Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Developing Revelation

How do I know that God hasn't given a word to one of these pastors to renovate His church and establish a new way of worshiping? 

Quite simply, I don't. 

The idea that we're talking about here is the idea of "developing revelation" - the notion that God speaks to His people in seasons in and effort to develop across time the gloriousness of His plan in the world. This is how we got to the church in the first place - by tracking God's developing revelation all the way from "in the beginning" through Egypt to the tabernacle in the wilderness to the Temple in Jerusalem to exile and all the way to the Roman Empire, where Jesus revealed the church to us as God's design for His people under grace. Without developing revelation, without everything that came before it, we would have no way of understanding Jesus or the church. That's just how God works.

Then sometime, many many many years after Jesus, a bunch of religious professionals got together and decided that God was done speaking to His people and that nothing new was going to come from His mouth. Revelation, they said, was closed. 

Now, I'm not so sure about that. I don't think that a God who has spoken to His people in every culture and every historical era across time suddenly just stops and forces everyone to figure out what His Word to a people under Roman rule has to say to us in a world of smartphones and automatic weapons. I think He's still speaking to us, giving us a message that makes sense. If that weren't true, we wouldn't have so many Christian living books being published telling us what God wants us to know about our lives today

But the standard for new revelation has got to be high. If we are a people who believe that God's entire history was leading us to Jesus, then anything that we claim that changes a single thing about Jesus has an extremely high burden of proof. 

That includes changing the nature of the church. 

If Jesus Himself told us about the church and built it, if He's the one who established it, if He's the one who spent His life and ministry telling us how things work in the community of God and calling us to go make disciples and to love one another, then anyone claiming that the church is not that important or that Jesus doesn't love His church has to prove that that's God talking and not them. 

So far, none of them have. 

Listen, we already have in Revelation the way that God responds to a broken church. Seven of them, actually. We have already seen how God responds to the model that is carried out fallibly by broken persons in a fallen world. Not once does God say, "Wow. This church thing was a bad idea." Not once does He say, "Man, you guys are getting this so wrong that I'm going to have to rethink My plan." No, what He keeps saying is, "You aren't perfect, but keep loving Me, and I will keep perfecting you." "You're doing some things well, but there's some stuff you still need to work on." And He keeps repeating His call to love one another, to never stop meeting together, to not neglect the community of the church. 

And if God, seeing how broken the church can be, still thinks the church is the plan, then the church is the plan, period. No matter how chic it may be to start proclaiming otherwise. 

And as much as these pastors who spend their ministry tearing down the church try to tell you that they're just like Jesus, that you can find their kind of ministry all through the pages of the Bible, they're half-right. You can. 

But it's not where they claim it is. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Disestablishing the Church

The conversation here gets a little muddier the deeper that we get into it. Yes, it's true that Jesus spent a great deal of time tearing down the religious structures of His day, the Temple culture that the Jews had lived since all the way back in Exodus when they built the first tabernacle. We could argue, perhaps, that it went even further back than that - all the way to Abraham and the sacrifice on the mountain. 

But the reason that Jesus did this was because He came to institute a better way of worship. He came to put into practice God's plan for His people. He came to fulfill the promise that rid them of the need for that Temple worship in the first place. He came to reconcile the world to God and establish the church as God intended it. 

He even said as much - I will tear down this Temple and restore it in three days. In other words, He's turning all of this to rubble to make it better - more glorious, more full, more wondrous, more holy. 

Now, here's where it gets a little trickier to keep talking like this: these activist pastors who seem to have it out for the church, these guys who tell you that they are just like Jesus...say the exact same thing

They claim that the church is failing, that it's not what God intended it to be, that God has something better for His people, that He is calling us to new ways of worship. They make the same claims against the church that Jesus made against the Temple, and they tell us that this is God's will. That God Himself has something better for us than the church. All we have to do is build it. 

At this point, you might be thinking they are right. You might be thinking they have a point. The church is, in fact, a broken institution, primarily because it is made up of fallen men and women. Who wouldn't want a more perfect assembly? Who wouldn't want to find a way to do it better?

But the line here is very thin. Because when Jesus established the church, He said not even the gates of Hell would overcome it. When Jesus established the church, He said this is the way that we're supposed to do it. When the New Testament tells us about the church, it tells us about a broken body of fallen men and women who have things to work out, but it never says that the church itself was a bad idea or that God is disappointed in it. 

To say that the church is not what God wants from us is to say that you have a better idea than Jesus did. It's to say that you have a better Promise than Jesus did. It's to say that Jesus got it wrong in building the church. 

It's to say that the entire testimony of the New Testament - from the Gospels where Jesus establishes the church through Peter, through the letters where Paul encourages the broken church, to Revelation where God writes letters to His broken churches (letters that are full of love) - is somehow wrong. Or outdated. Or broken. Or something. 

It's to say that the thing that God was doing from the very beginning of the world, the thing that Jesus accomplished in His life and ministry, isn't the plan. 

Do you see why that's a problem?  

Monday, August 29, 2022

Sounds Like Jesus

When we talk about Jesus who possibly doesn't love His church, the trouble is that there's a way to preach that message and make it sound absolutely legitimate. 

For example, most pastors who want to preach this sort of message take this spin on it: "Jesus came to tear down the religious structures of His day." And that much is true. You can build an entire sermon series around Jesus's confrontations with the Pharisees, His talk about the Temple, His expansion of the law. It seems like at every turn, Jesus was very much against the way that the faithful people of God had done religion for the preceding several thousand years. 

And the message that Jesus preached about the established religion of Israel is the same message that these pastors preach about the church - it isn't holistic enough. It doesn't go far enough. It doesn't have its emphases in the right places. In fact, a lot of these guys just take Jesus's words about the Temple and make them about the church. sounds like Jesus. 

It sounds like Jesus because it is Jesus. It's His words, His attitudes, His emphases. You hear a sermon like this, and if you don't understand what's happening, then you're sitting in the pews going, "Whoa. We need to be changing a lot of things about our church!" 

Then, these pastors swoop in and tell you all of the things that you need to be changing about your church, about the way you worship, about the programs you put together, about the responsibilities you take on, about...whatever. 

But something very subtle has happened in between, something that most churchgoers (or followers on Twitter or listeners of podcasts or whoever) don't even notice: between telling you how much Jesus doesn't like the church and telling you what you're supposed to be doing better, almost every single one of these pastors stops talking about Jesus.

Once they've used Him to introduce the concept of tearing down the church, they stop talking about Him. When they've moved on to what the church is supposed to look like, listen - you'll realize they're suddenly telling you what they think. If they're name-dropping Jesus at all, the content has shifted, and it's no longer what He said at all...but most persons don't realize this because the front end was so loaded with authentic Jesus that if you even hear the name, you automatically assume the back end is just as authentic. 

