CAVEMEN & ZOMBIES (THE NEW HUNTERS & GATHERERS)

We are becoming cavemen and zombies in my community.  Those who “do their part” and “are in it together” and are smart about it, STAY HOME as much as possible.  But even a caveman gotta eat.  So sooner or later, we all get zombified.  But right now, the zombies are made up mostly of stupid college kids on Spring Break or the homeless with no where to be.  Yet, we are in a melting pot now – like never before.

Is there a lesson for us in this?

(Seems like we are always learning some “lesson”…)

I recently read a blog post by a person who shared a “lesson” learned when giving to a bum on the street.  What was the lesson?

(Glad you asked.)

Some people who beg have standards.

That was the lesson.  (My wording, not the author’s.)  People who beg have standards.

Hey.  make of that what you want.  I verified this with the author to make sure I was getting this right.  Check your standards with the Bible, was the take away, as I understand it.

That was the lesson.

Okay…

Well, I certainly do my best to seek guidance for life from the Bible.  Anyone reading here long, surely knows that.  You may think I have a terrible misunderstanding of the Bible and the lessons it teaches, but you really can’t fault me for not going there.

What lessons are there in the Bible for us today, as our standards of living come crumbling down around us on all sides?

Well, I don’t know.  I struggle to see the lessons.  Maybe you can help me.

I have standards of good health, and I am learning to be a caveman just as fast as I can.  Civilization in reverse at hyper speed as a way of moving forward.  Ironic, to say the least.  But is that biblical?  Hear me out…

I have a high-fence backyard, and I take my kids out there to play most days for at least a couple of hours, but I have a child with “underlying” respiratory issues which are affected by pollen and dust blowing on the West Texas wind, whether a virus threatens the public or not.  So we don’t get out everyday.  In fact, I notice I might go as much as three days in a row without setting foot outside my door at all!

I am a caveman of the new millennium.

Woulda never guessed it.

I went to the grocery store a couple of days ago.  First time in more than two weeks.  The culture outside my house is changing too.  I saw people with gloves, with masks, signs promoting social distancing on doors and floors, plexiglass shields at cash registers, AND I saw many people NOT observing precautions too.

Biblical standards

God made humans to bear his image.  He made us male and female, naked, and vulnerable in order to do this, AND HELD JUDGMENT on it offering the verdict “It WAS VERY GOOD.”  How can we bear God’s image full of fear and wearing masks so that we can’t even see the friendly smile of our fellow humans?

Jesus goes to Golgotha where they strip him completely naked (you wouldn’t know this from looking at a Catholic crucifix), and where he lays down his life in love and forgiveness AND takes a bride (the church) in this coronation which has all the right elements, yet looks completely different to the dominion and rule bestowed on the first Adam and his wife (look at John 19:31-37 and consider the deep sleep and rib surgery as you LOOK at Jesus on the cross).  But then Jesus makes all things new, and he rules over New Creation in the Age of Resurrection, which we will celebrate as cavemen (rather than sheep flocked together) next Sunday while the zombies roam the streets.

But I digress.  

Back to the grocery store…

On aisle 9, I, the caveman of the new millennium, had to pass through a small crowd of five or six people clogging up the lane with their congregation.

Why???

Yeah.  I thought that too, as I passed through.

As I moved beyond, I turned back again to consider the zombies I just encountered, and I suddenly soaked it in finally.  This was a mother and her children.  After the last four decades of post-sexual revolution (and all the happiness left in its wake), it dawned on me that she is a single mama.  She can’t leave these kids at home or in the car.  They gotta all go TOGETHER as a group to the store spreading the infection.

Hey, a zombie gotta eat too!

And so does a caveman.  We are FORCED to mix it up, at least a little – or else die of other problems.

Our way of “life” is NOT what God created in the beginning, nor is it what he makes in the New Creation.  Our “way of life” was on artificial life support all along.  The Adam and his wife of Genesis were not made to “hunt and gather” whether in the hunting grounds or the supermarket.

Cavemen and zombies.  We are all busted down a notch – all of us, all over the world.  

“We are in this together” – another lesson the news media is trying to teach us.

We were always vulnerable, just didn’t know it.  Your ADT home security system isn’t equipped for this.  But I find that just as we glove up and mask up, we are more vulnerable with and to each other NOW than we ever realized.

Is there a “lesson” in this?

Let me hear from you.  What do you think?

 

In Pictures: Homeless amid the coronavirus pandemic | | Al Jazeera

There is another front line in this battle we are waging with coronavirus. It’s nurses and doctors, of course! It’s EMT’s, cops, firemen, jailers and all them. It’s pizza delivery drivers, UPS, Amazon workers, and grocery store checkers and baggers too. God bless them all! But there are those other unsung warriors… the homeless on the streets. And I personally want to thank THEM for the sheer TRUST in God they live with today.

Is it just me, or is the world insane?

Here is a link to an article about the homeless and the pandemic we’re all living through. I personally have had no choice but to put my hope and trust in the Lord knowing that the Lord gives and takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord! Yet, I would be a village idiot if I didn’t follow the basic hygiene protocols of everyday living in this place and time! I’ve been wanting to do more research about this topic globally, and shall get more information out for you in the near future. (Only implying that I’m the village idiot sometimes lol.) God bless you all and protect you and your families. ~ Peace

https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/inpictures/pictures-homeless-coronavirus-pandemic-200323081742572.html

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WISDOM OF THE AGED PRESERVED

I was sixteen years old in the 1980s, I am in my fifties now.  Fifty looked so far away when I was sixteen.  But then I was sixteen when it was fashionable to be stupid.  (I was fashionable.)  Fifty, back then, was so old.  But the older I get, ironically, the less old that seems.

There is a lot of factors that go into that.  I am not trying to analyze them here, but time, maturity, crisis, comfort, and other things all make this happen.

It turns out, I just learned last week, the United States suffered a deadly outbreak of the Spanish Flu in 1918, a disease that wiped out thousands in major cities across the country.  It turns out the cities with foresight enough to cancel big public celebrations (to reduce the crowds) managed a lot better than those who ignored such precautions.

Wow!  This is not our first time to learn these life lessons!

No one who survived that and learned those lessons are alive today.  In fact, my grandparents were born just after that, and so they had no personal memory of that epidemic.  But my grandparents all lived through the Great Depression and the second world war.  They spent sixteen enduring hardships of societal proportions and then spent their fifties shaking their heads at me when I was young.

Did I learn any of the wisdom they tried to preserve for me?  Today feels like a pop quiz I did not study for.

Very, precious few of my grandparents’ generation are left alive among us today, and sadly you would do them a disservice to run to their bedside or breakfast nook to ask for a refresher on the kinds of wisdom they have to offer.  Most of us, if you are like me, remember that they did talk; they did tell us, but their words in my brain jumble around like Charlie Brown’s teacher.  But if I could sit with Grandpa, Grandma, with Mammaw and Pappaw for a cup of coffee this morning, surely I would take much comfort in their words.

Well, their kids, to a large degree, are still with us.  They are the old ones now, but they also got the first run of all those lectures and speeches we might take comfort in today.  They spent most of their lives hearing the stories.  (Of course plenty of them resisted listening too, but perhaps some of it got through?)

I remember when I was young – very young – the TV show with John-Boy and The Waltons.  I thought it was the most boring thing on TV, and I saw an episode a few years ago and have yet to change my mind.  But if you are my age or older, you know what it means to say, “Good night, John-Boy.”  I realize now how that program was a comfort to the old ones watching TV when I was a kid.  A celebration of their youth and memories of good times – except they were hard times.

Ironic, I know.

This is that mystical part of actually being in my fifties which makes it seem not as old to me now as it did when I was sixteen.  I can see now that my grandparents were so young then.  They were getting their wisdom from people who had enjoyed the Roaring Twenties only to see it all come crashing down.  Those must have been some deeply sad and disturbed people.  I wonder if they spoke, in my grandparents ears, like Charlie Brown’s teacher does in mine.

Why am I writing this?

Good question.

I saw a picture going viral yesterday.   A photo taken by a local nurse who also is a photographer.  She chose to capture the image in black-n-white, and even though it is so thoroughly contemporary, it calls up the ghosts of yesteryear too.

Here, have a look:

Suddenly the life I live today, and so many of the concerns, anxieties, and fears yapping at my heals just now are captured in this picture which could almost jump off the page of an old newspaper or a history book, and could very well wind up in future history books!  Perhaps in the future, a professor will lecture on our times today and show this picture to a class of young people who only hear Charlie Brown’s teacher droning on and on and on.

For me, though, I can almost hear the teacher’s voice clearing up in my ears.  I see the wisdom of those who brought me into this life, and I can almost feel the comfort they provided when I thought they knew it all, which is ironic because at the time I thought I did.  But I was in community with the old ones, and that was everything!

In this post, I am hoping for your feedback.  Let me be in community with you and with the old ones you remember too.  Let us share what we can of their wisdom, and be a resource to one another.

What stories, what jokes and good humor, what proverbs and tidbits of wisdom, can you remember being passed down to you?  Share a bit of that with us here today.  Maybe I can attract a few readers who can help the teacher’s voice move from mumbles and jumbles (I should have been listening and attending to more carefully) to clear words of wisdom and comfort.  And maybe some of my readers here (your readers too, should you make offerings) can also find wisdom and comfort as we dig into those old experiences of the ones who shaped us.

(Total recall and perfect accuracy not required.)

I will offer some too, in the comments below.

 

32 Degrees, 25 mph Winds, and a Virus Loose on the Streets

I get up to coffee and headlines.  As put, that is normal for me, but of course the headlines are not normal; they are numbers of infections, numbers of deaths, and two dozen stories all related to those two numbers with hardly a word about anything else.  Both the national feed and the local dwell on these, almost exclusively.  The weather is perhaps the only news item which makes practically no connections to the numbers.

Babies had me up at 4am.  I went to the kitchen to prepare a bottle of formula, and I could hear the wind howling and the chimes on the porch chiming, and I feel COMPLETELY ALONE in this, but I immediately thought about my street friends.

This will be headlines in two hours, but for them it has been daily life for the last two hours.

I am not there with them to know first hand, but I have walked a mile in those shoes in years past, and so I can imagine.

Here is what I imagine:

I see a bum in a tent.  Not all bums have them, but a few do on any given night in Lubbock.  I see a tent made to sleep 2 or 3 people with one bum in it when at around 2am the cold front begins making life miserable as the rest of Lubbock sleeps.  It is cold in the tent too, but it provides wind protection, and so a bum with a particularly warm sleeping bag strikes a bargain with the bum in the tent.  If they share with each other, they can be warm.  Then I imagine another bum with half a bottle of booze overhearing this conversation and so bargains to share and get in to the tent, but he brings his girlfriend with him.

One of these bums has coronavirus infection as 4 of them settle into the cramped space.  Without their social compactness, they might die.  Without their social distance WE might.

Turns out bum health is OUR health.

 

Just at a very selfish level, it behooves us to consider OTHERS.  How much more is this the business of Jesus who is selfless and calls us to be selfless too?

 

But it’s just my imagination.

Right.

Watching For The Bounce Back As The Fortress Becomes A Prison

Our fearless leader, President Trump, promises we will get through this pandemic quickly and bounce back better than before.  I notice his projections, predictions, and anticipations keep getting modified… the other direction.  It was gonna be Easter… but then again… maybe not.  Meanwhile, the walls of our homes, which used to be our fortresses, are becoming like a prison.  You might still be in denial, but I bet you are feeling it.

Okay.  This post is not actually about President Trump.  It’s not a critique of his leadership, even if you find that in my opening remarks.  No.  It’s about us and our faith.  Even more, it’s about our God.

My church, like sooooooooo many, is not assembling anymore for worship.  I suggested a while back that our huge multimillion dollar building with all those class rooms and a kitchen and all that could be converted into a homeless shelter with isolation rooms.  We are not using it.  Why not finally devote all that pride and comfort to Jesus?

Well, it turns out we were hoping against hope that we just might assemble again for Easter and “bounce back” as they say.  We yearn to get back to “normal” – that indefinable word, that mythical reality.  We talk more and more about a “new normal,” as if we had a handle on this thing and all the changes which will be with us from here on.

But I am thinking that suggests a deeply flawed Christian worldview.  Why were Christians ever satisfied with the status quo – the old normal?  Why would we think we even WANT to get back to it?  Are we not looking for the coming of the New Age of God’s Kingdom Rule?  That surely would be very different from the American Dream, I would think.  And just now as we have a chance to shine like never before, our huge church house sits empty waiting, not for Jesus, but for all the white, middle-class Americans who used to worship there in pride and comfort, to get the bounce back.

Here at Fat Beggars School of Prophets, the foundational Bible text we find our mission and ministry primarily shaped by is found in II Kings 6 & 7, an obscure little story buried deep in your Old Testament which some Bibles place under a heading that reads “The Siege of Samaria.”  If you are not familiar with that text, I encourage you to take the ten minutes it requires and go read it now and then come back to this post..  There is so much worthwhile in that story which this post can only barely allude to, much less spell out, that it is worth your meditation, I think.

(Go ahead…  I can wait.)

Social Breakdown and the Economy of Food

Before I get into the Bible, though, I should say that when I was either a Freshman or Sophomore in college, can’t recall clearly this far removed, I took a course, probably called Major British Writers, from the English Department, and one of the required books for that class was J.G. Farrell’s The Siege of Krishnapur.  In all these years since, I am sure I have forgotten far more of that story than what I remember, and I don’t recall being terribly enthralled with the book (more so my really cool instructor, Dr. Winters), but I certainly learned a lot about how society breaks down when under siege – especially Victorian/post Victorian society.

We tend to measure the breakdown in economic terms.  The cost of food and essential items skyrockets uncontrollably.  The black market replaces the legitimate market (and the stock market).  But this doesn’t stop the psychological coping mechanism we call “denial” or even slow it down.  Those under siege hold desperately to the old hierarchies of social cohesion as best they can while fear chips away at the edges.

One of the features that stood out to me when reading Farrell’s book was the dogs at the gates of the fortress.  In better times, they had become accustomed to finding dinner scraps there each day.  However, as the people in the city began to starve, they slowly stopped throwing out anything edible.  But the dogs remained there.  It was the last place they knew to get food, and so they kept coming back looking for more long after their gravy train had dried up.

These features of Farrell’s book parallel quite nicely with the biblical account of the siege of Samaria too.  You would think the Bible measures the desperation of Israel in economic terms.  If you have read that text now, you might have noticed that the prices of food essentials in fact frame the whole story.  It opens with a price list and closes with a price list.  At the start, as the people are starving, a donkeys head and dove’s dung are going for top dollar!

Look Who’s For Dinner

But you know it’s bad… REALLY bad… when we move from talking about WHAT is for dinner to talking about WHO is for dinner.  And that is how this goes for the people of God in Samaria as the Arabs have the place surrounded, and you know they are slow roasting the fatted calf just upwind of the city so as to increase the pain on those inside the city walls resisting defeat.  In fact, as the story progresses, that feast will play an important role in the narrative.

No doubt we Christians should look at this bit where the woman cries out to the king of Samaria with Christian eyes open.  There is more to this story than the surface reading suggests.  First off, the king of the Jews is supposed to be God’s own son!  Just read Psalm 2, a royal psalm which Israel features at the coronation of each successive king.  Jesus, too, will claim this psalm for himself, and we, of course, believe it was ultimately meant for him all along.  And so when this king of Samaria, a scoundrel son of Ahab and Jezebel, is called upon by his royal subjects, we know that the son of God is also a shepherd of the sheep.  We know that this woman has come to the right person who is supposed to have the right answers.  And so the story subtly lets us know just how theologically and deeply the problems in Israel are when this king cannot help her and tears his robes.

