Holy Mischief

13 02 2011

Just a recap:

January 2nd was the first Sunday of 2011.  It was our first youth group program of the new year, but the students were not back in school yet, so I wanted to do something fun and out-of-the-box.  We ended up with a night of “Holy Mischief.”

First, we divided into three groups.  Each group received $20, a church membership directory, a Bible, and a page of instructions that said:

Your mission, should you choose to accept it: Bless at least 3 people tonight!  ONE must be a youth group member who is not here tonight.  ONE must be a non-youth member of our congregation.  ONE must be a complete stranger.  Anyone else is up to you!

Here are the rules:

1. Your group must stay together at all times.

2. No matter where you are in the process, you must return to the church NO LATER THAN 6:42 p.m.

3. You may not spend any of the money on yourselves.  Any change that you have left over at 6:42 must be returned.

4. You may be as creative as you wish!

5. Do not be rude or mean to anybody!  “Holy mischief” is not the same thing as pulling pranks.  Make sure your only goal is to let people know that God loves them!

6. Come back with a great story!

Our youth really had a good time with the challenge, and they came up with some wonderful, creative ideas!    Over the course of the evening, we delivered ice cream sandwiches to on-duty firemen, visited our senior pastor, pumped gas for strangers, bought toys for kids, passed out hugs to a youth group family, prayed with a church family whose cousin had died the week before, and delivered a fish to one of our seventh-grade girls.

It was a great start to the year, setting the tone for what is to come…

The Lunatic Gospel: Genesis 17

16 09 2009

Click here to read the full text of Genesis 17.

And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.”
– Genesis 17: 20-21

So there’s part of the answer to my earlier musings, although it raises a few more questions, as well. God did intend to bless Ishmael, after all! But  … Ishmael’s descendants will apparently not be part of THE covenant (although Ishmael does have to be circumcised, as a sign of the covenant–seems  like he’s getting the bad end of the deal!). And somehow, Ishmael’s descendants will indeed be blessed through THE COVENANT(because all nations will be blessed through Abraham).

So what exactly is the purpose of this covenant, if you can be blessed without being a direct recipient?

Here’s my take on it: God is setting apart a certain group of people who will be consecrated through him. Through outward signs (circumcision) and inward signs (the legacy of Abrahamic faith), they are to demonstrate in all that they do, that they are God’s people. He’s setting up the system through which He will eventually give the Law, and the Prophets, and the Messiah. The covenant is not just a blessing; with it comes great responsibility.

And this will continue to happen throughout Genesis: a younger son receives the inheritance and finds favor with God. The older brother doesn’t necessarily do anything wrong–he just is not chosen to carry on the covenant.

(Think about spiritual gifts. Just because someone is given the gift of preaching, for instance, does not mean that he is “better” than someone with another gift. But because of his gift, he might be called into ministry as a full-time career—and this calling will ultimately help to sustain God’s church)

I have to constantly keep reminding myself that this covenant, at least, is not necessarily equated with salvation. God is not cutting off Ishmael’s descendants from ever being able to know Him; if sola fide applies, then the descendants of both Isaac and Ishmael will ultimately be saved by faith and not by whether or not they are part of the covenant.

Does that make any sense at all? What’s your take on it?

(originally posted 12/23/08 at http://thelunaticgospel.blogspot.com)

The Lunatic Gospel: Genesis 15-16

25 08 2009

Click here to read the full text of Genesis 15-16.

God cares about Hagar…right?

I wrestled with this question while reading today’s passage.  Here’s why:

– God (or more accurately, the angel of the LORD) talked to Hagar, even though women didn’t have equal status in those days.
– God found Hagar when she was wandering and lost in the desert.
– God called Hagar by name at a time when Sarai merely referred to her as “my servant.”
– God listened to Hagar when she was being mistreated.
– God blessed Hagar, using words reminiscent of his promise to Abram: “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.” (v.10)

So far, so good. Right?

But then, he goes on to say this of Hagar’s son:
“He will be a wild donkey of a man
His hand will be against everyone
And everyone’s hand against him,
And he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.”

What kind of blessing is this, exactly? Or is it even a blessing at all? A half-blessing, perhaps? A curse? A prophecy?

Is God trying to get back at Sarai and Abram for their lack of faith? If so, why punish Hagar? If God really is going to use Abram to bless all the nations, wouldn’t it seem logical to start with Hagar the Egyptian?

Interestingly, though, Hagar doesn’t protest or even plead with God. She doesn’t seem to care if God has blessed her or cursed her. She merely proclaims that God is the Living One who has seen her.

The Bible doesn’t make note of any inflections in Hagar’s voice as she names God. I picture her saying “the God who sees me,” with breathless awe, as though she has been unspeakably moved by this encounter. But I suppose it’s equally possible that she said those words with dejected resignation–as if to say, “God sees me & I guess there’s nothing I can do about it.”

God sees the good, the bad, the past, the present, the future. Before him, no things are hidden. In our relationship with him, we can be vulnerable, we can be raw, we can be real.

Hagar obeyed God, returning home to her cruel mistress. Here again, we see that worshipping God is intrinsically tied up in faith and obedience. She believed that the Lord was “The God Who Sees Me,” and she obeyed the one command he gave her.

She knew what lay ahead for her family: mistreatement, misery, hostility. But the even greater truth was that God had seen her, and would continue to see her. He had called her by name and responded to her. He had even named the unborn child in her womb!

As much as I would like to become indignant at God for Hagar’s sake, I must remember that she saw the very presence of God and accepted what He had given her. Somehow, I must do the same.

(originally posted 12/22/09 at http://thelunaticgospel.blogspot.com)

The Lunatic Gospel: Genesis 5

22 07 2009

Click here to read Genesis 5.

This is the boring stuff of the Bible: lists, ages, chronologies, genealogy. Details, details, details.  Begat upon begat.

Maybe I’m weird, but I like this stuff. In fact, I’m devoting a whole (albeit short) entry to this one chapter. One fascinating thing that I learned in Hebrew Bible class is that Genesis 5 is thought to be a “doublet” (or, repeat) of the previous chapter’s genealogy.

Genesis 4 lists: (Adam), Cain, EnochIradMehujaelMethusaelLamech
Genesis 5 lists: Adam, Seth, Enosh, KenanMahalalelJaredEnochMethuselahLamech

So the question remains: why was this stuff important enough to write down? And, why was important enough to write down twice?

I think one answer lies in the first two verses of the chapter, which recap the creation story. But here, instead of drawing out an epic picture of the deity’s triumph over primordial chaos, the biblical authors pare it down to three essential elements: the creation of mankind (in God’s image), the blessing of mankind, the naming of mankind.

“When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them ‘man.'”

The naming of mankind. Over and over again, we will see how important names are to God and to his people. Everyone in this lineage was created, blessed, and called by name.

This isn’t filler material. It’s not just a nice little transition between stories. We can’t skip over it impatiently and say, “Adam….blah blah blah blah blah…Noah.” It’s important for us to know these names. To know that each of these people had a role in this story that God prepared for us. And most of all, to connect to a heritage that shows us that we, too, have been created, blessed, and called by name.

(originally posted 6/7/08 at http://thelunaticgospel.blogspot.com)

The Lunatic Gospel Genesis 1-2

18 07 2009

The Creation of Adam, fresco by Michelangelo

The Creation of Adam, fresco by Michelangelo

“In the beginning, God…”

Those four words are completely beyond my comprehension. They may sound simple enough, but in reality, they represent the first of many efforts to reduce God to human words. We know nothing of this “beginning” in which God existed, because everything we know, including time itself, is a part of God’s own creation.

These two stories set up a certain relationship between God and humanity. The two accounts differ in their details (to the point of contradiction, even!), but I sense this deep yearning of both authors to understand our own origins. And if we don’t understand our position before God, then nothing else will ever make sense. These chapters are thus a fitting way to begin this book, this relationship, and this journey of discovery.

Here’s what these chapters tell us:
He is the Creator, we are creation. He is the original image, of which we are merely the likeness. He has given us life and breath, but also some commandments and responsibilities. And this is good; these parameters help us to make sense of the world and provide us with our literal, God-given purpose. We have a duty both to rule over and tend to the rest of creation.

He wants us to be happy. He intends for us to be in fellowship — for it is through this fellowship that we see other images of God. And most of all — we are blessed! We have been blessed since the beginning of creation. With his voice God blessed the first two people and sent them out into the world that he had made for them.

And we are still here, out in the world that he has made for us. And we are blessed.

(originally posted at http://thelunaticgospel.blogspot.com)