Archive for June, 2008

Boaz

June 29, 2008

So Boaz said to Ruth,  “My daughter, listen to me.  Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here.  Stay here with my servant girls.  Watch the fieled where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the girls.  I have told the men not to touch you.  And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.”

At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground.  She exclaimed,  “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me–a foreigner?”

Boaz replied,  “I have been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband–how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a peole you did not know before.  May the LORD repay you for what you have done.  May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”

“May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord,”  she said.  “You have given me comfort and have spoken kindly to your servant–though I do not have the standing of one of your servant girls.”  Ruth 2: 8-13.

Boaz sounds like decent person to me.  His motivations were not about himself, and I doubt from his surprise at Ruth’s eventual courting ritual later in the story that he even imagined himself elegible for her at all.  So his generosity was genuine and done for the reasons he said they were.  He respected Ruth’s ethics and loyalty to Naomi, her willingness to work and humility.  In her reply that she didn’t have any right to the kindness he showed her, she wasn’t quite correct according to the law of Moses for it stated that all foreigners were to be treated this way.  No, she spoke out of her own cultural experience.

Boaz, on the other hand, was fully aware of the law and not only performing it according the its letter but showing a heart full of kindness and consideration for the less fortunate.  His respect for Ruth’s actions motivated his extra gestures toward her, so that we know he merely wanted her to find a place where she could not only survive but thrive.

Naomi, however, knew of her family connection to Boaz and saw right away an opportunity to redeem her losses through Ruth–I don’t think she cared about herself so much as Ruth here.  Her ability to provide for Ruth was non-existent it seems, therefore she did what any good Jewish momma would do for a favorite daughter, she began match making.  I can’t fault her for this because she wanted Ruth, whom she loved, to be happy, to find comfort after her losses and to belong.  An unmarried woman that era, without immediate relatives lived without protectors or provision, which means charity.  A woman without children was considered cursed, hence Naomi’s assertion that she was “bitter”.

Yet we see in all the people concerned with this story character shining through time and again.  Each character showed extraordinary refinement, demonstrating time and again their willingness to sacrifice self in order to do good to others.  Whether we take this story as metaphor or fact we can’t miss its message.  Ruth became, even as a Moabitess, the grandmother of David the king.  Taking this lineage into the NT we see her mentioned specifically as an ancestor of the Messiah, Jesus.  God honored her character beyond what most would consider reward by not only including her in Christ’s lineage but making a point of shining a light on her name.

Boaz is shown here as the quintessential Jew, a Hebrew of Hebrews, who honors both his God and his law.  His willingness to redeem Naomi’s property could be said to have ulterior motives and we would be right to assume these, but that doesn’t make his sacrifice any less noble.  To redeem Ruth’s property Boaz gave up any right to a name for himself or to carry it on through his first born, a big deal to any man from that age.  The second boy born to them would carry on his family name and take over his father’s property, but Ruth’s first born son would be named as heir to Elimelech not Boaz.  You see the nobility in Boaz?  He wasn’t just after some hotty but truly sacrificing any possibility of his own legacy for the sake a dead man.

Yet he’s mentioned in the lineage of Christ as the true father of David and Jesus.  God honored his generous spirit by giving him what he didn’t even seek: a name to be carried on.  Boaz demonstrated the character of love beyond the pale.  If men developed his kind of character, what kind of marriages would we see?

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The Ruth Principle

June 28, 2008

But Ruth replied,  “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you.  Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay.  Your people will be my people and your God my God.  Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried.  May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”  Ruth 1: 16-17.

I wish more people owned this kind of loyalty.  We’ve forgotten it in the modern surge to blur barriers, which is a good thing in many ways because it stops foolish prejudice and blends us more into one unit.  Yet, we’ve become too blended in other ways, to the point where we have hardly any loyalties at all.  This brings with it loneliness and displacement.  It also loses identity in culture, families and regions, which are, in my opinion, what makes humanity so beautiful and rich.

Proverbs claims for us to make friends we have to be friends.  Loyalty is a part of that friendship package.  Many times people desire friendships but instead float all over the place without developing community and this is where we make our biggest mistake, I believe.  It’s not that we have to exclude anyone or stop being friends outside a certain circle of people, rather our close circle must be comprised of loyal, loving, supportive yet willing to get in our soup when we need it type of friends.

Ruth showed by her own attitude a willingness to dedicate her life to a friendship.  Naomi must have been one hell of a mother in law for both women to be willing to travel back home with her.  It says something, though, even more of Ruth’s character that she decided to press on even if it meant leaving everything she grew up with or ever knew.

