Thursday, May 31, 2018

Plain and Simple Faith

Although Israel dressed for the battle the Lord told them they would not have to fight and went out to the fields to see the Lord at work, not everyone was so faithful or obedient...or happy about it. To see a story of a guy a little bit more like so many of us, we need turn back only a few pages from 2 Chronicles to 2 Kings and find the story of a man named Naaman.

You may remember that we touched a little bit on Naaman's story a few weeks ago when we talked about Gehazi; Naaman was the man whom Gehazi chased down in order to take for himself some of the glory and spoils of the miracle of the Lord. But what was Naaman doing with Elisha in the first place?

Naaman had leprosy, and although he was a brilliant leader in his own community, his leprosy was still a burden upon him and one that he wished to heal. He had tried everything that was at his disposal to try, been to all of the doctors, consulted all of the experts, worshiped at all of the altars in his own land, but nothing was helping him to shake this skin condition that affected literally everything in his life. 

And then someone told him about the man of God in Israel. 

So Naaman comes to Elisha hoping for a miracle, and what he receives is, well, something somewhat less than he expected. After consulting the prophet, the two men talked about Naaman's condition and the prophet's word was that Naaman should go and wash himself in God's river. Only then would he be clean.

Naaman is essentially furious. This is not at all what he wanted. He already journeyed this far just to get to God, and now, this man of God wants him to journey further - and to Israel's dirty river, of all places! He's got plenty of rivers in the land that he came from. He even passed a number of rivers on his way to this place. And you know what? All of them were cleaner than the filthy, disgusting river that Israel claimed. If all it took was for him to wash in the river, well, he could have done that at home by himself. 

He's incredibly disappointed. He expected more of this so-called "God" of Israel. He turns, hangs his head, and starts to go home, mumbling to himself all the way, cursing this God under his breath. He wanted healing, not orders. He thought this was the end of his journey, not the beginning of it. This was ludicrous! It was completely unacceptable! It was...stupid!

It's worth noting here that while the children of Israel dressed for battle and went out to the fields, Naaman, with whom so many of us identify so well, was no child of Israel at all. He was a Syrian. The truth about Naaman is that he didn't really want God's glory; he wanted only God's benefit. Sound familiar?

In that moment, his servant speaks. He says to the angry man something simple, yet profound: if this God of Israel had asked you to do something crazy, wild, extreme, unthinkable in order to cure your leprosy, wouldn't you have done it? Yet, He has asked you to do something plain and simple, and you are disappointed. 

Then Naaman goes to Israel's river, washes himself, and is healed. 

But this is the question, isn't it? This is the same question that we face when God tells us to dress for battle and to go to a field at which we will not have to fight. We scoff. We hang our heads. We turn away disappointed. We have to go somewhere? We have to do something? We wanted this God to just show Himself! We already came all this way; who is God to ask us to go further? This is ludicrous! 

Ask yourself: if God had asked you to do something crazy, wild, extreme, unthinkable in order to see His glory, wouldn't you have done it? Yet, He has asked you to do something plain and simple, and you will not go. 

That's not God's problem. It's ours. 

If we won't go to the river, if we won't wash in the waters, if we won't dress for battle and go out to the fields to see what glorious thing God is doing, that's not a reflection on God; that's a reflection on us. And if we don't want God's glory after all and we only want His benefit, well, then that's on us, too. It says nothing at all about Him, except perhaps that He is the gracious God of an unfaithful people. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Nothing to See Here

It is precisely the kind of theology that we saw yesterday that makes this generation one of the most God-starved generations of Christians ever. Most of today's Christians know God's power only through what they've given Him credit for, not through what He has revealed of Himself. 

It's no wonder they think so little of Him.

It's no wonder that it's easy to go to church and to treat it like a social club. After all, almost no one there has actually seen God; He's just sort of this idea that we all have and kinda sorta hope is real or something, but no one has ever seen it or even, sadly, expects to see it any more. That's right - most of today's Christians no longer expect to see God reveal Himself. 

They don't even expect to see God reveal Himself in Heaven. Rather, we believe that Heaven is just something that God does, and what we're most looking forward to is being in that place where everything's perfect and we can finally live with our loved ones again. 

Forget the fact that only there will we know Perfect Love. 

That ought to rattle you. That ought to shake you down to the core of your very being. The very same God who created this entire world so that He could walk in it with us longingly awaits the day when we talk together again...and we're more interested in seeing our moms, dads, aunts, uncles, and every dog we've ever owned (because all dogs go to Heaven).

And Christ? Christ was the promise and the reminder that this is really what it's all about. He was the physical, tangible, intimate incarnation of an infinite God who wants nothing more than to be with us and today's Christians would be hard-pressed to bring the story of Christ down to earth at all. To many, it seems more like the mythology of all of the pagan religions, a story that took place in the heavenly realms, one of those god vs. god stories of good vs. evil that has no flesh on it at all. 

It was no large jump for us to go from a people of God who will not dress for battle to Christians who will not go out to the Cross. 

We're far too comfortable in Jerusalem, where all we have is whispers and rumors of a God who dwells among us and is doing amazing things, but Whom we have never seen. 

And somehow, that's okay with us.

It's perfectly fine with us. Sure, there's something in our souls that is stirred by the idea that God could be present and working, but that's foolishness. Truth is, we don't even expect to see God at work among us any more. It doesn't shock us that we don't witness miracles. It's painful sometimes, especially when we are in dire need of a miracle, but it's not shocking. After all, who are we to expect anything of God at all? He is God. He does whatever He desires whenever He desires it.

Gosh, how entitled do you have to be to think you should expect anything from God just for being His person?

Our hands-off theology that no longer requires anything of us has led us to this place where we expect nothing of God and worse yet, has brought us to expect that we should expect nothing. We are a people who refuse to dress for a battle we will not have to fight, who will not walk to the front lines even to witness our own victory, and who have forsaken the hillside in the shadow of the Cross because, we think, there's nothing at all to see here. 

But, oh, there is everything to see here, for here, children of Israel, is your God. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Unfaithful Faith

God's people in 2 Chronicles had to prepare themselves for battle, dress in their battle clothes, strap on their swords, and go out to the battlefield, even though God told them they would not have to fight once they got there. And they did exactly as God commanded them to do - they prepared for battle but kept their swords sheathed - and something incredible happened: God did what He had told them He would do - He fought for them.

Yesterday, as we looked at this story, we began to look also at how different this faithfulness was from our own brand of largely unfaithful faith, the kind of religion that decides that if God is going to fight for us, there's no reason to even get dressed. Just, you know, let God do His thing. 

It is precisely this kind of dangerous theology that hallmarks much of what passes as Christianity today. A very small minority of Christians (and here, we are talking about Western Christians, first-world Christians) will prepare themselves for battle after God tells them they will not have to fight. A smaller minority still will even ask God about the battle in the first place, with most just assuming that God fights without our knowing it, so there is no reason to ask.

It's invaded almost everything we do as those who claim to be a people of God. 

For example, a great number of Christians think it entirely unnecessary to pray. God is God, and He will do whatever it is that He will do, and He doesn't really need our input. He knows what we want, knows what we need, and knows what He wills, so what's the point in praying at all? We don't have to pray to be a people of God; we just have to attribute anything and everything to His hand. And then, you know, He'll know that we love Him or trust Him or something.

A great number of Christians think it entirely unnecessary to read their Bibles. That God of the Bible, He's so old-school. They've heard the teachings that God is doing a new thing among them (and they don't recognize even this as Scripture), and so all of the "old" things of God don't matter any more. They just have to live with their eyes open and give God the credit for whatever He's doing whenever they see it, and they're good. God is writing a new story, still His own story, in their own time; no need for His Word. And so we come to a place where we're just attributing everything to God, whether it's holy or not, whether it's consistent with His character or not, and then calling ourselves God's people like we know Him. 

An increasing number of Christians think it entirely unnecessary to go to church. The church, they rightly recognize, is full of flawed people, and they don't really want flawed people; they want a perfect God. You hear them say things like, "I connect with God better in the woods by myself" or "I have church wherever I go because God is with me." That's great, but that's not what church is for. Church is for the connecting and the building up of God's community. You can't do that on your own in the woods. You can't do that wherever you go. It's an intentional thing, one that God has called His people to engage in on purpose. But a lot of Christians these days think that God is more interested in persons than in peoples, that He will build up His church one by one instead of all together. That whatever God is doing inside the walls of our sanctuaries, He is also doing inside the walls of our own hearts, so it doesn't matter where we go or how we do it; God is doing it, with and without us. 

See, our contemporary Christianity acknowledges God, then largely ignores Him, failing to engage in even the most basic spiritual disciplines or commands of God for His people because hey, He's God. He doesn't need us to do anything; He only needs us to believe that He's doing things. And we do believe that, even if we don't understand it. How could we understand it? We no longer find it necessary to engage with Him at all while He does, you know, His "God" stuff. 

And then we wonder why our faith is so unfulfilling. And then we wonder why we never see God do anything cool. And then we wonder why we're so often grasping at straws to explain this God we hardly know even is when others ask about Him. 

And then we wonder why we're people of faith at all, since God doesn't really even need us. He's going to do whatever He's going to do whether we're present for it or not, so what's the point? What's the use? Why the faith? 

And then all of a sudden, we make our very first move...and we walk away, having never truly known Him at all. 

Monday, May 28, 2018

Be Still

The God of the Old Testament takes a lot of heat from the modern conscience because He seems to be quite the God of war. Turn no more than a few pages in the OT, and you will see God once again commanding a battle, ordering a siege, or using the sword to either defend or discipline His people. 

But buried among all these war narratives are a handful of the most hilariously wonderful battle stories you'll ever read. Because buried among the war narratives are a few stories of battles that Israel never fought.

One such of these stories is recorded in 2 Chronicles 20.

At this point, Israel exists as two tribes - Israel and Judah. Judah is generally the more faithful of the two; it is also the tribe over which a son of David still reigns, according to the promise God made to the second king of Israel. Jehoshaphat (we don't know whether he was jumpin' or not) was king, and the neighboring people were starting to come against the small tribe.

Jehoshaphat does all he knows to do and begins praying for deliverance from God, for protection and for victory. And the Spirit comes over one of the Levites, who begins to speak as the prophet. The word is essentially this: 

Get ready. Dress yourselves, pick up your weapons, and prepare for battle. But you...will not have to fight it.

So they do. The military men of Judah put on their best fighting gear, pick up their sharpest weapons, and pull into formation, arrayed by rank. They also bring into their company a host of Levites, whose job is nothing else but to sing and praise the Lord on their way toward the battle. As the army approaches the invading peoples, as they come closer and closer the camps of their enemies, as they put their hands on the handles of their swords, still sheathed by their sides, something hilariously wonderful happens:

The enemy nations that have come against Judah start killing each other. Right there in the valley. Un- it seems - provoked. There's bloodshed everywhere. Men falling left and right. And Judah standing on the hill, watching it all, not having to lift a finger until it's time to carry away the spoils. All their enemies wiped out before their very eyes by, of all peoples, their enemies. 

And all they had to do was dress themselves for battle.

The Bible actually talks about this kind of thing quite a bit. There are verses that say plainly, "The Lord Himself will fight for you; you need only to be still." But it's a little more even than that. You must also be ready. 

This is the part that it's so easy for us to forget. This is the part that's it's so difficult for us to obey. Because we've heard so many stories like this. And because we hear the whispers and promises of God only in part. Most of us these days, we'd hear a word like God spoke to Judah on the eve of this battle, and we'd hear only the last part of it - you won't have to fight this battle. Great! we think. God's got this. 

But somehow, we never hear the first part - dress yourself. We never hear what it takes from us for God to do what He's going to do. So we don't do it. And then we wonder what happens when our enemies start singing in their own camps. I thought God was going to take care of this? I thought God was fighting this one for us?

He is, but we must also prepare and go. We cannot sit back or stand down. God wants us close enough to see the battle; He wants us near enough to catch the glint of the sun off the swords of our enemies. He wants us there to see what He's going to do. He commands us to go, even if He's planning to fight for us. 

Faith is not a spectator sport. It's not meant for those who want to sit back and watch. It's not meant for those who are comfortable in their sanctuaries and confident in their songs. We must be a people who still go out and sing them, who dress for battle and show up to see what the Lord Himself is doing, singing and praising as we go. 

We must be a people who show the world that we're ready to engage them, wherever they may draw their battle lines, in order that they might understand that it is God who truly meets them there.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Finding Your Heart

Recently, I have been reading about some of the Christian mission work that is going on in Africa, partnering with local peoples to affect change in some of the poorest, most disease-stricken, underdeveloped places in the world. The stories are compelling no matter who you are. But the deeper you get into the writer's words, the more boldly and unapologetically she comes after you, saying, basically, that she doesn't understand how you can read this book and not give her money or how you can read this book and not travel to Africa yourself to lend a hand.

What are you? Some kind of monster? Some kind of "Christian" in name only?

Just this morning, I was catching up on my Twitter feed from the overnight hours and saw a Christian who has a passion for social justice quote some statistics about how few (relatively) of a select demographic of Christians share the same concern that he has. His tone was condemning. He doesn't understand how you can know this is happening and not be doing something about it.

You must be some kind of monster. Some kind of "Christian" in name only. 

This is what passion does to us if we're not careful. It overruns whatever humility we have and speaks out in condemnation of those who don't share our passion, particularly our passion for the Lord's work that He's given us. I mean, what are you? 

But can I tell you what happened when I read those books about Africa (both by the same author, so one "story")? God ignited in me a deeper passion for my own community. God opened my eyes to see the needs right here in my own place in the world that need His touch. God sparked within me the desire to go out and do what's being done in Africa right here in America. 

It's not at all that I don't care about starving children in Africa. It's not at all that I'm not concerned about AIDS. It's not the slightest bit that my heart doesn't break for the street children of Kenya and the orphans of Swaziland. It's not that I don't rejoice at the possibilities of hope there. 

It's simply that Africa is not the place to which God has called me right now. And if I let this missionary guilt me into channeling my missions energies toward her work, then I am shortchanging the missions that have captured my holy heart. 

Or what about the guy on Twitter? When I read his passionate pleas and commentaries on the issue that God has placed on his heart, I feel more strongly the issues that God has placed on mine. I am drawn deeper into my own mission because of his. 

It's not that I don't care about his cause. It's not that I don't think it's worthy. It's not that I think he's wasting his time or misdirecting his energies. 

But if I'm not careful, he could misdirect mine. 

The truth is, there are plenty of problems in the world to go around. That's part of what it means to live in a fallen creation. And yes, when God has placed something on our hearts, we want nothing more than to heal it in His name. We want nothing more than to bring His people together around it. But it's not the work that should be uniting us.

Imagine if every Christian in the world gave their resources to the missionary in Africa. We could make great strides on that continent, maybe even wipe out most, if not all, of the problems we perceive there (some of which have more to do with our Western standards of living than any actual deficit, but some of which are legitimate human concerns). But if we all directed our missions money and energies to Africa, what happens on the other six continents? What new problems are allowed to take root and to grow there? 

What if we all took the Twitter guy's cause as our own? We could do great things, amazing things, but what would we be ignoring in our own places? 

