Letters

Responding to the Covid Virus

I’ve been watching the foolishness and the panic in the news, in the streets, in the grocery stores. Sure, I’ve been embarrassed (haven’t we all?). Yeah, it’s a serious virus, but I still marvel at the degree at which a society crumbles in the face of a disease.

But something else is rising up, too, and this is fascinating.

I’ve been working to keep my perspective, to guard my soul. Here are some things I’m meditating on:

• The promises of God are still “Yes!” and “Amen!” [2Corinthians 1:20]  God is not caught off-guard by this stupid disease. Nor by the irresponsible media whipping the people to a frenzy of fear. God has not been side-tracked.

• God will not let me be tempted (to fear, to foreboding, to panic, to hate) beyond my ability to resist that fear. And he’s a perfect judge of [my] character. Circumstances may feel overwhelming, but my Father who loves me promises me that they are not. He will provide a way of escape [1Corinthians 10:13].

• My Father is both amazingly capable, and passionately in love with me. And he’s good. Really good. I can trust my life to him, even in the midst of fear and panic [ibid, Mark 10:18, 2Corinthians 9:8]. I’m safe entrusting myself to his care [Isaiah 49:16, Psalm 121:4, Luke 12:32].

I observe that the daily routine of billions of people is disrupted. Yeah, for a small fraction of the population, it’s disrupted by a trip to the hospital. But for most of the rest of the people, it’s disruption by a government decision.

When daily routine is disrupted, all kinds of interesting things become possible. Sometimes people begin to think. Certainly, people are more open to new ideas, new beliefs, new practices. That’s really quite exciting.

And I have this growing sense that God is on the prowl, working in the background, behind the scenes, in significant ways. I find that I want to believe that his actions will break out into the public, and maybe they will. But if I’m honest, when he does that, human beings quickly administrate and publicize every little thing he does. I’m not convinced he is thrilled with that response.

The truth is that I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m OK with that because I trust my Father to keep me in his hands (which is not the same as keeping me from anything bad happening).

But in the midst of all of this three-ring circus, I can’t shake the feeling, the growing excitement, that God is up to something good.


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Letters

The Private Use of Miracles


It’s right there in Mark Chapter 8, but I’ve never heard anybody teach about it. Here’s the relevant part of the text:

Related image13 [Jesus] left [the crowd], got back into the boat, and crossed to the other side.
14 Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. 15 “Watch out!” He cautioned them. “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod.”
16 So they began to discuss with one another the fact that they had no bread.
17 Aware of their conversation, Jesus asked them, “Why are you debating about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Do you have such hard hearts? 18 ‘Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear?’ And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of broken pieces did you collect?”
“Twelve,” they answered.
20 “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of broken pieces did you collect?”
“Seven,” they said.
21 Then He asked them, “Do you still not understand?”

-----------------

I get it that the warning (v15) about the influence of the Pharisees (religious spirit) and Herod (political spirit) preaches really well. That’s cool.

And I get the encouragement (v18) that there are three ways of building faith from miracles (seeing, hearing, remembering). That preaches nicely, and I’ve benefited from that lesson.

But in the midst of all this, Jesus is chiding the disciples for their concern about provision (food: bread). The clear implication of the conversation is that Jesus is completely comfortable with using the same miracle that he used twice before for thousands, but using it this time to provide for himself and his 12 disciples. He doesn’t actually come out and say it, but it’s pretty clear nonetheless.

This challenges a belief that I didn’t recognize I had, and it makes me uncomfortable. I find that I’ve believed that miracles are for evangelism, or for public ministry, that somehow using them to cover for my mistake of poor planning was disrespecting the miracle.

But Jesus rather blows up that false belief. (And if that weren’t enough, he does it again in Matthew 17:27, where he sends Pete to get their tax money from a fish’s mouth! And he walked on water just to meet up with his boys who had left earlier.)

As I reflect on my crumbling misbelief, I realize that it includes the assumption that God loves “them” (whoever “them” is) more than he loves me, that he is pleased to provide for hungry masses, but for some reason, I don’t qualify for that sort of miracle.

I call that out as a lie. That’s not true. God loves me. Period. And since he’s an infinite God, with infinite omnipotence and stuff, therefore his love for me is infinite: it is not possible for anyone ever to be loved more than he loves me. Not crowds of sinners, not the 12 disciples, not that missionary in Africa who gets to raise the dead so often. Not even you. He loves me fully, completely, infinitely.

It’s OK. He loves you that much, that way, too.

