Letters

We Have Misunderstood Matthew 18


I’ll bet you’ve read this passage from Matthew 18. You may have heard it preached or practiced.

“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell [it] to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” - Matthew 18:15-20

I’ve had to walk through this with folks (on both ends of it, actually). I’ve seen it up close, and I’ve seen the fruits of it up close.

And it’s made me think this through some. Did you know that this paragraph is surrounded by paragraphs where Jesus is not actually speaking literally? (Before: cut off your hand. After: forgive 70x70 and then the parable of the talents.)

So there’s good reason to reconsider our normal practice of ripping this paragraph out of its context in the rest of Matthew, out of its context in a first-century agrarian society. There’s good reason to reconsider our 21st century Information-Age literalist interpretation of this passage.


So consider this alternative rendering of this passage. Think of this as a cultural reference.

If your friend gets caught up in the stuff of their life, if they forget who they are, go be with him (or her), remind them of who they are, who God sees him to be, who you know they are. If he hears you, it’s all good.

But if he’s not able to hear you, gather some friends with you and remind him how awesome he is. Remind him of who you’ve known him to be. It’s likely he’d listen to a group of friends, if they’re people who he’s known are for him.

But if he still can’t hear you, get him up in front of the church. “Guys, this is Matthew. You all know how awesome Matthew is. Come on, let’s lay hands on Matthew. Let’s remind Matt of who he is, cuz he’s had a hard go for a while, and he needs our support!”

But if he is so messed up that they still can’t get past the garbage in their life, then treat him like a tax collector.

How did Jesus treat tax collectors? (He’s our example, remember?)

He befriended them (Matthew 9:9), he brought them close to him, he put them on his ministry team (Matthew 10:3, Luke 6:15), he trusted his reputation to him (the book of Matthew), he went out of his way to hang out with him (Luke 19:5).

That’s how we treat people that have forgotten who they are and gotten stuck in sin.

Go thou and do likewise.





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Letters

“I came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it…”

Judaizers have been speaking up again. I guess we'd better talk about it.

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

That is pretty much the standard, go-to verse for people who want to convince you that you need to be in bondage to the Law like they are. Yeah, let’s look at that.

First of all, this statement is found in Matthew 5: Jesus is speaking to people under the Law. He is not speaking to New Covenant believers. He’s speaking in the language of folks under the Law, speaking to people under the Law, but he’s not reaffirming the Law.

Go look at it. Read all of Matthew 5. Jesus is not saying, “Be sure to obey the Law!” He’s saying, “The Law is only the starting point!”

Verse 17 is one example: “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” If you don’t do better than the people who do the law the best, it ain’t gonna get you into the Kingdom. That's what this whole sermon is about: the Kingdom.

Then he gets real serious. What follows is where Jesus deconstructs the Law. “You have heard it said, … but I say to you….” Five times he raises the bar above what the Law had required.

Then he goes on (Chapter 6 continues that sermon) explaining a better way. He doesn’t really talk about the Kingdom for a while, but he gets to it: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

That very sermon continues on through Chapter 7, too. He’s already dismissed the Law, the godly works of the old paradigm; now he dismisses the godly works of the new paradigm: “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’”

Yeah, that's not the goal either. "Depart from me, I never knew you." It's about knowing him.

Then he finishes preaching wanders down the mountain and demonstrates his new Kingdom by healing the sick and teaching about the Kingdom.

OK. That’s our context. Now let’s look at that specific phrase, “I came not to abolish the Law but to fulfil it…”.

Yes, Jesus fulfilled the Law. Now the Law is fulfilled. What does it mean when something is fulfilled?

My father fulfilled the mortgage on his house. Now that his mortgage has been fulfilled, that mortgage is obsolete, fulfilled, finished, powerless. That’s what “fulfilled” means. It’s done.

So, yes, ALL of the terms and conditions of the Old Covenant (for that's what the law is) are now obsolete, fulfilled, finished, powerless, now that the Old Covenant is dead and gone.

The Torah (the first five books of the Bible, containing the Law of the Old Covenant) is an interesting (and useful) history book. It tells the story of a covenant that God never wanted, and that never worked [Acts 15:10]. We can learn from their mistakes, and we should.

But it is completely without merit as a standard to live by today, if for no other reason than there is nobody, literally not one body, who is still part of the Old Covenant to which the Law applies.

People try to say, “But obeying the Torah (or at least the 10 Commandments) is good. It’s part of making us acceptable to God.

