Showing posts with label relationship. Show all posts
Showing posts with label relationship. Show all posts

Thursday

How The Walks In The Woods Actually Worked


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


#Unfiltered


“Unfiltered” is sort of a thing right now.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If we’re willing.

Watch and Pray


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

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

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

Pay attention. Notice.

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

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

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

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

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

“Watch and pray.” Pay attention; notice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch and pray.

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

It’s all about relationship.

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



My Authority


Authority is always given, never taken.  That’s pretty much immutable.

Father could claim authority in my life in his role as my creator, but he doesn't. That's what free will is about: he gave me the right to choose whether he will actually be my Lord or not, and it’s a choice I need to keep making, not a one-time, set-it-and-forget-it choice.

Civil government assumes (correctly) my submission to its authority by virtue of the fact that I choose to make my home within the boundaries of its authority.

Nobody else has the right to claim authority over me, though some may claim power over me (e.g. incarceration).

I can and do choose to submit myself to other authorities in my world. I have submitted much of my will to my bride with the simple commitment, “I do.” I have a pastor (not in position, but in fact) to whom I submit this: I will always listen to his input, and take it seriously, but I do not delegate my decision-making (my will) to him.

Similarly, I have invited a few others to speak into my life, though not all of them know it. However, if someone assumes that they have authority in my life, that generally disqualifies them to speak into my life. If they insist, we’ll have a blunt conversation. I am the one responsible for me. Only I can exercise my own free will, regardless of theology or psychology or civil law. The best they can do is either a) counsel me on *how* they think I should make my choices, or they can make their own choices for how they will respond to my choices (e.g. if I drive drunk, they might choose to incarcerate me), but they cannot make my choices for me.


I’ve had a goodly number of folks come into my life for the sole purpose of assuming authority over my life and my choices. I used to submit to that process, but giving away my free will has never worked out well in my world. And it insults my beloved King if I despise (= “to treat as unimportant,” e.g. by giving away) his precious gift of free will.

In my opinion, this is one of the greater obstacles to the western Church, and one of the greatest problems in many western nations, particularly my own: individuals giving up their responsibility for our own lives, choices and circumstances. 

The current buzzword for the process of not taking responsibility for our free will is “entitlement,” and it’s a doozy. The sense of “It’s not my fault!” is pretty epic right now, and it’s often accompanied by either “…therefore someone should pay me for it!” or “…therefore I’m powerless!” or pretty often, both.

So much gets resolved when we merely accept responsibility to make our own free-will choices.





The Bible or Relationship?

I love the Bible.

I don't mean that metaphorically, this is literal: I love that book, I love those stories. Even more, I love the precious revelation of this relationship that I've been reborn into, the Story of Covenant.

However, I'm far more interested in hearing Holy Spirit speaking through the words than I'm interested in taking the words of the translators - skilled as they are - for my definitive final word.

Even if I could get past the translators, if I could have walked around with Peter and Paul and John and hear them, in their original language, share their experiences and counsel of their relationship with God, I'd still rather talk with God, face to face.

And I think He'd prefer that, too.

This is about a relationship, isn't it? A PERSONAL relationship, right? So the relationship with the person is the authoritative reference.

I am thankful for my marriage certificate. It tells me about a relationship that is precious to me. But I can tell you that I'd much rather curl up before the fireplace with the Lady named in that certificate, than with the certificate itself.

The certificate is valuable, priceless even. The Lady, and my relationship with her, is even more priceless.

The Exodus: a Memoir

Four months ago, we was all slaves in Egypt, building bricks for a living, seven days a week, from before dawn till after dark. Our slave lords were so very cruel that they made us kill the baby boys that were born, leaving a generation that was mostly women.

Three months ago, this shepherd guy shows up, speaking both Egyptian & Hebrew, and announcing that there was a god who cared about, and who said it’s time to leave Egypt. Seriously? Who cares for slaves, anyway?

