Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Bible on curses

This seems like an odd topic to explore, but when I'm reading my Bible, I often become curious about odd things. If you have ever thought about worldviews, there might be something interesting here.

Have you ever heard Christians use the term "breaking curses"? The terminology is actually not really in the Bible. The language "breaking curses" is actually borrowed from the worldview of witchcraft. Witches believe they can wield power over unseen things. They seek to manipulate the spiritual to accomplish their own purposes. Some aspects of witchcraft focuses on curses placed on us or those we care about, and there are spells and rituals to set us free. You may not even be aware you are living daily under a curse, but if a witch breaks it, then you have a new degree of freedom. In the worldview of witchcraft, you might make an appeal to a spiritual power, but you are seeking to control that power, more than submit to it.

By the way, the Bible forbids witchcraft. In Deuteronomy 18:10-11, we are told, "Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead." These were the practices of the pagan cultures around them. It's interesting to me that the Bible doesn't say that these things are empty and don't work. In fact, when Saul got frustrated as King of Israel, he had a witch raise up the spirit of Samuel, who had helped him in the past. She did it (1 Samuel 28). Move over, Harry Potter. I think that messing with spiritual powers is very dangerous and real--a good reason to stay clear.

Now zoom over to Christianity. In the Old Testament, God announced blessings and curses on His people for obeying or breaking His law. If you found yourself living under His curse (and Israel often did), there was no prescription to "break the curse." Instead, the people simply repented and obeyed the law. They changed their behavior; they did not need a ritual. There were all sorts of prescribed rituals in the OT: hyssop brushes & holy water, libations, sprinkling blood. It sounds very "witchy," but it's always picturing atonement, which is a central concept in Scripture. We have sinned; we must atone. Not "we have curses on us and we must break them." When the people discovered they were living under a curse, they began to obey the Law. They repented and cried out to God. Their repentance would draw God's mercy, and He would save them. On their own, they had no power to "lift a curse"--it wasn't even the language they would use. Their focus was always on behavior, on their God.

Furthermore, God cursed the people for their make them aware of their behavior (breaking the Law). When you saw signs of the curse being played out (poor harvests, invaders, wild animals), you repented. You didn't live "cursed" and just go about your business--not if you were a God-follower.

We know that God blesses and curses, but so do people. The blessing of a father is very significant, and individuals would speak blessings to each other. Likewise, they would speak curses, but this was often disastrous. The book of Judges notes several people cursing, and Saul cursed his army if they ate honey (1 Samuel 14)...these acts were foolish, and demonstrated a separation from God, a life in contrast to a life of faith. So when people curse it is shown to be foolish; it is not summoning a spiritual power. When Shimei cursed King David as he was fleeing his son Absalom, his men wanted to punish the man. But David said to leave him alone, that God would do what He wanted (2 Samuel 16:12). There was no spiritual threat that David responded to--his heart was turned to God alone. Balaam is another example: he was paid to curse God's people, but it had no effect, because God's intention was to bless them. Proverbs 26:2 says, "Like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow, an undeserved curse does not come to rest."

The New Testament is simply a fulfillment of the Law. Jesus became the curse for us, as it says in Galatians 3:13: "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.'" There is no curse we must break that He has not broken for us in the cross. He holds all spiritual power and authority; we come to Him, and receive His protection.

Zoom with me one more time. If you come to the Bible with an idea in your head, and you want to find a text to support what you think, you can almost always do so. For example, if I think Christians should be breaking curses and I search the word "break," I find that the prophets often spoke about breaking the yoke of the oppressor. Ha! There it is! A proof-text for what I'm wanting to teach! It is far better to let the Scripture instruct you, instead of grabbing from it what you want.

The Bible teaches us about atonement: repenting of our sin and seeking the righteousness of God, all of which is won for us in the cross. The prescription in the New Testament when we are struggling is to change our behavior--the exact same prescription in the Old Testament. The NT does not teach us any rituals for grasping the power of the cross. In fact, there were people in Acts who saw the power of God at work in the lives of the apostles, and they wanted that same power. Simon, one of these examples, was a known sorcerer (Acts 8:9-25). It is witchcraft that seeks to control spiritual powers; Simon had a great reputation in Samaria, a place of confused religious understanding, and he was nicknamed "The Great Power of God." We believers submit ourselves to God, and like King David, look to His hand for anything we need, willing to endure suffering if we must. We must exercise our will.

