A Worthwhile Reminder

Nothing that a person owns that has been devoted to destruction for the Lord, be it human or animal, or inherited landholding, may be sold or redeemed; every devoted thing is most holy to the Lord.
Leviticus 27:28 (NRSV)

Today we wind down our journey through the ancient laws of Leviticus. The final chapter is the ancient Hebrews’ rules as it related to charitable giving above and beyond the regular sacrifices already covered. The ancient Hebrews could dedicate items, even servants or children, to God’s work at the tabernacle (the giant tent which served as nomadic temple) and later the temple that took its place.

For example, in the first chapter of 1 Samuel, Hannah gives birth to little Samuel and dedicates the boy to the Lord. She gives Samuel to the temple for the work of the Lord. In ancient days this would have been a precious gift, not only from an emotional point-of-view, but also from a financial standpoint. The culture of that day attached great worth to boys as they would grow to become warriors, hunters, merchants, and providers. Hannah could have considered Samuel to be security for her retirement, a son who would care for her and provide for her in her old age. Yet she gave her “one and only son” to God.

So, let’s say that a few years later Hannah’s husband kicks the bucket and leaves her destitute. She has second thoughts about giving Samuel to the work of the temple and returns with “givers remorse.” She asks for the boy back. According to the code of Levitical law in today’s chapter, such a “redemption” could be made. Depending on Samuel’s age at the time of redemption, Hannah would have to pay the redemption fee. In many cases, depending on what gift was being redeemed, a 20 percent redemption tax was added.

Then there were items that could never be redeemed. If a foreign idol had been taken as plunder during a battle of conquest, that idol was “devoted to destruction” and had to be destroyed. The person who plundered it had to give it to the priests to be destroyed and couldn’t redeem it. That’s why, in the story of Joshua, a man named Achan got into such trouble. He took plundered idols for himself and didn’t give them over for destruction. That was “against the law” and Achan paid the penalty for it.

This morning my mind is mulling over many things. I’m kind of glad this journey through Leviticus is over. It’s definitely not “feel good” devotional material that pumps my heart full of inspiration at the start of the day. I confess I’m ready to move on. At the same time, I’m thankful for the layers of depth that Leviticus provides to other events and sections of God’s Message. The stories of Samuel, and of Achan, have new layers of understanding for me now.

As I think about summing things up, Leviticus reminds me that God is a God of order, despite our human penchant for making a chaotic mess of life and creation. Leviticus beckons me to seek the Creator’s natural order when life and relationships are in chaos. And, for me, that’s a worthwhile reminder.

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The Natural Order of Things

“…but I will remember in their favor the covenant with their ancestors whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, to be their God: I am the Lord.”
Leviticus 26:45 (NRSV)

When our girls were young I could have said of them that when they were a bit older they would bristle against their father’s authority and would test what I had always said about right and wrong. Our relationship would be strained and stretched thin. They would, in one way or another, choose to do that which was unpleasing to me. They might even rebel against me and say things against me that were untrue. They would likely spurn my advice and choose their own path and experience the consequences of their actions. But, my love for them would not change nor would it change my caring for them in need or my desire to have harmonious relationship with them. In time, their hearts would turn back toward me and we would have a good relationship once again.

As I write that previous paragraph I am recalling specific moments with both of my daughters over the past 15 years. How could I have predicted all of this when they were young? Because it is the natural order of things. Children grow to be their own persons. They bristle against authority and roll their eyes at parents. They test that which they’ve been authoritatively told. They stake their independence and choose their own way. Once they strike out on their own path, their perspective changes. The father who seemed so stupid a few years earlier suddenly seems to have worthwhile wisdom.

