When God is silent

Chapter 3

Good Monday Morning to this week 4 of 2020

“Our God comes, he does not keep silence” (Psalm 50,3). That is a core sentence of the Bible. God can only be God for us because God is not silent? Is a speechless God not a God in the sense of the Bible? Many frustrated Christians confirm this in their own way; Since they no longer hear God, God does not exist anymore for them.

Mother Teresa spent 40 years in spiritual darkness. Abraham, the father of our faith, spent 13 years without any communication from God, yet his faith only grew stronger.
St. Ignatius of Loyola experienced so much of this spiritual emptiness that he wrote the famous “Spiritual Exercises,” with guidelines on what to do in these two states. Jurell Sison writes on the Ignatian prayer:

When in silent prayer, I get an overwhelming feeling that I am not in charge. While that sounds cliché, it seems to me that this simple mindset is the remedy to my stress, heartache, and anxiety. Day to day I get tricked into believing that my daily tasks, obstacles, and struggles are bigger than they are. Some days I even feel cheated that people don’t recognize them or validate them, but my prayer puts things into the proper perspective. I get a profound sense that God is in charge and that life is mysterious. And no matter what struggles come my way, God has a way to redeem them. I like to think that I trust God, but silence helps me to live that trust.

Marc Batko translated an essay by a German theologian, Wolf Krötke, a prominent Protestant theologian from Eastern Germany, whose work is known far too little in the English-speaking world. Krötke demonstrates how, taking seriously a world that has grown forgetful of God, recommends not retreat into vague religiosity or spirituality, but rather attention to the concrete possibilities for human freedom and faithfulness that the Christian gospel itself sets forth.

God’s silence is not entirely harmless. Whoever does not hear God is not simply free of God!  Even atheists become irritated when they are called “godless.” No one likes to hear this. That “godless” has this sound for real blasphemers is strange. Our language presumably transports something owed to a biblical experience.

The God who by nature is not silent is silent! When this happens, people are spit out, left without any goodness, hopelessly alone and miserable. “O God, do not keep silence; do not hold thy peace or be still,” implores another biblical praying person (Psalm 83,2). When God is silent, the power supply of his spirit and life is missing from our life. Other voices and other powers then fill the empty spaces of God’s silence.

All people do not regard this as terrible. The godless type is repeatedly encountered in the psalms as a careless person who likes God’s silence. “Nothing is lacking to me,” exclaims the confessionless person of today who shuts the door on visitors from the community. Since he never hears God speak, he does not notice when God is silent. Isn’t he better off than those tormented by God’s silence since they have good experiences of God speaking?

We must take this question seriously in a time when God means nothing for so many people. Whoever would open ears and hearts for God’s speaking,  tells them the reason for deaf ears and closed hearts is that God is silent? All who believe have had this experience. In faith in Jesus, it is engraved with the cry of the dying Jesus. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” – this is the desperate complaint of the person through whom God’s love spoke like no other!  With the words of Psalm 22, he joined with all the complaints of people about God’s silence. He anticipated something that could not be ignored. Too many after him, that was  also their ultimate question in their life.

God is silent – that is the experience of believers open for God in the discipleship of Jesus. We may not misunderstand this as insensitiveness for God to which people become accustomed to, voluntarily chosen, distance from God. In such a distance from God, people can be as sealed with concrete walls from God. The Christian community with its testimony of God’s speaking can and should shake these walls.

God’s silence hurts. It sets in like a mysterious wall before us and in us when God’s speaking is necessary. Hope and vigor are taken, gratitude that they are alive is driven out of persons plagued by sickness. Here there isn’t an atheist or Christian, religious or not religious. Everyone knows the experience “when we are in extreme distress” and God is silent. How do we still speak of God in such situations?

When God is silent, it seems as if God is uncommunicative or closed for us. This can only result in also our growing silence. Whoever is struck with suffering or tries to help other sufferers experiences this directly. The word “God” becomes like heavy in our mouths and hearts.

Yet, there are other times when we can only be silent with God. Communities that rediscover the old practice of Easter night have this experience.

On this night, something else comes into play than the mysterious abyss of God’s silence. In the experience of the Easter night, we notice something like God’s own deep affliction from the pain of Jesus Christ and from the suffering of his creatures. Far away from Golgotha, it is nearly impossible to understand God’s silence as enduring pains that make us speechless.

Good Friday teaches us that God is with us even in his silence. As he touches us with his silence, he bears with us the heavy experiences we make when he is silent. In all their gravity, such experiences stop being the ultimate experiences that imprison us in a distance from God and silence.  No, on the contrary,  they open the communication to hearing the words of God’s love in his silence.

Wishing you a blessed week.

Philemon

 

Capacity for greater Compassion

Chapter 2

Good Monday Morning to this week 3 of 2020

Exodus 3.3. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. This is amazing, Moses said to himself.
Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it!

One of the ancient Jewish texts that helps us conceive God in relation to compassion. God reveals his compassion in the calling of Moses. He chooses a man in Moses with a capacity for greater compassion.

