AN ENEMY KNOCKS

The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 1 Corinthians 15:26, NIV

I met my in-laws for the first time the day before I married their son, Rod. His mother spent most of the time in the bedroom. His father smoked non-stop and downed three pots of coffee daily while he read the newspaper. After Rod and I left for our honeymoon, they returned to El Paso, to me, the strangers they were when they arrived.

The following Christmas my husband brought me to El Paso. Accustom to Cajun hospitality, I expected his parents to be eagerly awaiting our arrival. We pulled into his parents’ drive after midnight. The house was dark. My husband rang the doorbell. No one answered.

“Did you tell them we were coming?” I asked.

“Maybe the door bell is broken,” said Rod. He banged on the door.

Twenty minutes later, tired and irritated my voice dripped with sarcasm.  “It’s too late to get a motel room. Let’s sleep in the car.”

Too wise to add fuel to a fire, Rod banged on the door with added zest.

The door opened a crack. “Whose there?”

“Father, It’s me.”

His pajama-clad Father opened the door. “Oh, you made it.”

We followed him to a closet. He retrieved an inflatable mattress, pump, and blanket, and handed them to Rod. I watched his father weave his way around waist high stacks of old newspapers and boxes full of only God knows what and disappear into his bedroom. The embarrassment on my husband’s face as he cleared a place on the floor for the mattress was evident.

I’d hoped to get better acquainted with my in-laws but saw little of his father. The only evidence his mother still lived there were the pantyhose hanging in the bathroom. Four days after our arrival his mother emerged from the bedroom and put sheets on a double bed for us. Most of the time, I listened as Rod and his mother talked late into the night. She reappeared to fix dinner the last three days of our visit and dropped hints about needing help in the kitchen.

The day before we left I walked into the kitchen to help. The sink overflowed with dirty dishes. Pots littered the stove and countertop harboring dinner from three days ago. I spent most of the morning cleaning the kitchen. I don’t remember her saying ‘Good-bye’ when we left.

The following year, I gave birth to their third grandchild and we prepared our apartment for his parents to visit. When the doorbell rang, Rod opened the door and saw his father. “Where’s mother?” my incredulous husband asked.

“She changed her mind,” said his father.

I shook my head in disbelief and walked into the bedroom to call her. “Someone had to stay home and watch the dogs,” she explained.

My sons were six and eight years old when the phone rang. “Can you meet me for lunch,” said his mother, “my flight leaves in three hours. Mother had been in New Orleans for a week attending a Bridge Tournament. I hung up, bewildered by her behavior. She could have stayed with us.

Two years later, we returned to El Paso to celebrate Christmas with his parents. His father rented a motel room for us. We opened presents with Rod’s parents on Christmas day and then his father brought us to dinner without his wife.

The following year, his parents moved to Seattle, Washington. We had not seen his parents for twelve years when my husband’s brother called with tragic news. Their father had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. We immediately made plans to visit Seattle, so Rod could spend time with his father before his health deteriorates.

Based on our past experiences we decided to spend two days with his father and planned two days of sightseeing. Before we departed his mother called. “Father’s not doing welI.”

“Are you Ok?” I asked.

“I’m doing the best I can. Are you bringing pictures?”

Feeling her pain, I tried to console her. “Yes, I have pictures of your grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We’ll be there next week.”

“On Monday?”

“We arrive Tuesday. We’ll see you on Wednesday.”

“You’re not taking the bus from the airport to my house?”

“We rented a car and have a reservation at a motel downtown?”

“Why did you do that? I have a double bed.”

I almost dropped the phone. “Uhhhhh . . . We have an early return flight on Sunday and wanted to be close to the airport.” It was a lame excuse with an element of truth. We had to be at the airport by 4:30 am.

“Let’s go to Mount St. Helens while you are here.”

At this point, I wondered if I was talking to Rod’s mother or a woman impersonating her. “Rod would love that,” I replied. “We could go on Wednesday or Friday. We plan to visit the Science Fiction Museum and we have a dinner reservation at the Space Needle on Thursday. Saturday we’ll be in British Columbia.”

“When are you going to Alaska?” she asked.

Her question baffled me. “Alaska! You know I’d love to go to Alaska. There are several cruises that sail out of Seattle. In fact, I had asked Rod if you and father might be interested in going on a cruise to Alaska with us. We really don’t have the money to do that on this trip – maybe next year.”

“Next year will be too late,” she said.

The fog suddenly cleared and I understood the dramatic change in his mother. She heard an enemy knocking on her bedroom door and woke up. Death will take her husband soon, and she was trying to make up for twenty-five years of isolation.  She wanted to go with us to the museum and to dinner. She wanted to go to British Columbia. She wanted to go on a cruise to Alaska. She wanted to spend every minute with us she could.

I hung up the phone with a touch of sadness. I’m glad that I will finally spend some quality time with my both of my in-laws; sad that an enemy will make our time together brief.

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JUSTIFIED AND REASONABLE

A speaker at a recent ministers meeting admitted that he did not understand why God sought to kill Moses. God had appeared in a burning bush and commanded Moses to lead his people out of Egypt. Moses was on his way to Egypt0323f79315791f0f931378cbb7390cc3 when he stopped to let his family rest at a desert motel. Suddenly, God appeared again, allegedly seeking to kill Moses for failing to circumcise his son.

The scenario does appear a bit unreasonable. Unless God wasn’t seeking to kill Moses as the minister assumed. My husband and I had a debate over who God sought to kill on the way home. I don’t believe Moses was God’s target. The way the scripture is worded in the NIV Bible makes it difficult to prove my point, but not impossible.

“At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met [Moses] and was about to kill him.” (Exodus 4:24)

The first clue to understanding who God sought to kill is the brackets around Moses’ name. The brackets indicate the word “Moses” is not in the original Hebrew text, but inserted by the translators to add clarity. Most of the other translations read “the Lord met him and was about to kill him”, which leaves room for speculation. The obvious answer is: the Lord met Moses. But the obvious contradicts the character of God, which is love and integrity. If God showed up to kill someone he had a very good reason.

To understand a difficult scripture, we need to examine everything God said up to the point we are stumped, and then interpret God’s actions in the light of his words. Since circumcising Moses’ son stopped God from killing someone we need to know what God said about circumcision before he knocked on Moses motel door in the desert.

Moses was on his way to deliver the children of Jacob for one reason. God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exodus 2:24).  When Abraham was ninety-nine years old, God placed one requirement upon him and his descendants if they wanted God to be their God – circumcision.  God also said to Abraham, “Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant” (Genesis 17:14).

Who will be cut off from God’s people? The answer: “any uncircumcised male.” Now we know who God sought to kill. Not Moses, but the son in violation of God’s covenant.

If I know what God said to Abraham, Moses surely knew as well. Since Zipporah circumcised her son to save his life and only one son was in jeopardy, we can safely assume Moses had circumcised his firstborn son, Gershom. Apparently, Zipporah found the rite distasteful and refused to have it performed on Eliezer.

God’s actions were justified and reasonable. He had an agreement with Abraham that spanned generations. We may forget the past, but God has too much integrity to let time erase the agreements he enters into.

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A CONVERSATION WITH MORMONS

bom.miss_.2I walked outside to dump my bucket of dirty mop water. Two young men on bicycles clad in white shirts and ties stopped. “Do you need any help?”

“The floors are clean but you could paint the garage,” I said expecting them to evangelize not perform manual labor. “Are you Mormons?” They nodded. “You are easy to spot. I’m not interested in Mormonism.”

“Why not?”

“I started to read the Book of Mormon but stopped when I read that people are black because they are cursed by God. I believe we are equal in God’s eyes, so I’ll never be a Mormon.” Elder Michael Winlow and Elder Landon Dutson were not fazed by my honesty.

“All black people are not cursed,” Elder Dutson said in defense of his faith. “The Lamanites were punished for doing sinful things.”

“Everyone has sinned, so it seems we should all be black,” I said.

They were not going to convert me, but I strive to treat every with respect. After the elders left, I read Nephi Chapter 5 again to see if I misunderstood the passage. The prophet Nephi was appointed by God to be a ruler and teacher. The Lamanites were “white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome…” They hardened their heart and refused to listen to the prophet so Nephi claims “that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them” (Nephi 5:21). The black skin made them loathsome to Nephi’s people. Nephi’s people are warned if they didn’t have a problem with black skin and “mixed seed” their children would be cursed with black skin as well.

The passage in Nephi indicates that white skin is good, and black skin is bad. That idea is an injustice to millions of people on this planet who have dark skin. I don’t know if the Mormon Church is racist, but the “Lord God” who spoke to the prophet Nephi was.

The young missionaries were polite and honest. I didn’t believe they were racist, so I asked them if I could write about their missionary work and beliefs. They accepted. I invited them in. They declined. I was home alone. I understood and appreciated their modesty, so I so I set up chairs in the garage and turned on my recorder. Elder Winlow nominated Elder Dutson to speak, and I focused my camera on Elder Dutson.

“I was raised in the LDS faith,” said Elder Dutson. “LDS stands for Latter Day Saints. My parents taught me to believe in Jesus Christ. They always told me to pray and ask if what they were teaching is true. So I did, and I always felt like it was. I remember sitting on the floor with my Mom reading the book of Mormon every morning and the good feelings I had from the Holy Ghost telling me this was true and this was good. All Mormons are expected to do missionary work, and I’ve been planning on doing this from the time I was a child.”

“How are you supported?” I asked.

“We pay our own way. Usually, missionaries save money while they are growing up. Honestly, I saved money for college to study aviation and my parents helped me with this.”

“Have you abandoned your plans for a career in aviation?”

“No, there are not any career opportunities in our church. No one gets paid.”

“Don’t you have buildings? How are the buildings funded?”

“The buildings are maintained from the tithe and offerings of its members. There are some employees but none of the ministers are paid.”

A number of scriptures came to my mind. “… [T]he laborer is worthy of his hire.” Luke 10:7;  “If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you?” 1 Corinthians 9:11-12; “…the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.” 1 Corinthians 9:14.

I assumed Mormons only read the book of Mormon, and we were not debating theology, so I didn’t question him about the Mormon method of supporting their missionaries, which contradicts the Bibles. Later in the conversation Elder Dutson corrected my assumption. The Mormons consider the Bible equal to the Book of Mormon and read both books.

“All male members of the church are commanded to go on missions,” continued Elder Dutson. “Female members have the option to go or to stay and get married and have a family. My Mom served a mission in Peru, and my Dad served a mission in England.”

“Mormons don’t have a problem with women in ministry?” I asked.

“Women can be missionaries but the congregational leaders are always men.”

My Mormon friend sounded Baptist. I have female friends in the Baptist church who wanted to preach the gospel. The only option they had was to become a missionary or teach children in Sunday School. I asked Elder Duston why women could not be congregational leaders. He gave me a Baptist answer.

“I can’t tell you why God has chosen men to be congregational leaders.”