That is love beyond the common.  It is a demonstration of love beyond the pale.  It goes far and above what most humans require of even their spouses, for that matter.  Ruth’s attitude and choices showed continuously that she was willing to sacrifice her own future, if it meant that she could remain in the company of her friend.  But what she got in return was Naomi’s love and loyalty as well, for the older woman thought more about Ruth’s happiness and future place than she did of her own dire straits.  Again, that is love beyond the pale and above the common call.

If we would find loving, loyal and faithful friendships, we must develop the same attitude.  Our POV must take on the willingness to pour ourselves out like water for someone else’s growth and happiness.  This doesn’t mean we are completely thoughtless of ourselves, rather it points the way to building community.  And if we choose friendships that reflect our values, we will receive the same from them that we have given.

What an awesome thought, what a wonderful world to live in, and how lofty an ideal.

 

Being Like God

June 27, 2008

When He had finished washing their feet, He put on His clothes and returned to His place.  “Do you understand what I have done for you?”  he asked them.  “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.  John 13: 12-17.

We humans are always going on and on about what we deserve and how we should be treated because of our status, but Jesus in one act showed that God doesn’t look at it the same way.  When God calls a man, He bids him die… (Dietrich Bonhoffer).  We put rules on status whereas God looks at the need of the day or person in front of Him and just meets it or them.  If we look at what Jesus did here in our passage, we could conclude that He “humbled” Himself in order to serve others.  In fact, many preachers go on and on with stern words about how far He had to stoop in order to wash someone’s feet; or they shed tears over the love that Jesus displayed.

Though both perceptions are correct as far as they go, I believe that God doesn’t look at His position as God in the same light that humans would, for we consider His position to be above such menial tasks.  God tells us clearly, however, that His thoughts are not ours nor His ways our either, so in His estimation washing the feet meant nothing but love.  The truth of humility isn’t about debasing oneself below one’s value but realizing that status means absolutely nothing in the kingdom of God except?  Responsibility.

Jesus tells us elsewhere in Scripture,  “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”  Mark 9:35.  We have it all ass-backwards.  Position of high rank in the kingdom of God means more responsibility not just power.  To be sure the power comes with the position but that power is for the purpose of service not self-gratification.

When Christ washed the disciples’ feet, He wasn’t debasing Himself below what He thought His position warranted but showing them that His status required this action.  Peter objected most emphatically to it because of what He thought Jesus was doing, but Jesus corrected Him by saying,  “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,”  Simon Peter replied,  “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

Jesus answered,  “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean.  And you are clean, though not everyone of you.”  John 13: 8b-10.

What is Jesus saying about washing?

Clearly that Peter’s soul had already been washed by Him so that washing Peter’s feet was a mere touch up job.  God is the only one who can clean up our souls when we submit to Him, so in a sense He’s the servant washing clean the dirt of the inner man.  It has absolutely nothing to do with human concepts of status and everything to do with what God considers a position’s duties to be.

Therefore, when God tells the Jewish nation that they will be the priests and princes of the nation, He’s not giving them master/servant status but a job of service.  They will serve all the nations of the earth with the cross, foot washing and Jesus’ earthly work in mind.  When He tells a husband that he’s the head of his household, both the children and wife, God’s not indicating the man is the master and the others his servants but the exact opposite.  As husbands, we are to serve the needs of our family with joy, laying a foundation of love and humility that they should follow.  To be the head hauncho in God’s world means we lead by example not just by command.  So with a husband and his wife.  His job as head of the wife is to give her the same consideration God gives us.  Doesn’t God give us freedom of thought, expression and individuality within the boundaries of love?  Though a husband can’t “give” his wife these things because they are innate and already established boundaries God created, his job is to make sure she able to live in this freedom.

Christ’s teaching turns human values on its head, showing command by service rather than force or domination.  To God coming to earth as a baby, growing up as a man, dealing with the daily dirt of both soul and body and generally serving all around Him was only natural and never a debasement but His job.  He did it willingly, whole-heartedly and with joy for that is how He thinks.

And we are to be like Him…

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Philippians 2: 3, 4.  Read the rest of that passage which goes through to verse 18.  If God didn’t think it anything to be worried about to serve us, what should we think when serving one another?

Making Cheese Bread

June 26, 2008

When we make bread, we have to decide whether we’re gonna’ use whole grains or refined flour.  The consistency of the bread depends on it.  Then our next decision directs us to whether we want sweet or savory.

