Thursday

Jigsaw Revelation: the Love of God


Have you ever put a jigsaw puzzle together?

Sometimes you find two or three pieces that fit together, and suddenly that part of the picture makes sense, when a moment ago, it looked completely different.

I’m sort of thinking along these lines today. Would you think this through with me? This will likely get uncomfortable; brace yourself (or skip it and move on).

Revelation chapter 20 is in the middle of what appears to be The Epic Judgment Scene at the end of time. In verse 12 is this statement: “The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.”


That’s the scene that we’ve all read about, heard preached about, where people are judged for all the good they’ve done. This is the verse that gives rise to the silly idea that God is going to somehow compare the good that we’ve done against the bad that we’ve done.

We know better than to think that the good we’ve done outweighing the bad we’ve done is the way to reach heaven. We know better, but there’s this statement: “The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.”

It’s like that weird piece of the puzzle that just doesn’t seem to fit in with other pieces of the same color. There’s always one piece like that, isn’t there?

So let’s look at some other pieces of the puzzle. Let’s lay them all out together, and see where they lead us:

• “The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.” [Revelation 20:12] We’ve seen that one. Then add this one:

• “God is love.” [1 John 4:8 and 16] This isn’t terribly controversial. We knew that, too. Now add this piece in between those two pieces:

• “Love keeps no record of wrongs.” [1 Corinthians 13:5] Now fit these pieces together with me, and see how these work out:

Since God is love (see above), it seems to follow that God would keep no record of wrongs.

And if that’s true, it means that the books that people are judged by, the books that list what everyone has done, they maybe have no record of wrongs.

And if they have no record of wrongs, then they must be only full of the good things that folks have done. That’s a new and different thought. But that’s what these verses say, isn’t it? I know it’s not the harsh judgmental image of God that some people insist on, but I think that might be the God of someone like Jesus.

Now, some people’s books might be thicker than others.

I would expect that Mother Teresa’s book is pretty immense; she did a lot of good. And she maybe needed less “wrongs” erased out of her book. Just a thought.

Osama bin Laden’s book is on that shelf. I’m absolutely confident that there is some good recorded in his book, though he was famous on the earth for the other kind of things, the kind of things of which no record is kept.

My book is there, and perhaps it’s between theirs. I have to say that I am not overly offended by the idea that my book may be missing some of the things that I’ve done in my life.

Yes, Scripture declares the dead were judged by what was recorded in the books, and at least for the moment, I’m suspecting that this means that the dead were judged by the good that they did in their lives, not by the wrong that they did.

That sounds like an awards ceremony of some sort. Everybody gets a prize. Some are big, some are small.

It reminds me of Paul’s words:

“If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their 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 person's work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved--even though only as one escaping through the flames.” [1 Corinthians 3:12-15]

Now if you know me, you’ll know that I often insist on reading things in context, and the context of this statement in Revelation 20 is fascinating. There was another Book on the table in that scene, the Book of Life, and that’s where the real judgement happened: was their name in that book?

“Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” [Revelation 20:15] That’s another story, another judgement, of course.

It’s a big deal, but it’s not what I’m looking at today.

The first judgement, the judgement based on “what they had done as recorded in the books,” I’m wondering if that judgement is based on records that “keep no record of wrongs” because they’re kept by the God who is Love. Hmm…

And if my Father keeps no records of wrong in my book, and if it’s true that “with the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more,” then I have several reasons to give up my records of who’s done right and who’s done wrong in my perception.

This way of recordkeeping will change my personal relationships, of course, but I’m suddenly impressed that this will affect how I read the news. Love keeps no record of wrong.

Hmm. This might be an interesting season.



Tuesday

What Is The Vengeance Of God?


You know, I think we’ve misunderstood the idea of God’s vengeance.

