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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

I worship a Rational God

     When people look at many of the Old Testament laws they normally have one of two views. One side views them as odd relics of an ancient people long ago that can be ignored and even laughed at. The other views them as a way to garner Gods favor by dutifully following his rules and getting "blessings" in return for their "good behavior" like some sort of cosmic vending machine.

    To me, both of these views could not be more wrong.

     I don't look at God as some irrational being who comes up with irrational rules just to see if we are willing to follow them and then hand out little pats on the head in return.  I don't see God's laws as just random ramblings of an ancient God.   They have meaning and purpose to his people and the blessing is in direct correlation to the doing of them.  Like a parent who pushes their children to do well in school and they are "blessed" with good paying careers, so also many of God's laws have built in blessings for those who follow them.  

     As I wrote in a previous blog, some of God's laws were meant only for the Jewish people to keep them separate and distinct from the other heathen cultures that surrounded them and threatened to assimilate them into their way of living and take them off their course to bring the Messiah to save the world.   Other laws, were meant to bring blessings to them

     Take for example the Jewish law to "not cook the goat in the milk of the mother" (Exodus 23:19).  This is one of the most misunderstood and laughed at laws by unbelievers (just check any Reddit comment section on religion and you are bound to find this one brought up).  This law has nothing to do with meat sauces.  Any farmer will tell you a mother goat will wean her baby when it reaches a certain size.   So why does God care about this?  This verse appears in a section dealing with the three annual sacrifice festivals and essentially he is telling them to not sacrifice a young goat that is not yet weaned.  Why should God care about this?   First of all, he wants them to sacrifice an animal that they have spent time and energy raising and not just a baby goat that has just been born.   He wants them to have stock in the sacrifice.   Secondly, these sacrifices were eaten by the people during these festivals and so a larger/older goat would feed a larger group of people present at the festival.   If it were not for this requirement we as sinful human beings would be bringing in little baby goats and calves to sacrifice to meet the requirement but not meet the needs of others.  

    Take another example of where God tells his people give the land a Sabbath rest.  In Leviticus 25:3-5 he says,

For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest.
     Is there some magic to the number seven?  Is God just wanting to test their obedience to him?   I don't think so in the least.  By requiring this he forces them to refresh the land and thus insure they have an abundance at harvest time by not over stressing the land. Leaving the land fallow for a year would re-energize the land and put much needed Nitrogen back into the soil and make better crops in the following years.   Today, farmers do this all the time (crop rotation) because science has shown it to be beneficial.  In ancient times they had no way of knowing this, but God knew it because he created it.   Here again the blessing is built right into the law and it is a direct byproduct of obeying God and not a handout from him for obedience.  

    A final example is God's requirement to the Jews to forgive the debts of their fellow Jews every 7 years and all debts every 25 years. Imagine the benefit to the people that would never be burdened with debts covering multiple decades and generations.  Imagine how their gentile neighbors would feel about them seeing their debts forgiven.   Debts would be kept short in length (why have a 10 year loan when you know you will have to end it after 7 years), and people would be happy to do business with you in return.  
Likewise you also would not get yourself strapped with heavy loans that would enslave you and your children for years to come and you would become "debt free" every seven years.   Today, many financial advisors see the wisdom in this approach and counsel their customers to work towards becoming debt free as well.     

     In all of these cases we see God blessing his people not by some voodoo magic or a pat on the head by following his laws.  Instead many of these laws have built-in blessing inside of them.  Similarly, many of these laws that non-believers scoff at can be seen to be truly rational in nature when you take the time to understand them and read into them what God is trying to do.    

  He, in effect, blesses them by giving them his law and they receive his blessing by doing what it says.   

   So how do these apply to me today now that we have refrigerators and many of us are not farmers etc.?

   Let's take a look at the calf-in-mothers-milk law.   Granted, yes we do have freezers today and we can store large quantities of food for days, weeks, months and even years to come.   Does this mean we can ignore this one?   Not really.   Maybe we need to take a look at our investments and not just look at them for ways to "take care of ourselves" but also to take care of others in our families and communities.   We sometimes short-cut our investments because "it's enough for us" so maybe we should see the bigger picture.   For example, do you sell a stock early because it's better for you rather than hang on to it a little longer and pay a smaller capital gains tax?   If you paid a smaller tax you could give more of the proceeds to charity instead.  

   What about the giving the land a rest law?   Two ways you could apply this in your life.   One is to give yourself a rest.  How many of us can't stop working even on Sunday?   Always too much to do and then we wonder why we are tired all the time.    Another is to look at our investments.   Do you have all your eggs in one basket?   Maybe you should divide it up and give each investment a "rest" by putting it into a CD for a year.   

   Finally what about the 7-year-debt-free law?   Maybe tell yourself that you will never take a loan longer than 7 years (or 10 since most banks do so in 5 year increments).    This would force you to save up a substantial amount of money for a down payment and pay off your debts quickly.   It would also secure a lower interest rate most of the time as the bank is on the hook for a shorter period with less risk.   Being debt free would free you up to help others around you as well.

   In conclusion, God's laws are not irrational ramblings of an ancient mystical god for a people who are not like us.   They are rational and helpful.  They are there to promote a better life and a better community for all.  

Words to my daughter on her graduation from college

    Congratulations!! You’ve made it!   9 years of elementary school.  4 years of high school and now 5 years of college are complete.  No more sweating out classes and papers.   No more trying to figure out class schedules and figuring out which courses to take.  The course work is all complete and now you are a graduate. It’s a time of celebration of what you’ve accomplished and anticipation of what lays ahead for you.  I wanted to share with you something that was handed down to me when I was young that has helped me.

    As you know, when I grew up in I mowed lawns for spending money.  One of my customers was a retired Lutheran pastor named Pastor Zimmerman.  He was a wonderful person to talk to and for me he was a surrogate grandfather as he went to seminary with my grandfather who was also was a Lutheran Pastor and had passed away before I was born.  He always invited me in after for lemonade and ginger-snap cookies after I was done.  When I graduated from high school and was moving on to college I decided to hand over my lawn business to someone else as I would not have time to do it.  On my last time with him he gave me some grandfatherly advice.  He said to me
"You probably played on the monkey bars at school as a child, and the challenge was to get from one side to the other without falling.  The trick to getting across is not losing your momentum as you swing and the best way to do this is to let go of the previous rung as soon as you grab hold of the next rung.   If you hesitate and hold on too long you will be stuck between the two rungs and will lose all of your forward momentum.  You can still get across but now you will have to exert a lot of energy to swing to the next rung.  Life is like that.  We are moving from one rung to the next in life and we need to let go of the past behind us."
    He went on to share a Bible verse with me that I have always kept mindful of.  It is from Philippians 3:13-14
"Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind me and straining toward what is ahead.  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus"

   As you swing from this rung to the next that lays ahead of you reach-grab-and-let-go.    That doesn’t mean we forget the people we have worked with or spent time with?  Of course not.  It means we take them with us in our heart and in our memories  but we must leave all our decisions, mistakes and hurts behind us.  We can look at the past with fondness and learn from your mistakes, but we cannot stay here.  We must move on to the next rung and the rung after that.   Press on for the goal God has set before you.  Keep moving knowing God is there to dust you off and help you get back on if you fall.

   We are very proud of you!  You’re on to the next rung in life and moving forward!