Showing posts with label change. Show all posts
Showing posts with label change. Show all posts

Thursday

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.





Tuesday

Audacious Prayer


Conversation, even online conversation, is a useful tool for discovering what’s in the heart, discovering what you’ve begun to believe that you didn’t realize you believed. These are some of the best conversations in my world.

Recently, I’ve been conversing about audacious prayers, “crazy prayers” with some good folks, and I realized some things that I have begun to believe.

I’ve been burned badly by “crazy prayers,” my crazy prayers, that I’ve prayed which were not actually on the heart of my Father. He graciously answered them anyway. It took the better part of a decade to recover from one of them. His grace, his kindness during that season were overwhelming.

And I’ve prayed some “crazy prayers” (for things I frankly did NOT even believe at the time) because he said to, which he then answered. Some of these completely revolutionized my life and my family’s life, and others changed the shape of my neighborhood, my city.

As a result, I’m all for “crazy prayers” that are in His heart – whether they were in his heart to begin with and I just figured it out, or whether they started in my heart, and he’s supporting my free will. But if I don’t find them in Father’s heart, I’m pretty gun-shy about what I’m asking for, what I’m speaking about.

I believe I’ve come to this: the more audacious the prayer, the more I need to have confidence that it is in my Father’s heart before I speak them out.

But if I hear these things from him, if I find even the most audacious, the craziest prayers reflecting his heart, then yeah, let’s do this! 



Thursday

Are We Mere Men?


I’ve been struck by how much vitriol and, well, hatred that there is toward certain congressional leaders among Christians. I’m struck by how much vitriol and, well, hatred that there is toward President Trump among other Christians.  

I’m actually quite disappointed in how free Christians are about telling the world of their hatred for various leaders in Washington.

Let me hurriedly add that I have no great love for their political shenanigans! I abhor their apparent willful dismantling of the American constitution. I can see why so many American patriots have such hatred toward them.

But Christians? Really?

I get that we care about what’s going on with our country. I get it that icky things are being revealed.  And believe me, I understand that what has been going on with our country over the past several years is pretty bad, about as bad as anything since the Boston Tea Party. I get that.

And I also get that we want to vent our frustration about what’s going on, and our frustration about our political powerlessness.

But this is not how sons and daughters of the Kingdom of God express themselves.

I find myself thinking of 1 Corinthians 3:3: “For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?”

“Mere men.” What an indictment. But it appears to be a pretty accurate description of so *many* of the angry, hateful, disrespectful comments I’m hearing from Christians, that I’m seeing posted on Christians’ walls. “Mere men.”

Mere men are people who are swayed more by the news media, than they are by the Word of God. I can tell, because the Word of God tells me to “love without hypocrisy” (Romans 12:9) and that our love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:7) We’re not “bearing” or “enduring” all that well right now, are we?

Then after all that, the Book, the Word of God, our Orders from Heaven, gets even more direct: "I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people-- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness." (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

This is how sons and daughters of the Kingdom respond.

Politically, we are pretty powerless. But that’s on purpose: we are not primarily a political people. We are born to be a people who live from heaven, toward Earth, who walk in a body among the physical and political places and events of this planet, but fundamentally, the reality is that our primary reality is being seated in Heaven, seated with the Son of God, sharing his throne, at the right hand of the Father’s throne.

Fundamentally, the power we wield is not *supposed* to be merely human. The power that we are born to wield is the power of the Kingdom we’re born into: the power of Heaven. The power that will halt and reverse the damage done by various administrations, various congresses is wielded by the means of prayer: by “petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people-- for presidents and all those in authority.”

We are a prophetic people, but it’s not legit prophecy to declare what’s wrong and how mad we are about it. That’s the work of “mere men.” That’s submitting to the principalities of this world. Outrage demonstrates our failure.

Our prophetic calling is to call out the solution – which nobody else can even see – to the problem – which nobody needs help seeing. Our calling is to draw resources from Heaven and implement them on earth. To implement them in the House and the Senate and the White House in Washington DC. To implement them in the schools and businesses and news organizations in our communities.

Our calling is to be the fulfillment of “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”

Now let’s see if we can go beyond being “mere men" 

– Nor'west Prophetic

Wednesday

What is a Tidal Wave, really?


I grew up within driving distance of the ocean, and we made frequent trips. I love the pounding surf and the tide pools and the beaches and the delicious meals the ocean provides.

A couple of decades ago, I was walking along an unfamiliar beach during a storm, watching the rain’s effect on the sand, listening to the surf pounding behind me, when my attention was drawn over my shoulder. I turned and, not with my natural eyes, I saw a huge wave rise up from the surface of the sea. When it reached its mighty height, way above the sea, it stopped, like someone pressed pause.

The question came to me: “This is me. Shall it continue, or shall it stop? There will be damage.” The wave just waited for my answer.

I thought for a moment; this was not an every-day experience for me. But I’d learned to trust my father, and he’d already said this was him.

“It shall continue,” I said, and it did. The wave rushed to the shore with a magnificent curl, and then far inland, miles inland, spilling over houses and shopping malls and government buildings. Then it receded, dragging a lot of dirt and detritus with it, leaving people stranded, separated, unstable.

That vision has shaped me for decades; I’ve anticipated “the move of God” as a wave, rising up from above the sea and crashing on the shores of “business as usual,” catching everyone unawares. Sometimes I’d refer to this vision as a tidal wave or a tsunami.

Many years later, a formidable earthquake struck just off the coast of Japan. It was a big deal. It was also my first experience, albeit only through the news, of an actual tsunami.

The tsunami did not act like I had always expected: a big wave coming in and splashing, and then receding like every other wave. Instead, this was more like the sea just rising, and rising, and rising. The wave just kept coming, and didn’t just recede after a few seconds like I’d always imagined.

The 2004 tsunami that devastated so much of Indonesia was like that as well. This time the sea did draw way out in preparation for the tidal wave, but then the wave came in, not like a wave, but like a tide, and it wiped a great deal of civilization off of the islands in its path.

Recently, I’ve begun to wonder if the move of God that I’m expecting (that we’re expecting) won’t be more like that: not so much a wave that passes through, has an effect, and then moves on, but more like an invasion, more like the tide rising.

Last night, a friend and I were talking about what God is up to in our day. As we talked, we realized that there is a rising tide of what God is doing among his people.

And as we talked, I realized that my ideas of the tidal wave of God’s involvement in our midst is not going to just be another wave, larger than the rest, washing us and moving on.

