Known

27 Aug

“O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.”  Ps 139:1

“Is there a Richard Adam Reilly in the car?”

With those words the Border and Customs Agent cast a pall over the car.  Under sunny skies which promised pleasant driving, my wife and I journeyed with my eldest son and beautiful daughter-in-law.  We were to spend four days of driving leisurely through Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota and North Dakota as we made our way back to Saskatoon from Ontario.  However, all that was now hanging in the balance barely two hours into the trek, at Port Huron, Michigan

Having spent forty-five minutes in line after crossing the Blue Water Bridge, the agent had taken our passports and asked all the usual questions—“Where are you going?”  “How long will you be?”  “Do you have anything to declare?” etc.  Then the unsmiling agent commented, “Oh-uh.  We have a trouble maker.”  My first thought was my son’s passport was out of date, but it was not that.  “This passport is not valid,” she coolly commented, “It hasn’t been signed.”  Well, that didn’t seem too bad, or was it? passport

The agent continued, “Here’s what you need to do.  To make this passport valid it needs to be signed in Canada.  You’re going to have to turn around, cross back into Canada, and sign the passport there.  Then you can return over the bridge and get back in line.”

The car was silent as we mulled over this unexpected and unwanted detour.  I could feel the rising tension as we began to formulate ways to make Adam’s life miserable.  It was then the agent leaned in and said, “Just kidding!” with a friendly smirk.  “Please sign the passport Adam, and enjoy your trip.”

As I’ve reflected on our stops at the border this summer, it dawned on me that God never has to ask those ‘border’ questions.  He knows where we’ve been, what we’ve been doing—even where we are going and what we are going to do.  “You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.   You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.  Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.”  Ps 139:2-4

I am known.  And not just the ‘me’ everyone sees, but the real me.  The ‘me’ who is smiling on the outside, but hurting inside.  The ‘me’ who appears courageous even when terrified within (like when killing a spider, yech!)  In every situation in which we find ourselves embroiled, there is a God who knows us and our circumstances even better than we ourselves, and He cares by entering into our lives, promising, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.”  Isa 43:2

Even more, when we cross from this life to the next our way has been secured by that very same God, through His Son Jesus Christ, who signature is our guarantee.  No worries of delays or detours need trouble us, as He will meet us at the border and welcome us home.


Prayer:  Father, Your love really is too lofty for me to understand, so I simply open my heart to receive it, and may my lips and life always declare it.  Thank you Jesus for Your blood shed on the cross, and for the promise and assurance of new life.  Help us to live each day in such a way that our journey will be so filled with Your presence, that we might reflect Your light into the world around us.

Mary: Suffragette

3 Mar

mary

“Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” – Luke 10:42

In his introduction to a collection of sermons published as ‘Aggressive Christianity’, Rev. Daniel Steele recalls his curiosity being piqued by the positive review of a ‘strait-laced’ Presbyterian doctor of divinity, in regards to a dynamic preacher in London (who wasn’t named Spurgeon).  The scandal of the doctors review, written in one of that denominations publications, was that he “would have been subjected to ecclesiastical censure if he had introduced a woman into his own pulpit…”  The woman of whom the doctor had written, and to whom Steele was referring, was none other than Mrs. General William Booth.

Though Steele recalls Mrs. Booth was at first shy of speaking in public, once unleashed by the Spirit, she was a holy whirl-wind.  Sadly, and to their loss, there are yet denominations today were women are excluded from the pulpit.  One of our own ladies who attended an ecumenical function was not so gently informed that “in our church the men lead.”  In other words, ‘know your place.’

