“Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me; to those who go the right way I will show the salvation of God.” Psalm 50:23 (NRSVCE)
As a child, my family regularly attended church where worship was held with lots of traditional, liturgical pomp. I even got to participate as I sang in the children’s choir wearing my robe. Looking back with understanding, I have an appreciation for the metaphor and intent of all the liturgical devices, even the way the sanctuary was designed and laid out.
I went through the motions like everyone else. Sing this. Proceed to there. Sit down. Stand up. Say this. Sing this. Sit down. Read this. Stand up. Sing this. Sit down. Listen. Stand up. Sing this. Proceed there. Done. It happened every week with very little variation other than the words that were said or sang.
It was regular. It was rote. It was religious.
The problem was, I never thought much about it at all. It was what we did. I checked off the box along with every body else.
As I have ceaselessly journeyed through the Great Story, I’m always struck by the rather exhaustive system of sacrifices, offerings, rituals, and feasts that God dictates to the Hebrews through Moses. As I’ve studied them, I’ve come to appreciate the reason behind them and how they fit together in a cycle that led the Hebrews through specific thoughts and lessons about their relationship with God.
Nevertheless, there is sprinkled through the words of the psalmists and prophets a recurring theme that the people are doing all the things, but they’re hearts aren’t in it. They are making the sacrifices, offering the prescribed things at the prescribed times, going through the rituals, and attending the feasts. It was regular. It was rote. It was religious. The problem was that they weren’t really thinking much about it.
Today’s psalm was written to be sung as part of worship in the temple, but the songwriter, Asaph, is calling God’s people out for their mindless, spirit-less dedication to going through the religious motions. The “thanksgiving” offerings are void of any real gratitude. The real sacrifice, the songwriter says, is a heart full of gratitude to God which motivates all the other rituals.
This was the same thing Jesus found in the religious leaders of His day. They were continually critical of Him for breaking the religious regulation they added to the ancient rules. Jesus repeatedly quoted God through the prophet Hosea to them: “Go and learn what this means,” Jesus said, “‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’”
Jesus was getting at the same thing as Asaph in today’s psalm. Mindlessly going through religious motions is of no real value, and I believe that this is one of the reasons why denominations are imploding and churches are closing in record numbers. Just minutes ago our daughter sent the family a photo she took of an old church she and Clayton visited in a remote area of Scotland this past week. It’s being turned into a brewery. The altar will be the bar. Some of my ancestors would have found that scandalous. I don’t at all. As I have repeatedly written, Jesus made it clear that it was never supposed to be about bricks-and-mortar, but flesh-and-blood. It was never about the ritual, but the relationship. An honest, transparent, love-motivated conversation over a pint might be the most spiritual, Christ-honoring thing to happen in that building in a long time.
The First Step … One More Time (CaD 2 Pet 2) –
They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.” 2 Peter 2:19 (NIV)
The first step in The Twelve Steps is to admit that you have become powerless over an insatiable appetite, and because of it your life has become unmanageable. The Twelve Steps originated with an alcoholic and Alcoholics Anonymous has helped countless lives, but The Twelve Steps has worked with almost every human appetite that erodes lives when they are relentlessly indulged. Along my life journey I’ve attended meetings of Gamblers Anonymous, Debtors Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, and Narcotics Anonymous. You might not know this, but many people working through The Twelve Steps will go to any local Twelve Step meeting, even if it doesn’t match their particular problem appetite. That’s because the pattern of addiction, or out-of-control appetite indulgence, is the same as is the path of The Twelve Steps.
I recently had a conversation with a veteran pastor who is at the point in his own journey where he reflects on what he would do differently if he had to do it all over again. He told me that if he were a young man shepherding his first church he would spend the first two years of his tenure focused on taking his congregation through The Twelve Steps.
In yesterday’s post, I focused on the opening premise of Peter’s letter in which he explains that corruption springs from lust. While lust is often thought of as sexual, the broader definition is that of any human appetite that we indulge to excess.