And apparently, he’s OK with relying on miracles for everyday life, for lunch, for taxes, for meeting friends. Wow.  


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Letters

Done


I found myself writing this down the other day. I wanted to share it, in case it encourages someone:

The Bible does notteach that Christ died “so that we can be saved.” He did not open the possibility for me to do enough good works or do the right deeds so that I can work my way in to heaven.

Rather, he took all the sin and all the judgment that was due to you and to me, past, present & future, and rather than buying the possibilityof salvation, what he bought was salvation itself (the Bible calls it a “sure salvation”) that he provided for us. He declared, “It is FINISHED.” As in “There’s no more to do.” Done. Finis.

We (you and I, and everybody else) have the invitation, since God honors the free will he invested in us, to receive that free gift of salvation, or to reject it. It’s only a choice, and the choice is exercised by faith: by believing God’s offer. (Ephesians says that even the faith is a gift from God, not from my own works, specifically so that nobody can boast about it.)

So do you live now, today, in complete freedom from sin? From guilt? From shame? It’s God’s intent that you do. He bought that complete freedom for you!

Think of it this way: God has written me a check, in the amount of “complete forgiveness” (it’s WAY more than that, but we’ll go a step at a time), and he signed it. All I need to do is countersign the back (how? I believe him, I change my thinking) and deposit the check in my bank account.

The Bible is very specific that my works are not only USELESS for the purpose of acquiring salvation – of acquiring ANYthing from God, actually – in fact they actually get in the way, because if I rely on my works, then I do not and cannot rely on His works. It is His works, His finished works, are what accomplishes salvation and healing and grace and power and a clean conscience, and, and, and!

But let’s go back to that check for a moment: that’s not just for my debt to sin, that’s the full resources of Heaven payable to me, a son of the King of heaven, the heir (says Hebrews) of the riches of heaven: by depositing that check, I’m suddenly much wealthier than Steve Bezos, Warren Buffet, and Carlos Slim combined.

And of course, as that sinks in, I’m likely to live a different kind of life than I used to. As I understand my limitless wealth, as I understand how loved and accepted I am, I’m likely to change, to become generous, both in my resources, and in my care and affection. In other words, my actions, my “works” will reflect who I am.

THIS is the place for “good works.”

If I love on people in order to earn something from God, then I have rejected God’s free gift to me: I’ve essentially spat in his face and said, “I’ll do this on my own, thank you very much!” And of course, doing things on my own is not really in the same league as what He can do.

But when I am full of his love, fully accepted by my omnipotent Daddy, then I become generous and loving and giving like He is. Curiously, this often looks the same as the “good works” that I might consider by way of rejecting His gift; but the difference in my heart, in my motive, makes all the difference in the world (literally!).

It’s one thing to give someone gifts in an attempt to force them to love us and accept us. It’s quite another to bring the same gifts because we love them, and because we’re confident in their love for us. We call the first one a “stalker” and we call the police and we get a restraining order; the second is joyfully and gratefully received, and the already-strong relationship is further strengthened.

This is such a big deal that the apostle Paul wrote (Galatians 1): if anybody tries to teach you that you need to do ANYthing in order to be forgiven, to be loved, to become an heir in God’s family (which he describes as “pervert[ing] the gospel of Christ.”), then he says, “Let them be accursed!” If that weren’t enough, he takes it a step further: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.”

“Accursed” is a pretty strong word.

Some time ago, I was meditating on Hebrews 4:16 (“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”) and talking with God about it, when Holy Spirit interrupted me. I could hear the tears in his voice, as he said, “You know, the priesthood wasn’t my idea in the first place.” And he explained Exodus 20:19 to me while he wept. (See http://bit.ly/TheOTHERbenefit)

This is the kind of relationship with God that it’s possible to have. This is God’s idea of what relationship between God and man is supposed to be like. This isn’t what I was taught in Sunday School, this is what I’ve learned from God and his word.

It may not be what you grew up with either. But if you’re up for this kind of a personal, face-to-face relationship with God, you might want to tell him so. ;) I’m very sure you’ll start a beautiful adventure together!

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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

Why Jesus Turned James & John Down


James and John wanted to sit at Jesus’ side in glory. They wanted to be close (and, given the context, they wanted to be big shots).

[They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.”][Mark 10]

Jesus said No.

Curiously, he wasn’t saying “No” to the desire to be a big shot. In the next breath, he shows them how to aspire to greatness appropriately. [Mark 10:42-45]

I’m thinking that Jesus said No because sitting on his right and left was too far away for his preferences. That means they’re separated, that means there’s (a little) distance between him and them.

