Mercy at the Gates of Sodom

    Wednesday, July 15, 2015, 4:04 PM [General]


    This is not a name we generally associate with mercy.

    In Genesis 18:23-33, one reads a conversation between Abraham and God. God decides to share with Abraham the divine plan to destroy the city of Sodom because extreme wickedness has been attributed to the inhabitants of that place. In response, Abraham wonders aloud if God would destroy the good and honest people who just happen to live in Sodom.  In the conversation, Abraham asks the question: "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?"

    As the conversation progresses, God tells Abraham if fifty righteous people can be found in Sodom, the city will not be destroyed. Abraham, knowing his nephew Lot lives there, bargains God down to ten.

    That was an expression of God's mercy.

    In other words, if ten righteous people could be found in the city (historians estimate the population of the city was between 600 and 1200), God  would not destroy it. For the sake of ten righteous people, God would allow at least several hundred unrighteous to continue on.

    That is the height of mercy. That is a massive expression of love for the righteous and tolerance for the unrighteous.

    As many of us who are familiar with the story know, when angelic visitors arrive at Sodom to evaluate the situation, a series of events unfold:

    1) Lot convinces the visitors to spend the night at his home. Originally, the visitors planned to spend the night in the town square. Visitors spending the night in a town square was a common practice at that time.

    2) A mob (all of the men of the city, says the text in Genesis 19:4) gathers outside of Lot's house, demanding Lot bring out the men for sex.

    3) Lot refuses, offering his virgin daughters to the crowd as sex substitutes in place of the angelic male visitors.

    4) The mob, enraged by Lot's offer, attempts to enter Lot's house by force.

    5) The visitors securely return Lot to the inside of his house and strike the mob with blindness. Lot is warned the city will be destroyed.

    Lot then attempts to warn the young men engaged to his daughters that the city will be destroyed by God, and they must soon make their escape. The young men refuse to come with him. The text states they thought he was joking. Genesis 19:14: "So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, 'Up! Get out of this place, for the LORD is about to destroy the city'. But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be joking."

    By dawn, the visitors were urging Lot to get out of town. It is possible Lot was completely disoriented by the events of the previous twelve hours.

    In verses 15 and 16 of Chapter 19 of Genesis: "As morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying 'Up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city'. But he lingered. So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the
    hand, the LORD being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city."

    Another expression of mercy.

    Lot was warned to escape to the hills. In response to this, Lot complains he can't get that far, and asks if he could instead escape to a smaller, nearby city. The angelic visitor responded "...Behold, I grant you this favor also, that I will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken. Escape there
    quickly, for I can do nothing till you arrive there." (Genesis 19: 21 and 22).

    Another expression of mercy.

    Lot finally makes it to the small city of Zoar as the destruction of Sodom is underway. Lot's wife ("behind him" says the text in Genesis 19:26), looked back at Sodom and became a pillar of salt. She was destroyed, having met the same fate as those who physically remained in the city.

    Some have said the destruction of Sodom wasn't very merciful, but was a picture of the actions of an angry, unloving God.

    I suppose one could read it that way. Still, I am mindful that ten righteous people could not be found in a city of several hundred or a thousand. I am mindful that even the few who escaped had to be dragged away (did not go willingly or quickly)  and one of them (Lot's wife) stayed so far behind (physically or emotionally)that she was consumed in the destruction she turned back to witness.

    Finally, I believe God showed much more mercy than many of us have shown to those who act wickedly. Do you doubt this? Read the comments section of any major news source when a horrendous crime is committed. There you will find no shortage of cries to "hang them", "fry them", and other suggested punishments I won't recite.

    Actually, God shows much more mercy than we show to those who have done the wrong thing.

    It did not end well for Lot. Read the rest of chapter 19 of Genesis. After the escape from Sodom, Lot fell into drunkenness and incest with his two daughters. Sodom left its stain on them, even though they escaped physically. Those who remained behind were destroyed. But in each case,
    destruction was a result of the choices made by those who could have chosen good over evil.

    Mercy was offered, even at the gates of Sodom.

    From 2 Samuel 22:26-28:

    "With the merciful you show yourself merciful;

    with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;

    with the purified you deal purely,

    and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.

    You save a humble people, but your eyes are on the the haughty

    to bring them down."

    Scripture quotations are from the ESV (English Standard Version), Kindle edition.
    (c) Deborah Evans 2015
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    What Can the True Church do in Days of Apostasy?

