Holy Week Should be a Bigger Deal Than it is

JesusSpinolaSemanaSanta

Sometimes I think it wouldn’t hurt Protestants to learn a thing or two from our Catholic brothers and sisters. This is Holy Week … Semana Santa. Every day of the week, a cofradía (a confraternity – a brotherhood made up of laypeople who promote the church) or hermanos / hermandades (a fraternity) will march out of the church carrying a paso (a large wooden float with an image of Jesus in a Bible scene or an image of the Virgin Mary, they are decorated, covered in gold, and considered to be among the finest religious art in existence – they are a cultural treasure. Some of the brothers will be wearing nazareno robes and capirote hats – tall pointed hats with a mask attached to them. It is an ancient costume – worn for hundreds of years to allow the penitent person to remain safely anonymous. They will slowly march through the streets, carrying this massive float, accompanies by musicians, by singers, by incense, and by a crowd of onlookers who are waiting to hear the story – what the paso represents. Palm Sunday (Domingo de Ramos) features an image of Jesus on a donkey. On Monday, another brotherhood from one of the other churches will carry a different float – from their church, to the city center and back. It takes hours – as they stop to tell the story, to switch out the brothers carrying the float with others who are fresh and their muscles are not tired. On certain days of the week, women are expected to wear black mantillas – black lace veils that are often secured by combs – as a sign of morning for the Lord. This tradition appears in scattered historical accounts going as far back as the year 1350 – over the centuries it has changed bit by bit. At first, women weren’t exactly allowed to be part of the processions. In 1984, four women secretly dressed up in nazareno robes and capirote hats and joined the procession. It wasn’t until much later did they inform the brothers that they had participated without causing a disruption in the proceedings. By the next year, a cofradía had voted to allow women in processions. Soon, many other cofradías also voted to allow women to participate. Just five years ago, a woman stepped up and lead the procession of her cofradía.

I first learned about Holy Week while watching episode two “el comienzo” of Destinos an Introduction to Español: https://learner.org/series/destinos/watch/index.html?ep3 @15:00-16:30. It fascinated me to see so much religious devotion on public display. It’s even more amazing to watch the proceedings on Youtube channels and live streams – but I think being there would be the best thing of all. It got me to wondering why my church doesn’t seem to make that big of a deal of Holy Week. At most, we have Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, but the rest of the days of the week are just like any other. We don’t really celebrate the whole story – one day at a time.

Holy Week in Seville: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holy_Week_in_Seville

Holy Week in Spain: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holy_Week_in_Spain

More info about Semana Santa Traditions: http://www.exploreseville.com/events/semana-santa.htm

So, I guess the question is – how are we going to make a big deal out of Holy Week this week? Any thoughts?

Voluntold

While reading comments, I noticed one of a young mother who was frustrated that nobody seemed to want to step up and watch her children during church services no matter how much she begged and pleaded for help. My first thought was an incredibly unhelpful statement which I decided not to post. I have my reasons for not doing childcare. I suspect some people think they’re too old, too tired, and don’t have the energy or strength to chase around the under five crowd. Some realize that they really aren’t that great with kids and only like their own or their own grand kids, figuring they’ve done their time and deserve to retire from the business. To be honest, when something isn’t your cup of tea, it sucks to be stuck doing it without any real choices or acceptance of the thing that you really are good at.

It was a typical Sunday, almost exactly like the ones before it and the ones that followed after it, with ever so slightly discernible changes in the songs that were song or the theme of the message being preached as the most notable. The pastor’s wife stood up and announced that a volunteer was needed to watch the children, which consisted of her three sons and no other children. During the meet’n’greet, the woman in front of me turned around and said: “You should teach the children!” How she arrived at that conclusion was something of mystery. I hadn’t interacted with the children the whole time I was at that church. They didn’t know my name and I didn’t know theirs. I hadn’t shown any interest in children or mentioned children at all. In fact, the only way she could have come to that conclusion that I was a suitable teacher was if she believed that young women are innately experts at childcare. After all, I was both young and a woman. I matched the criteria completely.

My previous church pretty much believed the same thing – that young women ought to plug-into church ministry by serving in the nursery indefinitely. Once on the rotation, there was this unspoken expectation that they would continue to serve. There were two exits – one was having a child of their own and the other was quitting the church in some form or another. To remain in a church and quit doing childcare was to be constantly guilt-tripped about being selfish, hating children, and hating our brothers and sisters in Christ. It was almost a constant imposition based on the belief that all young women ought to take care of young children. There never seemed to be a viable alternatives.

Not watching kids was turning my back on whatever was meant by biblical womanhood. It was as if I was the pot declaring to the potter: “You can’t use me like that! I won’t let you.” There was never a moment to consider what my gifts and skills and talents pointed to another reality of something else that I made for, because having been young and female, then I could only be a nursery worker because the Bible says so. These days, when I ask about what the Bible teaches about Biblical womanhood, there’s a lot of quiet, beating around the bush that ultimately says that my role is that of wife and/or mother, preferably both. It says I can be/do anything so long as I’m submitted under the authority of my husband (preferably, if I had to I could be submitted to my father as long as I remained single but ideally I’d eventually get married). It says I’m defined by my relationships – somebody’s daughter, somebody’s wife, somebody’s mother and that I’m never a somebody in and of myself. Related to the video – it bothers me that I refer to these people just that same way – somebody’s mother, the pastor’s wife, the elderly woman who sat in the row ahead of me next to her husband. I couldn’t tell you what their names were. Their names are less important than their role and it shouldn’t be that way.

These days, I’ve learned not to rely on the church. They can’t see what’s in front of them. While they would have me serve in the nursery, they ignore my increasing skills with foreign languages, my increasing knowledge of church history as well as ancient cultures, the finer points of theology, and my interests in other things. Obviously, I can’t be trusted to teach other women and children because I might corrupt them into questioning what the church is telling them to believe about their role in the church. These things would make me a great candidate as a potential teacher – if I were a guy. But I’m not. So obviously, the only thing I can do, and should do, in order to serve God is to watch children indefinitely because God never made women with another plan in mind of how they could best serve the church. Except for maybe as a missionary, but the idea that women can’t teach white men because they would deceive them and yet can teach foreign men suggests sexism and racism is alive and well. But hey, what do I know?

A Matter of Faith: Father Knows Best

I watched “A Matter of Faith” the other day, that Christian movie that’s not the sequel of “God’s Not Dead” but is extremely similar to it. Much of the plot centered on the father’s struggle to protect his daughter’s faith by conquering her professor’s ideology and overcoming his influence on her. It’s almost as if she’s a rope and he’s tugging it to keep it on the Christian side of the line to prevent it from being pulled to the Not Christian side of the line. Instead of treating his daughter as a grown adult with whom he ought to have a conversation, he goes behind her back to have a conversation with his daughter’s professor to question what the professor is teaching her and ends up agreeing to a public debate. Much of the movie is basically this scene repeated in a few different variations: “Dad, I’m calling to tell you that you’re going to ruin me / embarrass me by debating my professor in front of the whole student population of my college.” “I’m sorry sweetie, but Creationism is a very important issue right now. The authority of the Bible, God’s very word is at stake. I can’t back out of this now. I’m doing this because I love you and I want to keep you from losing your faith.

The thing is, nobody can decide for somebody else what they will believe or how they carry out or act upon their beliefs. You can raise a child in isolation, keeping them from popular books and movies and music by carefully selecting what they read and see and hear. You can instill in them your most cherished beliefs. But that child will one day grow up and become a young adult. They will have to either accept everything they have come to believe, or come to personally own their faith by questioning it completely and deciding what rings truest to them. It’s probably the scariest thing a Christian parent can watch their children go through. Will their baby choose to continue walking the straight and narrow way to Heaven or will they take the exit to the wide and easy way to Hell? Ultimately, parents will have to have faith in their children that as young adults, they will remain true to their own convictions. For some, that looks like walking away from what their parents taught them. For some that looks like joining another religion. For some that looks like having no religion at all.

In this movie, the father never sees his daughter as an adult who should have the right to choose her own faith. It is his fatherly duty to save her from her professor’s non-Christian teachings and the influence they have on her mind. His righteous quest is fulfilled with aid from a young Christian man who points him in the direction of a Christian ex-professor who knows the subject inside and out and could probably help – if he was willing. The young man reminds the young woman that faith isn’t a matter of adding Jesus to your life, but of being properly submitted to him. Only when she becomes right with the Lord is she able to see that her father is doing the righteous thing of getting the word out for the Lord and striking a blow to the enemy’s plan to use colleges to brainwash the youth into doubting their faith by accepting secular teachings. After all, going to college, not reading her Bible, not finding a church – it’s apparently shown her that she’s selfish and it’s selfish to not want other people to hear about God.

It’s sad to see so many conversations about and around the young woman rather than with her about what she believes or thinks – there are more conversations between the young woman’s father and the pastor, or her father and the young Christian man, or her father and the ex-professor then there are with her about what she believes or why she believes it. The young woman over whom so much fuss is made only has the main plot-point of being a young woman whom a not-Christian is dating in an effort to try to get something from her rather than respecting her as a person. But the Christians don’t really respect her either. They talk about her, they talk around her, they talk to each other without consulting her, and the only conversations they have with her is just to point out that she’s wrong, that the debate must go on even if she’s against it, and that ultimately defending God’s word is more important than taking her seriously.

Seamless: Sew Long

Every single time I read the story of Paul, it slays me. This week was no different. I can’t help it. You’ve got this man who was vehemently opposed to Jesus, who made it his life’s mission to destroy Christ-followers and he ends up being the writer of the majority of the New Testament. It’s stories like that that give me hope and I really pray that they do the same for you.

To be fair, Paul really didn’t know that he was writing part of the New Testament. It’s not as if he imagined that his letters to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, among others, would one day be collected, translated into English, and bound into a single book. In case one is interested in the statistics, the author of Luke and Acts wrote more of the New Testament than Paul did in all of the epistles combined. Sure, Paul wrote a majority of the books of the New Testament, but it wasn’t the majority of the New Testament itself – though he did come close.

… And I know that there are all these things that stand out different for us in Scripture in different parts of our lives, sometimes we read a passage and it will jump off of the page and amaze us and other times we skim over that and something else jumps out at us that we’ve never noticed before. I love that. For me it was reading the words of Paul as his life comes to a close I guess you could say that kind of lit a new fire in me. Because it wasn’t enough that he had had a radical conversion to Christ, for him that was just the beginning of the story. And I want that to be true of me. I want to stare tomorrow in the face, whatever it brings me with full confidence that the God who began this work in me will bring it to completion. Philippians 1:6 ESV. As we saw in Paul, that meant preaching more often from prison cells and not necessarily country clubs. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this, but often the words echo loudest in the world when they come from places of deep hurt. From places that reached what might be seen as our darkest hour and still we refuse to call him anything but the great hope of our lives. So this video, this closing session, that’s what I’m urging for you – that’s what I want you to hear. He’s given you this hope so you can carry it out into the world. What is it that makes your story specific to you? What are the wounds of your life? How can you hide them in the wounds of your God so that they’ll bring him glory? I know that I’ve talked about my wedding day several times during this study, I’m sorry I couldn’t help it. It’s just the most beautiful analogy that I could come up with to describe the relationship that we have with our God…

It is my firm belief that any Bible Study ought to actually study the Bible. Sure, there are room for a great many anecdotes, jokes, and random stories – but this consistent redirection of bringing the main point home – to you and to me always distracts from Scripture itself. There’s plenty of metaphors for God’s various relationships with humanity in Scripture: creator and creation, father and child, mother and child, husband and wife, husband and ex-wife, fiancé and his fiancée, general and his army, as well as the trinity relationships: father and holy spirit, holy spirit and son, and father and son. All of them have some beauty to it, and all of them have some problem with them. When it comes down to it, we can use relationships to describe how we relate to God, but we can’t stamp all relationships with God and expect them to work. Anyway, back to the Bible study – we left off with a discussion of author’s wedding and her family.

I think I love Paul because I get it. I’m a pragmatic person. I spent most of my life ignoring or disputing these words because to me they seemed kind of like a fantastical version of a world that would just distract us from reality. Fairy tales. An escape. A place where people could go when they wanted to get away from feeling heavy about their life. But sometimes God lets us get to the end of ourselves because He knows that’s the only place we’ll find Him. Although I would have said that I was a Christian before … there was something in me that shifted that night, all the sudden it went from theory to concrete, it went from possibility to absolute,it went from pages to a person. And the last thing I ever wanted to do in my life was to sit in front of a camera and talk and wonder what people on the other side of the lens would think about me…

I don’t really have any opinion to the author as a person. I think she was pretty much a regular person (as regular as anyone can be who is married to a famous personality) who was challenged by a difficult time with the loss of her child. She blogged, struck a chord, and received a fair amount of attention. I think LifeWay saw this, imagined dollar signs that could be rolling in – if she’s this popular as a free blogger, how much more money could she make them in the form of a Bible Study? As a bonus, she could get out the word and talk about God and the Bible and Jesus. Her study also checks all the boxes for what makes a great women’s Bible study: it’s not too theologically deep, it does not place too much demands on a woman’s time, it relational, it’s emotional, it has some humor in it, it contains a context for women in it’s use of marriage metaphors, and it’s pink all over the place. The video I’ve been watching just exudes southern charm; it’s really quite lovely. But what makes it a perfect women’s Bible Study also makes it a less than useful for me. I don’t need an overarching understanding of the fundamental layout and meaning of God’s word achieved by seamlessly tying the people, places, and promises in the Bible together into the greater story of Scripture. I don’t need a pink hers version of the Bible or the story it contains therein. I need the story for the context of my life – not for somebody else’s life experience that is totally different from my own. So many times the author relates to the gospel through her experiences as a wife, it gives the marriage metaphors in scripture a personal meaning. Not everyone has that. Another thing – growth. You get a certain amount of growth depending upon what nutrients you provide. If women tend to be given more emotional and less theological Bible studies, then one should expect to see emotional growth more quickly and very little theological growth if any at all. What kind of Christians do you want to see as a result of this study? People who the Bible like a tourist knows all the major sites? Or people who are locals who know all the sites inside and out? Ones who can talk about Eve, Jacob, the Israelites, and David? Or ones who happens to know who Oholibamah was, what Gehazi did, and what happened to Nehustan?

… I get it. Obviously I’m totally kidding. Over the past few weeks as I’ve prayed about these sessions and over what I would say I want you know that the enemy who met us in the Garden has been alive and well and feeding my own insecurity. He’s whispered things to me that I’d long forgotten. He’s spit on my heart when I finally started feeling any kind of courage about it at all. And I say that to you because I know you get it. I know that wherever you are and whatever you’re facing, you’ve heard his lies, too. And so it all comes down to the question that we started this study with: What is it that you think of God? Because if he really is who he says he is, then we’re wasting our time if we’re doing anything other than telling everyone exactly that. 2 Timothy 4:7 ESV. It makes me want nothing less than to say those same words with every breath he gives me. It should compel us to tell the story. To tell this story. And so I want to ask you something: How will you leave this room today and tell it? Where are the places he’s called you? To bring this?

