(Yet Again) Five Minute Monday: Touch

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Gentle Reader,

I was so on top of things last week. Back to a regular posting schedule. Back to a regular life schedule. Except for the headache that wouldn’t go away, I felt pretty good.

As The Beatles sing, “I shoulda known better.”

My beloved youths shared their germs with me again, and I’m on day three of being stuck in my bed with a nasty cold. All I’ve done is sleep, drink orange juice, and watch movies. Try to read, by my eyes swim and I can’t focus.

Go.

I’ve never regained feeling along the left side of the scar that bisects my abdomen. Too many nerves sliced up. Between the white line and my belly button is a field of nothingness. Except that it itches, practically all the time. But when I scratch the itch, I can’t feel the scratching.

Don’t ask me to explain this.

Skin is an amazing thing. So many different shades and textures. Senses the slightest movement of air. Responds to the tiniest pinprick. Blushing cheeks. Freckles bursting across shoulders in the summer sun.

Our church culture is not touchy-feely. The world around us has given way to the oversexualization of every person and interaction, and, rather than being a people who redeem and restore, we succumb to paranoia. “Noli mi tangere,” Jesus said to Mary Magdalene in the garden that day (John 20:17); we take up “touch me not” as our mantra. So our hands never feel a squeeze in a moment of celebration. Our backs never feel encircling arms during times of grief.

Our bodies are not evil. We can give and receive appropriate, healthy, loving touch. In fact, this giving and receiving should be a natural, normal marker of our communities.

We embrace.

Stop.

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Five Minute Friday: Agree

Community

Gentle Reader,

Obligatory reminder that there is a Facebook page for this blog. If you click on this link and “like” the page, you’re truly helping out a sister. Also, if you would like to review any of the books I’ve written, drop me a note via the contact page and I’ll send you one – for free.

Okay. That’s done.

Goodness I loathe the business side of writing.

Anyone want to do that for me?

I’ll pay you in cookies.

Kate says: agree.

Go.

My Bible study group is currently going through the book of Ruth. We spent several weeks in Judges, which is just an unpleasant mess of increasing weirdness, so it’s nice to take a little breather and dwell in a story that has a happy ending.

Last night our discussion centered around the concept of community, something we all long for but is always challenging. When we think of community, we often think of people with whom we will always agree. A place of perfect harmony. Unicorns, rainbows and fluffy white clouds.

Except…we’re human. That humanity…makes us all a little stupid and often harsh.

The words of the prophet are easily, flippantly quoted:

Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?

– Amos 3:3 (NKJV)

They’re true words. Two people can’t walk together if they aren’t agreed on what path to take. But we run with the words, assigning them a meaning that they don’t have. Uniformity instead of unity. Always smiling, no matter how falsely. Stepford People, never dealing with anything, never allowing the masks to slip, never asking the questions.

To build authentic community, we must hold onto and practice a phrase that is fading fast in the world at large: agree to disagree. Yes, we must all be heading the same direction. Yes, there are important issues of theology and doctrine that cannot be compromised. No, we are not all exactly alike. No, we won’t all have the same views on every issue.

There is a step further still to go.

The community of faith must first agree with God in order to allow space for the wrestling, the doubting and the struggles. The bulk of the New Testament bears witness to the fact that there has never been (and never will be) a perfect church this side of eternity. We bounce off of each other, whack each other with the sharp points and sometimes just don’t plain get along. It’s important that we agree with God that we are His people, purchased by His blood – and work through the disagreements, with the ones who drive us so crazy. He brought us together out of His loving kindness and care for the world, to whom we are to be witnessing.

A safe community agrees on the vision and wrestles through the details.

If we refuse to wrestle, and worse yet reject each other, we miss out on so much.

Stop.

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The LORD Your God in Your Midst: Like Chaff (2:1-3)

The Lord your God in your midst,The Mighty One, will save;He will rejoice over you with gladness,He will quiet you with His love,He will rejoice over you with singing.” (1)

Gentle Reader,

Chapter two!

It only took us fourteen weeks to get here.

