Tag Archives: Blood

“If You Only Knew What it was Like….”

Meanwhile, the remainder of the Jews who were in the king’s provinces also assembled to protect themselves and get relief from their enemies. They killed seventy-five thousand of them but did not lay their hands on the plunder.
Esther 9:16 (NIV)

This past weekend I attended my 35th high school reunion. It’s only the second reunion that I’ve attended and it was a lot of fun to catch up with old classmates and where their life journeys have taken them. I walked to Kindergarten with some of these people. We played Kick-the-Can, Freeze Tag, and Ding-Dong Ditchem’ as children and experienced all the awkwardness of adolescence together. It was especially sobering for me to see the table of memorials to all classmates who have already passed, and to recall moments and life events I experienced with each of them. It was strange to have such vivid memories with these amazing individuals from my childhood and to realize that so much time has passed. One of the common conversations that evening was how our children (and now grandchildren) have no concept of what everyday life was like for us.

I found myself expanding that thought to a macro-level this morning as I read the chapter. It’s been a while since this chapter-a-day journey took me into such a bloody text. It is difficult for this twenty-first century, enlightened Western mind to get my head wrapped around such bloodshed and carnage. I’ve observed along the way that we have a penchant in our modern culture to whitewash, rewrite, or simply ignore certain aspects of history, including the brutal violence which was an everyday part of the culture in ancient days. “Kill or be killed” was the way of life and survival for most tribes and people groups.

In today’s chapter, I found it fascinating that Xerxes did not seem to bat an eye at the destruction of Esther’s enemies. But, I have to remember that his father, Cyrus, established the Persian Empire and became the world’s first “superpower” by destroying a lot of people. Xerxes had a reputation for holding onto that power and his Empire by brutally suppressing any kind of rebellion against him and his kingdom. Again, it was simply the way of life during that period of history.

There are two things happening in today’s chapter that are often lost on the casual reader. The first connects to something I pointed out the other day. The face-off between Mordecai (descendant of King Saul’s tribe of Benjamin) and Haman (descendant of King Agag of the Amalekites) is a historical rematch. In the first round (see 1 Samuel 15), Saul did not complete the task of wiping out Agag and his followers. In today’s chapter, the destruction of Haman and his followers was historically perceived by the Hebrews as righting an old wrong that Saul should have completed.

Second, while Xerxes’ proclamation gave the Hebrews permission to plunder their enemies, you’ll notice the text clearly points out that they chose not to do so. Again, this is further evidence that the events of today’s chapter were perceived as righting the wrongs of Saul, who was forbidden from plundering King Agag and the Amalekites but did so anyway. The story of Esther is layered with the theme of reversals: the reversal of fortunes, the reversal of specific events, and the reversal of past wrongs.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about the march of time. Based on conversations this past weekend, I and my classmates clearly wish that our children could understand what life was like for us:

  • “If you only knew what it was like without smartphones.”
  • “If you only knew what it was like to write a research paper on a daisy-wheel typewriter without the internet, Google, or Wikipedia.”
  • “If you only knew what it was like to walk a mile to school every day in the winter.”
  • “If you only knew what it was like to be at college and communicate with your parents once a week (at most) because they didn’t want to pay for the collect call.”
  • “If you only knew what it was like to be expected to get a paper route and start working as soon as you were 11 or 12 years old.”

In the same way, I imagine Mordecai and Esther inviting me to take off my modern, rose-colored glasses and to attempt to see beyond my politically correct horror at the violence of their time in history.  I imagine them beckoning me to try and imagine what it was like to live in the “kill or be killed” realities they experienced every day when there was no other choice. “If you only knew what it was like,” I hear them say, “to walk in our sandals as exiles and captives in a foreign land surrounded by enemies bent on killing us.”

I don’t think it’s fully possible, but I’ve found it worth the effort to try. The stories of history have secrets to teach me; Secrets that provide wisdom for my own life journey, and for the journeys of my children and grandchildren.

As Jesus said, “Seek, and you’ll find.

And so my “seeking” begins for another day, in another week.

I hope your own search is going well, my friend.

Not Bricks and Mortar, but Flesh and Blood

“However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands.”
Acts 7:48 (NIV)

I remember going to church as a kid and being taught a certain reverence for the sanctuary of our church. It was a classically designed sanctuary with an altar that sat on a dais at the back. Over the altar hung a giant cross and from the bottom of the cross hung an old-style lamp which was “the eternal flame.” Just in front of the altar was a lectern that sat on one side from which the scripture readings and announcement were made. On the opposite side was the pulpit which was larger, and stood higher.

