Wednesday, November 20, 2019

What A Friend

Our present culture has made it more difficult for us to understand the unique relationship that Jesus had with the disciples - and that the disciples had with Him. 

In our world, we're connected to one another all the time. At the tips of our fingers, we have names and numbers and contacts and likes and networks that keep us tied together in a certain sort of way, but it's a weird sort of way. It really levels the playing field because in the same feed, we're seeing news from friends, from family, from the person that sat next to us in homeroom 20 years ago, from neighbors, from the church, etc. and it makes it seem like everyone is on the same level, everyone's in the same web of connectedness. These are my people; these are my "friends." 

And we even describe them as such. I have 376 "friends," we say, but honestly - how many are true friends? 

In tough times, 90%+ of your Facebook feed isn't coming over to sit in the basement and eat ice cream with you. 60%+ aren't showing up at the funeral of your loved one. About 40% will tell you happy birthday, if social media reminds them when they aren't too busy to take a few seconds. A few of my friends have launched fundraisers, and maybe 5% contribute. Oh yeah, we're connected, but we're not "friends." 

But this has changed the way we think about it when Jesus says things like, "I no longer call you servants; I call you friends." Or even "I call you brothers." Jesus is always talking about His disciples being guests at the wedding or closer yet, sons in the bridegroom's chambers - brothers. He's always talking about how close He is with them, and that is what their intimate eyewitness testimony is supposed to clue us into, but in our world where we are connected, but not close, we've lost what that means. 

We think maybe it means something like this was Jesus's team. Like any of our favorite professional sports teams, these are the guys who "played Gospel" together. They wore the same uniform and trotted out onto the same field and every once in awhile, Quarterback Jesus tossed them the ball and let them run it on in. 

And while teams are a little bit closer than our mere acquaintance networks on the interweb, they still don't guarantee the same things as friends or brothers. 

Friends and brothers, they're there. They're there in the good times and the bad times, when you're having a late fall bonfire and when you're burying your dad. They're there when life is overwhelming and you just need to cry a little or when a door breaks wide open and you need to celebrate. They're there when you're sick and when you're well. They're there for it all. 

Friends and brothers are the ones who share your stories because they're right there in the thick of them, too. They don't talk about them as passive third-party observers who heard it from a friend who heard it from a friend who saw it on a wall somewhere. They're the kind of persons whose interjections always start with "Remember that time we..." and it is a we because you've got stories together. 

I think we miss that when we read the Gospels. I think we miss just how together the disciples and Jesus are with one another. I think we miss what it's like to actually sit around that table and break bread. To actually be in that boat in the middle of a storm. To actually walk those roads. To actually cast out those demons. I don't think we understand what it means when Peter, James, and John climbed an actual mountain with an actual Jesus and saw Him actually transformed before their very eyes. I think we miss all that because in our world, to be friends is just to know somebody's name. 

But true friends know much more than that; they know your stories. Because they're part of them. 

We have to get our sanctified imaginations in gear and start reading these Gospels with eyes to see the very real friendships that existed, the very real nature of the relationship that Jesus had with His disciples...and that they had with Him. Why? Why does that matter?

Because it's the relationship He wants to have with us. And the one we're supposed to have with each other. 

When we get to Heaven, we're supposed to be able to look around at the whole host, Christ included, and start every one of our stories with, "Remember that time we...." But in order to do that, we have to recapture our "we" first. We have to remember what it means to be friends, to be brothers. To be His friends, His brothers. Sons in the bridegroom's chamber. 

Just like the disciples were. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

An Unfaithful God

And here we are. Does the law permit a man to divorce his wife if she is unfaithful...or if he is? We know from the examples given in Scripture that unfaithful women were stoned, not divorced, and we know that Jesus teaches on this. But it's important beyond what we read on the surface of it.

Remember that the law was designed to teach the people how to live as a faithful people before God. And marriage was often the image used for the relationship between God and His people; it still is. Christ is the groom, and we are His bride. 

So what does that mean for unfaithfulness? 

If a man is allowed to divorce his wife because she is unfaithful to him, then God is allowed to stop loving you when you are unfaithful. He's allowed to break up with you. Can you imagine a universe in which everything you know about God is true, but He is also permitted to stop loving you? It's unfathomable. 

He even said so much Himself when He commanded Hosea to take an unfaithful wife. He was making a bold statement. No matter your infidelity, He will never stop - He can never stop - loving you. 

But the promise goes even deeper than this, because if a man is allowed to divorce his wife because of his own unfaithfulness, then that, too, is a promise that God is making to His people. If He, the Lord, ever becomes unfaithful to you, He will set you free to pursue other gods. He will write off His own covenant and let you go. 