More importantly, what would we be ignoring in our own hearts? 

My heart aches for the brokenness around the world. It does. But my heart yearns for the change that God has called me to make in the place where He has called me.

And what binds us together as His hands and feet should not be the cause we're working for. It should not be the place on the map on which we stand. It should not be that we're putting all our efforts in the same boat. What binds us together is the passion that we have for Him.

So I look at the woman in Africa, and I pray for her and her work, and I pray for the people there who are caught in the crosshairs of need, and I am thankful that God has made persons like her who have a heart for the work there, who can go to a place like that and do that kind of work. And I look at the guy on Twitter, and I pray for him and his work, and I pray for the people he will minister to with the love of God, and I am thankful that God has made persons like him who have a heart for that work. 

But then I take both of those stories and turn the fires they kindle toward the work that God has called me to, which is neither in Africa nor on Twitter. I turn them toward the peoples He's placed in my path. I turn them toward the causes He's set me to work on. I turn them into holy fuel for that little spark of ministry that's in my own heart. 

And maybe you think I'm heartless because I'm not giving to your work in Africa. And maybe you think I'm a terrible human being because I haven't dropped everything and run to your front lines. And maybe you want to call me a "Christian" "in name only" because I seem to not be doing anything about your particular cause. 

But I am doing something for His.

I say all that to say this - don't let others bully you, especially Christians, into investing in an account that God has not given you. Find your heart for Him and live there. Live out of that passion. It's not our concern about orphans or our heartbreak over AIDS or our busyness in feeding the hungry or whatever that binds us together as His people; its our heart for Him. It's that holy fire that burns within us that makes us, collectively, His people. 

There are plenty of problems in the world to go around. Find the one He's called you to work on and get started, whether you read about it in a book, saw it on Twitter, or spied it in the eyes of your own weary neighbor.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Life Without Roots

One of science's most difficult inconsistencies is the question of life itself. Without anything to ground its inquiry in something solid and unchangeable, even life comes into irrationality when science attempts definition. And this ought to set all of us on edge.

Men have invested trillions of dollars in exploring our solar system, and our current emphasis is on what we may find on Mars. What we're hoping, I guess, is that we find a planet that is hospitable to life, and the truth is that when we find even the tiniest microorganism that may represent a capacity for life at all, the entire scientific community rejoices. We have rejoiced over molecules that may have once been water, and we have rejoiced over molecules that we know are present in some forms of life on earth. We rejoice over microbes, and you can hear our shouts of triumph from the heavens.

Back on earth, we find an eagle that has laid eggs in a nest, and we set up a webcam so that the world can watch as the young eaglets hatch into ugly birdlings that we know will become majestic eagles. And we're rapt with this. We really are. We are glued to our computer screens, livestreaming days and weeks of nothing at all on our phones, because we know that we're just a breath away from baby eagles. 

And how long did we all watch a giraffe we were told was pregnant with a baby giraffe before she finally gave birth? It's life. Let us celebrate life!


Take a couple of those microbes and put them in a human uterus, and it's not life yet. Take just one of those eggs and fertilize it in a woman's womb, and it's nothing at all. Take pictures and show us that this thing inside of the woman looks just like her and her husband. It's human in form...but it's not yet life. 

This is the kind of thing that only science can do because it doesn't have any grounding to determine that what is life is always life; it makes its own rules. 

Voters in Ireland are currently being asked to consider abortion laws, letting the act become legal in their country for the first time. It is currently legal in the United States, but a number of restrictive laws are currently being passed, no doubt in an effort to bring Roe v. Wade back before the nation's highest courts in the hopes of overturning it. And science, of course, has stepped up to say how bad of an idea that would be. Abortion, they say, must be legal. And it must be legal on the grounds that the life inside the woman is no life at all. 

Just read the comments sections on these kinds of stories, and you'll see the troubling arguments that science uses to justify horrific acts like abortion. It usually starts by saying it's about a woman's right to choose what happens to her body, but look at any ultrasound and you can plainly see that it's not the woman's body any more. Even before the child starts to take on a human shape inside the woman, it has its own unique DNA. Science has even been able to record the moment that a spark of electricity passes through the cells and ignites them into life. This baby has its own heartbeat. It is forming its own brain. It is contained in its own skin. What about its right to choose what happens to its body? 

Some say it's not a life until it is perfectly formed, meaning that if it has any defects whatsoever, it is not a valid human life. Who among us is perfect? Who among us has nothing they'd like to change about their own body? I could tell you a number of things about my own physical existence that are not perfect. Does this make me not human, my life not a life?

Others will say that it's not a life until it can enjoy things like poetry. I'm thirty-three years old, and let me tell you - I don't enjoy poetry. I've tried, and I just can't. Does that make my life not a life? What if I don't enjoy nature? Or if I don't laugh often? What if I don't smile or laugh or dance or play in the rain? If these are the measures of quality that make a valid life, then we could abort anyone who doesn't do them, whether that person is in the womb or eighty-four years old.

Yet others will say that it's not a life until it can survive on its own. Okay, but what's the benchmark for that? A birthed baby cannot survive on its own; it still needs someone to feed it. It needs someone to clothe it. It needs someone to shelter it. It has no ability to do this on its own. A person up to the age of about 14 needs someone to provide for him/her, as children are not allowed to work in our society. Thus, they have no access to resources to survive unless someone else provides for them. What about the elderly? What about someone who becomes so enfeebled they can no longer hold a spoon to feed themselves? They can't survive on their own, either. Are we okay to abort them at that point?

By these definitions, science can't tell me if I'm alive right now...or if I "should" be.

See, the trouble with science not having a ground for life, not having a root system to hold it firmly to one good definition of life across all spectrums of it, is that it leaves us with these incredibly difficult, impossible, moral questions - and no way to answer them. I am scared at all to live if science is the one defining what that means, for the very moment that I fail to measure up, I can be aborted. And if you think that's dramatic, read a little bit about human history, particularly in the past 200 years - humans have been doing it. We have been picking and choosing who lives and dies based on an ever-changing definition of what life is. 

Because it's not the same for every microbe, apparently.

What if we held the same standard for human life that we held for Mars, that the tiniest microorganism represented life itself and was to be celebrated? What if at the moment of conception, we shouted in celebration and all the heavens heard our joy? 

What if we had the same enthusiasm for human life that we have for bird eggs? What if we watched in great anticipation for the next thing to happen, for one little arm to push out and wave hello to the world? 

What if we had the same expectation for human life that we have for giraffes? What if we knew that inside that womb was a brand new human being about to burst forth onto the scene? What if we had that streaming in our pockets 24/7? 

What if we didn't have to make any quality judgments to justify it? 

That's what faith offers us that science never can. Because faith has roots that ground us to the very beginnings of life itself, all the way down through the ages to in the beginning. And in faith, there is a beginning. 

It's what guarantees us a future. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Problem with Science

As science came into the picture and was championed as a "rational" discipline, it separated itself from its Christian roots and took upon its shoulders the authority to thereby declare what is rational and what is irrational, further pushing faith away from what science names as "fact."

The trouble is that science itself is often irrational, ignoring, or at least dismissing, its own inconsistencies, covering them under a voice of assurance when there is no such possibility by its own methods. For proof of this, we need look no further than the headlines, which tell us one week how good, say, chocolate is for all of us only to tell us a few weeks later that it will kill us. Or that exercise is good, but a few weeks later, only certain types of exercise are good. And a few weeks later still, an entirely different type of exercise. Well...which is it? 

Science has left the realm of rational inquiry long ago and rather established itself as a philosophy, telling us that we should live by its precepts. The problem doesn't really have any. Science is a discipline that was meant to observe, not to explain, and the moment that it stepped into the realm of offering explanations, it overstepped its bounds and showed its weaknesses. 

