BLOOD AND GUTS

For the life of the body is in its blood. I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you, making you right with the Lord. It is the blood, given in exchange for a life, that makes purification possible. [Leviticus 17:11-12 (NLT)]

sacred daturaFor most of us, the meat we purchase arrives at the grocery store prepackaged. We’re not used to seeing animals slaughtered, skinned or butchered and, unless we’re phlebotomists, rarely see large amounts of blood. As a result, much of Leviticus makes for rather gory reading since the temple, a place of worship, also served as a ritual slaughterhouse. Perhaps it’s my vegetarian sensibilities but, when the Bible refers to the pleasing aroma of sacrifice, I wince when thinking of the stench of dried blood and burnt meat.

Biblical sacrifices go as far back as Cain and Abel but it is in Leviticus that we read of the sacrifices God required of the Israelites. The book gives complicated instructions for each of the sacrificial rituals: everything from the kind of animal offered and the draining of its blood to splashing that blood around the altar and what to do with the meat. Nowadays, these bizarre rites seem sickening and gruesome. Then again, perhaps that is exactly what they were supposed to be even back then. Watching one’s best lamb have its throat slit and seeing its blood pour out was probably as awful 3,400 years ago as it seems today. Seeing the animal’s life offered as a substitute for the sinner’s symbolized the high cost of sin and could not have been taken lightly. Moreover, as offensive as all that blood and butchering seems, think of how offended God is by our sins! Sin is far uglier and more repugnant than any abattoir.

My 21st century self has difficulty understanding why blood had to be shed in the first place and how blood—something that stains—could ever be considered cleansing. Caught up in picturing all of that blood, gore and smell, it’s easy to forget that the reason for those sacrifices was atonement. The Israelites sacrificed what was precious to them to satisfy God as atonement for their sins. A price had to be paid for mankind’s sins and, without blood, there could be no forgiveness. For God, the aroma was not that of blood and seared meat but of repentance. Those bloody offerings, however, were temporary substitutes. Even though the animal died rather than the sinner, the sacrifice had to be repeated again and again. It is those sacrifices, however, that foreshadowed the one true and everlasting sacrifice that took place on Calvary. Our sins against a holy and infinite God required a holy and infinite sacrifice: the flawless lamb, Jesus Christ. Our atonement is now found in our faith in Christ—the one perfect and final sacrifice.

With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever. Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. [Hebrews 9:12-14 (NLT)]

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SPINNING

Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. [Psalm 32:5 (NLT)]

great blue heronHaving just returned from the East Coast, I had a lengthy “to do” list and thought I could fit in a few errands before picking up my mother-in-law for her doctor’s appointment. As I pushed the cart through the store, I glanced down at my watch to check the time and gasped. To my dismay, I’d lost an hour! I should have been picking her up right then; there was no way we would make it to the doctor’s on time. Leaving the cart in the aisle, I rushed to my car. Rather than think how to save the situation, my first thought was how to spin it! Other than my own carelessness and stupidity, what valid excuse could I have for my tardiness? As I started the car, I glanced at the clock on the dash and realized that hour hadn’t disappeared; I’d left it back East. While my watch was still on EST, my car, mother-in-law, the doctor and I were in CST and there was still plenty of time.;

Rather than a complete fabrication, spinning is selectively gathering facts, omitting relevant truths, and then shaping them to support our version of the story. Spinning reshapes people and events with half-truths, diversions, exaggeration, inaccuracies, emotion-laden words, attacks and euphemisms. Spinning gives us “alternative facts.” It calls bombs “lethal defensive weapons,” cheating on emissions tests “possible non-compliance,” adultery an “inappropriate relationship,” embezzlement a “personal failing,” and information we don’t like “fake news.”

