Monday, April 14, 2014

This Transforms How I See Easter

 Can you picture them?
Photo Credit: JD Lasica, Creative Commons, cc
Sweet little six year old Middle Eastern boys pouring down the cobbled stone Roman streets of a remote occupied town. Young Jewish boys in Jesus' time all attended Bet Sefer at the local synagogue. Six to ten years old attended this Bet Sefer, which means House of Books or House of Knowledge, five days a week, Monday through Friday. Local temple leaders would teach them about the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, and the boys would soon have memorized all of Genesis through Deuteronomy!
Photo Credit: David Jones, Creative Commons, cc
Ten through fourteen year old teens, growing taller, broader, and with their voices just starting to change, would then proceed to Bet Talmud studies at the temple, where they would study the rest of the Old Testament books. Those showing promise would continue, soon memorizing all of the Hebrew scriptures from Joshua through Malachi, including the Psalms, by the age of thirteen or fourteen years old! Many Jewish seminaries continue this memorization feat today, I'm told, in an article called "Covered in the Dust." 

By age twelve to fourteen years old, while still in the Bet Talmud, young Jewish males were learning the art of question and answering that marked an educated and intelligent person. Practicing with Torah teachers and temple leaders, they responded, fielded, and replied to the questions thrown at them. This casts new light on the story of Jesus as a twelve year old boy in the temple with the religious leaders where he is "sitting with the teachers. He was listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at how much he understood. They also were amazed at his answers.
Photo Credit: Ho John Lee, Creative Commons, cc

Jesus grew up, became a rabbi himself, and invested in his disciples for three intense years. One of the teaching tools that rabbis would do with their students, I've just learned, is to start saying a line from a Bible passage, knowing that his audience would immediately be able to recognize the next lines. Since almost all Jewish males had memorized Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, there were many passages to use. Jesus often started his lessons that way, or he simply said, "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago..." and then continued with his teaching. The Hebrew audiences of his day would have instantly recognized most of his Old Testament references and tracked along with him in the rest of the chapter.

What hits me this week as we remember Jesus on the cross is something he said...

While hanging on the cross, undergoing excruciating agony, Jesus started the first line of a chapter. Educated Hebrew audiences of his day would have instantly recognized the words, and known the reference. They would have been able to recite the next words and lines, as easily as many of us know pop songs. Jesus' gasped sentence on the cross would have set in motion for them the rest of the chapter.


To transform your Easter week, and add fresh poignancy to Jesus' death on the cross, read through to the end of Psalm 22 in that purple link above, or on your own. There are powerful, amazing treasures all throughout that chapter. (I don't want to spoil one sliver of it for you.)


Thursday, April 10, 2014

What You Didn't Know You Knew

(Photo Credit: Juan Pablo Gonzales, Creative Commons, cc license)

Six white crocuses bend and sway in the strong April breeze. We shiver and pull on sweatshirts inside the house, but can't bear to shut the windows on this sixty-degrees-in-the-sun-day. Spring has invaded Minnesota and pasty Minnesotans everywhere throw windows wide, strap on sandals, and pull out last year's shorts. And the brisk breeze lies about the warmth but none of us care. Donning a blue sweater, I curl up at the computer desk.

I've just spent thirty minutes combing IRS websites, FASA college loan pages, and working my way through automated phone services. And apparently, in this several week session between taxes and transcript stage, we do not exist. Automated messages are at their limits, and phone calls end unsatisfactorily. So, I laugh, shrug, and update my son's school.

And in this lull, my five year old and I curl up on the couch with his favorite fleece blanket. Wrapping warm against the crisp spring wind, I set him on my lap, and turn library pages. After books, we mix ice cream malts, and lick Cookies and Cream off the back of a spoon.

"When I am afraid, I will trust in you," I sing, while putting away the malt powder. And there isn't really any fear there, but the words spring to mind anyway. Daniel looks up to catch my eye, a smile spreading across his face. He joins in singing, and I grin as we sing it again, adding jaunty shoulder bounces.

"Oh! Can we do my thing, Mom?"

And at first I don't know what he's talking about. "Oh, your Awana verse? Sure."

He runs to his room, returning with an orange puffy-painted fabric bag. Daniel reaches his tiny hand into the bottom of the bag and pulls out a creased book.

"I'm here," he points to the open page. We read his verse for the week. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1). Adding hand motions, we singsong our way through it several times, and speak of stars and planets. I pull out his splashy children's Bible with riotous colors across the pages.

A minute or so later, we saunter away to other pursuits, and I'm struck by a fact. There is nothing I can tell you, nothing I can teach my kids, that is of more importance than God's word. Nothing else is solid, unmovable. Nothing else is stalwart, unshakeable. And those truths that we commit to song, to memory, are what will return to hum in our hearts. 

Because, friends, what we know that we know that we know is only this: God's words are life, and truth, and they last forever. And those words spring to mind at the oddest times. Slivers of a phrase tickle my conscious (...abounding in love...) and I type it into a word search to satisfy my need to know. (You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you. Psalm 86:5). Ahh, that's where it is. Abounding in love, and I grin at the pencil lines I've drawn in bouncing jumps beside the verse to help me remember.

Another verse slips in my brain, and I hum it quietly under breath. Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. And I'm still learning what a heart on pilgrimage looks like in today's world, but recognizing that we're on a journey with God is step one, I'm sure. It leaves me hungry to know him more.

And fresh air blows strong throughout my house today.

(Linking with Emily.)

Monday, April 7, 2014

Spies, Mercenaries, and You and I

Photo Credit: Tim Pierce, Creative Commons, cc
My husband and I have been watching spy shows lately. Explosions ricochet and cars burst into flame while two or three trained personnel rescue children from kidnappers or free communities from violent drug cartels. And no matter the crisis, the loyal friendship between these heroes never ceases to capture my attention. Without hesitating, they charge into danger to protect each other.

In my Bible reading today, I walked into a tense, pulse-racing battle scene too. Mercenaries infiltrated a quiet night, friends betrayed each other for money, and men held their weapons out with taut arms. Jesus alone stood calm.

And I noticed the smaller print in my study notes below, drawing my attention to a repetitious part of the transcribed dialogue there. Jesus asked the mercenaries and soldiers the same question two times.

"Who is it that you want?"

"Jesus of Nazarus," they replied.

He asked them again, "Who is it that you want?"

"Jesus of Nazarus," they confirmed.

"You have me. Let these men go."

Hmmm. Our Warrior-God, aware of his coming torture and execution, is nonetheless thinking of his friends' safety. Not bargaining for himself, he stoically, carefully, guarantees their safety.

You're here for me, right? Then let these men go free.

And my courageous hero complex? He woos me anew.

Are you looking for someone who will love you unconditionally, who will see the good in you, who will fight for you, and who wants the best for you? The God of the Universe loves you fiercely, passionately. He is the warrior standing up saying, "Take me, let them go" for his friends in the dark night, knowing that death is coming. And he is the God who died for you. For me. 

(Linking too with Ann at A Holy Experience...)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

How God Made a Daughter

 She waylays him with a hug.

"Dad, when do you have to leave tonight?"

At the news that worship practice had been called off, she dances excitedly beside him, jumping, squealing and persuading him with her smiles. "Want to watch a show with me?"

He grins, groans, and affectionately agrees.

Minutes later, they are at the couch, typing in the coordinates for an online Japanese animated film, and waiting for the movie to buffer.

"Want to make me some food?" he jokes, expecting a glass of milk.

"Sure, some noodles?" she offers.

"Wow, really?" My husband is thrilled, and we make eye contact and laugh.

The home-made beef lo mein she has learned to make is a new hit at our house, and we eat it several times a week now, it seems. Tucked away in my corner at the computer desk, I sip orange zinger tea, watch the snow fall, and join them in this relaxed evening at home.

Snow falls quickly, cascading into grey twilight to stack all night to a depth of eight to twelve inches, forecasters say. For now, though, patches of spring grass stand resolute under the onslaught, and a plate of beef lo mein has just arrived.

I watch my husband and our teen daughter laugh, talk, and scoop noodles, companionably, and I see it in her. The way she carries herself, how she throws back her head and laughs freely, and in her peaceful calm as she curls legs up onto the couch, settling in for the movie. This is a girl who knows she is loved. With the pure safe love of a dad, a mom, and her God, this woman-child is loved and treasured.

And the beauty of it falls glorious.

And we are broken, and human, and flawed parents, but somehow, somewhere, God brought beauty anyway, and it humbles and thrills me.

She's yours, God. You did it, and you only. Thank you. And I offer it to you as praise, and am honored to love other teens in my care too.

(And linking quietly to Emily at Imperfect Prose too...)

Monday, March 31, 2014

What Your Names Say About You

Both photo credits to Stephanie Conrad, Flickr. Thank you for the treat of these photos!

It was the summer of a deep golden tan from hours at the blue chipped tile pool. A hundred years earlier, a homesick Brit had crafted a stone castle in America that perfectly matched his homeland. There was a tall curved ivy-wrapped clock tower, with hands that chimed away the hours too quickly. Two-story squash courts and an old carriage house stood across the circle from the full-blown castle, a three-story edifice that captured my imagination. There were two ramparted turrets, with balconies facing out, and two giant fireplaces that you could walk inside. Musty basements caverned wide and unending, with one or two rooms we called "dungeons." Were there bars on those windows? I can no longer remember.

Waist-high stone walls chased the driveway all the way down a long curving hill, and a massive blue globe adorned the entrance. Tucked away in the forest, sunken mossy garden structures crumbled into stone boulders and sank into the undergrowth. I used to hitch myself on top the pebbly foundations, and carefully walk, balancing one foot in front of the other, pacing through the forgotten city and reciting poetry to myself.

It was the summer of late-night hide and seek games, all-day volleyball on the grass before jumping into the pool, and hours with teen friends my age who lived on this castle hill too. We built bonfires, drank gallons of ice tea from the community dining hall between the two fireplaces, and hiked early morning treks into wooded glens.

