Thursday, August 11, 2016

Hosea 11 - How Can I Give You Up?

If YHWH picks you to be one of His spokesmen, you can be pretty sure of two things. One, this is a great honor if you can pull it off; and two, your life is going to get pretty problematic really soon. A cursory review of the people who have been tapped by God (not the modern, "I'm a prophet" sort of people; the real ones in Scripture) will easily bear this out. 

Hosea is a wonderful example of this. Perhaps best known for the story of he and his wife, Hosea is directed to take a wife of whoredom. As the story progresses there are a number of infidelities and reunions between the couple. Eventually, Hosea's wife Gomer, gives birth to three kids. Now if you're a prophet, not only does your life become problematic, but various aspects of it will be used to help spread the message YHWH wants communicated. Such is the case for Hosea. Those three kids are named by YHWH Himself and they aren't flattering names. They mean, in order, Jezreel, No-Mercy (or Not-Pitied), and Not-My-People. These three kids' names are part of Hosea's message to God's People. The first may well be the basis or cause of the other two named realities to come. Jezreel, where the blood of innocents has been shed and YHWH pursued unfaithfully, will result in there being No-Mercy for Israel, and Israel becoming not the people of YHWH. We can imagine the sorts of abuse Hosea would have born having had these judgments and proclamations as his message.

This message is the theme of Hosea's prophecies to Israel.

It is remarkable then, that in chapter 11, beginning in verse 8, we read these lines:

How can I give you up, Ephraim?
     How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I treat you like Admah?
     How can I make you like Zeboiim?
My heart is changed within me;
     all my compassion is aroused.
I will not carry out my fierce anger,
     nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim.
For I am God, and not man--
     the Holy One among you;
     I will not come in wrath.

After promises of judgment and causing deliberate signs to be delivered in the very names of Hosea's children, YHWH here declares His compassion and His desire not to harm Israel. Hosea includes urgings to return to YHWH like these lines in chapter 12:

But you must return to your God;
     maintain love and justice,
     and wait for your God always.

I will heal their waywardness
     and love them freely,
     for my anger has turned away from them.
I will be like the dew to Israel;
     he will blossom like a lily.
Like a cedar of Lebanon
     he will send down his roots; 
     his young shoots will grow.

There will be restoration eventually but even now, if Israel would return to her God, calamity could be forestalled. Alas, she will not. Even so, there remains a time in the future when YHWH will restore her. A time when Israel will become strong and vibrant again - after her travail.

The message of Hosea is that God does not overlook persistent evil, but will punish it. This punishment is not something He wants to do -- God is much more willing to forego any punishment because the punishment is intended as discipline rather than wrath. If the lesson can be learned soon, the discipline will not be needed.

YHWH prefers compassion and mercy; He punishes to correct, not for punishment's sake. Unfortunately, we humans are a stubborn bunch and we throw ourselves almost headlong into worthless pursuits that result in discipline. God much rather would bless us with life in the Garden with Him than have us in the wild places estranged from Him. In fact, that is always the promise and always the offer - return to me and I will bless you; or I stand at the door and knock.

The choice is ours. God has come in the person of Jesus for the purpose of overlooking our sin and restoring us to life with Him. What will we do? What will you do?

Monday, March 21, 2016


Forgiveness is a choice that does not require anything from the other. Forgiveness simply accepts the human condition as it is, realizing that the offender is also human. It need not agree with or legitimize the offense in order to forgive it or the offender.

Forgiveness does not pretend that the other's character, reliability, or trustworthiness is changed or that we must continually leave ourselves open for abuse. The Kennedy quote is instructive in this regard, but the others are as applicable. Forgiveness includes, at its fullest, a renewed desire for the good of the offender. This is not codependency, not porous boundaries, not severe self negation. It is simply living in community with integrity, accepting others as broken humans.

In this sense, forgiveness is more of a stance, a readiness, a willingness more than a specific act although such a stance will result in behaviors of forgiveness. Those who are open to the reality of broken human society forgive as a matter of course.

An addendum. Sometimes forgiveness leads to or even requires grieving what we have lost in ourselves, for ourselves, and even for the other. If grief remains strongly associated with the hurt, defensiveness rather than forgiveness may result.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Triumph and Tragedy

On this Palm Sunday, many churches rehearse what is known as the Triumphant Entry. The palm branches, the coats on the road, the hallelujahs, the excitement, the exaltation of the crowds. Some will have a children’s procession in which they march in carrying palm leaves which they deposit at the front of the auditorium.
One of the texts often used comes from Luke 19 and this gives us the image of the crowds celebrating Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as a king, riding on a donkey. But if we read the text closely, we find that the crowds aren’t celebrating because they think Jesus is king, or even that anything momentous is going to occur. Rather, they are celebrating the one who has blessed them, healed them, fed them. This is not God, but a miracle worker. These crowds are not lining the walls of Jerusalem, but they are with Him on the road. They are his escort as Jesus completes what Mark recounts as the “journey narrative.” With the crowd on the road are not just those celebrating but also some folks who are a little uncomfortable with all the commotion. These, called Pharisees tell Jesus to stop the crowds from declaring and being excited about His arrival.
Part of their concern may have been because it might appear that He is a competitor to Pilate who would also have entered Jerusalem by another gate. Pilate would have come to Jerusalem to make sure the Jews didn’t get out of control during their annual Passover feast. What they didn’t want is for Pilate to understand this procession around Jesus as the beginnings of an uprising. And so they say, top these folks from doing what they’re doing.
It is often that in the Bible people will do things that are part of God’s work without realizing that is what they are doing. An example of this is the argument that it would be good for one man to die than that the whole nation be destroyed. That speaker didn’t know that what he said had two meanings. One, the one he meant as a practical political consideration, and the other of which he was unaware. So here, the crowds are celebrating the coming of this wonderful sign worker, but they remain oblivious of who He actually was. Jesus’ response to their concern and demand that He tell the crowd to be quiet, was to say, If these folks were quiet, the rocks themselves would start to sing. Well that sounds silly, doesn’t it?
Not so fast. While the crowd is celebrating because of the benefit He has been to them, Jesus knows that He is actually God, come to die and set not just us right, but the entire creation aright. We are told that the creation waits as in birth pangs for the consummation of the ages; no doubt the stones themselves would have been ready to sing of their deliverance too!
This wonderful story, even if not fully understood by the participants is sandwiched in Luke’s account by two ominous stories. The first is the last sentence or so prior to the untying the colt story. At the conclusion of Luke’s recounting of the talent story, the demand is that those who would not want to be subject to the king are to be slaughtered. Then, immediately after the entrance passage, we are told that Jesus – even while in this very procession – cries over Jerusalem’s reluctance to accept her King. This Triumphal Entry then is not all rainbows and lollipops for Luke. Jesus has already told all of us that He goes to Jerusalem to die at the hands of the Jewish leaders and crowds. Within this week, He will die despite this celebration, or maybe even because we did not perceive who He actually was. Because of that misperception, Jerusalem and the Temple will be completely destroyed.
The question then for us, is the same question begging to be asked by those celebrating in Luke’s description. We have to ask for ourselves whether we celebrate Jesus because of what He will do for us, or do we celebrate His coming because He is God; a God who demands we die to ourselves? Is the coming of Jesus triumph or tragedy for you?

Friday, February 12, 2016

Valentines Day and Lent

Valentines Day falls on the first Sunday of Lent this year. We could probably ignore that fact since there's very little between them, at least from a cultural perspective. One is supposed to be full of romance, roses, and chocolate, and spending time with the one you love. Not a bad idea and many a marriage therapist would suggest special attention to this day as an opportunity to refocus and put a bit of extra effort into your relationship. Lent on the other hand is often seen as well, a downer. Self-denial, self-reflection concerning guilt and depravity, and what not. Lent seems almost the opposite of Valentines Day - it even calls for -- fasting! Highly liturgical churches will even remove the alleluias from their rituals during Lent. No fun, no rejoicing, certainly no foodie indulgences. Probably best to do Lent on days other than that for lovers.

It is probably true that we spend too much money on those closest to us on Valentines day but we do so to demonstrate something about our relationship, about them, about them as someone special to us. Valentines Day is first about love which is itself, all about self-denial, of giving, of putting someone else first. The problem of course is that we normally focus on someone we are already close to; someone we already feel a connection with. Normally, that's OK.

But this is Lent. Just as Isaiah reminds Israel that a fast her God appreciates is not one spent in sackcloth and ashes (nothing wrong with Lenten ashes), but one that blesses others, that saves or reduces eating so that the extra, rather than being saved, can be given away to those who actually need it. Valentines Day at the beginning of Lent can be a great reminder that Lent is about love, about connection, about others and The Other. In addition to flowers and chocolates for people who already expect them, look for someone who needs that same sort of love, uplifting, or connection.

On this day for lovers, be a cosmic lover.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Lent 2016

Lent is traditionally and routinely considered a period that requires observers to abstain from something they normally enjoy, or behaviors that are not considered reflections of a mature faith. This is characterized as a period of self-denial, of stopping the doing of something for a period of time.

There are two observations we might make this year. The first is that Lent need not involve giving something up that is not conducive to the Christian walk. What if instead of giving something up for 40 days, we began or took something up for those 40 days? Is there something in your walk that is missing, that you have not been consistent in doing? Are there practices you have thought about beginning? Maybe a more consistent quiet time, or an intentional ministering to the homeless or poor? Maybe it's journaling prayers, or maybe something that needs you to be more consistent at home, work, or school. Lent need not be a subtraction, but a growing into something positive, more disciplined, more other-focused.

The second observation is that we shouldn't treat Lent as only a limited period of time of denial or practice. Rather than giving up chocolate for seven weeks, intend to establish a habit of healthier eating that will last beyond Lent. If, rather than subtracting, you elect to add or develop a new practice or behavior, similarly do so with the intent of continuing the practice after Lent, rather than simply as an experiment.

The purpose of Lent can include reflection, waiting, remembering, or in some other way growing closer to God. If this is true, then it may be appropriate to add or begin something rather than ending something. Once begun or ended, whatever we choose for Lent, use the extended period of Lent to establish a basis to launch a truly changed perspective that would live well beyond Lent.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Advent 2015 - Hope

As the church year begins anew, Advent engulfs our thoughts, our imaginations, and our horizon. The first Sunday reminds us of hope. This sort of hope has various nuances including those of weariness, of questioning, of desire, of want. All these are expectable human responses to a God who seems not present, aloof, disengaged. We have heard the hecklers even in Scripture when they ask, “it’s been a long time; where is your God?” Those who would be the people of God may be excused for these feelings that border on despair and threaten their trust in the God they seek to follow. This hope though, also includes remnants of that trust and leads to stronger trust in a God who is not seen but who has demonstrated His presence and power in the past.
Advent hope, fully exercised leaves the negative nuances behind and chooses not to look at them. Rather, this hope recalls the promises, recalls the past faithfulness, and leans into it once again. God has promised a messiah, a savior, a redeemer and it is this hope that Advent leads His people toward. In the first century, Israel was waiting for her messiah. In the 21st century, disciples are faced with similar nuances during this season. The world is in turmoil, society seems to want to sideline any sort of faith, and even people of faith seem to go crazy on a regular basis.
Advent reminds us, especially on this first Sunday that we are people of faith and we are called to trust and rely on God, no matter what the world looks like; no matter what sorts of abuse or dismissing we might experience. This year, hope is an apropos theme to begin Advent; a reminder that we are called to trust God no matter what. Because we trust Him, we have assured hope that He will vindicate our faith.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

On The Gospel - Humanity

The glory of YHWH is humanity fully alive. This sentiment, ascribed to Irenaeus and echoed by Dallas Willard is a succinct statement of the greater enterprise. The Creator crafted human beings in His image and established them on the planet, in the midst of the greater creation on purpose. That purpose? Full life, right here, right now. The gracious God of creation loves to bless; loves to be gracious. Creation itself is the playing out of that essential goodness.

We are told that people are made in the image of God – you are that image of Divinity. Many theories of Christianity tell us that the image has been marred, in some cases beyond recognition or reclamation, but these theories are wrong. As the Genesis writer reminds us, the reason God requires life for life for any creature that murders a human is that people are the image of YHWH. We are told this in chapter nine, well after the description and affects of the Fall. Adam’s failure – and Eve’s – has not changed the reality that YHWH continues to see people as His image. We are then told over and over that even though people fail in their fidelity and trust of YHWH, He repeatedly returns to rescue them.

YHWH won’t give up on His initial desire to populate a planet with people who live as His image with each other, the rest of Creation, and Him. The glory of God can accurately be said to be His ability to accomplish that plan despite humanity’s intransigence. A similar argument is used by Moses when He suggests to YHWH that wiping out Israel and starting over would cause YHWH to be ridiculed by other nations, because He had brought Israel out of Egypt and couldn’t accomplish what He said He would. Isaiah puts these same sort of thoughts in YHWH’s mouth. It is He, and not some other god or idol that will accomplish what He has said He would. This we are told, will result in praises by those who see it.

The result of YHWH accomplishing His intent? He will be acknowledged as the God, rather than one among many, dumb idols. But this is not all; the enterprise isn’t about God glorifying himself for His own glorification. Rather, the intent is not complete unless the people that YHWH leads by the hand actually become His people. Individually and collectively, they are to become fully the image in which they are made.

These two aspects – YHWH being able to grow a people, and that people being fully His image are intimately woven together in YHWH’s mind. It would be easy for the God of existence to protect Israel against all comers, defeating all challengers and threats simply by declaring them to be nothing and wiping them out with a mere thought. But YHWH doesn’t do this in history. He does repeatedly do this but eventually Israel fails to live as His people. It is this failure that leads to YHWH withdrawing His protection. If YHWH will accomplish His intent and accept praise for it, the two must exist together. YHWH can cause one to happen, but He cannot force His people to truly be His people. This, they must desire to do and accomplish even in the face of impending doom at the hands of their enemies.

Do we see hints of this image life in Christian writings? This is precisely the reason we have lists like that in Galatians chapter five. Why are these characteristics or traits described as the fruit of the Spirit? Because those who live in step with the Spirit will – must – live those attributes. Those led by the Spirit live into the likeness of Jesus; they become fully the image in which they are made.

This is what will bring YHWH glory and praise – a people who live His Life; the life they are made to live. The glory of YHWH is truly humanity fully alive as His image. This is another way of describing salvation, or life with God. It is impossible to reject this life, this becoming, this trust in YHWH and at the same time be saved. Asserting that salvation is something other than joining with God in the Life He offers in this world, is na├»ve and reveals a misunderstanding of YHWH’s intent for humanity and the Creation itself.

You are called to be the very image of God in the world; there is no better honor and there is no better way to glorify YHWH. This is what He asks; this is what He has intended all along. Be all you can be.


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