Tag Archives: Relationship

Humanity in the Toddler Stage

At that time the Lord said to me, “Carve out two tablets of stone like the former ones, and come up to me on the mountain, and make an ark of wood. I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets, which you smashed, and you shall put them in the ark.”
Deuteronomy 10:1-2 (NRSV)

For many years now I’ve been mulling over a concept that the story of God’s relationship with humanity is the story of a parent (God) and child (humanity). When humanity began in Genesis and the early chapters of the story, it reminds me of infancy. There was something innocent and naive; there was very little knowledge or understanding of God. Humanity was undeveloped. Life was messy and base.

With the story of Moses and the giving of the law in the book of Deuteronomy, it feels to me that we’re in the toddler stages of the relationship. God has to do a lot for them. Rules are simple and direct and put in black and white terms. Good behavior is rewarded and bad behavior is swiftly punished. Humanity, meanwhile, is strong willed, stubborn, willful, and…well…childish.

I was reminded of this concept again in today’s chapter. Moses, in his unchecked emotional tantrum, threw the stone tablets God made for him on which the ten commandments were inscribed and smashed them in pieces. God’s response? Like a true parent God tells Moses, “Now you’ve done it. You smashed the tablets I made you. Well, you’re going to have to replace them, young man. I’m not making you another set. You’re going to have to learn to take care of the things I give you. Now, make yourself tablets to replace the ones I gave you and I’ll inscribe them for you.” The replicas would be a word picture, a constant reminder to Moses (and the rest of the family) of his tantrum and its consequences.

In our weekly gatherings of Jesus followers we’re doing a series of messages on how we tend to confuse our relationship with our earthly father and our relationship with our heavenly Father. The former quite regularly distorts the latter. I tend to believe that this is part of the DNA of creation and it requires generous doses of wisdom, discernment and grace to untangle the two. At the same time, it also helps me see events like those in today’s chapter with greater clarity.

Hangin’ with the Homeys

“But now, our God, what can we say after this? For we have forsaken the commands you gave through your servants the prophets when you said: ‘The land you are entering to possess is a land polluted by the corruption of its peoples. By their detestable practices they have filled it with their impurity from one end to the other. Therefore, do not give your daughters in marriage to their sons or take their daughters for your sons. Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them at any time, that you may be strong and eat the good things of the land and leave it to your children as an everlasting inheritance.’”
Ezra 9:10-12 (NIV)

I grew up in a great neighborhood on the northwest side of Des Moines. The neighborhood was packed full of young families, not only on our block but on the surrounding streets. There were a lot of kids running around the area, but you tended to hang with your homeys on the street you lived. You’d stick close to the kids on your own block. They were the nearest to you, you knew them well, and more importantly your parents knew their parents.

On occasion, kids from another street would migrate over to play and hang out. I can remember the rare occasion when my mom would tell me that certain kids were “bad news” and she didn’t want me hanging out with them. In fact, I was to steer clear of that kid altogether. Looking back, I know exactly why mom gave me the order and it was a wise thing to do. Some of those kids were, in fact, bad news.

In the melting pot of modern America, reading a chapter like today’s regarding the strict commands the Hebrews had not to intermarry with neighboring peoples can feel strange and prejudiced. “Pureblood” wasn’t an idea J.K. Rowling dreamed up for the Harry Potter series. The truth of the matter is that history is full of examples of peoples and socio-economic groups desperately trying to remain homogeneous; Sometimes rabidly so.

Ancient Egyptian royalty, who believed themselves divine, would sometimes only marry their own immediate family members to keep the bloodline pure. European royalty, who would only marry their children to other royals, became so intertwined that to this day the royal families of Europe are all related to one another. Living in a small Iowa town settled by a handful of Dutch families, I experience the same thing at any community social event as people constantly play a game we call “Dutch Bingo” discovering how community members are related to one another (and, they usually are).

I found it interesting, however, that as I read today’s chapter Ezra pointed to the motivation God had for telling them not to intermarry. Just like my mother back in the ‘hood, Father God knew that some of these other tribes were bad news. In many cases, the area religions were glorified excuses for sexual indulgence and got into some really nasty stuff including child sacrifice. The command not to intermarry was not some elitist attempt to keep bloodlines pure but about cultural and spiritual self-protection.

