-Rev. Melissa Fain-
This November is going to mark the fourth anniversary since the launch of Fig Tree on the internet. Since then, we've been doing numerous things. We've had the beginnings of online bible studies. My favorite was the Introduction to the Bible using the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. We've also looked at the 10 Commandments and took a deeper perspective on the face of God and grieving with The Shack.
We've had a couple of devotionals. One was for Advent, and one was for Lent. Both were available online and in app form.
From the beginning, there has always been people who have wanted to support us. There were those who volunteered to write guest meditations. There were those who stepped up to moderate the site, especially when I was too sick to do it myself. There were even those who offered funds to help with the minor cost of internet upkeep. Eventually, when we opened the membership, there were seven who believed in the mission of Fig Tree and joined. Seven is a number, but just a small number compared to the amount of support we have always had.
I write this to explain the amount of presence Fig Tree Christian had over the almost half decade of presence. I also write it to remind myself of the movement of this journey. This is like looking back at old baby pictures of your kids. Parents don't see the growth because they are present during the entire process. It's important to occasionally look back and realize how far you've traveled.
Then, in July, we made our biggest move yet: We physically launched. Now, two months later, I can say how big this move really was. I knew it would either be our next step in growth or kill us. I will unabashedly say, it almost killed us. Yet, here we are, two months later with another really big announcement:
Since the physical launch at the beginning of July, the above image has changed. Our gratitude goes out to First Marietta, who first opened their doors to allow us the space to start this process. In the end, it wasn't a great fit for our physical launch. We needed something neutral where people could feel comfortable. We also needed our space requirements, and the church simply couldn't meet those needs.
Luckily, a new resource has opened up, and it appears to be a good fit. This Saturday we will take a week off. Starting September 11th we will meet at 2pm on Sundays! You read that right, Sundays. Part of Evangelism is knowing the community you are reaching out to. The American culture still sets aside Sunday as a church day. Therefore, it makes the most sense to move to Sundays.
I hope you can show up for our new time. Find us on Facebook at Fig Tree Christian, or show up at the Daily Grind in person. We'd love to see you!
-Rev Melissa Fain-
Last week I debunked the myth that "Do not be afraid," was written 365 times in the bible. That is false. It's only written about 115 times. No 365 day calendar for us. Shucks. Meanwhile, something is mentioned so often if could fill a quote a day calendar and beyond. Are you prepared? Brace yourself. "Altar."
Now before you run to the printing press and make your millions off of Christian patsies... What? You don't think Christians would be biting at the bit to get that? Why not? We ate up a simple two verses to find out how we too could be our own Jabez. We wanted to eat up the idea of a daily reminder to "not be afraid." What is different about this?
Oh, that's right, we get all antsy when it comes to sacrifice.
The word we translate as alter is a Hebrew word rooted in the word "sacrifice." In the Hebrew Bible it is mentioned over 400 times! I think that's enough to suggest it's an important part of individual and corporate worship. Over the next month or so we will discuss what we sacrifice and bring to the altar. Today I want to talk about the alter itself.
What makes up an altar:
In the Hebrew Bible, alters were made out of one of three substances. In the New Testament a new kind of alter was introduced into corporate worship.
What is sacrificed, and where:
The substance the table is made from gives a clue to where these altars are used.
1 After these events, the Lord’s word came to Abram in a vision, “Don’t be afraid, Abram. I am your protector. Your reward will be very great.”
2 But Abram said, “Lord God, what can you possibly give me, since I still have no children? The head of my household is Eliezer, a man from Damascus.” 3 He continued, “Since you haven’t given me any children, the head of my household will be my heir.”
4 The Lord’s word came immediately to him, “This man will not be your heir. Your heir will definitely be your very own biological child.” 5 Then he brought Abram outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars if you think you can count them.” He continued, “This is how many children you will have.” 6 Abram trusted the Lord, and the Lord recognized Abram’s high moral character.
Genesis 15:1-6 CEB
-Rev. Melissa Fain-
So you have to be careful when you get “facts” from the internet. For example, Pinterest will often give suggestions on how to organize or do things. These time saving measures often add time to the job. Either that, or you end up with a really hilarious Pinterest Fail.
