Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. 13 Now the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD.

Gen. 13:10 NIV

Lot based his decision on what he was seeing at the time. He saw something akin to Eden, something he thought would be good, something he remembered superficially as being from the Lord, a place where he believed that his family would live well, a place where he would have all his needs satisfied (“human and spiritual”.)

A place where everything was green and well watered.

But it was not to be. While trying to avoid a conflict, Lot plunged together with his family into another where his neighbors (Sodom and Gomorrah) did not have a relationship with each other as designed by the Lord. They were of a twisted mind and living together with them, Lot exposed his family to things we consider disgusting. The Scripture shows us how Lot’s day-to-day decisions were sinking him deeper and deeper into the hole together with his family.

I think when we read the scriptures we often dismiss stories that we don’t like very much, but Lot’s story shows me something that was lost in Eden. Since believing myself to be the owner and lord of my life, I have made decisions according to what I saw; I have considered myself wise and intellectual for choosing abundance, even thinking on occasion that I was being led by the Lord. But in the end I separated myself from Him, renewing the conflict since my decisions were based on what “suits me” (this is according to what I could see and not according to how I should represent God as an Image bearer).

I can see that God’s purpose is different than the way we currently make decisions. When we believe we are ready to move towards our goal, we will always choose what is safe for us. But it is important to take into account that uncertainty plays an important role in our lives since it reminds us of our limits and our total dependence and trust in Him who is Eternally wise. He is the only One who truly knows good from bad. We need to learn to live clinging to Him and His promise.

It will not always be a mistake to choose what you see, but I sincerely hope that in my next decision I will seek the Lord before being guided by the limitation of my own sight. One of the reasons for learning to choose what we do not yet see is to learn to relate to God in faith.

“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Jn. 20:29 NIV

If you want to read this in Spanish you find it here: https://eligevidahistorias.wordpress.com/2020/06/20/desconfia-de-lo-que-vez-y-cree-lo-que-no-vez/

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My Life as Abraham

If you could choose someone to identify your life with who would it be? And why would you choose this person? What makes you like them? I too have people that I identify with and will explore one of them here.

I want to start a new blog series where people can tell part of their stories based on characters from the Bible. The goal is to put the Bible characters into real life and to understand ourselves a bit better. As Miguel De La Torre has said, ‘theology needs to be done from the margins, so that it is brought down to the level of the common, instead of being only done from the ivory tower, where it often does not affect the everyday lives of people.’ Thus we will attempt to listen to the voices of ordinary everyday people as they tell us their stories in this way.

A number of years ago if you had asked me whom I identified with I would have said Abraham. Abraham lived in tents and moved from place to place always looking for something better. He was looking for the place which God had promised him. It took many years with a lot of detours in his wanderings before he found that place and God started fulfilling his many promises.

When we first came to Dawson City in the Yukon, with two small girls, there was no housing for us to rent or buy so we ended up living in a tent for more than two months.

Looking at the world from the safety of the tent

The rule was that no one could stay in a government campground for more than two weeks at a time. As a result, we ended up moving every two weeks until someone left for the winter and we were able to rent a house and start putting down roots.

Getting ready for the night!

However, when we read the story of Abraham it seems like he took a long time to put down roots. The first time he reached the land that God had promised to him he moved right on through and went down to Egypt. It is in Egypt where Abraham became a very wealthy person. The reason he moved to Egypt was because of a famine in Palestine. As COVID-19 is upsetting our economic now, a famine would upset the whole economic system at that time. Abraham being a man who was looking for something better left and went to the place where life seemed to be more secure. He was in fact much like an undocumented migrant who is traveling to the US looking to save and improve his life.

It is while living in Egypt as an undocumented migrant that he runs into trouble. What will he do for a livelihood there? If you follow the story in Geneses 12:10 and forward, you will find that Abraham tells his wife Sarah to say that she is his sister instead of his wife. This is only half true, because while she is his half-sister, in the story Sarah is always known as Abraham’s wife. There is a lot that we do not know about what happened, but Abraham became very rich when he was in Egypt, because of Sarah. Did he sell her to Pharaoh, as in pimping her out? It seems he must have. The place of safety for Abraham became a place of great danger for Sarah! When Pharaoh finds out that Sarah really is Abraham’s wife they get deported. This happens not only once but twice in the life of Abraham and Sarah, the other time is in Genesis 20. The huge mistakes that Abraham makes during times of difficulty did not mean the end of his relationship with God. We can forgive Abraham for his many sins because we see the whole picture. I think those times were times of learning for Abraham and by the end of his life he is willing to follow God even when God asks him to give up his son in Genesis 22. To be able to do this he did not let past failures stop him from moving forward.

