About Death: The Death of a Childhood

Romans 7:1 Since I am speaking to those who understand law, brothers, are you unaware that the law has authority over someone as long as he lives? 2 For example, a married woman is legally bound to her husband while he lives. But if her husband dies, she is released from the law regarding the husband. 3 So then, if she gives herself to another man while her husband is living, she will be called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law. Then, if she gives herself to another man, she is not an adulteress.
If death frees us from the law, and changes the circumstances and regulations of that previous yoke of responsibilities, it makes me curious to examine what sorts of deaths we truly have in life, the impact that those deaths have upon us, and how we mourn/praise those deaths. At first thought I would suggest that there are a number of deaths worth examining:
  • The Death of a Childhood
  • The Death of a Relationship
  • The Death of a Person
  • The Death of Our First Adam
  • The Death of our Physical Self
Revelation 9:1 The fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from heaven to earth. The key to the shaft of the abyss was given to him. 2 He opened the shaft of the abyss, and smoke came up out of the shaft like smoke from a great furnace so that the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke from the shaft. 3 Then out of the smoke locusts came to the earth, and power was given to them like the power that scorpions have on the earth. 4 They were told not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green plant, or any tree, but only people who do not have God’s seal on their foreheads. 5 They were not permitted to kill them, but were to torment them for five months; their torment is like the torment caused by a scorpion when it strikes a man. 6 In those days people will seek death and will not find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them.
Our inital response and thought to death is the hurt, pain and damage it does to us and those around us.  This passage of Revelation, however, shows a very distinct reason that people might actually seek death: to end their suffering, to move on to the next phase. In all cultures, there is some sort of right of passage that tranisitions us from childhood to adult hood.  For a typical American teenager, that passage happens when they get their driver's license, or attend their Prom, or - for some - graduate College and are now forced to live outside of their parent's shelter.  In other cultures there are more set rites of passage, that make a boy into a man or a girl into a woman.  We are all so eager to achieve that status of being an adult... and then so many spend the rest of their lives trying to be a child again. I think there is wisdom in acknowledging that - yes - our childhood died.  There is wisdom in caring for it and mourning for it.  But to seek it out continually, to want to return to a way of life that lacks responsibility or action and allows us to simply view the world with wide-eyed wonder is an insult to the path of life that has been laid before us. The world needs men and women in their twenties, seeking to be respected by their peers and elders - their fellow adults - so that fresh energy and ideas can enter the cultures around them.  The world needs respected seniors honoring their roles as sages and wise leaders, instead of dirty old men trying to relive their "glory" days as a young and virle teenager exploring the world.  And the world needs all of adulthood, in all our stages, to help raise the children of the next generation.  If any generation renigns on their responsibility to the rising youth, then years of knowledge, emotion and memories are lost and the rising youth are missing key stories and elements from which to grow on. So why do we long for the magical powers of youth?  Why do we seek to forget the lessons life has brought us to just make the mistakes of our less mature days over again?  Why do we not let the pieces of our childhood die when and how they, naturally, should? Could we, instead, be honored to have a life like David's?  Even being the youngest of his brothers, the Lord annointed him through Samuel to be the King of Isreal.  But his journey didn't happen overnight.  Before he would be king, David would:
  1. Become a famous musician, and nearly be killed for it
  2. Defeat Goliath, after being mocked and laughed at
  3. Become best friends with the son of a man who was trying to kill him
  4. Serve his country in war, then be driven into hiding for it
  5. Survive the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, only to benefit from it
What would have happened to David if he had not had these experiences, and went from being a shepherd boy to a king overnight?  Which one of these was most forming for David to become a man of God - and a King?  How did David let his childhood die? What are the moments where your childhood died?  When did you grow from being what you were, to what you are?
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writing a mass-market Bible study

so... I've been processing through the idea of writing a mass-market Bible study.  By that I mean a study that would be accessible to people across the U.S., whether via retail or via digital download and whether through a publisher or independently. Before I can allow settle into the actual process, there's a lot that I'm working through in my head about the venture in general.  I don't know that I need to find answers to these questions, just that I have to give them due diligence.  And, as I go through this process, I'm sure that I'll find more questions arise.
  •  Can my spirit handle it?
Twice a month Ashley and/or I prepare a lesson/session/space of time for our small group.  In the back of my mind I'm always working through what to say, how to say it, etc.  When I'm focused in on getting the time ready, it's usually a pretty strong spiritual battle for me.  I try to refine things, making sure that we're teaching what's in the Word and not simply regurgitating stuff we've been told by other people in the past. Preparing for the time with our small group is always spiritually exhausting.  Teaching others and sharing some of my spirit with them is a complex, supernatural thing.  And that's just for our small group, people who I know love us and would heap grace upon us if we ever did mess up somehow.  How spiritually stressful would it be to prepare a lesson/space of time for people I'll never meet who could use the plan however they'd like?
  • Why would I want to do it?
There are plenty of mass-market small group studies out there... let alone opportunities for groups to actually study the Bible, sans additional resources.  Would I be bringing any wisdom to the table, or just adding to the noise? Working for a Bible materials publisher full time, this is a topic I'm continually digesting.  I think we will always need to produce new materials because time keeps moving forward.  While the Bible doesn't change, the concepts and cultural issues it intersects with do.  Paul, the great theologian, never had to deal with cyber-sex or the potential for humanity living on the moon/Mars.  New materials allow us to shine the light in new places.  If I am to write any kind of study, it needs to be in conjunction with my life's story and the things that I am an "expert" in.
  • Does it meet a need?
Here's the need that I see: For the past four years or so, I've been doing dinner with a group of guys.  The members of this group have been fairly fluid throughout the years, but it's always been a time set aside for building relationships, discovering life, and eating good food. A couple of times we've tried to focus the time a little bit more toward some kind of spiritual study... but it's never really worked.  Amidst all the resources out there, we couldn't find anything that fit our flow of conversation and styles of learning.  Member books are a bit too clunky.  Men's studies are about being outdoorsy or sporty (which we aren't).  Many studies now rely on multimedia elements.  Preparation can be confusing. Those things I just listed are not bad things.  Member books and multimedia elements are perfect for many, many small groups.  But they just don't work with my guys.
  • Who would lead a study written by me?
I don't mean this as a belittlement to myself, but an actual concern: who would be the person leading it?  I know what I mean when I use certain phrases and I know I have a very stylized voice.  In many ways, I think that if I wrote a study I would want/need to give the leader the bulk of my efforts.  But how do you properly prepare a leader that you'll never meet?  And is there a way to prepare quickly, but also offer the opportunity to prepare deeply?
  • Who am I to write a study?  Or is it pride?
And this is probably the biggest one for me.  I don't know at what point it's "ok" to say "Hey!  I've got a bit of wisdom to share."  This is one of the issues that prompted me to write the "Career Christian" post. I've been told time and time again as a Christian that we should be humble and meek.  How do I reconcile that with saying "Hey, I wrote something good enough that you should pay for it."  If I do think I have something to say (and, to be honest, I do),  is it ok to be bold about it? Is it ok to think that God and Sister Wisdom have blessed me in a way that maybe, just maybe, I have something worth listening to?  Is it ok to say that it's worth it's weight in paper, ink, design, legal, shipping and editorial costs? So that's where I am, on this journey to writing a mass-market Bible study.  Feel free to pray for me as I continue to process through the opportunities, the spiritual angst, and internal monologues of these questions.
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Recommending Lindsey

One of our good friends, Lindsey, is applying for a summer internship.  She asked my wife and I to write one of her letters of recommendation because we're her small group leaders... so we get to be her "clergy."  I seldom get the chance to sit down and process into words - using my style, cliches and idioms - to get to write about one of my friends.  I think this is a process that we should go through more often, as it lets you realize things about your friends and community that you may not have put into language before.
 There's nothing here that I didn't instinctively know that I felt/thought about Lindsey... but I know I've never communicated them before and I know that Lindsey probably has no idea what she means to Ashley and I.  So, if you would indulge me, I'd like you to meet a woman named Lindsey:

 

In short, Lindsey is someone we hope to always have in our lives.

 

Sure, that might sound over-dramatic for a simple letter of recommendation, but it’s the truth and needs to be said.  After you get to meet her and know her, you’ll be saying the same thing.

 

Lindsey first crossed paths with my wife and I at our church’s small group that we lead.  She came with one of her best friends and instantly became a solid, dependable, and appreciated contributor to the group.  She’s has always been transparent and always been honest.  And in the time that we’ve known her, she has grown in maturity and relationships to become a young adult who, in all honesty, will change someone’s world.

