Posts Tagged ‘covenant’

sleep angelAs the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. . . . On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadiof Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— [Genesis 15:12, 18]

Sometimes, it’s all too much to take in, to process. Abraham believed God would do as he promised but couldn’t fathom what part he would play in the promise, if any. God created a picture for him to hold onto: the ritual of covenant making at that time (the sacrifice of animals). God did not need this ritual, Abraham did. And for that reason alone it was done.

Like Abraham, we cannot see how God will work out the situations in our lives. And although we have some rituals, depending on the traditions we have embraced, they may not be enough. So, sleep on it.

I know this sounds flippant at first, but truly, there is so much more that can happen in our subconscious minds and often, our waking time does not give that part of us time to catch up. In our sleep, we are not so quick to edit and manipulate what we see and hear. The fantastic is possible. Even if we don’t remember our dreams, much is done within.

In this story of Abraham, the covenant was completed while he was in a deep sleep. The covenant promise rooted in his soul.

I have a tendency to try too hard to make things happen. Another way of saying this: I’m a bit of a control freak. I try to tell myself to “let go, let God” and a number of other cliche phrases, but they are easier said than done. But, in sleep, in rest, the Spirit is able to do a lot more sorting and clarifying.

So now, I have one last prayer before I rest each night: “Lord, I give this time to you. Teach and guide me within while my body rests.”

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nose ringThey’re coming back into fashion, nose rings, but not with the same significance they had in ancient Israel. In fact, most circular jewelry spoke of a kind of protection and when Abraham’s servant (never named) gives Rebekah the nose ring and bracelets, she knows this is the beginning of a bridal negotiation.

Genesis 24:21-22
Without saying a word, the man watched her closely to learn whether or not the Lord had made his journey successful.When the camels had finished drinking, the man took out a gold nose ring weighing a beka [5.5 grams] and two gold bracelets weighing ten shekels [110 grams].

I tried to find some additional information about the significance of the nose ring in that era, but did not have much luck in a cursory search. However, I was surprised to find a bridal engagement ring offered on Ebay. Go figure, what goes around comes around.

In general, jewelry had a different significance in that time. It was easily transportable wealth and much like some contemporary tribes of today, women would wear their wealth both symbolically and intentionally. Jewelry is a sign of success.

But then, that still holds true today except that most of us don’t have the kind of wealth that allows us to wear authentic carat-laden diamonds or other precious stones. Instead, we have created imitations. We want the “look” without the reality.

Am I turning this tendency toward my spiritual life as well? Do I want merely the appearance of relationship with God, with Spirit within? Or do I want the more costly genuine version? Am I willing to make the necessary sacrifices to get it?

Unfortunately, I know my answer is still a wimpy “no.” I’d like to believe I am going in the right direction but I also feel myself holding back. God is offering me solid gold nose rings and I’m balking at how I might look. Plus, if I take the ring, doesn’t that indicate I am accepting the terms?

I am the bride of Christ, as a believer, it’s a unique description. But how often do I really walk that out and wear the complete garment, nose ring and all?

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Photo of Beersheba by Leon Mauldin

Photo of Beersheba by Leon Mauldin

The making of oaths and treaties in ancient times was far more serious than it is today. When anyone swore an oath and broke it, the penalty was severe, even death. I cannot help but wonder how different our world would be if promises and vows had more significance. Not unlike Bonhoeffer’s “cheap grace,” we now have vows made with fingers crossed behind our backs.

Genesis 21:30-31
He replied, “Accept these seven lambs from my hand as a witness that I dug this well.” So that place was called Beersheba,because the two men swore an oath there.

Lack of trust is at pandemic proportions, the real core to our inability to make a vow or promise and keep it. We have all been betrayed so many times, we do not believe the word of others. Either we need lots of evidence or the cost for breaking trust must be so high that everyone is put in a fear position to uphold the agreement (hence, the Cold War).

Of course, those fear-based promises usually have loopholes and everyone is busy trying to find them.