One Midrash, an ancient commentary on part of the Hebrew scriptures, attached to the biblical text (found in Shemot Rabbah) offers an answer that I find particularly helpful:

The blessed Holy One only tested Moses by the flock. Our rabbis have said that when Moses our rabbi, peace be upon him, was shepherding the flock of Jethro in the wilderness, a kid (goat) escaped. He ran after it until he reached a shady place. When he reached the shady place, he happened upon a pool of water where the kid was standing, drinking. When Moses reached, he said: “I had not known that you had run away because of thirst. You must be tired.” He placed it on his shoulder and walked back. The blessed Holy One said: “You have shown compassion in guiding a flock belonging to a mortal; so, by your life, you should shepherd My flock, Israel.”

Geoffrey D. Claussen writes in his text “I will be with them”

In this Midrash, God characterizes Moses as acting with exemplary compassion. Moses, to his credit, does not rebuke the kid for escaping from the flock. Instead, he admits that he had not understood what it needed and shows the empathy required to understand what it must be feeling; he responds with an action that offers relief to the kid. God appears to Moses and charges him with his mission precisely because of this display of compassion to the kid.

One interpretation that in this moment Moses reveals not only his compassion for the particular kid but also his compassion for all beings. a Jewish movement focused on the cultivation of character, whose leaders gave considerable attention to the virtues of compassionate love for all creatures. Moses’ concern for the kid revealed his capacity to understand what all creatures need: “Our rabbi Moses, who followed the kid so that he could figure out why it ran away after he found that it was tired and thirsty had compassion for it and placed it on his shoulder and so it was revealed that he was understanding and discerning of the needs of every creature. And so the blessed Holy One found him fit to be the shepherd of Israel, Moses’ compassion thus came to resemble the divine ideal of compassion for all creatures, as suggested by a verse from Psalm 145: “The eyes of all look to You, and You give them their nourishment promptly” (Psalm 145:15).

I imagine the story of Moses and his calling in this way. The suffering kid is a revelation that demands Moses’ response, and as Moses acts with newfound compassion, he grows even more in compassion. As he realizes his capacity for greater compassion, he realizes how much further he could grow as he recognizes the broader ideal of compassion for all creatures—for each creature in its own right, in accordance with its needs. He understands that he is called toward that ideal—that this ideal obligates him, commands him, and demands his further action. This ideal of compassion burns within him and burns before his eyes, like a burning bush from which one cannot turn aside. The obligation to care for each and every creature rings in his ears and calls to him, as with a voice that cannot be silenced. Moses turns toward the ideal of compassion and the obligation that addresses him as if by his own name. He answers: “Here I am.

The idea that the burning bush is a manifestation of divine compassion is prominent in rabbinic literature. Another Midrash sees a verse from Isaiah, “In all their affliction God was afflicted” (63:9), as alluding to God’s suffering amidst the thorns of the burning thorn bush, and explains: God says to Moses, ‘If you do not sense that I am suffering just as Israel is suffering, then you should know that I am speaking to you from within the thorns, [thus showing that it is] as if I am a partner in their suffering.” The burning bush is a thorn bush that shows how God compassionately joins the people of Israel while they suffer in Egypt.

Those included within the circle of divine compassion include the entire people, and Moses cannot separate himself from the people’s suffering or from God’s suffering alongside them. Rather, he is called upon to emulate God’s compassion and to also experience the people’s suffering himself—and precisely so as to be able to respond that “he will be with them” in their suffering, just as God is with them in their suffering. The revelation of the burning bush calls Moses to feel the suffering of Israel, to be a partner in their suffering, and to take responsibility to alleviate their suffering, to free “My people”, the Israelites, from Egypt as God instructs him.

Moses famously resists God’s call: “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt?” But something has drawn him to the bush, and if we follow the Midrashic traditions discussed here, it is not merely the miraculous sight. Moses is drawn to the expressions of suffering that are deeply painful to behold, revelations of suffering that have something in common with the suffering of the thirsty and tired kid who has brought Moses to this spot, to sufferings that are far more painful—revelations of the drowning of children, the beating of slaves, and the cries of the oppressed. We might imagine that Moses sees not only thorns and fire that represent suffering, but that he in fact sees the images of what that suffering looks like, and that he hears not only the voice of God but also the cries of those for whom God is present. It might well be tempting to turn away from such scenes and even from the thorns and fire that represent suffering, but the text emphasizes that Moses feels that he “must turn aside” toward the bush (Exodus 3:3)

The Midrashim cited here suggests to us that compassion involves being a partner in the suffering of others, even feeling the painful thorns that others feel, and committing to being with those who suffer. We can imagine Moses, as he takes on his mission before the burning bush, moving more closely to this ideal and realizing that compassion for all must include awareness of and responsiveness to even the most horrible atrocities. We can imagine Moses realizing just how much the ideal of compassion obligates him and committing to greater and greater responsibility.

The biblical narrative implies that Mount Horeb and Mount Sinai are the same location.
From the burning bush, God promises that “when you have freed the people from Egypt, you as Nation shall worship God at this mountain. And this promise is later fulfilled: after leading the people of Israel out of Egypt, Moses will bring the people back to this mountain. Moses will thus bring the people back to the spot where he had found his escaped kid and understood its suffering, where he had realized the need for compassion for all creatures, where he had encountered the ideal of compassion for the people. When Moses returns to the mountain after the exodus from Egypt, it will no longer be only a single bush that will be in flames; rather, the whole mountain will now be aflame. The mountain was ablaze with fire and the divine voice comes “from out of the fire”.

