Tag Archives: Bible

Alone With The Pigs

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(This is Part 2 in a story of the prodigal son. Read Part 1 here.)

The desert was no place for a man in silk. Blowing sand pierced the fine cloth, peppering his skin. It stung his unprotected eyes, burned his face.

Weak, hungry, alone, he cursed the sand and wind, cursed the city that mocked him, cursed the useless silk, cursed his birth. He cursed his father’s birth to the pastoral life from which he’d run. An unfamiliar odor assaulted his sand-whipped nostrils; he cursed the stench. Then, through squinted eyes he saw it: a herd of swine, their irritated squealing riding the wind toward him. He cursed the unclean beasts even as he hoped the drovers might spare him some bread.

“For a price,” they said. “Stay with this swine this night. What they don’t eat is yours.”

This night became two, then five, then a month. The famine that starved the land tore at his stomach. He watched in vain hope that the pigs would leave more than scraps, but even their rations were meager and their owner dared not feed them less; even in famine, no one wanted to buy a skinny pig.

Finally, lying awake, cold, and hungry in the desert night, sense came to him. The life he’d so longed to escape—the animals always needing care and feeding, the constant repairs to fences and troughs, the bucolic boredom—these were again his lot … minus the plentiful food on his father’s table. Even the ranch hands ate better than he ate now.

But how could he return? How could he possibly face again the father whom he had all but declared dead when he demanded his inheritance? Could he humble himself before the man he had so humiliated? Yet nothing could be more humiliating than his present state: silk rags torn and stained, body reeking of pig dung, hair and beard filthy and matted. It was decided then; he would return, fall on his knees, and beg for employment as a ranch hand.

It hadn’t been hard to leave that day, so many months before. It wasn’t hard to leave this day, either.

Part 3 coming soon….

It Wasn’t Hard to Leave That Day

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It wasn’t hard to leave that day. The conversation was awkward—”Dad, I want my share. Now, please.”—but walking away wasn’t hard. There wasn’t much to take; less to leave behind. He’d never fit, anyway. The work, the animals, the quiet but grueling life of a nomadic sheepherder. Adventure called, and the city they’d passed two days earlier. No, it wasn’t hard to leave that day.

He’d sold his share of the flocks and with the silver weighing down his bag, turned his face toward the city. Soon, having traded his bedouin robe for city silks, he sought new life in the strangely solid buildings. Friends were easy to find; wine, an enticing invitation. Never again would loneliness sit heavy in his heart. Little did he know that his dark, herdsman’s skin and heavy purse betrayed his ignorance and innocence. Had he known, he would only have worked harder to win the friendship of ones already willing to drink from his bottle. He slept little, and never alone.

Far away, another man also slept little, his aloneness magnified by the vastness of the familiar night sky. At first light he scanned the horizons. Each setting sun darkened his hope a little more. 

The endless city noise grew deafening. The constant press of people—even the women sharing his bed—only magnified the loneliness he tried constantly to escape. The wine only made him forget last night; morning carried memories of home – and the love he’d never acknowledged. Day by day, his purse grew lighter. When it was at last empty, so were his bed and table. No face in town knew his; no familiar face did he see. Alone. Again.

The flocks grew, replenishing the loss of the too-soon divided inheritance. But even as the pens filled to bursting, so the father’s broken heart spilled out its last hope. Still he watched….

It wasn’t hard to leave that day. What was hard was knowing which way to go. The city spurned him, its lights and sounds betraying the emptiness of a false life—and revealing his own emptiness. No, it wasn’t hard to leave that day.

(to be continued…)

Spiritual Rhythms: The Word, part I

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Before my wife and I were married, I spent a summer in Europe while she remained in California. In those long-past days before email and cell phones, at a time when international calling was expensive and minimum wage was a fraction of what it is now, the primary way we communicated was through letters; our words would be read days, if not weeks, after they’d been written.

Growing in relationship with God demands that we read his words—his Word. 

If you want to know God, you need to read his word to his people—that is, the Bible. Seems easy enough, but considering that the Bible contains sixty-six individual books written by dozens of human authors over a period of some 1,500 years—the most recent being roughly 2,000 years old—the natural question is, where to begin?

Many people say you should start with the book of John, or perhaps one of the other four narratives of Jesus’ life: Matthew, Mark, or Luke. But if you’re new to the Bible, then I suggest following Fräulein Maria’s advice from The Sound of Music: “Let’s start at the very beginning”—Genesis and Exodus. You see, Jesus was a Jew, and Genesis tells the story of the beginning of the Jewish people. And since Jesus came as a sacrifice to save people from sin, Exodus—the story of God saving the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt—lays the foundation for Jesus’ sacrificial life and death. Then read John. Or Matthew, which was written to a primarily Jewish audience.

