Fathoming The mystery of God

In the Beginning GOD; God Created the Heavens and the earth, God told Moses that He was I AM; GOD, outside of time; GOD outside of the known and unknown universe.  GOD, we know He is, but to understand who God is, that is an entirely different thing.  Job speaks of God “Can you fathom the mysteries of God?  Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?” (11:7). And Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes 3:11 “…He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

I have just finished reading a book by Walter Lippmann entitled Preface to Morals in this book Mr. Lippmann enunciates the various aspects that must be considered in understanding the morality of the modern life.  The book was written in 1929, yet much of what he has written is still very pertinent today.   Mr. Lippmann looks at how we see God in our modern world as opposed to the way that those who wrote the Bible looked at God.  When these men wrote the word King or Lord they had a current reference, a very accurate example of what that meant.  How do we understand that simple word in this Democratic, Capitalistic society that is ours here in the United States?  He writes, “The Omnipotence of God means something to men who submit daily to the cycles of the weather and the mysterious power of nature.  But the city man puts his faith in furnaces to keep out the cold, is proudly aware of what bad sewage his ancestors endured, and of how ignorantly they believed that God, who made Adam at 9 A.M. on October 23 in the year 4004 B.C., was concerned with the behavior of Adam’s children.”  And in saying this he is merely stating that as we have more and more machines to rely on, our daily lives require less faith in God to see to our needs, and in needing God less, we are forced to redefine who He is.  Even within the Bible, the book of Job is a fulcrum to reassess God and his association with man.  For in Job we see that God allows evil into our lives.  We see that Job is tenacious in his understanding of who God is, and that God asks only for our belief.  As a Jewish writer, Mr. Lippmann is unfortunate, for his insights are defined by a lack of faith in Christ, but I believe that his assessment of how modern man perceives God is not only accurate, but also extenuated by the world of electronics that now demand our attention second by second.

Who is God?  This is the question of the ages, but I wonder how many of us really try to put our mind around this mystery of faith.  I use the word mystery, because although we use terms that express the various aspects of God, we really don’t know or understand who God is.  The Bible tells us that God is Spirit (John 4:24).  In the poetry of the Psalms, God holds us safe beneath his wings and in Exodus 33:20 God himself tells Moses that “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.”, yet in the New Testament Jesus states that when we see the son, we see the father.  “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father…” (John 14:9).

God created; therefore, he is larger than all the galaxies of the universe.  He holds together the smallest of molecules as they are ordered to create life and He is capable of destroying the entire planet.  Do you realize that if God were not conscious of each of us, the very molecules of our bodies would fly apart and we would no longer exist?  In prayer, I should submit myself in complete reverence to the God of creation. As a modern person, I don’t know or understand reverence.  The terms we use have no place in our modern world, yet those words are the thing that links us to the religious, the divine.  Reverence, Webster defines as, respect, admiration, awe, veneration, astonishment, amazement, yet when I think of God, all of these words do not begin to put me in touch with His real being.  We respect the right of others to have their own opinions; we admire a teacher who against all odds inspires children to excel.  It is popular now to say that God is Awesome.  Veneration, now there is a great word – I think of old China when I hear this word.  The young venerated the old, in a manner that is unknown in western culture.   Are we really astonished or amazed when we think about God?  We should be, but I think many times we are too busy to feel the full impact of these words, to allow ourselves to dwell on God’s majesty.

God is Father.  Who is the father of our modern life?  Fathers don’t have the same authority as they had when Moses brought the commandments down from Mt. Sinai.  Then Father was the total authority of his home, he had the ability to give blessings on his sons and daughters that had not only financial, but also spiritual meaning. The authority of father has been changed in our modern society.  These changes are not bad, but they have redefined what we comprehend when we hear the word.  In prayer, as His child, I don’t bow, or prostrate myself to be heard, I speak to my Father in a way that may be considered in light of the historic term, wreck loose.

If you spend much time with me, you will know that I cry easily at things religious.  I love God for so many reasons, but I don’t think it is the love that sets me off, it is the torture of my soul to be united with my creator.  As body and blood, we can’t know God, but in that day when we move from this realm into the realm of spirit we will “understand as we are understood” (1 Corinthians 13:12).  Like so many people in our society today, I am without family.  I am blessed that God has given me friends, so I am not lonely or anxious about that aspect of my life.  The truth is we are all alone.  We are never known fully, even by our most intimate friend or spouse.  We touch the world through our own experiences and those experiences create for each of us a different world, a different understanding even when we are together in it.

