Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The Bone Watch

Here I sit quietly on a Boeing 737 beside my wife as we wing our way back to California. The kid in me never ceases to be amazed at mans ingenuity. We are cruising at 39,000 feet traveling at something around 500 miles per hour. Wow!

This trip took us to St. Petersburg, Florida where I was attending the Navy Chief of Chaplains “Senior Leadership Symposium.” This annual symposium is for those who hold the rank of Captain (06) and Master Chief (E9). It was held in the Hilton Hotel, thus allowing my wife to enjoy some quiet time while I sat through a succession of professional presentations each day. Each evening we could enjoy dinner together at a local restaurant.

Since this is a gathering of very senior ranking chaplains and Religious Program Specialists (ergo, all senior in age, too!), we all know each other, or know the reputations of each other. It’s a great time to renew old acquaintances.

A personal highlight was the presentation by pollster, George Barna. I’ve read some of his books on polling, particularly pertaining to church growth. So hearing him in person was a real treat!

Each morning one of our chaplains would bring the devotional. The second morning, one of my dearest friends in the world, Ric Wilkins, led us in our devotional time. Ric is black, having been born and raised in St. Thomas, the Virgin Islands. He was blessed with a voice that the rest of us preachers would be willing to kill for. It is deep, easy-going, melodious and absolutely wonderful to listen to!

This morning’s devotional was given by our reserve flag officer, Rear Admiral Harold Robinson, a Jewish rabbi. He talked to us about the “bones of Joseph.” It was a delightful time of relevant insight into God’s use of even the seemingly insignificant, mundane stages of life to bring about his desired purpose.

I have familiarity with Jewish thinking, subscribing to the Jewish World Review (JWR) on the Internet, and having served with several rabbis during my military chaplaincy. They have a fascinating way of digging into the scriptures, continually asking questions, while at the same time researching the answers to those very same questions.

Rabbi Robinson used a common Judaic form of presentation called the “midrash.” This is where you take a passage of scripture, and then look for another passage that would, on the surface at least, appear to have no connection. The rabbi announced that we were going to look briefly at Queen Esther; and then Joseph, the son of Jacob (who would later be called Israel), from which the nation derived its name.

We live in a world full of people who believe their lives really don’t matter, and simply, in the grand scheme of things, don’t amount to anything. Well, this is where the rabbi picked up. He quickly reviewed the events of Esther, a Jewess, living in ancient Persia in the city of Susa (located in present day Iran) about 500 BC. Because of her beauty, she was selected by Xerxes (zurk-zees), King of Persia, to be his queen. Later, she would be instrumental in preventing the extermination of the Jews in Persia. Her Uncle Mordecai wisely counseled her to speak to the king about the man who sought to kill all the Jews. His words live on: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and you father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” Today, some two thousand five hundred years later, she lives on in the Bible, and also in Jewish history and lore, as a heroine.

Then the rabbi took us to a passage in Genesis where Joseph, after becoming ruler in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh, made his twelve brothers swear to return his bones to the land God had promised to give to the Israelites. He died about 1800 BC. The Jews were taken into captivity by the Egyptians for approximately four hundred years before the Exodus took place, and the then forty years of wandering in the wilderness, ultimately arriving in the Promised Land. Joshua had the privilege of taking them across the Jordan into their new homeland. It was only after they had settled in Israel that Joshua finally allowed Joseph’s bones to be buried.

The point of this narrative is simple: God had made a promise to the Jews that he would deliver them to a land of their own. Joseph longed to have his body, his “bones,” returned to this land. This means that his bones needed to be kept secure during the four hundred years of captivity, and then through their wandering in the wilderness for forty years. Someone had to take responsibility of caring for Joseph’s bones. Most likely one tribe had this task, and it was probably shared among various families and their members.

How exciting could it be to have the daily assignment of “bone watch?” While Moses is on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments, it’s your turn for “Bone Watch.” While the rest of the Jews are reveling in debauchery, you get the “Bone Watch.” Boring. Compared to what Moses was doing, “Bone Watch” was worse than insignificant. But, it was your day to watch after Joseph’s bones. You had the “Bone Watch.” Not very glamorous. Not very sexy. After all, you’re the one who always misses out when the important stuff happens.

What’s important to remember is that you performed a task that was instrumental in the accomplishment of God’s plan in delivering his people from slavery, and then bringing them into a life of freedom in their own land.

Are you willing to be one of God’s “Bone Watchers?” You may not think it’s important, but God does. In fact, anything done in obedience to God is important.

You may never know just how important your faithful execution of the ordinary and mundane is. But it is just such faithfulness that God blesses and uses for his purpose.

So let me say with all sincerity to my fellow “Bone Watchers,” to those of you who feel your life is insignificant and meaningless: God bless you! Never give up.