For example, in Isaiah 61, God defines his idea of what vengeance should be like:

“…proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God (and here he defines it for us):

• to comfort all who mourn,
• and provide for those who grieve in Zion— 
• to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
• the oil of joy instead of mourning,
• and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
• They will be called oaks of righteousness,
• a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.
• They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated;
• they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.
• Strangers will shepherd your flocks; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.
• And you will be called priests of the LORD,
• you will be named ministers of our God.
• You will feed on the wealth of nations,
• and in their riches you will boast.
• Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion,
• and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance.
• And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
• and everlasting joy will be yours.

This is how God defines “the day of vengeance of our God.”

Perhaps we should consider defining it the same way as well.

“Oh, you’re suffering? You need a little vengeance! Come here, you! Let us love on you!”



Thursday

Won't I Be Bored in Heaven?




Recently, someone asked an interesting question. They asked if we wouldn’t be bored in Heaven?

I used to be concerned about that rather a lot. I don’t do real well with boredom, and that exposed some of my assumptions about Heaven.

I realized that while Jesus spoke of Heaven quite a bit, he described the activity in heaven very little. So what happens there is something of a mystery, and I, like most of the Western Church, don’t like mysteries, so we invent things, and that leads to the idea of harps and clouds, or the thought that we’d do nothing but worship for billions of centuries: the ideas of being bored is a real issue.

I’ve had to realize that two lines of thought address that topic:

1)  When does our habitation of Heaven begin? Do we not get to participate in Heaven except after we die (another common, but false, belief)? Why would we be instructed to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven” if we weren’t supposed to experience Heaven here, on Earth.

One could also ask: when do we gain eternal life? Do we only become eternal beings after we die? Or do we become eternal beings when we come to faith in Jesus – when we submit to His Kingship, the Kingship of Heaven? Our submission to the Lordship (Kingship) of Jesus is the beginning of my habitation in Heaven. Hmm.

Long story short, we’re seated in Heaven right now (Ephesians 2:6). Am I bored now? If I am, then I’m doing it wrong. If I’m not bored now, I won’t be bored in the other part of Heaven either, the part on the other side of the River.

2) Consider the parables of the Talents (Mt 25) and the Minas (Luke 19): the King entrusts us with some of His valuables, and leaves to go inherit a Kingdom (“…prepare a place for you…”?). Then he comes back after he receives that Kingdom (Luke 19:12) to evaluate how we’ve done. (Sound familiar at all? Consider Rev 20:12.)

So after the King returns, he judges the works of the folks he’s entrusted his riches to.

So what happened to the folks who did a good job with the King’s riches in these parables? What does it say?  “And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.’”

Authority over cities. I’ve never ruled a city, but I imagine that it it’s not boring. Particularly if I consider Jesus’ model for ruling, which is largely based on washing feet. That’s a lot of people to serve, to assist into their full destiny.

I don’t think we’re going to have any time to be bored in Heaven. I think we’ll have work to do, or at least the way Jesus talked about it suggests it, though it does not say it clearly.

I observe that from an Earthly perspective, the idea of civil government (ruling a city) contrasts with the worship festival that Scripture describes quite metaphorically in Revelation 5 (and other locations). I figure that this is just my earthly perspective getting out of hand. Serving saints, ruling cities, that strikes me as an excellent way to worship Jesus!

As a side note, I reflect that there are only a few things that are of enough enduring value to matter in Heaven:

• Human beings,
• The Word of God
• Relationships, with God & with people.

So I figure that these are the treasures (minas, talents) that Jesus has given, that he’s expecting to receive a return on his investment with. I figure that our handling of these treasures has a lot to do with how bored or how busy we will be in Eternity.

I no longer worry about being bored.

Audacious Prayer




Conversation, even online conversation, is a useful tool for discovering what’s in the heart, discovering what you’ve begun to believe that you didn’t realize you believed. These are some of the best conversations in my world.

Recently, I’ve been conversing about audacious prayers, “crazy prayers” with some good folks, and I realized some things that I have begun to believe.


I’ve been burned badly by “crazy prayers” that I’ve prayed which were not on the heart of my Father, but which he graciously answered anyway. Took the better part of a decade to get over one of them. His grace, his kindness during that decade were overwhelming.

And I’ve prayed some “crazy prayers” (for things I frankly did NOT believe at the time) at his direction, which he then answered, and which revolutionized my life and my family’s life, others that changed the shape of my neighborhood, my city.

As a result, I’m all for “crazy prayers” that are in His heart – whether they were in his heart to begin with and I just figured it out, or whether they started in my heart, and he’s supporting my free will. 

But if I don’t find them in Father’s heart, I’m pretty gun-shy about what I’m asking for, what I’m speaking about.

I believe I’ve come to this: the more audacious the prayer, the more I need to have confidence that it is in my Father’s heart before I speak them out.

But if I hear them from him, if I find even the most audacious, the craziest prayers reflecting his heart, then yeah, let’s do this!



Friday

The Deception of the Finished Lesson

There’s a deception that I’ve come to … well, I don’t know that I actually “hate” it, but I sure don’t love it.

It’s a deception, an illusion, and it’s perpetrated, many times, in God’s name, and often with the best of intentions.

It’s the deception of the finished lesson.

I became aware of it while I was studying something-or-other for teaching. I felt like I was wrestling a greased pig. I cut my way through bunny trails and wild goose chases and fought off premature and inaccurate conclusions.

It was a long and arduous process.

And when I was done, I presented my results to the folks I was teaching, all tidy, all logical, all wrapped up with a nice little bow on it.

It was good teaching. And my conclusions were both accurate and relevant.

But I was uncomfortable with how tidy it was. This was not a tidy topic, and I felt that I’d done folks a disservice by hiding the blood, sweat, toil and tears that went into the process.

In actual fact, the blood, sweat, toil and tears are a legitimate part of the topic, of the conversation. Let’s be honest: outside of TV shows, there aren’t a lot of thorny questions that tidily wrap themselves up in 30 minutes, are there?

Image result for damaged packageIt seems to me that the need to make things tidy and clean and neat is not actually a benefit to American culture.

Let’s be specific. If we think that the abortion issue has a clean and simple answer, we’re not paying attention. If we think that the topic of social justice can be solved easily, we’re smoking something interesting. If we think the fear of God, or the grace of God, or the rapture, or the solution to immigration, or balancing a household budget have tidy answers, we’re not seeing the whole of the subject.

Christian platitudes are an abysmal failure. But Christian blogs and Christian books (and not-so-Christian books) that have clear-cut answers are equally deceptive.

We’ll see how I respond to this, how I deal with this in the future. As much as anyone else, I like having clear answers readily available, and I like not looking like a dork as I stumble for an answer that actually means something on a complex topic.

But we might find that not every post has a confident conclusion. I don’t know. We’ll see how this turns out.

Thursday

Baby, That's Not Love


I have a friend, a young man, who was beaten as a child.
I don't mean spanked. I mean beaten.
When he made a mistake, and what youngster doesn't make mistakes; that's how you learn, isn't it? When he made a mistake, his parents would get angry, and they'd "discipline" him.

"This is for your own good, you know," his daddy would say as he unbuckled his big leather belt, "because we love you. We want you to be better than this." And he'd wield that heavy belt on him over and over and over.
Sometimes their "loving discipline" would result in blood or visible bruises, so he'd miss school for a while until the marks healed.
He left home at an early age, and didn't tell his parents where he went.
I want to hold him in my arms and weep with him, and most of all, I want to tell him, "Son, that's not love. I don't know what that was, maybe demons, maybe alcohol, maybe their own woundedness, but it sure as hell is not love!"
I have another friend, a young woman, who had a different sort of hell in her childhood. And when her daddy took off his belt, and announced, "This is our secret, because I love you," she learned not to fight back, not to talk about it, especially not to talk to mom.
She left home at an early age, taking her baby daughter, who was also her sister, with her. She never looked back, never told anyone where she went.
I want to hold her in my arms and weep with her, and most of all, I want to tell her, "Daughter, that's not love. I don't now what sort of sick, perverted, self-centered bullshit that was, but that sure as hell is not love!"
Just because someone says, "I'm only saying this, I'm only doing this because I love you," doesn't mean it's love. Just because they say that it's for my own good doesn't mean, well, it doesn't mean anything, really. Real love doesn't need to be announced: you can tell it's love just by looking.
It's not often this flagrant, but we do this in the church family sometimes, too. A whole lot of us have learned to cringe whenever someone starts talking about "speaking the truth in love," because it usually lacks love, and often lacks truth, too.
Sometimes the word "submission" is wielded like a stick, or "loyalty" like a ball and chain. It's not unheard of for teachers to train their people that they're the only one that can hear God, and you'd darned well better listen up when I tell you what the Bible says. It's not unheard of for offering time to be less about giving freely unto the Lord and more about my neediness or your obligation and your duty until my budget is met.
We could tell stories here. We could *all* tell stories here, couldn't we? Stories about church, stories about work, stories about family members, about teachers or babysitters or caregivers. Many of them aren't this ugly. Some of them are far worse.
My point is this: I don't care how often or how loudly they tell you that this is love, they're lying to you. Not all of them, of course, but if they're doing these things to you, let me assure you, that is NOT love.
I don't care how often or how loudly they tell you that this is how healthy families relate, they're lying to you.
Not every dad is lying, not every mom. Not every pastor or church leader is lying to you. But if they're doing things that are more about meeting their needs than about yours, then what they're doing isn't love.
This isn't about all the bad things that people do and call it love, and call it "for your good." You already know a number of things that people say is loving, but you know it's not.
This is about you and I recognizing when it isn't really love, when it isn't really for our good. This is about choosing not to live under that yoke of bondage.
It is for freedom - real freedom, not slavery with a new label - that Christ has set us free. Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Jesus bought our freedom, at a very high price, mind you. He has already set us free. But the responsibility to not submit to those old yokes of slavery, that's our job.

Decently and In Order


“On the day Pentecost was being fulfilled, all the disciples were gathered in one place.  Suddenly they heard the sound of a violent blast of wind rushing into the house from out of the heavenly realm. The roar of the wind was so overpowering it was all anyone could bear!  Then all at once a pillar of fire appeared before their eyes. It separated into tongues of fire that engulfed each one of them.  They were all filled and equipped with the Holy Spirit and were inspired to speak in tongues—empowered by the Spirit to speak in languages they had never learned! …

When the people of the city heard the roaring sound, crowds came running to where it was coming from, stunned over what was happening, because each one could hear the disciples speaking in his or her own language.  Bewildered, they said to one another, “Aren’t these all Galileans? … Yet we hear them speaking of God’s mighty wonders in our own dialects!”  They all stood there, dumbfounded and astonished, saying to one another, “What is this phenomenon?”

But others poked fun at them and said, “They’re just drunk on new wine.”

Peter stood up with the eleven apostles and shouted to the crowd. “Listen carefully, my fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem. You need to clearly understand what’s happening here.  These people are not drunk like you think they are, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.”

This [Acts 2, TPT] is what happened at the first gathering of the saints after Jesus left for Heaven. That was quite a meeting. Functionally, it would be hard to distinguish this “church service” from a riot in the streets. This was not tidy.


By the Law of First Mention – this being that first meeting where the Holy Spirit shows up – this meeting is our standard for when the Holy Spirit shows up in our midst.

This is the Scriptural precedent for 1 Corinthians 14:40: “All things should be done decently and in order.” [RSV]

This is what Holy Spirit considers “decently and in order” when he comes among us.

Let everything be done decently and in order. 




Sunday

Whose Holiday Is It Anyway?


Whose Holiday Is It Anyway?

Point One: Plunder. When you conquer an enemy, the enemy’s property becomes your property.

Plunder has been defined as “the indiscriminate taking of goods by force as part of a military or political victory.” Foot soldiers viewed plunder as a way to supplement an often meagre income and transferred wealth became part of the celebration of victory.

On higher levels, the proud exhibition of loot formed an integral part of the typical Roman triumph, and Genghis Khan was not unusual in proclaiming that the greatest happiness was “to vanquish your enemies ... to rob them of their wealth”. [Wikipedia]

Point Two: Naming rights. When you conquer a territory, you have the right to rename that territory, and to assign new purpose to that territory.

“When the territory of the Danites was lost to them, they went up and attacked Leshem, took it, put it to the sword and occupied it. They settled in Leshem and named it Dan after their ancestor.” [Joshua 19:47]

See also: Constantinople Turkey, Ponce Puerto Rico, Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam, Lviv Ukraine, Valdivia Chile, Puerto Cortés Honduras, Al-Sadiyah Iraq,

Point Three: We are “more than conquerors” and we are children and heirs of the One who has conquered the world. [Romans 8:37, John 16:33]. “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” [Revelation 11:15]

As conqueror of the systems of this world, Jesus has – and since we are in him and he is in us, we have – the right to rename and re-purpose conquered territory. This is ours.

Point Four:  There once was a “goddess” named Ēostre, an obscure Old English “diety” of the dawn, and by some records, the source of our dawn-related celebration we call Easter.

Ēostre has been well and truly conquered. So has Ishtar, whose name does not contribute to our holiday, but who has fallen before our conquering King.

We have the right by conquest to rename the conquered earthly holidays, to cancel their earthly origins and publicly display our King’s victory over them.

Yeah, Easter used to be something else to somebody else. But it’s not theirs any more, unless we, as the spokespeople of the Kingdom of God give it back to the conquered demons. Same for Halloween and Christmas and any other holiday you care to name.

They’re ours now. Don’t give ‘em back!




Wednesday

What is a Tidal Wave, really?


I grew up within driving distance of the ocean, and we made frequent trips. I love the pounding surf and the tide pools and the beaches and the delicious meals the ocean provides.

A couple of decades ago, I was walking along an unfamiliar beach during a storm, watching the rain’s effect on the sand, listening to the surf pounding behind me, when my attention was drawn over my shoulder. I turned and, not with my natural eyes, I saw a huge wave rise up from the surface of the sea. When it reached its mighty height, way above the sea, it stopped, like someone pressed pause.

The question came to me: “This is me. Shall it continue, or shall it stop? There will be damage.” The wave just waited for my answer.

I thought for a moment; this was not an every-day experience for me. But I’d learned to trust my father, and he’d already said this was him.

“It shall continue,” I said, and it did. The wave rushed to the shore with a magnificent curl, and then far inland, miles inland, spilling over houses and shopping malls and government buildings. Then it receded, dragging a lot of dirt and detritus with it, leaving people stranded, separated, unstable.

That vision has shaped me for decades; I’ve anticipated “the move of God” as a wave, rising up from above the sea and crashing on the shores of “business as usual,” catching everyone unawares. Sometimes I’d refer to this vision as a tidal wave or a tsunami.

Many years later, a formidable earthquake struck just off the coast of Japan. It was a big deal. It was also my first experience, albeit only through the news, of an actual tsunami.

The tsunami did not act like I had always expected: a big wave coming in and splashing, and then receding like every other wave. Instead, this was more like the sea just rising, and rising, and rising. The wave just kept coming, and didn’t just recede after a few seconds like I’d always imagined.

The 2004 tsunami that devastated so much of Indonesia was like that as well. This time the sea did draw way out in preparation for the tidal wave, but then the wave came in, not like a wave, but like a tide, and it wiped a great deal of civilization off of the islands in its path.

Recently, I’ve begun to wonder if the move of God that I’m expecting (that we’re expecting) won’t be more like that: not so much a wave that passes through, has an effect, and then moves on, but more like an invasion, more like the tide rising.

Last night, a friend and I were talking about what God is up to in our day. As we talked, we realized that there is a rising tide of what God is doing among his people.

And as we talked, I realized that my ideas of the tidal wave of God’s involvement in our midst is not going to just be another wave, larger than the rest, washing us and moving on.

Those are fine, even good. But the thing on Father’s heart is more of a rising tide, a true tidal wave, that is already begun, bringing the water of his spirit, bringing refreshing, bringing devastation and destruction to an awful lot of “business as usual,” particularly among the church.

Suggestions for application:
• Pray for eyes to see what God is actually doing. It is not what the media – not the mainstream media, not the Christian media – is reporting.
• Press into what God is doing in order to find what your place in this tidal wave is. I figure I have the choice of whether to be among the devastation with my life destroyed by the wave, or among the first responders, speaking the words of life in the midst of the new move.
• Keep building relationships. When this fully lands, life won’t so much be found in jobs or possessions or church gatherings or places where we’re used to finding stability. Life will be found in real relationships.



Thursday

Managing Natural Disasters

I confess, I have some obstacles with how we pray about those events we refer to as natural disasters.

First let me clarify: it's clear to me that we do have both the obligation and the authority to speak to natural disasters and effect change there. I'm just not convinced it's wise planet management to always speak to every act of nature that inconveniences man.

Our species, the race of mankind, is responsible for what happens on this planet. We were delegated that responsibility by the planet's Creator. It's a pretty serious thing, and I take that seriously.

So yes, natural disasters are within the sphere of our responsibility.

Thus far in our maturation as a people of God, I observe three primary ways we deal with natural disasters:

 1.  We ignore them, because they happen to other people, other places (or because we don't know any better), or

 2.  We panic before the disaster and mourn and wail after it. or

 3.  We decide that this event is a bad thing, and rebuke it (with varying results; we're still learning).

In point of fact, an argument can be made for each of these reactions at different times, though I have hesitation about how healthy each of them actually is as a default response.

But the issue that's got me scratching my fuzzy head today is this: where, in this process, do we perform our evaluation of the situation? Where do we assess how much our involvement is actually necessary, and what the best intervention might be?

We live on a planet that has a very long history of things happening to it. Since before Adam and Eve took their first job assignment, the planet has been active: storms spreading water around, volcanoes adding to land masses, forest fires cleaning up the leftovers of life in a busy forest, earthquakes from tectonic plates jostling. You know, those things.

And when mankind stepped onto the stage, we renamed them. Suddenly, they were no longer our planet doing what our planet has always done. Now, suddenly, these are "disasters."

If we want to get overly anthromorphic, we can talk about whether it's fair to the planet to suddenly redefine what had always been its healthy processes, I suppose. I figure that's something analogous to deciding that poop is icky, and making the decision never to poop again. There might be side effects.

Or we could consider how reasonable our expectation is that the planet should suddenly change how the water cycle works, or how it cleans up after itself, or how the planet's geology works, just because our species is covering the planet now and might be inconvenienced by the planet's natural processes.

Here's my point: I don't subscribe to the concept that just because there's a storm, just because that storm soaks soaks cities, blows down houses or destroys a season's crops does not automatically mean that we need to shut the storm down.

There were three experiences that led me to challenge my previous (and in my opinion, irresponsible) practices:

The first lesson came on an extended canoe trip. It had been raining hard enough that we couldn't safely travel the unfamiliar river, so we were stuck in our tiny tents in the rainstorm. The third day, I'd had enough, and I asked Father to stop the rain so he & I could go for a walk.

After a wonderful three hours with him, I noticed the sky: a huge rainstorm was coming in from the east, but just before it reached me, the clouds parted and went around me. I turned around and saw where the storm joined together just west of me. Every place around me was getting well watered, but I'd walked in sunshine for several hours, because Father pushed the storm aside for a little while. The storm was not stopped, only diverted for a couple of hours.

The second lesson came when a couple of very credible prophets warned about a devastating earthquake coming to my region. We live on The Ring of Fire, the planet's earthquake zone, so quakes aren't terribly rare, but this was going to be terrible.

A few intercessors for our region got together, sought God's counsel, and diffused the threat. His instructions were to a) cancel the assignment of the spirit of fear that was riding the (very public) conversation about the quake, and to b) redirect the pent-up tension in the tectonic plates involved so that the release of that tension would not be a terrible quake, but would be diffused in a large number of small quakes.

We did that and the stories stopped, the prophecies stopped, and the USGS commented on the unusual number of moderate quakes in the region. Crisis averted, but not by the brute force of stopping the tectonic plates from moving; by redirecting that energy to nondestructive symptoms.

The third lesson involved a very scary storm heading for a busy coastline. Father instructed us not to pray to stop the storm, but to turn the storm. The next day, the weather forecasters scrambled to explain the unexpected change in the storm's path to their thousands of relieved viewers.

In addition, I've taken some lessons from the realm of physics. I've realized that a great amount of "potential energy" or a great "inertia" can be more easily redirected than simply stopped in its tracks.

To stop a great storm in its tracks would literally require the equivalent atmospheric energy of several hundred thermonuclear detonations, and even if you managed to handle that power well with your prayers, you'd probably end up with scraps, several smaller storms spinning off causing less news-worthy damage in a number of smaller locations. That's a lot of work, whether it's in the natural or in the supernatural. And it's likely to be untidy.

But to change the storm's path, that requires a much smaller miracle, some say the flap of a butterfly's wings, properly applied, might be enough.

So if I've got a family picnic scheduled for this weekend, and there's a very wet weather front on a collision course with my picnic, is it appropriate to exert the requisite energy to stop the weather front, or to stop the front from dropping its rain? That might be a serious disappointment to the farmers in my region who are counting on that rain for their orchards and crops, and to the fish who live and breed in the streams and rivers.

And then, what would happen to the water that would normally have fallen in my region? It would be carried to some other region that isn't used to as much rain. How does the importance of my picnic stack up against frightening and unexpected weather patterns for my neighbors?

Or would it be better to just shift the storm? Shift it early enough and you only need to bump it off course by a few degrees. Not being omniscient myself, I confess that I don't really know what the effects of that would be.

Or should I leave Father's watering system in place, and just find a new location, perhaps one under cover, for the family gathering.

I'm not arguing that one answer is better than another. I am arguing that if we're going to take our responsibility to rule over creation seriously, we need to ask these questions.

"Yep. That looks like a problem. What are the available options to deal with it? Which option looks to be the best, and how do I implement that option?"

I recommend consulting with our omniscient Father on such matters. He has millennia of experience dealing with weather (and forest fires and earthquakes and floods and....). And he likes to keep his hand in matters of this sort.

New Respect for the Word of God


I used to proudly and unquestioningly hold to a particular standard of belief that I now find myself questioning.  Some will likely call me a heretic for this. Heck, back then, I would have called these questions heretical!

The reason for questioning is simple: I live in the 21st century, among a highly industrialized, aggressively secular global community. I don’t live among a first century community of farmers in a religiously-dominated culture, or among a bronze-age nomadic society. I marvel that I didn’t catch this sooner.  

And with this in mind, I’ve found myself concluding that “the most literal translation” of the Bible won’t actually be helpful to me. So I’ve abandoned my search for the most literal translation of the Scriptures for several reasons:

• The original texts of the Bible are full of stories, parables and metaphors: it wasn’t actually written for literal interpretation. Looking for “the most literal” translation strikes me as fundamentally contrary to the writing styles and methods of the Biblical authors.

• In order to have an effective, “literal”, word-for-word translation of the Bible, we need to have an equivalent English word – and ONLY one English word – for every Hebrew or Greek or Aramaic word of the original texts. And we aren’t even close to that. These languages are completely different from their roots up.

• Literal communication of agrarian metaphors and religious allusion don’t translate well (if at all) into the Information Age. The ideas are valuable, but we need to translate the metaphors, either during the translation to English, or during my reading of the English translation. Knowledge of grafting grapevines, for example, is not prevalent in my world.

• There really is at least a measure of truth behind the principle that as years go by, both the skills and the resources for Bible translation advance. Therefore, all else being equal, there is real reason to expect that more modern translations will ultimately capture the heart of the Scriptures better than earlier versions.

• I don’t actually need divine wisdom for dealing with slavery, temple prostitution, arranged marriages, leprosy, and other topics that the Bible did deal with literally. But there are principles that, if I consider them metaphorically, have application to my Facebook interactions and my driving habits.

• My other challenge is that I no longer am as interested in the (admittedly priceless) words of famous first-century (or much earlier!) followers of God. I’m actually more interested in hearing the Word of God Himself speaking to me through their words. [see John 1:1-2, Hebrews 4:12-13]

I still respect (and study and read) the NASB and NRSV and other word-for-word translations of the Bible. I value those translations, and I seriously respect their goals!

For the last 50 years or so, I’ve used my paper-and-ink Bibles very heavily, and worn them out regularly. So I’ve replaced my “primary” Bible pretty frequently. And curiously, I chose to get a different translation for my primary study & ministry Bible every few years. (My thinking back then was that I wanted to get past the mindset of the translators, and hear the heart of the authors behind the translation.) So I’ve avoided growing up loyal to any particular translation.

In recent years, there have appeared some fresh translations that are aspiring to translate the heart of the content, rather than to shoehorn an English word into being an equivalent for a Greek or Hebrew word that isn’t even part of our thinking in this century. As a result, these are fresher to my understanding and more accessible to my emotions than the shoehorned vocabulary of earlier versions (consider “adjure” or “husbandman” or “prick against the goads”).

I’ve been listening to the Bible rather a lot recently, more than reading it (“Faith comes by hearing….”), and while I own audio versions of four different translations, I find myself most inspired, most provoked, most comforted by The Message Version. Not even a little bit of a “word-for-word” version, their goal was to communicate Scripture into the actual, everyday vernacular that we speak today. I think it succeeds wonderfully!

I chose it primarily to get out of the normal “religious” thinking that I’d grown up with listening to KJV and NIV preachers, and it’s worked for that purpose.

When I’m digging into the Greek & Hebrew, I still use the older, more traditional translations, particularly the NIV.

So you’re welcome to write me off as a heretic if you feel the need to. Keep in mind that “heretic” was a word invented during the Inquisition specifically to accuse those who [gasp!] thought independently of what the religious government told them to think. Yeah, I aspire to do that.

But you’re also welcome to join me in exploring the riches of the Word of God as He expresses Himself through the word of God.




The Tidy Deception


There’s a deception that I’ve come to … well, I don’t know that I actually “hate” it, but I sure don’t love it.

It’s a deception, an illusion, and it’s perpetrated, many times, in God’s name, and often with the best of intentions.

It’s the deception of the finished lesson.

I became aware of it while I was studying something-or-other for teaching. I felt like I was wrestling a greased pig. I cut my way through bunny trails and wild goose chases and fought off premature and inaccurate conclusions.

It was a long and arduous process.

And when I was done, I presented my results to the folks I was teaching, all tidy, all logical, all wrapped up with a nice little bow on it.

It was good teaching. And my conclusions were both accurate and relevant.

But I was uncomfortable with how tidy it was. This was not a tidy topic, and I felt that I’d done folks a disservice by hiding the blood, sweat, toil and tears that went into the process.

In actual fact, the blood, sweat, toil and tears are a legitimate part of the topic, of the conversation. Let’s be honest: outside of TV shows, there aren’t a lot of thorny questions that tidily wrap themselves up in 30 minutes, are there?

It seems to me that the need to make things tidy and clean and neat is not actually a benefit to American culture.

Let’s be specific. If we think that the abortion issue has a clean and simple answer, we’re not paying attention. If we think that the topic of social justice can be solved easily, we’re smoking something interesting. If we think the fear of God, or the grace of God, or the rapture, or the solution to immigration, or balancing a household budget have tidy answers, we’re not seeing the whole of the subject.

Christian platitudes are an abysmal failure. But Christian blogs and Christian books (and not-so-Christian books) that have clear-cut answers are equally deceptive.

We’ll see how I respond to this, how I deal with this in the future. As much as anyone else, I like having clear answers readily available, and I like not looking like a dork as I stumble for an answer that actually means something on a complex topic.

But we might find that not every post has a confident conclusion. I don’t know. We’ll see how this turns out.