Tag Archives: Exodus

At least the winter weather won’t interfere with a journey through ancient scriptures

I know, I just could not resist that we are still in the midst of one of the craziest winters here in the middle of the US: snow, ice, more snow, spring temperatures, fog, even freezing fog (I call frog), rain, snow, and more. 

During the past several years, we have had extraordinarily mild Midwest winters.  In fact the meteorologist this week said for three years the total snow accumulation of those years is now less than we have had in the past two months.

Still, these cold weeks has kept me to my itinerary of reading the Bible over the course of the year.  I have now completed Genesis, Romans, Isaiah, and Mark.  This week I added Exodus and tomorrow I Thessalonians.

Earlier I mentioned that it is interesting how the Old Testament and the New Testament books are being paired.  Genesis is the beginning of the Israelite story and Romans is the beginning of the Christian church.  I began to understand.

The second pairing has been Isaiah and the gospel of Mark.  In my understanding, Isaiah is the Israelite’s manual of prophecy, which tells of the coming Messiah, a savior of the faithful people.  Mark was written to the Jewish people as an argument that Jesus is that expected Messiah.

Now here is another issue.  This winter weather has prohibited me to join in a conversation with others.  The planned Bible study with others making this same journey had to be canceled due to the road conditions. (I suppose I am lucky that I can post my ideas as I read and others can react.)

I have to admit that reading Isaiah was challenging.  I am realizing that I need tour guides and find them in the pages of the study Bibles. 

For years I have used the Life Application Study Bible (NIV), but this time I am using the Wesley Study Bible (NRSV). And I have even turned to the Archeological Study Bibleas I believe I mentioned previously.

Reading through Isaiah, though, is must more difficult for someone who has limited knowledge of ancient history.  The study notes are my tour guides!  

Not only am I learning the history of ancient people, I am learning more about John Wesley and how he read these same scriptures. I am ending up getting two journeys in one.

(For another side note:  I take notes.  Not just a few, I take lots of notes that include what I am learning, what I am thinking, and now what Wesley is thinking.  Sometimes I wonder what I am going to do with the volumes this is going to create.  Still, I have discovered I do go back once and a while to check on something that struck me as interesting, confusing or even profound.)

Reading scripture takes one back in time.  I am reminded how different life must have been in ancient times.  

For instance, this morning in the early chapters of Exodus, the plagues that God delivered upon Egypt are being listed. As often as I have heard about the plagues, I did not realize that there is a line in many referring to the Egyptian sorcerers or magicians.

According to the scriptures, found in Exodus 7-9, the plagues could be re-created through the arts of the sorcerers and magicians. But then, as the list of plagues continues, these arts fail.  The sorcerers and magicians begin to see the plagues of “the finger of God” (Exodus 8:16-19).   

Even though the Pharaoh continued to deny the power of God as demonstrated through Moses and his brother Aaron, his own sorcerers and magicians had to admit they could not duplicate the powers.

Reading the scriptures is not a leisurely trip, but one that challenges one.  I am so glad that I have the study notes to help, but it is also making me wonder what I might still be missing.

I have resources, but I am thinking about all the classes I took in literature.  The truth is that I never did have a course on reading ancient literature.  Now I am wishing I had more skill in ancient literature.

As I was growing up, I read everything I could get my hands on in our small elementary school.  I remember getting hooked on mythology and read everything I could about mythology.  

Admittedly, that was maybe 55 years ago, and my memory for details is not good.  And in all that reading, there was nothing about the Egyptian gods or even other ancient cultures—it was Greek and Latin mythology.

I need to hire tour guides that specialize in ancient literature.  The Archeological Study Bibleis a major help, but it does not fully develop my understanding of the symbolism that is buried in the ancient scripture.  

(I welcome any suggestions for websites or resources that I can locate to improve this journey.)

Needless to say it is too early for me to draw any conclusions about this journey at this point, but I know that I am finding surprises in the stories and I am seeing the timeless truths of humanity.  