Marriages have become the thing of mistrust and loopholes as well. I find it amusing, the angst over same-sex unions, while cheating, divorce, and secret lusts rage in society. How often are the ones who rail against the sins of others, forget their own?

A covenant is a binding oath, a promise that cannot be broken. An agreement with God, the acceptance of Christ as the Messiah, is on that level.

I forget this sometimes. I dishonor the agreement. I don’t hold up my end of the bargain, the treaty, the contract. In a secular world, if I broke a contract the number of times I have broken covenant with the Christ, I would be sued or forced to pay large sums of money or put in jail. But my contract, thanks be to God, is with Grace. And I get more chances to make it right.

I give “lip service” to my trust in God, but I’m afraid I don’t build my foundation on it. I am swayed and battered by the storms of life and I lose sight of trust I promised to have in God. I know intellectually that God is faithful and trustworthy, but still I stumble.

Sensitize me to Your Presence today Lord and give me courage to speak trust in the face of all circumstances. Help me build a Beersheba today, to remember my promise.

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The mark of God. In that day, this command was a monumental request, an everlasting mark on the body that could not be reversed. No male would enter this covenant lightly. No God would ask it without cause. The offer God was making was a forever offer. And then what happened?

Genesis 17:11; 13b
You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. . . . My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant.

Certainly, in today’s western world, circumcision is no longer seen as a mark of God. For modern generations, it has been a norm, perhaps a health issue, but primarily, a cultural one. That is not to say that all cultures practice circumcision, they do not. But even where it is practiced, in the United States, for instance, it’s not at the command of God.

But then, the covenant that God made with Abraham (his name change happened at the same time), did not, ultimately, go forever as a mark from God anyway. With the coming of the Christ, the mark of God had evolved away from circumcision (this is confirmed by Paul, who extended the range of Christ-knowledge to the gentiles who had never been circumcised). The plan for the everlasting covenant altered.

Perhaps even back then, this mark of the flesh had lost its significance. I do not know. But clearly, by the time of Christ and thereafter, it was no longer required for the gentiles who accepted Christ. And, as we know, this mark was never intended for women, even then. They were covered by the marks on the men who “covered” them.

But Jesus began raising the value of women, they were treated with more importance. Jesus had conversations with women and taught them.

So, what is the new mark of Christ’s covenant on our flesh? None. The mark is within.

Have I allowed this mark to change me? Is my heart, like the circumcised flesh of men in Abraham’s time, transformed by it forever? Or, is it just cultural?

Wasn’t this the point all along? “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” [Deuteronomy 30:6]


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Although Abram could believe that God would provide him with descendants as numerous as the stars, he questioned God’s ability to give him the land. Perhaps there were enough loopholes in the promise to make a baby, but land was solid; land was imperishable; land was enduring. And in this case, the land was occupied.

Genesis 15:7-8; 18a
He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.” But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?” . . . On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land . . .

Whereas the baby was a promise, the land became the end result of a contract, a covenant. It was formal and branded with the blood of animals. When blood is spilled over a promise, then it is unbreakable.

In some ways, this sign is still with us today; we hear of it in other cultures like blood oaths and blood rituals. These are done with the same intent, a promise, a loyalty, a trust, are exchanged.

There are a number of blood covenants in scripture and of course, the most important one to believers and Jesus followers, is the blood of the Christ, the Messiah, spilled once for all.

The Israelites gained and lost the land through poor judgment and sin. All through the history, kings fought over the land and by the time of Solomon, it had been taken back and restored to the people of the promise, the people of the covenant. And yet, in not so many generations later, the land was lost again. Today’s Israel is still fighting, for good or not, I do not know, but it is in their DNA to pursue the land that was lost.

The Christ, the very Son of a Holy God, spilled blood as a substitute for our own blood in place of those conscripted animals who annually paid the price in times long past for the sins and bad choices of Human. But just as the Israelites lost their land, despite the promise, Human is loosing everlasting life through distraction, unbelief, division, and tunnel vision.

