I am not sure if an imagination is supposed to come into play when reading the Bible. After all, have you ever been in the middle of communicating a thought when the person to whom you were speaking began to inject his or her views and conclusions into your tale? Invariably, when the listener becomes the speaker, the story can have a dramatically different outcome. I sure don’t want to do that to God’s narrative.
The scriptures are inspired, inerrant, and infallible. They serve as the rule of faith and practice. They were fully authoritative as they were given by God through verbal inspiration and have been kept pure by His providential care. I believe that. I hold to that basic tenet of Christianity.
Yet, on the heels of that catechism’s declaration, I must confess that I cannot shut down my imagination when reading Bible stories. Suffice it to say that I endeavor only to supply fictional background to the adventures of the biblical characters rather than to change the heart of intent of our Father’s immutable truth. (How’s that for a disclaimer to what I am about to do?)
Have you ever tried to visualize the tale of Jonah and the fish? What a whale of a story we could build! Securing his freedom from the will of God (or so he thought), Jonah set sail on a ship heading in direct opposition from where God told him to go. A storm ensued and Jonah ended up overboard. Surely somewhere in those less than ideal circumstances our traveler must have begun to question if his choice to go AWOL on God had been correct.
Perhaps Jonah’s arms were flailing wildly as he searched for a piece of wood or debris to help him stay afloat. Under a dark sky and in the black sea, the pounding rain and rough waves would have assailed him. Surely, he squinted his eyes as he attempted to survey his plight and find his salvation. What happened next? Did something brush his leg? With a pounding heart, did he frantically pivot back and forth to discover what creature of the sea might be lurking? Did Stephen Spielberg’s soundtrack from Jaws begin to echo in his ears?
There it was – his passage back to the will of God. Oh, I doubt if Jonah actually said that to himself when the huge fish finally came into focus. I doubt if worship and faith were his initial responses. He probably wasn’t even delighting in the fact that some day he would have the biggest fish story of them all!
In one gulp, the sea monster swallowed up the preacher. The dimly lighted sky disappeared and all that remained was utter darkness. The smell of sea air changed to the pungent odor of dead fish. The sound of the storm was muffled while his screams of terror amplified in the echo chamber of the creature’s belly.
Three days of hopelessness! Three days of prayer! Three days of self-reflection! Three days of repentance! And all the while, the fish was traveling in the direction that God had told Jonah to go. Amazingly enough, just about the time that Jonah got his heart straight, the fish arrived at Jonah’s port of call. The fish must have decided that this one was too small to keep because he threw him back into the water.
Emerging onto the shores of Nineveh, gastric-juice-bleached skin and all, Jonah preached with such personal conviction that the town was converted. He must have told one fish story that everyone believed.
The cry for help comes in different forms. Sometimes, you see it when the eyes are downcast and tears cascade down the cheeks or because the shoulders are drooped and the hands hang limply at the side of the afflicted one’s body. At other times you hear it when the troubled person cries out for help because the suffering soul cannot be silenced in its moment of distress. Whether spoken silently or spoken audibly, the cry comes. The cry can be heard. Those who are arrested by the cry hear the call to action. Love demands and love responds. Help is on the way.
Recently my grandson came upon a season of crisis. Challenges without and stress within produced a difficulty that rose beyond his ability to overcome without the aid of others. Graced with a family that is tightly woven together with the cords of love, he was immediately surrounded with help. Who of us has not been thrust into similar circumstance? I remember my bad accident that demanded the ER, surgery, healthcare givers, and the support of my family. I recall this past year’s hurricane in Florida that threatened the security of my daughter and her family and that necessitated temporary housing, assistance with the basics of life, and emotional support. The cry for help comes at one time or another from each of us and to each of us.
The Bible tells the story of a man named Jairus. He was a ruler in the synagogue: a man of influence, a leader of the people, a helper of the multitudes. He had doubtless heard his share of tormented cries arising from challenging circumstances. The present day had brought him to his own calamity. His daughter lie severely ill and, apart from immediate intervention, would soon die.