A spring twilight here in the present bleeds rose across the sky, and tangerine streaks smudge the horizon, trailing navy and the image throws me back to this high school summer oasis. I can picture the turreted castle, the clock tower, and summer days that stretched deliciously long.

I was Jeni then, petite brunette with sun-bleached orange highlights from a Sun-In spray gone wrong. Time passed, and my name changed to Jen. College and my twenties swirled and blurred. Later, copying my sister and cousin who were choosing more professional monikers, I picked up my full name, shyly trying it out and tasting it on my lips as I said it to new acquaintances: Jennifer.

There are still people who know me as Jeni/Jenny, Jen, and Jennifer, and I'm still that person. The names we use tap into shared histories, don't they? I'm sure you can think of one or two names that people have for you, pet names that speak of a shared story, or shared timelines.

In my Bible reading this week, I've been mulling over watching Jesus pray. Eavesdropping into his private conversations in the upper room, I peek into how he prays for himself, how he prays for his close eleven friends/teammates, and how he prays for future people who will love him.

I've been curious to see what he would ask, what he would say... and I discovered something new tonight. In John 17 verses 11 and 25, Jesus brings up two new names of God that appear nowhere else in the New Testament, study notes say. Intrigued? I was too.

What names of God the Father would he use? What new names did he choose as he was baring his heart to the Father before going to his death in the next scenes?

"Holy Father" and "Righteous Father."

Wow. Our names for each other-- and for God-- show our history with them.

(And counting gifts with Ann at A Holy Experience, thankful for his names.)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Standing Up My Turkish Date

This is it, the moment I've been excited about all day.

Dinner is cleared away, homeschooling is in a lull, and my family is occupied.

I've thought about him, talked about him, and glanced at him throughout the day, but our times were always brief.

To set a relaxed tone, I boil water in my tarnished round teakettle, and pour it over decaf coffee grounds. Four minutes after the rolling boil, ripples of sultry Turkish coffee and cardamom mirror the light and waft fragrant in the air.

Balancing my Bible and journal precariously on the narrow wooden desk and the adjacent couch arm, I meet with God. "Lord, I need you. I want you. Please meet with me here in your word, teach me. Make your word come alive to me."

My bookmark opens to John 17. It's the section with Jesus's longest recorded prayer, and the chapter is divided into three sections: "Jesus Prays for Himself," "Jesus Prays for his Disciples," and "Jesus Prays for All Believers." And questions spring up already in my mind, wondering what it looks like to have the God-Man pray for himself. What will he ask? What is important to him and what's on his heart?

Before I get much further, though, the interruptions come. Family members ask questions, a teen has homework problems, my sopping-wet preschooler needs a bucket for his bath, needs help locating a toy before the water swirls away, and needs help getting out of the bath.

Maneuvering Lego piles, I assist a frantic five year old find a toy. I wrap him in a fluffy red towel ("My favorite!" he exclaims, smiling at the color) and I kiss his swirled dark hair, water still clinging to my lips.

High school homework questions beckon now, and I'll need to lean in close as we study writing compositions together, checking for errors and correcting sentence structure. Bedtimes and teeth-brushing loom too.

So, John 17 and Jesus's prayer for himself, and for you and me? My Bible waits on the edge of the couch, and I must wait as well.

(Photo credit: Marviikad, Creative Commons, cc licensing)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

When Spring and Life Falter

It's not that they lied.

It's just that we see the calendar's blatant announcement of spring and then step curiously outside to shiver in a chilly thirteen degrees. Snow flurries fly diagonally to the right, falling softly for hours. Crystal diadems stack an inch high. An hour later, the snow stops. Blue skies and sunshine light up melting snow. Crystalline diadems dissipate.

At the kitchen table, my daughter and I solve second degree algebra equations, and turn pages in her physical science textbook. My preschooler wriggles excitedly on his stool at the computer desk, watching his character scroll through a two-dimensional world. And his world looks flat from here, but he knows the whole game. Dodging dangers, jumping cliffs, and traipsing into caverns, he locates the treasures. And when dangers or troubles overtake him, he confidently starts again.

We saw him this afternoon, the chubby fleece rabbit, hiding under the tall firs. He'd been scarce all winter. A robin flitted onto a bone bare branch today too, forerunner of a silent spring.

And Midwestern Americans everywhere peer optimistically out windows and hover at open doorways, light jackets in hand, wondering. New life lingers, latent below the surface, and winter melts away.

And your words, they come to my mind... "Lord, where else would we go? You hold the words of life!" And the world teems with it.

Can't see the spring, the new life, in your world? Are you dodging dangers, jumping cliffs, and stumbling through dark caverns in a two-dimensional world? Our God knows this life game and confidently navigates it for us. "Lord, where else would we go? You hold the words of life."

Hi friend. What have you been reading, learning, or thinking about this week?

(Those in email --of which there are nearly 400 of you!-- can click here to join the conversation. Feel free to forward this.)

*Photo Credit: Evan Long, Creative Commons, cc license