And what is her problem?

She is starving.  But not JUST starving.  No.  In fact she recently ate a meal.  Her own son!  She was tricked by her neighbor lady friend who said they should eat the first lady’s son the one night and then boil and eat the second lady’s son the next night.  But the second lady went and hid her son after they at the first one.

Wow!  Now… let eating a Son at Eucharist each Sunday pervade this story a moment.  We eat Jesus’s body and drink his blood every time we partake.  Luke was hinting at this as far back as the birth narrative when Mary and Joseph place their Son of God in a manger, the feed trough for animals!  This story resonates with that, but not in a harmonious way.  Instead, it shocks us with just how deeply something is wrong here at deeper levels of sin than we are apt to imagine NORMALLY.

Thus the people of God, despite being the people of God are not being the people of God.

Let that bake your noodle.

This is no way to bear God’s image in the world, and Israel was supposed to do just that.

Maybe the American church should really read this story again very carefully.  We have some more meditating to do with that.  But I will keep moving, because we are watching for the bounce back here, and for the purposes of this post, all that noodle baking is just prep work for the bounce back.

A King, a Prophet and a Promise of Heaven’s Bounce Back

Well, of course this upsets the king who, recognizing the depths of his own futility as king, rather than repenting and seeking God humbly, decides he wants to kill the prophet who has caused him consternation before – in this instance Elisha.  And Elisha, through some mysterious, divine warning sees this coming.  The king of the Jews is going to have his head.  He sends his henchmen to do the job, but Elisha, with his foresight, gets the door barred long enough for a confrontation of words with the royal court.  And what Elisha promises is a big bounce back – in fact, heaven’s bounce back!  He tells the royal court that the national economy is about to flipflop and all the best cuts of meat will go for cheap prices and it will happen the next day.

Now… the people of Samaria have been under siege a while by the time Elisha says this.  Their denial of their siege has morphed by this time to denial of getting relief.

(We American’s under coronavirus are not that far along yet.  But we surely may be about to get our chance.)

Meanwhile, back in Samaria, as the prophet outlines the heaven’s bounce back in economic terms, the head noble of the kings court, one of the henchmen who showed up to this tete-a-tete hoping to see Elisha’s head chopped off, isn’t about to believe this fantastical prophetic prediction of a heavenly bounce back.  And so Elisha tells him he will get to see it but not partake of it.  And of course at the end, that is what happens.

Dogs, Beggars, and God’s Glory

But here is the part, finally, where we get to our point… and it is right at the heart of what Fat Beggars School of Prophets is all about: God is moving in and through the most unlikely of people and places to do his divine thing, and it will blow our minds; it will claim all the glory for God; it will leave us at his total and complete mercy.  And so the story moves from all the happenings of the king and his nobles starving to death inside the city to the beggars (the lepers) hanging around at the city gates.

Here’s the thing: those lepers – those beggar bums at the gate – are so insignificant that NO ONE would ever expect they might play a role in this story.  NO ONE.  No one would ever dare to dream – not even the beggars themselves.  These are the dogs of Farrell’s Siege.  They don’t factor into Israel’s theology like the king… like the son of God.  They are just beggars and hangers on.  They don’t count.  Like Farrell’s dogs, they used to get the scraps from the city here, the crumbs from the table of the rich nobles, but now that the nobles are eating their own children, you can just imagine (or probably you can’t) how tough it is on the bums.

And what do you know?  These bums actually have brains.  They sit there, totally unrelated to any the rest of the story so far, analyzing their situation, and they calculate that if they stay put, they will die.  If they beg their way into the city, they will die along with the rest of the desperate people.  In fact, if they go out to the enemy camp and beg mercy from the enemy, they will probably die, but there is that tiny glimmer of hope that mercy could be extended.  In fact, it is the only hope left to them, so they think, on the other side of this death defying mission.  And thus they decide to wait until twilight and then go beg mercy from the enemy.

Now… God moves

He rouses his mighty, mysterious self on behalf of these beggars and unbeknownst to them (I always wanted to say “unbeknownst” and never have before…) God causes a thunderous noise from the hills to echo out across the enemy camps.  It must have been a chilling sound, because these warriors get scared out of their minds immediately.  I mean a panic sets in, and they convince themselves that Israel’s king must have managed to dispatch spies to enlist help from Egypt and other neighboring kings who are riding into the rescue!  So the enemy just drops everything and RUNS for their lives!

But you see, they had been torturing the people of God inside the city with the smells of slow roasting fatted calf for days.  And so when they drop everything to run, scared witless as they are by God, they leave some Joe Allen’s BBQ in the pit just slow cooking there.  Thus when the hungry beggars show up in their humility seeking mercy, they find it, not mercy from the enemy, but from God!  And God feeds these bums a meal fit for a king while the king of the Jews sits in his torn robes with a growling stomach wondering how that lady’s son tasted.

And these bums!  These bums, if you aren’t in love with them yet, you should be, start running around eating the miracle meal of God and having a party!  I mean, God did tell us, through Luke, that he wanted his house full for the banquet!  And so he packs it with lepers and bums and beggars who lay down their very lives for a chance to eat.  And they go to celebrating, and partying, and having themselves a big ol’ time.  And they go from tent to tent eating and gathering up treasures for themselves and just really having a ball, you know?

And I don’t know about you, but I am sure that in all the cosmos God created, THAT IS THE PARTY I WANNA GET INVITED TO!  And these are God’s guests of honor!  The utterly humiliated, humble beggars who weren’t worth honorable mention until God raised them up.

And these humble beggars, just when they start to feel a little uppity, suddenly realize, and feel a deep conviction in their hearts, that it is not right for them to have all this banquet for themselves alone, but really should go tell the king and all the nobles in the city.  The last have come first, but the first might yet come at last!  Their world just makes no sense otherwise.  And so they head back to town to tell the king in the middle of the night.

Of course, beggars like this, even when carrying the very Gospel message of God Almighty himself, just have practically no credibility in the old normal.  And so when they arrive back at the city gates, they tell the guards to inform the king that there is food in plenty and that the people of God should come and partake in God’s mercy at the enemy camps.  And of course, the guards send word of it, but this GOOD NEWS is too GOOD to believe even as Israel suffers the new normal, and so the king doesn’t.  But he too is so desperate that he must send a probe out to determine the truth of it.  But really, he thinks it is a ploy to lure everyone out of the city where they will be ambushed.

By morning, the probe comes back with verification.  The bums were right after all!  God is merciful to them, and yet there is no glory for them in this story.  However, as the people rush out to claim the booty, the spoils of a war they did not fight, they come rushing back again through the city gates with so much spoils that the economy of the whole nation is suddenly bounced back.  And the noble who denied it to the prophet, sees it like the prophet had said, but he gets trampled in the gate by the mobs of hungry people partaking in the grace of God, and he died and does not partake himself.

So, why am I writing this stuff?

Because, church, we are not looking for the old “normal.”  We are not going to settle for a “new normal” either.  And the bounce back, to the Glory of God should he be so persuaded as to give us one, will come to us as heaven’s intervention from the most unlikely of places, from the most humble and humiliated, but it will be found in the meal God gives us.  And he has done that already.

That starving woman who ate her son was right to reach out to her king.  He was supposed to be the bearer of God’s image, supposed to be the shepherd of the people.  She was supposed to be one of the sheep in his fold.  That is how God makes Israel to be, but there was sin spoiling everything.  Something was just a bit off.  It was like 666 is to 777.  Jehoram was no Jesus.

Jesus crucified smells like death to those who are dying, but to those coming to life, he smells like the aroma of Christ.

The smell of death.  That is about like going to the enemy camps thinking you might get mercy there.  It is humiliating and humbling to cling to Jesus.  There is something upside down and turned all around in that.  But if you want heaven’s bounce back, rather than a return to “normal,” you really must consider this stuff carefully.

As our homes, our fortresses, slowly become prisons, I ask you to read this passage and open your eyes.  Look for God.  Grope for him if you must.  But quit trying to get back to normal.  That is not our purpose.  But look for God among the beggars, the most destitute, those who are already so humble and humiliated that they would share their windfall with you even if you never would share more than a scrap with them.  That’s where God is, and right about now America really needs to talk to him.

 

Precious Cargo Basket On The Nile

I don’t know how this life is going to shake out.  I feel reasonably sure I will lose some family and friends to this plague, and it could be me.  And here in the back half of my middle age, my wife (A NURSE on the front lines of the pandemic, btw) and I decided, before all the mayhem broke out, to foster and adopt babies.  Now my wife goes in to the hot zone every day to fight the virus while I have become the 24/7 baby care provider.  Two of them are permanently mine!  My babies!  Innocents who have no idea what is happening!  My children with all the love, all the hope, all the dreams and investments any good parent puts into their children, their family.

Now I wonder, every day: Will I watch my children die?  

Will they be taken away from home and die alone?

Will I die and leave them without a parent?

Will they survive this without me?

I’m not sure which scenario is worse.  I am stunned that the beautiful choices Mrs. Agent X and I made over the last five or six years now put me in this hellish position.  I am overwhelmed.

I take seriously the STAY AT HOME orders.  I wash my hands, some hours as many as eight times.  I go around cleaning door knobs and cell phones.  I am vigilant.  And I am behind the eight ball, just like everyone else.  I feel guilty every time I catch myself rubbing my tired eyes.

I turn to God in prayer daily.  He invented the love of a father for a child.  He knows better than anyone the pain of child sacrifice.  And so I read his Word looking for my place in it.

My kids watch the Prince of Egypt video at least a couple of times a week.  I go and read the story for myself too.  But the movie music has become our soundtrack of life here, and I feel it, really feel it, when Moses’s little mama puts that basket in the Nile and prays for God to watch over it as it passes the crocodiles, the hippos, the fishermen’s nets, and then gently floats down into… into… into… Oh My God!.. into the bath eddy of Pharaoh’s house!  The very heart of darkness!

How many Hebrew babies do not survive the crocs?  How many do not survive the execution orders?  How many do not survive the current of the flowing waters?  But this one navigated all of that and somehow in one of the most ironic moments of all of world history finds favor in Pharaoh’s house where God plants his time bomb of deliverance.

Our little stories of a parent’s heart and an innocent child’s complete dependence don’t compare.  In fact, hundreds, maybe thousands, of innocent children will die and won’t even get honorable mention so that God can be God and do God’s thing which, we believe, in the ultimate end of things will far outweigh the sacrifices we pay.  (For the joy set before him???)

I am a middle aged man with a life time of wisdom and Bible education, but when I go read about the faith, the utter trust, in God we find in Mother Mary who in a most untimely way is promised a Son only to watch the way God leads him past crocs, hippos, fishermen and henchmen – to watch the slaughter of the innocents back in Bethlehem as her son gives the henchmen the slip one more time – all the way into the heart of darkness – the condemnation of his own people who would not receive him or recognize the day of their visitation, I am in awe.  But right there, right amid the contempt, scorn, hate, and indifference of his own people, God makes him King of the Jews and brings salvation to the world even Moses had not dreamed.

And breaks Mary’s heart the whole way there.

Just in case my babies survive me, I hope someone will step in and care for them.  They are so young.  My kids have some mild (hopefully mild) developmental delays.  We don’t want to make perpetual excuses for them with this, but the whole reason they are mine and do not belong to their biological parents is due to the drug addiction(s) those people suffer – which was also inflicted on these children in the womb.

Mrs. Agent X and I snatched them from the fires of hell when they came here, and we have loved them and celebrated them through every first crawl, every first step, every first word, and many, many, many other first experiences.  Of those legally and permanently mine, I have a little boy who is three (going on four soon) and a little girl who is two and a half.  Neither is of my ethnic background, and thus may face challenges of racism in this life.  They both exhibit signs of hyperactivity at least some of the time, and thus bring those kinds of challenges.  Basically, they have already dodged a lot of crocs and other dangers to get here, and bear the scars of other people’s sins, which likely they will deal with all their lives.

But…

But they also are incredible human beings.  Beautiful people to look at (they both had the same pretty mama), they both are quite smart (even if delayed and not well self-disciplined).  They both have big hearts.  They both love to sing, to pray, to snuggle, to run and jump and slide and kick a ball, and play with toys, dirt, and water.

My little girl will run up to me and throw her arms up over her head like a cheerleader, and this is her signal to give me a hug.  Please don’t leave her hanging if she does this.  You should feel deeply honored that she will share that with you.  It is one of God’s most precious gifts to my life that she gives it to me.

Please read Hop On Pop to her and read a Beginner’s Picture Bible to her also.  She loves the word “yellow” and will repeat it a lot – sometimes holding up red objects only to say “yellow” which in her mouth sounds like “lellow” or sometimes blue objects.  Also watch out for her since she is a climber!  She can get herself into trouble climbing if you are not watching her constantly!

My little boy LOVES to ride the school bus.  He loves his teacher, Mrs. R, and wants to learn, when you can get him to sit still.  One of the best disciplinary motivators we have found for him is to allow him to watch “one” – just that one word often conveys the idea to him.  If he gets a good report from his teacher, then at the end of the day when we lie down for bed, I will let him snuggle and watch one child video from YouTube on my phone.  He really likes the videos about construction trucks or maybe toy cars.  One of our favorites is the one about the “excavator” – the one with that ridiculous song!

Oh… now for my confession.  He sleeps in our bed now.  Part of his developmental delay (both kids, really, but my boy especially) manifests in chewing on things excessively.  Odd things too.  Books are a favorite, so don’t let the kids run off with a book; they will chew it up if left unattended.  But when he was just a little guy, we put him in his crib at night with a video monitor and watched when he woke up in the wee hours with anxiety and began chewing on the crib rail.  In a few nights, it appeared he had gnawed half way through it.  It looked like a beaver had chewed it.  Eventually, and especially since the virus epidemic (since mama – Mrs. Agent X, the nurse) has taken to isolating in the back room away from the rest of us, he snuggles on me all night.  It’s heart breaking to wake to him crying for her in the night as he sleeps.

I have hopes and dreams for my kids.  I dare to hope that when God navigated the basket(s) they drifted the proverbial Nile in and found their way to this house, that he had plans for them.  I tried to treat this house as if it were the very HOUSE OF GOD in which I am the door keeper warned to be alert and ready.  And so I opened the door to these ones with expectations of God.

Now the world outside our door is chewing up and spitting out people by the thousands every day.

I would not have got into this baby ministry without Mrs. Agent X, and now she is one of the most vulnerable of necessity workers in our community leading a team of nurses in the PICU – the very place they actually gather the very sickest of virus-infected people in one area.  She is dealing with incompetent stockpile preperations – lack of PPE, shortage of supplies, and like soldiers facing a war, she is leading young nurses into the fray and very will might not come home one night. (I often think of those 9/11 firefighters climbing flights of stairs with hundreds of pounds of equipment as if they were going to rescue people – when really they mostly just showed up to die with them instead.)

Did you ever see that movie Three Men And A Baby?  Well, in this house, it’s three babies and a man!  And if Mrs. Agent X doesn’t come home, I am in real trouble here.

Of course, alternatively, she might well bring home a viral hitchhiker that will infect us all, and then who knows what happens?

All I know right now, I am putting my babies in the proverbial basket and floating them out into the proverbial Nile.

Oh… the foster baby you ask?