Although spinning is just a nicer way of saying deceiving, we all do it. Sometimes, we spin to save someone’s feelings but, far more often, we do it to save ourselves from a reprimand, consequences, embarrassment, or humiliation. The first spinners, of course, were Eve and Adam who spun the apple story to shift the blame. Eve said it was the serpent’s fault and Adam placed the blame on both Eve and God (for giving him the woman in the first place)! Detouring around a troublesome question, Cain spun when he answered God’s question as to the whereabouts of his brother with a question of his own. We spin so we don’t have to admit our failings. Aaron spun the golden calf incident by blaming the evil Israelites rather than his weak leadership.

When we can’t make an accusation disappear, we spin it to explain that what we did wasn’t really that wrong. Told to completely destroy everything in the Amalekite nation, Saul disobeyed by sparing the king’s life. His troops destroyed only what was worthless and took the rest for themselves. When confronted by Samuel, rather than admitting his greed and disobedience, Saul spun the story. Making no mention of the monument he’d set up for himself, he claimed the prohibited plunder was to be a sacrifice to God. Sometimes, we spin when it isn’t even necessary. When Jesus asked the crippled man at Bethesda if he wanted to get well, rather than a simple yes or no, the man blamed his disability on those who wouldn’t help him to the pool.

David had a perfect opportunity to put a spin on his adultery with Bathsheba. When confronted by Nathan, the king easily could have blamed the beauty for seducing him or Joab for misunderstanding his directions regarding Uriah’s fate. Instead, David did what all of us are expected to do: confessed and said, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Although we prefer making excuses and laying the blame for our failures elsewhere, let us never forget that we, like David, must always take full responsibility for our actions.

But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, “O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.” I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. [Luke 18:13-14 (NLT)]

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NOT REMEMBERING

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. [Matthew 18:21-22 (RSV)]

Several authors tell the story of a friend of Clara Barton who reminded the nursing pioneer and Red Cross founder of a spiteful act someone had done to her years earlier. When Barton acted as if it had never happened, her friend asked, “Don’t you remember it?” She vehemently replied, “No! I distinctly remember forgetting it.” Forgiveness isn’t easy and it requires real (and continued) determination on our part. Sadly, without our deliberate effort to put the offense aside, it’s easy for past hurts to weasel their way right back into our hearts and minds.

When Moravian missionaries first came to the Arctic, they found no word in the Inuit language that properly captured the Christian concept of forgiveness. Using Inuit words, they came up with issumagijoujunnainermik meaning “not-being-able-to-think-about-it-anymore.” That’s what forgiveness is; it’s choosing not to let the thoughts of that harmful person or their harmful deeds consume our thinking. Forgiveness isn’t forgetting; it’s deciding not to remember.

In writing about forgiveness today, I came across another interesting word: ilunga.  Found in the Tshiluba language spoken by the Bantu of the Congo, it is considered by linguists to be the most difficult word to translate. Ilunga describes a person who is ready to forgive and forget any first offense, will tolerate it a second time, but will neither forgive nor tolerate it a third time. It’s a three-strikes-and-you’re-out kind of person whose attitude changes with each offense. Jesus, however, didn’t tell us to forgive only once; He said to forgive seventy times seven times (or endlessly)!

When asked if she was ever troubled by past offenses, either hers of those of others, an elderly Christian lady is said to have replied, “Never!” She explained that if Satan troubled her about her sins or other people’s offenses, she simply sent him east. If he returned, she sent him to the west. Recalling the psalmist’s words that God “has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west,” [103:12] she explained that by sending Satan back and forth, from east to west and back again, she never allowed him to stop at her house.

The choice is ours. Will we choose to be like an ilunga or like that Christian lady and Clara Barton, people who practice issumagijoujunnainermik?

Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future. [Lewis B. Smedes]

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. [Ephesians 4:31-32 (RSV)]

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COULD IT BE TODAY?

Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom. [Psalm 90:12 (NLT)]

black vultureA few years ago, unaware of what the day would bring, a family friend kissed her new husband good-bye as he left for work. While riding the train that morning, the young man collapsed; he died of sudden cardiac arrest less than an hour after that tender kiss. That same year, another friend, whose wife’s body was ravaged by cancer, knew how short the time was he had with her. “While watching TV,” he confided downheartedly, “I looked over at Maureen and realized that next year her chair will be empty and I’ll be alone!” Today is Patriot Day, an annual remembrance of those who died or were injured during the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Thinking about that tragic morning seventeen years ago when so many lost their loved ones unexpectedly, I remembered these two widowed friends. Which is worse: watching the one you love deteriorate and knowing that you’re running out of time for kisses or kissing a loved one in the morning and not knowing that will be the last kiss you’ll ever share?