It's deception at its finest, and it's extremely effective. The trouble is, of course, that it is not very much Christian at all. It's not Christ-centered, and it's certainly not Christ-like (ironic, since these are the guys who are most likely to repeatedly tell you how much like Jesus they are). Using the authority of the first half of the message, they depend upon that authority carrying through to their own part of it, and most of the time, this absolutely works. This is how we end up with entire congregations preaching this shadow Jesus who hates His church and wants it to look more like them. This is how we end up with comment sections full of agreements with activist pastors and absolute hatred for anyone who thinks differently. This is how these messages take root. 

Wait, though - if this is really the message that Jesus preached, shouldn't it be the message we're preaching? Don't we have an obligation, as faithful Christians, to carry on His Word, even if we don't particularly like it? 

Don't be fooled - this was His Word, but it is not any longer. There are some major fundamental differences between the ways that Jesus preached this message and the way pastors are doing it today. We'll look at some of that in the coming days. 

Friday, August 26, 2022

Unloving the Church

When we point out that activist pastors are prone to attack the church, we have to be very clear about what we're saying, lest anyone get the wrong idea. 

The church is not above reproach. She is not perfect. She is not even close. She is full of sinners and backsliders. She does some things well, and she gets some things wrong. If we look at the letters to the churches in Revelation, we see that this has always been the case - God Himself even recognizes this. 

Because of this, two things are true: first, we should not preach a Christianity that never calls out the church for her shortcomings. Our aim is always to get better at doing what God has called us to do, and that requires being honest about who we are. Second, we should not assume that every pastor who calls out the church is an activist pastor. Many, many pastors over many, many generations have called out the church out of a deep love for her and a desire to see her be authentically more like Jesus. 

Where we have to be very aware of what's going on is when we are dealing with activist pastors, and here's how you know: 

Activist pastors tend to preach a message in which even Jesus doesn't love His church. In which Jesus is disappointed with us and condemns us for the way we're doing church. In which church seems to be the biggest problem with Christianity. In which the church can do no right

(On that note, though, a bigger hallmark of an activist pastor is that any church that is not his church can do no right. He's usually very good at claiming that his church is doing all the things that no other church is doing and that every church should be doing and thus, his church should be the church that everyone should try to model and look up to. Do you see how this fits in with his narrative of building a platform for himself? He puts his church on display not only to show you how wrong you're getting it, but to convince you of how right he's getting it. It all feeds into his need to convince you that he looks very much like Jesus so that he can pick the fights he's picking and preach the messages he's preaching that actually testify otherwise.) 

The number of Christians who are disappointed in the church right now is staggering. I'm telling you - it's staggering. The number of Christians who believe the church is broken and that not even Jesus loves the church, let alone likes it, is flabbergasting. And it's not because today's church is fundamentally different than churches in the past, no matter how much some of these voices try to tell you that's true (any even coarse reading of church history will tell you it's not); it's because of these activist pastors who have built their platforms on tearing the church down in order to build themselves up, all while claiming a Christ-like humility and preaching a message that affirms that. 

It's because when you look for pastors on a social media platform, these guys are the first ones to pop up. They are the ones making the most content. They are the ones getting the most hits. They are the ones who seem like the ones you ought to be following. And then you get sucked in, and if you don't have a solid understanding of who Jesus historically and biblically was, they start very quickly and easily to shape your view of Him. 

And now, we have a Christianity that's being torn down from the inside under this big banner that announces that this was God's plan all along, that this is what Jesus would want. But remember what Jesus said? He said not even the gates of Hell would shake His church. 

So why are we letting pastors do it? 

(We'll continue this conversation into at least part of next week because as I wrote that last paragraph, I realized there was something very important that I still want to say. Something that we have to understand in this context. So stick with us.) 

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Far from Home

How does an activist pastor get away with preaching a Jesus who is so un-Christlike? 

There are two primary ways. 

First, we have to recognize that pastors have a measure of authority. And when someone has authority, we assume that someone has learning. And when we assume that someone has learning, we assume that person knows more than us, so we trust that person to teach us. This is, truly, what ends up getting most of these activist pastors in trouble eventually - they rest so heavily on the authority that they have by virtue of their position that it comes their downfall. 

But in the meantime, they enjoy that measure of authority that lets them essentially preach whatever they want to, appeal to their own authority, and convince the masses that they must be right. They must know what they're talking about. After all, they're the pastor. 

So what happens then is that we have entire groups of persons who buy into what their pastor is saying and buy into it so wholeheartedly that they start repeating it, then the voices claiming that Jesus really is just like this grow. And a whole army of militant Christians who have adopted their activist pastor's pet project is unleashed upon the world. 

All you have to do is look at the comment section of any of the radical, non-Jesus-like claims these radical pastors are making, and you can see how it happens. They are filled with "amen" and "you preach it, brother" and "when will the world understand?" (That last one is really scary because it means that person has so thoroughly adopted the pastor's activism that the whole world is backward and wrong and lost and damned.) (Not, of course, that our world is not lost and getting some things wrong - that, of course, is the heart of the Gospel, but this is different.) 

The second way that pastors are able to continue to preach this kind of non-Christlike activism is even more pernicious: they get away with it because it sounds so much like the message of the world. 

These pastors adopt positions that are very worldly positions. They are hot-button issues, things the whole world is talking about. Things the world is even condemning Christianity for (which is why so many activist pastors build a platform on condemning the church). And we know that the more you hear a message, the more likely you are to believe that that message is the truth. So if you're hearing a message from the world, and your pastor then preaches it from the pulpit, then by gosh, it must be true. 

So these pastors are using your predisposition to believe the things you hear over and over again to make sure you're hearing their platform over and over again, and what better way to do that than to adopt a platform that you're already hearing?

This is how we end up with such a worldly Jesus being preached in our churches. This is how we end up with congregations that are very world-affirming, whose starting point seems to be that the world is getting it right and the church is getting it wrong. We see this all the time, don't we? And then we start to slowly question the church instead of the questioning the world, and from there, it's not hard to climb fully on board with this kind of platform. The world is saying it. The pastor is saying. Not long after, the church starts to say it. And all of a sudden, we have a Jesus who is no longer building His church, but condemning it. And that's the Jesus these activist pastors end up preaching. 

How far from the Gospel we have fallen! And it happens just like that. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

In the Image

What happens when an activist pastor starts picking a fight? Well, if he's going to convince you that he's just like Jesus, then he has to start preaching a Jesus that looks just like him. 

Let's go back to the pastor that we were talking about yesterday who was picking fights against political conservatives. It wasn't long after he started making this his platform that this pastor started rewriting Scripture. He said he was "updating" it to what Jesus would say if He lived in our world today. And what this pastor did was to take a well-known passage in Matthew about caring for the poor and protecting the rights of the many, and he filled it with a bunch of political talking points from his own persuasion and put the emphasis not on the act of the Christian, but on the shoulders of the government. 