Balderdash! Obeying the Law is an obstacle, a stumbling block to us becoming acceptable to God.

I am so thankful that the Law has been fulfilled! This is such an excellent expression of God’s mercy!

You see, it is not even possible to obey the Torah in our day and age, and it hasn’t been possible for nearly twenty centuries.

A huge part of the law was the sacrificial system. And nowadays, there is no ark of the covenant (it was lost centuries ago), there is no tabernacle or temple (it was destroyed many centuries ago) with an altar to kill bulls and goat on. And James says, "For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all."

More importantly, there are no Levites left to offer those sacrifices to God. The Levites were the only ones whom the law allowed to do that. Even worse, there are no records of Levitical bloodlines, and without those records, nobody could minister if there was a temple.

All of the genealogical records (all of the documentation of who’s a Levite and who’s not) was destroyed when the Old Covenant was destroyed as the Temple was destroyed in the conquering of Jerusalem in the first century. [https://nwp.link/WikiAD70] There are many parts of the law that cannot be obeyed now, and stumbling in one point of the law makes you guilty of the whole thing. No wonder it was destroyed.

Scripture predicted that the Old Covenant was going to be done away with and the temple would be destroyed [Hebrews 8:13] and Jesus described it in detail [Matthew 24] a full generation before it went down. Literally, not one stone was left on another. (And because of his warnings, the Christians - the only ones who believed his warnings - escaped that destruction.)

Paul summarized this whole law business quite nicely: "I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" [Galatians 2:21]

Does that mean that we live lives characterized by rebellion against the Law of the Old Covenant? Where the command is “Do not kill,” do we make murder our habit to lie in order to avoid an old, dead Law?

You can hear how silly that sounds when we see it in black and white. No, we still don’t kill people. But that's not because of the obsolete rule book of a failed covenant that never applied to anybody but Israel anyway.

Rather, we don’t kill because we’re like Jesus and he doesn’t kill. We don’t kill because he’s teaching us to “love one another as I have loved you,” and murdering people isn’t actually very loving.

So throw off the lies that say, “You must study the Torah! You must obey the Ten Commandments."

"Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.” Cast out the efforts to obey as the way to please God. There is no inheritance for you in that path.
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Letters

The Vengeance of God


Isaiah 61 begins, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor...”



This much is familiar to us. It’s the part that Jesus quoted when he began his public ministry (Luke 4). It was him announcing, “This is my job description for the next three and a half years. This is the what Messiah will be among you.”

But the statement He quotes from in Isaiah 61 goes on; Jesus actually stopped in the middle of a sentence. I don’t know how many sermons I’ve heard - and I agree with them - saying “That’s because it wasn’t yet time for the next part.” Which reads:

“...and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion — to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”

We are clearly no longer in the days of Messiah, at least the days of his earthly ministry. I wonder if we’re now in the next bit, “the day of vengeance of our God.”

Look at how this verse defines the day of God’s vengeance. It continues on and describes God’s vengeance as:

¤ to comfort all who mourn,
¤ to provide for those who grieve in Zion,
¤ to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
¤ [to bestow on them] the oil of joy instead of mourning,
¤ [to bestow on them] a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

Resulting in:

¤ They will be called oaks of righteousness,
¤ [They will be called] the planting of the Lord.
¤ [They will be called] for the display of his splendor.

That is how Isaiah describes “the day of vengeance of our God”: comforting, providing for, blessing his victims, until they are firmly established and displaying his splendor.

Hmm. I  believe I’ve misunderstood God’s vengeance.

I had learned about vengeance from Romans 12:19, which tells me, “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.”

I’ve always interpreted this as, “Don’t you beat ‘em up and make ‘em pay. God can beat on ‘em far more severely than you can!”

That was my understanding of vengeance. It was the image of God as my hit man, so I didn’t need to dirty my hands (or dirty my soul). He’d do the dirty work for me.

If I was really honest, the idea that I’d always had modeled for me was “God save me and destroy my enemies!” And I rather adopted that idea too, not in so many words, but this was the worldview from which I prayed.

Yeah, I don’t think that’s right any more. That’s not what his vengeance is; where he’s leading us.

Rather, God appears to want to save me AND save my enemies! (What? He loves those idiots, too?)

Jesus stopped quoting Isaiah before he mentioned the vengeance of God. But that didn’t stop him preaching these values.

Everybody loved it when he quoted Isaiah and announced, “That’s right here, right now.” They all smiled and nodded and clapped politely.

But when he went on, things changed.

Seven verses later, Luke records, “They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff.”

That’s a pretty big attitude change. What pissed them off so badly?

I’m glad you asked. In between, he declared, “I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

He was preaching that God wanted to save Israel AND save the gentiles.

It angered the religious community then, and it seems to anger the religious community now. But that’s not my issue here.

My focus here is that this idea that God wants to save us AND save “them” too is far more consistent with God’s character than the idea that God iss our hit man, on duty to smite our enemies so we don’t need to dirty our hands.

I remember a verse from my youth (from when I used to focus on sin as I was presenting the “good news”): “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). That’s him saving his enemies.

I could go on. Now that I stop and think about it (and I’ve been thinking about this for months), I find the value all over Scripture, now that I’m beginning to be willing to see it.

But for now, I’m going to just make this statement:

The vengeance of God is not about  smiting my enemies. It’s about saving them, about blessing them with everything he’s blessing me with.

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Letters

Jesus and Intercessors


I woke up thinking this morning about how Jesus interacted with folks.

As I was wandering towards wakefulness, I was praying for some folks in my mind, silently. That’s a little unusual for me; I usually pray out loud (it keeps my mind from wandering) and while I’m walking (it keeps me from drifting off).

But I was still snuggled in my bed, two-thirds asleep, so I wasn’t walking anywhere and I wasn’t yet able to speak out loud. I was just remembering a few folks before God, asking his blessing, very specific blessings, on them.

For some of them, I’m asking for healing. Fairly often when I’m praying for healing, I reflect on how the Great Physician did his healing, cuz I want to be more like him.

And I realized that when Jesus was on Earth, he didn’t real often respond to silent prayers, unspoken requests. In fact, there are only a couple of stories where that could maybe have been what he was responding to, but even then, that’s only a guess: the text doesn’t say that. (Consider Luke 7:13 & John 5:6.)

And even in those situations, he interacted with the folks before wielding power on their behalf. This wasn’t an anonymous, drive-by intercession.

The vast majority of times, Jesus was responding to people face-to-face, to passionate people. Often tears were involved. Most (but significantly, not all) of the time, Jesus responded to people who came to him, who interrupted his day, and even then, he sometimes grilled them on what it was that they really wanted (as in Mark 10:51). Specificity, apparently, is good.

It appears that Jesus wanted folks to come to him; maybe it’s my imagination as I read the stories, but it looks to me like he seemed to enjoy the audacious ones (like Mark 2:4 & 10:48).

I observe that Jesus sometimes went way the heck out of his way with the apparent intent of making himself available to be interrupted by people’s passionate petitions (Mark 7:24 & Luke 19:5).

I also observe that Jesus never turned a single person away who had come to him for healing, even when it resulted in delaying his ministry to someone else (as in Matthew 9:20); he stopped for the one, and then went on about the task after fully responding to the interruption, even though it was now a “bigger” job (Mark 5:36).

And then there’s that time that Jesus heard about the need, and did nothing for a couple of days. (John 11:6. Note that the message said, “Lazarus is sick,” but it had taken several days to get the message to Jesus: by the time word reached Jesus, Lazarus was already dead. Jesus waited to respond so that he could be raised after “four days,” a thing that had not been done before.)

I learn from this story that Jesus doesn’t always answer prayers real quickly, and yeah, sometimes things get worse while I’m waiting for that answer. That’s never comfortable, for me or for him (John 11:35).

The conclusion I came to, as I drifted awake, was that Jesus pretty consistently responded to people getting his attention and asking for something. He didn’t generally just see the need and make it happen, and he didn’t appear to respond to polite, delicate, or hidden prayers from comfy places.



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Letters

Target Fixation



I’m pretty careful about where my attention goes, and about how I handle my words. God’s instructions are pretty clear, and I’ve learned over the years that there’s reason for his instructions.

That command shows up in at least two places:

Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

The other is in Hebrews 12:1& 2: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

There’s a common thread in these: Guard what your attention is on. You know, I think he’s serious about this.

Have you heard of “Target fixation”? Whatever you focus your attention on, you tend to become like.

In these passages, God’s telling us to focus our attention on stuff that – should we actually put our attention on them – we’d become “excellent” and “praiseworthy” in our character; we’d become Christ-like.

That’s an excellent goal in itself.

But regardless of the result, it’s still a command. “Do this.” “Think about such things.” “Fix your eyes on Jesus.”

I take him seriously. :)





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Are We Mere Men?


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

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

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

But Christians? Really?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is how sons and daughters of the Kingdom respond.

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Nor'west Prophetic

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Jigsaw Revelation: the Love of God


Have you ever put a jigsaw puzzle together?

Sometimes you find two or three pieces that fit together, and suddenly that part of the picture makes sense, when a moment ago, it looked completely different.

I’m sort of thinking along these lines today. Would you think this through with me? This will likely get uncomfortable; brace yourself (or skip it and move on).

Revelation chapter 20 is in the middle of what appears to be The Epic Judgment Scene at the end of time. In verse 12 is this statement: “The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.”

That’s the scene that we’ve all read about, heard preached about, where people are judged for all the good they’ve done. This is the verse that gives rise to the silly idea that God is going to somehow compare the good that we’ve done against the bad that we’ve done.

We know better than to think that the good we’ve done outweighing the bad we’ve done is the way to reach heaven. We know better, but there’s this statement: “The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.”

It’s like that weird piece of the puzzle that just doesn’t seem to fit in with other pieces of the same color. There’s always one piece like that, isn’t there?

So let’s look at some other pieces of the puzzle. Let’s lay them all out together, and see where they lead us:

• “The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.” [Revelation 20:12] We’ve seen that one. Then add this one:

• “God is love.” [1 John 4:8 and 16] This isn’t terribly controversial. We knew that, too. Now add this piece in between those two pieces:

• “Love keeps no record of wrongs.” [1 Corinthians 13:5] Now fit these pieces together with me, and see how these work out:

Since God is love (see above), it seems to follow that God would keep no record of wrongs.

And if that’s true, it means that the books that people are judged by, the books that list what everyone has done, they maybe have no record of wrongs.

And if they have no record of wrongs, then they must be only full of the good things that folks have done. That’s a new and different thought. But that’s what these verses say, isn’t it? I know it’s not the harsh judgmental image of God that some people insist on, but I think that might be the God of someone like Jesus.

Now, some people’s books might be thicker than others.

I would expect that Mother Teresa’s book is pretty immense; she did a lot of good. And she maybe needed less “wrongs” erased out of her book. Just a thought.

Osama bin Laden’s book is on that shelf. I’m absolutely confident that there is some good recorded in his book, though he was famous on the earth for the other kind of things, the kind of things of which no record is kept.

My book is there, and perhaps it’s between theirs. I have to say that I am not overly offended by the idea that my book may be missing some of the things that I’ve done in my life.

Yes, Scripture declares the dead were judged by what was recorded in the books, and at least for the moment, I’m suspecting that this means that the dead were judged by the good that they did in their lives, not by the wrong that they did.

That sounds like an awards ceremony of some sort. Everybody gets a prize. Some are big, some are small.

It reminds me of Paul’s words:

“If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person's work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved--even though only as one escaping through the flames.” [1 Corinthians 3:12-15]

Now if you know me, you’ll know that I often insist on reading things in context, and the context of this statement in Revelation 20 is fascinating. There was another Book on the table in that scene, the Book of Life, and that’s where the real judgement happened: was their name in that book?

“Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” [Revelation 20:15] That’s another story, another judgement, of course.

It’s a big deal, but it’s not what I’m looking at today.

The first judgement, the judgement based on “what they had done as recorded in the books,” I’m wondering if that judgement is based on records that “keep no record of wrongs” because they’re kept by the God who is Love. Hmm…

And if my Father keeps no records of wrong in my book, and if it’s true that “with the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more,” then I have several reasons to give up my records of who’s done right and who’s done wrong in my perception.

This way of recordkeeping will change my personal relationships, of course, but I’m suddenly impressed that this will affect how I read the news. Love keeps no record of wrong.

Hmm. This might be an interesting season.





                                               

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Won’t I Be Bored in Heaven?




Recently, someone asked an interesting question. They asked if we wouldn’t be bored in Heaven?

I used to be concerned about that rather a lot. I don’t do real well with boredom, and that exposed some of my assumptions about Heaven.

I realized that while Jesus spoke of Heaven quite a bit, he described the activity in heaven very little. So what happens there is something of a mystery, and I, like most of the Western Church, don’t like mysteries, so we invent things, and that leads to the idea of harps and clouds, or the thought that we’d do nothing but worship for billions of centuries: the ideas of being bored is a real issue.

