“Bleak.”

“But why do we have to leave?”
The air was brisk and crackled with the shuffling of hundreds of feet.
Suitcase handles jostled as they were carried back and forth, from house to the station platform.
The bustle was enormously loud.
And pensive.
“Momma, why do we have to leave?” the little girl reiterated.
The mother sighed, put her blouse on the bed beside the open suitcase and knelt down next to her daughter.
“My dear, we are going away. We don’t know why, but we are told that we are needed somewhere else.” She brushed back the dark brown bangs that dangled in front of Ruth’s eyes. The little girl smiled.
Rachel returned to her standing position and continued packing.
Ruth skipped to the front door of their apartment, clutching her doll as she watched the great procession go forth.
Why do so many people need to leave?

“All aboard! Come on, now, we need to get going! Train leaves in 15 minutes!” shouted a man in official garb.
Worried expressions could not be lifted from the faces that tried to smile. The smoke from the engine of the train billowed into the bleak December sky, hanging there for almost too long.
Reuben tugged at his father’s coat, eyes fixed on the eerie smoke that clung to the clouds.
“Father, why are we leaving?”
Caleb handed his suitcase to the attendant and turned to his son.
“We are called to leave, my son. And in this time for us, we do not have an option. We must leave.”
“But where are we going?”
Caleb shrugged. “They are not saying. I heard from someone else that we’re being ‘resettled.’ Some of may work on farms. Some of us in factories. All I know is that we’re leaving this place.”
Reuben detected uncertainty in his father’s quavering voice.
Something was wrong. Something was very, very wrong.
Caleb, instinctively sensing the internal dialogue, ruffled the boy’s hair. “We will be fine. I have a feeling.”
Reuben was not so sure.

“All aboard! Time to leave!”
The train churned forward, heaving and chugging forward, sputtering out smoke as if coughing.
No one spoke much on the train. Families talked in hushed tones, eyes darting about. Some slept. Others stared out the window.
“Momma?”
“Yes, sweet?”
“Do you think we’re being taken to the same place they took Oma?”
Rachel’s soul stung.
“No, we are not going to where they took Oma, Ruth.”
Ruth grew quiet. “But what if we are?”
Moments passed. Neither said anything in response.
“We’re not going there, dear. Now, get some rest.”

The train stopped in a small town later that day.
The passengers filtered out and walked around the station for a couple of hours.
The sky was even bleaker here.
It was if one cloud stretched over the entire sky. Reuben looked hard to find any detail of any clouds at all.
He used to love to watch the clouds.
Used to.
His wandering eye caught something down the platform from him.
“That looks like the conductor,” he thought aloud.
He told his father he was going to go walk down the platform to stretch his legs. “Don’t stay down there too long, son. We’ll be leaving soon.”
Reuben weaved his way through the crowd of people, mostly from his neighborhood. Why did so many people have to leave at once? he thought. After what seemed like hours, he finally drew close to the conductor. He was standing alone, facing away from the people.
Reuben carefully approached the man and tapped his arm.
The man spun around, surprising Reuben.
“Oh – you startled me, lad.”
“I’m sorry, sir. Are you the conductor?”
“I am.”
“May I ask a question?”
“Proceed.”
“Where are we going?”
The man’s eyes stared deeply into Reuben’s dark brown eyes.
Then they fell to the ground. Turning away from the boy, he said, “Somewhere to the east of here.”
“Oh,” replied Reuben. “Do you know why were forced to leave?”
“Yes.”
“Oh, then, you know what we’ll be doing once we get there!” exclaimed Reuben.
The man stiffened. “Yes, you’ll be farmers. Farming the land for the good of all the people.”
Reuben smiled. “Thank you, sir.”
The man continued to face away from Reuben, away from the people.
“Go on back to your father, lad. Best not to be alone.”

The days passed and the train neared its destination.
Daylight was always bleak, it seemed.
Rachel couldn’t remember the last time she saw blue sky.
She wondered if the sky had forgotten how to be blue.
Or perhaps the sun had forgotten how to shine.
“Just like everyone else,” she muttered.
The train’s whistle blew.
People in the cars straightened up, straining to see what destination they approached.
Caleb looked out the window and saw their destination.
His face drained of color.
Those gates.
Those factories.
Those walls.
“We’re not going to be farmers…”
German troops could be seen waiting at the station.
Dread began sweeping over the train.
Rachel heard the commotion and looked to see what was happening.
Dear God, no! she silently cried.
“Momma, what’s wrong?” Ruth whimpered.
Rachel grabbed her child and held her close, humming a lullaby while rocking back and forth.

“Engineer, stop this train!” barked the S.S. Officer.
The man remained silent.
“If you do not stop now, I will be forced to execute you for treason!”
The engineer only stared ahead.
“Sir! Stop this train now! These animals need to be purged!”
Without warning, the engineer reached down, grabbed his pistol and shot the man between the eyes.
He rose from his seat, pushed the body to the side, and locked the cabin door.
He returned to his seat and increased the speed of the train.
Shouting could be heard warbling past the train as German troops shouted profanities at the Jews onboard.
A series of peculiar knocks came from the door.
The engineer opened it. In stepped another man, dressed like the conductor.
“Ewan, did you take care of the other SS men?”
“I did, Jacob.”
“Good. I heard from my contacts. We’ll be in St. Petersburg in a few days.”
Ewan glanced out the window.
“Do you think we’ll make it?”
Jacob shrugged. “Even if we don’t, it’s better than letting all these people die at the hands of those demons.”

Rachel was in shock.
Caleb cried.
Ruth clung to her mother.
Reuben smiled.
“We must be going to Russia, then,” stammered Caleb.
“Momma, where are we going?” Ruth inquired.
“I don’t know. But I know that God must have sent an angel to be our conductor.”
“Really?”
“Yes, really.” Rachel kissed her daughter’s head.

The train barreled into the night sky, chugging through the snowy wilderness.
The next morning, a blue sky was ready to greet the passengers.
The sun had not forgotten.

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Unfair.

“What do you mean, ‘this is it’?”
Rain smashed against their faces as they stood in the middle of an intersection.
The illuminated bank sign behind them read 2:32AM.
“This is it. I’m done. I can’t do this anymore,” he said.
“But – but that’s not fair. You never gave me a chance.”
He tilted his head and suppressed the bit of rage that tried to escape his throat.

“‘Not fair’? How is it unfair? I tried for months – years, even – and you have still refused. You still chased after what you wanted to while you forgot about me.”
She moved to touch his arm, but he vehemently jerked away and walked toward the glowing screen that now read 2:34AM.
“What was so difficult about me?” he pressed.
She looked away, biting her lip – trying to ignore his question.
“It wasn’t like I asked you for the world. I just wanted to be your friend. And we were friends! Were. We were friends. But you made the decision.”

She stormed over to him and shoved him.
“Stop it! You’re being completely unfair! You don’t even know my side of the story. It’s not like I was the center of your universe. Nothing you have said is a basis for indicting me! Look – my life became busy and, well, our interests shifted.”
He shot her a look. “You mean my ‘interest’ in Christianity and your commitment to Atheism.” Once again, her eyes fell to the ground.
“Admit it – that’s what it was. We finally grew up and you realized that I was the fox and you were the hound. What about our conversations? What about the fact that we had one of the best friendships I’ve ever had? Just because we believe different things doesn’t mean we have to stop being friends.”
“That’s not it…”
“THEN WHAT IS IT? This is ridiculous. We’re close friends for years and now you treat me like some Facebook stalker. I know time and space separate us but I’ve kept in contact with other people whom I consider less close. I mean, they kept in contact with me.”

He stared at her face.
She stared at the ground.
He let his eyes also fall to the ground.

“That’s it, then. Silence. That’s my answer. All that. All of that for silence.”

The sign read 2:42AM, and the only sounds that could be heard were the rain, the wind and two sets of footsteps moving in opposite directions.

How can the Unmoved Mover be moved by something?

Israel certainly conceived of God as a stable force. God, the one who was before all things, created “the heavens and the earth.” God is the very being by whom all things have their being by his word (based on the prayer). However, there isn’t any indication that Israelites were children of the Enlightenment. The concept of immutability/unchangeableness would probably have been much different to an Israelite man or woman than for someone today in modern America. For example, in the West, upon meeting someone, one of the very first questions is: “So, what do you do?” or “Where do you work?” In the East, the first question is: “Who is your father?” or “What family do you come from?” Between our two cultural brains, we have entirely different means of discerning status. Though they’re not checking to see if God has always been a factory worker, Israel has always seen God as the God of the forefathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God has – and always will – be the God of his people. He’s a covenantal God. It’s part of God’s immutability, to be sure. God will never “change” in this way.

Throughout Genesis 1-11, it’s quite clear that God is a God who responds. God certainly is with the divine council, deliberating over each action he does (“Let us make man…”, “Let us go down…”). Deliberation includes consideration, and consideration includes weighing actions and suggestions. While we in the West are hesitant to acknowledge God’s divine council, I believe that the Israelites would have seen God as one who considers prayers, sacrifices, and other factors before ordering and acting.

Doing a quick search of the (English) Bible, the word “immutable” does not exist in the English version of the Bible (nor does “immutability”). The word “change,” however, does occur in Scripture (in English). The very first instance we have “God” and “change” in the same sentence is in Exodus 32.12 when Moses is giving his plea to not destroy the newly minted people of God. Then two verses later we find the following: “And the LORD changed his mind…” I understand that this can mean more than just “change.” The word is נָחַם (“nacham”) which can mean: “to be sorry, console oneself, repent, regret, comfort, be comforted.” It’s a niphal, and specifically here, God is repenting (“feeling sorrow”) of the action he was about to do. Now, the idea of God “repenting” clashes with our notion of repentance, so most feel more comfortable with the idea of “changing” (which is not outside the range of meaning). But even so, God had said he was going to do something, and if it was part of God’s plan to destroy his people – did he change the plan? Is there a plan at all? It would seem that God does have a plan and method for bringing his people to salvation, but that doesn’t mean that God cannot change. I think it’s telling that the first instance of “change” regarding God is not about God’s unchangeableness but rather the dynamic and “changeable” nature of a God who hears the pleas, a God who hears the cries of Moses (and of his people in Egypt), considers it and “repents” or “changes.” Now, this raises many issues about the nature of God and the true character of God, but it’s something that Israel was comfortable with and it’s something that we have to deal with. It’s in our Bible – we have to figure out what we know (and don’t know) about God’s changeableness. In direct contrast, we have Numbers 23.19 – “God is not a human being, that he should lie, or a mortal, that he should change his mind. Has he promised, and will he not do it? Has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” The word for “change” here is also נָחַם . Here, God is being contrasted with a human (“mortal”), and we have to decide one of two things: Either Num. 23 trumps Ex. 32 and God does not change his mind; or God does not change his mind like people change their mind. Though the latter is no less confusing, it does present a different approach to the contradictory explanation of the former. 1 Samuel 15.29 weighs in with Numbers: “Moreover the Glory of Israel will not recant or change his mind; for he is not a mortal, that he should change his mind.” Same verb again and a similar construction relating to a “mortal.” In Jeremiah and Jonah, we have the repeated theme of God “intending” to bring destruction to places, but with the caveat that God may change God’s mind about the disaster should they repent.

It may be helpful to consider what “repentance” and “change” meant to the rabbis.

“Rabbinic Jewish literature contains extensive discussions on the subject of repentance. Many rabbinic sources state that repentance is of paramount importance to the existence of this world, so that it was one of the seven provisions which God made before the Creation (Talmud Bavli, tractates Pesahim 54a; Nedarim 39b; Midrash Genesis Rabbah 1). “The Holy One, blessed be His name, said to Elijah, ‘Behold, the precious gift which I have bestowed on my world: though a man sins again and again, but returns in penitence, I will receive him'” (Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin 28b). “Great is repentance: it brings healing into the world”; “it reaches to the throne of God” (Hosea 14:2, 5); “it brings redemption” (Isiah 59:20); “it prolongs man’s life” (Ezekiel 18:21; Talmud Yoma 86a). “Repentance and works of charity are man’s intercessors before God’s throne” (Talmud Shabbath 32a). Sincere repentance is equivalent to the rebuilding of the Temple, the restoration of the altar, and the offering of all the sacrifices.[8]”

Could it be that God’s “sorrow” (contrasted with שוב “shuv” [‘return, repent’]) brings about life/healing/restoration? The law of God has boundaries, but God is a God of grace. The person of Jesus Christ came to fulfill the law so that we can meet the requirements of the law. The law does not change and the law does not move. In the same way, God’s character and God’s holiness do not change. In fact, by changing God’s mind, could it be that God is more true to his character of grace and love than if he had brought all the disaster that he had “intended to bring” on his people? Critics of the OT claim that the God here is only a God of wrath. Exodus, Jeremiah, and Jonah all speak against this, saying that God does not just bring wrath, but is capable of compassion in the face of sin that could be punished (and, under law, should be punished).

By no means is this a complete work.
It’s part of what I’m studying in a class here, and for the most part, I’ve found this work to be wonderful.
To challenge tradition is never easy, but as I begin to study Scripture more and more, I’m becoming more skeptical about how Greek philosophy has influenced how we read Scripture.
The Christian God was quite synonymous with the “Unmovable Mover” (or the “First Mover”) in Aristotelian thought, so it wasn’t a stretch for early Christians (who found great value in the Greek philosophers) to embrace God as “immutable” and the “unmoved mover.” The problem with this designation of God’s character is that it hinders his capacity to love.
If God does not change ever, then his plan is set and he will not turn from it.
The Hebrew word נָחַם is all about “feeling sorrow” and “repenting” and “regretting.” We cannot fully reconcile both Greek and Hebrew conceptualizations of God because, in some ways, they are incompatible.
I am not suggesting that God’s character changes.
I am suggesting that we read Scripture more closely to what Scripture says, and acknowledge that our God can have a plan of salvation and a code of law and holiness. He can demand justice and yet still exercise grace, compassion and love because the God of Israel is a God who hears the cries of the oppressed and is faithful to his people of all generations.

Looking for Death in all the Wrong Places

Fact: Smoking can kill you.
Fact: Cancer can kill you.

Fact: Apathy will kill you.

Of all the things that have the potential to end our lives, none are so vicious as the disease of apathy.
No other force has allowed as much evil to persist.
No other curse has prevented so much good.
No other weapon can strike with as much power.

Apathy is deadly.
There is no question on whether or not it will kill you; the only question is how long it takes to do so.

Scripture is littered with references.
The voice of Christ speaking to the Church in Laodicea, saying that he wished they were either hot or cold, but since they are neither [lukewarm], he was about to spit them out of his mouth.

Jesus taught that it’s not what goes into a person that defiles them, but what comes out of them.

Not to mention the many kings of Israel and Judah who allowed foreign gods and altars to run their lands.
Who encouraged turning away from the LORD.

On Monday, Dr. Tom Boogaart said something that startled me.

“If the words are supposed to be in our heart, and the Spirit works within our heart – what if the Spirit gets to our heart and doesn’t have anything to work with?”

Another professor, Travis West, has adopted a new term for “memorization”: learn by heart.

For some reason, Dr. Boogaart’s question terrified me in a way that an angry German Shepherd would terrify a 2-year-old. His words frightened me because they exposed a deep cavity within myself.
I have portions of Scripture memorized, err, “learned by heart” – but there are so many more that I could have.
That I should have.
I lack the life I could have. And in place of that life is only death.

I have to ask myself (and by proxy, all of you) these questions: What do I put into myself?
Does it bring life to others? Or death?
Will it bring me life?

And perhaps the scariest question of all: if it brings me life, is this a kind of life that will endure?

The answer is “No.” A resounding, deafening, cruel, empty and raspy “No.”
My life is not filled with life.
I seek objects of death. I seek to fill things that make me feel good, make my life easier, and to take my gaze away from the problems of the world.
My heart is a battlefield, and I’m losing ground.

The Spirit is our advocate – the run who runs with us.
His job is to remind us of the things we’ve read.
The things we’ve learned. The things we need for life.
Remind. He’s here to remind us (among a myriad of other things).
What can the Spirit remind us of if we willingly refuse to put things in our hearts?
Any person can memorize. Anyone can remember something.

How many movies can we quote?
How many songs can we sing without even thinking?
How many “quotable sayings” have we locked into our brains and hearts?
Yet we hardly know anything from Scripture.
We fumble through Google to find the keyword of a passage that we think might pertain to what we’re trying to say.

Our problem is apathy. Our problem is a lack of effort.
We don’t want to try because “it’s hard.”
Because it’s not practical.
Because it’s inconvenient.

We are living a half-life, and we’re responsible.

But it doesn’t have to end this way.
Death never has the last word.
This isn’t over.
We are not enslaved if we give our allegiance to another.
The shackles of apathy do not bind us if we’re covered in the blood of another.
Jesus came to give us life, and if you chase after him, you will find it.

I have found the cure to this sickness, and I’m reading Scripture with a new hunger again.
I will not let this curse destroy me.

Don’t let it destroy you, either.

Discussion: Abortion and Suicide

(For all my normal readers: This is a discussion for the youth group that I work with. You may still read it, of course, along with any comments that come, but for the sake of the discussion, I ask that you not comment. That way, the students will be able to comment freely. Thanks.)

———————————————————————————————–

As we always start out, what have you heard about abortion? What does most of the world say?
What kinds of things have you heard from your family? From friends?

In the same way – what have you heard about suicide?
What kind of “feeling” is associated with suicide?
And how is suicide treated in churches today?

———————————————————————————————-

The world contains opinions almost as varied as the stars.
With the topics of “Abortion” and “Suicide,” it’s no different.

From the people I’ve talked to, these are some of things I’ve heard about abortion:

“Abortion is simply a choice. We make them everyday. There’s nothing at stake; it’s not a baby until birth.”

“It’s tricky. When does life begin? Does it begin the absolute moment of conception? Or does it truly start living 3-4 weeks later? I’m sure scientists know, but I don’t. I think life should be preserved and treasured, but it’s a tough subject.”

“I can see saying it’s ‘murder.’ It’s living from beginning to end. The only question/problem I have is the topic of rape. Are you going to tell a woman who’s been raped that she can’t have an abortion? Maybe you can, but I don’t know if I can.”

Those are just a sample, as always, but they get at the idea. There’s a wide range out there of opinion.
Let’s see what Scripture has to say on this topic.

Flip your Bible open to Psalm 139:13-15 (or you can use a website like Bible Gateway). Think about this passage for a moment. Now read Psalm 22:10-11 and Galatians 1:15.
God actually communicates with babies inside women! That’s nuts. The God of the universe, the same God who created Venus and Mars, elephants and mountains, also “knits together” every child that’s ever been born. Our bodies are wonderful things – especially the reproductive power of the female body.

(For a fuller list of the sanctity of life, check this site.)
Rissa’s going to take over here for a brief moment and write a bit on her take on abortion. Should be excellent. 🙂

I have always been a strong “pro-life” advocate, but I will tell you – since becoming pregnant and learning and discovering things about the incredible process of life formed in the womb that I had never known before, that passion is even stronger. Let me share a few of these discoveries with you 🙂 According to our country’s current laws regarding legal abortions, a woman may have an abortion anytime between conception and the end of the 1st trimester (12-13 weeks) – no questions asked, whatsoever. After that, women may get an abortion in the 2nd trimester if there are complications that would endanger her health. Now, many of these laws work around the tough question of “when does life begin?” by calling it an embryo the 1st and 2nd month, a fetus the 3rd month and 4th month and maybe a baby by the 5th month or much later. Here are some things that I learned about “when life begins” while “watching” my baby grow about that first trimester in which so many abortions take place.

  • By week 5, (which is technically only 2 weeks after conception – ask me later 😉 the heart is formed and is already beating.
  • By week 8, the baby with a gradually forming face, limbs and internal organs is already making movements
  • By week 9 and 10, muscles and bones and cartilage are forming – there are even baby teeth forming and the elbows are working! The stomach and kidneys are already doing their duty.
  • By week 11, the baby has hair, nails, and distinctly formed hands, feet and ears.
  • By week 12, most of the body’s systems are FULLY formed – they just need to grow and shift a little. 🙂

Do you remember that ultrasound picture that we showed you a few months ago? That was our baby at 11 weeks. 2 inches long but with a fully formed body with all functioning systems, movement, and heart beat. Now, I knew even at this early point in pregnancy that the baby was alive, but I was shocked and completely in awe of how alive the baby was at only 11 weeks – bouncing up and down, swinging arms and legs, stretching out and curling back up. It was the most incredible moment of my life to watch the life of my child – all 2 inches of him/her. 🙂

Life is precious. And life is precious to God. The witness of the Bible shows that our God loves all of life – whether in the womb – or out of the womb.

Stick with me, we’re halfway done. (I can almost hear the groaning.)

Suicide
This is a tough subject. This life is hard, and there are many people without anyone to comfort them.
No one to turn to, no help – no savior. This, my friends, is hopelessness. And I pray none of you ever experience the depth of despair you can fall into when you lose all hope.

But when you lose hope, you do some pretty desperate things. Most people who “attempt” suicide merely do just that – attempt something serious to get attention. However, any loss of life is tragic.

Go back over some of those verses above. Does God care about you? Without a shred of doubt.
Why else would he send his ONLY son to die for every single person who ever lived? Jesus never even met you physically yet he died for you on the cross. That’s the kind of God we serve.

God loves everyone, including those who want to take their own lives. Job 1:21 says that God gives…and God takes away.
He’s Creator.
He’s the High God.
He’s the One with a plan. And He’s in control. That means God’s in control of everything. From the spark of life and spirit in the womb to the last breath of life. Suicide is a grasp at that control, thinking that life isn’t worth living.

ALL life is holy. God is the author of life. Without Him, we wouldn’t be.
That’s why our lives as Christians are so important. We are called to be the witnesses of Christ to a world that’s selfish.
That wants control.
That kills. That steals. That thinks of only itself.
God loves, so much, that it killed His only son. If there’s nothing else you get from this discussion – please get that. 🙂

Thanks for hanging in there for this post, everyone. Don’t feel like you have to comment, but if you’d like to – Rissa and I will be glad to read them and respond if you have any questions.

I pray you all stay safe in the snow, and that you all sleep well tonight.
-Zac and Rissa

Twin Disasters rock Java and Sumatra

As you all know, the “Ring of Fire” is one of the most explosive regions in the world. Late yesterday afternoon Stateside (approximately 9-10PM in the Pacific), a volcano and tsunami rocked the islands of Java and Sumatra, killing 100+ people. The twin disasters were particularly devastating due to their proximity (both in time and location).

Please say a prayer and keep the families in your thoughts today. Because it’s not a “media darling,” tragedies like this go unnoticed because they’re hard to rally around (which is unfortunate).

Here’s a link to an article containing all the specifics: Twin Disasters in the Pacific.

Advance warning is still in its infancy in that region of the world, meaning more and more disasters will continue to decimate islands like Java and Sumatra. Along with subpar housing in villages, people are defenseless against the power of nature throughout Indonesia.