Book Review 33: The Child Goddess by Louise Marley

Can you judge a book by its cover?

Well, this old adage was put to the test by me in reading The Child Goddess by Louise Marley. I was perusing at our local used bookstore here in San Antonio and made it to the science-fiction section to see this striking cover of a bald woman with her right arm around a child. It intrigued me and knew instantly I would be reading this novel.

It’s a surprising literate story about a woman named Isabel Burke, who is a Priest from the Order of Mary Magadalene (she has been a popular topic in a lot of modern fiction recently) and her relationship with a child named Oa from the planet Virimund who can not age. The child is about a hundred years old, but her body and mind has not reached beyond the pre-pubescent stage.

The scientific community thinks the child is carrying a gene that could lead to an anti-aging virus and make them famous. The priest thinks differently and has developed a relationship with the child. However, the novel goes well-beyond the stereotypical science versus religion argument and shows both sides in a fair manner in dealing with this kind of dilemma.

Also, the characters are well developed and shows the priest having an honest dose of human desire as well and not trying to be a perfect religious person. As a matter of fact, the story reveals rather adroitly Isabel’s feelings for a married prominent scientist that causes a realistic tension between them as they worked together to find out about Oa’s condition.

The best speculative fiction stories always ask the question, What If? The story succeeds admirably in that regard and reminds me of a novel that Ursula LeGuin would write but substituting her Taoist perspective for a Catholic perspective instead.

The Child Goddess is not the greatest novel ever written. However, Louise Marley gives us the insight into the second question an excellent speculative fiction story should ask, What does it mean to be human? For that, I applaud the author in giving a possible answer in such a non-conventional manner.

I will include The Child Goddess as one of my favorite books I’ve read and reviewed for the blog in 2012 and even recommend it to those who would not usually read this genre of fiction.

Moreover, I guess the old adage can be true every once in awhile.  You can judge a book by its cover!

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Habakkuk 3:1-19 (Habakkuk’s Prayer)

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O Lord, I have heard the report of you,

and your work, O Lord, do I fear.

In the midst of the years revive it;

in the midst of the years make it known;

in wrath remember mercy.

God came from Teman,

and the Holy One from Mount Paran.

His splendor covered the heavens,

and the earth was full of his praise.

His brightness was like the light;

rays flashed from his hand;

and there he veiled his power.

Before him went pestilence,

and plague followed at his heels.

He stood and measured the earth;

he looked and shook the nations;

then the eternal mountains were scattered;

the everlasting hills sank low.

His were the everlasting ways.

I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction;

the curtains of the land of Midian did tremble.

Was your wrath against the rivers, O Lord?

Was your anger against the rivers,

or your indignation against the sea,

when you rode on your horses,

on your chariot of salvation?

You stripped the sheath from your bow,

calling for many arrows.

You split the earth with rivers.

The mountains saw you and writhed;

the raging waters swept on;

the deep gave forth its voice;

it lifted its hands on high.

The sun and moon stood still in their place

at the light of your arrows as they sped,

at the flash of your glittering spear.

You marched through the earth in fury;

you threshed the nations in anger.

You went out for the salvation of your people,

for the salvation of your anointed.

You crushed the head of the house of the wicked,

laying him bare from thigh to neck.

You pierced with his own arrows the heads of his warriors,

who came like a whirlwind to scatter me,

rejoicing as if to devour the poor in secret.

You trampled the sea with your horses,

the surging of mighty waters.

I hear, and my body trembles;

my lips quiver at the sound;

rottenness enters into my bones;

my legs tremble beneath me.

Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble

to come upon people who invade us.

Though the fig tree should not blossom,

nor fruit be on the vines,

the produce of the olive fail

and the fields yield no food,

the flock be cut off from the fold

and there be no herd in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the Lord;

I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

God, the Lord, is my strength;

he makes my feet like the deer’s;

he makes me tread on my high places.

(Habakkuk 3:2-19 ESV Bible)

The prayer of Habakkuk is one of the finest Hebrew poems in the entire Old Testament. It was written in the form of a psalm and was probably designed to be sung by Levites in the Temple services (1 Chron 25:1-8).

It becomes the capstone of the book and reveals the triumph of faith in the face of adversity. It is a fitting conclusion to the theme of the book. As such, it records a touching and heartwarming example of the manner in which the just can triumph over the adversities of life. Habakkuk looked beyond the vicissitudes of daily life and the threat of invasion to a time when God would right the wrongs of mankind and reward His servants for their righteousness. (pp.50-51 from Everyman Bible Commentary, Habakkuk and Zephaniah by Cyril J. Barber)

As the writer of the above passage stated that Habakkuk’s prayer is one the best Hebrew poems in the Old Testament, I recently heard a good friend tell me the exact same thing.  She remembered this prayer from her seminary studies and referred back to it from time to time.

I must admit I was surprised by her comment because in all the years I’ve been a Christian, I had never heard anyone make that kind of comment.  Or this prayer being mentioned from the pulpit and the entire book of Habakkuk being taught to the congregation.

There were a few things that stood out from the prophet’s prayer.  In verses 3:3-15, Habakkuk refers back to when God freed the Israelities from the Pharaoh of Egypt in the Book of Exodus. Because, the people of Judah were under control by the Babylonians, Habakkuk wanted God to reveal his power like he did in the aforementioned sentence.

What that section of the prayer revealed to me is the interconnectedness of the entire Bible.  Habakkuk referred back to the earliest time of God’s story for what He did for his people under dire circumstances. And he foreshadowed in Habakkuk 2:4, a key principle of Paul’s ministry in the New Testament.  Who knew this obscure book had this kind of connection in the Bible and makes me realize that we should read and study God’s entire word not just what’s popular in our current form of Christianity.

Second, in verses 3:4, 9, 13, the prophet inserted the word Selah. The only other place that word is mentioned is in the Book of Psalms. It revealed that Habakkuk’s prayer was meant to be set to music.  Also, that insertion was to give worshippers time for reflection.

Hmm…reflection.  Do we reflect in our society?  Do we really take time to stop and think about God’s word and what we are to learn from it?  Or do we consume it and move on to the next sermon or bible study?  It seems in a culture of information, there’s not time for any kind of reflection and I believe that is one of the downsides of having access to almost everything we want at our fingertips or a click.

God’s word demands reflection especially when bad things happen in our lives. Prayer is that time for reflection more than any other time in our busy lives. If we don’t pray and reflect, how can we ever get closer to Him and draw on his strength when we needed the most.

Lastly in verses 17-19, Habakkuk’s closing was best describe like this:

As one compares the beginning of the book of Habakkuk with its closing, it is clear that outward circumstances had not changed. Only the prophet had changed. His former bewilderment and confusion had given way to peace and trust in the Lord. It was the Lord who then filled the prophet’s vision and satisfied his soul. Although Habakkuk’s questions had not been answered, his doubts had been resolved. The vision God had given him of His plan and purpose had met the deepest needs of the heart.

Habakkuk’s faith and trust in the Lord illustrate the way Christians today should face adversity. He did not give way to fatalism, nor did he adopt a stoic attitude. He avoided the pitfall of passive resignation as well. Though his inward parts trembled, his attitude was one of submission to the will of God, and he exercised active dependence upon Him. (pp. 62 & 64, Everyman Bible Commentary, Habakkuk and Zephaniah by Cyril J. Barber)

Those above passages were well written and reveals to me a big reason why unbelievers have problem with the God of the Bible and refuses to believe in Him.

Trust.

How can I trust a God that has allowed slavery, oppression, and the wealthy exploit the poor throughout human existence? How can I trust some entity that is unseen and will probably never to get see even though his believers keep talking about a second coming?  It’s easier to trust in a government that can give me assistance when I’m in economic trouble or create laws to right societal wrongs.

Well as a believer, I can not give you the most reasoned and logical answers to satisfy your doubts.  However, in reading Habakkuk and being a Christian for the past decade I’ve learned the change comes from within.  Being a religious person means changing yourself not other people.  I can’t change my wife or my children or my friends or that other ethnic group or rich people and as along as you always focus on the outward things of society, I believe you will never or ever be able to trust in God.

As long as you trust in yourself and your own abilities, you will never be able to cross that bridge to trust in an unseen God.  But, the great thing about this God is that he will receive you with open arms even if you have rejected him repeatedly. That, I can speak from direct experience.  And after reading Habakkuk is a reminder of this principle.

I would like thank everyone who read this study on the Book of Habakkuk and I hope this little obscure book from an obscure prophet is made a little more known to all of us who believe in Him and even those who don’t.

God Bless!

Habakkuk 1:12-2:20 (His 2nd Complaint and God’s Response)

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Are you from everlasting

O Lord my God, my Holy One

We shall not die

O Lord, you have ordained them as a judgment

And you, O’Rock have established them for reproof

You who are of purer eyes than to see evil

And cannot look at wrong

Why do you idly look at traitors

And remain silent when the wicked swallows up

The man more righteous than he;

You make mankind like the fish of the sea

Like crawling things that have no ruler

He brings all of them up with a hook;

He drags them out with his net;

He gathers them in his dragnet;

So he rejoices and is glad

Therefore he sacrifices to his net

And makes offerings to his dragnet;

For by them he lives in luxury

And his food is rich.

Is he then to keep on emptying his net

And mercilessly killing nations forever?

I will take my stand at my watchpost

And station myself on the tower

And look to see what he will say to me

And what I will answer concerning my complaint.

(Habakkuk 1:12-2:1 ESV Bible)

The main key of Habakkuk’s second complaint is in verse 13 where the prophet writes, “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong. Why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” That verse shows the prophet’s (and our) misunderstanding of God and who he is. Because he is pure, because he is good, because he is righteous, and because he is everlasting, how could He let evil go unpunished and run rampant across the world.

This is where unbelievers decide to get off the train in believing in God. Also, this is where believers get confused and disheartened in their belief in Him. Well, I think this explanation on Habakkuk’s perspective is pertinent for this discussion:

Habakkuk reviewed his own belief in God as well as what God has just revealed to him. Because God was of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. Habakkuk failed to see how He could use a nation more wicked then Israel to chasten Israel. From a human perspective it appeared as if God were looking with favor upon those who dealt treacherously. (p. 34 from Everyman Bible Commentary, Habakkuk and Zephaniah by Cyril J. Barber)

God is letting evil get away in our society. God is letting the bad CEO get away scot-free with a severance package after ruining the company I worked for. God is letting my ex-husband or ex-wife get away with adultery as they start their new life with their mistress or paramour. God is letting our country go down the tubes because the people elected the wrong person as president. Well, our complaints like the prophet comes from a limited perspective and here’s the reason for that:

Habakkuk looked for the punishment of the wicked so that the prosperity of his people could be assured, but God, who knew the end from the beginning, looked for the punishment of Habakkuk’s people so that they could be restored to fellowship. (p.36 from Everyman Bible Commentary, Habakkuk and Zephaniah by Cyril J. Barber)

God was going to reprove his people in order to restore them to fellowship with Him. He’s going to give judgment and grace at the same time. Isn’t that what we truly need from Him? Isn’t that what we need from our parents? Isn’t that what we need from our boss or some other authority figure?

It seems in our culture, we want grace without judgment or we want love without correction. However that’s not consistent with how God operates. In both, the Old and New Testament shows God’s judgment and grace working together. And since reading Habakkuk, I’m seeing that we can’t have one without the other.

God responds to Habakkuk in verses 2:2-20, but for me the key in His response is this section:

Write the vision;

Make it plain on tablets

So he may run who reads it

For still the vision awaits its appointed time

It hastens to the end–it will not lie

If it seems slow, wait for it

It will surely come; it will not delay

Behold, his soul is puffed up;

It is not upright with him,

but the righteous shall live by his faith.

(Habakkuk 2:2-4 ESV Bible)

God doesn’t answer the prophet’s complaint directly. But tells him to write the vision, wait for the appointed time, and if it seems slow believe it will come. That tells us God doesn’t want his people to wallow in self-pity or disappointment or even depression for a long time. He will lead to us to act.

Moreover, God does address the evildoers in his response. Using this phrase, His soul is puffed up means He was referring to Babylonian kingdom. Because they were a proud nation that relied on themselves instead of God, he gives the prophet a contrasting phrase, the righteous shall live by his faith.

Those of you who know their Bible should have recognized immediately where that phrase has appeared elsewhere in scripture.

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, The righteousness shall live by faith. (Romans 1:17 ESV Bible)

Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the Law, for the righteous shall live by faith. (Galatians 3:11 ESV Bible)

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8 ESV Bible)

But my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. (Hebrews 10:38-39 ESV Bible)

All those scriptures from the New Testament point back to that verse in Habakkuk. It shows this obscure and overlooked book in the Bible laid out one of the bedrock themes of Paul’s ministry and is preached by many pastors in our churches today.

In closing, I believe this passage will sum it up:

The truth contained in Habakkuk 2:4 was designed to bring comfort to believers. It showed that faith in God was the key to consistent living, even though violence abounded and justice was perverted. Today that short statement helps believers to persevere even though God chastens them and they cannot understand His ways. It provides a solution to the doubt they sometimes feel in His all-wise providence and helps them to understand his righteous judgments. In the final analysis, faith provides the key to understanding the Lord’s sovereign purpose, and it leads men to worship. (p. 39 from Everyman Bible Commentary, Habakkuk and Zephaniah by Cyril J. Barber)

That’s right on.  See you next week!

Here’s a question to think about until next week’s post:

1) What does it mean to you that righteous shall live by the faith?  (Review the New Testament Scriptures alongside Habakkuk 2:4 as a starting place.)

Habakkuk 1:2-11(The 1st Complaint and God’s Response)

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O Lord, how long shall I cry

for help and you will not hear?

Or cry to you Violence!

and you will not save?

Why do make me see iniquity,

and why do you idly look at wrong?

Destruction and violence are before me;

strife and contention arise.

So the law is paralyzed,

and justice never goes forth.

For the wicked surround the righteous;

so justice goes forth perverted.

(Habakkuk 1:2-4 ESV Bible)

This was Habakkuk’s first complaint. It seemed to him that God was not answering his prayers to the wickedness and injustice he saw around him. Here’s what happened at that time to make the prophet cry out to God in this manner.

Josiah was the King of Judah and considered a righteous man in the eyes of the Lord and the people. The Book of the Law was recovered by the high priest, Hillkiah and read to the king.

After hearing the Law, the king tore his clothes and repented to God for his Judah’s unrighteousness. Then he decided to make a covenant with the Lord and made sure he and the people would follow the commandments for the rest of his days as king. Josiah got rid of the altars on the roof from a former king, the houses of male prostitutes, all the mediums and necromancers in Judah, and restore the Passover.

With all of that, you could have seen how the prophet was upset at God for not answering him. You had a righteous king that repented for Judah’s past and was reforming the nation to suit the Lord’s image. This should have pleased God and made him answer Habakkuk’s complaint immediately.

Well, Habakkuk fell into the trap that many of us who walk with Christ have fell into quite often. Because we are living a Godly lifestyle or doing everything that we believe what God wants us to do, then He must answer us right away when there’s trouble in our lives or when injustice is happening in a society.

“Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him. Still the Lord did not turn from the burning of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him.” (2 Kings 23:25-26 ESV Bible)

What Habakkuk didn’t realize was that God would recognize and honor King Josiah for his faithfulness and righteousness to Him. However, Judah still had to be judged for their unfaithfulness and immorality years before Josiah became king. The king’s reforms were needed and appreciated but the Lord had another plan to wed out Judah’s immorality and it had to be addressed.

Look among the nations, and see;

wonder and be astounded.

For I am doing a work in your days

that you would not believe if told

For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans

that bitter and hasty nation

Who march through the breadth of the earth

to seize dwellings not their own

They are dreaded and fearsome;

Their justice and dignity go forth from themselves

Their horses are swifter than leopards,

More fierce then the evening wolves;

Their horsemen press proudly on.

Their horsemen come from afar;

They fly like an eagle swift to devour.

They all come for violence,

All their faces forward.

They gather captives like sand

At kings they scoff and at rulers they laugh.

They laugh at every fortress,

For they pile up earth and take it.

Then they sweep by like the wind and

go on, guilty men, whose own might is their God!