We are asked to go to God in a prayer closet and I know why.  Only in a closet, a small place devoid of the daily distractions of living can we quiet our brain enough to try to touch even a small essence of who God is.  Just as we all experience things with more than one of our senses, I am conscious of this in me and it has a tendency to put me into overload.  I have a contemplative spirit, and am forced by my own excesses to escape to solitude and quiet, yet even in that quiet place, I am constantly avoiding the question of God.  I want to experience Him in a sensory way, but I know there is something internal, in my soul, that needs to be released to ever begin to comprehend Him.  And if I give my spirit completely, turned myself over to this Spirit of God, I will become a puddle on the floor, unable to express except through tears the magnitude of His presence.

There is a song by Casting Crowns that defines us as vapor in the wind, a drop within the ocean.  How can we possibly know the total of God?  I only ask that you take time to try.

All Scriptures are New International Version

HULDAH – 10 Points for Bible Study on November 7, 2015

  1. Huldah – her name means weasel. (2, pg 135)
  2. Huldah was trusted by the King and her word generated a significant religious reform. (2, pg 135)
  3. Huldah, a prophetess, was the wife of Shallum, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the 2nd District, probably located in a newly developed area between the 1st and 2nd walls in the northeast part. (1, 2 Kings 22:14)
  4. Huldah was one of four Old Testament prophetesses – Miriam, Aaron’s sister and Deborah, wife of Lappidoth. (1, Ex 15:20; Jdg 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14)
  5. Huldah had been sought out by King Josiah’s messengers including Hilkiah, the high priest to inquire of the Lord what was written in the Book of the Law. (1, 2 Kings 22:14) The Book of Law was discovered in the temple during the reign of Josiah and was probably made of papyrus. (2, pg 136)
  6. Huldah told them what the Lord, the God of Israel said and told them to tell the man who sent them. (1, 2 Kings 22:15-16)
  7. Huldah emphasized the words of judgment Josiah had already read in the Book of Law. (2, pg 136; 1. 2 Kings 22:16)
  8. Huldah reported that the Lord would give a reprieve to Josiah because of his sorrow for the sins of his people and when Josiah died he would be buried in peace and not see the disaster God would bring on Jerusalem. (1, 2 Kings 22:19-20; 2, pg 136)
  9. Once again, God has shown his faithfulness, his divine judgment and his divine willingness to forgive. (2, pg 136)
  10. King Josiah along with all the people from the least to the greatest renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord to obey all that was written in the Book of Law. (1, 2 Chron 34:29-31)

Sources:

1.The NIV Study Bible, Zondervan, 1995. (All scriptures, Footnotes}

2. Women of the Bible, 52 Bible Studies for Individuals and Groups, Jean E. Syswerda, Zondervan 1999

   The Widow of Zarephath – 14 Key Points for Bible Study October 17, 2015

Key Scriptures: I Kings 17:8-24; Luke 4: 25-26

Supporting Scriptures: I Kings 17:1-7; Ex.16:4, 8a; Jer. 1:5; Is. 55:8; Phil. 4:6; I John 5:14b

Her Character: “A foreigner facing starvation, she showed extraordinary hospitality to one of God’s prophets, providing a safe harbor for him”.  (2; pg. 123)

  1. GOD’S OMNISCIENCE

I Kings 17:1—“… As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives,

whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”

  1. WE CAN STAND ON GOD’S PROMISES

I Kings 17:4— “You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there”.

I Kings 17:5-6— “So he did what the Lord had told him…the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook”.

NOTE: When Going Thru Remember What God Has Already Done

See Exodus 16: 4, 8a—–“Then the Lord said to Moses, I will rain down bread from heaven for you….you will know it was the Lord when He gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning,..”

  1. GOD IS ALWAYS AT WORK AND CAN USE ANYONE

I Kings 17: 7-9— “…later the brook dried up because there was no rain in the land…Then the word of the Lord came to him: Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food.”

NOTE: EVEN UNBELIEVER’S CAN BE USED BY GOD

# 1: See NIV Footnote I Kings 17:9—Zarephath was a coastal town in the territory ruled by Jezebel’s father, Ethbaal. God sent Elijah to the area where Baal worship was predominant. The widow was therefore from a pagan nation and completely outside of God’s own people.

#2: See Luke 4:25-26 (Jesus said) “I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time….yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon.”