Yes.  I have one of those too.  I cannot talk about him though.  She is spoken for by another, another who yet hopes against hope that he will return to that family.  That presents ironies and challenges I am not at liberty to talk about, but a thoughtful reader here can probably begin to imagine.

Look.  I am fully aware that others in this pandemic are facing realitiies I likely never will.  I shutter to imagine our little family in an apartment building in New York about now.  We are blessed with a high fenced backyard here which we take advantage of just as much as we can.  In fact, I need to get off here now because it’s almost warm and pretty enough outside for us to take advantage, and I don’t want to waste a moment of precious time I have with these God-given blessings talking about this to strangers.  But even though our story is not the worst, I hope to give voice to others.  Maybe your story resonates at some key points with mine.

This is sort of a message in a bottle.  An S.O.S. of sorts.  A desperate prayer, and a plea for my brothers and sisters in Christ and in battle to think about how we care for one another as we go through this thing.  I am betting that if I survive this as door keeper at the house of God that more Angels of the Lord will come knocking here, and I pray I am alert and ready when He comes.  Yet, if I don’t survive, I have these precious little ones who have these little personalities and special needs which I pray find love and attention.

Thanx for reading, and may God bless and keep us all.

 

 

After Mammon Ruled The World

Taking care, in my last post, not to suggest that I am exhausting the entirety of reasons for the apocalyptic tumult our nation and the world is undergoing just now, I have, nonetheless, featured the greed of the rich, the proud, and the powerful and the subsequent mistreatment of the poor and needy with biblical support as at least one key element.  It is time to take Jesus more serious than we have before.  He is not just some bumper sticker, tee shirt, or jewelry decoration on our lives; he is the very source.  And, AND, and he is the way of life as well – life abundant.

It doesn’t take much searching of the Word of God to find God’s special care for the poor and needy – the most vulnerable people among us.  It doesn’t take much searching (though it does require breaking through our own denial) to see that care for the poor is not primarily a matter of “fixing” the poor (as in “effective” charity) but rather a matter of making changes in the rich, the proud, and the powerful.

In light of all this wake up call which overwhelms the world, I point readers now to repentance.  What does that look like?  Well, let’s talk about it.  I want to hear from you.  No doubt thoughtful responses from other disciples stand to enhance this post.

That said, I nonetheless have an idea I want to share – perhaps just to get this started.  I got my idea from God.  I have talked about it before, but hopefully the world is in a better position to see with open eyes and to listen to God as we collectively fall to our knees than we were in recent years when we were driving distracted to all manner of distracted ambitions.  Here is the idea I offer:

Forgive the Debt

Pretty simple right?

Right.

You would think that such a “Christian nation” as ours and the thousands upon thousands of pastors daring to stand up and give voice to God’s Word before their flocks each week that it might have made bigger headlines.  So maybe it’s not so simple.  Or maybe we have been living in denial and very double-mindedly.  Thus, I am thinking more the latter.

This notion, the key feature of biblical Jubilee, dates back to Moses in Leviticus 25.  And while it appears the people of God BEFORE Jesus never actually observed this God-given celebratory practice, you would think that those of us “in Christ” after having believed in the resurrection of Jesus would find this practically second-nature – especially considering that Jesus characterizes his whole mission with it as he introduces his “earthly” ministry with it in Luke 4.

For those of us “in Christ,” THIS IS WHO WE ARE!  THIS IS WHAT WE ARE ABOUT!

So… why is this not who we are?  Why is this not what we are about?

Consider it carefully.

I posted a while back (seems like two years or more now) and told a story from 2008-09 about a gathering of Christians for lunch at a restaurant after worship one Sunday.  One of the ladies in that gathering worked as a loan officer at a local bank.  She was dealing with a down economy on the one hand, but had repossessed some construction equipment from a man whose business, she believed, had tanked due to no fault of his own.

That “no fault of his own” part was the part that won him sympathy with this loan officer who was feeling spiritually burdened by the fact that she was doing her job by repossessing on the defaulted loan.  She felt deeply  conflicted over it.   She had exhausted every tactic she could find to avoid it, but she still felt troubled in her spirit over this, and so she shared the story with those of us Christians gathered at the table to share a meal just after an hour of worship.

Turns out she was not seeking advice; she was seeking validation.  And that is what she got.  Lots of sympathy both for the man in default and for her just doing her job.  Yet at this table surrounded by Jesus-people sharing a meal and having just come from an hour of worship together, not one person there gave voice to Jesus’s own mission statement or how that might impact this poor man’s life and our world.  Not even just for hypothetical consideration!

When I gave voice to it, I was immediately shot down.  The proverbial wagons circled, and the oxygen I gave to God’s Word on this matter was suffocated just as fast as it could be.

I was amazed at the response I got on the blog just talking about it much later, in what by that time amounted to a hypothetical idea.  That woman seeking validation that day was making decisions on the fly, feeling alone in them, and thus might be pardoned for being on her own learning curve.  But those of us so far removed from the heat of the moment still could not imagine a bank officer forgiving the debt.  The biggest argument was that it was not her money!  She was accountable to her boss!!  And thus she was just doing her job!!!

That was the excuse the Nazis gave at Nuremberg too.

We Christians believe in resurrection!  We believe that this is our Father’s world!!  We believe that man, that woman, and that construction equipment all really belong to God to begin with!!!

The real question isn’t “Whose money is it?” but “Who’s the boss?”!

The bank works for Mammon.  Mammon rules the world in debt-creating, debt-collecting, whip-cracking debt.  There is fear and oppression in it and it rules the world accordingly.  The idea of Jubilee and debt forgiveness only dawns on the people of God at the defeat of empire – Egyptian empire.  In ten plagues, God judged Pharaoh is not in charge of this world after all, and as Israel leaves Egypt on its knees in smoldering ashes, the idea that in God’s world the debt gets forgiven was born in human imagination!

We are there again today.

Back in 2008-09, the economy stumbled – stumbled badly, and required a monstrous “bail-out.”  But no one dared imagine that we would cancel football for the year.  No one dared to imagine we might cancel all of sports (including the Olympics) and all of music concerts and Broadway shows and air travel and churches shutting down too.  But we see it now!

Now we have an opportunity to imagine our world differently.  Actually, we always did, but given the apocalyptic curtain raising on the futility of empire we have before our eyes right now, it is like eating the fruit from the forbidden tree and having our eyes opened or like breaking the bread with the Stranger at Emmaus and having our eyes opened.  The world is NOT what we were making of it.  It does not have to be like this.  In fact, it never really even could, though our imaginations were trapped.

Let us REPENT now.  And let us forgive the debt.

Talk to me…

Why?

Maybe you’re there already.  Maybe not yet.  I think a lot of us are sheltering in place, eating on one another’s nerves, twitching as we watch the reality TV go from entertainment to prophetic judgment.  But some of us are there at the gates of hell already.  And soon, between the financial crash and the health conditions, in the late of the night, those of us left alive to ask will start to wonder: why?

Why? is the question of the suffering.  We ask, “Why me?” as we freefall into pain and bewilderment  I am thinking that since the whole world is plunged together into this one, we may broaden the question to “Why us?” or maybe just shorten it down to “Why?” and let that cover it.

Suffering has a way of bringing that question close to home.  Chronic pain or sudden tumult feels like a judgment and seeks cosmic connections.  Most of us don’t talk that way anymore.  Maybe more of us did in olden times, but for more than fifty years now, alcohol consumption has moved from being a sin to being a disease and homosexuality moved from being a sin, through being a disease, to being an alternative you can’t choose – meaning it is now thoroughly baptized.

I am not here trying to debate those issues, but merely to note the changes in the ways we deal with them over time, and to say that along the way we tried to blunt the idea of judgment along with these other changes.  Thus, I figure there will be a slow burn for this to come home to roost.  Probably many of us will sit with it in the wee hours long before we openly talk about it.  It’s not a socially acceptable idea – not even at church.

