Showing posts with label the world. Show all posts
Showing posts with label the world. Show all posts

Monday

When God Paused

There is a funny little verse in Genesis chapter 1: “And God said, Let us make man in our image,…” [Genesis 1:26]

There's so much you can learn when God pauses for a little interjection like this.

This is the first – and only – time that God says this. He never said “Say, let's make mountains.” Or “Let's make some stars” It was only when he made man, that he paused and said “Hey, let's do this. Let's make man.”

Apparently there is something about making man that takes more consideration than when you're making sweet potatoes or goldfish or black holes. Apparently there is something about making man, that makes even God pause for a moment, to think about it before he does the making.

Thus far, God had created everything in the universe, except man. All the stars, all the planets, all the asteroids, all the strange things of space. He had already filled the Earth, with fish in the oceans, animals all over the land, green plants growing everywhere, a healthy weather system in place, to make sure it all kept going well.

And I suppose it's fair to say that when that omniscient Trinity of omnipotent being pause to think about something, that they do a really good job of thinking. I'll bet it's not a mystery to them, when they apply themselves to thinking about making man.

So he thinks about man, about the implications of creating Mankind.

“Well, if we are going to make men really, actually in our image, he has to have free will. And actual free will means he has authority, like God. Now what will he do with that authority, that free will? What will he do with that aspect that makes him like God?”

And God looked further into the future.

I think what he saw might have broken his heart. After a long time of  naming animals and plants, of caring for the garden,  God watched Eve eat an apple from the tree they were instructed not to eat from, and share it with her husband, Adam. He knew he would need to send them out of the garden, lest they eat from the Tree of Life, and live forever in sin.

And still God looked. And God saw. And God saw Cain and Abel, and he wept. And God saw Enoch, and he rejoiced come with a joy that only a God can Rejoice with. And God saw Noah, and he saw the flood, and he wept some more, as he watched the effects of that first sin poison Humanity.

And still God looked down through the years of History. He saw Abraham and Sarah, and Isaac, and Jacob and his multitudes. He saw their years in Egypt, and he made a mental note to prepare a Moses.

And he kept looking. He saw David, and he saw a succession of Kings. And he saw the Dark Ages, Attila the Hun, Charlemagne, Napoleon, Hitler. Such pain. Such heartache. And God wept.

But then he saw you.

He observed your birth, he saw the squalling mess of your beginning. He watched you grow up.

And God fell in love with you. And in that moment, that God was thinking about what would happen if he created Adam and Eve, in that nanosecond of applied omniscience, God's thinking changed. The creator was now in love.

And because he was in love with you, he no longer had the option of NOT creating man. Because, you see, if he didn't create man, then you would never be born, and that was unthinkable, even by an omniscient thinker. He loved you, even then.

Before your remotest ancestor was created, God was already in love with you.

But that apple. That sin. That disease that would inhabit these humans. Something needed to be done about that sin.

And God said to himself, there's only the one option. I will take off my divinity, I will conceal my Godhood, and I will become one of them. And God said, but they will kill me. And he replied, That is true, but so what? Do you not agree? And God said Yes. We will become the lamb that is to be slain. We will take away, not just their sin, but their sinfulness. We will open again that bridge for relationship.

And God knew that dying for these people, these children, would not, indeed could not guarantee a relationship, for He was completely serious about actual free will. Without free will, we would not be his children. Without free will, we would be pets, or robots, nothing more. Without free will, we could never love him back.

No, his death for us did not, will never, overcome our free will. But it will open the door. When God walks among us, now he can tell us of his love. Now he can show us what it's like in his family. Now we have a chance to join him.

That is the story of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. [Revelation 13:8] That was for you. 

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? 


I Don't See It That Way

We confuse two very different thoughts, and I wonder if maybe we do this fairly often:

We begin with "I don't see it that way," and that's well and good. It might be “I don’t see why that baker wouldn’t bake the gay couple a cake,” or "I don't understand why a gay couple would come to a Christian bakery for a cake," or even, “I don’t see why Christians would want to drink alcohol.” It's good to be able to see things differently than others; that’s a sign of health, of our ability to think for ourselves and not just rely on the opinions of others around us.

But it’s easy to take that one step too far, to impose the way we see it on others, and we expect them to see the situation the way we do. This very seldom reaches the point of words, but it works out like this: "I don't see it that way, so they shouldn't either." or something along these lines. Fundamentally, it’s about “They need to think like me!”


I’ll be honest, I don't see how baking a cake or not baking a cake speaks of Christ. Either one sounds to me more like it speaks of flour and frosting. But those bakers don’t have the benefit of my perspective. They are working with their own conscience. And I applaud them for doing that; it happens so seldom these days.

This issue of “You should think like I think” is pretty rampant in our culture. Regarding the story where a Christian baker declined to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, the intolerance of certain members of the homosexual community were identified (by a lesbian) as “the Gay Gestapo.” But it happens in other realms as well. There’s an “Abortion Gestapo,” an “Evangelical Gestapo” and many others.

I’ve seen the cry, “You need to think like me!” in both sides of the homosexual movement, both sides of the abortion conversation, both sides of several race conversations. I’ve even heard evangelistic sermons based on this way of thinking.

Note that this doesn’t apply to every conversation in these areas. There’s a world of difference between “Abortion is murder, and I’m going to stand against murder,” and “This is the way I oppose abortion, and you should do it this way, too!”

I get it when the unredeemed think and act in unredeemed ways, like this. I don’t understand when Christians, particularly Christian leaders (who are supposed to be mature) tell each other, “This is the way I see it. You should agree with me!”

Fundamentally, this is an argument about which side is the right side on this issue. And fundamentally, Christians aren’t called to take sides, especially not political sides. We’re called to love people. We’re called to heal the sick and raise the dead, whether literally or metaphorically.

It’s particularly frustrating when Christian leaders declare “If you see it differently than I do, then you’re guilty of breaking the unity of the saints!” Not so. Unity doesn’t come from agreeing on doctrine (it’s about being part of the same family, but that’s another conversation).

But it’s just plain foolish when Christians expect non-Christians to think Christianly. (That’s called “hypocrisy,” people. We don’t like hypocrisy.) At no point does the Bible command us to make non-believers act as if they were religious. Let’s get over that right away, shall we? 
Instead of looking for the “the right side of the issue,” I’m going to recommend that when we find ourselves saying, “I don’t see it that way,” to follow that up with “…but you do, and I respect your thinking for yourselves. Look for a way to love those who don’t agree with you. (I think you’ll find that love converts more people than arguments, any day of the week!)

Or we could push for extra credit, and try to see it their way, try to understand why they see it that way, even if only for a moment. Seeing like they see is one way of loving them.



Tuesday

Remarkably Intelligent People vs God's People


WARNING: Politically incorrect musings ahead. Just trying to examine a tough topic honestly. 

I’ve been visiting with some Remarkably Intelligent People recently (I didn’t know IQ scores went that high! Scary!) I’ve observed that a number of them have real difficulty being Christians and relating to the God of the Bible. (Not all, just a large fraction.)

It occurs to me that one reason may be because of God’s followers. Aw, heck: several reasons may be because of God’s followers. Let me explain.

Because of the merciful nature of God, and of his people (when we do it right), Christianity does understandably draw a lot of broken people who find mercy or acceptance (hopefully both) that they may have had difficulty finding elsewhere. The reality is that broken people make broken choices, sometimes justify those broken choices, and sometimes their understanding of God is characterized by those bad choices. For example, if I were to condemn you for not living up to my own moral standard, and then declaim that this is the way God is, a Remarkably Intelligent Person is probably intelligent enough not to be drawn to a god characterized by moralistic bigotry.

But in addition, in many of the Hallowed Halls of the Faith, thinking is not only not encouraged, it is occasionally actively discouraged, even (foolishly) presented as a conflict to faith. “Evolution can’t be true, because the Bible says God created everything” not only misses the point of the conversation, it demonstrates that people who think are not welcome to that conversation.  

And then there’s the issue that Christians very often speak gibberish. In our more lucid moments, we sometimes call it “Christianese,” but it's gibberish. We make noises that nobody else uses, and expect other people to know what our strange vocalizations mean. Very often, we’ll abbreviate a whole conversation into just a conclusion, bypassing the fact that it took someone (hopefully ourselves) months to arrive there. For people with very healthy minds, the process is the point of the conversation: they’re not interested in taking our word for something we figured out months ago.

For example, I’ve been known to say, “God said it; I believe it; that settles it,” as a reminder of the precious conclusion I arrived at from a very long, very personal evaluation of what I understood about the scriptures. That declaration is meaningful to me, but not to the Remarkably Intelligent Person who hasn’t been through my year-long analysis. But if I just quote it, merely because someone I respect said it and I think it gives credibility to my argument: please just don’t go there. That’s insulting to intelligence in general.

Finally, all of the Remarkably Intelligent People I know – whether they are Christians or not – know what the Bible says. Generally they know the Book better than I, even the unbelieving Remarkably Intelligent People, and I’ve been studying it for 40 years! One of the characteristics of remarkable intelligence is the ability to see the remarkable difference between what the Bible declares Christians should be like (Jesus set up this booby-trap in John 17:23), or the incongruity between the vengeful God preached from the OT and the God of Love as he reveals himself in the NT. The fact that most of God’s people can’t reconcile either mismatch is also not overlooked.

I am NOT trying to say that Christianity isn’t a good fit for intelligent people. Nor am I trying to say that we need to live up to their standard of intellectual analysis.

What I AM suggesting is nothing new: let’s not be stupid. Let’s see if we can speak English (or another actual language) instead of religious gibberish. Let’s take the time to figure out what we actually believe, and more importantly for our own growth: why we believe it.

In other words, let’s learn to be genuine people, relating genuinely to God and to each other. And let’s learn to feed ourselves.

COMMENT: These are politically incorrect musings. I've just been trying to examine a tough topic honestly. If you're offended: please get over it; this isn't about you. 

Saturday

Keeping up with the horses.

Jeremiah 12:5
"If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you,
Then how can you contend with horses?
And if in the land of peace,
In which you trusted, they wearied you,
Then how will you do in the floodplain of the Jordan?


This is an interesting challenge that I believe God is speaking to His church right now. “You think you’re tired now? What are you going to do when the pace picks up? He’s been saying this for the past couple of years.
And now the pace is picking up. If we were content to jog along in the back of the pack, maybe also in the back pew, not pressing very hard into “God things”, then we’re discovering that isn’t working as well as it used to. I expect we’ll find the back rows of the church becoming more sparsely populated as their usual inhabitants can no longer keep up and fall away.
But the Denizens Of The Back Pew aren’t typically readers of blogs, particularly blogs like this one whose purpose is to challenge the status quo. Readers of this type of blog are more likely to be followers of Christ who are intentional and pressing forward in their relationship with God.
Believers who take the position of, “I want more in God,” tend to be among leaders of this race that we’re running with the footmen. And if the pace of the race is picking up, if the pacesetters are no longer soldiers but horses, then what will happen to those runners who were not falling behind? What will happen to the leaders of the pack?
What do we do? An examination of this passage reveals some answers.
First, the terms are military: “footmen” refers to solders on foot, and they only ran to the battle they looked forward to winning (a different verb was used of fleeing from a defeat). The run to the fight is indeed capable of wearying us, though it does not need to; by running regularly, with discipline and passion, we can keep up with the footmen. That’s valuable when we’re running with the footmen – as we have been, but not as valuable when the horses come onto the battlefield – as is beginning to happen now.
But the assumption is that after running with footmen for a while, we will run next with horses, or more precisely, we will “contend with horses.” Horses, while valuable other uses, were primarily tools of war in this era, nearly always pulling chariots, so the image is still one of warfare.
But the verb Jeremiah chose is not about “keeping up with” the war horses and their implied chariots; it’s about contending with them. The Hebrew word charah is a primitive root, speaking of passion, jealousy, anger; it’s related to an Aramaic root word meaning “to cause fire to burn
Let’s just be bold and come right out and say it: our pace is picking up. It used to be that we could keep our place in the race by running with a certain level of exertion, and it isn’t working any more. We’re running just as hard, but we’re falling behind.
The solution is not about running harder. There is benefit in running harder when the pace is slower, when the pace-setters are foot soldiers. When the battle horses come onto the field, it’s not about running harder, it’s about charah: it’s about passion, anger, burning.
In this phase of the race, running harder won’t help. Passion is the only thing that will get us through this season, passion for the Man Jesus, for our relationship with Him, passion for the battle we’re facing, for the people who will be the spoils of war for one side or the other. Passion, fire in our soul, is the solution in this season we’re entering.
In traditional Hebrew fashion, the question is asked twice, using two different metaphors:
· If you’re getting weary just running with the footmen, what will happen when you need to contend with horses?
· If you’ve gotten weary in a land of peace (in which you’ve trusted), then how will you do in the floodplain of Jordan?
The phrase “floodplain of the Jordan” is interesting, particularly as we’re heading toward that place, away from the land of peace that we’ve become comfortable with. In the Hebrew, “floodplain” is a the metaphorical translation of the KJV and NKJV, while NIV and RSV translate “thickets”. The original word references “majesty” and “splendor.”
Both speak of abundance, of increase. The region around the Jordan was thick with growth, nearly a jungle compared with the rest of the land, and the reason was the water of the Jordan. So the figure of speech “floodplain of the Jordan” is talking about a season of fruitfulness, of increase, of abundance: an increase of the River, an increase in growth, an increase of harvest.
It might be worth noting that the increased growth around the river also provided cover for predators: lions particularly were known to hide in the cover there. Where there is an increase of harvest, there is often an increase of predators.
The point is this: “If you have been caught up in the crises of the land of peace, what will you do when I begin pouring out more of my river, when you enter the season of fruitfulness?”
It’s easy enough to be caught up with the stuff of life. We have challenges from information overload, from on-line distractions, from provocations coming from landlords, co-workers, other drivers. It’s easy to become overloaded in the drama of this season of running with the foot soldiers.
The fact that it’s foot soldiers we’re running with should help give us perspective: this isn’t about my comfort: we’re running to a battle. I need to be prepared for that battle, my attention needs to be on eternity in order to not be caught up in order to not be wearied in this race. I must “fix my eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1-2) and run with the discipline of a single focus to keep up with the soldiers. That season was marked by “Just keep on running. Just keep running.”
But with the increased pace of the war horses, there comes an entirely different focus. This season is being marked by an increase of the River among us, and by an increase of growth and of harvest. In this season, we’re beginning to experience the outpouring of God and the ingathering of the lost that we’ve been praying for during the years and decades of “just keep running.”
This is what we’ve been praying for, what we’ve sacrificed for, what we’ve been waiting for! But now that God is answering those prayers, things are different than they once were. The water is higher. The undergrowth is thicker. There’s life sprouting up all over the place, whether in healings, in people coming to (or back to) faith, or in unbelievers being open to hearing the gospel of life.
But there are lions hiding in these bushes as well, still roaring, still seeking someone to devour. If not you, then some of the new believers, some of the people who have been recently healed, some of the folks asking questions now.
We’ll be sustained in this battle by the fire of passion. Discipline – which was so valuable before – is of less value now; its place is perhaps a safety net: if passion falters, then we’re not completely destroyed. But the successful warfare strategy will be to develop a burning heart, to fan the spark of our love for God and for His people into a flame and nurture it into a bonfire. In the wild, have you noticed how a campfire always draws the people around it, but the wild animals are driven away from it in fear?
The successful strategy in this season is to cultivate a fiery passion for God. In that way, we’ll contend with the war horses, we’ll gather together with other passionate believers, we’ll chase off the lions, and we’ll have both warmth and light for our work.

Turnabout And Fair Play.

An interesting thing has happened. Perhaps you noticed an election just past? Who didn’t, eh?

Do you remember 8 years ago. When George W Bush was elected, much of the church was excited. Right or wrong, we breathed easier because we believed that we had “God’s man” in the highest office of the land. (This was more true among believers who focused more on the spiritual than on the social, of course; the other end of the spectrum was appalled.)

When the “liberal media” attacked him, demeaned him, smeared his reputation, we were saddened and angered. In the eight years he’s been in office, they have not relented, but only increased the pressure. Some would argue that this fact was foundational in the successful election of Barack Obama: we weren’t electing a black man or a liberal man or a democrat as much as we were ousting the man we had vilified for most of a decade, and everyone near him was painted with the same brush. The reality is that there was a great deal of public outcry among the more liberal among us, speaking uncomplimentary things about him as often as they spoke of him.

During the recent election season, I heard similar dismay about Mr. Obama, this time from the more conservative among us, and this includes much of the church world. Many among us were looking to John McCain as our only hope; there was much fear about Mr. Obama. Then – moments after the campaigning started – the mudslinging started. If the candidates and their campaigns were un-lovely, their supporters were less reserved; they were deceptive, bigoted, and downright vile.

Those among us who had supported Mr. McCain’s campaign – perhaps largely for moral reasons – considered him to be the recipient of the greater amount of mudslinging. We were saddened and angered at the often unfair attacks against him, but we were mostly fearful of Senator Obama: this inexperienced, pro-abortion man of unclear faith and questioned loyalty was considering leading our nation? It was hard to imagine.

Now Mr. Obama is President-elect Obama. Now what do we do?

The precedent is clear: the supporters of the defeated candidate increase the mudslinging, the civil disobedience, the vilification. That’s what this nation has done so well after so many elections before: if there was disrespect shown during the election, then there were many and awful things said against them during their office: the victorious candidate was vilified, pilloried and subverted at every opportunity.

I am proposing another response.

Barack Hussein Obama will be our president in this country, beginning the middle of next month. I propose that, beginning now, if not sooner, we treat the man with respect, if not for his own sake (though I would argue that every human being is worthy of respect), then for the sake of his office.

1) Pray for him: Pray for the man. Pray for his office. Pray for his family (I can’t imagine raising children in the White House). Paul writes to Timothy: “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.”(1 Timothy 2:1-3)

2) Honor him: speak of him with respect. Yeah, I know: the disrespect, the vilification is part of the process of preparing for the next election: don’t do it. Peter instructs us to “Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.” (1 Peter 2:17) I would go so far as to argue that “honoring” Mr. Obama (or anyone else, for that matter has a lot to do with treating them the way that God sees them more than the way his political enemies see him. That’s a far more appropriate way for believers to deal with leaders, isn’t it?

3) Seek the welfare of his government: Pray towards, speak towards, even work towards the success of his policies, his administration. In Jeremiah 29, the prophet is writing to the exiles: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7 NRSV) It is our job as believers to seek the wellbeing of the city that governs us, and the government of that city and this nation.

One last statement before I finish: Mr. Obama will be our president, not our king. While he deserves our honor and our support, he is not our ultimate authority. Jesus said “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” (Matthew 22:21) Paul echoed the statement in his letter to the Romans: “Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.” (Romans 13:7) There are some things that don’t belong to Mr. Obama, but belong to God.

Barack Obama will be our president. If we don’t support his administration, then we are free to work to support his opponent in the next election, free to appropriately influence our representatives and other governmental representatives. But we are not free to dishonor the man.

Mercy out of Control

Today we’re talking about a politically incorrect subject: mercy out of control.