 

I don’t know that Lindsey cares to change the whole world.  I don’t know that she has the lofty dreams to bring world peace or end world hunger (though I’m sure she’d love to be involved an organization that could).  Instead, I think she want to make impacts on a personal level.  She wants to develop true trust and true relationships.  Then she’ll pull you along side her and change other people’s worlds together.

 

Yet even with all of her knowledge and charisma, Lindsey retains humility and a thirst for knowledge.  She still comes to our church’s small group, taking in whatever nuggets of wisdom are tossed about.  She is currently serving as our social services coordinator, where she plans activities for our group to serve the community.  Most importantly, her presence in the group brings a continual smile to all involved.

 

I have no doubt that whatever task Lindsey applies herself to she will succeed.  She is a determined soul and will seek out whatever experience or knowledge she needs to accomplish the task.  If she can’t acquire the necessary tools, then it won’t take her long to make a friend who will fill in those gaps.  She is great at pulling people together and working for something better than themselves.

 

Lindsey has become a part of my wife and I’s lives and we are better for it.  My only hesitation in recommending Lindsey to you is that she’d be away from our flow of life for the summer.

 

If you choose to bring Lindsey on board with the program, you will need to give her a great placement with a great task, else you will be squandering her abilities.  I have no doubt that she will astound you as she has astounded us.

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A Hope Delayed, Part 2

 We left our hope with Jesus, amidst the news that our dear friend Lazarus was sick.  The truth of it is, Lazarus had died.  He was sick, and Jesus just kind of... hung out.  There was no rushing wind to save his life.  There was no hope offered to the situation.  Jesus did not react like anyone would have wanted Him to.  When Jesus found out Lazarus was sick, he didn't not leave because he was busy with something else.  he didn't not leave because it was a dangerous trip.  He did not leave BECAUSE Lazarus was sick.  The HCSB translates John 11:6 as:
"So when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was."
Mary and Martha wanted hope, they desired love.  They made a plan - seek out Jesus - and he didn't not come to their add at a moment's notice.  He waited.  But then... then, there was hope:
“Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”John 11:11
Jesus decides it is time to act.  The disciples are nervous... it's a dangerous trip to visit their destination (Judea) because the last time they were there, there was an attempt to stone Jesus.  They think they are going to wake up a sleeping man, but Christ clarifies: they are going to go and wake the dead.Jesus arrives, and is strong for Mary and Martha.  He seeks out their faith, almost testing them.  The time has come for Christ to heal his friend and - before he even gets to the actual tomb, as he comes upon the location, we have one of the most memorized passages in the Bible:
"Jesus wept."John 11:35
What was His emotions at this point.  Christ waited, letting his friend die.  Christ's best friends essentially say they expected more of him ("if only you had been here").  And Christ, in his infinite wisdom, knew the danger, the excitement, and the torment He was about to unleash upon the crowd... and upon Lazarus.Lazarus was dead.  Jesus knows what's on the other side of death... whether it is Abraham's Bosom or Paradise or Purgatory or nothing until the resurrection... Jesus knew what He was bringing Lazarus back from.  Lazarus would breathe again, but he would also feel pain again, one day, ultimately, die again.
Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”John 11:40-44
And that's the end.  That's all we know.  We don't have Lazarus thanking Jesus.  We don't have Mary and Martha thanking Jesus.  We don't have a recorded, personal moment of introspection or of joy or of life.  Just "let him go."Why?  Why is it like this?Jesus gave hope.  He answered the prayer.  I don't think he was simply healing a dead man.  He was healing a family.  He gave hope.  I believe that's all He ever wanted to give.What about our friends Caleb and Joshua?  They had hope of a promised land.  Of twelve who went to scout the land, only these two believed it was theirs.  They came to lead Isreal and the time was right to now take the land.  They spied on the ihabitants, and found them afraid.  They met a lady name Rahab, who would be included in the lineage of Christ.  They had faith; and the people now had faith in God.The priests were sent first, carrying the Ark of the covenant.  The were walking straight towards a flooding Jordan river.  And once all their feet were in the water, not a moment before, the river stopped and the priests and warriors together crossed over to Jericho.
 So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water's edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (the Salt SeaThat is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.Joshua 3:14-17
 Joshua and Caleb had hope.  Mary and Martha were without their brother for four days.  Joshua, Caleb, and the nation of Isreal were without their promised land for forty years.And what of Jesus?  What hope did he find?When we left His struggle for hope, He had returned home and His childhood, adolescent, and twenty-somethings young adult friends offered Him no grand homecoming.  They offered Him no faith or hope; just a lack of belief and a lack of miracles.  Where did He find hope? Then Jesus' mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him.
32A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3: 31-35, also Matt 12:46-50, also Luke 8:19-21.
Christ's hopes, His family and loved ones were not his blood relatives, simply because they were blood they were His chosen family, the people who did God's will.  Christ's hope was in his small group.  His hope was in His community of believers.  His hope was in His bride, the church.And their hope, our hope, is in him:
Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”John 11:16
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A Hope Delayed, Part 1

The most painful rejection happens at the worst times, by the people closest to you.  It doesn't have to be some grand betrayal or some physical altercation.  I think the level of pain is directly related to how deeply you know someone, and how deeply you think they know you. Rejection from a spouse of eight years is more painful than breaking up with a fiance of eight months is more painful than not getting a call from a girlfriend of eight days.  Getting fired from a job during the "trial" period is less dramatic than being cut off from a career of thrity years.  A teenager feels more responsible for a father leaving a family than a toddler can even understand what is happening.And so, life comes and we grow up.  In the American culture of the 21st century, we might graduate high school, go on to college or maybe get married, we become the leaders of our families.  Yet, when we return home for holidays or go out to eat with our siblings... there is this tension of how things were and how things are. If the tension is stressed, if the relationship breaks and if we are rejected by the people who know us the most... the people we grew up with, the neighbor pack of kids, our family, our loved ones... there is no more bitter pain than the people who know you the best telling you - whether it be vocally or through their actions - that you are rejected. This isn't a new phenomenom.  This is something that has gone on for years.  As Christians, it is important to realize one key thing: we aren't alone in this feeling.  This is something even Christ dealt with. Perhaps we should look at Mark 6:
1 He went away from there and came to His hometown, and His disciples followed Him. 2 When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the  synagogue, and many who heard Him were astonished. “Where did this man get these things?” they said. “What is this wisdom given to Him, and how are these miracles performed by His hands? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And aren’t His sisters here with us?” So they were offended by Him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his household.”
 
5 So He was not able to do any miracles there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And He was amazed at their unbelief.
 Christ was not expecting this.  He was amazed at their unbelief.  He didn't expect it and - if I might put a bit of imagination into it - he did not want to be rejected in this way.  Chapter 6 immediately follows, obviously, chapter 5.  In chapter 5 Christ healed a sick girl - so sick Jesus was told she was dead.  Before that he met a woman whose faith led her to touch his robes, taking power from them.  Before that he cast out the demon Legion.  Before that, in chapter 4, he calms a storm and the waves.  So going home you would think people would be happy to see you. But... they weren't.  They rejected Christ and he felt rejected.  These were the people he grew up with, who knew him day in and day out the past thirty years... and they made fun of him for it.  How could Jesus be teaching and know such things... wasn't He just the son of Joseph? So maybe they were just friends.  What about people who were sworn to protect your life, and you, theirs?  What if you had fought battles together, time after time?  And what if you and eleven of your best friends, people who would lay down their lives for you, were chosen to go and discover the future of your entire nation? Perhaps you ended up disagreeing and were in the minority.  These are your best friends... surely you can solve the dispute civilly, right? Perhaps you are Caleb, and in the book of Numbers you report back to Moses and Aaron that the land flowing with milk and honey is a good land, and that your people can conquer it.  Perhaps the whole community... your friends, your acquaintances, perhaps even your family members would decide that instead of listening to you, you should simply be killed instead (Numbers 14:10). This rejection, it is a hard pill to swallow.Our home might reject us.  Our entire community might reject us.  Surely, surely, Jesus would never reject us.  He would have a warm heart and kind words to ease our troubles.  He would come like a rushing wind to our aid. Christ is our redeemer, our Lord, our friend.  We expect that when we call upon Him, He will intercede.  He will make a change in our lives, or the lives we pray for.  If you were some of his best friends, you could say something that would surely stir His soul to reaction: "Lord, the one you love is sick," was the message sent to Christ my Mary and Martha in John, chapter 11.  But His response was not one of immediacy or comfort.  Chapter 11, v6: So when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.  Mary and Martha went to Christ to heal Lazarus, and as far as they could tell, in that moment, He had rejected them. The most painful rejection comes from those who love us the most.
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the hope of melchizedek

It's good to know that we as current day Christians are not the only generation to be faced with questions, misunderstandings, and confusing traditions about our faith. In our small group tonight, we're going to be discussing one of my favorite topics that is missing from your typical Sunday School upbringing: Melchizedek.

