After the last couple more technical posts I thought it was about time to try something lighter. I strongly dislike the taste of onions. In general, I have the culinary aptitude of a coyote. I will eat just about anything. But I really dislike onions. The dislike is strong enough in me that almost everyone who knows me at all knows this about me. I don’t like onion rings. I don’t like onion dip. I don’t like onion soup. I have never ordered a blooming onion at any steak house. When I eat at someone’s home and they serve up an onion laden dish, I quietly eat as small a portion as I can politely get by with and smile – though I’d rather be eating a bowl of dirt. I remember how it started. I can tell you I was no more than four years old and at my maternal grandmother’s house on a Sunday afternoon. The table was heavy laden with food of all sorts – always the case at Grandma’s – including a big veggie tray fresh from the garden. It included a stack of spring onions with trimmed greens still attached. It was those greens that got me. They were so bright and attractive they just had to be good! My little fingers closed around one and brought it straight to my mouth. Several coughing and gagging minutes later I knew the truth – I don’t like onions. Several times in my life I have tested the theory that my original experience was only a mismatched expectation thing – you know – you sip a glass of iced tea thinking it’s a glass of cola (usually because someone put iced tea in a two liter pop bottle) – it tastes terrible – for cola. Then you discover it’s iced tea. It tastes fine for iced tea. Maybe I was just expecting the onion to taste like – I don’t know – something else – and was offput by surprise. Or maybe I was a super-taster and age would wear down my tastebuds until I could tolerate onions better. After all, there are other foods I thought I didn’t like when I was a kid that I love now. My first experience with hot peppers (about age 15) was unpleasant. I love them now. Ditto horseradish. So I have tried – and tried. I recall a kabob with various veggies – and fruits and mushrooms - between little cubes of meat. There was a morsel of red onion. It looked so savory and appealing. A moment later I needed a piece of sandpaper for my tongue. And there’s the surprises when you aren’t consciously experimenting. I always speak very slowly and clearly to the waitress, the person at the counter or the drive through speaker – No Onions. Apparently, when I say ‘No’, some people hear ‘Only’ or ‘Extra’. On an open face dish at least you can send it back right away. On a sandwich – well, a slice of bread covers a multitude of sins and the next thing you know I need a piece of sandpaper. Not only is the taste of onion unpleasant at first blush – it STICKS WITH YOU! On one of our late-night Christmas Eve trips from N.E Ohio to my folks place in Central Indiana, I got surprised in just that way. BTW – drive through is worse because you are back on the interstate before you discover the sabotage! But I took a big bite and right away knew I was had. I tried to muscle through but ended by emptying my mouth into a napkin and tossing the sandwich back into the bag for later disposal. But I just kept tasting and smelling the onion. Neither the French fries nor the soft drink brought any cessation of the terrible essence of onion! A couple hundred smelly miles later, across the Indiana State line, making a bathroom stop, the mirror in the gas station restroom revealed that my exercise with the napkin had left a large sliver of onion plastered right across the bulb of my nose. I removed the offensive matter promptly and upon rejoining my family in the car said – You all knew and just weren’t going to tell me, right?! To this day they all insist they never noticed. What can you expect from a bunch of onion eaters?! I know – it’s difficult to imagine other people enjoying a taste you find disagreeable and the majority of the world enjoys the taste of onion. Well, you can all have my share!
In my last installment I considered the ways in which I think the book of Daniel confounds the idea that Biblical ‘prophecy’ describes what were already accomplished events with no actual insight into the future. For me, dating considerations for Daniel confirm the fact of futurist prophecy. I want to look next at the book of Zechariah as a means of understanding something about the nature of futurist prophecy.
In Matthew 27:9-10 the matter of Judas returning the 30 pieces of silver for which he betrayed Jesus and the priest’s use of the funds – purchasing the potters field as a burial ground for the poor, indigent, and misplaced because ‘blood money’ cannot be put into the temple treasury – is regarded as a fulfillment of prophecy. Thus regarded, Zechariah made the prophecy about 520 BC and it was fulfilled about 550 years later. The Apostle Matthew definitely had a futurist understanding of prophecy.
One cautionary/explanatory note. Matthew cites the prophet Jeremiah when he is clearly quoting the prophet Zechariah. Many find this extremely problematic. For myself, even if I thought Matthew mis-credited the passage, it would not destroy the authority of Scripture. But – for what it’s worth – almost no one in the First Century had copies of any portion of Scripture – absolutely no one had what you and I would call a complete Old Testament. Many Jews regarded all the prophets, Isaiah through Malachi, as one source and referred to it as the book of Jeremiah. This would not suit us but it suited them. At any rate – the passage in question is Zechariah 11:12-13.
