Category Archives: Thoughts on God

Learning to Accept~This is Where I Leave You

(-By guest author, Jane Anderson)

It’s been a while now, but I still remember the effect. My breath caught as I heard the title of a new movie showing in theaters. This Is Where I Leave You.

How often has my mind wandered the void of an empty room, sensed the hollow feeling trailing a wave, felt the finality of a closed door? Have you ever spent time with someone you love, seizing every moment before their journey takes them one direction while yours takes another?  You knew the words were coming but couldn’t bear to hear them, “This is where I leave you.”

If you’re breathing, you know the hopeless feeling of saying goodbye, or maybe you avoid the goodbye, choosing instead the softer, “See ya later.” I recently talked to a friend whose youngest child went off to college leaving her with nobody to drop off or pick up at school, no sporting events claiming every weekday evening and a pretty lonely dinner table. There will be holidays and long weekends, but this season has brought new colors to the landscape – not the colors she is ready for.

Four years ago when my grandson joined the Marines we said goodbye to him as he left for 13 weeks of Basic Training. He insisted on no tears and we bravely complied … up until he said, “Well, this is where I leave you.” There are too many events in our life where the only option demands a deep breath and courageous goodbye. Our lives occur in such a blur that looking back we see short vignettes of what used to be. We preserve snatches of remembrances as a salve to soothe our aching hearts in moments when we feel regrettable loss. Life happens when we aren’t looking and we call it memory. We would be wise to honor our present moments and continually ask ourselves, “How do I want to remember this moment?”  Sometimes it isn’t goodbye that rocks our world, but it’s our habits, lifestyle, and what we are accustomed to. Change is inevitable, isn’t it? Just when we feel comfortable, when we seem to be on the right track, at the time we’re most confident and we’ve achieved consistency in our routines – something changes! We can dread change. We can even be afraid of change because we know how it feels. Routine is comfortable, it means stability.  God gives us some insight into how futile it is to dwell on fear of change. One observation is shared in Lamentations 3:19, “Just thinking of my troubles and my lonely wandering makes me miserable.” You know? Life is filled with ups and downs, good and bad, gain and loss. Yes, there is also the dreaded goodbyes. But we choose our attitudes. We can be miserable or we can choose to believe what God said in 1 Samuel 12:22, “The Lord has chosen you to be his own people. He will always take care of you so that everyone will know how great he is.”   We all know someone who has been through change after change in their life yet their faith has not faltered. We admire people who have suffered through fire and emerge with their joy intact. Faced with changes and an uncertain future, what separates the joyful from the joyless? Maybe it starts with believing that change is neither good nor bad, it’s only different. Then deepen your faith and believe that God keeps his promises. Psalm 91:4 says, “He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.

Life is a contact sport and sometimes we really get beat up. Sometimes tightly gripping what we had in the past only creates defeat in our present and trouble in our future. We need to let go – to relinquish what was. We need to say, “This is where I leave you.” Believe the words of Deuteronomy 31:6, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

New perspectives don’t magically materialize, nor do problems evaporate. There will always be changes we disagree with, challenges we can’t wish away.  Our tender hearts will be broken by the dreaded goodbye; we will lose parts of us we know we can’t live without, but in these times we must trust in the God that is bigger than all our terrifying problems and wider than the hollow left vacant by changes we didn’t want.  I’ve heard that the Bible commands 365 times to “Fear not.” That’s a command, not a suggestion. We know from 2 Timothy 1:7 that “God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.” God didn’t give us a fear of failing, or fear of change, or fear of loss. Be courageous. Focus on what you have, not on what you’ve lost. Capitalize on what you can do, not on what you cannot.

 So this is where I leave you.

2 Corinthians 13:11, “Good-by, my friends. Do better and pay attention to what I have said. Try to get along and live peacefully with each other. Now I pray that God, who gives love and peace, will be with you” (Contemporary English Version).

(Amen, and thank you, Jane!)

Rise Up, My Love (253): Ever Wondered What Mandrakes Are?

Song of Solomon 7:13 “The mandrakes give a smell.” What in the world are mandrakes? They are only mentioned six times in Scripture: once in this verse and five times in Genesis 30:14-16, where Rachel bargains with her sister Leah, exchanging the privilege of sleeping with their husband Jacob for the mandrakes that Leah’s son Reuben found in the field. Why all the fuss about mandrakes, and what are they?