For cheese bread we usually only need refined flour in our mix with cheese on top–unless, of course, we want to mix the cheese into the bread itself, then we must do so while making the dough.  Yet another decision comes to us as we begin the process of creating this yummy concoction:  What kind of other flavors could we add?  May be some oregano or sesame seeds, hmm?  Or, what if we put jalapenos into the mixture?

Every little ingredient changes the taste and many times the consistency of the dough, which then affects the baking time.  But for us to have cheese bread alone, we don’t need anything but the bread dough and cheese…

Every ingredient, however, is important to the taste, texture and consistency of the final product, wouldn’t you say?

The Problem of Perspective

June 25, 2008

“For my thoughts are not your throughts, neither are your ways my ways,”  declares the LORD.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher thand your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  Isaiah 55: 8, 9.

Many unbelievers object to the above assertion by the God of the Bible.  The arguments are varied but the main ones I have heard go like this:  “If God’s way are not our ways, how can we be made in His image?”  “If God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts, how can we know what the Bible says is true–if His ways and thoughts are so much higher, we couldn’t write them down now could we.”

The mistake most humans have made throughout history is to bring God down to our level of thinking instead of elevating our way of thinking to His.  Said another way, we attempt to make God dual in nature like us with evil motives and vengeful thoughts, but He’s saying in our passage above that His thoughts don’t match ours because He won’t do evil

I don’t claim to understand every mystery of the Bible, but I’m willing to study it until I find it out.  So what I say next may sound like a complete about face from what I wrote in my last entry.  This will take me a couple of entries to explain what I’m learning (I hope I’m learning it correctly) from my study, so bear with me.

Here’s the premise of the above passage:  God’s methods are not earthbound methods or self-centered human thought processes, but for the good of all creation.  This statement is not God claiming we cannot grasp His truths or understand His message rather He’s telling us we need a change of heart and mind to do so.  Look at the rest of this chapter in Isaiah and what comes through constantly is a call to turn around, turn away from evil and do good, and gain His perspective.

So it’s possible to get a handle on the mind of the God of the Bible according to His own words.

What Is, Is What It Is

As I’ve said before, no one can prove which God or gods rule the creation as we know it.  It might be as the ancient Greeks believed, the Hindus, the Romans, Jews, Islam or Christian.  It might be that we have no clear picture available to us and everyone is just guessing.  In fact it could be that no one has come close to an accurate picture of the true God in any religion.  What might be true is that snippets and snapshots of whoever rules are found in every one of them and none of them carry the complete picture.  Which would mean the truths are buried beneath human tradition and doctrine so far we wouldn’t know it without help.

Whoever this Boss is, who they are is who they are and we can’t change the truth of the “who” to suit us.  If God is a kindly, benevolent and loving God with no intention of harming His/Her/Its creation in any way–even to punish, then that’s what we get.  If He/She is vengeful, then that’s what we get.

This issue is sort of like trying to genetically choose who your parents are going to be once you’re already born and grown to adulthood.  Since we can’t go back in time and make the necessary adjustments like Zaphod Beeblebrox (refer to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), we kind of get who we get.  The god who rules holds the universe in a grip unlike anything we’ve known, for whatever this god decides to do, we can’t stop it.  If this god wishes to destroy, then recreate, we can’t do anything but say “no” and let it happen.  A being powerful enough to create all that is cannot be fought effectively.

I know people who have told me that if God is going to fry people in hell forever, they would rather join those in hell than serve such a God.  I’ve listened as comedians and preachers alike have poopooed any such notion about God being a punisher and being fair, loving and just at the same time.  I’ve heard the arguments for and against hellfire, and though I prefer the hell which lasts until things are burned up, the fact is the God I serve might be one who thinks the rebellious deserve to burn in hell forever without end.

My preference wasn’t consulted at creation nor will it be at the last Day.  God is in charge and whatever He dictates is what will happen.  Fight it however we want, protest it by denying Him or ignoring Him neither one will matter because we are stuck with His decision.

Yet we have some hope.

God can be negotiated with on destruction because He claims it’s a foreign act to Him (see Isaiah 28: 21).  The belief in an eternal burning hell is more of a Pharisee teaching than an actual one the OT clearly spells out.  For one thing we have no records of God torching anyone and forcing His people to watch them burn nor do they burn forever but are consumedn in an instant (see 2 Kings 1).  Much of this doctrine came from the Middle Ages, what we call the “Dark Ages” of history, where people were burned at the stake for searching the woods for natural medicines and studying the stars to learn new things.  I’d say that we can rethink this whole concept and be guiltless of blasphemy or heresy.  There’s no clear instructions about anything in Scripture when it comes to Judgment Day except that God will have the last word.