The whole Scripture became about implementing policies and passing laws and re-structuring society. And this pastor insisted that this is what Jesus would have preached.'s not what Jesus preached. At all.

So the pastor makes the claim that Jesus didn't preach it because Rome was different than America, because the times were different, because we have different relationships with our government now. And further and further and further away we get from the actual words and heart of Jesus because this guy just keeps spinning this story further away until it suits his own needs - the activist mission he has adopted for his platform. 

I would hope that I wouldn't have to explain why it's unlike Christ to be talking about changing the governmental structures of a nation and putting the burden of charity onto the state, but it's also true that this pastor received an outpouring of support for his statement. By the hundreds, social media users started chiming in with "Amen!" and "You preach it, brother!" Which means that not everyone is able to tell the true, historical, Son-of-God Jesus from the fake gospels being preached by activist pastors such as this. 

So let's be clear - Jesus always put the burden of charity on the individual's shoulders. On the Christian. He always preached a Gospel that says that it's your responsibility to do good in this world, not simply to vote for it. It's your responsibility to help your neighbor, not just to point her toward an established program. It's your responsibility to be the hands and feet of God in your community, not to elect leaders who will do it for you. 

The Jesus that this pastor is now preaching is far removed from who Jesus really was, but at this point, He has to be. Because this pastor has picked this fight and staked this claim that he is just like Jesus, that he is more like Jesus than you are if you disagree with him, and now, he has to preach a Jesus that looks like him. Because he has to convince you that this is who Jesus is so that when you look at him, you see Jesus. 

Actually, what he wants is that when you look at Jesus, you see him. 

Do you see how quickly this gets off track? 

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Broken Records

How can you tell if a pastor is picking a fight? Quite simply - every single one of these pastors picks the same fight over and over again for a season, then moves on and picks a different fight over and over and over again for a season, then moves on and picks another different fight.... These guys tend to develop what we call "one track minds." 

When they do this, they become narrowly focused on one idea, and they start "calling it out" everywhere that they see it. And before long, they're calling it out everywhere they suspect it. And not long after that, everywhere they can make a case that perhaps it is happening. 

I recently saw a pastor who loves to preach sermons that agree with the culture on a number of hot-button issues go on a rant about "conservatives," drawing his information from a left-wing political "watchdog" group whose entire existence is based on "gotcha" moments, real or imagined, centered on right-wing political figures. One politician with an R by his name had said one thing, and this group went off on all Republicans, on all conservatives, on all Christians calling them backward and stupid and accusing them of twisting the Gospel and making ludicrous claims. As if this one guy speaks for everyone who votes Republican or calls themselves a Christian. 

And by the way, that's another way you can tell you've got one of these activist pastors in front of you - they are always calling out Christians for being wrong and hate-filled and backward and stupid. They are always railing against the church, for some reason. Except, of course, for their church, where they are doing it right. Whatever it is. All of the other Christians in the world are very, very wrong. 

Anyway, this pastor starts laying into conservatives and those who call themselves Christians because this one guy said something really dumb in his public platform. And then, a couple of days later, he got a ministry email from some organization to which he is apparently a part (or he wouldn't be getting their emails), and it was an offer of financial resources. But it included the disclaimer, "Conservative churches only." 

So immediately, this pastor starts going off about how political conservatives control all of the money and are out to destroy those who are "trying to be like Jesus actually was" (i.e. him and his church) and it's all a great big conspiracy against liberals and democrats and the future of our country is at stake! 

The thing is...when someone is talking about a conservative church, they aren't talking about politics. They aren't talking about a church that votes Republican. They are talking about a church that holds to a doctrine of true biblical interpretation, one that doesn't add to the Scriptures or twist them in the face of culture. Being a conservative Christian is not about politics at all, but because that's this pastor's pet project right now, he spun it so that it sounded like it is. 

And that's what tends to happen with activist pastors. They latch onto a single idea, and then everything becomes about that. Every sermon, every tweet, every post, every meme, every everything becomes centered on this idea because, again, what they want is for you to see them and then to hear them tell you that they are acting like Jesus. Even though they're picking these fights every time and sometimes, as we've seen, even fabricating them just to "win." Because the truth is that if you hear a certain message enough, you'll almost always start to believe it. 

And then.... 

Monday, August 22, 2022

Picking Fights

I follow quite a few pastors on social media, as a means to both encourage and challenge myself. But I'm noticing a trend with some of them - they love to pick fights. 

They love to pick fights with the church. They love to pick fights with the culture. They love to pick fights with each other. 

There are pastors out there who will latch onto anything, even if they have to spin it to something else, just to get a sermon. Just to make a platform. Just to preach a doctrine they firmly believe in, whether that doctrine is biblical or not. And every time they do this, they are claiming to be telling you that they are just like Jesus...and you are not. 

In fact, that's their biggest fighting point on every single topic that they pick - you aren't being very much like Jesus. 

The trouble is...neither are they. 

If you read through the Gospels, you'll notice one very important truth about Jesus - He never picked a fight. He never went out looking for things to nail persons on. He never went out trying to prove to the world that they were wrong and He was right. He never twisted the words or perspectives of another to try to prove His own righteousness. 

Jesus doesn't have a "gotcha" Gospel. He never has, and He never will. Jesus doesn't have a Gospel that is based on confrontation. Jesus doesn't have a Gospel that affirms the world. Jesus doesn't have a Gospel that demands headlines with everything that He does. 

Jesus was a really quiet kind of guy, and if you read the Gospels, that's the impression that you get of Him. He was just walking around in His daily life, encountering the things that He encountered. He wasn't going looking for them; He just naturally came upon them as life itself happened. And when He did, He responded in truth, love, and grace. 

His life led Him to some strange place, for sure. To a tax collector's house. To a Samaritan well. To the middle of a raging sea. But Jesus wasn't looking for these places. He wasn't looking around at those who followed Him and thinking, "You know what? I really need to shock them a little bit. I need to do something totally bold and crazy and strange. I need to give them something else to talk about." 

And yet, these pastors seem to have built their pulpits on this very idea. 

They want to shock you out of your pew. They want to make you feel uncomfortable. They want to get you talking about their talking points, which are so often not the things that Jesus was talking about. And they do this by using His name, by claiming His name, and by telling you this is who Jesus was...then berating and belittling you for not being more like Him when really, they just want you to be more like them. 

Every single one of these pastors claims he is just like Jesus. Every single one of them. But beware the wolf in shepherd's clothing. 

Jesus never picked a fight. 

Friday, August 19, 2022

An Overcorrection

When we talk about ideas like balancing grace and truth and being a people who are equally likely to dance and to mourn, the truth is that this is very difficult to do. The greater truth is that it's something we have to constantly be keeping an eye on. 

Because we are prone not to maintain this balance once we achieve it. We will, as with the seasons of our lives, move in one direction or the other from time to time and have to pull ourselves back.

For example, I think most Christians start out as dancers. They start out as persons of grace. When they come to the baptismal waters and rise out of them, everyone just seems to embrace this optimism that life is better now, that things are going to be okay, and that God is handling everything. So we become a little naive, the kind of persons who dance in every storm because we're head-over-heels infatuated with the goodness of this God we have just met.

Fast forward a little bit into our faith walk, and we discover that being a Christian is more than just believing in good things. It requires something from us. It requires a discipline and often, perseverance. There are still hard times. And this tends to make us lean toward mourning. In fact, we do so to such a degree that most of us go through this phase where we try to put the stomp on those younger Christians who are still in the dancing phase - we take it upon ourselves to tell them they're in for a rude awakening, all while telling ourselves we're doing them a service. 

(By the way - we do that whether we are more naturally mourners or dancers. We always think we're doing the world a service by being one way or the other.)

Eventually, we find our way toward some kind of balance between the two, and we think we've got it figured out. There was a period in my own life where I was very much known for this, and it became something that I embraced wholeheartedly and that helped me to keep seeing myself in a certain way. 

But as life keeps going and things happen, without us even realizing it, we start to lean one way or the other again. Either we encounter a series of hardships and become cynics, which we claim bends us toward truth and mourning - a sort of "realism," we call it, where we refuse to see the world through rose-colored glasses (or even through the eyes of true faith) or we encounter a series of blessings and become naive all over again, bending toward grace and dancing because God has just been so very good to us. 

And a strange thing happens here - we still think we have balance. We have lost our balance, but we still think we have it because we know that at one point, we most definitely did. So we keep leaning one way, but telling ourselves it's just temporary. Then we lean that way again. And again. And again. And all of a sudden, we are a mourner or a dancer again, and the world around us has noticed, but we have not. 

In my own life, I have gone through seasons of both - mourning and dancing. I think I more naturally tend toward mourning, and so when I found that I was becoming a person of real balance, I started to overcompensate toward dancing because I knew that was more unnatural for me. I wanted to make sure I maintained a hold on that in my life because I loved being a person with more grace than I naturally was. I worked hard for that, and I wanted to keep it. But being so diligent about that made me very definitively a dancer for a season, and when I realized my grace was getting out of control (that it was starting to look more like a free-for-all than a Gospel truth), I pulled it back in and overcorrected back into truth and mourning and became, well, a cynic. I became a person who was looking for those opportunities to correct others, to set them straight, to save them from the things they didn't seem to know about. 

So I had to work to find that balance all over again and, to be honest, I'm still working on it. But you know what? I think the same thing is going to happen. I think I'm going to get somewhere near that balance, fall in love with grace all over again, lean a little too much toward dancing, and then become a cynic before looking for balance yet again. I think that's just the way we're wired as humans. We just sort of oscillate like this. 

But I hope that every time I do this, I get a little softer in it. I get a little less extreme in my swings. I come closer and closer to that sweet resting spot right in the middle of grace and truth, mourning and dancing. I hope that the longer I live, the closer I get to living this out consistently. And I think that as long as I keep investing in the process authentically and faithfully, I will. 

I think you can, too. 

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Intentional Change

If we want to be a people who carry both grace and truth, who are good at both mourning and dancing, then the first thing we have to do is figure out where our starting point is. That is, we have to figure out, each of us for ourselves, whether we are a person who tends toward grace or toward truth, toward mourning or toward dancing. 

There are some who say that this is just a matter of thinking before we speak, of figuring out what is about to come out of our mouths (and thus, out of our hearts) and choosing whether that is the thing that we want to say or not. And then, figuring out if that's the kind of thing that we always say and what we might want to say in this situation that would be different. 

I think that's a great aspiration, but it's unrealistic. I don't think that's the way that change happens for most of us. I don't think we are, in general, a people who are naturally able to remember to think while we're thinking and before we speak. That's something we have to train into ourselves.

So I think the best way to go about this, the way that is more likely to bring meaningful results for most of us, is to think after we speak. 

We need to get in the habit of going back through our day and thinking about the ways that we responded to situations that arose. What did we say and to whom and when and why? What were we thinking in our hearts? Did we have any other thoughts in there that we could have chosen, but didn't? If so, why didn't we choose them? If not, what might another thought have been?

Christians have been doing this sort of thing spiritually for a long time - it's called the examen. It's the process of getting into the habit of reviewing your day, looking for God in it, looking for sacred moments, recognizing all of the things that you might not have noticed in the moment and remembering the ones that you did with gratefulness. 

We can do the same sort of thing with our own hearts - recognizing all of the things we might not have noticed in the moment and remembering the ones that we did notice. And then, we can start seeing what our own patterns are start thinking about what kind of person we're coming across as. 

Then, from there, we can start looking at those same moments and figuring out what they might have looked like if we had chosen grace instead of truth or truth instead of grace, whichever way we tend to lean. We can imagine how our day might have been different if we had done more mourning or more dancing. We can start imagining what our lives look like with a better balance of these things that God has called us to have in their own time, but that He has ordained that we must have both. 

Once that imagination takes hold, it starts shaping our moment-to-moment. We start just naturally thinking at any given time what grace or truth might look like here. We start catching ourselves at the start of mourning or dancing and considering whether that's really what we want to do or not or whether that's just our default. We start imagining in time how time might look different depending on what we do with our next breath. 

And slowly, we become the kind of persons God called and created us to be - mourners and dancers, full of grace and truth. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Grace and Truth

When we talk about whether we are more naturally bitter or more naturally naive, whether we are a person who leans more toward mourning or more toward dancing, things can get a little complicated. 

None of us particularly likes to take an intimate look at ourselves, to discover the places where we still need to grow. None of us really wants to pay that much attention to our motivations and discover that, perhaps, we're not coming across the way that we think we are. It's hard to look honestly at ourselves and say, hey, you know what? I'm kind of a bitter person. Or to say, gosh, I can really be naive about this life sometimes. (These are the typical expressions of being either too much into the mourning or too much into the dancing.) 

Rather, what we're more likely to do when we encounter the reality of who we are is to start making excuses. Someone who tends to come across harshly, as a cynic, perhaps, or as bitter will say something like, "I'm just being real about the way that things are. This is the truth, so suck it up, buttercup." On the other hand, someone who tends to come across as more naive, a little more detached from the realities of the world, constantly joyful even when they shouldn't be, will say something like, "This is the grace of God. It is what it is, and He is good."