In the story of Martha and Mary, however, there is a subversive underlying message.  It has to do with Mary.  N.T. Wright notes that “…obvious to any first-century reader, and to many readers in Turkey, the Middle East, and many other parts of the world to this day, would be the fact that Mary was sitting at the Jesus’ feet in the male part of the house rather than being kept in the back rooms with the other women.[1]

Mary assumed the posture of a disciple, much the same as Paul describes himself when he recounts he was “educated at the feet of Gamaliel…” (Acts 22:3)   In a culture were men prayed a prayer of thanksgiving that they were ‘not born a sinner, nor a woman’, Mary dared cross the line to sit at Jesus feet.  Wright goes on observe how women in the middle East are often able to move about freely in areas of conflict, while male combatants hide or move with great caution.  The women, it is assumed, are non-threatening.  Yet, when Paul began to persecute the early church, not even women were spared.  Why?  Because they were seen as leaders, as persons of influence, in the church.  Paul would later write of the barriers shattered by Christ, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28 – italics mine)

Jesus never scolded Mary, nor attempted to put her ‘in her place’.  No, in Jesus eyes she was in the proper place.  Mary had chosen “what is better.”  Let us be thankful our Army pioneers were not afraid to cross the line, nor erect false barriers, but encouraged and empowered anyone called by God to sit at Jesus feet.  Why not join Mary there today?

[1] N.T. Wright, Surprised by Scripture, (New York: HarperOne, 2014), 70.

The Spirit of Herod

6 Jan

nativity3

Although the din did not appear as great as in previous years, there were still ‘holiday’ trees, ‘winter’ concerts, and ‘solstice celebrations’, along with a liberal dose of the word ‘festive’ and even ‘party season.’  this Christmas.  A few days after Christmas I opened my annual tin of Quality Street (Christmas would not be complete without it) only to find the lid embossed with ‘Happy Diwali’.  The other tin I received (I was spoiled this Christmas) had no greeting – I guess it was an atheist tin.

In the Christmas narrative from Matthew’s Gospel we read of several responses to the birth of the baby Jesus.  Magi from the east were stirred to make a long, arduous journey across the desert.  Jerusalem we are told was ‘disturbed’, the Greek word meaning ‘agitated, or troubled.’  Surprisingly, the chief priests and teachers didn’t appear to be too bothered (or excited) that a long awaited prophecy was being fulfilled.  Know any people in today’s church like that?

The most outrageous reaction though came from Herod.  Although he feigned interest, it was he who was at the source of the agitation in Jerusalem.  Herod was not a nice guy.  Family members that he suspected of casting a longing glance at his throne were permanently dispatched, if you catch my drift.  Herod really enjoyed being king, and regardless of who this baby might be, there could only be one king—and Herod didn’t share.

A number of years ago Bramwell Booth wrote:

Herod the king sought to kill the child.  So it is even now.  Don’t be deceived; where Christ comes, storms come.  The world of selfishness and power and wealth will kill the Divine Thing in you, if it can.  Between the prince of this world and the Prince of the world to come no truce was possible long ago in quiet Judea, and no truce is possible now.  The spirit of the world is still the spirit of murder.[1]

I wonder what Booth would make of the world in which we now live, where any public acknowledgement of the birth of this child ‘troubles’ the ACLU, and others like them.  Why so threatened by a baby in a manger?   There was even a university (a place we associate with ‘higher learning’), that sought to ban candy canes because, yes, if it was held in a certain way it made a ‘J’.  The horror!

Yes, the spirit of Herod is alive (and not very well) even today.  It still refuses to share any glory, or relinquish any authority to the child.  And while we cannot expect the world to sing His praises and celebrate His birth, how can we keep from singing?  If angels, who have seen just about everything, can get excited at His birth, then how much more those to whom He came.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (2 Cor 9:15)

[1] Bramwell Booth, Our Master: Thoughts for Salvationists About Their Lord  (London: The Salvation Army Publishing Department, 1913), 48.

Family Portait

5 Jan

Family Portrait

Being the husband of an amateur genealogist, I’ve become quite familiar with the value attached to a family tree. Through many hours of vacation time, Laurie has discovered a connectedness to the past that still excites her, and she readily shares (whether or not I want to hear) all of the neat things she discovers about all the leaves on her family tree. For instance, she found that one of her relatives died in the workplace accident—falling through a trap door. She still smiles when I suggest that the family history has glossed over fact that the trapdoor was in a scaffold upon which a man wearing a hood worked—if you catch my drift.

