Doug Talks Torah

Reflecting on all the ways Torah builds the world.

Category: Reflections

Prophetic Faith

Moses the Prophet of the LORD (photo by rorris via Creative Commons)

I will sing of steadfast love and justice;
to you, O LORD, I will make music.
I will ponder the way that is blameless.
(The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Ps 101:1–2). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.)

This morning as I reflected upon Psalm 101, I heard David singing. He is singing back the Word of God’s covenant faithfulness. He is singing about the “way that is blameless.” What is the “way” that he is pondering? Before we can begin to understand what David means, we must understand how the revelation of TORAH provides a foundation for everything in Scripture that follows it. By TORAH, I am referring to the first five books of Scripture. In TORAH, the LORD speaks His people “into being” through His servant Moses.

Thus Moses in rightly understood as the first and greatest of the Prophets (prior to the end of the ages when John the Baptist and Jesus Christ appear). The TORAH is God’s revelation, God’s Word, God’s breath, quickening the children of Israel into the people of God. The Ten Commandments in some ways captures the heart of TORAH. In Deuteronomy 5, after Moses speaks the Word of the LORD in the Ten Commandments he says,

33 You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess. (The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Dt 5:33). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.)

The “way” includes obedience to the Word of the Lord. Per Deuteronomy 6,the “way” includes love of God, fear of God, meditation upon the commandments, obedience to the commandments, teaching of the commandments, living the commandments in the family and in the community. In one sense, “way” refers to the Word of God enfleshed in God’s people. It is obedience the commandments. This obedience is rooted in the life that comes from God’s Word alone.

God’s Word is not just a set a written texts, it is His Living Breathing Word, blowing through His servant Moses and calling forth the people of God. Just as the LORD breathes into clay and forms Adam, the LORD breathes into and through His people to bring life and righteousness and power and glory. This WORD is not simply ideas, but enters and enlivens human form. Adam comes to life. Israel becomes a people. Ezekiel speaks (blows) over the dry bones and they come to life.

As the ancient Israelites meditate upon TORAH, they soak and read and speak and sing and act the WORD of the LORD. They dwell in the Life-giving Breath of God. This prophetic faith was never meant to simply be carved into stone. The stone is but a memorial of the real carving, shaping, forming that the WORD of the LORD does as He breathes into the hearts of His people. It is prophetic is the truest sense of the word. “Prophecy” is the wind, breath, word of God that creates, brings light, brings life, and fulfills God’s Will. Ours is a prophetic faith because it is rooted in the creative breath (Word) of God.

6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Dt 6:5–9). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.)

From the very beginning, His WORD was given to shape us into His image in our hearts. Circumcision pointed ultimately to the heart being shaped for love and life,

6 And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. (The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Dt 30:5–6). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.)

Just as the Spirit hovers over the waters of the deep at Creation, He hovers over the heart of man, blowing, speaking, convicting, shaping us into being as the Image of God. But the heart of man turns away of this Living Word.

17 But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. (The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Dt 30:17–18). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.)

Simply having the Commandments carved in stone gave Israel no magic power. The stone was not a talisman that protected them from enemies. The stone was simply a reminder of the Living, Breathing Word of God sent forth to transform their hearts. But in turning toward idols, they turn away from Life and toward lifeless images made of wood and stone and other lifeless, breathless objects. Thus they have hearts of stone.

David sings about the way that is blameless. He is singing about trusting in this Life-Giving, Spirit-Breathing Word of God blowing forth from TORAH and obeying it (echoing it in our thoughts, words and deeds). The Old Testament tells a story of humanity resisting, rejecting and turning away from the Word of God. It also tells the story of God’s mercy and faithfulness and promise to fulfill His Word in His People. When God enters into history in Jesus, the Word is made Flesh. Jesus fulfills the Word in Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength. He reveals and fulfills perfect love.

Like David, we continue to sing His words. The Psalms quicken us to rehearse, echo, breath the Life Giving Word. His Word will not return void. But calls us out of darkness and into light that the life of Jesus might shine out even in our own lives. We turn to Him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We call upon Him. We trust Him. We abide in Him. And by His Spirit of Grace, He Who is the Way will present us blameless before the Father.