Jairus lifted up a cry for help. His was an unconventional call but the emergency demanded it. Jairus knew about a healer in the town whose name was Jesus. However, the rulers in Israel had not approved of or affirmed this man. Jairus’ companions would condemn their preeminent leader violating protocol, departing from the agreed-upon propriety, and breaking from the religious correctness. But Jairus could not stifle his cry. The muffled silence demanded by his position could not be suppressed. The aggrieved father sought out the healer and fell at his feet in worship. “I pray thee,” the needy man cried, “come and lay your hands on my child that she may be healed.”
Jesus heard the cry. Jesus agreed. The crowd was large because the multitudes had heard of Jesus’ miracles and also sought him for his boundless mercies. But Jesus followed Jairus. Jesus was motivated by his cry. Along the route, word came that the child had died. Those who carried the news suggested, “Don’t trouble Master anymore; your daughter is dead.”
One can hardly imagine the emotional pit into which those words must have cast Jairus. Could he even hear or comprehend the words which Jesus uttered, “Be not be afraid; only believe.”
This journey toward wholeness may have begun by the promptings of a father’s desperation but the momentum shifted. Jesus went from being led by the needy to leading the needy; from being persuaded to help to persuading that his help was the answer no matter the level of desperation. Love had placed the demand and the greatest love had responded. Help was on the way.
The story ends with the child being raised from the dead. Jairus’ daughter received an even greater miracle than the cry of her father had requested. Whether the synagogue leader would be accepted by his peers or not did not factor into the joy released when Jesus answered his cry. What a story! What a truth! Our cries for help only initiate a process. Our helpers stand ready to walk alongside on our road to recovery and ensure that we reach our victory. To my grandson and to all of us whose life’s journey brings us to an edge of calamity, may we be surrounded with those who aid. May Jesus journey with us. May we find new life at the end of our difficulty.
The Roman military had been enlisted to secure the peace of the city during the recent days of Jewish unrest. Throughout the Roman occupation of Israel and its capitol city, Jerusalem, there had been various conflicts that had arisen due to small insurgences to overthrow Rome’s domination or because of protests against increased taxation. The present turmoil was unique, however, because this disorder arose from infighting among the Jews. Pilate did not care which faction won nor did he care how the religious hierarchy maintained their power base, but he did care about the stability of the city. He knew Rome was watching and his political future would be evaluated based upon his handling of the dissidents of Israel.
Every Roman soldier was aware of the past days’ events: the midnight trial of the man named Jesus, the demands from the Sanhedrin for Roman assistance, Pilate’s attempt to circumvent his culpability by sending the trial to Herod’s jurisdiction, and ultimately the crucifixion of the man given the title ‘King of the Jews.’ Facts mingled with rumors about the curious events circulated throughout the military ranks. Although some soldiers had heard the message of the Galilean and seen his miracles, no man dared to offer any voice in opposition to Pilate’s course of action because they knew their superiors were listening.
At the request of the Pharisees, Pilate ordered that the tomb of Jesus be secured. The religious leaders were apprehensive about the fate of his remains. Based upon Jesus’ claim that he would rise from the dead, they feared that his followers would steal his body and boast that he had, indeed, been resurrected. A sentinel was ordered to seal the huge stone covering the mouth of the cave in which the body was placed and to set round-the-clock lookouts. The boldest and bravest wanted the assignment, because the whole city was watching. Successfully accomplishing the primary objective of guarding against intruders, securing the body, and maintaining the honor of Rome’s military prowess might procure a promotion.
On the last evening of the set watch, the unexpected occurred. The perimeter was breached. An intruder, whose very appearance struck so much fear in the warriors that they were powerless to fight, unsealed the grave and rolled back the stone. One look inside revealed that the body of Jesus was gone. Immediately, another apprehension fell upon the guards. They had failed their mission. Someone would need to know, and they would need to answer. There would be dire consequences. More than promotion or reputation was at stake. They might have to pay with their very lives because their magistrates were both watching and listening.
The empty tomb changed the promotion the centurions hoped to receive, thwarted the ambitions of the Jewish religious hierarchy, and frustrated the dictates of Pilate. The best attempts of those parties to secure their desired futures were, doubtless, foiled by an empty tomb. Not only then, but now, the resurrection of Christ still has the power to change anticipated outcomes. From the Pilate-type person who refuses to rightly acknowledge Jesus’ role as savior hoping to instead receive the accolades from lesser potentates to the combatant-type man who thinks he can use his physical or mental prowess to guarantee that God’s inerrant word will fail, the empty tomb testifies to the only valid authority in whom man can place his hopes.
In contrast, any and all who place faith in Christ and His promises even when popular opinion might suggest such a stand to be unwise, will find a future that guarantees everlasting reward. And, for those who believe that God is both watching and listening to a faithful witness, the empty tomb removes the fear of death both in this life and that which is to come.
The young man had every advantage available in his society to prepare him for success and for his dreams to come true. He was born into the aristocracy. His intellect was keen, and he was educated by the finest scholars. Life was supposed to unfold just as he and his parents had determined.
Then came the invading armies, the national occupation, and the deportation of all leaders plus a large portion of the population. Daniel found himself in Babylon. He had lost his family, his homeland, his future, his aspirations, his whole identity. He and other children, who were of the king’s seed and of the princes of Israel, were taken into King Nebuchadnezzar’s palace. There they were made eunuchs and placed under a mentor who would oversee their schooling in the language and the cultural practices of the Chaldeans. They were to be converted, reformed, and transformed from Israelites to Babylonians.
Daniel would have had every reason to be angry at God. He could have turned his back on his faith, rejected the God of his fathers, and blamed the religion that had formed and shaped his past. He could have, but He didn’t. Daniel turned his heart to God. He decided to live a life of uncompromising consecration. He allowed his faith to sustain him and empower him to overcome the most difficult of trials.
Perhaps Daniel remembered the words of wisdom that were imparted to him from his parents. It could have been that the Holy Scripture, which would have undoubtedly been part of his training, came rushing back to his memory. Possibly God spoke a soft inspiration into Daniel’s ear giving him the fortitude to remain faithful. The Bible does not tell us the direct source of Daniel’s devotion, but it does communicate that Daniel’s faith sustained him and provided the foundation for miraculous displays of God’s delivering power.
I have met people who blame God for the problems in their lives and, consequently, abandon a life of faith. Trials come for many reasons. In the case of Daniel, his nation had failed to honor the God of their forefathers and had ceased to obey the commandments delivered to them through Moses. They had sinned. They had incurred the results of wrong choices, positioned themselves to reap what they had planted, invited the negative sanctions of unrighteous living.
Daniel had not personally disobeyed the commandments of God, but his nation had. His leaders had. His government had. Daniel along with his generation and all the inhabitants of Israel were forced to suffer the trials of Babylonian captivity. The Bible says that “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when the wicked bear rule, the people mourn” (Prov. 29:2).
In the presence of a powerful foreign king, surrounded by lifestyles that lacked virtue, and inundated with an idolatrous worship system, Daniel lived. He walked in compliance with God’s Word. He served the earthly king without compromise while obeying his Heavenly King without concession. God prospered him by giving him the highest positions in the land and protected him when his faith brought him persecution. Daniel’s faithfulness played an important part in the deliverance of his entire nation.
Believers should be instructed by Daniel’s walk. In a time when our nation’s choices have created economic and social hardships, may the Daniels of our day refuse to abandon their faith and choose to lead uncompromising lives of dedication to God.
We can hardly turn on our TV, look at our phones, talk to a friend, or engage in any other forms of news or social media without someone talking about the pandemic caused by the coronavirus. I’m sure that you and I share concern for our neighbors, for our nation, and for the world community at large. Our hearts break to hear the stories of shortages within the health care systems and of lives being lost to this virus. I know that I am daily praying for the government leaders to have discernment, for the researchers to be given understanding, and for those present on the front lines to be granted grace. I’m confident that you are praying those same prayers. May God have mercy and give us Divine assistance during these difficult days.