This morning I am once again reminded that reading ancient sections of the Great Story is often difficult in light of the immense changes of culture and civilization over time. As an adult, my parents would never tell me who I can and can’t hang out with, but as a child they knew that hanging with the homeys from our block was a wise thing and that I needed help in discerning that some kids were bad news. So it is that I believe God’s relationship with humanity changes as civilization matures and as the relationship itself has changed between God and humanity through the person and work of Jesus.

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source: Novica
source: Novica

…and through [Jesus] God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
Colossians 1:20 (NRSV)

In marriage I have come to a greater appreciation of the relational dance of give and take, of pursing and being pursued. Traditional roles say that when it comes to courtship and sex, men are the pursuers and women the captivated. I have found it generally true as are most generalities, but it’s too simplistic a construct for the intimacy of so mysterious and complex of relationship. I often find myself to be the pursuer, but it’s certainly fun when Wendy pursues me.

I find it fascinating that God so often uses the metaphor of marriage to describe His relationship with us. As a young man I struggled a lot with the notion of Jesus’ followers being described as “the bride of Christ.” To be honest, it was discomforting to my male ego. After years of navigating marriage, however, I realize how apt a metaphor it is. I begin to understand that it’s far more intimate and mysterious than the simplistic generalities of gender.

In today’s chapter, Jesus is described as the reconciler. He reconciled us to him. He pursued. He initiated. He came to us. He sacrificed Himself for us. He gave. He drew us in.

When Jesus found me, I was seeking, but looking back there is no doubt in my mind or spirit that it was Jesus who found me in my seeking and drew me in. He pursued me. He reconciled me to Himself.

I was, and am continually, captivated.

Two-Way Communication

Hearing God's Voice Icon

Last month I was asked to deliver the final message in a series entitled Hearing God’s Voice. The theme of the morning is that prayer is two-way communication. In my message, I focused in on the idea that you can’t have tw0-way communication if you don’t first have a relationship.

Note: This audio file is posted with permission of Third Church, Pella, Iowa and intended only for personal listening. All rights are reserved by Third Church.

Marriage as Metaphor

Michael Buesking illustrates another prophet, Hosea, whose adulterous marriage became a word picture of God's relationship with His people. Buesking's artwork can be found by clicking on the image or at prophetasartist.com
Michael Buesking illustrates another prophet, Hosea, whose adulterous marriage became a word picture of God’s relationship with His people. Buesking’s artwork can be found by clicking on the image or at prophetasartist.com

“Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your naked body. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.” Ezekiel 16:8 (NIV)

Across all human relationships, the marital relationship is unique in many respects. Two people choose to enter into a covenant relationship with one another, to be exclusively faithful and more completely intimate with that person than with any other. Marriage is the closest thing we have on Earth to embody the relationship God desires to have with each of us, and God uses the marriage relationship over and over again to embody the intimate relationship He desires to have with each of us.

In today’s chapter, God once again instructs Ezekiel to use marriage as a metaphor describing God’s relationship with the people of Israel. He uses imagery around the marital traditions of that day. God chooses Israel as His bride and enters into a marriage covenant, but Israel commits adultery by chasing after other lovers in the form of the many gods and idols that were popular in that culture.

God makes it prophetically clear that He will not ignore the unfaithfulness of His bride. There will be disgrace and consequences in the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. Yet, in the end of the chapter God makes it clear that He will continue to honor His covenant; There will be a remnant who will survive and return to Jerusalem. God says he will make atonement for the adulterous sins committed; He will send His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for sin, once for all.

Today I am struck that God, through Ezekiel, has been speaking the same message in many different metaphors and word pictures. I find that in the human experience not everyone “gets” a message the same way. Some people connect with one medium, some with another. A word picture may be profoundly revelatory to one person while another person remains blind to the message. Across the book of Ezekiel I am impressed at how God is desperately trying to get through to His people, His spouse. He keeps trying to get through.

We’re All Suckers for a Love Story

skyfall_bond_girls-620x359I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols.
Ezekiel 14:5 (NIV)

Let me confess something to you. I am a sucker for a great love story. Wendy, Taylor, Madison and Suzanna can all tell you that I’m a real softie when it comes to a well written tear jerker. Don’t get me wrong. I am a guy and I love my action movies, but have you ever noticed that even that all great action movies have a love story woven through them? Script writers learned long ago that love stories are a core part of the human experience and a big part of what we respond to as we sit in front of that screen.

