Tag Archives: God

My Jacob

Empathy here, at the genesis, a garment
worn to wrestle. The hip bone
wrenched at dawn. A new name
for one at the end of himself. Stones
ground under heels overnight. He won’t go,

that heel-grabber, he wants a full-face
blessing. Under his torn garment,
throbbing with honest pain, his hip bone
is ID’d by my thumbprint. My name:
he knows it. He left it with the stones,

that time he gave my house my name,
rested his head and dream-laddered to me on pillow-stones.
So I won’t go,
and he’ll see the lines of kindness that write my face.
And I’ll feel the pain shouldered under his garment,

thumb-pressed into memories of when he had to go,
flee a father who could not see his face,
the hairs barely plucked free of his garment.
He knows the throbbing truth, has picked it from the bone:
his brother was right when he spat the heel-grabber name.

And yet. He grabs the other truth while we grind stones:
I want to make room for him, to let him go
with a memory of my face.
He will get a chance to replace this garment,
the one holy-torn to our contention’s bone.

Fast backward and forward to other bruised bone:
His own father with sticks carried on boy-shoulders, carried in the name
of a ram-surprised sacrifice. Then, those stones
that cried at the sight of battered shoulders, cross-ready to go.
You will cry, too, at my thorn-pressed, pain-readable face.

At the dawn there I am, and you have a new name.
When your pillows are stones, your dreams wrestle with bruised bone,
remember your holy-torn garment, read my love-legible face.

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Esther

Maybe for a

time such as this? When
cousins / fathers stand at gates, and
I’m not sure whether I
won / lost / drew that
beauty contest and / or the
Makerlove, covenanted through history, but

Maybe not for a

time such as this? When
cousins / fathers change minds, and
I’m not sure whether I
am / am not / am becoming, the
braver of sceptres for that unspoken / spoken
Kinlove, exiled into history, and

Maybe not around for a much longer

time than this? Resolve, then,
tendrils every word. Hebrew letters
curve into destiny. My scribe hushes mention of the
Consonant One, but herenow,
providential friends, we can
grab some vowels and toddle into the
Yahweh Godfire.

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A prophet, not fallen from the sky

Rocks, rocks and rocks on the Sinai peninsular

We’ve been “doing” the Exodus story at church. Actually, we haven’t got to the exodus bit of Exodus yet. But oh, the backstory! It’s a bit tantalising, really. Moses lives through so many lifetimes before he even gets to the burning bush. And when he arrives at the burning bush, who is he? Is he a solemn, chesty type with a can-do attitude? Heroic and muscular, able to heft stone tablets and run down mountains with ease? Maybe that’s how he ends up. But when he stumbles across a well in the middle of the desert and into into Zipporah’s life, I am thinking that he is probably scrawny, desperate and lost. And when he removes his sandals before the burning bush, he seems reluctant to leave his obscure shepherd life- even when it is God who is calling him to do so.

Anyway, there is lots that I am still curious about… Lots of living between the words of Exodus chapter 2 that Moses didn’t hand down to us as part of the official Exodus story. Maybe I will get a chance to do some research on Moses after I arrive in heaven, even speak to the man himself. Who knows! Maybe someone there will be allowed to write the official prequel(s) to Exodus. There’ll be time, and probably interest.

In the meantime I’m releasing these little question balloons into the theological atmosphere. Let’s look at them as they float away, and wonder where they will end up…

Moses Afloat – The Early Years
Moses’ mother and sister loom large in the early years. What was Moses’ father doing and thinking during this time? Did he know about his wife and the papyrus basket? Did he agree with this Nile plan of action for his son?

How long did Moses’ birth mother look after him? Was it long enough for her to impart to him the story of his rescue? If so, how did Moses feel about being let loose on a big river in a small basket? How did he feel about being a survivor amongst Hebrew boys? Did he feel, even as a child, that he had been set aside by his God or his people for a special role, perhaps a rescuer role?

Was Pharoah’s daughter a good “mother”? Did she let him eat at the table with other family members? Did she respect his Hebrew heritage? Did she like his Hebrew heritage? Was her rescue of Moses a quietly subversive act in the court of Pharaoh?

Fight and Flight
Moses is “grown up” – has he been given any role in Pharaoh’s court, or is he being pushed to the fringes of royal life? When he goes to watch the Hebrews at work, is he already thinking of defecting to their side?

Does Moses know the Hebrews are being oppressed before he goes to watch them? Has he ever witnessed violence before? Does his anger at the beating of a Hebrew by an Egyptian take him by surprise? What angers him most: Egyptian oppression of the Hebrews, or Hebrew-Hebrew conflict? Does the latter shatter an idealised view of working-class Hebrews, held as a counterpoint to his privileged Egyptian upbringing?

Does Moses want to be the leader and judge of the Hebrews at this time? If he wasn’t forced to flee after the murder, would he have tried to integrate himself back into Hebrew society?

Sheep and Romance at the Well
What kind of priest was Moses’ future father-in-law? Did he know about the covenant God made with Abraham? Did he think his family were covenant people?

What made the girls at the well identify Moses as an Egyptian? Did he have an accent, clothes or or a “look”? Did they see him as a hero, or as a crazed loner, perhaps capable of violence?

Was Moses famous- did his new family know some of his story already? Did his father-in-law suspect who he was from the beginning? Did the family regret their welcome (and perhaps the offer of marriage) after finding out Moses was a murderer?

Did Moses find his shepherd life too lonely and quiet, or was it a relief? Did he actually like being “an alien in a foreign land”? Perhaps this was better than feeling like an alien in the land you grew up in; and/or feeling like an alien amongst your own people?

What is Moses thinking as he tends sheep and looks at rock, rocks and rocks? Is he hoping to anchor his life in comfortable obscurity, or is he plotting some form of “return”?

***
It’s just as well that bush starts burning.

Praise God for rescuing, calling and forming such a great prophet.

Moses- himself allowed to help rescue, call and form a people who belonged to God.

Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt- to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no-one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.
Deuteronomy 34:10-12

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Saved, assuredly so

On the fourth night of every week, Pete’s dad gave an important talk in front of a bonfire in the amphitheater, and afterward lots of campers always accepted Christ… Kids were filled with the Spirit, which made them stare and quiver and confront their friends with divine messages… The first time he saw a fourth-night bonfire, he wondered whether he was really saved, because no such thing had ever happened to him, and later he asked Jesus into his heart again just to make sure. After a while he decided that things were different for him because of his dad.  Maybe his revelation was spread out over his whole life, a little at a time, so that it never seemed like a big deal.

                Mary Kenagy, Loud Lake.
In Bret Lott (editor), The Best Christian Short Stories.

 

 

Stop asking Jesus Into Your Heart. The title will either intrigue you… or put you off.  If you are feeling put off, perhaps the  book’s subtitle will draw you in: How to Know For Sure You Are Saved.  If the subtitle doesn’t appeal, perhaps the fact that you can tell your friend who knows a lot about theology that you are reading a nice little book on the doctrine of assurance might do the trick.

J.D. Greear of this book reckons that, by the time he was eighteen years old, he had probably “asked Jesus into his heart” five thousand times, and prayed the sinner’s prayer at least once in every denomination.  And each time he “gained a little assurance”, he would feel compelled to get re-baptised. But no matter what he did, he could not shake the fear that he was going to hell. Did I really feel sorry enough for my sin? Did my life change enough after I asked Him into my heart? Did I understand enough about Jesus, or my sin, or grace, when I prayed? Were there other areas of rebellion I was unaware of?

Greear came to realise that he was scared because he held the wrong picture of God and Jesus.  He had imagined Jesus standing before God begging for mercy, or leniency, on his behalf.  Please God, just give this guy one more chance.  However, the truth is that Jesus does not need to appeal to God for mercy on anyone’s behalf:  Jesus has already satisfied all the claims against us by dying on the cross.