I’ve had to realize that two lines of thought address that topic:

1)  When does our habitation of Heaven begin? Do we not get to participate in Heaven except after we die (another common, but false, belief)? Why would we be instructed to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven” if we weren’t supposed to experience Heaven here, on Earth.

One could also ask: when do we gain eternal life? Do we only become eternal beings after we die? Or do we become eternal beings when we come to faith in Jesus – when we submit to His Kingship, the Kingship of Heaven? Our submission to the Lordship (Kingship) of Jesus is the beginning of my habitation in Heaven. Hmm.

Long story short, we’re seated in Heaven right now (Ephesians 2:6). Am I bored now? If I am, then I’m doing it wrong. If I’m not bored now, I won’t be bored in the other part of Heaven either, the part on the other side of the River.

2) Consider the parables of the Talents (Mt 25) and the Minas (Luke 19): the King entrusts us with some of His valuables, and leaves to go inherit a Kingdom (“…prepare a place for you…”?). Then he comes back after he receives that Kingdom (Luke 19:12) to evaluate how we’ve done. (Sound familiar at all? Consider Rev 20:12.)

So after the King returns, he judges the works of the folks he’s entrusted his riches to.

So what happened to the folks who did a good job with the King’s riches in these parables? What does it say?  “And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.’”

Authority over cities. I’ve never ruled a city, but I imagine that it it’s not boring. Particularly if I consider Jesus’ model for ruling, which is largely based on washing feet. That’s a lot of people to serve, to assist into their full destiny.

I don’t think we’re going to have any time to be bored in Heaven. I think we’ll have work to do, or at least the way Jesus talked about it suggests it, though it does not say it clearly.

I observe that from an Earthly perspective, the idea of civil government (ruling a city) contrasts with the worship festival that Scripture describes quite metaphorically in Revelation 5 (and other locations). I figure that this is just my earthly perspective getting out of hand. Serving saints, ruling cities, that strikes me as an excellent way to worship Jesus!

As a side note, I reflect that there are only a few things that are of enough enduring value to matter in Heaven:

• Human beings,
• The Word of God
• Relationships, with God & with people.

So I figure that these are the treasures (minas, talents) that Jesus has given, that he’s expecting to receive a return on his investment with. I figure that our handling of these treasures has a lot to do with how bored or how busy we will be in Eternity.

I no longer worry about being bored.

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Won’t I Be Bored in Heaven?




Recently, someone asked an interesting question. They asked if we wouldn’t be bored in Heaven?

I used to be concerned about that rather a lot. I don’t do real well with boredom, and that exposed some of my assumptions about Heaven.

I realized that while Jesus spoke of Heaven quite a bit, he described the activity in heaven very little. So what happens there is something of a mystery, and I, like most of the Western Church, don’t like mysteries, so we invent things, and that leads to the idea of harps and clouds, or the thought that we’d do nothing but worship for billions of centuries: the ideas of being bored is a real issue.

I’ve had to realize that two lines of thought address that topic:

1)  When does our habitation of Heaven begin? Do we not get to participate in Heaven except after we die (another common, but false, belief)? Why would we be instructed to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven” if we weren’t supposed to experience Heaven here, on Earth.

One could also ask: when do we gain eternal life? Do we only become eternal beings after we die? Or do we become eternal beings when we come to faith in Jesus – when we submit to His Kingship, the Kingship of Heaven? Our submission to the Lordship (Kingship) of Jesus is the beginning of my habitation in Heaven. Hmm.

Long story short, we’re seated in Heaven right now (Ephesians 2:6). Am I bored now? If I am, then I’m doing it wrong. If I’m not bored now, I won’t be bored in the other part of Heaven either, the part on the other side of the River.

2) Consider the parables of the Talents (Mt 25) and the Minas (Luke 19): the King entrusts us with some of His valuables, and leaves to go inherit a Kingdom (“…prepare a place for you…”?). Then he comes back after he receives that Kingdom (Luke 19:12) to evaluate how we’ve done. (Sound familiar at all? Consider Rev 20:12.)

So after the King returns, he judges the works of the folks he’s entrusted his riches to.

So what happened to the folks who did a good job with the King’s riches in these parables? What does it say?  “And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.’”

Authority over cities. I’ve never ruled a city, but I imagine that it it’s not boring. Particularly if I consider Jesus’ model for ruling, which is largely based on washing feet. That’s a lot of people to serve, to assist into their full destiny.

I don’t think we’re going to have any time to be bored in Heaven. I think we’ll have work to do, or at least the way Jesus talked about it suggests it, though it does not say it clearly.