You do not have to live in fear. We're just sheep; stay close to the Shepherd. He who bought you with His blood is able to keep you safe.

Monday, November 26, 2012

An almost-poem of where I am

I used to be on staff at a large church. Sunday, for staff members, is an inherently different experience. At worship services, we are the servants, the ones who design and implement an environment for the crowd to worship the Father. Sometimes, we worship Him too, but our goal is to serve. Our worship comes at other moments; it is good.

The worship center of our church was always meaningful to me. Even mornings that completely occupied me with problems and work...on those days, still, the worship center was a place of God's presence. I could not always pull my head away from the work, but I always felt Him there. Some days I would enter, and hundreds of people were worshiping or listening to a sermon, and I was not fully engaged in my spirit. I was in servant mode.

In those times, I often imagined my Father, enthroned at the front of the room, receiving the glory and praise that He is worthy of. I enter, not participating, and He sees me. He nods gently at me as I slip into a chair off to the side. I am His beloved daughter. I am written on His very heart, and He sees me. It doesn't matter that I am not worshiping Him with all I am. I am tired, and He knows everything. I am so comforted to be there, because I am His.

Now, I am in a completely different place. My life is very good, but I will be honest, part of me is hurt and still healing. Because I am a certain maturity (we won't say "old"), the hurt doesn't consume me; it's not terribly important that it is there. But my Daddy knows. I live this wonderful life where He has placed me, and I never stop talking with Him. Please do not lose the goodness of where I am. But the hurt keeps me from some of the formality of my faith. I don't formally pray much, not as often as I used to.

Sometimes, my formal prayers have a picture, like the one I used to have when I was a staff member. I am standing by my Daddy, and I am looking at what He looks at. I am listening always for what He would say, but I can't quite turn and talk to Him. Instead, I reach up my tiny hand...I find His hand, and slip mine inside, and just stand next to Him, in silence.

I am His beloved daughter, and I am hidden in His heart. And He is glad to hold my hand and just wait. He is. This is enough for me.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Holiday survival guide

Mary and Martha. It's funny how a story that is meant to de-stress us sometimes has the opposite effect. Martha-types (I probably should have said "We Martha-types," but I'm giving myself a break) sometimes hear, "Do everything AND be remarkably peaceful and calm in the midst of it." If Martha just hadn't complained to Jesus, then she wouldn't have been rebuked, right? So what we should do is bake three pies, roast the turkey with that new recipe and some new vegetables but still make the old vegetables because someone is going to gripe if we don't and have both whole cranberry sauce and the newer cranberry relish and let's all work at John 3:16 after we eat this meal except I'm so exhausted I wish you'd all just go home and take my kids with you.

I mean, I'm so glad you're here, I am full of the joy of the Lord. (I can write a Christmas version of that later if you don't have one yourself.)

If you haven't read the story in a while, it's pretty short:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

Notice that the Bible says that the Lord answered her. Not some guy, but the Lord. The one in charge. Martha, Martha, you are not your own. And you've gotten distracted, dear one.

In the parable of the sower, some seed fell among thorns. Jesus explained the meaning of this parable to His disciples: "The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful" (Matthew 13:22).

The worries of this life choke out our concern for God. The wealth and blessings we have deceive us; they choke out our desire to sit and hear Him. And then we are unfruitful.

You are not in control this holiday season. You don't have to do anything. Sit, and listen to the Father. Everything He has given you--your home, your talent, your abilities, your time, your money--is intended to bless, to build up His kingdom. It is not for you to manage, and you can't make His work happen. So sit and listen, then get up and do.

Mary, the one who sat listening, was offensive to her sister. This call, to belong to Him, isn't always comfortable. Did Mary blush when Martha complained to Jesus? Martha complained to Jesus, who was sitting in their home! Has anyone prayed against you specifically at the Thanksgiving table? "Lord, bless this food, even though Sally didn't lift a hand to help in the kitchen."