I believe that this has a great deal to do with how God created us. The Great Story that God reveals between the beginning of Genesis and the final chapter of John’s Revelation is a love story. It is the love story between God and humanity. God even uses the metaphor of marriage to describe the relationship between Jesus and His followers.

There is no relationship that doesn’t have its ups and downs. Even the best of marriages suffer their share of conflict. So it is with the Great Story. At the point of the story in which Ezekiel is telling, the relationship between God and His people is experiencing acute relational pain. God’s people have been adulterous. Their hearts and spirits had strayed. They had given their greatest affection to other idols and gods. There was a significant break in the relationship, and God was intent on “recapturing the hearts of the people.”

I find it hard to imagine worshipping the kinds of idols that stole the hearts of people in Ezekiel’s day. Worshipping at a pagan shrine or making an “offering” to have sex with a temple prostitute of the local fertility god is something I can’t even fathom. And yet, it seems to me that being driven by lust to have sex with a prostitute in service to Asherah is really no different than being driven by lust to masturbate to pornography or have sex with a prostitute in service to the almighty dollar. Our idols have changed faces over the millennia, but the core relational issues remain the same.

Today, I am thinking about the idols that steal my affections from God. And, I am grateful for God’s never ending desire and efforts to recapture my wayward heart.

A Good Person is not a Perfect Person

source: bjornstar via Flickr
source: bjornstar via Flickr

“If I have walked with falsehood
    or my foot has hurried after deceit—
let God weigh me in honest scales
    and he will know that I am blameless—”
Job 31:5-6 (NIV)

Wendy, Suzanna and I stood in the kitchen this past Sunday night and had one of those really important conversations about life. It wasn’t chit-chat. It wasn’t casual. We wandered into some deep weeds and talked about why it is we all do things we know we shouldn’t, and why it is we choose out of doing things we know we should. We talked about the process each one of us must go through of figuring these things out so that we can successfully move forward in our life journey.

On Tuesday night and Wednesday we were blessed by a visit from Madison, who came home from Colorado to see the family for Christmas (she’ll be on-call at work next week). Sitting around the dining room table late into Tuesday evening and again in the afternoon on Wednesday, Wendy and I waded once more into deep weeds with our daughter. We had honest conversation about old scars, misperceptions, and miscommunication. We acknowledged the ways we have hurt one another over the years, whom we love deeply.

So, here’s the problem I have with Job. I get that he feels his suffering is unjust. I understand feeling that the scales of justice are out of whack when you do your darnedest to be an alright guy and life takes a dump on you. I’m a good, midwestern protestant boy of hardworking Dutch heritage. I’ve tried hard to serve God and walk the straight and narrow since the days of my youth. Reading today’s chapter, however, leaves me scratching my head at Job’s claims of piety:

  • I haven’t looked lustfully at a woman 
  • I haven’t walked with falsehood
  • I haven’t been enticed by a woman or committed adultery
  • I haven’t been unjust to my servants
  • I haven’t denied the poor or refused to share with the needy
  • I haven’t been greedy
  • I haven’t rejoiced at my enemies misfortune
  • I have no hidden sins

I get that Job is a good guy, but no one is that good. When I go down this list I realize that I (or my wife, daughters, family, friends, neighbors, employees, and etc.) could provide you with specific examples of  ways of committed each of these wrongdoings somewhere along my journey. I’m not proud of this fact. Maybe I’m just a rotten person, but that’s the point. No matter how good we try to be, we all have tragic flaws. We all make mistakes. Each one of us repeatedly finds ourselves choosing to do the things we don’t want to do and refusing to do the things we know we should. Each one of us causes hurt to the ones we love the most.

The ultimate theme of the epic poem of Job are the questions which arise when good people who lead good lives experience tragic and inexplicable suffering. I get from a literary perspective that Job’s lofty claims of righteousness serve to heighten his climactic argument in this cosmic debate just before God breaks His silence. Still, I read the claims and think to myself, “I think you left something off the list, Job: Humility.”

And, I think that’s exactly where God will enter the debate.