As children we were taught that this santuary was special. This was where you went to worship God on Sunday. There was sacredness attached to the room, the altar, and the pulpit. You were to be quiet when you were in there. No running. No playing. Don’t go near the altar unless Reverend Washington is up there serving communion.

After I became a believer and began reading God’s Message for myself, I came to realize that the entire notion of a “sacred” church building was never a part of Jesus’ paradigm. Jesus never asked his followers to build buildings. Quite the opposite. Jesus said, “I will destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days.” With His death, resurrection, and the subsequent pouring out of Holy Spirit, Jesus did away with the old notion that there was a physical building that would be the center of worship. The “church” Jesus came to build is not made of bricks and mortar, but of flesh and blood.

A time is coming,” Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well, “when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.”

In today’s chapter one of Jesus’ early followers, a man named Stephen, is dragged before the Jewish religious authority, called the Sanhedrin, in the Temple in Jerusalem. This is the same council who convicted Jesus and gave Him a death sentence just weeks earlier. Stephen, in his defense, walks the religious leaders through the Great Story from Abraham to Joseph to Moses to the Kings and to the prophets. He tells of Solomon building the Temple where he, himself, was now standing. Stephen then says to religious authorities:

“However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:

“‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me?
says the Lord.
    Or where will my resting place be?
Has not my hand made all these things?’”

This morning I’m thinking about sacred spaces, and enjoying the memory of being a kid and finding out that the “eternal flame” that hung over our church’s altar was simply a 40 watt light bulb that sometimes burnt out and had to be replaced by the custodian.

Having a physical building for believers to gather, worship, and create community is a great thing. I just never want to lose sight of the truth that Jesus never intended “the church” to be a building down the street. When Holy Spirit indwells me as a believer my flesh and blood becomes “the church” because God is within me, one with my spirit. I am sacred space. “Don’t you know,” Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, “that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” So, “the church” is wherever I happen to be. It’s wherever two or more believers gather together.

I don’t go to church. I am the church.

Still Using the Same Bloody Playbook

So Jehu destroyed Baal worship in Israel. However, he did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit—the worship of the golden calves at Bethel and Dan.
2 Kings 10:28-29 (NIV)

As I read the chapter this morning, I couldn’t help but think about the news reports coming out of the cities held by ISIS. Our own media have been slow to report the brutal daily realities there. People forced into religious submission and immediate death sentences for any who do not proclaim religious allegiance. Immediate death for anyone caught in the most minor moral infraction such as smoking a cigarette or not wearing the right garb. Those of other faiths beheaded or crucified. Dead bodies hung out for public display as a warning to all.

Life in ancient times was bloody and brutal. Today’s chapter is not a light, devotional read. It’s a veritable blood bath. Last week I used the Godfather saga as a modern parallel to Jehu’s take over of Ahab and Jezebel’s regime. The word picture continues to parallel in the today’s chapter. Having “capped” Ahab and Jezebel, the new Godfather Jehu consolidates his power by killing all of Ahab and Jezebel’s sons, all of their inner circle, their loyal followers, and then all of the members of the religious cult of Baal to whom Ahab and Jezebel zealously ascribed.

For ancient political upstarts like Jehu this type of bloody takeover was nothing new or groundbreaking. There was a well-worn playbook for taking over and consolidating power, and Jehu’s actions were strictly takeover “by the book.” Even in The Godfather II they reference the ancient Roman Empire as blueprint for how they organized and carried out “business.” The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I thought the most important thing mentioned in today’s chapter was when it is reported that Jehu had wiped out the corruption and idolatry of Ahab and Jezebel, but then he continued to commit his own personal idolatry by worshipping the idols of golden calves. One idolatrous regime gives way to another. Jehu was happy to violently wipe-out his enemies and set up his own personal empire, but in the end he wasn’t that much different from his predecessors.

Which brings me back to today’s headlines, and my own thoughts in the quiet of the morning. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The reports out of cities controlled by Islamic State read like the ancient story of Jehu (and the Inquisition, as well). Even in our own “modern” and “enlightened” culture we have groups of people both left and right who have actively ascribed to violence, power, and intimidation to do away with those who disagree and subject others to their personal world views.

Maybe we’re not so civilized as we think we are.

I’m reminded this morning of Jesus’ words, “You have heard it said…, but I say….” As a follower of Jesus I am called to a different playbook that says if you want to gain power you have to let it go, if you want to lead you have to serve, if you want to ascend you must humbly bow. Jesus’ playbook begins with a change of heart that leads to a change in behavior and relationships. It grows organically by contagion.