His peace is a greater reward than any praise you might forfeit. His call is our only desire.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Parenting, fun, and the big picture

You're a parent, right? Even if you aren't, think with me. Parents teach their children disciplines and values when they're young. We know that they need to learn certain things to survive as adults--brush your teeth, eat your vegetables, what moral values should guide relationships, bugs will collect under that many clothes dumped on your floor, etc. We require behavior of our children that reinforces those beliefs because we want to train them, and we know they learn by doing, not just hearing. That said, our requirements and lectures often cut into our children's "fun." They can't do just anything they want, because we know adulthood is coming, and they must learn a few things now in order to be prepared.

I can see your face. Of course their "fun" is not paramount. In fact, we attend those secret New Year Eve's meetings where parents share ideas for ruining the fun of their children's lives over the next calendar year.

Jokes aside, let's agree that their fun is not our goal. We need them to have character, in order to navigate the much longer period of adulthood. If you're a parent, whether you're a Christian or not, you are training your child to be an adult, and there are things you believe he or she needs to know. Adulthood lasts a long time, and kids don't really grasp what it's like.

Now zoom with me. What if eternity is real? What if God is sitting in His vantage point, and He knows you have this big thing ahead of you, and this ENTIRE life is only preliminary to that big thing. There are things you must learn now, you must choose now, in order to be ready. Is He going to be overly concerned with your desire to have fun? with your own short-sightedness? Does He have a right, because of His vantage point and wisdom, to make claims on your time, your thinking, and your heart?

Pause for a moment.

Now think a little more. How are you reacting? Like a toddler, kicking and going hungry until 8pm? Like a teenager, whose parent is about ready to throw up her hands and kick you out? God's claims on your life are not always what you want. Does He know what's best? What's your response?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A servant's heart

As a stay-home mom, I don't have a lot of personal agenda. My days are driven by the needs of my family: meals on the table, rides to school ETC, scheduling appointments, doing laundry, teaching school. I am blessed to have a lot of time with friends, but there is a different quality to this homemaker thing that didn't plague me when I worked outside the home.

In my job, I had certain tasks that were completed at certain times (usually with some amount of praise or satisfaction). I dressed up. I was serving God. I was compensated with a paycheck twice each month, sometimes a bonus. Now my tasks are like shoveling snow in a snowstorm. My family is very gracious to praise me, but you rarely move on from anything. This task is like the last task and similar to the next task and serves the same people. I wear gym clothes, or jeans and t-shirts. Yes, I am serving God, but I have the title "homemaker," not "minister." I don't get paid for what I do, and consequently there is no time "on" or "off" the job. I can get to thinking I am "on" 24/7.

Here's the heart issue: sometimes I find myself feeling like a martyr. I must do the laundry! I must make this sandwich! I must find the coffe cup that someone didn't return to the kitchen so said person has their coffee this morning! I must change the trash! Woe is me, to muster so much.

It is tricky, because I indeed serve them all. My youngest once said to me, when I was trying to help her with something, "I don't need that, Mom. I know you spoil sissy, so you think you have to do that for me, but I don't need that." So much wisdom in such a small package.

I have to want to be here. It's like serving Jesus. He doesn't hand me a list of do's and don'ts and tell me to get cracking. He loves me, and as I chase after a relationship with Him, I do and don't do certain things. I am His willing servant. And while I meditate on the biblical concept of being Jesus' slave, I have to shy away from the connotations of that word when it comes to my family.

The Law is quite interesting when it discusses slavery; I may blog on that soon. Exodus 21:5-6 says, “But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,' then his master must take him before the judges.He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life." I have submitted myself to Jesus. My ear has been pierced. How silly for me to now paint myself as a tragic figure.

When this mood comes on me, I must pull back and look at my heart. I must submit my heart to the Man I originally bound myself to. If He was worthy then of all I am, He is good and worthy now. Then, I can serve my family with a whole heart, and not as a victim.

