Wednesday, January 30, 2013

That's Not What I Meant

The old joke goes something like this: There was a woman who prayed for patience. So, God gave her a son. (Laughter follows.)

It took me several years to understand that one. But it holds true. We keep thinking God is going to hand us the answer on a silver platter. But it doesn't work that way. To get to a victorious end result there is a hard and sometimes confusing middle that requires work and effort.

Elijah told kings who wanted a victory over a rebellious nation to dig cisterns to catch the water. That wasn't the answer they were looking for. They wanted an easy out. But it took work to get the victory God intended for them.

I'm sure Daniel and his family prayed that the hearts of their fellow countrymen would return to God. And look what happened to him. He was captured, made to work in the palace, taught the ways of the conquering country and then told to eat food he wasn't suppose to eat. They worked hard and risked their lives to prove their God was greater than anything Babylon had to offer. And in the long run the people did return their hearts to God. Ah, victory.

As I hear people telling church members to pray for a spiritual revival in this country I have to ask myself how far will we fall? Will we be invaded like Israel was (oh, so, many times)? Will we have to risk death, go without electricity, experience massive tragedies? What will it take to gain our country back for God?

Only He knows what will work. And no matter what it takes, God will bring us back to him. And He will stand victorious over this country.

Friday, January 25, 2013

No Thin Tower

For years I imagined the tower of Babel being tall and thin, much like towers you see attached to European castles. And being in the middle of an empty plain with nothing else around it, just a tower.

Well, I was wrong on two fronts. First, I overlooked two key phrases in the story - 'they dwelt there', and 'to see the city.' The people found the Plain of Shinar in the Fertile Crescent area and settled there under their family leader Nimrod. Then the Lord came down to see the city Nimrod's people were building. Somehow my brain had never wrapped itself around that part of the story. Now reading that part carefully, I see the name of one of the cities in the area was Babel. . .duh, the Tower of Babel.

By the way, did you know that Babel is Hebrew for Babylon. It's no wonder the Hebrews hated Babylonians. They were a reminder of the ill-fated tower and of man's attempt to reach into heaven to make a name for themselves.

As for my tall thin tower theory, well. . .In reading A Visual Guide to Bible Events and the Chronological Study Bible I learned there are towers, known as ziggurats, throughout the Fertile Crescent that were usually built for kings, nations, or idols. The oldest one found so far only goes back as far as the Nebuchadnezzar era.

Just how wrong was I about the size? Here's a description of a tower that CSB says was found in an ancient Babylonian writing. The base of this tower was two hundred and ninety-five feet squared. (That's a football field length squared.) There were seven platforms that were one hundred and eight feet tall, with ramps and stairs between the levels. Of course, each platform up was slightly smaller than the lower platform. And the last platform held a temple.

Ok, well, I'm not an engineer and that's why I wasn't thinking like one. So the tower must have been massive if they were planning to reach all the way into heaven.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Timing is Everything

My dad used to say those words. He loved a good joke, and a punch line could be ruined if the timing was off. But as I sit and read some details of history I find his statement applies not just to jokes but to lessons taught in the Bible.

Remember the town I mentioned last week? Bethpage? This morning I learned it means "house of the preseason fig." And why is this important? That's where Matthew 21 and Mark 11 take place.

Long story short. The fig-less tree Jesus curses is in this very town. A place known for having early figs. The tree fails to provide what should have been there, so it's cursed and withers away. I've always wondered what that poor tree did to deserve such a punishment, but now I see it. The tree missed its timing for the area but gave ground for Jesus to teach another lesson.

There they are standing by a dead fig tree discussing how it completely died overnight. Then Jesus tells them, "That's nothing. If you tell this mountain, without doubting your words, to jump into the sea it will do it." I've always wondered, why a mountain? What mountain? Remember timing is everything?

Well, this is where it gets interesting. Think of where they're standing. . . in Bethpage . . . which sits on a high hill. In fact, the hill is high enough to see traces of the Dead Sea in one direction and Herodium in another direction. (Note: In building Herodium, Herod and the Romans actually moved the top of one mountain onto the top of another mountain before building the palace/fortress on the higher of the two.) And this is important because of a purpose the Dead Sea held in Hebrew oral tradition. I learned from A Visual Guide to Bible Events that they were to take whatever was a symbol of idolatry and throw it into the Dead Sea. It was part of the process of cleansing the land of idolatry in any form. (This was new to me.)

So think about it. When Jesus tells his men to move the mountain into the sea he's pointing at Herodium then pointing at the Dead Sea. In a sense he's telling them you can do this, you can move mountains, you can work to cleanse the land of sin and idolatry and bring the focus of my people back to God.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

What a Difference a Donkey Makes

We know from Matthew that when Jesus rode the donkey into Jerusalem that he was fulfilling a prophecy. But have you ever given it much thought?

Can you imagine Jesus sitting on a foal of a donkey? And, in case you didn't realize it, a foal is less than a year old and has never been ridden. Jesus being the Son of God knew the foal would carry him, but as a bystander I have to marvel at the sight of it.

Here's a young animal who has the coats of more than one man thrown on its back. Then a full-grown man gets on top of the coats. That's quite a feat for a first ride. But it doesn't stop there. This young animal has to carry the man and the coats down the hill to Jerusalem. And because things weren't interesting enough already. He must navigate the roadway that is being covered by slippery coats and palm branches.

That would get my attention if I had been there. Then to realize, hey, this guy is succeeding in doing what the prophet Zechariah told us would happen.  And, isn't he the same guy who raised Lazarus from the dead a couple weeks ago? I would have joined the crowd. I would have shouted for him. I mean if he can raise a dead man and make a little donkey carry him down a hill without falling then he can overtake the Roman government. Right? He has to be the Son of David! Hosanna!

Here's a sneaky angle to think about. In the New Testament period, riding in on a horse meant there was a military presence to contend with. Jesus wasn't delivering a threatening message. He came on the foal of a donkey to bring a message of peace. Zechariah simply foretold what would happen, not why.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Not Alone (part 2)

Two weeks ago I wrote about Mary doing the brave thing. And, how God did not abandon her. What amazes me is that there is little mention about her family. But before you go thinking bad things about them let's look again. Note the scriptures don't say her family kicked her out and her betrothed came to her rescue. No, her family stood by her.

In fact, her family grew in size. Where she could have lost a husband, it was Joseph who did the next bravest thing. After his dream he went back to Mary and her family and stepped forward to become the step-father to the Messiah. Mary now had an additional support system to help raise a son, teaching him skills and lessons from the torah.

Of course things weren't always smooth. They had to go to a stable for the night while Mary was in labor. And, yes, Jesus was born there. And while we focus on the awful location I can't help but think that we missed the party. While those who were invited to the birth scene would have marveled at what they saw, don't you think they were laughing and chuckling among each other that it finally happened. The Messiah was here. Celebrating. Hugging one another. Laughing out of shear joy. Slapping Joseph on the back that now he had a son to raise, the blessing of a great responsibility.

I know this sounds strange to many of you because it goes against the grain of what the church has long established. But I have to think that God would not announce this big occurrence then leave a teenage girl to handle it alone.  Yes, the scripture is silent as far as Mary's family goes except in one place. Luke 2:44 tells us the holy family was traveling with family and friends from the Passover celebration in Jerusalem. If they had been abandoned years ago by their families, they would not have been traveling with them when Jesus was twelve.

God knew she would need the help and support of family. Her family knew the huge weight Mary and Joseph carried, and didn't abandon them. They were there. How long were they there? To the end. Mary's sister was at the cross with her. And if you research the names there's a good chance that the sons of thunder were cousins of Jesus.