Sometimes I think Christians can give too much credit to Satan, the Devil, a.k.a. the enemy. Instead of owning up to our own fears and failures, it’s often easier to blame the devil. “The devil’s tormenting me today, he’s temping me.” “The devil’s attacking me today, he’s brought on an episode of depression” “the devil caused my panic attack.” I really don’t believe he’s that powerful. Look at the story of Job – Satan had limits what he could do. And we’re not even Job, not really worth the trouble it would take to destroy all our possessions, our families, our health – it’s not as if God or Satan has anything to prove by causing us to suffer.

So she continues with yet another mention of her wedding, how the guests were invited to her marriage reception and was also reminded of the one in Revelation 19:7 ESV followed by Hebrews 12:28 ESV … We open these pages with three simple words: in the beginning. And now we close it. Not with a sense of finality but rather of expectation of celebration of urgency this seamless love story has wound it’s way from the garden to Gethsemane and eventually to unending glory. This God, this exact God, has placed a calling on your life to go out and speak of the one who rescued you, the one who renamed you, who redeemed you, who brought you to repentance, who reconciled you, and who will receive you at the table of grace … These words are trustworthy and true – Revelation 22:6 ESV … and so like any great story, it isn’t over yet. But also like any truly great story we know how it ends. And so until then, beloved, cling to Him as the spotless bride he has made you to be. Let your life be a living testimony of his goodness, his faithfulness, and his holiness. And all God’s people said, amen.

And that’s a wrap. This Bible study is almost exactly a year old. I guess it excels at being an introduction course for adults who didn’t grow up in churches learning them from a young age. There is a need for resources for such things – however, anyone who is like me, who already knows these stories aren’t likely to learn anything they don’t already know. Women’s Bible Studies have long had this reputation for being full of fluff. It’s slowly getting better, but there were a lot of opportunities that were missed to write studies to help women grow.

Hebrews 5:11-6:3 says,

“We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.”

This bible study effectively laid the foundation of repentance and faith in God – it offers milk for spiritual infants. That’s what it offers, and that’s what it’ll create. The women of my church have been Christians for decades, but they’re not in a place to be teachers. Why is this? The Methodist denomination doesn’t bar women from being pastors. But my particular church doesn’t seem to offer much potential for growth. I remember when I was tasked with reviewing Designed to Shine for my previous church. I told the woman who would be leading the study that it was a terribly shallow book that was more about it’s authors auto-biography than it was the Bible itself. The teacher said that anything deeper would be too much. I told her the study was just not enough. Same goes for Seamless, it’s just not enough to start women down the path toward becoming teachers. Some of that might be because of a rather complementarian view of Scripture that tends to create a divide between men and women: in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 lays down the rule that women are not permitted to teach men. Elsewhere, older women are told to teach younger women (Titus 2:3-5). Women only need to know enough to relate – to take the stories and connect them to what they are feeling because women are emotional (except for me and hundreds of thousands of other women). Since women aren’t allowed to teach men, then there is no need for them to know as much or the same kind of knowledge that men are supposed to know. In essence, since women can’t be teachers the same way that men are, they aren’t being taught how to be teachers the same way that men are. Which is to be expected of a LifeWay Bible Study, the publishing arm of the Southern Baptists; but it should not be taught in Methodist churches without somebody pointing out everywhere their teachings conflict and where their emphasis differs from the one they know. Until Bible Studies are capable of turning students into teachers, it’s up to each and every one of us to take up the challenge ourselves – to learn what the Bible Studies don’t teach. To take as much time as it takes to really get into the tapestry of scripture and trace where each of the threads take us, wherever it may be.

Seamless: Veiled

I so pray that as you went through the Bible study assignments this week you saw something new from Scripture as you read. I’ll tell you this, I probably could have recited the story of Christ’s birth and his life and his death for many years, but it wasn’t until I was moved to tears did I finally understood it. When I read my Bible, and I want to encourage you to do this too, I put myself in the scenes – I try to imagine every detail around me. I want to know what it might have smelled like. I want to know what it might have tasted like. What it sounded like to be in every single moment. I want to just feel those words come alive in my soul … And sometimes that means trying to erase other people’s interpretation of different events in Scripture. Sometimes it means trying to erase the temptation to just see them as stories. And sometimes … it means recognizing the places I tried to erase reality for the sake of avoiding true comprehension and the acknowledgement of what happened on Calvary. Because the truth of the matter was that it was a real crown of thorns that pierced his head and they were real nails that drove through his flesh with the brute force of human hatred. And I understand that we would be crazy not to try and look away from something that horrific but the truth of it is that we would be crazier to actually do so. And so I know it’s tempting to avert your eyes, but in doing so I think you might avert your heart. And that’s more than we can afford to do. As the breath of life left Jesus’ body for the very last time,the Scripture says in Matthew 27:51 ESV … Maybe before now you didn’t have the context to appreciate that. But it changed everything. Everything. The torn curtain changes everything.

All of our lives, people give us their interpretation of different events in Scripture. From the pastors we grow up listening to, the televangelists we watch, the celebrity pastors we stream from the internet, to the books we read – everywhere we look people are interpreting Scripture for us. More than that, what we have come to understand is the result of hundreds of years of interpretation from historical greats, the pastors of the Great Awakening, the Reformers before that, and the Church Fathers before them. The very words on the pages of the Bible are the the result of the translators interpretation of the original language into modern English. Even this Bible Study happens to be it’s authors interpretation of different events in Scripture. I don’t think we could erase all our past influences if we tried. The trick is weigh them all and ask ourselves: “What fits best with what we know about the cultures in the Bible back in the day?” It just doesn’t do to put ourselves into the Bible as a bystanders, dressed in American clothing, speaking English, and wondering why everything is so different from what we expect.