By God’s design and by my training, I am a forever Bible student and teacher. Because of this ingrained disposition, I have been meditating upon God’s Word to consider what scripture has to say about a wide-spread pandemic. Pandemic is our currently-applied term. Scripture uses the word plague. Plagues are found throughout recorded biblical history including their causes and their cures. I decided to pen my thoughts. Hopefully, as I discuss God’s precepts, I can help us find a sound footing for our faith and our prayers as we ask God to deliver us from this plague.
Everything began in the condition of good. You remember the Genesis story. God made everything that was created and declared His creation to be “good.” The ground was good; the animals were good; man was good. All things remained in that state until Adam sinned. After man’s transgression, God returned to assess the situation and placed an evaluation upon the status that resulted because of man’s mishandling of that which was under his stewardship and man’s manipulation of the creation over which God had given him charge. Man changed the “good” condition, and God declared that the maltreatment caused things to be cursed. God, as judge, announced the resultant condition or the state of affairs. God’s announcement did not cause the curse. Man’s trespass caused the curse. Remember that Adam and Eve were naked. God did not strip them of their glory. Their actions negated their glory. Their flesh was already exposed. God evaluated and declared the results of man’s actions.God’s judgment enforced the sanctions that man’s actions merited.
From that first narrative, the scriptures proceed on the basic axiom that obeying God and working in the earth from the reality of God’s Word causes the earth to be “good” or blessed. Juxtaposed to that is the reality that Adam discovered: working in the earth from a reality contrary to God’s Word causes the earth to be damaged or cursed. This axiom is reinforced many places within the scriptures, including Proverbs 26:2, which states “the curse causeless shall not come.” That cause is man’s disregard of the operational manual, which is God’s Word. God created everything so God knows the nature, purpose, and design of all He made. God gave to man the information man would need to work with the created order without introducing disorder, abuse, and destruction. Probably one of the most well-known and often-quoted passages on the subject of blessing and cursing is found in Deuteronomy 28 where scripture makes clear that obedience to God’s word is distinctively connected to the releasing of “good” and blessings and that disobedience is specifically tied to discharging of the injurious and curses.
One of the curses outlined in the Deuteronomy 28:58-62 is the plague, describing a wide-spread disease or a contagious sickness that affects many people. The Hebrew word for plague is naga, which literally means to touch and can be translated smite, strike, or violently touch. The transmittable nature of a plague is communicated by the choice of the word naga. Several stories in scripture reveal how non-biblical actions were directly connected to the release of a plague.
One prominent story is found when Israel was crossing the dessert on her way to the Promised Land. Numbers 22-25 tell of a time when Balak, the king of Moab, hired a prophet named to Balaam to pronounce a curse upon Israel. This tale is famous for the talking donkey who tried to stop the prophet. Much to the anger of the king, the prophet was not able to curse. In Numbers 23:8, Balaam states, “How shall I curse whom God has not cursed?” Apart from actions done in contradiction to God’s Word, the “curse causeless shall not come.” Balaam’s word could not release the curse. Only Israel’s disobedience could.
When Balaam failed to merit the promised wage, he departed; but Israel pitched camp near the Moabites and “began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab” (25:1). Then “Israel joined himself unto Baal-peor; and the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel” (25:3). A plague broke out among the people and 24,000 died of the plague. The curse of a plague was released thought the rebellious acts of the people. A priest named Phinehas, who was the son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron the high priest, took action in behalf of the people to make atonement for the sins.
Earlier in Israel’s history, the people rebelled against Moses and Aaron. Numbers 16 tells that story. The murmurings released a plague that took the lives of 14,700. In this story, Aaron arose and took a censer and fire from the altar and released incense. Verse 47 states that Arron made an atonement for the people. In the Balaam story and in this story, the plague was stopped because someone fulfilled a priestly duty to make atonement. We can see a pattern emerge.
Another famous story is found in 2 Samuel 24 and is also recorded in 1 Chronicles 21. King David had disobeyed God’s Word. Again, a plague was released that resulted in the deaths of 10,000. The outbreak had spread from Dan to Beersheba and was at Jerusalem. Over the threshing floor of a man named Araunah, the Lord stopped the spread. King David was instructed by the prophet Gad to raise up an altar to the Lord at that spot. David bought the land from Araunah and bought the animals for the sacrifice. David made atonement. The land, which was on Mt. Moriah, became the site where Solomon later built his temple. Interestingly, the site was also the spot where Abraham was willing to offer his son in sacrifice. The altar of Abraham, the altar of David, and the altar of Solomon were altars of atonement.