God is winding down His ancient law given to Moses. In today’s chapter God delivers an amazingly prescient foreshadowing of what’s to come in His relationship with His children:

  • “If you will not obey me…” (they wouldn’t)
  • “If you continue to be hostile to me…” (they would)
  • “But if, despite [correction] you continue to be hostile…” (they would)
  • “I will scatter you among the nations…” (He did)
  • “Those who survive I will send faintness into the heart of the land of your enemies…” (Like Daniel, Esther, Ezekiel, and etc.)
  • “But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their ancestors…” (they did)
  • “Then I will remember my covenant…” (He did)

As I read this foreshadowing this morning I am reminded that God is parenting His fledgling children. I could have predicted when our girls were small what was likely to happen, and I’m nowhere near as omniscient as God. Yet there’s an order to God’s creation. There is a natural way of things and God knew how they were going to go. He wove it into telling of the Great Story.

This morning I’m thinking about the natural order of things. This morning our daughter will arrive at the lake after making a 14 hour road trip to join us for a few days. We can’t wait to see her and to be with her. There was a day, not so long ago, when I’m not sure she would have considered a 14 hour road trip just to spend a day or two with dad and Wendy worth her time. But today it is, and we’re overjoyed. It’s the natural order of things. I can fight against it, or I can learn to be at peace with it. I think I will continue to fight my natural inclination toward the former and continue to seek to embrace the latter.

Rest

Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land shall observe a sabbath for the Lord.
Leviticus 25:2 (NRSV)

When you grow up in Iowa, you gain an appreciation for the earth. There are close to 90,000 farm operations in our state and 30.5 million acres of Iowa land is dedicated to agriculture. But the importance of the land goes much deeper than the sheer market value of its produce. The land is a part of people’s heritage. It gets into their souls and becomes a part of who they are.

I find it fascinating that in the ancient Hebrew law God’s principle of rest was extended beyond human beings to the land. Rest is not just something human’s need. It’s something woven into the fabric of creation. Living things need rest. Humans need rest. Animals need rest. Plants need rest. The land needs rest.

I am reminded this morning that when God created Adam and Eve, the task given to them was agriculture. They were caretakers of the Garden. When cast out of the Garden, it was clear from God’s words to Adam that agriculture would continue to be at the core of humanity’s existence. There is a natural connection between humanity and creation that God wove into our DNA. I have never been a farmer and my family has never farmed, but when you live in Iowa you get the connection. The land requires care taking. A part of taking care of living things is making sure there is sufficient rest.

Work hard today. Then rest well.

 

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Of Twisties and Pantry Lights

Command the people of Israel to bring you pure oil of beaten olives for the lamp, that a light may be kept burning regularly. Aaron shall set it up in the tent of meeting, outside the curtain of the covenant, to burn from evening to morning before the Lord regularly; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations.
Leviticus 24:2-3 (NRSV)

Wendy and I live together quite comfortably, but we are no different from every other couple on the planet. We have our differences, which don’t always become acutely clear until you live together for a period of time. Wendy and I were both raised in our Dutch heritage, and we both exemplify the legendary frugality of Hollanders. Our frugality, however, is exhibited in very different ways.

My wife’s frugality is exemplified in the hoarding of things that might  be useful in her kitchen. For example, one should never throw away a “twisty” (the little colored paper covered wire that binds the bag on a loaf of bread). You never know when you might need a million or three of these incredibly useful utensils. The same principle can be applied to sacks (especially the ones with little handles on them), and zip-loc bags. I may roll my eyes at the piled rainbow of twisties in the kitchen drawer, Wendy will remind me, but I know without a doubt that there is one (or 12) available when I need it, and I know exactly where to find them.

My frugality (thank you, Dad) is exemplified by my compulsive desire to turn out lights that are illuminating empty rooms (and the accompanying rage that rises in my soul when I see it). Wendy has no problem keeping a room illuminated if there’s the possibility that she might enter it some time during her waking hours. When I see lights on in empty rooms I go into panic just short of cardiac arrest. After all, the unnecessary illumination of empty rooms will certainly be our financial ruin. They will drain our retirement fund of necessary pennies and lead to us living in a dark, cold, rat-hole of an apartment in our old age in which we will rock in our chairs and grieve long hours over this stark reality: If we’d have simply turned out more lights in empty rooms all those years, we might be able to afford turning on the furnace to ease our frigid, arthritic appendages.

So, where am I going with this? Well, just yesterday in the middle of a bright, sunny summer day I walked down to the kitchen to get a cold beverage. Sure enough, I found that the light in our empty kitchen pantry was on. Wendy was in her office working away at her desk. My frugality alarm went off and, as usual, my blood pressure went into its rapid, steep ascent. In a moment of lucidity, however, I reminded myself that entering an argument over turning out the pantry light was futile. We’ve been down that road to nowhere before. I am also frugal with arguments (especially those I’ll never win).

I asked myself: How do I get over my obsessive frustration over turning out the pantry light so that I can live in peace and avoid the cardiologist’s bill?

That’s when I remembered the eternal flame.

Growing up in the Methodist church, there hung a large cross over the altar at the front of sanctuary. From the bottom of the cross hung what looked like a large candle holder. I was taught as a child that this was the “eternal flame” which was always lit (except, of course, when the light bulb burned out) as a word picture of God’s eternal presence and Light.

I laughed as I thought to myself that I needed to stop thinking of the pantry light (which is the light I find most commonly lit unnecessarily) as the bane of our financial freedom. Instead, I need to think of it as the eternal flame that illuminates God’s blessing and provision (as evidenced by a stocked pantry).

In a moment of synchronicity, this morning’s chapter is the source of the “eternal flame” concept. It began with the Levitical law commanding that the high priest (Aaron) keep a lamp burning in the temple, just outside the curtained area which metaphorically represented God’s presence.

Today I’m thinking about frugality and eternal flames. I’m thinking about our individual differences and the compromises we learn to make in living together harmoniously. I can think of compromise as a negative (e.g. I’m having to “give up” or “give in” to something) or I can choose to find something beneficial in the process. The illumination of a pantry void of humans is also a pantry illuminating the evidence of God’s blessings and faithful provision. Perhaps that reminder is worth the pocket change it costs me.

We Need More Festivals

Thus Moses declared to the people of Israel the appointed festivals of the Lord.
Leviticus 23:44 (NRSV)

For going on nearly a century, our small Iowa town has held a Tulip Festival every May. Everything stops for three days as residents pour their time and energy into the tens of thousands of visitors who descend on our community. Make no mistake, the festival is all about promotion and commerce. It’s the major fundraiser of the year for most of our community organizations. Nevertheless, I think everyone in our town would agree that the festival is much more than that. It celebrates our history, our heritage, and it promotes a strong sense of community and a spirit of service within it.

Festival is just a fun word. From the Latin word for “feast,” the root word is defined as “cheerful and jovially celebratory.” Who doesn’t want that? That’s one of the reasons Wendy and I wanted to get married on New Year’s Eve. What a great evening to celebrate our lives and love through time.

I find it interesting that God would program into His people’s calendar a series of “festivals.” At the top of the list is the weekly day of Sabbath or rest. The weekly day of rest was supposed to be a festival, but over time the religious people turned it into its own version of burdensome religious toil. Jesus got more grief from religious leaders about breaking Sabbath rules than anything else He said or did. The uptight religious people had perverted a festival of rest into a weekly religious burden. That was never its intention and Jesus knew it.

I can’t say that the institutional church and Jesus’ followers have done much better with our weekly day of worship which was moved from the Jewish sabbath on Saturday to the day of Jesus’ resurrection on Sunday. Each Sunday is supposed to be a festival of resurrection, but I wouldn’t describe the weekly mood in many churches as “festive.”