Tip #5

When I'm doing a lot of work in the kitchen, I often keep a folded paper towel on the floor. Then, if something spills, I use my foot to "mop" it up. One paper towel usually suffices for the messes I make. Of course, yesterday I had the brilliant idea of throwing the two leftover pieces of potato into the soup pot from across the island. I didn't realize how much the soup would SPLASH. And I didn't consider it would splash on Lizzye's open geometry book. But everything's okay. Really.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The question of suffering

It is my hope that this blog, like the devotionals I do at Lunch at Angie's, give you something to think on. I like my chin to be tilted up, to see a bigger picture than just this carpool, this evening's dinner plans, tonight's homework, tomorrow's meeting. I also hope that you can share some of these ideas with others who have questions. Questions are good.

I am teaching a class called Understanding the Times to two homeschool students (one is my own daughter), and there are indeed some interesting ideas therein. (I just used the word "therein" in a sentence. Let's pause while I take a moment to feel smart.) I was talking to my best friend about one of the featured authors, and she told me I should blog on it. So here it is, best friend.

This author presented the Biblical perspective on why there is evil in the world in terms of past, present, and future. He said that this question (Why do bad things happen to good people, and all its forms) has two components: the general philosophical question of what this means about God and the universe, and the more personal, ie, why did something bad happen to me? The personal is harder to deal with--there is pain attached to that one, so it's not a matter of simple reasoning; we require healing--but having the philosophical answer in place can be useful.

First, consider the past. God created the world to be good. He was very pleased with all of creation, including the man and woman He made and blessed. Suffering came when man messed up; Adam disobeyed God and all sorts of suffering entered the world as a consequence of his rebellion. Do you remember your parents ever telling you, "You brought your suffering on yourself"? To a degree, that's true of mankind. We rejected God and His ways, and the consequences don't just hurt us, they hurt those around us, like a drunk behind the wheel. The world is messed up, and evil is bouncing around like a pinball.

Why doesn't a good God set things right? The answer is in the future: He will. Just because He hasn't solved the problem yet doesn't mean the answer isn't provided and everything won't be set straight..eventually. I honestly look forward to judgement and the end of the world. I love justice, and I'm tired of my own hangups being part of the problem. I want righteousness to reign and all this junk to stop. But 2 Peter tells us that God is patient, wanting all men to come to salvation, and so He is delaying judgement. We're waiting, God, and we trust You.

The next part really struck me: so if God made everything good, but He won't fix things until later, where does that leave us now? The answer is: He is with us. One of the names of Jesus is Immanuel, "God with us." He came to walk alongside of us, to not leave us alone while we're waiting for it all to be sorted. Remember the story of Lazarus dying? Jesus waited four days to come, knowing Lazarus would die, knowing He would raise him from the dead. When Mary fell at His feet and said, "If you had been here, my brother would not have died," Jesus wept. Why did He do that? He knew in mere minutes she would hug her brother again. But in her suffering, He was with her. No other religion promises a Comforter to be with us in all of our troubles. God didn't just tell us to suck it up through the hard times; He is with us in our hurt.

Thanks, Jesus. Thank You so much.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The greatest commandment

Jesus told us that the greatest commandment was to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength" (Luke 10:27). That verse in Luke isn't actually Jesus speaking; it's an expert in the law answering Jesus' question. In Matthew, Jesus provides this answer...that's complete bonus.

Another complete bonus is that when Jesus sums up the law, He is actually quoting two passages from Jewish Scriptures. The command to love God with all that we are is from Deuteronomy 6:5. Deuteronomy 6 is a significant chapter, sort of a grand summary of the law and the responsibility of the chosen people to follow it. It makes sense that "the greatest commandment" would come from this passage. Oddly, the "second greatest commandment" is from Leviticus 19:18 (Love your neighbor as yourself). I don't know what's so great about Leviticus 19 that you could pinpoint that verse as a summary of the law. It follows a long list of "do not's" that in my Bible are captioned "Various Laws." Verses 17-18 read, "Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke youir neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself." When you read this command in context, the man's question, "Who is my neighbor?" makes a ton of sense. In Leviticus, just reading the text, I would assume the answer is "another Israelite." Jesus is worth listening to because He just doesn't answer questions the way you think He will. His teaching will keep you on your toes.