As we understand the fire of the bush to be a sign of the ideal of compassion in response to suffering, we may understand the fire that envelops the mountain as an even more powerful symbol of compassion, a renewed manifestation of the ideal that Moses first encountered in the bush. Like that first fire, this fire also clearly demands, obligates, and commands; the divine voice that comes from it is the source of legislation, the “fiery law” ”placed upon all Israelites. God, the ideal of compassion, commands the people of Israel to strive toward that ideal, to obey the laws that will teach them and help them to grow deeper in compassion. The divine voice addresses each one of them and cannot be silenced; the divine ideal burns before the eyes of the entire people, threatening their complacency, setting forth a covenant of compassion that demands responsiveness to the suffering of others.

As I conceive of God, traces of the divine presence may be glimpsed through acts of compassion for those who suffer. All of us, I think, can apprehend the obligations that God imposes upon us when we, like Moses, act with compassion. And all of us can easily turn away from these obligations, especially when they threaten our complacency, our self-centered desires. All of us can be like Moses as he lifts a tired animal on his shoulder and turns toward the ideal of compassion that burns before his eyes. We may be moved by the rabbinic idea that atonement is achieved through lovingkindness. I see particular value in the model of Moses turning toward the kid, turning toward the bush and the vision of trapped birds, and turning to hear the divine name that speaks of all who suffer.

It is difficult to be with others who are suffering and even harder to feel their pain, and it is all the more difficult to be compassionate when the number of those who suffer is so staggering. We will inevitably fall short of the ideal of compassion, and yet great hope that the ideal is one toward which we can take steps, as best we are able. May God conceived of as an ideal of “being with them,” inspiration for our own growth toward ever-deepening compassion

Philemon

 

Hall of Faith

Chapter 1/2020

Good Monday Morning,

Grace is God’s acceptance of us. Faith is our acceptance of God accepting us.
Adrian Rogers

By faith, Abraham, when God tested him …
By faith, Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future …
By faith, Jacob blessed each of Joseph’s sons …
By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus and gave instructions …
By faith, Moses’ parents hid him for three months,  not afraid of the king’s edict …
By faith, Moses chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than …
By faith, Moses left Egypt,  persevering because he saw Him who is invisible …
By faith, Moses kept the Passover, so no one would not touch the firstborn of Israel …
By faith, the people passed through the Red Sea …
By faith, the walls of Jericho fell, marching around them for seven days.
By faith, Rahab was not killed with those who were disobedient …
By faith, many heroes and heroines in the Bible are not all given names 

Hall of Faith and Hebrews 11:32-39 says;

Many of these never received their promises directly in their lifetime but they have received it because they were faithful and believed in and trusted God for they understood that God, He would deliver the promise…in due time.  The fulfillment of the promises did also depended on Abraham, a strong act of faith; it “was especially” strong in his ease from the circumstances that he had an only son, and that the fulfillment of the promise depended on his life. We do know that God never tempts any man in the sense of an inducement to evil is certain: “For God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempteth no man” (James 1:13). The factors in this supreme test of faith included an apparent contradiction in the word of God himself who had promised Abraham that all of the wonderful promises of the covenant were to be realized through the posterity of Isaac, called here his “only begotten son” (which he was, as far as children by his legitimate wife were concerned); but who then was commanded to be offered up as a sacrifice to God. Any man of ordinary faith would have concluded that the two aspects of God’s word were irreconcilable and would have rejected the command to offer up Isaac, such a command being contrary to every instinct of Abraham’s heart and which seemed, on its face, to nullify the promise of an innumerable posterity through Isaac.

The manner in which Abraham reconciled God’s apparently contradictory messages constitutes the glory of his faith.

Since God’s promise required the survival of Isaac in order to its fulfillment, and since Isaac was then to die, how could God’s promise be true? Many writers have dwelt impressively upon the turmoil in Abraham’s heart over such a dilemma, but the astonishing fact is that there seemed to be no such turmoil in Abraham. It simply was not there! The impression that we get from the Biblical narrative is that Abraham treated it as God’s problem!

It was for God, not for Abraham, to reconcile his promise and his command.

I gave in and admitted that God was God. C. S. Lewis

So when the command was given, Abraham promptly set about obeying it; his own duty was clear, and God could safely be trusted to discharge his responsibility in the matter.

A. Barnes writes in his commentary …

The requirements imposed by so tremendous a task as identifying the God-man, the Messiah, Christ, when he should come into the world, plainly demanded that seemingly contradictory things should be foretold concerning him. Thus, on the one hand, he was hailed as Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, Lily of the Valley, Fairest of Ten Thousand, the Bright and Morning Star, and the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, etc.; while, at the same time, the Scriptures described him as despised and rejected by men, a root out of dry ground, with no beauty or comeliness that people should desire him, and as being chastised, pierced, encompassed by the wicked, and crucified. Certainly, such apparent contradictory prophecies were an enigma to the Pharisees; and it was evidently in reference to this that Jesus raised his famous question of how David’s son could be David’s Lord (Matthew 25:45,46).