It will be easy to miscommunicate on this subject, so let me state my premise, and then we’ll go to work on the subject: It’s my observation that most of the gifts of mercy that operate in our culture – both secular and spiritual – are messed up – out of control – and as a result, our mercy often does more harm than good. There are people who have what the Bible describes as a gift of mercy, and they’re real gifts. But too often, the gift is used inappropriately.

Let’s contrast this a couple of ways: First, there are others, who don’t have that gift, for whom it is less instinctive to respond with mercy; we’re not going to discuss these people today. Second, it’s possible to use this gift out of impure or inadequate motivation as it is for any other gift, and here is where there are some interesting lessons.

Jim Jones had a real gift (though it was clearly not a gift of mercy!). His gift was drawing people together and leading them toward a common goal, and he did that well, but he did not use it for God’s glory: rather it ended up with a bowl of strange Kool-Aid and an entire community dead because of his abused gift. Jim Bakker had a real gift as he started Heritage USA; he drew a lot of people and a lot of investment, and then things went haywire and his wife Tammy Faye divorced him when Heritage USA fell down around his ears. We see pastoral gifts, evangelistic gifts, perhaps even apostolic gifts used without the direction of the Holy Spirit, used for self-serving motivation (the media loves to report those errors!); why then do we assume that the gift of mercy is immune from such error?

The other day I saw a mother and child in a grocery store; you’ve seen them too. The child is acting out in selfishness or in rebellion, and instead of disciplining the child, mom capitulates and the child gets her candy and is appeased for the moment. (We see the opposite often enough as well: a parent in the grocery store who disciplines the child to the point of abuse, but that’s not the point of this article.)

A friend of mine (we’ll call him “Bob”) has several teenage kids. One of his daughters (“Suzy”) had moved out of his home and in with her boyfriend the drug dealer. She became addicted to a variety of drugs, and predictably fell on hard times, and wanted to come home. Both mom and dad are mercy-driven people and invited Suzy to come back home, but she came back with the drug habit and with the boyfriend. Over the next several months, some of the other kids also began experimenting with drugs.

Bob’s mercy was out of control.

The goal here is not to accuse or judge the addicted daughter, though doubtless she made her share of mistakes. The bigger error here may have been mom and dad not tempering their mercy with wisdom. Their choice was not between mercy and judgment (that one’s over: the Book is clear that “mercy triumphs over judgment”), but rather between the mercy of emotions and the mercy that is built on wisdom.

Yes, Bob felt bad for his daughter, and because of his daughter, and he wanted to rescue her. Maybe he saw some street people, and imagined Suzy begging for handouts on the street and sleeping under a bridge. He saw the options of judgment (“You made your choice, now live with it!”) and mercy (“You poor thing! Here, let me fix it for you!”) and chose the latter. That was a mistake that we make all too often in the church: we exercise mercy from our flesh.

I understand Bob feeling bad for his daughter! But his mercy – being untempered by wisdom – endangered his other kids and left Suzy’s sin free to control her. His error was in the analysis: the choice was not between judgment and mercy; it was between foolish mercy and wise mercy.

I tell these stories to illustrate my premise: most of the mercy gifts in the church today are out of control. First, we make the same mistake that Bob did: we mistakenly think that we can only choose between judgment and mercy. Since we begin with a lie, we can’t expect to discover the truth easily.

The second mistake we make is that we let the world tell us how we should express mercy, rather than letting God instruct us, and the world is not well informed in the wisdom of God. So the world says, “Do something, for pity’s sake!” and that may be part of the problem: pity is not the answer.

We see people making poor choices, and we want to make those choices for them. We see people hurting, and we want to ease the pain. But in reality, if we make their choices, then they never learn wisdom; if we ease their pain, then they never learn the lessons that discomfort can bring.

Just like Jim Jones’s gift of leadership desperately needed God’s wisdom, so Bob’s gift of mercy needed God’s wisdom. In fact, I’m not convinced that any of God’s gifts are going to function properly without God’s wisdom, but we tend to overlook the need for wisdom with mercy.

So rather than just jumping in to “rescue” and “fix it” and “save them”, I am proposing that we the church actually look to our Head for wisdom: “How would You like to meet this need, Lord?” Because none of us can claim to be more merciful than God, and certainly none of us can claim more wisdom than He. And because we’re damaging people by rescuing them unwisely.

So when we see people hurting, let’s stop and pray. Let's respond with the wisdom of God, not react out of our flesh.

Tuesday

Jesus and Money

I’ve been thinking about money; I’m trying to think about it from Jesus’ perspective, not so much what he said as what He did. His teachings are of course good, but we’ve buried them under so many layers of doctrinal lessons that it’s hard to see Jesus through the teachings.
Looking at money through the eyes of Jesus actions is quite interesting, and while there’s not a lot of data, what data there is is very eye-opening. The ways that Jesus dealt with the finances of His own ministry teach me about His values for money.
Professionally, I deal with a lot of ministries just starting up. They have vision for what they want to accomplish, and the hindrance is money, so they think about money a fair bit, and when they think about it, they talk about it. I know a number of churches that have two sermons every service: the first one is always on what is essentially “Why you should give us money.”
First off, let me say that Jesus taught on money a whole lot. It was one of His favorite subjects (along with the Kingdom of God, and the end times; He really liked controversial subjects!), so it’s appropriate for us to teach on money often; if Jesus thought it was needful in that day, it’s probably no less needful today. I don’t, however, hear Him preaching about “give to Me” even once, though there were people who did give to Him and His ministry regularly.
I see that Jesus’ ministry did have a money box, though whether that the plan of Jesus or Judas is unclear. Either Jesus approved of the idea or He tolerated it.
However, when He had a need, such as for an unexpected tax bill, He didn’t go to the money box; He told Peter to get the tax money from a fish. So either the money box was insufficient to supply “a piece of money” (which has interesting implications) or Jesus didn’t want to depend on His savings account (which has more interesting implications). It certainly implies that Jesus didn’t have much money.
That is not to imply that poverty was part of His lifestyle or ministry. Clearly that is not the case. On one occasion He hosted a banquet for “about five thousand men, besides women and children;” think of a restaurant bill of thirty thousand dollars. He was so completely not overwhelmed by the unexpected banquet that He did the same thing a few days later. Extravagant provision was a part of Jesus’ lifestyle.
There’s another example of extravagant expense that makes me scratch my head. While Jesus is having dinner with Simon the Leper (an interesting event on its own merit), Mary brings a jar of perfume worth “a year’s wages,” breaks the jar open, and smears it all over Him, getting it, no doubt, all over herself in the process, particularly since she apparently also wiped it onto His feet with her hair. I don’t know how much that cost, but “a year’s wages” sounds like a lot to me. Judas’s complaints were overruled as Jesus condoned the extravagant and apparently non-productive use of a very large amount of money.
So here’s what I see in all of this:
· Jesus lived extravagantly.
· Jesus appeared to not have money much of the time.
· Jesus counted on miraculous provision, and taught His boys to count on miracles.
Now my challenge is this: How shall I live in relationship to money.
Do I hide behind the disappointing fact that I have little capacity to invoke the miraculous, or do I embrace my failure and live with an inferior financial model? Or do I accept this as yet another challenge to begin to live a supernatural life?

Sunday

The Failure of Christian Street Festivals

I recently attended a major Christian street festival.
I was embarrassed.
Don’t get me wrong, it was well produced; it wasn’t a two-bit “guy on a soapbox” preacher with a cheesy “sound on a stick” PA. These folks had very good bands on a real stage with a professional sound system and it really sounded good. The administration was tight: the right supplies and the right people were in the right places at the right time. It was a well done event.
Christians often get that one wrong in street festivals: we often look stupid because we can’t handle the simple tools of a basic public event. When we’re in the public eye, when we’re speaking to the community at large, we need to use the vocabulary and the technology that speaks to the community, and we need to use those tools with a basic level of competence that they can respect. It doesn’t do to speak Swahili when talking to Vietnamese neighbors, now does it?
This festival got the technology right, and that was a nice change. But they got the festival completely wrong.
Let me describe it this way: Sometimes when I have a day off, I like to relax, and sometimes “relaxing” means lying on the couch in my boxer shorts and a worn out t-shirt eating nachos and reading a paperback novel with an unshaven face. Or I may wear my grubbies, and my closest friends or my family are welcome to come to the house and hang out with me; we’ll eat chips and slurp Pepsi and talk about the game in our grubby clothes. In the privacy of my own home and with family or close friends, it’s appropriate to hang around in clothes that we wouldn’t generally wear out in society.
But when I’m going out in public (to go to the mall, to work, to a restaurant…), I try to remember to put on decent clothes. I don’t particularly like to dress up, so I may wear Levis and a t-shirt without holes, or if my bride and I am doing something together, I’ll probably wear a button-up shirt with Dockers, and real shoes. I really don’t feel comfortable in public in my skivvies; in fact, if I showed up in the grocery store in my boxers, I’d embarrass both myself and anyone who saw me.
But that’s exactly what most Christian festivals do. We the church are in public, but we’re dressed for the casual environment of our homes. We’re in public in our skivvies.
What do I mean?
The bands that come out of our churches pretty much always play worship music; that’s all they (we) know. The world doesn’t “get” worship music. That’s for ourselves in privacy, not for public display. In fact worship is supposed to be all about intimacy, and intimacy doesn’t really belong in public.
Often enough, we have “intercessors” scattered around the park or plaza where we are. I don’t know how to say this any way but blunt: intercessors are weird. They accomplish miracles, and I’ll be the first in line to ask these weird brethren and sisteren to slap hands on me and pray, but that will be in private, away from the public eye! Come on, have at it, but do it in private! Waving our hands and yelling weird stuff to an invisible God is going to get in the way of anyone outside the cultural clique of the Pentecostal church.
Worst of all, when we speak to the crowds – when we do that thing we call “preaching the gospel” –we’re speaking in a whole other language. We shout about being “washed in the blood” and “repenting” and “worship.” Even people who deplore “Christianese” very often use it when they preach; I suppose it’s nerves. We’re communicating the most valuable information in the universe, and we might as well be speaking Swahili. I can’t help but think that it’s a complete waste of time. No, it’s worse: it confirms the world’s judgment of the Church: we’re out of touch, we’re an irrelevant culture, like Mennonites or Hasidic Jews: meaningful only to ourselves. We assure them that there’s no reason to listen to the Church.
Our public gatherings are increasingly irrelevant to a world that is growing more distant from their Christian roots. It reminds me of fat guys in their tighty-whities in the grocery store: Ewww! I did not want to see that!
On the other hand, I can see two different kinds of public gatherings that could have real legitimacy:
The first is where we the church get together to do church business, and we acknowledge publicly that we’re not even attempting to talk to the people on the outside. Maybe we need to repent for something, or make prophetic declarations or whatever. That’s fine as long as we acknowledge that this is something private: “You’re welcome to watch if you want, but this isn’t about you; this is about us.” That, from my perspective, is occasionally appropriate. It’s like newlyweds kissing in public: if you stop and watch, it might be embarrassing, but we understand that newlyweds do that kind of stuff, and it’s OK.
On the other hand, if we’re going to try to communicate with the world, we need to speak in their language. Worship probably isn’t the right music; we need to learn how to sing about joy or friendship or love and maybe include stuff about how God thinks about us, and we need good musicians. We need to sing to the people, which is exactly opposite of a worship service where we’re trying to lead their singing to a God they may not [yet] know.
By all means, have intercessors at the street festival! But if they can’t act “normal” (defined as “not drawing attention to themselves”), then keep them in a dark room, out of the public eye. Open the door every once in a while and throw in fresh meat to keep them going, but don’t show them to a world we’re trying to communicate to; they won’t understand, and they don’t need to.
And for Heaven’s sake, please can we learn to speak English? The drunks passing the bottle on the other side of the meadow don’t understand “the blood” or “the Lord told me” or “get saved.” We’re speaking Cantonese among people who only understand French.
I am not, by the way, trying to dismiss power evangelism. I understand that people who experience the power of God are far more likely to listen to an explanation – in English – of why they’re suddenly shaking or why their back doesn’t hurt for the first time in years. But do it in a way that works for them, not for you.
Yeah, there are the odd exceptions, when God clearly directs. He told Ezekiel to wander around nude for a year and more: God’s as weird as His intercessors sometimes. But let’s not do the naked thing – literally or metaphorically – unless He clearly instructs us to. Gets a mite drafty in the winter.
This festival that provoked this rant broke almost every rule: the worship was great for the members of the Christian clique; the intercessors moaned and shook and shouted; the prayers prayed from the stage were thick with frightening shrieks and shouts and the brief “gospel message” was indecipherable, except to the “blood bought Saints of the Lamb, hallelujah, bless God!” If this had been behind closed doors, it would have been a fun time. For the blood-bought believers anyway
One old guy watching from the trees summed it up pretty well as he set his joint down long enough to put on headphones to drown out the preacher: “Are you with these wacko’s? I just don’t get why they’re here wrecking our park like this!”
And that’s all we did. We were in public in our underwear, talking to the passers by in our own made-up language. The onlookers saw and were embarrassed for us.
I wept for the loss of another opportunity to speak to the community.

Saturday

The Failure of Thomas is Among Us

The apostle Thomas has become famous. We call him Doubting Thomas. There. That’s a good tidy label. Now we’re done with him, right?

No, we’re not done with him. In fact, I believe that Thomas’s sin is one of the most prevalent sins in the church today, and one of the most dangerous if we want to move on with Christ.

The heart of Thomas’s famous sin was that he didn’t believe the testimony of the other apostles about the resurrection of Jesus. His position was, “If I don’t see it, then I don’t believe it.” We can’t pick on Thomas exclusively; the rest of the apostles had just done the same thing: not believing Mary when she told them about meeting Jesus in the garden. And then they refused believe the boys who had met Him on the road to Emmaus.

That’s where a whole lot of the church is. “Sorry, I haven’t seen what you see. I don’t believe it.” We might be talking about Bible truth or moral conduct or the work of the Holy Spirit ; the issue is that we don't believe what someone else has seen, but we ourselves have not (yet) seen.

I’ve seen Thomas’s sin often when judging other believers. Recently, I had reason to be involved in an online conversation with some self-appointed judges of America’s theology. I know: futile conversation, and mostly it was, but it illustrated this disease: “Unless what you’re teaching lines up with my beliefs, I won’t accept it, even when it’s supported scripturally.” I once spoke with a man about an area of moral weakness. “Everybody tells me I have blind spots, but I just don’t see it,” he replied with a straight face.

How many times have we seen this when God does something new or unusual: Someone we know experiences something new and unfamiliar (gold dust, laughter, shaking, or just a new understanding of an old passage of scripture), and many believers shout “Oh, that can’t be God!” Wait! Your brother, your sister, have just told you what they experienced and you don’t believe it? Or perhaps a father among us declares a new truth that we haven’t known before, and we reject it as unfamiliar. I’m not talking about receiving heretical doctrine from people who would compromise the gospel of Christ: in fact, that is about the only thing we’re to judge and reject. We, on the other hand, have taken the example of the Bereans to a completely unhealthy, intellectual extreme that takes us into the realm of rebellion and isolation more than it protects us.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen pastors declaring a Biblical truth to their people, and the people won’t see the truth they’re being taught. We join in the self-sufficient sin of Thomas: “If I don’t see it for myself, I won’t believe it.” It happened in the Book of Acts, when Peter was out jail. It happened when the boys on the Emmaus Road reported home, and in that context, Jesus chews out the apostles for not believing someone else’s experience: “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)

And that’s the heart of the issue: we won’t believe someone else’s word, someone else’s experience. Put into spiritual language, we won’t believe or receive the testimony of our brothers and sisters. And judging from his reaction in Mark 16, that’s not acceptable to God! Sure, there are screwballs trying to hoax us (think of the emails you’ve received from Nigerian princesses) but God has equipped us to avoid being hoaxed.

There are at least two reasons why this kind of Thomas-type fear is inappropriate:

1) God has made us to be a community, not a bunch of isolated individuals. “We are members of one another,” is how the NT says it. That means that I’m not complete without you, and I cannot hear all that God is saying to me by myself. I need you to hear some of it.

2) God has given us a tool – a weapon, if you will - to be able to distinguish the truth from the lie. It’s called discernment, and He requires us to use it. Discernment is a gift of the Spirit; it is not a gift of a suspicious mind. It requires exercise, but with this gift, we are able to discern good from evil, truth from the lie. This is not about “I know and understand;” this is about hearing the echo of truth from the Spirit of God about whom Jesus said, “He will guide you into all truth.” The capacity for discernment is His responsibility, not ours: He expects us to recognize the truth when we’re faced with it, even when it’s weird, and He equips us for that work from His Spirit.

A pair of brief testimonies of my own: recently, I was faced with a tough decision. I had difficulty seeing through all the emotional clutter to understand the direction God was pointing; both the “where” and the “when” of the issue were beyond me. So I asked a handful of folks with whom I have a covenant relationship. They were unanimous in their counsel: this is the direction and now is the time. I still didn’t see God’s direction myself, but I trusted their counsel, and made the decision. In hindsight, they were completely accurate, and had I not listened, I would have made a very bad decision, which would have hurt both me and my family.

Second: some years ago, I was faced with some very unusual people, who were behaving very strangely in church, in their “renewal service.” Their behavior – which I am omitting intentionally, as it is not the point – set off every alarm in my mind, but my spirit was at peace in the midst of it: I concluded that this – as strange as it was – was God. The next several months proved it right: my mind had missed this one, but my spirit had recognized His spirit in this.

So here’s the bottom line: God has equipped us to discern the truth from the untrue, and He requires us to exercise it: with that equipment, He expects us to receive the testimony of our brethren: if they have experienced something in God, if they give us their testimony, we are expected to receive it: when they grow, we are to grow with them! Yes, we discern, and yes, we throw out the garbage (and there’s plenty of that!), but we must receive the truth when our brothers and sisters share it with us, even if we don’t see it ourselves.

Invest Yourself in Your Community

It had been only three or four days since I heard first whisper to me, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you,” and in those few days, two other people have come to me with the same message. They’re the first two people who have brought that particular verse to me in more than a decade.

Jeremiah 29:3-9: “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, ‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. ‘Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. ‘Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.’ “For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Do not let your prophets who are in your midst and your diviners deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams which they dream. ‘For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them,’ declares the LORD.

There is a commonly held opinion in the church today that we are now raising the last generation that will live on this planet, that the end of this world is near and that Jesus will soon come back to collect His bride and take home to Him in Heaven. I’ve known some young believers who jokingly engage in “Rapture Practice”: standing outdoors and jumping towards heaven, arms outstretched, as if to be taken heavenward any second.

And I’ve heard some Christians grow frustrated with the leaders of this world, and write them off with, “Aww, they can have it!” the clear implication being that they are soon to abandon this world for the next. I remember old hymns by the names of “I’ll Fly Away” and “I’ve Got A Mansion, Way Up Yonder.”

On the other hand, there are other believers who live from day to day, not paying much attention to the imminent return of Christ, or to the degradation of the world around them. Some display a measure of irresponsibility, but most live as members of society, holding down a job, raising a family, making mortgage payments, and attending church faithfully. Whether they believe in an imminent rapture or not appears to have no visible bearing on their behavior. They’re the same today as they were ten years ago, and the same as their fathers were thirty years ago.

