Shalom.

It is a very popular Hebrew term, used as a “hello” and “goodbye” for the comings and goings in life.

Yet like most words, English cannot encompass what magnitude and depth this word contains. Following what the Strong’s Dictionary tells me, it means more than just the “peace” that people imply. Peace is a poor English word to describe what a huge expanse this word entails. Shalom means completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord (7965). Shalom comes from the root verb shalom meaning to be complete, perfect and full.

When used in the Hebrew, it is the fullness that is comparable to a debt that is paid. That is, the debt is not partially paid, but fully–there is a sense of the completeness and the efficacy of the shalom being complete, and requiring no further action.

Keeping this in mind, I wonder when we read the words of Jesus, he often uses the greeting: “Peace be unto you,” a translation of shalom aleichem, what that would mean to us.

If it is, that Jesus is calling for our debts to be paid, and ourselves to be made whole through the freedom from the bondage of sin. What if shalom meant more than just peace, as we have understood it to mean, but Jesus continually inviting us to drink of the Living Water and eat of the Bread of Life? Applying this, are we seeking more than just peace, but are we looking for the debt of our sins to be paid fully.

Moreover, if we greet our brothers and sisters with the greeting–shalom–do we wish them completeness, wholeness…etc. ? Do we hope and pray for the utmost of graces and love to be lavished upon them, because Jesus certainly did for the people he encountered. To have the heart of Jesus is to know love other as you would treat them, and to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength.

“But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1v.7

Gender Roles: Can a Helper be A Holy Calling?

In the waters of gender roles, I am dipping my metaphorical blogging toes.

There is a passage in Genesis that is somewhat controversial in how it assigns the role of women as a helper. The context was God had just created the whole earth and the heavens, He created man, and he lived within the Garden of Eden. He had just finished telling the man that he should not eat from the tree in the centre of the Garden–“then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”” Genesis 2:18 (English Standard Version)

On the surface, perhaps it is a bit misogynistic—a justification to belittle females and make them lesser than men. In fact, I am sure this mindset has been played a million times by atheists in an attempt to ridicule Christianity as men being power-hungry and seeking to control lives. In many ways, there is some truth in this claim looking at Christianity of ages past–but the problem has been the interpretation, not the actual Bible.

What I find fascinating is that the word used for “helper” is the word, “`ezer” which means according to Strong’s Dictionary, “to surround, to protect or aid” The reference of the Bible translators when they say, help is in context with being all encompassing in their aid.

In Maori culture (the indigenous of New Zealand), in iwi meetings where the whole tribe would meet in the central marae or town hall–women were and still are forced to sit at the back row while men sit at the front of the tribe meetings. Yet, this is not out of male domineering, but out of respect, that women are more valued than men in this context.

Moreover, the function of a helper is a Holy function because God is a helper. The 54th Psalms was written by David when the Ziphites went and revealed his hiding place to Saul, saying that he was hiding in their land. David’s praise was to God:

“Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life.” Psalms 54:4 (English Standard Version)

The word used for helper here is “`azar”, which is the variant on the root “`ezer”, and means exactly the same as before. So then, perhaps, if God is a helper then perhaps being a helper is not an undesirable aim in life? Therefore, the problem perhaps is not so much what is wrong with the functions of a bridegroom and bride—but what functions we have assigned to God. Perhaps, we have imposed an idea of what we expect God to be and creating a hierarchy of what His nature should be, instead of seeking to submit to what He is. Changing the God is often much easier and simpler than changing the natural closed nature of our hearts.

If I could posit the question: Is our idea of God a strong arm that swipes away all that defies Him, that we are struck with fear to obey Him? But also, do we believe a God that helps, that stoops down to help me, even the most stubborn of creatures?

One thing I am learning more and more, is that though there are many that find it difficult to stomach the vengenance of God in the Old Testament, but truly this one thing is sure: He truly did love Israel. Though, however many times He was disobeyed, he still loved Israel and continued to provide for them. There are perhaps two harsh opposites of the nature of God when we read the Old Testament, there is the holiness of God occurring, but there is also the loving hand of the Helper as well working in unison together in marriage together.

“The LORD is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.” Psalms 118:7 (English Standard Version)

An Exhortation for Unity from Psalms 133

King David mused in the Psalms about the usefulness of unity among brothers:

Behold, how good and pleasant it is

when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
"It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
 For there the LORD has commanded the blessing,
life forevermore." 

Psalms 133 (English Standard Version)

He compares unity here to two things: running down the beard and robes of Aaron and also, the dew of Hermon which falls on Zion. With these two things he concludes that unity among brothers is what God has commanded, moreover he even calls it a blessing! In this blog I want to discuss the two things that David compares to the unity among brothers and some thoughts on their importance.

Firstly, the oil that was applied to Aaron is an image of what unity is like. The holy anointing oil would have had been a great fragrance, strongly perfumed and its odor would have been diffused in the space around. This would work with great pleasure to the bystanders when it was poured upon the head of Aaron. I wonder what fragrance we are giving out today. To our brothers and sisters in Christ, are we showing the love of Christ and diffusing a heavenly smell. Moreover, are we open to what our brothers and sister are diffusing, are our noses open to the wonders of God as well? In a sense (no pun intended) if we are only experiencing God through our ears, but not smelling, we are missing out so much on God’s fullness in our lives.

The second thing to take from the precious oil running down Aaron was that it was plentifully. So excessive that it ran down the face to his beard, and even down his collars of his robes! How plentiful is God’s grace to us, and how much should God’s grace indwell in us when we experience him, that it should flood our souls. Furthermore, he describes the oil as precious, something not ordinary. And indeed what great love that God has given us, not only for Himself, but as each other as well. The oil that David is describing here is an anointing oil that was only given to an select few among the whole nation of Israel. It says in Exodus:

“You shall consecrate them, that they may be most holy. Whatever touches them will become holy.”You shall anoint Aaron and his sons, and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests.” Exodus 30:29-30.

To link it back to this passage, David is linking the consecration of these priests to a brotherhood that is a consequence of this. In other words, we are celebrating our salvation when we are united with one another. When we are saved and Holy Spirit is indwelt in us in a greater measure, we become like Aaron covered in Christ’s blood and part of God’s priesthood, there is no greater joy to us than fellowship with brothers and sisters!

Secondly, David compares unity to the dew of Hermon. Mount Hermon which David is referring to here is a prominent mountain, reaching a height of 9230 ft on the northern border of Israelite territory. The important thing here, is the height of the mountain is the highest within the whole Israel territory, that brings about a sense of the awesomeness of the mountain. David uses dew of Hermon as the source of water that rains on the mountains of Zion, or Jerusalem which we are more familiar with. To truly appreciate this, we have to look at a map to see what David is referring to:

Mount Hermon is the square in the top right, and Jerusalem the one in the bottom left.

The map shows us the source of water for Zion, coming down from the mountain, running down the River Jordan and to the Salt Sea. The water was a way of sustenance for the whole of Israel, bringing livelihood to the whole nation. Without this source of water, the whole nation of Israel couldn’t have continued operating. It makes you really think of what reliance we have on God that we so often forget, that we could have all our dreams destroyed swiftly by a natural disaster. What then is the power of man, if he cannot predict when the next earthquake is going to strike? David here is applies this reliance on God to unity, the need to be in synergy with the whole body of Christ. For what brother can live without fellowship and congregating frequently? What would a sister pursue if not continually communing with other believers?

Here also we have to be careful, when Hermon is within the Promised Land that Israel was given by God, so too does unity only apply to our brothers and sisters. As to who exactly are our brothers and sisters, I think it is orthodoxy is my primary measuring stick. For example, I would not consider polytheists, pantheists or atheists brothers and sisters, on the basis that they are not in Christ, though love them always. Divine love will always trump human love, notice that both examples that David uses, they are of God’s work, not ours. We do not anoint ourselves with oil, God does consecrate us with His Son’s blood – Man does not control when the ground is flooded or parched, but God brings the dew that refreshes us daily. Unity is not a human reaction to others, it is a natural working through of the Holy Spirit in our lives, that we should seek fellowship with one another.

The last two lines of this Psalm prescribes the greatness of this unity between brothers and sister. Unity is said to be a blessing that is coming from God himself, therefore it speaks of excellency. It speak of the “life forevermore”, therefore it is eternal blessedness in this state of God’s love. The Psalms is an argument for the excellency of brotherly love, if we are not continually united as a body, then we are not loving God. Simple as that. “As the perfection of love is the blessedness of heaven, so the sincerity of love is the earnest of that blessedness.” Matthew Henry

map source: http://www.netzarim.co.il/Shared/Temunot/Map%20Israel%201000%20BCE%20(Hammond)%20980×1427.jpg image source: http://www.colehardcash.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Unity.jpg

God’s Timing Over Ours

In Acts 16 there is a powerful story illustrating clearly God’s timing over ours.

“As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.”And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. ” Acts 16:16-18 (English Standard Version)

The slave girl was filled with a spirit of divination, the Greek word used is pythonissa, meaning she was possessed with such a spirit of divination and likely part of the delivery of oracles of Apollo at Delphos. Such diviners “often dictated ambiguous answers to those who consulted, which served to gratify their vain desire of knowing things to come, but often deceived them.” (Matthew Henry)

The reality is what she was saying was true. Paul and Luke were both servants of God, and they did proclaim the way of salvation. She was right, but she was not speaking in accordance to God’s timing or His will.

So often we may speak the right words of encouragement with the greatest faithfulness to the Bible, but our timing is not according to what God has had it to be proclaimed. I think that is the greatest weakness of our encouragement, when we do not consult God first before we do anything. We may be proclaiming the gospel with the greatest passion and the strongest theology, but if we have not the Holy Spirit, any breakthrough we make is only temporary. We may be as passionate as Billy Graham in our fervour and speak with the boldness of Charles Spurgeon, but if we have not prayer how can we know anyone will be changed from the words we have said.

Moreover, how often are we like the slave girl and speak the right words and live a completely different life elsewhere? She was trying to deter the men from prayer by annoying them when she intercepted the men along the way to a place of prayer. Her message was tainted with the knowledge of the people around that she served Greek gods. Especially across the internet, there is an ability to pretend to have things all together, as if our relationship with God is healthy while our hearts are beating otherwise. While our hearts may be in utmost turmoil, we can post blogs which make us seem as if we are growing in joy in Christ.

Charles Spurgeon once preached a sermon that he felt was horrid, filled with stammering, he felt that it was a complete failure in what he did. That night after the sermon he prayed to God, “Lord, God, You can do something with nothing.  Bless that poor sermon.” Throughout the next week continually he prayed that prayer day and night.

He became determined in his next sermon to preach a great sermon. That is what happened, with him being praised highly by the listeners of the sermon that night. He was pleased by himself and slept soundly knowing that he had accomplished a difficult task. Coming back and watching the results of the two sermons, he was able to trace 41 souls saved through the poor sermon, while not one was saved through his successful one.

There is something wonderful in the way that God takes our best moments and shows us how helpless we are. While our worst of times, we find that God is the one that brings goodness back onto us. The slave girl may have spoken the right words, but if not backed up with God’s timing and will for how the events in the world should unfold. Without the primary sanctifying working of the Holy Spirit in our lives, speaking words of truth are nothing more than the Devil working. How often do we destroy the work of the Kingdom by not seeking and surrendering to God first? How often does Satan want to instil in us a sense that we are sufficient and complete in our current state?

 

Remembering the Anointed One

Since it’s getting to Christmas almost, I thought I should start writing some Christmas themed posts.

“But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.” Mark 14:6 (English Standard Version)

Christmas is the remembrance of the birth of Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem. The name, Christmas, being derived from the Christ, a name of Jesus meaning “the anointed one”.

In the Old Testament, anointing was important for many leaders of Israel. David was found by Samuel and immediately anointed, Solomon was anointed by the priest Zadok in his inauguration before whole nation of Israel. “The specific practice of anointing by pouring oil on the head was used as asymbolic act for officially, designating and setting apart a person for a certain, public,leadership function in the community.” (source) All throughout the Old Testament, there were only three groups of people that were anointed: priests, prophets and kings. The Old Testament dictates that anointing someone involves pouring oil over the head of the one concerned, perhaps not unintentionally similar to the act of cleansing. The aim of anointing giving to the one anointed power, strength, or majesty.

In Christmas, we are remembering someone who was anointed by God, his holy oil poured on his head. But mankind only put a crown of thorns on his head, and killed him on a cross. Only once was Jesus anointed on earth, by a poor woman in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus was eating at the house of a leper, his name was Simon. The unnamed woman opened an alabaster flask pouring it over her head. She was no Levite, her anointing meant nothing, at his feet and she wiped them with her tears.

She was one who had sinned all her life, but she came with a great gift, and put it on his feet. To put the bottle of alabaster in context, a denarii was the pay for a day’s wages to a Roman soldier and the bottle was worth 300 denariis. The disciples naturally were vicious towards her, asking why she didn’t sell the bottle and give the money to the poor. But Jesus defends her, that he would not be with them always, but the poor shall be.