One of the challenges of science, particularly as opposed to Christianity, is that it has no history in which to ground itself. It must create its own history by working backward, an impossibility in a life that is lived only in the present. Thus, all science is purely subjective (I know that scientists will object to my saying that, but it's true); it can only be conducted under a present understanding, even in cases where it is a present understanding of theoretical conditions.

Take one of the more contentious points of conflict between science and faith: the age of the world in which we live. Fairly routinely, reports will break that scientists have uncovered such-and-such a thing that is estimated to be 14 billion years old. How did they get to 14 billion? 

The date is usually attributed to a process called carbon dating, which uses the way that carbon changes over time to estimate how long it took the carbon in said object to become the form in which it is. However, we've only been experimenting with carbon for a few hundred years scientifically, which means that we only know how carbon changes over a few hundred years in conditions that we have also recorded and can know. 

But no one knows for sure what the conditions were a thousand years ago or five thousand years ago. In fact, science itself will say that conditions were vastly different that many years ago, though they can only speculate exactly how. Therefore, it's impossible to know how carbon acted and reacted in those times; we can only guess based on what we know of current conditions. That's not reliable. We know that the earth is relatively stable, but it is no way static. 

We even know, or at least, we claim to know based on records of rock strata, that the earth has previously gone through a number of warmer and colder cycles. We talk about global warming today, but science itself confesses there have been periods of global warming prior to today. They say that today's warming is happening more quickly than previous periods, but how can we possibly know? The conditions of the environment were necessarily different back then and no one knows how quickly or slowly the warming or cooling truly happened. We can only guess based on what we know about warming and cooling in our present environment. 

And then science will tell you that all of the land masses on earth have been shifting since their very beginnings, drifting apart from one massive land mass to the now-seven continents that we know so well. But when they find something in, say, Greenland, and declare it to be billions upon billions of years old, they most often have not taken into account the changing environment that they themselves say Greenland must have gone through as it drifted from somewhere more near the equator to its present location. They might occasionally say that they found an artifact that proves that Greenland was closer to the equator than its present location, but when dating that item, they cannot take into account how the migration of the land mass changed the item's aging process. Certainly, something that is moving through a myriad of temperature zones will be impacted by that changing environment. Science itself says it would, although it doesn't know how, so it can't account for it.

That is, hands-down, the biggest challenge of science, particularly as a philosophy: it cannot account for what it cannot account for, which are often its own conclusions and confessions. It tells us something, but it cannot show it. It cannot live by its own presuppositions. It is, at its core, inconsistent, and it cannot be otherwise because it cannot know what it cannot know; it can only guess. Scientists wouldn't confess it, but there's a lot of guesswork in scientific exploration based on "best practices" and "agreed-upon theory." 

In other words, science as a philosophy takes a lot of faith.

And listen, none of this is about truth claims. None of this is about whether what science or religion says is true or false. That's a question for another day. This is a question of consistency, and science simply cannot be consistent with its own fundamental assumptions. It doesn't have a framework for it because it doesn't have a history that stretches that long. 

That's where faith offers something different. That's where the Christian story excels. The Christian story has a complete framework for understanding our foundations because that's where it starts - in the beginning. It tells us how things really were, keeps record for us of what really happened, helps us track through what we can know and tells us that it is, in fact, knowable. Because God Himself is knowable, and rational, to boot! We can know our world because He made it, and though we may always have questions, they have real answers. 

Now, I forget - should we be eating carbs this week or not?

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Fact and Faith

The difficult truth, however, is that if the message of love that the world heard this past Saturday were unmistakably about Jesus, if there was no way for the world to not be talking about Him today on account of this preacher, they wouldn't be talking about it at all. Some of this has to do with what the world recognizes as hypocrisy in the church, that we talk about this kind of love but don't live it. And they would be right - we have much work to do. 

But a lot of it has to do with the contemporary ethic that faith is so...unfactual. That in a world based on science, religion is supremely silly. That in a world that demands evidence and reason, faith has no such thing to offer. Faith, therefore, is laughable because it can never measure up to the rigorous standards of real knowledge. 

They say that faith is foolish, but it is actually this world that is foolish about Christian faith. Just who do you think created science anyway?

The world will never confess it, and you won't find it in any public school textbooks on the matter, but science itself has its roots buried deep in Christianity. After all, it was Christians who had the framework for beginning to investigate the world in the first place. 

Science, on its own, proclaims there is nothing that we can know except by investigating it. It declares that so much of the world came together, and is held together, by forces we cannot understand, except for the experiments that we are able to conduct on it. It says that much, if not all, of what we know comes from chaos; the universe as we know it is one big unknowable accident, and we are all but forensic experts trying to piece together the moments before the crash. 

Yet, when they are being honest about their discoveries, scientists must also confess that the more they discover about the universe, the more that it looks like it was designed. It makes too much sense to be an accident. Oh, there are "rational" explanations for this, such as that the universe began to shape itself in the ways that make the most sense for the life that lives in it, but any rational being recognizes that this only presses the question back one more step and begs to know how that life shaped itself to shape the universe in such a way. In fact, science can press the question all the way back and come upon something it calls the "big bang theory" where nothing exploded and became everything, but it still leaves the question hanging: where did the nothing come from? (We should also note that there has also never been a successful scientific experiment that created anything at all from nothing, which means even the big bang started somewhere, but where?)

Christians in science took a different starting point, and it is from their beginnings that we have a real, rational, firm foundation for legitimate science. Christians, you see, started with the idea that God is rational. If God is rational, then His creation must also be rational. And if God desires for us to know Him, then His creation must be part of His revelation. If we can know God, then we can know His world, and if we come to know His world, we will come to know more about God. So they set about science in order to know Him. 

And you know what? It worked. 

Secular scientists must confess that they more they know about the universe, the more it looks designed, but Christians in science (I am purposely avoiding the use of "Christian scientists" in order to avoid confusion) rejoice that the more they know about the universe, the more awe they have for its Designer.

You don't even have to be a scientist to appreciate that. Anyone who goes and stands out under the stars and feels his own smallness gets it, gets the greatness of our God. Anyone who sees a caterpillar wind itself in its cocoon knows. Anyone who thoughtfully plants a seed and witnesses it become a plant and then, behold!, bear fruit understands. Science is most fruitful when it is grounded in God, Who claims to be a rational being and proves Himself such through our own exploration. 

The problem is that secular science just wouldn't accept this. The deeper it got into its discoveries, the more it heard whispers of its own greatness, and today, science has become its own faith. It requires - no, it demands - this world to make a proclamation of faith right up front. We will believe in science, whatever it shows us because we've been told that science is the rational study of irrational things (in its own words, since everything is just chaos and coincidence) and therefore, we have given science the power to make claims about what is rational and what is irrational (in its own words, since everything is just chaos and coincidence), and it has done so (declaring itself rational and religion irrational). 

And all of a sudden, science isn't a science any more; it's a philosophy, requiring just as much - if not more - faith than religion, if for no other reason than that science has created the enormous challenge not of having to believe in something greater, but in having to believe in itself. 

And that is a difficult task, indeed. (Stay tuned.)

Monday, May 21, 2018

Rapt By Love

Two days later, the world cannot stop talking about an American preacher who stole the show at a British royal wedding, delivering a powerful, passionate sermon on the awesome power of love - drawing together the voices of Jesus, John, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., American evangelicalism and British monarchy. The world listened as he preached not only about what love is, but about what love does and how it marks us by its fire. 