That pissed off the slave lords of course, and they made our lives miserable for a while, but then things got kind of interesting. It was like the gods were even more pissed off at the slave lords. Nature was out of control: disaster after disaster beat on the whole slave lord nation.

Two months ago, the worst disaster: a whole lot of the slave lords’ children died in a single night. We smeared our huts with blood and had this weirdly symbolic meal, and they said that was why our kids didn’t die. Seriously? I mean, how does that work?

But the slave lords backed off, and the Egyptian shepherd guy – I guess his name is Moe –  said it was time to go, and then it got really interesting! The slave lords “loaned” us slaves their gold dishes and jewelry and stuff, and we left. There was a really big crowd of us. I never knew there were so many of us slaves there. And the sheep! That was a lot of sheep!

And we headed out of town, with Moe up there at the front like he was Charlton Heston or something, with his big brother walking next to him. We had some carts, but mostly, we was carrying our stuff, dragging our stuff behind.

There was this dust storm that always seemed to be at the front of the parade, but even freakier, every night, there was a firestorm boiling up in the middle of the camp. It was really weird, but it did keep us warm, seeing how we was camping in the wild, and we didn’t even have decent tents yet.

Then one day, we went through this wet place where I thought I’d seen an ocean the day before. Sure enough, there were still fish flopping in the mud, starfish and seaweed alongside the path, but they was rushing us so much, and I was carrying two kids and a sack with all their clothes and stuff, so I didn’t get to pay much attention.

When we got past that wet place and hiked up the hill on the other side, we stopped to rest, and I heard this huge crash of waves behind us. I looked around, and by golly, there was the ocean, right where we’d just hiked through. The funny thing was that there were dead men, dead horses, and what looked like chunks of the slave lords’ chariots floating in the waves. Somebody started singing, and it turned into a regular party.

Then it got real. Now we had an ocean full of dead bodies between us and civilization, and we were stuck in the outback and it didn’t seem like anybody knew what was going on. Some days, we hiked, some days we didn’t, and I never did understand why. I was more concerned with the fact that we had no tent, no food, not even a freaking water bottle for the kids! (We got busy right away, making tents from sheepskins and camel hair any anything else we could get our hands on, and making other camp stuff.)

The kids were crying, the sheep were dragging their tongues, we were all hot and tired all day, or cold and tired all night, and it was miserable. The bugs were thick, the food was scarce, and all that walking! A few days after the ocean incident, we found an oasis with some standing water, but it was polluted. I was so thirsty, we were all so thirsty, I got on my knees to get a drink, but I couldn’t do it: it stank, and there was bugs and crap in it.

So Moe throws a stick in the water and says, “OK, it’s all good. You can drink it now.” It was still kinda funky, but it wasn’t so bad as before, and the sheep really liked it. They just waded in and drank and drank. We got our water out of the other end of the pond.

And still we hiked. Oh,  how we hiked! And there was always that cloud bank during the daytime, and the fire storm at night. Pretty soon, folks was real eager to claim there spot in the middle of the camp where it was warmest at night, but it wasn’t so bad even at the edge of that huge campground where me and the boys camped and talked every night.

And it was in the desert, so food and water was always an issue. I don’t know which was weirder: the couple of times Moe got mad and whacked one of the rock outcroppings, and out pops a waterfall, or the fact that every morning, me and the boy’s would go out of the camp into the bush, and gather up rice or quinoa or something off the twigs and bushes and have that for breakfast. It was pretty good, kind of spicy sweet. We’d go gather it up every morning, and save some for lunch and dinner. Except Saturdays. It was never there on Saturdays, which was even weirder.

But the jostling for the best camp spaces got weird. Some folks wanted to be by the firestorm where it was warm, and others wanted to be at the edges, so they didn’t have to walk so far for breakfast. It seems that weird stuff was all we ever ate any more, and who can blame ‘em: slaves don’t know how to hunt, and we didn’t want to eat the sheep. They were pretty scrawny and disgusting sheep nowadays anyway, but we drank the milk, or mostly the little ones did.