And you’ve all seen quotes with an image of some famous person having said it? You have to make sure those people actually said those quotes, because sometimes, they didn’t. While I could easily pull up a fake MLK or Gandhi quote (because they are all over the place), I love this ludicrous one where there is a picture of Jean Luc Picard saying “Use the force, Harry,” and the attributed to Gandalf. That one was made obvious as a joke, but there are people who want to trick you into believing something that isn’t true.
Then there are times when something becomes so widespread, we don’t know it’s false. I’ve seen this one image so many times and in so many ways. It suggests that “Do not be afraid,” is found 365 times in the bible. Now, I can just look at that and know it’s false. Why? You tell me you wouldn’t see a million devotionals and daily calendars all over Hallmark, Dayspring, and Mom and Pop bookstores if that phrase really was quoted in the bible 365 times? Marketers would be all over it! And even if we pretended marketers remained clueless of the potential payout of this magical phrase, it didn’t take much sleuthing to find people who did the homework for me. Even if you include other phrases, like “fear not,” the phrase only appears between 109-115 times. Well, it’s still good for a wall calendar, right?
It is an interesting phrase, though. It’s said often enough, it deserves our attention. “Don’t be afraid.” (Oh do I get fearful.) I’m currently reading a book called “Sacred Wounds: A Path to Healing from Spiritual Trauma.” It was written by Teresa Pasquale who is a therapist working with those suffering with PTSD, often the result of a church experience. She described three reactions of a wounded person. First is flight. There are those who run away when they see anything that resembles the thing that initially hurt them. Second is fight. There are those who bark and bite when they see anything that resembles the thing that initially hurt them. Finally, there’s freezing. She compared this to a deer caught in the headlights. The trauma is so desperate and real, we don’t know what to do, so we just freeze.
The Israelites often froze.
Abram, in this case, fought.
This is the middle of Abram, soon to be Abraham’s story. God painted such a pretty picture at first. Your heirs will be as numerous as the stars, and numerous as the grains of sand. At that point in time he didn’t know about the trials and tribulations that were headed his way. He didn’t know how long he would have to wait. His spouse was impatient. She led him in the wrong direction trying to get the promise fulfilled. I would fight too. The middle of journeys look like messes.
I should know: I organized my daughter’s books and puzzles a few weeks ago. After removing everything from the double ottoman, the living room looked more like a war zone than a place where people could relax. Puzzle pieces were everywhere. Books were stacked in similar shaped piles. Trash was surrounding everything, because my kids seem to think every piece of paper is worthy of saving. Looking over the destruction I had to remind myself, “This is part of the job. We are moving towards something better. Then everything began to take shape again. The pieces found their puzzles. (Well, most of them did.) The books made their way into the ottoman, and they all fit! When I finished, no one would need to know the living room blew up before it was put back together.
Then, I remember, two summers ago, I met my sister with my son in Cade’s Cove. We stayed for a couple of days. We camped, and we hiked. Kimberly decided the best hike for the three of us was Abram’s Falls. Now, at this point I hadn’t done that hike since college. Aeden had never walked that far before. At the beginning of the trail, he was excited to see a waterfall.
Now, remembering we still had to walk all the way back, we were a quarter of the way to the falls, and it starts. “How much longer?” “This is hard!” “Can we turn around now?” There were tears, and not all of them were from him. I sat him down and laid it out. Let’s continue, and when you are ready to turn around and head back, we will. If we do it before we get to the falls, you don’t get to see the falls." His attitude changed, and we made it all the way. He played in the water. We ate lunch, and the walk back was so much better than the walk there. The getting there was tough, but I think, for the most part, that’s how it’s supposed to be.
Some of that is in knowing God often times doesn’t reveal everything all at once. Could you imagine Abram’s reaction if he received everything at the beginning? Stars in the sky and sands under his feet are great. Throw in Sodom and Gomorrah, Hagar and Ishmael, and the potential sacrifice of Isaac and it might have been too much for him. Who would have blamed him if he simply said, “I’m too old for this?”
I guess the point I’m trying to make is this: Are you willing to understand you only have the small picture. Our understanding is a crude cave drawing in comparison to God’s panoramic. Usually, when God has a plan, it requires sweat, tears, and pain. It’s messy. There are usually times when we look at what we got and wonder why we started to begin with. But, it’s the only way to reach the destination. We jump in, not because it’s fun or easy, but because it’s right. We build treasures that matter: Relationships, plans that will last generations beyond the people making them; those kinds of things. Treasures that have eternal rewards, not financial ones.