Salvation comes not because someone has prayed a prayer correctly, but because they lean the hopes of their soul on the finished work of Christ.  Jesus has paid for all our sins: not an ounce of judgment remains. We do not have to beg for mercy or prove that we deserve a second chance. Jesus in my place. The essential, amazing message of the gospel. Woohoo!!

So…you can rest totally in Christ.  And there is no concern if you haven’t had a dramatic conversion experience, or don’t remember the first time you believed (e.g. if you grew up in a Christian home).  There is no need to analyse the authenticity of a past prayer, experience or ceremony.  The important thing is that you continue in your current posture of repentance and belief.

The section I found helpful (albeit very short) was Leading My Kids to Jesus. Little children, of course, are capable of real faith. But there may be situations in which a child “prays the prayer” more to make their parents happy, than as an expression of their actual faith in Christ.  How can parents be passionate demonstrators of faith to their children, and at the same time avoid manipulating their children into saying or doing things that they may not (yet) understand?  Greear emphasises that it’s never to young to begin trusting in and surrendering to Jesus. So- teach your children, all along the way, to be surrendered towards Jesus and believing in what He said He accomplished.  Present Jesus as Lord.  Even if a child does not yet grasp all that salvation entails, a parent can encourage them in the appropriate posture towards Christ from the beginning: repentant and believing.  And how wonderful if that child grows up without an exciting testimony- if they grow up in the light, always aware of the Lordship of Jesus, believing that He did what He said He did.

The section I didn’t like so much was Appendix 1, where Greear outlines situations in which (he thinks) a believer ought to consider re-baptism (e.g. pressure by parents at the time of the first baptism).  This checklist seems to convey the idea of baptism as a performance before God, something that is necessary to “get right” or do again.  But this is a minor quibble vis-a-vis the helpfulness of the main book (and it’s an appendix- you may not even get to it).

This small, intimate book is very encouraging.  Ultimately, God does not want believers to have any doubt that they are saved.  The Bible tells us so:

These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13)

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Psalms alive!

 

Psalms 103 and 104: these psalms are neighbors.  They are both loud and boisterous, but neither minds.  I’d like to spend some time in their neighborhood.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name! (Psalm 103:1)

Bless the Lord, O my soul!
O Lord my God, you are very great! (Psalm 104:1)

Psalm 96 is not a neighbor, but it is definitely on the same train line:

O sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth!
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
tell of his salvation day by day. (Psalm 96:1-2)

There’s lots to love here.  All the “O”s and exclamation points: so much drama and excitement!  But why is there drama and excitement?  Because these psalms shout out a blessing to God!

Strange to think that we can “bless” God.  What does that mean? it can’t mean that we add to anything that He is already.  He is holy, perfect.  He is the one who saves us.  How do we bless God?… By responding to who He is, and what He has done. With “O”s and exclamation points.  With song.  By telling stories about his great rescue.

I love these Psalms because they remind me that my prehistory, history, present and future are all punctuated with exclamation marks.  And God put them there! So many reasons to praise who He is, and what He has done.

I love it that, as a church, our blessings cannot be monotone.  We bless God when we turn ourselves inside out to praise Him.  Because everyone has uniquely packed insides, everyone will sing out Psalm 103:1 differently.  But there will still be a beautiful harmony because blessing the Lord also involves our obedience to Him.  And when we bless the Lord in this way we sing in harmony with the angels above!

Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his word,
obeying the voice of his word! 

Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
his ministers, who do his will! 

Bless the Lord, all his works,
in all places of his dominion.

Bless the Lord, O my soul!

(Psalm 103:20-22, ESV translation)

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Book balm

I have just finished two books and the stories from both are spinning round my head.  I’m hoping a bit of writing will help the dizziness to pass, but enjoying the overwhelming-ness of it at the same time. 

 The books have made me wonder about the end of my life: Will death be a panicky full stop to everything I hold dear? Or will my road to the end be paved with such grace that I don’t fear that final jolt?