The point I’d like to make is that the least of the matter is the amount of money mentioned in both passages or the use of the word ‘potter’ in both passages. If that were the extent of the similarities – it could be regarded as simply coincidental and, certainly, if we limit ourselves to the two verses Matthew cited, in verses 12-13 – Zechariah does not say anything that could be read as having the Messiah directly in mind. But – when you read the whole 11th chapter of Zechariah and understand the situation the prophet was dealing with and then add another element to come a bit later in the chapter, the whole thing seems SUPER prophetic. The more so if you place chapter 11 in the larger context of Zechariah’s ministry. For instance, take a moment to read Zechariah 3:8-10 to understand that people and events in the ministry of Zechariah – while involved in problems of their own, current to their time – also represented more important figures to come at a time when God would deal with iniquity in a final way.
So, let me describe a scenario – a time at which God’s people were under the care of bad shepherds who sell out the flock for money, power, - the usual kinds of things people sell out for. The context helps us understand these bad shepherds to be the elders, scribes, and priests – the very ones who should be good shepherds for Israel – but aren’t. Into this sad situation, God sends a prophet. The prophetic message of God’s servant lays bare the bad shepherding of the elders, scribes, and priests and shows the prophet willing to exercise better shepherding. But the people reject the servant/prophet’s message, plea and offer. The prophet then says – ‘Well, pay me what you think my ministry is worth.’ Said pay amounts to 30 pieces of silver (a month’s wage for a working man). But rather than lining the prophet’s (or anyone else’s) pockets, the money is tossed to the potter. A warning is given to the flock – now doubly doomed to slaughter – that God will raise up a REALLY bad shepherd for them. That shepherd turns out to be Rome. The REALLY bad shepherd arrives on cue.
OK – you tell me – did I just describe the ministry of Zechariah or of Jesus? In fact, the same description fits both perfectly. Rome gobbled up Israel while it was gobbling up the rest of that part of the world and the prophecy of Zechariah was vindicated.
But wait! There’s more. Rome came and afflicted Jerusalem after the rejection of Zechariah. But Rome came and made an extra affliction of Jerusalem after the rejection of Jesus – AD 70.
And still there’s more! Chapter 11 is not the end of the prophecy of Zechariah. Skipping over chapter 12 for a moment, but continuing to describe the events flowing out of the prophecy, we come to this in 13:1 – In that day a fountain will be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for impurity.
And there’s – you guessed it - MORE! In considering the bad shepherding done by the elders, scribes, and priests (read also Pharisees, scribes and Sadducees), the rejection of the REALLY GOOD SHEPHERD and the ministrations of the REALLY BAD SHEPHERD consequently raised up by God, after all the boiling, burning, smiting and bewilderment, we find this in 12:10, I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on ME whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for HIM (note the opposition of personal pronouns!) as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.
You see, it isn’t just that Zechariah mentioned 30 pieces of silver and a potter. For the real prophetic word of the prophet Zechariah to be fulfilled requires so much more than a questionable real estate deal conducted by priests with money returned by a remorseful Judas.
For what it’s worth – the prophecy of Zechariah DID have to do with people and events of the time. Zechariah had a ministry and he meant to conduct it and there were consequences for the people to whom the prophet was sent should they reject his ministry. Yes, it was about rebuilding the temple and yes, it was about the faults of those who should have been the shepherds of Israel at the time. But it was about the future doings of many nations as well as the present failings of one nation – Israel. And those present failings of Israel in 520 BC were only a smoky mirror image of their future failings in AD 30. Zechariah himself was a hazy image of Christ – as was the high priest, Joshua, in chapter 3, the bad shepherds of the people learned nothing in half a millennium and Rome served God’s disciplinary purposes both times.
And still, there was a bigger game afoot: redemption, a fountain for the cleansing of sins and the ultimate vindication of the REALLY GOOD SHEPHERD. This is what I mean when I say the Bible is a uniquely layered book and that prophecy is more than we realize. Or, we could settle for what could be argued to be a simple coincidental mention of a certain amount of money and a potter. But that would be a shame.
Does the Bible actually forecast the future? The answers are surprisingly varied among Christians. ‘Preterists’ say ‘no’ – that Biblical ‘prophecies’ refer to events that had already happened or were in the process of happening at the time the prophecy was made. There are varying levels of preterism – partial and full being the best catch all descriptions. The opposite of preterism is ‘futurism’ – that Biblical prophecies refer to events still in the future at the time the prophecy was made. A full preterist rendering of the book of revelation (and other New Testament apocalyptic material) will insist that it all relates to AD 70 and the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome. A futurist reading will insist that most of what is described in New Testament apocalyptic passages still waits to be fulfilled. If you recall a previous blog of mine, you know that I think both things are true in a sense. Historicism (of which there are also varying degrees) sees the same material as a description of ongoing historical processes – the beast is a description of the Satan inspired actions of earthly governments – active at the time – still active now and ramping up for one last rampage to come.
The fact is – the Bible is a uniquely layered book. Certainly, the prophets were dealing with the unjust behavior of kings, nations, and the citizens of Israel AT THE TIME. And yet – they, at least on the face of it, forecasted the Babylonian Captivity to come as a result of present behaviors persisting into the future. Even Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus were mentioned by name – presumably before either man was born. Presumably? Enter another area of Biblical scholarship – Historical/Textual Criticism. Each book of the Bible as we have it is a compilation of multiple authors strung out over time and in addition to the major authors, there are no end to scribal additions, addendums, and editorial notes that, either purposely or accidentally in the process of generations of copying by hand, became part of the text. In this view, the book of Genesis has at least four major authors spread out over the centuries and the book of Isaiah at least three. If this view is true, then obviously material concerning the Babylonian Captivity, including the names of the major pagan kings, are to be viewed as later additions to the older prophetic works.
Just to make my own position clear, HOGWASH! If this makes me a simpleton, so be it. But let us consider something about the aforementioned ‘beast’ – a feature of both Old and New Testament Apocalyptic. In the Old Testament, the main source of material concerning ‘the beast’ is found in the visions of Daniel. (Don’t even ask me how many authors Daniel is supposed to have had!) The first time the idea crops up, the ‘beast’ terminology is not used. In chapter two, Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a gigantic statue as representing a series of four earthly kingdoms and some climactic event (a stone cut from the mountain but not by human hands rolling into and smashing the whole statue in the days of the fourth kingdom) It is nearly impossible NOT to understand the four kingdoms as Babylon, the Medo/Persians, the Greeks (Alexander the Great) and Rome – the big thing that God is going to do with the stone not cut by human hands then, happening in the days of Rome’s rule. The material is revisited and expanded upon in Daniel’s own vision of the beasts and the interpretation of that vision in chapters seven and eight. To this must be added Daniel’s extremely precise and accurate recitation of (presumably) future events in chapter eleven. If the Historical Critical view is to be held concerning Daniel then the bulk of this information must have been added much later than the ministry of Daniel. After all, we can hardly expect a man 500+ years BC to know the succession of kingdoms and events that will lead to the advent of Christ. That would be – humanly impossible. Exactly!
So, here’s the thing, Copies of Daniel (from small fragments to nearly whole manuscripts) were found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The physical inscription of these copies date from as recent as 60 AD to as early as 125 B.C. Analysis of the vocabulary and grammar of the older copies indicates a scribe in 125 BC reproducing much older copies – probably with Hebrew originals – indicating MUCH older copies. If this is not clear – whoever copied the book of Daniel in 125 BC used letter forms, spellings, etc. not from his own time – evidence of copying something that came from an earlier era. And the specifics of that earlier Aramaic version of Daniel suggest that it was translated from an even earlier Hebrew version. But even if we only back up to 125 BC – the date of the copying of the oldest DSS Manuscript of Daniel – we are half a century before Rome Seizes the quarreling fragments of Alexander’s Empire AND – over the nearly 200 years of hand copying we have, despite the superficial differences in the structure of the letters and the spelling of words – no material is added. It’s all there as far back as we can go – at least 125 BC with solid evidence of much earlier iterations. If the Hebrew original is correctly inferred, we are essentially back to the time of Daniel himself.
So, I ask again – does the Bible actually forecast the future? Unless everyone screams ‘NO!’ I will write a second installment on prophecy soon.