“So the reason is God only chose men to lead,” I said.

“Yes, like Moses and Aaron were chosen by God. The prophets are always men.” He quickly added, “Not to make men superior to women. We believe men and women are completely equal but with different roles in life.”

I suppose that information was for my benefit since I had already called the book of Mormon racist. This was a subject worth pursuing since I’ve encountered the same equal but separate attitude in other religions.”

“In the prophet Micah, God said, ‘I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.’ God sent Miriam to lead the nation with Moses and Aaron. So how do you explain why women are excluded from being leaders?” (Micah 6:4, NIV)

“To be honest, I don’t know who Miriam is,” said Elder Dutson.

“Miriam was Moses and Aaron’s sister, she stayed by the Nile to see what would happen to Moses after his mother made a basket and left him floating in the reeds.”

“I’m better with the Book of Mormon.”

“Do you consider the Book of Mormon superior to the Bible?”

“All the words of God are equal. The prophet holds the same authority as Moses and today the prophet is Thomas Monson.”

I didn’t finish reading the Book of Mormon and wondered if there were warnings about prophets who teach their own ideas instead of God’s desires like there are in the Bible.

It was time for a lighter subject. “Mormons are fairly easy to recognize. They are always on bikes with white shirt and tie. Is that a practice from religious tradition or based on a Mormon doctrine?”

“There have been missionaries in the Mormon church since the 1800’s. They would be sent out for a year sometimes as long as five years. Eventually, the practice became more organized and established a dress code. We ride bikes because we don’t have a lot of money.”

What is the funniest thing that has happened in your missionary adventures?

“Once, we went to a woman’s house to deliver a DVD, but no one answered. We were leaving when her husband pulled into the driveway, and she opened the door completely naked.”

I grinned. “What did you do?”

“I shielded my eyes and kept walking.”

“That could be filed under one of your most embarrassing ministry moments too. What is one of your scariest moment?”

“We were walking down a dark street and a couple of guys yelled they were going to kill us.”

“Yep, that would be scary, especially if they had a car, and all you had was a bike.”

“Is it your intent to convert people?

“Yes,” said Elder Dutson, “first of all through faith in Jesus Christ.”

“Explain faith.”

“Faith, according to the prophet Alma, is a hope for things which are not seen which are true.”

Elder Dutson quoted Alma 32:21 in the Book of Mormon. I know because I looked it up after they departed. Alma’s definition of faith reminded me of Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

“Faith also has a principle of action,” continued Elder Dutson, “if I believe in Jesus Christ then I will do the things he has commanded me to do and one of those things is to repent of sin.”

There is a fine line between Mormonism and Christianity. He gave me the ABC’s of salvation that I’ve been taught all of my Christian life. A – admit you are a sinner and ask for God’s forgiveness. B – believe in Jesus. C – confess that Jesus is your Lord. He stopped at B, which suggested Jesus is not Lord of their lives.

Jesus had been a constant theme since the Elders arrived, so I decided to pursue Dutson’s concept of Jesus and asked, “Who is Jesus in relation to the other prophets in the Bible and in the Book of Mormon?”

“Jesus is a the prophet,” said Elder Dutson.

That was a Muslim answer. They also believe Jesus is a prophet of God. “Would you say Jesus is the prophet of prophets, the ultimate authority?”

“Yes,” Elder Dutson affirmed with a nod.

“Have you ever found discrepancies between the things Jesus said and what the prophets in the book of Mormon say?

“No, not in the formal teachings I’ve read.”

At this point, Elder Dutson drew my attention to the prophet Thomas Monson, the current leader of the Mormon Church. Duston believes God speaks his will through Elder Monson just as he spoke through the prophets in the Bible. I found that comment interesting. The Catholics also have a supreme leader in the Pope, but Protestants believe that God can speak through any of his people willing to obey him.

“Christ is the center of our teaching,” continued Elder Dutson, “he holds the whole plan together but the book of Mormon is key. I’ve seen miracles happen just by people reading a few chapters.”

“Tell me about the miracles,” I said.

“We were teaching two girls whose boyfriends didn’t like us. The girls received a spiritual witness that the Book of Mormon is true and wanted to be baptized and then a friend of theirs also wanted to be baptized. The friend’s life changed so dramatically, the boyfriends were amazed and started reading the book of Mormon. All of them became members.”

“Any other miracles?” I prompted.

“Another girl was really skeptical. I challenged her to read the book of Mormon and ask Heavenly Father if the teachings are true. When I returned a few days later, her whole countenance was different. She was ready to listen and expressed a desire to be baptized. I consider the softening of her heart to be a miracle,” said Elder Dutson.

Not as dramatic as miracles in the gospels where blind eyes were opened, hearing restored, leprosy healed and the dead raised to life, but I’ve heard more than one preacher say the greatest miracle is the transformation of a life.

I’ve also been taught that Mormons are not of God, and that they are deceived. The Bible has a test for determining if a spirit is from God.

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. 1 John 4:1-3, NIV

My next question: “Elder Dutson, do you believe Jesus came in the flesh and was resurrected in the flesh.”

Without hesitation Elder Dutson said, “Yes.”

I do believe Elder Dutson passed the test. Then he added, “The Bible says other sheep I have which are not of this fold. After Jesus was resurrected he visited the tribes who were scattered throughout the world. He came to America and taught the tribe of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh). The things he taught them are preserved in The Book of Mormon and it’s important that we read the book of Mormon. If the book of Mormon is not true our entire religion is false, so we put the book of Mormon first.”

