A Little Context For Me

Friday, April 29, 2016

Seeing Jesus In Genesis

Today, class, we are going to review our parts of speech. Okay, so I know that this does not sound like the most exhilarating topic for a blog, but follow me on this one and I think you will see why the journey is worth it. I stumbled across this as I was working through Genesis one word at a time, taking them all apart, letter by letter, and doing my best to understand the Bible at molecular level, if you will. And this just blew me away. So let’s dive in.

The Bible opens with these words:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1

Pretty straight forward, so it would seem, but the truth is we could spend a life time on this verse and barely begin to touch the depths of knowledge that is revealed here. If you don’t believe me, just stop and consider what it means to create heavens and earth, what it tells about the one we worship, and how it informs us as to why he is worthy of worship. Look at all the components needed just to create one aspect of this reality we inhabit, a slug perhaps. Forget about the complexity of a snail, just consider a slug – can you speak one into existence? I didn’t think so. Now consider solar systems and galaxies, how powerful do you have to be for your words to make that a reality? I don’t think I will ever get over the wonder of these words, but it gets even more amazing when you have the privilege of reading them in the Hebrew.

Now this where things really start to get interesting.

One of the first things we have to recognize is we are reading translations of the Bible which are, for the most part, very well done and trust worthy. However, Hebrew is a language and not a code to be broken. In other words, you can’t just swap out the Hebrew letters for English letters and have a book that the average English reader could understand. Translators have to make judgement calls about which words best capture the meaning and intent of the passage for their audience. This is why the King James reads so different from the NIV or ESV. English was a different language back in the day, and people have ceased to talk that way, so the translators had to adjust to keep step with the evolution of our language.

Even more fun, English and Hebrew sentences have a different construction. In English, we typically have a subject>verb>direct object construction of sentences. We can look at a sentence and determine by the word order which part of speech is which. An example:

Sally hit the ball.

The ball hit the fence.

The electric fence shocked Sally.

We know that the ball did not hit Sally. We also know that fence did not hit the ball, and that Sally did not shock the fence.  No one has to tell us this, because despite the fact that each of the words serve as both subjects and as direct objects within the sentence, the forms and structures of our language tell us which part of speech the words function as.

In Hebrew things get a bit trickier as the sentences do not always follow the subject>verb>direct object formula. Instead, direct objects can float around all over the place in a sentence, so we need some way to know what is the direct object of a sentence verses the subject of a sentence.

Now if you have slept since your last English class, let’s do a quick review on what direct object is. A direct object is the object towards whom the action is directed. Another way to say this is that direct object is the noun that receives the action of the verb. So the ball in the first sentence received the hit, the fence received the hit in the second, and Sally received the shock in third.

If we go back and apply this to Genesis 1:1, we see that God (subject) created (verb) the heavens and the earth (direct objects. Yes, there can be more than one). Or in other words, the heaven and the earth received the creation, God’s action in this sentence

How do we know this? Aside from the fact that this is one of those times the Hebrew does follow the English structure for sentences, there is included within the Hebrew text a little word that indicates which words are the direct objects. It is called…..a direct object indicator. It looks like this, את.

It is not included in English translations, because we don’t need it. The sentence structure tells the reader what they need to know, and there is no English word that operates as its equivalent.

This is such an established and accepted fact that when I was going through Genesis, I almost breezed by it without a second thought. The only reason I decided to pay it any attention at all was out of a desire to be thorough and consistent with my work. And I am so glad I did, because these two letters blew me away.

If you look this word up in the Brown-Driver-Briggs, the gold standard of Hebrew definitions, you will find a rather lengthy and in-depth discussion of this word as a direct object indicator, but if you flip over a page, you will find another word that looks identical. It is only used in a handful of verses, but here is the most familiar:

Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, “I am a warrior.” Joel 3:10

Do you see it? Remember a direct object is what receives the action of the verb. So direct object indicator would prepare the reader to see what is receiving the action of the verb. Which one of the items above prepares something to receive something?

Congratulations, if you picked plowshare, because that is exactly what a plowshare does. It prepares the earth to receive the seeds.

I know, this is all well and good, but someone out there is saying, “But, Emily, I want to hear about Jesus not all this grammar stuff.” We are getting there, just keep going!

