I Have a Question, God!

He may eat the bread of his God, both the especially holy and the holy; only he is not to go in to the curtain or approach the altar, because he has a defect – so that he will not profane my holy places, because I am ADONAI, who makes them holy.” (Lev. 21:22-23 CJSB).

In the reading today I kept stumbling upon the word “defect.” At first, I kept reading as if the people were speaking about their fellow brothers and sisters, but that was not the case. God was speaking to Moses. How could this be? How could the Creator of the universe speak so harshly against His perfect creation?

As my blood continued to boil, I decided to look at other versions to find out if the word “defiled” is standard across the different translations. According to both the Interlinear Bible and the NRSV, the Hebrew word is not “defect,” but “blemish.” So, the assumption that God created flawed human beings (physically speaking) does not appear to be accurate. In the cultural setting of the day, to have a blemish proved to be a reliable indicator of infectious disease. Perhaps the importance of the laws mentioned in Chapters 21-23 of Leviticus is to only allow those who are free of disease to touch or prepare anything so to prevent spreading leprosy and other maladies.

I breathed a sigh of relief until I remembered Lev. 21:17-20. The medical issues listed are not infectious diseases but are chronic issues many people face throughout their entire lives. How do we reconcile this passage? It seems very unfair and lacks compassion and understanding. I do not think this section of the Bible would go over well on a poster at a football game. There has to be some explanation as to the exclusion of some of God’s children.

One thought might be that the job of being a priest required mobility issues that might have been impossible for those living with the chronic conditions mentioned in the text. Other positions might be better suited to their abilities. Whatever the job, everyone may find a place to offer the best of their talents and loyalty to God. This is the highest goal of humanity.

Maybe the most essential part of the scripture is to realize that all of us are not capable of working in every ministry. What if the things mentioned are not all physical, but refer to a spiritual condition? We should not serve as counselors if we are blind to the verbal and non-verbal clues that others make known while in suffering. How can we run to our brother’s or sister’s side, when we cannot see their needs? Someone else is better suited for the job.

This is a challenging passage to even attempt to understand. I hope that no one finds this post offensive. I am trying to hold myself accountable to the text and pray that I may glean some knowledge regarding God’s providence. My anger is probably due to my sons’ bleeding disorders (hemophilia), and how as an advocate for my children, I have trouble with any language, scripture or not, that appears limiting and unfair to those who live with chronic conditions.

Maybe this portion of scripture reminds me to not limit my answers to “no,” but to expand the possibilities for others to serve the One, who brings hope to all of us. If someone is not capable of serving in a certain way, let us guide them to another. As the hands and feet of Christ, it is up to us to help discover talents.

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Here a Law, There a Law!

I have to admit something right off the bat.  The Book of Leviticus is not the most engaging book in the Bible, but it does paint a fascinating picture of life and relationship with God in the ancient world.  It is very easy to get mired down in the specific laws and consequences for disobedience.  What caught my eye was the harsh treatment that occurred for failing to adhere to the strict practices.  Don’t observe the Sabbath and the punishment is death.  That is pretty severe.

When looking at the religious landscape of the day, it might be a little clearer to see the purposes for maintaining such a stringent covenant with the people of God.  The chosen people were expected to be a light in the wilderness; a reminder that the Great I Am leads them and guides them through every situation.  Therefore, the children of Adonai were to live in a new relationship with each other and with their creator.  By holy living, the world would see the glory of God and be transformed bringing all life back to the one who designed the universe.

We as Christians continue the mission of the ancient church.  We are a city on a hill; a people who are disciples of the Christ.  Expectations of holy living include being in a right relationship with God.  This consists of a way of ordering our lives so to model how Jesus lived among us.  Our rules harken back to the Torah (first five books of the Bible).

The difference between the ancient people and us is that we recognize that it is impossible to follow the rules on our own resources.  We need the spiritual power of God to help us, and so we place our faith in Him.  The power of Christ; who offers us grace when we fail to be an obedient people.  In our confessions to God, there is no need for blood sacrifice, for Christ freely gave himself to allow us to be restored back into right relationship with God and each other.

Today, let us remember that our ancient brothers and sisters in faith began a journey through a wilderness of uncertainty and doubt to enter the promised land.  Their story is our story.  We know what it is like to walk in the deserts of fear and sorrow, only to discover the riches of Christ.  May your path be illuminated by the One, who guides us to everlasting life.

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He Made…Sustaining Life

The notes from Exodus 38:1-31 of The Complete Jewish Bible informs us that “This entire chapter is laid out in a specific poetic fashion.  Every first word of a verse uses the same structure.  It is formed from the word asah, meaning ‘to make,’ ‘form,’ or ‘fashion.’  To the Semitic ear, reciting verses with such a continual and rhythmic structure helps greatly in the memorization of Scripture.”

We lose the poetic order in English.  To me, the text is mired down in details, and I struggle to keep up with the flow of the writing.  This should be that high and remember to build the altar this high:  Weave fabric together that is this color while sewing this color to cover the holy place.  Do what?  Build what?  I get confused.

Perhaps the message to remember is the importance of intentionality.  God’s grand design for us is created in order; taking that which is chaos in weaving and building together beauty.  All of what we do should be sweet smelling incense to the Lord.  Fashioned as he designs.

I hope to structure my life in such a way that my worship be filled with purpose and meaning.  It is not sporadic as if I am giving God my leftovers.  No, my time is my offering to the Holy One, carefully fashioned in a way that calls me to be still and know that God is God.  Out of commitment, a sacred relationship grows.  We renew the promise to seek the divine presence out, discovering the eternal while in the presence of the mundane.

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Remember the Sabbath

“The people of Israel are to keep the Sabbath, to observe Sabbath through all their generations as a perpetual covenant.  It is a sign between me and the people of Israel forever; for in six days God made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day he stopped working and rested.”

     In our society, the meaning of the word Sabbath seems to disappear into a place where we have a chance to catch up on chores or work that eluded us in the previous week. The thought of rest morphs into a time to run a few extra laps on a perpetual wheel that never seems to stop. How can we remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy when our lives are filled with business? There must be a way to stop and be still and focus on our amazing God.
     As a father, husband, and pastor, I know what it is like to keep moving. This needs to get done, and that deadline needs to be met. It seems impossible to find a way to stop and observe the brilliance of the Holy One. Sabbath? It is a great idea, but difficult to put into practice.
     Once I had the opportunity to have dinner with a doctor friend who is Jewish. Somehow, the conversation turned to the understanding of Sabbath. He told me that he attended a synagogue that uniquely welcomed the start of a time of rest. Everyone made a circle around the altar and danced. For my friend, this was out of his comfort zone, but he got lost in the realization that the congregants welcomed in a new time by which they turned away from the hectic pace of the working world and connected with God.
     I hope that Sunday mornings are that way for us. Six days we can work and do daily chores, but on Sunday we are transported for the day to a place, a form of living that reminds us that the God of Creation demands that we stop and reconnect with Him. His language in the verses mentioned serves as a mandate to honor rest. How else can we be restored? Even phone batteries run out of juice is we don’t charge them up.
     Jesus retreated to commune with God. For Him, he needed Sabbath like he needed air. Let us follow the example of the Christ and take the most precious give we can give to another person, time. My prayer for all of us is that we honor the Father and return home every week to worship, rest, and be made whole.

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Gripe, Gripe, Gripe!

God delivered the people of Israel and what do they manage to do? Gripe about their circumstances. Never mind that Moses, with God’s help, led the people out of bondage. Everyone safely crossed the sea and witnessed one of, if not the most remarkable miracles ever known. They wanted steak, and they wanted it now. Many complained that it would have been better to stay in Egypt than die in the wilderness. In short, gratitude was not the leading practice of the day.

The undercurrent that I hear in the Exodus chapters is fear. How will I survive? Where can I eat? What if?…… While the natural propulsion is to read with complete shock, I don’t believe we are that different than the ancient Hebrews. We witness God’s incredible presence over and over again, only to return to a place of skepticism.

God calls us to come out from under the rocks that leave us hidden from the world, captured by fear. Let the Holy One feed you and give you living water to quench your thirst. We may be in the wilderness sometimes, but the God who delivered us from slavery still leads us to green pastures and quiet waters.

Today, may I continue to walk in the light and celebrate the joy of the Lord, who is my strength. No griping allowed, only shouts of hope. Let us remember to search for the Lord with our whole heart and soul and as we seek out God, may our heart remain set on the riches in which we give thanks. Praise be to our amazing God.

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God, the Creator of All

“God answered him (Moses), ‘Who gives a person a mouth?  Who makes a person dumb or deaf,  keen-sighted or blind?  Isn’t it I, Adonai?'”  (Ex. 4:11 CJB).

Those of us who either have or are caregivers for those with chronic illness know what it is like to feel as if we are the cause of our loved one’s affliction. We said or did something wrong, and because of our sins, our punishment is relegated to those closest to us. Guilt overwhelms us and leaves us spiritually paralyzed. We ask ourselves, “What have I done God, that my dear one must face every day with his/her affliction?” This question reverberates over and over in our brains until we cannot hear the truth that everyone is created in the image of God.

I’ve moderated many groups of those with bleeding disorders. Because the genetic marker is on the X-chromosome, hemophilia is passed through the mothers DNA. Newly diagnosed families handle the shock in different ways. It is my experience that a mother feels a tremendous amount of guilt while a father is frustrated because he cannot fix the problem. It is out of his control.

Enter the fantastic verse from Exodus. While Moses attempts to make every excuse known to man why he should not be the one who returns to Egypt to free the Hebrew people from slavery, God says, “Hold up Moses! What is going on with you? I made everybody, including those who have every kind of disability. I even created those with every type of chronic illness known and unknown (I insert the word hemophilia).

Hear this, let us be very careful in who we call whole and healthy. To God, there is no difference between any of us. The Creator did not make a mistake when we were fashioned together in the womb of our mothers. Everyone one of us is made in the imageo Dei (image of God). As such, we are all perfectly designed. Each of us created with a spirit longing to sing praises unto our God.

This day, let us live with purpose knowing whose we are. Seek out the God of our understanding and sit in silence, giving thanks to the Creator. Chronic illness may change how we live our lives and relate to the world, but they can never keep us from living out our purpose in a society that cannot fathom how we can live in a state of joy always and everywhere, giving thanks to our amazing God. Amen.

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It’s Joseph? Uh Oh!

Although the Biblical text never mentions the reaction of the brothers when Joseph revealed to them his true identity, I can only imagine that fear had to overwhelm the dastardly siblings. I picture Jacob’s sons having a shepherd in the fields “Fear Not!” experience. Undoubtedly they expressed a hint of uncertainty. They had no idea what would happen next. Was this the time that Joseph would exact his revenge?

We know what it feels like to be at the end of the road, running from mistakes we made in the past. To move forward, we must “Fear Not!” and confront our pain head-on. Sometimes there is uncertainty about who or what will not hear us or they will fight even harder to keep us in bondage. Whatever it may be, we will never know the truth until we move past the pain that continues to hunt us down.

Hear the good news, Joseph embraced his brothers and welcomed them with open, loving arms. What began as a tense meeting gave way to joy and happiness. For Joseph, it meant that he could share his success with those closest to him. For the brothers, they learned how to love and cast pettiness aside, for the most important thing, even in the first book of the Bible, is love.

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From Injury to Forgiveness

Yesterday we read the incredible story of Jacob and Esau. In the story, Jacob the trickster robbed Esau out of his birth rite. He lied and with shrewd calculation convinced his father to bless him. It wasn’t right. Esau was the firstborn child and being the oldest deserved respect.

I can’t imagine the anger that Esau felt. The betrayal of his friend, his brother, must have put him over the edge. His fury must have consumed him as he struggled to find his way in the world. Why would the person closest to him hurt him so deeply? Was he mad or angry? Perhaps he felt a little of both emotions.

Jacob didn’t help resolve the issue. There is never an accounting in Scripture where he attempted to figure out a way to make it right with Esau. His greed got him what he wanted, and now it appears that his actions placed in a prison of fear. The only way that he could find freedom would be to talk with Esau and attempt to find common ground.

We know what it is like to be either brother in this story. Sometimes we get selfish and in so doing, hurt the ones we love. We also know what it is like to be betrayed. Someone closest to us speaks an unkind word or does something that is devastating. We, like Esau, feel anger, hurt, and struggle to make sense of how our loved one(s) could hurt us so profoundly.

The end of the story is the most remarkable part. Jacob knew that he had to face Esau. Jacob feels complete fear that he will die. Esau, in Jacob’s mind, is still furious and wants to set the record straight. So, the trickster divides his families and prepares for the dreaded confrontation.

When the brothers meet, there is no battle, there is not an unkind word. Esau’s motivation is to see his brother and embrace him as his family. He missed him. The man that had every right to be angry forgave his brother. The relationship proved far too important than the feelings of betrayal.

