Especially from Christians

abram

Chapter 18 opens with Abraham being visited by three men, whom he greeted joyfully, as was customary.  While he may have seemed to overdo it a little, hospitality was among the most highly valued virtues of his time.  After his visitors had been served the very best he had to offer them, they inquired about the whereabouts of Sarah.  Abraham told them that his wife was inside the tent.  Sarah was, indeed, inside – just inside – eavesdropping.  Abraham is told that he and Sarah would have a child of their own within a year.  Upon hearing this, Sarah laughed.  Being aware of her bitterness, the men asked why she laughed.  She denied that she had done so.  The visitors knew she was lying and told her so.

The next section tells the story of Abraham pleading for the redemption of Sodom.  The city was overrun with wickedness and there were people pleading with God to do something.  Abraham became aware that God planned to observe the city and decide if it was doomed.  The patriarch became quite agitated and began a bargaining session, of sorts, with the Lord.  It bothered Abraham greatly that God would punish those who had done no wrong.  And he told Him so.  He negotiated with God on just how many righteous lives it would take to save the city from destruction.  By the end of the negotiations, Abraham had gotten the Lord’s word that Sodom would be saved if only ten good people resided there.

 

Far be it from you to do such a thing – to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and wicked alike.  Far be it from you!  Will not the judge of all the Earth do right?     Genesis 18:25

The first thing in this chapter that grabs me is how hospitable Abraham is towards his visitors.  This behavior, once extremely important, is almost nonexistent.  We no longer eagerly welcome strangers into our homes.  This is understandable, right?  To be perfectly honest, our world is a dangerous place.  Opening the door to a stranger might well be the last thing one does.  But what of a meal?  A smile?  A kind word?  Helping someone who is down, even in the form of encouragement, is a rarity.  Especially from Christians.

The next thing to catch my attention is Sarah.  Her behavior grew increasingly more resentful.  She was living a life of unhappiness.  Remember that Sarah desperately wanted a child of her own.  However, she could not conceive.  So she pleaded with her husband to give her a child to love through Hagar, her servant.  Once he had done so, she learned that one must be careful what she asks for.  So one would think that the news of a child would make her happy.  One would be wrong.  Sarah is very resentful that she didn’t get this news when she wanted it.  Then on top of eavesdropping and mockery, she lies when confronted with her reaction.  Now this is something we see a lot of today.  In our society, it is normal to want what you don’t have.  It is normal to beg, borrow, and steal until you get it…only it doesn’t make you happy.  Yeah, there are many Sarahs in our society.  And bitterness, resentment, and lies are far too common.  Especially from Christians.

Finally – and most importantly, in my opinion – is Abraham’s willingness to bargain with God over the lives of people he doesn’t even know.  Abraham’s disquiet over the suffering of innocent people is touching.  It demonstrates that Abraham doesn’t recognize a God who is unfair, a God who sees no difference between good and evil.  Abraham took his concerns directly to his Lord, openly and honestly.  It didn’t matter that he was powerless and it didn’t matter that it had no imminent impact on his life.    He could have been self-righteous and agreed that the city be destroyed.  He could have been indifferent and have no concern whatsoever.  He could have been a good “follower” and not question what he didn’t understand.  But…he didn’t.  He was determined to save as many lives as possible.  He was confident enough to ask questions of a God he didn’t understand, at that moment.  He was his brother’s keeper.  That type of thing doesn’t happen nearly enough.  Especially from Christians.

For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it (Sodom)    Genesis 18:32

This is the God that I know.  My faith encourages me to be kind and patient.  It encourages me to offer food to the hungry and kind words to the depressed.  My faith does not let me wallow in bitterness and resentment, or strike out at others in anger.  It certainly does not allow me to turn my back on my brothers in need or neglect to ask God to help them in whatever capacity they need most.  Because of the relationship I have with God, I expect certain things.

Especially from Christians, I expect hospitality towards all people.

Especially from Christians, I expect less anger and bitterness.

Especially from Christians, I expect more keeping of brothers.

Especially from Christians, I expect to see hints of … Christ.

 

 

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Old Becomes New

No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.   Genesis 17:5

This chapter of Genesis had God, once again, vowing to make a covenant with Abram.  God commanded that Abram should now be known as Abraham, meaning “father of many nations”.  Likewise, He commanded that Abraham’s wife, Sarai, undergo a name change.  She would be known as Sarah, meaning “woman of high rank”.  Abraham was also told that he and Sarah would conceive a son.  He would be named Isaac, meaning “he laughs”.  Naturally, Abraham laughed at this idea.  He was 99 years old!  Perhaps this is  why he was ordered to name his son Isaac?  Instead of immediately having faith that he would produce a son with Sarah, he begged that Ishmael find favor with God.  While he was promised that Ishmael would also father a great nation, God’s covenant would remain with Isaac.

God also made a pronouncement that all males in Abraham’s household were to be circumcised, at the age of 8 days old.  Circumcision would be a sign of God’s covenant with Abraham.  So, at the age of 99, Abraham was circumcised along with Ishmael, aged 13.  All the males of Abraham’s household followed.  It is understood that both Abraham and Ishmael were circumcised that same day.  What a big day for Abraham…told he would father another son, and told to surgically remove his foreskin!  Ouch!!  As to why a male child had to have this procedure at 8 days old, it is assumed that it is to mark Abraham’s quick compliance with God’s command.  Circumcision was practiced by ancient cultures, but having the procedure done at such an early age was not.  