A friend of mine put it succinctly: Many today want to be the church of “my yoke is easy and my burden is light,” and not the church of “carry the cross.” Crosses are heavy, and many come with a death sentence at the end. Scratch that, whether it’s a spiritual, physical, or another kind of death, carrying the cross always comes with a death sentence. It’s the only way to find new life, or (in relation to the church) you become a zombie church. No longer alive, and kinda not dead: Undead. It’s a church that attempts to be something it can no longer be, while becoming something that can bite out and hurt others. Not where God wants a church to be…
Don’t be afraid. Yeah, you might know more of the journey than Abram was aware of, but that darkness you see ahead is not the end. You can’t see as far as God.. That is merely the middle. You have to go through it to find that new light. And guess what? When you get to that darkness, it won’t feel as dark as it looks, because each of us are capable of shining God’s light, and where God’s light shines, the darkness cannot hide. You are not what you were. You never will be that ever again, but God knows what you could be. Go. Take the journey. Walk to that messy hard place. Don’t be afraid. God goes with you.
Prayer: The act of petitioning, praising, giving thanks or confessing to God. (The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary)
We might all have different ideas when it comes to prayer. Prayer can be further defined based on the tradition and number participating. I cannot, nor will I, attempt to explain a tradition I'm not part of. If you are Catholic, Orthodox, Jewish, or basically anything other than mainline Protestant, this meditation is not for you. You might gain some insight from the biblical trail I'm going to highlight, but I'm in no way attempting to explain how prayer works in your specific tradition.
With that said, the bible is many things. It's a spiritual guide. It's an understanding and explanation of how God's community is supposed to work. It's a history. As a history, there are evolutions. (Oh, no! I said there's evolution in the bible! Someone inform Ken Hamm of my heretical ways!) I'm not talking about that kind of evolution, although I'm not personally a Young Earth Creationist (YEC for short). This is the evolution of our relationship with God. There's an evolution of Temple Worship. There's an evolution of who are considered God's people. There is also an evolution of how we communicate with God.
Prayer assumes we are communicating. How this communication happens has evolved over the centuries.
In the beginning, those trying to understand our origin perceived Adam, Eve, and other really early biblical persons as speaking directly to God, (Gen 3:9-12). It was believed Moses was among those who communicated "as a man speaks to a friend," (Exod. 33:11). (We wouldn't see that kind of one on one dialogue again until Christ.) Later biblical persons, specifically Prophets, would communicate through visions and dreams initiated by God, (e.g. Dan 7). Yet prayer, even early on, was something anyone could do at anytime.
True, special prayer times were set aside. Special days and hours specifically to pray for specific things, (Dan 6:10). The Sabbath and the Temple became a very specific place where prayer would be highlighted.
When we get to the New Testament, the story is less about where and when to pray, and more about how to pray. Jesus Christ gave us some great examples of prayer. The two most obvious being:
The Lord's prayer (Matt 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4)
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14)
We also see Christ engage in communial prayer at the first Communion, (Matt 26:26-9) and individual prayer at multiple places throughout the Gospels.
What do we pray for?
"The biblical expression of prayer is diverse. It appears there is almost nothing that can't be expressed to God. However, various prophets extended one truth about prayer:
It must be "offered with integrity, pure motives, and only within the context of having attended to ethical concerns," (Harper Collin's Bible Dictionary,) Some examples of this are Isaiah 1:15-17, Hosea 6:6, Micah 6:8,
Prayers can be praises, adoration, thanksgivings, laments, requests, intercession... the list goes on. When I mentally try to limit what prayer can be, I remember Psalm 137. There is nothing comfortable about that Psalm, and it was a prayer prayed by the Israelites in exile. Let me just give you the last line:
"A blessing on the one who seizes your children
and smashes them against the rock!"
It's not that God is going to bless baby killers. It's not that baby killing should be allowed. It's that the words are real. This is a completely demoralized people speaking frankly to God. It's never raised as an example of what not to do. It sits in the middle of the book of Psalms, a holy reminder of just how real we are allowed to be with God.