Note: I made a few minor updates on the post I originally put up earlier today.

Responding to Surprise

Picture by Archie McPhee Seattle (via Creative Commons)

Responding to Surprise
by Doug Floyd

The car pulls in the driveway. A man gets out and walk up slowly to the darkened house. He nervously shakes the keys in his hand and unlocks the door. Suddenly, a clamor of voices explode from the house, “Surprise.” Lights flick on, balloons bounce out, and people pop out from every nook and corner. A surprise like this can be exciting, embarrassing, and even a bit scary.

Have you ever been surprised?

Near my 40th birthday, Kelly finally pulled off a successful surprise party after several attempts. We were going to meet her sister and brother-in-law for lunch. I was hungry and could barely wait to eat. Since the restaurant was on the lake in Dandridge, we had to drive for a few minutes while my stomach growled.

Finally in the middle of nowhere, we arrived.

Dang. The place was full! “If there’s a long wait, let’s go somewhere else!” We walked in and suddenly I was surrounded by friends and family shouting, “Surprise!” It was a magical moment.

Surprises can bring joy, fear, and even laughter. Some surprises can change our whole world.

When I was four or five, my dad performed a magic show for us in the attic of our old house. I was transfixed. He picked up a milk pitched. Pour the milk into a newspaper cone and then showered us with confetti! The milk had vanished. He could make water stop in mid-air. He could vanish coins and pull them from my ear. Everything he touched seemed full of ancient mysterious power.

One day he taught me the magic. First, he simply showed me how to vanish coin. Then milk in newspaper. He taught and bought me all my magic tricks. I practiced and practiced and practiced.

By seven years old, I was performing my first show to neighbor kids on the front porch. For the next 15 years, magic was intertwined with almost every part of my life. My dad took me to New York City, so I could visit the old magic stores with the old magic men. One man made a ball jump into my hand while my fist was closed tight. Wow!

As I grew older, performing magic shows was second nature. I performed for family gatherings, birthday parties, and eventually at local stores. The love of magic put me onto the stage performing, and by the time I entered High School, I kept on performing in plays and musicals. Instead of writing book reports, I made films with my friend Vik.

Vik and I dreamed of moving to Hollywood. In the meantime, I entered college and studied Theatre major. All the while, I earned much of my income performing magic shows.

In 1984, I took my box of magic and headed north with our church class on a spring break mission trip. While most of the mission trips were in Daytona or Puerto Rico, our church always headed north into the last remainder of winter. I guess it was a “test of faith.” Upon arriving in Clio, Michigan, we worked in the church, shared the gospel door to door, and held evening services. I was part of a drama team that usually highlighted some spiritual truth in each of our skits. But I also had my box of magic.

One night the call came.

“Doug, we want you to preach the gospel while you’re performing your show at the Nursing Home tonight.”

I was prepared to entertain. Not to preach. As soon as our drama team finished, I was whisked away in a van to a nearby Nursing Home. As I stepped into the facility, the choir was finishing their last piece.

“Doug, you’re next.”

As I stepped out in front of the crowd, I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do. And then came a surprise I could have never expected. I heard the Lord speak to me. For the next 45 minutes, he guided me, telling me what to say and showing me what to do.

This surprise change everything. I could never go back to before that night.

When I returned to Tennessee, I continued to hear Him. All through high school and into college, I had read the Bible virtually every day. And never heard anything. Now when I opened the Scripture, someone was talking to me. To me.

Jesus surprises all of us in different ways. My passion was performing. He stepped into that passion and opened my eyes to the fullness of His love in way I had never grasped.

Everything changed, and yet everything was the same.

My vision for films faded as I longed to preach. Even my beloved magic eventually slipped to the side. And yet, even I responded to the surprise of God, I was still the same person. The skills I learned in performing have been part of my whole ministry. My passion for theatre expressed itself in new ways. When Jesus encountered me, he met me, Doug. He didn’t make me Paul the Apostle.