Old Becomes New

In this chapter of Genesis, old names were exchanged for new ones.  Abraham..father of many nations.

With today being Father’s Day, I would like to remind you of how many times old things become new.  All over the world, men celebrate this day because old things have become new.  They celebrate this day because they have become new.  My husband ceased to be Chris, and became…Dad.

And, I am certain that many men did exactly what Abraham did.  They laughed.  From joy of fear, I am unsure.  But, they probably laughed.

Men also experience the pain that comes along with fatherhood.  While it may not be the pain of circumcision at 99 years old, there is pain none-the-less.  They must give up certain things from the old life, in order to step into the new.  That is a type of pain.  They work to provide; coming home tired, exhausted, and in physical pain.  They watch their sons and daughters grow and learn and hurt, which is emotionally painful.    They must love their children enough to let them make mistakes.  Painful though it may be, a father allows it.  This is because he knows that pain is a part of learning, a part of growing.

If parenthood teaches us nothing else, it is that old things become new.  Almost daily.  And, often times, painfully.

To all the fathers out there,  know that you have become new.  That which was you is you no longer.  Your laughter will turn to tears, then back to laughter.  You will endure pain, be it physical, mental, or emotional.  And when you emerge on the other side of your circumstance, you will be new once more.  Such is life.

Happy Father’s Day!!

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Be careful what you ask for, …

Do not be afraid, Abram.  I am your shield, your very great reward.   – Genesis 15:1

 

After Lot was rescued by Abram, the Lord re-affirmed His promise to make a great nation of Abram.  Abram reminded the Lord that he was childless so his heir would not be of his own household.  He was corrected by God, who said that Abram’s heir would be of his own body.  Abram believed what he heard, but questioned how he might gain possession of it.

After being commanded to bring God several animals, which Abram did, he fell into a deep sleep.  During this sleep, he was told by God that his descendents would live in a country not their own as slaves.  They would be mistreated for 400 years, at which point God would punish the nation holding them.  They would emerge from enslavement with great possessions.  Abram was also told that he would die at an old age and be buried with his fathers.

 

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children.  But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar, so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children.  Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her.”   – Genesis 16:1-2

 

Sarai, who was barren, was desperate to have a child.  She decided to use her maidservant as a surrogate, and asked Abram to impregnate her.  Abram agreed to the request.  After he made Hagar his wife, he slept with her.  She conceived.

Be careful what you ask for, …

Hagar began to despise Sarai after finding out she was pregnant.  Sarai blamed Abram for turning Hagar against her.  Abram told Sarai to handle Hagar as she saw fit.  Sarai saw fit to mistreat her, which caused Hagar to run away.  An angel found Hagar and asked where she was going.  She informed the angel that she was running from her mistress.  She was told to return and submit to Sarai.  She is also promised descendents too numerous to count.

Of this child, the angel of the Lord told her:  “You are now with child and you will have a son.  You shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard your misery.  He will be a donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.”

Hagar returned and bore Abram’s son, Ishmael.

More questions than answers.

Why did Abram have to fall into a deep sleep to continue a conversation he was having with God?  We are told that four generations will suffer under slavery, but not why.  We know that, in those times, children suffered due to sins of the father.  However, Abram had not done anything to be punished for.  In fact, it appears quite the opposite.  He was so favored that he would be the father of generations of God’s people.

But first, …he had to  have an heir.

It is not hard to see why Abram might give in to his wife’s demands.  He had been promised a son of his own body.  This would be his heir, right?  Perhaps, he saw this as the fulfillment of God’s promise.  He ended up with an angry Sarai, a bitter Hagar, and a doomed son.  All because Sarai got what she asked for. 

Sarai couldn’t see anything beyond her own yearning for a child.  And once her request was granted, she blamed everyone else for her unhappiness.  She lit into Abram and mistreated Hagar.  She was hated.  She was miserable.  All because she got what she asked for.

Poor Hagar.  I completely empathize with this poor woman.  She does what is asked of her and is mistreated for it.  To top it all off, she is commanded by God to just put up with it.  Her child is doomed to a harsh and miserable existence.   All because Sarai got what she asked for.

The plot is sometimes…missing.

As I stated before, I have more questions than answers.  We don’t know why Hagar grew to despise her mistress.  This is an important detail, don’t you think?  Was there jealousy at being second choice?  Was Hagar forced or intimidated into doing Sarai’s bidding, making her resentful?

The various authors of the Bible are notorious for leaving out pertinent information.  Their narrative abilities were sorely lacking.  The information they saw fit to share doesn’t always tell us what we would like to know.  In fact, I am fairly confident that the author didn’t intend to make me feel what I felt.  What I learned of Abram confused me.  Sarai angered me.  And, my heart went out to Hagar.  There was definitely nothing, in this sad threesome’s story, to make me proud.

I know many Abrams.  These people are so concerned with the future that they don’t consider the ramifications their actions have on the present.  I know plenty of Sarais.  These people are so obsessed with getting what they desire that they don’t consider how anyone else may feel.  And, unfortunately, I know far too many Hagars.  These people are simply tools used for someone else to get what they want.

