Symbols, Part 1

I greatly admire and appreciate artistic ability, a gift which is not mine. It takes me three pages of thinking out loud in my notebook to convey an idea expressed movingly by art in any form. Akiane depicts past, future, shock, and sacrifice in her unforgettable painting of Eve and the Forbidden Fruit, (http://www.akiane.com) in a way that touches the heart more deeply than any theologian with impressive credentials. Ideas, symbols and reality all come together on one canvas. It is magic, really.

I know a man who has been looking for truth all his life. He sent me a photo of his artwork; every canvas was a jumble of lines and and paths going off in all directions. It doesn’t take artistic expertise to see that he hasn’t yet found what he is seeking.

Symbols – we use them all the time to convey concepts that are at times too deep, wide and high for expression. Some things we experience or wonder about are simply beyond words. In our humanity we can find common ground in symbols rather than words which can quickly divide, as we each shape and interpret them with individual nuance of meaning.

When do symbols become the reality? Is there a difference between them? Sometimes it is difficult to separate a symbol from the reality it represents. A Marine saluting the flag or his officer is extending honor to the person or thing being saluted. Honor, an abstract, invisible concept, is displayed by the salute to the point that the salute then becomes the concept revealed. Is that action not also the honor itself?

Symbols, types and shadows are found throughout the Bible. The Old Testament is primarily an historical record of a Middle-Eastern people group. It records conquests, defeats, settlement – and their God experiences. It is history. The New Testament then declares that what was written is representative of a greater reality – a spiritual truth of a higher order. What the ancient Israelites experienced in their reality was meant for later generations to see higher truths about God and His self revelation in Jesus Christ. The details, the stories serve as types and shadows of things to come. They were one thing, a reality, at the same time holding within themselves a greater meaning symbolizing something else.

This then leads me to expressions of faith. A small gold cross, centered with a smaller diamond, hangs around my neck. A delicate piece of jewelry, only a trinket to animist or Buddhist, it speaks volumes to me as I grow in my understanding of my value to God and the centrality of Jesus in all of life. Whole libraries try to explain the reality of the cross, while my cross is declaring that meaning wordlessly to those who believe.

Since earliest times and cultures, blood has represented the life within it. Leviticus declared “The life is in the blood” as it called for the sacrifice of a living thing, with application of its blood, to atone for or bridge the gap between a repentant sinner and a holy God. Blood became symbolic of life and forgiveness and reconciliation. Earlier in Jewish history, blood used as a sign on the door provided protection from a plague of death. Blood from the death of one being then became equated as life giving to another.

The sacrificial system set up in the Old Testament was designed for atonement, bringing the repentant person to a holy God, and as a part of worship. Worship was and is 1. offering the best we have, and 2. offering a life laid down. All was a preparation for the time of Jesus. His blood represents both those aspects of worship.

When Jesus at his last Seder held up the cup, the one which was traditionally set aside for the coming hoped-for Messiah, he declared that the wine in that cup was his blood. Shed blood. Poured out blood. They all knew it was wine. But it was blood. Jesus said so. He was conveying to the group that he was to be the ultimate sacrificial animal, the being whose blood would bridge that uncrossable gap between God and man. The death of this living being of the highest order would be life-giving to all others, once and for all. There is no thing anywhere in the cosmos that can trump that act, that blood. The symbol of the Old Testament was now becoming revealed as prototype, by a declaration of the true and real before their very eyes. His blood is at the same time both symbol and reality.

 

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The Open Door

open-door-field

Jan 1, 2014  The year of Ayin Daleth, or the Open Door.

Reading this morning the Sermon on the Mount. I began by thinking that Jesus did three things in his ministry: teach on the Kingdom of God, drive out demons and heal people’s physical bodies. Nowhere could I think of a place where he was concerned about who they were to marry, or where they would get a job, or any of the other issues we often put on prayer lists.

The Kingdom of God is not only about the great news that God the Father wants to be reconciled to his people, and is not mad at us. Rather, He is providing a way to escape his wrath.
But I also knew it incorporated more than healing the body and bringing freedom from outside pressure.

So I began in Matthew chapter 6. At the end of chapter 5 there is a brief account of his first ministry after the time of his temptation. People flocked to him because of the physical healings; his emphasis was on the good news from heaven about the Kingdom of God.

All the way through the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is emphasizing the importance of attitude, heart and mind as contrasted to the outward observance of religious law and custom. It is a complete shift in the way of looking at and understanding God’s expectations and requirements. As such, it is revolutionary. One of the most difficult tasks is to get people (including me) to see things in a different light than what we ‘know’ to be true. Belief systems get well locked into place and often require an equivalent of dynamite to change them. What He is saying cuts across the grain of our well-established ‘truth.’ It is not just the religious Jews of 2000 years ago, but the solid, God-acknowledging person of today who has beliefs which need changing. The church of today honors outward righteousness, good little worker bees, high achievers, charitable givers. In so doing, people pick up the unspoken idea that their salvation is secure based on their good works or long service in the church. This may not be the church’s intent, of course, but many pick up that belief anyway.

In the middle of talking about storing treasure and looking for security, are two verses which stand out as off-topic inclusions.
Mat 6:22  “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light.
           :23  But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how     great is that darkness!
It was here that I turned to the commentaries for better understanding. I can’t say it better than this from the Believer’s Bible Commentary:
“Instead of light, there is darkness.
The application is this: The good eye belongs to the person whose motives are pure, who has a single desire for God’s    interests, and who is willing to accept Christ’s teachings literally. His whole life is flooded with light. He believes Jesus’ words, he forsakes earthly riches, he lays up treasures in heaven, and he knows that this is the only true security. On the other hand, the bad eye belongs to the person who is trying to live for two worlds. He doesn’t want to let go of his earthly treasures, yet he wants treasures in heaven too. The teachings of Jesus seems impractical and impossible to him. He lacks clear guidance since he is full of darkness.
Jesus adds the statement that if therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! In other words, if you know that Christ forbids trusting earthly treasures for security, yet you do it anyway, then the teaching you have failed to obey becomes darkness—a very intense form of spiritual blindness. You cannot see riches in their true perspective.”

This is of particular interest today because Ayin in Hebrew means ‘eye’ or way of seeing, and Daleth represents ‘door.’

Seeing things in a new light then is of utmost importance. The door is open to walk into new insights and away from some dearly held, yet untrue “truths.” Do we have the courage to ask to have our beliefs examined? To discover where we have been deceived? To change our thinking? I submit that is as exciting an adventure as exploring the far reaches of Patagonia. This year of Two Thousand Ayin Daleth the open door awaits .

The Gathering Place

Have you heard about thin places? These are not diet farms where overstuffed people go to trim down. They are not rows of narrow houses built to accommodate more people per acre. I first heard of thin places a few years ago when a visitor said he thought my home was such a place.

As I researched, I discovered the term is known in some circles of the spiritually discerning. The ancient Celts found that there are places on earth where God’s Spirit is more easily accessible… They called these places “Thin places” because the distance between God and man seemed somehow thinner there and it was easier to pray.

Who is there that does not want to have a shorter distance between themselves and God? To have an easier time praying? Spiritually inclined people travel miles to seek out such places. Where there has been a history of “something happening” people will be drawn by their hunger, need or curiosity. They want a touch from outside themselves, a connection with that “otherness” which is known intuitively. As word of the extraordinary is spread, pilgrimages are made and crowds gather. They bring an openness to things spiritual so that often something does happen.  The burdens of life are lifted; healings occur; prayers are heard.

When there has been a continual seeking after, and finding God in a place, it seems that the Spirit of God remains in a fuller measure than in other places. Those who visit sites of earlier revivals or action of the Spirit can still sense His presence there centuries later.This opens up all kinds of theological questions, of course. Isn’t it a given doctrine that God is omnipresent?  Always the same? How is it that He is more notably one place than another? Are some places “more equal than others?”

St. Patrick is renowned as a holy man of God, a life-changer in Ireland centuries ago. To this day, the little stone church where he preached carries a strong sense of the Spirit, which cannot be said for the large cathedral bearing his name, built years later nearby. Those who visit the site of the Cane Ridge Revival in Kentucky have reported sensing the Spirit strongly there. There are dozens of sites around the world which have become  and remained holy places as earnest seekers gather. Lourdes Shrine in France has a large collection of canes, crutches and wheel chairs from the sick and infirm who made the trek there seeking healing.  Scoffers and doubters raise the point that perhaps they were healed by their expectations, that it is a psychological rather than spiritual phenomenon after all. But the pilgrims to Lourdes declare otherwise. To them it is a “thin place” well worth the effort to reach.

2 Kings 13:21  Once while some Israelites were burying a man, suddenly they saw a band of raiders; so they threw the man’s body into Elisha’s tomb.  When the body touched Elisha’s bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet.

This one verse is tucked in the ongoing account of Israel’s oppression by her enemies. Elisha had received the double anointing he had asked for, had served as a mighty prophet, and eventually sickened and died. In this account, he had been dead long enough to be reduced to bones, but his very bones still retained something of that touch of God, enough to raise a dead man to life. Can you picture the shock of that revived man, and those who were burying him?  I can imagine the whooping and hollering that went on. This could not be interpreted as a feel good, subjective sense of Spirit; this was a presence with power to restore to life. Nothing vague or abstract about it. There was a corpse; now there is a man on his feet, undoubtedly dazed and wondering what happened.

In other places in Scripture, God commands his people to gather at certain prescribed places. He is particular about it. “You shall worship me here, not there.” He called the Hebrews out of Egypt to worship him in the wilderness.  It was necessary to leave Egypt because the large amount of worship given to other gods had defiled the land spiritually, in effect making it a very thick place.  He desired to have them experience him, worshiping him and being aware of his presence on a daily basis. For that reason his commands were clear: This is the way; this is the place.

There are several accounts of the Ark of His Presence in the Old Testament which clearly show how an object (the Ark, in this case) carries a residual power and presence. When the Philistines captured it and placed it in their shrine next to Dagon, old Dagon was knocked off his pedestal where he was found the next morning lying face down before the Ark. The bewildered Philistines set him back up, but the next day Dagon was broken to pieces, with his head and hands lying on the doorstep. It is interesting to note that the first night the idol was prostrate before the Ark, giving clear demonstration of “Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Romans 14:11, Philippians 2:10,11. The second night the idol lost both head and hands, declaring the complete powerlessness of any entity that sets itself up against the power and presence of the one true God. The local priests quickly concluded the Ark should be sent somewhere else; it was shipped to a succession of towns and villages where people immediately became ill with tumors. Some even died.That was enough for the Philistines. There was something about that box which was good for the Israelites, and very bad for them.

After they put it on a cart and sent it homeward, the Ark continued to carry a particular presence. While it remained with Obed-Edom for three months, everything in and around his household prospered.  As a God-fearing Israelite, he experienced blessing upon blessing, unlike the idol-worshiping Philistines. The presence of blessing was so attractive that when the Ark was moved to Jerusalem, Obed-Edom went along to become a doorkeeper. He had tasted the Presence; he had to go where it went.

So it is with thin places. Wherever God’s presence is experienced or “felt,” is where people will gather.

No one can prescribe the conditions for creating such a place, but there are a few hindrances or blockages to God’s manifest presence. One, already mentioned, is idolatry.  Any focus on or worship of another deity will bring contamination and defilement of the building and the land on which it stands. Another serious cause of defilement is violence and bloodshed. Where blood has been shed the land cries out. Beginning with Cain’s murder of his brother in Genesis 4:10, God has talked about blood crying from the land.  “Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it.” Numbers 35:33

Other sins such as prostitution, greed and dishonesty can and do pollute the land which prevents it from becoming a “thin place.”  God is holy, which means He is set apart from all sin. There is no sin in heaven; there is no sin in His presence. Therefore, if we desire that thin place where earth and heaven meet, it is necessary to deal with all the unconfessed sin in our lives, striving to follow His command: “Be holy, for the LORD your God is Holy.”

“But,” people say, “isn’t it impossible to be holy?  Isn’t such a life like living in a convent, a boring life totally devoid of interest?”  For those who have never experienced any God encounter, this may be an understandable response. But once you become spiritually awakened to His reality, there is nothing more desirable than to be in His presence. Like Obed-Edom, you will go anywhere, giving up your familiar ways just to be where He is. That includes leaving the sin which we all secretly enjoy. Choosing to keep our old ways, habits and sins in preference to living in a “thin place” is like trading a valuable birthright for a bowl of lentils. Far better to listen and follow “Be holy, for the LORD your God is holy.”

An important caveat here.  Yes, it is true that God’s holiness and sin are far apart. However, He is found in the worst imaginable places when someone cries out to Him. Then He is close as the sinner’s breath. “There is more rejoicing in heaven when one sinner repents than over the ninety nine who need no repentance.” Luke 15:7 His very reason for the Incarnation and the Cross was to defeat sin and its damage to the people He loves. He came to rescue mankind from the morass we were in, setting our feet on solid ground.

Once rescued, set free from the unholy, man is then able to approach God unencumbered by sin. He can begin to live life righteously, in a new dimension as it were. It is in that new condition of holiness, or set-apartness that we seek out those “thin places” to be wherever He is.

Rescue

 

11 Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.

12 If you say, But we knew nothing about this, does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?

Word of the day, word of the week.  This is a direct command found in Proverbs 24. It is a NOW word for the times we are in. Who is being led to death? Who are those being led to slaughter? Who are the ones who are saying “we did not know anything – nobody told us?”

Well, for starters, Christians around the globe are dying wherever they are near more than a few adherents of Islam.  Appeals for help are largely ignored by our government as well as most churches.  Some times the inaction is based on not knowing what to do,  Helplessness in the face of evil, fear for one’s own life, keeps people busy following their own  pursuits, head down, ears closed.

Keep quiet.  Don’t rock the boat. We don’t want to become targets. Maybe it will all go away.

Islam is not the only source of suffering and slaughter.  Tyrants of all and no religions continue to arise around the world, snuffing out life ruthlessly in their pursuit of power and control. Average citizens who want to live out their lives in peace get run over and run through with cruel disregard.

We don’t do that – yet – in the United States.  We just kill young life, that which does not yet have a name or Social Security number. This is done with governmental approval and financial support. The policy now is so broad that those individuals and institutions which refuse to participate in causing death are penalized and threatened with imprisonment. At the other end of the time line, laws are now in place which deny persons over age 70 the right to corrective intervention in case of brain bleed or stroke.  That which could be done to heal and restore is no longer allowed; the written mandate is “comfort care only.”

NOW is the time to speak up. NOW is the time to do something, anything to resist this culture of death.  As a nation we are careening downhill to chaos. I have been too long silent.  First, it is time to repent for all our whistling past the graveyard. We have looked with horror at the Holocaust of the 1940’s, ignoring the 21st century holocaust around us. We have judged those who did not speak up while Jews were being led away to slaughter, yet we are no different in our failure to speak up against the abortion business and some of the odious parts of the new “health care” act. Perhaps it is not too late to find mercy and forgiveness for our inaction. Perhaps it is not too late.

How many voices are needed to convince a congress person we are serious?  What does it take to stop a juggernaut in its tracks? It is a huge challenge, yet we are told in this passage of scripture we MUST do what we can to stop the evil we DO know about.

Now, not tomorrow. Writing this is for me a beginning step. I can keep silent no longer. We must turn back the tide that is close to sweeping us away. Now.