Your House, God’s House, Our House

Grand Central Station. Bedlam. A collection of individuals each doing his or her own thing. An empty nest. A place of peace and refuge from the world. Do any of these describe your house?

“House” is common in scripture, occurring over 2,000 times. Sometimes the word signifies the structure, other times those who inhabit it. Families matter to God.

For Israel, the temple was God’s “house.” Not that he needed one—“Wherever I have gone with the sons of Israel, did I say, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’” David’s desire to construct one was good, but the Almighty turned the tables: “Yahweh will build a house for you. Your house and your kingdom shall endure before me forever.” Our Lord Jesus later sprang from “the house of David.”

Families succeed or fail together. “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” United, one can. Noah was righteous; through him his whole “house” survived the flood. God chose Abraham “so that he may com­mand his household after him to keep the way of Yah­weh.” The Philippian jailer “and his house” were saved. Well- ordered houses are stronger than the sum of their parts.

God had wanted the temple to be “a house of prayer”; unscrupulous men corrupted it into “a den of thieves.” For this reason, the worthless building fell. Today “the household of God … is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.” Chris­tians, “as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacri­fices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Tolkien’s trilogy paints Elrond’s abode as “a perfect house, whether you like food or sleep or story- telling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all. Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear, and sadness.” Let us labor to make our “house” at Second Cape resemble Elrond’s.

Picture on Dresser

Is it possible to find truth outside our tradi­tion? In the following story, what is similar to how the Bible pictures God and the gospel? Who is the minister? Where did I read this story?

A woman wasted her last decade addicted to heroin. She did not care where she got her next fix, just so long as she got it. Now she lay dying of AIDS.

One day a young minister making his rounds at the com­munity hospital came upon her, thin and yellow with liver failure. He sat down by the bedside. “How are you?”

“I’m lost. I’ve ruined my life and every life around me. There is no hope for me; I’m going to hell.”

The minister sat quietly for a few moments. Then he noticed a framed picture of a pretty girl on the dres­ser. “Who is that?”

The woman brightened a little. “She’s my daughter, the one beautiful thing in my life.”

“Would you help her if she were in trouble or had made a mistake? Would you forgive her? Would you still love her?”

“Of course I would! I would do anything for her! She will always be precious and beautiful to me. Why do you ask such a question?”

“Because I want you to know,” said the minister, “that God has a picture of you on his dresser.”

“I will set out and go back to my father and say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’”

But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”

The Original Shoobies

They are not from here, but from another state altogether. Foreigners. They speak differently, and follow customs we frankly find revolting. We didn’t invite them, but our govern­ment said they could come. There seem to be more and more of them all the time. The roads are jammed! Why don’t they go away and leave us to enjoy our own place in peace? Their only positive contribution is the value they pump into our local economy.

Shoobies? No! The Israelites in Egypt.

Jacob and his clan had descended into Egypt because a regional famine threatened them with starvation. Long-lost son Joseph would be able to provide for them there.  But even from the beginning they never fit in. They were shep­herds, and “every shepherd is loathsome to the Egyptians.” The Israelites were aliens on someone else’s turf.

Painful as Israel’s presence in Egypt was for both parties, her sojourn there was necessary if Jacob’s ragtag progeny were ever to coalesce into a nation. God had made unique promises to Abra­ham, including “I will make you into a great nation.” But the patriarch’s great-grandsons seemed intent on anything other than uniqueness and unity. By a Canaanite woman Judah fathered three sons, two of whom were evil and Yahweh killed. Ten of Joseph’s  brothers sold him as a slave. Some nation!

So God sent them into quarantine in Egypt. There, in Goshen, they had to stick together and stay separate because Egyptians disliked shepherds. They multiplied and retained their national identity until they grew into the mighty horde that Moses led out. God sometimes has to lead us through hard times in order to shape us into the kind of people he can bless. Easier on us if we would simply obey the first time around.

Israel was not to forget those uncomfortable years. “You shall not wrong a shoobie or oppress him, for you were shoobies in the land of Egypt…. The shoobie who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were shoobies in the land of Egypt” (Ex 22:21 and Lev 19:34, slightly modified). Maybe when we have visited Lancaster or NYC the natives have rolled their eyes at us, as well.

Up Close and Personal

When I was young my family sometimes camped at the foot of New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington. One day we drove the auto road to the summit. Though hot and muggy down below, the air was cool up top. Decades later, Glenna and I returned, together with our own two sons. We decided that instead of driving, we would hike up. You see so much more when you do that. The mountain, the trees, the clouds, the birds, the cascades in Peabody River. Encased in the cocoon of our car as kids, we had missed so much.

Last Sunday afternoon I kayaked off 58th St. After crashing through the breakers you no longer notice the chatter and clutter of the crowds on the beach. It’s you and the ocean—up close and personal. In our digital days, surrounded by screens, we run the risk of relinquishing experiencing reality.

The incarnation is God up close and personal. God used to speak to Israel through the prophets. But you can learn only so much through words. So “in these last days he has spoken to us in his son.” In Jesus we find God—visible, tangible­, up close and personal, where we can see and understand. How close did he get? “What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands we proclaim to you.”

Will we reciprocate, or try to keep God at arm’s length? He wants more: God walked the garden in the cool of the day calling, “Where are you?” You are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Yahweh used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends.

What about the Bible? It is easy to drift along with a distant acquaintance, to re-translate Psalm 119:11 as “Thy word have I installed on my phone, that I might swipe through as someone reads.” How regularly do I sit with open Bible, no one else’s guidebook, but only a notebook, pen, and the Spirit of God, in order to probe and record what God is saying to me?

Come on! Does God really care about individuals? “To the one who overcomes I will give a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but the one who receives it.” God relating to us—up close and personally.