The Bible may be confusing and lacking in detail, but there is always a moral.

The moral of this one:  Be careful what you ask for, because you just may get it!

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Lot is rescued, Let’s party

I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me – to Aner, Eshcol and Mamre.  Let them have their share.  – Genesis 14: 24

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Abram and Lot had come to the agreement that separation was necessary for mutual success, so Lot ended up in Sodom.  Sometime later, war ensued between the kings of the five (including Sodom and Gomorrah) and the kings of the four.  After battle lines had been drawn, the Kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, leaving their men to perish.  The four kings then took all they wanted from Sodom and Gomorrah; including goods, food, and Lot.  A soldier who had escaped, came and told Abram all that had occurred.  Abram gathered together a rescue team and recovered his nephew and the seized goods.  The King of Salem thought this a time for celebration, bringing out bread and wine, prompting Abram to the verse above.

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Genesis Chapter 14 is one that could almost be skipped.  There is a war.  Lot is captured, then rescued.  The end, right?

Not so fast.  Being that Memorial Day is upon us, I would like to take a moment to discuss the 24th verse, especially the last sentence.

Let them have their share.

 

It appears that man has always found a way to turn horror into celebration.  In Abram’s day, there was bread and wine.  In ours, hot dogs and beer.  Even in the Bible, the deaths of men sent off to war earn only an honorable mention.  Oh, the war is discussed.  This chapter is about kingdoms and rebellion and battle and victory.  Abram gathers 318 trained men, devises an appropriate strategy, and is victorious in his battle plan.  Then, the party.

Sound familiar?  Do you see where I am going with this?

In Abram’s time, men were expected to fight the good fight.  They were expected to be willing to give up their very lives, in battle, for the good of the kingdom.  At the end of the conflict, it was customary to break out the bread and wine.  In our time, men and women are expected to fight the good fight.  They are expected to give up their very lives, in battle, for the good of their country.  At the end of the conflict, it is customary to break out the hot dogs and beer.

Tomorrow is the day when we are supposed to honor all the brave men and women who have fought the good fight and who have given their very lives in battle.  These men and women have done an admirable job.  They, General Colin Powell has said, have lost their lives, and have asked for nothing except enough ground to bury their dead.  The least we can do is…

Let them have their share.

I have no problem with barbeques, hot dogs, and beer; but…

Let them have their share.

I have no problem with mattress sales, but…

Let them have their share.

Sure, buy a new car if you can find a good deal, but…

Let them have their share.

While we enjoy the commercialization that this day has become, let us remember the sacrifices, the tears, the mourning.  Let us remember the lives lost.  Let us remember the families devastated.  Let us remember what Memorial Day is all about.

Your silent tent of green
We deck with fragrant flowers;
Yours has the suffering been,
The memory shall be ours.
– Henry W. Longfellow
 
The memory is ours.  We remember, and we are grateful.
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Abram and Lot

So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him.  Genesis 13:1

So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers.  Is not the whole land before you?  Let’s part company.  If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.”     Genesis 13:8-9

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Abram had been discovered as a liar in Egypt, in regards to his true relationship with Sarai.  After Pharoah became aware that the two were married, rather than siblings, he forced them out.  Abram took Sarai, his belongings, and Lot with him.  Abram had become very wealthy during his time in Egypt.  (Thanks to Sarai)  We are told that Lot had gained many riches as well.  With both men having had livestock that needed a fair amount of land, problems ensued.  After a time, disputes arose between the two men’s herdsmen.

Abraham saw the potential for bad blood with his nephew, so he suggested that they part ways.  He figured there was enough land to satisfy them both, and gave Lot first choice.  In whichever direction Lot chose to travel, Abram would go the opposite.  Lot set out toward the east and the plains near the Jordan, which were well watered.  His tent was pitched near Sodom.  Abram lived in the land of Canaan.

The Lord then told Abram to look around him – North, South, East, and West.  He promised that the land, as far as Abram could see, would be given to him and his offspring.  Further, Abram was promised that his offspring would be like the dust of the Earth, or too many to count.  Abram’s tent was moved to Hebron, where he set up an altar to God in thanks.

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This is the story of two men who develop conflict.  This is the first description, in the scriptures, of how such conflict (man versus man) is to be handled.

Respectfully nip conflicts in the bud…Abram saw conflict approaching.  Though it had not yet arrived, he sought to end it before it began.  He went to Lot and, respectfully, expressed his concerns.  He then stated that perhaps it would be best if they parted company.  In that way, each of them would have what they required and the relationship would remain intact.  (How many men, Christian or otherwise, would do that today?  I suspect very few.)

Walk by faith, not by sight…Lot chose the east, the land of the plains of Jordan.  He chose the area because of the water and proximity to Sodom.  It mattered not that he left his uncle the land that was dry.  It mattered not that Sodom was well-known for its wickedness.  He sought to increase his wealth, and his selection would have given him such an opportunity.  Lot was not described as a wicked man, himself.  We do get the impression that he was willing to abide with and suffer others sinful deeds if he would profit.  Abram showed no discontent with being left the drier land.  He did not heckle or bargain.  He accepted Lot’s choice, as he said he would.  He had to have known that he, too, could gain more wealth in the land Lot had chosen.  Yet, he had faith that God would see to the needs of he and his family. (If you are anything like me, you know many more Lots than you do Abrams.  Good men  put up with all manner of evil in search of the almighty dollar.)