In today’s chapter, the reason for Peter bringing this up becomes clear. The early Jesus Movement was messy. There were no churches, no strong central authority, there was no New Testament, and very little organization. Jesus’ followers met in homes for communal meals. They pooled resources and made sure everyone was cared for and had their needs met. They welcomed everyone. When you’re charitably giving out food, money, and other resources you’re going to attract those who are in it for the free stuff motivated not by a spiritual desire to follow Jesus, but out of a desire to feed their appetites for free. Jesus encountered the same thing. After feeding thousands of people a couple of times, He calls out the crowds following Him for having the wrong motives. You can read about it in John chapter 6.
Decades later the Jesus Movement is experiencing the same problem. People have come into their midst with selfish motives Because everything was new and the teachings of Jesus were mostly communicated and passed along orally it was easy for some scrupulous individuals to con the followers of Jesus into thinking they were teachers and preachers with divine authority. Then they’d tell the local gathering things like it being perfectly okay to get drunk on Communion wine and frequenting the temple prostitutes at the local Roman or Greek temple was no big deal.
So, Peter writes a letter intended to be copied and passed around to all the local gatherings of Jesus’ followers. In today’s chapter, Peter calls out these charlatans and con-men. He warns the followers of Jesus to be wary of them. Jesus told Peter and the other disciples that “you know a tree by its fruit.” Peter passes this same principle along. He tells his flock that they’ll know who these bad apples when you see them indulging their out-of-control appetites and teaching that it’s okay.
Along my own spiritual journey, I’ve observed that Jesus is often quoted saying, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Never do I hear anyone quote the sentence Jesus said right before He said those words: “You are truly my followers if you do what I tell you to do. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
What did He tell me to do? Surrender. Die to myself and my own self-centered appetites in order to love and serve others. Following Jesus is a path of emptying in a world that ceaselessly tells me I need to fill my life with more.
In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded that Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me,” right after they first met. Three years later, after Jesus rose from the dead, Jesus and Peter once again find themselves together on the seashore and Jesus once again says to Peter, “Follow me.” I’ve learned along the way that following Jesus is a process that repeatedly leads me back to being called to take that first step.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever. Psalm 29:10 (NRSVCE)
Just a few weeks ago the people of Iowa learned a new vocabulary word: derecho. The straight-line wind storm with hurricane-force winds blew through the state and caused an amazing amount of damage. We had friends who were without power for several days. I’m fortunate that our little town was on the southern tip of the storms and we were largely spared from the brunt of the damage. I did find myself running around our neighborhood chasing garbage and recycling bins that were getting blown around the street, which was fun.
There is something about the power of nature that both reminds us how powerless we are, and reminds us of Power greater than ourselves. Paul wrote to the followers of Jesus in Rome and said:
...from the creation of the world, the invisible qualities of God’s nature have been made visible, such as his eternal power and transcendence. He has made his wonderful attributes easily perceived, for seeing the visible makes us understand the invisible.
Whether it’s standing in awe of the mountains, the ocean, a beautiful sunset, or the ominous threat of a midwest thunderstorm, humanity has always made a connection between the creation we interact with around us and the Creator.
Today’s psalm is a fascinating departure from the repeated song writing pattern I mentioned yesterday. It might be argued that David is describing a derecho-like storm as it blows in over the raging seas of the Mediterranean, blows down cedar trees in the forest of Lebanon, thunders its way south as David stands on the ramparts of Jerusalem and sees the black clouds flashing with God’s pyrotechnic lightning display. The storm moves south into the wilderness and David meditates on the display of the overwhelming power of creation he has witnessed. He finishes the song in wonder of the God of Creation who is the source behind, and enthroned over, such an awesome presentation of intense force.
In the quiet this morning as I write this post, I have very specific memories of storms I’ve witnessed, storms I’ve been in, and storms I survived. I’m actually surprised at how many specific memories I can access from my brain’s hard-drive. Amazing.
It’s a good reminder that along this life journey I am bound to have storms blow through. And not just tornados. There are the storms of relational conflict, sickness, financial loss, unforeseen tragedies, pandemics…there will always be powerful forces I don’t control that will affect my life. I’m reminded that on Wednesday, David’s lyric reminded me that
…[God] will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble
Growing up in Iowa, I learned very early in life that it’s important to make sure you always have shelter from the storm.
That lesson is layered with meaning that has nothing to do with the weather.
Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it. Psalm 22:30-31 (NRSVCE)
I’ve been doing a series of podcasts called the Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story. There are ten episodes in the series and I’m doing the series for those who know little or nothing about how what we call the Bible. Why do I call it the Great Story? Well, I’m not the first to do so, and I find that just saying the word “Bible” can conjure up so much prejudicial thoughts and notions. Besides, I’m more interested in the Story that is being told through the narrative from the beginning in Genesis to the end of Revelation which, again (spoiler alert!), a new beginning.
The next episode in the Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story series is part seven in which I’m going to talk about the section of texts from Isaiah to those written by the Italian prophet Malachi (Sorry, that’s like a dad joke, it never gets old for me). The prophets were some of the strangest characters in the Great Story, and the prophetic texts are mysterious, sometimes poetic and inspiring, sometimes gruesome and violent, sometimes so graphic it would make church ladies blush (therefore those texts are almost universally ignored by everyone).
Think about how the prophetic is almost universally present in all of our great epic stories. One of my favorite prophetic characters is Sybill Trelawney in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter epic (and NOT because my sister, Jody, could could easily pull off being the doppleganger of Emma Thompson’s iconic take on the character). I just love how Professor Trelawney does virtually nothing by way of being prophetic or accurate in her daily predictions. She’s a miserable failure at her subject. But on just a couple of occasions she actually is prophetic, though in each case she doesn’t know it and has no memory of what she actually said. That is classic prophetic mystery. I love it.
Today’s psalm, written by David, is a classic because the warrior-king songwriter has his Sybill Trelawney moment. Written in the neighborhood of 1000 years before Jesus, the 22nd psalm is dripping with prophetic imagery of Jesus.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? Psalm 22:1
And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 20:46
But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people. Psalm 22:6
Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has [Jesus] done?” But [the crowd] shouted all the more, “Crucify him!” Mark 15:14
All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads Psalm 22:7
The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. Luke 23:10-11
Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast. Psalm 22:9
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, [the Magi] left for their own country by another road.
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Matthew 2:12-13
On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God. Psalm 22:10
The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. Luke 1:30-35
Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion. Psalm 22:12-13
Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him; they also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” Luke 22:63-64
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. Psalm 22:14-15
So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him… John 19:16-18
For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled; I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me; they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots. Psalm 22:16-18
When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says, “They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.” And that is what the soldiers did. John 19:23-25
The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. Psalm 22:26
Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. John 6:26-27
To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it. Psalm 22: 30-31
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. Acts 1:6-9
In the quiet this morning I find myself asking, “Did David have any idea what he was writing when he penned the lyrics to the song we now call Psalm 22?”
I don’t think he did. I think it was his Sybill Trelawney moment. Along my life journey, I’ve observed that this is the way the prophetic works. It’s mysterious, and strange, and comes from the most unexpected of people in the most random moments of time. Maybe even me. Maybe even you. You can’t will it to happen like Professor Trelawney so aptly proved in every one of her utterly useless classes. Those who try to do so end up charlatans like Gilderoy Lockhard or end up drowning their sorrows in a bottle of Sherry like Professor Trelawney herself. The prophetic happens when it’s supposed to happen via the medium God chooses (and God often chooses the strangest of mediums). Yet, when it happens, like David having his Trelawney moment in Psalm 22, it’s pretty amazing.
Today I’m pressing on, not willing things to happen, but open and expectant of whatever is supposed to happen in this Great Story in which I’m simply trying to play my bit part to the best of my ability.
In our conversation about friendship, I referenced one of the darkest moments of my life. In fact, it was a moment much like the ones David often sings about in his lyrics when he felt utterly alone and surrounded by enemies saying awful things about him. In one of the defining moments of our friendship, Kevin called me and the first words out of his mouth were: “I’ve got your back.”
The phrase comes from battle situations in which you have a partner protecting and looking out for the area you are most vulnerable to attack. When you’re moving forward and pushing ahead your focus is on what’s in front of you and the most vulnerable place is your backside. It’s always good to have someone you trust who has “got your back.”