And while these excuses are not generally helpful in human terms, they can actually help us in assessing our spiritual condition. Because did you catch the key words here? 

 Truth and grace.

Aha! Now, we are in a spiritual realm of conversation that feels actually quite comfortable to most of us. And in fact, if you've been around this blog long enough, you've probably noticed by now how many of our conversations come back to these two things. 

That's because God Himself placed an emphasis on these two things. He told us that these are the things that we need to navigate this world faithfully for His glory.

We have put grace and truth sort of on a spectrum - with truth on one end and grace on the other, and then we're constantly seeking to find ourselves somewhere in the middle. But that can cloud our thinking somewhat when we start trying to put these ideas entirely into context. Because it can lead us to think that perhaps mourning is truth and dancing is grace, or tearing down is truth and building up is grace, or sowing is truth and reaping is grace. (These are the ideas we introduced on Monday, remember?) 

But it's more accurate to say that mourning is both truth and grace - it is the truth that sad things happen in this world and the grace of creating space for them. Dancing is both truth and grace - it is the truth that God is good and the grace to embrace that with wild abandon. Tearing down is both truth and grace - it is the truth that something is old and past its usefulness and the grace that something new can happen in this same space. Building up is both truth and grace - it is the truth that God is doing a new thing and the grace that He is doing it here. And so on and so on and so on we go. 

So that the conversation we're really having isn't about us being bitter or naive; it's about the way that we hold truth and grace, which is a conversation we've had a million times. It's a conversation we have every single day. Or at least, we should be. And honestly, this is a more helpful conversation anyway. 

The question, then, becomes - where do we go from here? 

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Mourning and Dancing

So we're looking at some of the verses in the Bible that talk about times - a time for this, a time for that. And we put a little emphasis on it with a verse from Jeremiah that echoes the same sort of sentiment. Our starting point for verses like these always tends to be acceptance of the seasons of our own lives, but I argue that they are more than that - they are things that we're supposed to be intentional about creating, as well. 

And that's where we're running into a bit of a problem. 

In my experience, most Christians are not doing a great job of creating this sort of balance in their lives and in the lives of those around them. Rather, most Christians tend to fall very decidedly into one column or the other.

We have among us, for example, those who are really good at mourning. At destroying. At uprooting. At ruining. At tearing down. You know these persons - they come tearing through their life and the lives of others like a tornado, and they do so bearing God's name, making some kind of statement that God is definitely in the wind and the earthquake, in case you missed that in the story of Elijah. 

This is their default. It's what they naturally do. They are complainers and grumblers and generally miserable folks, all the while claiming that God has made them to be this way. After all, doesn't His Word say there is exactly a time for such as this?

It does, but it doesn't say that's all the time.

On the other hand, we also have among us those who are really good at dancing. At planting. At rejoicing. At building up. You know these persons - there has never been a single cloud in their sky and nothing wipes the smile off their face. And they live with joy bearing God's name, making some kind of statement that God is sunshine and rainbows and that sadness is some kind of lack of faith in the goodness of the Holy One. 

This is their default. It's what they naturally do. They are encouragers and generally chipper folks, all the while claiming that God has made them to be this way. After all, doesn't His Word say that there is exactly a time for such as this?

Again, it does, but it doesn't say that's all the time.

And this presents an incredible challenge for all of us. We have encouragers and we have grumblers, and we don't seem to have a whole lot of persons who can even live authentically the seasons God puts in our lives, let alone help to create them. So we have a God who is either miserable or naive, and we tell the world that's who He is,'s just a mess.

They both say that God created them this way, but that's just a cop-out. The truth is that God created all of us for both - joy and sorrow, mourning and dancing, building up and tearing down, planting and destroying. That's the truth of what His Word says. do we get better at that? 

Monday, August 15, 2022

A Time for Everything

The Bible tells us that there is a time for everything under the sun, and then it gives us a few examples of what it means. 

A time to be born and a time to die

A time for planting and a time for uprooting

A time to slay and a time to heal

A time to tear down and a time to build up

A time to weep and a time to laugh

A time to mourn and a time to dance

A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones

A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing

A time to seek and a time to count your losses

A time to keep and a time to throw away

A time to tear and a time to sew

A time to keep quiet and a time to talk

A time to love and a time to hate

A time for peace and a time for war.

Like many Christians, I have often read these times as seasons of our lives, as things that are inevitably going to come our way like the rains and the droughts, like the sowing and the harvest. This is the kind of roller coaster that we're on, and these things just happen. And when they happen, we're supposed to understand that this is the kind of creation that we live in - it just comes with seasons like this. 

But then, I read some similar-sounding words in Jeremiah recently, and it changed the way that I think about this. Not that the way that I - and so many of us - have been thinking about it is wrong, but that it does not encompass the full truth of the passage that I think God wants us to get from it. 

The verse that I read is Jeremiah 1:10:

This day I give you authority over the nations and kingdoms, to root up and to pull down, to wreck and to ruin, to build and to plant." 

It's that last little bit that jumped out at me in a new way this time, even though I have read these words dozens of times before. God has given to us authority to build and to plant. And that's the same kind of sound that the words from Ecclesiastes make. 

So what does it have me thinking about? It has me thinking about this: that these are not just the seasons of our lives, the things that happen to us with the changing of the winds. These are the things that we create in the world. These are the things we do. These are the winds that we help create in the lives of those around us, for the sake of those we are loving.

And if that's true, then these are things that we aren't just meant to accept, but to be intentional about. And the truth is that too many of us are not intentional about them at all. In fact, most of us... (stay tuned).  

Friday, August 12, 2022

A Taste of Goodness

We've been talking about whether David's friends might have treated him differently in verse 5 if they knew what happened in verse 4, but the bigger truth is that this is not just about David. It's not just about us, either. It's about God. 

David's friends did not see the glory of God in David's life because they did not know his repentance and thus, God's mercy. And if they did not see the glory of God in David's life, where do you think they were going to see it?

This is why the past couple of days have been so important - because the way that we are living our lives outside of our prayer closets has a direct correlation to how much the world can see the glory of God. Period. And do you know how much the world needs to see the glory of God? 

Just look at the way that stories of acts of kindness go viral in our culture. Just yesterday, there was a story of a little boy who got hit by a pitch at a Little League game, then went out to the pitcher's mound to make sure the kid who hit him was going to be okay. And the internet is exploding. 

We are all desperate for this kind of good news, for this kind of kindness. We see stories about young persons (and sometimes, old persons) who walk hours to get to work every day, and something in us wells up with great joy and a renewed hope for humanity. Around Christmas, we always see stories of police officers somewhere pulling over good drivers and giving them gift cards or a little bit of cash. And something leaps inside of us. 

Every time there's good news, we all seem to breathe a collective sigh of relief and smile a little bigger. 