But the world's fascination with this sermon should not surprise us. After all, the world already loves love. On Saturday, it heard all its greatest hopes and dreams about love spoken out loud, and it nodded its head in agreement. Yes! This is what we believe love is!

Now, if you have a Christian faith, you used it quite naturally to fill in the sermon. You used it to round out what the preacher was actually saying. You used it to know that this love is only possible through the God who is Love, who makes such love both powerful and possible. You heard some other voices come alongside Jesus, but you knew that His - through John - was center-stage. 

Would you believe me if I told you that not everyone heard that sermon? Not even everyone who was listening heard that sermon. 

Those without a background in the Christian faith, without a living, breathing, active relationship with Christ, listened to that sermon, got lost in the language of love, and would unreservedly declare that the greatest teacher present in that sermon...was the pastor who preached it. 

That's because they heard all the things that they love about love through a myriad of unprotestable voices. They heard these things through the voices of culture - through philosophers and writers and artists and civil rights leaders and, oh yeah, some guy named Jesus, who was also a pretty good teacher, and some book that only weird persons believe in. But they're willing to push aside that last bit for the sake of love. 

Ah, love. 

This is the challenge for modern Christianity. This is the barrier that we're up against. This preacher came out onto one of the biggest stages in all of the western world and gave an amazing sermon about the power and person of Love, through all the voices that the world is listening to and the One that it needs to hear, and two days later...the world can't stop talking about love.

But they're not talking about Jesus. 

They're even talking about slavery and freedom, with the voice of Dr. King so powerfully among those spoken on Saturday morning. 

But they're not talking about Jesus.

They're talking about pastors and sermons and Americans and Brits. 

But they're not talking about Jesus.

Do you realize what would happen if we could figure out a way to bridge this gap for the world? If we could figure out how to get them to hear less of their human figures and more of His holy Love? Do you realize that the world already loves what we, as Christians, have, but they wouldn't recognize Him if He was standing right in front of them?

We know this because He is...and they don't. 

Our challenge as Christians is not to get the world on board with our teachings. They actually already like our teachings; the truth that we know answers a deep ache in the human soul that cannot be ignored. We saw that on Saturday. This world already loves love. But we have to introduce them to Him. 

We have to make the things that we say and do so unmistakably about Jesus, so undeniably about God, that two days later, He's all the world can talk about. Two days later, our churches ought to be filling up with those that, maybe for the first time, say, "This is where I find love like that?" And we ought to be able to say yes. Resoundingly, yes. Two days later, the world ought to remember what an incredible story they heard about God. Two days later, they ought to know that the greatest teacher that day was not the preacher. It was the Teacher Himself, who, some two thousand years ago, preached the greatest sermon on love we've ever heard.

Then went to the Cross and showed us what it looks like. 

Friday, May 18, 2018

Characters in God's Story

It doesn't occur to most of us, when we read 2 Kings 8 about Gehazi speaking with the king, that this is a leper who ought to have no court with the king at all. That's because, overwhelmingly, we are comfortable by this point with Gehazi as the man of the man of God. He has been named by name a number of times, and we know who he is. 

The whole leprosy thing? It's one sentence. A mere footnote in Gehazi's story. Something most of us read right by or at least, quickly forget. The truth is that a mere 2 chapters after it, a lot of us even forget that Gehazi schemed to his own advantage and took advantage of the healed Naaman.

Why? How? How is it so easy for us to forget these kinds of things? In today's world of headlines, where any man or woman can be blackballed forever for the slightest of offenses, it doesn't seem possible to just...forget like that. This is headline-worthy stuff. Isn't it?

Here's what's really happening: it's not that we're forgiving of Gehazi. It's not that we're forgetful of him. What's really going on is that we're so wrapped up in not-Gehazi's-story that our focus is on bigger things, as it should be. 

When we talk about the way that Gehazi scams Naaman into giving him some of the gifts that he'd brought for his healing, we're not really thinking about Gehazi because we're focused on Naaman. His is the story of healing. His is the testimony to the powerful act of God. Gehazi shows up as a bit character, a quiet little thread tying things together. 

When we talk about Gehazi standing before king, we're not really thinking about Gehazi because the emphasis here is on the man of God and the acts of the man of God. The emphasis is on the great and incredible and amazing power of God. Gehazi shows up as a bit character. Again, a quiet little thread tying things together. 

That's also why it's so easy for God to continue to use Gehazi well past the point when he should have been cut off from community. God, too, continues to see him as the man of the man of God. God, too, naturally reads him into the story in the places where it's only realistic for him to be. He's still one small character in God's great big story, a quiet little thread tying things together. 

It's hard for us to imagine. We can't understand why his leprosy is not front and center, why it doesn't steal every narrative about Gehazi from 2 Kings 6 onward. Certainly, had we been there, we never would have forgotten it. 

But it's really quite simple: it's not just Gehazi's story. It's not even primarily Gehazi's story. It's God's story, and it always has been. And if God decides to use a leper to tie His story together, then God is going to use a leper to tie His story together and it's not up to us to see any less of the leper than the fullness God intends through him. 

In fact, I think this is the posture we ought to take toward every story, including our own. Because the truth is that there's something about every one of us that probably disqualifies us. There's something about each of us that you could dig up out of our past and use it to declare that we don't belong in the King's court. If you focus on our stories, there's plenty to scoff at, plenty to dislike, plenty to discredit. 

But it's not just our story. It's not even primarily our story. It's God's story, and it always has been. And if God decides to use sinners - to use lepers and liars and scammers and cheaters and rapists and murderers and gossips and the insecure and the uncertain and the diseased and the ill-at-ease and the ugly and the dumb and the broken - to tie His story together, then God is going to use us to tie His story together. 

And who are we - ever - to see any less of a man than the fullness God intends through him? 

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Leper and the King

It should have been cut-and-dried. Case closed. The end. Gehazi, the man of the man of God who had chased after his own benefit at the healing of Naaman, had become afflicted with the healed man's leprosy and, according to Israelite law, should have been cut off right then and there. Excommunicated. Out of the community for having betrayed the community. 

But flip forward a few pages, two measly chapters in the book of 2 Kings, and we see Gehazi standing before the king - yes, the king - giving an account of all the wondrous things that the prophet had done. 

Not only that, but as he is standing there telling the story of how Elisha once raised a young boy from the dead, the boy's mother (who has been living in a distant land for several years on the advice of the prophet) comes into the king's presence to request her land back. And now, it is the king, a woman, and the leprous man of the man of God all standing together talking about all the incredible things that God does and the real human impact of those things. 

How does this even happen? One word: mercy.

The man of the man of God had gotten what he deserved. There's not an argument he could have made to declare that he wasn't deserving of the leprosy that God inflicted upon him. He had, after all, used a healing to try to line his own pockets. He had, after all, defied the prophet's choice in not taking any gift for it. He had, after all, defied his place, his position. He had, after all, broken community. The list of Gehazi's sin in this one encounter is great, and the consequences are fitting. This should have been the end of that. We should have been done hearing of Gehazi.

And let's be honest - that would have satisfied our human nature. Wouldn't it? Most of us would have nodded and said yes, the man of the man of God got exactly what he deserved. He should never have tried to take advantage of the situation. He tried to get himself ahead, and he ended up having a major falling out. Serves him right. 

But let's be honest about this, too - most of us miss this whole thing. We read in 2 Kings 6 about Gehazi's leprosy, but by 2 Kings 8, we've forgotten it. He's just Gehazi again. It's natural for us to be reading about the man of the man of God in the presence of the king, and our focus kind of shifts to the king, who is asking questions about the prophet. All of a sudden, two measly chapters later, we have more of a vested interest in the king who is asking good questions about God than we do the leper who is standing before him telling God's tales. 

