SOMEONE’S LOOKING

The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord sits on his throne in heaven. He sees what people do; he keeps his eye on them. [Psalm 11:4 (NCV)]

beach weddingWhen I was a little girl and got sick, my mother would dress me in a fresh pair of pajamas, tuck me into her bed, get out her hairbrush, and do my hair. “Why bother?” I’d ask, “No one is going to see me.” She’d always reply, “God sees you and you want to look your best.” I found it comforting, as I lay in bed, to know that both God and my mother were watching me.

It’s not just God, however, who watches—people do, too. While enjoying dinner on the patio of a local restaurant, we observed a couple exchange wedding vows on the beach. Although here were only five people present for the ceremony, when the groom kissed the bride, the entire patio applauded in joy. The couple beamed with delight and enthusiastically waved at the sixty uninvited guests who had witnessed their nuptials.

Their joy as being observed was a contrast to another al fresco dinner many years earlier. We were seated on a porch overlooking a well-lit boat launch. Two couples were trying unsuccessfully to get their boat back onto its trailer. With one attempt, the trailer wouldn’t be back far enough but, with the next, it would be too far back. The boat would drift, the trailer tires spin, or the boat motor would quit. As the evening wore on and the boat remained in the water, the boaters’ tempers flared. That they may have enjoyed too much liquid refreshment during the day didn’t help and there were angry words, cussing and name calling. We were finishing our key lime pie when their truck successfully pulled the trailered boat out of the water. In relief, the entire dining room broke out in applause. The four looked up at us, somewhat mortified that their poor behavior had been witnessed by so many.

Unlike the wedding couple, we’re not always in our best attire and on our best behavior. Our conduct, like that of the boaters, frequently leaves much to be desired. We’re told to let our lights shine so that people will see Christ in us but we’ve been known to let our lamps get so dim that Christ is nowhere to be seen in us. Whether we’re shining or not, however, a bright light may be shining on us (as it was on the boaters)! It’s not just the eyes of God that are upon us; people observe us, as well. Are we the shining light we’re called to be?

We are indeed the light of the world—but only if our switch is turned on. [John Hagee]

In the same way, you should be a light for other people. Live so that they will see the good things you do and will praise your Father in heaven. [Matthew 5:16 (NCV)]

You are God’s children whom he loves, so try to be like him. … In the past you were full of darkness, but now you are full of light in the Lord. So live like children who belong to the light. [Ephesians 5:1,8 (NCV)]

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SHEEP, SNAKES, AND DOVES

rat snakeLook, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves. [Matthew 10:16 (NLT)]

Matthew tells of Jesus calling the disciples together, giving them the authority to cast our evil spirits and heal all kinds of illness, and then sending them out to announce that the Kingdom of God was near. Preparing them for persecution, Jesus said they would be as sheep to the wolves. Helpless against predators like wolves, sheep also were used in religious sacrifice.  Jesus made sure the disciples understood they would encounter opposition, danger, trials and floggings by likening them to these vulnerable sacrificial animals.

Nevertheless, not wanting them so naïve that they became perpetual victims or so timid they couldn’t accomplish their mission, Jesus then told the disciples to be as shrewd as snakes. We rarely think of these reptiles as canny or perceptive but, when we consider the snake Eve met in Genesis, the simile makes more sense. That cunning serpent certainly had a way with words as he convinced Eve to sin. Imagine what he could have accomplished if, instead of deception, he’d used his skill with words for good rather than evil! Jesus wasn’t telling the disciples to deceive but it would appear that He was telling them to use their wits.

There are other parallels between snakes and the disciples’ instructions. Snakes, being cold-blooded, adjust their body temperature by moving out in and out of the sun and shade to find a safe and comfortable resting place. While Jesus wasn’t suggesting hiding under a rock, He did tell the disciples to find a hospitable place to stay and, if a place wasn’t welcoming, to go elsewhere (as a snake does when the temperatures gets inhospitable). Unless attacked, most snakes are not aggressive; they prefer slithering away to a confrontation. Just as snakes know how to evade trouble, the disciples were told to do the same. Nevertheless, like a snake, they were to stand their ground and defend themselves when threatened. Rather than using venom, however, they were to defend themselves with the words of the Spirit.