He didn’t want them to be separate from him, even if they’re right next to him. He wanted them united in him [John 14:20, 15:4, 17:21]. He didn’t want them seated on the throne right next to his. He wanted them – just like he wants you and me – right there on his throne with him, in him [Ephesians 1:20]

So go ahead and aspire to greatness. Go ahead and aspire to “become great,” as Jesus encourages.

Just do it his way. Just do it from your place IN him. Don’t aspire to be separated, next to him. You are in him! Go with that! It’s way better than “next to”!


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Letters

Adjusting the Target

Adjusting the Target

Anybody who lives in this world knows some people who are hurting. I know I do.

I saw some posts recently, “Pray for me,” and “I am needy!” So I looked through their wall for some sort of explanation. And that’s when I heard Holy Spirit’s whisper.

You see, their pages had lots of God’s promises posted, Bible verses, encouraging statements. In the midst of all those promises, Holy Spirit whispered to me, “They’re looking to the Word, but not to Me. Their target is falling short.”

He schooled me, and I could feel the compassion in his heart in the process.

“Focusing on their pain, on their need, blurs their vision, they can’t see me clearly. So they look to my promises instead of to me.

“They think that the promise of what I will do for them when they come to me is enough to blunt the pain, but they stop at the promise; they don’t actually come to me to let me heal them.”

I could feel his tears.

And in this, I’m reminded that it’s our job to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith [Hebrews 12], to think about what is true and noble and excellent and praiseworthy [Philippians 4].

It’s not only counterproductive to put our attention on the need, on the hurts and betrayal, it’s downright contrary to Father’s clear instruction. The reason, I think, is because of the principle, “What you fix your attention on, you empower in your life.”

It’s because looking at the wrong part of the picture inhibits our ability to receive what we need from our Father who loves us!

It’s not the promises of God that heal our heart and provide for our needs. The promises point to our God, our Father, who heals our heart and provides for our souls.

It’s easy, when we’re looking at the pain, at the need, for our eyes to fall short of Him.

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!"
~John 5:39
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Letters

Prophetic Flavor


When God speaks through a prophet, is the prophet experiencing God? Is the prophet speaking for God? Let’s assume “Yes,” in the cases we’ll discuss today.

Now what language is that prophet speaking in? Which human language is she using to deliver the immediate message from the infinite heart of God to Earth?

Well now, that’s going to depend. The voice of God expressed in that prophetic word will generally come in the language that the prophet knows, and will always come in the language that those the Lord is speaking to know. Around here, that’s English. God speaks in English, specifically American English. With the "r"s included.


Why does God speak English? English is certainly not God’s first language. English is not the official language of Heaven. None of the Bible was actually written in English. When God became man and walked on this ball of dirt, he didn’t even speak English then. Why would God speak English?

Why wouldn’t he speak Latin? Latin is a good language for careful communication. Or German. German can handle a whole lot of ideas that English can’t. Why doesn’t God speak German?

You already figured that out. If God’s prophesying to me (or through me) God doesn’t use German because I don’t know German (yet). The reality is that God is more committed to the people to whom he is speaking than he is to the sterile, strict, legalistic communication of his words.

When he’s speaking to English speakers (such as myself), he is kind enough to speak in English. When he is addressing Germans, he speaks German. When he’s speaking to Imbo Ungu tribes people of Papua New Guinea’s southern highlands, he speaks Imbo Ungo to them.

In this, God is modifying his message because of the vessel he’s speaking through, and because of the limitations of the people he’s speaking to. He limits the infinite, omniscient thoughts of the Almighty to a message that a human can communicate, and another human can hear, understand and respond to.

It’s like all of infinity has just a little tiny pinhole to get through. So most of it doesn’t make it. Most of God’s infinite thoughts don’t make it through that pinhole to me. For example, I’ve never heard God talk to me about why he made Deneb, in the constellation Cygnus, as a stable blue-white star instead of a B2Ib Cygni variable star like 9 Cephi [in Cepheus, of course]. For some reason, that information hasn’t made it through the translation from the vastness of Heaven’s knowledge to the realm of human knowledge.

God modifies his message in order to fit people better. Sometimes he speaks English, sometimes he speaks German, sometimes, he speaks Imbo Ungo.

Another way to say that is that God modifies the way he reveals himself to us so that his infinite omnipotence doesn’t blow up our mortal little brain cases. Every experience we have of God is "toned down" from the full-power of the Infinite Almighty.

