Gilead

This is a difficult book to describe. It could be called perfect, if that were even possible. It is only partly historical, partly a study in humanity, and partly mystery. But mostly it is a presentment of the reality of faith.

As to the history, Rev. John Ames has served the Congregational church in Gilead, Iowa for decades. He took over the church from his father who followed his father into the family business. Grandfather John Ames left the east, like many others, and did all he could to have Kansas enter the Union as a free state. No details were given but he did ride with John Brown and Jim Lane. He later served in the war and lost one eye.

That one-eyed, fire-breathing preacher could make his grandson shake in fear without saying a word. The middle Ames became a pacifist, which no doubt upset the fire-breather.

You will have to read many pages to get their whole stories because the center of the plot involves the current John Ames writing a note or diary to his seven-year old son. John turns 77 in this book. He married a woman half his age a decade earlier and their son was born. Now, John’s heart is going to stop any minute, so he wants his son to read the ‘note’ when he is an adult.

This is a Pulitzer Prize book for a reason and that is not because of some sentimental religious dressing. However, if you are not afraid to hang out with someone who has learned some lessons about what is and is not faith, this book is about as good a read as you are likely to pick any time.

Five star.

Mike Lawrence

The Rule Book

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1 Kings 19:9-18
Psalm 85:8-13
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

Moses wrote that anyone who insists on using the law code to live right before God soon discovers it’s not so easy—every detail of life regulated by fine print! But trusting God to shape the right living in us is a different story. MSG

Every human lives by a set of internal rules. Some of us make our own rules. Most of us internalize societal rules. Some of us allow God to fill us with His rules.

The reality is that Christians do some of each. Before we become followers of Jesus we depend on family and friends to let us know what the proper rules are. Many of us add a few rules for ourselves.

We know that attacking others is wrong; even as we are doing it, we know it is wrong. We know that exceeding the posted speed limit is wrong; lying is wrong; stealing is wrong. The list could run into the tens of thousands, but you get the idea.

Still, we break rules, even some of our most cherished ones.

The rules we should cherish are the rules given to us by God. Summed up by Jesus, the rulebook is love God and love everyone.

Jesus quoted two verses from Scripture. Deuteronomy 6:5. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mightJSB

When Jesus was on earth all the teaching of Scriptures was done in the language of Aramaic because most people neither read nor spoke Hebrew. When Jesus spoke, even in the synagogue, it was in Aramaic. By Jesus’ day, Aramaic paraphrases of Scripture were repeated from memory and some were written. They are called Targums today. Here is one Targum on Deut 6:5.

Mosheh the prophet said to the people of the house of Israel, Follow after the true worship of your fathers, that you may love the Lord your God with each disposition of your hearts, and also that He may accept your souls, and the (dedicated) service of all your wealth.

Jesus’ second quote was from Leviticus 19:18. You shall neither take revenge from nor bear a grudge against the members of your people; you shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LordCJB

This is the Targum version. Be not revengeful, nor cherish animosity against the children of thy people; but thou shalt love thy neighbour himself, as that though there be (cause of) hatred with thee thou mayest not do (evil) to him: I am the Lord.

But notice how Jesus worded both quotes, first in Matthew 22:37-40, then Mark 12:29-31. And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” ESV Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” NIV

In both cases Jesus paired it down to love.

We do often have problems with the second commandment. The word neighbor is based on the Hebrew word reya, meaning brother, companion, fellow, friend, husband, lover, neighbor. It does not mean stranger or enemy.

However, Jesus gave us a graphic description of how God defines neighbor in Luke 10:25-37. But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’  “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” NIV

Our Christian understanding of neighbor is too often defined by our societal rules. You may be aware that most religious denominations in America split over the issue of slavery along a north/south line. But it is not as commonly known that many churches split over the question of doing missions to the Natives. Many of the missionaries working along the frontier had to pay their own way because there were not enough fellow Christians willing to support them.

Additionally, many of the missionaries believed the Indians to be inferior, so tried to teach them how to behave like “real” people.

In other words, our cultural rules interfered with our God given rules.

There are currently 8.8 billion people living on earth today. By God’s rule every one of them is equal to me and you. God loves all 8.8 billion. Go and do likewise.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence