Archive for the ‘Mission’ Category

Gospel of John: The Forerunner

December 25, 2014

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. (John 1:6-8 NIV)

It’s interesting (to me) how John the Writer felt the need to clarify John the Baptist’s role in the story. Why he addressed JB’s (John the Baptist) status as the forerunner is not stated but I do think inferred. JB developed a following–of which John the Writer became a part before switching to Jesus at JB’s suggestion–who were nothing if not loyal to a fault. John the Writer seems to be targeting these disciples of JB in order to point them to Jesus.

In ancient and fairly modern times all rulers used heralds to announce their approach to a town, city or area. The person would wear the colors or bear the mark of a herald on his garments to give instant recognition as to the validity of his words.

John the Baptist’s livery defied the logic of kings, eschewing pomp and royal crest in favor of the humble camel’s hair and leather. This is vital to our understanding of the nature of Jesus, whom we call King of Kings. Every nuance held significance whether large or small. Jesus came humbly therefore his herald should take on the same demeanor. It also follows that those men He chose as His disciples would also come from humble backgrounds.

I don’t think God despises the rich and powerful it’s just these people tend towards a mentality which preserves their wealth and power. A person fully formed by education, shaped by being born into wealth and authority, will struggle to submit to a teacher who doesn’t present himself/herself within the familiar paradigm. JB’s humility must have been chosen since his father was a priest of some influence, one who performed in the temple, therefore probably not extremely poor. Meaning JB wouldn’t have needed to live in the desert eating locusts and honey but could have followed in his father’s footsteps and become a political influence in Jerusalem if he had so chosen.

So JB’s humility was chosen to a purpose.

Just to be clear: Jesus and JB were cousins, had to have known each other, and at one time or another connected. Anyone who suggests they didn’t can’t read between the lines. Mary, Jesus’ mother, went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, JB’s mother, when she started to show she was pregnant. Elizabeth knew her cousin was pregnant after first laying eyes on her. These two women were close enough that an apparently “immoral” Mary went to Elizabeth to escape local social problems.

Nowhere does the Bible connect JB and Jesus socially. Yet the fact that Jesus and JB were related cannot be ignored. Did they have some sort of pact because of their mothers’ visions for them? I doubt it. Our modern travel abilities blunt our understanding of the past and how easily distances of even ten miles or less were accomplished. When one is poor, walking provides the only means of transporting oneself between destinations, therefore anything not within the needs of providing for the home become vital only out of necessity. So any collusion between the two women would have been exceedingly ambitious and probably not really possible. However, if they were in cahoots, why would Elizabeth take a backseat role as far as her baby being the forerunner instead of the Messiah? Selfish people tend to be ambitious, ambitious people don’t take to coming in second.

JB chose the path of the ascetic which in his culture gave him a certain credibility right from the start. Anyone, be they poor or wealthy, gained respect by rejecting the trappings of normal life in favor of seeking God or their gods. When JB came preaching people came to hear him in droves because he was a force to be reckoned with in their culture.

The difference between what JB and Jesus presented and the rest of the world’s self-proclaimed messiahs came down to message: our heroes proclaimed life change through attitude adjustment; the latter proclaim their own self-interest in the guise of religious or power-mongering stump speeches. What JB began through his preaching and baptism ritual about changing one’s life and attitude Jesus expanded on.

Whether through studied understanding or Spirit-driven insight JB’s message set people up for Jesus’ life and teachings. His entire goal was to point people to the Messiah–so that through him people might believe.

Blew My Mind

January 27, 2014

Great article:

http://viralchrist.com/spiritual-growth/love/1559-qlover-or-prostitute-the-question-that-changed-my-life

 

Word Useage

October 11, 2013

Words from a wise man’s mouth are gracious, but fools are consumed by their own lips.  At the beginning their words are folly; at the end they are wicked madness—and fools multiply words.  Ecclesiastes 10:12, 13.

 

The word “but” is a comparative word, signaling a contrast or new direction.  In modern English we get what I’m going to call “the hard” comparisons where the contrast is obvious—a this-versus-that scenario.  I’ve noticed, however, Solomon’s contrasts are more descriptive and less obvious.

So if the wise use words tempered by grace, it follows that fools do not.  The hard contrast here cannot be missed really because the word “but” makes sure we see there is one.  At the same time what we are given is not the hard contrast but the wise person’s gracious words versus the fool’s outcome—consumed by their own lips.  Solomon then spends more time describing the fool’s use of words than he does the wise.

I looked up the word gracious and found it consistently used in both the KJV and NIV, although it can also be translated favor in another context.  In this context the translators used gracious intentionally since a wise man doesn’t always grant favor but does use gracious language.  What this means for the hard contrast then is the fool doesn’t use or seek to use gracious language and is consumed by the lack of grace in their interaction.  The wise set out to be full of grace and use words carefully so as to be certain of their reception or the listener’s grasp of the meaning.

If we were to paraphrase the last sentence a bit, it might go somewhat like this:  When fools start to speak the very words they use are silly, frivolous and ungracious; when they finish speaking the point of their conversation ends up being detrimental and devious.  And they use a lot of words either to disguise their intentions or to convince whoever is listening.  The intent for them is to get their way not to do what is best.  If we work or live around someone who constantly demonstrates a lack of concern for others and generally doesn’t care who they offend, we must be aware and beware of what could happen as a result of any interaction with them.

Of all the types of people we encounter as followers of Jesus the fool/careless person is the hardest to live around.  What’s strangely consistent is that these people permeate the church to a degree that they become the squeaky wheel rather than just an annoying subculture.  Not only are they careless in their words in the body of Christ but continue to “witness” to this attitude with full intensity outside it as well.  I’d say any negative rep the church has in the world stems mostly from the fools within it who use words to manipulate, subjugate and generally dominate others.

James called for the church to gain godly wisdom, proclaiming as one of its main ingredients being considerate (see James 3:17).  A follower of Jesus who submits to the lesson of the cross submits to the character of the Master.  Being considerate is an outgrowth of peace-loving and results in being full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

In full disclosure I have been the inconsiderate follower of Jesus.  Was I sincere in my desire?  Yup!  But I was (and still am in many ways) a fool.  I have hurt people and the rep of Jesus by being overbearing, pushy with my ideas and stingy with grace and mercy.  As hard as I try to be considerate, the moment I open my mouth to instruct someone I find long practiced habits take over without constant vigilance beforehand over my thoughts.  If I disagree with someone—even a fellow believer, it becomes apparent what my thought life is when I speak ungraciously.

We are all fools to one degree or another.  We all damage the reputation of Christ in the world by our behavior and sinful nature affecting our attitude and beliefs.  Unfortunately, if we are going to be growing Christians who deny the old nature for the new, we will fail to represent the Master properly.  It’s futile to believe anyone escapes this fool category for we are all simply too steeped in past habits and affected by the scars to be anything but fallible.

Sounds hopeless, huh?

What is impossible with man is possible with God.

Do we think God is surprised by the failure of the church to represent Him right?  Do we believe that if we just tweaked our message enough, we would be better witnesses?  Do we truly buy into the teaching that somehow we are going to get over our sin this side of glorification?

If you said “yes” to any of those questions, you have been fooled by the worst of the devil’s lies.

A child grows in stages of development not from full knowledge or experience but through incremental gains in both.  A believer is rightly called a newborn child of God at baptism, which should carry the weight of experiencing the corporeal growth as a metaphor for the spiritual.  We develop our understanding by failing and getting back up again to retry until we do it right by habit.  I don’t know anyone who is the epitome of Christ-like behavior or teaching—as if I would recognize it anyway given the bias we all share.  I am also not recommending any sort of throwing in the towel because that means an early death or a miserable life—neither of which speak from the heart of God.

Jesus promised an abundant life for those who followed His teaching.  To reiterate a point I’ve made before (sorry if I appear to harp on this) Jesus never said the truth by itself would set us free but “IF you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  John 8:32.  The world quotes this verse but leaves Jesus out of it; we Christians often quote it and leave Jesus’ teachings out of it too.  The world implies that there is some magical liberating component to truth itself— though not exactly an altogether wrong notion it’s not accurate either.  Knowing truth means light has shined on a dark subject revealing the reality hidden.  Understanding the truth will free us up to stop worrying about the unknown probably, but it doesn’t exactly follow that we will find less to be worried about in the long run.

Slavery for many people is a truth.  For instance the recent news of three women being held captive for more than a decade reveals how true this fact is.  The realization that they were sex slaves didn’t and never would set them free, although grasping the reality of it probably saved them a beating or few.  No amount of acknowledging their truth held any liberty in it for them at all.

Christ’s discipline is not about reward punishment rather it points to a practice of right/healthy living.  God designed the product (our bodies and psyche) and then wrote the operation manual.  Stepping outside that design is like pouring Coke on a computer keyboard—one can do it but shouldn’t complain when the known outcome happens.  Understanding what being a disciple is frees us to live our lives in ever increasing growth while experiencing setbacks, failures and generally being human.  While these negative experiences and attitudes might interfere with our goal of being like our Master they are simply obstacles which discipleship helps us address.

Anything outside the character of Jesus is foolishness, therefore being Christ-like is wisdom.  Jesus came to deliver us from foolishness; sin is foolish, make no mistake about it.  The wise use words which are gracious, I believe, precisely because they know what the alternative means.  Most wise people have been fools often enough to avoid it—if not out of wisdom exactly, then out of self-preservation.  God promises an abundant life IF we hold to the teachings of Jesus.  Only then will we know the truth and be set free.

The word most people miss is disciple, which points to following and adhering to the disciplines of the teaching.  A discipline is a practice one follows into a habit so that it becomes second nature rather than planned.  The freedom therefore must come from the continued practice of Jesus teachings.  Yet, later Jesus told the disciples (another derivative of the word “discipline”) “You can do nothing of yourselves; just like branches cannot bear fruit without being attached to the vine itself.”  He is the vine, we are the branches.  He provides the spiritual sap; we bear the fruit.  But notice we do something as a result of our attachment to Him.

The word “gracious” is a derivative of the root “grace”.  This means the wise are full of grace and their language reflects it.  The mouth speaks what the heart thinks; it naturally follows gracious words must emanate from grace filled thoughts.  Fools don’t think of grace so naturally it cannot be part of their vocabulary.  If you meet a Christ-follower who practices ungracious language, most likely they are either young in the Lord or not steeped in the discipline of Christ.  Christ is full of grace and mercy.  He did not come into the world to condemn it.  His intention was and is to save the world through His teachings and actions—the cross and resurrection.

Don’t Be In Such A Hurry To Walk Away

November 5, 2012

Do not be in a hurry to leave the king’s presence.  Do not stand up for a bad cause, for he will do whatever he pleases.  Ecclesiastes 8:3.

Solomon warns us not to be in a hurry to leave the presence of a ruler for they do as they please.  There are good reasons for this:  1) who will influence them differently if all they have around them are “yes” men and women?  2) What if this particular ruler is different and truly needs our perspective to make a wise decision?   3)  What if the only voice of reason is yours?

We can’t guarantee our influence or the outcome, but if we quit the game, we lose by default.  If we continue playing the game, we might lose anyway but at least we put in our best effort.  I personally don’t want to live with the former as a memory over the latter because on my death bed I want to know I did my best to live for what I believed in.  We who follow Jesus know the Way to Life.  If we refuse to live in the world and participate as a part of its journey, we refuse to be the salt and light our Master told us we should be.  Our witness is not about preaching with words but living examples of righteousness, kindness and truth.

            Whoever obeys his command will come to no harm, and the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure.  For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter, though a man’s misery weighs heavily upon him.  Ecclesiastes 8:5, 6.

What does this say to you?

What it says to me is if we “leave the king’s presence” in a hurry due to our misery and dissatisfaction with the current trends, we lose whatever voice we might have had to turn the tide of authority to good.  Look at the stories of Daniel and Esther.  Daniel became a ruler in the kingdom of Babylon, first, then Persia.  Both nations were heathen, meaning Daniel probably dispensed with commands of a king he neither agreed with nor supported on specific issues.  Yet look at the results.  Esther became the wife of a man who worshiped violent, immoral and pretty much capricious gods, yet she saved her people by being a place she otherwise would have preferred not to be.

Where has God called you to be?  Remember the above examples from Scripture and settle your mind on being a light in a dark place.  If lights shine where there is already plenty of light, they get lost in the brightness.  But if a light is placed in a dark corner of the room, it dispels the dark—even if it’s just a little bit.

Wisdom: The Latest in Fashion

September 17, 2012

Who is the wise man?  Who knows the explanation of things?  Wisdom brightens a man’s face and changes its hard appearance.  Ecclesiastes 8:1.

 

I find it strange to think about how often dark thoughts permeate even the brightest moments.  Or, that sense of entitlement which comes along with being human may have nothing whatsoever to do with what I think about myself overall but it sure spits out a lot of nonsense at times.  For instance, I might be aware that few people really pay attention to me but still think that the prettiest girl in the school should be my girlfriend, even though she probably couldn’t pick me out of a lineup.  It’s this odd juxtaposition which causes so many people not to work in harmony with one another.

A guy who won’t date that girl over there because the person in question is just too “weird” or out of sync with what he thinks of as cool, pretty or acceptable declares his own self-image.  It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t have the evidence to back it up from his social circles or even internally, the fact that he considers himself to be above the girl states he thinks he deserves “better”—whatever that is.  And, using a guy as an illustration doesn’t mean girls are off the hook because they do the same thing.  The other thing I’ve noticed is taste differences are squashed by the strongest mouth in a proverbial room.  As far as I can tell, there are as many tastes in food, love and career, etc., as there are people in the world, yet we see many people dumping their own tastes for the sake of not being criticized by those who appear more “in the know” or popular.

Both sides are foolishness.

Wisdom explains the reasons for life, the universe and everything.  Sure there are some “reasons” which escape our grasp or even ability to find out, yet when we study the big picture, the reason for much it begins to be clear.

Just take science for instance:  a lot of what we thought was supernatural turned out to be nature working in small ways.  Leprosy is not God’s direct judgment on anyone but a virus which kills the nerves; bubonic plague is simply an infection spread by fleas and other insects—which is easily treatable by the way when caught early enough.  Elves, if they ever existed, were creatures of myth leaving no trace anywhere on earth—no fossils.  The earth rotates around the sun as do all the other planets in our solar system, which in turn rotates around the Milky Way galaxy, which then rotates around our universal core.  Flies do not spontaneously generate from meat, as thought in even medical circles during the 19th century before Pasteur proved otherwise.

Wisdom eliminates the need for conjecture, assumption and tabloid gossip fodder since by it we examine the essence of things to wring the truth from them.  It isn’t that it knows all rather it recognizes what it does and what doesn’t know, or, what can’t be known in the present moment.

We can conjecture all we want about the habits of a famous person but until we actually live with them in the daily we don’t know.  How often do we assume about another person’s motives only to find out they weren’t even on the same network as us thought-wise?  We assume what we understand the universe, God, the after life, and a host of other concepts either invented by us or discovered in some incremental way, then jump to conclusions about the meaning or purpose behind it all.

When I was a kid we were taught that God would be taking everyone to a heaven somewhere beyond our universe.  I’ve heard variations on this theme my entire life and believed it till I read the Scriptures to find out that “God’s dwelling” will be with men.  It’s stated in two major books—Isaiah and Revelation.  There will be a new heaven and a new earth, for the old is passed away and the new has come.  The New Jerusalem will come and rest on earth where the earthbound Jerusalem is now.  I assumed the people who taught me heaven only came after death or Jesus’ return knew what they were telling me to be fact, when in fact it turns out they ignored certain scripture references in order to promote their own bias.

Wisdom sees through the inflated opinions we have of our own theology.  Even though I know my original grasp of truth was more than likely mistaken, my current attitude towards eschatology (the study of prophecy), end time events, and what eternity will look like are more “wait and see” than anything else.  I took a warning from Jesus first advent:  The people in-the-know recognized Him as someone special, saw His miracles then crucified Him anyway because He scared them.  We don’t like to be wrong.

I’ve decided He’s right and I’m wrong and I’m in this walk with Him no matter what comes.  I don’t understand the big picture nor can I grasp all the details of prophetic truth.  What I do know is this:  Jesus loves me.  I know His word changed my life and gave me a different attitude about it.  I know that His promise of heaven beginning in the here and now on earth is a fact in my own heart—whether or not anyone else appears to accept it or experience it.

Have you ever seen a woman who you didn’t consider to be a “beauty” by whatever standard you measure such things, suddenly become gorgeous once you get to know her?  By the same token, women who fall in love with a man often don’t declare how “handsome” he is rather they focus on a trait that just endears him to them.

Wisdom changes a person’s appearance by its very nature to create a more peaceful, happy and contented outlook—Solomon claims it softens one’s hard facial expressions.  By dent of this very result, I hereby declare wisdom as the most effective fashion upgrade of any in the history of human effort.

Surprise! There’s Injustice and Inequality in the World…

February 20, 2012

If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one and over them both are others higher still.  The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields.  Ecclesiastes 5:8, 9.

 

For the most part, I’m pretty disappointed in the human race—especially those who claim to be wise and in the “know”.  It seems very few people harbor any sense of realistic outlook on the world’s drama unfolding.  Living in Portland, constantly bombarded with social and environmental issues, I find some people care about these things to the exclusion of rational thinking.  Some get so concerned for the issue they fight for that their humanity becomes compromised.

Poverty is one of those issues.

It’s always frustrating to me when people act surprised by poverty.  In America we barely register the world’s definition of the word itself, as far as I’m concerned.  It’s not like there isn’t a cause for it.  Disaster, substance abuse, laziness, oppression, economic fluctuations, personal tragedy, etc. all contribute to the conditions of the poor.  Yet at least a few of the problems could be avoided if society cared more for people than they do about accomplishing great things for society or power mongering.  Of course, the US also knows poverty yet it’s an odd type of poverty.  Our poor have more goods than most poverty stricken people.  It’s hard to worry about a culture of poor people who can own a TV, car, iPods, get food stamps, shop for used clothing or whatever at discount places like Goodwill or Salvation Army, etc.  I don’t consider myself hard hearted towards them, rather I feel we have a whiner attitude which pervades a rather privileged culture.  To be blunt, while I acknowledge the under privileged and the children who go hungry in our country, we don’t have to with all the programs here.  The children who tend to go hungry here rarely do so because the programs to provide for them don’t exist.  It’s usually the fault of the parents who are strung out on drugs, alcohol or practice some form of abuse—neglect, physical or mental.

The wackiest problem we encounter as human societies is that of the hierarchy taking a lion’s share of the goods which come in from the “fields” where the food supply is grown.  I’ve dug ditches and must say that whatever the bosses say, those guys down doing the hard work deserve to be paid better than they are.  But it won’t ever happen.  Human nature being what it is those in charge believe in some odd sense they deserve a bigger cut of the profit than those actually doing the grunt work.  It’s a weird juxtaposition brought on by entitlement attitudes of the rich and educated.  Still, I get it, when a person owns a plot of land, the larger portion of the profit should go to them.  Otherwise they won’t have seed or enough income to maintain the property nor will they be able to weather disasters and market fluctuations.  That said, their workers must be paid a reasonable salary as well.

Yet the impoverished struggle with greed, envy, jealousy, lust and covetousness just as much as their rich counterparts.  Those who have money worry about losing it to some disaster or failure on their part; those without it worry about getting it.  Those impoverished or on the borderline of it lust after getting it.

I grew up in a lower middle class family.  This is not to say my folks weren’t educated, Mom went to college though Dad didn’t make it through third grade, still they were professional people after the style of the 50s and 60s.  Dad became a mechanic following a car accident which almost killed him, leaving one hip disjointed, two broken vertebrae, and crushing four disks.  I remember he could cut a car in half, weld a new half on and when he finished you wouldn’t know it had ever been damaged.  Mom turned out to be an exceptional nurse (this from those who worked with her), and I think she must have had a fairly intelligent mind because she could grasp abstracts pretty well.

In the fall of 1971 Dad almost died from three heart attacks while setting chokers and bundling logs.  We were a couple hours flight from Ketchikan, Alaska, so when this happened they had to first get a plane to pick him up, leaving Mom, my brother Tracy and I to worry.  I honestly don’t remember much about that day at all.  I can remember parts of scenes, but nothing much beyond snatches.  We moved to town, found an apartment in the least raunchy of the housing projects across from the ferry docks and Mom began hunting for a job.  Unfortunately for us Dad couldn’t get insurance because of a preexisting heart condition (which turned out to be something else entirely), so money was so tight we had to live on the last of his wages and severance pay from the logging camp.

I don’t remember the move to our new apartment; the next clear memory is going to school then a trip to the Post Office.  We heard from Dad somewhere in that timeframe and the lead doctor assured us he would recover if he took it easy and didn’t overstrain himself.  Turns out his heart was in perfect condition up to the heart attacks, but he had a rare condition known as Wolfgang-Parkinson-White Syndrome, a nerve disorder which caused fibrillation and dizziness.  He came home two (?) months later and would never be able to work again full time—or even part time for that matter.  Social Security kicked in as did the food stamps, without which we wouldn’t have made it.

Before Dad came back we boys needed new coats, since it was September or October when it all went down.  Mom prayed for exactly $60.00 to pay for new coats and the utilities, which were scheduled to be shut off, telling no one about our situation.  A little while later on one of our trips to the Post Office, she began to cry and hold up a letter, telling me to look inside it, and there was exactly $60.00.

I ended up going to a private Christian grade school and when I reached hi school, began working to pay for both Tracy’s and my school bills.  We didn’t know poverty on the level of people from second or third world countries, but it was pretty tight.  Mom attempted to get her RN when I was 14-16 years old, but her health gave out two months before she could finish school and she ended up getting a job at a college in Washington.  She couldn’t go back to nursing for several years because of the burnout.  The stress of Dad’s health and lack of resources caused her to become allergic to all sorts of things—even her own skin.

I am not one of those who will cite the “tragedies” in my past for sympathy; instead I want people to understand I get it.  I know what it means to go without to a point.  I didn’t even own a car until I was 27, and that was given to me by my brother.  And all this just to say, the conditions in America rival the middle class of most countries.

Yet this doesn’t detract from the problem of the rich abusing their power and taking a lion’s share of the wealth.  Everyone profits from the field and should be grateful for the people who do the back breaking work it takes to put that food on the table.  We should also be thankful for the people in the market who take care of our goods in a way which allows us to be free from diseases or bacteria.  God expects us to share the wealth and give to those who are underprivileged, while at the same time making sure we do our best to never enable those who refuse to work.

The wealthy who take advantage of the poor will pay the price eventually.  A person can’t abuse the system which brings them profit then expect that system to remain stable.  If we break the hand that feeds us, we can’t expect it to work for us until it heals.

A tough path to negotiate.

Love Peace; Hate War

November 23, 2011

…A time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.  Ecclesiastes 3:8.

 

 

I can hear the howls of consternation and offended sensibilities from many of my Portlandia friends and neighbors.  No one in their right mind would consider hate and war as having any virtue whatsoever.  But I don’t believe Solomon is giving them value as we think of it, instead he’s acknowledging they are sometimes unavoidable and even preferable in certain situations.

The difference between love and hate, war and peace, can be compared to mixing oil in water knowing they don’t blend with each other; or trying to get two South Pole magnets to attract each other.  Yet this is exactly what is happening in this statement of seeming polar opposites being in the same sentence.

For instance, I absolutely abhor violence against women or children and I have no tolerance for those who tolerate it either.  I don’t exactly hate these people who practice such things but I would fight them tooth and nail if they tried to legalize or justify such foolishness in my presence.  I also see no reason to tolerate dictators who use up the resources of their own country then attempt to take over another so they can rape and pillage it.  In this case, war is the only option.

I know, I know, it sounds like I’m justifying war—and you’re right, I am.  I hate starvation and all its causes.  I hate political systems which exist to serve themselves rather than the people they are supposed to represent.  I believe war is preferable over slavery.  I would rather go to war than be under the rule of a dictatorship which attempted to rule my conscience.

Oh, and did I mention I hate war?

I love-love, hate-hate, love-peace, hate-war.  I am willing to go by the name Christian precisely because I hate the misery of death, disease, war and hate.  The timeliness of each is important.  I don’t go around bombing funeral homes as part of my protest against death and disease.  I don’t live a negative existence just because I’m angry at what these things do to our world.  Instead I’ve chosen to think about a possible reason they exist and the solution to them.

Jesus commanded us,  “Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you…”  His instructions sounds like He’s talking out of both sides of His mouth if you consider that He’s the One who dictated the OT to the prophets and scribes.  If this latter statement is true, then it makes His command to be peaceful that much more confusing for some.  It’s like a dichotomy that won’t go away unless we give into the Spirit of Truth.

You see, God used a lot of methods in the past that didn’t work—not because they weren’t effective, but due to the dual nature of the human race.  He wasn’t and isn’t defeated by our nature, though, that’s not what I’m implying here; rather His attempts to provide a safe place through war with the nations in Canaan came up short because Israel chose another path.  The same could be said of us with both His Word and will.

Jesus started off saying,  “You have heard it said,  ‘Love your friends and hate your enemies,’ but I tell you, Love your enemies.”  His reference isn’t to the law which never told the Hebrews to hate their enemies and love only their countrymen, but to a common practice among humans in general.  The law never told anyone to hate their neighbors instead it instructed them to do good to the foreigners and strangers.  I’ve often wondered why God allowed slavery in the OT and basically struck it down in the NT.  As I pondered (such an intellectual word, huh) this it came to me that in that era and society the only way one could guarantee conformity was subjugation.  The Israelites could own slaves from other nations but they couldn’t enslave one of their own.  This set it up so that the foreigner had to be involved in the household traditions, and if the family practiced the law, the slave would be affected by the atmosphere of the house—and hopefully not the other way around.

Unfortunately, it never worked out that way because Israel, like most of us, found the exotic nature of the gods and goddesses of the nations around them alluring and enticing.  It’s hard not to see God’s allowance for slavery as inconsistent but the perspective of maturity must constantly recognize the need to compromise with even the worst options.  I don’t like slavery nor will I condone it, so I’m not justifying it even now, rather the intention is to show God’s handling of the cards He had to play with—sin in the mix creates an imperfect dynamic.  We created the scenario through choosing to live without Him, as a counter move He comes back with a deal to rescue the relationship.

So how do we relate this flat lining statement about love and hate?

Timing is everything.  I don’t have to hate anyone but I can hate what they do, what they’ve become through bad choices, the results of those choices on others in their world.  I can hate and love at the same time.  I’ve heard of studies which suggest that even saying the word “hate” brings up negative responses in our bodies—blood pressure rising, anxiety, things like that.  If this is true, we weren’t built for sustained hate because it will kill us; however, if we hate something, then to acknowledge and express it is about choosing the right place and time not avoiding the truth.  In the meantime, burying the emotion as undesirable is not a healthy response to it.  The best way to handle any of these negative emotions is to set them aside as realities rather than denying they exist—putting them in a box of our own making, sidelined like a player in the game the coach must bench.

I’ve spent a lot of time on the word “hate” here because we don’t deal with it enough—or may it’s just me.  I don’t like the emotion or the word.  Most of the people who practice hate do so in such a destructive and counter productive manner that I want to avoid it altogether.   But that’s the point.  Try another subject as an example:  Just because someone can’t handle marriage in a healthy way isn’t a reason to destroy the institution or deny the need for it.  Again, just because someone uses war as a means of stripping another country of its wealth isn’t a reason to forego war to protect the invaded; instead I see it as a warning not to repeat the evil.  I can hate the sin without hating the sinner.  Hating the sinner dehumanizes them without quarter; hating the sin acknowledges the act as “hateful” without suggesting the person who perpetrated the act or attitude is irredeemable.  The thief on the cross cries out against those who would condemn the most sinful as irredeemable.

War is necessary when the rights, freedoms and lives of other people are at stake.  We don’t need to go into the enemy camp and cut them down to a man, instead by showing mercy, grace and a willingness to restore them we demonstrate the higher calling of love.  Hate what is evil, cling to what is good; again, war on warmongers in order to protect the helpless.  In this way we use war as a response to an extreme evil rather than a preferred method of dealing with every problem.  When the perpetrators are subdued, it is time for peace to weigh in and take over.

Moral to the Story

October 26, 2011

Whatever your hand finds to do, do with all your might, for in the grave where you are going there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.  Ecclesiastes 9:10.

 

For me the moral to this story isn’t about breaking the arrows or following the rules but showing passion in the instructions God gives us.  If we are endowed with a gift, we should be using it to its potential not wavering in the closets or playing wallflowers at the dance.  But it takes perseverance and determination to follow any path.

I thought a lot about Jehoash and Elisha, wondering what the lesson was we should take from such a text.  Several examples came to mind that I’d like to share.

Jeremiah was told from the get go that if he wavered or gave in to his fear, that fear would rule him.  In other words, he was to speak the hard stuff without fear or backing down in anyway.  God wanted the message strong and uncompromising.  Yet there was no evidence of the truth of it in world around him to support his conclusions or predictions.

He was basically alone in his role, with very few standing in his corner publicly or privately, leaving him the sole voice of God.  I don’t know if I could stand the rejection, to be honest, because I can barely handle any now.  It seems to me that Jeremiah had to be a voice of dissent in a world mad with conformity.  His job was to predict doom and gloom when the popular voices were predicting success and happiness.  That’s not a comfortable place to be in.

Isaiah went around naked and barefoot for three years as a testimony to Judah of the impending doom awaiting them if they didn’t repent.  (See Isaiah 20)  If you want to know what this man had to go through to do this, then read the law’s instructions on nakedness and you’ll get a sense of what a testimony this was while being a test of Isaiah’s confidence in God.

But this isn’t all.

These men had to know God spoke to them, communicated directly with them and believe without a shadow of hesitation that this was His will or they wouldn’t have.  I’ve often wondered how they knew God’s voice.  I mean, we have the Bible to give us clues into the voice of God but how did these guys confirm this without something empirical to back them up?

I don’t know.  The only thing as a testament to the rightness of their position is history.  Still, this had to be a trial for them to put up or shut up in the midst of all the opposition.  From what I understand of Rabbinical history, Isaiah ended up being put into a hollow log and sawn in two by Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh.  It stands to reason the opposition was there all along for this to take place at all.

So what do we conclude from our story about Jehoash and Elisha?

First of all we need to follow God’s revelation in our abilities.  Jehoash was king, commander in chief and leader to the nation, so what he did either inspired or discouraged his nation.  The fact that he went for the party instead of righteousness lets us know the outcome of his choices ultimately left a mark on the nation which cost them lives and independence.  Unfortunately, he lacked either the character or fortitude to lead any kind of victory.

Second, grace always arrives in the place where we least expect mercy to show up.  I mean by that we get second chances to grow even though we’ve shown doubt, laziness, or a host of other undesirable attitudes in the past.  God is in the business of redemption not condemnation, therefore, so should we be.  If He’s willing to grow others into the image of His Son, Jesus, then we should be doubly so because we know what our failures have cost and the mercy He extended through grace to us despite them.

Last, but not least, we can move out in faith though we are weak.  This is where I am in areas of my life right now.  I find it hard to believe in myself or my abilities despite hard evidence to the contrary.  I know I can perform the socks off a song, but lack the confidence to believe I can build an audience.  God is not through with me—and never will be.  I’m way past the age the world considers a salable product (youth being the key factor) so I know that if I build an audience of any kind it will be by the grace of God.  Yet I still fear failure because…I don’t know exactly what the root issue is but I just do.  There are lots of reasons that are and are not valid but don’t hold any leverage next to His power.

At this point of my weakness, His strength gets to shine.

In another story about Elisha, early in his ministry as the main prophet for Israel, he encountered impossible odds.  Dothan is surrounded by Arameans, his servant goes out in the morning to see an army around him and becomes frightened.  Elisha’s reply will forever stay with me,  “Don’t be afraid,”  the prophet answered.  “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”  2 Kings 6:16.  Then the prophet prayed and the servant’s spiritual eyes were opened to see a host of angels standing between the city and the invading army.

Do you see?  I sometimes don’t.  I fail my Master repeatedly and struggle to find my spiritual equilibrium in a world gone made with selfish ambition and pride of place over character and love.  I forget far too often that those with us are more than those who are with them.  I get sidetracked from the real battle for my soul onto issues that have nothing to do with reality.

C. S. Lewis wrote in “The Great Divorce” that heaven is the reality we are but the dream.  I take this to mean anything we dream for ourselves without Him at the helm, thus it is but a fantasy because all things are from Him, for Him and to Him.  Anything or anyone outside of His will is dreaming of self-actualization though never realizing it in its fullness.

The reality is we may lose by the world’s standards and be thought complete failures by those who seem to count, but the fruit of our lives, if our trees are planted in God’s orchard, will bear more than could be accounted for by natural means.  He will see to it that whatever seeds we plant yield far more than anyone could think or imagine.  Our puny efforts in Him find their ultimate fulfillment in His hands.  In our own strength we can’t break the arrows or even win the war, but through His power we become unbeatable in His will.

Within the Bounds of Determination

October 11, 2011

Now Elisha was suffering from the illness from which he died.  Jehoash king of Israel went down to see him and wept over him.  “My father!  My father!”  he cried.  “The chariots and horsemen of Israel!”

            Elisha said,  “Get me a bow and some arrows,”  and he did so.  “Take the bow in your hands,”  he said to the king of Israel.  When he had taken it, Elisha put his hands on the king’s hands.

            “Open the east window,”  he said, and he opened it.  “Shoot!”  Elisha said, and he shot.  “The Lord’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Aram!”  Elisha declared.  “You will completely destroy the Arameans of Aphek.”

            Then he said,  “Take the arrows,” and the king took them.  Elisha told him,  “Strike the ground.”  He struck it three times and stopped.  The man of God was angry with him and said,  “You should have struck the ground give or six times; then you would have defeated Aram and completely destroyed it.  But now you will defeat it only three times.”

            Elisha died and was buried.  2 Kings 13:14-20a.

 

This story has been bouncing around in my mind for a long time, and though I’ve used it as an illustration a time or two, I have never just worked it over completely.  It might take a while for me to explore the nuances of the story, but I plan to come back to it every now and again to update my understanding.

What I get out of it now is this:

The king comes to Elisha with a seemingly insurmountable problem—he’s worried his army won’t be enough to beat the Arameans, and he’s probably right.  Jehoash lacked character by dent of his idolatry and devotion to power and pleasure.  In the four verses preceding this story we see this king imitated the ways of Jeroboam, who led Israel into idolatry and some pretty evil practices.  So Jehoash is already a conflicted man when he comes to Elisha as a new king, which divides both his loyalty to God and hurts his determination to lead.

Since Jehoash has been born into privilege, there’s more than a little likelihood he’s also not very disciplined as far as being a leader and example to his own people.  His father wasn’t that great a king and also ignored the God of Israel to his own destruction.  All this to say, it doesn’t take a geneticist or psychiatrist to figure out the son failed from lack of character.

Still, he came to the one person who could probably have helped him, Elisha.  Significant actions on the part of even those who don’t follow God with their whole hearts declare what they truly believe.  Jehoash might have been given over to the temples of other gods for the convenience of the pleasure it afforded not really out of devotion.  When the chips were down, the invading army at the door, and his head in a noose, he came to the one person who could give him any kind of advice or connection with real power.

The first part of Elisha’s prophecy must have filled the king with gratitude and hope—“The arrow of the Lord!”  What happens next should have warned him but it didn’t.  Whether he was so elated by being the “arrow of the Lord” or just simply too spiritually dense to grasp Elisha’s actions, we’ll never know.  I’m going with both, since human nature tends to follow well worn paths. Whatever the case, he failed the test.  I looked up the word “strike” (which is “smite” in the KJV) and it has a variety of connotations but the main meaning is to “touch” or “wound” depending on its context.  In one instance of its use, the story of Abimelech and Sarah (Abraham’s wife), it indicated sexual contact, which illustrates the striking nature of touch in the act of sex in the Eastern mindset.  I believe in this case, Jehoash wasn’t asked to break the arrows but to strike the ground with enough force to show determination.  I also think from Elisha’s response, he probably should’ve broken them.

At this point, I have to say, I feel a lot of sympathy for Jehoash.  I don’t know what I would’ve done in his place exactly, though to be honest, I probably would’ve kept beating the arrows on the ground until Elisha told me to stop.  I follow commands pretty well, I just don’t always grasp the underlying limits of them unless the one who gives them verbalizes them.  At the same time, I can honestly say I wouldn’t have known what to expect/do either.  May be there’s a nuance I’m missing about the Jewish thinking here, but the fact that Jehoash stopped speaks loud and clear he didn’t get the point either.

There are probably more options than I will list but these are probable reasons I think he stopped:

 

  1. Arrows were hard to make so you just didn’t break them or damage them without good reason
  2. His head was spinning with worry about the impending invasion and being a new king, so his focus was a little off.
  3. Elisha didn’t specify in his instructions what to do other than strike the floor, Jehoash might have hit the floor three times then stopped to look up and check with the prophet.
  4. He lacked enthusiasm for the prophet’s input and instructions.
  5. He lacked conviction in his own life which led him to be half-assed about everything.

 

I can’t think of anymore right now, but you get the idea.  How we approach each directive may or may not have to do with past experience such as over the top enthusiasm got us laughed at in school, we broke something that required a delicate hand so our gung ho moves worked against us, or we just aren’t that type of person in general.  Whatever the truth about us, we all react differently to these kinds of instructions.

How determined are we to follow the Lord’s will, instructions or be conformed to His mind?  Think about this story today and ask yourself,  “Would I have broken the arrows?”

A Fragrant Offering

August 4, 2011

And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:19.

 

This is a pivotal life verse for me.  It’s one of the promises most likely to keep me from panicking when things don’t go as expected; and, of course, thwarted expectations are the key to understanding why we panic or get stressed at all.

The context centers on the offering the Philippians sent Paul.  He’s been supplied by them time and again, which tends to make a person grateful after a while.  The promised blessing grows out of their willingness to be a blessing to others, and herein lies the secret to Paul’s declaration of God’s supply.

The discussion of their gift to Paul at various stages of his ministry followed by the promise that God will supply their needs explains how and why this is true.  It isn’t enough that they believe in God or that they have the right understanding of the cross or even that they are nice people.  Where the rubber meets the road for God’s work in their lives is in their generosity.  In one sense, this spirit of giving tells the tale of their transformed hearts and declares their faith in action.  In another sense, it can be viewed as an investment with returns.  As they expend generously for the cause of Christ they open themselves up for the blessing of heaven—not only in goods and services but in connection to the Almighty.

The heavenly rewards are based on works, though eternal life is not.  What I mean is everywhere in the Bible the reward of accepting God/Christ is life, yes, but there are additional medals of honor given to those who stand for Christ through exceptionally harsh circumstances.  1 Corinthians 3 speaks to the house we build on the foundation of Christ and the apostles.  The teacher lays the foundation of Christ as the measuring line for it, of which the apostles make up the rest along with the prophets, then the person building the spiritual house (which can symbolize either an individual or church) must be careful what materials he or she uses.  The materials available are not only the doctrines but the works of Christ lived out and designed to declare who’s house it is.

Some might decry this idea as legalism, but as far as I am concerned, it’s the furthest thing from it.  Salvation is free to all, the rewards of a righteous life are not.  To receive a reward for a righteous life one must live a righteous life.  I know it sounds elementary to some, but the confusion around the teaching of rewards and punishment set off a lot of rabbit trailing ideas meant to clarify the subject which instead just muddy the waters.  The pursuit of righteousness has given us many crazy doctrinal bylaws and denominations.  The monastic design set out to accomplish the unhindered pursuit of God but ended up being something else many times entirely.  Jesus spoke to it when He spoke about the sheep and the goats—the former ministered to widows, orphans and gave generously, the latter ignored the world and its problems.  Both the sheep and goats claimed the name of Jesus as their identity, yet only one was declared a friend of God.

1 John 2:6 Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.

Walking is a physical activity—even spiritually.  Jesus traveled the country blessing others and taking care of His world.  He also taught faithful, earnest passionate pursuit of heavenly things and God; none of which is merely cerebral.  The practical nature of God’s law shouts out how well He designs things.  Sure, the Law couldn’t make us righteous but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t righteous.  Any problems we have with it didn’t come from it but from our sinful natures.

One of the problems I find in my own psyche is that my values in spiritual things are completely backwards.  See if God really is my Father and I’m an heir to everything in Christ, then worrying about supply is crazy.  Again, if God tells us we are His children and He’s gonna’ supply our needs, then anxiety over them is silly.  It would be like my son worrying about whether or not I’ll feed him at lunch time even though he knows full well we have food in the fridge and elsewhere.  We know God promised to feed, water and clothe us what else do we actually need?

In our minds, quite a lot.

It’s futility in the practical aspects of the story when we think somehow our faith is solid yet worry or grow anxious about our needs.  If the God we serve doesn’t come through, then we have something to worry about.  If we see ample evidence He does, then any anxiety on our part comes straight from distrust.  We cannot simultaneously trust and distrust God or anyone else.  Oh we might be able to selectively trust someone but total trust is out.

The big thing for me is following through on the belief that God will supply all my needs, without concerning myself with how.  What I’m finding out about myself tells the tale of someone who believes his “needs” encompass more than God promises.  God never promised a TV in every household nor did He ever promised prosperity beyond the basic needs.  Where all these twists in expectations come from is our own desire for security and prosperity in the here and now.  Remember the story of Lazarus and the rich man?  One sought to be well thought of in the here and now, while the other was poverty stricken and an outcast.

Before anyone thinks I’m condemning wealth or the wealthy, think again.  Paul’s warning to Timothy rings true, however, to the point we need to sober up and recognize our own pursuit of self-fulfillment many times mirrors the attitude of those who run after wealth.

 

But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.  People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  Some people, eager for money have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.  1 Timothy 6:6-10.

 

The warning here could not be more timely in our study of Philippians for the values of the world infiltrate the church through wolves disguised as sheep and pierce the church with grief the Lord never intended His people to go through.  Rejection by the world is hard enough, being told one’s faith is not enough because we can’t pay the bills is a burden beyond comparison.  But the Word of God is sharper than any two edged sword and divides the truth from lies, light from darkness and reality from fantasy.

When Paul claims God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus, he means just that, nothing more, nothing less.  We need to stop comparing our status, possessions or anything else to the world’s value system.  Our only rule for what is profitable is the Word of God demonstrated in our crucified and risen Lord.  Anything or anyone else who sidesteps this essential monolith of the Christian life and doctrine strips the cross and the resurrection of their power and makes both a lie.

The reward promised to the Philippians was that God would meet all their needs, right?  The reason is their hearts were generous towards Him and the offering they gave to Him through Paul went up to heaven like a fragrant offering.  Our giving to the saints in the pursuit of God’s will smells good to heaven and the rewards are He will meet all our needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.  If you have food and clothing, God has met your needs and you can consider yourself rich.