Too many times, we, Human, we act as though the covenant is failing or no longer powerful. But I know that is not so. I know this deep in my soul.

And so, forgive me Father, when I look elsewhere for the “solutions” to my problems, when I look elsewhere for direction, when I don’t look at all. Forgive me Covenant maker.

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Joan of Arc as played by Renee Jeanne Falconetti, 1928

The Lectionary readings for this day, the Second Sunday of Lent, are Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:23-31; Romans 4:13-25; and, Mark 8:31-38 or Mark 9:2-9.

From these readings comes a theme of covenant, promise, and faith. From it also comes this verse in Romans 4:16b-17: He [Abraham] is the father of us all. As it is written: “I [God] have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—-the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.

The God who calls into being things that were/are not. For me, this phrase is worth holding onto forever, this is a game changing verse.

But, what is even more intriguing is the crossover of events and messages that I experienced today. First, in church, our pastor started a new series on praying boldly, which means to pray the big things, the larger than life prayers. If those prayers come to fruition, there is no doubt that God is in the results. Elijah was known for these kinds of prayers. And like Abraham’s faith, it’s believing God can bring things that are not, into existence.

Secondly, I went to Voices of Light: the Passion of Joan of Arc, an oratorio with Silent Film presented by the Baltimore Symphony, the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, and four soloists. The original music was composed by Richard Einhorn who was also present at the concert and introduced afterwards. The film, from 1928, was directed by Carol Theodor Dreyer and starred French actress, Renee Jeanne Falconetti, who, incidentally, never acted in another film after this one. The film was based on the actual court record of questions that religious authorities asked Joan D’Arc and her subsequent answers. And although her story ends in her death at the stake, her short life, driven by her voices and visions from God, crowned a king (Charles VII) and turned an army in despair into hope. Her faith was so authentically depicted, I could only weep at her inner battle. We saw her fears and faith seeking dominance.

Can I walk with such faith? Can I pray boldly? Can I challenge my fears and overcome them with my faith? Can I trust in the covenant I have made with God through the Christ?

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What is a promise? I know what it should be. I know that it should be binding and carries with it an expectation. If I promise to do something, the person expects me to follow through. A covenant is the next step up and just below law. Our culture has never mastered covenant.

II Chronicles 15:12
They [Asa and the people of Judah] entered into a covenant to seek the LORD, the God of their ancestors, with all their heart and soul.

Covenant is harder. Despite the promises and the expectations and outward signs of agreeing to a covenant, it can be broken with no apparent ill effects. At least that’s what people seem to think. The most controversial covenant is the marriage. Couples stand before witnesses and make vows, they agree, they promise, they share ritual, and yet, divorce statistics range near 50% for first time marriages and higher for second and third marriages.

I am one of those statistics. I married for the first time at eighteen. And although I was “in love,” I also had this reasoning in the back of my mind: if it doesn’t work out, I’ll just get a divorce. It’s not a good start to a promise.

As a parent, I have tried to avoid the “I promise” phrase because I know how easy it is for things to go awry, for circumstances to change, for promises to be broken.

But today, as I traverse then Lenten time, I feel compelled to make and hold to some promises. I have committed time to God in prayer, meditation, and writing. I have promised to seek God throughout this journey. And I feel the weightiness of this agreement in a way I never have before.

When I was twelve, my mother had tried to find a new spouse by answering personal ads in the Latvian newspaper. One of those men invited us to visit him in Niagara Falls, Canada. I didn’t like this man at all and one night, when the two of them had gone out on a date and stayed out very late, I prayed fervently and made many deals with God if would break up this couple. I believe this was a girl’s version of a foxhole conversion. My mother never remarried, but I didn’t follow through either. Or did I? Was my rediscovered faith at 28, a consequence after all? Did my promise bear fruit?

Sometimes, I think it does work out that way.

The things we say, the words we speak, have power, particularly if they are heartfelt. In that other world, inhabited by spirits and angels and so forth, what happens to the promises we make?

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