Have confidence in God’s promises…After Lot had left, God promised that all the land surrounding Abram would belong to him and his offspring.  Abram and Sarai were an older couple, with no children.  It would have been easy to laugh at the idea that he would have innumerable offspring, especially at his age.  But, what did he do?  He believed.  He had every confidence that God would keep every promise made.  He established his altar, and gave thanks.  He expressed joy and gratitude for things that had yet to happen.  (And are there any men who would have this type of faith?  Let me know when you stop laughing.)

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Finally, keep in mind that today is the day of Pentecost.  In the Old Testament, Jews knew this as the Feast of Weeks.  (A sacred day when no work is to be done.  It is a day to express gratitude for the abundant wheat harvest.)  Christians know this to be the day the Holy Spirit filled the bodies of over one hundred men and women after Christ’s death.  The Holy Spirit gave them knowledge and confidence to spread the Good News of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.  In essence, it was the beginning of the church.  The goal of the church was, and is, to add to the dust, or offspring, promised to Abram.

Being referred to as a child of Abraham (Abram) is a compliment to most Christians.  Abram is the father of the Hebrews who would be given land that we now know as Israel.  This man originally came from a town that worshipped pagan idols.  What reason did he have to leave his father’s house and religion?  What reason did he have to leave all that he knew?  There was none but faith.  He was not perfect, by any means. (See previous blog)  He made mistakes, but he believed.  He accepted the spirit of God, as disciples would years later, and followed where it led.

Isn’t that what we are supposed to do?  Aren’t we supposed to take the “word of God written on our hearts” and do something with it?  How often do Christians follow the Spirit’s lead?  How much more frequently do they expect the Spirit to follow theirs?

Too many times, we seek fault in others because we enjoy conflict.  We are selfish and greedy.  As long as there is something in it for us, we accept hatred and wickedness.  We are self-righteous and expect to have our way.  When that doesn’t happen, we feel persecuted.

Is that where the Spirit leads you?  Because the spirit inside me leads me to come up with compromises that benefit everyone, avoiding conflict wherever possible.  It leads me away from greed.  It gives me the courage to stand up to those who would place profit over people.  It strengthens my faith to know I am not who I was.  I am confident that I can encourage and support others, because I feel encouraged and supported.

The spirit inside me, the spirit of love, demands to be given away.  I obey and give it to as many as I can.  Because it was given to me.

Categories: Crucifixion and Resurrection, faith and religion, old testament, personal, the Bible, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sarai’s Sacrifice

As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are.  When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’  Then they will kill me but let you live.  Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”

Genesis 12:11-13

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Abram (descendent of Noah’s son, Shem) had been directed by God to leave his country and go to a land of God’s choosing.  Abram was told that he and his line would be made into a “great nation”.  Abram followed the command.  He took his wife (Sarai), his nephew (Lot), and all of their possessions and set out.  They first arrived in Canaan.  Abram’s offspring were promised the land, and Abram built an altar in thanks.

A famine came upon that land, which prompted Abram to move on toward Egypt where his family would have a better chance of survival.  Abram asks something remarkable of Sarai before entering Egypt.  He asks that she pretend to be his sister.  He knows how beautiful she is, and that the Pharoah may well desire her because of it.  He also claims that if it is known that they are married, he might well be killed so that the Pharoah could have her.  He goes on to state that if they pretend to be siblings…not only will the Pharoah not kill him; but he will be treated well, for her sake.

The Bible tells us that Abram’s assessment of the situation, indeed, came to pass.  Pharoah was taken by Sarai’s beauty enough to invite her into his palace.  Abram was treated well, very well, for her sake.  He was given all manner of animals and servants, for her sake.  However, Pharoah found out the truth.  He was, naturally, quite angry.  He had, after all, taken another man’s wife for his own…and paid that man, handsomely, for the privilege.  Pharoah ordered Abram to take Sarai and leave.

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Sarai’s sacrifice.  Can you imagine what that conversation must have been like?  In that time, women were seen as little more than possessions.  But one would assume that she would, at least, be valuable to her family.  But maybe not, huh?  He, Abram, shamelessly, used her.  He asked her to make a huge sacrifice.  And she did it.  She pretended that she was not married.  She was taken into another man’s house and made his wife.  I won’t even go into what that must have been like.  I can not fathom what it felt like to be taken as the wife of another, while your true husband profits from your pain and misery.

Which leads me to what I would like to say…a woman has always been expected to sacrifice.  She has been expected to sacrifice for her spouse throughout the years.  She was taught that behind every great man is a great woman.  She aspired to be one of those women.  She has been expected to sacrifice for her children, to always put their needs ahead of her own.  Even in recent years, life before children is expected to become a memory.  She is expected to shoulder the weight and help carry the burdens of her friends and family.  To volunteer in the community and teach Sunday school.

And, for the most part, she has.  She has, somehow, found a way to do all of that.  And more.

She is married.  She is single.  She is gay or she is straight.  She cooks the bacon or she brings it home.  Sometimes, she does both.

She is a chef.  She is a launderer.  She is a teacher.  She is a janitor.  She is a mediator.  She is a counselor.  She is a nurse.  She is a seamstress.

She is a support system for her lover.  She is a shield for her kids.  She is a shoulder for her friends and family.

She embraces and she scolds.  She laughs and she cries.

She is happy.  She is sad.  She is disappointed.  She is exhausted.  She is angry.  She is undervalued.

She is PROUD!

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there.  Be they mothers of biological children or foster mothers or teachers or advisors.  Mothering comes in all forms.  I recognize how much the world asks you to sacrifice.  You are underpaid, if paid at all.  I know that the job seems unappreciated and, often, thankless.  It is not.

Best wishes to you all, today and everyday.

Categories: analysis, faith and religion, old testament, personal, the Bible, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Would Jesus Do?

My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.

Luke 8: 21

As the name of this blog is Faith and Politics…..I feel the need to speak a little on how religion and politics relate to one another.

(…..Drum Roll…..)

THEY DON’T!

Good night, folks.  Thanks for coming out.

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Seriously.  Here’s the thing.  Religion and politics are not the best of friends.  They are not even associates.  Heck, they can barely stand the sight of each other.  And while that may sound harsh; it is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth….so help me, God.

You see, our government is founded on the principle that no single religion shall be the foundation of public policy.  I could go on and on.  I could cite numerous writings by Adams and Jefferson.  I could cite the entire Treaty of Tripoli.  But, that is not necessary.  Well, ..er..it shouldn’t be necessary.  It seems it may be.  Too many people seem to labor under the illusion that we are a “Christian nation”.  Of course, we are not.  We are a nation consisting of mostly Christians.  This is not just semantics.  It actually means two different things.  One implies that our government was based upon a Christian belief system and reflects biblical principles.  However, the truth is that our government was designed to work without Christianity, leaving that decision up to each individual citizen.

On the flip side of that coin:  Christianity was not designed with government in mind.  In truth, Christianity is the name we call ourselves because we believe in Christ and his teachings.  Never once did Jesus say, “You will start a new religion and name it after me.”  What he did say is very clear.  Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s – Matthew 22: 21.  This is not open to interpretation.  He said, very clearly, that God does not belong in the government and the government does not belong in the church.

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Now that we have cleared that up, we can stop introducing the two at parties.  We can forget all about future blind dates.  We can realize that they are the two kids who need to be separated for everyone’s peace of mind.  Whew!  I am so glad that is settled.

Wait.  It is not settled.  The government feels bombarded by religious sentiment.  There are any number of laws on the books (both federal and state) that are written simply with the religious in mind.  With an ever-increasing number of agnostics, atheists, Muslims, and other faiths; government is attempting to live up to the constitution’s guarantee of freedom from religion.  Religious organizations are refusing to comply with federal laws.  The government is, basically, refusing to become a church.

The church feels persecuted and excluded.  Christians feel like they are being targeted for harassment and abuse.  They are furious that their leaders won’t legislate based upon religious doctrine.  They cite the Bible for all manner of objection to abortion, gay marriage, and other issues.  They fear Muslim infiltration and Sharia Law.  Christians, basically, wants the government to become a church.

Now, before anyone yells that I am just taking up for a corrupt government, let me say this.  I agree that there is corruption in the system.  I agree that our politicians behave as though they don’t have to answer to us, their constituents.  I even agree that there are some who would love nothing more than to do away with religion completely.  That being said, Christians need to accept some responsibility.  It has been my experience that the majority of non-believers just want to be left alone.  They do not wish to have their lives dictated to them, by a God they do not believe in.  They do not wish to have politicians making decisions about what they do with their bodies.  (Because of a God they don’t believe in)  They don’t want to be told who to love or marry by some senator. (Because of a God they don’t believe in)

And, since our country is neither a Christian nation nor a church…they have that right.

Christians need to worry only about being Christians.  I will give you a moment to read that opening scripture again.  <<…Humming…>>  Okay, ready?

Christians were given one important commandment by Christ.  He even says it is the greatest commandment…love each other.  That’s it.  It sounds ridiculously simple, right?  Well, it is not.  Jesus is very explicit about how we are to behave as his followers.  We are to love one another.  We are not to seek revenge or vengeance.  We are to respect the fact that we are responsible for ourselves, and only ourselves.  We are to be good to people:  feed them, clothe them, house them.  We are to forgive.  It should be our goal to be like Christ, no matter what the world throws at us.  Our faith is to be recognized by sight, not by speech.  They will know we are Christians by our love.

Where is our love?  Love is not spewing hate and vitriol.  It is showing compassion and kindness.  Love is not stereotyping and judging.  It is offering comfort and support.  Love is not casting the first stone, even as we live in glass houses with a hundred cracks.  It is forgiveness and a helping hand.

These traits are hard to develop.  They are difficult to express.  They are practically impossible to demonstrate with perfect consistency.  But we should try.  Why?

Because…What would Jesus do?  That is what Jesus would do.

Categories: analysis, faith and religion, personal, separation of church and state, the Bible | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wait, go back…Nephilim?

