Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Minister's Sugar Cubes

He was an older gentleman, in his late 60's early 70's. Not quite 6 feet tall with an average build, he still favored wearing suits & ties to church every Sunday. Today he wore a dark blue one with tight, faint pinstripes & a dark tie. The man staring back at him in the mirror had short white hair, cut close & neat like a man in his 20's. Brown eyes met brown eyes. He was tired this morning. An average nose perched above a pair of pale, thin lips. He caressed his beard (trimmed & white), put on his glasses & whispered a prayer.

He was the minister of a small non-denominational church. He'd been doing this for years. He brewed his coffee strong (hoping it would wake him up) & sat down with his tattered Bible. He had some time before service & was looking forward to reading something profound. The dog started barking. The minister got up from his table & set the dog free in the backyard. Rescued as a puppy, this fox terrier had grown to be a wonderful companion. The man, never married, was thankful for this dog. He was sure it had saved his life. He shut the door & let the dog go about his business.

He settled himself into his chair once more & took a sip of coffee. It was slightly bitter, much like the people of his congregation.... much like his own life had been. He put a couple sugar cubes onto his spoon & lowered them just enough to watch them dissolve. He imagined them jumping ship or shape shifting like some sci-fi organism to escape approaching danger. He lowered his spoon into the cup & swirled it around, clanking it against the sides as it made the circuit, one, two, three times. The sugar was doomed from the get go.

He dismissed reading his Bible & picked up yesterday's paper instead. The city was retro-fitting buildings downtown. The local quilting club was having a bake sale at the Elks. War was still happening around the world, governments were crumbling or being reformed... A parrot escaped from a pet store after attacking a customer who kept trying to get it to say "Polly want a cracker?". Minor injuries were reported. No charges were filed. A long time resident of Sunny Oaks Nursing Home died from congestive heart failure. It was strange to see her familiar face in the obituaries. He hadn't talked to her in months. He thought to himself "I'll send my condolences". The dog started barking again. The minister got up with his coffee cup & opened the back door. He glanced at the clock in the kitchen & realized he'd better get going.

His congregation numbered 75 on a good day. He stood behind the pulpit & looked over the faces. He thought of the dissolving sugar cubes... each face melted into an indistinguishable mass, his heart along with them. He prayed that God would lower His spoon into this cup & stir them up. They were meant to sweeten this bitter life, not melt to the bottom of it & congeal. The minister paused for a long time, looked down at his Bible open to Numbers 18 & closed it. He took off his glasses & stepped from the platform. He got a resolute look in his eye & began speaking from his heart. The atmosphere in the room suddenly changed. There was a tangible sense of apprehension, the kind that makes one stop & tremble. This was not the norm. He never left his pulpit. He never preached without rustling through the pages of his Bible & he certainly never struck fear in the hearts of the congregation. But they were doomed from the get go. God was about to stir the cup...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Nomadic Tales: Abraham

Recently, I've found myself looking at the story of Abraham's call. It was the journey, not the promise that peaked my interest.

The Players:
There's Terah, Abram's (Abraham's) father.
Terah’s sons were Abram, Nahor, and Haran.
Terah took care of his grandson Lot after Haran died.
Abram married Sarai (Sarah) & Nahor married Milcah.

Terah took Abram, Sarai & Lot, moved from Ur of the Chaldeans & headed for the land of Canaan. He stopped at Haran & settled, eventually dying there. Haran is maybe 65% of the way between Ur & Canaan. We don't get to find out why Terah quit. I wonder, what if Terah hadn't settled down? What if he had made it to Canaan? Would God have given Terah what He later promised Abram? Did Terah forfeit something by staying in Haran? We may never know. But its in Haran that God calls Abram to continue his father's journey. He was 75 at the time.

God told him to leave his country, his father's family & relatives, but Abram took his nephew Lot with him. It almost seems like an afterthought. Why couldn't Lot have stayed with his other uncle, Nahor? Perhaps Nahor & Milcah didn't make the journey to Haran with everyone else. Maybe Lot was closer to Abram & Sarai. Either way, it doesn't seem to matter. We're told Abram did as the Lord instructed & headed for Canaan. He traveled as far as Shechem (in Canaan) & set up camp.

The Lord appeared again, telling Abram He would give that land to his descendants. So Abram built an altar & dedicated it. But he didn't stick around very long. He moved southward to "the hill country" between Bethel & Ai, where he built yet another altar, dedicated it to the Lord & worshipped. Did God tell Him to move on? Its not written anywhere, but Abram continued traveling in stages (as nomads do) south toward the Negev. The Negev is a rocky desert. Why on earth would he want to go there? Would you or I have stayed in a land that God told us our descendants would settle? I might've. I mean, I put so much work into setting up camp, building the altar... How could my descendants settle the land if I didn't stay & actually start propagating? But it wasn't up to Abram, it was up to God. It was God's idea, God's promise. Besides, Sarai, we're told, was barren. Minor detail. Abram moved on.

Eventually, a famine forced him into Egypt (until Egypt forced Abram out). Its a long story. Ok, not really, but we don't need to go into it here. You can read about it in Genesis 12:10-20. We're told after Abram left Egypt, he headed north in stages, along the same way He had traveled previously. He arrived back in "the hill country", at the site of the second altar (between Bethel & Ai) & worshipped God.

Abram came full circle. So far, he had been wandering, living life, gaining wealth & having these random episodes with the Lord. But he still had no descendants to speak of; not even one in the works. I wonder if he & Sarai tried along the way or if he doubted & kept the whole thing to himself... Maybe he just plain forgot... I might have. But then, he made his way back to the second altar for a reason...

Ref: Genesis 11:27-32 (New Living Translation)
Genesis 12:4-6 (New Living Translation)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Silly Thee!

God is kind of silly sometimes. To consider that statement makes me tremble inside. Should I watch for lighting bolts or for the earth to suddenly swallow me up? Should I be ready to defend myself from a random lion or bear? Should I procure a sea faring vessel, post haste? Why do I feel this way when I consider the silliness of God? Is it because He is HOLY & RIGHTEOUS & AWE INSPIRING, etc? Um, yeah. That would be why, among other things.

But As I've been observing random people over the last few days, I remember what I've been reading in Genesis- man was created in the image of God. Look at any human being. What do you see? Everyday I see joy, anger, strength, courage, kindness, & yes, silliness. Are we (Christian & non alike) reflecting our Maker in these things? Joy? Sure. Strength, courage & kindness? Definitely. Anger? We know God gets pissed plenty of times in the Bible. So do we. But God's anger is completely justified & ours, well, sometimes we can go overboard.

Can we see God's silliness in scripture or the world around us? Think about the kind of animals He whipped up- big, small, fat, lanky, mammals, reptiles, fish, amphibians, birds... Think about all the different colour schemes & patterns- polka dots, stripes & blotches on fur or scales or skin... Some live in the water, under ground, on cliffs or in caves. The aye aye, aside from being kind of funny looking all around, has a creepy finger on each hand to tap bark & scoop out it's num nums. The platypus has to be God's equivalent of Frankenstein with it's duck bill, webbed feet, rodent body & beaver tail. Mandrills have behinds that change colours when they get excited. Marsupials have pouches for their babies. Imagine if we had pouches! Think of all the sounds His animals make... then think of all the sounds we can make! All of this comes from God- comes from His imagination...