I like covered bridges. Why? They are picturesque. They evoke memories from my childhood – when there were more of them. Almost all the covered bridges we used to cross Morgan County, Indiana creeks on are gone. Counties like Park County, Indiana and Ashtabula County, Ohio that maintain several covered bridges have made a tourist industry of them. I suppose, otherwise, the anachronistic structures would be too expensive and limited to keep. Limited – because the old ones are narrow one car at a time structures and the one car needs to go fairly slow while crossing too! Expensive because the old covered bridges are primarily wooden structures and thus require constant maintenance. Which – on the one hand, is funny because the point of the covered bridges in the first place was reducing maintenance! Unless the deck of a bridge is arched and domed, water will pool on it when it rains and it will decay. A less expensive proposition than arching and doming was to put an A frame roof over the bridge deck. The roof would shed the water. Since we hadn’t (and still haven’t) figured out how to get that roof to float in space (Still rooting for anti-gravity, in which case we won’t need bridges at all!) the roof required walls, the whole supported by the deck, i.e. ‘covered bridge’. The walls could be constructed with arches and connecting rods or wooden lattices that would increase the strength of the deck even as the roof protected it from the elements. The bridge deck lasted much longer and the maintenance on the roof was considerably easier and cheaper than the maintenance on the unprotected deck would have been. Win/win!
Then bridges began to be constructed of steel, concrete and asphalt. Not only are these materials more resistant to water damage, they made it comparatively easy to build arch and dome into the deck so it sheds water all on its own. No roof means no need for walls – at most a couple of concrete or steel guard rails to prevent any unfortunate from driving off the side on a dark icy night. As the new materials made stronger bridges, bridges could also be wider for two-way traffic and able to bear higher speed traffic. Better bridges and no need to maintain all that wood!
Which is why I was leery as my wife and I recently began the tour of Ashtabula County’s covered bridges. The first three we saw were frauds. One, billed as the shortest covered bridge in Ohio, is a foot bridge over a ditch I could still, at 63, jump across. Another, billed as the longest covered bridge in Ohio, is built on a state highway and is actually a thoroughly modern bridge to which a totally un-necessary, entirely decorative ‘cover’ structure has been added. A third, somewhere between the longest and shortest, is the same – a modern bridge with covered bridge themed décor. Fortunately, after that, the remaining dozen plus covered bridges were actual one lane, low speed, wood deck, integrated strength increasing wall architecture, honest to goodness covered bridges. We thoroughly enjoyed the tour despite my initial misgivings.
Perhaps I am a purist. But if I take the lid off a butter churn I don’t want to find a hidden mini-fridge full of plastic tubs of Blue Bonnet or Land O Lakes! I get why we have moved on from butter churns, covered bridges and other items featured in my childhood. You don’t need to humor me with pretenses! Well, maybe in just one instance. When one favorite bridge from my youth disappeared they knocked down the embankments that raised the bridge above flood levels and set a culvert in the resultant sump. A culvert! That’s not trading poetry for prose – it’s trading poetry for animal sounds! Now that I’ve got that out of my system –
Materials, construction techniques and efficiency aside – the purpose of the bridges remains the same – to give you a way across the gap and over the flood – to get you and yours safely where they could not go otherwise.
Much has changed for the modern church. Some of it I completely understand. Modern technology makes it possible to reach more people more easily and efficiently. Never mind the internet! I miss some of the period related aspects of the church of my childhood but I understand why we moved on. No need to humor ourselves with pretenses. Still, the functions of the church remain exactly the same. For one, there’s a gap between the world and the Kingdom. It’s a perilous gap. A bridge is needed.
In writing about the dogs that passed through my childhood last post I briefly raised the question of whether or not there will be animals in heaven. For this post, let me take a little more time with that question. It is not as frivolous as many suppose.
Our connection with the animals is a complex issue. I mean we eat some of them while others work for us and others are pampered pets, friends of a sort or virtually members of the family. I think it used to be more like the friendship thing and less like the next meal thing. By ‘used to’ I mean before we fell into sin and we all lived together on earth as a paradise. Perhaps I will write something more on that in a future installment. Then, there is the other end of the spectrum: the future rather than the past. Do dogs really go to heaven & etc. CS Lewis often expounded on his theory that the destiny of the animals is tied to the destiny of man who has dominion over them – long story short – As per the book of Romans, nature fell when we fell and waits for redemption along with our redemption. Ergo, Lewis concluded, the animals will make the jump to eternity on our coat tails. Another future blog post!
For now, let me just say that all our lives have been touched and shaped by the animals that pass through them. The usual suspects are dogs, cats and horses – though there are substantial minorities favoring other species! These days I am not much of a pet person. My wife’s cat and I co-exist – mostly peaceably. But in my youth it was definitely dogs – three dogs in particular.