And then we arrived here, camped around an active volcano. It’s been weird here. First, Moe’s family showed up from wherever it was they had been, then Moe formed some sort of committee of leaders while there. It looked like we were going to be nomads for a while. Better make more tents.


This is a scary god on a scary mountain.
But then Moe decided he needed to go climb that volcano, just as a storm was settling in over the mountain. We heard the thunder, but after a while, it sounded more like a thundering voice, and the voice was talking to Moe, and the voice was telling Moe what to say to the crowd, to us.

‘You have seen what I did to Egypt and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to me. If you will listen obediently to what I say and keep my covenant, out of all peoples you’ll be my special treasure. The whole Earth is mine to choose from, but you’re special: a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.’

We all heard the voice, and then Moe came and said the same thing to us, and we was all real excited! Us being a special treasure to a God who beats down slave lords, feeds us in the wilderness and makes a bonfire for us every night and breakfast for us every morning? What’s not to like about that, and me and the boys, and I guess just about everybody, told Moe, “Yeah, we’re all in on this!”

But we got thinking about it over night. This is also a God that killed the slave lords’ animals and crops and eventually some of their kids. This is a God that chases his “special treasure” into the desert and then leaves us there to starve, to die of thirst. This is the God that I guess lives in an active volcano, and damn, he’s scary. You know, the more me and the boys talked about it, the less excited we are about hearing this God talk to us, hold us accountable to some “covenant.” And stuff like us all being “priests,” or being “holy,” now that’s not for us.

Then we had this great idea: Maybe we can get the best of both worlds going on here? We’ll do the covenant thing, but we’ll make Moe go talk to the scary God in the volcano. He can be the priest, and he can tell us what the God wants us to do, and we’ll do what he says. More or less.

We can have a go-between! He’ll give us some token list of rules. Keep the rules, when it works out, and we’re on easy street. The God thrashes on any slave lords, and he keeps feeding us, and we don’t have to deal with the scary stuff!

What could go wrong with that? Right?


Saturday

Responding to this Election

There are maybe two primary kinds of people reacting with distress to the election results.

One kind is all about outrage. That outrage has occasionally been public and violent. There’s much evidence that at least some of the protests are paid events, staged for prime-time television, but the outrage is still real.

Many of the faces and voices in the media are outraged, of course, and in the halls of power. Some are willing to express it; others less so, hiding behind explanations and accusations.

The other, larger, and often younger population are nearly invisible, feeling wounded and betrayed. How could these neighbors whom I’ve trusted vote for such a hateful man and such a hateful agenda. They truly fear for their future, for their lives and well-being and those of their friends. Their fear – whether we understand it or not – is very real, their pain is real.

This is the group that I’m most concerned about.

Many of these are Millennials, the generation that is only now stepping into power. They are young enough that they don’t understand what this election was reacting against. And while they recognize that there’s bias in the media, they are still a media generation, and the media still speaks to them and for them.

If we wanted to alienate these good people, if we wanted to drive them away from us, from ever respecting us, then we should condescend to them, we should disrespect their fears and mock their pain. A number of Christians, a number of conservatives are doing exactly that.

And of course, Internet memes are good for this. And while a few are genuinely humorous and make us laugh, they drive a wedge deeper between people, and a thorn deeper into their hearts.

“But they’re believing a lie! I must convince them instead of the truth!” Balderdash. Do you remember the Bible-thumping trolls who haunt Facebook and other online communities, mercilessly wielding their version of Truth? Do you remember Westboro Baptist and their hate-fueled vitriol? This need to “convince them of the truth” is what motivates them. Don’t be like them.

Honestly, we don’t have the authority to speak truth to anyone until we’ve helped them deal with the pain they’re feeling. Have you ever noticed that whenever Jesus taught truth it was always in the context of healing their pain: healing the sick, driving out demons, raising the dead, multiplying food. The only exception was when he was talking privately with his disciples.

That’s a really good course of action: start with healing. We can heal supernaturally; that’s always good. We can heal through social means: food banks and street missions need our help in this season more than any other. We can heal through personal means, listening to their pain, and loving them eye-to-eye, heart to heart.

We can be Christians: we can be Christ to people.


Thursday

It’s Christmas Eve


It’s Christmas Eve. My home is filled with laughing children. My son is making something wonderful in the kitchen. My wife has forbidden any entry into the bedroom until the last few presents are wrapped. A video game is blaring in the living room, and power tools are finishing up a last-minute gift in the shop.

My home is a very busy place. And honestly, I love it.

But as much as this night is about family, it’s even more about a Birth. I stepped outside to visit with Father about it, to remember that Birth with Him.

Immediately, I had an image of Him, as eager as a grandchild would be, clapping happily, dancing from foot to foot: this is His Happy Dance!

For me, the laboring woman and her not-quite-husband are separated from me by twenty centuries. But as God is Lord of Time (among many other things), He is right this minute, dancing with joyful anticipation over this impending Birth.

God, being omniscient, knew of the failure of man in the Garden before He even spoke the words, “Let Us create man, in Our image…” Before he ever even scooped up mud and shaped it and prepared it to hold His Own breath, he knew that man would fail the test, would eat of the wrong tree, would submit to the wrong voice, and would be doomed to death.

But God, being the best in the universe at planning ahead, already knew that He, Himself, in the flesh and blood of humanity, would die a gruesome death in a backwater, occupied nation in the geographical armpit of that planet in order to establish a New Covenant with them. How he looked forward to that!

And He knew that before God could die for man, God would have to become a man. And this! He looked forward to this with such joy!
And tonight is the night!

The most patient Father that has ever existed has been eagerly, joyfully anticipating this night! This is the beginning of the Covenant that He’s longed for since the Garden: when he would have a nation of Kings and Priests who would know his Father’s heart and love Him as freely as He loves them!

The cross? That torture, that pain, that indescribable humiliation? That was nothing! Nothing! Less than nothing! He would pay ANY price for the privilege of whispering of his love to his wayward children. If there could have been a greater price that could ever have been paid, He would have paid it without hesitation for the children that He treasured above even His own eternal, omnipotent life!

And tonight is the night that it all began.

Tonight! As Mary is breathing hard and sweating heavily, as Joseph is wringing his hands and feeling nearly (but not quite) useless in the face of The Birth, God Himself is dancing with joy! Angels are ministering to the new mother and anxious dad, but God is laughing and jumping and shouting his joy to the heavens!

Tonight it begins. Tomorrow He gets to walk – well, to crawl first – among his wayward children! The beginning of the Via Dolorosa begins in this little, sweaty barn, on the unknown edge of a tiny, powerless nation. This is the beginning of walking among them, and even more, this is the beginning of setting them free from everything that holds them back!

This is the night! This is THAT night.

Do you feel his joy? Can you feel his anticipation? 


Dealing With Bible Thumpers

Someone asked me how I respond to Bible Thumpers. Boy did that make me think.

Yeah, that’s a big issue. It’s big enough that Wikipedia has a definition of a Bible thumper (aka “bible basher”):

“Someone perceived as aggressively imposing their Christian beliefs upon others. The term derives from preachers thumping their hands down on the Bible, or thumping the Bible itself, to emphasize a point during a sermon.”

In my experience, this very often manifests as people blindly quoting scripture in conversation, mistakenly believing that this proves their point. Most people can tell when they’ve entered a conversation. And unfortunately, it seems to happen at holiday gatherings more and more.

I used to be a bible thumper. I’m in recovery now. Here’s how I try to respond to bible thumpers. I hope it helps bring freedom to you. It’s a tough one.

I can’t say “Here’s how to do it.” I can only say, “Here are some things I’m trying.” Some are working better than others.

* Make peace with myself about not needing to have all the answers. This one was huge for me.

* When I give answers, I try to speak from experience, including my experience with the Book and my experience with what went wrong, rather than just quote a platitude from the Book.

* If I have to quote a verse as if it were a platitude, I explain quickly how this applies in my world.