Immediately after telling the disciples to be like snakes, Jesus told them to be as harmless as doves. Like sheep, doves were vulnerable and sacrificial animals but, even in 1st century Palestine, they were a symbol of peace and love. The story of the dove returning to Noah’s ark caused the Jews to associate the dove with peace. Because of Greek and Roman mythology, it also symbolized love and devotion and, because the Spirit of God descended like a dove at Jesus’s baptism,  it also signified the Holy Spirit to His early followers. As Jesus’s representatives, the disciples were to find a balance between prudence and self-preservation on the one hand and compassion, peace and love on the other.

In the free world today, we don’t face floggings; the wolves are far more subtle. I think of a friend who would never demean the ethnicity, culture or sexual preferences of her co-workers yet she frequently finds herself the object of their ridicule for her Christian beliefs. She has to be both a snake and a dove in her response to them as do the few conservative Jewish and Christian students in my grands’ California high school. Their free-thinking anything-goes classmates have disparaged their belief in God, purity, right and wrong, sin, and the Bible’s truth. While we don’t risk imprisonment, as Christians, we may still find ourselves targets with our beliefs mocked, challenged, or threatened in subtle ways. Jesus did not send us out as sheep to the slaughter but as ministers of His word. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can avoid confrontation while fearlessly and skillfully standing our ground with love and peace.

You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me. When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. For it is not you who will be speaking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. [Matthew 10:18-20 (NLT)]

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JUST LIKE US

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing people what is wrong in their lives, for correcting faults, and for teaching how to live right. [2 Timothy 3:16 (NCV)]

St. Matthew - Cathedral of St. Francis - Santa FeWhen I was a child in Sunday school, we’d color pictures of David, Daniel, Samson, and King Solomon and sing songs about Zacchaeus, Noah, Joshua, and the trio with the fun names: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. As I learned their stories, they all seemed to be the Biblical version of super-heroes like Batman or Superman. Larger than life, invincible, almost indestructible, they seemed to overcome their obstacles effortlessly. Appearing perfect in their faith and actions, they weren’t people to whom I could relate. In reality, however, they were real people facing real challenges who sometimes made mistakes or struggled with their faith.

David may have killed Goliath, but he was an adulterer and murderer whose son died because of his sins. Rather than the strapping youth we picture, Daniel was an old man when thrown into the lions’ den. Samson was an impulsive braggart with incredibly bad taste in women. The wise Solomon disobeyed his father, erred in his choice of wives and over-worked and over-taxed his people. Zacchaeus was a corrupt collaborator and even the righteous Noah had a drinking problem. When singing about Jericho’s walls tumbling down, it’s easy to forget the faith it took for Joshua to obey God’s illogical plan of marching around Jericho with the Ark for seven days. That brave threesome were captives in a foreign land and defying an egotistic king; in spite of their words of faith, they had to have been shaking in their sandals as they faced that fiery furnace.

A real woman, the barren Hannah struggled with her sense of worth. Because of sibling rivalry, Jacob stole his brother’s birthright and blessing and Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. Timothy’s youth made him timid and insecure, the publican Matthew probably had been a cheat and, to save his own skin, cowardly Abraham gave his wife to another man not once but twice! A weak leader, Aaron yielded to the people’s desire to make an idol of gold and Moses let his anger get the best of him. The great prophet Elijah prayed for death in the depth of despair and Paul persecuted Christians!

When we look at the heroes and heroines of the Bible with the eyes of an adult, we see real people who struggled with challenges, pain, and even their faith. In the midst of their difficulties, however, they met God and, through His power, accomplished incredible things. If God could use these flawed people to accomplish such great things, think of what He can do with you and me!

I sing a song of the saints of God, patient and brave and true,
who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew. …
they were all of them saints of God, and I mean, God helping, to be one too. [Lesbia Scott]

Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us. The Scriptures give us patience and encouragement so that we can have hope. [Romans 15:4 (NCV)]

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THE ARK of the COVENANT

I will meet with you there and talk to you from above the atonement cover between the gold cherubim that hover over the Ark of the Covenant. From there I will give you my commands for the people of Israel. [Exodus 25:22 (NLT)]

Mt. Rigi crossYesterday’s devotion about Indiana Jones and the Ark of the Covenant raises the questions of what was in it and what became of it. Constructed by the Israelites during the exodus, the Ark held the unbroken tablets of the Ten Commandments (representing God’s law), a golden pot of manna (representing God’s love and provision), and Aaron’s rod that miraculously budded (representing God’s power and leadership). Built in Mt. Sinai and carried all the way to Canaan, nearly 500 years passed before it finally found its home in Solomon’s temple. By the time the temple was built and Solomon brought it into the innermost chamber, only the stone tablets remained.

A thing of beauty, the Ark’s design was revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Constructed of acacia wood, it was 3.9 feet long by 2.3 feet both high and wide. It was plated, inside and out, with pure gold. On the bottom of the box, there were four gold rings through which two long poles could be inserted. Also made of acacia and coated in gold, it was by these poles that the priests carried the Ark. Covering the box was the atonement cover or Mercy Seat. Made of one piece of solid gold, it was hammered into the shape of two cherubim on each end. Facing one another, their wings were extended and touched. If we wonder how a people who had been enslaved for over 400 years had gold enough for a golden calf let alone this golden box, we should remember that Israel “stripped the Egyptians of their wealth” [Exodus 12:36] and took their clothing, silver and gold. In a bit of holy irony, the same gold and precious stones that adorned their captors and embellished Egyptian idols was used to make the Ark and outfit the Tabernacle.

As far as we know, the Ark remained in the Temple until Jerusalem’s destruction at the hands of the Babylonians in 586 BC. Whether it was destroyed, captured, or hidden then, nobody knows; its whereabouts have been debated for centuries. The Babylonians made detailed lists of their plunder and the Ark is not listed. The Ark simply disappeared and there is no mention of it when Zerubabbel rebuilt the Temple upon the Jews’ return from captivity. When Pompey conquered Jerusalem and entered the Temple in 63 BC, he reported that its inner sanctuary was just an empty room.

One Midrash in the Talmud states that King Josiah anticipated Jerusalem’s invasion and buried the Ark in a vault under the wood storehouse on the Temple Mount. Since that site is now home to the Dome of the Rock, a sacred Islamic shrine, archeologists have not been able to search there. According to Maimonides, King Solomon foresaw the eventual destruction of the Temple and set aside a cave near the Dead Sea for its protection and that is where Josiah hid the Ark. The Apocryphal book of 2 Maccabees claims that Jeremiah hid the Ark in a cave on Mt. Nebo and its location “shall remain unknown until God gathers his people together again and shows his mercy,” leading some Jews to believe it won’t be found until the Messiah comes. Some Ethiopian Christians assert that the Ark was taken to Ethiopia before the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem. They claim it is in the Church of Saint Mary of Zion and guarded by a monk known as the “Keeper of the Ark.” No one has been allowed to see it and it’s never been studied for authenticity. In 1982, an amateur archeologist, Ron Wyatt, claimed to have found the Ark beneath Golgotha and that Jesus’s blood dripped through a fissure in the rock onto it. No one, however, ever saw it and Wyatt’s many dubious claims have been thoroughly discredited by both professional archaeologists and respected Biblical scholars. Contrary to the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, I’m pretty sure this divine relic is not shut up in a box and stored in the recesses of a government warehouse.

Under the Old Covenant, the Ark was a sign of God’s presence among His people. Under the New Covenant, God’s law, love, provision, leadership and power are no longer contained in a box; they are found in Jesus. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God doesn’t reside in the inner room of the Temple; He is in the hearts of all believers!

Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? [1 Corinthians 6:19 (NLT)]

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WHAT IF HE HADN’T? (Zacchaeus – part 3)

Teach us to number our days and recognize how few they are; help us to spend them as we should. [Psalm 90:12 (TLB)]

climbing asterWhen Jesus stopped in Jericho, He was on His way to Jerusalem; His trial and crucifixion would soon follow. Although our Lord knew He would not pass that way again, no one else did; certainly not Zacchaeus. What if the publican had been too busy collecting taxes that day to go and see Jesus? What if it looked like it might rain or he was just too tired to make the effort? What if Zacchaeus had been discouraged by the large crowd and his inability to get a good viewing spot? Thinking he always could see Jesus the next time He passed through Jericho, what if he hadn’t run ahead and climbed that tree? Zacchaeus would have missed meeting Jesus and accepting His call.

Jesus once told a parable about a rich man so focused on the here and now that he concentrated on amassing earthly wealth rather than developing a rich relationship with God. One night, while planning to build even bigger barns to store his wealth, he died! The rich fool had waited too long to make provision for his soul!

In a different parable, Jesus told of another wealthy and selfish man who died. While suffering in torment, the rich man saw the pitiful beggar he’d callously ignored while alive; the beggar was being comforted in the arms of Abraham at a heavenly banquet. The rich man wanted Abraham to warn his brothers that, unless they changed their greedy ways, they would end up in torment, too. Refusing, Abraham told him they’d already been sufficiently warned. There are no second chances once we’re gone.

One of my husband’s favorite songs is “Time in a Bottle” by Jim Croce and he once said that he’d like it sung at his Celebration of Life. In this song, Croce wishes he could save time in a bottle “till eternity passes away” just to spend it all with his love. “But there never seems to be enough time to do the things you want to do, once you find them,” he adds regretfully. In response to my husband’s request, I reminded him that we can’t save time in a bottle or wishes in a box; we must make the most of the time we have. When we’re dead and gone, it’s far too late to regret poor choices and missed opportunities.

Let us never make the mistake of being so occupied with the stuff of life or so sure of tomorrow, that we miss the opportunities of today—whether it’s meeting Jesus, showing compassion to those in need, or merely spending time with those we love. Like the rich fool’s brothers, we’ve been warned!

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. [Etienne De Grellet]

My life is no longer than my hand! My whole lifetime is but a moment to you. Proud man! Frail as breath! A shadow! And all his busy rushing ends in nothing. He heaps up riches for someone else to spend. And so, Lord, my only hope is in you. [Psalm 39:5-7 (TLB)]

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HE CAME DOWN (Zacchaeus – part 2)

Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. [Revelation 3:20 (NLT)]

black-crowned night-heronConsider the determination of Zacchaeus, the despised little man who, unable to shove his way through the crowd to see the rabbi from Nazareth, doggedly ran ahead and climbed a tree just to catch a glimpse of Him. Running and climbing were undignified behavior and certainly inappropriate for a wealthy businessman like Zacchaeus. Do we desire Jesus so much that we’d push our way through obstacles or risk looking ridiculous for Him? Are we as determined as the publican to learn about the Lord or do we use any flimsy excuse to miss church, Bible study or time in prayer?

If Zacchaeus thought he’d escaped notice hiding behind the broad leaves of the sycamore, he was mistaken. Jesus saw him as did the crowd when Jesus called out, “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.” The crowd must have loved seeing the hated man embarrassed as he exposed his legs while climbing down the tree. But, it wasn’t just the tree from which Zacchaeus needed to descend; he had to come down from his “high horse” and humble himself before the Lord. In the presence of Jesus, Zacchaeus was no longer a rich powerful tax-collector; he was just a lowly sinner.

When Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus’ home, the man didn’t say he had previous plans, the house needed cleaning, or his wife had nothing ready for dinner. The tax man immediately (and joyfully) welcomed Jesus into his home and life. Are we that quick (and happy) to meekly respond when God calls us or do we grumble and find a dozen excuses to delay?

As happens when we humbly encounter the Lord, once Zacchaeus met Jesus, he repented of his ways. He promised to give half his wealth to the poor and make full restitution to those he’d cheated by giving back four times the amount owed! The story of Zacchaeus, the man who almost instantaneously went from greed to generosity, shows us the amazing transforming power of Jesus. Zacchaeus, however, knew that what he was being offered by Jesus was far greater than any riches he could amass as a corrupt tax collector. The lost sheep had been found!

Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” [Luke 19:9-10 (NLT)]

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