Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
In these passages, God’s telling us to focus our attention on stuff that – should we actually put our attention on them – we’d become “excellent” and “praiseworthy” in our character; we’d become Christ-like.
But regardless of the result, it’s still a command. “Do this.” “Think about such things.” “Fix your eyes on Jesus.”
· If God is really our provider, and that’s not just a religious saying, then why must we always worry about getting the very best price?
This is something Father and I have been talking about. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when he tests me on it.
I’ve been looking for a piece of equipment; my “to do list” has a hot link to a Craigslist search for the piece. And over the weekend some gave me some money, enough to buy the piece. And what do you know: there’s one for sale, exactly the sort that I’m looking for.
On the way there, Father & I discussed this. I decided that “the best deal” was not the goal, but “the best honor” was a better choice. I had a price in my mind – not sure why it was there – that was well below his asking price.
So looking at the equipment, he offered to sell it for less; in fact, it was the exact amount I had in my mind (and in my pocket). Imagine that.
But we tested it first. Oops. Not pretty. Needs new blades. He agreed and lowered his price again (I haven’t pushed him on price even once), this time to an odd number. I said no, and insisted on the next higher even number: all I had were $20 bills. He was happy with that.
I got home, tried to sharpen the blades on it: No go. Needs new blades.
Ordered blades from a little shop online. With shipping, that brings the total back up to the number that I had in my mind originally. And in my pocket.
What a funny process. But I think I learned some things here:
· I really CAN trust Father’s provision.
· Honor is more important than “the best” price.
· The path he takes me on may at times be circuitous. But it WILL be interesting.
That illustrates a key principle: what the end result looks like will probably be remarkably different than what we thought it would look like, what we still think it should look like. I think God does that on purpose, because if we saw the end result too clearly, we'd likely rely on our own skills to get there, rather than relying on walking with him to get there.
And “Faith,” it has been said, “is spelled R-I-S-K.”
It was a quiet day. I was a quiet evangelical man, doing my quiet evangelical duty: I was in the middle of my "quiet time" with God, something I did every morning, because that's what good evangelical men did.
I had dutifully read the appropriate chapter in the epistle I was working my way through, and had dutifully opened my journal to record my dutiful response when it happened.
"What would you do if I told you to go to Africa?"
I sat there, frozen; stunned.
First of all, God didn't speak to me. Didn't he know I was an evangelical?
But Africa? Don't be ridiculous. I hated Africa. It was filled with jungles and deserts and diseases and dirt. It was completely untidy.
Africa? Don't be ridiculous. What on earth would I do in Africa? I worked for a giant department store, selling fine china and luggage to wealthy residents of our community. I was painfully aware that these were skills that would not serve me well among lions and tigers and bears in Africa!
Africa? Don't be ridiculous. I had been taught - I had taught others - that God's direction always confirmed what was in your heart anyway. "He will give you the desires of your heart!" I had not one iota of desire for Africa.
But the question still hung there, in my soul, resonating. It had only been that "still small voice" that everybody talked about, but nobody (among my tidy evangelical friends) ever actually heard. The fact that the voice wasn't actually spoken into a marble cathedral did nothing to still its startling echo in my soul.
God asked me a question! Ohmigosh! WhatamIgoingtodo? (I had never known that it was possible to so completely panic while sitting quietly in my big "Papa chair" in a quiet house. This was a new experience.)
Ohmigosh! Ohmigosh! I have to answer him! Ohmigosh! What am I going to say?
It was (painfully, oh so painfully) clear to me that the one thing I could not say with any integrity was, "No, Lord." If nothing else, it's an oxymoron, but I was afraid if I told God "no" that I'd burn in heck for all eternity. (Dutiful evangelical men don't use that other, coarser word.) I couldn't say, "no."
But Oh! how I wanted to say no. I wanted to jump up on my comfortable chair, there in my comfortable living room, before I walked to my comfortable job in the comfortable store! I wanted to jump up and shout in God's face, "No! Not Africa! I won't go to Africa! You can't make me!"
But the problem was: he could make me. And besides, there's that "Lord" thing. You don't tell your Lord and King, "No." It's just not done. Especially, it's not done by dutiful evangelical men who dutifully tithe to their dutiful little churches.
I sat there, stewing in my own juices, until it was time to go to work, and I left God behind as I rushed out the door to go to work. I told myself that I needed to focus on selling fine Lenox and Wedgewood china, and fine Hartman leather luggage to fine local dowagers.
I didn't forget his question, try as I might. I very seldom pulled it out of the shadows and worked intentionally on it, but I knew it was always there, reverberating in my soul, waiting patiently for my submission, like a vulture waiting for me to die in the desert.
It took weeks, even months, for me to get fed up enough with the tension. One morning, I determined to face the cursed question head on. Let's do this! You’re going down, buddy!
I was out of bed before my alarm rang, teeth violently brushed, hair disheveled, and I slammed myself into that chair, and slammed my Bible and journal on the arm of the chair, and I addressed the One who had confronted me, me! with such an outlandish question!
His presence was there, and instantly, I cowered before him. A dutiful evangelical man does not get in God's face like that. What was I thinking?? It was all clear to me now. It was all over.
And as I cowered in my chair, alone in the dark room, I whimpered my submission. "OK, Lord. You win. I'll go wherever you send me. Even." I took a deep breath. I let it out slowly. "Even.." I shuddered. This was hard! You can do this! "Even.. . even Africa."
And now it all suddenly all relaxed. The pressure hadn’t been him, anyways. The war had never been with God; it had all been in my mind, and now it was gone.
But he wasn’t gone. I felt him waiting there, waiting for my attention. I gave it to him.
“Thank you.” I felt the words as much as heard them in my spirit. There was healing in his words.
“Thank you. Now go to Hawaii.”
And I kid you not: he sent us to live in Hawaii for a season.
And do you want to hear the funniest part? While we were living in Hawaii, a love for Africa began to grow inside me. And now I’m looking forward to the day that he really will send me to Africa.
Some will choose not to walk the roads, because there is danger there. But to fear to go in that direction because there is danger somewhere down that road, well, that's the mistake that the Pharisees made, and that didn't turn out so well for them.
Someone spoke of vomiting out lukewarm believers in Revelation. "I wish that you were hot or cold!" he said.
No thank you.
I will guard against error, against danger, of course. I trust my brothers and sisters to help guard me, as I help guard them. (Thank you for your help!)
But I will travel the road that my Father lays in front of me. If I fall, I fall, and I will get up and go on. But I will not be one who avoids the way my ever-loving Daddy has laid out before me, merely because it's dangerous. I trust him to help me travel this road. He has not promised that I would never fail; he has promised that he would never leave, and that he would provide all that I need. I can trust him.
Do you remember what Bilbo used to say: "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."
We must not hide indoors, simply because it's dangerous out there.
Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. (Mark 16:14)
So here’s the resurrected Creator Son of God, freshly back from kicking hell and death in the teeth, sitting down with the eleven survivors of his intense 3-year training. Functionally, this is their graduation ceremony: he’s just about to commission them to go into all the world and represent him. So what does he say to them?
He rebukes them! And he rebukes them, not for what they’ve done, but for what they’ve not done. So what is this big sin that they’ve done, big enough that it needs to take center stage at their graduation? It’s not believing the testimony of others who had seen him.
The previous verse is one example: the apostles didn’t believe the boys who had encountered Jesus on the Emmaus Road: two guys have an experience of Jesus that is both outside the apostles’ control and outside of their understanding of how Jesus does things. Naturally, they’re cautious about a couple of country bumpkins stumbling in well after dark, shouting, “I seen ‘im!”
They had already rejected the testimony of the ex-prostitute who first discovered his empty tomb. And after they had rejected these testimonies, Jesus appeared to them personally. Their reaction was marked by fear and unbelief.