Melchizedek appears only a few times in the Bible. In the Old Testament, there are direct references to him only twice (Gen 14:17-24 and Ps 110:4). He is a mysterious figure who could, seemingly, be nothing more than a brief cameo of a character in Abram's life. Melchizadek is much more, however; he is a key component in the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Messiah.Melchizedek is, without question, one of the most mysterious characters in the Bible. He comes on the scene and then leaves so quickly with very little exposition to the reader about who he really is or why his blessing to Abram is so important. Jewish tradition surrounding Melchizedek only serves to further the mystery surrounding him (of course, as my wife reminded me to clarify, this is Rabbinic literature and not canon. I only mention this here because I find it interesting how many stories have accumulated about Melchizedek):
  • In the Midrash, the Rabbis identified Melchizedek with Shem son of Noah. (E.g., Babylonian Talmud Nedarim 32b; Genesis Rabbah 46:7; Genesis Rabbah 56:10; Leviticus Rabbah 25:6; Numbers Rabbah 4:8.)
  • Rabbi Isaac the Babylonian said that Melchizedek was born circumcised. (Genesis Rabbah 43:6.)
  • Rabbi Eleazar said that Melchizedek's school was one of three places where the Holy Spirit manifested itself. (Babylonian Talmud Makkot 23b.)
  • The Rabbis taught that Melchizedek acted as a priest and handed down Adam's robes to Abraham. (Numbers Rabbah 4:8.)
The real problem comes, however, when we note that Genesis clearly states that Melchizedek was not simply a king, but also a priest to God Most High. This is quite an issue because, ultimately, all priests came from the line of Levi. Of course, Levi wasn't born yet (Abram/Abraham begat Isaac, begat Jacob/Israel, begat Levi) so Melchizadek is some kind of different priest. Melchizedek is decidedly not of the Levite lineage; in fact, he is not given any sort of clarification to his lineage. What we do know is that - seeing as he was a priest of the Most High God - Melchizedek had a relationship with God that was outside of God's calling of Abraham. According to Hebrews, Melchizedek actually trumps even Levi as priest, as Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek (Heb 7:9, 10) through Abram.

Central to our faith is the Christ is Messiah. Throughout the story of the Jewish people, prophets are given messages from God, many of which have a double meaning: a message for the culture of that day and a message that foretold the future. The lump sum of these messages come to prophesy the coming of Messiah, who would be a kinsman redeemer for the nation is Israel to heal the broken relationship between man and God from the very beginning, in the Garden of Eden.

This Messiah would be both a priest and king. We often hear of Christ referred to as the Son of David, as Messiah was to come from the root of Jesse. This is where the prophecy of Zechariah muddies things up: Messiah was to be both priest and king (Zec 6:13). Priests come only through the lineage of Levi, of which the kingly lineage (Davidic lineage, tribe of Judah) was not. So how could a man be both a priest and king?

With this need for Messiah to fulfill the prophecy and be both Priest and King, Melchizedek becomes a central figure to the validity of Christ as Messiah and, thus, a major character in the theology of our faith.Even more so, the priesthood of Melchizedek (the priesthood of Christ) brings us eternal hope. Looking back at the second reference to Melchizedek in the Old Testament brings us here:

The Lord has sworn an oath and will not take it back:

"Forever, You are a priestlike Melchizedek." (Ps 110:4)

The great theologian, Paul, explains it to us thusly:

The priests of Levi were finite and imperfect. Ultimately, their priesthood was to be abolished because a better priesthood came not "based on a legal command concerning physical descent but based on the power of an indestructible life." (Heb 7:17). So the history of priesthood is as such:
  1. Melchizedek was a priest of the Most High God, possibly reigning over the area of Jerusalem (as he was King of Salem, which some believe was the former name of Jerusalem)
  2. The role of priesthood was given to the descendant of Aaron, descendant of Levi
  3. The coming of Christ, through the power of an indestructible life, continued the priesthood of Melchizedek
Paul makes very clear the benefit of having a priest who has indestructible life, over the priesthood of Levi whose members ultimately die:

Therefore He is always able to save those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to intercede for them. (Heb 7:25). 
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