I observe that from an Earthly perspective, the idea of civil government (ruling a city) contrasts with the worship festival that Scripture describes quite metaphorically in Revelation 5 (and other locations). I figure that this is just my earthly perspective getting out of hand. Serving saints, ruling cities, that strikes me as an excellent way to worship Jesus!

As a side note, I reflect that there are only a few things that are of enough enduring value to matter in Heaven:

• Human beings,
• The Word of God
• Relationships, with God & with people.

So I figure that these are the treasures (minas, talents) that Jesus has given, that he’s expecting to receive a return on his investment with. I figure that our handling of these treasures has a lot to do with how bored or how busy we will be in Eternity.

I no longer worry about being bored.

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Letters

Decently and In Order


“On the day Pentecost was being fulfilled, all the disciples were gathered in one place.  Suddenly they heard the sound of a violent blast of wind rushing into the house from out of the heavenly realm. The roar of the wind was so overpowering it was all anyone could bear!  Then all at once a pillar of fire appeared before their eyes. It separated into tongues of fire that engulfed each one of them.  They were all filled and equipped with the Holy Spirit and were inspired to speak in tongues—empowered by the Spirit to speak in languages they had never learned! …

When the people of the city heard the roaring sound, crowds came running to where it was coming from, stunned over what was happening, because each one could hear the disciples speaking in his or her own language.  Bewildered, they said to one another, “Aren’t these all Galileans? … Yet we hear them speaking of God’s mighty wonders in our own dialects!”  They all stood there, dumbfounded and astonished, saying to one another, “What is this phenomenon?”

But others poked fun at them and said, “They’re just drunk on new wine.”

Peter stood up with the eleven apostles and shouted to the crowd. “Listen carefully, my fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem. You need to clearly understand what’s happening here.  These people are not drunk like you think they are, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.”

This [Acts 2, TPT] is what happened at the first gathering of the saints after Jesus left for Heaven. That was quite a meeting. Functionally, it would be hard to distinguish this “church service” from a riot in the streets. This was not tidy.


By the Law of First Mention – this being that first meeting where the Holy Spirit shows up – this meeting is our standard for when the Holy Spirit shows up in our midst.

This is the Scriptural precedent for 1 Corinthians 14:40: “All things should be done decently and in order.” [RSV]

This is what Holy Spirit considers “decently and in order” when he comes among us.

Let everything be done decently and in order. 




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Letters

Decently and In Order


“On the day Pentecost was being fulfilled, all the disciples were gathered in one place.  Suddenly they heard the sound of a violent blast of wind rushing into the house from out of the heavenly realm. The roar of the wind was so overpowering it was all anyone could bear!  Then all at once a pillar of fire appeared before their eyes. It separated into tongues of fire that engulfed each one of them.  They were all filled and equipped with the Holy Spirit and were inspired to speak in tongues—empowered by the Spirit to speak in languages they had never learned! …

When the people of the city heard the roaring sound, crowds came running to where it was coming from, stunned over what was happening, because each one could hear the disciples speaking in his or her own language.  Bewildered, they said to one another, “Aren’t these all Galileans? … Yet we hear them speaking of God’s mighty wonders in our own dialects!”  They all stood there, dumbfounded and astonished, saying to one another, “What is this phenomenon?”

But others poked fun at them and said, “They’re just drunk on new wine.”

Peter stood up with the eleven apostles and shouted to the crowd. “Listen carefully, my fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem. You need to clearly understand what’s happening here.  These people are not drunk like you think they are, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.”

This [Acts 2, TPT] is what happened at the first gathering of the saints after Jesus left for Heaven. That was quite a meeting. Functionally, it would be hard to distinguish this “church service” from a riot in the streets. This was not tidy.


By the Law of First Mention – this being that first meeting where the Holy Spirit shows up – this meeting is our standard for when the Holy Spirit shows up in our midst.

This is the Scriptural precedent for 1 Corinthians 14:40: “All things should be done decently and in order.” [RSV]

This is what Holy Spirit considers “decently and in order” when he comes among us.

Let everything be done decently and in order. 




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Letters

New Respect for the Word of God


I used to proudly and unquestioningly hold to a particular standard of belief that I now find myself questioning.  Some will likely call me a heretic for this. Heck, back then, I would have called these questions heretical!

The reason for questioning is simple: I live in the 21stcentury, among a highly industrialized, aggressively secular global community. I don’t live among a first century community of farmers in a religiously-dominated culture, or among a bronze-age nomadic society. I marvel that I didn’t catch this sooner.  

And with this in mind, I’ve found myself concluding that “the most literal translation” of the Bible won’t actually be helpful to me. So I’ve abandoned my search for the most literal translation of the Scriptures for several reasons:

• The original texts of the Bible are full of stories, parables and metaphors: it wasn’t actually written for literal interpretation. Looking for “the most literal” translation strikes me as fundamentally contrary to the writing styles and methods of the Biblical authors.

• In order to have an effective, “literal”, word-for-word translation of the Bible, we need to have an equivalent English word – and ONLY one English word – for every Hebrew or Greek or Aramaic word of the original texts. And we aren’t even close to that. These languages are completely different from their roots up.

• Literal communication of agrarian metaphors and religious allusion don’t translate well (if at all) into the Information Age. The ideas are valuable, but we need to translate the metaphors, either during the translation to English, or during my reading of the English translation. Knowledge of grafting grapevines, for example, is not prevalent in my world.

• There really is at least a measure of truth behind the principle that as years go by, both the skills and the resources for Bible translation advance. Therefore, all else being equal, there is real reason to expect that more modern translations will ultimately capture the heart of the Scriptures better than earlier versions.

• I don’t actually need divine wisdom for dealing with slavery, temple prostitution, arranged marriages, leprosy, and other topics that the Bible did deal with literally. But there are principles that, if I consider them metaphorically, have application to my Facebook interactions and my driving habits.

• My other challenge is that I no longer am as interested in the (admittedly priceless) words of famous first-century (or much earlier!) followers of God. I’m actually more interested in hearing the Word of God Himself speaking to me through their words. [see John 1:1-2, Hebrews 4:12-13]

I still respect (and study and read) the NASB and NRSV and other word-for-word translations of the Bible. I value those translations, and I seriously respect their goals!

For the last 50 years or so, I’ve used my paper-and-ink Bibles very heavily, and worn them out regularly. So I’ve replaced my “primary” Bible pretty frequently. And curiously, I chose to get a different translation for my primary study & ministry Bible every few years. (My thinking back then was that I wanted to get past the mindset of the translators, and hear the heart of the authors behind the translation.) So I’ve avoided growing up loyal to any particular translation.

In recent years, there have appeared some fresh translations that are aspiring to translate the heart of the content, rather than to shoehorn an English word into being an equivalent for a Greek or Hebrew word that isn’t even part of our thinking in this century. As a result, these are fresher to my understanding and more accessible to my emotions than the shoehorned vocabulary of earlier versions (consider “adjure” or “husbandman” or “prick against the goads”).

I’ve been listeningto the Bible rather a lot recently, more than reading it (“Faith comes by hearing….”), and while I own audio versions of four different translations, I find myself most inspired, most provoked, most comforted by The Message Version. Not even a little bit of a “word-for-word” version, their goal was to communicate Scripture into the actual, everyday vernacular that we speak today. I think it succeeds wonderfully!

I chose it primarily to get out of the normal “religious” thinking that I’d grown up with listening to KJV and NIV preachers, and it’s worked for that purpose.

When I’m digging into the Greek & Hebrew, I still use the older, more traditional translations, particularly the NIV.

So you’re welcome to write me off as a heretic if you feel the need to. Keep in mind that “heretic” was a word invented during the Inquisition specifically to accuse those who [gasp!] thought independently of what the religious government told them to think. Yeah, I aspire to do that.

But you’re also welcome to join me in exploring the riches of the Word of God as He expresses Himself through the word of God.




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Letters

New Respect for the Word of God


I used to proudly and unquestioningly hold to a particular standard of belief that I now find myself questioning.  Some will likely call me a heretic for this. Heck, back then, I would have called these questions heretical!

The reason for questioning is simple: I live in the 21stcentury, among a highly industrialized, aggressively secular global community. I don’t live among a first century community of farmers in a religiously-dominated culture, or among a bronze-age nomadic society. I marvel that I didn’t catch this sooner.  

And with this in mind, I’ve found myself concluding that “the most literal translation” of the Bible won’t actually be helpful to me. So I’ve abandoned my search for the most literal translation of the Scriptures for several reasons:

• The original texts of the Bible are full of stories, parables and metaphors: it wasn’t actually written for literal interpretation. Looking for “the most literal” translation strikes me as fundamentally contrary to the writing styles and methods of the Biblical authors.

• In order to have an effective, “literal”, word-for-word translation of the Bible, we need to have an equivalent English word – and ONLY one English word – for every Hebrew or Greek or Aramaic word of the original texts. And we aren’t even close to that. These languages are completely different from their roots up.

• Literal communication of agrarian metaphors and religious allusion don’t translate well (if at all) into the Information Age. The ideas are valuable, but we need to translate the metaphors, either during the translation to English, or during my reading of the English translation. Knowledge of grafting grapevines, for example, is not prevalent in my world.

• There really is at least a measure of truth behind the principle that as years go by, both the skills and the resources for Bible translation advance. Therefore, all else being equal, there is real reason to expect that more modern translations will ultimately capture the heart of the Scriptures better than earlier versions.

• I don’t actually need divine wisdom for dealing with slavery, temple prostitution, arranged marriages, leprosy, and other topics that the Bible did deal with literally. But there are principles that, if I consider them metaphorically, have application to my Facebook interactions and my driving habits.

• My other challenge is that I no longer am as interested in the (admittedly priceless) words of famous first-century (or much earlier!) followers of God. I’m actually more interested in hearing the Word of God Himself speaking to me through their words. [see John 1:1-2, Hebrews 4:12-13]

I still respect (and study and read) the NASB and NRSV and other word-for-word translations of the Bible. I value those translations, and I seriously respect their goals!

For the last 50 years or so, I’ve used my paper-and-ink Bibles very heavily, and worn them out regularly. So I’ve replaced my “primary” Bible pretty frequently. And curiously, I chose to get a different translation for my primary study & ministry Bible every few years. (My thinking back then was that I wanted to get past the mindset of the translators, and hear the heart of the authors behind the translation.) So I’ve avoided growing up loyal to any particular translation.

In recent years, there have appeared some fresh translations that are aspiring to translate the heart of the content, rather than to shoehorn an English word into being an equivalent for a Greek or Hebrew word that isn’t even part of our thinking in this century. As a result, these are fresher to my understanding and more accessible to my emotions than the shoehorned vocabulary of earlier versions (consider “adjure” or “husbandman” or “prick against the goads”).

I’ve been listeningto the Bible rather a lot recently, more than reading it (“Faith comes by hearing….”), and while I own audio versions of four different translations, I find myself most inspired, most provoked, most comforted by The Message Version. Not even a little bit of a “word-for-word” version, their goal was to communicate Scripture into the actual, everyday vernacular that we speak today. I think it succeeds wonderfully!

I chose it primarily to get out of the normal “religious” thinking that I’d grown up with listening to KJV and NIV preachers, and it’s worked for that purpose.

When I’m digging into the Greek & Hebrew, I still use the older, more traditional translations, particularly the NIV.

So you’re welcome to write me off as a heretic if you feel the need to. Keep in mind that “heretic” was a word invented during the Inquisition specifically to accuse those who [gasp!] thought independently of what the religious government told them to think. Yeah, I aspire to do that.

But you’re also welcome to join me in exploring the riches of the Word of God as He expresses Himself through the word of God.




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Letters

The Cutting of the Lord


Jesus promised us that our growth would be rewarded with pruning. We think, “Pruning? That’s cutting! That’s taking things away! That can’t be good!”


Here are some details about pruning.

• Pruning carefully will drastically increase the fruitfulness of the pruned tree. Cutting back results in a dramatic increase of fruit!
• Pruning at the right spot strengthens frame of the base plant. Pruning makes you stronger.
• Pruning is not actually optional (John 15:2). If we bear fruit, we will be pruned. If we do not bear fruit, we’ll be cut back very severely (but not killed), so that when we grow back, we’ll grow fruit. And when we do, we’ll be pruned for even more fruit.

So how does he prune us?

In John 15:3 Jesus says, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” So him speaking his word to us is part of our cleaning, our pruning. This is him speaking to us, mostly through the Book, and a lot of that is about how to respond to the crap in our life.

In Luke 13:8, he gives us more detail. The conversation is about pruning, and in that parable, Jesus says to the Father, “Leave [him] alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it....”

Fertilizer in that day was manure: animal poo. So pruning may show up as crap in our life.

Here’s an example: in Luke 9, the boys are arguing about who's greatest. That's poo. The ambition to be great is actually good. The competition apparently is the poo.

So in 9:48, Jesus prunes them. “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”

This is what pruning looks like. That’s not as bad as we feared, is it?


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