I do not say this to my credit: I understand why the apostles didn’t believe. I know that place of emotional weariness, where I really don’t want one more strange person telling me one more strange experience; I just want to process the grief I’m overwhelmed with. And I know that place of pastoral caution, where I’m thinking violent thoughts about the next freak that feeds my sheep lousy food based on screwball experiences, and I’m about ready to pull an Indiana Jones on the guy. I understand why they didn’t receive the testimonies.
Jesus, however, is not so patient. He clearly expects better of them. He rebuked them for not believing the bumpkins and the ex-hooker.
Our translation doesn’t do justice to the Greek word “oneidizo,” which is being translated “rebuked” in this verse. Here are some of the definitions for the Greek word:
- to reproach someone, with the implication of that individual being evidently to blame.
- to speak disparagingly of a person in a manner which is not justified - 'to insult.'
- to upbraid, to throw it in one’s teeth.
- In a more literal translation, the same word is variously translated, denounce, insult, insulting, reproach, reproached, reviled.
If Jesus is that serious about it, I probably ought to be. I observe a couple of principles from this verse:
- The Head of the Church expects me to believe the testimony of experiences with God from disreputable people. Since Jesus’ birth was announced to shepherds and foreign astrologers, I guess we should not be surprised that he continues to use freaks and outsiders to tell his story.
- But freaks and outsiders have other stories to tell than just God’s story. There is nothing in this verse – or in the rest of Scripture, as far as I can tell – that suggests that we need to believe every story. We still need to discern. We still need to eat the meat and spit out the bones.
- I don’t like this one: If I reject the (true) testimony of freaks, then I’ll not recognize him and his work when it’s my turn for a powerful experience with him. The boys rejected Mary’s testimony, rejected the bumpkins’ testimony; it’s my opinion that this rejection led to their unbelief and fear when Jesus interrupts their grief-filled dinner party later.
- But Jesus doesn’t leave them in that cold, scary place. He breaks into the party and corrects their mistake, which leads to:
- Learning to learn from others’ testimonies appears to be preparation for fulfilling the Great Commission; note that verse 15 follows 14 in the same conversation in Mark 16.
There’s a wonderful worship song that sings about “Take me into the Holy of Holies.”
I was in my quiet place, worshiping with this song this morning, giving voice to my desire to lay aside other things and draw close to him, and I was enjoying his tender response to me: I could feel his presence responding to my cry and snuggling close with me. Since I was in a public coffee shop, it was kinda weird, but who cares? God & I were connecting; when that happens, everything else is superfluous!
And in the middle of all of that, God interrupts our reverie together. “That’s Old Covenant. Aim higher.” There was no sense of condemnation or rebuke with his words, but a clear invitation to more.
Hunh? What? Um… Tell me more….
And he did. He began by pointing out that the whole imagery of the song is from the old covenant, from the Tabernacle of Moses and from the Temple of Solomon: the Holy of Holies was a kind of a secret room where one priest went, on one day out of the entire year, into the place that was supposed to hold God’s presence. The intent of the song is really good: “I want to be in your presence!” but the theology is weak, the goal is too low. The song is crying for God to take me to a place on earth, in a man-made, off-limits, structure, where God promised to put his presence from time to time. In fact, that’s kind of how we talk about God’s presence sometimes: kind of off-limits, hidden away, and sometimes we get access there on a special occasion.
He went on: “Why would you still want me to give you access to the special place on Earth when I’ve already given you access to my very presence in Heaven?” He was offering to upgrade my worship. By this time, I’m pretty excited. Yeah? Tell me more! Please!
- You’re aiming to enter a place on Earth I used to visit sometimes. I’m not like that; really, I never have been like that. I encourage you to come to the place in Heaven where I am always present.
- You’re asking me to do it for you. Don’t do that. I’ve already made the way available to you, any time you want! New Covenant is ‘Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.’ That’s what I want from you.
