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My Jubilee Birthday

The couple was growing old together. Routines were settled long ago. They knew each other like their favorite movie. One night she asked him to get her a piece of toast from the kitchen. He went to the kitchen, and brought her back a plate of bacon. She looked at him like he’d lost his mind and said, “you’re getting so old and forgetful, don’t you remember I asked you for a dish of ice cream?”

The old person jokes are getting more frequent at my expense. My students, I guess because of my ‘distinguished’ graying hair frequently think I’m in my 60’s, or even 70’s or 80’s! A friend today commented my age has caught up with my hair!

After an enjoyable day of reflection, old man jokes, just a youngun comments from my older friends, not to mention my free birthday sundae at Culvers, phone calls from family, and letting my family cater to my every need (Janice says this happens every day), I finally am sitting down to ponder a little bit of what turning 50 means to me.

I don’t take it for granted. Like everyone, I’ve known people who’ve died well before their normal lifespan would allow them to live. One of the realities of where I work is that I have more conversations than I’d like with students whose parent, or sometimes even parents are no longer living. The news is filled with stories of death worldwide from all sorts of causes. Why hasn’t this been a reality for me? I’d like to say it’s God’s love, or grace, or mercy, but his love, grace and mercy have been dispensed in equal amounts to dear brothers and sisters who had heartbreaking losses in their own lives or families. And yet it is very true that I am here today, my fiftieth birthday because of His love, and grace and mercy.

Israel used to have a law that was supposed to be practiced. It was called the jubilee. You’ve probably heard about it, and like me, never given it much thought. We have a different economy and culture than what the Jews practiced 4000 years ago. Yet, as part of scripture, we can’t brush it off as some sort of old law that Christ fulfilled (which He did by the way!). We have to apply this living and active word to our lives today.

So in my knowledge the jubilee is the only mention of 50 years in scripture. On my 50th birthday, I’m looking at it as a jubilee of sorts. The jubilee was a law of justice in Israel. You can read all about it in Leviticus 25. The key part of jubilee law was the return of property to people who had lost their property in settlements of debts. Since land was inherited and passed down, the ownership of this land was important to the Jews. The jubilee was designed to prohibit the accumulation of much wealth and also prevent the fall into intergenerational poverty that plagues our world today.

A second aspect of the jubilee was the freeing of servants, sometimes referred to as slaves. This was in no way an American style slavery system. God would never permit such an atrocity to happen. Instead, sometimes people, when becoming poor, would become servants, or slaves to pay off debts. At the jubilee, the slaves were to be freed.

When Jesus died on the cross, he performed the work that the jubilee accomplished. People in debt to sin, enslaved to sin, were set free by that singular act. Praise God for that!

So on my 50th, my jubilee birthday if you will, how do I make this a year of jubilee? Well, to start with, my debt has been paid. My eternal inheritance is secure (I Peter 1:4). So how can I be the one doing acts of jubilee for others?

I imagine, when/if the jubilee law was followed (and there’s some evidence it never really was practiced in Israel) that those receiving their land back, their property, their freedom must have had quite the celebration with their restoration. It must have been an emotional time as people realized what was rightfully there’s being returned. Slaves coming back freely to their families and friends had great reason to celebrate, much more than I celebrated today!

So in my 50th year, I can help bring about the thrill of debts settled by being a witness of Jesus to others. It’s a thrill to be with someone who is making a decision to accept the jubilee that Jesus represents and enter a new life as a eternally secure person. Note to self, pray for others who need Christ. Pray for spiritual sensitivity to the strangers I also meet along the way

In many ways the recipients of the jubilee were given fresh starts. Maybe some who were in poverty were there because of foolish decisions being made. How can I, as a school teacher, be in position to give others a fresh start? Forgiving others is one way. Encouraging others who have been burdened by some sort of struggle is another way. It’s going to mean being more intentional in the way I live.

Thanks to all of you who read this and have made the first 50 years of my life truly wonderful!

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Whose Face Do You Receive?

April 9, 2011 Leave a comment

The other night I listened to a message on my walkman by Timothy Keller.  It was about James 2. He spoke of the word favoritism from James. The literal meaning is “to receive ones face”. The church was showing favor to the more honorable members of their congregation. It was ignoring the lowly in their midst.  James points out when you ignore the poor your faith is dead.

The next day I read a chapter in a book by Bernie May, the head of an organization called JAARS.  JAARS provides air transportation for missionaries to remote parts of the world, particularly those from Wycliffe.  Wycliffe has translated the Bible into thousands of languages so that people can receive God’s Word in their own language.

Mr. May visited a church that was donating a plane to JAARS, a generous gift indeed!  In the congregation was a woman, Josephine Makil and her 3 children.  Ms. Makil was one of Wycliffe’s translators in Vietnam.  Some months before she had suffered an unspeakable tragedy as her husband on one child were murdered among the people they were trying to help.  Mrs. Makil spoke briefly to the congregation and said God’s plan was perfect and His Grace sufficient.

Mr. May preached his message and the people flocked around him afterwords patting him on the back, wanting a little bit of time to ‘receive his face’.  Off to the side stood Mrs. Maskil, alone with her 3 children.  Their faces were not received as they were black.  Mr. May saw this and burst through the crowd inwardly irate.  He wanted to return the gift to this apparently racist congregation that would ignore a woman who had lost so much in the service of God.  He approached her expecting her to be hurting, yet Mr. May sensed that the love and forgiveness that she had for the Vietnamese also applied here.

Tomorrow, as I write, is Sunday.  Most who read this are family and friends who will be attending services in many different places.  Every one of us will have opportunities to receive someone’s face or reject it and commit what James calls the sin of favoritism.  Let’s remember this.

The day after tomorrow is Monday.  While James was writing to the church I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if you applied this principle of not showing favoritism to your job, your off time, your neighborhood, etc.  There are people waiting for us, with so much to give, to notice them.