What I do not understand is how we do not directly teach or share the literary themes of the Bible and parallel them to the literature of our own culture.  

Humanity has a tendency to repeat behaviors that complicate our lives.  The timeless themes of the scripture just reinforce the simplicity of Bible’s good news:  “God loves us so much that he gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him has eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Add to that the commandments that Jesus taught us in Matthew 22:  

36 “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being,[a] and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

Life can be so much simpler if we could just accept the truths Jesus taught us with these two commandments.  I cannot stop but to frame so many horrors in our lives thought that one primary thought:  Love one another as you want to be loved.

Just think about some of the worst human experiences and test it against that parameter:  What if we loved each other like we want to be loved?

  • Would there be gun violence?
  • Would there be homophobic attitudes?
  • Would there have been one neighbor arguing with another over a fence?
  • Would there be a bully in school?
  • Would there be road rage?

The list goes on into infinity.  Why even looking back through ancient history, if the Israelites could have demonstrated that love for one another above all else, would there have been all the legendary battles, the vicious treatment of slaves or even slaves at all?

My journey through the ancient scriptures is not anywhere near over, and the wild winter weather is helping me stay on my itinerary for the journey.  The side trips through the study notes are adding new understanding to my experience.

And, as I resume my daily routines, the stories, and the lessons I discover are like snapshots that I look at over and over. I am finding surprises and I am finding truths that enrich my earthly journey.

Please join in my prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the scriptures

In which your faithful people

Mapped out the directions

For life eternal.

May the ancient words 

Reveal universal truths

So your love survives

Despite the detours people take.

May the stories of old

Guide today’s people

In ways to guide others

To love one another, too.

And as our journeys near completion

May the snapshots of our lives 

Serve as guides for future generations 

That they may know love always wins.

In the name of you the Father, the Son,

and the Holy Ghost, amen.

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No fear, God is near

Ghosts, ghouls, goblins. . .

No Fear, God Is Near

given on Sunday, October 19, 2014

 

For some reason I keep thinking that Halloween is this week, but the 19th is closer to the middle of the month and Halloween is still almost two weeks away. I suppose I am being easily influenced by all the advertising and store displays that seem to jump out and try to scare me.

Two different concerns evolve from this issue. Marketing in our world today seems to sway people’s thinking so easily that we cannot seem to keep our own standards. We follow the latest fads without a care. Even the Halloween hype has created a subculture based on people’s fears and fantasies which brings a few questions to mind:

  • Where is God in all the ghosts, ghouls and goblins?
  • Does Halloween grant the freedom to be werewolves, vampires, and Zombies?
  • Is it really just pretend or do the costumes show the true selves?

 

This week’s lectionary begins with the story of Moses and the Israelites struggling to survive in the desert. They are afraid, frustrated, and tired. Moses has left the encampment to talk with God up on Mount Sinai. The people are filled with questions and fears, so Aaron steps in with a plan:

32 When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.”

 

In a way, Aaron throws a party, but that party centers around an idol created to shift the focus away from the fears and the frustrations. The Baal culture that surrounded them worshipped gods fashioned after bulls and the people observed them having all the fun. So Aaron channels all that energy into creating the Golden Calf, made from their donated gold, and throws a party:

Aaron saw how excited the people were, so he built an altar in front of the calf. Then he announced, “Tomorrow will be a festival to the Lord!” The people got up early the next morning to sacrifice burnt offerings and peace offerings. After this, they celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry.

Fear has a way of clouding our judgment and leading us away from God. It is easy to feel lost and alone when things are tough, but God is with us. He knows when we are tired, lonely, or afraid. He does not wish bad things to happen to any one of his children, but things do happen. The manner in which we continue to follow God is the key to managing the worst of times.

As adults it is easy to fall into a pattern of life that follows the marketing techniques or the pressure from work or the whims of our own mind. When we do this, we wander away from God and suddenly trouble shows up. Maybe it is buying too much stuff—like that old drive to keep up with the Joneses—or maybe we start spending too much time and money on recreation and suddenly there is no way to pay the bills. We may be following our own whims disregarding the safety and security of our families, and suddenly the possible loss of a spouse and kids sounds the alarms.

Fear comes with the realization that life has turned away from God and panic sets in. But even when we make our worst mistakes, God is near. We must take an assessment of what we have done wrong and what we need to do, and then ask forgiveness and for guidance. God will hear. We should remember there is no fear when God is near.

Think of how it is when one of your children—whether still in school or whether an adult with children of their own—run into a problem. Maybe it is something like the loss of a friend through moving away or even death. You watch that child experience the pain of loss, the sense of loneliness, and then search for a way to fill that void. There is nothing you can do to fix the problem; but God is near, so teach them to pray and to trust in God.

Living a Christian lifestyle gives us the structure, the guidelines, and the confidence to know that whatever loss or fear we experience, we are never alone. Living with God is living a life that knows the ghosts, ghouls and goblins we meet in our lives do not scare us away from God. The human experience is temporary, but the Christian life continues into eternity.

During the next two weeks, kids are excited to prepare and to go out trick or treating. Parents guide the youngest kids in the choice of the costumes, the houses that they visit, and even the goodies they eat. As kids grow up, the parents’ role shifts. Tweens and teens begin listening to friends about what costumes to pick, where to visit, and what trick or treat means. Parents watch with apprehension, uncertain of their kids’ safety. Becoming angry is evidence of how afraid they are for their wellbeing.

The Old Testament tells story after story of how God gets angry with his children. He uses so many different techniques to manage his chosen children and yet Moses had to plead with him not to turn his anger onto the tribes of Israel:

11 But Moses tried to pacify the Lord his God. “O Lord!” he said. “Why are you so angry with your own people whom you brought from the land of Egypt with such great power and such a strong hand? 12 Why let the Egyptians say, ‘Their God rescued them with the evil intention of slaughtering them in the mountains and wiping them from the face of the earth’? Turn away from your fierce anger. Change your mind about this terrible disaster you have threatened against your people!

 

The Old Testament story is referenced even in Psalm 106, when the psalmist repents from sin. God is reminded how Moses interceded for the people. God listened then and he continues to listen. When we are afraid, God is near. When we cry out for him, he hears us.

Ghosts, ghouls and goblins are surrounding us this time of year. The costumes are cute and sweet for the youngest kiddos but as the kids grow up, the costumes seem to transform them into alter egos filled with evil. The villains, the zombies, the werewolves, and the vampires become more and more evident. Even girls pick costumes that are more alluring and seductive as they test the limits of parental authority.

Parents are fearful as the tweens and teens leave for the Halloween trick or treating, concerned that they are not safe or may not act appropriately. The Christian lifestyle is tested. Will the kids remember what the rules are? Are the kids forgetting to follow the Golden Rule even while they are pretending to be all these alter egos? Will they be frightened and make mistakes?

The kids, no matter the age, need direction. The words Paul shared with the Philippians need to echo in our ears:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Do not fear; God is near! The way to be free from fear is to stay focused on God. See this world, even this Halloween, through the eyes of God. Ask yourself are you following Paul’s advice:

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

Fear can lead us to follow the godless, the evil ones, the Devil himself, but with God near we do not have to fear. We can handle the illnesses that hit us, we can find ways to manage our budgets, and we can look ahead in drought-filled years to plentiful years. We can say thank you to God for being near in any and all trials or tribulations we face—even the ghosts, ghouls and goblins of Halloween.

Closing prayer:

Dear Protective Father,

Thank you for being near us at all times.

Thank you for hearing our prayers filled with fears.

Thank you for keeping us safe from harm.

Teach us through the stories of the Old Testament,

Through the sage words of the earliest disciples,

And through the Christian models beside us.

Let us share your grace and love

With our children and our neighbors

So they know there is no fear with you so near.

Amen.

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