Reading these genealogies, I thought about what they may have meant to their original audience. Maybe they made the original readers/hearers feel like they were part of a larger community, a larger family. Imagine seeing your grandfather’s name in the list of names and knowing that the history about to be recorded is your own. Each time God responds to His people in this history, He is responding to your ancestors. In the same way, He will respond to you. How thrilling it must have been for the original audience to realize their close connection to God through a specific family member.
For us today, maybe these genealogies can spur us to unity. Here we see the origins of the “tribes”, Israel and Judah, and also smaller subdivisions such as the Midionites and Tirathites. However, we also see they all came from Adam. We’re all the same tribe. We know not all of the original audience members realized this, as we read about many battles in their history, one tribe against another. Sometimes God used their enmity to bring about His will. No matter what we see happening around us today, we can know that 1. We’re all the same tribe and can love each other as family and 2. There are ugly battles with incomprehensible consequences, but ultimately God is in control. While He is not the cause of the evil that produces the ugliness and pain, we do know that His perfect rule will overcome all of it.
Sitting quietly, I feel you coming near. Feel tears burning at the thought of Your grace, Your faithfulness. Because I am not so faithful. I am not so ready to extend grace at every moment. But yet You are so kind to me. So tender and sweet even though You are so powerful. You meet me with comfort and gentleness that I can’t find anywhere else. Father, You are so much bigger than any of the things I think about. You have given me every reason to trust You, and I do. But my trust is small. Help me trust You more. Help me trust in You so much that worldly cares fall away. Thank you for providing me the strength I need to get through everyday but also enough weakness to know that I need to turn to You again tomorrow. Please use me for Your purpose. I love You. All in Your will. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Father, You always find me when I am lost. I weep in the presence of Your graciousness. I come up short, I miss the mark, I get my priorities out of order… over and over. I leave You, in a slow wandering off, and then I turn back to You when I come up empty. I turn back to You hoping that I won’t leave again, but unable to promise it. I want to promise it though. I want to tell You that I will never abandon You or forsake You, but I am not strong enough. I need You. Who am I that You care for me, that You abide in me? How could I possibly forget that You are in me and all around me? How could I possibly forget the world is so much bigger than my version of it? And that in the end, this world is not what’s important. Cleanse me, purify me, create in me a clean heart. Against You and You only have I sinned. Please, Lord, have mercy on me. Please heal my hardened heart, my undisciplined mind, my weary body. Please heal our world. Please heal Your church. Help us join You in Your healing mission. I love You. All in Your will. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
These are incredible descriptions of God returning to his people. In chapter 43, the glory of the Lord fills the temple. There’s nothing I can say about it except to recommend a few readings of it.
In chapter 47, the beauty of the text also leaves little room for comment. Ezekiel describes a river that gradually grows deeper, even though it has no tributaries. This river also renews itself into fresh water. Salt water becomes fresh water. It gives life to many fruit bearing trees and living creatures. There are even swamps and marshes so that there can still be salt. The river is complete, perfect, full of diversity and pure. “Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.” (Vs.12). What a beautiful promise. I love the metaphors in the Bible and am adding this one to the list. Even though I like to think about the beauty at the end of the river, I must keep in mind that the river grows gradually and eventually into “a river that no one could cross” (vs. 5). I must be patient to see the beauty at the end, and I must depend on God to take me there, because I can’t cross on my own.
Father, loving Father, always here. In my need You draw me near. You are here in the tension of opposing forces trying to establish balance. You are here in every circumstance, sick or well, good or bad. You are here despite my lack of faithfulness and understanding. You are here offering to awake me to the fulness of Your grace, love and light, Your kindness and generosity, You security and meaning. You are here, You always have been and always will be. I don’t need to worry about the future because You will be there. Help me open up to You each moment. Help me seek You and find You, ask You and hear/ receive from You, knock on Your door and enter when You open it. Thank You. I love You. All in Your will. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Many times I wonder where I’m going to get the energy to get out of bed tomorrow and get through the experiences that I know are coming, much less the ones that I don’t expect. Not only the energy, but also the courage.
Many times each new idea I have also makes me tremble with fear. Because I know these are not just ideas, they are ideas God has given me the responsibility to act on. I tremble because I forget He has also given me or will give me the energy, courage, support, resources and whatever else I need to act on them.
Right now I feel so open to where God is taking me that I also feel empty. And right now I feel scared. And right now I feel alone, but also not alone. And right now I feel my faith changing into something real.
I’ve learned that God will draw near to me when I draw near to Him. I’ve learned that He is all I need in any circumstance. I’ve learned that He still works miracles and He sometimes uses human hands to do them. I’ve learned the mission of the church is healing. I’ve learned that sin is anything that is destructive or distracts from the mission of healing. I’ve learned that the Bible is a multitude of stories and experiences that provide us a means of reflection on our own stories and experiences so that we can make sense of them on God’s terms. I’ve learned that God’s terms are not bound by space or time and that they are founded on grace, love, mercy and justice. And I’ve learned that in this transforming faith, I may have many fears, but there is no room for letting fear prevent me from moving forward. It is simply not an option.
And what is my plan for conquering this fear? Simply being present. Showing up and staying. Showing up, staying and letting God take care of the rest. So I show up to the blank page on my computer to express and organize my thoughts. I show up to my Bible and prayer journal for guidance and assurance. I show up to the various tasks and commitments of my life to seek God and learn about Him, to thank Him and to share Him with others. I show up to various relationships to let God work His most powerful miracles, teach His most powerful lessons and move and shape my life in His most powerful ways. Sometimes I don’t show up and that is my greatest sin. I’ll try to ignore the thoughts that I am scared to express, I’ll do something else rather than pray, I do daily tasks without being present with God in them or I’ll neglect or avoid a relationship. But every time I do show up, God is there, every single time.
Sometime ago, I prayed for God to show me what it meant to take up my cross daily and follow Him. The best I could gather from how I was reading scripture is that it would involve suffering, but there’s just not that much suffering in my life, not compared to others. I don’t live in a place or time where I suffer because of my faith. I have all of my needs met and an abundance of support and blessing in every area. More than that I couldn’t make sense of it because suffering alone isn’t really productive. I didn’t see what action I would need to take on my part to pick up my cross.
I think God answered my prayer on Friday. For a brief moment, I became closely involved in a situation that contained so much of the brokenness of our world, but also a miracle. A real miracle. Two lives surviving against all odds. As I reflected on everything afterwards, I realized that Christ picked up His cross to bring healing to the world. To pick up my cross means to work towards healing in all the ways that I can. It’s a conscious decision to be aware of the brokenness and allowing God’s strength and compassion to flow through me to take part in healing it. Not fixing it, healing. Fixing involves trying to change something from the outside. Healing involves providing the resources and support for something or someone to grow from the inside.
Father, help me not ignore the brokenness around me. Help me not avoid it. Help me go into it with your strength and compassion. Help me not seek to fix it on my own but to have faith and trust in your power to heal. Use my hands, my feet, my words to bring the message that healing is here right now. And not only healing, but fullness. Complete fulfillment in love, joy, peace, relationships, life. Thank you for hearing me. Thank you for answering me. Thank you for healing me.
When I lose something, there are two kinds of lost. The first is the roll of film left on a plane in Florida type of lost. The item is never coming back. The second is not being able to find any of the eight chapstick tubes I have simply because I don’t have a clue where they are. It’s not quite lost, I just don’t know where they are at the moment. I am very aware of the distinction between these two types of lost whenever I am driving. I’m never truly lost when I’m driving, I just don’t know where I am at the moment. It’s like a principle of the universe that I can never be truly lost in terms of my location in space. It will always be possible to go back to where I started or end up where I want to go.
I would like to think that this same universal principle applies to my identity, my existential thoughts and my spiritual explorations. I’d like to think that I can never be truly lost, that any questioning just leads me down a temporary path where I don’t know where I am for a time, but then I can always find my way back to where I started or to where I want to go. I don’t know yet if that’s how it works.
So many things that I “knew” all my life are rather suddenly in the “I’m not sure” category. But there are still a few things that I know, and in an attempt to get my self less lost, I want to sort them out on paper.
- (In relation to God) If we reach out to God, He will reach out and bring us in. Always. Ask, Seek, Knock.
- (In relation to others) Do to others what you wish they would do to you. The goal is to continue Christ’s work of restoring, healing and providing rest to humanity.
- (In relation to ourselves) Wait on the Lord, He gives you strength. What do we have to fear? Abandon everything else and depend fully on God. If an idea involves self-reliance or an absence or lessening of grace, it is not truth. Grace is truth. Dependence on God is truth.
So this is all that I truly know. And for right now, it is all I need to know.
One of my favorite passages of scripture in recent years is the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7 in Matthew, also in various chapters in the other gospels). The theme of the sermon on the mount is to trust God. Just like Israel was to show their trust in God by following his instructions with the manna (see Exodus 16), we can show our trust by following the instructions Jesus gives us here. He is teaching us that the spirit of the law is more important than the letter of the law. He is teaching that he will provide for us spiritually, emotionally, physically, that his instructions can resolve conflict, that he is enough, that his love for us is enough for us to be kind to our enemies. He is teaching that he sees and remembers what we do for him, that he will provide earthly blessings as we need them; that he will deliver justice, that he will give us what we ask for and draw near to us when we draw near to him, that he will provide us with trustworthy spiritual leaders and that those who believe and have faith to the point of action will stand firm.
Whether I’m taking classes in Family Studies or Management & Leadership, the lessons Jesus teaches here are recognized as best practices when working with others. These disciplines aren’t recognizing things like meekness, humility and love as best practices because Jesus tells us too, but rather because they just make sense. Being humble during a conflict with someone else will deescalate like nothing else because how do you argue with someone who is truly humble? This is the evidence I point to when talking to non-believers about why I personally believe that God exists and that he created us. I don’t know enough about science to use proof from that field, but I do know God’s instructions for interpersonal relationships are what makes the most sense and even what research shows to be best. Every time I read Jesus’s teaching or see them in action, I am in awe at God’s perfect wisdom.
Compare the story of the Shunammite woman in chapter 4 with Naaman’s story in chapter 5. When her son died, the Shunammite woman went to Elisha, whose first miracle for her was the birth of her son. She believed he would help her. She knew he would help her. Therefore, she did not question whenever Elisha only sent his servant with his staff rather than going to the son himself. Contrast this with Naaman and the King of Syria. Surely the King had heard of Elisha’s miracles, yet he did not call Elisha when confronted with the task of healing Naaman’s leprosy. When Elisha told Naaman to wash in the Jordan river seven times, Naaman scoffed and had to be convinced by his servants to do so. Even though Naaman was hesitant and haughty, he was still healed and came back to Elisha to repent whole heartedly.
Who is better in these two stories? I’m not sure either is better. One had faith from the beginning, the other had to learn it the hard way. There are many ways that we come to have faith, and many ways our faith expresses itself. I think recognizing that no one way is better than another is a key part of unity. In fact, even those who don’t have faith are no better or worse human beings than those with faith. We are all children of God that He created, allowed to have free will, and sent His Son to die for.
And while I’m thinking about extending this grace to others, I need to think about extending it to myself. At one time, I would have read this story and exalted the Shunammite woman above Naaman and cultivated an internal expectation to be like the Shunammite woman. To be perfect, to have a strong faith all the time, to be someone God could be proud of. But that is foolish and leads to disappointment and shame in myself. God already loves me. We are what we are. For me, that means I’m not perfect, I don’t always have a strong faith, I don’t always obey God. Instead of spending energy trying to make myself a certain way, it is more fulfilling to ask God to change me into what He wants me to be and then trust that it will happen.