So in saying that a man can never divorce his wife except in the case of his own unfaithfulness, God is saying that no matter the ups and downs, no matter how rocky things get, no matter what's going on, He remains in this covenant with you and you remain His people. Until and unless He breaks His own vow, you're His...and He's yours. 

In other words, what He's saying with every breath is that He will never break His vow. He will never renege on His covenant. And if, for some unfathomable reason, He does, He will set you free. 

And we see this, too, over and over in Scripture, where women are on the outs with their men for one reason or another and become favored by God. Where one wife is loved and the other, loved less, and God grants the less-loved woman the fertile womb in order to remind her husband of his love for her. Where God says plainly that if for some reason, you come to be upset with your wife, you're not allowed to just leave her; you have to keep her. Where He says that she's yours forever and can never leave your house; you have to take care of her, even on the days when you don't want to. 

You have to keep loving her even when you don't love her very much, and God gives you every reason to do that...because that's what He does. He keeps on loving His people even when it doesn't seem He should love them very much, when they don't seem very lovable. 

So these statements on adultery and divorce are important, not just for the ways they teach us to live with each other, but for the ways they teach us that we live with God. Whenever we read sections of Scripture like this, we have to keep an eye out for what they reveal about God's covenant with us because that's what it's all about. That's what He wants us to see. And if He ever stops loving us...

Well, He won't. 

Monday, November 18, 2019

An Unfaithful Woman

While it's a little early still for Christmas, our journey through the Bible this year brings us now into the New Testament, which puts us into the Gospels and the life of Christ. And it is while Christ is teaching on the mountain that something new about the old law jumps out at me.

In His most famous sermon, Jesus talks about adultery and divorce. See, the law of Moses permitted a man to divorce his wife in the case of sexual immorality (unfaithfulness), and we say, well, yes. If she cheated on him, he ought to be able to divorce her. Jesus even seems to affirm this when He says that any man who divorces his wife, except in the case of sexual immorality, commits adultery. 

Except...

Except that later in the life of Jesus, we will see a woman caught in adultery - caught in sexual immorality - and the price is not divorce; it's death. That's what the law said. Any woman caught in the act of sexual immorality should be stoned to death. In fact, if you read the Old Testament, there are ways to figure out if the woman has been unfaithful or sexually immoral, and if she has, to stone her. 

If the price of sexual immorality for a woman is death, then is it the man's sexual immorality that justifies his divorcing her? 

It raises all kinds of tricky questions, especially for those of us who grew up interpreting the Bible in a gender equality society. Our Scriptures have been re-interpreted for us to insert women into the mix as often as possible and to make things seem equal when in the reality of the culture that we're reading about, they weren't. 

We think the sexual immorality thing goes both ways, but does it? In a society where women were considered property, where they were sold into marriages arranged by their fathers, where there were often multiple wives and concubines involved - even for a people to whom God said a man and a woman would leave their fathers and mothers and be cleaved together - are we really going to say that women were given this one fair and equal right, to divorce their husbands based on marital infidelity? What even is marital infidelity to a woman who is one of many wives? 

It's complicated.

But what we do know is that when we actually see an unfaithful woman in Scripture, nobody wants to divorce her; they want to stone her. When we see woman caught in adultery, the crowds don't encourage the man to sign papers; they pick up rocks. Maybe death was more honorable than divorce. 

The implications go even beyond this, but this is just a starter point to get you thinking about this idea. If the law permits divorce in the case of an unfaithful woman, why wasn't that provision actually used for unfaithful women? If, on the other hand, the law permits a man to divorce his wife if he is maritally unfaithful....

Stay tuned tomorrow. This gets interesting. 

Friday, November 15, 2019

Horns of the Beast

Let's face it: some of the visions of the prophets are just plain weird, from Elijah all the way up to John in Revelation, it's a lot of bizarre language and images that are used to describe what God is doing or what God is going to do. 

One of the more frequent images used by God through the prophets is that of a beast with horns. A certain beast with a certain number of horns, that sometimes grow more horns and then the horns take on a life of their own and become rampaging horns or whatever. Beasts and horns: it's a Bible thing. 

And we could get into what all of that means, how the horns are interpreted to be kingdoms or kings, leaders of people or peoples themselves who come to authority for a time, times, and half a time (whatever that means) until they get replaced by other kingdoms or kings, leaders or peoples. And on and on and on it goes. 

Until...

Zechariah. 

And now, we start bringing...Jesus...into the mix.