Despite how much has been said about this subject by popular preachers and the like, the truth is we only have the headlines not the details and most eschatologists are guessing when they conclude what things mean.  Sure their “guesses” are more educated than mine, but we must remember they bring to their study whatever bias they possess.  If they were taught a certain way by a respected teacher or preacher, they will hold to that view even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

I have too, so I’m pointing out the possibility of the traditonal view of punishment for the sake of making another point:  No matter what we want our God to be, He could be different and we are reading it wrong.

Just because tradition taught the world was flat doesn’t mean it is.  Just because the the religious elite thought that the Bible indicated the world was the center of the universe, doesn’t mean it is, for now we know the earth is a sphere and orbits around another sphere, and that we are one of the outlying solar systems on the outreach of the Milky Way Galaxy.  Instead of shaking our faith in God’s interest in us, this just showed us how personal He is.  For God to be interested in a bunch of rebellious beings on the outskirts of His universe, on a small insignificant planet spinning around a small sun, just tells those of us who think of these things that He’s all the greater for doing so.

My conclusion?  God will be whatever He is and we will have to accept or reject it.  I will say one last thing though.

Whatever or whoever God is or isn’t, to rebel against Him just because we don’t like some of His policies and methods is plain foolish.  It’s like fighting a king who is for the most part benevolent and good to his people but harsh to those who cause pain to His nation.  If this king is as powerful as God, rebellion won’t accomplish anything anyway so why bother?  The wisest course is to affect the way He thinks about the subject by persuasion and dialogue–if that can be accomplished at all.

Am I copping because of this view?  Not to my way of thinking.  I believe what I believe because realize I could be dead wrong; I have been before and could be again.  The good news is that no one is sent to hell for believing anything about it at all.  Salvation is based on acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross not my opinion of the Judgment.

Dichotomy

June 24, 2008

“Say to them,  ‘As surely as I live, declares the Soverieng LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.  Turn!  Turn from your evil ways!  Why will you die, O house of Israel?'”  Ezekiel 33: 11.

I know I’m not supposed to disagree with established Christian doctrines, but many of them make no logical sense to me.  The teaching on an eternal burning hell is one of those that leaves me cold.  May be it’s just my Seventh-day Adventist background resurfacing from where I hid it or something but I can’t fathom how God could justify frying people for the rest of eternity just because they refused Him.  Especially once I read that verse above and one other like it (see Ezekiel 18: 32), it just didn’t make sense.

Follow me on this for a while because I know many people who won’t and just flat refuse to listen to this line of reasoning.

There are people in the world who will torture others till they die, then resucitate them to do it all over again.  These monsters of humanity carry this on for as long as they can keep killing and bringing them back to life.  Anyone on earth in their right mind calls this monsterous and inhumane, sick and wrong, psychotic and insane.  For those of us who abhor the halocaust the current teaching on hell should hold no less revulsion.

That’s what I think of the doctrine of hell as it stands today.  It’s not the God I know, nor does it match the statement above in Ezekiel.  I wish I could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that this doctrine is messed up but there are references in Scripture which make it sound like God will do exactly this.

That there is a teaching on hell, judgment, punishment and reward, I can’t disagree with at all because it’s stated pretty plainly in the Bible.  What I can disagree with is the interpretation of the texts available on this subject because I believe those who teach this doctrine in its present form ignore or don’t see the connection to the other passages on the subject.

But then something else occurred to me that kind of blew me away.  Abraham begged for Sodom and Gamorrah to be saved and negotiated with God down to ten righteous people in the whole of the valley.  Moses actually argued effectively with God that if He destroyed the people of Israel right then, His reputation with the nations would be tarnished.

One other thing I’ve noticed in Scripture that might just be applicable here:  Fire always symbolizes purification.  When a person throws gold in the fire, it means that they are separating the other minerals and “impurities” (whatever is not gold) out to get to the base metal.  Scripture calls God an “all consuming fire” (see Hebrews 12: 29), which tells us He is the purifier of all things.

One person I talked to suggested that God Himself was hell fire and that everyone passes through Him.  That would be consistent with 1 Corinthians 3: 10-15, which says:  By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it.  But each one should be careful how he builds.  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.  If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light.  It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.  If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.  If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

Everyone passes through the fire, it sounds like to me from this passage.  Fire is the great purifier of metal, disease and human souls.  God will clean up the universe by all accounts and use Himself as the source of the flames.  Who else or what else could He use?  The Bible claims He is the source of all things, so for something to exist outside His power it would mean there’s another god out there.  Since our God denies this as even a possibility, we must conclude that He’s the source of hell fire as much as all life.

An Equation that Doesn’t Add Up

Again, follow the equation through to its sum:  If God is the only source of life, then nothing else can have life without Him sustaining them.  If this is true, then God will be the one to supply hell fire (in the current teaching of it) with its heat and restoring life to those in the flames.  Fire burns up and consumes whatever it touches if left alone, therefore for a human to continue burning throughout eternity they would have to be continuously restored to enough health to continue the torture.  Some teachers make this a soul thing, but there again, a soul cannot be a living one unless God gives it life.  This means if He actually does this kind of thing to those who reject Him, He becomes like the very human monsters we know mentioned above.

I am not calling God a monster, rather I’m saying that the perception of many Christians on this subject is schizophrenic.  They tout a God of love, compassion, patience, mercy, kindness and forgiveness, then say in the next sentence that God will burn everyone for eternity and keep them alive so they can continue suffering.  That is insanity to me and any sane person living wouldn’t accept a person doing this kind of thing to a dog let alone a human being.  So why do we seem to think it a natural thing for God to do so?  He’s supposed to be free of our vengeful attitudes, without sin.

The human psyche inserts the dichotomy into the message of the Bible.  We bring the dichotomy of hating abortion because it disrespects life even in its beginning stages, murder, genocide and war disgust us as useless and contrary to God’s nature, then we turn right around and tell those who don’t believe that they will fry in hell fire for eternity in torturous consciousness.

Where’s the sense in that?

I don’t find God’s judgment as hard to understand as I do His followers insistence on an eternal torture chamber.  Jesus told us to forgive our enemies, pray for them and do good to them in order to be like our Father in heaven.  This attribute doesn’t speak to me of a God who would torture souls from necessity or pleasure for eternity.  I do believe, however, that the fire of facing ourselves before God’s pure presence will be enough to either clear away the sin left at that time or consume us entirely if we have nothing of Him left to salvage.

Rebellion against God is rejection of life.  If God is the only source of life in the universe, to deny Him this even as credit is to deny life.  If at the judgment we come face to face with God, will we still deny Him His place in creation?  If we do, what does that say about us?  If God is the only source of life and in Him we live, move and have our being, to deny who He is, what He tells us about our design and rebel against His natural rulership of all He’s created is not only foolish but death.  For make no mistake, to reject the source of life is rejecting life itself.

Death is non-existence.  It has to be the opposite of life for life is existence, consciousness and sentience (see Ecclesiastes 9:5).  To have life without the possibility of death is to make us self-contained and self-determining yet our very nature on earth at present shows us that isn’t true.

So, in my understanding of it, God does away with sin, which is rebellion against Him, uses fire to clean up creation of all that is infected or identified with it, then salvages and recreates what is left.  I believe in justice and judgment for they make sense to me, I just don’t think Scripture teaches an end to sin the way some believe and have believed for nearly 2000 years.

I could be wrong.

A Personal God

June 23, 2008

“My command is this:  Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.  John 15: 13-15.

“Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”  Revelation 3: 20.

I once heard a radio interview with an agnostic Christian theologian (an oxymoron in my view) who claimed it to be the height of arrogance and self-agrandizement to believe in a personal God.  Why would God, any god, be focused on the needs and wants of a specific individual out of all the other individuals in the world?  Who could keep track of that many personal details?

Our verses above claim our God is personally interested in us.  Jesus claimed it to be so at the Last Supper then reiterated it to the same apostle in a vision.  God wants to know us personally not just at a distance.  How He can keep track of all the billions of people who have ever lived and who exist today is beyond me, but this God claims He can.

His friendship with us, however, is based on our trust of His good will.  We can’t believe in Him as our Lord and Savior without doing what He says we were created to do.  It’s impossible to be a follower of The Way (the original name followers of Jesus gave their new faith) and not adhere to the teachings of Jesus.  Both OT and NT are included in our conclusion because at the time of the apostles, the only Scriptures in existence were the OT books, though the letters the apostles wrote soon became grafted in as well as the recorded gospels.

Therefore we can conclude that the OT contains the gospel message for Paul declared to Timothy,  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  2 Timothy 3: 16.  We can’t split the message in two but they must remain one.

For example, a study of Revelation quickly reveals that John quoted Isaiah extensively in his narration and prophecy.  In the same way Jesus validated every book in the canon by quoting from them.  So what we have is not a message divided but unified and connected in Christ.