When He encountered Saul on the road to Damascus. Paul was a Pharisee. Jesus spoke to Saul, and everything changed. Saul became Paul and began to preach the gospel. And yet, Paul became to the voice among the apostles who would write and teach and discuss how Torah changed as a result of Jesus’s resurrection. Jesus completed the call of Paul as Pharisee into a true scribe who rightly discerned the word of truth.

When Jesus surprised me, He transformed me, and yet began fulfilling the Doug he had created me to be. In the grand surprise of His love, He is calls us to become who we are. But we only become who we are in relationship with Him. We were created in and through Christ, for “without Him nothing was made that is made.”

You were created in and through Christ. I was created in and through Christ. Paul was created in and through Christ. Thus, Athanasius reminds us that since He created us, He redeems. We are redeemed in and through Christ.

In the surprise of His love, He enters our world: our interests, our skills, our heritage. He is transforming it. But our lives are not all beautiful. There is ugliness. There is pain. There is confusion and doubt. In the struggle of living, we may win a prize, but we may lose a job. We may discover a new friend, but we may discover an untreatable illness. The surprises we encounter in living can weaken us.

Jesus enters into every part of our lives. Every part of my life. Every part of your life. It is only as “you” that you will fulfill what he created. When He surprises you with His love, He steps into every bit of your life past, present and future.

He is transforming us into His glory.

As I reflect upon that, I can write no more. I can only pause and bow before a love that is so wonderful, so amazing, so surprising.

In Praise of Pasture

Notes on “To a Scrap of Pasture Pushing Itself Between the Slates of Pavement”

Bobi Jones sings a song a praise “To a Scrap of Pasture Pushing Itself Between the Slates of Pavement.” As he looks out upon the square in the middle of town, he sees a blade of grass growing up through the pavement. He hears God singing through this pasture, and revealing in image His wisdom in parables, His holy presence, His birth and death and resurrection.

Though we pave over the earth, His song cannot be stopped, and “His lightning will tongue-lash freely from the earth.” In this small blade, Jones sees a “deluge” and an “eloquent greenery” that “narrates His life and speaks in parables on all sides.”

Jones calls us to look with him,
“When we look, there are angels near the stage
And the mist at the back, its head in feathers.”

These words call to my mind the image of Isaiah’s encounter with the holiness of God in the temple. Isaiah sees the Lord “high and lifted up” and the “train of His robe filling the temple.” Around the throne he sees angels, covered in winged and hiding their face and feet before the holiness of God.

In the middle of a town square filled with people moving to and fro, God reveals His holy power and glory in a single blade of grass. This blade of grass becomes a “thin place” where the glory of God is revealed, shouting aloud the wisdom of God. But the simple pass by and miss the awesome display of God’s wonder.

The song that is sung is the song of the Word made Flesh. For in the blade of grass, Jones sees a mystery. He “watch(es) Him being born there.” This blade of grass speaks to Jones of the nativity and the irrepressible life of Christ, but the image of pasture also speaks of grain that is formed into bread.

As Jesus proclaimed, “Unless a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it remains a single grain.” Jones sees this grain springing up in bread that feeds the people of God with the bread of heaven, the Lord’s Supper. Jones writes,
An herb whose flesh’s heap of crops we taste
In the tasting it turns to wormwood like each scrap that grows
But I know beneath my ribs the coming of the hour’s astonishment.

The supper is bitter for in partaking of His body broken for us, we are entering into the communion of death. Jones writes that the bread is literally beneath his ribs being digested. In the meal of death, we partake of life anew.

The bread of heaven nourishes. Even as our body draws nourishment from the physical bread, our whole person draws life from the bread of Christ. In His death, we know life. For in His death, we can participate in the great mystery of life after death.

Each day we rise, we taste the sweetness of death in Christ and the hope of life after death. His irrepressible life is at work in us. So no matter what happens in our world. The fools of the world can try to extinguish God’s word and life and power from the earth, but they cannot, for it springs afresh in us, in a little blade of grass bursting through the pavement, and in all creation.

He’s performing. The foolish civilization of today can
Kill Him and bury Him deep. The inherent will frolic through the soil.
In the hand of the grassblade the creation trembles,
And it sows eternity itself: tender is the land.