(Habakkuk 1:5-11 ESV Bible)

There’s His answer in response to the prophet’s complaint. Instantly, we can recognize that God did not answer Habakkuk’s complaint, why directly? “He is sovereign. He does not need to explain or apologize for his actions.” (Everyman Bible Commentary: Habakkuk and Zephaniah by Cyril J. Barber)

That last sentence bothers both believers and non-believers. We want an explanation for something we don’t understand or something that happen we deem unfair or unjust. As a matter of fact, we will demand it.  However, God is sovereign and his ways are higher than ours and He doesn’t have to answer us if He doesn’t want to. I would recommend reading Job 38-42 to read God’s response to Job’s (another righteous man) complaint about the unfair treatment happening in his life.

Let’s be honest, we don’t like that kind of treatment from God or man.  When we see injustice there has to be reason or answer why its happening. We are considered the highest on the evolutionary food chain and things like this must meet our understanding before we can judge it to be right or not. Like I mention in the last post, I believe this action here is the biggest barrier for non-believers into becoming believers. If this God so good, why does he allow injustice or evil to reign free on a society?

Well, God does answer the prophet in verses 6-11. He’s raising up the Chaldeans (Babylonians) against Judah. God knows about their violent history and their evil ways. They just defeated the Assyrians and were coming for Judah. Also, He uses metaphors like swifter than leopards or more fierce then the evening wolves in response to Habakkuk to drive home the point on whom he’s dealing with.

What this first section of the study has said to me, that God will use anyone or anything to do his will. This theme is consistent throughout the Bible.

For example in the Old Testament, God uses Pharaoh’s hardness in the Book of Exodus to get him to free the Israelities from slavery.  God uses King Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther to keep him from wiping out the Jews in that kingdom thus preserving the bloodline where Jesus would descend from.  Over in the New Testament, there is the parable of Good Samaritan from the Book of Luke or Jesus speaking to the woman at the well from the Book of John.  There are many other examples in the Bible showing God using anybody for his purposes.

As Christians, we must come to grips with this reality.  There is no one out of God’s reach and He will use anyone to do his will.  Just because we are following Him and living our lives to reflect Him on Earth as best as we can doesn’t mean we will always understand what He’s doing or why He’s doing it. We have to trust in Him and truly understand his plan is better than ours.

As for non-believers, I know this still doesn’t meet your logic or reason sensors. However, I can write for myself that I was a non-believer for many years and critic of Christianity. I believed in Astrology, Numerology, and dabble with Taoism and thought I could be “spiritual without being religious” and I’m here to write that God has used to me too.  I’m not trying to convert to you all…but to let you know that if God wants to use you to do His will…He will.  I can testify to that.

I believe that this is first lesson we can learn from this opening section of Habakkuk. See you next week!

Here’s a question for you to think about until the next post:

1) Do you think God should use anyone or anything for His purposes?

If so, why?

If not, why?

Habakkuk: An Introduction

Last summer, I did an online Bible Study on the Book of Ecclesiastes(my favorite book) and now I’m going to write and post a study on the Book of Habakkuk.

Let’s face it, many Christians when they open their bibles don’t go looking for the Book of Habakkuk for their reading, studying or devotion time. Shucks, I don’t think we can even pronounce his name correctly!

Even among serious biblical students and theologians, Habakkuk has been overlooked and ignored.  Here’s an example:

“When a well-worn Bible is allowed to fall open at random, the possibility of its opening at the Book of Psalms or the Gospel of John or one of the Epistles is good. Even among zealous Bible students, the books of Habakkuk and Zephaniah are seldom read. One is tempted with the thought if they were somehow surreptitiously removed from the Bible, they would not be missed.”  (from the preface, Everyman Bible Commentary: Habakkuk and Zephaniah by Cyril J. Barber)

My hope for this study is to show that Habakkuk is an important book of the Bible and an integral part of God’s story to us. Also, that it would be missed if it was suddenly removed from the Bible.

Habakkuk is the eighth book in the Twelve books of the Minor Prophets from the Old Testament. However, little is known about the prophet apart from this book. Scholars believe his prophecy can be dated around 609 B.C., which is at the end of King Josiah’s reign (640-609 BC) to the beginning of King Jehoiakim’s reign (609-598 BC). And to get the historical background of Habakkuk’s prophecy, I would suggest reading 2 Kings 22-23 and 2 Chronicles 34:1-36:4.

It’s been said that Habakkuk’s name in Hebrew means “to embrace” or “to wrestle with.” Well, if that’s true then after reading the aforementioned scriptures of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles will give you a good idea of what the prophet was trying to embrace or actually wrestle with during that time.  Here’s a sample:

“The peace that had accompanied the reign of Josiah had allowed the people to enjoy a greater degree of prosperity than had been possible for many years. In a real sense they thought the new era would last indefinitely. The realities that faced them, however, could not have been anticipated by either the political liberals or the religiously-minded conservatives.

The power of Assyria had collapsed. Political supremacy belonged to Egypt. Strong political ties, however, had been established with the emerging kingdom of Bablyon. Because she was a vassal of Egypt and a friend of Babylon, it seemed as if nothing could threaten the progress of Judah’s prosperity.

The nation owed its prosperity to God’s favoring of one man, Josiah (2 Kings 22:1, 12-17). Josiah had led the nation in several notable reforms. Although those reforms touched only the outward observances of the people, God said He would honor Josiah for his faithfulness (2 Kings 22:18-20).

The leaders of the people ignored the spiritual reasons for their material prosperity and thought God’s favor could be enjoyed without interruption. It was not long before greed and avarice became prevalent. The rich exploited the poor. Justice favored the wealthy. Those who were God-fearing found themselves oppressed by an ever-increasing number whose desire for power led them to secure, by one means or another, those positions that met their personal (and often pathological) needs.

It was amid such conditions that God revealed His will to Habakkuk. Turbulent times lay ahead for the Lord’s people. The message Habakkuk was told to proclaim was one that would please neither the Left nor the Right. The delusions of the decision makers were to be dashed to pieces before the harsh reality of God’s sovereign justice.” (pp. 13-14, Everyman Bible Commentary, Habakkuk and Zephaniah by Cyril J. Barber)

It is interesting that writer mentioned politics several times in that previous passage. I know after this past presidential election, there are many Christians who are done with politics.  But, it’s unavoidable and whether in Habakkuk’s or our time, we have to deal with it and ultimately trust that God is in control no matter what happens politically.

I will confess this was the impetus for doing this study. The things I’ve heard and read after the election has shocked and saddened me. For political commentators like Glenn Beck saying “God really sucks right now” to States wanting to secede from the Union to some Christians proclaiming the rapture is finally coming since Barack Obama has been re-elected.

But, after reading Habakkuk has shown me that there’s truly nothing new under the sun and human nature doesn’t change.  And what happened over 2600 years ago during the prophet’s time is relevant to our time today.

The prophet asks the question to God that I believe most Christians and non-Christians would ask Him if they had the chance: If God is so good, why does he allow evil and injustice to happen?

I will assert this question not being answered satisfactorily is the biggest barrier from non-believers into becoming believers. On the surface and even logically, it doesn’t make sense that God who is all-knowing, all-powerful, and omniscient could allow evil or injustice to get by without him stopping it.

Well in the Book of Habakkuk, the prophet complains to God twice and God answers him both times.  God’s answers range from indifference to actually what he was doing and going to do for Judah. And Habakkuk’s response to God’s answers is something we as Christians should apply in our lives and give non-believers at least an intellectual understanding of who God is even if you don’t agree with it.

There are only three chapters in Habakkuk and can be read in within twenty minutes. However for the next three Saturdays, I will post in this order:

1) Habakkuk 1:2-11 (His 1st complaint and God’s response)

2) Habakkuk 1:12-2:20 (His second complaint and God’s response)

3) Habakkuk 3:1-19 (His prayer)

I believe if you read the Book of Habakkuk in this structure you will get the full context and meaning of this obscure book and its importance for us today.

Finally, I believe this song by Chris Tomlin is an appropriate theme for this study.

See you next week!

Wisdom From Kammbia 3.4: Why I Didn’t Like The Prodigal Son Parable…But Now Do

11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to[a] one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’[b] 22 But the father said to his servants,[c] ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’

The Parable of The Prodigal Son is probably the most popular, most studied, and most influential of all of Jesus’ parables. But, I have to admit I did not like this parable for most of my Christian life until now.

Moreover, I will have to admit that I do have this aversion to things becoming extremely popular in our culture and my maverick streak comes out and makes me run in the opposite direction in order to not follow the crowd.  Okay there…..therapy session and confession are now over!

I’ve realized that I understood the Parable of The Prodigal Son completely wrong for all my years as a Christian. However, I have noticed some interesting things about this parable that I didn’t recognize before.

In Verse Twelve, the younger son asks his father for his share of the inheritance and the father gives it to him without question. Then, the younger son leaves immediately in order to sow his wild oats.

Let’s add a little context here: In Judaism, the inheritance from a father is usually given to the older brother not the younger brother. (We can see this issue played out with Jacob and Esau from Genesis 25:29-30 & Genesis 27 in the Old Testament. Jacob stole Esau’s birthright and was blessed first by his father, Isaac, even though he was the younger son.)

Because of the younger son’s request, he has shamed and dishonored his father and the younger son could have been banished from the village forever because his rebellious act.

The father in the parable represents God and the fact he would allow himself to be shamed and even dishonored by his offspring reveals that God will honor their choice to either choose or reject him. The fact that God wants to be chosen by us even if we reject him and is willing to risk embarrassment has opened my eyes to how loving God truly is.

Furthermore, Verse Twelve divulges that the Father evenly divided his inheritance between his sons and himself. However in Verse Twenty-Nine, the older son complained to his father that he had served him faithfully the entire time and never received even a fatten calf so that he could celebrate with his friends.

Well, that’s not exactly true. The oldest son got his share of the inheritance when his father divided it for his younger son.  The younger son broke that tradition and the father had to make sure the older son would get his portion as well.

The issue for the older son was that he felt the younger son got rewarded for his bad behavior and the father forgave him instantly without even an admonishment. When I have read this parable over the years, I could always identify with the older son and this one of the main reasons I didn’t like the parable.

We don’t like to think that someone is getting away with wrong behavior.  The husband that divorces his wife in order to a marry younger woman when he becomes successful, the CEO whom embezzles money from the company and gets a severance package in order to get them to leave, the murderer in court receiving a non-guilty verdict, or even a referee that makes the wrong call at the end of a game costing the team a victory.  All of these examples are things that seem unfair and should not be rewarded. But, the father in the parable is letting bad behavior off the hook.

Well in Verse Twenty and Twenty-One, the father felt compassion and ran towards the younger son as soon as he saw him returning home. Also, the father let the younger son confess how he sinned against him and wants to repent.

Most commentaries have written that the father cuts off the younger son from saying the rest of his prepared speech. Actually, I disagree with that analysis.  I believe that the Father heard everything he wanted from the younger son.  Because of the son’s confession of his sinful behavior, the Father was ready to welcome him home with open arms.

God is always ready to welcome us to back him. But, there has to be an acknowledgement of sinful behavior and a willingness to repent. Uh-oh….I just mentioned two of the bad words of our modern culture: sin and repentance. I know I have probably lost some of my non-believing readers at this point and believe it or not I have lost some believing readers as well.

I have to acknowledge the “r-word” and the “s-word” in my walk with Christ.  It is unavoidable for me, no matter if the culture refuses to mention them or not. And this was the other main reason I didn’t like this parable because the younger son had humility and courage to face his wrongdoing head on and return to the one whom he wronged. I wish I could have done that a lot more in my life.

In closing, God discloses himself in the Parable of The Prodigal Son to be far greater than I’ve previously imagined him to be.  The parable declares his understanding of human nature is beyond reproach and that fact he is willing to risk it all in order to have a connection with humanity is truly humbling.

Wisdom from Kammbia 3.2: I Like Christian Music, But…..

Wow 2011 #1s

I overheard a conversation between two co-workers this week.  They were talking about one of my favorite subjects, music.  One of the co-workers said he got this Christian Music CD from a friend and one of the songs sung the word “Jesus” sixty-seven times. He finished the conversation by saying that he didn’t mind Christian music as long as it was good.  But, he didn’t want the message thrown in his face like it was in that song.

I must admit I wanted to jump into the conversation and defend that song he was criticizing.  But, I felt deep down that I agree with him.  So I thought about that conversation all week.

There are many people like that co-worker of mine, who don’t want the message of a religion (mostly Christianity) or a philosophy overtly in their art. However, when I thought about it…doesn’t most art have a message that the artist is trying to promote or influence their audience with?

Let’s stay with music.  The Beatles glorified drug use in their songs during the 60s. John Lennon promoted a utopia with his biggest hit as a solo artist, Imagine. A lot of Rock-n-Roll and Rhythm and Blues songs glorify sex outside of marriage and adultery.  While Rap music glorifies gang violence, the excesses of capitalistic success, and political and cultural philosophies that are outside of  mainstream America.

So I get confused when people like that co-worker have a problem with the overtness in Christian music but will listen to secular music that can be just as overt.

However as I continued to think about that conversation, I still believe he has a point.

Listening to music one of the greatest passions in my life.  I grew up with older brothers that played music around our house all the time.  Also, I have a good friend that is a local jazz musician from Albuquerque and we would have music listening sessions on Saturdays where he would introduce me to music as diverse as Van Morrison to Tito Puente to Enya to Miles Davis to Brazilian musicians like Caetano Veloso and Milton Nascimento then back to groups like Earth, Wind, and Fire and Steely Dan.

So my musical tastes are broad and this is one of the things I lament in Christian music.  Not being broad but narrow.

“That’s when Christian radio decided that a mythical young housewife named Becky was its target customer. If you walk into a top Christian radio station today, everyone on the staff will know Becky, though they may have a different name for her at their station, an ironic and furtive attempt to make Becky their own. Becky is the one person they want to listen. Every little thing the station does is done with Becky in mind.”

“She’s thirty-five years old. She has two kids. She drives a minivan and is married, but her marriage is not all she dreamed it would be. She goes to church pretty regularly, but not every Sunday. She is mostly a stay-at-home mom, but she may work a few hours a week or may work seasonal jobs at different times of the year to bring a few extra dollars into the household.”

“She cares about issues that affect her kids: food, education, health, family, and leisure-time activities. And Christian radio stations cater everything on the air to this question, Will Becky care?”

“There was a time when theologians and the wisest minds of a church determined what was said and sung in a church.  Today it is what Becky likes gets played on Christian radio, and what gets played on Christian radio gets promoted to church musicians and church leaders. The result: our churches are filled with songs not because they reflect our highest and best thinking and artistry or because they remind us and teach our children important truths, but because they are—as many Christian stations say about themselves–safe for the entire family.”

The above quotes were from Warren Cole Smith’s excellent and challenging bookA Lover’s Quarrel With The Evangelical Church. I believed he hit a home run about Christian music with those quotes. It seems this genre of music as taken the roar and ferociousness away from the lion and tamed it like our household pet.

What I struggle with as a Christian (not only in music but across all the other art forms) is that we only study certain parts of the Bible and have it speak for our faith as a whole.

Shouldn’t we study the entire Bible?  The popular and unpopular?  Isn’t all of God’s word worthy of study and examination. So why do we continue go down the same path repeatedly?

Also, shouldn’t Christian music reflect that as well and not just Jesus loves me and forgives me songs?

What about songs on Moses?  God chose him to lead his people out of Egypt into the Promised Land.  Also, God told him he couldn’t get into the Promised Land but buried Moses when he died.  I could see a song about God’s grace from an Old Testament perspective. (God was nice and merciful in the Old Testament…who knew?)

What about songs on Job? There is a Country or Blues song waiting to happen about Job.  Also, there is a song about God’s ways being higher than our ways and that He is mysterious and beyond our total comprehension.

What about songs on Solomon? Lord knows we need songs about wisdom in our culture.  Everybody has information and knowledge but not wisdom.
Also, there is a rhythm-n-blues or smooth jazz song about Solomon loving the wrong woman and the consequences of that decision.

So in essence, I believe Christian music due to business and target marketing has focus a little too hard on Becky and not the depth and richness our faith has shown throughout time. While I understand that our songs should focus on Jesus, it seems the other people of the Bible get left out and we don’t sing about  their struggles and triumphs in trying to live out their faith.

If our music (as well as other art) revealed more of that…then all people (believers and non-believers) could truly relate to our message and even if they don’t agree with it….they could respect the message because it feels real to them and not sanitized.