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Friday, September 4, 2015, 2:25 PM
Dear Readers--Because Beliefnet is changing their format next month and will no longer allow journal posts, I invite you to come over and read, share, and comment on my blog at Paravanes:Meditations. You can also post questions there, as well as read my answers to questions and share comments written by others.
This will be my last post on Beliefnet.
Thanks to all of you for reading and commenting. God bless each of you now and always! --Deb
The Bible has been criticized for listing, portraying, describing, and including violence. Would it be a credible book about the human condition if it did not?
Of course, the Bible has much to say about other topics: life, love, death, goodness, sin, holiness, faith, purpose, etc. When you are describing the human condition, you cannot escape a discussion of violence.
Violence has marked much of how we define human history. As a college student and a history major, I learned how much of what was defined as history was actually the record successive rulers and kingdoms. Their comings and goings were marked by violence: war, military conquest, genocide, and forced migrations. You cannot understand or address human needs without acknowledging we really aren't naturally good at heart. Original sin marks itself in our history through violence. God acknowledges this violence by giving us a revelation---the Holy Bible-- that clearly shows how violence has broken our hearts and wounded our spirits.
Instead, every ugly thing humans are capable of is described in scripture. But that is not the final word.
In all of our violence and meanness, God loves us and reaches out to us. His outreach is constant and unconditional. God's love comes to us despite personal violence, corporate violence, national violence, ethnic violence, gender violence, child abuse, sexual abuse, domestic abuse of all kinds, and even international violence.
This truth is consoling and hope filled. I am grateful God sees exactly what we are and what we have been throughout history. He names and shows us our wrongs. He acknowledges how we have been hurt. Then he says, "I love you anyway. Come, and be my child."
I doesn't get any better than that. Don't be turned off or offended by the violence in the Bible. Dive in, knowing there is nothing there that does not also exist in our real lives and our real world. Behind and through it all, God is waiting for you to reach back.
Proverbs 28:13 says "Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper. but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy."
In Matthew 11:28 and 29, Jesus says "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.".
In the middle of all of this violence, God's mercy waits for you.
Here are some places to read the Bible online, at no cost:
Bible Study Tools
Wednesday, August 12, 2015, 2:19 PM
A hymn I grew up with--one I seldom hear anymore--was titled "Higher Ground."
In the chorus of the hymn, we sang these words:
"Lord, lift me up and let me stand, by faith, on heaven's tableland,
A higher plane than I have found, Lord plant my feet on higher ground."
What is a tableland? A tableland is a plateau, a mesa, or an elevated flat ground. Often sheep would graze on tableland.
What is heaven's tableland?
Many commentators have said it is the afterlife, when we all live in the heavenly kingdom of God's goodness. Not so fast. Heaven's tableland is not for the future; it is for now. It is for us to live on now.
We won't need faith in heaven. It is only in this world that we need faith. Note carefully what the hymn writer wrote:
"Lord, lift me up and let me stand, by faith, on heaven's tableland."
In this world, we need faith. We need heaven's tableland. What is this tableland, and how do we get there? How do we stay there?
We can't get there on our own. We need God to lift us to the place and purpose He has for us. That lifting event is called salvation. We're reborn and made ready to live a life worth living when we accept God's direction for our lives and His assessmentof who we are. His judgments are always correct.
His purpose and place are always higher and better than what we could or would choose for ourselves. Our knowledge is limited, we are influenced by those around us, and we are sometimes disoriented and confused when things happen that are beyond our comprehension. Only God can lift us above all of the limitations, the influences that don't help us, and the confusion that disrupts us.
Where will He lift us? He will lift us to heaven's tableland. Heaven's tableland is special, because not only are we living on an elevated plane, but also because we are living in a place uniquely prepared for us, created to answer our needs and develop and expand our gifts to serve God and to serve others. Heaven's tableland is a place where we will find joy in being just who are are--dearly loved and carefully crafted creatures of a good God who wants to communicate with us and connect with us in meaningful ways--now and forever.
Heaven's tableland is not a physical place. It is an emotional-mental-spiritual place. You may never leave the town or city where you were born. Or, you may travel the world while you are young. You may acquire every thing you have wanted, or you may never own a bigger house or move to the city or move to the country. You can still live on heaven's tableland.
The traditional shepherd would walk through the tableland before he brought the sheep to that location. He would clear the noxious weeds and dig ponds for drinking. He made sure the soil would support grasses and clover the sheep could eat. He made the space ready for the sheep to enjoy and to be fed from before he would allow them to graze in that area.
That is heaven's tableland.
Allow God to clear away all of the things and people keeping you from living a real life. Be willing to live in the place God has prepared for you--here and now. God has already gone ahead of you, and has prepared a life and a place for you. If you allow God to lift you to that place--a place you could never find on your own--you will find everything you need for joy and for purpose. If you allow God to "plant" you there--secure you, protect you, and direct you--the goodness doesn't have to end.
From the hymn, Higher Ground (words by Johnson Oatman, Jr., music by Charles H. Gabriel)
"My heart has no desire to stay where doubts arise and fears dismay.
Though some may dwell where these abound, my prayer, my aim, is higher ground.
I want to scale the utmost height, and catch a gleam of glory bright.
But still I'll pray 'till heaven I've found, Lord lead me on to higher ground."
(c) 2015 Deborah Evans
Wednesday, July 15, 2015, 4:04 PM
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
Wednesday, July 15, 2015, 4:01 PM
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
Saturday, June 20, 2015, 12:09 PM
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