Showing posts with label Bible. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bible. Show all posts

Thursday

Collateral Damage From Someone Else's Errors

In Genesis 14, the king of Sodom and some other kings went out to war, to oppose an invading horde that was conquering the region.
 
They lost, so the conquering horde plundered the cities of the losing kings. Sodom was plundered by the invaders: the riches (“goods”) of the town, and they hauled off the people to be their slaves.
 
As part of their plundering, they carried off Abraham’s nephew Lot, who lived some distance away from the cities in the valley. 

Abraham gathered up his own army, drawing heavily on his employees and friends, and defeated the invading horde that had just conquered and plundered the valley.
 
I’ve read this story (1) a thousand times. This morning, some new thoughts crossed my mind.
 
Lot was not part of the war, but he was taken in the plundering anyway. I’m feeling Father inviting me to look at the war going on around me: is it my war, or am I being plundered because of someone else’s war?
 
• Uncle Abraham wasn’t trying to rescue five kings and five cities. He was rescuing his nephew (2). It also happens that we experience breakthrough as a side-effect of someone else’s breakthrough. Those might be worth looking for, too.
 
• I observe that Abraham’s relationships based on relationship, rather than on gathering for warfare. (3) (They were “allies”; Hebrew: “Men of covenant.”) At least in this situation, the covenant relationship seemed to contribute to the victory in battle over what appeared to be superior forces.
 
• That happened to Lot a second time a few chapters later, but this time (thanks to Uncle Abraham’s prayers), the angels chased Lot & his family out of the city before the city was destroyed. This time, Lot was nearly destroyed by the consequences of someone else’s sins (4).
 
• When Sodom & Gomorrah were destroyed, that was “Because the outcry against [them] is great.” It was in direct response to somebody’s crying out over the city. (5)  The things we say about a city will have great consequences. In this vein, I’m tired of folks cursing New York, Washington DC and San Francisco. Personally, I guard my mouth against even casually saying things that, if taken literally, would result in “stealing killing and destruction;” that’s someone else’s job and I WILL NOT help him. (5½)
 
• It was Abraham’s prayers for the people of Sodom & Gomorrah that spared Lot & his family. I suspect that if he’d had the nerve to keep going, he could have averted the entire judgment, but that is only conjecture. Clearly God does look for people to cry for mercy. (6) It’s probably good to be one of the people that cry for mercy. God goes out of his way to find these folks.
 
 
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Footnotes
(1) https://www.blueletterbible.org/tools/MultiVerse.cfm?s=000Mbf
 
(2) Genesis 14:14
 
(3) Genesis 14:13
 
(4) Genesis 19:15
 
(5) see also: https://bit.ly/2Tvx7hb
 
(5½)  John 10:10
 
(6) Ge 18:23-33. See also Exodus 32:10-14; Ezekiel 22:30; Isaiah 59:16; Jeremiah 5:1; Psalm 106.23
 
 
 
 
 

Some Ways of God's Provision in the Desert

Point One: God has proven himself to be a skiled planner. If you look at the remarkable number (hundreds!) of advance plans (sometimes called prophecies) that he prepared in advance of his Messiah’s appearance on earth, details as far back as Genesis 3, you realize that God has some mad skills at planning ahead.
 
Point Two: God is good. That’s not negotiable. God is always (always!) in favor of his kids, always working for our good.
 
Point Three: In Exodus, God is pretty badass. His plagues confront the Egyptian “gods” and show them to be powerless. Then he leads a couple of million people out of slavery right on the schedule he had announced several centuries earlier.
 
And here’s where my ears seriously perk up.
 
God, the omniscient, omnipotent super-planner leads his people into the desert, famous for having neither food nor water. And what a surprise, the people have no water, no food.
 
So they complained. Like slaves do.
 
They wanted food (Exodus 16). So he fed them meat (quail: good eating!) in the evening, and bread (manna) the next morning (v12).
 
Then they complained about not having water (Exodus 17), and in the midst of their whining, they asked for water (v2). And God gave them water. He used a pretty epic miracle (v6) to do it, too.