Who, by the way, just happened to call Himself our friend.  But this friendship hinges on whether or not we obey His commands, especially the command to love each other as He loved us.  It’s not only stated as a command, Jesus claims it will be the main means by which the world knows we follow Him.  If we are a friend to an earthly king or ruler, we witness to the justice of his or her cause.  In other words we advertise their worthiness and proclaim their policy as our own.  This is the kind of friendship Jesus tells us we must have to be close to Him.

Why?

The reason is simple:  We cannot be like Him without following what He says nor can we claim to be His without demonstrating for each other and the world around us the same love He displayed on the cross.  To claim to belong to Christ without this self-sacrificing love is to put a lie to our claim.

In the time of Christ and still in many of the Middle Eastern countries, to invite even an enemy to one’s table was to declare peace–or a temporary truce of sorts.  It was the height of dishonor to harm a guest at one’s table and a great personal declaration of personal interest to be invited to the house of a great ruler.  To eat at a table one had to be connected in a personal way to the host, most of the time.  For Jesus to knock on the door of our hearts is a sign of respect for our right to choose–one which He created.  When He comes into our home and eats with us, He’s declaring His intention to get personal.

That’s why I believe in a personal God.  And to wish for a God to love me and be personally interested in me is no more arrogant than aching for a parent’s love, for ultimately we are all His offspring.

The Eternal Program

June 21, 2008

I have seen the burden God has laid on men.  He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.  I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.  Ecclesiastes 3: 10-12.

Ever wondered why people fight death so much?  The above passage holds the key, God set eternity in the hearts of men  not as a curse or a way to rub their noses in their mortality but for the purpose of living forever.  Mankind wasn’t meant to die in the original design.

I heard a science professor say that he didn’t want to live forever because he was already tired of himself at 50+.  While I understand his sentiments, I also know he is reacting to the fact that death will find him and frustrated with the futility that brings.  We don’t grasp what God has done with creation though we can definitely understand it’s function in many areas.  But getting a handle on the whole of it puts us out of our depth.

The godly wisdom which Solomon harps about so much is the key to understanding what God has done from beginning to end.  To believe in a Creator is actually the most commonsense POV one could hold, which also gives us a reason for our existence, which god might be debatable may be but not the verdict of the evidence around us.  The Biblical paradigm especially makes it clear that we are created specifically as little gods (John 10: 34), in our God’s image, for the purpose of creating life and design around us.  This is where we went wrong, however, because we wanted to be the God, not just His creatures.

To grasp the big picture is within our design parameters, to know it all isn’t.  Yet we weren’t programmed to die, we can see it in every person on their deathbed fighting for life even when the prognosis is completely hopeless.  If the program isn’t there, why do we fight so hard to stay alive even in the most miserable situations imaginable?

Hope.  The old saying “where there’s life, there’s hope” rings true.  Suicide is an abheration of the human existence and usually signifies a loss of hope; give a suicidal person hope and they change, unless they have medical or psychological reasons that prevent them from seeing it.

So my conclusion points to the fact that we were designed for eternity and our choice (through Adam & Eve our orginal parents) to be our own gods brought us death.  We disconnected ourselves from the power source and began to die, retaining the original program but fading into non-existence none the less.  The serpent’s lie “you shall not die but your eyes will be opened”  contained one element of truth:  our eyes were opened to what it meant to be separated from God.

Coming back to Christ brings the hope of eternity back to us as a fact not just a program.  It completes the purpose for which we were made and solves the problem of futility.  For some this might be too simple an answer, but my answer to them is:  Even in the most complex ecosystems or science the simplist answer is many times the right one.

The Issue of Fate

June 20, 2008

I have seen something else under the sun:  The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.  Ecclesiastes 9: 11.

It’s the most misconstrued teaching in the Bible this issue of God’s will.  I’ve heard many people say some pretty outlandish things about God’s plan for their lives as if nothing happens by chance.  I’ve even heard people who think that every result of every choice and every action is completely God directed.  I think it comes from some sort of morphed Calvinism, to be blunt, for they think that predestination means that mankind doesn’t have any freedom.

…Which is a dichotomy to my mind.  How can one be free to choose right or wrong but be completely dictated to about the choice?  How can the outcomes be so planned that nothing happens naturally or consequentially.  Does God give people liver disease if they drink too much?  Do people with bad kidneys just happen to be more evil than others?  What about leprosy?  Blindness?

How can I even have the presence of mind to ask these questions if I’m simply a robot/puppet mouthing words dictated to me?

Some things in life might be planned but not everything.  The context in which we say something must be taken into consideration or the meaning of it might get misconstrued.  This happens with God’s will constantly.