For a starter, it’s inconceivable to me that a woman would exchange a night of physical intimacy with her husband for anything! I believe God intended marital expression to be sacred and beyond price, as intimated in chapter 8: “If a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be condemned.” How would you feel if your spouse “hired” you out for a bunch of whatevers?

That preposterous and degrading deal aside (an insight into the petty selfishness of our human nature, since we’ve all fallen prey to the temptation to exchange our souls for some trite pleasure from time to time…), let’s go back to the use of the term “mandrake” in Solomon’s song. The word translated “mandrake” is the Hebrew duda’im. It is consistently translated as “love apple” in the The Interlinear Bible and as something which induces love in Brown-Driver-Brigg’s Hebrew and English Lexicon (1).

In the final analysis, no one knows for sure what these “love apples” were, but the top two choices for “preferred guess” are either what we commonly call “may apples” today, or the Mandragora. May apples are common throughout temperate regions. In fact, we have colonies of them in our woods. In the spring each plant sprouts into a leafy one-foot umbrella with a single white blossom sheltered underneath, which becomes a yellowish, edible fruit about the size of a nutmeg in late May or June. The flowers have a very mild but pleasing scent, although the children and I have never found it perceptible from the path…only by studied trial. Also, may apples are edible but not especially flavorful, certainly nothing exotic or gourmet like the morel mushrooms that also sprout up in our woods about that time! It’s inconceivable to me that Rachel would have found anything in May apples compellingly attractive enough to tempt her to sell her husband’s affection!

On the other hand, the genus Mandragora has six species still common to the Mediterranean region which were used in antiquity as addictive aphrodisiacs. The Mandragora is a poisonous, perennial member of the potato family (Solanceae) (2).  It has tuberous roots that look almost like clusters of large grapes, and according to the World Book Encyclopedia(3) , these roots were often used as “narcotics, anesthetics, and in so-called love potions.” It is said that these mandrakes had a “very distinct and agreeable odor” and that “among the Arabs it was called both ‘the servant of love’ and the ruffah eshaitain or ‘Satan’s apples’ (4).”

It is conceivable to me that such a potent and powerfully addictive plant could arouse the passionate demands demonstrated in Rachel. In the Song of Solomon, there is no hint of evil or inordinate passion. The verse only mentions, “The mandrakes give a smell,” and perhaps the proper interpretive amplification of this comment might be, “It is the time for sharing love. Can’t you tell? Even the air is filled with the scent of love!” This is a good thing, and love should be everywhere about us. That is the bright and positive side of a good relationship.

On the dark side, perhaps this verse should cause us to reflect for a minute on our desires. Is there anything in our life that drives us…that controls our behavior…or is threatening to do so? Is there anything so powerful in our lives that we would choose to pursue it over pursuing time with our Lord and our spouse? Any person, any pass time, any passion? I find myself from time to time feeling the heavy hand of temptation luring me toward some lust. It can be something as simple but almost universal as the temptation to overeat. It can be the subtle pleasure of spending money on myself for something I want but don’t need. It can be the idle enjoyment of a wasted hour when there was much work to be done. It can be the deadly draw toward fascination with any man who is not my husband. The world, my flesh, and the devil conspire to surround me with temptations and lusts that are as powerfully addictive and attractive as the ancient mandrakes.

I wonder, are we being tempted by any mandrakes in our lives today? Don’t be driven to trade your spouse’s affection for a handful of “mandrakes,” whatever they are. What attractive scent is arousing passion in you? Food? Money? Leisure? Sex? Don’t trade your soul or your spouse’s love for a pot of poisonous (but narcotic) pottage! If there is good, find it, and let it arouse right desires. Eating is good; just don’t overeat. Money is good; just don’t overindulge. Leisure is good; just use it to restore rather than debilitate. Sex is good; just make sure that it’s with your mate! When the scent of mandrakes in your life is arousing you, learn to say, “Rise up, my love, and come away with me! Let me give you my love, and all the good things I’ve prepared for you!” Live for your Lord, and if you’re married, live joyfully with your spouse. (1) Brown, Francis, D.D., D. Litt. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. 1997, 188 (cf. pg. 188,“love-producing…as exciting sexual desire”).
(2) The Encyclopedia Americana.  Danbury, Connecticut: Grolier Inc., 1995, 227.
(3) The World Book Encyclopedia. Chicago: World Book—Childcraft International, Inc., 1980, 103.
(4) Paige Patterson, Song of Solomon (Chicago:  Moody, 1986), 111.
(Photos from Wikipedia)

Rise Up, My Love (250): What is the Vine?