Both groups are in error, of course; the “Steady Eddie’s” for ignoring the approaching Day, and the Rapture Fanatics for ignoring their assignments on Earth.

The writer of Hebrews encourages us to be away of the drawing near of that day, and to make changes in our lives accordingly:

Hebrews 10:24-25: And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (emphasis added)

The way I see it, we’re supposed to live for heaven, but we’re supposed to live on earth. We live with our eyes on our Heavenly Father, but our hands on the work that He’s given us to do on this earth.

Scripture is given, you recall, as an example to us. Daniel is an example:

Daniel 2:48-49 Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts; and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief administrator over all the wise men of Babylon. 49 Also Daniel petitioned the king, and he set Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego over the affairs of the province of Babylon; but Daniel sat in the gate of the king.

And Joseph is an example:

Genesis 41:39-45: Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Inasmuch as God has shown you all this, there is no one as discerning and wise as you. 40 You shall be over my house, and all my people shall be ruled according to your word; only in regard to the throne will I be greater than you." 41 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, "See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt."

42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring off his hand and put it on Joseph's hand; and he clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. 43 And he had him ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried out before him, "Bow the knee!" So he set him over all the land of Egypt. 44 Pharaoh also said to Joseph, "I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no man may lift his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt."

There’s a verse that I’ve been puzzling about for a long time. Finally, with this command of “Invest in your community, Son,” it begins to make sense:

Luke 19:13 And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. (KJV)

A newer translation says it this way:

Luke 19:13-14 So he called ten of his servants, delivered to them ten minas, and said to them, 'Do business till I come.' (NKJV)

The English word “occupy” is a military word; it means you’ve already conquered the territory, now keep it governed for the new rulers. The Greek word for “occupy” or “do business” is pragmate├║omai and it is a business term, but it’s a term of ownership, not busywork. It means both “Be engaged in a business for profit,” and “be occupied with reference to the affairs of state.

God is looking for a gain, a profit, an increase from us, which means that we must invest the resources that He’s given us into the people and circumstances that He’s placed around us.

Clearly, He’s not looking for money from us; “You can’t take it with you” clearly applies, but having money is a fine way to accomplish a profit in terms of lives, of influence, of relationship. Have you noticed how much influence the wealthy have as compared to the poor?

So the command is to invest in the community that God has placed you into.

‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. ‘Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. ‘Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you….’

Our place is to be in the world, not of the world. The other half of that, of course, is to be of Heaven, but not yet in Heaven: we have a job to do here.

It's My Turn

For the years, I've had the privilege of being part of the sending community for scores of short term and a not a few long-term missions trips. I can't tell you how much I've valued that, and how much richer I am for having had that experience!

But now it's my turn. OK, so it's a little turn – only about a week – and I'm not even leaving the country, but it's something of a missions trip! I'm excited! Let me tell you about it.

Early in August, two friends and myself will drive to San Francisco, California, the garden from which the hippie movement sprouted during the "Summer of Love" exactly 40 years ago. It's our belief that the revivial that God started – known in the media as "the Jesus People Movement" – degenerated into the hippie movement: the knowledge of the love of God was corrupted into the casual sex and casual abortions of "free love"; the experience of the Holy Spirit was replaced by a drug culture that shouted, "Turn on, Tune In, Drop out!"; the Spirit of Revival was traded for war protests and campus riots.

In other words, the revival that had been handed to us was dropped, and the move of God was usurped by a move of the flesh: what came about contained some of the same seeds, but at least partly because of the mishandling of my generation, those seeds fell into poor soil. Yet again, Jesus' parable of the Four Soils in Luke 8 makes a whole lot of sense: the Jesus People from Haight-Ashbury fell victim to the weeds and thorns of Jesus' parable, and were turned aside from fruitfulness by many "cares, riches, and pleasures of life."

I'll be traveling with Trevor Macpherson and Todd Adams, and those of you who know these two Godly Yahoos know that their presence means an interesting, if intense, time together. Our goal is to meet with other leaders from the Jesus People revival of the early 70's and strategize how to avoid similar mistakes as we hand the leadership of the current revival to the men and women of the next generation.

We'll conclude with a very large gathering in Golden Gate Park repenting for these and other failures, celebrating the marriage of some of the leaders of the next generation (can you imagine? an outdoor wedding!), and bringing invitation to the denizens of the park for a Wedding Supper. Sounds pretty ostentatious, doesn't it? It does to me too, but that's what we feel like God is calling us to do.

On the way back, we think we can attend church with Graham Cook (Sunday morning) and Bill Johnson (Sunday night), if we plan our trip right. We'll be back home by the middle of August.

You can find similar thinking to ours here: http://www.realsummeroflove.com/

So we're looking for support. We don't particularly need financial support, though if you want to, you can invest in the trip; you can ask us how. What we really need is prayer, and lots of it. First, if you're aware of any ways that you personally have short-cut the legitimate move of God in your own life, please join us in repenting for those sins: that's the main thrust of our trip. Beyond that, we'll treasure prayer for our safety, for divine appointments, for wisdom and humility in the meetings, and anything else you can think of. Please don't hesitate to share what you're hearing in prayer with us, too.

Who knows? This may be just a wild hare of a fifty-something "aging hippie" and his buddies. On the other hand, we think that our Father is up to something, and we want to see if we can help Him, or at least watch Him, in His work. Anybody can do nothing; we'd like to do something. Even if it’s weird.

Thanks so much. You're a real blessing!

Two Tabernacles

One of the most fascinating situations in the Bible is never described. It happens during the latter years of David’s reign, say from 2 Samuel chapter 7 and onward.

Years before, David had finished conquering all of his enemies, and his people had rested from war. David had finished building his palace, and all this happened before he discovered Bathsheba’s midnight rooftop bathing habits.

David himself is experiencing something of a personal revival, and he has just brought the ark of the Lord into the city (from Obed-Edom’s house in the suburbs).

This time fascinates me intensely, and I believe that it’s a metaphor for where the church is today.

The House of Worship

In that day, the Tabernacle of Moses (also known as the Tabernacle of Meeting) was installed on the hill of Shiloh a good day’s walk from Jerusalem. It encompassed a whole campus of highly ornate tents covering several acres. It was the only place where the entire nation would go to worship, and they went there by the thousands. The Levites and Priests taught the Law, the sacrifices were offered there: sin offerings, thanksgiving offerings and all the rest. Offerings and sacrifices were received from the people in the form of gold, silver and animal sacrifices.

The Tabernacle was a big spectacle: there were gold and silver and bronze and embroidery and bright colors everywhere.

Shiloh had become a noisy place. The crowds of people brought their own noises, and everywhere was the noise of the sheep and birds and oxen that were brought for sacrifice, interrupted by the businessmen selling more animals for sacrifice.

Over all that was the music. Ah, the music! Choirs, trumpets, harps.

The air was filled with fragrances. The animals brought their own smells of course, but the sacrifices and offerings filled the air with the smell of barbecue. And when they lit the incense, the smell of spices filled the place.

Services for thousands of people were led by priests decked out with linen and jewels and fancy robes and sometimes fancy hats. It seemed that the more important you were – and all the leaders were important – then the fancier your vestments were.

The entire nation was commanded by law to come together for a national party three times every year, and when it happened, the crowds swelled from the hundreds or the thousands to the hundreds of thousands. Every hotel room was booked solid for weeks, every restaurateur made a healthy profit when the festivals came to town.

Imagine an NFL football arena ten miles outside your hometown, and then imagine that it was a legal requirement that the entire nation attend the game every weekend. Now imagine that your team is in the Superbowl in that arena three times a year, and that Disney and MTV co-sponsor the halftime show. The cheerleaders, the news media, the coaches and officials: what an amazing spectacle!

The people didn’t gather for worship at the Tabernacle of Meeting in rebellion or selfishness; their goal was not spectacle. They were in fact obeying the commands of the Lord, commands about when to worship, how to sacrifice and what to teach. The leaders were installed by the command of God, for all that the hands that were laid on them were the hands of men. This worship service was established by God, and it was perpetuated at His command by His blessing.

They only lacked one thing. God’s presence, the Ark of the Covenant, was no longer there. Other than that, they pretty much had everything going for them.

The Presence of God

The Ark itself had been moved into the city of Jerusalem, and it was now residing in a pup tent in David’s back bedroom. For the next several years, until Solomon took it back to the Tabernacle of Meeting in Shiloh, David and his household worshipped in that spare bedroom. David re-assigned some of the Levites from the Tabernacle of Meeting to his own back bedroom, to the new tabernacle there.

That little tent would soon be known as David’s Tabernacle, and nobody knows exactly what it looked like. It might have been set up in a private garden rather than the back bedroom, and we’re only assuming that there was a pup tent over the ark. Knowing David’s delight in honoring God, it was probably a very nice pup tent. And if David danced foolishly (and half naked) during the public journey of God’s presence to his back bedroom, then how did he worship in that back bedroom? I’m guessing that “with abandon” applies.

The significant point was that the Ark, and therefore God’s presence was no longer hidden behind layers of ceremony and religious bureaucracy. Suddenly, for the first time since the Burning Bush, God was immediately accessible to His people.

Based on how much the Bible describes David, I imagine that the king spent a fair bit of his time in that back bedroom worshipping. Because the head of the household was a worshipper, some of his household learned to worship: I can see the butler and the assistant cook waiting until David was through, so they could get into that bedroom to get their turn on their faces or dancing in the presence of God.

The remarkable thing was that Heaven knew of David’s Tabernacle. I suspect the place was as popular in Heaven as it was on earth: finally, there was a place where God and man could come together, finally there was a man who was passionate about God’s presence. Generations later, when David’s Tabernacle was broken and abandoned, God promised to restore it. God doesn’t often promise to restore the things that man makes.

Tabernacles and the Twenty First Century

In Acts 15, Peter reminds the people of God’s promise in Amos to restore the tabernacle, David’s tabernacle.

We live in a day like the day that David built his tabernacle. The Bible describes our day as “the last days” (heck, all the time after Acts 2 seem to be part of “the last days”) which is the time for David’s Tabernacle to be restored. And we’re seeing that happen.

Heaven is committed to this kind of worship, and this is the pattern of worship that makes God happy: people coming directly to God, coming freely and joyfully, without the pomp and circumstance of the Tabernacle of Meeting, without the religious trappings of the grand ceremony and tradition.

We live in a day where there are large and prestigious and prosperous gathering places on the hilltops, in the public places. They’re in the media and in the eyes of the nation, and the people go there by the thousands to perform the rituals and offer the sacrifices and be trained by the religious authorities of the nation. They have the professional musicians, the professional speakers, the professional media technicians. The ceremonies are moving and the messages are relevant and uplifting. Thousands come to a faith in Christ through these tabernacles.

They lack only one thing. The presence of God is not in them.

I am not opposed to mega churches, or to Sunday-morning gatherings in general; I repeat: I’m part of one, and I like it. These are not “ungodly abominations;” they are not sacrilegious and they are not (by and large) the work of the flesh, that is, they are not monuments to self or pleasure or our own righteousness. But they’re not following the presence of God (I remind you: there are exceptions to everything I write in this blog!).

These churches carefully following plans laid down by godly men and women, whether that’s the vision of the founders, the vision of the pastor or the directions of the board of directors. They’re doing their best to be what they think a church ought to be. They’re following the law as they know it.

But David’s tabernacle is not about following the Law. In fact, it was completely outside the Law. The Law required the Ark of the Covenant to stay in the Tabernacle of Moses. David was working outside of the law, outside of the rules that God had established for worship, outside of the Tabernacle.

But it is David’s Tabernacle, not Moses’, that God likes best and that He promises to restore.

Tabernacles and Me

The big deal is this: it demonstrates God’s heart! God, it appears, prefers passion to legalism, intimate worship to religious conformity.

This isn’t about location. I’m not lobbying for Believers to run screaming from their churches and worship God in their back bedroom. Location means pretty much nothing.

I’m saying that going to church is not the thing that God respects. I’m lobbying for Believers to worship God passionately, intimately. I don’t really care if you and I worship God in the big gathering or the little one, as long as we passionately worship. The goal is getting crazy for God’s presence. The goal is worshipping with abandon, holding nothing back. The goal is letting nothing and nobody get in the way of our worship, whether circumstances, other worshippers or church leaders.

The reality, however, is that that we often can’t worship that way in our Sunday morning gatherings. When we’re there, we often (and often appropriately) need to conform to cultural standards of the place. If we were to dance in church like David danced, most churches would freak. Everyone else in the building would focus on us, not on God, and that’s not as it should be.

But we must worship. We must worship in abandon. We must be passionate. We must find a time and a place we can be foolish with. We must find a people we can worship among, who won’t be distracted by our passion, because they’re lost in their own.