In today’s chapter, David uses a similar metaphor when he says God is “at my right hand,” though the metaphor is lost on most modern readers. In King David’s day, the soldiers who would have served as his Secret Service were armed with a spear in their right hand and a shield in their left. Therefore, the person King David entrusted to be at his right hand was most critical. If attacked, it was the man on his immediate right who would shield the King and deter the attack.
When David says “God is at my right hand” he is making a statement of faith and trust that God is going to protect him, look out for him, and shield him from the attacks of others. I couldn’t help but wonder if Paul was channeling the same metaphor when he wrote the followers of Jesus in Ephesus and told them to take up their “Shield of faith.”
In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about current events in which I feel like so much of our world is out of control. I read the headlines and can’t believe what I’m seeing, hearing, and reading. I wonder what in the world is going to happen next. It can feel a bit like being besieged and under attack. We’re living in a time when anxiety, fear, and worry are running rampant. What am I supposed to do?
This morning, I think I’ll make like David. Say it, and believe it:
I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
I hear God’s Spirit whispering to me: “I’ve got your back.”
In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly. Psalm 5:3 (NIV)
Life has a rhythm. It has a beat and a flow.
One of the things I’ve observed along the way is that God creates things with layers. I’m constantly saying that God’s language is metaphor, and metaphor is always layered with meaning. Life exists on the micro-sub-atomic level and the macro-universe level. My friend Todd, a physical therapist, talked to me over the Fourth of July weekend about the challenges of his profession. The body, he explained, is so infinitely complex that isolating the cause of a patient’s pain sometimes becomes an unexplained mystery. The body is layered with systems that affect one another in strange ways.
In the same way, my life is layered. My well-being and attitude result from the state of many intertwining layers: physical, mental, relational, vocational, social, personal, financial, marital, parental, sexual, recreational, and spiritual.
Over the past three psalms, all written by the song-writing, warrior King David, I can’t help but notice a theme emerging regarding time of day. In the past two songs, David explains that he goes to bed at night and rests with peace and contentment because of his trust in God. In today’s psalm, David explains that his morning begins with time with God. Every morning he lays out his heart, his desires, his fears, his requests and then waits expectantly for God to do His thing.
In other words, David’s day begins with God. David’s day ends with God. In between, David’s day is waiting on, watching for, expecting, and trusting God to respond, act, interact, deliver, surround, save, answer, help, and intercede. The spiritual layer of David’s relationship with God is not just an isolated, religious compartment of his weekly routine that gets opened for an hour at the Temple on Sabbath and during mid-week Torah studies with the small group from his synagogue. The spiritual layer of David’s relationship with God permeated, informed, intersected, and affected every other layer of his life.
In the quiet this morning, I’m thinking about the conversation Wendy and I had early this morning in which we talked about the rhythm of our lives, how our physical and mental layers have changed over time, and what that means to the flow of the spiritual layer of how God is flowing in and through each of us, and both of us.
There are so many layers to life. I’ve experienced in my journey that if, like David, I’ve got the spiritual layer continually connected to God and flowing through all the other layers, the rhythm of each day and night flows better. And, when things aren’t flowing well in my life, I usually find that there’s a layer of my life that got disconnected from the spiritual layer and my relationship with God.
By the way, David’s layers got disconnected from time-to-time with really tragic results. It happens to all of us. I’ve also experienced that the quickly I reestablish connection, the more quickly things get back to a steady, healthy flow.
Time to flow into another day. Flow well today, my friend.
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Exodus 40:34-35 (NRSVCE)
In my current waypoint in life’s journey, I find it fascinating to observe the change in relationship that occurs between parent and child across one’s lifetime. I’m speaking, of course, in generalities, for every family system has unique elements based on the individual personalities, temperaments, and relationships in a human family system.
Both a child, and then as a parent of young children, I experienced the combination of love and fear that accompanies the parental-child relationship. A small child knows the love, hugs, cuddles, protection, and guidance of a parent. The child also has healthy respect for the parent’s size, power, authority, and wrath.
I can remember when the girls were young and would sleep together in the same room. When they were supposed to be in bed sleeping they would sometimes giggle, play, and get themselves riled up. All it took was for me to open the door and step in the room to change the atmosphere of the room. I wasn’t even angry or upset, but they reacted to my presence with a behavioral reset.
