God cares for the “losers” when no one else does

13 Oct

Penninah was mean to Hannah, but God is not like that. Here are some of my notes on 1 Samuel 1-2

The first two chapters of First Samuel tell an amazing story.

The characters

Elkanah= the dude with two wives

Hannah= Elkanah’s favorite wife who is unable to get pregnant. She is living with deep grief, hurt and pain.

Penninah= Elkanah’s other wife, the one who gets pregnant easier than the sun coming up every morning. She is jealous of the favorite wife, in rivalry with Hannah

Eli= the senior priest in charge of the temple at Shiloh. He is a religious leader with wild, out-of-control sons. His boys are both heavy drinkers and womanizers

God= the One who is on our side, especially the Hannahs and the losers of the world. 

The Plot

Penninah taunts, ridicules and mocks Hannah in her childlessness, “Hey Hannah, you must be tired, because you look terrible! Were you awake all night breast feeding your babies? Changing diapers? Washing toddler clothes? Oh, that’s right. You don’t have any kids! So your flea bitten, mud caked, harpy look must come naturally. It’s a good thing you cannot reproduce, because the planet doesn’t need any more maggot pies like you.”

Hannah is hurting, and Penninah adds salt to her wounds. Some people are like Penninah. When life’s losers are already in deep pain, they sarcastically add more hurt.

Elkanah is the compassionate husband who loves Hannah even when she does not give him children. He loves her for who she is, not for what she produces for him. Yet he also offers too easy, well meaning answers, “Am I not worth 10 sons to you? Don’t you see how much I love you? Why not focus on what you have, me? Can’t you move on, get over it, count your blessings, and look on the bright side of life?”

On the one hand, Elkanah is right. Hannah is blessed by his love. On the other hand, she is in deep pain. Platitudes like, “You must not have kids for a reason. It must not be God’s plan for your life” hurt Hannah even more than Penninah’s taunts. Yes, Elkanah means well. And he is confused as to how to respond to Hannah’s unfathomable grief.

Eli faithfully performs his duties as head priest. He gets up at the crack of dawn. He goes to the office to get everything ready. On the way in, he almost trips over Hannah. She is on the front porch of the temple. There–  she is praying her hurt and her hope and her grief out to the Holy One. What Eli sees, however, is a drunk bag lady who has been partying on the temple steps all night.

What a hypocrite– his own sons are out of control, and here he misjudges Hannah’s behavior. There are many Eli’s in the world. They misinterpret other people, judge life’s losers as bringing it upon themselves, while seeing themselves as morally/religiously superior to them.

But Hannah stands up to Eli. Her prayer has been so passionate that her lips were moving, but no sound passed from them. She tells Eli that he has her all wrong, then describes her prayer. Eli repents, “I’m sorry. May the Lord God of the angel armies heed your prayer. Amen.”

God now enters the story. Often, when people are hurting, there is a faith interpretation which goes, “God is against the losers. God doesn’t like these bums. God is punishing them.” There is a twist in the plot. God is on Hannah’s side! God is always on the side of the losers.

God is a God who is for us. That’s why we gather in worship. God in Jesus is given for you, as individuals and all who gather around the Table. God in Jesus is given for all people– for the forgiveness of sin. God is ON THE SIDE OF EVERYONE! God is FOR EVERYONE!

Rivalry

The Bible constantly reveals our human rivalry: the “favorites” versus the “rejects,” the “Penninahs” versus the “Hannahs,” the “winners” versus the “losers”. The scriptures are realistic. This is how we see things.We believe that God loves some of us (favorites) more than the rest of us (the regulars) and that God despises the worst of us (losers). The “Satan batters us into thinking that God hates the people we label “the worst” until they get their act together.

Revelation

However, in this story, we see that God is ON THE SIDE of life’s losers. So Hannah prays in 1 Samuel 2, thanking God for turning things upside down. In Luke 1, the peasant girl, Mary, sings a praise song, about how God is on the side of the losers. But then there is this… as we receive the God who is ON OUR SIDE we are then able to relax into being a people who are ON THE SIDE of everyone. As God is FOR us, then we are released to also be FOR others.

Practice

So how about we try this? Instead of seeing people’s faults, see their pain– look at everyone through God’s eyes, the God who is on their side.

 

 

P.S. God listened to Hannah’s prayer. A year later, she had a baby boy named Samuel, a sign that God is ON OUR SIDE.

P.P.S. Even when we were enemies against God, doing not-so-cool-things, Christ was on our side, to the point of showing his love up upon the cross.

Praying for people who don’t deserve it…

9 Oct

An intercessor is one who pleads for another. He or she speaks in favor for someone who is in trouble. An intercessor even prays to God for the most undeserving. It is easy to pray for the deserving, another matter to intercede for the undeserving.

Exhibit A: Sodom and Gomorrah. Wicked. Brutal. Evil. Depraved. And you know what Abraham did for them? He prayed to God on their behalf! He tried to save them. These most undeserving cities, and Abraham racked his brain to come up with some scheme to stop their destruction.

In Genesis 18, he negotiated with the Lord. What if there are 50 innocent people? 45 decent citizens? 40 righteous residents? 30 good guys? 20 tenderhearted souls? 10 friendly fellas? Will you spare the cities for them? And God said, “Yes, for the sake of a faithful few, I will spare them!”

Unfortunately, there were not even a faithful few. Nevertheless, Abraham pleaded and begged that their lives might be saved. He defended the undeserving. He was an intercessor.

Exhibit B: The Golden Calf. The people of Israel, recently delivered from slavery in Egypt, constructed a Golden Calf. Then they danced around it, partied like there was no tomorrow, and forgot the real God who saved them.

In Exodus 32, the Lord was ticked off, planning to wipe them out and start over again with Moses. And you know what Moses did for the people? He spoke up for them. He asked for a special favor. Even though they didn’t deserve it, Moses convinced God to forgive them instead of destroy them.

Unfortunately, when Moses met the people, he imitated God’s original anger. He gathered the Levi tribe together, and they butchered 3,000 people “in the name of the Lord.” What happened to Moses the intercessor? How did he become Moses the righteous warrior, slaying the wicked (32:25)?

Exhibit C: Jesus on the cross. Judas betrayed him. The religious leaders plotted to murder him. Peter denied him. The disciple abandoned him. The crowds ridiculed him. The soldiers mocked and tortured him and spat upon him. The centurion nailed him to the cross.

In Luke 23:32-34, Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them, because they don’t realize what they are doing.” How true! Self-destructive people, twisted humanity are their own worst enemies. They need help.

Hebrews 7:25 describes Jesus as the One, who even now, intercedes for us.

And the Spirit of Jesus, intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words to express. (Romans 8:26)

Exhibit D: we are invited to become intercessors. We pray for an impossible healing filled future to invade our present. Prayer makes space for God to work.

One final word. In Jesus, the true character of God is revealed. God is like Jesus. The Lord desires our healing, not our elimination. God is on our side! He wants the best for us, even the undeserving. Let us follow Jesus, the Ultimate Intercessor. Amen.

Movie Review: “Hellbound?”

29 Sep

dead body with toe tag

God is gonna getcha!
Welcome to the movie Hellbound?

The film begins at Ground Zero in New York City. It’s the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Guess who shows up? The “damn everyone to Hell” folks from Westboro Baptist Church!

Where others shed tears, Westboro offered cheers.

Where others offered compassion for the victims, Westboro offered their 100% certain judgment, “God is gonna getcha!”

We see Director Kevin Miller patiently attempting to reason with the Westboro folks. His curiosity is met with scorn. They accuse Miller of being a wimp. In addition, the church members announce, “99.99% of humanity is going to Hell. That’s how God made the universe, if you don’t like it, then create your own universe.”

Soon, we see Pastor Mark Driscoll from Mars Hill in Seattle, seconding the Westboro motion, although in more sophisticated theological fashion. Driscoll argues that humanity is in rebellion against God, and God hates those in rebellion against him. From there, we hear other kinder, gentler voices who nevertheless vote for Hell as “eternal conscious torture.”

Gradually, the film introduces us to other voices in the “Hell debate.”  A second view called “annihilation” is considered. In this perspective, those in rebellion against God face a choice, repent or face destruction. Instead of eternal torture, rebels are wiped out of existence.

The final view explored by the film is called “ultimate reconciliation”. Here, believers hold the hope that eventually “Christ’s love wins all.” in this view “God is gonna getcha” is transformed into God’s ultimate, victorious embrace.

At this point, the waters are muddied. On screen, Miller lists Bible verses supporting all three views. All three voices are found in the scriptures! Whatever perspective one chooses, one will find both support and objection. There is no easy, simple harmonization. Not only that, but there are different Hebrew and Greek words, such as Gehenna, that are translated “Hell” in English. We learn that these words do not always fit our “traditional” definition of Hell.

So, why make this movie about Hell? After all, in the end, it is all speculation.

Miller’s film suggests that Hell does matter, because it shapes how you experience God’s character. Is God finally about love or punishment? Retribution or reconciliation? And, if God is someone who terrorizes and tortures, then the Osama bin Ladens of the world have their justification. We become like the God we adore. If God plans to torture evil people forever, then we can blow up evil people today. On the other hand, if God is out to get and embrace everyone, then Christ’s followers imitate Jesus is naming evil, judging wrong by making things right, offering healing to the hurts of the world, and bringing about reconciliation through forgiveness. The Crucified One says, “Father, forgive them,” and the Risen Lord says, “Do not be afraid!”

This movie ends with humility. We have three different versions of “God is gonna getcha!”: eternal conscious torment, annihilation, and ultimate reconciliation. Whatever view one brings into t he theater, Miller invites us to us to think again. We all agree, “God is gonna getcha!” The question is “How?”
The film opens Friday, October 5, 2012 at 7 p.m. at the Regal in Lancaster. Following the film, there will be opportunity to talk with those involved with making this movie. Check out the movie’s website at http://www.hellboundthemovie.com/

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