You Smell Good

In Exodus 12:21-23, hyssop was dipped in the blood of the Passover lamb and used by the Israelites in to mark the threshold of their homes, keeping them safe from the Lord’s fury. Interestingly, a hyssop branch lifted the “vinegar” soaked sponge to the Lamb of God on the cross, our way “home.” (John 19:28-30) Of course, his sacrifice saves us from the wrath of God.

Hyssop was also sprinkled onto purification sacrifices in the Jewish religion. (Leviticus 14:4,6,51,52; Hebrews 9:19) This “hyssop” was very likely what we know as oregano (Origanum Syriacum), since Hyssopus Officinalis is not native to the Mediterranean basin. (Mountain Valley Growers)

Hyssop was also used as a purgative (Psalm 51:7a). Indeed, it will not only induce the cleansing of the bowels, but is a diuretic and emetic as well. (Britannica) This stuff, taken in even small doses, will clean you out in every way imaginable. It also seems to be a ceremonial cleansing agent; but how so?

Whatever ceremonial significance, hyssop added to roasting meat would have yielded not only a better tasting dish but a pleasing aroma as well. God seems very amenable to pleasing aromas (Genesis 8:21) and accepts the aromatic soul (Ezekiel 20:41). Hyssop not only cleanses one on the inside but also makes a sacrifice aromatically acceptable to God.

Therefore it is significant to me that the Lamb of God is given vinegar mixed with gall when he hung on the cross. It is not the fluid or the sponge that intrigues me; it is that these are extended on a hyssop branch. Jesus, the Lamb of God, burdened with the sins of all people, is touched with hyssop and made a ceremonially clean offering—a pleasing aroma to God. In the midst of all that sin, God recognizes that which has been given holiness.

We see this again in 2 Corinthians 2:15 where Paul states that believers become “the aroma of Christ” unto God. In the midst of all perishing souls, God recognizes those touched by Christ’s aroma. The one who stakes his life on the sacrifice of Christ is made clean—inside and out. In fact, she is so clean that she even smells good.

…the Wordle of this post.

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Life Happens Redux

A Wordle typographic creation

This is a pretty cool typographic tool. It is called Wordle and creates word clouds that “give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes.” Click the above Wordle for a full-sized typographic of my “Life Happens” blog from a few days ago.

Susan took one look at this word cloud and exclaimed how it graphically checks one’s theology. Note how my “Life Happens” post states that God is the good life.

Have some fun with your own text here.

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Life Happens

I just read the story of Potiphar’s wife’s allegations against Joseph in Genesis 39:7-23. How many times have I read that story? Yet it is still so frightening. Joseph is falsely accused of rape. His accuser is someone whom nearly everyone will believe and those who might not believe do not dare speak out. A horrible situation. Joseph’s life had spun out of control in the blink of an eye. Since Joseph was human, he had to have thought, Doesn’t God care about me? Why would he let this happen?

He could either despair of living, take revenge (if he got the chance), or faithfully trust the Lord with whatever the days ahead brought him. The scripture tells many stories like the Potiphar narrative that do not seem very hope-filled. Nevertheless, God was at work in Joe’s life even when everything was frightening and seemed darkest—or even, perhaps, at an end. More to the point of our feelings, God was still at work in Joseph’s life, though it had to seem like he was not. Scripture assures us that God is working out things according to the mystery of his will. God will bring together to a good result all of the things that are going wrong in a life. He does this when he loves a person.

He does not shelter us from life but works for our good even in the midst of slander, loss of employment, loss of family, imprisonment, and even death. The facts of life are that we live in a corrupt world inhabited by far too many corrupt people. God does not spare his followers from living in that world but he works within the corruption, altering those he loves according to his good will, even when they are faced with tragic developments in their lives. (Romans 8:28) Therefore it is of greatest importance that we respond faithfully when “life happens” to us…even if it seems like God no longer cares.

