Fish Story

I’ve finished reading the book of Jonah. We all know how it goes. What impressed me was that God turned His wrath away and forgave the Ninevites. True this: No matter how evil or cruel, not one repentant heart is beyond the reach of God’s grace and mercy. And there was forgiveness for disobedient Jonah, too, even as he sulked under the tree after the turn of events didn’t go his way.

The Ninevites worshipped a god by the name of Dagan. Now get this, Dagan was a creature, part man and part fish. Fish! How about that. How curious that God caused Jonah to be swallowed by a fish before bringing His message to the fish-worshippers. Some might call this fortuitous, but I’ve got to hand it to God, that was one clever move. I’ve heard that one reason the people might’ve listened to Jonah was because his skin might’ve been bleached white from three day’s worth of soaking in digestive belly-of-the-whale juices. I would add that being a great fish survivor would have definitely boosted Jonah’s street cred.

Another book of the Bible, and another border block done for the Bible Sampler quilt project.

The Wheels on the Bus

Have you heard this one before? If you were given a brand new car on your sixteenth birthday, and you would not be able to replace that car, it being your only means of conveyance for the rest of your life, how would you then care for that car?

Of course the connection is that you are given your one body. How do you want to experience moving through your life: with ease and strength, or disease and weakness? I want the wheels on my bus (although I’d be a Porsche if given the option) to go ‘round and ‘round. It’s up to me. Maintenance is the key.

I’m writing from my shelter in place, as the quarantine for all of us “nonessentials” continues. But we can almost see light at the end of this tunnel, the forest for the trees. And what we are seeing is this: The victims who fell to the virus had underlying physical conditions. The poor souls in ICU were not in tip top physical condition to begin with. Now of course there are exceptions, there always are. And we cannot control the genetic makeup of what we’ve been created with. But we do control our lifestyle choices. The takeaway here is that building a healthy body and a strong immune system certainly can’t hurt us. My hope is that we remember this when we go “back to normal”. My hope is that we “go forward to our new normal” instead. We prioritize the caretaking of ourselves, our homes, our loved ones, just as we have been made to do these past two months.

I think our “new normal” future will include accessorizing our outfits with face masks. I’m all for bringing back the wearing of white gloves too, mid century style. How smart was that?

On to the Bible Sampler quilt project. I finished reading the next book, Obadiah, which took all of about five minutes. The quilt block took much longer:

Obadiah reports a vision he received from God to the Edomites. Descended from Esau, they have held a long-standing grudge against Israel and Judah, from the house of Jacob. Although they too were descended from Abraham, they aren’t part of the blessing given to the twelve tribes of Israel. So when Judah was destroyed and carried away to captivity, they gloated and rejoiced. If the words of the oracle are literal, they may have even looted their wealth and stood at the fork of the road to cut down their fugitives.

The lesson here? Don’t kick a man when he’s down. And if you do, here’s what verse 15 warns:

“For the day of the Lord draws near on all the nations. As you have done, it will be done to you. Your dealings will return on your own head.”

This one-chapter book ends with a message and a promise. That is, the house of Jacob (Israel) will return to its promised land, while the house of Esau will have no survivors.

Forty Days and Forty Nights

California Shelter in Place Order – Day 40.

Forty days of social isolation. Forty days of limited freedom. It feels like a very long time. How is it going for you?

I’ve fallen into a rut rhythm. Clean a little, garden a little, cook a little, read a little, write a little, sew a little. I’m trying to keep it fresh.

I’ve challenged myself to make one Bible Sampler quilt block per day, in between face masks, to mark this epic time in history. I’m doing the borders now because I’m reading through books of the Bible that don’t have a corresponding block in the project.

And get this, I’m going to need exactly forty of these triangles for my quilt.

This is number 17.

The lavender is blooming and I put these on the orange and lemon cakes I made for our Easter meal yesterday.

I’ve finished reading Amos. This guy is probably the inspiration behind the phrase “Prophet of Doom”. In a nutshell: Just like in the book of Joel, Amos appeals to the Israelites to stop their evil practices, especially the ones against innocent women and children. He reports his visions of the impending destruction of Israel. Then it happens. Assyria swoops in and destroys the northern kingdom. The end.