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days – and also afterward – when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them.  They were the heroes of old, men of renown.     Genesis 6:4

nephilim2

I always found this passage a bit puzzling.  It’s location and total lack of context brings many questions to mind.  The Nephilim were the offspring of the sons of God and the daughters of men.  (They would later be known as the giants who inhabited Canaan.)  Does the phrase “sons of God” refer to the angels?  Were the Nephilim inherently evil, thus becoming part of the reason for God’s drastic decision to flood the world?

Ancient Jews understood “sons of God” to mean angelic beings.  This view would be corroborated in 1 Peter 3:20 and 2 Peter 2:4-5.  If the Jewish interpretation is to be trusted –  that they are angelic beings –  we run into another dilemma.  Looking forward in the text…We learn that Jesus, in Matthew 22:30, said that angels did not marry.  That would mean that we could infer that producing children wasn’t on the to-do list.  Procreation, outside of a marital union, was extremely taboo.

We do, however, learn that angels did not always do as they were told.  And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—Jude 6.  It is important to note, though, that the author of Jude used pseudepigraphical literature as reference material.  Pseudepigrapha are books claiming (falsely) to be written by some ancient hero of the faith, such as Moses or Abraham.  Yet another conundrum is the fact that these demigods, as lawless and wicked as their behavior was, were known as heroes.  But to whom?  I can only assume they would be considered heroic to those who perished in the flood.

I, personally, believe this mention of the Nephilim was to teach that even heavenly beings sin.  Not only that, they will face punishment.  Considering the fact that we are still in the section of the Bible known as The Law, this is not terribly surprising.  This is the period, in the faith, where works is focused on more than faith.  It is also my opinion that those telling this story would need a truly wicked sin to recount, in order to explain and/or justify the near total extinction of the human race.  What is more wicked than wayward angels cavorting with humans and creating progeny that brings nothing but sin and evil?

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I would also like to add that genealogy, found in Genesis, should probably be taken with a grain of salt.  The book has Shem outliving Abraham!  And, let us not forget that female offspring barely receive an honorable mention.  Again, I will reiterate that these accounts had been handed down generation after generation.  Another thing worthy of remembering is that the lineage we are given only tells us how various groups/nations relate to Israel.

No novice to gossip, I am equally pretty sure a little bit of that 2nd grade gossip thing was happening, too.  You know, little Sarah says “I gotta pee.”   By the time we get to the sixth kid, it’s “Sarah peed on herself and wants you to tell the teacher!”  And, well, let’s be perfectly honest.  How many of us could regurgitate our entire history orally, and get it all right??  Not too many, I would assume.  I am certainly no threat to ancestry.com.

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Lastly, I would like to point out another detail that stuck out to me.  The ages of the characters prior to death will begin to drop, dramatically, after the death of Shem.  Shem, the middle son of Noah, lived to be 500 years old.  I am convinced that ages were fudged, to begin with.  However, I feel that this marked decrease in lifespans is due to change in climate and landscape post flooding.  Naturally, after a major catastrophic event, you might see lack of food and other environmental changes that could lead to human beings living shorter lives.

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Next up:  Abram (Abraham), the first faithful

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Noah’s Ark?

 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.   Genesis 7:11

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Who hasn’t heard the tale of Noah and his ark?  Well, for those who haven’t,….

The story goes that Noah was a righteous man in his generation.  Because of this, God commanded that he build an ark (to exact specifications) in preparation for a great flood.  You see, God had become extremely saddened by the wickedness of His creation.  He decided to wipe them all from the face of the Earth, save Noah and his family….and all the pairs of animals to be saved.  Noah was probably mocked and tormented, but remained faithful to his task.  A task that took approximately 120 years.  At the appointed time, Noah’s family and the animals entered the ark and were shut in.  It rained for 40 days and nights.  All of humanity perished.  The ark floated for around 150 days before coming to rest on Mount Ararat.  Forty days later, Noah sent forth a raven who found no dry place to land.  He sent forth a dove, who also returned.  The last time he sent the dove, it returned with an olive leaf, indicating dry ground.  After the doors of the ark were opened, Noah’s family and the pairs of animals exited the ark.  Noah set up an altar where he made sacrifices to God.  God, in turn, sent a rainbow as a covenant with man.  It signified that never again would the Earth be destroyed by a flood.

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Before I tackle Noah and his family, read this summation.

One of the high gods, Enlil, became increasingly annoyed at the “noise” of human beings.  He decided to destroy them in a deluge.  Enki, the god of waters, revealed this plan to Utnapishtum.  Enki told Utnapishtum to demolish his home and build a big boat and load it with pairs of animals.  Utnapishtum was to keep his plans secret from the council of high gods, even to lie if he had to. He followed the instructions.  At the appointed time, he entered the boat with his wife and the animals.  His craftsmen, along with his gold and silver were also taken aboard.  A downpour ensued.  The flood lasted for 7 days.  Utnapishtum sent out a dove, swallow, and raven to test whether it was safe to emerge.  When the raven did not return; he, his wife, companions, and the animals left the boat.  Utnapishtum and his wife offered sacrifices to the gods and were granted eternal life.

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These two tales sound eerily similar, right?  The first, of course, is biblical in origin.  The second is found in the Epic of Gilgamesh.  This was a Mesopotamian tale, written around 2500 BC.  That makes it the earliest known tale of a great flood.  Scholars believe that since the two stories are so similar, that the biblical version was most likely modeled after the Gilgamesh epic.  Bam!!  This proves the fact that Noah’s story is false.  Right?