And now we get to the meat of the story, the act of forgiveness. I am not sure that I could forgive someone who stole so much, nor would I want a relationship with those that were so cruel. Perhaps Esau may help give a little perspective on how to rise up and let go of the past. Maybe his ability was so precious that the anger could not overcome the love for his brother. His choice overcame a culture that insisted on an eye for an eye. He dismissed what he knew to embrace love.

As someone who knows what it is like to have complicated relationships, this is where I push the pause button. I’m not sure I can get to where Esau is standing. Some people wounded me so gravely that I am not sure I can forgive the pain. How can I get to Esau’s level of forgiveness? Maybe the answer is found in baby steps. Perhaps we must start by praying to God to make us be able to pray for forgiveness. It may take years. Whatever the process, the goal is to find some way to release ourselves of the anger and hurt we feel. Notice the negative feelings are about us and not the one(s) who hurt us.

I love the way this story ends. Isaac, their father dies, and both Jacob and Esau bury him. The brothers come together to demonstrate their new found friendship. Hope was restored, and new ways of being in a relationship with one another changed. A new life started with forgiveness, and nothing is the same.

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In the Midst of Sorrow

The reading today, Genesis 20-22, provided many resources for more profound thought and reflection. We see Sarah and Abraham’s trick on Abimelech that nearly cost the king his life, the birth of Isaac, and the ultimate sacrifice pitting father against son. Where do we start? Each story provides opportunities to share pertinent ideas about the relationship between God and His people.

The story that caught my eye almost always goes unnoticed. It is the accounting of Hagar (Gen. 21:8-21). We might look and think, “How petty is Sarah that she should harbor ill will against her husband’s son?” She is the one who insisted that Abraham have a child with her servant. Situations may change, but promises do not.

So Abraham does Sarah’s dirty work and casts Hagar and Ishmael out of the area. Things are okay for a while, but then Hagar runs out of water given to her. She leaves Ishmael and sits with her back to him for fear she would catch a glimpse of panic and starvation in his eyes. At this moment, in the middle of her deepest grief when nothing seems to help, God calls to her.

Did you hear that? God called to Hagar. He comforts her and assures her this is not the end. There is much more to do and see. “My promise I made to you will not go unanswered.”

We certainly know what it feels like to feel hopeless and at the end of our rope. We cry out, sobbing to God. “Why did this happen to me?” Our soul feels like it will break with pain.

In the moments of our greatest struggles, God calls out to us. The message may be soft or loud, but it comes from the same place. The voice that encourages us to get up and rise. The One, who reminds us over and over again that His promises will be fulfilled.

On this day, let us be grateful for Hagar’s example and get up and be restored to wholeness. Let us praise our God who continues to redeem us and bring us to new life. The author of unending love assured us that there will never be a time that we will walk the path by ourselves. Praise be to God for divine guidance.

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What’s in a Name?

Today we read Genesis 10-13. We have a look at our very first genealogy tree. I kept thinking to myself, “Why are all these names here?” I tried to follow along and keep everything straight, but I started to loose track. So and so was so and so’s grandfather, followed by an uncle, fathered by a second son after the death of a father.

So, why did the author go to such lengths to name the descendants of Noah? One thought may be to understand how the world repopulated itself after the flood. All humanity came from Noah and not from any other person. Noah’s family members were the only people to survive after the great rains covered the earth. The flood story discounts any other theories.

Another thought might charge us to look at the beginning and the ending. We want to know where we started and where we finished. For the purposes of this accounting, we begin with the sons of Noah. We follow all three sons, but take a keen interest in the genealogy of Shem. The last person name is Abram.

**Spoiler Alert** Abram becomes the man Abraham, the founder of the Jewish race. God announces to Abraham that he will make his name great and his descendants will number as great as the stars. This man is the beginning, the first of the great men of Genesis. These men (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) become known as the patriarchs of the faith.

And it all started with one person and an amazing family line. We all know what it is like to come from a long list of family. We bestow our traditions and customs to the ones who follow us, never dreaming what life will look like years from now when we are no longer here. Hopefully, when all is said and done, our teachings will remain with our great great grandchildren and their families.

Today, I am grateful for a lineage that I leave for the descendants that follow me. May they be blessed and be fearless worshipers of the God who sustains me now. Praise be to our incredible Creator, who just like he did for Abraham, continues to lead us to the land of milk and honey.

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