But another question to ask is, how do I read the Bible? The Bible is unlike any other book you have ever read. It is an anthology of sorts, with each individual book telling a complete story; yet the collection as a whole also tells a complete story, and each book contains a part of that broader story. Perhaps the best way to answer the question, how do I read the Bible?, is this: Read it the same way you would see the country. The whole country. What country? Yours or mine, whether the United States or Nigeria or India.

If you want to see the whole country, you will need to do it in different ways at different times. At times you will fly over from one corner to another; you’ll only get 35,000-foot glimpses of most of the land, but you’ll see it from a unique perspective. Other times you’ll take a car; you’ll see more than flying—mountains and rivers, deserts and oceans, cities and vast spaces of empty land—but most will still be zooming past at sixty miles per hour.

Then there are times you will just walk. You’ll never get out of the city or the forest or the desert, or wherever you started walking, but you’ll see the details; you can sit for hours on a beach and watch the tide slowly roll in, covering the rocks and tide pools you explored earlier in the day; you’ll gaze in awestruck wonder at the intricacies of a rose just before it bursts into bloom.

Reading the Bible is like that. You’ll be reading of Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples, then fly back to the first Passover meal in Exodus. Or you’ll read the entire book of Romans in one sitting and you’ll see the changing topography of Paul’s treatise. And sometimes you’ll sit and soak in the creative beauty of a single verse or a paragraph, turning each word over in your mind like a rosebud between your fingers.

We’ll explore this more in future posts. For now, though, decide where and how you want to begin, then begin. If you’re just getting started, set yourself a reachable goal: read 5-10 minutes a day, three days a week.

The Steadfast Love of the Lord Endures Forever

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Photo copyright 2014-2015 by Randall J. Ehle. All rights reserved.

Photo copyright 2014-2015 by Randall J. Ehle. All rights reserved.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”

So begins Psalm 136…and then continues for twenty-six verses with the same refrain: “for his steadfast love endures forever.” This was never one of my favorite psalms. I always thought it was too choppy and repetitive, not flowing well in my prose-centered, Western mind. The only words that stood out to me were those repeated lines. Okay, I get it already. “The steadfast love of the Lord endures forever.” Next psalm. Or do I get it? I never took the time to analyze the psalm because it’s a song—emotional, not intellectual. Shouldn’t poems and songs simply float into our minds, their meanings gently wafting into our subconscious with hardly a notice from us? Or, as Archibald MacLeish penned, “A poem should not mean | But be” (Ars Poetica).

Only when I took the time to read between those obnoxious, repetitive lines in Psalm 136 did I notice what this psalm is doing. It is not merely a call to gratitude, though it is that. The first three verses and the last all begin with, “Give thanks to….” Give thanks to the Lord, the God of gods, the Lord of lords, the God of heaven. He is the object of our gratitude, the Source of all we have and are. He is above everything we worship or serve, like money and security and family and even health; yet He is at the same time a personal God with a personal name (Yahweh or YHWH, also written as LORD). Give thanks. A good and needed reminder. But there is more.

It is also not simply a mantra of God’s love, though it is most certainly that. His steadfast love endures forever. We Westerners—and certainly we Christians—are not accustomed to mantras. These repeated words used as aids in meditation stem from the Eastern religions of Hinduism and Buddhism; since we have lost the art (and meaning) of meditation, we run from anything that resembles it. (Don’t get me started on Christmas trees and Hallowe’en.) Yet repetition runs throughout Scripture and church history, and we do well to employ it in our communion with God.

Between the exhortation to gratitude and the mantra of God’s steadfast love, Psalm 136 simply tells a story: God’s story. Israel’s story. Our story. Each line is a reminder of who God is or what He has done: He made the sun, moon, and stars (verses 7-9); He rescued Israel from Egypt (10-16); He led them to victory in battle (17-20) and gave them a homeland (21-22); He remembers and watches over His people (23-25). And at every step of creation, salvation, destination—at the very core of who God is and what He does—is His steadfast love.

It’s easy to breeze right through the Psalm and miss its depths and richness, to let the repeating words slip across the tongue without ever digesting them. But don’t. Instead, sit and soak in this Psalm as in a hot tub, basking in its truths and comforts, remembering God’s presence and activity…and His steadfast love. And someday—some quiet, rainy day with a cup of coffee by your side and a pen and journal in hand—write out your own story, then go back and insert this lines between each event:

“…for the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever.”