* I do not look to thumpers for help; I do not expect them to minister to the real issues of my heart, and I do not let down my defenses to let their religious spirit have access to my soul.

* If someone quotes verses at me, I sidestep the verse. “I’m not interested in your skills with copy and paste [or with quoting verses]. I want to know what you actually think.” Thumpers find this confusing, but a few get it, some sooner than others.

* Occasionally, if I sense it might do some good, I’ll try to bring some sense into the conversation, asking them to support the doctrine they’re proclaiming. Very often, just looking at the context of (verses immediately before and after) the verse they’re wielding is enough to take some of the wind out of their sails.

* If the thumper gives me permission, or if the topic is a big deal, and there are lots of people by the thumpage, I’ll attempt to correct their abuse, either by addressing the topic with more than verses and stale doctrine, or by talking about what actual conversation is like. I hate doing this because I don’t love confrontation, but some situations call for it.

* Then afterwards, I try to go out of my way to make conversation with the thumpers whose thumpage I have just upset. My goal is to hear what they actually think on the topic, and to engage them on why they hold that so strongly, but I’ll take small talk if that’s all I can get.

Note that I am absolutely NOT trying to minimize the effect of the Scriptures in my life, as some thumpers have accused me. Not at all. But I want the Scriptures to work in me, guided by Father’s hand as the living and active scalpel that they are (see Hebrews 4:12).

I’m not willing to submit to someone – anyone, really – wielding scriptures as a bludgeon on me, any more. And as far as I can make a difference, I’m not willing to let others bludgeon those around me either.


So. How do YOU respond to bible thumpers?


Some Ways the Enemy Opposes God's Kids

In the last few days, I’ve had interaction with a wide variety of folks:

·         An author who insists that Christians are still obligated to obey the whole law, and how dare I declare that the Old Covenant is past!!!
·         Some folks who are angry at me because I teach that God is good and kind and well-represented in Jesus.
·         A friend who insists that the Resurrection was metaphorical, not literal.
·         Several “unbelieving believers” whose whole world view is built on their poverty spirit and whose theme song seems to be “I can’t! I need someone to do it for me!”
·         A “prophet” who is convinced that his job is pointing out fault in every congregation he visits (and who never visits a congregation a second time).

As I was reflecting on these, I felt Father’s sadness. “These are manifestations of the influence of an antichrist spirit,” he murmured softly.

I realized, that’s certainly not saying, “They’re the Antichrist!” or even “They’re possessed.”

It’s just acknowledging that these are some of the ways that an “anti-Christ” spirit works to influence God’s children. These are some of the accusations that the enemy makes against God, against Jesus, against the Cross.

As I reflected, the quiet voice continued, “How will you respond to them?” and I knew that my response must not include anger or rejection or resignation.

There is one thing that stood out in my heart in response. Sure, I must love them, but that’s not a real answer. The thing that stood out to me is that I need to be careful not to change my message in response to them. I must not react to them in anger, rejection, or resignation; I am not permitted to change my message because of them.

If I don’t speak of who God really is in me and to me, then it’s not really my testimony, it’s just empty words. If I soften the message in order to placate some, or if I sharpen it to make it hit others harder, then these voices that carry the echo of the antichrist have shaped my message, my heart. My message would likely carry further, but it would not carry the truth I want it to.

And then my voice would also carry a manifestation of the influence of an antichrist spirit. I’m thinking that this is not where I want to go. There be dragons down that path.

I'm working on keeping my message true. Your prayers - and your company - are invited.


The First Commandment is a Threat.

May I share something kind of strange? OK. Thanks.

I've been thinking (yes, again)! (I do that.)

It seems to me that the first of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3) isn’t really a commandment at all.

The commandment in question says simply, “You will have no other gods before me.” There’s no command in that verse. It doesn’t say “Don’t do it.” There is no “Thou shalt not…” in this. There’s actually no command in the first commandment.

What there is, however, is a threat.

It’s like this: “You ain’t ever gonna have other gods before me. If you set one up, I will knock it down. It will not succeed.”

This isn’t so much about what we must or must do. This doesn’t appear to be about us exercising our will power. This appears to be us being aware of God’s nature. If you enter into relationship with God, then God will be the big deal in your life.

I wonder if this might be why some folks get into trouble? I wonder if sometimes, other folks – and they themselves may not even know about it – put them on a pedestal, perhaps because they are open to being treated with reverence or with the kind of honor that really only belongs to One.

If I set up somebody as the authority in my life – maybe my pastor, maybe a famous author or conference speaker or maybe a godly broadcaster – if I listen to them for what I ought to believe, and how much money I should give and to whom, for the directions or limitations in my life, then I’ve set them up as a god in my life. Before the Lord.

And the threat is ready to be applied. God will need to remove them from the “before me” part of my life.

Now the real question applies: this is clearly an Old Testament / Old Covenant threat. Does this principle apply in the New Covenant? 



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.


Father & Sons Development Co.

I don’t know if I’ve ever told you that I’m adopted. I was adopted by my Father at a very young age. I love my Father. He’s the best Dad in the world.

Did I tell you I’m working in the family business? The day I was adopted, I started working with my Dad. My Dad’s awesome like that.

When I was really little, he’d carry me in his arms as he walked through the factory floor. He’d stop and visit with machinists and foremen and janitors, pretty much everybody

Once when I was a bit older, I was building stuff with Legos™ in his office, while he worked on something. His desk overlooked the factory floor, and he saw something that caught his attention.

“Son,” he says. “You know Mr. Davidson? Tall guy. Red shirt. Big mustache?”

“I know him, Pop.”

“Son, would you go find Mr. Davidson and ask him to come up to see me? I’ve got something I want him to see.” And I toddled down the stairs to find Mr. Davidson. Soon he and Dad were talking seriously about something on Dad’s desk, and I added a new wheel to the thing I was building.

There was a time after I’d discovered books! Books are wonderful things! I was sitting in a chair in Dad’s office, sounding out a word, when he interrupted me. “Son, Miz Thompson works on the far side of the factory. Would you find her and give her this note?” He handed me the note, and I ran off to find Sally Thompson. She had a wonderful smile, and she used it on me sometimes.

I never did go to normal school. I would say that Dad homeschooled me, except it mostly happened in his office. Is there such a thing as officeschool? We had the best times together in his factory office.

He’d given me an arithmetic assignment that made me think pretty hard. If Mr. Jacobi needs to build this many boxes by the end of the month, how many does he need to build every day? Eventually I puzzled it out right (Dad showed me where I’d forgotten to carry the one, the first time), and he smiled this great big smile! “Son, would you please take this down to Marty Jacobi – he should be in the lunchroom right now – and show him how well you did this.” He wrote his initials on my math paper.

I found Marty. He gave me a cookie while he looked at my work. I munched, and then he smiled, and said, “You’ve got a real smart Dad, you know!” He was right, of course, but I already knew that!

One day he was reading letters. He had a lot of letters, and he read ’em all. One of them made him smile extra big, and he called me to himself. “Son, would you please go tell Bob Davidson that he’s got a new worker coming in the morning. He’ll want to put Cindy on the Quality Control team right away.” I delivered the message. Bob winked at me and nodded. “Sure thing!” he said.

One Thursday morning, Dad pushed my math books out of the way again, and set down his computer in their place. “Son, do you see this? What do you think that means?” and he pointed to a detail on the screen. This was a math test test, I felt sure. I was ready.

“That looks like trouble, Dad. Not big trouble, but trouble. Especially for the QC department. Um… Is that right?”

“That’s right, Son,” and he printed that page. “Would you explain this to Cindy in QC? And maybe talk with her about what to do with it, and bring me your favorite few suggestions.” Later, he picked one of our ideas, and implemented it. That was cool.

So I wasn’t altogether surprised when he set his computer on my desk some time later. He didn’t point to anything, but asked me, “What do you see here, Son?” I studied it a bit, and talked with him about the three or four things I saw. “What about this one?” “Hmm. I saw that, but didn’t think it was all that important,” I answered. “It’s all important, Son. Especially when this is trending,” and he pointed to the first detail I’d seen. “What happens when these happen on the same day?” I hadn’t thought of that! We talked about it and how to help the folks in the factory when that happened. I learn so much from my Dad.

And a few months later, those two things did happen on the same day. “Well, it happened, Dad.” “Yep, it surely did. Well, you know what to do.” I picked up my notes from our planning, headed down the stairs, and called the supervisors together. I explained the problem, and listened to their concerns. One of the guys had already figured it out, so I let him describe the adjustments we needed, filling in details when he needed help. We had the solution in place before the problem was big enough to slow production down.

Eventually we got to the point where I was really running the factory. Dad spent most of his time talking to individuals, or scheduling contractors for the expansion, and he spent a lot of time training some of the other kids, too. If I ran into a problem, he was always right there to help, and there wasn’t anything that he couldn’t figure out.

Figuring things out comes easy when you’re omniscient like my Dad is.

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! 

Why Believers are Questioning Belief Traditional Views of Hell


All across the church, the move away from the doctrine of hell as "Eternal Conscious Torment" ("ECT") is pretty consistent: many thinking believers are abandoning that doctrine as inconsistent with the character of Christ (who, after all, is the judge of the living and the dead). 

This is the idea that God commands you to love him, and if you don’t he’ll throw you in a place of eternal torment, where you’ll be perpetually tortured for eternity. It’s what many Christians have been taught their whole life.

Frankly, most of the teaching I personally have heard on the ECT front has its foundation more in the writings of a Catholic monk from the dark ages than from the Bible (Dante’s Inferno,from The Divine Comedy). It’s really quite inconsistent with the glimpses that Scripture reveals of the afterlife, and it’s completely inconsistent with a God who loves us enough to die in our place. 

But it preaches well in "evangelistic" sermons, which is why I suspect it has held on for so long.

But regardless of why people are abandoning the ECT doctrine, what they're moving to is far less consistent.

Some whom I respect are landing on the idea of "Conditional Immortality." Those that don’t enter Heaven are just un-made; this view is also referred to as Annihilationism. Some think that they are unmade immediately; many believe that they are unmade after a period of punishment in "hell." There’s good evidence to support this, though that’s beyond the scope this article.

Others, whom I also respect, are seeing an extended time frame, and calling it "Ultimate Reconciliation." These folks do not question that hell exists or that some people are sent there. but they consider that the omnipotent God who loved them in life enough to be murdered on their behalf won’t actually stop loving his haters just because they die, and He won’t stop wooing them throughout eternity, even in hell. There is good evidence to support this idea as well. 

There are other landing spots, but those are the two primary ones. 

I'm not aware of anybody landing on basic Universalism: a free pass for everyone, regardless of what they did or believed in life! Frankly, most of those who speak up about rejecting Eternal Conscious Torment are accused of Universalism, sooner or later, by some of the people who are NOT leaving ECT behind.

A word of counsel: Don’t let people tell you that if you reject the idea that the lover of your soul is in league with demonic torturers then you therefore must be a Universalist. That’s just silly! Remind them that God is love, and that Jesus is perfect theology. 

Many others, among whom I am numbered, haven't landed anywhere yet. We don’t actually know what the reality is on this topic, and we’re aware that there’s far less instruction in Scripture to inform us than we wish there was. 

We're saying, "Yeah, Eternal Conscious Torment clearly can't be the long-term plan of a loving God, but I'm not sure what hell actually is." I suppose you could say that we're focusing more on heaven than on answering this (important) question. I’m not going to hell, and the people I’m leading aren’t going there. Let’s focus more on where we ARE going?

Yeah, it’s unbalanced, but that’s where a lot of folks are right now: questioning the things we were taught without trying to pretend we have all the answers.   

It's actually OK to not have all the answers yet. 

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