And while that's a great thing - really, it's great - it is also a condemnation of Christians. 

Because the truth is that we should be living this kind of kindness every day. We should be living this kind of discipline and diligence every day. We should be living this kind of generosity every day. These stories that the world so quickly falls in love with are the stories that we, as a people of God under His grace, ought to be living out loud every day. And if we were, these stories would not feel so rare. They would not feel so much like the chance occurrence. 

Do you know how it would change our perception of the world if these kinds of stories were the norm? If these were the things we were seeing the most of everyday from the persons around us? 

We would look at the stories of violence differently. We would look at the stories of injustice differently. We would look at the troubles and trials and traumas of this world differently if goodness was our starting point, our default, instead of the exception to the rule. And the only reason it's not is because too many of us are  not living out our verse 4.

Oh, how I long for us to do better at this. Oh, how I wish our lives were marked by the grace that we cry out for. 

Oh, how I long for my own life to do this more. 

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Not a Pharisee

To say that David's friends perhaps should have known what happened in Psalm 41:4, and it might have changed what was happening in Psalm 41:5, is touching on what seems like a very fine line. After all, Jesus had quite a bit to say about the Pharisees living to be seen, making a show of their righteousness (or perceived righteousness). Jesus was all about living your faith diligently in your heart, not on the street corners. 

So how do we gel this with what we see happening here, where David's friends-turned-foes don't seem to know the authenticity of his heart and the earnestness of his repentance? How do we live in such a way that there's no misunderstanding about how turned-toward-God we are while also not making a spectacle of our faith for performance's sake? 


What we absolutely cannot say is that David should have made his confession to God in the public square. That is certainly not what we should be talking about. There are confessions that we make to God, and there are confessions that we make to men, and there are reasons that we make these confessions in these ways. What is between our heart and God should never be open for public viewing, unless God leads us on the other side of it to share it as a testimony. Your relationship with God is your relationship with God and no one else. 

But the relationship that you have with God ought to change the relationships that you have with others, and it ought to change the relationship that you have with your story. Therefore, the things that you do in private with God - which are the things that you should be doing in private with God - ought to shape the life that you live outside of your prayer closet in such a way that no one would question what might be happening in there. 

In other words, the world ought to know that your knees are bruised without ever seeing them. 

The world, even your friends, don't have to hear you repent before God, but they should know with absolute certainty, by the character of your being, that you have. There should be no question in their minds that that's the first thing you would do. Whatever happens next after you sin or fall short, your next interaction with those closest to you (especially) ought to occur on the assumption that you have already gotten your heart right with God. 

You do this by living with godly character. By speaking freely about the relationship that you have with God, without having to share all of the personal details of it. By being honest, earnest, authentic. By being faithful in small things and showing your diligence every day. By being a person of character. 

Think about how you know that a husband and wife are committed to each other and love each other. They likely aren't telling you about all of the little things they do, every conversation they have, every time they are intimate with each other, the raw words that came out in a fight. But they are living together in such a way that you know their love is real, you don't question it, and if anything does come up, your foundational assumption is that they love each other, are committed to one another, and are working for the good of one another. 

So it should be when the world looks at us with our God. We don't have to share every detail; we don't have to put our relationship with the Bridegroom on public display. But we should be living in such a way that anyone looking knows our love is real and that the foundational assumption anyone makes about us is that we have committed our hearts wholly to God, even in the moments we've fallen. 

For whatever reason, David's friends didn't seem to operate on this assumption. That's how they became his foes. 

What about yours?

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Live Out Loud go to church?

It's a question that's asked far too commonly in our society, as we've been continually convinced that we ought to push our faith to the side and make it a private endeavor, that we aren't supposed to talk about it in public. That it's no longer "polite" conversation to talk about God. As a result, there are sometimes persons with whom we have continual interaction without ever knowing that they are a Christian. And...there are persons who have the same with us. 

This was part of the problem that David was facing in Psalm 41. He had repented. He had thrown himself on God's mercy and brought his heart and laid it bare before God, but...the friends who had become foes didn't seem to know it. They didn't know David's heart before God. That's why they were still judging him so harshly. 

That's why he was still so convinced that his supposed-to-be-friends were his greatest foes. 

We asked yesterday if it would have changed their opinion if they knew what his heart toward God was like. We asked if it might change our opinion of those around us. 

Without faith in the public square the way that it used to be, it's hard. It's easy for us to sit around and think that everyone is just loving their sin. That they don't even care. That they probably aren't even thinking about it or about the way that it affects others. It's easy for us to sit here and judge everyone else for not caring enough, for not repenting. But...what if they have?

 What if David's foes in verse 5 knew what David was like in verse 4?

This is the challenge for all of us who would live as Christians in this world, particularly in the context of fellowship with those around us. We have to live in such a way that our verse 4 is assumed of us and not a surprise. We have to live so that those who are closest to us know that our confession and repentance is a given, that it's already happening. That we are serious about bringing our hearts before God and throwing ourselves on mercy. 

We should not be living in such a way that we hear the first question of today's post frequently, if ever at all. go to church? love God? care about your sin and the way it affects others? repented?

These things should not even be questions about us. Not from our foes and especially not from our friends.  

Now, there is, of course, a fine line here that we must be careful of. And if you've read some of the harsh criticism that Jesus had for the Pharisees, then you likely know already what we're getting at. How do we live making our verse 4 known without living a faith that's simply meant to be seen? 

We'll talk about some of that tomorrow. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

A Matter of Heart

Yesterday, we introduced Psalm 41, where David is in one breath repenting of his sinful behavior to the Lord and in the next, sighing over persecution by his enemies, many of whom are supposed to be friends. And the question we left with is: did his "foes" know? Did they know he repented? 

The question is really this: does it change your opinion of a person, friend or foe, if you know they have humbled themselves before God and cried out in grief over their own sin? Does it change the way you interact with them if you know that they're trying

Would David's friends have still been friends if they knew the real anguish with which he cried out to God?

This is important because we're talking here about a man like David - a very well-known figure in Israel. Everyone knew David's story, or at least, they thought they did. He was such a public figure that everyone had an opinion of him and, at the very least, they knew that God's hand was on him. (Or, they should have.) 

What they didn't know was what David did in secret. What they didn't know is what happened when he fell on his knees. What they didn't know was how earnestly he was working to get things right. What they didn't know was how it grieved his own heart when he sinned. What they didn't know, apparently, was that when he knew he had done wrong, he ran to God and threw himself on mercy. 

Would it have changed things if they knew?

We spend so much of our lives having an opinion on others. We spend so much of our time judging what we think must be true of someone based on what we see. But do we ever consider the things that we don't see? 

Do we consider what a man does when he is alone on his knees, just him and God? Do we consider how his own heart is torn by his sin? Do we stop to think that this thing that we want to keep drilling him into the ground for might be something from which he has already repented? Something for which he has already turned to God? 