I can’t imagine the anguish of either scenario and am thankful that God doesn’t give us a choice in this matter. But, I do know what would be more heartbreaking than either scenario. Instead of kissing one another when parting, it would be worse if our last words were angry or harsh ones. How tragic if, instead of sharing a few loving words, we spent our last moments together in heated discussion or spiteful silence. What if we squandered our last opportunity to say “I love you,” to apologize or forgive, to pray together, to laugh with one another, or to share a kiss?

Whenever we say good-bye to my mother-in-law, we always give her a kiss and express our love. Since she’s nearing her 102nd birthday, we understand that each time we see her might be the last. This day of remembrance, however, is a powerful reminder that we can’t see what the next day will bring. There is no guarantee of tomorrow or even the next hour. We don’t know when our last moments with someone may be, whether they are 102 or only 12, dying of cancer or in the prime of life. We mustn’t waste the time with which we’re blessed. Let’s fill our lives, and the lives of others, with love, peace, and joy.

Father in Heaven, may we all learn to live each day as if it is our last. Remind us, O Lord, that this could be the final day, not just for us, but for those we love. May your Spirit guide us so that we truly appreciate the time and people you’ve given us. Let us leave no forgiveness denied, no love unexpressed, no apologies unoffered, no conflicts unresolved, and no thanks unspoken.

I expect to pass this way but once; any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again. [Stephen Grellet]

Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. [James 4:13-14 (NLT)]

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WHAT WOULD IT LOOK LIKE?

He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. [Psalm 103:10-12 (NLT)]

The question was asked, “How different would the world look if everyone got what they deserved?” and so I started wondering.

Zebra longwing butterflyWhen I was ten, I watched on television as nine black students tried to enroll in an all-white school in Little Rock, Arkansas; they were blocked by the National Guard and an angry mob of 400 angry whites. Two years earlier, on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white woman. I grew up in Detroit and, while discrimination and segregation were more subtle than in the South, it existed. I lived in a large home with a big yard on a tree-lined street but any trip “downtown” told me that most children of color didn’t live in homes like mine and their dads didn’t get to wear a suit and tie to work or drive shiny new cars. There may not have been “colored” drinking fountains or “white only” bathrooms but there was a six foot high, foot wide, and half-mile long wall segregating one black community from a neighboring white one; many other invisible and more impenetrable walls existed within our divided city. Even as a child, I knew no one deserved prejudice, discrimination, injustice, or poverty. I saw that my color gave me advantages that I hadn’t earned and didn’t deserve. Seeing no children of color at dance class, theater school, or summer camp, I thanked God that I’d been born a white American so that I had those opportunities. I realized that I lived a better life than did most people of color in my country and the majority of people in the rest of the world. I also knew that I was no better than anyone else; I wasn’t prettier, smarter, more talented or more deserving than any other race or nationality. By an accident of birth, I simply was more fortunate.

I’m not sure what the rest of the world would look like if everyone got what they deserved but my first thought was that Detroit would probably look a whole lot better than it does right now. Then I remembered that the Christian way isn’t giving everyone exactly what they deserve. It’s not an eye for an eye or a slur for a slur. It’s not blows and counterblows, attack and reprisal, or forgiving only if we’ve been forgiven. It’s not helping only those worthy of help, squaring accounts, or turning the tables. It’s helping the undeserving, forgiving the reprehensible, loving the heartless, accepting apologies, and burying the hatchet. It’s going the second mile and giving more than we got, bearing no malice, and praying for our persecutors rather than evening the score.