Patty was a pure-bred Irish setter with a big long certified birth name I no longer recall. He arrived as a Christmas Puppy for my mother who had long admired the breed. Patty was a moron. He was forever doing things like getting his head stuck in the hand-hole for unlocking the sliding barn door. Let me assure you that easing a frantic Irish Setter’s head back through such a hole is a task. But such incidents took place because you pretty much had to lock Patty in the barn if you wanted to go anywhere. We were hunters and hunting was, I suppose, in Patty’s blood. But his idea of hunting was to run back and forth across the woods with much loud crashing and thrashing and, if you forgot for a moment to hold it up too high, suck on the end of your gun barrel as though it were a soda straw. He loved the smell of gun powder. Patty also loved to accompany the tractor and trailer on wood-cutting expeditions. And when he attracted the negative attention of other dogs along the way, to run underneath the moving tractor with the neighbor dogs darting in and out. This necessitated stopping, breaking up the dog-fight and putting Patty in the trailer, tied to the spare tire – which was no guarantee he still wouldn’t jump back out and end up running alone beside the trailer on back paws only. Patty frequently went to war with bees, snapping them out of the air – and getting stung until his mouth got too swollen to carry on. Always a drooler, with a mouth full of bee venom patty left puddles fit for wading. There’s more. Suffice it to say Patty had character and enthusiasm and needed constant watching over. He made me laugh and made me more responsible.
Spot was a Dalmatian/Mutt mix. When we moved from town to the farm, dad got Spot from a litter at my Great Grandfather’s farm. (Grandpa Ros kept pure Dalmatians and wasn’t overly attached to the ‘accidents’.) Spot got along with everyone as long as it was all fun and games. He liked playing with us kids though he could play kind of rough. And as he grew he became a marauder, single handedly wiping out the little flock of Muscovy Ducks that lived on the farm when we arrived. Soon after, Spot turned his attention to our White Rock Chickens. When you locked Patty in the barn he only whined and got his head stuck in the hand-hole. Any effort to discipline Spot or put him somewhere he didn’t want to go ended with his backing into a corner growling and ready to defend his liberty with teeth. Dad worked hard with Spot but the end came as it probably mush have soon anyway. Spot was also an inveterate car chaser and one week while I was away at church camp, Spot was run over. The lessons I learned from Spot were somewhat different from those I learned from Patty but I was sorry Spot was gone and wished he could have learned better and, perhaps, that I could have helped him more.
To set the context, I was twelve when Spot came along and just ready to take off for college when Patty turned up under the Christmas tree. Bandit, (all mutt) definitely THE dog of my youth, arrived on the scene in between – a replacement for Spot and the established boss dog when Patty got there. Bandit left the chickens alone, pretended he couldn’t see bees (or spiders or snakes or…) Bandit seemed embarrassed the few times he accidentally touched the electric fence – a quick yelp followed by a survey of the scene as though to establish whether his indiscretion had been observed. Bandit never ran when walking would do and knew how to be quiet in the woods – and everywhere else. At any rate, he hated the sound of gunfire and promptly disappeared any time he saw a firearm. But he loved to camp in our woods with me anytime guns weren’t involved. If I ever thought of bandit as protection of any sort I didn’t think it for long as it became obvious Bandit thought of me as protection. Bandit stayed well away from our pigs unless we happened to be working with them – moving them, ringing them, etc. On all such occasions Bandit would station himself directly behind me, stick his head between my legs and bark what I took to be vile obscenities and challenges at the porkers. He would go anywhere I would go. He felt sure I would fend off the neighbor dogs, the pigs, any night monsters, etc. Fortunately, Grizzly bears were scarce in central Indiana in my teen years. AND bandit climbed trees. Well some trees anyway. That also arose from his determination to go where I went. I climbed trees. I never saw a tree I didn’t want to climb. It started one beautiful summer afternoon hiking through the woods on the way to a neighboring pond where we had fishing privileges. I stopped to climb a familiar tree on the south side of our wood lot – a sprawling old oak growing near the top of a high bank. The situation produced a large limb about fifteen feet up the oak but extending outward to just above ground level at the top of the bank. A good hopping step put your feet on that limb. A walk along the limb to the trunk and on up a virtual spiral staircase of typical radial/wheel spoke limbs. But on this day, I hopped onto the limb and so did Bandit. I grinned. I walked to the trunk and so did Bandit. I laughed and scratched him behind the ears. I went up a couple limbs and Bandit followed. He reached his limit there so I sat down and he lay along the limb with his head on my leg. It was, as they say, a moment: a boy and his dog, in a tree, masters of all they surveyed. We always stopped to climb that tree (and a couple of others Bandit learned to navigate) after that. Some years later when I brought Mikel (my then fiancé/now wife of forty + years) home to meet the folks, we took a walk – with Bandit – in the woods and even though he was an old dog by then, he got to show off his tree climbing ability for her. Along with being a constant companion, Bandit taught me that trust makes many seemingly impossible things possible.
Though Spot came to a bad end, Bandit and Patty died of old age there on the farm. All three rest beneath the shade of an old hickory in the pond lot, and, I suppose, they were only animals. But I learned things from all three of them and they are, in part, responsible, for good or ill, for the person I am.
In these days when organized religion is so often despised and so many Christians are lone wolves or – at best – find their only community online – which, if you ask me, is actually worst – ritual is frequently viewed as the ugly step-sister of the religious world. On the one hand, I understand. When religion becomes ONLY ritual, it tends toward emptiness. But I find that happens far less often than the critics think. I will confess that I was not raised ‘high church’ and my roots still show. My approach to worship is, no doubt, too casual and ‘free-range’ for some. And yet – baptism, the Lord’s supper, communal prayer, a blessing pronounced, a good responsive reading or the public reading of Scripture in general – these things remain meaningful to me and, when they go by the wayside, I think we lose something important.
I have come to regard ritual as a language of sorts – one through which God communicates truth to us on a deeper level than just verbal. Consider the Old Testament ritual of the Passover. When the Israelites neglected it – and they did neglect it more often than not – God thought it was a big deal. There were Kings (Hezekiah and Josiah for instance), prophets, (Zechariah and Haggai for instance) and other kinds of civic leaders (Jerubbabel and Ezra for instance) whose whole ministries and authority were thrown into restoring the Passover (and other rituals). Promises were made for keeping the ritual celebration. Punishments were levied for neglecting it. A great deal of what led to the Babylonian Captivity was the neglect of the Jubilee cycle with all its ritual. In other words, God behaved as though the keeping of the prescribed rituals was a matter of some import.
Why? Well, part of it was remembering. God leading the Israelites out of Egypt was kind of big deal and the ritual practices of the major celebrations (Passover, Tabernacles, Pentecost) kept the memory alive. After all, if you forgot what God had done, you might fall into relying on Him less and yourselves more – with the usual tragic outcomes. So, ritually celebrating Pentecost kept the memory of the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai alive. Participating in the rituals of Tabernacles kept the memory of God’s support through the wilderness fresh to the mind. And the detailed ritual observance of Passover made it impossible to forget that dread and very final type of judgment that fell on all who were not covered by the blood of the lamb.
OK – so I am giving something away with that last sentence! It was only partly about remembering – though remembering, in itself, is plenty important. The rituals also looked forward. The Passover not only described what God had done in the Exodus – it also described what God was going to do in Jesus Christ. The very same thing is true for the other holidays if you care to study it out. There’s a reason the Holy Spirit fell on the church on the Day of Pentecost and are we not still being led through the wilderness and provided for all along the way. (BTW – Jubilee literally means Trumpet Day – let’s see a day involving a trumpet on which all the slaves are set free, debts are cancelled, and the big reset button is pushed. Hmmm, nope, sorry, can’t come up with a thing. LOL. The details run much deeper than this brief general picture I am presenting. God absolutely packed these rituals with meaning that looked forward to His real solution for sin, death, and the curse. Study the OT holidays and see!
And the rituals are so largely pectoral and symbolic which carries a kind of punch and gives the message a staying power that would be lacking otherwise. For instance, if God just wrote an essay – kind of like this one – and said, Here, read this and remember it. – let’s just say the rituals have proven more effective – WHEN THEY ARE OBSERVED!
When the Israelites neglected the rituals they lost touch with God’s past provision and His future plans. Raise your hand if you think that’s a bad thing. Of course, this being a blog post, I can’t see whether you raise your hand or not. But that’s another thing – rituals are generally designed for communal practice. If we were together – the raising of hands would have an inclusive power beyond words. And when the Israelites forsook the prescribed communal communicative pectoral participatory rituals – they lost more than they could afford. They became less connected to God and less able to recognize His purposes when they were finally fulfilled.
All of this being the case with the Old Testament rituals – why should we assume anything different concerning New Testament rituals. I get it. Baptism is symbolic. I’ve read Romans and I Peter. The power is in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ not in any magic water. The power is in what He did – not in a formula we repeat. That does not mean the ritual is unimportant and can be set aside without cost. Practicing the ritual keeps us connected to what God has already done and prepares us for what He is going to do. And what is God going to do? True, I may only know in the most general terms and have to guess a lot at that. But then, the Old Testament Israelites didn’t know exactly to what the details of their rituals were pointing either. Nevertheless, the rituals turned out to be powerfully prophetic – bright neon arrows pointing directly at Jesus when He came. Neglecting New Testament rituals may well leave us less prepared for God’s next moves and break our connection to what He has already done.
At the end of the day my advice is simple. Go to church and participate in the rituals. They matter and are not to be despised nor forsaken.
First, my apologies for being less than faithful in my blogging lately. This is the time of year when two IRCC ministry programs overlap – the Garden and the Scrap ministry. It keeps my hopping and this year, the scrap ministry is more than usually challenging. Having written before of the Community Harvest garden, let me say a few words about the scrap ministry. Some years ago I was questioned by a reporter for the Canton Repository as part of an article he was writing about recycling in the County. I gave honest answers that left me less than satisfied with myself. Basically, I didn’t really recycle a lot of things because it required much more effort than just putting it out for the trash man to haul away. Recognizing Stark County’s status as the landfill capital of the Eastern U.S. rendered my ‘throw away’ mentality even worse in my own eyes.
Never being content with the private exercise of virtue, my newfound determination to recycle became a ministry for the congregation I shepherd. And being a goal setter, we now set new goals every year for tonnage in paper/cardboard and scrap metal. The goal for paper this year is 70,000 pounds. We’re on track.
Now, about scrap metal – what qualifies? Anything made of metal. I tell people we scrap from paper clips to bulldozers. No kidding – we have done both. Well, the bulldozer was actually a bucket trencher circa 1940’s – a bulldozer body with a 10’ bucket wheel instead of a blade. I can tell you the bucket wheel weighed at least as much as a blade would have. In fact, that was the project that resulted in my crew of helpers changing the name of their group (previously scrap corps or scrap elves) to ‘Scrap Dummies’. They adopted that name because I kept getting them into these impossible jobs and they kept coming back. Note: anything will fit on an 18’ trailer if you cut into enough pieces and make enough trips! Anyway – buckets of rusty nails, old cars and trucks – parts of old cars and trucks, auto-batteries, appliances of all sorts, steel or aluminum cans, old plumbing fixtures, pipes, dehumidifiers, air conditioners, furnaces, hot water heaters, aluminum siding/gutters… We have cleaned up farm dumps and ransacked houses scheduled for demolition. We have cut up at least four semi-box trailers. We’ve done a few house trailers too but those are losing propositions. We’ve sorted the brass and the big cast iron sound boards out of several upright pianos – the wooden parts serve other purposes in the garden and nativity set ministries. We know how to separate out non-ferrous, motors, etc. My two favorite tools are a gas powered cut off saw and a short handled eight- pound sledge-hammer. You can take things apart fairly quickly if you have no concern for ever putting them together again.
The scrap ministry is always a fair amount of work – and for what it’s worth – if those of us involved in it took part time jobs at minimum wage we could make the congregation more money than we get off the same amount of hours working scrap. But the landfills would be more full and people wouldn’t have this way to get rid of things and support a good cause in doing so. I love the scrap ministry!
For reasons I won’t go into at the moment, I switched the scrap goal this year from pounds (we have been exceeding 100.000 pounds per year the last few years) to dollars. This was done in January – i.e. before we knew about the pandemic! The ramifications of the pandemic are both deep and wide. All local congregations could tell their story! Among the other places IRCC has been touched by the pandemic – it hit the scrap ministry. The price of scrap was already comparatively low owing to the evolving trade situation with China (the biggest customer for U.S. scrap metal). The pandemic drove those prices down to next to nothing – at the worst - $20 per ton for basic steel – most of the time the last couple of years the pre-pandemic price has bounced between $60 and $100 per ton. And, like everyone else, the scrap yards shut down for a while and when they opened it was not for full regular hours and they weren’t always taking all the usual types of scrap. All this for the year we set out to raise $10,000 from scrap metal! Had we set a weight goal – even one higher than 100,000 pounds, we would already have hit it. But as it is, we worked hard to get half the money raised in 75% of the year. Which explains why I have not been blogging as regularly as usual. To meet the goal, we need to raise as much in this last quarter as we did in the first three. Hence, I designated the last quarter of the year – Operation Impossible Scrap Goal and set the weekly benchmarks necessary to accomplish it. Here in week two, we are on track – but just!
Although you may not be able to tell it yet – I did not write all this as a complaint. I wrote it as a lead up to the following sentiment I once heard expressed by Chuck Swindoll - God is in the habit of providing wonderful opportunities but He cleverly disguises them as hard work and seemingly impossible situations. That’s probably not an exact quote of Swindoll but close enough! I think God often wants us to answer a question for ourselves (He already knows the answer). You say you want something. You claim that feeding the hungry is a value you get behind. You think you want to make a difference in the local ecology and economy via recycling. You assert that these things are so – but how bad do you want them? Bad enough to glean commercial corn patches in the rain? Bad enough to process semi box trailers and bulldozers in the heat?
Even as Operation Impossible Scrap Goal was about to commence, before any formal word could get out, the phone calls started coming in. An HVAC contractor with a load of AC units and furnaces he wanted shed of. (One day of moving them. Three consecutive Monday evenings for the scrap dummies to process them. Three consecutive Tuesday mornings of hauling it all in.) This got us to the halfway point in time for the final quarter to begin. But more was to come. The new owner of an old body shop wanting to clean out a lot of stuff accumulated over the previous owner’s years of work. A guy with a couple of trucks to contribute. Nothing to it but work. I suppose God could just drop a dump truck load of Number 1 copper ($2.50 a pound currently) in our lap. But then we wouldn’t have to answer the question. We all have to answer it. I hope we always answer right.
Well, the presidential election is just around the corner and the Republican and Democrat candidates agree on only two things:
So, I offer the same basic advice as in every Presidential election.
Of all the ministries at Indian Run Christian Church, I think the Community Harvest Garden is best known out in the community. We raise potatoes, cabbage, peppers, corn, squash, watermelon, tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers etc. – and even sunflowers – almost a local landmark now. From soil prep to closing out the garden, the ministry runs from May to November and produces, on average, 30,000 pounds of food per year. We add to that produce we are able to glean from commercial growers and the average tally goes up to over 40,000 pounds per year over the decade or so we have been at it. Like many ministries, it started much smaller – a few hundred pounds of potatoes raised by the youth group over the summer and grew from there. A small portion of the food is distributed to local individuals. Some more of it goes out as a welcome addition to the processed items in our grocery giveaways. Most of it goes to Stark County organizations that specialize in feeding the hungry. We figure there’s no need to reinvent the wheel and these organizations like Stark County Hunger Task Force, The Salvation Army, Hope Outreach Ministries, etc. already work at the point of greatest need.
The garden produces many blessings within the congregation. Recently, we dug 4,500 pounds of potatoes in one evening. One of our deacons pulled an antique potato digger behind his tractor and the crew fell in behind with buckets. The buckets were carried to a couple of men who bagged the potatoes and a few more transported the bagged spuds to the barn for weighing and eventual delivery. We had so many volunteers (including a number of youngsters) the potato digger couldn’t keep ahead. Perhaps you had to be there and see all those kids, attended by parents and grandparents swarming a row of freshly turned up taters – but it was a big blessing!
There are also moments of disappointment – a crop that doesn’t turn out, long dry spells, and nobody likes the annual fight with the potato beetles and corn borers. But blessing arises from these as well. You should go to our Facebook page and see the video of the water cannon our deacons made from the fire departments old grass fire pump. It’s a lot more fun than bucketing water! While you’re there you can see a video of the potato digger in action as well. And everyone discovers the old truth, there’s just something satisfying about getting your hands in the dirt and growing food. I think it has to do with the terms of our original creation – after all – our first job was to tend the garden.
But none of that is the reason the ministry is well known outside the congregation. The reason for that is our doing it outside the building – right along route 44. The Sunflowers call attention of course, but people honk when they go by – not at the sunflowers – at the volunteers of the moment out there chopping weeds, picking peppers, or, recently, working the water cannon.
One of the great weaknesses of the way we often ‘do’ church is that most of the blessings are kind of trapped in the building. It’s kind of like locking the salt in the shaker or keeping the lamp under the bushel basket. Yes – I think worship services are wonderful – and crucial for the life of the congregation. But the work of the church needs to get out in the sunlight more.