One question that I’ve been think about lately is whether or not it’s okay to look at God. I was watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – an episode where Kai Winn talks about how she would do anything to look at the faces of her gods, the prophets. Her thirst for acknowledgement drove her to ultimately reject them when she went unfulfilled. Kira, on the other hand, tends to look away and this is interpreted as true humility, that she gets that she’s not worthy to look and that’s exactly what makes her worthy to look. In the Bible, there have been instances of both, where people could not look at God and people could look at God – it just depended on the context and the person’s heart. It seems that one’s own motives go a long way to deciding on whether we’re doing the right thing or not. The point is, looking away doesn’t prove that our heart is in the wrong place any more than looking toward something prove that it is in the right place.

For as long as I can remember, I have loved the idea of wearing a veil and being a bride … I always wanted to have a veil. For me that was the moment that kind of make it feel like a wedding… The veil has always been this beautiful symbol of separation and purity …

I remember reading the other day that because of Jacob’s marriage to Leah, a new custom was made so that before the wedding, it was the groom who covered his bride’s face with her veil so that he could make sure he was about to marry the right woman. Roman brides even wore bright orange veils on their wedding days to protect them from evil Spirits. The world over, veils have different meanings to different cultures: modesty, immodesty, purity/virginity, protection from evil spirits, the groom taking possession of his bride as his property and/or lover or the revelation of the bride to the groom for his approval, symbol of what was about to happen during the wedding night, for use in belly-dancing, etc. I just wanted to say that the continued use marriage-metaphor language is extremely annoying. How much do you want to bet that a men’s study wouldn’t go there? If men can find a way to relate to God outside of a marriage context, then why not women?

We know from our study of the Old Testament that a blood sacrifice was necessary for the forgiveness of sin. And here we learn about the coming of Christ and His eventual death on the cross. His spotless life kept a law that we never could and his blood poured out for all of our sin it reconciled us with a perfect God whom we had been separated from since Eden. Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice and what he did for us on Calvary shattered the need for any other type of sacrifice. He was our atonement, he is our high priest and now there’s no more need for an earthly mediator.

Here I thought it would be a good point to consider that when it comes to any theological point, we have a number of different positions that could be considered valid interpretations: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atonement_in_Christianity – They’re a result of all those different interpretations of events that people have had over the last few millennia. Sometimes the best thing to do is to consider other perspectives, to see where the weaknesses in our own positions are and what the strengths of other teachings are.

So when you think about what it is that we learned in the Old Testament about the temple you can imagine the role of the curtain. This veil that separated the people from God. Only the high priest could enter once a year to present offerings in order to cover the sins of the people and if he did the slightest thing wrong, he would be put to death. This veil was no delicate thing either, it was probably about twenty feet high and thirty feet wide. It was this thick costly piece of fabric, purple and gold, in-wrought with figures of cherubim and as we read in the Gospel of Matthew 27:51 ESV Does it matter that it was torn from top to bottom? It does, actually. Because it signifies that only God could have done that, not human hands. And so this tearing it, it indicates something far more precious than fabric being destroyed. It’s the institution of the new covenant that God has made with his people and in effect it destroys the old one. Where the old covenant – promise – was based on law and condition, the new law is not. Hebrews 10:1, 19-22 ESV, The new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, the old standard is gone the conditional if/then way of thinking is history and now for the sake of the glory of his father, Christ came to do away with the former ways. And so now we see the new standard it’s faith, it’s belief, it’s not action, it’s not behavior, it’s not anything we can do at all. It’s a radical shift in thinking and so you can see why people revolted and maybe you can understand why they still do because up until now, they had something to do in order to get to God and now it’s just Him. It’s only him, it’s completely utterly unmistakably Him.

It was inevitable that talking about wedding veils would lead directly to the Holy of Holies, the curtain that served as God’s veil for the purpose of separation. One interesting point to consider: Herod’s Temple was a segregated one. Gentiles could only go so far as the court of the Gentiles. Women could meet at the Court of the Women, but couldn’t go further up or further in than that. Not everybody would have been able to see the torn curtain for themselves. God might have destroyed the separation between him and his priests – but in a big way, women and gentiles were on the fringes and still separated from God by the men. That has not changed even to this day. Women don’t have direct access, they must be covered by and therefore go through men to get to God. Only with the covering of her husband’s authority, can she be properly submitted to her husband, and therefore, to God as well. Such a teaching obviously leaves out anyone who isn’t married. Which is why it’s stretched to say that unmarried women are under the spiritual authority of her father. Some women even choose to wear a physical covering to remind themselves of their spiritual covering. They remain veiled, wearing a veil that God never chose to tear in two.