    Wednesday, July 15, 2015, 4:01 PM [General]

    I've noticed increasingly strident and even angry blog posts and opinion pieces recently regarding the question of what the true church can or should  do in days of apostasy. For some reason, many seem to believe we are in a time of extreme apostasy.  I am not certain this is true, but once again the topic has arisen. Here are some thoughts on the subject.

    First, it is important to remember the church has always been challenged by apostasy (false teaching by those who have turned away from the true gospel they once professed).  There is no time in church history when the church has not faced apostasy and apostates. 
    This is not a 21st or even 20th century phenomenon. As you read through the New Testament,you will find the apostles Paul and Peter warning the early church about the false teaching of apostates. The entire Book of Jude in the New Testament is a warning against apostates and includes teaching on how to live truthfully in the middle of apostasy.
    In Revelation chapter two, Jesus speaks to the Ephesian church through a messenger, or angel, and gives the church encouragement and correction. Interestingly, Jesus commends the church for hating the practices of the "Nicolaitans", which Jesus states he also hates. It is noteworthy that Jesus did not tell the true believers in Ephesus to break away from the church because of the Nicolaitans and start another church.
     It is also noteworthy that Jesus did not say he hated the Nicolaitans. He hated their practices. Surely, Jesus could have directed the true believers in Ephesus to create another, "cleaner", church or assembly. He did not. Perhaps he knew the apostates would move over to that "cleaner" assembly and install themselves there. Perhaps he knew requiring someone to sign a statement of faith or complete a series of classes would not constitute a barrier for the false teachers of apostasy.
    Apostates are those who once professed the true gospel, but turned away from it or rejected it. If someone never professed to believe the true gospel, they cannot be an apostate. Apostates and unbelievers are not the same. There have always been days of unbelief and there have always been days of apostasy.
    Remember the parable of the wheat and the tares (the weeds) in Matthew chapter 13? Read it here.
    Only God will do the true separating at the end of the age.
    Until then, we all need a public place to worship, serve the spiritually needy, and fellowship with true believers. Retreating to a private, home assembly where everyone agrees on everything may be a "feel good" experience for those of us in North America and certain other parts of the world, but are the doors of your home open to anyone who wants to come in and see what the church is? 
    I know and understand there are Christians in many countries who are alone in the faith, or must worship in secret. My prayers are with you daily. I am not writing about those who have a need for secret worship or are alone because they live in an environment hostile to the Christian faith. 
    I am writing of those who want to go home and stay there because their denomination or church board voted for a certain change or passed a new policy. There is no perfect preaching or teaching. There is a God who can use the witness of the true church to reach those who seek him. Those who know, love, and seek God will be kept safely in the truth and love of God.
    Perhaps there is a good reason why scholars cannot agree (definitively) on the teachings of the Nicolaitans, that group whose practices were hated by Jesus. Some say it was gnosticism. Some say it was the elevation or dominating acts of those who thought of themselves as priests who had the right to control the church. Others say it was a compromising acceptance of occult practices. Does it really matter for us today?
     There have been "Nicolaitans" in every age.
    In every age, there have also been believers who stood for truth, witnessed publicly and authentically to the power and goodness of the gospel,  and continued to build a church for those who would follow them. No doubt, those true believers were wearied and at times antagonized and frustrated by false teachers, the damage created by false teaching, and the endless struggles that may have defined their church experiences.
    What they did not do, however, is give up and abandon the church. The true believers kept themselves in God's love, continued to pray, witness, teach, and serve in and through the church. They were a voice of prophetic witness to those who might listen and turn back to truth. Without these believers,  the church would have no meaningful earthly presence. Everyone can't go home, close their doors, and sing "Amazing Grace" while watching television evangelists preach on Sunday morning.
    What should the true church do in days of apostasy? The answer is in the single chapter that makes up the Book of Jude, in verses 20 and 21:
     "But you beloved, building yourselves up  in your most holy faith, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our  Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire;  to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh." (English Standard Version)
    All of these things require us to come out into the open, create an imperfect public place, and be with others who are not just like us.
    The fully expressed kingdom of Heaven is the place where worship and fellowship will be perfect and unstained by any falsehood. We're not there yet. We won't be there until Jesus returns and begins to close out this age. That may happen next week, or it may not happen for a thousand years. When it happens should make no different in how we live each day.  In the meantime, we are called to build the church, confident in Jesus' promise that the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.
    Jude finishes his letter( verses 24 and 25) by assuring us of success:
    "Now unto him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen."
    (c) Deborah Evans 2015
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    #CharlestonShooting: Should There Be Forgiveness?

