Tag Archives: Abraham

“It’s Boring!” (Until You See the Connections)

Then Solomon began to build the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to his father David. It was on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, the place provided by David.
2 Chronicles 3:1 (NIV)

When I began this blog over 12 years ago I called it Wayfarer because  a wayfarer is one who is on a journey, and anyone who has be the most casual reader of my posts knows that I reference my journey in almost every post. Life is a journey, for all of us. If I step back, I can also see that history is a journey in a macro sense. Humanity is on its own life journey from alpha to omega. I am connected to what has gone before us, and I am a micro part of the on-going trek of life through time.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks I’ve observed when it comes to people reading what we refer to as the Old Testament, or the ancient writings of the Hebrew people, is that it appears so disconnected from my life, my reality, and my daily journey. The further I get in my journey, however, the more I realize how everything is connected.

In today’s chapter we have a fairly boring recitation that an ancient Chronicler wrote of the design of Solomon’s temple. It’s actually a re-telling of an earlier recitation in the book of 1 Kings. It was likely written at a time after the exiles taken to Babylon returned to Jerusalem and were faced with the task of rebuilding Solomon’s Temple which had been destroyed by the Babylonians. Have you ever observed how when there’s a current event on which everyone is focused (i.e. the royal wedding) and then all of a sudden there’s a ton of magazine articles, books, documentaries, and shows about royal weddings? The writing of Chronicles describing how Solomon built his temple, was likely written because everyone was focused on rebuilding that temple.

But wait, there’s more:

  • The Chronicler mentions that the temples was build on Mount Moriah, which is where Abraham obediently went to sacrifice his son, Isaac and then was stopped by God. So the temple they are building is also connected to the past and the founder of their faith.
  • For those of us who follow Jesus, we also see in Abraham’s sacrifice a foreshadowing of God so loving the world that He sacrificed His one and only Son. So today’s chapter is connected to that as well.
  • And the temple design parallels the design of the traveling tent that Moses and the Hebrews used as a worship center as they left Egypt and wandered in the wilderness for years. So, the temple is connected to that part of the story as well.
  • Oh, and then it describes “the most holy place” where only the high priest could enter once a year as a 20x20x20 cubit cube (a cubit is an ancient form of measurement, roughly 21 inches). When you get to the very end of the Great Story at the end of Revelation there is described a New Jerusalem. It is without a temple because Jesus dwells at the center but the entire city is designed as a cube. The word picture connects back to the design in today’s chapter. The entirety of the New Jerusalem is “most holy” because Jesus, the sacrificial lamb (there’s a connection back to Abraham’s sacrifice and the sacrificial system of Moses), has covered everyone’s sins and made everyone holy. The whole city and everything, everyone in it is holy.

Once you begin to see how everything being described in today’s chapter connects to the beginning and the end of the story it suddenly begins to get really interesting.

This morning I’m thinking about my Life journey. In the grand scheme of things it’s a little micro particle. It’s seemingly insignificant when you look at just the surface of things. But, then I begin to see how it connects to other people and their journeys. I begin to see how my journey has been made possible by everything that has gone before. I begin to see how my little, seemingly insignificant life journey, like a tiny atom in the body of time, is contributing love, life, energy, peace, kindness, goodness that will propel the story forward.

I’m just trying to walk my journey well. Connected to all that’s come before. Doing my part for those who will walk their journeys after. And, believing what Jesus taught and exemplified in His death and resurrection: when this Life journey is over an eternal Life journey will just be starting.

I hope you make good connections today.

A Table Prepared for All

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
    a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
    the best of meats and the finest of wines.
Isaiah 25:26 (NIV)

I love a great dinner party. We have become such a fast food, quick serve, grab-a-snack culture that it’s rare to really enjoy a feast any more. I had a friend tell me that she and her family finished Thanksgiving dinner in 10 minutes. There’s something wrong with this picture.

A great dinner party starts early with a drink and an appetizer. People mingle. There’s light conversation. Guests begin to unwind. It moves on to a table that’s prepared. Things are laid out. Everything you need for the evening is set before you. The plates, knives, forks, spoons, and glassware are a road map to the feast. There is salad and/or soup before the main course. The main course follows after and is perfectly proportioned with complementary dishes. There is an aperitif to cleanse the palate before moving on to dessert. And, there are wines served to compliment each course. By the time dessert is served you have been on a journey. A feast is to be savored, en-joy-ed along with the company and conversation around the table.