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Before we decide, let us also keep in mind…

– Sumerian poetry (dating back to 2000 BC) mentions Gilgamesh’s journey to meet the flood hero, Utnapishtum.

– The Akkadian (Babylonian and Assyrian) account has flood stories dating to around 3300 BC, starring hero Atrahasis.

– Greek legend tells of Deucalion.  He, too, was a wine maker who was forewarned of a great flood.  He, likewise, built an ark and saved animals.

– An Ojibwa indian legend (from around Lake Superior) tells of a great snow that fell one September at the beginning of time.  A bag, containing the sun, had a hole nibbled in it by a mouse.  The warmth escaped and spilled over, melting the snow, and causing a flood.  Everyone drowned, except one old man who drifted in his canoe rescuing animals.

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Also of interest…

Although the idea of massive flooding has been mocked, geologists Walter Pitman and William Ryan proved it possible.  The pair was the first to gather evidence that the Black Sea, indeed, flooded around 7500 years ago.  They wrote a book in 1998 entitled Noah’s Flood:  The New Scientific Discoveries about the Event that Changed History.  In the book, they detail how the Mediterranean Sea flooded the Black Sea basin.  And while not a worldwide catastrophe, it might certainly appear that way to any who lived in the nearby plains, with water rising approximately 6 inches per day.  It’s not difficult to see how it would feel like it was the end of the world.

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So..Here are my thoughts.

Do I think the flood was real?  Yes.  There is scientific evidence that a great flood actually took place.  I believe there was massive flooding.  However, I believe that  it was not a global one, in the technical sense of the word.  Noah’s story stems from tales told by one tribe of people who had no means to travel far.  To themselves, they were all there was.  As far as Gilgamesh and the other tales… They all stem from different areas, yet they all have a deluge story.  I am of the mind that names and places may change, but for a tale to endure..some grain of truth exists.  Also, remember that the story didn’t start with Noah.  He, nor his children, wrote it.  We are talking about generations of oral storytelling.  Nothing written for many many years.  All of these tales may seem so similar because they describe the same event.  One was simply translated to written form sooner than the others, therefore names/locations would fit each’s culture.  If, indeed, the flood was not global; that eliminates the necessity of bringing pairs of every kind of animal along for the ride.  In this case, I lean more toward the Gilgamesh version, where he brought along the animals he had.

Now, I would like to focus on Noah.  He is where the moral of the story lies.  The type of person he was, and became, intrigues me.  He was a descendant of Seth and the narrative tells us he was “righteous in his generation”.  That means, what?  Remember, his generation was quite wicked.  Was he righteous, or was he more righteous than everyone else?  We really don’t know since very little is mentioned about Noah’s personal life.  I find this interesting.  He was, after all, the man responsible for keeping a few humans alive to repopulate the world.

Noah’s most favorable attribute was his faithfulness.  He was given a commandment from God.  He obeyed.  He was given specific instructions on how to complete the task.  He obeyed.  For a Christian, that type of faithfulness is the most honorable trait to have.  I, personally, like to think I would be able to follow a direct commandment from God, should He require it of me.  Noah’s character also demonstrated remarkable patience.  It took quite a many years to complete the construction of the boat.  Not to mention the fact that he had to live on it for practically a year! Christians are repeatedly reminded that God does things in His own time, and that we are to have patience.  There is also no mention of anger.  I am certain Noah would have faced much mockery and contempt from such a wicked bunch of people.  Yet, there is no mention of him becoming angry or resentful.  Again, a wonderful trait for a person of faith to have.

Noah had some faults, as well.  He did not (like his future descendent, Abraham) pray to save anyone.  He did not ask God to forgive any – or all – of mankind and give them another chance.  And later, after he and his family were saved, he planted a vineyard.  One night, he became drunk and was naked in his tent.  Rather than taking responsibility for his actions, he blamed his child.  He not only blamed his son, but took farther drastic action.  He cursed him!

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We are told that his two of his sons, Shem and Japheth, didn’t look upon him and covered him.  We know that Ham (the father of Canaan) was cursed for calling attention to, and possibly snickering at, his father’s drunken state.  The following morning, Ham and his descendents were cursed to be slaves of the tribes of his brothers.  Shem’s tribe would be the most revered- as Ham’s descendents were slaves to his, while Japheth’s would live in Shem’s tents.  After 950 years of life, Noah died.  His sons settled eastward, attempted to build a tower to the heavens, and were punished by being scattered all over the Earth unable to understand each other’s language.  From Shem’s line, would come Abram.

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Like Noah– my goal is to be faithful, patient, determined, and even-tempered.

Unlike Noah– I aim to be my brother’s keeper, while taking responsibility for my actions.

Categories: analysis, evolution, faith and religion, old testament, personal, the Bible | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Brother’s Keeper

Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain.  She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.”  Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.  Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked in the soil.