But wait, there’s more! Amos also prophesied that the House of David will be restored. He foretold this even before its destruction took place.

I love this. Hope and the promise of salvation are always present – even in the gloomiest of Old Testament scriptures.

Movers and Shakers

I’ve finished the book of Joel as I read through the Bible with my Bible Sampler quilt project. Here’s another border block done:

When I began, I thought this blog, journaling my trip through the Bible and the quilt, was going to be a hop, skip, and a jump of lighthearted fun. What a ridiculous thought, considering the profound life and death content of the True Word of God. And I can’t help but think in these COVID19 days how up til now, people have been trying to skip through life with a lighthearted avoidance of the issue facing all of us: death. This virus has changed that around, hasn’t it?

The message from God through his prophets have some inconvenient truths as well, which I’m sharing today. (I thought I’d give you fair warning.)

There was an earthquake near me yesterday. The house shook for a bit, then all went back to normal.

Did I just say, “normal”? These days are anything but. Let’s just review: Our entire nation, indeed the world, is on lockdown due to a pestilence that we cannot control. There are locusts swarming in East Africa, and because of the Coronavirus, we cannot control the impending damage they will cause. The economy is spinning uncontrollably downward, and as of now, we see no end in sight. I would not say that these events are signs from God, but I would say that He is certainly getting a lot of attention these days.

These days. What ARE these days? Are they the last days? I have the answer: Yes, they are. The proof is found in this little book of Joel. Only three chapters long, it packs a wallop. I’m going to jump to Pentecost, where Peter addresses the crowds of “Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven”. (Acts 2:5). He quotes a passage in the book of Joel to explain why the disciples were speaking in other tongues:

Acts 2:16 – “This is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall be in the last days’, God says, ‘that I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all mankind, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even upon my bondslaves, both men and women, I will in those days pour forth of my spirit and they shall prophesy. And I will grant wonders in the sky above, and signs on the earth beneath, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and glorious day of the Lord shall come. And it shall be, that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’” (Joel 2:28-32)

Peter went on to explain that Jesus was the fulfillment of all of the prophesies, and the Jews that were listening were pierced to the heart. They repented, were baptized, and the early church was born. Which brings us to today. We are still living in the church age, which are the last days, as Peter clearly pointed out at Pentecost.

Back to the book of Joel. Because God loved us while we were yet sinners, He speaks through the prophet Joel to warn His people of their impending punishment. His people have grown completely unfaithful, due to social distractions from the Canaanites they live amongst. To help Joel get their undivided attention, God forms a swarm of locusts that destroys their spring harvest.

God has patiently endured their unfaithfulness, but everyone hits the wall of “Enough”. God’s tipping point is the violent shedding of innocent blood. The sin that is the most reprehensible in all these books of the prophets that I’ve read so far, the sin that stirs God to punishing action, is the sin of infanticide. The Israelites were sacrificing their babies to Molech of the Canaanites. Why? It was a transaction with the idol for future prosperity. Hmm, ring any bells here? Are we sacrificing pre-born babies today in the name of convenience and future prosperity? How can we think that this can go on without stirring up God’s righteous anger?

This is not good. If God warned His people with earthquakes, pestilence, and locusts for this same sin in the days of the prophets, what then shall we do?

In this case, we are the movers and the shakers. We have a living relationship with God, and He listens to our prayers. In the days of Joel, he called on all believers to gather, assemble the elders, and repent for the sins of the people. In these last days, this is the still the most important thing we can do. And we can do it while sewing together all those face masks.

Joel 2:12: Return to the Lord with all your heart . . . For He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in loving kindness, and relenting of evil.”

Deep Thoughts

Remember those silly “Deep Thoughts” sketches from SNL? Well, here’s a deep thought I had today about COVID19: It is interesting how this pandemic has leveled civilization. This invisible force has done what no amount of Social Justice could accomplish. It has no regard for wealth or fame. There is no gender, class, race, or political identity that gets preferential treatment over another by this virus. It presents itself in the same way to everyman.

And so does eternal life. The ground is level at the foot of the cross. Everyman can kneel, and whatever his/her history of sin, can ask forgiveness, repent, and be born again as a fellow heir with Christ of an eternal kingdom.

Accompanying my Bible Sampler quilt border block today is a Cecile Brunner rose. The bush climbs up my entryway wall and the buds are going to pop any minute. They smell as sweet as they look.

I finished reading the book of Hosea. This strange story lived out by the prophet Hosea reveals the relationship between God and his people. Hosea was commanded to take a wife, Gomer, knowing ahead of time that she would be hostile, disrespectful, and unfaithful time and time again.

Which brought to my mind this passage from Romans 5 – “But God demonstrates His love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

And it says in first John: We love, because He first loved us. God knew we would be foolish and fickle, just like Gomer, but He still loved us first. And like the book of Hosea, although we must be punished for our wrongdoings, He also gives us unlimited chances to love Him in return.

And that’s what happens in chapter six: “Come, let us return to the Lord. For He has torn us, but he will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us. He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day that we may live before Him.”

Wow, did you see that? He did it again. God sent a clear message of the work of the resurrection of Jesus Christ nearly 800 years beforehand.

When Paul wrote these words to the Corinthians, chapter 15:3 – “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the scriptures” he was referring to these very words in the book of Hosea.

Jesus Christ Himself also referred to the book of Hosea (6:6) in Matthew 9:13 when he told the Pharisees that God desired mercy over sacrifice. (I wrote about this in my last post.)

I’ve heard these books of the Minor Prophets referred to as the “sticky pages” of the Old Testament. After all, when’s the last time we opened our Bibles to look up something in the book of Nahum or Haggai? It’s exciting to read through them one by one and see their importance in the whole gospel message. Stay tuned; next up, the book of Joel.

Keeping Up Appearances

The Bible Sampler quilt project continues with another border piece done and more chapters of Hosea read:

As a resident of California, I’ve been hunkered down with my husband and dogs for 28 days now. (Our governor mandated the shelter at home order on March 4th.) Internet conversations are cropping up about homemade hair dye solutions, and spouses cutting each other’s hair. It’s been quite pleasant to give my face a breather from makeup, and my wardrobe choice has been “loungewear”. A girl could get used to this!

I find it interesting that all this mandatory shutting down and pulling inward coincides with the Lenten season. I was taught that “Lent” means “To remember”. Traditionally, believers practice Lent by choosing to give up something for these forty days. Typically it’s something like alcohol, or meat, or sugary foods, but sometimes it’s TV, or even the radio news talk stations. Believers purposefully clear a space in their hearts, bodies, and minds that they usually fill with things like these. Then when their thoughts go there, because they’re missing that thing, they are to replace that thought with remembrance of the life and death of our Savior.

Whether they want to or not, the world has been practicing Lent. We’ve had to give up the social distractions that preoccupy our minds. Hours that were once filled with dressing up, going out, commuting, and observing the mores of our work and social lives are now wide open for reflective thought. Gone is the distraction of keeping up appearances, even in our church life.

I know of a few church friends who actually breathed sighs of relief when their special event got cancelled. The work of pulling together that Mother’s Day Brunch, that youth group lock-in, that preschool fundraiser, was a lot of, well, work. Forming committees and attending meetings and keeping busy “doing church” is now stripped away. Our faith life has been boiled down to the bare essential, which is found in Jesus’ words to a Pharisee in Matthew 22:

Pharisee: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

I’ve read this same message over and over again in the books of the Old Testament: “To obey is better than sacrifice.” God’s always telling His chosen people, the children of Israel, that He wants their hearts, not their church offerings.

In Hosea 6:6, he says it again: “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

And now we, the church, can reset and follow this same message. Now’s the time to not “do church”, but to “be church”. If we have to stay home (such a sacrifice!) then we have time to read the Bible (gain knowledge of God) and love on our families (show mercy). And while we’re praying for extra doses of patience to show that mercy to our loved ones, we can remember in prayer all of those service workers on the front lines of this crisis.

James 5:15 says: “And the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”

Speaking of accomplishing much, I’m participating in the One Monthly Goal Challenge:

https://www.elmstreetquilts.com/2020/03/one-monthly-goal-april-link-up.html

And April’s UFO finish, Lord willing, is to get the Celtic Solstice done.

Binding, burying threads, fixing skipped stitches. That’s it. It’s not much, but it’s realistic. I’m sticking with achievable, stress-free goals these days.