The genealogy of Jesus, as given us in Matthew 1, reminds us of many things, including the idea that every life matters. While we will never meet Amminadab or Salmon (something fishy about that guy), Uzziah or Josiah, or even Akim or Matthan, this side of eternity; Matthew demonstrates that their lives mattered. Although each of the fathers (and also the mothers) listed likely wanted the best for their offspring, it is equally as likely they were unaware that one day one of the family line, a young man called Joseph, would be charged with raising the Son of God.

Paul tells us in Romans 8:28, “…we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” It is in the ‘all things’ we see God’s hand at work in this family tree. Even when mistakes were made (adultery), or when the character of the individuals was less than stellar (see 1 & 2 Kings), God was able to work it for the good.

The family tree of Jesus is a picture of what God can do in our own family tree. While in any given moment we might feel unimportant—every life matters. While we might lament some poor choice or wrong decision we’ve made—God can and does work for the good ‘in all things’. Our lives are part of a family portrait that is being painted over generations. However, it is the choices we make in the moment that determine how we appear in that portrait.

In my own family tree, Laurie’s research led me to a short Irish leaf named John Reilly. John was a stretcher bearer for the British Army during WWI. Though we are unsure of how it came about, what makes the 5’4” John stand tall in my family portrait is his insistence that his grandson (my father), attend Ballymacarrett Corps (now Belfast Sydenham) and play in the Junior Band. Whatever John’s motivation, I am who I am and where I am today partly because of a stubborn Irishman (who may have been a Scotsman). John’s life mattered. Your life matters. And it is God who takes all the leaves, some of them fallen, and restores them, all together, to create His own family tree.
tree

Christmas in August

14 Nov

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

Lk 2:14

His name was Hans.  I was manning at a booth at London’s Western Fair, when he appeared from out of the crowd and very quickly engaged me in his story.  During the Second World War, Hans, at barely seventeen, had been conscripted into the German Army.  In his first engagement, he was mercifully captured without firing a shot.  After a short stay in France, he and other teen soldiers were moved to England, to a POW camp not far from a small English town.

There, to pass the time, a favorite activity was playing football (soccer).  Thinking to lay a thrashing on the young Germans, the guards challenged them to a match, which ended in a lopsided victory for the Wehrmacht.   Soccer provided Hans with another unique opportunity.  One of the guards arranged for Hans, a talented footballer, to join the local English squad.  All he had to do was make sure he never spoke to the opposition, or cried out for the ball, either of which would reveal he wasn’t a proper Englishman.

Near the end of the war the guards, wanting to spend Christmas with their families, left the Germans lads on their own, and made them promise not to attempt escape.  Left on their own, the young men, feeling lonely and somewhat homesick, decided to attend a Christmas Eve service.  Walking to town, they nervously entered a chapel and slipped as quietly as possible into the back pews.  Their entry, however, did not escape the notice of the elderly priest.

The service continued without incident until the priest announced, “We have some guests with us this evening.”  All eyes turned to the young men, who thought they were about to be tossed out, but instead something remarkable happened.  The priest asked them if they would stand and sing ‘Stille Nacht’ in their native tongue.  With a little apprehension the reluctant German choir began, only to be joined by the parishioners.   I’m sure all of heaven paused that night as German and English voices mingled together, and there, for a short while, in a small English church during the darkness of World War II, the words of the angels rang true – “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Lk 2:14)  After the service not one young man failed to receive an invitation to spend Christmas in an adopted home.  It was a Christmas Hans says he will ever forget, and for me, it was how enjoyed Christmas in August.

Thought:  The angels were not singing a song only to be enjoyed at Christmas.

Further reading: Ephesians 2:17; Isaiah 2:4; Isaiah 9:6

Prayer:  Lord, as we celebrate Christmas this year, may we do so remembering that you came to offer peace on earth.  May we, as far as we are able, seek to be peacemakers always.  Amen.

 

Night Light

4 Nov

Night Light

Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light,
trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God.

Isaiah 50:10

When our sons were much younger they would enjoy those trips we took that lead us past the Lester B. Pearson International Airport. One runway in particular runs parallel with the highway, and if we were fortunate, at times we would pass by just as an aircraft was either landing or taking off. For two lucky boys, they would have a brief mini-van window seat that provided an unobstructed view of a jumbo jet lumbering off the earth, or one slowly descending with a small puff of smoke as the wheels grabbed hold of the waiting pavement. Of course, they took great pleasure in narrating the event to their brothers who feigned disinterest.

On one occasion we happened to drive by just as a DC-10, “one of planes daddy built” touched down in Toronto. Michael was entranced by the whole process, and so we entered into a discussion about how big the plane was, how much it weighed, how many people it carried, and were it may have been arriving from. During a brief pause I happened to ask Michael, “Would you rather land a jet during the day, or at night?”

He thought for a brief moment, that in itself a monumental moment, before answering, “At night.”
Surprised at his answer, and the confidence in the tone, I asked, “Why at night?”
“Because,” he swiftly replied, “at night you would have the runway lights to guide you.”

It seemed like such a simple answer, but as I pondered his reply I began to see his wisdom. During the day a pilot would have much to distract him and conceal the ‘narrow way’ that is a runway. Below there would be roads, railway lines, rivers, highways…while above, the brilliant blue sky and billowing clouds. However, at night, though the way be dark, there would be a light piercing the shadowy veil, and illuminating that narrow road that led to safety.

Likewise, in our lives there is much that we allow to distract us. The world is filled with shiny things and alternate paths that promise to satisfy and make us complete. There is many a broad road that leads to destruction, yet at first appearance seems inviting and safe. It can become hard to keep our eyes fixed on home—fixed on Jesus. Perhaps that is why God permits those times of darkness to come upon us. For in those times His light can be more clearly seen. In those moments we learn to walk by faith, trusting in His word to light our path.

Thought: To be distracted is often to blinded by our sight.

Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”

Isa 42:16, “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.”

Prayer: Lord, help me to not be lured by those things around me that seek to undo me. Help and guide me by the light that gives light to all men. And grant that I may have the privilege of being that city on a hill that lights the way for others.

Noah

28 Mar

Noah

As told in extra-biblical writings

 

This coming Friday the story of Noah hits the big screen with a big cast-Russell Crowe (Noah), Anthony Hopkins (Methusaleh), Jennifer Connelly (Naameh), Emma Watson (Ila).  Having seen only trailers and read some reviews (which are mixed), commenting on the film is near impossible.  Nevertheless, the following I hope will help in deciphering some of the liberties I’m told exist in the retelling of the Flood narrative.  Although the film is framed by the Biblical account, it appears to be painted with a good dose of imagination, inaccuracy, and lots of Jewish mythology.  My hope is that Noah will serve as an entry point into discussion of what is revealed in Scripture—and the implications of the story to life in the 21st century.  I have listed my sources on the reverse—and as always, I urge you to read the material rather than just take my word.  Blessings.

 

We are not the first people attempting to grasp what took place in the antediluvian (pre-flood) world.  Even today there are ‘debates’ over the Biblical text and how we are to interpret them.  For instance, who are the Nephilim?  Some believe they are the offspring of the unnatural union between angels and women.  These angels, or Watchers, were originally sent to earth during the time of Jared, to help teach men various tasks and how to do what is just and good.  However, their desire for the daughters of men leads to their corruption.  They instead taught occult practices, sorcery, astrology, and ‘secrets of heaven.’  The Nephilim, akin to the giants of Greek mythology, stand five hundred feet tall and have insatiable appetites.  Eventually they consume all that the land can produce, and so begin to devour mankind and each other.  These giants too are said to have dreams and visions of their destruction by flood.