I love that God’s word picture of what’s-to-come is a feast. It’s the word picture He gave Abraham when first introducing Himself in Genesis 18. It’s the word picture Jesus gives in Revelation of the relationship He desires with every one. A dinner party. A leisurely meal with good food and good fellowship around the table.

I am struck this morning that Isaiah’s prophetic feast is for all people. So often the image of God we project to the world is that of a miserly monarch condemning the many to save the exclusive few. But Isaiah’s prophetic image is a feast of salvation for all people and all nations. When Jesus picked up and riffed on this word picture in his parable of the wedding feast he speaks of inviting those who you’d least expect to have a seat at the table, the master’s servants grabbing anyone and everyone off the street and ushering them to the table.

This morning I’m thinking about dinner parties, feasts, and a God who desires the communal oneness that is experienced with good food, good wine, and good relationship around a table well prepared.

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The Great Debate

Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.”
John 8:58 (NRSV)

In yesterday’s post, I got to thinking about the events John describes in the context of our own contemporary presidential election in the United States. I’d like to extend the metaphor today because you can’t truly understand the context of the events in today’s chapter without understanding that there is an on-going political debate taking place. The issues being debated are the very two questions with which I ended yesterday’s post:

  1. Who is Jesus?
  2. What do we do with Him?

It’s also important to understand that the party officials, the Jewish religious leaders, were all lawyers. They acted much like Supreme Court justices interpreting our Constitution, only they were legal experts interpreting the Law of Moses (all the religious rules and regulations in the Books of Exodus, Leviticus, et al). These lawyers were also in political, social, and economic control of the Jewish people under Roman occupation, and of the Temple. These legal, religious, political officials were threatened by Jesus for a number of reasons.

First, Jesus was highly critical of these political, religious lawyers (in today’s debate Jesus calls them children of the Devil). Second, Jesus’ teaching and actions were a tectonic paradigm shift that cut against the grain of the ruling party’s conservative, narrow interpretation of what God desires and expects of His followers. This threatened their thought control over the populace. Finally (and getting to the real crux of the matter), Jesus was also extremely popular and it was creating social unrest that threatened these lawyers political and social control. Their power, authority, and economic cash cow was threatened (think of it like one of our political parties who might lose their control over Congress).

And so, as Jesus is in the Temple teaching, these legal/political/religious party officials send waves of lawyers to debate Jesus on a variety of issues. Their goal is to trap Jesus into saying something that would give them authority, according to their almighty law, to arrest and kill the young troublemaker from Nazareth.

First, they send a woman caught in adultery who, by law, should be stoned to death for her crime. The legal team, however, seemed to forget that the law calls for both the woman and her adulterous lover to be condemned. Jesus, however, refuses to debate the jots and tittles of the legal issues. He simply highlights the accusers own sin and hypocrisy, publicly shaming them into abandoning their blood fury.

The next legal team questions  the claims Jesus has been making about Himself on the grounds that the law requires two witnesses. Jesus counters that God, the Father, is His second witness. He adds that if the lawyers would get their heads out of the law and sought to  know the Father (author of the law), they would understand this.

Finally, the lawyers ask Jesus point-blank who He is. Jesus once again offers cryptic answers to the direct question, stating that they will know for sure “when you have lifted up the Son of Man” (a prophetic foreshadowing of Jesus’ own crucifixion).

The audience is impressed with Jesus’ dismantling of the lawyers’ arguments. The debate is going Jesus’ way, and many of the Jews in the audience decide to switch their party affiliation and join Jesus’ camp.

The debate now shifts and Jesus goes on the offensive. Like all good politicians, the ruling legal officials liked to align themselves with the beloved, historical pillars of the party. They were known for calling themselves “children of Abraham” and draping the mantel of Abraham’s legacy around their shoulders. Jesus questions their hypocrisy, asking why they have been in their smoke filled back rooms plotting to kill Him.

The debate quickly spirals into back and forth name-calling (sound familiar?). The lawyers hold fast to their “Children of Abraham” branding. Jesus counters by accusing them of being murderers. The lawyers raise their own Abraham claim and double down, claiming that God is their father. Jesus counters that the devil is, in fact, their father because, like the devil, the evidence proves they are all liars and murderers. The lawyers, now really pissed off, counter by calling Jesus a demon and then throw in a racial epithet by throwing out rumors (from the internet, no doubt) that Jesus is a actually a half-breed Samaritan.

Jesus then shifts the debate once more, this time claiming that He personally knows their beloved Abraham (to wit: “I knew Abraham. Abraham is a friend of mine. You, sir, are no child of Abraham.”), and that Abraham rejoiced to see Jesus’ take up His campaign. The legal team scoffs. This is ludicrous and insane. Abraham lived over a thousands years ago. How could Jesus actually know Abraham?

Jesus ends the debate with the most headline grabbing, jaw-dropping, topic trending statement of all. Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I am.” Only, in the Hebrew language Jesus used the word that is transliterated into English: “Yaweh.” Yahweh is the name God gave to Moses on the mountain when Moses asked who He was (See Exodus chapter 3). Yaweh was the unutterable, sacred, holy name of God. To the Jews, Yaweh was forever to be considered “He-who-must-not-be-named.” In saying “Yaweh” Jesus both directly claimed that He was God and gave his political opponents their legal grounds to pounce. And, pounce they did. The lawyers suddenly became executioners. They immediately picked up the stones (perhaps the dropped stones intended for the adulterous woman) to carry out swift justice.

Today, I am reminded that I am reading the testimony of a member of Jesus’ own inner circle, John, who was a first-hand original source witness of this debate. I am struck by the fact that Jesus seemed to foreknow the way these events were going to play out, and ultimately contributed to their outcome. I am, once again, reminded that Jesus claimed to be God. If Jesus wasn’t lying, and if He wasn’t crazy, then I’m left to accept that He was exactly who He claimed to be. And, I’m left to make up my own mind about the second issue of the debate: What am I going to do with Him?

 

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Faith-full Father Abraham

What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
Romans 4:3 (NIV)

There is no one in history quite like Abraham. He was a wayfarer and a nomad as he followed God’s call to follow toward unknown places. As an ancient man with an ancient wife beyond childbearing years, Abraham was promised that he would be the father of many nations.  He believed. He became the father of the Israelites and the Ishmaelites, both the Jews and the Arabs. The scriptures of Christians, Jews, and Muslims all journey back to the same forefather: Abraham.

And what did Abraham do that was so great?

He believed God at His word.
His faith motivated him to live according to what he believed.
God credited Abraham with righteousness.

In today’s chapter, Paul is making a religious legal argument against those who believe that our good works earn us a place in heaven. Exhibit A was father Abraham. Righteousness, Paul argued, was not rendered by God as payment for Abraham’s good deeds. It was credited (unearned) because of Abraham’s simple faith, his believing God.

In a world in which I must earn my way in almost every respect, it is easy to slip into the religious world view of heaven being earned like a divine 401K plan, just like everything else in this life: “A buck to charity here, refuse to give in to temptation there, and a good deed or two and the Big Boss in the sky puts a credit or two in the Pearly Gates Retirement Plan for me. I just hope I have enough in the account for retirement.”

But God says, “my ways aren’t your ways” and God’s Message is clear. Grace and favor is not about what I have done or not done. It’s simply about me believing what God has done and promised through Jesus. Then my faith will motivate me to live according to what I believe. John makes the link clear in his biography of Jesus when he writes that those who receive Jesus, who believe Jesus, they are credited the right to be children of God.

Just like faith-full father Abraham.

 

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Scattered Seeds

the sower after millet detail 1

Stephen replied, “Brothers and fathers, listen to me. The God of glory appeared to our ancestor Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Leave your country and your relatives and go to the land that I will show you.'” Acts 7:2-3 (NSRV)

Last week I gave a message at our local group of Jesus followers entitled Scattered Seeds which came from a verse in tomorrow’s chapter. The message in one sentence was this: “We are saved to be scattered.” In the message, I talked about the fact that God’s modus operandi throughout history has been to save people and scatter them so that they might accomplish their roles in the Great Story.

I found it fascinating this morning to read through Stephen’s words to his Hebrews executioners, because he uses three of the very examples I used in the message last week: Abraham, Joseph, and Moses. I added a few examples in Noah, David, and threw in a more contemporary reference that was audience specific.

In wrapping up, I summarized with three key observations:

  1. A faith journey always begins with a single step. What are you waiting for?
  2. A faith journey always requires that you leave something behind. Let it go.
  3. In a faith journey you can’t always see where the road leads. Trust. Don’t be afraid. That’s why it’s called a “faith” journey. God’s message is a foot lamp to reveal the next step, not a headlight to see the road ahead.

I’ve embedded the message for any who are interested in listening.

The embedded audio file is presented with the gracious permission of Third Church in Pella, Iowa who holds the copyright. All rightsreserved. It is intended for personal listening only and may not  be used for any other reason without permission. 