The problem with Ahab, Jehu, Rome, the Corleones, Islamic State, the Alt-Right, and Antifa is that it’s all about external power to subject others to their will, but this only serves to sow seeds of hatred and rebellion in the hearts those subjected. Thousands of years of human history and we still haven’t learned the lesson. We’re still falling back to the old playbook. It often works, for a time.

I much prefer Jesus’ strategy. Start with changing the individual heart and then working outward using simple tactics of love, grace, forgiveness, and generosity. I’m not forcing anyone to follow this path, mind you, but I’m happy to buy you a cup of coffee or a pint and tell you about my own personal experience.

Bloody Thoughts

For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.
Leviticus 17:11 (NRSV)

I grew up delivering newspapers. As a young boy I helped my older brothers on their “paper route.” When I was old enough, I had my own. By the age of eleven I was helping my buddy Scott with his route. Scott delivered both the Des Moines Register (morning) and the Des Moines Tribune (afternoon) to the Veterans Hospital in our neighborhood. When Scott was on vacation, I covered his route.

It was the mid-1970s. Veterans Hospital was filled with aging World War II veterans as well as young men who had only recently endured the horrors of Vietnam. I would carry an armload of newspapers to the ward rooms at the end of the corridor on each floor. The giant rooms held 10-12 beds. I would shout “Paper!” and wait to see if any of the patients indicated they wanted one.

For a young kid, the experience was chalk full of intensive life lessons. Delivering papers at “Vets” was a crash course in harsh realities. Old men lay naked on beds, shaking, and crying out in hallucinations. Former soldiers suffering from various mental issues were tied to beds to protect them from themselves. “Hey kid! There’s a hundred dollar bill in that drawer over there. If you untie me, you can have it.” Men coughing up mucus and blood. Men speaking through the strange robotic device that allowed speech through the tube protruding from their trachea. Then there was the time Scott showed me the splattered blood and chalk outline on the pavement just outside the hospital’s back entrance where a veteran had jumped out an upper floor window to his death.

I’ve always found it odd when people pass out at the sight of blood. I’ve never been bothered by it. Perhaps it was those early experiences at Veteran’s hospital.  Perhaps it’s because blood has been consistently present in my family’s back story.

My twin brothers were born at a small town hospital in Le Mars, Iowa. They were born breach (feet first) and my mother experienced severe internal hemorrhaging in the process. The hospital needed blood to keep her alive. The local radio station put out a call for donors. Farmers came in from the field. Shopkeepers left their stores. Their sacrifice kept my mother alive. I’m here because of their blood. My father made a commitment to be a regular blood donor in gratitude of the blood sacrifice others made to save my mother’s life. I grew up watching my dad bring home t-shirts, coffee mugs and lapel pins that announced his ever, increasing count of gallons of blood donated.

The ancient Levitical sacrificial system was based on blood. Blood carries oxygen through our bodies and with it, life. The loss of blood means the loss of life. Blood is integral to God’s story. The consequence of sin is death. The spiritual solution is sacrifice. The blood sacrifice brings life from death.

This morning I’m thinking about blood, life, and death. I’m remembering blood splattered on the pavement in a gruesome scene of death. I’m thinking about the sacrifice of blood that gave my mother life years before I was even a thought in my parents minds. I’m thinking about the time, energy and blood my father shed over the years in gratitude and the desire to pay it forward. There is a hymn from my childhood running through my mind…

Would you be whiter, much whiter than snow?
There’s pow’r in the blood, pow’r in the blood;
Sin-stains are lost in its life-giving flow;
There’s wonderful pow’r in the blood.

chapter a day banner 2015

The Fat

All fat is the Lord’s. It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, in all your settlements: you must not eat any fat or any blood.
Leviticus 3:16b-17 (NRSV)

I am married to a fabulous cook. Anyone who has had one of Wendy’s amazing cheesecakes can attest to this. Just this past Saturday she made a Italian chicken and pasta dinner that I’m still thinking about it. When it comes to grilling, however, I am the grill master at our house. If we’re going to grill meat, then I’m in charge, from choosing the meat, to preparing it and grilling it.

I don’t claim to be great with the grill, but I’ve learned a few things along the journey. For example, if you’re going to choose a nice steak then you have to look for a cut which has good “marbling.” In other words, the fat runs throughout the lean and creates an effect that looks a bit like marble. It’s the fat throughout the meat that melts and creates a juicy steak. Fat makes it a “choice” steak.

