Handling The Power of the Tongue

One of the reasons I teach Hebrews 12:2, Philippians 4.8, Ephesians 1:18, Matthew 6:22-23, etc so very much is because I experience them so powerfully in the everyday. (The Philippians verse will illustrate the theme: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”)

The wisest man in the history of the planet once said it this way: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” That's not a metaphor.

If I am involved in a conversation that's filled with reports of problems, of failure, conversation that’s focused on the work of the devil, then that conversation wounds me, like a knife or bullet would. The closer I draw to the heart of my Father, the more these reports hurt me, rather than the opposite.

I've figured out that there's a terrible and powerful reason why Jesus and the Boys teach us to guard what we see, what we hear: it’s the difference between life and death.

This is one of the reasons that when I teach people to prophesy, I teach them to prophesy the solution. “Anybody can prophesy the problem in this day and age. Even the evening news does a pretty good job of that.”

If we’re prophesying, and we hear of a sin in someone’s life, Holy Spirit did not tell us that so that we could accuse them of that sin. Accusing the brethren is someone else’s job, and our job, like Jesus before us, is to destroy his works. So we prophesy the solution. We don’t pretend, and tell the adulterer “You’re faithful.” We declare God’s heart, “God’s call on you is faithfulness. He’s given you an anointing for that.”

And if we have a vision or a dream of destruction, then our job is not to prophesy death and destruction, panic and mayhem. Our job is to change the future. Speak to the storm: “Peace, be still.” Don’t shout, “Aack! A storm! Run for your lives!” There’s no faith in that, and as Romans 14 declares, “whatever is not from faith is sin.”

This is also one of the reasons that when people want to know how I’m doing, I don’t immediately barf on them about the things that are not going my way. (Or I try not to. I don’t get it right every time.)

Sometimes, I’ve been accused of not being in touch with reality, because I won’t follow the evening news, because I don’t want to hear all the reasons for every “prayer request.” I want to ask these accusers, “Which reality do you want to be in touch with, anyway?”

For myself, I live in the physical world, but I am a citizen of the Heavenly one. I choose to be more in touch with, I choose to extend the reign of, the Kingdom of Heaven.

Which means that I will listen to the news from Heaven’s point of view, not from the accuser’s perspective. I will choose to respond to people from the perspective of Heaven, not from the accuser’s view. And I choose to fill my mind with the things that Heaven’s Instruction Book tells me to fill my mind with.

I choose to see Heaven manifested. I can't do it all, but I intend to do my part.


A Cold & Delicious Lesson in Trusting

Very recently, I had a series of strange experiences.

It began when I was getting ready for my work day. As I was picking up keys and wallet and such, I saw a $20 bill on my nightstand. That’s not the strange thing; I knew why it was there; it had been there for a few weeks.

But now, all of a sudden, I had a clear sense, not a strong one, that I needed to pick up that $20 bill. I didn’t understand why, but I picked up the bill, kissed the treasure of my life, and went to work. This day, I was working on some incredibly technical things: complex calculations, complex systems design. And I was working away, “in the zone” (the nerds among us may know what I mean), and I was suddenly distracted. “You know, good ice cream is getting awfully expensive in the stores.” What?? Where did that come from?

A little later, another thought hit me out of the blue: “And you never know what kind of things they put in your ice cream.” Hunh? Wha?? Back to the calculations.

Smoke was beginning to pour from my ears when the third interruption came: “Wouldn’t some ice cream with dinner be really good tonight?”

Well, He had me on that one. I do enjoy good ice cream.

“You need to buy a small ice cream maker.” No I don’t! We have a big ice cream maker. Somewhere. We haven’t used it for years because it’s big and awkward and messy, but we already have one. “No you need a small ice cream maker. Go look on Craigs List.”

Well, ice cream for dessert did sound good. And what harm would it do to just look? 

And there was a brand-spankin-new ice cream maker on Craigs list: the quick and easy kind (you know: 20 minutes from “Doesn’t ice cream sound good?” to “Would you like seconds?” That kind of easy!). And what do you know, they were asking exactly $20.00. And the seller was almost within walking distance of my home.

I felt set up. But I stopped by after work and bought myself an ice cream maker. And you know, it really was delicious with dinner that night.

But the whole thing confused me: why in the world would God put me through such a runaround to get me an ice cream maker? Wouldn’t it be easier just to tell me “Go get one,” or to send someone to give me one?

I was sharing the story with my friends this evening (er… as we were eating fresh and delicious ice cream, of course), and one of them said, “Oh. God’s teaching you to trust his voice, to follow in the little details, even when you don’t understand!” And I heard Papa smile: “Now you’re getting it, Son! Good job!”

So I have an ice cream maker. And I have a daddy who loves me.

And not all the lessons involve ice cream, but I’m thankful that this one did. 

Who Is the God of the Bible?

I’ve been thinking about the God of the Bible. Particularly God as he is revealed in the Old Testament.

Who is this God? What is he like? No, what is he really like?

I’ve done my homework here. I understand that the right place to establish my foundational theology of who God is comes from the clearest revelation of God’s nature and character in the Bible: we always interpret the less articulate passages from the more articulate ones. And of course, the best revelation of who God is and what he’s like is in the person and the teachings of the incarnate second Person of the Trinity: Jesus Christ.

Jesus taught, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” In other words, “I’m like him. He’s just like me.” The author of Hebrews describes Jesus as “the express image of His person.” In other words: this is the best picture of who God is that we’ve ever had. And Jesus is undeniably, relentlessly, unswervingly good. He never once hurt anybody, never smote anybody, never spoke harshly to his mommy, never stepped on an ant. He didn’t even damage the guy that he knew was stealing from him and his friends, the guy who was the direct cause of his own torturous death.

The only people he did speak harshly to were the religiously self-righteous, but he didn’t even smite them. He just got in their face about their stubbornness, hypocrisy, and inability to see the answer to their prayers who was right there in their faces.

The lesson is clear: God is undeniably, relentlessly, unswervingly good. The Bible is remarkably clear about that. God doesn’t, according to the stunningly clear revelation of God-in-the-flesh, hurt, maim or kill people.

He clearly has no patience for religiously self-righteous people, but he doesn’t even smite them.

So I take this understanding, this clear knowledge, that God is good, and I go look at the God of the Old Testament, the guy with the Bad Reputation.

People tell me over and over about this God’s judgments, generally describing him in vocabulary that justifies their particular vitriol against their particularly hated sin. When God’s people sin, they tell me – forget that; when anybody sins – they can expect a good smiting. (I have to admit, some (not all) of the people telling these horror stories sound a lot like the Pharisees that Jesus was so consistent about castigating; but perhaps that’s not the real issue here.)

One of their favorite stories is Sodom & Gomorrah, for example. There was a particularly bad night in Sodom (Genesis 19) that gave the town a justifiably nasty reputation. But a thinking person, while acknowledging that it was a serious sin, could not reasonably justify destroying two cities in fire and brimstone.

I don’t throw out a doctrine, any doctrine, just because it doesn’t make sense. But in this case, the Scriptures don’t actually describe that particularly sinful night as the cause for the destruction. God himself, talking with Abraham (Genesis 18:20) declares the reason for the visit to the place: the second reason: they have a reputation for sin, but the first reason: “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great…”

Somebody has been crying out about the cities: this destruction did not start with God getting fed up with sin, as I’ve been taught repeatedly. It started with someone, presumably a human someone, crying out to God. This is the result of humans speaking against the city, not the result of an angry God.

In fact, the biggest judgment that God proposes as he’s talking with Abe: “I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know.”

That’s it. “I’ll know about it.” That’s the judgment proposed. That’s all the “smiting” that God proposed for the city with the great reputation for sin.

And we all know about Abe’s negotiation with God over their sin: Abe assumes a greater judgment, and tries to talk God out of it, but chickens out before he finishes the job. That passages teaches well about prayer, but most of the time, people are either implying, or outright declaring that God was out to kill ’em all! No! That’s not what the Book says!

We build our theology on the clear passages, not on our assumptions from the very earliest understanding of God’s nature. God says the judgment comes from someone’s outcry, not from his own “righteous anger.” (I’m not saying there’s no such thing as righteous anger. I’m saying that’s not what went on in Genesis 18!)

There are indeed other passages, stories told later, where God is named as the source of that destruction, in contradistinction to God’s own declaration in Genesis 18. I have heard the argument that “The people of that day didn’t understand that God & Satan were different, so they attributed Satan’s actions to God!” and frankly, I find that to be quite the compelling argument.

Change of venue: By now, most people know about the parallel accounts that describe David’s numbering of Israel (found in 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21). There’s a serious problem here. We have to ask, “Why does 2 Samuel 24:1 state that God ‘moved’ David against Israel, while 1 Chronicles 21:1 says that it was Satan who ‘stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel’.”?

It’s the same thing. In our day, we understand a decent bit about the creature, Lucifer, sometimes called Satan. Our greatest source for that knowledge is found primarily in the gospels and epistles that were unknown in earlier times, and so the one event is described by one author as from Satan, and from the other author, not knowing any better, as from God, who ignorantly equates the two.

But we know better. We have the revelation of the life of Christ. We’re smarter than that! God is not, as demonstrated by “the exact representation of God,” in the smiting business.

But some people still go there. “What about Ananias and Sapphira! [Acts 5] God killed them! And that’s New Testament!”

That shows me how little some people actually read their Bible. Read that passage again. Yes, the passage is in the New Testament. But nowhere does it even hint that God did this. From the text, it’s possible that they were killed by the power of Peter’s curse against them. It could be that Satan did the deed, having gained access to their lives through their sin. Only if you haven’t done your homework, only if you believe God is a killer, could it be God who did it. The passage is anything but clear! And unclear passages are not what we build theology out of.

But you and I have done our homework. We come to this unclear passage, having already settled ourselves on the matter of God’s goodness, which we’ve gotten from the clear passages, from the example of Jesus: God is good. Therefore, their murderer couldn’t be God. So do your best with your guesses, inventions, imaginations and assumptions: the Bible doesn’t actually identify the murderer, but we know from previous study that it ain’t God!

Then someone will bring up the story of Elymas the sorcerer who was smitten blind in Acts 13. Again, I suggest people actually read the passage, and read it remembering what we already know about God’s good character from the unmistakable revelation of the Son of God.  The passage says, “Paul said” and then it happened. Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit when he said it, so some people assume that it must not have really been Paul who said it, because when you’re full of the Holy Spirit, you can’t say anything on your own. Really? That’s kind of a stretch, isn’t it?

But the reality is that the text never says that God did this; it says Paul did this. And we, having done our homework, already know that God is good, because Jesus, who was revealing God’s nature, was always good, know that this unclear passage is not consistent with the clear passages, and therefore must be representing something other than an angry, vengeful God, because we know that God is not angry or vengeful.

We could go on for hours. Let’s not do that. Let’s learn the lesson: Jesus is the best representation of what God is like, and Jesus always did good; the worst he did was get in the face of the religiously self-righteous. So God, who presumably is also not pleased with the religiously self-righteous, is nonetheless, consistently good.

It’s the enemy who is consistently accusing God’s nature before us. Let’s not fall for his accusations. We know better. We know Jesus.

The Judgment of God on His Children

This may be my favorite picture of the terrible judgment of God:

In the book of Exodus, when the Hebrew children chickened out, rebelled against God, when they steadfastly refused to go into the Promised Land, God had to judge them for that rebellion!

And this is how he judged them: He supernaturally fed them miraculous meals that nobody else on the planet got to taste, for more than 14,500 consecutive days, because they were helpless to feed themselves in a desert.

He led them safely through the most dangerous desert in the region, continually keeping his presence in the middle of them, in a pillar of cloud guiding them by day, and a pillar of fire warming their feet and scaring off both mosquitoes and desert marauders by night.

Sure, people died. Over the course of a generation's time, a generation of people died and were buried, and life went on. That would have happened even if they had followed him into the promised land, so we certainly can't call that judgment!

But as part of his judgment, "They lacked nothing; their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell." (Nehemiah 9:21) That'll show em!

Wow. This is my Father. This is the family I'm adopted into. 

Romans says that we should "Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God." If this is his severity, then what on earth is his kindness like?