I knew a family who decided to try and instill this understanding of Sunday being a festival of Jesus’ resurrection in their young children. They began early in the week looking in anticipation of Sunday as a special day of celebration. Every Saturday night (the eve of Resurrection Day) they had a special family meal that the children helped plan during the week. Guests were invited to join them. They decorated with bright colors and had special desserts. There was a large brass chandelier fixture in their dining room with long swooping arms. At the end of the weekly Resurrection Eve dinner all of the meal participants would stand with a party popper, point it at the chandelier and pull their popper so that the colorful streamers would hit the chandelier and get caught on the arms. There the streamers would stay so that each week day the children would see the colorful remnant of their weekly feast and look forward to the next.

The family celebrated getting to worship on Sunday and celebrate the Resurrection. They planned special moments together on Sunday as well. Believe me. The day I was a guest in their home, the children couldn’t wait for their weekly Saturday night and Sunday festival.

This morning I’m thinking about the fact that we don’t do more to make personal festivals a way to mark special days, seasons, heritage, and history that is meaningful to us and our loved ones. Festivals are fun as well as meaningful. Who doesn’t love a nice feast in which to be cheerful and jovially celebratory? Let’s plan a little festival and invite our loved ones.

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Featured image by metku via Flickr

The Latest 08-21-2016

Ugh. It’s been several weeks since I’ve written to catch everyone up on the latest. Summer is winding down already and life has been so amazingly full.

We spent the end of July and first week of August at the lake. It was great to have our friends Matthew and Sarah spend the weekend with us. The weather this summer has been sketchy every time we’ve been at the lake and this visit was no different. Nevertheless, we found time for some fun in the sun. Always a great time to relax.

Wendy and Kim (Treasurer and Secretary) keeping everything straight for the annual election of officers.
Wendy and Kim (Treasurer and Secretary) keeping everything straight for the annual election of officers.

A year ago Wendy and I stepped down from a decade of leadership in our local community theatre. Earlier in the summer Wendy was asked to step back into the position of Treasurer and was asked to continue into this next year. I was asked if I would consider running as President for another year. After some long discussions Wendy and I agreed that it was the right thing to do. So, here we go again. I’ve been joking that it feels like my Godfather III moment:

Speaking of community theatre, Wendy held auditions this past week for the holiday musical, The Christmas Post. This is the third time she’s taken helm of this show. It was ten years ago the last time she directed it. Auditions are going great. Call backs tomorrow night. The show will be the first two weekends in December.

Nephews Sam, Sol and our new niece Christina!
Nephews Sam, Sol and our new niece Christina!
Wendy and me with niece Lydia
Wendy and me with niece Lydia

We’ve added two new family members in recent weeks. Our nephew Solomon married Christina in a small private ceremony in Des Moines. Wendy and I got to meet the sweet Christina at family dinner in Des Moines. The couple are in the Navy and are shipping out to international waters in the near future. Wendy’s brother, Josh, married Ellie in Korea. Dad Hall was the only family member who got to make the trip for the ceremony. We can’t wait to meet our new sister-in-law.

VWs and McQs enjoying a summer evening of baseball at Principal Park!
VWs and McQs enjoying a summer evening of baseball at Principal Park!
Yasiel Puig makes a minor league start in Des Moines.
Yasiel Puig makes a minor league start in Des Moines.

We’ve been enjoying a lot of our usual joys of life. Lots of socializing with friends and baseball (Go Cubs!). A few weeks ago we got to watch MLB superstar Yasiel Puig playing for the Oklahoma Dodgers against our Iowa Cubs. Puig launched a no-doubter in his first at-bat. Our I-Cubbies stunk up Principal Park, but it was a wonderful summer evening with friends Kevin and Linda. We also enjoyed a wonderful evening at Kevin and Linda’s house this past Friday celebrating their birthdays and Kevin’s retirement with the most exciting, eclectic social gathering I think Pella has ever seen.

Our girl Madison learns how to crab!
Our girl Madison learns how to crab!

Taylor is still in Edinburgh, Scotland working at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. She’s having a great experience and we’ve loved getting to FaceTime with her a wee bit. A September homecoming is scheduled for our lass. Maddy Kate continues to help make the fairer sex beautiful in her work for Laura Geller. She’s getting more familiar with South Carolina and even did a little crabbing with a friend. You go, girl! Madison plans to join Wendy and me at the lake in a week or so. Can’t wait to spend some time with our girl.