The rest is jungle and other stories by Mario Benedetti

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This is a collection of stories by a writer from Uruguay.  The stories were published  over 50 years (1949-1999). There is a lot of political and social upheaval caught up in this period (torture, corruption, imprisonment, exile), and this upheaval forms a sketchy, but ominous backdrop to the stories.  Many take surprising, abrupt twists after a person encounters someone (a visitor, a voice on the phone, a man on the street, an Alter Ego, a ghost) and this encounter forces the person to confront who they have become, or who they once were. 

In Death a man’s doctor advises him that “It’s advisable that you prepare for the worst.” The man confronts his own death, for the first time, head on. Knowledge of his impending death brings the man intense fear, as well as a strange exhilaration. It brings a sudden, harrowing appreciation that some of the routine, everyday things pegged throughout his life are actually finite and extraordinary- not perfect but still precious. He takes a kind of stocktake of his life and death:

Without his children, without his wife, without his lover.  But also without the sun, this sun; without those thin clouds, emaciated, in accord with the country; without the routine (blessed, loved, sweet, aphrodisiac, sheltered, perfect) of Cashier Desk No. 3 and it’s audits and lengthy searches for discrepancies that were always found; without his thorough reading of the newspaper in the cafe, next to the large window facing the Andes; without his exchange of jokes with the waiter; without the episodes of pleasant giddiness which suddenly occur when looking at the sea and especially when looking at the sky; without these hurried people, happy because they don’t know anything about themselves, who hasten to lie to themselves, to secure their armchair in eternity or to talk about the captivating heroism of the others; without the balm-like repose; without the books as intoxication; without the alcohol as an expedient; without sleep as death; without life as a vigil; simply without life.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson    

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The Reverend John Ames is given similar news by his doctor.  His response is to write a long letter to his young son.  This letter picks up the many threads in the Reverend’s life, such as his relationship with his father and grandfather, who were also preachers.  Rev Ames is by no means perfect, but the beauty of this book lies in the perspective of a man who has walked in the presence of the Lord all his days, so that his whole life becomes a sort of prayer.  The everyday is baptized by awe and wonder:

There was a young couple strolling along half a block ahead of me.  The sun had come up brilliantly after a heavy rain, and the trees were glisteining and very wet.  On some impulse, plain exhuberance, I suppose, the fellow jumped up and caught hold of a branch, and a storm of luminous water cam pouring down on the two of them, and they laughed and took off running, the girl sweeping water off her hair and her dress as if she were a little bit disgusted, but she wasnt.  It was a beautiful thing to see, like something from a myth.  I dont know why I thought of that now, except perhaps because it is easy to believe in such moments that water was made primarily for blessing, and only secondarily for growing vegetables or doing the wash.  I wish I had paid attention to it.  My list of regrets may seem unusual, but who can know that they are, really.  This is an interesting planet.  It deserves all the attention you can give it. 

This awe and wonder can be found even in dark and lonely times:

It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance – for a moment or a year or the span of a life.  And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light… But the Lord is more constant and far more extravagant than it seems to imply.  Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration.  You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a willingness to see.  Only, who could have the courage to see it?

Short story or long letter?

No matter what length of time I have left to live, I would like my life to be a long letter home  rather than a short story.  I do not wish to have the truth of my life flash before me at the last instant.  I hope instead that I will be able to walk a slow and reflective life in the presence of the Lord, and that He will let me rest and dream even before the wagon hits the final jolt.

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Thank You

Thank You

Thank You for my baby’s soft hair
Thank You for the little girls doing synchronised cartwheels on the nature strip
Thank You for mothers who can hear their newborn cry from across ten crowded football stadiums

Thank You for the kind words in the school carpark that made the road sparkle as I drove home
Thank You that really lovely songs can get stuck in my head for days
Thank You that my worst singing will still wing its way to heaven, and be in harmony with something pure and amazing

Thank You for the wild extroverts and the weird introverts
Thank You for people who are so easygoing they make you smile before they open their mouth, and also for people who thread their whole being into every conversation
Thank You for the people who keep on filling up my cracked life with goodness

Thank You that You get angry with us but never grumpy
Thank You that You are deeper than history, and also smaller and more perfect than every small and perfect moment
Thank You that I can pray this again tomorrow

Thank You

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