The principle becomes apparent: atonement stops the spread of the plague. Remember Passover where the blood of the atoning lamb stayed the death angel. Recall when Moses lifted up the brazen serpent on the poll (Numbers 21) to stay the plague. Note that Jesus stated in John 3:14-15 that His destiny was to be the fulfillment of Moses’ actions. He was to be lifted up on a pole or on a cross to stay the plague of death, to atone for the sins of a people, to stand between life and death. The Apostle Paul confirms the effectiveness of Christ’s atoning work in Galatians 3:13, which states, “Christ redeemed us from the curse …”.
People sin. All people disobey God’s Word at one point or another. People groups sin. Nations disobey. Mishandling of the earth distorts it, destroys it, damages it. Application of other principles contrary to God’s “good” principles releases curses not blessings. Plagues testify that earth managers have failed in their assignment to release heaven’s reality into earthly labors. But there is an answer. When a man who will function in his priestly capacity is willing to activate the principle of atonement, the plague can be stayed. The ultimate priest is Christ, and the definitive atonement is the cross.
As New Testament believers, we are called to be a nation of priests (I Peter 2:9); and we have the authority to apply Christ’s atoning blood to stay the plague (Mt. 16:19). Therefore, we do acknowledge that our nation and all nations have sinned and released perversions and destructions into our earth. We recognize that sin releases the curse and results in death. We offer repentance as we identify with our land and the other inhabitants of our land. We proclaim that Christ’s atonement is sufficient to stay the plague. What Phinehas, Moses, and Aaron did in their day, we activate through Christ and His atoning sacrifice in our day. May the plague be turned back! May the hearts of men be turned to God! “If my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chron.7:14). Amen and amen!
“Let’s use your car for the airport run; it has more trunk space,” my husband said. The idea seemed good.We climbed into the car, buckled up, backed out of the garage, and headed out of the neighborhood. Scarcely had we gone a block when my husband questioned, “How long has this light been on?”
“Light, what light?” I responded.
“This dashboard warning that says it’s time to change the oil,” he replied.
“Why, I have no idea,” I spoke naively, “perhaps the warning light has just now showed up!”
Now I must pause here to inject that we both have cars. I drive my car. He drives his car. Therefore, unless I inform him that there is a thump-thump or a funny-sounding whine, he assumes that all is well in Patti’s-car-world. Actually, I have never verbally assured him that he could place such confidence in my perceptiveness. Probably he made an assumption. I suppose he considered that my age and the number of years that I have been driving had qualified me to be able to read automobile warning lights. Guess Not!
Anyway – back to the story…“perhaps the warning light has just now showed up,” I replied. He leaned forward and looked at the sticker on the front windshield – you know – the one that recounts the mileage at the last oil change.
“Patti, the car is over 1,000 miles past due,” he stated with a slight edgy tone of his voice. “So,” I said sheepishly, “you’re telling me that there is a good chance that I have been ignoring the light for a long time now?”
Warning Lights! They certainly can’t help me when I pay no attention to them. Caution Signs! Their wisdom is useless unless it is heeded. Alert notifications! The advice they herald is wasted if it is ignored. This little car incident caused me to realize that I am usually ambivalent to warning signs that are all around me in my regular life routines. I never read the label on merchandise that I use all the time. I don’t scrutinize the recommendations or inspect the ingredients of a product that is a household regular. Familiar makes me less attentive to the warning signs in life.
As important as the package labels and dashboard lights are, other warnings in life are just as predominant and are just as easily ignored. Anger, jealousy, greed, lust, and hatred all serve as cautionary signals. They indicate that something requires attention. They designate that prudence is mandated. They specify that care is needed. However, if allowed to remain unattended too long, these beacons of warning blend into the ordinary routine and lose their ability to grab my attention.
While custody of the car is imperative, guardianship of my soul ranks paramount. When irritation turns into hatred or anger, there is a good chance that I have been ignoring the light for a long time. When an unchecked or unmet longing gives birth to greed or jealousy, I can’t feign innocence by declaring that the warning light has just showed up. There is more danger in me dulling the voice of my conscience than turning a blind eye to a dashboard.
The Apostle Paul warns me to not let the sun go down while I am still angry (Ephesians 4:26). In other words, take the soul in for an oil change before I park it for the evening. Take out the contaminated oil and replace it with forgiveness, mercy, and love. How will I know when the exchange is complete? All I need to do is pay attention to the warning signs.
There I was in Lansing, Michigan sitting at breakfast with three ladies who were registered at the same convention as I. Conversation began slowly. “Hello, my name is Patti; what is yours?” I asked, attempting to break the awkward silence and begin some form of connecting. After we made the rounds with names and cities from which we came, the dialogue began to flow more freely. One lady told of their family’s imminent move to a new city due to a job change. Immediately following, the lady just to my right made a comment about her pet iguana, which caught the attention of all at the table and which subsequently occupied the remainder of our breakfast-time fellowship.
Nine years ago, this woman’s daughter had returned home from a trip to the mall with a six-inch lizard. Well, who could resist the smiling face of their little girl enamored by a small, non-aggressive new pet? (Actually, I think I could have resisted if it meant living with a reptile!) This mother, however, succumbed to her daughter’s charm. Nine years later, the family found themselves co-inhabiting a home in northern Michigan with a five-foot iguana whose native habitat is, by the way, the hot tropical climate of South America. What an unlikely connection!
I sat fascinated as I listened to the attachment this woman had formed with the family pet. She told us of the lizard’s diet and habits. Her eyes twinkled as she explained how the pet licked chocolate from her finger. (Think about that – a chocoholic iguana!) The family bird regularly chirped taunts at it; the 12-year-old cat barely tolerated it; the dog tried to herd it; but the lizard was the dominate household pet.
Captivating me more than her tales was her obvious affection for the iguana. I found myself musing over what could cause anyone other than a paleontologist, zoologist, veterinarian, or some little girl’s younger brother to be infatuated with an animal of this kind. The question actually occupied my thoughts throughout the entire weekend (which is not a commentary on the quality of the conference since I was the main speaker). I tried to insert myself into the picture and imagine the whole experience up close and personal. That really didn’t work. I tried to delete the whole conversation from my thoughts as just non-essential details. That didn’t work either. Finally, I did the thing that I usually come back to, I thought on the scriptures.
The Bible tells us that God created man and then gave man rule over all the rest of His creation. The land, the seas, and even the animals were given for us to tend and to enjoy. Conservationists acknowledge man’s responsibility to care for the earth; sportsman love to challenge and conquer every element of nature; and scientists search to uncover every secret woven into the design of creation. We belong here and we have a God-connection with nature. And, at that, creation is so vast and diverse that individual tastes, particular preferences, and even personal quirks can all be catered to as we each select the areas that delight or interest us.
One man thrills at a sunset while another scales the steep slopes of the mountain. Someone may pick a dog for a pet while someone else prefers a cat. However varied our interests, we hold this in common – we are drawn to nature in all its various forms, genus, or species. Everything in creation is God’s gift to us – even the iguana.
This long, cold winter has produced some interesting obstacles to my travel schedule. One of those challenges occurred on a recent trip to Roseburg, Oregon. My flight itinerary routed me from St. Louis through Phoenix to Eugene. The first leg would take three hours; the layover was to be an hour; the second leg would again last three hours; and the final car ride from Eugene to Roseburg would require an hour and a half. Total travel time from leaving my home and arriving at my final destination added up to eleven hours, which –by the way – is more time than a non-stop flight to Europe! However, every time I book one of those travel-twice-as-far-for-half-the-money tickets, I remind myself that flying is far superior to a car, bus, or other slower modes of transportation.