For all of our human efforts, we cannot even begin to come close to the holiness that He demands, so he sent his son to take our place and close the gap we can never close … Now we as Gentiles are allowed into the family of God. It’s no longer only for the Jew, but for anyone who believes. Is there a part of you that struggles with that, that’s all there is to it? … Here’s the deal, faith is the lamp that makes the rest of the world dim. The problem is that we’re so used to holding onto our own candles that we don’t even know how to live in the light that he’s given us. It seems too easy. I mean believe, that’s it? Anyone can do that. And that’s exactly the point. It is only because of the groom who loved his bride and came to reconcile her … The veil is torn beloved, your groom has come for you and nothing – nothing will ever be the same.

The remarkable thing about the Gospels is the high value it places on women. Women are at the foot of the cross, the first to the tomb, the first to deliver the news. And yet, they’re also not allowed to see the torn curtain of the temple with their own eyes. They were last in the temple and last in the world. There’s some debate about the meaning of the Holy of Holies having been torn, but all other curtains in the temple being intact. In a significant way – nothing will ever be the same and yet nothing has changed at all.

Seamless: King me

So this past week you got a bird’s-eye view of a really, really dark time in the history of God’s people. It probably didn’t surprise you at this point that they have continued to move away from trusting God and wanting power for themselves instead of acknowledging Him. And what I want to do here is just so say that while we may be tempted to move past this and see ourselves as being different the truth of the matter is that we need to study them so that we can identify the patterns of our own sin. We see this huge shift in 1 Samuel 8 as the Israelites tell Samuel that they want a king. (1 Samuel 8:4-7 ESV)

To be honest, I think that the “wanting power for themselves” is a stretch. Consider their most recent experience with their Judge’s sons: Joel and Abijah concerned themselves with dishonest gain, accepted bribes, and perverted justice. The Judge’s sons had failed to keep the Law of Moses. Perhaps confidence in the Judge system had reached an all-time low. Perhaps they saw that as bad as things were, things would get far worse when Samuel died. Who knows? At least the verse does tell us that they wanted to be like all the other nations. Having a Judge made them different, but most of us really don’t want to be different at the end of the day – not when it singles us out as not like everyone else.

This is what God says, Samuel, they’re not rejecting you, they’re rejecting Me. And that’s the heart of all of this pride all of this sin all of this selfish ambition that they, that we have. It makes us reject God. It’s when we refuse to see that He really is our king. Now he knows that they’re going to do this, He knows that we are going to. He’s given us that freedom, and when the people ask for a king, we see what he says to Samuel. (1 Samuel 8:9-10 ESV) Tell them they’ll regret it, that they’re making a mistake. But they don’t care. They want what they want. And so they say: listen, all the other nations have kings and we want kings. But the whole point is He brought them here to be set apart. To look different. And they want to look like everyone else. So they persist and God tells Samuel “Give them what they want.” (1 Samuel 8:22 ESV) … So He’s going to show them what it looks like in this ideal world where they have all the power and are ruling over things. Saul is elected, he’s handsome, he’s tall, he’s strong – from all these earthly standards he fits all these great criteria for who is worthy to be king. But GOd doesn’t judge according to what we see, He judges according to the heart and Saul’s heart was not right with God.

The Ancient World didn’t have much use for looking different or set apart. The world was a harsh place where the strong fought their way to the top and it didn’t matter how many lives were lost in the process. The system was a tried and true method for measuring oneself against the standards of the day. The Israelites didn’t have a concept of how looking different and being set apart could work in that context. They were used to seeing mighty, strong, and tall warriors. They couldn’t fathom an army of weak and short fighters could hold their own. They were using to seeing massive cities surrounded by thick stone walls. They couldn’t imagine how a straw village without a wall could survive given the dangers the region presented them. To them, having a king could have represented the graduation from having been a band of former slaves to being on their way to being a proper kingdom, one that had begun to take it’s very first steps into becoming a regional power. Imagine what it would be like to negotiate a truce between an alliance of three or four kings … and Israel’s sole judge. Did the Israelites think that they weren’t being taken seriously because they were different? That they weren’t seen as kingdom because they didn’t have a king? It’s really easy to read a verse and assume we know the motivation behind it, but it’s really, really difficult to actually be right.

1 Samuel 12:14-15 ESV… So here’s the deal, you can’t have two true kings. There is only room for one. Who are you going to serve? What does this look like in your life? Or are you worshiping a false master? Maybe it’s a job or a person. Maybe it’s a desire that you’ve elevated to the position of king. We’ve all got them and there’s one critical difference – it’s what matters in the end.

That’s probably one of the hardest “you” questions yet. We have a lot in common with the Ancient Israelites. Day in and day out we aren’t really sure we see proof of God. We don’t get the awesome displays of His power – our enemies destroyed or fleeing before us, lightening, storms, fire falling down, bursts of wind, hordes of insects or frogs. Worse yet, science explains to us a lot of the natural phenomena that the ancient world likely attributed to God because they didn’t know how things work and anything they don’t know how it works has to be a God-thing.

1 Samuel 13:14 ESV… What was different between Saul and David? True repentance … the pure expression that results when someone realizes that he or she has grieved the heart of God … True repentance is us saying to God: “I have failed to make you king and as much as these consequences wound me they don’t touch the pain that comes when I realize how they have wounded you.” … 1 Samuel 15:24-26 ESV … Saul gives the perfect confession right? Wrong. All the right words don’t change a heart that’s wrong with God … Psalm 51:1-2 ESV … David use the same words (like transgressed) but his repentance was true because he realized that he had offended a holy God. True repentance doesn’t have a selfish motive. It simply has selfless acknowledgement.

I’ve noticed that much of the focus isn’t exactly on the seamless story of the entire Bible, but there’s a side-plot that points a common evangelism scheme – it’s in the subtle use of the language. I guess I noticed it because I don’t talk this way: “If we understood that he’s a holy God” “I know that we don’t deserve to be in his presence.” It suggests an assumed Calvinistic framework that highlights certain aspects of the story by glossing over other parts of it. We talked about sin in the first session. Eve’s sin, the sin that causes the Flood – that “these really weren’t good people” and the sin of the tower of Babel. They sin, we sin. The second lesson focuses on name changes, how we’re destined to get a white stone that absolves us of sin with our new name on it. But how? Here we are talking about repentance. While we’re talking about the seamless story of the entire Bible, we’re also hitting the major highlights of the Roman’s road, just the Old Testament version: There’s none righteous. God made a way to forgive us. It’s repentance – turning from our sins. If his whole side-plot was eliminated, that would represent a large chunk of time that could actually be spent talking about the seamless story of the entire Bible.

David’s not allowed to build God’s temple. Solomon did. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the same heart for God that David did. The kingdom splits apart and eventually the Israelites are taken from their land into captivity. During the time before the captivity all the way to the eventual return of the exiled portion of the Israelites, God raises up prophets to warn the people and their goal is to urge the people to remember God and honor Him. Now let’s think about this, we’ve seen chapter and chapters with disregard, disbelief, disrespect for God. We’ve watched towers being raised and cities being swallowed. If it were a movie, we’d be furious at the antagonist at this point. We see this loving groom take on his unfaithful wife. Over and over again he’s stood by her, she’s cheated on him, she’s snuck away in her sin, she’s offered herself to the highest bidder. She doesn’t care about Hosea and in the movie version that maybe we see in our mind, there is no cinematic score that could bring us to a place where we even care what happens to her next. She’s had her chance. She’s had more chances than we could count. If we were watching the movie we would be tempted to say give up Hosea, she doesn’t want anything to do with you. You’ve tried. But God is an altogether different director. In the book of Hosea we see Hosea track down his wife and as she goes up for auction, he takes out the money that he has brought with him and he ransoms her. Don’t miss the subtle language that happens right before this though, it is so beautiful. God is telling Hosea what He is wanting him to do. And keeping in mind that Hosea’s relationship with Gomer is symbolic of God’s with the church, listen to what God says. Hosea 3:1 ESV… This ungrateful, selfish bride – He’ll ransom her because He loves her. And as the Old Testament closes, things are spinning out of control. His bride has made it clear that He wants nothing to do with Him. She wants another king, she wants any other king. She’s refused him over, and over, and over again. And where we would just be likely to just shake our heads and turn our backs, he does nothing of the sort… The story continues 400 years later and we’ll be looking at a husband standing before his bride offering the highest ransom so that he can bring her home once and for all.

As a student of language (a hobby really) I find that unclear language is terribly frustrating. In this section, I’m not really sure if she’s talking about Hosea and Gomer, God and Israel, God and Judah, God and the Church, or God and you or me or us … it strikes me that she’s leaving it open as if to say that she’s talking about all of the above. I know, this marriage metaphor appears frequently in scripture, but God is also  divorce. The Bible uses divorce as a metaphor to explain why Israel and Judah lost his favor shortly before the Babylonian captivity. You know that if/obey thing? They couldn’t manage it. Isiah 50:1 and Jeremiah 3:8 go into more detail, I suggest you read both chapters fully. If we count Israel and Judah as God’s first two wives – maybe the third, the Church – will be the charm … the lucky one that doesn’t repeat history. The thing is, if it’s contingent on our obedience, then we’ve already lost. But it’s not. That’s where the redeemer / ransomer comes in. He’s the only one who can be obedient. It’s not even a question of “if”. He was born for that.

Seamless: Trusting in God’s Providence

Seamless2

We’re talking this week about God’s provision and the ways we can trust him more than the situations we see around us… The theme we can see this week that runs from Moses to the eventual conquering of the Promised Land is God’s desire for us to trust Him as our provider and he wants us to act out of faith more than our perception of circumstance… Like the Midwives who feared God more than the circumstance of Pharaoh’s orders. Or Moses’ mother who showed him her faith by trusting God. Too often we’re in the river, holding onto the basket guiding it down stream, while we might say that we trust God, our actions say otherwise…

What follows is a discussion of Moses and then the distrustful and disrespectful Children of Israel (Exodus 16:2-3 ESV). I’d cut the Israelites some slack, after hundreds years of God providing for them by allowing them to be turned into Egyptian slaves and using the Egyptians to house and feed them in return for all their hard work, wouldn’t it be natural that they’re somewhat uncertain of how God’s going to provide for them as a free nation? She boils down the story about getting manna as one of God giving us exactly what we need. It doesn’t always mean that we’re going to recognize when God gives us exactly what we need, but he always does give us exactly what we need. After mentioning how it’s a dark time because everybody would rather be slaves again than to starve in the desert, she points out how focused they are on the situation than on the big picture. It’s easy to say that when you’re in a relatively secure position. When you have nice clothes, a spacious house, secure income, plentiful food and water, it’s one thing. When you are wandering in the wilderness with nothing but the clothes on your back, no idea where to find water, let alone food, wondering if you can survive the elements, all you can do is focus on the day-to-day, the basics.

I remember watching a documentary on the Appalachian Trail. I noticed that absolutely nobody decided to wake up one morning and walk the trail. Everyone carried backpacks full of supplies. Whenever any hiker was ill-prepared and ran out of food – there would always be someone who had brought extra and could help them out. Imagine the Israelites in that situation – hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children of all ages who are ill-prepared for this hike. Between all of them, there’s just not enough of what they have to last them the next week or month let alone the next forty years. We have this twenty/twenty hindsight – but were we in their shoes, we would be doing exactly what they did.

Manna means “what is it?” When the Israelites were asking what it was, God responds by saying: “You don’t need to know exactly what it is, you just need to know that I provided it for you and that it’s enough. Then she mentions Caleb and the other spies that spied on the Promised Land. (Numbers 14:6-10 ESV) We see this pattern over and over again, we can choose to see things the way that our circumstances show us they are or we can trust God… God has been very clear to His people in the Old Testament, if you obey my commands, I will take care of you … IF … you have got to obey me. So the Israelites wander for 40 years, the entire generation of complaining, grumbling, untrustworthy, and disrespectful Israelites die out. The next time around, Rahab enters the picture. When the Israelites begin to move in, they don’t do what they’re supposed to and instead of conquering certain people groups, they ally themselves with them. They don’t see them as all that bad. We cannot trust our perception, we can only trust the Lord… The mantle of leadership shifts to Joshua and before he dies, he teaches: IF IF IF IF you obey – these are the ground rules – and when they intermarry and start to worship other idols and they do all these things they’re not supposed to, well guess what, they get pummeled. They lose battles exactly like God said they would and the cycle of Judges begins. The heart if this is that they’re not taking God seriously and they let these things get so bad they’re screaming for mercy. Do not think that God is naive, He knows that they are going to continue in this and He loves them and Scripture says that he is so moved that he intervenes over and over again only for them to continue falling into the same patterns.

Odd. I always thought the point of Judges was that no matter how many times you make the same mistakes, God never says: “I’m sick and tired of saving you guys. Can’t you just obey me for five minutes? Here on out, you’re on your own.” God doesn’t give up on rescuing them, he does it as many times as they need to be rescued. I’m also not terribly impressed with the IF … obey aspect of this conversation. We should know by know that some things are beyond our human capacity and that’s one of them. Sure, we can obey for only so long, but then the ifs start to pile up. God’s time is infinite, ours isn’t. If God doesn’t pull through in a reasonable amount of time, then it should be surprising that we lose our way when we think that despite our obedience, God’s not keeping up his end of the bargain. Sarah had Isaac when she was 90 years old. Sarah lived to be 127 years old. Assuming that the average woman lives to be 85, then she was the equivalent of having been 60 when she had her son (in our time-frame). Could you blame a 60 year old woman who had struggled with infertility and childlessness for arranging a surrogacy in order to see God’s promise fulfilled after being told year after year, decade after decade that God would keep his promise … eventually? It’s not that we don’t take God seriously, it’s that we don’t always see evidence that God’s keeping his end of the bargain. It’s just that we’ve waited and waited and begin to lose hope when the years turn into decades. At least when we get ourselves rescued, we get proof that He hasn’t forgotten us, but why couldn’t have done that every now and then when we weren’t in trouble? A simple update, a status reminder – “Hey, I heard your prayer. I’m working on it. Can you wait three more months? I think you’ll be surprised when I come through for you.”

So one of the sweetest stories is that of Boaz and Ruth… The reward of her obedience was provision by her redeemer.

And for the Israelites disobedience, God always provided them a redeemer to rescue them as many times as it took. Obedience is not the key here – if we could have been obedient, there would have been no need for our own redeemer to be obedient in our place.

It’s pretty easy to credit God with providence for the good things, food falling from the sky, houses built in the land, farmland already tilled. But it’s not so easy to accept his providence when it takes a bad form like having been made into slaves or having raised up enemies to test them. We can’t just focus on the good providence without weighing it against the bad providence and wondering what kind of God is the Old Testament God. One who will save people only if they obey him? Or one who saves even this disobedient?

It feels like this study glosses over a lot of the unimportant text just so we can arrive at a point that is part of the seamless story that it wishes to present by not glossing over the important points. Sure, you can connect Boaz as a descendant of Rahab, you can connect Rahab to the spies she helped, you can connect the spies to Joshua as the one who took over after Moses, you can connect Moses to Pharaoh, you can connect another Pharaoh to Joseph, you can connect Joseph to Israel – but you miss out on the finer details of what’s going on and why those stories matter because they form loose threads and side-plots compared to the overall narrative. The point is, they aren’t in the Bible because they’re pointless even if they aren’t the nicest of stories. Just how much have we missed in order to talk about God asking “Where are you?”, “What’s your name?”, and “Do you trust God as your provider?” Read through Genesis all the way through Ruth and you’ll see that there is quite a bit that we could have talked about, but didn’t just so we could talk about what we did talk about.