Thursday

A Measure of Faith

Romans 12:3b: “God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.”

Measure: μέτρον Metron. “determined extent, portion measured off, measure or limit.”  This is the same word that describes our “sphere of influence,” also a limited extent.

We learn several things here:


• Our faith is “dealt” or distributed to us from God. We are not the source of our faith. Ephesians 2:8 affirms this.

• God has dealt faith to each one of us. Nobody is left out.

• We’re given a measure of faith, a certain amount. No one among us has infinite faith. It’s possible to increase our capacity for faith, of course, but I’m thinking in other directions right now.

If we reference the mustard seed in Matthew 17:20, we know that a little bit of faith goes a long ways. But if we have a measured amount, it is possible to spend it all, whether a little bit at a time, or in great big battles. This suggests that it’s possible to run out of faith.

That leads me to some questions:

○ Is this the reason we feel depleted after a great fight: we’ve spent a lot of our faith?

○ I wonder if this is why some folks wander away from the faith? Maybe they’ve just run out of faith. Perhaps they’ve squandered it?

○ Does this suggest that maybe we want to be frugal in our spending of faith? (For example: sure we can believe God for every dollar we need, but if we get a job, we spend less faith, so we have more faith to invest in other areas.)

○ Is faith refillable, like my truck’s gas tank? When the gauge is reading low, just go fill it up, remembering that faith is dealt from God. (No pat answers please.)

○ Is faith sharable? It’s awkward to siphon gas from my truck to put into your gas tank, but it’s possible. Can that be done with faith too? Can faith be rented out?

I think we’ve got rather a ways to grow before we know it all. 



Maintaining the Garden


I had an interesting train of thought this morning in the … er… Library.

I have some plants and some starts that will go into the garden when the weather stabilizes (around here, that’s traditionally Mother’s Day). I had already brought many of those out of the greenhouse into what may actually be sunshine at some point in the day; it’s a good idea (in my view) to get plants ready for their new environment before I plant them there permanently.

I’m really looking forward to the growing season. I’ve got a fair number of plants ready to go, the garden beds are ready to go. The soil has been turned and amended with fresh compost. The weeds are gone (except for one: I want to know what it will turn into), and I know where each plant will be going. I have a few seeds in the ground (mostly salad things), and I know where more will be going.

And Father ambushed me on that topic. “You keep your garden up-to-date, don’t you?” and he reminded me how I try to keep it weed free all year, how I add plants and fertilize plants and how I water it regularly.

“Yeah, I do. It is a better garden if I take care of it.” I’ve had gardens in the past that I haven’t taken care of very well. They had been overtaken by weeds and grass and their produce was small and scarce.

Then he shifted gears on me; he reminded me of the investment I make in my marriage. “A good marriage takes the same kind of work that a good garden does, doesn’t it?” He reminded me that a marriage needs fertilizer and needs weeds removed just as much as a garden does.

I am (we are) pretty intentional about keeping the relationship healthy. We talk things out, we regularly express our love with words and touches and time together and such. We have maintained a delightful discipline of taking date nights, just for our relationship, every week (or more often) for more than 30 years.  

I reflected on the different joys that my marriage and my garden bring me.

“A relationship with me takes similar investment, you know. And it will bring you similar joy.”

He’s right, you know. (I say that kind of a lot. I’m not going to change that. He is. :) ) A relationship with another person – a marriage relationship, a friendship, a family relationship, a relationship with my creator – takes maintenance. Since we’d started with the metaphor of the garden, I’ll stick with it: it takes adding things (seeds, young plants, fertilizer, water) and taking things away (weeds, birds who want to dig up the seeds and eat the young fruits, cats who are thankful for a clean sandbox) to make the relationship thrive.

I think I’ll be meditating on this for a bit. How can I best invest into my relations with God and with the people around me? 

Friday

Sometimes we fire blanks.

Sometimes we fire blanks.

Oh, we don't mean to. We think we are firing powerful weapons of war, kicking ass and taking names.

But sometimes, sometimes we're actually firing blanks.

Jesus modeled for us a way to pray that was more about telling the situation how it needs to be, rather than about us whining at God to pleeeeease make it be that way. We are learning to command, to declare, rather than to ask politely. Or impolitely.

That much is good.

The problem is, so often we just fire blanks.

We read the Gospels oh, and we observe how Jesus did it. He said, Lazarus come forth! And Lazarus came forth. He said, I am willing, be cleansed. And the leper was instantly healed.

We look at the model of Jesus, and we make it our model. But we are only looking at part of the model that Jesus gave us. We're looking at his Harvest, not his labor.

I am a member of a few prayer groups. I am embarrassed to tell you how many times, in response to a really dire need, somebody pipes up, blithely commanding all demons to go to hell, smugly decreeing bones and skin and organs to line up, happily commanding this and that, and wrapping it all up with a grin of self-congratulation.

And of course very little actually changes. Nobody really expected it would. I think even that the enthusiastic intercessor himself didn't expect it. And why would he? We get so that we’re commanding everything nowadays, and nobody points out that it's not really changing much of anything. The emperor has no clothes on, but everyone is afraid to mention it.

Yeah, I know. I’ve overstated it in order to make a point. You know this goes on, at least some of the time.

I have been reflecting on how much of Jesus’ life is hidden from the casual reader of his biographies in the Gospels. I suspect that this is on purpose. If we really want to know the secrets, he wants to go find them for ourselves, to do the work of learning, to make the knowledge our own.

The gospels are quick to tell his hero testimonies, how he healed this person, raised that guy from the dead, all before lunch, and without raising a sweat.

That's the part that big, flashy, and easily captures our attention. But it's only the end of the story. We miss the beginning and the middle. And I think that if we don't follow all of Jesus’ example, the beginning, the middle, and the end, we will probably not have the results that Jesus had.

I have been involved in a lot of spiritual war. I have friends who have been in so much more than I have. Some of it has been successful; some has been less successful. Ultimately, I think that Winston Churchill may have had it right. War involves blood, sweat, toil, tears. And healing the sick, raising the dead, these are acts of War. It’s not a quick declaration of victory and move on.

I've been thinking about the topic of rest recently. God is constantly inviting his people to a place of rest. Not a place of doing nothing, a place of doing much, but doing it from the place of resting in him. Kind of a foreign concept to most of us, I think. But it wasn't foreign to Jesus. Jesus seemed pretty big on working from a place of rest. I’m beginning to learn the value of this.

And Jesus was always getting away with Father. Sure, we have our “quiet times,” and that’s a great starting point, but it seemed that Jesus spent all night in prayer sometimes. All night, getting to know what Father was doing and thinking.

In fact, there was one time he spent much of the night in prayer, and it was hard work. He sweat blood. We talk about that in the context of the Easter story, but as he said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” Paul kept up the theme. “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.”

I’m not saying that blood is the signifier of a solid prayer life. I’m saying there’s work involved, hard work, if we’re aspiring to declare with the kind of power that Jesus’ declarations had.

There is one more secret, I think, that we need to lay hold of. In John 5, Jesus revealed this secret: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”

The last secret (for this moment) of Jesus’ amazing record was that he was only doing what he saw Father doing.

A whole lot of our failing comes from our making our declarations about things that are in our heart and mind that are not actually things that Father is doing. They may be things that we wish he was doing, things that we think he might want to do, or things that we ourselves want, and we’re maybe just putting God’s name on them.

That’s a whole lot different than seeing what God is doing, or seeing the situation - really seeing it! - in its completed state, and then telling reality to line up with that vision.

This is a hard one to ‘fess up to. But we kind of have to separate our desires from his, separate soul from spirit, as it were, in order to walk how Jesus walked.

I’m so thankful that we’re growing up into Him. We’re going to change the world. In him.

Thursday

Learning to Pray Wisely


The church is learning a lot about declarative prayer in recent years, prayer that issues decrees and declares what shall be, (as differentiated from prayer that begs and sometimes whines).

Like anything that we are just beginning to learn, we’re not terribly good at it yet.

 We have (many of us) figured out that Jesus didn’t generally ask God for stuff when he prayed. He generally commanded something to happen (John 11:43) or decreed the result that he wanted (Matthew 9:29). Even at his most extreme circumstances, his prayers were declarative sentences, not interrogative ones (Matthew. 26:36–46). 

 As a community, we’ve begun declaring and commanding pretty much all the time. It’s baby steps, and it’s really cute. (Don’t get me wrong: I’m part of this community of baby steps, too!)

 I’ve been reflecting on this transition recently. It’s being a good thing, for a bunch of reasons that I’ve discerned:

 • We’re beginning to take responsibility ourselves for the things that he’s given us responsibility for (see Genesis 1:26). Much of what we pray about is actually our responsibility, not his.

•Slaves ask or plead. Sons, heirs, might ask, but they surely expect  (consider Romans 15:13 or 16:20); or they may not ask, they just take what they need and go.

You and I, we’re not slaves, not servants.

• It appears that while God respects servants who ask, more seems to get done by sons who declare.

 On the other hand, when sons are young, they require more parenting than they do when they mature. Dirty diapers are no more fun in the Spirit than they are in the natural. They’re normal, even healthy for a while. They’re still a mess, and no more than a starting place. But they’re a normal, healthy mess for an infant.

For example, I’m part of some prayer groups (side note: please do NOT add me to more groups!), where folks post their prayer requests, and the community prays for them. You learn a lot from groups like this. Here are some things I've learned.

There are a bunch of folks whose prayer requests are more a list of what all is wrong in their lives than a description of what we’re actually praying for. Some of those diapers need changing desperately.

Some responses are in the “Oh Jesus, please help ‘em!” category.

A growing number of responses are attempts to command all the bad things become good.

Far too many declarations are not much more than self-centered, wishful thinking. “I want this, and therefore I’m going to declare it as if it were God’s will.” And then they get disheartened when the world doesn’t conform to their empty but optimistic words.

 Honestly, it’s a beautiful thing. Just like when my little granddaughter takes her first, wobbly steps. That’s a wonderful thing, too. It’s growth! But it surely isn’t maturity yet. And it’s cute when she takes a couple of steps and then plops down on her wet diaper, making that interesting sploogy sound.

 I was reflecting on our wobbly growth recently, and I was reminded that when we watch Jesus commanding sickness or demons to flee, we’re only seeing half of the story. We’re only seeing the half that happens in that moment, the part that’s visible to the gospel authors.

 But Jesus did tell us the other half of the story himself:

John 12:49 “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak.”

 So apparently, if we’re going to (If I’m going to) be successful at commanding sickness and demons and death away, I need to speak what Father commands me to say and to speak. Declarations out of my own wishful thinking are a wasted effort. At best.

 Since the gospels never show the story of heaven opening and the Almighty shouting from heaven, it makes me wonder, “When and how did Jesus hear Father tell him what to say?”

 I think there were at least three answers to that, and neither one was a mystery.

The first is that I’m pretty sure the still small voice of the Holy Spirit gave him instructions from time to time (in John 2, compare verse 4 with verse 7, for example).

Second, verses like Mark 6:46 and Luke 6:12 tell us that he spent extended time away, just him and Father alone. I’ll bet that’s a clue. There’s a reason he encourages us to search out matters, maybe.

I think the third is more rare than we wish it was. When you’ve walked with God a long time, you begin to think like he thinks. You do that long enough and the line between “my thoughts” and “his thoughts,” between “my words” and “his words” gets thin.

 I’m thinking that it’s good that we, the saints and heirs of our Almighty Lover, are learning to hear from Heaven, and declare those words. Declaring what Father-who-sends us gives us to declare, those are going to be the more world-changing declarations.

Listen first. Then speak.

Watch Out for the Yeast!


“Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast [the influence] of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”

The religious spirit and the political spirit are really bad influences on believers. Watch out.

They’re both about control; they’re both about about public opinion, optics: how does this look to the people watching?

That doesn’t mean to stay distant from religious people or the religious system. Jesus didn’t. He attended synagogue, temple, dinners with Pharisees. But he influenced them; he didn’t let them influence him.

He doesn’t mean to avoid politics or politicians. We’re commanded to pray for them. And we need believers in the middle of the political system; who else will influence the political system for the Kingdom, anyway?  But influence them; don’t let them influence you. Watch out for that.

In fact, it was when they work together that things get really ugly. Jesus was murdered by that combination. The Pharisees worked with Herod, to murder Jesus.

Same same in our world today. When the religious spirit tells the political process what to do, watch out! Doesn’t matter which religious spirit. The Muslim religious spirit is no better (and no worse) than the Christian religious spirit, though because it’s gaining political power in some places, it’s getting more aggressive about its influence. They’re both demonic, they’re both controlling, they’re both dangerous.

We’ve seen a lot of this over the last several years.

And when the political spirit tells the religious spirit what to do, watch out! When the political spirit tells us how to worship, what life to value, when or where to pray, that’s a problem. The Liberal political spirit is no better (and no worse) than the Conservative political spirit, though because it’s “in power” in some places, it’s more aggressive about its influence. They’re both demonic, they’re both controlling, they’re both dangerous.

There’s one more territorial spirit that we need to pay attention to; in fact, this is the strongest, most territorial of them all. The Holy Spirit is the one we need to be following. The others masquerade as him, try to mimic his voice so we’ll get confused.

Watch for him.


A Closer Look at Clearing the Temple

Jesus cleaned out the temple twice, once at the beginning of his ministry, and once at the end.

A lot of folks read the story about Jesus chasing the cattle and sheep out of the temple, of Jesus overturning the tables of the business-people there, and they infer that Jesus was angry, that he was displaying a holy wrath.

But that’s not what the stories actually say. In fact, since the stories never say what Jesus was feeling. Anybody who declares what Jesus was feeling – whether they think he was angry or whatever – are using something *other* than Scripture for that statement. Mostly, they’re imposing their own imagination into the gap of where the Bible is silent.

That is not Bible interpretation. That’s abusing the Bible to justify your own prejudices and misunderstandings of who God really is.

So what does the Bible actually say?

The first time, in John 2, it says that Jesus saw what was going on in the temple, and then stopped to weave a whip out of cords (literally, out of cords made from rushes, from plants like grass). Some observations:

• It takes a fair bit of time to make a whip, and it takes even longer to make one out of *small* cords. This was not a rash action, not an act of rage or passion. This was carefully thought out.

• The sort of whip you make from rushes or small cords is not a weapon. It’s a flimsy thing, only useful for driving livestock. This is not Indiana Jones’ favorite weapon; it’s more like a sisal rope. It will get the animal’s attention, but no more.

• The record is very clear: Jesus used even that wimpy whip only on the cattle and sheep. He reacted to the people differently, and unpleasantly for them, but Jesus did not go after people with even a wimpy whip.

The second event (Matthew 21, Mark 11, and Luke 19) is different. Jesus came into the temple during his “Triumphal Entry” on Palm Sunday. So he saw the shopping mall that they were setting up that day.

But it was the *next* day that he came back and cleaned the place out [Mark 11:11-12].

This was not a rash action either. He went back to his AirBNB outside town, and took no action whatsoever until the next day. He certainly had time to think through his choices. And knowing how Jesus did things, I’ll bet he talked it over with Father before he did anything. After all, this is the guy who said, he “can do only what he sees his Father doing” [John 5:19]. So apparently, cleaning out the temple was something he saw his Father doing.

Conclusion: the actual facts of what the Bible says about these events, absolutely do not support the idea of Jesus flying off the handle, Jesus in a rage, Jesus having a temper tantrum. Jesus was not out of control.

Yes, he did clean the place out. Yes, he did make a big old mess. Yes, he interrupted business in a very big way.

But there is no record of him ever hurting anyone, either human or animal. This was not an emotional reaction of any sort: in both cases, the record is very clear that he took his time before responding.

Summary: there are lot of folks who have a vested interest in the idea of an angry God. Some of them have leathery wings. But the New Testament doesn’t actually support that silly idea nearly as much as they shout and fuss.

Don’t believe their shouting and fussing.

Transformed Thinking about Scripture

It's hard, isn't it, to let the Scriptures stand on their own, particularly when they're passages that are a little uncomfortable for us, a little unfamiliar to us, passages that don't entirely support our current beliefs.

It's hard to just listen to what the Book is saying, without filtering it through our theology and fitting it into a tidy little theological box. When a verse or story doesn't support my view, and sounds almost like it could be used to support the other view, that makes me nervous, and I feel the need to quote verses that support my view to make me feel better.

So instead of that, I'm working on learning to not filter uncomfortable, unfamiliar passages through either my theology or yours. Sorry. Nothing personal. If it's true that "All scripture is God-breathed and profitable...," (and it is) then the passages that argue against my theological boxes are God-breathed and profitable as well. I want to profit from them, too!

I suspect that this is at least part of what he means when he tells us to renew our minds [Romans 12:3, Ephesians 4:23]

To my great surprise, that state of NOT having answers is becoming more comfortable, more comforting to me. It's in THAT place where Father can whisper to me, not so much his interpretation, but his heart on the matter.

I love it when he does that. I value hearing his whisper, his breath, as far more important to me than having perfect little theological boxes.

So if you find me posting about, or musing about uncomfortable things here, you may want to skip over them, and keep your theological boxes in tidy order. Or you may want to jump in and look for what God's breathing on there.