Others see the Nephilim as the offspring of two family lines—the Cainite line (descended from Cain and therefore ungodly), and the Sethite line (descended from Seth, and therefore godly).  As the ungodly mixed with the godly mankind became more and more corrupt and evil.  In just seven generations the Sethites’ zeal for righteousness turns to an equally zealous nature of ungodliness.  God, seeing the hopelessness of things, calls the archangels together and gives them instructions on how to deal with the Watchers and their offspring.

The Watchers, two hundred strong, are led by Semyaz (or Semyaza, Shemhaza), who urges them to join him in taking women for themselves.  One of his chiefs is Azazel, is also mentioned in Lev 16:8 as the scapegoat.  Azazel was culpable in teaching mankind the art of war, and the making of instruments of war—as well as makeup.  Other Watchers teach metallurgy, magical medicines, incantations, etc.  Raphael, one of the archangels was charged with Azazel’s capture and binding.  Other archangels are: Suru’el, Raguel, Michael, Gabriel, Saraqael, Uriel, Rufael, Zutu’el and Phanuel.  Of these, it is Michael, Surafel and Gabriel who upon witnessing the horror that earth has become, report back to the Most High.

The flood was not unexpected to those of mankind who were willing to listen.  God had revealed much to Enoch, who tried to warn both men and the Watchers, what would happen in the future should they continued in the way of unrighteousness.  Enoch would even intercede on behalf of Watchers.  Later, another angel was dispatched to Lamech, the father of Noah, warning him of an impending deluge.

At first, all was not well between Lamech and Noah.   The physical appearance of Noah at his birth born was so much unlike any other child, Lamech was certain that Noah was the product of his wife being impregnated by a Watcher or Nephilim.  Unsure of what to do, Lamech pleads with his father, Methuselah, to go to Enoch and seek advice.  Enoch tells Methuselah that there is a deluge coming, and that Noah and his family will be spared.  He also recalls a dream in which the sky is falling and the earth swallowed up in a great abyss.  Years later, Noah also seeks out Enoch, at which time terrible turbulences take place on earth.  Noah is told of his destiny, and when he returns home to his wife Emzara, angels have begun to work with wood from which the ark will be built.

Noah would attempt to tell others what he knew and would warn them of the dire consequences of unrighteousness.  When responses became more violent Noah grew concerned for the safety of his family, and so moved away from others.

According to Josephus, even Adam foresaw the coming apocalypse that would come as each successive generation of Seth became more corrupt than the one before.  Eve, who would die six days after Adam, instructed her family to record all that they had been told one two tablets—one of clay (to withstand fire) and one of stone (to withstand water).  Many years later a son of Arphaxad would, upon building a city, discover rocks upon which the Watchers too had recorded their teachings, and so corruption again began to spread.

After the flood Ham is displeased with Noah when he hears of the curse on his son, Canaan.  Ham and his family depart from Noah and build a city, which moves Japheth to envy.  He too then leaves.  Later the three sons gather and in Noah’s presence draw lots to divide the world.  Shem gets middle earth (neither hot nor cold – and not to be confused with The Hobbit), Japheth gets the north (cold), and Ham the south (hot).  Canaan however, covets a place in middle earth, and despite the displeasure of the brothers, settles in a land not his.

The above is by no means an exhaustive look at the story told in extra-biblical sources.  My hope and prayer is that Noah will cause others to investigate the Bible story, and through this hear God’s heart.  If you see the movie, do so with an open mind.  And, might I suggest, open your Bible before and after to compare what God has said through His Word.

 

Sources:

The Life of Adam and Eve

The Book of Jubilees

The Book of the Secrets of Enoch

The Genesis Apocryphon

The Book of Giants

1 Enoch