Oh, Lord, let us never forget he was a leper. 

Because Gehazi's story is our story. It's so many of our stories. Who among us hasn't done just what Gehazi did - take advantage of our position to try to get something for ourselves? Forget the value of the healing except in what it can be exchanged for? Defy the orders of a superior and sacrifice our honor for a few measly sets of clothes to cover our nakedness? It's what we're all trying to do - cover our nakedness. 

Who among us does not deserve, right now, to be a leper, and for the very same reasons that Gehazi's skin turned betrayously white? 

But we, even we, stand in the presence of the King, telling the stories that only God could have given us to tell. We are the ones who recount His marvelous works, His incredible wonders. We are the ones to give the report.

And at just the right time, though we ought to be cut off from it entirely by nature of our own sin, our community comes and stands in the same presence and says, it's true. It's all true. The leper tells the truth. 

The the presence of the King....

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

At the Cost of Community

There was a second cost to Gehazi's selfish pursuit of Naaman's gifts, and it, too, stems from Gehazi becoming afflicted with the same leprosy that Naaman had just been healed of. Yesterday, we saw how this affliction was to be Gehazi's reminder that the true gift of healing was the healing itself, not the offerings that came afterward or anything that man could get out of it for himself. But that wasn't all, and it wasn't even the worst of it.

Gehazi's leprosy would cut him off from his community, a community to which he had always had a front row seat by nature of his position with the prophet. 

We don't really know how Naaman's leprosy was handled. He was not an Israelite, but a Syrian, which means that he was not bound by Israel's cleanness laws. He may or may not have lived much of his life secluded from his community; we aren't told. We do know that he was a high-ranking official in Syria, a man with a great reputation and an even greater responsibility. This may lead us to believe that living as a leper in Syria was not as harsh a fate as living as a leper in Israel.

In Israel, actually, there was no such thing as living as a leper in community. Lepers lived outside of the community. Go back to when Miriam, Moses's sister, became temporarily afflicted with the disease. She was cut off, forced to live outside of the camp, and no one in Israel moved until she was able to come back and be with them. It was considered an abomination unto the Lord. 

Just as Gehazi's deceit and selfish pursuit was an abomination unto his community. 

And so, just like that, the man of the man of God who attempted to use his position to deceive another man, a violation of community and civil law as given by God Himself in the wilderness, was cut off from community with an incurable skin disease. He gave up his front row seats for standing room only, relegated to peeks around the corner and life just out of earshot. 

It seems like a high price to pay. But God takes this community stuff seriously. When He says we are the people of God, He means it - what we do, the way we live with one another, reflects directly on who He is, on who we believe He is. If we're running around trying to take whatever we can from one another, it says something about God. It says that He hasn't changed the way we live. It says that He hasn't provided for our needs. It says that He doesn't control us. We aren't made in His image; He is made in ours. 

That's really the heart of it. Every time we talk about what it means to be a community of God's people, we have to decide whether we're living that way or not. Are we God's people or are we a people who have this God? There is a vast difference between the two. 

Gehazi has an incredible position as the man of the man of God, the servant of God's servant, but at the moment that he goes after Naaman to try to take what he can from the man who has just been healed of leprosy, at the moment that he takes advantage of another human being for his own gain, he is no longer a man of the man of God, but a man who has a man of God. He is no longer worthy of the community he keeps. So he's cut off from it. 

End of story. 

Or is it?

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Healed and Human Dignity

For Gehazi to have been so close to the prophet Elisha, was can only presume that it was because he was a trusted man. Elisha knew that he could put his confidence in Gehazi, and the servant had not let him down. But like all of us, this man had his human side that at one point got the better of him, and he paid for this a very high price.

There was a man named Naaman who had come to Elisha for healing. Although he was a high-ranking official among his own people, he had leprosy, and this presented a number of challenges for the man as he tried to carry out his duties and truly be part of his community. Having exhausted his resources for potential healing in his own land, he heard about the man of God in Israel and journeyed to find Elisha. After following the prophet's instructions, Naaman was healed of his leprosy and offered a vast number of gifts to the prophet. Elisha refused, and Naaman turned and went on his way.

Gehazi wasn't having it. He saw the opportunity to get something, and he wasn't about to let it just walk away because the prophet was noble and holy about things. So Gehazi secretly (as though anything can be done in secret in the presence of a prophet) turned and ran after Naaman. When he caught up to the healed man, he asked for only a little bit of that which the man had originally offered, just a token gift, and received it, planning to take it back and tuck it away for his own personal use. 

A little bit of a side note here: we often think it is the destitute and the desperate that are the most vulnerable among us, and they are certainly vulnerable, but those who have been healed have their own vulnerability. In the highs of their healing, they are susceptible to whatever anyone requests of them, eager to contribute and to pay back part of what they have received and to give generously and joyously. We must be as careful not to take advantage of the grateful as we are not to take advantage of the aching. 

Anyway, not much escapes a prophet and Elisha knows immediately what Gehazi has done. Now, there are two levels to what happens next, one that we'll look at today and the other that we'll look at tomorrow.

The first is that because Gehazi has taken advantage of a man just healed from leprosy, he inherits the condition the man was healed of. He becomes a leper himself. 

I think it's possible that Gehazi had spent so much time with the prophet, so much time on the healing side of the equation, that he'd forgotten what it was to have real troubles in the world. He'd forgotten what this healing really means. In this moment, he thought it meant gifts and tributes, and so his own affliction is meant to serve as a reminder to him - this is never about the opportunity to receive payment. Healing is the moment in its own right. 

There's no better way to be reminded what healing means than to be in need of it yourself. So Gehazi was burdened to live the rest of his life remembering that, knowing that intimately from the depths of his own being. The real majesty of the measure of God is not what it's worth in human exchange, but what it offers in human dignity. That's the first lesson Gehazi learns.

The second is perhaps even harder. (Stay tuned.)

Monday, May 14, 2018


Most of us would have no trouble naming some of the "major" characters of God's biblical story. After all, even those outside of the church know a thing or two about guys like Adam, Noah, Jesus, and Paul. But sometimes, it's the lesser-known names that have something to teach us about what it means to be God's people, a people of faith. One of those lesser-knowns is Gehazi, whose story is an amazing kind of broken-beautiful.

Gehazi was a servant. He was the man of the man of God, Elisha. He's the one who kept the prophet's donkeys, who guided the way, who controlled the prophet's affairs, and the Scriptures actually tell us his name - more than once. We don't know for sure at what point Gehazi came alongside Elisha, whether he was there for events like the taking of Elijah and the passing of the mantle, or whether he came along later, but we know that Gehazi was witness to an overwhelming number of prophecies and miracles by nature of his position with Elisha.

When Elisha stayed in the woman's upper room, when he promised the woman a son, when he slept on the roof, Gehazi was right there for all of it. In fact, Gehazi became such a trusted assistant that when the woman's son died, Elisha sent Gehazi ahead of him to lay his staff on the child's body in order to raise him from the dead. 

Yes, you read that right. At a moment when a true miracle of God is the only thing that will do, the prophet sends his own servant, Gehazi, to take care of it. The man who has witnessed so much becomes a witness himself, and he takes off running toward the little boy without a second thought. (We must also say, however, that Elisha comes after him and when the prophet himself arrives, the servant has failed, thus far, to revive the boy.)

What's great about Gehazi is that he has no illusions about who he is...or isn't. He knows he's the servant to the servant of God. He knows the incredible, miraculous, wondrous things that Elisha has done, but he knows also that every one of those things has come from God. He doesn't fancy himself bigger or better than he truly is. When he takes off running toward the boy, he does so out of obedience, not out of grandiosity. He knows he carries with him the prophet's staff, and he knows that the prophet's staff carries with it the life-giving force of God. 