Let’s skip back over to Revelation, where Jesus proclaims:

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” 22:13

How many of you know that’s probably not what he really said? Pick up your jaw, Ethel, and think about this with me. Was Jesus Greek? I don’t think so. In fact, I am pretty certain that he was Jewish, and being Jewish he would have probably referenced the Hebrew aleph-bet, not the alpha-beta, or even the alphabet.

And in the aleph-bet, the first and last letters are the aleph and tav, our direct object indicator. The word that prepares the reader to see the word that will receive the action of the verb. The word that shows us action alone is not enough if it is not received, if reality is not impacted, changed or transformed, then the action of the verb is an exercise in futility. And here is Jesus saying, he is the one through him God’s actions are translated into this realm, that it is through him we receive God’s goodness, love, and grace. Through Jesus the world sees the Father and witnesses our Father’s heart for us.

As I worked my way around this, I was brought back to the Gospel of John where we are told that:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. John 1:1-3

Do you see that? All things were made through him. Just as the action of the verb flows through the direct object indicator, creation flowed through him. It is the same picture we see in Genesis 1:1.

But despite all this, it wasn’t until I wrote it out in the paleo-Hebrew that I just sat staring at the goodness and wonders of our Lord. In the paleo-Hebrew, the first letter of our word is an ox head. It stands for strength, power, authority, and protection. The second letter is two sticks and symbolizes a sign or mark. When you put the letters together in the paleo-Hebrew, you also put the ideas together. So one possible translation is a “sign or mark of authority and power.” Or perhaps “the authority and power of the sign.” Either way, all I know is that when I look at the picture, I see Jesus. Right there, in Genesis 1:1, always and forever, the beginning and the end.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Best I've Got - For Now

Last week, I hit a wall. As I scurried from one crises to another, wondering what in the world God was up to, I got smacked with a rather brutal realization. I had forgotten how to pray.

Yeah, you read that right. I forgot how to pray.

I know that must sound weird to you, but think about how I felt. All of these years where prayer was such a huge part of my life, and then suddenly, I just couldn’t do it anymore. Every time I tried the words got in the way, and I felt as if I had been betrayed by my best friend.

Words are a huge part of my life. My days are spent sifting through them, polishing them, and placing them in a precise order to create an image, to illicit an emotion, or provoke another to thought. It is what I do, and it is a natural as breathing for me. They are my tools and my weapons in this world. They help me make sense of what is around me, and they offer a comforting order to the chaos of my life. Yet, here I was unable to string two together without them rebelling against my attempts to align them according to my need.

Oh, I would start to pray and then I would realize that I wasn’t praying at all. Sure the words still flowed through my head, but it wasn’t prayer. Instead, I was thinking about how I was going to use them for a blog post or in the next book. I was writing articles in my mind about how I pray or what I was praying about. I was formulating the next idea I was going to present to the world, trying to find the most brilliant arrangement of words to impress you, my reader. In short, I was talking about God but I wasn’t talking to God.

And there is a huge difference.

So I did something radical. I took some time off. I put away my computer and I didn’t write anything other than replies to messages. I have to tell you it was weird. After years of arranging my days around time to write, I felt a little out of sorts and at a bit of loss at what to do with myself. I am writer, writing is what I do, and so who am I when I am not writing? What defines me if I am not doing the one thing I know I have been called to do? What if this was permanent? What if God decided that I needed to just put it down for good? What if my writing had become too much of an idol in my life, and I had to smash it if I was going to be faithful to him? So many moments of existential angst!

And it wasn’t like I could talk him about it, I had forgotten how to pray. Remember?

That meant the next step was trying to remember. My first attempts were less than eloquent. In fact, they were pretty much just groans and a repetition of the “Father…Father, Father…….Father….. Father, Father, Father.” If I attempted any other words, I would fall back into my pattern of writing in my head. Somewhere along the way something began to happen, the words stopped being important. And my mind began to fill with images of me standing before him, holding out all the broken things and people in my life. I didn’t need words to define the image. It was all there. Me small and powerless to fix things standing before my Father and King with my tangled kite strings, broken dolls, and shattered teapots, making my silent appeal for him to take them from my outstretched hands.