Where am I going with all this preamble? Just giving you some idea of how I study the Bible. When something catches my eye, I mull it over, look up other things it makes me think of, poke around a bit. I think about the text itself. Consider how we are supposed to love God:

with all our heart - Your heart is deceitful. You are probably wanting two contradictory things right now. We are full of conflicting desires, and Jesus looks into that mess and says, Love God with all your heart. Turn your desires towards Him. (They're a mess if they run amuck.)

with all our mind - Two things I think of here. Discipline what you think about; don't let your mind run on topics that are unhealthy. Secondly, study. Use the intelligence you have been given to learn about who God is.

with all our soul - You were made body, soul, and spirit. You have a personality and a perspective on the world that God values--He made you on purpose, different from anyone else. Your spirit is dead until Christ brings life to you, and then the Holy Spirit begins to capture your soul, to use who you are, just how God made you, for His purposes. Use all of your uniqueness for Him.

with all your strength - Sometimes you have a lot of strength. Sometimes you have a little. Whatever you have, don't wear yourself out pursuing your own goals and ideas. Use all of your strength for His Kingdom, whether you are raising your kids or doing your job or fixing your car. Don't chase down a road He hasn't sent you on.

We talked at Lunch at Angie's about which of these we might struggle with surrendering to God (our mind, heart, soul, strength). But our conclusion was that they are hard to separate. Maybe that's the point. God wants all of us. He wants control. He is Lord, Master. Those four areas are listed out for us to think on, but the conclusion is He must be first, and we must be second. Period.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The song you sing

We are each humming a song. Some of us are singing loud, some of us are mouthing the words under our breath, but we each vibrate with a message. I think mine would be, "Be encouraged."

I have some friends who do amazing work. One woman sings to those hurting in poverty. Her sister sings to high school girls, telling each that she is a princess. One woman sings over a little baby she is adopting from the foster system. One woman sings "Jesus Loves You" to over a dozen foster kids who have been in and out of her home this calendar year. The chords of their lives are compassion, mercy, and love.

I have heard songs like, "Help me,""I'm so lonely," and some very angry songs. There are ones like "I want to know Jesus" or "I'm not ready to surrender my life." I think some people have a song that their heart plays, and one that they switch to when others are around. "I enjoy sin" might become "How I love the church."

I hope your song is consistent. You don't have to play it loud, and you may not know all the words yet. I hope the song you sing is one you received from the Father. Our God has a plan for each of our lives, a song He made just for us. In singing the song you were made for, you will find a range and depth that you didn't know you have. You will resonate with joy.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Your Life: a guidebook

I saw a sign outside a church the other day that said, "Our lives are a guidebook for our children." Go ahead, take a minute to panic and freak out. But you know it's true. You already know you're an example living out in front of your children. You are also very aware that you're not always a good one.

Have you ever said, "I wish my child came with an instruction manual"? Whether you are the parent of a crying baby at 2:00am or locked in a struggle over veggies or a parent whose child has not returned home yet, and it's 2:00am, and she's not answering her cell, and you don't know if she's in trouble, ignoring you, or the phone just died, and you don't know if you will kill her when you finally see her (what page of the manual addresses this???)...I digress. We parents don't always know what to do, and there are so many times we want an easy answer.

You don't have a manual for your kids. You never received a manual for your own life. I could get religious here and tell you that the Bible is our manual, but I want to talk about those decisions that you don't know how to handle. The ones where there is no chapter and verse that states, "Take away her cell phone and ground her from all media for one week, thus saith the Lord." Or what about your own life? Why isn't there a book with your name that says in chapter 3 who you should marry? Or chapter 4, yes, take that job.

Now let's go back to the guidebook idea. You are listening for God's voice and doing your very best, and you still mess up. How can this be a guidebook? But it is. The Lord does not desire us to be perfect. In fact, He knows we can't be. When we're taken up to heaven, our character issues will be settled. Until then, He has left us here with our own flaws and hangups. Are we supposed to be diligently correcting those?

The real answer doesn't always match the questions we ask: we are supposed to live out the gospel. We are supposed to wrestle with our sin, seek the Spirit so that His fruit bears out in our lives, ask forgiveness, repent, do hard things, serve others, love our enemies. We, as failed people, empty ourselves before a holy God. In doing so, we write a guidebook for anyone watching--not easy answers, not a quick reference list, but a living example of who God is, how He provides in amazing ways, and how He doesn't give up on us.

Do you see a way to do that today? Good job. Keep going.