Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Lenten Feasting - Judges

This Lent I am feasting instead of fasting.  I am feasting on the Word of God.  I have chosen to read through the Bible cover to cover.  I’m following a reading plan suggested by Margaret Feinberg and hope to blog occasionally about what I am learning through the process. 

Some days I fall behind.  Other days I get ahead.  I'm grateful that the forty days of Lent are counted without including Sundays.  Each Sunday is a little pre-Easter appetizer, a weekly foretaste of the full celebration of resurrection.  Lenten observation is laid aside for the day.  No reading is scheduled for Sunday.  I use it as a makeup.  Unhurried time in the rocker by the fire with a thermos of tea have enriched my Sabbath, not detracted from it.

So far I am keeping up with my reading plan.  I'm just sputtering through the early chapters of 1 Chronicles (and sputter is about all you can do in this thick soup of genealogies).  But I'll back up just a bit for a few thoughts on the book of Judges.

The book of Judges has a refrain that is repeated four times in the last five chapter, “In those days Israel had no king.  Everyone did as they saw fit in their own eyes.”  It’s a fitting conclusion to a book that has charted the downward spiral of the nation of Israel under the leadership of judges. 

At the beginning of the book, the danger is compromising with the pagan people around them.  By the end of the book, a man who goes out of his way to avoid stopping at a city controlled by these pagans finds that the depravity in an Israelite city is even worse.  The wickedness of foreigners in Sodom and Gomorrah from the book of Genesis has become national wickedness in Gibeon as we have this horrid description of gang rape and murder in Judges 19.  The wickedness around them has become the wickedness within them. 

It highlights the fact that the problem is not that they don’t have a judge to lead them, but that they don’t have the Judge to lead them.  There are a number of "small j" judges throughout the book who live up to their calling to various degrees of success.  But there is only one "big J" Judge.  Right in the middle of the book, in Judges 11:27, "Let the Lord, the Judge, decide the dispute this day between the Israelites and the Ammonites."

The book as a whole is a depiction of a nation that has abandoned their God, and chosen to follow their own path.  As a result, things spin out of control. With each judge, things get progressively worse until we reach the bottom of the heap with the judgeship of Samson, probably the most famous judge, but also the worst.  Though the Spirit of God exerts occasional control, Samson is largely controlled by his own passions.  He exemplifies a man who does what is right in his own eye.  His duel passions for women and vengeance are guiding his decisions.  For most of his life, he chooses to put himself on the throne.  

And while there may be some application to the ruling of a nation, there seems to be more direct application to the ruling of my heart.  I have a small voice in who will sit on the throne of the land (or the halls of Congress, as it may be), but I have complete control over who will sit on the throne of my heart.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Lenten Feasting - Exodus & Leviticus

This Lent I am feasting instead of fasting.  I am feasting on the Word of God.  I have chosen to read through the Bible cover to cover.  I’m following a reading plan suggested by Margaret Feinberg and hope to blog occasionally about what I am learning through the process. 

I won't do this for all 66 books, I assure you.  But these first three have really spoken to me.  I knew I would see broad themes.  I didn't think they would be so rich.  Maybe it's the newness of the exercise.  I tend to jump out of the gate a little too fast.  Or the chunkiness of the books.  There are plenty of chapters for these themes to rise to the surface.  Regardless, feel compelled to share what God is revealing.  

This book of leaving is, surprising, a book of arrival.  God’s arrival.  His hearing the groans of his people, seeing their misery and suffering, remembering his covenant, and  rescuing them from bondage.  He arrives, signs and wonders in tow, proving that there is no other god like him (9:14)  Pharaoh has trouble hearing and, later, the Israelites have trouble remembering.  But the Lord draws closer, revealing his awesome glory on a mountaintop, hovering like a devouring fire (24:17).  There he reveals his plan to not only visit his people, but to settle among them, to build a sacred residence where he will dwell – the tabernacle (25:8).  From there we get bogged down in cubits and shekels, but the book ends with God’s glorious presence filling this earthen tabernacle (40:34-35).

In all this I am reminded of God’s longing for intimacy.  He will not stand aloof in the pearly halls of paradise.  Instead he will enter into my squalor, a tabernacle in the gritty wilderness of my sordid soul.  His awesome glory will settle in this less than glorious bundle of inches and ounces.

Atonement - for skin disease, for contaminated houses, for bodily discharge, for the altar, for the most holy place.  But most often atonement for the people, for sin, for guilt.  Atonement is an expression of peaceful union – at-one-ment – an unhindered fellowship.  True intimacy.  The set for this intimacy was constructed in Exodus with God’s arrival.  Leviticus is God writing the script.

The Isrealites are to be different from the people of Egypt and Canaan (18:2-3), where they came from and where they are going.  This distinctness is expressed in terms of holiness.  There is to be a distinction between what is common and what is set apart, what is pure and what is alloyed, what is clean and what is unclean. 

It is impossible to walk this tightrope.  We’re too wobbly.  Over and over, I step in a pile of it.  I am repeatedly at odds with and need to be made at one with.  So atonement comes, again and again, through sacrifice.  Sacrifice that is holy (no physical defect, no yeast) and lifted up to the Lord.  God is pleased and we are forgiven, cleansed, restored, holy, and at one with God.  It is but a short step from the sacrafices of Leviticus to the Sacrafice of Calvary.  The forty days of Lent are leading us there.  Good Friday and Easter are on the horizon.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Lenten Feasting - Genesis

This Lent I am feasting instead of fasting.  I am feasting on the Word of God.  I have chosen to read through the Bible cover to cover.  I’m following a reading plan suggested by Margaret Feinberg and hope to blog occasionally about what I am learning through the process. 