I fell asleep that night feeling as if I had experienced a major breakthrough. I wasn’t trying to contain or define God with my words. I had allowed my mind and heart to be opened to just being in his presence, but then I was reminded – this was God I was dealing with. Things are never that simple, even when they are.

The next day, we began phase two of remembering how to pray and this is where things got icky. It seems just giving God all my broken stuff wasn’t good enough. He wanted more, and more specifically, he wanted me. He wanted me to get real with him, to be honest about how this was affecting me, and what I thought about it. This meant I had to actually feel all the stuff I was trying hide behind a façade of faith and spirituality. Wounds had to be probed, some dead tissue removed, and some pride amputated. It wasn’t pretty, and it hurt like blazes.

And none of this could happen if I was trying to get out of it by just writing about it. It seems that I have become rather proficient at using words that describe the condition of my heart to distance myself from actually experiencing the condition of my heart. I could not judge my progress by a word count or pages written. I was having to confront me, without the one thing that I had begun to think made me, well, me.

The whole process was too much to do sitting still. So I started walking more, and resisting the urge to take a trash bag with me to pick up cans or plugging in a podcast to distract me. I did a lot of fishing, contemplating life, God, and me. It is amazing the amount of thinking you can do while staring at a bobber dancing around on the water.

And then something happened. When I put aside all the things I had been using to hide out, the words started to flow. Angry words, hurtful words, and heart wrenching words. Not the kind of thing you put in a blog post or book, or at least not one where you are trying to encourage people to seek God. I began to tell him about how mad I was that all of this was happening in my life. I started explaining to him how he was falling down on his job, and how I was sick and tired of him not taking care of me and the ones I loved. I told him that I was hurt and mad that he hadn’t stepped up to defend the hearts and minds of those I love, and how he needed to stop them from being stupid, from hurting themselves. I told him my faith was wearing a little thin, and he needed to do something quick because I wasn’t sure that it was going to hold out much longer.

Then there were no more words. Just that sad empty feeling you have after you’ve released all the anger that held the sadness at bay.

I wish I could say this when I saw a burning bush or the clouds parted and a voice called down from heaven telling me that it would all be okay. Heck, I would have settled for a phone call telling me that the ones I love had come to their senses and there was sizable check in the mail box. But the truth is, nothing happened. Nada, zip, zero.

The wind just kept blowing across the water, the birds kept singing, and fish kept snubbing my minnows. No major revelations, no change in the state of the world, just me and God sitting on the lake shore not talking to each other.

I don’t know where we go from here. I can’t shake this idea that God is real and he has a purpose and plan in all of this. Intellectually, I get that, but I am still upset by the things that are happening in my world. It hurts. I hurt. Knowing that he loves me is all fine and dandy, but sometimes you just get the itch to feel like he loves you. To get a break from all this operating in faith and have something a bit more tangible, a bit more comfortable and secure.

For now, I am not operating on my feelings. My feelings are still a big tangled mess of kite string that are keeping me grounded. I am making the choice to believe, to trust, and to love. He knows I am not happy with how he’s handling all this, but right now I don’t have a whole lot of joy and happiness to give him. So I am giving him what I do have the anger, the sadness, the doubt, the confusion, and all those icky emotions that make so many Christians uncomfortable. I am not giving them to him because they are pretty or that is what he deserves. I am giving them to him because they are real and right now it’s the best I’ve got - for now.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

It's Love. It's What I Do

This year has been a doozie. If one thing isn’t falling apart, another thing is exploding. Things, plans, people, and ideas going up in great big giant flaming balls of stupidity and lack. Most of the time I can just roll with the punches, walk it off, and move on to the next minor emergency, but lately that hasn’t been so easy to do.

The stuff breaking down is one thing. Fix the tractor, replace the air conditioner, and buy a new phone. It’s life. It’s what you do. Plans falling apart and dreams not coming true that hurts, but you get up and make a new plan, dream a new dream. It’s life. It’s what you do.

But the people, oh the people, that one is rough.

If you know me, you know that I am pretty good at separating you from me, my life from yours, and the things you chose from the things I want. It’s life. It’s what you do. But then there are people that you love, that you let in so deep that there is no separation. Their life is your life, and the things they chose are things that are now a part of your world, for better or worse. And when you watch the fuse to their life ignite, all you can do is duck and cover because you know this is going to hurt.

The temptation in these moments is to cut ties, to run away, and deny them the right to be a part of your world at such a deep level. God knows it would be easier. And I honestly find more than a morsel of comfort in the fact that even he felt this way.

If you don’t remember the story, it goes something like this –

God had just demonstrated his undivided love and devotion to the Children of Israel. He does amazing and wondrous things to secure their freedom when they turn into snot nosed little brats. Here he’s rained terror and destruction down on the Egyptian nation that had dared to abuse those he loved, and they are dying to go back to their abusers. And on the particularly rough days, I find his solution rather appealing:

“I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I make a great nation of you.” Exodus 32: 9, 10

Obviously, God did not carry through with this threat, but the point is this is his emotional response the situation. It is him being so honest about the feeling he has that it is shocking!

I think that so often in the Christian community we are told that if we really love someone you will never feel anger over their actions. We are told to forgive and forget, deny those oh-so-human emotions, and recognize that you have not say in the lives of others. Anger, we are told, is selfish and shows our need to control, but I don’t think that’s always the case.

Maybe my interpretation of this event is skewed, but I don’t think that God was angry just because people dared to worship another god. (In fact, that wasn’t what was going on at all. Check this out to see the story behind the story.) He’s not that selfish. I think his anger was the result of watching these people do something that he knew would hurt them. He knew the consequences of their actions far better than they did, they had been warned, and given the tools to make wise decisions. And instead of heeding his words, they acted out of their own wisdom and based their actions on the fear in their hearts.

Okay, so we aren’t God. I get that. I know that he has rights and privileges that are way beyond our paygrade, but I think there is something to be learned here – actually, there are a lot of somethings to be learned here, but let’s just focus on one.

God was angry because he loved those snot nosed brats, they were his snot nosed brats, and he was not going to let anyone needlessly hurt them – including themselves. His anger was proof of a love that can only be kindled by those you are passionate for, a love that demands the best for those we call our own, and a love that refuses to allow anyone to be less than who he created them to be.

Yet, even in this, he did not act in anger. He acknowledged his pain and frustration. He had a conversation with someone who also had a vested interest in the wellbeing of these people. He allowed them to receive the consequences of their actions, he continued to speak truth over them, setting boundaries and refusing to be okay with their self-destructive ways, and then when they came to their senses, he renewed his promise to be there by their side through the battles that lay ahead.

I wonder how many of us need a friend who will not let anyone hurt us – including ourselves? How many of us can use a friend who will become enraged at our own self-destructive tendencies and will go toe-to-toe with us when we go full blown idiot in our lives?

And I wonder how many times the person who almost stepped up was told that they had no right to be angry? No right to have a say in the lives of those they love? How often have people been told that this type of passion for another is a sin? So they step back, cut ties, and remove themselves from a relationship that is too painful to bear in silence and believing that to speak up would be improper and unloving by the standards of so many.

I don’t want to be that friend. I want to be the one who makes you mad occasionally, who sets you off for calling it like it is, and hurts your feelings with honesty. I may yell. I may scream. I may call your mama, daddy, or the cops if that is what it takes to keep you safe, but I never want to be the friend who was more concerned with being polite than I was in protecting your heart. So if you were on the receiving end of my harsh words over the past few months, know that this – It’s is love. It’s what I do.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Time Travel and Eternity

Time travel, the almost unavoidable constant of all thing sci-fi. Whether is slingshotting around the sun, the worm hole that somehow gets diverted due to the sun’s gravitational pull, an ancient ruin that acts as a gate, or some alien technology that allows us to travel back and forth between the future and the past, the idea of time travel has fascinated us as few other concepts have. For most this is but a flight of fancy, an errant hope of somehow correcting the evils of yesterday, or the hope of knowing what tomorrow holds. It is far flung dream of what we may one day achieve as the human race, the ultimate demonstration that we have cast off the chains of this temporal existence to experience wonders that are inaccessible in our present being.

Few of us ever consider as anything more than this, but what if time travel were possible? What if time did not have the power to define our reality as we currently experience it?

