Daily thoughts during this worldwide crisis.
A good argument for learning English grammar and idiom well is the protection that it gives us in the age of technology. I am certainly not above being fooled, but knowing language well helps me to spot frauds in print rather quickly.
There are also examples of language and accent being used to spot enemies. There is this one in Judges 12:5-6, “And the Gileadites took the fords of the Jordan against the Ephraimites. And when any of the fugitives of Ephraim said, "Let me go over," the men of Gilead said to him, "Are you an Ephraimite?" When he said, "No," they said to him, "Then say Shibboleth," and he said, "Sibboleth," for he could not pronounce it right; then they seized him and slew him at the fords of the Jordan. And there fell at that time forty-two thousand of the Ephraimites.”
When the pronunciation of a word is used to determine a person’s fate it is now called a “shibboleth.” One of the more well-known ones occurred on Hispaniola in 1937 in a massacre of Haitians in the Dominican Republic. Soldiers would hold up parsley and ask the target what it was. Native French and Creole speakers could not pronounce it correctly in Spanish and were killed.
A more positive use of this idea is to help us determine whether one’s claim of Christianity is genuine. There are those who choose churches based on social connection. I know a real estate firm in another state who keeps a list of churches for their new agents to attend to find clients. There are those who do not know the grammar and idiom of faith and are prone to be deceived. It can even happen to leaders.
From Isaiah 61 and Luke 4 below we have an example of how to determine if a claim of having the Spirit is genuine.
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good tidings to the afflicted;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion --
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written,
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord."
And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
What is going on here?! This is an oft-asked question? We use it when we walk into a room with two three-year-old children and an open bag of flour. We ask it when we receive a devastating diagnosis from the doctor. We ask it every election cycle.
In the Old Testament we see David (and the other Psalmists) working out this question through their prayer-poems. We see it being explained to whole nations in pain through the prophets. We see our confusion expressed in Ecclesiastes. We learn how we got into this mess in the first place in Genesis.
By the time we get to the New Testament there is a group of people who have learned how to read the Old Testament (they didn’t call it that) in such a way to explain to them what was going on. Turns out it was expected all along. It emphasizes the importance of knowing the story – knowing it well enough that it becomes the main lens through which we see life.
The New Testament is fascinating because there is not one book (hardly a chapter) that does not quote, allude to, or assume knowledge of the Old Testament. It looks back to help us see the future and understand the present.
When the persecution began in Acts, those gathered instinctively turned to the Psalms (as Peter and the writer of Hebrews) to find understanding and courage. Get to know the story.
And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, "Sovereign Lord, who didst make the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who by the mouth of our father David, thy servant, didst say by the Holy Spirit,
`Why did the Gentiles rage,
and the peoples imagine vain things?
The kings of the earth set themselves in array,
and the rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed' --
for truly in this city there were gathered together against thy holy servant Jesus, whom thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever thy hand and thy plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats, and grant to thy servants to speak thy word with all boldness, while you stretch out thy hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus." And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.
It is difficult for me to overstate how much damage I believe “The Power of Positive Thinking” has done to faith. Not to mention the influence (although perverted) that is has had on our current president. This combined with a sentimentalization of “God has a plan (as in a specific plan) for ME” has caused some to be vulnerable to twisting scripture to our own liking. (Ok, we are all vulnerable.)
We read about some form of “chosen” throughout the Bible. I cannot think of one example (there may be an exception, it seems there always is) when being “chosen” meant a “blessed” life the way I hear it often expressed today. Being chosen usually meant a life of conflict, physical and economic danger, and required courage. When God called his prophets, the initial reaction was usually met with resistance. Below is an example from Jeremiah.
When Peter was writing to those who were chosen by God in the New Testament, he was writing a short manual for how to survive as a chosen one in a violent and threatening world. This is not meant to dismiss what God has done through fantastically wealthy and talented people. It is a reminder that we must go back to the source for our definitions.
Now the word of the LORD came to me saying,
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations."
Then I said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth."
But the LORD said to me, "Do not say, `I am only a youth';
for to all to whom I send you you shall go,
and whatever I command you you shall speak.
Be not afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD."
Then the LORD put forth his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, "Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.
See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to break down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant."