Showing posts with label 2019. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2019. Show all posts

Thursday

How The Walks In The Woods Actually Worked


It was an interesting several years for me. I had an hour every day to walk in the woods. I chose to spend the time sauntering, decompressing, and especially talking with God.

My habit – what seemed good to me – was to spend the first part of these prayer times in getting connected with the Guy I was talking to. So rather than start with the business of prayer (“I need this; Suzie needs that, please heal Johnnie…”), I began with attention to the relationship and to my sensitivity to the relationship.

Often enough, I’d begin with something like, “So what’s on your mind today, Father?” Unfortunately, these times with him were in the middle of a pretty intense day, and so my mind, my soul, was still kind of racing. That didn’t always connect so well, though I think he liked being asked.

I got into the habit of praying in tongues for a while. If you’ve been around the Internet from the early days, if you’ve ever had to deal with dial-up internet access, you remember the strange noises your modem made while it was hooking up to what passed for the internet in those days. I kind of figured these times praying in tongues were like those noises: getting my spirit connected with his Spirit so we would be able to actually communicate.

But I’d pray in tongues until I felt like we had connected. Sometimes I’d pray in tongues for just a few hundred yards of walking. Occasionally, I’d spend my whole hour in tongues, working to connect to his “mainframe.” Sometimes it took a lot longer to settle my soul down!

There were days when I felt the need to pray a particular Bible verse during our introduction time; I’d look it up (first in the pocket Bible I carried; later on my phone), and pray through it, and go back to praying in tongues until I’d connected my heart with his.

That sense was pretty subtle; I was just waiting for that feeling on my inside that said my attention wasn’t on my busy day, but was on him. It’s rather like that “done” sense that tells me that I’ve covered what I needed in prayer and it’s time to move on now.

So I’d pray in tongues until I sensed that we’d connected, and then I’d move on. Because of my good, evangelical upbringing that was so attentive to sin, I’d often spend some time asking him to search my heart for sin.

Again, this wasn’t perfunctory. I wanted to have all of my insides, all of my secrets open before him. If you’d asked me why I thought that was a good thing, I’m not sure I could have given you a reason, but I was convinced (and still am) that if I want God to be open with me, then I need to be as open as I am able to be with him.

Fairly often, as I was searching my heart, he’d bring my attention to some attitude or action that needed attention. I’d talk with him about it. I never heard him speaking words to me in these times, but often enough, I’d ask him questions about this thing in my heart, and then a new thought would drift into my heart: I always assumed that it was his reply and this assumption never once led me astray.

Pretty often, the root issue boiled down to me trusting me more than me trusting him in this area. For a while, my response (again, from my evangelical history) would be to feel bad and make promises (aka vows) to do better. I’d try to “fix” it. He never seemed impressed with this.

Over time, I came to the place where I’d stop trusting in myself to fix it, and I’d just agree with him about it. “Yeah, I agree: I’ve trusted me more than I’ve trusted you. And yeah, that’s not a very smart thing to do, is it? You know, you’ve actually been trustworthy in my life, haven’t you. I really can trust you, even with this, can’t I? Help me to stay in touch with that truth, please? You really are that good, aren’t you?” That brought far more change in my life.

All of that – and sometimes it was the whole walk and the next day, too, but mostly it was several minutes – all that was just the introduction. Computer networks call it the “error-checking” part of “negotiating the handshake.”

And then I’d bring up the issues on my heart. I had tried prayer lists, and there weren’t disastrous, but I discovered that there were advantages to praying about the issues on my heart instead of a list.

First, I don’t see prayer as a business transaction (though that model is not without some benefit); instead, I approach prayer as a relationship. That works better for me. Shopping lists have there place. My relationship with my Dad is not one of them.

Second, it seemed to me that God was far more interested in what was on my heart than in the items that needed checking off on the list.

And really, the issues on my heart were very often things that I’d put on that list anyway. But I’d bring it as a thing that I cared about, not as a duty. That was important to me. That made a difference to me in these times.

I prayed about my marriage, my family, my relationships, my missionary friends, concerns local and global. Hmm. That doesn’t sound right. Let me say it this way: the more I related with Father, the more I found myself caring about the issues that he cared about, and the more often I’d bring those issues back to him and we’d discuss them.

Again, I’d talk (always out loud: frankly, it kept my mind from wandering), and I’d interpret the stray thoughts that crossed my mind in those times as his side of the conversation, and it always seemed right. (Luke 11:13: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” I could trust him that these responses were from the Holy Spirit.)

Occasionally, the thoughts would be specific, often including new information that I hadn’t known before (and that proved to be true “back in the real world”). That wasn’t the big deal. The big deal was that I was hanging out with my Father.

I grew to really love these conversations. Rarely, we’d actually converse, where we’d both use words, me out loud, him in my mind.

One time I’d been praying energetically about something that bothered me. No, actually I’d been whining. He seemed to wait until I paused to take a breath, and he interrupted me. “Are you done yet?” I literally stopped in the middle of the trail and laughed. He went on to teach me about one of Jesus’s parables. I tried not to whine too much after that day. Besides, it was a good lesson!