Song of Solomon 7:12 “Let us see if the vine flourish, whether the tender grape appear, and the pomegranates bud forth.” This is the third sequence of excursions (mission trips, if you will!) coupled with expressions of possession. First, the groom invited; second, the bride went out on her own; third, the wife invited.

The number three is often called the “perfect” number and is significant in the Bible as representing fullness or completion, so perhaps this last couplet reveals the blossomed attitudes of mature love. In the springtime of their love, the husband invited (2:10-12), and the bride apparently accompanied him, though somewhat timidly (2:14), her joy coming from the knowledge that she possessed her husband and was possessed by him (2:16). As their love matured, it became even more important to the bride that her husband possessed her than that she possessed him (6:3), and her response was to follow his example in going out to tend his gardens and gather fruit (6:2,11).

Finally, in this last couplet, the bride finds complete satisfaction in being possessed and desired by her husband (7:10), and she invites him to go out with her…almost a complete reversal in role and action from the beginning of the book. From being wooed to wooing, from needing to be coaxed to initiating service; from exalting over her own acquisition…to thrilling over being possessed and desired— what a transformation in the bride’s attitudes!

I wonder, in our relationship with Christ…where are we? Are we asking the Lord to take us out into the fields? Are we totally surrendered to him…so much so that our joy and glory is in being his possession, his willing servant…his treasure? Oh, to find our greatest satisfaction in being fully surrendered to our heavenly husband (and, for those of us who are wives, to our earthly husband as well!).

The next question is: Spiritually, what is the vine? Jesus said, “I am the true vine” (John 15:1). In what way can we see if the vine is flourishing then? Doesn’t Christ always flourish? Just as a man and a woman become “one flesh” when they are joined in marriage, so Christ and his bride—made up of the individual believers in the universal church—are “one flesh” in a great spiritual mystery.

So, how does the vine flourish? The bride elaborates: “whether the tender grape appear.” If the vine is bearing fruit, it is flourishing. How does the vine bear fruit? Jesus taught, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me, ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).

So, again…how does the vine flourish? The vine flourishes “if ye abide in me, and my words abide in you…if ye keep my commandments…that ye love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:7,10,12). Jesus, our heavenly groom, calls us to abide in him, his Word, and his love, and he promises that in so doing we shall “bring forth much fruit.” Are we abiding in him? Are we producing the fruits of obedience and love in our lives?

(The photo was taken in Italy this spring; it’s the only time I’ve ever seen a pomegranate tree budding right next to a grape vine, but I thought to myself, “How perfect!” [to illustrate this verse!])

 

Poetry from Job and Vistas of the Grand Canyon

Job is often thought to be the oldest book in the Bible. Have you ever read it? It’s full of flowery speeches about why men suffer, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson called it “the greatest poem of ancient and modern times.” Job is also listed as one of the twenty-five righteous prophets in the Quran, so his fame extends throughout the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim worlds.  What I love best about Job is that we know from the beginning Job’s suffering was not because he was evil. In fact, he was one of the world’s most upright men! Although it’s true we usually think of people as prospering if they are honest and work hard, from Job we learn that this is not always the case, and that some of the finest and best people suffer despite having sterling character.  In the end, God proclaims that He alone is the all-wise, all-knowing One, and Job’s mouth is stopped. But, during his trial,  Job receives a revelation so beautiful that Handel incorporated some of it into his timeless oratorio, Messiah: “Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a book!  That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever! For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:23-26).  The Bible advises us to live with compassion and respect toward all men. We have no idea what their lives have been like. Great advice, don’t you think?

Anyway, my son Jon brought home about 2,500 photos from his trip white-water rafting on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, and as I was thinking about what he’d learned and the beauty of this unique area, the words of Job 38 came to me. I thought they might be perfect paired with some of God’s creative magnificence and mystery, as recorded by Jon in July:

1Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said,  Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?  Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee,  and answer thou me.  Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?  declare, if thou hast understanding.  Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest?  or who hath stretched the line upon it?  Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened?  or who laid the corner stone thereof;  When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?  Or who shut up the sea with doors,  when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb?  When I made the cloud the garment thereof,  and thick darkness a swaddlingband for it,  10 And brake up for it my decreed place, and set bars and doors,  11 And said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further:  and here shall thy proud waves be stayed?  12 Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days;  and caused the dayspring to know his place;  13 That it might take hold of the ends of the earth,  that the wicked might be shaken out of it?  14 It is turned as clay to the seal; and they stand as a garment.  15 And from the wicked their light is withholden,  and the high arm shall be broken.  16 Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea?  or hast thou walked in the search of the depth?  17 Have the gates of death been opened unto thee?  or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?  18 Hast thou perceived the breadth of the earth? declare if thou knowest it all.  19 Where is the way where light dwelleth?  and as for darkness, where is the place thereof,  20 That thou shouldest take it to the bound thereof, and that thou shouldest know the paths to the house thereof?  21 Knowest thou it, because thou wast then born?  or because the number of thy days is great?  22 Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow?  or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail,  23 Which I have reserved against the time of trouble,
against the day of battle and war?  
24 By what way is the light parted, 
which scattereth the east wind upon the earth? 
25 Who hath divided a watercourse for the overflowing of waters,
or a way for the lightning of thunder; 
26 To cause it to rain on the earth, where no man is; on the wilderness,  wherein there is no man;  27 To satisfy the desolate and waste ground;  and to cause the bud of the tender herb to spring forth?  28 Hath the rain a father? or who hath begotten the drops of dew?  29 Out of whose womb came the ice?  and the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it?  30 The waters are hid as with a stone, and the face of the deep is frozen.  31 Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?  32 Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season?
or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons? 
33 Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven?  canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth?  34 Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds,
that abundance of waters may cover thee? 
35 Canst thou send lightnings, that they may go and say unto thee, Here we are?  36 Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts?
or who hath given understanding to the heart? 
37 Who can number the clouds in wisdom? or who can stay the bottles of heaven,  38 When the dust groweth into hardness, and the clods cleave fast together?  39 Wilt thou hunt the prey for the lion? or fill the appetite of the young lions,  40 When they couch in their dens, and abide in the covert to lie in wait?  41 Who provideth for the raven his food? when his young ones cry unto God,  they wander for lack of meat.” 

This eloquent reminder of human limitation goes on for several more chapters, but chapter 42 records Job’s response: “Then Job answered the Lord, and said, I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee. Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not…I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

That’s where I’m at. I have surrendered to God’s ineffable wisdom
and acknowledge that even though I don’t understand his ways, I trust Him. As Job said, “Thou he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15).

(Photo Credits: Images related to Job from Wiki; all other photos were taken by Dr. Jonathan Armstrong in July, 2017, except the winter, aerial views, which I took last January, 2017.)

 

 

Who Was Ussher, and What Did He Usher In?

Have you ever heard of James Ussher? He was the Archbishop of Armagh for the Church of Ireland and Primate of All Ireland from 1625-1656. He was a brilliant theologian, Chancellor of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, and eventually the Vice-Provost at Trinity College. I’ve visited these places and am very impressed, because I can’t think any higher honors for someone living in that time and place!  However, what really made him famous was his scholarly work in attempting to figure out the age of the earth from studying biblical genealogies in the Masoretic text and cross-referencing them with various events in history such as the deaths of Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. According to his calculations, Adam and Eve were created by God around 4004 BC, King Solomon’s temple was built 3000 years from creation, and Jesus was born 1000 years later. Even the Bible I use today has Ussher’s calculations of time included at the top of each page, so I think his work is still considered the gold standard for most English-speaking students of the Bible who believe in interpreting the scriptures literally.

Many people today think of the Bible as simply a book of legends and myths, but I do not. I believe it is true and is the inspired Word of God. As the Apostle Paul wrote, the scriptures are “able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:  That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (1 Timothy 3:15-17).

Does this mean I believe that all we need to study is the Bible? Not at all! God has given us a vast world to explore and understand. However, I do believe the Bible is our textbook for how to live (and how to gain eternal life), and that it is accurate in what it says. I also resonate with Moses’s teaching in Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.” God has given us tiny windows into the universe—like a father explaining something vastly complex to his children—but what he says is true, albeit put in simple language that we can understand. And, this is enough for us. We can delve into the mysteries of the universe all we want and will never exhaust knowledge, but in the Bible, we have all we need to live lives filled with love, joy, peace, and goodness. It is enough. God is enough. Jesus is enough!