Those are fine, even good. But the thing on Father’s heart is more of a rising tide, a true tidal wave, that is already begun, bringing the water of his spirit, bringing refreshing, bringing devastation and destruction to an awful lot of “business as usual,” particularly among the church.

Suggestions for application:
• Pray for eyes to see what God is actually doing. It is not what the media – not the mainstream media, not the Christian media – is reporting.
• Press into what God is doing in order to find what your place in this tidal wave is. I figure I have the choice of whether to be among the devastation with my life destroyed by the wave, or among the first responders, speaking the words of life in the midst of the new move.
• Keep building relationships. When this fully lands, life won’t so much be found in jobs or possessions or church gatherings or places where we’re used to finding stability. Life will be found in real relationships.



Thursday

Reflections On American Political Candidates

Election Thoughts

This has been the strangest presidential election season I can remember, and I remember back to JFK in the 1960s. Fair warning this is going to appear really cynical, but stick with me to the end before you write me off. 

If nothing else, the campaigns of this political season have given us nearly endless material for sardonic memes and twisted humor. But our laughter is mostly sad, not humorous, and it’s without hope.

We can easily find a thousand reasons why Mr Trump is not fully qualified to be Chief Executive of America. And his opponents are right: he really is crass and thoughtless, maniacally egotistical and he lacks any political experience whatsoever.

And just as easily, we can find a thousand reasons why Ms Clinton is not fully qualified to be Chief Executive of the United States. And her adversaries are right: she really is power hungry, committed only to her own aspirations, and she lacks any experience whatsoever other than political experience.

There appear to be a small number of people who are honestly confident supporting one candidate or the other, and there probably are a few more who are so blindly loyal to their ideology that they could not conceive of not voting for the candidate of their favored political party. And I’ve met individuals who are convinced that it’s “God’s will” that whichever candidate they support should defeat the candidate that they demonize, and anyone who disagrees is obviously opposing God.

I find myself considering the two options in terms of which choice is less unthinkable. Would I despise myself less if I voted for Hillary to be my president, or would I forgive myself sooner if I cast my ballot for The Donald to be my president. I can’t decide.

I don’t think that’s a very good way to make decisions anyway: which would I hate myself less for, should I support them? Neither candidate is tolerable from my viewpoint.

Well then. If I don’t vote for the candidate, then perhaps I could vote for one party or the other.

But that doesn’t offer to help much either. One party says they support the business and economic foundation of our country, and that’s a good thing, and they speak about certain moral choices that I’m used to supporting. The other party says they support the social foundation for the country, and that’s a good thing, and they want to help people that can’t help themselves and I'm used to supporting that.

That’s what they say. But when I watch what they do, I observe that there’s not so much difference between the two parties. Both of them seem to have sold out their collective souls for campaign contributions and Political Action Committees. And certainly, both parties have let any opportunity to create actual change slip through their fingers, as they have both of them lined their own pockets, secured their own retirements, and exempted themselves from the rules they demand everyone else shall live under.

Worse, both parties in our two-party political system appear to be on somebody’s payroll, and it looks to me like they’re on the same somebody’s payroll. And if I look closely, it appears that this real power behind them, if I were judging by what their handsomely-paid minions actually accomplish, that someone seems to hate my country and despise my faith.

So I can’t, in clear conscience, vote for either party. More specifically, were I to vote for either party, for either candidate, it seems to me that I’d be completely wasting my vote. The “powers that be” would accomplish their own agenda, regardless of who sat in the oval office and took their orders.

Maybe I’ve been gazing into Heaven for too long, but the “halls of power” of this earth sure look pitiful and powerless to me recently. And it dawns on me that our electoral process serves the same purpose in our generation that the Coliseum served in Rome’s day: cheap entertainment for the masses, keeping them distracted from the real issues in the country, in the world.

All of this has led me to this strange thought: If casting my vote for Donald or Hillary is a wasted vote, a meaningless gesture, then is there something that I can do with my vote that is not a waste, that is instead meaningful?

When you begin to think outside the box, all sorts of opportunities begin to show themselves.

Here are some of my thoughts about what I could do instead of investing myself in a political process that revolves around choosing the less despicable of two despicable candidates for a increasingly powerless position. (Note that I am not saying that the presidency is “powerless,” merely that is it has less real power, less ability to effect real change, than it used to have.)

·         I could decide not to participate in the political charade at all, choosing to invest my time, money and energy into something useful. Perhaps I could pray, not so much for “my candidate” to win, but for the values of the Kingdom (love, for example, or humility) to be present in those who lead my nation or yours.

·         I might choose not to participate in the political process at all, choosing instead to invest that time, money and energy into something that brings peace, rather than supporting tension, division and outrage. Perhaps I could plant a garden, or begin volunteering at the food bank, or take a vacation, or teach someone to read, or sit with my family in the evenings. Maybe I could write a story or make pottery or just dig a hole and fill it back up again.

·         I could participate in the political process, but do it in a new and different way. Perhaps I could cast my vote for candidates not affiliated with the two main parties: it’s time we were done with the two-party system anyway. There are competent candidates from the Libertarian party and the Green party. Maybe it’s time to vote for them, since my vote would be meaningless if I squandered it on Donald or Hillary anyway.

·         I could ignore the national political scene altogether, and invest myself in my city’s government, or police force, or port commission or fire department or school board. Instead of being a tiny voice among millions of tiny voices shouting in favor of the despicable candidate or the unconscionable candidate, maybe I could be a real voice, maybe one that has a chance to actually get heard, in a much smaller and infinitely less-glamorous arena in my own neighborhood.

·         Instead of giving donations to candidates or committees or other political tomfoolery, perhaps I could give my money, and maybe even (gasp!) my time, to the local street mission, or to foreign missions, or to that business that’s trying to create jobs for the otherwise unemployable members of our society. 

·         Instead of participating in the time-honored tradition of blindly defending my candidate and pouring out my outrage on their opponent, perhaps I could choose to invest in words that heal, words that encourage. These could be distributed anywhere: public transportation, local businesses, local government. Some of these places – some of these people – haven’t heard a real “voice of reason” for longer than they can remember. Maybe I can be that voice of reason, or maybe I can aspire to be a voice of encouragement and hope.


I’m interested in your opinion – certainly not your opinion about candidates – but about how you could defy “the system,” how you could get out of “the box” and do something meaningful. 

The best part of the conversation will be on Facebook. Come join in.

The Fighter’s Regrets

Have you ever woken up with a song floating through the fog in your mind? Sometimes I think that’s just an echo of a dream or a memory, particularly if it’s a song I’ve heard or sung recently.

How about a song from your ancient history in your mind as you woke? I actually pay more attention to these; there’s less chance that it’s just my subconscious expressing itself.

I’d like to share one of these with you. You may find the process interesting, but I believe the lesson might apply to several of us.

Recently, I woke up with a song from my youth playing in my mind, and trust me, that’s from a long time ago. The song had nothing to do with the dream as far as I could tell, and I could only remember snippets of it – really only one phrase.

But that phrase kept replaying in my mind: that caught my attention. And as it replayed, my memory of the lyrics grew. This also suggested to me that this might be from God. So I spoke with Father about it, acknowledging that I thought he might be up to something; I asked for insight, and I paid attention as the memory of the song replayed and expanded in my mind.


Some themes began to stand out in the lyrics that kept playing in my memory. One of them definitely seemed to have the fragrance of my Father about it, so I meditated on that one. That is, I thought about it; I let it roll around in my mind to see what might come from it.

When my mind began to warm up (you know, I really appreciate the fact that God invented coffee!), I fired up Google and looked into it a bit more. And I realized that even after my memory had been playing it back for an hour or two, I had remembered only one verse out of five; the rest hadn’t come back to me, though those verses had actually been more important to me when the song was new.

Here’s the song: https://youtu.be/MYPJOCxSUFc. It’s called The Boxer, by Simon & Garfunkel. It was the last verse alone that spoke to me through the morning fog:

In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of every glove that laid him down
And cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
“I am leaving, I am leaving”
But the fighter still remains*

This verse had literally never made sense to me, but suddenly, there was a message in it for me.

It speaks to me, but I’d like to share it with you, because I suspect it might speak to other, too, and maybe that includes you.

I confess: I’m a man of fairly strong conviction. I stand up for those convictions, and it’s not inappropriate to say that I fight to maintain them. If I believe something to be true, I’ll fight to defend it.

Father gently pointed out that I, too, carry reminders of those fights, reminders, I suppose, every glove that laid me down or cut me till I cried out. I’ve paid a price to defend my convictions. Like the fighter in the song, the price has been paid in several areas of my life: in my memories, in my body carrying the stress, in the solitude that comes from having lost relationships.

Then he drew my attention to the fighter’s vow, and that I’ve made vows like that as well: “I am leaving, I am leaving” but I don’t leave. I remain. I still defend my beliefs, my convictions, and I’m still laid down and cut up sometimes. I’m still wounded from the fights that I am convinced are right and good. And they still bring the fruits of “anger and shame” into my life, just like they did in his.

(Didn’t someone say “You shall know them by their fruit”?  Hmmm....)

This is something that’s come partly from my character (I believe that standing up for “what is true” is important), partly from my youth (I was taught that truth is important and should be stood up for).

But this fight may have been fanned into the biggest flame from my years in Bible-believing churches. “This is what I believe to be true, so I must defend it at all costs.” We teach that, we believe that, in many evangelical churches, and while we defend different truths in denominational churches, we still defend them vigorously.

Think about how Christians respond when a movie comes that we don’t like out (remember Russell Crowe’s Noah?). Consider how Christians respond to “The Homosexual Agenda” or to political candidates, or to the abortion issue.

We’re taught to fight. And we do fight. Vigorously.

And let’s be honest. We don’t win these fights. Hollywood’s marketing now counts on “Christian outrage” as a publicity tool for their controversial movies, and they’re always right. Christians have not affected “The Homosexual Agenda” that we’ve stood against, abortion is still a very big business, and we’ve never once had an Evangelical believer in the Whitehouse, despite our fights on those issues.

The world knows: Christians are fighters. They don’t win, but they sure will fight. Behold how much they fight.

Father hasn’t been talking to me at this time about the issues in themselves. He’s only been using them to illustrate the fight, to illustrate the blows and the cuts that so many of us have taken in the fights.

Then he drew my attention to the refrain:

“Lie-la-lie. Lie-la-lie-lie-lie-lie-lie, Lie-la-lie
Lie-la-lie-lie-lie-lie-lie, lie-lie-lie-lie-lie.”*

Oh my. It’s right there. I’ve sung this haunting refrain with Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, and I never saw it: there’s a lie here, and the refrain rubs my nose in it. That’s a lie, lie lie!

There’s perhaps some room for discussing what the lie is. The song itself identifies one:

“He cried out
In his anger and his shame
“I am leaving, I am leaving”
But the fighter still remains.”*

And I’ve done that. I’ve declared that I’m quitting this fight. But I haven’t really done it. I’ve lied. I’ve gotten tired of being beaten up, tired of the anger, tired of the shame, and I’ve tried to quit the fight. And I’ve failed.

As Father comforted me in this, I realized that for a fighter, the fight is a choice. It’s an option, but only one of several options. I don’t actually need to fight.

As he held me and murmured his love for me, I realized that these are not fights that have helped me, or have helped the Kingdom, not even a little bit.

I occasionally have “won” a fight, but what was the result? Maybe I could say I won, that I defeated someone who believed differently. So what? Now they’ve been defeated, now they’re wounded, too. And now they resent me, and worse they resent my message, and they resent the truth that I fought for.

You know, I don’t think anybody’s ever been bullied into receiving the truth, have they? Oh, sure, we’ve bullied people into acting like they know the truth, but that’s just equipping them for hypocrisy. That’s not a win, not really, not for anybody.

For myself, I’m going to reflect on this for a while. I’m wondering if I might actually defend my beliefs better by walking them out than I would by fighting for them. I don’t know. I’ll think about it.

I may not need to be a fighter, alone in the clearing. I may not need to be laid down, cut open. I may not need to subject myself to the anger and shame.

The Kingdom is not about any of this, is it?

Lie la lie….

----

* From "The Boxer," by the American music duo Simon & Garfunkel from their fifth studio albumBridge over Troubled Water (1970) ©1969

Maximize Your Strengths

We all have strengths. It's more effective to make maximum use of our strengths rather than trying to turn weakness into strength.

There's a line of thinking in the western education system that has also influenced the western church that says if we're not good at something (say, math), then we need to develop our skills at math until it's one of our strengths, which necessarily means we don't work at our developing the areas that are already our strengths (say, writing), so they don't develop so much.

We tend to think that it’s best to be a pastor or a teacher, because that’s what we see modeled. But if that isn’t you, then you have a choice: either try to fake it, or be who you really are, even if it’s something that isn’t as well recognized.

Exercise your strengths.
Consider the Seattle Seahawks. Applying that line thinking would teach us that quarterback Russell Wilson needs to learn how to block a blitz from 275 pound linebackers, that defensive corner Richard Sherman needs to learn to learn how to function as a quietly confident offensive lineman, or that “Beast Mode” Marshawn Lynch, the best running back in the league, needs to develop his public media and publicity skills, and stop focusing so much on running the football.

That’s pretty ridiculous, isn’t it?

What took the Seahawks to the Superbowl twice recently was each member recognizing that they have a gift that is different that others' gifts, and each member developing their strength, and trusting others' strengths in places where they are not strong.

You've seen how Marshawn treasures his offensive linemen? He buys them gifts, sometimes expensive gifts, because they do very well what he cannot, and it makes the way for him to do (very well!) what they cannot.

Yeah, that's how it works. We don’t ignore the gifts we don’t have, but neither do we focus on them. It’s absolute foolishness to ignore the gift that God has given us in order to develop what someone thinks is a more important gift.

Don't be a copycat.
It never works, anyway.
If the gift is from Holy Spirit, it’s as valuable as He is (that’s kind of a big deal). If the gift is from skill or practice or sheer determination, instead of from the Holy Spirit, then it qualifies as “wood, hay or stubble,” and it will make a nice bonfire in the day or reckoning.

I’ve got more important things to do than prepare for Heaven’s bonfire. So do you.

Use the gifts God has given you, even if you don’t know another soul with those gifts. Be you! God doesn’t need copycats.

Outraged at Outrage

Our world, and especially our media, are obsessed with outrage. If we are outraged, others pay attention to us and join in the outrage. We feel empowered when we are outraged, like we are making a difference. We are deceived.

We all know what outrage is. Outrage is defined as “an extremely strong reaction of anger, shock, or indignation.”

Let's be outraged by the death of a wild animal. Let’s be outraged at the loss of our constitution. Let's be outraged about killing babies and selling their body parts to the highest bidder.

And the silliest of them all: Let's be outraged that people aren't outraged by what gets me outraged.

With the obvious exception of the last one, most current targets for outrage are legitimate issues, legitimate problems. And they deserve legitimate solutions. They deserve change.

The problem that I have with outrage is that it betrays us. Outrage lies to us.

First, outrage betrays us by pretending to be an appropriate response. It convinces us somehow it is socially conscious to feel powerful emotions, to shout at others with those powerful and controlling emotions, and to post snarky statements and memes online. And if I manage to get others to join me in my powerful emotions and snarky online posts, I’ve improved the world. That’s not actually change, is it?

Outrage betrays us by substituting bitter words and indignant feelings for actual action. I’m not saying the feelings are inappropriate or that strong feelings are an error. I will say that if the words are focused on finding fault or pointing out foolishness, that yes, I do consider that to be inappropriate.

But the reality is that as satisfying as those emotions and those witty memes are, they don’t change anything. There will be people who kill animals, people who abrogate constitutional rights, and people who kill babies in order to sell their body parts for profit. My powerful emotions won’t change that.

Outrage also betrays us, because it’s a tool being used to manipulate us. Talk show hosts and producers intentionally manipulate their content in order to entice outrage in their audience, so that they’ll remain a loyal and participative audience. Advertisers use outrage to sell you their products. Political groups use outrage to persuade you to fund their groups, but even more, they use outrage to direct your attention away from the things that they don’t want you to see. It’s this last one that really irritates me.

Yes, it is legitimately sad that a lion was killed somewhere in Africa. It’s sadder that the hunter who killed him is the target of so much hatred that his life, his family and his business have been destroyed. Personally, I find it saddest of all that more people get more upset about a dead animal than about the murdering-babies-and-selling-their-body-parts industry. I don’t think they deserve the same attention.

But that’s the success of outrage: there are people who support the business of killing babies, and they don’t want to be the focus of this much media attention, because then their secret might get out and their billions of dollars of income might be reduced a little. So let’s focus everybody’s outrage on an animal that was literally on the other side of the planet, in a nation that none of us has ever visited, and that was hunted and killed legally (at least by local law), and let’s get everybody to focus on that dead cat so they’ll stop asking questions about our profitable baby-murdering business.

And it’s working, isn’t it? (And it’s working so well that I’ll bet I get people outraged over the lion who defend their outrage in the comments.)

I'm really tired of outrage. I’m tired of being emotionally wound up. I’m tired of being manipulated by the purveyors of outrage. I’m tired of having others tell me what I should feel strongly about. I’m tired of reading snarky and self-serving accusations and character assassinations of people who think differently than we think they should. I’m tired of having complex issues reduced to black-and-white caricatures so that they produce increased outrage.

Forgive me, but I won't be participating in any outrage this week. Please don't be offended that I won’t be joining you in yours.

“So what could we do instead of willingly volunteering to be emotionally manipulated? Is there an alternative?” I’m so glad you asked. Yes, there are a number of responses to things-that-are-wrong other than mere outrage.

The most important first step, I suppose, is to decide which issues are worth your attention. Don’t let the news media or social media tell you what you should care about. You decide. Cheat if you want: its OK to pray about this decision. It’s an important one, partly because this decision is the beginning of you taking the control of your emotional responses away from those who have delighted in controlling your emotions for you.

Second, I recommend sorting your emotions out. What are you actually feeling, and why does this issue trigger those emotions? Which emotions are actually yours, and which have been sold to you by others? And listen to the emotions: what are they suggesting needs to be done?  I’m not saying “don’t feel emotions.” I am, however, saying “don’t stop with feeling emotions.”

I recommend asking the question, “Is this actually any of my business?” If it isn’t, then this isn’t the place for you to get involved, except perhaps by prayer. And some will argue that our prayer might be less effective in causes that are none of our business. But that’s none of my business, so I’ll move on.

And once you’ve decided that there is an issue worthy of your attention, then take action. Here I’d argue that prayer is an excellent first action to take, and that may be the extent of your action regarding this issue. If you go no further than to pray, then you can at least know that you’ve freed yourself from being manipulated by others for their own, possibly nefarious purposes, and you’ve brought God’s attention to the matter. That’s not insignificant at all.

And further action may be appropriate after you’ve prayed. I recommend considering where your greatest influence lies (Consider which of the Seven Mountains your influence reaches the most) and take action in that arena. But take thoughtful action, don’t just write or shout outraged words: leaders of industry, government, culture know that outraged words are meaningless, and they are generally ignored, if they don’t respond with attempts to further manipulate us with outrage.

This is my attempt to respond in a method other than outrage to what appears to me to be an outrageous error in our culture. This is my attempt to bring some attention to the actual problem (the futility of being emotionally manipulated by people who don’t have your best interest in their minds) and to offer an alternative (choose what to be moved by, and how to move in response).

So now it’s your choice. You can be outraged at my suggestions. Or you can actually make a difference. It’s up to you.



A Dream and its Sequel

May I share with you my dream, and its sequel? I’ve never been a big one for dreaming, and until this dream, I’d never, until this dream, received instruction in a dream.

The first dream: Many of us were on a large wooden ship. It was the size of a supertanker, but it was wooden. I don't know where it was going, and I don't think I ever did learn.

Below deck, on a very large deck, was a smaller ship: not a boat, a ship. As my wife was away, talking with crew or passengers, I was below decks, preparing that ship.

There were two things that were both heavy that I was loading up on. One was crowbars: not a "j" shape crowbar, but more of a "t" shaped crowbar. I loaded about 20 or 30 of them onto the smaller ship. I don't remember the other.

It seemed that I broke out a wall or a deck of the big ship in order to get the smaller ship out, and my wife showed up about that time to go with me. I woke up before we launched the smaller ship.

I had the dream during the time that I was enrolled in a dream interpretation class, so I shared it with my friends in the class. They agreed: The large ship is the Sunday Morning church, and truthfully, I didn’t really know where that was going. My small ship below decks was a heads up: God was calling me out of the established church into something more personal. The crowbars were preparation for me to help others into similar freedom.

What these good people didn’t know was that God had been calling me to do something I hadn’t done in nearly 50 years in the faith: to disengage from my local congregation, and to take responsibility for our own spiritual life, apart from a larger congregation: to become “unchurched.” It scared the stuffing out of me, which may be part of why Father affirmed it in a dream.

----- Interlude -----

Eighteen months later, I had left the Sunday Morning community, and my head was still spinning; this was something I’d never done before, something that I had regularly taught against, that I had prayed against. In that confusing season, I had the sequel to the dream, a dream that picked up right after the point the dream had ended.

In that dream, I had succeeded at launching the small ship out of the hole in the port side of the big ship. I watched as the big ship steamed on, unaware of our departure. When the great ship was out of sight over the horizon, I realized four things:

1) I suddenly saw my surroundings, and I realized that the only things I could see were waves. I had no idea where in the vast ocean I had departed from the great ship. I didn’t know where I was. I had no bearings.

2) Those waves had appeared as insignificant to the great ship. But now, in my small craft among them, they appeared much bigger. In fact, they were taller than our masts, though they did not threaten to capsize us. Suddenly, the waves captured a much greater portion of my attention; I was now far more aware of what was going on around me. (Note: both the sky and the waves were grey.)

3) I hadn't noticed this before. My small ship still had no sails up, and I'm not entirely convinced that I had sails on board. I had no means of moving, no means of steering my course. I was not anxious about that fact; in fact, in the dream, I was not attentive to it.

4) Everything was so quiet! I could hear everything: the seabirds, the waves slapping my ship, the wind in the rigging. 

As the dream ended, I realized that it perfectly represented my life in this season, where I was experiencing things I’d never experienced in my life before:

1) I was lost in a vast ocean: In truth, I didn’t actually know where I was in this great process that God is taking me through. I didn’t have any real reference points that mattered any more: experiential, social, psychological, theological. Everything was up in the air.

2) The waves appeared much bigger: There are issues around, issues that I never noticed before, that were now large and important to me. I had never really taken personal responsibility for my life and ministry before. Suddenly, I was aware of things God was emphasizing that I hadn’t even seen before. And now, I recognized gifts, particularly leadership gifts, on people outside of the traditional leadership positions, where I had never suspected them before.

3) I had no sails: It was absolutely clear that I now had no control over my life and ministry. I had no capacity to choose if I would be ministering, or where, or with whom. The most unusual opportunities kept opening up, and I had no control over them. 

4) Everything was so quiet: Without all the corporate noise in the background, suddenly, I was hearing Father’s voice so much clearer than ever before.

It was incredibly comforting to have Father re-affirm all that I was experiencing, to know that he had all this in hand. Even though it was new and unsettling for me, it was still completely in his hands.

I felt the need to share this experience (or this set of experiences) because I believe that there are others who are going through this kind of transition, or similar transitions. I want to say to you: Father knows what you’re going through, you can trust him. You can trust him to speak to you through dreams, and through your friends in the transition.


A Personal History with Unchurched Believers

I grew up in the church. Later, I met Jesus in another church during the Jesus People revolution. That was far more interesting than regular church!

For decades, after I’d graduated from Bible college, I got a real Bible education in a Bible-believing church. And I learned the importance of being part of a church, a local congregation. A campfire of only one log will quickly burn out; a campfire with many logs will burn long and hot: believers, I was carefully taught, belonged in the campfire with other believers, and that meant in a Sunday congregation.

Over the next few decades, as I worked as an associate pastor with several churches, and Father began giving me a heart for His children, and as I watched God’s children in churches grow up, I became more concerned for those children that didn’t have the advantage of a church family.  

I met a small number of disenfranchised believers in this season: men and women who were angry and bitter at the church, and sometimes at God, too. And I prayed more for believers who didn’t have a church to call home. I pitied them.

I remember one particular evening while I was praying for the unchurched believers. Father showed me two things about this group of people that I felt a burden for: First, there were more of them than I ever expected, and second, that he was going to do something – something that I call revival – among them. So I prayed for that revival! And I pitied them: lost sheep without a flock to call home.

I prayed for and pitied unchurched believers for years, and as I did, Father’s love for those poor people grew in my heart, fueling more prayer, and probably more pity as well.

One spring Saturday, a friend I respected held an event that I saw as a church service for people who didn’t fit in church real well. It was encouraging for several reasons, not least of which was that I wasn’t fitting real well in my own church at that time.

Unfortunately, when I returned home, I discovered I had left my jacket, with my wallet, behind, and I didn’t recognize it until I returned home, an hour’s drive away.

The next day, I brought a friend and a cell phone with me and drove back to the site of the event. It took more phone calls than I expected by finally someone was able to tell me that my jacket was probably with “Ken and Barbie,” well outside of town.  

Great. I really don’t need a Ken or a Barbie in my life right now: I don’t need pretend, doll-type people my life. It was only a Goodwill-type jacket; I considered giving it up for lost, but my wallet was in the jacket. I couldn’t give up my wallet; I guess I needed to go visit Ken and Barbie.

When I arrived at their well-worn farmhouse, I scratched my head: this wasn’t the type of house I expected for “Ken and Barbie” type people. We knocked cautiously and were greeted by one of the more un-doll-like men I’ve ever met. And I recognized as soon as we stepped inside the house that we were well and truly welcome. I described it later as a family reunion with family I didn’t know I had.

We spent four hours together with these wonderful and genuine people, hours spent sharing their hearts, our hearts, stories of our Father. I learned that Ken had been a pastor for a number of years, but made his living as a carpenter now. I realized that even though I was currently a Pastor, I wanted to be more like these people. So I asked what I always ask: “So what church are you guys part of?”

The silence was deafening as Ken and Barbie glanced at each other, and I could see the question in their eyes: “How much should we tell them?” Eventually they admitted that they hadn’t been in church for more than a decade, and they told me their story of how God led them from “churched” believers to “unchurched” believers.

Then they told me about several of the folks I’d met and appreciated the day before, including my friend the event coordinator, and how they had also made the transition from “the churched” to “the unchurched.”

I was in a conundrum: I had believed that believers ought to be part of a church, but here were a whole lot of believers that I wanted to be like, whose life I aspired to, believers who – contrary to my training and my expectations – were solid and mature, and who were pillars of strength in their families and their communities. Here were believers who did not have the “advantage” of a local congregation, who were better believers than those that I knew who had that advantage. My head was spinning.

I needed to re-examine a belief that I’d held as unquestionable, and it started me asking a lot of questions about things I’d never questioned. Let me just summarize by saying that this was an exciting season in my walk of faith, and skip to the part where God confronted me about the church I was part of, where I was the associate pastor, where I was on the worship team, and where I was one of the primary preachers on Sunday mornings.

“When are you going to stop working in another man’s field, and start working in your own?” I knew it was time to leave the church, to leave that church, and to leave the church community in my city. I questioned whether I was supposed to “plant” my own church, but realized that that was just a distraction: we were to become part of the “unchurched” community.

I had a couple of dreams in this season: one before we left, clearly describing our preparation for leaving, and the sequel, after we left, where he warned me of three things:

1)      I would be disoriented, not knowing where I was, or where to go. And
2)      I would be powerless to steer my life, anyway, even if I did have an idea about where to go. But
3)      I would be able to hear Father’s voice substantially better, now that I was outside of the busyness of church, better, perhaps, than ever before.

He was, of course, correct: these were accurate descriptions of our life. He brought some excellent fellowship into our lives, often into our living room, and nearly always centered around a meal. And I found excellent fellowship online, of all places! That one really surprised me!

Curiously, our fellowship is better now that we were “out of fellowship” with Sunday morning congregations. That one surprised me, too. We are still people with imperfections, and we are still in relationship with people with imperfections; there’s no perfection here. We still deal with misunderstandings and stuff. That’s part of life.

But our place in the Body of Christ is more of what it should always have been, now that we’re no longer part of a congregation: better friendships, less judged, more received for who we are, more free to exercise our God-given gifts. In other words: church outside of “Sunday morning church” has been a substantial improvement.

Now, let me explain: I’m not writing this in order to give you a model to follow, or a standard to measure your life by. I’m writing this only as a testimony: this is the confused and real-life experience that I had; perhaps it might encourage you wherever you are in your own walk.

And let me encourage you in this: God is very much able to take you through whatever you’re going through, and to bring you out the other side in extreme and overwhelming victory.


When Darkness Comes Into the Light

For a long time, I’ve been praying that the things that have been hidden in darkness would be revealed in the light. Many of you have been praying similar things.

I’m not stopping those prayers (please, don’t you stop either). But I’m adding to it: I’m praying that those that see the things drawn out into the light would recognize them, would understand them, and would take wise action based on what they recognize and understand.

There’s a lot of dark stuff going on in hidden places in our world. It has to: there’s so very much light increasing all around, that the darkness is not just where dark things are most comfortable, but now, that’s the only place where the dark things can survive.

As I pray these prayers, I expect hidden things in governments to be brought into the light and recognized. I expect people to recognize and condemn atrocities in the Middle East and in Asia. I expect that dark things in the medical community and the business world will be revealed, perhaps most especially where those two worlds overlap. As I pray, I expect that hidden things in the education systems will come to light and surprise many.

Demonic strongholds will be uncovered, and – if we’re attentive – torn down. Demonic plans will evaporate to dust. Sins and influences that have been hidden in darkness will be uncovered; some will scurry away to find more darkness, and others, unable to hide, will find their end when a Saint notices them and wields their sword of the Spirit on them.

But it won’t only happen “over there.” This trend toward disclosure will also happen “over here.” And it’s probably good that it does. There’s darkness in the Christian religious system as well, and if we’re violently honest, there’s probably a measure of darkness in most of our lives that we’ve completely lost track of.

I suppose these will come into the light as well.

But I also expect that we’ll see our hopes and desires come to light, and surprise many, even surprising ourselves. And it won’t just be us, it will be many people, shaking their heads, as if awakening from a dream, and marveling at the dreams and visions that are in their own hearts.

I expect that as we pray, we’ll see the “sons of God” emerge from their hidden place, and take their places in the Kingdom of God, and no, I don’t really know what that will look like.

And best of all, our Magnificent Bridegroom, who has been hidden by the weeds and distractions of the world will no longer be hidden. He will be seen as he really is, and as we see him, we’ll be transformed.

I look forward to walking in the fulfillment of these prayers. Would you care to join me? 

Mid-Course Correction Going On

If you’re an observer of the church, you’ll notice something interesting: God is leading the emerging generation of believers differently than the path the generation that’s finishing their race ran on.

Even now, if you ask about priorities for the people of God, believers in the “over 40” age group will talk about theology, and the need to have all the theology right. This group talks about the Bible as the authority, though they often live as though the Sunday sermon is the real authority. (Note: “over 40” is just an approximation: some 30-year-olds belong in this group, and some 60-year-olds belong in the other.)

But if you ask believers in the “under 40” age group the same question, they won’t mention theology. This group is more focused on “How can I change the world?” and they expect to refine their theology along the way. This group also regards the Bible highly; the Bible, interpreted by the Holy Spirit, not by the pastor’s sermon, is the real authority.