In my own life there have been times of difficulty, and like Abraham those times have not meant the end of my walk with God. I want to touch briefly on a couple of times that were life changers for me. Like Abraham I have spent my time looking for a place. Not only a place to live but a place to belong and be a part of a community. I used to think my life was something like Abraham’s because we both looked for a unique place to live. Finding a unique place to live is great, but finding for a place to belong is more important, a place where we can explore life’s meaning and not be afraid of people who might see things differently.  A place where we are treated as equal human beings and also a place where we treat others like we want to be treated. Sometimes this is a hard place to find and yet being part of God’s kingdom means that we should have a place of belonging.

My first difficulty was caused because of conflict with some who at one time I counted as my best friends. The conflict Abraham had with Pharaoh, caused Abraham to go back to the place that God called him to. For me it led to six years of higher education ending in the Master of Divinity program at Providence. Those years opened the door to viewing life as much bigger than I had previously understood. It cracked open a door to freedom that has more than paid for whatever cost arose from the conflict. I am deeply grateful for the doors which have opened to me.

The second time when conflict came it was almost a repeat of the first time, and again the result was it opened new doors for me to teach others and share life with them. Spending twelve winters in Mexico has allowed me to be in a very special place of belonging. A place where my heart is with my friends, a place where I can see, God is calling us to, a place to serve. It has not all been easy, learning Spanish is a huge struggle. Living in two places is not always easy either. And now we do not know what the future holds, because of COVID-19. Will we be able to go back to the people we have grown to love and with whom we feel like family? For me Mexico has become a place of belonging. When I think of Abraham in his later life when he took his son up the hill to offer him to God, I wonder what all went through his mind.  What is clear after the years of difficulty and mistakes, he was sure of one thing; if God closed one door, he would open another. If there is a lesson that we can learn it is that when things go sideways, it does not mean that God is done with us. Usually it means if we can learn a lesson we will be able to move onto new things. With COVID-19 we cannot live in the past but need to be seeking new ways forward. As Carey Nieuwhof puts it “Asking the question “What does this make possible?” will shift your focus from what you can’t do to what you can do.”  (https://careynieuwhof.com/5-transformative-questions-to-ask-before-you-reopen-your-church-or-after-youve-done-it/) Who knows which doors God will open for us as we seek belonging and place here in this life with God who knows and leads us like he did Abraham.

Who knows where going through an open door will end?
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And Now What Will We Do?


We are living in very interesting times with little idea of what tomorrow, next week, or even next year holds for us. This is nothing new, but the realization that we don’t control our lives in the way that we thought we did is. This leaves us with questions such as what is important and how should we live? How do we know what to do? Who am I?

We are concerned about matters of health and wealth. We are or will be cut from close contact with family and friends. We may want to hug or shake someone’s hand but that is not allowed. What can we do? What gives us hope? And if we find hope, how can we share that to others in our community? I write this as a member of a local church community, but I am also writing this as a member of a larger community made up of people from many different walks of life. And then I am also part of a country and finally part of the whole world. We are in this together and as such we must answer the questions of what gives us hope and how we should seek to give answers that work on all levels.

I think what gives us hope can be best answered, not from science even if that is part of the answer, but more from a spiritual perspective. I am hoping and expecting that science will develop a vaccine, but that is a ways into the future. However we need more than that to hold on to in all of life’s difficult moments.

One of the things that gives me hope is that I do not have to have answers to what is happening, but that there is someone who is willing to walk though difficult times with us. As a Christian and someone who has spent much time studying and teaching the Bible, I find there is always an element of hope no matter how dark things got. Yes there were terrible times for the people of the Bible. For example, other nations might be invading Israel and they would and did defeat them. They were sent to live in far-away places way beyond their homes. But the story never ends there. There is always the hope that God would come to be with them and would right the wrongs. It is a message that is built on the very character of God himself.

Hope is built on the fact that God as the creator has made this world as a place to be enjoyed. Then he put humans into this world to live here in community with others. It is a place where there is enough for everyone and a place where each person is caring for those who can’t care for themselves. I see people who are caring for others and willing to help them at a cost to themselves. I am always a bit embarrassed when it is not the church that is leading the way in this. I am guilty in this too. The people who are reaching out to help others are actually showing us a picture of what God is like. Our calling is to show others what God is like.

The best picture we have of God and how he wants to relate to people is the stories of the four gospels. Here God comes as fully human while still being God, to show us how to live in this world. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, the book of Acts starts with these words, “In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach.” (Acts 1:1 NLT) The implication is that what Jesus did, we are to do as well. He brought hope to the common people he was in contact with; these were the people who needed help and were willing to admit it. For people who were not willing to admit they needed help, there was little Jesus could do.

What kind of hope did Jesus bring to his larger community? The first thing that I see was that he lived his daily life with them. He identified with the common people by hanging out with them. These were people who were called sinners; today we would still call them sinners, people who hang out at the bars or the ones who have just not made it up to our standards and try to deal with the troubles of life in an unhealthy way. They are the people that we look down on. They are the people that think differently from us. What we would expect as “good Christians” is that Jesus would come to these kinds of people with a message that you are lost and need to repent. Yes it is true that Jesus did have a message of repentance but for the common people that was not the focus; rather the focus was come follow me, come and see, the kingdom of God is here and we should live the realty of that. God is still in control.

We see how Jesus lived out his teachings by healing the sick, touching the lepers, feeding those who were hungry, and not condemning the woman who was caught in adultery. Jesus was always inviting people in and one of the best ways that I see him doing that is being with and for the common people. He rarely talked to them about what they believed. Yes, his teaching and parables showed what he wanted people to believe and at the heart of that teaching was that he wanted people to live like the world had enough for everyone. It really boils down to loving your neighbor, and then Jesus redefined neighbor as the person that was most despised in the Jewish world at that time (Luke 10:33ff).

I think as we face this crisis, we would do well to look at Jesus’ example and teaching. We might not be able to meet in person as a church community but at this time people will be looking for something to hang on to.

So we are left with the question off how will we be the church in our communities and how will we bring hope to those who are looking for hope? If we want to be the people that God has called to show his love to the world how can we do? It will take so deep thinking so that we can help those who are already working on this. We as a whole community are in this together and the church as a part of that community has a very important role to play. In the next five to twenty years from now how will we be remember?

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Protests and Polarization

Our Daughter, Anna Vogt lives in Ottawa just a couple of blocks from Parliament Hill. She asks some very important questions about this whole convoy to freedom event. These are questions we should all be asking so I encourage you all to listen to what she has to say! Proud of you Anna, keep up the good work.

The Llama Diaries

I went to sleep and woke up to the sounds of honking horns. As the sun set last night, an airplane with a banner reading “mandate freedom” flew past my window. The city is filled with more beards and coveralls than I have ever seen in Ottawa. Canada flags attached to hockey sticks are everywhere. Most people in Ottawa that I know or follow on social media have responded with disgust and shared photos of desecrated statues and Nazi flags. It was disquieting to enter my local grocery store to see aisles filled with unmasked shoppers picking up supplies. My sense of my own personal health and safety felt diminished. Yet, as I walked the blocks of Ottawa’s core yesterday, I saw city residents also thanking convoy participants and joining in the chants for freedom. Things are complicated out there.

In Colombia, I participated in a number of mass mobilizations…

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Life and Times of Jeremiah

Do you think the Old Testament has anything to say you during this pandemic?

I have finished reading the book of Jeremiah for my daily reading time in the morning and have been struck by how similar the ideas are in Jeremiah to what we are going through at this time with the pandemic. In order to understand this, we need to see what is happening in Jeremiah’s times.

            During this time, Jerusalem was under siege and then destroyed by the Babylonians. It was something that many of the prophets before Jeremiah had spoken about. The book of Jeremiah revolves around the crisis of going into exile, helping us understand what happened and why. I think Jeremiah understood what was happening for two reasons: First, he had a close walk with YHWH and he was familiar with the book of law. The book of the law was found in the temple during the time of King Josiah who ruled at the start of Jeremiah’s time (2 Kings 22:8). Many scholars think that this book was Deuteronomy or something very similar to it. When it was found, King Josiah tried to get the people to turn from idols and only worship in Jerusalem at the temple which Solomon had built about 400 years earlier. That was the easy part; the hard part was to get people to change their world view. While they might have done all the right things at the temple, it seems that the people in power did not change their ways in regards to how the poor were treated. In Jeremiah 34:9, each person was to free their Hebrew slave but in Jer. 34:11, we read that they took back their slaves. Changed rituals need to go with changed actions. People are more important than rituals. In other words, their economic system was built on the oppression of the poor, instead of the protection of the poor as called for in Deuteronomy 15:11. While they could change where and how they worshiped by bringing their sacrifices to Jerusalem, changing their economic system was much harder. In the covenant of Sinai, the worship of idols and the mistreatment of the poor would lead to the land vomiting the people out.

“You shall keep all my statutes and all my ordinances, and observe them, so that the land to which I bring you to settle in may not vomit you out.”

Lev 20:22

            The second reason that Jeremiah knew what was coming is that he had his eye on the north. We read this:

“The word of the LORD came to me a second time, saying, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see a boiling pot, tilted away from the north.”

Jer 1:13

Trouble came to Jerusalem from two directions, either from the north or from the south. Egypt was in the south and Babylon in the north had just defeated the Assyrians and their goal was to take Egypt. Egypt was the prize because of the riches to be found there. Jerusalem was a stop on the road that needed to be dealt with to reach Egypt.

            So Jeremiah had his eye on God’s Word and to what was happening around him. He understood what the covenant that YHWH had made with Israel at Mount Sinai was all about, and that if Israel as a nation followed YHWH, he would bless them and give them safety in the land. But if they didn’t, he would have to expel them from the land like he had done to those who were there when Israel took the land.

            So the Babylonians came and took Jerusalem, installed their own Jewish puppet king (a brother to the real king), and then left taking some of the people with them. The idea was that the puppet king would be loyal to Babylon. He would collect taxes for Babylon and make sure that no one would rebel against Babylon.  But after the Babylonians left, the Jews who remained in the land rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. There were a number of reasons for this. No one likes foreign rule with taxes and the best of the land’s produce leaving the country. The people also looked back and remembered when the Assyrians had attacked Jerusalem during the time of Hezekiah and how God miraculously intervened sparing the city. The people believed God would step in and save the city again just like he did during Hezekiah’s time.

            The people’s thinking went something like this: Jerusalem was the place where the temple of YHWH stood and by this time it was the only place where the people offered sacrifices. The temple symbolized YHWH’s rule over Jerusalem, Judah, and the rest of the world. They thought that because the temple was there, God was on their side and would protect them and save the city. Jeremiah says,

Do not trust in these deceptive words: “This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.” 

Jer 7:4

            While they remembered the account of God’s clear victory over Assyria, there were other accounts which they forgot or ignored. They forgot the stories like creation, when Adam and Eve were in the garden where God met with them face to face. But then when they disobeyed God’s command not to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge, they were sent out to the east of the garden. Or stories like when David had taken Bathsheba and how his kingdom almost fell apart afterwards. Rather they remembered stories about how God had delivered them when things were tough, because it gave them hope that God would once again act on their behalf just as He had delivered them against over whelming odds in times past. Now they were hoping for the same thing again. They were not willing to accept the new reality that said this time the way ahead would be different.

            It is into this situation that God calls Jeremiah to be his prophet. Most of the time the prophets’ messages were a call to repentance to those in power and therefore they were hated by the elite. If we can learn anything in life, it is that politics is about power and very rarely do those in power want to listen to the voices that call for change. The book of Jeremiah brings this out by the way Jeremiah is treated. He is thrown into a pit and left to die and it is only by divine intervention that he is set free. Many times people called for Jeremiah’s death.

            Jeremiah’s call was very clear. The temple that the people thought would protect them had become an idol. Stephen also makes this point in Acts 7:48, God does not dwell in a house made by human hands. Idols are made by human hands. The temple was good but when the thinking was that God lives in that temple and therefore he must protect them as long as the right things are done in the temple, but nothing else has changed, then it becomes an idol. Because it says that God is controlled by what we do. Who are we to tell God what he must do?

            While they would bring their sacrifices to the temple, their thoughts were far from the covenant that God had made with them. A big part of the covenant was that the people were to be holy like God was holy (Lev. 11:44).  Jeremiah has this to say to Israel,

Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice; who makes his neighbors work for nothing, and does not give them their wages; 14 who says, “I will build myself a spacious house with large upper rooms,” and who cuts out windows for it, paneling it with cedar, and painting it with vermilion. 15 Are you a king because you compete in cedar?”

Jer. 22:13-15

This was the opposite of what the covenant called for. The covenant called for the people to have the same characteristics as God has. Like God had freed Israel from slavery in Egypt, the people were to be there for those who were at the bottom of the social ladder, but they weren’t. God had had enough and he was about to destroy Jerusalem along with its main idol, the temple.

            Jeremiah’s cry was for them to surrender to the Babylonians and choose life. It went against the popular calls of the day of those who were hoping that God would again defeat the enemy outside the city.

            It made Jeremiah look like a traitor because he was calling for the leaders to surrender to Babylon. But he was really calling for them to save the people’s lives. The way a siege worked was for the attacking army to cut off all access to the city and starve the people into surrendering. While this was happening, anyone captured by the invading army was put to work building siege ramps and the only way to stop them was to kill those doing the building even though they were fellow countrymen. Because Jeremiah understood that God would not intervene this time, the only way for the people to survive was to surrender.