Significantly, had the Pharisees been true sons of Abraham, they would, like Abraham, have believed all that God said, even the seemingly contradictory things; and the very fact that the ancestor of all the Jews had given so astounding an example of doing that very thing makes the Pharisees all the more culpable in their guilt.

No less than the Pharisees, we, the people of today need Abrahamic faith with reference to all God has spoken, even regarding the things which appear contradictory.

To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible. Thomas Aquinas

“He that had received the promises sounds like “accepted,” yet it’s far more it’s welcoming and embracing the promises by faith.

Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times. Martin Luther

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friends, look up – take courage!

Philemon

 

 

Letting go

Good Monday Morning to this last Monday of 2019

We’re about to let of go of 2019 … some thoughts to letting go.

Letting go is incredibly difficult. No matter if we cling to worries about the future, or if we keep replaying the mistakes of the past it can be quite challenging when you have difficulties to move on. The attempt to hold on to the things that were familiar to us can limit our capability to experience the present moment. Yet, life is all about continuous change, no matter how hard we try to keep things as they are, we will sooner or later be confronted with relentless changes, whether we like it or not, especially as we open ourselves to new possibilities.

In the Bible there are quite a lot of stories of letting-go:

Mary and Joseph are asked to let go of their son Jesus.
Jonah is asked to let go of his hatred for the Ninevites.
Sarah is saddened and angry, she lets go of Abraham.
Pharaoh is asked to let go of the Israelites.
Esau is asked to let go of his inheritance.
Saul is asked to let go of his throne and his power.
David is made to let go of his son he fathered with Bathsheba.
Paul is asked to let go of his prejudice and hatred.
Abraham is asked to let go of Isaac.

Story 1
Once upon a time, there were three men. Each man had two sacks, one tied in front of his neck and the other tied on his back. When the first man was asked what was in his sacks, he said, “In the sack on my back are all the good things friends and family have done. That way they’re hidden from view. In the front sack are all the bad things that have happened to me. Every now and then I stop, open the front sack, take the things out, examine them, and think about them.” Because he stopped so much to concentrate on all the bad stuff, he really didn’t make much progress in life.

The second man was asked about his sacks. He replied, “In the front sack are all the good things I’ve done. I like to see them, so quite often I take them out to show them off to people. The sack in the back? I keep all my mistakes in there and carry them all the time. Sure they’re heavy. They slow me down, but you know, for some reason, I can’t put them down.”

When the third man was asked about his sacks, he answered, “The sack in front is great. There I keep all the positive thoughts I have about people, all the blessings I’ve experienced, all the great things other people have done for me. The weight isn’t a problem. The sack is like sails of a ship. It keeps me going forward.

“The sack on my back is empty. There’s nothing in it. I cut a big hole in its bottom. In there I put all the bad things that I can think about myself or hear about others. They go in one end and out the other, so I’m not carrying around any extra weight at all.”
Source | H. Norman Wright, The Perfect Catch

What are you carrying in your sacks from 2019 as you journey and transition towards 2020?

Who do you identify with? The most sympathetic is the one who remembers all the blessings while acknowledging and letting go of negativity and judgment toward self and others?

If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.
Henry Ford

Sometimes the hardest part isn’t letting go but rather learning to start over.
Nicole Sobon

Story 2
Two monks were returning to the monastery in the evening. It had rained and there were puddles of water on the roadsides. At one place a woman was standing unable to walk across because of a puddle of water. The elder of the two monks went up to her lifted her and left her on the other side of the road, and continued his way to the monastery.

In the evening the younger monk came to the elder monk and said, “Sir, as monks, we cannot touch a woman.”

The elder monk answered, “yes, brother”.

Then the younger monk asks again, “but then Sir, how is that you lifted that woman on the roadside ?”

The elder monk smiled at him and told him ” I left her on the other side of the road, but you are still carrying her.”

Paul put it this way in Hebrews 12.1
So since we stand surrounded by all those who have gone before, an enormous cloud of witnesses, let us drop every extra weight, everything that clings to us and slackens our pace, and let us run with endurance the long race set before us.
We may feel alone, but we aren’t. We are surrounded by an army of witnesses. They have run the race of faith and finished well. It is now our turn. We stay focused on Jesus (a master in letting go), who designed and perfected our faith.

Wishing you a blessed transition and crossover from 2019 to 2020.

Philemon

 

 

When Jesus becomes King

Good Monday Morning to this week 52 of 2019

This morning many thoughts and ideas are out of the book to N.T. Wright, How God became King, as we launch into these next Christmas days, being drawn to the extraordinary events of the birth of Jesus.

Through the birth of Jesus to Mary and Joseph a powerful, mysterious presence of the God of Israel, the creator God, opened Israel’s story,  bringing it to its climax by doing a new thing, bringing the story of creation to its height by a new creation from the womb of the old. The birth of Jesus opens the door to the “Miracle”, the divine intervention “from outside” into this world.

Jesus was born to a very difficult and dark world under the rule of the Roman empire. Jesus was born in extraordinary situations, all the difficulties known all too well to the people of the time, also to Mary and Joseph.  Joseph had the role and responsibility to take care of a child that was not his own, yet full of obedience he took very best care of the child Jesus together with Mary. This plan of the almighty God to prepare the return of the King to live in this known world, in all its brokenness is a beautiful image of the path of Kingdom coming and returning. Jesus became King when He ascended to heaven and established the church. Before that time, Jesus promised and mentioned that the Kingdom was at hand. The first part of his life here on earth in the fullness of the time, the predicted age of the Roman Empire when God would establish His eternal kingdom.

Christmas offers us, not so much a different kind of human, but a different kind of God! A God who, having made humans in his own image, will most naturally express himself in and as that image-bearing person in Jesus.

If you belong to Jesus the Messiah,  if his Spirit dwells in you,  if you are a worshipper of the one true God, maker of heaven and earth then however you may feel at the moment, whether you are sick or healthy, successful or in trouble, you are simply a shadow of your future self. God intends to transform the “you” the you who you are at the moment into a being, a full, glorious, physical being who will be much more truly “you” than you’ve ever been before.

Jesus pointed to God in order to explain his actions as when he commanded the wind and the sea to be still and they obey him. Jesus himself the new temple, the true King, the true priest at the heart of the new creation, preparing that day when the whole earth shall and will be filled with the glory of God.

And so this temple, like the wilderness tabernacle, is a temple on the move, as Jesus’s people going out, in the energy of the Spirit, to be the dwelling of God in each place, in anticipation of the entire fulfillment of the Kingdom of Jesus.

God is also becoming King through you, the meek, the peacemakers, the heart pure people, the hungry for justice people, the people of a new identity.

When God wants to take his power and reign, putting the world to rights as he promised, he doesn’t send in the tanks, he sends in the meek the brokenhearted, the crushed in spirit, they will do in humility and hope, the world renewing tasks through which the living God is implementing His way of being King. His Kingdom project is launched in and through Jesus, the creator God began the new phase of his great world-changing project.

May you be filled with the wonder of Jesus the King being born, of the deep joy of Mary, the obedience of Joseph, the joy of the angels, the eagerness of the shepherds, the determination of the Wise Men,  as God becomes King through you in many renewing tasks, going out in the power with the Spirit of God the King living in you.

Philemon

Power of choice, a new liberty?

Good Monday Morning to this week 51 of 2019

This week I saw a very disturbing picture of many worship leaders gathering at the White House. The same people who write songs about Jesus are endorsing policies that are destroying the very people Jesus cares so much about like immigrants and refugees.

This took me to reading Romans 13. This chapter is one of those classic passages, used to make sure we are all being obedient citizens, which historically has led Christians into all kinds of problems:

“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities…” (Romans 13:1)

We live in times where dissent is more important than ever. All around the world we are witnessing the rise of the “strongman”  and brutal leaders. These are hard-line men that rule with an iron fist and with little regard for justice or the downtrodden.

Craig Greenfield took a closer look at this:

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, King Herod arrested some of the believers, including James and Peter, and put them on public trial. The night before the trial, an angel of the Lord woke Peter up, removed his chains, opened the prison doors and led him out the main gate of the prison.

Yet after escaping from jail, Peter went on to write:

“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to the governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.”

Or when Paul was in Damascus, he escaped from a strongman city governor who was trying to arrest him …  after reaching safety, Paul wrote a surprising letter:

“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.”

The key to understanding is in the word “submit”.  The Greek word hupo-tasso, which has been translated as “submit” or “be subject,” literally means to arrange stuff respectfully in an “orderly manner underneath”.

This simple meaning of “social orderliness” would have been understood by original readers, but it is a little obscured in our English translation.

This word is used in Ephesians 5:22 to encourage husbands and wives to submit to one another, and it reflects God’s concern for order and respect.

Here’s the main point – Paul and Peter believed that governing authorities are necessary for keeping the peace. God is a God of order – not anarchy or chaos.

But here’s where we go wrong. There’s ANOTHER word, hupo-kouo, which is best translated as “obey,” which literally means to conform, to follow a command, or to kowtow to an authority as a subordinate. wasn’t used by Peter and Paul, they chose not to.

Though Paul, Peter and other followers of Jesus deliberately disobeyed laws that were in conflict with God’s commands, they still submitted to the authorities by accepting the legal consequences of their actions.

As far back as the book of Exodus, the Hebrew midwives refused to carry out the Pharoah’s repugnant order to murder newborn babies.

Slavery was lawful. The holocaust was legal. Segregation and apartheid were legally sanctioned. Many of today’s laws are created to protect much “other” rather than people.

So does the law or does God dictate our ethics?

Could this be showing us another way to interpret Romans 13 as Peter and Paul meant? If we break an unjust law to highlight and protest its injustice, we should be willing to submit to the punishment for breaking such laws, so that we demonstrate our respect for the role of government, in general, no following a God of chaos, each doing whatever we want but a God of order and respect for one another and the governing authorities.

There are times when we, as followers of Christ, will be called upon to stand up with a holy ‘NO!’ in the face of evil and injustice.

This week I saw a preview of the film of the life of Franz Jagerstatter, a forgotten martyr, devout Catholic, telling the harrowing and heartbreaking true story of his life refusing to take the Hitler oath. During his military training in 1940, he notices the evil underlying the Nazi regime and arrives home dead-set on refusing to fight for the army in the future. He declared his refusal to fight when he was summoned back to the Linz barracks in 1943, where he was held in custody, transferred to Berlin-Tegel to await trial, and condemned to death for sedition.

Gregory Williams puts it this way:
The Greek word used in Romans 13 by Paul is exousia, which is defined: “power of choice, liberty of doing as one pleases.” It is translated “right” in Hebrews Revelations and it is even translated “liberty” in Paul’s own 1Corinthians 8:9.

In the original text of the Bible the translation of exousia as liberty or right would fit the context of scripture. One may translate it as power of choice. The Greek word exousia is considered to be one of the strongest words in the Greek language representing the idea of liberty. Accepting the idea that Romans 13 is actually a statement by Paul in support of individual liberty, rather than a command to submit to the commands of authoritarian rulers, will be difficult for some pastors and Christians alike to admit.

Romans 13 could be read as follows: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher liberty. For there is no liberty but of God: the liberties that be are ordained of God. Whosoever, therefore, resisteth the liberty, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the liberty? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same.” Romans 13: 1,3

God desires that every man should have the unimpaired and divine right of choice as long as that choice does not violate the right of our neighbor to make his own choices. There is a distinction between the privileges of governments granted by the people and the rights of the people granted by God. We must not only care about the rights of others while exercising our own, but we must fulfill that obligation without infringing on the rights of our neighbor to make their own choices. To accomplish that mission prescribed by God we must discover the whole truth and provide for it.

From the beginning, our Creator has allowed that men have the power to choose to be free souls under God or go under the authority of other men and their gods. That choice is never without consequences.

As Christians, we not only profess Jesus as Lord but we follow him. We proclaim the Kingdom of God is here, just as he did. We don’t claim to be residents of earthly borders but of the kingdom that is within. Jesus is the only governing authority of this kingdom. To be disobedient and resist this authority is to not feed the hungry or give water to the thirsty or clothe the poor. It’s to not welcome the stranger into our home, our land. It’s to not forgive our enemies.

So what do we do when we see injustice within the governing authorities? Do we follow Jesus to feed the poor welcome the stranger and proclaim a different kingdom than the one the world system has drawn borders around and tries to keep people out of and say “the kingdom is within you, welcome”

In the upside-down kingdom where Jesus is Lord, the table is open to everyone.

Wishing you a wonderful week as you welcome this Jesus and his arrival to the world.

Philemon

 

 

Shared happiness tastes better!

Happiness quite unshared can scarcely be called happiness; it has no taste.
Charlotte Bronte

Good Monday Morning (now Tuesday) to this week 50 of 2019

Traveling home from Togo in West Africa yesterday, I spent my time in planes, trains and buses. Arriving safely late Monday evening I was reminded of my missing Monday Message and a little story of untasty food because of an interesting situation with a toddler.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32

On Sunday afternoon in Adido-Adin, I was drinking coffee spending some time with a toddler staying at the same place. This toddler enjoyed my company and was happy to share all with me and assumed I would do the same. When I didn’t share the hot coffee with her, she was greatly insulted and wouldn’t look at me anyhow. Actually, she was deeply hurt and tried to express that in many emotions to her mother. All of my reconciliation attempts failed for a very long time.

From time to time I tried other attempts, playing with toys, making a joke, offering a hand, a smile, all failed. As I then ordered lunch and started eating salad, this finally caught some attention, yet only very vaguely.

The happiness of my lunch and nice salad was quite unshared. A fork a knife and a spoon were with my plate. I finally took the fork put some corn onto it, took the spoon and put a few pieces of corn onto the spoon as well. Putting the spoon into the hand of the toddler she took the first bite, still not looking at me. The next spoon she refused, then returned to grab the spoon and take another load of corn and salad. Her hunger was long gone because she had her favorite lunch already. But sharing these colorful yellow corn pieces with me, eating with a spoon, seeing me do that the same, finally brought peace and reconciliation between the two of us.

Happiness shared can truely be called happiness; with the taste being so delicious!
warapunga

I wish you a wonderful week with the taste of happiness, forgiveness and reconciliation. 

Philemon

 

God says you fill his mind

Thoughts to make your heart sing.

Good Monday Morning to this week 49 of 2019

When you were little,  did someone big and strong carry you?

As I go through the day’s here in Togo, I see the “little ones” being carried in many ways. A wonderful moment is usually when the babies get uneasy, unhappy, though fed, it’s simply time to get some rest, and where best than on the back of the mother. Gently she wings the baby onto her back, positions the feet, wraps the towel carefully around and tightens it until the child is firmly secured. In no time the babies fall asleep. The message is clear, affirming, straightforward;  I can help, trust me, I’ll show you, let me get you firmly positioned and you’ll have a wonderful sleep.

God’s intention is very similar with his words, actions, His affection, His care and love for us. Are they really an option to fully trust? How we need this firm swing onto his back to realize that He is for us, that we are fully in His grip, that He is in charge and has got us tight “under His wings”.

I have posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem;
they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the Lord,
give yourselves no rest and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem
and makes her the praise of the earth

In other words: Take no rest, all you who pray to the Lord. Fill his mind, give him no rest!  Isaiah 62:6-7

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. Isaiah 58:9

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.
1 John 4:16

Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31

And so we know and rely on the love that God has for us. 1 John 4.16

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I’ve got your back!

But you will not leave in haste or go in flight;
for the Lord will go before you, the God of Israel will be your rear guard.

Like the child on the back of the mother, the mother can do many things while the child rests, but her mind is on the child, feels every move, feels the warmth, and reacts to the sleeping and awakening.

You fill God’s mind! 

In His grip! 

Philemon

Crossing the Jordan

I’ll cross over the Jordan someday. Jonny Cash

Good Monday Morning to this week 48 of 2019

This week the Jordan river came up in a few talks, in music with a live event, hearing of life-changing baptisms and in reading about the amazing story of  Eliyahu Ben-Shaul Cohen.

Last week we looked at times when our well runs dry and concluded with Faith, faith being one of the most vital keys to keeping your well, well-watered. So what is it like to stand on the shore of the Jordan? What does this phrase mean?

Crossing the Jordan ….

God made a promise to Abraham, Isaac and the Jewish people that their descendants would inherit a land given to them by God himself. Before Jacob died, the children of Israel found themselves living far away from that land.

Slavery, a handful of plagues, forty years in the wilderness added to the long story arriving at the shore of the Jordan.

Before Joshua could lead the people into the land flowing with milk and honey, an intimidating river had to be crossed – the flood stage of the Jordan River to be exact. By the grace and a miracle of God the people safely crossed the river, and by faith, they received a land that they had only heard of through a promise that had been made so long ago.

The river starts flowing on the slopes of Mount Hermon, on the border between Syria and Lebanon, and flows southward through northern Israel to the Sea of Galilee/ Tiberius. Exiting the sea, it continues south, dividing Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank to the west from Jordan to the east before emptying into the Dead Sea. The surface of the Dead Sea, at an elevation of about 430 meters below sea level the lowest land point on Earth.

The Jordan River is more than 360 km in length. After 1948 the river marked the frontier between Israel and Jordan from just south of the Sea of Galilee to the point where the Yābis River flows into it from the east. Since 1967, however, when Israeli forces occupied the West Bank, the Jordan has served as the cease-fire line as far south as the Dead Sea.

The Jordan Valley itself is not well watered. The Jordan is fed by rains falling on the neighboring plateaus; the waters then flow downward through rivers or wadis. The Jordan itself is shallow. Its high-water period lasts from January to March. The existence of thermal springs, in the Tiberias region give the Jordan’s waters a relatively high degree of salinity. The Jordan’s waters are of special importance for irrigation especially for several oases in the bordering foothills at Jericho permitting the cultivation of oranges, bananas, early vegetables, and sugar beets.

The Jordan River is the river that David crossed to escape Absalom’s rebellion. Elijah and Elisha crossed the Jordan River before Elijah gave his double portion of anointing upon Elijah and being taken by a whirlwind into heaven. The Jordan River baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, perhaps the most popular biblical events at the river. This biblical event is one of the foundations of the Divine Trinity of God.

Joshua ordered the people to consecrate themselves, the next day, he assembled them a half-mile behind the ark of the covenant. He told the Levite priests to carry the ark to the Jordan River, which was swollen and treacherous, overflowing its banks with snowmelt from Mount Hermon. As soon as the priests waded in with the ark, the water stopped flowing and piled in a heap, 20 miles north near the village of Adam. It was also cut off to the south. While the priests waited with the ark in the middle of the river, the entire nation crossed over on dry ground. The Lord commanded Joshua to have 12 men, one from each of the 12 tribes, pick up a stone from the center of the riverbed. Once everyone had crossed, the priests with the ark came out of the riverbed. As soon as they were safe on dry land, the waters of the Jordan rushed in.

Israel learned important lessons from the miracle of crossing the Jordan River. First, God demonstrated that he was with Joshua as he had been with Moses. The ark of the covenant was God’s throne on earth. Literally, the Lord went into the dangerous river first, demonstrating his role as Israel’s protector.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. Isaiah 43:2

God revealed that his wonder-working strength would enable the people to conquer the enemy they faced. Most of the year, the Jordan River was about 100 feet wide and only three to ten feet deep. However, when the Israelites crossed, it was at flood stage, overflowing its banks. The mighty hand of God parted it, made it safe for his people to cross with no other power overcoming God’s mighty power.

Crossing the Jordan – a breaking with the past for Israel.
When the manna stopped, the enemies needed to be overcome.
Crossing the Jordan – crossing to a new form of a spiritual life of freedom.
Crossing the Jordan – a transition and the begin of a new conquest. (for Joshua for sure)
Crossing the Jordan – a preparation for a new mantel,  again with a transition an a crossing on dry ground (also for Elijah and Elisha).
Crossing the Jordan – a place of new beginnings, not just the waters part, the heavens did as well.
Crossing the Jordan –  a place of personal conversions as in the cases of Rahab, Naaman, Zaccheus, and Bartimaeus.
Crossing the Jordan – requires leaving one shore and crossing the river for another.
Crossing the Jordan – entering a promise,  crossing over to new spiritual life.
Crossing the Jordan – the Grace of God leading you home.