Genesis 4: 1-2

SUMMARY:  After being turned away from Eden, Adam and Eve began a family.  Cain, the first-born, grew to become a farmer.  Abel became a shepherd, of sorts.  During the time of sacrifice, Cain offered up a portion of what he had harvested.  Abel, however, offered up the best he had to offer.  God was displeased with Cain and showed favor to Abel.  This angered Cain, who then proceeded to take his brother out into the field and murder him.  God arrived, and asked about Abel’s whereabouts.  To which Cain replied, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Abel’s blood cried out from the dust, telling the tale of his murder.  Angered, God sent Cain from his presence.  Cain was doomed to wander (in the land of Nod, meaning wander) restlessly, as the land would no longer yield crops for him.  Cain, being frightened, worried that he might be killed.  God offered him protection, in the form of a mark, so that he would not be killed.  In fact, Cain was assured that anyone who killed him would suffer vengeance seven times over.

Cain left the Lord’s presence, met and married his wife, and began a family.  His son was called Enoch, the same name as the city Cain founded.  {Subsequently, a genealogy leading to Lamech.  He had killed someone and worried about revenge.  He proclaimed that if Cain would be avenged 7 times, then he would be avenged 77 times.}

Meanwhile, Adam and Eve produced another son.  His name was Seth, and later he had a son named Enosh.  It was during this time, people began to call on the Lord.

cain and abel

THOUGHTS:  This story has always fascinated me.  I believe this is, partly, because there is so much we do not know.  Then again, the Bible is notorious for that.  We do not know what the relationship was between this family and God.  We assume that there must have been some sort of connection.  After all, God remains with them throughout this story.  We don’t know how much older Cain is than Abel.  I am sure siblings will understand that special rivalry with one another.  Did that contribute any to Cain’s animosity?  I am inclined to think so.  We, also, do not know where the idea for that original sacrifice came from.  Was it mandated by God, or did the brothers find their own way to honor Him?  In my estimation, the fact that “blood” became important here, is often overlooked.  Blood became a central issue to the Jews, and much later Christians.  In fact, Christians are healed by the stripes of Jesus.  His sacrificial blood became the salvation of the world.

We are told that Cain was given a mark, of some kind, for protection.  He was also promised that anyone who took his life would pay dearly.  Why?  He had just introduced the world to murder, after doing something that displeased the Lord.  Why was there no eye-for-an-eye?  We are also told that Cain, while wandering, met and married a wife.  Wait.  What?  A wife!  Where did she come from?  Up until this point, we have only heard a few names.  Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel.  There are seemingly only two possibilities.  He either had a child with his mother or a sister (which isn’t mentioned).  Further along, we come to that same question, in regards to Seth.  The mother of Enosh is equally mysterious.

CONCLUSIONS:  The story is supposed to be about a brother murdering a brother.  It is supposed to teach that murder is bad, wrong, evil.  And, it does.  What strikes me as more important is the fact that Cain could not control his anger and jealousy.  Here was a man who was probably used to being the center of his parents’ world.  For the most part, he lived life as he saw fit.  There was no one to measure up to… or fall short of.  There was no competition.  Along comes a younger brother, and all that goes out of the window.  His self-righteousness took a bit of a hit, and in front of God (an authority figure) no less!  He becomes horribly jealous, which makes him furious.  His solution:  eliminate the threat to his way of life.  Why should he become a better person when he could just get rid of the better person?

How many Cains do you know?  I have to tell you, I know quite a few.  The world revolves around them, and if it doesn’t…well, something is wrong with the world.  Rather than become more compassionate or generous, they become more greedy and self-serving.  Rather than tame the anger, they allow anger to control them.  They are jealous of every wonderful thing that happens to someone around them, not realizing what greatness awaits them.  Jealousy makes them feel bitter and unworthy.  So they choose to lash out, often without thinking of the consequences.  And, of course, when called on it…they lie.  Oh, yes, the spirit of Cain lives on.

And even after Cain committed the horrible sin of murder, God watched over him.  He was provided with a mark of protection.  He began a family and attempted to build a life for himself.  {Either one of two explanations fit.  Cain, indeed, married a sister.  Or Cain’s family wasn’t the only family.  In my estimation, the latter is true.  I am convinced that there were sisters who were not mentioned.  Women were, overall, seen as irrelevant in the Bible.  I am also convinced that this one tribe who initiated the creation, as they knew it, had no knowledge of the world around them.  The preferred mode of transportation was..walking.  So, it would have been difficult to understand that things were happening all around them.}

This is the God that I believe in.  The one who forgives, even while angered by our actions.  Fundamentalists would have you believe that God is constantly angry, and vengeful, and fearsome.  While I agree that He can be all those things, I also believe Him to be forgiving and easily saddened when our lives take a wrong turn.  I believe that even as we are forced to accept consequences for our actions, we are given a chance to do better.  Be better.  Jealousy and anger are inescapable emotions.  We will all feel them, if we haven’t already.  But how we manage them is critical.

This story provides no answer to why bad things happen to good people.  Abel was the “good person”.  He lived and he died.  Likewise, I have no answer.  I can only remember that in order for a “bad” thing to happen, a “bad” person is usually involved.  A person who is jealous or envious or angry can wreak havoc on the lives around him.  A person incapable of seeing his own faults can cause heartache and sorrow.  He is unable, or unwilling, to pull himself up.  Instead, he knocks everyone else down.  Unfortunately, all the good person can do, as evidenced by Abel, is continue to be a good person.  And remember that we all reap what we sow.  Eventually.

Categories: analysis, creation, faith and religion, old testament, personal, the Bible | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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Rev. Evan M. Dolive

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