Elder Dutson made the statement “If the Book of Mormon is not true our entire religion is false” at least three times during our conversation. Was he protecting the Book of Mormon or pursuing the truth about God. Most people have too much invested in their religion to walk away even when they have evidence of falsehood. He had little knowledge of the Bible even though he stated it is equal to the Book of Mormon, and I wondered if he had ever made a serious comparison or simply believed the teachings of the Mormon Church.

“You told me Jesus is the ultimate authority, so why wouldn’t you start with his teaching recorded in the Bible?”

“The Book of Mormon begins 600 years before Christ was born and continues to 34 AD when he comes to America and teaches the people the same things he taught in Jerusalem. He even gives the sermon on the mount to the people of America.”

Apparently, the people in America let the gospel corrupt just like the people in Jerusalem. The gospel spread throughout the world from the east. Mormonism is less than 200 years old.

Every religion believes they have the truth and most have a sacred book. The Catholic Bible includes a few extra books than the Protestants Bible. The Mormons have another testament of Jesus Christ used in conjunction with the Bible, but clearly the Bible is not as important to the Mormons. The only constant is the Bible itself, which is embraced by all three. That fact alone is reason enough to stick to the Bible and not include another testament.

I will never embrace the Book of Mormon for reasons I’ve already stated. Elder Dutson reinforced that conviction when he told me the Bible and the Book of Mormon are equal, which contradicts what Mormons really believe, at least what Elder Tad R. Callister of the Seventy believes.

“… some are willing to set aside the precious gospel truths restored by Joseph Smith because they get diverted on some historical issue or some scientific hypothesis not central to their exaltation, and in so doing they trade their spiritual birthright for a mess of pottage …There will always be some seemingly intellectual crisis looming on the horizon as long as faith is required and our minds are finite, but likewise there will always be the sure and solid doctrines of the Restoration to cling to, which will provide the rock foundation upon which our testimonies may be built.”

Clearly, if I reject the teachings of Joseph Smith, I cannot be saved, since he was God’s instrument to restore the true doctrines of Jesus. Yet, Elder Dutson considers Jesus his savior just as I do and said the Bible and Book of Mormon are equal. The miracle Dutson referenced, the transformation of a human life, is affirmed by Protestants as the greatest miracle of all, and Dutson passed the test given by the Bible to test the Spirits. But is that a good enough reason to embrace the scriptures he espouses as key to salvation? I’ll let Jesus, the ultimate authority answer:

“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” John 5:39-40, NIV

The only thing more important than the scriptures we choose to study is the one the scriptures tell us about – Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Mormons, Catholics, and Protestants embrace Jesus. Therefore, the Scriptures we choose to read and the practices we incorporate into our worship is for God and God alone to judge. As for me, my rock is found in the Bible and the Bible alone.

 

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DAY OF THE DEAD

vodoo1When Susan invited me to Day of the Dead, I accepted. Attending Voodoo rituals is not my habit, but I do write about faith, beliefs, and spirituality. A quick internet search before I left revealed that the ritual honors the dead.

Susan and two of her friends who joined us for the ride downtown offered little additional information. They are Pagans. Voodoo is not their practice. A woman in the back seat handed me a flyer announcing the ritual and instructions for attending. The participants were asked to wear white clothes with a purple headscarf or black and purple for Gede, bring an offering for the dead or for Gede and bring something for the potluck supper that would follow the ritual.

My Pagan friends explained that the veil between the living and the dead is thin this time of year. Papa Gede is the gatekeeper who allows the dead to cross into this world. I asked them if the dead return after they “crossed.”

“They only stay if they have unfinished business,” said Susan.

The ritual performed that evening revolved around a concrete pole with a snake painted on it.  I’d read about poles in the Bible. Even though God forbid Israel from erecting a pole, he did not leave them without one. When Israel developed a snake problem while camped in the desert, God said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live” (Numbers 21:8). The pole remained in Israel until King Hezekiah broke it into pieces and told Israel the pole was worthless. Big mistake, the pole foreshadowed Jesus death, but that is another subject. God is not against poles depending on what the pole represents.

The room filled to capacity with people from all walks of life: black, white, Asian, elderly, and children. A clean-shaven man wearing a business suit entered with a plant, his offering for Gede. A man stood behind me clad in a white shirt and skirt. A woman dressed in an orange jumpsuit affectionately clutching a chicken to her chest walked in. I overheard someone tell her that they would not be killing anything. She decided to stay.

“The possessions are ‘a light trance state,'” said Ms. Glassman. The possessed would be aware but unable to control themselves. Her instructions stood in stark contrast to “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” found in the Bible (1 Corinthians 14:32).

My Google search on Day of the Dead had not prepared me for the artistic beauty I observed when the ritual began. I know, darkness, skeletons, dead people, what beauty? I’m referring to the music and art incorporated into the ritual led by Sally Ann Glassman and Laurie Ann.

Laurie Ann led singing for two hours in French, a beautiful language, and she had a lovely voice. But I didn’t understand a thing she said. The experience reminded me of my youth in Germany. My mother dutifully brought me to mass which was spoken in Latin. I don’t speak Latin and didn’t understand a thing they said either.

During the ritual, Sally Ann drew intricate patterns on the floor using cornmeal. I could not have gotten lines that straight and in proper proportion using a ruler. Sally Ann and Laurie Ann stood at each drawing, sang, danced in a gentle swaying motion and bowed down to kiss the ground. Most of the people in the room bowed with them.