More than that, it’s toned down in ways that speak to individuals. Like speaking in a human language, he also tones down visions and spiritual experiences. Jesus’ presentation of the Kingdom of God was much different to Mary Magdalene was much different than his presentation to the Apostles, and both of those were different than his presentation to the Pharisees of the day.

So God limits what he shares, how much he shares, and how he shares it, based on who he’s sharing with.

But he also governs what he shares, how much he shares and how he shares it based on who he’s saying it through. Everything we hear God say through a prophet is flavored by that prophet, by that prophet’s language, by that prophet’s history with God.

Now, let’s go one step further. I think that God specifically chooses among available prophetic voices in order to find one whose particular flavor is pleasing to him about the topic he wants to communicate.

I can imagine God getting ready to deliver a word to a congregation, and he’s thinking, “I could send it through Shaniqua, because she’s got a great gift of mercy, and this is a tough word. Or I could use Digory because he’s ready to start giving public words. But I think I’ll use Ivanka this time; her mind is so logical and ordered that this word coming through her will be understood by Thomas over in the corner, and he’s the one that is the key to the whole thing. Besides, it’ll do Pastor Bob good to get a good word like this through someone like Ivanka!”

When you prophesy, don’t go out of your way to remove your own personality from the message. God counts on the messenger to flavor the message he’s distributing.




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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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Lessons on Giftings & Callings From an Unlikely Source


I learned some things recently, and it’s not exactly rocket science.

This fellow looks like an eighteenth century British scientist, kind of like Sir Isaac Newton. Both were knighted by the queen (different queens), and they’re both astrophysicists, but this fellow is way more well known than Newton, though not primarily for his astrophysics.

Sir Brian May is better know as the guitarist and co-founder of a band that the Guinness Book of Recordssays is literally more popular than the Beatles ever were. He’s also a Doctor of Astrophysics, a 3-D stereoscopic photographic authority and a passionate advocate and campaigner for animal rights. (https://brianmay.com/brian/biog.html)  

I was listening to a song he wrote in honor of a flippin’ spaceship of all things (it’s a wonderful song: https://youtu.be/j3Jm5POCAj8), when some interesting thoughts wandered by.

• Your reputation does not determine who you are, or what you get to do with your life. (There are exceptions.)

• Your gifts and skills, even your gifts, do not determine who you are or what you get to do with your life. (Though they may provide some limits.)

• If you have great skills in one area, don’t be afraid to use those skills. (Planet Rock rates May as the seventh greatest guitarist of all time. [https://nwp.link/2FvwYoa])

• If God blindsides you with success in an area, don’t be afraid of changing your path. (May was in the midst of his doctoral thesis on the Motions of Interplanetary Dust when his side gig, a band called Queen, suddenly found some success. He quit his studies to play guitar.)

• If you follow the blessing of God, don’t necessarily let go of your previous dreams. (After a 30-year break for rock-and-roll super-stardom, May finished his thesis, and got his PhD in 2007.)

• You can still follow other interests, too. Your job or your studies (or your ministry) is not your entire life. (May started a stereoscopic imaging publishing company, was a University chancellor for a few years, and was a collaborator with NASA for the New Horizons Pluto mission.)

My sense is that some people (I decline to comment about whether this includes myself or not) have sometimes felt, “Well, I have some gifting [or some success, or some training] here, I guess this is what I’m going to do with my life,” as if the gifts of God were a life sentence.

Stated in more blunt vocabulary, a lot of western believers seem to be awfully religious about their life choices, choosing a career because of religious expectations, or following a path of failure (of one sort or another) just because they see it as their religious “duty.”

I’m not saying your choices will lead you down an easy path. Most of God’s paths aren’t rosy: look at Jesus’ example. But if Jesus isn’t on the path, maybe you shouldn’t be either.

If you’re looking for Biblical support for this, consider how Jesus walked away from successful ministry (Luke 4:43), or how Paul bypassed part of the Great Commission for his ministry choices (compare Matthew 28:19’s commands with 1Corinthians 1:17).

Walk with Jesus. Know him well. Love him well. Then do what you want, what you feel you should do. Do what actually works for you.


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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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Letters

Audacious Prayer


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Letters

How Jesus & the Apostles used “Repent”


I really love listening to the Bible. I’ve been listening through the gospels recently.

And wouldn’t you know it? It got me thinking again! How *does* that keep happening? (I love Holy Spirit’s lessons!)