Gather yourselves together, yes, gather together,
O undesirable nation,
Before the decree is issued,
Or the day passes like chaff,
Before the LORD’s fierce anger comes upon you,
Before the day of the LORD’s anger comes upon you!
Seek the LORD, all you meek of the earth,
Who have upheld His justice.
Seek righteousness, seek humility.
It may be that you will be hidden
In the day of the LORD’s anger.

– 2:1-3 (NKJV)

Shameless

The NKJV renders the Hebrew kâsaph and lôh as “undesirable” here, but a better translation would be “without shame” or “shameless.” Strong’s defines kâsaph as “to pine after; also to fear: have desire, be greedy, long, sore” (1) while lôh is “not (the simple or abstract negation); by implication no” (2). In this context, the people of Judah are without shame before God. They do not long for Him. They do not pine for His presence. They parade their sin in front of Him. Their love has gone completely cold.

It is thus fascinating that God calls them to gather themselves together and repent. He has no delusions. He knows who they are. He sees through the thickest walls and the heaviest doors. He watches what they do when they think all is hidden. He knows they don’t care.

This is how God works.

Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.

– Romans 5:6-8 (MSG)

Isn’t that incredible? He calls out to people who are about to suffer the consequences of their bad choices. He doesn’t ask us to clean up our lives. He doesn’t command that we get all the ducks in order before coming to Him. Instead He says, “Come, right now, when you’re shameless. When you don’t have sense enough to care about Me. When you think I’m out to ruin all your fun and that I want to be mean to you. Come. Let Me show you otherwise.”

God punishes, but He gets no pleasure from it. He would rather that Zephaniah’s people bow down in the middle of the muck and mire and ask for forgiveness. He would rather show them how to start over.

Corporate

The ancient Jewish understanding of relationship with God focused less on the individual and more on the community. An individual’s faith and standing before God were important, but rarely considered apart from the group as a whole. Each member of the nation was connected to the others.

Where individuals are singled out it seems to be for the good of the community. For example, the Genesis narrative develops the theme of God’s blessing, which though resting on certain individuals, renders them agents for some greater work of God. Joseph’s rise to fame in Egypt preserves the lives of his entire family ( Gen 45:4-7 ). Through Noah’s faithfulness God brings salvation to his family as well as animal life (Gen. 7-9). And the blessing of the promise of nationhood and land for Abraham was not only for his descendants but for all families on the earth ( Gen 12:1-3 ). After 430 years in Egypt, an entire people is delivered through Moses (Exod. 1-12). Through Esther’s rise to power the Jewish people are spared annihilation ( Esther 7 ). (3)

When one strayed, he affected the whole nation. When one loved the Lord, she affected the whole nation. This is why, even though verse three makes it clear that there is a righteous remnant in the land (we’ll get to that in a minute), God calls the entire group to appear before Him and repent. God does not hold one person responsible for another’s sin, but He does teach His people then and now to love and admonish the wayward and even, as in Daniel 9, participate in repenting for those sins.

In our modern Western context, we have trouble grasping the corporate nature of relationship with God. As far as we are concerned, it’s every woman for herself. Passages like Matthew 5-7 (the Sermon on the Mount), 1 Corinthians 12-13, Romans 12-14, Ephesians 3-5, Colossians 1 and the whole of 1 John point in the opposite direction. I am not responsible for your sin and you’re not responsible for mine, but we are on this journey together. When I hurt, you hurt. When you do well, I do well. We each have a role, a function, and can’t do without each other.

The Remnant

Zephaniah especially called upon the godly remnant…to pray and seek God’s face, perhaps referring to the promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14. But even if the majority of the nation followed false gods and turned away from the Lord, God would still protect His own precious remnant when the day of judgment comes (Mal. 3:16-18). (4)

In general, the prophets are careful to point out that there were people who were still obedient to the Lord. Remnant is a fancy way of saying “leftovers or remainders” (5). There were people who remained true to Him. Nevertheless, they would suffer because of the actions of their kinsman. Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael were all deported to Babylon (Daniel 1). It is likely that they were castrated, made into eunuchs (6). Given that the first chapter of the book that bears his name shows Daniel and his comrades refusing to violate kosher law, it’s my opinion that they were probably among those who loved God. They didn’t deserve to be carted away, have the chance of family life ripped from them and be forced to serve a foreign king.

Yet Daniel and others like him had an important job in the middle of the suffering.

They were a ‘company of the concerned’ who became the nucleus of the restored nation when they returned to the land. In every period in history, it is the godly remnant that keeps the light burning when it seems as if the darkness is about to cover the earth. (7)

It would be easy for us to say, “That’s not fair. These people, this remnant, loved God. Why did they have to go through that? Why were they going to have to see their homes destroyed and family members killed?” I tread lightly, because I don’t believe that anyone really has a good answer to that kind of question, but I think it comes down to the ripple effect. God doesn’t force anyone to live rightly and actions have consequences (a point Zephaniah hammers on time and time again). Rarely do those consequences go without touching others.

Think of it this way: Suppose the country you live in decides that it’s illegal to be a Christian. (This is reality in many parts of the world). God isn’t punishing you. You haven’t done anything to displease Him. Yet suddenly you find yourself imprisoned or even killed. The wrong choices others make impact your life, even though you’re doing your best to follow God.

Like Chaff

The Hebrew word here is qash, meaning “stubble, chaff” (8). (Deep, right?) Chaff is “the seed coverings and other debris separated from the seed in threshing grain” (9)

Okay, so here’s where it gets good.

The harvesting process involves separating the grain from the chaff. Chaff is useless. It’s an #aintnobodygottimeforthat sort of thing. In ancient times, the grain would be separated from the stalks, usually with a hinged stick-like instrument called a flail, and laid out on a threshing floor. It was then thrown into the air like this:

Image result for ancient threshing

The wind would carry away the useless chaff while the heavier grain settled back to the floor.

God is telling His people, “Your time is short. Don’t waste a moment.”

Reflection

  1. How have you been shameless? How do you recognize the attitude if it crops up in your life now? What do you do about it?
  2. Read 1 John. (It won’t take that long). Note the use of corporate words (“us,” “we,” “you”). Do you have a sense of belonging to a larger community of faith, or are you stuck in “just Jesus and me” mode?
  3. Read Daniel 9:1-19. What do you think of Daniel repenting for his entire nation? What do you think of him identifying with people he’d never met and sins he’d never committed? Is that something you could do?
  4. Read Zephaniah 2. What stands out to you? What do you want to know more about from this chapter?

My journey to faith. (15)

Sources

(1) Kâsaph

(2) Lôh

(3) Salvation

(4) Warren Weirsbe. Be Concerned: Minor Prophets. (David C. Cook: Colorado Springs, 1996), 149.

(5) Remnant

(6) Were Daniel and His Friends Eunuchs?

(7) Weirsbe, 150.

(8) Qash

(9) Chaff

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For all entries in The LORD Your God in Your Midst series, go here.

The Detox Diaries: the Blessings of Community

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Gentle Reader,

I can’t recall all the texts, emails and cards I’ve gotten at this point. Last night I enjoyed a time of fellowship with a sweet family who opened their home for a barbecue. Today, three different people invited Chris and I to dine. My spirit got a boost through several hugs, including a powerful, bear-like one from a man who’s like a grandfather to me.

This is church, ya’ll. This is the family of God.

My pastor has said (more than once) that we’re one strange group, that we’re kinda dysfunctional. He’s right. We get on each other’s nerves. Personalities clash. Miscommunication happens. Feelings get hurt. But when we need each other, whether its meals, help with housework, transportation, encouragement or any other number of things, we come together. We try. We reach out to each other.

I’ve been burned by the people of God more than once, and there are many times when I’m tempted to chuck the whole thing and get all moody and loner-ish. But then someone asks me how I’m doing, and she actually cares. She really wants to know. Or my pastor tells me that he’s praying for me daily. Or I get fist-bump (with exploding firework action) from one of the kids.

And I want to stay.

My journey to faith. (15)

To read all the posts in The Detox Diaries series, go here.