Now that our daughters are adults with their own family systems, the relationship has matured. I feel from both of them genuine respect, gratitude, and honor. Long gone are childish fears of parental wrath, which are replaced with a desire for healthy relationship void of disappointment, shame, control, enmeshment, and conflict. There is still a child’s natural desire for affirmation, encouragement, pride, guidance, and support from dad.
In today’s chapter, we finish the journey through the book of Exodus. The Hebrews have been delivered from slavery in Egypt. They have been introduced to God by Moses. A covenant between God and the Hebrews has been established along with a code of conduct and a system of worship complete with a traveling temple called the Tabernacle. Exodus ends with the completion of the Tabernacle and God’s “glory” descending in the form of a cloud that filled the tent and surrounded it. At night, the cloud appeared to be filled with fire. Even Moses, who had repeatedly been in the midst of God’s glory, was afraid of entering in.
The cloud and fire of God’s presence have been mentioned multiple times in the journey through Exodus. I couldn’t help but notice that the reaction of Moses and the Hebrew people was like that of Taylor and Madison when I would enter the room of little giggling girls who weren’t going to sleep. There is respect, a little bit of awe, and a little bit of fear. I keep going back to my podcast Time (Part 1) in which I unpack the notion of human history being like a natural human life-cycle. Moses and the Hebrews are in the toddler stage of humanity. For them, God is this divine authority figure who loves them, delivered them, protected them, provided for them, and did mighty works they couldn’t comprehend. There is both appreciation, devotion, but also awe and fear.
Fast-forward 1500 years. Humanity is no longer a child and ready for the divine rite-of-passage. Father God sends His own Son to live among us, teach us, and exemplify His ways in humility, pouring out, surrender and sacrifice. The night before His crucifixion, as He is about to consummate this eternal rite-of-passage, Jesus speaks of the relationship between humans and God the Father in very different terms:
Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:23-27 (NIV)
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” John 15:12-16 (NIV)
Can you feel the difference? This is no longer pyrotechnics and daddy booming “GO TO SLEEP!” to wide-eyed, little ones who have little cognitive capacity. This is the dad talk at the waypoint of launching and releasing into adulthood: “I love you. You’re ready for this. I’ll always be right here for you, but it’s time. You’ve got this. Remember what I’ve told you and shown you. Love, be humble, be generous, do the right thing, and love, love, love, love, love.”
In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded that it never ends. For those who ask, seek, and knock. For any who truly follows and obeys. This dance, this relationship, this journey never stops progressing. It keeps changing as we change. It keeps maturing as we mature. It keeps getting layered with more, deeper meaning, and deeper understanding.
Do you know what Exodus means? It’s defined as a “going out; an emigration.” God led the Hebrews in a going out of slavery, into the wilderness, toward the promise land. Jesus led us in a going out from a different kind of slavery, into a different kind of wilderness, heading toward the ultimate Promised Land.
That night that Jesus had “the talk” with His followers, He began the talk with these words:
“My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” John 14:2-3 (NIV)
That’s where this Wayfarer is headed as I “go out” on another day of this journey. Thanks for joining me, friend. Cheers!
They made the rosette of the holy diadem of pure gold, and wrote on it an inscription, like the engraving of a signet, “Holy to the Lord.” Exodus 39:30 (NRSVCE)
As I’ve mentioned many times in these posts, I have been part of many different churches along my spiritual journey. I’ve been part of small rural churches, various types and sizes of denominational churches, and suburban mega-churches. It’s been fascinating to have a plethora of experiences.
I recall being part a very large church who was in building mode. There was a giant fundraising campaign, and I remember being invited to a big dinner where the plans for the building were announced. The plans were impressive to say the least. It would be the largest church in that state with state-of-the art everything inside. One might even say that it was opulent.
I remember speaking with one of the staff members and questioning the grandiosity of plans and whether it was necessary. He pointed me to these past few chapters of Exodus and the design of the Tabernacle with its gold diadem, the priestly breastplate of precious gems, the tent made of expensively dyed cloth, and the ark made of wood overlaid with gold leaf. His point was that God appreciates and desires his temple be richly fashioned.