The curious thing is that the second group, rather than the first is actually more Biblical: this is the model used over and over in the Book of Acts: “He said preach the good news to the whole world! Let’s go preach somewhere that nobody else has preached yet.” In fact, it has been said that Apostle Paul’s method of being led by God was something of “bumbling around in the Spirit until something happened!”

Regardless of which group you find yourself in (I think of them as the “Get The Theology Right” group and the “Change the World” group), this is not suggesting to you that theology is not important. It is of critical importance. But theology is not more important – or more urgent – than obeying the Word.

As I’ve been reflecting on this, I realize that, being in the older age bracket, I’ve been assuming that the theological questions have been the right questions to ask. I’m changing that opinion.

Curiously, when given instructions by God to go do something (such as “Go into all the world and preach the good news of the gospel”), it is the servants who insist on getting the instructions exactly right. The response of sons of the Kingdom is more along the lines of “Hey, good idea. Grab the debit card and let’s go!”

Since many of us in the older group, who have valued theology so much, are finally understanding so much more about our status as sons, not as servants, and since we’re teaching the younger believers that they’re sons, not servants, I suppose we should not be surprised that they’re making the choices that sons make, rather than making the choices that servants make, as my generation has done (much to our embarrassment).

As I’m learning more about my identity as a son, not a servant (why did nobody tell me this decades ago???), I’m coming to value the perspective of the second group more. I admire their willingness to take risks, I admire their eagerness to follow God’s leadership, and I admire how much they’re getting done!
  
I’m going to think more carefully about how to continue my ministry before the Lord.




Too Much Talking. Not Enough Listening.

I need to speak (again) about things that I lack expertise on, and therefore about things wherein I am NOT an expert. This isn't so much about the issue, as it is about the process of addressing the issue. 

Recently, I posted about a revival I’m beginning to see in the homosexual community. One of the things that makes this subject hard to sort through (and yes, it happens on many other subjects as well) is that both sides are talking at the other, and neither side is trying to listen: it's polarizing an issue that doesn't need to be polarized, or not so much as it is getting. 

In that article (http://nwp.link/1A6zNVd), I attempted to avoid taking sides, because I’m trying to propose a better response: we need to love one another.

It's really interesting when I chose to step outside of the polarization, and declined to take one side or the other in this controversial topic. First, it's really hard to see the actual issues clearly through all the rhetoric. And second, when I declare myself (as I attempted to do with that article) as not on either side, then I get passionate emails from both sides, saying, "This is what I believe, and it's true!"

I received a pretty large number of messages of this sort from “both sides” of the issue, and they all pretty much assumed the same conclusion: “I’m right, so you must agree with me!” inferring, of course that “Anybody who sees this differently is deceived!” I was honored to be approached by both sides. I was disappointed that most of those approaches were attempts to convert me.

I deduce that since the two groups – both declaring that their viewpoint is true! – are declaring what are sometimes mutually exclusive opinions, it is conclusive that there is a measure of deception involved. And the odds are – as we are dealing with humans, here – that there is deception in both camps. (And the guys like me that are trying to stay out of either group – by virtue of our humanity – are NO less prone to imperfection than anyone else.) 

I've been walking with God and with his people for more than half a century, and one thing I've learned is that when everybody's insisting that they're right and the other guy is wrong, that’s not an environment where we can find a common ground. It's only when we quit telling others what they must believe, and start listening to what they DO believe, that we have any chance at all at finding a small place where we agree that we can start building some relationship. Besides, me telling you what you must believe is clearly not loving you. 

So here’s a challenge: if you have an opinion about the subject of Gay Christians, I challenge you to shut your mouth and listen to the other guys. I don’t care if you’ve got eleventeen Bible verses that conclusively prove that you’re right and they’re wrong, I maintain that shouting at someone about their wrongness will never encourage them to hear you, and that’s what we want: people actually hearing each other.

So I encourage us to stop talking on this topic, and listen to someone else’s point of view. And after you’ve listened, make sure you’ve heard them right (“I think I heard you say this… did I hear right?”) because we’re not used to hearing real people: we’re used to hearing out-of-context sound bites that our own side uses to prove the point you already believe. Both sides do this, and it’s normal. It’s also messed up.

After you’ve tested what you’ve heard, and you know you’ve heard them right, then still keep your mouth closed, and think about what they’ve said. Consider their heart. Consider the wounds they’ve endured from you and your friends (this has happened on both sides!). Consider that God loves them every bit as much as he loves you! And maybe, if you dare, consider asking God what HE thinks and how HE feels about those people who don’t agree with you. (If you can do this in less than a week, you haven’t done a good job.)

And one final challenge: Consider not telling others what you believe, until and unless someone has asked for your opinion. Then go out of your way to not alienate others. 

This is a place where Saint Francis’s sage advice is priceless: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” In other words, once you’ve demonstrated the good news of the gospel, once you’ve loved until it cost you more than you wanted to pay, once it’s become necessary (ie, they’ve asked), then consider the gentlest, most loving way to share how God has led you. And then listen some more.

I guarantee that Westboro Baptist won’t find you acceptable in this. And I guarantee you won’t get a smidgeon of support from the mainstream media: they both thrive on controversy, but controversy isn't actually our goal. 

But you'll hear Fathers heart better. And maybe you’ll make your Father (who loves both of you) smile.

And his smile is ALWAYS worth the price! Always.


The God Who Never Changes!


Every so often, usually when somebody is thinking outside the box, someone will quote the Bible that God doesn’t change, and then assert that we can’t change either. I got hit with that again this week.

We can’t think new things, because God doesn’t change, doncha know!

And there's some truth in that: God does declare, “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” (Malachi 3:6)

And the New Testament declares, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

Yep. It’s true that God doesn’t change. He’s the same forever.

But that doesn’t mean that change is ungodly. Think about it:

    That God who never changes is an unchangingly creative God!

    He is the One who declared, "Light, be!" when there was no light.

    He is the One who decided to create man in his own image, when there had never been anything created in God's image before.

    He is the One who proposed a covenant of intimate personal relationship (Ex 19:6) into a nation of slaves who knew no covenant, and who rejected his proposal outright (Ex 20:19).

    He is the One who put on human skin, who became a living, breathing, squalling, pooping part of his creation so that he could re-offer a covenant of intimate personal relationship.

    He is the One who is always creating something new, whether it’s manna in that generation or wine in this generation, or a new heaven and a new earth in this other generation. Or stars. Stars and planets before there were any generations.