“She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. “And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” Mark 14:8-9 (English Standard Version)

This event occurs close to the end of his life, he knew that the end was coming where Judas betray him and hand him over to the authorities. Everything he said was a reference to his coming death, he states that she will be told in memory of him. His humility and shame in dying on the cross, is mirrored clearly her through the undying devotion, and total sacrifice of her heart to Jesus.

And through this birth of Jesus Christ, no longer was anointing for only those who were of the tribe of Levi, or kings of Israel even only those prophets which preached God’s Word. But now, even to the poorest of women and the tax collectors, they could be anointed and even that be received as children of God. Jesus was born so we could be anointed, and be cleansed and restored to our original state. “And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us” (2 Corinthians 1v.21)

*note some other gospels give a different account especially john which gives the woman the name, Mary, who is presumably sister of Lazarus. there is a bit of debate among scholars whether the accounts are related and if the two stories refer to the same event.

John Wayne Gacy, I am just like him.

One of my favourite artists ever is Sufjan Stevens because he is simply brilliant and amazing. I am pretty sure he is a Christian as well. Mr Steven’s voice may not be the strongest out there, but his lilting voice makes the words so fluent and personal. Moreover, one of my favourite songs by him is “John Wayne Gacy Jr” from the album, Illinoise. There is this one line that always breaks my heart when I hear it, the line goes:

“And in my best behavior

I am really just like him
Look beneath the floorboards
For the secrets I have hid”

“John Wayne Gacy Jr” by Sufjan Stevens.

The context to the song is Stevens is singing about the life of John Wayne Gacy. Gacy was a convicted serial killer. In the normal rounds of life, he was a popular clown called “Pogo the Clown”. He would often dress up for parties for young children around his apartment block that he lived around. The children loved him as he would prance around, filling them with joy. Yet, when he was arrested the police found 26 children in a small crawl space underneath his home, and a few more around his property and not to mention all the bodies found in the river near his house.

John Wayne Gacy not only killed all these young men and boys, he also raped them as well, disposing their bodies after the deed was done. Perhaps he learnt from a young age when he was molested at age nine by a family friend. Maybe it was his alcoholic father, he would come every night and try to discipline his children, while trying to maintain his balance. His unathletic frame was derided by his father, he was called “stupid” and a “sissy”. Though he tried so hard to please his father, it always seemed fruitless, all he got was a swing of the leather belt. That was all he remembered of his father.

What is underneath our floorboards?

Stevens touches a raw nerve in this song. As Christians, we are keenly aware of our own sinfulness. While we may not kill or rape anyone in our lifetimes, how much worse is it if our ignorance or our pride turns one away from God? While we may not be John Wayne Gacy, we can so easily be Gacy Senior. What we do with our lives and how we live it has such a profound impact on other people’s lives. For example, we may ignore someone because we were busy that night, and that same night, the person committed suicide. We know that blood was on our hands because we had thought that my school work was more important than doing God’s work.

By the same token, we could be that family friend. What we watch on tv, what we view on the internet, what magazines we read and what clothes we wear. We could be introducing people to what is not appropriate to people of a certain age, or even in a lifetime. What I don’t realise is what a huge influence I have, people look up to me believe it or not. Someone mentioned to me, that they heard that it’s good that they should have someone mature in their faith to guide them. I liked how I had made this illusion to other people that i am somewhat mature in my faith, when I don’t consider myself to be anything more than a toddler in Christ.

Even in our blogging influence, we have people coming to read us every day. Surely, you could stop complaining about someone who hurt you and talk about something positive for a change. Why do we have to make other people wrong all the time?

If we were to open up what is hidden underneath our lives, would we do it? If we forgot to put on our spiritual makeup one day would people recognize us? if we decided to show our scars and hurts would people still treat us the same? I am the first to admit I am no better than John Wayne Gacy. I have spoken too many hurtful words. Or perhaps, did not any words at all. If I aim to do nothing to help society, all I’m doing is help create another generation of John Wayne Gacys in the world. I may not be John Wayne Gacy but I would be there helping him dig the holes to try to hide all the wrong he had done.

Just look beneath the floorboards of my life.

PS. Read more about John Wayne Gacy on wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Wayne_Gacy It’s a truly sad story.