NIV footnote Luke 4:26-27—“Jesus’ point was that when Israel rejected God’s messenger of redemption (Elijah), God sent him to the Gentiles.”

  1. WE MUST WALK BY FAITH

I Kings 17:10— “So he went to Zarephath”.

  1. FAITH REQUIRES OBEDIENCE

I Kings 17:10b-11—“…..a widow was there…he asked… would you bring me a little water in a jar…and bring me, please, a piece of bread.”

NOTE: ELIJAH FOLLOWED GOD’S INSTRUCTIONS BY APPROACHING THE WIDOW.

  1. GOD IS ALWAYS WITH US

I Kings 17: 12a— “As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, (NIV Footnote I Kings 5:7—-“in polytheistic Cultures, it was common practice for the people of one nation to recognize the deities of another nation”.

I Kings 17:12b—“I don’t have any bread only a handful of  flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug….to take home and  make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die”.

NOTE: NO MATTER THE SITUATION, SEEMINGLY GOOD OR BAD, LOOK FOR GOD IN IT—HE IS THERE!

“When Elijah came and asked the widow for bread, it appeared as though he were asking her to give up the last food she had for herself and her son. Actually, he provided her with sustenance that would last until the famine was over”. (2; pg. 124)

Often when we are in the midst of crisis, we can only see the immediate. As believers, we must stand on faith, trust and know that God has the answer.

  1. BOLDLY SHARE GOD WITH OTHERS

I Kings 17:13-14—“Elijah said..don’t be afraid..make a small cake of bread for me..then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord God of Israel says: The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land.”

  1. OBEDIENCE BRINGS REWARDS

I Kings 17: 15—“She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family.”

THOUGHT QUESTION: WHY DO YOU THINK THE WIDOW DID AS ELIJAH INSTUCTED?

  1. GOD’S PROMISES ARE ALWAYS FULFILLED

I Kings 17: 16— “For the jar of flour was not used up and

the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.

  1. GOD KNOWS

I Kings 17:17— “Sometime later, the son of the woman

….became ill….and finally stopped breathing.

NOTE: SEE JER. 1:5— “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you”.

  1. SHOULD WE QUESTION GOD?

I Kings 17:18b—“She said to Elijah…did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son”.

I Kings 17:20— “he (Elijah) cried out to the Lord…have you brought tragedy also upon this widow…by causing her son to die?”

NOTE: Is 55:8—“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.

  1. TAKE EVERYTHING TO GOD IN PRAYER

I Kings 17:21—“Then he…. cried to the Lord, O Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him”.

NOTE: Phil. 4:6—“Don’t be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God”.

  1. GOD LISTENS

I Kings 17:22—“The Lord heard Elijah’s cry and the boy’s life returned to him and he lived…..He gave him to his mother and said look your son is alive”.

NOTE: I John 5:14b—“….if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us”.

  1. GODS WANTS A PERSONAL, INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP WITH US

I Kings 17:24—“Then the woman said to Elijah, NOW I KNOW that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth”.

  1. NIV Study Bible, Zondervan, 1995
  2. Women of The Bible, 52 Bible Studies For Individuals And Groups,

Jean E. Syswerda, Zondervan 1999

The Song of Miriam – Exodus 15:19-21

When Pharaoh’s horses, chariots and horsemen went into the sea, the Lord brought the waters of the sea back over them, but the Israelites walked through on dry ground. Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her, with tambourines and dancing. Miriam sang to them:

“Sing to the Lord,

for he is highly exalted.

The horse and the rider

he has hurled into the sea”                                                          

Miriam – 10 Key Points for Bible Study 06/21/2014

From our lesson of Miriam (Exodus 2:1-10; 15:20-21; Numbers 12:1-15), here are some important points. The points do not directly answer the questions on pages 55-58 of the text, but may help you in our discussion at the Saturday Bible Study 06/21/2014.

1. The birth mother of Mirian was Jochebed, her Father was Amram. Miriam’s brothers were Aaron and Moses  (Exodus 6:20)(Numbers 26:59).

2. Upon Moses’ birth, Jochebed hid him for three months then put him into a floating basket among the reeds of the Nile River. (Exodus 2:1-4). Miriam, Moses’ sister, kept watch to see what would happen to him (Exodus 2:5).

3. When Pharaoh’s daughter found the baby and observed he was Hebrew (Exodus 2:5-6), Miriam offered to find a Hebrew woman to take care of the baby (Exodus 2:7).

4. Mariam went back to Jochebed and brought her to Pharaoh’s Daughter who arranged for the care of the baby until the child grew older (Exodus 2:8-9).

5. After the Israelites crossed the Red Sea  and the Pharaoh’s army drowned (Exodus 13:18; 14:29-31), Miriam led the Israelite women in dancing and she sang Praises to the Lord (Exodus 15:19-21).

6. Miriam is considered a prophetess, as she was one through which God spoke His word, to the Israelites (Exodus 15:20; Numbers 12:2).

7. Miriam conspired with Aaron to oppose Moses, due to his choosing a Cushite wife (Numbers 12:1) and exhibited jealousy toward Moses when God gave His prophetic Spirit to the seventy elders (Numbers 12:2).   

8. God expressed His anger toward Miriam and Aaron (Numbers 12:5-8).

9. Miriam was struck with leprosy as a punishment for her actions and Aaron asked Moses to ask God for mercy to cure her and not do the same to him (Numbers 12: 5-15).

10. God, in proclaiming His judgment of captivity on the people of Samaria and Judah, used the example of His goodness by pointing out He sent  Mariam as one of the of the chosen to lead the Israelites out of Egypt (Micah 6:4).

 1. The NIV Study Bible, Zondervan, 1995.

2. Jean E Syswerda, Women of the Bible, Zondervan, 1999.

 

The Mothers of Moses: Jochebed and Pharaoh’s Daughter – 10 Key Points for Bible Study 06/07/2014

 

From our lesson of The Mothers of Moses: Jochebed and Pharaoh’s Daughter, (Exodus 2:1-10; Hebrews 11:23), here are some important points. The points do not directly answer the questions on pages 53-54 of the text, but may help you in our discussion at the Saturday Bible Study 06/07/2014.

1. The birth mother of Moses was Jochebed, his Father was Amram. Moses’ brother was Aaron (Exodus 6:20) and  their sister (Exodus 2:4) was Miriam (Exodus 15:20).

2. The name for Pharaoh’s Daughter is not given in Scripture. The NIV Study Bible footnote for Exodus 2:5 identifies her as “Perhaps the famous 18th-dynasty princess who later became Queen Hatshepsut”(1), and Josephus in Book II, chapter IV,#5 identifies her as Thermuthis (3). For this lesson we’ll stick with name not known.

3. The new king  declared that there were too many Israelites in Egypt (Exodus 1:8-10), so he oppressed them with forced labor (Exodus 1:11) and gave orders for every Israelite boy born to the thrown into the Nile (Exodus 1:22). 

4. The number of Israelites had grown from 70 (Genesis 46:26-27)(Genesis 46:8-25) to 600,000 men (Exodus 12:37). The count of seventy in Genesis didn’t include the mothers of Jacob’s sons. The count in Exodus didn’t include the women and children.

5.  Upon the birth of a son, Jochebed hid him for three months then put him into a floating basket among the reeds of the Nile river. (Exodus 2:1-4)

6. Mariam, the boy’s sister, kept watch to see what would happen to him (Exodus 2:5).

7. Pharaoh’s daughter found the baby and observed he was Hebrew (Exodus 2:5-6).

8. The sister (Miriam) offered to find a Hebrew woman to take care of the baby (Exodus 2:7).

9. Mariam got Jochebed and brought her to Pharaoh’s Daughter who arranged for the care of the baby until the child grew older (Exodus 2:8-9). When he was old enough, the boy was returned to Pharaoh’s daughter and she named him Moses (Exodus 2:10).

10. In the New Testament, the writer of Hebrews gives examples of faith by using Moses’ parents putting him into the basket on the Nile river (Hebrews 11:23) and much of his life (Hebrews 22:24-29). Also, Luke uses the story of Stephen’s defense to the Sanhedrin, which was centered around constant rejection of Moses, as an example of the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus Christ ( Acts 7:1-53).

 1. The NIV Study Bible, Zondervan, 1995.

2. Jean E Syswerda, Women of the Bible, Zondervan, 1999.

3. Whiston, William (translator), The Works of Josephus, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, 1985

The Lenten Season (Lent), by Yolande Brunson Collins

The Lenten Season, or the Season of Lent, is a solemn time.  It represents the ancient season of preparation for baptism on Easter Sunday. Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent, and the season lasts 40 days – not counting Sundays. During Lent, Sundays are considered Feast Days, and it is acceptable to rest from the strictness of Lent.