But, Jesus both lived and taught a very different way:
“Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Luke 9:58 (NIV)
The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” John 2:18-20 (NIV)
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NIV)
Don’t hear what I’m not saying. I believe that having a building to meet in is a good thing. I also believe that people across history have created beautiful works of architecture and artistry in a sincere attempt to honor and glorify God. At the same time, I can’t escape the fact that Jesus never once told His followers to build a building, temple, chapel, sanctuary, cathedral, or basilica. The only time Jesus mentioned building a church He was speaking metaphorically about Peter’s faith being the rock that would be the church’s foundation; Not bricks-and-mortar but flesh-and-blood.
In retrospect, I learned a huge lesson as I observed a pastor and staff driven by an edifice complex that they desperately tried to justify, an edifice they desperately made happen, and a church that eventually imploded from within. Last I knew, the edifice has sat empty and in disrepair for many years.
I keep coming back to the understanding of context as I near the end of this journey through Exodus. I’ve found a lot of spiritual lessons in the 39 chapters of Exodus, but much of the lessons come from understanding what God was doing with Moses and Hebrews in the context of their time and place in history. Like the good religious Hebrew, Paul, the best lessons are in how humanity has grown and matured; How God has matured the relationship and led to a much deeper understanding of the mystery. Exodus has reminded me just how dramatically Jesus changed things and how humanity, myself included, keeps getting stuck and falling back into our ancient patterns of religious thought. Just like that pastor justifying a building that no one needed.
I believe that this spiritual journey has a destination, and as I make progress on Life’s road I’m also supposed to also be progressing in my spiritual maturity and my relationship with God. As Paul wrote to the followers of Jesus in Colossae: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him” … the Son of Man with no place to lay His head. Jesus, who taught His followers to build people instead of buildings.
[The artisans making the Tabernacle] said to Moses, “The people are bringing much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do.” Exodus 36:5 (NRSVCE)
When I was fifteen I went to a weekend long conference just south of the Chicago area. I’d never been to Chicago, so I and my two friends drove into the city and spent the afternoon sightseeing. When we got back to the car, we discovered that my duffel bag had been stolen out of the car. It had everything I brought with me including my money for the conference. I was left, literally, with nothing but the clothes on my back for the weekend.
Upon arrival at the conference we explained my situation to the people at the registration table. They assured me that it was not a big deal, and they’d make arrangements to have my parents send a check for my registration. At the beginning of the first session that evening I was asked to stand and the host explained to everyone at the conference what had happened.
I was unprepared for the outpouring of generosity I was about to experience. All weekend long people were handing me cash. People who lived nearby went home and brought back boxes full of clothes for me. No matter how much I implored people that I had more than enough to get me through the next two days of the weekend conference, it just kept coming. I went home with far more than I had stolen, including a really good spiritual lesson.
That was my first experience in life with having something stolen from me, and I’d never been in a position where I was on my own and in need. I can remember being kind of freaked out by the experience and how I was going to manage, but I quickly learned that God provides through the generosity of others. I’ve endeavored for just about forty-years to pay it forward whenever the opportunity arises. That’s how Kingdom economics works.
In yesterday’s chapter, Moses asked the Hebrew people to bring an offering of materials for constructing this temple tent God told them to build. In today’s chapter, the outpouring of generosity is overwhelming and Moses tells everyone to stop bringing more materials for the work.
I couldn’t help but think of Jesus words this morning as I pondered the Hebrews generosity, and the generosity I experienced at the very beginning of my spiritual journey:
What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.
“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. Matthew 6:31-34 (MSG)
I also thought of the early followers of Jesus generously bringing everything they had to life’s potluck and making sure that everyone had enough.
In this time of COVID craziness with many people out of work, in the wake of small family businesses burned to the ground by riots, there are a lot of people worried “about what may or may not happen tomorrow.” I confess that I’m feeling the anxiety, at times. Today’s chapter is a good reminder of God’s provision. In the economy of God’s Kingdom, there is always more than enough. My priority is to be generous in meeting the needs of others and then trust God’s generosity in meeting mine.
When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. Exodus 34:30 (NRSVCE)
“Let there be light.”
That’s the first act of creation in the poetic description of the beginning of everything in the opening verses of Genesis. This simple beginning, however, is not so simple. In fact, it’s hard to contain its meaning. It is part of the mystery of God and the universe that both theology and science have endlessly been attempting to understand. I can’t explain it any better than the Encyclopedia Brittanica does:
No single answer to the question “What is light?” satisfies the many contexts in which light is experienced, explored, and exploited. The physicist is interested in the physical properties of light, the artist in an aesthetic appreciation of the visual world. Through the sense of sight, light is a primary tool for perceiving the world and communicating within it. Light from the Sun warms the Earth, drives global weather patterns, and initiates the life-sustaining process of photosynthesis. On the grandest scale, light’s interactions with matter have helped shape the structure of the universe. Indeed, light provides a window on the universe, from cosmological to atomic scales. Almost all of the information about the rest of the universe reaches Earth in the form of electromagnetic radiation. By interpreting that radiation, astronomers can glimpse the earliest epochs of the universe, measure the general expansion of the universe, and determine the chemical composition of stars and the interstellar medium. Just as the invention of the telescope dramatically broadened exploration of the universe, so too the invention of the microscope opened the intricate world of the cell. The analysis of the frequencies of light emitted and absorbed by atoms was a principal impetus for the development of quantum mechanics. Atomic and molecular spectroscopies continue to be primary tools for probing the structure of matter, providing ultrasensitive tests of atomic and molecular models and contributing to studies of fundamental photochemical reactions.
In the same way, light is fundamentally a part of the spiritually supernatural:
Light was the first order of creation on the first day of creation in the Genesis creation ( keep in mind the sun, stars, and moon weren’t created until the fourth day).
After healing a boy born blind, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.”
In the sermon on the mount, Jesus told his followers, “You are the light of the world.”
Jesus took his inner-circle (Peter, James, and John) up on a mountain (just like Moses in today’s chapter) and was “transfigured” before them (e.g. Matthew records the He shone like the sun while Luke describes it as bright as a flash of lightning). And Moses appeared with Him.
Angelic beings are consistently described throughout the Great Story as shining radiantly.
At the very end of the Great Story in Revelation (spoiler alert: the end is a new beginning) “There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.”
In today’s chapter, Moses returns to the top of the mountain and spends another 40 days with God. When he returns, the text says that his face was so radiant that it freaked out the Hebrews (for the record, Peter, James, and John were equally freaked when Jesus revealed the light of His glory).
Here’s a bit of additional mystery for you. The Hebrew word used here is actually translated “horns.” That’s why many artistic depictions of Moses (the most famous is Michaelangelo) show him having horns on his head:
So, what’s up with that?! I talked in my podcast, A Beginners Guide to the Great Story Part 1 about the fact that when thinking about the ancient stories we have to consider the context of the times in which they were living. The mystery of Moses’ horns is a great example. There is an ancient Babylonian text that uses the Sumer word si which is also the word for “horn” to describe a solar eclipse in which the sun’s light appears like “horns” (think “rays of light”) shooting out from behind the darkened moon. It’s quite possible that the word “horns” was layered with meaning and the ancients understood what we call “rays” of light to be “horns of light.”
In the quiet this morning, I find my brain buzzing with all sorts of thoughts about light and how it is part of the mystery of both the spiritual and the scientific. Humanity has so often made the two into binary, either-or, opposites and enemies. The further I get in my journey, the more I am convinced that, in the end, we will understand that they are two parts of the same mystery. It’s a “both, and.”
As a follower of Jesus, I can’t help but go back to Jesus’ call for His followers to be “light” to the world”:
“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.
“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” -Jesus (Matt 5:13-16 [MSG])
What does that mean for me? Am I a light-bearer? Do these posts and podcasts shine? More importantly, do my daily words and interaction with family, friends, neighbors, strangers, community, enemies, acquaintances, and foreigners radiate with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control? Am I being generous with my life? Is my house open? Am I opening up to others?
It’s what I’m endeavoring to do increasingly today, each day of this earthly journey. I want the words of my mouth, the meditations of my heart, the work of my hands, and my interactions with everyone to be positively “horny” with Light.