When asked how they’re doing, many Christians reply, “Better than I deserve.” The answer may be a bit of a cliché but it’s true. Just as I did nothing to deserve the advantages my race gave me, mankind has done absolutely nothing to be deserving of God’s blessings. Regardless of color, as recipients of God’s unmerited grace, we all have gotten more than we deserve (our salvation) and, as recipients of God’s mercy, we haven’t gotten what we do deserve (God’s punishment)! Certainly, God didn’t give us what we deserved when Jesus paid the penalty for our sins!

Upon second thought, I realize that, if everyone got only what they deserved, Detroit would look different but not any better (and probably worse). The world won’t improve if everyone gets exactly what they deserve. It’s not until we give everyone better than what they deserve that the world will ever truly change for the good.

You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow. You have heard the law that says, “Love your neighbor” and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. [Matthew 5:38-45 (NLT)]

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THE SAMARITAN

Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. [Luke 10:33 (NLT)]

prairie false indigoAccording to the historian Josephus, around 9 AD, when Jesus was just a boy, some Samaritans snuck into Jerusalem on Passover and defiled the Temple with human remains. The hatred between Jews and the Samaritans, however, had been going on for centuries. In 930 BC, when Rehoboam (Solomon’s son) was king, the kingdom of Israel divided. The northern kingdom, known as Israel, eventually became known as Samaria. The southern kingdom, where Jerusalem and the Temple were, became known as Judah. Fearing a change of alliance if his people returned to Jerusalem to worship, the northern kingdom’s first king, Jeroboam, set up his own worship centers complete with golden calves. After they were conquered by Assyria in 772 BC, most of the Jews were taken into captivity and foreigners, bringing their pagan gods and beliefs, colonized the land. The remaining Jews began to worship idols along with the God of Israel and the Samaritan religion became a mix of idolatry and Judaism.

Samaritans were a continual source of difficulty for the Jews of the southern kingdom. Insisting that Moses said they should worship on Gerizim, they erected a temple there. Recognizing only the five books of Moses, Samaritans rejected most Jewish traditions, interfered when Nehemiah was rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, and offered safe haven to Judah’s criminals. Controlling the land between Galilee and Jerusalem, they regularly harassed pilgrims on their way to worship in Jerusalem. Because of all the intermarriage between the Jews and Gentiles of Samaria, Samaritans were considered “half-breeds.” Seeing them as both racially and theologically contaminated, the Jews had a proverb: “A piece of bread given by a Samaritan is more unclean than swine’s flesh.”

This is the world in which we find Jesus telling the parable of the Good Samaritan with the unlikely hero being a Samaritan (whose people were known to harass travelers). We know this parable was in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” but let’s back up one chapter to see what preceded it. Jesus and the disciples were on their way to Jerusalem. Rather than taking the longer walk around Samaria, they were walking right through it. When Jesus sent messengers into a Samaritan village to make sleeping and eating arrangements, they were not welcomed. Although Jesus had previously told the disciples to simply shake the dust from their feet if a town refused to welcome them, John and James suggested calling down fire from heaven to destroy the village. Luke says Jesus rebuked them but we don’t know what was said.

Part of their rebuke may have been the story of the Good Samaritan. The parable could have been as much for His disciples (especially James and John) as it was for the legal expert who asked the question. Jesus easily could have made his point with a Roman soldier as the story’s unlikely hero, but He didn’t. Although the Samaritans had been unneighborly in snubbing Him, Jesus deliberately chose a Samaritan to teach a lesson about neighbors! That parable told the disciples that, even when our neighbor is inhospitable and slights us, we still treat him as our neighbor. Whether or not someone helps us, we are to help them and, when someone offends us, we’re not to take offense. We do unto others as we would like them to do to us and not as they’ve done to us!

Although there are about 800 Samaritans still living in Israel, for most of us the word “Samaritan” refers to someone who helps other people, especially strangers, when they have trouble. How ironic that the despised “pagan half-Jews of the Old Testament” (as one writer called them) took a place of honor in the New!

Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. Do to others as you would like them to do to you. If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! [Luke 6:30-31 (NLT)]

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