The final drawing looked like a cross on a pedestal and incorporated some color. Sally Ann completed the drawing with an X on the cross, a coffin on the right and shovel on the left. A friend tried to convince me of Voodoo is a part of Catholicism and practitioners are Christians the X on the cross speaks the truth as well as many scriptures in the Bible.

Around 9:30 p.m., the participants were allowed to enter the area around the pole and dance. After several laps around the pole, a man stopped to simulate sex with one of the bongos. As I debated whether or not he had been possessed, my friends motioned that it was time to go.

On the way home, I asked my friends if they had ever been possessed. “NO,” they almost said in unison. “This is my second ritual,” said one woman, “but I don’t need someone extra in my head. The other woman said she didn’t want anyone else in her head either. Susan assured me that you have to be open to possession for it to take place.

The next day, I shared my experience with a friend. He cautioned me to be careful. “God sends strong delusion to people who have rejected him,” he said. He seemed to think that associating with people of other beliefs might make me a candidate for delusion. My heart was warmed by his concern, but I don’t share his fear. I haven’t rejected God, and I do not intend to invite spirits into my life who leave me aware of what I’m doing but unable to control myself.

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TOUCH NOT MY ANOINTED

014-david-saul-caveI was on my way out of the sanctuary when a friend invited me to lunch. I worked my way through the buffet line and sat down expecting a pleasant lunch with several families from my church. I had barely finished my salad when the “touch not God’s anointed” discussion arose. My friend’s husband (who I shall call Mr. X to protect their privacy) wanted to know what I thought, so I told him. While I related my thoughts on the matter, I could see my friend vigorously nodding her head in agreement and made a mental note to call her.

My phone call revealed that my friend disagreed with her husband regarding the treatment of pastors. Her husband believes pastors are a little above the rest of us and deserve greater honor than the average church member. My friend and I believe we should give honor to whom honor is due. While we should respect the office of pastor, we are not obligated to honor ministers who abuse their authority.

During lunch, I told Mr. X that we should balance the honor pastors are due with Jesus and the apostles’ actions. Jesus and his apostles did not lead a rebellion against the corrupt priests of their day, but neither did they obey them. Regarding Jesus, the priest complained, “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry'” (Luke 7:32). Jesus refused to be controlled by anyone but God. Instead, Jesus made enemies in high places publicly calling the priests hypocrites, blind guides, fools and whitewashed tombs. The apostles picked up Jesus’ ways. When the priests commanded them to stop teaching about Jesus and the resurrection, they continued at the peril of their lives. They did not honor corrupt leaders with blind obedience and neither should we.

I popped my last fried okra into my mouth and chewed. Mr. X said, “But, what about David? The Bible says touch not my anointed.” I knew this argument was coming before he said it. More than one well-meaning Christian has misquoted this verse as a warning to us commoners that the pastor is untouchable. True, Saul was a harsh, disobedient ruler that David refused to harm. However, David’s reason for refusing to kill Saul was wisdom. To understand “touch not” we need to listen to God because David quoted God when he said it.

“When they [the descendants of Abraham] were but few in number, few indeed, and strangers in it, they wandered from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another. He [God] allowed no one to oppress them; for their sake he rebuked kings: “Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm.” Psalm 105:12-15, NIV

Before the descendants of Abraham became a nation, before they had a king to rule them, God rebuked kings for their sake. When God’s people wandered from nation to nation and lived in the wilderness for forty years, God rebuked Pharaohs and foreign kings saying, “Touch not my anointed” (meaning all of his people) “and do my prophets no harm” (meaning the leaders of God’s people). This rebuke was never intended as a warning to God’s people that corrupt pastors are untouchable.

Somehow, God’s rebuke to foreign rulers has been attributed to David’s refusal to kill Saul.  Leaders who try to control God’s people with this doctrine don’t include everything David said. David also said, “As the old saying goes ‘from evildoers come evil deeds’ so my hand will not touch you.” He called Saul exactly what he was, an evildoer, and then David refused to be an evildoer like his disobedient King. If David had killed Saul, he would have condemned himself as an evildoer worthy of death. David knew exactly what he was doing. Samuel had already anointed David to be the next king of Israel, making David “my anointed” just as Saul was God’s anointed. Killing Saul would have justified another for killing David when David became King and sinned.

David had no qualms about killing a man. When but a mere youth, he disabled Goliath with a rock and cut off his head. He also killed two-hundred men and cut off their foreskins to earn his wife. Saul was a little more difficult to deal with than a foreign enemy. Killing your wife’s father is guaranteed to disrupt the harmony at home. In addition to that problem, God had used Saul to bring deliverance to Israel and many loved him. David knew if he killed Saul, uniting the kingdom under his dynasty would prove extremely difficult if not impossible, so he wisely left Saul in God’s hands. David said to Saul, “May the Lord judge between you and me and may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me.” He refused to act like Saul, so he could call on God to judge Saul without falling under the same condemnation as his wayward king. Two years later, Saul died in battle and David became a king with clean hands.

David honored God when he exercised humility by treating Saul as an equal. David was no better than Saul. After taking the moral high ground in dealing with his father-in-law, he picked up his sword to slaughter everyone in Nabal’s family for a lesser sin.

When a pastor or anyone wrongs us, we are not obligated to continue supporting and honoring that individual with obedience or finances. Instead, we should call them want they are, evildoers, and ask God to judge between us. But before we call on God to judge, we need to be sure that we are not committing the same sins.

After my friend and her husband left the restaurant, their disagreement continued. Mr. X accused his wife of setting him up. He was positive his wife and I had collaborated to say the same things. Mr. X also told his wife that I was always against pastors. She did not, and I am not. I knew nothing of their disagreement, and I am weary of watching pastors fail. Perhaps, God set Mr. X up. When you hear the same things from two or more sources, God is trying to tell you something.

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LOOK TO ABRAHAM, YOUR FATHER

636147316239078650-32332206_636018622516705215492689983_faith_11“Ya got ta have faaaaith,” the preacher drawled. He withdrew a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the sweat pouring down his face. Shoving the damp handkerchief back into his pocket, he picked up his open Bible. Jabbing his finger on the well worn page he continued, “It sez so right here! If ya justa believe, ya can have annnnything you want in life. A new car just ax him, mo money just ax him. If ya got faith, he’ll do it for you.”

“Amen,” a burly gentleman to my left shouted. “Glory,” cried a woman to my right as she exploded from the pew to dance a jig in the aisle. I left the service wondering how to get this elusive substance that granted my every desire.

The Bibles definition of faith and experience of those commended for their faith contradicted the pastor’s message.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1

The heroes of faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice and turned weaknesses into strengths, but many lived a less than successful life by human standards. Some of them were stoned, others tortured or murdered. They lived like foreigners without a country to call their own and suffered trials that were a mockery of justice. Clearly, there is more to faith than the self-serving faith I was taught as a young Christian.

Pistis, the Greek word translated “faith” in Hebrews 11:1, means persuasion. Elpizo translated “hoped” in this verse means to expect. Therefore, we can paraphrase the Bible’s definitions of faith like this: Now persuasion is the substance of things expected, the evidence of things not seen. To have faith is to be persuaded what we expect to occur can and will come to pass.

When Israel lost hope that God would fulfill his promises to them, Isaiah pleaded with the nation to,

“Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; look to Abraham, your father” (Isaiah 51:1-2).

Remembering the faith Abraham possessed will give us the strength we need to persevere. If we don’t understand Abraham’s faith, we will have little reason to continue our faith walk when promises are unfilled and prayers remain unanswered.

Much of the faith taught in contemporary Christianity bears little resemblance to Abraham’s. We are lead to believe faith is instantaneous when true faith begins as a tiny seed that grows into a mighty tree with deep roots. We are exhorted to follow God blindly citing Abraham as an example. Abraham “did not know where he was going” when he left Ur but this blind spot in his faith was brief (Hebrews 11:8).

Abraham had a good reason to follow God. Abraham did not approach God with a desire. God approached him with an offer too good to refuse and maybe too good to believe. If Abraham obeyed, God promised to do six things: make Abraham into a great nation, bless Abraham and make his name great, make him a blessing wherever he went, bless those who blessed him, curse those who cursed him, and use Abraham to bless all the families of the earth.

Abraham pondered God’s offer for years before he responded. He was sixty when he made his first halting steps in faith. Abraham left the city of Ur as God desired, but he did not separate from his family and stopped in Haran. God patiently waited fifteen years until Abraham’s father died and then approached Abraham with the gospel message again.

The things God promised gave substance to Abraham’s faith. He followed God for more than a new camel and material wealth. While Abraham would benefit from obeying God, so would everyone he encountered on his journey (unless they cursed him) and ultimately every family on earth would be blessed by God if they embraced Abraham’s faith. He left Ur looking for a city built on the foundations of God’s wisdom and justice.

This time Abraham obeyed. But like an infant learning to walk, he repeatedly stumbled in his faith. He laughed at God, left Canaan against God’s wishes and attempted to help God fulfill his promises by fathering a son with a household slave. He followed God for more than seventy years before his faith proved genuine and God swore an oath do to everything he promised.

He never found the city. Instead, Abraham found a son from whom he would inherit the city and then died in his faith before the son was born. Before Abraham died he was “fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:21). God convinced Abraham that he could give life where there is none by waiting until Sarah was well past the age of bearing children before she gave birth to her one and only child.

Abraham’s faith was reinforced by creation’s voice. The impartial and equitable way God treats us is revealed by the sun who shines on the good and the evil. We witness life springing from death by the seeds planted in the ground that die before new life emerges. His faith solidified into an unbreakable rock when the son who came from Sarah’s barren-womb willingly laid upon an altar believing God would raise him from the dead.

Faith easily corrupts into worthless formulas and God is viewed as little more than a servant to satisfy our wishes when we abandon Abraham’s faith. To have faith without the hope God gave to Abraham is to have faith without reason. The foundation of Abraham’s faith was the son he saw “afar off” and a belief in God’s ability to raise the dead. We, like the faith heroes who lived before us, will die in our faith. Corruptible and perishable flesh and blood cannot inherit the eternal kingdom of God. Therefore, if we accept the son Abraham had the foresight to see, who we now know is Jesus, reasons to believe will abound.

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TEMPTATION

camp-in-the-wildernessIn between the joy of the initial salvation experience and receiving the promises of God is a desert that reveals the truth about the worshiper and the God they seek to worship. The promises God made to the children of Jacob were always at their fingertips yet always out of reach. The generation who departed Egypt to obtain the promises wandered in a desert until they perished. If we fail to learn from their experience, we may come to the same end.

God’s people perish for a lack of knowledge.[1] Therefore, how long we stay in the desert depends on the knowledge we accept and reject. Contemporary Christianity fully understands sins of the flesh. No one questions that Christians should abstain from adultery and drunkenness. Unfortunately, we do not fully understand sins of the spirit.