But I am thinking that like the Roaring Twenties gave way to the humble thirties, our hedonisms will be tempered by downfall of our modern Tower of Babel.

So… why has this happened?

(Do I need to specify what event(s) I am talking about? – NO.  No, I don’t. And that gives me reason to believe I can say what I am about to say, and you will understand.  This is not so foreign to you that you don’t know.)

Why?

I want to think biblically about that.

In the Bible, God brings judgment on Israel, on nations, and on individuals.  Certainly Israel played a very integral role I God’s answer to all the world’s problems, and so his judgment against Israel is problematic and shocking.  I think it is for the modern world too, and especially for Americans – many of whom claim we are a “Christian nation” or even “God’s chosen people.”

We Americans tend to think God blessed America and that is the end of it.  Bumper sticker theology concisely encapsulated and ready to go.  Recent events make that a lot harder to say convincingly, though, and for those of us left wondering what happened – those of us beholding to a biblical worldview – can find answers from God.

Right off the top, I am mindful that there are numerous reasons God gives for the judgment he brings on his people at various times in various ways.  One moment it is because of sexual sin, another it is God’s answer to idolatry.  Sometimes a prophet tells God’s people they will suffer judgment and THEN THEY WILL KNOW I AM GOD.  Taken out of context, that sounds particularly arbitrary and even mean.  But this blog is concerned with one reason in particular that the prophets revisit many times over.

Why?

Because the rich, proud, powerful leaders of Israel failed to shepherd the flock and mistreated the poor and needy.

I find it interesting that in recent years leading up to this apocalyptic moment in world history, many in the church began turning away from this and assuming they need to fix the poor and needy rather than the rich, the proud, and the powerful.

But you know what reason the Bible NEVER gives for God’s judgment on the people of God?

He never tells Israel it is because the poor and needy brought it on themselves.  He never tells Israel it is because the poor and needy have become dependent on the rich, never because they are addicted or lazy, never because they just don’t care.  NEVER.

No.  Just the opposite.  Every time God connects the poor and needy to the Judgment befalling his own people, it is due to their mistreatment at the hands of the rich, the proud, and the powerful.

Maybe I am wrong about that, though.  Maybe I read my Bible wrong on that point, and if you think so, please take a moment and set me straight.

Meanwhile, check out these passage citations I jotted down just off the cuff:

Isaiah 2:12; 3:13-15; 5:8-9; 9:17; 10:1-2

Jeremiah 5:27-29

Ezekiel 22:7; 34

Amos 2:6-7; 3:15; 4:1-2; 5:11-12; 6:1, 4-7; 8:4-14

Micah 2:1-2; 5:2,4; 6:12; 7:3

Zephaniah 3:3

Zechariah 7:8-14; 9:6; 11

This list is not exhaustive.  There are OTHER biblical reasons for God’s judgment on his people anyway, and this list only covers the treatment of the poor and needy by the rich, the proud, and the powerful – and the Bible has more to say on that too.  But this list is enough to get you going.

I hope you will ask: WHY?  And I hope you ask God.  Turn to him  now and ask, and listen to his answer.  This is his world, and we are his subjects.  It could be we have some learning and some repenting and some work to do.  I have some ideas about that too.  So if you join this conversation, be ready for that soon-coming post.

 

…For The Joy…

I often wonder about the moment I die.  Typically, I live like and presume that moment is a long way off.  Several years ago, I confirmed Catholic after a lifetime of Protestant faith, and one of the religion/culture shocks I experience in that transition is praying Hail Mary, and the part petitioning for prayers both now “and the hour of our death” is the one part that gives voice to this wonder I have.  I am assured that hour, that moment, will come – yet aside from this Catholic ritual, there isn’t much occasion to care for this part of my life.

Now the world is plunged into a crisis, people dying untimely deaths in the thousands every day.  The culture shock to the whole global society gives us cause for pause, yet there are not many rituals, other cultural artifacts or expressions which aid the of the pain and fear the world is going through now.  There are, of course, lots of coping mechanisms from sex and alcohol to drugs and denial, and the wide world of market solutions, politics, as well as religions (including paganisms, Islam, Judaism, and various factions of Christianity as well) all clamor for attention.

I am one who goes to the Bible.  I’m not the only one, nor am I the best pastoral guide through the Bible either.  However, during this time of global struggle, with all the anxiety and the stress on my community, my family and myself, I am going to the Scriptures for devotional time.  I invite you to join me.

One of the little passages of Scripture I find speaking to me – echoing in my heart – in recent days is that little phrase in Hebrews 12:2 where it says, “…he endured the cross for the JOY set before him….”  It is just one little phrase, but there are none like it (that I know of) in the Bible except here.  Such a compact little phraseology which pacts such a punch.

Jesus endured the cross for the JOY set before him.  There is so much packed up in that thought which we will do well to meditate on – especially today.  I find help for my soul as I give it my attention and care, I sense that I need to share this bit of good news with others too.  Maybe in this time of stress, if you find this post, hopefully you can meditate with me here and find some relief and hope for your soul too.

Let’s get into this:

One of the dangers we always face when talking about the Bible is that it is easy to lift a text out of context and then abuse it, make it bend to our will, make it say practically anything.  Such abuses of the Bible have, on the stage of world history, been known to justify slavery or to control slaves – as just one strong example.  Let us, therefore, take a moment to ask God to guide us as we listen to his word.  Even the Gospels, quoting the prophets of old, tell us that some people, at least some of the time, will look and not see, listen and not hear.  Thus we will do well to begin by asking God to soften our hearts and open our eyes.

Prayer:

Open the eyes of our heart, Lord; we want to see Jesus.

For the Joy:

The text I have chosen is seriously just one small phrase amid a much longer sentence.  A sentence in a much longer chapter.  One chapter amid a much bigger book.  There is a lot of context in which to situate our devotion just now, and in fact, there is so much to say on that that we might bog down in just this concern.  There is an art to the way we read Bible and various interpretations.  No doubt my devotion will leave some of the stones unturned.  However, in general terms, I will say this much: The writer of Hebrews (many have thought it was St. Paul, but that is not settled) appears to be concerned with equipping his (her?) readers confidence for endurance.  There are trials to endure, and this book addresses them specifically.

The trials the original readers endure are not those of global pandemic.  In fact there is much to speculate about exactly what those trials involve, but nonetheless it is clear that those of us reading this text today are enduring pandemic.  We need to keep in mind that though there are important similarities, there are also important differences.  We will want to read over the shoulders of those original readers to the extent we can.  They appear to be Jewish Christians, people called to hold fast to Jesus as the point of their Jewish faith despite the fact that most of Judaism (as we are apt to call it) does not share this view.  It is likely that these Jewish Christians face many upheavals, possibly even persecutions, AND scorn of fellow Jews who do not share their faith in Jesus.  Thus, they endure trials.

Let us keep in mind such matters.  If this, or something like it, is the setting for the first readers, then we will want to be sensitive to that level of context.  A conservative reading of our text must be able to echo with harmony in such chambers.  We will want to adjust our devotions so that the word of God will speak fresh to us in our context, yes, but not at the expense of the meaning(s) it had for those original readers.  If the meaning we find does violence to that context, then it surely cannot be God’s word for us today.  (So goes conservative ideals, anyway, and I am beholding to them as best I can.)

That said, we can see that our little phrase falls in a sentence talking about Jesus’s crucifixion.  We know a LOT about that context.  And it tells us that Jesus endured that horrible event “for the JOY set before him.”  That is, actually, quite a lot to consider right there!

It also raises a vital question for me… a question ripe for devotion.  A question that my soul longs to ponder.  A question that ushers me through the veil of prayer and into the throne room of God where even deeper, metaphysical and existential considerations for HOPE await me at the core of my being and of God’s.  So what is the question?

What JOY is worth that???

Yeah.  This is where I start recalling a sermon I heard many, many years ago.  It wasn’t a preacher; it was a doctor.  A doctor, who was also a believer, attempted a “medical exegesis” of the crucifixion.  This, of course, is a very modernist approach to the Bible.  However, it helped, in my view, capture the imaginations of modern people to really understand what Roman crucifixion was all about, and particularly the way Jesus endured it.

The doctor explained that it’s not the nails in your flesh that kill you.  We can drive nails in your hands and feet, and you almost certainly will survive it.  In fact, you will suffer tremendously, but that will not be your cause of death.  When it comes to Roman crucifixion, the thing that finally kills the condemned is the collapse of the diaphragm, the exhaustion, because as a crucified person hangs nailed to a cross, they have to push with their nailed feet and pull with their nailed hands to raise up and take a breath of air.  And young farm boys, carpenters, and prophetic messiahs typically have the strength to do this for days on end.

Then the doc looked at the circumstances unique to Jesus, as we find accounted in four Gospels.  Before he was crucified, Jesus was mocked, spit upon, and verbally, psychologically, emotionally and otherwise abused, falsely found guilty, and then beaten with fists, mocked some more, then whipped and scourged in such a way as to make his back (from head to toe) open up with fresh wounds – perhaps with the look of hamburger meat.  Then when they finally nailed him to a cross, as he took leverage from the nails to raise himself up to take a breath (which he expended offering forgiveness of sins), he also dragged his back against the splinters of that old rugged cross.

Are you in tears yet?  I am.

THIS is the horrible thing Jesus endured.

And the writer of Hebrews comes to that most potent of little phrases and tells us he endured the cross FOR THE JOY SET BEFORE HIM!  Yeah, the JOY of the Lord was his strength, and I want in on that.

And I wanna know:  WHAT JOY IS WORTH THAT?

Did you know your Christian faith orients you toward such unspeakable JOY?

What is this JOY?  I can hardly imagine.

In fact… how can we know?  Some stuff is just God’s mystery which he can grant to anyone he so chooses.  I personally have not seen this JOY.  I can’t hardly imagine it, even.  But suddenly this passage is sounding just a little like another one which seems to explore such rich possibilities, turn over to First Corinthians 2:9-10 (and keep your finger there, because shortly we will look at the fuller setting of those two verses too).

Here in I Corinthians 2, St Paul (we are sure it is him this time) quotes a couple of passages from Isaiah which attempted to just glimpse the depths, the fathoms, the riches of JOY and goodness God has in store for his children.  Yeah, it turns out, God has plans for us which are so godly, we struggle just to imagine.

Here is a look at that ancient text:

  …as it is written, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of humans, all that God has prepared for those who love him… For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.   (I Cor. 2:9-10).

Wow!  I am thinking you could read First Corinthians all your life and not really grasp the thing Paul is talking about.  Perhaps the Spirit of God might talk some spirit-language with your spirit and convey SOMETHING of this message to you that way, but it seems clear you will not be able to snap a picture of this mystery or to dissect it like you might a butterfly.  There is only so far your empirical, scientific analysis is going to take you here, and that ain’t far.  But there are OTHER senses which might – just might.  And we need to put those feelers out as best we can here, for this kind of passage is full of hope you can’t explain!

Oh man.  Where do we go with this now?  I don’t know.  Perhaps if you had a seasoned pastor guiding you about now instead of a street prophet, you might get a better, richer, more hermeneutically sound tour of the Bible.  As it is, if you are still reading this far, you have chosen to let Agent X take you for this little tour of heaven, and it is just about here I am thinking of that passage from Revelation 4 where John, the Seer, when caught up in the Spirit (perhaps his spirit communing with God’s own Spirit in that spirit-language), he steps through a door into the throne room of heaven and sees indescribable things which he describes nonetheless, which are too staggering for your imagination to fathom.  We see Ezekiel’s four creatures, we see lightening and thunder, we see rainbows and jewels, and there are twenty-four elders on twenty-four thrones who can’t seem to stand on their own feet as they keep falling down before the big throne and casting down their crowns.

I mean, there is JOY here which is hard to see, which is hard to make sense of, but which is so JOYFUL that these men of God can’t even stand up on their own feet as they encounter it.  

I have experienced some rich joys in my life… some I am quite fond of recalling when I get time and quiet where I can go there in my memories.  I remember eating snow ice cream with my grandparents as a child.  I remember going to the amusement park the first time.  I remember the seventh grade dance when Agents J and M taught me to dance, and I was so impressed with myself for holding these young girls in my arms.  That, of course, sends me to even more intimate joys and memories of getting married, and so forth.  Mountain sunsets, camping trips, motorcycle rides…  Some of these are my most treasured memories of some of the richest joys I ever experienced.

Some of these joys were foundational to who I am, who I have become.  They are indispensable, as far as I can tell.  But none of them measure up to the JOYS our texts describe.  Jesus did not endure the cross for the chance to dance with Agent M.  No.  There was some OTHER JOY which blows that away.  And besides, the joys of seventh grade just did not have the staying power of eternity.  Agent J broke my heart a year later, I grew up and started paying my own way to the amusement park, and it is more a joy now to share that with my kids than it is for me to ride the rides.  Also, my grandparents are gone now, RIP.  No.  We are talking here about some JOY I can only barely imagine.  A JOY so incredible that the twenty-four elders in heaven’s throne room can’t stand for it.

Jesus endured a cross for the JOY set before him.  What JOY is worth that???  In fact, we are beginning to open our imaginations to such a degree now that we might ask: WHAT JOY IS SO WORTH IT AS TO MAKE CRUCIFIXION A SMALL PRICE TO PAY???

Ooooooh….  Dare we even ask?

We are now at the outer edges of our ability to consider such things.  We are at the end of us, but we can see from here that the JOY keeps going and going and going and going.

Wow!

I need that.

I grew up Protestant, and I remember in years gone by nearly all of the “effective” and powerful preachers tended to preach a variation on the same theme which could be summed up in this question:  If you died tonight, do you know where you would spend eternity?  I can recall preachers laboring the point, saying in evermore creative and powerful ways that NOTHING is more important in all of your life than settling this matter right now!  Why wait?  And of course in the faith tradition I grew up in, this was followed by an appeal to baptism for the forgiveness of your sins.  Other traditions would come to that point and have you recite “the sinner’s prayer” and receive salvation.  Others still might expect you to breakout speaking in tongues.  All of them, in their own way, though were leveraging you with the fear of hell fire.  Such preachers tried to quite literally scare the hell out of you.

That is NOT what the writer of Hebrews is doing, not what St. Paul is doing, and not what St. John is doing.  Not in the passages we looked at, anyway.  If you look close enough in each of these books we have touched on, you will find some bits which MIGHT lend themselves more toward such a notion, but the passages we look at in this devotion go quite the OTHER way.  They point us gravitationally to unfathomable JOY rather than repulsively away from hell, and Hebrews in particular tells us that Jesus endured the cross for this JOY set before him.  It tells us this in a sermon where the overriding concern is to equip the original readers with confidence to endure the hardships they are facing too.  They will do this, the passage says, by fixing their eyes on Jesus, who for the JOY set before him endured the cross….

Fix your eyes on Jesus:

Here is a central irony.  We fix our eyes on Jesus who is dying a horrible death on a Roman cross.  That is where he is being disciplined, where we are being disciplined, and it is not immediately a sense of JOY to be disciplined (12:11), but the discipline prepares us for the endurance.  It is part of the package deal.  And meanwhile, we look at Jesus as he dies on his cross, and we fix our eyes there.

Part of the irony in that, for me at least, comes to mind when I recall my Baptist friends criticizing my interest in Catholic faith, and one of the criticisms (among many) was the difference between a decorative cross, as you find in Protestant churches, and a Catholic crucifix which bears the image of Christ on it.  Thus my Protestant friends told me that the Catholics keep Jesus crucified, and thus never really experience the liberation of resurrection which comes only after he is taken down from that cross.