    He is the One who has adopted us, changing us, removing our slavery to sin and hell and making us his own children, his own heirs, and his own friends.

So yeah: God never changes. He's always the same, always changing everything around him, always up to something new and different that we've never seen before, always creating new ways to bring people into his family.

This is the same God that declares, “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”  (Isa 43:19)

Yeah: THAT is the God who never changes. He never stops being good, he never stops loving you and me, he never changes who he is. That’s really good.

But please stop trying to tell us that new things are evil because God doesn’t change. God is the greatest source of new things this universe has ever seen!



The OTHER Benefit of the New Covenant

Our history with God is a history of covenants. Covenants between God and mankind. This is how the mighty Creator King and the human species relate: through a covenant.

We do it too. We’re up-front about it with marriage covenants, and more subtle about other covenants. There is a powerful – unwritten – parenting covenant: violate that one and society takes your children away from you.

Now hold still, I’m going to talk directly about covenant for a minute. Necessarily, I will engage in willful oversimplification of some details in order to illustrate my point: the actual situation is much more complicated than this simple explanation.

A covenant is a “promise to engage in or refrain from a specified action.” Covenants are how people agree to relate to each other. Covenant is how God relates to humanity.

Noah had a covenant. Abraham had a covenant. David had a covenant. But the Big One was the Mosaic Covenant, often called The Old Covenant.

The Old Covenant was kind of a failure in before it ever got going, of course. God proposed a covenant to the people of Israel that had a lot of the elements of our New Covenant in it. Before there even were the Ten Commandments, God offered Israel a covenant where every single person is a priest, every single person can come to God for himself or herself:

“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. ‘And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.” (Exodus 19:6-7)

“Kingdom of priests and a holy nation”? Twice in the book of Revelation, we’re described as “kings and priests unto our God” (1:6 & 5:10). God was offering that relationship to the Israelites four thousand years ago? (Can you imagine what the world would be like if we hadn’t had the last four thousand years of legalistic bondage? But I digress.)

But the people who were offered this intimate “everybody is a priest” relationship with God reject that offer in the very next chapter.

“Then they said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” (Exodus 20:19)

In the re-telling of it, it's even more clear:

“Go near and listen to all that the LORD our God says. Then tell us whatever the LORD our God tells you. We will listen and obey.” (Deuteronomy 5:27)

The people had rejected a “kingdom of priests” covenant, and propose a covenant that requires a priesthood, and is based on obedience. Neither the Levitical priesthood, nor an obey-the-rules covenant, was God’s idea!

And so the “everybody is a priest” covenant was put aside, and was replaced with a covenant based on the people’s obedience. Any covenant that’s based on obeying will necessarily have consequences for disobedience. Thus this is a covenant about blessings for obedience, and punishment (sometimes called “curses”) for disobeying.

Deuteronomy 28 functions as kind of a summary: You’ll be blessed when you obey, and you’ll be cursed (or punished) if you disobey. Verses 1 through 14 outline the blessings. The rest of the chapter talks about the punishment for disobeying, and it’s God that is charged with that punishment.

Frankly, that was a lousy covenant, it’s a poor substitute for God’s first proposal, but it’s a covenant! Even that poor replacement was better than no relationship at all between God and man!

We remember that the terms and conditions of the Old Covenant (which we call “The Law”) were intended to constrain the behavior of the humans in this covenant relationship. But we tend to forget that the Old Covenant constrained the behavior of BOTH parties of the Covenant: God had chosen to bind himself to the Old Covenant as well.’

So when we read in Deuteronomy 28 about “If you disobey, you’ll be punished.” Guess who the punisher has to be. Yeah, that’s God. He has bound himself to this busted-up covenant, because it’s better than no covenant – no relationship – whatsoever. Moreover, this was the only covenant that the people would agree to, so this was the covenant that he bound himself to.

And this covenant, proposed by fearful men, required that God punish (or “curse”) the people that he loves so very much, every time they disobey. (Seriously, go read Deuteronomy 29!)

Now let’s remember that there was a third party loose on the Earth, who was not a party to the covenant between God and man. Lucifer had already demonstrated his eagerness to accuse God at every opportunity (see Genesis 3:4-5). And he’s up to his old tricks here as well.

So every time the people disobeyed (and that happened so very often!) and God was required by the people’s busted-up covenant to punish them, Lucifer steps up to the microphone and declares, “Look how mean God is! Look how bloodthirsty he is! Look how angry God is!” completely ignoring the fact that God is merely complying with the conditions of the covenant that mankind offered him.

That’s a hot mess. I’ve oversimplified the story in this short article, but it’s easy to see the mess that the Old Covenant is: seriously, the only one who benefited from that debacle was Lucifer, and that’s not actually what we’re aiming for.

Now skip forward until Jesus is sitting in the Upper Room, where Jesus is offering – for the second time – a covenant of an “everybody is a priest” relationship between man and God: “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, 2 Corinthians 11:25.) But this time, the representatives (the twelve) accept the offer.

I still marvel at that cup, that biscuit. With that token meal, God removes us from the Old Covenant and makes us participants instead in the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:13 makes it clear: “In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete.”). And this is a covenant whose sole commandment (John 13:34) is to love each other.

What an amazing relief that is: in a single moment, these guys are plucked from a covenant of “If you obey, I’ll bless you; if you disobey, I’ll punish you!” and dropped into a Covenant of Love.

The seminal New Covenant verse, John 3:16, says it beautifully: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” And if that wasn’t clear enough, verse 17 clarifies that the New Covenant is not about punishment: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” What a relief that is!

All that is amazing, spectacular, and otherwise completely awesome.

But it is also only half of the story. The Old Covenant is made obsolete, and we are released from its bondage, but we were not the only ones held in bondage by it.

With the passing of the Old Covenant, God Himself is no longer constrained by the Law to provide blessings when people obey, like treats for a dog that sits when you tell him. More importantly, God is no longer constrained by the Law to bring punishment, curses, judgment on the people that he so desperately loves.

When the Old Covenant was replaced by the New Covenant, humanity could give a great, corporate sigh of relief. We’re no longer under the law, but now we’re under grace, under love.


But the greater relief may not be ours. In the New Covenant, God is now free to love us with all that is in his heart, as he has longed to do since the day he said, “Let us make man in our own image.” (Genesis 1:26). God is now free from the Old Covenant, and he’s more excited about it than we are. 

We are free. But more important, God Himself is free!