Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Unfashioned Altar, Low to the Ground

An ancient, pagan temple -- Megiddo
"An altar of earth you shall make for Me, 
and you shall sacrifice on it your burnt offerings 
and your peace offerings, 
your sheep and your oxen. 
In every place where I record My name I will come to you, 
and I will bless you. 
And if you make me an altar of stone, 
you shall not build it of hewn stone; 
for if you use your tool on it, you have profaned it. 
Nor shall you go up by steps to My altar, 
that your nakedness may not be exposed on it."
~ Exodus 20:24-26

We have such a longing for our service to the Lord
to stand out as a work of art.
But He asks us to form His altar from dirt, or unfashioned stone.
It was a functional place of worship.
And its function was all about a bloody atonement.
About payment for sin, and peace at a cost.
It is not a place to be showing off our skills with a chisel.
This altar was a necessity because of a multitude of transgression.
Because our works are at enmity with His holiness,
and must be reconciled.
How wrong it would be to put our works into the altar.
But we would like them there -- distracting from the blood.
Drawing men's eyes away
from the reality of death making payment for our sins,
and toward the incredible artistry we possess --
the gifts God gave us.
We don't want earthen altars:
such dirty accommodations for worship.
Something more permanent --
a little flashier and more fashionable would please us better.
He'll allow stone, but not stone formed by us.
Just simple, earthy materials over which blood must run.
The sacrifice ought to be the central thing in our worship.
Our tools, our gifts, our expertise are a profanity to His altar.

He says He'll come and bless us
wherever He has caused His name to be remembered.
It's remembered at the altar of His sacrifice,
and not in the work of our hands.

And how we would like to build steps up to it.
Steps up to the blessings, steps to the atonement.
Stairs to climb to peace with God,
a way to ascend for the payment of sin.
Its height would hold the blood up high enough that others might not see it.
They might just see us standing a little higher than they are.
But the reality is that in climbing steps to the altar,
our nakedness is exposed.
We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
No man comes to the Father but by Me."
He is the sacrifice, and we cannot climb up to Him.
In our service to the Lord,
we ought to keep the blood right there at eye-level.
Visible to the lowly.
Not formed by human hands.

Friday, February 7, 2014

You Don't Know When

"When are you going to have that baby?" they kept asking,
as I passed my estimated due date and kept on going.
In a day of inductions and planned c-sections,
waiting around for labor is archaic.
"Who knows?" I would smile and shrug.

The end of pregnancy is a time full of signs.
I can know the times and the seasons --
it's clear(ish) when the baby is term.
Ready for the world, but still inside.
There were Braxton Hicks contractions for the entire third trimester.
But really, until last Friday, not many real or regular contractions.

On Friday, I noticed they were coming every 30 minutes.
Mostly all day long, picking up in the evening,
letting me rest at night.
I worked on double and triple checking that I had what I needed
for when the time came.
I took my mom for a drive to see what we could see,
but I stayed close to town.
On Saturday, they were about every twenty minutes.
Is the laundry caught up?
On Sunday, by bedtime, they were ten minutes apart.
We put all the gathered things together in one place,
and laid a towel in the bed for me to sleep on, in case my water broke.
They tapered off a little while I slept,
but I was aware of them even in my sleep that night.
When I woke the next day, they were still there,
slowly advancing toward zero hour.

I had another non-stress test scheduled for Monday,
and we watched three or four of the contractions on the monitor,
and how the baby's heart responded.
I was offered the choice of coming back for another
either the next day, or the day after.
I scheduled it for the day after, suspecting she'd be born before that.
And leaving the hospital, we went to walk, to get this labor moving.

The doctor had asked me to go to the hospital
when they were five minutes apart.
But I don't operate that way.
So I tried to gauge averages.
Around 8 pm on Monday,
they were between 3 and 10 minutes apart for the hour.
They were hurting, so I got in the shower.
Suddenly, I was having them too close.
When we arrived at the hospital,
I had the joy of being stabbed with IVs
and peppered with medical history questions
while going through transition.
All the preliminaries finally completed,
and the doctor appearing in short time,
my request to get in hot water was finally granted.

This is my fifth child, and not my first rodeo.
I did not expect any speed in delivering her.
It was a surprise then,
to have to pull the cord on the wall when my water broke,
and there was meconium in it,
and in the rush to try to get me back to my room,
she was delivered there in the hot tub room -- not according to plan.
My husband said the hospital personnel
looked like Keystone Cops racing about,
with the alarms beeping.
My baby in my arms, they helped me on to a wheelchair
and covered me up to get me back down the hallway to my room.

I have been mulling over what Jesus said to His disciples
in Matthew 24 for several weeks now.
He talks about signs like labor pains,
and as I always approach labor gradually, with one eye on the clock,
and one on whatever duty I am trying to complete,
it's been in the back of my mind.
There's a normal rhythm to our lives
that is disrupted by approaching childbirth.
The signs increase, and the focus narrows.
Are my bags packed?
Where is my insurance card?
Do I have what I need for this immense event?
That last day, seeing the evidence,
we had everything in the car ready for transport.

It is interesting to me that in telling all the tumultuous signs
of the end of the world to His disciples,
Jesus describes a faithful servant
as one who is feeding the household when his lord returns.
Let's narrow our focus, and pass out the vittles.
To Peter, before He departed, He said, "Feed my sheep."