    Saturday, June 20, 2015, 12:09 PM [General]

    Like many, I watched video of family members of the Charleston Nine (Emanuel AME Church members murdered in a mass shooting at the church this week) express forgiveness to the confessed shooter during a court hearing.

    It has been suggested it is too soon to forgive. What does that mean? Why does it matter?

    It is never too soon to affirm the intention to forgive. That's where forgiveness begins--with intent. From intent, we may move to the deep, emotional freedom that comes with true forgiveness. That true forgiveness frees us from the poison of an offender's words or actions. That's why Jesus taught his disciples to forgive. It all begins with intent.

    When I watched a sobbing woman lament the loss of a loved one in open court and heard her broken voice proclaim forgiveness, I knew I was watching a true disciple of Jesus Christ.

    This woman was not proclaiming damnation for the mass murder. No words were spoken about God's vengeance and hate, or Hell and suffering. This woman was following the example of her Lord, who spoke forgiveness while suffering a torturous death on a cross. This woman was speaking the words her loved ones, now worshiping with the Church Triumphant, would want her to speak. Through her tears, she was affirming the power of hate would not dominate or claim her goodness and take it away. She was affirming an eternal truth: the acts of the spirit are greater than the acts of the flesh.

    All of this matters because what is said now will determine how well the survivors heal, continue their lives, and honor the memory and legacy of those who are gone from our view.

    It all begins when forgiveness is spoken. Forgiveness does not minimize or rationalize away or excuse the horror and injustice of what was done. Forgiveness does not mean anyone should have warm, fuzzy feelings for the shooter.

    Forgiveness means the survivors have taken their power and decided to reclaim their true selves from the pain and injury of what was done. Forgiveness means they begin to cancel the power of hate. It all begins with intent. It is not something any of us naturally do. The power to forgive is a gift from God.

    (c) 2015 Deborah Evans

    From Paravanes: Meditations

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    The Church Gathered; But In Whose Name?

    Tuesday, June 2, 2015, 4:44 PM [General]

    In my Facebook feed, a news article about the closing of a large, nationally significant Catholic church building in a downtown central business district drew some noteworthy comments.
    One commenter lamented the "loss" of a beautiful building, stating members of "his church" relocated to suburban areas two decades ago. He went on to suggest Baptists or Lutherans --traditions of quite different origins and worship styles--would soon take over "his" old building.
    Another commenter wrote of the irony of the Archdiocesan Office shuttering the sanctuary, but leaving open the attached Senior Center which serves nearly 2,000 people per week, offering food assistance and a safe place to meet for socializing and fellowship. Was the Senior Center's work of placemaking and feeding the hungry more meaningful than the activities and rituals held on Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings in the sanctuary?
    Jesus said "For where two or three come together--are present, assemble, or gather in my name--there I am with them." (Matthew 18:21).
    This is an powerful statement, and is proceeded by something many of us have found difficult to express or demonstrate in our experience of church worship and life: "Again, I tell you that if two of you on Earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven."(Matthew 18:20).
    Has this been your personal experience?
    In this passage, Jesus told his followers if two of them agreed about anything they asked for, the Father would do it. Why? He answers the "why?" in the next verse: because when two or three have gathered in his name--in his purpose, viewpoint, style, and method--he is there with them. There is, in that place, an unbroken fellowship and presence of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (living and abiding in the believers gathered).
    If this is true--and if Jesus says something, that "something" is always true--what has happened to the gatherings of the church? Why has the church experienced so much division, apostasy, and loss of direction?
    Many attending church stopped gathering "in his name." Some never gathered in his name, not ever.
    Some are gathered in the name of a preacher or a teacher. Some are gathered in the name of a denomination, a philosophy, or a tradition. Some are gathered in the name of political conservatism or political liberalism. Some are gathered in the name of prosperity or human riches. Some are gathered in the names of pipe organ music and architectural splendor.
    Some are gathered in the name of "fixing the world", or  "social justice", or "peace." Some are gathered in the name of finding a husband or wife, or obtaining a denominational scholarship or summer campership  for a child or grandchild. Some are gathered in the name of free child care for two hours on Sunday morning while Mom and Dad sneak away from church to enjoy a quiet breakfast at a nearby restaurant.
    Some are gathered in the name of social status or business and career connections. Many years ago,  I visited a local megachurch where the pastor warned (from the pulpit) those in attendance--members and visitors-- against using the church as a prospecting ground for selling Mary Kay Cosmetics and other "business opportunities." He said the situation had gotten out of hand and had to be publicly addressed.
    When the church--the called out body of believers in Jesus Christ--gathers, the building doesn't matter. If that body is together for Jesus' purposes, that body will have whatever they agree on if they ask for it.
    When you step into church next Sunday, ask yourself: why am I really here?
    What do I expect as a result of having been here? 
    How will I know my time here  has been well spent? 
    If I stopped coming here, how would my life change?
    What would I miss most if this church building closed?
    Ask yourself: am I really here "in his name?"
    (c)2015 Deborah Evans From Paravanes:Meditations
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    Non-Custodial Moms: What Happens on Mother's Day?

    Saturday, May 9, 2015, 12:07 PM [General]

    National Association of Non Custodial Moms:

    Parental Alienation Awareness Organization:

    Have you heard of these groups? When you learn a woman does not have custody of her child, do you assume she is an addict of some type, or mentally ill, or  morally unfit to raise her child or children?

    If you make these assumptions, you are wrong.

    Many noncustodial moms lost a legal battle with a well funded or abusive ex husband or ex partner. Perhaps this mother trusted someone who promised to take care of her child during a crisis, but that someone was simply creating a pretext for taking custody of that child. Perhaps this mother fled an abusive situation (taking her children with her) and was unable to finance the legal battle to maintain custody.

    Yes, there are some women who are not ready or willing to raise their children. But, there are many who were not able to prevail in a court system that favors the well connected and well funded. Mother's Day is always a challenge for these women.

    Perhaps you have custody (full or part) of your child, but you have been a victim of parental alienation. I have written about parental alienation elsewhere on this blog: watch out for the unexpected alienator, how to reunite after parental alienationwhen to give up the legal battle in court . You have your child with you, or have access to them on a regular basis, but you are struggling with negative brainwashing that has been imposed on your child. You and your child once had a close, loving relationship. Now, that child disrespects you, doesn't appreciate you, destroys your property, and says they hate you or wish you were dead.

    There is no rational basis for your child's beliefs, but the beliefs are deeply held. Your child insists these are their own thoughts, that he or she was not programmed or brainwashed by anyone.

    What happens on Mother's Day when this is your story? What can you do when your children are not physically or emotionally with you?

    Some thoughts:

    Allow yourself to choose how you spend the day. Don't mask your grief by accepting dinner invitations or invitations from friends who insist you should not be alone. Perhaps you would prefer to spend the day alone looking at old photo albums, watching a movie you once happily shared with your children, or cooking a favorite meal all of you once enjoyed together. Allow yourself these pleasures if they make you happy. If you truly don't want to be alone, accept invitations from people who will enjoy your company and not judge you or try to preach to you.

    Celebrate your own mother if you had a good relationship with her. Let this day be a day you remember, recall, and celebrate your own mother or grandmother if you had a good relationship with her. This could involve anything from visiting church, strolling in the park, planting flowers, taking a drive to a special place, or sleeping late and giving yourself a mani-pedi. If your mother is still living and you can enjoy your time with her, plan a visit or phone call or Skpye connect time.

    Gather friends and recreate the meaning of the day. Give yourself permission to get together with friends and do something totally unconnected to the meaning of Mother's Day. It can be a challenge to go out and have fun on Mother's Day when you are surrounded by seemingly happy families of moms, dads, and kids. See what's going on in your local area--check newspapers or local event websites-- and find something that will affirm your goodness and bring joy and happiness to the surface of your life. If you have no one to share the day with, your local public library or a nearby museum is a place you can visit on your own and still be in the presence of others. Stroll the galleries or read a stack of magazines or a good book. Spend a few hours enjoying yourself.

    Because this is a blog about faith, I will add that if you have a faith tradition, see what it says to you on this day.

    If you are feeling beaten down by the judgments of others, remember no one has the right to judge unless they know all of the facts. There is One Who Does. Do not leave this day without connecting with God in a special way.

    Free yourself from the negative judgments of others and seek to live only under the judgment of God. Remember you are beloved of God not because of what you accomplish, but because you are a creation of God. You are a spiritual being who will live somewhere forever. Temporary judgments are not final rulings. Allow your challenge to become your triumph. You are never beyond the reach of God's love, and neither are your children. Be who you need to be in this time. Seek help and accept it when it is genuinely offered. Get enough rest. Find two or three things that bring joy to you and hold on to them. Finally, understand that others do what they do because of who they are. You can only change yourself. You cannot change others.

    Have a happy day. Know that your mothering was not in vain, nor could it have been in vain. Keep the eternal viewpoint. Live well and be blessed.

    From: Paravanes:Meditations

    (c) 2015 Deborah Evans

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