And in these ways he provided for his children for forty years in the desert. (Hint: read Exodus again. What epic stories!)
 
We’ve all heard sermons about their complaining, and how that irritated God and really frustrated their leader, Moses. Reasonable lessons to draw from these stories.
 
I was talking to God the other day as we were going through Exodus. “You’re so good at planning. Why did you lead them into the desert without food or water?”
 
And suddenly, my mind was taken back to The Magician’s Nephew, CS Lewis’s book about the beginning of Narnia. Polly and Digory were on a mission for Aslan, the Christ figure, and they were hungry:
 
“Well, I do think someone might have arranged about our meals,” said Digory.
“I’m sure Aslan would have, if you’d asked him,” said Fledge.
“Wouldn’t he know without being asked?” said Polly.
“I’ve no doubt he would,” said the Horse. “But I’ve a sort of idea he likes to be asked.”
 
And Father whispered to me, “I wanted them to ask me, so I could answer them.”
 
I realized that God was training them how to come to him to meet their needs: his goal is relationship, a relationship of trust.
 
Someone smart once said, “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.” God works on our behalf to teach us that faith, how to relate to him in faith.
 
He’s good that way.
 
 
  

The Ministry of the Winnowing Fork

John said of Jesus: “His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” [Matthew 3]

I used to think of this – I was taught to think of this – as a description of the judgment of people, the “turn or burn” kind of statement. It was often included in evangelistic threats... er... sermons. “Raise your hand or face unquenchable fire!” Ick.
 
I don’t think that way any more. I’m not saying there is no judgment of individuals; clearly there is (though we’ve misunderstood it most of the time).
 
But wheat is produce, it’s fruit. This is talking about what we produce, the fruit we bear. This isn’t Revelation 20, it’s 1Corinthians 3:12-15.
 
In fact, I don’t think this is something to run from; I don’t think this is a threat. This is an offer of help. This is priceless.
 
I can’t speak for you, but for myself, I have to admit that there’s stuff in my life that’s not helpful. There’s stuff that gets in my way, stuff that slows me down, stuff that distracts me. There’s chaff in my life. I’m OK with that being removed from me.
 
And one of the earliest and most foundational descriptions of Jesus is all about that: keeping the good, the nourishing, getting rid of the useless, the distraction.
 
And if I think about it, that’s the essence of Jesus’ first sermon: “Repent [change how you think], for the Kingdom of God is within reach.” Get rid of the thinking that keeps the Kingdom out of reach. Hmm.
 
Invitation: if you feel like it, invite Jesus to point out chaff in your life, in your memories, in your values, in your ways of thinking. And invite him to take his winnowing fork to you, and to remove those things.
 
And trust him to do it kindly. Cuz that’s who he is.

Examples of Mystical Experiences in Scripture

I’ve been thinking about whether it’s reasonable to ask whether  mystical experiences should be normal for Christians. So I dug deeper into the Bible to see more of what the Bible has to say about them.

I was raised to think these were foreign to Christianity, contrary to the Bible, and were only experienced by people oppressed by demonic influences.
 
It turns out that our heroes in the Bible experienced some pretty significant “mystical experiences”:
 
• Daniel, Peter and Paul experienced trances. (1)
 
• Jesus and Paul took day trips to Heaven. (2)
 
• Folks burst out prophesying unwillingly (3)
 
• Philip, Jesus & Elijah were transported from one location to another (4)
 
• Visions were common for God’s people throughout the Bible. (5)
 
• Many people had God appear to them in a dream. (6)
 
• Many people heard the audible voice of God. (7)
 
• How many people in the bible had encounters with angels? (8)
 
• I’m reminded of people who walked with God (9)
 
These are just the easy ones to find. How many people experienced his comfort, his presence, whether in their souls or in their natural senses. How many believers have had conversations with God, been given knowledge or instructions by God.
 
“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.” [Jesus, in John 14:2]
 
“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” [Paul, in 1Corinthians 11:1]
 
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” [Paul, in 2Timothy 3:16-17]
 
I’m thinking that we should be learning from the example of Scripture and stop fearing “mystical” or other supernatural experiences and maybe even embrace them. We can be confident that these experiences are indeed Biblical. We are indwelt by a supernatural God who loves mystery, after all.
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Footnotes:
1.      Daniel 8:18, 10:9; Acts 10:10; Acts 22:17; 2Corinthians 12:2.
2.      John 3:13; 2Corinthians 12:2
3.      1Samuel 10:11, 19:24; Numbers 11:27
4.      Acts 8:39, 40; John 8:59, 12:3; 1Kings 18:12
5.      Genesis 15:1; Psalm 89:19; Isaiah 1:1, 6:1-10; Matthew 17:9; Luke 24:23; Acts 10:3, 10:11-17; Revelation 1:12ff
6.      Numbers 12:6; 1Kings 3:5; Matthew 1:20, 2:12, 2:13, 2:19,
7.      Exodus 3:5; Deuteronomy 4:33; 1 Samuel 3:4-11; Mathew 3:17; Mark 9:7; Acts 9:4; Revelation 1:10, 4:1
8.      Genesis 21:17; 2Kings 1:15; 1Chronicles 21:30; Matthew 1:20, 28:5; Luke 1:13, 1:30, 2:10
9.      Genesis 3:8, 5:24, 6:9; Micah 6:8, 2Corinthians 6:16

Tuesday

Scripture Interpreting Scripture: Eternity

You know how some things are better when they’re together? There’s more goodness when the right things come together. Cookies & milk are like that. Red wine & good cheese. Garlic & onion.

I always enjoy finding new combinations of things that belong together, that I had never considered together before. Sometimes that happens to me with Scripture. This is called letting Scripture interpret Scripture, and it’s known to be a good way to interpret the Bible.

When two or three passages are put together, sometimes they mean more than they did when they were apart. And since “all Scripture is God breathed, and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” we can be confident that it’s a legitimate use of the Bible to use all of it for teaching or correcting our understanding of God.

For example, consider Romans 8:38-39: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

That’s kind of a big statement. It’s basically just a big list of stuff that cannot separate us from the love of God. There’s a lot of comfort in those verses.

Recently, two of the items on the list stood out to me: the first one (“death”) and the last one (“nor anything else in all creation”) also cannot separate us from the love of God. That’s a big deal.

And as I was reflecting on how we can’t be separated from God’s love by death or nothing else, another verse drifted through my mind. (It had my Father’s fingerprints on it.)

“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” [Revelation 21:8]

Wait, what? If death can’t separate me from the love of God, then the second death, the “fiery lake of burning sulfur” cannot separate me from the love of God.

But wait, there’s more! recently, God has been speaking to me through John 12:32, so let’s bring that one into the mix. “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” How many people is he drawing to himself? It doesn’t say, “I will draw some people,” or “many people” or “144,000 people” to himself. It says “all.” Whoa.

It also does not say, “I might draw” all people to himself. It says, “I will draw,” and we studied that word to discover it was indeed a forceful drawing, like drawing a sword, or drawing a bow, or drawing a boat up onto the shore. “All” is a big word.

We can certainly argue that the promise of Romans might be only for believers; I know because I’ve done it, trying to make God exclusive. But God isn’t terribly exclusive (though his people certainly are), which makes that application difficult. Possible, but difficult.

And we can certainly argue that the warning of Revelation only apply to unbelievers; I used to teach that too, though if I’m honest, I know believers who fit every one of those qualifiers for the fiery lake, which kind of messes up that argument.

But John’s verse, now that little word “all” throws a pretty epic wrench in that whole “us vs. them” thinking.

So here’s where this whole line of thinking leads me: if there are people in the lake of fire, then the love of God is there with them, right there in the fire with them, doing what the love of God does: drawing people to Jesus.

That’s an unnerving conclusion. At this point, I cannot set this down as “What I Believe.” I can’t say that I’m confident this conclusion is an accurate representation of God (though I’m pretty confident that my previous beliefs were drivel and malarkey, only suitable for fertilizing the tomatoes).

All I’m saying is that if the whole Bible is true (and it is), if all scripture is God breathed (and it is), then I need to consider this carefully, seriously, in the light of the “whole counsel of God,” [Acts 20:27] and also in light of “the exact representation of [God’s] nature” [Hebrews 1:3].