She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain

She’ll be comin round the mountain when she comes,
She’ll be comin round the mountain when she comes,
She’ll be comin round the mountain,
She’ll be comin round the mountain,
She’ll be comin round the mountain when she comes.

I’ve heard that song over and over and over through my life. Seems like a silly song but there’s something in the repetition and rhythm that makes is stick out in my mind. At different times in my life, the song has brought to mind different images.

This morning it makes me think of the person who caught in a particular trial. In the midst of their frustration they exclaim, “I’ve gone around this mountain several times. I wish I could learn my lesson and move on.” I know that person because I’ve been that person more than once.

Whether in the areas of finances or job or friendships, I’ve often felt like I was circling, re-circling and circling the mountain yet again. Driving up the side of a mountain on a swtichback road has a similar feel. I see the same sights again and again, but each time I see them from a higher altitude.

It might just be that when we feel like we circling round the mountain again and again that we could be repeating a pattern but at a higher altitude each time. So we’re not really in the same place, we’re actually moving higher and higher.

Sometimes I’ve drawn two diagrams on a board to demonstrate the way many Christians perceive the spiritual life. Some might think of it as a gradual incline leading higher and higher and higher to a peak, which is the place of glorification. Depending on their tradition, this promise of glorification may happen before or after death.

Other Christians might think of their life more like a line pointing up breaking through a barrier to reach a plateau where the life of faith is lived in fullness. A key event marks this breakthrough—usually either their initial salvation experience or a secondary experience of the Spirit’s infilling. Their “testimony” normally will consist of discussing the events prior to the moment of breakthrough and the dramatic impact the breakthrough had on their life.

I think both of these pictures are helpful in thinking about different aspects of a spiritual journey but I might also suggest that, “She’ll be comin round the mountain” offers a third and valuable image as well.

The image of a circling a mountain with a gradual incline captures the image of repeated patterns in our life. I would suggest that one aspect of growth in our lives can be characterized by a series of repeated patterns.

One way to explain this understanding is to consider the seasons of the year. Each year we pass through spring, summer, fall and winter. Then the seasons are repeated. And again. And again. And again throughout our lives.

If we don’t move every year, this repeated pattern of seasons in our region will be layered into our memories. Certain smells, sights and experiences of the different seasons will bring back memories of past seasons. Driving with my window down in late spring often takes me instantly back to 1982 and my senior year in high school.

We may associate certain activities with certain seasons. For example, we may connect vacations with summer; football with fall; hot chocolate with winter; and flower gardens with spring. But we don’t have to do the same thing every season.

Some years, I may chose to follow the birds and fly south in the winter. Other years, I may head north to a snowy mountain and ski slopes for the winter. In other words, I experience the repeated pattern of the season, but I am free to improvise my response much like a jazz musician might do with a standard.

In addition to the repeated patterns, we impose a calendar upon our year with repeated celebration or patterns. Many Americans might celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and the Fourth of July regardless of their religion.

Add to the big four a series of lesser holidays and we have a repeated holiday in most months of the year. Add to those celebrations the personal celebrations in the lives of our friends and families like birthdays and anniversaries. Then add the weekly worship services, yearly VBS, graduations, weddings and more.

Soon we discover that our life is filled with repeated patterns.

I would suggest that we learn through repeated patterns. Just as our calendar reflects this rhythm, our personal lives reflect seasons of learning. There are times when we may actively learn and other times when we may actively create and other times when we may focus on serving or relationships or prayer or mission’s work.

These seasons of intensity and focus may repeat again and again. But each time, we may remember our previous experiences and lessons from the past to play upon our experience now.

We may also pass through repeated seasons of joy and sorrow, struggle and victory, grief and comfort, conflict and forgiveness and so on. But just like the jazz standard or the repeating seasons, we don’t have to respond to the same rhythms in the same way.

One year during lent, I meditated upon the joy of the Lord. This taught me the pattern of joy in suffering. When I find myself in the midst of a repeated trial, I am free to choose a different way to respond. Jack Taylor once told the story of his son growing through grave financial difficult. In response, the family had a celebration.