The highlight of recent weeks has been my mother’s 79th birthday. As her Alzheimer’s continues to progress, we relish out rare opportunities to gather as family. Dad put out the call for family to gather, and we had all my siblings and a good representation of grandchildren yesterday afternoon. It was a simple agenda. We just met at their home and spent the afternoon chatting, eating Wendy’s cheesecake, and playing cards. We headed to Cracker Barrel for dinner. After dinner Scott invited us to the shooting range he manages to have some fun exercising our 2nd amendment rights.

When I was just a little kid my dad would take all four of us kids to the shooting range at the downtown Des Moines YMCA. We learned safety and marksmanship. It was a lot of fun to all be on the range together for the first time in over 40 years. We fired a number of different firearms, including Wendy who more than held her own on the range. At the end of the evening the guys all had a little one-shot competition with a .50 caliber Desert Eagle. Scott won, but me and the other bros were only a couple inches off center, which wasn’t bad considering it was our one and only time firing the massive handgun.

The Challenge of Words

“You shall not profane my holy name….”
Leviticus 22:32 (NRSV)

Wall Street Journal columnist, Ben Zimmer, writes a weekly piece in the newspaper’s weekend edition that explores a different word or phrase that has been in the news that week. It’s one of my favorite columns to read over coffee on Saturday mornings.

I have become increasingly fascinated with words as I’ve continued in my life journey. I’m fascinated with their origin, how they become part of our vocabulary, their meanings, and how we use them. I’m intrigued with how our society perceives words as positive or negative, good or bad, acceptable or not acceptable.

Wendy’s and my adventures in community theatre often take us into debates about words. Should we use a word that will likely offend our audience here in rural Iowa? Can we legally change the copyrighted work by using a different word? If we do have the actor use a different word, will it change the play’s character and how the audience perceives him or her? Why would that word offend the audience? Should we risk the offense and challenge our audience to consider their notions about vocabulary? They are challenging questions that prompt fascinating and equally challenging discussions.

Toward the end of today’s chapter God tells the Hebrews not “profane” His name. I was given a definition of the word profane by a professor in college that I’ve never forgotten: “to empty something of its meaning.” I can still remember the word picture as the professor stood in front of the class and mimed turning a cup over in his hand, emptying the contents of the imaginary vessel on the ground.

I’ve always found that an apt understanding of God’s zealous protection of His name. It’s really no different than we as human beings. We don’t like people making fun of our name. We don’t want our name mocked or “drug through the mud.” In Arthur Miller’s classic play, The Crucible, John Proctor tells the witch hunters in Salem to go ahead and kill him unjustly but then begs: “give me my name!

Of course this opens a fascinating and challenging conversation about the name of God. As a child I was taught never to use the word “God” as in “Oh my god.” But, “god” is a impersonal noun that could refer to your generic pagan idol as it could refer to Yahweh (the name God gave Himself to Moses in Exodus 3). The name “Jesus” is much more specific and it packs all sorts of meaning and power. Jesus told His followers to do all sorts of things from prayers to exorcisms “in my name.” History records many signs and wonders that happened “in the name of Jesus.” If I then turn and use “Jesus” as an exclamation of disgust when the restaurant brought me the wrong order it certainly appears that I’ve taken something of spiritual power and authority, emptied it of its meaning, and used it for common swear word. I’ve profaned it.

This morning I’m once again thinking about words. It’s fun and challenging to debate the particulars of words and their usage. Despite the hairsplitting, it’s obvious that throughout God’s Message I’m reminded that words have power to heal, encourage, and build others up. They also have the power to sully, divide, tear down, and profane. I am reminded that the words we choose should be gracious, wise, and kind. May the words of my mouth always exemplify those basic guidelines.

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featured image by dorkmaster via flickr