My tentative conclusion is that God is not nearly so interested in smiting as we’ve tended to think he was. No, let me say it another way: God sure appears to be way more committed to the people he loves, and I think that might be everybody.

I think I’ve believed too little of him.

Thursday

Rethinking What God Drawing Us Actually Means


I’ve been looking at how the Bible uses the Greek word, ἕλκω, helkō. It’s an interesting word. Fundamentally, it’s about “to draw by inward power, lead, impel.”

Here is the word in use:

• He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to *haul* the net in because of the large number of fish. [John 21:6]

• When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and *dragged* them into the marketplace to face the authorities. [Acts 16:19]

• The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they *dragged* him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut. [Acts 21:30]

• But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are *dragging* you into court? [James 1:6]

• Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, *drew* it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. [John 18:10a]

Pretty forceful word, isn’t it?

Think about these examples, the force that’s involved. These are all involving a fair bit of force,
aren’t they? Yanking people or things from where they were to someplace else, without their participation. Interesting. . .

Think about who is wielding the power in these sentences; who’s making things happen here?

Now buckle your seat belt. Let me draw your attention to the ONLY other verses that use this same word that’s used for “haul” and “dragged” above:

• “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will *draw* all people to myself.” [John 12:32]

• “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me *draws* them, and I will raise them up at the last day.” [John 6:44]

I’ve always looked at this statement as if Jesus were talking about gently wooing folks, like warm and fuzzy marketing campaign, or like a young mother with a toddler. “Come on, all people, you can do this! Here we go! Upsy daisy!”

But that’s not the word used here. The word used here is a forceful word. It’s the word that is used in every other situation to describe yanking people or things from where they were to someplace else, without their participation, without asking their permission.

I’ve always been a huge supporter of the idea of free will: God gave us a mighty gift when he gave us free will. But these statements remind me of how powerful God’s pursuit of us is.

I think this might change how I pray some. I might be asking Father to helkō some folks, rather than just gently persuading them.


What Makes You Married?

Here’s an awkward question: what constitutes a marriage?

The Bible has lots of wisdom about how to make your marriage good, and a fair bit of discussion about whether marriage is the right choice.

But it never says, “This is what you do to become married.”

I know how people get married in my culture: there’s a marriage license from the state. You involve either a preacher or a judge or officiant of some kind. There are some vows, and a declaration of some sort. But not one of those is in the Bible, either as instruction or by example.

From a Biblical perspective, how do you actually become married? What do you do that makes you a married person now, instead of a single person?

I had reason to search this out a while ago. A good friend of mine, a person of faith, had begun to share a household with a woman he cared deeply about. That happens a lot, yes, and maybe we’re too quick to judge. I’m becoming convinced that being a Christian is more about loving people than judging them, so I focused on loving them, and not judging them, even in my mind.

And I saw things I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

The first thing I saw was that they had clearly chosen this relationship, and this was a relationship of love, not of convenience, not of sex, not of whatever.

Beautiful Wedding Couple, Bride And Groom Holding Hands Looking Stock Photo - Image of lovers ...Over the weeks and months that I knew them, I realized how committed they were to that relationship. They’d never done a ceremony, so nobody had asked them the traditional question, but I watched them live it out: “Do you promise to love her, comfort her, honor and keep her for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, and forsaking all others, be faithful only to her, for as long as you both shall live?”

They did that well.

In fact, I had to acknowledge that their relationship was a better illustration of what I think a marriage should be like than an awful lot of couples I knew that had gotten the license and the preacher and the service.

I had to confess that this confused me.

I couldn’t, in good conscience, refer to her as “your girlfriend,” because there was so much more than that in that relationship. Made-up terms like “significant other” or “partner” felt, well… made up, insufficient to describe this relationship.

Honestly, the word that fit was “your wife,” because that’s what she was in his life. Except that she wasn’t.

I was more confused now than before.

So I searched the scriptures. The question that drove me was “What is it that makes a couple ‘husband and wife’?” And the scriptures were remarkably silent on the topic. People got married all the time, and it talked about marriage all the time, but what they did to become married was never discussed. Genesis 29 shows a glimpse, but no more than a glimpse.

So the best I can come up with from the Bible is four components of creating a marriage. If you’re going to get married, as I see it in the example of the Bible (it’s not even mentioned in the teaching), you apparently have to do four things.

1) You have to make some sort of public statement. “We’re getting married” seems like it should be enough. In other words, this is something you declare in your community, not something you go off privately or do secretly.

2) Apparently, you have a party. There’s a bunch of people, they eat and drink and celebrate. If Jesus is around, apparently there will be good wine (see John 2).

3) You go to bed together.

4) Then you live together; you make a household.

I can’t find any more than these four in Scripture, which tells me that the other 99% of what we do in American culture is cultural: the best man, the bridesmaids, the ceremony, the “officiant” (whether preacher or justice of the peace), the certificate, the honeymoon. All of that is mere fluff. Some of it’s nice fluff, but it’s not part of what gets the deed done.


So I didn’t make a big deal out of it, but I began referring to my aforementioned friends using the word “husband” and “wife” where it felt appropriate. At one point, I explained that they did a better job of marriage than a lot of officially-married couples I knew, and we moved on. In other words, I blessed them in their relationship.

Some months later, he pulled me aside while we were all hanging out together. “So… would you like to do a marriage ceremony?” There was much rejoicing, a little bit of planning.

A few months later, in a gathering of their friends in the back yard, they spoke out loud the commitment that they’d been walking out for years.

Then we had a party.

More Thoughts on Job and His Sorry Friends

The more time I spend with Job, the more I’m impressed, both with the man and with the lessons that his book teaches me.

He started out as the richest, most influential man in the area. He was a godly man, and his godliness cam naturally; it wasn’t a performance.

Then disaster struck and took “everything he [had]” from him. What a mess. You can’t help but feel sorry for the guy.

Job starts out whining and feeling sorry for himself. His focus began as “Why God? Why me?”

Forty chapters later, Job still didn’t have the answers to that question, but he stood in respect of God rather than in accusation of God.

God’s response to Job’s “Why?” questions was essentially, “Son, this is above your pay grade.” I infer (and it is an inference; the Book doesn’t say it outright) that essentially Job didn’t know enough for the real answer to his “Why” question make any sense. I that’s true for me sometimes, too.

This morning, a couple of thoughts stick with me from Job:

• I find myself wondering if it would be wiser to bypass the self-pity and “accusing God” stage and just skip to the end: “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted…. My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore … I repent.”

Still chewing on that one. I’m not sure that’s actually a real-world option when you’re actually in the thick of it. But it would have saved Job so much pain had he been able to go there. Which leads me to the next observation:

• When satan took “everything he [had],” he didn’t take Job’s three self-righteous friends with the funny names (“Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite”). And listening to how they were “helping” Job, I can understand why: they were part of his trials, not part of him getting over his trials. Their “counsel” was part of why it took Job so long to actually connect with God.

I have decided I don’t want to be one of that kind of friend any more.

Literal or Metaphor

I’ve found myself coming back over and over to Jesus’ conversation with Nick at night in John 3. I have realized something new about Nick’s communication, how it differed from Jesus’ communication, how that difference got in the way of Nick understanding what Jesus was saying, and how often I’ve done the same thing. made that same mistake, and not merely once or twice.

Here’s the passage:

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him." Jesus replied, "Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again." "How can someone be born when they are old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother's womb to be born!" Jesus answered, "Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.'  [John 3:1-7]

Recently I realized that Jesus was speaking metaphorically, while Nick – not understanding metaphor – was trying to understand his words literally. No wonder Nick had such trouble figuring Jesus out.

“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?” [verse 10]

Then I recognized that those two facts are related: Nick did not understand how Jesus was teaching because he was Israel’s teacher: because he spent his days studying the scriptures. He approached scripture very literally, and that literal way of interacting with the scriptures kept him from understanding what God was doing right in front of him.