While we talked, he seemed to focus on the second point. When I was a child, it was really appropriate to ask my Mommy or Daddy to take me where I wanted to go. But I’m not a child any longer, he gently reminded me, and he’d rather relate to me as a mature son, as a co-heir of the
It’s not his job anymore, he explained, to bring me in. It’s my job to come in. The imagery was from my own life: my son has grown up and moved out and made his own home, and has his own responsibilities, but he’s always welcome in my home. If we’re going to visit together, it’s not my job to drive to his house, pick him up, bring him to my house and carry him through the front door. Let’s face it: that would be weird.
But that’s what I was asking God to do with me. I began to understand why he demurred.
I don’t know why, but I am often hesitant about intruding on others’ space. And I have friends that are freaked out by the thought of “taking trips to Heaven” to visit God. Yeah, that’s not commonly taught. But Father pointed out, “Jesus did it. He even talked about it. Interesting, isn’t it, that so few hear him say it.”
“No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man” – John 3:13
Apparently Jesus, in his private prayer times, would – in some way that is available to me – visit heaven. Oh wait, Paul did it. Enoch appeared to do it (He didn’t come back!). And it was kind of normal for John. There is precedent for this.
So I am feeling challenged, provoked, to upgrade my worship in 2011:
- I want to worship – at least some of the time – from Heaven, not from earth toward heaven. I’m seated there, I can do that.
- I want to worship as a mature son, not dependent on Him or others for my entry into his presence. I want my visits to be characterized by “coming boldly.”
- I want my life to be characterized by the fact that – while I’m walking around on the dirt down here – I’m also seated with Christ at the right hand of our Father’s throne: I’m also actually in heaven, while I’m on earth. I want that to infuse my life.
How will you upgrade your worship this year?
I've abandoned the vocabulary of "mountains and valleys" to describe the variations in the Christian life. It seems that the seasons (in my experience, maybe) are more of "seasons in the wilderness" and "seasons of fruitfulness." (Graham Cooke describes seasons of hiddenness and seasons of manifestation in a similar way.)
- Moses: Tried to fulfill his destiny, but it really didn’t work out, so he fled to the wilderness. Met God in a Burning Bush in the desert. Then he took three million people with him back into the wilderness, where he was led by pillar of fire/cloud for 40 years. When they got thirsty, he brought water from the rock. Twice! And they ate “What’s that?” (AKA “manna”) for supper every day for 14,600 nights! Moses is famous for making the “Tent of Meeting,” and later the tabernacle: the wilderness is where he learned how to do that, and more important, he learned how to hear God.
- David: He was anointed by God to be king, and immediately went back to tending sheep in the hills. He killed Goliath (using methods he learned in the wilderness with the sheep), served the king for a little while, and then fled to the wilderness when the king tried to kill him. There he learned how to encourage himself in the Lord, he wrote powerful & intimate Psalms, and he trained an army, and went raiding with them in order to kill Israel’s enemies and feed his friends.
- John the B: Luke 1:80: “And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to
.” He’s famous for eating grasshoppers, but in the wilderness, God taught him his assignment (forerunner for the Messiah) and how to recognize him. Israel
- Jesus: Jesus didn’t “flee,” but Mark 1:12 says, “the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness.” Of course, it follows up with Luke 4:14: “Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to
Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region.” Something good happened to him out there.
- Apostle Paul: Here’s another guy that tried to walk out his calling, but ended up fleeing for his life into the wilderness where he was trained by God. 2 Corinthians 12: describes part of what happened there: “I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— how he was caught up into
Paradiseand heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” He later taught doctrine both from the Old Testament and from the revelation he acquired in the wilderness (for example, 1 Corinthians 11:23).
The end of the age will involve Jesus doing some things and it involves the Church doing some things. If the Church will focus on the person of Jesus rather than that part of the work that is His responsibility - if instead we will focus on doing the things that are OUR responsibility - then the work will be done sooner, and better, than it has been over the past couple of millennia.