What changes when we place our lives in God’s hands?   Do we stop thinking, considering, weighing options and making choices?  Does the drunk driver who will hit us tomorrow and break our back suddenly go sober?

“May be” is the answer to all of them, but not out of God’s direct interference if our text above is to be believed.

From what Solomon says here, God seems to have designed an improvisational universe, one which can be turned, changed, arranged and adjusted.  The brightest people don’t always get the big payoff, the sweetest people don’t get the accolades, the strongest or fastest people don’t win the prize at the end of the game, but time and chance happen to us all.  This means that another person’s choice or other people’s choices can and will affect mine.

I might choose to go to the market because I just happen to want ice cream, but since a bunch of people had that idea before me, there might not be any of the kind I like left.  This isn’t God telling me to go on a diet but simply time and chance.

Yet some would take it this way, if they happen to be gaining weight or over weight.  God doesn’t need to do these kinds of “signs” to tell us truth, all we have to do is look in the mirror, try to see our shoes or to run a block and our heart and lungs will tell us we’re out of shape.  If God wanted only to use only miracles to let us know truth, we wouldn’t have 66 books telling us to choose Him and turn around, now would we.  There is a choice offered, which shows us that we have something to do with our “fate”.

Understanding Predestination

I spoke with one young preacher who took Romans 9 to mean that we are puppets on a string and God is the puppet master.  When I presented Solomon’s claim to him, he replied,  “O, but Ecclesiastes isn’t a theological book.  It’s not about doctrine.”  My reaction was to stare at him dumbfounded and exclaim,  “So you’re saying that it doesn’t have anything to say about truth?”  NO! it’s Scripture!  He said back but it isn’t doctrinal.

I just couldn’t believe a guy who had spent 45 minutes telling kids to choose God or go to hell and how the Bible was the source of truth was saying such opposite things.  No wonder outsiders are confused!

Chapter 9 of Romans talks about two arrival points for the people who choose for or against God, their end is predestined.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Those who rebel against God will die; those who repent and accept Him as Lord of all will live.  The gate for life and death are the only “predestined” things about our choices.  Anything more or less would be abdicating our responsibility, for we wouldn’t own our choice anymore than the outcome.

A Case for Liquid Fate

Isaiah 1: 18, 19: “Come now, let us reason together,”  says the LORD.  “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be like wool.  If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.”  For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Ezekiel 33: 11: “Say to them,  ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.  Turn!  Turn from your evil ways!  Why will you die, O house of Israel?’ “

Sounds like a choice is being offered in both of these passages, huh?

Look, the Bible is either true or it isn’t, there’s no halfway mark here.  If it isn’t accurate in its description of God, then it’s a bogus message and might contain truth but the basic teaching isn’t.  So then what we have would be a great idea without any substance.

If it’s true, then Ecclesiastes has several important somethings to tell us and one of those things is that God created time and chance.  The race doesn’t go to the swift because various factors may come together to prevent it.  This isn’t God stepping in to humble someone it’s just time and chance.  God can and will use this to show Himself to that person but it isn’t for that purpose that it happened.

Now how is God in control then?

He’s the programmer, the source of all the options, therefore the source of all the outcomes.  It’s kind of like a math equation:

 If n=b and b=c, then n=c, so if b+b=a, then b+c=a, n+b=a and n+c=a. 

What we have is a mathamtical genius on our hands.  Actually, it goes beyond genius to the source of intelligence, which points to God being the one who makes all the equations, figured out and made all the puzzles and creates the rules.

So of course He knows how things are going to work.  This doesn’t subtract time and chance for us.  Random numbers added together might have a predictable outcome, but they are still chosen at random.  So with situations.  Fate is just a word we use to try to grasp what just happened.  What really happens in most cases is that the numbers added up to this particular sum–and that’s fate.

We can predict the outcome of someone hitting a wall at 90 mph, right?  Car going 90 mph hits brick wall, equals person either dead or very seriously injured.  It’s not complicated, it’s just wisdom at work with experience and knowledge.

Yet we try to forget or ignore the various numbers in our equations.  Bad habits add up to bad outcomes.  Bad company corrupts good morals; hanging out with angry people will rub off on us; hanging out with the wise brings wisdom.  What we put in our equation will dictate the sum.

Yet that truth is only half of it, for we must add weather conditions, earth movement, natural blessing or disasters and a host of other “numbers” which must be calculated for the outcome.  A sunny day may get lightning if the atmosphere has enough static.  It’s rare, of course, but it happens under the right conditions.