I boarded the plane with reading materials in hand; I was mentally prepared for the long travel day – or so I thought! The boarding procedure began on time. With only half the passengers loaded on the fully-booked flight, the attendants announced that all the overhead compartments were full and that all passengers’ carry-on luggage must either fit under the seat or be checked. That created a heightened state of confusion and delay. Forty minutes after the scheduled departure time, flight attendants were still carrying luggage off the plane and people were still trying to settle into assigned seats.
Late departure meant late arrival. Before we landed in Phoenix, many passengers became aware that making connections to their next plane would be questionable. Those going to Eugene had about ten minutes. The race was on! One man in our newly formed pack of six-travelers-desperate-to-make-the-Eugene-flight hailed a motor-driven cart. We hopped on, and the driver radioed ahead to the gate for the flight to wait for us. From the far end of concourse B to the other end of concourse C we sped only to be greeted by the words, “You missed your flight.”
The plane had just pulled away from the gate – three minutes ahead of schedule! After a short time of everyone talking at once, we were directed to the service counter where we would be re-routed and re-booked. Tempers began to flare. One man threw his coat and briefcase to the floor. One woman cried and said that she had not seen her children for a week. The stories and troubles were diverse; attitudes were negative; accusations and complaints were flying. And there, across the counter from all the disgruntled customers, was a ticket agent. She smiled, apologized, sympathized, smiled more, and tried to offer solutions.
As I had not yet had my turn to be waited on, I was observing the interactions between the frustrated customers and the accommodating airline representative. She did not return self-defense for accusation. She did not combat anger with anger. She did not retaliate in any way. Instead, she responded to each disturbed customer with a soft answer. My mind reflected upon the proverb that states a gentle answer turns away wrath but harsh words stir up anger (Proverbs 15:1). She may have been just responding out of her customer service training, but she was a living Bible lesson to me.
I wondered how often I had successfully turned away wrath when someone near me had heard the words, “You have missed your flight” (metaphorically speaking). In the midst of someone’s missed opportunities, blocked goals, unavoidable obstacles, or frustrating moments, had I smiled and offered customer service? As I stood in line, I whispered a little prayer of repentance for any of my past retaliatory harsh words. I prayed for the agent, for my fellow travelers, and for my own responses. I asked God for the grace to return a gentle answer.
Within seconds, I had an opportunity to practice my prayer. I would be placed into a hotel for the night without my luggage, clothes, cosmetics, or toiletries – which had miraculously caught the flight to Eugene. I would fly out the next morning and arrive at my destination twenty-six hours from the time I left home. I smiled and offered a gentle ‘thank you’ to the service agent. I walked away with a memory and a life lesson that may be helpful in ordering my responses the next time I am face to face with someone who has had a “You have missed your flight” moment in life.
Jacob longed for the love of his father. The yearning was deep; the desire intense. His mother favored him while his father favored his brother. Try as he may, scheme as he could, Jacob never achieved his goal; and he left home with his hope unsatisfied.
After entering into the employment of his uncle Laban, Jacob saw Rachel, Laban’s beautiful daughter. A dowry of seven years of labor for Rachel’s hand in marriage was agreed upon. Jacob willingly labored for his love believing that he could finally be satisfied by unconditional love that could fill his heart.
When the day of the wedding arrived, his bride was presented in her veiled apparel, as was the custom. Because of the veil and the darkness of the wedding tent, Jacob did not know until the next morning that Laban had exchanged the oldest daughter Leah for the beautiful Rachel. The longing of Jacob’s heart was again disappointed; but at the same time, he rejected the girl who was now his bride.
Leah understood Jacob’s heart condition. She, likewise, was yearning to find true love. Compared to Rachel, Leah was the ugly duckling. All the men favored Rachel’s beauty and form. Leah had never known favor or gracious love even from her father who had little confidence that any man would be willing to pay a dowry for her. Therefore, he tricked Jacob and secured a husband for the girl that nobody wanted.
Leah knew what had happened. Yet, she hoped for love – unconditional love – from a man whose heart was as hollow and empty as her own. Her desire was unmet because Jacob continued to pine for Rachel.
Leah conceived. She named her first son Rueben, meaning ‘he sees.’ Perhaps she believed that Jacob would see her now; and as the mother of his son, she would merit the love of her husband. She looked for Jacob to satisfy her heart, yet all the while he believed Rachel would fill his deepest need. Son or no son, Leah remained unloved.
Her second son was born and she named him Simeon, meaning ‘he hears.’ Still Jacob did not hear the cry of her empty soul. Son number three was born. His name of Levi testified that she still hoped Jacob’s heart would at last be ‘joined’ to hers.
The magic formula of the perfect person and the perfect relationship evaded both Jacob and Leah. Laban used Jacob who used Leah who used her sons. Empty hearts attempted to draw love unto themselves from empty hearts. No one was filled. All were further bankrupted. They all tried to create life-giving idols out of the objects of their affections. The devastation compounded - - - until something happened in Leah.
She conceived a fourth time and delivered another son. She named him Judah and testified of her ‘praise’ to the Lord. The person upon whom she placed her longing had changed. No longer would she consign all her hope in her father or in her husband. Perhaps she realized that no human could ever be capable of filling the deepest parts of an eternal soul. Perhaps she recognized that the love, which flows from heaven, is far superior to that which originates in the earth.
Out of the fullness of heart, Leah praised God. The girl that nobody wanted became the mother of Judah and the matriarch of the lineage of Jesus. The fullness of God’s love was poured out in Jesus to fill all the empty hearts of humanity. Leah learned what we all need to know: only the love of God can truly satisfy a soul.
My husband and I recently purchased new bedroom furniture. The set we replaced was a dark pine waterbed collection that we bought in the early 80’s. We long ago abandoned the waterbed, substituting a more traditional foundation for the free-float mattress. Years ago, I took a saw to the thick wooden canopy and cut it off. That caused the ends of our bed to just be rough-hewn posts, which I masked with a few artistic decorative tricks. However, in spite of all the attempts at up-dates, our bedroom looked like a throwback to a style long ago abandoned. We decided it was time for our bedroom to tell a new story. Out went the heavy, dark pine and in came the soft, cherry wood.
Times change and the culture reflects those changes. What was once hip, mod, and groovy becomes outmoded (like those adjectives just used!). Styles, practices, technology, and vocabulary are constantly being reinvented and remade. The look and sound of the old times mark the past era. New ways and new trends arrive on the scene, and everyone acquiesces to the times. I guess we could say that culture is constantly remodeling itself.
We tend to call each remodel the ‘new and improved.’ Stores across the nation are filled with books telling us that our culture is being remodeled from the Modern Era to the Postmodern Era. Attempts to upgrade Modernism have failed, so it is being replaced by the new philosophy called Postmodernism. Modernism promised to deliver peace and prosperity through science and knowledge. However, threats of nuclear horrors, continued poverty and hunger, lack of personal fulfillment, and many other human ills have produced a generation that no longer believes that a social utopia will be attained through adherence to rigorous external principles.
The ‘new and improved’ philosophy promises happiness through personal experimentation. Postmodernism is remodeling our culture from ‘dos and don’ts’ to ‘whatever.’ Each individual is free to experience the revolving door of trial-and-error in a search for truth, integrity, meaning, love, and inner peace. All religions are equal – practice yours. All love is equal – choose yours. All opinions are equal – speak yours. Welcome to our ‘new and improved’ culture!
In the midst of this cultural remodeling, we have more than one new ‘bedroom set’ from which we can choose. Instead of moving forward into Postmodernism as the answer to the disappointments of Modernism, perhaps society should return to a first-century Christian lifestyle based upon faith, brotherly kindness, generosity, and sacrificial love. Values recommended within the pages of scripture are a viable antidote to the untenable moral standards, dysfunctional relationships, material excesses, and abusive power that are found today in American culture.
A question lies before us. Do we embark upon our own path of personal experimentation that may result in a disheartening and unfulfilling search for the ‘new and improved’ social utopia? Or, do we hear the words of Christ that promise us life and life abundantly, that promise us guidance through the ebb and flow of cultural trends, and that promise a heavenly utopia to those who love God and His commandments? These are the days of remodeling – what new furniture will we choose: Postmodernism or Christianity?