None of us wants to be friends with a "sinner." It's a whole lot easier to be a foe. It's a whole lot easier to stand up in our self-righteousness and declare that this is not the kind of man that we want to be around, to drag his name through the mud in an effort to boost our own, and to say that he's just not who we thought he was and that we just can't associate ourselves with this kind of man. 

But can you be friends with a repentant man? Do you want to be friends with a repentant man? Isn't he the kind of influence you both want and need in your life? 

Would it change you in verse 5 if you knew what happened in verse 4? 

Monday, August 8, 2022

A Repentant Man

David was a man after God's own heart, but that doesn't mean he had an easy path through the world of men. As you may remember, his life was filled with grief and strife - much of it, of his own making! Sure, he started out getting the short end of Saul's spear because of God's favor on him, but he made his own mistakes, too, and wrecked his life in almost every way imaginable. 

David brought sin upon his house when he slept with Bathsheba, the wife of another man. He brought more sin upon his house when he then had Bathsheba's husband killed. The whole time, mind you, he was supposed to be out leading his men to battle like kings in those days did, but he was at the palace living the sinful life. He conducted a census against the Lord's wishes and brought grief on the men. 

He had all the makings of a great king, but all the failures of a mortal man. He had a heart after the Lord, but even his heart was wicked in the same ways that ours are. 

As a result, David lived his life with a number of enemies. And we see this documented for us nowhere better than in the Psalms, when David cries out quite a bit from under the pursuit or the trap of those who don't particularly love him. 

There's an interesting little quip in one of the Psalms, though, that ought to make us pause for a moment. It ought to give us a little turn of the head like, "Whoa - what's that?" When we read it, the contrast is stark and the switch between emphases so abrupt that we can't help but notice. 

We're talking about Psalm 41:4-5. 

I say, "Have mercy on me, O Lord! Heal me; for I have sinned against thee!" 

My foes say evil of me, "How long till he die, and his name perish?"

But as the psalm continues, we get the sense that when David is talking about his foes, he's not talking about some foreign enemy or oppressor; he's talking about those close to him. The next few verses are going to talk about those who come close to him, as confidants would. They're going to talk about friends who abandon him and turn away. Even my friend in whom I trusted, verse 9 says.

So when we're reading this verse, it's important that we know that we're not talking about something like David vs. the Amalekites here; we're talking about David and his inner circle. Or, who he thought was his inner circle. Or, who he wanted to be his inner circle. 

Those to whom he is most vulnerable are mumbling and grumbling out loud and asking themselves when they're going to be rid of him already, when this sinful man (which he confessed himself in the previous verse) is finally going to die and stop being a burden. 

When I read these verses recently, the note that I wrote myself was this: 

"Did not his foes know that he repented?"

 And I think that's something very important that we should talk about. So...let's do it. 

Friday, August 5, 2022

A Hostile World

Truthfully, it doesn't make any sense for us to live at odds with the world the way that we do. When we go in like we don't live here and try to deal with our world the way that Israel dealt with most of her foes, we end up just destroying ourselves.

Because we're at home, if we take any plunder from this world at all, it becomes established in the place where we already live. It becomes an addition to our home, not an offering we make on our journey there. 

This is how so many of us have gotten ourselves in trouble. We have built our houses and set them up for the kind of faith that we want to live, then we have dwelt in a plunderous relationship with the world and ended up "finding space" in our settled homes for all of these other things that we've wanted to take from the world. Things that have no place on our shelves. 

Things like...politics. And language. And striving for success. And the world's definitions of "good" and "wealthy" and "well." And whatever else we want to put here. And all of a sudden, we find ourselves sabotaging our own existence because we took so much from the world, and it has crowded out our home. We no longer have the space for living in faith because we've pushed it around and moved it aside and tucked it away to make room for all of the things that we've brought in from the world. 

We don't have to do this. This is why when you're already at home, already settled, you don't just start bringing in plunder.

Worse yet, too many Christians seem intent on just burning the world down around them. They have taken such an antagonistic stance toward the places where we already live that they spend their whole life of "faith" trying to tear it all down. 

But when you burn down the place where you live, you burn down the place where you live! (Yes, it really is that simple.) When you burn down the city square, you burn down the courthouse that offers you justice in this place. When you burn down the marketplace, where do you think you're going to get your groceries? When you burn down the schools, where is community education supposed to come from?

We burn down the structures of the places where we live, and then we complain that where we live is a barren and desolate place that doesn't offer us a meaningful chance at life. Well, duh! We burned that down because it was "sinful" or whatever Christian-ese we want to use about it. It doesn't make any sense, and it's not the way God wants us to live with the world. 

We are Jews in Persia, sojourners in a land far from home, but God has settled us here for now. And He has given us the story of Esther to tell us how, then, we should live. The only option for Christians is the Purim option - it's living here and taking only our lives. It's leaving everything else alone.  

Thursday, August 4, 2022

A Place Called Home

Why does this matter? Why are we talking about Israel's refusal to take spoils from the battle at Purim?

Because we are a people like the Jews in Persia.

We are a people of God at home in an exile, living in a place where He has told us to put down our roots and to make our homes, while also praying for the peace and prosperity of the place where we live. (Yes, He said this about Babylon, but it holds true for Persia, too.) We are a people who are settled here, who have established our own households and our own rhythms. We are a people for whom the only thing truly at stake is whether we live here or die here. 

And yet, we are a people living like we are on a war path with the culture.

We are a people living like we're still in Exodus, living like we're still on our way toward the Promised Land and like we have to be tearing a new path through this world, kicking butt and taking name. We are at odds with so much of the stuff around us, and our natural inclination is to go through and start burning everything. It's all too impure, we cry! It will never glorify God. It will lead us only down the paths to corruption. And on and on and on we go. 

But that's not who we are as a people in this world. Not after Calvary. Not after the empty tomb. 

Nor are we a people for whom God has not abundantly provided. We aren't a people who have to claim a bunch of stuff so that our empty houses have something to offer to God. We aren't a people who need all these things that we think we can pass through the fire. We aren't building our houses any more. We aren't purifying the land. 

We are a settled people. We are a people for whom God has provided. We are a people living in relative security all while knowing that this is not our home. We don't belong here. This isn't what God planned for us. So, like Jews in Persia who always had one eye on Jerusalem, we've always got one eye on Eternity, but that doesn't change the nature of who we are right here and right now. 

And we have got to stop living like we're on a war path with this world. 

We have got to stop living like we're a people of Exodus, like we're just wandering. We have got to stop living like God is still building our house. We have got to stop living like it's our job to destroy all of the impure things around us. 

