Thursday

The Church of the Septic Tank

I had a strange dream the other night. It was about septic tanks. Yeah. Poop tanks. Ewww. 

The dream began with a toilet. The toilet served a comfortable facility where a bunch of Americans gather together in God’s glory. But even American gloryhounds need to poop once in a while.

Then the dream shifted to the septic tank below that toilet. That was interesting.

The tank was full; needed emptying. We considered several alternatives:

• Dig a hole somewhere for putting the poop. We rejected that messy idea.
• Put in a second tank next to the main tank, and link the two. That’s not a solution.
• Pump out the tank. And that’s what we did.

After the tank was pumped, I was invited to hold a picnic in the empty tank. Say what?

Ewwww. That was still dark, still completely stinky! And besides, somebody’s hindquarters were above, beginning to re-fill the tank. Those places where the crap has been stored are not places to relax and spend our free time. No! That’s still stinky!

This afternoon, I realized that this is a metaphor, a lesson.

There are some places that are getting tons of crap removed from them. That’s absolutely happening in the church. There’s been a lot of crap in a number of places, and currently, a lot of that is being removed. It’s not done yet, but it’s getting there.

But when the crap is removed, those places that held the crap will still not be good places for a picnic, still not a good place to relax and enjoy yourself.

In the news far more than the revolution going on in the church is the uncovering of so much crap in the political world that it’s scary. A friend of mine says it's like a Russian novel full of twists and turns. But there’s a lot of the crap that’s getting sucked out of the system.

But when the crap is removed, those places that held the crap will still not be good places for a picnic, still not a good place to relax and enjoy yourself.

OK, what does that mean in practical terms?

Not a flying clue. I have no pretty little bow to wrap on this yet. But I have some candidates for how we can respond.

• We can ignore the cleaning out of the septic tanks and go on about our lives. I think this would be a poor choice.

• We can scrub the septic tanks out with prayer. This is likely to be uncomfortable, but then the prayer to get them emptied has been uncomfortable, too. We’re used to that.

• We can move the poop-hole so the best view in the house isn’t somebody’s bare butt unleashing another load of diarrhea on us. That will likely also involve some awkward and embarrassing prayer.

• I don’t know what this means, but it strikes me that we might need to upgrade our gathering place from a septic tank, where the crap is collected and hidden out of view. Maybe it’s time to put in a sewer system, where the crap still happens (because, be honest: that has to happen!!), but it’s taken away and made into something useful. What an interesting idea. I wonder what it means.

• We can choose a different place for a picnic. I know we’ve been invited to center our lives on the septic tank for a while. But we don’t need to accept every invitation we’ve been given.

I’ll bet you two rolls of Charmin that we won’t find the answers in this context. But if you felt like taking these to prayer, if you considered sharing some of this (even if you don’t share the source) with your prayer group, I’ll bet we’d see some good things happen.

My children were born for such a time as this.

I’ve been reflecting on some of what Scripture says about the nature of believers’ words in difficult times. Well, our words should be this way in all times, really, but I’ve been thinking about them in difficult times.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” [2Corinthians 1:3,4]

“But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.” [1Corinthians 14:3]

This phrase has been ringing through my spirit the last couple of weeks, as hysteria about the Covid virus “pandemic” has been spreading through the news, through our civilization:

“My children were born for such a time as this.”

We’ve been comforted by our Heavenly Father, who happens to be the King of the Universe. We’ve had so much comfort heaped upon us that we have enough to comfort every person around us.

More than that, we have His own words in our heart and in our mouth, carrying his comfort, carrying his creative power as we speak them into the tumult and cacophony of this world.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” [2 Timothy 1:7]

It’s harder to speak with people when we’re all quarantined in our homes. It takes more intentional effort to check on the folks around us, to speak peace into their world. It’s worth the effort.

Speak the power of love. Speak the power of sound thinking. It’s a beautiful way to derail the spirit of fear that’s trying desperately to run rampant.

You were born for such a time as this.


How Does God Feel About The Cross?


I was driving home from work the other day, and I found myself thinking about the Cross again. I’ve studied that center-point event of human history for half a century, and I’m constantly aware that there’s more to understand about it. 

I was reflecting what a bloody, violent, dark day that was: the creator of the planet was gasping, bleeding, nailed to this hunk of wood stuck in the ground. Evil men were sighing in relief. Disciples were shaking their heads in confusion. Demon hoards were cackling with delight.

I paused to ask Father how he felt about that dark day. After all these years, he still surprises me.

He reminded me of a day in my own life. 

I was standing next to my friend who was my pastor. My brother was standing next to me, and he and I were both wearing tuxedos. There were some other men and women with us, standing in front of a large crowd of people; music was playing somewhere. There were flowers, I think, and maybe some candles.

I saw none of that. There was a woman down at the other end of that  aisle. She was dressed in white and it seemed that all the light in the room came from her radiant smile. And she was looking at me. At me! She began walking quietly, confidently down that aisle. Toward me. I could barely breathe.

I had been looking forward to this day for years. I didn’t know a whole about my life and what I would do with it, but I knew, I knew I must share my life with her, we must do this together. She was my dream come true. 

And here she was. She was going to, willingly, without any coercion, join her life with mine. This woman, she loves me! Me!

And now it was happening. It was actually happening! My whole life was just now beginning, this day! She walked toward me, through that crowd that neither of us saw. She stepped forward and stood next to me and looked into my eyes. I was undone. My eyes were wet and my knees were weak.

And Father whispered hoarsely, 

“That. 

That’s how I felt that day.”



Responding to the Covid Virus

I’ve been watching the foolishness and the panic in the news, in the streets, in the grocery stores. Sure, I’ve been embarrassed (haven’t we all?). Yeah, it’s a serious virus, but I still marvel at the degree at which a society crumbles in the face of a disease.

But something else is rising up, too, and this is fascinating.

I’ve been working to keep my perspective, to guard my soul. Here are some things I’m meditating on:

• The promises of God are still “Yes!” and “Amen!” [2Corinthians 1:20]  God is not caught off-guard by this stupid disease. Nor by the irresponsible media whipping the people to a frenzy of fear. God has not been side-tracked.

• God will not let me be tempted (to fear, to foreboding, to panic, to hate) beyond my ability to resist that fear. And he’s a perfect judge of [my] character. Circumstances may feel overwhelming, but my Father who loves me promises me that they are not. He will provide a way of escape [1Corinthians 10:13].

• My Father is both amazingly capable, and passionately in love with me. And he’s good. Really good. I can trust my life to him, even in the midst of fear and panic [ibid, Mark 10:18, 2Corinthians 9:8]. I’m safe entrusting myself to his care [Isaiah 49:16, Psalm 121:4, Luke 12:32].

I observe that the daily routine of billions of people is disrupted. Yeah, for a small fraction of the population, it’s disrupted by a trip to the hospital. But for most of the rest of the people, it’s disruption by a government decision.

When daily routine is disrupted, all kinds of interesting things become possible. Sometimes people begin to think. Certainly, people are more open to new ideas, new beliefs, new practices. That’s really quite exciting.

And I have this growing sense that God is on the prowl, working in the background, behind the scenes, in significant ways. I find that I want to believe that his actions will break out into the public, and maybe they will. But if I’m honest, when he does that, human beings quickly administrate and publicize every little thing he does. I’m not convinced he is thrilled with that response.

The truth is that I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m OK with that because I trust my Father to keep me in his hands (which is not the same as keeping me from anything bad happening).

But in the midst of all of this three-ring circus, I can’t shake the feeling, the growing excitement, that God is up to something good.


The Private Use of Miracles


It’s right there in Mark Chapter 8, but I’ve never heard anybody teach about it. Here’s the relevant part of the text:

Related image13 [Jesus] left [the crowd], got back into the boat, and crossed to the other side.
14 Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. 15 “Watch out!” He cautioned them. “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod.”
16 So they began to discuss with one another the fact that they had no bread.
17 Aware of their conversation, Jesus asked them, “Why are you debating about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Do you have such hard hearts? 18 ‘Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear?’ And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of broken pieces did you collect?”
“Twelve,” they answered.
20 “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of broken pieces did you collect?”
“Seven,” they said.
21 Then He asked them, “Do you still not understand?”

-----------------

I get it that the warning (v15) about the influence of the Pharisees (religious spirit) and Herod (political spirit) preaches really well. That’s cool.

And I get the encouragement (v18) that there are three ways of building faith from miracles (seeing, hearing, remembering). That preaches nicely, and I’ve benefited from that lesson.

But in the midst of all this, Jesus is chiding the disciples for their concern about provision (food: bread). The clear implication of the conversation is that Jesus is completely comfortable with using the same miracle that he used twice before for thousands, but using it this time to provide for himself and his 12 disciples. He doesn’t actually come out and say it, but it’s pretty clear nonetheless.

This challenges a belief that I didn’t recognize I had, and it makes me uncomfortable. I find that I’ve believed that miracles are for evangelism, or for public ministry, that somehow using them to cover for my mistake of poor planning was disrespecting the miracle.

But Jesus rather blows up that false belief. (And if that weren’t enough, he does it again in Matthew 17:27, where he sends Pete to get their tax money from a fish’s mouth! And he walked on water just to meet up with his boys who had left earlier.)

As I reflect on my crumbling misbelief, I realize that it includes the assumption that God loves “them” (whoever “them” is) more than he loves me, that he is pleased to provide for hungry masses, but for some reason, I don’t qualify for that sort of miracle.

I call that out as a lie. That’s not true. God loves me. Period. And since he’s an infinite God, with infinite omnipotence and stuff, therefore his love for me is infinite: it is not possible for anyone ever to be loved more than he loves me. Not crowds of sinners, not the 12 disciples, not that missionary in Africa who gets to raise the dead so often. Not even you. He loves me fully, completely, infinitely.

It’s OK. He loves you that much, that way, too.

And apparently, he’s OK with relying on miracles for everyday life, for lunch, for taxes, for meeting friends. Wow.  


Done


I found myself writing this down the other day. I wanted to share it, in case it encourages someone:

The Bible does not teach that Christ died “so that we can be saved.” He did not open the possibility for me to do enough good works or do the right deeds so that I can work my way in to heaven.

Rather, he took all the sin and all the judgment that was due to you and to me, past, present & future, and rather than buying the possibility of salvation, what he bought was salvation itself (the Bible calls it a “sure salvation”) that he provided for us. He declared, “It is FINISHED.” As in “There’s no more to do.” Done. Finis.

We (you and I, and everybody else) have the invitation, since God honors the free will he invested in us, to receive that free gift of salvation, or to reject it. It’s only a choice, and the choice is exercised by faith: by believing God’s offer. (Ephesians says that even the faith is a gift from God, not from my own works, specifically so that nobody can boast about it.)

So do you live now, today, in complete freedom from sin? From guilt? From shame? It’s God’s intent that you do. He bought that complete freedom for you!

Think of it this way: God has written me a check, in the amount of “complete forgiveness” (it’s WAY more than that, but we’ll go a step at a time), and he signed it. All I need to do is countersign the back (how? I believe him, I change my thinking) and deposit the check in my bank account.

The Bible is very specific that my works are not only USELESS for the purpose of acquiring salvation – of acquiring ANYthing from God, actually – in fact they actually get in the way, because if I rely on my works, then I do not and cannot rely on His works. It is His works, His finished works, are what accomplishes salvation and healing and grace and power and a clean conscience, and, and, and!

But let’s go back to that check for a moment: that’s not just for my debt to sin, that’s the full resources of Heaven payable to me, a son of the King of heaven, the heir (says Hebrews) of the riches of heaven: by depositing that check, I’m suddenly much wealthier than Steve Bezos, Warren Buffet, and Carlos Slim combined.

And of course, as that sinks in, I’m likely to live a different kind of life than I used to. As I understand my limitless wealth, as I understand how loved and accepted I am, I’m likely to change, to become generous, both in my resources, and in my care and affection. In other words, my actions, my “works” will reflect who I am.

THIS is the place for “good works.”

If I love on people in order to earn something from God, then I have rejected God’s free gift to me: I’ve essentially spat in his face and said, “I’ll do this on my own, thank you very much!” And of course, doing things on my own is not really in the same league as what He can do.

But when I am full of his love, fully accepted by my omnipotent Daddy, then I become generous and loving and giving like He is. Curiously, this often looks the same as the “good works” that I might consider by way of rejecting His gift; but the difference in my heart, in my motive, makes all the difference in the world (literally!).

It’s one thing to give someone gifts in an attempt to force them to love us and accept us. It’s quite another to bring the same gifts because we love them, and because we’re confident in their love for us. We call the first one a “stalker” and we call the police and we get a restraining order; the second is joyfully and gratefully received, and the already-strong relationship is further strengthened.

This is such a big deal that the apostle Paul wrote (Galatians 1): if anybody tries to teach you that you need to do ANYthing in order to be forgiven, to be loved, to become an heir in God’s family (which he describes as “pervert[ing] the gospel of Christ.”), then he says, “Let them be accursed!” If that weren’t enough, he takes it a step further: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.”

“Accursed” is a pretty strong word.

Some time ago, I was meditating on Hebrews 4:16 (“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”) and talking with God about it, when Holy Spirit interrupted me. I could hear the tears in his voice, as he said, “You know, the priesthood wasn’t my idea in the first place.” And he explained Exodus 20:19 to me while he wept. (See http://bit.ly/TheOTHERbenefit)

This is the kind of relationship with God that it’s possible to have. This is God’s idea of what relationship between God and man is supposed to be like. This isn’t what I was taught in Sunday School, this is what I’ve learned from God and his word.

It may not be what you grew up with either. But if you’re up for this kind of a personal, face-to-face relationship with God, you might want to tell him so. ;) I’m very sure you’ll start a beautiful adventure together!

The Grant Covenant


There are various types of covenants that could define relationship between people. Some are covenants among equals (such as a marriage covenant). Many are covenants between a superior and an underling.

One of those covenants between a superior and a lesser person is called a “Grant Covenant.” It is what it sounds like: the great person doesn’t negotiate, doesn’t require anything. They just grant the covenant. “Hold still and let me bless you.” The lesser person does nothing to deserve it.

This video is my second favorite example of a grant covenant (though of course, it’s not a perfect example).  Prince Edward does not ask anything of William, offers no conditions, no negotiation. He just frees him from prison and makes him a knight in the kingdom of his father. He doesn’t even ask Will’s permission.  Will could have refused it, I suppose, but there was no negotiation here.


That reminds me of my most favorite example of a grant covenant, and this one IS a perfect example:

“Jesus Christ… has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever.” [Revelation 1:5&6]

King Jesus also does not offer any conditions, no negotiation. He just frees us from prison and makes us, not knights, but “kings and priests,” heirs of the Kingdom of our Father. He doesn’t even ask our permission. Yeah, you can refuse it I suppose (at least for a while; he can be very persuasive), but there has been, and will be, no negotiation.

Note that this grant covenant is pretty much the covenant that God offered the children that Moses led out of Egypt [see Exodus 19:6], which they rejected in favor of a less scary covenant.

And the more I learn about this Kingdom that I’ve been granted a position in, the more I understand why they thought it was scary. There is an obligation that comes with real authority. It changes us.

We are no longer slaves, so acting like a slave is no longer appropriate. We’re kings, we’re heirs, we’re priests. So no, as a result of the grant, we act differently. We respond differently to the King and to the world around us now. 

Or as Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben said it, “With great power comes great responsibility.” That’s true. Even if we’re freely granted this covenant, this kingliness, this priesthood; even if we have done nothing to deserve it.

This, then, is our covenant. It’s a grant. We’ve done nothing to earn it. We just stand still and let him bless us.

And then we live from this new place, this new identity.

  

(If the embedded video doesn’t work, the whole scene is here: https://youtu.be/A_BN__oO7nA)



We Have Misunderstood Matthew 18


I’ll bet you’ve read this passage from Matthew 18. You may have heard it preached or practiced.

“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell [it] to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” - Matthew 18:15-20

I’ve had to walk through this with folks (on both ends of it, actually). I’ve seen it up close, and I’ve seen the fruits of it up close.

And it’s made me think this through some. Did you know that this paragraph is surrounded by paragraphs where Jesus is not actually speaking literally? (Before: cut off your hand. After: forgive 70x70 and then the parable of the talents.)

So there’s good reason to reconsider our normal practice of ripping this paragraph out of its context in the rest of Matthew, out of its context in a first-century agrarian society. There’s good reason to reconsider our 21st century Information-Age literalist interpretation of this passage.


So consider this alternative rendering of this passage. Think of this as a cultural reference.

If your friend gets caught up in the stuff of their life, if they forget who they are, go be with him (or her), remind them of who they are, who God sees him to be, who you know they are. If he hears you, it’s all good.

But if he’s not able to hear you, gather some friends with you and remind him how awesome he is. Remind him of who you’ve known him to be. It’s likely he’d listen to a group of friends, if they’re people who he’s known are for him.

But if he still can’t hear you, get him up in front of the church. “Guys, this is Matthew. You all know how awesome Matthew is. Come on, let’s lay hands on Matthew. Let’s remind Matt of who he is, cuz he’s had a hard go for a while, and he needs our support!”

But if he is so messed up that they still can’t get past the garbage in their life, then treat him like a tax collector.

How did Jesus treat tax collectors? (He’s our example, remember?)

He befriended them (Matthew 9:9), he brought them close to him, he put them on his ministry team (Matthew 10:3, Luke 6:15), he trusted his reputation to him (the book of Matthew), he went out of his way to hang out with him (Luke 19:5).

That’s how we treat people that have forgotten who they are and gotten stuck in sin.

Go thou and do likewise.





Why Jesus Turned James & John Down


James and John wanted to sit at Jesus’ side in glory. They wanted to be close (and, given the context, they wanted to be big shots).

[They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.”][Mark 10]

Jesus said No.

Curiously, he wasn’t saying “No” to the desire to be a big shot. In the next breath, he shows them how to aspire to greatness appropriately. [Mark 10:42-45]

I’m thinking that Jesus said No because sitting on his right and left was too far away for his preferences. That means they’re separated, that means there’s (a little) distance between him and them.

He didn’t want them to be separate from him, even if they’re right next to him. He wanted them united in him [John 14:20, 15:4, 17:21]. He didn’t want them seated on the throne right next to his. He wanted them – just like he wants you and me – right there on his throne with him, in him [Ephesians 1:20]

So go ahead and aspire to greatness. Go ahead and aspire to “become great,” as Jesus encourages.

Just do it his way. Just do it from your place IN him. Don’t aspire to be separated, next to him. You are in him! Go with that! It’s way better than “next to”!


Adjusting the Target

Adjusting the Target

Anybody who lives in this world knows some people who are hurting. I know I do.

I saw some posts recently, “Pray for me,” and “I am needy!” So I looked through their wall for some sort of explanation. And that’s when I heard Holy Spirit’s whisper.

You see, their pages had lots of God’s promises posted, Bible verses, encouraging statements. In the midst of all those promises, Holy Spirit whispered to me, “They’re looking to the Word, but not to Me. Their target is falling short.”

He schooled me, and I could feel the compassion in his heart in the process.

“Focusing on their pain, on their need, blurs their vision, they can’t see me clearly. So they look to my promises instead of to me.

“They think that the promise of what I will do for them when they come to me is enough to blunt the pain, but they stop at the promise; they don’t actually come to me to let me heal them.”

I could feel his tears.

And in this, I’m reminded that it’s our job to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith [Hebrews 12], to think about what is true and noble and excellent and praiseworthy [Philippians 4].

It’s not only counterproductive to put our attention on the need, on the hurts and betrayal, it’s downright contrary to Father’s clear instruction. The reason, I think, is because of the principle, “What you fix your attention on, you empower in your life.”

It’s because looking at the wrong part of the picture inhibits our ability to receive what we need from our Father who loves us!

It’s not the promises of God that heal our heart and provide for our needs. The promises point to our God, our Father, who heals our heart and provides for our souls.

It’s easy, when we’re looking at the pain, at the need, for our eyes to fall short of Him.

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!"
~John 5:39