This decision to alter their response to something depressing and discouraging could then give them fresh eyes and perspective to the struggle and possibly see new opportunities ahead.

So today, I think I’ll rejoice that, “She’ll be comin round the mountain when she comes.” I may think I’m coming back round the mountain, but I know I’m moving upward to a place of glory. So I can improvise respond in new ways, bring new expectations to this similar season.

And even in the midst of my current circumstances, whether good or bad, I can rejoice and know that my faithful Savior is leading on the path. And in the end, he present me as blameless before the Father.

No Carved Images!

The 10 Words appear to restrict our freedom but in reality they assure our freedom, and without them there is only enslavement. So each commandment, each word is a gift. The second word, “No carved images” is the gift of knowing the God who cannot be contained, cannot be controlled, cannot be limited.

YHWH (the Covenant God) shatters our limitations and shatters our worlds, ushering us into new worlds and leading us from glory to glory.

The IAMIAM who “is and remains present” cannot be summoned by our carved images (whether in wood or in thought). He is and always has been Present. I cannot encompass Him; I cannot comprehend Him; I cannot grasp Him. In His gracious lovingkindness, He contains me’ He comprehends me; He grasps me.

He knows my beginning from my end. The freedom to let go of carved images allows me to rest, rest, rest and rejoice in the goodness of God and the world He has graciously given to me.

Dusty Saints

The psalmist cries out to the Lord,

“My soul clings to the dust; Revive me according to Your word.”

During Lent, the cry of the psalmist becomes the cry of God’s people. Like Adam we hear the resounding Word of God announcing, “For you are dust and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19).

Unlike the birds, we have flown beyond the horizon to the moon, and we may even fly to Mars. Unlike the fish we have learned how to live under the sea and upon the land. Unlike the ants, we’ve built buildings that stand and stand and stand and continue to stand. Unlike the apes, we’ve formed clans and towns and cites and nations.

While inspired by the world around us, humans continually discover new ways to rise above the natural order. Like gods, we create, we rule, we master, we thrive. In rain and drought, we survive. We work in darkness and light. When new obstacles cross our path, we learn ways to surmount the obstacles and even use the energy from our struggle to grow even stronger.

Diseases may threaten us but eventually, we find ways to overcome. Even while facing the dreaded cancer, diabetes, heart disease and AIDs, we don’t give up. In fact, we are discovering more and more solutions to fight and win the battle against these threats.

The accomplishments of humanity boggle the mind. We live in a time of such exploding innovation that no one can even keep up with all the new discoveries that surface day after day after day.

We are lords of creation, and yet, we are still nothing more than dust. In spite of our power, our creations, our glory, we are fading. Soon we will die. And soon we will be forgotten. Like the grass, we wither and fall and fade.

We are but dust and to dust we will return.

When God decided to image Himself, He created a world. From this world, He took the dust and breathed upon it, and “man became a living being.” In spite of our accomplishments, we have no life outside of the breath that sustains us each moment.

Take that breath away, and we falter and fade. Thus the psalmist prays, “My soul clings to dust.” And yet, even as he acknowledges his dustiness, he calls upon the Word of God to revive him. The psalmist knows that the Word of God breathes life into his dust, for the Word is forever settled in heaven (Psalm 119:89).

While we rejoice and celebrate the wonder of human accomplishments, let us not be intimidated by the appearance of human mastery. We are not of the universe after all. Our kingdoms fall. Our innovations fail. Our power fades. We are but dust.

As we journey through the Lenten wilderness, let us cling to the Word of the Lord. His breath sustains, his Word creates and re-creates us. And by His grace alone, we can feed upon the Word that will stand forever.

Diversions to Death – Pascal

Blaise PascalHere’s a thought worth consideration from Pascal -

The only thing that consoles us for our miseries is diversion, and yet this is the greatest of our miseries. For it is this which principally hinders us from reflecting upon ourselves, and which makes us insensibly ruin ourselves. Without this we should be in a state of weariness, and this weariness would spur us on to seek a more solid means of escaping from it. But diversion amuses us, and leads us, gradually and without ever adverting to it, to death.

© 2014 Doug Talks Torah

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