            But what about those who surrendered and went into exile? They went to Babylon and stayed there for many years. I am sure that life was not easy for them but Jeremiah told them to get on with life. In Jer. 29:7-11we read, 

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 8 For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, 9 for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the LORD. 10 For thus says the LORD: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.

They were to become part of the community where they ended up. This did not mean that they were to worship the gods of Babylon but they were to seek the good of the people that lived there. I think what they were to do in Babylon was love their enemies.

            The Jews who arrived in Babylon were forced to rethink life. Who were they? What about the covenant that God had made with them? Could they trust God? What went wrong so they ended up in exile? What about the temple? It was gone and now there was no place to offer sacrifices. How could they commune with God if the temple was not there anymore? A question many people have asked this last year and half is how can we worship God if we can’t all go to church because of COVID?

            Here is what happened in Babylon. The temple was gone and it was replaced with Scripture. In Babylon large parts of our Old Testament books were put into the form that we have now. This was done to answer the questions which I listed above; it was to try and figure out what went wrong and if there was some hope for the future. Genesis to 2 Kings was put into the form we have to answer these questions. God could not be blamed for the exile; Israel itself had brought it on by breaking the covenant for many years. And yes, God could be trusted to keep his promises even if nobody knew what would all happen in the future. In Israel’s history the exile was a time of deep spiritual growth.

            One of the parallels that I see is people thinking that because we claim to have faith in God, he will protect us from the enemy at our doorsteps. Right now one of the enemies at our door is the culture war and the response to the pandemic has become a part of it. The Jews who went into captivity were the ones who lived but God did not abandon them there. We too can trust God if we follow the advice of those who want to keep us safe during the pandemic. Some will say we are giving up our freedoms by wearing masks and getting the jab if we can, but I think we may gain far more than we lose. May the world around us see us as loving our neighbors the way Jesus showed us by working to keep others safe.

            I asked a number of friends what they thought was our enemy and what we needed to give up, the way Israel had to give up on their own freedoms to save their lives. Here are some of the answers I got back.

            My friend Elohim, from Mexico said this:

We need to surrender before the culture war. “The children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with the world around them than are the children of the light” Luke 16.8 We are not here to change the whole culture or political environment. (In México this last week they approved at a federal level, unconstitutionally, the decriminalization of abortion). When we just fight the culture, we will “kill” ourselves (specially in my case working with college students). By fighting culture, we just close doors of opportunity to share the good news. I firmly believe in STUDYING the culture, REEDIMING culture, and CREATING culture (in our close communities). As Jesus was sent from heaven into the earth, so we are sent to step into the culture. To effectively communicate God’s truth and love, we are lifelong students of our culture. Whenever possible, we redeem culture by illuminating aspects of God’s truth in the world around us. As servants of a creative God, we create art as an expression of our worship. We are called to be light in the darkness and we should be shrewd or clever in doing so.

            Or as my friend Liesbeth from Brazil said,

And I think, I myself have to give up “preaching” hearing somebody’s story and , right away I have an advice, without listening! For me ,there is now a big difference between hearing and listening. “We need to give up preaching first and learn how to listen. To really listen so that we can understand, instead of just judging.”

Or as my sister Rosella, from Alberta put it:

Then there is the pandemic response and worship of the actual church buildings – if we can’t gather in the church because of shutdowns we are being persecuted rather than seeing our technology has given us an alternative if temporary way of gathering and a wonderful way of outreach we may not have seriously employed prior to this.

            We need to give up on power. Power is part of the culture war. There was a time when white Christianity made the rules for all to follow. It was their way or the highway. Power becomes very addictive and now that white Christianity is losing its grip on power, there is a very strong reaction from some in that group. But we must remember the roots of the Christian faith. When we read the book of Acts, we find that imprisonment and loss of so called freedoms was common, but look at what happened. The early believers were known as those who loved their neighbors and they changed the world. When they made the statement “Jesus is Lord,” people understood that Caesar was not the ultimate power of the world. But by the same statement, it means that neither are we. What the people failed to understand during Jeremiah’s time was that God was not controlled by their demands just like he is not controlled by our demands. But it is also clear that God went with the people into exile and worked through them there.

            In Mexico, we help out at a soup kitchen where they serve a good meal to homeless and migrants traveling thought Mexico on their way to the US. One of the men whose job it was to take attendance from those who come for the meal told me part of his story. He had tried to get papers to go the US to work there. He wanted to make more money and have a better life. But he said that the day he was going to apply for his papers, this thought came to him. If God could take care of him in the US, then that same God could take care of him in Mexico. God is still in the business of caring for his people no matter what happens.

Jack Vogt

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