In order for those of us in 21t century western culture to being to wrap our heads around the ancient  semitic sacrificial system, we have to understand the metaphors involved. To the Israelites, blood was synonymous with life. So when a sacrifice bled and died on the altar it was viewed a substitutionary death for the death God had prescribed to all humanity back in the Garden of Eden. That’s why Jesus is referred to as the “Lamb of God,” as His death on the cross was the substitutionary, sacrificial death for humanity – once for all.

Likewise, the fat of the sacrifice represented how good it was. Just as  a good cut of steak, marbled with fat, is known to be the best – so an animal’s fat was was made it a choice sacrifice. It was the “best.”

Today, I’m reminded of two things:

  • A sacrifice isn’t a sacrifice if it really doesn’t cost me a thing.
  • A sacrifice is giving my best, not my leftovers.

 

Not Bricks and Mortar, but Flesh and Blood.

English: Western wall in Jerusalem at night
English: Western wall in Jerusalem at night (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Exalt the Lord our God,
    and worship at his holy mountain in Jerusalem,
    for the Lord our God is holy!
Psalm 99:9 (NLT)

I have a bit of a rebellious streak in me. I quickly get irritated by senseless rules and misplaced religious orthodoxy. We as humans tend to want to wrap rules around principles and attach sacred  meaning to silly things. I remember a crotchety old fart who got mad at me for letting children run and play in the church sanctuary instead of getting mad and giving them a stern rebuke. In his mind the kids were desecrating the holiness of the room. I told him that the sanctuary was nothing more than a gathering place (adding that I’d be happy to prove the point scripturally) and the sound of children laughing, running and playing where we met to worship was music to my ears. If there are a lot of kids having fun in the place the church just might have a future.

He didn’t like me very much.

In the ancient days when the psalms were written, there was central place where God was to be worshipped in Jerusalem at the temple. One of the things I love most about Jesus  is that he blew away old rules and established radical new paradigms. When a woman asked Jesus about worshipping in Jerusalem, Jesus said, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem….But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

In the new paradigm that Jesus ushered in, those who believe are indwelt by God’s Holy Spirit and we ourselves become God’s temple. We don’t go to some church building that is somehow special, holy and sacred – we ourselves – our bodies – are the temple. We are made special, holy and sacred by God.  We don’t go to church. We are the church. It’s not bricks and mortar. It’s flesh and blood. Every time I hear a pastor telling me to invite my friends to church I shake my head and groan. Jesus’ intention was never for believers to bring friends to a central location to worship Him. His intention was that believers would worship Him by spreading out into every neighborhood and loving people.

The Good Stuff

Wine decanter and glasses.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day 1 Corinthians 6

Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NLT)

Wendy and I like to entertain. We don’t do it as often as we’d like and, while we don’t go to extremes, there are evenings when we choose to get out “the good stuff.” Paper napkins are replaced by cloth. Plates are put on gold chargers. Because we are going to bring out the good wine, the nice wine glasses are placed on the table along with a special wine decanter for pouring, aerating and serving the wine. We recognize that our guests are honored when we make the effort to break out “the good stuff” for our dinner together.

Let me be honest. The verses above have haunted me for most of my journey. I have never been uber athletic. Running marathons, competing in triathlons, or getting involved in recreational athletics have never held much appeal for me. Okay, they’ve never held any appeal for me whatsoever. Like most Americans, I like to eat. While I have given regular and serious thought to my diet and to exercise (e.g. I think about eating better, I think about exercising, I contemplate the benefits of doing so), an honest audit of my behavior over time would reveal that I have had little or no discipline in this area. This past year has been one of two periods of my life in which I’ve dropped some serious weight. And yet, the verses still haunt me.

God’s Message clearly teaches that following Jesus means inviting Him into our hearts and our lives. There is something simple and mystical yet powerfully in the act of sincerely saying to Jesus “Come into my heart. Come into my life. Save me.” Elsewhere in God’s Message, Jesus says:

“Look at me. I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you.” [emphasis added] Revelation 3:20 (MSG)

The night Jesus gave Himself up for us, He took wine and blessed it and said, “this is my blood.” When I read these verses from today’s chapter, what haunts me is this: when Jesus is invited into our hearts and our lives, our very own bodies become the decanter for creation’s most precious wine. Yet, the way I’ve treated my body most of my life is no different than welcoming my most honored guest and His gift of precious wine by grabbing a dirty, used styrofoam cup off the counter and telling Him to “fill ‘er up.”

Lord, have mercy on me.