Tuesday, November 15, 2016

It Is Autumn in America

The other day, my husband had a doctor's appointment.  I went outside to wait for him and I walked over to a little park.  I watched the morning breeze gently move the last dried leaves clinging tenaciously to the branches of the oak trees. They made the rustling sound that reminded me that soon sound would disappear altogether from the trees.

Trees in winter are silent and stand as a mute witness to the season that just passed.

It was one day before the election.  I stood there looking at the trees and wondering, what season is America in?

The fiery colors in the leaves had given way to a dull brown, dry and ready to fall to the ground at any moment.  The oaks give me an insight to where I believe we are.

The green leaves and the fiery leaves are now dry.  We live a culture where kindness is derided as weakness and bombast and vulgarity (unless it's too specific in its targeting of certain groups) is celebrated as "transgressive" and "edgy."  Certain groups--minorities, women and gays--are to be treated with respect, and rightfully so.  Yet, people of faith can be mocked and excoriated--those who cling to their Bibles and their guns, as our President so tactlessly said.  His words were allowed to stand, because certain groups do not need to be treated respectfully.  Wrongfully so.

No, I am not waxing nostalgic for the "good old days."  The 60's were a time of great upheaval and the social fabric of America was torn.  Some ideas had to go--racial discrimination, women as second-class citizens--but some ideas needed to stay:  respect for differences, and treating others as you would like to be treated.  Yup, the Golden Rule in a nutshell.

We are now in autumn in our country. The leaves will all soon be upon the ground. The post-election anger and rioting is disturbing. The acrimony is overwhelming.

 Jesus spoke about anger and its results: “You have heard that it was said to the people in the old days, ‘You shall not murder’, and anyone who does must stand his trial. But I say to you that anyone who is angry with his brother must stand his trial; anyone who contemptuously calls his brother a fool must face the supreme court; and anyone who looks on his brother as a lost soul is himself heading straight for the fire of destruction." (Matt. 5:22, Phillips)

I love the Phillips translation.  It captures so well where angry words can lead.  Jesus associates anger with murder--wow.  But what you believe, you will act on.  Eventually.  Anger has a habit of building up--like molten lava. Lava bubbling up from the earth builds up the crust.  Anger about sin and its destructive effects can well up inside of us and cause us to right wrongs.  But molten lava, building up over time, will explode and cause great destruction.  Anger that is not channeled into positive action will build up and explode, leaving destruction in its wake and the fundamental problem still unsolved.  

The anger I see is explosive and sinister.  Why?  It is divisive and not seeking to unite, but ignite.

Jesus knew all too well the human heart: "But the things that come out of a man’s mouth come from his heart and mind, and it is they that really make a man unclean. For it is from a man’s mind that evil thoughts arise—murder, adultery, lust, theft, perjury and blasphemy." (Matt. 15:17-20 Phillips)

Evil thoughts are not just thoughts--they will eventually lead to action.  Jesus' list of behaviors resulting from evil thoughts is sobering.  They are also a warning.  Any generation, any group, anyone, can become an instrument of hatred.  Ideas can spur us to great good or great evil.

Those oak trees in the park reminded me that after autumn, comes winter.  Winter tests us with its cold winds, snow and rain. The skies are gray day after day, and the sun rarely shines through.  But, in the words scratched upon a wall by a Holocaust victim:

"I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining.

I believe in love, even though I don't feel it.

I believe in God, even when he is silent."

But He is not silent in the winter.  We need to sit at His feet and listen, and not be distracted by the winter storm's howling and the biting cold.  We need to be His hands and feet and bring the only antidote to hate that truly works:  love.  Not mushy, gushy, sin-ignoring love, but the love of Jesus, expressing Himself through us.

Winter leads to spring.  Let this time in our nation be a clarion call to those who follow Jesus to be His voice, His love and His action.  

Spring means renewal and growth.  

Jesus means renewal and growth.


Monday, November 7, 2016

Election 2016 versus Eternal Value

In our survey of the Old Testament, and our inquiry as to whether Jesus is present there, we have found that His name is mentioned in many places, all within the context of "salvation," that is, yeshua, which is translated into "Jesus."

I have been slowly making my way through the book of Isaiah.  

The Jews divide the Old Testament into three divisions, Torah ("Law" or "Instruction"); Neviim ("Prophets") and Ketuvim ("Writings"). My thesis is if Jesus is in the Old Testament, He will be represented in all three areas; if you search my previous blogs, you will see yeshua is in Torah and in Neviim.  We will explore Neviim momentarily.  

Yeshua is especially rich in Isaiah, which is not too surprising, given the theme of Isaiah is salvation from captivity.

Character and name are inextricably linked in Jewish culture. Joseph is told by the angel that Mary "will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21).  

His name designates is who He is and what He will accomplish.  

Luke, who is telling the story from Mary's point of view, says, "Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.'” (1:31-33)

From the beginning His name, His mission and Who He is is all contained within the name, Yeshua.  

Now, let's look at our next set of verses from Isaiah, chapter 51:6-8:

"Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
look at the earth beneath;
the heavens will vanish like smoke,
the earth will wear out like a garment
and its inhabitants die like flies.
But my salvation [yeshuah] will last forever,
my righteousness will never fail.
Hear me, you who know what is right,
you people who have taken my instruction to heart:
Do not fear the reproach of mere mortals
or be terrified by their insults.
For the moth will eat them up like a garment;
the worm will devour them like wool.
But my righteousness will last forever,
my salvation [yeshuah] through all generations.”

Let's spend some time with this, on the eve of one of the more contentious elections I have seen in quite a while.  

In these verses, God is reminding His people of how temporary all of this is--the world, us, the physical universe.  Scientists have given an expiration date to the sun itself--5 billion years.  Now, to us, that's a long time, but it shows that even the sun is not around forever.  

God is putting everything in perspective here.  He is saying that the only thing not temporary is Me and what I offer: salvation. Why?  Because My righteousness emanates from My character, Who I am, the great I AM--"will never fail."  In fact, God's name, Yahweh, is taken from He told Moses His name is:  "I AM Who I AM." This name means, I have always been and will always be--thus, what I am and what I do is eternal.  

Now, in theses verses, He is saying because of Who He is, we are not to be afraid of what "mere mortals" do to us.  Their threats, their bombast, their arrogance, will not last.  We mortals have an expiration date, and so does what we do.  

So, what gives what we do meaning?  We who have taken His "instruction to heart" know "what is right."  If what we do is predicated on His Word, what we do will have lasting value.  His Word will not fail as Isaiah says in 40:6-8:

A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.

So, all the fluster and bluster of this election season, seen from an eternal perspective, will have no lasting value unless it is predicated on the Word of God. 

So, how to proceed?  

Jesus is our salvation--He saves us from our sins.  His name throughout Scripture attests to that.  

He also came to live in us:  "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Gal. 2:20)

We live by His power within us: "The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you." (Rom. 8:11)

He is our wisdom: "It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption."

So, we need to pray for His guidance, wisdom and direction.  That is why He came and that is why He longs to live out His life and power in us: to accomplish things on this earth that will have eternal value.  

Let us, as we approach the Savior with all aspects of our lives, echo the words of Simeon, a man who gazed upon the baby Jesus in the Temple:  "When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

'Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.'”

Amen and may God have mercy on this country.  

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