He knows he is but two steps removed from God, God Himself, and he lives confidently in that knowledge. At no point does Gehazi ever say, "But I am just a servant." No. He is the servant of the servant of God. He has a front row seat to it all and occasionally, he himself is invited to come up on stage. 

But when he is done, he's always ready to sit down again. He knows this is not his show. 

It's Gehazi who speaks to the king when the king needs to know whether what the woman has said about the prophet is true as she seeks to have her land restored to her. The king needs some information that the prophet has, but the prophet's servant is good enough to give it. And Elisha trusts him to do it. The messengers of the king have come for the prophet, but they get as far as Gehazi, and they know that he has the authoritative word just as well. 

That's incredible. Now, I know that's the way that things historically worked at the time in which Gehazi lived. It was common for servants to carry the full weight of those they served, to speak for them, to represent them, to be known for managing their affairs. But it's the kind of thing that is often lost on us as modern readers of the Word.

Truthfully, it's easy for us to read right past this man. Gehazi? He's not a main character. He's not a real guy. His story doesn't matter. Who is this Gehazi? He's a nobody, some guy standing in Elisha's shadow. But there are no nobodies in God's story; everybody is somebody. And there's no one standing in anyone's shadow, but in the shadow of God Himself. 

And we have a lot to learn from Gehazi. Because his story is not so different from so many of our stories, his heart not so different from our hearts, and his redemption....

Stay tuned.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Serve Now

There comes a point in Israel's history, although it comes not when you think it might, when the Levites become no longer responsible for carrying the burden of the most holy things on their shoulders. You would think that this would happen during the reign of Solomon, when the Temple is built and all of the things that once had to be toted through the wilderness come to rest in one place and dwell among them. 

But actually, we don't see these words until the reign of Josiah, many, many generations after Solomon. 

Josiah was a king, one of a rare breed of the kings of Israel and Judah, who kept the Passover. And it was after this Passover that he declared that the Ark of the Covenant, the most holy thing, would no longer be a burden upon the shoulders of the Levites (2 Chronicles 35). In the very same command, he turns the focus of these Levites from the most holy things to merely the holy things and also the human things. "Serve now the Lord your God, and his people Israel...." 

It's what happens when we put God in His place. It's what happens when we give Him the space He's sanctified to live among us. All of a sudden, we're not responsible for mere items any more. We're not burdened with the box that we try to keep God in. We are freed to bear upon our shoulders the holy things and the human things, while leaving the most holy things to the One who dwells among them. 

In other words, when God is given His proper space in the world, then He takes care of His own house and we need only concern ourselves with His people. 

There is still in that command an echo of both holy and human things, for they are His (holy) people (human), and that's something that is far too easy for us to forget. It's far too easy for us to think that God has charged us with human things because they are human, so we go about doing human good works and push aside the glory of Him who desires them by often not even bringing Him up, thinking that this is what He desires of us. But this is simply not the case. God has charged us with the human things precisely because they are holy things, they are His things, and if we do not do the work that He has called us to with both in mind, then we are not doing His work at all. 

But back to the story at hand - the most holy things are no longer our burden to carry. They are no longer pressed on our shoulders. We are no longer yoked to them. This has been perhaps the most difficult shift for us to wrap our minds around. 

The truth is that most of us would rather carry the most holy things. Ironically, it's easier. It's easier for us to put God in a box and then carry that box around and make our God what we desire Him to be, become responsible for who He is and where He is in this world, taking Him out of our box only when we need Him or want Him or want to show Him off. We have named ourselves not laborers of the most holy place, but gatekeepers of God's garden. We decide who He is. We decide what He does. We decide where He goes. 

It has become for us a measure of our faith, how well we do this. We who are most faithful are the ones who most successfully safeguard God. We are the ones who build the biggest hedges around Him, who erect the highest gates. We are the ones who are confident and assured and know exactly when to let Him out of His box. The burden we carry? It's not so big. Not when you think about what it means to be the ones who determine who God gets to be in this world. And we call it holy. No, we call it most holy. But it is no such thing.

That's the beauty of this passage in 2 Chronicles. That's the wonder of what Josiah has done for us, even all these years later. He has declared in a single breath that God now has His own dwelling place among us and that He can take care of His own things, but that this frees us not from all of the burden. Our burden shifts from bearing God's things in this world to what it was always intended to be, bearing His image. No longer responsible for the most holy things, for they are God's in His dwelling place where He finds rest among us, we are still charged with holy and human things. 

Serve now the Lord and His people...and let the Lord order His own house. 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

My Yoke Upon You

At this point, we ought to have firmly in our vision the image of Israel - specifically of the priests and of the sons of Kohath - yoked with the burdens of holy and human things on their shoulders, the way that Gershon and Merari and all the rest of the tribes of Israel yoked their burdens to their ox carts. We ought to see men called by God to carry these burdens on their own shoulders as they sojourn toward the Promised Land.

With this image, another word draws into mind and all of a sudden, it makes more sense than ever before. Christ Himself said, "Take my yoke upon you....for my yoke is easy and my burden is light." 

It is this burden, this weight of the holy and heavy things, that Jesus wants to help us carry in the way that He carried it. 

And He says in this passage what we have said earlier in this week, that what enables Him to carry the burdens the way that He does is His humility of spirit. It's a humbleness thing. It's always been a humbleness thing. 

But what we have to notice about the way that Jesus carries the burden of holy and human things is that His humility does not come from His burdens; His humility rests in His spirit, which means that Jesus humbles Himself before the weight of this world does. He humbles Himself before His humanity gets to Him. He humbles Himself in preparation for the burden, not in response to it. Whereas the priests and the sons of Kohath carried these burdens on their shoulders as reminders to be humble, Jesus needs no reminder; He starts there. And then, even the burdens can't shake Him.

That's the difference between the forced humbleness of the labor of being human and a chosen, faithful humility of the spirit, which recognizes from the very beginning its place in God's tapestry and is content to take it. 

This is not just good-sounding theology. It's not just highly-quotable Jesus. It's not something He said because it sounds good, but we need look no further than His actual life to see that it is lived well, too. For who among us has ever carried their burdens with as much ease and grace as Christ Himself? Who among us has borne the holy and the human things so beautifully? 

Look at the way that He carried His Father's blessing through the world. It was neither loud nor proud, but with humility of spirit, He used it as confirmation, as affirmation, as justification and sanctification. He did not scream, "I am my Father's Son!" Rather, He spoke softly and confidently and bore His Father into this world in a way that was undeniable, yet so natural for Him.

Look at the way that He carried His humanity, and ours, through the world. He took upon Him the iniquity of men, but even more than that - He welcomed their troubles. He took into His heart their ills, their afflictions, their diseases, their questions. He reached out in tenderness and touched every one of them. He could do this only through the humility of spirit that knew how to bear such burdens in the world. 

Look at the way that He carried His cross....

Most of us don't think about what it's like to be yoked. We don't think about carrying things on our shoulders, but the Scriptures tell us again and again that this is precisely what we are supposed to do. Human and holy things, they have to be carried this way because we must - we must - feel the full weight of them to understand what God is doing here, to understand what we're doing here. The images of the priests and the Kohathites are our reminders of this, and if we are not humbled by that thought, we will be humbled by that weight as soon as we take it upon us. 

But Jesus says, and shows, there is a better way. For He beautifully and graciously and wonderfully says, Take My yoke upon you...for my yoke is easy and my burden is light. And then He shows us how to carry it well.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Burden of Being Human

For the past two days, we've been looking at some of the rules and regulations for the Levites and the priests, specifically those that required them to carry the holy things and the human things on their own shoulders, yoking these burdens to themselves the way that other tribes might yoke their burdens to their oxen. And there's a good reason for this.