Pick a stone from the Jordan river today:

Joshua placed a second set of stones in the river bed to be cover by the water when God removed His unseen hand holding the river back. Sometimes we are to build monuments in our hearts that only we know about monuments of anonymity in our hearts reminding us of God’s power and provisions.

Wishing you a good week “crossing the Jordan”! .. remember not to cross alone!

Philemon

When the well is empty.

You think of water when the well is empty. Ethiopia

Good Monday Morning to this week 47 of 2019

Drink water from your own cistern and freshwater from your own well. Proverbs 5:15

Cape Town is a city of more than 3 million,  suffered from drought for three successive years, which led to extensive water shortage. In February 2018 they got the shocking news of a possible “day zero” due in April 2018,  if the people did not implement water-saving actions, with a maximum use of 50 liters of water per capita per day. In European countries, the estimated water usage is between 130-160 liters per capita per day.

Environmental psychology is a relatively new, however a growing branch of psychology. Many of the questions that arise here can be explored and understood within popular and valid frameworks, from social, cognitive or biological models. The term ‘coping’  indicates the psychological and physiological condition where an organism or person is expected to master and adapt to a stress-inducing/evoking challenge. Coping can be understood as a positive expectation of a situation. Two possible consequences of not coping are – hopelessness and helplessness.

Not just our environmental well runs dry, often also our physical or spiritual wells
“My soul is greatly troubled. But You O Lord – how long? says David in Psalm 6:3.

In the frailty of our souls, even prayer is hard at such times.  We can’t just replace the dryness of our souls with prayer as good as it is!  One of the difficulties in prayer is that it doesn’t stem from what we do, but from what God does.

In our spiritual life, with intense soulsearching and prayer, there are times that even then God seems to take a step back from us. Why do our prayers find no answers? We hear no whispering of his voice or indication that He is close or within reach. We are left feeling alone, isolated, confused and perhaps angry. Of course from good teaching we know that God is within us – never to depart. He will never leave us or forsake us! We’ve got that part of theology engraved, yet the distance, the absence may only be a perception, while the struggle is genuine even if the distance is not.

For some of us, there are clear responses to these situations. Pray more, pray harder, examine our inner life, look for personal mistakes and failures, learn new prayers, try new spiritual exercises, keep looking for hidden distance in us that concludes that we are being punished by God. With more and more religious effort, the distance doesn’t change but we ask more questions and even put God’s love and care into question.

Did you ever ask God for unshakable faith and then he started to shake your faith?
Back to David in the Psalms, “How long O Lord?!” Could the silence and stillness of God, be pathways on which our faith grows? Doesn’t our spirituality grow and increase by faith, is fueled by faith, so that these times of distance also become times of God’s mercy,  strengthening a very part of us, in need of the fuel called; Faith?!

Could the first part of filling the well, not be the rain, but the gentle soft precipitation of faith? As we physically wait for the first snow to fall this November in Switzerland, we go from a long month of heavy rain to the gentle reception of the precipitation of snow. Be it snow, drizzle, rain, the atmosphere becomes saturated with water vapor, so that the water condenses and precipitates. Isn’t it so with faith, we saturate the spiritual atmosphere with faith? On the other hand, fog and mist are suspensions to precipitation, because the water vapor doesn’t condense sufficiently. Fog and mist could be mistrust, incertitude or confusion in regard to our spirituals lives.

Back to lack of rain or the drought, Cloud seeding is a type of weather modification that has been experimented for quite a while. It changes the amount or type of precipitation that falls from clouds by dispersing substances into the air which changes the microphysical process within the cloud. Evidentially cloud seeding was attempted during the 2008 Summer Olympics n Beijing to coax rain showers out of clouds before they reached the Olympic city in order to prevent rain during the opening and closing ceremonies. Do we also attempt spiritual cloud seeding, trying to force an outcome, especially in times when the well runs dry?

What do we do to fill our well with? Do we try religious attempts to force it, like the physical attempt of cloud seeding? There are so many books, Internet sites, recommendations explaining what you need to do to fill that void, water your dry well with, sometimes even in “7 steps”. No, I won’t fall to the urge to do the same and give you these steps like with a quick fix.

Let’s take another approach:

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.
They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought, it is not anxious and it does not cease to bear fruit.
Jeremiah 17.7-8

My child, pay attention to what I say, listen carefully to my words.
Don’t lose sight of them let them penetrate deep into your heart,
for they bring life to those who find them and healing to their whole body.
Guard your heart above all else for it determines the course of your life.
Proverbs 4: 20-23

Have you never heard? Have you understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.
Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength, they will soar high on wings like eagles they will run and not grow weary they will walk and not faint. Isaiah 40: 28-31

It’s a time for faith, His well has not run dry, He is there!

Wishing you a blessed week as you think of the water while the well is not empty or as you wait in faith for a new filling of your well.

Philemon