God has called us to take care of our house in a place like this. To build our home. To establish our own purity/cleanliness. To draw our own lines. He has called us to live in peace with those around us and to celebrate the blessing He's poured out in our lives that enables us to live here the way that we do. He has called us to keep one eye on heaven, yes, but to be a settled people, as well. 

We're at home here. Temporary home, but still home. So our relationship to the spoils here must be like that of the Jews in Persia - take nothing but your life itself, if God so grants it to you. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Plundering Purim

So what we've been setting up is that Purim was unlike any other encounter that Israel had with her enemies because not only did she take no plunder, but she neither burned everything up. Israel walked away from that encounter with the Persians with only her life.


To put it simply, she was already at home. 

Israel was settled in the land of Persia; she had been in exile for quite a while, certainly long enough to be well-established. They were so integrated into the land that no one seemed to know that Esther was a Jew until she told them. They lived there, worked there, loved there, prayed there. Yes, in some ways, they maintained their own community apart from the Persians, but for all intents and purposes, this was home for them.

When you're established in a place, you don't have much of an interest in bringing in a whole bunch of new stuff to try to establish yourself. You don't need to. You've got your own stuff, and this is your own place, so your own place is full of your own stuff. 

That also means you have plenty to offer to God. You don't need a bunch of other stuff as sacrifice or offering. You don't need extra rams; you have plenty of your own. You don't need extra wheat; you've got that, or at least, you've got access to it. You're already set up to have plenty of stuff of your own, especially when God is blessing you in a place like this, so you don't need Persia's stuff. 

And you're already established here, which means you've already adopted as much of the culture as you're willing to. When you've been a people in exile this long and have set up your households so firmly in this place, you've established your rhythms and routines and priorities, so the temptations of Persia aren't so tempting to you any more. You don't need to burn everything because you're not going to fall into those traps. 

Not to mention, burning everything will make you detestable to the people who have been fairly gracious to you in your captivity thus far. And God has made clear to His exiled people that they're supposed to settle themselves in this place and be gracious toward their captors and these cities. To pray for their peace and prosperity. There's no reason to be starting fires. 

The situation that Israel found herself in in Persia was totally different than the other situations in which she had to fight for her life against her enemies. She fought this time as a settled people - an exiled people, yes, but a settled people in their own home. Not a Promised people moving through enemy territory. So the way that she encounters this fight is different.

The only thing Israel stands to gain or lose on Purim is her life. So at the end of the day, that's all she needs to walk away with. 

Thus, she does.  

Tuesday, August 2, 2022


If we're going to talk about what's going on when Israel doesn't take any spoils from their defeat of the Persians at Purim (the book of Esther), then we should start by looking at Israel's relationship to plunder throughout her history. 

And essentially, there are two narratives here. 

The first narrative is that sometimes, we take no plunder. We take no plunder because the peoples we are coming up against are simply too wicked and their practices and possessions are so corrupt that we could not possibly bring them into our own culture without corrupting ourselves. 

When this is the case, God's people have been instructed to simply burn everything. Burn it all. Destroy it thoroughly. Make sure that there is not one recognizable atom left on top of another so that absolutely nothing impure can possibly make its way into Israel's camp. 

This was the sin of Achan. It's not just that he took something when God had instructed them not to take anything. It's that what he took was so thoroughly impure that he brought an uncleanness into Israel's camp by the very item itself, not to mention his own sin of disobedience. 

This was not some kind of test that God was running of His people. "Will they, or won't they, destroy what I tell them to destroy?" We have to get out of that kind of mindset of God because that's not the kind of God that He is. This was an act of kindness from God, in that He knew how corrupt the spoils were from these towns and these peoples, and He knew He had to keep them away from His own people, lest their hearts start to wander toward impure things. 

So sometimes, we take no spoil, and when we don't, we burn everything. 

The second narrative that we have with the spoil is that sometimes, we take what is pure or what can be purified. This is where we are when God talks about keeping the livestock, for example, and the jewels and any woman who has not been with a man.

Here, we're looking at things that can be passed through fire...or don't have to be. We're looking at things that will not be burned up easily, but will be purified by heat. We're looking at things like livestock that can be an aroma pleasing to the Lord, that are not defiled, per se, by their peoples' living and thus are well to become a sacrifice. And, of course, we're talking about virgins - young girls who have not been corrupted by their culture yet, who have not been defiled, who have not been responsible for impure rituals of cultic worship. 

In these cases, God lets His people take what is clean or what can be clean. These things become, then, reclaimed in a sense. They are an example of the resurrection, of the kind of redemption that can happen when God's promises are being fulfilled. These spoils are a reminder of what God is doing in all of us. 

Imagine the jewelry from Egypt that becomes tarnished over the years by wandering in the wilderness for so long, but then one day, is purified and cleansed and becomes bright again and it no longer tells the story of Egypt, but of Exodus. That's what we're talking about. That's what God does with the spoils when He lets us take them.

So sometimes, we take spoil, and when we do, we tell a story of reformation. 

These are the two primary relationships that Israel had with the plunder of the nations she came up against. is not the story of Purim. Purim was entirely different. How? And...why? 

Monday, August 1, 2022

The Spoils

An interesting thing happened when the Jews defended themselves against the Persians in the time of Esther: they took no spoil.

They fought back against those who had been given authority to take their lives, and they took the lives of the fighters instead, but they took nothing else. They took no jewelry. No livestock. No home nor field. They took nothing at all. 

They walked out of that battle with only their lives.

Remember, this was a people who walked out of Egypt with everything. Before the Passover, God instructed them to ask the Egyptians for jewelry and gold and whatever else they could think to ask for, and the Egyptians gave it to them. They walked out of Egypt with thousands of pounds of spoil on their backs.

And when they worked their way into the Promised Land, it was hit or miss. Sometimes, they took spoil; sometimes, they destroyed everything in sight. There's the famous story of Achan, who took spoil where he wasn't supposed to take spoil and brought destruction on the entire camp of Israel. And there are a lot of complicated reasons for why you take spoil in one place and not another, although the easy answer is always just to say that God made clear in each situation what the case would be.

That might be fun to get into some time - why God lets His people take spoil from one battle and not from another, and what the great sin is in taking spoil where you aren't supposed to. Maybe we'll get into that. But not today.

What happened at Purim, which was the day (turned into more than one day) when the Jews defended themselves against the Persians, though, was quite the unique event in the story of God's people, though. Because they neither took spoil nor destroyed everything. 

They fought for their lives, won their lives, and left everything else literally entirely alone.

That's worth thinking about a little bit. A decree is issued to completely destroy the Jewish people. As God would have it, He already had a plan in place so that a second decree is issued that the Jewish people can defend themselves, even as captives in a foreign land. And yet, they are neither permitted to take anything nor to destroy everything. They may only have their lives. 

What's going on?