See, Zechariah is having one of these visions that's so common to prophets. He has before his sanctified sight an image of a beast with a number of horns, just as so many prophets before and after him will see. He's even got horsemen patrolling the earth (chapters 1 and 6, which ought to bring to mind some images from Revelation, but I digress). The difference in Zechariah's prophecy is what happens to those horns.

In this prophecy, craftsmen come and take care of the horns that traumatized and ravaged Israel and Judah (Zechariah 1). 

Craftsmen like...say...carpenters?

Ah, you see where I'm going with this. Right here, Zechariah is identifying the nations that have come against and splintered God's people, and he wraps it up with a craftsman who is going to put those nations in their place. The prophecy ties up in the Messiah in a way that you can't possibly understand unless you know the Carpenter is coming. Jesus is exactly the kind of skilled workman who can take the horns of this beast in His hands and "take care" of it. 

Little things that you read right by a thousand times until once, just once, it jumps off the page at you and you can never forget it. Just thought I'd share. 

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Day of the Lord

If you've ever read any of the Old Testament descriptions of the "Day of the Lord" that is coming, you've probably had this thought: 

I don't want to be here for that. 

And really, a lot of the New Testament descriptions aren't that different. We've cleaned them up real nice, talking about that moment when Jesus comes back and all of the believers are swept up into the sky and welcomed into fluffy clouds before the earth explodes or something, destroying all of the sinners. 

But if you actually look, even Jesus says that day is going to be terrifying and that you'd better hope you're not busy when it happens because it's going to take everything you've got. Our nice, cleaned-up version says it all happens in the blink of an eye - here, and then there; alive, and then live forever - but Jesus says you'd better have everything you need with you and not have to turn back to get something. Which means...the day of the Lord is not some mystical blink, but a real day that you're going to have to live through. A journey you're going to have to go on. 

A battle you're going to have to fight.

That's what the Scriptures most often portray it as - a great, epic battle. A fight. A war. A lot of fire and swords and bloodshed, a lot of lives laid on the ground. Victory and defeat, and you're there for them both. Darkness and storms and trials and tribulations and famine and wandering and...well, you've read it. You get the point. It's terrifying. Of course you think you don't want to be here for that. 

As Christians of a certain era, we wonder how that can possibly be. How can a God of love come back in a day of bloodshed and torment? Why is the "Day of the Lord," which the people of God have always looked forward to, so terrifying? (And yes, even though it's terrifying, they have always looked forward to it. They have even prayed fervently for its coming.) It doesn't mesh with the God-of-good-feelings that we've come to know in our day and age. It doesn't gel with peace and love and forgiveness. 

Here's what we have to remember: for the people of God who gave us these visions, this was everyday life. This was what they knew. The people of God spent almost of their lives fighting, moving in on enemy nations and having enemy nations move in on them. Their entire existence was framed in battle and bloodshed, in darkness and storms and siege ramps, in death and famine and wandering. In the same way that we think God is coming back in one big love-fest because we live in a time of peaceful love and good things, the people for whom life was constant war could see God coming only in war, in one final, epic battle that would put the weapons down for good. For good. 

So what does that mean? Does that mean the Day of the Lord won't be as bloody, dark, and horrendous as the biblical writers would leave us to believe? That their vision of such a thing was tainted by the lives they lived? Well, if we're going to say that, then we ought to say just as well that the Day of the Lord won't be as loving and peaceful and easy as we would lead ourselves to believe, for our vision, too, is tainted by the lives we live. 

Maybe we should just be thankful that the lives we lead are so dramatically far from war and bloodshed that we've lost our frame of reference for such a thing. There's probably some validity in that. 

The truth is, I don't know. But when I think about this, I think about how God gives us a vision for things of Him that we can understand because it comes looking like so many of the things that we already know. And I think it's important that we catch God's vision, whatever it is, because He's trying to tell us something. 

But we have to be careful because sometimes, we give ourselves visions for things of God based on what we know, and that's not the same thing. It's like I said above - we've all got this cleaned-up vision of an instantaneous love-in, of peace and good vibes and soft, fluffy clouds - and we got that vision because that's the age that we live in, but that's not, and never has been, the vision of God. We gave that one to ourselves. Just look at how it contrasts with Jesus's own words on the matter. 

It is best, then, that we pray and ask God to open our eyes, ask God to show us what it is He wants us to see, ask Him to reveal what it is He wants us to know. And the Day of the Lord? It's coming. It's something we ought to be thinking about. Let's pray for God to give us a vision of that day that our eyes can see. And let's take His Word for it...not ours.