And why is that we are fascinated by something that every reasonable thought rejects? Why would we devote so much time, effort, and money into creating worlds within movies, books, and TV to explore a concept that defies all known logic? It makes no sense unless…

But wait, let me back up for a second. I haven’t lost my mind, and no, I didn’t suddenly come into possession of some whacky telephone both or magic mirror. I know this sounds as if I completely lost my grip on reality, but just roll with me for second. I know that there is a part of you that is going to resist the idea on gut level. I mean, time travel, come on? We all know how impossible that is, but what if we have been looking at it wrong? What if we have been so wrapped up in our experience of reality  - the one in which time in engulfs us, where we at the mercy of ticking clocks that define our days in terms of hours, minutes and seconds? What if our experience has caused us to look at time backwards and inside out?

So gets some ideas in place. Ideas that do not rely on our perceptions of time and space, but are rooted in the revealed truth of God in Scripture.

1. God is eternal. Psalms 102: 26, 27; Romans 1:20, 1 Peter 1:24, 25
2. God knows the beginning from the end. Isaiah 46:10, 48:12; Ecclesiastes 3:11; Revelation 22: 13
3. God’s experience of time differs from ours. 2 Peter 3:8
4. Time was created by God. Psalms 90, Colossians 1:16, 1 Timothy 4:4, Revelation 4:11

Now all of this has led to some very sticky theological questions: Does God exist outside of time? Within time? Is he eternally present? Just how much did Augustine borrow from Plato? I want you to watch this next move very closely, as I dodge all of them. Why? Because, I really don’t care and it’s not part of this discussion of time travel. The point is that time is God’s. He gets to decide how he experiences it and inhabits it. And I am ok with that, and if even if I weren’t it make a rat’s whisker’s bit of difference to him. One of the perks of being sovereign is you get to have your way every day. This is also where I resist explaining how a lot of you need to accept that little fact, and live your lives accordingly.

But moving on –

Let’s go back to that “unless” I left dangling up there.

It makes no sense unless…we were designed for eternity. For many of us eternity has been flattened into a timeline, two points eternally retreating from each other to the distant edges of our imaginations, but eternity is more than a line. It expands in all directions, more of an endless web rather than a line, encompassing all things past, present, and possible. And we crave it in depth of our being, to the point that we fantasize about being able to transcend the bounds of this time and move freely within the totality of its space. Our collective obsession demonstrates that truth Ecclesiastes 3:11 which tells us that God has placed eternity in the hearts of man.

And if this is a fundamental craving of humanity, how then do we fulfill that hunger that God has given us? I think the answer is simple – to draw near to the one who is eternal.

A plan as simple as the words of Psalm 145 which tells us that God draws near all who call on him. Or James 4:8 that tells us that if we draw near to God he will draw near to us. And Psalm 65:4 that declares that blessed is the one that God brings near to dwell in his courts, and how do we come into his courts? With praise! Psalm 100. I could go on, but I think you should be getting the idea. Praise is a key to being in the presence of the Eternal God.

Something happens when we start to praise, when we proclaim who he is, and let that reality flood our soul. Time and all that it contains is no longer what defines us or the realm we inhabit. We confronted by the God who is both Ancient of Days and the Lord of What Shall Be. We recognize that time does not hold our God captive, nor is his reality engulfed in time's dictates. Time, that cruel dictator of our lives, bows before our God and proceeds at his bidding and good pleasure. The ticking clock, the changing season, and passing moments become nothing more than tools that he picks up and lays aside as it suits him. That alone should stir our hearts to praise!

And when we praise him, we join our voices with those who have sang his praise since the dawn of time, and our songs will echo in the ears of those who follow. For his praises endure forever, as we are told in Psalms 111:10, and by choosing to praise him we are stepping into the realm of the eternal to experience something far greater than the here and now. To live beyond this tangible moment, to proclaim the events of history as a demonstration of his power for this age, and to proclaim his eternal reign not as some distant future event, but the defining element of our lives today. To lay hold of it all - past, present, and future - as our defining reality and reason to life our voice to him.

So perhaps we are not time travelers, not in the sense that we move through time, but rather that in those moments of praise time moves through us. The past, present, and future aligning in one splendid truth, our God is the God of all time and his steadfast endures forever. Love given since before the thought of creation and will endure past the edges of time, love that we chose to embrace today, so that we might know the God of Eternity in this moment.