That has been me often enough. I’ve approached scripture so terribly literally that I have misunderstood my Father who speaks literally sometimes and metaphorically sometimes. I’ve prided myself for not being afraid to interpret scripture literally, and yet that very literalist approach has often kept me from seeing, from understanding what God was doing in me, right in front of me.

Because God does not always speak literally.

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. 



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.

Odd thought just crossed my mind. Romans 5 is happening, or something like it.
 
We’re sure seeing a lot of the works of darkness revealed over the past several months: riots in the streets, bad people, bad plans and bad actions are caught. (Keep praying along that they’d be revealed, of course. And brought to justice.)
 
But then there’s Romans 5:
• Romans 5:10: For if, while we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
 
• Romans 5:15: But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!
 
• Romans 5:17: For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
 
• Romans 5:20b: But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.
 
The principle that I think I might be hearing is this: if we’re seeing the works of dark spirits, how much more will the Holy Spirit be accessible to us in that time and place?
 

My suggestion: in this dark season, look for the light. Snuggle close to the Light, whatever that means for you. In more religious terms (there’s a place for them): press into the Holy Spirit, open yourself to him (transparency, or “seek him with all your heart”), and keep eyes and ears open for revelation.
 
I think we’ll find him willing to share his heart with us. And I’ll bet you a shiny new nickel that it’s kind of a whole lot more encouraging than the sewage the spirits of darkness are spreading around.
 
Note: I believe that the revelation will come in unfamiliar form, perhaps in hard-to-recognize form. It may be in unusual coincidences, or stray thoughts in your imagination, or casual conversation. I was overwhelmed by Holy Spirit speaking about our days in a Marvel movie the other night. Keep your eyes open.
 
Where sin abounds (and isn’t it abounding now?), Grace (God’s power, God’s direction) much more abounds. 

Friday

Do Not Think That I Came to Destroy the Law or the Prophets

I’ve run into several people recently who quote Matthew 5:17, and use that to say that the OT Law is still valid. 

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” [MT 5:17]
 
They’re saying “Fulfilled means it’s still valid. You’re still obligated.”
 
Others say, “No, Fulfilled means it’s done, it’s concluded. It did its job, and now it’s over.”
 
So I thought, Let’s see how that word is used in other places in the Bible. That should give us an idea of what it means here.
 
So here’s a list. This is just part of the New Testament list, but the Old Testament use of the word is similar. (See the links to the full list in the footnotes)
 
Suggestion: For each verse, ask: “Does ‘fulfilled’ mean ‘It’s still in power; you’re still obligated’? or does ‘fulfilled’ mean ‘It’s done, concluded, and here’s the result’?”
 
Mat 2:15
where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
 
Mat 2:17
Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
 
Mat 2:23
and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.
 
Mat 13:14
In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “ ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
 
Mat 13:35
So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”
 
Mat 26:54
But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”
 
Mat 26:56
But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
 
Mat 27:9
Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel,
 
Mar 13:4
“Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”
 
Mar 14:49
Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.”
 
Luk 1:1
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us,
 
Luk 1:38
“I am the Lord's servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
 
Luk 4:21
He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
 
Luk 18:31
Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.
 
Luk 21:24
They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
 
Luk 22:37
It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors'; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”
 
Luk 24:44
He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
 
Jhn 17:12
While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.
 
Jhn 18:9
This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”
 
Jhn 19:24
“Let's not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let's decide by lot who will get it.” This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said, “They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” So this is what the soldiers did.
 
Jhn 19:28
Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”
 
Jhn 19:36
These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,”
 
Act 1:16
and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus.
 
Act 3:18
But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer.
 
Act 13:27
The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath.
 
Act 13:33
he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: “ ‘You are my son; today I have become your father.'
 
Act 23:1
Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.”
 
--
Which is it?
 
Still in power; still obligated?
 
or
 
It’s done, concluded, finished?
 
-----
So here’s a list.
This is just part of the New Testament list (whole NT list: http://bit.ly/1MbLMaf),
but the Old Testament use of the word (whole OT list: http://bit.ly/1MbLMqF) is similar.
 

Thursday

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.


My children were born for such a time as this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You were born for such a time as this.


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.





“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.

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.