The first two days of Lent I have gorged on Genesis.  This is fine cuisine to offer for the appetizer.  Forget the slice of cheese on a Ritz cracker.  This is shrimp and cocktail sauce, calamari, Brie cheese, and smoked salmon.  This is rich, savory material.  We’re talking epic, and that not an overstatement.  These are the truly epic stories – Eden, Babel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joshua. 

I’m not naïve. I know that in a couple days I’ll be stomaching a large spoonful of Leviticus and Numbers, Scriptural Cream of Wheat  - always bland and often lumpy.  But for now, I’ll enjoying the zest of Genesis.  It’s been a pleasure to read. 

And here is my take away, seeing the forest rather than the trees.  Blessing.  Blessing at every turn.  God blessing, people blessing.  Blessing being offered, blessing being stolen.  It comes up again and again in almost every chapter, if not explicit, then implicit.  I was stunned by its frequency.  Over and over and over…blessing.  Most often – God blessing people.  Most surprising (to me) - Jacob blessing Pharaoh twice (Gen 47:7,10). Powerful Pharaoh receiving a double blessing from this meager shepherd.

All this blessing is in competition with cursing and fear and childlessness and famine and deceit and jealousy and unrest and wickedness.  The battle line is drawn. These foes are almost as common as the blessing they seek to undermine.  And yet, blessing comes up more and more frequently as the book progresses.  Blessing seems to be winning out.  By the end, blessing is flowing through Joseph to Egypt and all the surrounding lands.  And blessing settles most heavily on Jacob and his children.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lenten Feasting

Lent began today, barely eliciting a ripple in my ecclesiatical tradition.  We don't do Lent.  Too Catholic for our Evangelical Protestantism.  I'm afraid we've thrown the baby out with the bath water.  But last year I observed Lent for the first time.  It enhanced me experience of Easter, making me more mindful of its steady appraoch and preparing my heart for its rich celebration.  I wanted to do it again this year.  

Recently, I started reading a wonderful book by Margaret Feinberg entitled Wonderstruck.  This lead me to her blog, where I read a post in which she discussed how she had decided to observe Lent this year.  This from her blog post:

“As I’ve prayed this year, I’ve sensed the need to dive back into the Scriptures anew. As I’ve asked God what to read - Gospels, Epistles, Psalms, Prophets, Wisdom Literature, or Pentateuch -I’ve had this sense that I’m supposed to read “The Book.”
Not a smidgen or section or style of Biblical writing. But. The. Whole. Entire. Book.
In 40 Days. That’s forty. F-o-r-t-y. 4-0. Days.”

Wow.  Her words reflect my thoughts, stumbling over the “forty.”  That’s a chunky book to plow through in under six weeks.   Me with the nightstand stacked with toppling books in various stages of completion.  I have a self-diagnosed narrow sliver of ADD that relates specifically to my reading habits.  I read little bits of lots of books.  At any one time I may have a dozen or two books in the works.  I’ll read a handful of them each night, a smattering of pages in each.  I like the variety, even if it takes me months to get through a modest sized book.  I have the library fines to prove it.  The three-week lending period is rarely enough for me to finish the book, and I am woefully negligent in my renewals.  I hardly read anything in forty days – let alone the Bible, the biggest book I’ve ever read.

Last year I was a Lenten neophyte.  My commitment was to a stumbling practice of fasting that was modest but richly rewarding. This year I can’t claim to a novice anymore.  Now I am a Lenten sophomore and it is widely known that a sophomore is a wise fool.  That seesaw may be a bit over weighted on the foolish side.  Just enough so that I decided to join Margaret in her Lenten commitment.  I may have bitten off more than I can chew.  The typical eyes-bigger-than-my-belly mistake. 

But I am intrigued by the prospect of replacing Lenten fasting with feasting on God. This will be a Scriptural smorgasbord, an abounding banquet table full of God-breathed cuisine.  Some bites will be bland, others spicy.  Some will be chewy and go down hard, others will be sweet and leave me longing for more.  One thing is certain, this will not be fast food, gobbled in haste while multitasking through the meal.  For about an hour a day I will sit and read the Word without distraction (as much as possible in a house with four children).

I mentioned this commitment to my small group this past week.  If I was looking for encouragement, I came up short.  They looked at me as if I had just announced that I intended to swim the Atlantic.  “You’ll still be working during those forty days, right?”  Yes. And sleeping, and eating, and showering, and taxiing my children to karate and youth group and school activities, and teaching the teens twice a week, and working out, and (hopefully) sledding and snowshoeing, and even spending time with my wife.   It’s a lot to cram into a day. But in the end, it's just a matter of priorities.  Will God get my firstfruits or my leftovers.  

Lent is typically a season of deprivation.  Something is given up.  But instead of subtracting I have chosen to add.  Of course, to balance the equation, something must be removed.  My day will not stretch to 25 hours for the next six weeks.  So even while the deprivation is not center stage in my Lenten commitment, it does play a part.  It may implicit and behind the scenes, but keeping up with progress through Scripture will demand that some things will be knocked below the priority threshold.  Some combination of less sleep, less leisure reading, less television, and less web surfing should open up the space to stay on track.  But this will play itself out daily, finding the time to be true to the commitment I have made. 

One thing I hope not to cut is writing.  In fact, I hope to write regularly throughout this Lent about the experience.  I may not post everyday, but at least a few times a week I hope to post short snippets about what I am learning through the process.  The 66 books of the canon is a lot of input.   I'll need an outlet.  

So it begins today with Genesis.  I’m ready for a mouthful.  I’ll keep the Pepto handy.