Thursday, July 19, 2007

Burning coals

Proverbs 25:21 and 22 says that if you are nice to your enemy, then you will heap coals of burning fire on his head and the Lord will reward you. Romans 12:20 says basically the same thing. At first, it sounds like God will reward you for doing a bad thing! Heaping coals of burning fire on the head of anyone, in our culture, is definitely not good. But, if you look at the cultural and historic context, the perspective changes greatly.

I've been told that in the culture and time when the verses were written, it was actually a very good thing to heap coals of fire on some one's head. If you remove our 21st century conveniences like central heat, ovens with timers and thermostats, and sources of heat like electricity and natural gas, all of a sudden fire becomes much more valuable. Though I've never studied the context or details out myself, I've been told that to heap coals of fire on some one's head is like giving them coals to start a cooking fire or to get heat going in their cold tent. It is a very good thing.

Recently, I had the opportunity to experience the benefit of heaping coals of fire. Fortunately, the coals were not on my head! My folks were visiting, and we decided to head down to a local river to swim. When dinner time arrived, we had everything for the cookout, except charcoal. The little grill in the park next to our picnic table, though, did have a very small pile of coals, left over from some other cookout! Being the resourceful mother of many that I am (and you know, necessity is the mother of invention), I gathered handfuls of twigs from the ground and used the left over coals to start a fire. It worked great! We had hot, tasty food, without any charcoal, matches or lighter fluid, all because some one left a heap of burning coals.

Since that experience, the verse in Proverbs has come to mind often. As I've reflected on my adventure with coals, I realized I've learned a couple of lessons. The first lesson is how very much I take for granted the modern conveniences I have!! If I want to cook, all I have to do is turn on my stove and blue flame leaps to life. If I want to bake something, the digital read out on my oven tells me when the oven has reached the right temperature. If it is cold in my house, with the flip of a switch I can make it warm. Such conveniences have only been available for a relatively short time in the scheme of human history. I have much for which to be thankful!

The second lesson I've learned is how vital it is to understand the historical and cultural context of a passage of Scripture. Without further background on Proverbs 25:21, I thought God was willing to give a reward for a bad thing. Instead, it has become very clear from my experience that God is honoring kindness and generosity to an enemy instead of recognizing an action that could only be considered spiteful and unkind. The Bible can seem to mean very different things depending on your perspective, but looking at the context limits the interpretations significantly.

If there is a moral to this story, it is up to you to choose. One last piece of advice, though. If you find yourself at the park ready to barbecue without any briquettes, see if another grill has coals still burning. Just make sure the people who lit the fire are actually done using it. That way you won't find yourself actually experiencing the transfer of burning coals to your body!

Monday, July 02, 2007

With wings like eagles

Usually, what gets written here is funny. I like to focus on humor, because as so many of you know, life is hard and you can either laugh or cry. Laughing is easier and much more fun. But lately, I haven't had lots to laugh about. With my husband traveling a lot for his work this summer, I've been a single-mom and life has been CRAZY!

With only one of me, and six of my children, it is very much like a six-on-one sports match. I'm definitely running my tail off. Too bad I'm not burning calaries like I would playing a sport all day. Instead, I'm tired at the end of the day! Many things remain unfinished, and things I thought had been completed often are not. Case in point; early one morning, my son's diaper leaked as I nursed him in bed. I pulled the sheets off and got them to the foot of Mt. Washmore in the laundry room then rushed off to fix breakfast and manage my home for the day. Some time after 10:00pm, it was bed time for the baby boy and I was ready to drop. But, I still had to make my bed! At least I had clean sheets (though the wet ones were still down at the foot of Mt. Washmore). When my son is grown, I'll have to pay for his counseling, but with no option other than to let him scream, I left him contained and put sheets on the bed.

The amazing thing I've discovered, though, is that God's promise in the Old Testament book of Isaiah (Isaiah 40:31; you can read it at http:// is true. He says that if I wait on Him, then I will run and not grow weary, I will walk and not faint. Now, I'm not running or walking in the literal sense, but I'm definitely running my feet off! And I'm tired, but not worn out. God is giving me the strength I need every day to keep going.

Some days have been more difficult than others. When my son woke up sick, the police chief of our little town called to ask me to pick up our dog from City Hall (yes, it is a small town, and the last time the police chief called about a dog, we got a $150 fine!), and the dishwasher quit all on the same day, it was really hard. When I got an early morning call from camp to let me know that my daughter was throwing up and needed to be picked up, my whole day was pretty much shot. But, life goes on, and I was not completely overwhelmed by it!

The other night, a few women had gathered in my living room to talk about the Psalms. Our focus for the evening was Psalm 59, which David (the second king of Israel) wrote after his father-in-law (the first king) sent men to his house to kill him. And you thought you had in-law trouble! David had a choice what he was going to focus on, and he focused on the God who created both him and his father-in-law, instead of just his father-in-law. When asked what lessons had been learned, one woman said, "The world won't stop for you, but God will." That made me stop and think! The world doesn't stop for me, even if my life is falling apart. But, the God who created me and the rest of the world DOES stop for me. He is concerned about what I'm concerned about. He knows my weaknesses and He helps me. He knows I am made of dust, and He treats me accordingly. It is a wonderful gift. You might say it keeps me going.