I was in a desert the first time I taught this subject. As I studied Israel’s experience in the desert, the reason why came into focus.  I had been a Christian twenty years and believed I loved God with all my heart. My zeal blinded me to the truth. I was guilty of the same sins Israel committed in the desert. Just like Israel, I quarreled with my pastor and accused God of lying to me. If I had rejected the knowledge of who I really was, I would have remained and maybe perished in a desert.

Joshua and Caleb were the only ones of their generation who survived the journey to worship God at Sinai. The reason they survived while the rest perished in the desert were written down so future generations would not make the same mistakes.[2] Paul warned the Corinthians,

 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!  No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.  Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.  1 Corinthians 10:12-14

 Paul assured us that God is faithful. When we are tempted there will always be a way out. If that is true, why were Joshua and Caleb the only ones to enter the land God promised to all of them? Did God allow everyone in the desert to be tempted above what they could bear except Joshua and Caleb? Did God provide a way out for two men and abandon the rest? No, to both questions.

To comprehend why Joshua and Caleb survived the desert to enter the promised land we need to understand three kinds of temptation: the temptation from without, the temptation from within, and the temptation that is sin.

 TEMPTATION FROM WITHOUT

An outward entity called the devil tempted Jesus to believe God lied to him. After Jesus had fasted forty days, the devil challenged him to prove he is the Son of God by turning stone into bread. If the devil thought appealing to a carnal appetite would cause Jesus to stumble, he was wrong. Jesus refused because “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”[3]

Before the devil tempted Jesus to turn stone to bread, God gave Jesus a threefold witness that he is the Son of God: the Spirit, the word, and the flesh. According to God’s law, “A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” [4] Two witnesses would have been enough to prove Jesus is God’s son. God established the matter by offering three.

When John saw Jesus at his baptism service, he told his disciples, Jesus was “…the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”[5] He was aghast when the “Lamb of God” stepped into the Jordan River to be baptized.  John knew Jesus possessed a greater baptism. He was reluctant to baptize Jesus in water, hoping Jesus would, instead, baptize him in Spirit and fire. Jesus assured John that baptizing the “Lamb of God” in water was the right thing to do. As Jesus came out of the water, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove. The Spirit that descended upon Jesus is called the “Spirit of sonship.”[6] He bears witness to our human spirits that we are God’s children.[7]

Immediately after Jesus received the Holy Spirit, God confirmed the Spirit’s inner witness with the spoken word. While he prayed, God spoke from heaven, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”[8] Even though Christians receive the same “Spirit of sonship” when we repent of sin, Jesus is the only son God publicly acknowledged.

The spoken word of God and the inner witness of the Holy Spirit were more than enough to convince Jesus of his place in the universe, but God wasn’t finished. He also gave Jesus testimony from a man of flesh. John testified that the one who sent him to baptize with water would identify his son by sending the Holy Spirit to remain with him. John boldly declared in the presence of everyone present the day Jesus was baptized, “”I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him” and “I have seen and testify that this is the Son of God.”[9] For at least two days thereafter, John declared to everyone who came to his baptism services that Jesus is the Son of God. What more did Jesus need to believe that he is God’s son?

It is highly unlikely that any of us will come face to face with the devil as Jesus did. But we will encounter the same evil attitude in people who want us to prove we are acceptable to God. Most of the time people who demand proof are looking for an excuse to justify their own sins. We don’t need to waste our time proving anything to anyone. If we turned stones to bread as proof, they still won’t believe us.

The devil is a problem but not our biggest problem. If we understand God’s written word, the devil is little more than an annoyance. Peter told us to “be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”[10] The comparison of the devil to a roaring lion tells us how little power he possesses.

Lions travel in groups of females with one male ruler. When the females kill prey, they must eat fast. The male roars to drive them away so he can devour the dead prey. The devil cannot devour us, unless, we are already spiritually dead. If we are self-controlled and alert, all we have to do is resist and he will flee.[11] We will have a much bigger problem with the temptation from within.

TEMPTATION FROM WITHIN

After Jesus’ confidence in God’s word proved unshakable the devil brought him to the top of a mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” [12] The devils tempting offered failed. Jesus refused to worship anyone but God.

The devil’s second temptation was more difficult to deal with than an accusation that God had lied. The offer of authority over the kingdoms of the world appealed to Jesus’ desire and our desires tempt us to believe lies. If we are not alert, an evil desire will drag our hearts away from God and deceive us.

Jesus was born to rule all the kingdoms of the world. The desire to fulfill his calling was strong. Speaking of Jerusalem, Jesus said, “how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” [13] Jesus’ desire to protect his people would not be fulfilled during his lifetime on earth unless he submitted to the devil and he knew it.

Righteousness demanded that Jesus receive no more than Abraham received during his lifetime: unfulfilled promises.[14] Waiting for an eternal God to fulfill a promise is difficult because our bodies die. We don’t really know what will happen after we die. All we can do is trust that the Bible is true. If the Bible is true, God will resurrect our bodies so we can partake of the things he promised to do on earth.  If the Bible is a lie, “we are of all men most miserable.” [15]

If Jesus had worshiped the devil to obtain his heart’s desire, he would have become the devil’s slave. I’ve watched assistant pastors become slaves to the senior pastor thinking pleasing a man would create an opportunity to fulfill a God-given calling. I’ve seen Pastors take advantage of this weakness by promising opportunities that never appear. Instead, the assistant pastor is delegated menial work that leaves him or her unfulfilled. I’ve also watched both come to bitter ends.

The devil raised the stakes substantially when he appealed to Jesus’ desire. He cannot drag our hearts away from God and deceive us. But he can prey on this weak spot by promising immediate gratification. The devil miscalculated the purity in Jesus’ heart. His desire for authority was rooted in love and the devil failed.

As the time for Jesus to be crucified drew near, his desire to live proved a greater temptation than the devils offer. He instructed his disciples to pray “lest they enter into temptation.”[16] Then he walked a stone’s throw away and agonized in prayer until he sweat blood. His spirit was willing. He prayed “not my will but yours be done.”[17] His flesh was weak. He prayed, “take this cup from me.”[18]

We should not condemn ourselves when our flesh is weak. If Jesus needed help to fulfill God’s plan, so will we. Don’t run from God, run to him and tell him the truth. Only God can give us the strength to obey his commands. He may not change his plan for our lives, but if our hearts belong to him, he will help us. While Jesus prayed, an angel appeared to strengthen him.

If we worship God, sinful desires will not control us because God is able to keep us from sin. God has not left us alone to battle temptations from without and temptations from within any more than he left Israel alone in the desert. If we overcome temptation, we do well. If we succumb to temptation, God provides a way out through the ministry of the intercessor.

Jesus is a sinless high priest. He meets our need to be children who are pure and blameless. We often fail to overcome when tempted, but we don’t have to worry. We don’t need to fret that the sins we commit in ignorance make us unacceptable to God. Jesus is acceptable and God helps us based on who Jesus is – a holy, blameless, pure son set apart from sinners who is seated at God’s right hand faithfully interceding for us. Therefore, Jesus is able to save anyone who comes to God through him, and we are able to pray with confidence that God will help us.[21]

Mercy and grace are abundantly available in our time of need. Whether the temptation comes from without or within we have a faithful high priest that is well able to restore us to right relationship with God, so what is the problem? God gave Jacob’s children a faithful intercessor in Moses and all who embrace Abraham’s faith a better intercessor. Why do God’s people perish in deserts? The answer to this question lies in who is doing the tempting.

TEMPTATION THAT IS SIN

When the devil could not tempt Jesus to doubt God’s word, nor stir up Jesus’ desires to deceive him into sinning against God, there was only one thing left to do. Provoke Jesus to tempt God. It is not a sin to be tempted but it is a sin to tempt.

Jesus used scripture to successfully overcome the devil’s temptations. The devil knew some scriptures too. He set Jesus on the highest point of the temple in Jerusalem and challenged him to tempt God by jumping. The devil assured Jesus no harm would befall him because it is written: “He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” [22] Jesus resisted the devil and the devil departed.

After conquering temptation, Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit to become famous. The generation God delivered from Egypt are famous too, but not for their reverent submission. The sins Israel committed in ignorance were covered by the atonement, all other sins could be forgiven through sincere repentance. There is one sin that provoked God to let them perish in a desert. They tempted God instead of worshipping him.

After Israel refused to enter the promised land and cried all night that God didn’t love them, God declared, “ … all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the desert, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice; Surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it…”[23]

God’s punishment was not as harsh as it appears. Israel lost the opportunity to possess the land a covenant of law promised them. They never lost the opportunity to possess the land a covenant of grace promised them.[24] To the present day, Israel has never possessed all of the land God promised to Abraham. Therefore, the opportunity to receive the things grace provided still exists.

God never intended for his grace to be limited to one family spawned by Abraham’s flesh. The teachings of Christianity begin in the Garden of Eden when God promised the serpent a seed from a woman would crush his head. Abraham’s descendants “ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink” we do.[25] The rock they drank from in the desert is identified as Christ in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.

Paul warned the New Testament church not to make the same mistakes Israel made in the desert. If we are tempting God it does not matter how faithful God is, how bearable the temptation, or how plain the way of escape. There is high probability we will perish in a desert, but that doesn’t mean we will go to hell. Moses died in the desert. Many years later, he appeared “in glorious splendor”[26] to discuss with Jesus and Elijah the prophecies that would be fulfilled in Jerusalem.

Tempting God made what should have been an eleven-day journey through the desert forty years of misery. God is the same yesterday, today and forever. If we tempt God like Israel did our Christian experience will be no less miserable.


Chapter 1

[1] Hosea 4:6

[2] 1 Corinthians 10:6-11

[3] Matthew 4:4

[4] Deuteronomy 19:15

[5] John 1:29

[6] Romans 8:15

[7] Romans 8:12-17

[8] Matthew 3:17

[9] John 1:32, 34

[10] 1 Peter 1:5-8

[11] James 4:7

[12] Matthew 4:9

[13] Luke 13:34

[14] The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch, Syria many years after Jesus was resurrected. Christian beliefs began with Abraham’s faith because his faith rests on God’s integrity. Abraham hoped without reason to hope, all he had was God’s word that he would raise the dead. Abraham looked forward to the resurrection; Christians look back on a promise fulfilled. Everyone from Adam to the present who embrace God speaks the truth will be resurrected to receive the nation of absolute justice and equality God promised Abraham we would become.

[15] 1 Corinthians 15:9 KJV

[16] Mark 14:38

[17] Luke 22:42

[18] Matthew 14:36

[19] Hebrews 2:16-18

[20] Hebrews 4:15-16

[21] Hebrews 4:15-16; 7:25-26

[22] Psalm 91:11-12

[23] Numbers 14:22-23, KJV

[24] The eastern boundary of the laws covenant extended to the Jordan River. The eastern boundary of Abraham’s covenant of grace extended to the Euphrates River.

[25] 1 Corinthians 10:3-4

[26] Luke 9:30-31

[27] Exodus 4:23; 7:16; 8:1, 20; 9:1, 13; 10:3, 7-11, 24-26; 12:31

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