To Religious Rule Keepers: Go Castrate Yourselves

I just wish that those troublemakers who want to mutilate you by circumcision would mutilate themselves. Galatians 5:12 (NLT)

What we read in God’s Message can easily be confusing without the historical context. Paul’s letter to the Jesus followers in Galatia is a great example.

At the time Paul was writing his letter, the rite of circumcision in which the foreskin of the male penis is cut off and removed had been part of the Jewish religion for over a thousand years. The tradition dated back to the days of Abraham in the book of Genesis. In the early days of Christianity there was a huge debate raging whether you could be a follower of Jesus without keeping the labyrinth of Jewish laws, rules and regulations such as circumcision. Because Jesus  and all of the disciples had been Jews, many were teaching that following Jesus required converting to Judaism with all of its requisites, including circumcision.

Paul had gone to Galatia and taught the message of Jesus which is actually very simple: turn away from your wrong doing, believe in Jesus and invite Him into your heart and life. Then, follow Jesus teachings and love others. Many in Galatia believed and there was a growing group of Jesus followers in the town. Paul left to go to other cities and in his absence some men came to town claiming to be of greater authority than Paul. They started telling all the Jesus followers that they were required to convert fully to Judaism. All the men who believed in Jesus would have to have the foreskins of their penises cut off.

Paul was righteously ticked off. In fact, the English translators who translated what we read from the original Greek language in which Paul wrote are always  so careful with the verse above. In the original Greek, what Paul is really saying is “I wish those who are teaching that you have to be circumcised would go all out. They shouldn’t stop with the foreskin of the penis, they should go ahead and castrate themselves.”

We can scarcely imagine what huge theological issues the early church grappled with as those who followed Jesus differentiated themselves from the Jewish traditions from which they emerged. The entire letter Paul writes to the Jesus followers in Galatia is about this one major theme. Jewish tradition was about zealously keeping all the rules of the law of Moses. It was a system built on rules, rites and sacrifice. Paul is telling them to forget the letter of the law and focus on the Spirit of the law: love God, love others.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. We no longer have these same theological conflicts, but the heart of the conflict remains. People still like to make faith in Jesus about keeping rules and regulations so as to appear righteous before others. Just last night I had a conversation with my daughter who has been recently chastised by someone for not toeing the line of their religious rules. My advice to her came right from Paul’s letter: Follow Jesus and choose love.

I didn’t add “let the religious rule police go castrate themselves”….but I thought it. Like Paul, I felt a little ticked.

We are Family

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 36

This is the account of the descendants of Esau (also known as Edom). Genesis 36:1 (NLT)

As I read today’s chapter I couldn’t keep my mind from wandering to “the rest of the story.” All of these descendants of Esau (also known as Edom) would become the Edomites who would live in constant conflict with the descendants of Israel. The prophet Obadiah’s message was against the Edomites. The conflict was between tribes who shared a common ancestor.

That is also true of the conflicts we read about on the internet and see on the television today. The nation of Israel trace their lineage back through Isaac to Abraham. The arab nations trace their lineage back through Ishmael to Abraham. They are all sons of Abraham.

We can cast the net even wider. DNA projects being carried on by National Geographic and other groups are tracing the common genetic strands of everyday people all over the world in order to learn more about how tribes and nations and peoples spread across the earth. What modern genetics has determined is [surprise!] we all, every person on this Earth can trace their genes back to the same woman.

I can also pull the net in close to find this theme played out around me each day. I live in a small Iowa town founded by a small handful of Dutch immigrant families. “Dutch Bingo” is what we call the game that locals play when they start conversationally tracing family trees in order to find a connection. If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard or witnessed casual friends or neighbors playing Dutch Bingo only to find that they are third or fourth cousins and never knew it, I could buy you a Starbucks Grande Latte in Oslo.

I don’t know what to make of it all. I scratch my head and mull it all over as I sip my morning coffee and watch the snow falling outside. The one thing that it does make me appreciate is that we are all connected. I can’t do much about world politics or global conflict, but I can choose each day how I treat my fellow human being family member. I can be a little more deferential to that jerk uptown who drives me nuts. I can choose to respond to a personal attack with grace. I can take that money I’d spend on your Oslo Grande Latte and feed a distant cousin on the other side of the world, help dig a well for a community of far off relatives who daily live without clean water, or help free someone with whom I’m genetically connected from human trafficking.