I’m aware that the word “repent” has been one of the stumbling blocks for a lot of folks, particularly for people who have been raised in church or in religious households. So I listen closely when that word comes up.

And it came up today. I perked up.


But first, a little background:

We have two different camps in the Western church for how to interpret the word.

The traditional view, particularly popular in Fundamentalist and Pentecostal circles, is the view that understands that repenting involves focusing on action. The focus is generally on repenting *from* something.

If I’m repenting in this view, you can tell by looking. There probably will be confession of sin. There certainly will be commitment to changing certain behaviors. And if I’m doing a really good job of it, there will probably be tears and maybe even snot.

This has become the western, cultural definition of the English word, “repent.”

But the word that the writers of the gospels used for “repent” is the Greek word “metanoeō.” (They didn’t actually speak English.)

The word “metanoeō,” though, doesn’t actually speak of sins or choices or tears.

It’s a combination of two words: “meta” means “in the midst of” and “noeō” which is “to perceive with the mind, to understand, to have understanding.” These words indicate that repenting is something that happens in the midst of understanding.

Our word, “metanoeō” itself, literally means “to change one's mind” or “have a new thought.” Apple caught this idea really with their ad campaign “Think Differently.” Their goal was that people would repent from using Windows computers.

And so the more current understanding of the word “repent” is about “changing how I think,” and if I’m repenting in this view, you may or may not be able to see it happen. On the other hand, if you’re attentive, you can tell that it has happened, because I’ll be doing things differently.

And that’s where my thinking started today. Those are really different thoughts, and the folks who hold to those views hold them pretty passionately. There have been arguments.

I asked myself, How can I know beyond question which way that God thinks about repentance, because I really want my thinking to follow the paths that his thinking leads.

And I realized that when Jesus or the disciples used the word “Repent” in their preaching, that the context of that preaching would indicate what the word meant to them. I wanted to know what it meant to them.

I reflected on this. Rather a lot. All I need to do is “watch” them preach, and observe how they used the word. This might be easier than I thought.

If they held the first view of repentance, turning from sin and confessing, then that value would be part of their preaching. When they spoke of repenting, they’d talk about what to repent from, they’d emphasize changing behavior as the priority in their message, and they’d be pleased when people confessed their sins and wept. We’d be able to observe these things if this was their message.

But if their use of the word was about “changing your mind” or “thinking differently,” then their sermons would involve either words or actions that would help people to see things differently. They might explain what something means, or they might demonstrate new and different values, or they might contrast the way things are now with they way they used to be.

As you read the gospels and Acts, keep these thoughts in mind: besides using the word “repent,” what else is their sermon accomplishing?

The passage that triggered these thoughts is in Mark 6, as Jesus sends the boys out on their first missions trip. Then Mark says, “They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.”

Now all I needed to do was examine their behaviors and decide if they were focusing on the sin that people needed to walk away from, or if they were demonstrating a new way of thinking that these people hadn’t considered before.

They preach “repent” (which literally means “change your thinking”), and then they demonstrate deliverance and healing. They demonstrated the values of the Kingdom the people had never heard about before: this king is about deliverance; this king is about healing; this king is about your well-being.

I’m thinking that when the disciples used the word “repent,” they meant “Change how you’re thinking, or you’ll miss this Kingdom.”

Now the disclaimers for folks who have always understood “repent” as coming to the altar in tears, promising to stop sinning: Those are fine values. But they’re more likely to be the fruit of repentance than repentance itself.

And occasionally Jesus would say, “Go and sin no more.” But that was never the focus of his message. That seemed to me to be tagged on at the end, and it only happened sometimes. Not a priority.

I need to repent. I need to change how I see God.

For example: if I stop seeing God as a grumpy old man with judgment and smiting on his mind, and instead I see a loving Father who will pay any price, ANY price, in order to tell me he loves me, that absolutely will have an effect on my actions.

I’ll fall in love. And when I’m in love, I won’t want to do the stupid things that will endanger that love relationship. So I will no longer drink or smoke or chew or go out with girls who do, not because I’m adhering to a standard, not out of fear of judgment, but because that’s what love does.

I suggest that we look at the words and the actions of God – both New Testament and Old – as a loving God, who will do anything for his children, and give up on the grumpy judge, and see how that changes how you respond to God.

I’ll bet you it’s easier to love a passionate father than a grumpy judge! And it’s easier to obey him. 

Let's preach this message: “You might need to change your thinking. God’s not like you thought. May I tell you what he’s really like? Here, let me show you!”



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