Tag Archives: Obligation

When the Opening Hints of Doom

Now Jehoshaphat had great wealth and honor, and he allied himself with Ahab by marriage.
2 Chronicles 18:1 (NIV)

When you study the art of film, one of the things you learn is that the opening scene of a movie is very important, and a good writer and/or director is going to put a lot of thought into it. A good opening shot sets the stage and tone for the entire film and establishes the movie’s theme. Writers will use an opening line much the same way, and playwrights will do the same with their opening scene or Chorus.

In today’s chapter, the ancient Chronicler uses his opening sentence to set up the reader for the story to follow. I think most modern readers miss it the same way many film-goers miss the importance of the opening scene as they settle into their seat with the popcorn.

First, he references King Jehoshaphat’s “wealth and honor” which ties this part of the story back to the previous chapter which detailed Jehoshaphat’s wealth and honor. The Chronicler also made it clear that the said wealth and honor was linked to Jehoshaphat’s commitment and obedience to God. The next thing he tells us in the opening sentence is that Jehoshaphat made a marriage alliance with a man named Ahab.

Marriage alliances were common practice of royals throughout history. If you were King of one nation, Kings from neighboring nations would give you their daughters in marriage (or arrange a marriage between your respective children) as a way of assuring peace between nations as you’re not likely to attack your wife’s own father and destroy your wife’s family and tribe. This is why all the royal families of Europe are, to this day, a dizzying mash-up of intertwining family connections:

The fact that Jehoshaphat made a marriage alliance is not surprising, but the Chronicler is telling his readers that Jehoshaphat made the alliance with Ahab. All of the Chroniclers contemporary leaders would know Ahab. It’s like a contemporary writer referencing a name like Gates, Buffet, Clinton, or Trump. Everyone knows who you’re talking about.

Ahab was king of Israel (the 10 tribes who split from Solomon’s son and created their own nation). Israel and Judah had been more or less in a state of on-and-off civil war for years. Israel’s monarchy and tribes had abandoned the worship of God. Ahab’s wife was the infamous Queen Jezebel. Together Ahab and Jezebel were one of the most detestable royal couples in the history of Israel. Jehoshaphat made a marriage alliance with them.

Since I’m on the theme of movies, let me reference the Godfather’s famous leadership principle: “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” It might be hopeful to think that Jehoshaphat was that cunning, but that would be wishful thinking. What the Chronicler is doing with his establishing sentence is setting his readers up for the fact that this is not going to end well. Especially given the fact that the Chronicler has already established a theme of immediate retribution throughout his stories: Do good by God and good things immediately happen. Do wrong by God and bad things immediately happen. We as readers should know by now that Jehoshaphat getting involved with the idolatrous and murderous Ahab and Jezebel is a foreshadowing of bad things to come.

This morning I’m thinking about the very simple life lesson of being careful who I align myself with. Jesus specifically prayed to God the Father that He would not take his followers “out of the world.” He wanted us in the world so as to influence it and bring His Kingdom’s love, grace, and power to all, especially those who need it most. So, I don’t think being careful with my “alignment” is about staying in my holy huddle and avoiding “those people” all together. There are certain individuals, however, for whom it would be unwise of me to align myself in a close relationship, a business partnership, a marriage, a contract, an obligation or a similar intertwining of life or business.

Even if it looks good on paper, the establishing shot hints at problems to come.

Radical Verdict in Repressive Times

So Moses brought their case before the Lord, and the Lord said to him, “What Zelophehad’s daughters are saying is right. You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father’s relatives and give their father’s inheritance to them.
Numbers 27:5-7 (NIV)

This past week I posted my first words to my grandson. The post “had legs” as is said of posts that become popular and start getting shared in multiple outlets. That makes me happy. They are words that young men, all men, really need to hear and take to heart.

It is, perhaps, a bit of synchronicity that today’s chapter should be a fascinating story of four daughters whose father had no son.  The prevailing tradition appears to have been that they and all of their father’s property would be absorbed by their father’s nearest kin and they would officially become part of that man’s family. Essentially, their father’s name and legacy would be snuffed out. Their branch would be pruned from the family tree forever.

So, the women bring their case before Moses, and Moses took the case before God. Those following along on this chapter-a-day journey may have noticed that Moses bringing things before God is a repetitive theme in the book of Numbers. Interestingly enough, God rules in favor of the women. It had to have been a radical verdict in that day, and I imagine it was intensely unpopular with the power male leaders of the Hebrew clans.

I am certainly aware of the many arguments my female counterparts  have about some of the historical mores that the Bible describes and prescribes regarding the role of women. Believe me, I am married to a strong woman and we enjoy spirited discussions over our morning smoothies when we journey through stories or teachings that strike women as particularly offensive. Nevertheless, I also find it fascinating that there is continually evidence through the Great Story of God specifically honoring women and raising up women. This is specifically true of Jesus who broke many societal barriers in his behavior towards loving and honoring of the women around Him.

This morning I’m struck that amidst ancient social and political traditions that were rabidly patriarchal, God decided the case in today’s chapter in the favor of women. It did not change all of the prevailing patriarchal attitudes of the day but it is a specific instance of a radically equitable verdict from God in an ancient society whose concept of gender was incredibly more repressive than our own.

Which is what I was trying to get at in my post and my words to my grandson. I myself can’t reverse thousands of years of injustice and single-handedly change society. Yet, I can make a difference in my own thoughts, words, and actions in my spheres of influence. I can influence the attitude of my grandson to do the same in his. Perhaps it will be the rolling of a small stone that will eventually start an avalanche.

Loving Devotion and Life-less Obligation

I have been on a pseudo-sabbatical from my daily chapter-a-day posts for the past month. I took the opportunity of late summer vacations both to the lake and to Kauai to rest from my normal routines, though when I rest from regular routines I have a penchant for developing new ones.. I’ve felt prompted, of late, to wade into the writings of the prophet Isaiah, which I’ve blogged through only once back in the spring of 2010. It’s rather daunting journey, merely for the length of it (66 chapters!). Like all lengthy journeys it affords both tedious plodding and memorable, breathtaking moments. Here we go.

One of the keys to reading the poetic verse and visions of the ancient prophets (nearly all of the prophetic writings of what we refer to as the Old Testament are penned as Hebrew poetry) are 1) the cultural and historic context of the time in which the author was writing and 2) the person and circumstance of the prophet himself.

Isaiah lived in the capital city of Jerusalem during a period of “the kings.” The twelve tribes of Israel had been united under the reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon, but then split in two during the reign of Solomon’s son. The southern kingdom was made up of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin and had its capital in Judah. Judah was loyal to the house and line of David. The northern kingdom (Israel) was made up of the rest of the tribes and claimed Bethel as its capital and religious center. Israel’s monarchy was continually a free-for-all which made for a lot of political intrigue.

Like all great books, the beginning introduces the overarching themes. In today’s opening chapter Isaiah sets the scene in Jerusalem where Solomon’s temple was the center of Israel’s sacrificial system. Over the last few months I blogged through the book of Leviticus, in which set the sacrificial system into being as established through Moses. The dutiful, religious people of Judah continue to carry out their rituals, festivals and sacrifices. But, there’s a problem.

Isaiah gets right to the crux of the matter. The people were carrying out their religious duties, but had forsaken the heart of their relationship with God. They were like a spouse who manages the daily household routines of marital and family obligation while their heart wanders in desire for others. God wanted their obedient actions to be motivated out of love and desire, not rote obligation void of love and devotion.

I have confessed to being a person of routines, and this morning I am thinking about the religious routines in my own life. My daily quiet time and blog post are a routine. Attending church services on Sunday is a routine. Giving financially to my local church and other ministries is a routine. But, are these coming from a heart-felt love and devotion to God, or are they merely Life-less robotic religious behaviors? Do my actions point God toward a living love and desire within my heart or, like the people of Isaiah’s day, have my religious behaviors become absorbed by the rotting stench of my hypocrisy?

Dealing with that stain and stench is another major theme of Isaiah’s poetic visions, which he establishes in today’s chapter:

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your doings
    from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
    learn to do good;
seek justice,
    rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
    plead for the widow.

Come now, let us argue it out,
    says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool.

 

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Servant of One Master

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it.
Romans 8:12 (NIV)

Yesterday my friend, Matthew, and I shared the third of four messages we prepared for our local gathering of Jesus’ followers on the topic of shame. Not coincidentally, Paul’s letter to the Romans which we are currently journeying through on our chapter-a-day sojourn figures heavily in the teaching. Without mentioning it, I chose to read through Romans as it dovetailed nicely with what I’m already pondering and sharing on Sundays.

We have a group of prayer warriors among our local gathering and it is customary for one of them to pray over those who teach after worship. Yesterday as our friend, Vicki, came to pray for Matthew and me she said she had been given a vision for me and wanted to share it.

She saw me on a dark stage. Small lights began to twinkle and swirl around. The number began to grow until they lit the stage. Tear streaming down my face, I dropped to my knees feeling the “freedom and love” God was pouring into me.

Our series on shame largely focuses on the dilemma that many of us feel. Our core sense of shame leads us to feelings of condemnation which then lead us to behaviors and “covers” (think fig leaf) to feel better about ourselves until those behaviors become addictive and deeply rooted patterns to which we become enslaved. Followers of Jesus know we are to be obedient to what we Jesus calls us to do, which is often contradictory to the deep-seated behaviors to which we feel enslaved. As Paul put it in his letter: The things I don’t want to do I end up doing, and the things I want to do I end up not doing! Who will set me free from this?! 

What was fascinating about Vicki’s vision yesterday is that she was describing, in detail, the opening scene of a play Wendy and I attended in Minneapolis a few years ago. The dark stage, the little twinkle lights swirling and growing in number until the stage was lit. Wendy and I often talk about it as one of the most breathtaking experiences we’ve had watching live theatre. The name of the play? The Servant of Two Masters.

Those who follow Jesus often feel the chaos of feeling like we are stuck trying to serve two masters, both the flesh and the Spirit. The point of today’s chapter and of the series that Matthew and I are teaching is that Jesus came to set us free from being “chained” and “obligated” to the flesh. We don’t serve two masters, but One.

This morning I’m thinking about Truffaldino, the lovable and comic trickster trapped by his own devices in Servant of Two Masters as he gets caught trying to serve two very different masters. I’m wondering if God sometimes finds it comical the way we foolishly swear obedience to serve Him and then sneak around trying to serve our own earthly appetites as if we’re being secretive about the whole thing. As Vicki envisioned, I drop to my knees in acknowledgement of what I have come to know: Jesus’ shed blood and resurrection set me free from any fleshly obligations. As Jesus said, “If I set you free, you are free indeed.”

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The featured image on this post is a picture of a Zanni mask (source: wikipedia) used in a genre of historical theatre called “commedia.” Servant of Two Masters belongs to this genre. The Zanni mask was worn by the dispossessed immigrant worker, often a trickster, like Truffaldino who finds himself trying to serve two different masters at the same time.

Chapter-a-Day Hosea 6

English: Watch Movement Français : Mouvement d...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I want you to show love,
    not offer sacrifices.
I want you to know me
    more than I want burnt offerings.
Hosea 6:6 (NLT)

Intimacy has been a recurring topic in my life conversations of late. How interesting that it relates both to human relationships, namely marriage, but also to our relationship (or lack thereof) with God. Time and time again, God’s message makes a direct parallel between the two. Jesus used the metaphor of marriage to describe our relationship with Him on a continual basis.

Many struggle with intimacy in marriage. Having going through divorce after a 17 year marriage, I know that struggle. Instead of the deep experience of truly knowing and being known, two people spiritually, emotionally, and even physically hide themselves from one another. The relationship becomes contractual and platonic. Sex becomes a physical exercise (“Well, I guess we should”) rather than a spiritual and emotional experience of bodies and souls intertwining and finding oneness.

The same can be true of our relationship with God. Instead of the experience of truly knowing and being known, we spiritually and emotionally hide ourselves from God. The relationship becomes contractual and Lifeless. Relationship becomes rigid religious exercise rather than a spiritual and emotional experience of God and me in intertwining oneness.

I love the way God said it through Hosea the way a spouse would say it to his or her mate: I want your love – not your obligatory duty. I don’t want you to live with me as much as I want you to live within me.

Today, I’m continuing to pursue my relationship with God just as I pursue my relationship with Wendy. I want to relate to each in such a way that I experience it growing organically deeper and more fruitfully life-giving instead of going through rote daily ritual like a cog and a wheel in an inanimate machine.