If we are puppets on a string, then whether I witness to the world or don’t isn’t up to me but is dictated by the puppet master.  Choosing then become competely arbitrary and no one has any freedom of thought, action or choice, so the choice for or against Jesus as Savior is moot and emptied of any meaning as far as our ability to choose is concerned. Influence and experience are completely emptied of their effectiveness or value at this point.

So my sum of this topic is that we can and must plan as best we can and leave the outcome to God.  Not so He will bring us what we want but so that we don’t worry one way or the other.

Now I will seemingly throw out all I said in order to say:  I believe God can and will step into our lives to change the outcomes at times when we ask, while I still believe in time and chance.

Avoiding the Ditches

June 19, 2008

In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these:  a righteous man perishing in his righteousness, and a wicked man living long in his wickedness.  Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise–why destroy yourself?  Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool–why die before you time?  It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other.  The man who fears God will follow them both (avoid all extremes)Ecclesiastes 7: 13-18.

Here lies the hardest place for any of us to live.  Why?  Because most people are naturally given to extremes of some sort.  Even the mellow people are extremely mellow when they should respond with more animation.

I’ve wondered about Solomon’s use of overrighteous and overwicked puzzling over what they could mean.  But if we just take the context at hand, it we see light.

A person who goes for the overrighteous phase will be an extremely performance oriented religionist or whatever moral code they adhere to.  Ascetics tend to make “self-denial” into a self abuse in odd forms.  People proclaimed to be wise move out onto mountain retreats, become hermits and generally extract themselves from life altoghether.  It’s become quite clear to me through this passage that those who escape from every day concerns have very little wisdom to impart concerning them.

If Life Were A Game…

I use football (the American variety but the other could easily be substituted) as an example of this.  A person who has never played the game cannot instruct one who has very well.  O they might see the opening over there on the side, or be able to point out how the player on the field failed, but in reality, since they are not part of the game, they don’t have the experience or knowledge to advise the player.  It’s really easy to tell someone who is facing four heavily muscled linebackers to plow through them or go around, but it’s quite another to do it.

This is what those who separate themselves out from daily living are to me:  Spectators.  Without successful experience in relationships, business or the daily grind, advising others is just couch potato players yelling about things they don’t understand.  George MacDonald once said that he would never allow a man to become a pastor or minister of any kind until he had lived a normal life for time.  His stated age would be forty or so to allow the pastor time to gain experience at living.  Many come right out of college to give advice to those who have more wisdom, experience and knowledge of living than they do.  God is a practical being and doesn’t spiritualize away the grocery money, although He asks us to have faith with or without it.

Being overwicked though, is even more foolish because those who go this route destroy too much good for their tenure on earth to be worth it.  These kinds of people throw the game before they even get started or cheat their way to a win.  They become useless to themselves and everyone else by not only the aforementioned destructive behavior, but the attitudes, lifestyle and general fruit they bear.  I’ve met people who go this route and they aren’t happy (and a few don’t expect to be) with life in general and do their level best to make disciples of their futilism.  A completely wicked POV is not the answer either.

We must recognize the tendancy in us to be righteous and wicked, good or evil, for both natures exist in our psyche.  Who we become and our success or failure depends on which nature we feed.

The man of God will hold on to them both or …avoid all extremes.  Holding on to the fact that I have tendancies toward wickedness warns me of the danger that lies that way.  My righteous nature will warn me of this constantly.  Yet the righteous nature can become somewhat of an evil if go the route of denying my evil by trying to live whatever law I believe to be righteous.  Denying my negative nature is a lie that I might be willing to tell myself if I’m afraid of failing at righteousness.
Here is where the yin yang principle works in theory as well as practice.  We are creatures of both natures.  Embracing them both doesn’t mean we let the evil in us win the day sometimes or the righteous deny the evil.  What it does mean is that we see both natures at work and use wisdom to produce the good without ever denying the possibility of our wickedness.  Even good intentions can come off wrong, the best of efforts result in disaster.  To deny our part in it is to deny our ability to make a hash of things.
Those who hate being wrong, will seek to distract others with their “righteous” life.  Those who hate failure of any sort will run away from life and isolate themselves somewhere so that the dichotomy of living doesn’t touch them, so the challenges of life can’t set them up for any kind of failure.  Those who cop out might choose to become everything their negative urges tell them to be, giving in to the wicked nature inside of them because they think this the sum and total of them.
Being able to see the truth of these things is what wisdom shows  us.  Being able to balance out our POV is what wisdom gives to us to help us live.
What does Proverbs say?  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom…