Sunday, August 27, 2017

The sun stood still

Last week, prior to the recent solar eclipse, I found myself in a discussion about all the hype surrounding that event. Parties were planned. Travelers from other states made arrangements to come and be in the direct path of the eclipse. There were signs on the interstates that flashed warnings about high traffic expected on the day of the eclipse.  People scrambled for the special glasses.  Schools and business gave notice that they would close early. The culmination of all this preparation would be merely looking up at the sky off and on for about an hour, then waiting for two minutes of darkness to pass. At the time it seemed a little over the top.

In that discussion, we wondered about the last time humans celebrated sun-gazing with such enthusiasm. I thought about the Bible story where God made the sun stand still. Joshua was leading the Israelites toward their promised land and they found themselves facing not just one army, but five different armies that had joined forces to try an stop them.

God led Joshua and the Israelite army in defeating the massive Amorite army. As their enemies fled, a storm blew in and the heavens hurled down large hailstones on them. Many of the enemy soldiers died from being pummeled by these enormous hailstones. There must have been some heavy-duty clouds in the sky that day. I think they must have been some very selective clouds too because it seems that only the Amorite army lost soldiers by the hand of those hailstones.

The sun came out after that ugly storm. Those that weren’t pounded by hail were now clear targets, but it was still five armies against one. Settling the score over the land ownership might take some time. Joshua looked to the heavens and asked God to help.

God’s response: “The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day.” (Joshua 10:13) The Creator of heaven and earth made the sun hold its breath and hang in place another full day just so humans would have enough daylight to be able to lay claim on the land that He had promised them. He did it without affecting life on earth or causing early onset global warming.

I’m sure they were all looking up to the sky that day. Some with wonder. Some with fear. None of them could control it but all were affected by it. It was the heavens that declared the glory of God and the skies that proclaimed the work of God’s hands.

Thanks to our 2017 technology, we were able to see the eclipsed crescent sun through our magic glasses. We stood looking up to the heavens.  Just a few minutes before the moon was directly in front of the sun, we were blessed with a last minute thunderstorm. The clouds rolled in. It was no longer the sun that kept us looking upward, but instead the flashes of lightning.

Later that day, as we were driving down Robertson Boulevard, we saw the biggest and brightest double rainbow in the eastern sky. It was then that I realized that God had been showing off for us all day long. He made the moon move directly in front of the sun. He could have chosen another path for it, but He didn’t. It was perfect precision. His voice boomed in the thunder. His smile flashed in the lightning. His promise and love for human beings and was reflected in the color spectrum of the rainbow.

 The sun standing still, the rainbow, the solar eclipse, all are God’s way of saying he loves us and will fight for us. Look up and see for yourself.

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:28-31

This article was originally published in The Press and Standard, August 25, 2017

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Jesus knows who I am, even if no one else does

Last month there was a story in the news about a baby born in British Columbia, Canada. The child was not born in a medical facility and therefore did not receive an official gender designation or a birth certificate. The news article I read only mentioned one parent. The parent identifies as non-binary transgender, which is neither male or female, or maybe it’s both. I’m not really sure. Anyway, the parent wants the child, named Searyl, to develop and decide for themselves what gender they identify with. 

Identifying pronouns was another thing the news article tried to explain. This new parent refers to the baby as “they.” I am so confused. The parent didn’t want the baby to be labeled as “he” or “she” and as I understand it, the preferred pronoun for the baby is “they”, which to me is plural, but there is only one baby. If this keeps up, we’re going to need some entirely new words because the old ones are only confusing me more. 

I hope that somehow this child will be able to find “their” true self, but I am not sure how “they" will be able to reach a decision on gender identity without any cultural influence at all. It’s not a neutral world. If it were, there would be a lot less to argue about in congress.
Recognizing personal identity is often difficult even when the lines and pronouns are clear. There are some details that I might think are clear markers for my identity, but then other people may see me and never associate those characteristics with me at all. My name is one of those things.

For several years after moving to Walterboro, I got called Jan a lot. Jan was the pastor’s wife. If it wasn’t Jan, it was Mrs. Scott. Scott is my husband’s name. Mrs. Scott is neither my first name or my last name.  Just to make matters more perplexing, Scott is my husband’s middle name. His first name is Timothy, but I’ve never heard anyone call him that.
It’s not just names that give us identity. Often, it’s what we do and where we go. Earlier today as Scott and I walked out of the Cracker Barrel and joked about wanting to know when awards night was because we want to be present to pick up our trophy for being the most frequent diners there. Some of the servers there know what kind of salad dressing Scott likes. They know we both like the Wednesday broccoli cheddar chicken special. They don’t know that we’re also working on a frequent diner prize at Subway too.

The one thing that’s common in both of those examples is the relationship to my husband. The people at church who couldn’t remember my first name still associated me with him. The Cracker Barrell cashiers do the same thing. My identity is often defined by my relationships.  

Psalm 51:5 offers a description on my identity too, “for I was born a sinner.” Many of the New Testament books written by the Apostle Paul include multiple mentions of my sinful nature. I was born with it. We all were. None of us can help that we were born that way, but the truth is, we do need help with it. We cannot fix it ourselves. The only way to change our identity as a sinner is with a relationship. More specifically, a relationship with the only one that can take the sinner moniker from us and carry it himself. Jesus. 

Isaiah 43:1 says, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.”  He knows my name. He calls me by it. He’s not going to call me Jan. He might even call my husband Timothy. He knows our names and who we are. Our identities are not in question with Him. He calls us all into a relationship. He wants a relationship with us so that we will no longer be identified as sinners, no matter what pronoun we prefer. 

The was originally published August 6, 2017 on The Press and Standard website