It was kind of silly for a donkey to talk to Balaam, even more so that Balaam listened! It was kind of silly of David to dance through the streets in His underwear when the Ark of the Covenant came into town... But apparently it made him really giddy. What makes us giddy? What compels us to be silly at times? And ought we attribute these things to God as well? I wonder if He sat in heaven straight faced as He created the proboscis monkey or the praying mantis? Did He laugh at the grace of the ostritch or the star faced mole or was it just business as usual? It might be helpful to note that most of the silly things in nature are actually functional. Colours warn or attract, appendages aid in movement or feeding... One creature supports another in a long chain of time & life. These things seem to give silliness a kind of dignity, a kind of justification... but none is needed. Thy are reflections of God's own character & inspiration. As are we.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Beneath the Velvet Ropes

A child slipped from her mother's grip & navigated the crowd alone. There were so many people. She made her way to the velvet ropes & crawled underneath. She grabbed hold of the passing dignitary's gown. It was so white & sparkly... Armed men in suits were about to erupt on the scene to retrieve the child when the dignitary raised her hand, signaling them to stop. Her many jeweled bracelets shimmered & clinked down her arm, settling somewhere in the middle. A hush fell among the crowd. No one stirred. The child's mother was horrified, but remained where she was, unsure what to do.

The dignitary bent down to meet the little girl's wide eyes. "Hello", she said, "And what is your name?" The little girl whispered into the dignitary's ear & stood back, beaming. She caught the scent of the dignitary's perfume. It was intoxicating.

It seems the little girl was so enamored with the beauty of the dignitary that what she had whispered in her ear was not in fact her name. The little girl had simply said "You're pretty". The dignitary reflected the girl's smile & touched her face gently. Shimmering bracelets clinked back to her wrist as she rose. "As are you, my dear" she said. The dignitary took the child's hand & walked with her to the end of the line. The little girl felt her heart swell. She thought she might explode from all the excitement! The crowd began to murmer & the mother quickly made her way to the ropes. Apologizing profusely, she exchanged a low bow for the return of her child. The dignitary smiled, acknowledged her with a nod & proceeded to join the rest of her entourage inside.

This is a picture I get when I think of childlike faith. It breaks all protocol. Its unrefined. Its selfless. The little girl in the story saw how beautiful the dignitary was & forgot about her mother, the crowd, the protocol. When asked her name, she even forgot about herself... All that mattered was touching that dress & telling the dignitary how pretty she was. How much more, perhaps, might we aspire to have such faith regarding Christ- to abandon our comfort for even a moment to make our way through the crowd, slip under the velvet ropes & touch the hem of His garment? Who will condemn us? He himself will look us in the eye & know us...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Hoping

A woman approached the door & knocked hesitantly. No answer. She looked down at the address on her tattered piece of paper. She knocked again & waited still longer. She stood tense beneath the glow of the flickering streetlight. The bitter cold bit down on her hands. She brought them to her mouth to warm them with her breath before knocking once more. No answer.

Lifting up her head to the darkened windows she said softly, "Please, can you help me?" She dropped her head to abate the sudden slap of wind on her face. She stroked the tattered piece of paper in her hands. Tears began to well up within her as she lifted her voice. "I'm so hungry. I heard you have bread... please, may I have some bread?!" All was silent. She leaned up against the door, slid slowly down & came to rest on her heels. She began to tremble. "Please," she shouted haltingly, "I'm so tired, I'm so cold." She placed her head in her hands & began to weep. "Please", she whispered, reduced now to a heap on the ground, "I heard my father lives here..."

Just then, she heard Someone approaching from within the house. She scrambled to her feet, pushed back her hair & wiped the tears on her sleeve. She was still trying to gain her composure when the door opened. Light flooded the street where she stood. Before she could even utter a syllable, she found herself inside. A Man sat down in front of her, perched on the edge of His seat & rested His forearms on His knees. He seemed to know her. He seemed to look right through her. She felt uncomfortable & looked away. "I heard my father lives here", she said timidly, still standing in the entryway. The Man smiled & laughed heartily.

She studied His face as He reached out a hand & she suddenly knew where she'd seen Him before. He was the One who handed her the piece of paper so many years ago. He had told her about this place, but she was afraid to venture here on her own, afraid to risk the embarassment of rejection... Afraid to risk the hoping...

She took His hand.

"At last" said the Son...

“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Luke 11:9-10 NLT

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Made Like Him

I was listening to a song called "Soon" on my way to work yesterday. In the first verse, there's a line: " When I see Him, I shall be made like Him"... For whatever reason, this reminded me of a recent post concerning Adam & Eve. Eve was made like Adam in that she was flesh of his flesh & bone of his bone. In the same way, those who believe will be made like the "Last Adam", that is, Jesus...

He conquered the grave, rose from the dead & awaits His bride- the church. Our flesh will return to the dust from whence it came, but our spirit will rise at the sound of an ethereal trumpet. We will be changed in the wild, anticipatory twinkling of "Adam's" eye. We shall be changed the very moment we see Him. This is what He's been waiting for... We will finally become who we were meant to be. We will be complete, made like Him, made for Him... I can hardly imagine such a day. I wonder if Jesus, like the first Adam, will look at us & exclaim "AT LAST!"

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2 ESV)

As surely as there are physical bodies, there are spiritual bodies. And our physical bodies will be changed into spiritual bodies. The first man was named Adam... a living person. But Jesus... the last Adam, is a life-giving spirit. (1 Corinthians 15:44-45 CEV)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Flesh & Bone

I've been thinking about Christmas & it's pagan origins recently, wondering why I haven't been able to bring myself to get into a real spirit of the holiday in recent years. I've been thinking more about my changing beliefs... I really want to believe Christianity as its presented today. Its whats been around for generations. Its what is accepted. Its what people know & are comfortable with. Its celebrated around the world & you can celebrate almost anything b/c of it (as long as its supported by scripture of course).

I want to believe like everyone else, but I can't get my mind to conform. I wonder if this is the way I'm wired? Are some naturally predisposed to believe one thing over another despite the mass appeal of the reigning belief system in one's religious culture? My reigning belief system comes from the protestant side... I find myself shying away from it's traditions more & more however... I favor turning to prayer & the bones of scripture & history more & more than sitting in church & listening to the bible being preached... Why do I find different things when I go a-hunting for myself? Whats missing from my own faith that I can't find among the masses? Am I wrong- one voice out of millions? Or am I one of the few who are waking, coming alive?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Adam Before Eve

I'm feeling lonely today. I have friends. I belong to a church. I belong to social websites. I have email, a landline & a cell phone, yet I feel isolated & alone. For whatever reason, I got to thinking about Adam before Eve- & why God waited to make Adam a mate. Animals wouldn't do. A lovely place to live wouldn't do... fulfilling work in the garden wouldn't cut it. Even the very presence of the almighty living God who walked & talked with Adam wasn't enough.

I wonder if Adam started feeling lonely as the animals passed by... did he realize each had its own mate & he had none? Did he know sadness & depression & angst from being alone? Or are these things products of the fall? Was Adam more like a child, happy go lucky, footloose & fancy free, oblivious to the fact that he alone was, well... alone in the world? Why didn't God create Eve along with Adam? He created every other living thing male & female... It wouldn't have been a difficult thing to do. Yet Adam came into this world as one. I wonder how much time actually went by from the creation of Adam to the creation of Eve. It all happened on the 6th day, but was a day a day as we know it or was it perhaps a thousand years as Peter implies?

... With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 2 Peter 3:8 (NIV 2010)

Did Adam have to exist & work the garden alone for hundreds of years till he got to meet Eve? Genesis chapter 1 seems to imply Eve was indeed created along with Adam, but we get a different story in chapter 2. On the 6th day, after God had created Adam, He put him in the garden & paraded the animals past him. God came to the conclusion that something was missing & verses 21 & 22 detail how God finally created Eve. Verse 23 seems to capture Adam's relief: "AT LAST!" he exclaims.

I try to imagine what that moment felt like... Adam saw his own kind standing before him- a reflection of himself & the completion of his own humanity. Had he waited long for this moment, or just a few hours? Did his eyes well with tears? Did he leap & shout for joy? Did he fall to the ground & praise God? Had he felt empty & despairing in the interim? I don't know. But his exclamation seems to imply he had been acutely aware of his need & was waiting for something more... just like me.