I, on the other hand, note that St. Paul (back in I Corinthians 2, just a few verses ahead of the passage we just looked at above), says, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (2:2).  We know Paul held a similar conviction with the Galatians before whose eyes he portrayed Christ crucified (3:1).  In fact, on page after page of Paul’s letters he keeps talking constantly about the crucifixion of Christ!  It is quite crucial!  And the passages we have been looking at reveal a powerful irony.  There is discipline in fixing our eyes here which leads to indescribable JOY!

I want to know what JOY is worth that?

As I see it, there are two ways to consider this: 1) is the counterbalance of endurance with JOY and the 2) the other is the paradox of coronation and the execution of a condemned.  I personally am more mystified by the second, but I am in no way convinced we should neglect the first.  But again, if you were getting a more pastoral tour of these matters, you might get a richer experience.  You are here, assuming you have come this far with me, with Agent X, and so we are not on THE USUAL tour, that is for sure.

Counterbalance

First for the counterbalance:  As I see it, the JOY God has waiting for us who love him far exceeds any joy I have ever known.  I have had some rich experiences, alright, some which I find foundational to my life and identity.  But no matter how rich my memory of the seventh grade dance, it was a temporal joy, one which has even been undercut by subsequent life events.  The JOY God has instore for us surely exceeds that beyond measure.

So how might we quantify such JOY – if it can’t be measured?

Well one way to do so is to point out the cost of it.  The cost acts like a counterbalance.  Jesus was crucified in a most horrible death.  But he was willing to do it for the JOY set before him.

It turns out, I have some sense of the pain, the agony, the shame, and the despair of crucifixion.  Not that I ever experienced it, but I have spent a lifetime fearing it.  I have SOME sense of it.  Certainly, St. Paul portrayed it before my very eyes.  He taught me to proclaim it until Jesus comes again.  And Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all give us their play-by-play accounts.  So, yeah… in this fallen world, I have SOME sense of the horrible pain while the JOY seems a bit more illusive.

Now… to be honest.  Those first century readers didn’t have to have it portrayed before their eyes in a letter.  The Roman world was full of crucifixions.  In fact, in SOME regards, the crucifixion of Jesus was kinda light.  Not where it counts, but one of the things crucifixion was meant to do was to be a cruel deterrent.  A billboard of agony.  And the Romans NORMALLY insisted that the condemned not only die on a cross, but rot there too.  (Jesus did not do that.)  Thus the smell of the dead would waft on the wind for days and weeks afterward.  The shame of their death was left there long after they died.  And these executions typically were carried out near the city gates, public places where the whole community would see it together and take heed not to mess with Lord Caesar.

I, on the other hand, born all these eons later and at least one whole ocean removed too, have soaked in a few images in paintings and movies, but I must confess that when CNN ran a story of the ISIS rebels in Aleppo, back in 2014, the first-run, un-sanitized, unedited for TV pictures that broadcast of the upheaval featured a couple of Christians enduring crucifixion in the city center!  I saw it!  I was stunned.  I was horrified and mortified.  I was scared.  It jarred me, and all my Christian life had not prepared me for it.

But if the writer of Hebrews is credible, then Jesus endured the cross for the JOY set before him, and I wonder what JOY is worth that!  There is a counterbalance effect to this.  I may not know what the JOY is, but I have a sense of the very least it might be since Jesus was willing to endure such agony for the goal of obtaining this JOY.  It has to be at a minimum THAT JOYFUL.

That is the counterbalance approach.  And I think it is worthwhile.  It allows me, even instigates in me, the question: What JOY is worth that?  And that is a great place to spend some devotional meditation!

Paradox of Coronation and Crucifixion:

But there is that OTHER approach too.  That approach to looking at the cross of Christ and seeing, of course, the horrible execution of a common criminal – AS IT WAS INTENDED BY CAESAR TO DO!  But as I LOOK and LOOK, as I fix my eyes on Jesus as he endures that, alright, I might, just might, with the eyes of faith and with the help of the Spirit, see in it the coronation of God!

God takes Caesar’s worst, endures it, and turns it inside out and upside down.  God turns the execution of a common criminal into the crown-taking, throne sitting, moment that God comes back to be KING of his people.

Let’s look at I Corinthians 2 one more time.

We saw above that St. Paul came to Corinth determined to have his own eyes fixed on Jesus (which we may presume means he intended to fix their eyes there too).  He is not, in that case, addressing a church enduring persecution, per se, but more likely a church which enjoys a lot of freedom and maybe even wealth to a large extent.  The parishioners Paul is addressing here consider themselves well educated, smart, and they are taking advantage of Grecian wisdom to get ahead in life.

I’m thinking that up until about a week or two ago, we Americans probably would have found we had a lot more in common with this group than with those addressed by the sermon we call Hebrews.  NOW, of course, we are enduring hardship, but Paul seems to have tailored the same idea about fixing our eyes on Jesus for this OTHER circumstance.  Look what he says:

I was with you in weakness and in far and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.  Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory….(I Cor. 2:3-8).

Wow!  This is starting to sum up everything we have said so far.  We have it all here.  Jesus is crucified.  There is mystery and wisdom beyond our telling, but we can open it up to the mature… to the disciplined.  Fix your eyes here and see what JOYOUS work God is doing in the unfathomable mysteries words can hardly express.

This message – this small phrase – we started with in Hebrews appears to find connections in St. Paul’s letters to Corinth and Galatia, in the prophets of old (Isaiah and Ezekiel at least), in St. John’s Apocalypse, in the four Gospels, in the endurance of hardship and in us.  What JOY is worth the endurance Jesus underwent?  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus and contemplate that.

I don’t know what you endure at your house today.  Some of you are having a troubling, nagging cough.  Some are merely fearing it.  Some of you have already sent a loved one to the hospital, and you wait hoping against hope that this doesn’t end in death.

All of us have our lives in jeopardy today.  When will the money run out?  When will the power get shut off?  When will I go to work again – OR ALTERNATIVELY – I keep going to work wondering when I will catch the bug!  What happens to my babies if I am gone?  How will I cope if I lose my babies?

Whether you are Christian or not, the coronavirus does not discriminate.  We all face these issues and more.

I keep wondering where my college kids is going, and why can’t she stay put.  Come bedtime, she is gonna want to belong here in this house with us, but who coughed on her while she was out?  Did she smooch her boyfriend?  And did he stay in and observe social distance?  Did he wash his hands after pumping gas and before picking his nose?  When she comes home, will she pay the price for the decisions this twenty year old makes?  Will my three year old pay the price for the decisions this twenty year old makes?  This nineteen year old makes?  We are not used to paying such steep prices for the foolish choices one another makes, and it is turning our world upside down!

Will there be a stock market left if we survive?  Will there be a doctor to take care of me this time next year?

There is so much uncertainty at least, and a whirlwind of suffering kicking up around us.  Now is the time to endure.  It is the only thing to do.

But the writer of Hebrews wants to equip the readers with confidence for patiently enduring hardship by fixing our eyes on Jesus.  And as this writer prepares us for this, that awesome little phrase comes bursting out of the edges – FOR THE JOY SET BEFORE HIM, HE ENDURED….  And that raises such a profound question: What JOY is worth that?

And if you are still reading here, you have begun asking that question with me.  You have begun fixing your eyes on Jesus and the Spirit of God for the last half hour at least has begun communing with you.

There is a JOY set before us too.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus and HOPE for that JOY with him as we are now called to endure.

Let us encourage each other in this.

I hope that both now, and at the hour of my death, I have my life devoted to the JOY set before us and that I am equipped to endure whatever cost as I obtain it.  I might need your encouragement along the way.

I hope to share that JOY with you on the other side.

God bless…

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