Holy things and human things can never simply be toted; they must always be carried. We must always feel the full weight of them.

This is hard for us as a people who are used to streamlining everything, who are used to finding the best and most efficient and easiest way to do whatever it is that we're required to do. This is hard for us as a people who have built apparatuses and robots and machines to do our heavy lifting for us. This is hard for us as a people who have figured out how to outsource just about everything and very rarely take up even our own burdens ourselves. We have somewhere, somehow become so concerned about growing callouses on our hands that we've shifted them to our hearts and called it good when it is no such thing. 

Human things and holy things cannot be streamlined, mechanized, technologized, or outsourced. We cannot do the work of bearing the image of God if we are not willing to bear Him with our own hands. We cannot do the work of being human if we are not willing to bear human burdens on our own shoulders. 

It's what it means to be the people of God - bearing the burden of the holy things and the human things. 

Nobody said it was easy. In fact, it's hard. It requires something of us. To bear the burden of holy things requires more of us than just showing up on Sunday mornings and consuming our church services; it requires us taking the Lord's name into the world with us, bearing the marks of His holiness on our lives. If we try to put holy things on a cart or contain them in Sunday mornings, we forget what it's like to feel the full weight of our God. We forget what it's like to know how real and tangible and heavy He is. We're likely to think He's just one more of our possessions, rather than remembering that we are His special one. Do you remember that? We are His special possession. It's why we take Him on our shoulders, so that we never forget that. 

To bear the burden of human things requires more of us than mere gossip, than just talking about one another as though that's enough. It's an exercise in humility and in community, reminding us that our feet all touch the same ground, our bodies are formed from the same dirt. We are, in fact, the least of these, and we never feel that more than when we take on the burdens of one another and feel the full weight of fallen humanity. We are reminded of the grind, of the pain, of the labor that it is to be human when we carry this burden ourselves. There is no putting human things in a cart; they are uniquely ours...all of ours...for we are all human together. 

This is one of the greatest problems in our world today, let alone in the church: we have forgotten how to truly bear burdens. We have forgotten how to feel the full weight of things. We're so comfortable putting things in boxes or in carts or on the backs of beasts of burden (what we now call pastors or ministers or counselors, those "designed" to carry such things for us) that we don't know what they feel like any more. We don't know how real they are. And we aren't humbled by them. 

Yes, I will say it - one of the greatest failings in today's church is a lack of humility, and it is precisely because we have stopped bearing holy things and human things on our own shoulders. We have forgotten what it feels like to belong to God and to one another. 

And I think that's why the Scriptures tell us so much about these things, so many of these details that we're prone to read right past. They're there to remind us that the lives we live stand in stark contrast to mere things of the world. You can put a lot of things on an ox cart, and that's great, but there are some things you can't. Never confuse the two.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Guilt of a Nation

Gershon, Merari, and Kohath were the sons of Levi charged with toting the Tabernacle through the wilderness, but it was Kohath who took the greatest burden - having to carry the holy and the most holy things on their own shoulders, yoked to it as Gershon's and Merari's oxen were yoked to their burdens. But Kohath was not the only son of Levi to carry such a burden on his shoulders.

So, too, did the priests, the sons of Aaron.

Here, we have to take the story back a few books, all the way to Exodus 28 and to the creation of the priestly garments when the Tabernacle itself was first being built. There are a number of articles of clothing worn by the priests that were designed specifically the way that they were so that the priest would carry with him the guilt and the sin and the judgment of Israel. 

It starts with the ephod, which was a piece of clothing that fastened over the shoulders of the priest. In the ephod, two onyx stones, each with the name of six of the tribes of Israel engraved on it, were set so that the priest always carried the names of all Israel with him. And each stone rested, one upon each shoulder of the priest, so that the priest carried the burden of Israel on his own shoulders.

Connected to the ephod was the breastplate. The breastplate had twelve stones in it in four rows of three, each of the stones being a precious gem that represented one of the tribes of Israel. (Interestingly, this is an image that shows up more than once in Scripture, but we are never told which gem represents which tribe. (That's irrelevant to today's story, but it's a fun fact anyway, so I shared.)) So the priest carries over his heart the names of the tribes of Israel, fastened to them on his shoulders, and this is the judgment of the nation.

Twice, then, it is that the priest carries the burden of the guilt of the entire nation of God's people, and the Scriptures tell us this is so. And look again at the way that he carries it - across his shoulders and around his chest, the same way that an oxen is yoked to it load - across its shoulders and around its front. 

It is, of course, a bit more ceremonial than this in the human manifestation. Kohath's burden was adorned by gold and bronze and silver; the priest's burden with precious jewels. But let's not miss what's happening here. Let's not miss the imagery of these two groups of persons - the priests and the servants of the holy and most holy places - carrying these burdens on their bodies like beasts of burden, trying to bear up under the weight with every step. 

There is a reason for this. There's a reason that these particular burdens must be carried in this way. There's a reason we can't just load them on a cart or yoke them to an oxen, but must take them upon ourselves and carry them just so. 

More on that, coming up....

Monday, May 7, 2018


Back in the Old Testament, when God first designed the Tabernacle and built it in the wilderness with Israel to dwell among them, there came to be in the heart of the Tabernacle a place called "the most holy place," which contained things like the Ark of the Covenant, covered by the Throne of Mercy. There was also the "holy place," which contained the communal altar, for example. And then, the courtyard, in which the people gathered.

It took three units of Israelites to move the Tabernacle every time the people moved, three sons of Levi who were divided by their ministry unto the Lord and His place. Numbers 7 tells us a little bit about how all this worked, and what happens here is extremely interesting, particularly as we continue to work it through. But let's start where it starts. 

The princes of the other eleven tribes in Israel, which were actually twelve once the sons of Joseph were separated into two tribes (in order to maintain twelve after Levi was dedicated to the service of the Lord and would receive no inheritance), each brought to Moses and Aaron an offering - a total of six covered wagons (one per two tribes) and twelve oxen (to pull the wagons). So Moses and Aaron then had the task of dividing the wagons and the oxen among the sons of Levi to be used in their work in service of the Tabernacle. 

Gershon received two wagons and four oxen for the carrying of the tent itself and its fabric coverings, all the outer courtyard that made up the gathering place of Israel. Merari received four wagons and eight oxen for the carrying of the bars and boards and posts that held up the tents and dividers that Gershon carried. 

And Kohath received nothing. 

Kohath had, by far, the heaviest burden of the Tabernacle, carrying all of the holy and most holy things - the things made out of solid bronze and silver and gold. But because these things were the holy and the most holy things, they were not allowed to load them up on oxen like cargo. They were not allowed to pack them up like any other belongings. They were not permitted to let anyone, or anything, else do the heavy lifting. Kohath was required to carry these things on their shoulders.

This was a difficult task, indeed. For it was not just that they should carry these things on their shoulders, but that they must carry these things on their shoulders without also touching them. We have a couple of other stories in the Old Testament about persons who reached out even to steady the holy and the most holy things so that they would not fall and, touching them, were smitten by the Lord and died right there. So hoist these things onto your shoulders by their carrying poles, but do not touch them, for they are holy. 

Ready? Go. 

Now, what we're creating here is an understanding of what it means to carry the holy things and the most holy things from one place to another. What we're looking at is the heavy responsibility of being the ones who move the house of the Lord from one place to another. What we need to see is how, while Gershon and Merari were able to yoke their oxen to a cart for their carrying, Kohath become oxen themselves and are yoked with the holy and the most holy things. This is the image that we need to have of this people walking through the wilderness. 

And then...stay tuned.