Why does Lent last 40 days? The number “40” has special spiritual significance regarding preparation. Moses was on Mt. Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights, without food or water, preparing to receive the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:28). We read in 1 Kings 19:8 that Elijah “went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb (another name for Sinai), the mountain of God.” And, we know that before He began His public ministry, Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 days and 40 nights in the desert (Matthew 4:2).  So, in the old days, it was decided that the preparation time of 40 days would be adequate and appropriate.

Though not Biblically based but more of a Christian tradition, some form of Lent has been practiced since the early Christian Church. According to The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church, Lent started as the practice to “prepare those who would be baptized at Easter, and before long other members of the Christian community joined those candidates for baptism as an act of solidarity.” During the season of preparation, candidates for Baptism were engaged in study, fasting and prayer.

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which falls on March 5 this year, and is celebrated by fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. Most people who are not familiar with the meaning of Lent usually think it is a season with the sole tradition of giving up something. Many are not aware that there are other Lenten traditions. In fact, many people add something to enhance their lives or in order to get closer to God. The underlying thought is that if one does something for 40 days, the practice will become incorporated into her or his daily life. It is felt that after 40 days, whatever was chosen as the personal focus of Lent will have then become a positive habit.  The beginning of the end of Lent falls during Holy Week, with the observances and rituals of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Lent culminates in the joyful celebration of the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday.

As an Episcopalian, I have seen many traditions played out during Lent.  The first, of course, is the practice of abstaining from something — usually food.  This speaks to the practice of fasting during Lent.  Some people give up certain foods such as fried foods or red meat, or alcohol, or sweets.  Others practice certain fasting rituals, such as not eating before a certain time of day or consuming food only prepared a certain way.  Fasting is probably the most widely practiced tradition and works for many people, but when people have chronic health issues or as they age, fasting may not be suitable due to health-related reasons.

When food is not given up, or in some instances in addition to giving up food, many individuals select to abstain from certain dangerous, unhealthy, offensive, or wasteful habits, such as speeding, cursing, “impulse” shopping, gossiping, gambling, just to name a few. If they choose to add something to their lives, they may choose focused and consistent prayer, Bible study, setting aside more time for their families, or volunteerism.  Some even take the time to become more organized or clean out their closets in an effort to “clear the clutter” from their lives and, subsequently, make donations to clothes closets and other charitable organizations.  There are many ways individuals observe Lent.

In 2013, Presiding Bishop Katharine encouraged us to “be in solidarity with the least of these.” She encouraged us to consider what and how and with whom we eat and to consider the challenges of the poor as they try to feed themselves and their families on food stamps, which is about $4 per person per day. She challenged us to be in solidarity with those who do without. Many Episcopalians accepted the challenge.

There are some liturgical changes, as well.  As Episcopalians, we omit both the Gloria in Excelsis and the use of the Alleluia during the liturgy until Easter Sunday. As a result, there is a tradition in some churches where the Alleluia is literally “buried” until Easter.  It is a custom where the children of the parish are witnesses to the “burying of the Alleluia,” when a cloth or banner with ALLELUIA on it is actually buried in the courtyard or other appropriate place – to be resurrected on Easter Sunday. It is an honor to be chosen to either place the ALLELUIA in the “grave” or to be the one chosen to resurrect it by digging it up on Easter Sunday.

There are many practices and customs associated with Lent. The fact is that you don’t HAVE to give up or add anything to your routine during Lent  — or for the full 40 days.  The time is used to prepare for Easter, so I encourage you to make that preparation by slowing down a bit and doing something meaningful which brings you closer to God.  Though you may or may not celebrate the Lenten season in a traditional way, the 40 days of Lent are the perfect time to evaluate your relationship with God and consider what you can do to have a better relationship with Him. I encourage you to take this time before Easter and enjoy a sacred and reflective Lenten season.

References:

(1)   Exodus 34:28, 1 Kings 19:8, Mathew 4:2, Holy Bible, The New King James Version, 1990 by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Inc., Nashville, TN

(2)   The Episcopal Church newsletter, “Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Lent Message 2014,” by The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church, February 28, 2014.

(3)   Catholic Education Resource Center, “History of Lent” by Fr. William Saunders, 2002.

(4)   The Episcopal Church newsletter, “Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Lent Message 2013: Learn more, give alms, share what you have,” by The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church, February 4, 2013.