There was a while (more than a year) that he required me to pray 1Corinthians 14:1: “Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.” That went on so long that it got tiring. “Teach me love, and I’m asking for spiritual gifts, especially prophecy. OK, can we go on now?” In those days, I’m not sure I believed in prophecy in any practical sense, but I prayed it anyway. He seemed to think that was enough.

After a year of that daily prayer, a prophet called me out in a meeting. “God says you’ve been asking him for prophetic gifts….” And he went on to talk about that. Yeah, I felt set up, but in a really good way, a cared-for way.

These days, I no longer have that hour in the woods every day, but I try to maintain the same “conversing with God” throughout the day. Frankly, talking with God on a peaceful, wooded trail is easier than staying actually connected throughout the day.

I’m still working out the details of this season, so I can’t talk about it much. The past season is in clearer focus. I thought I’d share it in case it might be helpful to some folks who are interested in having that kind of season with God. It’s probably worth asking him about.


#Unfiltered


“Unfiltered” is sort of a thing right now.

Folks talk on Instagram or Facebook about posts and pictures that are #Unfiltered:  they’re real, authentic, not faked, not Photoshopped, not particularly posed. “This is real,” they insist.

I believe that this is something God is doing. God is bringing this value for the authentic to the front of our attention.  God likes authentic. He likes real.

That’s one of the things I like about him. He doesn’t filter stuff. He’s authentic. He’s real.

He’s got this book (I guess they call it a Bible) that’s all about his relationship with the human race, and so it includes lots of humans in it: lots of people and their stories.

And he doesn’t filter it even a little bit. Completely unfiltered.


The people in his book, he calls some of them friends: some of them are real screw-ups. Hmm. Actually, most of them are. In fact, nearly all of them. If you were omnipotent and writing a book about your peeps, you’d think you’d show the shiny side, the good-looking side. Make them look good.

He does that a little, but that’s the smaller bit. The bigger bit is how badly his favorite people fark everything up. Or nearly everything. And he still hangs out with them.

One of his favorites started out really poor, but with a whole lot of God’s help, made it to the big time. And what does he do? He seduces the wife of one of his best friends (and daughter of another good friend). He gets her pregnant while hubby’s off fighting his imperialistic war. And then he murders her husband so he can have her all to himself. Alongside several dozen other wives and mistresses.

And God calls this son-of-a-birch-tree one of his favorites. What?

Another guy lies about his 60-year-old wife (“Nah, she’s my sister!” Essentially saying, “You can sleep with her if you promise not to kill me.”) And while they’re trying to figure out how to seduce her, he trades in on his status and ends up one of the richest dudes in the area. They have to ask him to leave so he doesn’t destroy their national economy.

God says, “Yeah, that guy is my example. I’m going to call him ‘the father of faith.’” As if it never happened!

Another guy refuses (three times!) to even acknowledge that he knows the guy when God puts on skin and comes to town. The religious freaks were setting up to murder him, and he totally ghosts the son of God. “Nope. Don’t even know the guy. Could you pass me a sandwich?”

And God makes him head of the church. Are you kidding me?

Yeah. It’s outrageous. It’s a complete travesty of justice.

And it’s one of the things I like best about this God.

It’s not that he doesn’t care if we muff it up. It’s just that muffing up doesn’t piss him off. He knows that’s how this species – built from dirt in the first place, anyway – is predisposed. And he doesn’t shun, ghost us, or get embarrassed when we come around.

In fact, he has spent literally all of recorded history pursuing us, coming to find us, getting on his knees to clean off our mess, to pull our foot from the trap, even ransom us from both sin AND death.

And if that wasn’t enough, he is so stoked to be close to us that he’ll happily live inside of us. That was his idea: not a hair’s breadth of distance between his almightiness and our dorky foolishness. Or rampant suckiness. Or unmitigated evilness. He’s not impressed. “Yeah, come here, you! Let me clean you up! Now isn’t this better, here with me?”

But wait! There’s more! He’s not done yet!

“So how’d you like to sit up here on this throne with me? Look, you can see the whole Kingdom from up here! So as long as you’re here on this throne, what kind of things would you like to do with this Kingdom? Cuz I’m going to share it, all of it, with you! We’re gonna do this together!”

Yeah, that’s the God we get to be with. #Unfiltered. Authentic. Real. Embarrassingly so.

And he invites us into all of this, to do all of life, with him.

If we’re willing.

Watch and Pray


“Watch out!” “Keeping watch” “Watchman”

The idea is consistent: pay attention; notice what’s going on. See what there is to see; hear what there is to hear.

The dictionary talks about “observing attentively,” and “following closely, maintaining an interest in,” and even “being careful.”

Pay attention. Notice.

Now here’s an interesting thing: Four times, Jesus tells us that watching and praying go together.*

It was a long time before I learned how those worked together. When I was growing up, “praying” was about “Say these words; that’s prayer.”

Later, prayer was about a shopping list, and praying was a lot like writing to Santa. “I want this; please do that, and bless everybody in the whole world.”

As I got more religious, my vocabulary became more about “Bringing needs before the throne,” but it was still functionally a Santa letter, a shopping list. At least I was adding other people’s needs to the list. “Watching” was seeing what was needed. “Praying” was bringing those needs to God’s attention.

Now I’m not saying this is bad. Some of those prayers got answered, including some whose answers would qualify as miracles. And I (mostly) don’t regret the time spent bringing real issues to God’s attention (though I really do not love prayer meetings that are more about whining and complaining about what’s wrong, than about God).

“Watch and pray.” Pay attention; notice.

I’m growing more and more committed to the idea that prayer is more than me reciting my wish list, more than me bringing issues to God’s attention. Prayer is relational, and it’s conversation. It’s dialogue.

And that, I think, is what the “watch and pray” thing is about. And it happens in relationship, in close relationship, in intimate relationship.

It’s about God and me talking. Maybe we use words, maybe we don’t, but it’s about us talking.

I’ve observed that sometimes when God talks, he uses words, sometimes he uses pictures or visions, sometimes he uses emotions or thoughts. He’s very versatile. (It wouldn’t surprise me if he gave us all these senses so we’d have more ways to engage with him.)

I’m coming to the conclusion that “watch and pray” is about us hearing what he’s saying (whether words or pictures or whatever) and talking to him about it.

That’s why words of knowledge are so often associated with people actually getting healed. God shows us what to pray for, and we pray for the thing God’s saying to pray for, and what do you know? He answers those sorts of prayers pretty often.

That’s the basic design of “watch and pray.” Pay attention to what’s on God’s heart. Talk with him about that thing until you know how to pray for it. Then pray for that thing that’s on God’s heart, in the way that God is showing you how to pray for it. Rinse and repeat. Spend time in that conversation, conversing about things that are on his heart. (You’ll be surprised how many of the things that are on your heart are on his heart, too.)

That will result in more answered prayers, of course. But it will also result in me knowing God’s heart better. It will result in me becoming more like him, knowing him more. And that is the very essence of the prayer he taught us to pray so long ago: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”

Watch and pray.

Pay attention. Notice. Talk about that. Pray that. Discuss that.

It’s all about relationship.

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* Matthew 26:41, Mark 13:33 & 14:38, and Luke 21:36



Be Holy. Be Healed.


The first words spoken in the Scriptures sound like a command to our Western way of hearing (1). We translate those two words (אוֹר הָיָה) as “Let there be light,” but  translating it “Light, be!” is perhaps more literal, though it feels odd to command light.

And that’s largely because it isn’t really a command in the “obey this rule” sense. Light didn’t even exist and it couldn’t obey a rule, not until God called it into existence. When God said, “Light, be!” he was releasing his power to create light, causing “reality” to conform to his will. It would be silly to expect the light to hear this as an agenda item, and to work hard (can you imagine light sweating, feeling guilty for failing?) to conform to the directive?

His words caused the thing he said to become reality. It was not reality until he said it. He did the same thing a few more times, and then he took a day off to reflect on his “very good” creation (2).

In the beginning God established the pattern: he commands a thing to “be” and suddenly, by the release of his power, it is. And it is good. This is the way God began this whole creation; this is the pattern he uses.

Years later, he speaks to a family he’s trying to adopt as his own (and just like in our day, there were lots of complications). He makes a similar statement to that family, releasing his power in them to accomplish what he was describing, but this time, they were terrified, and out of their fear, they interpreted his release of power as a directive (3), as a rule for them to obey.

“Be holy,” he said (4). And they tried. They sweat and made laws and practices (5) and did everything they knew to do. And they failed miserably. They failed because they tried to do in their human obedience what was released as a disbursal of heaven’s power. They did not receive the power, therefore they were not able to actually “be holy.”

A few millennia later, he did it again, this time while he was walking on the planet: he spoke several times in the same ways, releasing the same creative power.

Nearly a dozen times (6), he declared to various people, “Be healed!” He’s not telling people to live up to a standard of healed-ness, he’s not giving them a rule to obey. He’s releasing power. We get it, because we understand that we don’t generally have the power to “be healed” on our own, apart from the power of God.

Only twice (one woman literally caught in sin, one man with a history of brokenness and disappointment) (7), he released the power of God to remove the bondage of sin: “Sin no more,” he said. We make the silly mistake here of thinking that we can do this apart from God’s power (we cannot) (8), and therefore, we think this is a rule to follow (it is not), and we teach others, “You must be holy! God commands it!”

All of these statements were declared by the same person of the Godhead (“Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (9) ) and they followed the same pattern: it sounded like a command, but functionally, this is about the Creator God releasing his power to create the thing he speaks about, causing “reality” to conform to his will.

When the Godhead declares for something to “be” (whether it’s “be healed” or “be holy”) it’s not a commandment, not a rule. It’s a disbursement of his power, a declaration of our destiny. Our response is not to grunt and sweat and fail and then condemn ourselves for failing to do the impossible. That’s foolish. We cannot do what it takes the power of God to do (10). If I may say so, it is the Christians who think they can accomplish in their will what God has offered his power to  create, whose “gospel” is the least hopeful and the most ridden with condemnation: their “good news” has the least “good” in it.

When the Scriptures say, “Live this way,” it is a release of the power of God. Our job is not to make that word come about. Our job is to set our sights on that target and it is God’s job to pull the trigger, to release the power to accomplish that word. And that will only come about as he and I are one, are in actual unity.

And when a prophetic word declares, “This is your destiny,” it is a release of the power of God. Our job is not to make that word come about. Our job is to set our sights on that target and it is God’s job to pull the trigger, to release the power to accomplish that word. And that will only come about as he and I are one, are in actual unity.

When God speaks, it releases God’s power to accomplish what he’s saying. If he thinks I need his power to accomplish that task, then it is extreme arrogance to attempt it in my own will; the only greater arrogance is teaching others that they should live as I live.

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Footnotes:
1 Genesis 1:3
2 Genesis 1
3 Exodus 20:19
5 see Exodus through Deuteronomy
7 John 5:14 & 8:11
8 Romans 3:23 & 5:12
9 John 1:3
10 Mark 14:38, Romans 8:5-13, 1Corinthians 15:50, Galatians 2:20, 3:3, 5:16, etc.

If God is Love, Then....


Here’s an interesting exercise.

Scripture is clear: God is love (cf 1John 48&16). Not just friendship love, not just sexual love, but pure selfless love. The word used is “agape” with is describe as absolute, selfless love. God is absolute, selfless love.

So then, anywhere that the Bible discusses agape love, we can insert God there: because God IS love (not just “is loving”), then a definition of love must ipso facto be a definition of God.

Take the “Love Chapter” for example, 1 Corinthians 13.

The passage includes this definition:
“4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

And so we can describe God this way:

“4 God is patient, God is kind. He does not envy, He does not boast, He is not proud. 5 He does not dishonor others, He is not self-seeking, He is not easily angered, He keeps no record of wrongs. 6 God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

I rather like that way of thinking. God is love. This is what love is like. Therefore this is what my God is like.

Then I expanded my thinking.

We’ve been discussing hell in conversations on my wall. So I look at what this says about God, and I ask how that speaks to my understanding of hell.

This one caught me in particular: “He keeps no record of wrongs.”

He’d pulled that card on me some years back, as I was meditating on Revelation 20 (specifically v12). This passage is often called “The Great White Throne Judgment.”

I hate that term, not because it’s wrong, but because it carries so much baggage. We declare this is “The Great White Throne Judgment,”  and we think we understand that. So we stop asking questions, we stop learning.

Nevertheless, the verse in question says, “The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.”

It doesn’t say what that judgment is, but this judgment is not about hell or a lake of fire, for v15 says, “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” That’s a different judgment, apparently at a different time, and certainly judgment according to a different standard.

So as I was reflecting on what it meant to be “judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books,” Father spoke up. “Those books are not a complete record.”

Wait, what? Hmm. Well, the text certainly never says that the record is complete, only that there is a record.

He took me to 1 Corinthians 13:5, which says, “[Love] keeps no record of wrongs,” and patiently explained. “I keep no record of wrongs.” He went on. “This judgment is about rewards.” And he took me to 1 Corinthians 3:12-15. “Judgment is about rewards more than about punishment.” OK. I can see that.

But what about Revelation 20:15, those whose name is not in the Book of Life? This brought an interesting response. “Why are you so sure you know what the Book of Life really is. I’ve never defined it.”

Hmm. That’s true. [see https://nwp.link/BookOfLife]. OK. I’ll take that on out of the “Things I know” category and put it into the “Things I have some thoughts about” category.

By the way, a friend described that “lake of fire” judgment in a way that made sense to me: Matthew 25:41 is clear that this eternal fire is “prepared for the devil and his angels.” It was never prepared for humans.

And we assume (Scripture doesn’t say, as far as I can tell) that no demon, no angel of hell has its name in the Book of Life. That being the case, their destiny is that lake of fire. But that’s not our focus.

There are humans who have not yet let go of the demons that have haunted them, controlled them, who still cling to them. If they are unwilling to let go of their addiction to that demon that is thrown into the lake of fire, then those people will still be attached to the demon as it lands in the lake of fire. This is the result of a free will wielded unwisely.

And then my friend and I discuss whether God still loves these poor, bound, suffering people whose deception put them into a lake of fire? And we asked whether God would abandon them there, or whether his love would move him to keep wooing them in that hellacious place.

And we thought some more. What is God really like?

A Very Messy Narrow Way


I’ve been reflecting on something interesting recently.

I have some children, and now they have children. And of course, once upon a time, I was a young child myself.

All of these children have the experience of birth in common. A few children take the short cut: someone opens things up and brings them from a world of comfortable, constricted darkness into bright lights and loud noises and then spanks them on the butt. Terribly confusing.

But all the rest take the longer route: their world of comfortable, constricted darkness gets more and more crowded. Then the real pressure comes, and their world gets terribly tight, insane amounts of pressure.

And then suddenly all the pressure is gone, and we’re in this wide open space. This guy smacks us and somebody else scrubs us up, and then there’s all that cuddling.

But it’s never that tight, never that constricted, never that narrow a place ever again. We can do anything, we can go anywhere, though it might be a while before we master the right skills.

This is where these curious thoughts have been taking me:

My life in Christ is sort of like that. Somebody who knows what he’s talking about said, “Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life.”

For some reason, this reminds me of the birth process. Narrow is that gate, and difficult is that way which leads to life. And messy. It’s really messy.

But after the mess of birth, oooooh how much freedom. My world is never again that tight, never that constricted, never that narrow a place ever again. We can do anything, we can go anywhere, though it might be a while before we master the right skills to get around and to be less messy.

Yes, the gate into the Kingdom is narrow. And let’s be honest: it can be pretty messy, too. But once I’ve passed the gate, things in our life in the Kingdom are a whole lot less about “Thou Shalt Not,” than it is about “Ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

A lot of us have grown up with parents and preachers and other folks who have regularly slapped our hand and said, “Don’t touch!” or warned us not to try this thing or believe that thing. And there are some things that we should maybe not touch yet. Apparently I tried to drive my dad’s car when I was two, and had just crawled out of making mud pies. For some reason, that didn’t go over so well.

Yes, there are some things that we’re not ready for (don’t try to drive when you’re two). Yes, there are some things that would distract us from what’s best (don’t stuff yourself full of cookies just before dinner).

But all in all, there’s WAY more “yes and amen” than “do not touch” in the Kingdom of God.

Go forth. Explore. Discover your freedom.


Walking in The Woods: The Meaning of Life


One day I was walking in the woods, talking with God. Well, it was mostly me talking, but we were together, and it was a good day.

I started talking about some of the big questions. Why are we here? What is really the meaning of life? That kind of stuff. I was talking my way through some of these, and I’m afraid I was feeling a little like Ecclesiastes: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”

“So what is the real purpose of my life? There are lots of things I can do with my life but in terms of eternity, not so much. In terms of eternity, there are only a couple of things that I can really accomplish.

“In terms of eternity, I can know God. I can introduce others to know God. And I can raise my children to know God. And that’s about it. Nothing ever really changes.

“Then it starts all over again. They can know God, and they can introduce others to know God, and they can raise their children to know God. And that’s all. It never changes.”

And the earth shifted.

I felt a veil removed from my eyes, and suddenly, I saw Father in his secret place, it was like I was seeing him in his bedroom, in his intimate place, half dressed. I was almost embarrassed by the intimacy.

And with tears in his eyes, he looked at me, and said, “Yes. That's it. That’s exactly it.”

And I realized that this was exactly the way he wanted it to be.



Tambourines & Trumpets in Public Worship Meetings


This has been burning in me for a couple of weeks. I guess I’d better get it out. I’ll be as gentle as I can.

I get it that some folks like to worship physically. I get it that some folks believe that making a lot of noise makes their worship more meaningful or more powerful. And I truly understand wanting to get more deeply involved in worship.

Here’s the place I’m coming to: If you’re part of a group of people worshiping, then it’s not appropriate for your worship to be overwhelming the worship of the people around you.

And to that end tambourines and trumpets do not belong in a public worship gathering. The principle applies to things that we do in worship that over-ride or hinder the worship of others around us, but let’s use these as our focus.


Here’s the exception: If you’re part of the worship team, in unity with them, AND you’re really skilled, then there might be a place for those instruments.

But if you are regularly blaaaating your ram’s-horn when you feel the spirit move, then you are a disruption to unity, not a contributor.

And if you’re constantly banging your tambourine, regardless of whether you think you’re keeping the beat or not, you are a disruption to the unity of the group, not contributing to it.

There’s a bigger problem with tambourines, and I apologize, but I’m going to get a bit nerdly here.

Unless you are physically located on the stage with the band, your instrument is not physically ABLE to keep the beat that the band is keeping, and you will be (not “may” be) making their job substantially more difficult.

This is physics, folks: sound is slow. It takes time to travel from the stage to you. So when “the beat” leaves the stage, it takes time to travel to your location, dawdling along at a measly 343 meters per second: the farther you are from the stage, the more time it takes for the beat to reach you. The sound is delayed when it reaches you.

Let’s imagine that your tambourine playing is exactly perfect, and they strike their tambourine at the instant they hear the beat. They are still not striking their tambourine at the same time that the band is. They’re striking the beat after the sound has taken its time to reach them. That’s not the same time. They’re delayed in striking the tambourine, because of the delay that their beat took to reach you.

Then, of course, the sound from your tambourine – which is already the loudest thing in the audience – takes its sweet time moseying throughout the room. So that sister over there hears the beat from the band and then hears the beat from the tambourine at completely different times. Now she’s thrown off. This happens to pretty much everybody in the room that’s not standing right next to the rogue percussionist on the tambourine.

The worst part is by the time the band themselves hear the noise from your tambourine (and because it’s so loud, and its sound is so sharp and cutting, they will hear it), it is so far off the beat by the time that the sound reaches the stage – again because of physics – that now the delayed tambourine beat is competing with their beat. They cannot play their best with two out-of-sync percussionists fighting to lead.

If the drummer and the tambourine player are separated by more than 15’, the difference in the beat is noticeable and is distracting. That’s not opinion, that’s science. And if the distance is greater than that, it can be very difficult or impossible to lead worship in that space.