But, what about the age of the world? Is it really 6,021 years old? I’m not sure. I do believe that I’ve descended from Adam and Eve, whether or not I can “prove” it through genealogical research. I also believe in the Genesis account of creation, including “the evening and the morning were the first day” (Genesis 1:5). Sounds like a 24-hour day to me, and therefore I tend to hold with the “early creation” point of view. Tomorrow I want to share more on that subject, but for today, may I just end with the last words of James Ussher? “O Lord forgive me, especially my sins of omission.” Ussher ushered in an age of believing the world was nearing 6 thousand years of age and that the millennial reign of Christ would begin at the beginning of the 7th thousand (roughly AD 2000). Was he right, or did he omit something accidentally that made his calculations off?

When we get to heaven, we’ll know the truth about so many things, but in the meantime, can we humbly hold to our opinions without letting them break our fellowship? There are some things worth arguing, but I don’t personally believe that genealogies or how many days the earth has existed are among them. The only thing we’re exhorted to contend for in the scripture is true faith: “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3). God want us to believe and testify to true faith, and that faith is explained in the Bible.

But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain” (Titus 3:9).

As I besought thee…that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do. Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned” (1 Timothy 1:3-5, emphasis mine).

 

DNA: Do You Know Where You Come From? …A Nation of Kings and Priests…

Have you ever gotten your DNA tested or done genealogical research? Alan and I never seemed to have time or enough interest to pursue such until our kids got interested, so we figured if we had our DNA tested, our seven kids would know without having to pay. As far as either Alan or I knew, we were 100% British Isles, with Alan mostly Scottish and I mostly English. Our DNA tests mostly confirmed that, although we both had a couple of surprises. I am 100% European, and the largest single percent is from the British Isles, although I had a significant amount of Norwegian in me. (Oops, I thought…some Viking must have come ashore and caused trouble.) The other surprise was that I was nearly 50% “Western European,” although on consideration, the circle included lower England, which was in fact the area where I had been told my family originally lived. All well and good. Case closed.

…Until my daughter-in-law came to visit a few weeks ago! Carleen has done a lot of research, and she’d traced our family line back way back! She showed me how to search on line…and I was hooked. Through following genealogical pathways, Carleen pointed out that I wasn’t always English!  Well, I was related to King James (no wonder I’ve always clung to 1611 “Authorized” version of the King James Version of the Bible!),  but further into the past, I discovered that 21 generations ago I was the offspring of John Plantagenet (whose mother was from Belgium) as well as 22 generations ago from Edward III of England. (The plot thickens.)                   I was also related to Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland,             and William the Conqueror (King of England, but from France). Twenty-five generations back I descended from Carlo II, King of Naples, Italy, and Princess Maria from Budapest, Hungary.  I also descended from Ivar, son of Halfdan and Harold the Redbeard from Norway, Olaff II from Denmark, King Dag of Vestmarar, King Eystein from Sweden, King Waldemar from Russia, Robert Capet I, King of the Franks, Duchess Théodrade Svatana Duc de Saxe (born CAROLINGIEN) from Germany,          Roi Vandalar d’Ostrogothie from Romania, and 40 generations ago:                                                                       Charlemagne!
I also have lots of Irish and Welsh blood, and even strains from Spain and Portugal, Austria and Prussia! As Americas often say, I’m one of the “Heinz 57” varieties (origins from everywhere)! (I took notes but failed to take photos of everything, because—fascinating as this is, it’s also pretty time consuming!)

Now, I’m not sure how accurate all the history is, but I did remember studying about the kings and queens of various European countries and how they often had arranged marriages for political reasons. After tracing my lineage, I realized that sooner or later over the millennium, my blood line had been transfused with blood from almost all the Western European nations.

So what? Really, nothing. Genealogy studies are fun, but they’re only about our physical heritage. Did you know that we can have a spiritual lineage as well, which is eternal? God created each of us in his likeness and to be an image-bearer of his character. He invites us to be his children through faith in his Son, Jesus. Speaking of Jesus, John taught us: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 14:11-13). Through faith in Christ, God makes us a part of his universal kingdom, and not simply as servants, but as an entire nation of kings and priests. Talk about a wonderful lineage! That exceeds any heritage of any person on earth, even the Queen of England today!!  🙂

Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” (Revelation 1:4-6, KJV, emphasis mine)

(Besides the photos of my family tree, the first photo is from a book by Captain John Smith published in 1624, and the last is a coin with the imprint of Charlemange, both from Wiki.)