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Camping with the Lord

I am always intrigued by biblical references that talk about being in the presence of the Lord—and wanting to stay there. Ps 23:6b leaps to mind. Not only did David want to dwell in the house of the Lord but he wanted to dwell there “forever.” The imagery of the sheep dwelling with the shepherd who leads them to green grass and an abundance of water, let alone of the king’s banquet hall where his well-fed guests dwell are metaphors that are summed up in verse six. Essentially: I’m picthin’ my tent here! I don’t ever want to leave! In Ps 27:4, he says that he wants to dwell in the house of the Lord for his entire life. Why? So he can look at the gold and silver inlay and the columns and otherwise beautiful architecture? No. He doesn’t want to gaze upon the beauty of the temple. He wants to meditate upon his beautiful God. The temple just happens to be where God chose to dwell in the midst of his people. The Psalmist says in Ps 65:4 that he will be content to dwell in that place where God dwells. What better place could there be to live? Anna (Lk 2:37) was a prophetess who stayed in the temple, worshiping day and night. As a result, she saw Jesus when he was brought by Joseph and Mary for dedication. One experiences God when she stays close to him. As much as I love all of these verses, none speaks to me like Exodus 33:7-11. This is the story of Moses’ tent of meeting where he and his assistant, Joshua, would go to hear the Lord. After awhile Moses would go back to the camp of the Hebrews. As an aside, the text says (Ex 33:11) that Joshua didn’t leave the tent. He wanted to stay in the presence of the Lord even after Moses had left it. I love that story. My wife and I love living in a very nice parsonage that the church built back in 2002. But if she lived in a small, mill house, that is where I would live. If she lived in a rundown apartment or shack, that would be where I would choose to live. If she was homeless and lived under a bridge or in a cardboard box, that is where I would camp too. Why? Because I want to be with her. It really is just that simple. Where may I be with with God? Where has he chosen to interact with his people? I should take pains to be in that place where he chooses to dwell or to engage with his people. Prayer? The Scripture? Worship? Bible class? Seminary? Devotions? The Lord’s Supper? Sure; all of those opportunities and more. I want to be there for each and every one of those encounters. You say, Well, you’re just a fanatic. Is that what you would say if I said that I wanted to be with my wife all the time? Certainly not. You would say I am in love.

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Voyage to Faith

A poem is inserted into the middle of the narration of the biblical book called Jonah. He seems to sing to us this part of the story, as though something wonderful has occurred. And something wonderful has occurred. Jonah discovers salvation by grace through faith. (Eph 2:8-9)

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea

Jonah tells us that he is in distress. I imagine so. If I was in a submarine that sank to the bottom of the ocean and had no communications, you can bet I’d be in distress and would call out to God. I imagine some fairly devout atheists would do the same in such a situation. Now, I don’t suppose Jonah was surprised to hear himself crying out to God but I bet he was surprised, since he had run from God and now was even further away (at the bottom of the sea), to hear God respond. “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me.” (Jon 2:1)

By Jon 2:4, Jonah tells us he has been driven from God’s sight. Three things leap to mind. First, he ran from God, for cryin’ out loud! Second, Sheol must seem like it is very far away if he thinks God cannot see him. Or perhaps he thinks he’s such a rotten sinner that God can’t stand the sight of him. Third, God did indeed drive Jonah further away than he’d already run. Okay, you like to hide in the belly of a ship? Alrighty then, let’s see how the belly of a big fish suits you!

Jonah seems like the common churchman to me. God has something for him to do and he runs away. He skirts about the edges of faith but doesn’t come into the circle of intimate fellowship. It’s like a family member who stays out on the front porch but never comes inside for a meal or conversation in the living room. After awhile of this stranger living on your porch, you might chase him further away. Get off my porch! And God does just that but with different intentions. He wants Jonah to be in distress so he will talk to him.

And it worked. By the second half of verse four (Jon 2:4), something wonderful has happened. Though Jonah is at the bottom of the sea, he says, “Yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.” The temple is where God dwells with his people and Jonah wanted to be there with him. That desire only comes by having faith in a gracious God. Jonah believed that, even though he had wronged God—disobeyed him—that God still wanted him back. Jonah chose to be one of God’s many prodigal sons. (Luk 15:11-32)

God will give us distress and trial; he will discipline us to “drive” us back to himself.

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Looking Back (again)

Sometimes I think I am not getting anywhere at all. I wonder why God isn’t doing much with my life. Blinders! I wear blinders some days. I can only see what is in front of me. Furthermore, what I am looking for is what I want to see accomplished. But what about God? What about what he wants to accomplish in my life? I need to look around from time to time. In fact, it is sometimes a good idea to look back and see where I’ve come from—or rather, where God has brought me. I am amazed at how far he has brought me, especially when I consider the roadblocks I have placed in the way. Usually these obstacles come in the form of what I want to accomplish instead of wanting God to accomplish something that he desires.

This leads me to another recurring thought. When I have tried to make something happen—no matter how good the thing—it generally is a miserable failure. When I wanted my second church (one in Ohio) to be more inclusive, I could not get a single person of another race to come to the church. 20 years later I am at my fourth and current church and am not pursuing inclusiveness anymore; my only goal was to preach Christ crucified in my white, Southern congregation. When I look out on the congregation, amongst the white folks are Latino and Black and Asian and even a mixed-race marriage and…the people love each other in Christ. I didn’t do that; God did that!

When one looks back over the span of a life, it can be an amazing discovery of what God has accomplished. Or one could simply live with blinders on, driving down the road of life with a sort of reverse-macular degeneration, complaining that all they can see is the high price of gas, the limitations of a given day’s struggle, the weariness… instead of seeing the big picture. There are curves up ahead and more important to this post, a long road lies behind. When I look back and see what I thought at the time to be non sequiturs, I see now that God was moving me onto the road he wanted me on instead of on the road I wanted to be traveling.

He is not through with me yet. I am certain there will be some twists and turns ahead. But today it has been good to look back and see that God really has been in control. It is good to be here—because God has brought me here. His Spirit has been at work within me… often in spite of me.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Eph 3:20-21 ESV)

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Special Olympics 2008

Well, the Graham Police Department is at it again. They are trying to raise $10,000 this year for Special Olympics (SO). Sgt. Duane Flood has been selling SO caps and t-shirts for months. Eleven of us ran in the torch run while several others drove before and after the group to keep them safe. (An article from a local newspaper is here.) We ran the torch 5.4 miles, connecting Burlington PD runners with runners from the Mebane PD. Regrettably, Haw River PD and the Alamance County Sheriff’s Department were missing from the event. It would have been a lot easier on us and raised a whale of a lot more public awareness for SO if they’d been with us.

Still, we made it (Here is a video report.). In fact, I was surprised that I was able to cover most of the distance. Cpl. Pete Acosta, notably, was able to comfortably traverse the entire mileage without walking or catching a breather in the van. Those who ran were Cpl. Pete Acosta, Detective Chris Denny, Sgt. Duane Flood, Officer John Hodge, Capt. Steve McGilvray, Chief Jeff Prichard, Cpl. Scott Sheldon, Chaplain Mark Ryman, Officer Adam Walker, and Officer Ryan Young and his wife, Sheri. Those who participated in other ways were Officer Kristy Cole, SRO David Lewis, Intern Lisa Lee-Phillips, and Lt. Tony Watkins. More photos are here.

The Criminal Investigations Division sponsored a pancake breakfast and raffle that garnered over $1,000 for SO. Photos of that event are here.

Yesterday, Cop on Top kicked off at the local McDonalds. While Sgt. Flood gets the whole department and Special Olympians to show up and help, Cpl. Scott Sheldon makes it a lot more successful. His antics, enthusiasm, and big mouth bring in people who would ordinarily have driven by and he prods folks into giving that might have ignored us. But you can’t ignore Scott. If you’re in the area today, stop by; it’s a lot of fun. And…bring your checkbook! 😉 Photos of the event are here.

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The Fourth Commandment

This morning, I looked in my “Faith Alone” devotional book of Luther quotes and thought (before coffee) the text reference was Genesis 2:1-3. No. Not even close. Before I realized I was still half asleep, I looked up the passage using my ESV Reformation Study Bible. The study notes on verse 3 stated that this is a type of Christ. I looked at the verse again and thought, well, yeah, I suppose the obvious is there: that Jesus is Creator as it spells out in John 1. But the study note mentioned Colossians 2:16-17 so I turned there and read the entire pericope.

The Apostle Paul is teaching about rules and regulations being empty philosophies and dead traditions—that one should instead, be alive in Christ. The whole thrust of his doctrine is about focusing on God instead of things. This is the big shift of the New Testament from the Old Testament. Whereas the Old Testament begins with focus upon God, it quickly slides into ritual—doing the right things in the right way. It is easy, when living in such a system to forget why you do things and that things are done for someone besides oneself. The most important things are always done for either God or neighbor (or both). When asked by a scribe what was the most important commandment, Jesus taught (Matthew 12:28-34) that no commandment was greater than loving God and neighbor.

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Nevertheless, in ancient Colossae (as in many places and times) we find angel worship instead of the One who triumphed over, not only angels but all powers. (Colossians 2:15; 1 Peter 3:22) So how is Genesis 2:3 pointing to (a “type”) of Christ in this Colossian passage? The Genesis story tells us that we should honor the Sabbath, a day of rest kept in honor of God, who rested from his labors. Ritualists develop elaborate systems on how one should properly honor the Sabbath but they forgot why the Sabbath Day is kept. It is not kept to honor the Sabbath but to honor the Lord of the Sabbath. The focus had shifted between Genesis and Colossians from God to ritual, from the Lord of the Sabbath to the day itself. People had become enslaved to their traditions and philosophies instead of living free, rightly related by faith alone to the Messiah.

We rest because God worked. Still, the inclination is to turn rest into work and therefore dishonor the Sabbath and its Lord. Ritual is always a mere shadow of the substance that is Jesus (Colossians 2:17). Hold fast to him (v19) and live.

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The Energy Non-Crisis

I have been trying to figure out how to get this 90-day deal written and not posting here in the meanwhile. Something came up this morning that changed all of that so I will post a link to a complete PDF of the commentary when finished. Here is what is important:

Just watch it. I have always suspected and this is no proof…but it is compelling. Listen to this missionary talk about his first-hand experiences with oil in Alaska.

Now maybe I can start posting again.

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