The saddest part of this is that the person playing the tambourine literally cannot recognize the havoc that they’re wreaking on the worship in that setting, because they are perhaps the only person in the room who cannot hear it. If you tell them that their playing is hindering the musicians or other worshippers, they’ll often not believe you and take great offense.

The net result of these instruments playing in a worship gathering is 1Corinthians 14:17: “You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified.” In many cases, you are giving thanks well enough, but everyone else is prevented from worshiping at all.

Does that mean I cannot worship with my trumpet or my tambourine? Not at all. But it might mean that you shouldn’t worship with them in public. Use them all you like in your secret place. But please do not bring them into the public gathering, unless you’re very, very skilled with it, and you are a member of the band, responding to the direction of the worship leader.

I have also been part of percussion events, where the goal of the whole thing is for everybody to be gathered around together banging away together. Some of those have been heavenly!

But in a community worship gathering, no, not so much.

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.”



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”!


Prophetic Flavor


When God speaks through a prophet, is the prophet experiencing God? Is the prophet speaking for God? Let’s assume ‘Yes,’ in the cases we’ll discuss today.

Now what language is that prophet speaking in? Which human language is she using to deliver the immediate message from the infinite heart of God to Earth?

Well now, that’s going to depend. The voice of God expressed in that prophetic word will generally come in the language that the prophet knows, and will always come in the language that those the Lord is speaking to know. Around here, that’s English. God speaks in English, specifically American English. With the ‘r’s included.

Why does God speak English? English is certainly not God’s first language. English is not the official language of Heaven. None of the Bible was actually written in English, it needed to be translated. When God became man and walked on this ball of dirt, he didn’t even speak English then. Why would God speak English?

Why wouldn’t he speak Latin? Latin is a good language for careful communication. Or German. German can handle a whole lot of ideas that English can’t. Why doesn’t God speak German?

You already figured that out. If God’s prophesying to me (or through me) God doesn’t use German because I don’t know German (yet). The reality is that God is more committed to the people to whom he is speaking than he is to the sterile, strict, legalistic communication of his words.

When he’s speaking to English speakers (such as myself), he is kind enough to speak in English. When he is addressing Germans, he speaks German. When he’s speaking to Imbongu tribes people of Papua New Guinea’s southern highlands, he speaks Imbongu to them.

In this, God is modifying his message because of the vessel he’s speaking through, and because of the limitations of the people he’s speaking to. He limits the infinite, omniscient thoughts of the Almighty to a message that a human can communicate, and another human can hear, understand and respond to.

It’s like all of infinity has just a little tiny pinhole to get through. So most of it doesn’t make it. Most of God’s infinite thoughts don’t make it through that pinhole to me. For example, I’ve never heard God talk to me about why he made Deneb, in the constellation Cygnus, as a stable blue-white star instead of a variable star like 9 Cephi [in the constellation Cepheus, of course]. For some reason, that information hasn’t made it through the translation from the vastness of Heaven’s knowledge to the realm of human knowledge.

God modifies his message in order to fit people better. Sometimes he speaks English, sometimes he speaks German, sometimes, he speaks Imbongu.

Another way to say that is that God modifies the way he reveals himself to us so that his infinite omnipotence doesn’t blow up our mortal little brain cases. Every experience we have of God is ‘toned down’ from the full-power of the Infinite Almighty.

More than that, it’s toned down in ways that speak to individuals. Like speaking in a human language, he also tones down visions and spiritual experiences. Jesus’ presentation of the Kingdom of God was much different to Mary Magdalene than his presentation to the Apostles, and both of those were different than his presentation to the Pharisees of the day.

So God limits what he shares, how much he shares, and how he shares it, based on who he’s sharing with.

But he also governs what he shares, how much he shares and how he shares it based on who he’s saying it through. Everything we hear God say through a prophet is flavored by that prophet, by that prophet’s language, by that prophet’s history with God.

Now, let’s go one step further. I think that God specifically chooses among available prophetic voices in order to find one whose particular flavor is pleasing to him about the topic he wants to communicate.

I can imagine God getting ready to deliver a word to a congregation, and he’s thinking, ‘I could send it through Shaniqua, because she’s got a great gift of mercy, and this is a tough word. Or I could use Digory because he’s ready to start giving public words. But I think I’ll use Ivanka this time; her mind is so logical and ordered that this word coming through her will be understood by Thomas over in the corner, and he’s the one that is the key to the whole thing. Besides, it’ll do Pastor Bob good to get a good word like this through someone like Ivanka!’

When you prophesy, don’t go out of your way to remove your own personality from the message. God counts on the messenger to flavor the message he’s distributing. And remember: God likes your flavor.


“I came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it…”


"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

That is pretty much the standard, go-to verse for people who want to convince you that you need to be in bondage to the Law like they are. Yeah, let’s look at that.

First of all, this statement is found in Matthew 5: Jesus is speaking to people under the Law. He is not speaking to New Covenant believers. He’s speaking in the language of folks under the Law, speaking to people under the Law, but he’s not reaffirming the Law.

Go look at it. Read all of Matthew 5. In that conversation, Jesus is not saying, “Be sure to obey the Law!” He’s saying, “The Law is only the starting point!”

Verse 17 is one example: “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” If you don’t do better than the people who do the law the best, it ain’t gonna get you into the Kingdom. That's what this whole sermon is about: the Kingdom.

Then he gets real serious. What follows is where Jesus deconstructs the Law. “You have heard it said, … but I say to you….” Five times he raises the bar above what the Law had required.

Then he goes on (Chapter 6 continues that sermon) explaining a better way. He doesn’t really talk about the Kingdom for a while, but he gets to it: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

That very sermon continues on through Chapter 7, too. He’s already dismissed the Law, the godly works of the old paradigm; now he dismisses the godly works of the new paradigm: “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’”

Yeah, that's not the goal either. "Depart from me, I never knew you."  It's about knowing him.

Then he finishes preaching wanders down the mountain and demonstrates his new Kingdom by healing the sick and teaching about the Kingdom.

OK. That’s our context. Now let’s look at that specific phrase, “I came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it…”.

Yes, Jesus fulfilled the Law. Now the Law is fulfilled. What does it mean when something is fulfilled?

My father fulfilled the mortgage on his house. Now that his mortgage has been fulfilled, that mortgage is obsolete, fulfilled, finished, powerless. That’s what “fulfilled” means. It’s done.

So, yes, ALL of the terms and conditions of the Old Covenant (for that's what the law is) are now obsolete, fulfilled, finished, powerless, now that the Old Covenant is dead and gone.

The Torah (the first five books of the Bible, containing the Law of the Old Covenant) is an interesting (and useful) history book. It tells the story of a covenant that God never wanted, and that never worked [Acts 15:10]. We can learn from their mistakes, and we ought to.

But it is completely without merit as a standard to live by today, if for no other reason than there is nobody, literally not one body, who is still part of the Old Covenant to which the Law applies.

People try to say, “But obeying the Torah (or at least the 10 Commandments) is good. It’s part of making us acceptable to God.

Balderdash! Obeying the Law is an obstacle, a stumbling block to us becoming acceptable to God. Obeying the Law in order to be acceptable is to throw his gift of grace back in his face.

I am so thankful that the Law has been fulfilled! This is such an excellent expression of God’s mercy!

You see, it is not even possible to obey the Torah in our day and age, and it hasn’t been possible for nearly twenty centuries.

A huge part of the law was the sacrificial system. And nowadays, there is no ark of the covenant (it was lost centuries ago), there is no tabernacle or temple (it was destroyed many centuries ago) with an altar to kill bulls and goat on. And James says, "For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all."

More importantly, there are no Levites left to offer those sacrifices to God. The Levites were the only ones whom the law allowed to do that. Even worse, there are no records of Levitical bloodlines, and without those records, nobody could minister if there was a temple. Those are gone, literally forever. 

All of the genealogical records (all of the documentation of who’s a Levite and who’s not) was destroyed when the Old Covenant was destroyed as the Temple was destroyed in the conquering of Jerusalem in the first century. [https://nwp.link/WikiAD70]  There are many parts of the law that cannot be obeyed now, and stumbling in one point of the law makes you guilty of the whole thing. No wonder it was destroyed.

Scripture predicted that the Old Covenant was going to be done away with and the temple would be destroyed [Hebrews 8:13] and Jesus described it in detail [Matthew 24] a full generation before it went down. Literally, not one stone was left on another. (And because of his warnings, the Christians - the only ones who believed his warnings - escaped that destruction.)

Paul summarized this whole law business quite nicely: “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” [Galatians 2:21] 

Does that mean that we live lives characterized by rebellion against the Law of the Old Covenant? Where the Old Covenant command was “Do not kill,” do we make murder our habit in order to avoid an old, dead Law?

You can hear how silly that sounds when we see it in black and white. No, we still don’t kill people. But that's not because of the obsolete rule book of a failed covenant that never applied to anybody but Israel anyway.

Rather, we don’t kill because we’re like Jesus and he doesn’t kill. We don’t kill because he’s teaching us to “love one another as I have loved you,” and murdering people isn’t actually very loving.

So throw off the lies that say, “You must live by the Torah! You must obey the Ten Commandments."

"Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the free woman.” Cast out the efforts to obey as the way to please God. There is no inheritance for you in that path.

Tuesday

Lessons on Giftings & Callings From an Unlikely Source


I learned some things recently, and it’s not exactly rocket science.

This fellow looks like an eighteenth century British scientist, kind of like Sir Isaac Newton. Both were knighted by the queen (different queens), and they’re both astrophysicists, but this fellow is way more well known than Newton, though not primarily for his astrophysics.

Sir Brian May is better know as the guitarist and co-founder of a band that the Guinness Book of Records says is literally more popular than the Beatles ever were. He’s also a Doctor of Astrophysics, a 3-D stereoscopic photographic authority and a passionate advocate and campaigner for animal rights. (https://brianmay.com/brian/biog.html)  

I was listening to a song he wrote in honor of a flippin’ spaceship of all things (it’s a wonderful song: https://youtu.be/j3Jm5POCAj8), when some interesting thoughts wandered by.

• Your reputation does not determine who you are, or what you get to do with your life. (There are exceptions.)

• Your gifts and skills, even your gifts, do not determine who you are or what you get to do with your life. (Though they may provide some limits.)

• If you have great skills in one area, don’t be afraid to use those skills. (Planet Rock rates May as the seventh greatest guitarist of all time. [https://nwp.link/2FvwYoa])

• If God blindsides you with success in an area, don’t be afraid of changing your path. (May was in the midst of his doctoral thesis on the Motions of Interplanetary Dust when his side gig, a band called Queen, suddenly found some success. He quit his studies to play guitar.)

• If you follow the blessing of God, don’t necessarily let go of your previous dreams. (After a 30-year break for rock-and-roll super-stardom, May finished his thesis, and got his PhD in 2007.)

• You can still follow other interests, too. Your job or your studies (or your ministry) is not your entire life. (May started a stereoscopic imaging publishing company, was a University chancellor for a few years, and was a collaborator with NASA for the New Horizons Pluto mission.)

My sense is that some people (I decline to comment about whether this includes myself or not) have sometimes felt, “Well, I have some gifting [or some success, or some training] here, I guess this is what I’m going to do with my life,” as if the gifts of God were a life sentence.

Stated in more blunt vocabulary, a lot of western believers seem to be awfully religious about their life choices, choosing a career because of religious expectations, or following a path of failure (of one sort or another) just because they see it as their religious “duty.”

I’m not saying your choices will lead you down an easy path. Most of God’s paths aren’t rosy: look at Jesus’ example. But if Jesus isn’t on the path, maybe you shouldn’t be either.

If you’re looking for Biblical support for this, consider how Jesus walked away from successful ministry (Luke 4:43), or how Paul bypassed part of the Great Commission for his ministry choices (compare Matthew 28:19’s commands with 1Corinthians 1:17).

Walk with Jesus. Know him well. Love him well. Then do what you want, what you feel you should do. Do what actually works for you.


Thursday

The Vengeance of God


Isaiah 61 begins, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor...”



This much is familiar to us. It’s the part that Jesus quoted when he began his public ministry (Luke 4). It was him announcing, “This is my job description for the next three and a half years. This is the what Messiah will be among you.”

But the statement He quotes from in Isaiah 61 goes on; Jesus actually stopped in the middle of a sentence. I don’t know how many sermons I’ve heard - and I agree with them - saying “That’s because it wasn’t yet time for the next part.” Which reads:

“...and the day of vengeance of our God, 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.”

We are clearly no longer in the days of Messiah, at least the days of his earthly ministry. I wonder if we’re now in the next bit, “the day of vengeance of our God.”

Look at how this verse defines the day of God’s vengeance. It continues on and describes God’s vengeance as:

¤ to comfort all who mourn,
¤ to provide for those who grieve in Zion,
¤ to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
¤ [to bestow on them] the oil of joy instead of mourning,
¤ [to bestow on them] a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

Resulting in:

¤ They will be called oaks of righteousness,
¤ [They will be called] the planting of the Lord.
¤ [They will be called] for the display of his splendor.

That is how Isaiah describes “the day of vengeance of our God”: comforting, providing for, blessing his victims, until they are firmly established and displaying his splendor.

Hmm. I  believe I’ve misunderstood God’s vengeance.

I had learned about vengeance from Romans 12:19, which tells me, “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.”

I’ve always interpreted this as, “Don’t you beat ‘em up and make ‘em pay. God can beat on ‘em far more severely than you can!”

That was my understanding of vengeance. It was the image of God as my hit man, so I didn’t need to dirty my hands (or dirty my soul). He’d do the dirty work for me.

If I was really honest, the idea that I’d always had modeled for me was “God save me and destroy my enemies!” And I rather adopted that idea too, not in so many words, but this was the worldview from which I prayed.

Yeah, I don’t think that’s right any more. That’s not what his vengeance is; where he’s leading us.

Rather, God appears to want to save me AND save my enemies! (What? He loves those idiots, too?)

Jesus stopped quoting Isaiah before he mentioned the vengeance of God. But that didn’t stop him preaching these values.

Everybody loved it when he quoted Isaiah and announced, “That’s right here, right now.” They all smiled and nodded and clapped politely.

But when he went on, things changed.

Seven verses later, Luke records, “They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff.”

That’s a pretty big attitude change. What pissed them off so badly?

I’m glad you asked. In between, he declared, “I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

He was preaching that God wanted to save Israel AND save the gentiles.

It angered the religious community then, and it seems to anger the religious community now. But that’s not my issue here.

My focus here is that this idea that God wants to save us AND save “them” too is far more consistent with God’s character than the idea that God iss our hit man, on duty to smite our enemies so we don’t need to dirty our hands.

I remember a verse from my youth (from when I used to focus on sin as I was presenting the “good news”): “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). That’s him saving his enemies.

I could go on. Now that I stop and think about it (and I’ve been thinking about this for months), I find the value all over Scripture, now that I’m beginning to be willing to see it.

But for now, I’m going to just make this statement:

The vengeance of God is not about  smiting my enemies. It’s about saving them, about blessing them with everything he’s blessing me with.